Fern straightened her back and looked Punch squarely in the eye. “I’ll go to the asylum, thank you.”
“Fern?” Lennie gasped.
“No, no.” Punch held up his hand. “It’s all right, it is, Lennie. I s’pected that’s what the girl would say.” He looked at Robert. “Chum, in the mornin’, will you make the arrangements?”
“Yes.” Robert nodded.
“Until then, Fern, you’re to remain locked in your room.” Punch said.
Fern stared at him.
“That’s all. Go with Gamilla.”
The child stood still.
“I said that you’re to go with Gamilla.” Punch narrowed his eyes.
Still, the child did not move.
“Fern, you made your decision. I can’t see we got any more to talk ‘bout.” Punch began.
“You’re going to let me?”
“Let you?” Punch smiled. “You decided what you wanted. You’d rather go to an asylum than stay here and be a good girl and part of this family. You don’t think I’m gonna beg ya to stay here. Do ya?”
Fern didn’t answer.
“Well, did ya?” Punch repeated.
“I told ya it was up to you. I told ya you could be good and stay here or be wicked and be sent away. You made your choice. So, that’ll be all. Please leave. I don’t have time to waste on bad girls. You decided to be bad. So, I don’t have any more time for ya. If you wanted to try to be part of our family, I’d have time. I’d do anything to help ya. Anything at all to make you feel welcome and safe and comfortable. But, you don’t want it. Why should I tire me-self out for someone who don’t want me help?”
Fern nodded slightly and turned away.
“I’m ready to go back to my room.”
“Ain’t your room.” Gamilla shook her head. “Not no more. Just a place you’re gonna sleep tonight.”
With that, Gamilla took Fern from Punch’s bedchamber. She turned as she closed the door behind her and smiled at the Duke. Punch nodded in response.
“Surely,” Lennie began, “you’re not going to send that girl to an asylum?”
“No.” Punch smiled. “Of course I ain’t.”
“I don’t understand.” Lennie shook her head.
“I just wanted her to see that we ain’t gonna put up with no more foolishness from her. Tomorrow, I’ll tell her that we decided she deserves a chance to be good. You can tell she wants to, it’s just she’s ‘fraid.”
“I’d prefer sending her to the asylum.” Robert sighed.
“No doubt o’ that, Chum.” Punch chuckled. “Only, I think we made our point with the girl.”
“Dear Punch, she decided that she prefers to be wicked over being part of the family.” Robert shook his head.
“No. I’m pretty sure she thinks that she can’t be good. We gotta prove to her that she can.”
“And, in the meantime, how many more times will she poison you? How much more damage will she do before she ‘realizes’ how good she can be?”
“Dunno.” Punch replied. “We still got the option to send her ‘way if she’s terrible.”
“Perhaps that will be just the thing.” Lennie nods. “If she feels that someone believes in her, that we’d prefer to give her the chance she was afraid to take herself…”
“I think she’s evil.” Robert interrupted. “Whether by choice or because she can’t help herself.”
“We shall see, then.” Punch inhaled, settling into his pillows. “Either way, she ain’t gonna have run o’ the house. She’ll remain in her room unless someone’s with her. We won’t give ‘er a chance to do nothin’ more. After a few days, if we see there’s no hope, off she goes. Listen, Chum, I know what you’re sayin’, truly, I do. I got the same fears only I think she should be given a chance, I do. See? I were given a chance. If you’d not put your faith in me, maybe I’d be in asylum right now, too.”
“You weren’t dangerous.” Robert sniffed.
“Weren’t I? Didn’t I throw a man overboard when we was on the ship? When I first took control o’ the body from Julian, I were wild. I know that. You made me see I could be a gentle soul.”
“You didn’t harm Arthur when you tossed him overboard.”
“No, but only because Naasir were there to keep me from doin’ so.”
Robert nodded. “Still, you can’t compare yourself to Fern.”
“Maybe not. Only, I’m just sayin’ that the girl deserves a chance to be well.”
“And, you did promise her mother.” Lennie added.
“Oh, I got no loyalty to the memory of Lady Constance.” Punch shook his head. “I ain’t doin’ this for her, I’m doin’ it for Fern.”
“Very well, my love.” Robert nodded. “You’ve my support. Not because I think the girl is capable of gentleness, but because I’ve seen the miraculous things you’ve accomplished before just by your own ability to forgive and to protect. After all, it was you who turned Marie Laveau into our devoted friend from our mortal enemy.”
“Who?” Lennie asked.
“The Voodoo Queen of New Orleans.” Robert smiled.
Lennie looked puzzled. “One of your many adventures in America?”
“We’ll tell you all ‘bout it at breakfast.” Punch grinned. “Only first, I want you to tell me more ‘bout this Earl of Cleaversworth. You know, when I were wakin’ up, I heard the way Robert was teasin’ ya. But, maybe I ought to be more concerned that this gentleman has shown an interest in my sister.”
“Go on, then.” Robert began his teasing again. “Tell your brother all about the Earl.”
“Yes, do.” Punch nodded.
“I’ve already told you everything I know.”
“You told us facts only not how you feel ‘bout ‘im.”
“Who says I feel anything?”
“Oh, you do. I know it.” Punch winked.
“I wonder if they’ll be as happy together as we are, dear Punch.” Robert smiled.
“Oh…the two of you are impossible.” Lennie coughed.
“That’s what brothers are for, Lennie.” Robert grinned.
“So, does he make your heart flutter?” Punch asked.
“You can tell ol’ Mr. Punch. Go on…” Punch pleaded.
“If it will keep you quiet.” Lennie scowled playfully.
At that very moment, on the floor above, Gamilla prepared to lock Fern in her room.
“Wait!” Fern demanded.
“What is it?” Gamilla asked plainly.
“Will they really send me away?”
“That’s what you want. Ain’t it?” Gamilla shrugged.
Fern didn’t answer.
“Well?” Gamilla asked.
“Lock me in my room.”
“That’s what I aim to do.” Gamilla smiled.
Once Fern was locked in and alone, she sat down on the floor and looked around. Her eyes settled on the glint of flame in the oil lamp by her bed. Suddenly, a smile grew on her face.
Did you miss Chapters 1-306 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 308.