John Watson has left the Stranger’s Room. The report of that parting metaphor still hangs on the air. There is no need to arrange anything so vulgar as a “tail”; John’s right sleeve announced his destination. High time, then, to attend to more pressing matters.
John will stamp out of the Diogenes Club; this he knows. It is probable that John will damage any of the staff who is so ill-advised as to waylay him en route. (Perhaps it will be the one that believes himself to be selling secrets to the C.I.A. We can but hope.) John will blunder past the ancient elm and the oak in the square outside without the faintest inkling of what they mean. Such ignorance is not to the good doctor’s discredit, of course. The finest intellects of a thousand years have laboured to ensure that the purpose of the Diogenes Club remains forgotten.
Where was the sun? Over the oak.
Where was the shadow? Under the elm.
His own contribution to this labour (a work of his youth, just after he resolved the Bimetallic Question) was a brand-new Victorian tradition: the rule of silence. Words must not be suffered to accumulate in the Club. They carry too much weight, here, and who knows when the wrong one might be spoken? No one wants a repeat of 1972, when careless talk weakened the bonds so much that she was able to steal the leap second which should have been added to the calendar at the end of June, and began using it to pick the locks. Enough time can destroy anything, even the chains that Merlin Emrys forged for her, so long ago. The thought of the... concessions she demanded to give that second back still brings a shudder.
It is time.
Down he walks, past the basements and sub-basements, where the Club stashes the minutes of the Wine Committee, and the complete run of Punch, and the thing that had worn Lord Lucan’s skin. Down at last, in the nethermost depths, to the shadowless room, with the seven locks.
How was it stepped? North by ten and by ten, east by five and by five, south by two and by two, west by one and by one.
And so under.
The secret has been kept, through generations uncounted, by warlocks and astrologers and tactful men in pin-striped suits and bowler hats, who wrestled with beasts at Ephesus and the Six Across on the commute in from Welwyn Garden City. The secret is very big, and very simple. The city built to music means the cottage in the woods. Every fairy-tale needs a good old-fashioned villain.
His neck tightens again at the memory of John Watson’s jibes. Jim Moriarty was so obviously her handiwork, and he had not noticed. Caged as she is, her whispers still have purchase in the world, reeling in the slighted, the humiliated, the unordinary.
Her influence is greatest near the water. Surely it was by a pool, where light tangled on the ceiling and chlorine rasped at childish throats, that the thought first flared to give Carl Powers what he deserved? She is always in the market for a Mordred.
Whose was it? His who is gone.
Who shall have it? He who will come.
Moriarty was his mistake. But the mistake was scarcely made before the opportunities for advantage were apparent. He comes now bringing the lure she cannot resist. What secrets will she yield to taste that in his mind - a brother betrayed?
What shall we give for it? All that is ours.
Why should we give it? For the sake of the trust.
Far above, the lights of Diogenes fall on John Watson’s back as he departs, winking in surprise at what they reveal: the solitary marvel of an honest man.