Questions Above and Below
Mr. Punch looked into Dr. Halifax’s blue eyes, pleading. “You gotta come with me.”
“Dear Punch, I cannot.” Robert replied softly. “The invitation was only extended to you. You know as well as I that I can’t just walk into Buckingham Palace without an invitation.”
“You can come as me guest,” Punch/The Duke suggested.
“That’s not…” Robert began. He paused and smiled at his companion—that gentle, infectious smile that was unique to him. The doctor’s smile was unlike any other that either of the men living in the Duke’s body had ever known. The man’s face, handsome and angular, suddenly became a series of pleasing, curving planes which lead up to his affectionately twinkling eyes. It was a smile that was reserved only for Mr. Punch and Punch knew it. Punch whooped with pleasure.
“I haven’t agreed to anything yet.” Robert clucked his tongue—the sparkle in his eyes belying the annoyance in his voice.
“Yes, yes you did. You smiled. I saw it. I know what that means.” Mr. Punch chirped.
“Very well,” Robert chuckled. He took Mr. Punch by the hand and led him to the japanned writing desk in the corner of the Drawing Room. From the central drawer he removed a sheet of the Duke’s embossed stationary and, sitting at the desk, he began to write.
“What’s this?” Punch asked.
“I’m responding to the Prince Consort’s invitation.”
“What ya sayin’?”
“I’m stating that you would be thrilled to meet the Prince tomorrow and that you would very much like to bring your…”
“I don’t know what to call myself.” Robert shrugged.
“Chum!” Punch exclaimed.
“I can’t write to the Prince Consort and tell him that you wish to bring your chum.” Robert shook his head.
“Oh.” Mr. Punch grumbled. “See, that’s why I need ya to come with me.”
“I could say, ‘companion.’”
“How ‘bout ‘associate’?” Mr. Punch suggested.
“Ah…” Robert grinned. “Brilliant. Dear Punch, you don’t need me aid as much as you think you do.”
“Here, that ain’t true, Chum.” Mr. Punch disagreed. “Don’t say that ‘gain.” He narrowed his brows.
“You’re right.” Robert winked, lightening Punch’s mood.
Robert quickly finished the letter, reading it aloud to Mr. Punch.
“I think that’s just fine.” Punch grinned.
“Now, you need to sign it.” Robert pointed to the bottom of the letter.
“Should I sign, ‘Mr. Punch.’” he teased.
“Of course. I’m sure that Prince Albert will completely understand.” Robert responded dryly.
“He might.” Punch answered playfully.
“He’s German.” Robert raised one eyebrow.
“Fine.” Mr. Punch grumbled, signing the letter. “Julian, Duke of Fallbridge.”
“Well done.” Robert nodded, sealing the letter and rising to ring the bell.
Within seconds, Charles hurried into the room. “Yes, Your Grace.”
Punch pointed to Robert.
“I rang.” Robert chuckled.
“Yes, Sir.” Charles blushed.
“We have a letter which needs to be delivered to Buck House right away. It’s for Prince Albert. Don’t send Tom as you usually would. I’d prefer that Gerard or you attend to it.”
“I’ll take it myself, Sir.” Charles smiled proudly.
“Excellent. Make sure it gets to the Prince’s secretary.”
“I will.” Charles nodded. Without another word, he left the room.
“Well, that’s done.” Robert sighed, sitting in front of the fire in one of the toile-covered armchairs.
Mr. Punch walked over to him, standing behind the chair. He put his hands on Robert’s shoulders.
“Thank you for doin’ it, Chum.”
“It’s my pleasure.”
“With you there, I know I can do it.”
“I just hope that I can.” Robert replied softly.
“Course you can!” Punch chirped. “You can do anything.”
“I’ve never been to court. At least you’ve met the Queen and Prince Consort before. You’ve been the palace.”
“I ‘spose.” Punch squinted thoughtfully. “Only it weren’t me ‘xactly. It were Julian. Still, it were the same body, I ‘spose what was in the palace.”
“That’s a step closer than I’ve been. I’ve never even seen the Queen or her husband in person. Well, not close-up. I did spot them at the Crystal Palace during the Great Exhibition.”
“Yes.” Robert answered, reaching above his head to pull Punch by his arm. “Sit across from me.”
