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.

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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.

84: A Few More Plans

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Image: Uncredited, dailymail.co.uk

“As a matter of fact, I do,” Wislydale tipped his drink into his mouth, smacking his lips noisily. “I intend to rebuild the Moulde family name. Ever since the Great Agreement, the Mouldes have been considered little better than scoundrels and criminals, what?”

“Quite correctly, too,” Tunansia muttered. Wislydale ignored her.

“On top of that, there’s been quite a lot of scandal in this family, with Kolb running around in jungles and on mountains, and all that trouble with South Dunkin recently, well… It doesn’t take a bally lot of the old brain to see we’re in a spot of bother. I say we throw out some of the riff-raff and start to behave like a real founding family, what? I say let’s get our respect back.”

“Hear, hear!” Kolb shouted, pounding loudly on the table with his fist. “Let’s rid ourselves of the bandits and bashi-bazouks that burden our beloved family. Let me see if I can think of anyone who might fit the bill…” Theatrically, he placed a finger to his lips, and seemed to lose himself in thought.

“I’m sure what Kolb is so eloquently not saying,” Tunansia said, staring coldly, “is that a washed up member of a family of leeches is hardly what the Moulde Family needs to regain respect. Farmers don’t ask locusts for help when rebuilding a farm and I likewise will not trust in your good intentions.” For a moment, Tunansia and Wislydale locked eyes, until Wislydale sighed and looked away, sipping at his drink.

“What about you, Pinsnip?” Wislydale said, clearing his throat. “We’ve all been sharing our ideas, what about you?”

“I…” Pinsnip looked suddenly very ill, glancing around the table, not looking at anyone or anything for very long. “It’s… I think they’re… all very nice, but, well… I mean, I think we’d get better return on… what we have.”

“Pinsnip, would you please pull your pitiful tongue out of your palate and proceed?” Kolb rubbed his temples with two massive fingers. “I don’t think I can take too much more of your stammering.”

“Well…” Pinsnip swallowed, running his fingers over his mustache nervously. “I think… Yes, I think it would be best to keep most of… that is, the rest of the money in the estate. The Moulde name still carries weight, and we could do things with it, like… well, like hold festivals, or… or things for the common good?”

A shift in posture rippled around the table, and suddenly everyone was smiling, and chuckling quietly. Edmund couldn’t help but think someone had told a joke, but he hadn’t heard it.

“I’m finding this a damned delightful dialogue, truly–I only wish one of us had asked this question earlier.” Kolb turned to Tunansia. “And you, dearest of dear cousins? Would you care to join in and explain your enterprising endeavors?”

“No,” Tunansia said. She kept her eyes on her soup, eating pointedly while the others all stared at her.

“Don’t be a spoilsport dear,” Wislydale admonished, waving his glass about like a wand. “Tell us something. If you can’t think of anything to say it will be most disappointing, what?” Tunansia didn’t respond, but simply continued to eat, her free hand aimlessly playing with her locket.

“Yes, well, there you have it,” Junapa nodded to Edmund. “We all have our reasons for wanting the estate–some better than others, of course.”

80: Avoiding the Point

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Image: Pollyanna, Disney

“So, my dear Junapa,” Wislydale languidly said, stifling a yawn as he blinked blearily across the table. “I think I have yet to congratulate you on your recent acquisition, what?”

“Indeed,” Kolb smiled. “You managed to snap up that shoddy little inn before any of us could get to it. Particularly well played, my cousin.”

“You flatter me,” Junapa smiled gently. “It was merely a spot of luck, a drunken innkeeper, and a well-paid solicitor. I count myself fortunate that Matron was not faster.”

“She… well… she does seem to be slowing up…or rather, down, doesn’t she,” Pinsnip said. “I know I would be tired, fending off the… the whole family.”

“Speaking of tired,” Wislydale cut in with a cough. “What is this I hear, Kolb, about you funding for some trip up the Amazon?

“Yes,” Junapa smiled slightly. “I thought you had given up all that nonsense after your troubles with the courts?”

“I had,” Kolb’s eyes flashed as they locked with Junapa’s. “I was forced back to my knight errant ways, as a result of a particularly pernicious problem from my past. Our mistakes do tend to follow us long after they seem dead… and buried, do they not?”

Junapa’s eyes narrowed as she nodded slowly.

“Yes, quite,” Wislydale drawled, his head rolling about his shoulders. “But I say, you’re not really starting all that rot up again, are you? It’s hardly appropriate for Family to run off to someplace… foreign. My dear chap, there are all sorts of diseases out there!”

