Did you know,” Barbara began slowly, “that I could have been a Lady of the Bedchamber to Her Majesty, Queen Victoria?”
“Beg your pardon?” Punch tilted his head to one side.
“It’s true.” Barbara nodded. “Julian knows—perhaps you don’t. If I’d stayed in England and married the Baron. Mother promised that if I’d made a suitable marriage, I could have been a Lady of the Bedchamber. She’d already discussed it with both The Duchess of Wellington and The Viscountess Jocelyn. She told me she had. Isn’t it interesting?” She sighed. “I could be at the palace right now, attending the Queen. That’s what Mother wanted for me. It’s what she wanted for herself. Her Majesty never cared for Mother—found her to be too…strong. Previously, Mother tried desperately to attain the position with Queen Adelaide. But, His Majesty King William IV didn’t want a Fallbridge in the Court. I could have been the one who reunited our name with the Sovereign.”
“Seems to me that me master was the one what done that.” Mr. Punch frowned. “Don’t forget that Julian and His Royal Highness Prince Albert have collaborated on many of the garter badges and various stars of various orders.”
“I’ve not forgotten.” Barbara smiled. “Mother always resented the fact that her son—so much like our father—was the one of us who was welcomed into the Court. Do you…do you remember, Mr. Punch? Are Julian’s memories the same as yours? You share a body, but do you share thoughts?”
“I remember most of the times we went to the palace. Smokey place—smelled a bit bad. But, Prince Albert’s a nice enough bloke. To be honest, I didn’t pay much attention when me master was workin’. Wish I had. I liked Balmoral. I remember those times better. Me master was frightened, he was—goin’ all the way to Scotland, so I was out more often than not. Once we got inside the castle, it were different. Then, me master was in charge. All them diamonds—so many of ‘em. Sparkling on black mohair. The Prince so jolly and excited ‘bout it all. Them’s times me master were happy. He always just wanted to be respected. I never thought that were somethin’ you wanted.”
“It’s all I ever wanted, I suppose.” Barbara sighed.
“Miss Allen,” Cecil interrupted. “Do you have a point?”
“Yes, Mr. Halifax.” Barbara chuckled ruefully. “I have. I can’t say that I’m not shocked to learn that Arthur has returned. I had hoped that he would not.”
“Your own husband?” Cecil asked.
“A footman who seduced me. No. He didn’t just seduce my body, he seduced my mind and preyed upon my natural inclinations to be…base. To be base. To be like an animal and claw and scratch. He was like a strong wine—bitter at first, but the more I consumed, the more dizzy I became and the more I craved it. I went quite mad from it, but now…”
“Now, you’re no longer mad?” Cecil raised an eyebrow.
“No.” Barbara shook her head. “You need not worry about Arthur. He’ll have no influence on me.”
“I’ll see to that.” Charles added.
“I know you will.” Barbara smiled.
“So, are you trying to tell us that you’re a changed woman? Shall we refer to you as Lady Barbara again?” Charles grinned sarcastically.
“No.” Barbara shook her head. “I’ve murdered all of that. I’m Barbara Allen and Barbara Allen I shall stay. There’s no returning to an ideal that never existed. However, I can be better than I am, and that’s my aim. I do hope you’ll trust me, but I understand that it will be difficult. As I said, I shan’t squander this chance. I’ve lost so much. I cannot dare lose the wonderful things I have now. While I cannot change the evil I’ve done, I can employ myself in aiding the people I’ve hurt—my family.”
“I believe ya, Barbara. Me master does, too.” Mr. Punch smiled. He looked at Charles. “Are you still me valet or not?”
“I am.” Charles nodded.
“Good.” Punch answered. “Please inform Meridian to prepare a room—downstairs—for Miss Allen and one for yourself. I won’t have you sharin’ a room in me house.”
“You’re more like Julian than you know,” Barbara winked.
“’Course I am.” Punch grumbled.
“I will, Your Grace.” Charles nodded.
“Then, come to the parlor for instructions. We’ll need to send you to the Quarter with a message. Me chums and the boy are waitin’ for a response.” Punch continued.
“Yes, Sir.” Charles said.
“Thank you, Mr. Punch,” Barbara whispered awkwardly.
“You’re welcome,” Mr. Punch nodded. “Only, know this. If I find you’ve lied to us again, I’ll beat you with me stick and I won’t think twice ‘bout it. I’ll grind you into sausages for Toby’s breakfast.”
“You won’t have to do that.” Barbara replied.
“I should hope not. I don’t think Toby would fancy eatin’ you.” Punch answered cheerfully.
“I shall return, Sir.” Charles said.
“I’ll go with you,” Barbara rose. “Thank you, again.”
“Sure, sure.” Mr. Punch waved her off.
Cecil and Mr. Punch walked toward the parlor.
“You’re too kind, Mr. Punch.” Cecil shook his head.
“What’d you have me do, grumbly Chum?” Mr. Punch sighed. “I ‘spect you’d have done the same.”
Cecil chuckled. “I imagine I would have.”
“’Sides, ain’t it better knowin’ where she is and what she’s ‘bout then wonderin’ what’s goin’ on with her?”
“Yes.” Cecil nodded, frowning.
“You’re thinkin’ ‘bout Iolanthe Evangeline, ain’t ya?” Punch asked.
“I am.” Cecil answered plainly. “I most certainly am.”
At that very moment, Iolanthe Evangeline growled as a guard tapped metal door of her cell.
“What?” Iolanthe hissed.
“You got visitors.” The guard said.
Iolanthe rose as the door opened and Ulrika and Arthur entered—both soaked with rain.
“Where’s my son?” Iolanthe barked.
“Safe. Being tended to by Zettie at Edward’s house.” Ulrika smiled.
“What are you doin’ back here?” Iolanthe narrowed her eyes at Arthur.
“Come to help ya,” Arthur grinned. “Ain’t that kind o’ me—considerin’ what you done to me?”
“And how do you propose to help me?” Iolanthe asked. “I’ve been arrested for murder.”
“One you didn’t commit,” Ulrika grinned.
“Well, I know who I done killed and who I didn’t!” Iolanthe spat. “I had nothing to do with the murder of the lunatic Duke nor his companions!”
“No one did, Iolanthe.” Ulrika laughed. “They’re all very much alive.”
Did you miss Chapters 1-241? If so, you can read them here.