Robert coughed violently. “Julian, tread lightly.”
“No worries, Robert.” Julian whispered.
Julian walked over to his sister and bowed courteously. “Lady Barbara, have you met my friend, Dr. Robert Halifax?”
“I have no interest in meeting your friend, Julian. You know rather well that he and I have met before. I have the scars to prove it.” Barbara spat. “And, I am no longer ‘Lady Barbara’ as you well know.”
“You’ll always be Barbara, Lady Fallbridge.” Julian shook his head. “No matter how much you try to disguise yourself.”
“I left that behind.” Barbara frowned. “Here, I’m Barbara Allen.”
“Blonde hair doesn’t suit you.” Julian smiled. “You should remove your hairpiece.”
“Stop smirking at me.” Barbara growled.
“Why are you here, Barbara?” Julian asked.
“I came to see if the man was dead yet.”
Julian heard Mr. Punch pleading with him from somewhere inside his body. “Master, please. I know what’s gonna stop her.”
“Patience.” Julian muttered.
“What?” Barbara snarled.
“Barbara, I think you mistake my meaning. Why are you in this place? This town? What is it called? Marionneaux.”
“That’s none of your affair.” Barbara answered flatly.
“It is most assuredly my affair. I’ve been dispatched to fetch you. Now that I’ve found you, I intend to return you to Mother.”
“Return me to Mother?” Barbara chortled. “Do you think that Her Grace will accept a whore into Fallbridge Hall?”
Julian’s face fell.
“That’s what I am, as you well know. Among other things.”
“You could return to England. No one would be the wiser.” Julian said quickly.
“No?” Barbara glanced toward Robert. “You don’t think anyone knows? Ask your ‘friend.’ He knows. He brought my…that thing…that child into this world.”
“Robert will keep your privacy.” Julian said.
“Yes, he will. Dead men tell no tales. Isn’t that right? Arthur isn’t talking, is he?” Barbara laughed.
“Arthur had no tales to tell.” Julian frowned.
“No?” Barbara laughed.
“Where is the child now, Barbara?” Julian asked.
“We’ve already discussed this. Or, don’t you remember? I see you’re still playing that little game of yours.”
“Game?” Julian asked.
“The voice, the rough language, the wild look in your eye. Really Julian, a man your age should stop childish play.”
“It isn’t play.” Julian shook his head. “I’m not well. And, I can see that you’re not either. We can help one another.”
“I offered to help you, earlier. You refused. Now, I intend to help myself.”
“How do you intend to do that?” Julian asked.
“In the same manner that you helped yourself.”
“Barbara, I don’t understand.”
“Don’t you? Idiot! Shall I remind you, again, about Arthur?” Barbara grimaced.
“What is your preoccupation with Arthur? I never witnessed you having interest in any of the servants before.” Julian ran his fingers through his hair in frustration.
“I’m interested in the father of my child!” Barbara hissed.
Julian staggered backward. “Arthur?”
“Of course.” Barbara grinned wickedly. “Why not? He was good looking. Wasn’t he? The child has his eyes. Piercing eyes.”
“I want to see them. I want to see this baby.” Julian said as calmly as he could.
“You can’t.” Barbara laughed. “It isn’t mine to show.”
“Where is the child?” Julian asked again.
Barbara grinned. “Nowhere you’ll find him. Perhaps he’s with your precious doll,” she taunted him. “Was my big, brilliant brother, the famous jeweler, upset to find his precious glove puppet missing?”
“You’ll never know how upset.” Julian said softly.
“Well, hurry, then, perhaps you’ll still be able to find pieces of it in the fields—that is, unless the crows have used it for their nests.”
Julian grasped his head in his hands and sat on the edge of Robert’s bed.
“Don’t you think I enjoyed tearing that thing to pieces?” Barbara laughed cruelly, “I remembered all the times when I was a child and you’d make me look at that ugly thing. I saw you, Julian. I saw you. I saw you talking to it. A grown man talking to a puppet! I saw you!” She shrieked.
“Stop.” Robert rasped. “Please, stop, Barbara.”
“Julian, I saw you. I laughed when I took it! I laughed! I knew it would kill you. You cherished that bit of wood and papier mache and cloth more than you cherished anything! I knew it would kill you! And by killing you, I took the one thing that would set me free. You see, Julian, I’m free. That diamond—just a rock—gave me my independence and in the process I destroyed you and I showed Father just what I thought of him. The Molliner Blue! Ha! Everything in that house was the property of Mother. Everything was seared with the name of Fallbridge! No, not me. Not anymore! So, go, Julian, go find the shreds of your puppet! I’ll keep what’s mine and I’ll love every moment of it.”
Robert tried to sit up to comfort him, but he didn’t have the strength. “Julian,” he rattled, “Julian, come here.”
Julian’s arms raised high above his head and thrust down onto the bed loudly.
“Shred me!” Mr. Punch shouted through Julian’s mouth. “Shred me, did ya! Proud of yerself, you are, too. Not a trace of remorse in ya.” Mr. Punch propelled Julian’s body to leap from the bed.
Barbara stepped backwards, but continued to look defiant. “You’re a lunatic.”
“Ain’t no lunatic.” Mr. Punch growled. “I’m the sanest of the lot of ya.”
“Mr. Punch, please.” Robert groaned.
“Mr. Punch?” Barbara laughed. “You feed his insanity.” She turned to Julian. “All the more reason to destroy him.”
“Here! You ain’t gonna hurt nothin’ no more.” Mr. Punch hissed. “Not me nor me chum nor me master. Nor even that baby what’s got Arthur’s eyes or so you say. See, whore, you didn’t destroy me when you ripped me body to pieces. Got a new body, I do, what I share with me master and together in it, we got love, see. Love and good things which are stronger than you. I’m learnin’ things, I am. Learnin’ to be a proper human what’s got a family. Prayed, I did. Do you know what that means? Made a wish and got me chum to live. I got power you don’t. I know things that you’ll never know. I know love, trollop! I know what’s good and what ain’t. I’m stronger than you.”
“Honestly, Julian, stop this foolishness. Stronger than I? You barely weigh ten stone.”
Mr. Punch grabbed an oil lamp from the bed stand. “Don’t matter how much a fella weighs.” He raised the unlit lamp over Julian’s head. “Not when he’s got somethin’ to hit with.”
Did you miss Chapters 1-64? If so, you can read them here.