Unfinished Business, Doctor Who, Dr. Who, Chris Eccleston, Christopher Eccleston, Doctor who Fiction

“That’s odd” Grace Holloway commented as she looked up at the sky.

“What is?” The Doctor asked. He was paying more attention to the TARDIS than to her, touching the wooden framework of the door solicitously. It had materialised within a small copse of trees which screened it from view until any passer-by was close to it, but all the same the bright blue paintwork stood out among the natural hues.

“I thought we were visiting Earth in some historical era,” Grace continued. “I assumed that was why I’m dressed like a participant in a Thanksgiving pageant. But that sky is so strange – this must be some alien planet.”

The Doctor looked up at the sky with her and thought it looked exactly like the sky of Gallifrey on an overcast autumn afternoon, a dark yellow colour with the sun blood red through the haze. It was low in the sky, suggesting early evening on any planet with a stable axis rotation.

But he knew he wasn’t on his home world.

He turned and looked at Grace. Her outfit was a couple of centuries later than anything worn at Thanksgiving pageants and far less puritan in style. It was a light blue muslin with a crisp lace collar around the neckline and a white sash around the waist before the skirt fell in soft flutes to her feet. She was wearing her hair up and covered by a wide brimmed hat that made the parasol accessory unnecessary.

He, of course, was wearing the same timeless outfit he always wore – the long velvet jacket over a ruffled shirt and waistcoat with trousers and shoes.

“No,” he said in answer to her query. “It is Earth, May 18th, 1780. That’s why I’m worried about the TARDIS. It is rather conspicuously anachronistic.”

“Yes,” Grace agreed. “It is. But... Doctor what about that sky, then? It isn’t natural. It’s....”

The Doctor shouldered a large leather bag with a long strap that contained spare clothes and suitable accessories for the time period and they walked away from the TARDIS, emerging from the trees onto a cart track that topped a low rise. The track descended again into a well-watered valley where green fields indicated that corn crops were already growing well. A small town of grey-weathered timber buildings was built beside the river.

“May 18th, 1780,” Grace recalled. “Oh, no. Doctor... are we in New England?”

“We are,” The Doctor answered her. “That is the Town of Danvers, Massachusetts below – formerly known as Salem Village, where the infamous 1692 Witch Trials took place. Big mistake visiting there that summer - I only narrowly escaped the bonfires.”

Grace did what she always did when The Doctor started a tall tale like that – she ignored it and got her own point in quickly.

“Doctor – May 18th, 1780 is the day before New England’s famous DARK DAY,” Grace informed him. “And don’t tell me you didn’t KNOW that.”

“I knew,” he conceded. “I’ve wondered about it for a long time. Was it a natural phenomenon or something sinister – something I should look into? So I decided we’d pay a visit to an old friend of mine.”

“Old friend?” Grace queried. The Doctor gave her one of those utterly maddening yet utterly charming and irresistible smiles of his and pointed to a building that was on the near side of the river, not far from one of those old-fashioned wooden bridges with a roof over it that were, in Grace’s time, the subject of historical preservation orders in small towns all over America.

It was a substantial building – or a group of buildings – the residential part was a sturdily built timber house with two gables and windows that reflected the odd yellow daylight. There was a stable and a watermill with a fast flowing mill race cut in from the river itself. The wheel was turning and as they drew close to the property they could hear the stones inside grinding wheat into flour.

The Doctor brought Grace into the yard between house and mill where a young man wearing a leather apron, face and clothes dusty with flour and chaff stuck in his dark hair, came out to ask them their business.

“This is the mill of Jacob Hussey?” The Doctor asked.

“It is,” the young man answered. “He is within the house.”

“Then you must be Luke,” The Doctor added. “Jacob’s eldest. He talked of you when we were in Boston together, seven years ago now. You were just a lad, then.”

“You know my father?” the young man asked. “I didn’t know he was expecting guests.”

“Tell him John Smith, Doctor John Smith, is here to visit him.” Luke nodded and turned, calling to a boy about five years younger who was equally flour-covered.

“Daniel, tell father he has a visitor,” Luke said. “Doctor John Smith of Boston. Excuse me, sir, madam, but I have work to finish. My father will be pleased to see you, I am sure.”

Luke disappeared back into the cornmill. Daniel looked at the two strangers and bit his lip uncertainly.

