Fancy a little Holmesian fiction? You do? Then please indulge, with an exclusive dragoman extract from one of my own pieces, and news of a new novel by author S F Bennett. Yes, we’re back on one of our regular greydogtales trails, hunting the greatest detectives…
I’ve done two or three Holmes pieces in the last year, with a couple more on the boil. These are faithful to the Holmes canon – the first explores an adventure of the Great Detective after the Reichenbach Falls, and the second concerns a retired Holmes advising on a rather peculiar case of espionage.
The connection with Sarah (S F) Bennett was originally accidental, as it turned out that we both had stories in the two volume Holmes Away from Home: Adventures from the Great Hiatus, edited by the scholarly and most knowledgeable David Marcum, and published by Belanger Books.
Her story ‘The Case of the Fragrant Blackmailer’ is in Volume Two, whilst greydog’s story ‘The Adventure of the Dragoman’s Son’ is in Volume One. These are cracking anthologies, an extensive exploration of what exactly happened to Sherlock Holmes between 1891 and 1893.
“Given its quality, one might justly consider ‘Holmes Away from Home’ the last word on these “lost years” of Sherlock Holmes’ career.” (Amazon)
As this is also a sort of Mycroft day, we kick off with an appropriate extract from ‘The Adventure of the Dragoman’s Son’, to give you a taste.
How to Tame a Dragoman
If you don’t know the term, a dragoman was an interpreter, translator, and official guide between Turkish, Arabic, and Persian-speaking countries and polities of the Middle East and European embassies, consulates, vice-consulates and trading posts. A dragoman had to have a knowledge of Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and European languages. Incidentally, the ‘man’ bit is part of the original word from various sources, so the plural is dragomans.
It was a dull and shadowed place, a nondescript office such as junior clerks might once have used. Holmes glanced around, noting the dust on the empty shelves. He could almost smell the cramped ledgers which must have lived there.
“We might have met at the Diogenes Club, Mycroft.” He placed his hat on a long-abandoned desk. “You usually favour the Strangers’ Room.”
His brother, seated in an old supervisor’s chair, looked up at him.
“Too many strangers, these days. Better a quiet word here. Some may notice you enter and leave; none will see me.” He tilted his head, indicating a door at the rear of the office.
“A surprising amount of effort for one such as yourself.”
“We shall see. So, what have you to tell me?”
“You have my notes. I think Kitchener will be pleased, though it may take a while to bring plans to fruition. I give the Khalifa and his Mahdists five years at most.”
Mycroft sniffed. “We hardly want the damned Sudan, yet we cannot leave it in the Khalifa’s hands. Such expense…” He shook his head, and then poured himself a whisky from the decanter standing incongruously on the table beside him. “Very well. We should discuss Arabia.”
Holmes sat down on a bench and templed his fingers before him.
“There are aspects to that affair,” he said carefully, “Which I would not care to become public knowledge. For another’s safety, not my own.”
“As you wish, dear brother. I will, however, have the details, if you please.”
Holmes took a slim Turkish cigarette out of his case and lit it, savouring the first deep inhalation. He would have preferred a comfortable armchair, but this bench would have to do. He crossed his legs, and let his thoughts drift back to the year before, to the fly-ridden sand of the Hejaz.
“I had been in Persia, as you know, and had planned to make my way towards Mecca. Although the unbeliever is not permitted within the walls, Burton had managed it in ’53. He had time on his hands, and absorbed the Arabic culture to such a degree that he was able to enter the sanctuary. I thought that I might come close enough to at least see the Hajj, the Mahometan pilgrimage, in full flow.
“At the time it was only one possibility, until I was accosted by a diplomatic acquaintance at the Persian court. Over dinner he asked me if the British authorities were aware of the scale of the traffick in guns across Arabia. I professed ignorance, which was close enough to the truth.
“He informed me that there were many weapons being shipped down to Jedda at this time of the year –utilising the caravans for Hajj pilgrims as a cover. He believed these weapons to be bound for the Khalifa’s forces in the Sudan, via the Red Sea.”
Mycroft sipped his whisky, swirling it around in his mouth.
“And so you thought you might undertake a little meddling along the way.”
“I thought,” said Holmes, “That as my acquaintance could supply no certain details, a few enquiries might make the journey slightly more stimulating. My command of the Farsi language was adequate, if not perfect, and from my time in the East I had gained a tanned, weathered look. My, shall we say hawkish, profile added to the imposture. Accordingly I set out as a Persian of a taciturn nature.
“I joined a group of merchants who were heading for Ha’il, a city which lies on the central trail for the Hajj. Apart from a desultory attack by tribesmen which left one of our company slightly wounded, the journey was without incident. In Ha’il, I learned a number of useful facts from the few Persians in the city, and from a French diplomat who had a sour view of the country.
“’The whole of Arabia is awash with plotting and trafficking, with every faction against all others, despite their brief alliances.’ The Frenchman, a M’sieur LeForet, coughed into his handkerchief. ‘The air is dry, the water undrinkable, and the flies… mon Dieu. But no guns come through here from Baghdad, to my knowledge. You must look elsewhere.’
