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The Misadventure of the American Cousin

By: Robert R. Rash

"Mr. Holmes I must have your help. I have no idea where else to turn."

A young man of about twenty-five years stood in the entrance to the retirement home of my old friend Sherlock Holmes. He seemed travel weary, yet you could tell he was a gentleman of some quality by his careful dress.

"My name is Edward Blankensopp and I have come to you on a matter of importance which I have done my best to resolve, but with no success."

It was one of those glorious autumn days that England should be famous for. The bright blue sky, the cool crisp air that gave promise of a holiday season not too far off. The Great War had ended and the young men had returned to their homes, at least those who were able. All seemed right with the world as a new decade approached. I had come to spend a few days with my old friend Holmes in his hid-away near Brighton. The years had been kind to both of us, but life had become a dull succession of days and nights passed mostly by remembering the past. I could see his ears prick at the pleas for assistance; some of the old Holmes was still present on that fall afternoon.

"Do come in young man. Would you care for some tea? It appears you have had a difficult time reaching us." Holmes spoke as if he was genuinely concerned for the young man. He had noticed the Sussex mud on the stylish boots and the bit of bramble adhering to the sleeve of the Oxford Street suit. His vision is as keen as ever, I remarked quietly to myself.

"Oh, Mr. Holmes, you have no idea how difficult you are to find."

Holmes smiled at that. He had searched for years for a secluded spot, far from the grime and crime of the London streets. "Watson, would you do the honours please?"

I went to the pantry to retrieve a third cup for our young visitor as he began to unravel his tale.

"As I mentioned, my name is Edward Blenkinsopp. My family has lived near Haltwhistle, near the Scottish border for over 800 years. In 1692, the third son of the 7th Earl of Blenkinsopp went off adventuring to the Americas. There, according to family tradition he lived with the Indians and became the sire of a now large and distinguished family. Our ancient Norman name has been Americanized to Blankenship. Of course, over the years, the family lost all track of our American relations. However, my mother's sister married an American in New York by the name of Blankenship and while he was doing some research on his family roots, he ran across the connection to Blenkinsopp. My aunt was thrilled to fill in the blanks for her husband and soon they were making frequent visits to their ancestral home.

"It was during these visits that I became the friend of my cousin Hugh. Hugh was a studious boy who spent long hours searching the family records for the tiniest bits of information that he found fascinating. He was constantly being removed from my mother's vegetable gardens where he would dig for hours, finding odd bits of junk that delighted him beyond anyone's belief. Therefore, it came as no surprise to anyone when Hugh announced his intention to attend Oxford and study the new science of Archeology. He arrived at New College in 1913, not a very auspicious year as it turned out. He managed to finish his undergraduate work just as America entered the war. He left school and joined up. When the war finally concluded Hugh returned to his studies at Oxford and began his graduate work in Egyptology. I did not see much of him, but one day quite by accident I ran into him at the Alpha Inn in Bloomsbury."

I saw a smile pass over the aging lips of my companion as he remembered the singular affair of the "goose club" and the carbuncle.

"It seems that my cousin had been researching old Egyptian scrolls at the British Museum and had stopped by the pub for a quick meal before returning to his London hotel. He was in very high spirits. We had our meal together and he invited me to come for dinner at his flat in Oxford the following Sunday. It had been some time since I had enjoyed that lovely city and so I agreed to take the 11:15 train from Paddington. We parted company. The following Sunday I arrived at his digs about half passed one as we had agreed. I rang the bell for a good five minutes before a woman who lived below Hugh came to her door and told me that the young man who lived upstairs had gone to London last week and had not yet returned. This seemed very strange because Hugh had always struck me as the most dependable of types. I had no reason to question that the woman was speaking the truth, so I left my card with a note asking Hugh to get in touch with me as soon as he returned."

"I returned to London and forgot about the affair until I received a letter from my mother, asking me to make inquiries at the Park Hotel in Stanhope Place concerning the whereabouts of my cousin Hugh Blankenship. It seems my mother had received a cable from her sister in America saying she had not heard from her son in over a month, which was very odd because normally it had been his habit to write to her regularly once a week. She was quite concerned and had asked my mother to contact Mr. Sherlock Holmes who she had read so much about in Collier's Magazine. Mother wrote to you at 221B Baker Street, but received the reply that you had retired and moved to Sussex to raise bees. She asked me to do what I could from London, since it was impossible for her to leave Northumberland at the time."

