Alice thought she might nearly burst with excitement as the spectral Miss Wychwood led her toward the fireplace and the hiding place of her unusual instrument of freedom. Naturally, she was loathe to get any of the ash on her gown, so she crept forward carefully, but it was difficult to restrain the urge to clap her hands together.
One could only imagine the mess that would ensue, so it is fortunate that she did not actually do so.
Miss Wychwood's insubstantial arm pointed to a spot inside the chimney. Alice had to bend over and crane her neck to see the spot where she indicated. Sure enough, there was a little chink in the stones.
Gingerly, Alice reached up and sought with her fingertips to find some kind of hidden shelf between the stones. Something moved under her touch and she fought the urge to recoil and instead pulled out the tiny silver lobster fork.
The tines were scratched and their tips uneven. Alice stared in wonder.
"Do you see!" Miss Wychwood said, her eager tone conveying the joy of sharing her small success at long last. "It fit so snugly into that spot."
"A perfect place of concealment," Alice agreed, her tone gentle as she tried to hold back the tears that wished to burst forth. The story writ upon the grooved surface of the implement was a horrific one.
How worn the little tines had become! Alice looked up to see Miss Wychwood now by the window.
"See here, where I pried up the latch bit by bit," Miss Wychood said, pointing to the spot as Alice drew near. "It took so very long, you can imagine."
"Yes," Alice said absently, staring at the latch patinaed by age and neglect. "How very patient you must have been," she said finally, feeling as if she ought to comment somehow upon Miss Wychwood's ingenuity, even if she were loathe to follow this discussion to its logical end.
"If only I had been able to discover the plan sooner," Miss Wychwood sighed.
"Sooner?" Alice said, feeling a sudden ripple of even greater unease.
"Yes," Miss Wychwood said drifting a little higher in the air than was necessarily required. "A pity, that?"
"Whatever do you mean?" Alice could not help interrogating her friend, though her insides seized up in a kind of awful anticipation. "Were you unable to put your plan into action?"
"Indeed I was not," Miss Wychwood said, her face turned toward the gloomy haze outside the window.
"But you were able to free the lock?"
"I was," she said, turning back to Alice. "Though they have since repaired it -- look! Here." She leaned closely over the latch. "I am quite certain they did no more than the minimum to repair it. You could use the same method, I think, to free yourself."
"But if the plan did not, er, work…" Alice let her voice trail off, hoping Miss Wychwood would be able to construct the conclusion without her saying it.
"It was not the plan that was faulty," Miss Wychwood said, her voice as cold as the grave. "It was my captors."
"Do you mean--" Alice gasped. It was too horrible to consider.
"They murdered me!"