With an cough, the play resumed.
“Brother? Brother?” Mr. Stones spoke, rather woodenly.
Azura craned her neck to sniff at the ‘dead body’.
Mr. Stones turned to Azura, truly furious in an instance.
“You killed him!”
“Me?” Azura radiated innocence. “Oh, you suppose it was me, but of course it wasn’t.” Stones a look that almost declared her insistence on his commonness and her essence of delightfulness, a look dipped sweet but ever so sour underneath. The middle-aged actress’ face wrinkled up ever so slightly, and the amount of lemon in her performance increased.
Then the actress left no movement to the imagination once more.
“Do not lie and kid yourself, Peter, I wouldn’t kill a soul. If your character would like some answers, I suggest that you start to question those here gathered.”
She gestured around at the rest of the company. In an instant, she was back to her evangelical self.
“Oh my, I promised that I’d stay in character, didn’t I? Silly me!”
Yes, silly you, Alexandra thought; she could identify that Ms. Peterson had a pretty foul personality. Like all those ‘famous’ actor-types, Ms. Peterson thought she could do anything that she wanted, especially to those less fortunate than she. She and Daphne were quite a pair together.
When she next spoke, Mrs. Winters’ voice had climbed the scale slightly.
“I think, yes, I know, we should continue. Ad libitum, on the roll, go for it; read on with the script…”
The guests looked around, helplessly glancing at each other, as though that would provoke some matter of change in speech. They were trying to do as Mrs. Winters commanded, but their inspiration was running dry, despite there now being a body collapsed onto the tabletop close by some of them. Some flapped their ‘instructions’ like feathers and pulled their shoulders back as if they were ducks of out water; certainly, a few looked, to Alexandra, like they were becoming uncomfortable in the heat of the nonsensical activity.
“Well,” Rhaïd muttered, “this is interesting, don’t you think, Miss Cynthia?”
“Oh, please leave me out of this,” the girl snapped back.
“Yes, leave her. I am centre stage, without a doubt,” Azura called up and down the table from her convenient point at a corner. “And now, we shall go back to our arrangements, Mr. Renfield.”
“I will not give you a single penny,” said Peter Stones, as Mr. Renfield, suddenly, his change of mood switching on faster than the new-fangled electric lamp.
“I beg your pardon?” Azura cried, as shocked as the rest of them. Peter’s personality suddenly seemed as real as the man himself; it fitted like a glove.
“Not until I have proof that you did not kill my brother.”
“I’m intrigued,” Daphne interrupted. “How did Mr. Renfield die?” She peered down at the body opposite despite her mother’s mature frowns.
“What we really need is a police officer,” Mr. Winters announced ‘in character’, and on cue, “maid, ring the constabulary.”
This was the only part that they had rehearsed: when told, Alexandra would head to the conveniently-placed telephone beside the window, attempt to dial, and find that the lines were cut. She wouldn’t even be required to search the line beneath the table.
That telephone: it was another new-fangled toy of Mr. Winters, but Christophe had assured the maid that it worked in order to aid the household. Apparently, there was some sort of ‘line’ that connected the guesthouse to the Winters’ mansion, so that the guests were able to call, via such an instrument, and tell Christophe to pass on messages to Mr. or Mrs. Winters. Mostly, said the butler, it was remarks that they would not be able to make dinner, or that, rising late, breakfast at the usual time would not have to be brought down. Alexandra wondered whether this made things more difficult or easier, as everyone was so convinced by the device.
However, for their game, she need not actually use the contraption. And so it was as planned, the scene was woven out. Alexandra had no training and never asked to be praised, but she was pretty pleased with her sound:
“Oh, I’m ever so sorry, Miss, but there’s som’int wrong. I think that those lines ‘ave been cut, they ‘ave;” she even indulged herself in an attempted cockney accent. It didn’t quite fit with her natural personality, but it was only a bit of acting, and Alexandra did enjoy the occasional snippet of drama from her mistress’ wireless programmes.
“So we’re stuck here without help? I say!” whispered Joshua.
“It seems so.” Azura gathered her mink stole around her shoulders and summoned her sons closer, making the table arrangement even more obscure. It gave the air that, by bringing her family nearer, they were all of them outsiders. In that way, it was Azura who destroyed anything natural that had been about the table settings.