dea over a year ago, from a tumblr post that suggested Mary Poppins was a Timelord. I started to write it then, but got sidetracked – now I wish I’d finished it then, given the overt referencing of Mary Poppins in the most recent Dr Who. Maybe the writers saw the same tumblr post! Anyway, hopefully I’ve learnt my lesson now, and hopefully you’ll enjoy this silly diversion.
The rain was pelting down on the tarpaulin of the tent as James finished placing his cupcakes out on the trestle table. The people milling about in the tent were a poor excuse for a crowd, and James found himself wondering if he had made the best choice of agent. It was at her suggestion that he come all the way to this so called ‘fair’ in the admittedly beautiful grounds of Highclere Castle. He’d get good exposure because of the popularity of the tv series, Downton Abbey, that was shot here, or something. Only with the rain, hardly anyone had turned up. Still, he had a warm, knitted jumper and he’d been able to do a bunch of baking so it wasn’t all bad.
A pig-tailed six year old girl with a pink back-pack and spongebob squarepants fingernails wandered up to the table.
‘Can I try one?’ she asked, eyeing the cupcakes.
‘Of course’ James told her, as she picked one up and took a bite, ‘They’re toffee and licorice flavoured with just a hint of chilli.’
A thoughtful look appeared on the girl’s face as she chewed, but slowly her mouth turned into a frown.
‘Gross,’ she declared, putting the half-eaten cupcake back on the table.
‘Oh, I’m sor- ‘
‘It does have a good bake on it though,’ she added, then strode off.
‘Everyone’s a critic now,’ thought James as he scooped up the soiled cupcake and binned it. He turned back to the table, and there was a spritely looking woman standing at his table, smiling politely at him. She was wearing an old fashioned long,thick skirt, and small high-buttoned jacket. Her little black hat had a fresh flower in it, and she carried a large carpet bag and an umbrella.
‘Must be one of those London hipsters’, James thought.
‘Those look nice,’ she said with a polite smile, looking at the cupcakes.
‘Would you like to try one?’ James offered.
‘That would be lovely,’ she replied, ‘And I take my tea white, thank you.’
‘Oh, I’m afraid we don’t have tea, or any hot drinks really…’
‘Don’t be silly young man, you can’t have cakes without tea!’
‘But they didn’t prov-‘
‘Well what do you propose to do about it?’ she interjected, a little sternly, crossing her arms. James noticed that she was wearing white gloves. She looked pointedly across the lawns to the grand house.
‘I suppose we could see if they have some tea in the kitchens of the house?’
‘Excellent idea!’ she declared, ‘Come along then, bring the cakes!’ With that she picked up her carpet bag, hoisted her umbrella and strode off towards the castle. James scooped a handful of cupcakes into a paper bag, and ran off after her.
He reached her, a little soggier from rain, as she walked up the front steps of the regal, Edwardian entrance.
‘You know, I don’t think we’re allowed to go in there today,’ James ventured.
‘A good host would always want their guests to have tea,’ she told him, pushing the front door open. They walked in, and James was immediately impressed by the ornate and theatrical air of the entrance hall. It was much more impressive than on the show. He turned, and noticed the woman adjusting her hat slightly in a gilt-framed mirror, her gaze lingering in appreciation. .
‘Excuse me, but who are you?’ James asked.
‘I’m the Nanny, my dear’ she replied.
‘The Nanny for who?’
‘Why, whoever needs looking after. You can call me Mary if you like. Now where do you think that kitchen is?’
James looked around the hall, then went and tried the doors that seemed to lead downstairs, assuming that’s where the kitchen would be. They were all locked. Mary walked over to the central staircase, and then the most remarkable thing happened. She sat primly on the bannister and proceeded to slide upwards to the top landing. James was momentarily dumbfounded. He bounded up the stairs after her, his mind racing for some sort of scientific explanation for how such a thing was possible.
‘How did you do that?’, he exclaimed breathlessly.
‘Oh, it’s really very simple if you just try,’ Mary answered, ‘You do ask a lot of questions, don’t you. Some might consider it impertinent.’
This is all getting a bit crazy, thought James. ‘I don’t think we’ll find any tea up here,’ he said.
Mary was already down the landing, pushing open a door.
‘Oh, now what do we have here?’ she announced as she went into the room. James sighed, and trotted in behind her.
‘Egyptian antiquities?’ James exclaimed to himself. The room was like a little museum. Glass topped display cases lined the walls which were covered in old photos and diagrams. The cases housed neatly displayed trinkets and carved bits of stone, while in the centre of the room on a pedestal sat an old wooden box, covered with fading, cracking hieroglyphs.
‘Hmm, it would seem one of the previous owners of this estate was a noted Egyptologist…’ Mary told him, reading from a text on the wall. She began to wander the room, carefully considering the artefacts, clearly delighted with them. James, who decided that he had seen more interesting stuff at the British Museum, went over to the window and looked out at the fair goers huddled in the tents on the lawn. He wondered if anyone was trying his Lica-toff cupcakes, and what they thought of them. Right in the middle of the wide, wet lawn, away from the fair, he noticed what looked like a large, oddly decorative rubbish bin. ‘Strange place to put it,’ he thought.
