No, I have not been miraculously made owner of the copyrights of these worlds. Did you think I had?
One of the things that these writer johnnies don’t get correct (and I can tell you this now from personal experience) is that if a chap in a comparatively short space of time gets assaulted, bashed on the head, faints and then gets slipped a Mickey Finn (as happens so often in modern literature) he is not then going to awaken bright and perky and ready to tear into his arch enemy and show him what’s what. Perhaps he can if he’s Sam Spade or the Continental Op but not, I am here to tell you, if he’s Bertram Wilberforce Wooster.
Instead I came round feeling so limp and enervated that the manacles that were holding me to the wall were the only things that stopped me from sliding to the ground and melting into a puddle of primordial ooze. I opened my eyes and despite the fact that chamber I found myself in was illuminated only by a rather poor quality oil-lamp, I immediately closed them again, feeling the photons (if that’s what physicists tell me light is composed of this week) burst against my retina like hand grenades.
I must have groaned because the next thing I heard was the voice of young Georgie, uncharacteristically sounding rather maternal.
“Are you all right, Bertie?”
”No. I think I can firmly say that I am not
all right. Unless your definition of all right includes being tied up and in pain like a rather peculiar chap on my staircase at Magdalene. And I am not of his disposition… Where are we?”
I opened my eyes and peered about. Georgie was similarly manacled to a wall a little way from me. Around us were all sorts of old packing cases and above us was a high vaulting ceiling with a tiny skylight of some sort admitting the last setting rays of the sun.
“We’re in the cellars if I’m not mistaken. And deep in the soup.”
”Bertie? You’re not going to go all ga-ga on me are you? I mean any more ga-ga than you usually are?”
”That, young Georgie, is most unkind. I didn’t ask to be drugged and tied up did I?” Despite my justified irritation at the young excresence, I felt it my duty to pull myself upright and try to show a manly disposition in the face of danger.
”No, I suppose not. But you’re likely to get in the way.”
”In the way of what?”
”Of me getting rescued. You’re an extra complication, you are.”
”Well pardon me for breathing! And who is going to rescue you? And from exactly what? You and Jeeves are being dashed vague about what’s going on, I must say. If a fellow could get an explanation and if at all possible a warning about the wine being drugged before he drinks any then he might be a bit more use than just being a complication!”
I felt I had to put it to her strongly you see. Don’t like being firm with the gentle sex but sometimes a fellow can’t be pushed about, not if he wants to keep his pride.
She sighed and looked a little abashed, as well she might. “Well, I’m sorry but it is a bit of a long story. The longest story there is, actually. You see, I’m a Watcher…”
”Yeees? And that means what exactly?”
”I’m one of the people who keeps supernatural threats from destroying the world.”
I blinked at that and tried to rearrange the sentence in my head so it made sense. “Threats? What sort of threats?”
”Oh, anything from your everyday infestation of vampires right up to cults trying to summon nameless gods from the primordial ooze. Most of my work has been with the latter sort of thing. Keeping people from activating artefacts from pre-historical epochs. Stopping the re-animation of mad pharaohs’ mummies. Fighting infestations of ghouls in the slums of Cairo. That sort of thing. Nothing spectacular.”
”Oh,” I heard myself saying, “that
sort of supernatural threat…”
”And I’d just come back to London for a spot of vacation and to report to HQ when who should contact me but the Slayer…”
She rolled her eyes again. “The Slayer. For goodness sake, Bertie, wash your ears out! Since the beginning of history, there has been one girl in all the world given the strength and speed to be able to fight the vampires and demons. One girl who can take them on physically on their own terms. She is the Slayer and it is one of the sacred duties of the Watchers to guide, aid and direct the Slayer. Clear now?”
”Ahhh…. And is the current Slayer a rather spectacular blonde who calls herself ‘Sonnenblume’?”
”Yes. She told me that she had been having dreams… The Slayers get prophetic dreams as well as all their other gifts… And she said that she had sensed a threat among the English upper classes and I was somehow involved so she came along and said I was going to take her with me as my maid… And naturally I said yes!”
”It’s a great honour to be the Slayer’s Watcher, Bertie. Could do my career a whole lot of good. Provided I can get out of this cellar of course…”
“What sort of a name is Sonnenblume?”
“Oh, she doesn’t use her original name any more. Her family are all ardent Nazis and she sort of disinherited herself when she started smuggling Jews out of Germany. As well as frustrating Hitler’s more occult schemes.”
”Oh, he’s got occult schemes as well as the regular sort, has he?”
”He and Himmler come up with three or four whoppers a year, according to Sonnenblume. It’s all she can do to keep up with them. In fact, that’s why she came over here in the first place: they’ve got some sort of fiendish plan to cripple the British government.”
