Monday, August 9, 2010

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 13

The song played in Julian’s mind. With each creak of the ship, the rhythm of the ballad rose in his head sung by a single, reedy voice.

With scornful eye she looked down,
Her cheek with laughter swellin',
That all her friends cried out amaine,
"Unworthy Barbara Allen."

Julian’s thoughts tricked him with images of his sister—still a child—seated on a throne of branches and leaves atop the turrets of the folly at Fallbridge Hall. Julian, as usual, played the jester and sang to the regal child.

“No, jester!” The girl would snarl. “You’re getting the words all wrong. Sing it again. ‘In Scarlet Town, where I was born…’ Do it again!”

Even in his thoughts, Julian was a jester.

All through the night, the reedy voice sang, “The Ballad of Barbara Allen” and whispered the tale of cruelty, of “the red rose and the briar.” Julian knew the hushed voice. He knew it was not his own, but felt certain that it was part of him.

"Farewell," she said, "ye virgins all,
And shun the fault I fell in.
Henceforth take warning by the fall
Of cruel Barbara Allen."

The wriggling light of the morning reflected off the hideous sea and bounced into Julian’s cabin blanketing the cramped room with a squirming carpet that frightened Julian who knew with certainty that if he were to put the tender skin of his feet on it, he would yelp in pain as if he had stepped into molten glass.

“Who will kill me today?” Julian asked, prone on the narrow bed.

The tinny voice laughed, “Young man, I think you’re dying.”

“Don’t taunt me, Punch.” Julian shook his head—his chestnut hair making startling scratching sounds on the pillow. “I’m searching for you as much as I am searching for her.”

The door to his cabin opened and revealed Arthur who entered smelling vaguely of gin. His livery was somewhat wrinkled and he looked as if he had not slept the night before. Julian suspected that Arthur’s lack of sleep was for much different reasons than his own.

“Lord Fallbridge, you’ll be wanting to rise now.” Arthur cooed.

“I suppose.” Julian sat up.

Arthur walked to the narrow wardrobe which was imbedded into the wall by the basin and began selecting a suit of clothes of Julian.

“Your gray, today, Sir?” Arthur asked.

“No,” Julian shook his head. “The deep blue. And, bring my jewel case, please.”

Julian twirled the ring on his index finger. The diamond sparked momentarily in the curling light of the sea.

Arthur brought Julian the casket containing his rings, watch, stickpins and cufflinks. Julian selected a brilliant sapphire stickpin.

“I’ll want the cobalt cravat today,” Julian said softly to his man.

“As you wish, Sir. You’ll cut a dashing figure today in your blue.” The man hissed as he took a stiff collar from a rigid leather box.

Julian shrugged. He removed a matching set of studs and cufflinks from the jewel case. And, then, paused. The ring seemed to call to him from its velvet bed. A lush blue diamond, the color of the moon’s halo, offered a greeting of fire and ice. Set in pale gold, the stone was from the cuttings of Julian’s father’s most prized possession—the great diamond that he had called the “Molliner Blue. “ Julian recalled when his father returned with it from India. His father’s smile beamed brighter than the stone itself.

Sir Collin Molliner made collecting strange and beautiful things his life’s work. His mother had made claiming them as her own her hobby. She quickly rechristened the stone “The Fallbridge Blue” and ordered it re-cut into a more suitable shape—one that “didn’t have the taint of savages on it.”

That was the moment that Julian realized his deep love of gems and knew that he would make his profession in the gem trade. Sir Collin had given his son three things of great value: his calling, Punch, and a ring made from the cuttings of “The Fallbridge Blue.”

Julian slipped the ring on his right hand. He didn’t often wear it and he was never one to wear more than one ring at a time. For a moment, he considered removing his usual diamond from his left hand, but decided he didn’t want to.

Julian handed the casket back to Arthur and rose from the bed. He inhaled deeply and let his mind leave his body while the man dressed him. The thought of Arthur’s hands on him was too much for Julian to stomach, and, so, he went elsewhere in his thoughts—as he did every morning.

That day, his mind returned him again to the folly. Only this time, he didn’t sing to little Barbara. No, he sang to “Cruel Barbara Allen” herself. Her countenance of papier mache and wax grinned at him with vicious red lips, pulled back to meet her ears. She wore a crimson cap tipped by a bell and tassel. And, when he had finished singing, she grabbed him by the wrist and cut him with the sharp nails of her fingers. As his blood darkened the earth, a red rose grew from the stain.

“Well, Sir,” Arthur smiled, “Don’t you look handsome in your blue?”

Julian returned to his cabin on the Hyperion.

“Thank you, Arthur.” Julian blinked.

“He’ll be waiting for you, Sir.” Arthur continued. “So, you’d best get to the dining room.”

“He?” Julian asked. Could it be Punch?

“Mr. Halifax, Sir.” Arthur grinned. “You’re taking breakfast with ‘im.”

“No.” Julian shook his head. “I ordered a tray to be brought here.”

“But, Sir, you didn’t. Don’t you remember? Last night, you asked me to send word to him that you wished to meet him for breakfast.”

Julian stood deadly still and felt the weight of his blood nail his feet and legs to the floor of the cabin.

“You wrote the note yourself.” Arthur winked.

Julian didn’t answer.

“Shall I show you the way, Sir?” Arthur asked. “We know how you do get turned around.”

“I…” Julian shook his head.


“Yes, yes, Arthur.” Julian mumbled. “Do, please, show me the way.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-12? If so, you can read them here.


Darcy said...

All weekend I've found myself humming "Barbara Allen" it's a haunting melody and fits the mood of the scene, great story telling.

Joseph said...

Thank you, Darcy. I've been humming it, too. I just posted a little article about the song. You'll see it above this chapter. Have a good day!

Fran said...

Oh, ya know, I had to wait all weekend for this. Good stuff. Keep it going!

Dashwood said...

I have to confess I checked this blog yesterday in hopes that you'd forgotten it was Sunday and went ahead with the story. I agree with Fran and Darcy. Keep it going!

Joseph said...

Perhaps one day, I'll slip in a Sunday chapter. You never know. Thank you, Dashwood.