in her absence page 2

Jenny shook her head.  ‘No, madam, there’ll be no need.’

Vastra looked down at her.  ‘No need?’

Jenny’s head shook again.  ‘No.  Haven’t got anything other than what you see here.’  She pointed to a small bag that she’d left just inside the front door.  Her lip quivered for a second before firming back up.  So sad she is, Vastra thought as she looked at the girl.  So sad…but with so much strength too.  She shook her head and straightened her back, resolved to show the girl a kindness she never knew herself capable of giving before.

Vastra led her to the stairs, Jenny’s hand still firmly held in her own.  ‘We shall soon fix that, Jenny.’


It was chaotic at first, of course…Vastra had demanded Jenny spend her first day acquiring a wardrobe more befitting one employed in her position.  Despite protestations, she finally accepted the coin purse that was offered her, and Vastra pushed her gently into the carriage that was waiting on the street outside their front door.  She watched the carriage slowly trundle down the street, and called after it.

‘I don’t want to see you back here until you’ve spent that, do you understand?’

‘Yes, madam,’ Jenny replied, more than a touch of exasperation in her voice.

‘You’ll make sure of that, driver?’

The young man sitting atop the carriage turned back, smiled, and replied.  ‘Of course, madam.  Whatever you say, madam.’  He snapped the reins lightly and the horses picked up speed, the iron shod wheels of the carriage rumbling down the cobbled street.

Hours passed before Vastra heard knocking at the front door.  She opened the door, and saw the carriage driver, his arms filled with boxes and bundled clothes.  She guided him carefully up the stairs, where he deposited his load outside the door to Jenny’s room.

‘I trust there were no problems, young man?’

‘None at all, madam.  I hope she wasn’t late for any of her tasks here…just wanted t’make sure she followed your orders.’

Vastra smiled deep in the folds of her cowl.  She pulled open a drawer in a small stand in the hallway, removed a small wooden box, and drew forth some coins, which she held out to the driver.

‘Here.  For your time and extra effort, Mister…?’

‘Parker.  Name’s Parker, madam.’

‘Mister Parker, then.  Here.’  She dropped the coins in his outstretched hand.  He looked down, counting the heavy silver coins that rested coolly in his hand.  His head snapped up, a look of incredulity on his face.

‘Are you sure, madam?’

‘Of course I am, Parker.  I may have need of your services again some time.  What better way to make certain I can find you than to ensure you’re well compensated for your efforts?’

Parker smiled widely, grabbing her hand and shaking it rapidly.  ‘Yes madam!  Thank you madam!  You ever need me, you just let any of the drivers on this street know, and I’ll be here without delay!’

He ran out the door, smiling, jumped up onto his carriage, and quickly made his way back toward the carriage house.  Vastra closed the door, shaking her head and laughing softly.

‘What’s so funny, madam?’

Vastra turned to look at Jenny.  She was still wearing the poorly fitting grey dress she had arrived in earlier that day.

‘Nothing at all, Jenny.  And why are you still wearing those…rags?’

Jenny looked down, immediately self conscious.  ‘I’m sorry, madam…Vastra.  I didn’t think…’  Her face remained downcast, sadness creeping back across her fragile features.

Vastra reached out with one gloved hand, placed a finger under Jenny’s chin, and lifted her head back up.  ‘Let me make something perfectly clear, Jenny.  There will be times you make mistakes, and when you do, I will expect you to apologize, learn from them, and ensure that they do not happen again.  However, I will also expect you to face them with head held high.  I will not accept you moping about my house.  Is that clear?’

Jenny took a deep breath, composing herself.  Vastra’s hand dropped away slowly, but Jenny kept her head high.  ‘Yes, madam.  I understand.’

‘Good, that is settled then!’  Vastra clapped her hands together.  ‘Now, to business.  I want you to bring your clothes and sundries into your room.  You’ll find a closet and dressers there…I expect them to no longer be empty in short order.  Make your bed…I’ve left clean bedding for you.  And meet me in the library when you are finished…and dressed more appropriately.’

Jenny nodded.  ‘Yes madam.  Right away, madam.’

