In 1944, Joey Maynard is telling her daughters a story. In 1938, Joyce Linton is trying to change her selfish behaviour. In 1960, the triplets are facing down an invading alien force. A Chalet School/Doctor Who crossover.
St Scholastika's House Characters:
Con Maynard, Jo (Bettany) Maynard, Joyce Linton
Armishire, Future, TyrolSchool Name:
08 Jun 2011 Updated:
08 Jun 2011
Originally titled "Joey's (other) Doctor." It was the very first drabble I started at the CBB - rereading it now, it seems like my style has changed quite a bit since then. But while it isn't finished, I do hope to someday come back to it and complete the story, as it holds a special place in my heart :D
1. Chapter 1 by Nightwing
2. Chapter 2 by Nightwing
Joey loved her children dearly, but on days like today she could cheerfully strangle them all. Stephen had been grizzling since dawn - a stomach ache, she suspected - and with the elder girls at school, and Anna on her day off, this meant trying to keep him pacified and keep her eyes on her triplet daughters by herself.
And even that she would have ordinarily managed, but Margot had somehow got it into her head that the extra attention she was paying to Stephen meant that Joey didn't love her daughters any more. Connie, scared and worried by this announcement, had dissolved into tears, setting off Stephen again, and while Joey tried to calm the both of them down, little Len had for some reason taken it upon herself to tackle Margot like a rugger-player, knocking her over and knocking her own head against an armchair in the bargain. Finally, the exasperated Joey had threatened all three girls with early bed and had told them stay in the nursery and stay quiet until her youngest had calmed down.
Stephen was asleep, now, with a look on his face that Joey fancied was almost triumphant. "Yes, I expect you're very pleased with yourself," she murmured to him tenderly, "upsetting the whole household with your aches and pains." She kissed his forehead and placed him gently in his crib, hoping that he would sleep off whatever what was wrong.
She'd had some time to think on what she should say to her girls. She'd obviously been wrong never to consider that they would be prone to the same jealous urges that other children were. She'd assumed, since they were used to sharing her, that sharing her with one more child would not be a problem, but after Margot's outburst today she knew they needed reassurance. The identical worried looks on their faces as she entered the nursery almost broke her heart.
"Oh, my darlings," Joey sighed, kneeling down and opening her arms wide enough to fit all three of them in a hug. "You've all been very silly today."
"But you do love us less, don't you Mama?" That was Connie, her voice small and muffled by Joey's blouse.
"No!" Joey said, as vehemently as she could. "No matter what happens, I will always love you just as much as I always have."
"Then why don't you want to play wiv us any more?" Margot chimed in.
"It's not that I don't want to, darling, it's that Stephen is very little and he needs to be with Mama as much as possible. He can't talk yet, and he can't walk, and the world is still so new to him that it's quite a scary place. When he's a little older, I'll be able to spend more time with you - and then one day all five of us will be able to play together! Would you like that?" Connie's face brightened immediately, and Len nodded happily. Margot, after a moment's consideration, agreed that she would, too.
"Now Len," quoth Joey, turning to her eldest daughter, "whatever did you mean by attacking Margot in such a manner?"
"When we were at Auntie Madge's, Aunt Daisy told Primula that you slap people, when vey're historical," Len explained a little unwillingly. Joey choked back a sudden need to laugh, and made a mental note to remind the heedless Daisy to watch what she said in front of the little ones.
"I see. Well, Aunt Daisy was talking about something that a grown-up should do, not something that a little girl should do. Have you told Margot you're sorry for hurting her yet?"
"Yes," declared Len, and Margot assented.
"And I forgave her," Margot added, grandly.
"That's my good girls. Now then - how about I tell you three a story? A new story, just for you three and no one else. I'll tell you a story today, until Stephen wakes up and needs Mama, and then tomorrow after lunch when he's sleeping again I'll tell you some more."
"But what about Stephen?" asked Len, who at age four already had a decided interest in everything being fair.
