BY the following week Ezrard was quite himself, and, flouting the doctor’s diet, was back on his favourite dishes of roast pork and pud, pies, port and cheese. The mystery was where he put it all, for he remained as thin as a rake.
He continued to hint at how he knew where the treasure was – but that nobody else would be able to work it out.
‘Well, look here old man, if you know where it is, but you think we can’t guess it – why not hold a wager on it?’ said Roderick, half in jest. To his surprise, Ezrard took him up on it and demanded how much he would be prepared to bet. Before an hour was out, the old school board in the library had been commandeered and filled with figures; ‘What’s yours, Orb?’ ‘A guinea.’ ‘Just a guinea?’ ‘Oh very well then, five.’ ‘That’s more like it,’ ‘Never mind that, I‘ll put ten pounds!’ ‘As much as that, eh?’ And so it went on.
Everyone had exactly a week to see if they could find the treasure.
Naturally, a lot of time was lost in tapping walls, walking the grounds looking for clues, staring for ages at statues, fireplaces and feeling the cushions of the older sticks of furniture; Ezrard all the while watching on, the mischievous gleam never once leaving his eyes. Laetitia grew quite worried about him and sent for the doctor again. ‘I fear he may be going a little odd in the head,’ was her excuse. But the doctor could find nothing untoward about Ezrard and left her with a sedative ‘only to be taken if he has trouble sleeping,’ he instructed. The postman arrived with a parcel at that moment and so, bidding a hasty goodbye, the doctor speeded on his way to his next patient.
The parcel was addressed to Ezrard, who received it in his study, and duly unwrapped it in a flurry of curiosity.
‘Well, I’ll be blessed! What an unusual item – but an excellent addition to the collection!’ he beamed, holding aloft a fine example of automata: a wooden soldier – which could sound simple, even crude, but was in fact a perfectly rendered and articulated figure of a Spanish Conquistador – from the crested and ornamental helmet to the gauntlets and ferules/(tibia). It even had a sword at its side, beautifully finished in its own tooled leather scabbard.
‘Intriguing,’ observed Ezrard, noting the key in the soldier’s back. He rang for tea and then bent over the figure to turn the key. ‘It walks!’ he crowed as the figure took a few halting steps across his desk, its arms swinging slightly. Ezrard noted a button on the shoulder marked ‘Release’; he puzzled over this, and leaned forward to press it.
A knock came at the door.
‘Your tea, Mr Bagshott,’came the reply.
‘Yes, yes, bring it in, by all means,’ was the thoughtless answer. A sigh from the other side of the door. With difficulty, the maid levered the door handle down and pushed with the tray. She gave a shriek and the teapot landed on the carpet.