THE STORY OF THE THREE MUSKETEERS
by Josie Packman
'The Three Musketeers'. What adventures those three words conjure up in our minds. Not, of course, the thrilling ones of Dumas' original Musketeers, but the spectacular exploits of that trio of murderous crooks, Archie Pherison, Algy Somerton and Reggie Fetherston.
Of all the characters created by G. H. Teed, the Three Musketeers were surely the most ruthless. Three men without any thought for their victims, utterly callous, and yet hiding their ruthlessness behind a mask of smiling good-nature — just three young men-about-town, out to enjoy themselves dancing at the most popular nightclubs.
Curiously enough, although these characters appeared in only thirteen of the Sexton Blake stories, they became involved with many other famous criminals, such as Wu Ling, Rymer, Plummer etc. Their first appearance was in Union Jack No. 977 under the title of THE WIRELESS TELEPHONE CLUE, with a sub-title THE CASE OF THE THREE MUSKETEERS. It was under this name that they were known to their friends, being always seen about together.
This first story brings them to the notice of Sexton Blake when he is called in to solve the case of an amazing burglary of pictures, gold plate and jewellery from a wealthy Member of Parliament. Whilst Blake is following up some business in Paris, Tinker listens in on his wireless telephone and picks up a curious message, one that is obviously in code. The voice is also familiar to him, but it is not until Blake gets back from Paris, after being involved in a shooting affray, that the message is decoded and the mystery cleared up. The identity of the Three Musketeers is now known, but although Blake is able to outwit them and recover the stolen property, the three criminals escape for the time being.
The next story is in Union Jack No. 991, entitled THE BANDITS OF BRUYERES. All the action in this yarn takes place in France, where the Three Musketeers have fled for safety. They are soon indulging in criminal activity once again, this time kidnapping rich Americans and holding them to ransom. These exploits, however, are nipped in the bud by Sexton Blake and once more they flee, taking with them only a small portion of the ransom money they had been able to extract from their victims' families by threats of violence to the kidnapped men. This time they escape by plane and touch down in the desert; but in the words of Archie Pherison:
"It was a close shave, fellows, and I hate to think of that million francs we had to leave behind, but we have covered up the trail while we can plan a new offensive".
Their next appearance is in Union Jack No. 1000, THE THOUSANDTH CHANCE, with a formidable array of criminals, banded together with the object of destroying their common enemy Sexton Blake. In the course of years Blake has built up a collection of wonderful art treasures which he keeps in a quiet house in a secluded part of London, the secret of which he retains to himself for obvious reasons. But these criminals have discovered the secret and plan to rob Blake of all his possessions. Among these treasures is the Ling-tse vase which Wu Ling is desirous of obtaining, and it is solely for this vase that he gathers together this band of criminals to aid him. Naturally, all these plans come to naught, and once again the trio of crooks go to ground.
The locale of the next yarn is Paris and Cairo. The title is THE DIAMOND SPECIAL, in Union Jack No. 1001, and, as indicated by that title, the Three Musketeers indulge in a most elaborate plot and get away with a fortune in diamonds belonging to several of the wealthy diamond merchants of Paris. But it is in Cairo that Blake crosses their path again, and in UJ No. 1004 — practically a sequel — the Three Musketeers join up with Prince Hamad and Madame Soukolis, the beautiful Greek. (These two characters appear in subsequent stories as Prince Menes and Madame Goupolis).
In this Egyptian adventure Blake and Tinker arrive secretly in Cairo, in order to obtain evidence regarding the many murders of Englishmen. These murders are obviously inspired by one of the Secret Societies existing in Cairo which had as its leader Prince Hamad, and had vowed to turn the English out of Egypt. (A very familiar theme these days!). Blake adopts the disguise of an old Arab weaver and settles in a tiny shop in the native quarter, with only Tinker as his "son" to keep him company. Blake knows that he has undertaken a job which is fraught with great danger to both himself and Tinker should they be discovered, but it is only in this way he can secure the information he needs. In the course of his investigations Blake discovers that the Three Musketeers have once more crossed his path, for they are living in Cairo under the protection of Prince Hamad himself. After many exciting adventures Blake eventually compels the Egyptian prince to depart from Cairo. The Three Musketeers also manage to disappear, but not before Blake, or rather Tinker finds them and is able to recover many of the diamonds which had been stolen from the jewellers in Paris.
