"Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson shall be my guests until their luggage is recovered," the woman declared. "Only do hurry now, Dr. Watson. We are in desperate need of your services."
"Of course, my good woman!" the Doctor exclaimed. He turned to the Brigadier "All right, Holmes?"
"Yes, Doctor Watson. Whatever you say." And Lethbridge Stewart barely hid a scowl at his companion. They climbed onto the buckboard and took their places on the long narrow seat next to their attractive driver.
"I am Florence Charles," she told them. She released the brake and took up the reins with a certain expertise. But before she turned the horses, she addressed the railroad agent. "My family occupy the great house just outside of town on the east side, sir. You may call on us there, as it suits Mr. Holmes."
The agent touched the brim of his hat to her. She chirruped to the horses, and they started off.
She turned the buckboard around in a tight circle and the horses quickly found the double-rutted road. They trotted briskly towards the town. She had been visibly upset, nearly frantic, when the Brigadier had first seen her. But now that she knew her brother was alive, she seemed possessed of a determination to do anything to save him.
"Not the Charles family that has perfected rifle assembly?" the Doctor asked. "Holmes was only recently telling me about this remarkable manufacturing process, weren't you my dear Holmes?"
Lethbridge Stewart did not answer. Florence Charles spoke: "Yes, Dr. Watson. My father was one of the several pioneers of the interchangeable assembly."
"And he settled you here? In Kansas?"
"We're in North Dakota!" the Brigadier barked.
He was sitting on the end, and the young woman glanced over at him. She was stylishly dressed for the times, wearing a tight bodice with a high collar. Her hat was a feminized version of a Stetson, small and set at a rather pert angle. Two very small, downy feathers fluttered in the hat band. She had large eyes that were pale green. She was quite attractive, the Brigadier thought, and there was an elegant, almost frail beauty in her fair skin and the delicate bones of her hands. Her glance at him was, in fact, startled and shy. She was unused to gruffness and shouting. He made his expression more moderate. "Pardon me," he said more gently. "It is not entirely unusual for the Doctor, here to get his geography confused. Sometimes it tries my patience."
But though his gruffness with the Doctor had startled her, and though she had been driven by this crisis to find the Doctor and beg his help for her injured brother, she was now composed. Her voice was steady as she guided the team.
"Yes, this is North Dakota, gentlemen. My father has little love for the big cities. He tried to settle us in Chicago, but he found it untenable, and so he built an estate here. As long as we are close to the railroad, he feels certain that he can travel quickly to any of his factories. And he used to go away on business a good deal. But he loves the wild beauty of the prairie."
The town quickly came into view, a series of black silhouettes on the bare horizon. As they neared it, it rapidly descended into details of raw wood on some of the buildings and bright paint on others. Pickets and small cloth flags had been set at some distance from the outside streets to mark off new streets and new buildings.
The double-rutted tracks they had been following became a broad, flat, dirt road. Florence Charles guided them down the main street and reined in so that the Doctor could climb past the Brigadier and jump down. She pointed to one of the wooden buildings. "That is Dr. Martin's surgery, Dr. Watson," she told the time lord. "He is expecting you. I shall take Mr. Holmes to my family's house and tell my poor father of this dreadful thing. The first word we heard was that Jefferson had been killed! And my father is distraught at not knowing anything. Please do what you can for my brother, Dr. Watson!"
The Doctor nodded. "Certainly, Madam! Tell your parents to be of good cheer. Your brother seems healthy otherwise. We may be able to get him well on the mend!"
"Thank you!" she said, and then she again called to the horses and speedily drove them out of the main thoroughfare. But she seemed at a loss to know what to say to the Brigadier. He had shouted at the Doctor, and she was uneasy.
"You must pardon my irritation with my colleague, Miss Charles," he said, his voice gentle. "We sometimes grouse at each other, but it is harmless. I assure you that your brother is in excellent hands. The Doctor can work wonders. He has amazed me in the past with his skills."
These encouraging words put her more at her ease. "You think the derailment was deliberately arranged, Mr. Holmes?" she asked.
