Mr. Punch dropped the flannel that he’d been playing with and rushed to the recently-repaired window. Robert joined him. Together, they peered out into the dim light in the clearing below them. They could make out Marjani and Naasir running toward the edge of the property.
Mr. Punch opened the window.
“Mr. Halifax!” Marjani screamed again.
“Is she calling for me?” Robert asked, turning around to get his dressing gown from the footboard of the bed.
“Here, what do you think you’re doin’, Chum?” Mr. Punch grabbed Robert by the arm with Julian’s uninjured hand.
“I’ve got to see what’s happening.” Robert said. “What if someone’s hurt?”
“Won’t do havin’ you go out there in the cold—not in the condition you’re in.” Mr. Punch said firmly.
“Someone could have been shot, Mr. Punch.” Robert said quickly. “You heard Marjani calling for me.”
“You’re not the only Mr. Halifax ‘round here, now, are ya?” Mr. Punch shook his head.
“If it’s Cecil, then all the more reason for me to go.” Robert argued, coughing slightly.
“No. Ain’t gonna let that happen.” Mr. Punch answered. “I’ll go down.”
“Punch…” Robert began.
“Now, Chum, listen, I’ll behave me-self. Even pretend to be Julian, I will.” Mr. Punch responded. “Only, I can’t let you leave this room. I’ll come straight back and tell you what’s gone on.”
“If someone’s injured, you must come and fetch me.” Robert frowned.
“I will.” Punch said. “Now, I’d best get me-self out there.”
Mr. Punch hurried out of the room and ran through the passage. At the top of the stairs, he came upon Carling Rittenhouse who shrieked at him.
“Lord Fallbridge, did you hear that? Shots! Merciful Heavens, I don’t know what to do. My husband is in town. I’m alone here!” She cried.
“You’re not alone, Mrs. Rittenhouse,” Punch responded calmly in Julian’s voice. “I’m here. I shall go investigate. I will report back to you forthwith. I’m sure there’s nothing to alarm you.”
“Thank you, Your Lordship.” Mrs. Rittenhouse said in such a way that she seemed almost sincere.
Mr. Punch trotted down the curving staircase and slipped out the rear door of the mansion.
“Marjani!” He shouted into the clearing—using his own voice.
“Mr. Punch!” Marjani said. “Come quick!”
Marjani emerged from the darkness. She had her arm around the shoulders of Cecil Halifax who was supported on the other side by Naasir.
“Brother Chum!” Punch cried. “Say you’ve not been shot at!”
“No, no.” Cecil shook his head. “It was I who did the shooting. I tripped and turned my ankle.”
“Who were you shootin’ at?” Mr. Punch tilted his head to one side.
“I saw her.” Cecil grumbled. “I wanted to kill her.”
“Who?” Mr. Punch asked. “Me master’s sister what’s so rotten?”
“No.” Cecil shook his head, limping as he walked. “Iolanthe Evangeline.”
“Coo.” Mr. Punch gasped. “So, she is here in this strange town.”
“I saw her lurking.” Cecil panted. “I fired—three times.”
“Did you get her?” Mr. Punch asked.
“I’m not sure.” Cecil said. “She disappeared into the dark again.”
“Come on, Mr. Halifax, we’re gonna get ya up to your brother. He’ll take a look at that ankle.” Marjani said. “Naasir, you’re gonna hafta support most of his weight up them stairs. I’m not as strong as I used to be.”
“Of course, I will, Mrs. Caruthers.” Naasir nodded.
With little effort, Naasir and Marjani helped Cecil up to Robert’s room. On their way, they passed Mrs. Rittenhouse.
“Oh dear!” Carling Rittenhouse squealed.
“Mr. Halifax saw a prowler and fired his pistol.” Mr. Punch said calmly—speaking as he thought Julian might.
“Oh!” Carling gasped. “Did you catch him?”
“It was…” Cecil began.
Mr. Punch interrupted. “We’re not quite sure of that. I think we should all be thankful that Mr. Halifax is safe.”
“Yes, of course.” Carling nodded. “Thank you for looking after my property.”
“My pleasure.” Cecil panted—wishing to end the conversation.
