“Good Morning, Darling.”
Captain Darling's slim frame convulsed and he snapped his pencil on the pile of reports arrayed neatly in front of him.
“What is it?” he snapped.
“A little tense this morning, Darling? These orders, requesting my immediate presence here at HQ, do seem to have your signature on them,” Blackadder squinted at the papers he had just pulled from his pocket. “Or at least, I think it's a signature...”
“Shut up, Captain Blackadder,” Darling snapped. “This is a very important matter!”
“Oh, surely the re-organisation of the Secretarial staff is purely an administrative concern...”
“No, Blackadder, really,” Darling leaned forward on the desk, and glanced furtively about. He dropped his voice. “The General has had a plan for the next big push, and he called in...”
“A plan? General Melchett? Is he ill?”
“No, I'm trying to tell you, Blackadder, he's called in....”
Darling's frantic whisper was cut short by a roar in the hall, a sound that filled Blackadder's heart with cold dread and caused Darling to snap another pencil in half.
“Lord Flasheart,” Darling concluded, glumly tossing the remains of his pencil in the waste paper bin.
“Oh, God,” said Blackadder. “There are some days, Darling, some days, when you knew instead of getting out of bed and facing the world, you should have turned over, pulled your trusty Service revolver out from under your pillow and blown your brains out through the back of your skull.”
The doors banged their off their hinges.
“That,” Lord Flasheart announced, “is my second grand entrance of the morning.” He waggled his eyebrows, braced his hands on his hips and thrust his groin in emphasis. “And the lady in question would agree, if she hadn't collapsed from exhaustion!”
“There are very few times I would agree with you, Blackadder,” Darling muttered, “but this would be one of them.
General Melchett sat at the head of the table. Blackadder sat on his left, and Flasheart sprawled on his right, occasionally yawning in a lecherous fashion. Blackadder rolled his eyes and tried to take shallow breaths, in case idiocy was catching. Darling bustled up with an armful of papers.
“Ah, there you are at last,” Melchett boomed. “I was thinking salmon to start, if that's still on, followed by the lamb, well done, if you will, none of this rare French nonsense, and then a steamed treacle pudding like Cook used to make...” General Melchett gazed misty eyed into the past for a second.
“Um, Sir, lunch isn't until one, Sir. I'm not a waiter, it's me, Darling,” Darling explained.
“I thought I was the only one the staff called darling! Woof woof!” roared Flasheart.
“Well, why are you taking the order if you're not the waiter?” Melchett scowled.
“I'm not taking the order, Sir, we're here to discuss the plan for the big push!” Darling was getting exasperated.
“That's top secret! How come the waiter knows?” Melchett banged the table. “Shoot him before the leak spreads!”
Flasheart leapt to his feet, pulling his revolver out of its holster in one hand, and smoothed his moustache with the other. “Devious swine, next he'll be after my women!” he yelled.
Darling shrieked like a small girl and dropped his files.
Blackadder dragged himself upright and pushed the revolver away with the tip of one finger. “Much as I am enjoying the cabaret, perhaps we can rush headlong to the point where we all discuss the matter in hand before we die of starvation, or possibly old age.”
“Old Bladder, ever the diplomat – that's because you haven't got any balls! If I was in your position, we would have won this war years ago. Of course, your position is about the only position I haven't been in!” Flash flung himself back into his chair and smirked.
“Unfortunately, some of us haven't had your opportunities, Captain,” Blackadder said, smiling like he wanted to kill anything small and squishy that might be near by, or even Baldrick. “The Big Push, Sir?” he appealed to the General.
“Ah, yes,” Melchett cried, smacking the table with one beefy fist, sending all the paper work flying hither and thither. Darling scurried under the desk to retrieve it. “We need a new angle, Blackadder...”
“May I suggest one hundred and eighty degrees, Sir?”
“Don't be an idiot, Blackadder, we don't want the men spinning about in circles! No, no, we need some thing to galvanise them into action! Spur them on!”
“I'd still say a one hundred and eighty degree change in direction could do it, Sir,” Blackadder muttered.
“Which is why we have young Flasheart here!” Melchett beamed at Flash, then thumped him affectionately on the back. Flash coughed manfully. “He understands the men's motivations, Captain Blackadder, what makes them think.”
Captain Darling reappeared, a little dishevelled, from under the table, clutching his file. Melchett scowled at him.
“Unlike Darling here, who has no idea about the common man. Just cares about files and paperclips, eh, Darling?”
“Well, someone has to, Sir...”
“Of course they do, and if there were women allowed on the front line, I could have a pretty little secretary called Marjorie, but until they are, Darling, I have to make do with you.” Melchett beamed at them all. “And this is it, men! Or as it is, the lack of men!”
