The news of Mr. Porter’s arrival had travelled throughout the entire estate…of course, if Victor and Lidia knew, the entire estate knew.
I realized the news had in fact turned into a prodigious event the moment I heard the agitation coming from the brunch room.
When we entered the room, all eyes were on us, on Mr. Porter to be more precise.
Four of uncle Hendrik’s children were present, including Lidia and Victor. Uncle Hendrik himself was not present, that would have been the shock of the year. But, his wife, Francis, the mother of all gossip, could not have possibly missed the chance. Aunt Helena and her three children attended too and in a corner I spotted uncle Albert’s family as well.
They weren’t all sitting together of course. There were six tables and a buffet, the brunch room resembling a luxurious restaurant. Candles burned on each table and a warm fire rested in the open hearth. The buffet table wasn’t only filled with sandwiches and pastries but also with champagne and vodka for those who enjoyed an early Bloody Mary…I knew all too well who those were.
‘So the rumours are true!’ shouted Robert. He was standing at his table with no intention of approaching us. Plump and tall, wearing a moustache and his usual superior gaze, cousin Robert’s entire existence depended on how much he boasted with his fortune and his so-called unique intellect. ‘Why, Victoria, you never seize to amaze me, darling!’ It was in a negative sense, of course.
‘Ignore him!’ Victor hurried towards Mr. Porter. ‘You must sit with us!’ he said and brought us to a table where Francis, his mother and Charlotte, his wife sat. I watched Lidia shooting Victor a resentful glance as we passed by her table. I noticed she had kept the seat next to her reserved as promised. On her other side, the seat was occupied by her always so clueless husband, Oliver.
‘Stealing him already, dear nephew?’ shouted Robert from across the room.
‘We want to play with him too!’ added Lidia chuckling though her eyes spat fire.
‘Truly now, Lidia! I think you have enough to play with already!’ spat Erika, her single sister who, thankfully, sat at another table.
‘Perhaps Victoria wants to play alone with him!’ stated Robert, the only one still standing. He shared a table with his wife, Cora, who always agreed with him and with Fred, his brother. ‘Well, Victoria,’ continued Robert, ‘a handsome man as your assistant, you’ve planned it all too well! Our little Vicky may be more devious than she looks! She might even get married after all!’ He laughed heartily. No one in the room joined him, except of course for his wife who giggled like a hyena.
‘And break your heart?’ I shouted back. ‘I wouldn’t dare!’
His smile faded. ‘Stop talking nonsense, girl!’ he cleared his throat. ‘I’m your uncle!’ and with that he sat down. Robert had always fancied me and no matter how many times I rejected him, he always insisted by making the most inappropriate gestures but today I had embarrassed him.
I felt all eyes on our table. The brunch room had never felt more crammed. Usually only a few attended brunch but today, clearly, it was a special day. Most of them weren’t even eating, they had just come to stare at the new assistant as if he were some kind of new monkey in a zoo. Perhaps he was, a monkey in a zoo filled with lions. And those lions were, to my surprise and apprehension, more bored and curious than I had anticipated.
Mr. Porter and Victor had engaged in a conversation or better to say Victor, had begun his interrogation. The detective was fortunately well prepared.
‘Speak louder!’ shouted Lidia. ‘We can’t hear…’
‘They’re secretive already,’ added Robert.
‘Oh, for God’s sake, Robert!’ snapped his mother, aunt Helena.
The room grew instantly quiet.
