The Legend Of Wychwood Manor – Episode 9

Characters from the serial, Belle on a horse and Jean guiding it.
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“What did he want?” her uncle said, scowling at Jean’s retreating back.

How much had he seen? And what about yesterday?

Belle hadn’t behaved like a lady at all, first crying all over a complete stranger and then allowing Jean Foucault to put his arm around her as they rode.

How outraged Uncle Gerard would be. He’d never believe it had been completely innocent.

She made her tone light, almost dismissive.

“The vicar’s grandson? Oh, he and I have just had a falling-out. He thinks I’ve no understanding of how the poor suffer and accused me of trying to play Lady Bountiful.”

Her uncle snorted.

“It sounds like his impudence. He’s nothing but a troublemaker full of hot-headed ideas who excuses his behaviour by claiming he’s some sort of latter-day Robin Hood.

“If you take my advice, you’ll have nothing to do with him.”

He offered her his arm and Belle took it, careful not to look at him for fear her face should reveal her anger at his harsh words.

If she was going to take sides, she would choose Jean over her uncle every time.

Striving to regain her composure, she was intrigued to see Miss Manners slip through a gate at the far end of the churchyard to walk beside two elderly ladies.

Belle regarded the nurse’s flushed face and glowing expression with surprise. Why, she looked almost human!

But something didn’t add up. You may want me to believe you’ve been here all the time, but your gown betrays you, Belle thought, looking from the nurse’s mud-splashed hem to the church’s dry cobbled path.

Here was a mystery indeed. Where had Miss Manners been since the service ended and why was it so important to keep it a secret?

Lil was running as fast as she could. She could hear the slapping of feet on the cobbles behind her and, though she knew she shouldn’t look back, she couldn’t help herself.

There he was, his black beard shining with spittle, his red face sweating like a pig.

“Come back here, you little varmint!” he shouted. “Where’s me money I left on the winder-sill?”

The injustice of it made her forget caution. She wheeled to face him.

“You old devil, you know I never touched it.”

She turned tail to flee, only to slip on a patch of mud and fall.

She heard his roar of triumph even as his fingers clutched her hair, hauling her, kicking and screeching, to her feet.

“Let go!” she screamed, hoping someone would help her, but nobody did.

Nobody could talk any sense into Abel once he was drunk, and after all, she was only a workhouse brat.

He had her by the throat and Lil fought to breathe, coughing so hard that she woke herself up.

Her panic subsided as she realised she was safe in her attic room at Wychwood.

She lay back, exhausted, letting her eyes rest on the jug of colourful flowers by her bed. She’d never seen flowers like them before.

In London, vases were filled with elegant lilies and perfectly formed roses, but these looked wild and free, a medley of purples, blues and yellows with a scattering of white daisies.

“Oh, you’re awake.” Ellen, the under-housemaid, poked her head round the door. “Thought you was being killed the way you was carrying on.

“So it’s true then?”

“What?” Lil said, instantly on the defensive.

Ellen nodded towards the flowers.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Lil said.

“Come off it, Lil. Everyone knows you were making eyes at him down at the stable yard.”

Lil boiled with anger, but before she could tell Ellen to mind her own business, another coughing fit seized her.

To be continued…

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