Doctor Blanche Mottershead hadn't suspected that her arrival would cause so much upheaval and scandal at 165 Eaton Place, it had to be said. Although she knew coming to the house, stirring up the papers of her dead-as-a-dodo sister would rather antagonize some (Mr Amanjit most of all she had promptly discovered), and taking over her office, she didn't exactly realize the magnitude of sadness wavering in the house over the death of the beloved Lady Holland. Most of the house, the servants included, must have expected her to be some sad, lonely bachelorette; weepy and mourning the untimely passing of Lady Holland. Instead, they got the fierce, passionate archaeologist, who obsessed for hours over papers documenting some of the most fascinating discoveries in history, and who wasn't too fond of considering a person's emotions.
She was somehow different to the rest of the house, despite her relatively close relationship with her nephew and his wife. Lady Agnes, in particular, seemed to believe that her servants were inferior to her in every way, not even inviting dear Mr Pritchard to even sit down, saying it would make them both "uncomfortable". How could inviting somehow to take a seat make a situation uncomfortable? Maybe she had been spending too much time in Egypt, where all of this was just common courtesy and normal formalities. Also rather odd (in her wise opinion) was the fact that the men seemed to rule the house. She was no feminist, but this was the 1930's – a time when women could have their uprising and demand some respect.
Her arrival was bitter for her hosts, she knew. Hallam made no effort to disguise his true response to being there, and she felt rather unwelcome in Britain. Gradually, helped along by the issue with the Jewish children, the poor things, trapped in Germany, she began to start to feel like part of the house, even able to give the place as her address without thinking twice about it.
The whole case with getting those defenceless little Jewish children out of Germany had really given her mind something to work on. England was not the greatest place to hold an archaeological adventure, and most of her work so far had been simple paper-work, signing things off, and so on. So when a challenge actually popped up, it was not only sympathy that drove her to determination, it was excitement as well; that feeling of being able to do something helpful, but also to defy what the law was telling her.
She liked to live life on the edge, and ordering the Prime Minister about (admittedly through Hallam and not directly as she would've maybe liked) set her right on that perch. The filing had been rewarding as well, and the looks on those children's faces when they realized that they had escaped from their soon-to-be war-ridden country was something she would never forget. They just looked so humble, and so grateful. They were going to be safe and sound in this country.
But there was a lingering emotion wallowing in the back of her mind for the whole week that she worked non-stop for this immense evacuation, and that was fear. A letter, a letter from someone she had prayed she may never lay eyes upon again, had been handed to her by a surprisingly positive Mr Amanjit, and for the briefest of seconds she doubted whether it really was from her. But there was no mistaking that handwriting, or the way it made her heart rate double, even after what she had done.
When she had found the time to be alone, she had glanced at the first line, spelling out a derisive and unsubtle "My dearest love" and thrown the letter straight to the fire. How dare that woman try and contact her after what she had done last time? After everything she had said, everything she did, stamping out any hope in the young Doctor, how dare she find herself able to simply write as if nothing had ever happened?
It had only ever happened once that Blanche fell in love, and it was only ever going to be that one time. She didn't have the time for hopeless romantics and all this lovey-dovey lark which young people seemed to be so infuriatingly infatuated with these days. She had told herself, time and time again, she was too busy for it. But when you meet that one person who just makes your head spin round, then you can't just ignore them.
The moment the young Doctor set eyes upon the, quite frankly, delectable Lady Portia Alresford, that was when she could feel her body temperature and her pulse rising quite frantically. She had always known that she was, you could say "attracted", to the people of her own gender, and she didn't see the problem with it. Apparently, neither did Lady Portia.
It was her hair that really set everything alight. Lady Portia had this beautiful, rich, auburn hair which seemed to shimmer (yes, it was that nice that Blanche was getting poetic) in every light. For the first few weeks after their initial meeting at the Winter Ball in Moscow, the Doctor could not get the image of that beautiful woman's face from her mind. It seemed only logical, therefore, that they should meet again. And oh, the delicious controversy that caused was spectacular.
