“Oh, Sir, your poor throat,” Gamilla gasped as she came down the curving staircase to see the Duke and Dr. Halifax returning from delivering Roger Barrett to the suite of rooms that Ellen had hired.
“Ain’t nothin’, Gamilla,” Mr. Punch responded after looking around to see if he could speak freely without Violet or Speaight overhearing.
“Gerard, he done tol’ me what happened today, Your Grace. You don’t need to worry none. He nor Charles ain’t gonna say nothin’ to no one downstairs. Is you terrible hurt?”
“No, I’m not, Gamilla.” Mr. Punch smiled. “It’s just a bruise. No more.”
“What of Miss Ellen’s brother, Sirs?” Gamilla asked.
“We’ve gotten him settled into the rooms where he stays. Ellen will stay with him through the night. I must say that His Grace did an exquisite job in calming the man.”
Mr. Punch shrugged and blushed. “Weren’t nothin’. Here, Gamilla, with Miss Barrett not in tonight, will you…”
Gamilla nodded, not meaning to interrupt, but pleased to be of some assistance. “I already done been tol’ by Mr. Speaight that Vi will take my other duties today so I can stay in the nursery with Master Colin.”
“Poor Violet,” Mr. Punch shook his head. “Is she upset?”
“No, Sir.” Gamilla replied. “Your Grace, I think everyone downstairs is concerned, is all. Mr. Speaight—he knows that Charles and Gerard and me know ‘bout Miss Barrett’s brother. But,he only tol’ the other folk that there was an illness in Miss Barrett’s family and that she needed to help. He didn’t say nothin’ else. Vi—she likes Miss Ellen, so she wanted to be able to help, too. With her doin’ my parlor maid duties, she feels like she’s helpin.”
“We got good folk here, Chum.” Punch smiled at Robert.
“Indeed we do. We need one more, however. Gamilla and Violet can’t make up for all of Hortence’s responsibilities on their own, especially if Gamilla will be needed more in the nursery.”
“Oh, Mr. Speaight’s already lined up three girls for ya to see when ya got time, Dr. Halifax.”
“I’m glad to know it.”
“Here, how’s Colin?” Punch asked.
“Missin’ his papas, but he’s fine. Sittin’ with Dog Toby now. I’m jus’ comin’ down for to get him a bit to eat. I figured I oughtn’t ring what with Vi so busy. Ain’t right to ask Charles or Gerard bring up nursery tea.”
“Thank you for all you’ve done, Gamilla.” Punch smiled.
“Of course, Your Grace.”
“We’ll see you when we come up after tea to visit with Colin.” Robert nodded as Gamilla hurried toward the stairs to the servants’ hall.
“You know?” Mr. Punch began as he and Robert climbed the stairs to the library. “We ain’t eaten a thing today—neither of us. Funny I didn’t notice ‘til Gamilla said somethin’.”
“It was a very trying day, my dear,” Robert nodded. “Those are the days when we tend to not think of our human wants and needs, but, instead worry about those of others.”
“Reckon so,” Punch nodded as they entered the library. “Still, tea would be a treat.”
“I agree,” Robert smiled. “I’ll ring.”
“Oh—meant to tell ya ‘fore we left with Miss Barrett and Mr. Barrett. Speaight heard me talkin’ like me-self today. Looked confused. I didn’t think ‘bout it none. Were just after Mr. Barrett choked me.”
“We can just tell him—if need be—that you were overexcited by what had just happened. Still, I’m sure he’s not thought of it.”
“I’ll wager he did.” Mr. Punch chuckled. “He gave me a terrible queer look. Poor Speaight, he’s always tryin’ to figure out what he’s missin’. He knows Gamilla and Charles and Gerard know me secret, he does.”
“Speaight knows his place.” Robert sighed. “He wouldn’t dare question anything.”
“Still, it’s sad that I gotta hide in me own house.”
“Yes, it is.” Robert said softly.
“But, least I can hide.” Punch shook his head. “Least I got—as you say—control. Poor Mr. Barrett, he don’t.”
“No.” Robert nodded. “Dear Punch, I must say, you were brilliant with him today. You were able to soothe him and, even by the time we left, make him smile. It was quite remarkable. How did you ever think of it? What made you decide to distract him with your puppet?”
