The Underground Railroad
by Duncan Johnson
'It's pitch black out here,' Rose Tyler complained as she stepped out of the TARDIS. 'I can't see a thing.'
'You've got other senses besides your sight,' the Doctor chided her from within the time machine.
'Yeah, right,' Rose muttered. 'Next time I'm bringing a torch, anachronism or no anachronism.'
She took a deep breath. She was here now. She might as well play the Doctor's game.
'Okay, hearing. There's a clanking sound. It's rhythmical. Like a metal heartbeat. Reckon it's outside though.'
'Brilliant. And what's that tell you?'
'Sod all,' Rose said to herself. 'Next sense: touch. What can I feel?'
She reached forward, tentatively exploring with her right hand and hoping that whatever it connected with would not want to bite it off. Then the floor beneath her rocked and she stumbled forward.
'We're moving,' Rose said. Now that she concentrated, she could feel it, not just the sudden lurch, but also a gentle rocking motion. 'Do you think we're out at sea?' Rose had collapsed against some kind of barrier and she started to examine it. 'There's some kind of wooden wall here, Doctor. Ouch!'
'Rose! Are you all right?'
'Yeah. Just a splinter.' She stuck her fingertip in her mouth and sucked at the tiny wound. 'Might as well add taste. This place tastes disgusting. Doctor? I can see a light. The slats of this wall thing don't fit properly.'
'Can you see what's outside?'
'No, they're too tight together,' Rose replied dejectedly, 'and there's still not enough light to see by.'
'Brave heart, Rose. You've already proved that you don't need eyes to 'see'. What else can you tell me?'
'Fine. Smell. It's kind of musty in here. Sweaty. Like they don't get much fresh air in here. A bit like Mickey's bedroom, I guess.'
The Doctor laughed at that.
'Doesn't smell like we're at sea, though,' Rose continued, 'so I guess we're not on a boat after all.'
'We could be on fresh water,' the Doctor replied, 'or maybe this planet's oceans smell different to the way you're used to.'
'I thought we were back in the nineteenth century. Why else am I wearing all this?'
'We're supposed to be in the nineteenth century, but, well, I am wrong very occasionally.'
Rose rolled her eyes.
'Now,' the Doctor said, 'tell me more.'
'I'm out of senses,' Rose pointed out.
'What, already?' the Doctor stuck his head out of the TARDIS door, his face illuminated by a lantern. 'Yes, I suppose you would be. Nice place you've found.'
The yellow light spat out by the guttering lantern flame illuminated the wooden box in which the Doctor and Rose found themselves.
'Boxes within boxes,' the Doctor remarked as he explored. He was not just referring to the TARDIS. A number of other boxes and packing crates were packed into the wooden carriage and Rose stooped to examine a handwritten label. 'Where do you reckon this train's heading then?'
'New York,' Rose supplied.
'Says so on here.' She held up the label.
The Doctor grinned. 'That's my girl. Now let's get back in the TARDIS before some overzealous inspector realises we're travelling without a ticket.'
'Used to do it all the time back home.' She moved on to another crate. 'Now what have we here?'
She jumped back as something within the crate moaned.
'Doctor, I think there's something in this one.'
'Well of course there's something in it,' the Doctor said, striding over, 'or what would be the point of...' There was another moan and the Doctor's eyes widened. 'That's human.'
Rose was trying to force her way into the crate. 'It's locked.'
'Here.' The Doctor handed Rose the lantern and produced the sonic screwdriver. There was a brief buzzing sound accompanied by a burst of blue light and then the lock fell open. 'Nothing to it.'
A figure burst out of the crate, knocking the Doctor flying. He barrelled into Rose who dropped the lantern. It cracked and burning oil spilled out onto the floor of the carriage.
'Got to get out. Got to get out.' The man from the box was clawing at the walls. He was black and filthy and dressed in nothing but rags. He looked over his shoulder at Rose. His eyes were wild, like a hunted animal. 'Can't breathe.'
'We just want to help you,' the Doctor said, stamping on the flames to put them out.
'Tell us what's wrong.' Rose reached out to the man.
'Don't touch me,' he yelled, lashing out. 'You won't take me again, not ever. Never take me.'
Rose reeled and struck her head on the edge of the TARDIS. She crumpled to the floor.
'Rose.' The Doctor was at her side in an instant. He glared at her attacker. 'If you've hurt her...'
'What's going on in here then?' The door at one end of the carriage swung open revealing a burly fellow silhouetted against the setting sun. He looked down at the Doctor. 'What do you think you're doing in here, son. And more to the point, what are you doing with what looks to be a runaway slave?'
* * *
'What hit me?' Rose asked as she cautiously probed her bruised forehead.
'What hit you?' The Doctor folded his arms. 'You hit my TARDIS!' He gestured to the men removing the time machine from the train. 'Careful with that,' he called. 'She's had a nasty knock.'
'Ha ha, very funny,' Rose said. 'This hurts.'
The Doctor brushed away his companions blonde hair with his thumbs and examined the wound. 'You'll live. Trust me, I'm a doctor.'
'A doctor, are you now?' A reed-thin man in a wide-brimmed hat was swaggering towards them. 'English too, I reckon.'
'Thought we got rid of the lot of you ages back.' The man spat at the dirt. 'Mind telling me what you folks were doing in the baggage coach of this here train?' He cocked his head in the direction of the engine cooling in the station.
'Yes, I would,' the Doctor replied. 'Who are you anyway?'
'Sheriff Hicks,' the man replied, tapping the brim of his hat. 'I'm what passes for the law around these parts.'
'Are you now? Is that why you've got that poor soul clapped in irons. Bad enough he was crammed into someone's suitcase. I've heard of travelling economy, but that's just ridiculous.'
'Joe there's an escaped slave,' Sheriff Hicks explained. 'He's the rightful property of one William C. Ebbitt and I intend to see that he's returned to him in one piece.'
'But he's a human being,' Rose protested. 'You can't buy and sell people?'
'I've heard that where you come from you're more soft-hearted towards the Negro,' Sheriff Hicks said, 'but you're not in England anymore, miss, and we do things differently round here.'
'What about him?' the Doctor asked, spotting another figure being led off of the train. 'Why's he being arrested?'
'You didn't think our friend Joe got all this way on his lonesome, did you? His kind ain't smart enough for that. No, Joe had help and that man there's going to pay for it. Swing for it to if I had my way.' He touched his hat again. 'If you'll excuse me.'
When she was sure that the sheriff was out of earshot, Rose turned pleadingly to the Doctor.
'We've got to help him,' she said.
The Doctor raised an eyebrow. 'Why's that then?'
'That man's being forced to work as a slave. You can't pretend that's right.'
'Right or wrong, it's history,' the Doctor replied. 'Lexington, Kentucky. 1851. This is how they were treated and being all morally superior isn't going to change that. For all you know, he's owned by one of your ancestors.'
'That's not funny.'
'Wasn't meant to be. We can't go around changing history, Rose. It's already happened.'
'But we already have,' Rose said. 'Changed history I mean. He would have been well on his way to freedom if we hadn't turned up. I know we can't do anything about slavery, much as I want to. I'm not stupid. But surely we can help this one guy if it's our fault he's in trouble in the first place.'
'We can't interfere,' the Doctor insisted.
'Can't or won't?' Rose asked.
* * *
'Hello, what's your name?'
