A Jolly Good Fellow
Ethel gasped when she heard the news. At first, she couldn’t believe it. To her, the drawing room of No. 65 was as much of a different world as the face of the moon. Jenny gasped, too. Both of the girls grinned and giggled. To be sure, the servants’ hall, their shared attic room and the winding, private, service staircase which joined one to the other were the grandest rooms they’d ever seen. Unlike the footmen, Vi and Gamilla, they knew nothing of the world between the basement and attic and, frankly couldn’t imagine what it would be like. Indeed, “upstairs” was a world that they simply could not fathom. Furthermore, to think that they would have been extended an invitation to visit the drawing room by the Duke of Fallbridge himself, well…
“Are you sure His Grace meant all of us?” Jenny asked Mrs. Pepper. The whole staff had gathered around the table in the servants’ hall to hear the news of their invitation.
“Them’s his words precisely,” Mrs. Pepper nodded. “His Grace and the doctor both wish for all of us to join them in the drawing room after dinner.”
Speaight smiled. “It’s terribly kind of them. The masters said that we were all to enjoy a glass of champagne in honor of His Grace’s birthday and that we were to stay and share in Mrs. Pepper’s glorious cake.”
“Oh, Mr. Speaight,” Mrs. Pepper blushed.
“I ain’t never been upstairs before.” Ethel whispered nervously.
“Nor I,” Jenny added.
“I shouldn’t know how to act. What should I say? What...what if I break sum-fink?” Ethel put her hands to her face.
“You won’t, girl,” Mr. Speaight laughed. “However, we’re all to be on our very best behavior. Clean uniforms and aprons—you hear?”
“Yes, Mr. Speaight.” The girls answered in unison.
“What’ll we do?” Jenny asked.
“We’ll wish His Grace many happy returns and we’ll cut the cake and sing.”
“Yes, girl.” Speaight clucked his tongue.
“But, what?” Jenny asked. “God Save the Queen?”
“No!” Speaight sputtered. “What does one usually sing on the anniversary of a birth?”
“Dunno, Sir.” Jenny shrugged. “Never had such a party before.”
“We’ll sing ‘For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.” Mrs. Pepper snapped.
“Oh.” Jenny nodded. “Ain’t that nice? He is a jolly good fellow, the Duke is. Jolly good. Jus’ think, he’s invited all of us upstairs. Have you ever? We’re lucky, we are.”
“Mr. Speaight, Sir?” Violet spoke up. “Were you able to find a gift for His Grace?”
“Yes, Violet,” Speaight replied proudly. “I think I’ve found just the perfect gift. I’m sure His Grace will appreciate it. And, I must say how proud I am of all of you to contribute a portion of your wages in order to purchase it for him.”
“It’s our pleasure, Mr. Speaight.” Gamilla smiled. “Would you like me to wrap the box in nice paper? I got some fine ribbon to put on it.”
“Mr. Speaight said that I could wrap the gift!” Violet interrupted.
“Aye, I did.” Speaight nodded. “I promised Violet already, however, I thank you volunteering, Gamilla.”
“Jus’ can’t believe it.” Ethel muttered.
“What’s that, then, Ethel?” Gerard teased.
“I’m gonna go upstairs in the drawin’ room. What would me mum say?”
“She’d say to make sure you don’t track grease onto them handsome carpets.” Gerard chuckled.
“Gerry!” Ethel pouted.
“Now, now…” Mr. Speaight warned. “We’ll have none of that.”
“Sorry, Sir.” Charles smiled. “I’m not myself today.”
“It’s that medicine.” Speaight winked. “You’re too young for it.”
“How old is His Grace?” Jenny asked.
“He’s thirty-nine, Jenny.” Charles responded groggily. As the master’s valet, Charles knew the most about him.
“He don’t look it,” Jenny smiled. “Me pa is the same age and he looks terrible older.”
“That’s because your pa doesn’t have me to look after him,” Charles smiled. His eyes were half-closed.
“You look a fright, Charlie.” Mrs. Pepper clucked her tongue. “You sure you oughtn’t go back to bed? Dr. Halifax said you should stay in bed for the rest of the day.”
“I’m fine, Mrs. Pepper.” Charles mumbled happily.
“That med’cin’s got ya all worn out.” Mrs. Pepper sighed. “You look half dead, you do.”
“I feel it, too.” Charles sighed. “I hate the stuff. Got me all nice and warm, but I can’t think. I’d rather feel the pain, to be sure. In fact,” Charles paused, using his right hand to withdraw the bottle of suspension which Dr. Halifax had given him from his pocket. “Gerry, would you be a pal and give this back to the doctor for me?”
Gerard took the bottle. “You sure, mate. A broken wrist ain’t nothin’ to ignore. The pain’s gonna get terrible, ‘espcially since you insist on workin’ through it.”
