Having thrown both my wife and myself into confusion, Holmes continued, "However, Miss Kendall was not about to throw away an opportunity fate had offered her with my felicitous 'illness.' "
"That smacks of a guilty conscience," I commented, though I could not see what Miss Kendall had to be guilty about, if she were not the villainess of the case.
"To be fair," Holmes amended, without agreeing or disagreeing with me, "it is possible that no one attempted to poison me. The coffee Miss Kendall offered may have been perfectly safe to drink but I was not about to test that theory under any circumstances. I may take occasional risks with my health but I am not foolish."
"If Miss Kendall is innocent, why did she try to steal the document from you?" asked I, bypassing any comment on his last statement. "Was she trying to protect the true murderess?" That, I felt, hit at the very heart of the mystery.
My friend shook his head. "She was trying to protect herself. I never said she was innocent, Watson, only that she had not attempted to poison me. Think. The poisoner has in her possession a deadly substance of a most thick and viscous nature. She knows it will dissolve, or at least soften, in a very hot liquid but that will take some time to accomplish. Slipping the tar into a coffee cup a few seconds before handing it to her victim will not be sufficient time."
"The tar would have had to be added to the coffee in the kitchen," Mary hazarded slowly. "Perhaps even brewed with the coffee."
"The cook, Mrs. Bennett, brewed Mr. Kendall's coffee separately because his preference for a strong cup," I concluded. "It must have been she who killed Mr. Kendall, but why?"
Holmes held up his hand, blue smoke wafting through the air from the movement. "A moment before we begin the topic of motive. It was Mrs. Bennett who did the actual poisoning, that much is true, but how did she come by the poison to begin with?" It was not a rhetorical question and he took another draw on his cigarette while he waited for our responses.
"You said the poison was rendered our of Mr. Kendall's cigars in the garden," I answered slowly. "Essentially, it was brewed and Mrs. Bennett has already proven she is adept at such things."
"But when would she find the time to do it?" Mary wondered aloud. Holmes raised an eyebrow at her and though she colored faintly, she continued. "That is to say, the method by which the poison was created sounds somewhat complicated and lengthy. Mrs. Bennett may have found the time between her duties but I personally do not find it likely."
"Then, too, consider the location where the poison was produced," Holmes added.
"The garden," said I promptly. Then a thought struck me. "Miss Kendall was caretaker of the house as well as the grounds. She undoubtedly spends more time in the garden than anyone else." I paused, aghast at the implications.
"It was the two of them together," whispered Mary, her face paling. "Miss Kendall and Mrs. Bennett. How horrible!"
Holmes shrugged, though the gesture was not without sympathy to my wife's distress. "A woman alone is a capable and devious creature. Two women working towards the same end create a formidable force indeed. Fortunately, I can say with assurance the maid Charity Wilson is innocent of any wrong-doing, save perhaps gossiping out of turn."
"I take it the perennial motive of greed was behind the murder," I replied, striving to turn the topic from the untrustworthiness of women back to the case. I did not like to test the limits to Mary's patience of forgiveness, no matter how hard it was to reach those limits. "So long as the will remained unchanged they stood to inherit, rather than Mr. Kendall Jr. Unfortunately for him, he made the most convenient scapegoat and so they strove to cast suspicion on him."
"There is also the perennial motive of revenge," extrapolated Holmes, finishing his cigarette and crushing the stub of it underfoot. "Miss Kendall, despite her words, greatly resented having to play nursemaid to her father while the prodigal son was out accumulating his own fortune. Despised both the Kendall men, I daresay."
"And Mrs. Bennett?"
"I must fall back on theory where Mrs. Bennett was concerned, but I believe Miss Kendall convinced her it was better to chance murder than to chance it that my client had indeed reformed his ways. Fear, and the aforementioned greed, was what swayed her."
"They have been arrested?" Mary asked.
"Yes, I sent the local constabulary to up the house once my client returned with a very out-of-breath physician in tow. I had every confidence two able-bodied men could prevent two women from leaving the premise for a quarter of an hour."
"What was Mr. Kendall's reaction to seeing you fully recovered from your 'poisoning'?" I could not resist asking.
"He was rather taken aback at first," Holmes allowed. "Other matters quickly proved to be more pressing, however."
"The shock of the revelation that his father was murdered by his sister and the cook, you mean," Mary put in softly. Already her sympathetic instincts were aimed at the surviving Mr. Kendall and I surreptitiously grasped her hand.
Holmes merely smiled at her with all the gentleness he could employ when interacting with the fairer sex. "Not all my cases conclude in accordance with my clients' wishes," he replied kindly. "Sometimes I am the only satisfied party at the conclusion of a case. That is the risk to solving mysteries; not all answers are desired ones."
Mary nodded though she looked far from consoled. I wondered if this aspect of Holmes's work might affect her opinion that I should continue to assist on these cases. Nevertheless, I should not wish to deceive her in any way. This was especially true when it came to dangerous situations. If I were not honest with her, how could I expect Mary's trust in return?
Holmes contemplated a second cigarette before deciding against it and returning the case to his pocket. "And so, as the police have no need of further assistance, I shall take my leave."
"Right now?" I asked in some surprise.
"This evening, at any rate. The latest train to London departs at 7:20 and Mrs. Hudson has already been warned of my impending arrival. I have but to pack."
I rose from the bench. "You needn't leave so quickly on our account."
"Thank you," said he, "but the case is concluded. Lestrade hinted before I left that he might have a problem or two that demand consultation, and it would not do to leave the official force to their own devices for too long."
"It was good to see you. The case was really no great inconvience," I replied sincerely, beginning the brief exchange of departing cordialities. Once concluded, Mary and I watched Holmes stride out of the garden towards the hotel. Only when he was out of sight did we return to our former positions on the bench.
Mary took my hand. "Did you mean what you said," asked she, "about the case not being inconvenient?"
"Certainly. Although I cannot deny his presence was a detriment in certain situations." At that I resumed the kiss that had been interrupted.
She immediately pulled back. "What if Mr. Holmes returns?"
I shrugged callously. "Let him watch. Perhaps it will prove instructive."
"John!" Mary remonstrated, laughing.
"I don't think there is any danger of Holmes returning here," I relented, "but if it still concerns you then I suggest we retire to the privacy of our room."
"It does concern me," she replied far too gravely to be serious. "And I think retiring to our rooms would be an excellent idea."