"Dear Punch," Robert said softly pulling down the heavy blankets on Punch's side of the bed. "Don't you think it's time you came to bed?"
"Oh, I will, Chum." Mr. Punch responded.
"What are you about over there in your dim corner?" Robert asked.
"Just readin' today's post."
"You never take an interest in the post," Robert chuckled. "That's my responsibility. I'll tend to it tomorrow."
"I won't be long." Punch shook his head.
"Is it from one of your suppliers?" Robert asked.
"Hmmm?" Punch muttered.
"That letter you're so focussed upon? Is it from one of your gem suppliers?"
"Oh. No." Punch shook his head absent-mindedly.
"Then, it can't be terribly important. Anyone of note is already here, and we've already received Fern's daily missive."
"It's from Jackson." Punch sighed.
"Jackson? Oh, yes. The butler at Fallbridge Hall. Just leave that for me, my dear. It's been a long day and you need your rest."
Punch looked up and frowned.
"You needn't worry. You and I have already worked out the staffing situation. Mrs. Pepper and Maudie will take over the kitchens. Gerard and Charles will valet for us as they do here. Violet will attend to Lennie. Georgie will work under Charles. Gamilla and Ethel have already organized the nursery. As for the existing staff at the Hall, Jackson no doubt has that already arranged."
"Chum, I ain't been to Fallbridge Hall since we went to America. I ain't been since I've...me and Julian 'ave been Duke of Fallbridge. I ain't been since..."
"Since your mother was killed." Robert nodded.
"What's more, I ain't been since I've been...me. It were Julian what controlled the body last we were there. There's a whole staff o' people what only know Julian. Ain't a one o' 'em what's met me, what's heard me speak, what knows what I'm like. Sure, our friends here--even the three new ones--they're used to me. They know I'm not 'mad,' just a funny fella who's wealthy enough to be eccentric an' not care what folk think. Jackson never much liked me when I was Julian, and he's sure not gonna like me if I talk and act as I am."
"You shouldn't care if the butler likes you." Robert smiled.
"It ain't just that." Punch sighed. "I'm gonna 'ave to pretend while we're there. I'm gonna 'ave to watch what I say and do. Ain't like it is here in London, Chum. Yorkshire's different. You think the gossip is bad here in Belgravia. Every member of every household there knows every little thing. They talk, they do. You and me...we're gonna 'ave to sleep in different rooms, and..."
"Oh, no. No we're not." Robert shook his head. "I'm not going to sleep anywhere other than next to you where I belong."
"My dear, you're the Duke of Fallbridge--the master of the house. You can do as you please there just as you do here."
"Here...here's me home. This is OUR home. There--it's still Mother's house. It'll always be. Jackson and the folk there all still follow her rules."
"Then, they'll have to stop. She's gone, dear Punch. You are the master."
Punch nodded slowly.
"It's not so much the staff that worries you." Robert got up from the bed and walked to Punch, putting his hands on his companion's shoulders.
"No." Punch shook his head. "Chum, I've tried, really, I have. For Lennie's sake. And, for yours. Lennie deserves to see the home what should 'ave been her girlhood home, to see where her mother lived."
"You're making a huge sacrifice to show her that, too. She's aware of it."
"I don't want 'er to be. She deserves to know. And Colin should see what'll one day be his when he's the Duke of Fallbridge. And you--what's mine is yours. You know that."
"But, it's more than beautiful land and soaring architecture, dear Punch. It's three decades of bad memories. Memories of your mother's cruelty. Memories of what you endured from Barbara and from Nanny Rittenhouse. Years of oppression that..."
"That made me what I am. All them parts...all them little things. Like a recipe. A recipe for Punch." He shook his head. "Not only do I gotta see and hear 'em all again, but I gotta also let Lennie know what she comes from. It's not all marble halls and a high ancestral name."
"She knows that very well."
"I just don't want to do anything what might hurt or disillusion 'er. She's so happy now, Chum."
"And, she'll continue to be. It can be whatever we make of it. You're not going back as reclusive, timid Julian. You're returning as strong, confident, talented, loving Mr. Punch. You can give Julian a chance to heal, and you can turn that palace to tragedy into as bright and brilliant a home as this one. What's more, my dear, you have me at your side. And, Lennie. Barbara is gone. Pauline is gone. Agnes is gone. Though their memories may hurt, they really can't touch you anymore."
"You're right." Punch nodded.
"I'm not saying that it will be easy, but I've seen you endure worse."
"Together, we 'ave. Yes."
"And together we shall stay." Robert smiled.
"Now, come to bed."
"Very well, Chum." Punch nodded. "Maybe you can tell me a story."
"That's not what I had in mind." Robert shook his head.
"Oh...you want me to tell you a story." Punch laughed.
Robert chuckled. "If you wish."
The last chapter of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 400, will be posted on Monday. And, then, the following week, we'll begin a new story as our friends travel to Fallbridge Hall in A Recipe for Punch.