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I simply cannot credit it, Watson! my friend shouted, offering that theatrical sweep of his arms with which he loved to embellish his loudest announcements. How can a man of science, a rational thinker, a man with both feet pressed sensibly on the ground, even consider believing in such poppycock?

I didnt say I believed it, I replied, lighting my pipe and flinging the match into the fire, simply that one should approach everything with an open mind.

Open...? Holmes rolled his eyes and slumped back in his armchair. There is no other expression so capable of filling me with dread as that. An open mind... how can one even begin to consider it? An open mind in this sea of detritus... It would be like swimming along the Thames with ones mouth gaped wide, swallowing mouthful upon mouthful of effluvia...

You have said yourself that it is a mistake to theorise without data. That a good detective simply absorbs all the information and then deduces accordingly.

All the relevant information, Holmes countered. One must trust in ones sense of logic and rationality to filter out the dross. A mind is not elastic, it cannot simply be filled with shovel after shovel of meaningless nonsense. Data must be gathered carefully, selectively, so that an accurate picture can be formed.

And your picture of our prospective client?

Holmes flung the mans card onto the dining table and took up watch by the window. Time will tell, but logic dictates he is either charlatan or fool.

I sighed but could see little point in continuing the argument, my friends opinions were not readily changed. The card was for Dr John Silence, whose reputation though not company was familiar to me. Indeed, there was scarcely a medical man in London that cannot have heard of the self-labelled Psychical Doctor. He was a man of means though nobody could say where it was that he had gained his money who offered treatment to those who couldnt afford it. Many of my profession, myself included, had been known to put a few hours in at the workhouses, or wherever our services might be best received, but most of us scarcely had the finances to make it the lions share of our workload.

Dr Silence was also much discussed for reasons other than his generosity. In recent years, he had shifted his focus away from the purely physical aspects of medicine to concentrate on what he termed psychic illness. It was a source of much discussion amongst medical circles as to what he might mean by that expression. His talk of demonic possession and intrusion from beyond the earthly realms did little for his reputation (and indeed engendered precisely the sort of response evidenced by my colleague, a man thoroughly wedded to a rational view of the world). There were some, however, who saw his work as an extension of the alienists art.

However it may be dressed up, there was clear evidence of people who had benefited from Silences attentions. But then, Holmes would argue that many who visited so-called clairvoyants would leave after an hours theatre feeling emboldened by the experience, this was not to say the charlatan in question should be encouraged.

I was also sceptical, and yet the reports of Dr Silences character were so respectable I found it hard not to offer at least a sliver of consideration towards his practices. I would meet the man and have him explain his business before choosing to judge him. Holmes appeared to have no such inclination. At least he had agreed to an appointment, if nothing else his curiosity might be relied upon to secure that much of his time.

Holmes had been in a foul mood for some months, something Mrs Hudson, our landlady, was quick to tell me on my return. After marrying Mary I had, of course, taken my leave of these shared rooms. After her untimely passing, however, loneliness and in truth a need to tighten the purse strings had seen me return. It was clear that Mrs Hudson believed the lack of my calming influence in that intervening period was what had seen Holmes mood descend to these all-time lows. In truth I had never been able to control him, he would be who he would be, his mood as changeable and easily shifted as a boat cast out onto the ocean. One thing I can claim the responsibility for is the change in his professional circumstances, though it was not a change for the better. As the nineteenth century drew to a close it brought with it the last gasp of his consulting business. Within a few short years he would retire retreating, against all prediction, to a life of rural comfort in Sussex but those last years saw his time constantly bombarded with cases he considered beneath his attention. He had always been dismissive of my attempts to bring his work before a larger public, and time would eventually give him a solid reason for doing so. His practice had become so renowned that special arrangements were struck with the postal service to handle the quantity of mail he received. Much of it bore no case at all, from threats to job applications, erstwhile biographers (no doubt of the opinion that they could do a better job of it than I) to proclamations of love.

The latter was particularly common and never ceased to amaze me. Had I not made clear that Holmes, while not blind to the attractive qualities of women, never sought them for his own? Many a slanderous wag has attempted to suggest this was because his tastes lay in a different direction, in fact he simply possessed no interest in the subject whatsoever. Holmes was not a man of the body as evidenced by how poorly he treated his own he was a man of the mind, and no amount of cologne-drenched poetry by the first post would change the fact.

