Saturday, March 9, 2013

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 276

Chapter 276 

With her eyes as wide as saucers, Maudie felt certain that they’d pop right out of her head as the staff gathered in the front hall of No. 65 Belgrave Square. She tried to take everything in without looking as if she was staring, but she couldn’t help it. From the sparking marble floors to the majestic staircase to the glass dome high above her head, she felt certain that that hall was how the entrance to heaven must look. Every corner of the hall found something to catch her attention. Porcelain figurines, lush paintings, bronze statues, soft chairs, small glittering figures of animals with sparkling eyes, and twinkling crystal chandeliers all enchanted her. Standing in her new uniform she felt important for the first time in her life as the other staff members, in their finest, gathered in front of Mr. Speaight.

“You all right, honey?” Gamilla whispered.

“Oh…oh, yes.” Maude nodded.

“I felt the way you do when I first came here.” Gamilla smiled.

Maudie studied Gamilla’s face. She’d never seen an African woman before. Maude thought her quite beautiful as if she was one of the bronze statues which stood on the pedestals along the passage.

“We’re all here?” Speaight nodded. “Right. Upstairs then.”

As they climbed the winding staircase, Maude feared she’d trip because she was looking around so much. The upper hall was as splendid as the lower one—all coral and turquoise and gold and cream.

And, then, Mr. Speaight opened the tall doors to the drawing room. Maudie was sure that, if the front hall was the entrance to heaven, the drawing room was heaven itself, and the family inside were the angels and saints of which her mother had once told her.

In the center of the magnificent room sat three people side-by-side. They were the most stunning people Maudie had ever seen. In the center sat a regally handsome man with deep auburn hair. She knew he must be the Duke of Fallbridge. He wore a coat and breeches of plum-colored velvet with a waistcoat of gold silk and, set against his brilliant white shirt, a tie of shocking scarlet. In his lap, the Duke held a beautiful, fair, baby. The baby reached for the Duke’s hands, interested in the man’s rings: one on his left hand of multi-colored stones, and two on his right hand…one large diamond on his index finger and a large violet-blue stone on his ring finger.

To the right of the Duke sat another man who must have been, Maudie thought, Dr. Halifax. He was slightly younger and very athletic looking. His wavy dark hair had been brushed back to reveal his handsome, chiseled face. He wore a suit of deep blue linen and a cravat the color of the sky which made the blue of his eyes stand out. He, too, wore a ring on his left hand—a simple band of gold set with small diamonds. He had one of his hands on the Duke’s arm.

To the Duke’s left was a woman who Maudie figured was the one they called “Miss Lennie” or “Miss Molliner”—the Duke’s sister. She was slightly plainer than the two men with hair that wasn’t blonde and wasn’t brown. Her face was pale, but she had the same dark eyes as the Duke, eyes which weren’t entirely brown, but were almost the color of wine. She was dressed beautifully in a pale pink gown. Her arms were stacked with glimmering bracelets of gold and pearls and around her throat hung a small pendant of corral with a pearl drop.

Seated nearby, but away from the family was an older woman with graying hair. She wore a gown of buff-colored silk and jewels of shimmering green. She looked weary but content. Two children, both looking rather bored, sat next to her.

Finally, a distance away, by herself in a chair, was the girl Maude had seen come into the kitchens of Hamish House from time to time. The girl called Fern. She wore mourning gray and her light brown hair hung limply around her shoulders. She looked at the floor, seeming to count the flowers in the pattern of the carpets.

“Everyone gather around,” The Duke spoke up. His voice was gentle and his eyes sparkled as if he was thinking of a joke that only he knew. Though he spoke like a nobleman, he seemed to wish to say things differently, almost as if he was aware that someone new was in the house and that he should be on his best behavior.

“I’m so glad that you all could join us today,” The Duke continued. “We have all been through trying times of late, yet, we mustn’t forget that we’ve much to celebrate as well.” He looked to the doctor.

“To begin with, we’d like to officially welcome Fern Halifax, my niece, to our household.”

Fern didn’t look up.

“His Grace and I are very thankful to all of you for making her feel at home, and we know that in the coming weeks, as Miss Fern settles into her new surroundings, you’ll all continue to do what you can to see that she’s comfortable.”

The staff smiled. Maudie studied their faces, and, they all looked so sincere.

“Furthermore,” Dr. Halifax continued. “Lady Lensdown has something to say.”

“Thank you, Robert.” The older woman nodded. “I also wanted to thank you for looking after us during the terrible days which have just passed. Though my children and I will soon be departing to the north to our country home, we will always be cheered by thoughts of your kindness.”

