The Second Doctor Who Christmas Story;Jo Grant;Katy Manning;Doctor Who;Third Doctor;Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart;Jeri Massi
The Second Doctor Who Christmas Story
Written by Jeri Massi
It was something of a surprise--but no comfort whatever--to find that the night had given them a generous supply of snow. It only made for hazardous travel down towards the valley below, where one of the tiny villages maintained a lock-up for the occasional drunks that could not find the way home.
The two beefy police constables spoke very little as their clumsy, top heavy, badly designed four-wheel drive vehicle slipped and slid around in the steep places. Aside from uttering things under their breaths like "Gum!" or "Blasted patches in spots like this!" they said nothing. On first arresting the Doctor at the great house on the estate, they had been awed by the presence of Uncle Chubby and doubly awed at such an audacious crime as the theft of a top secret bit of microfilm. But by the time they had been on the slippery roads for an hour with the Doctor handcuffed in the back seat, and the entire ungainly vehicle sometimes ready to turn a full 360 degrees, they more viewed him as a blasted nuisance and a poor reason to break one's neck on bad roads right before Christmas.
At last the road leveled out a bit and they drove onto streets that had been shoveled in some places and plowed in others. At last one of the constables spoke. "A bad time to be thieving anything, if you don't mind my saying so!"
"You must think me very stupid to steal anything from a man and then stay right in his house!" the Doctor snapped. "If you think I stole that bit of outdated technology from the old fool, then you are twice the nincompoop that he is!"
"Here, here sir, he's a high government official!" the other said.
"Proof of nincompoopery!"
"You ought not--"
"Shut up!" the Doctor roared. "I've taken just about all I'm going to take. Throw me in jail if you like; just leave me in peace!"
The first constable could not help but mutter, "And at Christmas too. Tsk, tsk. What a bad lot."
Still, in spite of their disapproval of him, they safely led him into a small low building equipped with a front room and a back hallway that accommodated three tiny cells. The walls were solid, heavily plastered and whitewashed, the doors reinforced. His handcuffs were removed and he was ushered inside one of the cells. A single window on the outside wall, very high up, was too small to allow any escape even if he could have broken the reinforced glass. But it admitted the morning light, gray and with the warning of more snow.
Still, he had no plans to escape. And the cell, though spartan, was warm enough, equipped with a cot and an oddly cheerful red wool blanket. He was given an excellent breakfast of fried potatoes, eggs, and country bacon, with toast. It improved his mood tremendously. But he began to worry about Jo. It was all very well for him to sit in a cell and outlast her uncle's suspicion, but she could not outlast her own fears.
To his surprise, the door to his cell was opened and a uniformed man bearing several stripes on his blue tunic entered.
"Would you mind answering a few questions, Doctor?" he asked.
"No, go ahead with your questions," the Doctor told him.
"Were you about the house last night?"
The Doctor turned to him. "We were all together until sometime between ten and eleven, and then the uncle, the aunt, my own companion Miss Grant, and I carried the children up to bed and retired ourselves."
"And the others?" he asked.
"I only know of another nephew, and the old fellow they call the Dear Old Man," he said. "They were absent from the time we arrived. Then of course there's a secretary and a hired man. They brought in our luggage and left."
The sergeant nodded. "You knew where the microfilm was kept?"
"No," the Doctor told him.
"But you knew of it?"
"Only because he told me about it. I never solicited the information."
"What prompted him to tell you then?"
The Doctor shrugged. "Too much brandy . . . I suppose I had been telling him about some of my experiences in service with UNIT; that's a United Nations team that his niece and I are attached to. Perhaps he wanted to match some of my stories with one of his own."
"Yes, his niece has already given us a statement about your history of service," the man said. "I don't mind telling you this is an uncomfortable situation for all of us, sir. She's very upset with her uncle, and he's adamant that you must be the culprit. Your belongings have already been searched, and the men have phoned back that they've found nothing. There's nothing to indicate that you left your room last night."
"Then you'll release me?" the Doctor asked.
"I want very much to release you. At most I can keep you for only 24 hours unless they find something against you. I'd like to get you out of here sooner."
"Well." The Doctor found himself relenting of the opinion that all country police forces were full of blockheads and sheepish yeomen. "You seem like a very reasonable man."
"Then I hope you won't mind my saying that visiting the bedroom of his lordship's young niece may not have been the most politic thing to do while staying in his house sir," the officer said.
