What are you blathering about?” The Duchess of Fallbridge hissed.
“Punch…” Julian answered meekly, the smile fading from his lips.
“Imbecile!” His mother spat. “You make absolutely no sense whatsoever. You really must be mad! Do you have any idea how weak and insipid you sound?”
Julian had no response.
“Isn’t it bad enough that you’re so useless? Must you be barking mad, too?” She continued.
Julian shook his head.
“Are you mute as well?” the duchess demanded. “Speak!”
“No, Mother.” Julian whispered, feeling not at all like a grown man, but rather like a little boy. Amazing how the tyranny of some can reduce a soul to its basest form. Did she realize what she was saying? Julian hoped she did not. He could not stand to think that she was aware of her beastliness. As always, he wanted to see the good in everyone.
“Julian!” His mother growled.
“I’m sorry, Mother.” Julian shook his head again.
“Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry…” His mother fumed, pacing the floor of his study. “I have heard nothing but apologies since I married your father. Well, dear, dear Julian. That was in Eighteen Hundred and Twelve! Forty years of groveling! I won’t have it from you. No.”
The duchess threw herself into the purple velvet chair and twisted her hands into a white knot. “How could you do this to me? Have you even considered me? How do you think I feel with your sister out there—unprotected?”
“I’ll find her, Mother.” Julian responded gently.
“How? When? You’re more concerned with your toys.” The duchess moaned.
“I’ll ring for Arthur. We’ll go out now. “ Julian said quickly, walking to the bell pull.
“So, Lord Fallbridge is leaving his rooms?” His mother mocked him. “And, all it took was a family tragedy.”
“What’s the matter, Julian?’ His mother grinned.
Julian stumbled over his words. “I…can…I am able to…”
“Speak up, dear.” His mother smirked.
Julian rang the bell.
Julian turned to face his mother. He stood stiffly and spoke as slowly as possible so as not to stutter. “As for Barbara’s leaving, I wouldn’t call it a tragedy. We’ll find her forthwith.”
“You’d best do just that.” His mother rose. “I’d hate to think what would happen if you didn’t.”
With that, she flounced from the room as quickly as she’d entered it.
Julian let out a sharp breath.
“I am capable of leaving the house.” He said aloud. “I am. It won’t happen again. Not this time…” Julian shut his eyes. “How many times can it happen?”
Walking over to the curio cabinet, Julian tried to take comfort in the familiar architecture of the room. The great pediment which perched proudly on the Ionic columns over the fireplace, the gentle slope of the volutes around the mantle, the sharpness of the lancet windows—the bones of the room— they were his own skeleton. He existed both for and because of them.
Once again, Julian shut the cabinet door, and for a moment envisioned his own head on the shelf where Punch had always sat. His own head…in a reliquary, safe and preserved. Why would Punch wish to leave such comfort?
How did Punch leave?
The door to his study opened and Julian turned, expecting to see Punch returning—dragging himself by his stubby hands as the soft, hollow-end of his trunk trailed behind like the train of a lady’s dress.
Instead, Arthur entered.
“I’ve instructed the groom to saddle Mercury, Lord Fallbridge.” Arthur smiled his oily smile, showing slightly-yellowed teeth. “I’ll fetch your cloak and boots.”
“Thank you.” Julian nodded.
Arthur slipped quickly through the door to Julian’s adjoining bedroom.
The footman returned a moment later with Julian’s boots—unworn for months—clasped together in one hand. His other hand was curled shut.
“Sir,” Arthur said brightly. “I don’t mean to ask questions, only, I found this on the floor.” The footman opened his hand, producing a gold tassel. “Is it yours?” He let the tassel tangle from his fingers.
“No.” Julian responded, hesitant to take the quivering thing. “Yes. Well, yes, indirectly.”
“If you would please, leave it on the desk.” Julian answered softly.
How horrible to think that Punch was out there somewhere without the tassel from his hat.
Did you miss Chapters 1-3? If so, read them here.