Luke watched Sarah Jane driving and sighed happily. He didn’t get a lot of chance to be with her like this, going somewhere, just the two of them. But this weekend WAS just for them.
Maria and Clyde were ALSO having ‘just the two of them’ weekends. Maria was having a ‘girls weekend’ with her mum, which she had not looked as excited about as her mum had been, and Clyde’s dad had taken him to Europe to see a World Cup Qualifier football match. Clyde said his dad did that. The bigger the present, the more spectacular the trip, the more guilty he was feeling about not being around.
“If money doesn’t buy love, why does Clyde’s father think that big presents and trips to Europe will do that?” Luke asked as they slipped into the smooth running traffic on the M3 after an annoyingly slow bit on the M25.-
“Parents… don’t ALWAYS get it right,” Sarah Jane answered carefully. She was hardly the expert on the subject, and it wasn’t for her to criticise Clyde’s father, although she couldn’t help thinking Luke had hit the nail on the head. “It’s not about the present. It’s about… the two of them spending time together. I expect it will be good for them both.”
“Being with her mum is good for her. She loves her mum.”
“Clyde thinks Maria spending the whole weekend with her mum will turn her into a ‘wuss’ who only cares about clothes and make up and giggles all the time.”
Sarah Jane suppressed the desire to laugh in an unkind way. THIS time, Clyde seemed to have hit the nail on the head. But Chrissie Jackson was an easy target. It wasn’t fair to laugh about her behind her back.
“Maria is a smart girl. But she IS a girl. If she wants to be interested in clothes and make up, that’s only natural. But she’s her own self. She’ll always be Maria, and her mum will be….”
Sarah Jane told herself off for thinking the things she wouldn’t want Luke or any of the others SAYING about Maria’s mum.
“…her mum?” Luke supplied.
“Yes, exactly. Now, never mind them. WE’RE having a nice weekend away with an old friend of mine who has a lovely house in the country with a garden that goes right down to the river.”
“Yes, the Brigadier. He’s been my friend for…. Oh…. Such a long time.”
“As long as you’ve known The Doctor?”
“Yes. I met the Brigadier the same time I met The Doctor. Only the Brigadier… I always know where to find him. The Doctor…”
Sarah Jane went quiet. She seemed to be concentrating on her driving. Which Luke understood to be important. But he wasn’t quite sure if there was something else.
“Is this one of those holes?” he asked.
“One of what?”
“Clyde and Maria were teaching me about ‘tact’. About when NOT to talk about something if it upsets somebody else. And they told me to remember ‘when you’re in a hole, stop digging.’”
“Oh!” Sarah Jane laughed. “Yes, that’s good advice, but no, this isn’t one of those times. I wasn’t sad. I just had so many memories coming out at once. If I didn’t want to think about the old days with The Doctor, there would be no sense in going to visit the Brigadier. He’ll be talking non-stop about the old days. About Dinosaurs in London and the Loch Ness monster, and Silurians and Axons, too, getting me mixed up with Liz and Jo. He might even go right back to the cybermen in the underground and call me Zoë.”
“He’s going loopy?” Luke asked.
“Certainly NOT,” Sarah Jane answered. “And don’t use the word loopy. Alzheimers is not something to make fun of. Sometimes I wish you wouldn’t pick up language from the others at school. But I suppose that can’t be helped. It’s the way you are, you’re a magnet for experiences. That’s what they intended you to be….” She paused and glanced at Luke. Now it was her turn to stop digging. Reminding him of his abnormal origins was not a good thing to do. “The Brigadier is as bright as he was when he was first put in charge of U.N.I.T. He’s a mine of knowledge about all sorts of things. It’s just that he’s got a military mind. If you don’t have a rank on your shoulder or sleeve he doesn’t know what to make of you. And he was always a bit old-fashioned about women, even for the 1970s. Me, Jo, Liz, Zoë, the girl that was before her… Victoria I think it was… We were just the latest one with The Doctor. Names interchangeable. Not that he meant it unkindly. He was always a gentleman. But I think he always thought a woman’s job was making the tea. At least until he retired and married Doris and she made him share the household chores. He says she’s the worst sergeant major he ever had.”