The Brigadier felt awkward at being addressed this way. Somebody in this town was sure to know that Sherlock Holmes was merely a work of fiction. But he answered her. "I do, Miss Charles. And the most likely explanation is that whoever laid down that chain is here in the town. Certainly, a person who has a motive to derail a train would want to assure himself that his purposes were accomplished. But for the life of me, I cannot reason out why a person would want to do such a thing. There is no clear motive!" He glanced at her in exasperation. "Nobody was robbed and nothing was taken. So what was there to be gained?"
"It is you that must tell us that, Mr. Holmes." Her voice was gentle, and hopeful. "What will be your first method of investigation?"
He floundered for an answer and heard himself say, "Well, we've looked at the wreck itself. But the chain can tell us nothing. In this wild country of yours, they must be easily obtainable, and not traceable." He cocked an eyebrow. "I suppose we shall have to question the people from the train. They are bedding down in the livery stable, most of them."
"I can send Faith and Eben with you on a mission of mercy," she said decisively. "With food and blankets. Any kindness may evoke better help for you."
"Faith and Eben? Your brother and sister?"
She colored slightly. "The household servants, Mr. Holmes. Faith is our cook, and Eben---her husband---keeps the estate."
"I see. How silly of me."
He was embarrassed at his slip. They drove in silence over the hard packed dirt road until it became a double-rutted trail. As she guided the team up one of the endless draws that seemed to open up without warning, he saw before them a large and magnificent house. The waving grass on the rolling land gave the impression that the house was a ship on a moving sea of billowing grass.
The hedges around the clapboard walls showed a more refined cultivation, and there was a glassed-in room on the south side of the house that promised a wider variety of vegetation inside than the prairie offered.
A middle aged black man ran out onto the drove to meet them, lifting his hand to catch the bridle and take the team for her.
"I'd have gone to get the doctor for you, Miss Flo," he began, obviously concerned that she had driven out alone under such duress. "I only just got back from Everett's---"
The Brigadier jumped down and offered her his hand. "No it's all right, Eben," she told the servant. "Jefferson is in good hands, now. And I'm all right. I didn't want to take you away from Father. How is he? You spoke positively about Jefferson, did you?"
"Yes, Miss. Doctor Algol, he sat a good while with your father. I believe he asked Faith to bring tea to your father. I just come in a few minutes ago. How is your poor brother?"
She became brisk and more gracious. "Thank you, Eben. He is certainly better than first reported. I must go and explain the situation to Father. This is Mr. Sherlock Holmes, Eben. He is a great man from England. He's going to help us."
The black man, one hand keeping hold of the horses by the bridle, touched his forehead and inclined his head to the Brigadier. The Brigadier nodded back, and Eben led the team towards the stables.
"Your father is in poor health, Miss Charles?" the Brigadier asked as she led him up to the front porch.
"A chronic gastritis, I'm afraid, Mr. Holmes. It has struck him only in the last year. Dr. Algol has been of some help to him when the conventional remedies fail. I'm afraid that the physician in town has very little to offer when the affliction is heaviest. But there is no doubt that worry or grief make it that much worse for him, and he's been none too well as of late. I must speak to him optimistically about this matter."
"There is no doubt that Dr. Watson can do a great deal for your brother, Madam. I assure you, he is a brilliant surgeon."
The large eyes suddenly looked up at him, filled with hope at his confidence and unspoken anxiety for her brother. The Brigadier was startled at how vulnerable and frail she had suddenly become, just as when he had first seen her, kneeling by her brother and beseeching the Doctor to save him. It was hard to believe she had just driven that team so handily over the prairie. She looked like a mere child, and he realized that she was not more than 17 or 18. Younger than Jo Grant.
"I shall have Faith make you welcome," she told him. "You can direct her on gathering supplies for the people in the livery stable. Our horses and our other means are at your disposal, Mr. Holmes. Do excuse me for now."
"Certainly." He bowed, and she led him into the grand house. The housekeeper, neatly attired in a simple but ample dress, met them at the door. She took over and led him to rooms on the second floor while Florence Charles hurried away to speak to her ailing father.
* * * *
The Brigadier asked Faith to gather items for the relief of the injured and those who would spend the night in the livery stable. Though he offered to help her, she would have none of it, and so he was left to himself to explore the rooms that had been allotted to him and the Doctor.