The three renegades next turn up in South America. Here, Archie Pherison receives a letter from a mysterious person living in Boston, by name Mathew Cardolak. In this letter they are asked to consider a certain mission which the writer would like them to undertake, and the Three Musketeers travel to Boston hoping to go into action. They discover that Mathew Cardolak is a wealthy collector of art treasures, but not too scrupulous in the way he collects them. He is apparently known as 'The Mystery Man of Europe', with a finger in many affairs connected with the near East. The proposition put to the Three Musketeers is that they obtain for him the "Sceptre of Solomon" which is in the keeping of an obscure sect of Jews in old Malabar, India. The sceptre, traditionally known as a gift given to Solomon by the Queen of Sheba, is of fabulous value being made of solid gold and studded with precious jewels — a worthy treasure to be included in any collection. The three criminals agree to make an attempt at stealing the sceptre and are successful.
They return to the United States in Cardolak's private yacht, Sultan, and remain on board as guardians of the sceptre until such time as Cardolak needs it for whatever purpose he has in mind. But alas for the schemes of these despicable crooks, the theft of the sceptre is quickly discovered. The news soon reaches London and one of the foremost Rabbis calls on Blake and asks for his help in tracing the sceptre. As this old relic is of such great value, it appears to Blake that any of the less scrupulous art collectors would be willing to pay quite a small fortune to secure such a treasure, and his subsequent investigations reveal traces of Cardolak's dealings in the matter. He discovers that Cardolak's yacht has recently been sailing in Indian waters, and that on board are three guests. Further investigations prove that these three are none other than the Three Musketeers, and once again Blake and Tinker start off on the track of this murderous trio who very nearly succeeded in killing the pair of them. But Blake triumphs in the end, for not only does he recover the sceptre hut also secures the arrest of the Three Musketeers on a charge of attempted murder. This story appears in Union Jack No. 1018, THE SCEPTRE OF SOLOMON.
In the sequel, Union Jack No. 1042, THE CASE OF THE CRIPPLED MONK, we find Mathew Cardolak casting avaricious eyes on another of the world's art treasures, this time none other than a wonderful golden monstrance (or vessel in which the consecrated Host is shown to the people), part of the collection of famous relics in the Notre Dame. Cardolak sets to work to secure the release of the trio of crooks who are awaiting trial, by obtaining the services of a gang of the toughest bootleggers in the Boston area, who use their usual murderous methods to rescue the Three Musketeers as they are being transferred to another prison. The rescue is successful, and the trio are perfectly willing to aid Cardolak in his lawless schemes.
In view of their previous exploits in Paris, it can be understood that the Three Musketeers enter France as unostentatiously as possible. Thanks to the efficient system of the bootleggers and to the presence of Cardolak's yacht just outside the three-mile limit of the coast of Massachusetts, they make a clean getaway from America. With forged passports they have no difficulty in getting through the Customs at Havre and go to ground in Paris' where they immediately set to work to discover all they can about the various religious relics housed in the Notre Dame. Many days are spent visiting the wonderful Cathedral and studying the treasures before the crooks hit on a plan which they hope will succeed; but once again they are to fail.
By one of those coincidences which so often happen in real life, Blake and Tinker have recently arrived in Paris on private business, and whilst they are strolling near the Cathedral Tinker is intrigued to see two 'brothers' emerge, one of whom is lame and walks awkwardly with the aid of two sticks. He remarks to Blake "that's the first time I have ever seen a lame monk". The interest aroused in him by this unusual sight creates a desire to visit the Notre Dame. This is the same afternoon the Three Musketeers have chosen to make their burglarious raid on the treasures stored there, and it subsequently transpires that the two 'monks' are Algy Somerton and Reggie Fetherston.
