The Scholar of Silchester Court
Originally Published in The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories: Part XIX
In glancing over the notes which I have kept of my time with Mr. Sherlock Holmes, I am always awed by the detective’s ability to remain ever the rationalist, ever the cold, calculating machine who never once let the follies of the unexplained weigh upon him. To a man of lesser stuff than my companion, he might have been led astray; influenced by the unexplained and seemingly unexplainable, and ultimately come up with a solution which simply had no accord in the real world. In times of reflection, I wonder if I had never met Holmes and, if I were on my own in some of the situations which we found ourselves, if my resolve should have been diminished.
As I flip through the pages of my notebooks, several such cases immediately present themselves as fine examples of Holmes’ maxim that the world was big enough for us; that no ghosts need apply. There was, of course, the affair of Robert Ferguson and his son; the infamous tale on the Cornish Coast; and I should be remiss if I did not put down mention of the Baskerville family. All of these cases I have deemed it appropriate for the reading public at large to read, but there were many, many instances in which my friend stared the impossible in the face and denounced it. Matters such as the curious case of the absent headmaster and the incredible affair of the lady in the jade kimono naturally present themselves, as do the unusual circumstances surrounding Mr. Larkin, the scholar of Silchester Court.
It was in the early days of my acquaintance with Sherlock Holmes; a chilly autumn morning on the brink of winter. It was a quiet morning as Holmes and I busied ourselves with the routine: I seated by the fire with the first edition of The Times, while Holmes sat before his chemical apparatus making detailed notes in the margins of one of his innumerable reference volumes. We sat in silence like this for nearly an hour before I heard Holmes’ voice cut through the quiet which had enveloped us:
“You have decided against a brisk stroll, then, Watson?”
I cast a glance over to my friend who was peering down the lens of a microscope. “I beg your pardon?”
Without lifting his gaze from his specimen, Holmes continued. “You had intimated some time ago that you were keen on a walk about town. I believe you even asked me if I were interested in accompanying you, but you know my distaste for exercise for the sake of exercise alone. If you had handled me a foil and instructed me to duel you here in our very rooms, I should have been more keen for I would, at least, be grooming my swordsmanship skills. But I digress.
“Nonetheless, on account of the rain you have foregone this desire; your boots, however, remaining unvarnished and uncleaned in the event that when the rain dissipates you should lace them up anew and head off on your sojourn. We have had a stretch of four clear days now, and this morning you put your boots out to be cleaned, suggesting to me that you have no wishes of strutting about any more lest you scuff them entirely.”
“Your train of reasoning is exact in every regard,” I replied. “And it is so simple.”
Holmes lifted his eyes from the microscope and stared at me from across the room. “Everything, when explained away, is rendered absurdly simple. It is the presentation of a conclusion without the initial inference linked up to it that produces such an astonishing affect.”
Holmes stood from the stool before his workbench and thrust his hands deep into the pockets of his tattered, mouse-colored dressing gown which bore many stains and marks from years of arrant cigarette ash and chemical experimentation. He plucked up his preferred pipe from the mantelpiece and applied a match to the bowl. “The world in which we live,” he continued as he began to pace up and down before the fire, “is actually a simple one. Despite what Hamlet may have told Horatio, there is not more on heaven and earth than can be dreamed of, studied, and calculated. Much like the work of the actor or the conjurer, it is the work of the ingenious criminal to suggest that there is more than what our eyes see or our ears hear. As a detective, I have trained myself to peer beyond the veil which obscures and complicates the truth.”
I cast aside the paper and stood to gather up my own pipe from where I had laid it on the breakfast table. As I began to lazily fill it, I cast a glance out the window and perceived the figure of a man pacing back and forth on the pavement before our door.
“I say, Holmes, I rather think that you have a client.”
We both moved to the bay window and looked down into the street below. Indeed, there was a man, dressed in a rather shabby tweed suit who moved with trepidatious steps across the causeway; stopping every so often to cast an imploring glance up at our windows and then continue traversing his stunted path.
Holmes suddenly threw open the window and called down into the street:
“Sir! If you seek my assistance, I do invent you in. If you touch the bell there, my housekeeper shall be more than inclined to show you up.”
