Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Recipe for Punch, Chapter 99

Chapter 99
Barely Human

"Ivy!"  Quick rasped as he opened the trapdoor.  "Take these."  He handed down a large brown pottery jug first.  Ivy struggled with its weight, but managed to lower it to the cold stone floor.  Next, he offered her three tin cups before descending the ladder, closing the trapdoor behind him.  In the crook of his arm he held a basket filled with assorted flasks, tins and flannels.

"What's all this, then?"  Ivy asked.

"Never you mind."  Quick replied curtly.

"Only three cups?"  Ivy snarled.  "What of me?  I'm thirsty.  Hungry, too."  She reached for the jug.  

"That isn't for you!"  Quick answered quickly.  "Though why I should stop you escapes me," he added under his breath.

"Well, then?"  Ivy sighed.

"Very well,"  Quick grumbled, pointing to the ladder.  "Go up, if you wish.  Clean yourself up and go the kitchen if you must.  I'll need some time with these young men, and, I suppose I'd not wish to offend your...feminine sensibilities anyway."

"What of me?"  Morgana asked from the corner of the cavern where she still sat with George and Fred.

"You're neither feminine nor masculine."  Quick said.  "You're barely human at all.  You have no sensibilities."

"Don't you speak to her that way!"  George started.

Morgana extended her arm, gently placing a pincer on Georgie's shoulder to keep him from rising.  She quickly withdrew it, but was surprised that she didn't feel embarrassed.  It was the first time that she could recall that she had ever intentionally touched someone for a reason other than to protect herself.  She studied George out of the corner of her eye and thought that he looked grateful that she'd stopped him, and, not repulsed by her touch.

Quick, of course, what oblivious to the small miracle which had just taken place.  "I'll speak to anyone any way I like.  This is my house."

"It's the vicarage on my master's estate.  You're here because he lets you stay here.  And, he won't let you stay here any longer once he finds out what you're about."  George replied.

"When he finds out, lad," Quick laughed, "it will be from the lips of his own mother, and she will also inform him that he is no longer the master here.  Furthermore, I have no master other than our Lord, and He is guiding me in this."

"Lunatic."  Georgie mumbled.

"Ivy, go upstairs, but don't dawdle.  I'll call for you shortly."  Quick turned to the old woman.

"Can't I stay up there?"  Ivy asked.  "These three aren't going anywhere."

"I can't take any more chances after this morning."  He gestured to William's corpse.  "Besides, Ivy, we've already discussed why you shall stay down here."

"I told you I was sorry for killing the boy too soon."  Ivy huffed.  "And...about him...shouldn't we do something with him?  He's starting to get...messy."

"What do you propose we do with him, Ivy?"  Quick asked dryly.  "Though the Duke is preoccupied with his injured sister..."

"What's happened to my dear Lennie?"  Morgana called out.

"Quiet!"  Quick demanded.  "As I was saying, though the Duke is preoccupied, he and his...maryann...and their men will soon be sniffing around again looking for their lobster auntie and these lads, and, as we know their first stop will be here.  They've already said as much.  We have nowhere to put the little dead mandrake at the moment.  So, this is the best place for him.  It's also the best place for you.  Given that you're not meant to be on the estate at all!"

"Neither is Jackson, and, yet, you let him wander about."  Ivy snapped.

"And, look what that's gotten us."  Quick groaned.  "More trouble.  Lady Fallbridge poisoned.   That's only going to bring us more inconvenience from the Hall when the Duke and his nancy are out for our blood."

"Please, please tell me what's happened to Lennie!"  Morgana cried.

"Never mind."  Quick growled.  "I'll have no of this.  Ivy!  If you want to eat--go do it, then.  I've work to do."

"What's all that?"  Ivy pointed to the basket.

Quick narrowed his eyes.  "Life."

Ivy smiled.  

"Now, go."  Quick demanded.

Ivy nodded and climbed the ladder.

Mr. Quick waited until the trapdoor slammed shut, then, he walked slowly toward the trio who sat on the floor.  Carefully placing the basket in front of them, he knelt down.  From the basket he removed a candle in a dull, brass fitting.  Using a match from a matchbox in his pocket, he lit the candle, and inhaled.

Finally, he looked up and spoke.

"Fred Perkins, you will need to remove your clothing."  

Without another word, Quick began to unpack the other contents of the basket.  Flasks and bottles, squat jars, and small tins with all with vicious-looking, peeling paper labels, written in a cruel hand.  They'd been carefully packed into the basket, protected by the cushioning of flannels.  They had been resting, it seems, upon a thin blanket.  Quick removed this last.  He tossed it to Fred.

"You may cover yourself with this."

Quick reached for a bluish glass jar and un-did the top, releasing a peculiar aroma which was something like sharp mixture cloves, goose fat, bacon drippings and stale cheese.

"I told you to remove your clothing, Fred."  The vicar bellowed.

"I don't wish to."  Fred replied.

"If you don't do as I ask, I will cut off one of this monster woman's appendages and force you to eat it."  Quick said plainly.  "If you don't think I will do it, continue to disobey me and see."

"Do what he says,"  George whispered.

Fred nodded and began to undress.

"Now, that wasn't so difficult.  Was it?"  Quick grunted.  "All I intend to do is coat you with these lovely unguents and salves--just as I did with your friend George.  As you can see, it didn't harm George.  Come here, George.  You need to have more applied."

George closed his eyes.  "I can do it myself."

"I shall do it for you."  Quick answered, dipping his fingers into the jar of salve.  "Then, I shall  do it for Fred."

Morgana shuddered.  She looked at the jar and inhaled, knowing that this was the time for her to do what she'd told George she was going to do.

"Mr. Quick,"  Morgana said quickly,  "T...te...tell me about my niece. badly is she hurt?  What...what will become of her?"

"What has happened does not concern you any longer, Morgana."  Quick said dismissively.  "Now, George, remove your blanket, and come here to me."

"Tell me...Qui...Qui...Quick."  Morgana repeated, raising her voice.

"You had best calm yourself."  Quick frowned.

Morgana began to pant, launching into her former "wild woman" routine.  It was easy enough for her to do, not only because she'd done it for so long, but also because she was frightened, frustrated and, furthermore, genuinely upset and concerned to learn that Lennie had been hurt.  "T...tell...tell...tell...tell..."  Morgana screamed.

She rose clumsily, as best as her deformed leg could support her, and, stumbling a bit, lurched toward Quick.

"Stop that!"  Quick scrambled backward.

"Uhhh!"  Morgana growled.  "Unnnhh!"   She waved her pincers about, frantically.

"Don't...don't scratch me!"

"Miss Morgana!"  George hurried toward her.  "You musn't become overwrought."  He made eye contact with her, awaiting her signal.

She let out a low, horrid, hiss.

When she did, George knew what he was to do.  "There's only one thing..."  He muttered.

"What?"  Quick asked.

"Nothing, Sir, it's too late."  George shook his head.

"No, no."  Quick took Georgie's arm.  "We can't have her like this--her face contorted like a beast.  You know something.  Tell me what you know!"

"It's just...well, I'd heard His Grace say what calms Miss Morgana.  There's a thing what calms her."

"Oh...of course."  Quick exhaled.  "The 'Jar of Heads.'"

Did you miss Chapters 1-98 of A Recipe for Punch?  If so, you can read them here.  Come back tomorrow for Chapter 100.

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