Part 10: Letter and Umbrella II
Dessert was some kind of chocolate cake accompanied by pear sherbet. Gohda-san enthusiastically explained the recipe as soon as this final dish was presented, but I quickly forgot the details. The guest of honor, Grandfather, was absent, the weather was horrible, and the person who had lent Maria the umbrella was still a mystery.
When dinner ended, no one felt even one bit refreshed. It was too late now, but we realized painfully that taste wasn't the only important part of a meal. The whole atmosphere was also critical. Gohda-san, the supposed conductor of this musical piece called dinner, did his best to enliven the place, dropping little jokes left and right, but apparently not one of them succeeded.
After taking orders for after-dinner coffee, tea, and orange juice, he left for the kitchen. As soon as he disappeared, uncle Krauss spoke.
"Ho. I want to know why you feel that way. Sometime later, allow me, as your older brother, to help cheer you up."
Aunt Eva grimaced slightly. I had already heard that she was not on good terms with uncle Krauss , but now I could clearly feel it. When I looked around, I noticed that my father and aunt Rosa were also grimacing.
Anyhow, it looked like there was something besides the weather that was troubling all of them.
"...Both aunt Eva and my father... they aren't looking too happy."
"Really? I don't think so."
I asked aunt Natsuhi, who was sitting on my right, but it looked like she was also in a bad mood. She snapped back as though she was absolutely not interested.
"Well, our adult conversation got a little complicated. It's not something that kids like you need to worry about, Battler-kun. Hahahahaha, Right? Natsuhi-san? Kyrie-san?"
Uncle Hideyoshi laughed as he spoke, but without his usual brightness, so I could vaguely imagine just how complicated their adult conversation had actually become. On top of that, even aunt Natsuhi and Kyrie-san, the people he had directed his comment to, ignored him as though they hadn't heard anything. I didn't know what kind of conversation they had been having while the kids were away, but it reminded me of how Father had said he had stomach cramps when we had arrived at the mansion. The family conference might have been a playful reunion to us kids, but it was definitely different for the adults...
When uncle Hideyoshi was ignored by the other adults and an awkward silence fell over the room, Kyrie-san spoke up.
"Hey! Wait a sec... Kyrie-san, if you start talking about something like that in the middle of a meal, it won't digest well and we'll all get constipated, ri~ght?"
"Wahahaha! That's right, that's right! We were talking about Battler-kun and Jessica-chan's careers! Ya can't take the future too seriously! Wahahaha..."
Hideyoshi heartily agreed as if they really had been talking about that, but that was probably wrong. Kyrie-san had been obviously trying to avoid talking about something. However, if Kyrie-san had determined that this was the best course of action for now, then she was probably right. Taking this into account, I'll cast aside my suspicions as to the cause behind aunt Eva and Dad's bad moods...
At long last, the serving cart returned, filled with coffee and tea. Kumasawa-san and Shannon-chan served it to everyone. Gohda-san then explained that, with this, tonight's dinner was over. If I had been able to eat in a more cheerful mood, it might have been the best dinner in my life. It was a shame that this best dinner couldn't have been had under the best conditions.
"Uu-! George onii-chan, is dinner over now? Over?"
"Yes. With this, dinner is finished."
"That's not ladylike. Stay in your seat, and calmly drink up."
Maria looked like she was really excited about the occasionally crashing thunder. Maybe she wanted to quickly finish eating and run over to the window. She had been fidgeting for a while, waiting for the meal to end. Some people are afraid of thunder, while others find it interesting, and Maria was apparently one of the latter. Therefore, when she heard from George-aniki that dinner was over, a huge smile broke across her face.
She then stood from her seat, took out her hand bag - which she had set under her seat, never having left it even while she was eating - and began fishing around inside of it. No one seemed particularly concerned with this behavior...
"...What's this? This, where did you get it?"
George was the first to notice it. As he spoke, Battler also noticed.
On the front of the envelope, the Ushiromiya family crest - the One-winged Eagle - was done in gold leaf. Furthermore, the fact that it was sealed with dark-red wax made it clear that this was not something that Maria could have brought as a prank.
"...Maria-chan, what is that?"
It seemed that Natsuhi had also noticed the strangeness of the envelope that Maria was holding. Because her voice sounded too serious to be admonishing a small child, the other relatives around her finally noticed.
"What happened, Natsuhi nee-san?"
"...What is, that?"
"Maria... where did you pick that up...?"
"That envelope has... Kinzo-san's..."
...In other words, it could only mean one thing. This envelope contained a message from Kinzo.