John Fairfield looked up from the stool he was sitting on. A man with big ears and a black coat was examining the lock on the cell door. A blonde girl stood next to him. Every so often she would glance over her shoulder, nervously, as if expecting the sheriff to return at any moment.
'Who are you and what the devil do you think you're doing?' Fairfield demanded.
'I'm the Doctor and this is my friend Rose,' the Doctor replied without looking up. 'Pleased to meet you. As for what I'm doing, well Rose here has somehow managed to persuade me - against my better judgement I might add - to get into the business of freeing slaves and, since your the closest thing we know to an expect around here, we decided to break you out of jail.'
The cell door swung open.
'So,' the Doctor continued, 'are you going to tell me your name or what?'
* * *
'How much longer are we going to wait?' Rose asked.
'You're the one who wanted to come here.' The Doctor leaned forward and patted the flank of the horse in from of him. It whinnied contentedly.
'And I can't believe you were just going to leave him be.'
'What do you want me to do?' The Doctor turned to face Rose. 'With what's in the TARDIS you and I could abolish slavery here and now no problem. But why stop there? We could go back to when it all started and nip it in the bud. And while we're at it, what about all the other stuff we could fix. Let's save Kennedy and Lennon. Let's stop Hitler and Stalin coming to power. That would really make a difference, wouldn't it?' The Doctor's eyes were burning and he lowered his voice until it was almost a whisper. 'And what about those differences, Rose? What happens to the world you grew up in? What happens to your mum and your idiot boyfriend? Maybe you don't grow up at all. Maybe you're never even born. And if you're never born, how do you change history in the first place?'
Rose looked away. The Doctor's outburst had stung and she was ashamed of the tears in her eyes.
'I know all that,' she insisted, 'but we're only talking about one man, one life. Surely it can't make all that much of a difference.'
'Leonardo, Einstein, Martin Luther King. One man. One life. All the difference in the world.'
'But this guy isn't famous,' Rose protested. 'I mean, we'd know, wouldn't we?'
'Would we?' the Doctor asked. 'History is littered with people who might have been, but for circumstance. Perhaps he's one of those. And even if he isn't, that doesn't mean he won't make a difference. Even his small actions will create ripples. People will act differently for having met him, think differently for having heard his words and these tiny differences will mount up over the years as the history you and I know slowly diverges from the history that is. And a hundred-odd years from now, your mum and your dad singularly fail to meet at the right place and the right time and a certain Rose Tyler is erased from the history books.'
'Butterfly flaps its wings in London, you get a hurricane in the Pacific,' Rose said. 'Step on the butterfly, no hurricane. Guess it works with time too. I dunno. I still don't think that should stop us from trying to do the right thing.'
'Not saying it should,' the Doctor replied. 'I just want you to go into this with your eyes open, that's all.'
A gunshot rang out and panicked birds took to their air amid a cacophony of squawking.
'That'll be your new friend,' the Doctor said.
Sure enough, as Rose peered out over the cotton fields, she could see a number of figures running their way, spurred on by John Fairfield. Actually, she realised, running was an exaggeration; with chains binding their hands and feet, the best the slaves could manage was a brisk hobble. And their pursuers fully intended to capitalise on their advantage.
Another shot rang out and one of the slaves dropped. Fairfield, bringing up the rear, swept him up and threw him over his shoulders, barely pausing in his flight.
'Doctor,' Rose said, 'they're not going to make it.'
'Oh yes they are.' Tightening his grip on the reins, the Doctor spurred on the horse and the cart both he and Rose were sitting on rattled off across the field, cutting a swath through the cotton crop. He pulled up along side the fleeing slaves.
'Everybody in,' he yelled, somewhat redundantly as the slaves were already clambering aboard.
Fairfield was the last to arrive and he threw his charge into the back of the cart. Rose recognised him as the man from the train. His shoulder was slick with blood.
'See to him,' Fairfield grunted at her before climbing up beside the Doctor.
'I thought we were only here for one man,' the Doctor remarked pointedly as he drove the horses onwards.
'I saw a chance to get all of them out,' Fairfield replied, 'so I took it.'
Rose was using the slave's shirt to bind the wound in his shoulder. It was a difficult task because he kept twisting and turning, muttering words Rose could not quite catch.
His eyes met hers. 'Mary? That you, Mary?'
Rose shook her head. 'No. My name's Rose.' He slumped back dejectedly and Rose found herself saying, 'I'm sorry,' even though she did not know what she was apologising for.
Another shot snapped Rose out of her reverie and she ducked down in the cart. Peering over the edge she could make out their pursuers, four of them, with shotguns levelled.
'So that's how you want to play it,' Fairfield muttered. He produced a revolver and started to aim.
'No!' The Doctor knocked Fairfield's arm, spoiling his aim, and the shot passed harmlessly over the heads of the pursuers. 'We've got what we came for.'
'Do you really think they won't come after us?' Fairfield demanded. 'Are you that stupid. I could have solved all our problems. Permanently.'
The Doctor ignored him, concentrating on the horses.
'We'll be safe just has soon as we cross the Ohio River,' he said.
Fairfield shook his head. 'Have you got a lot to learn.'
* * *
After a few hours hard driving, they made camp. Fairfield wanted to press on to the river, but the Doctor insisted that the horses were exhausted.
'What good's it going to do us if one of them drops dead halfway there?' he argued.
'What good's it going to do us if we wait here for them to catch up with us,' Fairfield snapped back.
'We don't know that they're chasing us.'
'Do you know how much just one slave's worth? We've got half-a-dozen of them here.'
'We'll reach the river tomorrow,' the Doctor said calmly. 'We'll be safe on the other side.'
Fairfield muttered something that sounded suspiciously like a curse and stalked off.
'What's so special about the river?' Rose asked as she scrambled out of the cart.
'Slavery's legal in the southern states,' the Doctor explained, 'but not in the north. The Ohio River's a state boundary. All we have to do is cross it.'
Rose lowered her voice so that they wouldn't be overheard. 'Why can't we just take them back to the TARDIS?'
'You mean the TARDIS that's still in the possession of our friend Sheriff Hicks? I'd like to see you explain to him how we acquired five slaves, not to mention Mr Fairfield.'
'Mister Fairfield, sir!' The slave with the wounded shoulder was calling after their new companion.
'For god's sake, keep your voice down, man,' Fairfield hissed angrily. 'Do you want them to find us?'
'I'm sorry.' The slave hung his head. 'I only wanted to thank you for coming back for me.'
Fairfield grabbed his injured shoulder and the slave cried out in pain.
'I shouldn't have been able to. Don't you remember what I told you? Don't let them take you alive. Better dead than a slave. Next time I'll leave you to rot.'
'He didn't mean that,' Rose consoled the slave after Fairfield had hunched down by the campfire.
'Yes he did. And he's not wrong. But I couldn't die, miss. Not when there's a chance I could see Mary again.'
The slave grinned, revealing crooked teeth. 'My wife.'
'You thought I was her. In the cart.'
'You're as pretty.'
Rose blushed and looked down at her feet.
'My name's Rose,' she said, recovering her composure.'
Rose frowned. 'The sheriff said your name was Joe.'
'That's what they called me back at the farm,' Abraham explained. 'They never bothered to ask what my name really was.'
* * *
Once the horses were rested, the group continued riding by moonlight. Fairfield thought it was safer than travelling during the day. The slaves, exhausted, slept in the cart, pressed tightly against one another in the confined space.