The Doctor sighed and bit back the first sharp retort that came to his mouth. Instead he said, "I have a very close relationship with Miss Grant, Officer. But not that close. She is an agent of the Crown, as you know, and she has recently been subjected to various . . uh . . . mental tortures."
"Has she indeed?"
The Doctor seemed lost in thought, but he answered. "She was getting better. It started with her seeing things even when she was awake. Then it receded to just when she was sleeping. But even then the episodes were getting shorter and shorter. But for the last ten days or so, it hasn't improved at all. Some time before dawn, she'll start to see this thing coming after her, chasing her--"
"And she awakens before it gets her?"
"Yes, so far. I often wake her up. That's why it's important for me to be near her."
"Why is that? Do you think there would be a danger if she were not awakened?"
"I don't know," he said. "But she's never yet been apart from me since it all started."
"But what if it never stops? She'll have to learn to live with it." the police man asked. "We all have nightmares and still get by."
"No, because it's getting worse," the Doctor told him. "I mean, the episodes are shorter but are quite severe and have been unremitting. It's interrupting her sleep patterns too much. It could kill her eventually." He glanced at the young officer. "But it would break her mind long before that."
Awed, the sergeant's mouth opened, and then he asked, "But who did this to her?"
The Doctor hesitated, and then he said, "Children."
The Doctor shook his head, refusing to explain further.
"You don't think she's gone mad already?"
The question startled the Doctor. "Of course not!' Then he became angry. "It's just that attitude that concerns me for her safety! People diagnosing her and putting labels on her without understanding!" As the sergeant said nothing, the Doctor added, "The human mind has a capacity to fear as a means of self preservation." "Of course sir."
"Well don't you see? Fear cannot come out of nowhere, man. It means that humans are born with an a priori sense of dread--an inborn fear of certain things. Some of those things are very rational things to fear--being left alone or left behind, falling from a great height. But the human mind also fears irrational things. Way down deep in every human is the capacity to fear the unknown. That's also a part of human survival. It makes humans cautious when they explore new situations. But the human mind--to maintain its capacity to fear--populates itself with all kinds of boogey men and monsters and hideous creatures."
"And that's normal?" Then the police man shrugged and answered himself. "Sounds normal. It's what makes kids think there's something under the bed."
"Well, her barriers on keeping those unknown fears recessed in her mind have been damaged," the Doctor told him. "They didn't know what they were doing to her. It was a game to them. Just a game."
"Who?" the man demanded.
But the Doctor did not answer him. Another constable strode in through the open door. "Miss Grant is here, sir," he said to his commanding officer. He lowered his voice. "His lordship's niece." Then he spoke more loudly. "She wants custody of the prisoner."
The sergeant frowned thoughtfully. "What's his lordship say?"
"All right then. Come on, Doctor, let's get you out of here."
* * * *
To the Doctor's surprise, cousin Philip had been drafted to drive Jo down to the village on her quest. He was a tad less surly this morning, perhaps interested by the events and the uproar of the early morning. He glanced the Doctor up and down very quickly and nodded to him. But Jo greeted her mentor with a quick hug and an immediate apology.
"I'm so sorry, Doctor--" she began.
"It's all right, my dear. Quite all right," he said. "I had just time enough for an excellent breakfast." He glanced at the sergeant, who took a seat behind the lone desk in the front room.
"Right then, Doctor, we're going to let this go," he said. "Unless you want it entered into the books, we'd just as soon let it pass."
"No, that's fine. I don't intend to issue any formal protests or legal actions."
"If you want to get on your way then, you may just beat the snow," the sergeant told him.
They were silent on their way out to Uncle Chubby's massive, four-wheel drive car. This was a much better vehicle than the police version and was much more comfortable. As Philip would have climbed into the front seat, the Doctor stepped to the door and said, "I'll drive."
The young man nodded and got into the back seat. Without a second look at him, the Doctor came around the front to open Jo's door for her. "You all right?" he asked her.
"I am now." But her face was peaked, the hollowness of her eyes more pronounced.
He touched her cheek. "Are you sure?"
"It found me; right before you woke me up; it had me." She forced back her fear so that she could speak. "I feel it close to me, now. It knows where I am."
"It's just a dream, Jo."
She looked up at him as though surprised, and for a long moment she was very still. And then she didn't answer. He changed the subject. He jerked his head towards the vehicle.
"Why in the world did you bring him along?"
