Friday, June 1, 2012

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 51

Chapter 51: 

The Unexpected Houseguest 

Mr. Punch took a deep breath as he climbed the final few stairs to the attics of his Belgrave Square townhouse. Even though every room in the house technically belonged to him, he was always uncomfortable going to the attics. In fact, he had only done so a few times. To Punch, those rooms belonged to the staff. They were their homes, their private spaces—the only place in the house where they were the master of something entirely unique to them. Mr. Punch, being sensitive to such things, was always shy to bother the servants when they were in their rooms.

Still, he had no choice. As the sun yawned to cast dusty, sooty rays across the white, columned facades of Belgrave Square, Punch had already been awake all night. He hadn’t even tried to sleep. He stayed at Robert’s side, watching as his companion fell into a fitful sleep. And once the man was slumbering, Punch stroked Robert’s dark hair and whispered soothing things. At one point, just for a few moments, Punch rose from his spot next to Robert—making sure to move Dog Toby to Robert’s side so that the rattled man would not feel alone. During those brief minutes, Punch had crept to the floor above to look-in on the nursery where he saw Colin sleeping peacefully with Gamilla snoozing in a chair by the fire. Satisfied, Punch returned to Robert and Dog Toby and remained there until Gerard came to help them dress.

Gerard showed he was cheerful, but groggy. Punch couldn’t tell if it was the injury Gerard had sustained to his head which caused Robert’s valet’s listlessness or the medication which Robert had prescribed for the pain. Briefly, Punch thought that Gerard had been acting peculiar ever since Charles had fallen down the service stairs, but he didn’t think anything of it—his mind was elsewhere. Gerard tried his best to help his two masters with their morning routine. He truly did, but clearly looking after the Duke and the Doctor both was too much for him.

“I’m sorry for bein’ so clumsy, Sir.” Punch had heard Gerard say to Robert. “We’ll get everything back in regular order when Charles is free again.”

Robert mumbled something in response about it being important for Charles to stay at Ellen’s side while Mr. Barrett was still in the house. And, this—this was the problem. Mr. Barrett was still in the house. Not only that, but he had long-ago awakened from the heavy drugs Robert had given him. Mr. Barrett was alert and confused, and Punch didn’t care much for this. The idea that this man—this poor, sad, ill man—was in the same home as Punch’s son, companion and friends, bothered and concerned Mr. Punch endlessly.

One characteristic shared by Punch and the Duke with whom he shared his body (among many others which typically went unnoticed and unexplored) was a distinct fear of the unknown. While Julian was crippled by this fear, Punch found it motivating. And, so, once Punch was content that Robert was being looked-after by Gerard, he slipped from his bedchamber and tip-toed up the two flights to the attic room where Charles and Ellen guarded their unexpected houseguest.

He knocked gently on the door to the room which once belonged to Hortence and smiled when Charles opened it.

“Mornin’, Charles.” Mr. Punch nodded.

“Good morning, Your Grace. Was Gerard able to take up my duties today?”

“Fairly well.” Mr. Punch shrugged. “Dr. Halifax is dressing now. I come up here to visit with you and Miss and Mr. Barrett.”

“Who’s that?” a voice asked from inside. Punch knew that the voice came from Mr. Barrett, yet it was a voice which Punch had not heard before. How many people lived within that man?

“Roger, it’s His Grace, the Duke of Fallbridge.” Punch heard Ellen explain.

“Who’s that?” Roger asked.

“My employer. The man to whom this house belongs. You know him. He’s been so kind these past weeks, helping to look after you.” Ellen answered.

“Come in, Your Grace.” Charles whispered.

“Is he…” Punch began.

“He’s calm, Sir.” Charles nodded.

Punch entered the small room and smiled a greeting at Roger Barrett.

“What are you smiling at?” Mr. Barrett asked.

“I typically try to greet my houseguests with a smile.” Punch responded, feeling the need to speak as Julian might instead of in his usual manner.

Roger narrowed his eyes and studied Mr. Punch. “I know you. You’re the puppet man.” This time when he spoke his voice was more familiar to Punch. “Where are they? The puppets?”

“It’s too early for them,” Punch replied.

“I see,” Roger Barrett nodded considerately. “Well, I understand that.”

“How is your head, Mr. Barrett?”

“My head?” Roger squinted. “What’s wrong with my head?”

“You were injured.” Ellen whispered.

“No, I wasn’t.” Mr. Barrett replied. He reached up and felt his forehead. “Oh—well…maybe…” He yelped in panic. “How…who did that? When? How…”

“Mr. Barrett,” Mr. Punch smiled. “You need not fear anything. You’re quite safe. My companion, Dr. Halifax, has tended to your wounds and you’re quite well now. You just need rest.”

