By the time Alexandra, Daphne, Mrs. Winters and Mr. Winters (the last whom they had picked up on the way down, indeed in the green room complete with his memoirs) had reached the little guesthouse, the teenaged maid had learnt a lot more about each of the expected guests.
The auburn-haired young woman with that knife-like tongue was a young socialite by the name of Cynthia Glass, who was allegedly engaged to Mr. Newton: so Mrs. Winters’ gossip told, but Alexandra had seen enough evidence by the ornament on Cynthia’s finger to agree with her hearsay.
Also said to arrive were a Mr. Thomas Biggins, lately of the oil trade, and a Mr. Peter Stones, playing charactes called the estranged Renfield brothers. Mrs. Winters knew little about either, except that Mr. Stones was coming out of a troubling marriage, so he may be looking “rather on the rough side; worse for the wear, et cetera, as life is”. Like so many other typical businessmen that Alexandra had met, Mr. Winters was adamant on the fact that not only did he know them, but that he also had a friendship with both men concerned.
As with the case of Daphne’s outward show, Alexandra didn’t believe a word of it. It was all ‘keeping up appearances’, and the maid would have no personal say in it.
They made their journey quickly, even as Mrs. Winters continued her rambling thread on and on, punctuated only by her husband’s occasional remark, or a word from Daphne, remarkably either directly in favour or directly against what her mother had said. It shocked Alexandra slightly to believe that the girl had a mind of her own, so overcome was she by the way of the world and everything that made good fashion of the time what it was.
As the half past mark on the clock was reached, the grandfather clock tolling from somewhere inside the grand house, the expanse of land had been well traversed and Alexandra led her master and mistress to the door, pushing it inwards as they paraded past her.
The guesthouse was full of activity. Inside, the entire company, minus those late ones who were still arriving at the gate, were slotting themselves into their places at the grand dining table and swapping nuggets of information, gossiping about the game they were to play.
Gradually a silence descended upon the room as the Winters arrived into the orderly almost-chaos. As if a mysterious puppeteer had tweaked their strings from above, the company rose from their seats to greet their hosts in perfect synchronisation. Certain guests directed their greetings at certain hosts: the businessmen to Mr. Winters, the younger adults to Daphne; and the remainder to Mrs. Winters, for it was she who had arranged them all to come.
Alexandra scanned the room, observing the way each guest had his or her own unique motion, either in surveying the others, or whilst tiding themselves up for the luncheon party. There were no other movements by the guests than those, but it was exactly that which was expected of them.
A little way along the table, her eyes sprung to a figure, and, remembering Mrs. Winters’ vorpal words, identified the dishevelled Peter Stones instantly. Simultaneously he fixed his eyes on her too, fixed those beady unsmiling eyes on the maid. He was a thin and weedy sort of man, with sneaky black pupils framed by dark oak brown rings, which Alexandra did not like the look of; he had chosen to put on what seemed the worst of attire, but probably constituted his best: a dirty brown overcoat, a torn pinstripe suit with a little bowler hat that sat over his balding, ginger head. Alexandra discovered, by the rip along its pocket, that a tan overcoat by the door belonged to this man.
Thomas Biggins, displaying his show of gentlemanly honour, invited Mrs. Winters down to sit in the place next to him, opposite the head of the table where her husband did take his place. Mr. Biggins had soft, sleek, shining black hair and caring brown eyes that gazed around the disguised guesthouse with great interest and fine intelligence. A rather formal black tweed suit hung over his lithe body, decorating him smartly, and he too had left a tan overcoat draped over the stand beside the door. He was the only one in the room who looked at all ready for good business. When Thomas turned to look at the maid, his smile was open, true and delighted to be making her acquaintance. Quelle contraste.