'No worse than the boats, miss,' Abraham told Rose.
'So what makes a man like you risk his neck for people like them,' the Doctor asked Fairfield while tugging gently on the reins to guide the horses. 'You look like you'd be more at home keeping slaves, not freeing them.'
Fairfield looked up at the stars. 'You're not far wrong, Doc. My folks, they kept slaves. Beat 'em to within an inch of their lives too, not because they weren't working hard, 'cos they were doing plenty. Just because they could. That's the done thing with slaves, you see. If you don't beat 'em regular they might forget their place. I never could raise my hand to no black man, though. To white folks with their hands on whips, well, that's a different story. Freed my first slave from my uncle's plantation. Been helping 'em move north ever since.'
'Look, over there!'
Rose sat up suddenly and pointed over the Doctor's shoulder. In the distance, barely visible in the gloom, was a trail of molten silver.
'Yes, Rose,' the Doctor confirmed, 'that's the Ohio River.'
* * *
Fairfield was prepared.
'Been doing this a long time,' he explained as they dragged the boats from their concealment and out onto the water, 'and I've used this route before.'
'Freedom,' Abraham murmured, staring at the far bank. 'So close now...'
'We're not there yet,' Fairfield warned him. 'I've seen more than one of your kind fall at the last hurdle because he got cocky. I won't breath easy till we're on dry land again. Probably not even then.'
The Doctor took one boat with Rose, Abraham and one more slaves. Fairfield, with the remaining three, occupied the other. With quiet, deliberate strokes of the oars, the Doctor and Fairfield guided the boats gently through the water. As they moved further into the river, the current picked up, threatening to drive them back towards the near shore. Without being asked, Abraham took up a spare oar and together he and the Doctor forced their boat onwards.
There was a cry from the other boat.
'What's wrong?' the Doctor called out.
Fairfield swore. 'We're taking on water.'
The Doctor and Abraham looked at each other and then began steering their boat in the direction of Fairfield's stricken vessel.
'Over there!' Rose had been watching the Kentucky shore since they had entered the water, nervous about pursuit, and now she drew their attention to the light of lanterns approaching the river.
'Make for the bank,' Fairfield ordered the Doctor.
'But what about you?'
'Forget about me,' Fairfield snapped. 'Save those you can.'
The Doctor nodded and returned his attention to getting his own boat across the river before their pursuers caught up with them.
'But what about the others,' Rose protested.
The Doctor did not reply.
Rose's attention was torn from her companion by a splash. Fairfield had dived into the water. By moonlight, Rose could see him wrapping his arms around the small boat and holding it up as he walked along the river bed, his face contorted in strain.
There was a thump as Rose's own boat struck the bank.
'Everybody out!' The Doctor jumped up onto the rear covered shoreline and began hauling his passengers from the boat. Once everyone was ashore, he started to clamber back in.
Abraham reached out a hand to stay him. 'What are you doing?'
'I'm going back for him.' The Doctor jerked a thumb in the direction of Fairfield and the others.
Abraham shook his head. 'There is no time. Either he makes it on his own or they will catch him long before you get to him.'
Silhouetted in the gloom, their pursuers were taking to the water.
Rose screwed her hands up into fists as she watched Fairfield's agonisingly slow progress. The shouts of pursuit were carried to her by the wind, getting closer and louder all the time.
'They're going to catch him, aren't they?' she whispered.
The Doctor, standing behind her, put a hand on her shoulder. 'If they do then we'll just have to rescue him again.'
'If they catch him, they'll shoot him and dump his body in the river,' Abraham said sombrely. 'There'll be no mercy for men who steal slaves.'
Seconds became minutes. Minutes slunk by like hours. Then, remarkably, wonderfully, Fairfield's boat struck the shore. The Doctor was already knee-deep in the water, hauling people onto dry land.
'Aren't you coming?' he asked Fairfield who was still pinned beneath the boat.
'I'm stuck,' Fairfield told him. 'This mud, it's like quicksand.'
'Give me your hand.' The Doctor eased himself closer, taking hold of a tree root with one hand while reaching out to Fairfield with the other, which Fairfield grasped eagerly.
The Doctor grunted with exertion.
'I can't get enough purchase,' he complained.
'They're getting closer,' Rose warned as she grabbed hold of the Doctor and leant her strength to his.
'Watch your footing,' the Doctor said. 'I don't want to lose you as well.'
Their combined strength, however, was still not enough.
'It's no good,' Fairfield told them. 'It's just pulling me in deeper.'
'Stop struggling,' the Doctor replied. 'That should buy us a bit of time.'
'Time's something we don't have, Doc. Leave me. Save yourself.'
'Never,' the Doctor declared through gritted teeth.
Then a thick black arm, rippling with coiled muscles, snaked between Rose and the Doctor. Abraham grabbed hold of Fairfield's shirt collar and yanked for all he was worth. There was a tremendous sucking sound and then a pop as Fairfield sprung free and flew on to the bank.
'Thank you.' Between gasps for air, Fairfield clapped Abraham on the arm.
'I owe you,' Abraham said simply.
'After that, consider all debts cancelled,' Fairfield replied.
'If everyone's finished congratulating each other,' the Doctor interrupted. 'There's still the small matter of pursuit.'
'But we're north of the river,' Rose pointed out. 'You said we'd be safe!'
A shot rang out.
'I might have been wrong about that. Run!'
* * *
They had taken refuge in a church on the edge of town, the Doctor throwing open the doors and yelling 'Sanctuary!' for all he was worth. The priest, once he had recovered from the shock of their arrival, turned out to be sympathetic to the slaves' plight and had found some food for them to eat while they rested their tired and blistered feet.
'We can't stay here,' Rose said.
'The priest did promise us sanctuary.' The Doctor as leaning against a pillar, arms folded.
'I can't see him standing between us and a group of irate farmers with guns,' Fairfield said. 'At least, not for long. I know someone in Cincinnati...'
'Well, let's go there then,' Rose suggested.
'If only it was that simple. Look at them.' Fairfield gestured to the slaves in their rags and chains. 'There's no way we'll get them across town without folks knowing exactly what they are. And this close to the river, we can't count on everyone being as friendly as this priest.'
'Anyone want to hear my idea?' the Doctor offered.
* * *
Sometime later, the sun obscured by clouds heavy with the promise of rain, a funeral procession of dark coaches slowly made its way through the town, silent, save for the soft sobbing of a few of the mourners. Out of respect, the townsfolk glanced briefly and then averted their eyes. Had they shown more interest, they might have noticed that the lead mourner, clad in a battered leather jacket, had a huge grin incongruously plastered across his face...
* * *
'What's that noise?'
Catherine Coffin was peeling potatoes when the peace of domesticity was broken by a hammering noise.
'Sounds like someone's at the door.' Catherine's husband, Levi, ran a hand through his thinning hair. 'We're not expecting any... visitors, are we?'
'Nobody's sent word,' Catherine continued.
The hammering was becoming more insistent. Shrugging his shoulders, Levi Coffin went to answer it.
'Hello, I'm the Doctor,' the man on the other side of the door informed him. He indicated his companions. 'We were looking for the cemetery, but we got a bit lost. Can we come in?'
* * *
'I'm sorry if I was a little abrupt earlier,' Coffin said to the Doctor. 'John usually sends word if he's bringing passengers.'
'Passengers?' The Doctor lazily swirled his drink around in his glass.