His morning routine had been to sit cross-legged before the fire, the smoke of discarded love letters and other dross combining with that of his post-breakfast pipe, as he winnowed down the correspondence to letters that at least held some professional content. A second pass would then sift those of some interest from the usual missing persons and suspicious husbands (of the former he had long since given up being able to satisfy the countless families that found their number lacking, people vanished every day and most of them didnt want to be found).

So it was with some surprise to me that Dr Silences enquiry saw him pass through both postal stages to reach that most hallowed of positions: the appointment. Though by the time he appeared to claim it, Holmes mood had sunk even further. A few hours of unsatisfactory chemistry had seen him drape himself over the chaise, dangling his acid-stained hands by his side as he sucked on cigarette after cigarette, looking for all the world like a prone steam engine wrapped in a threadbare dressing gown.

A guest, sir, said Billy, Holmes page, at the due hour. A Dr John Silence, e claims to ave an appointment.

Holmes simply growled and flung what remained of his cigarette towards the fireplace. It fell short and had added yet another black wound to the rug by the time I reached it and extinguished it.

Do send him up, Billy, I replied, determined that one of us at least should show the man some civility on his arrival.

Doctor Silence was not as I had imagined, there was nothing showy or mystical about his appearance. He was in his late thirties, thin and with an immaculately trimmed beard. His dress was suitably formal yet not in the least ostentatious, an outfit designed to match his environment rather than draw attention. He appeared urbane, yet my exposure to Holmes methods were such that I automatically glanced at the knees of his trousers and discerned a dusting of animal hair. Light and short, too thick to be a cat so a likely sign that Silence owned a domesticated dog. He also had on a pair of new shoes, the lack of creasing in the leather could not simply be down to the attention of a decent valet.

I noticed Holmes glance at the man, no doubt taking in all that I had observed and more, before returning his attention to his cigarette case which was distressingly empty.

Good morning, Holmes muttered, waving towards an empty chair but making no effort to shake the mans hand. He vanished instead towards the bookshelves, on the hunt for more cigarettes.

Morning, Silence replied, looking towards me as the only man in the room willing to make a civil effort.

John Watson, I said, shaking his hand and repeating Holmes direction to sit down.

Ah, Silence nodded, settling into the armchair, Ive heard of you, of course.

All of London has heard of Watson, Holmes agreed, pulling a set of shipping timetables from the shelf so that he could reach the small brown parcel behind them, his popular writings have seen to that.

Well, indeed, Silence admitted, though I did mean in a professional capacity. We shared the same anatomy professor at Barts.

Really? I laughed, while Holmes tore at the brown paper of his tobacco order. You learned under Bloodthirsty Barrow too, did you?

Silence smiled and nodded. And like you, I dare say, I winced at the pleasure he seemed to take in each and every cut.

I turned to Holmes. It wouldnt surprise me in the least were Sir Lionel Barrow to have crossed your path Holmes, there was certainly a homicidal air to him.

My friend shrugged and put a cigarette to his lips. The name means nothing. He exhaled a large mouthful of smoke that partially obscured his bored face. Perhaps I should give the two of you some privacy in which to... chat? The half-tone of disgust he gave that last word was not lost on me. There was nothing smaller to Holmes than small talk.

Forgive me, Silence said, but as much as its a pleasure to find you in Dr Watsons company, it is your attention that I was hoping for.

You have it, Holmes replied, reclining once more upon the chaise. But only because of the singular evidence of the Labrador hair on your trouser shins.

Silence glanced down and began to pick off the hair. Most observant of you, he said. Though I fail to see its relevance.

You are clearly as fastidious as a cat in your appearance, Holmes answered. The fact that youve travelled here without once taking note of the state of your trousers suggests to me that your mind is greatly occupied. It is a condition of which I am extremely envious so I lie here in the hope it might be contagious.

I can assure you I have an incredible story to relate. You may be aware that I am not in the habit of consulting others, in point of fact Im rather more comfortable as the one consulted.

I am aware by reputation at least of your practice, though it would be dishonest of me to suggest I approve of it.

Silence smiled. I seek nobodys approval, Mr Holmes, and time will tell if you maintain your views.

Holmes waved the thought away, as if it were so impossible that his opinion could shift that it was scarcely worth mentioning. In truth though I had noted a change in his behaviour. For all of his outward show of disinterest even disdain he was attentive to every detail of the doctors tale, indeed, by its conclusion he was rapt with attention.