The Back Upon Which We All Grow
“Step away from His Grace!” Robert bellowed.
Charles hurried into the room upon hearing the doctor shouting.
Gamilla burst into tears, holding up the red leather pouch which she was about to tuck under the Duke’s pillow. “Sir, it’s jus’ the gris-gris.”
“I know very well what it is!” Robert shouted.
“Sir, please…” Charles said softly. “She means no harm.”
Robert moaned loudly. “How dare you do this?”
“Chum…” Punch mumbled, trying to sit up.
Robert hurried to his companion’s side, helping him sit up.
“Chum, she don’t mean no harm—like Charlie said.” Punch said quietly. “She asked me first. I said it were fine.”
“But…” Robert looked up. “It’s that…it’s voodoo.”
“Ain’t bad voodoo.” Gamilla cried quietly. “I done jus’ wanna help His Grace.”
“Remember, Chum?” Punch smiled weakly. “Remember, it ain’t all bad magic. Remember Naasir?”
“Of course, I do.” Robert sniffed, recalling the Duke’s former valet, Naasir, who had sadly been killed in New Orleans in an attempt to protect his master. Naasir had been something of a Voodoo priest with what was rumored to be considerable power. It was, in fact, his rumored power which had led to his murder when enemies of the Duke considered Naasir too much of a threat.
“Naasir—Chum, when you was sick…remember. He…” Punch coughed as if he might vomit.
“Say no more, my dear.” Robert whispered in his companion’s ear. “I recall what Naasir did for me.” He looked up at Gamilla with sheepish eyes.
“Sir…” Gamilla sniffed.
“Can you forgive me?” Robert asked earnestly.
“Of course, Sir.” Gamilla smiled. “I shoulda done asked ya first only I just…I’m just so scared, Sir. I only want to help. My sister—she made this very gris-gris, and…well, it didn’t help her none, but I thought maybe it had ‘nough power in it still for to make the Duke stronger. I ain’t never done nothin’ for to harm His Grace. Not never. He’s my…he’s my friend, Sir.”
Robert’s eyes grew moist. “I know. I’m terribly sorry. I just saw that red pouch and I recalled other ‘magic’ which ended up harming us. Please understand, I did not mean to offend you.”
“I understand, Sir.” Gamilla nodded sincerely.
Robert glanced at the red pouch which Gamilla still held in her hands. “Gamilla, if you’d like…”
“May I?” She asked.
“Yes, of course. If you think it will help.” Robert sighed. “I…I’ve not been able to help him—even with all I supposedly know about the workings of a man’s body. Maybe…”
Gamilla nodded, gently placing the pouch under the Duke’s pillow. Robert and Charles helped Punch lie back.
“Watch over this man,” Gamilla whispered, “keep him, protect him, make him strong again so that he may return to his son and his beloved. Raise him up in your arms so that he may breathe and give his heart a strong beat. Make his eyes bright with the joy of friendship and love so that we may all live in his happiness for many years to come. Make him alive, make him whole, make him the back upon which we all grow.”
“That was lovely.” Robert rasped. “Thank you…”
“Thank you for letting me do it.” Gamilla smiled, patting Robert’s shoulder.
“Gamilla and I will leave you with His Grace now,” Charles said softly. “Ring if you need us, Sir.”
Robert nodded, focusing on Punch. Without another word, Gamilla and Charles exited the Duke’s chamber.
“Dear Punch,” Robert whispered, taking his companion’s hand.
“Ain’t no reason to be so sad, Chum.” Punch replied. “Gamilla’s magic is gonna help me.”
“I’m sure it is.” Robert answered.
“Chum…” Punch began.
“Yes, dear Punch?”
“Just in case…”
“No.” Robert shook his head. “I’ve told you, I can’t have this conversation with you.”
“We gotta.” Punch groaned.
“I see no reason to.” Robert replied firmly.
