Guernsey Island – Bordeaux Harbour – 1801
“What do you mean we are locked in?” The high pitched squeal of distress echos in the dampness.
“It appears someone has blocked the entrance.” Lord Marshall Daventry surveys the passage. Spider fingers creep along the stone edges of the darkened tomb for any small opening. At least, their lamps remain lit and they are not in total darkness.
“You mean we are trapped in here? In the tomb of— of savages?” Short breaths spurt out between her lips. “However will we survive the night? Is there enough air? What will happen once we are discovered! My lord, I cannot endure a scandal such as that will be.” Hiccups come next. Lady Cordelia Rutledge is close to panic. No, it is panic. One more hiccup and surely she will faint.
Marshall put his lamp on the ground, grabs her arms and turns her to face him. Ice blue eyes glare back. Strands of apricot-colored hair dangle about her cheeks.
Those ice blue eyes gloss over. He firmly articulates each word, “Please. Calm yourself. All will be well.”
Silence. In a softer tone he adds, “We will get out, my lady, I assure you.” His gloved hands rub up and down her arms in an attempt to console her, will her the encouragement to be strong. Her pale white face stares past him at the stone closure that seals them in. Truth be told, he isn’t sure if his men will find them. The most important thing at this point is to keep her calm. What he cannot endure at this point is a panic-stricken female.
Delia’s eyes narrow. Anger replaces the hysteria. A deep and pointed monotone voice is coming from her now, no high-pitched squeals. The muscles in her arms tighten. “And, to be locked in with the likes of you, no less.” Her fists grind hard against his chest. Marshall grabs her wrists and holds them tight between them until her struggle subsides, at last able to engage her attention. There. That is better.
He lowers his voice. Maybe that will get her to lower hers. “I understand your concerns, but I assure you there will be no scandal. I left word that I would return before nightfall. Someone will be out to find us.” Marshall relaxes his hold and releases one of her arms. He places his palm in the small of her back and guides her gently to a stone bench against the wall nearest the entrance. The light from the lamp he placed on the floor flickers slightly, but is still full flame. A good sign.
Delia remains rattled, but Marshall sees the anger, too, is waning. Her countenance relaxes somewhat when she turns to him and asks, “Why, pray tell, would they not consider you had changed your mind and decided to stay out? Is that not your custom? And further, what makes you think they will not relish the notion of you ruining me? I am not even supposed to be here. They will see that we are alone.”
“First, I can see you are not up on the local tales. And, second, my people are quite loyal. They would not go against me. They would be dismissed immediately without recommendation. I have procedures in place. If I intend to stay out all night, they are informed.” Will she see through his attempt at keeping her in check? The lines on her forehead crimp for a moment while she sits. Silence, again.
She smooths her pelisse and clears her throat. “I assure you, I do not need to be up on local tales to know what happens when a lady is found alone with a gentleman for any amount of time, but you must know to be found alone in a place such as this is unheard of!” Delia pulls at the wrist of each of her kid gloves, flexing her fingers to adjust the fit.
Marshall responds, “Yes, well let me enlighten you. The locals fear the spell casters who are said to meet at night at their meeting place, the Catioroc, between L’Eree and Perelle.”
“Spell casters! Certainly you do not give merit to such balderdash, not to mention the fact that the Catioroc is much farther south of where we are anyway.” Delia sits up straight. Her voice wavers. “I do not give such inclinations any credence.” She splays her fingers wide to adjust the fit of her gloves once again.
“So you know of the Catioroc, do you? I wasn’t aware you were familiar with the area.”
“My lord, I may only have been here for a couple of weeks, but I have become quite familiar with where we are on this island. I have taken it upon myself to know my surroundings.”
“Whether you or I believe or not, the locals do. And, since you have taken it upon yourself to know your surroundings, have you not seen them all with their witches’ seats in front of their houses?”
“Witches’ seats? I have never heard of such nonsense.”
Even in the lamplight Marshall can see the pale of her skin and the tremble of her chin. This line of conversation must stop, at least for the moment, or until they find their way out of this tomb. Even he is beginning to feel too warm. His own anxiety level is rising.
“Nonsense or not, it is what they believe.”
His attempts to leave the conversation are in vain. “Surely, you do not believe in spell casters?”
“I admit to having my own witches’ seat in the front garden of my own home. So, you see, they cannot have any grievance with me or you, for that matter, since you are with me, you see?”
Delia ignores his attempt to mollify her fears. “And, for what purpose is this done, pray tell?”
“Why, to give the witches’ a place to rest, of course!” Marshall studies her reaction before continuing, “It is thought safer to be kind to them and give them a place to rest outside of the home rather than to have them wreak havoc.”
“I do not understand the reasonings of such ones.” Delia removes her gloves revealing the delicate fingers of a lady of quality. She fans her forehead and presses it with the back of her hand. She, too, must be feeling the warmth building in these close quarters, being especially concerned about scandal.
Lack of air or not, the lamplight continues to burn, that is a good sign. At least she doesn’t know the stone bench they are sitting on is actually a tomb. He smiles.
Delia held up her gloves in defense and sputters, “I am not loose. I cannot help it. The air is getting hot and heavy in here and I feel like I cannot breathe. There is nothing else to do to cool off. Removing my gloves seems of least concern.” She begins fanning herself once more. “If this continues I do not know what we shall do.”
Marshall decides to leave that alone for the moment.
Their discourse must move towards a different direction. “Surely local legend is not too absurd for you. Your own Scottish heritage speaks of such similar beliefs does it not?”
“I suppose it does, but one does not continue believing in such nonsense in this age, you know. You must see the ridiculousness of it.”
“Being that my interests surround archeology and studies of the past, ridiculous or not, those who believe in such things, believe in them strongly and, as such, fear them strongly. That, in itself, gives those beliefs strength whether we believe it or not.”
“I see the truth in your words. You seem to have given this a great deal of thought. Why else would you put a witches’ seat outside your own home. I, on the other hand, prefer to remain firm that such is utter nonsense.”
“Well, around here, my lady, you may want to keep those beliefs to yourself.”
“Maybe it was a spell caster that locked us in here.” The humor in her eyes warms her features when she mocks him. Tease her. He enjoys her best this way.
“Best not to jest, for it may have been the local fairies that closed us in.”
“Fairies?” That rewards him with a half smile. Much better than panic.
“Yes, fairies. In Scotland I believe they’re called brownies.”
“Hmm…brownies. I remember hearing tales about brownies from my nursemaid.”
“Yes, well then, that tale will have to wait for tomorrow…I think I hear something.” He reaches for the lantern, stands up and lifts it up above his head as he walks near where the sounds are coming from. Scratch, scratch, scratch. Tsak, tsak. Someone or something is definitely clawing at the outer side of the stone.
Marshall yells, “Hello! We are here! Can you hear me?” Scratch, scratch, scratch. Tsak, tsak. The methodic sound of metal to stone and clawing dirt, continues. No one responds. Marshall cannot tell if they are digging them out or God forbid — sealing them in.
Delia joins him in an excited ensemble in the hopes that their voices together will elicit some response from the other side of the stone.
Scratch, scratch, scratch. Tsak, tsak…