Edmund jumped, almost tripping over the tray and landing on the boiling hot tea-kettle, the fumes flying from his brain like bushed aside cobwebs.
Mr. Shobbinton’s face cleared instantly upon seeing him, returning to the same placid mask that he had worn when Edmund had first met him. He adjusted his monocle, which had fallen out of his eye in his rush to leave the room, and stared down his nose at Edmund.
“Good.” he said with a casual gesture towards the door he had just exited. “A spot of lunch will do Matron good… I’m afraid she’s in a bit of a mood at the moment. Not quite susceptible to logical and soundly reasoned arguments. If you will excuse me, I will continue my survey.”
Edmund looked back at the plain door as Mr. Shobbinton scuttled off down the hall. It held no design of any kind and looked less like the portal to Matron’s bedchamber than perhaps a pantry door or even a servant’s quarters. He carefully pulled the tray over to the door and knocked three times.
“Come in, Edmund,” replied the crackling voice of Matron. Edmund could feel his heart beating faster as he realized she had been waiting for him. He considered making a run for it when he chastised himself. Matron was his mother; he shouldn’t be afraid of her. After all, what was the worst thing she could do to him?
His imagination gladly supplied him with ample possibilities, none of which encouraged him to open the door and speak with her. He couldn’t simply run, however; she knew he was there. He reached out his hand for the door as he felt the raven behind him looking down at his back with scorn and disgust in its eye, daring him to turn the handle. As gently as he could, Edmund gripped the cold metal handle and opened the door.
What he saw was nothing like what he imagined; it was in fact not much different from his own room. It was small, simple, and there were only three chambers he could see — a sitting room, a bedroom that he could see through an open doorway, and another door that had to have been the bathroom. The carpet was a clean white, and the decorations were a faded yellow that made the whole room feel almost comforting. Several curtains waved back and forth in the breeze from an open window.
Indeed, the jarring difference from his imagination was made all the more troubling by what he imagined correctly: Matron was sitting in a single wooden chair in the center of the sitting room, dressed all in black, with her hands clutching the top of a weathered umbrella almost exactly the same as when he had first met her in the orphanage. She was staring at him like a vulture, waiting for him to do something–anything–that she didn’t like so she could tear him apart and eat him. Edmund’s blood thickened to a slow crawl through his veins.
As soon as their eyes met, he remembered the tray he had left outside. Quickly, before she could say anything, he pushed back through the doorway and picked up the tray. Holding it as steadily as he could, he stepped back to Matron’s door, and knocked again, not wanting to be rude.