Punch and Robert rushed to the sound of Gamilla’s screams. They found her in the day nursery, her hands held out in front of her, stained red and black.
“Is it Colin?” Punch asked. “Is Colin all right?”
Robert hurried to the bassinette and found Colin looking quite well. He sighed with relief.
“What’s happened, Gamilla?” Punch asked.
Panting, Gamilla pointed to the door to her room.
Robert and Punch raced to the door and gasped at what they saw.
Hanging on the door of Gamilla’s wardrobe was her wedding gown, once a pale yellow, the color of butter, but now streaked with deep stains of ink—crimson and jet. The bottom of the gown had been slashed and tattered and written just above the ruined hem, in the big letters which only could be made with a child’s ink-dipped finger, was “Go to Hell.”
“Oh, dear, oh, dear.” Punch moaned. He walked out of Gamilla’s room and into the day nursery, putting a hand gently on Gamilla’s shoulder and guiding her to the chair by Colin’s bassinette.
“My gown,” Gamilla sobbed. “My gown—the finest I ever had. Miss Lennie and Violet…they been helpin’ me with it. The finest gown I ever had…I was gonna wear it when I…” She gulped. “marry Gerry.”
“Perhaps it can be salvaged?” Robert suggested helplessly, kneeling down next to Gamilla.
“No.” Gamilla looked at her ink-coated hands. “It can’t.”
“Just this afternoon, as soon as you’re calm and ready,” Punch began, “You and Miss Lennie will go to Bond Street and go to the finest dressmaker you can find and you’ll have a new dress made, just like this one, or….or whatever you want…anything you want. And…and…you have them send the bill to me.”
Gamilla shook her head. “Thank you, Sir. But,”
“I know it ain’t the same, but…” Punch began.
“Marjani done made that yellow silk for me.” Gamilla cried.
“Oh…” Punch lowered his head, recalling the friend the left behind in America. Marjani, with her mysterious ways and great kindness—they’d had to leave her, and her granddaughter Columbia behind. Marjani chose to stay in Louisiana despite Punch’s offer to come with them to London. Marjani was dedicated to helping her people—those poor Creoles and Africans stricken with the Yellow Fever. A masterful dyer of cloth, Marjani fed herself and Columbia by creating colors which no one else could ever possibly achieve.
“She done gave it to me jus’ before I left.” Gamilla wiped her face with the unstained back of her hand. “She said she knew that I’d need it for my weddin’ gown.”
“Poor Gamilla,” Robert said, unsure of what to do.
“Here,” Punch suggested. “Is the back ruined?”
“The back of your gown?”
“No.” Gamilla shook her head.
“Well, then, you and Lennie can take it to the dressmaker and, then, maybe they can use the back part of it to…I dunno…make part of the skirts or the bodice or…”
Gamilla smiled. “That’s a fine idea, Your Grace.”
“That way, Marjani will be part of your day.” Punch nodded.
Gamilla tried to compose herself. “Why’d she do this?”
“I don’t know.” Robert shook his head. “Fern’s quite troubled.”
“With good reason.” Punch sighed.
“Where is she?” Robert asked.
“I don’t know, Sir.” Gamilla shook her head. “I looked in her room. She wasn’t there. I didn’t dare look further cuz I didn’t want to leave Master Colin alone.”
“I thank you for that,” Robert inhaled. “Dear Punch,” he looked up. “I want that girl out of this house.”
“So she can do things like this at school and be sent back to us?” Punch replied, shaking his head.
“That’s true.” Robert answered.
“We’d best find her.” Punch stated. “Gamilla, ring for Violet, and ask her to stay with Colin, please. Then, you can clean yourself up, you can. We’ll tell Miss Lennie that you and she will be goin’ shopping.”
“Thank you, Sirs.” Gamilla smiled. “I think I can stay with Colin, we don’t gotta go now…”
“You do.” Punch said with affectionate sternness. “You should go right now. No bride should go to bed wonderin’ where the gown for her weddin’ day will come.”
“Yes, Your Grace.”
“We are terribly sorry this happened.” Robert said as he stood. “We shall have a serious talk with Fern.”
“Don’t be too hard on her, Sir.” Gamilla nodded. “She done jus’ lost her mama and she seen terrible thin’s.”
Robert nodded. Taking Punch by the arm, he led his companion out of the nursery. Punch paused and waved at Colin. “We’ll be back, little chum.”
Once in the passage, Robert grumbled, “Where do you suppose the girl has gone?”
“She must be in the house.” Punch answered. “Lennie’s in the mornin’ room, so she couldn’t get out the rear of the house, we’d have heard the front door and with everyone downstairs, she couldn’t get out the area door or the mews door.”
They descended one flight of stairs, only to be met by Speaight on the landing.
“Is Gamilla unharmed?” Speaight asked.
“Her dress—her wedding dress—has been ruined by Miss Fern.” Robert responded.
“Ah.” Speaight nodded. “I hate to add to your troubles, Your Grace, but…”
“Oh, no.” Punch frowned.
“I’m afraid,” Speaight continued, “Miss Rittenhouse and a Mr. Iantosca are in the front vestibule.”
“Good God, why?” Robert bellowed.
“Miss Rittenhouse has produced an invitation to tea which she claims was sent by you, Your Grace.”
“I?” Punch’s eyes widened. “I’d never do such a thing.”
“I didn’t think so, Your Grace. However, the envelope bears your seal.”
“My seal?” Punch looked to Robert. “You didn’t…”
“Certainly not.” Robert shook his head.
“She insists upon seeing you, Your Grace.” Speaight declared impotently.
Punch’s shoulders sagged. “Come on, Chum, let’s get this over with.”
“Speaight,” Punch added. “If you see Miss Fern anywhere…”
“I shall return her to her room, Your Grace.”
“Thank you.” Punch nodded.
Arm in arm, Punch and Robert continued their descent down the stairs.
“Who coulda done that—sending an invitation to that witch?” Punch growled.
“I can’t imagine.” Robert shook his head sadly.
Neither Robert nor Punch said it, but they feared that it had been either Gerard or Charles. Unfortunately, they were correct.
At that very moment, Charles, still shaken from his previous encounters there, and Gerard crept through the back halls of Hamish House, in search of Orpha Polk and her monstrous baby. In his hand, Charles held a huge cleaver he’d taken from Mrs. Pepper’s kitchen.
Charles and Gerard exchanged glances, hearing the sound of Orpha’s voice as she cooed to her two-headed son. Nodding at one another, they advanced.
Did you miss Chapters 1-281? If so, you can read them here. Come back on Monday for Chapter 283 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square.