Robert hurried into the wide wooden doors of the Stover Porcelain Company. The front display room was empty, and, so, Robert continued through the shop-front toward a noisy draped opening which led to a long, narrow room populated with equally long, narrow tables.
At each of the three tables sat, hunched over, half a dozen women (and a few men)—paint brushes in hand. Some were painting figurines, others were adding color to vases, others still labored over toilet sets. The object didn’t matter, it seemed, for each worker looked as miserable as possible.
The occupants of the room all looked up at Robert as he rushed in.
“Pardon me. I was summoned.” Robert said quickly. “I was told that an accident had occurred.”
The workers all looked at one another, falling silent.
“Is someone hurt?” Robert asked.
No one responded.
“A messenger came to my home and told me that I was needed.” Robert continued, growing angry. “I’m Dr. Halifax.”
Still, no one responded.
“Is Mr. Stover here?” Robert asked with considerable exasperation.
“Yes, Sir.” A woman finally spoke up. “He’s in the back, sir.” She pointed to a glassed-in enclosure at the rear of the long workroom.
“Thank you,” Robert nodded.
Storming through the work room, Robert didn’t even knock when he approached the rear office. Instead, he quickly opened the door to find William Stover seated at a cluttered desk. William looked up and smiled.
“Robert. Or…should I say, “Dr. Halifax?” What a nice surprise. And, here I thought you didn’t wish to see me again.” William exclaimed.
“Surprise?” Robert growled. “I was told to come here.”
“A messenger!” Robert snapped. “I was told that there’d been an accident here and that I was needed.”
“There’s been no accident.” William shook his head. “And, if there were, why would I send for you? At least three physicians have signs on this street alone.”
“That’s rather what I wondered.” Robert snapped.
“I’m sure there’s been some error.” William shrugged.
“Oh, there’s certainly been an error.” Robert narrowed his eyes. “Are you telling me that you had no idea that I’d been sent for?”
“That’s what I’m telling you.” William nodded. “Though I’m not sad to see you.”
“Who, then, if not you? Who sent for me?”
“I’ve no idea.” William shook his head. “Perhaps your Duke was having a little fun with you. Maybe he sent the message.”
“What? Why would he…”
“You know what people are saying about him.” William smirked.
That was enough for Robert. “I don’t know what’s going on here, but, I’m sure you’re behind it, Mr. Stover! You sent that letter to get me here. I won’t stand for it!”
“I truly didn’t.”
“Liar!” Robert snarled. “You listen to me, William Stover. This is the last I ever want to see of you. Do you understand me? I thought I was clear before, but obviously not, so let me be certain that you understand me.”
William’s eyes widened.
“Did you think that I didn’t see you in Covent Garden?”
“Were you there?”
“You know very well that I was. You followed me. Did you not understand what I said to you the other evening?”
“I certainly did.”
“Let me be sure! I want nothing to do with you. I don’t want to see you. I don’t want to even remember that you exist. If I’m reminded of you, you will most assuredly regret it. If I see you, you will be destroyed. Do not contact me. Do not come near me. Do not even think about me! And, by no means have any communication or contact with the Duke of Fallbridge. If you do, William, so help me God!”
“I am deadly serious.” Robert snapped. “There’s nothing that I would not do to protect the peace of my home life!”
“Of course, Dr. Halfiax.” William nodded.
Shaking with rage, Robert turned on his heel and stormed out of the office and through the work room. Suddenly, he became aware that all eighteen people in the room had heard every word that he said. Flushing a hot pink, Robert staggered to his carriage and ordered Hutchinson to drive him home.
Back in the porcelain concern’s office, William rose from his desk and shut the door to the work room, shaking his head. At the rear door which lead to the mews, he hear a soft tapping and he opened it—unsurprised to find Hortence and his sister, Eudora, there.
“You’re behind this, no doubt?” William grumbled.
“Course we are, brother dear.”
“Oh, but did ya hear the high and mighty Dr. Halifax?” Hortence cackled. “Not so cool and pretty now is he?”
“Why’d ya do it, Dora?” William asked.
“Well, Willy, that’s not your concern, now is it?” Eudora grinned.
“I’m the one who had to sit here and be blasted, then, ain’t I? Now, I’ve done all you’ve asked. I’ve followed them ‘round. I’ve told you what I’ve seen. Tom has, too. Why bring the man all the way here?”
“We had to,” Hortence snarled.
“You’ll see, William.” Hortence winked.
“That you will, Willy.” Eudora added. “Now be a dear and get us some tea, would ya?”
Did you miss Chapters 1-38? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 40 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square.