“However, what were you doing out here in the dark?” Mrs. Rittenhouse asked.
“I was coming to see my brother,” Cecil answered quickly. “I brought the pistol along because we’ve had some trouble with prowlers lately.”
“I see.” Mrs. Rittenhouse nodded slowly.
“Miss Rittenhouse, pardon me for interuptin’, but Mr. Halifax’s ankle done got twisted and wants lookin’ at.” Marjani smiled.
“Certainly.” Mrs. Rittenhouse said. “Feel free to stay as long as you’d like. I will retire now.”
Marjani and Naasir helped Cecil into Robert’s room.
Robert gasped when he saw his brother. “Dear God, Cecil!”
“I’m fine, Robert.” Cecil said quickly, settling into a chair with Naasir’s assistance. “I’ve just turned my ankle.”
“Get his boot off.” Robert said to Naasir.
“What were you doing out there?” Robert asked, kneeling down to examine his brother’s ankle.
“I’ll tell ya what he were doin’.” Mr. Punch smiled. “He was shootin’ at the ‘ogress.’”
“Iolanthe Evageline was here?” Robert asked.
“On the Cages’ land.” Cecil winced as Robert pressed on his ankle.
“Good thing you had your pistol.” Robert muttered. “This is swelling quickly. Marjani…”
“I’ll get some cold rags.” Marjani nodded, going to the washstand.
“Cecil,” Robert began, “why were you on Mr. Cage’s land?”
“I was cutting through there to come here.” Cecil mumbled.
“When you yourself warned me not to trespass on the Cage’s property?” Robert raised an eyebrow. “Why didn’t you walk up the road on the red hill?”
“It would have taken longer.” Cecil said softly.
“Especially weighted down with your pistol.” Robert coughed.
“I have a right to carry my pistol if I want.” Cecil snapped. “Wouldn’t you? You know that Iolanthe’s henchmen are out there. And, now, we’ve seen the beast herself! I was correct to carry a weapon.”
“You weren’t coming here. Were you?” Robert asked.
Cecil sighed. “No.”
“Say, what were you doin’, Brother Chum?” Mr. Punch asked.
“I was going to retrieve Lady Barbara’s child.” Cecil answered flatly. “And to teach Edward Cage not to make a fool of my wife.”
“Cecil,” Robert sighed. “Didn’t you caution me just the other day about acting rashly?”
“I did.” Cecil nodded. “However, now I can understand your passion. I should have let you shoot those men when you had the chance. Now, their leader is afoot. If only I were a better aim. She just appeared out of the sugar cane. She moved too quickly for me to get a good shot.”
“It doesn’t matter.” Robert said softly, wrapping a bandage tightly around his brother’s ankle. “I’m grateful that Marjani and Naasir were out there to help you.”
“Here,” Mr. Punch grinned. “Seems like everyone but you and me, Chum, were out walkin’ in the night.” He looked to Naasir and Marjani. “Just what was it that the two of ya were doin’ out there in the cold?”
Naasir and Marjani glanced at each other quickly.
“Don’t tell me you were also trying to rescue Barbara’s child.” Robert rasped.
“We were not.” Naasir said honestly.
“What was you doin’, then? The two of ya both wantin’ to have the evenin’ to yourselves.” Mr. Punch asked.
Marjani spoke up. “We called upon the Holy One for guidance. We were going to stop the foolishness of those people for true.”
“Which people?” Robert asked.
“That man, Arthur, and Lord Fallbridge’s sister.” Marjani answered.
“How’d you aim to do it?” Mr. Punch’s eyes widened.
Naasir produced the vial of red powder from his pocket. “With this.”
“And what is that?” Robert coughed.
“Somethin’ more powerful than anything on this earth.” Marjani smiled.
“Did you use it?” Mr. Punch asked.
“Not yet.” Marjani shook her head.
“Will you show me what to do with it?” Mr. Punch asked.
She looked at Naasir who nodded.
“Yes, Great Man. It is time. The circumstances are too powerful for just the two of us.” Naasir smiled.
Did you miss Chapters 1-77? If so, you can read them here.