'That's just our way of describing what our little railroad. The slaves are our passengers, escorted by conductors, like Fairfield here, and along they way they stop at stations, such as this one, for rest, food and supplies.'
Catherine Coffin had a new dress for Rose to wear. In fact, she had boxes of clothes and was fresh garments for all the escaped slaves as well.
'A number of women in town make the clothes,' Catherine explained. 'Then they pass them on to us.'
'And you do all this for these people even though they're escaped slaves?' Rose asked.
'Well, of course. The Bible bids us feed the hungry and clothe the naked. It says nothing about the colour of their skin. Here, let me help you with that.'
Catherine tightened the laces of Rose's dress and together they descended the stairs to where the men were waiting.
'Aren't you worried about the sort of people you're letting stay here?' Rose asked. 'They could be anybody.'
'When the Good Samaritan saw that man at the roadside, do you think he stopped to ask those same questions before going to help? My husband and I just try to follow the teachings in the good book and would that more people could do likewise.'
Downstairs, the Doctor drained his glass.
'Well, now that we've got Abraham and his friends to safety,' he said, 'I think it's time Rose and I were off. Thanks for the drink.'
'Safety?' Coffin chuckled softly. 'You obviously haven't heard.'
'A couple of years ago then perhaps moving to a Free State might have been enough, but just last year Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act.'
'And that means what exactly?'
'It means, to put it simply, that those poor people enjoying Catherine's cooking over there, aren't safe anywhere in America. Federal commissioners, who, I might add, receive a bonus for every slave they recapture, have the authority to pursue runaways throughout the Union. Worse still, citizens are obliged to assist in the pursuit of escapees or face imprisonment.'
'And yet in spite of that, you still do all this?' the Doctor asked.
Coffin offered up a weary smile. 'Sometimes there is a mighty chasm between what is law and what is just. And I fear that until that chasm is closed, these people won't be safe until they reach Canada.'
'Canada?' The Doctor's eyes widened. 'But that's hundreds of miles from here.'
'Knew I should have shot him when I had the chance,' Fairfield said.
'Now, John,' Coffin said, 'we've had this conversation before. Thou shalt not kill. That should be all that needs to be said on the subject.'
'Way I see it, those kind of standards are okay for most folks,' Fairfield replied, 'but then there are those who forfeit their rights to any kind of consideration.'
'We're all God's children, John.' Coffin turned back to the Doctor. 'I asked a colleague to pick up the passengers tonight. He can get them as far as the station in New York. Our people there can get them into Canada.'
The Doctor looked at Abraham who was shovelling stew into his mouth as if it was the finest ambrosia.
'I think Rose and I can stay at least until he shows up,' the Doctor said, 'assuming you don't mind, that is.'
'Your company is my pleasure,' Coffin assured him.
* * *
Rose was dozing in an armchair when she was woken by the Doctor shaking her.
'What?' she asked, bleary eyed.
Rose could hear raised voices and, as wakefulness returned, she was able to trace them to the front door. Fairfield was arguing with a stranger in the doorway while Coffin tried to mediate between them. Looking beyond them, Rose could see that night had fallen.
'What are they arguing about?'
'Abraham's gone and done a bunk,' the Doctor explained.
'Yeah, that was my reaction too,' the Doctor agreed. 'The guy in the hat is here to pick up the runaways. He's making a delivery in New York and is going to hide them in the back of his wagon. Things is, he doesn't want to wait in case people start getting suspicious.'
'So what do we do?' Rose was wide-awake now.
'That, Rose, is what they're arguing about.'
Closing the door, Coffin turned slowly to face them. He massaged the bridge of his nose with his fingers.
'He won't wait,' he said tiredly, 'and I can't say I blame him.'
'Coward,' Fairfield spat.
'Nobody wants to lose their freedom,' Coffin scolded him gently. 'At least he's taken the four still here with him.'
'But what about Abraham?' Rose wanted to know.
'I'm not sure there's much we can do?' Coffin replied.
'If he doesn't want our help,' Fairfield agreed, 'he can fend for himself.'
'No.' Rose was vehement. 'I said I'd help him and I will, with or without you.'
'Your girl's got fire, Doc' Fairfield said.
'She's not my...' The Doctor held up a hand. 'Couldn't we at least go looking for him?'
Coffin nodded. 'I'll bring the coach round to the front. You'll be needing coats. It's cold out.'
* * *
They caught up with Abraham after half an hours riding. He was stumbling along the road, weaving drunkenly from side to side. He collapsed as Rose jumped down from Coffin's coach.
'The idiot!' The Doctor squatted down to examine him. 'He's opened up his wound.'
'What did you think you were doing,' Rose asked, trying not to look at the blood.
'I was looking for Mary.' Abraham slurred his words. 'I promised her if I ever got free then I'd come after her.'
'Who's Mary?' Coffin asked.
'His wife,' Rose explained.
'Figures.' Fairfield turned to Coffin. 'Doesn't your 'good book' have something to say about women being the root of all evil?'
Coffin ignored the jibe.
'I understand why you'd want to be with your wife,' he said to Abraham, 'but where were you even going to start looking.'
'Louisville,' Abraham replied. 'Mister Ebbitt said he was selling her on.'
'Makes sense.' The others turned to look at Fairfield so he explained, 'Louisville's on the river. Good place for an auction because of the shipping route.'
'Once she's sold she could go any place.' Abraham was growing agitated. 'I have to go to her now.'
He tried to sit up, but the Doctor pushed him back down.
'You're not rescuing anybody,' he said. 'Not in your condition.'
'Hate to admit it,' Fairfield said, picking his teeth, 'but I kinda feel for the guy.'
'There must be something we can do, Doctor?' Rose pressed.
'You'll be bringing home strays next,' the Doctor muttered. 'Fine, here's what we're going to do. You, Abraham and John here will head on up to Canada.'
'And how are we supposed to do that?' Fairfield asked.
'Do I have to think of everything?' The Doctor glanced about for inspiration then snapped his fingers. 'You'll take the steamer. The pair of you are travelling together with your slave. Sorry about that, Abraham.'
'I guess that makes us husband and wife,' Fairfield said to Rose.
'You wish,' she replied. 'More like father and daughter.'
'Uncle and niece,' the Doctor said, 'and that's final.'
'But what about Mary?' Abraham persisted.
'I'll get her,' the Doctor promised, 'and then we'll both meet you on Canada.' He looked to Coffin. 'I'll need transport. Can I borrow your coach?'
'That won't be necessary, Doctor,' Coffin said. 'I'll drive you myself.'
'Shouldn't we tell your wife where we're going?'
'That I'm gallivanting off to kidnap a slave. Best not,' Coffin admitted. 'She'd only talk me out of it.'
* * *
The auction was already under way when the Doctor and Levi Coffin arrived in Louisville. It was taking place in a barn and was conducted by a short, hairy man whose stomach hung over his belt. He was, however, a natural salesman, who had the prospective buyers, standing in a group on one side of the barn, eating out of his hand.
'How much money have we got?' The Doctor was hastily emptying his pockets into Coffin's hands as they entered.
'I pray to God, enough,' Coffin replied.
Mary was the sixth slave to be auctioned off. She had to be forced onto the auctioneer's platform by his burly assistants. She was tiny, short and undernourished, enveloped by her faded blue dress. Her hair had been cut very short. Coffin knew that slaves were often shaved for transport to stop the spread of disease. One could not make a profit on an infected slave.
