Adrienne smiled sincerely as she thanked Mama Routhe. “I know that we have caused you nothing but trouble…”
Mama Routhe waved her hand in the air. “Ain’t nothin’, missus. Marjani done tol’ me over an’ over ‘gain how good you are to her. For me, anybody that’s got that much good in her is welcome here whenever they done need somethin’.”
“My husband and I need to search for our child, but we knew we needed a place for His Grace and little Colin to stay that would be out of the way for awhile.”
“Ain’t no one gonna find them here.” Mama Routhe nodded. “Don’t you worry none.”
“Coo!” Mr. Punch said, sniffing the air. “I smell somethin’ what’s got me stomach makin’ some noise, I do.”
“Jus’ makin’ some sausages.” Mama Routhe replied.
“Sausages?” Mr. Punch’s eyes widened happily.
“That’s right.” Mama Routhe shrugged.
“He’ll be just fine here for awhile.” Cecil chuckled in Adrienne’s ear.
“Mrs. Routhe,” Cecil began.
“Mama,” Cecil cleared his throat. “We’ll return soon for His Grace. We will, of course, reimburse you for your troubles.”
“Ain’t no trouble—now, go on and get out there. Find your baby.” Mama Routhe waved her arms toward Adrienne and Cecil.
“Thank you,” Adrienne said.
“Get!” Mama barked.
Adrienne and Cecil did as instructed, nodding their goodbyes to Mr. Punch who—walking around with Colin in his arms—continued to sniff the air.
“You hungry?” Mama Routhe asked.
“Sure am!” Mr. Punch smiled. “You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but, still, I’m not. Seems to be a lot of bother—bein’ hungry. But, the eatin’ part—well, that’s fine. I got used to that awful fast, I did. See, it’s the eatin’ what’s the best part. Not the bein’ hungry.”
“Uh huh.” Mama Routhe nodded. “I’ll make ya a plate.”
“Thank you very much.” Mr. Punch grinned. “I’d wager me nephew is hungry, too, though he ain’t said nothin’ ‘bout it. He’s one of them babies what don’t talk, see. But, he makes noises and such so I know what he’s after.”
“Some milk for the baby?” Mama Routhe tilted her head to one side.
“Here, that’s be terrible good of ya.” Punch nodded quickly.
“So, you’re some kind of prince or somethin’?” Mama Routhe narrowed her eyes.
“Duke.” Punch replied. “Well…I guess I ought to jus’ say that the man you’re lookin’ at is a duke.” He nodded. “That’s true, it is. This is the body of a duke. See, a duke’s the next thing to a prince. Me mast…er, well, I’d be closer to a prince if I was part of the Royal…” He paused. “Aw, you don’t care ‘bout none of that.”
“You’re kind of…funny.” Mama Routhe smiled.
“Coo! Ain’t that the truth!”
Mama Routhe laughed. “I’ll go get you somethin’ to eat and somethin’ for that baby.”
“Here, that’s a wonderful thing!”
“Ain’t I ‘sposed to call ya somethin’? ‘Your Greatness’ or somethin’.”
“Jus’ call me Punch.”
“What the hell for? That ain’t no one’s name!”
“It’s what my friends call me.” Punch explained.
“What for? You hit people a lot?”
“Well,” Mr. Punch smiled. “I never thought ‘bout it that way. I kind of do, actually. But, that ain’t why I’m called, ‘Punch.’ See, it’s cuz I look like a chicken, I do…”
Mama Routhe fluttered her eyes.
“I had a cousin, see, in Italy. Pulcinello…” Punch continued. He paused and looked at the child he held in his arms. “It don’t matter now. Just call me ‘Punch.’”
“Sure.” Mama Routhe nodded. “I’ll be right back with your vittles.”
Punch smiled at Colin. “Vittles is good, it is. One o’ these days, you’ll be able to chew food like what a man does and you can eat things like I do. Here, I wonder where you get your teeth. Is that somethin’ I should buy for ya?” He reached up and touched Julian’s teeth for a moment. “Mine are stuck in my mouth terrible good. Don’t think they come out. I’ll ask Robert. He’ll know.”
Mr. Punch sighed. “Hated leavin’ me chums behind. Sure hope they’re not in awful trouble, I do.”
Punch settled down on a shabby armchair in the Routhe’s crowded apartment. He hugged the baby close to his chest.
“Only I got a feelin’ somethin’ bad is happenin’.” Punch whispered. “Somethin’ awful bad.”
Did you miss Chapters 1-398? If so, you can read them here.