The attic of the great old house that Dr. Algol called home ran the length of about half the house. It had a gabled roof, which necessitated that both the Brigadier and the valet duck their heads as they walked along the cleared center path between the assorted piles of stored items. They let the light from Solomon's oil lamp fall on the stored items along either wall. Eerie shadows danced on the edges of the light, but the stacked crates and pieces of household equipment hid nothing of note.
"No trunks or chests or anyplace where somebody might hide something fairly cumbersome," the Brigadier observed.
"Why, what are you looking for?" Solomon asked.
"Are there any storage trunks or chests of clothes about the place?"
"Just that one you searched in the Professor's room," the valet told him. "Otherwise, he keeps a few in the basement. They were too heavy to carry up here---up three flights of stairs."
"I see. Yes, that's logical. Come on then. We'll try at the bottom of the house."
* * * * *
"Where are those two?" one of the cowboys asked as they strode through the kitchen of the Charles home towards for the door yard.
As though in answer, they heard the rattling of the wagon as it rode past. The two cowboys and Algol rushed to the door in time to see Faith drive past in the buckboard. At the gate, a diminutive figure in dirty work clothes waited. This person flung open the gate and clambered aboard as Faith slowed down long enough to let the person on board. One of the cowboys pulled out his handgun.
"Stop you fool!" Algol shouted, and the other man exclaimed, "Are you going to shoot women?"
"That little one in britches ain't a woman!" he exclaimed as the two rode out into the grass. "It's a boy!"
"That's Florence, wearing Eben's work clothes. Quick!" Algol exclaimed. "Get on your horses and catch up with them. Force them back here. Say it's for their own good. One of you will have to watch them and the other meet me at my own place. I'll catch up with you as soon as I've saddled my horse. Hurry!"
The two men nodded and rushed to their mounts. But as soon as each grabbed his saddle's horn and would have hoisted himself up, both horses screamed and reared up. And both saddles immediately fell right off, taking both men to the ground. They covered their heads with their arms as the agitated horses danced away. Algol interrupted himself with a string of profane words. He strode back to them.
"They put a burr under my saddle!" one of the men exclaimed. The other nodded.
"Yes, and cut off the girths. All right, you'll have to ride bareback." Algol stopped and stared as he saw the reins to the two horses now hanging uselessly from the cross piece of the rail. The women had cut the reins, too. The horses were shy of being caught after the pain of the burrs under their saddles. For several moments, both men were obliged to chase after them and try to corner them in order to catch their bridles at the teeth. Algol watched this frustrating game for a moment and then strode angrily to the stable to check his own horse and get it saddled.
When he entered, his jaw dropped. His own fine horse was gone. For a moment he was speechless, mystified. He had seen the women drive out with the matched team that Florence always used. There had been no other sound of a horse coming or going.
* * * * *
"You men!" Dr. Martin shouted as he pulled back on the reins to stop the buggy from the pell mell race he had run towards town. The light carriage skidded to a stop. "Help me with this man! We've got to get him into my surgery! And one of you run for the Sheriff! Tell him I need him at once!"
The men lounging on the plank walk near the doctor's office were accustomed to picking up two bits now and again for helping the Doctor hoist patients inside. Two of them smartly jumped off the walk to assist with the wounded Eben, and another rushed across the wide dusty street for the Sheriff.
"Say, that's Eben from the Charles place!" one of the helpers exclaimed as they lifted him down. "Who'd want to shoot him?"
"The same person who wanted to kill Mr. Charles and Jefferson Charles," Martin said sharply. "Get him inside. If I can get that bullet out of him, he'll likely live to help us piece the story together."
* * * *
The two cowboys, at last having recovered their mounts and repaired the reins, rode out the gate and spurred their horses on towards the Algol house. Just as Algol was beginning his own search for his horse, he saw the Doctor in the distance, riding in.
Algol quickly ran from the stable towards the gate and waved his arms frantically, a signal for help that transcended all times and nationalities.
The time lord, seeing him, hurried his horse down the road, kicked the gate latch open with his foot, and rode in. He leaned down. "What is it?"
"Thank heavens you've come!" Algol exclaimed. "I think that poor Florence has been poisoned. She---" he suddenly put his hands to his own throat and seemed to gag. Shocked, the Doctor leaned closer, eyes alarmed at this development. Algol flung both fists wide and struck the timelord across the eyes with his left fist. Then he grabbed the Doctor by the front of his jacket and pulled him down, headfirst into the ground. The thump as the Doctor's head hit the earth was audible. His body went limp. Algol leaped up and grabbed the horse's reins. He got astride the saddle and rode off.
* * * * *
"Faith, that man has a gun!" Florence exclaimed as they rode into the stable yard of the Algol estate. The man coming to meet them had a revolver tucked into his belt. He lifted his hands towards the horses as he approached, as though he would have caught the bridles. But his face told them that they were not expected, and their welcome would be a grim one. He was still several yards away as he covered the distance from the stable to them, but they had no room to turn the buckboard with him in the way.
"Quick now, you still want to find Eben and Mr. Holmes?" Faith asked.
Faith gave the reins a short, deft slap against the horses' rumps and suddenly she howled in anguish and fear. "Oh, they runnin' away! They runnin' away! Lawd he'p me, these hosses is runnin' away!" The horses spooked at the slap from the skillful Faith, for they had not expected it, and her howling startled them. They skipped forward. Their would-be interceptor jumped back and looked down to catch himself from stumbling. Faith slapped the reins again and let out another howling warning. "They's runnin' away! Git out the way! These hosses is runnin' away!"
