It began, as most things do, with a stack of telegrams.
When the delivery man rang the doorbell, Jeeves was in the kitchen, preparing that last, vital cup of tea before our departure for my Aunt Dahlia's country seat. Gussie Fink-Nottle, a school chum of the oldest variety, and his fiancée, Madeleine Basset, awaited my arrival. I decided to leave the worthy man to his task and opened the door to receive the telegrams myself. As I took them in hand, I felt a distinct sense of foreboding. Rightfully so, as it turned out.
They ran, as follows:
Glad to see you have finally made worthwhile acquaintance. Spink-Bottle and Basset also here. Bring extra brandy for Spink-Bottle as likely to drink out of house and home.
Madeleine's behaviour strange. Rift feared. Come immediately.
Impending doom. Advice sought.
The first two were addressed from Brinkley Court. The third was unmarked, but I assumed it to be some sort of post-script from Gussie. However, I was somewhat confused by Aunt Dahlia's message; I had only invited Gussie and Madeleine to her home, so who could this worthwhile acquaintance be? However, the fear Gussie's S.O.S. inspired within me soon drove that niggling worry from my perturbed mind. I pocketed the missives and called out for Jeeves.
"I think we'll have our work cut out for us, Jeeves!"
His head appeared in the kitchen doorway inquiringly. "Sir?"
"It seems that impending doom awaits us at Brinkley Court. I have multiple telegrams saying so. Gussie is having trouble with Madeleine again. And you know what that means."
"Yes, most disturbing, sir."
Disturbing was hardly the word for it. "We need to get down there immediately and apply that brain of yours to the situation. Have you called for the car?"
"Yes, sir. And I have finished packing for the visit."
Minutes later, we had finished loading the luggage into the back, and Jeeves was at my side in the passenger seat. The roadster was bumping and gurgling happily, more excited for the journey than I admit its master was. Whereas I usually went to visit my Aunt Dahlia with a spring in my step and joy in my heart---for she is a worthy old soul with whom it is always a pleasure to chew the fat, especially when that fat is prepared by her excellent French cook, Anatole---the possibility of a rift between Gussie and his bride-to-be was enough to turn light into dark in my eyes.
I usually try not to speak ill of the fairer sex, but this specimen stood apart. A moody, maudlin mess, one could never predict what shocking new theory she would next pronounce on such diverse topics as flowers and wee lambs. Madeleine Basset had actually once told me that the stars were God's daisy chain, and that chipmunks were courtiers to the fairy king. Ridiculous notions. To say that she was a pretty girl would be an understatement akin to saying that Alexander had conquered a few acres of land. But views such as hers dampen a girl's charms, no matter how extraordinary her beauty. Luckily for everyone, Gussie didn't seem to mind.
The big spanner in the works, of course, was that the blighted female was under the misapprehension that I shared Gussie's sentiments. En bref, she thought I was daft about her. Due to a ghastly misunderstanding a few months before---the last time all of us had been gathered at Brinkley Court, as a matter of fact---she had thought that I was proposing to her when in actuality I had been trying to plead Gussie's cause. It was clear that if any rupture happened to break off her engagement from Gussie, she would expect me to step up to the plate and marry her. Needless to say, I would not feel peace in my soul until those two fatheads were locked, stocked, and safely sealed into wedlock, for I never knew when the Basset might hand Gussie the mitten and return her eyes to me.
We had barely driven a block before I registered raised voices behind us. I glanced in the rearview mirror as I continued to drive and spotted the maniacs, for maniacs they appeared to be, running down the street, waving their arms, and generally making what is known as A Scene. As they got closer, I made out that they were screaming "Reginald!" at the tops of their lungs.
At this, however, Jeeves inexplicably spun around faster than a policeman whose helmet has just been pinched.
"What is all this?"
"I couldn't say, sir," Jeeves replied, looking uneasy. "I do not recognize these men."
"What is the neighborhood coming to?" I opined.
"Quite disturbing, sir."
Then I heard one of them yell, "Reginald! Stop! It's me! The Doctor!"
I was flabbergasted when Jeeves suddenly stiffened and turned to me to say, "Sir, I would appreciate it if you stopped the car."
"Stop the car? Whatever for?"
"I am being summoned, sir."
"You don't mean to say that you are this Reginald those men are serenading?"
"I am, sir."
The f. was on the b. in an instant and the vehicle came to an abrupt stop. I've always said that Jeeves is unnaturally light on his feet, and this was a perfect demonstration of his agility. Before I'd had a chance to question Jeeves further---I'd never before considered him having a first name!---the man was out of the car and down the street. But I was astonished, for neither of the men who were rapidly approaching the car looked like anyone who would be on a first name basis with my valet.
My surprise only increased as I watched one of the more disgusting public displays of public affection I have ever witnessed. Maniac Number One, a tall, wiry man dressed in an oddly cut Burberry, hopped excitedly up and down like a deranged sparrow whilst waving some sort of lit-up screwdriver. He made gestures that could only have been of introduction to Maniac Number Two, a broad, manly-looking chap who caressed Jeeves's shoulder and arm in a manner that was nothing short of scandalous. But what was truly shocking was that Jeeves did not run from them. He engaged in these atrocities like a friend of old, going so far as to clasp Number One to his bosom and shake Number Two's hand warmly. Jeeves, associating with maniacs who were shod in what appeared to be red canvas shoes!
I made a mental note to myself that the next time Jeeves tried to lecture me on the evils of white mess jackets or any other sartorial matter, I would remind him that he voluntarily consorted with men who made minor transgressions such as my own look like positive acts of sainthood.
After waiting impatiently for about thirty seconds, I honked the horn of the car. Far be it from me to reduce myself to shouting in the street like some people. The two maniacs looked in my direction, and through the mirror, I saw Jeeves nod and begin walking back. The three approached me.
"Sir," Jeeves began, with the dulcet tones of an impending request, "I apologize for the suddenness of this, but I fear I cannot accompany you to Brinkley Court. A matter of the utmost importance has surfaced."
I balked. No, I squawked. Jeeves and I had had our squabbles in the past, but never this outright insubordination. We Woosters are kind masters and fair, but we know when to exercise our feudal rights and keep control over our households.
