It seems,” Robert began as he and Adrienne continued to watch Mr. Punch who still stood motionless before them, “that while we were apart, there was a…an episode with Mr. Punch.”
“What sort of episode?” Adrienne asked, “What does that mean?”
“Apparently, there is in existence a third persona, or entity, or whatever you wish to call it—living within Julian’s body.” Robert explained. “He calls himself Scaramouche.”
“What is this Scaramouche? I don’t know that name.” Adrienne’s eyes widened.
“Well,” Robert shrugged, “as best I know, he’s also a character from the puppet show, a rather disagreeable chap with a long neck who teases Mr. Punch. The fellow who lurks within Julian seems to be a creature of pure want and anger, who similarly taunts our Mr. Punch. He emerged, I suppose for the first time—certainly the first time with us, while Punch was with Cecil. I managed to calm him down with a sedative long enough for Julian and Punch to sort things out, but I fear this set-back with the child may be the impetus for a reemergence of the Scaramouche persona. I just wanted you to be aware.”
“Poor, wretched man. How tragic it must be for him.” Adrienne said, walking to Mr. Punch and sympathetically patting his arm. He still did not move.
“Dear Punch,” Adrienne whispered. “Mama Routhe has gone to fetch some tea for you. Do come and sit down with us for a moment and we will discuss the things which are troubling all of us.”
“That’s right, Mr. Punch,” Marjani added. “Come on, and sit down, honey.”
Punch did not respond.
“We’ll try to get Colin back, my dear.” Adrienne continued.
Suddenly, Julian’s body shuddered and he crumpled to a heap on the floor.
“Help me get him to the mattress,” Robert rushed forward.
Adrienne and Marjani assisted Robert in dragging Julian’ s body to one of the straw palettes that were tucked away behind the strangely elaborate curtains in the small apartment.
“Oh dear!” Adrienne chirped. “He’s not having a tremor is he?”
“No, there’s no seizure. He seems to have just collapsed.” Robert replied slowly, studying his friend’s body. “Something’s afoot within him. I only wish I could understand what goes on in his mind.”
At that very moment, Mr. Punch found himself again in the hidden room within Julian—that space that they shared and that only they could see. At first, that’s what he thought. However, he quickly noticed that the space was unrecognizable.
“Here, it’s different!” Punch shouted. “It ain’t the same room! Master?”
Punch’s voice echoed within their shared body and he began to panic when he realized that he was alone in the room.
“Master?” Punch called out. “Why ain’t ya in your chair what you like to sit in while I’m usin’ the body?”
Punch looked around the room. Instead of the elegant parlor it had once been, the room had been transformed into a small and narrow vestibule with cold marble walls of white and gray—lined with two low ebonized benches, backed in stiff rows of turned spindles and with seats upholstered in gold mohair.
A tall, heavily corniced, paneled door—also painted black—stood between the two banks of benches. A black carpet led from the spot in which Punch stood to the door, cutting across the expanse of white marble floor like the edge of a pane of glass.
“Where is ya?” Mr. Punch screamed.
Slowly, the black door creaked open and, through it, Punch could see glimpses of another room—aglow in crimson and yellow—from which flickered a bright fire.
Punch followed the carpet across the floor to the open doorway and cautiously looked inside. There, he saw what appeared to be an oblong dining table situated in the middle of a sumptuous crimson room draped in gold velvet and hung with crystal chandeliers which glinted in the blinking light of the fire which roared in a black marble fireplace.
The table was set with silver, crystal and startlingly white bone china, rimmed in gold. A centerpiece of raspberry glass and silver shimmered in the middle of the table, laden with fruits, berries and greenery. Behind the table, a sideboard groaned under the weight of silver trays topped by silver cloches which reflected the firelight and emitted wonderful fragrances of both sweets and savories which greatly appealed to the hungry puppet-man.
Punch licked his lips and swallowed, walking further into the room, enticed by the aromas of the food.
He paused to more closely examine the table and saw that it had been set with five places, each marked by a bright white card in a silver stand. Upon the cards, in scarlet ink, a name—one upon each—had been written.
The first read, “His Grace, the Duke of Fallbridge.” The next read, “Mr. Punch Molliner.” A third simply stated—in a more childish hand than the last two—“Scaramouche.” The fourth card presented merely a question mark with no name. Punch scratched his head.
Upon the fifth, a name was written which was strange to Mr. Punch. “Jacket Cheth Engmun” He sounded it aloud. “Jacket Cheth Engmun.” Punch picked up the card and squinted at it, pronouncing the words slowly. “Jack-etch-the-ng-mun.”
Punch’s eyes widened as he gasped. “Jack Ketch, the Hangman!”
Suddenly the door to the room slammed shut, and the fire was extinguished.
Punch stood alone in the dark room—or so he thought—until his neck began to itch.
Did you miss Chapters 1-279? If so, you can read them here.