Edmund shifted uncomfortably in his clothes. The summer mid-morning heat was filtering through the black smog that covered Brackenburg and beginning to aggravate his skin, making him feel itchy and hot.
The clothes Ung had pulled from the closet must have fit some child from long ago that was built like an ape. His pants were half as long as they should have been and his stiff collar was twice as tall as it needed to be, almost reaching the bottom of his ears. The sleeves of his shirt would have hung to his thighs if the cuffs hadn’t been clipped with thick black cuff-links that squeezed his wrists. He pulled at the collar to give his neck some relief, while he tried to find somewhere to put his knees where the sun wouldn’t burn them.
“Stop fussing, young master,” Mrs. Kippling reprimanded, looking quite uncomfortable in her thick black uniform. “Do try to look like a gentleman for the family.”
Edmund dropped his hand, and stared unhappily down the road that lead to Moulde Hall’s gate. The same bulbous urn-like carriage Edmund had arrived in was lumbering up Haggard Hill, the top laden with baggage. The horse looked extremely tired as it slowly clopped its way along the road, head hung low, tongue lulling, while Carron sat straight-backed on the driver’s bench. Mr. Shobbinton sat next to him, his briefcase clasped tightly in his hands. Mrs. Kippling clicked her teeth in disapproval.
“That must be Mr. Shobbinton’s doing. Carron wouldn’t let his horse get so tired without one of them telling him to keep moving. Damn fool — imagine running your horse to ragged like that. Just to spare the cost of a rest and a feedbag, I’ll warrant.”
Edmund surreptitiously glanced back at the large open front door. There was still no sign of Matron. Edmund hadn’t seen her at all that day, and he had the sneaking suspicion that he was all the greeting party that Matron was prepared to offer.
Finally, the sagging horse reached the greeters, and Carron stepped down to open the carriage door. He didn’t make it in time before the door was shoved open and a wiry man dressed in a fine top hat and coat staggered out, gulping in huge lung-fulls of air though a salt and pepper mustache.
“I say,” the man complained in a thin reedy voice that tickled Edmund’s ears, “If I had to stay in there one more minute, I…well…I would have suffocated!”
“Mister Pinsnip Sadwick,” Mrs. Kippling stepped forward slightly, politely curtsying to the gangly man. “Welcome back.”
“Nothing welcome about it,” the man said, adjusting his grip on his thin cane. He began to brush and fidget at his sleeves, flicking and plucking at unseen specks of dust. “She…that is…Not here to greet us, is she? Has the old crow…kicked the bucket yet?”
“Not as such,” Mrs. Kippling said, somewhat stiffer than before.
“But I hope you won’t let your disappointment sour your stay with
us. We are happy to have you as long as you — ”
“Yes, yes,” Pinsnip waved his hand as he took off his hat and wiped his balding head with a thin lace handkerchief. “Very fine. I need some…some distance from…this heat. The sun… it’s making my scalp itch.”
And with that, he brushed past Mrs. Kippling and Ung without even seeming to notice Edmund. Turning back to the carriage, Edmund saw the others had climbed out of the coach and were heading towards him like an advancing army.