'Who'll start the bidding for this beauty?' the auctioneer asked.
Coffin made to raise his hand, but the Doctor held him back.
'Let's see who else is interested first,' he suggested.
Bidding started slowly and was limited to a bespectacled young man proudly displaying a Colt revolver on his hip and a man in a long coat all of whose hair had migrated from his crown to his chin.
The auctioneer allowed the two to compete against each other for a few more minutes, then his eyes sparkled.
'Maybe this'll whet your appetites, gentlemen,' he suggested before tearing open Mary's dress.
Coffin looked away, ashamed of the girl's nakedness. Keeping his eyes averted from the stage, he watched the bidders. There was a flurry of activity now and the Doctor entered the competition, cautiously showing and interest. The asking price rose rapidly and, reluctantly, several of the bidders fell by the wayside, including the man with the gun.
'Surely a prize piece like this is worth than that, sirs,' the auctioneer insisted. 'Why, it's an insult to the lady.'
The Doctor and the bearded man were the only people still bidding. Coffin's heart was in his mouth. He knitted his hands together in pray and closed his eyes.
'And sold to you, sir!'
Coffin's eyes snapped open and then widened in horror as the bearded man stepped forward to claim his new property.
'What happened?' Coffin demanded.
The Doctor gestured to the money. 'It wasn't enough after all.'
* * *
Rose stood on the deck of the paddle steamer watching the scenery pass by. It was not passing by anything like quickly enough. She had spent the first day in her cabin, just wanting this all to be over with, but the claustrophobia of being confined to just one room had become overwhelming. It was not that she did not still think what they were doing was important - this had all been her idea in the first place - but at the moment she was not doing anything. All she could do was wait until the paddle steamer reached its final destination while the Doctor took all the risks. Rose was not very good at waiting.
Fairfield had found it easier. He was inside, sharing bawdy jokes and playing cards. Rose had taken one look at the saloon and decided it was not for her, with the smoke and the noise and the spitting and whatever. Mind you, give her another few days of boredom and she would probably be cursing and spitting with the best of them.
Abraham was below decks, chained with everyone else's slaves. Rose had paid him a visit at the start of the voyage. She had not been able to go back since. They were tied up like cattle, left in squalor and filth and fed thin gruel as if they were barely human. She supposed that to many of the people here, that were barely human.
But that was not the worst of it. The worst of it had been Abraham's reaction to her shock and horror.
'It's not so bad, miss,' he had said, 'not compared to what I'm used to.'
'You can't mean that.'
'They brought us here by boat,' Abraham explained. 'Hundreds of us, all forced to lie inside with only this much space each.' He held his hands about a foot apart. 'We couldn't move, not because we were chained or because of the guards, but because there wasn't any room. Once a day they got us up on deck and made us dance and eat and then they sent us back down into our pit. They'd hose us down where we lay, washing off all the filth that had nowhere else to go. And we stayed that way for a month or more before they took us off the boat and sold us.'
'That's horrible,' Rose said.
'Not all of us made it here alive, miss,' Abraham continued. 'I would wake up after a couple of hours sleep and the man next to me would be staring at me, never blinking. They took his body and they threw him into the sea for the fish to feed on. They threw a lot of bodies into the sea.
'I used to think they were the lucky ones.'
Abraham's chains were rattling and Rose noticed that his hands were shaking. She put her own hands on them to steady them.
'Don't be, miss,' Abraham had said. 'You and Mister Fairfield, you've given me back my hope. In a few more days I won't be a slave no more. I'll be free.'
* * *
'What can we do now?' Coffin asked. His hands were shaking so he stuffed them into his pockets.
'You all right?' the Doctor asked.
'I'll be fine,' Coffin replied. 'I'm just getting too old for this, that's all.'
'You can go home, you know,' the Doctor suggested. 'I'll get Mary on my own.'
Coffin shook his head. 'I said I'd help you and I will. There are too many people in this country doing nothing as it is.'
'That's the spirit.' The Doctor clapped him on the shoulder. 'Ever play poker?'
'Then you'll enjoy this.' The Doctor noticed Coffin's expression and his face fell. 'Or maybe not.'
The pair entered the tavern and the Doctor sauntered over to the table where the bearded man who had purchased Mary was playing cards.
'Hello. Remember me?'
The man looked up. 'My opponent at the auction. You missed out on a good buy there my friend.'
'Yeah, well, no hard feeling's right.' The Doctor sat down and extended a hand across the table. 'I'm the Doctor by the way.'
'Harry Mandeville.' The bearded man gave the Doctor's hand a warm shake.
'Pleased to meet you, Harry.' The Doctor waved Coffin over. 'Thing is, Harry, I was kind of hoping you could do me a favour.'
'That would rather depend on the favour.' Mandeville laughed and, after a moment, his companions did likewise.
'It's like this,' the Doctor explained. 'I've just discovered my friend here has never experienced the joys of poker and I couldn't help but noticing...'
He waved vaguely at the game in progress.
'You'd like to join us?' Mandeville asked. 'Well if you can raise the stake money...'
'Funny you should mention that,' the Doctor replied, 'but I've got all this cash I didn't get to spend on a slave.' He turned to Coffin. 'Deep breaths, Levi. Just remember, it's all in a good cause.'
'I just hope you know what you're doing,' Coffin whispered back.
* * *
A shadow passed across Rose and she looked up from the steamer's railing, roused from her memories. A tall man wearing a black waistcoat over a claret shirt was standing next to her. He had a narrow goatee, wore a patch over his left eye and was absently chewing on an unlit cigar.
'Drags after a while, doesn't it,' he drawled.
'The cruise,' he replied. 'There's not much to do here if you don't gamble or drink.'
'Not your thing either?' Rose asked.
'Alcohol clouds a man's judgement. He might miss out on a golden opportunity that way.' The man turned so that his back was to the railing and leaned against it. 'As for the gambling, I'm not against it, but I like to play for higher stakes than the folks in there can afford. Name's Wilson.'
'Pretty name. You travelling alone.'
'No. I'm with... my uncle.'
Wilson nodded thoughtfully. 'Yes, I think I've seen him around. And your slave, of course.'
Rose's eyes narrowed. 'What about him?'
'Nothing. Nothing at all. He's a fine specimen, is all. Fact is he reminds me of one a friend of mine keeps down in Lexington. Him and yours are like two peas ion a pod. Could even be related.'
'Anything's possible,' Rose replied cautiously.
Wilson grinned. 'I like that. Now that's an attitude I can respect. Tell you what, Rose, I've really taken a shine to that slave of yours. I can do you a good deal if you'd agree to sell him to me.'
'He's not for sale.'
'Everything's for sale, Rose.' Wilson scratched his beard. 'You just have to name the right price. Perhaps if I spoke to your uncle...'
'Abraham's not for sale.'
'Abraham, is it?'
There was a scream from below deck. Wilson tipped his hat to Rose and than ran in the direction of the steps down. Hitching up her skirts, Rose followed.
A severe-looking woman was cowering in a corner of the hold, being attended by a steward.
'That... that creature attacked me,' she was saying, a lace handkerchief held to her mouth.
She was pointing at Abraham.
Rose hurried towards him, but Wilson put out an arm to stay her.
'He's dangerous,' he warned.
Rose angrily pushed past him.
'What happened,' she whispered to Abraham.