Darling and Blackadder exchanged a dubious glance.
“There are men sitting around here at HQ, twiddling pencils, while our brave boys on the front line are stretched thin, and this can be no good for morale....”
Darling's left eye twitched convulsively. “Certainly no worse for morale than fly boys lounging about airfields all day,” Blackadder murmured.
“...and I propose we replace all the men on paper shuffling duty with women, so as to free up more soldiers for the battle in hand!”
“Sir, and please accept I may be playing Devil's advocate here, surely a more elegant solution to the lack of soldiers might be to consider why they all get killed every time you order them to climb out of the trenches and walk very slowly towards the enemy machine guns?”
“But it is, Blackadder!” Melchett puffed, trembling like a shitting greyhound, “if there are more men, the Hun won't kill them all before they march victorious into Berlin!”
Blackadder's eyes crinkled in a bizarre combination of disbelief and resignation. “Of course, General. Now you explain it, I grasp all the tactical nuances that had previously escaped me.”
“Of course you did, Blackadder, but then not all of us had a University education, eh?” Melchett's colour faded from puce to a mere shade of plum. “And just as well you've caught on, because you are in charge of retraining all the desk warming nancy boys – no offence, Darling – to combat readiness.”
“Ah, yes,” Blackadder sighed. “May I ask Sir, am I to be assisted by Captain Flasheart? Is he the inspiration for the new men?”
“I'm always an inspiration, Captain,” Flash drawled. “But as I'm convalescing from a war wound sustained in the heat of battle...”
“...clap...” Darling coughed into his fist.
“...I am going to be overseeing the training of the First Ladies Secretarial Regiment.”
“I had no idea you were so familiar with the latest advances in cataloguing and communications,” Darling said acidly.
“Oh, that bit I'll leave to the women, filing and such. My real role is as a figure head, someone to girls can look up to,” and he leered horribly at this point, “...if they're very good in class.”
“So there you have it, men!” Melchett spread his hands expansively. “More men for the front line, a way for the little ladies to feel they are contributing to the war effort, and all done in time for lunch. Coming, Flasheart?”
“Oh yes, General, need to keep my strength up while I convalesce.”
“Good man. We'll leave Blackadder and Darling here, let them get to grips with their new appointments.” With that they headed out the door, laughing and slapping each other's backs like the pair of bastards they were.
“What a farce,” Blackadder sighed, collapsing back into his seat. “All the men at HQ are crocks anyway. Corporal Wilson has that limp, and the Privates in the kitchen won't win a battle of wits with a custard tart. Even Baldrick can beat them at cards. At least he can tell difference between Mr Bun and Mrs Green...”
“My files! My stationary cupboard!” Darling wailed, clutching his hair, “and I don't want to go to the trenches,” he added, as if a grisly death was of minor significance compared to the tidiness of his paper clips. “What are we going to do?”
“I bet this is all a ploy of Flash's to have lots of pretty young things flitting about HQ,” Blackadder mused, “remember young Bobby Parkhurst? Well, what we need is a plan so cunning it could re-alphabetise and cross-reference your correspondence log for date in one easy, colour coded system.”
“No!” Darling gasped, “who will think of something like that?”
“Never fear, Darling,” Blackadder grinned, “for I think I know of just the thing.”
In the dug-out, Lieutenant George was listening intently to Blackadder and trying to understand.
“So, what you're saying, Captain, is that me and Baldrick have to go and do Captain Darling's job whilst he's doing some real fighting because Captain Flasheart won't try and sleep with us? I just don't get it, Sir,” George scowled in massive confusion. “Captain Flasheart wouldn't want to sleep with us at HQ, I mean, it's not as if we're at School any more, they're not even a rugger team at HQ...”
“I have no idea a public education was so broadening...” Blackadder said.
“Oh, that was only if you were in front of old “Plunger” Fitzpatrick in the scrum...”
“Enough George! Never have I been more thankful for my lower middle class roots. Anyway, as I was trying to explain with out resorting to pictures, is that you and Baldrick will dress as women recruits, and Flash will be so appalled at your unattractiveness that he will abandon the female secretaries plan. We can soon distract old Walrus face, so then I won't have to command the idiots from the kitchen, and Darling can get back to his precious paperclips.”
“They just won't realise what constant attention the running of that place takes,” Darling whined, ducking through the dug out entrance. “I've left a comprehensive set of notes, but I'm sure it shall be a mess by twenty hundred hours.”
“It's all right, Darling,” Blackadder reassured him. “When Flash sees his new charges, he'll be gone in under twenty seconds.”
