It was a particularly cold evening when Dominic Weyland burst upon his colleagues who were, until that time, gathered around warm hearth enjoying an evening symposium. Despite that the news which he bore was grave, it was not his words which affected these gentleman the most, for as he stepped through the door—shaking the half melted snow from his overcoat and boots—a strong wind of cold air imposed itself upon the parlor.
Struggling with his winter clothes, the young Weyland leaned back upon the door, pushing it closed. “I have dreadful news,” he declared without pretense or formality. “Dreadful news indeed!”
“What would that be, my dear boy?” inquired Niles, without a hint of interest, as he drew softly upon the stem of his pipe. Niles leaned languidly back in his chair, staring at the ceiling.
“Do you recall my associate Timothy Woolroy?” Dominic took off his coat, carefully hanging it from the rack beside the door.
“Is he the chap who acquired for you a… certain object last spring?” asked Rufus, waving at the air to disperse the smell of Niles’s pipe.
“No, no. Unless I am mistaken he is the gentleman who procured a case of laudanum for the Kensington’s last All Hollows Eve.” Wilson put the book he had been reading down in his lap.
“You are both wrong,” interjected Friedrich. “Timothy Woolroy is the rake who has been engaging in criminal conversation with Mrs. Leary.”
“Good. You all remember him. He is indeed one and the same, but that matters not.” Dominic then continued with clear and precise diction, gesturing with his hands as though to emphasis the precision and propriety of his words. “I was informed this evening by a mutual associate that he has fallen most ill.”
“You say?” inquired Niles, with a hint of feigned concern.
“This—and I say this with the greatest hesitance—is a matter of intrigue! For you see, Mr. Woolroy has reportedly been afflicted by a sinister and devilish sacrilege which has, reportedly, been inflicted upon him by the heathen Romani.” Dominic’s eyes were wide. Rufus leaned forward, sliding to the edge of his divan.
Speaking around his pipe stem with an air of discontent, Niles seemed more interested in the patterns the smoke of his pipe was making than in what his friend was saying. “My dear boy, I do not follow.”
It was to this that Rufus spoke up, “I do believe that our dear friend is insinuating that Mr. Woolroy has been struck by the Gypsy’s cruse.”
“Thank you Rufus, this is precisely the case.” Dominic ran his fingers through his wavy light brown hair, pushing it back out of his eyes.
“Serves him right, the man is irredeemably profligate.” said Niles, muttering as much to himself as to the rest of the room.
“Niles, my dear boy,” inserted Wilson. “Woolroy is a coxcomb and a rake, to be sure, but to call him profligate may be a bit much. Perhaps libertine would be a better description of the fellow’s proclivities.”
“Need I go through the list?” queried Niles, somewhat indignantly.
“Dear God, no! It is as you say, but the man is ill. I merely mean to remind you that it is a thing of poor taste to speak of an acquaintance in such ways, especially when they lie ill—no matter how true it may be. The man may not deserve your respect, but it is proper to grant a degree of it, none the less.”
Ignoring this exchange, Rufus addressed Weyland. “If he has been struck by evil, why, then, are you excited?”
“Am I?” responded a surprised Weyland.
“You are,” insisted Rufus, casting a wry gaze upon his friend.
Weyland shrugged, thinking briefly, then stated, ”I had not noticed.”
“You are positively flush with anticipation.” Rufus motioned at Weyland.
“It is no use denying then. Do you recall the conversation in which we discussed the possibility of physiological manifestations of a perceived or believed transitive stimulus?” Weyland ignored the comments about his state, his tone becoming serious as he looked at each of his four compatriots.
Niles pulled a draw off his pipe again. “I recall a rather riveting conversation regarding correlations between libertarianism and utilitarianism in light of modern economic constructions. Now if I could only recall how that conversation concluded. Ah yes, you walked through the door.”
Being accustomed to Niles’ demeanor and his tendency for melancholy, the group dismissed his sour words and continued as though he had said nothing.
“I do recall such a discussion.” Rufus nodded.
“Well, my dear boy, it would seem that we have an opportunity to test our hypothesis. Should we discover that Woolroy’s symptoms are psychosomatic, then we can discount the claim that the Gypsy possess a preternatural ability to afflict others with disease or misfortune.” Weyland rubbed his hands together.
Friedrich, ever pragmatic and looking to the larger picture, shook his head. “As a point of interest, such would only apply to current circumstance. This singular event cannot account for all possible scenarios. The sample data is insufficient to support your proposed claim. The essence of natural philosophy is to collect facts through the rigorous application of the Socratic Method, not through a singular case study.”
“Your point is taken, Friedrich, but mine stands unaffected.” Finally taking a seat, Weyland sat hard in the chair with a thinly restrained sigh. “Regardless of the degree to which we might apply these findings, this remains an opportunity to present what may well be definitive proof of our theory. What we discover by examining this case may provide grounds for a larger case study. I should like to pursue this matter for publication. And remember, the Method requires many case studies. If one is not enough, at least it is a beginning.”
