Charles and Gamilla chuckled as they entered the servants’ hall of No. 65 from the area. Even before the door was entirely opened, they could hear Mrs. Pepper snapping at Jenny.
“No, ya daft l’il twig, you’re doin’ it wrong! Do ya want the masters to eat flat, tough bread? No, ya want it to rise. You knead it like this! How many times have I told ya this? I’ve got to do it all me-self.”
“But, Mrs. Pepper,” Jenny sniffed.
“Go on, then! Go start chopping up them onions for the stuffin’, then.”
Mrs. Pepper spotted Charles and Gamilla, who was holding Colin, through the pass-through from her kitchen.
“Oy! Back already, you two? I thought you’d be gone for hours.”
“No, Mrs. Pepper,” Charles smiled. “We did all we needed.”
“Did the masters enjoy the puppet show, then?”
“His Grace most of all.”
“Ain’t it sweet that such a great man wants to go out amongst the people and see somethin’ as common as a puppet show? And, ain’t it somethin’ that he’s such a fine and gentle man that he enjoys it so—just like a sweet babe? Speakin’ of babes, that one looks like he’s ready for his nap, then.” Mrs. Pepper chattered.
“Sure does,” Gamilla chuckled. “I’ll bring him up.”
“You do that, dear.” Mrs. Pepper said. “I’ll tell Mr. Speaight you’re back and in the nursery. Vi already did the drawing room, the library, the morning room and the doctor’s study. Gerard set about tidyin’ the masters’ rooms. So, you can stay up there with the little master ‘til Miss Ellen comes back.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Pepper.” Gamilla nodded. “How’s Gerard.”
“Oh, poorly, I’m sure. Looked as white as a sheet. Sent him back to your room, Charlie. Let’s let him rest ‘til the masters return.”
“Do you think it’s influenza, Mrs. Pepper?” Charles asked.
“I think it’s the champagne from the master’s party.” Mrs. Pepper chuckled.
“But, Gerry didn’t have none.” Gamilla shook her head.
“Oh—maybe that’s what he says, but ain’t no bloke I know what’s gonna turn his nose up at the master’s best wine.” She laughed.
“Yes, Mrs. Pepper.” Gamilla nodded slowly.
“Now, you go on up, dear.” Mrs. Pepper smiled. “I’ll have Vi bring nursery tea for ya when it’s time.”
“Nothin’, my dear. Ain’t nothin’.” Mrs. Pepper shrugged.
“I’ll see ya, Gamilla.” Charles waved with his good hand.
“Where’s Mr. Speaight?” Charles asked Mrs. Pepper.
“Gone out to the mews.” Mrs. Pepper shook her head.
“Whatever for?” Charles chuckled.
“Goin’ through the stable books while Hutchinson’s out, I dare say.”
“Charlie…what can I get ya, then?” Mrs. Pepper winked. She had a special affection for Charles. She’d once told him that he reminded her of her own brother. “I got some o’ them nice sausages from breakfast left. Oh, and I got a bit of good tongue in the larder. Saved it just for you.”
“I wouldn’t mind some of that,” Charles smiled. “And, a bit of your nice chutney if there’s any.”
“For you there is.” Mrs. Pepper winked. She turned around and shouted. “Jenny! Girl, bring me that tongue and the chutney.”
“Mrs. Pepper, I’m doin’ the onions like you said.” Jenny moaned.
“And you shall return to them after you bring me the tongue and the chutney!” Mrs. Pepper snapped. Turning abruptly again, she smiled sweetly at Charles, “Now, you just sit yourself down, my dear. House is in good order and with the masters gone, we don’t have much to do today. Silver’s all polished and all.”
“Right, Mrs. Pepper.”
After a few minutes, Charles settled onto a stool at Mrs. Pepper’s table and enjoyed the small snack she made for him. She watched him eat—proudly, taking joy in his every bite. She was so focused on Charles, in fact, that neither of them heard Speaight entered from the rear door.
“Hullo?” Mr. Speaight called out. Finally, he spotted Mrs. Pepper and Charles in the kitchen.
“Have a look at the books, did ya, Mr. Speaight?” Mrs. Pepper asked.
“Aye, I did.” Speaight nodded.
“In ruins, I expect?” Charles asked.
“No, surprisingly not, Charles.” Speaight sighed.
“Then, what’s weighin’ on ya, Morris?” Mrs. Pepper asked. “Charles, if you’ll pardon me usin’ Mr. Speaight’s given name.”
“That’s fine, Mrs. Pepper.” Charles grinned.
“It’s Tom, Mrs. Pepper.” Mr. Speaight shrugged.
“What’s the little rotter done now?” Mrs. Pepper frowned.
“That’s just it.” Speaight grumbled. “I don’t know. I can’t find ‘im. Looked all over. He’s taken off again.”
“You really should sack him, Mr. Speaight.” Mrs. Pepper clucked her tongue.
“I should.” Mr. Speaight nodded.
“What good’s a page, then, if he ain’t ‘bout when ya need him?” Mrs. Pepper muttered.
“Mr. Speaight, where’d he come from? He was already here when Gerry and I arrived with the masters. I understand that the butler from Fallbridge Hall did a lot of the initial hiring, but I know that when the Duke hired you, you brought on your own people—like Vi and Hutchinson. What about Tom?”
“Tom and Hortence were here.” Speaight sighed. “They, along with Ethel and Jenny, were hired by Mr. Jackson. It seems Tom is the son of a friend of Hortence’s. That should have been enough of a clue. That girl was trouble from the start. Glad to be rid of her. I’m not surprised that Tom’s a…”
“Now, now.” Mrs. Pepper interrupted. “Don’t say her name. Knock wood to keep the bad away. Go on!”
Charles and Speaight exchanged glances and both knocked something wooden—Speaight the frame of the pass-through and Charles, the table.
“That’ll do.” Mrs. Pepper nodded in satisfaction.
“Thanks for the treat, Mrs. Pepper.” Charles rose from the table.
“Oh, come on, Charlie. Have another cup of tea.”
“No, thank you. Maybe Mr. Speaight would like one. I’ve got some mending of the Duke’s in my room. I’d best go fetch it, and lay out my night livery.”
“Off you go, then, Charles.” Speaight nodded. “Good work. How’s the wrist, by the way?”
“Oh, it’s better every day, Sir.” Charles grinned.
“Good boy.” Speaight smiled.
As Charles climbed the stairs, he could hear Mrs. Pepper and Speaight continue to complain about Tom. Something about Tom had always struck Charles as peculiar. He was so sullen and quiet—too much so for a young boy.
Finally reaching the attics, Charles tapped gently on the door of the small room he shared with Gerard. Hearing no response, Charles entered and found Gerard sprawled out on the bed, asleep.
“Poor fella.” Charles sighed.
Charles wandered over the bureau the two men shared and retrieved the mending he wished to finish. He suddenly realized that, with his broken wrist, he’d not be able to finish it. He chuckled at his own lack of thought and wondered if maybe Violet would be able to help him that evening. He looked around for something else to do until the Duke came home and noticed, on the corner of the bureau, a bottle had been tucked behind a stack of old newspapers.
Charles grabbed the bottle and looked at it. As he feared, it was the medicine bottle that he’d asked Gerard to return to the doctor. And, worse still, it was considerably emptier than when he’d given it to his comrade.
“Oh, Gerry.” Charles sighed. “What’ve ya done?”
Did you miss Chapters 1-36 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 38.