Saturday, April 7, 2012

Mastery of Design: The Sèvres Egg Snuffbox, 1764-5

French, c. 1764
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Egg-shaped boxes like the one pictured above were very fashionable in the Eighteenth Century, especially in England, where they were often constructed of precious materials and porcelain to be used as snuffboxes or part of toilet sets.

Sèvres porcelain boxes shaped as eggs, however, are quite rare.  While the shape was popular in England, the French preferred more conventional shapes.  The few egg-shaped boxes produced in France were made for export to England.  This box was exported from France between 1764 and 1789, as shown by the gold marks.  We believe that it was a special commission for an English customer of the Sèvres factory.

The gold-mounted soft-paste porcelain box is painted in enamel colors with red oeil de perdrix on a pale blue ground.  Flower garland borders and a rosette at the top and bottom adorn the box and te gold mounts are chased with a guilloche and Greek key pattern.

The Art of Play: The Merrythought Mohair Chicken, 1935

Toy Chicken
Mohair and felt
Merrythought, 1935
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Britain’s Merrythought Toys first opened as an independent concern in 1930 with a factory in Ironbridge, Shropshire. However the Merrythought name first began in 1919 when one W.G. Holmes went into partnership with a G.H Laxton.  Together, they manufactured, in a small spinning mill, a special mohair yarn for the use in making toys.  When the toy factory opened in 1935, Merrythough poached man y of the employees from Chad Valley Toys.

Florence Atwood, Merrythoughts chief toy designer was hearing impaired and mute.  During a time when such persons often could not find employment, W.G. Holmes welcomed her into his concern.  There, she produced the entire range of toys for the first Merrythought line in 1931 and remained their chief designer for Merrythought until her death in 1949.

The company is still in operation.

Here, we see an early Merrythought toy in the form of a plush mohair hen with a beak, tail and feathers that are all made out of padded felt.  The Merrythought logo is sewn underneath on a cream label and reads, “MERRYTHOUGHT, HYGIENIC TOYS, MADE IN ENGLAND.”

At the Music Hall: Easter Parade, 1933

In your Easter bonnet
with all the frills upon it,
you'll be the grandest lady
in the Easter Parade!

I'll be all in clover,
and when they look you over
I'll be the proudest fella
in the Easter Parade!

On the Avenue, Fifth Avenue,
the photographers will snap us
and you'll find that you're
in the rotogravure.

Oh, I could write a sonnet
about your Easter bonnet
and of the girl I'm taking
to the Easter Parade!

Oh, I could write a sonnet
about your Easter bonnet
and of the girl I'm taking
to the Easter Parade!

"Easter Parade" is a popular song written by Irving Berlin in 1933.  The song was introduced by Marilyn Miller and Clifton Webb in the Broadway musical revue “As Thousands Cheer.”

More notably, the song was performed by Bing Crosby in the film “Holiday Inn” (1942), which featured an Irving Berlin song focused on each major holiday.  However, most famously, in 1948, the song was performed by Judy Garland and Fred Astaire in a musical film which borrowed the name of its song as the film’s title.  The film—a long-time Easter tradition—also stars the crazy-eyed, disturbing Ann Miller and her machine-gun taps as well as the icky Peter Lawford and…his overall ickiness.  The film is described as “the happiest musical ever made” and that characterization has nothing to do with the fact that Judy was high throughout the entire picture.

The song was also featured in the Rankin/Bass special “The First Easter Rabbit,” in 1976. 

Interestingly enough, Irving Berlin originally wrote the melody in 1917.  At the time he called it "Smile and Show Your Dimple."   It was a tremendous flop.  But, the melody was good and Berlin trotted it out again in ’33. 

Enjoy this version by Al Jolson as well as the "Easter Parade" trailer from 1948. 