She scurried up the stairs and began to bring the stacks of clothes and other items into her room.  Vastra turned to head to the library when she heard something completely new…the sound of another voice gently humming and singing from upstairs.  She waited just past the bottom of the stairs, listening to Jenny as she set about her tasks.  A smile slowly crept across her face as she turned back down the hallway and walked to the library. 

I could certainly become accustomed to that, she thought idly.

From a distance, Vastra could hear her new charge opening and closing drawers and doors, obviously putting her new clothing away.  She idly wondered what the girl thought of this sudden change in situation.  The banging and sliding of wood on wood stopped, followed by a quiet rustling sound that anyone would have dismissed as a draught or breeze.  Vastra could tell the girl…jenny, she must remember to call her Jenny, not ‘the girl’…was making her bed and changing into something more appropriate for her new employment.

Vastra called out, making certain her voice showed no impatience.  ‘Are you quite finished, Jenny?’

‘Just a moment!’  A cheerful voice called back in reply, the distance dulling her bright tone.  ‘I will be right down, ma’am!’

Vastra took a seat in the library and waited.  A few moments passed, moments that seemed more like hours, before a quiet knock on the door broke the silence.

‘You need not knock, Jenny.  Please come in.’

Jenny had taken the time to not only change into, as Vastra had called it, ‘more appropriate apparel befitting an employee in this house,’ but to brush her hair out and carefully pull it up in a neat, tight bun.  Vastra nodded approvingly at Jenny’s choice in clothing…a long black dress, a hint of white lace cuffs peeking out from under the long black sleeves.  A white apron, belted at the waist, and black shoes completed the outfit.  The clothes were functional, to be certain, but they were also quite flattering on Jenny, Vastra thought.  She caught herself wondering what Jenny might have decided upon to wear under that dress. 

She is your employee, Vastra, not some possible conquest!  Besides, she is human and you, my dear, are most certainly NOT, she heard herself say in stern tones.  Have you changed so much that you would even consider such a thing?  She shook her head slightly, clearing the battling thoughts away, even if just temporarily.

‘Much better, Jenny.  Much better indeed.  Tell me, are you more comfortable wearing clothes that fit you?’

Jenny smiled slightly, a blush coloring her cheeks with a touch of pink.  ‘Yes, madam.  Thank you for this.  It really wasn’t necessary to go to all this trouble, though.’

‘Nonsense!  It was no trouble at all.  After all, if you are to remain in my employ, you will certainly find a need for everything.  Now, to discuss a little of my schedule with you…’

Jenny waited for Vastra to sit before doing so herself.

‘Due to certain…responsibilities I will find that I often will be out later in the evening than you might find common.  That does not mean that I sleep in, nor does it mean that I will allow you to do the same.  I take breakfast promptly at 7 in the morning and lunch at noon.  Dinner is, unfortunately, something that is far more difficult to plan for.  I shall expect you to have, at the very least, a cold collation prepared.  Should I require or request anything further, I will discuss that with you at that time.’

Vastra paused and waited to see if Jenny had any questions.

‘That seems simple enough, madam.  I tend to wake early anyways, so I don’t see any problem there.’

Vastra nodded.  ‘Very good.  You will find ample room outside for drying clothes, and I expect you to do wash at least once per week.  From time to time you may notice something unusual, and I will expect you to pay it no heed.  You may feel free to ask questions, but understand that I am in no way obligated to offer answers to any questions you may have.  I do apologize if that sounds harsh or unduly secretive, but I will accept nothing less.  Am I clear on that?’

Jenny nodded again.  ‘Perfectly clear, madam.’

Vastra continued, a bit more relaxed.  ‘I do not entertain much, so you will not need to worry about that.  You will have use of the house as you see fit, with two exceptions.  One is my private chambers, of course.  I may invite you in to bring me breakfast if I so desire, and of course you will be allowed in to change bedding regularly.  Otherwise you are to allow me my privacy in my rooms, as I will allow you yours.’

‘Understood, madam,’ Jenny said.

‘The second,’ continued Vastra, ‘is the basement beneath the great stair.  You will have access to the kitchen basement, as I expect you will need that for storage.  The kitchen is far too small for all the foodstuffs I expect you to maintain.  However, the main basement is strictly off limits.  I will accept nothing less than your full cooperation on this.’

