In which Vastra and Jenny receive a visitor, and learn of an unusual situation indeed via the post. Also, a study of boots, hats and stains on fingers, along with observations on silurian courtship and mating rituals.
To the casual onlooker, merely glancing through the window, it would have looked like a scene of extreme domesticity: the older widow, sitting by the window, while her younger maid, presumably her main companion in life, assuming that there were no children to visit, sat further into the room, in her own armchair, sewing an item sitting in her lap.
Inside the room, it wasn't much of a different story.
"I do wish it would stop raining like this." Vastra complained, her frustration clear in the crumpled copy of the Times crossword, half completed. "When it rains like this, all of London stays indoors, except for those with truly pressing business to attend to." Her voice took on a tone of pure frustration. "No-one ever considers coming to see me pressing." She complained, glancing out of the window at the almost empty street, kept clear of lingering traffic by the driving, miserable rain, even within the distance of a mile from to St. Paul's and the Bank of England.
"It's a lot better for us than it is for some poor devils." Jenny reminded her, looking up almost demurely from the ballistic vest she was repairing. "I though' I told ya before, these ain't knife proof." She said, glancing over at the silurian in her large, chintz armchair next to the window. Vastra had handed her the vest and asked her to repair it without going into specifics as to what had been done to it.
"It was a male ape." Vastra said, pretending to ignore the look Jenny shot her at the phrase that was the only real friction between the two of them. "He was stalking a hatchling down Prince's Gate, when I pulled him into an alley for a chat. He drew his knife and slashed at me before I could really react. He only got the vest. I introduced him to the kitchen cupboards just before it started raining."
Standing up and turning around, Vastra kept any form of physical threat out of her posture as she drew the knife she had confiscated with a Ko'chi'li'chak hold and twist, before a ska'coh'jih throw had sent the man into the wall with a enough force, and at the correct angle to break his neck cleanly, quickly, and as quietly as possible.
The blade was about a foot long, with a thirty degree curve in the blade about halfway along the length of the blade. It was almost unblemished by rust or corrosion, and the edge showed few signs of having been chipped or damaged. As she hefted it, weighing it in her hand, she was surprised by the sheer weight of the weapon, which felt to her as if it weighed more than a pound.
With a careful grip, once the weapon had been placed on her side-table, on top of the embroidery she had been working on before Vastra arrived home, Jenny picked up the khukri, before reaching under her dress, slipping her hand into the small, and almost entirely unnoticeable pouch, where she kept the roll of the highest quality velvet, from the same manufacturer that provided the lining for Queen Victoria's little crown, in which she kept her carefully maintained picklocks, each sitting in its own hand sewn pouch, along with several other tools, including a tuning fork, which she slipped out of the pouch still wrapped in its own velvet sleeve. Carefully, she held the weapon away from her body, and tapped the back of the blade once with the tuning fork, listening carefully.
The weapon rang musically, although there was a slight flatness to the sound, compared to the Japanese katanas in the armoury. It was not enough to worry her, but it indicated a microscopic flaw inside the blade.
"It's a dud, love." She reported. "It's got a flaw or two." She had seen a few khukris in the past, and the last thing she wanted Vastra doing was getting her hands on the thing. Giving the world's most responsible Siliurian a weapon with the particular capabilities of a khukri was something that she felt would be a bad idea, on the standard sliding scale. At least if she didn't want to come home to find the silurian looking like a small, otherwise innocent puppy surrounded by the remains of a slipper, and the knife lodged in some section of wall or a piece of furniture.
She smiled, gently at the thought.
"Jenny?" Vastra asked.
"Just remembering somthin'." She replied. "That time you took that crook of a land agent up t' spire at All Saint's, an' dangled 'im off."
"I didn't want to make a particular mess." Vastra said. "Dropping him from that height would have been dangerous to other apes... humans." she corrected herself, noticing Jenny glance towards their shared jar.