“I can handle pain, Gerry.” Charles shook his head. “But, I don’t have the stomach for this stuff. Never could handle medicines and the like.”
“How’s it make you feel?” Gerard asked.
“Like my head’s in the clouds. Feels like I’m floatin’. I don’t like it at all.”
“But, you seem happy ‘nough.” Gerard studied the bottle. “Like takin’ a swig, then?”
“In a way.” Charles shrugged. “I just don’t care for it. As I said, I can’t think straight.”
“I’ll give it back to the doctor, mate.” Gerard nodded.
“Now, Charles, if the pain gets too, too bad, you’ll ask the doctor for something else, then?” Speaight said firmly. “I won’t have one of my men in pain. Understand?”
“We don’t want you suffering too much—especially since the fall wasn’t your fault.” Speaight added, looking at Ethel.
“I already said I was sorry!” Ethel moaned. “Charles, I didn’t mean to break your wrist.”
“It’s all right, Ethel. I know it was an accident.” Charles nodded.
“I do feel ever-so bad.”
“Especially after the shoutin’ she got from Mrs. Pepper,” Jenny whispered to Violet. They both tittered.
“That’s right,” Mrs. Pepper spat. “And she deserved it. Here, Mr. Speaight, maybe we ought to tell His Grace that Ethel shouldn’t go to the party tonight. After all, she can’t be trusted to follow instructions.”
“Maybe,” Speaight nodded.
Ethel began to cry.
“Oh, now!” Mrs. Pepper laughed. “Don’t ya know when we’re teasin’ ya, girl?”
“I already feel bad ‘nough.” Ethel sniffed.
Charles laughed loudly and then looked around as if he didn’t know why.
“Best that you give that stuff back to the doctor, Charlie.” Mrs. Pepper winked. “You don’t know if you’re comin’ or goin’.”
“Now,” Speaight interrupted. “We’d best get ourselves set for upstairs dinner. And, then, we’ll change into clean uniforms and liveries to join the masters tonight.”
“You’ll be there, too, Miss Barrett?” Violet asked Ellen who had sat silently throughout the staff meeting.
“Of course,” Ellen smiled. “I wouldn’t miss it.”
“We will all attend,” Speaight nodded. “With the exception of Hutchinson who has been given the evening off, and, Tom who will remain downstairs to keep an eye on things.”
“I’d best go fetch Master Colin from His Grace if Charles will be ringing the dressing gong soon.” Ellen stood up. “When I left them, the Duke was putting on a little show with his puppet for Master Colin.”
“Aw, ain’t it nice?” Jenny nodded.
“Should I ring the gong, then?” Charles asked.
“In about ten minutes, Charles,” Speaight ordered. “If you think you’re up to it.”
“I am.” Charles furrowed his brow, then, he dissolved into a tear of giggles. Taking a deep breath, he added. “Pardon me.”
“How are you gonna serve at table with that wrist, Charlie, my lad?” Mrs. Pepper asked.
“I’ll work it out, Mrs. P.” Charles replied.
“Gerard will have to do the bulk of it until you’re healed, Charles. We can’t afford any more accidents.”
“Yes, Sir.” Charles and Gerard answered in unison again. They looked at one another and chuckled.
“To work, all of you. The time for merriment is tonight.” Speaight rose, signaling the close of the meeting.
“Walk with me?” Ellen asked Gamilla.
“Yes, Miss.” Gamilla smiled. “I was hoping you’d ask me.”
“When I went to visit my brother this morning, I picked up the little present we’d decided on.”
“Oh, thank you, Miss.” Gamilla chirped. “How is Mr. Barrett?”
“Not much better, I’m afraid. Dr. Halifax is due to look in on him again tomorrow. I think, actually, the Duke will visit as well. His Grace has such a positive effect on Roger…”
“He’s like that with most folks. That’s why I don’t think Mr. Speaight will mind if the two of us have a present for the Duke of our own. After all, Gerard and Charles do, too. I know there’s the gift from all of us, but His Grace has been so kind, I thought your idea to give him a separate present sure was nice.”
“I was able to find exactly what you’d suggested.” Ellen winked. “It’s in my room. I’m a fright with ribbons and such. Perhaps…”
“I’ll take care of it, Miss.” Gamilla said.
“Mr. Speaight…” Ellen waved at the butler.
“Gamilla and I thought we would give an additional gift to His Grace.”
“I think that’s lovely.” Speaight nodded.
“Might I borrow Gamilla for a moment to help me wrap it?”
“Certainly, Miss.” Speaight smiled.
“I’ll hurry back, Sir.” Gamilla replied thankfully.
“I think we’re in good order, Gamilla. Take your time.”
