SEXTON BLAKE AND THE CURSE OF OZYMANDIAS
by John Hall © 1999
It was December, 1926; the end of a year which had seen not merely the
general strike but also several difficult cases for his 'guv'nor', and
Tinker was ready for his
Christmas holiday. There was, however, one problem, and Tinker was
sitting in the consulting room at Baker Street, apparently staring idly
into the blazing fire, but
actually mulling that problem over in his head. He sat there for a long
time, then let out a loud sigh.
"Soon be Christmas, guv'nor," he told his employer.
Sexton Blake smiled and selected a particularly ripe pipe from the rack beside his chair. "You feel that you can now give your undivided attention to the enjoyment of the festive season, is that it?"
"Something like that," admitted Tinker. "Though I'd be happier if ..." and he broke off and stared, embarrassed, at the snow which drifted against the window.
"If we were not spending yet another Christmas around the same old festive hearth, eh?"
"No, no! Nothing like that, guv'nor!" Tinker paused, then went on, rather wistfully, "Though it might've been nice to have been asked somewhere."
"I have been, as a matter of fact." said Blake casually, lighting his pipe.
"Oh!" Tinker hesitated. "Oh... well... if you have..." and Tinker hesitated once more, "I mean, of course, you must... I mean, I'll be fine here, what with Mrs Bardell, and... and..."
"And Pedro?" enquired Blake, indicating the great bloodhound, who pricked up his ears at the sound of his name, then went back to his own thoughts before the roaring fire.
"Yes, Pedro, and..."
"And you were asked too, of course."
"Oh! Oh, well!" Tinker cheered up quite considerably at this news. "If I might inquire, guv', who's asked us?"
"The Earl of Knightsbridge."
"Blimey! The Egyptian geezer? Owns half of London?"
"You sum it up neatly, if in a somewhat misleading and ungrammatical fashion," agreed Blake.
"Oh, I know he isn't Egyptian, but you know what I mean. He's been in all the papers."
Blake nodded, for it had indeed been difficult to miss the press coverage of Lord Knightsbridge. Like Carnarvon a few years Earlier, Knightsbridge had financed archaeological digs in Egypt; and, like Carnarvon, had come to public notice with a spectacular find: the undisturbed tomb of some king or priest — academic opinions differed here.
An injudicious remark from a junior assistant, inspired alike by the discovery, the Egyptian sun, and a few too many gins and no tonics, had lead the popular press to identify the tomb as belonging to Rameses II, that "Ozymandias" of whom Shelley wrote. In vain did the senior archaeologist, Ronald Hayter, dismiss the rumour and its originator alike; in vain did Hayter point out that the mummy of Rameses II had been discovered at Deir-el-Bahari in 1881, and that this more recent discovery could not be identified accurately.
So far as the popular newspapers were concerned, it was the tomb, the mummy and, above all, the treasure of Ozymandias (or 'Ozzy' or 'Oz', depending on the degree of degeneracy of the particular paper) which Hayter and Knightsbridge had found. For treasure there was, make no mistake about that; gold, in vast quantities, now reposing in Cairo museum.
"Gold," said Tinker, half aloud, as he stared into the glowing coals.
"In vast quantities," said Blake with a smile, quoting from the Times, which had unbent so far as to quote a verse of Shelley's poem.
Tinker rubbed his hands together. "I wonder what Egypt's like in December, guv'?"
"The current climatic status of the region eludes me for the moment," Blake admitted. "In any event, it is irrelevant to us, for we are invited to Knightsbridge's country house in Oxfordshire."
"Oh, over here for Christmas, is he? Still, I expect there'll be plenty to eat and drink, and what have you."
"Without a doubt," said Blake. "But we must not overdo it. Not when we're working."
"It would be pleasant to be asked to so august a gathering for ourselves, I agree, but I fear that we can scarcely flatter ourselves that such is the present case," said Blake. "No, the invitation said nothing of the kind, but I rather fancy that we have been asked along to investigate something or the other."
Blake was, of course, exactly right. He and Tinker arrived promptly to find Lord Knightsbridge, a tall man, some forty years old, in sole possession of Pimlico Towers, his ancestral home.
"There'll be others along later," said the Earl, with a vague wave of his hand. "Not a large party, but it should be interesting. But... well Blake, the plain fact is that I wanted a private word with you before they arrive."
"Ah! I rather suspected as much."
The Earl looked as embarrassed as he could. "Unforgivable, I know," he said, with an attempt at a laugh. "And I'll quite understand if you want to turn round and go home, or alternatively if you want to remain, but merely as a guest... not bother with my little problem. Yes, unforgivable, but I simply couldn't think what else to do, you see."
"You could have consulted me in the usual way," Blake pointed out.
"I thought of that, believe me. It's just... well, it's that I find it so difficult to define my... my fears."
"Fears?" said Blake quickly.
"Oh, I like to think I've as much courage, physical courage, as the next fellow. But — look here, Blake... and you, Mr &mdash"
"Tinker, your lordship."
"— Mr Tinker... the fact is —" and Knightsbridge broke off, took out a silk handkerchief, and mopped his face, despite the fact that they were talking in the library where the fire had only just been lit and where snow flakes were drifting against the windows. He paused, then in a rush: "Look here, Blake, the plain truth is that I think I may be going mad."
"I'm not a practicing doctor, my lord," said Blake gently.
"No, no. I have asked Sir James Muldoon along for the holiday, the nerve man, you know."
"I understand he had had great success with 'shell-shock' cases," said Blake.
"That's the chap. He should know... well..."
"Just so. That being the case, what do you think I might do to help? Needless to say, if I can, I will."
"Damned good of you, Blake." Knightsbridge suddenly shivered, and looked round the room in some annoyance. "I should have told them to light the fire in here Earlier, but then I've only just recently arrived. Always a bit of a hiccup. It will be brighter, warmer, tomorrow." He laughed, obviously embarrassed. "I won't keep you long, now, then we can all find a warmer spot. The thing is, Sir James will give his opinion, that's fair enough, if it's — you know — then so be it. But if not, then I'd like you to give me your opinion." And he looked at Blake significantly.
"Ah. So you suspect that it is not simple insanity, but something more sinister yet?"
Knightsbridge shrugged his shoulders. "There's no reason, you see. No family history of madness — oh, we've had a few eccentrics, who hasn't? But nothing worse. And it's not as if I take dope, or even drink to excess like some chaps I know. Don't even smoke, apart from an after-dinner cigar once a week. I haven't been ill, or anything like that, either. So I'm at a loss to account for it."
Tinker mumbled something incoherent.
"Sorry?" said Knightsbridge. "Didn't quite catch that."
"I was thinking — nonsense, of course — but the papers all said something about a curse," said Tinker reluctantly.
For the first time since they had met him, Knightsbridge threw back his head and laughed aloud. "Oh, 'The Curse of Ozymandias', is that it? All in capitals, to boot, if you go by the newspapers. The publicity was not entirely unacceptable, but no, I take no account of the curse, Mr Tinker."
"And yet there have been... odd happenings," murmured Blake, staring at the snow flakes outside the window.
"Oh, there was a curse carved in the door alright," agreed Knightsbridge. "Pretty standard, a warning not to rob the tomb, that kind of thing. They have 'em, you know, the tombs."
"Oh, yes. They mean about as much as does "Keep off the grass" over here. And people take as much notice of them. What would have been of some significance, some use, would have been the name of the old fellow, but that had regrettably been defaced. His family probably fell from favour, and some later pharaoh tried to expunge his memory. Again, quite common."
"And the curse? The press reports?" prompted Blake. "The young man who released the story to the press, who christened — if the word is appropriate — the tomb's occupant? I understood that he had taken his own life?"
Knightsbridge frowned. "He did, the silly — sorry, shouldn't say that. The strict fact was, he was a touch too fond of lifting the elbow, if you follow me, and the climate out there makes that dangerous. That was the cause of the 'Ozymandias' nonsense in the first place, if you ask me. And then perhaps Hayter was a bit rough on him, should have let him off with a good talking-to."
"And there was a curator at the Cairo museum?" said Blake.
"Oh, Lord! Perfectly natural. He was about eighty."
"Sixty-two, if the Times report was accurate."
"He looked older. And he hadn't been well. The doctors were satisfied, I assure you." Knightsbridge shrugged. "What is more to the point, he told me that in the forty years since he graduated he had personally dug up two dozen mummies, and assisted in investigating almost a hundred more, together with their tombs. And all of them — all of them, Blake — protected by exactly the same sort of curse as our chap. Now, why hadn't any of the others worked?"
Blake's shoulders mirrored Knightsbridge's shrug. "You dismiss it entirely, then?"
"I do," said Knightsbridge firmly. "The Carnarvon business started the rot, made people more inclined to believe 'our' curse."
"So we dismiss the curse, and we dismiss insanity," said Blake. "What does that leave us with?"
"I'm damned if I know," said Knightsbridge. "One has such fancies, of course, but... and then perhaps it's a symptom of — of whatever it is — look here, Blake, could it be foul play of some sort? I hate to suggest to damnable a possibility, but... could it?"
Blake took out his pipe. "Do you object? Thanks. Tell me, what are the symptoms of this trouble of yours?"
"That's just it, it's so vague," said Knightsbridge, mopping his brow again. "A kind of black horror, oppression or depression or whatever you call it. An intermittent sort of fever — I'm starting with it now, I think."
"Something like malaria, perhaps?"
"I've certainly been in regions where malaria occurs," agreed Knightsbridge, "but no such diagnosis has been made, and the symptoms are not what you would expect. And then..." and he broke off.
"The plain fact is, Blake, I... I sometimes lose time."
"Sorry, I put that badly, I mean that I sometimes find myself... elsewhere, so to speak. As if I'd been sleepwalking, then woken up. Except this is through the day. I'll suddenly become aware that I'm in a different place from where I remember being last. And when I look at my watch, I find that it's later than I can account for, sometimes only a few minutes, but sometimes half an hour, an hour. Two hours, on one occasion. Time I just can't account for. No memory of what I did in that time, or where I was, how I got — well, wherever I happen to find myself. Does that make sense? Not the occurrence, but my explanation, I know I'm not putting it very well —"
"You mean that, having been in here, now, let us say, you might well find yourself in the drawing room or somewhere, and it's —" Blake looked at his watch, "Half past two instead of half past one?"
"That's it in a nutshell," nodded Knightsbridge. "And —" and he broke off, and mopped his brow.
"Tell me, do you usually find yourself in the house, or outside, or both equally?"
Knightsbridge frowned. "Does it matter? Well, inside."
"Invariably? You've never woken to find yourself running stark naked through Hyde Park, or anything?"
"Hardly!" Knightsbridge managed a smile. "No, always in the house."
"Do your servants notice anything? Have they ever spoken to you, woken you up, as it were?"
"I have only the one valet at my London flat, which is where I've been recently." Knightsbridge thought. "No, he hasn't said anything about the matter — you can ask him yourself if you like; he's here with me. The servants here — well, I haven't been here for ages, just arrived last night, so they won't be able to tell you anything."
"You say this has happened in London? Not Earlier, in Egypt?"
"No — no! Now you ask, it started a few weeks back, in London, as I say. Is that significant?" And he mopped his brow yet again.
"I don't know, not yet. Look here, you're not well," said Blake. "Why not lie down for a time?"
"I think I will, at any rate until the others start to arrive. Well, Blake? Will you look into it for me?"
"Of course I will. Do you need a hand getting upstairs?"
"No, thanks, I can manage," said Knightsbridge. "As a matter of fact, I feel better just for knowing that you're taking a hand in the matter." He smiled at Blake. "And you, Mr Tinker. Much appreciated." He nodded a farewell and left them.
When Knightsbridge had gone, Blake turned his attention to his pipe, which had gone out unnoticed during the Earl's statement. When it was properly alight, hemoved his chair closer to the fire and extended his hands towards the flames. "Brr! That's better. Well, my lad, and what d'you make of his lordship's tale?"
"If it isn't the curse —" and Tinker was clearly reluctant to abandon this tempting possibility, "And if he isn't going dotty, then I'd guess that somebody's trying to poison him."
"Like that Sherlock Holmes story, 'The Devil's Foot', guv'nor," said Tinker, warming to his subject. "An African poison, that was. Might be something on those lines."
"Or South American arrow poison?"
"Curare, of course," said Tinker, smacking his lips. "Is that the stuff they make from tree frogs, or is that different?"
"Or Mexican magic mushrooms?"
"Or something simpler, like opium?" suggested Tinker. "The Earl said he didn't take dope, and if he wasn't used to it, it might send him squiffy? Odd dreams, blackouts? Opium would do it."
Blake nodded thoughtfully. "There are certainly plenty of candidates," he said. "Though that does not prove that any of them have been involved."
"But it's a sight more likely than some old curse," said Tinker with a grin.
"I concur. Which raises the question: why?"
"Money," said Tinker. "Who's the heir?"
"Knightsbridge has never been married. I think there is a niece, who would come in for the money and lands, if not the title." Blake stood up. "Time to seek out our rooms, I think. I hope they've lit fires in there."
The other guests began to arrive later that afternoon. Knightsbridge appeared to greet them, looking pale and feeling, as he himself said, 'washed out.' Blake and Tinker were on hand, and were duly introduced to the people who would be their companions for the next week or so.
First to arrive were Sir James and Lady Muldoon. He, short, stout and cheerful, sixty years old, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of, and an enviable capacity for, wines; she, tall, thin and patrician, with an unrivalled knowledge of horses and the Impressionist painters.
Then came Lady Jane Felsham, with her husband, Montague, trailing along behind. Lady Jane was Knightsbridge's niece, to whom Blake had referred Earlier, an extremely attractive woman of twenty. Mr Felsham, Monty, as he liked to be called, was some ten years older than his wife. He smoked even more than Blake, which was saying something, and he drank a good deal more than Sir James, which was saying yet more. For good measure, Monty had a nervous laugh, which drew more than one speculative glance from the renowned psychiatrist. Monty, however, was an instant hit with Lady Muldoon, who recognized a fellow horse enthusiast and could soon be heard advising him in strident tones on likely January runners and their form.
Later yet, an ancient two-seater car drew up, almost apologetically as it seemed, and disgorged an untidy young man, whom Tinker immediately recognized from the newspaper photographs as Dr Ronald Hayter, who had been directly responsible for the great discovery "Not late, am I?" said Hayter, looking round rather anxiously. "I had a paper to write, you know. And then the snow was heavier than I though. Got bogged down a couple of times." He looked out of the front door. "Looks as if we might be snowed for a day or so," he added, more cheerfully.
Finally, just as Blake and Tinker were thinking that the little party was complete, a large Bentley came sedately to a halt, and a medium sized, middle aged man got out and strode to the door, brushing the odd flake of snow from his fur coat as he did so. "Ah!" said Knightsbridge. "Come in, my dear fellow. I thought you weren't going to come."
"Nearly didn't. But I was intrigued."
Knightsbridge turned to Blake. "Mr Sexton Blake, this is Mr Cyrus Charlesworth. My old enemy."
Charlesworth laughed, but a touch uneasily, as Tinker thought. "Rivals only, Mr Blake." He regarded the detective curiously. "I had no idea you were going to be here, or I'd have arrived sooner."
The party, said Knightsbridge, was now complete. Tinker, who later that same evening made a list of those present, in an unsuccessful attempt to predict which of them might be worthy of investigation, added the names of Lady Muldoon's maid, an elderly lady with a grim expression but a sardonic sense of humour; Lady Jane's maid, eighteen years old, pretty but timid (and of whom Tinker entertained certain hopes which are irrelevant here, and which in any event came to naught); Sir James's valet, a respectable middle aged man with a taste, fortunately well suppressed, for dubious limericks; and Mr Charlesworth's chauffeur, a man of twenty or so, who, as it happens, married Lady Jane's maid some three years after the events of which we write, though that again is irrelevant. Blake, when he read these names, told Tinker to ignore them, as they were merely the usual red herrings you find with any country house crime, but Tinker, never quite sure whether Blake was entirely serious, kept the names on his list anyway.
"In any case," said Tinker, "these are all people who his lordship must think have some reason to dislike him, or want to harm him, or something? Well, we should find out a bit more at dinner, eh, guv'?"
The conversation at the dinner table was, as might be supposed, largely concerned with the Egyptian discovery.
"Magnificent!" said Charlesworth, meaning the treasure. "Of course, my special field is Mesopotamia. Mark my words, that's where the future of archaeology lies, not in Egypt."
Hayter laughed. "I'm not sure 'the future of archaeology' is a phrase I've heard before. But I do agree about the potential of Mesopotamia. In fact, I plan to do some work over there next season."
"Oh?" said Charlesworth quickly, looking not at Hayter but at Knightsbridge.
"Not with me," said Knightsbridge with a frown. "Hayter here is moving up in the world."
Charlesworth looked a question at Hayter, who looked down at his plate, then said, "I'm off to America, quite soon. They move fast over there, and I had letters from Harvard, Yale and Princeton the week after the press got the story."
"Which did you choose?" asked Blake. Hayter told him, and Blake nodded approval. "I'd have done the same."
"It was too good to miss."
Charlesworth looked at Knightsbridge, smiled somewhat unpleasantly, and said, "Will you be carrying on in Egypt without Hayter, then?"
Knightsbridge managed a smile in return. "In point of fact, I was thinking of retiring from what I can hardly dignify by calling it 'field work'. As everyone knows, Hayter here was the brains behind the discovery; I merely provided the cheque book."
Hayter tried to protest at this, but Knightsbridge waved him to silence. "It's true, and you know it better than anyone. Besides, anything else would be an anti-climax, would it not? No, I'm content to rest on my laurels, such as they are, and bask in the glory of the discovery by 'Hayter and Knightsbridge'." He raised his glass. "All the best for your future, Hayter."
The conversation became more general, and Blake asked Charlesworth, who sat next to him, "You said that you and Lord Knightsbridge were 'rivals', I believe? Would that be a business rivalry, or...?"
Charlesworth laughed. "Archaeological only, my dear Blake. We've competed over the years as to who would find the biggest hoard, who could hire the best brains — which we have to do, because quite frankly neither of us knows more about the scientific or historical or practical side of it than you could write on the back of a postage stamp." He laughed. "Still, we're both rich men, and as such we are sought out by those who do know these things. I confess that I envy Knightsbridge, he has some marvellous things," and he nodded to the mummified figure of a cat which decorated the top of a tall cabinet, and which seemed to Blake the ugliest thing he had ever seen.
"Just glad we're not eating rabbit," Blake murmured.
Charlesworth laughed. "Not to everyone's taste, I agree, though to me they have a kind of eerie beauty. The real treasures are still in London, though. I called on Knightsbridge there last week, and was almost overcome with envy. His flat is crammed to overflowing. Come here in a year and see it properly displayed, and it'll rival any museum you ever saw."
Blake frowned. "I understood the treasure was in Cairo?"
"Oh, the bulk of it is, of course. But there are — souvenirs, shall we say? All above board, of course." He lowered his voice. "And perhaps some rather under the counter. There are ways. Collectors are not always entirely scrupulous, I'm afraid. My own little collection —" and he recollected himself with a start. "Mind you, I've nothing like the stuff Knightsbridge has. He has really won the game, with this latest find. I don't know how I'll ever top that." His eyes glittered behind his spectacles. "Though you may be sure that I'll try! There are possibilities in the Mediterranean, the Near and Middle East, Blake. Who knows, one day the name 'Charlesworth' may be as famous as 'Schliemann'!"
Knightsbridge, who had overheard the latter part of this speech, laughed. "I look forward to the day, my dear fellow! By the way, did I tell you that I plan to finance a new wing in Cairo to house the treasure? And since I shall not be paying for any more expeditions, I may well be able to endow a chair over here, Oxford or Cambridge, I'm not sure which. 'The Knightsbridge Chair of Egyptology' has a rather nice ring, don't you think?"
Charlesworth muttered something which sounded to Blake like "Pampas grass," but probably wasn't, and attacked his pudding viciously.
Tinker, for one, was not too sorry when the meal was over. Not that he hadn't enjoyed it, far from it. But it had been a long day, and the meal was inducing a pleasant torpor. An hour, two hours, of interesting and wide ranging conversation after dinner, and Tinker was ready for his bed. The other guests, too, began to stifle yawns, and Hayter stood up, saying that it had been a long drive, and they really must forgive him. That was the signal for a sort of general exodus, in which Tinker, such is the paradoxical nature of humanity, was among the last to join. Blake nodded goodnight, and Tinker was left alone in the drawing room.
He yawned more loudly than he would have done in company, and set off for the stairs. Then he paused, for as he passed by the door of the library, he heard voices raised as if in anger.
This might be worth looking into, thought Tinker. He made his way cautiously to the door, which was not properly closed, and listened.
"It's ridiculous!" It was the voice of Lady Jane Felsham, and she was plainly unhappy.
"Too true it's ridiculous! Bloody ridiculous!" Monty Felsham, sounding the worse for drink.
"And don't use that filthy language in front of me!"
"Sorry, old thing." Monty sounded contrite, more sober. "But the Muldoon woman was so certain, you know. She knows a lot of the jockeys personally, has just been to Ireland —"
"How often have I heard that, or some variation of it?" Lady Jane's voice softened. "My dear old chap, I know things are difficult for you, but this gambling isn't the way. You know you're hopeless when it comes to picking winners. Why not try your uncle again? He promised you a job —"
"An office job?"
"I know, but... well! Anyway, I'm off to bed. Don't be too long." And before Tinker realized what was happening, the door opened and Lady Jane almost bumped into him.
"Sorry, your ladyship, I wanted a book. To read in bed. That is — I didn't think there was anybody in there."
Lady Jane wished him good night, brushed past him and was gone.
Tinker stood there, undecided. He could hardly turn round and go, for Monty Felsham must have heard his stammered explanation about wanting a book. He looked inside the library, apologetic.
"Come in, young fellow," said Monty expansively.
"I'm sorry, sire, I just wanted a book. Never guessed anyone was —"
"I know, I know." Monty waved a hand. "You've come to the right shop for a book. Help yourself. Cigarette? No? I will, and would you just pass that decanter whilst you're over that way? Thanks. Join me?"
"No. No, thanks."
"Well, at least sit a moment and yarn. Married, young man?"
"Then my advice would echo that famously given my Mr Punch — 'Don't!'" said Monty.
Now Tinker had drunk two or perhaps three glasses of an aged, expensive, and robust red wine with his dinner, something he was not accustomed to do. Without thinking, he said, "I'm shocked to hear you say that, Mr Felsham. And Lady Jane so... well..." and he came to his senses and stammered incoherently, his face reddening.
"Oh, don't get me wrong. It's the money, that's all," said Monty. "Take my advice - if you must marry, don't marry anyone who has more money that you have. It's the devil and all when the wife holds the purse strings."
"Is it indeed?" said Blake, when Tinker recounted this conversation next morning.
"He's short of cash, guv'nor, and it's his wife's money."
"Yes, I worked that out. Still —"
"If the Earl gets put away, barmy, then Lady Jane inherits, or at any rate she gets the — letters of credit, or whatever you call 'em."
"Power of attorney," said Blake absently. "Nevertheless..." he shook his head, then smiled. "It was good work, Tinker."
"I was thinking that I might keep a careful eye on Mr Monty Felsham?"
Blake smiled again. "Do you know, Tinker, that might be an excellent idea."
Tinker left, to begin his surveillance. Sexton Blake himself sought out Knightsbridge, finding the Earl just coming down the stairs, followed by Sir James. "If I might have a word, sir?"
Knightsbridge nodded and led the way to a small drawing room, "Nobody much comes in here," he said, waving Blake to a chair.
"May I ask if you were consulting Sir James just now?"
Knightsbridge nodded. "He can't find anything organically wrong, as he puts it. Can't account for what's been happening to me. Which is comforting in one sense, of course. But then —" and he shrugged.
"Then it looks more in my province," said Blake, " and that being so, I must ask who gets your money in the event of your death?"
Knightsbridge looked surprised, but answered, "Jane does. But you're barking up entirely the wrong tree there, Blake. Why, she is every bit as rich as I am. More, probably, since she doesn't throw money away on archaeology!" And when the detective raised an eyebrow, he continued, "I inherited the title from my elder brother when he broke his neck out hunting. Jane's mother had died young, and my brother had no intention of marrying a second time, so his will left half his fortune — which was considerable — to me, to keep up the house and the title, which I got anyway, and half in trust for Jane, who was then only nine or ten, until she came of age or married. Of course he didn't plan to fall of his horse, and if he'd been alive when Jane married and had a son, then he would have changed the provisions of his will so that everything went that way, and I would get — well, nothing, I expect. So if you're looking for murky motives in the family, it would make more sense to suggest that I'd bumped my brother off! Which I didn't, by the way."
Blake assured him that no such thought had occurred to him. "Are you close to your niece?" he asked.
"Not particularly. I didn't think I would make a very good job of bringing up a young girl, so I packed her off to boarding school — oh, a decent one, not like something out of Dickens!"
"I'm sure it wasn't. What about Monty Felsham?"
Knightsbridge frowned. "An odd fish. Chronically short of cash — oh, I don't say he married Jane for that, or anything. But he doesn't hold down any job for long, not that he seems to find 'em that often in the first place. Makes married life awkward, I should think." He regarded Blake closely. "But he's honest, old Monty. That what you're asking?"
Blake shrugged. "Did the Felshams go to Egypt with you?"
Knightsbridge shook his head. "They did a couple of years back, on their honeymoon. But not since."
"And have you seen much of them since you returned this last time?"
"Nothing. In fact, this will be the first time I've seen them since I got back."
Blake thanked him, and went to see Sir James, whom he found in the library, smoking a cigar. Sir James knew Sexton Blake by reputation, and didn't hesitate to discuss the Earl with the detective. "Not that there's anything to tell," said James with a frown. "I'd have said Knightsbridge is as sane as you or I, not that that means a lot these days — no offence intended."
"And how would you account for these blackouts of which he complains?"
"I can't. Mind you, he tells me that he's dosing himself with valerian to get a night's sleep."
"Valerian? The herbal sedative?"
"Yes. Odd stuff — it can cause depression if you're that way inclined. But I've never heard of its having the effect of which Knightsbridge complains, and in any event he says he's only just started taking it, so that wouldn't account for the Earlier episodes." Sir James shook his head. "It's a puzzle, Blake."
The snow, though producing a suitably seasonal effect, was not very deep, and such of the party as so wished went to the nearby village to shop, or took walks through the woods and fields. Blake, though, sat in his room and smoked an inordinate amount of pungent tobacco.
Luncheon came and went, as did afternoon tea, and the hour of dinner drew near. Tinker, who had a genius for making lists, subsequently established the whereabouts — or alleged whereabouts — of the various guests as follows: Sir James was in his dressing room, and Lady Muldoon was resting in her bedroom, adjoining; the connecting door was open, and they were discussing various topics. Lady Jane, having told her maid that she had a headache (though the maid ventured the opinion that it was because of a quarrel with Monty), was taking a walk in the garden. Cyrus Charlesworth was in his dressing room, alone. Monty Felsham was asleep in the library, closely watched by Tinker, who had stationed himself behind a marble statue of a well endowed and scantily clad Greek goddess.
Tinker made this list because of what passed between the two names missing from it. The house was roused from its pre-dinner repose by a loud cry from the butler, who had been walking past Hayter's room. The door was half open, and the butler moved instinctively to close it, but stopped abruptly when he saw two forms lying on the floor. One was Knightsbridge, unconscious but alive; the other was Hayter, dead, his chest pierced by several knife wounds. The knife itself, bloody evidence of the crime, was clutched in Knightsbridge's hand.
"Some powerful opiate," said Sir James, closing Knightsbridge's eye. "He'll have a headache when he wakes up."
"But he will wake up?" asked Blake.
"Oh, yes," Sir James straightened up from the floor. "We'd better get him to his bed, and in view of what's happened here, someone had better watch him."
"I'll keep an eye on the master," volunteered the butler, who had now recovered his equanimity. "His lordship would never hurt me. Or anyone else," he added, with a brave show of defiance.
"Good man. And &mdash" Sir James looked at Blake, "We must send for the police, of course."
"I'll send the gardener's boy, sir." said the butler.
Sir James nodded. "And get a sheet to cover poor Hayter here." He sighed. "That's about all we can do for now. Unless... Blake?"
"Would it do any good to search the rooms, d'you think?"
Blake frowned, then nodded. "It might at that." He told Tinker, "Get all the others together in the library, would you? Tell them what's happened, but don't let any of them leave, and don't leave them unattended."
Tinker nodded. Blake and Sir James looked around Hayter's room, which was lamentably untidy but held nothing of note. Then they went to Knightsbridge's room, where Sir James found and held up a little glass bottle, labelled 'TINCT. VAL.' Sir James grunted. "Valerian." He opened the bottle and sniffed its contents suspiciously.
"Would that account for Knightsbridge's stupor?" asked Blake.
"I wouldn't have thought so. Only a quarter of the bottle has gone, say half a fluid ounce — that's about ten days or two weeks dosage, which is about right. Anyway, you'd need about a gallon to produce that sort of sleep." He sniffed the bottle again. "Look here, Blake, as a medical man I don't know anything about this herbal stuff, but this smells odd to me. You're the detective, I think you should take charge of this until we can have it analysed." And he handed Blake the bottle.
The other rooms proved empty of incriminating objects, except that in the Felsham's bedroom, in a stud box marked with Monty's initials, they found a little paper packet. Blake handed it to Sir James, who opened it gingerly to show a greyish powder. Sir James tasted it, carefully. "Ah! This is more like it. Morphine. That would account for Knightsbridge's being out like a light." He sniffed the powder. "But this too — though I don't propose to taste it again! — seems odd. Some adulteration, or I miss my guess."
"I think I saw a chemist's shop in the village," said Blake.
"Water," said the pharmacist, an alert young man. "Alcohol. Something organic — the valerian, I guess, though I'm no expert and haven't the facilities here anyway, of course. Morphine, yes. And something else. I suspect a metal of the arsenic group, though it isn't arsenic, I can tell you that. The power is morphine, and the same adulteration as the liquid preparation." He took off his spectacles, and gazed at Blake. "I'm afraid I just don't have the right reagents, and it's been a few years since I did the group separations. I just can't tell you what the extra ingredients might be."
"Nevertheless," said Blake. "You've done remarkably well, I must say, and you have my sincere thanks. As for the extra ingredients, as you call them, it will be interesting to know just what they might be, but I rather fancy it's merely academic."
The pharmacist looked puzzled, as Blake left the shop.
The local police sergeant looked as puzzled as the pharmacist had. "It looks, then, like this Mr Hayter put this powder into the medicine, his lordship took the medicine, then went potty and killed the other young man? But then, is his lordship to be charged with murder, or was he just the instrument, as you might say? Well, this is one for Scotland Yard all right! Did I see a telephone in the hall?"
Blake held up a hand to stop the policeman. "Don't be too eager to let someone else take the credit, Sergeant. You may be able to affect an arrest before you go home to your supper. I only need to ask Lord Knightsbridge a couple of questions, when he wakes up."
"He's awake," said Sir James. "Came round while you were in the village, though he's a bit groggy."
"Then we can settle this now." Blake led the way to Knightsbridge's room, tapped on the door and went in.
"Ah, Blake. Solved it, have you?"
"Just one last question, my lord. Was your primary object to kill Hayter, or to get Felsham hanged? Or perhaps both?"
Knightsbridge sat up in his bed. "What the devil are you saying, Blake?" But there was an odd note in his voice — panic, perhaps, or guilt?
"I can't believe that it was to see Felsham hanged, for you would not benefit by his death or disgrace," mused Blake, half to himself. "But you needed a suspect, and my questions about Felsham and his money troubles probably put him at the top of the list. That being so —"
"Nonsense, Blake! You're raving!" cried Knightsbridge.
The police sergeant held up a hand. "One moment, my lord, Let Mr Blake have his say."
"That being so," continued Blake imperturbably, "It must have been that you wanted Hayter out of the way. Professional jealousy, I judge. If he went to America, did work in Mesopotamia or somewhere on his own account, then the Egyptian discovery would be just one entry in his list of successes. But with him gone, you get all the glory — oh, shared with a dead man, but what of that? Yes, that's the explanation, I fancy. Sergeant?"
"But what of the powder you found in Mr Felsham's room, sir?"
"Planted there by Knightsbridge. Monty Felsham hadn't seen Knightsbridge at his London flat — Knightsbridge himself told me that earlier, before he worked the scheme's last details out and framed Monty — so Monty couldn't have had a hand in the earlier incidents which Knightsbridge mentioned to me. Entirely fictitious incidents, of course."
"But Mr Felsham could have sneaked into the London flat?" objected Tinker.
"True," said Blake, "but then the whole thing seemed suspicious. According to Knightsbridge, these blackouts had only happened in the flat, and even his valet had never noticed anything wrong. How likely is that — no independent witnesses at all? But even if you dismiss that as coincidence, I happened to know for certain that Monty hadn't put that powder in his own stud box."
"How's that, guv'nor?"
"Well, you were with Monty in the library most of the afternoon, were you not?" Tinker nodded. "Everything seemed to point so clearly to Monty," Blake went on, "that I decided to take advantage of the fact that he and Lady Jane were both out of the room. I searched that stud box, with everything else in the room, ten minutes after Monty went down to the library!"
"Rum do, this," said Mr Cyrus Charlesworth. "I'm not quite sure of the right form, but I can't think it's proper to stay on in a house when the owner's just been arrested for murder! I'll tell you what, Blake, and you, Mr Tinker, why not spend Christmas with me? It'll be a scratch do, I'm afraid, as I rather expected to be here, of course, but I can ring Harrods or Fortnum and Mason, get a couple of geese and a Stilton. What d'you say? I'd like a word, in any event, as I've a couple of questions for you."
"I thought you might have," said Blake. "On behalf of Tinker and myself, I accept with thanks."
An hour or so later, Mr Charlesworth settled down in the back of his Bentley, and drew his fur coat round him. "Now, Blake, a little explanation. Firstly, I can see that Knightsbridge wanted Hayter dead, so that all the credit and glory went to Knightsbridge. He spins you a yarn about somebody trying to drive him insane, and that's to be the explanation for the murder. He kills Hayter, drugs himself with morphine —"
"Without the extra ingredients that we were to find, and which were intended to add weight to his tale," added Blake. "It didn't matter what they were, or if they worked, just so long as we thought Monty had thought they would work."
"Just so. He falls down, genuinely doped to the eyeballs, and that's where the butler found him. Fair enough. But, given that Knightsbridge had to frame someone for the murder, and for driving Knightsbridge himself temporarily insane, why didn't he pick me? Why not put the potion in my room? That way, he'd have eliminated not only Hayter, but me as well! That's what I'd have done in his place."
"Ah, but you forget his obsessive need to be the best. If he'd caused you to be hanged, who would he have to boast to, to crow over?"
"H'mm. Makes a twisted sort of sense, I suppose. Well then, how did you know that I wasn't behind it all? It might easily have been I who planted the dope in Monty's room."
"I seriously considered that possibility, I assure you," said Blake. "I rejected it for three separate reasons, two significant, one less so."
"The most significant reason was that if you wanted to frame Knightsbridge for murder, or get him certified insane, or something of that kind, then why would you plant a clue which would tend to clear him?"
"Of course! Never thought of that."
"And then you would not want Knightsbridge to be certified insane, or hanged, if anything went wrong, if we didn't search Monty's room, let us say. It's that 'collector's rivalry' business again. You needed Knightsbridge alive and at liberty, so that you could crow over him in the event of your making a big find in Mesopotamia or somewhere."
Charlesworth nodded. "Right." He frowned. What's the least significant reason?"
"Well, where were you when Knightsbridge committed the murder?"
"In my room, dozing in a chair."
"Just so. Now, suppose that you really had given Knightsbridge a potion which produced homicidal mania. Wouldn't it have been reasonable to suppose that, freed from all moral restraint, he would make immediately for the one man he hated most, the one rival who —"
"Great Scott!" Cyrus Charlesworth collapsed into his fur coat.
"Yes," said Blake, a twinkle in his eye. "The logical thing for him to have done would be to pop along to your room, and bump you off!"