An Unexpected Rise and Fall
The decanted wine in its glimmering crystal vessel shone as red as the rubies which Gerard had seen in the Duke’s jewel case. Gerard eyed the decanter and sighed. It did look inviting.
“Gerard?” Charles whispered as he walked through Speaight’s pantry to collect some of the serving pieces he’d forgotten earlier.
“Just lookin’.” Gerard winked. “Ain’t no harm in lookin’.”
“No, Gerry.” Charles smiled. “However, His Grace and the doctor will be headed into the dining room in about five minutes. We want the wine on the sideboard.”
“Sure,” Gerard nodded. “Don’t know why we put it out at all. His Grace never has any and the doctor might have one glass and that he doesn’t even finish. What happens with the rest of it?”
Charles whispered, “Look in at Mr. Speaight some evening just after upstairs dinner.”
“No?” Gerard’s eyes widened. “Likes a nip, does he?”
“I’m not sayin’ he does. I’m just sayin’ we open more wine bottles than we see the masters empty. Come on, Gerry, you’ve seen Mrs. Pepper and Mr. Speaight after dinner—back by the larder.”
“They’re havin’ their end of day meetin’ to get ready for the followin’ day.” Gerard answered innocently.
“Yeah,” Gerard chuckled. “With a little drop of wine to oil the gears.”
“That don’t seem right.” Gerard frowned.
“Ah—the doctor knows ‘bout it, I’m sure. He doesn’t mind.” Charles shrugged. “Now, let’s get on, then.”
Gerard nodded, picking up the wine tray and heading from the pantry. “Guess they can handle it better than I. One sip and I’m a wild man.”
“I’m with you, mate.” Charles smiled. “Can’t take one drop before I’m a clown. Never could hold spirits. Nor even med’cine.” He paused. “Careful on the stairs, then,” Charles warned.
“Why?” Gerard asked, not slowing down.
“Ethel scrubbed the steps. The stone’s all wet and slick.”
“Ain’t it early for that? She ain’t ‘sposed to do that ‘til the end of the night.”
“Said she had done her duties in the scullery and wanted to get ahead. You should have heard Mrs. Pepper screaming at her. Oh—did she blubber, Ethel did!”
“Is that what that was?” Gerard laughed, carefully mounting the stairs. “I thought someone was killin’ a cat in the mews.”
“What’s all this talk, men?” Mr. Speaight asked. “The masters will be coming down any minute!”
“Yes, Mr. Speaight.” Charles nodded.
Watching the men hurry up the slick stairs, Mr. Speaight grew pink in the face. “Mrs. Pepper!” He shouted. “Hasn’t that girl wiped these down yet?”
“Little fool’s in the scullery cryin’ her eyes out.” Mrs. Pepper called back from her kitchen.
“More water…” Speaight grumbled. “Meanwhile, we’ll all break our necks.”
“I’ll do it, Mr. Speaight,” Violet volunteered, hurrying out of the servants’ hall.
“Thank you, girl.” Speaight smiled. “But, it’s Ethel’s responsibility. Besides, I need you to bring up the nursery dinner. Gamilla’s lighting the drawing room lamps.”
“Yes, Sir.” Violet nodded.
“Mind the steps, then.”
Mrs. Pepper wandered out of the kitchen, wiping her brow on the hem of her apron. “Well, then, Mr. Speaight. Everything’s upstairs.”
“And, it smells lovely, Mrs. Pepper.” Speaight grinned. “You’ve outdone yourself once again. That roast is a masterpiece”
“Saved some for our own supper, too.” Mrs. Pepper said proudly. “Thought we deserved a treat this week, I did.”
“And, we do.” Speaight winked. “We’ll talk about it during our meeting tonight.”
“That we will, Mr. Speaight,” Mrs. Pepper blushed.
“That, and, of course what the doctor spoke with me about this morning.”
