“Why?” asked Edmund.
“Such questions!” Mrs. Kippling shook her head. “Begging-your-pardon, but the truth is I have no idea why they’re fighting. Maybe something to do with a coach accident, or a piece of land… Maybe someone coughed when they shouldn’t have. There’s no telling with the families; they’re a capricious lot. Subject to whims and fancies just like the rest of us, though it’s-not-my-place.”
“So why are Tricknee and Wislydale here if they don’t like the Mouldes?”
“Oh, Wislydale hates the Mouldes, alright,” Mrs. Kippling snickered into the pot. “It’s in the Bonne’s blood to hate the Mouldes — just like the Mouldes hate the Bonnes — but he likes the estate more. The Bonnes have always been a poor family, you see — well, poor for a founding family at any rate, which is richer than I’ll ever be — but I’ll wager he’s holding his nose until the whole estate’s his and he can kick everyone else out and declare the Moulde family dead.” She leaned over and tapped her nose. “You watch, young Master, and see how often you see him without a drink in his hand!” Edmund wasn’t exactly sure what Wislydale drinking had to do with anything, so he didn’t comment.
“How many people live here?” Edmund asked, trying a different question that had been bothering him since he had first arrived.
“All together? Four, now that you’re here, Master Edmund.” Mrs. Kippling slid the onion pieces into the pot.
“Matron said there were four that lived with her, besides me,” Edmund prodded, gently. Mrs. Kippling stopped swinging the knife, and looked at Edmund, a puzzled look on her face.
“Really?” She said, turning white again. “Well, it’s-not-my-place to disagree with Matron. I must have miscounted.” She dropped a large beet and began to point at her fingers with a knife-blade, counting them off. “There’s me and Ung, and Matron of course — that’s three. Add you, and that’s four. She must have meant four including both you and her.”
“No one else?” Edmund asked with a sigh. Talking with Mrs. Kippling was dizzying. Her constant shifting between frenzied activity and meek supplication was giving Edmund a headache.
“Hmm… well, it’s-not-my-place; I ain’t one to say for sure whom she might be talking about. I suppose she might have meant Carron — he works here sure enough — but I doubt she’d think of him as living here. Oh, long ago there used the be more than fifty people who lived in these walls… that was a proper time for the family, and no mistake. They were truly one of the Nine Founding Families — even had a curse! You can’t be a proper hobnobbing family without a curse.”
“A curse?” Edmund felt a chill run down his back.
Mrs. Kippling nodded with a manic grin on her face. “Something about a great calamity befalling the family if the estate was overrun with weeds or nonsense like that. But don’t you waste your time on old curses, young master — Ung keeps up the gardening, even without pay.”