The house had been built along very grand lines, and it could have held its head up alongside any mansion or estate house on the east coast of the United States. But instead of overlooking a bay or an ocean or a city skyline, it looked out over the sea of billowing grasses. On the south end of the main hallway, a large window looked towards the town, which was a dark line in the distance.
Faith had shown him into a sitting room that had a few doors leading out of it, two to opposite sleeping chambers, and one to a wash room equipped with cold running water. As for any sign of a loo, there were clean chamber pots under each bed. This was as comfortable as it could get in whatever year this was (and the Brigadier was sure it was not 1890). For a moment he understood why the Doctor demanded perfect comfort when he knew it was available. Anybody who traveled through time would obviously have to "rough it" fairly often.
Eben hurried in to lay the fire for him in the sitting room, but first he set down the kindling and said, "Mr. Holmes, Miss Flo said to fit you out if you like. Your tackle's been ruint in the train wreck, sir?"
"Yes, but I may not be easy to fit."
"Oh no. You're about the size of the young sir. I thought you might do well with these trousers and this shirt and coat, sir. Come in, Faith."
Faith brought in the clothing, draped over her arm. This was very agreeable. British army uniform trousers, a white undershirt, and a railroad man's leather jacket really didn't go well in any century.
The Brigadier retired with the clothing to one of the bedrooms and changed. Eben laid the fire. In a few minutes, Faith came in to ask her husband to load the wagon for the relief trip to town.
"Now that's nearly a perfect fit, Mr. Holmes," the housekeeper said. "Miss Flo says we must have a bite to eat first. She says that you and Dr. Watson have put in a day's work clearing the wreck. I've got chicken pie downstairs if you like."
"Sounds perfect!" the Brigadier said gratefully. He was famished.
Faith led him down to the spacious kitchen, where a table was laid for him to have a hot meal. The servants had plates as well, and they would have stood to eat, but he invited them to join him.
Eben was thankful for this, as he had been busy "seeing about horses," as he called it, all morning, not knowing about the derailment.
"But this Dr. Algol," the Brigadier asked. "We sent out a call for help. We could have used a medical man out there. Is he not a medical doctor?"
"He's some kind of doctor," Faith affirmed as she took his plate to the open oven. "Mr. Charles is fascinated with him, for his knowledge. He been all over, I think. Seen everything." She set down a plate of steaming chicken pie before the Brigadier. "In fact, Dr. Algol was settin' right out there in that parlor with both Miss Flo and her father when that silly boy Finney from town rode up and shouted about the train. Stupid boy had no more sense than to shout out that Mr. Jeff was dead."
Eben made a sense of commiserating disgust and nodded in thanks as she returned with a plate for him.
"So Miss Florence drove straight out?" the Brigadier asked. "Alone?"
"I was down at the Everett's homestead, looking at a horse for young Mr. Charles," Eben said. "His father sent me down this morning. If I'd been here, I'd have driven down to see to the young man."
Faith returned with her own plate and was surprised and pleased when the Brigadier stood and held her chair. She sat down. "My Eben, he's wise about horses," she said. "Mr. Charles, other folks, they ask his opinion a lot."
"I see. But Dr. Algol didn't accompany her?" Both Faith and Eben became much more careful and guarded. They poked at their food. Faith said, cautiously, "Well, he offered to, but Miss Florence, she asked him to stay with elder Mr. Charles."
The Brigadier looked from one of them to the other. "Yet she was nearly frantic with worry when she arrived the first time." Neither servant looked up to comment. He asked a question. "She did not care for Dr. Algol's company?"
"That's a question she could answer better," Eben said, all caution, but Faith said with startling candor, "She certainly did not care for his company, Mr. Holmes."
"Faith!" Eben hissed. "That's not our business!"
"I didn't mean to make offense, Mr. Holmes," Faith said with feigned meekness. But he sensed that she had deliberately let him know that Florence Charles was being sought by this Dr. Algol, and the young lady did not like it. He recalled that Florence, apparently, had no mother.
"How long since Mrs. Charles passed over?" he asked.
"Oh, nigh to ten years now, sir," Faith told him. "Consumption. It was one reason Mr. Charles insisted they get away from the factories."