Niles waved his pipe through the air, watching the curls of smoke weave together and form patters in the flickering light of the room. “My dear boy! Why should you demean yourself in this way? Let the oligarchs reign within their ivory tower so long as they leave us common folk undisturbed by their intellectual constraints. I cannot fathom your reason for seeking the approval of those dusty and impotent old men.”
Friedrich, gentle concern weighting his voice, replied to Niles. “Perhaps you should set aside the sherry, my friend. You speak more harshly then you intend.”
The heat in Niles’ eyes flared briefly as he shot a glance at the younger gentleman, but he allowed the chair to embrace him as he drew deeply from his pipe, and moments later had set the copita aside.
Weyland continued unabated, “I called upon Mrs. Woolroy this evening, just prior to my arrival in fact. She has consented to allow us a midday luncheon with Woolroy so that we might examine him ourselves. She is quite set upon the idea of a curse and is interested to see what we ‘fine Gentlemen’ might contribute to her husband’s condition.”
Wilson folded his hands atop his book. “What of his personal physician? Has he had anything to say on the matter?”
“I am certain that he has," Weyland said. "Frankly we did not engage in extensive conversation. With her husband in his current state, she felt that it would indecent for her to receive a gentleman at this hour.”
“Quite so.” Rufus nodded with approval.
“It is settled then." Weyland slapped his hands together. "We shall call upon Mr. Woolroy on the morrow and see what we may of this affair.”
Raising an eyebrow, Wilson tapped his fingers absently on his book. “All of us you say?”
“Indeed," Weyland said. "Yours and Rufus’ expertise is required to verify that his condition anything but quantifiable. And I shall appreciate Friedrich’s insights into the theoretical.”
“And what of me?” Niles ejaculated with a touch of annoyance.
Weyland turned and stretched out a hand to the older man. “Why, you can ensure that we avoid any form of liable.”
Niles snorted. “You assume that I can afford the dalliance. I have matters of some importance which require my attention, as you well know.”
“Don’t be obtuse, Niles," Wilson said without looking up, once again perusing his book. "The only matter which will strain your faculties is that of addressing the pallor of drunkenness. To which I suggest that attend to such matters. It would not do to justify the claims of your morose demeanor.”
“I am not morose," said Niles, stepping around Weyland to jab his pipestem at Wilson, who continued to ignore him. "My hospitality has its limits. I suggest that you remember this before you speak to me again.”
Wilson set his book on the end table after marking his place with a scrap of paper. “I stand corrected, my dear friend. You are not morose. You are simply bitter and mean.” His wry smile took the sting out of his words.
Niles stuck the pipe back in his mouth and with a gesture of acceptance said, “Sherry brings out the best in me.”
The following morrow, the friends rendezvoused once more at the apartment of Niles Byron. Niles, for his part was beleaguered and dallied somewhat in his morning affairs. Although he rose at a respectable hour, it was not until his colleagues had gathered to break fast that emerged from his chambers.
Friedrich and Weyland little noted his entrance, lost in a discussion comparing Archimedes and Isambard Kingdom Brunel. They had pushed their plates away to make room for a newspaper which described the opening of an extension of the Great Western Railway.
Wilson, on the other hand, set his knife down next to his egg cup and regarded Niles with a mixture of pity and aggravation. “You look positively ghastly. Please tell me that you did not continue your soiree after my departure.”
Niles seated himself at the table, surveying the offerings. “I sampled a bottle of scotch in anticipation of Weyland’s imminent success.”
“Naturally." Wilson leaned back in his chair and folded his arms. "And might I ask how much of it remains?”
Niles smiled, helping himself to a slice of toast. “I couldn’t very well let it go waste now could I? Good scotch turns sour overnight.”
“I believe," said Wilson, "that you are confusing scotch with wine, my dear boy.”
“Am I?" said Niles, spreading orange marmalade liberally on his toast. "That is a shame.”
Rufus entered the room from the door leading to the kitchens. Seeing Niles, he shook his head. "By Jove, man! You still have drink in your eye!”
“I was just explaining to our friend," said Niles, "the need to savor life’s gifts. To summarize Bentham, by maximizing the duration of Utility one increases the overall quantitative value of the virtue.” With that, he took a bite of his toast and let out a contented sigh.
Wilson frowned but said nothing, choosing instead to focus on removing the shell from his soft-boiled egg.
Rufus joined them at the table. “You run the risk of becoming a pig. These lower pleasures of yours will soon affect your capacity to function as a higher being. Fortunately I know you well enough to foresee this eventuality. Here, drink this tincture.” He fished a phial out from his waistcoat pocket and passed it over the table.
Niles eyed the liquid suspiciously and gave it a good swirl. “What is this?”
“Cocaine, my dear boy,” Rufus said without hesitation, “It is good for you. It will put color in your cheeks and lift you from this despair which has taken ahold of you. My god, it’s almost palpable! We truly ought to consider a regimen if you are going to continue in this manner.”
“On my physician’s instruction then,” said Niles, lifting the phial to his lips.
“Good lad," Rufus said. "Here, take it with food. It will help to settle your stomach.” He plucked the now-peeled soft-boiled egg directly from Wilson's egg cup and passed it to Niles, who popped it into his mouth with gusto.
This earned him a chuckle from Friedrich, who then buried himself in the newspaper to avoid a withering glare from Wilson.