“I assure you,” Kolb’s smile broadened. “When I return, I will stay as far away from you as possible.”

“I think,” Junapa smiled in return, “Wislydale is far less concerned with your health than what it says about the Family, dear cousin.”

“And why on earth shouldn’t I be?” Wislydale grumbled. “Dashed silly business, what? If you want adventure, why don’t you go on Safari, or do something respectable, like that? It’s bad enough you spent all that time with that traveling jackanape band of fellows; your behavior is damned silly, and you’re making us all look damned silly too, what?”

“I’m sorry if you feel the good name of Moulde has been sullied,” Kolb smirked. “Please feel free to return to that horrible little hovel of hobos you call a family… If the Bonnes will let you, of course.” He shot off a parting sneer as his whole body shifted to point towards Junapa. “I would be honored to hear how your holiday to your summer home went, dear cousin. Is old Mr. Keaney still there? I hear he’s threatening to leave.”

“Oh really,” Wislydale rolled his eyes lazily. “Is that old fool still bearing a grudge about that little mess with the police?”

“The sentence was seven years, Wislydale,” Tunansia grunted, sipping her soup. “Maybe he thinks it’s not a grudge. Maybe it’s justice.”

“Justice?” Wislydale snorted. “How quaint. It wasn’t Junapa’s fault he didn’t have a convincing alibi. You’d think he didn’t realize; Murder is a serious business, what?”

There was another pause while everyone nodded the nods of people who knew this to be true.

“I must say, the trouble in South Dunkin has taken a turn for the worse, hasn’t it?” Junapa said after a pause.

“Why on earth are we talking about this?” Pinsnip blurted out with sudden ferocity. “Why aren’t we talking about–” and he fell silent. There was a pause while everyone gently set down their spoons and glasses, focusing their attention at him.

16: Matron’s Questions

http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/english-and-drama/gothic/

Image: The Good Lady Ducalyne by Mrs. Elizabeth Braddon, The Strand Magazine, 1896

The woman moved then, her eyes dipping like a bird’s to stare at the pages full of his words. Edmund saw her pupils slowly roll about in their sunken sockets, following the scribbled lines of Edmund’s handwriting. After a long pause she extended a single claw and flipped the page.

Edmund’s heart beat faster. He swallowed his protest as the claw slowly returned to its perch on the handle of the umbrella. She stared for what felt like hours before her eyes shot up to Edmund’s again.

“You wrote this?” She snapped, her voice like brittle twigs. Edmund nodded. Her tone had not made it clear if this was a good or a bad thing. The woman’s mouth twisted further into something like a frown. “How old are you?”

“Eight,” Edmund said.

“And are you neat? Tidy? Can you do what you’re told?”

Mrs. Mapleberry gave a little sigh as she placed her thick hand over her breast in a gesture of matronly pride.

“Oh, Edmund is one of the cleanest Lads–”

“Do be silent, you old watermelon, I’m asking the boy,” the woman snapped like a shot. Mrs. Mapleberry gasped, and fell silent while Edmund thought about the question.

“I don’t have much, so I can’t make a mess,” he said, finally. “I’ve always done what I’ve been asked, but no one has ever asked much of me either.”

“Good,” the woman crackled. “Do you know anything about people? Politics? What’s your opinion on the labor situation in South Dunkin?”

“I don’t know of any labor situation in South Dunkin,” Edmund said, quietly. “I don’t even know where South Dunkin is.”

“It’s to the South,” the woman muttered, icily.

“I don’t pay much attention to politics,” Edmund replied. The woman nodded briskly.

“Good. Do you get into fights at all?” she asked, her teeth seeming to sharpen in the dim light.

“No,” Edmund shifted in his seat, “people don’t pay much attention to me either.”

“But if you got in a fight — if someone wanted to hurt you, what would you do?” she asked, leaning forward almost imperceptibly.

Edmund had seen other children fight before in the orphanage, but he’d never considered being in one himself; the other children had always seemed loathe to touch him. The closest he ever got to a fight was once when a twisting floorboard had tipped a thick older boy into him. The boy had raised his fists at Edmund, who waited, watching the boy with interest, until he dropped his fists and backed away slowly.

“I don’t know,” Edmund answered. “I would either stay and fight or run away and hide. It would depend on how many I’m fighting, and how strong they are.”

“And just how long are you planning on living?” What an odd question, Edmund thought. Parents had never asked him questions like that before. Edmund considered for a moment.

“As long as I can,” he said, finally.

“Good,” the woman nodded, and leaned back in her chair. “Get its things, I’ll take it at once.”