History's Runway: The Doge's Corno Ducale, 1675-99

Corno Ducale
Venice, Italy
The Victoria & Albert Museum

For over a thousand years, from 700AD until 1797, the Italian city-state of Venice was ruled over by a chief magistrate who was known as the Doge. The Doge was chosen by a committee comprised of members of the leading aristocratic families of Venice.  This magistrate held the office for the duration of his life.  The Doge, among other perks, was given a special hat.  I think all leaders should have special hats.

The hat that we see here is an example of the “corno ducale,” a ceremonial crown which was worn by the Doge over a cap of fine linen which was known as a “camauro.”

These caps were hand-made by the nuns of the Convent of San Zaccaria.  A new cap was presented to the Doge every Easter Monday, following a procession from San Marco to the convent.  How nice!

This corno ducale dates between 1675 and 1699 and is made of gold silk and metal thread brocade.  The crown of the hat curves up into a smooth vertical protrusion at the back. The whole thing is trimmed with metal braiding. 

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 6

Chapter 6:
Childhood Friends

Ellen folded her hands in her lap and listened attentively as Dr. Halifax began his tale.

“For reasons that I don’t fully understand,”  the doctor started, “His Grace is…”  He paused and smiled, looking at the Duke who chuckled.

“I’m more than one person,”  The Duke interrupted cheerfully.

Ellen nodded slowly, trying to understand what they were saying to her.

“You see?”  The Duke asked with wide eyes.

“Not exactly, Sir.  I’m sorry.”  Ellen shook her head.

“Oh.  Bugger.”  The Duke sighed, clapping his hand over his mouth when he realized what he said.  “Oh, pardon me.”

“Not to worry, Your Grace.” Ellen chuckled.  “I have brothers.  I’ve heard many words that would make a lady blush.  It doesn’t bother me.”

Dr. Halifax cleared his throat.  “I don’t think we’ve explained ourselves very well.  You see, when His Grace was a boy, within his mind, another entity developed.  Whereas you and I awaken each morning knowing who exactly we are, his Grace could be one of two different people.”

“Or more,”  The muttered.

“For purposes of this discussion, we’ll just say, ‘two,’ dear Punch.”  Dr. Halifax smiled, patting his companion’s hand.

The Duke looked down at the child he still held.  He smiled.  “See, look how peaceful Colin is.  I’m so happy for it.  Only I never had that nor did me master…”

“Your master?”  Ellen asked.

“Julian—the Duke of Fallbridge.”

“Aren’t you the Duke?”  Ellen asked.

“Not entirely.”  The Duke replied.  “I’m ‘Mr. Punch.’”

“Ah.”  Ellen nodded though she didn’t understand.  “Where’s the Duke, then?”

“In here,”  Mr. Punch tapped his chest.

Ellen looked at Dr. Halifax who sighed again.  “The man you see before you—the physical body—is that of the Duke of Fallbridge.  And, as  such—as well as to avoid confusion in Society and downstairs—we refer to him as if he were the Duke.  However, the mind is that of a being known as ‘Mr. Punch.’”

“I understand,”  Ellen smiled.

“Do you?”  Dr. Halifax asked.

“Indeed, I do.”  Ellen replied.  “Sir, if you’ll pardon me for saying so, when I first met the Duke, I thought that he was like a man who was caught in between two thoughts, two worlds…”

“I am.”  Mr. Punch smiled.

“Your Grace, many of us—all of us, in fact—have different facets of our beings, our souls.  Sometimes we’re joyful, sometimes we’re silly, sometimes we’re angry or maudlin.  It’s as if these facets are different people.  As I see it, in you, these facets are more prominent, more developed—so much so that they have names and natures of their own.”

“Coo!  She does understand!”  Mr. Punch chirped.  “I gotta say, Miss Barrett, not many people do.  Ain’t that somethin’?”

“Yes,” Robert nodded with relief.  “And, I’m grateful for it.”

“May I be impertinent, Sir?”  Ellen asked.

