Sunday, January 31, 2010


"A lobster fork!" Miss Wychwood said with triumph.

"A lobster fork?" Alice repeated with some measure of dubiousness in her tone. "But they're so tiny!"

Miss Wychwood nodded, her insubstantial form curiously assured in the daylight. "It was the smallness of the fork which allowed me to finally work my way under the latch."

"Indeed," Alice said, overcome with the cleverness of her ghostly friend.

"The servants were very careful with the usual cutlery, but completely overlooked the absence of the lobster fork."

"How very clever of you," Alice told her, feeling genuine warmth at the proximity of her to this very astute young woman, someone of whom Lizzie would surely approve. Alice was so excited by the thought of Lizzie's approval that she did not even feel the normal stab of sorrow at recalling Lizzie's absence from her life. "And were you able to open the latch?"

"Not immediately," Miss Wychwood continued. "However, the lobster fork gave me the foothold I needed. I would hide it at the end of every day when the horrible men came to check on me."

"Where did you hide it?" Alice asked, wondering why she had never considered where she might conceal objects about the room. She quickly glanced around her to see if any spot jumped out. "The bookshelf?" It seemed to her an intelligent response.

Miss Wychwood, however, shook her head. "There was too great a risk that they might have wanted to take a volume from the shelf. There were a good many more books at that time."

"I have been enjoying one," Alice began, but then suppressed her own tangential thought. "Do tell on, Miss Wychwood. Wherever did you manage to hide the purloined fork?"

Miss Wychwood smiled shyly but with a kind of satisfaction. "Have you looked closely at the fireplace?"

"Only to see that it has seldom been lit," Alice said with a peevish disregard for the import of the question. "I have spoken most severely to M. de Sauvinage. It is simply barbaric," she added with righteous indignation. "Barbaric." Alice found herself quite proud of the word.

"Indeed, in my time the same neglect applied. Because of that neglect, therefore, it was quite possible to conceal my useful tool where it was unlikely to be seen. I found a little ledge between the bricks where it was possible to rest my fork between uses."

"And did you manage to loosen the latch with just a lobster fork," Alice said, leaping up excitedly.

"It took a great deal of patience and time, but eventually I was able."

"Oh, it is just like the Count of Monte Carlo!" Alice cried.

Miss Wychwood, the soul of kindness, did not correct her friend's misappellation. "I often found solace in Edmond's tale, though I had no wish to seek revenge once I recaptured freedom."

"Of course not," Alice said with lively indignation for her new friend. "You are far too good a person!"

Miss Wychwood's ghostly face blushed prettily. "If you like, Miss Mangrove, I could show you my particular hiding place for the fork."

"Oh, yes please!"

Sunday, January 24, 2010


"What was that?" Alice asked, her bright eyes betraying the eagerness she felt, caught up in Miss Wychwood's tale. "What daring plan had you concocted to avoid that horrifying fate?"

Miss Wychwood looked out the window behind them. Below, the garden was a tangle of overgrown bushes that only hinted at the order which once made it beautiful. "I made a desperate vow," she said at last after a long sigh. "When the nefarious men came for me, I would throw myself out this window to my death!"

Alice gasped. She was sure that Miss Wychwood was just about the most courageous young woman she had ever met. To even vow to do such a thing was quite remarkable. "I do so admire you, Miss Wychwood," Alice found the voice to say eventually. "What a terrible choice!"

Miss Wychwood smiled, but it was devoid of humor. "Considering the alternative, the soft embrace of the greenery seemed an almost pleasant way to die. But there was yet a difficulty in my plan."

"What was that?"

"In addition to my being guarded day and night, there was also the problem that the window was bolted against just such a possibility."

"Oh no!" Alice began to worry that Miss Wychwood's demise might be even more horrible a tale than she had surmised. The suspense was awful and she very nearly hoped it would last a good bit longer as it was rather delicious.

"Indeed. See here?" She pointed toward the top of the window where a sort of peculiar latch, rusted and askew, hung from the top. Alice got up to look at it, peering at the unfamiliar shape.

"That was the lock?"

"It was a work of my captor's own devising," Miss Wychwood affirmed. "It was certain to thwart the efforts of anyone seeking the escape of last refuge."

"Good heavens!" Alice said, letting the words slip in her surprise. "Then you mean --?" It was too horrible to be believed.

"Indeed," Miss Wychwood agreed, her eyes brimming once more with tears, though her chin kept to a defiant height. "There had been other young women held captive here. This is a singularly nefarious place."

