Monday, April 15, 2013

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 304

Chapter 304 
That Frown of Hers 

Oh, Georgie…” Ethel whispered, sticking her head out from the scullery door. “Any word on His Grace, then?”

“Just that he’s restin’.” Georgie shook his head. “Charlie and Gerry helped the doctor bring ‘im up to ‘is room.”

“Poor man.” Ethel sighed.

“Dr. Halifax and Miss Lennie are with ‘im.” Georgie continued.

“So, he’s not opened his eyes at all, then?”

“Not yet, no.”

“Is it true that Miss Fern done this?” Ethel asked. She walked out of the scullery, wiping her hands on her apron and joined Georgie in the empty kitchens.

“Seems so.” George Pepper replied. “You heard Charlie as plain as I done. He said Miss Fern told ‘em all she took the tonic from Dr. Halifax’s bag and poured in it His Grace’s water.”

“I can’t see why she’d do such a thing.” Ethel frowned.

“Ethel, you know the girl…is she barmy?”

“I don’t know ‘er, Georgie.” Ethel shook her head.

“Well, when she first come here, you and she had a bit of talk between ya.”

“Only a bit.” Ethel answered. “Really only the one night when…when I was in Miss Lennie’s room. And, it were me what was doin’ most of the talkin’. After not sayin’ a word for so long, I guess I had so many saved up inside me that they all come runnin’ out at once.”

Georgie nodded. “I’m just glad you’re talkin’ ‘gain. You seem more yourself ever day.”

“I feel more myself every day. I still feel bad ‘bout what happened to our Jenny and I miss her so terrible. I still blame me-self for it.”

“You can’t. It weren’t your fault.”

“Only it were, Georgie. I were the one what made her go out that night.”

“You couldn’t ‘ave known that awful woman was gonna…was gonna do what she done.”

“I shoulda known. We all saw in Scotland what evil that Miss Polk could do. I shoulda known better only I wanted to make ‘er stop.”

“I think you was brave.” Georgie smiled. “And you shouldn’t blame yourself no more. Jenny’d not want you to.”

Ethel nodded.

“I miss ‘er, too.” George said softly.

“I know.” Ethel replied. “Cor, we ‘ad so much sadness here o’ late. We don’t need that little girl makin’ more trouble.”

“Charlie and Gerry think she’s barmy.”

“Does Gamilla?” Ethel asked.

“Fairly sure she does though she didn’t say nothin’ when she came down after helpin’ Dr. Halifax with the Duke.”

“She back in the nursery, then?”

“Yeah.” Georgie answered. “She wanted to show Ruthy what was what and how best to do ‘er job. Dr. Halifax said there were nothin’ more she could do for the Duke just then. And, Vi needed to go on ‘bout her own duties anyway.”

“Here, what do ya think of that Ruthy?”

“Dunno.” Georgie shrugged. “She ain’t said ‘nough to have any thoughts ‘bout her. Seems like she’ll be a good nursery maid.”

“Seems like she thinks she’s better than the rest of us.”

“Who can tell? All nursery maids is like that.”

“How do you know. You worked in a factory before you come here.” Ethel smiled.

“Sure, but I heard my mum talkin’ with Charlie. She said all nannies and nursery maids was the same. They all think they’re better than the rest of the staff.”

“Gamilla don’t. And, she’s Master Colin’s nanny.”

“Yeah, but, Gamilla didn’t start out in the nursery. She was a maid and she was down here with us. She were already our friend.”

“I s’pose.” Ethel nodded.

The kitchen door creaked open and Maudie entered.

“Oh, sorry. Didn’t know you was in here.” Maudie smiled. “I thought I’d get the kettle on before Mrs. Pepper come down from changin’. But, I can come back if you’re talkin’.”

“No, it’s fine, Maude.” Georgie blushed, a tremendous grin crossing his face.

Ethel studied Georgie with a sideways glance, feeling something which she hadn’t felt since she’d gone into service—that strange, burning feeling she’d get when her little sister would take her rag doll to play with.

“Do ya mind, Ethel?”

“Nah.” Ethel shook her head.

“Ain’t it terrible?” Maudie continued as she fetched the kettle.

“What’s that?” Georgie asked, still grinning.

“The Duke.”

“He ain’t gotten worse?” Ethel’s eyes widened.

“No, no. I ain’t heard nothin’ like that. I just feel for the man. He’s so kind and gentle and how’s he repaid for it? That little girl goes and does somethin’ like that.” Maude replied.

“We was jus’ talkin’ ‘bout that.” Ethel replied. “Here, you was at Hamish House. You know the girl. Was she always like this?”

“I only saw her. Never spoke with her. She’d come down to the kitchens now and again as children do. You know--to steal a bit of cheese or a biscuit.”

“Did she ever do anything like this before?” Georgie asked.

“Not that I know.” Maudie shrugged. “But, it ain’t like Hamish House were as friendly as the Duke’s household here. We never knew what went on upstairs.”

“Vi says that Miss Lennie thinks it were the shock of bein’ taken by Orpha Polk what made Miss Fern like this.” Georgie continued. “Only, Ethel saw the same terrible things and she ain’t actin like a fiend.”

“No, but I was scared and quiet for quite a time.” Ethel mumbled. “Maybe it were that what made Miss Fern so strange.”

