The clock struck eleven, and Jenny put away the last pot with a sign of relief. She had let her kitchen duties pile up, and so had worked since supper, through twilight. Now, the kitchen was in semi-darkness, the lights from outside and the few lamps inside sending shadows dancing around each other. Above London, the heavy clouds which had been gathering during the day were finally unburdening themselves. Jenny could smell the rain, which bore with it a reminder of the coming cold of the autumn. A shiver went through her at the thought of how it must be outside. She stretched, thinking longingly of putting on her nightgown, wrapping herself in a shawl and going to bed with a book to read for a few minutes. Madame Vastra was busy writing up a case, so tonight they would sleep as maid and mistress. It was not like they were keeping up pretenses for anyone, but there was a comfort in those ordinary roles. Sometimes they practiced sword-fighting and battled monsters and travelled to strange places. Sometimes they dined at the same table and talked and laughed, and spent the night awake in the master bedroom. Sometimes - occasionally - they were just like any other household, formal but content.
Jenny smiled, reflecting on her luck. Then she shook herself and looked around for to see what she had not yet done. The only thing left was making itself evident - the cat was at the door, mewing, not having been let out yet. She could not see why the cat, which hated water so much, wanted to go out in this, but perhaps chasing rats in the rain was a sport. She unlocked the back door and opened it. The cat mewed again and slipped out, into the pelting rain. Jenny was just about to shut the door again when she saw the cat stop short, just on the other side of the threshold. At first she thought it had changed its mind, but then it hissed out into the darkness and bounced off.
Suddenly on guard, Jenny opened the door properly. There was someone sitting on the steps outside. The figure was leaning against the railing, hugging himself, and murmuring while rocking back and forth. Annoyed at being delayed by this, Jenny snorted to herself and called out:
‘Hey, you can’t sit ‘ere, mate.’ The vagrant did not turn around. She thought again of her warm bed and her book. Driving away drunks from the back door was not what she wanted to be doing at this hour.
Still, she squared her shoulders and marched down the stairs.
‘Didn’t you hear me? Off with you,’ she said. The man did not stop rocking. ‘Hey!’ she shouted and leaned down to catch his eye. At once, his head shot up. A pair of eyes of the most unnatural blue fixed on her. Jenny stumbled back, at once filled with dread. The man was still sitting pitifully slumped on the stairs, his long hair was plastered to his face by the rain, and he was shivering violently, but still his eyes had terrified her. No human had such eyes.
His lips parted, and with trembling voice, he spoke.
‘Phase malfunction... Doctor...’
Jenny stared at him, terrified and elated at the same time. Then she tore her gaze off him and ran up the steps, into the kitchen, through the house. She did not care that she was leaving a trail of rain and mud after her. This was too important. By the time she reached the study door, she was breathing heavily. She banged her fist against the door and opened it without waiting for a reply. In a pool of light at the opposite wall, Madame Vastra sat with her back turned towards her.
‘Yes, Jenny?’ she said, not turning away from what she was writing.
‘‘e’s ‘ere, ma’am,’ Jenny said between gasps. ‘That man that the Doctor told us about. ‘e’s come.’
Last time they had seen the Doctor, the usual mayhem had ensued. They had set things right again, which had not been easy but not as challenging as some other times. Just when the Doctor had been about to leave, he had turned around in the TARDIS door and said:
‘Just one more thing.’
Madame Vastra had nodded. ‘Anything, Doctor.’
The Doctor had shifted, as though it was awkward, tapped his lips with a finger and then explained.
‘Sometime in the next few months, a man’s going to turn up at your back door. He’s going to be very confused. Now, this is important. Take him in. Take care of him. Do not get anyone else involved. No police, no doctors, nothing. Also, don’t contact me. Vastra, keep your veil down when you’re around him, and he mustn’t see Strax - send him away. He’ll stay for a few days. He won’t be much bother. When he leaves, give him this.’
He had retrieved a thin envelope and handed it to Vastra. When she received it, her hand dropped a little. There must be something flat but heavy inside it. She had hidden her confusion, but Jenny had decided not to follow suit.
‘But how will we know?’ she had asked. ‘What if we take in the wrong man?’
The Doctor had grinned at her.
‘You’ll know. I promise.’ With a final wave, he had stepped in and closed the door. Moments later, the TARDIS had dematerialised.
Jenny was afraid that the man might be gone by the time they reached the back door, but he was still there, huddled in his coat. As Madame Vastra arranged her veil, Jenny stepped outside, flinching in the rain. She descended the steps and put a hand on the man’s shoulder.
‘Come with me.’ She tried to simply sound kind, as though she was simply inviting a pauper in to warm himself by the fire for a while, but when he looked at her, her nerve almost failed her. She did not understand why she felt so scared. If she hadn’t met aliens before, she would not have noticed that he was not human. At a distance, he probably looked completely ordinary, certainly more so than Vastra. But this close up, she saw every strange detail, from the shade of his pale skin to the strange blue of his eyes. Now, she thought she saw something else in those eyes, other than their inhuman colour. They were too old for his face, deepened by experience. In them, she saw a terror so complete that she became afraid that she would ever feel something like it.
The man blinked a few times and looked away. It gave her the opportunity to compose herself.
‘Come on, sir, let’s get you out of the rain.’ He acted as if he could not hear her. Madame Vastra had come to stand at her side, and was watching him too. ‘Can you understand me, sir?’ Jenny asked. The man simply stared beyond them, hunching his shoulders and muttering to himself.
‘Perhaps he doesn’t speak English,’ Madame Vastra said quietly to Jenny.
‘When I found ‘im, ‘e said something which I think was in English, only I didn’t really understand it,’ she replied. Vastra sighed.
‘Come on, Jenny,’ she said and grabbed the man by the arm. Jenny, realising what she intended, grabbed his other arm, and together they heaved the man onto his feet. He did not resist, but followed them inside. His progress was slow, and all the time, Jenny could hear him murmuring under his breath.
Inside the kitchen, Vastra made him sit on a nearby chair and Jenny closed the backdoor. When she turned back, Vastra was leaning over their strange guest, her face close to his.
‘Be careful, ma’am,’ she whispered, alarmed. ‘’e mustn’t see through the veil.’ Vastra straightened up.
‘No great risk, I should think,’ she said. ‘I think he is ill. Delirious. But... listen.’ Jenny approached, afraid that the man’s equilibrium would suddenly break. They did not know who he was or why they had been asked to take him in. Even if they could both defend themselves, she could not help imagining what would happen if the man flew into a frenzy. However, when she leaned close, he did not do anything, except continue his murmur.
‘Doctor... where... the doctor...’
Jenny drew away and looked at Madame Vastra.
‘Is he asking for a doctor?’ she asked. Behind the veil, Vastra smiled.
Jenny nodded. The Doctor was at the heart of this somehow.
‘Are there sheets on the bed in the guest room?’
‘I’ll make the bed, ma’am.’
Jenny left the kitchen almost at a run. She made the bed quickly, and found a night shirt she had been meaning to adjust to Strax’s measurements, as well as an old dressing gown she had thought of sewing something else of. It would do for now. When she came downstairs, Vastra and the man had barely moved.
‘All done, ma’am.’
‘Good,’ Vastra said and took hold of the man’s arm again and pulled him to his feet. His knees almost buckled, but he managed to remain standing when Jenny took his arm as well.
‘Come on, sir, upstairs we go,’ she said, but it seemed as if he had not heard her. They walked slowly. Their tight grip around the man turned them into a clumsy, six-legged creature. All the way, Jenny felt him shivering beside her. Vastra must have noticed it as well, because when they finally led him into the room, she said:
‘We need to get him out of these clothes.’
Jenny hesitated. He was in no condition to undress himself - he could barely walk - but undressing a gentleman was nothing she wanted to do.
‘Come on, Jenny, give me a hand,’ Vastra said, suddenly businesslike, and pulled the coat off the man’s shoulders.
Jenny knew she was right, of course. After they had taken off his coat, they led him to the bed, where he all but collapsed. Jenny unbuttoned his waistcoat, which she saw was brocade, while Vastra took his shoes and trousers off. Once they had taken off his soaked clothes, they managed to pull the night shirt onto him, which felt a lot like attempting to dress a very big doll. Then, Vastra took him by the arm and made him stand while Jenny pulled the covers back. As her mistress coaxed the man into bed, Jenny had the sudden impression that he was a blank. She imagined, in strange, visual detail, that his mind was dislodged from his body, floating outside his head. Slowly and jerkily, he climbed into bed and lay down. For an instant, he looked simply awkward, aware of the two women watching him. The next moment, his eyes drifted shut and his breathing deepened. Jenny looked at her mistress, who had cast off her veil and revealed her frown.
‘Strange,’ she murmured and leaned closer, examining his face. Jenny felt suddenly ashamed that she had been scared of the man before. Now, he just looked pathetic, and there was a sheen of sweat on his forehead and his upper lip. Vastra must have reflected on how poorly he looked too, because she produced a scanner. When she held it out over him, it lit up and gave a beep. Vastra watched the screen on the scanner, brow still furrowed.
