A Lovely Chat
Gamilla knocked softly on the door to Miss Barrett’s small, but pretty, bedroom off of the night nursery. Ellen rolled over in her bed and mumbled, “Enter.”
Gamilla opened the door and, then, picked up the silver tray she had carried from downstairs. The smell of the food on the tray, at once, nauseated Ellen and made her hungry. She shuddered slightly.
“Oh, Miss,” Gamilla sighed. “You’re still dressed.”
“I am,” Ellen smiled weakly. “I was too tired to undress.”
“You shoulda rung for me, Miss.” Gamilla said softly. “I’d a come to help ya.”
“At two o’clock this morning?” Ellen shook her head as she sat up. “Gamilla, you’re allotted so little sleep as it is.”
“But, them stays have gotta be pinchin’ ya.”
“No more than usual.” Ellen smiled. “Gamilla, thank you for bringing up that beautiful tray, but...”
“You gotta eat somethin’.” Gamilla interrupted. “And, that’s not comin’ from me. It’s comin’ from His Grace. He asked Mrs. Pepper to make up a special tray for you.”
“I’m sure she was thrilled.” Ellen sighed sarcastically. “She’s here to feed the men of the house and, then, downstairs—and on schedule, too. Not to make up trays for the sad governess.”
“Ain’t true,” Gamilla shook her head and smiled. “Mrs. Pepper was happy to do it. Fact, she done tol’ me that she’s prayin’ for ya and whatever troubles your family done got. See, Mr. Speaight—he didn’t say nothin’ but someone in your family was doin’ poorly and that you was takin’ care of him. And, sure, neither Charles nor Gerard ain’t gonna say no more ‘bout it. Mrs. Pepper—she meant it. She’s prayin’ hard and we all is. So, you eat up. Ya hear?”
“I hear.” Ellen smiled. “Everyone has been so kind to me here. I’m not sure what to make of it. I’m really not accustomed to such good treatment.”
“Well, you better get used to it, Miss.”
“That reminds me,” Ellen’s eyes widened happily. “Those are for you.” She pointed to a small, painted porcelain vase of fresh white roses and greenery which sat on the small table by her bed.”
“Certainly.” Ellen nodded. “I promised you that, on my day off, I would bring you some roses. Well, here they are. The vase is for you, too. I thought you’d like it. It’s rather pretty, I think—nothing special, but pretty.”
Gamilla’s eyes filled with appreciative tears. “With all your troubles, you done thought ‘nough of me to take the time to do this?”
“I did make a promise, Gamilla.” Ellen said modestly. “And, really, it was no trouble. I already had the vase and as I made my way back to Belgrave Square, I happened upon a flower girl who was setting up her barrow. She looked so sad. I paused to talk with her and we had a lovely chat. Well, there you are…”
“Thank you so much, Miss.” Gamilla replied emotionally.
“Well, it is I who should thank you. You’ve been so kind to me, and, well, I can never repay you for picking up my duties yesterday while I tended to my…my situation.”
“Ain’t nothin’.” Gamilla shook her head.
“It certainly is.” Ellen waved her hand.
“Now, Miss, you gotta eat. Let me bring you the tray.” Gamilla hurried to the bureau upon which she’d set the tray and carried it to Miss Barrett.
Mrs. Pepper had, in fact, created a lovely spread for Ellen—freshly-baked bread, assorted cheeses, strawberries, cold meats, butter and jam as well as a lovely, little pot of tea.
Ellen eyed the tray. “Have you ever been sick to your stomach and hungry at the same time?”
“Yes, Miss.” Gamilla nodded, counting on her fingers. “Many times. When me and my kin was brought to America. When my sister was sick. When His Grace was havin’ dem troubles with folk who wanted to hurt him. When Dr. Halifax had a terrible fever once while we was in Marionneaux. When my friend Meridian was poisoned. When Gerard got himself beaten by some bad folks…”
“You care very much about your friends.” Ellen smiled gently.
“I do, Miss. They’re all I got now. Lost my mama when I was born. My papa died on the ship from Africa.” She paused to swallow. “Them men was awful to him. My brother was shot in Louisiana. The master thought he was stealin’, but he wasn’t. I thought everything was finally better when Dr. Halifax’s brother bought me to work on his place. But, then, my sister…she got the Yellow Fever. And…” She shook her head. “Aw, but you don’t need to hear ‘bout my troubles.”
“I’m sorry you’ve had any troubles at all, Gamilla. I truly am. Neither you nor your family deserved any of those terrible things. But, I don’t mind hearing about them. If I can offer you some comfort, I’d like to. I know that—just in being yourself—you’ve been such a comfort to me. I’m so glad to call you my friend.”
