The crowd hissed and booed at Iolanthe Evangeline as she shouted toward the platform where Mr. Punch and Adrienne were performing their pointed pantomime.
“Let them finish,” One man shouted.
Realizing that she’d do well not to draw attention to herself any further than she already had, Iolanthe quieted down, shooting darts with her eyes toward Cecil and Robert who stood nervously at attention.
Mr. Punch took a deep breath, feeling an unaccustomed queasiness in his stomach as if he’d eaten a fistful of mud wriggling with earthworms. He continued.
“Blood, beautiful lady?” Mr. Punch said, still affecting a voice akin to that of his puppet cousins. “What would a gorgeous flower such as yourself want with blood? It’s water what gives flowers their drink.”
“But, water is not my nature,” Adrienne continued as they had rehearsed it. “My spirit is fire and fire is my companion. Fire has done well by me, and the fire in my heart is fueled by blood.”
“I have no blood to give,” Mr. Punch answered theatrically, trying to remember exactly what he’d been told to say. “I am, as I said, a man of wood.”
“Then, you shall burn for me for wood burns, does it not?” Adrienne said.
“It does, but I am not the likes of one to be burned.”
“I can burn all men. And, burn them I shall.”
“Have you burned a man before?” Mr. Punch went on.
“I have.” Adrienne said. “A man from Africa who did no one any harm. I burned him to feed my desires.”
Iolanthe grunted from the audience, feeling beads of sweat drip from beneath her tight wig.
“Have there been others?” Mr. Punch said.
“What do you think?” Adrienne purred as Iolanthe might.
“I think you should give us kiss, fair maiden.”
“I stand before you, confessing of my thirst of blood and souls, yet you call me fair?” Adrienne bowed.
The crowd laughed—partly out of confusion, partly out of legitimate delight.
“You are fair of face and of figure.” Mr. Punch said.
“All the better to trick a man.” Adrienne replied coyly. “Or a woman.”
“A woman?” Mr. Punch gave an appropriately dramatic expression of shock, “For why would you wish to deceive a woman?”
“So that I might convince her to do my bidding. Many a young woman has come to me and been charmed. In exchange, I offer their bodies and their children for my pleasure and gain.”
“This must stop at once,” Edward Cage growled at his wife.
“Then, stop it.” Corliss murmured weakly, thinking of the baby who waited for her at their Royal Street mansion—the child that she purchased from Iolanthe Evangeline.
“How? Without embarrassing our family?” Edward grumbled to himself.
“You could gain a kiss from me, then.” Mr. Punch said, unsure if that was what he was to say next.
“You wish a kiss from one who trades in the flesh of women and children?”
“It is not my flesh you trade in, for I have none to trade. So, what harm is it to me?” Mr. Punch said quickly, getting himself back on track.
“What harm to you?” Adrienne continued. “You are a wily man, Mr. Punch. I should not be surprised. You who have been known to hit and maim.”
“Ah, but when I do it, it isn’t permanent. You see, Judy and the baby return for each and every show.”
“Then, you are ineffective.” Adrienne responded comically.
The audience laughed uneasily.
“For when I murder, it is forever.”
“I don’t believe you,” Mr. Punch answered flatly, becoming increasingly nervous as he watched—from the corner of Julian’s eye—Iolanthe’s face grow harder and more threatening.
“But, it is true. I have murdered many a person. Why even this very night, I took the life of the Duchess of Fallbridge. Did you know her?”
Uncontrollably, Julian’s body spasmed and Mr. Punch groaned.
Adrienne glanced quickly and helplessly toward Cecil and Robert who came forward.
“What this man needs is a doctor!” Robert said, in character.
“A doctor, Sir?” Adrienne said as humorously as she could. “Whatever for?”
“For he is stricken with fear.” Robert adlibbed.
“And, what this woman needs,” Cecil declared, climbing onto the platform. “Is the embrace of the hangman’s knot.”
“Around my lovely throat? I think not,” Adrienne punned.
“For your crimes against humanity,” Cecil continued, “for your monstrous, murderous ways, Iolanthe Evangeline,” he said her name loudly, “you should be brought to justice.”
“Oh, it’s all very amusing, isn’t it?” Iolanthe screamed as she cut through the gasping crowd and walked toward the platform. “Making your fun out of me!” She tore off her wig and let her dark hair fall in knots around her shoulders. “Am I to be sacrificed on this night?”
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Edward Cage shouted, coming forward.
“Stop there, Mr. Cage,” Cecil called. “Ladies and gentleman, the woman who stands before you—the woman dressed as St. Joan—is a murderess, a flesh peddler and the seller of children. I implore you, light upon her so that she will not escape. Join us in bringing this woman to justice!”
The crowd roared.
“If anyone dares to touch me,” Iolanthe screamed, “their flesh will fall burning from their bones.”
“Get her!” A man shouted.
“Come one step closer and it’ll mean the death of all of you!” Iolanthe bellowed.
Did you miss Chapters 1-146? If so, you can read them here.