They were lovers for maybe two years, it was hard to recall. They moved around the world together, Portia following wherever Blanche's work took her, both being so careful not to let anyone find out. Their world was judgemental, and a Lady and an archaeologist were not going to change that just yet. The world love seemed to be too simple for the feelings they held for one another though; that deep feeling in the pit of your stomach where you want to spend forever in the arms of that one person, the fierce and burning desire when you catch eyes across a table, and that long and desirable shiver when their fingers press lightly against your skin.
She didn't ever want it to stop.
But one day, when the Doctor should've seen the pathetic fallacy in the weather, the Lady Portia gathered up her things and left without so much as a goodbye kiss. The next Blanche heard of her, two months later when she was back in Cairo trying to dig herself deep in either her work or the sand, that precious little redhead she had spent two years loving was getting married. A year later, she was pregnant and in five years' time, her ex-lover was raising a happy family in England.
It hurt every day to wake up and not have her there within arm's reach. Blanche never shed a tear, for that's not the sort of woman she was, but the nestling depression in her belly never once faltered. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, she would curl up outside, look up at the sky and wonder if Portia ever did the same. If the redhead ever actually thought of her at all – if she ever remembered their seamless acts of making love to one another, the way it felt to have another woman lying beside her in harmony. But Blanche knew for certain that she was the only one hurting anymore.
She resisted the urge to write back, knowing it would destroy all the progress she had made in the last seven years. But it still killed her, just a little, to watch her words go up in flames. However, fuelling rage was better than fuelling passion – at least the former could be worked away.
'Doctor Mottershead', came the low tones of Mr Amanjit's voice as he hurried into the room, a large package in his hand, 'This just arrived for you.'
Blanche leaned back in her chair, resting her feet on the table, and she smirked a little as the powerful man in front of her winced at the gesture. She removed the cigar from her lips, casually exhaling the smoke wafting around in her mouth, and held out a hand to receive the package. She stared at it for a second, trying to deduce what might be inside, but she was clueless, a feeling she did not often associate herself with.
'Thank you Mr Amanjit,' she responded dutifully, still staring at the package which had two initials stamped on the front and then the address, waving the man out with her hand, but before he left the room, she called out, 'Oh and Mr Amanjit, you couldn't possibly make me a cup of tea could you? Lady Agnes insists on me drinking the wretched liquid in public and so I thought I best get used to the taste.'
She enjoyed the look of scandalization which crossed over his face in a matter of milliseconds, and he breathed in angrily, and, in a shockingly reasonable tone, replied in his rich Indian accent, 'Doctor Mottershead, I am not your servant. You cannot expect me to perform such a task when it is irrelevant to my job. I worked for your late sister as an advisor, and I have been ordered to maintain that occupation.'
Blanche tilted her head to one side, trying to reason with her herself, before looking at Mr Amanjit's slightly enraged face and smiling broadly. 'Please?'
The man looked positively wretched but did not dare argue once more with the younger, and, in his honest and personal opinion, more extreme sister and left the room to get tea. The woman had initially struck a bad chord with him over the treatment of Lady Holland's papers, but after the immense help the Doctor had provided him with over the past week with the Jewish children, he was in her debt. She was beginning to be fairly likeable as well – if not a little unconventional.
As soon as Mr Amanjit had left her study, and she was sure that he was out of sight, Blanche ripped the brown paper of the package and in her hands was revealed an azure coloured book, inscribed ironically in gold ink with the words "The Golden Blaze" by an author by the name of "P. B. Fieldings". That name was a little reminiscent, but it wasn't until Blanche opened the book to the first page that she realized who it was from.
My dear, I didn't hear from you, and you didn't reply to my letter. I understand that you're still angry, but I need to see you. 22 Hambleton Place – come as soon as possible. Portia.
