Charles!” Barbara Allen panted as she rushed across Royal Street.
“Miss Allen?” Charles said calmly, pausing in surprise as Barbara ran toward him—her dark hair having come undone and flying behind her. “Where’s Iolanthe Evangeline?”
“I left her on the docks.” Barbara huffed. “Do you know what she told me?”
“That your husband has been shanghaied?” Charles answered.
“Yes.” Barbara nodded, wiping the sweat from her brow. “How…”
“Miss Rittenhouse told me.” Charles responded. “It seems she’d attempted to retrieve him, and, in doing so further angered Miss Evangeline.”
“I didn’t know that,” Barbara panted. She took Charles by the arm. “I ran off before Iolanthe could say anything else. She was only interested in taunting me. She offered no helpful information. Charles, I could have pushed her into the water. I should have! But, I’m already in enough trouble. I…”
“Steady on,” Charles smiled.
“So, Ulrika attempted to get him back?” Barbara sighed. “Not for me, of course. She wants him for herself, though why she does, I don’t know. It’s most likely the lure of the forbidden. That’s what…” She sighed again. “Frankly, that’s what drew me to him.”
“Do you want him back?” Charles asked.
“No.” Barbara shook her head. “I don’t.”
Charles smiled, “I’m glad to hear that.”
“However, he is the father of my son. And, he is my husband, though he doesn’t act like it. I…”
“I understand,” Charles said, putting his arm around Barbara’s shoulders. “You don’t want to see him in harm’s way either.”
“No.” Barbara replied softly. “I’m not blaming Arthur for the choices I made. He wasn’t the cause of them. I made the decisions. He was merely a tool that I used to reaching my desired end. I was terribly misguided. And, no, he’s not the most honest of men. In fact, he’s quite the opposite. However, he was loyal and helpful to me. Though he encouraged me to do terrible things and gave me the means to achieve them, he acted more as a servant than a husband. It was Arthur who helped me contact Iolanthe. It was Arthur who helped me secure the services of the man who called himself ‘The Professor.’ I…I’m not sure. I just can’t let him perish like that.”
“You don’t need to explain.” Charles shook his head.
“No, I do.” Barbara answered, tears rising in her eyes. “You asked me to be completely honest with you. Now, I am.”
“I appreciate that. You know, of course, that Miss Rittenhouse is quite enthusiastic to find him herself.”
“I’m sure she is. And, I suppose she’ll be able to do it. She’s always undaunted. She’ll most likely get him back and quickly grow tired of him. She’s an overgrown child. She’ll become bored with him as quickly a child does with a doll that she has pleaded for. Once she has him, she’ll want another.”
“I did something a little dishonest myself.” Charles smiled.
“I offered to help Miss Rittenhouse find your Arthur.”
“I do have an idea.” Charles said. “However, we’ll need help.”
They stopped walking.
Charles pointed to the ornate house in front of them.
“This is where my brother is staying.” Barbara said.
“My place of employment.” Charles nodded.
“You’re not suggesting that I speak with Julian?” Barbara’s eyes widened. “He won’t want to see me. Not after everything I’ve done. Not only that, but his companions would never let me in the house.”
“They will.” Charles smiled. “They’ll let you in because your brother will want to see you. Furthermore, he’ll want to help you.”
“How can you be so sure?” Barbara asked.
“Though I’ve only spent a few minutes with His Grace—or should I say with the soul which inhabits the Duke’s body—I can say that he’s a gentle, caring man who truly would want to be helpful to you.”
“I don’t know, Charles.” Barbara shook her head.
“Besides, it would give His Grace a chance to get the better of both Ulrika Rittenhouse and Iolanthe Evangeline, both of whom, I suspect mean him harm.” Charles continued.
“I’ve brought enough chaos and sadness to my brother’s door.” Barbara replied quietly.
“Do you trust me?” Charles asked.
“Surprisingly, I do.” Barbara blushed.
“Then, let me help you.” Charles winked.
At that very moment, in their private theater inside of Julian, Mr. Punch and his “master” watched in horror as the figure of Agnes Rittenhouse dragged the misty image of young Julian toward the hulking shadow of “The Professor.”
“Hullo, boy.” The faceless shadow barked.
The figure of the child did not respond.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Your Lordship.” The Professor said mockingly. “I should not address you with such familiarity. I suppose we should get to know one another better before I refer to you so informally.”
Still, the specter of the child did not answer.
“Come here, boy.” The man’s shadow laughed cruelly. “I wish to introduce you to my most trust acquaintance.” He raised a glinting knife high above his head.
From the audience, Mr. Punch shrieked. “No!”
“Punch,” Julian said quickly.
“No, master!” Punch screamed, “I can’t allow you to see this!” With that, Mr. Punch leapt from his chair and scrambled onto the phantom stage. Flailing his arms wildly, he struck at the figures that stood before them. They evaporated into a gray mist which quickly faded away.
Mr. Punch collapsed in exhaustion onto the stage, his body racked with sobs.
“Why?” Julian said in a shrill voice. “Why did you do that? Now, they’re gone!”
Did you miss Chapters 1-187? If so, you can read them here.