Then refastening the window, my friend turned to me with a smug smile.
“I do hope that that shall help the poor fellow to make up his mind,” he declared. A moment later, the bell was ringing from below and another moment later, the man himself was in our sitting room. As I looked at him now, I became keenly aware of the man’s learned features and he seemed to contemplate both Holmes and I through the eyes of an intellectual. There was, however, a queer sense of anxiety that hung over the man. He clasped his hands together as he stepped into our room; the thumb driving into the palm of the other.
“Mr. Sherlock Holmes,” he said in a tentative voice; thin and reedy.
“I am Mr. Holmes,” my friend replied, “and this is my colleague, Dr. Watson. Please, have a seat, Mr. –”
“Larkin,” our visitor said, slowly lowering himself into the chair proffered for our guest, “Augustus Larkin.”
Holmes slid into his own chair before the fire and pulled on his pipe. “Larkin,” he said contemplatively, “no relation to the scholar, surely?”
“No,” Larkin said. “Sylvester Larkin was my father. An academic of the classics, Mr. Holmes. But you seem already familiar with his work.”
“Your father’s treatise on the role of Salarino in The Merchant of Venice is an invaluable piece of research to any actor or historian, for that matter.” Holmes pointed with the stem of his pipe. “I perceive ink upon your own fingers, Mr. Larkin. Have you followed your father’s footsteps into academia?”
“Indeed, I have,” Larkin replied, “but I fear that I have not had such successes as my father. I have had a few, minor speaking engagements, but my academic works have not been met with as much praise as my late father’s. The works of a folklorist seldom do, I am afraid.”
“Folklore?” I asked. “That is your area of study?”
“Yes,” Larkin answered. “English folklore has always been an area of intense interest for me. Even as a boy when my father would read to me the classics, and pry apart the words of Macbeth, I did not much care for the literary intricacies over which he obsessed. I simply wanted to know more about the witches. I endeavored to learn much more, and in time I did. I have been fortunate enough to publish a few papers in esteemed journals, but the works have not been able to keep me afloat. I have had to take on several jobs in order to make ends meet. However, of late, I find myself driven completely to distraction unable to concentrate upon anything.”
“What is worrying you so, Mr. Larkin? It does not take a detective to tell that you were clearly perturbed.”
Larkin drew in a deep breath. “Would you think me mad, Mr. Holmes, if I told you that for the past three weeks, I have been able to predict the future?”
For an instant, it felt as if all the air had been sucked out of the room. The silence which had descended over Holmes and I that morning had returned only with even greater weight.
“I do not even need to hear your answer to know what it is,” Larkin said. “Surely, the notion of predicting the future is absurd. Yet, I cannot deny what has been happening to me, gentlemen. I wake from my sleep feeling not refreshed but more drained, for I hear the voices from another world and they warn me of the things that are to come.”
“Perhaps,” said Holmes, leaning back in his seat, “you had best start your tale from the beginning. Omit nothing, no matter how insignificant you may think it.”
Holmes closed his eyes and pressed his palms together under his chin in his usual stance of contemplation. I reached for my notebook and began to take notes as Larkin started to speak.
“I suppose the only place to start is with the place itself: Silchester Court. I cannot imagine that you have heard the name, Mr. Holmes, let alone the history that is connected up to it, so allow me to elucidate for a moment. Silchester Court is, today, a cheap tenement in Soho. It is mostly inhabited by some of this city’s less fortunate residents. Conditions are hardly ideal, but it is a haven for those of us at low water. For me, the place comes with something of greater interest: history. You see, centuries ago, Silchester Court was the seat of the Silchester family; a wealthy banking family in the seventeenth century. The patriarch of the Silchester clan was Elias Silchester who, it was believed, from contemporaries, was capable of communicating with the dead. Some of Silchester’s more envious business rivals accused Silchester of being a fraud, yet he maintained his clairvoyance to the end. In his own diary, Silchester wrote significantly of his relationship with the dead.”
“His own diary?” I asked. “You have had access to such a document?”
“Indeed, Doctor,” Larkin replied. “I spend most of my days in the archives room of one of the larger universities. They have many of Silchester’s originals documents including his journals.