"And you were housekeeper then?"
She shook her head. "Only one of many servants, Mr. Holmes. But Eben was country bred, and we were willing to come out this far. And young Florence was only eight year old." She passed him the sugar bowl. "I didn't like it at first. Too open. And we'd go a week at a time when the wind would never stop blowin'. But the children took to it. Eben taught them both to ride and to shoot, and then to drive a team. That was the first couple years. When Mr. Charles was still well and had to be away a good bit."
"We started out with two others hired by Mr. Charles, but they drifted off. Married others, moved on, and started families of their own. But Faith wouldn't be parted from Miss Flo," Eben added. "We got no children of our own, and we were right used to the sound of the two of them clattering through the house." He sat back from his empty plate and pulled out his pipe. "Wouldn't be washing day back then if I didn't hear Faith calling for me to come get a frog or a snake out of young Mr. Jefferson's clothes hamper." He grinned at his wife, and she smiled. Then she became sober. "Oh, I pray he's gonna' be all right."
* * * *
The horses that had done duty that morning needed at least an hour to rest, and so Eben hitched up a second pair. These were not as well matched and were less trained, but the black man was not intimidated by them. After two baskets of food had been loaded into the wagon, followed by a bundle of blankets and several empty buckets, Eben climbed into the driver's seat.
"These ponies don't do for Miss Flo," he told the Brigadier. "But they do for me when they know me through the reins. Get on, then!" And he gave them a light tap with the reins. "Ya'll be good, and let's have no nonsense!"
The Brigadier was not really a horse expert, but even he sensed the difference in behavior. Eben noticed this. And so he said, "It's all in the way they pull, Mr. Holmes. You can know a lot about a horse jus' by takin' the reins. Same with people, some folks say."
"How's that?" the Brigadier asked.
"Well, if I let these horses go, you'd really see the difference 'tween them and a good quality pair. If I keep a tight rein on 'em, I got them trained well enough, you might not know them from the pair Miss Flo drives."
The Brigadier cocked an eyebrow at him. "And with people?"
"When they got a tight rein on 'em, they all look pretty much the same." Eben was a short man, his skin the color of dark coffee, with broad shoulders and huge, capable hands. He shot a look up at the Brigadier. "You look in a church on Sunday mornin', everybody's a Christian. Time to check is on Saturday night. Who's at the saloon and who's at prayers."
"Do you know something about this derailment, Eben?"
"I wish to heaven, I did, sir. I don't. I just know that the time to read a man is when he don't think nobody's watchin' him. When he thinks he's free, then you'll see what he really is. Miss Flo tells my Faith you're a detective. You hunt out criminals."
He sidestepped the question. "That's my reputation, anyway."
"Ain't you found it's so, then? Keep a tight rein on a man, and he'll behave all right. Then give him his head and let him go, and you'll see how he pulls and how he steps."
The Brigadier certainly understood the concept, but he wondered if Eben were not dropping a more specific hint to him. "Well Eben, if I were to ask you, who would you suggest I talk to first?" he asked.
"You might try Solomon. He's Dr. Algol's man. Valet, they say, but he's had some education, and he helps Dr. Algol in his experiments."
The Brigadier cocked an eyebrow. "This Dr. Algol is a scientist?"
"He dabbles a bit, or so he says. Quite frankly, sir, Solomon tells me that Dr. Algol works very hard in the laboratory and greenhouse, usually in secret, and locks up his notes in a big book that has a latch and key on it." Eben shrugged. "He does thing with the plants. Refinings, he calls it."
"You distrust this Dr. Algol?"
The servant shifted and looked uncomfortable. For a moment he worked on keeping the horses on a tighter rein. "He has a lot of new ideas, and folks are interested in him. Like strange fire. He demonstrated what they call those arc lights last year. Wanted the town to adopt them. Y'ever seen them?"
"In London we have modernized beyond arc lighting," the Brigadier said lightly. "But the people in town didn't like his plan?"
"No, folks said it was too dangerous. Dr. Algol, he didn't like that. But then later he said it was better to wait. Said there would be more improvements. He showed everybody a letter he'd written to a scientist in the East." Eben hesitated, and then he said, "But when he was thwarted at the first, he was a sight to behold." The servant glanced up at the Brigadier. "He come up to the house pretty often when Mr. Charles is well enough to see him. I've seen him angry and pouring out his complaints to Mr. Charles."
