When All the Troubles
“Charles,” Mr. Punch said after taking a deep breath to calm his rattled nerves. “I want you to do something for me, please.”
“Anything, Your Grace.” Charles nodded.
“I want you to go out to the mews and inform Hutchinson to ready the carriage.” Punch continued.
“Are you going somewhere, Your Grace?” Ellen asked as she stroked her brother’s wet hair.
“No. You are.” Punch smiled.
“I?” Ellen asked.
“That’s right. You and Charles, to be ‘xact. I want you both to go to Mr. Barrett’s suite of rooms to see what might have happened there. Don’t know if he jus’ got out or if he hurt Scottie. I need ya both to go and see what happened.”
Charles and Ellen exchanged glances.
“Now would be good.” Mr. Punch frowned, his usual jolly patience at a low after the grueling events of the day.
“But, Sir.” Charles said. “With Gerard injured, I don’t like leaving you alone here with…”
“With my unconscious brother?” Ellen snapped.
“Your unconscious brother the murderous…”
“Murderous what?” Ellen barked. “Go on. What is he? A lunatic? If he’s a lunatic, then, so is…”
“Stop!” Charles shouted.
“Yes,” Mr. Punch said softly. “Miss Barrett, I think you’d best stop speaking immediately. I know you’re upset, but…”
“Oh, Your Grace,” Ellen said quickly, tears springing into her eyes. “I’m so terribly sorry.”
“Ain’t nothin’.” The Duke/Mr. Punch replied sadly.
Charles frowned. “Brilliant, Ellen. Why don’t you kick the master, too?” He sighed. “I was just looking out for you, Sir.” He whispered.
“I know it, Charles.” Mr. Punch answered. He cleared his throat. “Only, we gotta make sure that no one was hurt at Mr. Barrett’s rooming house.”
“You’re right, Sir. But, I don’t like leaving you. The man did choke you once.”
“He’s not going to do anything.” Mr. Punch smiled. “That med’cin what Dr. Halifax gave ‘im will keep him down all night. He gave it to me once, he did. Before you and I met in New Orleans. See, there were a fire and I were hurt pretty bad. Robert gave me that an I was abed for days, I was. It’s stronger than even what he gave you for your wrist. Mr. Barrett ain’t gonna move. ‘Sides, I’m gonna have Speaight help me carry ‘im upstairs to the attics. We’ll put him in Hortence’s empty room for the time being and I’ll stay with him.”
“Maybe I’ll get Speaight to stick ‘round. Need Gamilla in the nursery and I don’t think none of the girls should do it.”
“But, Your Grace,” Charles began. “Dr. Halifax asked me to go for the beadle.”
“The doctor isn’t the master of the house,” Ellen hissed. “The Duke is!”
“Miss Barrett!” Mr. Punch shouted in uncharacteristic rage. “Though my name is on the lease of this house, Robert Halifax and I are both its masters. We are equal here! All decisions are made together. You will not question my companion’s authority in this house!”
Ellen choked, turning beet red with embarrassment.
“Now, as I said,” Punch continued. “I see that you’re upset ‘bout your brother. I understan’ that, I do. And, I feel for ya. But, don’t forget that were it not for me and Dr. Halifax, this man would be in an asylum. We promised we’d look out for both of ya—like you was our own family—and I aim to keep that promise. By sending you to his apartments, I’m trying to get the information what I need in order to make the best decision for everyone. However, I need you to sweep the emotional cobwebs from your mind for a moment, I do. Think ‘bout what our situation is this very day. A man is dead—killed and dragged to our front door. Your brother—who, yes, did once attack me—was found having entered my home, the home were me child lives, unlawfully and covered in blood and hair. I know my promise to you. But, I also have a ‘sponsibility to the folk what live in this house—all o’ ‘em, but most of all my companion and my son! I gotta keep all of ya safe. Do ya hear me, Miss Barrett?”
“See, I don’t like shoutin’.” Mr. Punch sighed. “I don’t like loud things. But, you pushed me too far, Miss. I like ya, I do. I truly do. And, I do understand. But, you are never to pit me against Dr. Halifax. Not never.”
“Yes, Your Grace.”
“Your brother—he’s like me, he is. Well, maybe not ‘xactly, but close ‘nough. I ain’t gonna let nothin’ bad happen to him. Don’t ya trust me?”
“With all my heart.” Ellen nodded.
“Then, go do as you’re told!” Mr. Punch bellowed.
Without another word, Charles and Ellen hurried from the scullery.
Mr. Punch snorted and sank down to the floor next to Mr. Barrett. A faint knock on the scullery door made Punch look up.
“Your Grace,” Mrs. Pepper smiled from the doorway, peering into the dim, narrow room.
“Yes, Mrs. Pepper.” Mr. Punch sighed.
“Ain’t none of my business, I know, but I wanted to see if you’re all right.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Pepper.” Punch grinned. “You may come in.”
