Nasty Stuff, I Know
Gamilla flew into the dining room, panting, “Pardon me, Your Grace. Sir.”
“What’s happened?” Mr. Punch asked, rising from his chair.
“Charles done fell down the stairs,” Gamilla said. “There’s blood. We need Dr. Halifax.”
Robert quickly pushed his chair away from the table and followed Gamilla—Mr. Punch, Gerard and Speaight hurrying behind.
“Careful on the stairs, Sir.” Gamilla cautioned Dr. Halifax as he pushed open the door to the service staircase to see Charles in a crumpled heap below.
“Coo!” Punch muttered as he gazed down at Charles who was surrounded by a sobbing Jenny and a wailing Ethel as well as Violet and Tom, the young page, who stood back at a distance. Mrs. Pepper could be heard shouting in the background. “This is your fault, Ethel! You careless thing…”
Robert carefully raced down the stairs. “Ladies, please, stand back.”
“Girls…” Speaight said as he came further down the staircase. “Please. Jenny go to the kitchen and boil some water for rags. Violet, would you clear a space by the fire for Charles? Move the poof and the little table and put some cushions on the floor. And, Ethel! As for you, girl, you get to the scullery and wait for me! I told you someone would hurt themselves on these wet stairs!”
As if on cue, Ethel’s wailing burst into nasty, snorting tears and she tore out of the passage, retreating to her scullery.
Robert gently stepped over Charles and knelt beside him on the stairs. Mr. Punch hurried to the man’s other side, sitting on the step above the injured man.
“Charles, can you hear me?” Robert asked softly.
“Yes,” Charles sputtered. His nose was bloodied and a red stain grew on the white shirt-front of his livery.
“Can you tell me where you’re hurt?”
“My hand.” Charles whimpered. “Well, really, my wrist, Sir.”
“Punch, can you help me get him to his feet?” Robert asked.
Speaight looked around nervously. The women had left to carry out the duties that Speaight had cleverly assigned them so that the Duke could speak freely. Only Tom lingered nearby and, Speaight thought, he was too dim to notice that the doctor had called His Grace by a different name.
“Tom!” Speaight barked, just to be sure, “Get out of the way, Boy.”
Tom shuffled off to one side.
Mr. Punch and Robert gently helped Charles to his feet.
“Now, hold him by the waist a moment,” Robert said calmly. “Speaight, can you take his other side, please?”
“Yes, Sir.” Speaight nodded, joining them on the landing.
“Charles, I’m going to check your back for injuries. If anything hurts you as I examine you, you must call out. Yes?” He paused to study Charles' eyes for signs of head injury.
“Steady on, mate,” Gerard called from over the railing.
“Are you ready?” Robert asked.
“Yes, Sir.” Charles replied softly. He cringed as Robert ran his hands over his back, expecting there to be pain, but, thankfully, there was none.
“You’re a lucky man,” Robert smiled. “Now then, let’s have a look at your wrist. Come sit with me at Mrs. Pepper’s table.”
Punch and Speaight helped Charles to the kitchen table.
“Thank you, Jenny,” Robert nodded as the girl placed a large bowl of hot water and a stack of flannels on the table.
Mrs. Pepper came out of the larder with a small plate of butter biscuits. “I got a cup of tea for ya, too, Charlie.” She said sweetly. “Jenny,” she added. “Why don’t you go wait with Gamilla and Vi, then?”
“Thank you,” Charles forced himself to smile. “Thank you, Mrs. Pepper.”
“Poor lad,” Mrs. Pepper clucked her tongue. “Let’s clean you up. Can’t have you sittin’ there with blood on your face, getting’ all down your front. May I, Dr. Halifax?”
“Yes, of course.” Robert smiled. “In fact, would you look after him while I run upstairs to get my bag?”
“I can fetch it for you, Sir.” Gerard volunteered, still peering nervously over the railing. “Is it in your study?”
“It is, Gerard,” Robert nodded. “However, it’s in a locked cabinet. I always lock it up. Just habit. But, especially with Colin crawling, we don’t need him getting into any medicines.”