“They are of particular interest to me because Silchester writes of the voices that he heard from beyond the grave. And, it was in his final diary entry, that he admitted that it was the voices which drove him to…murder.”
“Yes,” Larkin said. He plucked the delicate pince-nez from his nose and massaged the bridge. “You see, the Silchester home never passed onto successive generations for, one night in the year 1666, Silchester murdered his wife and three children with a hatchet. He then turned the weapon upon himself. His last diary entry, written only moments before the bloody deed was carried out, was an admittance to what was to come and a claim that it was the voices from the grave that told him to do it.”
Larkin returned the pince-nez to his nose and clasped his hands again. “It was pure coincidence that I soon found myself living in Silchester Court, you understand. I simply called around at the place after studying the original Silchester documents and discovered that there were rooms to let. In need of cheap accommodations, I moved in immediately. I wish to god that I never did. It was quite ordinary in the beginning. I spent my days at the university and my nights writing and researching. I have hopes of completing a paper on the Silchester tragedy, but I fear that I shall lose my reason before it is completed. Or worse, I fear that I may lose my life. You see, Mr. Holmes, I have begun to hear the same voices that Elias Silchester heard over two-hundred years ago.”
“When did you first hear these voices?” Holmes asked without opening his eyes.
“Three weeks ago, almost to the day,” Larkin replied. “Soft, dull whispering at first. I took them to be the voices of my neighbors. But I realized quite suddenly that that is an impossibility. I live on a corner of the building so there is only one room to my right, and that is unoccupied. The whispering continued off and on yet I could not place it. And then I began to predict things. These are not mental visions, you must understand. I do not conjure up pictures of what is to come: I cannot foresee whether tomorrow shall bring with it sun or rain, but I get feelings at the oddest of times. Feelings like I knew that something was going to happen. A messenger arrived at few days ago at precisely 10.20 in the evening. He knocked on my door mistaking me for a tenant upstairs, but after I sent him on his way, I realized quite suddenly that I knew he would be there at that exact time.
“These are the sort of odd events that have been happening to me of late, Mr. Holmes, and they are occurring with great frequency. I cannot explain them other than to say that I am hearing the same voices heard by Elias Silchester…the same voices that drove him to kill.”
Sherlock Holmes opened his eyes at length. “Your perturbation is not unfounded, Mr. Larkin, and I should say that I have never had a case quite like yours before.”
“Then you do believe –”
“I have not taken leave of my senses, Mr. Larkin,” Holmes retorted holding up a protesting hand. “In fact, I was just saying to Dr. Watson this morning that our world is built entirely upon cogent facts; not the follies and fantasies of ghosts and bogies. Nevertheless, I admit to feeling unease at your situation too. Perhaps you can answer for me a few questions. Are you well acquainted with the other tenants of Silchester Court?”
“We have a casual familiarity. Little more than that.”
“And you are the most recent tenant of the building?”
“A brother and sister moved into the rooms above me only a few days after I did, but I have spoken to them little.”
“Perhaps you can tell me of this messenger: the man whose presence you predicted. Had you seen him about in the building ever before?”
“Never. He was a complete stranger to me.”
“And you to him? I mean, Mr. Larkin, did he seem quite surprised when you answered his call at your door?”
Larkin considered. “I should say that he was.”
Holmes tapped a finger to his thin, pursed lips. “I should make a note of that in particular, Watson,” he said with a glance in my direction. Then, rising from seat, Holmes began to move about the room, busying himself once more at his chemical workbench.
“Do you have nothing more for Mr. Larkin,” I asked at length.
“I should imagine that there is not much more that I can do for him now,” Holmes replied. “Indeed, this case – while wholly unique – is actually a simple one.”
“Then what is going on at Silchester Court?” Larkin cried, jumping up from his seat. “Am I in great danger?”
“By no means,” Holmes said. “I cannot confirm my suspicions until I make a visit to Silchester Court, however, I wouldn’t worry any longer, Mr. Larkin. Please do feel free to keep me abreast of any curious developments. Dr. Watson will show you out.”