'It was one of the other slaves. His master calls him George. The journey makes him so ill that he can't keep down his food and when his mistress saw the mess he had made she started to beat him.'
The thought of Abraham's accuser raising her hand against one of these big black men might have been comical if Rose had not been able to see George cowering against the ship's hull, livid red welts on his back.
'I know I should have left alone, but I couldn't. I tried to stop her.'
Wilson had joined them.
'Thing about slaves is they've still got the wild inside of them.' He was holding a long whip in his hands. 'They have to be tamed and pains a remarkable teacher. Your Abraham needs a lesson.'
Staring at the whip, Rose could not bring herself to speak.
'If you don't have the stomach for it,' Wilson said, 'and no shame in that, I'll happily do it for you.'
Abraham looked imploringly at Rose.
'I'll do it,' she managed to say.
The whip was heavy in her hands. The grip was coarse and still warm from where Wilson had been holding it.
Abraham turned his back to her.
Rose raised the lash.
She brought it down with a sharp crack. Blood welled up from the wound she had made, rivulets trickling slowly down Abraham's broad back.
Abraham did not cry out. Instead he whispered, so that only Rose could hear, 'Again.'
Rose looked to Wilson, but his face was unreadable. The severe-looking woman, supported by the steward, was hobbling over for a closer look. There was hunger in her eyes.
'Well,' she demanded. 'What are you waiting for? Hit him again.'
Rose brought the whip down again and this time Abraham did scream in pain.
'Again,' he encouraged her, his words drowned out by a similar encouragement from the bloodthirsty woman.
Again the whip cracked. Tears were streamed down Abraham's face now to match the blood on his back. Rose wanted to cry as well, but she could not, not while Wilson and others were watching, so she buried her emotions deep inside.
Her face a blank canvas, she brought the whip down across Abraham's back for a fourth time.
'Again,' he hissed weakly. 'Please.'
The whip cracked once final time and Abraham fell face down on the floor.
'Hit him again,' the severe-looking woman insisted. 'Hit him again.'
Rose rounded on her. 'He's been punished. It's over. I won't destroy my... my property just to satisfy your blood lust.'
'Girl's right,' Wilson added. 'She's done her bit. You want any more, you'd better be prepared to pay for damages.'
The woman spun on her heel in disgust and stalked away.
'I'm officially impressed, Rose,' Wilson continued. 'I didn't think you'd have the guts to go through with it.'
Ignoring him, Rose dropped the whip to the floor and ran for the fresh air above deck. She found Fairfield running the other way.
'I heard there was trouble,' he said. 'What happened?'
'I want to go to my cabin.'
Fairfield continued to try to prise information from her as he led her to her room, but Rose did not trust herself to speak. When they reached her cabin, away from prying eyes, Rose curled up on her bed and finally allowed herself to cry.
* * *
Mandeville studied the Doctor across the top of his cards. The Doctor grinned back. They were the only two players left in the game, the others having decided it was too rich for them long ago.
'Well, Doctor,' Mandeville asked, 'do you want to fold.'
'Tempting,' the Doctor replied. His cards lay face down on the table in front of him. He had not even bothered to look at his hand. 'But I think I'll raise you.'
He threw some more cash into the pot.
'You're mad, Doctor,' Mandeville told him.
'Then call me,' the Doctor suggested, 'assuming you can match my stake.'
Mandeville indicated the empty table in front of him.
'You can see you've cleaned me out,' he said with a scowl.
'Not entirely.' His eyes drifted to Mary. 'You still have one thing that I want.'
'She's worth more than what's in the pot.'
The Doctor shoved all of his winnings into the centre of the table. 'How about all this, plus what's already in the pot, against her. Does that tempt you?'
Mandeville drummed his fingers on the table. 'You don't even know what's in your hand.'
'What can I say?' the Doctor replied with a shrug. 'I like to gamble.'
'You must like to lose as well.' Mandeville laid his cards down on the table. 'Three Kings and a pair of Sevens. Full House.'
He reached for the money, but the Doctor raised a finger. Then, one by one, he flipped over his cards.
Ten of Hearts.
Jack of Hearts.
Queen of Hearts.
King of Hearts.
Ace of Hearts.
'Royal Flush,' he declared, 'which, if I remember correctly, beats everything.'
Mandeville's face flushed red, then beetroot purple. His whole body was vibrating. Coffin tensed in his chair, ready for the explosion. But the explosion never came. Instead, Mandeville released the pent up energy as a great belly laugh and rocked back on the rear legs of his chair.
'You are a truly remarkable man, Doctor. Take her with my compliments. You've earned her.'
'Thank you. Now, if you'll excuse me.' The Doctor stood up and took Mary by the hand.
The doors to the tavern were flung open and the bespectacled man from the auction burst in, a piece of paper in his hand.
'Stop him,' he yelled, pointing at the Doctor. He unfurled the piece of paper - a wanted poster. 'He's wanted for helping slaves to escape.'
'Is that right,' Mandeville demanded, climbing to his feet.
'Would you believe this is all one big misunderstanding?' the Doctor asked.
More patrons were standing now.
'No? Well, it's been a pleasure.' He grabbed Coffin and dragged both him and Mary towards the door. 'Run!'
* * *
'I'm sorry for... for doing what I did,' Rose said inadequately.
The time had come to leave the steamer and she had descended into the hold to fetch Abraham.
'It had to be done,' Abraham replied, still bent almost double by his injuries. 'Better it was you than one of them.'
'Rose. I'm surprised to see you down here again.' Wilson was standing behind her. He was so close that Rose could feel the heat of his breath on her neck.
'What do you want?' she asked.
'I want to know what your game is,' Wilson said. 'I've had my eye on you and your slave since you came onboard.'
'And I want you to know that your little bit of play-acting beating Abraham here isn't fooling anyone.'
'It wasn't play-acting,' Rose replied. 'We're leaving now.'
Wilson grabbed Rose's arm and spun her around so that she faced him.
'You're hurting me,' she said.
'What you did took guts, lots of guts,' Wilson growled, 'but you're not nearly as smart as you think you are, little girl.'
'Rose, what's keeping you?' Fairfield called from the top of the steps.
'Nothing,' Rose called back.
She snatched her arm out of Wilson's grip.
'Goodbye,' she said.
Wilson winked at her.
'Be seeing you.'
* * *
The Doctor, dragging Mary with him, threw himself into Coffin's coach. Coffin grabbed the reins and spurred the horses into action.
'Where are you taking me?' Mary asked.
'To see Abraham,' the Doctor replied. 'You remember Abraham? Your husband.'
Mary misunderstood. 'You're taking me back to the plantation.'
'No, not at all,' the Doctor corrected her. 'Abraham's free.'
'Yeah, free,' the Doctor said. 'He's on his way to Canada right now and he sent me to bring you to him.'
'We're going to be free?' Mary asked again.
'Not if they catch up with us you won't,' Coffin interjected.
The Doctor leaned out of the coach to watch their pursuers. 'Can't we outrun them?'
Coffin shook his head. 'They don't have the weight of a coach to contend with.'
The Doctor sank back in his seat. 'There must be something we can do.'
'Doctor, you're best hope is to jump out when we go round this next bend,' Coffin suggested. 'If your lucky they won't see you and I can lead them away.'
'And what will they do to you if they catch up with you?' the Doctor asked.
'I'll cross that bridge when I come to it,' Coffin replied. 'The important thing is to get Mary to safety. Promise me you'll do that, Doctor.'