The man had been several yards from them, and he had time to try to skip sideways out of their path, but Faith turned the horses with a skill that matched her husband's skill. The buckboard skittered after the cowboy while Faith shouted, "Oh Lawd he'p me! These hosses is runnin' away!"
The man began to run in earnest. She sent the horses after him, up the length of the yard, towards the open gate. "Hep me sir! Aw hep me! These hosses is runnin' away!" she shouted. "Oh sweet Lawd have mercy! Stop these hosses! Stop these hosses!" He was not able to outdistance them, and as the horses were in danger of running him over, she pulled back on the reins. "I got 'em now! Oh thank you, sir! Thank you for slowin' these hosses down!"
Florence never did quite see how Faith did it. But suddenly the near horse tried to jump, just as the man was turning towards them, his hands up again to seize the harness. The horse came up on its back legs, but it did not get very far, as its running mate did not budge, and Faith howled in fear again. When the horse came down, both horses started running again, with the cowboy in their path. The cowboy turned and ran for the stable, but with the horses almost on top of him, he did not dare take a moment to turn. "Oh these hosses is runnin' away!" Faith cried, fully playing the role of the helpless servant. "Stop 'em sir! Do somethin'!"
This race continued until the cowboy could run no more and could not even stand. Faith kept up the chase as he nearly stumbled once and then again. But when he fell on his face in the dust, she pulled the horses to a stop, set the brake, and let Florence alight. The black woman hurried into the stable. Florence stooped over the fallen man, who was gasping and trying to draw his breath.
"Are you all right sir?" Florence asked. "Thank you so much for stopping our horses."
He lifted his head. "You're not leaving here!" he gasped. Somewhat shakily and still out of breath, he got to his knees. Faith, holding a 50-lb bag of oats in her arms, staggered out from the barn. She made a beeline towards him, approaching from behind. The man, not thinking of the serving woman, glared at Florence as he heaved air into his lungs and puffed unevenly. The sweat streaming down his face had made the dust stick like a smooth layer of face paint. But new trickles of sweat were streaking it.
He gestured to the gun in his belt, ready to draw it if Florence should try to move. "I don't want to use this gun to force two wimmin, but---" His words were cut off as Faith dropped the bag onto his head from behind. He collapsed under it. "Mercy!" Faith exclaimed. "Wasn't that a load!" She was also puffing hard from all of her shouting and from the exertions of carrying the bag of oats. But she rallied herself. "Quick, we must get his gun," she said. They rolled him over and Faith pulled the gun from his belt.
The older woman held the gun by one end as though it were a dead rat. She eyed it doubtfully. "I don't trust guns," she said. Now that her playacting was finished, her dialect returned to the comfortable Midwestern twang of her upbringing. "You know how to shoot, Miss Flo? Can you take it?"
"Yes, Faith. Certainly." Florence took the weapon and tucked it inside the big belt that was holding up the dungarees she wore. "But I don't want to shoot a man, either. Let's just find Eben and Mr. Holmes and get away from here," she said.
Faith nodded, but their agreement was cut short as they heard riders coming. They looked out over the sea of grass and saw the two cowboys that had previously bullied them approaching.
"Quick, we'll hide inside the house!" Florence exclaimed. "We must warn our own men."
They hurried for the house as the two cowboys rode up to the gate.
* * * *
The Doctor heaved his face and shoulders up and looked around. He rubbed the top of his head. Why had Algol attacked him?
He got to his feet. That headlong fall to the ground might have done for a human being, but Algol had been in too much of a hurry to check. Groggily, the Doctor looked around at the quiet house. He rubbed his head some more. The place was dark and silent, and he heard no telltale sounds of horses from the stable.
He gazed out over the prairie. Algol's figure was a faint dot by now. He was riding towards his own place.
"Well what happened to his horse?" the Doctor asked nobody in particular. "He didn't just materialize here!" He strode over to the stable.
Everything was silent, and the overpowering scent of hay was the only stimulus to his senses. Until he heard the barely audible sound of a hoof scraping a solid surface.
He strode over to the feed bin. It was actually a small room, carefully sealed with a heavy, tightly paneled inner wall against water leakage, where the sacks of feed were stored for ready distribution. It was just large enough to accommodate something about the size of a very fine horse, in spite of the sacks of grain against one wall and the clean grain shovel and three legged stool in the corner.
"Well then, come out my good fellow," the Doctor said genially to the black horse inside. It had been mouthing a few oats from a bucket, placed there to keep it quiet; but at his voice, it was happy enough to be led out through the narrow doorway and into the open stable.
He patted its neck. "Looks like somebody put you here like the purloined letter," he said. "Hidden out in the open. I think I can deduce from this that the party has moved to Dr. Algol's residence, and we'd better hurry or we'll be late!"
* * * *
Down in the cellar of the Algol estate house, the Brigadier pulled unsuccessfully on the lid of a closed wooden trunk. He couldn't budge it.
"I believe it is locked, Mr. Holmes," Solomon said in his precisely formal tone. The valet had not hindered the search at all, but he seemed unwilling to actively assist in it, and Lethbridge Stewart understood. Dr. Algol was Solomon's only means of support in this desolate place.