I was taken aback by Holmes’ odd behavior towards Mr. Larkin but after I assured the anxious academic that all would be right soon enough, I returned to the sitting room to confront my friend on the matter. Holmes had returned to his paraphilia, scrutinizing the contents of a beaker with unwavering keenness; as though he had not moved from that spot or fixed his eyes upon any other subject in hours.
“Holmes,” I declared upon entering the room, “I must admit that you treated Mr. Larkin rudely. The poor man was frightened out of his wits and you did not give him ample time or attention. You insist that you have already solved the case and yet your refuse to enlighten he or I.”
Holmes returned the beaker to the workbench. “Mr. Larkin’s case illustrates the very philosophy to which I referred this morning, my dear fellow,” Holmes amiably responded. “On the surface, Mr. Larkin’s tale is a confounding one. Voices from the dead. Premonitions of the future. Murders from two centuries ago. And yet, even without moving from my chair, I was able to come up with at least six cogent explanations with the facts provided to us. You, my dear Watson, have allowed yourself to be led astray by the multiple veils which have shrouded you from the truth.”
“And the truth is?” I asked.
Holmes raised an index. “Ah, you shall have me divulging my theories before it is time. If you recall, Watson, I never suggested that I was finished outright with the case. It is by no means solved. I cannot solve it until I have paid a visit to Mr. Larkin at Silchester Hall and from there eliminated various theories from the six possible solutions. Until then, I can do nothing.”
I sighed. “And when shall you visit Mr. Larkin at Silchester Court?”
“Tomorrow? Day after tomorrow? I am presently engaged on a bit of work for Scotland Yard. The chemical solution in that beaker is of the utmost importance and I am awaiting the results from my work of this morning. It is an exceedingly complex business, Watson. Mr. Larkin’s, by comparison, could not be more simple.”
It could not be more simple, I thought to myself, for the rest of the day. I lounged about Baker Street in relative silence as Holmes contemplated his work as though he were a natural-born chemist. We supped early and, after losing myself in the pages of one of my preferred adventure novels all evening, I retired early; Holmes still up and about as I headed off to bed. I found sleep hard to come by, however, as the problem of Mr. Augustus Larkin still hung over me. What did Holmes know that I did not? What had he gained from Larkin’s interview that had escaped my notice? Though I had not lived with Sherlock Holmes long, I knew well enough by now that he had a notorious habit of keeping things to himself; a practice which I fully begrudged.
It was early the next morning that I rose, washed, and dressed, and hurried downstairs to breakfast. The room smelt of stale tobacco smoke; Holmes had evidently been up late, but he was very much asleep as I tucked in and the morning post was delivered and placed upon the breakfast table. It was another quarter of an hour before Holmes rose and joined me. As he poured himself a cup of coffee, his long dexterous fingers sifted through the newly-arrived correspondence. His eyes fell upon a telegram of particular interest.
“From Augustus Larkin, no. 11 Silchester Court,” he said, as he tore open the envelope. I watched as Holmes read the message within and he suddenly blanched. “I fear that we shall have to go to Silchester Court sooner than I anticipated.”
He tossed the telegram across to me. It read:
The voices spoke again last night.
Someone is going to die. – Larkin
I did not know what to anticipate before we set out for Silchester Court that brisk morning, but the building which we drew up to was a hideous marvel. It was clear that at one time the tall, stone dwelling had been the seat of aristocracy. However, now it seemed as if time had decayed the whole thing. The stone façade was crumbling leaving large portions exposed to the elements. Great splotches of black mold clung to the exterior and it seemed to be slowly spreading like outstretched tendrils intent on grasping onto and swallowing what was left of the building whole. In defiance, the building almost looked as if it were trying to grow: its centuries-old design dissolving and melding into the stonework edifices that lined the street to such an extent that for a moment I knew not where Silchester Court ended the others began.
Sherlock Holmes, however, did not seem to notice any of this. Instead he bustled out of our hansom and was rapping upon the door with the head of his stick by the time that I had paid our fare and joined him. His knock was answered by a dowdy, ugly older woman who wore a tattered bonnet atop a head of frizzy, greying hair, and who dried her hands upon a dirty rag.
