Adrienne ignored Edward Cage’s threat and rushed to her husband who groaned on the floor.
“Cecil, mon cher.” She said, putting her hands on his face. “Are you hurt?”
“Not so terribly.” Cecil said, sitting up. He looked to Edward. “How dare you, Sir?”
“How dare I?” Edward laughed. “I’m not the one going into the home of my employer, telling tales.”
Adrienne helped Cecil to his feet.
“Now, take your whore and get out of my house.” Edward smirked. “I ought to terminate you for this, but I’ll never find another sculptor as good as you are—not quick enough, anyway.”
“Sir, you are unkind.” Cecil spat. “You may not say such things about my wife.”
“We all know what she is.” Cecil grinned. “Everyone in Marionneaux. Don’t you think we all snicker at you behind your backs? You come here with your gossip and your slander. You may want to consider how the gentlefolk in this town perceive you and your ‘wife’ before you start tossing out accusations about what goes on in other people’s families.”
“I do not deny my past, Mr. Cage.” Adrienne frowned. “You, on the other hand will not admit the truth about yourself. I would look any man or woman in Marionneaux in the eye and admit what I’ve done in my life, and I would tell them the truth about the circumstances that led me to that life. You, Sir, cannot look at anyone with anything but falseness. You deny that the child the sleeps in your nursery is one that you bought as if he were a sack of grain.”
Edward Cage narrowed his eyes. “What I do with my money is no concern of yours.”
“It is when there’s a human life involved!” Adrienne shouted.
“Your whore is feisty, Cecil.” Edward laughed.
Cecil began to charge at the man, but Adrienne held him back.
“Darling, no.” Adrienne said quickly. “His words are meaningless to me. After all that I’ve endured, he cannot cause me any pain. I know true pain. And, so will that baby when he realizes what sort of family he’s to be reared in.”
“Pain?” Edward grunted. “Look around you. This is one of the finest homes in the parish. Furthermore, I’m a wealthy man. That child will want for nothing. He will be my future. Holt is my second chance. Make no mistake. I can be honest about things. I know that my eldest boy, Orman, is a beast. I’ve seen what he does. That doesn’t mean I’m not a good father to him. Ask anyone in town if I’m a good father. Why, I’ve taken in my orphaned niece, Edolie!”
“So Orman can ill-use her!” Adrienne hissed.
“No matter what she’s here for.” Edward smiled. “She’s here, isn’t she? Better than being in some cold orphanage, I’d reckon.”
“Don’t be so sure,” Cecil growled. “What will the boy say when he’s older and learns that he was traded like some commodity.”
“He’ll never know.” Edward narrowed his eyes.
“So you admit it?” Adrienne asked.
“Yes.” Edward smiled. “You little witch, yes, I admit it. I bought the child. You’ve seen that dried out husk of a thing I call my wife! Do you think she could give me any more sons? Every man deserves a second chance and I aim to have mine. And, because I’m such a kind hearted man, I’m giving you two a second chance. Get out of my house. Get out before I kill you.”
“We are not finished!” Adrienne said, taking Cecil by the arm.
“Yes, Madame, we are.” Edward laughed. “I will see you both at the ball. Wear something saucy.”
“Come along, my dear.” Adrienne whispered to Cecil.
Cecil rubbed his jaw and nodded. They headed for the door.
“I’ll expect those figures to be finished a week before the ball, Cecil.” Edward smirked.
“You’ll have your statues.” Cecil hissed. “You’ll get everything that’s due you.”
Once outside the house, Adrienne studied her husband’s face. “You’ll be bruised.” She sighed. “Let’s go home and put a cool rag on your face to stop the blood from rising.”
“The blood has already risen, my dear.” Cecil said softly.
They walked silently down la Colline Cramoisie and returned to their own home.
“I must see how Fuller is doing. He’s been too long with Gamilla. You know how fussy he can get when he’s with her. Do come with me.” Adrienne said, climbing the stairs.
“In a moment.” Cecil said quietly. “I need a moment alone. I’ll be in the library.”
“Very well.” Adrienne sighed.
Cecil walked into his library and, once he was certain that Adrienne was upstairs, slammed his fists angrily on his desk. Furiously, he walked over to one of the tall bookshelves that lined the wall. Pushing aside a row of anatomy books, he removed a wooden case from where it had been hidden behind the tomes. He opened the case and glanced down at the pistol inside. Picking up the pistol he frowned. “Yes, Edward Cage, you’ll get all that’s due you.”
Meanwhile, at the Rittenhouse Mansion, tears rolled down Julian’s face as Mr. Punch whimpered. “Hurts, it does, Chum. Hurts bad.”
“I’m so sorry, dear Punch. I’d never wish to cause you pain. I hope you know that.” Robert said hoarsely. “I hate doing this to you, but it’s the only way.”
“Just be quick ‘bout it.” Mr. Punch whispered. “Me master’s not going to be happy when he sees what I done to his hand.”
“No, he won’t be pleased,” Robert nodded as he stitched the deep cut. “However, he’ll understand. Tell me, is Julian aware of what’s happening?”
“No.” Mr. Punch shook Julian’s hand. “I’m keepin’ it from him, I am. That’s me place, see. I keep the things what can hurt him away from him. That’s why he’s got me.”
“You’re a kind soul, Mr. Punch.” Robert said gently.
“Don’t know ‘bout that.” Mr. Punch gulped. “Here, you gotta be finished now.”
“I am.” Robert said, wrapping a bandage around Julian’s hand. “I apologize if it hurt.”
Mr. Punch wiped his eyes with Julian’s uninjured hand. He smiled at Robert. “Right. I understand. Just like me dream, it was. Body torn to shreds.”