Weyland cleared his throat. “Will you be quite fit for the afternoon’s events?" he said, addressing Niles. "It would be unfortunate if this newly discovered penchant for hedonism were to expose us to a matter of liable.”
“The cocaine will remedy your concerns," Rufus said, before Niles could respond. "In a few moments he will be as fit as a fiddle.”
Niles shrugged. “It matters not. I have no concern in a matter as simple as this.” He reached across the table for a date. “Any perception of liable on this matter can be easily remedied by a bumbling fool.”
“Then I shall count us fortunate," said Wilson, intercepting the date, "to have such a fool.”
Not long afterward, the troupe found themselves standing in front of the home of Timothy Woolroy, huddled together against the bitter chill of the winter wind. Standing in the frame of the door was a delicate woman in her middle twenties. She wore a high-necked white blouse with a simple blue dress in the fashion of the Methodist. Her hair was held in a sensible braid, and she wore at her neck a silver cross. She was recognized by all present as the Mrs. Woolroy.
Weyland embraced her by the hand and greeted her with warm, familiar words. With a somewhat strained smile, Mrs. Woolroy welcomed them and invited them all into the house. Once in the foyer, the five men began the process of removing the outer layers of their winter clothing.
“Mrs. Woolroy," said Wilson, doffing his hat, "thank you again for hosting us this afternoon.”
“It is quite alright Mr. Wilson. My husband is feeling much better this morning. He awoke with a renewed spirit.”
“Is this common? The morning renewal that is,” Wilson inquired.
“I cannot rightly say," Mrs. Woolroy said, after a slight hesitation, "but I believe so. It is as though the evil is purged from his body as he sleeps. I pray every night that it is so. Perhaps it is the Good Lord working within him to renew his spirit and protect it from the evil of the Adversary.”
Weyland stopped unwrapping the scarf from around his neck, raising his eyebrows. “Do you subscribe to this theory of the Gypsy then?”
“Most certainly, sir,” said she somewhat timidly. Her hands encircled the cross which normally lay upon her heart and her eyes were cast down coyly. “I was with my husband when the witch spoke her words, and I could feel from her the evil within them. I have no doubt that she possesses an evil and unchristian spirit”
“That is interesting,” said Friedrich, cocking his head with interest as he observed her clutching the cross to her heart. “I would have thought that a woman of your faith would be adverse to superstition.” He took off his gloves and handed them to a serving girl who stood nearby, arms laden with coats.
“I do not understand the conflict, sir." Mrs. Woolroy pursed her lips. "The Holy Word tells us to beware of evil spirits. The prophets themselves were misled by lying spirits, and we are warned against the presence of witches. Satan sees the depths of our depravity and works upon the darkness in our hearts, bidding us to do the most horrible of things such that his darkness will come to rule over God’s creation. This Gypsy spoke the foul words of a witch. She has had congress with the Devil himself and spreads his dark spirit among good Christians.”
Leaning close to Rufus’ ear, Niles whispered such that Mrs. Woolroy could not overhear. “Do you suppose that we should inform Mrs. Woolroy of her husband’s depravity? The man with which I am familiar is anything but a ‘good Christian’.”
“She should hang for what she has done," Mrs. Woolroy continued, her jaw set and her eyes narrowed. "If there were any justice in this world, then she would be brought to account for her crimes. Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”
“Be that as it may," Wilson averred, "there is as yet no evidence of a crime. Not that I doubt your word Mrs. Woolroy. Should our endeavor prove fruitful, then we may be in a position to remedy your husband’s condition and perhaps bring this heathen to account. You said that your husband awakens each morning invigorated?”
The anger quickly faded from Mrs. Woolroy's face, leaving sorrow behind. “Not so much as that, I am afraid. But he does arouse stronger than when he retires.”
Seeing that they had all divested themselves of their outer garments, she gestured for them to follow her into the parlor. The stately room was much warmer than the foyer, and adorned with green growing things, a number of which were in bloom. Altogether it made rather a welcome change from the drab grey of the winter scene outside.
“And his eating habits? Is he consuming fair proportions?” Wilson asked, continuing his previous line of inquiry.
“As much as one might expect for one so ill." Mrs. Woolroy carefully arranged her skirts and seated herself in a chair by the window. She motioned for the troupe to take seats.
“What of the content? Is he eating a balance of substance; meats, vegetables?” Wilson sat down next to the poor woman, leaning in to ask his questions.
“He consumes mostly broth," said Mrs. Woolroy, "with some softer vegetables and tender meats, but he is far too weak for a proper meal.”
“He is well hydrated, yes?”
“Yes sir he is. I keep a fresh pot of tea beside him at all hours. It seems to sooth him as he weakens with the day.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Woolroy," Wilson said, leaning back and folding his arms. "You appear to be doing all that a wife can in these times. I am certain that your efforts are appreciated.”
She nodded her head in acknowledgement of his words.
“Do you have additional questions for Mrs. Woolroy, Rufus?”
“No, I do not," the other physician said, his chin resting thoughtfully on his fist. "Your interview thus far has been quite thorough. Perhaps it is time that see to the patient.”