"So it is."
The cellar area was a vast room that had been neatly divided into organized sections. The long flight of steps from the floor above led almost directly to the back wall. But if a person came down the steps and turned to the right, there was the large photographic development lab, an extremely modern work room, considering the date. It included several thick wires strung like clothesline from side wall to the support beams under the stairs. These, of course, were for hanging the developed prints to dry.
Several upright cabinets provided work surfaces, as was evidenced by the numerous shallow pans that had been set out. A stack of galvanized buckets in one corner had been set down near a large sealed drum of some chemical solvent used in the development process. A siphon sat atop the drum. Against the far wall on this side of the room, thick black boards had been erected from floor to ceiling to form a small dark room.
On the other side of the steps, in the opposite half of the cellar, there were several hand powered mills and engines that the Brigadier's twentieth century eyes could not define. These were arranged in a more jumbled fashion, as though Algol had used some and then abandoned them. But there was one small workbench with what looked like a hand turned grain or coffee mill on one side, and a sort of centrifugal spinning device on the other.
The entire back section of the large room was simply cluttered with old luggage, crates, garden materials, tools, pieces of other odds and ends, and the trunk.
The Brigadier, unable to budge the lid of the trunk, swiftly hunted through the debris for a pry. Finding nothing, he ventured into the machine area where the hand turned devices offered some promise of tools being scattered among them. One of the overturned grinding machines had a removable metal rod thrust from a socket.
"This lever will do." The Brigadier pulled it free and returned to the trunk. He quickly inserted the rod against the clasp that was held by the lock. With one short pull, he burst the clasp free.
Solomon, in spite of his caution, leaned closer as the Brigadier threw down the lever and quickly pushed up the heavy lid of the trunk.
"As I thought, by Jove!" Lethbridge Stewart exclaimed. He reached into the trunk.
* * * *
"What happened to you, Jake?" one of the cowboys asked the fallen man in the stable yard. The other cowboy dismounted and stared at the dust covered and disheveled Jake in astonishment.
The man who had been knocked out by the oats put his hand onto the discarded sack, which lay by him. "Them dang wimmin! Chased me with hosses and dropped a sack on my head!"
"You're useless!" his friend exclaimed. "Stay here then and watch for Dr. Algol. He'll be right along." He glanced at his riding partner. "Get those horses in the stable in case anybody else comes around. And unhitch them on the buckboard. We don't want any quick escapes. I'll see where those women got to."
He strode towards the house. Jake got to his feet, head down, and went to the rain barrel to wash his face. The other quickly set about unhitching the horses from the buckboard.
Their leader strode to the house and entered through the kitchen. Unlike the Charles kitchen, this place was paneled with dark wood, the pots and pans enclosed in deep cupboards instead of hanging on wall racks. It was dark, the stove unlit and the shutters pulled to. But in the dimness, he saw Florence Charles standing near the door that led to the hallway. Though dressed in Eben's work clothes, her hat was gone. She looked at him but said nothing.
"See here you!" he exclaimed. "You're gonna sit in the parlor until Dr. Algol comes. Or I'll tie you up! Where's your maid, then?"
Behind him, one of the cupboard doors opened noiselessly and Faith, clutching a large cast iron skillet in both hands, stepped up behind him and brought it down full force on his head.
He dropped without a cry. Faith ran to the door and peered outside. "There's two more out there!"
Florence ran to the unconscious man and pulled his kerchief free from his neck. "Do we have time to get this one stored away, Faith?"
With the calm assurance of a mother telling her daughter not to fear the dark at bedtime, Faith said kindly, "Oh yes, Miss Flo. The one feller's still recoverin', and the other's unhitchin' the team. I'll give you a hand." And she put down the heavy skillet and set about lugging the unconscious man into the pantry with her young accomplice. The pantry had double doors that closed together. After they had dragged him inside, Faith used his kerchief to tie the door handles together. She tied as good a knot as Florence had ever seen Eben tie, but the housekeeper shook her head. "He'll bust outta there sooner or later."
"Not for a while, though" Florence said hopefully. "He won't feel very good, even when he wakes up. You'd better take your place." Just as she said this, they heard a rattle at the kitchen door. Faith scooped up the skillet and scurried into the cupboard, drawing the door almost closed.
* * * *
The Brigadier lifted heavy folds of material from the opened trunk.
Solomon was amazed. "It's a lady's dress! But Dr. Algol hasn't had a woman in here since first we came, Mr. Holmes." The valet stared at him in some confusion.
With evident satisfaction, the Brigadier held it up by its shoulders as Solomon quickly hung up the two oil lamps from the overhead beams. The improved light left no doubt.
"Dr. Algol knew where he could find a dress on short notice, Solomon," the Brigadier said. "The church's mission barrel. The men in the basement of the church who were laying out the bodies heard somebody up there, but the theft went unnoticed."
"But why ever would he want a lady's dress, Mr. Holmes? And if he wanted one, why not make the purchase? Itís not like him to take things. Especially from a mission barrel!"
"He didn't want a dress to give it as a gift. He used it himself."
The valet's grizzled gray eyebrows lifted. "Dr. Algol wore a dress?"
