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.