Dressing a Duke
“I won’t do it!” Mr. Punch/the Duke of Fallbridge shouted from beneath the writing desk in his lavishly appointed bedroom suite.
Charles, the Duke’s valet, leaned patiently against a glossy white , fluted pilaster and studied the paintings of other, past Dukes of Fallbridge which lined the turquoise walls.
Mr. Punch peaked from beneath the table and smiled wildly. “I said ‘I won’t do it!’”
“I know, Your Grace, I heard you.” Charles nodded calmly. He made eye contact with the Duke and couldn’t help but smile. It was, partially, a game to Mr. Punch—though he genuinely did not want to take his bath nor did he wish to get dressed.
Punch, too, knew that Charles was in on the joke and burrowed deeper under the desk, his legs—lightly covered with auburn hair—sticking out from both the desk and the thin nightshirt that he refused to remove.
Charles bit his cheeks so he wouldn’t chuckle. He wondered when the Duke had taken to hiding under furniture. It was something which seemed to come with their return to England. Charles suspected that it was an invention of Mr. Punch who had spied Dog Toby doing the same while they were aboard the ship and concluded that it was an enjoyable enterprise.
Charles sighed pleasantly and sat on the floor, cross-legged, facing the Duke who, like a child, peaked out from behind the legs of the writing table. Punch’s brown eyes flickered with a combination of utter glee and resolution.
“You may wish to pull your nightshirt down a bit, Sir.” Charles began.
“Oh!” Mr. Punch blushed. “Is me bum out?”
“Not quite yet, but it’s working on it.”
“That wouldn’t be good, now, would it?”
“It wouldn’t bother me, Your Grace. After all, I share a room with Gerard. You have no idea the things I’ve seen. However, it’s not behavior fitting a Duke.”
“Probably not,” His Grace replied rationally, arranging the folds of his nightshirt to ensure that his ducal posterior was not exposed.
“It’s nothing to me, of course, Sir,” Charles began, “however, I can’t imagine that the Prince Consort would be too thrilled if you arrived at Buck House in your nightshirt with your hair unwashed.”
“I don’t care.” Mr. Punch giggled.
“Most people would be overjoyed to receive a command invitation from His Majesty Prince Albert.”
“I ain’t most people.” Mr. Punch snorted.
Charles nodded—unable to refute the Duke’s assertion. He was not, in fact, anything like most people. Charles took a deep breath and recalled a time, not too long before, when such a scene would have made him terribly uncomfortable. To be sure, he once found the Duke/Mr. Punch rather difficult to take. However, his feelings for his employer had mellowed after the kindness that the man had shown to Charles, and, by the time they arrived in England, he had even developed a certain protective affection for His Grace—not as madly devoted as Dr. Halifax, but protective nonetheless.
“Where’s me chum?” Mr. Punch asked, still under the table.
“Sir, as I’ve already explained, Dr. Halifax received a note that one of his patients needed him. He promised he’d be back well before you’d need to leave for the palace.”
“Well, when he gets back, then I’ll come out, I will.”
“I wouldn’t like to think that you’d be late for your appointment with the Prince.” Charles continued.
“Coo…” Punch considered the thought. “He is German, ain’t he? They do care a great lot ‘bout punctuality.”
“That they do.” Charles nodded. He stretched out his legs.
“It’s comfortable, the floor is.” Mr. Punch smiled.
“Yes, it is. The carpet is very plush.”
Punch turned around, still under the writing table, and stared at Charles for a moment. “I ain’t entirely mad, you know.”
“I know.” Charles nodded.
“It’s just I don’t wanna go.”
“I can appreciate that you’d be anxious, Sir. I know that I was nervous just delivering the letter to the palace the other day.”
“So, you understand?”
“I do, certainly.” Charles smiled.
“Well, good.” Punch sniffed. “Here, I didn’t like you at first, Charles…”
“I am aware of it.” Charles laughed.
“But, I like you now.”
“I’m glad, Your Grace.” Charles said. He rolled to his knees and stood. “Now, perhaps, we could start with your bath.”
“No!” Punch shouted, somewhat playful, but nonetheless resolute.
“You like a good bath.”
“Not today I don’t!”
“You’ll feel better.” Charles answered, coming a little closer.
“Here, if you come any nearer, I’ll…I’ll hit you with me stick.”
“You don’t do that any longer, Sir.” Charles chuckled. “Even if you did, there’s no stick in here with which to hit me.”