“You should listen to your dreams, Mr. Punch.” Naasir said from the corner where he’d been standing since he’d returned with Robert’s bag.
“Not speakin’ to you,” Mr. Punch grunted.
“You mustn’t be angry with Naasir.” Robert coughed. “He had good reason to shield you from the fact that Arthur is alive. Dear Punch, he was only trying to protect you in much the same way that you protect Lord Fallbridge. In a way, you’re his master as Julian is yours.”
“Huh.” Punch grunted. He looked at Naasir. “Is that true?”
“Yes, Sir.” Naasir smiled.
“Tryin’ to keep me from getting me master in a stew of trouble by killin’ that wicked bloke?” Mr. Punch asked.
“That’s all I was doing, Sir.” Naasir nodded.
“I can ‘preciate that.” Mr. Punch smiled. “We’re still chums, then. I’d sing with you, now, I would, only I don’t feel much like singin’. Can we sing later?”
“Whenever you like, Mr. Punch.” Naasir grinned.
A faint knock on the door interrupted their conversation.
“If that’s the red-headed girl what always looks so hungry, I’ll hit her with a stick—hurt hand or no!” Mr. Punch growled.
“I suspect it’s Mrs. Rittenhouse come to chastise us for breaking one of her windows.”
“Ain’t she got no husband? Never seen him. If anyone’s gonna yell ‘bout broken windas, it outghta be him.” Mr. Punch grumbled.
“She does have a husband. I believe he’s here in the house somewhere…” Robert began.
The knocking persisted.
“Naasir.” Robert nodded.
Naasir opened the door.
Marjani entered carrying a large basket. She looked bright-eyed and pleased with herself.
“All stitched up, then?” Marjani asked.
“Yes.” Robert smiled. “He’ll be quite fine in a couple of days.”
“Good, good.” Marjani grinned. “Now, I’ve done brought somethin’ that’ll make you both smile and start to feelin’ better. But, you gotta keep it a secret. Understand? If Miss Rittenhouse finds out I done brought this in her house, she’d have an awful fit.”
The basket began to move, and a soft noise rose from it.
“Coo.” Punch’s eyes widened. “Did you bring us a baby?”
“Sorta.” Marjani laughed. “I thought you gents might like some company.”
She put the basket on the floor and opened it. From its wicker cage, a puppy jumped out and rushed to Mr. Punch, wagging its tail.
“Here!” Mr. Punch grinned. “What is it?”
“It’s a dog, Mr. Punch.” Marjani smiled. “Don’t you know ‘bout dogs?”
Punch knelt down and studied the wiggling puppy. He was the color of cream and had pointed ears.
“Gotta big head, it does.” Mr. Punch cooed.
“Looks soft.” Mr. Punch smiled.
“Dogs generally are.” Robert said softly.
“Never seen one a these up close.” Mr. Punch looked amazed at the animal. “I like it. See, there’s a dog in the panto, there is. Name is Toby.” He looked at the puppy. “What’s your name?”
“He don’t have no name.” Marjani laughed.
“Does now.” Mr. Punch grinned. “Toby.”
“Wherever did you get him?” Robert asked, his voice still rough.
“Dog over at Mr. Fontanals’ had a litter. This one was the runt. No one wanted him, so the poor thing just was always sittin’ ‘round the place, lookin’ sad. I done tol’ the overseer that I thought the two English gents might like to have him and he tol’ me I could take him.”
“Here,” Mr. Punch sat on the floor next to the dog who rolled over on his back and put his paws in the air.
“What’s he doin’?” Mr. Punch asked.
“He wants you to pet him.” Marjani smiled.
“I can touch him?” Punch asked.
“That’s what he’s there for.” Marjani chuckled. “Now, Dr. Halifax, you get yourself back in that bed. One of Mrs. Rittenhouse’s men’s gonna come up and fix this window in just a tick, but ain’t no sense in you catchin’ a chill now.”
“Was Mrs. Rittenhouse angry about the glass?” Robert asked.
“Oh, she don’t know. No reason for her to know.” Marjani winked.
Mr. Punch cautiously reached out Julian’s uninjured hand and pet the dog’s stomach.
“Say, he is soft. And, warm.” Mr. Punch grinned.
The dog wriggled as Mr. Punch pet him.
“Hullo, Toby, old chap.” Mr. Punch laughed. “You understand? Yer name is Toby, see.”
The dog rolled over and crawled onto Julian’s lap, licking his face.
Mr. Punch laughed wildly. “Here, he’s a right fine dog.” He hugged the happy creature who wagged its tail joyfully.
“Now, you play with him for awhile. But, when Mrs. Rittenhouse and her daughter get back from La Rue de la Marchands, I gotta get him outta here.”
Mr. Punch nodded.
“I’ll be bringin’ him back for to visit with you. ‘Til ya get back to your own house, he can stay with me at night.”
“Thank you, Marjani.” Robert said as she settled back into the bed. “That’s just what we needed.”
“I know.” Marjani winked.
She looked to Naasir. “You come with me. “
“I’ll bring your man back soon, for true.” Marjani said.
“Take your time,” Robert smiled, watching Mr. Punch gleefully play with Toby.
Once outside in the corridor, Marjani shut the door and looked squarely at Naasir.
“Sendin’ me all those thoughts all mornin’, have ya?” Marjani grinned at Naasir.
“I have.” Naasir nodded.
“I’m willin’ ta help ya. But, we gotta be careful we don’t get caught.” Marjani’s smile faded as she spoke seriously.
“We must do what is written.” Naasir said softly. “We must complete what ‘The Great Man of the Rocks’ started.
Did you miss Chapters 1-73? If so, you can read them here.