"And what does Miss Florence think of this Algol?" the Brigadier asked.
Eben shrugged. "But Solomon, his man, he could tell you more about him." He hesitated. "I know Dr. Algol gave up cigars because Miss Flo disapproves of tobacco. I---I know he has expressed---concern over what might happen to her if Mr. Charles were to be laid low with his illnesses."
The Brigadier sharpened his voice. "Concern?"
Eben was looking away. "Concern. Yes sir. Concern. Like a woman shouldn't be alone out on the prairie."
"And Miss Florence. What does she say to his concerns?"
"She don't like it when he expresses his concern. She told him so, once." He flicked a quick glance at the Brigadier. "And he didn't like that. Solomon told me." And then he echoed very quietly, "A servant sees a lot. Sees what the outside world don't see."
"Right then." He fell silent and Eben did not interject any more prairie wisdom. They rattled over the dirt ruts for several minutes until the town came more clearly into view.
Eben drove him to the back of the livery stable, which was a large yard where the wagons could turn around easily. A large sign that read NO SMOKING IN THE HAY had been nailed up on a cross piece by the large entryway where the wagons pulled in.
A very stout, very sturdy woman with dark clothing, a forbidding face and bright, sparkling eyes met them. She wore her bonnet tightly tied down, like a soldier guarding against bullets in the trenches.
"So you're Mr. Holmes," she said directly. "I'm Mary Graylock, of the Women's Missionary Society. We're dispensing assistance to the people inside. Shall I take these things." It wasn't really a question. "Eben can help me." That wasn't a question, either.
"I'll help, too," the Brigadier said.
She shook her head and flashed a look of distaste at him. "Your friend the Doctor fellow sent word if you came that he'd meet you in the saloon as soon as he finishes. If you have any sense, you'll meet him in front of the saloon." She gave him a scowl and a nod and set to work with Eben. The black man shot him a look to warn him against arguing or protesting, and the Brigadier let himself be guided by Eben's expertise in dealing with appointees of the Women's Missionary Society.
The Brigadier wandered over to the saloon. By now it was late afternoon, and the sky was cloudy like molten lead. He'd served in the desert and in the mountains, but this was the biggest sky he'd ever seen, stretching from one distant horizon to another. Nothing, he realized, compared for vastness with a spring storm sky over the prairie. A faint whiff of tobacco smoke drifted over the street, and he wished for a cigarette. The last time he'd had one had been at the Nut Hutch. Only yesterday, really. Or the day before.
Men in work denims and boots were lounging on the raw plank sidewalk and against the rails and timber supports in front of a wide doorway. Disappointingly, the saloon doors were not the type one usually saw at the cinema. The proprietor had put wooden frames on hinges and tacked them over with pink mosquito netting in a futile attempt to keep out flies.
The men out front nodded at him in unsmiling acceptance as he walked past them and went inside. He realized that he had no money and by habit thrust his hands into the pockets of his borrowed trousers to check. But there was a twenty dollar gold piece tucked inside the right pocket. Perhaps accidentally left behind by Jefferson, or perhaps a touch of foresight from the discrete Florence Charles.
"And there's the man himself!" a voice boomed. It was Big Tierney. "Will you drink with a rail hand, Mr. Holmes?"
"Certainly, and a great pleasure, if you'll allow me to buy."
"Oh, you're money's no good here. The beer's pretty sour this time of year, but he's got bottled whiskey from the East."
The Brigadier did a quick calculation in his mind as they went to the bar. Whiskey in the Americas had historically been rough until the process with hickory had been introduced. Elijah Craig, right around 1800. That gave a bottle almost a century to find its way here, provided this was 1890.
"Bourbon?" the Brigadier asked hopefully.
The bartender shook his head. "Mighty hard to get out here. Too expensive. Rye's good."
"Beer for me, Barkeep," Tierney said. "I don't mind it sour."
The bar keeper nodded, and Tierney slapped the Brigadier on the shoulder. "Have a shot to warm your stomach. I'll take you and Dr. Watson over to the hotel for dinner. A good beefsteak should sit right, Mr. Holmes."
