71: Mr. Shobbinton’s Survey

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“What are you doing here?” Mr. Shobbinton asked as he slowly circled Edmund like a curious wolf. “It’s a very wet and foggy evening for summer; you would be much more comfortable inside, I’m sure. It must be almost dinner-time.”

“Just exploring,” Edmund said, holding his hands behind his back. Mr Shobbinton gave a grunt of understanding.

“I see. Looking for anything in particular, by chance?” He bent closer to Edmund, his black eyes narrowing. Edmund took a step back, almost slipping on the wet ground.

“No,” he said, truthfully. “I just wanted to look around the grounds. I haven’t seen everything yet.” He took a breath, calming his beating heart. Mr. Shobbinton leaned closer still, the string from his monocle almost touching Edmund’s nose.

“I can tell if you’re lying, boy,” he muttered, quietly. “I can read it in your face. You wouldn’t be hunting for anything, would you? Lost treasure, perhaps?”

“Hunting?” Edmund swallowed. It was hard to see Mr. Shobbinton’s hands under the dark shadows of his umbrella. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Of course you don’t,” Mr. Shobbinton’s mouth spasmed into what might have been a small smile before settling back to the familiar scornful glower. “You had best get along back inside. I’m sure Matron Moulde wouldn’t want you to catch the black chills.” Edmund gave a small nod, but didn’t move.

“What are you doing out here?” He asked, as politely as he could. Mr. Shobbinton’s eyebrow shot upwards in surprise, his mouth opening slightly.

“I am conducting a survey of the Moulde family holdings,” he said. “I have been tasked with collecting an accurate account of the properties, qualities, and assets owned by the Moulde Family, and I have been doing so for the better part of a year.” His face grimaced slightly. “I am nearly complete–the grounds are the last portion of my survey, and I will not be deterred from completing my task as soon as possible, rain or otherwise.”

“You’ve been here a year?” Edmund asked, his mouth falling open. He had known it would take a long time to become familiar with Moulde Hall, but if it took a grown man a full year… He felt his heart crumple and sag like an over-soaked rag.

“Not exclusively,” Mr. Shobbinton sniffed. “I am the Moulde’s family solicitor, and as such I have been forced to divide my time between administering to Matron Moulde’s… expansive legal needs, as well as those of her relatives.”

“Does that mean you’re my solicitor too?” Edmund asked. Mr. Shobbinton’s eyebrow rose again, slower this time, and if Edmund had thought Mr. Shobbinton had been frowning before, he didn’t know what his mouth was doing now.

“Have you a need of one?” He asked, slowly and pointedly.

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