The Wimbledon Rifle Matches – July 14 & 15, 1881
Mr Parker delivered them to The White Hart Inn in Wimbledon, on the south-west outskirts of London. He and his assistant carried the trunks to Vastra's room while she and Jenny looked over the entrance hall and front parlour of their lodgings. As Parker was leaving he said, "One last thing Madame; John Taylor gave me this for you." He handed Vastra a note, collected his pay quietly from Jenny, and departed with a cheerful wave.
The inn itself was small, only a dozen rooms on three floors, and with their arrival it was full. Mrs Crawford's cousin, Mrs Lundy, welcomed them herself, and led them to their temporary quarters. The suite contained a small drawing room with a polished desk and matching chair, a large armchair by the window for reading and a separate bedroom. There was even a trundle bed that fit neatly under the big bed during the day for Jenny to sleep in.
"How... convenient," observed Vastra as she looked it over, a dubious tone in her voice. She'd grown rather accustomed to having her warm blooded mammal keeping her bed nice and cosy.
"The servants' quarters are already full, but if you prefer your privacy, Madame, your girl can stay with one of my maids. I know she's young, and one hears such dreadful stories sometimes, but my staff are good girls, and won't bully her too much."
Jenny and Vastra glanced at each other.
"Might not be a bad idea, Ma'am," said Jenny, drawing herself up bravely. "I'd likely learn a fair bit from them, and you know I can hold me own."
Vastra thought for a moment, and then shook her head. "No, for now I'd prefer that Jenny remain with me." There would be time enough get use to the Jenny having her own room when they moved into Paternoster Row.
"That's fine, Madame Vastra. We're usually busy when the Rifle Matches are on, and these days more people are attending the lawn tennis matches as well. Those just finished yesterday, and my girls been sharing their rooms with other maids for most of the last week. They'll be glad to have their rooms to themselves, even if only for a night or so."
Vastra nodded gravely, privately noting to ask Jenny what lawn tennis was. She suspected that it might be yet another kind of competition or game. The Apes seemed to be very fond of games.
Mrs Lundy left them to settle into the room and while Jenny unpacked what few clothes they had, Vastra read the note.
"Private Taylor will come by after six o'clock this evening to walk us over to the Matches." She frowned slightly, "I'm still not sure what to make of that Ape. It strikes me as too friendly, and it sees too much, I think."
"How d'you mean. Ma'am?"
"At the tournament, the day you were disguised as a boy, Taylor recognized you as soon as it saw you."
"As soon as he saw me, ma'am."
Vastra rolled her eyes. Honestly, how could Jenny tell the blasted mammals apart? "He didn't directly interfere, but he was watching you very closely, not just that day, but every time he saw you."
"Didn't you tell me he said I reminded him of a girl he knew?"
"Yes, he did. That could be both good and bad. I'd still prefer to exercise caution in dealing with him. Too many males seem to be interested in snatching you away, and I want to be certain he's not another one."
Jenny shrugged and nodded. "Don't see much harm in him meself, but you're right, ma'am. Better to be a bit wary for now. I'll stay close by you while we're with him."
Jenny decided to make use of the time until Private Taylor arrived to check the lay of the land, and meet the inn staff. She brushed off the cap and apron she wore when acting as a maid, put them on, and then poked around the hallway until she found the entrance to the backstairs. She went down to the basement, keeping in the shadows while she carefully looked over the kitchen.
The women of the kitchen staff were bustling around preparing dinner, and the two maids were talking in the far corner. After a few minutes of watching, Jenny quietly stepped forward into the light, and was soon spotted by the cook, who took a moment to confirm Madame Vastra's request to take her meals on a tray in her room. Then she introduced Jenny to the others, and gave her the times for her own dinner and supper in the staff dining hall. Breakfasts she would spend with Madame 'to go over Madame's plans for the day.'
"How long have you been in service?" asked the cook.
"Not long, I've been with Madame since March. Before then I worked at a match factory and went to school." Jenny said truthfully, deciding to leave her trouble with the Black Scorpions out of the story. "First time for me in a big place like this," she continued. "Madame's been living in a flat until now so my work was pretty light. Cooking, mending, cleaning. I'm a good cleaner, though!"
"And you're staying for a few days, right? Mrs Lundy asked us to show you some of our duties; give you a chance to learn some of the trade," said the older of the maids.
"Madame plans to stay a week or so. Give herself a holiday before she moves into her new house. Be good place to learn; this inn is kept very nice, and the food smells wonderful!"
"Lots of strangers around town right now, so let her know to be careful if she's out for a walk. And don't go out by yourself until next week when the place quiets down. Most of the town is safe, but it's best to keep clear of the boarding houses near the railway station. Too many rough fellows hang around there."
Jenny nodded, slightly amused. Avoid the rough folks like herself. Always good advice.
That evening after an early supper, John Taylor collected them from the hotel and led them to the site on Wimbledon Common. Once again, Vastra was reminded that the Apes of London loved a spectacle! And not just the ones in London, it seemed.
"Blimey, it's like a little city!" Jenny stared at the grand display of more than a dozen flags, flapping gently on poles five times the height of a tall man, the throngs of people, both men and women, and the many tents; large tents laid out in neat rows, tables and chairs inside, small tents with beds and clothing, and huge tents were people were gathered, looking closely at the large boards covered with names and numbers posted there.
"Language, Jenny! But you're about right, there's pretty near 2,500 people here, most of them living in this tent city for the last two weeks," said Taylor. "There's English, Scottish, and Irish teams and for the first time this year, the Welsh national rifle team. No American team though, I'm sorry to say. There's plenty of teams and men from private clubs as well," he added.
"That's what us Green Jackets are doing here. We're shooting in the individual matches. Some of us act as judges too." He offered Vastra his left arm, and after hesitating a moment, she took hold of it lightly, imitating several of the Apes around them. She was faintly surprised; Taylor was slightly smaller than she was. Jenny fell into step behind them, listening to Taylor, and trying not to gawk at everything around them.
Taylor started their tour at the main judges' tent, where the scores from the previous matches were posted. They went by the wooden Clock-Tower, which provided the official time for the day, and several tents serving various refreshments and food.
Many of the men were wearing uniforms, and there was a good deal of saluting between men and officers as they passed each other in the streets between the tents. There were women and sometimes a child or two with some of the men.
