"Dr. Martin here has been very certain that if we can identify the poison, We can identify who had access to it, and perhaps clear Miss Florence that way," the Doctor said.
"And I have an idea of my own. I'm going to send off a telegraph, and then there's one piece of damning evidence that will certainly identify the killer. At least the killer of Jefferson Charles. And from him, we may be able to trace all three murders."
The Brigadier set down the cup and strode to the door.
"Where are you going Mr. Holmes?" Martin asked. "You cannot break into a man's rooms without authorization!"
Lethbridge Stewart stopped at the door and turned. He looked every inch the Brigadier, in spite of the nineteenth century clothing. "I'm off to send a telegram. And then I'm going to find Eben. He and Dr. Algol's man, Solomon, are friends. So I will not enter Algol's house by breaking in, Dr. Martin. But the railroad has authorized me to investigate matters, and with Algol's house so close to the site of the derailment, I must question the household staff on anything they might have seen."
The Doctor quickly lent his assent. "All right, if you must," the time lord said quickly. "And in the meantime, we shall conduct a methodical search of the elder Mr. Charles' effects. Algol will want to oversee things on that end, I don't doubt. We'll keep his attention occupied."
"Right then. I'll see you later." And with a nod to them, the Brigadier exited the surgery.
"He sure can make up his mind," Martin said in admiration. "Like a general or something, making a battle plan."
"Come on, let's return Browne's body," the Doctor said. "The track is cleared by now, and the railroad will be shipping the bodies as soon as possible. I hope to keep what we've found quiet."
* * * *
By the time the Brigadier returned to the Charles house, he saw that the wagon and the buggy had been returned, an indication that the remaining members of the household were inside. He dismounted, unsaddled the horse and took off its bridle, and measured out some oats for it. Then he entered the house through the kitchen.
Eben was at the table, finishing a piece of pie, and Faith, her round face troubled with the events of the day, was just arranging things on a dinner tray. In spite of her preoccupied worry, there was a refined artfulness in the display of the food on the small plates that dotted an orbit around the larger dinner plate.
"Finish your meal, Eben," the Brigadier said as the servant would have stood. "Is that for Florence, Faith?"
"Yes. Mr. Holmes. I put her to bed, directly as I got her home," the woman told him. She wrung her hands. "She's so overwrought. Don't want me to leave her. Don't want to eat. I convinced her to let me get her a bite."
"Maybe you could calm her, sir," Eben said to him. "She seem to have took to you."
"Certainly. Eben, And then I must go speak to Algol's man, Solomon. Will you take me to him?"
"Yes." But Eben looked concerned at this plan. "Dr. Algol won't like it."
"I don't intend to tell him.. Where is he?"
"In Mr. Charles study. Lookin' at papers. He says he's arranging things for Miss Flo."
Faith cut in, and her worry and trouble parted to show fierce anger. "On account a' Miss Flo won't let him near her. She don't want him in this house."
"Woman, be quiet!" Eben ordered his wife.
"He says he gonna' clear her name with that awful story a' his," the housekeeper protested. She whirled on her husband. "But who do you suppose Dr. Algol will point to next if Miss Florence is cleared?" she asked. "You was with Mr. Jeff, and I was here in the big house! He don't care for two colored servants, and she won't be able to stop him!" She looked at the Brigadier. "Miss Flo despises him, Mr. Holmes! She only tol'ated him while her father wanted her to. But now he got her where she has to take him."
Eben dug into his food with vehemence and then started picking at it. "Only brings trouble to us to cross a man like that and tell his secrets!"
"Mr. Jeff was her ally, Mr. Holmes." Now that she had spoken plainly, Faith was direct about narrating the background information. "He didn't like Dr. Algol neither. He and Miss Flo would come into the kitchen after a visit, and Mr. Jeff would imitate him for her. It used to make us both laugh. He was such a lively young man---" And she stopped for a moment and pressed her lips together. "Too young---too young for a death like that. And she didn't do it. They were best friends, Mr. Holmes. Jeff looked out for her."
"I know," the Brigadier said. "I cannot believe that she killed either of them." He was puzzled. "So neither of the children liked Dr. Algol, but their father did."
"Old Mr. Charles was educated," Eben said. "Dr. Algol was good company for him, and could talk books and politics with him. And Dr. Algol did give him some relief from that gastritis."
