Though Julian’s stomach still burned from the poison and though his vision was still blurry, Punch propelled Julian’s body through the power of a ferocious anger. He stomped through the passage and down the narrow flight of stairs to the sad row of cabins which housed the servants of the First Class passengers.
Arthur’s cabin door was open, a cloud of tobacco smoke curled from the room into the corridor, extending long, wispy fingers which beckoned Punch in. The man was sprawled out on the floor, his back resting on the edge of his cot. He wore no collar and no jacket, his shirt unbuttoned to reveal the protrusion of a boney sternum and sharp, vicious clavicles which seemed to struggle against his pale, shiny skin. Next to him sat a robust, hairy man with a thick black beard that framed his too-pink, fish-like lips. The two of them were laughing, clinking glasses.
“I think we done well, Professor.” Arthur chuckled.
The heavy-set man looked up to see Julian’s figure framed in the doorway like an iconographic saint emerging from a mandorla.
“Here, we got company.” The man belched.
“Lord Fallbridge!” Arthur spat, standing up quickly on wobbly, drunken legs.
“Right.” Punch growled.
“Are you wanting something?” Arthur asked nervously, a bead a sweat trickling down the slender twig of his throat.
“What do you think?” Punch replied fiercely.
“Is something the matter? Is Dr. Halifax…”
“Dead?” Punch widened his eyes. “No.”
“That…I didn’t…I didn’t ask that.” Arthur trembled.
“I’ll be asking the questions, Devil.” Punch stepped forward.
“What’s this about?” The professor rose and stood next to Arthur. “Are you not feeling right, Your Lordship.”
“He sounds funny.” Arthur whispered to the man. “Like he does sometimes.”
“How can we help you?” The professor asked. “You really shouldn’t be down here, you know. It’s not a fitting place for a fine gentleman.”
“Neither is a coffin.” Punch came closer still. “Only that’s what you intended for me and my chum.”
“Whatever do you mean, Sir?” Arthur asked.
Punch grinned—a thought coming to him that he perceived as one of immense brilliance. With pleasure, he shut his eyes and put his hand to his head as he had known Julian to do hundreds of times. He fluttered Julian’s eyelids and pretended to gasp.
“Your Lordship?” Arthur said with a tremble in his voice.
“Oh, Arthur,” Punch replied, feigning Julian’s voice. “I don’t know what’s become of me. Dr. Halifax and I shared a bottle of spirits. They must have gone to my head.”
“Oh?” Arthur glanced sideways at the professor.
“I’m so sorry to interrupt you with your friend,” Punch continued as he thought Julian might, “however, I was hoping you could assist us. I think Dr. Halifax has had a little too much whiskey. He’ll need some aid getting back to his cabin. I was hoping you might lend me a hand.”
“’Course, Sir.” Arthur nodded.
“You go and do your duty, Arthur,” the hairy man said slowly. “I’ll wait here for you.”
“Again, my apologies for the intrusion on your private time. I will make sure that Arthur isn’t long.” Punch couldn’t help but laugh as he thought. “Long for the world.”
“Take your time, Sir.” The man nodded.
“I didn’t happen to learn your name.” Punch said to the man in Julian’s voice.
“Folk call me ‘Professor.’” The man grunted.
“Good evening, Professor.”
“Good evening, Sir.” The man narrowed his eyes under his fuzzy brow.
“Let me help you back to your stateroom.” Arthur said.
“Please.” Punch responded as Julian.
They walked together, slowly, up the narrow stairs to the deck. Punch grinned through Julian’s teeth. He enjoyed the feeling of Arthur’s distress.
The cool night air served to calm Julian’s stomach, so Punch made his “master” breathe deeply.
“Do look at the moon, Arthur.” Punch said walking over to the rail, knowing that the valet would follow.
“It’s pretty, Sir, only we should get you to your cabin.” Arthur twitched.
“Just a moment,” Punch smiled.
“We don’t want to keep the doctor waiting.” Arthur protested.
“Look at the moon, Devil.” Punch hissed, grabbing Arthur’s arm.
“Here!” Arthur cried out. “You’re hurting me, Sir.”
Punch spun the footman around and pressed his belly against the rail of the ship. Punch forced the weight of Julian’s slender body against the man’s back as he bent the man over the rail and pushed his head down.
“Sir!” Arthur hollered. “You’re hurting!”
“Hurting like you did to me chum?” Punch whispered terribly in the man’s ear. “Like you did to me master?”
“I don’t know what you mean!” Arthur cried.
“Look at the moon!” Punch hissed again. “Look at it reflected in the water like diamonds.”
“Let me go!” Arthur shouted.
Punch pushed Arthur forward with such strength that the valet’s feet rose from the deck. Arthur howled!
Through Julian’s eyes, Punch looked from side to side. Someone was coming! A dark figure approached. As he got closer Punch knew immediately who it was—the dark-skinned man who had presented Julian with the gris-gris.
“Great Man of the Rocks.” The African smiled. “You are fulfilling your destiny?”
“What’s it to you?” Punch asked angrily as he pressed down on Arthur’s back. The valet kicked his legs, but he could not get loose.
“Nothing.” The African man laughed.
“’Nothing’ is right! You see nothing here!” Punch spat.
“I see only what is meant to be.” The man grinned.
“Go away!” Punch screamed. “I got to kill the Devil!”
“May I help you, Great Man?” The African asked.
Arthur continued to squirm, kicking Julian’s leg and sending his body off balance.
The African lunged forward and grabbed Arthur’s right arm as Punch moved Julian’s hand to grab Arthur’s right.
“Close your eyes, Great Man, and I will help you.” The African smiled.
“I ain’t gonna close me eyes!” Punch growled.
“You must.” The African continued to grin. “You do not wish for your other half to see you kill this man.”
Punch considered that for a moment as he tightened his grip on Arthur’s arm.
Arthur sobbed violently, pleading, “Please, Sir, please!”
“Very well!” Punch said, finally, “Me master shouldn’t see this.”
Punch shut Julian’s eyes as he pushed Arthur forward.
Arthur screamed in terror—his wail piercing the night.
The African man laughed. And, then, there was a loud splash as a body hit the sea.
Punch opened his eyes.
He was alone on the deck.
Did you miss Chapters 1-35? If so, you can read them here.
Come back on Monday, September 6, for Chapter 37 of Punch's Cousin.