“It’s my pleasure, Miss.” Gamilla nodded. “Can I ask ya? How is your brother?”
“The duke managed to calm him down. It was a herculean task, too, I might add. I have such respect for His Grace. He was masterful. He and Dr. Halifax helped me bring Roger back to the rooms where he lives with his hired companion. And, they stayed, Gamilla. They stayed for many hours to talk with him and soothe him. I will forever be in their debt.”
“They’re fine gentlemen, Miss. Ain’t no others like them. To be true, Miss, in all the world no two folk never loved each other as much as Mr. Pun…errr…like His Grace and Dr. Halifax do. And, that love they got for one another somehow makes them love everyone else all the better.”
“I think that’s very true.” Ellen nodded, taking a bite from one of the wedges of cheese which Mrs. Pepper had so neatly arranged on a bright china plate. “Dr. Halifax is with Roger’s hired companion right now, talking about the best ways to care for him.” Ellen’s eyes flashed. “Oh, dear! What time is it?”
“Near tea, Miss.” Gamilla smiled.
“I’ve been sleeping all this time?” Ellen yelped nervously. “Oh, dear!”
“Now, you just settle yourself down, Miss. Everyone in this house wants you to get the sleep you need.”
“But, Colin! He’s…”
“He’s with his pappy down in the library. And, they’re having a fine time, too! Last I saw they was on the floor and His Grace was tracing the lines of Colin’s little hands on paper. Jus’ sittin’ there on the floor wit’ Dog Toby. They’s havin’ a grand time. So, you just eat your supper and, then, you take a nice bath and change your clothes. I’ll help ya. I done all my duties for the day.”
“But, surely, when Dr. Halifax returns he’ll want to take tea with His Grace. I’ll need to take Colin to the nursery and…”
“Now, Miss. Ain’t my place, but the Duke himself said for you to eat and rest. He’s got Colin and they’re pleased as…well…pleased as Punch.”
Ellen chuckled loudly. “Bless them…”
Gamilla tapped the tray with her finger. “I ain’t bringin’ no empty dishes down to Mrs. Pepper, so you gotta eat all that. Meanwhile, I’ll get a bath goin’ for ya.”
Ellen sighed. “Thank you so much.”
“Ain’t nothin’,” Gamilla nodded.
Ellen looked up to the ceiling of her comfortable room.
“You all right, Miss?” Gamilla asked, noticing. “You stiff from sleepin’ in your corset?”
“Well, yes.” Ellen giggled. “But, I was just asking God to protect the people in this house. May nothing ever happen to upset the joy here.”
“Nothin’ ever could, Miss.” Gamilla shook her head. “Not one thing.”
Meanwhile, quite a way from the luxury of Belgrave Square, William Stover knocked on the grubby door of a sooty, brown, battered, narrow, mean row house.
A chubby woman with thinning blonde hair answered the door. The lines on her face belied her youth. On her hip, she carried a sticky infant with a distended belly and ruddy cheeks.
“Well?” The woman growled at William.
“As charming as always, Eudora.” William sighed as he entered the house, nearly gagging on the smell within.
“I don’t gotta be charmin’ to ya, Willy.”
“You could smile for your brother.”
“Willy—ain’t no woman’s smile gonna do nothin’ for ya.” Eudora cackled. “So, did ya see your ol’ friend?” She winked.
“No, Eudora. He was not in.” William scowled.
“Then, did ya see the loon?”
“He doesn’t seem like a lunatic.” William shrugged. “He’s a very articulate…”
“He’s well-spoken, ‘Dora.” William snorted.
“What’s he look like, then? Wild-eyed with a shock of wiry hair?”
“No. He’s quite handsome. In fact, he’s terribly handsome.”
“Course he is! See, then? All that Fallbridge gold! Course he looks handsome. If I had that money, I’d be as pretty as a picture, me-self. So, he saw ya, then?”
“What’d he say?”
“He was very kind.”
“Them kind always is to a gent.”
“Shut your gob, Eudora.”
“So…he didn’t do nothin’ barmy?”
“Not at all. He welcomed me into his home and we spoke of Dr. Halifax.”
“She says he looks all nice and sane, but he’s really a wild man.”
“I saw no sign of it.”
“No, Eudora, I won’t. She’s your friend, not mine. I have no quarrel with the Duke of Fallbridge.”
“Don’t ya? Took your…friend…from ya. Ya dirty little pig.”
William frowned at his sister.
“Oh, now you’re high and mighty. Well, if you heard some of the things what Hortence told me, you’d be laughin’ outta the other side of your face!”
“I want nothing to do with your friend’s scheme. Dr. Halifax was once my friend. He’s happy in that grand house with the Duke. And, why shouldn’t he be?”
“He rejected ya, didn’t he?”
