A Bit o’ Joy
Mr. Punch looked around the piazza at Covent Garden and quickened his step to keep pace with Robert.
“You’re safe, dear Punch,” Robert whispered as Punch caught up with him. “I won’t let anything happen to you.”
“I know,” Mr. Punch smiled. “It’s just sometimes when we come here, I remember that day…”
“That won’t happen again.”
“But, I didn’t ‘xpect it to happen that time—them blokes jumpin’ me…well, jumpin’ Julian—only I was there inside.”
Robert patted Punch’s shoulder. “Dear Punch, I think of that day often and truly loathe that it happened, however, instead of allowing myself to become angry about the injustice of it all, I have chosen to think of it as a turning point. While I despise the fact that you were harmed, that tragedy brought you to me.”
“That’s true,” Punch replied thoughtfully. “And, here we are. Not just us neither…” He pointed over his shoulder at their entourage.
While Hutchinson waited in the carriage, Charles, Gamilla and Miss Barrett—pushing Colin in his pram—followed behind their masters.
“Charles,” Gamilla whispered, glancing at her friend’s broken wrist. “Had you oughta be here?”
“I don’t mind,” Charles smiled. “It doesn’t hurt too much and besides I was eager for the outing. I rather like coming here and it’s always a treat to see His Grace watch the puppet show.”
“I’m glad you’re feelin’ better,” Gamilla smiled. “I just thought Gerry was meant to go with us today.”
Charles chuckled and winked at Gamilla. “What’s this? You’d rather Gerry’s company?”
“You know it ain’t that.” Gamilla shook her head, looking at the ground as they walked.
“You know I’m only teasing you.” Charles grinned. “Gerard wasn’t feeling too well today. So, I suggested he stay home while the masters were out.”
“I noticed he was late comin’ down,” Gamilla responded. “Almost didn’t make it up to the doctor’s room in time to get him dressed. Looked like he didn’t sleep a wink.”
“Quite the opposite.” Charles shook his head. “He slept like the dead. But, he woke up all shakin’ and sweatin’.”
“Hope he’s all right.” Gamilla sighed.
“Aw, Gamilla, he’ll be just fine. Gerry’s a strong lad. Not to worry.”
“Thank you, Charles. Or should I call you ‘Charlie’ like Mrs. Pepper does?”
“I’d rather you didn’t.” Charles laughed.
“There he is!” Mr. Punch shouted, turning to look at the three behind him. “I hear him! I hear Mr. Punch!”
Indeed, the familiar squawking of the puppet show alerted the crowd of his presence before they could even see him.
“There’s the fit-up!” Punch called out.
“Dear Punch,” Robert smiled.
“Oh. Right,” Mr. Punch snorted. “Out in public—gotta act the Duke.”
“Maybe just a little.” Robert nodded.
“Sure, but it’s Mr. Punch. And…look!” He caught himself and lowered his voice. “And there’s Joey the Clown!” He clapped his hands lightly. “Did ya bring the sovereign for the bottler?”
“I did.” Robert nodded. “I imagine that with that one coin you’ll be making those two men very, very happy indeed—and quite surprised.”
“Ah, well, they deserve it—carryin’ that fit-up all ‘bout, workin’ in the square like this just so folk can have a bit o’ joy in their day.”
“You’re wonderful.” Robert smiled affectionately.
“Eh…” Punch shrugged.
They approached the puppet booth and Punch stood mesmerized by the performance. He rubbed his hands together as if he longed to touch the puppets. As Charles and Gamilla laughed at the antics of Punch and Joey, Ellen studied her employer.
She couldn’t help but smile at the innocent joy with which he watched the puppet show.
She bent over the pram and whispered to Colin. “Look at your papa. He’s so happy. Do you see the show?”
Punch—who possessed rather extraordinary hearing—overheard Ellen’s gentle words to the boy and turned his attention away from the show.
“Can he see?”
“I think so, Your Grace.” Ellen nodded.
