Marjani rushed into the room. Panicked, Punch bellowed at her—his words incomprehensible as he pointed to Robert who lay on the bed. Marjani hurried to the man’s side.
Mr. Punch moaned loudly. “Not got any air in ‘im.” He shook Julian’s hands in the air frantically. “Help us.”
Marjani placed her hands firmly on Robert’s chest and pushed on it. “Holy Mother, protect this man. Protect him.” She pushed again, and again, rhythmically. “Protect him.”
“Help.” Punch whimpered.
“Say it with me, Your Lordship.” Marjani said quickly. “Say it with me. ‘Holy Mother, protect him.’”
“Protect ‘im.” Punch sobbed. “Protect ‘im.”
Marjani continued to press on Robert’s chest.
“Protect him!” Punch shouted. He grabbed a glass from the bed stand and smashed it against the wall. “Can’t do nothin’!” Mr. Punch groaned. “Gotta hit somethin’!”
“No, Sir. You gotta keep yourself at ease.” Marjani said, still compressing Robert’s torso. “There’s much you can do for to help.”
“I’d do anything, I would.” Punch said, shaking. “Does your holy woman know that? Does she know that I’d do anything? Here!” Punch looked up to the ceiling. “Let me take his pain. Don’t matter to me. I ain’t no stranger to it. I’m two men, I am. I can take the pain what’s killin’ me chum. Holy Mother, hear me. I’ll do anythin’ ya ask only let me chum have breath in ‘im. Can’t lose him. Can’t!”
A slow, deep rattling came from within Robert’s chest. He man sputtered weakly.
“Help me, Lord Fallbridge, help me for to sit him up.” Marjani called.
Mr. Punch rushed to Robert’s side and gently bent the man forward.
“Did you fix ‘im?” Mr. Punch rubbed Robert’s back. Punch whooped! “You did. You fixed me chum He’s got life in him again.”
Marjani smiled, arranging pillows behind Robert’s back so that he could recline slightly, but still remain upright. “I’d nothin’ ta do with it.”
“Julian…” Robert whispered.
“Sir, he wants Julian.” Marjani said. “Now, tell me for true, is that you?”
“No.” Mr. Punch said quietly. “Isn’t. Only his body. It’s me mind what’s in here. But, you knew that.”
“Yes, sir.” Marjani nodded. “Seems to me your companion’s wantin’ Julian.”
Mr. Punch let the tears roll down Julian’s cheeks. “Can’t look after ‘im from inside here.”
“Can’t ya?” Marjani whispered.
Punch wiped Julian’s eyes with the back of his hand.
“Julian…” Robert gasped feverishly. “I know…”
Suddenly, a flurry of activity filled the room as a short, portly man with frizzled gray hair entered.
“Clear the way,” the man barked.
He was followed by Carling Rittenhouse, Cecil and Adrienne.
“You there! You, get out of my way.” The man snapped at Mr. Punch.
“Come over, here, dear brother.” Adrienne said. “We will wait together while Dr. DeCuir examines Robert.”
“Julian…” Robert moaned.
Mr. Punch grunted and looked to the ceiling. “I promised I’d do whatever was asked o’ me.”
Robert coughed violently.
“Is it?” Carling Rittenhouse fluttered about. “Is it ‘Yellow Jack?’”
“Hush up, woman!” Dr. DeCuir spat. He listened to Robert’s breathing. “You!” He hollered to Marjani. “Help me get him out of his coat and shirt.”
Marjani did as instructed.
“Merciful heavens,” Carling Rittenhouse gasped.
“Mrs. Rittenhouse, if the sight of a bare-chested man scandalizes you, then, perhaps you should leave the room.” Cecil growled.
“Not until I know what form of contagion your brother has brought into my house along with his lunatic friend.”
“Pardon me?” Cecil stepped forward. “You’re speaking of a member of my family. Lord Fallbridge is one of us.”
“Lord Fallbridge? Ha! This man is no Lord. Have you heard the way he speaks? He’s obviously some sort of imposter. You’re all trying to trick me!”
“I assure you, Madam, I am no imposter.” Julian said plainly. “I am Julian Molliner, Lord Fallbridge.”
Cecil and Adrienne looked at the man they had only known as Mr. Punch. The voice that came from the man was much like the manner in which Mr. Punch spoke when he was impersonating Lord Julian, but clearer and less forced.
“I will confess,” Julian continued. “I have no idea who you are or what you think you’re doing. But, I can plainly see that my friend is in a terrible way and I will thank you not to interfere. I get the sense that this is your home. If it is, kindly be a good hostess and allow your guests some privacy.”
“You’re all a lot of savages!” Carling Rittenhouse gasped. “Savages in silk and diamonds are still savages.” She rushed from the room.
Marjani had stripped Robert to the waist and stepped aside while the doctor continued his examination. Adrienne turned her back slightly.
Julian looked around the room, trying to figure out where he was and how he’d gotten there, who he was with, and just what had happened to Robert.
Marjani silently walked past Julian and whispered. “He’s done been askin’ for ya. I see the other fella went away for a spell. My name’s Marjani Caruthers. I’m your friend.”
“Girl!” Dr. DeCuir bellowed. “Come here at once.”
Marjani hurried to the doctor’s side.
Cecil extended a hand to Julian, but quickly withdrew it as he remembered that Julian didn’t like to be touched.
“We meet at last, Lord Fallbridge.” Cecil smiled.
“I take it that you’re Cecil.” Julian nodded.
“And this is my wife…”
“Adrienne.” Julian finished the sentence. “I’d know you anywhere. When he awakened me, I heard Mr. Punch’s voice clearly for the first time. He said that I would speak to an angel ‘what was’ his sister. That would be you, of course.”
Adrienne smiled. “I am happy to know you.”
“I only wish our introduction occurred under better circumstances. Is Robert ill? What is the matter?”
“We don’t know. He’s been coughing.” Adrienne said.
“Blood. And, a fever.” Cecil added.
Julian blanched. “I must sit with him.”
Julian walked over to the bed and stood next to the doctor.
“Get back there with the others.” Dr. DeCuir snapped.
“No.” Julian shook his head, surprised at his own assertiveness. “I shall not. Mr. Halifax, I’m told, has been asking for me. I shall not disappoint him now that I’m here.”
Robert’s eyes fluttered. “Julian?” He croaked.
“Yes, my friend.” Julian smiled. “I’m here.”
From deep inside Julian—somewhere—Mr. Punch listened to the whole scene. “You’re out for now, me master, but I gotta go back, too. Can’t be too far from me chums, I can’t. Look after them for me, won’t ya? For now…”
As Julian took Robert’s hand in his, he smiled—smiled for the feeling of Robert’s fingers relaxing and smiling because he could still hear Mr. Punch speaking clearly.
“Well, then.” The doctor cleared his throat.
“What is it, Dr. DeCuir?” Cecil asked.
“Exactly what I thought it was.” The doctor shook his head.
Did you miss Chapters 1-62? If so, you can read them here.