Two days had passed since Ellen Barrett had interviewed at No. 65 Belgrave Square. She spent those two days gathering up her few belongings and preparing to move into her new accommodations in the household of the Duke of Fallbridge.
The day of her arrival was a joyous one. She was greeted at the door by the Duke’s butler, Speaight, whom she had only met briefly on the day of her interview. Tall and robust with thinning, carrot-colored hair, the man was friendlier than he let on and showed a twinkle in his eye that indicated a keen sense of humor.
Ellen liked him immediately.
Speaight explained that he had been given instructions by the Duke and the doctor to show Ellen to her room and make sure that she had everything she needed.
“Master Colin is with His Grace and Dr. Halifax in the drawing room. The child has gotten in the habit of spending the mornings there. His Grace loves to dote on the boy. Many is the day that, come tea time, they are still on the floor in front of the fire, playing with the Dog Toby.” Speaight told the new governess as they walked up the stairs to the day nursery and Ellen’s adjoining room.
“That’s very charming, Mr. Speaight.” Ellen smiled.
“Yes, I suppose,” Speaight answered with a spark in his eyes. “I imagine that will all change now that you’re here.”
“I don’t know.” Ellen nodded. “I believe a child should spend as much time with his parent as the parent will allow. So many men, especially men in the Duke’s position, don’t take time with their children.”
Speaight sighed. “Yes, Miss.” He showed her to her room and instructed her to ring should she need anything.
Alone in her room for the first time, Ellen studied her new home. It was a small room, but warm and well-appointed. Unlike her quarters in her previous household, this room was filled with new furnishings—not the usual hand-me-downs to which she had become accustomed. The walls were papered in a cheerful floral print which matched the hangings and draperies. Bright paintings of flowers and fruit filled the walls and a crystal vase of fresh Spring flowers—pink, yellow, orange and violet—sat on the writing desk. She knew at once that she would be quite comfortable there.
She smiled as a soft knock on the door startled her slightly.
“Come in,” Ellen responded.
Gamilla entered the room, sheepishly, at first. “Miss, Mr. Speaight done asked me to help ya settle in.”
“I don’t think it will take too long, Gamilla,” Ellen smiled, happy to see the woman again. “However, I’m very glad of the company.”
Gamilla nodded and walked over to a tall chest of drawers, pulling out one drawer. She pointed inside. “I made some pomanders and put ‘em in here. They’ll make your things smell nice.”
“How kind,” Ellen grinned, studying Gamilla’s handiwork. “And, so very pretty.”
Gamilla was genuinely pleased and smiled accordingly. “His Grace asked me to make sure you were not hungry. He’s always very worried ‘bout folk bein’ hungry. Dr. Halifax instructed Mrs. Pepper to make up a tray. I’ll bring it up to ya when ya like.”
“She’s the cook, Miss. A fine cook , too. Though, it ain’t the kind of food I’m used to.”
“You’re from America?”
“Yes.” Gamilla nodded. “I guess you could say I am. I’m from there as much as I’m from anywhere. But, that’s where I’d been the longest—in Louisiana. Food here is different. Seems like folk boil everything here.” She shrugged. “Still, it’s good. And, she makes fine-lookin’ things for upstairs. His Grace seems happy with it. Still, I ‘spect he gave her the position for her name. It is funny, huh?”
“There is some novelty to a cook called ‘Pepper.’” Ellen laughed. “So, there’s a large staff here?”
“I dunno if it’s large by English standards. But, it sure is big compared to what I knew in Louisiana. There, most folk work outside with only a few house-workers. Here, outside, we only got the gardener, Jim. He lives out in the mews with the head groom, Hutchinson. He drives the carriage for His Grace and the Duke--Hutchinson. But, I reckon that’s all they need what with only that walled-off bit of land out back.”
“Did you have much land at your last household?”
“Oh, sure. Far as you could see when we was in Marionneaux. See, I used to work for Dr. Halifax’s family. Mr. Halifax, he’s a sculptor, but they got a plantation like most folk in those parts. Sugar cane. Lovely land.”
“You must have met the Duke and Dr. Halifax when they were abroad.”
“That’s right,” Gamilla nodded. “They was both so kind to me. When they came back, they asked if I could come, too, and, they brought me all the way here.”
“That was very kind of them, indeed.”
“Sure,” Gamilla smiled proudly.
“Do you like England?”
