Monday, March 21, 2011

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 200

I’ll go with you,” Adrienne said quickly.

Cecil nodded. “Yes, that would be best. My dear, no matter what, we must remain calm. We must in no way indicate that we know anything about where Barbara and her child are.”

“I understand.” Adrienne responded.

“Maybe I done better open the door for ya.” Marjani offered again. “It’ll look more like everythin’ is the way it ought to be, not like we’re…”

“Yes, of course.” Cecil interrupted. “Let’s go.” He paused. “Marjani, you’ve known Edward Cage longer than I have. You know what he’s capable of doing.”

“I do.” Marjani said. “We’ll be fine. I promise ya.”

“Meridian,” Cecil began urgently. “We must hide Miss Allen and Colin. Is there anywhere in this house where they could go and be undetected?”

Meridian bit her lip. Her eyes brightened. “There’s a spot in the attic. It’s a cedar-lined wardrobe where Dr. Biamenti keeps furs.”

“Take them there, please.” Cecil said, taking his wife’s arm and heading for the door of the nursery.

“I’d best go first,” Marjani rushed past them as the knocking and screaming from below grew louder.

Mr. Punch held Colin closer to himself and looked with wet eyes at Robert.

“Columbia, dear,” Robert said to the small girl whose head still rested on Mr. Punch’s arm. “Would you like to help me with something?”

“Yes.” Columbia smiled, sitting up.

“Would you take Toby downstairs to your room and play with him in there for awhile?” Robert asked.

“Is that all?” Columbia giggled. “That’s easy!”

“Well, I have it on good authority that Toby wants to play with you.” Robert smiled.

“Really?” Columbia grinned.

“That’s right.” Robert nodded.

“Come on, Toby.” Columbia stood up, patting her leg. Toby rose and shook his fur out, trotting after Columbia with his tail wagging.

“We must hurry!” Barbara hissed.

“In a moment, Barbara!” Robert spat. “There’s no point in upsetting the girl.” He smiled at Columbia. “Now, you go play.”

“Can Uncle Punch come with us?” Columbia asked.

“No, Little Chum,” Punch said as brightly as he could, “Uncle Punch’s gotta stay with these babies, he does.”

“Oh.” Columbia nodded.

“But, I’ll come down in a little while and play with ya.” Punch smiled.

“Good!” Columbia chirped, skipping out of the room. Toby followed eagerly behind.

“Your devotion to the servants’ children is touching,” Barbara frowned.

“We are all in this together.” Robert growled.

“Julian, give my son to me.” Barbara squawked, aware from the sound of his voice that Edward Cage was in the house. She heard another voice—a familiar voice—and recognized it immediately as that of Ulrika Rittenhouse.

Punch looked at Robert who nodded. “It’s the only way.”

“This don’t mean that I’m lettin’ this child go anywhere without me.” Mr. Punch said, handing Colin to Meridian instead of Barbara.

“Come with me, Miss Allen,” Meridian said quickly.

“He’s my son,” Barbara whispered to Mr. Punch as she hurried out after Meridian.

“We’ll see about that,” Mr. Punch retorted.

Robert took Fuller from Punch’s lap and placed the child in the bassinet.

“Your nephews love you very much,” Robert smiled as calmly as he could.

“They’re your nephews, too, they are.” Mr. Punch said. “Colin is just as much yours as Fuller is mine.”

“True.” Robert nodded.

“Will you do this with me, Chum?” Punch asked. “We got what we came for. We got Barbara. We got the child. Sure, we didn’t get the diamond, no. But, Robert, we got other diamonds. Besides, we got somethin’ more precious. We got a future. We got someone to carry on. Let’s go home.”

Robert smiled.

Before he could respond, Meridian came back into the room. “They’re comin’ up the stairs.” She whispered.

Meridian took her spot in the rocking chair next to the bassinet.

“Did you get…” Robert began.

“Everythin’ is all safe and sound.” Meridian nodded.

From the passage they could hear Edward Cage shouting.

Cecil responded, “Edward, we’ve already told you that the only baby you’ll find in this house is my own son, Fuller.”

Edward burst into the nursery, followed by Ulrika Rittenhouse. He walked immediately to the bassinet and grabbed the sides of it with his hands.

“Sir!” Meridian stood up. “Don’t do that!”

“Quiet!” Edward yelled.

“Mr. Halifax?” Meridian called out.

Cecil and Adrienne came into the room, followed by Marjani.

“Edward, I’m going to ask you calmly to unhand my child.” Cecil said in a measured tone.

Edward Cage released his grip on the bassinet.

“I know you have Holt in this house.” Edward bellowed.

“Why don’t we ask these two fools, Mr. Cage?” Ulrika winked. “Really, if it isn’t the good doctor and his dimwitted companion.”

“Always nice to see you, Ulrika.” Robert grumbled.

“Where’s your sister, Lord Fallbridge?” Edward snapped.

“Actually, His Grace should be addressed as such. He is the Duke of Fallbridge now.” Marjani interrupted.

“How dare you correct me?” Edward shouted. “Keep to your place!”

He narrowed his eyes at Mr. Punch. “Where is she…Your Grace? Where’s the witch who stole my son?”

“I don’t know.” Mr. Punch responded in his Julian voice. “I’ve neither seen nor heard from my sister in quite some time. She and I are estranged, you know. Her whereabouts aren’t my concern.”

“Liar!” Edward grunted.

Ulrika cooed, “Now, now mad man. This could go so much easier if you’d cooperate. A crime has been committed.”

“You would know all about crimes. Wouldn’t you?” Mr. Punch responded, still speaking as Julian.

“Lunatic.” Ulrika hissed.

“Uncle Punch?” A small voice said from the doorway.

Everyone turned to see Columbia come back to the room.

“Columbia, Honey.” Marjani said quickly, going to her granddaughter. “What you doin’ up here? Go back to your room, Chil’.”

“I will, Grandmama.” Columbia smiled. “I just come up to get Toby’s toy. We’re gonna play with it.”

“That’s good, Chil’. Hurry up now.” Marjani said.

Columbia retrieved Toby’s stuffed toy and paused next to Mr. Punch. “Uncle Punch, can the boys come and play with me, too?”

“Boys?” Edward raised his eyebrows. He knelt on the floor at eye level with Columbia and grinned. “What boys do you mean, Girl?”

Did you miss Chapters 1-199? If so, you can read them here.

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