“Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear…” Mr. Punch mumbled happily as he lifted the silver domes of the various chafing dishes which lined the sideboard in the morning room of his magnificent Belgrave Square home. He lingered over each one, sniffing its contents and licking his lips as he imagined the many different combinations of foods that he could enjoy.
“Sausages…” he muttered gaily. “Sausages, sausages, sausages, sausages…and…oh! Mushrooms. Beans and mushrooms and eggs. Nice, lovely soft eggs.”
He happily wandered to the end of the sideboard and quickly grabbed a bright white china plate-rimmed with gold and adorned in the center with the Fallbridge arms.
“Chum don’t know what he’s missin’.” Mr. Punch sighed, shaking his head as he bemoaned Robert’s early appointment. “How’s he gonna eat what with havin’ to doctor everyone in Belgravia?” He sniffed the air. “Oh! Toast. Lovely, lovely, lovely. Lovely buttered toast. And marmalade. Lovely marmalade.” He giggled to himself. “Fine, it’s fine. Bein’ a Duke is fine.”
Our Mr. Punch was so engrossed with the task of filling his plate that he didn’t hear Ellen slip into the sunny room. She paused, waiting for him to finish. Ellen couldn’t help but smile as she watched her master pace back in forth and front of the sideboard—lifting one cloche after another, setting down and then picking up his plate. He hummed softly to himself—some jaunty tune which one might hear at a country fete. She didn’t wish to interrupt his joy—especially with the envelope which itched her hand. Looking around the cheerful, gold-colored room, she continued to watch Mr. Punch until he grunted contentedly and grabbed a napkin to settle into one of the plush aubergine-upholstered chairs.
“Miss Barrett!” Mr. Punch chirped, setting down his plate. “It’s breakfast!”
Ellen nodded, glad to be noticed by the Duke/Mr. Punch—glad, yet filled with dread.
“It’s sausages and eggs and mushrooms and lovely beans and buttered toast. And kidneys—only I don’t like them so much. Me chum…Robert…Dr. Halifax does. Maybe you do, too. Would you like some?”
“No, thank you, Your Grace.” Ellen shook her head.
“Don’t have to have kidneys, you don’t.” Mr. Punch laughed. “Have some fine sausages. Mrs. Pepper don’t get ‘em from the butcher, she don’t. Makes ‘em here her own self. Wonderful, they are. Have some! Oh—and some eggs. They’re yellow. Quite nice.”
“I’ve eaten, Sir.” Ellen smiled.
“Oh—good for you, then. Don’t want to eat again?”
“No, thank you.”
“Here, has me boy eaten?”
“Yes, Your Grace, Colin has had his breakfast. He’s upstairs with Gamilla, getting his bath.”
“That’s fine.” Mr. Punch nodded, lifting a forkful to his mouth and gobbling it up happily.
“Mmmm…” He chewed and swallowed. “Had me bath already, I did.” Wrinkling his nose, he blushed. “Maybe I hadn’t ought to say that to a lady.”
“I don’t mind, Your Grace.”
“Come talk to me!” Mr. Punch chirped. “At least have some toast. Dr. Halifax has got a patient, he does. Had to leave early. Don’t like to eat by me-self. Come, sit! Tell me of things in the nursery. I’d like that, I would.”
“Well, Your Grace, if you’ll pardon me, I have come to talk with you. However, it can wait until after you’ve breakfasted.”
“Nah!” Mr. Punch chuckled. “Talk to me now. I take a long time, I do. I love breakfast. It’s the meal what’s got sausages. I like sausages. All Mr. Punchs do and as I’m the one what’s got a real mouth, I gotta eat for all of us.”
Ellen nodded slowly, squinting for a moment as she considered the bit of sense in what he’d said.
“The others is puppets,” he added by way of clarification.
“What’s that?” Mr. Punch pointed to the envelope in her hand. “It’s got a flower on it. What’s it?”
“A carnation, Sir.”
“Pretty.” Mr. Punch smiled, taking another forkful. “Yellow--like this room, like the eggs! Nice. Ought to put it in water. Who gave you a flower? You got an admirer?”
Mr. Punch put down his fork and tilted his head to one side. “Here, you sick? Come sit by the fire here. It’s warm.”
“I couldn’t, Your Grace.”
“Don’t want you standin’ while I’m sittin’. Ain’t nice.” Mr. Punch smiled.
“As you wish, Sir.” Ellen said, walking over to sit in the chair next to Mr. Punch. She placed the envelope on the table.
“That’s me name!” Mr. Punch pointed.
“Yes, Sir, this is for you.”
“Who’d send me a flower? Is it from Dr. Halifax? Is it a present.” He asked excitedly. “I like presents, I do. Dr. Halifax always brings me somethin’ when he goes out. He’s such a good bloke.”