'I promise,' the Doctor said. 'You're a brave man, Levi.'
'I'm just trying to do the right thing. Bravery doesn't enter into it. Now get ready to jump.'
The bend was rapidly approaching.
'Brace yourself,' the Doctor warned Mary. 'Wait for it... and jump!'
Together, Mary and the Doctor launched themselves from the fast-moving carriage. They hit the ground hard and rolled down a steep incline into a ditch.
'Keep you head down,' the Doctor ordered Mary as she started to rise.
Horses hooves thundered on the road above them and the Doctor pressed himself flat against the earth, waiting. Finally the sounds died away. Brushing the dirt from his clothes, the Doctor stood up and then helped Mary to her feet.
'What do we do now?' Mary asked.
The Doctor looked off in the direction in which Coffin had disappeared.
'Now,' he replied, 'I keep a promise.'
* * *
'We need to find transport to Lake Erie,' Fairfield said as he, Rose and Abraham threaded their way through the crowds on the docks. 'Once we cross the lake we're in Canada and we're safe.'
'We can't get there soon enough if you ask me,' Rose began, then trailed off.
'What is it?'
Fairfield realised Rose was no longer following him and stopped. Forcing his way back through the people, he found her and Abraham staring at a sheet of paper nailed to the side of a building.
'That's us, isn't it?' Rose said when she noticed the Fairfield had joined them. 'Those descriptions, they're us.'
Fairfield whistled. 'One thousand dollars reward for our captures and Abraham's return. Ebbitt must want you pretty bad.'
'Not as badly as I want that money.' Rose flinched as Wilson jabbed his Colt revolver into the small of her back. 'I knew there was something up about you three.'
'Must be nice to be right.' Fairfield balled his hands into fists.
'Now, now, Mister...' Wilson peered over Rose's shoulder at the wanted poster. '...Fairfield, don't try anything heroic or Rose here will suffer the consequences. Now, let's go and find a judge so that I can claim my reward.'
Taking hold of Rose's shoulder with his free hand, Wilson guided her out onto the street.
'Easy does it,' he said.
At the edge of the river, a fishing boat had just docked. Its crew tried to heft a net full of fish onto dry land, but the net burst and the fish skidded out into the street. In the confusion, Wilson let go of Rose.
This was the opportunity Fairfield had been waiting for. He grabbed Rose's hand and dragged her away. Abraham followed as best he could. Wilson levelled his revolver, but the crowd was too densely packed for him to get a clear shot. Cursing, he dived after them.
'This way,' Fairfield said, hauling Rose down as side street.
'Where are we going?' she asked.
'I've no idea, but 'away' will do for a start.'
'Those posters are everywhere,' Rose said, pointing to the walls. 'Everyone will be looking for us.'
'Then we'll just have to keep running.'
'Come back with my money,' Wilson demanded. He aimed his gun and pulled the trigger. A shot ricocheted off the wall by Rose's ear.
'Fine, if that's the game you want to play.' Fairfield drew his own revolver and returned fire. One of his shots connected and Wilson staggered against the side of a building, clutching his arm. 'That should slow him down.'
'John,' a voice called out. 'In here.'
Fairfield looked to Rose.
'What have we got to lose,' she said and they dived inside the open warehouse door.
The door was thrown shut as Wilson approached it, the sleeve of his shirt stained with blood. He pounded on the door with his fists.
'Open up in the name of the law,' he yelled.
The door opened a crack to reveal a black man in a clean suit.
'Who the devil are you,' Wilson demanded.
'My name,' the black man replied, 'is William Still. And who might you be?'
'John Wilson. And I don't take kindly to niggers who don't know their place.'
'Is that so, Mr Wilson,' Still replied. 'Are you an officer of the law?'
'I am here to arrest two slave stealers and recapture a fugitive slave,' Wilson said.
'That hardly answers my question,' Still pointed out. 'Are you an officer of the law?'
'No,' Wilson conceded, 'I guess you could say I'm more by way of a concerned citizen.'
'In that case, Mr Wilson, perhaps you would be kind enough to return with a judge. Until then...'
And Still slammed and locked the warehouse door.
* * *
'It's beautiful.' Mary was admiring the new dress that the Doctor had bought for her.
'You're beautiful,' the Doctor replied. 'Probably. More importantly, you'll need to look the part if we're travelling first class. You'll need to wear the veil, though. I'm sorry.'
'I understand,' Mary said.
'On the plus side, with the amount I paid for these tickets, we should be guaranteed some privacy.' The Doctor helped Mary onto the train. 'Next stop, freedom.'
'Will it ever end?' Mary asked as they made their way to their compartment.
'Slavery? Yes. If you're lucky, you'll live to see it.'
'You mean my children will be free?'
The Doctor nodded. He opened the door of their compartment and allowed Mary to enter first.
'And will they ever stop hating us?'
The Doctor sat down and peered out of the window.
'One day you people will realise that you're all descended from apes and one day you'll wake up to the fact that no one ape is better than any other ape just because of the way she looks or talks or what colour skin she's got. One day you'll realise that you're all the same and then, yes, the hate will stop. But I'd be lying if I told you that that day wouldn't be a long time in coming. A very, very long time.'
* * *
'That won't hold him for long,' William Still said. 'He's right. The law is on his side.'
'William, what are you doing here?' Fairfield asked.
'Working,' he replied. 'If you'd bothered to send word then I might be in a better position to help you.'
'William's a member of the Underground Railroad,' Fairfield explained to Rose and Abraham.
'Is that why you're here?' Rose asked. 'Working for the Railroad?'
'No, I'm not,' Still replied. 'I help as much as I can, but I still have my own business to run.'
'Your own business?' Abraham asked. He was staring at Still, amazed by his fine clothes and speech.
'You thought that all black men were slaves in this country?' Still asked. 'Take heart, my friend. There is a bright future for you if you're prepared to work hard and grasp hold of your opportunities with both hands. When I arrived in Philadelphia I was illiterate and had just five dollars in my pocket, but I taught myself to read and to write and I proved my worth to employers and now here I am. You can do the same, if you're willing to try.'
'I am, sir, I am,' Abraham insisted.
'Good man,' Still replied. 'Now to see to your escape. I have a wagon out back.'
Still led the way outside.
'The wagon has a false bottom,' he explained. 'It's cramped, but you should be able to hide in there. John, you will have to drive, but I have a cape that may help to disguise you. Even if you are spotted, they will be looking for free fugitives, not one man travelling alone.'
'You're a good friend, William,' Fairfield said. 'The Railroad's lucky to have you.'
'No, John, the Railroad's lucky to have you,' Still replied. 'I am helping my people. You have no such loyalty to guide you actions and yet you help us anyway. Now, ride like the wind.'
* * *
Sheriff Hicks nearly fell off of his chair when the Doctor and Mary walked into his office.
'Remember me,' the Doctor asked.
Hick's lunged for his gun and, holding it in shaking hands, pointed it at the Doctor. The Doctor raised his hands.
'You're a slave-stealer,' Hicks told him.
'That's true,' the Doctor agreed.
'Mary? Oh, she's another slave I've stolen.'
'Well I'm placing both of you under arrest,' Hicks declared.
'Good man,' the Doctor said. He leaned forward conspiratorially. 'Just between you and me, I can help you find lots more slaves I've stolen.'
'Oh really? Where?'
