Nellie panted as she banged on the kitchen door of Edward Cage’s Royal Street mansion.
“What you want?” A short, liveried man said, opening the door slightly. He glared at her with yellowed eyes.
“Please, let me in.” Nellie whispered breathlessly.
“Why?” The man growled.
“Please. I’m being chased.” Nellie pleaded.
“Mr. Cage--he wouldn’t like it.” The man sneered.
“What’s your name?” Nellie asked, pressing herself into the doorway.
“Odo.” The man answered. “I’m called, ‘Ty Odo.’”
“Ty Odo, do you know who Iolanthe Evangeline is?”
“Who wants to know?” Odo asked.
“Do you?” Nellie whispered angrily.
“I done heard the name.” Odo grunted.
“She’s chasing me.” Nellie hissed. “I need sanctuary.”
“Why here?” Odo asked.
“Please, I know Miss Rittenhouse. She’s staying here, isn’t she?”
“If you’re a friend of Miss Rittenhouse, why you come to the back door like you’re some kind of peddler?”
“Do I look like a peddler?” Nellie asked.
“No, that ain’t what you look like. Though you look like you been peddlin’ somethin’.”
“That’s enough,” Nellie said sharply, pushing Odo out of her way. “Where’s Miss Rittenhouse?”
“She’s upstairs getting’ ready for the ball tonight.” Odo smiled at Nellie’s brashness. “You’re a feisty thing, ain’t ya?”
“That’ll be enough from you.” Nellie spat.
“I can’t let you go upstairs,” Odo grinned. “Not ‘less I get somethin’ for my troubles.”
“Oh, you want something,” Nellie hissed seductively, narrowing her eyes and walking slowly toward Odo. She pressed her body against his. He smirked. She then leaned back and slapped him across the face sharply.
“That’s all you’ll get from me!” Nellie said, hurrying toward the rear staircase.
“Dirty…” Odo shouted. Then, curiously, he laughed. “Dirty witch. It’s the fourth door on the left.”
Ulrika was not pleased to find that it was Nellie who was knocking on her door. She pulled Nellie by the arm into the room.
“What are you doing here?” Ulrika asked, making no effort to close her dressing gown.
“Iolanthe,” Nellie panted. “She’s murdered the Duchess of Fallbridge.”
“Oh,” Ulrika grinned. “And, here, I thought it would be bad news, really.”
“Don’t you understand?” Nellie gasped.
“Very well.” Ulrika smiled. “That’s one less thing to worry about.”
“She killed the woman and carried her body into the house and hanged her in my room!” Nellie said shrilly.
“How dramatic.” Ulrika laughed. “Delicious, really. One does have to admire that woman’s flare.”
“You’re just as insane as she is!”
“No.” Ulrika sighed. “Nellie, I’m much younger than she is. I’ve much to learn.”
Nellie stared at Ulrika—dumbfounded.
“So, you’ve risked being found out just to come here and tell me this?” Ulrika shrugged. “I don’t suppose you’ve managed to give Lord Fallbridge the little ‘tonic’ I offered?”
“I tried.” Nellie said. “Some fool maid drank it.”
“Is she dead?”
“No.” Nellie answered.
“Well, that’s disappointing. Perhaps I mixed it wrong. Oh well, no point in killing a maid. Go back and try again.” Ulrika walked to her chifforobe and, from the bottom drawer, retrieved a small vial filled with a cruel-looking powder. “Try this one.”
“I can’t go back!” Nellie said. “Listen to me! Iolanthe found me! She had two of her men with her. They’re the ones who hanged the Duchess.”
“It’s always nice to have help, really.” Ulrika sighed. “Reliable help, I should say. My Arthur, though he is…passionate, is not the most reliable of assistants. And, you, my dear, are taking far too long.”
“They dragged me out of the house!” Nellie screeched.
“Keep your voice down,” Ulrika spat.
“Iolanthe is mad with rage. I managed to escape and run here, but she’ll find me. She’ll kill me next.”
“We can’t have that, now, can we?” Ulrika sneered. “Presently, you’re far too valuable to me.”
“She got the diamond!” Nellie shouted.
“What?” Ulrika dropped the vial she was holding. It shattered upon hitting the floor. “How? I told you to hide it! How did this happen?”
“She’s unstoppable, you imbecile!” Nellie said frantically. “Don’t you see?”
Meanwhile, at Dr. Biamenti’s house, Mr. Punch sank to the floor—his body shaking with sobs. He removed his hat and tossed it aside.
Robert knelt next to him. “Dear Punch, please don’t do this.”
“It’s me own fault, it is!” Punch wailed. “I left her in that place.”
“She was cruel to you.” Cecil said, coming closer to Mr. Punch.
“Cecil, dear.” Adrienne whispered. “The woman is lying right here.”
“She was.” Cecil continued. “She was awful to Julian. By all accounts, she was horrid to everyone.”
“Don’t mean she deserved to die this way.” Mr. Punch sobbed. “I coulda helped her, I could. Now, me master’s got no one!”
“That’s not true,” Adrienne answered. “No, that’s not true. He has us and he has you.”
“What good am I?” Mr. Punch moaned.
“Plenty of good.” Robert said softly, stroking Julian’s back. “You’ve done such a fine job of protecting Julian for all these years. And, look at what you’ve done for all of us. Punch, you’ve brought us so much joy.”
“Poor, terrible woman, never had a chance to be good.” Mr. Punch wept. “Now, Julian ain’t got no father nor no mother.”
With that, Mr. Punch’s voice faltered, and Julian’s body fell flat to the floor.
“Punch?” Adrienne gasped.
“Dear Punch,” Robert said, reaching for his friend.
The voice that answered was not Mr. Punch’s, but rather one that none of them had heard in weeks.
“Let me see my mother,” Julian said as he rose from the floor. “I want to say goodbye.”
Did you miss Chapters 1-137? If so, you can read them here.