Just as Robert and Mr. Punch were about to take a sip from their glasses, Cecil burst into the room.
“I say, sorry to interrupt.” Cecil said. “But, Robert, I was just checking on Fuller and he feels a bit warm to me. I’ve never been good at these things. Adrienne can tell just by looking at the child if he’s well or not, but…”
“Not a problem,” Robert smiled. “That’s why it’s convenient to have a physician in the family.”
Mr. Punch put his glass down on the table. “Well, then, we’d best go see the little bloke, hadn’t we?”
“We’ll finish our New Year’s toast later,” Robert nodded, also setting his glass down.
“Here, does that mean I get to say it again?” Mr. Punch asked cheerfully. “I rather enjoyed me-self, I did.”
“If you like, dear Punch,” Robert laughed as they exited the room.
“Well,” Cecil commented as they walked toward Fuller’s room, “I must confess, the two of you look quite smashing in your fancy dress.”
“As do you,” Robert nodded.
“You look just like Jack Ketch,” Mr. Punch grinned as they entered Fuller’s room.
Fuller squealed with delight as they entered, reaching out his hands for Mr. Punch.
“I think he fancies that you’re a giant puppet,” Cecil snorted.
“Well, I am.” Mr. Punch laughed, picking up the baby and holding him up so that Robert could feel the child’s face.
“He doesn’t have a fever.” Robert shook his head.
“He felt warm.” Cecil said softly.
“He’s supposed to be warm.” Robert laughed. “I think, however, you’ve mistaken his proximity to the fireplace as a fever. He’s quite fine. Let’s just move this crib a bit farther from the fire.”
“Ah,” Cecil sighed. “I’m quite relieved. See, I’m no good with these things.”
“It’s better to be concerned than disinterested,” Robert patted his brother on the back. “Shall we tell Adrienne that all is well?”
“I didn’t say a word to her about it.” Cecil shook his head. “I didn’t see any point in worrying her if everything was fine. She’ll never be the wiser.”
“Worrisome fathers,” Robert laughed. “How is Adrienne getting on?”
“She’s dressing now,” Cecil grunted. “That Nellie is helping her.”
“Ah, Nellie.” Robert sighed.
“Here, I don’t like her much. Told ya how we saw she was writing a letter to Ulrika Rittenhouse, didn’t we?” Mr. Punch asked.
“Yes.” Cecil nodded. “I wanted to ask her to leave the house, but Adrienne insisted that she’d have nowhere to go and that the fact that she’d written a letter to Ulrika didn’t necessarily mean any foul play. Adrienne suggested that she was, perhaps, looking for employment—possibly to fill the position left open by Barbara Allen.”
“I’m sure she has filled that position already—and I don’t mean as Ulrika’s Lady’s Maid. But, rather, something more sinister. I don’t like having that woman around the house.” Robert shook his head.
“I’ll bring it up with Adrienne after the ball tonight. When we’re successful in our mission, we won’t need to stay here in New Orleans anyway. We’ll return home to Marionneaux and Nellie will become a moot point.” Cecil smiled.
“Fair enough.” Robert nodded.
Mr. Punch looked up from his playful interaction with Fuller. “Chum, does that mean that you and I will go back to England?”
“Is that what you want?” Robert asked.
“Hate to leave Adrienne and Cecil and Fuller behind.” Mr. Punch sighed, “But, England’s where we belong, I think. Here, we can take Toby on the ship, can’t we?”
“Of course.” Robert nodded. “But, perhaps we can stay in Marionneaux for awhile first, to enjoy each other’s company without the pressure of…well, everything else.”
“Let’s see a successful completion of our tasks this evening before we decide who’s going where and when.” Cecil smiled. “Now, didn’t I interrupt the consumption of spirits?” He grinned.
“I was just drinkin’ water.” Mr. Punch said, tickling Fuller’s stomach.
“I wasn’t.” Robert winked.
“Would you mind terribly if I joined you in your toast?” Cecil asked. “I think I could stand for some liquid courage if I’m to face this evening.”
“Let’s.” Robert chuckled.
“Here, little Fuller,” Mr. Punch cooed. “We’re gonna let you sleep, we are. Don’t you let your father worry ya, ain’t nothin’ wrong with ya. Now, you sleep and when you wake up it’ll be 1853 and that’s gonna be a good year for ya. You’re gonna play with your chums and grow and walk and eat wonderful things and you’ll get hugs and such from all of us. Understand?”
Fuller squeezed Julian’s fingers in his little fists.
“Sure you do,” Mr. Punch nodded. “Happy New Year, wee man.”
Cecil, Robert and Mr. Punch walked quietly back to Mr. Punch’s room where they were surprised to find Gamilla.
“Oh, good evening, Gamilla.” Mr. Punch whooped.
“Evenin’, Sir.” Gamilla said quietly. “I was just cleanin’ up a bit. I thought maybe you’d all left. I poured out your glasses. I wasn’t sure if you’d be returning. Shall I pour you some more to drink?”
“That’s not necessary.” Robert shook his head.
“Well, Sir, there are fresh glasses and I brought a new pitcher of water.” Gamilla shook her head. “That old pitcher was none too fresh. I had a drink of it, it tasted stagnant. I’m terrible sorry that I done left it here so long.”
“Like I said,” Mr. Punch shrugged, “Water is water.”
“You’re a treasure, Gamilla.” Robert said. “What would we do without you?”
“Hope you won’t never have to find out.” Gamilla said modestly.
“I understand that you did most of the sewing of your costumes for the masquerade,” Cecil smiled. “You’ve done a splendid job.”
“Thank you, Sir.” Gamilla blushed. “I’m workin’ on a quilt with Marjani, too. Oh, but she’s got some terrible fine cloth that she done brought with her from Marionneaux. Such beautiful colors…” Gamilla looked down and coughed. “But, I shouldn’t be goin’ on ‘bout none of that. Sorry.”
“No need.” Robert smiled.
Gamilla wobbled a bit on her feet, but caught herself on the bedpost.
“Are you well, Gamilla?” Robert asked.
“Fine, Sir.” Gamilla said. “Just tired. We been stayin’ up with Naasir at nights, Marjani and me. Meridian’s got to take care of…” She coughed again.
“Perhaps you should sit,” Robert said, walking to Gamilla.
“No, Sir.” Gamilla shook her head. “It wouldn’t be fit. You gentlemen enjoy your drinks. I left the whiskey bottle over…” Gamilla clutched her stomach and gasped.
“What have you eaten today?” Robert asked, rushing to the woman’s side.
“Nothin’ since breakfast, Sir. Sir?” Gamilla moaned. “Nor nothin’ to drink ‘cept this bit of water just now. I knew I shouldn’t be drinkin’ from you folks’ water, but I was so thirsty, we been…” She coughed violently. “We been lookin’ after Naasir, and…”
Suddenly, Gamilla’s body began to spasm as she fell to the floor.
“Dear God!” Cecil gasped.
“The water…” Mr. Punch exclaimed. “Someone put somethin’ in the water. Just like on the ship…”
“Punch!” Robert shouted. “Get Marjani! Quickly!”
Robert bent over Gamilla and felt for her pulse as Punch hurried from the room.
“Well?” Cecil asked.
Robert shook his head. “Poor girl.”
Did you miss Chapters 1-133? If so, you can read them here.