Darling husband,” Adrienne turned to Cecil and demurred in her sweet French accent, “why not take your brother upstairs to see his nephew? Fuller will want to meet the man he’s heard so much about.”
“What about you, my sweet?” Cecil asked.
“I shall take Mr. Punch in the parlor and he and I will get to know one another.”
Cecil raised his eyebrows.
“Go on, my dear.” Adrienne giggled.
“They will be just fine, Brother.” Robert smiled.
Cecil sighed. “Very well. Come along, young sibling and see my great joy!”
“I cannot wait.” Robert answered. Before heading up the stairs behind Cecil, he glanced at Punch with a familiar look that said at once, “Behave” and “You’re still my chum.”
Punch nodded Julian’s head.
Naasir followed behind Robert and Cecil, carrying their bags. He, too, smiled at Mr. Punch.
“Will you follow me this way?” Adrienne asked Punch, gesturing down the long central passage with her delicate hand.
“Don’t mind if I do.” Punch responded. “Say, but I like all your heads and such.”
“All these heads.” Punch tapped one of the marble busts that lined the hallway. “So cheerful they look. Like they got somethin’ they’re thinkin’ of. Only I know they ain’t cuz they can’t think the way I think.”
“Ah,” Adrienne nodded. “My husband’s sculptures. Though his main efforts these days are figures of wax for Mr. Cage, the stone still calls to him. I’m glad of that. He is a great artist. Don’t you think?”
“Yes, I do.” Punch said as they entered the parlor. Punch flung himself onto the settee. “Oooo. Nice and soft.”
“Do you talk to ‘em?” Punch asked.
“Talk to whom?” Adrienne smiled.
“All those heads?” Punch answered.
“No.” Adrienne shook her head.
“Hadn’t you better?” Punch tilted Julian’s head to one side. “I know they may not seem like it, only I bet they’d ‘preciate someone offering them a ‘how do you do?’ every so often. It’d do them good. Folk don’t think about talkin’ a things. But, things have got feelin’s, too, ya know. Look at me.”
“But you’re a man.” Adrienne continued to smile.
“Not a man. Only look like a man. I’m a man inasmuch as I got thoughts, only I ain’t a man—not a people man.”
“Tell me, Mr. Punch, what are you?”
“I’m…” Punch considered the question for a moment. “I don’t rightly know what I am. I’m a puppet by trade. Only now I’m not a puppet. I got legs. But, I don’t have strings like other puppets with legs. ‘Spose they ain’t really me legs at all. They’re me master’s legs. So, what does that leave me?” Punch laughed. “Don’t know. Just know I ain’t people.”
“Do you like people?” Adrienne asked.
“Not so terribly much, no.” Punch shook Julian’s head. “Well, to be fair, I love me chum. Much as I can love anyone, I ‘spose. He’s a great fella. I like Naasir just fine. Seems like a fair enough bloke even if he is a foreigner and a bit on the strange side. I know he can keep a secret. And, I know he’s got plenty a secrets of his own. I’m fond of me master, too. Only he’s so scared of everything. That’s why he needs me.”
“Who’s your master?”
“Why Lord Julian, course.” Punch laughed. “Didn’t you know?”
“Aside from my brother-in-law and your master and your man, you don’t like anyone else?”
“Not ‘specially.” Punch shrugged. “You seem like a decent sorta lady. Might like you. Haven’t decided.”
Adrienne giggled again. “Well, I hope you decide that you do.”
“Might.” Punch shrugged Julian’s shoulders again. “Don’t like other people as a rule.”
“Cuz people are all a bad lot. Humans! They’re just a bad lot.”
“They take things that aren’t theirs and they laugh ‘bout it. See, a human’s only good for one thing and that’s takin’. When you try to protect what’s yours, they only laugh at you and call you a fool. A human’ll take anything it can. Just big meaty sacks of want, humans are. They’ll take your things, your dignity, your life, your very soul.” Punch grinned. “Only I ain’t got a soul not bein’ a people, so I know they won’t be takin’ that from me.”
“Mr. Punch,” Adrienne began, “I know what you mean. I, too, have had many things taken from me by people.”
“So you understand?” Punch asked.
“I do.” Adrienne nodded. “You met Iolanthe Evangeline?”
“Yes.” Mr. Punch scowled. “She’s an awful one.”
“She is.” Adrienne shivered. “You know what she took from me, then?”
“I do.” Punch said. “And, for what it’s worth, I’m terrible sorry ‘bout that.”
“Thank you.” Adrienne smiled. “And, I am sorry for what has been taken from you and your master.”
“Thanks.” Punch said softly.
“I would like to be friends with you, Mr. Punch.”
“You would?” Punch asked.
“I shall do you no harm. You have my promise as one who has also suffered great cruelty.”
“What about me master?” Punch asked. “Will you make a promise to him, too?”
“When I meet Lord Julian, I will wish to be his friend as well.”
“He’s in here.” Punch thumped Julian’s chest. “He’s just scared to come out. I’ll let him know when I think it’s safe.”
“I hope that’s soon.” Adrienne grinned.
“We’ll see.” Punch nodded.
“Now, I understand you don’t like babies?”
“’S right. Just little people, they are.” Punch frowned. “Always wantin’ somethin’.”
“Could you concede that not all babies are alike? You say you have a fondness for Robert. The same blood that runs through Robert’s veins runs through Fuller’s. Cecil and I wish to raise Fuller to be a good and decent man. Will you give him a chance?”
“When you put it that way, I ‘spose I have to.” Punch grinned. “Didn’t think of it like that. I guess if that baby of yours could be a man like me chum, then maybe I could like him.”
“Maybe you could help ensure that he does grow to be a man like your ‘chum.’ People aren’t entirely powerless. No matter the odds, sometimes they can cause something good to happen.”
“Even a puppet-man?”
“Even a puppet-man.” Adrienne nodded.
“Huh.” Punch sighed.
“Now, would you like to see him? The baby?”
“Might like to.” Punch responded. “Only you gotta promise me somethin’ first.”
“Anything.” Adrienne laughed.
“Do those men with no bodies a good turn and say a few kind words to ‘em every once in awhile. They can’t help it if they’re made of stone.”
Adrienne lowered her head so that Punch wouldn’t see her amusement. She looked up and said quite earnestly, “If it would please you, Mr. Punch, and somehow please the sculptures, I will offer them some conversation each day.”
“That’s the way to do it!” Punch whooped. “I made up me mind. I’ll see your baby. Can’t be too bad. Got a nice mother.”
Adrienne rose and extended her hand to Mr. Punch. “And many kind friends.”
Punch took Adrienne’s hand. “One thing though, when it’s Lord Julian that’s usin’ the legs and arms and such, he don’t like to be touched. Only me chum can touch him and he even don’t like that so much.”
“I’ll remember that.” Adrienne responded.
“Where’s the baby?” Punch asked.
“Upstairs in the nursery. Come with me.”
Punch followed Adrienne down the passage, pausing to say a few words to the busts along the way. Then, they climbed the stairs.
Little did either of them know, a dark and hulking figure lurked outside the leaded-glass window in the entryway. With fists curled in furious balls, the man hit himself in the leg and smiled at the pain. “Any day now, ya loony,” he growled. “I’ll make you pay for what you did.”
Did you miss Chapters 1-48? If so, you can read them here.