Aunt Helena spoke softly, yet her voice dominated the entire room. ‘Welcome to Silverwood, Mr. Morgan! I am Helena Silverwood, Edmund’s sister and this room is filled with my children, nephews and nieces. This is my husband, Tom!’ Tom watched Mr. Porter but gave him no sign of welcome. Tom was mostly quiet but he was one of the most dangerous people I had ever known. Aunt Helena continued wearily ‘That obnoxious one over there is Robert and the well-behaved one sitting next to him is Fred. Those are my sons. My daughter, Lizzie, is the blond one over there staring at her plate, a bit timid for my taste but she takes after her father.’ Timid…Lizzie timid…that was not the word I’d use. ‘Over there we have my brother, Hendrik’s children, he never attends brunch but Francis talks enough for them both.’ Francis dared not look at her but I am sure she was fuming. Aunt Helena continued, ‘Victor and Lidia, you’ve met,’ There was no sympathy in that remark. ‘Erika is the bold lady over there and Eric is sitting next to her feeling quite uncomfortable with this entire gathering. Arthur is with the children, you will meet him later. Oh, and over there, alone and deserted, Vera, my late cousin Albert’s wife and their son, Benjamin. They’ve never fitted in,’ she added as though they weren’t present. She gazed upon the room and sighed. ‘There, now you’ve met everyone. Good luck remembering all the names and mind you, if you find us overwhelming, remember you are yet to meet the grandchildren, the little miracles,’ she spat, ‘ungrateful brats!’ She raised her glass of champagne and faced Mr. Porter. ‘Enjoy your stay, for as long as that might last…’
Aunt Helena’s words lingered within the room and for a few moments there was nothing but utter silence.
‘Well,’ whispered Victor eventually. ‘That was quite a welcoming speech!’ He wasn’t smiling about it.
One of Mrs. Darts girls served us coffee. I realized I hadn’t had the chance to put anything on my plate. Mr. Porter’s plate was of course full. Charlotte had made sure to fill up his plate the moment he sat at the table.
I reached the buffet but was immediately ambushed by Lidia and Cora.
‘Keep him away from Victor, you know how he is!’ whispered Cora as she pretended to choose a sandwich.
Lidia leaned over the buffet table and measured me with her eyes. ‘Where’d you find him?’ she asked.
‘When will he start?’ continued Cora. ‘Will he help me with my Geography test tomorrow morning? Oh, wait, he’ll probably be too weakened by Helena’s class first! Maybe we can reschedule Chemistry tomo…’
‘Oh for the Heavens!’ spat Lidia,’Does he know about the house rules?’ she hissed at me.
The house rules. No, he didn’t. Not yet but he needed to learn about them soon enough.
‘I’ll do it!’ hurried Lidia when she noticed I hadn’t answered. ‘I’ll explain them to him!’
‘Let Robert do it!’ jumped Cora.
‘Robert is as subtle as a brick!’ protested Lidia.
I silently filled up my plate, well…filled as in I took one sandwich and a muffin and returned to my table.
‘Then it’s settled!’ said Victor as soon as I sat down.
‘What’s settled?’ I asked.
‘Fred and I will give Morgan here a tour of the estate!’
‘Oh,’ I remarked. Was that smart?
‘Oh come, Vic! It’s better we do it. It’s not like you know the history of this place!’ Francis shot him a warning glance. I wasn’t sure why. Francis of all people never considered me as family. Or was she trying to show good manners in front of the detective?
‘History?’ Robert was suddenly leaning over our table. ‘Did anyone say history? I am the History teacher here. I think I’m the most appropriate for a tour!’
‘And do explain to him the rules…’ Cora interfered sheepishly.
The detective looked calm despite the agitation around him. I felt somewhat relieved. Of course, this was a great opportunity for him to begin his masked investigation. Yet, there were things he needed to know…the rules. They were important, certain parts of the house that were forbidden, the night curfews, the dangers…he had no idea.
A glass broke. Then, we heard a thud.
Benjamin had broken a glass in his bare hand and had slammed his bloody fist against the table.
‘Goodness!’ his mother shouted. Whispers and gasps flew across the room. Mrs. Darts’ girls hurried to his aid carrying water and a cloth.
I stared at him. He just sat there frozen, his eyes red, his hand trembling.
‘You should be ashamed!’ he said softly. He stood up ignoring the help around him. ‘You should be ashamed!’ he growled.
He did not shout, he growled.
It wasn’t a human growl…
The room froze.
I wondered if the detective heard it or perhaps thought he heard it. For the love of God, things were getting complicated sooner than I had expected.
‘Who’s been agitating the dogs this time?’ hissed a voice, cold, stern and extremely powerful.
We slowly turned our heads towards the exist and saw none other but the master of the estate himself, Edmund Silverwood.
Had I said complicated? This was going to be absolutely horrid!
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