"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!"
"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.