“I’d like to hold him.” Punch said quickly. “So he can see.”
“Certainly,” Ellen replied, pushing the pram toward the Duke so that he could lift out the child. Immediately Colin began to coo at the sight of the colorful puppets.
Robert looked proudly at his family.
Meanwhile, Charles’ attention had been captured by something else—a familiar-looking man who lurked near the columns of the Actors’ Church.
“Sir?” Charles whispered, approaching Robert.
“Yes.” Robert turned.
Charles pointed casually to the church.
Robert’s face flushed with anger when he saw William Stover watching them.
“It’s him, Sir. Isn’t it?”
“Yes, Charles,” Robert rasped. “You’ve done well to point him out.”
William looked at Robert—fully aware that the man had seen him.
“What should we do, Sir?”
“Nothing.” Robert shook his head. "Yet."
“Chum?” Punch leaned over. “Somethin’ wrong? You ain’t watchin’.”
“I was just working out the plans for the day with Charles.” Robert fibbed.
“Oh. Thought we did. After the show, Charles is to ride back to Belgrave Square with Colin and Gamilla while Miss Barrett, you and I go see her brother.”
“I had confused myself, Sir.” Charles covered. “I thought perhaps this was the afternoon Your Grace and Dr. Halifax were to go to the palace for luncheon.”
“Nah—that’s tomorrow.” Punch nodded. “Oh! Here comes the bottler! Chum!”
“I’ve got it,” Robert chuckled nervously, still feeling William’s eyes on him. He took the sovereign from his pocket and dropped it in the bottler’s bucket as he passed by.
The man noticed the coin as it fell in and his eyes widened.
“Thank you, Sir. Thank you ever so much!”
“You may thank the Duke of Fallbridge,” Robert smiled.
“Your Grace,” The bottler bowed his head at Mr. Punch. “Our mission is to amuse.”
“That you do,” Punch answered in Julian’s voice—though he didn’t really want to—“and you do it most well.”
“Your Grace,” the bottler bowed again before moving on.
“Hooray for us!” Mr. Punch chirped softly.
Robert looked over his shoulder again and noticed that William Stover was no longer standing at the church. Robert scanned the crowd, but could not see the man.
“Dear Punch,” Robert whispered. “I hate to say it…”
“Aw, but we only just got here.” Punch moaned.
“Still…we don’t want to keep Mr. Barrett waiting.”
“No.” Mr. Punch sighed.
“I’ll tell you what,” Robert suggested. “We can come back tomorrow after luncheon with Prince Albert.”
“Oh! I’d like that. Only Colin wouldn’t be with us.”
“We’ll bring him back the next day.” Robert winked.
“Very well.” Punch said. “Gamilla, will you take me boy?”
“Yes, Sir.” Gamilla smiled, reaching for Colin.
“Miss Barret, Dr. Halifax and I are gonna go see Mr. Barrett. Charles, you’re in charge. Hutchinson will look for you at the stalls in ‘bout half an hour.”
“Yes, Your Grace.”
“I see Hutchinson over there, dear Punch.” Robert pointed.
“Well, then,” Punch nodded. “Good mornin’, all. See ya shortly. Be good, my Colin.” He waved at the baby who gurgled.
As Punch and Robert walked to their carriage and driver, Charles turned around and spotted William watching the two gentlemen walk away.
“Who is that man?” Gamilla asked. “He’s been starin’ at us this whole time. I thought maybe he was lookin’ at me cuz he ain’t never seen an African before, but he was watching the Duke.”
“He’s an old acquaintance of the doctor.”
“Doesn’t look too nice.”
“I imagine that’s why he’s an old acquaintance.”
“What’s he want from us?” Gamilla asked.
“I don’t know, Gamilla.” Charles shook his head. “But, if he comes anywhere near either of the master’s, he’s going to regret it.”
“How you mean?”
“I’ll rip him to shreds--even with my one good hand--before he causes any trouble for our household.” Charles nodded firmly.
Did you miss Chapters 1-35 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 37.