A Minor Misdemeanor

Chapter 11

Walking through the streets of Victorian London wasn't a new experience for Clara. In some ways, it wasn't to dissimilar to walking through the London of the 21st century, although the streets were quite different in other ways, such as the prevalence of painted advertisements, the clatter of iron rims and shod hooves on the cobbled streets, and the sight of horse drawn hansom cab had seemed slightly thrilling at first, before she realised that road deaths had not increased, but had decreased, with the introduction of the horseless carriage, as extremely early cars had been known.

She was also surprised by the prevalence of the attitude that in the 20th century had been known as the white van man among those driving medium sized delivery vehicles, shortly after she dodged by inches a brewer's dray that seemed to think the kerb was level with the wall of the building nearest the road.

"Watch where you're going, you blind idiot!" She yelled after the dray, resisting the urge to pepper the sentence with four lettered Anglo-Saxon terms which might have somewhat disconcerted the London citizenry.

After that incident, she took extreme care when approaching any junction.

As she continued through London, Clara became aware of another group that was almost absent from the streets of modern London: the street merchant.

Although she was familiar with the big issue seller, and similar persons of their ilk, essentially inoffensive and polite, not to mention passively selling their products, the street traders she was walking past were considerably more aggressive, seeming to ignore the fact she was dressed as a servant, and offering goods ranging from the useless (snuffboxes that contained opium), to goods she had no reason to purchase on the streets, such as cooking equipment or foodstuffs. Admittedly, she did purchase a box of matches from a match-seller's tray, but that was because she actually needed them.

When she reached Oxford circus, it was a place both achingly familiar and shockingly different. Instead of the routemasters she still visualized London buses as, there were horse drawn omnibuses, painted in the same red and gold livery she was familiar with, and open topped. Around the edges of the square, she could see a few pairs of policemen, wearing the familiar domed helmet, and resplendent in their comparatively eye-catching blue uniforms with rows of silver buttons, and with eighteen inch truncheons hanging on leather straps from their belts, along with a pair of Darby handcuffs.

In this version of London, she knew that as she was dressed as a servant, she was relatively secure from the attentions of the gangs of child pickpockets who would inevitably would be swarming in such a heavily trafficked area, although she kept both hands firmly in her pockets as she crossed towards a pair of police officers.

"Afternoon." She greeted them, knowing that being rude to a police officer in this era was an excellent way to be arrested for obstructing a constable about his duties.

"Afternoon, miss." One of them replied, while the other stepped to one side, allowing him to continue scanning the crowd behind her.

"Could you point me in the direction of the mews, officer?" She asked.

"Just through that gate." The spokesman replied. "Anyone you're looking for?"

"Not really." She replied. "My mistress sent me to enquire about hiring a second carriage for an event in three days’ time."

"Where do you work?" He asked, seemingly curiously.

"I'm a relief maid currently employed at 13 Paternoster row."

"There was some bad business there two nights back." The officer replied. "Madame Vastra's personal maid punched someone, I heard. It was in the Times."

"I wouldn't know, sir." She said. "All I know is that I was sent to the house as a replacement maid."

"I'm sure you'll be kept busy." The officer grinned. "Madame Vastra seems to get an awful lot of callers at all times of day and night."

"That's useful to know." She said. "I'll make sure to keep my keys handy." She made a show of producing a svelte pocket watch. "Madame said she needed me back in an hour." She explained, before heading into the stables.

To one side, she could see a number of curious heads protruding from their stables, along with a group of men who seemed extremely busy, although seemingly doing very little.

"There's a shilling for anyone who knows where I can find a lad called Muggins." She said, producing the small silver coin.

One of the grooms lent away from what looked like a game of cards.

"Around the corner, with a few of his mates." He replied, before deftly catching the coin when Clara tossed it to him. "Ta, Luv."

When she turned the corner, Clara was stuck by the similarity between the group she'd left behind and the group in front of her. The group of boys, generally younger than twelve, were gathered around an impromptu card table, playing for what looked like bent nails out of horseshoes, using a hand drawn deck.

"Muggins?" She asked, before, predictably, the most disreputable looking member of the group stood up. He was wearing what looked like a top hat, along with a wooden cap underneath, and an overcoat with the sleeves cut off at the original elbow.

"Ya?" He said.

"Madame Vastra says that she would be interested in anyone strange who has been going in and out of several buildings on embassy row, most likely with a satchel. She would appreciate a description and a simple sketch if possible. She also says that the rate is a shilling a day, with a guinea for the lad who finds the man we're after."

"Do'ya kno' 'ho ya're lookin' fore?" The lad asked, in a semi-indecipherable accent, even to a teacher who'd had to grade essays in frankly atrocious English.

"We don't. Also, if anyone saw a man coming out of the Admiralty House after hours two nights ago with a satchel, we'd like to speak to him as well."

"Gotcha." He replied. "Anywun comin' out an embassy wiv a bag'a papers and goin' along t' row, and anywun coming outa Admiralty House after hours two nights back."

"I'm authorized to pay the first day in advance." She said, before handing over eight shillings. "Anyone else should be in the coach yard at the Row tomorrow to get paid."

"Aye aye." The lad replied, before turning to give orders in an almost incomprehensible language, quickly sending various street Arabs sprinting off in various directions.

Grinning at the sheer eagerness of the paternoster irregulars, Clara turned and headed back to the stable yard, where a coach was being harnessed.

"Which way?" She called.

"Down past Saint Paul's." The man harnessing it replied. "We're picking up the earl of Southsea from the station."

"Mind if I hitch a lift?" She asked, before a gesture indicated that she should clamber onto the bench next to the driver. "Sure thing." He replied, as she clambered up next to him, before taking a firm grip on the handrail.

The next few minutes were surprisingly restful, with little in the way of swearing, either from her travelling companion, or from other drivers.

"Where do you work?" He asked, once they were trotting along the main road.

"Paternoster row." She replied.

"Aye?" He said, smiling. "How's Jenny getting along these days?" He asked, smiling.

"She's in prison, apparently. She smacked a lordling at a house party of Madame's, and she ended up in front of the beak. He gave her a week to think things over behind bars."

"Tis a shame." He replied. "She's a nice enough lass."

"So I hear. Hard working, conscientious, and apparently the main support for Madame."

"Can you drop me by the corner?" She asked, as the coach clattered over the cobbles in front of Newgate.

"You don't want me to drop you by the door?" He asked.

"I'll be fine." She replied, before slipping him a shilling.

"You didn't need to do that, miss." He protested.

"Buy yourself a drink with it." She suggested. "I'm not paying you, in that regard."

"Thankee kindly." He responded, with a wink, before drawing the carriage to a half briefly so she could alight.

"See you." He said, before urging the horses into a trot again, as Clara strolled back to paternoster row.

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