Thursday, June 5, 2014
A Recipe for Punch, Chapter 117
The Center Ring
As the young men from the garden threw themselves into the folly door, slamming with all their might and using their work-hardened shoulders to splinter the door, Morgana listened--her face pulled back into a look of both supreme relief and fear.
She could return to Fallbridge Hall, to the arms of her newly-found family.
With each crash upon the door, she could hear Punch's promise, repeated in his gravel-heavy, but excited voice. "We'll all go back to London, to Belgrave Square. Home. Of course, there's a place for you there, Auntie! Did you think we'd leave you here? You're part of this family, it only makes sense, it does, that you'd come home with us. There are lovely rooms for you there. Just by Fern's. When she comes home from school, I'm sure you two will be the best of friends. She needs an older lady about. Never had a good lady to teach her things, poor, sad, strange little Fern didn't. With you and Lennie to guide her, now she'll have a chance, she will. You'll like No. 65--that's our house. It's grand, but cozy. And, there's a huge library full o' all my father's old books. Also, there's lots to do in London what'll keep yo entertained. If you don't want to go out into Westminster, we can bring it to you. Maybe, even, we'll take you to court to meet Their Majesties. They've been so kind to me, and Robert and Lennie, too. I'm sure Her Majesty will love you, too."
Home. Home? Morgana hadn't really ever had a home. And, in London, too. Not just London, but Belgravia. Best of all, she'd have a family. Nonetheless, the thought of going to London frightened her. Oh, sure, she'd been there many times. She'd lived there, of course, as a child--there in Lambeth. Yet, Lambeth in the 1790s--with its narrow streets thick with people and the raucous sounds of the circus--was nowhere near Belgravia of the 1850s.
When had she last been in London? Surely, it had been two years ago--the last time the curiosities show set up camp in the same, tired spot down from where Astley's Amphitheater stood--well, now it was... Hmmm... She'd heard that a man named Cooke had bought the land and restored the amphitheater after the most recent of many fires. That had been just before Mr. Quick had found her.
She panted as the excitement and relief gave over completely to the fear which had burbled inside of her.
Was she really free? Were any of them? With Quick and Jackson, Ivy and Gregory, Causer and Hargrave still roaming the estate--could they be free? Would she be able to go home with Punch and Robert and Lennie? Would any of them be able to leave Fallbridge Hall?
And, what of those young men from the garden. They'd seen her from a distance, and, then, only saw her face. What would they do when they broke through the door, shattered the lock, and climbed the tower to her rescue? Would they recoil in horror at the sight of her pincers? Would they gag when they first glanced upon her hunchback or her deformed leg? Would they even take her with them or would they leave her to rot with William and Charlotte, and...and the grubby casket which held the mummified remains of her sister.
She would soon have her answer.
The sound of the door giving way was followed by frantic, masculine voices.
"There!" One said. "The stairs do be there!"
"Cripes!" Another shouted. "What's there?"
"Oh, it's that bad." The third moaned. "It's bodies. Young William from up t' the house, and...Lord! It's Miss Lottie!"
"No, it ain't!" The second exclaimed.
"But, it is. Poor Lottie. She never done no one harm."
"We can't worry for the dead now, there's a lady up there!" The first urged.
The sound of their muddy boots on the stairs made Morgana want to, at once, hide and scream for salvation.
"Saints preserve us!" A young man with a sun-burnt face shouted when he saw Morgana. "It's the duchess! Alive again and before us!"
"Your Grace," The second bowed.
"I...I...I'm not..." Morgana stammered.
"No, she ain't." The third whispered. "Sure, it's the duchess' face, but, look..."
The three noticed Morgana's trunk-like leg poking out from the hem of the teagown--now torn and filthy--which Lennie had given her.
"You, poor soul, Miss." The tallest of the men came forward. "Who done this to you?"
"The Parson Quick." Morgana answered. "And, Mr. Jackson, Miss Blessum and Hargrave."
