Friday, March 21, 2014

A Recipe for Punch, Chapter 80

Chapter 80

"This is wholly unacceptable!"  Punch shouted at Mr. Hargrave.

"Dunno what to say, Your Grace."  The estate agent replied.  

"You should say, Hargrave, that you will cooperate."  Punch replied.  Though exhausted, he was able to maintain an aristocratic air to mask his own speaking voice.

"I should like to very much, Your Grace, only I can't see going to ask the men on the farms to stop their work to search for two footmen who've gone off."

"It isn't just the two footmen,"  Robert interrupted.  "It's also His Grace's aunt."

"Honestly,"  Lennie chimed in, "you are impertinent to even suggest that you will not do as His Grace says."

"What you don't understand, M'Lady, and Your Lordship is that His Grace is asking these men to set aside their livelihood in order to serve those in the Hall."

"They do serve me!  They work this land because I allow it!"  Punch growled.  "Have they, and have you, forgotten the arrangement?  That is how these estates function!"

"These men have their pride, Your Grace.  Also...well, there's not a lot of good feeling for the...for them in the Hall."  Hargrave replied with a smirk.

Punch inhaled and studied the man--tall and lean with an air of impertinence permanently etched in the lines of his sun-browned face.  "That isn't my doing, Hargrave.  That owes largely to you and whatever edicts set forth by my mother in the past.  As I have had to explain to everyone here more than once since we have arrived--my mother is dead!  I am the master now."

Robert and Lennie exchanged an anxious look. Robert knew Lennie was recalling the horrible sight she endured when the specter of their mother appeared to her.  Dead, yes--she was.  Nonetheless, the late Duchess was still very present.

"Now, I insist that you go the the farms and gather the men to search the estate for my aunt and for William and George!"  Punch said firmly.

"I'll do as you say, Your Grace, only I can't think they'll be too keen on it--especially when I tell them what your aunt is."

"What is our aunt?"  Lennie stepped forward.  "No one has said anything about her other than that she's missing.  We've given you no description of her.  So, I'm curious, Mr. Hargrave, what it is that you think?  Will the farmers object because of the circumstances of her relationship to the family?"

Knowing he'd been cornered, Hargrave stiffened.  "No, M'Lady."

"So, you refer, then to the physical appearance of my aunt?"  Lennie narrowed her eyes.

"Yes."  Hargrave answered.

"What do you know if it?"  Robert spoke up.  

"We all know what she is, Sir."  The man smirked.

"How is that?"  Punch bellowed.  

Hargrave was silent.

"You are complicit with Jackson in this, aren't you?"  Punch demanded.  "You and Jackson and Ivy Blessum.  Who else, Hargrave?  What has Jackson told you?  Did you help him with his ghoulish crime when my mother died?  Did you assist in the purchase of another human being from a traveling show?  Did you?  What have you and Jackson been about?  Did you help keep that poor soul, my aunt, locked away.  Tell me all about what you and Jackson have been conspiring to do!"

"I haven't said a thing about Mr. Jackson."  Hargrave replied.  "All I know is that he's been dismissed from the Hall.  What business have I with Mr. Jackson?  It isn't as if my work requires that I converse with the butler of the Hall.  I'm the land agent.  My doings have nothin' at all to do with the great house."

"You're cut from the same cloth as Jackson."  Lennie frowned.  "Both full of too many words and no substance.  Have you forgotten that His Grace was raised in this house?  Have you forgotten that he knows how the lot of you function."

"M'Lady, I don't know what you mean.  I know that His Grace spent most of his life here.  I watched him grow from a young man to what he is now, and I know that he abandoned the estate for a life in London."

Punch sputtered.  "How dare you?  I didn't abandon anything!"

"Only I've not had any words with Mr. Jackson of late."  Hargrave continued as if the Duke hadn't spoken.  "Nor have I spent much time with the man prior to his dismissal.  The running of the Great House has nothing to do with the running of the estate.  What business had I with Mr. Jackson?  He looks at me as a dirty worker, that one--even though I outrank him here.  Whatever would he wish to tell me, looking down on me so?"

"I can think of a good many reasons Jackson would speak to you--especially given that you were both so loyal to my late mother."  Punch replied.

"He's trying to deflect us from our point."  Lennie grumbled.

"No, M'Lady, I am not."  Hargrave said.  "I'm only stating my innocence in the face of many accusations.  Whatever business Mr. Jackson had with His Grace's aunt is none of my concern.  He did not look to me for approval, after all."

"However, he has told you of His Grace's aunt?"  Robert asked.

"People talk on the estate.  The goings on in the great house are a source of entertainment.  Your Grace, don't you think that when the likes of your Aunt was set up in such a fine suite of rooms after seemin' to come from nowhere that the maids would talk?  They've seen her now, Your Grace.  They know what she is.  Maids talk.  They talk to the farm wives who tell their husbands."

"A weak answer."  Punch hissed.  "You have known well before this."  He looked to Robert.  "I don't know why I'm shocked that the corruption extends all the way to the ends of the estate."

"Go now, Mr. Hargrave, and do was you've been instructed."  Lennie waved her hand in disgust.  "Our own men will be following behind you soon enough to see to it that you've done what we asked of you."

"Mark my words,"  Punch added, "Every eye on this estate will be looking for my aunt and those two young men."

"Yes, Your Grace."  Hargrave smiled.

"Meanwhile,"  Punch raised a brow, "I'll look to meet you again today.  Let's say in an hour.  I shall be paying a visit to the vicarage.  I trust that you and Causer will meet us there."

"The vicarage, Your Grace?"  Hargrave looked away quickly, and, then, set his face into as bucolic an expression as possible for such a leathery visage. 

"Yes.  In one hour."  Punch nodded.  "Now, go."

Hargrave  nodded, squeezing his soft hat in his hand, and hurried off.

"They're all thick with the stench of their corruption."  Punch spat once the man had left.

"We can't trust him."  Lennie shook her head.

"No.  We can't trust any of those who served the Duchess."  Robert sighed.

"Once again, it falls on us, it does,"  Punch grumbled, speaking as himself.  

Did you miss Chapters 1-79 of A Recipe for Punch?  If so, you can read them here.  Come back on Monday for Chapter 81.

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