THE LAST SIGH
“From the first it was exceedingly suspicious,” he said, lighting his cigarette and exhaling a mouthful of smoke. “Why was the good Doctor John Silence on our doorstep? And in so uncharacteristic a state of untidiness? He hadn’t rushed to see us after the bizarre events he described, that much was clear both from his story and the fact that his legs were coated with the hair of his dog. He had come straight from his home in...” He looked to Silence. “I believe you told Watson it was on Reeves Mews?”
“Just the other side of Grosvenor Square. I take it that De Montfort was running to you for aid when he died?”
“Aid he would not have received,” Holmes continued, “but let us keep these matters in their proper order, they are complex enough without jumbling them up.
“The only other reason we can imagine you were walking around in such an unconventional state from your norm is that you were distracted, alarmed, worried. Not yourself in other words. What could be agitating you so? Surely not the details of your story, if your reputation is to be believed then the possessed and the phantasmagorical is your very bread and butter. Such matters – alarming as they may be to others – could hardly be thought of as a divergence from your usual routine. And yet, something clearly bothered you. Was it perhaps something so simple as your meeting with me? Something you had to do? Something that sat uncomfortably?”
“I have never been comfortable with this business,” admitted Silence, “but I was doing what I thought was right.”
“That excuse has been given for many atrocities over the years,” said Holmes. “Of course not a single word of your story was true, it existed solely to engage my curiosity, to get me involved. What other reason could there have been for your visit if we assume – as I began to do – that your intentions were not altogether honourable? At the time such an idea was supposition. It was simply the only logical reason if we come at matters from the assumption that you were a liar.”
“As a cynic always would,” I said.
“Indeed,” Holmes replied. “I said to you on the train that you must be willing to believe didn’t I? Yet a good deal of my deduction started from entirely the opposite viewpoint: if one assumed that none of what I was being led to believe was possible, what explanation could be found to explain the facts? It really is the only way to deduce anything. Assume everything is false until you cannot explain it any other way.”
“You’re saying this is all fabrication?” Carnacki asked. “What about everything we’ve seen?”
“Oh there is something out there,” Holmes said, “some kind of force that we may as well label as ‘supernatural’ for certainly we do not currently have the ability to explain it. Though I must admit,” he smiled at Carnacki, “I find your attitude – that all of this is merely science of the future – much easier to accept than the archaic superstition of your fellows.
“Anyway,” he continued, “let us not get side tracked. I have explained the position with which I approached everything. And from that perspective what do we actually know? Silence told us a story that is not a matter of facts, it is merely a ghoulish tale he wished us to believe. Likewise Crowley’s saga of supernatural attacks, they were no more genuine than his affectation of being a Scottish laird. They simply didn’t happen.”
“But what about what I saw then?” I asked, my mind reeling from all of this. “That was no lie.”
“My dear friend,” said Holmes, “it may not have been a lie but it most certainly was an exaggeration.
“It is all about belief. You explained that much to me last night, Crowley. And that, at least, helped explain the discrepancy between the deaths of Hilary De Montfort and Lord Ruthvney.
“De Montfort’s death was most convincing: bruises that were almost impossible to explain, apparently the result of a supernatural force. A force that Silence was at pains to tell us was the Breath of God.
“And then we travel to the country and see the scene of the crime at Ruthvney Hall. Again, there is plenty of evidence of a supernatural storm. And yet he was poisoned. Sent mad – just as Watson suggested – by a gas introduced into the room via his smoking chimney.
“Gentlemen, one has to wonder, if the very wrath of God is marching around the Home Counties, why it was necessary for Ruthvney to be killed in such a colourful, yet ultimately earthly manner. It didn’t make sense. So it was, once again, suspicious.
“On our walk in the grounds we find evidence of three people involved. Well that is useful, we know we’re looking for multiple assassins at least. One of whom lives up to the name by smoking a mix of tobacco and hashish.” He looked to Crowley. “You emptied your tobacco out on arrival at Ruthvney Hall and I can assure you that, had I not recognised it then, I most certainly would have done during our conversation in the coach earlier.”
