64: Eavesdropping

Edmund was about to return to his exploration when he heard Matron’s voice. Drawing his attention to the nearby door, Edmund crept closer and pressed his eye against the keyhole.

Sure enough, Matron was inside the room. She was seated in a black-leather chair, and was facing someone else who had their back to the door. Edmund couldn’t see anything else that was useful, so he pressed his ear to the keyhole instead.

“So that’s that,” said Matron. There was no mistaking her withered and weather-beaten voice, even though the door. “He’s backed down.”

“I’m afraid,” came the thin reedy voice of Mr. Shobbinton, “I cannot confirm nor deny any motives of my clients, even if they had been expressed to me, which, of course…”

“They haven’t,” Matron finished. “Good. At least he’s learning. What have you learned about my problem?”

“Which one?” Mr. Shobbinton asked dryly as the sound of shuffling paper met Edmund’s ear through the thin door.

“The boy,” Matron snapped.

For a moment there was silence, and then Mr. Shobbinton spoke again.

“It appears that the deed is quite explicit, as are the treaties you directed me to. Not only will the young master need to remain your next of kin, but also remain a resident of Moulde Hall.” There was a grumbling noise, followed by the loud thud of something striking the ground in frustration. Edmund felt the blood drain from his face.

“Peel back every document you can find, Mr. Shobbinton,” Matron’s voice cut through the door. “Root out every loophole you can find and scrape every corner you turn. The boy cannot stay, and that’s final!”

“I assure you I already have,” Mr. Shobbinton sounded insulted. “I have explored the possibilities of Summer homes, the long-lost-relative clauses, and any number of mysterious vanishing precedents. The laws are quite clear: The boy must claim Moulde Hall as his primary residence, under all circumstances.”

There was a pause, and then Matron spoke again, her voice soft.

“Then we must create a new precedent. Begin at once.”

“I shall do my best, allowing for my other duties, of course.” Mr. Shobbinton said, soothingly. “But I reiterate, you must begin resigning yourself to the truth of it–if you wish to maintain your control over the situation, the young master must stay.”

The sound of footsteps approaching the door prodded Edmund into movement. He pulled himself up and moved as quickly and as quietly as he could around a nearby pillar, and waited while he heard the door open and close, followed by the calm strides of Mr. Shobbinton fading down the hallway. There was a pause, and then the door opened and closed again, Matron’s footsteps following Mr. Shobbinton’s.

Edmund sank to the ground, his heart tight.

He wouldn’t be the first, he realized. Children returned to the orphanage all the time.

He could escape the endless twisting maze of huge hallways and empty rooms. He could leave behind the strange clothes and stern disgust of Matron, the snide patronizing of her cousins, and return to the familiar, if chaffing, smile of Mrs. Mapleberry.

In his mind’s eye he saw the orphanage door open wide, threatening to pull him back to the same old walls and rafters, the weevils and creaking floors calling to him.

Edmund bolted upright and continued to explore, a storm raging both outside the mansion and inside his chest as well.

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