Cecil adjusted his black mask and looked in the glass.
“Quite ominous darling,” Adrienne purred.
“I say, you’ve done a fine job with this.” Cecil smiled, turning around to face his wife.
“I confess that Gamilla and Meridian did most of the sewing on that coat. I was never good with seams. Gamilla made the hood.”
Cecil turned toward the glass again and studied his long black coat, turning slightly to examine the draping hood which hung across his shoulders. “It’s brilliant. Even the waistcoat. Wherever did you find such a fine silver fabric?”
“That, my dear,” Adrienne smiled as she fastened the clasps of her deep purple gown, “was an offering from Marjani. She dyed the fabric herself.”
“Smashing,” Cecil smiled.
“Love, would you help me with my laces?” Adrienne asked.
“I will, but you know I’m so clumsy with these things. Hadn’t I better call for Gamilla or Meridian?”
“They’re both helping Marjani bathe Naasir.” Adrienne answered.
“Poor fellow.” Cecil sighed as he fumbled with the laces at the back of Adrienne’s gown. “How’s he doing?”
“Still poorly,” Adrienne shook her head. “Come on, darling, pull tighter.”
“I don’t want to crush you.” Cecil chuckled.
“You want me to have my usual figure, don’t you?” Adrienne grinned.
“Well, of course, my dear,” Cecil nodded.
“Then, by all means, crush me.” Adrienne laughed.
Cecil pulled tighter on the laces, wincing. “How you women endure these contraptions is beyond me.”
A knock on the door interrupted them.
“Who is it?” Cecil asked.
“It is I, Nellie.” Nellie responded.
“Be nice, darling,” Adrienne whispered.
“I was wondering,” Nellie said through the door, “if I could help you prepare for the masquerade.”
“Let her in,” Adrienne said. “She can do my laces.”
“Very well,” Cecil grumbled, opening the door.
“Oh my,” Nellie said as Cecil opened the door. “What a dark figure you cut, Mr. Halifax. Who are you supposed to be?”
“I’m Jack Ketch.” Cecil answered plainly.
“Who’s that?” Nellie asked.
“The hangman.” Cecil answered flatly. “Come to bring criminals to justice.”
Nellie nodded slowly.
“Jack Ketch was actually an executioner in England.” Adrienne said quickly. “Punch and Judy Men adopted his name for a character in the puppet show.”
“Lord Julian is going as Mr. Punch,” Cecil nodded. “And, my brother is going as another character from the panto—the doctor who attends to Judy.”
“I see,” Nellie answered. “That seems appropriate. Are you all dressing in the same theme? Adrienne, who are you? Surely not Judy in that fine satin gown with all the spangles and feathers. Perhaps you’re the other girl—the one that Mr. Punch fancies. What’s her name? Pretty Polly?”
“No.” Adrienne answered softly. “I’ve not joined the gentlemen in their theme.”
“Who are you then?” Nellie asked.
“Someone far more sinister.” Adrienne smiled. “Help me with my laces, then, would you?”
“I’ll go check on Fuller.” Cecil said quickly as Nellie tugged on the laces of Adrienne’s gown.
“Good evening, Jack Ketch.” Adrienne said flirtatiously.
“Good evenin’, Missus,” Cecil winked through his mask.
“There, now.” Nellie said, tying Adrienne’s laces.
“Thank you, Nellie,” Adrienne replied. “Would you help me with my wig? It’s over there on the table.”
Nellie went to the tall hatbox which held the elaborate wig that Meridian had ordered for Adrienne. Dark curls wound around an ornate comb which held two long, purple feathers.
“This…” Nellie gasped. “This looks like…”
“Yes,” Adrienne grinned. “Tonight, I’ll be Iolanthe Evageline.”
Meanwhile, in Mr. Punch’s room, Punch was sprawled out on the bed, dressed only in a silk dressing gown and stockings.
“Come on, then!” Punch whooped. “Let’s see you!”
“Just a moment,” Robert grunted from behind the papier mache screen in the corner of the room. “Damn these boots.”
“Hurry up, Chum!” Punch hollered.