“Quite right," Wilson said, rising from his chair. His compatriots followed his lead. "If you would be so kind then as to lead the way Mrs. Woolroy.”
“Certainly, sir. Allow me just one moment to fetch a tray from the kitchen. I recently finished serving Mr. Woolroy his midday meal and his tea needs to be refreshed.” She left the five men where they stood and returned shortly after.
“I could not help but notice," Friedrich said, stepping forward, "the variety of plants that you have around your home. I am familiar with botany myself, but many of these flowers are new to me. You must have spent many years procuring these specimens.”
“Thank you Friedrich," she said. "I had nearly forgotten that this is the first time that I have hosted you in my home. You are correct though, one of the few luxuries that Mr. Woolroy has allowed is my plants.”
The lines of worry eased from her face as she looked around the room, her eyes resting here and there on various of the blossoms. “There is not much that I have besides them. They have become more than a passion to me." With the word passion, she cast her eyes down modestly--almost coyly. As a hint of color came to her cheeks, she looked something of a flower in winter herself.
“I have not been in a position to tend to them as of late, for obvious reasons. My Cattleya orchids need to be pruned, but with my husband upstairs…" She shook her head. "I can hardly bring myself to walk the garden. I do try though, as it brings me peace to be with my flowers. They have long been a comfort to me, and I trust that they will bring me through this difficult ordeal, but I still feel awkward seeking peace and solace while my husband wastes away above me.”
“My apologies, Mrs. Woolroy," Friedrich said, inclining his head. "I did not intend to cause you any discomfort, I meant only to compliment your skills.”
“I know this, sir, and I thank you. You have all been a comfort.” She took them all in with a glance. “Simply knowing that my husband has friends who are concerned enough for his health as to assist in this manner… that is comfort enough.” She raised her head and looked firmly into Friedrich's eyes. No longer seeming a delicate bloom, her straight back spoke of her resolve and a strength of character. This was a woman who would survive whatever followed.
That glimpse of strength was, however, fleeting. She cast her gaze to the ground once more as she led the men up the stairs, down the hall, and to a room within which lay the infirmed Timothy Woolroy. He lay upon a chaise which had been placed before the hearth. The room was warm, despite the shades having been opened to allow entrance to what little of the winter sun could be found. Mr. Woolroy was well bundled in a rather decent robe and several blankets. Beside him was table with a tea tray and the remnants of an austere lunch.
“Husband, there are guests to see you.”
Woolroy did little to respond to their presence.
“He is having a day I am afraid,” Mrs. Woolroy said kindly over her shoulder as she made toward the table where she replaced the tray upon it. “He is lucid on occasion, but he has become increasingly withdrawn over the last two days. He has become paranoid. In one moment he will refuse to eat, and then he will break down into tears or a burst of rage, only to forget the whole ordeal consume his food as though nothing had happened. I would be ashamed to divulge these behaviors to you if I were not certain of your discretion. It is bad enough that my husband has been afflicted in this manner. It would be worse still if his good name were to be ruined by the effects of this illness.”
“You are quite right Mrs. Woolroy," said Weyland, as she poured for her husband a fresh cup of hot tea. "In times such as these, discretion is required in order to preserve both a man’s reputation and dignity. It is good at least that he has a wife such as yourself to see to his needs with a concern for all that might affect a man’s name.”
Timothy Woolroy had taken notice of their presence and, as if to confirm his wife’s previous words, looked to her as though she were a stranger. It was a look of mixed emotion which included both bewilderment and fear. For that matter he seemed perturbed by the presence of his friends as well. Rufus, who had been observing the ill man, was reminded of a patient who had suffered from frequent and sever seizures.
Mrs. Woolroy smiled. “It is as you say, sir, but I cannot take full credit. I can only serve him as best I can and trust in the Lord. I have full confidence that the Lord is caring for my husband as he deserves.”
Rather than looking comforted, the sick man's eyes widened slightly at this. Perhaps his wife was unaware of the nature and scope of his sins, but even in his addled state it seemed that Timothy Woolroy knew exactly what sort of reward he could look forward to from the hand of a just God.
Taking a chair from a nearby table and placing it beside the chaise, Wilson sat beside the man. “Timothy, old chap, it is I, William.” The doctor’s eyes were keen as he examined every feature of the ill man’s face. Even something as miniscule as the twitch of an eyelid could speak volumes to one who was properly trained. “Do you remember me? Good, good. I am here with Rufus and the others. We are concerned and thought that we might be of some assistance. I am going to perform an examination. If I bother you in any way, let me know. Can you open your mouth for me, good, good…”
Mrs. Woolroy stood toward the front of the room near the door. Weyland joined her, speaking softly so as to not to be a disturbance to Wilson as he continued his examination. “What more can you tell me of the Romani?”
“What more can I tell?" Her jaw clenched, and once again anger was plainly written on her face. "The woman was wild, a harlot to be certain. Pardon me for saying, but she was as much a beast as not. As I think upon it now, I can almost smell the stench sin upon her breath. She was positively cloaked in transgression.”
“And have you any idea where she might be found?”
