THE LAIRD OF BOLESKINE
Soon we were on the road out of Inverness and commencing what would be an interminably long ride along the shores of Loch Ness towards the village of Foyers.
I suppose, had the mood been different, then I would have found the Loch a beautiful place. On that drive, however, I found its flat grey waters a dismal sight. The weather was gloomy, rain attempting to wash away the thick snow, and it lent everything a feeling of oppression.
I watched a sparrowhawk ride a terrified finch through the damp air, its talons digging into the smaller bird’s back as it surfed the currents, tiring out its prey. I am not normally sensitive to nature’s cruelty but that day it left a sour taste, and I stopped looking out of the window.
My travelling companions seemed no less affected by the atmosphere. Silence lived up to his name, while Carnacki seemed ensconced in reading his notes of investigations past. None of us attempted to strike up a conversation and, for perhaps the first time, it became clear that all three of us travelled together through convenience rather than desire. We didn’t know each other, nor did we have any great wish to. We were always destined to be polite strangers.
I took the time offered to write to Holmes, detailing all that happened since we had parted company the night before, including as much detail as I could, knowing how he always loved hearing all the minutiae. It was no easy task in the shaking carriage but I decided I didn’t need to apologise in the letter for my appalling handwriting, certainly Holmes would have decided the manner in which it had been written before he got past the envelope.
Eventually, after nearly three hours of the carriage being buffeted by the poor road surface and the inhospitable wind, we went through a grand archway. Riding past a small, stone gatehouse, the track led us up above the road. We passed another building – a separate guest house, I would later discover, called Brown Lodge – and, more alarmingly, a graveyard. “He keeps cheerful company,” I joked.
As the house came into view I confess I was momentarily taken aback by how grand it was. Two double-storied buildings stood on either side of the entrance courtyard, a single-storied building connecting them and completing the angular C shape. Its owner would insist on referring to it as a manor house, a phrase which did nothing to convey its grandiosity. But then, the same could be said of its owner. Crowley was never anything less than the consummate publicist and in the years that would follow he would become famous even outside those occult circles in which he moved, feared and admired in almost equal measure by a populace that would one day relish in calling him “the wickedest man in the world”.
“Gentlemen!” called a voice from the main entrance and I took a moment to appreciate my first sight of the man who would go on to such notoriety. It was a light voice, and his was a soft, young face. Dressed in full Highland dress, Aleister Crowley was not the man I had imagined him to be, and in that perhaps I hit on something that would be a constant in his life. Most frequently through the creation of a public persona almost entirely at odds with reality, Aleister Crowley would forever be other than what you might imagine.
Today he was a man of great geniality, striding out into the rain to open the door to the carriage and welcome us down. “So glad you’re finally here,” he said, “you must be sorely in need of warmth and food, both of which I am happy to offer!”
He waved at a tall, thin man who I took to be his butler. “The bags please, McGillicuddy,” he said, ushering us into the building ahead of him.
“Welcome, gentlemen,” he said, “most welcome.” A housekeeper bustled forth, taking our hats and coats while Crowley led us along a lengthy corridor that appeared to extend the entire length of the house. “If only there were a less damaging method of seeing you to my door,” he said as we filed into a large reception room, massive fire blazing while the stuffed heads of big game looked on. I found myself reminded of Lord Ruthvney’s office and the mental association put me even further on edge. “Hopefully you were at least recovered from the train journey thanks to the sour ministrations of Unsworth Guest House?” He laughed and waved for us to sit down, dropping into a leather armchair himself.
“It was most kind of you to arrange it, sir,” I said, happy to speak on behalf of us all. “Though I confess we were a little taken aback that you were expecting us.”
“Now,” said Crowley with a smile, “what sort of practitioner of Magick would I be had I not been expecting you?”
I politely returned the smile. “I thought perhaps that my colleague, Mr Sherlock Holmes, had contacted you.”
“I’ve never heard from him,” said Crowley and, with a somewhat irritated tone I noted, he added, “what is more it appears that I never shall. I had hoped he would be with you.”
“It is his intention to return as soon as he can,” I explained, “but important business called him back to London.”
“Ah yes,” Crowley replied, “what it is to be at the mercy of ‘important business’.”
“Perhaps he simply tired of our company,” said Carnacki, “or felt the situation was beyond him.” He got to his feet and extended his hand to Crowley for shaking. “Thomas Carnacki,” he said, “a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
“I am only too aware who you are,” Crowley assured him, shaking the hand.
“Really? How gratifying.” Carnacki turned his back towards the fire, warming himself. “You’re in terrible danger you know.”
“An occupational hazard,” Crowley replied.
“Please,” Silence spoke at last, “you mustn’t dismiss the threat you are under, from what we can tell it is of the highest order.”
“I’m quite sure it is,” Crowley responded, “and I am most grateful for your concern, but your warning – while kind – was unnecessary. Let us eat, then I shall make clear to you that I am quite aware of the danger I am in, after all, I have spent the last few days effectively under siege in my own home.”