"I wasn't in much shape to drive down after you were taken away," she said. "Philip's a good boy, Doctor. The D.O.M. said so. He's just fallen in with the wrong crowd for a bit. Do try to be pleasant with him." He scowled at this. In spite of his own unusual clothes and vintage roadster, the Doctor did not approve of faddish young men. He opened the door for her. "He did take your side against Uncle Chubby," she added.
"All right, then. I'll behave."
Though the morning sky was solid with slate coloured clouds, the snow continued to hold off. On their way back up to the estate, the Doctor made an attempt at polite conversation. "So Philip," he said. "Your cousin Jo tells me you've been abroad most of your life."
"Only if you consider boarding schools as being abroad," he said with a hint of irony in his voice. "Mostly West Germany."
"Philip's parents are very active with African governments," Jo said helpfully. "They do a lot of country hopping from time to time." She turned back to address her younger cousin. "What happened to your great friend Tobias? I thought he would be coming back with you for the hols."
Philip's dark eyes brightened with a trace of interest. "He got a chance to go on a college tour of the USSR," he said. "Lucky bloke. I told him he was crazy if he didn't go. Last minute opening with a group from Scotland. So off he went."
"The USSR sounds a little grim for Christmas," the Doctor said. Jo explained. "Tobias doesn't have much of a family. Or much money from what I understand. But he's a brilliant lad."
The Doctor gently slid the car to a halt in the snow as a deer wandered out and then leaped away across the snowy road.
"Oh how lovely!" Jo exclaimed. The Doctor let the car idle as she raised herself to watch the deer bound downhill off on the Doctor's right. He watched the white tail zigzagging as it leaped through the trees. Further down the hill, a figure heavily muffled in a dark, long coat emerged from a stand of evergreens, dragging some dead boughs. It raised a hand as though waving, and for a moment the Doctor thought it was waving to them, but then he realized that whoever it was instead was waving to the deer. The creature's bounds slowed to a canter and then to a walk, and it wandered away in search of foraging.
"Say!" the Doctor exclaimed. "Isn't that your uncle's friend? The old fellow?"
Jo sat back down and nodded. "Oh yes. He's always going about the hills," she said. "He's some sort of games keeper--at least he was. Isn't that right, cousin Philip?"
Philip only grunted, not interested. The Doctor started them off again through the snowy road.
"Anyway," Jo said. "Tobias comes from poor relations. I think his parents are dead or gone. Which is it, Philip?"
"May as well be dead," Philip said with the tone of having a grudge.
Jo was sympathetic. "Well, they never took good care of him, but he seems to do all right for himself."
"Have you met him?" the Doctor asked her.
She shook her head. "Aunt Marilla and Uncle Chubby spoke of him last year."
Philip spoke up, now more his sullen self. "They don't approve of my friends. Think he's a bad lot. They never met him either, just heard reports from the dean and all that lot."
"They were just disappointed that you didn't come home last year," she said gently. "You could have brought Tobias with you then, as now."
"Well we've seen how Uncle Chubs treats guests he don't approve of, haven't we, Jo?" Philip asked evenly, and Jo was quiet.
"That's enough about your uncle, Philip," the Doctor said quietly. "He and I will sort things out."
Philip didn't answer, but he reached into his trousers for his wallet, pulled it out, and produced a clipped photo that he passed to Jo. She glanced at it.
"Where was this taken?" she asked.
"Outside the halls, that's all," he said.
"You look like brothers! Can you see it, Doctor?" She held out the photo so that he could glance at it as he drove. It was a black and white print that showed two very lanky young men, both wearing black, with hair dyed dark. The one was Philip, smiling a half smile that was more of a leer; the other, slightly shorter, was smoking a cigarette and looking in deadpan disinterest at the camera.
"Nice to preserve your memories," the Doctor muttered. Jo handed the picture back to Philip.
An hour's drive from the village brought them back up to the estate. Uncle Chubby, obviously under the orders of Aunt Marilla, met them at the door and apologized immediately to the Doctor for all that had passed. When he was finished, he turned to Jo with the attitude of one grudgingly seeking absolution.
"Are you satisfied?" he asked her.
"I am, Uncle," she said, and he leaned down so that she could kiss his bald forehead. "That was lovely."