Punch did as instructed. “If you was at the Crystal Palace when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert was there, then…”
“Yes, that’s when I saw you the first time. Well, it was the first time I saw Julian.”
“Sure, it were Julian what was there. I was there, too, I was, only I were inside—inside out body—watchin’ the whole thing. Me master, Julian, he were braver then. But, that day was…”
“I know.” Robert sighed. “The day didn’t end as you had intended.”
“Julian went ‘cause Their Majesties asked him to go. See, his jewels was on display and the Prince were terrible proud since he thought himself the one what discovered Julian. So nervous as he was, Julian went. I watched. I talked to him to make him feel better—from inside, you know. He weren’t aware of me then like he is now. But, I know he heard me. We was livin’ here at Belgrave Square then. We’d been here ‘bout a year. But, that was the last time Julian went out—until we went to America.”
“I know.” Robert said. “Of course, I didn’t know about you then either, dear Punch. But, I did spy Julian with Their Majesties. I had gone to look at the jewelry exhibition and I spotted you…well, you and Julian…across the floor of the Crystal Palace. You were standing with their Majesties near the display of Julian’s work.”
“You noticed me…us?” Punch smiled. “You never mentioned that.”
Robert shrugged. “I couldn’t help but notice you. The sunlight was coming in through that magnificent glass ceiling. It fell upon your hair—lighting it auburn, and bathed your shoulders. You wore a grey suit and a sapphire blue cravat. I was immediately drawn to you. I couldn’t stop staring. I asked someone—I don’t remember who it was—who you were.”
“What’d he tell ya?” Punch joked.
Robert laughed. “He said you were Lord Fallbridge, the son of The Duchess of Fallbridge and Sir Colin Molliner.”
Mr. Punch’s eyelids drooped as he remembered Julian’s parents—one pure evil, the other pure kindness. He sniffed and looked up. “You shoulda come to talk to him…me…us.” He snorted.
“I wish I had.”
“But, you ended up seein’ me soon enough, didn’t ya?”
“Later that day. And, it was you that I met—not Julian.”
“Sure, that were the day we was attacked in Covent Garden. Beaten terrible bad we were. I had to take over the body. Julian were too scared. I found your practice…saw the sign and brought our body to ya. It were just chance, I ‘spose. Or maybe fate, as they say. You helped us. And, then, Julian was too frightened to stay in London so we went back to Fallbridge Hall.”
“Who knew we’d meet again on the ship to America?” Robert smiled.
“Glad we did.” Punch nodded. “Don’t think I’d want to live if you weren’t with us. Sure, but I can’t remember life so well before you were here.”
“Nor can I.”
They sat in silence for awhile. The quiet was broken when Robert sneezed.
“Goodness! That were a big noise!” Punch laughed. He always laughed at sneezes.
“A nose noise.” Robert replied, reaching into his pocket for a handkerchief. As he did, the letter from Cecil fell from his pocket. He didn’t notice.
“Maybe you been smellin’ pepper,” Punch nodded, biting his cheeks to keep from laughing. “Mrs. Pepper!” He, then, howled with laughter.
Robert laughed. “I assure you I have not been close enough to Mrs. Pepper to smell her.”
“Here,” Punch pointed to the floor, his laughter subsiding. “You dropped somethin’.”
“Did I?” Robert looked over the side of the chair. He spotted the letter and blushed slightly.
“Is that the letter from Cecil and Adrienne what we got yesterday?”
“It is,” Robert answered honestly.
“Can I see it?” Punch asked eagerly.
“Of course,” Robert nodded, picking up the letter and deftly removing the small, folded additional note from Cecil—the note which had implored him to write his book. He handed the letter—minus the note—to the Duke/Mr. Punch.
“Don’t I get to read the whole thing?”
“You are.” Robert nodded.
“What’s that wee bit you kept to yourself?” Punch smiled. “Keepin’ secrets?”
“No.” Robert shook his head. “It’s just…it’s something from Cecil for me.”
Punch nodded. “Brother-stuff, then?”
“That’s it.” Robert responded. He quickly changed the subject. “Dear Punch, have you had breakfast?”
“Have I had breakfast?” Punch snorted, reading the letter.
“I suppose that’s a silly question.” Robert grinned. “Well, I haven’t. I’d left before Mrs. Pepper set up the sideboard in the Morning Room.”
