Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Edith Investigates

Edward sat in his usual chair, the high-backed leather one near the fireplace. He wore his slippers, and on the occasional table at his elbow sat a steaming cup of tea. A biscuit, not yet dunked, occupied a small plate beside it. He held the evening’s paper, engrossed in the front-page story.

“Edith, they’re at it again,” he proclaimed to his wife, who sat opposite him in a smaller brocade chair, working on a cross-stitched sampler by the light of a small lamp. “That lot around the corner on Paternoster Row, mixed up in that business.”

“Heavens,” said Edith distractedly, as she chose another thread from her sewing box, “what did they do this time?”

Edward shifted in his chair and opened the paper to follow the story further. “Seems that fellow from Scotland Yard was ’round again tonight, took away a young man in shackles. Says here it was an Egyptian Curse that killed those men. As if we’d believe that,” he snorted derisively. “I mean, if it was an old mummy that did it, why arrest a young man? Can’t they tell the difference?”

Edith glanced up, noting that Edward’s excited eyes didn’t really match his apparent disdain. She sighed.
“Well, I’m sure they know what’s best,” she replied. She didn’t mention that she’d also heard whispers of poison and identical twins, not wishing to excite him further.

“They’ve been queer, they have,” he continued, not even noticing her response, “ever since they moved in. And that was strange in itself, wasn’t it — one night that house was empty, the very next day they were all moved in with no fuss.” He’d lowered the paper now, looking instead into the dancing fire that crackled behind the screen.

“And did you see their new man?” Edward said after a silence, stroking his bushy moustache. “He doesn’t look right at all, does he? Sort of flattened-out or something. What is he, Turkish? It oughtn’t be allowed.” He folded the paper and put it on the side table, picked up his cup of tea and contemplated it, his brows furrowed.

Well, Edith had to agree with him on that, the man did seem more than just a little odd; with her husband at work all day, she had a lot of time to herself. She was a clever woman, more so than he would ever suspect, and had easily figured out ways to get her daily chores taken care of before noon. With her time now free, she had taken to strolling around the neighbourhood, and had found herself drawn to Paternoster Row more and more frequently. She knew a great deal more than the newspaper seemed to, more than she would ever share with her husband, about this ‘Paternoster Gang.’

She’d always had very keen hearing, and she’d overheard them talking on several occasions — sometimes from within their carriage as they passed up the street, sometimes through an open window in their front parlour, a couple of times on their front steps. Words like “sonic” and “clone” and “silurian” and “human scum,” she could make no sense of these.

But it was clear that they were of some help to the police. There were the stories in the newspaper of course, but Edith had also seen that Scotland Yard inspector on no less than five occasions coming from their doors (always looking a mixture of relieved, determined and perplexed) and she was sure the occupants were not under investigation themselves but, instead, were being consulted. That sensationalist rag often referred to the ‘Great Detective’ — Edward was convinced there was another man living there, unseen, because no woman could possibly be described so, but she was sure it was the veiled woman herself of which they spoke, that she was the one Scotland Yard turned to when they were out of their depth. Not that anyone would believe that, of course.

Edith felt she understood their reluctance to move about in society, for that reason and also for another — once a breeze had ruffled the woman’s veil (Vastra, Edith remembered hearing someone call her Vastra, now what kind of name was that?) while they were entering their carriage and she’d seen something that her mind… didn’t really want to deal with. It looked painful, she must have been burned or something; little wonder she stayed sequestered. But her voice was lovely and hinted at great intelligence, and the other young lady — well, Edith wasn’t sure what role she played in the household. She seemed like some sort of help, but carried herself with far more confidence and poise than would be expected. There was definitely a more intimate relationship between them, a closeness; she and the woman had far more physical contact than would be considered seemly between an employer and a servant. Were they perhaps sisters? Or maybe… no, she’d heard rumours of that kind before, but she never put much stock in them.

And then there was that tall man, the one with the top hat and the haunted eyes, whom she’d seen leaving there one afternoon. One look was all she needed to know that here was a man who was punishing himself, withdrawing from the world. He’d glowered at the Turkish fellow and strode off into the fog. Vastra and her companions had stood at the door and watched him, and then slowly had gone inside, closing the door, and there was something so final about it.

Edith shook herself out of her reverie and looked up to the window, only to see snow slowly falling past. “Edward?”

“Hmm?” Edward looked up.

“Didn’t you say the sky was cloudless when you came in?”

- HEATHER MURRAY is a clever woman, more so than you would ever expect — but can’t find her keys just now.


---

Edith Investigates was my first ever book-published piece, part of Outside In 2: 125 Unique Perspectives on 125 Modern Doctor Who Stories by 125 Writers, published by ATB Publishing and available online and in bookstores. There are some real crackers here, and not just straightforward reviews — poetry, recipes, insurance claims, even a choose-your-own-adventure. Pick it up!

No comments:

Post a Comment