Another New Tutor

“Training?” Edmund wasn’t sure he liked the sound of that.

“Yes!” Kolb resumed his pacing, moving faster and faster through the detritus that surrounded them. “If you have to deal with the old crone, then you must let me give you a few pointers in the way of conversation! She’ll dance circles around you, boy, if you’re not quick on your feet. If you’re going to match wits with her, you’ll also have to match words! By the time we’re done with you, boy, you’ll have Matron wrapped around your little finger! You’ll be making her do back-flips, somersaults, and crying or laughing on command!”

Edmund was skeptical of his claims, but it was true that when Kolb was speaking, everyone else fell silent. Perhaps it would be useful to learn how to speak with strength and confidence. After all, he would become Patron of Moulde Hall one day and he’d need to command respect.

“Why would you help me?” Edmund asked, still cautious.

“Because I’m impressed with you, lad. You haven’t run away yet, which means you are either very stubborn, or very stupid; the two hallmarks of a true Moulde. You have managed to find a place for yourself in a very inhospitable environment and you even managed to strike a verbal blow when I underestimated you… and I learn from my mistakes.”

“And,” he continued, his wide staring eyes glittering in the dim light, “Because if there’s one thing I believe, more than anything in this world–and I’ve seen wonders that most civilized men would scoff at–it’s that all the best laid plans of the wisest among us can fail through a single roll of the dice. And I aim to give you something now so that someday, when I need help, I can ask a favor of you. Deal?”

Edmund nodded.

“Good,” Kolb said, clapping his hands definitively. “Let’s get started.”
It had taken at least two hours before Kolb was satisfied with Edmund’s progress.

After several breathing exercises that Kolb said he had learned from Tibetan Sherpas, and stretches he had learned from Indian fakirs, he had forced Edmund to rattle off the titles of all of Kolb’s posters and expedition diaries as fast as he could. Then, he had to say strange and silly nonsense poems that were incredibly difficult to say properly.

Kolb spent the rest of the time giving advice on how to charm and amuse people while having Edmund make silly faces that pushed his mouth around his face, and make silly noises that caused his nose to itch. Kolb poked and prodded Edmund’s side and back in painful places, talking all the while about flattery, modesty, and savior-faire. He made Edmund push out his stomach when he breathed, taught him how to have his mouth open when his lips were closed, and showed him how to make his voice sound like it was coming out though a cave.

It all seemed rather pointless, Edmund had thought, until Kolb had him try the poems again. They were still difficult, but he could feel his mouth and tongue dance around the words like raindrops, instead of slogging through them like mud. Kolb seemed very pleased, and made Edmund promise to return every Thursday to continue the lessons.

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Kolb Levels with Edmund

Kolb returned to his soup and picked up the entire bowl, tipping it into his mouth and swallowing it noisily. He dropped the empty bowl back onto the tray with a clatter, wiping his hand across his mouth.

“Theatre, my boy,” he growled, his wide blue eyes flashing as his body began to uncoil like a tiger. “Smoke and mirrors. All of us are playing, and all of us are lying. All the big families in the city, indeed in the country, are lying a constant lie! A lie most beautiful, to curl about their ears and reassure them that the world they live in ticks on–that their clock has not run down and their lives are useful and significant, a towering powerhouse to be respected and admired rather than a fossil, a curio to be mused at and tittered over.”

“There is only one difference between them and us, Master Edmund,” he said, leaning closer, his voice dipping low as his bright blue eyes narrowed. “You and I both know it’s a lie! The world has moved on, leaving the old ways in the dust like a train speeding off into the setting sun. The old families have no place in the new world, and the idea terrifies them! Especially Matron. She’s going to do everything in her power to keep everything the way she likes it, and she’s got a game a mile long–I don’t think any of us have even an inkling of what her endgame might be. You’ve been here… what, a month now?

“And a half,” Edmund corrected, shifting his weight uncomfortably back and forth.

Kolb nodded. “Well, that’s certainly long enough for you to notice she’s not a happy person. She simply cannot accept the future that lies before her, and so she struggles against it like a trussed-up animal, clawing and biting at anyone who tries to help. She hates everything new–even new people, like yourself.

That didn’t sound quite right, Edmund thought. It was true, Matron had never spoken particularly kindly to him, but it seemed she never spoke kindly to anyone. And when he had spoken with her in the rain she made it sound like she was desperate for something new to happen to the family. Edmund decided not to press the point, and instead just nodded.