“C… c… ome… th…is… wa…way.” The words stuck in his throat as he struggled with his stammer. Grace gave him a sympathetic look as they followed him across the yard and into the house through the kitchen door. A girl was kneading bread at the scrubbed wooden table and there was a smell of a stew cooking over the fireplace beside the bake oven.

Daniel carried on through to a hallway with a flagged floor covered in hand made rag rugs and then to a comfortable drawing room where a middle-aged man and a much younger woman sat either side of a hearth. The woman cradled a small baby in her arms. The man watched her with an indulgent smile. He looked around and then stood as his younger son stumbled over the introduction.

“John!” he exclaimed. “It is wonderful to see you. I never expected it. By God’s own Grace you ARE welcome. And… your wife?”

“Yes, indeed,” The Doctor answered, smiling warmly. “This is Grace Elizabeth, my beloved.”

“Come, sit, dear lady,” Jacob said. “This is my wife, my own Mary-Anne, who recently delivered unto me a daughter, Sarah.”

“May I?” Grace asked, and Mary-Anne let her hold the baby for a few jealous minutes – long enough for Grace to observe that it was a plump and healthy child. Mary-Anne herself was a slender woman with a pale complexion. Grace wasn’t sure if that was because she kept out of the sun, indulging in ladylike pursuits indoors and wearing a wide hat outside, or if she was anaemic. It was impossible to tell at first glance.

She talked cheerfully enough, at least, though her conversation was mostly about clothes. She admired Grace’s ‘travel dress’ and asked about the fashions in Boston these days.

Grace dug up what little she knew of post-War-of-Independence fashions and did her best to keep up while The Doctor and Jacob Hussey sat by the window, Jacob smoking a headily scented meerschaum pipe, and reminiscing about the event known in history as The Boston Tea Party. That epithet for the ‘destruction of the tea’ in the early part of the independence struggle was not, in fact, adopted until about a century later. A mere act of civil disobedience was considered less important than more bloody theatres of war like Valley Forge at this time. But those who took part – and apparently The Doctor was one of them – were proud of their efforts.

“He’ll be telling those tales to the little one soon enough,” Mary-Anne said to Grace. “Luke and Daniel were raised on them already, and I have heard of his courage many a time. I am proud of his efforts to liberate us from the tyranny.”

Grace hardly knew how to respond. Of course the revolution was the foundation of American history and she had learnt about it from her first grade at school when the class recited rhymes about Paul Revere. But she had never thought, before, about how the men who participated in the war and the women left behind felt about it all. Two hundred years later she simply took America for granted. She forgot what it had cost.

“Of course, you will have realised I am Jacob’s second wife,” Mary-Anne added. “The boys’ mother, Rebecca, died of influenza five years ago while he was away fighting the British.”

“I am sorry to hear that,” Grace told her. “But you are a comfort to him, I am sure. And a new mother to the boys.”

“I try. Luke hardly needs mothering. He is a man, and a help and strength to his father. Daniel… the affliction of his speech began after his mother’s death. We are worried about him. The pastor at the church yonder urged us to pray for him, and we do, of course. But there is no improvement.”

Grace bit her lip and reminded herself that the very idea of a woman physician was still about three-quarters of a century away. Anything she could say about treating psychological disorders of the kind Daniel was suffering would probably spark a new Witch panic in the town that used to be called Salem – with her first in line to be burnt at the stake.

“Prayer and kindness to the boy is all anyone can do,” Grace agreed. At least such things could not make him any worse.

“I hope so.” Mary-Anne smiled resignedly and changed the topic of conversation back to lighter subjects. The men talked in more serious tones. The Doctor led Jacob from memories of the revolution to a comment about the unusual sky. As the evening wore on it was becoming even more dramatic. The yellow darkened to an orange then a deep brown that reminded The Doctor even more so of the Gallifreyan sky, except that stars shone down on his blessed planet, whereas this sky was devoid of any light other than an indistinct but blood-red moon.

“I don’t know what to make of it,” Jacob admitted. “I thought at first that there was a forest fire, but if that is smoke it is so high in the sky Heaven itself must be alight.”

“God’s Grace, husband, don’t say such a thing,” Mary-Anne told him. “It’s near enough blasphemy.”

