Chapter 3: Under Cover
In the car, the driveway hadn't seemed all that far back but it was another matter to walk it, especially as the Brigadier's knee, while better than he'd feared, still wasn't inclined to take it well.
"At least it's cold," he noted as he limped along, trying to face the challenge of the long, rain-driven road ahead of him with a properly unconcerned attitude. "Keeps the swelling down." Burrowing his cold hands into his pockets he then pulled them back out when the rough fabric made them complain of their scratches.
The Doctor didn't comment. Much of his attention was on the waves dashing and churning below the cliffs, or possibly on where any other gulls were the most likely to come from.
Alistair appreciated the subtlety of the Doctor, who adjusted his pace to keep alongside him on the windward side and quietly caught his elbow any time his leg threatened to give way, but offered no further sympathizing commentary. The man could be a regular spout of condescension, but at least he did know when to just buckle down. Well, sometimes. Occasionally.
The rain was still coming down with gusts driving it into them sideways; in spite of his friend's sheltering him from the worst of it, he was soon soaked to the skin, his knee throbbed and his jaw ached with clenching his teeth to keep them from chattering. By the time they reached the building they'd passed earlier he was limping badly.
The building was one of those old stone and wood edifices that looked likely to have some sort of obscure historic plaque stuck on it somewhere. The neighboring field was scattered with a half-dozen holiday caravans haphazardly improved with wooden decks, all dark and empty in this off-season. A sign indicated the drive led off to a 'Compton Farm' but rather than attempt that long, uphill walk they edged down the slope to the muddy small car park, hoping to find some shelter.
The old building was built of well-weathered stone and timber, long and brown, and looked to be in well-maintained but as they made their way down into the yard, relieved to be out of the main force of the wind, they found no sign of life. The only vehicles were two battered cars that looked to be there only because they were in need of repair.
"Further up the road, then?" the Brigadier said, trying to keep a stiff upper lip about the whole thing, though at this point he was chilled to the bone and his leg throbbed painfully. "Or break into that house?"
"No need," the Doctor said. He paused to examine the mud on one car's tyre. "See? This one's been driven in the past day. There's bound to be someone about." As if to affirm him, a hound began gruffly barking and baying somewhere inside the building. "You see?" he added with a smile. "Unless our canine friend can drive, he most likely has an owner." The Brigadier didn't reply, his only thought about the car having been that it helped block the wind. He allowed the Doctor to help him over to the nearby building beneath the dubious shelter of the eaves but frowned as he was then sort of leaned against the siding and abandoned.
"A light," the Doctor said over his shoulder as he strode away, "Just a moment."
Unwilling to be left behind like an old umbrella that needed to drain, his companion hobbled stubbornly along behind him and so arrived at the door 'just a moment' behind. The Doctor shot him an annoyed glance, then turned his attention to the animal on the other side of the window-glass, a chubby beagle-mixed mutt who was generously smearing his nose about the glass in a vain, excited attempt to smell them. He smiled at the barking creature, then went to the door and gave it a firm knock.
A man's startled face briefly appeared behind the dog, then disappeared. There was a pause. The Doctor raised his arm to bang on the door again only to have it crack open, the same round, weathered face looking out at them with a worried expression.
"We've had a bit of trouble on the road," the Doctor called over the wind's moaning around the edges of the house and the dog's barking. "And my companion is hurt, do you have a phone?"
"No, no phone," the man said, but taking in the Doctor’s well-dressed appearance apparently decided they weren’t ruffians and backed up, swinging the door open for them to enter.
"Many thanks," the Brigadier said as he limped forward into a blessedly wind-free room. There was a small coal stove in the corner of the tiny room, a threadbare stuffed armchair pulled up beside it. A rumpled newspaper and half-eaten bowl of tinned soup sat in witness to their interruption of a private early supper.
"Down, Casey," the man was saying to the hound. "Be quiet, you." He hardly needed to bother, as the animal in question had already made a beeline for the Doctor and was happily snuffling around his knees. He gave the Brig a brief sniff as if only to fulfill his watchdog duties then went back to the Doctor wagging his thick, whippy tail so hard his whole body wagged with it. The man looked surprised but relaxed. "He don't usually take to strangers so."
