1. In Medias Res: The Scene Is Set

...And, in an instant, down came the rain in sheets. The servants hastened to collect the picnic things, with Sir Tempest trying to help them and getting in the way, Lady Mary trying to restrain her husband and getting even more in the way, and little Violata clapping her hands with glee at the resultant confusion. The other guests withdrew to a safe distance: Changed-of-God spread his voluminous cloak and Sir Louis, Master Shadman and young Opoponax raised umbrellas, and the ladies took shelter according to their preference. Mr Surcease, quick of wit as ever, summoned two footmen and Tysoe the gardener to engage his lordship in earnest debate over the probable fate and right treatment of various flowers and vegetables, and while they were arguing the other servants gathered up the debris and a soggy procession made its way back to the Hall, Sir Tempest bringing up the rear in heated dialogue with the footmen.

Once inside, with the warm glow of fires and lamps banishing the grey gloom without, the guests dispersed to their rooms to bathe in hot water and change into dry clothes. His lordship vanished in the general direction of the kitchen garden, Lady Mary went to supervise the provision of hot drinks, and what with one thing and another it was nearly an hour before anyone noticed that Mademoiselle Fleur de Douleur was nowhere to be seen.

Once her absence was discovered, of course, nothing would do but that Sir Tempest would have everyone into the small drawing-room and fire off random questions at everyone at once without waiting for answers. Little by little it was established that Mlle de Douleur had chosen to shelter under Opoponax's umbrella, that he and she had been almost the last in line, and that she had excused herself while crossing the west lawn on the grounds that she had lost her reticule in the confusion. The boy had last seen her walking lightly back towards the picnic site, seemingly oblivious to the bucketing rain. His lordship, of course, had seen nothing of any of this, despite the fact that she had passed within two feet of him and had to dodge one of his characteristically violent gestures in order to retain her hat.

Master Shadman and Opoponax at once volunteered to retrace the party's steps and look for her, and Sir Tempest insisted upon accompanying them. They set off at once, and the others stood or sat in various attitudes of abstraction, while on sideboard and occasional table the pots of tea, coffee and hot chocolate slowly cooled.

Only little Violata seemed unperturbed as she played with her dolls in the upstairs nursery, humming the old song her first nurse had taught her.

"Dance with the sallow man
Dance in the rain.
Come to your own home
Never again..."