Thursday, April 5, 2012

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 4

Chapter 4:
The Duke and the Doctor

After she’d been properly introduced to the rest of the staff, Ellen Barrett knew that her initial instincts had been correct.  She’d been right to interview at No. 65 Belgrave Square and she was confident that her time in the household would be comfortable and enjoyable. 

Overall, the household staff was pleasant and unassuming with the possible exception of the under-house maid, Hortence, who couldn’t seem to be bothered to smile for the new governess nor, even, say a word of welcome.  

The amusingly-named, Mrs. Pepper, was gruff, but Ellen could tell that the woman was possessed by a desire to mother all around her.  Within seconds of their introduction, Mrs. Pepper had presented Ellen with a fresh cup of tea and a warm ginger biscuit.

“Don’t be assumin’ I got time to be waitin’ on ya all the time, Miss.”  Mrs. Pepper snapped as she added a second biscuit to Ellen’s plate.  “I got a whole household to feed.  And, the Duke’s always hungry!”

“I certainly appreciate that you’ve taken the time to give me such a delicious treat,”  Ellen smiled, leaning against the large wooden table in the center of Mrs. Pepper’s kitchen.

“Well, then,” Mrs. Pepper smiled.  “I’m sure I don’t mind at all.”

“Cooks…”  Ellen thought to herself. 

Upon finishing her snack, Ellen had—with Gamilla—approached Mr. Speaight about the possibility of Gamilla serving as nursery maid in addition to her duties as parlor maid.

“I had rather planned on Hortence serving in that role,”  Mr. Speaight sniffed. 

He tried desperately to project an air of detached officiousness, but Ellen could see the bemused twinkle in his eye and knew that he was going to be her ally.

“Sir, Hortence already got so much for to do,”  Gamilla replied shyly.  “And, I don’t think she wants to be workin’ in the nursery, too.”

“What about Vi?”  Mr. Speaight asked.  He was aware that Ellen could see he was teasing Gamilla.  “She has more experience.  She might be better able to balance so many duties.”

“Mr. Speaight, Sir,”  Gamilla began.  “Vi is the upper-house maid.  Should Charles or Gerard be unable to serve, she’s got to be ready to fill their places…”  Gamilla’s eyes became moist.  
“Besides, Sir, I know the baby.  I done known him since just after he was born almost.”

“I am aware,”  Mr. Speaight said softly.  “Very well, Gamilla.  I have no objections, and, frankly, I’m sure that Hortence will be relieved.”

“Oh, thank you, Sir.”  Gamilla chirped.

“Yes, thank you, Mr. Speaight.”

They all grinned at one another for a few seconds.  Ellen truly felt at home.  Their moment was interrupted by a bell ringing from the ebonized and gilt panel of labeled bells which was framed above the archway to the staircase to the upper floors.  

“Drawing room.”  Charles announced from the rear of the clean, white-washed servants’ hall.  “I’ll go.”

“No, Charles.  I shall go.”  Mr. Speaight shook his head.  “You work on that silver with Gerard.  Spit-spot, the two of you—into my pantry.”

Charles nodded, swatting Gerry playfully across the shoulder.  Gerard, who was seated near the central fireplace, grabbed Charles by the elbow and squeezed.

Ellen couldn’t help but chuckle at the antics of the two men.  Their horseplay reminded her of her brothers.  She missed them terribly.

“You gotta do the spoons.”  Gerard grinned.  “I hate doin’ the spoons.”

“Fine, but you’ll have to do the candelabras.”  Charles teased.

“I don’t mind.”  Gerard nodded.

The two men paused and looked at Ellen.

“Welcome, Miss Barrett.  We hope you like it here.”  Charles said softly and self-consciously.

“I’m sure I will, Charles.”  Ellen nodded.  “Thank you.”

“I gotta say,”  Gerard added, “I’m glad you’re not some crusty ol’ nanny what thinks she’s better than the rest of us.  I was scared you might be.”

“I’m glad to be a relief.”  Ellen laughed.

Gerard took a step further.  “And, thanks for lookin’ out for Gamilla.  She’s a special lass, she is.  I know how she loves Master Colin.  I won’t forget how kind you been to stick up for her.”

“It’s really my pleasure.  I like Gamilla.”  Ellen replied, patting Gamilla’s arm.  She noticed the affectionate exchange of glances between Gamilla and Gerard.

“We all do, Miss.”  Gerard winked.

“Come on, then.”  Charles barked.  “If we don’t get to that silver, Old Speaight will have our heads.”

“Don’t be disrespectful.”  Mrs. Pepper spat from across the kitchen.

“Sorry, Mrs. Pepper.”  Charles grinned.

“Now, you finish up your tea, Miss, and get on.  I can’t have all you lot clutterin’ up me kitchen.”  Mrs. Pepper grumbled.  “Where is that Jenny?”

“She’s in the scullery with Ethel.”  Gamilla responded.

“What for?”  Mrs. Pepper fumed.

