Friday, March 22, 2013

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 287

Chapter 287 
Around the Edges 

Dear Punch,” Robert took Mr. Punch’s hand and led him into the morning room. “Do you remember the stable fire at the Rittenhouse Plantation…when we were in America?”

“Sure, I do.” Punch nodded seriously. “Burned me hands awful bad. If it wasn’t for you, they’d never have healed right. But, look, not even a scar.”

“Do you recall how you were burned?”

“What’s all this, then?” Punch asked. “Course I remember.”

“You went into that burning stable, risking your own life to save Iolanthe Evangeline—a person whose every motion served to do us harm. Yet, in you went, without another thought. You didn’t think of her misdeeds, all you thought was that hers was a human life, and it was worth saving.”

Punch shrugged. “I know…I…I didn’t think. But, what’s this got to do about an’thin’ right now?”

“My dear, the quality of yours which I most admire is your innocent selflessness. Despite all you’ve endured—you and Julian—you’ve remained pure of spirit. You can look past your own pain to help someone who has wronged you.”

“Sometimes I wish I hadn’t.” Punch answered softly. “After all, Iolanthe did not seem changed by her touch with death nor did she show any stop in her relentless campaign ‘gainst us.”

“No.” Robert shook his head. “She did not.” He turned Punch and put his hands on his companion’s shoulders. “Yet, wishing you hadn’t saved her doesn’t change the fact that you did, and, truly, you know you’d have done it again if you had to.”

Mr. Punch nodded.

“I can’t do that.” Robert sighed. “Despite my oath as a physician, I can’t forgive as easily as you.”

“I ain’t forgiven Iolanthe nor Orpha nor Ulrika nor anyone what harmed us.” Punch answered quickly.

“I think you have. I think that’s how you are able to retain a sense of peace about yourself—the very peace which comforts me. Still, let’s say that you haven’t forgiven any of them. You’re able to forget about their wickedness to maintain their humanity. I cannot.”


“It’s true, dear Punch.” Robert held up a hand. “Should Orpha haven fallen at my feet in some sort of apoplectic fit, I would be obligated to offer her aid—as a physician. However, she didn’t. She’s not here. I’m not going to go to Hamish House to tend to her wounds.”

“I didn’t think you should. I never said you should. I only asked, I did.” Mr. Punch answered softly. “I…wanted to see you be true to yourself.”

“And I love you for it.” Robert smiled. “However, if I’m to be true to myself, I must confess that I feel that some don’t deserve a release from their pain. I’m distraught that Gerard wounded the woman, but only because it hurts him to know he’s done so—not because of her pain. Frankly, I wish he’d killed her, though, frankly, the release of death is too good for her. She deserves to suffer for each second of agony she brought to the people she’s tortured.” He paused. “I hope you don’t think less of me for saying this.”

“How could I ever think less of you?” Punch shook his head.

“You hate to think of anyone suffering.” Robert smiled softly. “If a bear leapt out and bit you, you’d be concerned that the bear would have a stomach ache from swallowing one of your buttons.”

“No.” Punch shook his head. “I’d be angry with the bear, I would. I’d be very angry…and…and I’d swat him on his head.”

“You know I’m right.” Robert grinned. “Maybe you’d swat him on the head, Punchinello that you are. But, then, you’d chat with him and try to convince him not to bite any more people.”

“I beat the Devil!” Punch snapped. “I’m Mr. Punch.”

“You are. I love and admire you more than I ever thought possible. Still, dear Punch, as Mr. Punch, you know that…what am I trying to say…”

“When Mr. Punch beats the Devil, it’s only just for then. He always comes back, he does. In the puppet show I mean. Mr. Punch can ‘kill’ Scaramouche, but he’ll always return, cause he ain’t dead, he’s just hangin’ upside down, waitin’ for the professor to use ‘im ‘gain.”

“That’s right.”

“But, Chum…that’s puppets. People ain’t the same. When a bloke’s dead, he’s dead. His body don’t come back. Puppets don’t get hurt, but bodies do.”

“And, your poor body has been hurt over and over again. That’s why you can’t stand to see another body suffer—even one that’s done nothing but hurt you.”

“Maybe so.”

“Would that I were more like you…”

“No, no. I’d not want you to be anythin’, but what you are, Chum.”

“So you’ll forgive me if I don’t fetch my kit and rush to Orpha’s aid?”

“Like I said, Chum. I only wondered, is all.” Punch shook his head. “I know what you’re sayin’, and, truly, I don’t think you should. Only…well, I ain’t as soft as you seem to think.”

“I don’t think you’re soft. You’re the strongest person I know. To have true compassion takes immense strength. I’m too rough around the edges to be that strong.”

“Don’t look so rough to me.” Punch smiled. “You look quite nice to me.”

“I’m glad you think so.” Robert nodded.

“I do.” He sighed. “I s’pose we oughta go check on Gerry. Oh…and there’s Fern what needs talkin’ to.”

“May I suggest that I speak with Gerard and Charles while you try to reason with Fern? I’m afraid I don’t have the patience to deal with the girl just now. You seem to understand her better than I.”

“I don’t understand her at all.” Punch shrugged. “Only, I’ll talk with ‘er.” His eyes widened. “Ruthy!”

“Pardon me?”

“I clean forgot. The new nursery maid…Ruthy. She’s to arrive this evenin’. Poor thing, what’s she gotten ‘erself into?”

“Oh dear, I’d forgotten that, too.” Robert shook his head. “Let’s hope she’s as understanding as the rest of the staff.”

“All these new folk,” Punch sighed. “And, me havin’ to watch how I talk in front of the new ones. Last thing I can think of right now is how I say things.”

“It’s your house, dear Punch, do as you please in it.”

“Is this the same chap what cautioned me when we came back to London to see I didn’t cause no confusion by lettin’ me own self show?”

“I’m ashamed of that.” Robert embraced Punch. “I should never have suggested it.”

“You was only tryin’ to protect me from scandal and gossip.”

“There are far worse things than the opinions of others.” Robert admitted. “I know that now. Let the world see what you are, my dear. Whoever doesn’t like it can go to Blazes.”

“We know a lot of people down there.” Punch winked. “At least we know they’ll have company.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-286? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 288.

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