When You Tell
“Fern,” Robert said gently, “we’re not angry. We simply want to know what you were doing.”
“I was just…” Fern began. “The baby was hungry.”
“So, you took him to the open window?” Mr. Punch asked.
“I heard birds chirping. I thought…” Fern replied.
“And you wanted Colin to see them?” Robert asked.
“I wanted him to pick one.” Fern answered.
“Pick one?” Punch frowned. “Whatever do you mean?”
“What?” Punch barked. “You..you think…? Colin doesn’t eat birds from the trees.” He tried to control his voice and not frighten the girl.
“What does he eat?” Fern asked. “He’s a nice baby. A clean baby. Surely he doesn’t eat rats like Marduk.”
“He eats regular things like what babies do.” Punch responded. “Not live birds from the trees.”
“I wasn’t going to give it to him alive.” Fern deadpanned.
“I know you saw horrible things.” Punch said softly. “Only that’s over now. You’re in a place where babies eat biscuits and mush and milk. Where everyone has one head, and…it’s regular.”
“You’re not regular.” Fern smiled. “You’re a Duke who speaks like a ruffian on the street. Dr. Halifax explained that you’re like two men in one. Marduk has two heads. So, I can’t see how it’s different.”
“It’s very different,” Robert snapped. “And, you’re to call me Uncle Robert. From now on, Fern, you’re not to go into…” he paused, realizing two things. First, he was being too harsh, and second, he knew he couldn’t forbid the girl from going into the day nursery. He looked helplessly to Mr. Punch.
“Fern,” Punch smiled. “I know it’s confusin’. You seen things what no one should ever see, ‘specially not a little girl. Little girls and boys should know happy times and see pretty, soft things. See…I know. I saw ugly things, too, when this body was small and young. So, did Uncle Robert. You see, all the more, then, we want you to have them pretty things.”
“Now, we ain’t upset with you, only, we think it’s best that you don’t pick up Colin without one of us or Gamilla or Auntie Lennie around. See?”
“Yes, Your Grace.”
“You may call me Uncle Punch.”
“Yes, Uncle Punch.”
“Don’t you see?” Robert continued, “With you taking Colin to the window like that, he could have been hurt. He might have been dropped.”
“I’d not have dropped him.”
“Not purposely, but…”
“Gamilla shouted at me.” Fern interrupted.
“She was scared.” Punch answered.
“And, then, she told on me.”
“She only wants you and Colin to be safe.” Robert nodded.
“Mama always said that we shouldn’t tell.” Fern replied coldly. “That if you tell, you go to Hell.”
Robert and Punch looked at one another.
“We’re not going to worry about any of that.” Punch replied. “I just want you to know that it’s all right for you to play with Colin when one of us is with you. But, not when you’re alone.”
“I wasn’t playing.” Fern replied icily. “I wanted to feed him.”
“Gamilla feeds him.” Robert said firmly. “Or I or Uncle Punch or Lennie. Understand?”
“Yes.” Fern frowned.
“Now, why don’t you go up to your room?”
“Yes, Uncle Robert.” Fern nodded. Without another word, she turned and left the library.
Once alone, Robert scowled. “I’m going to have a word with Speaight.”
“He swore he’d keep an eye on Colin while Gamilla was downstairs.”
“He had to talk to them blokes what’s gonna pull down the wall.”
“Colin should not have been left alone…” Robert snapped.
“I agree, Chum. Only, don’t take it out on me.”
“I’m sorry, dear Punch.” Robert shook his head. “I simply don’t know what to do.”
“In time, she’ll sort herself out.”
“Maybe we should send her to school.”
“Now…find a nice school for girls in the country…” Robert suggested.
“Now? Now’d be the worst time to send her ‘way. Her mama just died. She’s been tortured and…”
“She could have dropped our son…from a window.”
“We’ll just have to be more vigilant. And, once the new nursery maid starts, she can watch Fern while Gamilla’s with Colin.” Punch replied.
“Aren’t you concerned for our son’s safety?”
“Of course, I am!” Punch answered sharply.
“I shouldn’t have said that.” Robert sighed. “I didn’t mean to imply that you weren’t, dear Punch.”
“I know.” Punch looked up. He smiled. “I know.”
“I don’t know if Fern will ever be quite right.”
“I doubt she will.” Punch shook his head. “But, that don’t mean she kind find a way to be happy.”
“Come on, Chum. Let’s go back to Charlie’s room and see if he’s relaxed any. For now, there’s nothin’ we can do for Fern, but I don’t think Charlie told us all he had to say before Gamilla came down with Fern.” He paused. “It’s only been a couple o’ days since the girl’s been here. We gotta give her time.”
“Of course.” Robert smiled.
“After all, she’s just a little girl.” Punch returned the smile. “She don’t really mean no harm.”
Meanwhile, Fern had gone upstairs on instructed, but she hadn’t gone back to her room. Instead, she crept into the night nursery. She could hear Gamilla talking with Gerard in the day nursery. They were talking about her.
Fern slipped into Gamilla’s bedroom, now empty of the construction men and Mr. Speaight. Flopping down on Gamilla’s bed, Fern smiled. “When you tell, you go to Hell.”
Did you miss Chapters 1-279 If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 281 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square.