“Fine,” Robert said, coming out from behind the screen and taking a bow.
“Coo!” Mr. Punch said, sitting up. “Look at you.”
“What do you think?” Robert asked, fidgeting with his white satin mask with the long, pointed beak. “I suspect I’m more Venetian Carnival than I am Covent Garden.”
“Nah,” Mr. Punch shook his head. “You look like the doctor in your long, gray coat. Nice.”
“One more bit,” Robert said, putting a white powdered wig on his head. “Oh, itchy.”
“Quite nice, indeed.” Mr. Punch grinned.
“Your robe, Mr. Punch,” Robert smiled, wiggling his finger toward Mr. Punch’s dressing gown which had come undone.
“Sorry.” Punch blushed. “Still not used to all this.” He stood and pulled the robe tightly around Julian’s body. “Now, then, it’s time to get me dressed, isn’t it?”
“It is.” Robert nodded. “I think, however,” he grunted, “I’m going to take this off until we leave.” He removed the wig and untied the mask. Rubbing his eyes, he smiled, “That’s better.”
Mr. Punch sighed. “I hope we’re doin’ the right thing.”
“We are.” Robert nodded.
“I’m worried ‘bout Adrienne.” Mr. Punch shook Julian’s head.
“We all are. But, she’s a strong woman and she knows what she’s to do. We’ll all keep an eye on her.” Robert forced himself to smile, “Now, then, behind the screen with you.”
“I don’t see why I need to go behind the screen.” Mr. Punch grumbled. “It’s crowded back there.”
Robert shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s just the way we do things. Besides, I’ve laid out your costume on the chair.”
“Coo!” Mr. Punch exclaimed as he went behind the screen. “Look at it! I forgot how perfect it is.”
Punch struggled with his underclothes and the purple and green striped trousers. He stumbled out from behind the screen and said proudly. “Look at me!”
“I see you, dear Punch,” Robert chuckled. “Now, the rest of it.”
“Come on, help me.” Mr. Punch moaned.
“Very well,” Robert smiled. He went behind the screen and retrieved the bright white shirt, wide ruff and brilliant red and blue coat that Adrienne and Gamilla had made. Pulling the shirt over Julian’s head, he helped Punch with the buttons on the coat and fastened the ruff behind his neck. Taking Mr. Punch by Julian’s shoulders, he turned the man toward the glass.
“And, so…” Robert smiled.
“Here,” Mr. Punch exclaimed at his own reflection. “I look like meself—me puppet self. Strange to see it with Julian’s face atop it.”
“Put this on,” Robert said, handing Mr. Punch a bright crimson mask studded with sequins.
“Coo!” Mr. Punch squawked, “Shiny!”
“Yes.” Robert nodded. “And the hat.”
Robert placed the curving scarlet and blue hat—trimmed with gold and topped by a gold tassel and brass bell—atop Mr. Punch’s head.
“Isn’t it wonderful?” Mr. Punch exclaimed.
Robert gazed at Mr. Punch.
“Here, you’re lookin’ at me funny. What are ya thinkin’?”
Robert shook his head. “Uhh…I’m not quite sure. Yes, it is strange to see. But, yes, it’s wonderful, too. For the longest time, I…”
“What is it?” Punch asked.
“Well, I’ve gotten so used to you being Mr. Punch. And, I’ve become accustomed to the idea that there’s two of you in there…it’s just…” Robert shrugged. “I’m not sure. I suppose it’s a little shocking to see this physical combination of the two of you.”
“You’re missin’ Julian, ain’t ya?” Punch asked.
“It’s all right if you are.” Mr. Punch smiled. “I understand.”
“It’s been so long since he’s been with us.” Robert sighed. “Not that I don’t appreciate having you. I do. I couldn’t ask for a better friend.”
“Ain’t nothin’ to worry ‘bout.” Mr. Punch smiled beneath his mask. “Julian’s here, too. This is all just too much for him. It’s a little much for me, too, but I gotta carry on, I do.”
Robert cleared his throat. “Well, then, I think this deserves a toast, don’t you think?”