“I’m ever-so excited, Mr. Speaight,” Mrs. Pepper grinned broadly. “Oh, but it’s been years since I’ve made a grand cake like that. I’ll do those fine men proud I will. It’ll be a proper celebration. Ain’t it a treat to be in a house where there’s cause to celebrate? Yes, I’ll make a grand cake for His Grace.”
“I have no doubt, Mrs. Pepper.” Speaight nodded. “Now, why don’t you rest your feet? Jenny can get downstairs dinner on the table. The boys and I will be down in about an hour.”
Mrs. Pepper nodded.
“And for God’s sake, get that girl out of the scullery and have her wipe down these steps, please.”
“Oh, aye…” Mrs. Pepper scowled. “I ain’t through with her. Mark my words.”
Speaight chuckled as he climbed the slick steps, entering the mansion’s grand foyer just as the Duke and the Doctor were coming down from the drawing room.
“Dinner is served, gentlemen.” Speaight smiled politely.
Looking quite handsome in his evening clothes, Dr. Halifax nodded. “And not a moment too soon, Speaight. I’m famished.”
“Is it beef? Coo, but I love beef!” Mr. Punch asked, forgetting for a moment to affect his “Julian, Duke of Fallbridge,” voice for Speaight’s benefit.
“Yes, Your Grace.” Speaight nodded.
Mr. Punch blushed.
Speaight nodded again.
“Oh bugger!” Punch groaned.
Robert laughed heartily.
Speaight couldn’t help but chuckle.
Punch looked to Robert who nodded. “Go on, Your Grace.”
“Listen, Speaight, butler chum,” Punch continued. “I gotta tell ya somethin’.”
“Yes, Your Grace,” Speaight nodded.
“Sure you know by now that I’m different.”
“Delightfully so, Sir.”
“See, each night, we go into that fine dining room to eat them good vittles what Mrs. Pepper makes and I dread it—which ain’t right cuz I love to eat so much. You know?”
“But, I dread it, see, cuz I gotta talk like the Duke. Sure, I’m the Duke, I am, but I’m also…well…” Punch mumbled.
“You owe me no explanation, Sir.” Speaight shook his head. “This is your home. You may speak in any manner you like whether I’m present or not. With respect, Your Grace, I have noticed that you are called ‘Mr. Punch’ by Dr. Halifax. This knowledge will never leave this house nor does it cause me to waver in my unceasing respect and loyalty to you. My position is to keep the household running smoothly and to ensure the continued happiness of the masters. You, Sir, no matter how you speak, are the Duke of Fallbridge. You are the master of this house. You are free to do as you like. I am here to protect your freedom and happiness.”
“Thanks, Speaight.” Mr. Punch smiled.
“And, if I may be so bold, Sir…I rather like to hear you speak in this manner. I find it charming.”
“What a relief!” Mr. Punch whooped. He, then, sniffed the air. “Dinner…” he mumbled, wandering into the dining room.
“Speaight,” Robert began, hanging behind. “Obviously…”
“I will not say a word of it to the others downstairs, Sir.”
“Thank you.” Robert nodded.
“Nor to anyone outside of the household. Am I correct in assuming that Charles, Gerard and Gamilla know of this already?”
“Yes.” Robert nodded. “Since they served His Grace in New Orleans where this particular persona first became dominant, they are quite familiar with him. Miss Barrett was told as well so that His Grace could maintain complete freedom in interacting with our son.”
“Very good, Sir.”
“I realize, Speaight, that ours is a rather unconventional household.”
“The best always are.” Speaight replied thoughtfully. “I’ve worked for peers before, Sir. Never, of course, of the rank of His Grace, but high enough. And, I must say that in the finest homes in London, the people that we expect to be the most rigid are often those who are the most uninhibited. I’m grateful that this is a household of joy. I’ve seen others, Sir, which were not.”
“Still, you’ve been asked to accept quite a lot.”
“As I see it, Sir, I have two fine gentlemen as masters who have given all of us the most comfortable and pleasurable of homes.”
“You’re a treasure, Speaight.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
“Chum!” Punch called from the dining room. “Dinner!”
Speaight looked down to the black and white marble floor of the foyer and grinned.