"He did. He's not a big man. He could slip this on over his clothes just long enough to steal into Dr. Martin's office late at night. In the darkness, at that hour, and with Jefferson Charles laid up inside, he would pass as Florence Charles. He waited until Eben left to retrieve Dr. Martin, and then he slipped inside, wearing the dress. That's what Mrs. Graylock saw."
"Have mercy!" Solomon was genuinely horrified. "I hoped all along it was just the result of young Mr. Jeff's injuries! You're saying he murdered the boy?"
"He did. And framed Florence Charles into the bargain."
"But whatever for, Mr. Holmes? Dr. Algol---he wanted to court Miss Charles! He was hoping she would accept him!"
Overhead, something thumped the floorboards in the rooms above. The Brigadier, interrupted from his train of thought, looked up at the rafters and frowned. "There it goes again. You say you don't have steam heating, Solomon. But that's the second loud knock we've heard. What could it be?" He looked at the valet. "Is somebody up there? The man from the stable? Is that his way of calling you?"
* * * *
Dr. Algol came loping in on the stolen horse in time to see one of his men, gun in hand, hauling the two women out of the house and into the dusty yard. The gate was open, and Algol decided not to quicken the horse's pace. The man saw him and stopped the women. They were clutching each other's hands, frightened. The housekeeper was shielding the younger woman as she could, but both of them were pretty well defeated. The sight of him finished the matter.
He rode up and looked down at them.
"Well Jake?" he asked his man. "Why have you got two women at gunpoint?"
"Oh they've been busy enough, Dr. Algol!" Jake exclaimed. "Lem's in there on the kitchen floor with a knot on his head the size of your fist. And I dunno where Cal is! They prob'ly thowed him down the stairs!" He nodded at the house. "And that Sherlock Holmes fella' is in there some 'ere. With your man. You best go in easy if you got a mind to go in!"
Algol's voice was serious and grim, but not overtly angry. "All right. These two are bent on causing me some mischief, though I don't know why, as I have only been of help to the Charles family. Treat them gently but keep them somewhere secure. The tack room might be best. The door can be padlocked. I shall return them to their home, presently. This entire matter must be carefully investigated."
"All right. Here! I took this off this little one in britches!" And Jake passed the gun he had taken from Florence up to his master.
Dr. Algol lifted his eyebrows with a certain admiration for her audacity in having captured a gun in the first place. He took the gun. "Go on then," he said.
Taking his cue from his employer, the man named Jake motioned with the gun but kept his temper in check. He made them walk ahead of him into the stable. Algol watched them. Then he dismounted from his own horse, and instead of entering his house by the front door, he walked around to the back.
* * * *
"All right Sheriff, it's time for you to stop being a young fool," Dr. Martin said to the young officer of the law as both men met in the front room of the surgery. "I've got an innocent man in there, half dead from a bullet wound, fired at him when he was fleeing for his life. He'd been sent to get a telegram for Mr. Holmes."
"That still doesn't mean that the foreign fellow is Sherlock Holmes!" the young sheriff retorted. "And there's no saying that whoever shot Eben did it over the telegram!"
"Well, there's only one way to find out. Let's go get that telegram. We can deliver it to Sherlock Holmes ourselves. I'll have Mrs. Graylock watch over Eben."
* * * *
In many fine estates where horses were kept, the tack room could actually serve as a sort of private mess for the stable hands, with a small stove, a coffee pot, numerous brushes on one wall, and saddles and bridles on another. Between them, there might be several chairs and benches for the stable hands to work on the gear.
The tack room in Dr. Algol's stable was not nearly as roomy as one could wish, but as Jake opened the door and first gestured and then pushed the two women inside the dark room, they saw a stove in one corner and several saddles hung up on one wall.
Then the door was slammed, and they heard the padlock being closed.
"Now, now," Faith said quickly as Florence didn't speak. "We're safe enough, young lady. Safe enough. I got two lucifer matches. I spied the stove about ten short paces one way. Did you see any lamps?"
"No," Florence said. "I never thought to look."
"All right, Honey. Body's got to keep her wits about her in times like these. Let's see about that stove."
Faith took Florence's hand, and they made their way cautiously to the back of the room until the found the cold iron of the stove. Faith got it open and felt inside.
"There's tinder in here, at least," she said. "Somethin' odd though, in among the trash. Don't feel like paper or shavin's."
Florence let her work, and Faith, who had the duty of lighting fires almost every day of her life, expertly sifted through ash and hard lumps of burned matter and made up a pile of tinder inside. But she pulled something out. Neither of them could see it, but Faith expressed her doubts: "That just don't feel like somethin' you can burn, Miss Flo. I don't know what somebody's gone and jammed into here."
Florence heard the dry brushing sound as something soft was pulled out from the stove's belly. She groped her hands over it in the dark. "It feels like wool," she said. "Thin wool."
Faith rummaged in the roomy pockets of her dress, and then there was a scrape as the match was lit. It briefly illuminated the side of Faith's face, her eyes intent and fixed, as though she were willing herself to be calm. And then the grate of the open stove door was visible in an orange glow as the tinder inside caught the flame. But Faith's eyes were gloomy as she peered into the belly of the stove. "That won't burn more than a couple minutes. We'll be settin' in the dark soon enough."
Florence held up the soft refuse that Faith had pulled from the stove. She was amazed as she examined it in the temporary glow of the small fire. "Why, that's hair. Or like hair. A wig, all charred over on one side."