Jenny noticed that Madame Vastra drew the occasional long glance. While most were dressed in lighter colours and fabrics in keeping with the heat of mid-July, Madame wasn't the only 'woman' wearing dark mourning clothes, or the lighter colours of half-morning. She was, however, the only one wearing a hat with netting that completely concealed her face.
Taylor showed them around the large site, and took them over to the close ranges, which were laid out for the shorter finals the next day. The long range finals and the Queen's Prize would be shot the day after, on Saturday. Despite being early evening, it was still very hot, and when they walked by a man selling bottles of lemonade, Taylor bought one for each of them. Madame Vastra frowned at hers, trying to determine how to drink it, without showing her face. It was annoying, as she rather liked lemonade; she'd acquired a taste for it while working with the Monstre Gathering. Seeing Madame's problem, Jenny said, "Hang on a minute, Ma'am," and nipped back to the lemonade vendor. The man there shook his head at her question, but pointed to a nearby tent. She waved back at Vastra and Taylor, and went inside.
"Oh, that's swell, now's a good time to ask."
"Ask what?" said Vastra, keeping a close eye on where she could see Jenny in the tent speaking to a man behind a table filled with bottles and glasses.
"Well, I've a thought for tomorrow morning, but it's got to be in the early morning, and I didn't want to just spring the idea on you. Reckoned you should have a chance to say no without Jenny being disappointed."
Taylor spoke quickly, explaining his plan, and while Vastra was annoyed at being put on the spot by this Ape, she admitted that it was a good one. Jenny would find it very educational, and Vastra herself would likely learn a great deal. And so she agreed.
Jenny returned in time to catch Private Taylor saying, "It's not far; you can go back to the inn if you want to change to a nicer set of clothes afterwards."
'Must mean after the competitions,' thought Jenny. Mr Taylor had told them earlier that in the early evening, there was often visiting back and forth between the camp streets. Any proper woman however, was safely back in the tents or out of the camp before too late in the night. It was after all still a camp full of men.
Jenny grinned to herself. 'Course 'proper' don't exactly describe Madame or me.'
"Here you go, Ma'am," she said as she handed over a rye-grass straw. "Sorry for forgetting this."
Vastra nodded, and slipping the straw into the bottle and under her netting, sipped a little of the cool and delicious drink.
They wandered through the streets of the tent city a little longer, and then Vastra and Jenny returned to their inn.
"So what was all that about with Private Taylor, Madame?" asked Jenny her curiosity eventually getting the better of her.
"He has arranged an early morning outing for us tomorrow. I am to wear clothes I don't mind 'getting a little mussed up,' I believe was the term, and you are to bring your trousers." She looked up at Jenny. "Could you not simply wear them instead, or is this one of those A… human things again?"
"It's a human thing. There's all sorts of unwritten rules like this. Never could keep them all straight, despite Ma trying to teach me. Anyway, I'll take my trousers and cap along. Best not to give Mrs Lundy a fit on our first full day here by dressing up like a boy. Not polite, you see." Jenny chuckled.
"Very well." Madame Vastra nodded approvingly. "We'll save that for later in the week instead."
Friday morning, after a light breakfast, they arrived at Wimbledon Common, and met Private Taylor by the flag staffs at 5:00 AM, an hour after dawn. He was wearing an old dark green wool coat with black buttons, and a dark green cap with a flat circle on top which flopped forward a little over a black visor. A well-polished brass B and a small red fabric diamond decorated the flat circle.
Taylor put a finger to his lips, led them to a mid sized tent and ducked inside, and then quickly
returned with small rifle in his hand and a belt with a leather box tossed over his shoulder.
"No one else home, they've popped out for a bite of breakfast. Did you bring your spare clothes?" he grinned at Jenny, who was staring at the firearm. She nodded and patted her small bag. "In you go then and change quick!"
Jenny was almost bursting wanting to ask questions, but ducked inside the tent instead and Taylor closed the flaps behind her.
Inside the tent, Jenny could here Private Taylor quietly ask Madame Vastra, "So how did Jenny take it when she heard what I'm planning for you this fine morning?"
"I haven't told her. I will leave that to you."
"Hah!" Taylor raised his voice slightly. "You worried she'd squeal like a kid in a candy store, huh?" Jenny could hear the laughter in Taylor's voice.
"No," Madame Vastra corrected him calmly, "I was concerned that she'd sleep out on the Common in order to begin at first light."
"Ah, smart. That would be a mite dangerous for her."
Madame Vastra replied firmly; "Jenny survived on the streets of London for several months in mid-winter, while hunted by a dangerous criminal gang. I doubt your soldiers would give her much trouble, if she didn't want to be found by them."
Jenny decided it was time to interrupt them. She ducked out of the tent wearing her trousers with her hair tucked up in her battered boy's cap. "I could hear every word you say, you know that right?" asked Jenny.
"I know," Taylor replied with a grin. "You can learn all sorts of interesting from fellows who forget that a tent is just a piece of cloth and not solid walls. I spent four years living in tents, most of them a lot smaller than this one. You learn a few tricks if you don't want to share every secret or trouble with the world." Taylor gave her a quick glance over, and nodded in approval.
"Come along then. I've got a swell treat for you two. We're going to visit the practice range and see if you can take a couple of shots for fun. We should have it to ourselves for an hour or so, while everyone else wakes up and eats, so it will be nice and quiet, and not as hot as it will be later. Make sure you both keep an eye out in case another person shows up though. Don't want to be down range if someone else starts to practice. Not healthy, you see. Maybe downright fatal if we're downrange and someone starts shooting."
When they reached the large area that Taylor called 'the range," Taylor checked that it was clear. The target at this end of the range wasn't very far, and was a set of thick wooden boards. Vastra estimated it as 24 paces; about the distance humans called twenty yards. Tall, thick earthen mounds formed a barrier to stop the spent bullets at the back of the range.
Madame Vastra watched closely as the former sharpshooter stopped near a small wooden platform on the ground, and then showed them the small firearm.
"This is a Martini Henry cavalry carbine. It's smaller then the Martini Henry rifles issued to your British army, but it works the same way. It's a single-shot breech loading firearm, which means there's only one cartridge in it at a time. The cartridges contain the powder and bullets and they're carried in this leather cartridge box. Once you've fired a shot, you need to reload to fire again. You can see that it has this lever…"
Taylor spent some time explaining to both of them how the firearm worked, and then basic safety procedures for both the weapon and the range. Vastra and Jenny followed along closely; Jenny asking most of the questions. Vastra had used energy weapons in her warrior past, and was familiar with certain similarities between her people's more advanced weapons and these primitive ones. Vastra was also amused to note that Jenny kept her hands carefully at her sides, avoiding any temptation to put a hand on the weapon until invited. She wasn't the only one who noticed.
