It was later in the week and my memories of the astounding adventure with the Leopard Ladies of Mercury was beginning to diminish. Everyday events were returning to normal in ravaged London and my mind was distracted constantly by the steady stream of survivors of the damage inflicted in and around Woolwich (inadvertently, I hasten to add, by Carruthers, the lovely Elizabeth, and myself) as they sought my skills in the surgical practice.
As the Sunday wore on I found myself totally embroiled in removing a dartboard from the buttocks region of a portly woman of indeterminate age – aforesaid object having been inserted most forcibly upon the dear when the tsunami tore asunder The Courting Armadillos public house in Bunton Street – and neglected to notice that a visitor had entered the examination room without alerting Fanny, my usually reliable receptionist.
"The indentations of the twenty, one, and eighteen are really quite prominent, I’m afraid," I remarked to my patient. "Liberal application of Burke and Hare’s Mystery Moisturiser should reduce the effect over time though. In the meantime, if you refrain from exposing your rear in public I imagine that there will be no lasting damage."
"Thankyou doctor. I … oh! Who’s that?"
I glanced over my shoulder to where the portly patient was looking and first observed the quiet visitor to the room who sat upright on the Chesterfield sofa against the back wall.
"You shouldn’t be here!" I blurted out immediately, but I confess that even as the words rushed past my lips my thoughts betrayed the very sounds they made. My new visitor was quite singularly the most handsome woman upon whom my eyes had ever rested.
The stranger pulled out a fan from the handbag she had clasped to her lap and gently wafted her face with it. I hadn’t thought it was that hot in the room but I could feel a warmth appearing on my face at that moment too, not to mention an ungentlemanly stirring within the lower regions of my physique.
"Mrs Warburton-Stimulant, perhaps you should leave now," I informed my patient and I waited until she had extricated herself from the examining bench, pulled down her undergarments and overgarments, and hastened from the room before I attempted some form of conversation with the young lady with whom I suddenly realised I was all alone.
"If it’s privacy you required before talking then you now have it," I stated in as commanding tone as I could muster. Apparently this was the case for the lady finally closed her fan with a snap, stood, and spoke.
"You are the doctor who recently ventured to the innards of the solar system and returned intact, are you not?" she asked.
"I suspect you are already fully aware of my credentials," I spluttered, still transfixed by her youthful beauty. "Now may I know who you are? And perhaps you could fashion me with a reason as to your intrusion into my practice before I instruct Fanny to send for a member of the constabulary post haste."
"Calm yourself doctor," she commanded. Her commanding tone was more polished than mine had been. Indeed, her entire bearing belied her adolescent appearance and I surmised she was most likely the beneficiary of a most high standard of upbringing. "My name is Lady Jane Pearl-Necklace – of the Hertfordshire Pearl-Necklaces before you ask – and I need the urgent assistance of an experienced interplanetary explorer on a mission of utmost secrecy for Queen Victoria."
Had I been sitting I would have stood at the very mention of our beloved monarch but alas! I was not and so was forced to merely puff out my chest as impressively as propriety permitted in order to display my pride.
"For Her Majesty I accept!" I exclaimed but then added, "Would not my old friend Carruthers be a more suitable candidate?"
"I’m very sorry to say but your old friend Carruthers died from complications relating to his severed hand on Mercury." I was aghast at this news but had enough presence of mind to note the cold and unemotional way in which Lady Jane imparted it to me. I was both repelled by her inhumanity and deeply awestruck by the level of breeding that had produced such a fine example of British womanhood. Fleetingly, my heart went out to Carruthers’ niece Elizabeth. How must she be coping? I wondered.
"And Carruthers’ niece Elizabeth," continued Lady Jane, shocking me with the coincidence of discussing my private thoughts, "was trampled to death by a runaway Hansom cab yesterday near Whitechapel."
"Nelson’s ghost!" I whispered in despair. For a moment I was lost in a world of memories, replaying the time that Carruthers and I discovered Atlantis in Kent, and the time when Carruthers rescued me from the clutches of the Surrey Chess Cult, and, of course, our most recent jaunt to another world entirely. It was hard to believe that he was now gone and, with him, his niece, upon whose bosom I had once rested my face.
Suddenly I became aware of a change in the room and lifted my head from my temporary fugue. Lady Jane was crouched in front of me – startling me with her proximity – so that our heads were level.
"Look at me doctor," she said calmly and, with some great struggle, I stopped staring down the valley of her cleavage and let our eyes meet. Time seemed to stop and I felt a most unsettling yet pleasantly exhilirating sense of vertigo as I tried to store away in my memory every blue and indigo facet of her irises. She blinked, breaking the enchantment.
"There will be time to mourn later but the urgency of which I spoke earlier grows with each passing moment and you must come with me now."
I wanted to tell her that I would gladly follow her to the ends of the Earth for the flimsiest of reasons just to be near but I could not find the words and so nodded my head and asked where we were going.
"To Jupiter," she said quite simply. "By way of Dagenham."
On the short trip by taxiblimp to Her Majesty’s Imperial Spaceport just east of Dagenham Lady Jane expounded on the details of the mission. Naturally, I was sworn to the utmost secrecy at the time but with the ins and outs of this thrilling adventure recently released to the public in the tabloid journals I feel it is safe to confirm what you surely know I was told by now.
Queen Victoria’s bosom – as ample as it had ever been – simply wasn’t enough for her consort Albert any more, but the finest British astronomers at Greenwich had last year discovered evidence of Amazonian women living on our neighbouring planetary giant Jupiter. It was widely felt that if such a thing as an expert in the field of womanly chest cushions existed in God’s great galaxy then Jupiter was it. Everyone certainly hoped so, as the empire could well depend on it.
Dagenham Spaceport had not escaped the destruction of the previous week but a solitary rocketship was still fully intact and already loaded into the launching cannon when we touched down. There was very little time for formalities and both Lady Jane and I were rushed through the rubble-strewn former jewel in Britain’s cosmological exploratory arm. In no time we found ourselves within the confines of the rocketship.
"Am I to assume that you are an expert in the field of non-terrestrial encounters, your ladyship?" I ventured, as much as for something to break the silence while the launching cannon was packed with high explosive as for any other reason.
"I am," she replied with perhaps the merest hint of a demure smile on her perfect lips. "You must remember the Martian invasion of two years ago? Their war machines were in the end no match for the biological arsenal developed to fight the Turks and it was I who infected the aliens by courting their leaders and slipping the tainted sugar cubes into their teas."
"What a remarkable young woman you are Lady Jane!" I said with genuine pride at being in her presence. I had heard tales of the persuasive aristocrat who had nearly single-handedly defeated our three-legged enemies through the art of seduction but never imagined that the hero was actually a heroine or that I would even meet such a person, let alone share a rocketship journey to another planet.
"And you are a fool my dear doctor!" she suddenly cried, leaping from her cushioned rocket seat and disappearing through the brass hatch before I could convince an exasperated "What?" to emerge in response.
The hatch swung heavily and clanged loudly. The reverberations could be felt through the suddenly ominously blood red carpet and I gripped the armrests quite roughly with a cold dread. Silence descended while I gathered my wits and tried the hatch. Locked from the outside, as I’m sure you could guess. There was just the sound of my breathing for company until the telephone rang on the mahogany bureau.
"Hello," I said as calmly as possible into the mouthpiece.
"Hello doctor," came the reply. An angered ruffian’s voice. The speaker had the lilt of an Essex docker’s upbringing with undertones of a later interest in botanical or zoological studies to my admittedly untrained ear. "As you may have guessed the secret mission to Jupiter will not be taking place quite as planned."
"The mission is too dangerous for the lovely Lady Jane to undertake?" I asked hopefully.
Another voice answered the phone; female and undeniably cockney, quite strange and yet quite stomach-churningly reminiscent. "I was never going on this particular journey old man," she hissed.
In the background I heard the sound of a scoundrel counting down from ten: 10 … 9 … 8 …
"You caused us a lot of pain last week and now you’re going to pay," she resumed. My mind – normally as sharp as a tinker’s wit as it needs to be when one embarks on adventures or repairs ruptured spleens – would not churn over the facts smartly enough for my liking. 7 … 6 … 5 …
"Now it’s time for some payback. You’re still going to Jupiter, doctor, but it’s a one way trip with no buxom amazons awaiting you at the end!" 4 … 3 …
A convoluted and cunning plan to seek revenge on me! And all because of an accidental catastrophic disaster upon the planet that killed millions. My mouth was a flurry of activity as I tried to form apologetic sounds that might appease my kidnappers. At their core they were still human beings capable of love and sympathy and impersonating the aristocracy. 2 …
"Don’t ever mess with lepidopterists again!" she signed off. My heart sunk. Oh blast! 1 …