She offered it to Faith, but it came apart in three pieces.
"I can't make nuthin' of it," Faith said. "Does look like hair."
"A wig, a beard, and a moustache," Florence said. "All burned up and charred. You were right. It wouldn't burn properly. This is what's left."
Faith was still puzzled. "Like for a stage actor?" she asked. "Was Dr. Algol a stage actor?"
"I never thought so. But we should show it to Mr. Holmes. Somebody burned this to hide it. He should see it."
"First we gotta get outta here," Faith said.
But just then, hoofbeats sounded in the yard. There was a yell form the unlucky Jake, and a man's voice letting out a loud, "Hai!" that raised in pitch.
Florence rushed to the door as the fire died out. She began to pound on it. Faith followed the sound and joined her.
In a moment, the door was swung open. "Oh Dr. Watson!" Florence exclaimed. "We are most grateful!"
"We found a man's hair in the stove!" Faith exclaimed.
The Doctor's eyes fell to the burned remains of the wig, beard, and moustache. For a moment his eyes became thoughtful, but then he offered no other comment. "Where's Holmes?" he asked.
"We don't know," Florence told him, and Faith added, "We ain't heard a sound from either my Eben or Mr. Holmes."
The Doctor gave a small start on this, and Faith and Florence both saw it.
"Where's my Eben?" Faith asked, and Florence exclaimed. "Oh! What has happened to them?"
The Doctor decided to minimize the shock. "Eben is at Dr. Martin's," he told her. "Two cowboys attacked him, and Dr. Martin took him at once to the surgery---"
"Alive?" Faith begged.
He made his voice assuring. "Yes, and able to speak to us. I think he'll be all right."
"But no sign of Mr. Holmes?" Florence asked, puzzled.
"Holmes had sent Eben to town to get a telegram," the Doctor said. "As far as I know, Holmes himself should be in the house somewhere." And then he added, "His horse is here, anyway."
"We put paid to two of them cowboys' bills," Faith told him, her voice filled with a certain gladness that she had seen some justice upon the men who had injured her husband."
"Their in the kitchen--one locked in the pantry," Faith said. "Stunned from the frying pan."
"A centuries-old weapon!" the Doctor exclaimed.
"But Dr. Algol is in there as well!" Florence told him. "And he's armed."
The Doctor became decisive. "You two wait here. I'm going in."
They said nothing as he strode away. But as soon as he disappeared around the back of house, both women looked at each other, their eyes in perfect agreement. They hurried into the house, through the kitchen door. On the way, Florence neatly scooped up the gun from the unconscious Jake.
* * * *
Now that the worst had been made plain, Solomon became more overtly helpful to the man he assumed to be Sherlock Holmes. The tall Barbasian valet took the dress and gazed down at it sorrowfully. The Brigadier realized that---in spite of the tough reputation of the American West---he had entered an age when the idea of murder was far more rare and more personally horrific than twentieth century minds had allowed.
Solomon held the long dress in his arms as though it were a body. "Jeff Charles was just a lad. On winter nights, I would spend the evenings over there when Dr. Algol was away, telling the children stories. Why has Dr. Algol done this?" These words were not really spoken to the Brigadier. "And elder Mr. Charles was his friend."
"You knew of none of his criminal activities, Solomon?" the Brigadier asked.
The tall valet looked up and soberly shook his head. "This must be why he got me out of the house on the day of the wreck, sir. I have lived in ignorance of these monstrosities." He gave a nod over to the collection of hand mills and grinding machines. "Dr. Algol strictly forbade me to come down here, and warned me that he was mixing poisons to deal with rats and gophers. He could be---short tempered at times. Quite loud in his swearing. But I knew when not to approach him. And if I ever thought ill of him, I certainly never suspected this extremity." Then he became puzzled. "It's said that the Charles men died of poisoning, but one does not grind arsenic from seeds." He glanced at the Brigadier. "It is a mineral element, is it not?"
"Dr. Watson suspects that it was not arsenic poisoning, Solomon," the Brigadier said. He wandered away from the trunk and into the section of the room that was filled with the grinding equipment. He looked at the small workbench. A few small seeds or beans lay scattered by the hand-turned centrifuge. "Castor beans," he said "Where did he get those?"
"Dr. Algol has many jars of many seeds, roots, extracts, and samples from every place he has ever been," Solomon told him. "Castor beans come from the southern regions of this country and are poisonous, sir. But surely it would be very difficult to feed them to somebody, even if they were ground up."
The Brigadier cocked an eyebrow. "There are things called catalysts, Solomon. Essences that can tremendously increase the effectiveness of a poison. Perhaps---" He cut himself off as he looked up and saw somebody standing on the other side of the steps. It was Dr. Algol. He had a gun in his hand.
"Caught red handed, you villain," Algol said. "Solomon, what nonsense has this scalawag been telling you? Why have you allowed him to invade my house?"
"How the dickens did you get in here?" the Brigadier asked.
"I should think a great detective like yourself would have that figured out momentarily." And Algol sneered.
"That dress proves everything," the Brigadier said. "You arranged to impersonate Florence Charles to cast suspicion on her, and you poisoned her brother with a slow acting poison."
"Did I?" Algol asked. "What poison? And that dress of hers was left here by her. It was inadvertently---torn during one of her night time visits. I had it repaired."