“Aye, it is,” Jacob agreed. “And yet....” He looked out of the window and then murmured some words that The Doctor recognised as coming from the Christian Bible.

“Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken....”

“Matthew, chapter twenty-four, verse twenty-nine,” The Doctor identified from memory. He had studied the major Earth religions long ago and understood their texts as well as any Human practitioner, though for him it was a matter of academic interest not devotion.

“After the tribulation....” Jacob said. “We had that, surely, in these past years. The war with England... the Christian blood spilt on both sides. Might God be sending us a warning?”

“Those who fought did so in the belief that they were fighting a just cause, with God on their side,” The Doctor answered cautiously. He wanted to dispel the notion of divine retribution. There would be enough of that tomorrow when the phenomenon deepened, but reassuring his friend in terms he understood was important.

Luke and Daniel came into the drawing room. Their work was done for the day. They had washed and put on clean clothes. That was the signal for the whole family and guests to go to the dining room where the table was laid for supper. The girl from the kitchen put down a platter of freshly made bread rolls and then brought a mutton stew in a tureen. She placed it before Jacob at the head of the table and then went to the far end where her own seat was, beside two middle aged outdoor servants who came in to eat. Jacob defined his family as all within his household, kin, guests and servants, too. After they had given thanks to the Lord for their food he served everyone equally and without favour.

There was quiet in the room except for polite requests to pass the bread platter or the water jug. Near the end of the meal, though, Luke spoke up.

“May Daniel and I go to the town this evening, Father,” he asked. “Matthew Cookson is there, staying with the pastor. He is preaching in the square.”

Jacob’s expression darkened.

“No, I forbid it,” he said. “Cookson is no ordained preacher, not even of the papist sects. He is a charlatan. I am surprised at Pastor Finch for giving him hospitality. The man should be run out of town.”

“People say he....” Luke began, but a look from Jacob cut off his sentence.

“I care not what ‘people’ say. I say the man is a charlatan and I won’t have any talk of his blasphemous works under my roof.”

That was the end of the matter as far as the two sons of Jacob Hussey were concerned. After the meal the servants went to their evening chores and the family settled down in the drawing room. By candlelight, Luke and Daniel read their bible texts aloud. Luke had a good speaking voice, and read confidently, but Daniel struggled. Jacob listened to his younger son with a pained expression. The boy’s affliction troubled him.

“Away to bed with you now, lad,” he said kindly when he was done. “God’s blessing with you.”

“G…oo…dni…ght, f…ff…fa…ther,” the boy answered glumly and went off up the stairs to the room he shared with his older brother. Luke stayed up a little longer, talking with his father about mill business. Mary-Anne took herself and the baby to bed and Grace decided to retire at the same time, leaving the men to their weighty discussions.

“I think I might take a stroll before I sleep,” The Doctor proposed. “I like to stretch my legs in the fresh air at night.”

“Be careful,” Jacob warned him. “You don’t know these lands and there is precious little light from that moon this night.”

The Doctor assured him that he had good night vision. He did, of course. His Gallifreyan eyes had hexagons as well as rods and cones in the retina. They gave him superb vision if there was even a tiny scrap of light to be had. The strange red moon was enough for him as he headed up the track to the copse of trees where he had left the TARDIS.

It was, he was relieved to see, perfectly unmolested. He couldn’t help wondering what its sudden appearance along with strange skies might portend for these people who took the Bible as far more than a guide to a dutiful and devout life. Doubtless the man Jacob was so scathing of, Matthew Cookson, would think it a thing of the devil and try to burn it.

That couldn’t happen, of course. The TARDIS had survived in the boiling magma of an erupting volcano and ridden on solar flares. A mere bonfire wouldn’t even scorch the paintwork.

Still, it was better not to let such things happen. The town changed its name at least partly because of its notoriety a century ago. It didn’t need a new witch hunt entering the history books.

He was thinking of such things as he closed the TARDIS door and got ready for a quick dematerialisation. He had already pressed the switch when he looked up and saw young Daniel standing there. The boy must have followed him.

“D…D…Devil….” He cried. “You’re…. a de…vil.”

