Dearest, loveliest Meg – Part Sixteen

 

Margaret_001

 

Chapter Sixteen

 

My head hung upside down and my arms dangled straight down like those of a rag doll. Dobson had flung me over his shoulder and, with every step he took, a jolt of pain spread from the back of my head all the way down my spine in throbbing waves. For a moment I feared I was going to be sick but I forced myself to breathe deeply. I closed my eyes as I felt my surroundings sway, fighting the nausea that was threatening to overcome me. As this was also preventing me from seeing where Dobson was taking me, I decided against it. We were still in the Watcombe Home Wood, though now we were descending some roughly hewn stairs that led into a kind of ruined crypt. A castle, maybe? A church?

I was not granted the time to dwell on this for Dobson unceremoniously threw me down and I landed on the floor, my hands and feet catching me. We were in a musty, decrepit room, littered with all kinds of rubble. In front of me I saw Douglas, his hands and feet tied to a chair.

He looked absolutely ghastly! His unshaven cheeks were covered with a thick, black beard that blurted his strong jaw line and his body seemed to have shrunken. His clothes hung appallingly loose around his frame. Yet, more than by his appearance, I was worried about the cold, almost disgusted look in his eyes!

“Well, cousin,” Wilkinson’s voice sneered, “this is the moment where you sign over your property to me. I was prepared to wait until August 22th but the arrival of this person here forces me to move matters forward.”

“Who is this? Are you plucking urchins and peasants from Torquay’s workshops now, Phineas?” Douglas demanded.

Douglas’ comment reminded me I was still clad in men’s breeches and coat and, for a passing of a heartbeat, I found myself hoping no one had recognized me.

In answer to that, Wilkinson grabbed the grubby cap that covered my head and ripped it off, causing my hair to loosen from its pins and tumble down over my shoulders. He pulled my head back in a rather painful manner, thus forcing me to face Douglas.

“It is your lovely Miss Dashwood, cousin. She has come to your rescue or so it seems. I am sure you would not want to see her harmed?”

If I had presumed to find solace in my rake’ face, I was completely wrong. His features did not change and his eyes continued to look at me – cold and uninterested.

“Ah, yes, Miss Dashwood!” Douglas aid in a matter-of-fact tone. “Well, Phineas, she seems to have formed an attachment to me, though I cannot think what she sees in me. Rest assured I did the best I could to fend her off. I am not in the least prepared or interested in having her leg-shackled to me!”

Surely he must be bluffing, I thought. He does not want Wilkinson to see that he cares for me. Yet his deep blue eyes, even in the poor light of torches, kept their coldness and indifference. Had I been wrong? Had I let myself believe that Douglas loved me, even when he had never spoken the words? Wilkinson’s icy snicker abruptly forced me back to reality.

“Forgive me, cousin, but that performance does not convince me at all. I also have a bone to pick with her for rejecting my more than generous offer of marriage.” Wilkinson’s ruthless stare still bore into me and I had to suppress a shiver.

His free hand suddenly grabbed my throat and squeezed it just enough to terrify me and I was forced to gasp for air. A waft of his vile, odorous breath invaded my nostrils and I gagged with horror and disgust. I made a futile attempt to claw at those beefy, squeezing fingers but they felt like a vice around my neck.

“You did not think it was your pretty little face that prompted me to offer you marriage, did you, my dear?” Wilkinson growled. “You were merely a means to an end and marrying you would keep you away from him. Did you think I did not know about your little meeting with him on the moors?”

“It was you who shot him!” I choked, fury mounting in my chest.

Wilkinson chuckled. “Yes, and I waited to see him die but then you came along! You had to meddle with my affairs, had you not? You had to help him out and disrupt all my carefully laid plans in the process. Imagine my surprise when I recognized you. I knew who you were from a miniature picture your brother showed me. He and I concocted our wedding but now this little scheme will have to be re-adjusted.”

Wilkinson so abruptly released me that I fell and smartly hit the floor on hands and knees, while he again turned to Douglas.

“You are indeed hard to get rid of, cousin! I had high hopes that you would never return to England after your little adventure with the Finney girl. Rumours were that you were depressed and apathetic for years. You did not even wish to come back when your father, in his later years, begged you to come back.  What prompted you to do so now?”

Douglas eyed him coolly, yet with a calculating gleam in his eyes.

“I was notified of my father’s demise by his solicitors, as you well know is customary. Imagine, Phineas, my surprise to hear that you had been living at Watcombe Manor for about ten years and that you had moved in shortly after my departure for Jamaica. How did you succeed in convincing my father to take you in?”

