[Apparently there are only crazy religious sites that advertise with Google. It may not be worth it to have the ad spot...]
“What did he say?” Lady Mangrove said with some consternation. “Why is everybody whispering?”
“He’s here to investigate,” Lizzie stated as loudly as she thought could still be considered genteel in front of the doctor.
“Instigate? Instigate what?”
“I am here, Lady Mangrove,” the doctor clarified, his own tone pitched loud enough to rattle some of the cutlery in the next room, “To investigate the murder!”
“Murder,” snorted Lady Mangrove, in what Lizzie could not help noticing was an unsuitably ungenteel fashion, “What murder?”
Doctor Ponsonby snatched a small blue bottle from the table. It was marked with what appeared to be two triangles, one inverted, the other missing a little bit in the bottom line. He thrust it before Lady Mangrove’s perfect nose. “I put it to you that this is arsenic, my lady!”
“Of course, it’s arsenic,” Lady Mangrove continued, her tone now matching the shouting of the others. “That’s my husband’s arsenic concoction. Vinegar I believe,” she added, a finger thoughtfully to her lips. “I believe he mixes it with vinegar. My sister always added chalk, but my dear husband would have none of that. Always preferred the ruddy complexion. Suits a man, he always said, did he not, Alice?”
“Yes, he did, mama,” Alice said, remembering to modulate her voice appropriately. The tension in the room was becoming unbearable, but the young woman could easily be forgiven for hoping that it might endure just a bit longer. It was the most excitement there had ever been in the nearly always silent house. Unused as her ears were to the thunderous tones of this day, it was certainly a pleasant change. Not that she had forgotten the death of her father, mind you, but she should surely be forgiven being caught up in the excitement that surrounded the unexpected events that day.
“So, you poisoned your husband!” Doctor Ponsonby shrieked at last, brandishing the bottle with its horrid alchemical symbol before the stoic face of Alice’s mother.
“Stuff and nonsense,” replied the unperturbed woman. Lizzie herself felt an unaccustomed sense of admiration for Lady Mangrove, whose accomplishments heretofore had seldom crept outside the arena of needlepoint and whist. Alice was quite done in with astonishment. Was this the same woman who meekly responded, “yes, dear” to nearly every didactic pronouncement of her father? While she was temporarily distracted by wondering whether she had used the word “didactic” properly in her thoughts, Alice soon returned to astonishment at her mother’s daring.
“Lord Mangrove was in the habit of taking his arsenic daily. He believed it to be a powerful tonic--”
“Powerful tonic!” the doctor shouted with a great deal of bluster. But his bluster failed him at that moment, and he merely repeated, “Powerful tonic?!”
“There’s no need to shout,” Lady Mangrove continued, “I believe my hearing has at last returned. As I say, he took the mixture of arsenic and vinegar -- with a little basil in the summer times -- on a daily basis for his health. I’m certain the amount of arsenic cannot have been sufficient to have killed him.”
“Well,” the doctor relented, “Perhaps not. I shall have to perform an --”
“Doctor, do you mind?” Lady Mangrove deliberately set aside her needlepoint and stood up. At her low height, one might not initially consider it to be an impressive move, but she had a way of making her not quite five feet of height matter more than people twice her size. “My child is traumatized and fatherless. Please do not injure her further with your talk of horrid and mundane tasks!”
The doctor bowed his head, crestfallen. “I only thought… well, for once I might have to… yes, Lady Mangrove, I apologize most heartily.”
“Never mind! Lizzie, take Alice’s other arm. We must escort her to her room, she has to recover from this terrible blow. And we have a funeral to plan -- call Mrs. Perkins once we’ve deposited poor Alice in her bed.” Alice had a curiosity worthy of her cousin that made her wish to stay there and see what the doctor might do next, but the two women each grabbed an arm and began to whisk her from the room before she could think of protesting. At the door, her mother seemed to recall something to mind and she paused, turning.
“I nearly forgot, Doctor Ponsonby! Do check on Arthur. I’m afraid I shot him. Perhaps you will have a murder to investigate after all.” And she turned back to bustle her daughter to her room with Lizzie’s help, there to administer a helpful dose of laudanum which caused Alice to slip into a dream almost at once.