The Legend Of Wychwood Manor – Episode 4

Characters from the serial, standing in front of Wychwood Manor.
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“Watch where you’re going,” a mocking voice said.

“Maybe if you didn’t stick your nose so high in the air, you’d keep your balance better.”

It was one of the footmen who’d carried the luggage up to Miss Belle’s room. Good-looking, but vain.

She’d marked him down then for the way he looked at her, slow and arrogant, like he only had to click his fingers and she’d fall into his arms.

“Or maybe if you didn’t have such big feet sticking out, there’d be nothing to trip over,” she countered.

“What’s going on?” Mrs Bloom, the cook, asked.

“Lil, isn’t it? Causing a disturbance already?”

Safe behind the cook’s back, the youth stuck his tongue out. Lil’s blood boiled as she took a quick step towards him.

“I wouldn’t,” a quiet voice said.

Lil swung round, ready to give the speaker a piece of her mind, but the brown eyes looking into hers were steady and kind.

“I can look after myself,” she said defensively.

“I don’t doubt it.” The speaker was tall with brown hair, dressed in a loose grey shirt and leather jerkin.

He spoke more slowly than she was used to, his voice a soft country burr.

“Don’t let Charley Biggs get under your skin. If he knows he’s annoyed you, he’ll just keep doing it.”

“And why should you care?” Lil asked.

“Let’s just say I remember what it’s like being new. Folk at Wychwood don’t always treat strangers well.

“And though I suspect you won’t take me up on it, I’m willing to have a quiet word with Charley if he causes you more trouble.”

“I’ve already told you, I don’t need your help,” Lil said crossly.

He nodded and grinned.

“All right, I’ve got the message.” He handed her a plate. “Try the stew, it’s really good.”

“Oh, have you eaten already?” Lil felt oddly disappointed.

“Yes, I’m off home now, but I’ll see you at mealtimes or maybe down at the stables where I work. My name’s Elias.”

Lil watched him go. Why had she been so prickly? She sighed.

He’d only been trying to help, but she almost laughed out loud at the idea of anyone thinking she needed protecting.

What would Elias say if he knew she always carried a knife somewhere about her person?

You’ve got nice eyes and a good heart, but you’re way too soft for me, Elias, she thought regretfully. You don’t know what I’ve seen. What I’ve done to survive.

After dinner, Gerard took Belle upstairs to visit Aunt Flora.

“Remember your aunt’s an invalid and tires easily,” he said. “Miss Manners, the nurse, will accompany you back to your room afterwards.”

A maid ushered Belle into a richly furnished room that was dimly lit and overly warm. A weak voice greeted her from a huge four-poster bed.

“So, finally, I get to meet my niece. Come closer so I can see you.”

Belle was shocked by Aunt Flora’s appearance.

Propped up on pillows, the extraordinary luminous green eyes in her waxen face were all that remained of her once famous beauty.

“I was saddened by your father’s death,” she said gently.

Belle felt sudden tears spring to her eyes at such kindness.

“I knew your mother, too. We were at the same school in Kensington, although she was a few years younger.

“You look very like her, my dear, especially your wonderful chestnut hair.

“Hers was so long she could sit on it. How I used to envy her!”

Aunt Flora looked at her own grey plait in disgust.

“Such beautiful hair and such a beautiful girl. No wonder all the men used to run after her.

“Did you know your father and I were virtually engaged once?

“Both our families wanted it, but then Piers lost his heart to your mother.

“Luckily, six months later, Gerard unexpectedly proposed so my parents were consoled.

“The heir of Wychwood was a prize indeed. But let us talk of other things. Tell me, what do you remember of your life in India?”

They were both surprised when the clock chimed seven, signalling the end of Belle’s visit.

“No more fun for me,” Aunt Flora said wistfully.

Belle jumped. Someone was standing behind her, but she hadn’t heard them come in. Aunt Flora smiled.

“It’s only Miss Manners, Belle.”

Belle turned and saw a slender woman in grey with gleaming blonde hair tied back in a neat knot.

Belle smiled at her, but she did not smile back.

To be continued…

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