They turned towards the bar as the bar keeper found glasses and poured. Tierney lowered his voice. "What have you found?" he asked. Their drinks were pushed before them.
"Not much yet. The people from the wreck are still getting settled in. And I don't want to disturb the Doctor while he's seeing to the injured."
The red haired foreman nodded, his face inscrutable, but his eyes grim. "Drink up, then. I'll join you when you see to the passengers. You might need a bit of steerin' to help you along."
The Brigadier cocked an eyebrow at the sturdy foreman, but as Tierney added nothing further, Lethbridge Stewart tossed back the shot of rye. It hit his stomach like a missile finding a target, but after a moment it was a good sort of pain. Hot mists crawled up to his brain. He began to like being in the old West, mistaken for Sherlock Holmes. Tierney tried to pay for the drinks, but the man behind the bar said, "It's on the railroad's account, Bill. As long as Mr. Holmes is looking at the case, they're taking care of him. That agent, Jim Negus, he said so."
"Well, there y'are then!" And Tierney grinned.
"Have another," the Brigadier invited, but Tierney shook his head and with a speed truly to be admired, knocked back 16 ounces of sour beer in about two gulps. "Come on if you're ready, sir."
* * * *
Dr. Martin was a skillful surgeon when it came to the typical ailments and injuries of the prairie. He knew that he could not compete against the new fangled inventions in medicine that were being produced back East, but this fellow's use of small, boiled sewing needles to deaden pain was beyond comprehension.
At last, as young Jefferson Charles fell into a stupefied sleep, the tall, white haired man called Dr. Watson stepped back, his tread very quiet. He had entered the surgery in his shirtsleeves, and the snow white shirt was now flecked with blood. Most of his work, of course, had been manipulative as he had reset bones without use of surgical instruments. But the lad had some gashes on him, requiring some stitch work, and there had been a piece or two of bone that simply has to be sawed away and the muscle tacked into place. These had marked the British man's shirt with blood.
He ignored his own condition and, with careful precision, once again turned the needles that he had inserted around the young man's hips, upper legs, and waist. "He must not move, of course. The needles ride under the skin. They'll cause him pain if he should stir."
"We shall have to keep him bound like this, then, Dr. Watson," Martin told him. "There are too many others to see to. I cannot watch over him so closely." Martin had been in and out during the long procedure, seeing to others with lesser injuries. It had been a grueling afternoon for him, and he lacked this fellow's knowledge of how to use needles to deaden pain. He was a wiry man, not quite as tall as the time lord, with prematurely gray hair that belied youthful eyes and a rugged, tanned complexion. He wore wire rimmed spectacles.
Martin paused to survey the young man with fresh wonder. Amputating the legs had seemed the only course possible just a few hours ago, but now there was some hope that young Mr. Charles would at least be able, eventually, to walk with a cane, or crutches, and be saved from such a humiliating disfigurement as losing both legs.
"Even Dr. Algol, with all his knowledge, couldn't do so much," the town surgeon said with some awe. "We owe you a lot. I owe you a lot. How long does it take to learn to use needles like that?"
"The diagnostic art of acupuncture takes years and years," the time lord told him. "But I could show you how to administer needles in some key areas to deaden some typical types pain, like headache or labor---and to help a person bear pain with less shock."
"They teach this in London?" Martin asked.
The Doctor smiled briefly. "China, sir. Acupuncture is a Chinese medical art."
"There among the heathen, ey? Still, a civilization that old's got to have some merit to it. And it's not hocus pocus. I've seen it work." He cast his eyes down to the unconscious Jefferson Charles. "Though I can hardly believe it. Hardly believe it, Dr. Watson."
The Doctor coughed. "Yes. Well, I've got to find Holmes."
"Well, you are quite amazing, and you have saved this young man great grief, sir. And me, from having to cut the legs off him. What about your shirt?"
The Doctor glanced down, his eyes rueful. "Quite. Not the sort of thing to wear in public."
"All your gear lost on the train, ey? Come on to the dry goods with me. I'll get you fixed up."
"Thank you!" The Doctor followed him to the door and cast one questioning look back at the patient. "He shouldn't be alone for long."