‘I’ll take these down to the kitchen, to dry them,’ Jenny said and gathered them all up. Vastra simply nodded, without taking her eyes off the scanner.
Jenny hurried down to the kitchen again, put a few more logs onto the fire and started looking at the clothes. They looked surprisingly expensive, considering that they had found him sitting at the back door late at night. The shirt was worn but made from fine linen, and the boots looked very fashionable. As she had noticed before, the waistcoat was fine brocade, and his cravat was silk. The trousers were muddy at the knees and a little frayed in the legs, but still well-tailored. The double-breasted coat was in a style she had not seen before, reaching well beyond the knee and with large lapels. It was sewn from a sturdy but dull material, and looked like it did not really belong with the rest of the clothes. She emptied the coat’s pockets, putting the few items she found on the workbench, and started hanging the clothes to dry. Before going upstairs, she filled a basin with water and took a few towels with her. When she reentered the guest room, Vastra was still busy with the scanner, looking more worried than before.
‘Any luck?’ Jenny asked as she put the basin on the bedside table.
‘No,’ Vastra said, but the way she said it made it sound like a “yes”.
‘What species is ‘e?’ Jenny pressed. She wrung out the towel she had left in the water and dabbed at their guest’s face.
‘It can’t place him.’
‘But I thought that thing ‘ad the species of several galaxies in it?’
Vastra’s jaw tightened.
‘Nevertheless...’ With a swift motion, she switched the scanner off and put it back in her pocket. Jenny wondered why she was evading the question. She did not like to think it, but her intuition was telling her that Vastra was lying. Trying to hide her irritation, she wet the towel again. While it soaked, she felt the man’s forehead.
‘’e’s all cold,’ she observed. ‘But ‘e’s sweating, like ‘e has a fever.’
‘I think he does,’ Vastra said. ‘His normal core temperature must be lower than a human’s.’ Jenny folded the wet towel into a compress and placed it on his forehead.
‘It’s a pity Strax isn’t ‘ere.’
‘The Doctor told us to keep Strax away from him. It’s just as well that he’s in Glasgow.’ Jenny turned back to her. She felt now how tired she was, and how rattled the man’s appearance had made her. Madame Vastra’s coolness was no longer irritating but reassuring.
‘’e’ll be back day after tomorrow, though.’
‘Strax can have a few more days off,’ Vastra said. ‘If that what it takes.’ They fell silent, an uncertain tension between them.
‘Perhaps I should sit up, ma’am,’ Jenny said and cast a glance on the sleeping alien. ‘If ‘e takes a turn for the worse.’ Vastra clicked her tongue.
‘Nonsense, my love. He is in no danger. Besides, what could you do?’ Jenny shrugged. Vastra smiled, the stiffness giving way to genuine warmth. ‘Come here.’ Thankfully, Jenny stepped into her open arms. She rested her head against her shoulder, and felt herself relax. Vastra kissed her temple and, when Jenny’s grip loosened a little, whispered: ‘Let’s go to bed.’ With Vastra’s arm wrapped around Jenny’s waist, they left the room. When they closed the door, both glanced back at their guest, who shifted in his sleep and murmured something in an unknown language.
In the morning, things seemed almost normal but for the strange sense of a presence in the house. The knowledge that there was an alien stranger upstairs unsettled Jenny, even if there was nothing to indicate that he was still there, except the drying clothes and the closed door. Madame Vastra was obviously aware of her discomfort, even if she did not share it. They had breakfast together in the master bedroom, lying side by side with a tray between them. Jenny loved mornings like that, but today she knew that there was a reason for it, and that subtracted from her enjoyment. After she had dressed, she helped Vastra with her clothes, another thing they often shared. Jenny took her time, lacing her corsets and arranging her skirts, and Vastra did nothing to rush her, even if she had to be at Scotland Yard to discuss an ongoing case. It struck Jenny that perhaps the Silurian was dawdling for her sake.
Before she left, Vastra looked in on their guest. Jenny, who felt that entering a gentleman’s room when he was asleep just wasn’t right, stayed in the hall-way, brushing down her mistress’ coat.
‘He’s still sound asleep,’ Vastra when she descended the stairs. Her strange voice echoed slightly in the stairwell. ‘But he looks better.’
‘I thought I’d take ‘is clothes to the laundry, ma’am.’
‘Of course,’ she said and pulled on her gloves. ‘Rent him a suit. He can’t wear Strax’s night-shirt until his clothes come back.’
‘Should I send a telegram, ma’am?’ Jenny asked. ‘To tell him to stay in Glasgow?’
‘Yes,’ Vastra said, now putting on her hat. When it was balanced on the ridges of her head, she turned and smiled at Jenny. ‘Will you be fine on your own?’ Jenny laughed, a little embarrassed at her own jumpiness.
‘Of course, ma’am.’
‘I doubt he is dangerous.’ Jenny shrugged, trying to look like she was not unsettled at all.
‘Don’t put off your things for me, ma’am. There are crimes that need solving. I’ll just get on with my chores.’ Vastra looked grateful - she hated being stuck in the house - but stroked Jenny’s cheek with a claw and then kissed her. With that, she lowered her veil and went outside.
Jenny did as she had said and did her chores. In fact, she did more than she usually did, and before ten o’clock, she had taken the clothes to the laundry, sent the telegram to Strax, cleaned up the mud from her sprint through the house last night, tidied the kitchen, dusted the drawing room and the dining room and fluffed every cushion in the house. When the grandfather clock struck ten, she had just retrieved fresh linen for Vastra’s bed and came into the hall with it piled in her arms. Her concentration was on not dropping any of it, until the stairs creaked a little. At the sound, she looked up sharply, instinctively reacting as if to a threat, but none was to be found. There was only the guest, standing on the landing.
He was wrapped in the dressing-gown Jenny had left in his room last evening, and looked much better than he had. His eyes had been glazed over and confused last night, but now they were alert and clear. For the first time since she found him at the back door, Jenny had time to reflect on his appearance. His features, though inhuman, had a certain classical handsomeness to them. The hair that had seemed uncut and unkempt last night had dried and now hung in heavy curls, giving his face a slightly feminine aspect. Underneath the hem of the dressing-gown, his bare feet were visible. Jenny found herself staring at them. There as something subtly wrong about them. The bone-structure was just different enough not to look right in the eyes of someone who spent most of her time with aliens. To anyone else, she reflected, they would probably just look delicate, toes a little longer and slant a little sharper than was usual.
Jenny shook herself and smiled up at the man, who had not moved since she had caught sight of him.
‘Good morning, sir,’ she said. For a moment, he simply stared at her, but then his face, which had looked so confused, slipped into focus.
‘I’m sorry, but where am I?’ he asked. He had a pleasant voice which sounded much more human than Vastra’s did. His accent was impeccable, making her doubt for a moment whether he really was an alien and not an insane aristocrat who had slipped his chaperones and got lost in the city.
‘Paternoster Row, sir,’ she answered. ‘Do you remember coming ‘ere? I found you out at the back door, see. You were ill, and not a little confused.’ The guest closed his eyes and rolled his head from one side to the other.
‘I remember... no, I... I’m not sure...’ He opened his eyes and stopped swaying his head. The moment of hypnotic concentration was gone. ‘I don’t know. I’m sorry.’
‘No matter,’ Jenny said, and meant it. He was not frightening at all now. Odd, perhaps, but pleasant. ‘Would you like me to run you a bath, sir? I’m afraid the butler’s on leave, so it’s just me, if you don’t mind it, sir. There are some clothes too - a suit, I can put it out for you.’
‘Yes,’ he said and nodded, a little distracted. ‘Yes, that would be good.’
‘And would you be wanting breakfast after that, sir?’ The guest seemed to think about it.
‘Breakfast,’ he said and smiled suddenly. ‘What a lovely word. Really rather funny. Yes, I would like that. Thank you.’
Half an hour later, the guest had bathed, donned his hired suit and taken his place at the table. The suit was not a perfect fit - it was a little long in the sleeves and a little tight over the back, and looked altogether too somber for his gaudy hair - but it was better than the soaked clothes of last night. He was no longer confused as he had been on the stairs, but rather looked very excited about the prospect of breakfast. When Jenny brought in tea and toast, he thanked her several times. Then he eyed the different kinds of marmalades, picked up a slice of bread and looked up at her.
‘What’s your name?’ he asked, pinning her with his gaze. Strangely, she was not unsettled by it. He had scared her last night, and she usually found it uncomfortable when men paid attention to her. Such an innocent question seemed often to be a way to get closer, and she did not like that. However, here she sensed nothing like that. There was something distant about him, not in his manner (in fact, he felt very honest and open) but more subtly, hidden behind his alien eyes.
‘Jenny, sir. Would you like some tea?’
‘Oh. Yes, please.’ He leaned back to let her pour the tea. ‘Is your employer out, or just hiding?’ he said and smiled. He did not seem aware that the comment could be taken the wrong way.