I remembered Holmes and Crowley discussing each other’s tobacco during the journey to Inverness. Typical of Holmes, he rarely makes small talk without good reason.
“We also find a ring, a pentacle in onyx with the inscription ‘To S.L.M.M.’ inside. A most unsubtle clue, gentlemen. Am I to accept that my enemy is wandering around the woods at night with illfi tting jewellery? We were always supposed to find it, of course, or rather I was, because it served one other purpose.” He looked to me. “When you picked up the ring what happened to you?”
“Well, I snagged my arm on the brambles,” I said, “it was hard not to, they were so thick.”
“Hard not to, indeed,” Holmes agreed, “and thus you took the first dose of a chemical agent that has been affecting your judgement ever since. It’s no coincidence that you hallucinated shortly afterwards, no coincidence at all.”
“I was poisoned?”
“Indeed, precisely why I have been keeping you away from any food or drink for the day, a singularly difficult task in your case.
“That was your first dose. Your second came from the newspaper vendor who so generously shared his rum with you.”
“The driver!” I shouted, pointing towards the head of the train. “I knew I recognised him!”
“An employee of Mr Crowley in fact,” Holmes said, “a fourth member of their gang.”
“Then on the train to Inverness?” I asked. “Surely we all saw something?”
“Well,” said Holmes “you experienced something, that’s for sure, every passenger in the restaurant carriage did. But again the food was poisoned, just as every morsel you ate at Crowley’s would have been.” He looked to Crowley. “I assume you were onboard the train?” Crowley nodded, a calm smile still in place. “Then you should have made a point of poisoning my veal,” Holmes said, returning the smile, “had you done so I might not have been able to retain the clearminded perspective from which all my deductions have grown.”
Behind Holmes the tunnel opened out into British Museum Station, lamps hanging around the nearly completed platform. In the sudden burst of light, I noticed at the rear of the train there was another carriage, wrapped tightly in tarpaulins. What were we carrying?
“I say again –” Holmes leaned forward in his seat – “I don’t for one minute claim that there is nothing unusual at work here, I may be a rationalist but that doesn’t mean I’m an idiot. There are powers at work that are beyond my reasoning, beyond my understanding... but those powers have been exaggerated and every encounter with them stagemanaged. Why? Because of something I do understand: greed.
“That’s what this has been about. This extended horror show, from the first death to that unholy act of terrorism on Oxford Street. All of it designed to make three people appear important, our future saviours, the masterful magicians: Aleister Crowley, Julian Karswell and Dr Silence.”
“No,” Silence insisted, “it wasn’t as petty as that. Civilisation is moving too fast! It’s forgetting all the powers and spirituality of the past. We needed to remind them, to make them remember what true power is, to relearn the lessons they have forgotten. We needed them to be afraid.”
“And, of course, the more people who believe how powerful you are, how powerful it is –” Holmes gestured out of the carriage window into the darkness outside – “the more powerful you all become. Because that’s how it works, isn’t it? Belief is key? Yes? On both sides?
“Hilary De Montfort believed didn’t he? And look how effective the Hellish wind was on him.
“Lord Ruthvney? Not so much, he was no occultist, sufficient digging by Langdale Pike was enough to confirm that. He was just a major shareholder in the line upon which we are currently travelling. I presume you wanted his papers? Forge authorisation for you to work here?”
“We needed his authorisation to have this train laid on for our use,” Silence said, “they weren’t planning on running anything along the tracks for months yet.”
Holmes nodded. “And once that was organised another death, particularly one as absurd as that, all helps the theatre doesn’t it? Keeps me involved, excites the readers of the popular press, has them eagerly awaiting the next grisly happening.”
“But why involve you at all?” I asked Holmes.
“We said it ourselves at the very outset of this case,” he replied, “I have become the detective who is known for solving the impossible. I would have become involved anyway. All the better if I was involved under their control, guided into accepting their side of the story. Then of course – as they have so frequently requested – I would endorse their actions with Scotland Yard and indeed the government. The word of Holmes? The most famous rationalist in the country? What better endorsement could they have!