"Ho...What is an envelope like that doing here...?"
"...It... it looks like something interesting has jumped out at us."
"...Ju, just show it to me...!"
"Uu-!! No way, Maria will read it! Maria was told to read it to everyone!!"
Uncle Hideyoshi tried to snatch the envelope out from Maria's hands, but she protected it as though hugging it, and didn't let go.
"Hideyoshi-san, you can't use all of your strength against a child. Maria-chan, where did you get this envelope?"
"Messenger...? Ihihihi, the witch of the island sure likes to mess around."
Battler tried to joke about it, but no one went along with him.
"...I, I wonder what's written inside of it. Maria-chan...?"
"Uu-. Read it! Uu-!"
Maria casually opened the envelope. It was sealed only with wax, so she just had to remove the sealing wax to open it. That sealing wax fell onto the desk. Hideyoshi hastily picked it up and stared fixedly at it. He then set it in the center of the table, where Natsuhi, Kyrie, and Nanjo glared at it.
In the sealing wax, the Ushiromiya family crest - which was also Kinzo's personal crest - the One-winged Eagle was imprinted.
"But, in this mansion, couldn't there be several identical seals? For example, if there was some kind of stamp for wax seals, couldn't someone other that Kinzo-san have sealed it?"
"No, Kinzo-san would always use a ring on his finger, his "Proof of the Head of the Ushiromiya family", when he sealed the wax. This shape and complex design is definitely Kinzo-san's seal..."
"That is not necessarily so. Anyone in the family must have received a letter from Father at least once. We can't eliminate the possibility that someone, using that wax as a model, created a fake seal to pass themselves off as Father."
"I agree with Aniki. No matter how the seal resembles Father's, we can't prove that it is the real thing. Therefore, it doesn't prove that this envelope came from Father."
"I feel the same way. I cannot approve of arbitrarily deciding that this is Father's letter only by the seal in the wax. Doctor Nanjo, couldn't you use more discretion with your vague words...?!"
"...I apologize... I said too much..."
One after another, all of the siblings, from Krauss on downwards, rejected Nanjo's statement, saying that the envelope that Maria was holding had not necessarily been sent by Kinzo. They were afraid. Kinzo's intentions were written in there, and they feared from the bottoms of their hearts that it might be some decidedly unfavorable announcement regarding the inheritance.
"...Maria... The person who gave you that envelope was the same person who lent you that umbrella, right...?"
"I don't know what 'uu-' means! Is it true?!"
"So, in other words, the witch, Beatrice, gave Maria-chan that envelope along with the umbrella...?"
Maria nodded forcefully.
"...I, I agree with my husband. It's a dubious letter handed over by some suspicious person. It's not even worth reading."
"There's nothing wrong with just reading it, right?"
Battler said it to Jessica in a small voice, trying to act tough, but Natsuhi heard him clearly and glared at him with threatening eyes.
"A, and then, err... Beatrice told you to read it after the meal was over, right Maria?"
"...It's alright, everyone. This isn't Grandfather's envelope, it's Beatrice's. Who cares who wrote it, why can't we just hear what's inside before we decide?"
"Th... that's right. Even if Father didn't necessarily write it, I'm still concerned about its contents. Maria-chan, I'm sorry I tried to take it from you by force earlier! I apologize, so will you read it aloud in front of everyone?"
"...Maria. Read it."
As all of the relatives stared fiercely at Maria, she spread the letter open with a rustle...
"That's right. Maria, a messenger? That's seriously not one of his hobbies... Rosa, could this be Maria-chan trying to surprise us with some kind of hidden talent...?"
"...Well, Maria's not really a kid who is capable of something so clever."
Video: The Letter
BGM: Fishy Aroma
"I welcome you to Rokkenjima, members of the Ushiromiya family. I am serving Kinzo-sama as the Alchemy counsellor for this house, and my name is Beatrice."
"I have been serving him as stipulated by a long-lasting contract; but this very day, that contract has been pronounced terminated by Kinzo-sama. In consequence, from this day on, please acknowledge my resignation as Alchemy counsellor for this house."
"...How foolish, what nonsense...!"
"I, I can't stand to listen to it...!"
"...I, it's been ridiculous from the very beginning..."
"That must be the main point, right? Doesn't it sound just like one of those contracts with the devil? Like, when the contract is ended, it comes back to collect interest. Is she trying to grab some retirement money for her old age or something? What a cheeky witch."
"Battler-kun, you shouldn't make fun of it now..."