“Given what we’ve just told you, I think that would be acceptable.”  Robert laughed.

“I see that His Grace is a decent, loving man.  Some might say that he’s mad for what you’ve just told me, but I don’t think so.  I think he’s, perhaps, more evolved than the rest of us.  Perhaps we’re the ones who are mad.”

Mr. Punch laughed loudly.

The doctor grinned.  “Perhaps.”

“I like to think that I am a good judge of people, gentlemen.”  Ellen continued.  “I can see the affection and devotion that you share and the love you feel for the child.  I will do whatever I must in order to protect the sanctity of that.”  Ellen said.  She blushed.  “I hope you don’t mistake my honesty for rudeness.  It is my downfall—this desire that I have to speak my mind.”

“Not at all.”  Robert shook his head.  “I respect you for it.  I’m glad that you’re the person to whom we’ve entrusted the care of our Colin.”

“Here, I am, too.”  Mr. Punch replied.  “Thank you.”

“Thank you for trusting me, Your Grace.”  Ellen replied.  “I will keep your secret.”

“Gamilla, Charles and Gerard know already.”  Robert nodded.  “The others do not.  We didn’t see any need to tell them.  As you say, some would think His Grace mad for this nature.  I saw need to risk such an error.”

“I shan’t mention it to anyone.”

“You can call me, ‘Mr. Punch,’ then.  When we’re not with the others,”  The Duke exclaimed joyfully.

“Well, Sir, I might.  However, I think it best that I adhere to protocol.  No matter your spirit, you are still the Duke of Fallbridge and should be treated with the respect owed to the station.”

“Oh,”  The Duke/Mr. Punch nodded.

“I agree, dear Punch.”  Dr. Halifax added, softly.

The Duke sighed.  Both the baby and the Dog Toby looked up at their “papa” to see if he was quite all right. 

“May I ask one final question, Your Grace?”  Ellen said quickly, so as not to lose her nerve.  

“I know, I shouldn’t ask.  I just can’t help myself.”

“Please,”  The Duke nodded.

“Why Mr. Punch?  Of all the other minds in the world that could have developed within you, why…”

“Why a puppet?”  His Grace grinned.

“Yes.”  Ellen nodded shyly, blushing.

“Hmmm…”  The Duke mumbled.  “I don’t know for certain, but when Julian were a little one—not that much older than Colin here—he had a friend that were a gift from our pa…”

Ellen squinted, trying to keep up.

Robert noticed that she wasn’t following.  “When His Grace was a boy, his father—Sir Colin Molliner, the explorer and archaeologist, gave him a puppet figure of Mr. Punch.”

The Duke nodded eagerly.  “That’s it.  He was me friend, he was, that puppet.”

“Is this the puppet?”  Ellen asked, pointing the figure which sat in the chair adjacent to hers.

“Oh no,”  Mr. Punch shook his head.  “That one, like I said, were a gift from me chums Cecil Adrienne and Marjani.  The first puppet—he was killed…lost…when I went to America.  But, me chums made me this one and I love him just as well.  But, that first puppet…well, little Julian, he’d talk to him, he would.  See, folk weren’t too nice to Julian.  He had a terrible nanny…”

Ellen’s eyes widened.

“Not at all like you,”  The Duke added quickly.  “That’s why we picked you.  See, I was awful fearful that Colin’d have a bad nanny, too.  So we was awful careful to make sure the governess were a nice lady like you.”

Ellen smiled.

“But, see,”  The Duke/Mr. Punch continued, “the nanny were terrible cruel to Julian, she was.  And, well…there was other folks what were also vicious.  And, Julian—we would talk to the puppet for it was his only friend.  Well, after awhile, the puppet—I  guess that’s me—began to talk back, I me master’s thoughts and such.  And, soon, I was there all the time, lookin’ out for Julian, me master, and makin’ sure that the things what could hurt him stayed far away.”