“Ethel needed help, Mrs. Pepper,”  Gamilla explained.  “She had all them pots for to finish.”

“Jenny’s here to help me--not Ethel, the scullery maid!  Bless my soul, but those two girls are gonna be the death of  me yet!”  With that, Mrs. Pepper stormed off into the scullery which was located through the archway behind Mrs. Pepper’s range.

Gamilla chuckled and shook her head.

“Gamilla!”  Mr. Speaight snapped as he came back downstairs.  “Just because I’ve allowed you to be nursery maid doesn’t mean that your other duties don’t need attention.  I’ve just come from the drawing room and, frankly, I was appalled that the flowers on the center table are wilting!”

“I’ll get right to it,”  Gamilla yelped.  “Good afternoon, Miss.”  She smiled at Ellen.

“I’ll see you later, Gamilla.”  Ellen whispered.

“As for you, Miss Barrett.”  Mr. Speaight bellowed.  “I am aware that I have no jurisdiction over you.  As a governess, you exist on a plane separate from the rest of us, but since you’ve declared a desire to associate with us, I feel I must warn you that the maids cannot be disrupted in their work.”

“Of course, Mr. Speaight.”  Ellen replied.  She couldn’t keep herself from smiling, however, because despite his stern talk, his eyes twinkled as if he was thinking of a naughty joke.

“Very well.”  Mr. Speaight nodded.  His expression softened.  “His Grace has asked for you.  The Duke and the Doctor are in the drawing room.  They’re engaged in entertaining Master Colin and the Dog Toby.”

“May I ask a question?”

“Of course, Miss.”

“Why does everyone refer to the dog as ‘Dog Toby.’  Why not simply ‘Toby’?”

“Because, Miss.”  Speaight stammered.  “That’s his name.”

“It’s just that it reminds me of the puppet shows—you know, Punch and Judy.  Mr. Punch calls his dog, ‘Dog Toby.’”

Speaight narrowed his eyes.  “I want  nothing more than for us to get on as friends, Miss.  If you wish the same, you’d do well to remember that we don’t discuss the goings-on upstairs.  It’s not our place to question anything that our betters do.”

“I apologize.”  Ellen said quickly.  “One of my greatest faults is that I’m terribly curious.  I should know better.  I’m always asking questions I shouldn’t.”

Speaight’s expression softened again.  “I do understand.  Let me just say, Miss Barrett, that we all have questions about the Duke and the Doctor.  We are all aware that Society is curious about the affairs of our household.  His Grace, however, is a very private individual, and one who is very highly regarded by the Crown.  We must respect that privacy even though we may wonder about…things.”

“I am terribly sorry.”

“There’s no harm done, Miss.”  Mr. Speaight sighed.  “The Duke and the Doctor…they’re fine men.  You’ll never meet two kinder gentlemen.  But, they have secrets.  To be sure, I’ve wondered about some of the things I’ve seen and heard.  His Grace is…for lack of a better word…unusual.  But, it’s that nature which makes him such a fine gentleman.  Dr. Halifax is very protective of the Duke.  Perhaps it’s because His Grace is an artist.  As a jeweler, he is given over to a particular sort of genius which the rest of us couldn’t understand.  It’s often said that genius, especially artistic genius, makes a man a bit strange.  You will see a good many peculiarities in this house.  I’ve learned not to question them  because, in their way, they are rather charming and delightful.”

Ellen nodded.

“Charles and Gerard—they know more about the Duke and the Doctor than I do.  Gamilla as well.  They all share a history.  Yet, they’re very silent about it.  You see, Miss Barrett, I too am curious.  I wonder about the things that I hear and see.  But, I know that I must ignore those questions and do my job.  I hope you don’t find me pedantic, and, certainly, I didn’t mean to scold you.  However, it’s my responsibility to protect the sanctity of the household.”

“I understand completely.”

“Now, then, you’d best not keep them waiting.”  Mr. Speaight smiled.  “His Grace tends to worry if he becomes impatient.”

“I shall go right away.”  Ellen nodded.  “Thank you, Mr. Speaight.”  With that, Ellen hurried up the stairs.

Mr. Speaight sighed as Mrs. Pepper returned from the larder.  She spotted him from across the kitchen.

“Where’s the governess?”  Mrs. Pepper grumbled.

“Gone to see the masters.”  Mr. Speaight replied, walking toward her.

“She’s no fool.  I can see she’s gonna want to know more ‘bout why the Duke is the way he is and why the doctor protects him so.”

“Don’t we all wonder, Mrs. Pepper?”

“All I wonder ‘bout is when the butcher’s gonna bring me chops.”  Mrs. Pepper muttered.

“I’m not surprised.”  Mr. Speaight mumbled.

“What’s that?”  Mrs. Pepper snapped.

“Nothing, Mrs. Pepper.”  Mr. Speaight smiled.  “Nothing.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-3?  If so, you can read them hereCome back tomorrow for Chapter 5, Mr. Punch and the Baby, of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square.  

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