“Ring for somethin’.” Punch nodded, not looking up from the letter.
“I think I shall.” Robert rose.
Meanwhile, downstairs, Speaight looked up as the bell for the Drawing Room rang. “Drawing Room.” He called out.
“I’ll go.” Vi nodded.
“No.” Speaight shook his head. “Gerard—you go since Charles has gone out.”
“Where’d Charles go, then?” Vi asked.
“Mind your business!” Mrs. Pepper shouted, not turning away from her steaming range. “Gerard! I’m guessin’ it’s the doctor wantin’ somethin’ to eat. Tell ‘im I got some lovely boiled eggs and a nice bit of brioche for him.”
“Yes, Mrs. Pepper.” Gerard smiled, trotting upstairs.
“Don’t know why I can’t know where Charles went.” Vi mumbled.
Hortence, who was seated next to her at the kitchen table, scowled. “Because, we don’t matter in this house, to be sure. Ain’t it a fact that only the boys matter?”
“That is not a fact, Hortence. Do stop being so sour.” Speaight snapped. “We are all valued by His Grace and Dr. Halifax. From Miss Barrett all the way to Tom.”
“That is true,” Ellen nodded, coming into the servants’ hall.
“Course you’d think so.” Hortence grumbled. “You bein’ the new favorite, Miss Barrett.”
“That’s enough of that,” Speaight snarled. “You’re being impertinent.” He turned to Vi. “Now, Violet, to answer your question…”
“Don’t give ‘em the satisfaction!” Mrs. Pepper called out from her range.
“There’s no harm in it, Mrs. Pepper,” Speaight replied. “Charles has gone to deliver a letter.”
“They need the first footman to do that! Ain’t Tom good enough? He’s the page, in’t he?” Hortence barked.
“In this instance, Charles was required. The letter was for His Majesty Prince Albert.”
“Oh,” Violet’s eyes widened. “Ain’t that excitin’. I never worked in a household so close to the Crown. My last place—the closest thing to Royalty we ever knew was when my master presented flowers to Princess Mary of Cambridge at a parade.”
“Fat Mary!” Hortence howled.
“That’s enough of that foolishness, Hortence.” Speaight warned. "The Duchess of Teck is a lovely person."
Hortence scowled again. “What’s the Duke got to do with the Prince, then?”
“His Grace and His Majesty often work together,” Vi responded. “You know that.”
“Can’t see how,” Hortence grumbled. “What with the master bein’ mad and all.”
“Hortence!” Speaight rose from his chair. “You are walking a very fine line. You will not speak so of the master!”
“It’s true, ain’t it?” Hortence cried. She pointed to Gamilla who was seated by the fire, mending a pair of the doctor’s socks. “They know—the African and Charles and Gerard. They know!”
“Hortence, how could you say such a thing about His Grace? I’ll have you know he’s not mad at all. He’s a very kind and fair man. If that’s madness, we should all be so mad. You have no right to condemn a man for being slightly different. He is as sane as any of us and I won’t hear otherwise.” Ellen responded.
“Oh…” Hortence nodded. “I see how it is.”
“What does that mean?” Ellen asked, narrowing her eyes.
“You’re in on it, too, then.” Hortence spat.
Ellen and Gamilla exchanged quick glances. The questions in Gamilla’s eyes were palpable. Ellen blushed.
“Hortence, unless you wish to be dismissed today, you’d best keep your mouth closed and go about your business.”
“Oh, I will.” Hortence smirked. “But, don’t think that I’m forgettin’ any of this.” With that she waddled out of the servants’ hall.
“Cheeky cow,” Mrs. Pepper mumbled.
“If I didn’t agree with you, Mrs. Pepper,” Speaight responded, “I’d ask you to not make such comments.”
He looked around the hall. “Gamilla, you get back to your work. You, too, Vi.”
Vi nodded and scurried away.
“Were you wanting something, Miss Barrett?” Speaight added.
“No.” Ellen mumbled. She cleared her throat. “Would you mind if I spoke with Gamilla for a few moments.”
“No, but make it brief,” Speaight frowned. “She has her duties.”
“I will.” Ellen nodded. “This shouldn’t take long at all.”
Did you miss Chapters 1-7 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 9.