To Protect the Crown
“Your Grace, you…” The beadle raised his eyebrows. “You killed that man?”
“I certainly did.” Mr. Punch, still speaking as the Duke of Fallbridge, nodded matter-of-factly.
“Think of what you’re doing…” Robert whispered.
“I’m simply telling the truth, my dear.” Mr. Punch smiled though he was not telling the truth at all.
“Why, sir?” The officer asked.
“The man gave me no choice. Did he, Charles?” Punch looked up at Charles who managed to maintain a cool expression despite the fact that his heart was racing.
“No, Sir.” Charles shook his head. “He gave you no choice.”
“He’s lying!” Eudora Stover shrieked. “He’s trying to protect his companion!”
“The man’s a loon!” Hortence chimed in.
“You see,” Punch began before the office could ask any more questions and before the two women could cause any more trouble. “My work puts me in a delicate position. I am privy to all manner of delicate matters regarding Their Majesties. In fact, I’m working on a special project for Her Majesty at this very moment. Now, the poor Queen—heavy with child—trusts me to protect her privacy and that of the Prince Consort. The Prince recently entrusted me with some very specific information—information which I am not at liberty to discuss. Now, as you well know, there are many in the Kingdom who would do the Queen harm and whose sole enterprise is to trade in her secrets…”
“He’s mad!” Hortence interrupted.
“Quiet, you!” The officer snapped.
“Thank you,” Mr. Punch smiled. “Upon our recent luncheon with Prince Albert, my companion and I discussed some very sensitive issues with the Prince regarding…” Punch paused dramatically, looking at Eudora and Hortence. “Well, I really cannot say.”
“I see, Sir.” The beadle nodded.
“Prior to that luncheon, my companion and I had made some very important notations in my private journal regarding the matters about which we were to engage the Prince Consort. You see, Officer, the day before this meeting, we had noticed Mr. Stover following us.”
“We did, Sir.” Charles said quickly. “We saw him watching us in Covent Garden. Other members of the staff are able to corroborate this.”
“Without thinking, I asked my man, Charles, to put my journal in our carriage so that I would not forget it. I’m an artist, you understand. So, I’m prone to being absent-minded. Still, more so, with so many delicate matters on my mind, I must always try to think what is best for the monarchy.”
“Yes,” The beadle nodded again.
“However, about an hour before we were to depart for the palace, I grew nervous, recalling Mr. Stover and the many times he’d been spotted prowling around our property.”
“I can list several times I spotted him.” Charles added.
“As can I.” Gerard said. “Many of us can.”
“So, I personally went to the mews to retrieve my journal.” Punch continued. “I’m certainly glad that I did.”
“You found Mr. Stover, then?” The beadle asked.
“Most certainly.” Punch nodded. “He’d gotten into our carriage. Now that I think of it, he probably gained admission through his nephew. You see, Mr. Stover, unbeknownst to us had planted his nephew, Tom, in our household where he had been employed as a page. This young man here.” Punch pointed to Tom, grinning.
“Are you the nephew of the deceased?” the beadle asked.
“Well, yes, sir, but…”
“Who knows how long Mr. Stover and his family had been plotting against us in order to gain access to private information about Crown and Country?” Mr. Punch said theatrically.
The beadle scowled.
“Well, Officer, when I saw Mr. Stover with my private papers, I became enraged. I struck him—repeatedly—in an attempt to make him release my notations. He finally did and scurried off. I thought I’d finally rid myself of him, but I worried how much he had seen about…the important matter.”
“I see.” The beadle frowned.
“You can’t believe this?” Eudora shrieked.
“That’s enough out of you!” The officer snapped.
“Anxiously, Dr. Halifax and I went to keep our meeting with the Prince Consort.”
“And, that’s when Mr. Stover returned.” Charles lied.
“You saw him, then?”
“Yes, Officer.” Charles continued. “I’m the Duke’s man. Charles Iantosca. I’ve been the Duke’s personal valet for some time, Sir. I’m also first footman. And, I’m frequently with His Grace. I’ve seen Mr. Stover lurking about many times.”
“We both did.” Gerard added.
“He threatened us, Sir.” Charles shook his head.
“William was no spy. That’s not what we were about!” Hortence wailed. “All we wanted…”
“Shut up!” Eudora growled.
“What did you want?” The officer asked.
“Nothing.” Hortence replied quickly.
“Sir,” Charles interrupted. “Mr. Stover was clearly weakened by the beating that the Duke had given him. Gerard and I scrapped with him further. By this point, the Duke and Dr. Halifax were long gone. I punched him and he fell—dead. So, you see, it wasn’t the Duke who killed him.”
“Yes, Charles, it was.” Punch spoke over his man. “It was my initial beating which caused his death. However, I cannot think of any man in my position who would not do the same in order to protect the Sovereign.”