“No,” The Doctor assured him. “I’m not.” He approached the boy carefully and slowly. He backed away, but straight into the wall. He could see that he was trapped and dropped to his knees, pleading for his life. “Daniel, I’m not going to harm you. I promise, I am not a devil, or a witch, or anything bad. Look around. Where in the Good Book is there any mention of anything like this as the work of the Devil? You may not be able to read it aloud, but I know you’ve taken it to heart within your head. You know this isn’t anything that God forbids. It is merely a machine, just like the wheel that turns the stones in your mill.”

It was the tone of his voice as much as his words that soothed Daniel and made him trust him. He stood and let The Doctor draw him to a seat near the console. He sat him down and gave him a cup of milk from the automatic food dispenser he only rarely used before he went to the environmental console and examined the air in the different levels of the atmosphere above Massachusetts and New England. He drew the obvious conclusions from what he found and, satisfied, set a landing co-ordinate again.

He materialised the TARDIS, this time, in the hay loft above Jacob Hussey’s stables. The horses below whinnied in protest at the noise and then settled down again.

“Come on, Daniel,” The Doctor said when they descended the ladder. “Time you were back in your bed where you belong.”

Before he did so, The Doctor reached and touched his forehead. He found the boy’s recent memories. He had intended to go to town, to find that ‘healer’ who could help him speak clearly, but instead had followed The Doctor.

“That man can’t give you back your speech,” The Doctor told him. “Your father is almost certainly right. Men like him tend to be charlatans with a gift of the gab. True healers are very rare on this planet. The last really good one is in those Gospels you hold so dear. Don’t give up hope, though, boy. Trust The Doctor. Trust me now. I’m going to take away some of your memories. It won’t do for you to know about my old box. If anyone should ask, you went with me on my walk, that’s all.”

He didn’t take the memory away altogether. That was near enough impossible. He simply locked it off from all the other memories, a self-contained portion that wouldn’t trouble him. As he did so, he couldn’t help noticing the parts that DID bother the boy. He knew he could help. In a matter of moments he could give him back his voice and make him whole in the eyes of a critical world, but what he said about healers was all too true and it would be better if the boy found a way to cure himself.

It was quiet when they slipped in through the kitchen. The maid was snoring softly in her place in a side-room, the outdoor workers more loudly in their bunks in the scullery. Upstairs they could hear Jacob reciting his prayers beside his bed. The Doctor put his finger to his lips and turned Daniel towards his own room before heading to the guest bedroom made over to him and Grace.

When he entered she was sitting by the window with a candle in a holder, reading a book. He drew closer and noticed it was the big bible that was on the table by the bed.

“I don’t think they have any other reading matter in these parts,” The Doctor commented.

“No,” Grace agreed. “But I was curious. That passage Jacob quoted earlier about the moon turning to blood… There are dozens of other references in here. Isaiah 13:10 – ‘The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light.’ - Joel 2:31 ‘The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. - Amos 8:9 - In that day, I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.’”

“Revelations has a really scary bit,” The Doctor said. “‘The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind…. and a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them turned dark. A third of the day was without light, and also a third of the night.’”

“I’m a doctor, a scientist… I have to look at it logically. So I’m thinking that something like this must have happened in the Middle East when people were writing the Bible.”

“That part of the world is susceptible to earthquakes, and eclipses were frightening to those who thought the Earth was the centre of Creation with the sun and moon turning around it.”

“But what is going to happen tomorrow isn’t an eclipse,” Grace pointed out. “It goes on for nearly six hours. That’s far longer than any total eclipse lasts. And there were other details I recall from history – ash and soot lying on the surface of rivers and ponds….”

“Which they will imagine is the remnants of stars falling to Earth as foretold as a sign of the End Time.”

“They’re going to panic, aren’t they?” Grace said. “They’ll believe it is the end of the world as promised in the Bible.”

“Yes, I’m afraid so.”

“And I suppose we can’t do anything to help. There’s nothing we can say that won’t be regarded as either blasphemy or some sort of witchcraft.”

“I’m afraid so. The good news is, I actually do know what really caused it. The mystery is solved.”

“So….” Grace looked at him expectantly. He put on his most inscrutable expression. “So, come on. Tell me.”

He told her as he got undressed and settled in the big, solid bed. Grace joined him, appreciating the feel of the hard-wearing linen sheets over a straw-filled mattress and a hand-made quilt covering them. She snuggled close to The Doctor and listened to his double hearts quietly beating.

