It was a summer day in England, some time in the early years of the nineteenth century. The countryside surrounding the village of Withybridge basked in the noon sunlight. It seemed that in the gentle warmth, nothing moved. Labourers leaned on fences; cattle stood in their herds; and in a nearby patch of woodland, the very birds seemed disinclined to do more than perch on trees. The wood itself was unremarkable. Its like could be seen all over England, and on this day, as on so many other days, it presented an appearance of changelessness.
With an almost musical susurration, a crumbling stone building appeared out of thin air close to the edge of the woodland. In form it was so artistically ruined that it was impossible to conceive of its ever having been whole; the weathered buttresses, the windows that could never have held glass, the niches lined with seashells, the exquisitely placed gargoyles made it abundantly clear that this was nothing more nor less than a folly, the whim of some landscape gardener.
As the echoes of the structure's arrival died away, a Coade statue of a druid, which occupied a prominent niche on the southern side, swung back revealing an archway leading into darkness. From this archway three women emerged. The first two were superficially similar: petite, attractive young ladies of perhaps twenty years of age. As far as could be seen under their bonnets, their hair was dark and elaborately styled in the latest fashion then in vogue in Bath and London; their clothes, too, would not have disgraced the wealthiest ladies of fashion in those cities. One gazed around with an expression of liveliest curiosity, while her companion, who had a slight advantage in height and whose figure was perhaps a little more shapely, seemed apprehensive. Each carried a carpet bag in one hand, a hatbox in the other.
The third new arrival was more striking. Overtopping the other two by a head, and clad in a simple black cloak, she gave their surroundings the cursory glance of one who owned all she surveyed, and nodded briefly.
"This will do," she said. "If I don't hear from you in four days, I shall assume you have failed. Is there anything you want to ask me?"
"I think you've covered everything," the shorter girl answered.
"Then... good luck." And with that, she turned on her heel and disappeared into the folly, her cloak billowing behind her. The druid returned to his niche, and almost immediately the folly faded away, with the same rippling sound as when it had arrived.
For a little time, the two new arrivals stood side by side, one surveying the sunlit woodland, the cows grazing in the meadows, and the distant hills, while the other seemed more interested in the ground at her feet.
"A euro for your thoughts," the shorter girl said. On receiving no immediate answer, she added "Victoria?"
Victoria looked up unhappily.
"We haven't got any time to waste, I know," she said. "But it's just... everything has happened so quickly today. And I don't know where to start."
"Cariana said there was a village somewhere round here. I suppose we could make a start by finding it."
"Yes. That would be something." Victoria took a deep breath, and seemed to notice her surroundings for the first time.
"It's lovely here," she said. "So peaceful. Don't you think so?"
"I suppose so, if you like that sort of thing."
"Zoë! You can't deny that the view's beautiful."
Zoë gave a reluctant half-smile.
"No," she said. "Aesthetically, I can't. But it's a bit inconvenient for us. We're not really dressed for a country walk, are we?"
Victoria lifted her skirt slightly and looked at her shoes. Like the rest of her outfit, they would not have been out of place at Carlton House; but they had not been designed for robustness.
"I suppose not," she admitted.
"Right." Zoë pointed out over the meadow. "So we'll have to keep out of that field. It looks muddy, it's full of cows, and I don't see how we could get across that stream."
"Are you afraid of cows?" Victoria asked, slightly surprised.
"I don't trust animals. You can't reason with them."
"Then we'll have to go through the wood."
"Yes. If the brambles don't get us, the hawthorn probably will."
This time, Victoria managed to raise a smile. "Faint heart never won fair maid. Look. I'm sure that's a path over there. Perhaps it leads somewhere."
The two set off. The path — for such it certainly was — was sufficiently firm, level and dry not to present a challenge to their footwear, and under the shade of the trees conditions were pleasantly cool.
"Anyway, I don't have a faint heart," Zoë said, once they had walked a little way. "I just think these clothes are terribly impractical, and as for the underwear..."
"You've said that about four times so far today," Victoria said, perhaps a little more hastily than was necessary.
"Well, I said it because it's true. And so's this hairdo."
Victoria smiled. "I still saw you admiring it in the mirror."
"Anyway, you couldn't have worn that— that thing—"
"Jumpsuit. It's very comfortable. You should try one."
"Maybe I will, if I ever visit your space station. But if the people of this time saw you wearing one, you'd probably have caused a riot and been locked up as a madwoman. Don't you know anything about this period?"
"Just what we learnt in primary school." Her tone became more mechanical, as if she were a database disgorging facts with little understanding of their meaning. "Regency, England. Noted for war with France, rural unrest, the beginnings of industrialisation — mainly located in the North — neoclassical architecture, romantic novels by authors such as Jane Austen, Maria Edgeworth..."
"Have you read any of them?"
"No." The admission sounded reluctant. "They aren't really encouraged in my time. Nothing's considered good unless it's new."
"Then your education was sadly neglected."
Zoë made a face, and, briefly, seemed to be toying with the idea of detailing all the practical benefits that she had gained from her education. Victoria swiftly decided that a change of subject was required, and cleared her throat.
"If we are to work together, we should know more about each other," she said. "I presume Cariana kidnapped you, as she did me?"
"That's right. One moment I was doing an orbital projection, the next I was in that holding area with you."
"And I was writing an essay." Victoria sighed. "It feels as if it was years ago."
"More like a hundred and fifty years in the future, surely?"
"That isn't what I meant." Victoria came to a halt. A slight gap in the trees had opened up, and the distant outlines of buildings could be seen. "I think we've found the village," she said. "Now what do we do?"
Zoë set down her luggage. "Obviously the first thing to do is get in touch with the local police."
"There won't be any."