All of a sudden, Wilkinson seemed uneasy under Douglas’ hard gaze. I could only wonder what Douglas might have uncovered about his cousin lately. Not for the first time, I wished Christopher would have returned from Liverpool with some confirmation. My eyes were riveted on Douglas’ face – so stern, so unperturbed, so strong and so rigid with suppressed anger and powerlessness. I saw how he was attempting to free himself from the crude hemp-made ropes that bound his wrists, which were dripping with blood from the friction.

In a level voice, he said: “Phineas, Miss Dashwood has nothing to do with all this. Let her go. This is between you and me.”

That was a mistake. Wilkinson’s countenance cleared instantly and a sneer of triumph distorted his puffy cheeks and thick lips. His yellowed teeth gleamed.

“I am pleased indeed that you are confessing your attachment to her at last, cousin! It will make the taste of my revenge all the sweeter. You must know that I have reasons of my own, never to let her see the light of day again. Miss Dashwood will share your destiny and die with you. But enough dawdling! Dobson?”

All of a sudden, my arms were snatched behind my back in a grip of iron by Wilkinson’s henchman and the point of a blade slightly nicked my throat, causing a warm trickle of blood to run down my neck.  I bit my lips so as not to scream out of fear. Those two were merciless! Lives did not count for much with men such as Wilkinson and Dobson.

“Well, Douglas Spencer? Are you prepared to sign the documents or shall I have Dobson cut her scrawny throat? The choice is yours, cousin. This pretty little chit’s life is literally in your hands .”

The villain seemed amused by his own wit and threw back his head, roaring with laughter.

I was on the verge of death. At least, I hoped it would be quick. I was determined to go in dignity, however. With an effort to keep my voice level, I spoke up.

“Douglas, no! Do not sign on my behalf. After he has killed me, you will be next. At least, do not give him that signature.”

“Ah, first name terms already? I knew there was something going on between the two of you! I want your answer now, Douglas!”

My beloved’s face did not change; it was as impassive as a statue’s. His eyes, though, did. They were telling me he loved me.

“Free my right hand, Phineas. I will sign.”

And so he did. Wilkinson grinned when Douglas put his signature at the bottom of the document that robbed him of his inheritance. With a florid gesture Wilkinson folded the paper, slid it into his coat pocket and, in one gesture, smacked Douglas across the face. With a kick of his heavily booted foot he caused Douglas’ chair to turn over and  his head thudded in the crypt’s flagstones with a sickening crack.

“Do you want me to tie this one up, master?” Dobson asked, not taking his knife off my neck.

“No, my good Dobson, just leave her. The boy you allowed to escape will think them in the icehouse. Nobody will think of looking down here for them. She will not be going anywhere nor will he. They are where I want them: in their graves.”

Dobson just threw me and I hit and fell against the wall. Both men left, locking the door behind them. The torches still burned in their holders, though their light was beginning to fade. However, there was enough light for me to crawl to Douglas, free him from his bonds and take his head onto my lap. Cautiously I probed the back of his head but could only find a large lump. No fracture of the skull –  a great relief to me!

“Douglas, wake up … can you hear me, Douglas? Say something …”

His lip had been cut by Wilkinson’s blow and I gently wiped away the trickle of blood, careful not to open it again. Through the thick beard, I could feel his jawbone  and face clearly, as if no flesh covered them. He was frightfully thin and a horrible thought struck me. Had they not fed him while he was their prisoner? Through the dirty fabric of his torn shirt I could actually see his ribs and the muscles seemed to have shrunken to nothing. Was that why he had not resisted or put up a fight when he might have had the chance?

“Why are you weeping all over me as if I were already dead? You did not use to be such a wining wench, Miss Dashwood, at least not to my recollection.” Douglas cracked a slight smile, even though this little gesture caused him some pain.

“I am not weeping, my nose is merely running from the dampness in this cellar.”

“Well, maybe you will assist me when I want to get up?”

“You should not … you are hurt …”

“No, I am fine. Just a bit knocked about …”

With my help, Douglas managed to sit up and lean his back against the wall. I did the same, feeling a trifle worn out by everything that happened over the past hours. The silence in the cellar actually suited me very well. It was, at the very least, soothing until Douglas’ angry voice startled me.

“Confound it, Miss Dashwood! What drove you to come here tonight and burst in like some madwoman which forced my cousin to act in this insane behaviour? Before you came, I might have had a chance of convincing him to release me but no! You had to appear here and give him his best opportunity to persuade me into signing those papers! Of all the insane, foolhardy …”

He banged his head against the wall and slammed his hand on the floor in a gesture of sheer impatience. I suddenly felt so crestfallen that I could not think of an answer to his righteous indignation. He was absolutely right – I had ruined it all. Watcombe Manor was lost to him because I turned up and gave his ruffian of a cousin a hold over him. He must surely consider me the most stupid woman on earth!

