“Is there something you need, Miss?” Jenny asked the woman, who was standing in the corner of the drawing room as she dusted the tops of portraits hanging on the wall. She hadn’t been a maid for very long, but even then she was certain that watching the help as they worked was generally considered in poor taste.
“There is, actually. I met a young man at a ball last week who wishes to keep company with me. Obviously, my father isn’t available, but I still require the assistance of a chaperone.”
“But Miss,” she asked, still somewhat confused by the courting rituals of the upper class, “Mustn’t you have a family member to chaperone you?”
“Jenny, you know what drawing room portraits are generally used for, correct?”
“You told me yesterday that they were the last pictures of family members that had passed.”
“Very good. Now, look at the photographs you are dusting. Who do you see?”
She paused and let her hand with the feather duster drop to her side. “I see a mother, a father, three sisters, and a brother.”
“I’d like to congratulate you, firstly. All of my maids previous have been unable to differentiate the genders of Silurians when not in traditional English dress. You, on the other hand – well, I’ll simply say that you’re one of the cleverer mammals. That said, you see each member of my family in these photographs because every one of them is no longer with us. You will simply have to do.”
“As you wish, then. Do you –” Jenny feared that her question may cross over into overly-personal territory, but she was curious for some odd reason. “Do you fancy him?”
Vastra sighed. “Most women of my social class have married themselves off by the age of twenty-three at the very latest. I, on the other hand, have had a bit of trouble. At the age of eighty-two, I am still unwed.”
That doesn’t answer my question, Jenny thought, but she didn’t want to pry any further than she already had. Most people didn’t even find it proper to speak to their help, let alone ask them to chaperone. “You don’t look eighty-two. You look about twenty. Why have you had trouble?”
“Many suitors find my –” She stopped herself, looking for the right word to use. “—verdigris to be off-putting. And I live longer than you mammals do.”
“If you don’t mind me saying, Miss, any man who finds you to be anything less than perfect is probably better off in an institution than in your drawing room.”
She smiled at her maid. “Many thanks for your kind words. Let us hope that he isn’t entirely mad as you suggest, for he was a naval surgeon. I would prefer that someone so acquainted with a scalpel be right in the head as well. Though it looks to me as though insanity would be a blessing. I am only keeping company to remain in good standing in the proper social circles.”
“The poor doctor.” Jenny laughed and returned to dusting the photographs. “I’m sure that he was very excited having captured your attention. His hopes will soon be dashed.”
“I’m certain that he’ll manage. He’ll have to make a very strong case for himself, you know. Otherwise, I have no intention of allowing him to –”
Vastra’s sentence was interrupted by a knock at the door, and Jenny jumped to answer it as her Mistress quickly pulled her veil over her face. “Miss, he’s arrived,” she called across the drawing room before letting him in, taking his coat and hat to hang by the door.
“Wonderful,” Vastra said. “Arthur, this is Miss Flint, our chaperone for this evening. Jenny, this is Doctor Doyle. Both of you, please have a seat.”
“A true pleasure,” Arthur said cordially before sinking into a red plush armchair across from the lady with whom he was keeping company. “Such intriguing representations of your family that you have. The paintings look almost like photographs. And you’ve an, er, interesting collection over there, haven’t you?” He pointed to the swords hanging on the far wall.
“Ah, those. Each is of great significance to me, you’ll soon find. This one was used in my first duel. I won, of course. With that one, I fought in a great battle against a group of surprisingly unintelligent young pirates. The one you see on the highest mount is quite special, as it was used to decapitate Ho Ming, a rather infamous agent of the Tong of the Black Scorpion. Oddly enough, that fatal blow was not of my own delivery, isn’t that right, Jenny?”
Jenny froze. “I –” Special? Why was the sword any more special than the others? “That’s correct, Miss. I used that sword to kill Ho Ming.” She flushed a vibrant red, a feeling washing over her that she should not be disclosing such information to the gentleman.
“Your stories are as illustrious as your character,” Arthur said calmly. “Almost a thing of fiction, I should think.”
Vastra sat on a nearby chaise lounge and poured three cups of tea, offering one to each of her companions. “I should hope you don’t find my extensive knowledge of weaponry too intimidating, doctor.” She sipped from her tea and opened her fan – which Jenny hadn’t noticed until it was used – halfway, at which Arthur frowned ever-so-slightly.
“Not at all, Miss,” he said. "Though I do have another question, if you don’t mind – how did you know about the Tong?”
“I try my best to remain informed about organisations which may potentially bring harm to myself or to those whom I care about. That, and,” a mischievous grin spread across her face as though she was testing him, “I take a great interest in politics.”
“Politics? A lady of your stature shouldn’t concern herself with such things.”
Vastra snapped her fan shut. “I beg your pardon?”
Arthur bit nervously at the inside of his cheek. “Certainly your high level of education and your flawless swordsmanship was masculine enough –”
“Masculine?” Vastra interrupted. “Mr. Doyle, you are a guest in my home. Your affront to my character is certainly enough for me to ask you to leave me at this very moment.”
“My apologies, Miss. Perhaps Miss Flint might be a better suitor than I.”
Vastra set the fan on the tea table in front of her. “It would seem so. Good day, doctor. I wish you only the best.”
“Good day. Miss Vastra. Miss Flint.” With that, he donned his coat, put on his hat, and departed.