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 -- "