Edmund wasn’t entirely sure he liked Mrs. Kippling.
She seemed nice, of course, but there was a forced levity covering a nervousness in her behavior. It was as though she knew she was surrounded by hungry wolves and would do everything in her power to make everyone think it didn’t affect her. She was going to be happy come hell or high water, and that didn’t sit well with Edmund — it reminded him too much of a terrified Mrs. Mapleberry.
But Edmund had questions he wanted to ask, and since Ung and Matron were nowhere to be seen, Mrs. Kippling was his best option. She seemed more eager to talk than either of the others, if nothing else.
“Excuse me,” he said, as politely as he could as they walked back towards the Dining room from the Foyer. “May I ask you a question?”
Mrs. Kippling gasped, spinning around. She stared at Edmund, her eyes wide and her cheeks pale as her hands pressed themselves to her teeth.
“Master Edmund,” she said, breathlessly, “It’s not at all proper for a member of the family to address a servant like that!”
“How should I address you?” Edmund asked as Mrs. Kippling’s face paled again.
“Nor like that!” Mrs. Kippling shook her head sharply. Edmund frowned. It seemed Mrs. Kippling wouldn’t be as helpful as he had hoped without a bit more effort. How would Matron talk to her?
“Tell me how to address you,” he said, as harshly as he could, though to his ears it sounded more like he had a cold.
“Of course, Master Edmund,” Mrs. Kippling smiled timidly as color returned to her cheeks, and her breathing began to calm. “Just like that will be fine. It’s-not-my-place to say, but it ain’t proper for a servant to be spoken to in anything but a firm and clear voice.”
“Then tell me,” Edmund began, hoping his voice was firm enough, “why wasn’t Matron at the front door? Where was she?”
“It’s-not-my-place,” Mrs. Kippling said as she turned and continued to walk with Edmund towards the kitchens. “I imagine Matron is wherever she wants to be. I never ask, and if you’re smart, you’ll let her be. She keeps herself to herself, and likes it that way. She has her own things to do.”
“Such as?” He asked, bluntly. “What do Mouldes do?” Mrs. Kippling coughed as they turned a corner.
“Do?” She said, raising her eyebrows in delight. “Why, they fight, same as the rest of the Nine Founding Families. Not much more to it, really. It must be a thousand years since the Gauls and the Romans, but all they’ve done is turn swords into forks and spoons — My goodness!”
Mrs. Kippling almost stepped on Edmund’s feet as she jumped to the side, away from the sudden looming presence of Ung.
“Mrs. Kippling,” the giant said, “You are needed in the kitchen at once.”