“Who are you?” Mr. Barrett mumbled.

“I’m the Duke of Fallbridge,” Punch smiled.

“Right.” Mr. Barrett nodded.

“Roger…” Ellen began.

“What?” Mr. Barrett grunted. “What’s this woman talking about?”

“Might I ask what you’re called?” Mr. Punch said, continuing to smile.

“Lawrence.” The man replied.

“So, you’re Lawrence?” Punch nodded.

“Well, of course I am!” The man spat.

“Very well, Lawrence.” Mr. Punch replied. “Are you hungry?”

“No.” Mr. Barrett smirked. “Are you?”

“Well, yes.” Mr. Punch chuckled. “Usually.”

“That must be difficult for you.” Mr. Barrett sighed.

Punch looked at Charles and chuckled.

“What’s funny?” Mr. Barrett snapped.

“Nothing at all.” Mr. Punch replied. “Now, Lawrence, I think it’s time that you go home to your apartments and rest.”

“Isn’t this my flat?” Mr. Barrett asked.

“No, this is a room in the attics of my house.”

“Oh.” Mr. Barrett nodded. “Oh! You’re the puppet man! Where are they? Where are the puppets.”

“Roger…” Ellen whispered again.

“Who is this woman?” Mr. Barrett growled.

“She’s your sister, mate!” Charles snapped.

“I have no sister, Sir.” Mr. Barrett sighed.

A knock on the door made them all turn as Robert quietly entered the room.

“Another man!” Mr. Barrett barked.

“Good morning,” Robert nodded. “How are we today?” Robert added softly to Punch, “And who?”

“Dunno, chum.” Punch whispered. “He’s been four different blokes since I been in here.”

“Stop speaking about me as if I wasn’t here.” Mr. Barrett moaned.

“My apologies.” Robert nodded. “Sir, are you up for a carriage ride?”

“That depends…” Mr. Barrett squinted. “Where’m I goin’?”

“Back to your rooms.” Robert smiled.

“Sir?” Ellen rose. “Is it wise to send him back?”

“We have no choice, Miss Barrett.” Robert answered irritably. “We have an inspector from Whitehall coming this morning. Or didn’t you know?”

“Charles told me all that happened here last night,” Ellen nodded slowly.

“So, I’m sure you can agree that your brother must return to his rooms.” Robert replied curtly.

“Why do you keep sayin’ this woman’s my sister?”

“Because she is, mate.” Charles grumbled.

“Is she?” Mr. Barrett asked. “Are you my brother, then?”

“No.” Charles shook his head.

“What of them two?” Mr. Barrett asked. “I like the looks of the one with the dark ginger hair. He’s some Scotch in ‘im. Right? Maybe he’s my brother.”

“No. Well, yes. I…I do have some Scottish blood. On my father’s side.” Mr. Punch replied quickly. “However, I’m not your brother, but I like to think that I’m your friend.”


“Yes.” Mr. Punch nodded.

“Oh…yes, you’re the puppet man.”

“I am.” Mr. Punch answered patiently. “I have a proposal for you. You see, my companion here…”

“Who’s he?”

“He’s my companion.”


“Yes.” Mr. Punch snorted. “He lives here with me. He’s a fine gentleman who has spent his life helping other people. He’s your friend, too.”

“You don’t say?”

“I do.”

“How nice for me, then.” Mr. Barrett smiled.

“I don’t know how you manage it.” Robert whispered.

“Chum…” Punch shrugged. He smiled again at Mr. Barrett. “My companion has sent a letter this morning to a very kind man. This man will be at your rooms when you arrive and he’s also going to be your friend. He is called James.”

“Why will he be at my rooms?”

“So that you always have a friend with you.” Punch forced a smile.

“Oh.” Mr. Barrett nodded. “I think that would be lovely.” He paused and his expression changed. “What do you think, Ellen?” 

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Charles, Robert and Punch looked at Ellen who seemed quite pleased that brother remembered her.

“I think it’s an incredibly good idea.” Ellen nodded.

Mr. Barrett began to look concerned. “But, you won’t visit me.”

“Of course we will.” Punch replied. “Dr. Halifax and I shall visit you often. I’ll bring my puppets and all. And, I know Ellen will visit you regularly.”

“Is that true?”

“Yes, certainly, Roger.” Ellen answered.

“Girl, I’m not Roger.” Mr. Barrett shook his head.

“Lawrence, then.” Ellen added.

“No.” Mr. Barrett sighed dramatically.


