Mr. Punch murmured, “Sure, puppy dogs. I will like to pet your soft fur.”
Robert looked down at his sleeping companion who was contentedly dreaming, it seemed, about puppies.
“Nice puppies.” Punch muttered again in his sleep.
Robert chuckled, scratching his shoulder through his nightshirt, and propped himself up on a stack of pillows. He reached over and stroked Mr. Punch’s hair, using his fingers to brush the long auburn strands from off of the man’s smooth forehead.
Punch snorted and opened his eyes into squinty slits. “Where’d them puppies go?” He whispered.
“Back to dream-land. Dog Toby’s here though. Robert smiled, pointing to the foot of the bed where the terrier was curled up, snoring.
“Mornin’, Chum.” Punch mumbled sleepily.
“Good morning.” Robert nodded.
Punch opened one eye a little wider. “Here, you stay in here all night, did ya?”
“I did.” Robert grinned.
“You—you who’s always makin’ such a fuss ‘bout havin’ to sleep in your own room ‘less Charles comes in and sees ya here in the mornin’ like he and Gerard don’t already know that you sleep in here?” Punch rambled groggily.
“I changed my mind.” Robert shrugged.
“Good,” Punch snorted, burying his head in his pillows. “Like when you do. You always should.” He closed his eyes and grinned broadly. “There was puppies in me dream. Lots and lots of ‘em. All white, they were—with fine pointy ears. Good puppies. All of ‘em soft and smellin’ good.”
“I’m glad.” Robert chuckled.
“I were terrible sleepy.” Punch rubbed his eyes.
“You must have been. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you sleep that much—not since the night of the stable fire in Louisiana.”
“Cooooo…” Punch moaned. “I forgot ‘bout that. Hurt me-self, I did—and for what? Tryin’ to get that terrible Iolanthe Evangeline woman outta there. Shoulda left her to burn.”
“But, you didn’t. And, you couldn’t. For as awful as she was, you’re that kind.”
Mr. Punch mumbled something that Robert couldn’t understand and rolled over again.
“What was that, dear Punch?”
“Huh?” Punch muttered. “Dunno. Puppies, I think.”
“Yes, Punch. Puppies.”
“Bugger.” Punch laughed, sitting up. “I gotta wake me-self up, I gotta. Ain’t like me to be so tired. Don’t usually need as much sleep as you do.”
“You are human, dear Punch.”
“Seems so.” Mr. Punch giggled. “Never saw it comin.’”
“Go on,” Robert pressed gently on Punch’s shoulder. “Lie back down and rest.”
“Nah—gotta get up. Gotta go check on Charles.”
“I’m sure he’s still sleeping. That opiate I gave him for the pain of his broken wrist is quite powerful. I suspect he’ll be down all day. And, I told Gerard, before we retired, not to come up until I rang today. Miss Barrett is with Colin and we have nothing which requires our urgent attention.”
“Here, chum,” Mr. Punch smiled, “what’s got into ya, today? Ain’t like you to want to lie ‘bout.”
“I wanted to spend a little peaceful time with you today.”
“It is a special occasion, after all.”
“Is it?” Punch frowned. “Did I miss somethin’? Is it Easter?”
“No.” Robert laughed.
“It should be, but, no.” Robert winked.
“Why should it be? What’s special about today?” He counted on his fingers. “It’s just March 23.”
“Yes.” Robert nodded pointedly.
“You don’t remember?”
“Nope.” Punch shook his head.
“Thirty-nine years ago today, you were born.”
“I was?” Punch’s eyes widened.
“Oh!” Punch giggled. “You mean Julian were born today! That’s it…it’s the anniversary of Julian’s birth!”
“Your birth, too.”
“Is it?” Punch tilted his head to one side. “I weren’t born like a people. I just…well…I just appeared in Julian’s body.”
“Without Julian’s body, there’d be no Punch. So, it’s your birthday, too.”
“I never thought of it.” Mr. Punch sighed. “I ‘spose you’re right. Still, it ain't really Mr. Punch's anniversary. See, in that book what you gave me—it said that Punch were first seen by Samuel Pepys in Covent Garden in May of 1662. That were a long time ‘go.” He sighed. “I went and confused me-self.”
“That was the puppet Mr. Punch—not the man. Not this wonderful man who has taken me into his home, into his life, into his heart. You’re no puppet. Maybe you’re called ‘Punch’ and maybe you have a good many Punch-like characteristics. But, remember, you’re Punch’s cousin—not the wooden-headed, red-nosed bloke himself. Not now.”
“I really ain’t a puppet no more.” Mr. Punch smiled.
“No.” Robert put his arm around his companion. “I can attest that you’re not.”
Mr. Punch chuckled. “Never had a birthday before.”
“Well, it’s high time that you did, I think.”
“And, thirty-nine, huh?”
“That’s kinda old, ain’t it?”
“Not at all.” Robert smiled. “Of course, no matter what, I’ll always be younger than you.”
“By two little years.” Mr. Punch frowned playfully. “Here, you gotta be nice. It’s me birthday, it seems.”
