As Fortunate as I
Charles and Gerard both rushed toward their imperiled master. Charles grabbed Mr. Punch’s attacker by the waist while Gerard forcefully gripped the man’s arms, loosening the hold that the intruder had on the Duke’s neck.
Mr. Punch gasped, stumbling backward. He looked wildly around the room, panting and groaning, and considered, for a moment, hiding behind the papier mache screen in the corner of the room. He also considered grabbing the nearby oil lamp and smashing it over this angry fellow’s head.
“Don’t hurt him, please!” Ellen pleaded, running into the room. “He doesn’t know what he’s doing.” She ran to the pale, ginger fellow—his face flushed with confusion. “Please, let him go.”
“Not a chance, Miss,” Gerard growled.
“He’s my brother,” Ellen pleaded.
“Don’t care if he’s Prince Albert himself, Miss.” Gerard snapped. “No one hurts the Duke!”
The man struggled and growled, trying to get away from Charles and Gerard, but the two men held on tightly. He growled and frothed horribly.
“Roger, please, calm down!” Ellen begged.
“Roger?” Punch sputtered. “He called himself, Victor, he did.” Punch didn’t bother trying to imitate Julian. He couldn’t have cared less if the man who’d just attacked him heard his own manner of speaking.
“I know, Sir.” Ellen said quickly. “He’s not…he’s…” She began to cry. “He’s not well, Sir. You should understand.”
“That’s enough from you!” Punch shouted angrily, feeling the sting of what Ellen had just implied. He suddenly felt quite bad about his tone, but he was too upset to apologize for it.
“Miss Barrett,” Punch continued. “You’d best go outside and shout for the beadle!”
“No, Sir. Please. Let me just talk with him.”
“He tried to kill the master!” Gerard spat. “Go get a constable, woman!”
“Please, gentlemen, let me just speak with him. He’ll listen to me.”
“Will he, then?” Punch grumbled, rubbing his tender throat. He snorted and walked to the bell-push next to the mantel. Pushing the bell, he spun around and frowned at Miss Barrett “I don’t think this bloke’s gonna listen to no one, I don’t! If you won’t go for the beadle, I’ll get someone what will.”
“Your Grace, he’s ill!” Ellen hurried toward him. She put her hands on his arm.
“Don’t touch me!” Punch shouted. Ellen quickly removed her hands.
“Sir, he’s my brother.”
“Well, then. Not a very good brother, is he?” Punch narrowed his eyes. “Came into me own house to choke me, he did. And, do you know what he said ‘bout you—his own sister? Called you a disreputable woman. Said you was a bad, fallen woman. Don’t sound like the sort of brother what a woman should be protectin’!”
Speaight hurried into the room, responding to the bell. He gasped when he saw the man being restrained by the red-face Charles and Gerard.
“Go for the beadle, Speaight!” Punch ordered. “And, be quick ‘bout it. This man tried to kill me.”
Speaight looked confused. He’d never heard that voice come from his master before. Punch didn’t care.
“Go!” Punch shouted.
“Please, Mr. Speaight. Let’s not involve the authorities,” Ellen begged. “It’s a misunderstanding. This man is my brother.”
“Miss?” Speaight squinted.
“Miss Barrett,” Punch scowled, his voice still rough. He, again, rubbed his throat which grew increasing red as welts in the shape of Roger’s fingers rose on his smooth, white flesh. “You stood here in this room and said that your brother was quite dull. This ain’t a man what’s dull, it ain’t.”
Speaight tilted his head to one side, studying his master.
Punch noticed the butler’s odd expression and realized what he’d been doing. “I’m very upset, Speaight. Forgive me.” Punch added in a manner more like the one to which Speaight was accustomed.
“Sir,” Ellen began again. “I did tell you my brother is dull. But, I was referring to my eldest brother. I have three. Roger is the baby of the family. He’s always been very protective of me.”
“So much so that he comes to me with slander against you?”
“Sir, please.” Ellen sobbed.
Robert staggered into the room—his eyes squinty and exhausted. He wore his dressing gown. “What is going on here?” Robert gasped. “I heard the commotion. What’s happened?”
Ellen hurried toward the doctor. “Sir, this man is my brother. He’s made a mistake, but he’s ill. He doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’s…he’s different. You must know exactly what I mean.” She leveled her eyes at Robert. “He thinks he’s someone else. Often. I thought he was being taken care of, but he seems to have…gotten free.”
Robert looked at Mr. Punch.
“Choked me. The man choked me.” Punch said plainly.
