“Fern,” Mr. Punch began in a measured tone of voice—not so much his imitation of Julian as it was simply a softer version of his natural manner of speaking. “Is there anything you might like to tell me?”
“I suppose there should be.” Fern replied airily. “Yet I am quite sure we both know what I should say and how you should respond.”
“Go on and say it anyway.” Mr. Punch answered.
“You are angry with me.”
“Yes.” Mr. Punch nodded. “I should say that I was angry only now I’m more disappointed and confused.”
“Can you tell me why I am?” Mr. Punch continued.
“Don’t you know?”
“I do, Fern. I want to see if you do.” Punch replied.
“Mama and Grandmama always said how you are one of the wealthiest men in the Empire. Surely you can afford to buy your African maid a new dress.”
“That’s only part of the reason why I’m upset.” Mr. Punch answered. “Only, listen…I want to tell ya somethin’. Are you listenin’?”
“I don’t imagine there’s anything else to which I can be listening, Sir.”
“Gamilla is not a maid. She’s my son’s nurse, and most important of all, she’s my friend. Gamilla has been my very good friend. The dress that you ruined was made from silk which was a present to her from another of our friends—a lady in America who made it ‘specially for Gamilla. It was important to Gamilla to have the dress she wore at her wedding made from that silk because it was a way of having her friend with her on that day. Thankfully, a bit of the cloth can be saved and added to a new dress, but…well, it broke Gamilla’s heart. Do you understand?”
“Sentimentality. That’s what my grandmother would have called it.”
“It’s important—sentimentality. It’s what gives life some meaning.”
“You didn’t like my grandmother.”
“She didn’t like you.”
“I know.” Mr. Punch nodded. “Still, even your grandmother knew that should anything happen, that this would be a good place for you to live.”
“It is a good place to live,” Mr. Punch went on. “If you’ll let it be. Uncle Robert and I want you to be comfortable and happy here. But, in order to do that, you’ve got to treat everyone in the household with respect. Everyone…upstairs and down. As Colin’s nurse, Gamilla is meant to look out for him. She only told me that you’d taken him to that open window because she wanted to see he was safe. She wasn’t trying to say anything bad about you, Fern. All she wanted was for everyone to be well. And, you…” He paused. “I do understand, I do. You’re used to a certain amount of…meanness. Only, Fern, the folk here ain’t mean. Nobody wants to hurt ya.”
“The people here…” Fern shook her head. “You mean like the man, Gerard, who cut off a woman’s hand?”
Mr. Punch cleared his throat. “No one here will ever hurt you. And, I expect the same from you. You’re to be punished, not just for ruining Gamilla’s dress, but also for leaving the house without one of us. You’re never, ever to do that. Never. And, you’re never to speak to that ginger American woman nor Orpha Polk. Never. They are not your friends. They will not be kind to you.”
“What is my punishment, then?”
“You…” Punch paused. “Dunno. Never gave anyone a punishment before.”
“You’re not very well prepared for this. Are you?” Fern sighed.
“No, I guess, I’m not.” Punch nodded. “Here, why don’t you write a letter of apology to Gamilla. There’s paper in your desk.”
“I used the ink.” Fern replied cooly.
“Yes, I saw.” Punch frowned. “We’ll get you more ink. You’re to write a letter to Gamilla and apologize for ruining her gown. Then, you’ll write a letter to Uncle Robert and apologize for worrying him.”
“Shall I write to you?”
“No, that’s not necessary.”
“Can you read?” Fern asked. “Grandmother said you are barmy. Are you an idiot, too?”
“I’m neither barmy nor an idiot, and, yes, I can read.” Punch rose. “You’ll stay in your room for the rest of the week. I will return before you’re to go to bed to see your progress on your letters.”
“Very well.” Fern nodded. “I do need more ink.”
“I’ll have Violet bring you some.” Punch replied. He paused. “After this, you will be good. Won’t you?”
Fern didn’t answer.
“You will.” Punch nodded.
With that he left the room only to be greeted in the passage by Speaight.
“Your Grace,” Speaight nodded. “The new nursery maid, a Ruthy, has arrived. Did you wish to speak to her?”
Punch chuckled helplessly. “Yes, I s’pose I should. Show her to the library, please.”
“Yes, Your Grace.” Speaight replied.
With Speaight out of sight, Punch sighed. “Oughta tell the poor thing to run ‘way far and fast.”
Did you miss Chapters 1-288 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 290.