Nowhere to Go
Word that a dead man had been found on the steps of the elegant Belgrave Square Home of the Duke of Fallbridge spread very quickly throughout the City of Westminster, carried from Belgravia across the whole of Central London on the lips of maids and ladies, valets and barons.
Some—like the Countess Hamish—were quick to reveal the portion of the rumor that the dead man had some former association with the Duke’s “companion.” Those dwelled on the more sordid details of the news were eager to resurrect the tales of the Duke’s supposed madness and suggested that perhaps he had a hand in the death. Others, however, were quick to come to the Duke’s defense, all the while suggesting that his middleclass companion had certainly dispatched his old acquaintance in order to protect his financial and romantic interests.
One household, and one alone, refused to hear anything other than the simple facts of the case—and, then, only once. Thankfully for the Duke and the doctor, this household was that of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
The very pregnant Queen demanded to know what on Earth the Baroness Lehzen was droning on about.
“The Duke of Fallbridge’s lover killed a man right in front of Fallbridge House.” Lehzen whispered.
“Nonsense!” Her Majesty had snapped.
Very quickly, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were given the details of the affair.
“Albert,” The Queen had said imperiously. “Do something. Dear Fallbridge needs our help. We must stop this at once. I would do it myself—were I not weighed down with this little beast inside of me!”
Prince Albert, aware that when his Royal wife was pregnant, she was in the worst possible of humors, knew that he’d best do as instructed, and, with the help of his aides was able to keep the news of William Stover’s death from the papers, at least the reputable papers.
Still the story grew and spread, borne on the tongues of the jealous and the curious. And, Mr. Punch knew it. Soon, he felt quite helpless. However, he tried to keep calm for the sake of his family.
Punch sat in the dimly-lit library of No. 65 Belgrave Square. His eyes were wide open as he stared into the room’s shadows from behind the papier mache screen in the corner of the room. His back pressed against the wall, he sat on the floor with Dog Toby. He could still smell Colin’s powder on his hands. Miss Barrett had just taken the child back up to the nursery. Punch had tried to seem cheerful for the boy. “He knows, Chum, when we ain’t the same as usual.” Punch had whispered to Robert. “We don’t want to scare ‘im, do we?” Still, our Mr. Punch felt a bit like a failure because he wasn’t entirely convinced he had masked his emotions well enough to convince the baby that everything was just as it should be. And, this, for Mr. Punch was the greatest tragedy of the day.
Robert returned to the library from his study. He’d gone up to his private room for a few moments after the child had gone to bed—just to collect his thoughts. “Punch?” Robert whispered as he came into the room.
“Behind here,” Punch replied.
Robert peered around the screen. “May I join you?”
“Sure,” Punch nodded eagerly. “Here, thought you’d tell me to come out, I did.”
“No.” Robert shook his head. “This seems to be the best place for both of us right now.” He tilted his head and studied Punch’s face. “How are you, dear Punch?”
“Hmmm…” Punch sighed. “Dunno, Chum. I reckon I’m scared, I am. Gotta feelin’ somethin’ else is ‘bout to head our way. Reminds me of when we was in New Orleans and it was one bad thing after ‘nother. I thought all that were in the past.” He shook his head.
“I’m so terribly sorry.” Robert whispered.
“What for?” Punch widened his eyes. “You didn’t kill the bloke.”
“No.” Robert said. “But, it’s because of me that this has happened. I was the one who knew William. Were it not for me, you’d never have been bothered by him.”
“Ain’t like you coulda known this would happen.” Mr. Punch snorted. “You can’t blame yourself for this.”
“But, I do…” Robert choked, starting to shake.
“Now, Chum.” Punch said quickly, sliding across the floor to sit beside his friend. “You…you can’t. Listen, ‘member outside earlier when you said we was gonna be safe? You said ain’t nothin’ would touch us! Well, it ain’t. We’re gonna be safe! But, we gotta be strong in order to do so.”
“You’re correct, of course.” Robert said, clearing his throat.
“Of course,” Mr. Punch smiled. “You saw the letter what Her Majesty sent. We got the Crown on our side. Don’t get better than that, it don’t. And, we both know that neither you nor I had anythin’ to do with killin’ that man. In a few days, folk will have forgotten all about it.”
“And, all about him.”
“The folk what cared for Mr. Stover will continue to do so.” Punch replied, raising an eyebrow.
“I just want to forget I ever saw him.” Robert grumbled.
“Well, ya can’t.” Mr. Punch shrugged. “But, one day, rememberin’ ‘im won’t make ya angry or scared. Believe me.”
“I been thinkin’,” Punch smiled. “Maybe we ought to go to the country for awhile.”
“Sure, I could take ya to Fallbridge Hall, show Colin his inheritance. Show you where Julian, and me, I ‘spose, grew up.”
“Perhaps in a few days.” Robert nodded.
“I ‘spose it would be ‘spicious if we up and left right now.” Punch shrugged.
“I think so.” Robert sighed. “But, I like the idea. I like the thought of just forgetting about this.”
“Well, now we got something to look forward to, we do. I been wantin’ to reclaim the Hall—make it a happy place again. In the meantime, we can try our best to be happy here. We’re gonna have to. And, the best way to start is with dinner. Now, I ‘spect Charles’ll be ringin’ the dressing gong soon.” Punch nodded. “We’d best get ready.”
“I can’t imagine eating.” Robert sighed, standing up and helping Mr. Punch to his feet.
“Well, you’re gonna.” Mr. Punch poked Robert playfully in the stomach with his index finger.
A sound, in fact, did come from downstairs, but it was not the expected chime of the dressing gong. No—it was Ethel’s piercing scream.
Instinctively, Punch and Robert ran downstairs to the servants’ hall where Ethel was yelping from outside her scullery door. A chaotic scene swarmed around her and Mrs. Pepper, Speaight, Charles and Gamilla tried to calm the girl.
“What’s this?” Robert demanded.
“We can’t tell, Sir.” Charles answered quickly. “She’s just screaming.”
“In…” Ethel yelped. “In there! In the scullery!”
Punch, Robert and Charles exchanged looks.
“What’s in there, girl?” Speaight asked.
“A man!” Ethel howled.
“Come, Charles.” Speaight nodded.
“No!” Robert said quickly, stepping past the two men. “I’ll go first.”
Led by Dr. Halifax, Charles and Speaight went into the scullery. At first they did not see what had made Ethel scream so, but, then, as their eyes adjusted to the dim light of the room, they saw him.
“It’s bloke who brought them flowers for Miss Barrett,” Ethel could be heard whimpering outside the scullery. “Only he’s covered in blood, he is.”
Robert whispered to Speaight. “Go get Miss Barrett.”
“Why, Sir?” Speaight asked.
“This is her brother.”
Robert forced himself to smile at Mr. Barrett. “Roger, you know who I am, don’t you? I’m Dr. Halifax. I’m your friend.”
“Where’s the other one?” Mr. Barrett whispered.
“He’s just outside.” Robert replied.
“I want him.”
“How’d you get all this blood on you?” Robert asked.
Mr. Barrett replied only. “I want the other one—the one with the puppets.”
“I’ll get him.” Robert nodded, wondering how the man got into the house. “Wait here for us.”
“I’m not going anywhere.” Mr. Barrett laughed. “I’ve nowhere to go.”
Did you miss Chapters 1-42 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 44.