Robert grinned when he heard Mr. Punch, from the other side of the door, howl with laughter as the sound of splashing water filled the marble-tiled bathroom. Still lying on the bed, Robert chuckled to himself. He sat up smoothing the front of his rust-colored waistcoat as the bathroom door opened and a slightly damp Charles came into the bedroom.
“He’s splashing.” Robert grinned.
“He always does, Sir,” Charles nodded.
“Well, then, his spirits have improved.” Robert nodded appreciatively, standing up.
“Sir, would you like to instruct me as to which suit to lay out for him?” Charles asked, walking to the imposing mahogany wardrobe which stood proudly against the furthest of the turquoise plaster walls of the Duke’s room.
“Black, I think.” Robert squinted thoughtfully.
“Which black?” Charles asked, thumbing through the hanging suits.
“The one with the looser breeches.” Robert continued, rising and walking to the wardrobe.
“Ah, yes.” Charles chuckled, forgetting himself for a moment.
Robert chuckled, too. “After all, as His Grace always says of breeches, ‘Them’s the worst part, they are.’”
“I can’t disagree.” Charles smiled. “I think, perhaps, the velvet court suit. Yes?”
“I concur.” Robert nodded. “Let’s add a bright cravat. He’ll like that. The lavender. Or…yes…the crimson.”
“Yes, Sir,” Charles replied.
Suddenly, they heard a loud, wet slap from the other room and, then, a long, delighted laugh from Mr. Punch.
Robert raised his eyebrows. “Should we look in on him?”
“No, Sir.” Charles shook his head. “He’s just throwing his soap. He’s taken to doing that lately. He likes to sit in the tub and see if he can throw the soap hard enough to get it to stick to the wall.”
“Ah.” Robert chortled.
“Not to worry, Sir.” Charles continued. “I left several bars in the brass tray. He’ll use some of them as soap and the rest as projectiles.”
“God love him.” Robert sighed contentedly.
“I’m sure He does, Sir.” Charles replied softly. He looked up. “Which jewels?”
“Of course his usual diamond ring.” Robert answered, walking over to the Duke’s jewel case. “And, the ring set with the fragment of the Molliner Blue Diamond. Then—hmmm… He studied the case. The enameled gold buttons—the red ones. And,” he looked over the wide array of stickpins. “The pin with the rubies set into a floral head.”
“Yes, Sir.” Charles answered absent-mindedly, squinting.
“Charles,” Robert began, “You look a little concerned. Do you disagree with my choices?”
“Oh, not at all, Sir.” Charles shook his head. “Please, forgive me.”
“If there’s something on your mind…”
“Well, Sir,” Charles sighed. “I confess I’ve been thinking about the Duke. I know he’s worried about this visit to the palace.”
“I appreciate that you show concern for His Grace.”
“I can’t help it, Sir.” Charles continued. “He’s not been out in Society since we’ve returned. Of course, I’ve seen him interact with others and done a fine job of it, but, I think…” He stopped. “Pardon me, it’s not my place.”
“Of course it is, Charles.” Robert shook his head. “Go on…”
“Well, I worry that perhaps he’s…”
“Forgotten how to be the Duke?”
“He hasn’t.” Robert smiled reassuringly. “I know he hasn’t. He’s more like His Grace than he lets on. Let’s not forget, the Duke of Fallbridge is still a part of him. While none of us really knows the mechanics of their complicated relationship, Mr. Punch seems to be able to draw on the Duke’s font of knowledge when he needs to. I know that Mr. Punch will be able to convince the Prince Consort that nothing has changed. If for no other reason, he’ll do it to preserve the sanctity of the family name and out position in Society.”
Charles smiled. “I’m glad to know it, Sir. I am terribly sorry if I spoke out of turn.”
“You did no such thing. You should always feel free to speak your mind where our well-being is concerned.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
“Here!” Punch shouted from the bathroom. “I’m wet and cold!”
“Oh.” Charles’ eyes widened. “I’d best hurry.” He rushed into the bathroom, leaving Robert to look through the Duke’s jewels.
Meanwhile, outside the Duke’s door, Hortence leaned against the passage wall—pressing her ear against the cool, sleek wood of the door.
“What are you doing?” a voice spat causing Hortence to spin around.
“Miss Barrett!” Hortence coughed.
“Are you eavesdropping on His Grace?” Ellen said, truly shocked. “How dare you do such a thing. I shall bring this behavior to Mr. Speaight’s attention immediately!”
“Will you?” Hortence smirked, stepping away from the door.
“I most certainly will.” Ellen nodded firmly.
“And what will you tell him, Miss?”
“I shall say that on my way upstairs to the nursery, I spied you listening at His Grace’s door!” Ellen replied, seething with anger.
“And, do you know what I’ll tell him?”
“No, Hortence, what will you tell him?” Ellen snorted in contempt.
“I shall tell him the reason you left your last position.”
“Mr. Speaight knows the reason that I left. As do the Duke and the doctor…”
“Yes,” Ellen snapped.
“I don’t think that they do.” Hortence giggled.
Ellen narrowed her eyes.
“See,” Hortence continued, “I think you lied to them.”
“How could I do such a thing?” Hortence asked. “I presented my references.”
“Those references were written as…what’s the word…a consolation.”
“Whatever do you mean, Hortence?”
“I know a girl what works in your old place.”
“Oh?” Ellen nodded angrily.
“Yep—Daisy. She told me all ‘bout ya.”
“Daisy has as much of a filthy mind as you do.”
“How could she not, Miss Barrett, livin’ in such a house of scandal.”
“I know all ‘bout ya, Miss. I went to see Daisy yesterday on my afternoon out. She and I had a fine time talkin’ ‘bout how you was caught in the master’s bed and how the mistress of the house ordered you out. Only, the master didn’t want you to go. He said it weren’t your fault and made the mistress give you a good reference.”
“Lies—that’s all lies.” Ellen fumed.
“Yes!” Ellen hissed.
“You want to risk it?”
“What do you mean?"
“You say it’s lies, sure, but sounds pretty true to me. I think ol’ Speaight and the masters would believe it.”
“No, they would not.”
“Let’s see if they would.” Hortence growled. “You go—go to Mr. Speaight and tell him what you saw. I’ll tell him what I heard and we’ll see who comes out best.”
Ellen started as the door to the Duke’s room opened quickly. Robert peered out, raising one eyebrow. “What’s this?” He asked.
“Pardon me, Sir.” Hortence curtsied obsequiously.
“Miss Barrett?” Robert looked at Ellen. “Is there a problem?”
“Shall I tell the master,” Hortence grinned. “Or would you like to, Miss?”
Did you miss Chapters 1-10 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back on Monday, April 16, 2012 for Chapter 12.