Sarah Jane laughed. Luke didn’t. He missed the joke. But that was all right. It was only a little joke anyway.
“The Brigadier and Doris will LOVE you,” Sarah Jane added.
“Why will they?” Luke asked.
“Because you’re my son,” she answered. “And they’re really old friends and they think it’s wonderful that I have a family now. Doris never could understand why I never settled down. The Brigadier did, of course. He knew that it was just so hard to live one day after another after….”
Now she was digging her own hole, she thought. And it was all a BIT too much to try to explain to Luke. She changed the subject, telling him about Wiltshire. Stonehenge, Avebury, Silbury Hill, three ancient places associated with the kind of mysteries The Doctor loved to get involved in were there. So was Salisbury Plain, where the British Army, including U.N.I.T., trained, and where, allegedly, though even the Brigadier wouldn’t confirm it when she asked, an alien spaceship like the one at Roswell in America, once crash-landed.
Wilton, where the Brigadier lived, was a lot less dramatic than all that. It was famous for making carpets - at least until recent years when traditional industries all seemed to fall away in Britain. Two and a half centuries of making carpets from the wool of the sheep from the nearby hills, and now the carpet-making was just for show, for the tourists. The children of Luke’s generation really didn’t know what had been lost from their world, for all that they had gained in computers, internet, mobile phones that could receive TV…
Now she was starting to SOUND like Doris, she thought with a laugh. Thinking about how it was all so much better in OUR day! But Doris and the Brigadier were the OLD generation. She was still young. She WAS.
You’re nearly a half a century old, her inner voice taunted her.
The DOCTOR is a thousand years old. To HIM I’m a teenager!
“We’re here,” she said with relief, before she ended up losing an argument with herself. She turned the car in through the white painted gates with Scottish thistle ornamentation on the two stone gateposts. The Brigadier was a couple of hundred miles away from the border, but he would not let anyone forget he was a Scotsman, an Officer and a Gentleman!
Doris, even if she did make her husband do his share of the washing up, WAS an old fashioned woman when it came to hospitality to guests. Sarah Jane and Luke were both plied with tea and home made cakes and biscuits in the pretty drawing room of the house. The Brigadier was just as Sarah Jane described, fully alert and active in his mind, even if his body was a little slower. He talked enthusiastically with Sarah Jane about those old days, the adventures they all had, the U.N.I.T missions. Luke listened avidly, not joining in very much, but drinking it all in.
“I saw The Doctor a few times after that,” the Brigadier said with a smile. “Last time was… ohhh, 1989, I think it was. Of course he’d changed again.”
“He’s changed even more since then,” Sarah Jane told him. “Much younger now. It’s really rude of him, I think. The rest of us get older and he just swans around looking younger and younger and a big grin on his face.”
“Do you think he’d want his old car back?” The Brigadier asked. “I’ve got it here, you know. Down in the old millhouse at the bottom of the garden.”
“Bessie, you mean?” Sarah Jane smiled. “He doesn’t stick around long enough to use it these days. But I’d love to see it. For old time’s sake. Luke? Would you like to see The Doctor’s old car?”
“I’m quite comfortable here, thank you,” he answered. He was sitting by the big picture window, looking out on the garden. It looked cold outside. There was a sprinkling of snow on the lawn and the sky was heavy with promise of more.
“He’ll be quite all right here,” Doris said. “You two run along.” Luke and Doris watched from the window as the Brigadier walked down the garden with Sarah Jane. ‘Run along’ was not quite the right phrase. He did walk rather frailly and leaned on Sarah Jane’s arm quite a bit.
“Today has done him good,” Doris said. “Talking about the old days, when he was young, and still in the army. If they hadn’t MADE him retire I think he’d be happy running U.N.I.T still.”
“Why was mum so happy talking about U.N.I.T?” Luke asked. “Last week, when we had careers day at school, I brought loads of leaflets to show her about the army, because I thought I might like to do that when I leave school. And she was really upset. As if she didn’t want me to… But she knows all about the army. She worked with U.N.I.T…” He sighed and absently picked up an ornament from the windowsill and played with it as he watched the first flakes of a fresh snowfall come down.
