Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 340
"I told 'im I'd stay." Punch sighed as he joined Lennie on the long wooden settee outside of Robert's office.
"I'm sure he was trying to spare you, brother dear." Lennie replied.
"Ulrika, to begin." Lennie patted her brother's knee. "And, well, Punch, the child is not...he is not a jewel to behold when he's well, worse still now."
"Everyone calls him a monster." Punch sighed. "But, ain't that what I am?"
"You, dear?" Lennie shook her head. "How could you say such a thing? You are hardly anything of the sort. Just moments ago, the entire household was gathered and I saw the admiration, nay, even affection in the eyes of everyone who looked at you."
"Even a monster's got folk what love 'im."
"Punch, what's brought this about?" Lennie leaned in. "Such talk isn't like you."
"Oh, it is." Punch replied. "Maybe not the talk, but the ideas what fuel it."
"I s'pose it were when Ulrika brought the child...Marduk...up the stairs and she were callin' 'im 'them' and 'it' and 'im,' like she weren't sure what he was."
"Well, as Robert explains the condition, Marduk is two children who were joined together before birth."
"Oh, I know." Punch sighed. "That's what science says. And, it's true, it is." He inhaled. "I don't doubt it for a minute. Only that tells us why. See, I'm not so worried 'bout why things are what they are. I just accept 'em and then want to learn what to do 'bout it. Sometimes, for me, ain't no use in knowin' why. But, Robert, it's 'is business to know why. So, that's why we're a good pair. Nevertheless, Lennie, knowin' why don't give the creature a name. And, it's sad to me that it might die without a name. You saw when Ulrika brought them up. Them babies is sick, they is. Real sick. Ain't gonna make it. What'll 'appen? They'll die without a name?"
"They call them Marduk." Lennie said gently. "You know that, brother dear."
"I know." Punch nodded. "Ain't what I mean. Whether they call 'em Marduk or Michael and Micah, don't make no difference. There ain't really a name for what they are. Ain't a name for the condition what makes 'em what they are. Seems unfair."
"Robert says such children are known as 'Siamese Twins.'"
"But, that ain't a fair name, Lennie." Punch shook his head. "Them twins--Marduk or whatever name they've been given--ain't no more from Siam as I am."
Lennie smiled. "Normally you'd chuckle at such word play."
"Normally, I would."
"Why are you so concerned about Marduk?" Lennie asked.
"They're livin' things. What's been mistreated. Unfairly kept and held in false piety. So much so that it's killin' 'em. I have no ill feelings for the babies. Only for the women what done them harm. And...and, they make me think o' me-self. Like I said, I'm as much as a monster."
"That's what things are called when we don't know what they are. Yes?" Punch interrupted.
"Well, when something is horrible, perhaps." Lennie responded. "However, you're not the least horrible."
"Ain't I?" Punch asked.
"No. Certainly not."
"Maybe you don't think so. Maybe me and Robert don't neither. Nor even them fine folk downstairs. But, I...well, Julian's...heard this body called horrible and worse. Unnatural, abomination, sick, perverse."
"What's a bloke meant to do, Lennie?" Punch asked.
Lennie shook her head.
"A bloke is meant to labor and marry a girl and give 'er babies. Yes?"
"But, that's what folks think all men are."
Lennie shrugged. "People of limited thought."
"Most people, then." Punch nodded. "But, what've I done? I didn't marry a girl. I give me love to another bloke."
"It's not unheard of. Two of my own Barrett cousins are just like you and Robert."
"And are thought of the same as me and Robert are, no doubt."
"Again, by those with limited sense." Lennie looked into her brother's eyes. "That one aspect of you, Punch, has not limited your worth as a man. You're a wonderful companion, an excellent father to Colin, a beloved employer, a respected jeweler, a perfect brother and, even, a favorite of the Queen."
"Her Majesty and you and Robert and them nice folk downstairs, you all love me. And, I'm glad of it. But, it don't change the fact that I'm whispered about in Westminster. I've seen the sneers on the faces of the others in the House of Lords. I hear the murmurs. Sure, Colin will know me as a father, but I ain't really his father. I'm 'is uncle. Folk know he ain't really my son."
"The same blood flows through your veins."
"Don't stop the blokes at Parliament from lookin' 'way when I walk by."
"You're in important member of the court. You're one of the wealthiest men in England, and you're among the most prestigious of the peerage. No matter what there will always be murmurs and rumblings when you pass. It's the cost of fame and power."
"And because, just like Marduk, there's no word for what I am. Ain't no term. Nothin' that's polite to say anyway. Me nor Robert nor Roger nor any of us. Ain't no term like woman nor man. Nothin'. It's like bein' nothin'. Just like Marduk. Siamese twins? Ain't no way to call them poor sick babies. So, we're unknown. We're monsters. And, to make it more...more...complicated, I'm mad on top of it all."