The ink had only been written this morning, and seeing as it was only ten o'clock, Blanche assumed that the novel had been delivered by hand. Suddenly realizing what this meant, the Doctor launched to her feet and ran down the steps to the entrance hall, bumping into Mr Amanjit and spilling her tea all over the polished floor, wrenched the front door open only to see a motor car driving away, a faint glimpse of red disappearing through the door.
'Aunt Blanche, what on earth are you doing?' Hallam, who had been taking breakfast in the dining room with Lady Agnes, cried out, walking towards his wild-looking aunt, standing in her night-clothes at the front door. At once, Blanche snapped back to herself and slammed the door shut, her cheeks flushed with a kind of emotion she could not yet describe.
She looked flustered, and her hair had sprung free of its bindings and was covering her entire face in wild curls. 'I apologize Hallam – it seems I have just missed an important guest,' she explained nervously, already walking back up the stairs to her study, ignoring an annoyed Mr Amanjit on the stairs, clearing up the spilled tea.
'Are you sure you're already Aunt?' Hallam called, rather bemused at Blanche's behaviour. He had known her for as long as he could remember, and even though they saw each other rarely, Hallam had never seen her look like this before. 'Yes, perfectly fine!' she trilled, rather out of character as she turned to her study, before running in and swinging the door shut so hard that the noise reverberated around the whole household.
Once back in the safety of her study, without fear of being interrupted, Blanche jumped back into her seat, picked up the spotless book from her oaken desk and flicked to the first page. She was stunned at first, at the lack of subtlety Portia had begun the story with, but she had always been obvious with her emotions and this was clearing coming through in the novel.
It was written in her normal style, third person, an onlooker's view on the situation. Whilst it started rather innocently, bringing Blanche to recall one of the redhead's manuscripts she had read similar to this one many years ago, as the pages were turned, the novel took a surprising bend and Blanche was shocked by what the book entailed. As she read, her expression turning from anxious to strange fascination, and as the clock ticked by unnoticed, Blanche became enraptured within the novel, entranced as it were, physically and mentally unable to put the book down.
A hundred pages later, Mr Amanjit appeared in the doorway, announcing that lunch was just about to be served, but Blanche held up a finger with which to silence him and he got the message pretty clearly that she wanted to be left alone.
As she continued to read on, her glasses occasionally falling from her nose at what had been written, Blanche melted into the book, her memories resurfacing painfully, kisses and embraces she had worked to forget broadening in her mind. The writing was incredible, and any other reader would've been shocked at what it entailed, but Blanche could recall a lot of it from memory. The heart wrenching story of a woman inl ove with someone of her same sex? It was unheard of – the publisher must have been very bold - or very naïve - to publish such a manuscript. But it was a difficult book to resist, and when the clock chimed two in the afternoon, Blanche replaced the book, its spine now bent and creased, on the table, and stared straight ahead at nothing in particular.
She had been delightfully wrong. All this time she had spent thinking that she had meant nothing to Portia, nothing at all, but this book just proved her entirely wrong. With some shame, she reflected on the hatred she had felt for the redheaded Lady after her leaving, and she moved to wipe a flicker of a tear away from the corner of her eye. She had to go and see her. Feelings that she had buried deep within had been awoken and now she had to see Portia, if only to catch one more glimpse of her face.
The young Doctor slipped from her study to her bedroom and rummaged around in her wardrobe to find some more suitable attire than her nightgown, which she was still sporting. In the end, she settled purely for a plain dress and her cream jacket, feeling that she did not have a thing to prove. Although the book had cleared up a few issues, Blanche was still mad with the Lady for deserting her with a farewell. One simple book, however good, could not clear the matter up entirely.
With hurried goodbyes to now bemused staff and relatives, Blanche stepped out into the chill of London's Winter and hailed for a taxi. The driver, an older fellow, greeted her amiably, and Blanche stopped to think why she hadn't taken the actual motor car she was entitled to use as an occupant of Eaton Place. No matter now, she thought desperately, wanting to be there as soon as possible, and gave the wanted address. '22 Hambleton Place please,' Blanche requested and the driver met her request.
