Thursday, March 31, 2011

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 209

You’ve been very naughty, Barbara.” Iolanthe taunted.

“Not now,” Barbara sniffed, sitting up again. Charles kept his arm around her and the feel of him made her feel a bravery that she would not have possessed had she been alone.

“Not now?” Iolanthe hissed.

“Really, Barbara,” Ulrika grinned. “I hardly think you’re in any position to make demands. The law doesn’t look too kindly on abduction.”

“Nor does it have a high opinion of young ladies who order people’s murders, or, even those round-heeled lasses like you whose recreation leads to procreation.” Barbara spat.

“There, we’re very much alike, aren’t we?” Ulrika frowned.

“Only you give your ‘comfort’ away for free, don’t you? With you, it’s not a profession as much as it is a hobby.”

“Miss Allen,” Charles whispered. “This isn’t helping.”

“Your handsome young man is correct,”” Iolanthe growled. “That’s all I ask—just a little assistance.”

“With what, exactly?” Barbara asked.

“You may not put much stock in the sanctity of a business arrangement, but I do. I’m not here to school you in the importance of keeping your word. To be sure, part of me is quite proud of your loose code of moral conduct. I certainly can’t fault you for that. But, you see, dear girl, I made a deal with Edward Cage. Coins exchanged hands and a product was delivered as promised. Now, think ‘bout that for a minute. If I were selling dresses, I’d be tarred and feathered if I snatched the very dress I just sold off the back of the woman to whom I sold it. Wouldn’t I?”

“You’re comparing my son to dry goods?” Barbara responded stiffly.

“Ain’t nothin’ dry about him.” Iolanthe smiled. “Nevertheless, a deal is a deal. I’ve got to make sure that Mr. Cage gets what he paid for. Now, Barbara, you don’t have the child anymore. Do you? So, what does it matter to you where he is if you’re not the arms he falls asleep in at night?”

“I don’t want him with the Cages.” Barbara answered.

“It ain’t up to you.” Iolanthe replied. “And, I don’t want you thinkin’ that it is.”

“Of course it’s my decision!” Barbara said angrily. “I want my son to be in a good home.”

“They don’t get much better than the home of one of the wealthiest men in the state of Louisiana.” Iolanthe answered cooly.

“Wealth isn’t the determining factor of quality.” Barbara said in frustration. “If that were the case, don’t you think I’d have turned out differently?”

“You were born a wild whore.” Iolanthe winked. “Just like me. Ain’t nothin’ to change that. But, not this boy, he was born a prince and deserves to be treated as such.”

“I agree.” Barbara nodded. “And, so, that’s what he shall have.”

“With Edward Cage.” Iolanthe said firmly.

“No.” Barbara shook her head.

“The Cages were good enough when you first wanted to sell the boy!” Iolanthe hissed again.

“That was before I knew him!” Barbara said furiously.

“Knew him?” Iolanthe laughed. “You mean the two hours you spent running around New Orleans with the child? I don’t think that quite qualifies as knowin’ him!”

“A mother knows her child. Don’t you?” Barbara smiled.

Iolanthe’s face flushed. “You don’t go talkin’ about my child!”

“Isn’t your boy as much of a prince as mine? Would you want him raised by the likes of an irrational and angry man such as Edward Cage?”

Iolanthe pressed her hands together.

“Miss Allen,” Charles cautioned Barbara.

“It’s fine, Charles,” Barbara murmured.

“Listen, you.” Iolanthe croaked. “I’m going to return that child to his owner!”

“People aren’t owned like livestock. Thank God, my son is with someone who will teach him that people are free! For all of his faults, my brother…” Barbara stopped, clamping her hands over her mouth.

“So, he is with the mad Duke?” Ulrika chuckled.

“Where is he?” Iolanthe spat.

“Long gone.” Barbara sputtered.

“Couldn’t be!” Iolanthe shouted. “He ain’t the sort of man that travels quickly. He’s here. And, my dear girl, The Quarter ain’t so big that I won’t find him!”

“Just tell us where he’s gone, really, Barbara.” Ulrika cooed.

“Never.” Barbara shook her head.

Ulrika glanced at Charles. “Not to worry, I have my ways of finding the information I seek.”

Meanwhile in their hotel room, Mr. Punch fidgeted with his hands while Marjani fed the baby. The child say happily on Robert’s lap as Marjani fed him. He hungrily consumed the mixture of apples, carrots and milk that Marjani had made for him.

“Poor little lamb’s hungry.” Marjani smiled. “Well, Marjani’s just gonna make sure you get all filled up.”

Robert looked to Mr. Punch. “Are you well, my dear?”

“No.” Mr. Punch shook his head.

“I assure you that we’ll be safe here,” Robert smiled.

“I’d like to believe that,” Mr. Punch nodded. “I would. Only I can’t help but think them folk ain’t done with us.”

“No, Your Grace, they are not.” Marjani said softly, continuing to feed the baby.

“How will we keep them away?” Mr. Punch asked.

“Well, Mr. Punch, there may be a way, but you may not care for it much.” Marjani answered.

Did you miss Chapters 1-208? If so, you can read them here

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