"Mrs. Graylock is coming along to see to him. And Eben, his man, is in the livery stable. He'll stay the night with him here."
They walked out to the front room. "This Dr. Algol that you mentioned," the Doctor said. "Medical man as well?"
"Yes. Different horse from the herd, though."
The surgery was at last empty. Martin turned down all the oil lamps but one and led him outside. The town surgeon left the door unlocked.
"What's that?" the Doctor asked as they walked down the plank sidewalk towards the dry goods store.
Martin tossed his head in the general direction of the road out of town. "I sent word begging his help. But as you see, he hasn't come. He's like that. A cold man. But very civil. I don't know. Folks in a town out in the middle of nowhere have to pull together--"
Martin shot him a look. The street was darkening, and a few raindrops, scattered on a spring breeze, spattered at them and were then gone. "Ripe pickings for a man who wants to be king. His own little kingdom. But he made a few mistakes. There's the dry goods. Still open. They've got ready made shirts."
"What mistakes?" the Doctor asked.
Martin fished a partially smoked cheroot from his shirt pocket. He pulled the open pocket towards the Doctor in invitation to take a fresh one, but the time lord shook his head. Martin inserted the half smoked cheroot into his teeth, stopped long enough to scratch a lucifer match against the sole of his shoe, and then paused to light up. He puffed a few times and then threw the spent match into the muddy street.
"He'd show up, dressed like a city banker, at the town meetings, which was all right. He cut quite a grand figure and all. But when a town's just going up, the ones who survive are them that look to the next meal, sometimes. He's a wizard with electricity and the chemistry of natural elements all right. But the fact is, folks want food and shelter. Simpler things. Nobody wanted to invest in his plans, and nobody wanted to work for him. People came out here on claims. To get their own homesteads started. He finally went off in a sort of huff, I reckon. Doesn't say much to folks any more. Good friend to the Charles family, though."
"And he refused to lend his skills to today's rescue operation? That is cold."
"C'mon in." Martin led him through double frame doors of mosquito netting, into a large single room stacked with rows and rows of fabrics, woods planks, tools, and other hardware.
"Duggan!" Martin called. "Customers!" He turned to the Doctor. "Maybe Dr. Algol was out. He spends some time doctoring the father of Florence and Jefferson Charles, and I don't mind saying he's done better than I have. Looks like gastritis to me, but I can't figure out what's aggravating it. Dr. Algol can sometimes cause the symptoms to abate for a few days. Brings the old man relief."
This was cheering. "So he has got some compassion in him," the Doctor said.
Martin gave a curt nod. "Yes, while caring for the father of the most beautiful daughter in the Dakotas, who will be very wealthy after the old man passes on. Her mother's been dead for years." He glanced at the time lord. "Makes you wonder. Maybe it's compassion. Or maybe just another well laid scheme. Her father is certainly in favor of a match. Came around to it over time."
"And the young lady?"
"Too polite to show any annoyance. But not foolish enough to yield. Duggan! We need a shirt!"
* * * *
Just as the Brigadier and his acquaintance emerged onto the darkening street, the Doctor, sporting a stiff new shirt and accompanied by the Sheriff, strode out from the dry goods store. In consideration of the Doctor's labors over the patient, Martin had also presented him with a wide brimmed Stetson hat as a gift. The time lord seemed very pleased with himself for having won the surgeon's admiration, and as the Doctor was always as conceited as a barnyard rooster, the Brigadier could see that he thought the cowboy hat quite dashing. He wore it fairly low on his head and paused a couple times as he came down the plank sidewalk to admire himself in the reflection of the shop windows.
"He'll be out roping steers, next," the Brigadier muttered in a voice too low to be heard. The Doctor saw him.
"I say, Holmes!" the time lord called with a mischievous grin. "By jove but it's a wild night. Did you have a spot of tea? Left anything for the rest of us?" His exaggerated accent, the Brigadier knew, was a private joke between them, the sort of conversation he fancied their hosts might expect from Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.
"Supper has come and gone," Lethbridge Stewart told him. "Time to question the passengers. It cannot be helped that you are always so infernally tardy, Watson."
The Doctor's face fell in earnest. He was hungry.