“No!” Mr. Barrett snapped. “Pete!”

“Of course. Pete.” Ellen said.

“God!” Mr. Barrett mumbled. “No one knows me. It’s rubbish. Take out the rubbish, Roger. Take out the rubbish. Rubbish is rubbish is rubbish is rubbish is rubbish.”

“Oh, well, then, Pete, let’s not start that rubbish talk again.” Mr. Punch said. “Now, it’s time for you to go with Charles. He’s going to take you down the service stairs. You’ll like that. They wind around themselves like a giant spring. It’s quite a lark!”

“Ooooh!” Roger or Lawrence or Pete or whomever the man was at the moment, perhaps all of them or more, clapped his hands together like a child.

“And, when you get downstairs, you’ll meet a very nice older man named Hutchinson who will help you into the carriage. You and Charles will ride in my carriage. That’s a great honor. It’s not just anyone who can ride in the Duke of Falbbridge’s carriage!”

“You’re the Duke of Fallbridge?”

“I am.”

“I thought you were the puppet man.”

“I’m both.” Mr. Punch answered with his usual patience.

“But, the Duke of Fallbridge is a jeweler. A patron of many leagues and favorite of the Queen.”

“That’s right.”

“You know the Queen?” Mr. Barrett asked.

“Quite well.”

“How interesting.”

“Are you ready for your carriage ride, then?” Punch asked.

“I should say so! I’m going to ride in the Duke of Fallbridge’s carriage!”

“Yes, you are. And, Charles will go with you to help you settle into your rooms and introduce you to James.”

“What a lark!” Mr. Barrett whooped.

“Charles, take him now.” Robert whispered. “While he’s agreeable.”

“Come on, Sir.” Charles approached Mr. Barrett.

“Who are you?”

“I’m Charles.” Charles grumbled. “Remember? I’m the Duke’s man.”

“Well, it’s nice to meet you.” Mr. Barrett nodded.

“I’ve been in here with you all night.” Charles muttered.

“All the more reason we should be introduced.” Mr. Barrett said playfully. “What of Ellen?”

“Ellen must stay here for now.” Charles answered.

“Why?” Mr. Barrett asked.

“I have to look after the Duke’s son.” Ellen replied.

“How’s the Duke have a son. Isn’t he a…”

“Yes.” Mr. Punch interrupted quickly. “I am. But, I’ve a son nonetheless. Interesting, wouldn’t you say?”

“Quite.” Mr. Barrett nodded with wide eyes. “This is a very interesting household.”

“You are quite correct.” Punch laughed.

“I’m ready to leave now.” Mr. Barrett barked, again in a voice to which they were unaccustomed.

“I’ll walk down with you.” Ellen suggested.

“Oh, no!” Mr. Barrett snapped. “That wouldn’t do! People would think we were…”

“I’ll stay, then.” Ellen nodded.

“You’d best. I’d not want my neighbors to think that I was involved with you in any way. People know you’re a harlot.” Mr. Barrett clucked his tongue.

“Gerry’s downstairs in the mews waiting, too.” Robert whispered to Charles. “If you wish, he can go with you. He won’t be needed for awhile.”

“I’d rather he did, yes.” Charles answered softly.

Ellen watched as her brother was escorted out of the room by Charles. He didn’t look at her as he left. Fresh tears rose in her already red, sick eyes.

Once her brother had gone, Ellen sank to the low stool by the bed. “I’m sorry, Sirs, but I must sit for a moment.”

“Please do.” Mr. Punch nodded. “Miss Barrett, I know you want your brother to stay near, however, I’m sure you can agree that he can’t stay here with Colin in the house and the young ladies downstairs.”

“Of course.” Ellen nodded weakly.

“Furthermore, we do have the chap from Whitehall due at some point.”

“And, frankly, we don’t need additional chaos during that coming ordeal.” Robert snorted.

“Sirs,” Ellen looked up. “Charles explained to me what His Grace did last night—falsely confessing to the murder of Mr. Stover.”

“Yes.” Robert sighed.

“It was very brave of you, Your Grace.” Ellen said emotionally.

“It had to be done, Miss Barrett.” Punch replied stiffly.

“Sir, I know you did it to protect Dr. Halifax, but in doing so, you also protected Roger.”

“I promised that I would.” Mr. Punch answered.

“Even after the hateful things I said to you in the scullery…”

“Well,” Punch frowned. “A promise is a promise. While the Fallbridge family motto is ‘Greatness in all things,’ the Molliner family motto is ‘Honor Above All.’”

“You’ve achieved both, Sir.” Ellen replied sheepishly.

