Friday, June 8, 2012

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 57

Chapter 57: 
Hungry is All 

Several days had passed since the Queen intervened in the matter of William Stover’s murder. Those days saw an increasingly good humor develop at No. 65 Belgrave Square, and, soon the usual atmosphere of the household had recovered.

Downstairs, the staff grew jollier with each passing day, setting beside the disturbing memories of the dead man found on the steps and the bloody face of Roger Barrett gazing out from the scullery. The arrival of a large arrangement of white roses from Buckingham Palace thrilled the hearts of the maids and made the men of the house nod with pride, confident that their masters were in the good favor of the Crown.

Another source of increasing joy was the arrival of George Pepper—Mrs. Pepper’s youngest son—who had not only been hired as a page to replace Tom, but who also fitted into the household as if he’d always been there. Quick with a smile and a joke, “Georgie,” as he was called downstairs was immediately embraced by Charles and Gerard who were overjoyed to have another man about with whom they could tease and play. The younger girls—Ethel and Jenny—found Georgie to be full of charm and privately cooed about his handsome face, shiny hair and the muscular arms he had developed working in the hosiery factory. Violet and Gamilla took comfort in the acquisition of another male servant and were pleased to find him helpful and courteous. Speaight, in general, was pleased to have someone else to command. And, finally, Mrs. Pepper was the most overjoyed of all—thrilled to have her boy once again under the same roof and as proud as Punch that he was so well-liked by the household.

Ellen, too, seemed to relax with each passing hour. She had visited her brother in his hired rooms many times and grew increasingly comfortable with the care that Robert’s friend, James, was giving to Roger. Once again, Ellen was focused and cheerful. She played with Colin and Dog Toby, made a point to bring the child to see his fathers and, even, twice took tea with Dr. Halifax and the Duke. Both times, in fact, she had “played Mother,” carefully serving her masters and engaging them in happy nursery talk.

Gerard was on the mend—recovering from his head injury. Still, however, he had no memory of what had happened that strange night when he was “attacked.” Charles kept a careful eye on his friend and Gerard was aware of it. Charles knew that Gerard was still taking the medicine that Dr. Halifax had given him, but he seemed to be doing so in moderation, and that alone was enough to comfort Charles. Gamilla, too, was watchful. She and Charles assumed that since Gerard knew that he was being monitored by the two of them, that he would not over-indulge in the pain-killing elixir.

Charles, too, was healing. He wished to take the splint off of his broken wrist, but Dr. Halifax had forbidden it. Nevertheless, Charles had gotten quite expert at serving with his left hand, and, most triumphantly, even managed to tie the Duke’s cravat with just the one hand.

Robert had taken a few days off from the clinic. Since he knew that Punch was disappointed that they would not be traveling to Grange Molliner any time soon, Dr. Halifax concluded that his companion would be happy to have him at home more often. Truthfully, Robert was happy with the time, even secretly thinking of abandoning his practice to spend more time with his partner and working on their book. In the meantime, Robert delighted in afternoons spent playing with Dog Toby and Colin while Punch worked on his designs, and evenings devoted to reading to Punch by the fire.

Yes, the household was quickly recovering. That is, all except Mr. Punch.

The evening after their visit to the palace, Punch—though still appropriately jolly—seemed ever-so-slightly listless. By the time Punch and Robert had retired for the night, Punch was so tired that he fell asleep before Charles had arrived to undress him. Robert and Charles had to awaken the Duke so that he could change into his night clothes. Robert attributed this to the stressful day they had just endured. Punch had never been one for sleep, after all. And, so, when he did finally crater into exhaustion, he did so with the abandon of an over-excited baby whose energy quickly shut off.

The following morning, however, when Charles arrived with Mr. Punch’s morning cup of tea, he found his master pale and was concerned when he was greeted not with the usual, joyous “Mornin’, Charlie,” that he had grown accustomed to, but rather a groggy, “Is it mornin’ already?”

