These rooms is smaller than the ones what we came in.” Punch muttered as he and Toby sniffed around the perimeter of his cabin aboard the ship. “Still, I’d sit in a box for the whole trip, I would, if it meant we’d be gone from here.”
“I concur.” Robert nodded. He pointed with his thumb to the bassinette in his room where Colin slumbered. “It seems life at sea agrees with young Master Colin Molliner.”
“Sure,” Punch smiled. “Maybe he’ll be in Her Majesty’s Navy with Prince Edward Albert.”
“From what I’ve heard of the Prince of Wales, he’ll be more of an army man.” Robert chucked. “Besides, he’s got a good eleven years on our Colin.”
“True.” Punch sighed. “Well, Colin’ll be whatever he wants to be. He’ll have to get used to court life.”
“As will you.” Robert replied softly.
“Me?” Punch’s eyes widened.
“Well, yes.” Robert smiled. “You’re the Duke of Fallbridge.”
“Coo!” Punch snapped. “I already told you, I ain’t the Duke of nothin’.”
“You are as long as you live in that body.” Robert shook his head. “If Julian chooses to stay…” He searched for the right word. “Ummm…to stay at rest, then you must carry on with his duties. Among those duties, you’ll find, that life in court is topmost. Besides, Julian’s relationship with the Prince Consort is very important.”
“That were only during the Great Exhibition. That’s over now, it is—two years over.”
“Is it?” Robert continued. “Dear Punch, I’m not trying to harass you. We’ve discussed this before and I can see that you’re trying to ignore the reality of it. You must appreciate that I’m merely trying to prepare you for the inevitable. The Duke of Fallbridge has a long-standing relationship as a jeweler for the Crown.”
“But, Garrard’s is the Royal jeweler.” Punch frowned. “Has been since ’43.”
“Nevertheless, you know that Prince Albert’s temper often finds him at odds with jewelers . Look what happened with Rundell’s. You can’t imagine that Her Majesty would have appointed Garrard as the Royal goldsmith had Prince Albert not been dissatisfied with Rundell.”
“Nonetheless, them blokes at Garrard’s—they’re the Crown jewelers and well-suited for it, they are. They been at it for ten years now and done a fine job. They ain’t gonna need me.”
“Not to belabor the point,” Robert began.
“What?” Punch narrowed his eyes.
“I find it interesting that you know just when Her Majesty switched her allegiance with Rundell for an association with Garrard’s.”
“Here, I told ya. I know all what me master knows.”
“Precisely.” Robert smiled. “So, why is it that you can’t visit the court and collaborate with the Prince Consort on projects as Julian did?”
“Cuz, I ain’t no jeweler! And, I ain’t no Duke. I’m a puppet-man! Or…or whatever it is that I am!”
“If you know all that Julian knows, then, you are a jeweler, and a Duke.”
“Oh.” Punch sighed after awhile.
“Are you quite well?” Robert asked.
“Sure. Only I…”
“What is it?”
“I don’t want to go to the court.” Punch sniffed. “I want to play.”
“And play you shall.” Robert smiled softly. “However, you must realize that you have a responsibility as the Duke of Fallbridge and you must expect that the Crown will wish to consult with you. If you’ll recall, Julian’s work found much favor with Their Majesties. You know how Prince Albert is. Once he likes something…”
“I understand.” Punch grumbled.
“I know that you do.” Robert nodded.
They quietly went about unpacking.
Finally, Robert spoke up.
“Chum?” Punch grinned, seeming to forget his previous nervousness and, once again, feeling excited about the prospect of their voyage.
“You know that I enjoy your companionship immeasurably…” Robert started.
“Only you want to know ‘bout me master.”
“Go on.” Punch said, sitting on the narrow bed.
“Will he ever…” Robert inhaled. “You know. Oh, blast! I’m not good at saying things.”
“I don’t know if he’ll ever be able to live with the rest of you. He seems happy in here.” He thumped his chest.
“I see.” Robert nodded.
“I know you miss ‘im, you do.”
“He misses you, too.” Punch responded.
“’Course.” Punch nodded. “That’s why he’s always watchin’ and lookin’ out for ya. It’s just that life outside’s too difficult.”
“Do you?” Punch asked.
“As much as possible.” Robert mumbled.
“It’s scary.” Punch sighed. “I know. It’s not bad to be scared, you know. I’m scared. I hear all what you’re sayin’ ‘bout me havin’ to be the Duke and cut diamonds and…and…all the other foolishness I gotta do. But, that’s what we gotta do, and we can do it together.”
“Yes.” Robert smiled.
“Here,” Punch took a deep breath, changing the subject. “I wonder if Adrienne and Cecil is getting’ settled. And, Gerry and Charles. When do you think we can see Marjani and Gamilla and the wee girl?”
“Soon.” Robert answered. “Remember, we agreed to stay in our cabins until the ship departed.”
“Right.” Punch said. He stood and walked to the porthole, peeling out. “Just think. In a bit, that’ll be far away.”
“Not soon enough.” Robert laughed.
“Hear, hear!” Punch whooped.
A knock on the cabin door startled them both.
“Must be a steward. I asked for some milk for Colin.” Robert walked to the door, opening it.
He froze in horror as Giovanni Iantosca stared back at him—a vicious grin passing his lips.
Did you miss Chapters 1-454? If so, you can read them here.