124: The Mayor


Image: Uncredited, nationalpost.com

It was a cool morning, unseasonably so for Summer, when Edmund heard the sound of Carron’s horse clopping up the front drive.

Edmund set aside his notebook and looked out window. Sure enough, the large black carriage was pulling to a halt in front of Moulde Hall. Edmund craned his neck to look and saw that neither Ung nor Mrs. Kippling were standing there, but instead the tall slim figure of Junapa was waiting by the massive front doors.

The carriage pulled to a halt as Carron’s long limbs stretched out from the driver’s seat and opened the carriage door. A portly man hopped out, brushing off a brown bowler hat and adjusting his coat. He had no sooner adjusted the hat on his head before Junapa was beside him, holding out one hand while the other fanned herself demurely.

Edmund watched with curiosity as the man took her hand and kissed it. Junapa’s fan moved slightly and they both walked into Moulde Hall.

Edmund darted between the walls as quickly as he could, heading to the main Foyer and listening for the sound of either Junapa’s voice or that of the stranger’s.

Finally, he heard Junapa’s quiet laughter from nearby. Changing direction, Edmund crept quietly behind the walls of the nearby sitting rooms, listening carefully. When he was certain he had found the right room, he moved to the nearest peep-hole and hearing-tube to spy on them. They were both seated across from each other and sipping dark red liquid from their glasses.

“Well,” came the unfamiliar male voice of the portly gentleman. “I cannot say I was expecting your offer, my dear.”

“But why ever not?” was Junapa’s reply. Her smooth surprise felt like honey in Edmund’s ears. “The Moulde Family has always been very generous to Brackenburg…much as the city has always been kind to us.”

“Listen, my dear,” the man fluffed himself up like a pigeon, “I am more than willing to discuss this, but I’m afraid I will need some assurances. After all, rumors of the Moulde Family’s current financial troubles have reached even my desk.”

“You shouldn’t trouble yourself over rumors, Mayor,” Junapa soothed.

Mayor? This was the Mayor? Edmund reflexively pushed himself closer to the wall, staring at the little man.

He wasn’t too tall, or too short. His upper lip was covered with a thick white mustache, while his sideburns reached down to his jaw. His brown suit was nice enough, but it wasn’t particularly fine. He exuded the same air as Mr. Shobbinton; a man who felt taller than he actually was. He didn’t look like a particularly great and wonderful man at all… he just looked like a man.

“These rumors are false, then? The Moulde Family is not struggling?”

“I promise you, Mayor, the Moulde Family isn’t going anywhere.” Junapa’s fan snapped closed, a clear full-stop. The Mayor smiled, and clinked his glass to Junapa’s.

“Excellent news to hear. Please continue.”

Edmund was considering running to Matron, but something in the air made him stop. He pulled the rubber tube out of his ear, and listened.

There was a shuffling sound in the walls.

And it was coming nearer.


83: The Cousins’ Plans

Edmund’s tongue stuck to his suddenly dry mouth. How could he pick just one thing? After riding to Moulde Hall through Brackenburg, and learning he was now heir to a vast estate and title, there wasn’t anything he didn’t want to know. Edmund licked his lips and took a drink of water. He decided to start simply.

“Why do you want Matron’s money?” Edmund asked.

The cousins looked at one another, exchanging glances that held entire conversations in almost painful silence. Finally, after a solemn pause, Kolb cleared his throat.

“Not all of us want Matron’s money, my lad,” he smiled uncertainly, his sharp eyes peering through his eyebrows at Edmund. “In fact, some of us would be perfectly content if she kept all of it.”

“How ever much of it there may be left,” muttered Tunansia, her spoon aimlessly swirling the cream of green in her bowl.

“True,” Kolb continued, slightly louder than before, “Since it is obvious Matron has spent little money on the upkeep of the estate, some seem to think the fabulous fortune of our forefathers has faded into a feeble figure of late. However, others such as myself, are confident that the countless coins are being coveted and collected in our capable Matron’s coffers. And for myself, I seek her patronage for my explorations and fabulous journeys into the deep and dark hearts of unexplored lands.”

“And your… investments?” Tunansia whispered, not very quietly. “You have quite a few to pay for, don’t you?” Kolb’s face turned redder.

“It’s true, I’ve fallen into a minor spot of trouble, but nothing I shouldn’t be able to handle with a generous loan from any number of my friends.”

“And some help from Matron?” Edmund prompted. Kolb shrugged.

