Ellen folded her hands in her lap and listened attentively as Dr. Halifax began his tale.
“For reasons that I don’t fully understand,” the doctor started, “His Grace is…” He paused and smiled, looking at the Duke who chuckled.
“I’m more than one person,” The Duke interrupted cheerfully.
Ellen nodded slowly, trying to understand what they were saying to her.
“You see?” The Duke asked with wide eyes.
“Not exactly, Sir. I’m sorry.” Ellen shook her head.
“Oh. Bugger.” The Duke sighed, clapping his hand over his mouth when he realized what he said. “Oh, pardon me.”
“Not to worry, Your Grace.” Ellen chuckled. “I have brothers. I’ve heard many words that would make a lady blush. It doesn’t bother me.”
Dr. Halifax cleared his throat. “I don’t think we’ve explained ourselves very well. You see, when His Grace was a boy, within his mind, another entity developed. Whereas you and I awaken each morning knowing who exactly we are, his Grace could be one of two different people.”
“Or more,” The muttered.
“For purposes of this discussion, we’ll just say, ‘two,’ dear Punch.” Dr. Halifax smiled, patting his companion’s hand.
The Duke looked down at the child he still held. He smiled. “See, look how peaceful Colin is. I’m so happy for it. Only I never had that nor did me master…”
“Your master?” Ellen asked.
“Julian—the Duke of Fallbridge.”
“Aren’t you the Duke?” Ellen asked.
“Not entirely.” The Duke replied. “I’m ‘Mr. Punch.’”
“Ah.” Ellen nodded though she didn’t understand. “Where’s the Duke, then?”
“In here,” Mr. Punch tapped his chest.
Ellen looked at Dr. Halifax who sighed again. “The man you see before you—the physical body—is that of the Duke of Fallbridge. And, as such—as well as to avoid confusion in Society and downstairs—we refer to him as if he were the Duke. However, the mind is that of a being known as ‘Mr. Punch.’”
“I understand,” Ellen smiled.
“Do you?” Dr. Halifax asked.
“Indeed, I do.” Ellen replied. “Sir, if you’ll pardon me for saying so, when I first met the Duke, I thought that he was like a man who was caught in between two thoughts, two worlds…”
“I am.” Mr. Punch smiled.
“Your Grace, many of us—all of us, in fact—have different facets of our beings, our souls. Sometimes we’re joyful, sometimes we’re silly, sometimes we’re angry or maudlin. It’s as if these facets are different people. As I see it, in you, these facets are more prominent, more developed—so much so that they have names and natures of their own.”
“Coo! She does understand!” Mr. Punch chirped. “I gotta say, Miss Barrett, not many people do. Ain’t that somethin’?”
“Yes,” Robert nodded with relief. “And, I’m grateful for it.”
“May I be impertinent, Sir?” Ellen asked.
“Given what we’ve just told you, I think that would be acceptable.” Robert laughed.
“I see that His Grace is a decent, loving man. Some might say that he’s mad for what you’ve just told me, but I don’t think so. I think he’s, perhaps, more evolved than the rest of us. Perhaps we’re the ones who are mad.”
Mr. Punch laughed loudly.
The doctor grinned. “Perhaps.”
“I like to think that I am a good judge of people, gentlemen.” Ellen continued. “I can see the affection and devotion that you share and the love you feel for the child. I will do whatever I must in order to protect the sanctity of that.” Ellen said. She blushed. “I hope you don’t mistake my honesty for rudeness. It is my downfall—this desire that I have to speak my mind.”
“Not at all.” Robert shook his head. “I respect you for it. I’m glad that you’re the person to whom we’ve entrusted the care of our Colin.”
“Here, I am, too.” Mr. Punch replied. “Thank you.”
“Thank you for trusting me, Your Grace.” Ellen replied. “I will keep your secret.”
“Gamilla, Charles and Gerard know already.” Robert nodded. “The others do not. We didn’t see any need to tell them. As you say, some would think His Grace mad for this nature. I saw need to risk such an error.”
“I shan’t mention it to anyone.”
“You can call me, ‘Mr. Punch,’ then. When we’re not with the others,” The Duke exclaimed joyfully.
“Well, Sir, I might. However, I think it best that I adhere to protocol. No matter your spirit, you are still the Duke of Fallbridge and should be treated with the respect owed to the station.”
“Oh,” The Duke/Mr. Punch nodded.
“I agree, dear Punch.” Dr. Halifax added, softly.
The Duke sighed. Both the baby and the Dog Toby looked up at their “papa” to see if he was quite all right.
“May I ask one final question, Your Grace?” Ellen said quickly, so as not to lose her nerve.
“I know, I shouldn’t ask. I just can’t help myself.”
“Please,” The Duke nodded.
“Why Mr. Punch? Of all the other minds in the world that could have developed within you, why…”
“Why a puppet?” His Grace grinned.
“Yes.” Ellen nodded shyly, blushing.