“What?” Robert barked. He studied the man being restrained by Charles and Gerard. “Get him out of here at once!”
“Yes, Sir.” Charles nodded firmly. With his arms still around Roger’s waist, Charles pulled the man from the room as Gerard pushed.
“Take him to my study.” Robert said quickly. “And, hold him there. Don’t let him loose.”
Charles looked confused. “Sir?”
“Just take him there, please.” Robert waved his hand. “Hold him.”
Robert ran to Punch and examined his companion’s throat. “Has he hurt you, my dear?”
“Sure, he has.” Punch moaned. He looked to Speaight. “Speaight, I don’t know what to tell you right now. Please, would you wait in the passage?”
“Yes, of course, Your Grace.” Speaight answered nervously.
With Speaight gone, Punch was able to speak more freely. “Chum, it were awful. This man came into me own house with lies ‘bout Miss Barrett and when I tried to defend her, he choked me. She says he’s her brother only this ain’t the way a brother speaks of his sister. Tellin’ lies. I know me own sister is no treat, she ain’t. But, I’d never go to a stranger to speak ill of her. And, I certainly wouldn’t tell no lies.”
“They’re not lies, Your Grace.” Ellen said softly. “What he told you was true.”
Punch snorted. “I hate to hear that, I do.” He shook his head. “Only, it’s no excuse to attack your employer.”
“I’ve been trying to tell you, Your Grace.” Ellen continued. “He doesn’t know what he’s doing.”
“Please, Miss Barrett.” Robert snapped, still examining Mr. Punch’s throat. “Hold your tongue for just one moment, would you?”
Ellen’s face flushed and she fell silent.
After awhile, Robert sighed. “You’ll have a nasty bruise, my dear.” He put his arms around Mr. Punch and hugged him tightly.
“Oh, don’t worry, Chum,” Punch said softly, feeling safer in Robert’s embrace. “I had worse, I had.”
“Why didn’t you wake me?” Robert asked. “If we had a visitor, why didn’t you wake me? I could have protected you!” He still held onto his companion.
“You was so tired, Chum.” Punch explained quietly. “I thought I could handle it, I did. We had two visitors, we did. The first one—Lady Constance—she were a nasty lot, but I got through it. But, this one…”
“Especially with that horrible letter we received the other day.” Robert released Punch from his embrace. “We can’t take any chances.”
Mr. Punch nodded. “I just wanted you to be rested.”
“I know.” Robert smiled. “But, I’ve got to look after you.”
Punch nodded again. “Sure.”
Robert put his arm supportively around Punch’s shoulders and turned to face Ellen. “As for you, Miss Barrett—what is this about?”
“Roger…” Ellen shook her head, tears welling up in her eyes again. “My youngest brother.”
“He’s always been unwell. All his life. He’s always had these fits where he’s not been himself. He can be so gentle and kind and loving. But, sometimes, Sirs, he thinks he’s someone else. Several other people, it seems. I suppose he thought he was the Baron Lensdown.”
“He told me he was. Least he tol’ me he was Victor Geddes, Miss.” Mr. Punch said, finally calmer with Robert near him.
“This is not the first time.” Ellen cried. “What Roger told you about me was the truth. I did love my last employer, the baron. He promised me that he would one day marry me. However, I soon found that it was a lie. When I left the baron’s employ, I went to see Roger and I made a mistake in telling him. He became so enraged.” She choked for a moment. “He suddenly began to act as if he was Victor—the baron. I managed to calm him down, but…” She sobbed loudly. “I thought that he’d gotten past it.”
Mr. Punch shook his head. “Now, Miss Barrett, ain’t no use in tears. Please, sit. We’ll talk ‘bout it.”
“I’ll pack my things, Sirs.” Ellen hiccupped as she sat. “Today was my afternoon out anyway. I’ll pack and leave your house immediately. Just, please, don’t call for the beadle. I’ll take my brother with me and I’ll take him to the place where he’s been kept.”
“What sort of place is this?” Robert asked.
“A private suite of rooms. I’ve hired them. That’s where my wages go. There’s a man who looks after Roger. I’ve been paying him. I suppose Roger has grown too difficult for him to monitor. I just wanted to avoid sending him to an…”
“I know.” Robert interrupted her. “That’s like a death sentence. My own mother…” He paused. “You say that he’s been like this for a long time?”
“All his life, Sir.” Ellen nodded.
Mr. Punch and Robert exchanged glances. Finally, Mr. Punch sighed. “We might as well say it, Chum. Sounds as if Roger is like me, it does. Only he don’t got the luxury of wealth what I got and havin’ a chum to keep him well.”