"Bleedin' bastards the lot o' em," The sunburnt man shook his head. "Cor! Your arms are bound. He looked to one of his companions. Give us your knife, then, Larry."
Larry, as he had been called, handed his knife to the man who cut the canvas strips from Morgana's arms.
"Oh, your poor, wretched hands. Poor lady."
The one called Larry came forward and put an arm around Morgana's shoulder. "Why'd them awful folk do this to you, Miss?"
"It's...it's too much to explain just now." Morgana answered.
"Who are ya?" The red-faced lad asked.
"I am...t...the late duchess' sister."
"I see that you are." He nodded. "Poor, poor lady. Come with us from this place."
"You saw the...the...William and Lottie, then?" Morgana asked.
"Aye, and there's a casket, too. Isn't there? Who's in there?" Larry asked.
"The remains of my sister, the duchess." Morgana shuddered, for a moment, the image of the center ring of Astley's circus flashed behind her eyes.
"Oh, it's too much, it is." The one who had given his knife said sympathetically. "They're a mad lot Jackson and his criminals. We all know it. All of us on the land know it."
"We'll take 'er to the duke. He'll know what to do. Either him or that tall man with the kind face we saw come with 'em. Or the pretty new lady Fallbridge. We'll bring ya to the house, and, they'll look after ya."
"You'd all best leave here." Larry nodded. "There's nothin' here, Miss, but disease."
Morgana wept at their kindness.
"Now, now, Miss." Larry smiled. "Keep your tears for joy when you've been brought to the duke."
"I...I...don't know how to thank you."
"We don't want no thanks." The man who had the knife shook his head. "We only want to see them wicked folks beat at their own game. Made this place a grave, a tomb, with their wickedness. Sure and if I get kicked off the land tonight, I'll say it. I'd rather take me wife and daughter out in the cold than be here one more minute."
"Can you walk, Miss?" Larry asked.
"I th...think." Morgana nodded.
"Only that leg o' yours don't look too strong, and..." The sunburnt lad shook his head. He glanced at his friends. "Let's say we carry her. She's small."
"No..." Morgana began, but before she could protest further, two of them men had made a chair of their arms and gently lowered her into their grip.
With no effort, they carried her down the stairs while Larry supported her back from behind.
As they came to the ground floor of the folly, Morgana gasped to see the frowning faces of Ivy and Jackson as they entered--in shock--through the battered door.
"What is the meaning of this?" Jackson growled.
"Step aside, you ghoul." Larry warned. "We'll trample ya both!"
"Do you know to whom you're speaking?"
"From what I hear, I ain't speakin' to no one!" Larry retorted. "From what I hear, you're not even to be on the estate. Sacked, weren't ya?"
"Let them by, Mr. Jackson." Ivy smiled. "Let her see what awaits her at the Hall."
"Oh, sure." Jackson nodded. "I trust the monster isn't squeamish."
"Such a sight, the house is just now." Ivy nodded. "When we crept in for our...tools...we saw it all, though they didn't see us. All that blood!"
"Blood?" Morgana winced.
"Yes, it seems your niece, Lady Fallbridge, had decided it best to take her own life. Cut open her own veins with a paper knife." Ivy grinned.
"Shut your gob!" Larry snapped. "Don't frighten this lady more than you have! You--murderers!"
Larry gestured with his chin to the pile of bodies.
"Yes, that." Jackson sighed.
"Please, t...take me to the house." Morgana pleaded.
"Of course, Miss." Two of the three men said in unison, still showing no signs of struggling under her weight.
"Yes, do go back. Perhaps your niece has life in her still--enough to gurgle farewell to her new aunt. But, you won't find your nephew, the Duke, there, Morgana. It's likely you'll never see him again. Mr. Quick has seen to that."
Did you miss Chapters 1-116 of A Recipe for Punch? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 118.