“What? What do you want?” she growled.
“Mr. Larkin,” Holmes said. In response the woman gestured with her pointed elbow. “Number 11,” she said. “Third floor.”
Holmes brushed past her and stepped into the building which was no more luxurious within than it was without. We were seemingly accosted by a rickety-looking staircase which bore down on us and proved to be our only method of further ingress. We mounted the steps with trepidation listening to them creak and cry out with each new step we climbed until we came to the door marked eleven. Holmes knocked and the door was answered immediately by Mr. Augustus Larkin. He drew us into his room and closed the door harshly behind us.
Larkin’s rooms were surprisingly spacious, but had been ravaged by the hands of time just as the rest of the building had been. The walls were cracked and shabby; the floors worn, warped, and in places showing severe signs of wood rot. There was a stove tucked away in the corner of the room and on the opposite wall was a bed. In the center of the room was a desk overflowing with Larkin’s research materials and before this desk stood the man himself. We had clearly interrupted him in the middle of his toilet for he looked even more slovenly and distressed than he had looked the previous morning when he had called upon us. He was still anxiously wringing his hands and paced the room in ever-shrinking concentric circles as he spoke.
“Oh, Mr. Holmes, it was dreadful. Positively dreadful. I awoke this morning with the most intense fear. An overwhelming dread for which I simply could not account. I rose and crossed to my washstand and was in the process of splashing some tepid water on my face to calm my nerves when I felt the same strange feeling that has come over me before. And I heard the voices echoing in my head. And they said, ‘Tomorrow night he will be dead and at last everything shall be complete.’”
Larkin seemed on the brink of tears. “I do not know what it means, Mr. Holmes! Who is this man who is to die? Who are these voices that foretell this man’s death? I simply know no longer!”
Holmes retorted: “Calm yourself, Mr. Larkin. All shall be set to right.”
Yet the academic seemed not to hear my friend. “I was doing some reading last night. I discovered that this room – my room – was Elias Silchester’s own room! It was in this very room that he awoke that fateful night, wrote a few lines in his diary, and then closed it forever before he went through the house and…”
“Mr. Larkin,” I interjected, “if you ask me you are giving yourself nightmares reading this ghoulish material at night. I myself would never read a penny dreadful before going to bed else I shouldn’t sleep a wink.”
“But I have an iron constitution, Dr. Watson,” Larkin replied. “I have never suffered from nightmares before. And certainly, never like this.”
Holmes, meanwhile, was pacing the room. “You are indeed the last room on this floor,” he said. “And you say that the room next door is vacant?”
“Yes,” Larkin replied. “I tell you, Mr. Holmes, that I have considered more than once moving rooms. This one is surely cursed. Perhaps I could escape from all these terrible voices and awful premonitions if I laid my head somewhere else.”
Holmes rocked back and forth on his feet, gently undulating from heel to toe. “Please do not purchase the room next to this one, Mr. Larkin.”
“Why? Why should I not try to save myself from all of this?”
“Because, Mr. Larkin,” Holmes replied. “I should like to buy it.”
“You!” I cried. “Holmes, why on earth should you wish to buy a room here?”
“Baker Street is all well and good to rest my head at nights, Watson, and to entertain clients, but in my line, I do find myself requiring more than one base of operations in the city. A room here in Silchester Court would do admirably.
“And what is more,” Holmes said, “if I purchase a room here in Silchester Court, then I can lend it to you for no charge at all this evening, Mr. Larkin.”
“Then you will let me escape this place?”
“Yes,” answered Holmes, “provided you allow Dr. Watson and I the use of it this evening.”
“You can have it!” Larkin cried. “I want nothing to do with it at all.”
Holmes smiled a wry grin. “And you can do me another favor, Mr. Larkin. I am exceedingly interested in reading the diary of Elias Silchester. Would you take me to the archive room this afternoon so I read up on it myself?”
The academic replied in the affirmative and asked for a few moments to prepare himself. We stepped out into the hall.
“You really don’t want a room here do you, Holmes?” I asked.
