Private Diary of Douglas Alexander Spencer
Watcombe Manor, August 12th 1818
Something terrible has happened. Margaret – MY Margaret – has met with something dreadful ! She disappeared yesterday morning after she went out for a ride, apparently to see me at the Manor. Her maid Becky, thoroughly questioned by Brandon, knew almost nothing except that a note arrived at Delaford early in the morning. The note was in a hand that resembled mine but of course, I had not written it.
Brandon’s groom confirmed that Miss Dashwood had ridden out on the mare she usually takes for a ride. After Margaret disappeared from Delaford’s stable yard, she was not seen again. Her mare returned to the Delaford stables on her own, sweating and skittish.
I have searched every road and path that leads from Delaford to Watcombe Manor since, but I have not discovered a trace of my darling. The wreckage this notion is doing to me, is indescribable!
All sorts of doom schemes whirl through my weary brain and the fiercest anxiety overwhelms my heart! Where is Margaret? Has she fallen of the horse and is she lying somewhere, dead or badly injured? Has someone taken her, harmed her, killed her? God forbid!
Night has come after yet another day of searching and interrogating people as to whom might have glimpses a sight of Margaret or may know something about her. I’m sitting behind the desk in my library, unable to find sleep. If something ill should have befallen my sweet darling, I shall never survive it …
As soon as consciousness returned, I wished it had not. Nausea made me gag almost instantly and I was absolutely sure I had never had such a searing headache in my whole life! Sparks of fire raged through my head and my heart thumped so hard that my rushing blood resembled the pounding of a hammer inside my skull. Forcing myself to lie still, I endeavoured to keep my eyes closed during the first few moments of awareness.
But, of course, eventually I had to open them. My mind vaguely registered the tilted and heavily beamed roof of an attic above my head, its decrepit beams festooned with cobwebs of years of neglect. Carefully turning my aching head, I saw I was lying on an old iron bed with a mattress so damp, I could feel the moist seep through the fabric of my riding habit. It smelled of decay, mould and mildew. One of my legs was chained to a bedpost but otherwise I was free of bonds.
A few yards from the bed a small, very grimy window threw a sparse, diffuse light on the worn wooden floor. It seemed like dusk was settling in for I saw the nearly full moon rising in a corner of the window.
I had not an inkling of what might have befallen me. Sometime during my ride to Watcombe Manor I must have been abducted when I reacted to the summon in Douglas’ note, yet I had no memory of it. What could be the purpose of this? Who would do such a despicable thing? My sore head did not allow me to reflect on these issues further. I closed my eyes again to shut out every lurid detail of my prison.
Private Diary of Douglas Alexander Spencer
Delaford House, August 13th 1818
Still no sign of Margaret … I have moved to Brandon’s estate in order to combine efforts to find her. It is obvious to everyone now that Margaret must have been abducted but we have no idea who is responsible for that.
Brandon, Ferrars, Sir John and I have raked our brains about the reason for this and the only thing we could come up with, was that someone is trying to prevent my marriage to Margaret by removing her from me. The logical consequence is that it was done to prevent me from gaining my title and estate, but why? Phineas Wilkinson is dead, as is all my next of kin from Liverpool. There simply is nobody between me and the conditions of my father’s will.
I must again rummage through Father’s papers in case there is something about my past that I might have overlooked. Jack Twinkler is bringing them over today. I mean to go through the documents with a fine comb. There must be something I do not know!
Mrs Dashwood has taken to her bed with a violent headache and is in a deep depression. Even my promise that I would do everything in my power to restore Margaret to her, does not seem to alleviate her sorrow. Her daughters have the greatest difficulty, just to make her take her meals. Brandon is all keyed up about the consequences for Marianne, who is nearing the end of her pregnancy and is getting more tired every day.
As I am forever trying, over and over again, to fathom what has happened to my sweet girl, my thoughts wander to every single moment of our acquaintance. From the first moment I set eyes on Margaret Dashwood, I was lost. I have tried to understand why I fell in love with her. She was barely more than a child and therefore, inexperienced. Her upbringing, though very sheltered and refined, did not prepare her for life’s cruel surprises. Maybe that was one of the reasons I was so drawn to her …
When I opened my eyes again, it was morning and a bright, purple light was filtering through the dusty windowpane of the skylight. I felt thoroughly uncomfortable and nauseated, with my dirty riding habit clinging to my sweaty skin. The call of nature was excruciatingly urgent but there was no way I would be able to reach the rusty iron bucket in the corner of the room. The chain around my right ankle was too short.
Someone had removed my boots. With a pang of apprehension burning my throat, I realised they – whoever they were – meant to keep me securely captivated. Who were ‘they’? Why did they abducted me? Was it a chance abduction or did they know who I was and were they planning on asking a ransom for me? Was Douglas the one supposed to pay for it?
The various possible answers to these questions were endless and, to my infinite regret, I had as good as no clues. Yet, pondering over them kept me distracted from my raging thirst, gnawing hunger and painful bladder, so I stubbornly continued my train of thought. I startled violently when my prison was violently thrust open.
Private Diary of Douglas Alexander Spencer
Delaford House, August 14th 1818, morning
Day after day of continued searching now follow each other but without any result at all! It’s driving me insane with concern about my sweet angel! Somewhere there surely must be a trace of Margaret!
My father’s papers did not give me any new clue to my past but I did find his personal diary. I want to read it, especially the ones that cover 1817 and 1818. Those were the last years of his life and I was no part of it.
Margaret … how was it possible that I, the dissipated son of my righteous father, could have been struck in the heart by a pure and innocent girl? I, who disappointed my good and loving sire with my moral depravity , therefore have robbed him of his only son and heir. I, who was used to grabbing any skirt that passed me by, ravished any girl or woman that caught my immoral eye.