"When he's your age, I'll start telling him his own story. Now," and Joey's voice forbade further arguments, "what kind of story would you like?"
"A fairy story!"
"A true story."
"A story about you!"
The three exclamations came at once, and Joey smiled. She had just the story in mind.
Once upon a time, said Joey, there was a man who lived in a blue box.
"How did he fit in a box?" Margot demanded.
-who lived in a magic blue box. The magic meant that from the outside it looked small, but from the inside it was just as big as Plas Gwyn. His box could do all sorts of amazing things - it could even fly through the air like an airplane! I don't think there are many people who would like to live in a home that flew, but it suited the man just fine, since he had to travel all over the world. His job, you see, was to make sure all the witches, wizards and warlocks, and all the sorcerors and sorceresses, were obeying the laws of magic.
"Why did he need to do that?" Len asked.
If you or I break a law, if it's only a little law, maybe a policeman will come and tell us off for being a naughty. If we break a big law, someone could get very badly hurt. But if a magical law got broken, hundreds of people could get very badly hurt.
"In Sleeping Beauty, everyone falls asleep for a hundred years." This time it was Connie who interrupted. Joey smiled.
Right. And it wouldn't be very nice to fall asleep for that long, would it? So the man in the magic blue box had to make sure that magic was only being used the right way.
One day, he was chasing some magical wild animals across the Austrian mountains, when he came to a very narrow pathway. Now, the man's biggest fault was that he never stopped to think about things before he did them. So instead of stopping to make sure the path was safe, he started to run across it.
But on the other side of that pathway, continued Joey, there were two girls out for a walk with their dog, Rufus...
"Jo! Where are you going?" Joyce closed the book she was reluctantly reading and looked up at the elder girl imploringly. "I thought you were trying to get your book finished before you and Robin leave?" Jo looked at her in surprise.
"Hello, Joyce! Weren't you and Gillian going up to the San today?" There was note of worry in Jo's voice. Joyce's mother was still far from being healthy, and Jo had seen the tightness around her brother-in-law's mouth when the two sisters had been speaking of Mrs Linton at breakfast, and she suspected that there was something that he wasn't telling them.
"Oh, Gill's gone all right, but after breakfast - after you went upstairs, I mean - Madame said that maybe Gill could go today, and I could go tomorrow, so that we both get some time to ourselves with her! Wasn't that awfully nice?"
Jo smiled and agreed it was, although inwardly she wondered if they were trying to keep Mrs Linton as unexcited as possible. "And now you're rather at a loose end?" she asked. "I've been trying all morning, but I can't write a thing - worst luck! I was going to take Rufus for a stroll to clear my head. Would you like to come? We'll be back in time for Mittagessen."
Joyce quickly fell in with the suggestion, so Jo sent her off to find her out-door things and Rufus' lead, her own face settling in to a worried frown. Her brother-in-law didn't make a practice of talking about his patients, but Joey was a sensitive girl and had spent most of her formative years near the big Sanatorium on the Sonnalpe, and she had gathered enough to know that Mrs Linton was not making the progress the doctors had expected. "Gillian probably knows," she thought, casting her mind to Joyce's elder sister, "but I wonder how long they mean to keep it from Joyce? She's bright enough; it won't be that long until she figures things out for herself." At any rate, she could try and keep Joyce's mind on other things for the rest of the morning.
Joyce had her own ideas. "Jo," she began as the two girls and Rufus set off from Die Rosen, "do you think I'm a terribly selfish person?"
Jo regarded the younger girl thoughtfully. Joyce was a very pretty girl, and until coming to the Chalet School she had been rather spoilt. Now, with her term-times spent down at the school, and her holidays spent as part of the large Russell household, there was not much chance of her being indulged; yet she did still hanker to be at the centre of attention. She did fairly well at her lessons when she put her mind to it, but self-reflection was unlike her.
"I think everyone acts selfishly sometimes," Jo said at last, choosing her words carefully.
"But you don't," Joyce said, "and neither does Gill. But I'm - I always think about myself first, and then about everyone else."
