Saturday, January 5, 2013

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 225

Chapter 225 
Robert and Punch descended the sweeping central staircase, hand-in-hand, Dog Toby trotting happily behind them. Upon entering the morning room, they released one another’s hands when they noticed that Lady Lensdown was already standing at the sideboard.

She stood very still with her hands clasped in front of her. She appeared to be staring at the row of silver-domed platters and tureens which held Mrs. Pepper’s lovingly-prepared breakfast.

Exchanging glances with Punch, Robert cleared his throat, but the sound was not noticed by Lady Lensdown.

“Good morning, Lady Lensdown.” Robert said gently.

“Oh!” She started.

“We hope you were able to sleep a bit,” Punch said, affecting Julian’s voice. He was growing increasingly weary of imitating Julian, especially in his own house. With all of the servants aware of his dual nature, he needn’t pretend for their benefit, but with guests like Constance and Gertrude, he felt the need to continue the pretense though it displeased him enormously. Furthermore, he could sense from within that Julian had grown tired of the charade as well. After all, Julian had entrusted the body to Punch and was quite satisfied with the life of the Duke of Fallbridge. He lived via Punch and was, for the first time, quite content with that. Still, Punch carried on.

“Not really, Your Grace, but thank you.” Lady Lensdown responded.

“Perhaps you can rest after breakfast,” Robert suggested.

“I shan’t rest until my children are returned to me.”

“We’d like to discuss that with you, Lady Lensdown.” Punch continued.

“Please, Your Grace, call me ‘Gertrude.’ At such a time, and as close as circumstances make us, I feel it’s only right.”

“Then, you must call me Robert.”

“And, do call me Punch,” Punch said.

Lady Lensdown raised her eyebrows as Punch grimaced.

“My affectionate name for the Duke,” Robert said quickly, covering Punch’s understandable error. “Many who are close to us have adopted the name for His Grace. My brother and his wife for example refer to His Grace as ‘Punch.’”

“As does my sister, Lennie.” Punch smiled, relieved that Robert had been so quick-thinking. “Even Her Majesty has been known to use the name for me.” He added honestly.

“It’s very charming.” Lady Lensdown nodded.

“Good morning, all.” Lennie said brightly as she came into the morning room behind Punch and Robert, she paused to pat Dog Toby on the head.

Punch smiled at his sister. Though they’d only known one another for a short time, Punch already felt close to her. She was certainly a vast improvement over Lady Barbara, a creature of pure selfishness and ire. Lennie seemed to be the opposite, and, Punch found this quite a relief. He was proud to have a sibling and wanted her to know that. “My dear Lennie, you look quite pretty today.”

“Thank you, Punch.” Lennie replied. She blushed, realizing she’d made a mistake in front of Lady Lensdown.

“You see,” Robert forced a chuckle. “Lennie, we were just explaining my affectionate name for His Grace.”

“Ah, I’ve taken to calling my brother that as well.” Lennie said quickly.

“I do like your new dress, Lennie.” Robert changed the subject. “That color suits you. What’s it called?”

“The dressmaker called it ‘Morning Rose.’ I’d call it ‘pink’ myself. But, I do love it.” She looked at Lady Lensdown. “My new brother has very generously outfitted me with a new wardrobe.”

“I’m not surprised,” Lady Lensdown said softly.

“Oh, Gertrude, you do look weary.” Lennie said, going to her new friend’s side. “Didn’t you sleep at all? Do sit over here by the fire, I shall prepare a plate for you.”

“I couldn’t eat.” Gertrude replied.

“You must.” Robert shook his head. “You must try to keep up your strength.”

“Indeed,” Punch replied, “when your children return to you, they will expect their mother to be strong and well.”

“Very well.” Gertrude nodded.

“Good.” Lennie smiled, walking to the sideboard. “You’ll find Mrs. Pepper’s cooking to be quite restorative.”

“You said, Your Grace…Punch…that you had a scheme to find my children?”

“Yes,” Punch nodded. “Dr. Halifax and I have worked out something which we’re sure will work quite to our advantage. As it concerns Lady Hamish, we’ll shall discuss it when she arrives.”

“Where is Constance?” Gertrude asked dryly.

“She’d sent my man and our under-footman to her residence to fetch some clothes.” Punch replied. “I can’t be sure where she is presently.”

“She’s in her room.” Lennie said. “I saw Violet go in there as I passed by. I think Violet was going to arrange her hair.”

“She can think of hair and dresses with her daughter missing?” Gertrude shook her head. “I’m sure she slept soundly all night. Perhaps she is more like her mother than I thought.” Lady Lensdown clenched her hand into a fist. “Do you think what she said last night is true—about my husband?”

“Yes.” Robert answered hesitantly.

“I don’t mean that her daughter is my husband’s. I’ve not doubt of that. London is filled with my husband’s bastards.” She glanced at Lennie. “Pardon me.”

Lennie smiled.

“I’m referring to the other part—about that Orpha Polk woman being my husband’s sister and…”

“What do you know of the baron’s past?” Robert asked.

“Very little. Only that he married me for money and position. I knew it at the time. However…I was…” She paused. “I was not young. I was not pretty nor quick nor particularly charming. Father insisted that I should marry, and Victor cut a fine figure. He’d convinced my father that he was a prominent man of business, and, as no member of the peerage had shown any interest in me…”

“He never mentioned his childhood?”

“Not really. Only inasmuch as he’d been adopted by a titled, but impoverished, older couple. He claimed he didn’t know from where he came before that.”

“I remember him as a boy.” Punch sighed. “I had no interest in people or their stories, so, I never wondered. I just knew he was from a nearby estate. And, I knew he was cruel.”

“What Orpha claims is very likely true.” Lennie spoke finally. “I would never doubt her ability to be wicked or depraved. She can be very persuasive as well. Look what she convinced me to do. Had I not listened, I could well have been part of this family long ago.”

“So, you think it’s true. They’re siblings.” Gertrude sighed. “You say that this Polk woman is persuasive. Just how much? Could she be manipulating Constance? Is anything that Constance told us true? Are my children…are they…”

“Regardless of what Lady Constance has said,” Robert interrupted, “We shall find your children.”

“How?” Gertrude asked.

“By giving Orpha and her conspirators, Hortence and Eudora Stover, exactly what they want.”

“What do you mean?” Gertrude asked.

“After Punch and I finish our visit at the palace, we shall go to that trio of harpies and meet their demands.”

“You can’t.” Lennie gasped.

“Not to worry, Lennie. I’ve grown bored with being constantly under the thumb of evil. The only way is to bend enough to slip out from underneath.” Punch smiled. “Furthermore, we have some demands of our own. We also have a hidden weapon which will, I think, work in our favor.”

“What?” Lennie asked.

“Miss Stover’s father.” Punch smiled.

Did you miss Chapters 1-224 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them
here. Come back on Monday for Chapter 226.

No comments: