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Jane Narf

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I

My name is Jane Narf.

I was born in 1820, a harsh time of change in England. There was no place for the white mouse or the lab rat. I had no father or mother, brother or sister. As a pinky, I was raised by my experimenter, Dr. Reed of Gateshead Labs. I do not remember that he ever spoke one kind word to me, unless you count the word food-pellet, which is really two words, isn't it? Do hyphens count?

I completed my education at Lowood Labs during months that, between my admiration for Miss Phar Fig Newton and the deaths of my fellow students due to dietary and disease-prevention research, were a very interesting passage in my life; alas, this is only a thirty-minute story, so we have to skip something.

Have you ever noticed how long sentences can make your head go swirly-whirley?

In any case, after a Mrs. Slappy answered my advertisement in the Dashdashdashshire Herald for a situation as a governess, I mounted the vehicle which was to bear me from the inn to new duties and a new life in the unknown environs of Labcote.

Dizzy. Again. Zort. Thud.

II

Yes, I'm feeling much better now, thank you.

The cart took me to Acmefield Hall. This hall was large, and long, and rather loomy-gloomy. A single candle wavered and gleamed from one curtained, bow window. All else was dark, except for the fog rolling across the bleak and pitch-black moors. Oh, I just knew I'd be happy there.

Entering, I found the neatest imaginable elderly lady sitting by the fire, wearing a green hat with a single gardenia between her gray ears and with a snowy muslin apron draped over her long, puffy tail, exactly what I'd imagined for Mrs. Slappy except for the lack of cheez-whiz. She was knitting but stood when I entered. "Knit, purl, knit-- I just missed another stitch. No paycheck is big enough to keep me doing this."

"Mrs. Slappy?" I asked.

"You got it, bub. Here, take a load off." She pulled out a chair and I sat, which was a rather rustly business in my Quakerlike black frock.

"When shall I meet Miss Slappy, my pupil?" I asked her.

"Give me a break." She grimaced. "The name of your future pupil is Miss Elmyra."

"Indeed," I said, feeling very posh to be using such language. "Then she's not your daughter?"

"What are you, nuts? Scale for a character actor does not cover dealing with that Japanese movie-monster pretending to be a kid." She peered at me. "Take my advice and get a good night's sleep before you try."

When I arose the next morning, it was a fine autumn day outside except for the long shadows and the fog rolling across the bleak and gloomy moors. After I had danced about merrily amidst the furze for a while - the Macarena and the Hustle, mostly - Mrs. Slappy appeared in the front door to the Hall. Holding a steaming cup labeled, "World's Best Great-great-aunt," she asked me, "How can you stand being up this early?"

"I think it's the crunchy bran."

After a moment regarding me, she rolled her eyes to one side. "Right. They expect me to keep going after lines like that." With eyebrows raised, she continued, "So, what do you think of the dump?"

I told her I liked it very much.

"The place will be falling into a bog soon if Mr. Brainchester doesn't get his heiny back here more often."

"Narf!" I exclaimed, clutching my hands together. "Mr. Brainchester: who is he?"

"Oh, now there's an unexpected question." Mrs. Slappy had rolled her eyes off towards one side again. She was good at it; she must have had a lot of practice. "He's the owner of Acmefield Hall. I'm merely the housekeeper here." She added in a mutter, "And not even that if I can get my mitts on my agent."

"And the little girl-- My pupil!"

"Some kid he adopted as part of a plot to take over the world. Look, here comes the little terror. How's about you stop jawing and start teaching before she sets the place on fire again?"

III

My pupil was a lively child who had been spoilt and indulged and therefore was sometimes wayward; but after she was relieved of the paint-set and the explosives she forgot her little freaks and became teachable. We had soon settled into a quiet routine of sums, embroidery, doll-carriage races, and my being occasionally dressed in lederhosen and a grenadier's bearskin hat. Oh, and there was also the maniacal laughter drifting through the Hall at odd hours of the night to amuse us.

Now and then I took a walk by myself in the grounds. Who blames me? Many no doubt; but Oprah says that daily exercise is good for you. In any case, one afternoon in January, I put on my bonnet and cloak, and volunteered to carry a letter for Mrs. Slappy to Labcote. The ground was hard, the air was still, my road was lonely. Fog curled mysteriously over the dim and barren moors. Pausing to rest, I sat on one of those plank thingies that you climb to get over a fence, which is harder than you'd think in a black merino cloak.

Just then, I heard a clamor which made all sorts of northern fancies, bright and dark, tenant my mind: large abstract sculptures of iron or concrete, the Tiller Girls, Def Leppard, Coronation Street, marmite sandwiches.

A dog passed me. He did not pause, perhaps because of the hair drooping over his eyes or the cat clutching at his ears. The horse followed-- A tall steed, and on his back a small rider. A few steps on: a sliding sound and an exclamation of "Gaaah!" and a clattering tumble arrested my attention. The horse was down. The dog came back, barked, and leapt, ignoring the protests of his feline passenger. Obeying his urgings, I walked to the rider.

"Are you injured, sir?"

He was pronouncing some formula which kept him from replying to me. I think it was the Boltzmann equation, but, then again, maybe not.

"Can I do anything?"

"Yes," he said, swirling his cape. "Tell me why there is marmite on this road."

"Oh," I said, "I'm sure I don't know. But I can help you to Acmefield Hall. I am the governess there."

He looked at me, his eyes huge and pink in his massive head. "The governess. It seems I forgot the governess." He studied me. "Why don't you make yourself useful and help me back onto what passes locally for transport?"

A few minutes, some improvised blocks, tackles, and ropes, and he rode away. The dog followed, still barking, his feline passenger still protesting.

When I returned to Acmefield Hall and hastened to Mrs. Slappy's room, the dog was sitting upright on the rug. Once I'd gotten him to put me down, I asked Mrs. Slappy, "What dog is this?"

"What do you think? It's Brainchester's mutt." Then she added, "Hey, isn't there supposed to be a dramatic upsurge of the musical accompaniment, here?"

IV

The next day, after I donned my black silk, Mrs. Slappy showed me in to see Mr. Brainchester. "You want a governess, you got a governess," she said in her grumpy way before exiting.

"Let Jane Narf be seated," said Mr. Brainchester in an impatient but formal tone.

I sat down quite disembarrassed. A reception of finished politeness would probably have confused me: the eccentricity of the proceeding was piquant. Ooo: I think I spotted a Scrabble in that last bit.

He asked, "You have been here three months?"

"Yes, sir."

"You came from Lowood Lab, a charitable research institute. How long were you there?"

"Eight months."

"Eight months: that explains a great deal. And what did you learn there? Can you play?"

"A little." I leapt up and went in to the library piano where I played "Achy, Breaky Heart."

"Stop! From this point on, you do not play even a little. Do you paint?"

I ran trippingly upstairs and down to retrieve my portfolio. After picking myself up off the carpet, I handed it to him.

He spread the pictures before him and surveyed them alternately. While he examined them, I examined him. He looked different to what I had seen him look before: more cranky, not quite so gloomy. He had a great, big head and poochy, little jowls and a zigzag tail sticking out from his fine, woolen trousers.

"You examine me, Jane Narf. Do you think me handsome?"

"Well, I admire your head, and you have very fine ears, but shouldn't you floss your tongue more often? It feels rather rough."

"We'll pretend we didn't hear that, shall we?" he muttered to no one that I could see, and continued, "Then do you think me a fool?"

"Oh, no, Mr. Brainchester!" I said and smiled at him.

"Excellent," he said, placing my drawings back in their portfolio. "You may be party to my latest plan to take over the world."

After that he talked for a very long time about all sorts of interesting matters that made me think of many fascinating things. He ended with, "--the Speaker of Parliament by your evident skill at finger-painting with your toes. Thus we shall take over the world!" After one hand rose to clutch the air, he looked at me sharply. "Any questions?"

"Umm-- If Joan Fontaine is plain and unlovely, what does that make Brittany Spears?"

Mr. Brainchester studied me before he said, "By my word, there is something singular about you. I seem to see at intervals the glance of a curious sort of bird through the close-set bars of a cage: perhaps a cuckoo. Do you find my speech exhausting?"

"Your language is enigmatical, sir."

"Given the original source of this conversation, I don't doubt that at all. Jane Narf, good night."

V

Mr. Brainchester's deportment had now for some weeks been more uniform towards me than at the first. He had always a word and sometimes a smile for me: when summoned by formal invitation to his presence, I was honored by a cordiality of reception that made me feel these evening conferences on taking over the world were sought as much for his pleasure as for my benefit.

I am taking a big breath now.

I had a keen delight in receiving the new ideas he offered, in imagining the new plots he conveyed, and in following him through the new schemes he disclosed. His cunning frankness drew me to him. He was imperious sometimes still; but I did not mind that; I saw it was his way. So happy, so gratified did I become with this new interest added to life that I ceased to pine after eating Play-Doh and crayons: my bodily health improved, aside from my intermittent swirly-whirly sensations at all the long sentences I still had to declaim.

And was Mr. Brainchester now ugly in my eyes? No, reader: I liked his ears very much.

Though I had extinguished my candle and laid down in my bed, I could not think of sleeping for considering both his looks and the wonderful uses of colons and semi-colons. Thus I started wide awake upon again hearing the demonic laugh. "Who is that?" thought I. "I must hurry to Mrs. Slappy and see if we have visitors."

I hurried on my grey bombazine cloak and shawl and was amazed, upon opening my door, to perceive a strong smell of burning. Something creaked: it was a door ajar; and that door was Mr. Brainchester's. In the midst of blaze and vapor, Mr. Brainchester lay, stretched motionless, in deep sleep.

"I'm not sure this is good," said I. But he, asleep, did not awake. Otherwise he wouldn't have been asleep, would he have? Anyhow, the smoke was stupefying. I rushed to his ewer and poured a glass of water. Gargling didn't help, but the splash of spilled water upon him did rouse Mr. Brainchester at last.

"What have you done now?" he asked me, and then added, brilliant as ever, "Fire!"

Once we had extinguished his trousers, he said, "Don't move for a few minutes. Sit right there in that chair. Be still as a mou-- stone."

He went. A long time elapsed. I attempted displacing slowly down-slope under the influence of gravity, but was on the point of giving up when he returned. Gloomy again, he said, "I have found it all out. It is as I thought."

"Egad!" I replied. "Has Miss Elmyra recovered the matches?"

"Just so. Elmyra. You have guessed it." He cleared his throat. "Well, good night."

"Good night!"

He seemed surprised. "You-- You're actually going?"

"But, Mr. Brainchester, you said I should go."

He studied me, but then that first, suspicious look gave way to uncertainty. His small shoulders squared. "I must admit, you saved my life." Suddenly thrusting out a hand, he added, "A handshake seems appropriate."

I took his hand. "Oh, I am so very glad that I was awakened." Since that seemed insufficient, I added, "Narf."

"Ahem. Er... Thank you." Strange energy was in his voice, strange fire in his look.

"Is that Mrs. Slappy I hear moving?"

"Leave me!" His fingers sprang from mine, and I was gone.

VI

I both wished and feared to see Mr. Brainchester on the day which followed this sleepless night, but he had removed elsewhere. Mrs. Slappy informed me that he had gone to visit the Leas, the household of the Warners on the other side of Labcote. There he took to their company, and also to the company of the beautiful Miss Dot Warner. Considering her loveliness, I stuck out my tongue at myself in my mirror until my expression froze that way.

A week passed and no news; ten days and he did not return. At last my face came unstuck. Then he arrived with the Warners in tow, himself pulling their charming new mouse-cart. Upon being liberated from the traces, he restored his garments to their dignity and led the Warners into the Hall.

Merry days were these at Acmefield Hall, and busy days, too. The party entertained themselves out in the grounds, and inside with charades, and everywhere with mysterious objects produced from the bag of Mr. Wakko Warner.

Miss Dot Warner was as beautiful as rumor stated, but excited no jealousy in my heart aside from the occasional urge to strike her with an axe. She was very showy, but she was not genuine: for all her sounding phrases and high tones of sentiment, her truest belief seemed to me to rest within her assertion, "I'm cute!" She oftentimes gave undue vent to a spiteful antipathy she had conceived against little Elmyra, but this was the merest point in her favor. I saw Mr. Brainchester was going to marry her because her family and abilities suited some plot of his to take over the world.

Late one afternoon, when Mr. Brainchester was away, we were joined by a new guest, who arrived via post-chaise. His manner was polite. His accent, in speaking, struck me as being somewhat unusual: not precisely foreign, but still not altogether English in its clucking noises. His complexion was singularly feathery: otherwise he was a fine-looking man, at first sight especially. On closer examination after dinner, I detected something in his face that failed to please. His features were regular but too beaky and wattled: his rolling, brown eye was large and well cut, but the life looking out of it was a tame, vacant life-- At least, so I thought. He was said to be an old friend of Mr. Brainchester, and I presently gathered that the newcomer was called Mr. Boo.

Even as I pondered these events, we were informed that a gypsy was in the library "to tell the gentry their fortunes." But she would see only the young and single. Mr. Yakko and Mr. Wakko Warner being caught up in debate, with accompanying monsters, as to whether they were single or encompassed multitudes, and Mr. Boo being preoccupied with some breadcrumbs scattered for birds upon a windowsill, only Miss Dot and I remained. Each of us, in turn, went in to her.

Upon her return, Miss Dot would only roll her eyes and state, "Boys. Go figure."

The library looked tranquil enough when I entered it, although I would have liked a higher fire. I'd had to skip my cozy, warm tea after dinner because all the long sentences of the past few weeks were making me swirly-whirly again. In the chimney-corner sat the old fortune-teller in a red cloak and a very large fedora hat. Her eyes confronted me from underneath the shadow of its brim.

"Well, and you want your fortune told?" she asked, in a voice as decided as her glance.

"Yes, please."

"It's typical of your impudence to refuse my-- Never mind. You are cold; you are sick; and you are silly."

Clapping my hands, I said, "Why, that's right! Shall I take a turn guessing now?"

There was a silence that somehow seemed filled with irritation. At last she said, "Your fortune is yet doubtful. Kneel by me on the rug, next to the fire."

"I won't stay cold there very long," I pointed out.

Ignoring me, she continued, "The eye is not keen: it darts from place to place. But it is susceptible. The eye is favorable. As to the mouth, it is disposed to impart all the brain conceives, which is much but not enough. However, it is inclined to smile at my jargon. That feature too is propitious. I see no enemy to a fortunate issue but the brow. It says, 'Reason drops the reins here and will let feelings hurry him to wild chasms.' Well said, forehead, and your council shall be respected. But I have formed my secondary plan. Further alterations might try me beyond my strength."

The old woman's voice had changed: her accent, her gesture, and all were familiar to me as my own face in a glass, especially when I've tied a string around my finger before I look. "Well, Jane, do you know me?" asked the familiar voice of Mr. Brainchester.

"Ooo!" I said. "More charades!"

He seemed impatient. "No, not charades. Rather, this disguise is part of my primary plan. In this guise, I shall gain access to a certain international leader of great power and use my predictions to guide his every move, thus effectively taking over the world." His paw rose to clutch at the air.

"Brilliant!" I said, springing up and waving my arms about. Then I paused a moment before waving my arms about some more. "Oh, oh, but wait. What world leader would be stupid enough to let himself be guided by a fortune-teller? Mind you, I could understand someone like that Mr. Boo--"

His complexion had gone whiter than ashes. Um, er, I mean it had gone whiter than its usual white: extra-snowy white with brighteners. In any case, "Do you feel ill, sir?" I inquired.

"Jane, I've got a blow; I've got a blow, Jane!" He staggered.

"Oh, I'm sorry I knocked that cast-iron finial off the mantelpiece and onto your head. Lean on me, sir."

"Never mind that. Go and fetch me in Mr. Boo."

Later that night, lying in my bed, I heard Mr. Brainchester's voice say, "This way, Boo; this is your room." He spoke grumpily: the irritated tones set my heart at ease. I was soon asleep.

In the dead of night, though, I was woken by the silver moon shining through my window from above the gleaming tendrils of fog creeping across the shadowed and trackless moors. As I went to close the curtains, the night was rent by a sound that ran from end to end of Acmefield Hall.

"BUCK! BUCK! BWACK!"

In the morning, Mr. Boo had departed mysteriously, leaving only specks of blood and several large, white feathers - most likely from the pillows - behind. Mr. Brainchester answered all inquiries with a smirk.

The Warners were soon after to follow suit by departing, having decided to interest themselves in the efforts of our district nurse. Life, if you ignore an entire, huge subplot about the death of my unfeeling first experimenter and my turning out to be heir to a mysterious relative with a fortune, soon returned to normal at Acmefield Hall.

VII

On Midsummer eve, I went outside to look at a really, really large chestnut tree with a little bench around it, and to admire the lovely tendrils of fog creeping across the austere and darkened moors. Mr. Brainchester was there. "Now, he has his back towards me," thought I, "and he is occupied too; perhaps, if I walk softly, I can slip away unnoticed."

As I crossed his shadow, thrown long over the garden by the moon not yet risen high, he said quietly, without turning, "Would you care to examine this lady-clock, a common member of the genus Coccinella?"

But I stood on my dignity, which was only a little squishy. "Not as long as you're going to marry that Miss Dot person."

His eyes narrowed. After a pause, he spoke again. "Jane, do you hear that nightingale singing in the wood? Its sonic vibrations are of a frequency that could be used to render all listeners rapt, if only the noise could be captured and then spread wide."

"That's brilliant, Mr. Brainchester! Oh no, wait. I am yet being dignified about Miss Dot." I crossed my arms over my breast and noticed that grey merino is very scratchy.

"Grrr," said Mr. Brainchester, or perhaps it was, "Arrr." He had both fists clenched with the force of his passion. After a little time passed, he managed to say, "I am not going to marry Miss Dot. She has an irritating fondness for the word 'cute' and overestimates her talents at poetry."

My heart was singing like the nightingale, except for the fact that it went rub-a-dub and not jug, jug, jug. "You're not?"

"Ex-act-ly - pre-cise-ly. With your usual acuteness you have hit your head right on the nail."

I threw my arms around him. "Oh, Mr. Brainchester, sir!"

"Mrph!" Mr. Brainchester, being just a bit shorter than me, was somewhat muffled by the ruffles on my gray merino bodice. If I had loved him less, I would have thought the look of exultation in his one, visible eye savage. Also, his ears were quivering.

Again and again he asked me, "Mrph?" and again and again I said "Ever so happy, la la la!"

At last he pulled himself far enough away to murmur, "It will atone, it will atone. For the world's obedience-- I will endure it." His hand rose to clutch at the air. Then, to me, "Jane, are you pondering what I'm pondering?"

"Well, I think so, Mr. Brainchester, but aren't the moors rather chilly this time of year without clothing on?"

He gave me an indescribable look. Or, rather, it was describable but only with a lot more long words and sentences with colons, and this is still a half-hour story. Anyhow, just then, it started to rain. Very scenic and grimly colored clouds rolled quickly in over the fog entwining the rain-swept and storm-lashed moors, and a large lightning bolt hit the chestnut tree with an audible "ZOTZ!"

Mr. Brainchester was also hit. He had a lovely skeleton, all lit up like that. "My pain is quite earnest, Jane Narf," said he. I helped him inside and then went off to plan my trousseau, a charming assortment of blacks and grays.

VII

In other people's presence I was deferential and random; any other line of conduct being uncalled for. It was only in the evening conferences I thwarted and afflicted him. Mr. Brainchester continued to send for me punctually the moment the clock struck seven; though when I appeared before him, he had no honeyed terms on his lips: the best words at my service were "provoking," "entropy incarnate," "a disconcerting phenomenon," "you who should be whacked," and so forth.

The night before our wedding, I went for another nice, healthy walk. A great wind roared, driving the fog about the shadowed and desolate moors. My mood was restless: wool combinations are so itchy, aren't they? Oh, how my heart rose within me upon spying Mr. Brainchester upon his horse, or perhaps that was merely the dripping pudding from dinner returning to me.

"Jane Narf," he exclaimed upon seeing me. "Come help me with this refugee from continental cuisine."

With a certain amount of straining and the use of a climber's harness, I sprang up before him.

"Are you prepared for our wedding tomorrow?"

"Yes, apart from my ominous dream of wild chimpanzees haunting the ruins of Acmefield Hall. Oh, wait, there was the fearful intruder who tore my bridal veil into shreds. But when I awoke from fainting dead away, everything else was ready."

"What have I told you ere now about dripping pudding and gothick romances before bedtime?"

Relieved, I answered him with a contented smile.

The day of my wedding was lovely. I remember something of how the fog drew intricate traceries across the morning sky above the wild and lonely moors outside the churchyard. We entered the church, occupied only by the priest, our small party, and two strangers.

I was a little distracted by my plans for subsequent brass rubbings, but I did notice when the clergyman got to the bit about anyone knowing of any impediment to this marriage. That was probably because it was when one of the strangers said, in a distinct and near voice, "Errr, Stop!"

Narrowing his eyes, Mr. Brainchester refused to release my hand. I smiled dreamily. "Proceed," he said.