“How awful for you—both of you.”  Ellen answered, genuinely upset for the man.

“Julian weren’t even aware of it for a long, long time—not ‘til me chum here told him.”

“It’s true.”  Dr. Halifax smiled.  “I’d met His Grace on the ship to America.  However, I knew I’d met him before.  I had doctored him after he was attacked in Covent Garden, but when I did, he didn’t act as he did on the ship.  I realized that he was, in fact, two different people in one body.”

“Robert, he explained it all to me.”  Mr. Punch nodded.  “And, since then, we’ve been…”

“Inseparable.”  Robert completed the sentence. 

“I think that’s just lovely—truly, Sirs.”  Ellen sniffed, wiping a tear from her eyes.  “My eldest brother…”  She paused.

“Go on.”  Mr. Punch grinned.

“Well, let’s just say that he, too, has a companion—just like the two of you.”

“Oh!”  Mr. Punch exclaimed.  “How nice!  Is he two men in one as well?”

Ellen chuckled.  “No—he’s quite dull.  Just one man in one body.”

“Too bad,”  Mr. Punch clucked his tongue.

Robert glanced at the clock.  “It’ll be time for tea soon.”

“Oh, sure!”  Punch’s eyes widened hungrily.  “I love them wee sandwiches Mrs. Pepper makes.”  He let out a long, low laugh.  “Mrs. Pepper!  Ha!  Oh, I’ll never not find that amusing.”

Robert and Ellen chuckled, too.

“I shall take Colin to the day nursery.”  Ellen rose.

“Thank you,”  Robert nodded.  “Will you have nursery tea or join the others downstairs?”

“In the future, I’ll join the others, Sir.  And, I’ll certainly take supper with them. However, I think it’s best that I have nursery tea until Colin’s a little older.  I want to spend as much time with him as possible.”

“I think that’s just fine.”  Robert smiled.  “Miss Barrett…I don’t need to tell you…”

“No, Sir.”  Ellen shook her head.  “You do not.”

“Thank you,”  Robert grinned.

“Here, Ellen…sometime you should let me come up and have nursery tea with you and Colin.  I think that’d be just a lark!  Coo!”  The Duke chirped.

“You are always welcome in the nursery,  Your Grace.”  Ellen nodded.  “Now, if you’ll excuse me.”

“Right!”  The Duke replied.

“Good afternoon, Miss Barrett.”  Robert replied. 

On her way out, Ellen paused to take the list of Colin’s likes and dislikes from the japanned center table.  She folded it neatly and placed it in her apron pocket.  She, then, carefully and gently collected Colin from the Duke.  Holding the child close to her bosom, as she left the room, she could hear the Duke chattering to the doctor.

“I think we done right in tellin’ her, Chum.”

“I agree, dear Punch.”

“She’s a nice one, she is.  I think she’ll be a good friend to our Colin.  He’ll have the friend me master and I never had when we was little.  I think that’s fine.  Makes me happy, it does.”

“It pleases me, too, dear Punch.”  The doctor responded.

“And, it pleases me as well…”  Ellen whispered to herself as she walked up the stairs to the nursery.  “I shall be the best friend I can be.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-5?  If so, you can read them here.  Come back on Monday for Chapter 7 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square.  And, on behalf of His Grace/Mr. Punch, Robert, Ellen, Colin, Dog Toby, Mr. Speaight, Mrs. Pepper, Gamilla, Charles, Gerard and the rest of the staff at No. 65, I’d like to wish you a very Happy Easter!

Painting of the Day: Le Pardon de Plourin, Brittany, 1877

Le Pardon de Plourin, Brittany
Leon Lhermitte, 1877
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Painter Léon Lhermitte (1844-1925) was born in Mont-Saint-Père, but he didn’t remain in the little French town.  Lhermitte soon became a student at the Petite Ecole in Paris, under the supervision of Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran (1802-1897), who was responsible for instructing such famous names as Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904) and Alphonse Legros (1837-1911) among others.