“I don’t need a stick.” Mr. Punch pouted. “I’ve hit folk with other things. Oil lamps and wee bronzes. Remember when I hit that policeman in New Orleans what tried to take Colin from me. Got him good, right in the crown with a statue, I did. Knocked him right out.”
“I recall very well.” Charles couldn’t help but laugh. “However, I’m not trying to take Colin, I’m only trying to get you to take a bath.”
“Coo, ain’t you ‘fraid o’ me at all no more?” Punch sighed.
“No.” Charles shook his head. “I am not, Sir.”
“Fine,” Mr. Punch/the Duke grumbled, crawling out from under the desk. “I’ll take me bath only I ain’t getting’ dressed ‘til me chum comes home.”
“That’ll do.” Charles replied. “I’ll go ready the bath for you.” He turned cautiously. “You aren’t going to…”
“Run off?” Mr. Punch grinned. “Nah. There’s ladies in the house. Wouldn’t be right for me to run ‘bout in me nightshirt.”
“Very true.” Charles replied. “I will return presently.” With that, he slipped into the attached, marble tiled bath chamber.
Alone in his room, Mr. Punch began to pace frantically in front of the porch. “Damn the Prince.” He muttered repeatedly. “Ain’t even a nice bloke, he ain’t. Gonna be sharp with Ol’ Red Nose.”
Mr. Punch paused in front of the long glass which stood in the corner of the room. He studied his face. “Only I ain’t got a red nose. Nor no hunch even.” He touched his face and sighed. “I’m a man, and a Duke, too. Bugger!”
Punch chirped nervously as the door to the room scraped open and let out a long whoop when Robert entered.
“Where ya been?” Punch shouted.
“I had to attend to a patient.” Robert answered, scooping Mr. Punch into a hug. “I told Charles to tell you.”
“He did.” Mr. Punch pouted.
“You’re not dressed,” Robert smiled releasing Punch from his embrace.
“I told Charles I wasn’t gettin’ dressed ‘til you got back.” Punch grumbled.
“Well, here I am.” Robert grinned patiently.
Mr. Punch sighed. “I don’t wanna do this.”
“But, you must.” Robert answered affectionately. “Dear Punch, Julian has entrusted you not only with his life, but also his business. If you’re to properly honor his trust, you must also honor the relationships which have made him the success that he is. Similarly, the relationships we keep now will only help our Colin later. His father should have a friendship with the Crown, yes?”
“I ‘spose.” Punch sniffed.
“After all, one day Colin will not only inherit your property and title, but also your business. And, should he wish to continue in your footsteps, an easy rapport with the Crown would be beneficial.”
“You mean that one day Colin might work with wee Prince Bertie as I do with his mum and pa?”
“He might. Prince Albert Edward will be King one day. He would most likely wish to employ the crown jewelers favored by Their Majesties, his parents.”
“Well, if it’s for Colin, I gotta do it.” Punch said excitedly.
“My dear, I must say that I’m very proud of you.”
“Here, what for?” Punch tilted his head to one side. “I ain’t done nothin’ good. In fact, I been hidin’ under the table. And, as enjoyable as it was, I know it weren’t a good thing to do.”
“Are you still under the table?”
“Can’t you see I ain’t?” Punch squinted.
“Well, yes.” Robert laughed. “I’m being…I don’t know…I’m being coy…and adorable.”
“You usually are…” Punch chuckled.
Robert continued, “I am proud of you because you’re no longer under the table. You’re standing here—like a man—about to ready yourself to do business. For that, and many other reasons, I’m very proud of you. And, tomorrow I’ll be prouder still.”
Mr. Punch blushed, smiling. “Thank you, chum.”
Charles returned to the Duke’s room and looked with palpable relief at the doctor.
“Yes, I’ve returned.”
Charles nodded emphatically.
“I’m ready for me bath, Charles.” Mr. Punch nodded, pulling his nightshirt quickly over his head and running—naked—into the other room.
Alone with Charles, Dr. Halifax sighed cheerfully. “I hope he wasn’t too difficult.”
“Thank you for humoring him.” The doctor continued.
“There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for His Grace.” Charles said firmly. “In my life, there’s no one who—well, except for you, Sir—who has been kinder to me.”
The doctor nodded once in thanks.
“I’d best go see that he doesn’t splash too much.” Charles said quickly, hurrying into the other room.
Robert grinned, shaking his head. He flopped upon the bed comfortably and waited—content with his world.
Little did he know that Hortence, the under-house maid, was listening at the door.
Did you miss Chapters 1-9 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 11.