Blake and Tinker join a party of tourists, but when they arrive at the Sibord Chapel, where the Monstrance is usually on view, they realise that something untoward has happened. On opening the chapel door the priest in charge immediately realises an outrageous theft has occurred, and at once notifies the police. All the tourists are detained, including Blake and Tinker; but they are recognised by the Prefect of Police, M. Dupuis, as soon as he arrives from the Surete. Blake's help is requested, and he and Tinker at once set about making enquiries. In the course of their investigations, whilst waiting for Blake to return to the hotel and give him instructions, Tinker whiles away the time by reading a copy of a Paris evening paper. He comes across a very interesting item which says that the steam yacht Sultan, owned by the multi-millionaire Mathew Cardolak, had returned to Havre after a cruise in the North Atlantic.
Now Tinker, being an astute young fellow and remembering the recent trouble he and Blake had encountered in America some time before, decides that Blake ought to know about the appearance of the yacht. He knew that the Three Musketeers had escaped and guessed they were on hoard the Sultan. He points out the paragraph as soon as Blake arrives, and between them they are able to work out just how the crooks have carried out tht theft. Thereafter they know it means a quick chase after the Musketeers, if they are to prevent them from getting the booty aboard the yacht. They discover that Archie Pherison has gone down the river on a barge which, apparently, the three criminals are using as a temporary home. Blako secures the use of a powerful police launch to give chase, and accompanied by Tinker, M. Bupuis and some picked men, set off down the Seine in pursuit. Only partial success comes to him, for although, after a fierce gun battle, he is able to board the barge and recover the stolen treasure, the Three Musketeers once again elude him. Reggie Fetherston, after striking down Tinker in the fight, manages to escape across country and engages a car to take him to the coast before the hue and cry is broadcast. Archie Pherison and Algy Somerton also succeed in getting away, leaving Blake unconscious on the river bank. In a small village they steal a car and eventually reach Havre just ahead of the police, and going aboard the Sultan are soon on their way to safety. But once again Sexton Blake has foiled their plans and they determine to 'get' him the next time he crosses their path. For the time being Blake is satisfied that he has chased the trio out of France, but gives Tinker the credit for so doing, as it was Tinker's curiosity at seeing the 'Crippled Monk' leaving the Notre Dame which had really started the investigation.
The Three Musketeers are now definitely working under the patronage of Cardolak, who has no more conscience than the murderous trio when seeking to obtain possession of any treasure which might take his fancy. After their last venture in France, they return to America in Cardolak's yacht, where they 'go to ground' in the millionaire's mansion in Boston, there to remain while they plan how to obtain access to the collection of jewels which have recently been offered for sale by the Government of the Caspian Republic. These jewels, once the property of the old Russian Government and valued at £20,000,000, have been brought to London by the Caspian representative. Among them is a wonderful jewelled globe of the world, and it is this globe upon which Cardolak has cast greedy eyes. He is wealthy enough to buy the globe, but such is the nature of the man that he prefers to employ the Three Musketeers and acquire the jewel by illegitimate means. The full story of this episode is related in Union Jack No. 1083, THE QUEST OF THE JEWELLED GLOBE.
Cardolak sends a formal agent ostensibly to purchase the globe, but under cover of this normal procedure the Three Musketeers make their own arrangements, which result in the murder of three men. However, all these plans go astray, as the murders bring Sexton Blake on to the scene. Blake gets to work in his usual way and eventually traces the three rogues. He catches up with them at Southampton, but they manage to get aboard the Sultan which has been slowly steaming along the Channel. Blake does not intend to let them escape again, and he commandeers a coastal patrol boat in which to pursue the yacht. Unfortunately the vessels are now in French waters, and in response to an S.O.S. for further aid, French police arrive and Blake has to hand the trio over to them. Knowing there are several charges against them in France, Blake makes up his mind to see that the trio are extradited to England, there to stand their trial for murder. The jewelled globe is found on board the yacht, and Blake has the satisfaction of handing it over to Scotland Yard. It is there that the globe is examined. On pressing a diamond stud at the peak of the Himalayas, the globe opens and its secret is revealed. It is a giant diamond, before which the Koh-i—nor, the Cullinan or the Orloff pale into insignificance. It was this for which Mathew Cardolak had plotted and failed.