“Of course, everyone is allowed to like or hate people however they wish,” Kolb waved a hand dismissively, “but it makes it very hard to get in her good graces. She’s hard to get along with, my lad, and easy to anger. Take my advice boy, and come with me to Africa. Get away from all of this, and go where you will be happier.”

“Thank you for the offer,” Edmund tried to smile, “but I don’t think I’d be very happy being a Popomus.” Kolb looked surprised.

“Really?” he sounded disbelieving. “Well, in that case you’re a bit out of luck, aren’t you?”

Kolb strolled around the room, his feet neatly sidestepping the discarded posters and papers that littered the room. After a moment, he clapped his hands, spun about, and pointed a thick finger right between Edmund’s eyes.

“Eureka!” He shouted, a manic grin plastered over his face. “There’s nothing for it, my boy! We must begin your training!”

Posters and Poetry

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Image: Uncredited, pinterest.com

“Have you done all this?” Edmund asked, moving from one colorful artifact to another.

“Why yes,” Kolb beamed, his face glowing with pride. “I have traveled the world doing incredible things, only to return home to tell the tales of my exploits, for a nominal fee, of course. Would you like to hear a tale of adventure from across the globe? How about my exciting escape from the Evil Earl of Edinburgh? Or how about my heart-stopping hunt for the heathen hierophant of Hung-Hung, high in the Himalayas? Or perhaps my miraculous meeting with the marvelous magician of the Malaysian Maharaja?”

“I don’t think so,” Edmund said, finally tearing his gaze away from the colorful pictures.

“Oh?” Kolb looked a little worried. “Not my romantic rendezvous in the Red Rotunda of Russia, I hope? I would think you are a little too young for that one…”

“No,” Edmund shook his head, looking for a place to put the tray down. “I think I’d better just give you the tray and leave you alone.”

“Master Edmund!” Kolb looked shocked. “I hope you don’t take my inclination to ingest my meals independently of my fellow individuals as some sort of indictment of your company! I would love to have you as a guest for lunch! You could share my soup!”

“I already ate,” Edmund lied. He desperately wanted to get back to the kitchen, eat his lunch, and then see if he could find a new place to sit and read before supper.

“I insist!” Kolb’s arms swept about him like a gust of wind, and lifted the tray away from Edmund’s grasp. He shoved a small pile of leaflets off of a nearby side-table, and set the tray down, dipping a slice of toasted bread into the soup and stuffing it into his mouth in a smooth circular motion. “Mmm… You quite simply cannot allow me to fall upon this fine food without a friendly face to facilitate my feast.”

“Why do you talk like that?” Edmund asked, in spite of himself. Kolb reminded Edmund of a street-vendor who had set up shop outside the orphanage one spring. Once he had decided you were his target he wouldn’t let you walk away without a sale, and there was no amount of nay-saying he would accept.

Kolb’s smile widened. “We none of us can help how we are made, Master Edmund,” he gave a stiff bow. “While I am proud to count myself among the Moulde family through my dear late-wife, I am also glad to say I was passed by when the Mouldes were given stiff spines and strained sphincters. No, I was blessed, as a Popomus, with the gift of gab, the prize of perspicacity, the virtue of vocabulary, and the essence of elocution. I am a story-teller, my fine Master Edmund, and I cannot be a good one if I have a fear of my own voice.”

“But Wislydale talks as much as you do,” Edmund countered, crossing his arms. “He still doesn’t sound like you.”

“The most damning of all faint praise,” Kolb winked.

Kolb’s Room

Edmund had only turned a few corners when he saw Googoltha standing in the center of the hallway. Her hands were behind her back and her grin glittered in the light, exactly as it had the day she stood outside his bedroom door. He stopped, and stared at her. She stared back

“I’m taking Lunch to cousin Kolb,” Edmund said, as politely as he could. Googoltha didn’t respond; she simply smiled her toothy smile. “Would you like to walk with me?” he tried again.

She didn’t say anything.

Edmund shifted uncomfortably for a few moments as they looked at each other, before he slowly turned around and decided to take a different route to Kolb’s room. He thought that he could feel Googoltha’s gaze on his back as he walked away.

“Of course!” Kolb opened his door wide, ushering Edmund inside. “How kind of you to bring me my meal! You must come inside and share lunch with me–I would love to spend time with the future Patron of Moulde Hall! It’s always a pleasure to see you, master Edmund!”

