Monday, March 3, 2014
A Recipe For Punch, Chapter 69
"Oy!" Gregory grinned from the shadows. "I'n't late for you lads to be out?"
"Pay 'im no mind." George whispered to Freddy.
"Come here." Gregory said firmly.
"He's got no authority." George hissed. "Just keep walking."
Freddy Perkins laughed. "Go on, mate, he might know where to find a bit o' fun." He tromped through the bushes toward Gregory.
"He and his lot are nothin' but trouble." George whispered.
"Maybe that's what I'm after." Freddy replied.
Reluctantly, George Pepper followed his new friend. He muttered. "I didn't even want to come out in the first place."
Gregory stood, squarely framed in one of the many archways which lined the west facade of Fallbridge Hall. Smoke twirled around his face from the cigarette his was smoking, forming a strange pattern of tracery about his roughly handsome features like a crude stained glass window honoring a fallen saint.
"Ever had one of these?" Gregory gestured with his cigarette toward Freddy. "The duchess brought some back years ago from Paris. She loved 'em. She liked to watch me smoke 'em. She liked to watch me do a lot of things. I'm never without tobacco now. Want one?"
"Sure, mate." Freddy reached out, "If you're offerin', I'm takin'."
"There's a lad." Gregory nodded. "What about you, Pepper?"
"No." George frowned. "His Lordship frowns on tobacco. Says it causes rods and nodes in the lungs."
"Course he does, the nancy." Gregory laughed.
"He's a doctor. He ought to know." George scowled.
"Steady on, mate." Freddy chuckled.
"It don't matter, Perkins. Pepper don't like me much." Gregory smirked. "Your name is Perkins, right?"
"It's me own fault," Gregory continued. "I wasn't too kind when ya came. Not to you nor your girls. You know how it is, you work in a great house for so long, the mistress dies, you're on your own for awhile and then the new master comes back. But, instead of trustin' us what's been here for so long, he brings all his people from London."
"There's good reason not to trust you." George snapped.
"Shove off, mate, the man's tryin' to apologize. Least ya could do is be kind." Freddy scoffed.
"It's all right, Perkins. Their lot's against me. Ain't my fault I was ill used by Jackson and the rest." He feigned a slightly hurt expression.
Freddy raised his eyebrows as if to make George feel worse.
"Cor," George shook his head. "Fine. I accept your apology. I s'pose it's been hard for all o' us. Seems there's much goin' on upstairs that's makin' it strained all over."
"And, none of it concerns us." Freddy replied. "I don't get involved with whatever the earl does. That's the trouble with your household, George. The duke wants to be friends with all of ya. He and his queer lot ain't your friends. You're paid to clean up their mess. You should be free to live your own life--which is just why I made ya come out with me tonight."
"However did you get him to sneak out?" Gregory smiled.
"It wasn't easy." Freddy sighed. "Once they all went to bed, I all but had to pull him down the stairs. He was goin' on about some Miss Blessum and how the Duke was upset 'bout her bein' free in the house somewhere."
Gregory raised his eyebrows. "Is she?"
"Yeah." George narrowed his eyes.
Freddy didn't seem to notice. "But, I told 'im, it ain't none of our concern. Don't matter to us. I don't care if the earl slips into Her Ladyships bedchamber or if the Duke and His Lordship put on fancy dress and sing 'Finnegan's Wake.' Or even if that lobster woman they got hidden up there goes on a spree and chops up the lot of 'em. I ain't bothered. I'm only in it for me."
Gregory grinned broadly. "I like you, lad." He leaned in. "So...you boys are lookin' for some fun, are ya?"
"Are we ever?" Freddy perked up.
"What of you, Pepper?" Gregory winked.
"Sure, sure." George inhaled.
"You came to the source." Gregory licked his lips. "If you can manage it."
"Don't you worry." Freddy guffawed.
Offering his lit cigarette to Freddy, he growled, "Here, lad, light up."
As Freddy puffed away, Gregory put his broad hand on George's shoulder. "You and me, Pepper, we're gonna be fast friends like we shoulda been from the start."
"Are we?" George replied.
Gregory nodded slowly.
"There's all sorts o' things a man like me can do for a lad like you, Pepper. All I ask is that you do for me in return."
"What've I got to offer you?"
"Plenty." Gregory answered. "Where it counts."
"I don't know what you mean."
"Sure ya do." Gregory nodded, glancing up to the great house.
"His Grace and His Lordship, and Her Ladyship...they all been so good to me."
Gregory frowned. "You scrape the horse shit from their boots. You touch all the things that their fine, soft fingers are too fine to touch. If you didn't do it, they'd use a stick, and, then they'd toss it away."
A wild fit of gagging and choking arose as Freddy inhaled his first drag of tobacco smoke.
"This is fine," He spat.
"I can see," Gregory nodded. He turned back to George.
"They care for me," George replied. "His Grace and the family, they care for me and my mum."
"Sure, I know." Gregory nodded. "As long as you do what they need. But, when happens when your mum gets too old to cook them fine meals? What happens if you hurt yourself and can't so your job?"
"Both Charles and Gerard have been hurt and His Lordship doctored 'em up and let 'em..."
"Yeah, but they're valets. What are you?"
"I'm in trainin'."
"For what? Gerard and Charles are young and strong. They ain't goin' nowhere. You'll be to old by the time they step aside. You'll have wasted your life. Tossed aside like a stick."
Coughing and sputtering, Freddy tried to look as if he smoked all the time. "Are we gonna talk all night or are we gonna do somethin'? I gotta be up at the crack o' dawn."
"As do we all, Perkins." Gregory answered dryly.
"Well, then?" Freddy cleared his throat.
"You haven't said what you're after, lad." Gregory responded, trying not to lose his temper.
Freddy blushed. "If you're askin', mate, do ya know where to find some notch?"
"Do I?" Gregory laughed.
"I don't want to go to a noggin' house or nothin'." Freddy coughed.
"I ain't never had to pay for a lady's attentions." Gregory smiled.
"Let's go then." Freddy rasped.
"If our George is ready." Gregory replied with false politeness. "Are you ready, George Pepper? Are you ready to start your life as a man?"
Did you miss Chapters 1-68 of A Recipe for Punch? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 70.