"I can't speak for Gillian," Jo said - although she privately agreed with Joyce that Gillian was an incredibly selfless creature! - "but when Sybil was first born, I was awfully jealous. Suddenly it felt like there was another girl in my sister's life who was a lot more important to her than I was - I good deal prettier than me, too," Jo added, with characteristic frankness. "I wanted to have Madge all to myself, and if that's not selfish, than I don't know what is!" Jo looked at Joyce's eager face and wondered what had brought this on.
"But that was only once," Joyce argued. "I feel like that all the time. Gill's going to be Head Girl this term, and she's going to be a smash- a jolly good one, but even though I should be happy for her, I keep feeling sorry for myself. I'm never going to make prefect, not after everything that happened with-"
The rest of what Joyce said was lost as Rufus suddenly leapt forward, almost pulling Jo over with him, and let out a volley of short, loud barks.
"Why was Rufus barking?" Margot interrupted suddenly.
"Well, Auntie Joyce and I were talking about very important things, and hadn't noticed anything strange going on. But dogs are very clever, you know, almost as clever as humans, and Rufus could tell that there was something wrong. He didn't tak any notice when I tried to quieten him down, and he pulled so hard on his lead that I dropped it and had to run after him. If he had been my son or daughter it would have meant no sweets for a week."
"But why did he run away?" Margot demanded.
"Margot, Mama will tell us!" Len scolded.
"Girls, if you keep interrupting me the I'll have to stop telling you the story. Is that what you want?" Margot and Len wriggled uncomfortably and scowled at each other. Con said nothing, her eyes round as she waited to hear the rest of the tale.
"Rufus ran, and Aunt Joyce and I had to chase after him. It was lucky that we knew the area well, or we would have been very lost! Rufus was running very fast, almost as though he was chasing something that we couldn't see. But he stopped, eventually, beside a very narrow path, and your Aunt Joyce and I caught up to him..."
"What was all that about, old man?" Worried, Jo crouched next to her beloved pet and grabbed his lead in case he took off again, but he simply sat on his haunches, panting. Jo scratched his head, glad that he seemed to have regained his senses.
"Maybe he was after a rabbit," Joyce suggested. Then, suddenly - "Jo, look!"
Jo looked. The path was narrow here, and fell away suddenly, promising a fatal fall to anyone who ventured too close to the edge. And racing towards them, apparently too busy staring at his feet to notice his surroundings, was a man. Even as Jo watched, he put his foot too close to the edge and lost his balance. Jo jumped to her feet, but Joyce was faster. The younger girl was there in a flash, her hand out-stretched, reaching for the falling man.
With one eye on the other pedestrians as she made her way down the busy city street, Con reread the final passage in the letter from one of her many brevet-aunts. Con had written to her Aunt Veta on a whim, asking for details on her life in Court for a story she was just about to give in and write. She hadn't entirely expected all of the reply.
Sometimes I wonder if things would have turned out differently if Jo hadn't insisted she stay with Madame to look after the babies - your cousins, that is - instead of coming to be my Lady-In-Waiting. Joey became something of a mythical figure after she rescued me from Cosimo; if anyone could have turned the revolution on its head, it would have been her!
Con had enough sense to realise that the former Crown Princess of Belsornia was joking, for the most part, but the knowledge that her mother hadn't always been planning to stay with her Aunt Madge was new to her. "I wonder why Mum never told us that?" she thought. "It must have been a hard decision choose staying at home to help out over going to Belsornia and getting to live a much more, well, glamorous life! But I suppose Mama's never wanted to live the high life, really. And if she had left Austria, she wouldn't have married Dad, and then we three would never have been!"
"Earth to Con! This is your sister calling!" Con looked up, startled, and found herself face to face with Margot, an amused look on her triplet's face. "I've only been yelling at you for the past five minutes," Margot said in mock exasperation. "How you walk and read at the same time is beyond me! I suppose you were lost in a story again."