“Certainly not!” said she. Casting a quick glance toward her husband she continued more softly. As she did so her eyes darted as though to speak of coy naiveté. “I hear that they tend to travel. I would not know where to begin looking for one such as her. I imagine that there are places that one such as she might frequent, but I wouldn’t know of them.”
Weyland nodded, tapping his lips thoughtfully. “And where did you say that you were when you encountered this Gypsy?”
“We were… out." She looked down, avoiding his eyes. Her words were halting and quiet, almost a mutter. "My husband and I had dined out for the evening and decided to take in the night air. I dare say that we lost track of our exact whereabouts, and the ordeal was so overwhelming… I am sorry sir, but thinking back to that evening is causing me to feel faint!”
“Please forgive my manners." Weyland took her hand in his and gave it a reassuring pat. "I had not thought to consider the toll that this ordeal might have upon you. You handle your husband’s condition with such poise, I had forgotten your delicate constitution. I forgot myself and beg your forgiveness.”
“It is quite alright Mr. Weyland," Mrs. Woolroy said, her face flushed red. "I know that your heart is in the right place. You are a good Christian, sir, and you do us an honor by coming here.”
Weyland smiled with sincere warmth. “I appreciate your kindness, madam, and I am most hesitant to persist, but finding this woman may be a matter of importance in identifying the best way to assist your husband. Any information that you can provide about the ordeal is important.”
“I understand sir, I do." She retrieved her hand from his grasp. "I am just… so…”
“Take all the time that you need,” said Friedrich as he joined the pair in the doorway.
Mrs. Woolroy nodded and gave him a tight-lipped smile. After a deep breath, she resumed her tale. “When she spoke, it was hateful. She was angry at us both, gesturing wildly yelling.”
“Do you recall the words that she used," Friedrich said, cocking his head, "or perhaps you can identify the language? Weyland and I hope to identify the specific curse in the event that we may be able to identify a remedy for the effects.”
She gave her head a little shake. “I cannot, not for either. The words were foreign, but that it all that I can say. I am sorry. It was all just too much.” She turned away from them, facing out into the hallway.
Weyland shared a glance with Friedrich, who frowned and then shrugged. Clearly, there was much that she was not saying, but if she did not wish to speak further on the subject there was little they could do.
“Again," Weyland said, "I apologize for pressing the matter. We will of course respect your privacy and allow you a respite from our onslaught. Look here, Wilson has finished with your husband and is approaching us now. What have you to say to the matter, old chap?”
Wilson sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “He is worse than I was lead to believe. The hysteria which you describe appears to be the result of a cumulative effect. I fear that he will only get worse, and likely at an accelerated rate. What does your physician say on the matter?”
Mrs. Woolroy turned to face them, slipping a linen handkerchief into her pocket as she did so. “Doctor Thomas has not called upon this house in two days. When he was here last, my husband was considerably better. I shall say that he discounted any notion of a curse and prescribed nothing more than rest and full stomach. It was he who suggested that we provide medicinal tea.”
As she spoke, a maid passed by them with a murmured beg your pardon, retrieving the tea tray with the remains of Mr. Woolroy's lunch.
Wilson stepped in front of the maid with a raised hand. “Might I see that cup before you depart?"
The maid looked to Mrs. Woolroy, who nodded. The girl offered the physician a slight curtsey and presented the entire tray for him to examine.
"Thank you.” Wilson lifted the cup to his nose. He sniffed the contents and observed the surface of the cold tea before replacing it on the tray. He turned his eyes to Mrs. Woolroy. “Is this the same tea that you have brewed for him presently?”
“And where have you procured the ingredients?”
Looking past him into her husband's sick room, her eyebrows drew up together in concern. “Doctor Thomas provided a liquid to be added sparingly to each pot. He also suggested an assortment of herbs and mints, which I have been able to procure from my garden. I have blended and steeped the mixture just as the Doctor instructed.”
Wilson glanced at Rufus, who steepled his fingers and brought them to his lips. “How long do you allow the pot to sit tepid before you replace it?”
“Why, not long at all, sir,” she said with a hint of defensive indignation. “I take a degree of pride in my tea, as anyone knows. And a good wife never serves cold tea.”
Wilson smiled. “Of course not, Mrs Woolroy, I did not intend to suggest otherwise. If it is the same with you, I would like to examine your husband more thoroughly in private. There are some procedures which are simply too explicit for a woman of dignity.”
Mrs. Woolroy raised a hand to the cross hanging around her neck. “Of course, sir. I trust that you can proceed appropriately. I leave you to your task.”
She departed from the room, pulling the door firmly shut. Niles walked up to the door and laid an ear against it. With a nod, he confirmed that the woman's footsteps had proceeded down the hall and then the stairs. The five of them were alone with Woolroy.
Wilson turned to Rufus. “Did you observe the swelling of his glands and the white tint of his tongue?”
“I did indeed,” Rufus said, nodding sagely.
“And the tea cup," Wilson continued, his voice quiet but intent, "did you have a chance to see the contents before she collected it? When I examined it I found that there was a slight residue along the rim.”
“That I did not see." Rufus folded his arms and frowned. "But you couldn’t possibly… do you think?”
Rufus raised his eyebrows and exhaled, slowly. “That is most disturbing, most disturbing indeed.”