“We’d best get in there, Speaight.” Robert chuckled.
Unlike past dinners in the monumental dining room at No. 65, this one was light-hearted. Speaight was proud that the doctor and the Duke had entrusted him with their secret and Charles and Gerard, having realized that Speaight had become aware, were more relaxed than usual. While they didn’t participate in the gentlemen’s dinner conversation, they felt comfortable enough to smile as they two men chatted. And, as the three staff members stood in the grand room, even though they were servants, they felt as if they were part of the family.
“So, I were thinkin’, chum,” Mr. Punch said, pausing to chew a giant mouthful of roast.
“About what, dear Punch?” Robert responded, also more relaxed than usual.
“Maybe we ought to paint this room,” Punch replied, looking around.
“Why?” Robert asked. “It’s such a lovely room.”
“Only it don’t match the rest o’ the house what’s all bright and cheerful. All the other reception rooms is coral and turquoise and yellow. This room is gray…”
“I think it’s quite handsome. The white pilasters, mouldings and the mantelpiece look quite fine against the gray plaster.”
“They’d look better if the walls was a color.”
“What did you have in mind?”
“Maybe purple. Or red!” Punch chirped. “Here, boys, what ya think?” He looked to Gerard, Charles and Speaight.
They didn’t answer.
“Well, come on!” Punch smiled. “You’re in here as much as we are. More,l really.”
“Didn’t you choose the gray, Your Grace?” Charles asked.
“Nah…” Mr. Punch shook his head. “This were the only room that weren’t changed when we…er…I…bought the lease to the house. It were gray before.”
“Your Grace, the paintings all look quite fine on the walls, Sir.”
“But, they’re landscapes. Italian landscapes at that! Charles, your people is from Italy. Ain’t it a colorful place? Wouldn’t these handsome paintings look better against a color?”
Charles was terribly pleased to be asked his opinion. “When I was a boy, Sir, we lived in a very grand home. Our dining room also had paintings like these. Good paintings from masters. Our walls were a lush red.”
“See?” Mr. Punch smiled proudly.
“Red would look handsome.” Robert nodded.
“I can arrange for some painters, Your Grace,” Speaight nodded.
“I’d like that.” Mr. Punch nodded eagerly.
“They’ll help you select the exact color you want.”
“Hooray!” Mr. Punch chirped. “That’s the way to do it!”
All five men in the room smiled, feeling at ease.
“Here!” Mr. Punch continued. “I also had another thought!”
“Yes?” Robert chuckled.
“Remember when we received the announcement of Lady Chitsworth’s daughter’s christening?”
“Yes.” Robert nodded.
“Seems to me we ought to see that Colin’s christened.”
“I hadn’t thought of it, really.” Robert squinted.
“What you think?”
“I think we should.” Robert winked.
“That way, his name will be his forever. See?” Punch looked up at Speaight. “When Dr. Halifax and I adopted Colin, we just gave him that name after my father.”
“Sir Colin Molliner.” Speaight nodded.
“But, since he’s to inherit my title one day, and be the tenth Duke of Fallbridge, he should be christened and given a proper name. Don’t ya think?”
“I do, Sir.” Speaight smiled.
“How do we go about that?” Mr. Punch asked.
“I can made those arrangements for us,” Robert beamed with pride.
“Good. But, don’t we gotta give the boy a name?”
“He has a name.” Robert grinned.
“Well…sure, but a big name.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Well, when Julian…” Punch began. He paused, looking at Speaight. “Well, when I was christened I were called Julian Edward Matthew George Molliner. And, now, I’m Julian Edward Matthew George, Ninth Duke of Fallbridge. See? A big name.”
“Yes.” Robert chuckled.
“And, you got a big name, too.”
“Not as big as yours.” Robert teased.
“Well, still, you’re Robert Henry Halifax. Yes?”
Punch blushed. “I gotta say it. Especially since Speaight knows ‘bout me now. That’s the Duke’s name what I just said. Me own name—as I like to think it—is Punch Molliner.”
