Sherlock Stud

The Memoir of the Dervish Curse

by Edmund Holmes

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In an earlier account of detection was an encounter in a slum area of the East End with an evil assassin, a torture-maimed and dirt-smeared dervish fellah whose cryptic death rattle curse was not germane to the narration of the case then but was recalled this summer in Holmes' associative memory, "that vengeance would be upon us before the equinox where the elephant's trunk drinks from two rivers," recited the detective.

"What made you think of that, after all this time, Holmes?" I asked.

"This account in The London Times of the fatua against the explorer, Sir Richard Burton, for his translation of erotic tales from the Arabic. An edict exhorting his assassination is alarming!

"Absolutely. Most unEnglish of that government to deny the freedom to write and publish. under punishment of death by assassination."

"And so is this despatch sent to the Royal Geographical Society Journal about the Mahdist domination now extending from central Egypt to the southern Sudan. That's the length of Europe! From John o' Groat's to Gibraltar, Watson."

"So, what do you suppose is the significance of these news items, anyway?"

"Enough importance to despatch a note to Mycroft to forewarn the War Office of an imminent jihad, a Muslim holy uprising of the dervishes under the Mahdi at Khartoum in the Sudan!"

"Why do you suppose that is to happen, Holmes?"

"That curse of the dervish under his last breath, Watson," recalled Holmes.

"That assassin would have been a devotee of the Mahdi, the Islamic dictator. The autumn equinox is next month and the place name of "the elephant's trunk" in Arabic is Khartoum, where the Blue and White Nile rivers curve together. I'll write this warning of the Mahdi's impending jihad, his Pax Britannia avenging onslaught, for Mycroft to give to the Foreign Secretary."

"And the Royal Army," I added as Holmes wrote out a note, enclosed it in an envelope and called Mrs. Hudson to request her to post the letter to Mycroft Holmes.

He came back to the table and poured himself and me a dram of brandy, making a tentative toast, "Now we can wait for our forced military response to change events, hopefully, from totalitarian terrorism by fundamentalist warlord fanatics, to rational, democratic Anglo-Egyptian governance in the Sudan, into the next century, Watson."

When we were walking up the Strand a fortnight later, Holmes bought a Times newspaper from a barker, calling out, "Kitchener triumphs! Victory in the Sudan! The 21st Lancers defeat the dervishes in a cavalry charge at Omdurman! Khartoum retaken!" The crier was vindicated as we read the account over tea in a nearby cafe:

"Khartoum, Sudan, 2 September 1898: An Anglo-Egyptian force commanded by General Sir Herbert Kitchener today defeated a massive army of dervishes in a pitched battle outside Omdurman, killing at least 10,000 dervishes and fuzzy wuzzys. Of the 26,000 half British and half Egyptian troops, only 500 have been killed. General George Gordon of Khartoum, the military governor, killed by dervishes 14 years ago on the steps of the customs house of the capital, has been avenged. The dervishes attacked with savage and noble courage, falling in hordes to Kitchener's Maxim guns. Then Herbert Kitchener ordered a counter attack towards Omdurman and nearly lost the day when dervishes charged his rear. Only the equally noble and savage courage of the Sudanese Brigade saved the day. The battle ended in a cloud of dust, blinding all combatants, as the 21st Lancers charged over open ground in a frontal attack on dervishes holding broken land of the rocky desert. If the large dervish force there did not happen to be leaving, so that the Lancers charged into nothing, the cavalry's lances would have slaughtered them. As it was, the dervish rearguard sniped off 25% of the daring, perhaps last, great cavalry charge led by a young officer named Winston Churchill, who as a reporter and author, has begun his account of The River War. With the battle over today, Kitchiner boasted, "I think we have given them a good dusting," forgetting he was nearly overrun from behind."

"Well, its good that you put together a couple of disparate news reports and an old dervish curse, that has reverted on him as but a death wish for their jihad," I remarked.

"Yes, you might say that assassin's curse presaged their own holy annihilation, Watson, and Mycroft seems to have done his duty, for the good of peace and Empire," Holmes smiled, slipping into a reverie, sipping from his cup of hot tea, seeming to feel some satisfaction in the salubrious secret we have since silently shared.

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Edmund Holmes of the London of the West, has taught English Literature and Film-making, travel driving throughout GB and the US South, entraining often through Europe. His interest in art history and archaeology has inspired master painting subject representation and historical topic photo-collages. Holmes' recent writing has been of sonnets and Sherlockian pastiches. You can email Edmund Holmes with your comments or questions. This work is copyrighted © 1999 by Edmund Holmes. My deep thanks to Edmund for allowing me to publish this work on Yoxley Old Place.

Note: This web version first appeared on 'Yoxley Old Place'

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