Vastra had to put a shilling in the jar whenever she referred to humans as apes, monkeys or primitives, while Jenny had to put a shilling in whenever she referred to her wife in less than complimentary terms, while referencing her biological group. The contents were routinely collected and used to purchase leather items from their favourite shop in Soho. Vastra favoured the wide range of restraints, while Jenny preferred some of the more interesting inserts that were sold.
Then, to Jenny's surprise, the doorbell went.
Quickly, the ballistic vest was concealed behind a layer of throw cushions, and the khukri disappeared into her apron pocket, allowing Vastra time to locate her veil, and to be identifiable only as a moderately visible humanoid, apparently with a skin condition that left her horribly deformed. The Silurian sniffed slightly, before settling herself in expectation of tea.
It wasn't long before a well-fed looking male human was shown into the room, his top hat still glistening with the rain that had landed on it while he was outside. Vastra cast a careful eye over him. The man was a fairly typical human male, of an average height, with perhaps five more pounds around the middle than might be considered healthy, strictly speaking. A distinguished set of eyes looked out from a face that was, while again slightly plump, indicative of some experience as a sportsman, with the tanned quality of a man who has seen life beyond the British Isles. His hair was dark, a few shades lighter than pitch, when he took off his top hat, with grey sideburns that extended to just below the ear, giving a sense of experience and reliability.
"Good evening, doctor...?"
"Dr. Smythe, Madame." The man said. "How did you know my profession?"
"There are clues when you take the time to look, doctor. The bulge in one side of your hat where your stethoscope is secreted is an obvious one, as is the trace of silver nitre on your left thumb."
"I was told that you have a considerable gift for observation, Madame. I am glad that my information was not in error on that point. What else can you tell me, before we get down to business?"
"I can tell that you used to play sport, presumably at medical school, and that you have served aboard with the military, probably with the royal marines, judging by the way you walk. I can also tell that you were shot once in the right leg, somewhat above the knee, and once below your left elbow."
The man glanced downwards, checking that his sleeves still covered his arm, seemingly. "How did you know all of that?" He asked.
"You have the smooth movement of a sportsman, but your gait is that of a sailor, although you are not nearly tanned or muscled enough for that, hence the marines. Your injuries are fairly easy to notice. You hesitate slightly as you step forward with your right leg; starting at the moment you begin to stress the muscles in the front of your leg. You also hold your left arm at a slight angle, compared to your right arm, although not enough to suggest an injury to the joint, suggesting muscle damage. The fact that you turn your arm slightly away from your body suggests that the injury was to the soft tissue, and penetrated through the muscle completely."
"That is impressive, Madame." He said, raising an eyebrow as Jenny returned to the room with a tea tray. "I hope that my little problem will not overly delay you."
Jenny very demurely placed the tea tray down on a side table, next to Vastra and her own chair, before pouring two cups of tea herself, splashing in a small amount of milk for Vastra, from a very specific jug that allowed her to avoid serving anyone else a mixture of milk and blood. The medical practitioner got a separate measure, before she took up a standing pose of readiness by the Silurian's armchair.
"I am interested to hear what has brought you here." Vastra said. "Please, state your trouble."
"It is a fairly simple one, Madame. During the last few days, my medicine cabinet has been depleting during the night. I sign out everything I use, and that is accurate to the list of prescriptions I am giving to my patients."
"What is disappearing?" Vastra asked.
"First, it was a bottle of calcium carbonate tablets. Then, after that, it was a small bottle of opium, although that was replaced the same night, half emptied."
"You have interviewed your servants?"
"I only have one. Alice is my wife's maid, and came from Banardos with a first grade reference and no previous complaints, other than a short liaison with a son in her previous house, although it seemed that she had been coerced somewhat, when I heard both sides of the story. She was in her room above ours both times. The stairs are right outside our room, and Shirley insists that Alice precede us to bed, because they make enough noise to wake the dead whenever someone uses them."
"Is there a draft in your office?" Vastra asked.
"I've started to notice one, lately. I assumed, of course, that I was getting older, and more susceptible to the cold."