“Although, much as I may just not be getting this plan,” George piped up, “and thicky no brain that I am, I feel I should point out I look rather fine in a dress. If you recall, Cap, the General rather thought so too.”
“The gorgeous Georgina...” Blackadder sighed, and slapped George round the back of the head. “We can't risk Melchett recognising you. And we can't just send Baldrick. In a dress he may look like a partially shaved chimp that has fought its way out of a music hall wardrobe, but we can't rely on him entirely.”
“So what do you suggest, Sir? Who's next in line?” George asked, rubbing his head. “Thanks, Baldrick,” he added, as Baldrick ambled over to pour coffee.
“Why, thank you,” Darling accepted, taking a sip and then hastily spitting it back in the cup.
“Captain?” Baldrick asked. “It'll help concentrate the mind.”
“It will not, Baldrick,” Blackadder said, shooing him away. “It may melt my brain and dissolve my bowels, but it will not help me think.” He sunk his head in his hands. “Darling can't do it, he'll be so glad to get back to the files he'd let Flash do anything to him.”
“I resent the implications in that, Blackadder,” Darling said.
“I just remembered that I'm meant to be training you in trench warfare, Darling, so shut up and get out on watch duty,” Blackadder said mildly. Darling left the dug out with bad grace.
“Well, if it's not me, and it's not Darling,” George stated with the logic of the innocent and truly stupid, “it'll have to be you, Cap, eh? On with the old motley?”
“You can borrow one of my shawls, Captain Blackadder,” Baldrick added kindly. “The purple one will match your lovely eyes. Ow!”
“Get up, Baldrick. Boil some water. I think I'm going to have to have a shave.” He stroked his moustache.
“Right, final briefing,” Blackadder, swaddled in a great coat with cap pulled down and scarf pulled up, surveyed his team in the dug out. “George, you'll drive us in early, and then you and Darling will prevent any pretty female recruits from reaching the boardroom at HQ.”
“Gosh, this is all damn exciting, like a secret mission, or something. Right-ho, Sir. And how would we best distract them, Sir?” George bounced on his toes.
“What we'll do is divert them to a fake briefing in another room,” Darling supplied. “I shall make it completely authentic, as I actually understand the running of HQ, unlike that bastard Flasheart...”
“Language, Darling,” Blackadder said mildly. “Meanwhile, myself and young Miss Baldrick...where is he, by the way? I told him to clean out the latrine and then get dressed for the mission. Baldrick! Baldrick, don't make me come and find you...”
Baldrick, or at least by the process of elimination something that had to be Baldrick, entered the cramped dug out.
“Well, well, Sir, this looks like one of the pretty recruits we'll have to distract, eh, Captain Darling?” George mugged furiously. “How did you find your way out here, young lady?”
“Oh, Sir!” shrilled Baldrick, flushing from his frilly uniform blouse to his definitely female cap. “I'm glad I did my face this morning, all you fine gentlemen!” His face contorted for a second, and then he added, in his normal voice, “I used all the lipstick, Captain Blackadder, Sir, did you need any?”
“I think you'll find, gentlemen, that I am completely prepared.” Blackadder unwound his scarf and smiled. He was moustache-less, made up and looked, well...
“Sir,” said Baldrick, in a voice of wonder, “You're a pretty girl! I'm getting all confused with the fluttery feelings in my tummy now...”
“There's no need to be confused, Baldrick,” George whispered, “all it means is you have to take up rugger.”
“Alright, Lieutenant,” Baldrick whispered back.
“Can we get going?”Darling snapped.
“Don't worry, Sir, I'm sure you'd be a pretty girl, too,” Baldrick reassured. The whole side of Darling's face convulsed.
“Now, once we've all sorted out our sexual confusion, we really need to be getting on,” Blackadder said.
“No need to nag!” George hooted. “You see what I did there, Sir? You see? Because ladies nag, and you're a lady at the moment...”
The sound of George's happy reasoning faded as they made their way to the car.
Blackadder and Baldrick sat at desks in the boardroom, pads set neatly in front of them. “Sit properly, Baldrick, cross your ankles,” Blackadder hissed. “If Flash looks up your skirt the game's up.”
“If he was a gentleman, he wouldn't be looking up a lady's skirt,” Baldrick said primly.
“He's not a gentleman, he's a Lord. Which basically means he can do what he likes, when he likes...”
At this moment Flasheart made his entrance. He strode in, fixed his gaze heroically at the ceiling, and proclaimed “I am Squadron Commander, The Lord Flasheart, and I am here to, well, do what I want when I want...” At that moment he turned and for the first time looked at his charges. “What the hell is this? What are you two doing here?” He strode over to the desks, placed his suddenly panic-stricken face close to the supposed recruits to the First Ladies Secretarial Regiment, and whispered. “I thought we decided what happened in Paris stayed in Paris? Do you need more money? This can never become public knowledge!”