"You are not mad." Lennie said firmly.
"Ain't I though?"
"If you were to go out into the square or anywhere else in Belgravia or Mayfair, Lennie, you'd hear otherwise."
"You're different. Not mad."
"My dear sister. I'm the Duke of Fallbridge. But, I'm also not. I'm a man what has the thoughts and feelings of a puppet character made up from some Italian comedy two centuries ago. And, I also have the thoughts and feelings of Julian Molliner, the real Duke of Fallbridge. And, that's not even mentionin' the others...Scaramouche, Guignol, Kasperl...others. I'm a splintered man."
"You're a jewel with many facets."
"Sweet of you, but it still don't give it a name. Just like bein' a man what loves other men, bein' a man of many...facets...it don't got a name. 'Cept maybe 'madness.' Also not a pretty word. But, just like the other things, just like Marduk, even, I know there's others what're like us. Your Roger, he's like me. In some ways. In other ways, he ain't."
"Why must everything be assigned a term? A genus, a species? Why? Isn't it enough that you're Mr. Punch? You're Robert's companion, Colin's father, my brother, a friend to many, a brilliant artist and kind, gentle man? You are your own definition."
"For now." Punch nodded. "But, I got four decades just 'bout behind me. How many more will I have? Four more, if I'm lucky. And, when that's done, and centuries pass, what'll be left?"
"The history of your many wonderful acts and deeds. The jewels you've created for Their Majesties. Your name attached to your ancestral land. You are always to be remembered as the Ninth Duke of Fallbridge. You have your place in history."
Punch inhaled and spoke in Julian's voice as if reading from a history book. "Julian, the Ninth Duke of Fallbridge, Earl of Molliner in Aberdeenshire, son of Sir Colin Molliner, survived by Colin, Tenth Duke of Fallbridge, and his half-sister Ellen, Lady Fallbridge, noted personal jeweler to Their Majesties Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Member of Parliament and patron of many guilds and charities. The Duke never married and is thought to have suffered from an unnamed madness." He switched back to his own voice. "Dear Lennie, that's how it'll read. It's a damn lot finer than what'll be said of Marduk when some scientist in Nineteen Hundred and Eighty looks upon his sad, preserved bones. If there is a notation, it might read, 'fused twins, 1853.' In short, both epitaphs translate to 'monster.'"
"I simply don't understand this." Lennie shook her head.
"Everythin' deserves a name. Sure, men like Robert, it's their lot to know why, but it falls to us to say what. The world hates mystery. It fears the strange. I want what I am, all that I am, to have a name. So, some day, my son can say, 'My father survived this. My father was that.' When somethin' ain't unknown, it ain't scary."
"I see." Lennie nodded.
"Words like 'abomination' and 'freak' will fade in time if we replace 'em with finer words, more accurate words. If instead of hidin' Marduk 'way and deludin' themselves into thinkin' he's some kind of demon god, Orpha should have brought 'im out, gotten 'im help, shown folk that they don't need to be 'fraid o' 'im." He looked fondly at Lennie. "You can't tell me that when we first met in Scotland, you wasn't scared o' me."
"I was timid. But, I was timid in all situations."
"You thought me mad."
"But, I quickly saw past that. I saw who you are. I saw you as Mr. Punch, and also recognized that you were many entities in one, fine package. I saw your goodness, your gentleness. At first, I simply didn't..." She paused.
"I didn't understand...at first. So, I was afraid." Lennie said softly.
"Because you had no name for it. You had nothin' to identify why I spoke how I spoke. Sure, your cousins was like me and Robert, and even Roger was a bit like me...in the head, but...you had no...no reference for me."
"However, if you could have said, 'I am your brother and this is my condition...'" She sighed. "I understand now. I can understand what's troubling you."
"And, now, right now--there's that poor pair of children in my Robert's study, probably dyin' before the eyes of that awful Ulrika Rittenhouse, who's probably enjoyin' it, and there ain't no way for either of those two mouths to say the words, 'I am...' It's tragic, it is."
"I concur, brother dear." Lennie nodded. "However, I will not hear again that you are a monster. You show me every day, especially this very moment, that you are a creature of pure kindness."
"You wouldn't think so if you knew what I was thinkin'."
"You want to go in there and club Ulrika over the head with something heavy." Lennie smiled.
"I'm beginning to think that particular response is more of a family trait than it is anything to do with Punchinello antics." Lennie winked.
"There's no good in our sitting our here." Lennie continued. "Let's go upstairs to the nursery and see Colin. He's surely just finished his bath and all warm and sweet. No doubt Dog Toby is seated at his side. Their smiles will do us both good."
"Yes." Punch stood and offered his hand to his sister.
"And, Punch, no matter what else, there is a word for you, a word that means more than any other minute aspect of your mind or body."
"Good." Lennie smiled.
Did you miss Chapters 1-339 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 341.