"Rubbish! This is hardly the time to go gallivanting off with… with…" Words failed me. I found myself distracted by the way Maniac Number Two was leaning on the front of the vehicle and looking at me in a way that I am uncomfortable describing.
"Why, hello there," he drawled, betraying himself by accent and self-confidence to be American. He winked at me, rakishly. I have no idea what came over me, but I think I actually winked back.
"Stop that now," Maniac Number One admonished his friend.
"What? I was just saying hello!"
The first one was looking down at me with an inquisitive eye underneath a wrinkled brow. "So this is Wooster, is it, Reginald?"
I took offense at his tone. We Woosters do not appreciate being studied like one of Gussie's newts. "Yes, it is… I mean, I am he. And you are?" I asked.
"I'm the Doctor!" Maniac Number One announced brightly, as if that explained anything at all.
And yet, it did, in a way. I finally guessed at the elusive reason behind Jeeves's seemingly voluntary association with these vagrants. Jeeves was merely humoring the lunatics for the safety of the masses. Probably two of Sir Roderick Glossop's patients, I imagined, manifesting their insanity in some kind of doctor-patient role reversal.
Rather decent of Jeeves, I thought, looking out for the common man in this way.
"Come along, Jeeves," I said gently, going along with the game I assumed Jeeves was playing, and giving him the opportunity to escape the madmen's clutches. "As you know, I'm in something of a hurry."
"Sir---" Jeeves began.
"Not another word, Jeeves. Good day, sirs," I said to our strange interlopers.
Jeeves sighed as he climbed back into the car, but I caught a sly glance between him and Maniac Number One.
"I shall be at Brinkley Court, Market Snodsbury, Worcestershire," Jeeves said quietly, just before we drove off.
"See you soon!" Maniac Number Two called. And then he winked at me again.
I was about to chastise Jeeves for giving my aunt's address out to passing lunatics, but thought better of it. It wouldn't do to be too hard on the fellow, after his generous intervention on the public's behalf.
"What was all that about, Jeeves?" I asked conversationally, as I started the car again.
"Nothing, sir," he replied dispassionately. I could tell that one of those intermittent cold spells was about to descend upon the household as a result of this episode. I couldn't understand why. We'd quarreled in the past, but always about the cut of a cravat or the hemline of pants, but this was nothing like that. I began to wonder if perhaps the two men were actually friends of his. But I refrained from asking. We Woosters do not show weakness in petty domestic disputes such as these.
Before we turned the corner, I saw the two men careening down a side street. I thought I caught a glimpse of something blue, but I was driving too quickly to be sure.
The two-hour drive was drenched in silence. Jeeves was undoubtedly peeved at me. As soon as we pulled up to the driveway at Brinkley Court, Jeeves slipped wordlessly out of the car. He was halfway to the servants' entrance before I'd even realized he was no longer at my side. Seppings, my aunt's butler, was forced to carry the luggage up to my bedroom.
"Your aunt would like to see you in the drawing room at your earliest convenience, sir," Seppings informed be before retreating into the house. "Mr. Fink-Nottle is also desirous of an audience."
"Thank you, Seppings," I replied. His words pushed my quibble with Jeeves from my mind and replaced it with the initial worry I had had about this visit. Bertram's presence was clearly keenly needed.
I weighed the two requests, and decided to speak with my aunt first. Although nothing like the fiend in human shape that is my other aunt, Agatha, when Aunt Dahlia says 'at your earliest convenience', she means right away, tally-ho. So I bunged off to the drawing room like a good nephew.
"So you've finally decided to show your face, you young toad," was the affectionate greeting I received. Aunt Dahlia looked to be in excellent spirits, but something was off. I couldn't put my finger on it, but there was a glow, if glow is the word I want, in her face.
"How are you today, aged relative?" I sing-songed back at her as I fell into a chair. After the tense silence of the drive, I was glad for a warm reception and a spot of chat.
"Just wonderful, Bertie. Never better. And, although I never thought I'd have call to say this, I have you to thank for it."
This touched the old heart. Although a tough egg who could out-ride, out-yell, and out-hunt any man in Britain, Aunt Dahlia had always held a soft spot for her nephew.
"It's so nice to know that my presence brings you such joy," I admitted with a blush.
"Not your presence, fathead. Your friend, Jack." She whispered the name as though she were a nightingale calling to the emperor. It was most unbecoming, and just like that, I put my finger on what was strange about her. She'd been hit by one of Cupid's blimey arrows. At her age! It was preposterous. What would Uncle Tom say if he were here? But, like a loyal nephew, I kept a straight face and proceeded to get to the bottom of this.
"My friend Jack? Jack who?" I honestly couldn't imagine to whom she might be referring. As far as I could remember, I didn't know any Jacks. Barmys, Pongos, Chuffys, Tuppys, yes, but no Jacks.
"Harkness, of course. Captain Jack Harkness," she sighed by way of explanation, and then snapped, "You ought to know. You invited him here. And what, by the way, do you think this place is? A boarding home for all and sundry of your acquaintance? Not that I mind you inviting Jack, of course, and Madeleine is acting slightly less like the gawd-help-us that she usually is… but still."
"I invited him here?"
"Yes, of course. He arrived early this morning, saying you'd be following in a few hours. Came with a valet. Odd fellow. Surname appears to be Doctor…"
"Surname of Doctor?" I asked, remembering my encounter with the maniacs. But a few hours ago they had been in London, just as I had; even if by some coincidence she was talking about the same men, it wasn't possible for them to have arrived early that morning. But just to be sure I casually asked (if there is any way in which to casually ask such a question), "Was he by any chance wearing red canvas shoes?"
"Red canvas shoes? There's no such thing. No, he was wearing… you know. He was dressed like a valet."
"I see." I let out a sigh of relief. "So that's what your telegram this morning was about when you spoke of my having made worthwhile acquaintances."
Jeeves has sometimes called me 'mentally negligible', a phrase I don't necessarily condone, but it is applicable in certain situations. I have been known to be somewhat absent-minded. Perhaps I did have a friend named Jack, and perhaps I had invited him to Brinkley Court, but the circumstance escaped me.
I decided that the sun and stress with Jeeves were affecting me. "Aunt Dahlia, I think I'll take forty winks before dressing for dinner, if that's all right with you."