‘Ah, now this is very interesting indeed!’ Mary suddenly exclaimed, ‘Look!’
James came over and peered into the display case which had caught her attention.
‘Now tell me, what do you make of those hieroglyphics?’ she asked, pointing towards a piece of very old papyrus in the case.
‘Well, there appears to be some sort of shooting star, and then those figures look like people praying, and there’s a guy holding a – something, a chisel maybe, but then there’s just a child sitting there. It’s about as easy to understand as one of Paul Hollywood’s recipes.’
‘Clearly, when the meteor fell to earth, they believed it was a child of the sun god, come to renew the world, and so they carved it to resemble him…. there.’ She pointed to the other end of the case with the parrot-headed handle of her umbrella. There was a stone carving, about the size of a fist, that looked like a small curled up child. With a quick, sharp movement, she brought the umbrella handle down hard on top of the display case, shattering the glass.
‘What are you doing?!’ cried James.
Mary picked up the carving, and turned it over in her hands, inspecting it intently.
‘Hmm, if my research is correct, it should be Skarovian Alumite’ she said.
‘This is all a bit much,’ James replied, ‘What do you think you’re doing?’
Before the Nanny could reply, there was a great crash behind them, as the rubbish bin from the lawn came crashing through the window. Or rather, hovered through the window screeching ‘Ex-ter-min-ate!’ in a high-pitched, electronic voice.
‘My goodness gracious, how rude!’ exclaimed Mary, as she tossed the carving at James, and flung open her umbrella. There was a flash of red light, as a laser fired from the creature’s little arm at them. Fortunately Mary’s umbrella somehow deflected the laser.
‘What is that thing?! What is- AAaagh!’ James cried, diving for cover behind Mary’s umbrella as the thing fired again.
‘It’s a Dalek, of course’, Mary declared.
‘SURRENDER THE ARTEFACT’, the Dalek screeched.
Huddled in the corner under the shelter of her umbrella, James felt he could see the cogs ticking over in Mary’s mind.
‘Take a good look at that carving, James’ she instructed him. He looked down at the rock. It resembled a small child with long hair, hugging a large stone with all four limbs, a strange expression on it’s face.
‘Now throw it out the window, my dear,’ Mary told him.
James realised he was past the point of questioning the madness of the situation, so he ducked his head out from the umbrella and hurled the carving through the window the dalek had come through.
‘So we’re just giving it that thing?’ he asked
‘We’re distracting it. Now open my bag.’ Mary replied.
The carpet bag was overly large and unwieldy, but it was unusually murky inside. The dalek was still firing its laser at them as it backed out the window towards the carving.
‘Right in the bottom,’ Mary informed him.
James peered further inside, his whole head was in the bag now, but he couldn’t see the bottom still. He leaned further in, and as his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he got the sense it was a wide open space, like a room. Yes, there even seemed to be a spiral staircase directly beneath him. Suddenly he felt two hands on his butt, and then he was pushed, tumbling through the opening onto the staircase, lights flickering on. As he tried to sit up on the stairs and get his bearings, Mary gracefully climbed through the opening after him. Closing the entrance after her, she stood primly on a small circular platform in the centre of the stairs, which smoothly sunk to the ground like an elevator.
‘Come on, don’t just sit there like a stunned mullet!’ Mary told him as she strode into the odd little room. James looked around in amazement, lost for words. The room could only be described as cross between some sort of spaceship and a quaint country cottage. A sort of interstellar campervan perhaps. There were multiple levels in the room, and strange little doors here and there, and bric-a-brac everywhere, a marvelous mish-mash of ornaments, furniture and strange gizmos. Shelves stuffed with books, photos and paintings hanging or leaning all over the place. Quite a few mirrors too. He clambered down the stairs, and sat cautiously on the arm of a large, old armchair covered in a faded rose print. Mary had gone to what looked a bit like an old-fashioned dressing table, covered in various sized mirrors. Sitting down, she swept numerous little bottles and jars aside to reveal a control panel on the surface. As she started to tap away at it, the mirrors came to life, all sorts of data displaying across them.
‘Now then,’ Mary said, ‘I think 95 years back ought to do the trick’.
James was in a slight state of shock.
‘How… are we inside your bag?’ he asked.
‘Yes, yes,’ came Mary’s reply as she came over and sat primly in the arm chair opposite him.
‘Where did that robot that was shooting lasers at us go?’
‘Why, the Daleks never notice this old bag, more fool them for it. Now don’t just perch there like a stuffed parrot – we could use a little tea I think.’
She gestured towards a small kitchen area. James went over, and found himself starting to relax as he went through the antique cabinets crammed full of crockery and, well, heaven knows what the other things were. He found teacups, and milk, sugar and what appeared to be tea, and soon had figured which strange pipe produced hot water. There were lots of interesting things in this little kitchen, and he very much wanted to explore further.