“The only thing I don’t understand,” he admitted, “is why you involved Carnacki. I know it was Karswell who hired him, the stench of his outdoor temple, the yew tree and the verdigris sculpture gave that away.” He looked to Carnacki. “Congratulations on both the precision of your memory and the sharpness of your senses by the way, you’re almost to my standard.”
“Too kind,” Carnacki replied.
“But wasn’t he too much of a risk?” Holmes continued. “Someone who might see through what you were up to?”
“That was Karswell’s fault,” Crowley said. “I must admit I thought it was over-egging the pudding somewhat but he was convinced that if we could fool you then Carnacki would be no problem. And what harm could there be in one more recommendation? He is rather well thought of by a number of landed gentry, after all.”
“I’ve exorcised enough of them,” Carnacki said, “but surely there was more to it than that?”
“I hoped you might introduce me to your friend, the writer, Dodgson,” Karswell admitted, “with his connections at The Idler magazine I thought he might have helped me find a publisher.”
Holmes actually laughed at that. “Unbelievable,” he said. “You construct that entire shadowplay just to entice someone who may be able to help you get in print? Unearthly creatures appearing within the bookstacks! You killed a publisher doing so!”
“He’d already turned the manuscript down,” Karswell said with a shrug, “a short-sightedness he lived long enough to regret as I fed it to him, page by brilliant page.”
Holmes sneered in disgust. “You petty little man.”
“Don’t you dare call me that or I swear you’ll regret it!” Karswell shouted, pointing menacingly at Holmes. “Nobody insults me and lives!”
“I’ve been threatened by much worse than pathetic little bookworms like you,” Holmes said dismissively. “Now,” he looked to me and Carnacki, “the chemical that they have been poisoning you both with, as well as gassing the poor survivors of the bomb explosion above...”
“The nzembe,” Carnacki said.
Holmes nodded. “Nothing of the sort, just hallucinating victims, more theatre, briefly glimpsed, to build up to their grand final act.”
“Which is?” I asked.
Holmes nodded towards the rear of the carriage. “You’ll notice we’re pulling a freight container. I imagine it holds more of the gas we saw used above.”
Silence nodded. “I synthesised it myself. You’ve seen the sort of hallucinations it can cause.”
“Indeed. Am I right in thinking you plan to release it at Bank?”
Silence nodded again. “From there you can access the entire Underground, the gas would float up all over the city, contaminate thousands.”
“Mass murder,” Holmes said. “I hope your conscience burns, Doctor.”
“The gas doesn’t kill,” Silence insisted, “Watson’s proof of that. But the things they’ll see!”
“Enough to convince anyone of angels and demons.” I said.
“Precisely,” Silence agreed, “and with the whole city convinced of the supernatural, we will come into our own, happy to save their lives and souls and bring society back to a more cautious, spiritual level. What we’re doing is for the benefit of mankind, however it may appear to the contrary.”
“The gas was enough to kill Ruthvney,” Holmes argued, “driven to grotesque suicide by his visions. Many more will die as you subject the capital to your brutal empire of fear. Kindly don’t attempt to hold any moral high ground Silence, your hands are as bloody as those of your fellows. But no matter, we shall see the gas is never released.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Crowley said. “I don’t think we’ve quite run out of options yet. I haven’t been entirely idle while Holmes has been preaching from his pulpit.”
Light suddenly burst through the windows as we appeared at Chancery Lane Station and Crowley’s face bore a terrifying rictus of ill humour. “I have summoned our faithful servant to once again assist in our efforts.”
The train bucked violently as that terrifying force, the so-called Breath of God, hit us from the rear. Carnacki toppled forward, the gun falling from his hands. The train’s metal wheels screeched on the rails as the driver hit the brakes. For a moment all was chaos. Holmes rebounded off the wall, Crowley reaching for his throat. Silence held his head in his hands and rolled along the floor towards the driver. I was pressed back in my seat, reaching out for Carnacki in the hope that I could help break his fall. Karswell did the best of us all, he jumped for the gun.
“No!” Silence cried, lying on his back by the front exit. “This has gone too far!”
Karswell pointed the gun and fired, shooting Silence right between the eyes.
“Nobody tells me what to do!” Karswell shouted. “Nobody!” He turned the gun towards Carnacki but the younger man was already on the move.
“Quickly, Doctor!” he yelled, flinging Holmes’ dropped cane at Karswell. “The door!”
The tip of the cane jabbed Karswell in the face and his hands went up with a startled cry. His clenched fingers pulled the trigger and a bullet went into the roof of the carriage, sending out a shower of wood splinters and dust. Taking the moment of grace offered, I opened the door closest to me and both Carnacki and I toppled out onto the platform.
The wind was still curling around the walls of the station, sending the various cables and posters flapping against the tiles or whipping around our heads.
“We need to keep moving,” Carnacki shouted over the noise. “Come on!”
I turned back to see him through the carriage window wrestling with Crowley. I also saw Karswell raising the gun to fire once more.
“Duck!” Carnacki cried. We both ran up the platform towards the exit. Two bullets ricocheted off the tunnel wall sending fragments of tile and plaster tumbling into our hair.
The exit was sealed, no escape that way.
“The track,” said Carnacki, snatching a lantern, “no other choice.”
He pulled me past the front of the train. Through the window I saw that duplicitous old sailor cowering from the threat of gunfire. Carnacki aimed towards the edge of the platform. “Careful!” I warned him, yanking him back. “The central rail is electrified.”
We slipped down as carefully as we could and ran ahead into the darkness, the sound of the wind growing louder and louder behind us.
“We can’t possibly outrun it!” said Carnacki, passing me the lantern. “Our only chance is to fight it.”
He removed his cufflinks, kissed them tenderly then turned and threw them into the tunnel behind us, muttering an incantation under his breath as he did so. In the low light it was impossible to tell precisely what was happening, but a shimmer of light passed across the whole tunnel as if a firework had been ignited in our wake. There was a deep bellowing sound that I could only imagine was the Breath of God colliding with some form of barrier, though there was nothing I could see.
“Keep moving!” Carnacki insisted. “I don’t know how long that will hold.”
My ears had popped as if something had sucked the air out of the tunnel and I massaged them as we ran, trying to get my hearing to return. Slowly they cleared, in time to hear the thing I had feared, that dull hum of electric current. Crowley had gained control once more.
“The train’s coming!” I said. “It’ll mow us down!” Then a thought occurred to me. “Or pick us up.”
I turned and flung my lantern at the wall where it exploded sending a trail of frame licking across the dirty brick.
“What are you doing?” Carnacki asked.
There was no time to explain. As I had hoped the electric sound shifted in pitch, as the driver – that fraudulent old soak – panicked at the sudden explosion and slowed the train’s engine, uncertain what he was driving into.
“Jump on!” I said, and we ran back towards the train, clambering onto the slight scoop at the front. Gripping the edge of the windows, on either side of the driver, we could hang there, somewhat precariously, as the train once again picked up speed and moved along the tunnel.
“All he can do is hope we fall off!” I called, looking up at the infuriated face of the driver.
“An objective he may yet see fulfilled,” Carnacki replied, gritting his teeth and trying to work the tips of his fingers more firmly into their holds.
The train began to speed up and it was all we could do to maintain our grip.
“We might be able to jump clear at the next station?” I suggested.
“One of us may,” Carnacki agreed. “It rather depends what side of the train the platform is on.”
I saw what he meant. While it was certainly in the realms of possibility for whichever of us was on the same side as the platform, there would not be time for the other to inch across the front of the train in order to jump.
“Then let’s both be ready,” I said, “so we can take the chance when it’s offered.”
Both of us hung there, trying to twist our heads so that we could see ahead and anticipate our chances. Soon, light appeared.
