Cecil staggered back in disbelief. “I can’t believe it.”
“She’s been murdered.” Robert sighed. “The Duchess of Fallbridge.”
“Julian sera dévastée.” Adrienne sobbed.
Robert examined the body closer. At that moment, he noticed that upon the bodice of the Duchess’ gown, something had been pinned—a purple feather and a small, folded piece of paper. He unpinned both and unfolded the note, reading it aloud.
“Here hangs the remains of a murderess. ‘As you sow, so shall ye reap.’ In life, she was impossible. In death, she proves most valuable. Consider this your last warning. As the year ends, so does my patience.” Robert grunted, “It’s signed ‘Iolanthe Evangeline.’”
“She’s been in this house.” Cecil said angrily. “Here in the room next to my son’s. While we were dressing, she was in here murdering the Duchess of Fallbridge.”
“Her Grace did not die by hanging.” Robert shook his head. “This woman was dead before she was hanged.”
“Iolanthe couldn’t have done this alone!” Cecil spat. “She may be a hearty woman, but she’s not so strong that she could carry a corpse into this house and hang it without assistance. Someone helped her.”
“Nellie.” Adrienne gasped. “Where’s Nellie? If this isn’t she, where’s she gone?”
Meanwhile, downstairs, Mr. Punch snarled at Iolanthe Evangeline who still sat quite contentedly on Marjani’s bed.
“You’d best get out of this house,” Mr. Punch shouted.
“I’d like nothing more.” Iolanthe rose. “I’ve done what I intended and I’ve got what I came for.”
“Which is?” Punch asked.
“Several things.” Iolanthe chuckled. “Some more valuable than others.”
“Have you stolen somethin’ that belongs to Adrienne and Cecil? Did you take something of mine or Roberts’?”
“No.” Iolanthe smiled. “I’ve only taken back what’s mine to begin with. But, isn’t it sweet how protective you are of your friends? You’d better get back upstairs, Lord Fallbridge. There was a woman hanged here tonight, you know.”
“I know.” Mr. Punch narrowed his eyes, “but how do you know?”
“Haven’t you realized by now that there’s nothing that I don’t already know?” Iolanthe laughed. “And, I don’t want you thinkin’ otherwise.”
“What do you mean?” Mr. Punch asked.
“Nothing that you won’t soon see for yourself.” Iolanthe cackled, brushing past Mr. Punch. “If you’ll excuse me, I have companions waiting for me.”
She paused in the doorway. “Oh, by the way,” She gracefully reached into the small handbag that she was carrying. “Does this look familiar?” From the bag, she withdrew a large, glittering blue stone. She held it between her satin-gloved fingers.
“My father’s diamond!” Mr. Punch gasped.
“My diamond.” Iolanthe laughed. “You had no idea that it’s been in this house for days, did you? Well, dear lunatic, I have it and its guardian.”
“Give it to me!” Mr. Punch lunged forward.
Iolanthe jerked her hand away. “Naughty…”
“What’s goin’ on here?” Marjani shouted as she hurried down the hallway.
Mr. Punch turned toward Marjani. “No. Don’t come near her! She’ll hurt you.”
“You get away from him, you awful woman!” Marjani screamed.
When Mr. Punch turned around, Iolanthe was gone. All that remained was the scent of her perfume as if she’d simply vanished. Punch ran down the hallway just in time to see the back door closing.
“I can’t let her…” Mr. Punch grunted.
“Stop, Mr. Punch.” Marjani said softly.
“Ain’t nothin’ you can do. Besides, there’s tragedy in this house.”
“Gamilla?” Mr. Punch asked.
“No.” Marjani shook her head. “Gamilla’s gonna be all right.”
“It ain’t Naasir?”
“No.” Marjani said. “Upstairs.”
“Oh, coo. Nellie…that’s why I came down here in the first place. Could you come up, please? Nellie’s sad soul…it’s what made her do it, I’m sure.”
Marjani shook her head. “Mr. Punch, it ain’t that soul of that fallen woman that’s been released tonight.”
“I don’t understand. Were you upstairs?” Mr. Punch asked.
“No.” Marjani repeated. “It is written. Come with me, young Mr. Punch. I will take you to her.”
“I…” Mr. Punch shook his head.
Marjani took Julian’s hands. “Come with me upstairs.”
Punch followed Marjani back up the stairs. With each step, he felt a growing sense of dread. He knew that—within the body that they shared—Julian was uneasy, increasingly so.
Marjani led Mr. Punch to Nellie’s room.
“Don’t let him in yet.” Robert said quickly when he saw Marjani and Punch in the doorway.
“Why not, Chum?” Punch asked softly. “What don’t you want me to see?”
“My dear,” Robert walked toward the door.
“What don’t you want me to see?” Mr. Punch asked again.
“Punch, dear Punch…” Robert said, placing his hands on Julian’s shoulders.
“It ain’t Nellie, is it?” Punch asked.
Robert shook his head.
“It’s Barbara, isn’t it?” Mr. Punch asked. “Iolanthe were here. I saw her downstairs. She got the diamond, she did. She got it from Barbara and killed her, didn’t she? That’s the woman what’s lying dead on that bed. Me master’s sister?”
“I knew that woman was still in the house!” Cecil growled.
Robert cast a warning look at his brother.
“She’s gone now, she is.” Mr. Punch said softly. “Disappeared like she were a ghost. Let me see Barbara.”
“It’s not Barbara.” Robert said.
“If it ain’t Barbara and it ain’t Nellie, who is it, then?” Mr. Punch asked, knowing the answer in his heart already. He looked at Marjani who nodded at him.
“Let him see his mother,” Marjani said quietly.
“No.” Mr. Punch shook his head. “Not me master’s mother. No!”
Julian’s body began shaking wildly.
Robert put his arms around the man.
“No!” Mr. Punch screamed.
“Punch, please, please…” Robert pleaded with him. “Don’t do this to yourself. Don’t do this to Julian.”
“It’s me own fault!” Mr. Punch shouted. “I left her there! I left her there! I left her there!”
Did you miss Chapters 1-136? If so, you can read them here.