“I therefore obtained a recent map, and considered the options. There was an established pilgrim route running south from the Syrian city of Damascus, all the way down past Medina and on to Mecca through the area called the Hejaz.
“If there were guns of any quality to be had, it seemed reasonable that they would come from the great munitions factories of Europe, perhaps via the ports of the Levant. Then at Damascus they would be infiltrated into the caravans. I could join that road by striking west and pausing in the vicinity of Medina as the caravans passed.
“However, I did not speak Arabic. The solution was to hire a dragoman, one of those guides and interpreters who pepper the Ottoman lands. Seeking such a one, I began to frequent the western gate of Ha’il where they gathered.
“On the second day I chanced upon two European men, French again in fact, seeking someone to take them back north. A dragoman of Levantine appearance was attempting to persuade them that they should engage him. His argument faltered on his lack of testimonials, and eventually they moved away. I, however, was taken by the attitude of the youth (for he could not have been more than eighteen or nineteen years of age). He was polite, bright of eye and seemed to know his subject.
“I went over and asked him in English if he would consider acting as my guide and interpreter. Surveying my Persian clothes, he nodded.
“’Of course, effendi. To which places do you wish to go?’ His voice was light and pleasant, and he spoke English with hardly an accent.
“’I wish to journey to Jedda, but via Medina.’
“’You are not Mahometan, I presume, effendi?’
“I confessed that I was not. The young dragoman was unperturbed.
“’What tongues do you have?’ he asked.
“I admitted that I had only Farsi (it seemed irrelevant to mention my smattering of Tibetan). On learning that I did not wish to be noticed, he suggested that when we left Ha’il, I should carry myself off as a minor sufi, which is one of their desert philosophers. My utterances then could be short, and if they did not please or make full sense, they would be taken as wisdom.”
Mycroft took a small tin out of his jacket pocket and retrieved a Turkish sweet, popping it between whisky-damped lips.
“Much as in London then, Sherlock,” he said.
S F Bennett and a Cunning Diary
We were delighted last year to have a neat guest post from Sarah, concerning an intriguing bit of historical reality – the story (and illustrations) of the troubled artist Louis Wain (1860-1939).
This was part of our ongoing Edwardian Arcane explorations.
She now has a novel out, which we’ll introduce here, but cover in more detail in a later post, as we’re still reading it. It’s called The Secret Diary of Mycroft Holmes: The Thoughts and Reminiscences of Sherlock Holmes’s Elder Brother, 1880-1888, and is again from Belanger Books.
“Thus begins Mycroft Holmes’s valiant, if irregular, attempt to chronicle his doings. Rediscovered in 1976 and now fully translated from an obscure code, Mycroft’s diaries reveal that a brother’s lot is not always a happy one, especially when that brother happens to be London’s only consulting detective. In this humorous look at the world of Sherlock Holmes through Mycroft’s eyes, between avoiding amorous cleaning ladies and eccentric family members, appeasing hopeless artists and budding novelists, keeping the peace at the Diogenes and minding doting dogs, one question always remains: will Sherlock ever get a proper job?”
Hopefully we’ll have a full feature on this and some other Holmesian works during the Summer. For now, you can look up a copy of The Secret Diary of Mycroft Holmes through either Amazon UK or Amazon US.
Both volumes of Holmes Away From Home, Adventures From the Great Hiatus are also available.
Here are the links for Volume I: 1891-1892
A Less Illustrious Client
And to finish, for those interested here’s the briefest glimpse from the novella A Study in Grey, which not only guest stars Holmes, but also wraps up ‘The Case of the Illustrious Client’, some years later.
“Some authors create names for a story, this author fills them with life and personality. I loved the controlled sense of suspense, and the sheer wit.” (Amazon)
“Grant masterfully weaves together these two seemingly dissonant fictional realms: the “no ghosts need apply” world of Sherlock Holmes and Carnacki’s, where ghosts not only apply — they prove worthy of the job.” (Amazon)
Be warned that it has certain psychic elements to it – but never in such a way as to cross Holmes’ own views, or influence his actions.
Blake’s revolver was awake before his brain. His body had heard something in the lodge, his mind followed as quickly as it could. He was still at the kitchen table, his feet resting on the other chair. Through slitted eyes he took in the darkness, extended his hearing.
A soft footstep in the hallway. Someone was moving towards the kitchen. He balanced the revolver on one forearm, slid it round so it pointed at the door…
“Good evening, Captain Blake.”
“God in heaven!” Blake lowered his gun. “There is a d-d-doorbell, Mr Holmes.”
“And if you were already compromised?”
Blake rose and switched the light on. A single stark bulb. “I d-d-didn’t expect you to come up.”
Holmes, shabbily dressed in an old tweed coat, looked pointedly at the chair occupied by Blake’s stockinged feet.
“Oh. Yes, sit down.” He sat up properly and began to put his boots back on.
“Your communications leave a lot to be desired, captain.”
“Rather b-b-busy, actually.”
The detective began to tamp tobacco into a stained pipe.
“Yes, well. You’ve made a start, I suppose.”
Should you feel so inclined, a link to the Kindle version of A Study in Grey can be found on the right-hand sidebar.