Maudie looked around again. Everyone was still smiling, and, they truly seemed to mean it.

“We also want to welcome,” The Duke spoke again, “a new member to our family downstairs. Maude…”

“Step forward.” Gamilla whispered.

Nervously, Maude stepped forward.

“Say, ‘yes, Your Grace.’” Gamilla whispered.

“Yes, Your Grace.” Maude repeated.

“Dr. Halifax and I do hope that you’ll be very happy here.”

“Thank you.” Maude replied, blushing. “I am happy to be here. It’s the nicest place I’ve ever seen. And, everyone is so pretty.”

The Duke chuckled, and, then, did the oddest thing. He whooped. “Coo!”

The others chuckled…except Fern and the Lensdown children.

The Duke cleared his throat. “I’m glad you’re pleased. Well, then, you may return to the others.”

Maude hurried back to Gamilla’s side.

“Finally, it’s no secret,” the Duke continued, “that there’s a wedding coming very soon.” He grinned. “Our Gamilla and Gerard will soon be man and wife.”

Gamilla and Gerard looked to one another.

“As our gift to you…”

“Oh, Sir…” Gamilla interrupted. “You’re already doin’ so much. You done hired them men to make the nursery quarters bigger and…”

“Now, you can’t tell us how to give gifts,” The Duke waved a hand. “Again, his voice seemed different, more casual, and again, he caught himself.

“As I was saying,” he continued. “As our gift to you, we’ve made sure that the church is all arranged for the wedding, and, then…Lennie…”

“May I?” The Duke’s sister smiled. “It was, after all, your idea…”

“No, go on, tell ‘em.” The joke laughed, again, in the casual voice.

“Well, His Grace, Dr. Halifax and I would like to give you a reception here after the service in the church. It’ll just be us, and whomever else you might like to invite. Everyone downstairs, of course, is invited. We’ll have a cake, thanks to Mrs. Pepper who has also planned a wonderful menu for the party.”

“And champagne,” The Duke nodded. “For all ‘cept the young ones and you, Gerry,”

“Right, Sir.” Gerard grinned.

“And flowers, and music and everything.” The Duke continued. “And, Dr. Halifax has a special surprise.”

“One of my patients,” The doctor nodded, “works in the medium of photography. So, the day after the wedding, you shall once again put on your marriage clothes and pose for him so that he may take your photograph. That way, you will have a permanent record of the way you looked on the day you became man and wife.”

“Oh!” Mrs. Pepper clapped her hands. “Fancy that!”

“Your Grace…” Gamilla’s lips trembled. “Dr. Halifax! Miss Lennie…” She shook her head. “I don’t know what to say.”

“You can say that you’ll allow me to walk you down the aisle to your groom.” The Duke nodded. “For it would be my great honor to stand proxy for your father.”

Tears trickled down Gamilla’s cheeks. “It is my honor, Your Grace. Of course!”

“Well, then, that’s settled.” Dr. Halifax nodded.

“Gamilla, I shall help you with your trousseau, if you like.” Miss Molliner volunteered. “Violet and I have been scheming a bit.”

“I’d be so happy, yes.” Gamilla nodded.

“What ‘bout me?’ Gerard joked.

“Oh, not to worry.” Dr. Halifax grinned. “Charles, His Grace and I have some plans for you, too.”

“And, they may just be some more surprises on the day.” Mr. Punch winked.

And, then…in Maudie’s estimation…the oddest thing happened. The staff walked forward and began to chat with the masters. And, no one seemed to think anything of it—all of them, even Mr. Speaight, chattering gaily together.

Maudie looked at Ethel.

“That’s the way it is here,” Ethel said softly.

“But, it’s…”

“The Duke says we’re a family.” Ethel replied.

Maudie was silent, overwhelmed.

“Listen,” Ethel said softly, “maybe you and me…well…Jenny and I talked once that if ever Gerard finally did ask Gamilla to marry him…well, that we’d make her some orange blossoms out of some nice paper I saved and some ribbon. I think…I think Gamilla’d like it. But…” She shook her head.

“I’d like to help.” Maude spoke up. “I was makin’ somethin’ like that for me sister. She was gonna be married when she…died.”

“Oh.” Ethel’s shoulders sagged. “So…so…you know. You know how it is?”

“I do.” Maude nodded.

“Maude! Ethel!” Miss Lennie called to them. “Come talk with us. His Grace would like to get to know you better, Maude.”

“And, you’ve not met our Colin.” The Duke called out.

Maude looked to Ethel who nodded.

Together, they joined the others.

“That’s the way to do it!” The Duke cheered.

Both girls giggled.

Did you miss Chapters 1-275 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back on Monday for Chapter 277.

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