“If my lovely in-law decides to lend her lamented luckless–”

“Lack-wit,” Junapa interjected smoothly. Pinsnip snickered in appreciation as Kolb inhaled sharply.

“Well, if my tragedy seems comic to you, Misses Knittle, perhaps you would care to enlighten the young master as to your reason for hanging over this hall like a hungry hyena?”

“It would be my pleasure,” Junapa tilted her head back slightly as if she were about to recite a poem. “I intend to use the money Matron has saved to help fund new projects for the Brackenburg Mayor. Funding the city is what made this family great in times past, and it is what will make it strong again.”

“Really!” Wislydale snorted, shaking his head. “Is that what you’ve been up to this whole time? Well bad luck, old gel. The Mayor is hardly likely to want to tack the name of some washed up old family to a new train station, what? He’d ask the Cromleys or the Buckleherses long before coming to you Mouldes.”

“I’m quite sure the Mayor will see things my way once I speak with him,” Junapa smiled and sipped at her water.

“You’re going to initiate?” Wislydale sputtered. “Oh, I say! That’s a mite too far, I think, what? Begging the Mayor to take our money like… like a common investor?”

“I assure you, there will be no begging involved,” Junapa’s mouth became firm. “At least, not on my end. I will simply make it clear that it would be for the public good, and he will agree. I’m sure you think you have a better plan for the Moulde Estate?”

23: Moulde Hall


Image: Uncredited, manningtreearchive.com

The Moulde family mansion sat on the top of Haggard Hill, in the fancy part of Brackenburg. Haggard Hill itself comprised four square city blocks on the northern side of the city. Edmund had only ever seen a few hopeful parents come from the north; they were thick, pudgy folk with lots of jewelry, heavy black coats, and no soot on their faces.

The estate was ten acres of hill surrounded by a large wrought-iron fence topped with sharp points and bedecked with horrible faces glowering out from over the tops of shields. The land was a deep gray-green, covered with old trees, tired grass, and a sagging old gazebo with pealing white paint. Tall and foreboding hedges made of thorns and sharp leaves sat behind the fences, and the gate itself was black and heavy, framed by the statues of two large ravens, terrible beaks sharp and open as if to pluck out the eyes of anyone who offended their gaze. The sign over the gate cautioned ‘Moulde Estate’ in a sharp and spidery lettering.

The mansion itself was huge; at least five stories tall. It was painted a deep purple that was fading into gray with age, with a bright green trim that, when compared to the rest of the building, practically glowed. There were two tall towers that stuck out of the roof like castle turrets, each with a tall flagpole on top though neither pole held a flag. The carriage pulled to a halt outside the gate and shook gently as the driver disembarked to open the large gate.

“Is that yours?” Edmund asked, breaking the silence that had stifled the carriage for the whole trip as politely as he could manage. The silence quickly returned as Edmund turned to Matron, only to see her face sour and a look of disdain curling around her nostrils. A long slow creak filtered through the dark wood as the iron gate opened.

“It’s all mine,” she muttered darkly after a few moments of uncomfortable stillness. Edmund turned back to the window as the carriage began to move slowly, only to stop again once the gate had been passed. “Every road, tree, and building you saw was mine.”

Edmund was astonished, though not shocked. It made sense that someone who owned Brackenburg would own such a huge house. He began to wonder what it would be like, living with the person who owned the city, when he remembered the speech that hung on the orphanage wall.

“What about the Mayor?” he asked as the creak of the gate sounded again as it closed.

“Feh,” spat Matron. “‘Public services.’ All of the land was purchased from my family years ago for ‘the good of the city.’ They’re all a squalid and unpleasant group of renters. This land belonged to my family long before Mayors were even invented.”

Edmund looked back at the house. So she didn’t own the city anymore. Well, perhaps it was for the best. Edmund wouldn’t know what to do with a parent that owned everything.

3: The Orphanage Tax

It wasn’t that Mrs. Mapleberry lacked for money; Orphaning was a lucrative business these days. Adopting was the patriotic duty of the working class, a prestigious badge of honor for the middle class, and a trendy fad for the affluent. At least four times a week, prospective parents would arrive and walk along the outside of the fence or stand in the hallway or dining room next to Mrs. Mapleberry like statues, watching, selecting the children they wanted to purchase.

Sometimes they would ask to speak with one child, sometimes several, but almost never with Edmund. For some reason, prospective mothers and fathers consistently passed him by after seeing his pale skin and black matted hair. His dark sunken eyes and small mouth seemed to unsettle them, and they always seemed to think he should blink more often than he did.

