Punch, with considerable restraint considering his anger, took in his hand the handle of the massive bronze door-knocker and pounded it soundly--its lion-face looking back tauntingly.
"I thought surely someone would have been out to greet us." Robert whispered anxiously to Lennie who shifted her weight uncomfortably. They were both aware that Punch had moved well past annoyed and into the territory of rage.
Behind them stood Gamilla and Gerard. Gamilla held Colin and Dog Toby stayed close to her ankle, uncertain of this new location. Ethel clung to Gamilla, lightly pressing her shoulder into the nanny's back. Gerard, in his usual manner, grinned--amazed by the lack of a welcome for the returning Duke--the master of Fallbridge Hall--and eager to see how Punch was going to handle the situation.
Charles and Violet stood nearby. Violet looked peeved.
"Her Ladyship's hair's bein' blown all about, and she'll catch a chill."
"Not for long, she won't." Charles winked at Vi with whom he'd been enjoying a recent flirtation.
Just to their left stood Mrs. Pepper and her son, George, and Maudie.
"Maybe we'd ought to 'ave gone around to the Servants' 'All." Mrs. Pepper said softly. "Don't seem right, us standin' at the front door o' this stately palace."
"Mum, his Grace told us that if they weren't ready for him, they're surely not ready for us downstairs." George replied.
"I think His Grace is right. Besides, I feel a bit better bein' near Himself and Lord Colinshire." Maudie nodded her agreement.
They all jumped as Punch pumped the knocker again.
He turned to Robert and mouthed, "Bugger!"
Stepping forward, Robert put an affectionate hand on Punch's shoulder. "I know this is quite unacceptable, my dear. I'm not sure what else we can do besides wait."
"I can kick in that window there and bash in that bleedin' butler's skull." Punch whispered.
"We can save that idea for later, dear Punch." Robert teased.
Finally, the door opened--slowly and with a chilling groan. And, there stood Jackson, the butler. Gray of both hair and skin, the only bit of color on the man was a faint roadmap of veins upon his hawk-like nose.
"Sir?" The man mewed. "You're earlier than I expected."
"Evidently," Punch narrowed his eyes, speaking in his best imitation of Julian, the persona with which Jackson was most familiar.
"Oh, dear." Jackson sighed, still not moving aside to let his master pass. "Are these the servants you brought from London. They should have been deposited on the south side."
"Since you were clearly surprised by my arrival, despite the six weeks' worth of missives I've sent you, I rather thought they'd have been turned away should they have appeared suddenly at the Servants' Hall door." Punch replied.
"Of course." Jackson nodded. "They may go there now." He opened the door wider, but didn't step aside. Instead he called over his shoulder to a young man--a slender chap with fawn-colored hair--who stood nearby in livery. "William! Bring Lord Fallbridge's baggage to his old rooms."
"No." Punch said firmly. "William--you will stay where you are."
Stepping forward so that Jackson would move, Punch entered Fallbridge Hall. As the sight of the vaulted marble passage struck him, he felt a bit dizzy, but his anger was enough to steady himself.
"Everyone follow me." Punch said without turning around.
"The staff should enter through the south..." Jackson began.
"Silence." Punch said simply. "They will enter through the door of my choice and I prefer to see where they are so that I can ensure that my guests are given proper treatment."
"Your Lordship," Jackson began again, but, again, was interrupted.
"To begin with, Jackson, I am the Duke of Fallbridge and to address me as anything less is insulting."
"Old habits, Sir."
"You will refer to me as 'Your Grace.'" Punch continued. "Furthermore, as I explicitly instructed in my many letters, I will not occupy my old rooms. Lord Colinshire..." He gestured to Robert, "and I will occupy the Turquoise Suite at the north of the house."
"Both of you?" Jackson gasped.
"Both of us." Punch replied.
"Those rooms are usually reserved for..." Jackson started.
"For what? I am the master of the house. I will not be told where I shall sleep. Nor will I be told with whom I shall share my rooms."
He paused and pressed his hands together.
"Now, if you'll recall," Punch continued, "I specified that Lady Fallbridge..."
"Lady Fallbridge?" Jackson squinted.
"My sister." Punch replied, indicating to Lennie.
"I imagine she will be put in Lady Barbara's old rooms." Jackson nodded.
"Did you not read anything which I sent?" Punch snapped. "Also, you're to address my sister as 'Her Ladyship' as she was created as such by the Queen herself. The Queen who is, I shall remind you, my dear friend." He inhaled. "Lady Fallbridge will occupy the Coral Suite."
"Those are Her Grace's rooms!" Jackson exclaimed.
"Her Grace is dead." Punch said plainly. "My mother won't be needing the accommodations any more. In fact, she's presently in a borrowed vault somewhere in America. This is no longer her house. As I reminded you earlier, I am the Duke of Fallbridge. I wish for my sister to occupy the Coral Suite."
"Yes, Your Grace." Jackson said flatly.
"As for the nursery accommodations, I'll remind you, since you have no recollection of any of my instructions--Mr. and Mrs. Gurney will occupy the adjoining rooms near my son."
Jackson looked at Gamilla. "Where is Mr. Gurney."
"Aye" Gerard waved.
"You?" Jackson scoffed. "You are wed to an African?"
"You'd do well to stop speaking now," Punch spoke up.
"Very well, Your Grace." Jackson said softly.
"First, I'd like William to bring my and His Lordship's bags to our rooms. I shall show Her Ladyship to her suite. Mr. Gurney and Mr. Iantosca will help William sort through them."
"Of course," Jackson nodded. "William will serve as your valet while Your Grace is here."
"No he will not." Punch shook his head. "No offense to William, but Mr. Iantosca will serve me while Mr. Gurney serves Lord Colinshire. Violet will continue in her role as Her Ladyship's maid."
"Sir, Ivy has always been Her Grace's maid."
"Again, Jackson, my mother is dead. She doesn't need her hair arranged." Punch spat. "If I were you, Jackson, I'd summon some other footmen to help with the baggage."
"What shall I do, then, Your Grace."
"You will take the staff to their accommodations. I will inspect them before day's end, Jackson, and if my staff is not made comfortable, as I specified, I will have to take action."
Jackson stood flabbergasted.
"Do you understand?" Punch asked.
"Yes, Your Grace."
"And, Jackson...I know you've taken care of the estate in my absence since my mother's death, and I know you've given thirty or more years of your life to serving this family, but I shan't hesitate to dismiss you if my specifications aren't met. You were given ample time and ample instruction. Is that clear?"
"Yes, Your Grace."
"Now, we've wasted enough time on that nonsense. Lennie, Robert, if you'll come with me, I'll show you to our rooms."
"Good show." Robert whispered.
Lennie nodded silently.
Punch turned and addressed his staff, his friends. "All of you should feel free to come to me with any problem while here, and, do believe me when I say I'll be checking on your rooms shortly."
They smiled back at him.
"Tea will be at four, Your Grace, in the Drawing Room." Jackson said weakly.
"It will be at five." Punch sighed. "In the library. Jackson, do go back and read my letters. My specifications are quite simple to follow. Or, at least, I thought they were."
Come back tomorrow for Chapter 3 of A Recipe for Punch.