‘No, my mistress - Madame Vastra - is out for the day. She’ll be back by dinner - she’d like you to join her.’
‘I’ll be delighted to meet her,’ he said, and sounded it. ‘Excellent tea, by the way. Thank you.’
Jenny curtsied and went back to the kitchen to prepare the rest of the breakfast. When she returned with a covered plate, the guest was reclining in his chair, stirring his tea absently.
‘Madame Vastra, you said.’
‘Is your mistress French, then? I was under the impression that I was in London.’ Jenny laughed.
‘You are, sir. And no, Madame Vastra isn’t French.’ She put the plate down in front of him and uncovered it. He smelled it appreciatively and started cutting his bacon. Something in his manner made her linger, certain that she had not been dismissed. After a few minutes’ silence, the guest asked:
‘So, am I right in thinking that there is no Monsieur Vastra?’
The way he had worded the question put her on her guard. It made her wonder if he guessed that she was not just a maid. When he looked up at her, meeting her gaze, she felt as if her mind was being read. She turned away and started putting the jam and marmalade onto her tray.
‘There’s only Madame Vastra, sir.’ The guest nodded to himself and went back to his breakfast. Jenny continued taking away the things he was done with, but just when she was about to take them back to the kitchen, she realised that she had not asked the guest the most obvious question yet.
‘I’m sorry, sir, but what is your name?’
The guest put down his cutlery with a clang and stared into thin air. Jenny watched as the expression on his face changed from confusion to fear. His eyes seemed to cloud over again, like they had been the night before. For a moment she was afraid that he would lose control of himself, and half started planning how to pin him down, but the look of panic passed, and he exhaled.
‘I don’t know.’ He sounded choked, and almost like he did not believe it himself.
‘How can you not know, sir?’
‘I...’ He raised his hands and rubbed his forehead and his eyes. Then he looked at his hands in dismay, as though wondering why it had not made any difference. He swallowed noisily. ‘I don’t know who I am.’
Jenny looked at him, trying to tell if he was lying. She could not see any signs of it. All she could sense was how afraid he was. In normal circumstances she would not have done such a thing, especially not when she was in the role of the maid, but now she drew out the chair next to the guest and sat down.
‘Tell me, sir.’ He seemed oblivious to how she had broken social protocol. Indeed, he seemed oblivious to everything around him. It was as if there was a few seconds’ delay in his hearing. He delayed answering by swallowing again and wiping his cheeks with his hands.
‘I can’t remember,’ he said finally. ‘I don’t remember anything.’
‘Not anything at all?’ she said, so surprised she forgot to call him “sir”. She recalled what the Doctor had told her and Vastra - he’ll be very confused.
‘Nothing since five... six days ago,’ the guest said. He made a pathetic sound, and now a tear fell down his cheek. ‘I’m sorry, I’m afraid this situation might become rather awkward for you and your Madame Vastra, Jenny,’ he said as he searched his pockets for a handkerchief and, when he did not find one, used his napkin to wipe his face.
‘Don’t you worry about that, sir,’ she said. She meant it, but at the same time her fear was coming back. ‘What can you remember? Six days - that’s almost a week, after all. Better than nothing, eh?’
‘It’s less than you might expect,’ he said and stared down at the crumpled napkin in his hands. ‘The first thing I remember is... a train. It was evening.’ He had shut his eyes, but he kept twisting and pulling the napkin, as if he was trying to sort out the jumbled memories by hand. ‘I woke up. I didn’t have a ticket on me, and the conductor made me leave. So I walked.’
‘Where?’ Jenny prompted. The guest shrugged.
‘I don’t know. I just wandered.’ He opened his eyes, his hands relaxing. ‘I’m sorry. I find it difficult to make sense of this. It was like I was... empty.’ Jenny remembered her observation of him the previous night, when it had seemed like there was something of his mind missing. ‘Only... I wasn’t empty. I kept remembering words. Strange words. They didn’t make any sense. Just jargon.’
‘“Phase malfunction”,’ Jenny said, recalling his murmured words on the steps.
‘What?’ The look he gave her was very confused. She shrugged.
‘Sorry, sir. Nothing. Go on. You walked from the station...?’
‘Yes. I don’t know for how long. It was twilight when I left the train. It was getting light when the police stopped me. They didn’t know what to do with me. They though I was mad. So they took me to a hospital. They kept me there.’
‘What happened, sir?’ Jenny became instantly worried - she had learned very early on that aliens and hospitals should never mix.
‘Something about me confused them,’ the guest said. ‘I don’t know what. They kept examining me, trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I didn’t understand what they were looking for, but they seemed to think that there was something wrong with my chest. They didn’t tell me anything. I suppose they agreed with the police, about my being mad.’ He shrugged. ‘On the whole, I think they must be right. Sane men seldom forget who they are.’
‘But how did you come here?’ Jenny said. She had heard horror stories from Madame Vastra of aliens who had been cut up by curious physicians. Had the doctors who had tended their guest been too stupid (or too down-to-earth) to figure out that he did not have some strange disease? Had he simply been lucky? ‘Did they discharge you?’
He shook his head.
‘No, no. They did no such thing. I escaped.’
‘Escaped? How?’ He shrugged.
‘It was surprisingly easy. I didn’t even plan it. There was some commotion - I don’t know what happened - and the nurses ran off, and the ward sister was busy with something. So I simply got out of bed, dressed and walked out.’ He turned to look at her and smiled. ‘So I’m afraid you’re harbouring a fugitive.’
‘I don’t think walking out of an ‘ospital counts as being a fugitive, sir, seeing as you weren’t a prisoner,’ she said, but smiled back.
‘You may well be right, Jenny. Still, you’re most kind. I was lucky to end up here. I don’t think the odds of ending up somewhere with a comfortable bed and a good breakfast were very high.’ With this, he drained his cup of tea and held it out. Jenny stood up and refilled it.
‘Madame Vastra won’t mind, sir,’ she assured him. ‘She extended her hospitality to you and will not withdraw it.’
‘I look forward to meeting my hostess,’ the guest said. He sounded sophisticated and calm again. ‘She sounds like an unusually open-minded lady.’
‘You’ll meet her this evening, sir. Is there anything else I can do for you, sir?’ The guest smiled.
‘Not at the moment, I think. But thank you, Jenny.’ She curtsied, took her tray and went back to the kitchen to wash up and consider what she had been told.
Jenny spent the rest of the morning in the kitchen, preparing lunch and doing some sewing. She had given the newspapers to the guest, who had started reading them avidly. She noticed that he paid special attention to the date, and seemed to consider it for a long time. She served him lunch, which he ate still reading the paper. Jenny herself took her meal in the kitchen with the cat curled up in her lap. She wished Madame Vastra was at home, but she would not come until later that evening.
By three o’clock, Jenny had finished all the darning and mending she had put off during the last few weeks, and decided that she really should go to the butcher’s. The guest had not left the dining room, and when she entered, he was leaning back in his chair, his hands clasped over his chest and his eyes closed. For a moment, he reminded her rather of the snoozing cat which she had scooped off her lap only moments ago.
‘Excuse me, sir?’ His eyes opened at once, and he straightened himself. ‘I’m going to run some errands. Is there something you’ll be wanting before I go?’
‘No,’ he said and smiled innocently. ‘Can I come with you?’ Jenny stared at him in surprise. This man really had no idea about social conventions.
‘You wouldn’t enjoy it, sir,’ she said. ‘I’m just going to the butcher’s and the grocer’s...’ Nevertheless, he rose.
‘I’ll come with you anyway,’ he said. ‘Perhaps it’ll jog my memory.’
There was little else to do than agree and let him come. As she went about her errands, to the post-office and the butcher’s and the greengrocer’s, he followed two steps behind her, all the time looking around. Jenny felt oddly embarrassed when she saw how people stared at him. He might not be very tall, his long hair and his bare head made him very eye-catching. She wondered if he had newly arrived to Earth - he did not seem to know at all how to blend in. Yet he knew of London, and he had known that ‘madame’ was a French word...
Just when she was pondering this, the guest bounded up, closing the distance between them, and said:
‘Beautiful part of the city, this.’
‘Yes, it is,’ Jenny agreed. ‘Do you recognise any of it?’ The guest spun on the spot to take in his surroundings, and then sighed.
‘No. It looks much like any British street in the 1890s.’
‘What do you mean, sir?’ The mention of the decade perplexed her. The way he said it made it sound as if it were as arbitrary as the location.
‘Oh, I don’t know,’ he said and kicked at a stone. ‘I don’t know at all.’ They continued walking, now side by side. After a few blocks, he started speaking again. ‘Have you been in service long, Jenny?’
‘Since I was fifteen, sir.’
‘Were you born in London?’
‘Yes, sir. Close to Elephant and Castle.’
‘Ah, I see. Fascinating part of London, that. It used to be marshland, you know, but the Romans drained it.’
‘I didn’t know that,’ Jenny said. The guest nodded, obviously still thinking about the draining of the marshlands.