“Chum…ain’t no law in place what protects you. If I ain’t here, you don’t gotta right to anythin’ o’ mine. Sure, ever’thin’ will go to Colin, but what of you? I won’t have those Molliner cousins come here to pick at my estate like birds of prey and leave you wit’ nothin’. I wanna make sure the lease to this house has got your name on it, too. And, the other land…and, what of my fortune? I gotta make sure that you…”
“Robert.” Punch sighed. “We gotta be practical, we do.”
“I can’t bear it.”
“You gotta.” Punch coughed.
They sat in silence for several minutes.
“Fine,” Punch whispered after awhile. “We won’t talk of it, only ya gotta send a letter for me to my solicitor. I want him to come here to see me so that ever’thin’ is taken care of. Will you do that?”
“Yes.” Robert choked.
“Think of it like this, Chum.” Punch said softly. “If we make all them plans, we’re sure not to need them. True?”
“I ain’t goin’ nowhere.” Punch forced a smile. “Look—I made it all the way to April, didn’t I? Who knows? Tomorrow I might be all that much better. What’s today?”
“The seventh of April.”
“Well, then. Let me say this, Chum. On this seventh day of April, Eighteen Hundred and Fifty-Three, I promise that I will do all I can to get stronger each day.”
“Punch…” Robert sniffed, tears welling up in his eyes. “You don’t need to promise that. I know you’re already doing it.”
“I just want you to know that I don’t aim to go nowhere, my Robert.”
“I know that.” Robert nodded. “It’s only that I can’t bear the…”
A knock on the door interrupted Robert’s thought.
“Enter,” Robert replied.
Speaight came into the room. “Sir…pardon me.”
“What is it, Speaight?” Robert asked.
“A messenger has arrived for you, Sir. He’s waiting for a response. It’s a page from the palace.”
“Oh.” Robert’s eyes widened, taking a small envelope from the silver tray which Speaight offered to him.
Robert rose from Punch’s bedside to walk closer to the oil lamp on the writing desk. He squinted at the letter. “Oh, dear.”
“What is it, Chum?” Punch asked.
“Her Majesty has started her labor.” Robert said quickly. “She wants chloroform.”
“What’s that?” Punch asked.
“It’s a liquid compound which causes unconsciousness.” Robert replied.
“That ain’t good for a lady with child. Is it?” Punch coughed.
“Well…” Robert shook his head. “It would allow her to not experience the agony. There are different schools of thought on the subject. It seems that Her Majesty is displeased with Dr. Snow. She and Prince Albert are asking for me.”
“Well, go…” Punch said firmly. “Go now. Speaight. Have Hutchinson get…”
“Your Grace, there’s a carriage sent by the palace outside.” Speaight interrupted.
“Well, then…” Punch waved at Robert. “Go get your doctor bag and go.”
“I hate to leave you…”
“There’s a Prince or Princess waitin’ to come into this world, Chum.” Punch said with more energy that he thought he could muster. “And, their mama wants you. Go help Your Queen bring her child!”
“Very well…” Robert grinned.
“I shall tell the messenger that you’re coming, Sir.” Speaight said with pride.
Robert hurried to Punch’s bedside and kissed his companion on the cheek. “I don’t know how long I’ll be.”
“I’ll be waiting…” Punch nodded. “If they ask you to help name the baby, make sure to suggest ‘Punch.’”
“I will.” Robert grinned. He paused. “You’ll be all right?”
“Sure,” Punch sighed. “I’ll get Gerry and Charles to play one o’ them games with me.”
“I love you, dear Punch.”
“And, I love you, Chum.” Punch winked. “Go—there’s a Prince or Princess waitin’!”
Robert nodded and rushed to his study to retrieve his bag.
Punch watched through his door as Robert hurried down the stairs. When Robert’s head was out of sight, Punch rolled over and took the pouch of gris-gris from beneath his pillow. He studied the leather pouch. “I gotta feelin’ Her Majesty is gonna need this more than I do.” Punch whispered. “God Save the Queen.”
Did you miss Chapters 1-59 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 61.