“That’s enough, Emma,” he barks. “You need to go back to your cabin.”

I ignore him. “I know those women existed. I saw their pictures.”

I march to the study, heading straight for the desk and its bottom drawer. I yank it open and see the familiar wooden box right where I had left it. I carry it into the living room and slam it down on the coffee table.

“These girls right here.” I open the box and grab a handful of photos, holding them up so Franny and Chet see their haunted faces. “Charles Cutler made them grow their hair. Then he chopped it off and sold it. And then they vanished.”

Franny’s expression softens, turning from fear to something that resembles pity. “Oh, Emma. You poor thing. Now I know why you’ve been so distressed.”

“Just tell me what happened to them!”

“Nothing,” Franny says. “Nothing at all.”

I study her face, looking for hints that she’s lying. I can’t find any.

“I don’t understand,” I say.

“I think perhaps I should explain.”

It’s Lottie who says it. She emerges from the kitchen wearing a silk robe over a nightgown. A mug of coffee rests in her hands.

“I think that might be best,” Franny says.

Lottie sits down next to her and reaches for the wooden box. “It just occurred to me, Emma, that you might not know my given name.”

“It’s not Lottie?”

“Dear me, no,” Lottie says. “That’s just a nickname Franny gave me when I was a little girl. My real name is Charlotte. I was named after my great-grandfather. Charles Cutler.”

I falter a moment, buzzing with confusion.

“His mother was insane,” Lottie says. “My great-great-grandmother. Charles saw what madness did to her and decided to devote his life to helping others who suffered the same way. First at an asylum in New York City. A terrible place. The women forced to endure horrible conditions. They didn’t get better. They only suffered more. So he got the idea to create Peaceful Valley on a large parcel of land owned by my great-grandmother’s family. A small private retreat for a dozen women. For his patients, Charles chose the worst cases he observed in that filthy, overcrowded asylum. Madwomen too poor to afford proper care. Alone. No friends. No families. He took them in.”

Lottie rifles through the open box, smiling at the photographs as if they were pictures of old friends. She pulls one out and looks at it. On the back, I see the words Juliet Irish Red.

“From the very beginning, it was a struggle. Even though he and my great-grandmother were the only employees, the asylum required so much money. The patients needed food, clothing, medicine. To make ends meet, he came up with the idea to sell the patients’ hair—with their permission, of course. That kept things afloat for another year or so, but Charles knew Peaceful Valley would eventually have to close. His noble experiment had failed.”

She pulls out two more photos. Lucille Tawny and Henrietta Golden.

“But he was a smart man, Emma,” Lottie says. “In that failure, he saw opportunity. He knew an old friend was looking to buy a large parcel of land for a private retreat. A wealthy lumberman named Buchanan Harris. My great-grandfather offered the land at a discounted price if he was given a position in Mr. Harris’s company. That was the start of a relationship between our families that continues today.”

“But what happened to Peaceful Valley?”

“It stayed open while my grandfather went about building the dam that would create Lake Midnight,” Franny says.

“During that time, Charles Cutler found new situations for the women in his care,” Lottie adds. “None of them returned to those brutal asylums in the city. My great-grandfather made sure of it. He was a good man, Emma. He cared deeply about those women. Which is why I still have their photographs. They’re my family’s most prized possession.”

I sway slightly, shocked my legs are still able to support me. They’ve gone numb, just like the rest of me. I had been so focused on learning Franny’s dark secret that I never stopped to consider that Vivian was wrong.

“So it had nothing to do with what happened to Vivian and the others?”

“Not a thing,” Franny says.

“Then why did you keep it a secret?”

“We didn’t,” Lottie says. “It’s no secret. Just ancient history, which has been warped over the years.”

“We know the stories campers tell about Lake Midnight,” Franny adds. “All that hokum about curses, drowned villagers, and ghosts. People always prefer drama over the truth. If Vivian had wanted to know more about it, all she needed to do was ask.”

I nod, feeling suddenly humiliated. It’s just as bad as when Vivian cut me down right before she disappeared. Almost worse. Once again, I’ve accused someone in the Harris-White family of doing a terrible deed.

“I’m sorry,” I say, knowing that a simple apology isn’t nearly adequate. “I’m going to go now.”

“Emma, wait,” Franny says. “Please stay. Have some tea until you feel better.”

I edge out of the room, unable to accept any more kindness from her. In the entrance hall, I break into a run, fleeing out the front door without closing it behind me. I keep running. Past the cops outside the arts and crafts building. Past the cluster of dark and quiet cabins. All the way to the latrine, where I plan to hop into a shower stall with my clothes still on and pretend I’m not crying tears of shame.