But the stranger - a huge, fat man with a substantial chin - continued. "D'oh, I am Ralph, a solicitor, and this man is not - dahhh - allowed to be married!"

Mr. Brainchester said, "As a lawyer, you can hardly expect to be trusted without further evidence."

After looking puzzled for a long few seconds, Mr. Ralph brightened. "I got a witness. Mr. Boo, step right this way."

I felt Mr. Brainchester's quiver of rage through our still-joined hands. The second stranger drew near and clucked nervously. "I see." Contempt fell cool on Mr. Brainchester: he only asked, "What have you to say?"

"Buck, buck, buck, cadawk!"

"Those are ugly words." I saw a grim smile contort Mr. Brainchester's lips. "Gentlemen, my plan is broken up: what this lawyer and his client say is true, even though this Jane Narf knew no more than you. But the man you speak of is mad: I invite you all to come up to the house and visit him."

Still holding me fast, he left the church: all came after. Once within Acmefield Hall, we ascended to the forbidden, third story.

Oh, did I forget to mention that? Silly me.

Mr. Brainchester's master-key admitted us to a tapestried room with its great bed and its pictorial cabinet. Throwing back the tapestry, he opened a low, black door. "You know this place, Boo," said our guide; "he bit you here."

In the deep shade at the farther end of that room, a figure sat. What it was one could not, at first sight, tell: it growled at our appearance like some strange wild animal but was covered with both clothing and a large quantity of fluffy, golden fur. Looking up from scrawling wildly into a book filled with sketches and text, the figure said, "Brainchester. I see you have bollixed up one of your little schemes again."

"This is Snowball, once friend of my youth," said Mr. Brainchester. "Now he sits here, scheming incessantly, compulsively, to take over the world and destroy its inhabitants."

Snowball laughed a familiar, maniacal laugh. "I will squeeze humanity beneath my heel like so many grapes dropped upon supermarket linoleum! All shall be ground beneath my tread!" His maddened gaze fell upon me, clad as I was in my almost-as-lovely replacement bridal veil, and he momentarily ceased his scrawling. "But who is this? You chose another man with whom to stand before the altar, thereby destroying the entire institution of marriage and enabling you to seize power during the ensuing chaos?" He grimaced frightfully. "Have you told this plain and unlovely person about him who originated your plan, your superior in intellect, your once-to-be first husband?" One paw rose to clutch at the air in an all-too-familiar gesture. Then he sprang at Mr. Brainchester and attempted to pummel him about the head and shoulders with the book of schemes.

Mrs. Slappy, who had accompanied us up to the attic, observed, "Now, that's comedy!"

I descended the stairs, feeling weak and tired. Oh, how blind had been my gaze! How weak my conduct! My eyes were covered and closed: eddying darkness seemed to swim round me, and reflection came in as black and confused a flow. All the swirly-whirly of past months seemed to surge over me. I sank in deep mire: I felt no standing.

In fact, my stockings did seem to be distinctly damp and squashy. Raising my head, I looked around and realized I was standing in a puddle with tendrils of fog entwining me as the golden orb sank slowly above the furze. In my distraction, I had wandered out onto the vast and deserted moors.

VIII

I'm afraid I've never been much of a navigator even when I had one of those nice A to Zed guides in hand. I spent two days out on the moors with naught save the remnants of a hundred tourist picnics to sustain me. Soon wearying of slightly stale egg-and-cress sandwich crusts and shrimp crisps, my pathetic wanderings finally reduced me to sinking on the wet doorstep before a massive building. My head swam: I felt darkness overwhelm me. Oh, I could have been happy here!

The recollection of the days succeeding these events is very dim in my mind. When I came to myself, I found that I had fallen into the kind and gracious hands of the technicians of the Moors Laboratory. Within their custody, I soon recovered from my struggle with the elements. The healing of my heart and spirit was a slower affair: only after weeks had passed was I once more able take up the business of the world by employing myself at the urgent task of rotating the wire wheel that hung in one corner of my stainless-steel cage.

One day soon after, Dr. Scratchansniff himself, the head of research at Rivers Laboratory, condescended to visit my abode. "Leave your incessant running aside und come vith me, little mousey-boy from the moors," he said. A large hand reached through the wire door of the cage, and willy-nilly, I found myself carried outside of the laboratory.