“It’s not from Dr. Halifax, Sir. I don’t know who sent it.”
“Where’d you get it?” Mr. Punch asked.
“I found it last night. At the front door, Your Grace.”
“For me?” Mr. Punch’s eyes widened.
“Give it here, then.”
“Wouldn’t you care to finish your breakfast first?” Ellen asked.
“I can do both!” Mr. Punch declared proudly.
Ellen reluctantly pushed the envelope across the table. Punch snatched it up happily.
“Sir, I feel there’s something I should tell you.” Ellen began as she watched Punch break the envelope’s wax seal and open it. “In my last place, Sir…”
"Nice," Mr. Punch removed a letter from the envelope, gently setting the yellow carnation on the table with the black ribbon which had bound the flower to the parcel. He unfolded the letter and began reading. As he did, his smile faded and his eyebrows raised.
“You see,” Ellen continued awkwardly. “I didn’t mention this when I interviewed with you. I didn’t see…well, it’s very complicated, Sir…”
Mr. Punch looked up and said gently. “Miss Barrett, I want to hear your story. I truly do. I like to hear stories. Sometimes I repeat them—not to folks what talk, but to puppets and statues and such. But, I like to. Only, I think I’d better keep lookin’ at this first. It confuses me.”
Ellen blushed, sitting silently as Mr. Punch finished reading the letter. He grumbled irritably and set down the page, looking up at Miss Barrett. “Well, this ain’t nice at all.”
“I can explain, Your Grace.” Ellen whispered emotionally.
“Can you?” Mr. Punch pushed the page across to her. “Cuz I can’t make heads nor tails o’ it. I’m glad you can help.”
Ellen quickly read the letter. She’d never before felt such a sense of combined relief and dread. The contents of the letter were not what she expected at all. They had nothing whatsoever to do with her. However, her employer was correct. They weren’t nice at all.
“What’s it mean?” Mr. Punch asked.
“Your Grace…” Ellen began, unsure of what to say.
“It says that I’m gonna be ruined. It says that all of London will know that I’m…what’s the word it says?”
“Yeah—that. And, it says I’m mad! And, that they’re gonne tell Her Majesty!” Punch stood up and began pacing the room. “You don’t think I’m mad, do ya?”
“No, Sir.” Ellen replied. “I think you’re one of the sanest men I’ve ever known.”
“Who’d write such a thing?” Mr. Punch whimpered, realizing the weight of the letter’s content. “Why’d anyone want to hurt me? And…and…it ain’t signed. What sort of coward don’t sign a letter?”
“The sort of coward who would write such a letter.” Ellen answered sadly.
“Who’d want to do that to me?” Mr. Punch mumbled. “I don’t know nobody. I stay in the house. I ain’t never hurt no one. Well…not here. I hit a policeman with a statue in New Orleans, but he lived. And, I hit a mean lady with a lamp—or was it an umbrella?—in New Orleans, too. But, she weren’t hurt. But, I been a good Punch since I been here. I ain’t dissipated. I don’t drink spirits nor do nothin’ wrong, I don’t…”
“I know, Sir.”
“And, ‘sides that, who knows me well ‘nough to make such a threat?”
“Sir, I think the obvious answer is Hortence.”
“Hortence?” Mr. Punch sputtered. “What’s she got to do with anythin’?”
“Well, she did threaten Dr. Halifax when he dismissed her. She said she’d go to the newspapers and expose you as…”
“Mad?” Mr. Punch’s eyes widened.
“Did she? Why didn’t no one tell me that? Why didn’t…” He coughed. “Why didn’t me chum…” He sat down again, looking terribly hurt. “He’s ‘sposed to tell me all what happens here.”
“I’m sure that Dr. Halifax was only trying to protect you, Your Grace.”
Mr. Punch whimpered. “Only that ain’t how it goes. Can’t be protected from what I don’t know ‘bout.”
“I’m sorry to have brought this to you, Your Grace.” Ellen bowed her head.
“Ain’t your fault. You didn’t write it.” Mr. Punch muttered. “Don’t mean to be rude, Miss, only, I think maybe I’d like to be alone.”
Ellen stood up, leaving the letter on the table. “Of course, Sir.”
“Thank you.” Mr. Punch mumbled.
“May I offer you some advice?”
“May as well, then.” Mr. Punch sighed.
“Perhaps you might…” Ellen shook her head. “Well, if I were you, Sir, I wouldn’t judge Dr. Halifax too strongly. His motives were pure and based on affection.”
Mr. Punch nodded.
“Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to assist you with this situation.” Ellen added.
“I will.” Mr. Punch answered softly.
Ellen bowed her head and left the room without another word.
Alone, Mr. Punch began to cry. Rising again, he walked to the window and peered out over Belgrave Square and waited…waited for Robert to come home.
Did you miss Chapters 1-17 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 19.