Jenny looked over to Vastra, a tinge of nervousness clearly evident on her face.  It passed, and she nodded her head.  ‘I understand, madam.’

‘Do you have any questions for me, Jenny?’

‘No, madam.’  Jenny shook her head, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically, thought Vastra.  That might have just been the nervousness she has detected a few moments ago, however.  ‘I think I understand what you expect of me.  I’ll do my best.’

‘I have no doubt of that, Jenny.’  Vastra rose from her chair.  She could hear a few pops as she stretched.  ‘Now, I can see that it is getting late in the day, and I am certain neither of us have eaten.  Tomorrow I’ll expect you to go to the market and begin restocking the shelves here, but for now, I shall show you to the kitchen basement and we can see if there is anything that might make an easy meal for the evening.’

Without thinking she held her hand out to Jenny, who took it eagerly.  She looked down at the girl, smiling widely, as they walked to the kitchen together.


The days passed quickly.  Jenny picked up a routine, not that there was ever very much that needed doing on any one day.  She rose with the sun, dressed, and quickly made her way to the kitchen, where she’d start breakfast.  Vastra woke each morning to the smell of hot food and the sound of a young girl singing in her kitchen.  Even before her eyes would open she’d smile, wondering how it was possible for her to be feeling the things she was feeling.  She had stopped questioning them for the most part, knowing that there was no way that she’d ever act upon them, and knowing further still that if she did, Jenny would certainly not return those feelings in kind…especially if she knew exactly what Vastra was. 

She’d make her way to the dining room, where Jenny spread out the morning’s repast.  They would eat in silence, usually, and then Jenny would gather the dishes, return them to the kitchen, and wash up after the meal.  By that time, Vastra would have written down a list of things for Jenny to take care above and beyond the regular expected chores.  One day it might be a trip to the market for essentials, another day it might be delivery of a package of papers to the post office for delivery to…well, that was the question, wasn’t it?


Vastra looked up from her desk in the library.  ‘Yes, Jenny?’

‘Who’s this…F. G. Abberline?’

‘Is that really any of your concern, Jenny?’

‘No, madam.  Sorry, madam.’  I was just…’

‘Curious.  That is one thing I like about you, Jenny.  You are the most inquisitive thing I have ever known, yet you know how to temper that curiosity.’

She paused for emphasis.


Jenny bowed her head and blushed.

‘What did I say about that, Jenny?’

She snapped her head back up, the rosy flush still burning on her cheeks.  ‘Sorry, madam.’

Vastra nodded.  ‘Mister Abberline is an acquaintance of mine, Jenny.  A professional acquaintance, you might say.  I simply wanted him to look over some documents I found that might be of interest to him.  We happen to be…researching…some similar things and I felt those papers would be of some small help to him.  Does that satisfy your curiosity?’

Jenny nodded, the flush fading from her cheeks.  Vastra quietly sighed, already missing that color, that heat.

‘Now…off to the post with that, understood?  I will be leaving shortly, as I have a meeting I must attend to.  I believe that I may be late this evening, so I do not expect a hot meal when I return.  Do make sure that there is something ready to go, however…I may be more than a bit peckish when I return.  Am I clear?’

Jenny nodded, clutching the thick envelope in her hands.  ‘Completely madam.  I suppose you’ll be gone by the time I return?’

Vastra nodded, and in the gauzy light from the window Jenny thought she caught the slightest hint of Vastra’s eyes deep in the folds of her ever present cowl.  ‘Yes…I will most likely be gone.  If you see any carriages on your way there, please let them know that I will need the services of our Mister Parker again this evening.’

‘Yes madam.  Of course,’ Jenny said before taking her leave.  She was nearly in the hallway when Vastra called her back.


‘Yes, madam?’  Jenny was leaning past the doorway leading into the library.

‘On second thought…if it gets too late, do not stay up for me.  You need your sleep, too…I will make do with whatever is cold and easy to eat in the kitchen.  Alright?’

Vastra couldn’t help but notice the look of sadness that temporarily clouded Jenny’s face.  ‘If you say so, madam.  Are you sure?’

‘Quite certain, Jenny.  Now, get that off to the post office before they close.  Those documents will not mail themselves’

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