"Well, I do get along with most animals," the Doctor smiled, kneeling to scrub at the dog's flappy ears. He ran a gentle hand along the dog's side where a peppering of recent cuts and scratches were evident. "How did he get these wounds?"
"Ah, now that's a strange tale," the man said as he went to build up the fire and reached for a dented tin first aid kit mounted on the wall. "Poor old dog, Casey had a run-in with a seagull this mornin'! Usually they leave one another alone, you know, live and let live. This one came at the dog when he was out, doin' his duty in the yard, you'd think it was a fightin' cock-rooster the way it went at him an' for no reason at all. I had t' pop it wi' my rake, I did, and we both hightailed it indoors."
The Doctor looked thoughtful. "A gull?" he said, exchanging a look with the Brigadier. "They do tend to be aggressive birds."
"For scraps and such, but I've never had a one go after my poor old Casey like that, did y' now?" he said, reaching out to give the dog a pat, then handed the first-aid tin to the Brigadier. "Ross Davis," he added, "Groundskeep an' repairman."
The Brigadier took the tin gratefully and sank into the armchair to pick through it for anything usable. "Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart," he replied, "and that's the Doctor. Thank you for allowing us in out of that weather, Mr. Davis, we're very grateful."
"Doctor?" the man said, glancing over at the wet but elegant man who was still kneeling, scrubbing an itchy spot on the dog's chest to the apparent delight of them both. "I should've given the kit to him, then. Surprised to see anyone out in this blow, even shut down all the ferries, I expect."
"Yes, it appears so," the Brigadier affirmed, prodding at his cheek with a frown. "You wouldn't happen to have a mirror?"
"I'll take care of it," the Doctor said, leaving the dog with a final pat. He gave his hands a quick scrub in the man's small sink then crossed the small room to do his own poking through the bandages.
"Must be useful to have a doctor with you," Ross observed as a quick, neat dressing was applied.
"Sometimes," the Brigadier said dryly, ignoring the Doctor's faux-injured look at the comment.
The Doctor re-packed the first-aid tin. "Tell me, Mr. Davis, is there any chance you might have a place we could stay, just until morning? I'm afraid our car may need towing to get it back onto the pavement."
He scratched at his short beard with one hand while scratching the hound's head with the other. "Seeing as there's no going anywhere, I suppose I've a place you could stay the night ," he said slowly. He considered the Doctor's damp velvet. "Might be a bit less than you're accustomed to," he added hesitantly. "But there's room enough for you and your man."
He snapped the tin shut. "I'm sure it will suffice, as long as it's out of this weather," he replied, drawing himself up.
"Oh, that much it can be."
The Brigadier gave the Doctor a long look as the groundskeeper reached for his coat and began buttoning it up. He levered himself back to his feet. "Your man?" he asked quietly but firmly.
"Oh, you're no fun at all, Brigadier," the Doctor said, giving a slight pout of disappointment as Davis was ordering the dog away from the Doctor to its small bed by the fire, then taking up a small torch. He turned to follow their host, raising his voice again. "And I really must correct one small assumption, this good man with me is not my manservant, I am his. You shall have the honour of housing an Ambassador, you know."
"Eh?" The fellow looked confused, then embarrassed. "So sorry, your, uh, eminence? Oh…" He trailed off in confusion and took refuge in the wild weather out of doors.
"Doctor," Alistair warned.
"What?" His advisor grinned and then gallantly offered a supporting forearm, which he refused.
They followed the dim, wide shape of the man as he led the way out into the gathering darkness, down the length of the long, old stone building with its darkened windows and then over to an older caravan that stood alone at the end.
"Needs repair," he explained as they followed him up a trio of creaking wooden steps that had been built against it. "So I've a key!"
Pulling said key from his pocket, he inserted it in the lock and put his shoulder to the door, which stuck until he added a kick to pop it open in a little squeal of protest. He kicked the accumulation of wind-driven debris from the threshold and went in with his guests following, grateful for the renewed shelter from the elements.