‘It was a pity, really. It was rather majestic.’
Jenny cast a sideway glance at him. He had said ‘it was’, not ‘it would have been’. As they made their way back to the house, the guest continued talking about London’s history. In less than ten minutes, he managed to cover the Roman settlement, the erection of Cleopatra’s Needle (and how the name was wrong, as it was in fact from eleven-hundred years before Cleopatra had been born), England’s role in the crusades and the history of London’s parks. Jenny tried to follow, because she found it all very interesting, but he talked so fast and made such abrupt jumps between subject-matters that it was difficult to keep up. Also, she was distracted by a growing sense of unease. When they arrived to the house, Jenny suggested she show the guest the library. As she had expected, he was delighted at the idea. He looked very much like a gleeful child when he picked a book from the bookshelves, seemingly at random, and sat down cross-legged in one of the armchairs. Jenny left him to it, and retreated into the kitchen again. Once there, she allowed herself to admit that she really was scared again. His monologue had sounded so familiar, but how could he possibly sound so much like a man he looked nothing like?
Jenny had expected Vastra to come by the front door, as she always did, but just as she finished dinner, the back door opened and the unmistakable sound of her mistress’ footsteps were heard. Quickly, she put down the hot dish she was holding and threw down the over-gloves.
‘Ma’am!’ she exclaimed and ran to hug her. Vastra snorted in surprise, but embraced her back.
‘What’s the matter, Jenny?’ she asked, plying her grip from her to look her in the face. Jenny smiled and shrugged.
‘Oh, it’s nothing, ma’am. Not really.’ Vastra removed her hat, and Jenny hurried to help her with her helped her with her coat.
‘How is our guest?’
‘’e’s well. Up and about.’
‘Good,’ Vastra said and started arranging her veil.
‘Oh, but, ma’am...’ She froze and prompted the maid to speak. ‘There is an issue. Well, ‘e doesn’t know who ‘e is.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘’e’s lost ‘is memory, ma’am. ‘e doesn’t even know ‘is own name.’ Vastra stroked her chin and considered it.
‘Curious. Perhaps he ended up on this planet accidentally - he might have crash-landed, and been injured...’ She thought about it a little more. ‘But his clothes looked like they were from this time and place, except possibly the coat. Did he really not remember anything at all?’
‘Nothing since the evening six days ago, and he spent the days between then and now in an ‘ospital.’ Vastra stared, alarmed. ‘But he says they didn’t figure anything out.’
‘Good. Good,’ she murmured. Then she looked Jenny in the eye. ‘What do you think about him?’
‘I don’t know, ma’am. ‘e’s awfully polite, but ‘e has no idea about decorum, really. ‘e came with me when I ran my errands. Perhaps ‘e just didn’t want to be left on ‘is own, but ‘e didn’t seem to think it was odd at all. But ‘e’s kind. ‘e... well, treats me like an equal, I suppose, but ‘e talks like a proper gentleman. ‘e sounds posh, but doesn’t act it.’
‘He might have lived here for years,’ Vastra observed. ‘Perhaps his amnesia has affected his memories of contemporary social rules.’
‘’e knows an awful lot about ‘istory,’ Jenny said and recalled again the missing subjunctive. ‘It’s strange, ma’am, but... the way ‘e talks.’ She hesitated, wondering if she should say this, because perhaps she was just imagining it.
‘It reminds me of the Doctor.’ Vastra frowned and seemed to think about it. ‘There’s something queer about ‘im, ma’am. Something not right. But it’s just a gut feeling.’ Vastra looked at her again and smiled.
‘I trust your gut feeling, Jenny, but I would like to speak to this mystery man myself, of course.’ Jenny nodded.
‘Well, dinner is ready, and I’ve set the table for two.’ Vastra nodded.
‘’ow was your day, ma’am?’ Jenny asked.
‘Not as intriguing as yours, it seems,’ Vastra said. ‘Quite dull, in fact. But the case is making some kind of progress. Still, I would much rather have kept you company.’ Smiling, she ran a blunted claw over Jenny’s cheek, lingering at the beauty spot by her mouth. She in turn put her hand over Vastra’s and pressed it, glad of this small moment, while still wishing that she really had stayed. Then they stepped apart, Vastra veiled herself and put on her indoor gloves, and they steered their steps towards the library. Jenny lingered at the door, and Vastra opened it herself and stepped in. When she followed, she saw the guest still sitting cross-legged in an armchair, his curls falling over his face as he read. At the sound of the door, he looked up. When he saw them, he jumped to his feet, possibly from embarrassment at putting his shoes on the upholstery, but he regained his posture quickly.
‘Madame Vastra, I presume,’ he said and owed, one hand on his back. His eyes did not leave her veiled face.
‘You presume correctly, sir,’ Vastra said. She offered him her hand, which he kissed, bowing again. ‘You are very welcome in my home.’
‘And I am very grateful,’ he said. His tone was pleasant and light, but Jenny noticed his eerie eyes scrutinising her mistress’ odd clothing. ‘Seeing as I am not sure where my own home is...’
‘Yes, I have been told that you have trouble with your memory.’
‘Hopefully it is only temporary,’ the guest said and smiled.
‘Yes, of course.’ Vastra gestured towards the door. ‘Will you join me for dinner?’
‘I should be delighted, Madame Vastra. And as I do know the location of the dining room...’ He offered his arm. Vastra slipped her hand through the crook of his elbow and let herself be lead out. When they passed Jenny, the guest smiled and said, ‘hello, Jenny,’ under his breath. She curtsied. Vastra gave no sign of recognition, but Jenny could feel her eyes on her through the veil.
The two diners settled on opposite short sides of the table, and continued their discussion as Jenny poured the wine and served the food.
‘I understand that you have no recollection of anything until some six days ago.’
‘Yes, that’s right.’
‘And you cannot remember anything?’ Vastra asked.
‘Not since then, no. In fact, until today, I think I was very confused.’
‘You had a fever when we found you on our doorstep, but we thought it better not to call a doctor.’
The guest nodded slowly.
‘Jenny told you about my stay in the hospital?’
‘Yes, she did. If I were you, I would avoid the medical profession.’
‘You don’t trust them?’
‘I’m simply afraid that they might make matters worse for you, sir,’ she said. The guest smiled, but this time it did not reach his eyes.
‘But you must have had your own encounters with the medical profession, Madame Vastra.’
‘I beg your pardon?’
The guest tasted his wine before answering.
‘I assume that your unconventional accessories are not a new fashion fad, but an attempt at hiding something. Some disfigurement, perhaps, as I can see no reason for you to want to hide your identity in your own house.’ His voice held no prejudice, and sounded fairly unconcerned. He did not seem at all aware that his words might cause offense. Instead, he spoke as though it was simply a curious thing he had spotted. It was obvious that Vastra was surprised at the ease with which he deduced all this.
‘You are very clear-sighted, sir. And your assumptions are correct. I suffer from a rare skin condition, which, yes, is quite disfiguring.’
‘I see,’ the guest said, and looked grave now. ‘I am sorry to hear it. What skin condition is it, if I might ask?’
Jenny, who was waiting at the door, listening, saw Vastra tense a little. Usually the explanation she had already given was enough to deter people.
‘Indeed?’ the guest said, interested now. ‘Which type?’
‘There has been some dispute about the precise nature of my condition,’ Vastra said.
‘That sounds rather intriguing. It would almost imply, if the doctors are incapable of giving you a diagnosis they all agree upon, that yours may be the first recorded case of a new subtype of the disease. I would not want to offend your vanity, Madame Vastra, but if you would allow me, I should be interested to see you without your veil.’ Vastra put down her cutlery carefully and straightened her veil, as though his words might lift it.
‘Are you a doctor, sir?’ The guest seemed to think about it.
‘I suppose I might be,’ he said finally. ‘I seem to know quite a lot about medicine, actually.’
‘Jenny mentioned that you have an excellent understanding of British history.’
‘Then perhaps I am a historian.’ He smiled innocently and shrugged. ‘I am sorry I cannot give you any answers.’
‘We all have our cross to bear, sir.’
‘Yes, we do,’ the guest said. He seemed to think something through, and then spoke. ‘But to continue with the religious metaphors, Madame Vastra, I think the ancients had a point with their religion based on of do ut des - “I give, so that you might give”. I asked you to show me your disfigurement, which you are obviously self-conscious about, but I cannot tell you my name or my home-town or my profession. I might be anyone. For all I know, I am dangerous. Taking me into your home without knowing who I am is a great act of faith, Madame Vastra. It is not one I can repay easily. So I hope you will overlook my eagerness.’
Yet again, Jenny was reminded of the Doctor. This man’s sincerity, as well as his naive tactlessness, sounded much like him. She was relieved when Vastra, who had seemed as taken aback by this honesty as by his tactlessness, nodded.
‘Naturally. I expect that, if you have no memories of your own, any knowledge would seem precious to gain.’ The guest smiled broadly, looking relieved too.