Charles considered asking Dr. Halifax if he shouldn’t think of examining the Duke, but he immediately knew that Robert, too, had noticed that Punch wasn’t himself. As the day wore on, the Duke seemed to rally. His smile was again bright, but, after tea, he was once again pale with shaking hands.

Many days passed this way. During the day, the Duke/Mr. Punch seemed quite fine. He engaged in play with Robert, Colin and Dog Toby, worked on his drawings and devoted his attention to the correspondence needed for the many organizations of which he remained patron. However, by the late afternoon, the Duke would become quite tired. Though still cheerful, the man’s fatigue was evident, and soon, the doctor was suggesting that Punch retire earlier and earlier each evening.

Almost a week after the visit to the palace, Charles had just rung the dressing gong and was on his way upstairs to dress the Duke for dinner. On his way, he passed Dr. Halifax’s study—the door open to the corridor. The two men exchanged polite nods.

“It’s time, then?” Dr. Halifax asked, standing up.

“Yes, Sir.” Charles smiled. “Gerard is on his way up for you. He just wanted to fetch the collars that Vi just ironed for you.”

“Very good.” Robert nodded. “I’ll follow you into His Grace’s room.”

“Yes, Sir.” Charles answered.

Charles opened the highly-polished door into Punch’s bedchamber. He squinted into the dark room, pausing to exchange glances with Dr. Halifax who quickly frowned.

“Punch?” Robert called out, ignoring the usual pretense of addressing his companion as “Your Grace” in front of the staff.

The Duke/Mr. Punch lay across his bed in the darkened room.

“I’m here, Chum.” Punch mumbled. “Is it dinner?”

“Yes,” Robert mumbled. He looked at Charles. “Help me, Charles, please.”

Charles and Robert walked to the bed and helped the Duke sit up.

“Are you unwell, my dear?” Robert whispered.

“Nah.” Punch shook his head weakly. “Just hungry.”

“You’re shaking, Your Grace.” Charles said.

“Hungry is all.” Punch muttered.

“I’m not surprised. You hardly ate anything at tea.” Robert said gently.

“Wasn’t hungry then.” Punch shrugged. “Here, I gotta get up, then. Don’t I? Charlie, will you get me suit?”

“Yes, Sir.” Charles nodded, rising from the side of the bed where he knelt.

Robert placed his hand over Punch’s forehead.

“What’re you doin’, Chum.” Punch smiled weakly. “Ain’t gonna kiss me—are ya? Charles is here.”

Charles chuckled to himself from the other side of the room.

“No, dear Punch.” Robert grinned. “I’m checking to see if you have a fever.”

“Do I?” Punch asked.

“No.” Robert shook his head. “You feel quite cool to the touch.”

“Well, then, ain’t nothin’ to worry ‘bout.” Punch mumbled.

“I think there is.” Robert sighed.

“Aw…what’re you like, Chum?” Punch shook his head. “Ain’t nothin’. Just a little light-headed, I am.”

“And so you’ve been for several days.” Robert said softly.

Punch shrugged again.

“Charles,” Robert said, standing up. “I don’t think we’ll dress for dinner tonight.”

“We gotta!” Punch yelped. “It’s what we do. We dress up and then we’re given food. Don’t know if we can have one without the other. We gotta dress…”

“Not if we don’t go down.”

“How we gonna have dinner if we don’t go down to the dining room?” Punch muttered.

“We can have it on a tray—in here.” Robert smiled.

“Oh.” Punch nodded.

“Charles, is it too late for Mrs. Pepper to make up some trays for us?” Robert asked.

“Not at all, Sir.” Charles smiled, lighting a lamp on Punch’s writing desk.

“Would you, please, then, go downstairs and ask her?” Robert asked. “Tell Speaight that he can leave the table in the dining room set as it is. We’ll take luncheon in the drawing room tomorrow and since breakfast is in the morning room, there’s no reason not to leave the table set.”

“Mr. Speaight will appreciate that.”