“Nonsense, Watson,” my friend replied. “I have no need for lodgings in Silchester Court. But I do want the use of Mr. Larkin’s room this evening – that shall, I think, prove quite instructive – and I figured I should spare the poor man any further anguish. Now, that we have a few minutes to ourselves, I should like to continue my investigation on the floor above.”
On the next floor, Holmes paced back and forth about the hall for a few moments. Then, eyeing one of the doors in particular, he approached and knocked politely. His call was answered by a dark-haired young woman. She was simply dressed and her response to Holmes’ intrusion into her life was answered with forthrightness which bordered on brusqueness.
“May I help you?” she asked.
“Yes, madam,” Holmes replied. “I’m a prospective tenant in this building and I was hoping that my solicitor and I –” Holmes gestured wide to me behind him “– could have a look about your flat? You know, to see if it’s dissimilar to the room I’ve got my eye on below. You hear such tales, you know, madam, of unscrupulous landlords who will entice you with a fine, fine dwelling, only for your actual residence to be something far, far less decorous.”
“I am afraid sir,” the woman replied, “that I am quite occupied at the moment and cannot spare you any of your time.”
She attempted to close the door on my friend but he stuck his foot into the jamb. “But, madam,” he said, “surely you have sympathy for a concerned buyer in your heart. I merely wish to have a look ‘round. I shan’t be but a moment.”
“Sorry, sir,” she retorted and closed the door in Holmes’ face. He spun around, an odd smile upon his face. Then, silencing me with a look, he gestured that we return to meet with Mr. Larkin.
“What could you have possibly gained from that?” I inquired as Holmes and I retraced our steps down the stairs.
“I learned precisely what I wanted to know, my dear Watson,” Holmes answered. “Ah, and here is Mr. Larkin too. Our timing could not have been better. I think, Watson, that I shall be dull company for much of the day. Let us meet at Baker Street for a late luncheon where I shall hopefully bear the fruits of today’s labor.”
The three of us quit the building, only to run into the landlady on the ground floor, foolheartedly scrubbing at a spot of mold on the wall which was surely as immoveable as a mountain. Holmes stopped the woman in her task and presented himself as a prospective tenant. Claiming to have a full months’ rent on his person, he said he was most interested in the vacant room next to Mr. Larkin’s. He dropped a bag of coins into the woman’s palm and she stared into it as if hypnotized.
“Perhaps,” Holmes said, “you can be of aide to my friends and I in one other matter. You see, madam, I am something of an amateur photographer and I would be most interested in setting up a dark room in this building. I trust there is a cellar?”
“Aye, there is,” the woman replied. “No one goes down there. On account of the stories, I suppose.”
“Stories?” I asked. “What kind of stories?”
The woman shrugged her shoulders. “Ghost stories, I’d expect.”
We did as Holmes suggested and he returned elated early that evening just as the sun was sinking beneath the horizon throwing long shadows about our rooms and bathing us both in shades of muted orange and red. It was the perfect setting for our somber meal and, after we finished, Holmes pushed his chair back and stretched himself out before he reached for his pipe.
“The diary of Elias Silchester could not have been more fascinating,” he began. “It was truly a remarkable study, especially to a student of crime like me. I confess that before yesterday, I hadn’t heard the name Silchester nor had I known of the remarkable tragedy which befell him and his family.”
“Remarkable indeed,” I said. “The senseless, brutal murder of four people – an entire household. It curdles the blood.”
“There I am afraid that you are incorrect,” Holmes replied, pulling on his pipe. “I do not deny that the affair does curdle the blood, but the murder of four innocent people did not constitute the eradication of an entire household. There was a fifth member of Silchester Court there that evening whose name, it seems, is lost to the pages of history entirely. That of Silchester’s cousin, a name called Lewis Grayale. His presence in our narrative sheds new light upon the entire business and all but confirms many of the suspicions that I had regarding this case.”
“I confess that I am entirely lost.”
From his breast pocket, Holmes withdrew a sheet of paper. “That,” he said, “is a transcription of the last diary entry of Elias Silchester before the murder of his family and his suicide. It is copied word for word from his journal which Mr. Larkin and I studied all of the day. Read it and tell me if anything strikes you as significant.”
