Howe sorts through the papers in his briefcase one more time. He does enjoy a good show, and today's should be very interesting.
Howe has set the stage in the drawing room of the late Matilda Rundle's cavernous mansion, located in a scenic village a long way from anywhere important. He reflects that the craftsmen of Yartmuth have probably been drinking many a toast as they imagine the income to be made from necessary repairs that have been accumulating for a decade or more. He wonders if they will have to wait longer.
Rundle is uncharacteristically smiling as he strides up the front steps of the mansion and enters without knocking. It's his now, after all. Should fetch a pretty penny, too.
Rundle sniffs as he enters. The whole place smells faintly of sickroom, heavily overlaid with lavender. But then, Auntie M always saturated everything she wore with lavender, so why be surprised?
Rundle turns his attention back to his impending wealth, and all the things he needs to do with it. He wonders just how much Auntie was worth, and whether there'll be enough left to enjoy after all the bills are paid. The Connington bill, in particular, looks to be steeper than he'd first expected.
Rundle turns his thoughts back to pleasanter things, like money, as he enters the antechamber to the drawing room.
Rundle: Good morning, Howe.
Rundle, for once, really means the pleasantry.
Howe: Good morning, sir.
Howe means the pleasantry, too -- he's never cared much for Matilda Rundle's political nephew, and is looking forward to the will reading with ~~ anticipation ~~.
Rundle: Are we waiting for anyone else, or can we get started?
Howe: If you would join the others in the drawing room, I believe that we have everyone who's expected. A few of the legatees were not able to make it here today.
Rundle frowns. Legatees, plural? Ah, well, maybe Auntie M left some favorite bits of jewelry to some of her lady friends, or some such.
Howe waits for the Senator to enter, and follows him.
Rundle looks around the room. Why so many people? He nods a brusque greeting to the small crowd and takes the only remaining empty seat, a too-soft, too-low armchair that makes him seem shorter than anyone else in the room.
Howe moves past the double row of chairs to a podium. He takes his time opening his briefcase and pulling out a small sheaf of papers, then removes a pair of spectacles from his pocket, polishes them slowly, and adjusts them carefully on his nose.
Rundle shifts impatiently. The armchair gives an ominous loud creak.
Howe: Thank you all for attending today, as I read the last will and testament of the late Matilda Eupronia Nelwyn Ranagonda Rundle. Before we begin, however, I think it would be appropriate to take a moment to reflect on her memory.
Howe gravely bows his head.
Rundle resignedly bows his head along with the rest.
Howe waits patiently as Matilda's favorite clergyman delivers a long, rambling eulogy, full of vignettes featuring the late departed.
Rundle lets the droning voice wash over him. He shifts his weight again, and the chair creaks and wobbles. Is one of the legs a bit loose?
Rundle tries to hold very still as the preacher rambles on. Wouldn't want the chair to collapse while he's in it.
Howe thanks the clergyman when at last he finishes.
Rundle gives no sign of impatience but the slow clenching and unclenching of his fists on the arms of his chair.
Howe: We are gathered here today to read the last will and testament of Matilda Eupronia Nelwyn Ranagonda Rundle, deceased a week ago.
Rundle relaxes fractionally. Finally! He permits himself a small, satisfied smile.
Howe lifts the first page.
Howe: I, Matilda Eupronia Nelwyn Ranagonda Rundle, being of sound mind and body, do make the following bequests. To my butler, Yount Craven, I give an annuity of the sum...
Howe goes on to list bequests for the rest of the servants.
Rundle lets his mind drift again.
Howe next goes on to list bequests to many of the local charities.
Rundle scowls. As he'd understood it, he was to be the sole heir. He can understand making exceptions for loyal servants but this is ridiculous. The chair creaks again.
Howe details somewhat larger bequests to relatives, starting with the most distant.
Howe works his way through the cousins and the one remaining sibling.
Rundle's shoulders tighten and his breathing becomes quicker, sure danger signs to anyone who knows him. He's moments from losing his temper entirely.
