The Legend Of Wychwood Manor – Episode 36

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

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Gerard’s black horse reared as a man darted from the hedgerow and caught hold of its bridle. Two more figures appeared from the undergrowth.

Gerard raised his hunting crop, ready to strike.

“Sir, don’t hurt him. We just need to speak.”

Gerard hesitated as the young woman bobbed a hurried curtsey.

“It’s Lil, sir. Miss Belle’s maid.”

Gerard’s dark eyebrows shot together in a frown.

“Your mistress is no longer my concern,” he said icily.

“She acted disgracefully, running away with that rascally Frenchman behind my back . . .” His voice tailed off as he took a closer look at the man holding his horse.

“Foucault? What in God’s name are you doing here?

“Have you so little concern for my niece that you’ve abandoned her already?”

Lil interrupted.

“It’s been a plot, sir, against you and Jean Foucault, playing on your dislike of each other. You’ve both been deceived,
by . . .” Lil’s voice faltered.

“Speak up, girl. Who do you accuse?”

Lil flushed.

“It’s Jocasta, sir. That is to say . . . your wife.”

Gerard’s face darkened.

“How dare you make such a preposterous statement? My wife’s an invalid –”

“I saw her dressed as Jocasta,” Lil said, “and she’s no more an invalid than I am. She’s intent on harming Miss Belle.”

Gerard’s face was bleak, and Lil worried that her words had only angered him. But then his eyes seemed to soften.

“Is it possible? Can I have been so blind? I promised my brother I would take care of Belle. We must find her before Jocasta does.”

As Belle and Josephine approached Castle Rock, they saw a man lounging against a boulder.

“I recognise you – you’re from the village,” Josephine said with misgiving. “What are you doing here?”

“I like to be where things are happening,” he said smugly.

The women surveyed the empty landscape, mystified, until a movement in the bracken caught Belle’s eye.

“You’re an observant one,” the man said, grinning as Pearse, one of the men from the cave, rose, cudgel in hand.

“Quick, run,” Belle said urgently, but when they turned, a band of rough-looking men were already blocking their retreat, led by a sneering Jocasta.

“Don’t try to give me the slip again, dear niece.”

A man ran up, panting.

“They’re on their way – four of them.”

“Good,” Jocasta said. “Get back under cover and keep the prisoners quiet.”

Belle almost retched when Pearse’s dirty fingers covered her mouth.

She bit down so hard on his hand that he let her go for a few precious seconds – enough time for Belle to shout a warning.

“Stay back. It’s a trap!”

Jocasta moved with incredible speed towards Belle, something glinting in her hand.

“Feel that?” she said. Cold iron burned against Belle’s skin. “It’s my Turkish dagger.

“You’ve seen me use it to open letters, but it can slit a soft throat like yours just as easily.”

She gripped Belle’s arm tightly as Jean and Gerard burst into the clearing, pistols at the ready, with Lil and Elias close behind.

Gerard’s appearance was clearly unexpected and, for the first time, Jocasta’s mask slipped as emotions that might have been regret or remorse passed across her ravaged face.

With an immense effort of will, she regained control.

“Drop your weapons or the girl dies,” she ordered.

Belle’s friends obeyed, offering no resistance to Jocasta’s brutal henchmen. Gerard regarded his wife with disgust.

“What brain-sick thinking is this?” he growled. “What did Belle ever do to you?”

“You can blame her mother,” Jocasta replied coldly.

“That woman stole my fiancé and your heart, too.

“Sometimes the child, though innocent, must pay for its parents’ sins.”

“Wait!” Belle cried. “What about Wychwood? I can help you save it.

“Just give me your word you won’t hurt the others.”

“Oh, don’t be a silly little fool,” her aunt snapped.

“We’re talking hundreds of pounds. You don’t inherit your fortune till you’re twenty-one.

“Wychwood cannot wait that long.”

“Perhaps we should ask my uncle what he thinks,” Belle said. She pulled the ruby from its pouch and it flashed like fire.

Gerard moved towards her as if sleepwalking.

“The Demoiselle,” he said, his tone hushed and reverent. “This jewel is worth thousands of pounds. Enough to satisfy even your greed, Flora.”

“Bring it here,” Jocasta said imperiously.

“Not until you release my friends.”

Jocasta gave Belle an angry look, but ordered her men to let the prisoners go. Jean limped to Belle’s side.

“Belle, I am the stupidest fool in all Christendom for doubting you. Can you forgive me?” he said.

“There is nothing to forgive,” she said.

“How could there be when I love you more than life itself?”

Jean kissed her so passionately that Belle forgot the danger they were in until Jocasta’s mocking laugh reminded her.

To be continued…

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