The Doctor realized that there must have been quite a scene in his absence. "And now the Doctor will help you search the house for that missing thingummy," she promised, stripping off her long coat and reaching for a short, heavy jacket that hung nearby. They had come into a side door of the house and were in an entry way crowded with coats, pullovers, scarves, and stocking caps. Even while she was talking, the sounds of eager, booted feet came pounding and rattling from several directions, and the four younger cousins burst into the coat room. Jo zipped up the shorter coat and pulled on a stocking cap, the type with a long tassle on the end. There was a great deal of activity as the children eagerly struggled into coats and pulled on mittens. Philip had disappeared again.
Impervious to it all, Uncle Chubby said, "Jolly decent of you to help, Doctor. My niece tells me you are a fabulous detective as well as a scientist, so perhaps we can sort this matter out. Come on then."
Up until this moment, the Doctor had not said a word, and as Uncle Chubby led him out, the hapless time lord turned to Jo. "What about you?" he asked.
"We're going sledding, of course." She zipped up Julia's jacket.
And then can we go to the haunted lodge?" Julia asked, her bright dark eyes fixed hopefully on Jo's face.
Oh, you're just dying to go to that old wreck, aren't you?" Jo asked her.
She was too little last year," John said. "She thinks she's a big girl now."
"I am a big girl!" Julia exclaimed. "I can go to the lodge if Jo says I may!"
"All right, after sledding," Jo promised.
All the children were in stocking caps, scarves, and mittens, and she instantly led them back outside, looking more like a cocker spaniel mother with her puppies than ever before.
"Are you coming, Doctor?" Uncle Chubby called. "I'm in a dreadful mess. I need your help!"
"Yes, right away!"
* * * *
Jo's uncle showed the Doctor the tiny safe in his study where the bit of microfilm had been kept. The safe squatted against one wall, resting on a small, immovable stand. It was a small contrivance, built more to protect items from fire than from theft. His face wooden with barely concealed suspicion, Uncle Chubby stepped aside to let his guest make an inspection.
The Doctor stooped down and peered inside. It's interior space was not more than about four cubic feet. "Was it left open like this when you found it?"
"No, no, it was closed. I just opened it to check and found it empty. The envelope with the microfilm inside it was the only contents."
"That's not much of a lock on it," the Doctor observed as Uncle Chubby went to the long windows and drew back the heavy drapes to give him a better light. The study was at the back of the house in the east wing, looking out on the great sloping hillside.
"Well I thought it enough to deter the common thief," Uncle Chubby told him. "I couldn't imagine anybody more sophisticated than a mere burglar coming all the way up here to commit theft!"
"No more than a mere burglar could imagine anybody in a country house hiding a sophisticated bit of film in something as impregnable as a safe!" the Doctor exclaimed. "From his point of view, a safe is what you hide cash, jewels, and deeds in; not film."
Thoughtfully, the Doctor swung its door closed. He spun the knob, listened to it, and then spun it more carefully. Even Uncle Chubby could see that the Doctor's long fingers were sensing the roll and settling of the tumblers. The timelord shook his head grimly. "To be honest with you, sir, I think that any experienced thief could have opened this within three or four attempts."
His grim prognosis was interrupted by the sound of several high pitched screams and squeals of delight. Julia, Andrew, James, John, and Jo, all crammed together in stairstep order on a small toboggan, flashed past the window and disappeared.
Their cries of excitement and laughter became thinner as they went down the hill.
"Are you saying that a top secret design was stolen by a mere cat burglar?" Uncle Chubby demanded. "Somebody who doesn't even appreciate what it is?"
"I'm not saying that's what happened," the Doctor told him. "I'm only saying it could have happened. We'll need to search the exterior of the house; find some signs of break in. Was anything in this room disturbed?"
Uncle Chubby shrugged. "I--I don't know. The children love to play at my desk and poke around in here. When they come to visit, I just lock up all my important papers and give them free reign. They are here so seldom. I hate to tell them no. So I can't determine if anybody else has rummaged the desktop or not."
"Well have the important papers been disturbed?" the Doctor asked. "Were they broken into?"
The man shook his head. "Not a bit, but then, they are locked in the desk, and a common cat burglar would not think of searching a desk. He would search a safe and then look for household goods, wouldn't he? Things that he could pawn or fence easily."
"It may be time for us to check the silver," the Doctor said. "Let's get it settled once and for all if this was an intruder that did this or if it was done from the inside." He paused and looked severely at Uncle Chubby. "You're sure you didn't just mislay the thing?"
