Friday, April 19, 2013

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 308

Chapter 308 

Did ya get the girl settled, then?” Mrs. Pepper asked Gamilla as she descended the stairs to the servants’ hall.

“We did.” Gamilla nodded.

“Imagine, a little thing like that doin’ somethin’ so wicked.” Mrs. Pepper sighed.

“Don’t matter the size o’ the body,” Gamilla answered. “Nor even the age. Young or old, if a body’s wicked, so it shall act.”

“Come have a cuppa,” Mrs. Pepper smiled. “You look tired, dearie.”

“I am.” Gamilla nodded. “Thank you, Mrs. Pepper. But, I best get back up to the nursery. I only come down for to get some o’ them linens I washed earlier.”

“Now, Ruthy’s upstairs with Master Colin, ain’t she?”

“Yes.” Gamilla smiled.

“Well, then…” Mrs. Pepper poured Gamilla a cup of tea and set it on the table.

“Maybe for a few minutes.” Gamilla nodded.

“Besides, I made some of that shortbread what you like so well.”

“Oh!” Gamilla grinned.

“Made it just for you.” Mrs. Pepper said brightly as she opened her favorite biscuit tin—the bright blue one with the gold scrolls and red flowers on it.

“Awful kind of ya.” Gamilla took a biscuit.

“Well, you had a time of it lately. And, I was makin’ a shortbread crust for that lemon tart for upstairs dinner tomorrow, so, I set some aside for our Gamilla.” Mrs. Pepper winked. “I had a time keepin’ Maudie, Ethel and Georgie outta them. But, I said, these are for our Gamilla.”

“I don’t mind sharin’.” Gamilla chuckled.

“Sharin’?” Mrs. Pepper laughed. “When my Georgie eats, there ain’t nothin’ left to share.”

“He’s a young man.” Gamilla nodded. “They do like to eat.”

“That they do.” Mrs. Pepper sighed. “Mr. Pepper, God rest his soul, was about Georgie’s age when we were married. I couldn’t ‘ave been no older than Ethel.”

“You miss Mr. Pepper, don’t ya?”

“I do.” Mrs. Pepper nodded. “He were a good man. My George is a lot like his pa. Same bright eyes and smile, and same humor ‘bout ‘im. So, when I miss my Peter, I just look at our son, and it’s like he’s right here.”

“I’m glad Georgie come to work here.” Gamilla nodded. “He’s a good boy.”

“He is.” Mrs. Pepper grinned proudly. She leaned in. “I think he rather fancies young Maude.”

“Is that so?”

“Ethel’s none too pleased ‘bout it.” Mrs. Pepper shook her head.

Gamilla nodded. “Funny, ain’t it. But, I always had the thought that one day Georgie’d marry Ethel.”

“Oh, so did I. Not for a good many years, of course. Ethel’s like my own. Sure, she’s maybe a little spirited at times, but, I do love the girl.”

“I reckon that it’s just that Maudie’s new. You know how men are, they always like what’s new.”

“Some men.” Mrs. Pepper nodded. “Not your Mr. Gurney.”

“No.” Gamilla looked away shyly.

“You know what he told me?” Mrs. Pepper took a biscuit. “He said he fell in love with you the minute he first saw you.”

Gamilla nodded. “It was in the kitchen in the house in New Orleans. See, I worked for Dr. Halifax’s brother, as maid to Mrs. Halifax. His Grace and Dr. Halifax had borrowed a house in New Orleans from some fella named Dr. Biamenti. Fine, big house. And we all went from Marionneaux to live there while His Grace was lookin’ for Lady Barbara. Well, Gerard was a rough one. Oh, Lordy! He’d been associatin’ with some bad folk, but saw the error of his ways and His Grace knew that Gerry was a good man at heart. So, His Grace took Gerry on as Dr. Halifax’s man. I remember when Gerry first come into that kitchen—his hair all uncombed and his face all bearded. Them eyes o’ his peekin’ out under them blond waves. Walked right into the kitchen and told me what to do. Well, I wasn’t gonna have no part o’ that foolishness.” Gamilla giggled. “He called me ‘Milla and winked at me.”

“Did you love him right away, then?” Mrs. Pepper asked.

“I did.” Gamilla smiled. “Couldn’t help but, though I’d not let him know that. He was too sure of himself. I made him wait.”

“That’s best.” Mrs. Pepper nodded.

“You know, if we stayed in America, Gerry and I couldn’t be married.”


“No.” Gamilla shook her head. “A white man can’t marry a negro girl there. It’s against the law. It’d get Gerry thrown in jail.”

“You’d think that folk would realize that it don’t matter what a person looks like. It’s 1853. And, yet, some folk still feel they gotta tell a body who they can marry and who they can’t.”

“Maybe someday, it’ll be different.” Gamilla shrugged.

“Maybe.” Mrs. Pepper sighed. “Well, here you can be married. So, you ain’t gotta worry.”

