Robert gently placed his arm around Julian’s waist and led him from the dining room. Julian smiled at the painted countenances of the ethereal women in the frescoes that lined the room. They approved of him and he was pleased by their appreciation. All but one, Julian noticed, seemed to nod their consent. She—a dark-haired beauty—painted in a pink gown held her grapes aloft and scowled at Julian as he walked from the room with Mr. Halifax. She looked, Julian thought, very much like his sister. Or did she? No. She was too soft to be Lady Barbara. She was someone else. She was Barbara Allen. Indeed, she was, for at the brushstrokes of her slippered feet grew a briar.
“The red rose and the briar,” Julian muttered as the sharpness of the sea air stung his nostrils.
“Lord Fallbridge,” Mr. Halifax whispered gently into Julian’s ear, “I’m terribly concerned.”
“You know, Mr. Halifax,” Julian grinned broadly so that he could almost feel his lips touch his ears, “My surname is Molliner.”
“I know.” Mr. Halifax responded. “However, your title…it’s a courtesy.”
“Those of us with empty heads know no courtesy.” Julian laughed. “We know only the feeling of others’ hands inside of us—tickling the space where our hearts should beat and scratching the undersides of our skulls with their untrimmed nails.”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand.” Mr. Halifax held Julian tighter.
Julian chuckled, “Don’t you? Look how you move me so. Look how you give me motion. You’re kinder than most, dear man. Or, you seem to be. I cannot tell until you make me speak.”
“Let’s return you to your cabin. I’ll have a tray brought up to you.” Mr. Halifax paused.
“No.” Julian shook his head. “I wish to be reunited with my cousin. Guignol and I have much to discuss, and, besides that, I wish to speak with you further. I did, after all, agree to meet you today. Look, there. We must hurry.”
Julian tugged at Mr. Halifax so that they walked briskly to the other end of the vessel where the sweaty French performers were packing up their collapsible theater.
“Le pardon, monsieur. Où mon cousin est ? Je dois parler à Guignol.” Julian asked breathlessly.
“Sir?” The man responded in English.
“I wish to speak to Guignol.” Julian panted. “You see, he knows my father. And, most assuredly can tell me what became of Julian’s sister. You know, she bore a bastard.”
“Lord Fallbridge, please.” Mr. Halifax squeezed Julian’s waist.
The Frenchman laughed.
“You are intéresser homme. Très drôle. Guignol, ah, is sleeping.” The man teased, pointing to a leather case. “You come back this afternoon, eh?”
“I must see him now.” Julian became frantic. “You see, I am lost. You of all people would understand. I need to find my master. I cannot function without him. And, frankly, there’s such a pain in my head as though I’ve been cut—torn—I am in pain. And, I am afraid. Don’t be fooled by my grin. It’s immovable. It’s meaningless! I am lost. Lost, lost, lost. Guignol, he knows…he can help. And you, monsieur, you have put him in that case. I, too, know how that can be. Free him, let him help me. Let us both breathe!”
The Frenchman laughed again. “L'anglais. Très drôle.” He smiled, “Such a man. Now, listen, monsieur, your friend, he looks like he wants his breakfast. You two go on.”
“Yes, let’s do.” Mr. Halifax guided Julian away from the puppeteer. “Thank you, monsieur.” He handed the man a few coins.
“Mr. Halifax, I have not concluded my business.” Julian protested.
“You have, Your Lordship.” Mr. Halifax said firmly.
“I don’t want to have to fight you.” Julian growled. “I have been known to hit!”
Robert spun Julian around and grabbed him by his shoulders firmly—looking him squarely in the face. “Lord Fallbridge!”
Mr. Halifax shook Julian’s shoulders. “Julian!”
Suddenly the sweet, loving blackness floated away and the squirming sunlight etched Julian’s eyes.
He looked at Mr. Halifax, stunned.
Robert took his hands from Julian’s shoulders.
“Let’s return to your cabin, Lord Fallbridge.”
Julian nodded. He began to look around. People had started to pour out onto the decks to enjoy the morning sun. Julian felt very afraid.
“Shall I take your arm?” Robert asked.
“I don’t know.” Julian said blankly.
“Allow me, please,” Mr. Halifax began, “to ask you an impertinent question.”
Again, Julian nodded.
“Who are you?”
“I am Julian, Lord Fallbridge.” Julian responded. “Who are you?”
“I remain, your champion, Sir.” Mr. Halifax responded, taking Julian’s arm and leading him to the narrow metal stairs.
Did you miss Chapters 1-14? If so, you can read them here.