Ulrika Rittenhouse nonchalantly walked into the ballroom, immediately being spotted by her mother, Carling.
“Just where have you been, young lady?” Carling hissed.
“I went to look at the exhibits, as Father suggested.” Ulrika smirked.
“He wanted all of us to look at them together—you haven’t been with your family in days. Do you want to make your Father think that you don’t care for us?”
“Mother, you know just how much I care for all of you.” Ulrika smiled.
“How did you turn out to be such an ungrateful woman?” Carling shook her head.
“Mother,” Ulrika winked. “You know very well how. We’re not so different, are we? We have the same appetites.”
“Quiet, Girl.”Carling spat.
“If you’re finished with me, Mother,” Ulrika grinned, “I do have some things that I need to attend to.”
“Get out of my sight.” Carling shook her head.
“That’s all I’ve been trying to do all evening.” Ulrika laughed as she walked away. She paused as she passed “Joan of Arc” and squinted at the woman in the short blonde wig.
Iolanthe grinned at her.
“I didn’t know you were invited,” Ulrika smiled as she approached Iolanthe. “I thought that the invitations were only sent to respectable members of society.”
“You’re here.” Iolanthe answered curtly. “So, apparently not.”
“Aren’t you clever?” Ulrika smirked. “And, look at you. Joan of Arc? Really?”
“And, why not?” Iolanthe narrowed her eyes. “I have made sacrifices, too.”
“You’ve offered sacrifices, yes.” Ulrika chuckled.
“And, what are you meant to be?” Iolanthe asked.
“Marie-Antoinette.” Ulrika smiled.
“That seems fitting.” Iolanthe nodded. “Perhaps someone will cut your head off, too.”
“Only before they burn you at a stake.” Ulrika answered.
“Move along, little woman.” Iolanthe said. “I wish to socialize.”
“In a moment,” Ulrika said, frowning. “First, we have something to discuss.”
“Are you seekin’ employment? I don’t know if my gentlemen would really go in for a ginger girl. You know what they say about flame-haired people…”
“You know what I mean,” Ulrika said firmly. “You have something of mine.”
“Listen, witch,” Iolanthe answered sharply. “Everything that I got is mine and mine alone. I don’t want you thinkin’ that it isn’t.”
“Give me that diamond.” Ulrika whispered.
“I don’t know what you mean.” Iolanthe laughed. “Do I look as if I’m wearin’ any diamonds tonight?”
“Stop that!” Ulrika said a little too loudly.
“Do you mean the pretty blue diamond?” Iolanthe asked coyly. “That? Just before she died—God rest her soul—the Duchess of Fallbridge told me that she wanted me to have it. She bequeathed it to me. You wouldn’t want to interfere with a dead woman’s plans, would you?”
“You’re a liar.” Ulrika growled.
“And, you’re a harlot.” Iolanthe laughed.
“You—you are calling me a ‘harlot.’?”
“Girl, at least I get paid for it.” Iolanthe laughed. “Now, get out of my way before I see to it that someone really does cut off your head.”
“We’re not finished.” Ulrika grunted.
“I think we are.” Iolanthe winked, walking away.
Ulrika clenched her fists in anger and went off to find Arthur again.
Meanwhile, Mr. Punch sat in a gilt balloon-back chair, tapping his feet nervously on the parquet floor. “What’s taking them so long, Chum?”
“We must be patient, dear Punch,” Robert said soothingly. “You know that they were to wait several minutes after Iolanthe’s arrival before they entered.”
“It’s been several minutes,” Mr. Punch grumbled. “Oh, I wish we were all home with me dog and me puppet. Only…” He paused.
“What is it?” Robert asked.
“Only…she’s there. Lyin’ there dead. My master’s mother what died because I was so callous.”
Robert put his hand on Julian’s shoulder. “Punch, you musn’t…”
“Don’t seem fair.” Mr. Punch said. “Look at her over there—that ogress in a saint’s clothes. She’s killed folk, she’s done all manner of terrible things, yet she’s free and alive…”
“She won’t be free for long,” Robert said. “Here, now, she’s headed this way.”
“If she comes near me, I’ll twist her neck.”
“No.” Robert said firmly. “You know you won’t.”
“Lord Fallbridge,” Iolanthe purred as she came closer.
“His Grace is to be addressed as, ‘The Duke of Fallbridge,’ now.” Robert interrupted.
“Oh, of course.” Iolanthe grinned. “With your mother’s death, you would inherit her title.”
“The woman what you killed.” Mr. Punch growled.
“Did I?” Iolanthe laughed. “I thought she’d hanged herself.”
“You know very well what you done.” Mr. Punch answered, making no attempt to impersonate Julian.
“I do.” Iolanthe chuckled. “I do. Perhaps you should thank me.”
Mr. Punch looked at Iolanthe with amazement.
“I see that you’re not mourning too deeply. Here you are at a lavish affair, wearing the brightest of colors, on the very night that your mother died. I see you’re taking it in your stride. And, here, I thought you English noblemen had very strict rules about mourning. But, as I always say, rules are made to be broken. That’s always been my motto. Still, I wonder if any of the other guests here tonight think that it’s peculiar, dare I say, even, insulting, that you’re here tonight. Then again, you don’t care what people think, do you? If you did, you wouldn’t behave the way you do.”
Mr. Punch stared at the floor as Julian’s shoulders sagged.
“Miss Evangeline,” Robert said quickly, “if you’ll excuse us…” He took Julian’s arm and led his friend away.
“Don’t let her break you.” Robert whispered as they walked. “That’s what she wants to do.”
“I saved that woman’s life,” Mr. Punch said. “I carried her out of that burnin’ stable so she could live—live to kill me master’s mum. Live to make us all suffer. This is my fault…”
“Please, dear Punch,” Robert said, unsure of what to do. “Don’t think that.”
“But, Chum…” Punch began, but he was interrupted by a unified gasp from the crowd as everyone turned to look at the ballroom’s magnificent arched entrance.
“That’ll be Adrienne coming in,” Robert whispered.
He and Mr. Punch turned to look, but were shocked to see that the person who had elicited the collective gasp of shock was not Adrienne in her costume, but rather, a grim woman with a bloody face and gown who stumbled into the ballroom.
“It’s Nellie,” Robert exclaimed. “What’s happened to her?”
“Ulrika!” Nellie shouted as the ballroom fell silent. “Ulrika Rittenhouse, you devil! I’ve come for you.”
Did you miss Chapters 1-143? If so, you can read them here.