“If Mrs. Pepper complains, just tell her that His Grace isn’t feeling well.”

“She won’t complain, Sir. She’s so happy to have Georgie here, she’s not said a cross word in days. Even so, if His Grace is ill, she’ll naturally want to do whatever is needed to help him.”

“I ain’t ill!” Punch grumbled. “I’m just hungry is all.”

“But, you weren’t hungry earlier, dear Punch.”

“That’s why I’m hungry now, Chum.” Punch grunted.

“I’ll leave you, Sir.” Charles smiled. “Mr. Speaight, Gerard and I will return with your trays in about twenty minutes.”

“Thank you.” Robert nodded as Charles left the room.

Alone with Mr. Punch, Robert sighed. “Now, let’s get you undressed.”

“Charles just left.” Punch mumbled.

“I can do it.” Robert smiled.

“Well, I know that.” Punch frowned. “But, if I ain’t changin’ suits, what’s the use of undressing?”

“I think you should put on your night clothes.”

“For dinner?” Punch squinted. “I don’t think that’s allowed.”

“It’s only going to be Charles, Speaight and Gerard. They’ve seen you in your night clothes before.”

“But, what of after dinner? Ain’t we gonna go see Colin before he goes to sleep? And, won’t we go in the drawing room so you can have your sherry?”

“I can have my sherry here.” Robert said firmly. “And, I think we’d best let Miss Barrett say our good nights to Colin on our behalf.”

“I know what you’re thinkin’.” Punch scowled. “Only I ain’t sick. I’m hungry is all.”

“Dear Punch…” Robert began.

“Ohhhhhhhhh…” Punch moaned. “You’re gonna lecture me, you are.”

“No, I’m not.” Robert smiled. “I’m simply going to ask you for something?”


“I’m worried about you.” Robert said simply.


“And, I’m going to ask you to rest with me tonight. That’s all. Just stay in here and rest. I’ll read to you and we can talk, but I’d like you to stay in bed. Maybe you don’t need to, but it would make me feel more comfortable. So, will you do that for me?”

“Yes.” Punch smiled gently. “For you, I will.”

“Thank you.”

“I really am hungry.” Punch continued.

“I’m happy to know it. Mrs. Pepper, I think, has made pheasant.”

“Oh…” Punch frowned.

“You like that, don’t you?”

“Only when it don’t look so much like a bird still. You know how she’s always dressin’ the poor thing up in its own feathers. I don’t like that. Seems mean to put its feathers on it once it’s dead and cooked up.”

“I mentioned that you felt that way to her once. I don’t think she’s done that this time.”

“Good.” Punch said. He took a deep breath and shook slightly.

“What’s wrong?” Robert asked.

“Felt like I might vomit for a minute there.” Punch coughed. “Guess the thought of the dead birdie in its feathers…”

Robert nodded. “When did you start feeling weak again?”

“After tea.” Punch sighed.

“Well, let’s see if we can’t help you feel better.” Robert replied, sitting next to Mr. Punch.

“Hungry is all.”

“So, you’ve said.”

“You don’t gotta be a doctor all the time.” Punch whispered.

“I’m not.” Robert put his arm around Mr. Punch.

Punch rested his head on Robert’s shoulder. “What are you doin’, then?”

“I’m being your companion.” Robert smiled.

Did you miss Chapters 1-56? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 58 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square.


Matt said...

Sweet scene, but I hope Punch is not sick.

Joseph Crisalli said...

Thanks, Matt. Poor Mr. Punch has a long, confusing road ahead of him, but it may not be what you think.

Marsha said...

What's wrong with Punch? He was sleeping more than usual before and now this. I hope what I'm thinking isn't right.

Joseph Crisalli said...

You will soon see, Marsha.

Darcy said...

Beautifully written chapter, it was nice to see the extended family at 65 Belgrave Square enjoying life in relative calm. But I too, am worried about Mr. Punch.

Joseph Crisalli said...

Thank you, Darcy. This new challenge is going to require everyone's help.