With the Three Musketeers once again in the hands of the police, Blake hopes they will get their deserts; but alas, with the aid of their evil patron, they escape once more.
Their further adventures in France are described in the Sexton Blake Library (1st series) No. 366, THE MYSTERY OF THE SEINE, and in this story it is, as always, the trio's ruthless and cold-blooded murders which bring Blake and retribution on their trail.
Some years before, Cardolak had purchased a secluded villa in Poissy, a small village on the Seine, and it is here that the trio go into hiding. From this quiet spot the Three Musketeers commence a series of daring outrages which occupy the attention of the French police for some time. These acts of banditry begin with an attack on a jeweller followed by daring bank raids, in the course of which several people are callously shot down and a well known banker is held-up in his own apartments and cold-bloodedly murdered when attempting to resist. The affair of 'the robbery of Prince Borosov' finally decides M. Dupuis to ask assistance from Sexton Blake. With his usual thoroughness Blake studies the reports of all these crimes, and then he and Tinker set out to find the authors. In the course of their investigations various clues lead them to the little village of Poissy, and it is here that Tinker is the first to discover that the Three Musketeers are at work again. Tinker becomes involved in a deadly struggle with his 'Governor's' old antagonists. He escapes, however, and is thus able to report to Blake that the Three Musketeers are at the bottom of the recent series of crimes in and around Paris. Blake is soon on their trail, and once again is able to hand over the desperate trio to the French police, hoping that this time the murderous crooks will receive 'their just deserts'.
After their last adventure in France and subsequent escape from the French police, the Three Musketeers appear to have retired from their murderous criminal career; but in Union Jack No. 1147, THE ADVENTURE OF THE FIVE GIANTS, they emerge from their retirement at the request of their erstwhile patron Mathew Cardolak, to embark on a fresh criminal adventure.
According to a report by a party of miners in a mountainous district of Mexico, the remains of a race of giants has been discovered, and the Mexican Government has given permission for expert anthropologists to investigate the matter. Now, an ancient Chinese legend is believed by the learned men of that country — that in the long, long ago there existed a race of giants, and that the Five Giants of Sentse started upon a journey to find new lands for the Emperor, who gave each of them a jewel, known as the Five Sacred Jewels of Asia. These jewels, if found upon or near the newly discovered skeletons are worth a fortune, and are just the bait to capture the interest of Cardolak and his agents, the Three Musketeers.
It is soon known that these criminals are fitting out an expedition, and an old Chinese friend of Blakes — Hong-Lo-Soo — requests his help in the matter, for the giant skeletons and the rare jewels they possibly hide are too valuable to the world for them to be destroyed and the jewels stolen by such vandals as the Three Musketeers and their unscrupulous patron. Blake naturally agrees to help his Chinese friend, and he and Tinker set out for Mexico well prepared to meet any trouble that might arise; and trouble certainly comes to them, for the Three Musketeers soon learn that the detective is on their trail, and a murderous campaign is started against Blake and Tinker.
But although Blake beats them at their own game, he is not fated to meet them, for something far beyond his control takes a hand in the game. Late one night when their camp lies in slumber — except for Blake and a peon who are on guard — there is an ominous rumbling, seemingly from the bottom of an abyss near them. It awakens Tinker and the rest of the peons employed by Blake, and as the rumbling grows louder the very earth beneath them seems to rise and fall in swiftly passing waves. From across the ravine comes a low whistling sound that rises and rises to a deafening roar, culminating in a monstrous crash, with a wild burst of red flame to the East. It is an earthquake and an eruption amongst the volcanic mountains, and it is only the fact that Blake and his party are on the side of the ravine away from the upheaval that they survive. All night long a terrific storm rages, and then a bleak morning reveals the awful damage that nature has caused.