'Do you remember that blue box I had with me?' the Doctor asked. 'You've still got it?'
'They're in there.'
'What, all of them?'
'All of them.'
The Doctor grinned innocently. 'I'll show you if you like.'
'All right,' he said at last, 'but no tricks.'
'As if,' the Doctor replied.
Still waving the gun, Hicks showed the Doctor and Mary to the storeroom at the back where the TARDIS was waiting.
'It's bigger on the inside than the outside,' the Doctor told Hicks.
'I thought I told you no tricks,' the sheriff replied.
'You don't believe me?' The Doctor looked hurt. 'I'll show you.' He unlocked the door. 'Mary, would you step inside.' Mary did so. 'And now I'll go inside too...'
The Doctor closed the door behind him.
'All right, very funny,' Hicks said. 'Now come on out.'
There was no answer.
'Come on out or I'm coming in after you.'
A raucous trumpeting sound started to echo round the room and a wind picked up that knocked the sheriff's hat from his head.
'What are you two doing in there?' Hicks asked nervously
Then the TARDIS disappeared.
* * *
Rose blinked as bright light assailed her eyes. Fairfield had lifted the lid off of the false bottom of the wagon and now extended a hand to help her down to the ground.
'Where are we?' she asked, her eyes still adjusting to the bright sunlight. A bitterly cold wind tugged at her clothes and her hair.
'Lake Erie,' Fairfield replied. 'That bit of land over there, that's Canada.'
'Freedom,' Abraham said.
'That's right, Abraham, freedom,' Fairfield agreed. 'All we have to do is get you there.'
And how are we supposed to get there?' Rose asked, eyeing the lake and the ice floes floating in it with scepticism.
'I'm open to suggestions,' Fairfield admitted.
'I have a few.' The three fugitives turned and saw Wilson riding towards them. This time he was not alone. 'So near and yet so far. It's tragic really.'
'How's this for tragic.' Fairfield produced his revolver and levelled it at Wilson.
'Do you have enough bullets for all of us?' Wilson asked him.
'I only need one to kill you,' Fairfield replied. 'Remember that.'
'Great, now it's a Mexican standoff,' Rose said.
'Get on the ice,' Fairfield said.
'It's the only way. Take Abraham and get out onto the ice.'
'He's right, miss,' Abraham said. 'We've nowhere else to go.'
'Where goes nothing,' she said, before jumping onto the nearest ice floe. Her feet skidded on the ice, but she managed to steady herself before she fell into the freezing waters of the lake.
'Good girl, Rose,' Fairfield called, risking a glance over his shoulder. 'Now you, Abraham.'
Following Rose's lead, Abraham jumped onto the ice and then together they jumped to the next ice floe.
'Do you really think I'm going to let a thousand dollars slip through my fingers?' Wilson asked.
'I don't see as you have much choice,' Fairfield replied and he shot Wilson's horse.
Panicked and injured, the horse reared up, throwing its rider, then galloped off, startling the other horses. Capitalising on the chaos, Fairfield ran to the edge of the lake and threw himself into the air, landing gracelessly on the nearest ice floe.
'Keep going,' he called to Abraham and Rose as the jumped from ice floe to ice floe. 'Don't look back.'
'After them,' Wilson ordered his men.
'Out there?' one of them asked. 'It's suicide!'
'Cowards,' Wilson snarled and, alone, he jumped onto the ice in pursuit.
Rose slipped on the ice and used her hands to steady herself. The cold was biting and it felt as if a layer of skin had been ripped away when she lifted her hands.
'Hurry,' Abraham called from the next ice floe.
Gritting her teeth, Rose staggered slowly to her feet.
'I'm coming,' she called out through chattering teeth.
'No, you're not.'
Wilson landed nimbly on the same ice floe and grabbed Rose by the hair.
'Listen to me,' he yelled to Fairfield and Abraham. 'If you want this girl to live, you'll both head back the way you came.'
'Any if we don't?' Fairfield had his revolver in his hand, but Rose was blocking his shot.
'Bang,' Wilson replied simply.
'I am through being a hostage,' Rose snapped.
She jabbed an elbow into Wilson's stomach and he staggered backwards. He tried to halt his movement, but the surface of the ice was to slick and he plunged off of the ice floe into the lake. On her hands and knees, Rose crawled towards the edge.
'Rose, leave him,' Fairfield shouted. 'He's not worth it.'
Ignoring him, Rose reached out to Wilson. 'Take my hand.'
'Whatever you say.' Wilson grabbed Rose by the wrist and pulled her into the water with him. The cold immediately started sucking the strength from her muscles and she began to sink.
Wilson meanwhile was climbing back onto the ice floe.
'Wilson!' Fairfield called to him. 'Remember what I said about the bullet.'
He pulled the trigger. Wilson rolled to one side and the bullet sped past him, ploughing a deep furrow in the ice.
'You missed,' he taunted Fairfield.
Tiny cracks started to form around the bullet's furrow and bigger cracks spread out from those. Then, suddenly, the ice floe collapsed inwards, plunging Wilson beneath the water's surface.
'Depends on your point of view,' Fairfield muttered to himself.
'Rose,' Abraham was yelling. 'Rose, can you hear me?'
Rose's hand was still above the surface and then, for a brief moment, her head emerged.
Abraham's ice floe was drifting away from her. He jumped to a new one, but he could not see a path that would get him any closer. There was only one option: he dived into the lake. A few quick strokes brought him alongside Rose and he wrapped his arms around her, lifting her head above water.
'Just hang on, miss,' he said, teeth hammering together. 'Just hang on.'
'Doctor?' Rose whispered.
With a trumpeting roar, the TARDIS faded into existence, bobbing on the surface of the lake.
'Take my hand,' the Doctor instructed, having thrown open the doors.
Forcing his aching muscles to work, Abraham did as he was instructed and slowly hauled both himself and the barely conscious Rose to safety.
* * *
Abraham could not get out of the TARDIS fast enough. Mary followed more slowly.
'Thank you for everything you've done,' she said to the Doctor.
'You should be thanking Rose,' he replied. 'I wouldn't even be here if it wasn't for her.'
'If there's anything we can do,' Mary offered.
'Just live your life,' the Doctor said. 'You've got a chance for a new start here. Don't waste it, that's all I ask.'
'Me, I'd settle for a nice hot bath,' Rose said, emerging from the TARDIS with a towel in her hands.
'Doctor,' Fairfield said, following Rose into the sunshine, 'I was just thinking of all the fugitives we can help with a machine like this.'
'I'm afraid you'll have to do it on your own,' the Doctor said. 'I'm needed elsewhere.'
'But there are crimes being committed here,' Fairfield protested.
'There are crimes being committed elsewhere too,' the Doctor replied. 'The difference is that I know that here there are people who will fight the good fight in my absence.'
He offered Fairfield his hand.
'Good luck to you.'
Fairfield gripped the proffered hand firmly.
'And to you, Doctor, and to you. I've a feeling that, wherever that box of yours takes you, you're going to need it.'
* * *
Next year, a friend of mine will be walking the Great Wall of China in aid of the British Heart Foundation. If you've enjoyed the above story, it would mean a lot to me if you would consider showing your appreciation by sponsoring Heather and supporting what is a very worthy cause. You can find links to Heather's blog, to the website of the British Heart Foundation and to where you can sponsor Heather on my profile page. Any support you can give would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks for your help.