”Really?” I perked up a bit at that. There’s nothing like a fiendish plan to grab my interest, as any of my close acquaintance will tell you. Of course, it’s a lot easier to feel enthusiastic about a f. p. if you’re reading about it in THE MYSTERY OF THE CRIMSON ROOM rather than hearing it from the words of your fellow prisoner while chained to a wall. “Does it involve submarines?”
”What? Bertie, what are you waffling about now?”
”Submarines. All the best fiendish schemes or fiendish plans, if you prefer (either term is used) have a submarine in it somewhere, at least since the end of the Great War. Ask any student of the relevant literature.”
”Bertie, we are not in the relevant literature: we’re chained to a wall in a house full of bloodsucking undead monsters.”
”Actually, Herr Wooster is correct. There is a submarine in this ahh fiendish scheme. You should apologise, my dear Fraulein Travers.”
The cove who had wandered in to join our conversation was clothed in gents evening dress and looking very stylish and cool in it. On the seafront at Cannes or in the casino at Monte Carlo he would have cut a dash, a heartless and cruel dash if I’m not mistaken, through the hearts of the female gender. He spoke with a German accent and was smoking a small cigarette in a manner calculated to look suave.
”Permit me to introduce myself…” he began and then was cut off, in precisely the manner prescribed to the plucky heroine of a thriller by young Georgina.
“Bertie, permit me to present, Carl Edmund, Count von Bludendorff. Count, permit me to present Mr Bertram Wilberforce Wooster.
The German cove gave a grin.
”I see that the Watchers still give their people excellent preparation for their missions and that their intelligence service is as active as ever. Excellent.”
”Your reputation is such that I would be remiss not to know of you. A rising star in your line of work, Count. You will be considered among the Masters of your line in few years if you remain undusted.”
I looked over at her and felt my blood run cold. Was she saying that this chap in front of us… I gave a gulp that could probably have been heard in Southend. He looked at me.
“Do not concern yourself, Herr Wooster. It is in my interest that you remain alive and well. For now.”
”Does the same apply to me, my dear Count?”
”I would not wish you to get the impression that I underestimate you, my dear young Watcher. I have done with underestimating the agents of the Council, no matter how young and fair they may be. Since I do not need you to act as bait I think I shall take this opportunity to recruit you to my side of the conflict.”
Georgina gasped and turned pale. The Count grinned.
“All that knowledge, all that learning… I would prefer it to be at the service of the Line of Aurelius.”
She rallied a little and sniffed at him. “And at the service of the glorious Third Reich of course.”
”Oh, of course.” He laughed and she gave a hard little smile.
“Just one thing, before we proceed to the unpleasantness?”
”And what might that be?”
”Oh, yes. Well, that was how I was brought to England my dear. Avoiding any difficulties with sunlight and the agents that the Council has watching the ports. Most convenient. When the Reich’s triumph is secured I shall perhaps petition to have one given to me for my full time use. Now, let us begin…”
He crushed out his cigarette on the stone floor of the cellar and took from his pocket a silk handkerchief which he began to tuck into the collar of his evening dress in a pointed manner while looking at Georgina in the manner of my Aunt Dahlia looking at one of her cook Anatole’s magnificent dishes. His face rippled just as that of the coves in the alley had and he grew fangs, crinkly forehead and yellow eyes in a second.
I gave a futile tug at my chains and then felt, as he stalked across the cellar to where Georgina was waiting and watching him in terror, my often ill advised but always gallant mouth start working.
“Oh, I say! Hang on a second!”
He stopped. He did actually stop and turn and look at me.
“Herr Wooster, do be quiet. There is nothing you can do to prevent this. I suggest you close your eyes if the sight of blood disturbs you.”
”No, I mean you can’t do this….”
”I do assure you I can. And will….”
”I mean, you can’t just cut to the neck… I mean to the chase like that. You haven’t finished.”
”Finished?” He looked puzzled. “Finished what?”
”Gloating. Gloating and explaining what your scheme is. It’s just not done. The reader wouldn’t know what to make of it if master villains just did their vile deeds without explaining what their plan is.”
He looked at me with what may have been new respect or may have been the conviction that I was completely off my head, it was hard to tell which given the distorted nature of his physiognomy at that moment.
“Herr Wooster, there is no reader. And I am a busy man…”
”It’s the principle of the thing! Dash it all!”
He sighed. Given that he had no need to breathe, that must have been habit or an overly dramatic nature.
“Very well, it is quite simple. It has been clear to some members of the General Staff for some time that Britain may decide to involve itself in opposing the Fuehrer when he finally makes his move to rationalise the international situation…”
”Eh?” I must have looked particularly blank at that moment because Georgina forgot to be terrified and gave an exasperated sigh of her own.
