15 April 2007

Oxford Ostinato - Chapter 1 Part 2

It wasn't long before the limo pulled up outside the Randolph Hotel, which Saskia remembered seeing on their last visit to Oxford. She couldn't help glancing back across the road at the Ashmolean Museum as she waited for the Doctor to get out of the car first. He caught the direction of her glance and clasped her hand in his, then got out. She followed him and they went inside the restaurant where various members of staff immediately began fussing around them. Saskia found herself wondering who the Doctor had told them he was since she was sure he hadn't used his real name. She gave a mental shrug and followed the Doctor and the maitre d' to their table.
The Doctor looked at the menu, then at Saskia, who was looking slightly dazed. "What do you fancy to eat?" he asked.
Saskia focused her attention on the menu. "I have no idea," she said, closing it after a few moments. "You choose." She looked around the restaurant, taking in the display of the coats of arms of the various colleges that made up the University of Oxford, the plush red velvet curtains, the chandeliers suspended from the ceiling, and found herself wondering if she would wake up in a minute and find she was just dreaming all this. It certainly beats Rose's chips after the end of the world! she thought, trying not to feel smug.

The Doctor's voice broke in on her thoughts. "So, what can you tell me about the music we're going to hear?"
Saskia explained that Elgar had been considered one of England's finest composers and he had written the Cello Concerto in 1919, not long after the end of the First World War of Earth's twentieth century. She explained it was intended to be a lament for the world that had been lost during the War that had changed Europe forever.
"Have you heard it played live before?" the Doctor asked after she had finished explaining its structure and themes.
"No. I've got a couple of recordings of it, one of which I brought with me from home, but I've never heard it played live."
"Then the concert will be a treat," the Doctor said, looking pleased.
"Oh yes," Saskia agreed, her green eyes shining with excitement.
They finished their meal soon afterwards and Saskia was surprised to discover an hour had passed. "How are we getting to the Theatre?" she asked as they went outside.
"Walking, it's not far from here."
The Doctor offered her his arm again, and she took it, secretly amused that he was being so gentlemanly. She wondered if it was because he was anticipating monsters later and wanted to make the most of the evening before they arrived. Then she decided that she wouldn't ask him as she didn't want to embarrass him when the evening had been perfect so far.

Stan let himself into the large ground floor room at the back of the house. It had been a dining room once upon a time, but now it was home to two musicians, the guests of his master. The two men looked up from tuning their instruments. The violinist was in his early twenties, but looked younger. The clarinettist was in his late twenties, but looked older because of the beard he wore.
"Dinner," Stan said, setting down the tray on the table.
"Thank you."
They laid aside their instruments and crossed to the table.
"How's it going?" Stan asked them.
"Fine. We'll be ready for the concert," answered the clarinettist.
"Good. My master will be delighted to hear that." He let himself back out of the room, locking the door behind him, and went upstairs to his master's room. He knocked on the door and a low voice answered.
"Come in."
Stan went in. As usual the room was dimly lit, the curtains pulled tight across the windows that overlooked the garden, and only a low power bulb in the lamp on the desk. Stan wondered, not for the first time, how his master could see to work, but he knew better than to ask.
His master looked up from his desk. He was a tall man with short steel grey hair, dressed in a black pinstripe suit, a dark tie and a crisp white shirt with shining cufflinks. He met Stan's gaze over a pair of gold framed, half moon reading glasses. He wore shiny black leather shoes with pointed toes, and a pale beige silk scarf was flung negligently around his neck and shoulders.
"Stanley?" His voice rasped as if he rarely spoke and his skin was pale from lack of natural light.
"Ned's taken the cellist in to town," Stan said, standing stiffly at attention.
"And has our third guest awoken yet?"
"No sir."
"Inform me the moment she does."
"Sir." Stan nodded and turned away, letting himself out of the room quietly. Sometimes he couldn't help wondering what went on in his master's head, given the ideas he came up with, but Stan knew he would never dare to ask – it was more than his life was worth.

When Saskia and the Doctor got to the Sheldonian Theatre, she found herself gazing in awe at the magnificent Wren building. The main theatre was circular inside and the front part of the building was also circular outside, but the back was rectangular. Saskia tore her gaze away from the gargoyles that topped the wall in front of the building and looked at the Doctor. He was grinning indulgently at her, like he'd just given a child a magnificent treat. Which, from his point view, he had since she was only 30 and he was over 900 years old. She swallowed that thought hastily.
"OK?" he asked softly, seeing a fleeting look of sadness cross her face.
She nodded emphatically. "Perfect."
He patted her hand where it lay on his arm, and led her up the steps into the Theatre's courtyard and then into the Theatre itself. He showed his psychic paper to the man who was checking tickets at the door, and the man immediately summoned a colleague. The second man led them to their reserved seats in the centre of the Lower Gallery. Stone columns supported both the Lower and Upper Galleries, but the centre of the round theatre was free of pillars, making it possible for the largest number of the thousand-strong audience to see the orchestra as it performed. A brass railing ran across the front of the two galleries, ensuring that no one could fall to the floor below. Saskia was gazing around in appreciation of the magnificence and age of their surroundings when she glanced up, then gasped. "Doctor," she said in a hushed voice.
The Doctor followed her gaze and saw the painted ceiling above them. "Very nice," he murmured. "Not quite the Sistine Chapel, but still very nice."
Just as Saskia was wishing they had seats in the Upper Gallery so that she could have a closer view of the ceiling, a voice spoke in an agitated tone behind them.
"Excuse me. Am I right in thinking you are Doctor John Smith?"
Saskia looked round, wondering who the voice might be addressing, and saw a man looking at the Doctor.
"That's me," he answered cheerfully, his Scottish lilt suddenly very noticeable.
"I'm sorry to disturb you sir, but I wondered if you would come backstage with me. Our cellist has been taken ill and I was told you were a doctor and could assist."
Saskia suppressed a moan as the Doctor immediately got to his feet. She slipped her hand into his and spoke to him telepathically. I'm coming too, she said.
OK. He sensed there was no point in urging Saskia to stay and enjoy the music, particularly when she was so interested in hearing the cellist perform.

They made their way along the gallery to the nearest door, apologising to the other concert goers. The man led them down the narrow spiral staircase, then into the backstage area of the Theatre. Saskia felt concerned as she sensed a great deal of anxiety, and even fear, from the man who was guiding them. Dosed up on Dr Karg's drugs, she couldn't clearly read the man's thoughts, but she got enough to know that something was going on. She fervently hoped it wasn't monsters.

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