The Legend Of Wychwood Manor – Episode 35

Allison Hay © Characters from the serial standing in front of the sea.

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“The sharp thorn in Captain’s saddle . . . Deep down, I always suspected it was no accident.” He gave Lil a steady look. “I’ll come.”

At the vicarage, they were astounded to find Jean Foucault playing chess with his grandfather.

“Well, he’s clearly not with Miss Belle,” Elias whispered.

Jean looked ill at ease.

“What are you doing here, Lil?”

“I’m here on my mistress’s behalf.”

“I’m sorry, but if she has anything to say to me, she should say it herself.”

“Well, she can’t do that if she’s missing, can she?” Lil said crossly.

Jean stared at her.

“Belle missing? What do you mean?”

“She’s gone off – with you, or so people say.”

“But that’s preposterous. I haven’t seen Belle since the day we quarrelled.”

Jean’s grandfather gave him a sharp look.

You quarrelled with that sweet girl? Over what?”

“I can’t tell you, Grandfather.”

“Of course he can’t,” Lil interrupted. “He knows he’s in the wrong to treat my poor mistress so, and her crying for hours on end as if her heart would break.”

Jean reddened.

“I don’t want to speak ill of Belle, but she did something unforgivable. That’s why I broke off the relationship.”

“Unforgivable? Miss Belle?” Lil glared at him.

“I didn’t make the decision lightly. There was evidence.”

“Would that be evidence like everyone at Wychwood saying Miss Belle’s gone off with you so it must be true? But I’m not here to argue. We need to save Miss Belle.”

Jean’s face grew pale.

“Belle is in danger? Why didn’t you say so before?”

“I’m telling you now. If we don’t find her before Jocasta does, Miss Belle’s as good as dead.”

There was a soft tap on the window of the hunting lodge where Belle and Josephine had hidden.

“Miss Manners, Miss Belle, I know you’re in there.” It was Charley.

Josephine opened the door just a crack.

“What are you doing here?” she asked suspiciously.

“Well, that’s a fine greeting when I’ve risked my neck to warn the Frenchman,” he said.

“Is Jean in danger, Charley?” Belle asked.

Charley looked glum.

“Terrible danger, miss. Your aunt told him to come to Castle Rock at sunset tomorrow, but it’s a trap. You need to warn him . . .”

“What do you care?” Josephine asked sharply. “Haven’t you always been her creature?”

“Weren’t you?” Charley countered. “I’ve done plenty of bad things, but I draw the line at murder.

“I was against her drowning you girls and I’m against her killing the Frenchie. Heed my warning or don’t – it’s up to you.”

They watched him go.

“I don’t trust him,” Josephine said. “He’s as slippery as an eel.”

“But what if he’s telling the truth?” Belle looked worried. “I can’t just let Jean walk into a trap.”

Josephine sighed.

“All right, I’ll help you, but I still think we’re making a mistake.”

They set out at dawn the next day and soon found themselves in a pine wood surrounded by sandy banks pitted with rabbit holes.

Unable to shake off the feeling that she’d been there before, Belle missed her footing and tumbled down a sandy slope.

Josephine scrambled to her side.

“Are you OK?”

Belle nodded.

“Just bit dizzy.”

“You’re lucky you didn’t twist your ankle. Lean back against this tree. The dizziness will soon pass.”

Josephine was right. After a few moments, Belle’s head stopped spinning and she was ready to carry on, but Josephine, worn out, had fallen asleep.

Belle decided to let her rest and wandered across to a gigantic fallen tree.

Half-buried in the hollow beneath was what looked like a scrap of dirty fabric, but when Belle pulled it free, she saw it was a shabby leather pouch.

Belle’s heart started to race. Surely she must be dreaming.

Trembling, she tipped the bag’s contents into her hand.

The sunlight piercing the canopy of branches ignited the fire that leapt in the heart of the ruby.

“Papa, you don’t need to worry any more,” she whispered. “I’ve found the Demoiselle.”

To be continued…

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