"So. Ve have found you to be a very strange und unnatural mousie. You are quite unintelligent and random in your behavior, and yet you are dressed in a formal gown of black silk appropriate to your station."

I nodded brightly.

"Interesting. One might think you understood me: yours is a rare species that must be extensively documented. After this exposure to your natural habitat, perhaps we will begin with the T-maze tomorrow, ja?"

Here was the prospect of a true vocation, not to mention a great many food-pellets. "I don't know, Dr. Scratchansniff, I don't know," I cried. "I must think!"

He observed me with great attention during my struggle. I saw that he had pressed the stem on his stopwatch.

Turning my face to the mist building over the wide and solitary moors, I wrestled with my conscience, and with my almost-as-lovely bridal veil, which had gotten somewhat entangled. Suddenly an inexpressible feeling thrilled through my heart, and passed at once to my head and extremities. Somewhere, I heard a voice call to me, "Jane, Jane, Jane!"-- Nothing more.

"I am coming!" I cried. "Wait for me! Oh, I will come! Poit!"

"Most peculiar," said Dr. Scratchansniff.

It was but a moment's work to bite the hand that grasped me. I fell away from him to go scampering off wildly through the concealing fog, back across the brown and boundless moors towards Acmefield Hall.

With what ease did I traverse those miles across which I had fled with pain. What joy I felt as I consumed my scavenged rations - changing over to cheese and pickle made all the difference, I must say - and how cheerfully I passed into the familiar environs of Labcote. Strange delight inspired me: on I hastened. Another field crossed, a lane threaded. There was the plank thingy before me -- the very fields through which I had hurried, insensate, on the morning I fled from Acmefield: funny, you wouldn't think I could remember a route I followed insensate, would you? Ere I well knew what course I had resolved to take, I was in the midst of them. How fast I walked! How I ran sometimes! How I danced the bunny-hop! How I looked forward to catch the first view of the well-known Hall! I looked with timorous joy towards a stately house: I saw a blackened ruin.

In wandering round the shattered walls and through the devastated interior, I gathered evidence that the calamity was not of late occurrence. And where, meantime, was the hapless owner of this wreck? In what land? Under what auspices? Was my punctuation stuck? Sorry. Some answer must be had to these questions. I could find it nowhere but at the inn where I had begun this chapter of my life, and thither, ere long, I returned. The host was a respectable-looking, middle-aged pigeon.

"You know Acmefield Hall, of course?" I managed to say.

"Hey, who am I, your travel guide? Bad enough I'm always having to dispatch carts around this neighborhood."

I burst into fountains of tears.

For a time he regarded me with alarm, even bunching the toes of one foot into a fist. But as it became apparent that nothing but news would stem the salty tide, he said, "All right, all right, you're scaring away the other customers, here. What do you wanna know?"

Sniffling, I managed to inquire, "Is Mr. Brainchester living at Acmefield Hall now?"

"What are you, dizzy? The place is burnt down. No, the mouse lives over at Fahrendere."

I only had to threaten to cry again and afterwards sing "Muskrat Love," in order to obtain the directions. Mr. Brainchester would have been so proud.

IX

To Fahrendere I came just before dark on an evening marked by the characteristics of sad sky, cold gale, and continued, small, penetrating rain across the rolling and sodden moors. Oh well, at least, for once, it wasn't foggy out.

The house presented two pointed gables in its front; the windows were latticed and narrow: the front door was narrow too, one step led up to it. The whole looked quite a desolate spot. "Can there be life here?" I asked myself. "I'm sure they don't have cable."

Yes, life of some kind there was; for I heard a movement. That narrow front-door was unclosing, and some shape was about to issue from the grange. It opened slowly: a figure came out into the twilight and stood on the step; a man with a strange and metallic hat stretched forth his hand as if to feel whether it rained. Dusk as it was, I had recognized him: it was Mr. Brainchester and no other.

I could not restrain my voice from exclamation, my step from hasty advance. "Narf!" I cried. "Zort! Poit! Egad! I'm with you, Mr. Brainchester, sir!"

"Awk!" he replied, my having bowled him over on the wet doorstep. Steps do run moist in the moors.

"Oh, Mr. Brainchester!" I said, embracing him and forcing his metallic hat further down over his eyes.

"Who is this? Who is this?" he demanded, trying, as it seemed, to see. Also, to sit up. "His very knees, his sharp, pointy elbows -- Answer me! Speak again!" he ordered, imperiously and aloud.

