Just Keep Talking
After bathing and dressing quickly—and without the assistance of Gerard who remained with Charles, Ellen and Roger—Dr. Robert Halifax met Mr. Punch in his bedchamber.
“Shall we?” Robert sighed.
“I ‘spose.” Mr. Punch nodded hesitantly. “Here, it’s queer, ain’t it?”
“Rightfully so,” Robert nodded. “The man did try to kill you.”
“I know. I ought not to be scared of him, though. After all, he’s a man like me—a man what has more than one person in ‘im. I ought to know just what to say to ‘im. Yet, I don’t.”
“Dear Punch,” Robert said gently, “just because the man shares a similar characteristic to you…it doesn’t mean that you’re exactly the same. You’re right to be cautious. While you’re fortunate in that the entities in you are relatively benign, we don’t know with what we’re about to be presented from Miss Barrett’s brother.”
“But, I got others in me, I do. Ain’t as if it’s just me and Julian what’s in here.” He tapped his chest. “We know I got Guignol and Scaramouche, too. They ain’t so very pleasant, they ain’t.”
“True, but they’re creatures of anger. I’m confident that as vitriolic as your Mr. Scaramouche is, he wouldn’t be murderous. You and Julian wouldn’t allow it. I understand the politics of your situation, dear Punch, but I don’t know what we’ve got in Mr. Barrett. He could be populated by murderers and rogues where you’re composed of sensitive souls. Furthermore, you have control. We’ve not seen any evidence of Scaramouche or Guignol in months. You have remained steady. Obviously Roger is not.”
“Still, I do feel bad for the fella.”
“As do I.” Robert agreed. “However, sympathy does not cancel caution.”
Mr. Punch nodded. “Think we can help him?”
“I hope so.” Robert sighed. “However, we can’t be sure what troubles him. Nor can we be sure exactly what the desired end result is. This isn’t like scrofula. We’re not necessarily seeking a ‘cure,’ but rather a treatment.”
“How’d you treat me?”
“I didn’t.” Robert smiled. “I saw no need. Honestly, I’ve never sought to change you, only to understand you. Never once have I imagined that I wanted to kill the others inside you. I’ve never wished for you to be anything other than what you are. I love what you are. I love that you’re who you are. If Roger is blessed with an entity like you within him—a creature that’s gentle and kind and intelligent—I’d hope to bring that person out. However, what if he doesn’t? Can we create such a creature? Can we ‘treat’ him or ‘cure’ him? Will we need to? With you, I simply want to foster what you’ve become. With him, we may need to erase it. The two situations are quite different.”
Mr. Punch smiled.
“I’ve sometimes wondered if you never wanted me to be different—to be like other folks. Seems like you’re happy with me as I am, you are.”
“Very much so.” Robert winked. “Never doubt it. Still, that doesn’t mean that others whose minds and souls are like yours don’t wish to be different. Nor does it mean that others like you may not require being different.”
“You’ve thought ‘bout this quite a lot, haven’t you?”
“Yes,” Robert sighed. “Dear Punch, I have. Cecil, in fact, before we returned home and even via post, has urged me to write a book on the subject.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“I saw no need to mention it.” Robert shrugged.
“Here, why not?”
“I know that you don’t like to think about the mechanics of your situation and, truly, I know you worry about it. I saw no need to add to your worry.”
“But, I think it’s a good idea, I do.”
“Sure, I do!” Mr. Punch replied. “Before today, like I said, I never thought ‘bout there bein’ others who had…well, who was like me. Always thought I was the only one. But, if there are others, and there are folks like this poor bloke what aren’t as fortunate as I am, I think we should help them find the sort of peace what I got. If anyone can do it, it’s you.”
“It’s us.” Robert corrected his companion. “This is something that the two of us can do together.”
Mr. Punch grinned.
“Now, I suppose we’d best not keep them waiting any longer. Poor Charles and Gerard must be terribly confused.”
“They’re intelligent men, they are.” Punch said as he and Robert walked into the passage. “I reckon they figured out what Mr. Barrett’s situation is.”
“I’m sure that’s true.” Robert nodded as he placed his hand on the knob of his study door. “Let’s go, then.”
