Fandom: Doctor Who (Tenth Doctor)
Summary: At the age of three-and-twenty, Jane Austen was not a young woman anyone would have supposed destined for a remarkable life. And then she met the peculiar Dr. Smith.
Spoilers: None, really
The next day was one of those days that starts out gray and cloudy and only becomes grayer and cloudier as it goes along, until eventually one begins to wish it would just rain already and get it over with instead of hanging about threatening all the time.
Jane felt unaccountably dull and restless, Martha’s mood was similarly bleak, and Mrs. Lloyd awakened with a cold in her head that seemed to have come on her overnight. The apothecary was duly sent for, and though he reported that there was nothing in her condition to alarm, the mood in Ibthorpe House remained as dreary as the weather.
This cheerless atmosphere seemed unlikely to be improved by a late-morning visit from the Miss Debarys. As it turned out, however, they had come to deliver an invitation to dine at the parsonage the following day. And while an evening in the company of the endless Debarys was not generally an occasion to excite much enthusiasm on Jane’s part, as it further turned out, Sir Thomas and his friend Dr. Smith had been extended the same invitation.
The weather persisted in its gloomy cast the next day, which saw Mrs. Lloyd’s condition not at all improved. Martha was reluctant to dine away from home with her mother feeling poorly, but Mrs. Lloyd was vehement that she would be just fine and the girls should by all means go without her. Jane was silently relieved, as she had been looking forward to continuing her acquaintance with the peculiar Dr. Smith.
And so at the appointed time, Jane Austen and Martha Lloyd presented themselves at the parsonage, and were received with great cordiality by the Rev. Mr. Debary and his wife; with somewhat less cordiality by their disagreeable son Peter; and with much giggling and twittering on the part of their three extremely silly daughters, Mary, Sally and Susan. Of Sir Thomas or Dr. Smith there was as yet no sign, but Jane could not bring herself to ask if they were still expected.
The conversation quickly turned to Peter’s new curacy, as conversation so often seemed to do in the young gentleman’s presence. Mr. Debary spoke with pride of his son’s dedication to his parish and the many hours now devoted to Eversley, while Mrs. Debary expressed a motherly wish that Peter were more often at home in Ibthorpe, “for his company is so desirable to us all.” This last was said with a meaningful look in Jane’s direction.
She was fortunately saved the trouble of feigning agreement by the arrival of Sir Thomas and Dr. Smith. The wind had been rising throughout the afternoon and the first fat drops of rain had finally worked up the wherewithal to fall, in consequence of which both men entered the drawing room looking windblown and somewhat damp. Jane could not help observing that the influence of the elements seemed to lend an improvement to Dr. Smith’s boyish looks.
Now that the whole party were arrived the doors were thrown open to admit them into the dining parlor, which had been appointed with abundance and elegance for the occasion. Jane was not at all surprised to find herself seated beside Peter and at some distance from Dr. Smith, whose attention was very much taken up by the rapturous addresses of the three Debary girls.
She listened dispassionately as Peter embarked upon a lengthy description of the gardens surrounding his abode in Eversley, until Mr. Debary, sitting on Jane’s other side, inquired after the absent Mrs. Lloyd’s health.
Martha, sitting at Mr. Debary’s other hand, thanked him for his kind anxiety on her mother’s behalf. “But we expect that she will be fully recovered in a day or two, do we not, Jane?”
“Indeed we do.”
“Nevertheless, I hope that Mr. Bromley the apothecary been called,” said Mrs. Debary fretfully.
“Mr. Bromley has seen her and proscribed nothing stronger than dandelion tea for her affliction,” said Martha.
“He seemed to want her to have a sore throat and to go down with a fever but she has stubbornly refused to do either,” added Jane.
“That’s a relief,” said Mrs. Debary. “You must tell her maid to make her up some camphor — it is the best tonic for an ague. One cannot take too much care in these matters, especially in light of that terrible business with poor Mrs. Rolle the other night.”
