The widow was shaken from her tale, her resolve momentarily broken by the sound of the clock. She frowned when it chimed to show that it was getting closer to midnight. Each chime seemed to get louder and shook the dust from the books around them and the room began to brighten a bit. A gust of heat came off the fire and the world for a second went back to normal but it did not last. The cold returned but the bite in it had lessened. It was not enough, however, to stop the twinkling sound of the ice that was gathering in Toby’s webs.
“You couldn’t grab some of the leftover webs to keep your paws warm?” Stuart asked Will, shrinking involuntarily at the idea.
“They aren’t thick enough,” Will said, trying to stuff his spider legs into his shirt to keep them warm. He sighed, sheepishly. “Also I think it hurts his feelings if I mess with his webbing. He’s very particularly about where he spins it and he gets upset if it gets disturbed.”
“This has come up before?” Matt asked.
“I might have accidentally mistaken his current project that he was working on as some random cobwebs and maybe I had to make him some plush toys to make up for it because he was pretty upset,” Will said, quietly.
“While normally I’m all for talking about making toys for your giant spider that acts like a teddy bear,” Dolly said. “I think if we ever want to get warm again, we have to figure this out.”
“W-we kn-now that sh-she w-wa-ants us-s to kn-now her st-stor-ry,” Stuart shuddered.
“You okay, Stu?” Will frowned.
“T-too c-cold to t-talk,” he grumbled.
“He’s not wrong,” Matt said, shuffling closer to Lydia and pulling his sweater tighter around himself.
“As a buck, you’re not supposed to be feeling this at all,” Will frowned. He glanced at the widow who hadn’t said anything more to this point and continued to pace without looking at them. “But I think he’s right anyway. The last thing Dolly said before trying to open the door was that we have to figure out who she is and what her story is.”
“Well we kind of know, don’t we?” Lydia offered. “She was abused and her husband died. Maybe if we help her figure out her past, she can move on and be free. If we know about her past, couldn’t we just guess the rest and let her go?”
“That’s just background but it doesn’t tell us where she came from really or where she was heading,” Dolly answered. It didn’t mean that their visitor was telling the truth either, she thought to herself. She watched the widow to see if she reacted but it seemed like she wasn’t able to read her mind.
“Do we know any other way of getting more to the meat of this story than playing twenty questions?” Matt said, shivering. “Not to be impatient but we are freezing our asses off here and if this is our ticket to get warm again, I would like to take it as soon as possible.”
“Time is of the essence,” the widow added as she paced in front of the fire again.
“That’s not how stories are made anyway,” Dolly sighed. “Facts don’t a story make but they can help fill in gaps.”
“Well, in the interest of keeping my paws from freezing off, let’s take stock of what we know right now and see if we can’t figure out what puzzle pieces fit together,” Will agreed, shivering. His spider legs had wrapped tightly around him.
“We know that she’s a widow,” Lydia said. “We know that she’s from the 1920s and that she loved her mom.”
“We know that her mother was killed by her father and that her brother was the only reason that he didn’t kill her too,” Matt said. “We also know that she used to talk to servants and get favors from them. Not like that would have happened for real anywhere.”
“But we know that this isn’t real and so does she,” Dolly reasoned. “So ultimately, this could have been set any time and there’s a lot that could have been made up. That said, I don’t think that the past is really something that matters for us. She’s here in funeral clothing now. And it’s cold. We have to think about what we can see and what we know about what she’s presenting to us.”
“H-how w-wou-would you t-tell this s-st-story?” Stuart shivered.
“That’s tough,” Dolly frowned. “I usually come up with stories that I at least know where I’ve been or where I’m going. We only know that her husband is dead. She did say that she was stuck in this house now. Maybe that was where this was supposed to go. Maybe there was a secret in the house or maybe there was a something that made it so that she couldn’t leave.”
“There’s more than simply locked doors to chain a girl to her post,” the widow said, crossing her arms. “Expectations can be so troublesome. And without the means to get from one place to another, a lady might find herself in a rather difficult spot to get out of.”
“Society can be pretty good at keeping people down,” Matt sighed.
“It can but I don’t think she would have been that married to her station in life,” Dolly replied. “Not if what we’re seeing is anything to go by. This house isn’t modest and there’s a lot to this decor. It’s not like they didn’t have some money kicking around in this place and even if they weren’t keeping up with the neighbors, this place doesn’t look like it would be the first step on the way to the poor house.”
“Old world sensibilities,” Lydia agreed. “Pictures on the wall and things that look pretty on shelves. Trappings to show off what they have. It doesn’t really look like something from the 20s though. This looks fully like something that you would have found in a home from some older period. Not as old as Victorian but I can see traces of it. And look! There’s wall paper.”
“This is a big deal?” Matt said, confused.
“It was very fashionable back in the day,” Lydia nodded. “And it was definitely meant to show that you had money. But this wasn’t the kind of paper that you would find in a house in the 20s. The pattern is too busy.”
“Art deco was all about those clean lines, right?” Dolly said.
“It was but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything based on the year. The art style changed gradually,” Lydia explained. “Still this looks a lot more like a much older design that would have been popular in the late 1800s.”
“You’re talking like this is a bad thing,” Will said, rubbing his arms.
“It’s the color,” Lydia frowned. “It’s very vibrant.”
“My dear husband did insist on having the best,” the widow mused. “He did so love the images of his youth. How lovely the pictures of the drawing room once were in his mind. He told such stories of the life he wanted. Obedient wife and many children crowded in his house with his trinkets and his books and the splendor of his bright, colorful home. Well, how was I to object to such a fantasy? He wanted color in his home and there was nothing more to be done than to make sure that it was the very best hue available in a style to his perfect expectation.”
“Sheele’s green,” Lydia said. The widow smiled to herself.
“Oh but isn’t that such a technical sounding name? Paris green sounds so much more elegant, doesn’t it?” she said, a certain tone to her voice that sounded entirely too amused for what she was saying. “Poor dear wanted to have the whole house outfitted in this luxurious shade. Ah but could you imagine entertaining in such a room? I know it might have been a bit telling but I insisted that we only color one room in the special color. Just his own, lovely drawing room to enjoy at first.”
“Just the place that he spent the most time in?” Dolly guessed, shivering for a different reason now. The widow’s eyes flashed at her as she smiled wide.
“I’m missing something here,” Matt said, uncomfortably.
“Paris green was made with arsenic,” Lydia said, cringing.