Nellie shrieked as the glass cut her face.
“Quiet!” Ulrika spat.
Quickly placing her hand to her face, Nellie withdrew her palm and shuttered, “Blood.”
“It’s just a scratch,” Ulrika grinned. “You should thank me for not going deeper.”
Ulrika sauntered across the room and reached for a towel which she tossed toward Nellie.
“This is no scratch,” Nellie moaned, her hands shaking.
“Now, each time you look in a glass—as that heals into a lovely scar—you can remember how you failed me. Just think, Nellie, dear, this will attract a whole new clientele to you. I’m sure there’s a wealth of gentleman who find a woman with a scarred face to be utterly appealing, really.”
“You’re a monster.” Nellie groaned.
“You have no idea,” Ulrika grinned. Her smile faded when someone knocked frantically on her door.
“Ulrika!” Corliss Cage shouted through the door. “What’s going on in there? I thought I heard a scream.”
“Oh, it’s nothing, Mrs. Cage.” Ulrika cooed. “I dropped a bottle and cut myself. It’s nothing at all.”
“Let me help you, dear.” Corliss said, trying the door handle, but finding it locked.
“You’re sweet, really,” Ulrika said quickly. “However, I’m quite fine.” She narrowed her eyes in warning at Nellie.
“Let me in,” Corliss demanded.
“No. I’m not decent.” Ulrika responded. “I’ll be down shortly.”
“Your mother and father are here. They’re waiting downstairs. We’ll be leaving for the ball shortly. Let me help you. We don’t want to be late to our own party.”
“We won’t be late.” Ulrika said, rushing to get her costume. “I promise.”
Outside the door, Corliss Cage sighed. “Well, if you think you’re not injured…”
“I assure you, Mrs. Cage,” Ulrika responded from within the room, “I’ve got everything well in hand.”
At that very moment, at their borrowed house on Royal Street, Julian shook his head. “I realize that everything is in a total state of disarray. While, I’ve not been wholly present, I have been somewhat aware of what’s been going on. I know of Naasir and what’s happened to Gamilla. I don’t know exactly what we’re about to embark upon, but I know that it’s quite dangerous. I also realize that I’m in no position to attend this masquerade with all of you. You’ll need Mr. Punch.” He glanced down at the costume he was wearing. “It seems that presently, I’m more Mr. Punch than anything else.”
“Of course we’ll look after Punch,” Robert said. “We want nothing more than to take care of both of you—of you. I…” Robert shook his head, unsure of what else to say.
“Punch is feeling responsible for my mother’s death.” Julian sighed. “He’s quite unsettled. It won’t do to have both of us in such a state.”
“The only person responsible for Her Grace’s death is Iolanthe Evangeline.” Robert said.
“And the Duchess herself.” Cecil muttered.
“Cecil!” Adrienne scolded her husband.
“No,” Julian said softly, “He’s correct, Adrienne. In many ways, my mother brought this upon herself. If she’d faced life more bravely, she wouldn’t have met the end that she did.”
“More bravely?” Adrienne asked.
“A coward takes the path of cruelty.” Julian sighed. “A hero takes the route of kindness. Adrienne, it’s much braver to approach everything with a gentle heart—the way you do. Not to speak ill of my mother, but it’s a fact that she never once held a kind thought or engaged in a gentle deed.”
“I don’t know what to say,” Adrienne lowered her head.
“There’s nothing to say,” Julian smiled weakly. He looked to Marjani. “Will you…”
She interrupted him. “I will look after your mother, Your Lordship. I will make her ready for her eternal slumber.”
“Thank you,” Julian nodded. “How will we ever repay all that you’ve done?”
“I think it’s me who should worry ‘bout repayin’ all of you,” Marjani answered.
“Perhaps, then, we shall just be equal.” Julian responded.
“For that, Your Lordship, you done got my ever-lastin’ loyalty.” Marjani whispered.
Julian looked to the tall-case clock in the hallway. “The hour is approaching for us to depart, isn’t it?”
“Yes.” Cecil nodded.
“I can’t imagine going to this masquerade—not now. Not with everything that’s happened.”
“It’s more important than ever that we do.” Julian shook his head.
“How can I leave Fuller?” Adrienne said, her voice cracking.
“Mrs. Halifax,” Marjani said. “I’ll make sure that Meridian never once lets him out of her sight. She can take Columbia and Toby and sit with him in his room. You know Meridian would give her own life to protect the little ones.”
“Marjani’s correct,” Cecil said.
“I suppose.” Adrienne answered.
“It’s so strange to see you dressed that way,” Julian mumbled. “To see you in the guise of that awful woman—Iolanthe. I do hope that this scheme of yours will work.”
“It will.” Robert said confidently. “It must.”
“I’m going to sit now.” Julian said, coming over to the settee where Robert was seated. “And, then, I shall shut my eyes. When they open again, Mr. Punch will be with you.”
“Julian,” Robert began.
“You need say nothing,” Julian smiled. “I shall return.”
Robert drew in a deep breath and nodded.
Julian shut his eyes and his body went limp. Several moments passed as Robert, Cecil, Adrienne and Marjani watched Julian’s body.
Finally, Julian’s lips began to move and his eyes opened.
“Mr. Punch?” Robert asked.
“I’m here, Chum.” Punch answered.
“How are you?” Robert asked.
“I’m scared, Chum.” Mr. Punch answered—Julian’s hands shaking. “Terrible scared.”
Did you miss Chapters 1-139? If so, you can read them here.