Solomon gasped, and the Brigadier started forward, angry at the allegation, but Algol raised the gun to shoot him on the spot. It was an unwieldy weapon, and as he took a moment to level it, Solomon ducked down and cried out in fear: "Don't kill him, Dr. Algol!" At the same moment, the Doctor leaped out from the dark room and tackled Algol from behind.
The gun fired into the wood casing of the stairway.
The Brigadier rushed past the valet, scooped up one of the buckets that had been stacked by the drum of solvent, and came around the rear support beams of the stairway as the Doctor and Algol rolled on the floor and struggled for the gun.
Algol's wrist was gripped at full arm's length by the Doctor in both hands, but the wiry little man was much stronger than he looked. He pushed his free arm across the Doctor's throat as both a choke and a lever, and he pushed from his hips and managed to roll on top. The Doctor was using both hands to control the gun, and Algol bore down on his throat with his free forearm.
The Brigadier clapped the galvanized bucket over Algol's head and rammed it down with both fists.
Instantly, the gun was dropped. The Doctor, choking for his breath, rolled away and knocked the gun out of range. The Brigadier hauled the bucket-headed Dr. Algol to his feet and without thinking slammed his right fist into the bucket.
The Brigadier bellowed with pain and caught his fist. The figure of Algol did stagger under the reverberation of the blow, and he tried to push the bucket off with both hands.
Quickly, the Brigadier looked 'round, saw the lever he had used to pry open the trunk, and took it up. He swung it full strength into the bucket over Algol's head.
The figure of Dr. Algol was thrown right off his feet into the heavy black wall of the dark room.
"Alastair, that's enough!" the Doctor said quickly, for the Brigadier almost struck again, but the scientist was down. The Doctor rushed to the bucket and tried to get it off. As he worked on that, Solomon came from cover. "Are you all right sir? I'm sorry. I thought it was over for you." He was shaking, but he stared at the fallen Algol with more horror than fear. "I cannot---"
But he was interrupted as the door at the top of the stairs opened.
"Mr. Holmes?" Florence's voice called. "Who is down there?"
"It's all right!" the Brigadier called up to them. "It's over. Come down if you will."
"We got the sheriff with us," Faith's voice, more authoritative, said. "If this is some trick, you better take heed. Him and Dr. Martin are both here."
"Come down. It's Holmes and Watson down here. Itís safe!" the Brigadier called. He glanced at the Doctor. The timelord had at last pried the bucket free. Algol was breathing, but he was unconscious. The bucket had been creased by the iron lever. The Doctor threw it aside.
Footsteps on the stairs were drowned out by another familiar sound. The TARDIS filled the room with the straining, groaning sound of her old engines. She slowly faded in among the trunks and other stored items.
"Now!" the Doctor shouted. "Get her!"
He darted up from the floor in one smooth motion, rushed past the Brigadier, who was still nursing his fist, and flung himself at the TARDIS. But the TARDIS had finally settled down into stable permanence. The Doctor hit the solid door face first, bounced off and staggered back, and then fell to the floor on his backside, dazed. He covered his nose with both hands.
"Oh my lands!" Solomon exclaimed. He had been amazed at the sight of this apparition materializing in front of them all. But he was even more amazed at the Doctor's mad dive straight into it. He knelt by the dazed timelord. "Are you all right, Dr. Watson? Here you are sir, take my handkerchief. Your nose is bleeding."
"Oh Mr. Holmes, you're all right!" Florence exclaimed as she alighted from the steps. "You've hurt your hand!"
"Yes Miss Charles, I am fine. I took a moment to avenge your honor and your grief against this fellow," the Brigadier said with a nod down at Algol. "Sheriff, that green dress in that trunk over there has come from your church's mission barrel. It is enough evidence to show that Dr. Algol disguised himself as Florence Charles on the night of Jefferson Charles' poisoning." He threw a nod across the back of the steps to the machinery. "And over there is the evidence that somehow Dr. Algol concocted a poison made from castor beans. That's what killed both Charles men. It would be a little known poison out here, where castor beans are not grown in such a cold climate."
The Doctor, assisted by Solomon, struggled to his feet. "Of course Brig---Holmes!" the timelord exclaimed. "Of course. It's what killed Browne!" He looked at the two women. Then he dabbed at his bleeding nose with Solomon's handkerchief. "You found that burnt up wig and beard. Holmes, didn't you tell me that Big Tierney said a white haired old man on the train had given young Browne a handkerchief? Mentholated?" He stopped, alarmed, and glanced at the handkerchief in his hand. "Say, where did you get this?"
"From my own supply, Dr. Watson," Solomon said.
"Go on," the Brigadier said.
"The very thing. Look." The Doctor pointed over to the machinery where the castor beans lay. "It's not just raw castor bean poisoning. Algol has been using one of the deadliest natural poisons in the world to carry out his work: ricin. Ricin is refined from castor beans. But in its purified form, less than one gram can kill a man within a day or two. If that man is wounded or takes the poison in an optimum way, the effects can be much faster." He glanced at his own handkerchief again, still doubtful. "You're sure this came from your own supply?"
"Yes sir," Solomon assured him.
"How much is a gram?" the young sheriff asked. "Is it as much as a spoon full?"
"Less than a tenth of a tablespoon!" the Doctor exclaimed. Just to be sure, he shook out the handkerchief several times and then applied it to his nose. "I think the bleeding's stopped anyway," he said.