The Brigadier paused. As he did not speak, Eben went back to his food and Faith returned to arranging the tray. Then he said, "I'll go see her for a few minutes. Eben, when you're ready, we should leave discreetly. Our destination must remain a secret."
* * * *
Florence was wearing a very beautiful quilted bed jacket. She flushed slightly when the Brigadier knocked and then cautiously entered her room.
But he was carefully cheerful with her. "You are much better now, I see," he said.
"Have you found anything?" Her voice was filled with hope.
"More and more contradictions, but that's good," he told her. Faith had drawn up a chair alongside the bed, and he sat down. The room was actually palatial, with a great window and a hearth all its own.
She read his glance as he looked around. "Once upon a time, Eben and Jeff were the only hardy men we needed to keep the place going," she said. "They could be kept very busy, when winter was coming on. But they liked it. Faith and Eben were the closest things to parents that we had, Mr. Holmes. For Mother died when I was young, and Father was away a good bit when we first came here."
She cautiously slipped her hand into his, and he took it, reading in her only a desire to have his sympathy. "When Jeff was still growing, he used to love to work with Eben, and so it used to be quite cozy with them putting up shutters or sawing old lumber for the fire, or hauling in coal. And when the work was done, Eben used to tell us Mr. Fox stories. He said they came all the way over from Africa. All about how Mr. Fox would trick people. Greedy people or angry people or cruel people." She stopped. For a moment her eyes looked very haunted and very lonely. And then she deliberately asked in a quiet voice, "What will you do now?
"I am searching for whoever did visit your brother," he told her. "And I have a clear idea of my own that I must either prove or disprove." He patted her hand. "I want you to take courage. Stay here in your room with Faith if you feel safest with her."
"If my father were poisoned and Jeff poisoned, shall I be next?" she asked.
"Eat only what comes directly from Faith's hand," he told her. "I think you are safe enough in that regard, but take proper caution." He stood up and reluctantly set her hand on the quilt. "Perhaps I will bring back good news---or as good as can be expected in a matter like this."
* * * *
Algol's estate was ruled by a much more conventionally built house, to judge from its large, looming, dark exterior. It was a good size, though not as large as the brighter and more cheerful Charles home. It appeared to be an older structure, slightly worn in spite of its facade of grandeur.
The Brigadier and Eben rode up on horseback. "I'll take it from here," the Brigadier said.
"What's that, sir?" Eben did not understand the twentieth century jargon.
Lethbridge Stewart glanced at him and said, "I'll see to this part of the task myself, Eben. I want you to ride to town and wait for a telegram for me. The man at the telegraph office said that he would pass the telegram to you when it came in. It's vitally important."
"Yes sir." Eben guided the rein over, and turned his horse. He pulled his battered hat down to keep it on against the wind. "Bring it back here? Or to home?"
"Check for me at the Charles house first," the Brigadier told him. "I hope to keep this brief."
Eben did not like to question him, but the serving man was uneasy about leaving him. "Sure you'll be all right?"
"Oh yes. You're certain about Solomon's character?"
"He's a good man."
The Brigadier nodded. "I'll see you later. The telegram may be a few hours coming, but I don't want to miss it."
"Yes, Mr. Holmes. I'll wait for it." He nodded, called to his horse, and rode away, down the dusty lane into the estate, towards the open, waving sea of grass. The Brigadier watched him and then directed his own horse to the stable. To his surprise, a dusty man in jeans and a wool shirt came out from the stable and obligingly caught the horse's bridle for him, with the attitude of a man expected to do such work. The Brigadier dismounted.
"I'll see to your horse, sir." And with a nod, the stranger led the horse inside.
Of course it stood to reason that Algol would have a man to keep the stable, but Eben had not mentioned him. The Brigadier could not decide if the fellow had been one of the men in the saloon with Algol. But the man simply led the horse into the stable, with the practiced, leisurely attitude of a person who knew what he was about. Lethbridge Stewart decided not to hesitate. He strode to the house.
