For the Best
“Bloody rotten teeth,” Mr. Punch grumbled as he counted out the contents of the little velvet pouch which Prince Albert had thrown at him.
He looked up at Robert who sat nearby. “Does he really think the Queen’s gonna want to wear a brooch all hung full of teeth?”
Robert smiled, looking up from his copy of “The Illustrated London News.” “Didn’t you once make a bracelet for Her Majesty which included the milk teeth of Princess Victoria and Prince Bertie?”
“No,” Punch shook his head. He paused for a moment, “Or did I?” he scratched his head, frowning. “Coulda done. To be sure, chum, I don’t remember all what Julian did—not with the business. When he were doin’ jeweler things, I tended to stop payin’ attention. ‘Spose I could look through his records.” He grunted. “Wait a tick. No, I know we didn’t do that. I’d remember that. Musta been Garrard’s. No wonder Her Majesty granted them the task of cuttin’ the Koh-i-Noor last year. They earned it with all them little infant teeth.”
“Ah,” Robert nodded, folding his paper and walking across the luxurious library of No. 65 Belgrave Square to put his hands gently on Punch’s shoulders. “I’m impressed that you remember that. I didn’t even know that about the Koh-i-noor.”
“Funny what I remember and what I don’t, ain’t it? Long ago I gave me-self the task of bein’ the keeper o’ information.” He sniffed. “Sure, I’m certain I didn’t have nothin’ to do with that baby tooth bracelet. It were a bracelet. I know it. It were Garard’s.”
“I imagine one would recall handling a sack of little royal teeth.” Robert joked, rubbing Punch’s shoulders.
“At least those teeth woulda been small, they would. These are big. Big and ugly.”
“Animal teeth aren’t the most attractive.” Robert nodded, reaching down to pick up one of them. He studied it and chuckled, replacing it on the velvet cloth which Punch had placed over the japanned table at which he sat. “How many are there.”
“Thirty-two.” Punch snorted. “How many stags did the bloke have to kill to get all these teeth?”
“I’m not sure how many teeth a stag has.” Robert shrugged. “I didn’t study stag anatomy. Only people.”
“All I know is that there’s far too many for a brooch, less we want it to be drippin’ with the things. And, I don’t think she’ll want to wear that. Maybe I’ll make a necklace, too. Poor woman, Queen or not, she’s with child. Ain’t no woman with a baby in her belly gonna want to wear a necklace o’ teeth nor even a pin.”
“She’ll have borne the child by the anniversary of her own birth.” Robert patted Punch’s shoulder.
“Is that so?”
“I just read about it, in fact,” Robert nodded, pulling out the chair next to Punch’s and taking a seat at the table. “She should give birth in early April.”
“Lot of children, them two.” Punch nodded. He wrinkled his nose. “Here, you think Colin’ll want a brother or sister?”
Robert smiled. “Regardless of whether or not he does, I highly doubt we’ll be having more children.”
“Oh…right.” Punch sighed. “We can’t do that.”
“No.” Robert laughed.
“For the best, then.” Mr. Punch replied. “That way, Colin’ll always get all our love and ‘tention.”
“Yes,” Robert nodded.
Robert watched as Mr. Punch squinted at the velvet cloth covered in teeth. Very carefully and methodically, Punch arranged five of the teeth into a cluster in one corner, and, then, with just his index finger, dragged each of the twenty-seven remaining bits into an arc in the center.”
“I think…” Punch muttered. “The necklace could be done in the Etruscan style…with little drops in rose gold in between. Maybe garnets, too. Wee garnets. Or demantoid--them's green garnets. Her Majesty likes them, she does.” He looked up and nodded, smiling. “What you think?”
"Red or green?" Mr. Punch asked.
"Red." Robert smiled. "Punch red."
“Coo!" Mr. Punch chirped gaily. "And, then, at the clasp, we could hang a wee gold oak leaf to match the pin.” Mr. Punch grinned.
“You’re quite clever at this.”
Mr. Punch shrugged. “Never thought so. It’s Julian what’s clever. I just…you know…like I did today. I’m parroting him.”
“But, Julian didn’t just have that idea. Did he? You came up with that design on your own.”
“I did, I ‘spose. Only because that’s what he’d do.”
“So, you’re not just parroting. You’re thinking independently.”
“If you say so,” Mr. Punch laughed.
Robert paused for a moment to weigh his words—all the while he could hear his brother’s voice in his head. “Robert, you must write your book. Write of Mr. Punch. Tell his story so that others like him can be helped. You can’t truly imagine he’s the only one like him.”
Punch looked up. “There you go, ‘gain, Chum. What you thinkin’ ‘bout so hard?”
“I was just wondering about something.”
“Do you ever…” He sighed. “Do you ever wonder how it works?”
