Julian,” Robert exclaimed emotionally.
“Good evening, Robert.” Julian smiled. “And, Happy New Year—a bit belated.”
“Thank you,” Robert nodded quickly.
Julian understood that Robert was thanking him for more than just the holiday wishes of cheer.
“Are you…” Robert began, unsure of how to finish the question.
“I’m well.” Julian sighed. “Though I must confess, I’m a trifle uncomfortable.”
“Being shot will do that.” Robert smiled. “How is our Mr. Punch?”
“Quite frustrated with me, I’m sure.” Julian chuckled. “I don’t think he wanted me to pop out.”
“So, he’s still…”
“Oh, yes,” Julian grinned. “He’s in there. Waiting. Most likely impatiently.”
“It’s good to see you, Your Grace,” Meridian interrupted.
“Oh, thank you, Meridian. I’m sorry. I didn’t see you back there. It’s good to see you as well.”
“Dr. Halifax,” Meridian whispered, coming forward. “What should I tell the young woman downstairs?”
“You should tell her to come up,” Julian said.
“Julian, I don’t think…” Robert began.
“I know what you’re going to say.” Julian held up his hand, painfully. “However, I need to speak with her.”
“Perhaps another time.” Robert suggested.
“I don’t know that I’ll have another chance.” Julian shook his head.
“These people will keep coming out of the woodwork.” Robert grumbled. “I have no doubt that you’ll have plenty of opportunities to speak with Barbara Allen.”
“If she’s come here, she must have a reason.” Julian said. “She’s my sister. Even if you and Cecil had some kind of quarrel, if he came to you, you’d help him.”
“Cecil wouldn’t subject me to the atrocities that your sibling has brought upon you.” Robert frowned.
“I’m not suggesting that he would, I’m simply trying to make a point.”
“I understand that.” Robert sniffed. “However, you must understand that you’re still weak and fevered. It wouldn’t do to upset yourself. And, God knows that the woman is only here because she wants something from you. Or, worse, wants to try to harm you again.”
“You know, when I was shot, she leapt in front of the bullet to protect me.” Julian said. “I watched from within myself as it happened.”
“I didn’t know that.” Robert sighed. “I wouldn’t have expected it of her.”
“She’s a complicated person. For as much as she’s like our mother, she’s also got something of Father in her. She must. I refuse to think that she’s an entirely lost soul.”
“You’re far too kind,” Robert shook his head. “However, if this is what you wish, I shan’t prevent it. I only ask that you allow me to stay in here with you.”
“I expected that you would. I rather want you to.”
“Very well,” Robert nodded. “Meridian, will you show Miss Allen up here?”
“Yes, Dr. Halifax.” Meridian smiled.
Only a few seconds passed before Barbara was walking slowly into Julian’s room.
“You look well,” Barbara said softly.
“As well as one can with a hole in his chest.” Julian answered.
Barbara nodded at Robert, “Thank you, Dr. Halifax for saving my brother. Not just this time, but in so many different ways.”
“It’s my pleasure to look after His Grace.” Robert said.
“I’d like to apologize for the terrible things that I said to you.” Barbara whispered. “I was unkind. I associated you with a difficult time, and…”
“Say no more, Miss Allen,” Robert interrupted. “I understand.”
“Why have you come, Barbara?” Julian asked. “Surely, if you wanted to find out how I was doing, you could ask your friend, Charles.”
“So, you know that I suggested Charles inquire about the position of your valet?”
“You know that we do.” Julian winked.
“I do.” Barbara nodded. She took a deep breath. “Julian…” She paused.
“Is there a problem?” Julian asked.
“It’s just that…your voice. I just realized that you sound like yourself.”
“I’m present—temporarily, at least.” Julian smiled. “However, you must realize that even when Mr. Punch is at the helm, I’m still aware of what’s going on.”
“This is real, then?” Barbara asked. “It’s difficult for me to comprehend, you know. That there are two people inside of you.”
“It’s not for you to comprehend. I only ask that you respect it.” Julian answered plainly.
“I do.” Barbara answered. “Julian…”
“I need your help.”
“I figured as much.” Julian smiled wryly. “Are you ready to come home? Do you wish to leave these mistakes behind and return to your life?”
“No.” Barbara shook her head. “I can never go back. You know that.”
“Well, then, how can I help you?” Julian asked.
“It’s Arthur. Iolanthe Evangeline has done something to him. Now, he’s been shipped off and I don’t know how to rescue him.”
“You’re not serious?” Robert guffawed.
“He’s the father of my child.”
“The child that you sold.” Robert answered flatly.
“He’s my husband.” Barbara said.
“An unfaithful husband at best.” Robert replied. “I’m terribly sorry to be so blunt, Miss Allen, however, you must realize that your Arthur is a bad lot.”
“He still deserves a chance,” Barbara said.
“So, you have come here to ask me to assist you in finding the man who poisoned me and my companion? To aid the man who impregnated my sister? To offer my support to the man who tortured us lo these many weeks? Barbara, you can’t really think that I’d lift a finger to do anything for the man who…who just shot me! Look at me! I’m in this bed—again—because of him!”
“Julian, I know you’ll help—not for Arthur, but for me. I know you. I know what a kind heart you have…”
“I think I may just surprise you this time, Barbara,” Julian grunted as Mr. Punch might have. “Our situation has changed.”
Did you miss Chapters 1-189? If so, you can read them here.