Here!” Punch shouted to the man with the pistol, “Shut yer gob!”
“Are you sassin’ me?” The man said threateningly, aiming the pistol at Julian’s head.
“Don’t know what that means. All you humans ‘round here talk so bloody strange.” Punch grumbled. He knelt down next to Robert. “Didn’t get ya, did he?”
“No.” Robert stood up with Punch’s help. “Just startled me.”
“I’ll do more than startle you!” The man said. “What’re ya doin’ on my property?”
“Didn’t know we was on yer property,” Punch shouted back. “Don’t know where we are! Not as if we just set about to come and bother you. So, put your fool toy away and let us be.”
“Dear Lord, Mr. Punch, do let me handle this.” Robert rasped.
“Sir, I am Robert Halifax. We…” Robert began.
“Halifax?” The man lowered his pistol. “Not related to Cecil, are you?”
“Cecil is my brother. We’ve come from England to see him.”
“What’s with your friend? Is he stupid?”
“I ain’t stupid! Smarter than you’ll ever be, you fat sack!” Punch spat.
The man raised his pistol again.
“Sir,” Robert said quickly. “My friend means no harm. He’s just spirited.”
“I’ll say.” The man grunted. “Cage. I’m Edward Cage. This is my property.”
“Mr. Cage,” Robert responded with as much charm as he could muster, “Cecil has told me so much about you.”
“Did he mention I don’t cotton to trespassers?” Edward Cage barked.
“He did, actually.” Robert smiled weakly. “We’ve become a bit disoriented in the dark, here. We had no intention of wandering onto your land. I assure you.” Robert coughed.
“You sick?” Mr. Cage asked.
“No. It’s the dampness in the air.” Robert said, clearing his throat.
“Dampness…huh.” Punch muttered.
“Because we don’t want any sick folk around here. Talk of a fever, you know—out in the bayou. Nasty stuff.”
“No, I didn’t know.” Robert said. “However, there’s no need for concern, I don’t have any sort of illness.”
“Why are you and your angry friend out in the middle of the night—walking through people’s fields?” Edward asked, finally lowering his pistol.
“To look for me chum what’s been taken.” Punch answered. “And if you think I’m angry now, just see what I’m like if you push me.”
“Mr. Pun…errr…Julian!” Robert hissed.
“What’s his name?” Edward asked.
“This is Julian, Lord Fallbridge.” Robert said.
Mr. Punch frowned. “Yes. That’s right. That’s who’s standin’ here.”
“Not this one. The name of the man that’s been taken?” Edward growled.
“Naasir.” Robert answered.
“Sounds like a colored fella.” Edward laughed.
“He’s African.” Robert explained. “He is Lord Fallbridge’s valet.”
“Someone took your slave?” Edward Cage smirked. “That’ll get a man hanged in these parts.”
‘He ain’t a slave,” Mr. Punch groaned. “He’s me chum even if he is a foreigner. Don’t have no slaves.”
“Your friend is tetched.” Edward guffawed.
“He’s just different.” Robert said firmly.
“Same thing.” Edward grumbled. “I can’t help you. Now, kindly, leave my property.”
“Of course. Please, Mr. Cage, do forgive us. We truly meant no harm.” Robert said.
“Sure you didn’t. But, you gotta be more careful around here. This isn’t like London.” Mr. Cage said. “But, your brother’s a good fella, so I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.”
“Come along, Pun…Lord Fallbridge,” Robert said, correcting himself.
“Wait a tick.” Punch said. “Here! What’s with all them statues in there?”
“Models for the museum.” Edward answered sharply. “Not for public display yet!”
“I’m only askin’.” Punch muttered.
“Please,” Robert pleaded.
“Fine.” Punch frowned. They began to walk off back toward the Fontanals’ Plantation.
“Hey!” Edward Cage shouted after them. “Don’t go tramping through the same ground.”
They paused and looked—confused—at Edward Cage.
“Go to your right and walk up the road on the hill.” Mr. Cage ordered. “And, then, you might as well check the Rittenhouse place for your lost slave. Seems to me that folk who’re missing often end up there. Can’t miss it—highest point in Marionneaux.”
“Thank you.” Robert called back.
“Now, get!” Edward barked.
“Rittenhouse…” Punch muttered. “That’s where that sick-makin’ Nanny is.”
“I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before.” Robert panted. “How could I have been so blind?”
At that very moment, Naasir flinched as be felt his skin begin to tingle from the heat of the growing fire. He knew that the alcohol on his skin would make his whole body flash like lightning, yet he did not scream nor show terror of any kind.
“She is here,” he whispered.
‘What’s he sayin’?” One of Naasir’s captors grunted.
“Who cares?” the other laughed.
A smile crossed Naasir’s lips as he saw the shadowy figure of a dark-haired woman come up behind the two men. With two swift motions, she clubbed them both on the back of the head with a piece of firewood. They each fell to the ground with a sharp thud.
As quickly as the flutter of a bird’s wings, she was at Naasir’s side, the firelight illuminated her face.
“I know your eyes.” Naasir said weakly.
“No you don’t.” The woman whispered.
“Yes, you have his eyes.” Naasir continued.
“Quiet!” The woman demanded. “Listen, if you don’t get out of here, I’ll kill you myself.” She untied him quickly. “Go. Hurry!”
“Thank you, Miss.” Naasir said as she helped him to his feet.
“Go!” The woman repeated. “That way—down the hill.”
“You came as I knew you would—the great beauty.” Naasir continued—still dazed.
“Hurry!” The woman said again.
“What shall I call you?”
The woman paused, and smiled. “My name is Barbara Allen.”
Did you miss Chapters 1-53? If so, you can read them here. Make sure to come back on Monday, September 27 for Chapter 55 of Punch’s Cousin.