Mr. Punch pressed his face against the carriage window and mumbled. “Bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce.”
He looked up at Robert who sat next to him. Patting Robert’s knee contentedly, he continued, “Bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce.”
“Bounce, bounce, bounce,” Mr. Punch continued, leaving his hand on Robert’s knee, but twisting his trunk so he could look out of the window again. “Bounce, bounce, bou…I got feet” He paused, squeezing Robert’s knee.
“Pardon, dear Punch?” Robert chuckled.
Looking up with wide, excited eyes, he smiled. “I got feet, I do.”
“Yes?” Robert nodded.
“Yes.” Mr. Punch smiled again.
“I have seen them.” Robert winked.
“Yes.” Mr. Punch nodded happily. “You got feet as well.”
“Then, why we gotta ride in this carriage? Ain’t as if the palace is so far from Belgrave Sqaure what we can’t walk.”
“Oh,” Robert laughed. “I thought we were taking inventory of body parts. I was about to inform you that I have clavicles.”
Mr. Punch squinted. “Do I got those?”
“Two of them.”
“Coo.” Mr. Punch mumbled, looking down to study his body.
“To address your concern, dear Punch,” Robert interrupted, “though I know you don’t care for riding, we’re taking the carriage since it seemed in poor form for the two of us to walk up to the palace gates and demand entrance.”
“Ah.” Mr. Punch replied, trailing off into another chorus of, “bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce…”
Pausing to puff out his cheeks and sigh, Punch, again looked at Robert. He raised one eyebrow and squeezed his friend’s knee once more. “Penny for ‘em.”
Robert tilted his head to one side.
“You got somethin’ what’s botherin’ you.” Mr. Punch continued, sitting upright.
“No.” Robert shook his head.
“Sure you do.” Mr. Punch grinned. “You’re worried. Only, Chum, ain’t nothin’ for you to be worried ‘bout, there ain’t. I ain’t gonna make no mistakes. Honest I won’t. See, I been practicin’.” He cleared his throat and narrowed his eyes slightly. Then, in a voice that was not his own, but one that was very natural—in fact more so natural than his usual manner—he said clearly, “Good morning, Your Majesty. We were ever-so overjoyed by your invitation. May it please Your Majesty to introduce my companion, Dr. Robert Halifax?” He whooped loudly. “See? Don’t I sound like Julian? He’d never know I was different, ol’ German Albert wouldn’t.”
Robert smiled sweetly. “Very well done. I’m sure Julian is quite proud.”
“I think so.” Mr. Punch nodded absent-mindedly. “He talks to me some from in there. If he were bothered, he’d speak up. See, you ain’t got to worry. I’m gonna do it. For you. And for Colin. For Julian, too.”
“I had no doubt of it.” Robert replied. “You were correct in that I’ve some things on my mind, but not a one of them was a worry about your ability to manage this interview with His Majesty.”
“Oh,” Mr. Punch snorted. “Well, good. But, what’s eatin’ ya, Chum? Go on and tell ol’ Red Nose. Best do it now before I gotta pretend to be Julian.”
“It’s nothing, really.”
“Were it the trouble with Hortence ‘fore we left? All ya told me was that you dismissed her. Good riddance, I say. Were there somethin’ else?”
“Nothing to concern us now.”
“I don’t think so.” Robert forced a smile.
“Hmmm…” Mr. Punch wrinkled his nose. “You ain’t tellin’ me the whole thing. Can’t do that, chum. Gotta tell me what’s goin’ on.”
“Oh, Hortence was just unpleasant.”
“Sure, she was.” Punch shrugged. “Always was. Did she yell?”
“Yes.” Robert nodded.
“I hate that.” Mr. Punch sighed. “Ain’t no good in it. Pity you had to hear loud voices. I’m awful sorry.” He put his head on Robert’s shoulder.
Robert smiled broadly. “My dear Punch, you are a treasure. I feel better already. To be honest, however, I was actually a little worried about meeting the Prince Consort.”
“You?” Mr. Punch asked.
