Mr Umber was having a battle with the housekeeper.
It had started even before the dinner party. In fact, it's been going on for years. It's just a bit more embarrassing when everyone's there. The current theory: the reason Mr Umber never has dinner parties is because he's terrified of the housekeeper. They are talking about it (when Mr Umber is downstairs trying to find out where the cheese has got to). It's clear that everyone (who's fashionable) is having a battle with their housekeeper.
Sadly, no one seems to have told Mr Umber. He came up the stairs looking forlorn, and doesn't say anything about the cheese when he sits down.
"Darling, don't worry about it," says Mr Umber's cousin, Lady Aspic. "You know, everyone has trouble with the hired help."
The cheese, and the housekeeper, wander in about ten minutes later. They've brought two maids with them: one looking sullen and half asleep, and the other looking slightly pregnant.
Mr Umber, with much nudging from Lady Aspic and her companion, instructs the housekeeper to remain in the room. "You can't go running after them. If they won't respond to the bell, then they should stay where they can be of use."
"He needs a woman to look after him, that's what," whispers Mr Hartle to Mr Osman. "She'd know what to do with the servants."
"The problem is this unionisation business they keep going on about. They think they can get away with anything these days." The housekeeper moves half an inch closer to the table.
Mr Umber hears this part of their conversation too. "Actually - " he's interrupted because Lady Aspic spills wine on her dress and shrieks.
This is considered the signal for the ladies to retire. The housekeeper follows us - the sleepy maid is left with the men - and Lady Aspic is brought water and towels.
Another reason why Mr Umber should find himself a wife is that she would be able to lend Lady Aspic a dress to wear. Lady Aspic has already told her carriage to come at eleven, but she must sit 'til then in her wet, wine-stained gown.
The housekeeper fetches a little wooden chair for the slightly pregnant maid, and fusses over Lady Aspic's dress.
"That man is utterly scatterbrained," Lady Aspic tells the room. "One of these days he'll forget his own hat!"
She turns to the housekeeper. "I hope you don't let him forget his own hat."
"But you forgot his cheese."
"It was late being delivered, m'm."
"Tradespeople. You can never trust these shopkeepers to be on time. Now, why don't you take that girl away."
The housekeeper takes the wooden chair and the maid takes the extra towels.
"Letting a girl in her condition see to the ladies! Appalling." Lady Aspic's companion inspects her gloves as if something could have soiled them.