Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 273

Chapter 273 
Our Little Family 

I must say,” Gerard smiled across the servants’ hall at Mr. Speaight. “It sure was nice being back, servin’ at table tonight, Sir.”

“You did very well, Gerard.” Speaight nodded.

“You’re stronger every day,” Charles added, smiling sincerely at his friend. “By the time you’re wedded to our Gamilla, your limp will be gone, I’m sure.”

“I hope so.” Gerard responded. “Charlie, do ya think I can valet for the doctor tonight?”

“That’s up to Mr. Speaight.” Charles said pointedly, looking toward the butler. “Dr. Halifax has said you may return to work at Mr. Speaight’s discretion.”

They both looked at Speaight, waiting for his answer. Of course, Speaight was aware of the younger men’s anticipation and decided, in his avuncular way, to prolong it. He tapped his chin with his finger and feigned deep contemplation.

“You were a bit unsteady when you offered the sauce to Miss Molliner.” Speaight said dryly.

“To be fair, Mr. Speaight,” Charles began, “The silver was very hot to the touch. He was being careful to offer Miss Molliner the ladle without her touching the side…”

“Still…” Speaight shook his head. Finally, he couldn’t help himself and he grinned. “Gerard, I see no reason that you shouldn’t return to your post as Dr. Halifax’s valet tonight. Provided that you continue to take as much rest as possible following.”

“Thank you, Sir.” Gerard grinned.

“I say,” Speaight nodded at Charles, “This should be of considerable relief to you, Charles. You may return all your attention to tending to His Grace.”

Charles grinned. “More so, I’m pleased to see Gerry back on his feet.”

“I can return to my usual second footman duties as well, Mr. Speaight. During the day.”

“We’ll ease you into it, my boy.” Mr. Speaight answered cautiously.

“I hope Georgie won’t mind.” Gerard said softly.

“Mind?” Speaight shook his head. “Not at all. Georgie knows he’s too young to valet, and, even to young to be a footman. Still, he’s glad to have had the expert training during this time of emergency.”

“I’ll continue to train him, Sir.” Charles nodded.

“I know you will, Charles.” Mr. Speaight replied. “He’s so delighted. The Duke told me that we should now call Georgie, ‘Under-Footman in Training.’ I told the boy this morning and I thought his face would crack he smiled so broadly.”

“That makes me glad.” Gerard replied. “I can help train ‘im a bit, too. Course, all I know I learned from Charles, too.”

“You just focus on getting back to your duties for now, Gerard.” Speaight said gently. “We don’t want you to overdo it.”

“No sense in having the bridegroom relapse before his wedding.” Charles teased.

“Gamilla will be glad of that, I’m sure.” Violet winked as she joined the men.

“Now, now.” Speaight shook his head. “Don’t be cheeky.”

“Who? Me?” Violet smiled. “I only come to tell you that Mrs. Pepper’s gonna have our dinner on the table in a few minutes.”

“How is she tonight, Violet?” Gerard asked.

“More herself.” Violet answered. “Still missin’ Jenny, but she said that she felt things was more like old times tonight what with upstairs takin’ a proper dinner and eatin’ most of it, too. And, Gerard back in his place at the table. She’s also happy that Ethel was able to do some of the washin’ tonight. Even though she got tired, after a spot, I could see she was getting’ more to herself as well. Still, I wager she’s tired, our Mrs. Pepper.”

“The new kitchen maid will start tomorrow.” Speaight replied. “That ought to be some relief.”

“Mrs. Pepper won’t even speak o’ that.” Violet shook her head. “Seems she feels that it’s unfair to Jenny somehow.”

“Jenny would want Mrs. Pepper to have the help she requires.” Speaight sighed.

“That’s what I told her, Mr. Speaight.” Violet replied.

“Well, we must be patient.” Speaight rose. “Only time will heal the wounds left from that tragic loss. Come, then, let’s help Mrs. Pepper with the table.”

“You know what I thought was awful nice?” Gerard spoke up.

“What’s that Gerry?” Charles asked, glad to see his friend so cheerful to be back to his usual duties and his place in the servants’ hall.

“The way, His Grace escorted Miss Molliner into the dining room. I thought it sweet. The Duke with his sister on his arm and Dr. Halifax at his other side. Even Lady Lensdown looked happy tonight.”

“She’s glad of her children bein’ back and safe.” Violet replied.

“Right.” Gerard nodded. “Here, Charlie, maybe you ought to offer your arm to our Vi. Like His Grace does for Miss Molliner.”

“I ain’t Charles’ sister.” Violet laughed.

“No, but, it’s only right an unmarried lady should be escorted to table by a gentleman.”

“Cor! I ain’t no lady, and I know where the table is just fine on me own.” Violet laughed again.

Charles inhaled. “Well, if it would please Gerry…after all, he’s only just back with us tonight. I could…” He offered his elbow to Violet.

She blushed. “Very well. Only don’t think this sort of foolishness is gonna keep on.” She slipped her arm around Charles’.

Gerard grinned. “Pity my Gamilla ain’t here.”

“Ain’t I?” Gamilla chuckled from the kitchens.

“Here, what you doin’?” Gerard limped to the pass-through.

“Just seein’ if Mrs. Pepper needed anythin’.” Gamilla winked. “Thought I’d take my dinner down here with everyone tonight as His Grace, the doctor and Miss Lennie got Colin in the drawin’ room with them for awhile.”

“I told ya, girl.” Mrs. Pepper snapped. “I don’t need any help. I can handle a stew well on me own.”

“What kind of stew, Mrs. P.?” Gerard asked.