“Yes, my dear.” Robert smiled sheepishly. “As I’ve said, I’ve not had any interaction with Royalty before.”
“You got me.” Mr. Punch nodded. “I ain’t a Majesty, but I’m a ‘Grace.’ And, you do fine with me. Sure, I aon’t of the blood Royal, only a duke’s only one tick below a prince, you know.”
Robert took Mr. Punch’s hand. “I’m glad to hear you say it.”
“That you’re a Duke. I’m proud of you for…”
Mr. Punch interrupted, shaking his head. “You been tellin’ me for so long that I gotta be both me and the Duke that I guess it finally stuck. So, if there’s anyone what you ought to be proud of, it should be you, Chum. Now, you listen to me. You ain’t got no reason to be nervous. You’re the man what taught me how to be a gentleman ‘stead o’ just some wild puppet-man livin’ in a gentleman’s body. If I can do it, you surely can. You’re the one what taught me all I know.”
“Now, that’s settled.” Punch sighed. He gasped, pointing out the window. “Look! There’s the palace. All wide and fine. It’s a handsome place. And, think, in there is Prince Albert, waitin’ for us. And, in there, too, is the Queen what knows who we are. Wish she was gonna be there today only it’s just gonna be the Prince Consort. Her Majesty’s nicer—a little bit anyway. Prince Albert—he calls me ‘Fallbridge.’ I remember from the times I was inside me master when he visited with Their Majesties. Didn’t call him ‘Julian’ neither—just ‘Fallbridge.’ I wanted to shout. ‘Our name ain’t Fallbridge, it’s Molliner.’ Only, I didn’t.”
“It’s one of the peculiarities of your rank, dear Punch. Your surname ceases to matter. Your title takes preference. And, so, I’m afraid, in Society, gentlemen of an equal or higher rank will always call you ‘Fallbridge.’”
“Don’t like it none.” Mr. Punch grumbled. “Makes me think of our ma.”
“She’s long gone, dear Punch.” Robert smiled. He sighed.
“Thinkin’ of your own ma, are ya?”
“I am.” Robert nodded slowly. “You know me so well. I wonder what my mother would have said knowing that I was on my way to see the Prince Consort.”
“She’d be proud.” Mr. Punch said gently.
“I hope so.” Robert sighed again.
“Here, I wonder if we’ll get tea.”
“Probably.” Robert chuckled. “I’m sure we’ll be offered refreshment.”
“If I get a choice, you know what I’ll ask for?”
“No.” Robert raised an eyebrow.
“Punch.” Mr. Punch winked.
Robert laughed, shaking his head.
“We’re stoppin’.” Punch pointed to the window as the driver paused at the gates, presenting their invitation.
As the gates opened. Mr. Punch moved across the plush padded bench, pushing the side of his body against Robert.
“Let me jus’ say somethin’ quick-like, Chum.”
“You’re always tellin’ me that you’re proud of me. But, I want you to know that I’m proud of you, Chum. For me, the only good thing today is that I get to walk into that big ol’ palace with you at me side and say to the Prince Consort that you’re me chum. There’s a lot more what I’d like to tell ‘im, too, there is. How you’re good to me and how you take care of me and Colin and how you play with Dog Toby and make us all smile. It’s you what makes our days so good and it’s you what makes our home happy. It’s you what makes me strong. Remember on the ship on the way to America when you was 'xplainin' to Julian 'bout me and how he was more than one fella?”
"Yes," Robert replied emotionally.
"You said you was our 'champion.'"
"And you done jus' that. Ain't ya? Well, it's time for me to be your champion. Not just that, but I'll be 'our champion' what even better cuz it includes Colin, too. Oh, and Dog Toby."
Robert choked a bit. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Don’t say nothin’.” Mr. Punch winked. “Just stretch your back. You’re gonna have to bow in a few minutes, you are. And, it gets terrible uncomfortable after a spell, it does.”
They sat in silence as the carriage approached the palace.
Did you miss Chapters 1-12 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 14.