Ellen Barrett nodded at Gamilla and headed toward the linen cupboard which stood at an angle from Mr. Speaight’s pantry. Gamilla grabbed a stack of table linens which she had recently ironed and followed Miss Barrett, curious to know what the new governess was about to tell her.
Once inside the cedar-lined linen pantry, Ellen closed the door, glancing quickly through its inset, frosted glass panels to see if any shadows had followed them.
“What you know?” Gamilla asked. “I can see they done tol’ you somethin’—His Grace and the doctor.”
Ellen paused for a moment. She was unfamiliar with American accents and the few that she’d heard at the last household in which she’d worked were nothing like the Creole-laced, Louisiana accent with which Gamilla spoke.
“Yes,” Ellen nodded after a few seconds, “Dr. Halifax and His Grace did speak with me.
They explained that His Grace has, within him, other entities—the dominant one being the one they call ‘Mr. Punch.’”
Gamilla exhaled loudly with relief. “It’s true.” She smiled. “He’s right cute, ain’t he—Mr. Punch.”
“I must confess that he is.” Ellen smiled. “And, frankly, I think it was a tremendous relief to the Duke to be able to speak in the manner with which he is comfortable. He even told me that I could call him, ‘Mr. Punch.’”
“That’s just like him,” Gamilla said. “For true, when I first met His Grace, I was a little scared of him. But, he’s so kind and gentle. I can’t tell ya how many times he came to my rescue.”
“I’m sure he did.” Ellen smiled, pleased to see how loyal Gamilla was to their employer.
“And, the doctor—he and His Grace, they love each other so much.”
“I’ve never seen such an allegiance before. I find it delightful.” Ellen replied. “That’s why I’m going to ensure that the Duke’s secret is not revealed to anyone.”
“I’m so happy for to know it,” Gamilla nodded. “I gotta say, ain’t no one gonna make pain for His Grace nor the Duke—not while there’s breath in my body.”
“Nor in mine,” Ellen answered. “That’s why I wanted you to know that I’d been informed. This allows us a certain comfort with one another…” She stopped, feeling a presence near them. Her suspicions were confirmed when she noticed a shadow through the glass. The creaking floor only further answered her question.
Spinning around, Ellen thrust open the door only to find Hortence standing there, grinning.
“How long have you been there?” Ellen snapped.
“Long enough.” Hortence growled.
“What you doin’ here, Hortence?” Gamilla hissed.
“I needed a cloth for the tea tray.” Hortence grinned.
“Tea isn’t for several hours,” Ellen frowned.
“Don’t tell me, tell Mrs. Pepper. She’s the one what told me to set up the tray.”
“I shall ask her about it thusly.” Ellen nodded stiffly.
Hortence’s smile faded. “You know, Miss Barrett, it ain’t right for you to bother Gamilla. You governesses—just cuz you ain’t as low as the rest of us, you always think you can use the staff for your own.”
“I’m not using anyone.” Ellen narrowed her eyes. “Gamilla and I were having a conversation. A private one at that. It’s no concern of yours.”
“Everything what happens downstairs concerns all of us. Maybe you’d best hurry on back to the nursery, then. Wouldn’t want nothin’ to happen to Master Colin.”
“Go on,” Gamilla sniffed, grabbing a cloth from a nearby shelf. “Here’s your tea cloth. Now, git!”
“You can’t talk to me that way,” Hortence snarled. “You’re beneath me.”
“No, she isn’t.” Ellen shook her head. “Gamilla’s a parlor maid and you’re an under-house maid. She outranks you.”
“Not with the color of her face she don’t.” Hortence chuckled. “Is it true, Gamilla?”
“In your country, folk like you is slaves?”
“You’d do well to remember yourself, Hortence,” Ellen said firmly.
“Sure, sure,” Hortence laughed. “I’d best get back to Mrs. Pepper. On the way, maybe I’d best tell Speaight you’re wastin’ Gamilla’s time and makin’ a mess of the linen cupboard.”
