"Would it be…awkward, Miss Wychwood," Alice began, "To, ah, ask about the manner of your demise?"
Miss Wychwood's diaphanous head shook emphatically. "I have been eager to relate the circumstances of my tragic departure to some congenial person for a very long time."
Alice halted just in time from asking how very long a time, feeling somehow that it might not be quite a polite question, all things considered. Yet again Alice wished Lizzie were there to appreciate the wise decision Alice had made on her own.
Where can my cousin be? Alice thought. Is she already home?
But Miss Wychwood was waiting eagerly, her gossamer brow filled with the tale untold. "Please, do share your story with me," Alice said with genuine warmth. "I should be most grateful."
Miss Wychwood smiled. "You are so kind. Other young women have been in this room before and they were invariably alarmed at my appearance. You must be made of much sterner stuff."
Alice blushed at the unaccustomed praise. In many ways, she had become a much more remarkable young woman in the course or her adventures. However, she was unable to resist a chance to trot out the excitement of her own adventures. "If one has survived kidnapping not once but twice and has survived pirates and being lost at sea," Alice said in a rather breathless manner her former governess would have recognised from the schoolroom, "One can be rather sanguine about unusual occurrences."
"How admirable!" Miss Wychwood said with graceful generosity.
The changes in Alice were most evident at that moment, for instead of plunging into a lively account of her own perilous journey, she pulled herself up short and said quite without any trace of peevishness, "But do share your history, Miss Wychwood. I am most keen to hear the details of your tribulations."
The use of the latter word in addition to the selfless denial of center stage would have made both Mrs Martin (neé Travers) and Lizzie exchange a pleased expression of happy pride in the young woman. For the moment, we shall all have to settle for the knowledge that Alice has become a much more agreeable and self-sufficient woman.
She had improved so much so that she did not even congratulate herself on being so self-sacrificing, but simply listened attentively for Miss Wychwood's tale.
"I was once as you are now," Miss Wychwood began, her voice fervent though her figure remained somewhat insubstantial. "By that I do not simply mean alive, though I recall still how wonderful it was to be alive."
"How terrible," Alice offered, feeling helpless to locate more appropriate words of comfort. "I know I should not wish to be…no longer alive."
"There is a great deal one misses," Miss Wychwood sighed. "Warmth and food primarily. How I miss tea! And biscuits!"
Alice reached to take Miss Wychwood's hands in hers, but they passed through the mist of her form without contact.
Miss Wychwood smiled sadly. "I miss, too, the comfort of human contact. Worse than having people cry out in alarm at one, it is wretched not to be able to feel anyone's embrace."
"My poor dear Miss Wychwood," Alice said with considerable feeling, a tear escaping from her eye. "How did this horror begin?"
Miss Wychwood drew herself up to her full if incomplete height. "I was kidnapped!"