Eventually Taylor eyed Jenny with amusement. "Are you sure you're interested? You haven't even tried to touch this beauty yet."
Jenny snorted. "And get my ears boxed or worse for my trouble? No thank you, sir."
Taylor grinned. "Don't call me Sir; my parents were married." At Jenny's puzzled look, he continued. "Never mind, it's an old pretty joke. Mostly used in your Navy, I think. Why do you think I'd wallop you?"
"Ma would rap our knuckles if we got grabby," explained Jenny. "And I know better than to touch a weapon without permission!"
"Oh you do, do you?" asked Taylor, with a sly glance at Madame Vastra. "Now who did you learn that from?"
Jenny glanced back at Vastra, unsure how much she should say about her training.
"She learned it from me, of course," replied Madame Vastra calmly. "Did I forget to mention to you that I'm a fierce and ancient warrior?"
Taylor let out a snort, "Oh come on Madame, you certainly don't sound ancient!" Taylor grinned. "Fierce on the other hand, now that I can believe. 'Specially after hearing you take on that blow-hard Carr-Harris and the Board of Grand Tournament!"
Madame Vastra just cocked her head. Private Taylor continued to surprise her.
Taylor whistled a few falling notes and then lay down on his belly on the platform, and arranged his body and the rifle in what he said was the best shooting position for a beginner, the leather cartridge box open close at hand.
Taylor demonstrated everything first while Jenny and Vastra watched carefully. The Ape was a fairly good instructor, Vastra conceded, it… he explained everything carefully, handled the firearm safely, and made sure they both understood everything that he was saying. He evened warned them that the rifle had a tendency to kick up when fired, so watch their noses!
Eventually he laid the rifle down carefully, stood up and saying "You first Jenny, let's see how you do," motioned her to lie down in his place, and then knelt down beside her.
Jenny grinned with excitement, but was careful to do everything she was told. Vastra stood by ready to step in immediately if either Jenny or Taylor made an error, or if Taylor put a hand in the wrong place.
However, other than leaning down and seating the butt of the firearm more firmly in Jenny's shoulder, Taylor made no attempt to touch the girl, though he remained close by her side. He also spoke to both of them equally, until it was time for Jenny to take her first shot.
"Now, take it nice and easy. Just pick a spot backstop to aim at for this round so you can get use to how the rifle fires. Let your breath out just a bit, then squeeze the trigger..."
"Private Taylor," interrupted Madame Vastra.
"Yes ma'am?" asked Taylor, startled.
"Be quiet," said Madame Vastra.
Taylor looked quickly between Vastra, who was watching Jenny intently, and Jenny, who was carefully sighting down the short barrel as instructed.
"Ah, I see. Don't distract her. Yes ma'am!" Taylor grinned.
A moment of silence, and then, the shot cracked in the air. The rifle jumped slightly in Jenny's hands, and kicked her shoulder. Even though she was expecting it, it still surprised her.
Vastra was surprised how loud the weapon was, and at the smoke that hung in the still morning air. How could the Apes possibly see when they used these weapons in battle, Vastra wondered.
Taylor waited until Jenny had fired five rounds, and then told her to lay down the rifle. When she'd done, he picked it up and checked that it was empty, and then trotted down to the wooden boards and pinned a black and white target to them.
"All right, now that you've had a bit of practice, let's see how you do!"
Again Jenny picked up and loaded the weapon. Taylor took a small brass telescope from his pocket and peered through it, watching the target. When Jenny was ready, she lined up the sights and took her first shot.
"Two o'clock, right on the edge of the paper," reported Taylor quietly to Vastra. He took his eye from the 'scope, and he and Madame Vastra watched carefully as Jenny worked the lever and reloaded the rifle, and then sighted down the barrel again. The rifle coughed again, and Taylor nodded, then reported. "Two o'clock, just inside the black."
Jenny frowned. "Not a bulls-eye? Moved where I was aiming a little bit."
"Don't worry about the bulls-eye. Aim at the same spot as you just did."
Jenny looked confused, but nodded, and repeated her actions for a total of five shots. After she laid the rifle down and stood up, Taylor asked Madame to keep watch on the range, loped down to the target, unpinned it and pinned up a new one, and then brought Jenny's target back to her.
"This is a really swell round!" Taylor grinned.
Jenny and Vastra looked at the paper. "But none of them are near the centre of the target!" said Jenny.
"But they're not far off, you see. Here's your first shot, out on the edge here, and then for the rest, your grouping is really tight! That's half the battle right there. If you have a nice tight grouping, you can learn to shift it on the target. If you had one in the bull's-eye, and the rest elsewhere on the target, that's not as good. It means you're shooting randomly, and just got lucky. This is really good, especially as a first try! Well done, Jenny!"
"Private Taylor is correct," agreed Vastra. "Next time, do exactly the same and keep your shots close together. The rest will come with practice."
Taylor turned and grinned, "You're up next, Madame Vastra."
Vastra preferred to fire standing up; while the stance was more difficult for shooting, it was easier for her then trying to lie down or stand in the bulky clothing the humans insisted on wearing. And she simply refused to look ridiculous in front of this Ape.
Nearby, another man appeared, and Taylor stiffened slightly, but then nodded politely, lifting his hat slightly in greeting. The man nodded back and went about preparing a pair of pistols. When he was ready, he nodded again to Private Taylor, and while Vastra took her turn with the rifle, the other man practiced firing his first weapon.
Madame Vastra's found using the small rifle very interesting. It was her first time using one of the 'firearms' the humans were so proud of, and while it was noisier and heavier and had far more recoil than her old weapons, she still managed a respectable showing. Her shots were in the clustered in the upper left corner of the target, and very tightly grouped. She still liked her sword better though.
While Madame Vastra was on the firing point, Jenny saw Mr Taylor keeping one eye on the other man. He finished his practice round, and retrieved his targets at the same time as Taylor fetched Madame Vastra's. As they finished examining the target, he came over. Vastra noticed that he walked with a limp.
Jenny could tell the man was Quality. He had a stiff but confident air to him sort of like Mr Dawes. His face was lined and weathered. His hair was mostly dark with some grey, but his moustache was more salt than pepper, and Jenny thought he was probably almost sixty. He wore a sort of wedge shaped cap with a badge on it, a green jacket, and strange trousers with stripes of different colours going both up and down and sideways.