Battler made a face as if to ask, "If I can't make fun of this, what can I make fun of?" At the same time, some of the adults' faces were pale, while others looked completely shocked.
"...A special clause...?"
"Wh, what is it...?!"
"Special clause. When the contract is terminated, Beatrice is within her rights to recover the gold and interest accumulated. However, should someone discover the aforementioned gold, Beatrice shall renounce all rights to its recovery for all time. From now on, the collecting of interest shall take place; however, if but a single person fulfills the special clause, I will give back even the interest that I already took. Furthermore, as the first step of the collecting, I have taken possession of the symbol of the inheritance, the Ring of the Head of the Ushiromiya Family. I ask you to please confirm this by the wax seal."
"...Does it really say that...?! That Father would relinquish his ring is unthinkable...!"
Krauss was staring at the sealing wax as though he was trying to burn a hole through it. Eva and Rudolf were doing the same over his shoulder!
"I, I'm sure I had the odd feeling that something was missing from Kinzo's finger when we were playing chess..."
"Doctor Nanjo! Don't say something so careless just because of a vague memory!"
"We can't prove its authenticity here. We can only determine whether Father has really handed over his ring and whether this letter tells the truth by asking him directly."
"Th, that's right. It's just as Kyrie-san says..."
"...Do you really think... that Kinzo-san will tell you...? After all, that person's thoughts are sometimes impossible to predict using common sense..."
"No matter what happens, it's still nonsense! In the first place, the illusion of gold itself is a fake. If you want to talk about nonexistent gold, leave me out of it!"
"But, this is the witch speaking, right? About how the inheritance and all of the assets would be handed over to the one who finds the gold, right? So, could this mean that Beatrice-sama is Father's legal advisor, or maybe in charge of his funds...?"
"W, we can't possibly trust some strange person who entrusts such a suspicious paper to a child!"
"Aniki... let's be frank. Is it possible that someone you don't know is actually handling Father's assets?!"
"N, no, that's impossible! As the agent to the head, I am in control over all of Father's assets! There shouldn't be anyone who can freely do that without me knowing it!"
"So, in other words, there are some assets that you are not in control of, Krauss nii-san?"
"How foolish, there's no way something like that exists!"
"...It does exist. Some of Father's property that Nii-san doesn't control."
"There is no way that something like that exists!!"
"No, it does. That'd be Father's, no, Beatrice's hidden gold!!"
"Let me make it simple. In short, Father has some trusted confidante that Aniki doesn't even know about. Furthermore, this person has always been in charge of watching and managing the gold. It's possible that this person is a dilettante of a very rich family who provided his financing in the first place under the guise of a devil's contract."
"...Could it be that this confidante called Beatrice is trying to test which of the sons and daughters is most fitting to be financed by her gold?"
What Kyrie said was something that all of the siblings wanted to be made clear. Upon reflection, they realized that Kinzo's strange epitaph had always hung in the hall beneath the portrait of the witch, and while it had long been whispered that the one who solved the puzzle would receive everything, no one had ever clearly stated it. It was just something that everyone had hoped might be true. That had, right here, right now, been clearly expressed by Beatrice's letter! It clearly specified that everything of the Ushiromiya family would be given to the one who found the gold.
The door to Kinzo's study was being violently, violently beaten against over and over again like a percussion instrument. The screams coming from the other side were Krauss's, Rudolf's, and sometimes Eva's voices. It was the siblings, who were trying to intrude upon Kinzo's study to question him about the truth behind that mysterious letter.
Kinzo was eating. An elegant tablecloth was set over the desk, and the fabulous dinner that had colored the table down in the dining hall was once again laid out.
Kinzo continued his meal in silence. Shannon, taking away an empty plate, looked uncomfortably between the door being beaten on and Kinzo's face.
"...Everyone is calling for you, but...but what should I do...?"
"...Leave it. God and I value silence during dinner."
"Should I silence them?"
"There's no need. It does not even reach my ears."
Kinzo coolly tasted his food. Genji quietly lowered his head and took a single step back. As he did, Kanon, who stood in reserve like a shadow behind and to the side of Genji, opened his mouth.
"...Since Maria-sama received a letter from Beatrice-sama, I wonder whether they want to test its authenticity."
"...Hahahaha... Those fools, did they start already? ...Come, Beatrice. There's nothing lacking in the coins that have been wagered. Shall we enjoy this night to the fullest? ...I don't feel like losing. Your smile is mine for all eternity. If I could see it one more time, I wouldn't regret losing my wealth, my honor, or even my life."