The next cousin was tall, and older than Tunansia by a good deal. She had a black parasol that was open to keep the sun out and a thin pair of glasses that perched on the end of her nose. A black dress similar to Matron’s clothed her frame, and her hair was a shimmery gray, almost a perfect blend of jet black and silvery white. Her skin was pale and gaunt, and her eyes were hollow and sunken. She looked, Edmund had to be honest, like a corpse. She stepped away from the carriage like a gust of wind, drifting towards the mansion like an errant wisp of smoke.
When she reached the small group of greeters, she politely inclined her head towards Ung who returned the nod for as brief a moment as possible. The woman started to turn to Mrs. Kippling only to stop when her eyes landed on Edmund.
“And who are you?” she asked, her voice light and pleasant — a dreadful contrast to her somber form. She carefully leaned down, placing her head on the same plane as Edmund’s, her dark lips parting in a smile that reminded Edmund of a snake. He found himself entranced by her easy grace and calm movements. He swallowed nervously.
“I’m Edmund,” he said. The woman’s eye flinched gently, and she smiled wider as she extended her hand out to him.
“My name is Misses Junapa Knittle,” she said, licking her lips as if savoring a delectable sweet. “I am Matron’s cousin once removed on her mother’s side. Am I to take it you are a new servant?”
“I’m her son,” Edmund said, carefully taking Junapa’s hand gently in his, and shaking it carefully. “She adopted me yesterday.”
There was a pause.
“So recent!” Junapa finally said with delight. “And not a day after we sent word we were arriving in town. I’m so sorry I hadn’t heard — If I had known she was planning on bringing another person into the family, I would have seen to it we would have arrived much earlier.”
Junapa’s eyes glanced to Ung and Mrs. Kippling, but they stood as still as statues. Edmund shifted slightly as Junapa returned her gaze to him, her smile wider than before.
“I’m sure we shall get along famously. Here,” she slipped her hand into some inner pocket of her dress, and produced a small wrapped pale blue sweet, putting it in Edmund’s hand before turning to the large man beside Edmund. “Ung, do be a dear and make sure my bags get to my room? And make sure you are careful — there are several fragile things in them.”
“Of course madam,” Ung bowed, his face blank. Junapa smiled sweetly, and slowly swept into the house, her parasol snapping shut as she entered. Edmund turned his attention to the sweet in his palm, only to see it hurriedly snatched away by Ung’s thick hand. The large butler sniffed at it and threw it towards the sagging gazebo with a shake of his head.