Leather, Ribbons and Silk
White-faced, Robert locked the door to Jackson's pantry and explained to William and Gregory that under no circumstances, no one, not a soul, was to be admitted to the pantry.
"Your Lordship," Gregory protested, "We'll be needing silver for..."
"Use what's available upstairs." Robert interrupted.
"What with The Earl of Cleaversworth's arrival..." Gregory continued.
"Matthew." Lennie gasped. She stood behind Robert, supporting herself on Punch, who--frankly--was none-too-steady himself. "The Earl hasn't arrived yet, has he?"
"No, M'Lady. Not yet." William replied.
"Just see that no one enters that pantry." Robert said firmly. "William, I'm leaving you in charge of this. Gregory, if I hear that you've interfered, it's instant dismissal. If Jackson dares show his face downstairs, have him brought to His Grace at once."
"If you'll pardon me askin', Your Lordship," Gregory smiled, "His Grace, Your Lordship and M'Lady look all a bit sickly. Was there trouble in Mr. Jackson's pantry?"
"The sparkle in your eyes tells me that you know very well that there was." Robert growled. "That knowledge is the only reason we're still tolerating you."
With that, Robert offered an arm to Punch and an arm to Lennie and helped them both up the stairs and into the morning room.
Lennie lay across the long sofa, "I simply can't believe it," she whispered. "He is a ghoul."
"The very definition." Robert coughed. "But, how? I saw the woman interred myself. That must have been the voyage that Jackson made with the Land Agent and the Parson just after the Duchess was killed. They went to retrieve her."
"But why not properly bury her?" Lennie sat up slightly. "There's a crypt here, yes?"
"I believe so." Robert nodded. "Punch?"
Mr. Punch remained silent, standing rigidly by the hearth, his fingers curled into his palms, his back slightly hunched.
"I believe so." Robert continued. "Punch has mentioned it."
"Why keep her in a cupboard, propped up like some waxwork?" Lennie gagged a bit.
Robert shivered. "My brother was formerly employed at a waxworks. I saw nothing like that there."
"And, such lengths to preserve her." Lennie continued.
"Mostly failed. But, considering the state she was in when..." Robert stopped himself. "Lennie, I'm just sorry that the first time you saw your mother was..."
Lennie gulped. She looked to Mr. Punch, and, then to Robert again.
Robert nodded. "It's best to let him process this in his own way. I've learned not to press him. His is a complicated system of thoughts and minds."
"That's the trouble, Chum." Punch said finally. "I ain't processin' it. I can't. None o' us can. Julian's retreated entirely, he 'as. The others are silent. They're all too frightened. That leaves only me, an' I...I just..."
Robert rose from the chair where he was seated and took Punch's hands, straightening his fingers and rubbing warmth into them.
"She were dressed!" Punch shrieked. "Dressed like she were goin' to a ball!"
Robert put his arms around his companion who continued to scream.
"Her hair all done up like she wore it, and her favorite diamond clips in the curls. Shoes on 'er feet an' all! He put a fan in 'er 'and! All 'eld together with wires and strings. All 'eld up like...like..." Punch moaned..."Merciful...like a...like a puppet! All strung up from the top o' that cupboard, but..."
"Dear, dear Punch..." Robert said softly.
Lennie quickly rose to join Robert in consoling her brother.
"But, her neck and stretched from bein' hanged like she was. And, her, skin...and 'er eyes--they..." He shook violently. "Like leather. Like old leather! Like a saddle! Like the monster she was, all done up in ribbons and silk!"
"Don't think of it, dear Punch." Robert whispered.
"How can I not?" Punch rattled. He stepped backward. "With her, hangin' down there. I'll never be free of 'er." He turned to Lennie. "Oh, Lennie, dear, she were a 'orror. She were. She were a beast o' a woman. I tried to let you make up your own mind, to 'ave a picture o' the mother you wanted, but...Lennie..."
"I know, Punch, I know." Lennie began to cry. "Thank you for trying to give me that gift. However, I already knew."
"How could he do this? That Jackson! How could..." Punch stopped. "What was he gonna do? It were the same time what he brought that...corpse here that he brought Morgana here. What were he tryin' to do?!"
"I can't imagine." Robert shook his head.
"I'll bash in his skull, I will." Punch moaned. "Forgive me, my dears, but I will."
Lennie wiped away her tears. "Not if we find him first, brother dear."
Did you miss Chapters 1-45 of A Recipe for Punch? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 46.