Lhermitte exhibited at the Paris Salon between 1866 and the first decade of the 20th century. He was, notably, a founding member of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in 1890 and was made officer of the Légion d'honneur in 1894.

Lhermitte's is best known for his bucolic peasant scenes depicting scenes of everyday life.  Here, we see such a scene set outside of a church on the occasion of a religious feast called a “Pardon” which was celebrated during Easter. 

Lhermitte presents a charming scene of men and women in traditional dress.  They are chatting and buying fruits and cakes while leaving the church in a village which looks a lot like Mont-Saint-Père—the artist’s birthplace.  In fact, Lhermitte painted this work while visiting his home town in 1877.

This work was commissioned from the artist (as a pair) by Constantine Alexander Ionides around April 1877.  A letter in a private collection from Lhermitte in Paris to the famed collector Ionides is dated April 19 1877.  The letter mentions that one of his two pictures is finished and that the other would be ready in time for his next trip to London.

Object of the Day: An Antique Easter Card Featuring Mr. Punch

Embossed creamy yellow-lilies and an ornate cross-like pattern form the background of this Edwardian Easter card.  Made in the early Twentieth Century, the card is stamped 1912.  Three embossed Easter eggs adorn the phrase “Easter Greetings.”  As beautiful as these elements are, they are not what I like best about this wonderful card.  Obviously, I’m drawn to the little framed scene in the upper center.

Depicted are a group of children against a springtime backdrop.  They are engaged by a Punch & Judy show being performed in a blue and red striped fit-up.  But, it’s not Judy who joins our Mr. Punch.  It’s an enormous rabbit holding an Easter egg!  Actually, a giant rabbit does sometimes make an appearance in the Punch and Judy tradition—usually as a novelty or trick puppet.  But, here, he serves as the Easter Bunny. 

Mr. Punch, very correctly, has made a point to not hold his slapstick aloft.  In a show of politeness for the Easter Bunny, he cradles his stick in his arms, making sure the gargantuan rabbit doesn’t feel threatened.

The reverse of the card says simply, “Post Card” with no other information.

The card has been used and mailed.  Let me see if I can make out what has been written on it.

To:  Mrs. Mary Miller
R.R. #326, Ohio

Hello all, this is…

…errrr…Okay.  Sorry.  I can’t do it.  I can’t make it out.  Sorry.  In short, the writer wants someone named Norma to come visit.

Regardless of the indecipherable writing, the card is absolutely adorable.  

Friday, April 6, 2012

Mastery of Design: The Charles Ricketts Garnet Ring, 1899-1903

Garnet Ring in the shape of a castle
Charles Ricketts, c. 1903
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This ring once belonged to Miss May Morris, the daughter of the socialist, artist and designer William Morris.  May was, in her own right,  a well-known and talented embroideress and jeweler.

The artist Charles Ricketts designed this ring of a cabochon almandine garnet in a high setting in the form of a turret or small castle for May.  This architectural ring was favored by Miss Morris who was particularly impressed by the ring’s shoulders which resembled gothic buttresses.

Ricketts also created various embroidery designs for May Morris. The artist usually designed jewelry for specific friends. These pieces were made by the London jeweler Carlo Giuliano.

Figure of the Day: Harlequin and the Sausage, 1740

Figurine of Harlequin
Meissen, Germany, 1740
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Johann Joachim Kändler (1706-1775), as we’ve discussed, in the 1740s worked for Germany’s Meissen Porcelain Factory as one of their chief modelers.  He is, perhaps, best known for his dramatic group of figures from the Italian theatrical tradition of Commedia dell’Arte from which our “Punch and Judy” tradition developed.

