Read an Excerpt
The Oriental Casebook of Sherlock Holmes
Nine Adventures from the Lost Years
By Ted Riccardi
PEGASUS BOOKS Copyright © 2003 Ted Riccardi
All rights reserved.
THE VICEROY'S ASSISTANT
For several weeks after his return to London, my friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes had once again begun to evince those symptoms of melancholic lethargy which had led me on occasions past to increased apprehension about his mental health. He rarely ventured out from our quarters in Baker Street, consumed almost nothing despite Mrs. Hudson's stern admonitions, and spent most of the day staring idly into space. Occasionally, he would pick up his violin, tune it slowly, and attempt some mournful piece by Mendelssohn, but at the slightest rebellion from the instrument, he would put it down and throw himself onto the sofa, sometimes finally falling into a deep sleep. His only moments of enthusiasm came when the morning paper arrived. He scoured it quickly, his eyes hungrily searching for something that could satisfy his restless brain. Alas, however, most of the crime was of the most ordinary variety, and the absence of intelligent design behind any of it was apparent to him at once.
"I have destroyed my enemies, Watson," he said one morning over breakfast, "and in so doing I have perhaps destroyed myself. Look at this: a bank robbery in Charing Cross, a man has murdered his adulterous wife in Oxford, and several drums of fertiliser have disappeared from a factory in Whitechapel. What is to be done?"
"Holmes," I said, "perhaps we should take an extended trip to the Continent. The grey weather in London is causing a melancholic state in you that—"
But he already seemed lost in his usual silence and vacant stare, and I knew by now not to irritate him when he was in such a mood. I looked with dread also at his return to the use of cocaine, which, as far as I was able to judge, he had been able to avoid until now.
Unexpectedly, he said, "You are right, Watson. A change would be most welcome, but I haven't the energy for the Continent. Let us begin with a walk and then perhaps take in a concert. Sarasate is playing this afternoon, and if he is in form it will be worth our while."
The stroll through St. James's seemed to do him some good and after the concert we again walked, this time through Hyde Park. It was just before dinner when we returned. As we entered, I noticed that Holmes had left a window open and that a pile of papers had blown off his desk. I reached down to pick them up and in so doing my eye was caught by a note written in a most vigorous hand. It read:
My dear Holmes,
My gratitude for your help in the sad Maxwell affair. You have served your country well and have in no small way helped to preserve peace in the Empire. I wish you every success upon your return to England.
The note filled me with the greatest surprise and interest. At dinner, I said: "My dear Holmes, you have never told me of your journey to India."
He looked up vaguely, but I could see a slight gleam appear in his eye.
"Ah, you found the note from Lord Curzon."
I nodded. "Indeed, I did," said I with some annoyance, "and I must say that I am confounded. You have never let me know anything of an adventure in which you helped to preserve the peace of the Empire."
"It was a most delicate matter, Watson, and even now only Lord Curzon and I know the details, and, if I may say so, in all probability I know more than he. If I tell you the story, Watson, you will be the third to know. I think it should be a long time before you bring it to public attention, however. The tensions between nations remain, and several parties still living bear the wounds of what was a most grisly affair."
He had begun to warm to his subject, and I could see that he was eager to relate to me what for him had been a most interesting case. The vague, faraway look in his eyes was gone, and he appeared once again engaged with a worthy opponent, if only in memory.
"Of course," I said, "I shall bring nothing of this to public notice until you think it appropriate."
"Very well, my dear Watson, listen then. It will probably do me some good as well, for, lacking a new problem, I could do worse than retrace the steps of some of my most difficult cases of the past. In this way, I shall at least keep my brain alive until something interesting appears here in London."
We moved from the dinner table to our comfortable chairs in the living room. Holmes lit his pipe after removing it from his slipper and began, his eyes bright now, his voice composed.
"I suppose, Watson, that I had better go back and review my travels after the death of Moriarty. You will recall that I had mentioned to you on a previous occasion that I had journeyed to Tibet where I spent two years with the head lama."
"Yes, indeed," said I. "You travelled under the name of a Norwegian by the name of Sigerson. You then went on to Persia, visited Mecca, and then went to Khartoum, I believe."
"Exactly. You have a good memory, Watson. There was of course far more to my stay in that part of the world than I related to you. That I journeyed to Persia and Arabia is, of course, true, but I travelled by a most circuitous route. Upon leaving Lhasa, I gave up the disguise of Sigerson. As you know, Watson, I have a certain facility with languages. I had picked up a good deal of Tibetan in the monasteries and even studied the ancient Tibetan practice of concentrating bodily heat. It is a most useful and extraordinary technique, which I can still perform on occasion. Indeed, it saved me from two serious misadventures in the mountains from which I might have frozen to death. In any case, I donned a lama's outfit and travelled with a merchant's caravan on the old trade route south, arriving after a few weeks in the valley of Nepal, where I rested in that most pleasant place at a Buddhist shrine atop a hill overlooking the city of Katmandu. Were it not for its xenophobic rulers, Watson, I have often thought of retiring to that idyllic spot, for I know of no better place than there to spend one's declining years. To do it now of course one would have to remain forever as a lama or in some other appropriate disguise, for the present ruler, the Rana, does not tolerate easily the presence of foreigners. Although keeping my disguise at all times, I did identify myself at one point to the British Resident, Mr. Richardson, and was able on one occasion to help him out of strange difficulties. That was the case of Hodgson's ghost. Another case concerned the bizarre troubles of a French savant recently arrived from Paris to study ancient inscriptions in the Sanscrit tongue."
