Ruthy’s terrified screams brought people scampering into the front hall from all over the house.
Mrs. Pepper and Georgie appeared from the service entrance which was tucked under the broad sweep of the stairs. Maudie and Ethel followed.
“Dear God!” Mrs. Pepper shrieked upon seeing Marduk.
Georgie took his mother’s arm. “Mum, don’t look at it.”
“What is it?” Maudie whispered to Ethel.
“It’s…it’s…that…” Ethel’s voice swelled, “…thing!” Ethel screamed. “Kill it! Kill it!” She began to rush toward Ulrika, but Georgie grabbed the girl around the waist.
“George, get the girls downstairs!” Mr. Punch shouted. “Mrs. Pepper, will you show Ruthy downstairs, please?” He pointed to the frightened, potential nursery maid.
“KILL IT!” Ethel howled. “KILL IT!”
“Come on, Ethel, please…” Georgie whispered. “Let’s go downstairs.”
“No.” Ethel moaned, gripped in a spasm. “I must kill it!”
“Maudie…help me.” Georgie mouthed.
“Ethel,” Maudie said quickly. “Remember what ya said to me last night? Remember how ya said that your Jenny was watchin’ over you from heaven? She’d not want to see you so upset, and she’d sure not wanna see ya do anythin’ so terrible as killin’ somethin’. She’d want ya to be well and safe. So come on down with me and Georgie. There’s a love.”
“Jenny…” Ethel sobbed. “They killed her for that thing…”
Still distraught, Ethel let Georgie and Maudie escort her back downstairs.
Meanwhile Speaight arrived from the floor above, followed by Gerard, Charles and Robert.
“What’s wrong, girl?” Ulrika cackled as Mrs. Pepper escorted Ruthy downstairs. “Jealous of my beautiful little friend?”
“How did you get in here?” Robert demanded as he reached the landing.
“The door was unlocked. Really, you ought to be more careful.”
“Speaight!” Robert shouted. “You are dismissed!”
“Sir?” Speaight spoke up.
“This isn’t the first time your negligence has put my family in danger. Pack your things and get out of this house at once!” Robert bellowed.
Speaight looked to Mr. Punch who shook his head.
“As for you, Ulrika…” Robert stood next to Punch. “You know you’re not welcome here. Neither you nor your entourage.”
“I’ve come to see my brother.” Giovanni responded defiantly.
“I don’t want to see you!” Charles shouted.
“Please, lower your voices.” Ulrika snapped. “You’re bothering the baby. Look how they’re trying to hold some of their ears. What a pity that the third arm isn’t a little longer, really.”
Mr. Punch studied Marduk. Taking a deep breath, he stepped forward and approached the child in Ulrika’s arms.
“What are you doing?” Ulrika backed up defensively. “You can’t touch the messiah.”
“You brought him here so we could see ‘im, no doubt.” Mr. Punch shrugged, making no effort to disguise his voice. After all, chaos had already overtaken the house. “So, let me see ‘im.”
“Very well.” Ulrika smiled. She stepped a little closer.
“Hullo, two-headed baby.” Mr. Punch said. He wanted to look at Marduk in the eye, but wasn’t sure which head to pick. “You know, you ain’t really a two-headed baby. You’re two different people. You’re twins. You just got joined together before you was born.”
“Don’t tell him things like that. Really, Duke.” Ulrika hissed. She looked down at the child. “You are a two-headed baby. Don’t listen to the man. He’s mad.”
Punch rolled his eyes. “I’m mad…” He continued to speak to the child. “You’re two people, and you need help and care, not…this.”
“He gets plenty of care.” Giovanni spat. “Though now we will need help with his mother now crippled as she is…thanks to that blond man whom my brother prefers to me.”
Gerard clenched his eyes shut. Charles steadied his friend by placing a hand on his shoulder.
“We come with a demand.” Giovanni continued..
“I guessed you would ‘ave.” Punch sighed, waving his hand dismissively. “Only, I ain’t done talkin’ to the babies.”
“Baby!” Ulrika snapped. “A two-headed baby.”
“You’re holding two children in your arms.” Robert shook his head. “Ulrika, the Duke speaks the truth. This is not some divine creation. This is no deity, no earthly appearance of some demon. What you see here are two, wretched, deformed babies—an accident of nature. Surely, even you can understand that.”
