Gone to Ice
“It’s still cold in here. Feel like my blood has gone to ice.” Mr. Punch whispered to Robert, alone with his companion in the Red and Blue Chinese Luncheon Room of Buckingham Palace. “I’ll say that Mr. Blore’s new East façade is a sight better than what it was, but I thought Prince Albert had solved the problems in the state rooms.”
“Clearly not,” Robert replied softly, also shivering. “The smell is a bit overpowering, too.”
Mr. Punch frowned. “I remember the first time I came here.”
“Oh?” Robert whispered.
“Sure,” Punch nodded, letting his “Julian” voice fade for a moment since they were alone. “It weren’t me, of course. It were still Julian. Only I remember this room being cold, then, too. It were just when Mr. Cubitt were finishin’ the central quadrangle and Mr. Blore were plunderin’ Brighton Pavilion—draggin’ all them oriental fittin’s from over there to here. I remember Julian thinkin’ that it were odd that Her Majesty would wish for anything what reminded her of George IV in this place, but here it is—this room. It’s straight from Brighton, it is.”
“It doesn’t really match anything else.” Robert replied softly, grinning.
“Oh. Look ‘round. There’s bits of Brighton all over this place.”
“It’s not an unattractive room, but it does rather put me in mind of George IV.”
“That’s because it’s all his things in here. Even the walls, I think.” Punch pointed to the ceiling. “And, them queer shallow domes. Smelled like the inside of a chamber pot when I…well, Julian…were here that first time, and it does a bit now.”
“You’re correct,” Robert looked around. “We’ve been waiting an awfully long time.” Robert sighed. “I thought Germans were meant to be punctual.”
“Aw, who knows what His Majesty is about?” Punch studied his companion. “How are you?”
“Much better than yesterday.” Robert grinned. “Thank you. And, again, I’m terribly sorry that I spent all of that time shouting.”
“You was angry, you were. And, I don’t blame you a lick. Were awful what the William Stover bloke done to ya. But, I know he won’t do it ‘gain. He won’t be botherin’ us.”
“How can you be so sure?” Robert sighed.
“Just sure, I am.” Punch winked.
Suddenly, the main entrance swung open and a footman in very fine livery entered. “His Majesty, Prince Albert.”
Punch and Robert rose. Making sure he looked the part, Punch stiffened his back and arranged his face into an expression which almost resembled the look of cautious detachment that Julian was known to wear.
“Fallbridge,” Prince Albert barked. “Dr. Halifax. Pardon my tardiness.”
“Your Majesty,” Punch bowed his head. “We are at your service.”
“Sit.” Prince Albert pointed to the round, cloth-covered table in the center of the room.
Robert and Punch waited for Prince Albert to sit before taking to their own chairs.
Prince Albert snapped his fingers and as if from nowhere, half a dozen footmen appeared carrying domed trays.
“Have you my drawings?” The Prince Consort asked.
“Yes, Your Majesty.” Mr. Punch nodded, removing a leather folder—bound in ribbon—from the inside pocket of his court coat.
Prince Albert took the parcel and tossed it onto an empty chair. “Fine. I shall look when I have time and send you my thoughts.”
“Very good, Your Majesty.”
Robert noticed that his hands were shaking as he reached for a capered bit of some kind of fish which had been offered him from a tray by one of the footmen.
“Doctor?” Prince Albert smiled. “You seem nervous.”
“No, Your Majesty.” Robert smiled.
“Your hands always shake, then? Not what one wants from a physician!”
“Oh, no, Sir.” Robert replied in an even voice. “You see, this being only my second time in the palace, I am not so much nervous as excited. Hence, my shaking hands. I am overwhelmed by the beauty of this magnificent palace and by the generosity of Your Majesty.”
“A fitting answer.” Prince Albert smirked. “You’re well-suited to the always-politic Fallbridge here.” He narrowed his eyes at Robert. “You don’t suppose your shaking hands have anything to do with the fact that it’s terribly cold in this room?”