Con opened her mouth to explain, and then, thinking better of it, folded the letter in half and shoved it into her pocket. "Something like that," she agreed. "Are you coming for tea, too?"
Margot laughed. "And miss spending time with you? Never! Besides, Len offered to treat, and as I've already spent all of my allowance for this week, I rather thought I'd accept - no, never mind on what! One of my friends was in a bit of a fix and I helped him out of it, but that's all I can say."
Con took the hint, and changed the subject. "Did Len tell you what this was in aid of? She sounded rather - mysterious - on the phone, but she wouldn't say anything beyond telling me where and when to meet her."
"Perhaps she's decided to chuck in her studies and join in a circus," Margot suggested. "Or - maybe Reg has decided he wants to forego the whole big wedding and just elope!"
"And everyone always accused me of having too much imagination!" Con said scathingly. "Talk sense, Margot!"
"Sorry," Margot replied, not sounding particularly contrite. "I'm a bit revved up - we're having a test in class first thing tomorrow morning, and I've been stuck in my room studying for the past couple of days. Isn't this where Len wanted to meet us?"
Con saw that they had reached the big department store at which Len had chosen to meet them. The two sisters went inside, taking several escalators to reach the top floor, where they found Len waiting for them in the tea room. Len was flipping through a copy of Vogue which seemed to be focussed on bridal wear. She hurriedly put it away when she spotted her triplets. "I'm glad you're here," she said earnestly. Con and Margot each took at seat at her table, and exchanged a glance.
"So there is something up," Con stated.
Len nodded, but all she said was, "I've ordered a Devonshire tea - I hope that's OK? Well, it's too late to say it isn't, anyway, as here it comes." And she steadfastly refused to answer any questions until the teapot was emptied and the three of them had devoured their scones. "Now," she started when their plates had been cleared away, "it's about - our Baptismal present."
"Our present for who?" Con asked, trying to think who in their large collection of friends and family had recently celebrated a new arrival.
"No, she means the one given to us," said Margot, her voice unexpectedly serious. "The one from the Doctor, Len - isn't that right?" Her two sister turned to her, surprised, and her mouth twitched. "It was more important to me, in some ways, than to either of you," she said quietly. "But no, Len. Before you ask I still have no idea what this is all about."
Len didn't reply immediately, but reached into her bag and pulled the Doctor's present out. Con had it fixed in her mind, exactly what it looked like. A round globe of almost solid bronze, that had never yet needed polishing; around the bottom, too tiny to read without a magnifying glass, were etched the names "Mary Helena Maynard" "Mary Constance Maynard" and "Mary Margaret Maynard". But, she thought, as she watched Len place it on their table, she didn't remember it glowing. Beside her, Margot gave a gasp, and Con looked up to see a look of pure relief on Len's face.
"Oh good," her eldest sister said. "You two see it too. I was beginning to think I was going mad."
Joyce made a wild grab for the man, catching hold of his arm, but even as she strained to pull him back towards the path his feet slipped and over he went, threatening to take Joyce with him. But by this time Rufus and Jo had arrived, the one to grip the back of Joyce's coat so tightly she later wondered how it hadn't ripped apart, and the other to grasp the man's other flailing hand. Between all three of them, they managed to lift the man back onto safe ground.
Jo's immediate urge was to scold the man for his carelessness, stranger or not, but she changed her mind when she saw her friend's white face. "Joyce, you haven't hurt yourself?" she asked anxiously. Joyce shook her head.
"It's - it's such a long way to fall," she said dizzily. Jo made her sit, ignoring the fact that Madge would have things to say when they arrived back with mud-streaked clothes, and called Rufus over to sit with her.
"Give him a pet, won't you, Joyce?" she asked. "He needs to calm down, after all that excitement." Rufus, back to his normal, placid self, needed nothing of the sort, but she hoped it would distract Joyce from thinking of more worrying things, at least while she dealt with the stranger. She turned and looked him over, wondering what on Earth had possessed him to the path at such a speed.