“Maybe because she DOES know about the army,” Doris suggested. “She knows that boys only a few years older than you get killed far too often, and she doesn’t want to lose you.”
“Maybe I won’t then,” Luke answered. “If it makes mum unhappy.”
“If it’s what you really want to do, when you’re old enough to decide, I’m sure she won’t stand in your way. You’ll have to talk it over with her and decide for yourself what’s best.” Doris told him. “Do be careful with that, dear. It’s quite old.”
Luke looked at the ornament he was holding. It was a sealed oval shaped glass jar about ten inches high, full of liquid and a scene of a waterwheel and a big building with lots of windows in it, beside a river. He turned it over to look at the flat base made of ceramic and was surprised to see the liquid fill with white flecks like snow. When he turned it over again it all drifted through the liquid and settled on the scene.
“It’s a snow globe,” Doris said to him as he looked at it with a puzzled expression. “You shake it.” She laughed softly as Luke tried to work it out. “You wouldn’t get very far in Alistair’s regiment if you don’t even know how to use a snow globe.”
“I’ve never seen one before. It’s very clever.” He looked out of the window. It was snowing a lot more now. He looked at the low building near the river where the Brigadier and Sarah Jane were, and then at the scene in the snow globe. “It looks like the same place,” he said.
“Yes, it is,” Doris told him. “Alistair found it at a car boot sale and thought I would like it. We took it to the Antiques Roadshow and they said it was worth a lot of money. And we found out all about the land our house is built on. About two hundred years ago, there was a carpet making factory here, powered by the old waterwheel. It’s rather a sad story, really. It started as a family business, everyone working happily, making a modest amount of money, employing a few people. But when the son inherited the factory he got ambitious. He had most of the old factory knocked down. All that remained was the millhouse by the river that was used to store the wool. He had a big, steam driven factory built instead. Do you see the chimney on that building. Belching smoke instead of the nice, clean water wheel. And he was quite a nasty man, too. He employed the children from the local workhouse and by all accounts he worked them to death and they never saw a penny of wages. It all went to the workhouse masters. Even when new laws came in about employing children he continued to use them, working them day and night, hiding the younger ones when factory inspectors came around. He was only caught when a tragedy happened. Three youngsters were drowned in the river near the old millhouse and it led to an investigation. He was stopped from employing children and no adults would work for his bad wages as the Wilton carpet company was famous by then and paying better money. So it all fell into disrepair. This house was built later after the factory ruins were demolished. The millhouse is the only part of it left, and of course that doesn’t work any more. The wheel must have fallen apart long ago. There’s nothing but a few bits of the axles or whatever they call them that it turned on. Alistair keeps that old car in there. Dear me, the snow is getting very heavy now. It’s a good job you and Sarah Jane are staying the night. It will be dark soon and I’d hate to think of you driving home to London in this weather.”
Luke looked up from the model world full of swirling snow and looked out to see the garden full of swirling snow.
“They’re going to be frozen stiff when they get back in,” Doris said. “I’ll put the kettle on.” She bustled off as Luke stayed at the window and gave the globe a really vigorous shake to watch the snow whirling around the Victorian carpet maker’s factory.
Outside, the snow fall turned into a blizzard. Sarah Jane and The Brigadier struggled back up the path to the house. They were both astonished at how bitterly cold it had become in a matter of minutes.
Luke put down the snowglobe and ran to the door to let them in. The Brigadier was obviously suffering from the cold, although he insisted that he was fine. Doris scolded him and made him come and sit down by the fire and poured a generous tot of brandy into his tea. Sarah Jane said no to the brandy but she did take a cup of tea, warming her hands around it as she sipped it.
“That’s funny,” she said. “The snow has STOPPED, now. Look.”
They all looked. Where a moment ago it was barely possible to see the garden and a bitter wind swirled the snow into a blizzard, now the air was completely clear and still.
Luke went to the window and looked out. Then he looked down at the snow globe and noticed that the snow in that was settled now that he had put it back down on the windowsill.
He lifted it carefully and shook it very gently, sending a few of the model flakes up into the liquid. He looked out of the window and saw a flurry of snowflakes fall.
But that wasn’t possible?
To Be Continued...