Niles interjected, “Well speak plainly then. What is it that you are hinting at so cryptically?”
Wilson looked to his friend and stated simply, “Vegetable alkaloids.”
“I don’t understand” Niles said, absently pulling his pipe out from his waistcoat pocket.
“I don’t see why you would," said Friedrich, leaning against the wall. "It is not a matter with which you are likely to be familiar.” Turning then to Wilson, “Are you certain?”
“Certain enough to suggest that we inform the constable,” Wilson said. He glanced around the room at each of them, looking for support.
Rufus cleared his throat. “That may be a bit premature. The presence of alkaloids may be easily explained. I suggest that we first speak with Doctor Thomas and verify the account which has been given to us. I have the acquaintance of the good doctor and know him to be a competent physician. It may well be that this effect is incidental.”
As his fellow physician spoke, Wilson strode to the window and looked out, drumming his fingers impatiently on the glass.
Niles stabbed at the air with the stem of his unlit pipe. “For the love of all that is good, will you include me in your process?”
“I believe," said Wilson over his shoulder, "that Timothy Woolroy may have been poisoned. Whether it be incidental or intentional is yet to be seen.”
Rufus interjected once more. “We risk great harm to Mrs. Woolroy’s reputation if we speak improperly. It best that we confirm the hypothesis before we contact the authorities.”
“I agree," said Friedrich, stretching one hand out toward Rufus. Then he lifted the other hand toward Wilson. "However, I find it highly improbable that this is incidental. I despair to think it of the good wife, but she is a fair botanist by any standard. It is also with considering the size and extent of her garden. I am not an expert in the field, as you all well know, but I did observe several specimens which I know to be rare. It is entirely possible that she possesses in her collection a specimen which can be used for nefarious means. Let us remember also that she admitted to drawing upon this collection for the materials of her tea blend.”
Weyland sat down next to Woolroy, who stared blankly at the ceiling. “As damning as this sounds, might we be jumping to an improper conclusion. Let us remember that it is wrong at all times and in all places to base a conclusion upon insufficient evidence. As I see it we have two issues to consider. Thus far we have assumed that the tea is the source of his illness. I agree with Rufus, in that we need to broaden our examination before we slander a good woman’s name with a false accusation.”
Wilson turned his head away from the window. “How then do you suggest that we proceed?”
Lifting one finger, Weyland spoke. “First we verify the source of Woolroy’s illness. Then, assuming that the hypothesis is correct, we seek to determine whether this is the result of criminal intent or ignorance.”
Friedrich nodded. “I concur. How ought we to proceed? We can easily test for the presence of alkaloids, but I know of no way in which we can determine if they are beneficial or not. By Mrs. Woolroy’s own testimony she has added a substance which most certainly possesses some form of vegetable alkaloid.”
The five gentlemen stood silent for a moment. The two physicians and philosphers were deep in thought on the topic while the lawyer lit his pipe and waited for some insight. After several moments, it was Niles Byron who interrupted the silent contemplation.
“If the first task," he said around his pipe, "is to verify that the tea is poisoned then the solution seems simple enough.” The four remaining men were visibly curious as they watched their companion walk toward the infirmed man.
“My dear boy, what are you doing?” inquired Wilson as Niles poured a cup of tea. Niles’ response was simple. He boldly held the physician’s gaze as he brought the cup his lips and drained it in a single, deep gulp. “What in the name of God have you done, man? You cannot possibly be so bold a fool as this!”
Niles coolly blew a ring of smoke towards Rufus, who waved it away with irritation. “Woolroy has been ill for the better part of a fortnight. If, as you suspect, this tea is the source of his ills, then the poison is dilute enough that it can be overcome by one with a hearty constitution. I may become slightly ill, but that it is what you fine physicians are for. Can you think of a better way to garner quick answers to your questions?”
Amusement and consternation warred for control of Wilson's face. “I have a device, dear boy, one which can identify the presence of alkaloids and give us an idea as to the level of concentration. We have no means of knowing if the concentration has been increased as a result of our presence or if it has become more potent over time.”
“Be that as it may," Friedrich said, "it seems that our course has been set.”
“Indeed," said Weyland. "Rufus, you out to call upon Dr. Thomas and make your enquiries. Wilson shall remain here with Niles and Woolroy. In the event that our hypothesis is incorrect, I should at least further examine Mrs. Woolroy’s claim. Friedrich shall remain here and act as a distraction to the good wife with whom he has a good report. Perhaps he can glean some further details.”
Friedrich nodded. “We lack motive if nothing else.”
“That is a sound point, my young friend," said Niles. He put his hand over the bowl of his pipe and then took in a deep breath to extinguish it. "Shall we convene once more in the evening?”
They all concur and depart to pursue their various tasks.
Dominic William Weyland departed the Woolroy home uncertain as how best to proceed. His was the least definable of the group's tasks. Despite his uncertainty, however, he was determined to achieve some degree of success. He walked only a short distance from the dwelling before he was able to hail a dog cart. He may not himself be knowledgeable of certain things, but there were others whom he was certain would. Among those within this category were cabbies who, by virtue of their profession, were exposed to a variety of social aspects.