“Oh, no. She was always strange. That much I know. Always with them wide eyes and that frown o’ hers. ” Maudie shook her head. “Ohhh..wait. I do remember one time when we all knew that the girl was in trouble.”

“Tell, tell.” Georgie leaned in.

“Well, I remember this once when we all ‘eard an awful lot of shoutin’ comin’ from upstairs. Reggie, one of the footmen, said that Countess Hamish was wailin’ on the little girl for some reason or another and that the little girl went and broke a glass and cut the countess with it.”

“Cor.” Ethel croaked.

Maudie nodded. “Yeah, now I think of it. There were times what we could hear ‘em yellin’ at the girl—when she was ‘round, that is. Sent ‘er ‘way a lot, they did.”

“Did she ever hurt a body like that ‘gain?” Georgie asked.

“Dunno. There was always squabbles upstairs—whether the girl was there or not.” Maude shook her head. “Like I said, she were sent away an awful lot. We always thought it were cause she ain’t got a father.”

“Everyone’s got a father.” Ethel answered

“You know what I mean. A name. She ain’t legitimate. Funny how a prince or somethin’ can have a lot o’ children with a woman what ain’t his wife, and no one says nothin’ ‘bout it. But, if it’s a lady…she got nothin’ but shame. All of us downstairs always figured Lady Constance couldn’t deal with the shame of the girl, ‘specially with the Countess needlin’ ‘er ‘bout it all the time. So, they sent her ‘way. ‘Specially after the fire.”


“Sure, if they’d not put it out quick as they did, it’d burned down all of Belgrave Square, I’m sure.” Maudie sighed. “But, Reggie and Frederick saw the smoke and thought quick. If they’d not, the lot of us would have perished.”

“I don’t remember there bein’ no fire on the square.”

“This were before you was here.” Maudie said.

“Only I been here since the Duke come back from America. I been in the ‘ouse since they opened it up ‘gain. And, I don’t remember no fire neither.”

“Oh, this was well before that. No. 65 were shut up. It were just after the Great Exhibition. I think the Duke had gone back to live in Yorkshire. This house weren’t bein’ lived in.”

“How’d the fire start?”

Maudie shrugged. “Reggie said that a candle caught the drapes on fire. It were in the Drawing Room. Only, it happened in the mornin’. Wouldn’t a been no candles lit in there in the mornin’. That part o’ the house weren’t opened ‘til dusk, not less there was some special guests or somethin’. Hamish House didn’t run like this one. Here, the Duke don’t mind if all the rooms are lit and heated all day long. Anyone can go where they please here. But, the Countess Hamish insisted only one room could be used at a time, and, only at certain times o’ day. So, we never could tell how there’d a been a lit candle in the Drawin’ Room in the mornin’. Countess Hamish tried to blame one o’ the maids for bein careless. Sacked ‘er and all. But, none o’ us believed it were her what left that candle there.”

“Who do ya think done it.” Ethel asked.

“Who could say?” Maudie sighed, setting out beakers on the kitchen table for the three of them.

“Was Miss Fern in the house at the time?” Georgie asked.

“Sure,” Maudie nodded. “Only she was just a little, little thing, then. So pale and thin and small—just like a little dead bird.”

Ethel wrinkled her nose.

“Could it be that Miss Fern started the fire?”

“Nah…she was only just walkin’ at the time.” Maudie shook her head. “Well, come to think of it. She was well past walkin’, weren’t she? Still, she was small. Can’t see how she coulda done it. All I know is that later that day, men was in already changin’ the paper and hangin’s and some blokes from Bond Street come for the furniture to put new covers on.”

“And, then they sent the girl away?” Georgie asked.

“Yeah, but…” Maudie started.

“What is it?”

“Dunno.” Maudie shook her head. “Sudden-like I got a sick feelin’.”

“Me, too.” Georgie said.

“That day o’ the fire. Was the only time when I ever saw the girl…you know…always with that frown o’ hers. Only that day, she were smilin’. I remember because I’d gone ‘round to the post. It were me afternoon off, and to get to the nearest post, I had to go ‘round the front. I saw the girl, right there, leaning on one o’ the columns in the front. And…she was smilin’.”

They could hear Mrs. Pepper’s voice in the Servants’ Hall.

“Look sharp, here comes your mum.” Ethel nodded, retreating to her scullery. “We’ll talk later, then? Right?”

“Sure.” Georgie replied quickly, ducking into the larder.

Ethel looked over her shoulder. “You gonna be all right, then?”

“Course, I am.” Maudie nodded. “We’ll ‘ave a chat when we change out.”

“Right,” Ethel smiled, slipping into the scullery. Once inside her damp, dark place in the house, Ethel frowned. She knew Dr. Halifax wanted that Fern girl out of the house. She also knew that what Georgie had suggested was correct. Surely Fern had started that fire. After all, Ethel thought, she’d done a host of wicked things in the short time she’d been at No. 65.

Ethel knew she couldn’t interfere in upstairs business. Especially not after what had happened the last time.

She looked up at the long, narrow horizontal window which lit her scullery. She could see the boots of the men who walked through the mews.

“Jenny…” Ethel whispered. “I know you’re up there in heaven watchin’ us. Could ya please look after the folks upstairs or…or…maybe, at least, ask God to find a way to get that girl outta the house?”

Sinking her hands into the tepid, greasy water, Ethel began her work again. She stopped only for a second to add, “Amen.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-303 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them
here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 305.

No comments: