Madame Vastra and Jenny turned back towards the centre of town, and wandered down the main street. At the north-eastern end they found an old railway station. Nearby, a new station was being built, with men working on both frame of the building and the track-bed.
There were several posters on the outside walls of the railway station, describing the various trains and fares. The stark black lettering on white paper seemed very dull to Vastra. Really, the Apes needed more colours to catch the eye…
“Wonder where the trains go?” said Jenny.
“To London I assume,” replied Madame Vastra. “As to the other direction, I don’t know…” The two females glanced at each other. “Let us find out!” Vastra finished, grinning beneath her veil.
It turned out that the trains ran through Wimbledon to the ports of Southampton, Portsmouth, and Plymouth. Jenny was fascinated at the thought. “Da always talked about the ships he’d worked on at the docks. Came from all over the world he said. But I’ve never seen the sea in my life!”
Madame Vastra glanced down at her young human, but only said “It’s been many years since I’ve seen the sea as well. I must keep it in mind for an excursion.”
In the afternoon, while Jenny spent some more time with the maids, Madame Vastra found a quiet spot in the garden, sat in the hot sun, and read the daily newspaper. The inn had a subscription to the Times. There was an article in the paper on the Matches, and tucked in the back was an intriguing ‘lost’ notice. Vastra clipped out items, giving the one on the Rifle Matches to Jenny for her notes, and keeping the other for herself.
Jenny spent Tuesday morning with Eileen, learning about bed linens. She’d never had more than a blanket or two at home with her family or even at Madame Vastra’s flat and she wasn’t sure what to do with them. Top sheets and bottom sheets and folded corner were all completely new to her.
And although she would never admit it, even Madame Vastra was puzzled by the extra sheets. However, she found a reasonable excuse (reviewing the railway timetable) to be in the sitting room while the lesson on bed sheets was in session in her bedroom, and was able to catch most of Eileen’s excellent explanation. While Vastra might rarely make a bed, one could never tell when such information might prove useful.
Afterwards, Madame Vastra and Jenny went for a walk again around Wimbledon. The town possessed several bookstores, a chemist’s shop, a tobacconist, the post office and several other interesting looking places. They found a little tea room with tables and chairs outside under a sun awning. There they spent a pleasant afternoon watching the residents go by. While Wimbledon was not a true country town, being just on the outskirts of London, the main street was not nearly as busy as Cheapside. Jenny thought that the locals moved a bit slower, and Madame Vastra agreed. Jenny took the chance to ask Madame about what she could tell about the various people. How much, Jenny wondered, did Madame Vastra actually know about telling folks apart?
Jenny pointed out some easy ones; a telegram boy dodging between men and women on the pavement, moving at a fast walk; and a carter delivering casks of ale to the local public house. Jenny also pointed out a lady and her maid as they passed by in an open carriage, the maid with her back to the horses, her mistress more comfortably facing forwards. The plain dark clothes of the maid also marked her as different from her brightly dressed mistress. On the other hand, the town constable was the one person Madame Vastra recognized easily; she’d seen Constable Palmer is a similar uniform many times.
Just before lunch, Vastra spotted two Apes with what looked like sheep’s wool on their heads and wearing long flowing black robes. She asked Jenny about them, and after a moment’s thought, Jenny guessed that they were barristers or solicitors, running between the local law court and their offices. This seemed possible to Vastra, especially when she saw the police constable salute them politely as they passed.
“You rely on your sight a great deal, don’t you?” asked Vastra. “If your people are dressed in certain clothes, then that guides what you believe them to be.”
Jenny blinked in surprise, and then nodded. “Well that and the way they talk, right? You can tell an awful lot about a person by the way they talk. Like where they’re from, what sort of folks they are, a bit about their family… Don’t you do that too?”
Vastra shook her head a little. “I’m not as familiar with...human accents you are. And your people’s clothes often baffle me. Remember though, that my sense of smell is keener than yours. That’s often useful, although I admit that in some places or circumstances it can also be annoying.”
Jenny shot her a quizzical look. Vastra nodded a nearby trail of fresh droppings from a horse that had just passed by. Jenny made a quick face. “Right. Can see where that’s a bit of a curse.”
“It does mean, however, that I can sense some things that you cannot. Just as you can hear better than I can. If something smells… off, then I know it.”
Vastra hesitated, remembering the smell of blood when she’d seen Taylor and Abernathy just after the board meeting for the Royal Tournament. Had Abernathy been at the site of a murder, or at the morgue? Why would Private Taylor smell of blood? Unless he’d been to a butcher shop, perhaps.
Vastra frowned. Or unless the Ape had killed someone. She hadn’t forgotten Jenny’s story of the bloody things she’d seen when rescuing one of her pickpocket friends. Could Taylor be a killer?
She snorted to herself. The Ape was a former army ‘sharpshooter’; of course he was a killer, just as she was herself. The question was, did he still kill, and if so, for what reasons, or had he left that life behind when he left his ‘Army of the Potomac’?
To Jenny she simply said, “I was able to smell the change of smoke from cigarette to grass fire, and I can distinguish between… your people by their scent.”
Jenny thought for a moment and then nodded. “Sort of like telling people apart from their footsteps. Use to make a game of that, guessing which of the adults were in the hall ways at my old flat by the way they walked. Da stomped a lot; Tom's Da walked lighter, but had a bit on a limp, things like that. We’d bet for pebbles. I got pretty good at it,” she finished proudly.
Vastra nodded, making a note to herself to encourage Jenny to further develop that skill. It might prove useful, and it was a trick she herself needed more practice in. Though of course, a superior sense of smell was a far surer way of identifying one’s target.
In the evening, Jenny visited the kitchen and collected a large china teapot and one of the inn’s nice china cups for Madame Vastra’s evening tea. The cook was mystified, as far as she could tell; the reclusive Madame Vastra took milk, honey and lemon in her tea. That made no sense; everyone knew that adding lemon to milk spoiled it for tea!
Jenny carefully carried the tea tray back to the room, and Madame Vastra poured her tea, “I’m reasonably certain you could borrow an extra cup and saucer,” Vastra remarked, adding a few drops of fresh lemon while Jenny found her little tin mug.
Jenny shook her head. “This mug’s one of the few things I’ve got left from my family. Not giving it up.”
Vastra poured some tea for her, and watched as Jenny tried to drink the hot beverage. Vastra knew that the metal cup would conduct heat quickly, burning Jenny’s lip if she tried to drink too soon. But Jenny seemed to think that this was something she should do to help remember her mother and siblings. However, Vastra wondered if it was more a Rite of Atonement for surviving while most of her family did not. That was certainly something Vastra herself could understand.
Eventually the tea cooled enough for Jenny to finish her first mug. She put it down and Madame Vastra poured more tea for her, and watched as Jenny added milk and honey this time. “You’ve developed a ‘sweet tooth’, I think.”
Jenny nodded, “Could never afford this stuff. Lovely taste, but could be a habit if I let it. Ma always said too many sweet things were bad for us. Made us too noisy. Still it’s nice for a treat sometimes.”
Vastra cocked her head, taking in the idea. After a few more minutes, she put it aside for now, and began to quiz Jenny on her lessons in housework, observation and their daily class on weapons skills.
All in all it was a most enjoyable evening for both of them.
Early on Wednesday morning, a carriage from the Lundy’s Inn dropped off a tall widow and her young maid at the railway station. At the new station worksite nearby, one of the workman stopped a moment to watch the pair take a basket from the coach and walk into the station, while the groom and a porter started to unload the luggage strapped to the coach. The man gave a nod of relief; the pair was likely heading home, and that gave him one less thing to worry about.
As he was quickly called back to work, the man missed the second couple, a professional man and his servant, who departed the coach a moment later. The valet took charge of giving instructions to the porter, and the man, his valet, and their luggage soon caught the train, though riding in a different compartment than Vastra and Jenny. For Madame Vastra had arranged for something special: a day trip with a picnic basket and two first class train tickets to Southampton to see that port.
They had an excellent trip. They saw the Training Ship ‘Wellesley,’ with its cadets manning the sails, and took the ferry to the Isle of Wright. In the early evening, they returned and were picked up by the driver from the inn, but by that time the workers had finished for the day, and so their shadowy watcher had no idea that they were still in town, and still on the case.
On Thursday, Madame Vastra decided that they would visit the local shops in Wimbledon. At the first store they visited, a bookstore, Jenny found a magazine called “Young Folks” which had some interesting adventure stories which were told in chapters, and promised to carry on in the next issue. Jenny decided that it would make good reading and bought it with the small amount of money she kept for her own things. Madame Vastra found a book called “A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains” by a female traveller named Isabella Lucy Bird, and thought it might be interesting. If she understood the geography correctly, these mountains were on what the Ape called ‘the North American continent.’ If nothing else, she might understand a little more about their pesky ‘American’ acquaintance.
After the bookstore they wandered further along the high street and found a tobacconist’s shop. After a moment’s thought, Madame Vastra strode in, followed by a slightly more reluctant Jenny. In Jenny’s world, smoke shops were men’s domain, and any female who entered would face a right nasty fuss by scared men defending their pitch.
Madame Vastra strolled about for a few minutes while another customer was finishing up his transaction. Two others were sitting at the back, reading newspapers. One was puffing on a pipe, the other was finishing stubbing out a cigar just as Vastra passed by. She discreetly tasted the air in the shop. The dried, shredded and blended tobaccos created interesting smells, but for the life of her she could not understand why the Apes loved smoke and smoking so much. They already had so much of it in their lives from the coal fires that kept their houses barely warm and ran their locomotives. And to that they willingly added tobacco smoke. All that smoke couldn’t possibly be good for them!
Jenny stayed by the door, glowering slightly at the men in the shop. There weren’t many of them, but she could she could see they were taken aback by having their domain invaded by a woman. Jenny was kicking herself; she should have warned Madame Vastra that women rarely went to such places. Luckily, Madame’s assumed status as a widow gave her a bit more freedom to do odd things.
She slid her arm gently back and reassured herself that her knife was handy beneath the folds of her dress. If any of the men made a nasty move, Jenny would have his guts for garters. No joke.
At last, the proprietor was free, and Vastra approached him with her questions. She showed him the small crushed stub of the cigarette she’d retrieved , and asked if he could identify it.
“Not from just this,” the tobacconist explained. “Almost all cigarettes are plain tubes like this. Could be Benson and Hedges, Phillips from Pall Mall, could even be Marcovitch from Air Street.”
“Marcovitch?” asked Madame Vastra. She pulled the folded description from the newspaper from the pocket of her cloak:
Lost at the Wimbledon Rifle Match on Friday past, a solid silver large square cigarette case with Birmingham hallmarks. Case has all over bright cut scroll engraving and gilding to the interior, with retention straps. It has a full side hinge and a sprung push thumb catch. Inscribed interior in "With all my heart." Case is nearly square at 3 5/8 inches high by 3.5 inches wide by 5/8 inches deep. Weight is heavy; approx. 120 grams. Contains ten Marcovitch cigarettes. Reward for return; contact Anson S. Hall, c/o Central London Post Office. Finder may keep the cigarettes.
“I am looking into the disappearance of this cigarette case. I have cause to believe it may well have been stolen, not simply lost,” explained Vastra. “By any chance, do you have any Marcovitch cigarettes?”
The tobacconist turned, brushing his grey hair out of his eyes to see better. Jenny thought he looked a bit like an old sheepdog that lived near the Gin Palace. He looked over the rows of glass canisters behind him. Some contained shredded tobacco, others contained what Jenny recognized cigars, both large and even some very small ones. There were also several containers containing the white tubes of cigarettes.
“Marcovitch is an expensive brand,” said the man. “I usually only sell them during the Lawn Tennis and Rifle matches. I bring them down from London just for that.” He reached for an almost empty container. “Still have a baker’s dozen left.”
While he was opening the container, Vastra discreetly sniffed the stub she held, memorizing the smell for a moment. When the container was opened, Vastra picked up one of the fresh cigarettes, and sniffed at it gently.
Everyone in the store stopped and stared at her.
“Yes, I believe this likely is by the same maker. Of course, I believe further tests would be wise, but it is a very close match.”
"How d’you know…”
“Oh,” said Madame Vastra easily, “I have a very keen sense of smell. I’ll buy them.”
The tobacconist stared at her a moment longer, then shook himself and weighed the cigarettes and wrapped up in a neat little package. Jenny stepped up to pay him, and take charge of the goods.
"What are going to do with dozen cigarettes, ma’am?”
“Verify that the scent of one of cigarettes aflame is the same what I smelled at the Rifles Matches when we heard our quarry plotting.”
“Excuse me, ma’am?”
Vastra and Jenny turned, Jenny frowning slightly at the man who was speaking. “Don’t suppose you need a volunteer to test the cigarette for you? Not good for the youngster, you see, and doubt a lady like you indulges in the habit?”
Madame Vastra gave the little head tilt that Jenny knew meant that she was thinking about the idea. After a moment she nodded, and carefully reopened the package and handed the man a cigarette.
"Best outside, maybe ma’am?” asked Jenny. “Lots of smoke in here already. Might confuse things.”
The man nodded and the three of them went outside, followed by tobacconist and the other customer.
Their ‘test smoker’ lit the cigarette, and settled in to enjoy himself. Vastra sniffed gently, then nodded to Jenny. “It’s the same smell.”
Jenny took a few experimental sniffs, then sneezed and shook her head. “Just smells like smoke to me, ma’am.”
“Hmm,” said the other customer. “I can smell a slight difference from most of the smokes the lads at the boarding house use.” He frowned, looking thoughtful.
“It’s a very fine cigarette,” agreed their tester. He paused for a long moment, and then continued, in a considering tone, “I’ve smelt one of those in the last few days…. Now where…?”
“Probably one of the Quality that came through town on the weekend,” said the tobacconist.
“Wasn’t here on the weekend, town’s always so crowded I went into London for some peace and quiet. Now where… think it was near the station…” the man shrugged. “You’re likely right, one of the gents going home on Monday no doubt.”
Madame Vastra nodded and started to turn away, but Jenny gently caught her arm and took a moment to thank the men for their time. Though she’d been wary at first, truth be told they’d been right helpful. Made for a very nice surprise!
Jenny was still worried about the old lady the plotters talked about; it had been nibbling at her all day. So on Thursday evening, when her lesson and chores were done, she sat down and wrote a short letter to Mr Thackeray at the Bank of England. She explained a bit about what they’d heard, that the police inspector who was in charge didn’t seem to think much of it, and then asked if anyone at the bank might know who the men were meaning to hurt. She caught the postman on his last round of the day, and sent off her note in time to catch the evening mail train to London.
On Friday morning, just as Vastra was finishing up her breakfast, she saw a hatchling in a smart uniform running up to the inn. Moments later, Mrs Lundy knocked on the door of the suite, and handed Jenny a telegram for Madame Vastra! She also mentioned that the telegram boy was waiting in the parlour, should Madame Vastra need to send a reply.
The handwritten note on the telegraph office form was short and to the point:
Urgent - Received J’s note of July 22. Old Lady is Bank of England. Send Inspector’s Name to Dawes by wire soonest. Letter follows.
"The Old Lady is the Bank of England? What’s he mean by that?” asked Jenny as they made their way downstairs.
“I haven’t the faintest idea,” replied Madame Vastra. “However, the instruction to send Inspector Peaslin’s name is clear enough. And I believe we will receive a letter as well. Perhaps today?”
When she asked the young ape waiting in the parlour if that was possible, the telegraph boy agreed. “If yer friend mails a letter in the city today, it’ll come down on the train this afternoon. I’ll tell the boys at the post office to keep an eye out for it, and make sure it don’t go astray. We’ll get it over here on the next round afterwards!”
“Excellent,” Madame Vastra nodded. “That will be something to look forward to.”
With the help of the telegram boy, Madame Vastra composed a message to Mr Dawes with the name of Inspector Peaslin. Vastra thought it was like writing a letter, and it took the telegram boy and Jenny working together to help Vastra trim the message down. Twenty words back to the City cost 1 shilling, and an extra 3 pence for every five more words. Vastra’s first try came out to nearly 10 shillings!
As promised, Thackeray’s letter arrived late on Friday afternoon. He provided a fuller explanation; the ‘Old Lady of Threadneedle Street’ was a ‘nickname’ for the Bank of England. He thanked Madame Vastra for Inspector Peaslin’s name, but asked for additional details. In short; what did Vastra, Jenny and the others hear?