“Your side,” Carnacki said and I felt bad for him as he tried to shift his grip before it slipped. “Best of luck.”
I dropped my body weight to my left, the opposite direction to the platform, waiting for the right moment. I would need to swing myself, using momentum to jump in the right direction. Hopefully the wind resistance, pushing past the nose of the train, should help carry me. The train’s speed was limited, fast enough to offer a genuine threat of injury but slow enough that I might just manage the manoeuvre with my legs intact. There was only one way to find out. I tensed and then flung myself towards the light and the platform beyond it. For one terrible second it was all in the air – would I make it or not? Then I hit the platform and rolled. I got to my feet as quickly as I could and ran back towards the train. Was it long enough? Would I have time?
I jumped towards the final carriage, grabbing at the ropes that held the tarpaulin in place. It was smaller than a passenger carriage and, clambering over the top of the gas canister, I was able to look directly through the rear window and into the carriage we had originally been sat in.
Holmes was up and still fighting, though I could tell from a fast blossoming bruise on his cheek that he had taken something of a beating. He turned towards me and I saw a momentary flicker of recognition on his face as he caught sight of me through the window. He turned his back on me and did his best to block any view of me from the Karswell or Crowley who were at the front of the carriage.
I could only hope that Carnacki had managed to maintain his grip.
I inched forward, wondering whether I might be able to disconnect this last carriage from the rest of the train. But if I raised my head a fraction too far, the roof of the tunnel would shave it right off me.
The sound of raised voices alerted me to trouble. In the carriage Holmes was being shoved out of the way as Karswell ran towards the rear window.
“I knew it!” he shouted. “Crowley! He’s here, the bastard’s here!”
Karswell yanked down the window and pointed his gun to fire.
“Don’t be an idiot man!” Crowley shouted. “You’ll hit the gas!”
I didn’t know what else to do but duck as the sound of a gunshot rang out. The shot went wide – it would later become clear that Holmes had pushed Karswell to ruin his aim – but there was a popping nose, like a champagne cork, from a foot or so away. It was followed by the hissing sound of escaping gas. He’d breached the canister.
I did my best to hold my breath, sure that the gas must be flooding around me. It was too late though, for the effects of that terrible poison began to make themselves felt. The jolting of the train wheels against the track got louder and louder, like the pounding of a blacksmith’s hammer, and I became aware that the tarpaulin was shifting underneath me.
“John...” whispered a voice, still audible over the noise of the wheels, “take my hand John, I’ll keep you safe.”
As the tarpaulin slipped away it revealed what was left of my wife. The years had been cruel and the fingers that reached for me, tickling my cheek and leaving a little of themselves there, were far thinner than even the dainty hand of the woman I had loved with all my strength.
“Not real,” I said, begging myself to believe, even as her other hand pushed its way between the buttons of my shirt and raked my skin with tips too hard and wet to be nails. “Not real!”
“Oh, John,” it said, breathless, as if its lungs couldn’t hold enough air, punctured and withered like old bellows, “I’ll always be real to you.”
I screamed, my voice matching the brakes as the train slowed down on approaching Bank. The lights of the station flooded over me, showing something I could not bear to see. I screamed and screamed, tumbling from the canister and onto the platform.
Others began to scream around me and I thought then that it was proof of my visions, but of course the gas was still flowing and the passengers gathered on the other platforms had visions of their own. Perhaps the lights turned into branding irons, hissing their way towards unblemished skin. Maybe worms filled the tunnels ahead of the trains, their blind snouts straining upward towards the stairs and an escape to street level. Maybe, like me, they simply saw the horror of what our loved ones become when we have the terrible burden of outliving them.
In a panic crowds of passengers began running for the stairs, desperate to escape the impossible terrors that surrounded them.
“Watson!” I heard his voice, that fine voice of logic and reason that has pulled me back from many a moment when I have been close to death. For all his irritations, for all I could really punch him some days, he has always been there. He has made my life what it is and, for better or worse, I would have no other.