It was with this in mind that he produced a sizable sum from his purse and presented to the driver. For his part, the driver assured Dominic that he was the man for the job. There was none in Cambridge who knew the city as well as he, and if there was anything to be discovered, then he was the man for the job. Having thus engaged the dog cart for the day, Dominic proceeded at his driver’s advice.
It was during the second stop that Dominic became aware of his driver’s ability to communicate well with a fairly broad cross section of the local community. When Dominic had failed to garner any results, the cabbie stepped in and was able to so. It occurred to him shortly after that the driver had several motivations to do so. The first was the he hoped to receive a larger sum for his assistance than that which he had already been granted. The second was that he likely recognized that he could further increase his earnings by satisfying his fares needs and thus returning to his normal rounds earlier.
Whatever the motivation, it was in short order that the cab was en route to a location which was reported to be the campground of a pack of Romani. This, he recognized was a risk, but he made sure to secure his purse and drew comfort from the pistol in his pocket.
While this ensured the safety of his person and property, the endeavor as a whole was fruitless. To say that the Gypsies were hesitant to speak would be an understatement. Upon first arriving at the camp he was avoided by most and approached only with caution. It was clear that men of distinction were not common frequenters of such a place. However, after making his intentions known, namely that of purchasing information, he found his reception to be much warmer and thus found it more necessary to keep an eye upon the hands which patted him on the back.
Having acquired a guide from the local community, he spoke briefly and privately with the driver of dog cart, stressing that the vehicle was not to be commissioned by any other, and that the driver was to await his return no matter the situation. Such was his concern for being stranded among these people.
What followed was a series of short, and often incomprehensive quests. Dominic was at times able to follow the inquiries of his guide, but as often as not was left scratching his head as to what words were just spoke. The camp was much larger than he had expected, and he was soon mildly disoriented by the maze like layout of the camp. His guide on the other hand had no difficulty navigating the warren, although Dominic was soon aware that the young man was at times intentionally taking him by the least direct route.
The ordeal became somewhat repetitive. He would arrive at a new location, whereupon his guide would introduce Dominic’s cause. He was often quickly sent away, but some of those approached would express energetic interest in assisting his search for answers. Invariably these resulted in a solicitation of one product or service or another.
After several hours of misdirection and nearly being sold what seemed to be the gamut of all things, he departed empty handed.
It was late in the evening when Dominic returned to the home of Timothy Woolroy, much later in fact than he had planned. The coal fires had placed a haze upon the darkening sky some time before he concluded his ill-conceived foray among the travelers camp. By the time the dog cart stopped in front of the house, the sun had long since set beneath the horizon.
He considered it odd when his knock upon the door went unanswered. He could see several lights on within the home and soon ventured to try the handle, finding that the door opened easily to his touch. Setting aside his sense of decency, Dominic Weyland entered the home and approached the room in which he had departed from his friends, whereupon he discovered the reason for which he had been left outside.
Within the room he found that his colleagues were presently in conversation with Mrs. Woolroy, who at that very moment was standing before them proud and defiant. Gone was the sheepish woman whom he had observed earlier in the day. She held her cross in one hand and was clearly on the verge of tears, but she none-the-less stood her ground in the face of condemnation.
“Because he laid with her in my bed!” Mrs. Woolroy shouted, veritably shaking with fury.
Dominic found it simply shocking to hear this women speak these words with such vehemence and anger. It seemed completely out of character from what had also known of her.
“I know that he has lain with other women," she said, her eyes wet with unshed tears, "but he has always had the decency to do so elsewhere. He brought that whore into MY BED!”
Entering into the room, Dominic could see that there were a few additions since he last departed. Someone had gathered a number of devices from Wilson’s home, devices which had clearly been utilized to perform various tests upon what now appeared to be two patients. Niles, while mostly cognizant, had clearly been affected to some degree by the contents of the tea.
Wilson shook his head in reproach. “That is no excuse for these actions, dear woman. You have conspired most egregiously against your husband, who by law commands your loyalty and submission.”
“Loyalty?” said she, a hysterical cackle thinly restrained beneath her words. “Loyalty!? Tell me, sir, about loyalty, for I have seen no such thing in this house. You speak to me of loyalty and the law, and yet you defend that… coxcomb!”
Wilson raised his hands as if to ward off an attack-- which might indeed be shortly in the offing. “I defend him. Not his actions.”
Verging upon the hysterical she nodded with exasperation, “Yes, yes you would. Loyalty. Law. Tell me, sir, what law is greater; that man or that of the Lord God almighty?”
“Madam." Wilson drew back. "God does not condone murder.”
“Then they shall both of them die," she recited from memory, "both the man that lay with the woman, and the woman!”
“My God, woman… where do I begin?" Wilson stuck one hand in his waistcoat pocket and paced the room back and forth, gesturing with the other. "You have ignored two very important points. The first of which is that this prohibition is prefaced with ‘If a man be found lying with a woman married to a husband’. You have provided no evidence that this Gypsy was wed. The second, and I believe that will this is the more important, Christ has called us to a new way which is free of the laws of the unrighteous.”
Her eyes were wide and she gripped the cross so tightly that her knuckles turned white. “You know nothing. You stand in the way of God’s judgment.”