"Of course it is. You can see your friend then. What fun we'll have teasing you about not remembering him!" She got that dreamy look in her eyes again and I took that as my cue to beat a hasty retreat.
I found Gussie waiting for me just outside the drawing room door, looking just as fish-faced and freakish as ever. I've said it before and I'll say it again: his lifelong obsession with newts was having a physical effect on him. The longer he kept and studied the things, the more he started to look like them.
"Well, Bertie, it took you long enough!" he launched, dogging my heels as I tried to make my way to the staircase. "I told you to come immediately!"
"Gussie, I am not myself at the moment. I would be alone," I remarked with a wave. "May I ask to postpone our discussion for a few hours until I am solid of mind again?"
"I don't care about your mind. It's Jeeves's I want. Where is he?"
"I wouldn't know," I answered tersely.
Gussie stroked his fishy little chin. "Have you two quarreled?"
"Just a brief disagreement. I had to assert myself. It will blow over soon."
Since it seemed that there would be no escaping him, I changed the subject by inquiring, "So what is this business about a rift between you and Madeleine?"
He sighed. "Ever since we got here, she's been acting so strangely."
"Madeleine Basset? Acting strangely? Never." By the expression on Gussie's face, I could see that he didn't notice my sarcasm.
"Yes. You'll see at dinner. I'm beginning to wonder if we shouldn't call Sir Roderick Glossop in for a…" His voice dropped to a whisper. "For a mental examination."
This was quickly proving more serious than I had imagined, and more frightening than any of my previous scares that this couple would bust up. Strange was business as usual when it came to the Basset, and also for Gussie, to be honest.
But the terror lay in the possibility that Gussie, now having realized what kind of soppy drip he had been contemplating aligning himself to for the rest of his mortal coil, might give Madeleine the mitten, rather than vice versa. And then where would that leave Bertram?
I knew then what I needed to do. No matter the grievousness of his offense, I needed to find Jeeves and consult with him. In matters of life of death, rank insubordination can sometimes be forgiven. This was one of those times.
"Gussie, I will find Jeeves and put the matter before him. In the meantime, I would be alone," I said. "I will see you in the smoking room after dinner."
And with that, I ran as quickly as I could up the stairs and to my usual rooms, leaving Gussie in my wake.
I was running so quickly that I didn't take the time to look before I rounded a corner in the corridor. I collided head-on with someone. We both tumbled, and when the stars had finished spinning over my head, I realized that I was pinned underneath a man whose face was somewhat familiar.
"Fancy meeting you here," he said, and then winked.
I recognized him by that wink. It was Maniac Number Two. I should have shaken him off and yelled for help about impostors and assassins, but… for some reason I didn't. And even if I had tried, I would have been quickly stopped by the man's superior force and by him placing his hand over my mouth.
"I know this looks fishy," he began, and I wanted to tell him not at all, given that I had just left someone who looked like a fish… Maniac Number Two looked nothing like a fish at all. Quite the contrary, if there is such a thing. What is the opposite of a fish? This man was more like a lion, or an eagle. Something masterful and…
I realized that I was babbling in a way that my other aunt, Aunt Agatha, despises---even without opening my mouth.
"Who are you?" I finally managed to get out.
"Captain Jack Harkness. You can call me Jack… or Captain if that floats your boat. Your friend… servant… whatever… told us to show up here and say that you'd invited him. See, the Doctor and I need to talk to him about something important, but Jeeves knew you wouldn't let him stay in London with us, so he proposed this plan. Hope that's all right."
"It most certainly isn't all right," I sputtered. "I'm going to find him and demand an explanation."
"Mind if I follow? I was looking for the Doctor myself, but didn't know which room he might be in. Stands to reason he's wherever Jeeves is."
"Friends, are they?"
"They go way back." He slapped me on the back and said cryptically, "You're in for a shock, Wooster. This is going to be good."
He followed me to my room, where I opened the door to find Jeeves sitting with Jack's friend, as cozy as if they owned the place.
"Jeeves," I said sternly. "What is the meaning of this?"
"Sir, if I may provide you with a glass of brandy…" he began, getting up.
"Don't try to change the subject. I want an explanation for this. I have relied on you in the past, Jeeves, but this time you go too far. Inviting lunatic imposters into Aunt Dahlia's home… into my bedroom! The impertinence!"
"I'm not a lunatic," Jack's faux valet retorted. "I'm the Doctor."
"Don't start that up again," I said wearily.
"I proposed brandy, sir, not as a ruse to evade questioning, but simply because I think the questioning would be easier for you with it." He'd already poured the drink and was handing it to me. "If you will allow me, sir."
"I'd take him up on it, if I were you," Jack warned.
"Thank you, Jeeves," I said grudgingly, sipping at the sweet nectar as though I was a vampire and it was my life's blood. "Now, start."
"The Doctor is an old friend of mine, sir," he began. However, I spotted a hole in his story only a few words in.
I scoffed. "You didn't even recognize him at first in the road today."
"I've got a different face than I had the last time I saw him. Actually, I've had two new faces since then." He turned to Jeeves. "You should have seen the last one, Reginald. I had the most amazing ears. They stuck out like that." He gestured at the side of his head and waved.
I raised a skeptical brow. How the man expected me not to think him a lunatic with outbursts like these was beyond me.
Jeeves must have noticed my look, for, instead of replying, he quickly resumed his story.
"The doctor, sir, although he may appear to be human, is actually not. Instead of dying, he regenerates into new bodies. I have not seen him in multiple regenerations. Hence, why I didn't immediately recognize him."
Enough was enough. "Jeeves," I said firmly, "please do stop talking rot." The sanity in the room had plummeted to about one percent, and that one percent was accounted for by yours truly. I was sunk in gloom. With Jeeves having succumbed to madness, how was I going to manage the crisis of Gussie and the Basset?
"I understand that it is a lot to digest at one time, sir. Another brandy?"
"Yes, please," I said weakly.
"And for you, Captain Harkness?"
As he poured, I thought of another hole in Jeeves's story. "And here's another thing. How is it that Aunt Dahlia says you were came early this morning, but we saw you but a few hours ago in London?"
"After we saw you, we got in the TARDIS and came here," the Doctor explained. "Just rewound back a few hours. Easy as pie."
"You got in the what?"
"His time machine," Jack said cheerfully, obviously enjoying watching my increasing confusion.
