Adrienne scratched her nose to avoid sneezing. The long, tight upper floor of the house didn’t smell unpleasant, but the aroma of fabric and dye tickled her nose. She studied their new surroundings. They were decidedly modest, but exceptionally clean. The walls were decorated with color prints of fashionable ladies in elegant gowns. The furniture, though threadbare, was comfortable and neatly arranged to make the best use of the space which had been divided by pieced-together drapes suspended from ropes. The drapes were made of high-quality fabrics, and Adrienne assumed that they were a mosaic of the left-over cloth from the dresses which were assembled in the workshop below them. “How little privacy they have here,” Adrienne thought to herself. Yet the residents seemed contented enough.
First there was the woman to whom they were first introduced. She insisted that Adrienne and Robert both call her “Mama.” However, Adrienne overheard Marjani call her by her Christian name—some African-sounding moniker that Adrienne was sure she couldn’t pronounce. The man of the house seemed to be called, “Jedidiah.” Mama referred to him frequently as she quietly insisted to Marjani that though he’d be gruff, he would not mind the intrusion of Marjani and her companions. Three other, smaller, residents sat in that room with them, quietly smiling from a low table in one corner. A small girl named Sophie seemed to be the center of attention as she was tended to an older girl named Hannah. A boy—slightly older—sat near his sisters, but was more interested in the two white people and the baby who had come so unexpectedly into their home.
Adrienne looked to Robert who sat next to her, quietly holding the baby. He smiled at her to quiet her uncertainty. “I’m sure we’ll be quite fine,” he whispered.
“’Course you will,” Mama Routhe said, coming closer, having overheard Robert’s comment. “We’re gonna help ya. Marjani done tol’ me ‘bout your troubles and we’re gonna help ya.”
“I do appreciate it.” Robert nodded. “But, I’m afraid that we may be bringing danger to your doorstep.”
“Sir,” Mama smiled, “Danger’s always scratchin’ at the door with its claws. Ain’t no matter.”
“You see,” Marjani nodded. “We’re safe here.”
“Thank you,” Adrienne smiled.
“Now, the first thing we gotta do is let Mr. Punch and Mr. Halifax know we’re all right.” Marjani said.
“Yes.” Robert nodded.
“But, how?” Adrienne asked. “Surely Edward Cage will be watching the house. There’s no way that any of us could get back without him seeing.”
“But, I can get there.” Mama Routhe smiled.
“You?” Robert asked. “You would do that?”
“Certainly.” Mama nodded. “Listen, who’s to say this fine lady didn’t order a dress from me? I gotta spare dress that some lady never picked up. I can carry that over to your house and ‘deliver’ it along with a message. No one will think nothin’ of it.”
“That’s quite intelligent.” Robert grinned.
“Course it is!” Mama laughed. “Now, there’s some paper and ink over by the youngsters. One of ya needs to write a note and we’ll set ‘bout getting’ it to Royal Street.”
Meanwhile at the house on Royal Street, Mr. Punch had just finished his sausage and biscuits and sat on the floor of the parlor with Toby and his puppet. In his chair by the fire, Cecil had begun to doze off. Punch tried to be quiet so as not to bother his friend, yet he couldn’t resist chattering to the dog and their wooden-headed friend.
“Oh, everything’s at sixes and sevens, Chums.” Mr. Punch muttered in a hushed voice. “Ol’ Mr. Punch has gone and made a mess of things. I had good intentions, I did. Wanted to protect that fine baby boy what’s got me master’s blood in his veins. Now, what have we got? Nothin’. Don’t know where they are, got that Cage man watchin’ us—waitin’ for us to make a mistake, got that ginger beastie making threats and Iolanthe sittin’ in prison, gettin’ angrier by the second—knowin’ we done her wrong.” He sighed. “Don’t know if I can take one more thing.”
He lifted up the puppet and tapped on its head. “You’re lucky, you are. You ain’t gotta think.”
Toby wagged his tail as Meridian rushed into the room.
“Whatever is it?” Punch asked.
Cecil sputtered awake. “Meridian?”
“Sir, there’s two men sneakin’ ‘round on the property.” Meridian said in a frightened whisper. “I done saw them out the back parlor window.”
“Some of Edward Cage’s men?” Cecil asked.
“No, Sir.” Meridian shook her head. “One of ‘em looks an awful lot like that rascal, Arthur.”
“Can’t be!” Mr. Punch moaned.
“Why not?” Cecil grumbled. “Seems that everyone but the Devil himself is after us.”
“Well, Chum,” Mr. Punch rose, “I beat the Devil, and I can beat these folk, too.”
Did you miss Chapters 1-236? If so, you can read them here.