 

There was nothing I could say so I turned my face away from him because I did not want him to witness my distress. After a long silence, in which I managed to conquer my rampaging emotions, I ventured:

“Was Wilkinson right? Is this where we die?”

“Not if I can help it. Come, help me up, Miss Dashwood.”

“Why? What are you planning to do?” I started to get up, wanting to help him.

“Do I always have to explain my actions to you? Can you not simply do as I ask? I swear, Miss Dashwood,  you are the most exasperating woman on earth!”

“Well, I will take that as a compliment, Mr Spencer! Here, you are on your feet! What now?”

He freed himself from my grasp and limped over to the room’s back wall where there was an altar, a big rectangular-shaped lump of stone, , which must have weighed several hundred pounds.

“Was this ruin once a church?” I asked, following him.

“More like a chapel but it was destroyed long ago, after Henry VIII banned all private chapels. It was, however, my favourite playground when I was a boy, and if I am not mistaken, there is a secret passage behind the altar. You must help me pull it from the wall, Miss Dashwood,  for I fear I am a little weak after my stay in the icehouse.”

“Did they starve you? You lost so much weight …” I was till mortified by the sight of his now thin build.

“Bread and water, just to keep me alive, but do not concern yourself, Miss Dashwood. I am a strong man and it takes more than that to wear me down. Now stop talking and put your hands here, on this edge. On three, pull with all your might.”

 

 

Unbroken – Release Christmas Day

Angelina Jolie directs this true life tale

An epic drama that follows the incredible life of Olympian and war hero Louis “Louie” Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) who, along with two other crewmen, survived in a raft for 47 days after a near-fatal plane crash in WWII—only to be caught by the Japanese Navy and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp.

 

The Mill’ Series 2 trailer

The Mill Year 2

Channel 4 has released a trailer for the second series of historical drama The Mill.The new six-part series covers the period between 1838-1842, focusing on the lives of the mill workers against a backdrop of turbulent social, political and industrial change.Series 2 begins at 8pm on Sunday 20 July on Channel 4. UK

This is a time of the great Chartist rallies and the birth of modern democracy with the movement for the right for working class men to vote sweeping the country. The drama is driven by a spirited young cast who depict a moment in history when the working classes were beginning to demand a say in their own lives. Just four years have passed since the end of first series but now the effects of the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, which made a distinction between ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor, are starting to take hold and desperate economic migrants from the South of England are beginning to arrive at the mill in search of work.

The Last Kingdom

BBC Two to adapt ‘Sharpe’ writer’s ‘The Last Kingdom’

Sharpe Sean Bean

BBC Two has announced a new adaptation of Sharpe creator Bernard Cornwell’s best-selling series of books, The Saxon Stories.

Adapted by Stephen Butchard (Good Cop, House Of Saddam), the eight-part historical drama series is described by the BBC as “a show full of heroic deeds and epic battles but with a thematic depth that embraces politics, religion, warfare, courage, love, loyalty and our universal search for identity”.

The Last Kingdom is a co-production with BBC America and Downton Abbey makers Carnival Films.

The official synopsis reads: “Set in the year 872, when many of the separate kingdoms of what we now know as England have fallen to the invading Vikings, the great kingdom of Wessex has been left standing alone and defiant under the command of King Alfred the Great.

“Against this turbulent backdrop lives our hero, Uhtred. Born the son of a Saxon nobleman, he is orphaned by the Vikings and then kidnapped and raised as one of their own. Forced to choose between the country of his birth and the people of his upbringing, his loyalties are ever tested. What is he – Saxon or Viking? On a quest to claim his birthright, Uhtred must tread a dangerous path between both sides if he is to play his part in the birth of a new nation and, ultimately, seek to recapture his ancestral lands.”

The Last Kingdom begins filming this autumn.

Executive producer Gareth Neame commented: “Cornwell’s Saxon novels combine historical figures and events with fiction in an utterly compelling way.”

He added: “In the hands of Stephen Butchard we believe it will make original and engrossing television drama. In part the epic quest of our hero Uhtred, it is also a fascinating re-telling of the tale of King Alfred the Great and how he united the many separate kingdoms on this island into what would become England.”

Ben Stephenson, Controller, BBC Drama Commissioning, said: “I hope The Last Kingdom will expand BBC Two’s distinctive portfolio of drama. It’s an epic narrative with an extraordinary creative team. It will feel like nothing else on television, with all of the scale and intrigue of the best fantasy stories but the reality of fact.”

The Independent announcement

Deadline Hollywood