Dr. Algol's man, Solomon, was a few years older than Eben, with gray hair at his temples and over the top of his head. He was a tall black man, much taller than Eben, and he spoke with a faintly Barbasian or Caribbean accent. Where Eben sported store bought but simple cotton work pants and a wool shirt, Solomon dressed much more formally, with a dark black jacket fastened over a snow white shirt: a true valet out here in this wild country.
Solomon was at first reluctant to let him in. He appeared frightened, and became more uneasy when he realized that the Brigadier's purpose was nothing less than a full search of the house and grounds.
"Mr. Holmes, it will take hours to search the estate," he told the British man. "And what am I to tell Dr. Algol?"
"Eben informed me that you would be sympathetic to my concerns," the Brigadier said.
Solomon pointed outward with spread fingers. "There are three men watchin' the house. Seein' that I don't leave. Now they know you're here."
This bit of information struck Lethbridge Stewart with a jolt. All of the possibilities of the man from the stable now occurred to him. It was very possible that he had walked into a trap and surrendered his horse to his captors. But he remained calm. "Why does he not want you to leave?"
"He did not say, sir. He just told me not to step across the threshold."
The Brigadier cocked an eyebrow. "Did he threaten you?"
"Not outright, sir. But he let me know there were men out there. And he told me I must stay."
"Was he here when the train derailed?" Eben asked.
"No. He was gone. Since the day before. There was nothing unusual in that. He might disappear for a day or two at a time. He corresponds with all kinds of great men and scientists. He visits them."
They were standing in the entryway of the great house. The Brigadier looked up the long stairway that led to the rooms above. Unlike the Charles house, which had been built to accommodate vast windows and let in light, this house was more conventional for its time. Its walls were heavily paneled, and there was a dark, aged feel to the place. Like the solidly built estate houses in England or their imitations in the Northeast of the United States, this house had been built to wall out the world. It was made to be the private retreat of its master. "When did he get in after the derailment?"
"In the afternoon. He told me that Mr. Jefferson Charles had been killed, and that he'd been with the family to help older Mr. Charles bear it. Then he sent me down to the cellar with a list of supplies to fill for the people who had been hurt."
This news was surprising. "So he did offer assistance?" the Brigadier asked.
"Oh yes. He was gone again when I came back up with the supplies. But he left a note for me to take the things to the livery stable and give them to Mrs. Graylock. I was not to wait up for him. He would see to himself."
"And when did he return?"
"I don't know, sir. I was in bed and asleep by nine or so. In the morning, he told me that he would go see Mr. Charles again. When I went to town to pick up his things from the livery stable, I heard the dreadful news. That young Mr. Jeff hadn't been killed at all but had died during the night. And that Mr. Charles was dead."
* * * *
"Oh come now, Martin, you really aren't going to take a gun are you?" the Doctor asked in some amusement as Doc Martin fished a tiny, silver plated derringer from the desk out front and checked it. "And what do you expect to stop with that pea shooter?"
"I don't mean to accuse a man of murder---saying we figure out some way to accuse him---without something to back me up," the town surgeon said. "We may as well be plain about it, Dr. Watson: we all think Algol had a hand in this or knows more than he's saying. He had access to every medicine that Mr. Charles was taking for gastritis. And if he can get Florence's hand in marriage, he would be a rich man, provided her father and brother were out of the picture." He stuffed the tiny pistol into the watch chain pocket of his waistcoat and pulled on his outer coat. "That's opportunity, and that's motive. Now let's go."
Algol himself met them at the front door of the Charles house. "Miss Charles is in her room," he said shortly. "She is not able to see visitors. Good day, gentlemen."
But the time lord effortlessly pushed past him. "You forget that I am in residence, here, sir. My friend Holmes and I are staying at the young lady's invitation."
"Yes, well since you have no luggage, it will not be inconvenient for you to move to the hotel," Algol said.
Dr. Martin spoke up. "We've come to search the deceased's rooms. Miss Charles will approve it. You can help us if you like, or not. But we are going to do it."
Algol glowered at them but did not start at argument. They walked past him, and in a moment he followed.
In the sunny room that the elder Mr. Charles had occupied, nothing had been disturbed. Algol squinted at the carpet as Martin and the Doctor started their search. Their ungracious host made his voice sarcastic. "We could roll this up and turn it over. See if any dust shakes loose. Anything to show that an intruder came in during the night."
