The scene that Charles saw when he entered that tiny boudoir in Iolanthe Evangeline’s rambling, over-decorated house, didn’t shock him, but did turn his stomach.
Mr. Punch wrung his hands together nervously and chattered wildly. “Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.”
“Be quiet!” Charles snapped.
Punch snorted. “Here, you ain’t been very nice to me lately.”
“What do you want me to do?” Charles grumbled.
“Act like a proper footman.” Punch frowned.
“Well, if you’d act like a proper master I might!” Charles shouted.
“I been a good master, I have.” Punch’s shoulders slumped.
“This?” Charles gestured angrily around the room. “This is not being a good master!”
“Ain’t got nothin’ to do with you.” Punch mumbled. “Ain’t like I hit you with no umbrellas.”
“But, you did hit these two women!” Charles pointed to the limp bodies of Agnes Rittenhouse and Iolanthe Evangeline.
“Well,” Punch began to wring his hands again. “I did. Yes. But, what do you ‘xpect? I’m Mr. Punch. When I get cornered I hit people with a stick.”
“You’re not Mr. Punch!” Charles rasped. “You’re not a puppet! You’re a man. You’re in control of yourself. You are the Duke of Fallbridge!”
“Sometimes.” Mr. Punch said angrily. “Listen, I don’t think I like you much no more.”
‘The feeling is mutual.” Charles snapped. “Have you forgotten that your sister is down the hall—out of her mind—and that she needs you? And also that at your home your nephew expects you to rescue him?”
“I ain’t forgotten nothin’?” Punch grunted. “Why do you think I protected me-self. These women were bein’ cruel to me. Seems you forgot that you’re my valet and you’re supposed to help me.”
“Help you with your boots and with your bath—not with this!” Charles said. “You can’t just go around hitting people!”
“I know that.” Punch scowled. “I don’t do it much no more. But, when I’m cornered, well, what am I ‘sposed to do? I’m a good boy.”
Charles moaned. “Are they dead?”
“I don’t know!” Punch shrugged. “I only just hit ‘em with an umbrella.”
Charles sighed and knelt down next to Iolanthe, looking for signs of life. “She’s alive.”
“Ah. Well, then, you see?” Punch smiled. “No harm done.”
“Really?” Charles spat. “Really?”
“What ‘bout the other one?” Punch pointed to Agnes. “She’s pretty old.”
Charles scampered over to Agnes’ body and studied her closely. As he did, he felt a hand on his coat tail and turned quickly to see Iolanthe’s pale face staring angrily at him.
“Oh dear,” Mr. Punch sighed. “Let me get my umbrella and give her another good whack!”
“Don’t move, lunatic!” Iolanthe snarled. “Or I’ll destroy your man!”
Did you miss Chapters 1-316? If so, you can read them here. We’ll be taking tomorrow and Friday off, but come back on Saturday, August 13, 2011, for Chapter 318 of Punch’s Cousin.