I took up the sheet and read what Holmes had copied:
I fear that I cannot abide the voices any longer. They have become louder and more persistent of late. No longer are they simply the hushed whispers of the world beyond; these are the full-throated shouts of malignant beings and they have but one instruction for me: to kill. To kill. To kill. They say that I shall never be free if I do not kill and I fear that they are right. If I wish to silence these blasted demons and return them to whatever pit from whence they have crawled, then I must do as they wish.
I do not do what I do out of malice or out of lust (as I am sure my enemies shall suggest in the days to come). I simply do what I must do to save myself and save my soul. Surely once I have left this earth, I can find peace; at last separated from the voices that are damned to whisper in my ears and drive me to do what I do. Peace. That is all that a man could want. Peace. This is my only way to get it.
The hatchet blade is sharp and shined. It shall serve its purpose well –
It was bone-chilling stuff and I handed the sheet back to Holmes with a tremor agitating my fingers.
“Do you not find it suggestive?”
“I find it repulsive,” I said. “It is undoubtedly a full confession of guilt.”
“Tut, tut, Watson,” Sherlock Holmes said. “Have I not taught you that there is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact? Does this diary entry reveal to you nothing more than a desperate man’s last moments on earth?”
I reconsidered what I had just read. “The voices,” I said at length. “Silchester says that they got louder in the end.”
Holmes struck the tabletop with an open palm. “Excellent, Watson. We shall make you a first-rate detective yet. You have picked up on the mot pertinent piece of information in the entire diary.”
“Are you saying that someone – perhaps this Grayale man – was the one speaking to Silchester? That he lured Silchester in murdering his entire family?”
“That is precisely what I am suggesting and I believe that much the same is happening to our unfortunate Mr. Larkin.”
“How? Both Silchester and Larkin were alone in their rooms? Their rooms are on the corner of the building. No one could possibly speak to them from the third-story window without floating in the air like some phantasm. And I know you well enough, Holmes, to know you reject that possibility outright. Granted, this Grayale character may have been speaking to Silchester through the wall on the opposite side of the room, but we know that to be impossible in Larkin’s case as the room is unoccupied. Someone may have stolen in there at nights, but what with the way the whole building creaks it would be near impossible for someone to stealthily move about without Larkin knowing. And what is more, I cannot see any reason to drive a poor, down-on-his-luck academic mad.”
“You fail to grasp the magnitude of this case,” Holmes replied. “In doing so, you have managed to isolate nearly every point of importance and yet failed to interpret them as you should. What you have failed to grasp, Watson, is that Mr. Augustus Larkin is but a tangential element in this case. He is not and never was the point of focus.”
“I am afraid that I do not understand.”
Holmes stood and began to make a circuit about the room as was his habit when in the depths of oration.
“Over two-hundred years ago,” he began, “Mr. Lewis Grayale conjured up a devious method of murder. He would masquerade as the spirit voices that he knew his cousin, Elias, to listen to and use them to influence Elias Silchester into murdering his entire family and himself. Then, no doubt with no family left to claim the substantial estate that would remain following Silchester’s death, Grayale could claim it and abscond with it. No wonder then that Silchester Court fell into such ruin and disrepair with no one occupying the seat who would maintain it.
“Now, two centuries on, history is repeating itself but merely by happenstance. Mr. Larkin has quite unwittingly stumbled into the midst of a plot which is no doubt just as devious as the one perpetrated by Lewis Grayale in the seventeenth century.”
“But what is going on?” I cried. “Who is perpetrating this scheme and what exactly do they wish to accomplish?”
Holmes plucked a photograph from his voluminous record collection. “Did you by chance recognize the face of the young woman who answered the door today at Silchester Court?”
“I must admit that I did not. Should I?”
“If you paid a little less attention to cricket scores and more time to the society pages of The Times, then perhaps you might have.”
Holmes plucked up a newssheet and dropped it on the table alongside the picture. Staring up at me was a photograph of three persons, two men and a woman. Seated in the middle of the photo was a distinguished-looking, white-bearded man. On either side of him, standing over him, were two young people: the woman in the photo undoubtedly the same that we had seen earlier in the day. My eyes moved to the newspaper.