“I do. It’s different and most folk don’t understand what I’m sayin’ and I don’t understand what’ they’re sayin’. But, it’s pretty. And, so old! Everythin’ in America is new, but here—there’s…history, you know. And, the folk downstairs is all so nice. Besides that, I feel very loyal to Dr. Halifax and Mr. Punch. I owe them so much. Ain’t nothin’ I wouldn’t do for them.”
“Who’s Mr. Punch?” Ellen raised her eyebrows, recalling what she overheard the day of her interview and the many rumors which had clogged her ears the weeks before she first visited the house.
“Did I say, ‘Mr. Punch?’” Gamilla asked nervously.
“You did,” Ellen smiled softly.
“Excuse me.” Gamilla said quickly, “I meant, ‘His Grace.’”
“Ah.” Ellen nodded, turning to fold a stack of shirt-waists.
“Let me do that for ya,” Gamilla volunteered.
“If you wouldn’t mind,” Ellen grinned, reaching into her trunk for more.
“Miss,” Gamilla began hesitantly.
“You won’t tell no one what I said. Will ya?”
“If you don’t want me to.” Ellen replied comfortingly. “I suppose you mean about calling His Grace by that other name.”
“I do.” Gamilla whispered. “See, it’s just, I got used to callin’ him that in Louisiana. It’s…well, I guess an affectionate name that Dr. Halifax has for the Duke. He don’t mind me callin’ him that. But, see, the doctor tol’ me I ought not to refer to His Grace as ‘Mr. Punch’ here cuz folk wouldn’t…well…”
“It’s quite fine, Gamilla.”
“Thank you, Miss.”
“May I ask you one question?”
“I reckon.” Gamilla winced, knowing what was coming.
“Why does Dr. Halifax refer to His Grace as ‘Mr. Punch’? It’s a rather unusual affectionate name for a Duke. You may not be familiar with the English puppet show, but…”
“Oh, I know it.” Gamilla replied proudly. “First thing the Duke did when I arrived was take me to Covent Garden—Colin and the doctor, too—to see the puppet show. Oh, he goes all the time. He loves it. I thought it was wonderful.”
“So, the Duke enjoys the puppet show?” Ellen asked. “Is this why the doctor refers to him thusly?”
“Miss,” Gamilla shook her head seriously. “I want us to be friends. I truly do. But, I gotta tell ya what I tell them others downstairs. I can’t tell ya nothin’ ‘bout the doctor and His Grace. If they want you to know somethin’, they’ll tell it themselves.”
“You’re very loyal.” Ellen patted Gamilla’s shoulder.
“They been very good to me.”
Ellen realized that she should not ask anything further about the Duke of Fallbridge, and, so, decided to change the subject.
“You’d mentioned that Mrs. Pepper…” Ellen chuckled.
Gamilla joined her.
“That Mrs. Pepper was making up a tray for me.”
“That’s right.” Gamilla nodded.
“Do you think Mr. Speaight would mind if I took my meals with the others downstairs?”
“I don’t think he’d mind. He’s a right friendly fella, Mr. Speaight is.” Gamilla shrugged. “I know Mrs. Pepper would be relieved for to not have to make up a tray special. But, why would you want to eat in the servants’ hall when you could stay in your pretty room?”
“Well, Gamilla, being a governess can be somewhat lonely. I come from a large family. As a girl, I always had people around me. However, in my profession, I’m rather stuck, you see. I’m not quite a servant, and not quite a…a regular person.”
“I get ya.” Gamilla replied. “I feel like I’m stuck all the time. I reckon we’re all different in our own way. I feel alone sometimes, too. Don’t see many folk like me here. Oh, please don’t mistake me. Everyone’s so good to me here. But, when I go out I feel like I’m all alone. In Louisiana, you’d see hundreds of folks like me every day.”
“Will you tell Mr. Speaight and Mrs. Pepper that I’ll be joining all of you?”
“I will.” Gamilla nodded.
“Is there a housekeeper?”
“No.” Gamilla shook her head. “His Grace and Dr. Halifax decided that we don’t need one. Mr. Speaight—he’s in charge.”
“Tell me about the rest of the staff, please.” Ellen paused, sitting on the bed—enjoying wholly her chat with her new friend and the thrill of being in a new household.
“Well, I reckon we’d best start from the top. There’s Mr. Speaight, of course. You done met him. Then, there’s Charles. He’s the first footman and the Duke’s valet. He was with us in Louisiana. That’s where Mr. Pun…oh! Pardon me.” She blushed, continuing. “That’s where His Grace found him.”
