“Who could that be?” Adrienne asked, startled by the sharp knocking on the front door of Marie Laveau’s low, long house.
“Darling, why don’t you go in the back with Marjani, Gamilla and the children?” Cecil said quickly.
“No.” Adrienne shook her head. “If more trouble has come to our doorstep, then, I’m going to face it with the three of you.”
Robert chuckled. “I’d advise you, as a physician, brother dear, not to argue.”
Cecil sighed exaggeratedly and playfully. “I’m sure you’re right.”
“Not for nothin’,” Punch interrupted, “but they’re only gonna keep knockin’ ‘less someone answers the door.”
“I’ll go,” Robert rose and walked through the parlor to the narrow front hallway.
Opening the door, he greeted the young, nervous man who had been knocking.
“I’m lookin’ for Mr. Julian Pulcinella.” The young man croaked, mispronouncing the name as “pool-see-nella-ah.”
“State your business, please.” Robert smiled, amused.
“I’m from the ship line, Sir. Is Mr. Pulcinella here?”
“Well, actually, he is.” Robert nodded. “Come in.”
“I was sure they gave me the wrong address.” The young man replied nervously, cautiously entering the house.
“No. This was the address we gave the captain.” Robert responded as he escorted the boy into the parlor.
“But, ain’t this…” The boy chirped.
“Yes,” Robert nodded. “This is Marie Laveau’s house.”
“You know her?” The young man asked.
“Well, we’re in her house. So, I would have to say that we do.” Robert chuckled.
The young man carefully studied Robert, and, then, Mr. Punch, Cecil and Adrienne—loooking for signs of fiendishness or Voodoo.
“We’re not going to hurt you,” Adrienne smiled.
“Can’t be too careful, Miss.” The boy said earnestly.
“We know that all too well.” Cecil grumbled.
“What brings you here?” Robert asked, hoping to hurry the boy along.
“Well, Sir, we got a new ship comin’. It’ll depart for England in two days.”
“Excellent.” Robert smiled. “We’ll be ready to depart.”
“There’s a problem, Sir.”
“Yeah.” The young man nodded anxiously. “Says here you got eleven in your party including two male servants, two colored female servants, one colored child, a married couple, two adult men and two children.”
“That’s right.” Robert replied.
“Additionally, we’ll be including several colored gentlemen also.” Cecil spoke up, regarding Pete and his travelling companions. “We’ll need to accommodate them as well.”
“That’s just it, Sir. Ain’t room.”
“Surely we can find room for them below decks.” Cecil raised his eyebrows.
“Not just them.” The young man answered quietly. “We only got space for five.”
“Five colored men?” Robert asked.
“What do you mean?” Robert shouted. “This is outrageous. We booked this passage days ago.”
“On another ship.” The young man answered. “That one ain’t ever gonna sail again—not after that fire. This is a different ship. It’s just as nice, but it’s smaller.”
“Well, then, you’ll just have to find the space.” Cecil snapped.
“We can share cabins.” Mr. Punch suggested. “Me and Robert and Colin. Gerry and Charles. You and Adrienne and Fuller…”
“I ‘preciate what you’re sayin’, Sir.” The young man waved his hand. “But, we got rules. We can only have so many people in one cabin.”
“This won’t do!” Cecil grumbled.
“Will it make any difference that we’re traveling incognito?” Robert asked. “The man called ‘Pulcinella’ is really the Duke of Fallbridge—a close associate of Their Majesties, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. My brother is a celebrated sculptor and I’m a physician. Surely, knowing that, you can make room on the ship.”
“Couldn’t make room even if your friend was Prince Albert himself.” The young man shrugged.
“Nothing can be done?” Adrienne asked.
“No, Miss.” The young man shook his head.
“Do you need an answer now?” Robert asked.
“Will need one by tomorrow morning.” The young man responded.
“We’ll send word.” Robert sighed. “Let me show you out.”
The group sat in silence until Robert returned, finally, Punch spoke up.
“Well, that settles it, don’t it? We can’t go. Not yet.”