"There won't—" Zoë put her fingers to her temples. "Police. Metropolitan Police Act, 1829. County Police Act, 1839... No, there won't, will there? And of course there won't be any security scanners or anything." Her eyes widened. "People can just come and go as they like and there's no way of tracing them."
Victoria put her own luggage down. "Are you all right?"
"Yes. It's just beginning to sink in. I know hardly anything about this time — what facilities they have, or don't have. Was it like this for you, the first time you went to another era?"
"I'd rather not talk about that." Victoria's voice shook slightly. "Travelling with the Doctor wasn't all fun and games, you know."
"Sorry. It's just that you did travel with the Doctor, and I didn't. This is all new to me, but you know what sort of thing to expect."
Victoria shook her head. "When I was travelling with the Doctor, he was the one who came up with nearly all the plans and the ideas and the inventions. Without him, I feel like, well, an impostor. Please don't rely on me, Zoë. I don't feel very reliable at the moment."
Slightly hesitantly, Zoë put her hand on Victoria's arm. "Bearing in mind what Cariana told us, I think that reaction's quite reasonable. We'll have to do the best we can. I wonder what the Doctor would do now?"
"That's quite an easy question. He'd go straight in, talk to anyone he met, find out what was going on, and set everybody by the ears."
"Then I think that's what we'd better do." She picked up her bag again, and smiled suddenly. "And since you think my education's been so neglected, you'd better keep an eye on me and make sure I don't make some stupid mistake in the first two minutes."
"Really, Zoë! Just because I've actually read..."
Zoë had already resumed her progress, and Victoria had to break off and run after her. They swiftly passed from woodland, across an area of open ground used to keep chickens, between two cottages, and into the main street of the village. Among the passers-by, a young woman in a demure white muslin dress caught sight of them and did an almost comical double-take.
"Well, here goes," Zoë muttered.
With some trepidation, Victoria and Zoë advanced to meet the girl.
"Pray excuse me," she began. "I know we have not been formally introduced, but in the country we rarely stand on ceremony. Alicia Latham."
"Victoria Waterfield," Victoria replied. "And— my cousin, Zoë Heriot."
Victoria and Alicia curtseyed. Zoë's attempt to follow suit was rather less graceful.
"Now, my dear Miss Waterfield," Alicia said. "You must tell me how two such charming exemplars of fashion come to find themselves gracing our humble village."
"We are strangers in this part of the country," Victoria said, picking her words with care. "And we find ourselves in a somewhat vexatious position. We travelled here, on the understanding that we were to be met by a friend of my guardian's, but as yet we have not been able to find him."
"You travelled alone?" Alicia stared at them in amazement.
"Not at all, but the, ah, vehicle that brought us has now departed, and we find ourselves entirely thrown upon our own resources, until we can discover whether the Doctor is indeed here."
"This is the man who was to meet you?"
"That's right," Zoë said. "I don't suppose you've seen him? He's a bit taller than us, about one-seventy centimetres—"
Victoria bit her lip, but said nothing.
"—Dark hair, and he's probably wearing a big coat and checked trousers."
Alicia shook her head. "Indeed, Miss Heriot, I have not seen anyone who could answer to your description. And if your friend is not here to meet you, what is to become of you?"
"We would have to remain here for some days," Victoria said. "I imagine we could find rooms at an inn, in a pinch."
"No, Miss Waterfield, I will not hear of it. I cannot bear to think of the two of you left to the mercies of the Six Bells. You must both come to Priory House and stay with us for as long as is necessary. My brother will not make any difficulty, I assure you."
"That would be most generous of you."
"It would be a duty. You must both come with me at once."
"I think we should ask around here first," Zoë said. "Just in case someone else has seen the Doctor. If he does turn up, we don't want to put you to all this trouble."
"Perhaps you should speak to your family now," Victoria suggested. "Then, after we have made inquiries here, we could call upon you and discuss the best course of action."
Alicia clapped her hands. "I believe you have hit upon the very notion. I shall set off this instant."
After no more than thrice as many farewells as a reasonable person would deem necessary, Alicia finally hurried away. Victoria waited until she was out of sight and hearing, and exhaled with relief.
"I think that went all right," Zoë said cheerfully.
"Apart from giving measurements in centimetres," Victoria said. "Nobody uses centimetres except the French."
"Whoops. And Britain's at war with France. Am I going to be arrested as a spy?"
"Probably not. If it comes up we'll have to say you were taught by a French refugee or prisoner or something."
"So I should have said," Zoë calculated briefly, "66.92 inches?"
Victoria shook her head sadly. "You should have said something like 'a bit over five and a half feet'. I don't know what Alicia and her family will make of you."
"If we can find the Doctor right away, we won't have to deal with them. Let's ask around."
"Yes. And we should ask about the TARDIS as well, and— and Jamie. Cariana didn't mention him at all, did she?"
Zoë paused, as if thinking back. "No. Not once."
"I suppose he might not be travelling with the Doctor any more."
"We'll ask, anyway. It can't do any harm."
"No. And I suppose we should keep an eye out for anything out of the ordinary. After all, if the Doctor's supposed to be here and he isn't..."
"Then there could be foul play involved."
"Yes," Victoria said. She coughed and added in a determinedly casual tone, "I do wish we weren't so conspicuous. Everyone must think we're terribly rich."
"If it means they talk to us, what's wrong with that?"
"They might do more than talk to us. Alicia said she's got a brother. She might be planning to have him marry one of us."
"Oh, Victoria, do be serious."
"I was never more so. Let's take a turn around the village and I'll try to work out how we can look rich without becoming tempting objects for a fortune- hunter." She sighed. "Oh, what a tangled web we weave..."
"When no-one's looking," Zoë said, "you'll have to teach me how to curtsey properly."