“He means, when Hitler finally decides to march on his neighbours in earnest Britain may choose to try to stop him. Poland is probably on the list. Likewise Czechoslovakia.”
”Oh, and is that likely to happen?”
”Do you ever read anything in the paper apart from the sport and society pages, Bertie?”
“Ummm, well….” Perhaps this was not the moment to mention my foray into professional journalism, when I wrote a column on ‘What the Well-Dressed Man Is Wearing’ for Aunt Dahlia’s rag Milady’s Boudoir.
“Take it from me, just a matter of time no matter what the Daily Express says.”
”Quite. Thank you, Fraulein. And it occurred to certain knowledgeable people in the Party that we had best attempt to neutralise the British ability to interfere in advance. And that a clan of vampires known for their ability to control minds would be ideally placed to destroy your most vital strategic resource.”
”Ummm. Sorry. Don’t get that. I mean what can a vampire do against bombers and aircraft carriers….”
”Not the weapons, Herr Wooster. What makes the weapons work.”
”Oil? Umm, ball-bearings?”
”Brains, Herr Wooster. My little conspiracy, my fiendish scheme as you put it, is intended to worm its way into the heart of the British Establishment and destroy the most capable, the brightest and fiercest intellects you have. To kill them or convert them to servants of the darkness. To enslave their minds or destroy their souls. Preferably both. Leaving only the fools and cowards to face the wrath of the Third Reich when the time comes to strike.”
”Oh, I say. You bounder!”
He laughed, which was a terrible sight with all those teeth.
“Thank you, Herr Wooster! I am deeply complimented. Spoken like a true English gentleman! And of course, that is the reason you are still alive and have not been drained to feed the appetites of my children.”
”Yes, indeed. For unlike your class obsessed British government, the Reich has collected intelligence on the minds of British persons of all social strata. And when we asked our friends and informants in the British aristocracy who the most intelligent, the wisest and most capable person they knew of, they spoke with almost one voice and said…”
”Jeeves?” I reeled. Which is easier to do while chained to a wall as opposed to lying down in bed, but not by much.
”Quite. Your manservant, Reginald Jeeves. One of the great minds of our time, yet perversely satisfied to make his living as a mere manservant. When the war comes, it is in the interest of the Reich for him to be dead or under our control. And so you are alive so that he might come and rescue you, because he is known to have a foolish fondness for his idiot employer and would never leave him to die.”
”Well, that’s one thing you’ve got right, at least Count!”
Both Georgina and I looked around with a wild surmise (as I believe the expression is0 for the voice of Jeeves had sounded in the room. While we looked around and saw no sign of where the voice had come from, the Count (armed with the acuter senses that vampires apparently get fitted as standard) looked up. And then cried out in agony as a stream of liquid struck his eyes from above him.
I looked up. One of the small windows far above our heads had opened and I could see Jeeves’ head poking through. In his right hand was one of those spray thimgummies that gardeners use to coat plants in substances which will discourage blackfly or other parasites. It contained at that moment (I was later to learn) a supply of holy water, taken from a false bottom in Georgina’s trunk.
”Jeeves!” I believe both Georgina and I cried out in joy simultaneously. His face gave a slight flicker of pleasure, not so much a smile as the ghost of one and then he said “Just one moment, please,” and withdrew back from the window.
A moment later a slim female figure dropped through the aperture and fell the fifteen feet to the floor of the basement, landing at the feet of the Count who had just finished screaming in agony. She was still dressed in her little maid’s outfit which caused my heart to do a brief rhumba at the sight.
“Guten abend, mein herr.” Sonnenblume said, most politely as the screeching vampire tried to wipe the holy water from his eyes. He managed to stare myopically at her for just as long as it took her to drive a piece of pointed wood through his chest. At which point he went all dark and crinkled up like a piece of carbon paper and a moment later he shrivelled to nothing like a piece of carbon paper someone had put a match to. On the whole I felt that it couldn’t have happened to a nicer fellow.
A moment later, Sonnenblume was striding over to us and bending first Georgie’s and then my manacles out of shape and freeing us. I was just rubbing my wrists as a rope snaked down from above and Jeeves came down it, calm as ever and looking just like Douglas Fairbanks (Jr or Sr) swinging from the sailtops as some pirate or other. A rather plump pirate it’s true but none the less a welcome sight.
“Good evening, sir. Good evening, miss. I’m sorry if you’ve been inconvenienced at all. It took myself and Miss Sonnenblume a little while to discover the location of your incarceration and obtain the necessary means to rescue you.”
