The Cambriol Riddle, Chapter Three–Laws and Paupers, continued

“If Mother were here, she’d have founded a charity already,” Djaren muttered.

Eljiah cleared his throat. “I’d like to look in here, if it’s all right.” He stood looking up at a solidly built building double the width of most of the houses. The placard read “The Herringbroke boys’ house.”

“You already have a charity here.” Djaren smiled.

“Not this one, it was in trust for a friend. It’s his endowed fortune that keeps it up. We do donate books regularly. It’s, uh, that one that your mother and I have made a project of since your uncle the painter passed.” He glanced at Tallis, and nodded up the hill where an old round building with marble columns broke up the monotony of the street. It had a garden. Djaren took off his glasses and squinted to see the writing over the door. “The DeAngelli academy for girls.”

“We’ve, uh, been working on cooperative programs between the schools, to try and keep families together.” Eljiah looked at his feet. “I was on the board of trustees. They wouldn’t recognize me now.”

“Do we want to go bring the boys house an informal Shandorian holiday?” Tallis asked.

“It’s not a holiday in Shandor.”

“At least fifty memorable things have happened in Shandorian history on this date. We could pick one,” Djaren said.

Tallis was already knocking on the door. It was opened by a freckled young man in a worn suit. The young man jumped at seeing the skeletal and sunken-eyed Tallis. “Whatever do you want?” he demanded, stepping back and narrowing the door.

“To spread goodwill between nations,” Djaren piped up, offering one of the baskets. “We’re Shandorians, students at the University. Our teacher, Professor Sheridan, is too old to travel, but sent us with a gift and his well-wishes.”

The young man let the door widen, his concern smoothing into a smile. “Oh, I’ve read his books, some of them. Do come in to the foyer. I will let the headmaster know you are here.”

Eljiah nodded at Djaren gratefully.

They waited in the foyer, which smelled of gumboots and borax, and were soon led down a hall with a staircase going up. Quiet conversations above, and distant laughter, let them know that the house was fully occupied. They were directed into an office, where a greying man with a receding hairline was sorting through papers. He looked up at them, and then gave them all a second look.

“I’m told you are students at the University.”

“Yes, ah, Master Edwold,” Djaren said, finding the name on the desk placard. “We’ve come to bring our regards and well-wishes from Professor Sheridan.”

“I’d heard he died,” the man said, templing his fingers.

“Oh,” said Djaren, glancing at Eljiah. “Really? I hadn’t—how recently?”

“He is supposed to have met his end last summer in a boating accident near the Tembelakan islands,” the man said, with narrowed eyes.

“He did love the ocean,” Eljiah said, weakly, when it seemed no one else would speak.

Master Edwold crossed his arms and looked at Eljiah. “I met him once, you know. I was a boy, here at this home. I had a book he’d written twenty years previous. When he signed it, he didn’t look much over twenty.” He leaned across the desk. “Some of the boys here love the old fairytales, about the king and his wizard advisor who aged backwards. Even I, in my youth, fancied a few of those. I’ve quite grown past fairy stories. But you Shandorians . . .” He leaned back in his chair, still looking at Eljiah. “So you are clearly an identical great grandson with identical scars to your famous ancestor, and you’ll hear nothing else from me, because anything else would be ridiculous and against the firm scientific principles we are trying to teach. What brings you here?”

Eljiah coughed. “We brought some gifts, but I wanted to know, sir, mostly, if everything is well.”

Master Edwold raised his eyebrows. “In what particular? We manage. Our library is lagging in contemporary texts, and the roof could use repair. We are always running out of shoes in certain sizes, and our boys are rough on clothing. That’s not what you’re asking about though, is it?”

“You’re two streets from Pauper’s Field. The top windows overlook it. Bodies have been turning up at the medical college that don’t belong there. I feel it should be looked into before missing bodies turn into missing living citizens.”

The man’s eyes narrowed. “There have been disappearances. There are always disappearances in this bit of town. But it’s the foreigners who are disappearing lately. There’s no way to keep an accurate count of them, as they have few attachments here.”

“People with no family,” Djaren said.

“Those are typically the people who disappear first,” Master Edwold said wearily. “Now at least we have a shelter for unclaimed children. We haven’t lost a boy in two years, I am proud to say. We’re opening a second house on the west side next month,” he fixed his sharp eye on Eljiah, “with generous funds left us in the will of the late Professor Sheridan.”

Eljiah looked about the room, biting his lip.

“But about the possibility of grave robbings, the boys who room on the top floors have plenty of stories they could tell of lights in the field at night. And an undertaker down the way has partnered with the local ironmonger to have iron cages made to encase coffins and dissuade theft. From this I can surmise that it has become a local problem.”

“May we talk to the boys upstairs?” Djaren asked.

“I’d rather you didn’t fill their heads with tales of grave robbers. Most are looking into jobs for the future, and that occupation is already more lucrative and less academically strenuous than the fields we would rather they took an interest in.”

Tallis nodded, thoughtfully. “Who would you ask for more information?”

The headmaster frowned. “If you’ve the stomach for it, you could speak to the Mourners on Stableway.”

“The Mourners?” Djaren asked.

“People hire them to fill out funerals, and to keep watch at gravesites. Lately they’ve been advertising that they’ll stay the night to watch over the safe rest of loved ones. One imagines they know a bit of what is going on.”

“Thank you, sir,” Eljiah said.

“And thank you for all the gifts you’ve shared with us. Should you, ah, find any contemporary texts by any upcoming Shandorian scholars in the future, we would be more than happy to accept new donations.”

“Perhaps I can get them signed,” Eljiah said mildly.

“Use your left hand so as not to confuse future generations into ridiculous speculation,” the headmaster advised.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *