“The Adventure of the Pharaoh’s Sceptre” (excerpt)

This was written in December 2001 as a gift for a then-girlfriend. To write it, I read about two dozen of Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes stories in a week, immersing myself in the style. When it was done, I placed it in an envelope claiming to be from a group called “The Sherlock Holmes Society” and mailed it to her under the guise that it was a newly-discovered manuscript from Doyle himself. For the record, it took me about ten minutes to convince her I’d written it.

I’m publishing only an excerpt of the story here, in hopes that I may someday get it into an anthology of Holmesian pastiches.

Extra credit if you can spot the Evil Dead II reference.

In choosing which of the cases of my friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes I chronicle for posterity, I am often varied in my criteria. Sometimes I believe I can draw interest through the principal actors in the drama, if they are of high enough station or notoriety, and not adverse to their story being told. At other times, and this is more to Mr. Holmes’ way of thinking, the case is remarkable in its bizarre details and complexity, rather than its mean participants. Finally there are, on occasion, times, adventures in which it is the object in question that makes the case most interesting. Such was the strange case of the Pharaoh’s Sceptre.

The adventure occurred when I was still a lodger at Baker Street, before I met my wife in the case of the Sign of Four. It was mid-September, and one of the dreariest months I can recall. Fog encircled the town like a wraith, and a premature winter chill drew coughs from the population. Even Holmes, whose strong constitution I had always admired, found himself reaching for his handkerchief from time to time. It had been several days since Holmes had a caller. I kept myself amused with novels and the morning papers, and even ventured out on a trip to a play, though I could not, despite my most pitiable entreaties, convince my friend to join me.

When I returned from the play around six o’clock, my soul somewhat refreshed by laughter (for it had been a comedy), I found Holmes in conversation with a client.

“Ah, Watson, your entrance is, as always, most timely,” said Holmes, gesturing me toward a chair. “Nothing gives me more pleasure than to hear your opinion of my cases, and this one may prove most interesting, at least in its details. May I present Professor Raymond Knowby, of the Ægyptian wing of the British Museum. I suspect you already know some details of his little problem from the papers. Professor, this is my associate Dr. Watson. You may say anything before him that you would say to me.”

The man stood nervously and shook my hand, with a little bow. He was about five feet tall, with a bald head fringed with greying hair. I put his age at about forty-five. He peered at us over half-rimmed spectacles, and had a large mustache with ends that dangled below his chin. He wore a crisp tweed suit with a red cravat, and held his hat in his hands. But what struck me most was his health. He seemed very feverish, and I nearly asked to administer to him on the spot. His face was flushed and his brow covered in sweat, and he mopped both constantly with his soaked handkerchief. His speech was filled with stutters and stammers, as if he were suffering from some mental affliction. His behavior seemed a marked contrast to his scholarly position.

“Since you have just started your narrative, Professor, I wonder if you might not begin again, for the good doctor’s sake.”

“Certainly,” Knowby said. “You must forgive my present condition, doctor, for as I was telling Mr. Holmes, I have come down sick recently, and I suspect I have little hope of recovering from it. But that will be explained in my story.

“The trouble began about one month ago, when one of our agents returned from Ægypt with a large bundle of artifacts. You may heave heard, doctor, of the Deir el-Bahri Cache, a trove of ancient Ægyptian artifacts that was unearthed about ten years ago by Gaston Maspero, head of the Antiquities Service in Cairo. Well, one of the ways we learned about the Cache was by purchasing a surprising number of ancient artifacts through the Ægyptian black market, presumably stolen by expert grave robbers. Ever since then the Museum has, on occasion, employed several of these grave robbers, though I have always found it a rather distasteful affair. They are often excellent guides and have led to many discoveries, if they can be convinced our offers are better than what they could make selling the artifacts on the black market. We have kept agents in Ægypt, always watching the black market for interesting items. Well, one such agent was Jakob Stal. He was one of our best agents, but his success, I suspect, stemmed from his tendency toward unsavoury methods and questionable companions. This Stal, a hulking Swede, returned from Ægypt with a fairly impressive bundle. Most astonishing was a long golden sceptre, three feet long and topped with a flat stone marked by a hieroglyph, an ancient Ægyptian symbol. I have reason to believe the sceptre may have belonged to Ramses II himself!”

– – End of Excerpt – –

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