Wilson stopped directly in front of her, placing one hand on her shoulder. “This is not God’s judgment. It is yours. If what you say is true, then you have an obligation as a Christian to provide your husband the opportunity to repent. It is not your place to cast the Lord’s judgment. Timothy will account for his transgression soon enough, one way or another.”
Mrs. Woolroy stood silent. She was visibly moved and somewhat weakened by the exchange. It was clear that her resolve was affected by the physician’s words.
Wilson continued, “Your conspiracy is at an end, madam. You have committed a crime for which the courts will not be lenient, but your crime would be far worse if you continued on this course. Given the state of affairs, I would feel obligated to testify on your behalf the effect that you are clearly overwhelmed with hysteria. You are not of your own mind and as such your actions, while inexcusable, are at the very least understandable and the result not of a murderous nature, but rather of circumstances beyond your control.”
He gestured to Niles, “Byron’s condition is incidental and a result of his own actions, which I might add were conducted with significant expectation of the current result. It would therefore be highly unlikely that you will face any form of charges regarding his current condition. I will even go so far as to encourage him to speak on your behalf, or at the very least to recommend a proficient colleague for your defense.”
Mrs. Woolroy had begun to wilt before these words. “You are too kind, sir. I thank you.”
Another man, who Dominic had not noticed until this point, stepped forward. “Being a witness to these events, I imagine that I too will called upon to account for your confession. I concur with Mr. Wilson on this matter. As your personal physician my word will hold weight with the court." From this, Dominic concluded that this was Dr. Thomas, the Woolroy's doctor.
"Now," Dr. Thomas continued, "I think that it is best that we see to your health. I have done all that I can for your husband, and in truth Mr. Wilson has done all that can be done on his behalf. If you will come with me Mrs. Woolroy, I believe that it will be best to begin a regimen of laudanum immediately. It will help to calm your nerves and restore to you a right mind.”
With that, the doctor departed the room with Mrs. Woolroy, leaving the five friends to care for the infirmed Mr. Woolroy.
Stepping further into the room, Dominic addressed his collegues. “It appears that my time this evening was a greater waste than I had thought. How the deuce did matters come to a head?”
“That, my dear boy, is a tale for the ages!” This from Niles, whose reason for remaining seated became clear as he waved his hand exuberantly enough to nearly dislodge him from his seat.
Wilson dipped his head in contemplation as he looked upon his friend. “Perhaps the last tincture was a bit more concentrated than was strictly necessary.”
To which Niles exclaimed, “Ha!” and slumped further into the chair as his head rolled listlessly to rest upon the back of the chair.
Rufus stepped forward to continue the tale. “Friedrich departed shortly after you did to retrieve some equipment. We tested the concentration of alkaloids in Mr. Woolroy’s tea, and on a whim I did the same following a bleeding. The results were very much worth consideration but I will save that for my dissertation. When I spoke with Dr. Thomas he insisted upon seeing his patient in person. He concluded his examination shortly before your arrival and that is when matter, as you say, came to a head. He confronted the Missus, and the matter was from that point relatively straightforward.”
“Yes," said Wilson, with a nod of self-satisfaction, "and I dare say that I feel good about it. Saving a man’s life aside, I feel as though we have achieved something here today. We set out to investigate a curse and in the process shed the light of reason on this matter, which in turn saved a man’s life. I am curious how many crimes or injustices are committed under the obfuscation of superstition.”
Niles slapped his hands down on the arms of the chair and leaned forward. “We should do this all the time," he said, in a somewhat slurred sotto voce. "Well not this, but this.”
“Does anyone know what he is talking about?” Weyland said, looking around the room.
“Investigation, man!" Niles exclaimed. "We should do more… investigation…” His words trailed off into a murmur before returning with the force and intensity of mania. “I can draw upon my estate – none of us wanting, really – and we can tour the country side in service of justice and truth and… whatever it was that you said.” With every word, his speech slowed and his voice deepened until this last phrase emerged with a very froglike croak, which elicited a chuckle from Rufus.
“Laugh if you must, but the sod has a point.” Weyland sounded almost surprised.
“I do?" Niles lifted his head blearily. "Why of course I do!”
“It is not uncommon," Weyland continued, "for graduates to holiday abroad. None of us have matters which demand our immediate attention, and travel abroad may even assist with Wilson starting your own practice; especially if we can acquire some renown. Do you recall the discussion that we had regarding the Royal Society? Yes, of course you do. What do you say we do as we suggested that night. We can take our holiday, and in the process endeavor to expand the empirical understanding of this world.”
Friedrich cocked his head in thought and then nodded decisively. He glanced over at Rufus and raised his eyebrows in a silent question. The physician harrumphed and fidgeted in his seat, but finally gave an amiable shrug.
Wilson smiled. “It is worth consideration…”
And so it was that the Fellowship was born. This small band of friends talked well into the night, and indeed over the course of many months. Eventually the Fellowship of Adventurer Scholars for the Revelation of Mythology and the Advancement of Natural Philosophy was codified and submitted to The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge. But while it rose from humble origins, what followed would not only define the character of those who founded this society, but the larger community as a whole.