Uncle Chubby drew himself up with some dignity. "Perhaps I appear like a foolish old man to you, Doctor, but I'm not that foolish. I confided in you too hastily, and I later accused you of two horrible deeds. But I am not quite so guilty of 'nincompoopery' as you may think!"
The Doctor wondered how that bit of news had traveled so quickly back to the estate and then decided that the constables must have made a full report over the phone.
"I was sorely provoked by your actions, sir," the Doctor said frankly. "But I do apologize for any hasty words."
"And I was provoked by your actions, Doctor," the man returned. "First to find my very young and innocent niece in your arms; that I might pass over on the excuse of her recent experiences. But to find you half dressed in her bedroom, offering to--to--" He cut himself off, embarrassed and angry. His hands were shaking.
The Doctor quieted down. He realized that even then Uncle Chubby did not trust him with Jo.
"It was an unfortunate scene," the Doctor said at last. "And I realize how it must have looked to you, though I insist that all my intentions toward Jo are honorable. I brought her to you in the hopes that you could help her; that the welcome and the love of her family would restore her."
Uncle Chubby also became quiet. For a moment he stared up at the Doctor's eyes. For a split second the Doctor thought him to still be angry, but then he realized that the man was peering at him with an intent and open regard. It was nearly the same look that Jo sometimes had when he was trying to explain something to her.
Uncle Chubby broke the glance. He walked with the heavy, slow tread of a man who suddenly feels old. He sat in the leather chair behind his desk. "She told me things after you left this morning," he said. He waved for the Doctor to sit. As the Doctor found a chair, the excited chatter of Jo and the children again alerted him and he looked up to see them trudging up the hill past the window, pulling the toboggan along after themselves.
"I don't understand," Uncle Chubby said at last. "She believes that her life is in danger. She's afraid of something that chases her in her dreams. I asked what country on earth has the power to do that to her mind, but she said she couldn't tell me." He looked at the Doctor with both sheepishness and guilt. "I know that I'm not well educated in these things, Doctor. That's where you'll find me a nincompoop if you like. She says she feels safe with you. But what about her condition? Is there anything you can do for her?"
"You're not a nincompoop," the Doctor said softly. "Or if you are, then I am one ten times more, because I let it happen to her before I knew what was going on, and now I cannot undo it."
"You mean you cannot cure her?"
The Doctor looked down. "I don't know that anything I've tried has really helped her," he admitted. "Whatever progress she's made may be the result of her own mental resiliency--her own desire to escape her nightmares." They were both distracted by the squeals and laughter of the five nieces and nephews as the loaded toboggan shot down the hill past the window again in a blur of boots, legs, scarves, and big dark eyes. Every mouth was open, and mittened hands were waving back and forth down the length of the slender craft.
The Doctor looked out the window at the emptiness left behind in their wake. "I only know that when I'm with her, I can quiet her," he said. "That at the very first, when she saw this thing chasing her when she was awake, she could run to me and know it could not take her from me. I cannot protect her while she sleeps, but I can be instantly by her side if it preys upon her in her dreams. And I can wake her up if her sleep becomes troubled."
There was a dreadful pause. "She says . . . . the silly girl says it's going to kill her," Uncle Chubby said. "If it catches her it will kill her. That's what she told me."
"Surely that conclusion is the result of her stress and imagination," the Doctor said gruffly. "We both know that there is no real creature living inside her mind that can prey upon her."
Jo's uncle sat so still and suddenly seemed so white that the Doctor felt sorry for him all in an instant. "Are you sure, Doctor?" Uncle Chubby asked.
"There is nothing in her that can kill her!" the Doctor exclaimed, and his voice sounded horribly hollow even to him. He clung to the knowledge that he had always believed. "If she believes it will kill her, then she will let herself die of fright if she should dream that it gets her," he said. "But these are dreams, man. There's nothing really there!" He was astonished to find himself shaken as well. He felt sweat on his forehead. For a moment the possibility that there really was something that only Jo could see became very believable. With a tremendous act of his will he thrust the idea aside.
"I need a drink," Chubby said, and he unlocked a drawer in the desk and pulled out a bottle of whiskey and some glasses.
"Look, about the theft. What about the rest of the people of the household?" the Doctor asked him. "Do you trust them?"
Jo's uncle poured their drinks and handed a shot glass to the time lord. "Implicitly sir," and there was a hint of the regal in his tone. "Brewster's been with me for years. What's today, the 22nd? He'll be leaving tomorrow to have Christmas with his own family. But frankly there have been other things in my possession that could have afforded him readier cash if he were of a mind to steal them. He's an honest man."