Realizing the gravity of the situation, Madame Vastra herself wrote back. She explained about Parker and the Green Jackets, and gave James directions on how to contact both Parker and Colonel Lethbridge.
Jenny was unhappy, and worried that if the bombers decided to go after the Bank, Mr Thackeray or Mr Dawes could be hurt. “That would be a poor payment for their kindness to us.”
Madame Vastra pointed out that the Bank was quite capable of organizing its own defence, as the detachment of guards from the Tower of London who nightly kept watch amply proved. Still, she could see that Jenny was restless and wanted to DO something. Vastra decided that they should walk over to the town’s post office and send the letter. That way it was sure to be on the evening mail train to the City.
Saturday was quiet in Wimbledon. In the City, though, Vastra’s letter spurred a great deal of activity…
On Sunday morning Vastra settled into the main parlour downstairs at the Inn. After looking over the bookshelves, she found a copy of ‘Aesop’s Fables’ and read a few pages. She was torn between the charm of the interesting little stories, and the sheer absurdity of the apes believing that animals were self-aware. On the other talon, she herself would have scoffed at the idea that mammals in general, and Apes in particular, would ever become self-aware. And it only took them about 65 million years. At least for the females. Vastra still wasn’t completely convinced about the males. With a few strong exceptions. She decided to read a bit more of the book.
Half an hour or so later, Vastra looked up when she heard knocking on the front door, followed by voices in the entrance hall. A minute later, one of the maids showed two Apes into the room.
“Visitors for you, ma’am,” said the maid.
Vastra blinked in surprise, wondering for a moment who it might be.
“Good Morning, Madame Vastra! I hope we’re not disturbing you on your holiday,” said the slightly balding Ape with a quantity of fur under its nose and mouth. He seemed familiar and Vastra took a quick sniff. Clean, plump without being fat, not too tall, good clothes… Oh, this was James Thackeray! Of course! There was a tall Ape beside him, dressed in a clean shirt, jacket and trousers, but it looked slightly uncomfortable in the clothes. It smelt of polish and soap. Vastra suddenly smiled to herself beneath her veil. There was a threat of trouble in the City of London, and Jenny was involved. Who else would be here, making sure her young scamp wasn’t getting into more mischief?
“Mr Thackeray! And Constable Palmer! I almost didn’t recognize you Constable; you look very different without your uniform!” Vastra turned to the maid, “Would you have Jenny fetch tea for ou… my guests, and the notebook from my room?” After the maid nodded and left, she continued,
“You’ve come with questions that need answers quickly, I deduce?”
“Yes, Madame,” Thackeray agreed. “And also to let you know the results of your warnings.”
As they spoke Jenny hurried in with her notebook and the cigarettes. She gave them to Madame Vastra, and then hurried out again. Vastra shook her head, and laid them on a small table near one of the chairs.
“Then we should wait for Jenny to join us. Mr Parker, Jenny and I all heard them but Jenny also saw one or two of them, if only for a moment. And she has her notes as well.” Vastra didn’t mention the smell of the cigarettes. She wasn’t sure if Thackeray or Palmer would understand the possible importance of this.
A few minutes later, Jenny bustled in with a tea tray that looked too large for her to carry, but which she handled fairly well. She put it down in front of Madame Vastra, bobbed a curtsey to the woman, (much to Thackeray’s amusement,) nodded quickly to both Thackeray and Palmer, and then looked around for her notebook. Vastra shook her head again at Jenny’s antics, poured herself a cup of tea, and took a seat, ready to speak with the males.
Meanwhile, Jenny found her notebook, but as she was about to sit down when she saw that Madame had forgot (or didn’t know) that as the ‘missus’ of the room she should serve tea to her visitors. Ma had tried to teach Jenny some 'proper adult manners,' and she remembered that much at least. Jenny rolled her eyes, put down her notebook, and poured tea for Thackeray, Palmer, and since there was still a bit left in the teapot, she poured a little bit for herself as well. Which wasn't proper manners, but no sense wasting good tea.
Thackeray raised his eyebrows at Jenny’s forwardness, but as Madame Vastra said nothing to the girl about it, he put it aside to focus on more important issues.
