139: The Terrible Secret

http://techli.com/2012/03/caltech-einstein-papers-project/

Image: Einstein Archives Online via Techli.com

When Edmund reached the final page, something was wrong–the number he expected didn’t show up. Furrowing his brow, he started over with a different narrative, following the trails of numbers like bread crumbs. Again, the numbers didn’t add up.

He tried twice more, but each time there was something wrong. Edmund furrowed his brow and spread the papers out in front of him. What was he missing?

Then it hit him. He wasn’t missing something, it was the numbers. Trying once more, Edmund stepped carefully through the pages, tracking numbers that should have been there, but weren’t.

That was it. Hidden deep in the numbers was another story, deeper than the first. Income was vanishing while expenses weren’t being cut as quickly. Sometimes whole months would pass without income, while expenses steadily eroded the massive fortune. Every once in a while, an expense would drop sharply, or even vanish entirely, but never as fast as the income did.

And it had all been hidden beautifully, in a dance of obscure finance

Edmund stared at the pages in his hands, mutely. He had thought this giant house had held a rich family, and maybe one day it had, but now, the Moulde Family had lost most, if not all, of its fortune.

Not rich? The Moulde Family lived in a house twice the size of a cathedral, and they didn’t have any money? Completely astonished, Edmund left the study, leaving his papers on the table. It wasn’t right. The Wealthy Elite were supposed to be wealthy, else how could they live in a huge mansion? How could they be elite? The upper class was rich, and the lower class was poor. That was how things were supposed to work. Otherwise…

What else wasn’t how it was supposed to be?

Edmund thought back to the countless schemes and plots of Matron’s relatives. They didn’t know. Some of them probably suspected, but no one knew for sure, or else they wouldn’t still be fighting tooth-and-nail for the estate.

Edmund could feel the resolve steal over him. It wasn’t right. The rich were supposed to be rich. That was how it all worked. The world was like a machine, and if a single cog wasn’t working, if the Mouldes were revealed to be poor, then the whole world would…

Edmund had to stop his cousins, before anyone figured out this terrible secret.

Over the next few days, Edmund redoubled his efforts to tell Matron anything interesting he happened to overhear from the family meetings. After he sat through a few of them, he noticed his cousins were becoming more guarded around him, and measured in their language. He took to regularly spying on them from the walls, and remembering everything he could to tell Matron later.

Sometimes she would snort derisively or simply ignore him, but a few times she nodded or, more frighteningly, smiled. If she smiled, she would either tell him to leave, or give him a message to deliver to one of his cousins or once even to the letterbox. Invariably, the next family meeting would be far more heated, with one or two of the cousins obviously frustrated.

Finally, Edmund realized it wasn’t just when he was around that his cousins were speaking less. More and more they were saying less and less, until even their condescending platitudes were little more than nods of the head, sneers, and insincere smiles.

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