Blackadder and Baldrick exchanged glances. “Money, Sir,” hazarded Blackadder, on the principle that if someone offers you money, you should say yes.
“Money, of course, money, it's nothing compared to my reputation, nothing,” Flash muttered, scribbling on a cheque book he produced from a jacket pocket. “Now, take it, and go!” He spun on his heel and frankly fled the room.
“What was all that about, Sir?”
“Well,” Blackadder mused, folding up his cheque and tucking it into his breast pocket, “you remember Darling was insinuating Flash had a dose of the clap earlier? The word on the grapevine was that he caught it from some ladies of ill repute in Paris. Who must have been dead ringers for us...” Blackadder chuckled. “Oh, life can be very sweet sometimes.”
“I don't think that the Commander mistaking us for prostitutes is going to do my reputation any good,” Baldrick worried. “What would my mother think?”
“I would love to know, should your mother ever prove capable of linear thought, but we need to get changed and explain to the General how Captain Flasheart's plan has failed...”
“What about the Lieutenant and Captain Darling, Sir?”
“Oh, even they can cope with a few women for a morning. Besides, we'll have to go to the bank as well.” Blackadder patted his pocket, smugly.
The official debrief was a week later. Blackadder's moustache had almost grown back in, and he was sat at his usual place at the board room table. Darling walked smartly in, and sat down as well.
“I almost didn't recognise you, Blackadder, in uniform,” he commented snidely.
“Me, either, Darling,” Blackadder countered, “since you're not clutching your own weight in paperwork.”
“Oh, no,” Darling smirked, “I don't have to do that any more.”
Blackadder scowled, and at that moment Melchett entered from his office. Both meant leapt to their feet.
“Oh, sit down lads, sit down,” Melchett waved a hand amiably. “I was just reading the report on the First Ladies Secretarial Regiment. I am very pleased that it has been such a success.”
“Success, Sir?” Blackadder asked.
“Oh, yes, Blackadder,” Darling supplied. “Once we found the right person to train the girls, I think we can all agree...” Melchett nodded approvingly, “that it went very well indeed.”
“I thought the project was abandoned after Flasheart went back to Blighty for, ahem, further convalescence.”
“No, no, Blackadder, you have such a defeatist attitude sometimes! No, I just re-assigned Darling as head of training. He is after all, the most experienced in the administrative technicalities of the British Army.”
“I am astonished, Sir,” said Blackadder, “I didn't know the British Army had any administrative technicalities....” he was cut short by a precise rap on the door, and the entrance of a quite frankly beautiful girl in an immaculate uniform, complete with red HQ shoulder tabs.
“Captain Darling, Sir,” she began, “I have your files for the last quarter and the breakdown on efficiency the General requested. Sir,” she added, saluting General Melchett.
“That's wonderful, my dear,” he chortled, waxed moustaches bristling. “You see, Blackadder, improved efficiency, more men for you at the front, and the appearance of the place is much improved, as you'll agree.” Darling and his protégée conferred quietly over some papers, and she left, smiling a little too much. Blackadder felt a little sick.
“Now, I'm off to lunch, which incidentally is also much improved since those idiots from the kitchen were packed off to the trenches. Dismissed, men,” Melchett left the board room.
“You devious snake in the grass,” Blackadder rounded on Darling, “you already have the cushiest job the Army short of Field Marshall Haig himself, and you have managed to get a collection of enthusiastic girls, barely out of their teens, to do that job for you! Tell me, Darling, do they feed you grapes, as well?”
“I don't know why you're annoyed, Blackadder, it was all part of your plan. Distract the girls, you said. And the briefing I held just happened to highlight the competency of these young ladies, it would have been a criminal waste to just abandon the project. It just needed the right hand at the tiller.”
“So long as that's the only place your hands are.”
“I am off to lunch, Blackadder,” Darling turned, nose in the air. “I'm sure the fare in the trenches would compare favourably. You do, after all, have our former kitchen staff. Bon appétit.” He passed Baldrick as he left the room.
“'Ello, Captain Blackadder,” Baldrick called cheerily. “Ready to go?”
“Oh, I was thinking I might skip lunch and just go straight to the coffee, cigarettes and clinical depression.”
“Oh, no Sir, you can't do that! The new boys have been learning some of my classic recipes, and they were cooking them for you to try. They'll be so upset if you don't have lunch.”
“Tell me it isn't Rat au Vin, Baldrick, just tell me that,”