Punch shrugged. “Jus’ seemed right to me. See, like I tol’ ya, when Julian were a boy, it were his puppet what he talked to make him feel better. That’s where I come from—that notion of a puppet as a…”
“Yes.” Punch nodded. “I thought maybe me own puppet might do the same for Mr. Barrett.”
“It was a stroke of genius. Frankly, you didn’t need me at all.”
“Oh, no! Take it back right now. I always need you, Chum.”
Robert smiled. “I only meant that I did nothing except watch you. I was terribly impressed.”
“I thank you,” Punch sighed. “I figured that’s the way to do it.” He paused to chuckle for a moment, but maintained his composire, “ I wanted him to not just feel calmer, but to talk. I learned from you, I did, that the only way you can help someone is to listen. You—as a physician—needed to hear what the man had to say. So, all I done was make him talk.”
“I learned quite a bit. I counted at least six different entities in him. Perhaps more.”
“See?” Mr. Punch winked. “You did quite a lot.”
“I still have no idea what to do next.” Robert mumbled.
“We’ll think o’ somethin.’”
“I have no doubt.” Robert finally smiled. “With you at my side, I’m sure we’ll be able to do something to give this man some peace.”
Just as Punch was about to ring again, Speaight entered the room.
“My apologies for being late, Your Grace,” Speaight bowed his head, but not his eyes. He looked curiously at the Duke for a moment, and Punch immediately knew that the butler was curious about what he’d seen earlier. “We are a trifle…”
“Short-staffed?” Robert interjected.
“See if you can arrange interviews with those girls tomorrow.” Robert suggested.
“That would be most helpful.” Speaight said with relief. “May I ask, Sir, were you able to assist Miss Barrett’s brother?”
“For the time being.” Robert replied. “Miss Barrett will stay with him tonight.”
“Very good, Sir.”
“I appreciate that you’ve kept this to yourself, too.” Robert continued. “We don’t need to trouble the rest of the staff with it.”
“Here…” Punch began, catching himself using his Punch-manner. He cleared his throat, and, then, in Julian’s voice asked, “Here…we are…very hungry indeed. I don’t suppose that Mrs. Pepper is ready for tea?”
“Yes, Sir, she is. She hoped you’d be home soon and she’s prepared a very special tea for you today. I had mentioned that you’d been injured and she wanted to make something that she knew you’d enjoy.”
“I’m very pleased,” Punch replied. “You must thank her for me.”
“I shall, Your Grace.” Speaight nodded. “May I ask…how are you?”
“Just bruised, Speaight.” Mr. Punch replied, still as Julian. “There’s no need for alarm.”
“Very good, Your Grace.” Speaight replied. “I shall go send Charles and Gerard up with your tea.”
He paused in the door.
“Something else?” Robert asked.
“Yes, Sir. I’ve just remembered. It’s been such an unusual day. You had a visitor earlier, Dr. Halifax—while you were out.”
“Another one?” Punch chirped, immediately aware that he shouldn’t have.
“Yes, Sir.” Speight replied, trying not to chuckle at his master’s utter disgust at the thought of someone else coming to the house.
“Please, Speaight, tell me that it wasn’t that dreadful Lady Constance again.” Punch continued.
“No, Your Grace. The visitor was a man, asking after Dr. Halifax.” Speaight walked to the center table and retrieved the small silver salver in which he had placed the visitor’s calling card. He presented it to Dr. Halifax who looked at it quickly and set it in his lap.
“Thank you, Speaight.” Robert nodded slowly. “What did you tell him?”
“I said that you were not at home and that I would tell you that he called, Sir.”
Without another word, Speaight left to make the arrangements for tea.
“Who came?” Punch asked once they were alone.
“An old friend.” Robert answered softly.
“What’s his name?”
“William. William Stover.”
“Don’t know the name. You never mentioned him. Who is he?”
“Just an old friend.” Robert blushed. “We haven’t spoken in…many months, I suppose. The last I saw him was several months before I left for America.”
“And, met me.” Mr. Punch grinned proudly.
“Yes,” Robert winked.
“Why’d you stop talkin’ to this William bloke?”
“We had…” Robert squinted, shaking his head, “…a…difference of opinion.”
“Nothing of much importance now.”
“How you know him?”
“We met in Brompton at the Museum of Manufacture. Well, actually Marlborough House.”
“Just after the Great Exhibition.”
“And you were friends?”