Here, we see one of those figures.  This one depicts a masked Harlequin in hard-paste porcelain, painted in enamels and gilded.  He is shown leaning against a tree stump, in a grey hat with an upturned brim decorated with a turquoise rosette.  Harlequin is holding a cherry in his left hand and a curved sausage in his right. Sausages were a comic staple in the Commedia dell’Arte—a theme that carried over into the story of Mr. Punch.

Antique Image of the Day: Cruikshank's "Punch and the Cat," 19th C.

Engraving depicting "Punch and the Cat"
George Cruikshank
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Some of the earliest, most accurate and famous drawings we have of the Nineteenth Century Punch & Judy shows in Britain are those created by the celebrated illustrator George Cruikshank (1792-1878).

Here, we see an engraving after one of Cruikshank’s renowned drawings.  The print crisply depicts not only the Punch & Judy performance, but also, the audience.  Here, we see Punch and the Cat in a booth in the upper center.  Some Punch & Judy Professors in the Nineteenth Century used a cat in lieu of the Dog Toby.  At the time, many Punch & Judy men still employed real animals as Punch’s companion as opposed to puppet counterparts.  If a dog was unavailable, Mr. Punch was joined by a cat. 

This trimmed piece of paper has, on the reverse, part of a music score entitled “The Magistrate.” “Old G. Cruickshank” is inscribed in pencil on the upper left center.

Mr. Punch's Puzzles: The Riddle of the Week

Once, again, Mr. Punch, with my help, is offering up a true Victorian riddle.  The first person to answer correctly--by posting in the comments--will receive public congratulations. 

So, here's this week's riddle.  We ask that you don't Google the answer.  Mr. Punch would not find that sporting at all.  Give it a shot and see what you can come up with.  Here we go... No cheating...

Why are some girls like old muskets?

We have an early winner this week!  "Public congratulations" to Darcy!

The answer is...

If you don't handle them properly, they will go off on you.


Sometimes, they require a lot of powder.  

Happy Easter and thanks for answering...

Mr. Punch wants you to always know “the way to do it,” so why not check out our “That’s the way to do it!” products which are available only at our online store?

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 5

Chapter 5:
Mr. Punch and the Baby

Rich coral-colored walls, trimmed with white and gilt plaster moldings welcomed Ellen Barrett into the Drawing Room of the Duke of Fallbridge’s palatial townhouse.  From the ornate wainscoting to the thick dentil of the crown molding which clung to the eggshell blue ceiling, the walls proudly boasted a dazzlingly impressive array of large, important-looking oil paintings ranging from landscapes to family portraits to tender genre scenes of innocent lovers and ruddy-cheeked children.  Above the handsome mantelpiece, behind a massive, black-slate, French clock and between a pair of silver girandoles—dripping with crystals—a particularly large canvas had been hung, displayed in an ornate lavishly gilt frame.

The painting above the mantel depicted a street scene, at the center of which was a red-and-white-striped tent-like booth in which a lively Punch & Judy show was being performed.  The spectacle was being observed by painted children, men and women who—forever frozen in time—gazed with delight at the hunch-backed, crimson-suited puppet.  In the scene, the puppet held his wooden-headed offspring and upon the play-board, to the right, a terrier in a pointed hat and bright yellow ruff looked on.

Ellen smiled at the cheerful painting before realizing, that once again, she had entered a room in the mansion without noticing that the Duke was nowhere to be seen.

“I got a puppet.”  A friendly, somewhat raspy, voice called out from the center of the room.

Ellen turned her attention to the middle of the Drawing Room where she spotted--under a japanned and gilt center table laden with a huge crystal vase of flowers--the Duke of Fallbridge.  On his right hand sat a tremendous puppet figure of Mr. Punch—expertly carved and beautifully costumed.  Young Colin lay on the floor on a blanket.  He gurgled gaily, reaching for the ears of the Dog Toby who say next to him.  Both seemed mesmerized by the Duke.

“I see that you have, Your Grace,”  Ellen nodded.  “And, a very handsome puppet it is.”