Dr. Martin spoke up in his defense. "Your friend Watson's been busy, Mr. Holmes. As neat a job in the surgery as I might ever wish to see. Kills pain with needles."
"Sure, injections," Tierney said. "I heard about it in Chicago. "Cocaine, they call it. For pulling teeth. But they say it works anywhere on the body."
Martin corrected him. "Not injections. Just needles. Boiled up sewing needles."
"Yes, yes, come on then," the Brigadier said. "Let's get to the passengers, and then we can find something for the Doctor. Hopefully a TARDIS sandwich." And he glared at his time lord companion.
"I haven't seen one of those since we came to town," the Doctor said. "All right."
They crossed the street together, and Dr. Martin would have departed for his own doorway to resume his watch over Jefferson Charles, but he paused as they came to the opposite plank walk. He touched the Doctor's sleeve. "There's Dr. Algol, now."
Big Tierney fished a tobacco plug from his shirt pocket. He cut off a piece with his knife. "Looks like he's got the sheriff with him." His voice was casual.
Two figures, one spare, slender, and dapperly dressed in a waistcoat, tight black frock coat and immaculate trousers, and the other attired in clean, store-bought denim jeans with a wool shirt, approached. The sheriff, to judge his looks from the glow of the lanterns that dotted the windows, was about the same age as Mike Yates, clean cut, his dark eyes doubtful. He wore the tin star on his shirt, but he did not carry a gun. His companion, the well dressed man, glared at the Doctor and the Brigadier. "Are you the two rascals from the train?" he asked.
The Doctor thoughtfully pushed his new hat back with one finger, exposing his face and eyes to the light of the few oil lamps. He kept his voice polite. "Perhaps you should smile when you say that, sir." He was, the Brigadier realized, still enjoying himself and his new cowboy hat.
Dr. Martin was frowning at Algol, and Tierney bristled up like a brindle dog. "Yes, Maister Algol, these two gentlemen took charge of the rescue from the train!" he snapped.
The small man in dark clothing paused to eye the big foreman with disdain. "Was I addressing you?"
"I'm addressing you," Tierney said. "And I hope to high heaven you brought the sheriff with you just to say hello to these fine gentlemen."
The sheriff stepped up, his hands on his belt. "Before this goes too far, let's just cut to the quick," he said. "There's no need for harsh words among strangers. Mr. Algol here says these two men are not who they claim to be. He regards their presence at the train wreck as suspicious."
The town's surgeon spoke up, "I'll show you the young man that this one fixed up, Nathaniel. Maybe then you'll see that he's a doctor a sight better than others I could name." He frowned. "Others who don't come when called and folks are lyin' about half scalded to death!"
"I have been away, Dr. Martin," the small man said. "I only just returned to town this morning, and I was called upon to see to the older Mr. Charles." He turned unfriendly eyes to the Brigadier and the Doctor. "And what do I find? Two men calling themselves Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson! Fictional characters! Created by A. Conan Doyle!"
"I take it that you are Dr. Algol," the Brigadier said coolly.
"Yes, and I demand that the sheriff place you under arrest!"
"For what?" Tierney bawled.
Dr. Algol reached into his coat and withdrew a slim book. He held it out for them to see. "There!" he exclaimed. "The proof of your duplicity. This is a novel. Written by A. Conan Doyle!"
He thrust the book into the hands of Dr. Martin. The Brigadier glanced down at it and read the title: A Study in Scarlet. He cocked an eyebrow. "First American edition, by jove!" he muttered.
Dr. Algol turned to the sheriff. "Run them out of town--at the very least! But if you're smart, you'll have them thrown into the jail!"
"Whatever for?" the Doctor demanded.
Algol stabbed a finger at them. "For being a part of the conspiracy to derail that train! Your audacious deceptions about your identities will not save you. I charge you with being criminal confidence men! Carpet baggers!" He pointed to the Brigadier. "You are no more Sherlock Holmes than I am! And there is the proof!" He pointed at the book. Even Dr. Martin glanced doubtfully at the Brigadier and the Doctor.
"If you have misrepresented yourself in connection with your presence on that train gentlemen, then I shall have to arrest you," the sheriff said. "Please come quietly."