He glanced at Madame Vastra and Jenny with curiosity, but only said, "Good morning, Mr Taylor." Jenny liked his voice; it had a nice burr to it and was deep and rumbly, even though the man wasn't speaking loudly. 'Bet he can roar like a lion when he wants to,' thought Jenny.
"Good morning, sir. Madame Vastra, may I introduce you to Colonel Gordon Anson Lethbridge formerly of the 90th Perthshire Regiment. He's the President of the shooting club I belong to."
"Ah yes, Colonel Lethbridge! Mr Parker mentioned you to me as well."
"Madame Vastra, a pleasure to meet you at last. I heard about your efforts in saving the Grand Tournament from its own foolishness. It would have been a shame to lose it; the competition encourage the men to sharpen their skills Thank you very much for your trouble."
"Are you still in the military Colonel. That may be a uniform, although I'm not familiar with all the ones here."
"I am, Madame. Officially I'm with a militia battalion of the Cameronian Rifles of Scotland. However, I'm currently attached to Horse Guards in London."
While Madame Vastra tried to puzzle out why such a senior warrior was needed to guard horses, Private Taylor piped up, "No longbow today, sir?"
"Longbow?" Jenny perked up, "Like Robin Hood?"
The Colonel sighed slightly, "Why is it always Robin Hood?"
"Well, you're not wearing your kilt today, sir, so you don't look much like Maid Marian." Taylor grinned. "Just as well; the Ladies of the Toxophilite Society in Regent's Park would have a word or two to say to you about that! I reckon that most of them want to shoot well enough to claim that famous name."
"Very droll, Mr Taylor, very droll."
"I'm intrigued as well, Colonel," said Madame Vastra with surprise. "You shoot a bow? Is that a common weapon among the A… army?"
"Not anymore, of course. It is more a means of keeping old traditions alive. I'm a member of the Royal Company of Archers in Scotland. We're part of the Royal Bodyguards."
"I'm told that's a big deal among your upper classes," Taylor whispered to Jenny.
Jenny shook her head. "Never heard of 'em," she whispered back.
"Madame Vastra, do you mind if I shoot a few rounds to warm up a bit?" asked Taylor, catching her attention again.
Vastra glanced at Jenny, cocking her head a tiny bit as she did so, as the girl could not see her eyes. Jenny nodded slightly. 'Ah,' thought Vastra, 'we're being 'polite' again. "That is fine Private Taylor," she replied.
Taylor handed Jenny his small brass telescope, and then checked that the range was clear. He whistled his short tune again, and dropped to the ground. Then he picked up the carbine and quickly and smoothly loaded his first round.
Colonel Lethbridge meanwhile, returned to his own weapons. Madame Vastra went with him, interested in how these smaller firearms worked. Jenny stayed with Taylor, switching between watching what he was doing, and peering through the telescope at his target.
The Colonel showed Madame Vastra his two weapons, a 'Tranter' pistol and a 'Webley' British Bulldog pistol. He fired each one at the two targets on his section of the range. He did not offer either one to Madame Vastra to try, but she did not expect him to do so. These were his personal weapons, and Vastra no more expected him to 'loan' them to her than she would have offered him the use of her sword. Especially not on a first meeting!
She was, however, able to ask him questions as to his preference between the two, and how they compared to similar weapons, after he finished firing, retrieved his targets, and was cleaning his weapons. Both pistols had good points and faults, and Vastra found the entire discussion very enlightening.
"You seem very interested in all this, Madame Vastra," the Colonel remarked.
"Indeed, I have not had the chance to observe these firearms before at close range," Madame Vastra replied to the Colonel, thinking with a slight shiver of the armed Apes in the Underground Railway who had hunted her. "Are you pleased with your practice for today's matches?" she asked, shaking off the uncomfortable memory.
"Oh, I'm not competing today," replies the Colonel. "I thought I'd just fire a few rounds and relax before I meet up with the rest of the judges for our assignments. Speaking of which, Mr Taylor, we should be heading back if we're to be on time."
Vastra looked up to see Taylor adjusting the sling on the carbine, while Jenny fastened the cartridge box and belt to her waist. Taylor checked again that the rifle was empty, even though he had just finished cleaning it, and then handled it to Jenny, who promptly shouldered it, standing at something close to attention.
The Colonel nodded, and gathered his own weapons, and a polished black walking stick. Taylor joined him as he was finishing, leaving Jenny and Vastra comparing notes on their experiences.
"And what were you up to Mr. Taylor before I so rudely interrupted this morning?" asked the Colonel, eying the tall female and her small companion.
"Just giving Madame Vastra and young…Flint a chance to fire a few rounds before the day gets busy, sir. The youngster's never had the chance before, you see."
"Really?" drawled the Colonel. "How nice of you to take an interest in the young chap. He even gets to carry the rifle." He eyed Taylor's clothing. "I see you're wearing your old Sharpshooter uniform. You're not showing off to the widow a bit, are you?"
"Don't think she quite trusts me, Colonel;" Taylor replied with an easy grin. "She tends to be a little stand-offish with me. You might want to try your luck instead. A handsome widower might be just to her taste. The new jacket and plaid trousers look rather smart."
"These are Trews, you colonial rascal, and it's tartan, not plaid."
"Former Colonial, thank you very much, Colonel. And you still looks rather smart."
"Why do I let you stay in the club?"
"No idea." Taylor grinned, "Speaking of which, have you seen Captain Simundson today, sir?"
"He's back at the judges' tent. Why, what are you planning on needling the poor man about this time?"
"Don't know yet, Colonel, but I'm sure I'll think of something."
They started to walk back to the tent city. It turned out that the Colonel's limp required the use of a polished black walking stick over longer distances. He grumbled about a graze at Lucknow, which flared up now and again as the years went on.
"Well, young man, have you considered making the Army your trade?"
"A few recruiting sergeants spoke with me at the Tournament, sir, but I'm told I'm still too young."
"Definitely look at the Rifles when you're old enough. We can always use good men!"
Jenny nodded, but thought she'd best change the subject before Madame Vastra asked if the Rifles accepted females. "Private Taylor, what's that tune you whistle sometimes?" she asked. "The one you were using at the range."
"That's the American bugle call for "Lie Down," he explained. "I always whistle it on the range, 'though usually pretty quiet like. It's just my own quirk, you see." He whistled the short tune again.
Jenny pursed her lips and tried it.
Taylor laughed gently. "You've almost got it. Like this…" and he whistled the notes again.