"Now I know you're all mad."
"It is the truth, sir. They saw us, then programmed the TARDIS to take them to this address, but a few hours earlier, so they that would have time to ingratiate themselves with Mrs. Travers by the time I arrived. The Doctor came to see me on matters of world-changing importance. There is an impending apocalypse on a planet a few star systems from here that he seeks my advice on how to avert. The only way to arrange a long meeting was to have him come here."
"Sorry, Wooster," the Doctor apologized,. "I did try to give Jeeves some warning, but the intergalactic telegram service must have misplaced the message. So irresponsible." He shook his head.
The words 'impending apocalypse' stirred my memory. I blanched and, hands shaking, reached into my pocket where the three telegrams from the morning were still sitting. I pulled it out. "I don't think it did."
"Says 'impending doom; advice sought', doesn't it?" the Doctor asked with a self-congratulatory grin.
"Jeeves," I said, "pull out that extra bottle of brandy we brought for Aunt Dahlia. I have a feeling I'll be needing the entirety of it."
An hour and many more glasses of brandy later, all the facts had been placed before me, if one could call such rubbish 'facts'.
"Let me try to recap," I finally said, when they had finished their tall tale. "You," I said, pointing at the Doctor, "are an immortal---"
"Regenerator. Not quite the same thing, you know."
"---regenerator, fine, alien from the planet… What did you say it was called again?"
"Right. Thank you, Jeeves. And you travel around time and space in a phony London police box that won't come into use for another twenty-odd years, all in the hope that no one will notice it."
"It's rather brilliant, isn't it?" The Doctor was inordinately pleased with himself.
"Quite," I admitted, not really meaning it. "Although you must admit that its powers to blend in are greatly reduced when you park it in my aunt's hayloft."
"Oh, it's got a chameleon circuit so that no one notices it," Jack explained.
"Sometimes I've wondered if I was the one to give them the idea," the Doctor continued. "Maybe someone saw the TARDIS parked in London. Maybe they saw it earlier today! And years from now, they'll make it. Don't you just love time loops?"
There seemed to be nothing to reply, so moving on, I next pointed at Jack. "And you are from the 51st century. Are you an extraterrestrial as well?"
"No, I'm all man," he announced proudly.
"Lovely. Right-ho. Glad to have it all straightened out." I was reaching the end of my tether. "And you, Jeeves, used to travel around with the Doctor."
"Best companion I've ever had. Only human I've ever met who learned the lesson of not running off." The Doctor beamed at Jeeves, and Jeeves beamed back. The gleam he gets when we go on sailing trips was in his eyes, and I finally understood. After touring time and space, it must feel good to get on a ship and travel again, even one that doesn't leave the earth's atmosphere.
"Why haven't you ever told me any of this, Jeeves?"
"You would scarcely have believed me, sir."
He had a point there.
"Anyway," the Doctor continued, "Jack and I ran into a pretty hairy apocalypse a couple of star systems from here, and had no idea what to do. The leaders of this poor planet have gone completely bonkers and have started putting the inhabitants into… oh, it's too long of a story. Anyhoo, I said, 'I know who'll know what to do! Reginald.' So we popped over here to find him. Whenever my own brilliance fails me, I head straight for Reginald."
"Half of London, including myself, does the same." For the first time, I felt a wave of empathy for the Doctor. Perhaps he was all right, after all, despite being a bit too airy when talking about what sounded like genocide.
"So you won't mind us absconding with him for a little while?" the Doctor asked.
I couldn't very well say no, not when the fate of millions rested on my permission. But, I was loath to give him up, especially now when things were teetering on the edge of disaster, at least, according to Gussie.
I opened my mouth to give the heave ho when there was a knock on the door. "Bertie, please open!" I heard Gussie plead from the other side.
I looked around the room at my motley company. Much as I knew them to be impossible creatures, there was nothing overtly alien about them, so I decided to chance it. "Just don't have any more lunatic outbursts," I cautioned.
"What, us?" Jack asked innocently.
Gussie all but fell in. He looked around, taking in the scene. "Quite a gathering you have assembled here," he remarked. "Bertie, I need to speak with you and Jeeves. Alone."
"Anything you want to say to me, you can say in front of these men," I said. This was my way of officially extending diplomatic relations to Jack and the Doctor, impostors in my aunt's house though they may be.
Gussie clearly didn't like it, but his trouble was so great that he simply shrugged and blurted out, "Madeleine has broken off our engagement."
After assuring Gussie that Jeeves and I were on the case, I pushed him out of the room. Jeeves rallied round, and after explaining to him the direness of the situation, he got the Doctor to agree to stay on for a little bit until a resolution could be found.
Dinner at Brinkley Court is usually the kind of a affair that reaffirms one's believe in the idea that there are higher powers sorting things out for our welfare. Anatole, my Aunt Dahlia's French chef, is a master apart. His bouillabaisse à la Normande is a thing of beauty; his soufflé aux fruits de mer is a perfection of his own creation. I could go on, and I'm sure I have gone on in the past, so to sum up, let's just say that he is a genius such as the world has never known.
His powers are so great that, even with the knowledge of a rupture on the Gussie and Madeline front, that there was an alien currently lounging in my bedroom, that my valet was a former time-traveler, and that an imposter from the 51st century would be joining us at table, I still straightened my tie and sauntered down to the dining room with almost a smile on my lips. Anatole could make it all better, if only temporarily.
"I've never done one of these fancy dinners before," Jack whispered inappropriately close to my ear as we neared the dining room door. "Anything I need to know?"
The list of things he needed to know was so long, it made War and Peace look like a hastily written pamphlet. I believe that the sound I made---a combination of a whoomph and a sigh---conveyed my thoughts.
He chucked to himself. "It'll be all right. Your aunt likes me---great lady, by the way---so I'll probably just stick to her."
I shivered. One doesn't like to think of one's aunts as objects of attention of time-traveling impostors.
As he expected, my aunt began to coo disgustingly over Jack as soon as he came into the room, giving him a place of honor at her right. He kissed her hand, paid her compliments, and smiled while she simpered at him.