"The next day, I went to the Park Hotel and made inquiries on my cousin's whereabouts. They informed me that he had apparently skipped out on his bill of 7 pounds on the very day following our dinner at the Alpha Inn. This seemed so out of character for my cousin. For the first time, I began to worry. Almost as if to prove the truth of what he had said, the manager offered to turn his possessions over to me if I were prepared to pay the 7 pounds due on his room. Of course, I paid the debt and as I was leaving with a suitcase and a valise of papers I stopped to ask the manager if he could remember my cousin receiving any visitors during his stay. After a little thought, he remembered a rather academic type who my cousin had called Caster or Carter calling for him the night before his disappearance. Hugh had never mentioned such a person to me, so the names were of no assistance to my search."

"I had no reason to suspect foul play, for my cousin was a man who had proven time and time again on the battlefields of France that he could take care of himself, having been decorated for his bravery under fire. But, after searching the hospitals to no avail, I thought I must take this matter to the police. The police were of very little assistance on the disappearance. A missing American was not a high priority; apparently they frequently go missing. The sergeant referred me to a young detective named Lestrade. He listened to my story and then replied, "This is just the sort of case his father and his old friend Sherlock Holmes loved to get their teeth into, but unfortunately they had both retired many years ago." Lestrade suggested that he had seen symbols similar to the ones on my cousin's papers. Perhaps, someone at the British Museum would know what he had been working on." I inquired of young Lastrade if he knew of your whereabouts. "Somewhere in on the South Downs not too far from Brighton, I believe" was all the information he could give me.

"I left Scotland Yard and went immediately to the museum, but alas no one had any idea what Edward Blankenship had been researching. Egyptian scrolls was all the information I could garner.

I picked up my cousins belongings and papers and came straight to Brighton. I must say Mr. Holmes, you led me a pretty chase finding this place, but here I am and my cousin's life may stand in the balance if you are not able to help me."

Holmes set his cup back into its' saucer, took a deep breath and asked our guest to see the papers his cousin had left at the hotel. Edward Blenkinsopp removed them carefully from a valise and handed them to an anxious Holmes. My old friend held them as one might a treasured heirloom, for truly this puzzle excited him. He asked the young man to leave the papers with him and return at noon the following day.

That evening Holmes sat quietly with his old pipe perusing the sheets with their odd symbols. Occasionally, he would stand put down the now ever present magnifying glass, poke the fire, or pour himself a glass of Madeira. The only sound he uttered was the occasional "Ah ha." I retired with no more information than I had when the young man left the cottage. In the morning, I found my friend sitting where I had left him the night before, but this time he knew something. You could read the worry on his tired face.

"Ah, Watson, I do hope you slept well. I don't suppose you have any knowledge from the London press as to any large expeditions being mounted for Egypt?"

"Holmes, everyone and his brother seem to be headed in that direction these days."

"You mean everyone and his cousin, Watson."

As the clock finished its stroking of twelve, Edward Blenkinsopp stood once again in the door frame of Holmes' retreat.

Holmes spoke with the greatest tenderness, quite unlike his usual gruff self. "I believe your cousin has stumbled onto a most dangerous secret. These symbols which Lestrade's son thought he recognized are quite definitely Egyptian hieroglyphics and while I am not able to decipher the entire passage, I am able to read enough to understand that your cousin has located the whereabouts of the tomb of a young pharaoh who was buried with a great treasure and which was so skillfully hidden by its architects that it was lost even to the ancient world. I am not aware of artifacts from such a tomb having been displayed by either museum or private collector. Therefore, one must draw the conclusion that it lies still buried in the sand. I believe, sire, that your cousin's fate is somehow connected to the Valley of the Kings near Luxor. There was a time when a mystery like this would have sent Watson and me off to collect our old friend Toby; then off to the first train pointed in the direction of Egypt, but alas Toby is no more and I am but a shadow of myself. You, Mr. Blenkinsopp will have to be the eyes and ears of this investigation, but I tell you, get to Egypt by the quickest means possible. Your cousin is in great danger."

Young Mr. Blenkinsopp left the cottage with promises to keep us informed of his investigations. I did not hear again of the matter, until some three years later, when I received a letter from Holmes. He had included a clipping from the Times headlined "Carnarvon finds tomb of Boy King." The article mentioned an archeologist who located the tomb, Carter was the name.

Holmes' letter read: "Perhaps we have seen the conclusion of the misadventure of the American cousin, Watson. Who can say but that two ghosts may now inhabit the tomb of this unfortunate young Egyptian. The Valley of the Kings may yet wreak its' justice. I fear young Blankenship was beyond our assistance when he failed to entertain his cousin for dinner on that Sunday so long ago. This might have made a good story if you were still scribbling."

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