“What’s happenin’, Grandmama?” Columbia asked nervously over the terrified cries of young Colin Molliner—the future Duke of Fallbridge.
“I don’t know, Honey.” Marjani answered her granddaughter. “Now, you go on and see if you can make Colin feel better.”
“How, Grandmama?” Columbia asked.
“Well, you show him that you ain’t scared, and, then, he won’t be scared. See, Master Colin, he looks up to you.”
“He does?” Columbia’s eyes widened.
“Sure, he does.” Marjani forced herself to smile. “You’re a big, brave girl. You got a lot to teach a little fella like Colin.”
“Gee,” Columbia giggled—forgetting about the smoke in the air and the horrifying screams which came from the passages. She hurried over to Colin’s bassinette and peered over the edge, smiling at the little boy.
“You don’t gotta be scared, Colin.” Columbia whispered. “See? I ain’t scared. Ain’t nothin’ gonna happen to ya—not with Grandmama and Marjani to look after ya.”
Colin looked up at the girl and reached for her small fingers, gurgling.
Columbia let him take her hand. She continued to speak to him in quiet tones. “Uncle Punch is gonna be along any minute now. And, Mr. Robert, too.”
Columbia paused and looked over her shoulder at her grandmother and Gamilla who were speaking quickly and softly at the other end of the room. For a moment, Columbia felt nervous again because she could see the panic in Gamilla’s face. But, Gamilla often looked panicked. Columbia looked to her grandmother, and even though she could only see her back, Columbia concluded that her grandmother was still calm.
“Grandmama?” Columbia called out.
“Yes, Honey?” Marjani responded without looking.
“Is Uncle Punch Colin’s papa now?”
“Yes, Honey. It’s best when you’re talkin’ to Colin to say that His Grace is his papa.” Marjani replied, still not looking at her granddaughter. She feared that looking into the girl’s eyes would allow Columbia to see how frightened she was.
“What should I call Mr. Robert?”
“Uhhh…” Marjani sighed. “I don’t know, Columbia. You’ll have to ask Mr. Robert when we see him.”
“Maybe Colin will call him Uncle Robert?” Columbia continued.
“Maybe.” Marjani said. “I don’t think the doctor and His Grace done worked all that out yet. Now, Honey, you just talk to Colin while I finish up here with Gamilla. Understand?”
“Oh!” Marjani added. “And, please go scoop up Toby and put him and Mr. Punch’s…errr…I mean, His Grace’s puppet in that big basket. Then, stay with Colin.”
“Sure, Grandmama,” Columbia smiled, happy to be helpful, and glad to forget about the screams from outside the cabin.
“Columbia, I gotta talk to Gamilla.” Marjani replied as gently as she could.
“I just got one more question.”
“Go on,” Marjani sighed.
“Well, now that everyone calls Mr. Punch, “His Grace’ and ‘the Duke’ even when he ain’t talkin’ like the Duke, can I still call him 'Uncle Punch'?”
“Yes, you can. He likes that. We just want to be proper when we talk to him. Even if he’s Mr. Punch, he’s still the Duke, and we should address him as such. Understand?”
“I think.” Columbia nodded, picking up Toby who whined and wriggled and placing him in the basket with Punch’s puppet.
“Good, now, you wait there with Colin while I finish up with Gamilla.”
Continuing their whispered conversation, Gamilla spoke through quivering lips. “We gonna die on this ship.”
“No, we ain’t.” Marjani said softly, but firmly. “Don’t even say such things. And, by God, don’t let that chil’ hear ya. We gotta make sure these two children get outta here safe. You hear me?”
“I do.” Gamilla said. “But, how? When I opened the door, I saw flames just up the passage and the whole thing’s filled with smoke.”
“I’ll figure somethin’ out. All I know is that that baby, that dog, that puppet are gonna be returned to the Duke. And, I ain’t losin’ another one of my kin and that includes you.”
Gamilla smiled faintly. “Thank you.” Her smile faded. “But, we’re gonna need a miracle.”
“And, that’s what we’ll get.” Marjani nodded confidently.
Did you miss Chapters 1-468? If so, you can read them here.