With this Baggage
“You got Gerry settled-in?” Mr. Punch asked as Robert slipped into his bedroom.
“And, he still ain’t got no idea what happened to ‘im, then?”
“Not even the slightest bit.” Robert sighed, sitting on Punch’s bed. “The best I can tell, he was attacked from behind, but he has no idea how, when or by whom.”
Mr. Punch snorted. “Terrible night.”
“I concur.” Robert grunted. He smiled at Mr. Punch who wore his nightshirt over his breeches and stockings. After such a stressful evening, Robert was glad to laugh a little.
“What are you wearing?” He asked his companion.
“Well,” Mr. Punch smiled sheepishly. “I managed to get me waistcoat, shirt, collar and vest off on me own, but without Charles, I couldn’t handle the rest of it. Just put this nightshirt over the whole lot. Figured no one would notice.”
Robert chuckled. “No one is quite as helpless as an English nobleman.”
“This is true.” Punch sighed.
“So, Charles is upstairs?” Robert asked.
“Sure. He and Miss Barrett are stayin’ with Mr. Barrett in case he wakes up.”
“He won’t.” Robert shook his head. “Not until the morning. So, they found nothing at Roger’s rooms? No evidence of a struggle?”
“None.” Punch shrugged. “Just a note from Scottie sayin’ he’d be back in the mornin’.”
“I can’t believe that the man would leave Roger alone like that—knowing that he’s escape.”
“That’s why we wanted to replace the man.” Punch grumbled. “Wish we’d done it sooner.”
“It’s a moot point now.” Robert said softly.
“Why?” Punch asked.
“You know why, my dear.” Robert said, rising from the bed and walking over to his companion.
“Chum, we can’t.”
“We don’t have a choice.”
“We can’t send Mr. Barrett to the constable.” Punch said quickly. “It ain’t right. They’ll send him to an asylum and we promised Miss Barrett we wouldn’t let that happen.”
“That was before all of this.” Robert argued.
“We don’t have no proof, we don’t. We have no evidence that Mr. Barrett killed William Stover.”
“He entered our house unlawfully and was found by a maid covered in blood and hair.” Robert threw up his hands.
“His own blood and hair.” Mr. Punch shook his head.
“It’s highly likely he attached Gerard just as he attacked you the day you met him.”
“It’s also likely that he didn’t, Chum.” Punch smiled.
“Chum, ain’t too long ago what I were tossin’ blokes over the sides of ships and hittin’ police officers over the head with statuettes.” Punch began.
“Dear Punch…” Robert frowned.
“No—it’s true, it is.” Punch said quickly. “You know it is.”
“What has that to do with anything?”
“Well, just like Mr. Barrett, it would be easy for anyone to look at anythin’ I done in the past and decide that I done this to Mr. Stover when we both know that I ain’t done nothin’.”
“Except no one is going to blame you.” Robert replied.
“You don’t know that.”
“I do.” Robert said firmly. “You’re the Duke of Fallbridge. You are relatively protected by your relationship with the Crown.”
“And you’re my companion.” Punch smiled. “You share in that protection.”
“No.” Robert shook his head. “I don’t. Dear Punch, don’t you see? I threatened the man publicly. I was the one who had a previous relationship with him. I’m the middle class doctor whose position as companion to the Duke of Fallbridge would be threatened by this man. I had motive. I had opportunity. And, furthermore, it’s easy enough to find out that my father was a debtor and my mother a mad woman. Everything is against me. Did you hear the constable? He told me that I was ‘lucky’ to be with the Duke of Fallbridge. They already suspect me. It’s just a matter of time before they come for me.”
Mr. Punch’s eyes widened. “You want to pin this on Mr. Barrett so it’ll be done with, then? He’ll be put away and the issue will be closed. No one would think to look at you.”
“It sounds infinitely cruel when you say it that way.”
“It is cruel.” Mr. Punch sighed. “That ain’t the way you are.”