“Still, some folk don’t look too favorably on it. I saw the way the vicar looked at us when we posted our bans.”

“I don’t see why. Why, gentlemen come back from India with brides. What difference is it if you’re African?”

“Oh, people can’t help judgin’. It’s part of ‘em.”

“Well, no one in this house would ever.”

“I know.” Gamilla smiled. “It’s no different than what His Grace and Dr. Halifax must face when they’re out in the world.”

“That’s true.” Mrs. Pepper nodded. “I often worry for them. Doesn’t seem fair. Yet, they got Their Majesties on their side. So, nobody’s gonna bother ‘em.”

“Lots of others like ‘em ain’t so lucky.”

“Another biscuit?” Mrs. Pepper smiled.

“Oh, I gotta fit into that gown and corset on my weddin’ day.” Gamilla laughed. “I shouldn’t. But, I will.” She inhaled. “Mrs. Pepper, did you like bein’ married?”

“I loved it. Happy days they were. I liked makin’ a home for Peter and, then, for our babies.”

“Babies?” Gamilla nodded. “George has brothers and sisters? You never said.”

Mrs. Pepper looked down.

“You don’t gotta talk of it.” Gamilla shook her head.

“No, no. I don’t mind.” Mrs. Pepper answered. “I had two before George, but the Lord saw fit to take them to heaven with Him when they was just little babies. Peter said that God needed more angels, so he took our first two.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I…well, thank you. I like to think they’re with our Jenny now. Maybe she’s lookin’ after ‘em ‘til I get up there. Peter and Jenny and Dahlia and Samuel…they’re all waitin’ for me. But, I got Georgie who’s grown big and strong like his pa. That’s my reward. That’s all a woman can ask. You’ll see, Gamilla. Won’t be too long before you’re havin’ babies of your own, dearie.”

“Oh, I can’t think o’ that.” Gamilla shook her head. “Not now. I got my hands full already with Master Colin and…the other one.”

“Oh, my lamb, don’t you know Mr. Gurney’s gonna give you your own before you know it?” Mrs. Pepper winked.

“Mrs. Pepper, you are bad.” Gamilla laughed. “I gotta say, I like how you call my Gerry by his formal name.”

“Well, ain’t he Dr. Halifax’s valet? He should be called Mr. Gurney downstairs. In fact, His Grace and the doctor oughta call him ‘Gurney,’ not by his given name. Same for Charles though Iantosca’s kinda a clunky name for a valet. It’s only right.”

“You look after those boys. Gerry says you’re more of a mum to him than his own ma was.” Gamilla smiled.

“Is that so.” Mrs. Pepper beamed. “An honor, I’m sure. But, I think it’s like His Grace says, folk make their own family. And, that’s what we are. If only that little witch upstairs would learn that. Maybe she will.”

“I don’t think Fern will ever learn that.” Gamilla shook her head.

“Is she lost, then? No savin’ ‘er?”

“I don’t think so.” Gamilla answered. “Now, I really best go up to Master Colin.”

“Probably so.” Mrs. Pepper nodded. “I was hopin’ Mr. Gurney’d come down while we were talkin’ so you two could have a moment to yourselves.”

“You’re a sweet as honey, Mrs. Pepper.” Gamilla grinned.

“Well, there’s romance in the house. Even Miss Lennie’s got ‘erself a suitor.”

“High time, too.” Gamilla nodded. “Thank you for the tea, and for the shortbread, but ‘specially for the talk.”

“It’s my pleasure.” Mrs. Pepper answered. “And, I’ll give Mr. Gurney the rest of that shortbread. He’s had a rough time of it today, too.”

“You speak of angels, Mrs. Pepper, but I think you’re one yourself.” Gamilla nodded.

“Bah.” Mrs. Pepper waved her hand. “Oh, and send Ruthy down, she ain’t had her dinner yet.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Gamilla nodded. “I’ll see ya before we close the house up for the night.”

Gamilla grabbed her linens and raced up the stairs.

Alone in the servants’ hall, Mrs. Pepper looked around, taking inventory. Everything was where it should be. And, everyone. Mr. Speaight was in his pantry, Charles was in the area, cleaning a spot from one of the Duke’s cravats. Gerard was upstairs getting the doctor’s night clothes ready. Violet was doing the same for Miss Lennie. The borrowed groomsman from the palace had gone to his flat above the stables. Ethel and Maudie had retired to their room and Georgie was tending to the library hearth.

She nodded, content. The Duke had survived another crisis, Miss Lennie had a suitor, and, she thought, those horrible women from Hamish House hadn’t bothered anyone all evening.

Hearing footsteps on the stairs, Mrs. Pepper, without turning, smiled. “Ruthy, there you are, girl. Don’t think every day will be like this. You’ll be takin’ your dinner with the rest of us most days. But, for tonight, I kept a plate warm for ya.”

Mrs. Pepper turned and her smile faded.

“What are you doin’ here?” She barked. “How’d you get outta your room?”

Did you miss Chapters 1-307 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 309.

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