Nothing more is seen of the Three Musketeers, even when, after a terrible journey, Blake and his party at last reach the cave where the giant skeletons have been discovered. Blake finds that Hong-Lo-Soo is right — for under the spot where each skeleton had lain was hidden a jewel; the Five Sacred Jewels of Asias: a giant diamond; an enormous ruby; a mammoth pearl, still enclosed in some strange sort of quartz, which Blake discovered later, served to keep it "alive"; a great sapphire and a wonderful topaz. No wonder those arch rogues coveted such beautiful jewels.
A skeleton and a jewel are handed over to the care of five different museums, and Blake and Tinker return to England satisfied that they have performed a good service to the world. As for the Three Musketeers, no more was heard of them. All Blake could discover was that Cardolak's yacht was cruising in the Gulf of Mexico for some weeks, and then one day it sailed away as mysteriously as it had come. But Sexton Blake knew that if the Musketeers still lived the future would bring proof, for while those three crooks existed, some upheaval in the underworld would always cast them to the surface.
This is the last story about the Three Musketeers to be recorded in the Union Jack. The remaining stories were written for the Sexton Blake Library, presumably on account of the greater scope available for a longer yarn.
In No. 199 (2nd series), there appeared one of what I should like to call 'Teed's Timeless Tales'. It is a story that is as readable today as it was nearly 30 years ago, and the plot is most certainly just as topical. The title: THE GREAT CANAL PLOT is indicative of the type of story one can expect; a plot to blow up the Suez Canal, engineered by a gang of ruthless crooks, all of whom Blake has been fighting for years, and all with their own axe to grind — Wu Ling, with his desire for yellow domination over the white races; Prince Menes, head of the 'White Flag' terrorists In Egypt, aiming for the overthrow of the British — how familiar that sounds today! — Madam Goupolis, in disgrace with Prince Menes and ready to do anything to be restored to his good favours; Plummer, or Sakr-el-Droog as he was known at that time, ready for anything which would line his pockets; The Black Eagle, with his hatred toward Society in general; and, finally, Mathew Cardolak and his henchmen the Three Musketeers.
This gang of international crooks descends on the ancient city of Alexandria, there to discuss in full their evil plans, but all their scheming is to avail them nothing, for already nemesis in the shape of Sexton Blake is on their track. The old familiar tale of murders and riots has already brought Blake to Egypt, determined to find some solution to the grave problem.
The Three Musketeers do not play a leading part in this story, but they are included in the plot to undermine what little real peace there is in the Middle East. They are still working under the patronage of Cardolak, who's yacht Sultan is used for the meeting of this ruthless gang.
Once again their plans are foiled by Blake who causes the yacht to he bombed and sunk just off the coast near Alexandria, with the whole gang of crooks aboard. However, they all seem to bear charmed lives and escape from the sinking yacht, and thus we find the same crowd turning up in yet another attempt to cause trouble in Egypt.
This story, THE CASE OF THE MUMMIFIED HAND, related in Sexton Blake Library (2nd series) No. 35, is practically a continuation of No. 199 and here again the Three Musketeers do not play a leading part. Incidentally, it is in this story that we see the end of Prince Menes. He is the cause of the plot failing, and his own plans having come to grief he poisons himself. It seems that at times Teed grew tired of certain of his characters, and usually dropped them completely and without any further reference to them, but with the Three Musketeers, as also with Prince Menes, he disposes of them fairly satisfactorily.
The story of how this murderous trio are finally caught is related in Sexton Blake Library (2nd series) No. 82, THE NIGHT CLUB MYSTERY. This is an enjoyable tale with plenty of action, the setting of which is in London and on the Yorkshire moors. With the invaluable help of Tinker and, for a change, Pedro, Blake finally captures the Three Musketeers. So, at last, their murderous careers are brought to a conclusion.
© Josephine Packman