“I’ve never been threatened like this before.” Robert answered emotionally. “I can’t risk losing you or Colin. I will not survive without you. I’ve I’m blamed for this murder, I’ll have no chance to live out my life with the two of you.”
“You…you… won’t lose us. They can’t blame you for somethin’ you didn’t do!” Punch said.
“Roger is dangerous!” Robert argued. “It won’t make a difference.”
“The same could have been said ‘bout me, Chum. I could be in the same position, I could!”
“But, you’re not.” Robert put his hands on Punch’s shoulders.
“Chum, I see what you’re sayin’, I truly do. But, I can’t let you blame Mr. Barrett for killin’ Mr. Stover.”
“So, you’re willing to wager our future to protect a stranger?”
“He ain’t a stranger. He’s the brother of our friend…”
“Our friend what we promised to help. You’re the man’s doctor! You got an oath, you do. You promised to protect him.”
“More importantly, I swore to protect our family!” Robert shouted. “I’ve already lost one family. I can’t stand the idea of losing you. You’re my world. You and Colin. Without you, I’ll die…”
Mr. Punch embraced his companion. “You ain’t gonna lose us.”
“How can I be sure?” Robert moaned. “And, think…think…I treated Countess Hamish so horribly the other night. She’ll talk. She’’ll say I’m unstable. It won’t be long before word gets out, dear Punch. I assure you that I will be the primary suspect.”
“And if you are, I will protect you.” Punch said comfortingly. “Don’t you got no faith in me, Chum?”
“Of course, I have.”
“We got all the money in the world.” Punch smiled. “I have a close relationship with the Sovereign. Chum, most of all I got all the love in the world—for you, for Colin. I swear to you that nothing will happen to jeopardize our future.”
“I wish I could be sure.” Robert coughed.
“Look at all we been through already.” Mr. Punch grinned.
“True.” Robert nodded.
“We survived worse than this.”
“I’m so tired, Punch.” Robert shook his head.
“So let me be your strength.” Punch helped Robert sit down. “Tomorrow, we’ll get Mr. Barrett back to his rooms and we’ll get a new caretaker for him. And, then, we’ll got on ‘bout our life. Whatever comes, we’ll see it together. And, should anythin’ else arise from this William Stover business, we’’ll take care of it. We don’t gotta sacrifice no one. And, we ain’t gonna lose nothin’. I promise you.”
“You’re right.” Robert nodded.
“Course I am.” Mr. Punch winked. “Ain’t I usually?”
“I’m truly sorry.” Robert shook his head.
“For bringing this sadness into our lives.”
“You didn’t. You didn’t invite William Stover here. He came by himself, he did.”
“I also hope I haven’t disappointed you.” Robert whispered. “What I wanted to do with Roger…”
“Nah.” Mr. Punch grinned. “Only thin’ that disappoints me is that I can’t figure out how to unlace these breeches.”
“I think we can figure that out.” Robert laughed.
“Then, we got not worries, Chum.” Mr. Punch ruffled Robert’s dark hair.
“I don’t know why I ever doubted it.” Robert answered softly.
As the two embraced, downstairs, Speaight was putting on his jacket as he climbed the stairs to answer the front door.
Opening the door, Speaight frowned immediately upon seeing Hortence, Eudora Stover and Tom.
“Mr. Speaight, ain’t it tragic?” Hortence asked.
“What are you doing?” Speaight snapped. “How dare you come to the front door with this baggage? And, you, Tom, what are you doing with the likes of these women?”
“This one’s me ma!” Tom spat.
“That I am, Mr. Speaight. And, a good friend of your Hortence, too.”
“She’s not my Hortence.” Speaight snarled. “Now, get out of here—the lot of you—before I call for the beadle. And, Tom, consider yourself dismissed!”
“Not so fast, Mr. Speaight.” Hortence smiled. “You’re welcome to call for the beadle, if you like. But, not for the reason you think.”
“We want to see your masters.” Eudora smiled.
“To discuss the death of my brother,” Eudora said. “And just how the Duke intends to help me.”
Did you miss Chapters 1-46 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back on Tuesday for Chapter 48.