‘Yes, exactly. And talking of knowledge - you have an excellent library. I was intrigued by the many volumes on crime...’
The conversation moved onto Vastra’s detective work, and from there, onto other issues, ranging from the prison system to the movement for women’s suffrage. For an amnesiac from another planet, their guest was very well-informed, and surprisingly radical, in an effortless way that Jenny found curious. When they moved onto the question of the vote, he said, ‘oh yes, women still don’t have it’, as if he was certain that in the future they would. ‘I have never understood why’, he admitted. Similarly, he explained that did not see why men of the lower classes or for that matter colonials did not have the vote. Several times, when Jenny came in to serve the wine or take out plates, he asked her opinion, something which made Vastra cast curious glances at him. They were both so used to pretend to uphold these conventions, that it was confounding when a complete stranger disregarded them like this.
At long last, Vastra rose from the table, and bid her guest good-night. He wished her the same, and went upstairs to retire. The mistress of the house lingered downstairs in the kitchen as Jenny cleared away the last few things, and then they went upstairs together. As soon as the door shut behind them, Jenny took off her apron, shedding her role as maid.
‘What do you think of him, ma’am?’
‘You were right when you said he was strange,’ Vastra said. She had already taken off her veil and gloves, and was unbuttoning her dress now. ‘Inquisitive. Dangerously so.’
‘But he seems kind too,’ Jenny said. She took Vastra’s dress from her and put it on the hanger, before turning to help her out of her bustle. She could still sense her tenseness, which was of an entirely different kind than before at dinner. As she started unlacing her corset, Jenny reflected that it was as if she was trying to decide whether or not to do something potentially detrimental. When she was half-way through unlacing the corset, Vastra spoke.
‘Yesterday, I lied to you.’ Jenny’s hand stopped. The words made her knees feel weak.
‘What about, ma’am?’
‘When you asked about the scanner,’ Vastra explained, still looking straight ahead. ‘I told you it could not place him.’ Jenny exhaled, feeling a little calmer, but somehow not as calm as she had thought. It was a minor thing, and one she had suspected at the time, but she thought it would mean something greater.
‘Could it place ‘im, ma’am?’
‘Then... where is ‘e from?’
Vastra was silent for a moment, clinging to that last piece of truth. Then she relinquished it.
Jenny stepped back in surprise.
Vastra turned around to face her.
‘I didn’t believe it at first,’ she explained. ‘It seemed so unlikely, but he is Gallifreyan. Two hearts, a respiratory bypass system, incredibly complicated nervous structure...’ Jenny thought about what the guest had said about the doctors at the hospital, but then the unlikelihood of the discovery hit her again.
‘But Gallifrey is gone! The Doctor told us - it was destroyed...’
‘Keep your voice down, Jenny,’ Vastra whispered, the words turning into a hiss. ‘The reason why the Doctor asked me to withhold my true identity and to send Strax away was obviously so that he would not be aware of the existence of life other than that on Earth.’
‘And ‘e doesn’t remember anything else,’ Jenny added.
‘But who is ‘e?’ she persisted. ‘The Doctor said ‘e was the last Time Lord...’
‘What if he has been proven wrong?’ Vastra said. ‘This man must have survived somehow. The Doctor entrusted us with him for a reason. Perhaps his amnesia is the result of some trauma connected to his survival, and he is here on Earth to heal.’
‘You mean the Doctor entrusted us with the only other living Time Lord in the universe?’ ‘I am not saying it is a fact. Only a theory.’
Jenny thought back to when she had first found the man on the steps.
‘Last night, we heard him say “Doctor”,’ she recalled.
‘They must have known each other.’ Jenny looked down at the carpet and nodded. Vastra shifted uncomfortably. ‘I am sorry, my love. I just couldn’t believe it, and so I thought that keeping it to myself was the better course of action...’ Jenny shrugged and looked at her again.
‘I’m not cross with you, ma’am,’ she said. ‘I just...’ Suddenly she realised that she was about to start crying. She clasped her hand over her mouth. Vastra frowned in compassion and pulled her into an embrace. Jenny clung to her, feeling grateful and quite silly. When she had pulled herself together, she explained: ‘There is a stranger in our house. The Doctor’s told us about the Time Lords. They could be cruel, and dangerous. And he said himself...’
‘But he doesn’t remember, Jenny. He is a clean slate.’
‘I know it’s not rational,’ she exclaimed, annoyed suddenly. ‘But I’m scared. The universe is a huge, unexplored place, and the world outside this ‘ouse, that’s as ‘ostile to people like us as space is to any life, ma’am. But this ‘ouse is yours and mine, and it’s our sanctuary, where nothing can ‘urt us. And now a part of that outside world ‘as come here, like this...’ Vastra watched her, her face somewhere between regretful and unsettled.
‘He is simply a creature who has lost his way,’ she finally said. Jenny sighed.
‘I know, ma’am. I feel awful, feeling scared about it. And I like ‘im. ‘e’s very kind. But still... there is something in ‘is eyes. I feel that ‘e’s done terrible things. So even if ‘e is very kind, I think ‘e is dangerous.’
‘Jenny, I have done terrible things. I have killed without reason. You know that...’
‘Yes, I do know, but...’ She trailed off. Vastra put her hand on her cheek.
‘What should we have done?’ she asked quietly. ‘Refuse the Doctor this one favour he asked of us?’
For a wild moment, Jenny wanted to say yes. The Doctor may have helped them, but he had no right to order them to do anything. This was not his house - he had no right. But then she remembered the guest when she had found him, murmuring and shivering out in the rain, or at the breakfast table, when he had wept when he realised that he did not know who he was. So she did not say anything, and knew that Vastra would understand.
Early the next morning, Jenny went to the laundry and picked up the clothes she had left there the day before. Now that they had been washed and mended, they looked considerably better. She hung the strange coat in the hall and delivered the rest to the guest. Soon afterwards, he descended the stairs, once again dressed in his own clothes. There was something Romantic, almost Wildesque over the way he looked. When his long locks had been wet and his fine clothes had been dirty, he had been a sorry sight, but now, he shone, content in at least this outer certainty. He breakfasted with Madame Vastra, who gingerly sipped her tea under her veil. Jenny noticed her watchful eyes on their guest, as though she was trying to decide whether she thought he was dangerous. He seemed oblivious of her study, but ate his breakfast happily and leafed through the morning paper. Was he looking for something which was familiar to him? Jenny wondered. If so, he would probably not find it in a human newspaper.
When they were both done, Jenny took their plates and took them out into the kitchen. It was then, just when she put them down, that she noticed something on the workbench - a featureless black cube, and a small strip of paper. Her stomach somersaulted with the realisation that she had completely forgotten the fact that she had taken those items out of the man’s coat pocket the night he arrived. She took them and almost ran out of the kitchen.
She found the guest in the hall, studying the katanas on the chest of drawers.
‘These are exquisite swords,’ he said, not looking up when she stopped at his side. Carefully, he picked up Vastra’s sword and looked at it closely. ‘Edo period, I should say. Wonderful craftsmanship.’
Seeing her watch him, the guest smiled and put the sword down.
‘I’m sorry, Jenny. What can I do for you?’ Jenny held out the cube and the strip of paper, one in each hand.
‘These were in your pocket, sir.’
His face changed. The smile slid off, and a look between fear and wonder entered his eyes. There was something solemn about the way he took the objects. He looked from one to the other, as if wondering where to begin. Finally, he unfolded the strip of paper. Jenny watched him read it, mouthing the words written there. He looked at whatever was written there, frowning.
‘What is it?’ she asked in a hushed voice.
‘It’s... instructions,’ he said uncertainly. ‘I think.’ He seemed to read it again and then said, not to anyone in particular: ‘Who is Fitz? Am I Fitz?’ He looked at the note again. ‘No, that doesn’t feel right. It’s fromFitz. He must be... someone I know. But who...?’ Then he looked up at Jenny again. His eyes looked suddenly very intense. ‘Do you know anyone called Fitz, Jenny?’
‘No, sir,’ she said, startled. His face softened, and he smiled.
‘No, I guessed not,’ he murmured and looked at the note yet again, his finger moving fractionally, as if to another word. ‘This is strange...’ he murmured and, without another word, started walking towards the library. Jenny was about to address him when she heard Madame Vastra’s voice from above.
‘Jenny!’ She turned and looked up at Vastra, who stood, veiled and half-hidden in shadows on the landing.
‘I need your help with comparing some fingerprints.’
Jenny glanced in the direction of the library. She had expected their eccentric guest, with his varied knowledge, to turn around and volunteer at the mention of fingerprinting. Instead, he seemed oblivious to what was happening in the hallway, and was still looking at the note. She turned back and hurried upstairs to help Vastra.
Comparing fingerprints was something Jenny always enjoyed, and according to Vastra, she was far better than anyone at Scotland Yard at it. It was still a very new idea, but thanks to their motley team, they were able to use some methods which were not quite contemporary. As Jenny studied some photographs of fingerprints Vastra had found at the scene of the murder of a disgraced actor, the detective herself was inspecting samples of his stage makeup for signs of poison. They worked in silence for the best part of half an hour. As Vastra put aside yet another perfectly harmless jar of powder, she observed:
‘Strax is coming back from Glasgow tomorrow.’