Vastra listened with interest as Jenny tried to match the tune. She'd never been able to whistle herself; her people tended to hiss instead. It didn't take long for Jenny to learn the short tune, and then Taylor taught her the tune for Rise Up. Colonel Lethbridge grumbled good naturedly about 'American nonsense' and whistled the British Army calls for the same commands, which were entirely different. Jenny who was always a quick learned, could whistle all four of the short calls by the time they arrived back at the main camp.
The Colonel parted company with them at the Judges area. They went to Taylor's tent and Jenny returned the carbine and quickly changed back to her skirt and mob cap. Taylor left them as he was on duty at the main tent, helping record the match scores.
They wandered around a bit, looking over the temporary buildings and reading the scoreboards from the previous days. There were more and more people arriving; Lethbridge had told them that the matches would be well attended events during these final two days. People would come down from London on the train from Waterloo station. The Queen's Prize shoot on Saturday would be packed. The Rifle Matches certainly did not suffer from the same problem as the Grand Tournament.
Even though it was still morning, the heat was starting to build, so when they went to watch the matches, they took a little wooden tram cart on rails pulled by a horse out to the more distant ranges.
Vastra and Jenny watched some of the contestants practicing on the longer ranges for a time. What Taylor called the 'shooting points' were very simple, usually just a mound of dirt piled up on the grass beside a small sign with a number, and the ones who were waiting for their turn to shoot squatted or sat on the grass behind them. Many wore caps with a piece of cloth on the back, covering their necks. Nearby, however, the judges and spectators had chairs and telescopes set up, and sometimes a small shade tent. After a while, Vastra decided that they should take a walk and they wandered around, looking at the different rifles and uniforms.
As they wandered they heard snatches of the conversations…
"... the men hate losing the old regimental numbers..."
"...yellow facings for the all the Scottish regiments! Yellow! What are we then, all from Clan McLeod or some daft thing...? The Irish at least get green!"
"Well most of Highland regiments always wore yellow facings…"
Neither Vastra nor Jenny knew what the soldiers were talking about. Vastra started to peer more closely at the Apes faces, but couldn't detect any colouring aside from the various shades of pale pink, bronzey pink, yellowish and the occasional brownish skin, that were usual for the local Apes. Perhaps the soldiers were discussing some sort of tribal war paint that was worn in battle? The members of the Monstre gathering sometimes painted their faces to 'look better on stage.' Perhaps 'facings' were similar to that…
After a while, the crowd of so many noisy Apes smelling of gunpowder, sweat and a thousand different scents began to grate on Madame Vastra. Jenny was starting to look tired too and hot as well. Vastra reminded herself that the Apes did not love the heat as much as she did.
They passed the main Refreshment Hall, which despite its huge size was tightly packed with people taking shelter from the heat in its shade.
Nearby they found another large tent where hot tea, lemonade and ginger beer were sold. Vastra spotted a table against the back wall, away from the noisy crowd near the entrance and went to claim it, while Jenny bought their drinks.
The walls at the sides of the tent were rolled up about two feet, to let in the slight breeze. Given the amount of dust that the spectators were stirring up walking to and fro, Vastra was not surprised to see that the wall at the end of the tent near their table was still rolled down to try to keep the dirt out.
Jenny came over to their table, accompanied by Mr Parker who had just arrived, and seen them entering the tent. He was helping her carry their drinks and some clean cloth napkins. "May I join you Madame?" he asked politely. Madame nodded; Parker was a good source of information on the military, and she had a few questions.
"There seems to be a great deal of unease among your warriors at some recent changes in the British Army…?"
"Oh, the Childers Reforms. Yes, there's been a fair bit of grumbling about those. Many regiments are losing their numbers and their uniforms. Can't say as I'm unhappy myself; The Rifle Brigade's come through all right. But many of the older regiments have lost their seniority, and it doesn't sit right with them, you see."
"But surely you told me that you have left the military?" Vastra asked, confused.
"Well, yes ma'am, but there's always a fair bit of loyalty to the old regiment. Something to be proud of. You see?"
Mr Parker explained that the 'facings' in this case were the collars of the soldier's uniforms. The reforms that took effect at the beginning of July meant that many of the colours were being standardized. "The Guards and 'Royal' Regiments, those with Royal, King's, Queen's or Prince Albert's name in their title will be dark blue. The English and Welsh Regiments will be white.
"The Scottish Regiments will be yellow." Madame Vastra nodded. "We heard someone talking about that."
"And the Irish Regiments will be green," said Jenny.
"Right," said Parker. "For now though, you'll see quite a few of the men here in their old uniforms; not all the regiments have received their new ones yet. And you'll see lots of old soldiers and men in militia uniforms and foreign uniforms as well today."
Vastra nodded gravely. While she had very little real idea of how important this might be to the Apes, she could understand how large scale change might affect the morale of these warriors.
They sat and sipped at their drinks in quiet for a few minutes. Fortunately Mr Parker did not feel the need to fill the quiet with the sound of his own voice, a fact that encouraged Madame Vastra to accept the Ape's presence.
In the noisy tent, mixed in with the various chatter…
"What the hell is the matter with you, Keegan?"
A deep, quiet growl should not have stood out, and yet it did.
Mr Parker scowled, looking around for the idiot who was swearing with a lady present. The two tables closest to them were empty, and no one else nearby was speaking very loudly. The voice sounded much closer.
"You're not here to buzz the crowd, you're should be listening instead," another voice chimed in, less gravelly than the first. "There are hundreds of men here, many of them from the old country, and there's bound to be at least a few who'd like to see a change there. All you need to do is pay attention, and chat up any of the lower ranks who you hear grumbling. These reforms aren't popular. They may take this opportunity to vent their annoyance. Listen to them, and get a feel for their views as to… other changes they'd like to see. Men who are brave enough, and know enough of the arts of war may be willing and able to help The Cause!"
"Ah boyo, I'm just having a quiet smoke." A third man replied.
"From a cigarette case that you didn't have last night!" said the second in a scolding tone.
"Ah now, it fell out of the gent's pocket, I swear. Not like these bastards would miss it, more money than brains and waltzing around in their fancy uniforms…."
"Shut yer sauce-box!" growled the first voice again. "We're in the middle o' Her Majesties killers, and you want to pretend they're a bunch of old women! They're not holding a draughts tournament, you damn fool! Most every man here has a rifle, and knows how to use it!"
