Do try to keep calm, dear Punch.” Robert said softly—his voice still hoarse as he pressed a fresh flannel against Julian’s bleeding hand.
“Calm?” Mr. Punch grunted. “How can I keep calm when the fella what I killed is out there mauling me master’s sister? Thought I killed him, I did. Thought I did. Tossed him in the sea, I thought.”
Mr. Punch was becoming increasingly frantic. He rambled wildly. “Must be one o’ them ghosts folk talk ‘bout, come back to punish me for what I done. Had one of those in the pantomime—Judy’s ghost, it was—come forth for revenge just as ol’ Punch is to go to the hangman. But, Punch beats the Devil. And, I’m Mr. Punch. I can beat anything, I can.”
“Punch, my dear,” Robert said calmly, “that is no spirit. That is a man of flesh and blood.”
“Don’t believe in the spirits?” Mr. Punch chattered.
“I believe in a good many things. Mr. Punch, I’ve learned to accept almost anything these past few weeks. I can tell you quite honestly that the figure you saw in the grove was Arthur—solid and alive.”
“Threw him in the sea!” Mr. Punch moaned. “He tried to kill us, he did. Poisoned us. If not for him, you’d not be sick like what you are now!”
Naasir ran into the room. “Pardon me, gentlemen, but I heard glass breaking.” He looked at Julian’s hand. “Oh! You’ve cut yourself.”
“Cut me-self.” Punch mumbled. “Cut me master like I shoulda cut Arthur! You was there, Naasir, you saw what I done! You helped me toss him in the sea! You made me close me master’s eyes…”
Naasir looked to the floor.
“Naasir?” Robert coughed. “Naasir, Arthur is alive.”
“Yes, Dr. Halifax.” Naasir nodded. “How have you learned this?”
“He’s here. He’s here on this property with Lady Barbara.” Robert answered.
“Why’d you do it?” Mr. Punch cried.
“Aren’t you relieved, Sir?” Naasir asked.
“Relieved?” Mr. Punch shouted.
“Yes, Sir. You didn’t really want to kill the man. You wouldn’t want Lord Fallbridge to have been responsible for the loss of a life. I couldn’t let you do it. I couldn’t allow ‘The Great Man of the Rocks’ to soil his hands with another man’s blood.”
“Instead, I got me master’s blood on his hands.” Mr. Punch growled. “You fooled me!”
“For your own good, Sir.” Naasir responded firmly. “I could not let you kill.”
“I heard his body splash into the sea!” Punch howled.
“No, Sir.” Naasir shook his head. “You heard a deck chair hit the sea. When I asked you to close your eyes, I freed Arthur and threw a chair overboard.”
Mr. Punch was silent. After a moment, he said, “I heard him scream, I did!”
“That you did.” Naasir nodded. “He screamed as he ran off. I knew not where he went. I thought he would show himself as the search for him was underway, but he did not. He remained hidden. His reasons are a mystery to me.”
“Why didn’t you come forward with this sooner?” Robert asked, shivering. “You could have, at least, told me. Here, we’ve been worried that Mr. Punch killed the man. All this time…”
“I could not tell you.” Naasir said. “It wasn’t my place. It was not how it was meant to be.”
“You and your stories…” Mr. Punch spat. “Here! Me hand hurts! Me body is torn to shreds again!”
“Press firmly on this flannel,” Robert said. “The bleeding will stop and the pain will subside. There’s no glass in the wound. I cannot sew it up presently as I don’t have my bag with me.”
“I can fetch it for you, Dr. Halifax.” Naasir volunteered.
“In a moment,” Robert said softly.
“Are you angry with me, Sir?” Naasir asked.
“No.” Robert shook his head.
“It was not to be.” Naasir began. “I could not let it happen.”
“You’ve done well in protecting Lord Fallbridge and his…and Mr. Punch. I do wish you’d told me. It could have saved a lot of anguish.”
“I only did what I was meant to do, Sir.”
“I understand.” Robert sighed.
“I don’t!” Mr. Punch shouted.
“Naasir, go and fetch my bag and, on your way, tell Marjani that Lord Fallbridge has been injured, please.” Robert said quickly.
“Immediately, Sir.” Naasir hurried off.
Robert held Punch by Julian’s shoulders and looked him squarely in the eyes. “This is not bad. This is a blessing. Naasir has prevented you from being a murderer. You must understand that.”
“I do.” Mr. Punch grumbled. “Only I’m scared, I am.” He looked around the room wildly.
“Punch, for Julian’s sake, and for my sake, you must calm yourself.” Robert storked Julian’s shoulders.
“That man—Arthur—with him alive, he’s gonna try to hurt us again. Look what he done to ya! You want him to finish what he’s started?”
“He will not.” Robert said firmly. “He will never do another thing to hurt me or the people I love.”
“How can you be sure?” Mr. Punch asked.
“I’m sure of it.” Robert smiled.
At that very moment, Edward Cage walked closer to Adrienne in the hallway of his mansion. Cecil put a protective arm around his wife.
“Edward, please.” Cecil said firmly.
“Don’t mistake me, Cecil.” Edward grunted. “I won’t have folk coming into my house and telling lies about my family.”
“It isn’t a lie. Is it?” Adrienne said bravely. “It’s the truth. You can insult me all you want, but we all know that you purchased that baby.”
“You’d best silence your wife.” Edward Cage said gruffly. “I don’t cotton to insubordination!”
“I won’t stand for someone menacing my wife.” Cecil said flatly.
“Very well.” Edward smiled. “I’ll leave her out of it.” He pulled back his fist and struck Cecil in the jaw. Cecil fell backward to the floor.
“You want to be next, Madame?” Edward laughed.
Did you miss Chapters 1-72? If so, you can read them here.