A soft knock on the door to Mrs. Winters’ private dressing room was enough to alert the lady to Alexandra’s presence. It seemed that, in every way, she had been ready and waiting for the guests in the same manner as the maid herself.
The door swung open, squeaking a little (as butler, it was one of Christophe’s tasks to maintain the functions of all the household objects. Being just a squeaking door, he had not got round to it yet) and the lady of the house looked out into the almost-bare corridor. Her eyes widened with interest when she noticed the maid, and at Alexandra’s simple “they have arrived, Miss,”, she instantly bustled out, completely ready, though she had to dash back in for her rose powder compact and, surprisingly, a thin, silver-bladed knife, its hilt rubied and dotted with tiny shining emeralds. Emeralds that, Alexandra knew, were authentic, as this was the exact knife given to Mrs. Winters on her twentieth birthday as from a family heirloom collection, and the Winters were not accustomed to falsities.
When Mrs. Winters noticed Alexandra gazing at the curious weapon, she started and blushed, but then gave a cheeky wink to her housemaid and whispered:
“Just in case.”
Alexandra dearly hoped that the lady would never have to use it. Not ever in her life, and especially during the upcoming afternoon. After all, what was there to defend herself from?
“Have you sent word to my family?”
“I was just on my way, ma’am.”
“Of course. Geoffrey is in the green sitting room, no doubt reading his military memoirs,” she sniffed. “Dear Daphne… Hmm, if she is not preparing, preparing, and doing yet more preparation in her room, God knows where she shall be.”
“If you could just wait here, ma’am.”
The maid hurried swiftly across the landing, leaving her mistress standing gracefully, with one foot on the top step of the huge double-spread staircase that lead down into the atrium and to the front door. Mrs. Winters, with her hair curled up around her small ears and grouped under a band of sky-blue to match the lovely garden dress (complete with gold thread on the cuffs and neckline, and silk fabric-roses on the middle hanging), was entirely part of the stairwell itself; just as grand, just as royal, just as decorated… Standing still, she might well have been immortalised there by a painter, eager to keep her royal qualities from the aging process of time. Perhaps, now she was an older woman, a flower of autumn, her beauty was still to be captured, as it was still present in her, but in a far different way to her daughter’s attractive looks.
This time, after knocking, Alexandra had to wait far longer for the Winters’ daughter to arrive at the door. Daphne appeared at the door, and gave the maid an obvious look of disgust.
Daphne Winters wore crimson lipstick that did not suit her natural lip tone, rouge on her cheeks too, and dark blue eye-shadow spread unevenly over her eyelids. To Alexandra, the girl looked a little clownish. That image did not show off any of her true quick wit, which Alexandra had seen, albeit briefly, during her childhood years when the mistress’ daughter had sparkled under her governess’ training. It was only when her governess left, and Daphne’s equivalent of ‘adult life’ started for sure, that Daphne had fallen in with the wrong crowd.
Daphne’s ginger locks had been curled beyond belief today; curled far more than normal. All the messy shapes had been scraped up into a loose bun that sunk to behind her eyes.
“Are the guests here then?” Daphne asked, rudely and impatiently. At a nod from Alexandra, who kept her eyes down, as was the tradition when speaking to the young girl, Daphne pushed past and spotted her mother, almost frozen stone, there on the staircase.
“Oh, hello, Mummy. You know, the guests have already arrived.”
She was in her twenties but Daphne could certainly act like a child sometimes.