Julian awoke to find himself in his bed at the Halifax House. He began to rub his eyes and was surprised to see that both of his hands were bandaged. One felt warm and stiff, the other, tight and pinched.
He pushed himself up on his elbows, and as he did, he felt that his left leg was also bandaged. Propping himself up his pillow, he noticed Robert sitting at the foot of his bed.
“Good morning,”’ Robert smiled. The man was fully dressed and though he looked gaunt and pale, he was clearly in much better health than the last time Julian had seen him.
“Good morning,”’ Julian nodded stiffly. “When did we switch positions? The last I recall, you were in bed and I was sitting with you.”
“That was several days ago,” Robert said softly.
“Days?” Julian asked. “How many days?”
“Tomorrow is Christmas Day.” Robert grinned.
“Ah, that many days.” Julian sighed. “You’re well?”
“I’m on my way. Dr. DeCuir allowed me to come back to Cecil’s provided I still take plenty of rest. I couldn’t stay at the Rittenhouse Estate.”
“Why?” Julian asked.
“I had to be here with you.” Robert replied.
“What exactly has happened to me?” Julian whispered.
“You’ve been in a fire.” Robert responded. “The ceiling fell in on you.”
Julian searched his brain for some sort of memory of it, but he could not recall anything that had happened.
“Mr. Punch is keeping that little bit of information for me.” Julian smiled weakly.
“He was quite heroic.” Robert said. “I’m told he saved the lives of several horses, and, also, rescued Iolanthe Evangeline from the blaze.”
“She was also there? Horses? This was in a stable? Not here, I hope?”
“No. At the Rittenhouse property. You—I should say Mr. Punch—and Naasir went to administer some sort of Voodoo powder to Arthur and Barbara which would render them free of their wickedness and make them honest.”
“Arthur?” Julian said with a great deal of confusion. “Oh, yes.” He thought for a moment. “Of course, he did not perish in the sea, did he? So, I’m not a murderer. Is this correct?”
“Yes.” Robert nodded. “And, so, Mr. Punch and Naasir had gone to try to extract the truth from them.”
“Did it work?” Julian grunted.
“That’s hard to say.” Robert shrugged.
“Why was Iolanthe Evangeline there?” Julian asked.
“That’s also difficult to say.” Robert sighed. “Ulrika Rittenhouse was also present. She reported—after the fire—that she and Barbara had found a woman who had been shot and brought her to the stables to tend to her. She said that the woman identified herself only as Iolanthe and that she was in the presence of a large man. She says she knows nothing more. However, we know she’s lying to keep in the good graces of her mother. Naasir told us privately the whole story—that Cecil had shot Iolanthe and that she had been carried in by the man who called himself ‘The Professor.’”
“Where is she now?” Julian asked.
“That’s an excellent question, dear Julian.” Robert shook his head. “When the blaze had been extinguished, the men searched for her, but found only a patch of bloody moss.”
“And the professor?” Julian asked.
“The charred remains of a man were found in the embers.” Robert said softly.
“Naasir? He’s safe?” Julian asked.
“Yes. He suffered some minor burns. When the ceiling collapsed, he rushed in and rescued you.”
“I must thank him.” Julian sighed. “Why was I in the stable in the first place? If there was a fire, one would think Mr. Punch would have had sense enough to get out of there.”
“He had quite a bit of sense.” Robert responded. “He’d gone in to rescue Barbara and the Professor.”
“What of Arthur?” Julian asked.
“He seems to have escaped.” Robert answered. “Don’t you wish to know what became of your sister?”
“I’m afraid to ask.” Julian said softly. “Is she…?”
“Her body was not found. Mrs. Rittenhouse presumes her to have died in the blaze. However, I have my doubts. The man was found, but there was no evidence of Barbara.”
“I see.” Julian sniffed.
“You need your rest,” Robert said quickly, “You’ve been badly burned on your leg. Your hand only suffered minor burns.”
“What of my other hand?” Julian asked.
“That was cut earlier that day. Mr. Punch broke a window when he realized Arthur was alive.”
“I’d have done the same.” Julian chuckled. “I suppose I did do the same—just without knowing.”
“I wasn’t quite sure which of you would awaken.” Robert smiled. “You’ve been unconscious for so many days. I was beginning to become quite alarmed. Aside from the trauma of the fire, I suppose you’re quite exhausted. Your body needed time to repair itself. I imagine Mr. Punch is still napping in there.”
“Most likely.” Julian nodded. “I don’t hear him. I can usually hear him chattering away. He talks to himself quite a lot.”
“I know.” Robert grinned. “Julian,” Robert began, “when I saw the blaze from my window, I feared you’d perished. I…”
“I understand.” Julian nodded.
“Well, then,” Robert cleared his throat, “there’s someone who very badly wishes to see you.”
“Come here, Toby.” Robert said, patting the bed.
Julian was surprised to see a terrier come trotting out from beneath the table near the fireplace. The terrier jumped on the bed and curled up next to Julian. Though slightly, painful, Julian stroked the dog’s fur with his bandaged hand.
“What a sweet pup.” Julian grinned. “Whose is he?”
“Yours.” Robert winked. “Well, to be accurate, he’s Mr. Punch’s dog. However, I think you can share ownership.”
“We share everything else.” Julian smiled.
“He was a gift from Marjani.” Robert explained.
“Has Marjani been helping you look after me?”
“No.” Robert shook his head. “I’ve only seen her a few times. Her daughter is quite ill. Yellow Fever.”
“Oh, I am sorry to hear that.” Julian said softly.
“They’ve been quarantined in a shack on the back of Mr. Fontanals’ land. The daughter’s husband has contracted it as well. Frankly, I’m surprised that they’ve lived as long as they have. They must be suffering terribly.”
“I can’t imagine.” Julian shook his head.
Meanwhile, in that dirty shack, Marjani leaned over her daughter and whispered. “Honey, I done brung you somethin’.”
Nontle opened her eyes and sputtered—sending blood droplets onto her white nightgown.
“Don’t speak, chil’.” Marjani said.
From a red bag, she removed a polychrome sculpture of the Virgin Mary. “I got this for ya. She’s gonna look over you.” She placed the statue next to the bed.
Grabbing her daughter’s hand, Marjani smiled. “She’s been watchin’ out for ya. Look at how well you’re doin’. My lamb, tomorrow is Christmas. There’s lots of rejoicin’ to be done. We’re gonna have a miracle we are. I know we are.”
Nontle gurgled as Kirabo twitched in his pained slumber.
The door to the shack creaked open and Marjani turned around to scold whoever had entered. “This ain’t no place to come to. We got a quarantine…”
Her eyes widened as a little girl came into the shack.
“Columbia!” Marjani gasped. “You can’t be in here!”
“I wanna see Mama and Papa.” Columbia said sweetly.
“No, Sugar. You gotta get away from here.”
Tears began to trickle down the girls’ cheeks. “I done made a present for Mama.” Columbia held up a torn scrap of parchment upon which she’d scribbled in red chalk.
“Where’d you get that chalk, Honey?” Marjani asked.
“From the man.” Columbia said, wiping her eyes.
“What man, Columbia?”
“The white man.” Columbia pointed behind her as Arthur entered the shack.
“Nice little girl, that one.” Arthur grinned. “Say, how’s about givin’ me a bit o’ help, then?”
Did you miss Chapters 1-82? If so, you can read them here.