“As you wish, Sir.”
“Cuz, I’m two men in one.” Punch continued. "See?"
“I’m beginning to see that, Your Grace.” Speaight nodded politely.
“Do you think it’s odd?”
“Not terribly odd, Sir. Perhaps, more than anything, it’s interesting. And, frankly, Sir, I find it difficult being just one man sometimes. So, surely, you’re stronger than I am.”
“That’s a nice way to say it, Speaight.” Punch grinned “Ain’t you kind?”
“Well, Sir…” Speaight blushed.
Mr. Punch, clearly quite excited, continued, speaking very quickly. “So, my son—he’s gonna need a good big name what’s befittin’a future Duke. After all, he’ll be called ‘Lord Fallbridge’ when he’s older. So, he’s gotta have a name to go with the ‘Lord.’ So, we gotta decide ‘fore he’s christened.”
“What did you have in mind?” Robert asked.
“I want Robert to be his second name.” Punch said firmly.
“Do you?” Robert’s eyes widened.
Gerard, Charles and Speaight all grinned with pride.
“Course!” Punch chirped. “That way he’ll be named for you and me pa.”
“I’m honored,” Robert replied, his voice catching in his throat.
“We’re gonna need a couple other names.” Punch continued. He looked at the staff. “Charles, when you was born in Italy, you wasn’t called ‘Charles.’ What was you called?”
“Carlo Giuseppe Iantosca.” Charles replied. “It means “Charles Joseph.”
“Nice.” Mr. Punch chirped. “What ‘bout you, Gerry?”
“I’m just Gerard Gurney. Nothin' more.”
“And you, Speaight?”
“I was christened ‘Morris Samuel Speaight,’ Your Grace.”
“All good names.” Punch sighed.
“May I make a suggestion, Sir?” Gerard spoke up.
“Sure!” Mr. Punch smiled.
“What about Colin Robert Julian, Sir?”
“I like that,” Mr. Punch nodded slowly. “Chum?”
“I think that’s perfect.” Robert sniffed. “But, it’s missing something.”
“I know it’s an unusual suggestion, but…Colin Robert Julian Punchinello.”
“The archbishop would think we’re mad!” Punch laughed.
“Let him.” Robert shrugged.
"I am touched, though, I am." Punch replied gently.
“If I may be so bold, Sirs,” Charles spoke softly. “For the last year, I’ve heard Dr. Halifax refer to His Grace as ‘dear Punch.’ Perhaps you could, instead of Punchinello, create a new name ‘Dearpunch.’ It could sound like a family name that was adapted and would not raise as many eyebrows as Punchinello.”
“That’s brilliant, Charles.” Robert smiled.
“Lord Colin Robert Julian Dearpunch Molliner, future tenth Duke of Fallbridge.” Punch grinned broadly. He nodded. “That’s the way to do it.” He looked to his valet. “Thank you, Charles. Oh, it's settled. Ain't it grand? A fine, fine name what me boy can be proud of!"
“Pudding now!” Punch whooped. “To celebrate!”
“I’ll fetch it.” Charles said quickly.
Gerard and Speaight began to clear the dinner plates, taking them behind the ornate screen at the farthest end of the room so that, after dinner, they could be loaded onto the dumbwaiter.
Gerard glanced at Mr. Speaight and smiled. “Everything all right, Mr. Speaight?”
“Very much so,” Speaight nodded, his voice filled with emotion. “Never in my entire life in service has the master ever asked my opinion in something as simple as the color of a room. With that, I was touched and honored. But, to include me—to include all of us—in the naming of the heir—it’s quite remarkable. Quite remarkable.”
“They’re remarkable men, Mr. Speaight.” Gerard nodded.
“More than I realized.”
The peaceful joy of the dining room was so wonderful and embracing that neither Speaight nor Gerard nor even the Duke nor the doctor heard Ethel and Jenny scream as Charles tumbled down the slick staircase—landing in a heap of livery and silver at the entrance to the servants’ hall.
Did you miss Chapters 1-29 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 31.