“I’m glad you told them I was your wife,” she said. “Otherwise I suppose we’d have to sleep separately in such a God-fearing and upright household.”

“One day I really ought to make that official,” The Doctor admitted. Grace wasn’t sure if that was a proposal or not. She was happy with their more than casual but not completely committed relationship. She had her work, her life as an independent woman, and she had the romance and the passion as The Doctor’s lover. The arrangement seemed to suit them both up to now. But that comment suggested that he would like to move things on to a more serious level.

She fell asleep wondering if she liked that idea or not.

Rural dwellers long before the advent of electricity, tended to wake with the dawn and make the most of daylight. Jacob and his sons were already in the mill-house and Mary-Anne tending to the baby by the kitchen range when their guests woke. Grace helped the serving girl with the breakfast preparations while The Doctor went outside.

The sky was still yellow, the new sun even more obscured by it, giving only the palest red light to work by. There was rain in the air, too. Even on an ordinary day it would have been grey and a little dismal. But it WAS morning. Birds were doing their best to announce the fact. The mill race was running and the wheel turning.

The Doctor stepped into the mill and watched Jacob and his boys hard at work before joining them, helping to tip heavy sacks of grain onto the millstones and to lift the equally heavy sacks of flour onto the cart waiting outside for the load.

He was marking time. The full darkening of the sky that would cause such consternation to the people all over New England would reach this part of Massachusetts between half-past ten and eleven o’clock. Until then, there was nothing to do but the duties of men. They all left the work when they were called by the women and ate a breakfast of cornbread and molasses and freshly made black tea, a drink that Jacob partook of with a wry smile in remembrance of the day he first met ‘John Smith’ in the crowd at Boston harbour.

After that the men returned to their work. The maid set about making the daily bread. Mary-Anne tended to the baby’s needs then did the housework, assisted by Grace who was coming to enjoy her gentle conversation.

They were sitting in the drawing room at a quarter to eleven, Mary-Anne holding the baby in her lap, when they noticed the light fading outside.

“Is it a storm?” Mary-Anne asked, not worried at first. “Perhaps it will clear away these odd clouds we have had of late and let us see a blue sky again.”

“It must be,” Grace answered. But by the time the clock on the mantle chimed the hour of eleven it was obvious that something more than a storm was upon them. Grace and Mary-Anne both went to the front door and looked out over the river valley. In the town glimmerings of light were appearing in houses where candles were lit, but they were the only lights to be seen at all. The sky was charcoal black except on the far horizon where there was a red tinge that only made the blackness all the more dramatic.

The really strange thing was the silence. The birds had stopped singing. The cattle in the meadow down by the river were lying down quietly. Not even a dog barked.

“It is true,” Mary-Anne whispered, her voice sounding loud all the same. “It is the Day of Judgement. It is upon us all.”

“Come inside,” Grace said. She shivered. It was eerily cold as well as dark. She closed the door and brought the mistress of the house back to her drawing room. The maid was there, lighting the oil lamps above the hearth. She turned at the sound of footsteps and in the dull light her face was pale.

“Martha, stay here with us,” Mary-Anne said. “Do not sit alone in the kitchen at this time.” She reached out and held the girl’s hand. The two of them knelt together and began to pray, Mary-Anne holding tight to her baby daughter as she did so.

Grace looked at the two of them and then joined in the prayers. She was a doctor, a scientist, an educated woman, and besides, she knew the real reason for the darkness. The Doctor had explained it all to her. But even so a little of the fear the other women were experiencing caught her. She felt she needed the comfort that prayer brought.

The men came inside. Candles were not safe in the mill and work had to be abandoned. The two boys knelt with the women and prayed. Jacob sat by the window and opened the bible, his hands turning the pages slowly as he whispered the words from Revelations that The Doctor had quoted to Grace.

The Doctor stood in the gloom and watched them all, feeling utterly impotent to offer any comfort. Jacob Hussey and his family, in common with tens of thousands of people like them across the area known as New England had every reason to believe that they were living their last hours and no reason to think otherwise. The Bible that they lived by, in the Old and New Testaments, offered so many prophecies that seemed to be coming true on this day.

Then Jacob slammed the Bible shut loudly. The women paused in their prayers and the two boys rose to their feet in alarm. Jacob crossed the floor and bent to take the child into his arms. He caressed her cheek with a finger of his strong hand that seemed far too big and rough for her soft baby flesh.