Mary had arranged two doilies on the table between the chairs when James came back over, and he placed the mismatched cups of tea on them.
‘It will be a little while before we arrive,’ Mary told him, ‘I was so hoping you might make some more of those toffee and liquorice cakes’.
With his tea in hand, James found his wits returning to him,
‘Hang on just a minute, I don’t want to be rude Mary, but what on earth is going on? Just who are you, really? This is all very confusing!’
‘Hmm, I suppose you’re right, this might be a little unclear’ Mary mused.
James stared at her blankly. Mary sighed.
‘Very well,’ she said, ‘We’re in my own custom TARDIS that a good friend of mine made for me a very long time ago.’
‘Yes, it allows one to travel anywhere in space and time.’
‘And it’s smaller on the outside…?’
‘Quite a bit, as you can see. Now those Daleks, horribly naughty and misbehaved creatures, are trying to collect up the remaining pieces of skarovian alumite – that rock, and-’
‘What is skarov.. what is that rock?’
‘An extremely rare element, found primarily on Skaros, but long ago. It’s usually black or brown, and has some properties similar to porcelain. In fact it has a magnetic-type attraction to ceramics, and unusually becomes more maleable at very cold temperatures, and harder than diamond when it is very hot. Why there are so many interesting facts about it, I have a song to help you remember;
If you find a rock that’s like a cup for tea,
There’s just one thing it’s bound to be,
If it has–
‘But what about those Daleks things?’ James interjected, before things became really too strange.
‘Well I intend to stop them.’
‘They plan to do dreadful things with the skarovian alumite, and I plan to teach them a lesson. Or they will never learn.’
At that moment all the lights in the room flickered, and a sound like the rumble of an earthquake heaved through them.
‘Ah, we’re here!’ Mary declared, and sprung to her feet.
Umbrella in hand, she put on a prim hat and a rather elegant scarf from a rack on the wall. She turned to James, and pointing at another rack, told him,
‘Hurry up now, change into those trousers and put a shirt on, we don’t want to look conspicuous.
James did as he was instructed, and soon they were at the top of the spiral staircase and awkwardly climbing out of the carpet bag. They were by the front door in the empty main foyer of the house again. Mary picked up the carpet bag and tapped loudly on the floor with the end of her umbrella.
‘I say! Hello!’ she called out.
A moment later an elderly butler appeared before them, looking very unamused.
‘Can I help you madam? We weren’t expecting guests…’ the butler informed her.
‘Professor!’ Mary told him authoritatively, ‘Professor Poppins. Lord Carnavon has sent me ahead of him to ensure the safe arrival and care of his antiquities. Have they arrived yet?’
The butler looked over at James.
‘And who is this?’ he asked
‘My assistant, James’, Mary replied, ‘He assists me.’
The butler looked at them suspiciously, but under Mary’s withering cool gaze he soon relented.
‘Very well Madam, the crates are in the scullery. They arrived yesterday.’
‘Excellent, we shall inspect them immediately.’
Downstairs was a hive of activity. Maids hurrying about, cooks busy preparing vast quantities of food. Preparation for some event was clearly underway, but the butler showed no inclination to let them know what it was. It was clear that he was the head butler from the way the other servants deferred to him and got out of his way as he lead them along. James found himself dawdling so that he could better see the fascinating preparation techniques the cooks were using. He desperately wanted to jump in amongst them and have a go himself.
‘Come along James, do hurry up!’ Mary called to him as she reached the scullery with the butler.
Inside they found a few medium-sized crates haphazardly piled in one corner, half covered in a pile of laundry.
‘This won’t do at all, it’s far too damp in here,’ Mary declared, ‘James, take these upstairs to one of the drawing rooms.’
‘I would suggest you use the drawing room in the east wing, the west wing is being prepared for the dinner this evening.’ the butler interjected.
‘Certainly. What sort of dinner is it?’ Mary asked.
‘It is just one of her ladyship’s soirees.’ he replied reluctantly
‘How wonderful. I’m sure she will be delighted to have to additional guests,’ Mary told him.
‘But of course,’ grumbled the butler, leaving them to inform the head cook. They could hear him grumbling about how uncivilized it was for his lordship to have such hobbies, and just look at the sorts of people that he consequently must fraternize with.
As James struggled through the kitchen and up to the east wing with the crates, he noticed a young woman, a kitchen hand, glancing at him curiously. He caught her eye a few times, but each time she quickly looked away, blushing. The last crate he attempted to bring up was particularly cumbersome, and he dropped it clumsily before even out of the kitchen. The woman discreetly came over to him and said,
‘I don’t think you’ll manage that on your own, sir.’
‘Please, my name is James. And I think you may be right.’
‘Oh, a lovely name. I’m Elly. Perhaps I could help you?’
‘Excellent! We’ve got to get it up to the eastern drawing room.’