Holmes stopped to puff on his pipe. He eventually left Katmandu, he continued, and headed south towards India. Once across the border, he journeyed to Benares, where he deepened his studies of Oriental body techniques.
"I found that after a few months of concentration I could control my breathing and heart rate to such an extent that even you, Watson, might declare me dead on your usual diagnosis."
"Extraordinary," I exclaimed.
"Yes, dear doctor, extraordinary indeed. I have used these techniques with great success on many occasions, for in my line of work, one can never foretell when such knowledge may be of use."
"And how did you acquire these techniques?" I asked.
"Diligence, of course, and a bit of luck in finding the right teacher. My interests are in the main practical, Watson, as you know. Whatever the metaphysical foundations of Indian science are, I am of course uninterested. Give me a technique, however, that will contribute to the success of my work, and I become a tireless pupil. Thus, yoga, Watson, the practical aspect of Indian science, became valuable to me: first, in the aforementioned power to feign death; second in the ability to improve the science of disguise, to the point where the illusions created could be assumed without makeup or physical disguise of any kind. My purpose was of course a simple one: to keep alive in India, and in England once I returned, for unless I increased my arsenal of tricks, sooner or later one of my dedicated enemies would doubtless do me in."
Holmes already possessed a profound knowledge of disguise, as I well knew, having fallen victim to his impersonations many times in the past. In Benares he found the teacher through whom he could expand these techniques. His name was Shailendra Sharma. One of the great masters of the holy city, he lived on a dirt road not far from the place known as Lanka. At their first meeting he asked what Holmes's intentions were. Holmes spoke frankly.
"I told him who I was, since I knew it would go no further, and my desire to use the knowledge he imparted to fight the evils of crime. Before my eyes he suddenly became twenty years younger, with a completely different face.
"'Like this,'" he said, "and I knew that I had found what I required."
Holmes soon needed to rely far less on wigs and changes of clothes. The raising of an eyebrow, furrows in the brow, the ability to change the shape of the eyes at will, to draw the nose in or push it out, all these practices were communicated to him.
"The body itself is changed by yoga, Watson. A thin man can become stout and a stout one thin. After a few months of committed practice, I could remove a foot from my height without appearing hunched and could add several inches to it if I so desired without appearing unnatural. Breath control allowed me to change my complexion so that I could within a moment appear dark or light in colour. Yoga became for me the key to disguise and illusion."
As I listened to his narration, I became aware that Holmes had actually changed form as I watched. His face became rounder, his long neck disappeared into his shoulders, his stomach protruded, his eyes widened, his cheeks rounded. Unexpectedly, I found myself staring at a solid, red-faced member of the English working class, rather than the elegant and slender gentleman I took to be my friend. I watched then as the rotund Englishman transformed himself quickly and imperceptibly, through minute movements of his face, into a swarthy Indian Brahman.
Holmes laughed at the shocked expression on my face as he took his own form and said, "In this there is no magic, Watson, but only committed practise and attention to detail. I was now able to move at will in two worlds: the Oriental and the English."
Holmes's rather long introduction to the tale fascinated me, showing aspects of my friend's interests and personality long hidden from me. His face then sobered.
"But I knew that some of my enemies would invariably learn these yogic techniques as well," he said. "There were several students in Benares under the tutelage of a far more aggressive teacher, a master named Senapati Raja. Some of these students I suspected of evil intentions. Their training, however, was among the most thorough. Long hours of yoga, followed by hand-to-hand combat; those who survived the regimen were very few. One part of their training I saw with my own eyes. Several times a week I would spend the morning hours at the ghats on the Ganges. On several occasions I saw young men come to the shore, with hands in chains and great weights on their feet. I saw them swim rapidly across the river many times before pulling themselves out exhausted. Some of them had been able to swim faster than the great Ganges dolphin, the chief denizen of the river. Whoever these students were, I knew that they would make formidable opponents. Indeed, as I left Benares, I came into contact with one of them in what I shall describe presently as an unusual incident."