“What sins has this innocent child committed that she should be judged this day? Why should she not have a chance to grow up in the Grace of the Lord? I do not believe, I will not believe that the God I have prayed to all my life would deny her that life. I know not what this darkness portends, but I do not believe it is the End of Times. Rise, my dear ones. Do not be afraid. Martha, it is nearly the midday hour. Bring bread and cheese and we shall eat while this darkness lasts and work is not possible.”

Martha still looked wide eyed and scared, but she did her master’s bidding quietly and dutifully. Eating the food together had a calming effect on strained nerves. Bread and cheese was such an ordinary thing in the middle of an extra-ordinary time that it helped to bring a sense of perspective to them all. Jacob brought more candles into the room and lit it almost as bright as day. He set his sons the task of polishing an old set of candlesticks he brought from a cupboard. Martha, Grace and Mary-Anne sat together and worked upon a basket of clothes that had to be darned. Jacob and The Doctor occupied themselves with the trimming of extra candles lest those already lit should burn low.

“Whatever the darkness portends, we shall not be quaking in our shoes like sinners,” Jacob said. “Honest work pleaseth the Lord.”

Whether that was true or not, it was certainly what everyone needed to occupy their minds. After a while Martha started to sing as she worked, her small voice filling the room. She sang a hymn, of course. In Jacob’s God-fearing house it was the only sort of song likely to be heard, but it was one about love and mercy, not one laden with dark portents.

It was almost possible to forget that it was one o’clock in the afternoon and the sky as dark as midnight and imagine this was a pleasant evening after sundown.

Then the peace was destroyed by a hammering at the front door. Jacob rose from his seat. Luke did, too. The Doctor stood, also, but it was the man of the house who went to answer the urgent knocking and found one of his outdoor servants in a state of agitation.

“Master Jacob,” the man said. “In the town… Pastor Finch and Matthew Cookson are building fires. Cookson says there is sin in our houses and in our hearts and it must be burnt out. Master… they’ve taken Anna Cruikshank and Silas Barnes. They’re saying….”

“God’s Grace!” Jacob murmured. “What insanity is this? Joseph, find your brother and come with me. Luke… no. You and Daniel stay here with the women. John… This is no concern of yours. It is not your township. But another man with strength in his arm might be necessary.”

“I am with you, of course,” The Doctor said. He reached for his coat. He was not entirely surprised when Grace joined him.

“This is no work for a woman,” Jacob told her. “You’re safe at my hearth with my wife.”

“You said a woman had been taken by the mob. She may need my help,” Grace answered. The Doctor nodded and said that she might come with them. There was no time to argue the point, anyway. The glow of fires in the town square lit the unnatural darkness. The fear that something more than kindling had been thrown upon it drove them all to haste across the bridge.

A medium sized crowd, mostly men, but a few women clinging to their husband’s arms were there. They stood in huddles around the two men who had instigated this activity. Pastor Finch was dressed in sombre black, as was the man who had to be Cookson. While Finch was a worried man whose eyes betrayed his knowledge that things were far beyond his control, Cookson’s were fired up with a furious zeal. He was shouting apocalyptic verses from Revelations as more fuel was piled onto the two bonfires.

The ‘fuel’ was apparently any book other than a bible, prayer book or psalter that was found in any house in the town. Most of them, The Doctor gleaned from the murmurings among the people, came from the home of the man, Silas Barnes, who had been mentioned already. The man was something of a scientist, with an interest in astronomy and physics in particular. The Doctor spotted some of the seminal works of Sir Isaac Newton among the books ripped to shreds and thrown onto the fire by those of the townspeople who were doing Cookson’s bidding. Barnes protested at the destruction, but he was held by two strong men who pushed him to his knees and gagged him.

The woman who had been taken was in an even more desperate state. She was clothed in nothing but the plain cotton shift that women of this time wore beneath their outer clothes. Her gown had been stripped from her and only the intervention of some of the women had stopped her from being rendered completely naked. She was tied hand and foot and knelt, flanked by two men who looked nearly as fired up with religious zeal as Cookson.

The accusation against her was of blatant witchcraft.

“It isn’t true,” she sobbed. “Please, have mercy. I have done no harm to any man, woman or child. I say my prayers every day. I….”