“A toast?” Mr. Punch asked.
“Yes,” Robert smiled, walking to the vanity where Meridian had left a bottle of whiskey and two glasses. “We should drink to the new year—to 1853—and to our family.”
“That’s somethin’ that folk do, is it? Drink to the new year?”
“Yes,” Robert smiled. “It’s tradition.”
“Does it matter what a person drinks?”
“No.” Robert shrugged.
“Well, then, if it’s all the same to ya, I’ll take a drink of water instead. I don’t know if givin’ me spirits would be such a fine thing right now.”
Mr. Punch walked to the night table and poured himself a glass of water, unaware that Nellie had dissolved something in the pitcher hours before. The angry crystals—given to her by the greedy Ulrika Rittenhouse—that Nellie had poured into the pitcher had long since mingled with the water—leaving nothing but a shimmering clarity that belied the poison inside.
“That’s been there since last night,” Robert said. “”Let’s get you some fresh.”
“Water is water.” Mr. Punch shrugged. “Ain’t no fresher comin’ out of the pump than when it’s sittin’ here.”
“I suppose you’re right.” Robert nodded. “You know, as much as I need this drink, I think you may be correct about the effects of spirits at the present. Pass me some of that to water this down.”
Punch handed the pitcher to Robert who poured a bit into his whiskey.
“Here, when do we need to leave?” Punch asked, studying the tumbler of water.
“The ball won’t start for another hour. So, we’ve plenty of time. The waxworks isn’t far from here.” Robert said, sniffing the whiskey.
“Never been to a waxworks before.” Mr. Punch mumbled.
“You’ll like it. Lots of statues for you to talk to.” Robert winked. “Now,” Robert raised his glass.
“Here’s to 1853! May it be a year that is filled with nothing but joy!” Robert said. “And, here’s to our family, and to my dear Mr. Punch.”
Robert reached the glass to his lips.
“Wait a tick!” Mr. Punch said.
Robert did not take a sip.
“I want to say something, too!” Mr. Punch smiled.
“Go on,” Robert nodded.
“Here’s to me chum, Robert what helps me and is kind and smart and warm and sturdy. And, here’s to Adrienne who is gentle and smells like sugared biscuits. And, here’s to Cecil what is gruff but knows how to do things and made me a puppet head like a nice bloke, and here’s to Fuller what’s a baby.”
“Well said.” Robert said, raising his glass again.
“I ain’t finished,” Punch sighed.
“Oh.” Robert lowered his glass again.
“And, here’s to Naasir what’s in pain, but will get better. And to Marjani what’s a nice lady who is very strong, and to the little pale girl what’s called Columbia, and to Meridian who makes good sausages and to Gamilla who brings me things to eat, and…” Mr. Punch thought. “And, of course, to Toby…” Punch glanced at the dog who was curled up in a chair in the corner of the room. “What’s furry and soft and warm and good. And to all the good folk in Marionneaux what take care of us. And to the bloke—Dr. What’s His Name--what’s lettin’ us stay in this house, and…”
Robert chuckled. “And…?”
“And to me puppet and even to Her Grace and Barbara Allen what are awful, but don’t have to be. And, to the folk what are in Heaven who watch over us—me pa, Sir Colin, and your ma and pa. But, ‘specially to Julian who’s me master and what gave me life and who we miss. And, again, to you, for bein’ so good to me, Chum.”
“That was a fine toast.” Robert grinned. “And quite specific.”
“I try.” Punch nodded. “Happy New Year.”
“Happy New Year to you, dear Punch.” Robert winked. “Shall we drink?”
“I don’t see why not.” Mr. Punch shrugged.
They raised their glasses to their lips…
Did you miss Chapters 1-132? If so, you can read them here.
Mr. Punch and his friends will be taking a brief hiatus Friday, December 31 and Saturday, January 1. Come back on January 3, 2011 for Chapter 134 of Punch’s Cousin and to see if Mr. Punch and Robert actually make it to the New Year’s Ball at the Waxworks.
From Mr. Punch and his companions, and me and Bertie, Happy New Year!