“Dear Punch, for once, circumstances are in your favor. Edward Cage is satisfied that the boy in his care is the one that he thought he’d purchased from Iolanthe. Barbara Allen has made her peace with you. Colin is safe. We can’t endanger that. You must go.” Cecil protested.
“I don’t wanna leave me chums here!” Punch began to cry.
“I agree,” Robert nodded.
“You must.” Adrienne said gently. “You must go—for Colin’s sake. Robert, you and His Grace must take Colin to England. You can take Charles and Gerry with you. The man said there was space for five.”
“But, what of you?” Punch asked.
“Well, there is the matter of our house in Marionneaux.” Cecil smiled. “It’s not as if we don’t have a home. I’ve been worried about settling matters there anyway. If we wait and join you later, that will give me and Adrienne a chance to handle business in Marionneaux.”
“Here, you ain’t gonna work for Mr. Cage ‘gain, are ya?” Punch asked.
“Not at all!” Cecil laughed. “He can invite me all that he wants, but I will never work for the man again.”
“But, you’re his neighbor in Marionneaux, too. He’ll always be botherin’ ya.” Punch argued.
“No—he got what he wants. I’m sure he’’ll find something else to obsess about.” Cecil smiled.
“It will only be for awhile.” Adrienne added, encouragingly. “We can join you and Robert in a few months. In the meantime, as Cecil said, we can conclude our affairs in Marionneaux.
And, I’m sure Fuller will be glad to see his old room again—just for awhile.”
“We’ll take Gamilla back with us, of course.” Cecil nodded. “And, Marjani and Columbia if they’d like.”
“I don’t know how eager Marjani would be to return to Marionneaux.” Robert sighed. “There are many bad memories for her there.”
“We can discuss it with her.” Cecil nodded.
“Oh! Bullox!” Punch shouted. “And…and…that Ulrika Rittenhouse. She’s got a home there, too, she does. All the same folks what are torturing us here—they can be there, too.”
“It won’t be for long, Punch.” Adrienne said. “We can handle those people—we have for many years now. Besides, it’s really you that they’re after. That’s all the more reason that you need to get on that ship and go home.”
“As much as I hate to leave them behind—even temporarily—my brother and his wife have a valid point.” Robert said softly, sitting next to Mr. Punch. “They’ll join us later. But, we do need to take Colin and leave as quickly as we can. We never know if Edward will notice that we tricked him. So, I think we should take the boy, Toby, Gerard and Charles and leave.”
“I liked it better when we was all goin’.” Punch sniffed, wiping his nose on his sleeve.
“So did we,” Adrienne sighed. “But it is for the best.”
“Don’t you see?” Cecil smiled. “We’ll be fine. In fact, it will give me a chance to do some sculpting of my own. Pete and his friends can assist, if they’d like to come along. And, soon, we’ll be in England, too. I’ll wager we’ll get there before our first letter to you will.”
Mr. Punch lowered his head. “I got a bad feelin’.”
“What is it?” Robert asked.
“I think maybe they won’t come. I think they’ll want to, but…well, life gets in the way.”
“Dear Punch,” Robert put his arm around his friend’s shoulders. “You mustn’t think like that.”
“Even if it’s true?” Punch asked.
“I’ll tell you what’s true,” Cecil smiled. “I’m so very thankful—every day—that I can now call you my brother. I’m grateful that you and Robert have found one another and that Colin will have a good home. I…” he paused uncomfortably. “I love both of you—all three of you.”
“We all do.” Adrienne added.
“Even Toby?” Punch asked quietly.
“Especially Toby.” Cecil chortled.
“Don’t you see, Punch?” Robert asked. “It’s for the best.”
“I spose.” Punch sniffed. “But, I still don’t like it.”
Just ten more chapters remain of Punch’s Cousin. If you’ve missed any, you can always catch-up in the Chapter Archive. Come back on Monday, March 19, 2012 for Chapter 491 of Punch’s Cousin. The conclusion of this story, with Chapter 500, will be posted on Thursday, March 29, 2012. On Monday, April 2, 2012, a new online novel—Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square—will debut in this spot.