"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.