Speaight walked briskly thought the grand hall of No. 65 Belgrave Square, his heels clicking on the marble floor. He paused to straighten his collar before opening first the door to the vestibule, and, then the front door.
A tall woman grinned at him from the other side. She wore a gown of rust-colored silk which matched the titian locks which had been piled upon her head. Though not unattractive, the woman’s face was broad and masculine, not suited to a woman, but quite well paired with her thick, trunk-like neck.
“Good evening,” The woman cooed in a thick American accent.
Speaight disliked her at once.
“How may I help you, Madam?” Speaight asked.
“Miss,” The woman corrected him. “I’ve come to see the Duke of Fallbridge. We’re old friends.”
“Your name, Miss?”
“Rittenhouse,” The woman smiled. “Ulrika Rittenhouse.”
“Is His Grace expecting you?”
“His Grace…how charming. No. I shouldn’t think he’d be expecting me. I’ve only just arrived on your island two days ago.”
“I’m afraid, Miss, that His Grace is not receiving visitors this evening.”
“Death in the family?” Ulrika replied with a queer delight. She pointed to the wreath of black feathers which had been hung on the front door, surrounding the ornate bronze knocker.
“In the household, yes.” Speaight nodded.
“Is the other one still afoot?” Ulrika asked. “The darkly handsome one with the blue eyes?”
“The doctor.” Ulrika narrowed her eyes. “How many other men live here, really?”
“Dr. Halifax is not receiving tonight either.” Speaight shook his head.
“So, they’re still together. Really, how sweet. How’s the baby? Is he still cute? Sometimes they change with time. He could have been mine…once.”
Speaight sniffed. “Miss, I shall tell His Grace that you’ve called. Have you a card?”
“I have.” Ulrika smiled. “However, I don’t think you need to give him one. I’m sure he’s not forgotten me.” Just then, Ulrika became distracted as she spied a woman pass through the hall. She called out. “You there…good evening!”
Lennie turned around and blinked with exhaustion. She’d been tending to Ethel, uninterrupted for hours.
“What’s your name?” Ulrika called through the door.
Lennie looked to Speaight.
“Miss Molliner, this woman has called upon His Grace, however, I’ve informed her that the Duke is not in for visitors.”
“My brother has much on his mind this evening.” Lennie replied absent-mindedly as she walked to the door. “Ours is a house of mourning.”
“Your brother?” Ulrika chortled. “You’re…you’re not…I just saw Barbara Allen not a month ago and you’re certainly not she. You’d never do…in her profession.”
Lennie looked shocked. “You know Lady Barbara?”
“I know Barbara Allen.” Ulrika grinned.
“You’re from America.”
“Really…” Ulrika scoffed. “He never mentioned you before.”
“We’ve only just become acquainted, His Grace and I.” Lennie replied.
“I should like to become acquainted with you, Miss…”
“Molliner. Ellen Molliner. I’m called ‘Lennie.’”
“I’m called Ulrika,” She replied, pushing past Speaight who grunted in protest.
“What an unusual name.”
“Isn’t it, really?” Ulrika beamed. “It’s attached to several meanings. My two favorite are ‘Ruler of the Universe’ and ‘Queen of the Wolves.’”
“What does ‘Ellen’ mean?” Ulrika asked.
“I’ve no idea.” Ellen shrugged. She looked to Speaight for assistance.
“Miss Rittenhouse, I shall have to insist that…”
“It’s quite all right, really,” Ulrika interrupted. “Miss Molliner and I will get to know one another.”
Lennie shrugged, unsure of what to do. “Speaight, please inform His Grace of our visitor and, then, send Charles in with the cordial tray. I shall take our guest to the morning room.”
“Charles?” Ulrika cooed.
“Yes.” Lennie nodded.
“My brother’s valet, and First Footman.” Lennie replied.
“So, he’s still with the lunatic puppet man.” Ulrika shook her head.
“Pardon me, Miss.” Lennie began.
“Oh, you know it’s true.” Ulrika sighed. “I should like to see Charles.”
“Why?” Lennie asked, waving to Speaight to go fetch her brother.
“His brother is my favorite lover.” Ulrika said proudly. “He’s come to England with me.”
“Oh, dear.” Lennie muttered.
“We’re quite excited.” Ulrika continued.
“Why is this?” Lennie asked as she escorted Ulrika into the morning room.
“I’ve been alerted of the existence of a most exceptional child. One, I’m told, who could be the new Messiah.”
“Oh?” Lennie squinted. “And how has this come to your attention?”
“Through communication from a friend of a mutual friend. I belong to a very special organization. One of our members knows an English baron who knows a woman called Orpha Polk.” Ulrika grinned so broadly her gums showed. “This Miss Polk wrote to us, explaining that she had given birth to our savior.”
“God help us.” Lennie whispered. “Orpha…”
“Do you know her?”
“You could say that I do.” Lennie nodded slowly.
“So, you’ve seen her child?”
“I’m told he’s most exceptional.”
“I’ve no doubt of it.” Lennie sighed.
“You do look tired, really. Have you not slept, or, do you always look like this?” Ulrika laughed. “I coat my face in goat’s milk every night. It’s quite a lovely trick.”
Both women turned as Charles entered the room, carrying a silver tray laden with crystal decanters. He looked up, his face falling upon seeing Miss Rittenhouse. Ulrika squealed with delight as the tray clattered to the ground, sending shards of crystal and drops of red and tawny cordials onto the marble floor.
“Charles, my old friend!” Ulrika cooed. “I knew you’d be pleased.”
Did you miss Chapters 1-255 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 257.