Alice's eyes seemed to be as wide as her mother's Wedgewood saucers. "Have you… have you met other, ah, young women formerly in residence here?" It was a tricky sentence to construct, both to refer to Miss Wychwood's state indirectly yet with sufficient clarity to get the point across. Alice felt as if she needed a cup of tea to recover from the effort.

"I have not," Miss Wychwood said, somewhat distracted at the thought, "but this is a rather large residence. Perhaps there may be other women wandering in other parts of the villa."

"It is quite possible," Alice said, nodding. "But please, do tell me more about your attempt to escape the clutches of the horrible kidnappers."

Miss Wychwood seemed pleased to return the narrative to her own exploits. "I began to use my fork to attempt to prise the lock open whenever I was not under immediate observation. I did not wish to arouse suspicion, so I did not seek to secret the fork away. But one day I had a most fortunate addition to my cutlery."

"What was that?" Alice asked eagerly.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Alice looked very solemnly at her apparitional friend. "I promise you, Miss Wychwood. If -- no! When I escape from this place, I will carry your story to your parents, so they will no longer be troubled by the mystery of your fate."

Miss Wychwood tried in vain to place a gentle hand on Alice's arm. "You are too, too kind," she said at last, her ghostly voice ragged with suppressed emotion. "I am certain that is why I cannot rest. And I do feel ever so tired."

"Poor dear," Alice said, trying to pat her ethereal hand gently. "Tell me more about your first sight of the villa," she added, thinking it best to not allow her friend to linger on such a painful recognition. "I have not seen nearly enough. Was the garden nice?"

"It was exquisite," Miss Wychwood said, sounding a little distracted yet, but soon warming to the topic. It was in fact quite extraordinary to my eyes, accustomed to the simplicity of our own back garden." She smiled wanly at Alice, as if to apologize for her simple pleasure.

Alice found herself blushing a little to think of the extravagant garden at home and the beauties of the solarium. What a lucky girl I have been, she thought with wonder. And I didn't even know it. "Oh, do tell me more, Miss Wychwood," she begged her friend.

"In my first few days, I was allowed to walk in the garden, it being summer and the weather always fine. Of course they had a guard over me, but there was nowhere for me escape to from the walled garden. The hedges go quite all the way around."

"Were there many flowering bushes?" Alice asked, amazed to find herself quite able to draw out a conversation when she had some interest in the person.

"So many!" Miss Wychwood cried. "I have no idea what their names are or whether they are only native to this part of the world, but had it not been for my manner of my coming here, I should have quite liked to have stayed in the garden for some time. As it was, the strolls there were the only peace I had."

"Oh, how awful for you to be in such danger!" Alice sympathized.

"My kidnapper was a hardened man with no pity," Miss Wychwood agreed, phantom tears once more starting to fall. "While he had hopes of a remuneration, he treated me civilly enough. But once it became clear that no ransom would be forthcoming, he lost all patience and became quite brutal."

Alice gasped. "What a horror! You don't mean to say -- "

Miss Wychwood nodded. "They decided to make horrible use of me before discarding me."

"No!" Alice could hardly breathe with terrified amazement.

"It was to be so, all that and more."

"Oh, Miss Wychwood! How very terrible!"

"But I, too, had a desperate plan!" Her ghostly eyes flashed with unaccustomed fire. "There was just one problem -- "

Sunday, January 10, 2010


"You mean the highwaymen did not rob you?" Alice asked, the breath very nearly squeezed from her body in excitement

"Oh, they were more than just highwaymen," the late Miss Wychwood said, the breath entirely gone from her body long ago, yet sighing with regret nonetheless. "This was my kidnapper and his gang. Unrepentant brigands!"

"How awful!"

"Indeed, for they not only robbed the other people in the carriage, taking their money and any goods they had with them."

"But not you?" Alice asked, aghast.

"Well, yes, they took my pocket money and my cameo necklace with a portrait of my older brother in it," Miss Wychwood said, her bitterness evident even then. "But worse, the leader of this reprehensible mob, grabbed me and threw me across his saddle."

"Did you scream?" Alice was overcome with delicious horror.

Miss Wychwood's spectre nodded with solemn assurance. "I screamed most horribly!"

"Did he not feel pity," Alice cried.

Miss Wychwood drew herself up to her full height, which while incomplete due to her insubstantial feet, nonetheless conveyed the depths of her despair. "Not a jot."

"How wretched!" Alice shook her head with wonder. How could there be such people in the world?

"I certainly thought so, once I was at liberty to gather my thoughts," Miss Wychwood agreed. "I must admit for quite some time I was unable to think anything, being nearly insensible with fear."

"Perhaps it was a blessing," Alice said, trying very hard to be sensible. "I should think being insensible would be best when reality is far too horrid to contemplate."

"I think you are right," Miss Wychwood said as she sat back down, a dramatic peak of her narrative having been passed. "There were stops along the way, but the first thing I remember clearly was coming to this villa."

Alice was relieved to have the conversation turn to something with which she had had some experience. It seemed rather awkward to having very little to add to a conversation but the occasional interjection. "Was it much the same when you arrived?" Alice asked eagerly.

Miss Wychwood sighed. "You would not have recognized it," she assured Alice. "I will not pretend that I was here voluntarily, you understand—"

"Of course not!" Alice was quick to respond.

"But I was quite overwhelmed by my first sight of the villa," Miss Wychwood said with a strange air. "I had never seen anything quite like it."

"I can believe that," Alice said eagerly. "I had something of the same impression, although," she coughed, recalling that she had in fact arrived in the dark and had seen very little of the villa from the outside. "I had a rather, ah, limited view of the villa as a whole."

"It was quite a magnificent sight, I must admit. Quite unlike the neat lodge where I grew up," Miss Wychwood said with a slightly regretful air.

"You were not then, ah—" Alice blushed. She dreaded that she had made a horrible faux pas. How Lizzie would reprimand her for such a thoughtless remark!

Miss Wychwood, however, had either not noticed her indelicacy or had decided to overlook it. "I grew up in rather unremarkable circumstances, Miss Mangrove. It was my parents' ambition that I improve myself and perhaps achieve a higher position in society than they had. They were quite wonderful people," she finished sadly.

"Oh, Miss Wychwood! Do they know your…present state?" Alice could not restrain herself from asking.

"Alas, no," Miss Wychood said and the two friends sighed together.

Sunday, January 03, 2010


The revelation that the present ghostly Miss Wychwood began her tragedy with being kidnapped, perhaps unsurprisingly, had an immediate and negative effect on Alice. "How awful! And how, er, very like me!" Far too much like Alice's situation, in fact, for her to feel entirely sanguine about it.

"I know," Miss Wychwood responded, vigorously nodding her head for emphasis. "That is why I felt I must warn you despite the often alarming reaction people have to me in my present state," she added with an admirable delicacy.

"Heavens!" Alice exclaimed, quite clearly alarmed. "Do you mean you were also kidnapped by Gilet de Sauvinage?" Alice found it hard to believe that this petulant little man could possibly be a blood-thirsty villain suitable for one of Mrs Radcliffe's gothic narratives. In the future, she might find herself doubting the veracity of writers if this sort of discovery were discovered to be more common than expected.

"No, quite another man altogether."

"But English," Alice added hopefully.

"No, I am afraid he was French." The two shared their mutual sorrow in companionable silence.

"How did it happen, your kidnapping, I mean," Alice asked, seating herself on the bed. There was little use in remaining standing now that they had become friends. "Do sit here and tell me all about it."

This was an interesting situation, not least because she was rather curious to see whether the ghost could actually sit down, but also remarkable for the fact that Alice was not asking about poor Miss Wychwood's adventures merely to have an entrée into telling her own.

The apparition sat gingerly on the bed, almost hovering as if she were not certain where to locate the actual surface of the duvet. It was a near enough approximation that Alice was able to quickly stop watching Miss Wychwood with rather too much attention than was polite.

"I was traveling with my tutor," Miss Wychwood began after a slight pause in which she seemed to focus on something very far away. Alice supposed that her home must seem to be very far away indeed having been forcibly ejected from the living. A shudder went through her. How very terrible the thought was.

"We were on our way to Paris on the coach. My parents thought a little sketching in the City of Light would be an ideal addition to my education," Miss Wychwood said, her wispy voice sounding even more wistful at the memory.

Alice therefore checked herself from remarking on her delight at finding her new friend skilled in such an endeavour, recalling hastily that she would also be unable to carry on with that employment in her present state, and simply offered a sympathetic, "Oh!"

"We were still in Normandy when we heard the alarming sound of hoofbeats as dusk approached. The carriage held but just ourselves and a man with the unlikely name of M. Morte D'Allitee and we looked with one another with alarm for we knew what that dread sound meant."

Alice gasped. "Highwaymen!"

Miss Wychwood nodded sadly and ghostly tears fell from her orbs. "Alas, yes."

"And did they—?" Alice found herself unable to speak the terrible words.

"If only!" Miss Wychwood cried.