She saw Jacob step into the firelight and addressed her entreaty to him.

“Master Hussey,” she said. “You know me. I tended your first wife in her last days. I was there when Mary-Anne delivered your daughter safely. I do no witchcraft. I just use herbs to relieve fevers and the pains of childbirth.”

“Witchcraft!” Cookson cried out. Some of the people echoed his cry. Others were less certain. There was far from a consensus here. Anne Cruikshanks had probably helped most of the townspeople through illnesses at some time. They knew she was no witch. But Cookson was adamant.

“Easing the pains of childbirth!” he cried. “The pains that were given to woman as a reminder of the sins of Eve. Easing those pains is a sin in itself.”

“Nonsense,” Jacob replied in a voice that was steady and firm and silenced some of the noisiest supporters of the preacher. “Listen to me, my friends. You all know Anne. You know she is a gentle woman. You know Silas. He is a God-fearing man who is always ready to lend a hand when there is any task to be done. But who is Matthew Cookson but a stranger who came to our town full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Jacob’s argument turned some of the accusers. They quietened and stepped back into the shadows beyond the glow of the fire. Among them were the two men who had dragged Anne Cruikshanks from her home. The Doctor was the only one, so far, who had noticed Grace lift the woman to her feet and quietly lead her away. All eyes were on either Jacob or Cookson.

The Doctor looked at Cookson and noticed something curious about him.

Cookson turned his face towards Jacob Hussey and they narrowed in hatred. Here was a man who commanded the respect of his neighbours and could break the hold he had on them all. He was a threat.

“You are a sinner,” Cookson said.

“We are all sinners,” Jacob responded. “That is why we pray for God’s mercy upon us.”

“Your child was conceived out of wedlock. That is why your son is afflicted. It is God’s punishment for your sin.”

“Nonsense,” Jacob responded. “My son suffers from the grief of losing his mother, and my daughter was conceived within the bounds of holy matrimony. She was born a month early and would have died but for the ministrations of that goodly woman you call a witch.”

Mention of Anne Cruikshanks reminded the crowd of the accusations against her. There were murmurings when it was noticed that she was gone – mostly relieved that she was no longer in imminent danger of being burnt. Cookson raised the loudest voice of protest, accusing Jacob of spiriting her away.

“He allowed a witch to escape,” he said. “He should be burnt in her stead.”

But the crowd seemed less inclined to join in his crusade now. His hold on them was broken. Cookson cried out in rage and ran towards Jacob with a torch that had been used to light the kindling.

“No!” cried an unexpected voice. Daniel put his slight body in front of his father’s in the face of his attacker. “No, leave my father be. He is a good man. Leave him be.”

Cookson would have thrust the burning torch at the boy as well as the man, but the two strong men who had been holding Silas Barnes restrained him. Jacob hugged his son as the ‘miracle’ of the boy finding his voice at last sank in amongst the people. It was the final proof to them that the problem lay, in fact, with Cookson, not with anyone from the town of Danvers.

“The yellow skies began when he came into the county,” somebody said.

“And the full darkness descended upon us when he arrived in our midst,” added another.

“He is the cause of God’s wrath.”

The tables were turned. Now Cookson looked in danger of being thrown on the bonfire. And he might have been if The Doctor hadn’t stepped forward. True, he was a stranger, too. He had arrived under the yellow sky just a day before the darkness. But his calm voice didn’t allow any such doubt to creep into their minds.

“You don’t know me,” he said. “But your goodly townsman Jacob Hussey will vouch for me. Please listen, good people. The darkness is not a sign of the End Times. It is not God’s judgement upon any of you. There is a simple, natural reason why this has happened. Far to the north of here, where there are wide forested areas, there have been fires burning out of control for many days. The smoke rose high in the sky, high enough to be mistaken for rain clouds. The prevailing winds drove those clouds south and they have thickened until they covered the sun and brought this unnatural darkness to this land.”

He paused. He had the full attention of the farming people who knew the land around them well enough but had little knowledge of geography beyond the State of Massachusetts. They had never seen the great and still largely uncharted territory that would one day be called Ontario and belong to the state of Canada. But they knew they lived on a huge continent and that much of it was unexplored and untamed. His words struck true.