I felt hands grabbing at me and for a moment, I fought them off. It was the sound of a gunshot that brought me to my senses and I realised it was Holmes holding on to me. I looked and saw Karswell racing towards us, the pistol held out in front of him.
“Stick to your books, Karswell,” I said, getting to my feet and doing my best to force away the sensation that Mary was still gripping me, clambering on my back and trying to get inside me.
Then I changed my mind. This was not my Mary but if it had been, no matter what she looked like, I loved her and if she had been with me, gripping me close, I would have been charged by the experience not scared of it. It would have made me stronger.
“Oh,” I said, grinning thanks to the newfound strength in my chest, “and my wife says to tell you: learn to count!”
Karswell’s fingers squeezed the trigger but he’d had his six shots and I punched him so hard in the jaw that my fingers ached pleasantly for over twenty-four hours afterwards.
Holmes was holding himself up against the wall of the station.
“Are you all right my friend?” I asked.
He looked me right in the eye and the determination he showed was every inch the match for my own. “It takes more than phantasms to stop me, John Watson,” he said. “Let’s rout these imbeciles once and for all, eh?”
The driver, his nerve broken both by the gas and the impending realisation that it was the gaol for him unless he made himself scarce, was running, screaming along the platform. He dashed up the stairs, beating at something imagined that fluttered around his head.
Carnacki slowly pulled himself onto the platform, his arms shaking from holding on for so long, the gas making his eyes bulge and his mouth shout threats at the air around him. Crowley was stood between us, his long hair awry, his face absurdly happy below engorged pupils. “Yes!” he cried. “This is the world. This is my world!”
I have no idea what creatures surrounded him in his hallucinations but the pleasure he took in their presence was terrible to see. As the last few bystanders ran for the surface we were presented with a miniature vision of his proposed future: the lunatic despot luxuriating in the terror of others.
Holmes pushed past him and climbed into the driver’s cab. After a few moments the train began to reverse and Holmes jumped back out. Slowly, the train built up speed and vanished from sight, pushing the gas canister ahead of it.
“It’ll keep going until reaches the terminus,” Holmes said. “Then it will stop somewhat dramatically. The gas should dissipate along the length of the line.”
“No!” Crowley shouted. “You will not take my beautiful demons from me!”
There was a screech of wind and suddenly the platform was filled with the Breath of God, chasing round and around the walls, knocking us from our feet and pushing us along the ground. Holmes, Carnacki and I fought our way towards the stairs, crawling from one platform to the other.
“I will have my world!” Crowley shouted, pursuing us relentlessly. “I will!”
Holmes slowly stood up. Against all reason, the wind still blowing just as hard around us.
“No,” he said, calmly, “you will not. Because this will be the century of change, the century when the human race forges ahead with the mad vigour it always has. It won’t have time for your world, your dark, dark world with its superstitions and fears. With its gods that rage and demand pain and sorrow and blood enough to colour oceans. The human race will finally turn its back on that world, it won’t even see it any more, far too busy being blinded by the beautiful, brilliant lights of the future. It won’t believe in you, and that’s what matters, isn’t it?” He was nose to nose with Crowley by now and utterly unruffled by the wind, because for him it didn’t blow. “Belief,” he said. “Without it you are nothing but a man screaming into the dark.”
The wind ceased and Crowley, tears in his eyes, staggered back along the platform. The groaning Karswell had moved across from the other side, confused by the wind and the solid jolt I’d given his dull brain. Crowley grabbed him, tugging him over the side and onto this new stretch of track. “Come on,” he said. “We’ll have our time, they’ll see, we’ll have our time.”
They disappeared into the tunnel, Crowley’s voice echoing back a few moments later.
“Our time is coming!” he screamed. “It’s coming!”
“Yes,” Holmes said, as the sound of a train whistle filled the air, “as is the nine forty-five to Waterloo.” He looked up at me as the sound of Crowley and Karswell screaming echoed back along the tunnel and into the station. “And that, like progress, simply cannot be stopped.”