They brought the final box upstairs together, Elly still blushing like a supernova every time James looked at her. They were both too shy to make conversation. In the drawing room they found that Mary had already begun carefully unpacking the crates, laying out the contents on a beautiful antique table. Actually, the table was probably quite new, James mused to himself.
‘Thank you dears, just put it over there with the others,’ Mary instructed them, ‘Then you can help me unpack them.’
Between them they had soon laid out all the pieces across the table, pieces of papyrus, carved amulets, wooden toys, a whole assortment of things. Mary wore a look of consternation on her face, and James realised the carving of a small child he had thrown out the window earlier wasn’t there.
‘Is this everything from the crates?’ Mary asked.
‘Yes ma’am, it is’ Elly replied, ‘Were you looking for something particular?’
‘A specific carving should have been amongst these,’ Mary told her, then looked at James knowingly, ‘You remember what it looks like, don’t you James?’
‘Yes, I think so.’
‘Why don’t you describe it to your friend, maybe she’s seen it,’
‘I’m sorry ma’am,’ Elly interjected, ‘I must be getting back to kitchen.’
James’ eyes suddenly light up, ‘Actually, we’ll join you, I’ve got a idea how to describe it to you.’
The three of them returned downstairs to the bustle of the kitchen, where Elly was able to resume working the dough for the evening’s bread rolls.
‘Let me return the favour and help you,’ James told her, and dove in beside her, kneading the dough and forming the small rolls. When he was nearly done, he started forming one of the rolls a little differently, a twist here and an indentation here. Very shortly he had turned one of the rolls into a near replica of the missing carving.
‘This is what is what it looked like,’ he told Elly, ‘Do you recognise it?’
‘I’m afraid not, at least not in his Lordship’s collection,’ she replied, then lowered her voice ‘Although, perhaps he keeps it in the secret compartment in his dressing cabinet. He thinks no one knows about that.’
Suddenly, the head cook was looming over them,
‘Elly, stop disturbing these here guests,’ she grunted at her.
‘I don’t want sorry, I want you to get back to work!’ the cook bellowed.
Mary looked sternly at the cook and cocked her eyebrow.
‘It’s our fault,’ James stammered, ‘She helped us, and I wanted to return the favour,’
Elly was busy putting the doughy rolls on a tray. She glanced over at James and gave him a surreptitious wink as she placed James’ unique creation amongst the others. Oblivious, the head cook glared her beady eyes at the two interlopers.
‘The kitchen is really no place for guests,’ she told them in no uncertain terms, ‘Perhaps you had better go and get ready for this evening.’
Mary, who had shown remarkable restraint in her silence until now, simply responded,
‘A capital idea!’, and proceeded to prod James back up the stairs.
‘Come along now,’ Mary told him once they were back upstairs in the relative calm of the house, ‘Keep quiet, and try not to attract the attention of any more servants.’
‘Because we need to find that secret compartment in his Lordship’s dresser.’ She stalked off with surprising stealth towards the master bedroom, and James tried to follow her feeling much like a cartoon cat-burglar. He only had to duck behind an ornate vase once, when a servant suddenly emerged from one of the rooms. He didn’t see where Mary went, but somehow they got to the master bedroom un-noticed.
Mary quietly knocked on the door, but there was no response from inside, so she pointed her umbrella at the door handle, there was a quiet whirring noise and then a soft click as it came unlocked. They crept into the room, their eyes slowly adjusting to the dim lighting from the drawn curtains. There was a grand four poster bed and a multitude of different pieces of antique furniture. ‘No’, James had to remind himself, not antique, many of these pieces were relatively new. James slipped over to the windows and opened the curtains slightly, letting the evening light filter in. With a little more illumination, the room felt less like a museum piece and more like a place someone actually lived in. James looked at the pictures on the walls of Lord Carnavon with various colleagues on his trips to Egypt and the middle east. It seemed so real and present, like pictures of his friends and him on Facebook, smiling happily next to their accomplishments. Unfortunately he couldn’t click like for those pictures on the wall though.
Lord Carnavon had a couple of neatly kept dressers in his room, and the Nanny was busily poking about them. She began tapping the dressers all over with the parrot head handle of her umbrella, which squawked disapprovingly.
‘Sshhh!’, she insisted.
Eventually one side panel revealed itself to be more hollow sounding than the others.
‘Ah hah!’ Mary exclaimed, rather pleased with herself. She pointed the other end of her umbrella at the panel, and it made it’s usual wibbly-wobbly sound. The panel seemed to strain a little, but nothing happened. She adjusted the parrot head, and pointed the umbrella again, this time at a higher pitch. Still nothing happened.
‘How very strange,’ Mary exclaimed, twisting the parrot head again, and giving it a sharp tap when it squawked in protest. Finally, her umbrella unlocked the panel, and it popped open with a click. It was a rather deep drawer, and inside were various items of value. Some deed papers, a small box of jewellery, what appeared to a polished wooden phallus, and a selection of photos of women in various states of undress. James blushed a little as he realised that some of the pictures were of Elly.
‘Shocking!’ exclaimed Mary.
