“Who is all of you?” Edmund asked, bringing up the question that had bothered him ever since he arrived. “You said that four people lived with you, but I’ve only met Ung and Mrs. Kippling. Who else lives here?”
“Are you forgetting Carron?” Matron asked, her lip sneering slightly. “Bad at math, are we?”
Edmund thought a moment before he replied; “No, because both times he drove the coach to the house, he left again. I haven’t seen him for dinner, and I didn’t see Mrs. Kippling make him lunch–I think he lives somewhere else.”
“Very good,” Matron nodded slowly, the sneer vanishing. “You have a keen eye, too. That will serve you well. Very well then, one of my friends lives in the walls–you might see him someday, when you’re older. The other you’ll never see, I promise you.”
“Are they locked behind one of the doors?” Edmund guessed.
“No,” Matron looked bemused. “No, there are no locked doors in this house for my friends. Don’t bother trying to look, you won’t find them. Besides, you’ll have your hands full dealing with your cousins…”
“Why do they want to stop me?” Edmund asked, jumping to another topic. “Why does everyone hate you so much? And why do they all want your money?”
Matron began to cough wildly. Edmund wondered if he should hit her on the back, when he realized she was laughing. Finally, she calmed down and shook her head.
“That’s a lot of question, boy, and I’m not sure even I know all those answers.” She paused as she pulled at her pipe, and blew a wispy smoke ring that floated gently through the air until it left the safety of the umbrella and the black rain tore it apart. “The truth is, when you get right down to it, you don’t even need to know the answers. When a bullet finds your heart, it doesn’t help to know the heart of the man who fired it.”
“I’d still like to know,” Edmund shrugged. He decided, on impulse, that a bit of shared trust wouldn’t go amiss. He reached out, carefully took the tea cup in his hand, and brought it to his lips.
It was thick, strong, and painfully bitter. He choked it down, feeling the hot liquid sear his throat as it sank into his stomach. He didn’t know if it helped, but he did hear Matron sigh in resignation. She slowly hoisted herself out of her chair, the popping of bones echoing through the din of the storm for a few moments before she began to slowly walk towards the edge of the umbrella, pipe and cup of tea still in her hands.
“My relatives–the last tattered vestiges of a once mighty family–are greedy short-sighted fools. They have egos bigger than this house, and make big mistakes once they have what they think they want. They bicker and squabble like wild dogs, fighting for the last scrap of bone. And I have many relatives–not just the seven who are interloping here now.”