The second to last little bit, in which rhinoceroses are discussed (and their use in a catapult is considered) is here. That magnificent episode immediately preceded this one.
I was quite startled. I’d just put the kettle on, thinking I was alone in the kitchen, and turned round to see Littlejohn at the table, a bowl of porridge in front of him. He was disheveled, his face pasty and pale, dark circles under his eyes. He mumbled something. It may or may not have been a greeting.
“Good morning, Doctor,” I said.
I reached into the cupboard for a cup and saucer. Glancing at Littlejohn, I saw that his eyes were inward, not seeing. He was lost in thought; or possessed by it. His bowl sat untouched between his elbows. Each of his hands seemed intent upon wringing the life out of the other.
“I’ve, er…I’ve just seen our friend,” I said, bringing down sugar from the cupboard.
Littlejohn glanced at me quickly, then took up his spoon as if realizing he ought to be eating. “Already…at this hour.” Absently, he rattled the spoon round his bowl. He removed it and laid it upon the table. “How is he?” he said, and set to wringing his hands again.
“The same,” I said.
“Doctor, I don’t wish to disturb you.”
“Hmm? Oh.” He took up his spoon again. “Of course.” It clinked against the sides as he scooped his food, and shook in his hand as he raised it to his mouth.
“He says he has a job in mind for you,” I said.
Littlejohn snorted, then coughed into his hand and said, “I am sure he does.” So unsteady was his hand that the silverware clacked against his teeth. He bent forward over his bowl and cupped his free hand below his chin to prevent a spill.
“Doctor, please forgive me for being forward, but I am concerned.”
Littlejohn grabbed his napkin and wiped his mouth. “I shall examine him straight away,” he said into the napkin.
“It is not Rothchild who concerns me.”
“Nonsense. I am sure,” he said. He pushed back from the table and got to his feet. “Never you mind. It is nerves, and that is all.”
I’d been considering the document I’d found in the Doctor’s coat pocket. I’d intended to ask about it when the opportunity presented. It seemed the opportunity had presented.
“Doctor, I –”
“How are you with Ms. Pimperton?” inquired Littlejohn abruptly. Suddenly his eyes were penetrating as he brushed his sleeves with his hands. He tugged down at the lapels of his jacket and whisked his fingers through his sideburns.
“Your behavior when she called on us was…,” he took a step forward, hands behind his back, and puffed out his chest, “…curious.”
We stood eye to eye.
He rubbed a knuckle against a nostril and sniffed, then clasped his hands behind his back again. “It was.”
“I see,” said I.
“It’s just the two of us now, isn’t it Butterwick?”
“Yes it is.”
It’s an adjustment, isn’t it? Such a fine staff, it was. And now it’s just the two us, isn’t it?”
“Well. Then I’m off to the apothecary. Might I get you something?”
“Then good day to you .”
He brushed past me into the hall, and his footsteps echoed through the empty manor as he receded.
“Good day, doctor,” I said.
I had no doubt that Littlejohn intended to visit the apothecary. Yet I also had no doubt he meant to visit another place of business as well, and I feared it might be his undoing.
I arrived well before him and took up my perch in the same location as I had those few nights ago. I pulled my collar tight around me and puffed on my pipe for the better part of an hour. It was then I spied his distinctive slouch approaching behind a curtain of falling snow.
I dropped my pipe into the snow and dashed across the cobblestones, my feet slipping on the soft white layer covering them. Almost I took a nasty spill, but winter’s cushion prevented Littlejohn hearing my approach, even as I climbed the steps behind him. I caught his wrist just as he was about to rap upon the door.
He whirled round, aghast. “Butterwick!” he cried. “What on earth!”
“Doctor, I won’t permit it!”
“Do you mind!” he said, twisting his arm out of mine. “What has gotten into you, sir!”
“I cannot in good conscience let you enter this place again. It is vile and damaging. I’ve seen your letter, doctor. The one you presented to the elderly man who came out of this house. I don’t know what kind of business you are involved in, but I do know that you are either poorly suited to it or it has consumed you in ways you did not intend.”
Littlejohn cocked his head and thumped his walking stick on the wooden stoop. “Butterwick!” he snarled. “Be off!” And he reached out to rap his fist upon the door again.
I caught his wrist in my hand.
“Doctor, I will not.”
“You will, Butterwick. I am in no mood to give an account of my actions. I shall do as I please. Away!”
He wrenched his wrist free and pounded upon the door. I lurched forward and grabbed a fistful of overcoat just below his neck and began to pull him back down the steps.
I thought his arm was reaching for the door yet again. I realized too late it was rearing back. I heard the whoosh of the walking stick before I felt it strike my ear. Pain shot through to my leg but lasted only a moment. I had the odd sensation of riding a tree that was falling as gently as the snow, which seemed to glitter with gold dust in the light of the gas lamp. Cobblestone struck the side of my face and snow flew upward.