‘Yes…’ James mumbled, going redder, then he realised that Mary was looking a small box, empty except for some cotton padding. It had left an indent the exact size and shape of the stone carving.
‘It seems someone with their own sonic device has got here before us’, Mary told him.
‘What? How?’ James asked
‘No time for that now,’ declared Mary, shutting the secret drawer, ‘We must get ready for dinner!’
The grand ballroom was quite a sight to behold, full of guests and candlelight glittering on the crystal. Many of the guests had already arrived when Mary and James entered, she in a neat green velvet dress, he in a slightly over-sized tuxedo that Mary had pulled out of the carpet bag. They had no doubt been hanging somewhere by the spiral staircase. Lady Carnavon was being very modern apparently, and had opted to have a buffet style dinner. Tables were sumptuously laid out along one side of the room, and the guests stood around in small groups, chatting quietly and nibbling delicacies from small plates.
Despite wearing a tux, James felt unkempt and out of place. He noticed a group of immaculate young women talking and giggling, clearly about him, and he tugged at his collar uncomfortably. Mary tapped his hand away from his neck.
‘Stop fidgetting,’ she told him quietly, ‘I’ve left my carpetbag just outside the door, we may have to leave in a hurry. The Daleks will no doubt be trying to track us through sub-time-space, and-’
At that moment, James and Mary were approached by an elegant, auburn haired woman.
‘Hello, I hope you don’t mind me introducing myself, but you seem to be unaccompanied,’ the woman said, ‘I’m Clarice Dallow.’
‘How very kind of you, I’m Professor Poppins, but please call me Mary,’ Mary replied, ‘And this is my assistant, James.’
‘Oh, a professor, how wonderful!’ replied Mrs Dallow, ‘Are you familiar with Lord Carnavon’s work with antiquities?’
‘Yes, I’m here at his request to inspect some of his recently collected relics. We’re surprised that he is not in attendance tonight.’
‘Oh, her Ladyship will feign to be surprised too,’ Mrs Dallow told them, indicating an older woman in a finely beaded dress, holding court and laughing loudly on the other side of the room, ‘But it’s hardly surprising. His Lordship doesn’t really like these parties. This is not the first party I’ve been to when he has been mysteriously delayed, and unable to attend.’
‘That’s such a shame.’
‘Well, he never fails to come to one of my parties, but then few of my guests ever do. You can meet such interesting people at my parties, ministers, authors, artists, fascinating people.’
‘We’re really only here to discuss Lord Carnavon’s relics,’ Mary told her.
‘I think it’s quite wonderful that you’re a professor! How very independent. I believe you have made this party much more interesting. There are only a few local councillors and that other professor that is here to give a demonstration tonight – I must admit, I wasn’t expecting it be a very stimulating evening.’
‘The other professor?’ Mary inquired
‘Yes, he’s over there,’ Mrs Dallow nodded in the direction of a man with a twirled black moustache, wearing a three piece brown suit. He’s was fiddling anxiously with his pocket-watch, his eyes glazed over as he listened to an elderly gentleman drone on about something or other.
‘He’s giving a demonstration of some new scientific aparatus I believe,’ Mrs Dallow continued, ‘Though I doubt Ms Hollis will find much of interest in that, she seems more intrigued by his moustache!’
Mary listened patiently as Mrs Dallow began explaining the characters of the other guests, though James quickly found himself uninterested. He wandered over to the buffet tables, and indulged his curiosity for all the food laid out. His mind quickly filled with a dissection of the dishes, calculating how each was prepared, pondering the precise ingredients and generally marvelling at the care taken with them. He looked up and saw Elly was adding some more food to the table. She smiled at him, and indicated towards the basket of bread rolls. There was his strange little carving-imitation roll. He stepped over to her,
‘Thank you for your help earlier, I hope you didn’t get into any trouble’ he said.
‘Oh no, sir, it was my pleasure,’ she replied. James suddenly remembered the pictures he had seen earlier.
‘I, uh, James… please, just call me James’ he stammered.
‘Oh, I couldn’t do that, sir,’ Elly replied awkwardly.
‘James!’ came the Nanny’s voice suddenly, ‘I could have used your assistance there!’ Elly used the moment to quickly scamper back to the kitchens, feeling a little relieved, as James turned to Mary. She was standing behind him, with a stern look that was rapidly becoming familiar.
‘Sorry,’ James said, but before he could pretend to be contrite, Mary had grabbed him under the arm, and was leading him to a cloaked contraption in the corner of the room, standing in front a row of finely decorated, probably-not antique floor vases.
‘Now let’s see what this demonstration is going to be about’ Mary said, pulling the cloak from the device. Underneath on a wooden pedestal was a complex contraption, consisting of a small flowering shrub in a terrarium, surrounded by metal coils, various bronze cogs and finely crafted moving components.
‘Well, well, well…’ Mary muttered.
‘Can I help you Madame? We are not due for the demonstration yet,’ said the other professor, who had promptly joined them.