"Is this ricin a powder?" Dr. Martin asked. The time lord nodded. The light of understanding dawned in Martin's eyes. "So Algol was aboard that train. Disguised as an old man. He passed young Browne a handkerchief dusted with this poison. And Browne inhaled it several times."
The Sheriff, stung to remembrance by these words, pulled out the telegram. Without a word, he stepped over Algol and gave the note to the Brigadier. The Brigadier tore open the envelope.
"Who wired you, anyway?" Martin asked.
"The federal marshal with whom Browne had been in contact," Lethbridge Stewart said. "I sent a telegram informing him of Browne's death, asking what their interest had been. Here's the answer." He turned to the telegram and read it aloud: "Browne unionizer, Virdon Mine. Other unionizers dead by unknown poison. Algol major owner Virdon mine. Disappeared. Traced by Browne."
He cocked an eyebrow, not knowing the reference to the Virdon mines, but the Doctor spoke up. "The Virdon coal mines of Illinois, one of the early sites of union protest and violence. A lot of them died. Very few of the instigators of violence were ever brought to justice."
"Well here's one that will answer," Dr. Martin said. "One way or another. So he poisoned unionizers near Chicago, and then he poisoned Browne."
"And derailed the train," the Doctor added. "So that Browne's death would pass as one more victim of the crash."
"Could he have moved that quickly?" Martin asked.
The Brigadier nodded. "Yes, he could. Big Tierney said the old man with the beard boarded at one stop and got off at the next. Plenty of time to ride a hired horse full speed back here while the train loaded and unloaded. He got here ahead of the train and left the chain on the track." He glanced at the Doctor. "All the same, I wonder how he knew Browne was coming," the Brigadier said. "But then, he may have invited Browne himself if he thought Browne was drawing too close. Certainly, somebody sent that map of the town and the way to the hotel to Browne."
"Either he wrote to Browne in his own hand or disguised himself in the mail as a sympathizer," the Doctor said. "A search of his correspondence may show how the young man was lured out here." He turned to the TARDIS.
"You're not going in there, Dr. Watson!" Martin exclaimed as the time lord hunted along the door frame of the TARDIS, found the hidden key, and opened the door.
"Of course I am! It's mine, after all. I'll be right back," the Doctor said.
Florence, keeping a wide orbit from Dr. Algol, came over to the Brigadier. She took his injured hand. "We'll have to keep this in cold water," she said. "You've bruised it terribly." She looked up at him. "But why did he kill my brother, Mr. Holmes? And my father?"
The Brigadier, in spite of the pain in his hand, used it to clasp her hand. "I'm sorry about that, Florence. I think it would have happened sooner or later. But what triggered it was the word that your brother had been killed in the wreck. Algol moved quickly and poisoned your father as soon as you left to see about your brother. I'm sure that Algol's reasoning was that if he moved quickly, you might lean on him as your only support in this wild country. And it would seem believable that grief over Jefferson would put your father into his grave. Then when he realized that same afternoon that Jefferson was not dead, he had to go into town that night and administer the poison, Jefferson was sedated with morphine. He probably willingly took his last drink of water, never knowing what it held." He lifted his other hand to clasp hers. "I am sorry. But I do think he would have struck sooner or later."
"Murder for money," Dr. Martin said. He turned to the young sheriff. "Now are you satisfied, Nathaniel?" He stepped over to Algol and poked the fallen man with the toe of his boot. "Get him up."
Just then the Doctor returned from the TARDIS. He was carrying a small glass tube. Solomon and the sheriff lifted the groggy Algol to his feet between them and carried him towards the steps.
"Much quicker to go that way!" the Doctor said cheerily with a nod to the dark room. "Secret passage in back goes up a few steps and opens into a lean-to full of tools, and from there into the sunshine."
The surprised look on Solomon's face showed that he had been unaware of this as well. "All along I thought I must not enter to spare the photographic prints!" he exclaimed softly.
:Speaking of which," the Doctor added. "If you look around in there, you'll find some recently developed photographs of the dead unionizer, Browne. Algol must have taken the photographs a few years ago. But he reviewed the prints again to reacquaint himself with his victim's face."
"Will you charge him then?" Dr. Martin demanded of the sheriff as the two men dragged the semi-conscious Algol towards the dark room. "Are you at last satisfied that Florence Charles is innocent?"
"Yes, and I shall pass him over to the federal marshals," the young man said. He turned to the task of getting Algol out.
"This is for Eben," the Doctor said to Dr. Martin. He passed the glass tube to him. "A teaspoon of it twice a day. It will keep off infection. Treat it carefully."
Faith stepped forward, wringing her hands. "Won't you see to him as well, Dr. Watson?"
"I would be glad to, my dear," the Doctor told her. "Except that Dr. Martin is of great skill in the removal of bullets. I could do no better work, and that serum will ensure a good recovery." He glanced at the Brigadier. "Holmes and I must go. Right away."
"What?" Florence asked, and for a moment the Brigadier looked stricken as well. The Doctor nodded to the TARDIS. "That is our transport, you see."
"You'll need horses," Martin began.
The Doctor shook his head. "No. We'll manage without horses." He looked at the Brigadier again.
"Dr. Martin, will you take Faith to see to her husband?" the Brigadier asked. "And see Miss Florence safely home?"