Soon enough, the driver pulled up beside a small townhouse, though desirable enough, and Doctor Mottershead thanked him dutifully and stepped outside. A kind of fear began nipping away at her toes, working its way into her torso, causing her heart to pound painfully quickly against her ribcage. She pressed one finger in the bell and her ears screamed at how loud it seemed to be as it emanated through the hallways of the building.
The butler, in true Portia fashion, opened the door, looking haughty and unpleasant. 'I'm here to see Lady Alresford, on personal matters,' Blanche stated harshly, her natural demeanour sinking in and her confidence levels boosting dramatically. The butler remained silent, but let her in and took her bag, although she refused to let him steal her coat from her. He directed her away from what seemed to be some sort of commotion in the room opposite, and left her alone in a small dining room whilst he fetched the Lady Alresford.
Blanche began to panic as she waited for Portia to arrive. What should she say to the woman she loved and lost? What would the tension be like? Should the situation be so unbelievably awkward that she should have to leave right now? But her thoughts were cut off as the door creaked open, and Blanche saw the same flash of red as she had done this morning.
The Lady Alresford had hardly aged a day since she last saw her. Her body saw no signs of childbirth or pain, but there seemed to be something lacking from the way in which she used to look those several years back.
There was a moment where nothing seemed acceptable to be said, and the tension was easily likened to a knife wrenching through a joint of beef. They just stared at one another, each waiting for the other to speak first. Blanche could not help think of how beautiful Portia looked in that silken dark green dress, and how magnificently it looked against her auburn hair, and it did not help words come to her aid. Finally, she settled on what exactly had brought her here in the first place.
'I read the book,' she murmured, starting clearly, but then descending quickly into mumbles. Not wishing to be pretentious and play that card, Portia cut to the chase and gave her what seemed to be a very piercing look. 'Could you bear it?' she asked in an almost cruel and sinister way, but her lips and eyes were playful, and it was that which made Blanche fall down to her emotions and rush towards her. Blanche was a forceful woman by nature, but there was something about the redhead in whose arms she had once lain in that soothed her, and allowed her just to be humble.
The evidence of their missing one another, and their desire to speak again was obvious as Portia too hurried forwards towards the alluring blonde archaeologist, her hands outstretched. As their lips collided together for what felt like the first time in a millennia, Blanche felt a shock floor through her spine and she shivered unconsciously as Portia's hands caressed her cheeks lustfully and gently, brushing her delicate fingers against her skin.
For a moment, it was all Blanche could do to keep herself conscious – for it all felt like a dream, so unreal – but the reality sank in and so she kissed her back, wrapping her arms around the Lady's waist and holding her close. Lipstick smeared from both parties as they both sought to rid the other of breath first with the extent of their passions, but, with animated sighs, they both withdrew at the same time, an unequivocally large smile of each other's lips. Portia still rested her hand on the back of Blanche's neck, twirling some of her loosened curls around in her fingers.
'I was enthralled by it,' Blanche whispered breathlessly, her lungs struggling to regain oxygen she had just rejected, 'I could not believe your courage.'I could not believe your courage.' Blanche stroked a hand against Portia's powdered cheek, and she beamed widely at the compliment, both of them knowing how dangerous it had been to publish a novel of that genre in this place and era where gays were discriminated against and despised even so much as Mister Adolf Hitler. But it was a stunning novel, as was its author, as the refrained from leaning in for another kiss so they could talk.
Her leaving didn't seem to matter anymore, her betrayal was set adequately right, and Portia's smile continued as they both fell into a heartfelt embrace, hugging with such love that the room seemed to heat up by around twenty degrees. Blanche's nostrils were overpowered by the scent of her sweet perfume, although it masked her true self. Portia was anything but innocent.