"And Willis, the gardener?"
"Oh Doctor!" He nearly sputtered on the whiskey and then said, "Willis wouldn't even know what microfilm is, man! His father was our family's games keeper up here--"
The Doctor interrupted. "I thought the Old Man used to be game keeper."
"Eh? What's that? No, not in an official way, but he's always lived off the land and found a place by our fire. Very good to have about. Knows about the woods and the creatures and what they need. Gives excellent advice."
"Do you mean he's a tramp?"
"Tramp?" Uncle Chubby went completely blank at the question. Then he shook his head without explaining. "I wouldn't call him that if I were you."
"What does he call himself?" the Doctor asked, but Uncle Chubby appeared not to hear him.
"Doctored a little doe once. Don't know how he did it. Poor little thing got broadsided by a car right in front of the drive down there." And he gave a vague nod towards the front of the estate. The laughter was coming back past the window now as Jo and the children climbed the hill again. Not seeming to hear, Uncle Chubby went on. "I ran up to the house to get my gun and end its misery. I mean, the poor little thing was struggling in the road. No blood anywhere, but its legs must have been broken. I came out with the rifle, and there's the D.O.M., with his hands on it, making it be still. I was that dumb struck. After a few minutes it got back up on its pins, only a bit shaky, and then wandered off." He shook his head, noticed the whiskey bottle still sitting on the desk, and put it away. "I never saw the like."
"Remarkable." The Doctor nodded.
"I know who you're going to ask about next." Uncle Chubby looked at him with an air of confidentiality again. "The nephew, Philip. Hard to read that boy, Haven't seen him in years, and then he turns up all dressed in black, using slang I've never heard, listening to music I've never heard, talking about things I've never heard of. We've done our best to make him welcome. He started going bad a few years ago. Wrote to us about this new circle of friends he'd made at school. Stopped coming home. I mean, he spent most Christmasses with his parents anyway, but if they were in Africa on business, he would come home to us. Or he should have. We haven't had him here at the house for five or six years. I barely recognize him."
"Do you think he may have stolen the microfilm as a lark?"
"I asked the D.O.M. about it this morning after you--er--left. But he says Philip is a good boy and can be trusted, though he's a bit of a foolish young man."
"And that ends the matter for you?" the Doctor asked.
"Yes. Yes it does. Ever since I was a lad I've trusted the Old Man's judgement, and I've never once known him to be wrong. Nobody has ever fooled him." He rolled his eyes and looked meaningfully at the Doctor. "A man in service to his country can use a friend like that."
For a moment their eyes met, not quite a challenge from either one, but the Doctor again got the idea that Jo's uncle, in the way that Jo herself had, was trying to see into him and understand him.
The Doctor allowed the inspection and suddenly gave him a wry grin. "And what did the D.O.M. say about me?"
The other man gave a short grunt that might have been a rueful laugh or perhaps a sound of resigned exasperation. "I don't always understand what he says," he confessed. "And I never ask him twice. He said--he said you're not of this earth. He called you a stranger. But Jo spoke up so warmly in your defense that the D.O.M. told me I should trust you for her sake."
The Doctor held out his open hands. "If you so trust his judgement, and if he's so knowledgeable about things, why don't you ask him to help you find the microfilm?"
Uncle Chubby suddenly smiled. "Because it wouldn't matter to him. I've talked to him before about items of national security. He couldn't care less. Come on then, let's start our inspection of the windows and doors. I'll call for Willis."
The toboggan flashed past the window again, and again the squeals and laughter made the Doctor glance up. But just as the sounds should have died out, they turned to a terrible outcry of the children's voices.
"What's that?" Jo's uncle asked.
The outcry did not stop, and the two men ran from the room.
They didn't stop to get into their coats but raced out the side door and came around the corner of the house in time to see the toboggan at rest, slid sideways from the path, and the two youngest cousins racing towards them while the twins were at Jo's head and feet, as though trying to wake her or see if they could lift her. She was flung prone on the ground. The two men, slipping and sliding in their good shoes as they ran downhill on fresh snow, got to her quickly.
"She just suddenly fell over!" James exclaimed.
"Oh uncle, do something!" John cried. "We can't wake her up!"
The Doctor saw that she was breathing and pushed his fingers into the layers of scarf to get a pulse. "She's got a regular pulse, a bit light," he said.