Robert and Punch entered the study to find Ellen seated on the floor next to her brother who was curled up in a ball—much like a baby. He cooed and gurgled as Ellen whispered soothingly to him.
“Charles,” Robert began. “How long has Mr. Barrett been like this?”
“Since Miss Barrett came in, Sir.” Charles answered softly.
“When he saw her, Sirs,” Gerard added, “he yelped and scurried there to the corner like a sick animal.”
“It’s terribly sad, Sir.” Charles shook his head.
“It is,” Robert shook his head. “I appreciate that you two have stayed as long as you have. As you can see, Mr. Barrett is quite ill.”
“Yes, Sir.” Gerard answered both for himself and his friend. “Only, Sir…is he dangerous? We don’t want him doin’ again what he did to His Grace.”
Robert sighed. “Honestly, I don’t know what will happen.”
“We’ll stay, then, Sir.” Gerard said. “If you don’t mind.”
“That decision is one that Miss Barrett must make.” Robert nodded.
Ellen looked up. “I don’t mind if they stay, Sir. In fact, I think it best.”
Robert nodded again.
“To be sure, Sir, I think we’d feel better if we did,” Charles added.
“I would also.” Robert said softly.
During this exchange, Mr. Punch was watching Roger with wide eyes.
“Here, Charles,” Punch said after awhile. “Would you run to me room and get me puppet?”
“Don’t know why, really,” Punch sighed. “Only do it, please.”
“I’ll be quick about it, Your Grace.” Charles nodded, walking quickly from Robert’s study. Roger didn’t seem to notice. In fact, he didn’t seem aware of anything around him other, perhaps, Ellen’s voice.
“What do you have in mind?” Robert whispered to his companion.
“Not sure.” Punch answered softly.
Charles quickly returned with the puppet of Punch and handed it to his master.
Mr. Punch placed the puppet on his hand and silently walked to the corner of the room where Ellen sat next to her brother. He crouched down next to them and slowly showed the puppet to Roger who did, in fact, notice it right away.
“Hullo,” Mr. Punch said in his own voice. “Look, Roger. I got a puppet. Ain’t he fine?”
Roger sat up, but said nothing.
“He’s Mr. Punch.” Punch continued. “And, I am, too.”
“No you’re not!” Roger snarled. “You’re the Duke of Fallbridge.”
“I’m both.” Mr. Punch replied.
“You can’t be!” Roger snapped. “That’s a puppet and you’re a man.”
“And you’re a man, too.” Punch answered as Robert watched in fascination. “What’s your name?”
“Victor.” Roger answered.
“Only it ain’t,” Mr. Punch shook his head. “Who is this nice lady?” He pointed to Ellen.
“My sister.” Roger replied.
“Well, then, if your name is Victor, how’s she your sister?”
Roger growled. “You’re trying to trick me!”
“No.” Mr. Punch smiled. “I’m tryin’ to tell ya that you’re like me. See, I’m both Mr. Punch and the Duke of Fallbridge. You’re both Roger and the bloke what you call Victor. Maybe more.”
Roger’s eyes welled up with tears.
“Aw, listen. It ain’t nothin’ to cry ‘bout. I understand that it makes ya sad, but ‘stead of lettin’ that sadness make you feel worse, why not talk ‘bout what you’re thinkin’.”
“I don’t want to.” Roger said softly.
“Well, if you don’t want to talk to me, how ‘bout you talk to the puppet? He won’t think nothin’ of it. He’ll like it, too.”
“Sure he will.” Punch said. “Go on.”
“I’m frightened.” Roger whispered to the puppet.
Punch made the figure nod.
“My head hurts,” Roger continued.
Mr. Punch looked up at Robert who grinned back his approval.
“Isn’t that something?” Gerard muttered. “What a wonderful man His Grace is.”
“Undoubtedly.” Robert said emotionally as he watched Roger continue to speak softly to the puppet.
Ellen wiped her eyes on a lace handkerchief.
“See,” Punch said gently. “You can talk to him. Keep talkin’. Just keep talkin’.”
Did you miss Chapters 1-24 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 26.