Thursday, June 21, 2012

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 68

Chapter 68: 
Grange Molliner 

There it is!” Punch pointed to a crenellated tower in the distance beyond a massive grove of trees.

Robert peered out of the carriage window as they approached Grange Molliner.

“Won’t be but ten more minutes before we’re there.” Mr. Punch grinned. He squeezed Colin who sat in his lap and took the baby’s little hand very gently between his left thumb and forefinger. “Look, my boy, there’s your grandfather’s house. You’re named for him. Remember?”

The child gurgled happily at the sound of Punch’s voice.

“Look!” Punch continued. “We’re getting’ closer, Chum. You can see it better now.”

“It’s beautiful!” Robert’s eyes widened as the rambling castle grew larger as they approached. “It’s tremendous.”

“Pretty big, it is.” Punch nodded gaily. “See—the part in the center there with the tall rusticated tower. That were built ‘round 1390. Some say that the land were given to the Molliners as a gift from King Robert II. What do ya think ‘o that, my Robert?”

Robert chuckled. “So, the Molliners have always had an association with the Crown?”

“To a degree.” Punch nodded. “Our mum were always tryin’ to make sure Sir Colin knew that the Fallbridges were better connected—bein’ truly titled and all. But, the fact is, while William IV were a…shall we say ‘supporter’…of the Duchess of Fallbridge, our ma weren’t so much of a favorite in Court by the time Her Majesty Victoria took the throne, and our pa were very much liked by both the Prince Consort and the Queen.”

“I had gathered that by the way Her Majesty spoke of your late mother.” Robert nodded.

“Odd to think she’s my mother, too.” Punch sighed. “Only been recently what I concluded that since she were Julian’s ma, she were mine, too. Still…we ain’t gonna worry ‘bout her now. The Duchess of Fallbridge didn’t much care for the Grange. This is a place what’s all ‘bout the Molliners like me and Colin. And, I reckon…you, too.”

“I?” Robert smiled. “I’m not a Molliner.”

“Well, maybe not. But, if we were two folk what were married, you would be. So, we might as well think of you as such.”

“I’d not thought of it that way, but I rather like the idea.” Robert answered affectionately. “So, your mother didn’t care for this estate?” Robert studied the sprawling house at the end of the long, dirt drive--with its turrets, ogival arches, lancet windows and gothic ornamentation. “I can’t imagine why. It’s very impressive.”

“I always thought so. But, no.” Punch shook his head. “She always complained that it was too cold and that it was uncomfortable. Fact is, she hated an’thin’ havin’ to do with our pa’s side of the family. Called all the Molliners’ red-haired lunatics.” Punch blushed for a moment. “Which, in a way, ain’t too far from the truth, I s’pose.”

“You’re no lunatic.” Robert shook his head.

“Others would disagree,” Punch giggled, “but, I’m glad you think so. Nevertheless, there were a few Molliners what coulda been called lunatics. But, the same could be said of the Fallbridge side of the family.”

“Did your mother ever come here?”

“Only once I recall.” Punch sighed. “She came here once with pa. I were very small. They left me with…” Punch shuddered for a moment. “Nanny Rittenhouse.”

Robert frowned at the mention of the cruel, old woman.

Mr. Punch took a deep breath. “I s’pose I should say they left Julian. That were ‘bout the time what I developed inside him. So, I remember it all pretty well, I do. The duchess were ill. Kept to her room for several weeks—this were good for Julian, in a way. And, good for me, too, I s’pose. Then, one day, our pa came into the nursery and told Julian that he were takin’ the duchess of Grange Molliner and that they’d not be back ‘til winter. That made Julian sad. But, Sir Colin reminded him that he had his puppet to keep him company. I remember that.” Punch paused thoughtfully for a moment. “I remember he said that ‘Mr. Punch will look after you’ and that ‘you needn’t fear anything as long as Punch is there to guard you with his cudgel.’ Ha…I reckon I took it very seriously, I did.”

“You certainly did.” Robert replied sweetly.

“Well, after that, when they got back, the Duchess never returned here and would not even speak of the place.” Punch shrugged. He looked out of the carriage window. “Won’t be but a minute now.”

“1390 you said?” Robert asked, staring at the house.

“That’s right. The middle part anyway. There on the east, that section were added in 1662 by Sir Hiram Molliner, and, then, on the west, that and the orangerie were added in 1746 after the battle of Falkirk.” Punch whooped excitedly. “Coo! I dunno how I remember all that.” He laughed loudly, causing the child to look up at his father with clear amusement. “I just recall Sir Colin sayin’ it to Julian, I s’pose.”

“It’s nonetheless impressive.” Robert winked. He pointed out the window. “Looks as if we’re to be greeted.”

“Ah,” Punch nodded. “That’ll be Mrs. North waitin’ there in the black gown. She’s the housekeeper. Has been since our pa were a young man. Next to her with the ginger beard, I’m guessin’ is Johnny Donnan. He’s the groundsman. Them other few are maids and pages and such. I reckon the man on the end—in the handsome livery--is Finlay. He’s Johnny’s son and serves as footman. It’s a lean staff since no one lives here. But, I think Charles and Gerry will get on well with Finlay and I’m sure Gamilla will find friends amongst the other maids—least for the time we’re here. I fear Speaight and Mrs. North might have a bit of a tussle for power. I dunno the situation with the cook here, but I got no doubt that our Mrs. Pepper will dominate her within the first five minutes.”

“I’m sure of that.” Robert nodded. He looked up at Punch and gazed for a moment.

“What is it?” Punch smiled.

“Just seeing you sitting there with Colin on your lap and Dog Toby next to you…”

Punch nodded.

“Just a few days ago, I thought that…”

“I know.” Punch sighed.

“And, yet, here you are…bright-eyed with our son…about to introduce me to part of your family history…”

“Our family history…” Punch corrected him.

Robert inhaled deeply. “I’m very proud. I’m the proudest man in Scotland today.”

“Nah…” Punch winked. “Can’t be.”

“Why is this?”

“Because I already am.” Punch laughed.

Did you miss Chapters 1-67? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 69 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square.

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