"If you return, and move your medicine cabinet, you will find that a few bricks will have been removed from the wall behind it, presumably covered on the other side by a tarpaulin."
"I am in a row of houses, although the property next to my office is vacant at the moment."
"I suggest that when you return home, you summon a constable, and investigate the building. Likely, you will find your thief there."
Vastra gestured imperiously to Jenny, who stood up, before pulling a highly advanced mechanical stopwatch out of her apron. Unofficially, it had a twenty-first century mechanism from Rolex linked into the case. "Seven minutes and fifteen seconds, excluding tea." Jenny said. "That'll be eight shillings thruppence, and a farthing."
"Less than having my medicine cabinet raided repeatedly would cost me, by quite a margin." Smythe replied. "Thank you, Madame." He continued, dripping into his pocket and producing a handful of change, before counting out the money. "Eight shillings, thruppence ha'penney, wasn't it?"
"Thank you." Jenny said, noting that the smallest change was provided as two farthings. Amused, she nonetheless pocketed one of them, before handing the remaining change to Vastra. The Silurian smiled, under her veil, before making a show of counting the amount she'd been given.
Although she rarely got a large amount of money, even in a busy week, she had no doubt that the various tips she received often added up to a few shillings. Vastra got quite a few callers, most weeks, with problems from the banal to the significant, and they nearly always tipped her servant persona at the end of a meeting. Given that her official salary (the one she declared to the Inland Revenue, anyway) was thirty pounds a year, she wouldn't be surprised if the pennies, ha'pennies and farthings added up to another few pounds a year.
Vastra nodded, and Jenny returned the gesture, before leading the man out of the building, noticing the different way he was walking, more confident. She was grinning as she closed the door.
Jenny wandered back into the consulting room just in time to catch her wife with her tongue exiting the teapot. The afternoon newspaper described a fairly typical trajectory when thrown overarm, with a similar movement to the time she and Vastra had experimented with throwing axes.
The newspaper arrived at perhaps twenty degrees from vertical, its full length slapping into the Silurian's face at perhaps five metres per second. The Silurian blinked slightly. Then she toppled back into her chair.
"Oh, stop fakin', love. It ain't gonna get me any..." she broke off slightly as the silurian came out of her chair like a scaled panther, bounding into her maid and knocking her flat.
"Git the bloomin' curtains, you bleedin' daft lizard. If the telegram boy sees us in action, there'll be 'ell t' pay with t' papers."
Reluctantly, Vastra detached herself from her wife, who made no attempt to clamber upright or reach for the poker, before drawing shut the curtains. Then she took extreme measures. Reaching behind her chair, she extracted several coils of rope, before stepping over to her entirely passive maid, and rolling her onto her stomach, before placing a possessive foot between her shoulder blades, and gently pushing downwards.
Carefully, once dominance had been established, she pulled her wife into a kneeling position, her hands resting on her head, quickly positioning ropes to form a chest harness, drawing out the shape of her wife's breasts from under the wool vest and cotton shirt, before adjusting it for optimum comfort and definition.
Then she knelt down, carefully drawing her wife's hands from the top of her head, and moving them down her body, positioning them next to the opposite elbow. The rope was then looped around her upper arms, two or three inches above her elbow, binding them securely, once the Silurian had looped the ropes around them ten times, before making the reminder of her second rope fast to the chest harness. A third and final rope was carefully looped around her wife's forearms, binding them together so that her arms were secured. Then, almost jokingly, Vastra picked up her wife, before placing her over one shoulder, Vastra's arm locked around her ankles while the main torso hung over her shoulder. To heighten the humiliation, and therefore the pleasure, Vastra eased off one of her wife's house shoes, before caressing the exposed sole of her foot underneath. Jenny squealed, and was forced to override her base instinct to pull her feet away from the Silurian's fingers in order to avoid ending up on the ground with a sore head.
