THE RETURN OF SILENCE
The story of Lord Ruthvney’s death coincided with my breakfast as I perused the morning edition at the dining table. I would like to say that it affected my appetite but that would be a lie. I’m an ex-soldier, once you’ve sipped soup under cannon fire there’s little that can interfere with your digestion.
“Have you seen this, Holmes?” I asked as my friend strolled in from his bedroom, his un-oiled hair hanging over his eyes like a curtain. “It strikes me as recherch'e enough for your attention.” I folded the paper so as to give the article due prominence and tossed it next to his breakfast plate, then helped myself to another kipper.
“Ah.” Holmes sighed. “Such is my lot: to become an investigator of the odd, a policeman of clowns.” He glanced at the article and raised an eyebrow. “Though certainly it is hard to ignore such a death as this.” He gave the article his full attention for a few moments, then tossed it aside. “Well,” he said, lifting the lid on the dish of eggs, “Lord Ruthvney clearly died a madman’s death. The question must be whether his lack of sanity was a new condition or one brought about by the involvement of others.” He scooped a couple of eggs onto his plate. “Either way. It is no business of ours, we have more than enough to occupy us.”
“Have you come to any conclusions?”
“Only that the good Dr Silence is clearly determined to gain our attention in this matter.”
“Well, yes, he would hardly have sought an appointment otherwise.”
“But why?” Holmes asked. “What is it for? He has neither engaged our services or set us a mystery to solve.”
“The death of De Montfort.”
“Is part of the whole story, certainly. But how big a part?” He began to eat his eggs.
“What makes you think the young man’s murder is so incidental?”
“One simply doesn’t go to so much effort to murder a social butterfly like De Montfort. If somebody wanted him dead then a drop of poison in an overpriced glass of champagne would serve the purpose perfectly well. His death was a piece of theatre, designed to cause attention, murderers who do that are rarely singular in their focus for victims.”
“Why draw attention to murder?” I wondered aloud. There were several possibilities of course: a distraction, perhaps, or a warning. I said as much to Holmes.
“Indeed,” he agreed, “or a message of some kind.”
“A grisly telegram if so.”
Holmes threw up his hands in despair. “There simply isn’t enough evidence upon which to theorise.” He got to his feet and paced, irritated, amongst the usual piles of detritus with which he littered the floor of our rooms: newspapers, police reports, charcoal sketches... It was as if Holmes’ brain leaked. He stopped at the window and turned back to me, all trace of despondency now gone. “But here is more coal for our engine, Watson!” he shouted. “The enigmatic Dr Silence has returned!”
He resumed his place at the breakfast table and attacked the toast rack with the vigour of a man starved. When Dr Silence was ushered into our rooms by Mrs Hudson it was to be presented to a man who gave the impression his life depended on the greater consumption of marmalade.
“Sit down, Doctor,” Holmes said. “Take some coffee and toast. Mrs Hudson has as much an idea of breakfast as any Scotswoman and I’m sure she will be happy to accommodate one more.”
Mrs Hudson sighed. “Of course she will,” she said. “Given the other things I accommodate in his household, an extra mouth is nothing.”
“I’ll take the coffee gladly,” said our guest, “but I’ve already breakfasted.”
Holmes shrugged and resumed his spooning of marmalade onto toast. “To what do we owe the repeated pleasure of your company, Dr Silence?” he asked.
“You have seen the morning editions I see,” Silence said, gesturing towards my discarded newspaper, “and have no doubt read of the peculiar death of Lord Ruthvney?”
Holmes paused momentarily, toast held halfway between plate and mouth. “Indeed,” he said. “In fact, we were just discussing it.”
“What you probably do not know is that he was, like young De Montfort, a member of the Golden Dawn.”
“Like De Montfort and the Laird of Boleskine himself, Mr Aleister Crowley,” added Holmes, watching intently for Silence’s response. The man gave very little, simply nodded and continued to speak.
“You have investigated along similar lines to myself, I see,” he said, “though it would seem Mr Crowley is no longer affiliated with the organisation.”
“You’ve spoken to him?”
“No, I believe he rarely leaves Boleskine House these days, though certainly I think we should.”
“‘We?’” Holmes asked with a slight smile.
“I had thought that considering the news you might cease your feigned disinterest and help with the investigation.”
I drew a short breath at Dr Silence’s choice of words – Holmes did not like to “help” anyone with an investigation, not the official force and most certainly not someone he deemed, at best, deluded. Holmes wasted no time in correcting him.
“I am not what one might call a ‘team player’, Doctor. If indeed I choose to investigate the matter, you can rest assured I will be doing so entirely of my own volition and not in partnership with someone else.”
“Would it damage your ego to occasionally share notes?” Silence asked. “Possibly even a rail carriage? Given that we will be following the same trail it seems churlish to ignore each other en route. Besides, you scarcely begin to know what we’re dealing with. I have not been idle these last couple of days and have much to pass on.”
Holmes laughed. “My dear Doctor, you must forgive my professional vanity. Perhaps you are right, we should work in tandem. After all, it is a world of which I know precious little. Pray, tell me your news.”
“I thought the promise of more information might loosen your manner.” Silence smiled. “I dare say you have not been idle either and will soon be able to inform me of developments from your end?”
Homes said nothing but inclined his head in acceptance.
“I have been researching this so-called Breath of God. It is a phenomena frequently mentioned in the biblical apocrypha as well as other, less wholesome, texts. In some scriptures it is said that the Breath of God was the method of destruction for the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, God’s angels acting as a conduit for his ‘almighty essence’. Some also suggest that Moses called down the Breath of God to destroy those Israelites who chose not to follow the Ten Commandments. Some scholars insist it is intended to be synonymous with God’s power, a poetic phrase intended to liven up the scripture. Others contend that it is literally what it suggests: a fearsome, elemental force capable of mass destruction. Capable even of killing a man in the open air, leaving no other sign of attack.”
“It’s something of a jump to assume De Montfort was slaughtered by divine halitosis simply because we currently flounder to find more conventional answers,” insisted Holmes. “You’ll forgive me if I pursue more earthly means for now?”
“I would expect little else,” Silence replied, “and no doubt you will be more interested to hear that my sources claim there is dissent amongst the ranks of the Golden Dawn. Dissent that saw De Montfort, Ruthvney and Crowley in agreement against those more senior than themselves within the organisation. Is that an earthly enough reason to suspect Crowley of being the next victim?”
Holmes considered. “It’s enough to make me dip my hand in my pocket for a rail fare, certainly. Watson, check the Bradshaw for trains to Inverness. Allow me the morning, however. As first we must ask our accommodating friends at Scotland Yard to allow us access to yet another murder room.”