“What an upsetting event that was,” said Sally. “For I had planned to dance a second time with Frederick Pole and after they found Mrs. Rolle the musicians would play no more and so I could not!”
“I am sure her family suffers tremendously,” said Mary, who possessed slightly more sense than her sister. “Such a shock it must have been!”
Sir Thomas leaned back in his chair. “Mrs. Rolle was a woman in possession of an excessive girth and a bad heart. Even those who loved her best can hardly have been shocked by her unfortunate demise.”
“If that woman died of heart failure then I’m the Queen of Cucamonga,” declared Dr. Smith.
This startling utterance won him the full and immediate attention of everyone in the room. The doctor, seemingly oblivious to the rapt audience he now commanded, continued to shovel spoonfuls of soup into his mouth like a man coming off a week-long fast. The growl of distant thunder filled the silence, accompanied by the sound of the rain rattling against the windows.
“Pray, tell us what you mean,” prodded Sir Thomas finally.
“Well...” said Dr. Smith, putting aside his spoon at last. “Surely I’m not the only one who’s noticed the unusually high mortality rate round this little corner of Hampshire lately?” He paused, casting his gaze expectantly around the room. “And I assume from your blank stares I am.”
“Gibson,” said Jane abruptly, recalling Mrs. Lloyd’s story. “Mr Blount’s butler.”
“That’s one,” said Dr. Smith, beaming approval. “Well done!”
“Poor Molly Dawson down in the village,” added Martha. “They said she took a sudden fever.”
“That’s two,” said Dr. Smith, holding up the appropriate number of digits.
“There was a lodger of Mr. Crabbe’s who died mysteriously in his sleep at the weekend!” cried Sir Thomas, getting quite into the spirit.
“Three,” intoned Dr. Smith, holding up a third finger.
“That poor man at the dairy was kicked in the head by a mule!” cried Susan.
Dr. Smith shook his head gently. “I’m afraid that was just an unhappy accident, unrelated to our current mystery. Jolly good try, though.”
“Mrs. Colman’s maid Jenny,” said Mrs. Debary. “The poor thing was found in the mill pond Friday last. But they said she must have hit her head and drowned.”
Dr. Smith gave an indignant snort. “Rubbish.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Falderal. Balderdash. Poppycock! The hapless Jenny had no visible contusions nor any water present in her lungs. Whatever killed her, it definitely wasn’t drowning.”
Lightning flashed outside, briefly lighting up the room, followed by a low rumble of thunder.
“And how would you know such a thing?” demanded Peter.
“Because I examined the body for myself, of course. Which brings us to four, and the unfortunate Mrs. Rolle makes five. One, two, three, four, five deaths —” Dr. Smith counted them out on his fingers for emphasis, “— of supposedly natural causes in the span of one week. A wee bit excessive, don’t you think? But what’s most intriguing is that they all seem to have occurred since that mysterious hunk of rock fell from the sky.”
As if to drive home the ominous nature of this revelation, there was another flash of lightning attended by a deafening crash of thunder, which rattled the windows and shook the very walls of the parsonage. All three Debary girls started violently and cried out in fright, their mother looked as if she might faint dead away, and even Martha, Jane noticed, seemed somewhat alarmed. Jane herself couldn’t help feeling uneasy as she thought of dear Mrs. Lloyd abed with a cold.
“That will be quite enough on that subject,” said Mr. Debary sternly. “You are frightening the women unnecessarily with these wild stories.”
“My sincere apologies,” said Dr. Smith, looking neither sincere nor apologetic.
Mr. Debary turned purposefully to Sir Thomas. “Tell me, Sir Thomas, how do you like that little black pointer you acquired last month? She looks a fine specimen, but is she steady to wing and shot?” And with that the conversation was firmly steered to more mundane topics, and on such trivialities it remained for the balance of the meal.