The Doctor ignored him and shuffled his long hands through an array of long necked bottles on the stand alongside the bed. "Quite an array of remedies for gastritis," he observed. "I wonder how many of them were taken together?"
The town surgeon looked up from the dresser, where he was examining the array of toiletry items. "Are you thinking of an accidental poisoning?"
Without answering, the Doctor held up one of the bottles and read the floridly illustrated label. "Dr. Henley's stomach tonic." He opened it and smelled the contents. "Peppermint and water. Harmless enough."
"All harmless, and all useless!" Algol insisted. But as neither man paid him any heed, he at last walked out. "There are so many of these bottles that it will take hours to analyze them," the Doctor said grimly. Martin joined him and took up a bottle at random. "Looks like some sort of oil," he said. "Not labeled. Not purchased." He glanced at the time lord.
"Perhaps Faith will know." The Doctor took it from him. He opened it and sniffed. "Castor oil," he said dismissively.
"Oh yes, I remember." Martin took it back and replaced the heavy stopper. "One of Dr. Algol's remedies for belly ache. Castor oil and herbs, he said. But Mr. Charles didn't take it but once. Said it greased him through like soap in a pig."
The Doctor smiled faintly. "Well, castor oil is an old remedy for bowel dysfunction. Precisely because it will grease a man through."
The town surgeon nodded. "Popular remedy back East. Good for man and horses. Out here we don't see it very much."
The Doctor suddenly straightened up. "Dr. Algol decanted it himself?" His voice was amazed.
"Yes. So Mr. Charles said. Algol's got all kinds of equipment in his laboratory." Dr. Martin was puzzled. "But Mr. Charles took the dose weeks and weeks ago. Maybe even months and months. And you can see by the bottle he only took one dose. He hated it, I tell you."
"Martin, don't you see?" the Doctor exclaimed.
"Algol's got a greenhouse, doesn't he? just as in this house."
Martin inclined his head. "Yes. Much larger than what they have here, in fact."
The Doctor looked over his companion's shoulder to make sure that Algol was not listening at the doorway. "We've got to see what's in that house! Castor oil is safe, but the flesh of castor beans is highly poisonous!"
"But you have to eat them raw! Neither Mr. Charles nor young Jeff would have eaten raw beans. And if you swallow them intact, they pass right through without doing any damage!"
"You don't understand! You don't understand what Algol has discovered! Come on! The entire town is in danger!"
"Quietly then!" Martin hissed. He lowered his voice. "We'll ride as though for town and then cut back, so he doesn't suspect anything." The time lord nodded, and they hurried out.
* * * *
The Brigadier glanced around at the cluttered tables of the laboratory. His twentieth century eyes could pick out a hand cranked centrifuge on one table, surrounded with numerous small bottles, all of them darkly tinted and sealed with large stoppers. On another table he saw what he thought might be a highly inefficient version of a battery, with wells in it to hold chemicals for slow release. There were shelves of large, leather bound volumes, all of them made with heavy straps that were locked and required keys.
"This is no good," Lethbridge Stewart muttered. "I mean, I could spend weeks in here trying to unravel it all."
"Yes sir." Solomon was still nervous.
"You have no weapons to arm yourself?"
The question startled the servant. "No sir. Mr. Algol carries a pistol with him sometimes, but if it is here in the house now, I do not know where it is kept."
"Let's check the attic. Is there a basement?"
"Yes, Mr. Holmes."
* * * *
The two men who swung onto his trail seemed to rise straight up from the sea of grass. Eben didn't waste time with a second look over his shoulder. He leaned forward over his horse's neck and urged it on towards town. But the horse itself, sensing its rider's urgency and aware of the two men on horseback thundering up behind it, needed no encouragement. It stretched out its neck, and for a moment it seemed to fly over the hard packed earth.
But the pursuers closed the distance. One of them drew a pistol from his belt as he came alongside the horse's flank, sighted onto the back of the black man's hat, and pulled the trigger.
The wind suddenly cut itself off, and the sound of the shot rolled over the waves of grass. The black man, a spray of blood suddenly spurting over the lower part of his hat and his shoulders, fell sideways off the horse, and the horse reared up. The two pursuers wheeled their horses away and rode off, back the way they had come.