Yet I could not bring myself to touch Margaret … not Margaret, no …
I did not have such qualms in my vile past, never … I just turned my roving eyes to any company of pretty women, caught sight of what I lusted after and seduced the often unwilling girl into satisfying me. My insatiable appetite made no distinction between married or not, virgin or experienced, young or mature. After Christina, nothing mattered anymore. There was only gratification to be satisfied.
But Margaret … her ‘joie de vivre’, her boundless energy, her indomitable will and her heart-wrenching innocence only compelled me to one fervent wish: to protect her from all harm and hurt. Oh, I wanted her, no doubt about it … but I also recognized her own need in wanting to give herself to me without restraint and immensely feared it! Margaret was not to be hurt, not to be spoiled, not to be ravished. I wanted her to stay whole for when the moment came that she would experience true love from a man that was worthy of her and that man certainly was not me!
Yet, when I was shocked into the realization that she could have been taken from me by Death, I dared ask her to become my wife and was never happier when she accepted.
Margaret, my life, my heart. Margaret, my own, exquisite darling …
Now, on the verge of our wedding, I have deserted her by allowing some miscreant to snatch her from me …
I must end for now since I have a meeting with Brandon , Ferrars and my solicitor, who has come up with an idea. We are once more to examine the contents of Father’s will lest we have overlooked some detail about its many clauses.
Four people entered the attic room and one of them was familiar to me in the most horrid way – it was Dobson, Wilkinson’s huge and brainless henchman! He immediately came towards me and unfastened the chain around my ankle. He jerked me upright beside the bed, grabbing me by the upper arms from behind. I was unable to move one inch as his grubby hands dug into my flesh with crushing force.
“Ah, Miss Dashwood!”
The suave voice of Nicholas Bernard sounded first. He was standing next to his mother, whom he supported by one arm with endearing gentleness. Her other arm was held by a big, sturdy woman in the drab clothes, the white mobcap and apron of a maid. Bernard left his mother to the care of her servant and motioned at Dobson to bring me closer.
“Miss Margaret Dashwood, you are lovely as ever! I cannot wait to make you do what I brought you here for!”
He took hold of my chin and jerked it upward.
“You dainty little hussy, I am going to have my way with you soon. I must steal this march on Spencer. It will be the sweetest revenge!”
The direst of forebodings made me cringe inwardly but I struggled not to show it to Bernard and asked, “Revenge, Mr Bernard? For what? What harm can you have sustained from my fiancée? He has been out of the country for ten years!”
“Oh, it will dawn on you eventually, my sweet, but you do not need to know it right now. Suffice it to say that your ‘fiancée’ is the most vile rake Torquay has ever known. What do you know of Douglas Spencer, Miss Dashwood, other than what he wants you to know?”
I drew myself up as high as I could, despite Dobson’s hold on me.
“He is a good man who has been falsely accused of rakishness and who has paid for a crime he did not commit. That is all you need to hear, Mr Bernard. It is none of your business. Now you must let me go. I am sure we can hush this up as I have no need to it become the tittle-tattle of town.”
Bernard laughed sarcastically. His mother Mrs Bernard stood watching the whole exchange as motionless as a statue, her black eyes cold as obsidian.
“I am afraid things are not that simple, my hussy! You are here for a reason or, better, for two reasons. One of them is to prevent Spencer from marrying you in time. I intend to keep you here until August 22nd. In the mean time, I will take my fill of you. You will become my mistress because I have had my eye on you for quite a time. I always get what I want, my sweet, and what I now want, is you.”
He gave a sign with his hand to Dobson who then picked me up like a sack of potatoes and tossed me over his shoulder. While he carried me out of the attic, I shouted to Mrs Bernard in despair. “Mrs Bernard, Ma’am, I beg of you! Help me! You cannot let your son do this to me! Please, Mrs Bernard?”
The older woman did not reply but held up a hand to stay Dobson who obeyed instantly. Full of hope, I looked at her expectantly.
“You, my dear,” she said to me in a cold, even voice, “are nothing better than a whore. You have accepted the attentions of Spencer who is a vile bastard of a rake. Do not implore my help; you will not get it.”
“But … why, Mrs Bernard? What have I ever done to you?” I begged, fear and despair breaking my voice.
“I hate all Spencers, my dear, and everybody that has to do with them. Your fiancée is a horrible criminal, just like as his loathsome father was. It is time they paid for their crimes.”
Private Diary of Douglas Alexander Spencer
Delaford House, August 14th 1818, evening
Jack Twinkler just brought the most distressing news: Someone stole the contents of my safe in the library at Watcombe Manor. They got away with a fair sum of money which I kept to pay the servants at the end of the week but, most of all, they took my mother’s jewellery box. Not only contained in it were the Watcombe diamonds, a tiara, a necklace, two bracelets and a pair of earrings , but also a string of black pearls and matching earbobs, which are so rare that not a price can be set upon them. On the floor of my library one of Margaret’s earrings was found. It is one of the pair of tiny dangling silver ornaments she usually wears.
I do not comprehend. Margaret does not know I have a safe since I never told her. Moreover, why should she want to rob me when, in a fortnight, she will be mistress of all my scanty possessions? It does not make sense. But foremost, I cannot suspect my darling of such a deed. She has not a bad bone in her body, not Margaret.
Someone snatched her from me, damn and blast! They stole my valuables and left her earring to put the blame on Margaret. I will hunt them down and make them pay with their lives if it is the last thing in my life that I do!
At this very moment I am preparing myself to return home. The magistrate has been sent for and I want to be present when his men search the Manor for further evidence.