“Hmmm…” The Duke mumbled. “I don’t know for certain, but when Julian were a little one—not that much older than Colin here—he had a friend that were a gift from our pa…”
Ellen squinted, trying to keep up.
Robert noticed that she wasn’t following. “When His Grace was a boy, his father—Sir Colin Molliner, the explorer and archaeologist, gave him a puppet figure of Mr. Punch.”
The Duke nodded eagerly. “That’s it. He was me friend, he was, that puppet.”
“Is this the puppet?” Ellen asked, pointing the figure which sat in the chair adjacent to hers.
“Oh no,” Mr. Punch shook his head. “That one, like I said, were a gift from me chums Cecil Adrienne and Marjani. The first puppet—he was killed…lost…when I went to America. But, me chums made me this one and I love him just as well. But, that first puppet…well, little Julian, he’d talk to him, he would. See, folk weren’t too nice to Julian. He had a terrible nanny…”
Ellen’s eyes widened.
“Not at all like you,” The Duke added quickly. “That’s why we picked you. See, I was awful fearful that Colin’d have a bad nanny, too. So we was awful careful to make sure the governess were a nice lady like you.”
“But, see,” The Duke/Mr. Punch continued, “the nanny were terrible cruel to Julian, she was. And, well…there was other folks what were also vicious. And, Julian—we would talk to the puppet for it was his only friend. Well, after awhile, the puppet—I guess that’s me—began to talk back, I me master’s thoughts and such. And, soon, I was there all the time, lookin’ out for Julian, me master, and makin’ sure that the things what could hurt him stayed far away.”
“How awful for you—both of you.” Ellen answered, genuinely upset for the man.
“Julian weren’t even aware of it for a long, long time—not ‘til me chum here told him.”
“It’s true.” Dr. Halifax smiled. “I’d met His Grace on the ship to America. However, I knew I’d met him before. I had doctored him after he was attacked in Covent Garden, but when I did, he didn’t act as he did on the ship. I realized that he was, in fact, two different people in one body.”
“Robert, he explained it all to me.” Mr. Punch nodded. “And, since then, we’ve been…”
“Inseparable.” Robert completed the sentence.
“I think that’s just lovely—truly, Sirs.” Ellen sniffed, wiping a tear from her eyes. “My eldest brother…” She paused.
“Go on.” Mr. Punch grinned.
“Well, let’s just say that he, too, has a companion—just like the two of you.”
“Oh!” Mr. Punch exclaimed. “How nice! Is he two men in one as well?”
Ellen chuckled. “No—he’s quite dull. Just one man in one body.”
“Too bad,” Mr. Punch clucked his tongue.
Robert glanced at the clock. “It’ll be time for tea soon.”
“Oh, sure!” Punch’s eyes widened hungrily. “I love them wee sandwiches Mrs. Pepper makes.” He let out a long, low laugh. “Mrs. Pepper! Ha! Oh, I’ll never not find that amusing.”
Robert and Ellen chuckled, too.
“I shall take Colin to the day nursery.” Ellen rose.
“Thank you,” Robert nodded. “Will you have nursery tea or join the others downstairs?”
“In the future, I’ll join the others, Sir. And, I’ll certainly take supper with them. However, I think it’s best that I have nursery tea until Colin’s a little older. I want to spend as much time with him as possible.”
“I think that’s just fine.” Robert smiled. “Miss Barrett…I don’t need to tell you…”
“No, Sir.” Ellen shook her head. “You do not.”
“Thank you,” Robert grinned.
“Here, Ellen…sometime you should let me come up and have nursery tea with you and Colin. I think that’d be just a lark! Coo!” The Duke chirped.
“You are always welcome in the nursery, Your Grace.” Ellen nodded. “Now, if you’ll excuse me.”
“Right!” The Duke replied.
“Good afternoon, Miss Barrett.” Robert replied.
On her way out, Ellen paused to take the list of Colin’s likes and dislikes from the japanned center table. She folded it neatly and placed it in her apron pocket. She, then, carefully and gently collected Colin from the Duke. Holding the child close to her bosom, as she left the room, she could hear the Duke chattering to the doctor.
“I think we done right in tellin’ her, Chum.”
“I agree, dear Punch.”
“She’s a nice one, she is. I think she’ll be a good friend to our Colin. He’ll have the friend me master and I never had when we was little. I think that’s fine. Makes me happy, it does.”
“It pleases me, too, dear Punch.” The doctor responded.
“And, it pleases me as well…” Ellen whispered to herself as she walked up the stairs to the nursery. “I shall be the best friend I can be.”
Did you miss Chapters 1-5? If so, you can read them here. Come back on Monday for Chapter 7 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square. And, on behalf of His Grace/Mr. Punch, Robert, Ellen, Colin, Dog Toby, Mr. Speaight, Mrs. Pepper, Gamilla, Charles, Gerard and the rest of the staff at No. 65, I’d like to wish you a very Happy Easter!