‘It’s Professor Poppins, actually, and I’d like to know how you explain this device’
‘Well professor, I’m Dr Garrison Reynolds, and might I suggest you wait as the others have, the multi-spectrum galvanic oscillator is a delicate piece of equipment.’
‘I was lead to believe you were a professor!’
‘One can be both! Now-’
‘And are you sufficiently prepared for the consequences of using a device such as this?’ Mary demanded. Dr Reynolds fixed her with a most enigmatic look.
‘You have nothing to worry about, dear, I quite know what I’m doing’
Mary reached forward to make some adjustment to the device, but the Doctor intervened holding her back quite imprudently.
‘Really, Professor,’ he declared, ‘You mustn’t meddle with what you don’t understand!’
‘One shouldn’t assume how much others understan-’
‘Let’s get this demonstration started!’ the Doctor declared abruptly, pushing Mary and James back, and gesturing to the other guests to gather around.
‘What was that all about, Mary?’ James asked as the lights were dimmed and a crowd formed.
‘His multi-spectrum galvanic oscillator will emit a sub-space frequency that the Daleks will most certainly notice’
Dr Reynolds was espousing the wonders of his machine, the likes of which even the scientists in London were astounded by, apparently. Though James didn’t understand what Mary was on about, he was able to deduce the implications.
‘So the Daleks are probably going to turn up soon?’ he asked
‘Let’s hope Dr Reynolds is as prepared as he thinks’ Mary whispered.
‘So he was the one who took the rock thingy…’
‘He was, but it is not in his possession any more,’ Mary replied, patting one of the pockets of her dress and giving him a knowing look.
‘How did you manage that?’
‘I discovered it in his coat pocket when he so rudely manhandled me’
‘Discovered?’ James asked, raising an eyebrow.
Mary smirked and simply tapped the side of her nose.
It seemed that Dr Reynolds had finally stopped expostulating on London scientists, and had finally set the machine in action. It was whirring, building in pitch, until the Doctor flipped a switch. It went silent, and then streams of electricity began sparking across the coils that surrounded the plant. The easily impressed guests applauded with delight, as Mary slipped through them, seemingly to get a better view. The flickering sparks died down and the room became very dark, a quiet descending on the group. Then the sound of another switch, and the flowering shrub began to glow, growing brighter and brighter. It was dazzling, bright enough to illuminate the room, and the crowd oohed and aahed in awe.
‘Humph!!’ Mary quite audibly declared to the room, from behind the device on the other side of the crowd. James noticed that she was holding her umbrella again.
‘Do you have a question, professor?’ Dr Reynolds asked, icily.
‘You are a charlatan, Dr Garrison Reynolds!’ Mary announced, ‘You have merely reversed photosynthesis, hardly profound!’
The guests held their breath, bated, but then Dr Reynolds merely chuckled.
‘Quite, it seems you know the secret to this science,’ he retorted, unfazed.
‘Well, I think it is quite beautiful,’ said Mrs Dallow, stepping forward from the crowd.
‘I suppose, in a quaint sort of way,’ Mary conceded, ‘However would Lord Carnavon’s guests be quite so appreciative of your chicanery if they knew your true purpose here was to steal one of his precious artefacts?’
Dr Reynolds gave her the dirtiest, most intensely studied look, as the guests gasped in shock. The nanny may have liked to believe it was the dramatic impact of her revelation, but in truth, at that moment five Daleks burst through the windows of the ballroom.
Several ladies and one or two of the men screamed hysterically, and at least one fainted, as the the Daleks landed at the end of the ballroom and advanced towards the group.
‘Ah, my fine guests, I take it you got my message. Welcome, welcome!’ Dr Reynolds addressed them, as if it were his own castle.
‘WHO ARE YOU TO SUMMON US?!’ screached the lead Dalek.
‘Why, I’m the esteemed Professor Garrison Reynolds, and I have something of great value that you have been searching far and wide for.’
‘ALUMITE?!’ the Dalek responded.
‘SURRENDER THE ALUMITE OR YOU WILL BE EXTERMINATED!’
‘Now we both know you will exterminate me anyway,’ Professor Reynolds replied calmly, ‘But then I wouldn’t be able to tell you the locations of the other pieces of Skarovian Alumite I’ve discovered. What a dreadful waste that would be. No, gentlemen, I think a little business arrangement between us will be the most mutually beneficial.’
This gave the Daleks pause for thought, and their beady eye stalks studied the professor carefully.
‘It’s very bad form to make promises you can’t keep, particularly to Daleks,’ Mary said.
‘Hush woman!!’ was the professor’s reply, never for a moment taking his eyes off the Daleks.
‘SHOW US THE ALUMITE!!’ decreed the lead Dalek suddenly.
Professor Reynolds reached into his pocket, and a stricken look came across his face. He started patting his other pockets, looking more panicked.
‘I, er… just a moment… ‘ he stammered.