His brown hair was untidy; his suit unfashionable, but well-cut; and on his feet were the strangest pair of shoes Jo had ever seen. He seemed entirely unperturbed by his experience, and was staring intently at the ground in front of him, as though searching for something. "Got you!" he cried suddenly, diving for the ground and picking up absolutely nothing at all. Jo wondered if she were dealing with a madman. But the episode seemed to be over, and he turned to Jo and enquired whether Joyce was alright.
"Just shock, I think," Jo replied warily. "I better take her home though - my brother-in-law's a doctor, so he'll make sure there's nothing else wrong. What about you? I mean, are you hurt at all?"
"Me? No!" The man's voice was surprisingly cheerful. "Good thing you two were here, though, or that would have been the end of me." The man paused, considering. "Well, it probably would have been the end of me. Well, I have come through worse, and lived. Well..." His voice trailed off and he looked thoughtful. He was definitely mad, Jo decided, but he didn't seem particularly threatening - he had, in his own way, a strange boyish charm. "Did you say your brother-in-law is a doctor? Let's see - Austria, 1930's... It's unlikely there'd be village doctor here, and if there were it's even less likely he'd marry into a good British family, so he's probably a British doctor, and what would a British doctor be doing here when it's not holiday season? No, he must be here working, and there's only one kind of work a British doctor would be doing in the Alps. He's at a Sanatorium isn't he? And I imagine there's a lot of talented doctors there. Just the kind of place the Amaba would like!"
Jo listened, fascinated. He seemed to be talking to himself, and she wasn't sure she could make sense of more than half of what he was saying, but the last part of his excited ruminations seemed to be addressed to her. "Er," she replied eloquently. "Jem runs the Sanatorium, if that's what you're asking."
"Brilliant," the man said gleefully. "I don't suppose you want to give me directions?" Jo was beyond speaking by this point, and just pointed. The man thanked her, repeated his hope that Joyce wasn't hurt, and took off. Jo stared after him for a moment before remembering where she was, and turned to see how Joyce was doing. The colour had returned to her face, and Jo helped her back to her feet.
"What an odd man," Joyce offered. Then, sounding ashamed, "I'm sorry to make such a baby of myself, Jo. Only I looked over the edge, and it was straight down, and it was such a long way -"
"Don't think about it any more," Jo ordered. "We better vamoose, and Corney would say, if we don't want my sister to get annoyed by how late we are for Mittagessen - punctuality is the politeness of princes, and all that." She set off with Rufus at a brisk pace, and Joyce was forced to forget her fear and her embarrassment in order to keep up with Jo's long legs. When they were almost back at Die Rosen, however, Jo stopped, and turned to her.
"That was a thoroughly brave and un-selfish thing to do, you know, Joyce," she said softly. "I don't want you to think any more about it after this, but if you hadn't put yourself at risk to help that man, he would have been over the side. If you can keep acting like that, I wouldn't be surprised if you made prefect before the year was out." Then she set off again, not giving Joyce a chance to reply - but giving her, she hoped, something to think about.
Joey stopped, and gave her daughters a smile. "Is that the end?" Con asked, disappointed.
"No," Joey replied, "but your brother will be waking up soon, and I thought you could wait until tomorrow to hear the rest."
"But he's not awake yet," Margot wheedled. "Could you tell us a tiny bit more, Mama? You can stop as soon as Stephen starts to cry."
Joey considered. "Well, I suppose I could tell you what happened when we got back home," she said.
"Was Auntie Madge very cross?" Len looked worried as she asked the question. Joey bit back a laugh, knowing that Len herself had been at the receiving end of one of her aunt's scoldings the day before, when she had taken it upon herself to try and hide half her lunch under her chair. Clearly it had left an impression on Joey's eldest daughter.
"She was at first, but once we explained why we were so late she forgave us - and I'll have to stop there after all," Joey added, as she was alerted - loudly - to the fact Stephen was finally awake. She kissed each of her girls in turn, and promised to come back to watch them play when Stephen had been pacified.
Jo explained things to her sister leaving out as many details as she dared, but that didn't stop Madge from insisting that Joyce go to bed for a rest after their rather late Mittagessen. Joyce knew better than to argue, but her face showed her thoughts plainly enough as she departed, taking her dishes to the kitchen before going to bed.
"Was that really necessary?" Jo asked when she was alone with her sister. "You're not going to say that I should go to bed too, are you?"
Madge sighed. "You're getting far too old for me to tell you what to do, Jo. But as much as Joyce may disagree - I saw that look she gave you! - I'd rather not send her to see Mrs Linton in anything other than perfect health. There's no point giving her more cause for worry - or Gillian, either."
"Then will you have Jem check her over when he comes home tonight?" Jo demanded.
"No, I don't think so - she's not ill, after all, and the San are short-staffed. Jack Maynard came back with a headache mid-morning."
"Jack! It's nothing serious, is it?" There was a sudden anxiety in Jo's voice. Jack and her had rather a teasing relationship, but he was a good friend and she'd never known him yet to succumb to illness - not even a cold. Madge gave her younger sister a wondering look, but replied in her normal tones.
"I shouldn't think so, but Jem decided it would be better for everyone if he rested for the rest of the day - no pun intended, sorry! I think he's sleeping, Jo, so do try not to wake him." Jo promised to keep her noise to a minimum, and returned to the small office she claimed as her own. Despite her eariler walk, though, she was unable to write any more of her book; so instead she set to writing a letter to Simone Lecoutier, a good friend who was currently studying in Paris.
Ma chère Simone,
Je me plaisais bien de recevoir ta lettre. La vie à la Sorbonne est tellement différent que la vie ici. J'éspère que tu ne trouve pas les devoirs trop difficile. Je commençait écrire "la vie tranquille est calme ici" mais après les évennements de ce matin, je crois que cette déclaration n'est pas vrai!
Jo reread her first paragraph and then, exasperated, crumpled up the piece of paper. 'What's wrong with me that I can't even write to Simone without sounding like I'm writing to a complete stranger?' she wondered. 'A stranger who can barely speak French, at that! If this is what a full-fledged case of Writer's Block is then I'm done with it!' She scowled ferociously at her surroundings for a moment before deciding that perhaps some company would help matters. She made her way to her sister's library, where she knew she was sure to find Stacey Benson, only to find that young lady in an even worse mood than herself.
"I just can't get my head around it," she cried, shaking what appeared to Jo to be a somewhat obscure Greek text at her. Jo had learned the hard way that Stacey was best left alone in this mood - not unlike herself, Jo reluctantly admitted - and so excused herself to go see who else she could find. She discovered the Robin and Biddy O'Ryan, wards of Madge's, in the nursery trying to calm Sybil and Peggy, who had started squabbling over a doll they both wanted. Jo quickly took charge of Sybil, who was promising to throw herself into a fully-fledged tantrum, while the Robin pacified Peggy and Biddy distracted the other children by starting them in a face-pulling competition.
The rest of the afternoon was passed quickly enough, and evening saw the return of Dr Jem and Gillian. Gillian's face was strained, although she brightened herself up when Joyce came flying downstairs to demand to know how Mrs Linton was. Jo wondered again how much longer they meant to keep Joyce in the dark and decided to pin Jem down later and ask him. He would probably tell her it was none of her concern, 'But,' thought Jo, 'at least that way I'll have tried, and even Saints can't do more!'
Jem, for his own part, seemed to be tired but pleased with himself. The reason for this became obvious at Abendessen, where he informed those who were present that a medical journalist from one of the big London publishers had turned up that afternoon. "Quite an eccentric chap," Jem said, "but clearly brilliant - and most interested to know some of the new techniques we're trying. He's due back for another visit tommorow and then, my dear, I thought I'd invite him to join us for dinner. Assuming Marie can cook something rather less lacklustre than tonight's meal."