Except that Jenny caught his look. She wanted to ask what was wrong, but Mr Thackeray had turned back to Madame and started speaking, and Jenny turned her attention to the conversation.
“As I mentioned in my telegram, The Old Lady on Threadneedle Street that your plotters mentioned is the Bank of England. It’s an old nickname, dating from the last century.” He shook his head in wonder. “Only you two could go off for a Holiday and uncover a plot. You’ve set the cat amongst the pigeons with your story, my lady and no mistake. Mr Dawes had Inspector Peaslin from the Yard in yesterday and he was Not Pleased that the man couldn’t answer the simplest of questions about the investigation into a possible attack on the Bank of England. Worse, the Inspector seemed to think it was something you practically made up!” James smiled thinly. “Mr Dawes had Parker in as well, who was a bit overwhelmed at all the upper class gentlemen in the room, but he quickly fell back on a good ‘sergeant with officers’ stance and was able to give some very clear and concise answers. Mr Dawes was quite pleased with him.”
Thackeray scowled, and on such a mild man, Jenny thought it looked pretty grim.
“The trouble is that while Mr Dawes is taking the story seriously, some of the other senior officers at the Bank agree with Inspector Peaslin; that this is probably all nothing. Their view is that no one in their right mind would attack the Bank of England.”
Jenny looked up at that. “Inspector Peaslin is a… ass! No, that’s mean; a donkey is smarter than he is!”
"Mind your language, Jenny!" chided Thackeray automatically, "Even if I do agree with you."
Constable Palmer listened quietly. He’d been at the meetings with Peaslin and Parker, accompanying one of the senior Superintendents of the City of London Police. He noticed that Mr Thackeray left out some of the less complimentary things that Peaslin had said about Vastra and Jenny; ‘hysterical females’ was among the mildest.
Palmer would never admit it to them, but he’d taken more than a bit of ribbing from his chums at the station for being tasked as ‘The Widow’s Babysitter,’ during the Masked Lady Robberies. His part in Jenny’s rescue from the Black Scorpions had toned things down a bit; that was considered good work all told. Palmer, although never forgetting it himself, had played down Jenny’s bravery in standing up to the Tong; the girl was getting enough of a feisty reputation in the neighbourhood as it was since taking on McPhillips and his son at the Gin Palace. Having them practically surrendered to her instead of directly to the police had only added to that reputation.
Palmer would likely not even have been assigned to the meeting if not for the fact that the note to Headquarters, likely written by Mr Thackeray or his new assistant, had specifically mentioned him as the local constable, and that they expected him to be there.
In the end it worked in his favour. As the meeting wound up, Mr Dawes spoke with the Superintendent. "While in theory Scotland Yard already has a man on this case, he didn't mention any communication with the City police. Did you hear anything about this before now?
The Superintendent shook his head. "No, and as the Bank is in our jurisdiction, we certainly should have been!"
Dawes frowned, and instructed that the City Police take over the investigation if necessary, starting with speaking with Parker and Madame Vastra.
The Superintendent agreed. “I’ll put my best man on it right away, Director!”
“Excellent!” Dawes looked at Palmer. “The Bank couldn’t be in better hands, Constable. Mr Thackeray will be pleased to be working with you again.” He nodded to the Superintendent, who was trying not to gape like a fish. “Good day to you both.”
And just like that, among the men at Headquarters, Palmer went from being ‘The Babysitter’ to ‘The Old Lady’s Best Man!’
Palmer himself didn't take it too much to heart. Dawes was the sort of man who could break a man with a word, and build him up again just as fast. Palmer had felt both parts of the man's power, although he admitted to himself that he preferred his current situation.
Despite the doubts of the rest of the Board, Mr Dawes had quietly doubled the guard. Thackeray explained they simply did not have enough information to do more than that. “But now the Bank is on alert. We want to catch these men!”
“It’s rather a pity that Inspector Abernathy wasn’t assigned to the case,” remarked Madame Vastra. “He has his faults, but Jenny’s kidnapping demonstrated then when he has reason, he will act quickly!”
Thackeray chuckled, “Oh poor Abernathy is beside himself. Saw him at the Gin Palace yesterday, looking for Palmer or me to get caught up on the news. I think he’s worried about you Madame.”