‘Now see here, I’m sure the good professor-’ interjected Mrs Dallow, having realised that she would never have a party able to top this one. But she was interrupted by a screach of ‘SILENCE!’ from the lead Dalek, at the same time that one of the others turned and fired a deadly blast at her from one of it’s protuberances. Mrs Dallow exploded in heat for an instant, that became nothing more than a cloud of smoke and a small pile of dust, unfortunately confirming that her long held feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day, was in fact true.
It would not have seemed possible that the group of remaining guests had any more hysterical screaming in them, but they did. It was only for the same Dalek sweeping its laser in their direction that the group managed to quieten, even without its command.
‘Wait!’ cried Mary, stepping out of the group and holding the alumite carving up in her hand, ‘I have the alumite you want.’
Dr Reynolds looked at her with some confusion.
‘Did you steal my alumite?!’ he said angrily to her.
‘Lord Carnavon’s alumite had already been stolen by you!’
‘Thieving wench!’ Dr Reynolds exclaimed.
‘You call murderers gentlemen and simple nannies wenches! We are not going to get along, Doctor.’
The daleks seemed to be scanning the carving in her hand. Mary stepped towards them, brushing the table and knocking a silver tray covered in used napkins and cutlery on to the floor.
‘FOOLISH WOMAN, GIVE US THE ALUMITE!’ the lead dalek demanded.
‘Oh, silly me,’ Mary replied, ‘James, be a dear, and pick up that tray please!’
She turned to Dr Reynolds,
‘Given you have nothing to bargain with, you might want to leave!’
For a brief moment Dr Reynolds looked panic stricken, though only Mary and James noticed,
‘I still know where the other alumite is!’ he told her, then to the daleks,
‘I can help you get the other alumite, you know. You ought to be working with me!’
‘LIES!’ cried the dalek
‘No, it’s true, I know where to find it’
‘YOU CLAIMED TO HAVE ALUMITE, BUT YOU DO NOT. YOU ARE A LIAR’
Dr Reynolds could see this conversation was not going his way. The daleks all turned their lasers on him. Mary’s keen perception caught the flick of the Dr’s hand from his pocket, and saw the cloud of smoke appear just a second before the lasers burst from their canons as the daleks yelled, ‘EXTERMINATE!’
The smoke cleared and Dr Reynolds was gone.
‘GIVE US THE ALUMITE, OR YOU ARE NEXT!’
‘You should say “please” when you want something. Weren’t you ever taught any manners!’ Mary replied, slowly stepping back to the Dr’s machine.
‘MANNERS ARE FOR THE WEAK!’
‘Manners are for everybody! And since you don’t know what will happen if you shoot someone holding alumite, you really ought to use them’
The daleks were moving in on Mary now.
‘GIVE US THE ALUMITE … PLEASE!’
Mary smiled, and dropped the carving into the Doctor’s machine, on top of the flower.
‘Very good,’ she said, ‘You may have it in a few moments.’
She flicked the switch at the side of the machine, and the flower began to glow brilliantly again.
‘YOU CANNOT DESTROY ALUMITE!’
‘No, but I can temporally freeze it’s energy for a hundred years! I suppose it will make a nice trinket in the meantime.’
The daleks were enraged.
The lead dalek opened fire on Mary, but fortunately she had lightning reflexes, opening her umbrella just in time to deflect the laser. Another dalek fired towards James, who remembered he was still holding the silver tray not a moment too soon. He deflected the laser with it, and it hit one of the daleks, scarring it’s midsection.
‘Good work, James!’ Mary called to him.
‘Everyone grab a tray, defend yourselves!’ James called to the huddled guests, as he deflected another blast from the daleks. The group quickly came to their senses, grabbing serving trays and bouncing the laser beams back at the daleks. A man in the group was hit, bursting into cloud of smoke, then ash, but it only served to spur everyone with greater determination. James managed to bounce a beam directly back at one of the dalek’s laser cannons, and it exploded in a mass of sparks.
‘RETREAT!’ came the lead dalek’s sudden cry. They were moving back across the ballroom now, lasers still firing, the group of guest advancing with their defensive silverware. Eventually they flew back out the broken windows, and then they were gone.
The crowd gave a little cheer of success. Mary rushed over to James,
‘You saw it too, didn’t you, we need to find out where Dr Reynolds has gone!’
James nodded. Mary then turned and addressed the guests,
‘Thank you everyone, I hope you enjoyed Lord Carnavon’s little show… a form he calls “interactive theatre”!’’
There was moment of silence from the group, then they started clapping and congratulating each other. While the group was deluding itself with relief that the horror they had just experienced was just a little light entertainment, Mary shooed James out of the room, grabbing her carpet bag and headed back downstairs. On the landing they ran into Elly.
‘Oh, you’re safe!’ she exclaimed.
‘Yes, everyone is- well, mostly everyone is alright,’ James replied, ‘How did you get out?’
‘In the commotion I slipped out through the servants entrance, and discovered Dr Reynolds hiding there. I thought the creatures had killed him! He was startled when he saw me, and rushed down stairs and through the servants quarters. I chased him, but his was too fast for me, so I came back to find you.’