“I’m not surprised that a man of science such as yourself would have no faith. Really, I’m surprised you and the Duke are so…close, given the fact that he is, by nature and ignoring his madness, a creative person.” Ulrika sniffed.
“Whatever you call ‘em, whatever you think these babies are,” Punch interrupted, “the fact is, they’re sick and they’re gonna die if they don’t get proper care.”
“He’s as healthy as you or I.” Ulrika growled.
“It’s the deformity what makes ‘em sick. Who knows what problems they got inside? They need a doctor or they’re gonna die. Have they ever seen a doctor?” Punch asked.
“No!” Ulrika replied.
“These children could share organs,” Robert began. “Such a thing could weaken them. From what Ethel and Fern have told us, they’re not being fed a diet suitable for any human…”
“HE eats what he likes.” Ulrika barked. “But, I’m glad, really, that you brought up young Fern.”
“Why?” Robert demanded.
“We want her.”
“We know you do.” Punch shook his head. “Only, ya ain’t gonna get ‘er. Now, listen, if you come here with these sad children to convince us to give you Fern, it ain’t gonna work. We said all we gotta say. I don’t think these babies is monsters. I’m sad for ‘em. I wish you’d let Dr. Halifax examine ‘em so they could at least be as healthy as they can be. But, we know you won’t. So, you’d best go. There’s no point in discussin’ things what we know won’t ‘appen.”
“I’m glad, really, that you feel that you can be so open and free with me,” Ulrika nodded. “I shall return the favor. Your man took the hand of this child’s mother. The mother of our messiah. She needs help in caring for him. We want Fern to be that help. An eye for an eye. You took a hand, you give a hand.”
“Fern is not a hand.” Punch replied. “She’s a girl and she ain’t to be traded. We know what Gerard done. Frankly, we all decided that Orpha Polk deserves much worse. Only, I will say this—ain’t a body in this house what’s gonna have her murder on our heads. Neither will there be a person in this house what’s gonna be responsible for ‘er care. The woman killed many people, many of whom were from this household. If there is debt, it is she who is in ours. Fern will remain where she is. We know of your plans for her. You shan’t carry them out.”
“If we do not get what we want, we will have to take something else.” Giovanni snarled, looking up at Gerard.
“There is nothing here for you.” Robert stepped forward. “Charles, Gerard, please show our guests out.”
Charles and Gerard descended upon Ulrika and Giovanni.
“Wait.” Ulrika said quickly. “I won’t have them near Marduk.” She turned to Giovanni. “We will go.”
“Just know, really, we’ll return.”
“You can certainly try.” Punch shrugged.
With no further discussion, Giovanni, Ulrika and Marduk left. Charles locked the door behind them.
Speaight descended the rest of the stairs and stopped in front of Robert. “I shall pack my things, Sir.”
“No.” Punch interrupted. “You will not. Will he, Chum?”
“No.” Robert muttered. “However, if the security of this house is compromised again, I will insist that His Grace dismisses you at once.”
“Yes, Sir.” Speaight nodded before exiting.
“Poor children.” Punch shook his head.
“It’s out of our hands.” Robert sighed.
“What would you have us do, Sir?” Charles asked softly.
“For now,” Robert said, “We’d prefer Gerard clean himself up before Gamilla returns home.”
“Yes.” Punch nodded. “She’s already had enough frights today.”
“Should I not tell ‘er what I done?” Gerard asked.
“You should tell her.” Punch shook his head. “But, you should look well and rested when you do.”
“Thank you, Your Grace. I’ll clean myself up.”
“I’ll go and change my livery and prepare for dinner, Sirs.” Charles added.
“Fine,” Punch nodded. His face fell.
“What is it, dear Punch?” Robert asked.
“The girl…Ruthy…I almost forgot.”
“Was that the nursery maid the agency sent?”
“Yes. She’s not gonna want to work here now.” Punch shook his head.
“Would you like me to speak with her?”
“No, Chum. I’ll do it. Maybe I’ll just go downstairs instead of sendin’ for ‘er. Just get it over with. Would you go see how Vi is getting’ on with Colin?”
“Of course, my dear.” Robert replied. “I’ll even check on Fern.”
“She’s meant to be writin’ letters of apology in ‘er room.” Punch answered. “Maybe I oughta write one me-self.”
“To that scared girl downstairs what came here ‘xpecting a job, but got the scare of her life instead.”
Did you miss Chapters 1-290 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 292.