Meet the Baby
Speaight opened the door to the library grandly and announced, “His Grace, the Duke of Fallbridge.”
Punch never really enjoyed being announced in such a fashion. Of course, he understood that he was, indeed—along with Julian—the Duke of Fallbridge, but still such a dramatic entrance didn’t appeal to the man who’d much rather have preferred the sound of a bottler’s drum.
Taking a deep breath, Mr. Punch entered the room where he spent most of his time—a room which, due to the presence of this stranger—suddenly became uncomfortable. He chuckled to himself, thinking that though he’d taken control of their shared body, a part of Julian was always going to be with him.
“Good afternoon,” Punch nodded. “You must be Ruthy?”
“Yes, Your Grace.” The girl nodded, answering in a decidedly Northern accent. She was a slight, fair-skinned girl with caramel-colored hair and brown eyes.
“You’ve come to us highly recommended,” Punch continued, careful to speak in the aristocratic tones expected of him by newcomers. “Please, sit.” He gestured to one of the plush chairs.
Ruthy did as instructed.
“Miss Buck at the agency passed your credentials to me and I can see that you’ve been a valued member of many of a household. May I ask your age?”
“I’m aged twenty-three years, Your Grace.”
“Very good.” Punch nodded. “Did Miss Buck tell you anything about my household?”
“Yes, Your Grace. She told me that you live here with a physician and you’ve an adopted son called Colin. I’m told that Master Colin has a nanny already and that, should you see me fit, I would serve under her.”
“That’s correct.” Punch replied, wishing that he could speak as he normally would. But, it was too soon. “Dr. Halifax is my companion’s name. Colin’s nanny is called Gamilla.”
“Camilla,” Ruthy nodded.
“Gah-milla with a ‘G’.”
“Oh.” Ruthey replied. “Is that a French name?”
“African…Africa. Africa, Africa.” Punch shook his head.
“A treasured member of our household who is equal to everyone else downstairs.” Punch interrupted. “I trust you understand.”
“Yes, Sir.” Ruthy blushed.
“You will meet Gamilla later. She’s gone shopping with my sister who also lives here.”
“Your…your African nanny has gone shopping with Lady Fallbridge?”
“With my sister… She’s not called Lady Fallbridge.”
“Oh, I beg your pardon, Sir. Sometimes titles confuse me. Lady Molliner, then?”
“Miss Molliner.” Punch answered.
“But, Sir, I thought it customary for the sister of a Duke to be given the title of ‘Lady’ as a courtesy.”
“Customary, but not always the case.” Punch responded quickly. “Miss Molliner also lives here. We’ve also recently had a new addition to the household. You may not have been told.”
“No, Sir. Another baby?”
“No.” Mr. Punch answered. “A girl, aged seven…or eight. I’m actually not quite sure of her age, to be honest. She’s just come to us. Her mother has died and she’s to be our ward.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“Fern…Fern is her name.”
“Is she a relative?”
“Not exactly.” Punch shook his head. He lied, “she’s a distant cousin of the doctor’s. Your chief duty, aside from assisting Gamilla in the nursery, is to keep a watchful eye on Fern. She is, understandably, going through some turmoil and, in light of that, is…” He took a deep breath. “She’s a good girl, really. However, given all she’s endured of late, she’s given to being a little difficult.”
“Given that you had no knowledge that there were two children in the household, I can understand if you’d not wish to take the position.”
“Oh, no, Sir. I’d still like it, if you’ll have me. I...my own mother died when I was quite young. Perhaps I can be of some comfort to the girl.”
“I hope so.”
“But, won’t you be wantin’ a proper governess for her?”
“Perhaps in time.” Punch replied. “We…that is, Dr. Halifax and I…decided it best to let Fern find her place within the household first and become accustomed to her new home. She’s already shown that she’s bright beyond her years, so, a tutor might be a better choice for her. Time will tell.”
“I look forward to meeting her.”
Punch smiled slightly, a look which clearly confused Ruthy. He quickly changed the subject. “Another matter I should note is that at the end of the month, Gamilla will be marrying Dr. Halifax’s valet, Gerard Gurney, who also serves as second footman here.”
“I’ve gone all my life without seeing one Africa, and now there’s two in this house.” Ruthy’s eyes widened.
“No.” Punch shook his head. “Gerard is Australian.”
Ruthy nodded slowly.
Punch narrowed his eyes, but continued. “In light of that, I’m having the nurse’s quarters in the night nursery expanded for the couple so that Gamilla may stay near Colin until he’s older. Should you be hired, you’ll have a room in the attics with the rest of the staff.”
“Will I have to share a room?”
Punch squinted. “I don’t think so. Speaight will know better about that as he organizes the quarters. I know there are more rooms up there than we have people to fill ‘em.” He inhaled again, noticing that his aristocratic reserve was slipping as he grew more fatigued. “After Gerard and Gamilla are married, Dr. Halifax and I will send them on a brief wedding trip. During this time, the parlor maid, Violet, will take up Gamilla’s duties until they return. You will be called upon, during that period to assist more than you normally would.” He paused and studied the young woman. “You look puzzled.”
“It’s just unsual for a master to allow two servants to marry.”
“We are quite happy for them.” Punch nodded.
“Have you any other questions?” Punch asked.
“Do you travel often, Your Grace?”
“Not often.” Punch shook his head. “We have a home in Scotland and another in Yorkshire. In the past, we’ve taken the entire staff with us when we travel.”
“I’ve seen Fallbridge Hall.” Ruthy smiled. “It’s beautiful.”
“So, you’re from Yorkshire?”
Punch nodded. “Your wages will be as discussed with Miss Buck. If there’s nothing else, I’d like to introduce you to Colin to see how you get on with him. Then, perhaps, we can discuss bringing you on…on trial.”
Punch bit his lip and nodded again, rising to ring for Speaight who arrived, as usual, with alarming promptness.
“Would you please have Violet bring Colin down? Bring him to the morning room, please. It’s rather too chilly in here for him right now.”
“Yes, Your Grace.” Speaight answered, retreating as quickly as he arrived.
After a moment in awkward silence Punch said to the nervous girl, “If you’ll follow me, I’ll take you downstairs to the morning room.”
Ruthy followed the Duke out of the library and down the stairs. When they reached the ground floor, Punch’s eyes widened as an unwelcome sight greeted them. Standing in the hall, apparently after letting themselves in, stood Ulrika Rittenhouse, holding a lumpy bundle which was clearly Marduk, and Giovanni Iantosca.
“How on Earth?” Punch snapped. “Speaight! Speaight! Charles!”
Ruthy, realizing that something was amiss, took a step back.
“Oh, look, darling. A new girl.” Ulrika grinned. “Would you like to meet the baby?”
Ruthy, thinking that the baby in question must surely be Colin, nodded obediently.
Before Punch could say, “No,” Ulrika unveiled Marduk.
“How sweet.” Ulrika grinned as Ruthy screamed in horror. “They like you.”
Did you miss Chapters 1-289 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If not, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 291.