There was a screech, and distant sounds of a struggle, before a chair was overturned and feet hurried away; a body pushed past Alexandra without care, almost throwing her to the floor. Another chair had screeched back before Christophe, Mr. Winters and another servant managed to twitch the lights back on.
“Curious” Alexandra heard the butler remark as he wandered back into the guesthouse. She shot him a questioning look, but he shook his head and the glance he gave back said ‘I’ll tell you at a more appropriate time’.
The guests, recovering themselves, scratched their heads and frowned. Some, mainly the men, looked at the watched, gauging how much time had passed, and what hour was to come; others, clutching at their little purses, checked their finery and reread their invite-instructions, as though that would bring them understanding.
“What exactly happened?” Rhaïd called to Mr. Winters, voicing the concern that many of the guests must have been wondering.
“I’m sure it was just an electricity fault. Not rare, I’m afraid,” said Mrs. Winters. “At least no-one received their death whilst the room was coated in night-time.”
She smiled sneakily, whilst Rhaïd returned to his scowling face.
“Some would say that she plans it all,” Mr. Stones muttered to him. Mrs. Winters was not close enough to hear the remark, but Alexandra was. If she had not been staff, she would have well considered snapping back at the two ungrateful men. As it was, all she could do was think to herself about the unlikelihood of the darkness being planned…by Mrs. Winters in any case.
Suddenly, there was a gasp from one of the corner-chairs; it was abruptly pushed back with the same ghastly scrape, as the cry went round the room, echoing like a ghostly apparition.
“My jewels!” Azura cried, her hand shooting up to feel the empty space where charms had once glinted around her neck. They had been simple, but a definite sign of her riches: gleaming red, blue and green stones set into a bed of gold. Hers had been the furious scream in the darkness.
“My emeralds and my sapphires! My hard-earned necklace.”
“Hard-earned?” muttered Mr. Stones.
“Don’t expect any less,” she snarled across the table at him.
“Well, I…” he began, before the sounds of idle miniature arguments broke out across the entire table. Not one actor was un-shocked at this action.
“I am an actress, and that job is worth a thousand of your petty workmanship skills. It’s a tough life, this way I live, I assure you, gentleman. Therefore, I refuse to be spoken to in words akin to those.” Azura was the loudest of all the arguers.
“Now is not the time to be carrying on!” Mr. Biggins said boldly. “Ms. Peterson, what happened?”
Daphne too, her eyes wide in panic, searched for her jewels, but they were there still hanging down, fitting onto the smooth shape of her breastbone, and still affixed inappropriately between her heart and her undergarments. Her look of relief was lost on Cynthia, but the young women still cast looks of discontent across each other.
“Someone took them!” Azura continued. “I was sitting there, minding my own business and speculating about what could have caused such a disaster as this, when I was…grabbed from behind, and they snatched away my precious precious jewels.” Her voice hardened, turning from scared to deep and angry. “Someone here is a thief, and someone here is a murderer. I don’t care if it’s a story, all this makes it real enough. Surely someone who would steal my precious jewels would also steal the life of a harmless person? Don’t you agree, Mrs. Winters?”
Mrs. Winters backed away slightly, intimidated for a second, but she gathered her wits about her, and replied:
“Of course, Ms. Peterson. We’ll definitely set the course on finding whoever it is who has done this cruel deed.” She raised her voice to address the whole room, “And let the perpetrator know that I will not tolerate this behaviour in my house. If Ms. Peterson’s finery is not returned by the end of this afternoon, I assure you that there will be a police investigation. Mr. Winters knows the constabulary well, and he will make sure that justice is served. Christophe, you will stay by the phone.” It was an order, not a suggestion.
“Of course, madam. I am prepared to do whatever is necessary to help,” said he, frowning.
“Now,” Mr. Winters announced, with a firm glance towards his wife, “I think it must be time to move on.”
“Oh, Mother…” Daphne mumbled.
“What is it?” Mrs. Winters said, her tone of voice beginning to sound stressed.
Daphne spread her hands wide. Alexandra noticed that something had changed about her person.
“Your knife, it’s gone,” she spoke apologetically. “The thief…he must have stolen it during the loss of lights too.”
It was Mrs. Winters’ turn to gasp. She was more than appalled.
“My knife! You don’t know how much that was worth to me, child. It belonged to my mother, and she had it commissioned by her own father. Oh, what shall I do?”
Alexandra wondered. Surely there was the point of it being worth much in pounds? That should have appealed to Mrs. Winters as much as it would appeal to the thief.
Suddenly, an old shout echoed round the room, and the knife was all but forgotten.
“I demand to be seen to!” screeched the almost-hysterical actress. Her sons cast their mother the most frightened of looks, which she ignored, but their empathy to her woes was not enough to dampen their spirits. One even continued to nibble a piece of turkey’s wing.
Mrs. Winters scowled, especially since Daphne seemed to be enraptured in the performance that was being given.
“Oh, who could have done this terribly real act?” she mumbled to herself, before raising her voice to address them all, especially the enraged actress.
“There will be time enough after our entertainment, Ms. Peterson,” announced Mrs. Winters. “Now, onwards for our amusement. Chop, chop.”