Kolb’s room was huge. At least, it looked huge, full as it was with posters, paintings, and statues scattered about the walls. The floor, chairs, even the bed was covered with pamphlets, rolled up posters, scraps of papers, and what looked like expedition diaries. Kolb strode into the center of the room, neatly dodging the piles of paper, and brought his arm up like a butler, sticking his leg out at an odd angle in front of him, as he looked away and up from Edmund.

“Are you alright?” Edmund asked, after a moment. Kolb looked down at him.

“Indeed I am!” He laughed, breaking his pose and ushering Edmund to a large upholstered chair. “I am filled with the awe of adventure! How can I not be absolutely appreciative of the abundant accoutrement in this apartment? Observe!”

Kolb spun about, his arms wide, encompassing the entire room. As Edmund looked closer, he saw the posters and pictures were all of distant lands, and faraway jungles and palaces. The statues looked a bit like Kolb, each one gripping a different weapon, tool, or piece of clothing. Some of the posters proclaimed daring feats or wondrous tales performed by Kolberman Popomus, gentleman extraordinary. The room was covered in a massive patchwork of bright greens, reds, yellows, and blues, and from each and every image of Kolb, his eyes peered out like glittering jewels, following Edmund wherever he stood.

The posters boasted of massive climbing expeditions up dangerous and impossible summits, and terrible journeys into dark forests with monstrous beasts and forgotten tribes. The paintings were covered with images of Kolb standing astride slain elephants, crossing mighty rivers, and shaking hands with bedecked kings and queens. The statues were lovely and tall, and so detailed that it took a moment to realize that one of them was Kolb himself, who had struck another pose.

122: Foiling the Cousin’s Plans

Edmund indignation quickly turned into elation. Whatever had been in that note Matron had written to Kolb, it was enough to get his cousins interested in him, even if only to get rid of him. He licked his lips as he thought. Why now? What did South Dunkin have to do with Edmund?

Nothing, of course. It wasn’t South Dunkin that got them interested in him. He was the one who told Matron. He was the one who handed the letter to Kolb.

Edmund smiled to himself. Perhaps he would pay more attention to his cousins in the near future. He would have to make sure he attended those family meetings now, and tell Matron if he heard anything interesting.

No time like the present, Edmund decided after he had left the dining room. Turning sharply, he ducked into a small alcove and twisted the ear of a small statue that was set into the wall. A secret door popped open and Edmund ducked inside.

He looked over the whole mansion for his cousins, but they were all on their own, writing, reading, or locked in their rooms.

It took almost a week before Edmund overheard another interesting exchange.

“No,” Pinsnip was saying as he tried to get away from Kolb. “I’m…I’m not interested.”

“Come now, my reluctant relative,” Kolb grinned as he kept pace with Pinsnip all along the hallway. “A little regal recalcitrance is all that is required. And if we manage to succeed…well… I do not need to tell you what we will receive.”

“A…dagger in the dark, Kolb,” Pinsnip spat.

“Ah, yes, well…” Kolb shrugged. “I suppose that is your…area of expertise, old chap. We’ll say no more about it.”

 

“Area of expertise?” Matron’s eyes narrowed. “You’re sure he said expertise?”

“Yes,” Edmund nodded. “He paused too. ‘that is your…area of expertise.’ Like that.”

Matron closed her eyes for a second.

“Do you know what a reluctant relative is?” she asked.

“No,” Edmund shook his head. Matron’s lunch was getting heavy.

“Go and ask Junapa,” Matron said, pointing at her table for Edmund to set down the tray. “And make sure you are honest.”

 

“Of course,” Junapa smiled blandly. “It means a relative who doesn’t want to do something.”

“Thank you,” said Edmund, as he turned to leave the small sitting room.

“I am so glad you came to me with that question,” Junapa said, her voice pleasant.

“Tell me, did you perhaps hear any other…alliterative words that I could help you understand?”

Edmund knew what alliterative meant from his poetry books.

“Regal…re-calc-a-trance?” Edmund said, trying to remember how Kolb had pronounced it.

“Ah…” Junapa smiled a bit wider. “And who was Kolb talking to?”

“Pinsnip,” Edmund said honestly.

The next day, Edmund saw Ung deliver a letter to Pinsnip. His face screwed up like a prune, and he seemed to avoid Kolb for the rest of the month. That day, Junapa had a small smile on her face that lasted until dinner time.