"Ah, calm down, boyo," the voice that belonged to 'Keegan' continued, "I'm just saying that 'stead of dancing around Whitehall and the old lady of Threadneedle street in a couple of weeks, this lot here and now seem like a better mark. The 'gifts' at the Mansion House and Liverpool capers didn't go as planned' cause those buggers were dolts, but I can whip you up a cracker that'll blow these bastards straight to Hell…"
"Shut Up, you idiot!"
Vastra frowned. "The Mansion House and Liverpool capers? Apparently we have some indiscreet thieves…" she said quietly.
Parker had gone pale. "Madame," he exclaimed, "I don't think they're just thieves! The Mansion House and the Liverpool Town Hall were almost blown up earlier this year! The 'gifts' they mentioned were bombs!"
"Bombs!" exclaimed someone at a nearby table. "Who's talking about bombs?"
"Oh don't be daft," said another at the same table, "We're practically in the middle of an army camp. Of course someone's going to be talking about shells, bombs and explosions!"
That didn't seem to reassure his neighbours. Murmuring about 'bombs' and 'explosion' Several men and women started out of their seats, and headed for the exit from the tent.
Jenny grabbed Vastra's sleeve, and pointed at the tent. "They're outside," she whispered excitedly. "That's why we can hear 'em, but not see 'em. Like at Private Taylor's tent!"
Parker and Vastra looked at each other, and Parker headed to the nearby exit from the tent in a hurry, with Vastra, after giving Jenny a motion to 'stay' and 'listen,' following close behind him.
"Bleddy hell," Jenny heard through the tent wall, "What's all the fuss in the tent?"
There was a moment when Jenny could tell that the men were listening to the noise in the tent behind her. And since that noise was now discussing 'bombs' and 'shells' louder and louder, she wasn't surprised when one of the men said, "You've been heard, you idiot!"
Jenny glanced back at Madame Vastra and Mr Parker. It was clear that with the crowd at the tent 'door' was slowing them down. They'd kick up a fuss, Jenny knew, but unless Madame started shoving people out of the way, they'd not get out for a minute or two.
"Scatter," said one of the voices. "We'll meet up later as planned."
Jenny glanced back at Madame Vastra, caught her eye, and gave an apologetic little shrug. She sighed deeply, wondering what her punishment for disobeying an order would be this time. And then she hurried over to where the tent wall was fastened up to let in the breeze, dropped down, and rolled under the fabric of the tent.
"Oh, I say!" came a woman's voice from outside.
Madame Vastra blinked in surprise. Clever little monkey!
"Sorry ma'am, 'scuse me." Vastra heard Jenny's voice. "Just a few folks kicking up a fuss inside. Thought I'd be safer out here."
Just then the crowd in front of her parted, and Vastra was able to get outside, with Parker right behind her. Jenny was kneeling at the end of the tent, her back to them .The girl was peering cautiously around the corner where they'd heard the men.
When they arrived, they saw the area behind the tent was empty. They looked around quickly, but the men where gone.
"Did you see them?" asked Vastra.
"Just their backs, ma'am."
"Go and patrol. Try to locate any of them by identifying either their voices or clothing. Do not approach them if you do, but try to get a good look at them."
"Yes ma'am." Jenny nodded and darted off, weaving deftly between the stiff men and the occasional hoop skirted woman, moving far more quickly that the adults could. Vastra nodded to herself; if Jenny could get another glimpse of the men, and match them up to their voices, it would be valuable information. And she was always eager for assignments such as this.
Madame Vastra turned around, lifting her veil just a little so she could taste the air, trying to get a scent from any of the males. Salty sweat of course. Sun baked cloth and leather. Several types of alcohol (one man must have washed in it!) Smoke…
Vastra cocked her head. The smoke was strong, and it was changing…
"Ah, there you are Madame Vastra!" Vastra dropped her veil and turned to find Colonel Lethbridge and John Taylor striding towards them. "Are you all right? What on earth is all the fuss in that tent about?"
"We heard some men talking who might be bombers or anarchists," replied Parker.
"Anarchists!" exclaimed the Colonel.
"Where's Jenny going?" asked Taylor worriedly, seeing the girl disappearing in the distance.
Parker quickly explained, while Vastra tried to taste the air again, and heartily wished that the two extra sweating apes hadn't shown up when they did. The smell of smoke was definitely getting stronger…
"You can't let her go alone!" Taylor tried to peer through the crowd, scowling as the crush of people thwarted him. "Grown men against a young girl are bad odds!"
"I would not have sent her if I thought that she would not be able to follow them carefully or defend herself if needed," replied Madame Vastra.
And then she heard a yelp from the Colonel, and turned to see him stamping on some of the sun-browned grass beside the tent. Small flames were licking the grass, and even as they glanced over, a flame started lapping at the wall of the tent, rising rapidly..
"FIRE!" came a panicked scream inside the tent.
Vastra looked around quickly, and spotted a water bucket nearby, likely for just this sort of thing. She grabbed it and from the corner of her eye saw Taylor seize a shovel and Parker another water bucket. Quickly they poured the water on the fire, while Taylor threw shovelfuls of dirt on the base of the flames. Luckily, it didn't take long to douse the blaze.
Madame Vastra looked carefully at the ground, wondering what had started the fire and saw something in the short dry grass. She bent and retrieved it. It was a white paper tube filled with shredded dried leaves, crumpled from being crushed by a boot and a bit soggy, but still a little warm to the touch. Madame Vastra examined it closely, noting its scent. It matched the smoke she'd smelled inside the tent. She nodded to herself, gently crushed it to make certain it was extinguished, and then tucked it away in her skirt pocket for later examination.
Taylor stopped and watched Vastra, who was looking at the ground again.
"You were serious before, weren't you. About Jenny. You have no idea how much danger a girl like her…"
"She has engaged in similar scouting missions before. Several times." Vastra shrugged. "Besides, females in this city deal with danger every day of their lives. They walk amongst animals and killers, and must smile at them." Madame Vastra looked up at Taylor with a scowl, "You are not so foolish as to not know this, are you?"
Taylor stiffened. "Just what are you implying?" he hissed quietly, glancing warily at Parker and the Colonel, who were carefully checking the damage to the tent.
Vastra eyed Taylor carefully, noting the sudden defensive stance he'd unconsciously taken. "I was referring to your usually keen ability to observe what occurs around you." She cocked her head. "Was there something else I should be aware of?"
Taylor's face twisted into a scowl for a moment, but then smoothed out. "No," he replied. "Nothing else."