Madeleine came in moments later. "Hello, Bertie," she whispered, but not in her usual hushed tones---likely not to worry the wee bunnies, I'd always assumed---but instead, a kind of gravelly and suggestive quaver. She stood too close. Her eyes shone with intent instead of the accustomed dreaminess. There could be no mistaking her desire: me.
"Always a pleasure," I gulped, and all but ran to Jack's side. He grinned at me conspiratorially.
"Just couldn't stay away, could you?" The question was accompanied by another of his infernally chummy winks.
From the fire into the bally frying pan.
"Hello, there. Where have you been hiding all day?" he asked Madeleine, while still caressing my aunt's hand and winking at me. I had already figured out that this Jack was a fast mover, but his speed was proving to be that of a hot potato. He reminded me of an even more extreme version of my friend Pongo Twistleton's Uncle Fred.
"I've been reading, mostly," she replied. "I bought a book about Bismark and German unification from the shop in the village this afternoon. It's quite fascinating."
It was then that I noticed something about her… I got the feeling that Gussie's bleating about a "change" in her was based in more actuality than I'd given him credit for. There was something different about her. The Basset usually suffered from a somewhat droopy aspect, like a flower that's about to go off, but this evening she spoke with a newfound purpose. Also, she didn't read about history. No, when you saw Madeleine, she was either absently stroking flowers in the garden or reading romantic poetry---not books about Prussian generals.
"So, how do you know Bertie, Captain Harkness?" Gussie asked. "I've never seen you at the Drones Club."
Danger alarms were ringing. "Captain Harkness doesn't live in London. We met… we met…"
Smoothly, Jack cut in. "Our valets made friends awhile back on a trip, and Bertie and I here were thrown together by extension. Isn't that right, old boy?" And he elbowed me in the ribs most painfully.
"Yes, that's it,' I agreed weakly. The truth had never before been so difficult to remember.
The nightmare meal didn't go too badly at first, apart from Jack assaulting my nerves by insisting on dropping hints about "extensive travel" and "the way they did things where he was from," only he'd pretend that he accidentally said 'when' instead of 'where'. That sort of thing. It was maddening, and a great sweat broke out on my b.
He talked so much that, thankfully, the rest of us didn't need to. My mind still boggled from the revelations of an hour earlier, and Gussie looked even sadder and more fish-faced as ever as he gazed longingly at Madeleine, who, ever more worryingly, only had eyes for me. She kept batting those long lashes at me, so much so that at one point Jack asked if something had flown into them. She giggled girlishly at him---he seemed to inspire this reaction in everyone---and politely said no, before going back to staring at me.
By the time the dinner trays came, I was not only physically famished, but also mentally so. Therefore, imagine my despair when the waiters opened the trays and instead of the sweet steam of truite au beurre blanc avec riz de saffron, we were hit in the nose with and then served sausage and mash with a side of beans.
"What is this?" I asked, aghast.
"Perhaps Anatole has taken the day off?" Madeleine, looking equally surprised, asked. It was the most sensible thing I'd ever heard come out of her mouth. So sensible in fact, that for a brief moment, I forgot about my mission to avoid her gaze and stared at her, open-mouthed. It was at that moment that I knew for a fact that something was very very wrong---or very very right, depending on how you look at it---with the girl.
Aunt Dahlia, too, was taken aback. "No, dear. He's downstairs, just where he should be. How strange."
"What's the matter with everyone? This is great stuff!" Jack had already begun eating, while the rest of were still staring at our food.
"Well, it's probably for the best," Madeleine said, with more gusto than I think I'd ever heard her say anything. "We should all be eating more vegetables, and less empty starches with fatty sauces. M. Anatole seems to be trying something new, and I applaud him for it."
Gussie, Aunt Dahlia and I---everyone except Jack, who had no way of understanding what an earth shattering thing had just happened---froze and stared at Madeleine.
"Are you feeling all right, dear?" Aunt Dahlia asked slowly.
"Very well, thank you, Mrs. Travers," she replied sunnily.
Gussie and I looked at one another. The girl had lost her mind… or found it, depending on how you think about it.
As soon as the table had been cleared, Aunt Dahlia asked Jack if he would like to play some after-dinner bridge with her. 'You can be on my team," she offered.
"Not possible," I exclaimed, jumping up like a crackerjack. "Jack and I have business to attend to!"
"Yeah, I guess so, huh? Thanks for the dinner, Dahles."
"No one has ever called me that before," she gushed.
"As they shouldn't," I retorted. "Dashed silly nickname. Come along, Jack."
"What's the big rush?" he asked me as soon as we were out into the hallway.
"Something is terribly wrong with Madeleine. Not only that, but I need you to be my bodyguard. I absolutely cannot be left alone in a room with her."
"Because she'll expect me to marry her."
Jack shrugged. "She's a great-looking girl. Smart, too, from what I could tell. Worse things could happen to you."
I tried explaining to him that the girl he'd just dined with was not the girl I knew, but it was no use without any comparison. "Jeeves will understand. Something's come over her."
"All right. Down to the servants' hall then," he said, and started to make his way to the back staircase.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
"Going to find Jeeves and the Doctor. Isn't that what you just said we should do?"
"Yes, but I was going to ring for them to come upstairs to us."
"It's just as easy to go down to them. You 20th century Brits are so stuffy. Come on. It won't kill you."
There was nothing for it but to follow him. I'd been in this house a thousand times before, but going downstairs was like visiting it for the first time. Jack and I occasioned an interesting response. Seppings and the other male staff had a predatory look, as though defending their turf from intruders. The maids all swooned as Jack entered with a bright smile and swagger.
"Stop that now," I whispered to him, feeling for the second time that night, an affinity with the Doctor.
"We're looking for Jeeves and my valet," he announced.
"They're with Monsieur Anatole, down that hall," one of the housemaids giggled.
We found them in Anatole's quarters, a place I'd never been, much less imagined. There were the expected set of pétanque and some French books on cookery and roots, but supplemented by at least five folded up pairs of heliotrope pajamas with a small wildflower pattern of which no one would have suspected him. The Doctor had put on a pair of black frame glasses and was shining a light from into Anatole's eyes. Everything looked perfectly quotidian, except for the fact that he wasn't actually a doctor, as far as I could tell, and that the light emanated from a screwdriver rather than from proper medical experiment.
Anatole was quite calm. In fact, he was infinitely calmer than I'd ever seen him. That made two people whose demeanour was unnaturally normal that day.