“Is it safe?” Mrs. Pepper asked cautiously.
“Sure,” Punch smiled. “He’s been drugged, he has.” He coughed, catching himself speaking in his usual voice instead of as Julian. Mrs. Pepper, however didn’t seem to notice, or, if she had, she was unfazed by it.
“So, this is Miss Barrett’s brother, Sir?”
“Yes,” Punch replied, speaking as Julian.
“He’s ill, then?”
“Quite.” Punch sighed.
“Do ya think he killed that bloke what was left out front?”
“I’m not sure.” Punch replied. “I certainly hope not.”
“Your Grace and the doctor, you’ve been helpin’ Miss Barrett with him? That’s what Gamilla and Mr. Speaight say.”
“You’re awful kind.” Mrs. Pepper nodded, dragging a low stool over so that she could sit by the master. “May I?”
“Please.” Punch nodded. “I’m glad for your company.”
“Well…” Mrs. Pepper giggled.
“How is Gerard?”
“Dr. Halifax is patchin’ him up, Sir. Got a bump and a cut on his head. But, he’ll be fine. The doctor gave him somethin’ for the pain.”
“So, he’s not badly injured?”
“No, Your Grace.”
“Good.” Punch sighed with relief. “Tell me, does he know what happened?”
“No, Sir. I don’t remember. Looks like he been attacked from behind. Dr. Halifax thinks maybe it were this fella here what done it. Or—whoever killed that man.”
“But, Gerard can’t remember anything?”
“No, Your Grace.”
“Maybe once he rests…” Punch nodded.
“Dr. Halifac and Mr. Speaight are helpin’ him up to his room.” Mrs. Pepper continued.
“Gamilla’s gone to the nursery.”
“What of Vi, Ethel and Jenny?”
“Violet and Jenny took Ethel upstairs to calm her down.”
“So, everyone is accounted for?”
“All but Tom.” Mrs. Pepper grumbled.
“Tom?” Punch squinted. “Isn’t he in the mews?”
“Can’t find him. He’s been sneakin’ out quite a lot lately.”
“He should be dismissed. When things settle down, I’ll speak with Dr. Halifax about it.”
“For the best, Sir.” Mrs. Pepper smiled. She took a deep breath. “Sir?”
“Pardon me sayin’ it, but I heard what you said to Charles and Miss Ellen.”
“I’m sorry. I was a bit loud.”
“Not so much loud, Sir, as passionate.” Mrs. Pepper nodded. “When Mr. Pepper was alive, bless his soul, I was just as passionate ‘bout him.”
Punch nodded. “Were you happy?”
“We had a good life. Not that I ain’t happy now, Sir. I am. It’s just that for the three years we was married, we had a nice quiet life—just him and me. See, I’d been a kitchen maid and he were a footman. We were in service in the same place. He came into some money when his pa died and he asked me to marry him. We opened a wee tea room. Oh, it were sweet. But, then he got sick and went to be with the angels. I couldn’t keep the shop on me own, so I went back into service. But, those few years, Sir, they were sweet.”
“I’m glad you had them, then, Mrs. Pepper.” Punch answered softly. “And, I’m sorry you’ve lost your husband.”
“We’ll be together again one day.” Mrs. Pepper said wistfully. “In the meantime, I’m glad to be part of such a happy household.”
“Not very happy today, is it?”
“Ain’t the fault of you nor the other master. Not ever’thin’ can be happy all the time. See, even durin’ them years with me Larry, we had times when life gave us pains. Ya learn to take ‘em and turn ‘em into somethin’ else. You can only do that when you’re loyal.” Mrs. Pepper said. “What I find most sweet is that even in the face of somethin’ so awful as all what happened today, we’re still a loyal group. We may disagree, but we ain’t gonna let nothin’ happen to any of the others. That’s because of you and Dr. Halifax. I hope you know that.”
“Thank you for reminding me.” Punch replied sincerely.
Mrs. Pepper smiled and glanced over at Mr. Barrett. “He don’t look so dangerous right now. Looks kind of sweet.”
“We cleaned him up as best we could.” Mr. Punch said. “He was badly hurt. The poor man is ill.”
“Sir, a man like you—he’s got the weight of the world. I know you’ll do the right thing, even when all the troubles you got are heavy.”
“I hope so.”
“I’m gonna get ya a cuppa. That’ll help. And a ginger biscuit. Nothin’s so bad when ya got a ginger biscuit.” Mrs. Pepper said, standing up.
“You’re wonderful, Mrs. Pepper.” Mr. Punch replied.
“And, then, Sir, if you don’t mind, I’d like to stay with you until the doctor returns.”
“I’d like that very much,” Mr. Punch nodded.
“We’ll weather this, Your Grace.” Mrs. Pepper said brightly.
“I have no doubt, Mrs. Pepper.” Punch grinned. “Not anymore.”
Did you miss Chapters 1-44 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 46.