The bedroom door arrived more swiftly than Vastra would have liked, in some ways. The warm pressure on her back from her wife's body was very pleasant for the ectothermic silurian, as it warmed through a set of muscles that normally got very little radiant heat, unless she submitted herself to the gross indignity of using her heat lamps, set up in what was supposed to be a linen closet, assuming that all of the bedrooms on each floor were in use, and that the linens were changed almost daily. It was very undignified, having to go and stand in a closet, with nothing to do, in order to warm herself through.
Jenny wriggled a little as she was pressed onto the bed, before the Silurian's prehensile tongue slithered into position to do exactly what it wanted to do to her favourite ape.
About an hour later, Vastra finally left her securely bound wife up, unbinding the ropes from around her arms and chest, noticing with a sense of satisfaction the way her pet ape's chest was rising and falling in exhaustion.
"You could try givin' a tad more warnin' next time." Jenny said, in what Vastra interpreted as her complaining for the sake of complaining tone. "I am not a giant massager for your sole use."
"I love you too." Vastra said, in reply, planting a kiss on the smaller biped's forehead.
Jenny looked up at her, grinning slightly. "If you really want t' show that, you couldn't exactly go wron' 'elpin' me with t' blasted 'ousework, you know." She said, wrapping a pair of arms around the Silurian's neck and kissing her back. "I love you as well."
When they got downstairs, Vastra took up her position in her consultation room, before Jenny cracked open the mail cage she'd placed on the door behind the letterbox after one too many items of arthropodic fan mail. Even if Vastra did insist that the large scorpion was a delicacy in its native land, Jenny did not want to have to try and extract a seven inch emperor scorpion from under the phone-table again. The scorpion trap, on this occasion, was empty, and the letterbox contained only three items: the five-o-clock edition of The Times, her weekly serialization of a medieval romance, which Vastra did not, of course, read when it was left unattended, and a large, tan envelope with only a name and address, printed in a slightly unusual hand.
Thirteen Paternoster Row
Jenny carried the stack through, placing the still bundled newspaper in a rack, along with her novel. Then she handed the Silurian the letter.
Vastra sniffed it, curiously. People did post her sausages occasionally. Then she cracked open the envelope.
Inside, she found a single sheet of thick white notepaper, inserted into the envelope without being folded, and sadly, no trace of any form of saussage.
"Madame:" the Silurian read. "There will call upon you tonight, at a quarter to eight o clock, a gentleman who desires to consult you upon a matter of the very deepest moment. Your recent services to one of the Royal Houses of Europe have shown that you are one who may be safely trusted with matters which are of an importance which can hardly be exaggerated. This account we have from all quarters received. Be in your chamber at this hour, and do not take it amiss if your visitor wears a mask."
Vastra felt her vestigial tail trying to twitch.
"Interestin', ain't it, ma'am?" Jenny asked, having read the note from one side of the Silurian. "Last time I saw someone mangle the language so bad, it was a card from my uncle Bill."
"Your uncle?" Vastra asked, suddenly curious.
"He was related t' me Aunt Vicky. The family weren't one we saw often. They live in blooming 'anover."
"Anover?" Vastra asked, puzzled by her ape's accent.
"Over in germ'ny."
"I see." Vastra said. Her ape seemed to 'mangle' the language at will, seemingly. Understanding her required practice, not to mention automatic insertions of h's, g's and o's, although the need for that seemed to depend on factors such as her mood, what she was doing (or doin') at the time and quite often, whim. Even then, stuff regularly got lost in translation.
"I'd better get t' tea on." The human girl said. "We've got an important visitor on 'is way, by t' sound 'o it."
This chapter has been a work in progress for a while. It's the start of a new story based on the Holmes novel a scandal in bohemia, as the title suggests and, admittedly, I have stated several times. It also includes a take on the background of Jenny based on some information on the Dr. Who wiki, although this may or may not be reliable. I will be very interested to learn from the given information who can deduce the identity of "Uncle Bill". No peeking at the wiki until you are certain or stuck.