Constable Palmer chimed in. “With Inspector Peaslin in charge, you see, Inspector Abernathy can’t interfere unless he finds out something that has a bearing on the case.”
They spent an hour going over what little information they had, but in the end and despite Constable Palmer careful questioning both Madame Vastra and Jenny, everyone agreed that they were only a little further ahead. Thackeray and Palmer had a better idea of what the trio had heard, but they had to admit it wasn’t very much. They still had no idea where the plotters were hiding, or when they intended to strike, or even if they planned to attack Whitehall, The Bank of England, or both. Privately Thackeray wondered if it wasn’t all just hot air on the part of the three men, and almost being caught might well have scared them off.
At last, Palmer admitted they were done. Jenny gathered up the tea things, and returned them to the tray. She caught sight of Thackeray slightly frowning again.
“Sir,” Jenny spoke quietly, “Madame’s not been back home for a while, you see, and I don’t know much about the real manners. Did we do something wrong to the tea? The cook here is very good, but maybe I...”
Thackeray chuckled, the frown smoothing out. “No the tea is fine. I’m sorry, I keep forgetting that this is all very new to both of you. In England, the hostess presides over the teapot, and pours for her guests. Good tea is expensive, you see, and it’s a point of pride for many women to show off their fine silver and china." Jenny nodded, that matched what Ma’d taught her.
"But Jenny," Thackeray continued, "... well, servants and even students don’t usually take tea with the Mistress and her guests.”
Now it was Vastra’s turn to cock her head. “Why not?” she asked.
Thackeray was caught off-guard. "But Madame, surely, even in the wilds of Russia, it's the same thing amongst the upper classes?"
Vastra simply shrugged in reply. "I admit, I've never given it any thought. If Jenny is present to answer questions and take notes, why should she not also drink the tea?"
James Thackeray was torn. Madame Vastra might not mind, but Jenny was far too independently minded. If she was ever to be a proper maid, then someone would need to break her spirit. Would need to ‘put her in her place.’
And he… well… to be honest…
He refused to be the bastard that did it.
It should be Madame Vastra, of course. But the widow seemed quite comfortable with Jenny’s strange mix of subordinate and forward attitude. The widow seemed to see Jenny as much as an assistant as a servant.
And in the very class-conscious world of Victorian London, that was going to be a problem.
Madame Vastra walked Thackeray and Palmer to the door, where Eileen was just finishing dusting the main staircase.
"Despite all this fuss, are you enjoying your holiday Madame Vastra?” asked Thackeray.
“I am,” Vastra replied. “It has been both interesting, and a pleasant change from the noise and stench of London.”
Thackeray nodded. “It’s been brutally hot this July. Can’t remember when it’s been this bad.”
“Oh, I don’t mind the heat; I’m rather enjoying it.”
“If we hear anything more about those men, Madame Vastra, I’ll let you know. But now that the Rifle Matches are over, they’re more likely to be back in Ireland, keeping out of sight, than plotting any mischief,” said Palmer.
Vastra shook her head. “But if nothing happens soon, the bank guards will stand down.”
“Even so, the guard is alerted, as are the police. They’ll keep an eye on things,” Thackeray reassured her. “Please don’t let it spoil your holiday. You’ll be back in town next week, correct?"
“Yes, Mr Parker will be here on Monday morning to take us to our new quarters.”
“Then I look forward to calling on you at your new address,” Thackeray said with a smile.
“Until next week then Mr Thackeray. And thank you for coming as well, Constable Palmer.”
Thackeray and Palmer said good-bye, leaving Vastra to her holiday, Jenny to clear the tea things, and Eileen almost bouncing on her toes.
To Eileen it sounded like Madame and her maid had heard something pretty big last week. She couldn’t wait to question Jenny. She’d finally have something exciting to tell her young man when she saw him and his mates on Wednesday during her half-day off! Much more entertaining than the usual gossip about the town. She could tell the Irishman was getting bored with it.