Howe digresses a moment to detail some bequests of books, plant cuttings, and jewelry to various yet-living friends.
Rundle's hands clench on the squashy arms of the chair, digging into the upholstery.
Howe: "To my nephew, Glavius Rundle, I give my house in Yartmuth with all its contents not bequeathed elsewhere."
Rundle scowls, wondering if there's anything left of the contents after all those other bequests. But there is still, after all, the rest of the estate.
Howe: "The rest of my estate, including my interests in the following enterprises..."
Rundle tenses his legs, and the chair wobbles loudly. A tic has developed in his left cheek.
Howe outlines the investments that constitute the bulk of the worth of the estate.
Rundle gives a triumphant grin. This really is the good part.
Howe: "...I leave to the relative who has the greatest need....
Rundle waits for it, smiling fiercely.
Howe: "my great-nephew, Clarence Norton Vincet Rundle, known as Randayl since his changeover."
Rundle surges to his feet. Or tries to. With a loud splintering sound, all four legs of his chair collapse, dumping him out onto the floor in an ungainly sprawl.
Howe looks at the elder Rundle ~~ severely ~~.
Howe: Sir, are you all right?
Rundle gets some air back into his lungs and rolls free from the splintered bits of mahogany. He staggers to his feet.
Rundle: A Sime can't inherit! He's not a legal person!
Rundle storms towards the podium, grabbing for the sheaf of documents. He misses.
Howe backs away.
Howe: Sir, I must ask you to control yourself.
Rundle belatedly pulls himself to a dignified halt.
Howe: I assure you, the will is legal as written, and I have read it faithfully.
Rundle: A Sime cannot inherit. Not in New Washington Territory. As his legal next of kin at the time of his unfortunate, um, fate...
Howe: Simes don't inherit automatically as next of kin, but I assure you, a specific bequest such as this, occurring after and with full knowledge of the boy's... condition... is binding.
Rundle: It can't be! I'll have my lawyers...
Rundle stops, suddenly realizing that his lawyers are business partners of Aunt Matilda's lawyer. Never before did it seem like a conflict of interest.
Howe: You are welcome to have my partners confirm that this is a valid will, drawn up in proper legal form and signed in front of impeccable witnesses.
Rundle: It can be challenged. In court. She was obviously not in her right mind.
Howe: She was fully sane, as can be readily demonstrated by numerous witnesses. The infirmity that took her life didn't interfere with her mind in the least.
Rundle: We'll see about that.
Howe: While her bequest was unusual, it is fully legal and binding. She went to the trouble of getting Judge Livit to issue a declaration to that effect, before he witnessed her sign the will.
Rundle clenches his fist in impotent fury. He wants to feel bone breaking under his knuckles. Preferably the oversized nose of this pitiful excuse for an honest lawyer.
Howe: I shall be traveling to the Sime's capital next week to inform your son of his inheritance.
Rundle knows, despite his rage, that he mustn't start a fistfight in front of all of these witnesses. Snarling, he storms back to where he was sitting, grabs a broken chair leg, and flings it through the nearby window. Four large, tinted panels break with a satisfying crash.
Howe: Enjoy your inheritance, sir.
Rundle stares at the expensive fragments of rubino d'oro glass littering the window ledge. His window ledge.
Howe is petty enough to ~~ enjoy ~~ the expression on the Senator's face, although he keeps his own expressionless.
Rundle stands staring as the other attendees begin filing from the room. How is he ever going to pay all his bills now?
Rundle's eyes focus on the shattered ruby glass, like ice-sharp droplets of blood. Why, oh why, didn't he manage to shoot the damned boy the night he fled? And what is he going to do now?
Rundle slowly squares his shoulders. He'll have to go to Simeland, talk to the boy. After all, what use does a snake have for money? How can he possibly use shares in respectable New Washington companies?
Rundle almost manages a smile. Surely there's room to negotiate. And if there's one thing he knows he's good at, it's negotiating.
Howe leaves the house, thinking that the look on Senator Rundle's face is worth the hassle of taking a trip to Sime Territory. Or maybe one of the younger partners could be given that chore...