In later years, he wondered what it was that made him speak. He was leaving, wasn’t he? He would be back in his old bed at Mrs. Mapleberry’s within a day, what did any of it matter? Sometimes he wondered if his escape plan was just the frustrated ranting of a wounded child, and he would have turned back at the gates. Other times he wondered if it wasn’t the thoughts of the same weevils, rafters, and the clock that made him try once more. Perhaps he couldn’t stand the idea of never knowing exactly what it was that she knew and he didn’t. Maybe he wanted to believe he could handle anything, even life at Moulde Hall. Maybe he noticed a glimmer of hope in Matron’s eyes. Maybe he just didn’t want to get wet in the rain. Mostly, though, he liked to think that something vaguely knight-shaped deep inside him decided to finally stand up and be brave.
“No,” he said.
Matron slowly blew a plume of bluish smoke into the night. Her eyebrows raised in mild surprise. Her mouth opened a bit, and then snapped shut with a clack.
“No?” She repeated, deathly slow. Edmund crossed his arms, and tried to look as intimidating as possible. He knew he was only eight and Matron was at least eighty, but he drew himself up to his full height, and tried to sound like Mrs. Mapleberry when she had caught him with a book on physiology.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” he said, with as steady a voice as he could muster, “and I’m not leaving until I do. There are six of your relatives here, only Googoltha really makes it seven, and they all hate me, and they hate each other, but not nearly as much as they hate you. You have two servants but you said there were four people who lived with you and no one knows who the other two people are. I thought I was going to be left alone and instead I’m supposed to do things I’ve never done before, and there’s nothing good to read. Everyone wants your money, or your title, or the mansion, but you don’t want them to get anything, and I’m supposed to get all your money when you die but I don’t know why I’m getting something when you don’t want anyone else to get anything! I don’t understand any of it!”
Edmund gasped, trying to catch his breath. He could feel his heart beating hard, and he knew that blood was flowing quickly though his body. He knew that somewhere in his chest, stomach, and head, the humours were rushing about, making him feel angry and scared, but somehow that wasn’t comforting.
Matron stood up, and slowly walked towards him. She stood over him, looking down her long hooked nose at him, with her sharp beady eyes cold and fierce. He could see her jet-black nose hairs quivering with her fierce breath.
Then she smiled.
Somehow, even with all the uncertainty about his cousins, the mansion, and everything he had seen since entering Moulde Hall, Matron’s smile was the most terrifying thing he had ever seen.
“Alright then,” she said, “I’ll tell you,”