"I am Jane Narf: I have found you out! I am come back to you!"

"YES!" he cried. Then, recollecting himself, he added in his normal tones, "Jane Narf, I hear that you neither lie dead in some ditch under some stream nor are a pining outcast amongst strangers."

"Well, I considered both, but strangers often have poor dental care and ditches under streams are rather prone to mildew."

"Somehow you do not surprise me. Therefore, ere I have to hurt you, remove your elbow from my ribs."

"Right. Sorry, Mr. Brainchester." I assisted him to rise. "Do you want me to remove your tin hat?"

"This is no mere tin hat, Jane. Rather, it is my new aetheric-vibratron chapeau. Using this arcane device, I may speak with congenial minds over great distances. It is the first step in my latest plan to take over the world!"

"Ooo! Shiny!"

With a wince, he managed to yank the hat back up over his ears. "I may still have some fur left," he muttered. Then, "I appreciate your return, if for no other reason, for the opportunity it presents me with to rebalance my humours by encouraging an abundant flow of bile."

I, however, was still considering his tin hat and was not to be distracted. "But, wait, Mr. Brainchester. Just days past a voice called out my name far, far, across the moors..."

"Ah." His eyes shifted to one side. "Most likely, I seized upon your name as one particularly easy to recall."

Clasping my hands, I said, "Oh, Mr. Brainchester!"

He looked down at the hat in his hands. "I may have cause to regret this."

Later, as we sat together inside, I asked him, "Did the fiendish Snowball free himself long enough to burn down the hall and then perish violently after throwing himself into the flames?"

"No, Elmyra found the matches again. She is currently in a penal convent in France, although I do not know how much longer the nuns can keep her in check. As for Snowball--"

We were interrupted by the sound of maniacal laughter drifting down from the reaches of the attic.

With this, he relapsed again into gloom. I, on the contrary, became more cheerful, and took fresh courage: these last words gave me an insight as to where the difficulty lay. I resumed a livelier vein of conversation.

"Mr. Brainchester, I have a cunning plan."

XI

Reader, I married him. A quiet wedding we had: although it did not have the socially weakening consequences for which we had hoped. I blame tofu.

My tale draws to its close: one word respecting my experience of married life, and one brief glance at the fortunes of those whose names have most frequently recurred in this narrative, and I have done.

The Warners continue to prosper and have built a watertower upon their estate; Dr. Scratchansniff invented artificial coffee creamer; Mrs. Slappy is currently starring in the Fort Lauderdale Dinner Theater revival of No, No, Nanette.

The solution of the difficulties with Snowball and Elmyra was simple enough once found. Mr. Brainchester's former fiancée resides currently in a cage within a convent cell in France. Given the pitting of the unstoppable force against the immovable object, as Mr. Brainchester says, we can expect either peaceful lives spent eventually under Mr. Brainchester's domination or the final resolution to Britain's continental difficulties.

As to my married life--

This very evening, I put down my macramé work long enough to examine the comfort of our own little parlor, where the choice of my heart leans over his journal, feverishly completing his latest plan. "I've put the kettle on, so we're in for the evening. Oh, but Mr. Brainchester, whatever shall we do tomorrow night?"

"Just what we do--" he pauses, glances quickly at me, and then continues, his eyes blazing, "--almost every night." His hand clutches the air in a familiar, comforting gesture. "Try to take over the world!"

THE END

 

CREDITS

 

Starring: Pinky & the Brain

Along With: Many other Animaniacs

Originally Starring: Orson Welles (pre- frozen peas) and Joan Fontaine (still not plain and unlovely), with Margaret O'Brien as the adorable ward (now, there's a surprise), and a special appearance by a Hollywood Soundstage and a Fog Machine as the Yorkshire Moors.

Writers: You can call me Bell Currier (at least until New Years or the revised edition); John Huston and Aldous Huxley (who should have know better); Henry Koster and Robert Stevenson (who perhaps should have known better): Charlotte Bronte (who not only couldn't help it but had great lashings of lines stolen from her for a lousy one-sixth of the credit here)

Inspired by: Insufficient Sleep

Voices: My S.O., and too bad you couldn't hear the Roddy McDowall imitation

Typical Millisecond Gag: Sherlock Holmes and Watson go camping together...

Steven Spielberg had NOTHING WHATSOEVER TO DO WITH THIS