Aim to Fight
“You gotta try to be calm,” Punch said, wrestling Robert to the bed.
“How can I?” Robert moaned, tears running down his face—his nose running.
Punch plopped down on the bed next to his companion. They were alone in Punch’s chamber after sending Charles back to watch Mr. Barrett with Ellen, Gerard back to his room to rest his head and Speaight to wherever Speaight went within the bowels of the mansion at night.
“Because it’s gonna turn out fine.” Punch smiled brightly.
“You perjured yourself to an officer of the law. You and Charles and Gerard and Speaight. You lied about the Crown, you claimed to have committed a murder that you did not commit and you…”
“We all did it to protect you.”
“Well, then,” Mr. Punch rose angrily, pacing to the mantel across the room. He bent over slightly and leveled his eyes at Robert. “If you gotta ask that, I been doin’ somethin’ wrong this last year.”
“You know what I mean.” Robert whispered.
“No.” Punch snapped. “I don’t.” He raised his left hand. “You see this hand?”
“Yes.” Robert mumbled.
“What’s on it?”
“And what do they mean?”
“What do they mean, Robert?” Punch shot back.
“The diamond on your index finger was the first ring you…well, Julian…ever made.”
“Yes.” Punch nodded. “Why do I wear it—every day?”
“To remind you of Julian, of your heritage, of the Molliner name and what it means to be the Duke of Fallbridge.”
“That’s right.” Punch sighed. “And, the other? On me third finger?”
“That’s the ring I gave you for your birthday.”
“And…what’s it mean?”
“It means that we’re in this life together. You and me, chum. Robert and Punch. Together. Forever. You and me—lookin’ out for our boy, Colin! Takin’ care of this household! Together! Them stones spell out, ‘dearest.’ Yes?”
“Because I’m your dearest. And, you’re mine. You and me and Colin and Dog Toby and them folks what live in the attic and work in the bottom of this house so that we can all be happy. That’s why I lied. I done it to make sure we’re all together and that we’re all safe and happy. Them three—Tom and Hortence and the other one—they came into this house with threats. I ain’t gonna take no threats in me own home, especially when they’re threats to my dearest! You hear me. I done what I had to do and Charles and Gerry and Speaight—they backed me up because they love you too—sure, maybe not the way I do, but they love you all the same. We’re happy here! We aim to stay happy and ain’t nothin’ I won’t do to make sure that’s so!”
“Now, you’re makin’ me shout and I don’t like it.” Punch scowled.
“Come sit by me.” Robert said softly.
“Don’t want to.”
“I’m angry, I am.”
“Sure, I am. You’re not bein’ Robert Henry Halifax like I know ‘im. You’re bein’ strange and scared. Why?”
“I’m afraid of losing what we have.”
“We ain’t gonna!” Punch yelped. “Chum, we ain’t gonna. But, I gotta have your help.”
“You’re right. Yes, of course, you’re correct.”
“Don’t forget. We spent weeks in America together. Were that a pleasure trip?”
“No.” Robert smiled slightly.
“No. It were not. We fought Voodoo Queens and cruel ladies and murderers and a man who wanted to steal our son. We went through fever and fire and gun shots and blood and…all manner of queer magic what I—to this day—still don’t understand. But, we was together—through all the treachery and all the meanness, we got through it. And, what did we get from it? We got here! We got here with our Colin! And, we came out of it with friends, chum. Gerry and Charles and Gamilla. Buggery Bullox! By the end, we even called the very Voodoo Queen what tried to kill us our friend! Ain’t that what you’d call triumph?”
“I should say so.”
“Then, this is nothin’.” Punch sniffed. “Yes, I lied. I told the copper that I killed William. The reason I gave was good ‘nough. Nothin’s gonna happen. By doin’ it, I stopped them folks from talkin’ and I took ‘way any doubt what could have plagued us. It’s over, chum. And, once ‘gain, what have we got?”
“Us. Colin…and our household.”
“Yes.” Punch grinned.
“Yes.” Robert nodded.
“So, why are you cryin’?”
“I’m haunted. When we were in America, no one knew me—no one except you. Well, of course, Cecil, my brother. But, I mean, no one’s opinion of me was colored by anything. Here, it’s easy to know who I am. My father—the debtor. My mother—the lunatic. It’s easily discovered. People judge you based on these things. They judge and they make decisions based on it.”
“Don’t I know it?” Punch sighed, sitting next to his companion. “Who am I?”
“The Duke of Fallbridge.” Robert shook his head.
“Rumored to be mad, I might add.” Punch winked. “And, not too far-fetched a rumor. Sure, the body is the Duke’s. And, sure, he’s in here. But, we know who I am and it ain’t no Duke. But, even were that not the case, even if I were just Julian Molliner, Duke of Fallbridge, don’t you think people’d judge me the same way. Julian’s mum—there was a witch if there ever was one. And, what became of her? Who knows? Right? We know. Sure, we know she were killed by a whore in New Orleans. But, what do folk here know? Nothin’. She went to America and never came back. Don’t you think folk talk? Do you think they believe when I say she lost her life to fever? No. They don’t. They know she were a horrible person who surely met a bad end. And, me sister. Or, Julian’s sister. Either way—same awful girl. All set to marry a baron and then she’s gone! Where’s she? Didn’t come back either? Lost to the same fever? Who believes that? Whether or not folk think she’s dead or know she’s really alive in Louisiana livin’ as a prostitute, all folk see is that the Duke came back with an ‘adopted’ son who looks an awful lot like a Fallbridge. Don’t you see? No matter what we do, folk are gonna talk, they’re gonna talk and judge and point. No matter what we do, chum, they’re gonna point. And, if for no other reason than that we’re different, you and I. We ain’t a Duke and Duchess livin’ in this fine house. We’re two men and folk know what we’re ‘bout. Nothin’ we do is gonna stop people talkin’ and judgin’. Can’t stop that, we can’t. It just can’t be done. So, we can always live in fear and let folk beat us down or we can fight. I aim to fight. But, I won’t do it alone. You gotta fight with me.”
“I will, dear Punch.”
“I promise.” Robert smiled.
“Sure, I know what I done tonight were wrong. It ain’t the first time I done somethin’ wrong and it ain’t the last I ever will. But, this time I did it for a good reason. I done it to protect you—to protect us. And, even to protect them others what live in this house. And, especially our Colin. We can’t control what anyone outside of here does, but, coo! We can make what happens at No. 65 Belgrave Square as safe and happy as possible for as long as possible!”
Robert did as instructed—a large, relieved, genuine smile.
“You gonna fight at my side?”
“Always.” Robert stood up.
“That’s all I ask.” Punch grinned.
“I will always be at your side.”
“That’s the way to do it.” Punch whooped.
“I just hope you realize that this evening was not the end of this William Stover problem.”
“I know it.” Mr. Punch laughed. “But, it’s the end of it for the day, and that’s ‘nough for me.”
“For me, too, dear Punch. For me, too.”
Did you miss Chapters 1-49 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 51.