Peace, huh?” Mr. Punch grunted. “The kind of peace our father’s got? Know about your father, Barbara?”
“Sir Collin is dead.” Barbara nodded.
“Sir Collin, is he? Didn’t you never think to call him, ‘Father’?”
“Why do you speak so strangely?” Barbara hissed. “Of course, I called him ‘Father,’ but he’s gone now. He’s due his title.”
“Here, Lady Barbara is showin’ respect for her dead pa.” Mr. Punch rolled Julian’s eyes.
“Whatever is the matter with you?” Barbara asked sharply. “Mother is right. You are quite mad.”
“Me? I’m not the one what’s standin’ here in some ridiculous costume with a pile of someone else’s hair heaped atop me head. I’m not the one what’s pretendin’ to be somethin’ I ain’t. No, Barbara, I’m what I am and I admit it. I’m not what you think I am, I’ll tell ya that. I made no secret of it. You’re the one what’s come to a strange place to…to do what, Barbara? To work for some ogress? To throw away yer child what never did nothing to you ‘cept to be alive. I’m not the one what stole somethin’ what didn’t belong to me. No. That’s you, see. Maybe you’re the one what’s mad. I know what I done. I’ll shout it from the rooftops and I know that one day I’ll pay for it, but I ain’t hidin’ behind some horsehair. I got reasons for what I done. But, I own ‘em.”
“You don’t think I have reasons, Julian?” Barbara whispered angrily. “You know nothing of my reasons. And, before you judge me, let me ask you what happened to Arthur.”
“Arthur’s gone, he is. Gone in the sea.” Punch smiled. “Too good for ‘im, if you ask me. I ain’t hidin’ the way I feel ‘bout it, and I don’t mind sayin’ that I were the one what put him there. Only, you got me name wrong. I ain’t Julian. Julian had nothin’ to do with it.”
Robert coughed—sending droplets of blood onto the coverlet. “Quiet, dear Julian…”
“Never you mind ‘bout none of this, Chum.” Mr. Punch gently squeezed Robert’s hand in Julian’s.
“I can make all of this disappear,” Barbara said quickly. “It can all be gone. You can go back to England—to the Hall. You can hide in your rooms and be as mad as you want. Just let me make this disappear.”
“No.” Mr. Punch shook Julian’s head. “Naasir says it’s our destiny and I’m startin’ to believe him. I ain’t goin’ nowhere ‘til I get what brought me here.”
“Me?” Barbara asked.
“Part of it. Yer mother wants ya back so you can marry the Baron. Only I don’t care so much ‘bout you. Don’t care if she gets ya back or no. Julian cares, he does. Loved you, he did. He was always kind to you.”
“Yes, you were. Julian, I don’t understand why you’re speaking so strangely. I do remember how kind you were to me when we I was a child. I do remember. That’s why I’m offering you this chance. Let me make this disappear. This man…” She pointed to Robert. “He’s nothing to you. Let him be gone.”
Here! You be quiet! Don’t you dare let him hear you say that!” Mr. Punch growled.
“Problems can disappear.” Barbara said frantically. “Just like Arthur did.”
“Me chum ain’t a problem.” Mr. Punch frowned.
“He’ll weigh you down. He’s not what you think he is.”
“Nothin’ is what we think it is.” Mr. Punch spat. “Sometimes it’s better. Sometimes it’s worse. But, it’s never what we think. If me chum disappears, I disappear with him. I’ll see you bloody at me feet afore I let you near him. And, don’t think I wouldn’t. A swamp, there is—just below this hill. I can smell it. I could see that you and our pa meet again awful soon.”
“You would choose that man over me?” Barbara asked. “Your own sister.”
“You ain’t me sister. I already told you that. This man is more to me than you could ever be.”
“He’s a butcher!” Barbara shouted! “He scarred me! When he delivered my…”
The door to the room roared open and Marjani strode in.
