Saturday, June 16, 2012

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 64

Chapter 64:
Something to Eat 

Robert smiled wearily as Speaight opened the front door.

“Sir?” Speaight chirped expectantly.

“It’s a boy, Speaight. Both mother and child are doing very well.” Robert nodded. “I heard the Prince Consort state that they intend to call him ‘Leopold’ after Their Majesties’ uncle.”

“How fitting,” Speaight smiled, taking Robert’s coat. “Were it not for King Leopold, Their Majesties might not have married.”

“Yes.” Robert yawned.

“Sir, you must be exhausted.” Speaight said quickly.

“Would you like something to eat? Mrs. Pepper has been keeping some lovely little things warm for you.”

“Ah, yes.” Robert nodded. “That would be delightful. Can you bring a tray up to His Grace’s room? I shall go there forthwith.”

“Very good, Sir.”

“How is the Duke?” Robert asked, climbing the first step.

“Gerard and Charles have spent the evening with him. At one point, His Grace was so soundly asleep that Charles and Gerard could not wake him. This caused them some concern, Sir, as you can imagine and they rang for me as well as called for Miss Barrett thinking that she might have some training as a nurse.”

“What happened?” Robert raised his eyebrows.

“His Grace awoke, and, though he is still quite weak and queasy, Sir, he seems well enough.”

“Good.” Robert nodded. “The men are still with him, then?”

“Yes, Sir.” Speaight smiled. “The last I checked on them, the boys were chatting with His Grace. They have long since put away their games.”

Robert smiled. “Thank you.”

“I shall arrive shortly with your dinner, Sir.”

With that, Robert mounted the stairs. Despite his great fatigue, he bounded up the two flights to the Duke’s bed chamber. Without knocking, he entered the room—making sure to smile broadly.

“Chum!” Punch chirped. “What is it? A Prince or a Princess?”

“A Prince.” Robert nodded. “Leopold.”

“Oh…” Punch frowned. “Ain’t that…German? But, I’m glad it’s a boy. Is he a good boy?”

“Very good.” Robert nodded. “If not a bit small. We had a bit of trouble getting that first wail out of him. He’s pale, but he’s loud.”

“Sir,” Charles spoke up, “you had said that the boy seemed small even before he was born. Is he sickly?”

“Well…” Robert looked at the floor.

“I understand,” Charles nodded.

“I don’t.” Gerard frowned. “Is there a problem?”

“Gerry, Dr. Halifax can’t talk ‘bout the Queen’s private business.” Charles hissed.

“Oh.” Gerard nodded.

“I think, gentlemen,” Robert said gently, “that it would be a good idea to keep Their Majesties and all of their children in our prayers, especially the new Prince.” He looked at Punch. “Now, how is my dearest?”

“I’m fine.” Punch nodded.

“How is His Grace really?” Robert looked to Charles and Gerard. “I’m told there was a scare.”

“His Grace is unchanged, Sir.” Charles answered. “He did sleep very soundly, to be sure. He’s vomited twice and he won’t take any nourishment.”

“But, his breathin’ is better, Sir.” Gerard added.

“Don’t talk ‘bout me like I ain’t here!” Mr. Punch spat.

“You’re well enough to argue,” Robert winked.

“We should leave you, Sirs.” Charles said, looking at Gerard.

“If you like,” Robert smiled. “Though I was going to offer you a glass of sherry in honor of the birth of the new Prince. Well, for you, Charles. Gerard will join His Grace in a cup of tea.”

“I’d be honored, Sir.” Gerard grinned.

“As would I.” Charles nodded.

“I’m terribly glad you two have been keeping His Grace company this evening.” Robert sighed, sitting down.

“Again—I’m here!” Mr. Punch grumbled. “I’m in the room.”

“I know.” Robert said. “I’m just thanking Charles and Gerard. Did you have a good time?”

“We did.” Punch smiled slightly. “’Cept for the bits where I had to unswallow me lunch.”

The others chuckled.

“But,” Punch continued. “We do have somethin’ what we’d like to talk ‘bout.”

“What’s that?” Robert asked his smile fading as he noticed Punch’s serious expression.

“Well…” Punch sniffed. “Know how you ain’t been able to figure what’s wrong wit’ me?”

“Yes.” Robert narrowed his eyes cautiously.

“I think it’s cuz there ain’t nothin’ wrong with me.” Punch said quickly.

“What do you mean?” Robert raised an eyebrow. He glanced at Charles and Gerard who shifted their weight uncomfortably.

“I think I been poisoned.” Punch explained.

“You think you’ve been poisoned or you’re being poisoned?” Robert stood up.

“Dunno.” Punch shrugged.

“What do you two think?” Robert asked the valets.

“It makes sense, Sir.” Gerard nodded. “When I were still ‘round Arthur, I saw him poison some folks—like he done to His Grace ‘fore I met ya both. When Arthur were poisonin’ blokes, they’d end up bein’ like His Grace is now.”

“What sort of poison did Arthur use?” Robert asked.

“I don’t know, Sir. Wasn’t my job to know. It was just my job to…well…”

Robert waved his hand. “You don’t have to continue.”

“Dr. Halifax,” Charles began. “I’ve had some experience with poison, too. My own brother used different poisons on several of his enemies. I think that His Grace is correct.”

“Who would be poisoning you?” Robert asked, sitting on the bed next to Mr. Punch.

“It’d have to be someone with access to the house.” Punch shrugged. “Who could touch me food. And, only me own food as no one else in the house is sick.”

“But, really, that could only be Mrs. Pepper, Speaight, Jenny, Ethel or Gerry and Charles here. They’re the only ones who handle the food.”

Gerard began to look quite nervous.

“No one is blaming you, Gerard.” Robert shook his head.

“I wouldn’t blame ya, if you did.” Gerard sighed.

“We know better than that.” Punch clucked his tongue. “You’re me chum, you are.”

“Thank you, Sir.”

“The boys and I been talkin’, my Robert.” Punch leaned backward. “We think it were Tom.”

“Tom?” Robert tilted his head to one side. “Tom’s not been here in weeks.”

“Well, he coulda given me a poison what took time to show symptoms.” Punch suggested.

“There are poisons like that, Sir.” Charles said softly.

“I know, but…” Robert snorted.

“He’d do it for his mum, Sir. You heard the way she threatened His Grace. Since she never got what she wanted after her brother died, that Eudora Stover—she’d surely want revenge.” Gerard explained. “Or, for that matter Hortence.”

“It could even be that Hortence arranged with one of the vendors who brings supplies for Mrs. Pepper. Is there any one thing that His Grace eats that we don’t?”

“No.” Punch laughed. “I eat ever’thin’.”

“It’s true.” Robert nodded. “He does.” He sighed. “Still…I…” Suddenly, Robert’s face turned bright red.

“What is it, Sir?” Charles asked.

“Sugar!” Robert spat. “His Grace is the only person who takes sugar in his tea.”

“That’s true.” Punch nodded. “Them wee cubes what’s in the silver bowl with the lid.”

“Dear God!” Robert slammed his fist down on the bed.

“What is it, Chum?” Punch asked.

“I know who’s poisoned you!” Robert bellowed. “Charles! Go fetch Miss Barrett for me immediately!”

Did you miss Chapters 1-63? If so, you can read them here. Come back on Monday June 18, 2012, for Chapter 65 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square.

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