“And who are you, may I ask?” Daphne scowled a few minutes later, staring at the crimson-haired lady who had sat herself down in the neighbouring seat with her two children, despite there being placement cards clearly set out on the tabletop. The one laid in front of her empty plate declared that the seat belonged to Cynthia Glass.
The intruder was outfitted in a basic red, not dark enough to clash with her hair, but bright enough to hurt Alexandra’s eyes if she cast her view in the lady’s direction long enough. In addition, that dress of hers was a bit too short and not demure enough for a woman of her age. To Alexandra, it, and the drastic action of the lady herself, was screaming in wordless colour for attention.
It was a pretty big difference to that which Daphne had dressed herself in. Convinced of her own selfish beauty, the young woman had dressed herself down, choosing a smock-dress, crimped at the waist and chest, and cut rather low, to show Daphne’s shapely, but skinny, figure.
The two women watched each other, taking in the bits of their outfits that were visible in one glance or two.
“I am,” said the lady, with high authority. “Ms. Azura Peterson-”
“The actress?” Daphne almost squeaked.
“Daphne, please,” her mother scolded. Alexandra spotted, out of the corner of her eye, that Joshua, seated beside the actress, and Cynthia, looking slightly poxed at her lack of seat, were giggling at Daphne.
Azura nodded, her dull crimson waves swishing up and down where they escaped from her hairdo.
“I am, indeed.”
Daphne had then recovered her composure. She held out a hand.
“One does very well to make your acquaintance.”
Azura primly, but firmly, took the hand.
“Of course,” she replied, as though there was no other humbleness to counter Daphne’s statement.
None of the guests had asked about the veil, though a couple had let their eyes float over it, and, at a wave of the eyebrows, said nothing more. It was accepted that the room was set up so that the old would disappear with the act, so an unusual piece of hanging fabric should not be seen as too ghoulish or atypical. They didn’t have a shred of a clue about what lay behind it, but it was not their place to think in that way.
Ms. Peterson leant down to snap her young boys away from the hovering wall, but as she did so, she herself tenderly swept her fingers over the light silk material too, curious.
Indeed, there was something that entranced every one of those gathered in what was the veil. The mask of reality, slipping down, gave that light-hearted glimpse into the opinions of the company; each gazed upon the veil, even when it was a short-given gaze, with their own heart open to their prospects of life. If only Alexandra had studied every gaze as if it were more than a glance; if only the maid, or any other body present, for that matter, had paid attention to the lies that were on display in the seconds that the existence of mysterious cane was revealed in the visual minds of the parade-people.
When the entire group had settled again, and Cynthia had finally taken the remaining seat beside Mr. Winters on the opposite side of the table from his daughter, Mr. Winters stood, clutching his dainty champagne glass in one of his wide hands.
Alexandra manoeuvred around the host and his chair, clutching the open champagne bottle closer to her chest so that it wouldn’t dare to slip from her grip and smash. It would normally have been Christophe’s job to serve the guests their drinks, but he was off examining a list, standing in a corner, his brow now formed into cute little furrows.
He quickly paced over to the lady of the house and murmured to her, who snatched the list from him and, after swiftly looking through it, nodded. It seemed she was sending Christophe out of the building. He shook his head, whilst still obeying (for Christophe had a calmness that Alexandra had never managed to get as a servant), and the maid could see that he was gesturing around at the inhabitants. There were the guests and then there were the staff: Alexandra and Christophe; they were the only servants there at the present. However, Alexandra knew that more would arrive to help serve the luncheon.
“Now, my friends-” All eyes were on the standing Mr. Winters.
“Wait…” His wife gripped his wrist, stopping the man as he was to begin his speech. “We’re missing one.”