Eben fell clear of the saddle and stirrups and hit the ground. He didn't move. His horse nervously shied and then crowhopped, but as nothing further happened, it quieted down. It ventured into the grass, pausing only to lift its head into the wind, which had resumed its strong flight across the prairie.
* * * *
There were not enough saddles in the stable, and so the Doctor and the town surgeon rattled down the road to town in Martin's light buggy, pulled by a single horse. They did not speak, and as Martin drove, the Doctor gazed around to make sure they could turn towards Algol's estate without being noticed.
"There's a cut ahead," Martin said. "It will bring us around and take us where we want to go---"
Just then they heard the single shot roll across the prairie. The wind instantly kicked up again after it.
"It came from up ahead!" Martin exclaimed, and he slapped the reins to urge on the single horse that pulled them.
They saw no highway men as they bounced and jolted over the poor quality road, but within moments, Eben's body and the silent silhouette of his horse came into view.
The time lord sprang from the carriage before Martin had even set the brake.
"Eben!" Dr. Martin exclaimed as he ran to join his companion.
"Still alive," the time lord said, for Eben's first response to being rolled onto his side was to groan with pain.
"Easy. He was shot from behind---" And Martin, seeing the blood on the lower brim of the hat, expertly set his two fingers between the wounded man's shoulder blades and moved them up towards the base of the neck. Eben cried out and opened his eyes.
"Bullet's lodged high between his shoulders. Pray the good Lord it missed his spine---" Martin began.
"Am I dying?" Even gasped. "I can feel my heart pumpin'."
"That's fear. We've got to get you to town," Martin said. "We've got to move you."
The Doctor leaned away and reached for the wounded man's boot. He tugged on it.
"Who's got my foot?" Eben gasped. Both of his rescuers let out silent breaths of relief at this sign of a reaction.
"Sorry," the Doctor said. "Did you see who did this?"
"We don't have time for questions. Let's go," Martin said. They both worked their arms under him and laced them together to lift him.
Eben groaned again from the pain but said, "Sherlock Holmes sent me for a telegram he expected. Two men came up after me. They must be watchin' the house. They've gone back. They may kill him and Solomon."
They quickly lifted him and carried him to the buggy. As they arranged him as comfortably as possible in the passenger side, the Doctor said, "I'll take the saddled horse and ride for Algol's estate."
Martin climbed into the buggy seat and busily pushed his wadded up kerchief into place between Eben and the seat to slow Eben's bleeding. "And get yourself killed?" he asked. "They can lay low in the grasses and shoot you as you ride past."
"My Faith and little Flo," Eben gasped. "You left them with Dr. Algol? Alone?"
"I'll ride back," the Doctor said. "I'll overpower Algol if I have to and take him with me as a shield if necessary."
Martin nodded. "That's a better plan. Mind that revolver he sometimes carries. He might have it on him. Here take this." And the surgeon passed him the tiny derringer.
The Doctor lifted an eyebrow but made no comment as he dropped the tiny firearm into his pocket. "Right. Take heart Eben. I'll look after them!" And the Doctor hurriedly ran for the saddled horse, caught its reins, and swung himself up into the saddle as the town surgeon flipped the reins against his own horse and hurried for town.
* * * *
Faith had her large brown hands in the dish water when a heavy, aggressive fist pounded on the kitchen door. Quickly wiping her hands on her apron, she ran to see who was knocking, but the door suddenly swung open, revealing a white man so tall that he had to stoop slightly to enter the kitchen. He wore old jeans and a dirty wool shirt. He looked like a mere ranch hand.
"You can't just walk in here like that!" the housekeeper exclaimed. "You get outta this house, Mister! This is the Charles home, and you don't belong here!"
"I'm looking for Dr. Algol. Where is he?" the man demanded.
"I don't have anything to say to you, busting into this house that way. You go out in the yard, and I'll call for Dr. Algol!" she exclaimed.
"Listen you old black cow, I'll give you the back of my hand if you talk that way to me again!" And he raised his hand as though to make good his threat. "Now where is Dr. Algol?"
A second man appeared in the doorway, much amused by this confrontation. But his demeanor quickly became sober as Florence Charles, wrapped in her quilted robe, entered the kitchen from the hallway. She had a tea cup in her hand, as though she had been entering to give it to her housekeeper for washing p.