‘That was very brave of you,’ Mary pointed out, ‘We ought to find out where he went, but I think it will be too late for that now. It’s time we left.’
Elly looked at James a little forlornly. She open her mouth to say something to him, but he suddenly leaned forward and kissed her passionately. Then he seemed to catch himself, pulling back, his face red and flustered,
‘I, err, just wanted to thank you, Elly,’ he said.
‘No, thank you, Mr James,’ she replied, grabbing him, and kissing him back.
The nanny coughed.
‘We really must be going,’ she said sternly.
‘I’m so pleased I got to meet you, Elly,’ James said, pulling away again, ‘Please keep baking, you’re really very good.’
‘Oh, I certainly will. You’ve inspired me.’ Elly responded, smiling. She kissed him on the cheek, as he and Mary departed back up the stairs and into one of the empty rooms. Behind him, he thought he heard Elly saying,
‘But the front door is downstairs…’
Once the door was shut, Mary set down her carpet bag, opened it up, and they both climbed inside. James managed to make his way down the spiral staircase with more aplomb this time, as Mary sat at her dressing table and set her time machine on its course. James sat down in an armchair and noticed that his hands were still trembling slightly from the surge of adrenalin.
‘What just happened?’ he asked, in a slight daze. Mary turned to him, and told him kindly,
‘Get changed out of that suit, and make yourself a cup of tea.’
James obeyed, and as he did, Mary went on,
‘No one has a very clear understanding of the full properties of alumite, including the daleks. As I surmised correctly, their scanning technology is hazy at best – as long as our fake carving was in the vicinity of the original, they wouldn’t be able to tell which was which. Equally, they are scared to do anything that might damage it, they don’t know how it will react.’
‘So can you really time freeze the alumite, then?’ James asked
‘I don’t know. However, I have temporally frozen the energy in that bread roll for a hundred years. It’s why the dalek came on the day of you bake sale. They believe the alumite would be of use to them again.’
‘What do they want with the alumite, anyway?’
‘That’s what I’d like to know. I’d also like to find Dr Garrison Reynolds again, he might be able to help me on that front.’
At that moment there came the familiar shudder, and James realised that they had arrived. They climbed out the bag, into the same room they had been in before, although now it was daylight, and the decor was changed, and older looking. James was home. Well, in the general historical vicinity of home.
Mary picked up her bag, and they walked through into the ballroom where they had fought the daleks what seemed like just moments before.
‘So, you hid the real alumite carving here somewhere, to fool the daleks should they have scanned for it at some point in the last hundred years!’ James declared
‘Very good deduction. It’s magnetically attracted to ceramic, remember’ Mary replied. She stepped over to the now antique vases lining the side of the room, and with the hilt of her umbrella, swung and promptly smashed to pieces one of the vases. The parrot handle of her umbrella cawed angrily.
‘That was antique! You didn’t need to break it!’ James exclaimed.
‘It was rather hideous though,’ responded Mary, stooping to collect the carving from the shards.
‘What happened to the original?!’ was James’ shocked response, when Mary held up a smaller carving, made from a shiny, black material.
‘This is the original. What we saw in the display case, what we threw out the window for the dalek, was your bread roll all along.’
‘But that was what I copied to make the bread roll!’
‘Precisely,’ Mary responded. James’ brow furrowed as he tried to make sense of this conundrum.
‘Anyway, I must get this to a safe pace, away from the daleks’ scanners, before they realise that they just have a lump of bread. Now the temporal freeze has worn off, it will likely start to go moldy.’
Mary slipped the real alumite carving in her pocket, and opened up her carpet bag.
‘Is… is that it then?’ asked James.
‘You should probably get back to your stall, you haven’t been gone long.’ Mary instructed him. James looked a little forlorn. The Nanny, who was now standing inside her carpet bag, tilted his chin up, with her finger.
‘It’s been marvelous to have your assistance, James,’ she told him warmly, ‘You were a real asset to the task at hand. I do hope we get to work together again someday.’
With that, she leaned in and gave him a kiss on the cheek, as she began to sink down into bag. She was smiling serenely at him as her head finally disappeared, and the to top of the bag snapped shut after her. Immediately there was a low, grumbling noise, the bag began to flicker until eventually it had disappeared, and the Nanny had gone.
James hurried back to his stall, trying to collect him. The weather was still miserable, and no one seemed at all interested in his confections. He managed to sell a couple of books, signed off course, but his heart suddenly just wasn’t in it. James’ mind was elsewhere as the dreary afternoon wore on, and eventually he decided to pack it in, before the little fete was over. ‘How on earth had any of that been possible?’ he wondered to himself as he packed his stuff into his car. Had he had some sort of terrible hallucination? Perhaps toffee, licorice, chilli cupcakes were not such a good idea afterall. Would he ever really see her again? As he made his way home, his mind was full of questions, dreams and speculations. Nothing would be quite the same again, that was for sure. As he heaved his gear up to his front door, he nearly tripped on something. There sitting on the step was a large carpet bag. He picked it up, and took it inside with him.