”Not at all, Jeeves,” said Georgie. “A most timely rescue. Quite in the old Academy style.”
Jeeves murmured his appreciation but I felt compelled to protest.
“That’s all very well, but now you’ve got us all
trapped in the cellar!”
”I understand your concern sir, but I was in fact merely unifying our forces the better to affect a strategic withdrawal.”
”He means,” said Georgie, “that as we’re going to have to fight our way to our cars we had best all be together when we do it.”
”Oh? Fight? Golly….”
”If I might suggest, sir,” said Jeeves, “you have often regaled me with stories of your prowess with a water pistol in your youth. If you would take this,” and here he thrust the gardeners squirty thing into my hands, “and provide, as it were, covering fire for the Slayer and myself...”
“And Miss Georgina, of course… If you would… keep their heads down, as it were…” He tucked some spare bottles into my pockets.
”Hang on… There’s whatyoumaycallit… Holy water in here?”
”Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve seen everything Bela Lugosi’s ever been in and doesn’t holy water only affect vampires?”
”You are alas not mistaken, sir.” Jeeves was busily readying some stakes in various of his pockets and making sure that Georgie and Sonnenblume had a sufficiency.
“Then are you saying that everyone
in the house…”
Jeeves shook his head sadly. “I fear so, sir. If I am correct in my suppositions, I think the corruption may have come into the family with young Master Thomas, who I had heard was involved with some quite decadent circles at Oxford.”
”Gosh! The young tick! Well, all I can say is I’m glad he wasn’t a Magdalene man!”
I looked around. Georgie had ripped the hem of her dress back revealing legs that were of good, muscular quality and had a stake in each hand. Sonnenblume had her sword at the ready and Jeeves had some stakes for himself.
“Right. Once more unto the breach, eh Jeeves?”
”Indeed sir. ‘Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood.’”
Georgia shuddered. “Don’t mention blood just now, Jeeves. Not in the best possible taste.”
”I do apologise, Miss. Fraulein, if you would lead the way….”
Well, I don’t suppose I’ll forget that journey up to the cars as long as I live. We were fine leaving the cellar by means of a spiral staircase we found at the far end of the room. Fine that is until we found that it emerged behind an arras (very traditional type, old Worplesdon) in the main dining room. We tried
to sneak past the assembled family horde who were seated around the dining table on which were spread out the pale and drained bodies of the two young girls that had been doting on Thos. The whole family (including the butler, Purvis, no wonder he hadn’t wanted to come out into the daylight to pick up our bags) were lounging back in their chairs looking like particularly bloated leeches as they dabbed their bloodstained lips with napkins.
I say we tried
but some clumsy idiot (who, to be frank, goes by the name of Betram Wilberforce Wooster) knocked over the dinner gong and then it was hell for leather as they came up from their stupor and manifested more teeth (and sharper ones) than you’ll find in a Dental Training College.
I don’t recall much of the combat that followed (although I understand this is not unusual for a first time ‘under fire’ as it were). I do recall getting young Thos. a good one with my squirter, seeing his face begin to sear and bubble and thinking that this was something I had often wanted to do while dutifully taking the ungrateful little pimple to culturally enhancing events.
Sonnenblume swung her sword nobly and there was dust flying everywhere as we ran to the door. Jeeves deftly staked Purvis as he tried to block our exit and a short time later we were in our cars and heading for the horizon.
As I looked over my shoulder, I saw that tongues of flame (as I believe the conventional poetic image is) were taking hold of the old ivy-covered manse behind us.
“Jeeves…” I said as he drove us away at rather more than his usual sedate thirty-five miles an hour.
”A precaution, sir. I think we managed to dispatch all the vampires but I felt it best to make sure.”
”Oh, very well. But dash it I left two perfectly good sets of evening dress behind.”
”Alas, sir, we must all make sacrifices in times like these.”
that rather nifty tartan waistcoat I’d just bought…”
“Ah, indeed. What can I say, sir?”
I gave him a sharp look and then one last thing occurred to me.
“What about Aunt Agatha?”
”I very much regret, sir, that I have despatched her Ladyship.”
”With one of those stake thingummies?”
”No, sir. A decapitating blow with the dinner gong, sir.”
”Oh, I say Jeeves this is a bit much!”
”I’m sorry sir, but otherwise she would have spread the vampiric infection to much of High Society….”
”It’s not that Jeeves. I realize it had to be done. It’s just that she was my Aunt and if anyone was going to have the pleasure… I mean the duty, the duty of decapitating her it should have been me!”
”I am so sorry, sir. I hope you will not feel I have gone beyond my place. If the occasion should arise again…”
”Yes, yes. Well, carry on Jeeves.”
”Very good, sir.”