“I’ll take him with me within the hour,” Ellen nodded. “I shan’t return. You won’t be bothered with us again.”
“Don’t be so rash, Miss Barrett.” Robert shook his head.
“You’ve enough with which to cope, gentlemen.” Ellen replied. “You don’t need my family’s pain to add more burden to it. And, you certainly don’t want a scandalous governess for your child.”
“I don’t think you’re scandalous,” Mr. Punch smiled softly though his throat still pained him terribly. “I think maybe you fell in love with someone what hurt ya. Can’t all be as fortunate as I been. Sometimes folks fall in love with someone who ain’t true to ‘em.” He recalled his own man, Charles, who had once been in love with the Duke’s sister, Barbara—a disreputable woman if there ever was one. Charles had been deluded by Barbara and though the man’s intentions were honorable, Barbara had broken his heart and trampled his hopes. “It happens,” Mr. Punch continued. “Not everyone’s got the luck what me and Robert got.”
“No, Sir.” Ellen shook her head.
“We don’t want you to leave.” Robert agreed. “Do we, dear Punch?”
“But, sir…” Ellen began.
“As long as you wish to remain here…” Punch added.
“Of course, I do, Your Grace. I love being here. However, something must be done with Roger. We can’t send for the constable, Sirs. They would not understand. They’d treat him harshly. They’d not realize that he couldn’t help it.”
“I realize, Miss Barrett.” Mr. Punch said. “I don’t know what’s troubled your brother, but I know what it means to be different. Sounds as if your brother and I got many things in common, only, like I said, he just weren’t as fortunate as I. I don’t know what’d become of me if Dr. Halifax hadn’t helped me and protected me. Folk don’t understand me neither, they don’t. Here, I done some things like this me-self, I have. Pushed a man off a ship once. Struck folk over the head. I’ve done things what I didn’t know no better ‘bout. But, me chum, he made me understand what I were doin’. Maybe he and I—together—can help your brother. Maybe we can help him have the sort of quiet, gentle life what I got.”
“You’d consider that, even after what he’s just done to you?”
Robert and Punch smiled at her.
“Miss Barrett,” Punch shook his head. “Ain’t the first time what someone choked me. But, I hope it’s the last. Now that I see what’s…well, what the issue is, I got to help him. We both do. I’d never thought ‘bout other folk bein’ like me. I only worry ‘bout me chum and Colin and the folk in this house, but if there’s other blokes—and ladies, too—what’s like me, ain’t it our responsibility to help ‘em. Wouldn’t be right if they suffered cause folk don’t know that they’re different.”
“I concur,” Robert nodded. “We won’t call the beadle, Miss Barrett. But, will you allow me to examine Roger. Will you let me talk to him? I’d also like to accompany him back to the place where he lives so that I might speak with the man who takes care of him.”
“I’d like to go, too.” Punch smiled.
“You’d do this for us?”
“Course we would.” Punch grinned.
Tears again sprang to Ellen’s eyes. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Well, you ain’t got to say nothin’ to us. Go on upstairs to the doctor’s study and speak with your brother. Try to let him know he’s safe.”
“I will, Sir.” She nodded, rising from her chair. “Oh! What of Mr. Speaight?”
“I’ll speak with him,” Robert answered. “I’ll tell him that we’ll take care of the situation. But, please, ask Charles and Gerard to stay with you while you speak with your brother. If you would, tell them that once I’ve dressed, I’ll join you all.”
“Oh, thank you. Both of you, Sirs. I’m so grateful.”
“On with ya, then…” Punch nodded.
With that, Ellen hurried from the room.
Alone with Punch, Robert embraced his companion again.
“I really am fine, Chum.” Punch whispered.
“See that you stay that way.”
“I never thought, truly I didn’t, ‘bout there bein’ any others like me.”
“I have,” Robert sighed.
“Oh?” Mr. Punch asked.
“I’d like to speak with you about that later, dear Punch.”
“Sure,” Punch nodded. “But, first, let’s help this poor man as best we can.”
Robert looked into Punch’s eyes. “How is it possible that I admire you more each day?”
“Dunno.” Punch shrugged. “Guess we both feel the same.”
“You are correct, dear Punch, we are fortunate.”
“All the more reason to give this fella a chance, Chum.” Punch sighed. “Maybe he can have the same freedom one day.”
“We’ll see to it, dear Punch.” Robert nodded. “I swear it.”
Did you miss Chapters 1-23? If so, you can read them in the Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square Chapter Archive. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 25.