“That’s Mr. Speaight to you, Hortence.” A masculine voice interrupted from behind them.
“Oh, Mr. Speaight,” Hortence turned around slowly.
“What are you doing, Hortence?”
“I was just wonderin’ why Miss Barrett is in the cupboard with Gamilla.”
“It’s none of your concern. I gave Gamilla my permission to speak with Miss Barrett.”
“Well, that’s fine.” Hortence croaked.
“I won’t have you interrupting your betters, Hortence. If you’ll recall, I’ve already warned you once today.”
“Everyone’s against me!” Hortence wailed, crocodile tears filling her eyes.
“No one cares enough to be against you.” Mr. Speaight snapped. “Now, get back to your duties before I suggest to His Grace that we dismiss you.”
Hortence scurried off.
“Thank you, Mr. Speaight.” Ellen nodded.
“Miss Barrett, as I’ve said, I know I have no jurisdiction over you, but I do have over the staff. May I suggest that Gamilla be allowed to return to her work whilst you return to the nursery?”
“Of course, Mr. Speaight.” Ellen nodded, blushing. She patted Gamilla’s elbow as she exited the cupboard.
As she headed toward the stairs, Ellen spotted Hortence going into the scullery. She frowned knowing that the girl was about to chatter with Ethel, the scullery maid. In the few days she’d been employed at No. 65 Belgrave Square, Ellen had noticed that Hortence was always trying to collude with Ethel. Thankfully, the scullery maid was too dull, Ellen presumed, to be party to Hortence’s wicked mind.
Ellen wanted to go listen at the scullery door, but knew she had already crossed a line with Mr. Speaight. Angering Mrs. Pepper by interrupting the work of her scullery maid was out of the question. With a sigh, she darted up the stairs.
Meanwhile, in the scullery, Ethel grumbled. “You can’t just keep comin’ in here Hortence. I got work to do and Mrs. Pepper’s already at sixes and sevens what with me not bein’ finished with the chafing plates from breakfast.”
“Did you hear that Charles was sent on an errand to Buckingham Palace?” Hortence grinned, ignoring the girl’s request.
“Sure, I heard. What’s it to me?” Ethel shrugged using the back of her soapy hand to brush a wisp of greasy, dirty blonde hair from her freckled face.
“Ain’t it queer, the Duke bein’ in allegiance with the crown?” Hortence asked, resting on the scullery table.
“No. What’s so queer ‘bout it. A nobleman is a nobleman cuz he’s a favorite of the Queen.”
“But, what of a mad nobleman?”
“He ain’t mad.” Ethel grumbled. “The Duke’s a fine gent. I like him. He always asks how I am. I don’t know of no other Duke what comes to the kitchens to ask after the cook and the kitchen maid, let alone a scullery maid like me. He’s a good man.”
“He’s a loon!” Hortence snapped. “I got proof.”
“I don’t want to hear nothin’ ‘bout it.” Ether squinted. “I don’t want no trouble, Hortence. And, I don’t want to hear nothin’ bad ‘bout His Grace nor the doctor. I already told ya that when you was tryin’ to fill me head with tales ‘bout how the Duke and the doctor is…” She blushed. “Ain’t none of my concern.”
“What happens upstairs is the concern of all of us!” Hortence moaned. “We don’t want to live in a house of scandal.”
“Hortence,” Ether growled, returning to her suds, “As long as I got food in me belly, good wages, a comfortable bed and a master what knows me name, I don’t want nothin’ else. We got no cause to complain. Ain’t like we’re sufferin’ here. My last place—they didn’t know nothin’ ‘bout me and the wages weren’t near as good as what the Duke gives us. You’d best keep your gob shut less you ruin it for the rest of us.”
“I ain’t gonna ruin nothin’.” Hortence laughed. “I’m only gonna make it better for my own self. Could make it better for you, too.”
“How could it be better than it is?” Ethel sniffed.
“Oh, just you wait, Ethel.” Hortehce grinned. "Just you wait."
Did you miss Chapters 1-8 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 10.