"I'll get a doctor!" Uncle Chubby exclaimed as the time lord picked up his companion, lifted her, and started to the house with her.
"I am a Doctor! Get some tea made and get brandy! You, boys, James and John, you didn't hit anything while you were sledding?" Before they could answer, and to the Doctor's enormous relief, Jo's eyes fluttered open. "Jo?" he asked. "Jo, do you know where you are?"
Andrew and Julia, their dark eyes big with worry and fright, were holding the door open as the Doctor brought her in.
"It's found me," she said. "I couldn't run from it any more. It's found me, and now everything is too late."
"You're talking nonsense!" He made his voice brusque. "Get the brandy!" he shouted. He carried her into the big sitting room where they had congregated the night before. He laid her down on the long, plush sofa. The children, huddled together with fear and concern, came after him at a distance. So like Jo, they were not used to people shouting. His deadly earnestness frightened them as much as her weakness.
"Children!" he exclaimed. "Find your Aunt Marilla! Tell her I need her." He unzipped Jo's jacket and got her out of it, removed the scarf, hat and mittens, and took another, longer reading of her pulse at the wrist. There was something wrong. The Doctor took a human pulse in the Chinese fashion and could get a fairly accurate reading on the heart, lungs, liver, and that larger system of life force that the Chinese call "kidney Yang." She opened her eyes again.
"I see him," she said. "It looked like a baboon for so long. I was embarrassed to tell you it was a baboon chasing me. But it's not a baboon. It just looks like one if you can't focus on its face."
"Jo, there's nothing there. It's a trick in your mind. A waking dream," he insisted. The heart was still reasonably strong, and the lungs were clear. But the kidney Yang pulse unmistakably showed that her life force was waning.
"It's not always reliable," he whispered.
"No, that was no good, Doctor," she said. She was suddenly calm, resigned. "None of it was any good. It was all one long terrific struggle. Even coming here. Eating the gingerbread, going shopping, sledding with the children. I was running the whole time, trying to be so alive that it couldn't find me. But it never stopped looking. It never needs rest."
"You need to stay calm and very quiet," he suggested. But it was unmistakable, even to eyes that did not want to see it. He had been by the side of too many dying people to not recognize the langour, the semi-daze of a person in the early stages of dying. He had his fingers on her pulse line the whole time. The heart pulse abruptly began to slow down. "This cannot happen," he whispered to himself. It defied reason and medical science.
"I'm struggling even now, Doctor," she said to him, and the unearthly calmness about her faded as she spoke. "I don't want him to take me. He bites, and it hurts. Death is a tearing." For a moment her eyes were big with fear, but then the irresistible langour washed through her again. "When I fall asleep again; then I can't fight any more. He'll take me."
The Doctor's mind raced for some reason to explain what could be happening to her. "Who is he, Jo?" he asked her suddenly. "Who is this baboon-like creature that's been chasing you?"
"His face is a more like a dog's," she told him. "Now that I see it more clearly. A great big dog, with tremendous teeth, but he hunches up so when he's chasing me that he almost looks like a baboon running."
"Who is he?" he asked again.
"He's Death," she said. "Can't you see him? Haven't you ever seen him? It's been Death all along, and now he's found me."
The Doctor had no idea where the children had gone, but suddenly Jo's Aunt was along side him. The older woman looked down at Jo's face, then turned to the Doctor in alarm. "Help her!" she whispered. "Do something! Please!"
"I can't. There's nothing wrong with her! But--" He lowered his voice. "She's very close to death."
"Don't--don't--" Jo began, not to him. Her hands feebly pushed back at something. "A few minutes more--"
He gathered her up in his arms, and she seemed glad of the comfort of his presence, but she said, her voice now thin and with an asperic wheeze behind the words, "You don't hold him back any more. He knows you can't do anything." She closed her eyes and rolled her face into him, weary and frightened, and yet resigned as well. He caught her wrist and found the pulse lines. The kidney Yang was either stopped or unreadable, the heart not much better. "Make him bite through quickly," she whispered. "His face is like fire, Doctor." She opened her eyes and gave him a single glance. But against her will, her eyes closed. Her shoulders went limp. Aunt Marilla, frightened, gathered up Jo's hands in hers, and the Doctor saw that the tips of Jo's fingers, under the nails, had turned a bluish gray. The color slowly left her cheeks.
"I can't stop it!" the Doctor whispered. "I can't save her. I don't know what's doing it!"