Ignoring what was going on in front of us, I launched right in. "Jeeves, something awful has happened to Madeleine. She acting very strangely. Or rather, not strangely at all. Jack couldn't tell but---"
The Doctor whipped off his glasses and peered at me. "Another one?"
"Another what?" I asked. He had a terrible habit of asking questions that seemed as though they belonged later in the conversation.
Thankfully, Jeeves must have been accustomed to interpreting the man's speech into laymen's terms. "The Doctor and I observed a few minutes ago that a change has come over M. Anatole. Perhaps it has affected more people in the house than just him."
It fit. The calm, the bangers and mash… whatever was wrong with Madeleine sounded much like what was wrong with Anatole. Much too much of a sudden infusion of sense for my tastes.
"Ballarangs," the Doctor pronounced in a manner that was much too self-satisfied for the rubbish he was spouting. "Haven't seen them in centuries. Didn't expect to come across them in Worstershire."
"Ballarangs. Nasty creatures. Slink into your ears and possess you by---get this---making crazy people sane. Anatole, you have a classic case."
"Have you come into contact with any very tiny green lizard-like things recently?" he explained, as though Anatole, or indeed anyone, could fathom what he was talking about.
"Ah, but yes. Monsieur Fink-Nottle presented me with an cadeau… eh, en anglais, c'est…bah ah, a gift, you see. A small animal such as you describe. To thank me for my cooking. Strange chappie, is M. Fink-Nottle."
The French don't usually speak Engish fluidly as a rule, and Anatole was more than commonly mixed. He'd learned from many conflicting sources: he got half of his ability from learning from my pal Bingo Little, and the other half from the chauffeur of the Maloneys of Brooklyn, a family he'd briefly worked for.
"And where is it now?" the Doctor asked soothingly. I spotted a small tank in the corner of the room. It was empty.
A queer sort of blankness came over Anatole's face. Something unearthly. "I do not know. Bugger must have busted out of the joint, mais oueh?"
"Yes. Thank you M. Anatole." The Doctor rose. He looked at the three of us. "We need to talk."
We trooped back up to my bedroom for another conference. As we climbed the stairs, I asked, "Jeeves, did I hear right? Are they saying that Gussie's newts are not newts?"
"So it would appear, sir. I am sure that the Doctor will explain. He is extremely well-versed in alien species."
What worried me was that there were more alien beings in the house, not that the doctor would be unable to explain it.
However, just as Jeeves had predicted, the Doctor knew all about the blighters. Little newt-looking things, it turned out, who sometimes 'activated'---whatever that meant---and then jumped into the nearest crazy person's ear and scrambled their brains around to make them sane.
It was the silliest nonsense I'd ever heard, but after everything that had already happened that day, I was starting to feel like a hero who could take on anything. I explained to them how the Basset had been acting at dinner. Jack still didn't see what was wrong, but Jeeves nodded knowingly.
"If Mr. Fink-Nottle gave M. Anatole one as a gift, he must certainly have given Miss Basset one, as well. The symptoms Mr. Wooster is describing are very similar to what we noticed with M. Anatole during dinner."
"So this Basset girl has it, too?"
"That is what it sounds like from Mister Wooster's report."
"Is that why Anatole served us what he did?" I asked.
"Yes, it would seem that his genius was due to a kind of madness. Now rendered completely sane, M. Anatole has lost his gift."
"But he wasn't insane; he was just… French," I argued. "Are you saying that the ballarangs can cure Frenchness?"
The Doctor thought about it. "If the quality of being French can be considered a kind of madness---"
"It certainly is!" I exclaimed.
"---then yes, it would cure that as well."
"That explains so much!" Jack exclaimed, and I heartily agreed with him.
"These ballarangs are hot stuff," I mused. "Imagine if they were let loose on the general population. Everyone would revert to a beautiful British sanity. It would be wonderful."
"It would be a disaster," the Doctor opined.
"It would rid the world of Madeleine Bassets. I can't see how much of a disaster that would be," I retorted.
"A thinking woman sleeps with monsters. The beak that grips her she becomes."
"What are you talking about, Jeeves?"
"The poet Rich, sir."
Although I wasn't in the mood for one of Jeeves's moments of literary inspiration, this threw me. I always know the poets he references, and the fact that the name of this bird didn't ring a bell was yet another nail in the certain coffin of my self-confidence. "The poet who?" I had to ask.
"The poet Rich. Adrienne Rich, sir. An American poetess and essayist."
"Never heard of her."
"I believe she is only about ten years old at the moment, sir."
"Oh, a prodigy, eh?"
"No, sir. She will not begin to publish for another fifteen years. I was fortunate to be able to read her work during my time with the Doctor."
I shuddered at the thought of Jeeves, now having divulged his great secret, feeling at liberty to regale me with poets not only past and present, but also future. The thought was insupportable. "Blast the poet Rich!"
"I don't want to hear anything about the poet Rich---or any other future poet for that matter---until she has actually started to publish."
"Very good, sir."
"Unwritten poetry at a time like this!"
"My sincerest apologies, sir."
"So are we sure Madeleine and Anatole are the only two people affected?" the Doctor interrupted.
Jeeves coolly replied, "The other servants were as normal when we spoke to them this evening. Since the victims must be slightly mad to start with, there are no other possible candidates."
"Are you sure?" the Doctor asked, studying me carefully.
"Mister Wooster is quite as usual," Jeeves said.
"Hm," the Doctor replied.
"Wait a second," Jack interjected. "What about Gussie? From what I can tell, he's as weird as they come. Why haven't they taken him?"
"No, Gussie's all right. Or normally not all right, if you know what I mean."
"Most likely, the ballarangs realized that a sensible man would not keep newts in his bedroom. If they turned him, he would have destroyed him, so for their own preservation, they waited for another prey and left him alone," Jeeves reasoned.
The Doctor slapped Jeeves on the back. "That's sound, that is. Ah, Reginald, how have I managed without you all this time?"
"What am I, chopped liver?" Jack asked.
The Doctor shrugged.
I could say that there was one thing I didn't understand, but that would have been an understatement. There were, in fact, about forty-seven. But one in particular stood out from the rest.
