Large Hedge Maze. £50 to the first person reaching the center. Interested parties inquire at Devonshire Manor.
When the ad first appeared in the local paper, it was dismissed as the handiwork of a bored aristocrat with too much time on their hands and a penchant for tormenting the common breed of folk who actually had to earn their money. But two weeks later, it remained boldly printed between a want ad for a new chambermaid and a hat sale announcement, and this time, the reward was doubled. The additional enticement, totaling to more than her yearly salary, was enough to convince Alice to take the day off from her work as a typist, claiming a sick friend desperately needed care, and spend the last of her weekly salary securing a cab to the manor.
The cabby left her at the front steps with a curt tip of his hat, and a very old and very irritated-looking butler met her at the door.
“I’m here about the advert.”
With a resigned sigh, he led her through the pristine halls, their steps echoing in the cavernous marble silence, and across a lush garden to the hedge maze. Its green walls stretched endlessly away in either direction.
“What’s at the center?” she asked, momentarily concerned by the sheer size of the maze and wondering what on earth could be worth £100 to find.
“If they knew, they wouldn’t need you,” he sneered. “You start there.”
He pointed to a small opening leading into the maze, and she wondered where else he thought she would try to start, but she held her tongue, instead envisioning what she would buy with the reward money she already fancied as hers. The butler handed her a red ball of twine.
“Secure this at the center and retrace your steps. Once success is verified, you will receive your reward,” he droned, obviously reciting a speech he had given innumerable times.
“Haven’t others tried?”
She glanced over her shoulder at the manor, its upper windows glowering across the gardens at her. For a moment, she fancied someone was watching her, hidden by the sun’s glaring reflection.
“They gave up?”
“In a manner of speaking,” he snorted. “Any next of kin you’d like me to notify.”
She gaped at him before quickly shaking her head.
“That won’t be necessary.”
Her hat pin was savagely driven in to secure her hat, and she squared her shoulders, stepping through the opening into the maze.
In a book whose name she could no longer remember, she had read to always follow one wall when lost in mazes, caves, or the like. That if you followed it without wavering, without changing direction, eventually you would reach the exit or the center in this case.
“All roads lead to Rome,” she murmured, skimming her hand along the prickly hedge as she followed the right wall. “Well, I pick this one.”
Her skirts swished on the path, and the sun beat down between the hedges as she continued unwaveringly onward. To a dead end, to the right, to the left, to another dead end where the right wall became the left, still, on she went while the sun rose and fell, clouds dimmed the sky, and a fog began to gather.
Her feet were sore and her fingers bloodied from the prickling hedge when she finally stepped through an opening, and the walls fell away from around her.
“What in all of god’s name…”
The manor stood before her again, but the gardens were overgrown, the windows dusty and dull, the roof sagging and worn.
“Not another one,” a voice sighed irritably, and Alice turned to see a woman wearing trousers and a shirt with scandalously bare arms glaring at her.
She advanced on Alice, waving a pair of blades she had been hacking at the hedge with under her nose.
“Are you from the society?! We bought this house, and we are well within our rights to do whatever we want with it!”
“I don’t… I just…” Alice faltered uselessly, but the woman ignored her.
“Mark!” she screamed toward the house. “Call the police! There’s another one of those crazy society re-enactors in the garden.”
“I told you we should have installed that electric fence!” an angry voice bellowed back, and a door slammed.
Large hedge maze. £200 to the first person reaching the center. Interested parties inquire at Devonshire Manor.
I, having no knowledge of currency and a rather large headache, apologize if £50 is in any way an inaccurate number for this story. I tried to do math, and then I gave up. But I did learn that the average female typist made about $200/year in 1900 and that hedge trimmers weren’t invented until the 40s.
~R. E. Rule