“I met Charles,” Ellen nodded, ignoring Gamilla’s slip, but still curious about the peculiar pet name given to the strange, yet obviously benevolent Duke. “He’s the thin, dark-haired man.”
“Yes.” Gamilla smiled. “He’s Italian. His family name is Iantosca. Then, there’s Gerard Gurney. Gerard’s the second footman.”
Ellen noticed a sweet smile passing across Gamilla’s lips as she mentioned Gerard.
“He’s a nice man?”
“Oh, yes. Very nice. He’s the good-lookin’ blond man with the hazel eyes. See, Gerry’s—we call him Gerry downstairs—the doctor’s valet. Gerry was with us in New Orleans, too. He’s from these parts though. I think he’s got folk in…what’s the place? Australia? He and Charles serve at table sometimes when Mr. Speaight ain’t doing it.”
“I look forward to meeting this Gerard.”
“Then, there’s Mrs. Pepper.” Gamilla giggled again. “You know what else is funny ‘bout her? She’s so durn skinny. You’d think a cook would be fat. But, not her. She’s nice ‘nough, but she’s got a temper. She’s got a kitchen maid—Jenny—and a scullery maid—Ethel. Ethel’s a mouse of a thing and looks like she’d crack if you touched her, but she’s strong as a bull. And, Jenny, well she’s an Irish girl and has cryin’ fits from time to time. But, they’re both nice ‘nough.”
“Now, you’re a parlor maid?”
“I am. There’s an upper-house maid. Her name is Violet, but we all call her Vi. She’s a pretty blonde girl—awful sweet. And, then, there’s Hortence. She’s the under-house maid. She’s a mean one, I hate to say. She’s terrible fussy. I don’t think she’s gonna last too long, for true.”
“That’s a shame.” Ellen chuckled.
“Mr. Speaight—he thinks that Hortence should act as nursery maid. But, She don’t want to do it.”
“I’d much rather you were the nursery maid.” Ellen shook her head. “I suppose that’s not fair, not really knowing Hortence, but I feel that you and I get on so very well.”
“I’d like that, Miss.” Gamilla said eagerly.
“Especially since you’ve had so much experience with Master Colin already.”
“He’s such a good boy.” Gamilla gushed. “I done known him since he was just a few months old. Such a sweet baby.”
“Do you think you could handle the additional duties?”
“Oh, sure. I been watchin’ Colin and still doin’ my work before you come.” Gamilla replied modestly.
“I shall speak with Mr. Speaight this evening. I can’t imagine he’d object. And, I’m sure the Duke wouldn’t mind. He’s spoken of you so highly.”
“I really ‘preciatge it, Miss. I gotta tell ya, I was a little sad thinkin’ I’d not have too much time with Colin no more.”
“You’ll be doing me a great service. Now, I’m terribly sorry. I interrupted you. You were telling me about the servants. You’d just mentioned the maids.”
“Oh, yeah. Let’s see. I already done tol’ ya ‘bout Jim and Hutchinson. They usually take their meals alone. So, we don’t see ‘em too much since they’re outside. And, we got a page. Just a boy—all freckles. His name is Tom. He takes care of the boots and so on and sometimes helps me with the grates.”
“It is a large staff,” Ellen nodded.
“It’s a big house, Miss.” Gamilla smiled. “Don’t look like it from the outside. All these white houses all right up on each other. They look like they’re just gonna be one skinny room stacked on another, but they’re much bigger than they seem. I was so surprised when I came in for the first. I’d reckon this place is bigger than Mr. Halifax’s plantation house. It’s just taller than it is wide.”
“I know some people like that.” Ellen teased.
“As do I, Miss.”
“I do wish you’d call me by my name, ‘Ellen.’”
“I couldn’t.” Gamilla shook her head.
“Well, maybe when it’s just the two of us.” Gamilla giggled. “Now, I think we got ya all settled. I’ll go tell Mrs. Pepper that you’re gonna come down for supper.”
“I’ll join you, if you don’t mind.” Ellen suggested.
“If you like.”
“Thank you for telling me about everyone.” Ellen grinned appreciatively.
“We all want you to feel at home. It’s like Mr. Pu…His Grace always says, “We all may be different, but we’re one big family in this house.’”
“He’s a wise man.” Ellen nodded.
“He is.” Gamilla agreed.
“And, Gamilla, I truly do feel at home.”
Gamilla smiled and the two new friends walked downstairs together.
Did you miss Chapters 1-2. If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 4 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square.