“It certainly is.”
“Will you sing to me?” Punch asked, wide-eyed.
“I will—‘For He’ a Jolly Good Fellow.’ Not just me—the entire household. Speaight, Mrs. Pepper and I have been plotting, you see. We’ve got a whole scheme. There’s to be a party.”
“That’s right. You and me and Colin and the staff. We’re going to have all of your favorite things to eat and Mrs. Pepper has made you a grand, tiered cake.”
“Coo!” Mr. Punch chirped, his eyes filling with happy tears. He choked a bit. “A whole cake? For me? A cake in my honor?”
Robert wiped the warm tears from Punch’s cheeks. “Of course, dear Punch.”
“Only…only I don’t deserve no such thing!” Punch sniffed, his tears flowing more heavily. “I ain’t nothin’ special, I ain’t. We should have a party for you—maybe, or Colin. Or even Gerry or Charles, but not for me.”
“You most certainly do deserve it!” Robert said firmly. “I don’t think you realize how special you are. Can’t you see how every person in this house loves you? Me and Colin most of all!”
Punch shook his head. “Here, what’s gotten into me? Cryin’ like this.” He smiled. “Only I never had a party for me-self nor even me very own cake. Julian didn’t neither. See, the duchess didn’t care for such things. Our pa—he’d bring in presents and sneak ‘em past. Only…”
“Now you shall. And every year for the rest of our lives you shall. I swear it.” Robert interrupted.
“You remember the other day when we went to Covent Garden to see the puppet show?” Punch mumbled.
“I do.” Robert smiled.
“Well, did ya see that nice lady with the blue eyes and the dark hair all pulled-back pretty under her bonnet?”
“The woman with the little boy?”
“Sure.” Punch nodded, his eyes filling with tears again.
“She were so nice to that boy. She was smilin’ and playin’ with him and laughin’ at Punch and Judy. And, she…” Punch choked on his words.
“She had treats for him.” Robert nodded, crying a bit himself. “She had a paper cone of sweeties.”
“Sure.” Mr. Punch sniffed. “Why couldn’t we have had a ma like that?”
“I don’t know.” Robert coughed. “Cecil and I didn’t either. That’s why it’s all the more important that you and I do little things like this to celebrate our family. That’s why we should sing ‘For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow’ and eat cake and enjoy ourselves and that’s why we should do the same for Colin. We’ve all earned it, I think.”
Mr. Punch wiped his eyes. “Sure, Chum.” He smiled. “We’re a mess, we are.”
“You don’t have to tell me.” Robert laughed. He reached under the blanket and removed a small, grass-colored, shagreen box. “I’ve gotten you a present.”
“Is it a toy?” Punch asked brightly.
“No.” Robert laughed.
“You always get me little toys.” Punch winked.
“Well, yes, on a Tuesday or on a Saturday, but not on a special day like this.” Robert teased his companion.
“What is it, then?”
“Well, you’ll just have to open it.” Robert nodded, offering the box to Punch. But, then, he quickly pulled it back as Punch reached for it.
“Coo!” Punch squawked. “Don’t tease me.”
“Before I give this to you, I have a confession to make.”
“Well, I had no choice but to go to one of your competitors.”
“I couldn’t very well commission you to design your own birthday present.”
“What is it?”
“So, I had to see a man at Garrard’s.”
“What is it?” Punch repeated more excitedly.
Robert handed the box to Punch who ran his fingers over the bumpy texture of the shagreen.
“Can you ‘magine this is the skin o’ somethin’?” Punch mumbled.
“The box isn’t the present.” Robert laughed.
“Right, sorry.” Punch giggled.
“Go on—open it.” Robert urged.
“Never had a birthday present ‘fore.” Punch chirped.
Mr. Punch opened the box and his eyes lit up when he saw what it held. Inside was a band of gold set with several glittering gemstones.
“A diamond, an emerald, an amethyst, a ruby, another emerald, a sapphire and a turquoise.” Punch said softly, clearly moved by the gift.
“Dearest.” Robert smiled. “The first letter of each stone…they spell ‘DEAREST.’”
Punch swallowed hard. “This is for me?”
“Yes.” Robert smiled.
“Can I wear it?” Punch asked emotionally.
“That was rather the point.” Robert answered.
Punch studied the ring. “It’s beautiful.”
“I’m glad you like it.” Robert sniffed contentedly. “Look inside the band.”
Mr. Punch took the ring from the box and held it up to the morning light streaming through the window. “There’s writin’.”
“I had it inscribed.”
Punch read the inscription aloud. “P.M. Pour l'éternité R.H.H. 23 Mar. 1853.”
“Do you like it?”
“I never liked nothin’ more than I like this. It’s the finest thing, Chum…”
Robert took the ring from Mr. Punch and slipped it on his companion’s left third finger.
“And, there’s gonna be a cake!” Mr. Punch whooped.
“A glorious cake,” Robert laughed loudly, hugging his friend. “All you want.”
Did you miss Chapters 1-31? If so, you can read them in the Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square Chapter Archive. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 33.