121: Kolb’s Offer

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Image: House On The Hill by ChrisRawlins

Edmund had just picked up his dishes to take to the kitchen, when the door opened again, revealing Kolb in a long red coat lined with gold and silver thread. His eyes pierced Edmund’s all the way across the room, from under the black hair that hung low on his face. The glittering of his manic grin shimmered in the light as he strode in, his arms waving back and forth in front of him as he moved.

“My fine Master Edmund!” He crowed, striking a regal pose and then bowing so low his head vanished behind the table. “A pleasure of pinnacle proportions to present my personage in your presence! How delectable was your dinner this day?”

“It was fine,” Edmund said, returning Kolb’s smile. Kolb straightened and clapped his hands.

“Excellent to hear! I am always excited to hear everything was eaten with enjoyment. Sadly,” he grew solemn as he drew closer, bending lower and bringing his face next to Edmund’s. “I must discuss something of utmost secrecy with you… Do you mind?”

Edmund shook his head as Kolb twisted his body around so he was behind Edmund, speaking quietly as he gently pushed down on Edmund’s forearms, guiding the plates back to the table.

“I have heard tell of a tremendous talisman that is sitting secretly in the silent sands of the Sahara. It is said this silver sacrament has a spell that summons good fortune to any who wears it. It is a good two week journey from the closest village to the supposed site where the ancient temple that held this treasure lies. I plan to make the journey before next year… would you care to join me?”

“To Africa?” Edmund asked. The idea was somewhat appealing–he had read all about the different countries, and even seen a few maps and globes in the different rooms around Moulde Hall. Perhaps it would be good to see the things he had only read about?

“That’s right,” Kolb whispered, his grin returning. “I see the adventurous humor is already rising in your gut! Come, join my journey and depart this dreary domain for the dream-filled desert! Of course…” he paused, and the grin faded slightly. “Matron would not appreciate your traveling as a Moulde. It’s just not done, you see. No, perhaps it would be best if you not come after all… we wouldn’t want to upset the family.”

Edmund didn’t even bother to reply; he could tell Kolb was gearing up for a final blow. Instead, he simply waited while Kolb shrugged and began to walk away only to suddenly spin about, his face a mask of inspiration.

“Of course!” he said. “You could abdicate! Leave the family! Only for a while, of course, you could always return if you wished, but I could adopt you for the trip! Edmund Popomus, adventurer extraordinary! Think about it, my fine lad! Join me on this little adventure of mine! I have just the papers upstairs in my room whenever you are ready to travel out of the ordinary, and into the unknown!”

With a flourish, Kolb spun about again, and leapt out of the room. Edmund stared after him, his chest tight. Did everyone think he was stupid?

118: Edmund Carries A Letter

Thankfully, he didn’t have to wait long for his chance to learn.

At least once a week, Ung would appear out of nowhere and tell him that his presence was requested by one of his cousins in one of the sitting rooms, or sometimes the game room. He soon learned that his cousins were only inviting him out of some strange familial obligation; they didn’t really expect him to come, and didn’t care much when he did.

There would be idle chatter, mild boasting, and seemingly pointless discussions or arguments about politics or money. Periodically Junapa or Kolb might ask Edmund a question, but they never bothered to listen to his answer. He tried to pay attention even though none of it made much sense, and he usually left early or at least when the arguments and threats started.

Sadly, though perhaps not surprisingly, when he tried using the peepholes in the walls to spy in on the meetings there was little ascertainable difference.

Then, one day towards the end of the month, after Edmund set down Matron’s tray and she shot off a strange question that made him pause.

“Have you heard anything of South Dunkin?” she asked, her cold eyes boring into his. Edmund was about to shake his head no, as usual, when a flicker of memory lit in his mind.

“Yes,” he said, slowly, careful not to scare the memory away. “I overheard Junapa saying something about South Dunkin…” he decided not to mention he was hidden in the walls at the time. “She said she had the situation under control.”

“Did she?” Matron muttered, after a pause. “And I suppose Kolb responded?”

“No,” Edmund shook his head. The memory was quite clear now. “It was Pinsnip. He said she was being too overconfident.”

“Really?” Matron’s eyebrow shot upwards. For a moment, Edmund thought she might hit him with her umbrella, but she merely stood up and crossed with surprising alacrity to her small desk. Whipping out a piece of paper, she pulled apart a pen, carefully filled it with a glass eyedropper, and scrawled something on the paper before folding it in half and pointing it towards Edmund.

“Take this to Kolb,” she said, sharply. “And slip it under his door… no, better yet, make sure he takes it from your hand. Let him see your face.”