“Barbara Allen!” Marjani shouted. “Get yourself outta this room, right this second. Hear? These men want their quiet! Can’t have the likes of you white trash botherin’ these fine gentleman. Get!”
“Yes, Mrs. Caruthers.” Barbara answered sheepishly.
“Go on, now!” Marjani bellowed.
“Dumb white trash girl. Missus wanted somethin’ special—some English parlor maid to make the place seem hightone. Brings it all down, I’d say. All we folks is talkin’ ‘bout it over ta Mr. Fontanal’s place. Disgrace to the town. I don’t mean no offense about you English folk. You gentlefolk are a good lot, I’d say. But, a girl like that got no place botherin’ ya.”
“Thank you, Marjani.” Mr. Punch nodded.
“How’s the doctor?” Marjani asked.
“Coughin’ still, he is.” Mr. Punch said worriedly.
“Come on, now, let’s change the cloth. I can letcha do it, if you want to.”
“You can do it.” Mr. Punch responded softly.
Marjani smiled. “I will.”
Marjani removed the flannel from Robert’s head and rewet it in the cool water before gently placing it back. “Still burnin’.”
“Marjani, I’m scared ‘bout me chum.” Mr. Punch said.
“Ain’t nothin’ we can do but pray right now, Your Lordship.”
“Don’t know how.” Mr. Punch answered.
“Don’t you folk in England pray?” Marjani smiled.
“Some do.” Mr. Punch nodded. “Only I never done before.”
“Gimme yer hand.” Marjani said. She took Julian’s hand in her rough one. “Now, go on, bow your head and say what I say.”
“Right.” Punch nodded Julian’s head.
“Holy Mother,” Mr. Punch repeated.
“Please protect this fine man who makes his life to see people get well. Give him the strength he done give other folk, so that he can be good for the people who done love him.”
“Please protect me chum what is good and sees people well. We wants him strong so that we can love him like what we do.” Mr. Punch said.
“Amen,” Marjani smiled.
“Will that work?” Mr. Punch asked innocently. “He don’t look no better.”
“Give it time, Chil’.” Marjani patted Julian’s hand.
“You know I ain’t just one person.” Mr. Punch whispered.
“I know, Lamb.” Marjani winked. “We been expectin’ you.”
“That’s what Naasir says.” Mr. Punch knelt down beside Robert again.
“I’ll leave you with your friend.” Marjani said. “Holler if you need me. Mr. Halifax’ll be back with the doctor soon enough.”
“Thank you,” Mr. Punch looked up at Marjani.
“We gots ta look after one another—we who are special.” Marjani said as she closed the door.
“Did you hear, Chum?” Punch asked after awhile. “That lady and I—we prayed to some holy woman for ya. It’s like makin’ a wish, it is. And me wish is for you to be better so you and I can sing again and so we can go home. Got a house in Belgrave Square, me master does. A fine house—all boarded up and waitin’. You and me, we could go there and live. We could go see the other Mr. Punch in Covent Garden and we could eat sweets from paper cones. We could sing at night and be happy. Don’t you want that? We’ll forget all ‘bout Barbara and the ogress and the monsters. We can bring Adrienne and Cecil and the baby with us. He can make heads and folks what don’t move in London, he could. We could all be together and be happy and let the Duchess rot at Fallbridge Hall. Don’t you want that? We’ll get the diamond, we will, and we’ll go do that. Right? You just gotta feel better, you do. That’s the way to do it.”
Mr. Punch began to cry again, resting his head on Robert’s chest.
“Still full of stuff. Your air sounds funny.” Mr. Punch said, listening. “Like you swallowed pebbles.”
Suddenly, Robert’s body spasmed. “Julian…” he groaned.
Punch continued to listen to Robert’s breathing. But, he noticed something different.
“Here,” Punch whispered. “Ain’t no breath comin’ in.” He pressed his ear against Robert’s chest. “Ain’t no air in ya!” He screamed.
Punch rose to his feet and shouted. “Marjani!”
Did you miss Chapters 1-61? If so, you can read them here.