The other children didn’t seem to have the same problem. Almost seven or eight beds in the sleeping hall were emptied of their former inhabitants every week, and filled again with new street-toughs, urchins, and other newcomers by the next. There always seemed new orphans to adopt, and with no shortage of orphans there was no shortage of income.

The Mayor of Brackenburg was quite adamant, however, that any true orphanage had to be poor, dilapidated, and a miserable place for children; otherwise, why would the children need to be adopted? So, most of the money vanished as quickly as it came, returning to Brackenburg through a large Orphanage tax.

Yet for some reason that Edmund couldn’t quite understand, the Mayor’s speech — the one he had given on that rainy day so many years ago — had been hung in the common room. It had been printed in all the newspapers the following day, and Mrs. Mapleberry had cut it out and framed it, hanging it with pride, as though it were some stuffed animal head.

The speech spoke of industry and progress. It spoke of a towering infrastructure of machines, of steam and oil. It spoke of a city full of hope and duty, of strength and unity. It spoke of a place which would provide a beacon to the entire world, full of light and smoke and fire and steam. A place that would guide humanity to a new and better future. It spoke of a brave new world, and the brave young people that would inhabit it.

Edmund had decided to take the mayor’s word for it. He had never ventured beyond the small wooden fence and into Brackenburg proper to see this great and prosperous city that the Mayor so admired. Mrs. Mapleberry didn’t allow it for one thing. For all the wonderful things that the Mayor seemed to see in the city, Mrs. Mapleberry saw a host of dangers for a young and unsupervised child.

Of course, that didn’t stop some of the older boys and girls from sneaking over the fence late at night, and scampering down the long cobbled road to the city’s edge, but Edmund never went with them.

They never asked him to follow, anyway.

1: The Macabre Tale of Edmund Moulde


Image by Max Bullock

Edmund was an orphan from birth, as was fashionable at the time.

His earliest memories were of a solitary and dreary life in Mrs. Mapleberry’s Home For Wayward Lads and Ladies, a sagging orphanage perched on top of Downs Hill on the outskirts of the smog-blanketed city of Brackenburg.

It was a crowded life with orphans being so plentiful. Brackenburg had been hit hard during the last war, leaving many homes vacant and many children parent-less. More importantly, at least to the Mayor, there were also fewer men and women to perform the necessary farm and factory labor to keep the city alive.

In response, the mayor began to devote his time and energy to subsidizing the experimental inventions that he thought would propel his beloved city into the twentieth century. This seemed to work, and soon a large black sooty cloud of industry began to grow over the Brackenburg skyline.

Sadly, as industry prospered there was a marked increase in industrial accidents as well, which led to even more orphans and vacant homes that began to dot Brackenburg like festering sores, while the black clouds of soot that hung over the city continued to grow larger.

Finally, as abandoned houses, decrepit mansions, and haunted lots sprouted up like weeds, the Mayor decided to donate them to the numerous orphanages that were becoming so necessary.

“A small price to pay for progress,” the mayor had said, closing his speech with a shake of his head in sympathy. “In these havens — these sanctuaries — our children will be cared for and grow up knowing that their parents died either to make this country safe in war, or to make this city great in industry. Either way, it is because of their sacrifice that Brackenburg is one of the greatest and most prosperous cities in the world.”

It had been the proudest moment in Mrs. Mapleberry’s life, standing on the rickety makeshift stage in the pouring rain, not an arms length away from the Mayor himself. Granted, she had been selected along with twenty two other proprietors of orphanages to stand with the Mayor, but she was next to him none-the-less. She couldn’t help but feel uniquely prized as he distributed deeds to the properties like Father Christmas.

After the speech was finished, Mrs. Mapleberry began the unsteady journey down the makeshift stairs to solid ground. She hadn’t gone more than five steps, however, when a pale thin babe was thrust into her arms by an unseen stranger from the swarming mass of citizenry.

Had she been inclined to think faster she might have been able to catch the arm of the mysterious figure, or at least catch a glimpse, as no one could have moved through the thick throng of onlookers with any speed. But she had been smothered with civic pride and a personal sense of duty by the Mayor’s speech, and looking at the child, who looked back at her with thick black eyes, filled her with a sense of purpose.

And so, instead of thinking twice about the mysterious benefactor, she went straight to her new home; the only building on Downs Hill.