He smiled at Charles. “You sip your tea and let Mrs. Pepper take care of you. I won’t be long and when I return, we’ll get that wrist set.”
“Yes, Sir.” Charles nodded.
“You’ll have to pardon me, Your Grace,” Mrs. Pepper began respectfully. “This might not be somethin’ you wish to see.”
“I’d like to stay with Charles,” Punch replied, remembering to speak as Julian would.
“You’re a good man, Your Grace,” Mrs. Pepper grinned. “Most men of your rank and station wouldn’t care so much.”
“May I help?” Punch asked.
“Thank you, Your Grace.” Mrs. Pepper nodded, wringing out a warm, wet cloth. “You might help me get ‘im outta that waistcoat and shirt and collar.”
“No.” Charles shook his head. “Not here. Not with the girls around. They might come in.”
“I’ll fix that.” Mrs. Pepper nodded, winking. “Hold your ears, Your Grace.”
“I’ll speak with them…” Speaight began, but Mrs. Pepper narrowed her eyes at him and he backed off.
Mr. Punch squinted at Mrs. Pepper, but did as she said—placing his hands over his ears. He wanted to giggle, but thought better of it.
“Girls! Don’t you come in here now! Stay out in the servants’ hall! Charlie’s gonna take off his shirt.”
“Mrs. Pepper, I could have told them that.” Speaight muttered.
“Already done, Mr. Speaight.” Mrs. Pepper nodded proudly.
Punch helped Charles off with his waistcoat, shirt and bloodied collar as Mrs. Pepper dabbed at his bloody nose.
Gerard joined them and looked helplessly over Charles’ shoulder.
Punch wanted desperately to chatter soothingly at his friend, but knew he couldn’t with Mrs. Pepper there. For a moment, he felt very self-conscious and noticed that Tom was peering around the corner of the kitchen door, staring at him.
Tapping Speaight on the elbow, Punch pointed to Tom.
“Here, boy! Get out!” Speaight barked. Tom skittered off, but not as far as Speaight thought.
“There you go, lad,” Mrs. Pepper smiled. “All clean. I ‘spect your nose is gonna be sore in the mornin’. Hope it don’t swell. I’ll go get ya somethin’ cool to put on it.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Pepper,” Punch smiled.
“No, thank you, Your Grace. You’re not at all like other men of your station. No, Sir, you’re so much kinder. We’re so fortunate…” She continued to mutter as she wandered off to the larder in search of something cool for Charles.
Alone with Charles, Gerard and Speaight, Punch sighed with relief. “Now, valet chum,” Punch said softly. “My Robert’ll be back in jus’ a minute and he’’ll get ya all patched up, he will.”
“That’s right, Charlie,” Gerard nodded, patting his friend’s shoulder. “You’re gonna be jus’ fine. Just like Mr. Punch said.”
Though he understood the momentary lack of formality, Speaight looked around nervously, making sure no one was listening. He should have, however, taken a moment to peer around the corner of the service opening to the kitchen where Tom was crouched.
“We’re all gonna make sure you’re not in no pain, Charles.” Mr. Punch continued.
“I really am all right, Mr. Punch,” Charles responded—unware that Tom was still lurking around the corner, listening to every word. “Don’t fuss over me.”
“Ain’t fussin’. We’re all in this together, we are.” Punch nodded. “Besides, gonna need ya to get well.”
“Can’t dress me-self.” Punch teased.
Charles smiled slightly.
“And, we’re gonna need ya at Colin’s christenin’. Right? After all, it were you what came up with one of his names.”
“Yes, Sir.” Charles finally grinned.
A frightened gasp interrupted the moment. Punch, Speaight and Charles looked up to see Ellen leaning over the railing of the service stairs. “Bless my soul! What’s happened?”
“My shirt…” Charles whispered as Ellen came down the stairs and around the pillars into the kitchen.
“Charles took a tumble on the slick stairs, Miss Barrett,” Punch explained. “Only he’s gonna be fine, he is. Ain’t no reason to worry.” Punch wrapped Charles’ bloody shirt around the man’s bare shoulders.
