So Much Like a Man
“I think it went well, I do.” Mr. Punch smiled as he settled into an armchair by the fire in Robert’s study. “What do you think, Miss Barrett?”
“I’ve never seen Roger so calm.” Ellen smiled. “I’m not quite sure how you managed it, Your Grace.”
“I didn’t do nothin’.” Punch shrugged. “It were the puppets…Punch and Dog Toby. He likes ‘em, your brother does.”
“You underestimate yourself, dear Punch,” Robert shook his head, sitting behind his desk. “When we arrived, Mr. Barrett was quite aggressive. In fact, he was almost violent.”
“But, then, he saw his sister,” Punch suggested. “That’s what calmed ‘im down.”
“No,” Ellen shook her head. “Begging your pardon, Your Grace, but I think the sight of me might have enraged him more. I don’t think he forgives me for…” She paused. “For the mistakes I’ve made.”
“Miss Barrett,” Robert smiled. “To be sure, I don’t think your brother is aware of what he’s thinking or feeling at the moment. It’s quite interesting, before Punch…er…the Duke began his private puppet show for Mr. Barrett, he appeared to cycle through at least five different personas—I may have lost count.”
“Don’t give up hope, Miss Barrett,” Robert continued. “We’ve only just started. You saw how he responded to the puppets. It was almost like he was entranced by them.”
“Just wanted him to pay attention,” Mr. Punch shrugged again. “See, when a man speaks to him, he seems to get angry, but he don’t get upset when puppets talk—‘specially when the puppet don’t look so much like a man. All I did was use the puppets to let him know that he’s safe and that folk care for him. That’s all any bloke needs to know—no matter who he is. Sometimes, it’s just…well, it takes different ways to let a fella know.”
Robert looked affectionately at his companion.
“Again, Sirs,” Ellen spoke up. “I can’t thank you enough for what you’re doing.”
“No need, Miss Barrett,” Robert shook his head. “Now, I have a rather uncomfortable question to pose to you.”
“His Grace and I were talking the other evening. We’re not entirely convinced that the gentleman you’ve employed to look after your brother is the best possible candidate. He seems rather overwhelmed. After all, he let your brother get out of the flat on more than one occasion. We can’t have that. I think he’s a very nice man, but he’s not well-suited to the job.”
“I know.” Ellen replied softly. “But, he’s the best I can afford—from the lot willing to do it.”
“That’s where we’d like to intervene.” Robert nodded.
“You’re not suggesting that Roger come here?” Ellen’s eyes widened.
“We talked ‘bout it,” Punch shook his head. “Only it don’t seem like it would work out, it don’t. We even thought maybe he could come here as a page. He could replace Tom who don’t seem to be workin’ out so well. Still, we don’t think he’s fit for that yet, he ain’t. And, simply put, with the baby in the house, and four young ladies on staff, I don’t think we could let Mr. Barrett come here jus’ yet.”
“I completely agree.” Ellen nodded.
“However,” Robert began. “We would like to pay for better care. The rooms you’ve hired are suitable, but we think the care-taker should be replaced. I know of a man from the clinic who would very much like to do it. He’s young, but he’s been studying the science of the mind and I think he’d be able to handle your brother as well as provide a soothing influence. Furthermore, we could outfit him with a puppet or two so that he could replicate the success that the Duke has had with your brother.”
“It’s really the best thing for your brother,” Punch put up a hand.
“You’ll take it out of my wages, then.” Ellen said firmly.
“No.” Robert replied. “We will most certainly not.”
“Your Grace? Dr. Halifax? I can’t…”
“Please don’t argue.” Robert replied.
“Consider it a gift.” Mr. Punch smiled. “Ladies gotta know they’re safe, too. We want you to know that you and your kin are taken care of.”
“I don’t know what to say.” Ellen answered emotionally.
“Say nothing.” Robert smiled.
“I…” Ellen rose. “I’d best get up and relieve Gamilla. She’s been so kind to cover for me this afternoon.”
“I rather think Gamilla likes staying in the nursery.” Robert nodded. “However, yes, please check on our boy. We’ll visit after tea.”
“Yes, Sir. Good afternoon. Good afternoon, Your Grace.”
“Pat Colin’s belly for me.” Mr. Punch grinned.
Ellen opened the door and as she did, Dog Toby trotted in—tail wagging. He was followed by Charles.
“Pardon me, Miss.” Charles nodded as Ellen passed.
“How is your wrist, Charles?” Ellen asked.
“Oh, just fine, thank you.” Charles smiled.
As Ellen quietly slipped up the stairs, Charles entered Robert’s study.
“May I, Sir?”
“Certainly, Charles.” Robert nodded. “Are you really feeling well?”
“Yes.” Charles replied.
“Have you been taking the medicine I’ve given you?”
“Well, Sir, about that…” Charles began.
Charles took a deep breath. He could feel the weight of the medicine bottle in his pocket. He’d taken it from the bureau in the room he shared with Gerry while Gerard was still passed out. Charles had been wondering all afternoon if he should tell the masters that Gerard had been taking the pain killer. He also wondered how Gerry would react when he found the bottle missing.
Just as Charles was about to speak, Speaight came bounding into the room.
“Dr. Halifax!” Speaight panted.
“Oh dear!” Mr. Punch’s eyes widened. “What’s happened?”
“A messenger just arrived for you.” Speaight said, handing a note to Robert using the small tray he usually had under his arm.
“I see.” Robert frowned, reading the note.
“What is it, Chum?” Mr. Punch asked.
“There’s been an accident at the Stover Porcelain Company.”
“Stover?” Punch narrowed his eyes. “As in that egg-shaped pest William?”
“That’s the one.”
“What sort of accident?” Punch asked.
“It doesn’t say.” Robert tossed the note onto his desk.
“Why contact you?” Punch grimaced. “You’re nowhere near there. There must be a dozen doctors between here and that part of London. Why you?”
“I have no idea.” Robert grumbled. He looked up sheepishly. “I don’t mean to snap at you.”
“I know. You’re not.” Punch smiled. “Well, regardless o’ who it is, if there’s a ‘mergency and you been called, you gotta go. Ain’t it your oath as a physician?”
“It is.” Robert sighed. “Speaight, please have Hutchinson ready the carriage.”
“Yes, Sir.” Speaight nodded, bounding off again.
“Now, Charles,” Robert took a deep breath. “You wanted something?”
“Just wanted to bring Dog Toby in for His Grace.” Charles lied. He didn’t want to add to the doctor’s burden.
“Ah, thank you,” Robert nodded. “Listen, Charles, please tell Mrs. Pepper not to hold tea for me. Nor dinner. If I’m here, all the better, but I may be late. I don’t know what I’m about to see.”
“Yes, Sir.” Charles nodded, leaving the room so that Punch and Robert could exchange good-byes. Before going downstairs, he slipped up to his room in the attic and returned the medicine bottle to the bureau. He’d just have to speak with Gerard about it himself.
Meanwhile, back in the study, Robert shook his head. “I’m terribly sorry about it, dear Punch. I’d hoped to spend the evening with you and Colin.”
“Don’t be.” Punch grinned, hugging Robert. “I got lots to do before we see His Majesty tomorrow anyway. Good luck to ya, Chum.”
“Thank you, my dear.” Robert winked.
With that, Robert hurried down the stairs.
Alone in the study with Dog Toby, Punch looked down at his canine friend and sighed. “All I can say, dog chum, is that William Stover better have fallen into an oven or somethin’. If this is some kind of trick, I’ll bash his head in with me stick, I will.”
Little did Punch know, but Tom, the page was listening at the door.
Did you miss Chapters 1-37 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chaptered 39.