"Certainly," Martin said. He glanced from Florence to him. "We'll just let you say your good-byes. Are you ready, Faith? Eben will be glad to see you."
They walked out, through the dark room. Faith shot one look at Florence, feeling sadness for her at losing the person who had been so kind to her. A message went between them, and then Faith walked out. The Brigadier looked down, understanding the communication between the two women.
"I'll, uh, I'll see to things," the Doctor said. He stepped into the TARDIS.
"Please stay Mr. Holmes!" Florence exclaimed, her hand still in his. "Or if you cannot stay--come back when you can. You shall always be welcome in the Charles house."
"Florence, I can't come back," he told her gravely. "I might want to. I might want to stay and not leave at all. But the Doctor is right. We have to leave. Our time is up."
She looked up at him with the sudden, whole hearted earnestness of a young girl who has truly and innocently fallen in love. "You could have---anything I could give you to make you happy. Everything I could give you." Her eyes filled up with sudden tears. "You're so brave and good that you make me brave. Everything's all right when you're nearby. Please don't leave."
"Listen." He suddenly put his arms around her and held her close. "I'm not Sherlock Holmes."
She laughed through her tears. "I know that. But out here, you can be anything you want to be. Start over if you have to. And I'll give you a name and a home. I won't ask you any questions."
"Florence, the Doctor and I are in the military service," he told her honestly. "I'm not allowed to stay here. I would. I can't. I've already hurt one woman who I loved very much because I had to fulfill my duty. I won't do it again."
She looked up at him, and her tears gradually stopped as she realized that he was being completely honest with her, and that this separation was also difficult for him.
"Then I'll let you go," she said.
"May I--" He caught himself. "I want to kiss you goodbye," he said. "If I can have one kiss, then it will be all right."
She didn't answer, but she lifted her face, her eyes large. Her first kiss, he thought, and she was trembling. He was careful, and he gently kissed her lips. They looked at each other. She composed herself. "Then thank you, for all you've done," she whispered. "You saved my life."
"Many people here care for you very much," he whispered.
There was a scrape of a boot on the flooring. "I thought I'd see Miss Charles through that dark piece to the steps," Dr. Martin said.
The Brigadier nodded. He released her, and they exchanged last looks, and then he said to Dr. Martin. "That poison---I expect Dr. Algol learned the refining of it from the Indians when he lived with them. But if it's been a secret otherwise from the white man, see that you destroy all that machinery. And remember that its dust is poisonous as well. Water everything first, use coverings over your face as you move it and then destroy it all in a smithy."
Martin nodded. "If it's a rare poison, I'd like to keep it as secret as possible," he said. The TARDIS door opened, and the Doctor poked his head out. "We're ready," he said.
* * * *
The Doctor nearly spoke as the Brigadier stepped inside, and then decided against it. Instead, he made his voice casual as he turned to the console. He closed the doors. "I won't have to plot the course home. There's a simple return sequence." He pressed a single button.
"Yes all right," the Brigadier said. He was still wearing the elegant, nineteenth century clothing of an American gentlemen. He pulled a handkerchief from his breast pocket and started to tie up his hand. The TARDIS rotor rose and fell.
"Better let me see to that," the Doctor said. The Brigadier did not object. He glanced around as the Doctor tied up his hand for him. The lights dimmed slightly, and then they came to a halt. The rotor stopped. The Doctor checked the view screen. "Home!" he said in triumph. He glanced at the Brigadier.
"The thing is," the Brigadier said, his eyes very sober. "She'd just lost her father and brother. I shouldn't have let her fall in love with me."
The Doctor opened the doors from the console and then walked up to him. "Why not?" the time lord asked. "Why not give her a high mark for a standard? If she's lost her father and her brother, you at least showed her what she should expect in the man she falls in love with: kindness, dignity, patience, courage, intelligence." He walked to the open doors. The Brigadier hesitantly followed.
"Look," the Doctor told him. "She would have gotten herself busy helping Eben recover, bringing Solomon on as additional help for the household. And I'm sure when it was all finished, and the funerals over, that Doctor Martin would have found time to visit. He was brave and reliable."
The Brigadier looked up, surprised. "Dr. Martin? Do you really think so?"
"Certainly not that nitwit sheriff." The Doctor became more offhand. "Yes, I do think so. She learned from you what to expect. Dr. Martin would come pretty close. He gave me this hat, you know." And the Doctor smiled and took off the cowboy hat. He displayed it proudly.
"Yes, it's a very nice hat." Lethbridge Stewart cast his eyes to the lab. "There's half a bottle of that scotch left."
"Let's rinse out the glasses."
They strode from the TARDIS. The Brigadier stopped. "First. That key."
"What?" The Doctor looked at him, puzzled.
"The TARDIS key, Doctor. If we're going to drink, I want custody of the key."
"Oh very well." Disgruntled, the Doctor took the TARDIS key from his pocket and handed it over. Lethbridge Stewart nodded, put the key on the top of his fist like a man about to toss a coin, and flipped it onto the top of the very highest storage locker.
The Doctor was astounded. "What did you do that for? I'll need a step ladder to get it back."
Lethbridge Stewart went over to the sink. "I've learned my lesson." He picked up the two shot glasses on his way. As he opened the tap, he looked at the time lord. "If we're going to drink, Doctor, we are not going to drive."