They considered their musty, creaking accommodations, the Brigadier flicking a wall-switch up and down to no effect. Their host went to criss-cross a few sticks and bits of kindling on the iron grate in the little metal stove, reaching to pop the handle on the flue then patting his pocket uselessly. "Sorry, damp. I've some matches back t' the main house, I'll fetch 'em. They rent to the grockles in the summer, caravans I mean. Not many regular hotels and such out this way, most stay back in Newport… Here, just let me move those…" he muttered, hefting a pile of ratty cardboard boxes off the Formica table and shuffling them to the back wall.
“What manner of person is a grockle”? the Doctor asked glancing around the room.
“Ey, uh, visitors. Summer holiday folk.”
“Unusual but oddly appropriate.”
"Well, we appreciate your willingness to put us up, Mr. Davis," the Brigadier said politely, watching with some slight trepidation as the Doctor fished some smooth, oblong object from his pocket and knelt to aim it at the wood in the cold firebox. He winced slightly in anticipation of some type of explosion but the only result was a neat, thin line of flame suddenly popping up along one of the sticks. The Doctor efficiently rearranged the kindling and added a couple small logs as it spread rapidly, cracking and hissing at the resins.
The man turned from his stacking the boxes in surprise. "Ey? That was quick."
"Just a lighter," the Doctor said, pocketing it quickly. "Yes, thank you. I'm sure we'll be perfectly comfortable here."
"Maybe," Ross nodded doubtfully. "The bedroom is in there, hand-pump at the sink, loo works but not the bath. I was going to get to fixin' that window there, once weather was better…" he gestured to where a large mossy brick sat on the puddled sill, presumably blocking a crack.
"Not a problem," the Brigadier assured him, surreptitiously flicking at another switch.
It was noted. "I've a lamp," the man suddenly blurted. "Oil. I'll bring that." With no further elaboration, he turned, yanked the door back open and disappeared into the gloom.
"Sit down; give that knee of yours a rest, Lethbridge-Stewart," the Doctor said, pulling one of the metal kitchen chairs over to the fire. "I'll see what the rest of our accommodations looks like."
Alistair sank gratefully onto the chair, uncomfortable as it was. He gingerly stretched his legs out, glad to see his knee was doing better than he'd expected. Of course the way he'd been feeling recently, he wouldn't have been surprised if it had simply fallen off. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes for a moment, just appreciating the heat and listening to the Doctor bumping about in the other end of the caravan.
"What are you doing in there?" he finally had to ask.
There was a pause and the Doctor reappeared at the end of the tiny hallway. "The so-called bedroom isn't really quite habitable, I've closed up the door to it for now. The bath has possibilities though."
He looked mildly surprised. "Why, for bathing, I presume. You may not realize it but you're head to foot mud, old chap."
"I thought that man, Davis, he said it wasn't working?"
"That was before I got here."
The Brigadier had to smile at the smugness, glad to hear there was something to keep him busy for a while. "I see. Carry on, then."
A different thumping, this time at the front door, heralded the return of Mr. Davis, an unlit oil lamp in one hand and a slightly soggy quilt bundled in his arms. He laid out his offerings and after a pat at his pockets produced a small box of matches, a tin of biscuits and a hard round cheese to go with it. "Sorry I haven't better," he began, striking a match to light the lamp.
"We're grateful for your hospitality, Mr. Davis," the Brigadier said sincerely. "This will be plenty, I'm sure."
"Yes, indeed," the Doctor put in. "The quilt is especially welcome. We'll take good care of it."
The man nodded, then straightened and wiped his hands on his trousers self-consciously. "Well, now. I'll bid you good-night, then, sirs."
"Good-night," the Brigadier returned, the Doctor gave him a nod and saw him out, closing the door after him.
"The offerings of the humble?" the Doctor asked softly.
"As I said, it's plenty," the Brigadier returned, as an exceptionally strong gust slammed the little caravan sending it into a chorus of creaks and muffled booming. He looked at the now-dark windows where the light of the fire and lamp showed the water peppering the glass and running down it in cold rivulets. "More than enough."