The sight of the blood made Ellen gasp again. She staggered backward. Gerard hurried to her side, placing his arm around her shoulders. “Steady on, Miss Ellen.”
“I’ve always been made queasy by…” Ellen panted.
“Take her out to the hall,” Speaight nodded at Gerard.
“Come on, then.” Gerard said cheerfully as he guided Ellen out of the kitchen. He was so focused on the woman, he didn’t see Tom duck behind the orange crates in the corner.
Gamilla watched as Gerard helped Ellen over to the fire. Gamilla, for a moment, could feel the blood rising in her face. She clenched her hands into fists, and, then, she felt terribly guilty. Nevertheless, the sight of Gerard with his arm around Ellen had bothered her terribly. She felt ashamed of herself for being jealous—especially of the woman who’d so quickly become her dear friend, the woman who stopped in the middle of a personal crisis to bring her flowers.
“What’s wrong, Miss?” Gamilla asked quickly, trying to cover her brief moment of jealous anger.
“She saw the blood on Charles and it made her feel a bit sick is all,” Gerard winked.
“Come sit by me, Miss.” Gamilla said gently, helping Gerard seat the woman in Speaight’s comfortable chair.
They looked up as Robert trotted into the room with his large, black leather doctor’s bag. He immediately went into the kitchen.
“You’re looking better already,” Robert said cheerfully. It was at that moment when Charles realized why Dr. Halifax had quickly become such a popular physician in Belgravia.
“Charles,” Robert continued. “I’m going to set your wrist with this stiff bit of board and some bandages. Keeping it still will allow it to heal properly. And, then, I’m going to give you a draft of this suspension which will help kill the pain.”
“I couldn’t, Sir.” Charles shook his head as Robert withdrew a yellow bottle from his bag. “I’m not good with those things. They don’t set well with me. I don’t have the stomach for them.”
“This is mild enough. It will help you. You must do it, Charles.”
“It doesn’t hurt too badly, Sir.” Charles winced.
“Come on, then,” Punch whispered. “Do as he says. It’ll be all right.”
“As you wish, Your Grace.” Charles sighed.
Robert winked at Punch and pointed to a large spoon which Punch handed to him. Robert poured a bit of the medicine into the spoon and held it up to Charles’ mouth. “I think maybe we’ll start with this. It’ll make the setting of your wrist easier on you.”
Charles’ nose tickled from the scent of the medicine, but he swallowed it all the same, shuddering as the mixture trickled down his throat.
“It’s nasty stuff, I know.” Robert smiled.
Robert began to look around the kitchen.
“Do you need something, Sir?” Speaight asked.
“Uhhh…” Speaight squinted. “There must be some in the servants’ hall.” He walked to the kitchen entrance and peered out in the hall. “Tom! Bring us a scissors, then.”
“Tom ain’t here, Mr. Speaight.” Gerard answered. “But, I’ll bring ‘em.”
“Where’d Tom go?” Speaight asked.
“Dunno, Mr. Speaight,” Jenny shrugged from her spot by the fire. “Saw him slip out the area door jus’ a few minutes ago.”
“Maybe, he done went to bed, Sir. He’s just a boy.” Gamilla suggested.
“Maybe.” Speaight sighed, brightening a bit as Gerard handed him the scissors. Before going back into the kitchen, Speaight paused to peer at the window which looked out onto the area—that space below street level which was accessed by the exterior service stairs. He couldn’t see Tom. Muttering irritably, Speaight returned to the kitchen.
Little did Speaight know, Tom hadn’t just slipped out to go to his bed above the stable in the mews. He’d gone out to meet his mother and did so with a happy heart—knowing that he had all sorts of things to tell her of the Duke who was called “Mr. Punch.”
“There’s me Tommy…” Eudora Stover grinned as Tom met her in the mews. “What ya got for your mama tonight?”
Tom took a yellow pear from his pocket and offered the fruit to his mother.
“What else?” Eudora asked her son. “You know what I want. What news have ya got?”
“All sorts, Ma,” Tom grinned. “All sorts.”
Did you miss Chapters 1-30 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 32—a very special chapter, indeed!