“Of course, Your Grace.” The beadle nodded.
“Once he was dead,” Charles continued, “Gerard here—he and I tried to carry him off, but…”
“You weren’t sure what to do with the man.” The beadle nodded.
“Yes.” Charles and Gerard said in unison.
“Clearly they’re lying!” Eudora scoffed.
“What of you?” The beadle barked. “You’re the bastion of truth?”
“What do you mean?” Eudora frowned.
“Quiet, you trollop.” The officer spat. “It’s clear what happened here. His Grace and his men were protecting not only their home, but the personal business of the Crown. I’m just sorry you had to go to all this trouble, Sir.”
“I am disheartened that a man lost his life,” Punch lowered his head, “but, it could not be avoided. And, now, these women are here trying to blackmail me—a crime unto itself. How much must my household suffer?”
Robert choked, leaning on the newel post.
“You ain’t gonna suffer any more, Your Grace.” The officer shook his head. “Now, I must say, we’ll need to send an inspector from Whitehall to get your statements, but I know they’ll see this as what it is.”
“Thank you,” Mr. Punch nodded with theatrical relief.
“Now, you three.” The beadle turned to Eudora, Tom and Hortence. “What’s all this mean to you?”
“I used to work here, Sir.” Hortence replied nervously.
“She was dismissed for eavesdropping. Isn’t that so, Dr. Halifax?” Punch smiled.
“It is true.” Robert replied softly.
“Yes, Sir.” Speaight confirmed. “I’m the butler here. We’d had nothing but trouble with the girl.”
“And you dragged me here under false pretenses—sayin’ you thought you was in danger.” The beadle glowered at the women.
“You don’t know what they’ve jus’ been feedin’ you!” Eudora snorted.
“I know that we’ve had trouble with you before, Eudora Stover. I won’t say what sort. It ain’t fit talk for a gentleman’s house. But, worse, still you’re tradin’ in espionage now? And blackmail?” The officer said sharply. “I think you three better come with me.”
“I don’t think so.” Hortence shouted.
“Try and struggle and see how it goes for ya.” The beadle narrowed his eyes.
“You got nothin’ on us.” Eudora said stiffly, adjusting her shawl. “Come on. Let’s go!”
Hortence and Tom followed Eudora to the door. Miss Stover paused and looked at Mr. Punch. “This ain’t over, Mr. Molliner!”
“Yes, it is.” Mr. Punch smiled. “Very much so.”
“I’ll make sure they go, Sir.” The beadle nodded. “Good night. And, thank you for your fine cooperation. I’ll be back with an inspector in the morning. Is there any time better than another?”
“No, come at your convenience. You’re a credit to ‘the Met.’”
“Thank you, Your Grace.” The beadle blushed. With that, he escorted Tom, Eudora and Hortence out. Speaight quickly closed the door behind them.
“What have you done?” Robert hissed wildly.
“His Grace told the truth, Sir.” Charles said quickly.
“No, he did not!”
“Yes, he did.” Charles snapped. “Pardon me sayin’ it, Dr. Halfiax, but what was said here tonight was what happened. Whenever I’m asked about it, this is how I will answer. I will not change it one hair. You’d best understand that, Sir.”
“Same for me,” Gerard nodded groggily. “I’ll never vary one bit.”
“I, too,” Speaight said, “will maintain the information shared this evening with anyone from the Met who should ask.”
“I’m outnumbered.” Robert mumbled.
“You’re very loved, chum.” Punch said quickly, speaking as himself. “We did what we had to. It’s over.”
“Is it?” Robert moaned. “And when the inspector from Whitechapel arrives, what then? What if someone should ask the Prince Consort about this sensitive information that you were supposedly protecting?”
“Do you think,” Punch shook his head, “that a member of the Met is going to go to Prince Albert because some porcelain-maker was killed in Belgravia? Do you think that the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis is going to visit the pregnant Queen and ask her about her business with the Duke of Fallbridge?”
“And what will Her Majesty say to Sir Richard Mayne when he does?” Punch sighed. “Will she worry that some middleclass, alleged spy lost his life in a fight with her beloved jeweler or will she be quick to honor the Duke who battled bravely for her honor?”
“You shouldn’t have risked it.” Robert said emotionally. “None of you should have.”
“Had we not done something, those women would have tried to insinuate publicly that you killed Mr. Stover. Yes, we risked something, but had we not, we would have risked losing you.”
“We couldn’t do that, Sir.” Charles said softly.
“No.” Speaight agreed.
“You heard Eudora Stover.” Robert shook his head. “It’s not over.”
“And, you heard me!” Punch said passionately. “And, I say that it is!”
Did you miss Chapters 1-48 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 50.