“It’s mine,”  The Duke answered proudly.  “Dr. Halifax’s brother, Cecil—he carved the head.  And, Mrs. Halifax—Adrienne—she and me chum Marjani made the little suit.”  He paused and scratched his chin with his left hand.  “I mean to say that my friend, Marjani, crafted the fine little costume.”

“It’s beautiful.”  Ellen nodded again, walking closer to the table under which the Duke, his son and dog sat. 

“You like it?”

“I do.”  Ellen replied.  “And, I must say that Master Colin and the Dog Toby seem to love him.”

“They do,” The Duke replied brightly.  “Everybody loves Mr. Punch.”  The Duke rolled on his side, coming out from beneath the table.  He did so without the puppet touching the floor—a feat which impressed Ellen greatly.

The Duke stood up and looked cautiously at Ellen.

“You like Mr. Punch?”  he asked.

“As you say, everyone loves Mr. Punch.”  Ellen answered.

“Hmmm…”  The Duke wrinkled his nose.  Once again, his eyes were wide and excited, yet he appeared to be thinking as his brows twitched.

“Your Grace?”

The Duke of Fallbridge grinned and extended his puppet-ed hand.  “You can hold him while I pick up Colin.”

“Thank you, Sir.”  She took the puppet from her employer.

“No--thank you.”  The Duke chirped gaily as he picked up his son.  “Come, Toby,” he called.  The dog obediently followed him as he carried the child over to a settee near the fire. 

“Come sit with us, Miss Barrett,” the Duke said absent-mindedly.  “The chair with the little pictures of people on it is the most comfortable.  You can have that one.”

Ellen sat.  “It is comfortable.”

“It’s fabric is what’s called toile. I learned that from me chum.”  The Duke mumbled.  He looked up and blushed, sighing, he repeated himself, using the more refined voice he had used the day of their first meeting.  “I mean to say that the pattern is toile.  Dr. Halifax has been quite helpful in identifying these things.”

“I suspect you knew them already,”  Ellen smiled, ignoring the Duke’s obvious discomfort.  “Being a famous jeweler, I’m sure you’re aware of most artistic terms.”

“You’d think,”  the Duke laughed.  “Only, I ain’t…I am not…famous.”

“But, you are.  You’re highly celebrated.  I remember seeing your work at the Great Exhbition in 1851 and I recall reading  many times how much Prince Albert adores your work.”

“Eh.”  The Duke shrugged.  “None of that matters.”  He looked down at the child in his arms.  “This is what matters.”  Looking up, he realized that Ellen was still holding his puppet.

“Oh!”  He exclaimed with wide eyes.  “You don’t have to hold him.  He likes to sit in chairs, he does.  You can put him in the other chair there.”

“I shall,”  Ellen nodded, rising for a moment and gently placing the puppet in the chair adjacent to her.  This seemed to please the Duke who grinned widely.

“Thank you,”  he smiled.  “Some folk don’t treat things with respect.  Even if somethin’ can’t talk, don’t mean they aren’t aware.  Most things want talkin’ to.”

Again he caught himself speaking in that odd, casual, rough manner.  He snorted and shrugged, resigned to the fact that it had happened.

“You had asked to see me, Your Grace.”  Ellen began.

“Sure,”  The Duke nodded, looking absently at Ellen.

They looked at one another for several moments.

“I imagine I should say something now,”  The Duke sighed.  “See, Miss Barrett, I’m not so very good with other people.”

“I think you’re doing very well, Sir.”

“Thank you.”  The Duke grinned.  “Here, listen, I wanted to talk with ya ‘bout Colin.”  He paused and frowned.

“Is something bothering you, Your Grace?”

“No,” The Duke answered.  “Errrr…well, I don’t think so.  Can I ask you a question?”

“Of course, Sir.”

“Do you mind if I talk like this.  I know it ain’t the way a nobleman is ‘sposed to talk only it’s easier than what’s ‘xpected of me.”