Jenny put her magnifying glass down.
‘What should we do?’
‘Well, we can’t tell him to stay longer. He has had far too much time off already.’
‘But what about...?’ Jenny jerked her head towards the door.
Vastra pursed her lips.
‘We cannot possibly ask him to leave.’
‘The Doctor did say that he wouldn’t be staying for long,’ Jenny pointed out.
‘A very vague promise,’ Vastra sighed. ‘Well, Strax will have to take a room at the pub if our guest decides to stay longer.’
‘It’s a pity really,’ Jenny said. ‘The Doctor’s orders, I mean. I think ‘e’d make a very good detective’s assistant.’
‘I already have an assistant, my dear.’
‘But you know what I mean. It wouldn’t be too bad, to ‘ave someone else who can pass for human. But if ‘e’s not to meet Strax, or see your face...’
‘Yes. It is quite impossible.’ Vastra leaned over her microscope to look closer at some blusher, but then glanced up at Jenny. ‘What are you thinking, Jenny?’
She leaned back in her chair, considered it for a moment and then spoke.
‘Does the Doctor really expect us to let ‘im leave like ‘e is now?’
‘With no memory, you mean? Perhaps he will regain it soon.’
‘I don’t think so, ma’am,’ Jenny explained. ‘See, ‘e ‘ad a note in ‘is pocket, that night when we found ‘im. It had some kind of instructions.’ Vastra raised her eyebrows, interested, and sat down.
‘And you didn’t read it?’
‘No,’ Jenny said, a little stung. ‘Mind you, it was difficult not to. But it wasn’t an investigation. I didn’t want to stick my nose where it didn’t belong.’ Vastra inclined her head.
‘Of course. But you think that these instructions indicate that he will not remember his identity because...?’
‘To make sure ‘e ‘ad something to look forward to. Some purpose.’
‘Like what?’ Vastra asked. Jenny thought about it.
‘I only looked at it very fast, but it was an invitation. Telling him to meet someone somewhere. There was a name on it - a signature. Fitz.’
Vastra blinked, surprised.
‘I had expected it to be from the Doctor. Perhaps we were wrong after all.’
‘What about that envelope the Doctor left us, though?’ Jenny asked, suddenly remembering. The stranger’s oddness had served to distract her from the ultimate purpose of the Doctor’s instructions.
‘Of course, there is that - but I do not know what is in it. I, like you, can sometimes be discreet.’
‘That could be an explanation!’
‘It is not impossible,’ Vastra said, but she did not sound convinced. ‘However, I think this game is one of time. The Doctor is trying to keep this Time Lord from being... contaminated with knowledge he should not have. He is making us all treat him very carefully.’
‘You mean ‘e’s trying to stop us from interfering with history?’ Jenny asked.
‘Still,’ she said. ‘I’m worried. I can’t ‘elp feeling that he’s not really right in the ‘ead.’
‘You mean you think he’s insane?’
‘I don’t know,’ Jenny said and picked up her magnifying glass again. ‘But if I didn’t know who I was, I’d be scared to death.’
They worked for another hour, until Jenny had to stop and go down to prepare luncheon. As she passed through the hall, she listened for sounds from the library, but heard nothing. She told herself that there was no need to worry, and that she should not disturb him for no reason. Keeping that in mind, she went about preparing the meal and laying the table as if nothing was amiss.
When the preparations were finished, she first went to tell Vastra luncheon was served, and then ran downstairs. Probably he was just reading quietly, she told herself, but unbidden, other suggestions presented themselves. What if he had made some awful discovery through that note? What if he had escaped through the window, and left without the Doctor’s envelope? What if he had come to some harm?
She stopped in the doorway, her imaginings cut short by what she saw. The guest was sitting with an atlas in front of him and the note laid out on top of it, rolling the black cube between his hands, watching it move. His eyes were red from crying. Jenny took a step towards him.
‘Is everything alright, sir?’ she asked. He did not react. ‘Were you able to make some sense out of it?’ Now, he sighed and put down the cube.
‘St Louis,’ he said, pronouncing it in French. ‘Or St Louis, if it is in America. That is where I am supposed to meet him.’
‘Yes, I assume Fitz is my friend,’ he said, looking at the note. ‘I just don’t know if I am reading it correctly. The date...’ He traced it with his fingers. ‘It makes no sense.’ Jenny came closer.
‘Can I help somehow, sir?’
The guest laughed, not his previous, silver-bell laughter, but a cruel cackle.
‘Can you make me live for a hundred years?’ he asked.
‘What on earth do you mean, sir?’ She tried not to seem hurt, but in truth she was.
‘It’s written here,’ he said and picked up the note. ‘“Meet me in St Louis, February 8th, 2001.”’
‘Two-thousand and one?’ Jenny repeated.
‘A hundred and five years from now.’
‘Perhaps it’s the time of day,’ she said. ‘Perhaps he means one minute past eight in the evening.’ The guest read the message again.
‘No,’ he said finally. ‘That’s not like Fitz.’ Jenny looked at him in surprise.
‘But I thought you didn’t remember...’ He looked up in confusion, surprised with what he had said.
‘I don’t know where that came from,’ he admitted. The sharpness was gone now, and his eyes were brimming with tears. ‘What am I to do?’ he whispered.
‘Oh - don’t cry, sir,’ Jenny said awkwardly and found a clean handkerchief in her pocket. She hesitated, but gave it to him all the same. He accepted it, evidently not realising how strange this situation - a gentleman crying, and the maid offering him a handkerchief - was. She looked away for a few moments, eager to leave but duty-bound to stay. Finally she turned back.
‘I came to tell you that luncheon is served, sir,’ she explained, ‘but if you’re feeling poorly...’ He shook his head, sniffed a little and stood.
‘Thank you, Jenny. I wouldn’t want to disappoint Madame Vastra.’ He left the library, and Jenny hurried after him. When she entered the dining-room with the food, she caught Vastra’s eye and indicated their guest carefully, to explain the delay. Her mistress gave an almost imperceptible nod, and followed her gaze.
‘Are you quite well, sir?’ she asked. Their guest did look rather unhealthy. He had been very pale ever since Jenny handed him the items from his pockets. As she served him, she noticed that he was still clutching the black cube in his hand.
‘Perfectly well, Madame Vastra. Simply distracted. But it’s nothing to upset yourself about, I assure you.’ He said all this in such a flat tone that it sounded almost pre-rehearsed.
Jenny half expected the guest to suddenly get up and leave, but if he regretted his decision to have luncheon in Vastra’s presence, he did not attempt to rectify it. However, he was himself not very good company, but sat silent. The few times Vastra tried to strike up a conversation, his answers were short and disjointed. So luncheon became an awkward, short affair. When Vastra left the table, thanking her guest for his company, he half-rose in respect, but then sat down again, staring into the void.
‘Can I clear the table, sir, or shall I come back later?’ Jenny asked. He shook himself, as if he had been half asleep, and made a gesture over the table to tell her to go ahead. She piled the dishes on the tea trolley and took it to the kitchen, glad to be out of there. As the water for dishing was warmed on the stove, she piled the dishes onto the work-bench, revelling in the clatter. She moved the iron pans over as well and pushed the cutlery into the sink with a clang. It was then she sensed that there was someone else there. At once, she spun around, ready to defend herself. The guest was standing in the doorway, his hands clasped in front of him. He must have noticed her tenseness, because he unclasped his hands and raised them to show that he meant no harm. As he did so, he smiled just a little, his exuberant self peeking out from behind the miserable mask.
‘I’m sorry I startled you,’ he said and let his hands fall.
‘You didn’t, sir,’ Jenny said. ‘What can I do for you?’
‘Allow me to speak to you.’
By now, she was no longer surprised by answers like this.
‘Of course, sir.’
The guest sighed and pulled his fingers through his wild curls, trying to smooth them out of his eyes.
‘I apologise for the way I behaved in the library,’ he said finally. ‘And... in general. I unnerve you.’ Jenny stared at him, not knowing what to say. It was true, of course, but she did not like it being put so bluntly. She decided to be blunt back.
‘Well, if you’ll pardon me for speaking out of turn, sir, you don’t behave like most gentlemen would.’ He raised an eyebrow.
‘You mean I am not a gentleman?’
‘That you are, sir, but not an ordinary one.’ That made him smile.
‘I don’t know if I would like to be ordinary.’
‘No, sir, I don’t expect you would,’ she said tersely. His smile lasted a little longer now, before going out, his graveness coming back.
‘I know that you’re frightened, Jenny. I can understand that.’
‘What is that supposed to mean, sir?’ she asked. ‘If you are planning to assault me, be aware that I can defend myself.’
‘Yes, I know that. Those swords had been trained with, I noticed,’ he said very calmly. ‘Perhaps actually used. That is not an allegation of any crime, of course... Merely an observation.’