"Why now?" I asked. "Gussie's been keeping and breeding the same family of newts for years and there's never been any trouble before. Well, there was the time he put them in Sir Roderick Spode's bathtub, but the trouble then was the fault of Gussie's, not the newts. Why would these creatures suddenly activate, if activate is the word I want, yesterday, of all days?"
"That's true, you know." Jack said, backing up my question. It was the first time in the entire nightmare that anyone had given me any kind of a boost, and I beamed at him in gratitude.
The Doctor mused, dancing his fingers through his already unkempt hair. "Has Gussie ever been here before? With the ballarangs?"
"Yes, once, a few months ago. He had a tank with the… the…" I stumbled over the name of the creatures. How the rest of them could keep all of these nonsense words straight was beyond me. "He had the newts here with him then."
"Then it's got to be something that was introduced into the environment after that visit," he said, talking mostly to himself. He did that quite a lot. Dashed annoying. "The ballarangs can lay dormant for centuries, but when they come into close proximity to something familiar to them, they come out of hibernation and begin doing what we've witnessed here today. They can't get very far on their own, so they inhabit whatever they can in an attempt to find the familiar object, and latch onto it."
"Are you suggesting that something alien is residing in my aunt's house? Something other than yourself?"
"Yes, exactly," he replied, not seeming to notice my irritation, because he was busy looking at the ceiling.
"What would it look like?"
"It could be anything. Any object in the house or on the grounds that by some chance is not from Earth." He looked at Jeeves. "Any ideas?"
"Not immediately, but I will think about it."
While they were grasping at straws and hemming and hawing to themselves, the truth hit me like a steamship in the back.
"I know!" I exclaimed. If there was an alien object in the house, there was only one thing it could be.
I put down my drink. "Gentlemen, I believe that I can lead you to the alien object you seek."
"Really? What you do think it is?" the Doctor asked.
"Come with me," I said simply. It isn't often that I have the opportunity to create a full dramatic effect, and I wasn't about to lose my chance now. I strode confidently from the room, and the other three had no choice but to follow me downstairs to the gallery.
Those of you familiar with my past exploits are most likely currently experiencing an 'a-ha' moment similar to my own. However, you never know when new people are coming into the story without all the facts, so here's a quick synop: Uncle Tom, husband of my Aunt Dahlia---not to be confused with the one of some literary notoriety who lives in a cabin---collects old silver. He's absolutely mad about the stuff, spending goodish sums to acquire any new shiny antique that catches his eye.
Now, there was one piece in particular that had caused me considerable stress and grievance some weeks prior. Aunt Dahlia and I had gone through fire and water and almost a second-story window in order to obtain it for Uncle Tom. If I remember correctly, I had a rather nice description of it when I told that tale of woe. No use in thinking of an entirely new way of getting the idea across. Ah, yes, here it is. I described it thusly:
"It was a silver cow [creamer]. But when I say 'cow', don't go running away with the idea of some decent, self-respecting cudster such as you may observe loading grass into itself in the nearest meadow. This was a sinister, leering, Underworld sort of animal, the kind that would spit out of the side of its mouth for twopence. It was about four inches high and six long. Its back opened on a hinge. Its tail was arched, so that the tip touched the spine---thus, I suppose, affording a handle for the cream-lover to grasp. The sight of it seemed to take me into a different and dreadful world." (1)
If anything in the house was of alien origin, it was this nefarious and ill-fated object d'art. I was sure of it.
When we reached the gallery in which my uncle kept the bally thing, I dramatically flung my hand out and presented it to the Doctor. "This."
He picked it up and turned it over, again and again. "It isn't silver at all. Where on earth did she get this?"
I was about to launch into the nightmare tale, but Jeeves pre-empted me by simply stating, "Mister Wooster and I can only trace its provenance back to an antique shop in the Brompton Road, a few weeks ago. Before its purchase, we have no way of knowing how it found its way to Earth."
"Imagine, this could have been here for centuries, posing as some sort of Modern Dutch---"
"Ah-ha!" I exclaimed, but as no one knew the import of what the Doctor had just said, they all simply stared at me. The Doctor shook his head and continued.
"As some sort of Modern Dutch bit of silver. And all the while, it's a triggering device."
"So, what do we do with it? Destroy it?" Jack asked. "If we get rid of it, the things should go back to sleep, right?"
"No, I think not. I think Mister Wooster made an excellent a point a few moments ago," Jeeves.
"What do you mean?" Jack asked. I almost am never credited with having a point---according to my Aunt Agatha, my entire existence is lacking one---so I was just as eager to hear Jeeves's explanation.
"If I may make a suggestion…" Jeeves began.
"By all means."
"It seems to me that the shape of the object fortuitously works to our advantage. If we could find a way to get the creatures out of M. Anatole and Miss Basset and into the cow, we could trap them in it. If I remember correctly, when you explained to me the difficulty you were facing in the next star system, it was of madness. If you take the cow, with creatures inside, with you when you return to the battlefield and release them into the offending parties, I imagine that sanity would return, and the problem would be solved, as long as their effects are similar to the ones we have witnessed in Miss Basset and Anatole."
"So you mean, they'd be attracted enough to the cow to leave Anatole and the girl and jump right in?"
"Yes, they just might," the Doctor said.
"So all we have to do is get them in here. Sir, if you would allow me to go to Miss Basset's room and deliver the message that you would like an audience with her in the gallery, I am sure that she would come immediately."
A cold chill ran down my spine. "But she'll expect me to propose."
"The risk would only be temporary, sir. As soon as the ballarang leaves her system, she should revert to her original personality. I am sure that her first move will be to reconcile with Mr. Fink-Nottle."
It was the word 'should' that made me nervous. In cases such as these, you want 100% certainty, not a high probability. But in this world, you can do one of two things. You can claim to be a man of honor and virtue, or you can fink out of maniac schemes to free your friends of alien possession. You cannot do both. So I took a deep breath and commanded, "Do it, Jeeves. Fetch her."
"I shall alert M. Anatole that we also desire his presence in the gallery." And he slunk off.
This was the first time I'd been left alone with both of the travelers. It was more than slightly awkward.
The Doctor rocked back and forth on his heels.
"So, how far back did you know Jeeves? I mean, in terms of years?"