Vastra strongly suspected the Ape was lying. She just didn't know about what.
Jenny kept her eyes and ears open, and once or twice she thought she heard a voice that sounded like one of the men. She was able to get a bit closer, and saw him but only for a few moments. Then he was swallowed by the thick crowd, and Jenny didn't see him again. Unhappy, she returned to Madame Vastra to make her report.
"He were a tall fellow with a thick black moustache and whiskers. Didn't see any scars.
Only saw him from the shoulders up. Wearing what looked like part of a uniform, a red jacket."
Colonel Lethbridge was peering at Jenny as she spoke, frowning slightly. Jenny hoped that he would decide he'd met her brother earlier, instead of Jenny herself.
"We'll never find him," sighed Taylor. "Half the men here are wearing red uniforms.!"
"The one bloke, Keegan, he sounded maybe Irish," said Jenny. "Lot's of Irish worked with Da on the docks."
"Are there many Irish here?" asked Vastra
"The Irish shooting team is here, of course, and men from several of the Irish regiments. But besides that, there's Irishmen scattered throughout the army. I'd say almost a third of the British Army is Irish."
"Wish we'd had a better look at them," sighed Parker.
"Jenny had the right idea when she rolled out of the tent. We should have gone through the wall," said Vastra with annoyance. "It would have been much faster."
Colonel Lethbridge looked outraged, "Go through it? You mean cut the tent? Ruin the Associations property?"
"Well, the truth is Madame," intervened Taylor smoothly, "The tent is made of thick canvas, and it wouldn't be very easy to cut it. It would likely have taken even more time than just going around did."
Parker nodded in agreement. "Well, we'd best tell the police." The men started to move off, looking for a police officer.
"Of course," murmured Vastra to Jenny as they followed them, "I could have easily torn the tent with my claws."
"Not a wise thing to do with Mr Parker or the others about, ma'am," replied Jenny, "unless you want to move to a new home at the London Zoo instead of Paternoster Row!"
Colonel Lethbridge led them over to the main judge's tent, where a tall police constable was on duty. He listened to Mr Parker's and Madame Vastra's report but was sceptical that it wasn't just men talking bluff. Finally Colonel Lethbridge put his foot down.
"We're going to need the CID. I want them here tomorrow morning before the finals, if they cannot come tonight."
"The CID? Who are they? asked Madame Vastra.
"The Criminal Investigation Department of the Metropolitan Police Force Ma'am," replied the constable.
"The CID has access directly to the Home Secretary and can bypass the Chief Inspector of the Metropolitan Police if necessary," explained Mr Parker. "Wimbledon is still within the jurisdiction of Scotland Yard, you see."
"Scotland Yard?" asked Jenny. "We know Inspector Abernathy there! He investigates bank robberies and murders!"
"If your Inspector wears civilian clothing then he's most likely part of the CID. They specialize in criminal investigations, and some of their men have started focusing more on the anarchists and revolutionaries that are causing problems recently," explained Colonel Lethbridge to Madame Vastra. "Which is why I want them here before any trouble starts!" he said sternly to the constable.
"All right sir," the policeman agreed, recognizing that further resistance would be futile. "I'll send a message off to them right away."
That evening, Jenny wrote up her notes about the morning's shooting lesson, and more importantly about the possible bombers. She tried to remember as much as she could about what they said, and what she'd seen in the brief glimpse of them. Madame Vastra reminded her, however, to clearly note if she wasn't sure about something, instead of simply guessing.
Afterwards they found a shady spot outside and enjoyed a gentle breeze. Vastra quizzed Jenny on the rifle parts and the safety rules, and deemed that their lesson for the day. Afterwards, Jenny fetched some tea while Madame Vastra mulled over the very little that they'd heard. Part of her could not believe that the Apes would be so violent as to use bombs against non-military targets, and another part was annoyed that she had no idea why they would even do so. If she was going to live in this world, she needed to stop trying to withdraw from it. For one thing, she doubted that Jenny would let her do so for very long. As the only person to actually see the potentially dangerous men, the little monkey may well have tangled them up in a new case.
On Saturday morning, Madame Vastra and Jenny met up with the men of the Green Jackets at the Flag-staffs, under the Union Flag. Parker were standing with the police constable they'd spoken with on Saturday, Taylor was lounging against a flagpole nearby, and the Colonel was speaking with another man wearing a suit and bowler hat. Jenny could see that it wasn't Inspector Abernathy; and she wasn't sure if she should be disappointed that he wasn't there, or pleased that maybe a more street smart police inspector was on the case.
As it turned out, Jenny found herself quickly wishing for Abernathy. Detective Inspector Richard Peaslin, not to be polite about it, was an obnoxious stuck-up arse.
"If they were talking about the Mansion House and Liverpool, they may be Fenians," the Colonel was saying as they arrived. "They've already caused trouble in the country this year."
"My good sir, don't start with that," huffed Inspector Peaslin. "Ever since those two Irishmen tried to bomb the Liverpool Town Hall, we've been getting reports of Fenians hiding behind every tree and bush!"
"One of those men sounded Irish. Sounded like he'd stolen a cigarette case too. Maybe someone reported it and said what it looked like!" said Jenny.
"What is a Fenian?" Vastra asked. "Is it like a Chinese?" Vastra glanced over at Jenny, hoping for an explanation, but all the girl could do was shake her head, and say "No idea, Ma'am. Never heard of them."
"They're violent revolutionaries, who threaten to turn decent civilised society on its head!" Peaslin snarled.
Taylor shook his head, and then looked Vastra. "The Fenian Brotherhood is an Irish political organisation founded in the United States," he said quietly. "As I understand it, Madame, Fenianism has two main principles: firstly, that Ireland has a natural right to independence, and secondly, that this right can only be won by an armed revolution."
"You seem to know a bit about it, 'Mr' Taylor. Perhaps I should be questioning you; the most extreme of the Fenians are said to be from America," sneered Peaslin.
"I know 'a bit about it' because I served in the Army of the Potomac in defence of the United States, and there were many good Irishmen who served with me, some of them members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood." Taylor said firmly. "They didn't seem very pleased about the British starving them out of Ireland with your Corn Laws. The ones that survived the famine, that is."
Peaslin sputtered, but Taylor went on, "Mind you, I agree with Captain Simundson; the Fenians' idea of trying to invade Canada West was just plain stupid; it was astonishing how quickly the Canadians decided that uniting into one country so it wouldn't happen again was a wise plan."