“Beef and mushroom.” Mrs. Pepper replied. “Got some nice potatoes in there, too, and some of them pretty wee onions left over from upstairs dinner. And plenty of bread of soppin’.” She smiled slightly. “A little o’ that nice sharp cheese what you like, Gerry.”

“You’re the best, Mrs. P.” Gerard whooped.

“Here, don’t let your girl here you say that.” Mrs. Pepper winked. “Now, since you’re so bent on seein’ ladies escorted to table, take your Gamilla and leave me to my stew. I’ll be out with it in a moment.”

Gerard took Gamilla’s arm. “Shall we?”

“Certainly, Mr. Gurney.” Gamilla smiled softly.

With everyone seated at the table, Mrs. Pepper carried the stew and bread in herself—usually the job of a kitchen maid. She returned to the kitchens and came back to the table with a large bowl.

“What’s that, Mrs. P?” Gerard asked.

“Somethin’ what I made for upstairs dinner tonight. They liked it so well, as Mr. Speaight told me, that I thought I’d make some special for you lot. It’s a nice coolin’ salad of tomatoes and oil and some spices.”

“Let me see, Ma.” Georgie hurried toward the table. He’d been in the scullery finishing up Ethel’s work. “Cor, looks good!”

“It looks like something my mother made for us when I was a boy.” Charles grinned. “I loved it!”

“You Italians do like your tomatoes.” Violet giggled.

“Not all of us,” Charles shook his head. “My brother never…” He paused.

Mrs. Pepper felt Charles’ discomfort. “Shall I serve, then?”

“Allow me, Mrs. Pepper. You should sit and rest your feet.” Mr. Speaight stood up.

“So, Charlie?” Violet began. “Are you bothered that your brother’s here in London.”

“Vi…” Gamilla shook her head.

“Oh, Gamilla. I don’t mean no harm. We all know Charles’ brother’s a bad lot. We heard ‘im say it ‘imself. You three got your secrets, I know, but I just wanted to know how Charles felt about it.”

“Still, ain’t no use diggin’ up painful memories.” Mrs. Pepper nodded firmly.

“That’s right, Charles.” Gamilla smiled at her friend. “Let’s not think of it.”

“It’s all right, Gamilla.” Charles nodded. “See, Violet, Gamilla and Gerard, they know my brother. Well, they know what he’s done.”

“It ain’t something you need to talk ‘bout, Charles.” Gamilla shook her head again.

“No, mate.” Gerard added. “Let’s leave that all in the past like all the other sadness we left in America.”

“Only we didn’t leave it. It came back to us.” Charles said. He looked to Violet. “My brother’s a bad man, Vi. He was always bad, but he got worse as time passed. He was a thief. Then, he began to get others to do his thievin’ for us. But, they weren’t just the usual gang of pickpockets. They hurt people. They’d do whatever they needed to get what they wanted. Not a one of them had any qualms about killing. And, soon, I think, they began to like it. Soon enough, they were killing without thieving. By the time I’d left for America, Giovanni was taking money from people who wanted others murdered. He and his men would do it for them.”

“How awful.” Violet looked at her plate.

“See, that’s what ‘appens when you ask questions you oughtn’t. Sometimes you get an answer.” Mrs. Pepper warned.

Charles inhaled sharply. “I’m not so worried for myself as I am His Grace.”

“Did your brother try to hurt the Duke?”

“That’s enough of this talk.” Speaight commanded.

“Yes, he did.” Charles answered. “Worst of all, it was Giovanni who killed the Duke’s father, Sir Colin. He was hired by the Duchess of Fallbridge, the Duke’s late mother. Giovanni cut the man’s throat.”

The room fell uncomfortably silent.

Charles looked at Mrs. Pepper. “I’m sorry, Mrs. P. I shouldn’t have said that. Please forgive me. Gerard and Gamilla already knew. Of course, the masters know. I…I didn’t mean to…I know that you must be thinking of…”

Mrs. Pepper shook her head. “I understand, Charlie.”

“I’m not like him…I…” Charles said quickly. “If I could, I would make him pay…you see, I’m not like him…”

“We know that you’re not,” Mr. Speaight interrupted. “Charles, His Grace is a good example of how a man can be different from the rest of his kin. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from His Grace it’s that it’s possible for a man to create his own family. So, let us not dwell on it.”

“I’m awful sorry I pressed ya, Charles.” Violet said softly.

“Best you all should know.” Charles sighed. “I suppose.”

“Let’s eat this lovely stew before it gets cold.” Mr. Speaight nodded. “And, this evening, let’s do remember that, tonight, we’re all safe in this house. Everyone is where he or she should be. As His Grace likes to remind us, we are a family. So, let’s speak of our little family and those times ahead of us to which we can look forward.”

“Like…like our weddin’.” Gamilla said quickly.

“Yes.” Mr. Speaight said, starting to dish out the stew.

“Have you finished your dress yet?” Mrs. Pepper asked.

“Almost, Mrs. Pepper.” Gamilla smiled.

“Can I see it?” Mrs. Pepper asked.

“As long as Gerry ain’t ‘round.” Gamilla chuckled.

“You know, I been meanin’ to tell ya, I got a bit o’ lace veil from when I married Mr. Pepper. I’d like you to have it, my girl.”

“Really?” Gamilla asked.

“Well, of course.” Mrs. Pepepr grinned. She pointed to her son. “Ain’t like Georgie will need it.”

“No, Ma.” Georgie laughed.

“And, I got a lovely bit of blue ribbon I been savin’,” Violet added. “I thought maybe we could use it to make little flowers for the bodice.”

“That’d be lovely.” Gamilla said excitedly.

Gerard looked across the table at Charles who smiled weakly. Gerard nodded.

They both knew that they’d have much to discuss that night when they went to bed.

Did you miss Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapters 1-272? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 274.

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