“It?” Mr. Punch widened his eyes. “What…it?”
“You. You and Julian?”
“And the others.” Punch raised an eyebrow.
“Well, they’ve been very quiet since we returned, but, yes, them, too. You all live together in that body. You’ve told me that you can hear them speaking.”
“Sometimes. Not all the time. Mostly Julian.”
“And, you recall things that Julian saw and did.” Robert continued. “That’s how, in your own words, you’re able to do what you’re doing now and how you were able to so brilliantly navigate our interview with His Majesty this morning. And how you've been able to converse in French with Adrienne...”
Mr. Punch nodded.
“So, how does it all function? You’re in control of them all.”
Mr. Punch frowned. “I don’t know and I don’t much like thinkin’ ‘bout it, Chum. Ain’t a concern how it works long as it does.” His bottom lip began to quiver. "Ain't..." He gulped. "Ain't nothin' long as it works..."
With a snort, Mr. Punch rose from his chair and walked away from the table, retreating behind the papier mache screen in the corner of the room.
Robert rose, too. His eyes feeling hot. He wanted to cry.
“Dear, dear Punch,” Robert called out, following his companion. He found Punch seated—his back against the wall—behind the screen, his knees drawn up to his chest and his face resting on his knees. He was crying softly.
“Oh, my dear.” Robert knelt down next to Punch. “Forgive me. I didn’t mean to upset you. I truly didn’t. I’d never wish to do anything to upset you. Please, forgive me.”
Mr. Punch looked up, tears running down his face. He wiped his eyes on his sleeve. “I know. Only I don’t like thinkin’ ‘bout it.”
“I’m sorry that I asked. It’s just that I’m…well, I’m curious. Remember, I’m a doctor. I’m a scientist. So, naturally, my mind becomes curious…”
“I un’erstand.” Punch nodded. “Only…”
“Only I don’t got no answers. I’m doin’ the best what I can.”
“You’re doing brilliantly—splendidly. I was so impressed today. You were exquisite. You always are.”
Mr. Punch shook his head and frowned. “I ain’t though. I’m an imitation. I ain’t really Julian. I’m a fake.”
“No.” Robert said firmly. “You are no such thing. You’re your own man—clever and talented in your own right. You’re loving and kind and good.”
“But, I ain’t Julian.” Mr. Punch answered, wiping his eyes again.
“No.” Robert replied.
“Do you wish I was?”
“No.” Robert took Mr. Punch’s hand.
“It were him what you loved first. Not me. You gotta miss him.”
“I do miss him, but I don’t love him more than you. I’d say that I loved you both equally, but it’s not true.”
“I thought so.”
“Hear me out, dear Punch.” Robert said quickly. “I love you more. It’s a fact. Honestly, dear Punch, my time with Julian was short. Most of this time has been spent with you. It was you I was with mostly in America and it was with you I came here to make a home. Julian is something of a memory now. You share a body with him, so, of course, you’re similar looking. But, despite the shared shell, you even look different. You’re the one I chose to live with, to raise Colin with. It’s you that I love. When I ask questions it’s not because I want Julian back, it’s because I care about you and I wonder how…it…how your mind, how everything works for you. It’s because I want to maintain your happiness and health. For no other reason.”
“Yes, really.” Robert replied, rising to his feet and offering both hands to Punch.
Punch took Robert’s hands and allowed himself to be pulled to his feet.
Robert embraced Punch. “Never doubt my affection and loyalty. Nothing will ever change that and I want nothing more than to share each moment with you—dear Punch.”
“Only it’s got to be difficult for ya.” Punch pulled back a bit.
Robert held on tightly.
“I wouldn’t say that it’s difficult. I’d say that it’s exciting and interesting. And, I know I’d not want it to be any other way.”
Punch chuckled happily. “Sorry I were a actin' like a baby just now.”
“I’m sorry that I upset you.”
“Nah.” Mr. Punch sniffed. “Ain’t nothin’ to worry ‘bout. I ‘spose it’s already been a long day for both of us. Maybe we're all on edge. First, you had to dismiss that awful Hortence…”
“Yes,” Robert sighed, leading Punch from out behind the screen and into the library.
“And, then, we had the Prince who, let’s be honest, ain’t the most pleasant company.”
“No.” Robert laughed.
“You know what we need?”
“What’s that?” Robert asked.
“Let’s take tea in the nursery with Colin and Miss Barrett and Dog Toby.”
“I think that’s a grand idea.”
“We can tell ‘em both ‘bout the Palace and all them…” he frowned, glancing at the table… “teeth.”
“Let’s.” Robert nodded.
As they walked from the library, Robert glanced up at the many books which lined the walls. He resolved then that his own would never be among them.
Did you miss Chapters 1-14? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 16 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square.