'Come into the drawing room,' Portia suddenly suggested, cupping Blanche's cheeks with her hands. 'It's not a party as such – the publisher's budget couldn't stretch to much, just a few friends here to wish me well,' she continued, making the offer try to sound as appealing as was possible. Indeed, Blanche was very attracted to the offer, but the thought of outing herself to perfect strangers seemed too much and she sadly whispered, 'I dare not,' and looked down in disgrace at the ground, feeling rather timid for once.
Portia gave a small smile at this, and tilted Blanche's chin back up so the archaeologist's deep blues were staring directly into her emerald greens. 'They'd wish you well too,' she said softly, her tone beginning to become so enticing that not even Blanche Mottershead would be able to resist it. Blanche considered, but all she wanted was to be alone with Portia. She wasn't sure if she would be able to cope with being in the same room as her after seven years, but having to abide by the children's rules in a sweetshop – "you can look, but you can't touch". She feared even her lustful glances would be too obvious.
'No,' she decided disdainfully, but seriously, and Portia knew she could do nothing to convince her any further, 'I did not realize you had guests. I only came to see you.'
There was a comfortable silence, where they still embraced one another as lovers, a reunion so perfect not one of them dared to end it. Finally, Portia spoke. 'I thought,' she began rather shakily, 'that if I should not see you again, I should die.' The hand Portia was resting on Blanche's cheek was covered by said Doctor's hand as well, and Blanche wiped back a few of the redhead's tears.
'Promise me you'll come and visit me. When I am alone, and the babies are asleep.' It was back to living their relationship in secret, but didn't that always make it so much more worth it? Blanche nodded eagerly and assured her of the fact and both began to lean in towards each other again before a loud rap on the door alerted them to someone's presence outside. They jumped apart rather regretfully, and Blanche could suddenly feel her insides burning at who it was.
'Portia darling-' her husband began, dragging her name out in an irritating fashion, and his voice was like chalk screeching on a blackboard to Blanche, '-I must fly. I have a business meeting with some factory managers…' he said in so posh an accent he could have been mistaken for a member of the Royal family.
Blanche looked on jealously as Portia graciously planted a kiss on either of his cheeks and embraced him farewell, but it was with some joy that Lady Alresford did not use the same lips she had used to kiss the Doctor's as she did to kiss her husband's. Before the elegantly dressed gentleman could leave the room, Portia gracefully entwined arms with him and turned him around to face Blanche.
'You've heard of Doctor Mottershead?' she asked amiably, as if the woman she had just passionately kissed was nothing but a business acquaintance. It hurt, but Blanche recognized that Portia was a marvellous actress, and Blanche did not trust herself to speak, in fear of ruining the disguise. Instead she smiled briefly at the man, and rather than chivalrously greet her, the man just said, 'Of course,' nodded in her direction, and then quipped, 'Well, adieu to you,' and left the room.
The moment they were both certain he was gone, Portia turned to Blanche and winked. 'We need to be more careful,' she smirked happily, grasping Blanche's hands once more before she departed. The Doctor could not stop herself before replying harshly with the words, 'Well, in my defence, we are seven years out of practise.' There was more than a simple hint of regret and condemnation in that sentence, but Portia rebuked nothing and stroked her hand across Blanche's cheek again, brought their faces close together and breathed out, speaking too quietly for anyone outside of a centimetre's radius to hear.
'Not for much longer my love. Come by tonight, at around nine o'clock and we can have a drink and…' She left her sentence hanging deliberately and she smiled deliciously and continued. 'We can make up for lost time.' Blanche could feel her heart smacking in her ribcage again, and she agreed to this before Lady Portia escorted her to the front door and bid her a very mild goodbye.
As Doctor Mottershead climbed into the back of the taxi, she pulled a compact mirror from the bag which had been roughly shoved in her possession by the butler on the way out and looked at her appearance. The only evidence of the last few minutes was that she was wearing a completely different shade of lipstick as she had when she entered the house.