“Is this some adult thing?” Edmund asked, staring dismally at the paper in his hand. Kolb’s name was written on it in a large and spidery hand. Matron gave a sharp crackling laugh.

“Not at all, boy. It’s very childish indeed. Now get a move on–I have to write a letter to an old friend in South Dunkin.”

Edmund took the note away as the door slammed behind him. His heart beat loudly in his chest. He knew he would probably never know what this note or South Dunkin was all about, but it did seem clear that something important was happening.

And this time he seemed to be in the middle of it.

98: Tunansia’s Revelation

“I can’t say I would find working with any of you easy,” Kolb shrugged. “If I wasn’t positive it would never happen, I would suggest us all working together. We’d be formidable as a functioning family.”

“And an army of cats could rule the world,” Pinsnip sighed. “Please, Kolb, stay…um…sane.”

“Yes, Kolb,” Wislydale snorted, his glass of thick liquor almost sloshing over the side. “If a mewling plea from our pathetic cousin will finally break through that eccentric skull of yours–”

“I believe this meeting is over,” Junapa’s voice sliced through the room like a dagger, silencing the verbal brawl. She swept to the door, glancing over the rest of the family as she passed. “For the moment, Wislydale, you have given us a lot to think about, but it doesn’t seem there’s much more to be discussed. I think we can all agree that this has been a very informative meeting, but no more fruitful than any other we’ve had. If no one else has any other business to discuss, I would like to adjourn to my room.”

Finishing his drink in a single swallow, Wislydale poured another one before following her along with Kolb, Tricknee, and Pinsnip, leaving Edmund alone with Tunansia. For a moment, neither of them moved. Edmund stared at her while she stared straight ahead at the opposite wall. Somewhere in Moulde Hall, doors began to slam.

“Enjoy that?” She asked, causing Edmund to jump. She locking eyes with him as he felt his skin start to crawl along his back. “If you really want to be involved with any of our little meetings, you won’t be  able to survive on coughs and politeness. Then again, I don’t think you’re going to survive at all.”

A twisting wrenching sensation hit Edmund in the gut. “You heard me?” he asked. Tunansia sneered as she fingered her necklace.

“Of course I did. I saw you too. Junapa and Wislydale probably did too, and I know Kolb did. If you were trying to hide, you were doing a damn poor job of it, sitting out in the open like that.”

“People usually don’t notice me,” Edmund explained, lamely, as the twisting sensation grew stronger. A distant thunderclap rippled through the room. There was a storm brewing.

“I’m not surprised,” Tunansia laughed cruelly. “But we’re Mouldes. We notice everything people want to hide. Every little detail that can be used to bribe or blackmail. Every scrap that anyone could possibly be ashamed of. Of course we noticed you. And once we’ve noticed something we decide exactly how useful or significant that little scrap is, and if it’s not significant at all… we ignore it.”

Tunansia gave one final smirk, picked herself up out of the chair, and walked calmly out of the room. Edmund’s head sank to his chest as the room was lit up by lightning.

They had heard him, and seen him, and hadn’t cared.

97: Edmund Intervenes

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Image: wallpaperup.com

“I wouldn’t be so confident about that,” Kolb mused, stroking his rough chin. “I’ve been surprised before.”

“Quite often, I’d imagine,” Tunansia grumbled. “If you want to waste your time with that worm, than be my guest. I’ll keep my focus on Matron.”

Edmund sat up a little straighter in his chair. A worm, was he? Now might be a good time to show them that he still had a few tricks up his sleeve; maybe then they’d treat him a little kinder.

Taking a deep breath, Edmund coughed in a disapproving manner. He had heard Mrs. Mapleberry use the exact same cough multiple times before; it was quite effective at quelling any fights that were brewing among the children.

“So that’s that. Well done, Wislydale,” Tricknee sneered. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more elaborate way of doing nothing in my life.”

“Not me,” Tunansia smirked. “Though I’ve spent more time with Pinsnip than you have.”

Edmund tried coughing again. Maybe they just hadn’t heard him over the storm that was still raging outside?

“If we’re discussing doing nothing,” Pinsnip said, his eyes narrow, “Then I have to ask how well you are faring at Grimm’s, Tunansia. I’ve heard tell that you’re not much for impressing the teachers, are you?”

“They don’t know anything!” Tunansia snapped. “And I didn’t go there to impress anyone.”