The train pulled up to the platform and, with a macabre grin, Holmes held out his hands beckoning for Carnacki and I to join him.
“We’ve earned ourselves some dinner,” he said, “to see in the New Year!”
Tomorrow would see the horror brought home as the reports came in of how many had been harmed during the two gas attacks. Between the explosion on Oxford Street and the inevitable casualties during the mass exodus of Bank Station, thirty-nine people died, with twice that injured physically and countless more mentally. That was perhaps the worst legacy, those that had been shown the very worst their imaginations could throw at them, forced to live with what they had seen. To think the foolish John Silence could have ever thought that what they were doing was for the betterment of mankind. There’s nothing so easily deluded as a man with good intentions.
Holmes, Carnacki and I were desperate to wash the foul events away with celebration. Nothing sharpens the appetite more than near-death.
After a brief stop at Scotland Yard where a confused Inspector Gregson was told all he needed to know for now (Holmes would only too happily discuss the case in minutiae come the morning but for now he wished to walk away from it all; as much as he bemoaned the reputation he laboured under, it did allow him to behave quite outrageously at times). We decamped to one of Holmes’ favourite restaurants, a little bistro just off Mayfair.
“It was the most devilish business,” I said, once we were surrounded by the detritus of a meal well done. “I still cannot begin to fathom it all.”
“You will,” Holmes said with a smile, “once you’ve had another glass of wine.”
“I say,” Carnacki said, who, for all his snobbery about the menu had enjoyed his meal a great deal, “who was it that tried to shoot me do you think?”
“Silence,” Holmes said. “Watson here heard him weeping away in the night, troubled by a guilty conscience. No doubt it had been decided by Crowley that you really were one complication too many. They met shortly after the two of you had retired. I believe you both saw Silence wandering up the street.”
“I thought it was you,” I admitted.
“Which is why you make an excellent doctor but only a passable detective.”
“Silence thought he was doing the right thing,” I said. “He was acting according to his beliefs.”
“As soon as your belief costs a single innocent life,” Holmes said, “you lose the right to hide behind its justification. None of us are above that rule. As all three of them have now learned. Fatally.”
Though actually this would turn out not to be the case. While the body of Dr Silence was found just where it should be, amongst the wreckage of their commandeered train, the same could not be said of either Crowley or Karswell.
The former reappeared in America, hiding out in New York where he attempted to make a nominal living as a writer. Certainly, it seemed his grander ambitions had been beaten from him. Holmes, forever determined that he would see the man put to account for his crimes – crimes for which we still had no admissible evidence whatsoever – made a point of following Crowley’s movements, ready to pounce should the circumstances allow. It soon became clear that such action would not be necessary. Even now, Crowley makes something of a name for himself as “the wickedest man in the world” – a name given to him by the Daily Express newspaper, which, in fairness, doles out such high-handed epithets on an almost daily basis – but he is a spent force. Worshipped by those who are always inclined to worship someone, feared by those who find fear comes easily. But is he believed? No. The majority simply view him as a scandalous rogue, an opinion with which I will not argue. On that terrible night, the cusp of a brand-new age, he had set his sights higher. But the brand-new age really didn’t want him, certainly not in sufficient numbers for Holmes to ever be concerned.
As for Karswell, there was some fuss about the publication of his “magnum opus”, the somewhat prosaically titled: History of Witchcraft. The book was terribly received and Holmes grew concerned that he might have to involve himself when one of the reviewers, a man by the name of Harrington, died in rather mysterious circumstances. In the end there was little with which to concern ourselves, however, and the matter seemed to come to its own satisfactory conclusion.
But all of that was in the future.
On that night, everything seemed all too rich with the possibility of change. I was still trying to decide what was real and what was not. I had experienced so much that simply couldn’t be explained away. I did not – and still do not – know what to think.
“Who is to say what our beliefs are now?” I smiled and topped up my glass, just as Holmes had suggested. “So many things to accommodate into our view of the world.”
“My views haven’t changed,” said Holmes. “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”