‘I simply meant that I am standing by a sinkful of cutting knives, sir.’ He smiled again.
‘You know full well that I am not here to assault you.’
‘Really, sir?’ But he was right. She was unsettled by him, but it was not because of any physical threat. It was still that alienness about him. Even for a non-human, he was so obviously different. At least now, when she knew that he was Gallifreyan, it made a little more sense. He had the same kind of understated and seemingly unconscious majestic bearing that the Doctor had between his moments of silliness. Actually, the guest had those too, if in a slightly different way.
‘I envy you, Jenny,’ he admitted now. ‘You seem content. I doubt I was ever content. Some people think contentedness is dull - some kind of trap people get stuck in - but they do not realise the peace it must bring.’ He looked around the kitchen. ‘Come to think of it, I might have been one of those people once. Possibly I still am. I don’t know.’
‘You can’t be content if you don’t allow yoruself to be,’ Jenny said, but she could not see him ever allowing himself such a thing, given his mercurial temperament.
‘That is true,’ he conceded. ‘I admire you devotion to Madame Vastra - and her devotion to you. It is an uncommon thing, to find such companionship.’ Jenny looked up at him. Now she was completely certain that he knew the true nature of their relationship, but he did not seem bothered by it, or even find it remarkable.
‘I’ve been fortunate,’ she said and shrugged, not really knowing what else to say.
‘I can’t pretend I do not envy you that as well,’ the guest said. ‘I wonder if I ever had such a devoted friend.’
‘Well, the man who wrote that note - Fitz - must care for you,’ Jenny pointed out. ‘Otherwise he would not have asked you to meet him.’ The guest nodded slowly.
‘I just wish I knew,’ he murmured.
‘Of course you do, sir,’ she said, ‘but you’ll remember in due course. And if you do not, you will find out when you see him.’
‘A century from now,’ he said, and then, suddenly, smiled. ‘And why not? It shouldn’t be impossible. And I’ll never live that long if I don’t put some effort into it.’
‘There’s your answer, sir,’ Jenny said. ‘It’s all to pique your interest. Keep you on your toes.’ This time he smiled right at her, with his eyes as well as his mouth.
‘Tell me,’ he said and, putting his hand in his pocket, stepped closer. ‘What do you make of this?’ The cube from his coat pocket was sitting in his palm. Jenny looked at it closely where it lay in his hand. It was about an inch squared, with no mark on it. Its surface was completely black, with no marks or blemishes.
‘May I touch it?’ she asked, realising just as she spoke that it was an absurd question. Even if the cube was in his possession, it was just a thing, but she felt the need to ask permission, as if she was touching a part of his body. His fingers closed momentarily over it, reluctant to let it go. Then, with visible effort, he opened his hand.
‘Yes - of course.’ She picked it up by her fingertips, aware of the guest watching her.
‘It’s very light,’ she observed. ‘I’d expected it to be heavier. It might be hollow, but it doesn’t open. It could be one of those Chinese boxes, but I can’t see any groves.’ She turned it around and looked up at him. ‘It’s so polished, it looks almost like jet, but it’s too light for that. Could it be made of ebony, or bone?’ At the last word, he flinched visibly. ‘Is anything the matter?’
‘Bone,’ he murmured and looked at the cube. ‘For a moment... it made sense. And then, I found the notion repulsive.’
‘Repulsive?’ she repeated. It was such a strong word. Perhaps he found the idea overly morbid, but this was a man who happily discussed skin diseases at the dinner table. She would not expect him to be so disturbed by the idea of something being made from bone. It was not like it was an uncommon material.
‘I don’t know why,’ he said and shrugged. ‘What else?’ She put her palm against the box’s side. It was warm, and made her skin feel strange. Perhaps it had been warmed by its owner’s hand - he had been clutching it throughout luncheon, and before that too. But he was colder than a human, and the cube felt about the same temperature as her.
‘It’s warm,’ she said, and almost added, like it’s alive. She had a ridiculous impression that the cube was pulsing with life. Quickly, she handed it back. The guest enclosed it in his hands.
‘Bone wouldn’t be this warm,’ he observed.
‘No.’ They looked at each other, neither of them knowing what else to do.
‘I could take it to Madame Vastra’s laboratory, if you wanted me to,’ she suggested. The guest shook his head so violently that his curls flew around his face.
‘No - thank you. I wouldn’t want to be any trouble.’ It was obvious that that was not the reason at all, but she nodded all the same.
‘It must have belonged to you, before you lost your memories,’ she said. ‘If it didn’t make its way into your pockets on the train, or in the ‘ospital...’
‘No, I don’t think so,’ he said, looking at it where it sat on his palms. ‘I can’t recall noticing it before, but... there is something familiar about it. It must have been mine.’
‘I think it’s true what they say, sir, that patience is a virtue.’
‘Yes,’ he said and smiled. ‘But I don’t think I’m very good at it.’ She smiled back. She had noticed. He turned to leave, and then stopped in the door, turning back.
‘Was there anything else, sir?’ Jenny asked. He looked worried again, a frown lining his face.
‘I’m frightened too,’ he admitted. ‘I know so very little, Jenny. My mind feels like it’s shrouded, and I can’t uncover it. And the few things I do know...’ He shut his eyes tightly. ‘They keep going round and round my head. If I’m not mad already, I think this whirling will drive me insane.’
‘What kind of things, sir?’ Jenny asked.
‘“Doctor”,’ he said. ‘That word - “the Doctor”. It won’t let go.’ Slowly, he opened his eyes. ‘I don’t know what it means.’ Jenny thought she did, and wished she did not. It was not right to have this advantage. But she could not tell him.
‘You should rest, sir,’ she said. ‘You’ve been very upset - you must be tired.’ He exhaled and rubbed his face.
‘I’ll go for a walk,’ he announced. ‘And then, perhaps, I might sleep. Yes, I am tired. But not exhausted. I need to walk, and think.’
‘Go for a walk, then, and I will make you some tea when you come back.’ He smiled gratefully and waved at her as he left the kitchen. The box was still in his hand as he did so.
The afternoon was calmer than the morning. She helped Madame Vastra compile her notes for the current case. They had tea together in the study, working at a leisurely pace. Vastra suspected that the culprit was the leading lady, whose career had been wrecked in the shockwaves of the actor’s scandal, but they knew that they could not be certain until tomorrow, when Vastra could interview her again. When the guest came back from his walk, which had taken the best part of two hours, he had his tea in the dining room, and then moved to the library where he dozed at the window, the cat curled up in his lap. Jenny sensed that his stay was coming to an end.
She was proven right at dinner, just as she was serving the meat.
‘I am very grateful that you allowed me to stay in your house, Madame Vastra, despite everything,’ he said.
‘And I am glad to have made your acquiantance, sir. It has been an an intriguing experience,’ Vastra answered and smiled behind her veil.
‘Quite,’ he said and smiled too. ‘Nevertheless, I have decided to leave tomorrow morning.’ Vastra straightened her posture, as if preparing for this discussion.
‘You are welcome to stay longer...’
‘Thank you, Madame Vastra, and I do appreciate it, but I feel I cannot impose on you any longer.’
‘Rest assured, you are not imposing,’ Vastra said. ‘Your company has been refreshing. Besides... is it really wise to leave?’
‘In light of my loss of memory, you mean?’
‘Yes. Would it not be better to stay a little longer?’
But he shook his head.
‘I could not. It’s been over a week since I woke on that train now, and I have not recovered anything of my previous life. If I wait to get better, and allow myself to convalesce, I could put off my departure indefinitely. And as lovely as your home is, madame Vastra, I need to see the world outside these walls - outside this city. If I can find where I came from, perhaps I will remember.’
‘Of course,’ she said. ‘I understand.’
‘I am glad to hear it. Now, let us speak of other matters, other than my departure.’ He raised his wine glass, and she did the same. ‘Your health, Madame Vastra.’
‘And yours, sir.’
Jenny woke the next morning with a mixture of sadness and relief. She slipped out of bed without waking Vastra, who was still hissing lightly in her sleep. When she had dressed, she gently shook her mistress awake.
‘It’s morning, ma’am,’ she whispered. ‘You’d better wake, so you can give the gentleman the Doctor’s envelope.’ Vastra sat up with a sigh.
‘Of course,’ she murmured and climbed out of bed. Jenny helped her into her corset and bustle, and then left for the kitchen to start preparing breakfast. Just when she was laying the table, the guest came into the dining room. It took her a moment to identify the feeling which lit up his face - excitement.
‘Good morning, Jenny.’
‘Good morning, sir,’ she said. ‘The tea’s just ready...’ On her way to the kitchen, she saw Vastra descending the stairs. They caught each other’s eyes and smiled.
Vastra and the guest breakfasted in silence, while Jenny had her tea and toast in the kitchen. When the bell rang, she hurried to clear the table and prepare some food for their strange friend. She heard his running footsteps on the stairs now. Madame Vastra’s more dignified descent followed. Jenny came out of the kitchen with some sandwiches wrapped in paper and a flask of tea. When the guest caught sight of it, he looked surprised but pleased.
