“Here now,” Gerard coughed as he returned with the salver from Mr. Speaight’s pantry. “You wouldn’t be thinkin’ ‘bout openin’ that letter?”
“What of it?” Mr. Donnan frowned.
“For starts, it ain’t yours.”
“It’s my daughter’s.” Johnny Donnan replied.
“Now, Mr. Donnan, I don’t aim to be inhospitable, only what Mrs. Pepper said just a minute ago is true. Miss Lennie ain’t your daughter. Not no more. Not since the day you gave her up.”
“Do ya think I wanted to?” Johnny grunted.
“Dunno.” Gerard shrugged. “I know that if someone asked me to give up my own child, when we have one, I’d do anything I could to keep the babe.”
“I didn’t have no choice.” Johnny scowled.
“The Duchess told me I had to.”
“You coulda taken the child and run.”
“I gave her a better life!”
“That you did. And, we’re all grateful for it, I’m sure as she’d ‘ave turned out like Finlay if you hadn’t.” Gerard nodded. “And, when you gave her that better life, you gave away any right you had to be a part of it.”
Mr. Donnan looked away.
“Not, I ain’t sayin’ that Miss Lennie’s life has been without trouble. Sure it hasn’t. All them years she spent lookin’ after Mr. Barrett when he was sick, and, to this day, she takes care of poor, sad Roger. Only look where she’s gotten? Here she is, reunited with her brother what loves her…livin’ in this fine, handsome house. She’s got the love of her nephew, little Colin. She’s got a whole new brother in the doctor. And, she’s got all of us. Each person in this house, Mr. Donnan, cares about and respects Miss Lennie for who she is. No, she ain’t the delicate thing you seem to think her as. She’s strong, and brave. She’s learned to speak ‘er mind and stand for what she knows is right. Ain’t nothin’ she wouldn’t do for anyone of us…upstairs or down. Why, she’s even been a good friend to my fiancée, helpin’ Gamilla with out weddin’, talkin’ with her the things what girls talk about. Most fine ladies wouldn’t look twice at Gamilla, let alone speak to her—her bein’ a nanny and African and all. But, Miss Lennie is different. Many’s the time I’ve had a nice honest talk with her me-self. And, when our Jenny was…taken from us…and our Ethlel were so sick and lost over it, it were Miss Lennie what stayed up all night with the girl, nursin’ ‘er, talkin’ to ‘er, holdin’ ‘er while she cried. A scullery maid, Mr. Donnan. And, Miss Lennie bein’ a fine lady, sister to a Duke. She’s a good woman. You done right by her the day you gave her ‘way. And, you’ll do right by her now to stay out of her affairs.”
“I just want to see she’s safe and happy. Aye, that’s all I want.”
“You did…once.” Gerard replied. “And, that’s all you need do. She is safe and happy.”
“But, there’s men sniffin’ ‘bout.”
“It’s too late for that to concern ya, Mr. Donnan.” Gerard shook his head. “Miss Lennie’s a grown woman. But, if it eases your heart, I’ll tell ya that His Grace and Dr. Halifax keep a careful and keen eye on the lady. They’ll not let anyone use her ill. And, I will say, from what I know, the man what’s her suitor is known to be a fine and honest man. A peer of England, he is. One known to be kind and gentle. And, should it go as he wants, and they marry, then, you’ll daughter would be Lady Cleaversworth. Now, wouldn’t that be fine for ya? To know by givin’ the girl away you gave her a chance to be a Lady.”
Mr. Donnan nodded.
“Now, Mr. Donnan, I know you claim to be a changed man, and, sure, we seen it in ya these past two times you’ve come ‘round. I don’t wish to be harsh with ya, but I will insist that you stay away from Miss Lennie. Your time with her is long past.”
“It’s not just the fancy doctor and the barmy Duke what look after her, is it?” Johnny Donnan sighed.
“No.” Gerard shook his head.
“You and your Mrs. Pepper, and I s’pect the Italian man and everyone else here—they’re all gonna keep ‘er well?”
“I can promise ya that.” Gerard said. “See, we’re loyal. The Duke makes us feel as though we’re his equal. He believes it to be true. And, for that, we’ll always be loyal to all of ‘em upstairs.”
“Ain’t like most houses.” Mr. Donnan grumbled. “The Duke’s like his pa, then.”
“Poor man. Pauline…errrr…the Duchess…always treated him poor. And me…let him be cuckolded in his own ancestral home.” He cleared his throat. “I’m a hateful man.”
“I think you have been.” Gerard nodded. “But, maybe you ain’t now.”
“Maybe.” Mr. Donnan. “But, I still got hate in me heart. I walk past that house each day and think sinful things.”
“Where the lady was hanged.”
“Hamish House?” Gerard replied.
“I could see that. I done a sinful thing there me-self.”
“Cut off the hand of Orpha Polk.” Gerard nodded.
“Did ya, then?” Mr. Donnan smiled. “Each day, I think of cuttin’ off her head.”
Gerard shook his head.
“Did ya, really, then?” Johnny chuckled.
“I did, only I ain’t proud of it.” Gerard replied.
“Every day, every day I look for poor Mr. Stover. And, every day, I walk the same places. I see that house and know that woman is inside. That Orpha. And, I think maybe I ought to go in there and do to her what she done to my Finlay. No, maybe she didn’t push him in that well herself, but it were her sick ways what done it.”
“Sure enough.” Gerard answered. “Only it ain’t worth makin’ yourself a murderer.”
“I’m already as bad as a man can be. One more sin ain’t gonna make a difference.”
“Just don’t, Mr. Donnan.” Gerard said sternly.
“Aye.” Johnny sighed. He rose from his chair. “I’d best go. Late for my search. Went from stalkin’ deer to stalkin’ Mr. Stover.” He shook his head. “Thanks for your kindness, and pass my regards to your Mrs. Pepper for the vittles.”
“I’ll tell her.” Gerard answered.
“You needn’t say an’thing to Miss Ellen. I mean, Miss Lennie. You know, ‘bout me bein’ here.”
“I wasn’t plannin’ on it.” Gerard nodded.
“Didn’t think ya were.” Johnny shook his head. He paused and cleared his throat.
“No, laddie. No.” He glanced up at the service stairs. “Ain’t no more for me to say.”
Did you miss Chapters 1-315 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 317.