Mr. Shobbinton cleared his throat, and turned back to Matron.
“It appears that this whole recent affair between you and my clients has been little more than a waste of my time, Matron.”
“Indeed,” Matron hissed, her eyes narrow.
“An aperitif is the traditional gentleman’s apology,” the man said, turning his gaze back to Matron.
“If I was sorry, I’d give you one,” she snapped back. “How long do I have to keep it?”
“Traditionally, such arrangements are permanent,” Mr. Shobbinton gave a small cough. “That is, in so far as both parties are alive and well. I am sure you will be unhappy to hear that the stipulation for your current predicament is equally… resolute.”
Matron stared at Mr. Shobbinton, her eyes like coal. Mr. Shobbinton cleared his throat, adjusting his monocle as he did so.
“Of course,” he continued, “I will examine every possible legal loophole in the deed, and should I discover otherwise, I will tell you immediately.”
“See that you do,” Matron’s voice echoed dangerously. “Until that moment arrives, you will handle my idiot cousin?”
“I’m afraid I can neither confirm nor deny the identity of my client or clients, as professional decorum–”
“Quit your asinine mutterings,” Matron waved her hand. “We both know who hired you this time, and you’re my solicitor just as much as you are his. I will expect you at lunch tomorrow.”
Mr. Shobbinton nodded once. He pushed himself off the chair and onto the floor, and it was only then that Edmund realized this thin man was only a head taller than he was. The man picked up a briefcase from next to his chair and began to walk towards the door. His eyebrow twitched as he looked down at Edmund as he passed.
“Good luck to you, boy,” he murmured, another flicker of a smile playing at the corner of his mouth. “I can’t say I favor your chances.” And with that, the man slipped past Edmund and through the door, vanishing into the mansion.
“Perfidious leech,” Matron’s tongue clicked against her teeth as she focused her attention to Mrs. Kippling. “Enter without knocking again and I will discharge you and take personal interest in the remainder of your career. Make sure Ung searches Mr. Shobbinton’s pockets before he leaves,” she added, sharply. Her gaze shifted to Edmund, looking him up and down.
Edmund tried to remain still, but the hunchback made by his bundled shirt was very uncomfortable. After a moment that was far too long to be comfortable, Matron mouth slowly blossomed into a sneer.
“Resolute, is it?” She stared for only a second longer before lowering her head to the paper she held in her hand. Her other hand waved towards Mrs. Kippling. “Remove that thing from the study — I have work to do.”
“Of course, Matron,” Mrs. Kippling curtsied deeply as she grabbed Edmund’s arm, bustling him out of the room. Edmund craned his neck to see if he could see one of the books’ titles as he passed, but Mrs. Kippling was too quick for him. The door slammed shut, almost hitting Edmund in the nose.
“Well now,” she said quickly, her bright and cheerful tone sounding much more forced than before, “let’s see what else there is to see!”