“No, Your Majesty,” Robert replied as cheerfully as possible, not quite sure why Prince Albert appeared to be picking on him.
“You needn’t omit the truth. The room is cold. I’m told nothing can be done about it.”
“What a pity,” Mr. Punch said, still speaking as Julian. “The room is so handsome.”
“This room? Dear God, Fallbridge, I hope this isn’t your taste. I’d hate to see what you’ve designed for me if it is. This abomination stinks of the Queen’s uncle. It’s all from Brighton, you know? You can’t imagine what atrocities these walls have seen.”
“Your Majesties will erase anything untoward with your mere presence.” Punch replied.
“See? Politic. Politic as always.” Prince Albert smirked. “Now, we eat.”
They consumed their meal—which was, at least, warm—in relative silence.
Finally, Robert found the nerve to speak. “How is Her Majesty?”
“Heavy with child and quite unhappy about it.” Prince Albert grunted. “I doubt the skills of her physicians.”
“I’m terribly sorry to hear it, Your Majesty.” Robert answered.
“Perhaps you should like to have a look at Her Majesty?” Prince Albert asked flatly. “I am told you’ve experience in birthing.”
“I have, Sir.” Robert nodded. “If it would please Your Majesties, I would be honored to consult.”
“Yes.” The Prince Consort nodded. “Perhaps. We shall see.”
Again, they ate in silence.
“Now,” Prince Albert rose after about twenty minutes. “Forgive me, but I must take my leave.”
Punch and Robert rose as Prince Albert retrieved the leather-bound drawings from the empty chair.
“Thank you for such a fine meal, Your Majesty.” Mr. Punch said. “And, also for the extremely fine gift that you sent to me for the anniversary of my birth.”
“We received your letter of thanks. No further mention is needed.” Prince Albert nodded. “Good day, Fallbridge…Doctor.”
“Your Majesty,” Robert bowed.
With that, Prince Albert walked briskly from the room.
And, once again, Robert and Punch were alone in the luncheon room.
“What do we do now?” Robert asked. “I haven’t finished.”
“If a footman comes, we leave. If we’re left alone, we eat.” Punch smiled.
They both sat down again, but not for long as a footman—one that they had not seen before—arrived to escort them from the room.
Silently, Punch and Robert walked to their carriage, climbing inside.
Once Huchinson had steered them through the gates of the palace, Punch and Robert both burst into wild laughter.
“What was that fish?” Robert asked.
“I got no idea,” Punch howled. “It smelled of the Thames. The sauce was good.”
“I barely had three bites.” Robert chuckled.
“We’ll get Mrs. Pepper to make somethin’ for us when we get home, we will.”
“I think we’d best.” Robert nodded. He paused. “Dear Punch, you were brilliant again.”
“Eh.” Punch shrugged.
“Do you think His Majesty was serious in having me examine the Queen?”
“Could be.” Punch sighed. “Who knows what that one thinks?”
The rose in silence for a few moments. Robert, after awhile, finally spoke, “Thank you, dear Punch.”
“For listening to me all last evening and for introducing me to all of these new things, and…well…”
“Chum, if we thanked one another for all we did, we’d never say nothin’ else.”
Robert grinned as the carriage pulled up the No. 65 Belgrave Square.
“Here,” Punch squinted, looking out the window. “What’s that on the steps?”
“Pardon?” Robert shook his head, peering out the window.
There, on the steps of their townhouse was what appeared to be a large sack of ruddy rags.
“Bugger!” Punch shouted.
As Punch howled, Robert realized at what they were looking. It was not a parcel of rags, it was a man—lying on his stomach across several steps.
“It’s a bloke!” Punch snorted, climbing out of the carriage.
The two hurried to the side of the man.
“He’s dead.” Robert whispered, checking for the man’s pulse.
Punch reached over and turned the man’s head to see William Stover’s face—barely recognizable beneath repeated bloody blows.
Did you miss Chapters 1-40 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back on Monday for Chapter 42.