Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 139
Arbeit returned to his parents' house the moment he heard about his father being released, and burst through the front door to hug his father's legs, sobbing like a beaten infant. He'd been caught red handed a few days earlier trying to steal his mother's jewellery, by his mother, no less, and she'd been furious, but, ever the naive woman she was, she'd believed him when he'd spun a story about trying to find a way to see his father and running into the deputy in charge of the camp who'd demanded money to be let into the camp, telling him that his father was being beaten daily and was on the brink of collapse.
He'd given him all the money he'd had left from the lot he'd taken last time, but it was not enough, so he'd come home to find the rest money, but the only valuables they had were his mother's jewellery. He'd wanted to talk to her and ask for it the right way, but he knew Claude would not give him another penny. The brat didn't treat his older brother, who was putting his life on the line to try and save their father, with any respect.
He'd been told today, however, that his father was released, and realised something was off. When he checked with the other officers at the camp to try and find the deputy, he was told no one like that had ever been in the camp or with the keepers, and he'd been unable to find the man since.
Claude was completely speechless. He stared at his father for a long moment, then his eyes returned to the crying bastard at the man's feet. Did his father actually believe any of that? Please, please just don't tell him his father actually believed it!
His mother was a loving, sobbing mess who'd believe anything Arbeit told her as long as it preserved his innocence in her eyes. There was no trying to convince her he was lying. But surely his father wasn't stupid enough to believe him?
Unfortunately it seemed his father was. He stroked Arbeit's hair and sighed.
"Stand up, it's no big deal, son," he said gently, "So be it. I'll buy your mother some more when I make money again. Stop crying. Go wash your face. You're 22 for goodness sake, stop acting like a naive twelve-year-old."
"You... you actually believe him?" Claude asked, more as an exhalation than a sentence after Arbeit had left.
Morssen didn't respond immediately.
"What can I do but believe him? He's my son, your elder brother. He's family. The same blood runs in your veins as his."
Claude felt his anger pulsing in his temples, but his mother's health would not bear the shock of what he wanted to reveal. His father, for his part, wasn't behaving like he would have expected based on how he knew him. It seemed the fight had truly left him, even the fight to discipline his eldest son. He seemed to lack the strength to even speak. He mostly just sat and smoked his pipe.
Ugh, it was so infuriating to be surrounded by idiots and dimwits! But what could he do? Like his father had said about Arbeit, the idiots and dimwits were family. He supposed he'd just have to get Arbeit back extra hard later.
He was reminded of all the novels he'd read back on earth. He usually found himself disbelieving the ability of the antagonists to actually be so ghastly. He doubted people were capable of such bestiality. He'd discussed it with his old boss, in fact. The discussion had been somewhat more abstract, however, concerning the different fundamental values between the Chinese and most foreigners.
His boss felt their own values were obviously superior, so much so, in fact, that merely suggesting they could be compared to foreigners was an insult. Claude had questioned how he could believe that if the stories about their behaviour so frequently showed they behaved much better than the average Chinese.
His boss had quite literally spat that he should not believe so-called experts. Sure, the Chinese were far from perfect, he knew no one who claimed they were, but they had a moral baseline, a fundamental set of axioms and principles that were to be adhered to at all costs. The foreigners allegedly did not. The Chinese had two thousand years of civilisation which taught them the proper decorum of public life, such as to respect their elders. Personally, he'd never seen a single foreign teaching that taught the same.
They were barely any better than savages, according to him. They did their neighbours in for the smallest profit and dragged people to court of things as insignificant as sneezes. They harped on about 'democracy' and 'freedom' but all they had, and wanted, was the freedom to do everything else in for their own benefit. If he doubted anything his boss said, he could just look at crime statistics. The absolute numbers were several times worse for them despite their population being much smaller than China's. It was clear as day who fared better.
Claude could not argue with the man on the spot. And his experiences in this life, while having failed to discredit the foreigners' values, did validate his own. He'd respected his parents and elders, cared for his siblings, and stood with and in defence of the family in its time of need. His wretch of a brother, however, had done nothing but try to enrich himself at his family's quite literal expense.
The bastard was barely more than a dog. Arbeit, at the very least, was no fool, Claude had to admit. He knew exactly what he wanted and how to get it with the least amount of effort on his part. He'd gotten his job with Sir Fux by riding his father's coattails, after all. He'd contributed only the tiniest amount towards earning his position.
He'd remained the filial son only on the service, and only because at the time he'd believed he would eventually succeed his father as the town's chief secretary and inherit the lion's share of his father's wealth, as well as the mansion.
He was not happy with the lion's share, however, which was why he hated his siblings with a fervor even religious fanatics would find frightening. They were nothing but leeches stealing his rightful inheritance. He'd feared his father, however, and that had kept him from simply killing them. Later, his fear of his younger brother and added to that and it had driven him out of the house.
The moment his father was arrested, however, his dreams were smashed. He knew his brother and mother would bleed his entire inheritance to get him back or do anything for him, so he panicked. He had to find a way to get his inheritance before they had a chance to throw it away. First he had to break away from the family so he wouldn't be dragged down with them, however.
If his father had been tried and convicted of endangering the crown and lost his status as a dignitarian, he would be stained as well. If he were still associated with his household at that time, and tried to maintain the facade of the filial son, he'd have to take over his father's role in the household and look after his mother and siblings using his inheritance. He'd lose everything.
He'd rather die than do that, however, and his only other option was to break from the household entirely. To disown himself and form his own household. Each male adult had to register his own household and pay taxes for said household. If his father was executed however, the Ferd household would have no adult male beside him, and so he would have to step in as its head. If he refused to however, and registered his own household, he would have no responsibility for their financial burdens. In doing so, however, he would also lose his claim to the household's inheritance, and his entirely life had been an obsession of it, so he would not accept that either.
He had to wait to hear what would happen to his father before he could decide whether to break from the household or not. In the meantime, however, he could beg, rob, and steal as much money from his mother as he could so that if he did have to break from the household, he would not leave empty-handed. He could only get to his mother's things, however, such as her personal fund and her jewellery.
The majority of the house's money, and the mansion itself, was owned in his father's name, and would have been frozen the moment he was arrested, so he could do nothing with any of it, and couldn't even get his hands on most of it, frozen or not.
Ideally for him, his father would be executed, or sentenced to life in prison, but his assets and family would be spared. In that case he would take up the household and claim his inheritance, then kick Claude out. Once he was gone, he could do with the money what he wanted. He knew how to twist his mother around his pinky, and his younger brother and sister were too young to do anything.
He'd turn his sister into his servant, which was all she was ever going to be good for, anyway, and kick his little brother out the moment he turned eighteen. The snowhound could be turned into cheap meat for the slums, or sold off in the market if it was obedient enough.
The thought that his father would emerge from the whole ordeal, legally at least, unscathed had never even crossed his mind. It was the worst possible outcome, especially considering the course of action he'd started taking. He'd spent the whole of the previous night figuring out what to do, and had finally decided to play the fool and beg his parents for forgiveness for his stupidity at getting 'scammed'.
He knew his mother would lap it up. That old wench believed anything that preserved him in her good graces, but he didn't know if his father would. He knew Claude wouldn't believe him even if everything he said was true, but all that really mattered was that his parents got back on his side. He knew that, as much as Claude distrusted and hated him, he would never do anything that went against their parents' wishes, so as long as they accepted his apology and forgave him, the little brat's hands would be tied.