"What is wrong?" she asked quietly. "Faith, who are these men?"
"Strangers who bust right in!" Faith exclaimed. "I told them to wait in the yard."
The first man became a shade less aggressive. "We have to speak to Dr. Algol. Right away." And he would have walked right past her, but Florence set her jaw and stepped into his way. "You will not enter my house until I give you leave," she said.
The second man walked in, and whatever would have happened was averted when a man's voice behind Florence spoke. "It is enough."
Dr. Algol entered.
"We have to talk to you," the first man said.
"You ought to have waited outside," Algol said. "There was no need to frighten Miss Charles."
"They just bust right in---" Faith began.
"Be quiet," he ordered.
"Don't speak to Faith that way," Florence told him.
Dr. Algol cocked an eyebrow. "My dear Florence, you are entirely under the influence of that serving woman. She has taken advantage of your grief over your father's death."
Faith's mouth dropped open, but Florence said, "I want these men out of here. I did not invite them to my house, and they are to leave at once."
"These men are trying to help me determine what has happened in these sad affairs," he told her. "But I shall be responsible for their behavior. We will meet briefly in the study." She closed her mouth, but a flush of anger and humiliation crossed her face as her orders were so neatly overturned. "I am trying to set matters right for your own good, Florence," he told her. He shot a glance at Faith. "And soon, the exact perpetrators of any wrong doing shall be brought to justice. This way." He said to the two men. They touched their hats as they walked past Florence, and they followed him inside.
The two women looked at each other.
"My Eben and your Mr. Holmes," Faith whispered. "They lit out for Dr. Algol's place. They're over there now. What if those two cowboys spied 'em out and come to report?"
"Mr. Holmes said he thought he might find evidence to clear me. We'll have to go warn him," Florence told her.
Faith threw a nervous glance into the hallway. "How? You ain't even dressed, and the horses ain't hitched."
"Eben has work clothes in the stable," Florence said. "Come quickly. I have a plan. We can at least delay them if they have a mind to intercept Mr. Holmes."
* * * *
"Jake's still watching your place," one of the men said in a low voice to Algol. "We had to do what we thought best about the nigger servant. He was ridin' for something. We didn't think he should get to the town."
They were standing in the doorway to the study. "We'll have to see how it plays out," Algol murmured. "But it's no good making a martyr out of the man who's going to hang for the murders. And you shouldn't have come here." And he threw his glance back down the length of the hallway, thinking that the Doctor and Dr. Martin were back there.
"You're alone here," the second man said. "I mean, except for the two women."
"What?" Algol's eyes went up.
"We caught sight of the sawbones buggy riding for town on our way back," he said. "Doesn't look like they saw us. But it's for sure they found the dead nigger."
"You are sure he's dead?" And Algol's face was white.
"Deader 'n Pharaoh's son," the first man affirmed. "I shot him point blank into the head."
But Algol was amazed. "Where were they going?" he glanced more deliberately down the hallway, which ran the length of the house. There was no sound coming from the other end, where the late Mr. Charles' bedroom door stood open. Dr. Algol at last strode down the long hallway and looked into the room. His face showed concern and ruefulness as he saw that it was empty. He strode back up to the men and waved them into the study, not wanting the women to hear their conversation. He closed the door.
"You want us to go after them?" the first cowboy asked. "We thought they might be armed. We didn't want a gun fight."
Algol almost snarled at him. "They don't carry weapons, you idiot! Who ever that Dr. Watson really is, he's an educated man from a civilized country. He doesn't think to carry a gun."
"Well what then?" the cowboy asked.
"We'll go to the estate and kill any intruders that we find there. For housebreaking. Solomon isn't brave. He'll say what I tell him to say if I put a gun under his nose."
"What about these women?"
Algol stopped, exasperated. "We cannot kill everybody. The black woman will hang for the murder of Mr. Charles, just like her husband would have hanged for Jefferson's death. They were complicit in trying to get control of the fortune through the girl. As for the girl herself, she knows that she must agree with my story or else be hanged herself. The sheriff is certain that she's the prime suspect."
Algol opened his black jacket and looked down at the gun in his belt. "No, it's only Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson that concern me. And once they are dead, we can find out who they really were and expose them as charlatans after the Charles fortune. Come on."