“The darkness will pass, my friends. Life will go on. Go to your homes and light candles. Pray, read your Bibles, sing your hymns if you will. Give comfort and loving kindness to each other and be thankful that no real harm was done here.”

“A still small voice,” Jacob whispered, as the crowds melted away, going to their homes as The Doctor urged them to do in quiet tones. “Blesséd be the peacemakers.”

“I should hope so,” The Doctor answered. Soon only three of the original crowd remained - Pastor Finch looking aghast as he realised what had almost occurred, Cookson looking friendless and alone, and Silas Barnes who stared disconsolately at the embers of the fire where his precious books had been destroyed.

“I am sorry for that,” The Doctor said. “But what’s done it done. Go to your home now, and try not to bear a grudge against your neighbours. They were misguided, not malicious.”

“Yes,” Silas answered and did as he said. The Doctor turned to the Pastor.

“You allowed your fears to override your good sense, but if you are lucky the people will come to trust you again. Go and pray that they will.”

That left Cookson standing alone in the dying glow of the fire. His eyes, too, had lost their fervour. The Doctor met his gaze with his own steady one.

“I know what you are,” he said in a voice so low only Cookson could have heard it. “A Shansian Seer. I have never encountered one on Earth before. You have a gift of sight that lets you see into men’s minds and a small ability to heal minor ailments, and you have used that to win hospitality and perhaps financial remuneration among people who are easily swayed by a persuasive tongue. I can’t tell you to stop doing that. The healing, at least, might do some good somewhere. But drop the fire and brimstone about sinners and preach loving kindness instead. And do it in some other place than Massachusetts. These people have friends and relatives in many of the towns and cities of this Commonwealth. Your name will become known to them.”

Cookson said nothing, not even to ask how The Doctor could know what a Shansian Seer was. He nodded and turned away.

“Come on home,” he said to Jacob. “Your wife will be worried for you.”

Mary-Anne was more than anxious, especially since Grace arrived back with Anne Cruikshank and a report of what was happening in town. The wrongly accused woman had been decently clothed and given food and drink. The Doctor gave her the same advice he gave to Silas about not holding a grudge against her foolish neighbours. She took it to heart.

But the greatest joy apart from the news that the town was at peace was Daniel’s new-found voice. Mary-Anne hugged the boy fondly and he let her do so. He let his father hug him even more, and later, when the household was calm again he talked with his father about matters that brought tears to both their eyes, and about the hopes both had for a brighter future.

A brighter future seemed assured when, at around five o’clock on that May evening, the darkness faded at last and the sun shone yellow in a sky that slowly turned blue. A few hours later it went dark again, but at the proper time, and a silver moon shone from a black sky full of stars.

“So Cookson was really an alien?” Grace said when she and The Doctor laid down to sleep together for a second night as the guests of Jacob Hussey.

“A harmless one as long as he keeps things in proportion and doesn’t get over-zealous,” The Doctor answered. “The only other aliens involved were the ones who evacuated from a badly damaged Spurion Cruiser that had been partially burning in the upper atmosphere causing the smoke that turned the skies yellow, and then crashed deep in the forests of the future southern Ontario causing a fire that threw up even more smoke and soot into the air.”

“Aliens caused the fire,” Grace concluded. “So it was something in your purview, after all.”

“Yes, and no. Forest fires are natural enough, whatever their cause. The Dark Day might just as easily have been the end result of lightning striking a tree and starting the conflagration.”

“I’m glad you came to check it out, though,” Grace added. “Otherwise there could be two innocent people dead tonight and a new witch scandal in the history of this town. And I’m not altogether sure that Daniel talking again wasn’t your doing, too.”

“Nothing to do with me,” The Doctor assured her. “He found his voice when he needed it. What matters is that this is a happy, loving and untroubled family again.”

“All’s well that ends well?”

“Nearly all,” The Doctor added as he blew out the bedside candle. “Tomorrow, I think I’ll drop in on Silas Barnes. I’ve got a copy of Newton’s corrected 1726 edition of Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica that might partially compensate for the loss of his books.”

“Corrected?” Grace asked. “Don’t tell me you proof read the original and gave him some advice?”

The Doctor laughed softly and turned to hold her in his arms. She mentally filed that nugget of information about Newton under tall tales told by The Doctor and surrendered to his goodnight kiss.