“I don’t know,” he answered honestly. “What would I need a solicitor for?”
“Proper grammar, perhaps?” Mr. Shobbinton’s mouth twitched, then his face seemed to soften. “Of course,” he muttered. “You are an orphan. You wouldn’t know about any of the Moulde family history, would you?”
Edmund shook his head, deciding not to mention the book he had found in the study. Mr. Shobbinton gave a sharp nod, and leaned forward, his own umbrella scraping against Edmund’s.
“I’m afraid, dear boy,” Mr Shobbinton began, his voice quieter than before, “that you have been adopted into a quite disreputable family. The Mouldes have never been thought of very highly by the other founding families, and then there was the Great Agreement… Well, it would be far too troublesome to explain it all now, but suffice it to say that the Mouldes are all a family of criminals now.”
“Criminals?” Edmund repeated, horrified. “But I haven’t done anything wrong!” He had always taken great care to behave at the orphanage. Was he now a criminal simply because he had been adopted?
“I assure you,” Mr. Shobbinton soothed, “that I use the term in its strictly legal connotation. If you are a Moulde, you are a criminal, no matter how honest or law-abiding you actually are.”
“That’s not fair,” Edmund protested. Mr. Shobbinton’s mouth twisted again, his face gnarling into a bizarre grin.
“Of course not,” Mr Shobbinton said. “Nor is it free from irony. You see, the Mouldes became criminals because they wanted to keep their wealth and property, but then came Patron Plinkerton–he was the start of the worst of it. Then came Rotchild, and then Isaybel…” Mr. Shobbinton stopped, his grin fading. “I am sorry,” he said, wiping his face with his free hand. “I cannot help but wish that I had been there to advise them.”
“Why weren’t you?” Edmund asked.
“I’m afraid, through no fault of my own, I hadn’t been born yet,” Mr. Shobbinton sighed. “This all happened long before even Matron was a child.” He straightened, and gestured with his hand towards the Moulde Hall. “Master Edmund, allow me to accompany you back to the Hall. I am sorry to have wasted your time with unimportant trivialities of your history.”
“I don’t mind,” Edmund said, starting to walk back through the maze. “I never had a history before.” Edmund took a few more steps before he realized Shobbinton had not walked with him. He looked back to see Mr. Shobbinton staring at him, an odd look in his eyes. Was it pity, Edmund wondered? Or perhaps pride? After a moment, Mr. Shobbinton stepped forward after Edmund, and gripped him by the shoulder.
“We are much alike, you and I,” he said, his usual harsh tone much softer. “The Shobbinton’s are new money–very new money in fact. We are not as wealthy as some, but we earned our money working as clerks and bankers, lawyers and solicitors. We worked for our wealth in a way that the Mouldes never had to. Their worth was handed to them by their parents, while you and I…” He stopped, adjusting his grip on Edmund’s shoulder. “Let me help you. Matron is using you to torment her cousins. Neither her nor they think you could be anyone important–you’re just a tool to them. I think differently. You could become Patron some day, and I could help you get there.”