Late on Monday afternoon, the landlord of the Crown and Rose popped into the tobacco shop for a few of his favorite cheap cigars. He chatted with the owner for a bit; catching up on the news around the town. And finally, he slid into the conversation, “Don’t suppose you’ve heard of any of the gentry losing anything valuable over the last week or so? What with all the lawn tennis and Rifle matches? Lots of people about, things go missing so easily?”
“Might have,” replied the tobacconist cagily. The sharp-faced publican was always interested in caging an extra shilling or two. Not that he really needed it; he ran a decent public house and didn’t water the beer too much. It was the principle of the thing for him. “What have you heard?”
“Not so much heard, as seen, you see. One of the Irish navies pulled out a very nice silver case for his smokes t’other night, that he didn’t have afore now, if you take my meaning,” said the publican.
“Did he now?” replied the Tobacconist. “With some nice cigarettes, perhaps?”
“Just so. Think he might have had a pint too many to drink, you see. His mates were narked 'cause he didn’t offer them one. Now the locals, of course, well ‘what's that bugger doing with something like that!’ was the muttered question on more than one pair of lips. Mind you, I'd hate to accuse a man of havin' light fingers if he simply found it."
“Yes, might have heard something about that. I’m pretty sure a reward was mentioned. I'll drop a word with the lady who was looking for it. She's here in town 'till Monday next; I have her direction. But keep it mum for a bit, alright? Don’t want it ‘disappearing’ if you understand me?"
“I do. I do. Always a pleasure doing business with you, Mr Samuel!”
“And you, Mr Ralph!”
Tuesday was rainy, so they stayed at the inn. On Wednesday afternoon, Madame Vastra and Jenny went out for another easy walk around the town, exploring new streets and paths. The day was overcast, and to Vastra, the warm breeze smelled slightly of the recent rain. The pair followed a different path through the streets and byways, just enjoying the walk. Vastra could hear the sounds of wagons and carriages on the main street, a train’s distant whistle, and the edges of human conversations. Eventually they returned by the main road, late in the afternoon.
Mr Samuel, the Tobacconist, saw Madame Vastra and her maid ambling along on the High street. He popped out of the shop for a moment, and asked the lady if she would be so kind as to bring the ‘lost’ notice by again. To his surprise, although the lady started to agree, it was the cagey young maid who asked ‘ why? What have you heard?”
Madame Vastra could have kicked herself, of course the Ape would only ask for his own profit; they hadn’t exactly told anyone about the possible thief’s other criminal connections!
Mr Samuel, without naming names, gave them a summary of his conversation with Mr. Ralph. While the lady’s veil revealed nothing of her thoughts, Mr Samuel noticed that her maid was looking more and more alarmed. She held her peace though while he spoke, and while the lady asked him some questions. Finally the lady nodded. “I shall bring it by first thing in the morning. However, I expect to speak to your ‘friend’ at the same time!”
“And no shilly-shallying about that,” warned the young maid.
Mr Samuels nodded, and bid them a good evening.
Jenny kept quiet until the man was gone, and then turned to Madame Vastra.
Jenny hissed, “But ma’am that mean the bombers ain’t gone a t’all!”
Madame Vastra nodded in agreement. “If this information is correct, they’ve been under our noses all this time! They never left Wimbledon!”
Meanwhile, at the local public house, Eileen from the Lundy’s Inn was enjoying half a pint of ale with her young man and one of his friends.
“Frank,” Eileen said, “I heard the most exciting thing this week! You remember I told you about the Widow staying at the Inn? “
“Friend of the Missus’s cousin? The one from Russia?” asked Frank, “She left last week didn’t she?
“Oh no, she’s here until Monday,” said Eileen. “I couldn’t get much out of her girl Jenny, but Madame Vastra seems to have stumbled over some plot! A police man from London was down to visit them on Sunday and everything!
Francis Corcoran stared at the flighty young women he’d been passing the time with while stuck hiding in plain sight in this prissy English town. “Did they now?” He glanced at the other man. “That sounds mighty interesting, now doesn’t it, Keegan?”
“Aye, that it does, boyo, that it does.” Keegan folded his hands on the table. If Eileen had looked carefully, she might have seen he clasped his hands so tight that his knuckles were turning white.
"Tell us more about this, love. Tell us everything you know,” crooned Corcoran.
“Tell us like lives are hanging on it!” Keegan added savagely.