"Good heavens! Write down the date in the club minutes, please Mr Parker," drawled the Colonel. "Private Taylor actually said he agrees with Captain Simundson about something!"
"But what does this have to do with the men we heard?" asked Vastra. "And Jenny is correct; one of them may have stolen a cigarette case. If that was reported, it would verify our story, and there may be a description of the thief."
"Most likely, Colonel," the Inspector continued, addressing only Lethbridge and pointedly ignoring the rest of them, "This isn't a real threat at all. I don't understand why I needed to be called down here in this infernal heat for what is probably just some malcontents blowing nothing but hot air!"
"You are here because this is the last day of the Rifle Matches. If anything is going to happen here, it will be today. Besides, this is your best chance to find and identify those men."
"Nothing is going to happen," Peaslin sighed. "No one would dare do anything here, and it's likely all just over-active imaginations anyway!"
"What about the Mansion House bomb in March and the Liverpool bombing in May?" asked Parker. "Those plots were real enough!"
"In those cases, the bombers were captured," replied Peaslin. "By now the bombers should have learned that they are no match for the police!"
"And what's all that about 'over-active imaginations?" asked the Colonel in a no-nonsense tone.
"There is unfortunately some doubt as to the … reliability of the witnesses. After all, Mr Parker is a cab driver, and as for Madame Vastra... well, a witness who conceals her face…"
"What about me?" asked Colonel Lethbridge flatly.
"I'm sorry, I may have misunderstood," Peaslin said silkily, "Did you hear these men yourself, sir?"
"Well…no," huffed the Colonel, "but…"
"Or you… Mr… Taylor was it?"
"No, I was with the Colonel, and didn't hear them either," said Taylor calmly.
"Then we're left with the cabbie and the widow," remarked Peaslin.
"And Jenny!" added Parker. "Who is the one who actually saw them!"
"A maid is hardly a reliable witness," Peaslin said haughtily. "Much less a child! Her head's probably filled with all sorts of nonsense!"
Although she was extremely annoyed at the Ape's obstinacy, a small part of Madame Vastra mind couldn't decide whose expression was more amusing: Jenny's or Taylor's. She recognized this look on their faces; both wore identical looks out sheer outrage.
"You're an idiot," said Taylor, flatly. "Please tell me that not all of the British police are as dumb as you are."
"I say, Taylor…" sputtered Parker, unsure if he should defend the policeman or not.
"Umm…" said Jenny, thinking of Inspector Abernathy. "Well, Constable Palmer's smart, even if he's a bit hide-bound," she said brightly.
"Beside all this, Jenny is my student, not my servant," said Madame Vastra. Inspector Peaslin continued to ignore her, and spoke to the Colonel and Mr Parker.
"Be that as it may, in my considerably experience, females are simply not reliable witnesses."
Now it was Madame Vastra's turn to be outraged.
"Mr Peaslin," began Colonel Lethbridge.
Suddenly Jenny clapped her hand over her mouth, trying desperately not to laugh.
"What's so funny?" whispered the American beside her. Vastra glanced over at Jenny as well.
"Just realized, his name, Mr Peaslin, in street talk it means…um… " Jenny glanced quickly at each on the men, and then down at the front of Peaslin's trousers. "Never mind," she finished, suddenly embarrassed to have brought it up.
Taylor blinked, and then was abruptly trying not to laugh as well.
Vastra just felt confused.
Peaslin sneered at Jenny, and very much on his dignity said "Inspector Peaslin, if you please, Colonel!"
"Inspector Peaslin, then. You seem to be taking this very lightly," remarked the Colonel. "I'll go to the Home Secretary, Sir William Harcourt himself if I need to! He'll make this seriously, even if you don't."
"Trying to find three men in a crowd won't be easy…" Peaslin started.
"Madame Vastra found a cigarette stub near where we heard the men," said Parker. "As she said, the man who sounded Irish may have stolen a cigarette case. If the person who lost it filed a report, maybe you can match the kinds of cigarette and look for men smoking that brand. That might help a bit."
Inspector Peaslin looked up at that. "I thought your name sounded familiar, Madame." He scowled. "You're Abernathy's fair-haired lady that can do no wrong. He was singing your praises for your handling of the Grand Tournament investigation."
Vastra leaned over to Jenny and whispered, "Why does Abernathy think I have fair hair? I don't have any hair at all!."
Jenny just shook her head. "Tell you later, ma'am," she whispered back.
"You just damn fool luck if you ask me," sneered Peaslin. "Your maid could probably have solved that case!"
Vastra smirked; Jenny had certainly contributed a good deal to solving that case, and to destroying the Scorpions. It was probably best not to let the Inspector know that, however.
"Enough of this nonsense! I can vouch for Mr Parker's honesty, Inspector," growled the Colonel, "and Mr Taylor can likely vouch for Madame Vastra…" Peaslin's sneer told him what the Inspector thought of that idea. "Are you planning on investigating or not, 'Inspector?"
Peaslin eyed him for a long moment. "The constable and I will have a look around." His voice, however, indicated that he didn't really believe either Parker or Vastra.
"Inspector," drawled the Colonel, "You might want to start with the local police stationed at the Matches; I understand from reliable witnesses that one of the men might have stolen a cigarette case. You might see if there was a report or description given in." He nodded to the constable standing nearby.
"I'm glad you mentioned that, Colonel, seeing as none of the other so-called witnesses bothered to do so!"
Jenny only managed to move a half-step forward to throttle the man before Vastra caught her shoulder and stopped her. She noted with amusement that Taylor had to do the same with Mr Parker.
"You'd best let me get on with it," said Peaslin and stalked off.
The Colonel watched him go, then shook his head and looked back at the others. "A pity your maid's brother wasn't the witness, Madame," he said. "The inspector might have listened to him."
Taylor smirked but shook his head, "If he won't listen to Jenny, I can almost guarantee he won't listen to young Mr Flint either."
"Her brother?" Mr Parker looked confused.
"Yes, fine young chap. Taylor had him out shooting yesterday on the range."
Parker opened his mouth to say something and then closed it with a snap. He continued to look puzzled.
The Colonel continued. "Mr Taylor, I'm sorry to say you are correct. That man Peaslin is an idiot."
"Should I write that down in the minutes too, sir?" asked Parker with sigh. "You're right though. He's a real piece of work!"
Vastra shook her head and muttered to Jenny, "Of all things, it never occurred to me that compared with his peers, Inspector Abernathy might be considered clever."