“Yes.” Robert nodded.
“Friends like I’m friends with your brother, Cecil, or...friends like you and I are friends?”
Robert frowned. “I suppose I’d have to say somewhere in between.”
“I see.” Mr. Punch frowned, too.
“You and I hadn’t met—not officially.”
“I know.” Mr. Punch scowled.
“I’d only seen you from afar—when you were with Their Majesties. And, then, when you—Punch—came to me after…well…after the event in Covent Garden.”
“Mmmmhmmm.” Mr. Punch mumbled.
“I hate him.”
“Who?” Robert asked. “William?”
“That’s right.” Mr. Punch responded. He raised an eyebrow. “Though I can’t quite figure why I do.”
“I think it’s called ‘jealousy.’”
“That ain’t what it’s called.” Mr. Punch grumbled.
“I’d be jealous if one of your old friends paid a call.”
“Don’t got no old friends.” Mr. Punch squinted.
“Well, one of Julian’s old friends, then.”
“Julian ain’t got none neither.”
“None?” Robert asked with wide eyes. “Not even one? Surely he must have…well, surely you…”
“No?" Robert asked.
Robert smiled proudly.
Mr. Punch tried not to smile. “You like that, then, do ya?”
“Well, I must confess that I do.”
“Ugly, ugly, ugly…” Mr. Punch clucked his tongue.
“So, what’s he do—this stupid William bloke?”
“He’s modeler. He used to work for the Derby Porcelain Factory. He came to London to open his own shop.”
“I see.” Punch answered. “What’s he look like?”
“Oh—nothing special.” Robert shook his head.
“Really?” Mr. Punch frowned again. “I’ll tell ya what he looks like.”
“Yep.” Mr. Punch said. “He’s your height, dark eyes, fit build and auburn hair.”
“No.” Robert laughed. “He’s short. And blond—slightly balding. And rather shaped like a barrel.”
“Oh.” Punch smiled.
“Did you really think that he’d look like you?”
“Wasn’t sure.” Punch sighed. “Why’d you stop talkin’?”
“As I said, we had a disagreement.”
“It doesn’t matter, my dear.”
“Ain’t ya gonna tell me?”
“No, because it doesn’t matter.”
“Tell me!” Mr. Punch moaned.
“Fine. He wanted to take a small house and asked if I would share it with him.”
“But, you didn’t want to?”
“No. I did not.”
“Honestly, Punch,” Robert replied plainly, “because he…”
“He wasn’t you.”
Mr. Punch grinned. “Me? But, we...”
“Yes…you. I’d…I…” Robert interrupted. "I just..."
“You don’t gotta say no more.” Mr. Punch smiled gently. “Sorry I asked so many questions. Just curious, I am. And, well, sure maybe a little jealous, too.”
“You have no cause to be.” Robert chuckled. “I don’t know how he even knew I was here. He’d written to me before I left for America. I wrote back and simply said I was going away and that I didn’t care to speak with him nor see him. I wished him well and thought that was the end of it. I can’t imagine how he found me or even knew I’d returned.”
“I do.” Mr. Punch said proudly. “Saw it in the ‘Illustrated News,’ he did.”
“I didn’t have a chance to tell ya what with the whole kerfuffle today only you was mentioned in the news today—twice.”
“Once to say that you’d gone with me to the palace, and another time to say you’d been the attending doctor when Lord Glencaron died. It said somethin’ like, ‘Dr. Robert Halifax of No. 65 Belgrave Square.”
“Well, that’s the answer, then.”
“What ya gonna do when he comes back? Cuz…ya know he’s gonna come back.”
“Maybe he won’t.” Robert shrugged.
“Oh, he will.” Mr. Punch winked.
“If he does,” Robert replied. “I shall simply introduce him to you and...”
“And I’ll hit him over the head with a chair.” Punch grinned.
“Fine. I won’t.” Mr. Punch shrugged. “Only, I’ll think ‘bout it.”
“Go ahead and do that.” Robert laughed.
Before Punch could say another word, Charles and Gerard arrived with the tea trays.
“Coo!” Mr. Punch shouted before even seeing the contents of the trays. “Sausages for tea! Ain’t Mrs. Pepper wonderful?”
“That she is, my dear.” Robert nodded, tucking William’s card into his waistcoat pocket. “That she is.”
Did you miss Chapters 1-25 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 27.