"Ten years ago in your time. I picked him up outside a racetrack. There were mutant horses that day and he handled everything just beautifully. I think he even rode one. I was in need of a new companion and I knew right away that he'd fill the bill. He was with me for… oh, ages. But then he was in a bit of a sticky spot, you know. He'd aged enough that people would notice if I left him back in the same year that he'd come aboard. But in the meanwhile, he'd been logged as a missing person. So he had to get whatever job he could."
I didn't like the way he made being my valet sound. "He's perfectly happy being my gentleman's personal gentleman."
"I don't doubt it. Reginald's always been a unique type. I'm sure he's doing much more than just being your valet. More than you'd dream of. I know he was doing more while he was my companion. Made a pretty penny. I don't approve of that, of course, but he was so good that I pretended not to notice."
Jeeves returned just then with Madeleine. "Bertie, you said you wanted to see me?"
"Oh, hullo, Madeleine," I said, wishing we'd used those minutes to talk about the plan instead of about Jeeves.
"I didn't expect to see so many other men here," she said, looking around confused.
The Doctor held the cow creamer behind his back and walked towards her. "Hello, Madeleine," he said. She gasped, never before having had a servant address her by her first name.
"Who are you?" she asked haughtily.
"I'm the Doctor, and I'm going to fix you." He quickly whipped the cow creamer up towards her ear. Something happened. Madeleine began to shake and convulse. She finally fainted and would have crashed to the floor had not Jack run to catch her in his arms. A small newt finally slivered out of her ear and into the cow creamer. The Doctor quickly closed the hinge on its back.
"One down, one to go," he announced.
"I was unable to find M. Anatole. He was not in his room," Jeeves said, but at that moment, there was a noise in the hallway and Anatole himself crept into the room holding a cricket bat.
"Oh, it is just yous guys," Anatole said. "I heard a racket and said to myself, 'Thieves, what?' I can go back to bed now."
"Wait a minute, Anatole!" The Doctor ran up to him and performed the same trick he had on the Basset. Anatole, too, fell down, supported by Jeeves.
"I will escort him back to his quarters," Jeeves said, and carried him out.
Meanwhile, Madeleine began to return to consciousness. "Where am I?" she asked. She was facing the French doors that led to the garden. "Oh! What a beautiful night! Look at the nice shiny twinkly stars! Don't they make a love chain of flowers?"
"It worked. She's right as rain, Doctor," I said.
"What am I doing here?" she asked Jack, who was still holding her.
"You just did a little sleepwalking. I'll get you back to bed," Jack offered.
"I think she's perfectly capable of getting there herself, Jack," the Doctor snapped in warning tones.
Jack frowned, thwarted.
"I do feel all right. I'm sorry to have caused any trouble," she sing-songed. "I can't wait to tell Augustus about it in the morning. How he'll laugh. Do you know, I think I'd like a bit of silver like that as a wedding gift. I'll be sure to tell mother."
And with that, she drooped out of the room.
"Wow," the Doctor said, looking after her. "I can see why you don't want to marry her."
Jeeves was back a moment later. "M. Anatole has no recollection of the experience. I believe that everything will be fine."
"Back to cassoulet?" I asked hopefully.
"I believe so, sir."
"Case cleared," the Doctor said. "And now, what do you say, Reginald? Back to Narciphlat 7? Will you come with us?"
"If Mr. Wooster will spare me."
We were back where we'd started. But this time I had a different response. Why should Jeeves be the only one to have adventures? "Only if you take me with you."
"That's definitely all right by me," Jack said.
The Doctor rolled his eyes. "All I care about is that it's all right with Reginald."
My heart stilled as I waited for Jeeves's response. Would he show his usual generosity of spirit? "I believe the experience would prove beneficial for Mr. Wooster."
I wasn't sure what he meant by that, but it got the job done.
"Fine. Just don't wander off."
Jack and the Doctor strode briskly ahead of us as we walked towards my aunt's barn, where the time machine thingy was apparently hiding. Something struck me.
"Wait a minute. You don't call him 'sir.'"
"The relationship between the Doctor and his companions is very different from that of a gentleman and his valet, sir. It is more of a partnership than an employer and his employee."
"Ah. I see. Not much of the old feudal spirit where he comes from."
"Rather progressive of these Time Lord fellows."
A thought occurred to me. "Do you wish you didn't have to call me sir?"
"No, it is but appropriate in these circumstances, sir."
"I see. When in Rome and all that."
"Something like that, sir."
However, there was still a problem. "But you know, on this trip, you'll be going as his companion again, not really as my valet. So where does that leave us? Am I to start calling you Reginald?"
And that was that, it seemed.
This line got me thinking though. "So, Jeeves, you know things about the future, don't you? I don't mean in three star systems over a billion years from now… but here, in England."
"Tell me about it. What lies in store for humanity?"
"I don't think it wise to say, sir. The secrets of the future are best kept to a small group."
"Don't be a snob, Jeeves."
"But you must have some information that would be useful."
"I have found ways of using my time with the doctor profitably, yes."
"Ah, you've made some wagers."
"It's been financially remunerative, yes. There are certain important sporting events of which I have the results and have been able to lay down a tidy sum."
"Knowing the future. Nothing like that for a sure thing, is there?"
"Come on, you laggards!" the Doctor called. "An apocalypse awaits."
"Right-ho!" I replied, and broke into a jog. We reached the TARDIS. Just as they had described, it was a blue box that said 'Police' at the top. "Are you sure we'll all fit into this? Seems rather cozy for four men."
"A little coziness never hurt anybody," Jack replied, "but don't worry."
The Doctor opened the door and ushered Jeeves inside first. "Just like old times, isn't it?"
"Yes, it is. I'm glad to be back." And he disappeared into the darkness of the thing. Jack and I soon followed.
It didn't make any sense, but the thing was about twenty times bigger on the inside than it looks on the outside. It wasn't cramped at all. There were loads of shiny buttons and do-dads.
While the Doctor went to the center and began cranking some sort of wheel, I put my hands in my pockets and leaned back to admire it all the better. At that moment, a series of whirrs and beeps began and the entire contraption began shaking.
"What's going on?" Jack yelled.
"Bertie must have pressed the random destination selector!" the Doctor yelled. "It's reprogramming our destination!"
"So we aren't going to the planet you described?"
"No. I have no idea where we're going."