The two women hurried toward the service staircase and Mr. Speaight walked to the kitchen.
“Mr. Speaight,” Ethel whispered from the scullery as the butler walked by.
“What is it, Ethel?” Speaight asked impatiently.
“Do you think I ought to apologize to the Duke?”
“For breaking his man.” Ethel whispered emotionally.
“I don’t think you need to mention it.” Speaight shook his head, trying not to smile at the girl’s expense. “His Grace understands that it was an accident.”
“He’s a nice man, the Duke, ain’t he?” Ethel sighed.
“To invite us all upstairs—that’s sum-fink!”
“Yes, it is, girl.”
“You’d think he wouldn’t be so nice.”
“He’s a Duke, Sir.”
“Well, yes, but as a Duke, it’s important for him to be kind.”
“It’s part of a Duke’s duty.”
“His Grace works, Sir?”
“Of course, he does, girl.”
“What’s he do?”
“He’s the Duke of Fallbridge.” Speaight couldn’t help but chuckle.
“Yeah, but what’s it mean, Sir?”
“Well, girl, as a Duke, he is a patron of several charities, institutions, societies and artists.”
“That means he offers them money and support.”
“Sure,” Ethel nodded.
“Furthermore, while Garrard’s is the Royal Goldsmith and Crown Jeweler, His Grace is the personal jeweler of Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Albert.”
“So, he works for the Queen, then?”
“You could say so.”
“So even the master’s gotta work?”
“Yes. Both of the masters work. The Duke has his duties and Dr. Halifax has his. We all have to work—even the Duke of Fallbridge.”
“Well, no wonder he’s so kind. It’s cuz he understands us.” Ethel smiled. “You know? He ought to have a wife.”
“A wife?” Speaight laughed, thinking the girl was joking.
“Of course,” Ethel replied seriously. “Him and the doctor both. They’re busy men. A busy man needs a wife. And, they’re both a treat to look at. The Duke’s rich. I don’t see why they don’t have wives.”
“What’s all this chatter?” Mrs. Pepper interrupted, munching on a long, freshly-baked cheese straw. She offered one to Mr. Speaight and one, in a rare moment of charity toward the girl, to Ethel.
“Ethel was just telling me that she thinks the Duke and the doctor should marry.”
“Ain’t they as good as married already?” Mrs. Pepper smiled.
“No, no, Mrs. Pepper. Ethel is telling me that the Duke and the Doctor should take wives.” Speaight grinned.
“Oh, is she?” Mrs. Pepper guffawed loudly.
“What’s so funny?” Ethel frowned.
“Nothin’, girl.” Mrs. Pepper patted Ethel on the head. “Nothin’. It’s just that I don’t think…”
“Yes?” Ethel asked.
“It’s just that…” Mrs. Pepper scratched her head.
Speaight interrupted. “Our masters are not the marrying kind, Ethel.”
“Pity,” Ethel shrugged. “Still, can’t wait to see the upstairs. Blimey, what would me mum say…” She muttered as she walked off.
“Oh! Ethel.” Speaight called after her. “You were worried about how to act upstairs?
“Yes, Sir.” Ethel called back.
“Well, mentioning wives is one thing you shouldn’t do.” Speaight replied.
Speaight and Mrs. Pepper exchanged amused glances, chucking as they went on about their business as they heard the sound of the dressing gong ring from upstairs.
Meanwhile, in the pantry, as Gerard changed his jacket, he removed the bottle of medicine from the pocket of his day coat. As he was about to place it in the pocket of his clean jacket, he paused and studied the bottle. Charles certainly was in a jolly mood from the stuff, Gerard thought.
Gerard remembered the days of his teens when he would nick whiskey and sips of beer. He loved the feeling of being inebriated, but didn’t like how, after a night of drinking, that sensation of being high would turn to anger and trouble. Charles didn’t seem angry. Maybe this stuff made a man feel drunk without all the anger and sadness that followed from spirits.
“Wouldn’t that be a treat?” Gerard mumbled to himself as he removed the stopper from the bottle.
He sniffed the liquid inside. It didn’t smell good. Not like whiskey. It had an odd scent—sweet, yet muddy and dirty.
Gerard put the stopped back in the bottle and just as he was about to put it back into his pocket, he paused again.
Looking around quickly, Gerard hastily took the stopped out again and raised the bottle to his lips, taking a quick sip. “Couldn’t do no harm,” he thought.
He just took the smallest of sips. The stuff tasted foul, but it felt warm going down. It was to be a party after all, Gerard smiled. One little sip wouldn’t hurt. After all, it was medicine—it was supposed to make a man better. No, one little sip wouldn’t hurt. Would it?
Did you miss Chapters 1-32 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 34.