“This is your home, Sir, you may speak however you like.”  Ellen replied.

“Coo!”  The Duke whooped.  “See, I told me chum that you’d understand!  I could tell, just by lookin’ at ya.”

Ellen smiled and nodded.

“Now,”  The Duke continued.  “Me boy, Colin—he’s a fine boy.  Next to Dr. Halifax, he’s the most ‘portant person in the world and I want you to know what he likes and what he don’t.”

“I’m glad to know.”  Ellen answered.

“Dr. Halifax—he helped me make a list.”  The Duke continued. He looked around.  “Oh, what’d I do with it?”  He yelped happily, “Oh!  It’s on the table—the black table with all them people’s pictures on it.”

“Shall I get it?”  Ellen asked.

“Sure, when you leave.  You can read it before supper.  Here, you gettin’ ‘nough to eat?”

“I am.  More than enough.  Mrs. Pepper has been very kind.”

“Good!”  The Duke shouted gladly.  He giggled loudly.  “Her name is Pepper what’s a spice.  And, she’s a cook.”  He howled happily. 

They were interrupted as the main door to the room opened and the doctor entered.  “Dear Punch, I’m sure you’ll be happy to know that…”  he paused, realizing that they weren’t alone.  “Ah, Miss Barrett, excuse me.  I didn’t realize you were here.”

Ellen stood up and bowed her head. 

“No, please, sit.”  Dr. Halifax waved his hand.  He went to the settee and moved Toby—who was sitting up against the Duke—over so that he could be seated next to His Grace.  He paused to tickle Colin’s stomach.  The child cooed and gurgled in appreciation.

Ellen sat down, smiling.  She liked the warm interaction of this unusual family and found it most comforting and appealing.

“I was just about to tell His Grace that we received a letter from America—from my brother and his wife.”

“Here, how they doin’?”  The Duke exclaimed in excitement.

“Well, Your Grace,”  Dr. Halifax smiled, emphasizing “Your Grace.”

“It don’t matter, chum.”  The Duke shook his head.  “She don’t mind if I talk like this.”
Robert looked cautiously at Miss Barrett.

“As I told His Grace, this is his home and he may do as he pleases.”

“True.”  The doctor nodded.  “You’ll forgive me.  Some people, I’ve found, might judge His Grace harshly for something so simple.”

“I would never do so.”  Ellen replied.

“I’m happy to know it.”  The doctor smiled.  “The happiness of these two people outweighs everything else for me.”

Ellen smiled in appreciation and understanding.

The Duke tilted his head to one side.  He looked at Ellen.  “I’m called ‘Mr. Punch.”

“I noticed.”  Ellen answered.

Robert began to look nervous.

“Don’t fret, chum.”  Mr. Punch whispered to his friend.  “We can trust her.”

The doctor nodded, hesitantly, “I’m sure we can.”

“Only me chums call me ‘Mr. Punch,’ but I’d like it if you did.”

“I would be honored.”  Ellen replied sincerely.

“However, we must be careful…”  Robert began.

“I would never do so in front of the staff or visitors.  And, I would never mention it to anyone else.”  Ellen said quickly.

“It’s important that you don’t.”  Robert sighed.  “You see, there are some things that you don’t know.”

“I’m sure.”  Ellen said.

“Listen, chum.”  The Duke/Mr. Punch began.  “We trust this woman with our Colin.  If we can trust her that much, we can trust her with this. And, to be sure, it might help her to know, it might.”

“Yes, of course, dear Punch.”  Dr. Halifax nodded, putting his arm around the Duke’s shoulders.  “Miss Barrett, what we’re about to tell you must not leave this house.”

“You can trust me, Sir.”  Ellen nodded.

“I hope so,”  Robert sighed.  “I truly do.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-4?  If so, you can read them hereCome back tomorrow for Chapter 5—“Childhood Friends”-- of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square.