‘Come now, Erika, you must have been devastated when, once again no man showed up at your door!’ chuckled Robert as he passed the pepper sauce to his wife.
‘I wished for a real man. I doubt there are any of them left…although…’ she threw Mr. Porter a glance.
‘I can’t believe father is working again on Christmas!’ said Victor to his mother.
‘Well, you know how your father is. He finds these kind of festivities futile,’ responded Francis.
‘But it’s Christmas supper! Can’t he just for once…’ spat Victor then sighed. Uncle Hendrik rarely left his office. No one knew what he was doing up there but no one dared disturb him. As for Francis, I doubt she missed his company.
The Christmas supper was a special time for the Silverwoods. All children were sent to sleep and supper was a time for the adults only. It was Mr. Silverwood’s favorite moment of the holiday. He sat at the head of the table self-satisfied and proud as a king on his throne.
The room sparkled with candle lights, decorations and all the warmth and beauty to create a white and gold fairytale Christmas ambiance. The snow outside delighted everyone mischievously glittering as it covered the tracks of what had happened four days ago.
Mrs. Darts and her girls stood aside, tall and obedient, waiting for any new orders while everyone else drank and ate as though this was a normal family.
‘At last,’ sighed Lidia sitting next to Mr. Porter who I must admit, looked dashing tonight. He wore a sky blue shirt and a grey vest bringing out the beauty of his features, his hair combed on the back and his eyes glistened in the candle lights. ‘All I wanted for Christmas was…’ continued Lidia. Mr. Porter jumped and I could only assume Lidia had done something to him under the table. Her husband, Oliver, who sat next to her, suspected nothing of course.
I sat quietly in my chair listening to their chatter.
‘Since her son ran off, she’s been staying in her room barely eating or drinking, the poor creature,’ I heard Cora whisper from across the table to Victor’s wife.
‘Imagine discovering your child is a murderer!’ added Charlotte.
‘I heard Tom hired a few men to find him,’ Francis said to Arthur.
‘And he’s been living with us under the same roof, imagine that!’ added Fred.
‘Once I saw him snap a rabbit’s neck and then throwing it away in the grass. Just throwing it away!’
So many whispers, so many discussions. It’s easy to blame the obvious yet I doubted the obvious. If Benjamin was the killer, had he killed his own father and my mother then? No one mentioned their deaths, as though those were purely accidents. Wouldn’t it be easier to blame Benjamin for killing his father as well? But then, of course, they would have had to admit to another murder.
Mr. Silverwood stood up. The room went silent.
‘Fire,’ he said holding a candle in his hand. ‘When a candle is at its last flame, you can take it and pass on the flame to a new candle, a new life, a new time. And so the same fire that burnt on that dying candle has been passed on, burning brighter and stronger,’ he blew the candle out. ‘A single flame is so precious and fragile. And yet, if you borrow some flame from another candle,’ he relit the wick with a new candle on the table. ‘It is restored. One candle may fade yet the fire remains, for fire is everywhere. A fire’s strength lies not in its singularity but in its existence as a whole.’ He watched the fire in the hearth, his eyes glittering. ‘No matter how much rain, snow or wind may come, fire will always burn. Fire…is indestructible.’ He rose his glass and we all followed. ‘Happy Yule!’
‘Happy Yule,’ we all shouted, some more enthusiastic than others.
Supper was followed by a party. Music, dancing, drinking, smoking and more chit chat of course. Aunt Helena who had been quiet at the supper table was now waltzing with her husband, Tom. Both of them shining in their carefully chosen clothes and perfect apparel. Lidia stood close to Mr. Porter, close enough for him to have a full view of her chest. Not only was her dress daringly low cut, but the back of the dress rested just above her bottom showing off more skin than all of us put together. She was whispering in his ear while he drank champagne, his face unmoved. Because of the music, I couldn’t hear the whispers, which was for the best of course. His eyes faced me and I smiled apologetically.
‘Will we be the only ones dancing, tonight?’ shouted aunt Helena with her arms wrapped around Tom.
‘I dare you, auntie!’ jested Victor looking like a movie star in his sparkling navy blue suit. He was smoking a cigar chatting with Fred with no intention of dancing.
Robert and Cora joined aunt Helena followed by Arthur and his wife. Eric had brought a date, a beautiful blond girl in a stylish grey dress with a perfect red lip smile. Mr. Silverwood had allowed visitors of course, for these special days but the rules always applied. He watched amused as she asked Eric to dance. Eric’s dates always amused Mr. Silverwood especially because they were without fail so temporary.
Lizzie hadn’t been allowed to stay at the party though she had been present at the supper. It must have been because of last year’s little incident when she drank too much and attacked one of the servers with the fire poker.
Oliver asked Lidia to dance but she refused. In that exact moment, Erika seized her opportunity and invited Mr. Porter to dance. Which made Lidia pour her fury on poor Oliver who had apparently ruined the moment.
‘Would you like another glass of champagne, Miss Victoria?’ asked Christopher, the new…butler. He was Richard’s son and the grief was there in his eyes, no matter how much he smiled.
‘Thank you, Christopher,’ I said. Benjamin, Christopher and I have all lost a parent and yet we stood here pretending to be jolly and happy as though it was obligatory on Christmas day. Perhaps the others were acting for Mr. Silverwood’s sake but I knew that deep down in their hearts, they simply did not care.
‘Will you be so kind to save me, even if it’s just for one dance, Miss Cane?’ Mr. Porter was standing before me, offering me his hand.
‘I’ll do my best, Mr. Morgan though I’m afraid you can’t escape the inevitable.’ Lidia was staring at us while Oliver was still apologizing to her for something that was entirely not his fault.
‘My week is passing quickly,’ he whispered while we danced. ‘And there is much to unveil.’ His hand was warm and comforting as he held mine.
‘I demanded one week in order to convince you.’
‘I was convinced since the first night, Miss Cane,’ he said. ‘Though not your family nor the murder of the butler convinced me.’
I stared in his eyes confused.
‘It was detective Stall. I disliked him the moment I laid my eyes on him. His gaze and smile untrustworthy.’
‘He convinced you because of his gaze and smile?’ I asked confused.
‘No. I remembered him. He visited my father a few days before he died. Miss Cane, I believe this man has something to do with my father’s death!’ he said.
Mr. Porter. Please, don’t take that path! You will not be ready. You will not like what you discover!
‘Miss Cane,’ he continued as I watched him anxiously. ‘I believe my father was murdered and I’ve believed it for quite some time. My father hadn’t just asked me to help you. He wanted me to find his murderer as well!’
To be continued….