“A wise move, darling,” Kolb smiled. “Best to set reasonable goals for ones self.”

“Excuse me,” Edmund said, foregoing the cough entirely. Surely they had heard that, but they kept arguing, sniping back and forth like angry crows, pecking and snapping at each other.

“Don’t make me laugh,” Pinsnip interjected. “I’ve never seen you set a reasonable goal in your life. You just bumble around making mistakes.”

“Don’t bring me into this, you petulant pup!” Kolb’s voice boomed. “Or need I bring up the trouble we had last year, hiding your little mishap? I can only imagine the scandal if one of us decided to send an anonymous letter to the police.”

“Bringing up scandals, Kolb? We’ll be here for hours recounting yours,” Tricknee rolled his eyes back in his head as he leaned back in his chair.

“At least Kolb is productive,” Tunansia muttered. “All you care about is your damned laboratory.”

“Defending me against my decrepit daddy? Now there’s an alliance I never thought I’d see,” Kolb grinned, stepping through the room. “Tricknee and Tunansia, teaming up to topple the terrible tyrant of Moulde Hall. Tremendously tantalizing.”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Tunansia snapped her mouth shut, crossing her arms. “I wouldn’t ally myself with Tricknee if my life depended on it.”

“Come now, dear,” Junapa rolled her head gently around her neck to look incredulously at her younger cousin. “You’re fifteen now, you’re old enough to know your own tells. The only time I’ve ever heard you defend anyone in this family is if you’re trying to ally with the offender. It’s clumsy double-bluffs like that that make working with you so difficult.”

“Among other things,” Tricknee grumbled, glaring at Tunansia. She sneered, tossing her hair as she pointedly turned away from him.

Edmund licked his lips. Something was wrong. He took a large lungful of air, and coughed as loudly as he could. There was no avoiding it…they had to have heard him.

96: The Plan Falls Apart

“And terribly bad form,” Wislydale drawled. “Please curtail your instincts, Pinsnip; we mustn’t invite a scandal, no matter how simple it might make things. And as for you, Kolb old chap, I quite agree,” he turned to face his cousin. “This paper won’t stop her; she’ll think of something, but it will keep her tied up for a year at least, and the estate will transfer to her legal guardian while she’s away. And that would be her closest living relative who, thanks to her preemptive action, is…?” He paused suggestively like a schoolmaster, the question hanging in the air for someone to answer.

“Someone much easier to manipulate,” Kolb smiled. “You think we should simply shift our attentions to a somewhat simpler target?” Junapa nodded slowly, while Tunansia remained still and silent. Edmund leaned an inch closer. Were they talking about him?

“He would be far easier to deal with than Matron, that is without question,” Junapa said, cocking her head to one side.

“I don’t like the idea of having to butter up that brat,” Tunansia muttered darkly, fingering her locket.

“Than you needn’t bother,” shrugged Wislydale. “Go back to Grimms empty-handed. I’m sure the rest of us will be more than willing to deal with the situation without your interference.”

“No, it won’t work,” Pinsnip suddenly groaned, sitting down heavily on a nearby chair. “The estate won’t fall to him…because…well…legally…he’s not of age yet. Any contract he takes part in becomes…his guardian’s. Control of the estate would fall to… his legal parent…”

“That’s absurd,” Wislydale sputtered, waving the paper in the air like a flag. “She’s mentally unfit!”

“I’m sure your well paid lawyer would love to lever open that legal whip-lashing of the law,” Kolb chuckled. “But it seems things are not quite as clear cut as you’d hoped, dear cousin. I hope you haven’t sent a copy of that letter to anyone else? The newspapers, perhaps?”

“Certainly not!” said Wislydale, looking offended. “It’s none of their business!”

“So at the moment, we’re right back where we started from,” Junapa said, walking slowly across the room, sipping at her drink.

“Well… not quite,” Wislydale rallied. “If nothing else, I believe Pinsnip gave a very reasonable suggestion earlier. I’m lead to believe that adopted children tend to run away or vanish all the time. There’s hardly any scandal in that, now is there?”

“You can try and explain that to the other families if you’d like,” Kolb shrugged. “I’m sure Matron would have a few things to say… and now that you’ve mentioned it in front of all of us, I assume we all would too, if anyone asked.”

“I’m afraid there’s not much else to be done,” Pinsnip shrugged. “Unless you think we should start flattering two people, now, instead of just one.”

“Why bother?” Tricknee snorted. “He won’t last long anyway.”