A line of worry appeared on Madge's face. "I don't think Marie is well, dear, but she would insist on working despite it - I was going to tell her to take the day off tomorrow if she wasn't feeling any better." It was eventually decided that Marie could take the next day off, and Madge herself would oversee the cooking herself. Jo kept quiet for once - her own cooking was passable but hardly fit for visitors, and the other girls were more than happy to offer their services. Madge was able to tell the faithful Marie that the next day was hers to do with as she liked. "But you might need to tell this journalist of yours not to expect wonders," she told Jem laughingly.
"I'm sure he won't complain," Jem retorted. "The fellow's on the skinny side - I'd say he needed all the feeding he could get!"
Jo went to bed early in deference to the day's earlier excitements, but although she slipped easily into sleep she found herself awake again, suddenly, some time before dawn. She tossed first one way and then the other, but sleep refused to return to her. "Bother!" she thought. "Well, I suppose it can't be helped - I'd better get up and do something useful with myself." She dressed in the dark, and quietly made her way down to the kitchen to see if she couldn't scrounge something to eat. Half-way there, though, she noticed a light on in Jem's office. She brightened - if Jem was up, maybe she could corner him about Joyce and Mrs Linton now, while they were alone. With Jo, to think was to act - she immediately changed course for her brother-in-law.
When she softly opened the door, though, it wasn't Jem at his desk, but Jack Maynard. His face was paler than she had ever seen it before, and he was scrabbling through a collection of ancient yellowed pages that were covered in an odd, spidery writing. He looked startled to see her, but after a moment his face relaxed. "Jo! What are you doing up? Don't tell me you're having a midnight at your age."
Jo, who had opened her mouth to ask him more or less the same thing, grinned at him and said instead, "Jack, old thing! What are you looking at - couldn't it wait til morning? You look all in." There was a note of anxiety in her voice, but Jack brushed off her concerns.
"I'm fit enough for a spot of light research. I thought this would only take a moment, and as I couldn't sleep now seemed as good a time as any. But I didn't bother to keep my notes nice and ordered last time I used them and - well, it's taking rather longer than I thought." Seeing her inquisitive look, he deigned to expand a little. "It's this headache I've got - I think it's more than a headache, something I've seen before. When I was at Cambridge I worked part-time at an organisation which dealt with several unusual cases, and I didn't trust my memory alone to decide whether or not I have it. But it looks like I'm going to have to," he added, scanning the final sheet of paper and then laying it aside.
"What illness do you think it is, then? Can it- can it be stopped?"
"It can; although never the same way twice, which makes it rather difficult. But if it's already taken me, and Marie - she's the best cook whose food is the most delightful I've ever had the chance to eat, so that's not so surprising - then it will be getting stronger." Jack seemed to be talking to himself more than to her, but he turned and cast a sudden cautious eye at Jo. "And you, Jo? You must be fairly at risk. You're feeling fine - no headaches, light-headedness? Any aching limbs?"
Jo shook her head. "I'm absolutely fine, Jack. Stacey was complaining of being dizzy after dinner tonight, though. I thought it was just because she'd spent the day at her books, but - Jack! The Robin! She'll be OK, won't she?" There was very real fear in Jo's voice. The Robin had always been delicate, and any potential illness had to be treated as a major threat.
"Yes," Jack said reassuringly. "I think for once the Robin is out of danger. But Stacey - yes, Stacey could definitely have been affected. Try to keep her away from her books tomorrow, won't you? That should help."
Jo stared at him. "But - what a bizarre illness! You're making it sound like it chooses who it goes after - and what kind of disease can do that?"
"It's not so much of a what as a who," Jack told her cryptically. Then, a little gruffly, "You look after yourself, Jo. If anything seems out of place - anything at all - you come and tell me, won't you?" Jo nodded, and he reached out to squeeze her hand. "Don't worry Jo - I'll sort things out! You go back to bed now, won't you?"
"I will - but I can't promise that I'll sleep!" Jo retorted. She left him then, and returned to her room, but it was a long time until sleep took her. There was a feeling of creeping dread in her stomach that Jack's reassurances had done nothing to dispell it.
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