Robert ignored Ellen—he simply was still too angry with her—and looked at his companion. “I didn’t know that was the Molliner family motto.”

“Yes.” Punch smiled. “It’s carved above the archway to Grange Molliner.”

“How lovely.” Robert smiled. “I do hope to see it one day.”

“You shall.” Punch winked.

“I’m sorry, Your Grace…” Ellen shook her head. “Did the doctor say ‘Grange Molliner’?”

“Yes. In Aberdeenshire.” Punch continued. “The Molliner estate in Scotland. While Sir Colin was not of the rank of the Duchess of Fallbridge, my father’s family was still quite highly regarded in Scotland and not without wealth of its own.”

“I’ve visited Grange Molliner,” Ellen said softly. “I didn’t associate it with you.”

“Ah, yes, you’re Scotch. I’d forgotten.” Punch nodded. “It’s open to the public on Wednesdays. I don’t think ‘bout it much, I don’t. Pity, too. I recall seein’ it through Julian’s eyes when he were a boy. Quite lovely. When our pa were killed, I…well, Julian inherited the estate. For the best, too, since the Molliner cousins are always chronically in debt.”

“So…you still own it?” Ellen asked.

“Yes.” Punch nodded. “A considerable sum goes to its monthly maintenance. I hope that Dr. Halifax and I can bring Colin there one day when he’s a bit older. It’s just near Balmoral.”

They stood stiffly in awkward silence. Ellen seemed to be contemplating something which she was keeping to herself.

“Well, Miss Barrett,” Robert said finally. “Why don’t you get a few hours of sleep? Gamilla is still with Colin, however, she’s been overtaxed the last twenty-four hours. While Violet has helped with Gamilla’s other duties while she looks after our boy, the woman does need some rest and to be able to return to her own work.”

“Of course, Dr. Halifax.” Ellen nodded. She began to shake.

“Is something the matter?” Robert asked. “Miss Barrett, I assure you, your brother will be well-cared for by James. He’s a young man, but he’s training to be a physician and he’s quite kind and gentle. I mentioned him to you…before all of this. He helps me from time to time when I visit the clinic. He’s quite good with people like your brother. You’ll find him loyal and strong. We’ve already paid him a handsome sum, so you can feel comfortable knowing that Mr. Barrett is in good hands. In the meantime, we’ll try to figure out what really happened to Scotty. Nothing will happen to your brother, I assure you.”

“I don’t deserve this loyalty, Sir.” Ellen sniffed.

“No.” Robert shook his head. “You don’t.” He spoke plainly. “I was very unimpressed to learn how you treated the Duke yesterday. However, as His Grace said, ‘a promise is a promise.’”

Ellen began to cry.

“Chum…” Punch said softly. “She were only bein’ protective of her kin, she was.”

“That’s no reason to abuse the very man who has done nothing but support her despite the danger posed to himself and his household.” Robert replied stiffly.

“Folk make mistakes when they’re scared. Yes?”

“I suppose.” Robert shrugged.

“Listen, Miss Barrett, sure I was offended, but I know you didn’t mean it.”

“Can you ever forgive me?” Ellen sniffed.

“I can.” Mr. Punch smiled. “Only, Dr. Halifax…he…”

Robert sighed.

“I’m going to give you one more chance.” Robert nodded. “You must understand that while you’re quick to leap to the defense of your brother, I am equally quick to protect my…companion. I’ve grown to hate that word. Surely there’s a more suitable…”

“It’s all we got, Chum.” Punch chuckled.

“I shan’t act so dreadfully again, Sir.” Ellen said earnestly.

Robert smiled. “I know you won’t. I tend to hold onto anger far longer than I should, Miss Barrett.”

“So do I.” Ellen nodded.

“Let’s forget about it, then.” Robert sighed. “We’ll start anew. With all that’s coming today, it’s best for all of us if we do. Now, please, go get some sleep. When the man from Whitehall comes, he may wish to speak with you—you and the rest of the staff. We’re going to have a gathering of everyone in about two hours to make sure we all say the same things to the ‘Met.’”

“I won’t let you down, Sirs.” Ellen nodded. “I hope you know that. I may be reckless sometimes, but, in the end, I am loyal.”

“Sure, we know.” Punch smiled.

Ellen looked to Robert.

“I don’t doubt it, Miss Barrett.” Robert nodded. “I have no choice but to trust you.”

As they left the room, the governess followed her two masters. She watched them walk downstairs and finally, took a deep breath. “Grange Molliner,” she whispered to herself. “How could I not have known?”

Return to the main page of Stalking the Belle Époque.

Did you miss Chapters 1-50 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 52.

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