‘Is that for me?’
‘Of course, sir,’ she said and handed them to him. ‘And here’s a string bag to carry it in. Not very grand, but...’
‘No, this is grand. I don’t know if anyone’s ever made me sandwiches. Even if someone has, I’m none the wiser.’ She laughed, and to her surprise found tears stinging in her eyes. He must have seen it, because he took her hands and kissed her cheek. ‘Thank you, Jenny. You’ve been marvellous.’
‘I’m glad you ended up at our back door,’ she said.
‘Perhaps I will do that again,’ he replied.
‘And you will be welcome, of course,’ Vastra said. ‘This is for you. Not from myself, but...someone else.’ She held out the letter which had been left in her care. Intrigued, he took it and opened it. He frowned, but looked pleased.
‘As I said, it is not from me. It is from a philanthropist, who has your best interests at heart.’ He laughed.
‘What is it?’ Jenny asked, eager to find out. He reached into the envelope and picked up a small key.
‘There’s a note,’ he explained and took it up. ‘“This key is for a safety deposit box at Barclay, Bevan and Co. on 54 Lombard Street. Use the money within wisely. It needs to last for a long time.” Strange...’
‘But lucky,’ Jenny said.
‘Absolutely.’ Smiling, he closed the envelope again and put it into his inside pocket before turning to Vastra. ‘Thank you, Madame Vastra, as my hostess and my well-doer’s messenger.’ They shook hands, and then he kissed Vastra’s gloved knuckles as well. He turned and opened the door.
‘Don’t forget your coat, sir,’ Jenny reminded him and took the coat off its hanger. The guest looked at it briefly and said:
‘Keep it. I don’t think it’s mine, actually. Besides, I can afford a new coat now.’ He almost turned to go, but stopped on the threshold. ‘Oh - yes. I forgot to tell you. I remembered something.’
‘Really?’ said Vastra.
‘What?’ Jenny asked.
‘That word which kept going round my head, Jenny,’ he explained and laughed, delighted at the realisation. ‘It’s about me. I’m the Doctor.’
And with that, he waved and bounded down the steps, leaving them staring after him in surprise.
The next few weeks were spent in a state of confusion. Jenny and Vastra would lie awake at night and ask questions of ‘how?’, ‘why?’, even ‘when?’ They discussed regeneration and how it worked, and the complexities of time. Reminiscing about everything the Doctor they knew so well had ever said, and the few things that the man who had been the Doctor all along had remembered, they tried to piece together a causality, but were at a loss. Life went on much as before, with cases being investigated and solved, but the sense of wonderment remained. Strax had announced that they had both taken leave of their senses, and refused to understand how the man who had been their guest in his absence could possibly be the Doctor.
Then one bright morning some two weeks after the Gallifreyan guest’s departure, the doorbell rang. Strax was out tending to the horse, so Jenny left her darning in the kitchen, and went to answer the door. When it swung open, she gasped with delight.
‘Hallo!’ the Doctor answered, leaping into the hall. He looked like he usually did, tall and pipe cleaner-thin, with an unruly fringe which fell into his eyes, even under the battered top hat he was wearing.
‘Ma’am, ‘e’s ‘ere!’ Jenny called into the house. ‘Oh, Doctor, we’ve waited so long...’
‘Well, I’m here now!’ he said and spread his hands, like a music-hall actor receiving applause. ‘Any chance for some tea? Haven’t had any for days. The TARDIS ran out - I always thought the jars were self-filling, but it turns out they just keep it fresh for a very long time...’
When tea had been brewed and (on the Doctor’s insistence) Pontefract cakes produced, the three of them sat down in the conservatory. The Doctor munched happily on his liquorice while mistress and maid exchanged looks to try to decide who was to approach the subject. Finally, Vastra said:
‘Last time we met, you told us to expect a.... visitor.’
‘Yes, I did,’ the Doctor said and sipped his tea.
‘He was here last month,’ Vastra said, and Jenny added:
‘Or rather, you were.’
The Doctor put down his cup and saucer. For the first time since he came through the door, he was actually paying attention to them, and he looked very pleased.
‘As I remember it, it went pretty well,’ he said. ‘You were very kind, even if I wasn’t on my best behaviour.’
‘We don’t understand, Doctor,’ said Jenny. ‘That was you... an earlier you?’
‘Yes. I had a different face back then.’
‘And the envelope with the key?’ Vastra asked. The Doctor looked a little embarrassed.
‘A causality loop,’ he admitted. ‘It’s best to avoid them, but these things happen when you’re a time-traveller.’
‘You received the envelope with key and the note back then, and then when you met us, you fixed safety deposit box and ‘anded the key to Madame Vastra, so that she could ‘and it to you, so that you could receive it,’ Jenny said. It made her feel a little dizzy.
‘I always wondered who that strange philanthropist you mentioned was,’ he said. ‘Then, last time I was here, it struck me that it must have been me all along.’ He grinned now. ‘So it turned out that I hadn’t accepted charity after all. The money was mine all along.’
Vastra seemed to ponder something.
‘What’s the matter, ma’am?’ Jenny asked. Vastra shook her head, to show her not to worry.
‘I was remembering my first meeting with the Doctor,’ she explained and turned to look at him. ‘When we met, in the tunnels under London, and you stopped me from killing those humans who had massacred my sisters... you were so adamant that I could live among humans...’
‘...Because I had already seen you do it,’ the Doctor filled in. ‘Yes, Vastra. The first time you met me was not the first time I met you. It’s a very bad habit, by the way - makes things very confusing. But at least this time, I didn’t really know who you were that first time. Not that I wasn’t suspicious - I remember thinking, quite distinctly, that that skin disease my hostess claimed she had would still not change her voice like that. When we came face to face in that tunnel, I knew at once that it was you. I remembered that strange lady who had taken me in...and I knew that she was that Silurian standing in front of me.’
‘And you engineered for me to end up here?’ Vastra asked.
‘Oh, don’t be so dramatic, Vastra,’ the Doctor sighed. ‘I didn’t push you into this. Your timestream was taking you here anyway. I knew that, because I’d seen you live this life before. I just encouraged you.’
‘Very well,’ Vastra said and sipped her tea. Jenny thought that despite her grave tone, she looked rather pleased. Perhaps it was simply knowing the truth that did it, or recalling the look of recognition in the Doctor’s face the first time they met, but Jenny secretly thought that it was probably pleasure at knowing that this reality was so certain, even predestined. Then Jenny’s thoughts returned to the strange, confused man she had befriended.
‘Doctor, what ‘ad ‘appened to you?’ she asked. ‘Why did you not remember anything?’
The Doctor sighed and leaned back in his chair. The question seemed to have an uncomfortable answer.
‘I did something. Something horrific, but necessary. I lost everything. There were other reasons too, but part of it was simply... well, I could not endure what had happened, and my mind shattered. So I was sent here to heal.’ When he looked at them again, Jenny thought she saw all the years of his life in his face. It was strange to think that the mature if unconventional man they had taken in was far younger than the boyish Doctor having tea with them now.
‘Did you?’ Vastra asked.
‘Did you really wait until 2001?’ Jenny wondered. The Doctor nodded.
‘It’s the longest I’ve lived in a straight line since I was a young man - by Time Lord standards, that is,’ he said. ‘The money I left for myself sustained me for most of it, and I managed to get through the rest on my ingenuity.’
‘And did you find Fitz - your friend?’ she asked. Now the Doctor’s smile broadened.
‘Yes, I did. He was there where he said he’d be.’ He looked into the distance, lost in the memory. Jenny rose and went into the hall, and returned with the coat that had remained hanging on the door.
‘Fitz’s trench coat,’ the Doctor said, amazed, and took it when Jenny handed it over. He looked completely flabbergasted, his mouth hanging open in surprise. ‘I haven’t seen this in centuries...’ The way he handled the coat made Jenny wonder what had happened to its owner. The Doctor stroked it, inspected the threads and finally buried his nose in it to sniff it. When he lowered it, Jenny thought she saw a tear in the corner of his eye. ‘It still smells of his cigarettes,’ he murmured. ‘In its own timeline, he wore it just a few weeks ago...’ Then he looked up at them. ‘Can I keep it?’
‘It is yours,’ Vastra reminded him.
‘Well, on loan to me,’ he said. ‘Fitz was a little annoyed I hadn’t kept it, even if he knew that keeping the same coat for a hundred years wouldn’t work. I can’t return it to him, but... I can extend my loan indefinitely.’ He folded it carefully and put it in his lap, leaving one hand to rest on it. ‘Thank you for keeping it safe.’ Jenny shrugged, and refilled their cups. When she sat down again and started stirring her tea, she asked:
‘Doctor, that other you - will we meet ‘im again?’
The Doctor grinned over the rim of his teacup.
‘Oh, Jenny. That would be telling, wouldn’t it?’