“That’s no reason for the man to suffer.”
“All men should suffer.” Eudora growled.
“I wish you’d never told Hortence that I knew Dr. Halifax.”
“Do ya, then? How could I not? When my dear friend came cryin’ to me about the awful way she was treated by that man…well, how could I keep it from her? I didn’t know that the doctor in the Duke’s house was the same bloke what broke me baby brother’s heart ‘til she said his name. Only ever called him ‘the doctor’ them other times what I seen her while she were there. How was I to know? Well, when I learned it, Willy, I had to tell her what I knew. And, brother dear, if you heard the things she tol’ me, you wouldn’t be so quick to protect neither o’ those men. The things that go on in that house! Hortence says she saw…”
“Do you know what I saw, Eudora? I saw a kind, wealthy man with an elegant home who clearly has nothing but affection in his heart. From what I saw, he loves his companion and his son and has respect for the household staff. Your friend Hortence is nothin’ but a whining liar. And lazy and cruel, too. You know it to be true! She’s always been a hag, that one. I don’t know why you bother with her other than the fact that she nicks wine for you from her masters’ homes. Wine and the occasional spoon.”
“Like them rich folk ever miss it!” Eudora snapped. “Them’s what’s got oughta give to us what don’t.”
“If you could stay off of your back for a few minutes, you’d have a lot more than you do!” William snapped.
“Willy! You break my heart! Your own sister’s heart.”
“Good.” William grumbled. “I did what you asked. And, I’m grateful for it. Now I know that Robert is in a happy home. Sure, I was envious and jealous when I read ‘bout him in the news and when I heard those rumors. And, sure, when you told me that your beloved Hortence had worked in that fine house, I was curious. But, what I saw was a good, joyful place lorded over by a gentleman. He didn’t have to speak with me! He knew I was once a friend of his companion. Any other man would have been cruel to me or sent me away. But, this one, though he didn’t want to talk with me—I could see it—he was kind and polite. If Robert is happy, I think we should let him be. Besides, this isn’t the first time your Hortence has been sacked for being a bleeding cow. Each time she is, she does this! She cries and threatens. Yet, she never gets any further than she ever is.”
“This time she will.” Eudora sniffed. “Do you hear me? That man—the handsome Duke—is a loony and we all know it. All of London knows it! And, my Hortence is gonna finally get what she’s owed. We’re gonna see to it, and you’re gonna help us. So help me God, you’re gonna help us! I see all them fine folk what’s got theirs. Where’s mine, then? When do I get mine? Oh. You’re gonna help me get mine, Willy. Me and Hortence, too! You owe me this!”
“Why? How do I owe you?”
“It were your mate what gave me this child!” Eudora smirked, hiking the infant on her hip. “Had I not met him at your place, I’d not be in this mess.”
“What about the other four children?”
“Them’s me own business.” Eudora muttered.
“Even if it were my responsibility, I owe nothing to Hortence.”
“You promised her a job, you did! One that would get her out of service and into her own home! She coulda been a lady.”
“No job would make that bitch a lady!”
“You watch your tongue, you little…” Eudora snapped.
“I gave Hortence a job at the factory and she lasted less than one day. In five hours she managed to break three times more figures than she was able to paint. If she failed it was her own fault, not mine!”
“You never gave her proper trainin’. You never showed her what to do!”
“A trained monkey could have painted the rims of those figures without breaking as many as she did!”
“You lie. You’re a liar, Willy. Always were! Now, you help us!”
“You would really do this? You would wish to ruin a man who always showed you kindness? When Dr. Halifax and I were acquainted, he came here many times to help you without charge. He was kind to you and your bastard children.”
Eudora gasped. “Fine way to speak of your nephews and nieces! And your precious doctor didn’t give us no better treatment than a farmer would give a mule.”
“How fitting!” William laughed.
“You hold your tongue!” Eudora spat.
“Fine.” William scoffed. “I’ll hold my tongue as I leave. Good evening, sister dear.”
“Stop right there, Willy.” Eudora warned.
“Cuz if you don’t do what I say, I’m gonna go see pa.”
Will they let you visit him in gaol?”
“Oh, they will.” Eudora smirked. “And, when I see him, I’ll tell him his only son is a…”
“What good would that do?”
“Wouldn’t do no good.” Eudora laughed. “But, when pa finds out and he gets out of that prison—and he will—he’ll make sure to bathe in your blood. You know he will. He won’t want no son of his livin’ the way you do. You’re a sinner. Our pa ain’t gonna want to know that his only boy is a sinner! And, when he does, you’ll die for your sins, you filthy beast!”
William’s ruddy face went pale.
“That’s right, Willy. Now, what do you say?”
Did you miss Chapters 1-27 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 29.