After months of this most diligent study, he said, he had acquired what he needed, and he yearned for social intercourse with some of his own kind. Knowing that he must still be on guard lest his enemies learn of his existence, he determined to go to Calcutta, where he thought he might reveal himself to some of his countrymen and thereby spend a few moments in the more gracious mansions of British India. And so, still in disguise, this time as a Hindoo mendicant, he bade farewell to his teacher and took a rickshaw to Mughal Sarai, where he was to board the Toofan Express that would take him overnight to the capital of our Indian Empire.
As his rickshaw pulled into the station, however, he felt a face in the crowd staring at him. He soon saw that it was the face of a fakir, someone unfamiliar to him at first, except his eyes had had a familiar implacable look of evil in them. Naked except for a loincloth, the holy man was covered with ashes from head to toe. His hands and feet were bound, and a chain from a neck collar attached his hands to his feet in a tight bunch. He appeared therefore incapable of motion of any kind, except for the shuffling of his feet and the grasping movement of his fingers.
"Or so it seemed, Watson, for suddenly this repulsive creature, by sheer force of will, propelled himself high into the air, landing next to me in the rickshaw. He stared at me hard for a moment, his contorted face almost touching mine, then jumped out with a resounding laugh, and with several incredible jumps, disappeared into the crowd. Most disagreeable it was, Watson, and even more so, since I was certain that I had seen that face among the Ganges swimmers, and possibly before. As I boarded the train, I began the search in my memory for this man, for his look told me that I was no longer alone in India."
I was by now thoroughly engrossed in Holmes's adventure. I had myself served in our military forces in Afghanistan many years before and had always hoped to visit the eastern ramparts under our jurisdiction.
"I won't bore you with details of the city of Calcutta, Watson. Suffice it to say that once one overcomes one's revulsion at the native squalour and becomes accustomed to the humid pungency of the Bengal climate, Calcutta appears a large teeming metropolis, with most unusual possibilities for crime and evil."
Once arrived, he threw off his disguise, and again became an Englishman. He created for himself a new personality and occupation. He became Roger Lloyd-Smith, recently arrived from London as a representative of a firm of chemists, Redfern and Russell, Kingsway, Finsbury, London. He took a room in one of the insignificant small hotels off the Chowringhee, and decided to enjoy the delights of this large city.
"I knew of no one there, save Reginald Maxwell—"
"The Reginald Maxwell?" I interrupted.
"I see," said Holmes, "that the case did have a certain notoriety even here in London."
"It is still a mystery to most of us. His death occurred so prematurely—"
"Yes, Watson, and I shall relate to you how and under what bizarre circumstances."
Reggie, later of course Sir Reginald, and he, he said, were schoolmates and later attended university together. After university, they grew apart but corresponded occasionally. Reginald wrote at one point that he had entered His Majesty's Foreign Office, that he had married, and that he probably would be serving for a number of years in distant parts of the Empire, most probably Africa and India. He was, if not one of our most intelligent diplomats, at least a man of charm and industry, and his qualities became rapidly known to Lord Curzon, who, shortly after his appointment as Viceroy, asked him to serve as his personal assistant.
"You may well imagine, Watson, what a step forwards this was in the man's career: to serve so closely to such a strong and important individual, the representative of the King-Emperor in the Indian Subcontinent."
Holmes stopped for moment to empty his pipe. The name he had chosen, Roger Lloyd-Smith, was of course no accident, he said. It was the name of a third schoolmate with whom Maxwell and he had been fairly close. They had spent many hours together at snooker. It was under this name that he thought he would write a short note, knowing that Maxwell would be equally happy to see Roger, who, if Holmes's information was still correct, was living happily outside London, working for Redfern and Russell, blissfully unaware that he was about to visit Lord Curzon's assistant.
"I therefore wrote Reginald, explaining to him that I was passing through Calcutta on my way to the Levant on business and that I hoped we might meet, if only briefly. He would of course recognise me instantly, but my true identity would be preserved until we were face-to-face. The following morning I received a reply to my note:
So happy you are here. Come to my office at four tomorrow. I shall send a cab. It will be so good to see you.
It was a most welcome relief to Holmes not to have to travel by rickshaw from the hotel. Reginald's office was in a wing of Government headquarters, a little distant from the Viceroy's own offices. He had only a moment's wait after his arrival before he was led to his old friend. The peon left, and as Holmes greeted him. Reggie gasped and turned pale.
"Good lord! I don't believe it. Holmes! My dear chap, is it you? I thought you were dead!"
"A double surprise, eh?" said Holmes.
"Excuse me, Holmes, I am so taken aback by your presence that you will forgive me if I sit down. I was of course expecting Smith, a surprise in itself, but to see you, Holmes—and here, of all places."
Holmes explained to him in brief what had transpired over the last several years and his reasons for wishing to preserve the impression that he was no longer alive, and his desire to spend a few days among his countrymen after long isolation in Tibet, the Himalayas, and India itself.
Excerpted from The Oriental Casebook of Sherlock Holmes by Ted Riccardi. Copyright © 2003 Ted Riccardi. Excerpted by permission of PEGASUS BOOKS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.