Adventure of the Noble Bachelor
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"And yet I question, sir, whether, in all your experience, you
have ever listened to a more mysterious and inexplicable chain of
events than those which have happened in my own family."
"You fill me with interest," said Holmes. "Pray give us the
essential facts from the commencement, and I can afterwards
question you as to those details which seem to me to be most
The young man pulled his chair up and pushed his wet feet out
towards the blaze.
"My name," said he, "is John Openshaw, but my own affairs have,
as far as I can understand, little to do with this awful
business. It is a hereditary matter; so in order to give you an
idea of the facts, I must go back to the commencement of the
"You must know that my grandfather had two sons--my uncle Elias
and my father Joseph. My father had a small factory at Coventry,
which he enlarged at the time of the invention of bicycling. He
was a patentee of the Openshaw unbreakable tire, and his business
met with such success that he was able to sell it and to retire
upon a handsome competence.
"My uncle Elias emigrated to America when he was a young man and
became a planter in Florida, where he was reported to have done
very well. At the time of the war he fought in Jackson's army,
and afterwards under Hood, where he rose to be a colonel. When
Lee laid down his arms my uncle returned to his plantation, where
he remained for three or four years. About 1869 or 1870 he came
back to Europe and took a small estate in Sussex, near Horsham.
He had made a very considerable fortune in the States, and his
reason for leaving them was his aversion to the negroes, and his
dislike of the Republican policy in extending the franchise to
them. He was a singular man, fierce and quick-tempered, very
foul-mouthed when he was angry, and of a most retiring
disposition. During all the years that he lived at Horsham, I
doubt if ever he set foot in the town. He had a garden and two or
three fields round his house, and there he would take his
exercise, though very often for weeks on end he would never leave
his room. He drank a great deal of brandy and smoked very
heavily, but he would see no society and did not want any
friends, not even his own brother.
"He didn't mind me; in fact, he took a fancy to me, for at the
time when he saw me first I was a youngster of twelve or so. This
would be in the year 1878, after he had been eight or nine years
in England. He begged my father to let me live with him and he
was very kind to me in his way. When he was sober he used to be
fond of playing backgammon and draughts with me, and he would
make me his representative both with the servants and with the
tradespeople, so that by the time that I was sixteen I was quite
master of the house. I kept all the keys and could go where I
liked and do what I liked, so long as I did not disturb him in
his privacy. There was one singular exception, however, for he
had a single room, a lumber-room up among the attics, which was
invariably locked, and which he would never permit either me or
anyone else to enter. With a boy's curiosity I have peeped
through the keyhole, but I was never able to see more than such a
collection of old trunks and bundles as would be expected in such
"One day--it was in March, 1883--a letter with a foreign stamp
lay upon the table in front of the colonel's plate. It was not a
common thing for him to receive letters, for his bills were all
paid in ready money, and he had no friends of any sort. 'From
India!' said he as he took it up, 'Pondicherry postmark! What can
this be?' Opening it hurriedly, out there jumped five little
dried orange pips, which pattered down upon his plate. I began to
laugh at this, but the laugh was struck from my lips at the sight
of his face. His lip had fallen, his eyes were protruding, his
skin the color of putty, and he glared at the envelope which he
still held in his trembling hand, 'K. K. K.!' he shrieked, and
then, 'My God, my God, my sins have overtaken me!'
"'What is it, uncle?' I cried.
"'Death,' said he, and rising from the table he retired to his
room, leaving me palpitating with horror. I took up the envelope
and saw scrawled in red ink upon the inner flap, just above the
gum, the letter K three times repeated. There was nothing else
save the five dried pips. What could be the reason of his
overpowering terror? I left the breakfast-table, and as I
ascended the stair I met him coming down with an old rusty key,
which must have belonged to the attic, in one hand, and a small
brass box, like a cashbox, in the other.
"'They may do what they like, but I'll checkmate them still,'
said he with an oath. 'Tell Mary that I shall want a fire in my
room to-day, and send down to Fordham, the Horsham lawyer.'
"I did as he ordered, and when the lawyer arrived I was asked to
step up to the room. The fire was burning brightly, and in the
grate there was a mass of black, fluffy ashes, as of burned
paper, while the brass box stood open and empty beside it. As I
glanced at the box I noticed, with a start, that upon the lid was
printed the treble K which I had read in the morning upon the
"'I wish you, John,' said my uncle, 'to witness my will. I leave
my estate, with all its advantages and all its disadvantages, to
my brother, your father, whence it will, no doubt, descend to
you. If you can enjoy it in peace, well and good! If you find you
cannot, take my advice, my boy, and leave it to your deadliest
enemy. I am sorry to give you such a two-edged thing, but I can't
say what turn things are going to take. Kindly sign the paper
where Mr. Fordham shows you.'
"I signed the paper as directed, and the lawyer took it away with
him. The singular incident made, as you may think, the deepest
impression upon me, and I pondered over it and turned it every
way in my mind without being able to make anything of it. Yet I
could not shake off the vague feeling of dread which it left
behind, though the sensation grew less keen as the weeks passed
and nothing happened to disturb the usual routine of our lives. I
could see a change in my uncle, however. He drank more than ever,
and he was less inclined for any sort of society. Most of his
time he would spend in his room, with the door locked upon the
inside, but sometimes he would emerge in a sort of drunken frenzy
and would burst out of the house and tear about the garden with a
revolver in his hand, screaming out that he was afraid of no man,
and that he was not to be cooped up, like a sheep in a pen, by
man or devil. When these hot fits were over however, he would
rush tumultuously in at the door and lock and bar it behind him,
like a man who can brazen it out no longer against the terror
which lies at the roots of his soul. At such times I have seen
his face, even on a cold day, glisten with moisture, as though it
were new raised from a basin.
"Well, to come to an end of the matter, Mr. Holmes, and not to
abuse your patience, there came a night when he made one of those
drunken sallies from which he never came back. We found him, when
we went to search for him, face downward in a little
green-scummed pool, which lay at the foot of the garden. There
was no sign of any violence, and the water was but two feet deep,
so that the jury, having regard to his known eccentricity,
brought in a verdict of 'suicide.' But I, who knew how he winced
from the very thought of death, had much ado to persuade myself
that he had gone out of his way to meet it. The matter passed,
however, and my father entered into possession of the estate, and
of some 14,000 pounds, which lay to his credit at the bank."
"One moment," Holmes interposed, "your statement is, I foresee,
one of the most remarkable to which I have ever listened. Let me
have the date of the reception by your uncle of the letter, and
the date of his supposed suicide."
"The letter arrived on March 10, 1883. His death was seven weeks
later, upon the night of May 2d."
"Thank you. Pray proceed."
"When my father took over the Horsham property, he, at my
request, made a careful examination of the attic, which had been
always locked up. We found the brass box there, although its
contents had been destroyed. On the inside of the cover was a
paper label, with the initials of K. K. K. repeated upon it, and
'Letters, memoranda, receipts, and a register' written beneath.
These, we presume, indicated the nature of the papers which had
been destroyed by Colonel Openshaw. For the rest, there was
nothing of much importance in the attic save a great many
scattered papers and note-books bearing upon my uncle's life in
America. Some of them were of the war time and showed that he had
done his duty well and had borne the repute of a brave soldier.
Others were of a date during the reconstruction of the Southern
states, and were mostly concerned with politics, for he had
evidently taken a strong part in opposing the carpet-bag
politicians who had been sent down from the North.
"Well, it was the beginning of '84 when my father came to live at
Horsham, and all went as well as possible with us until the
January of '85. On the fourth day after the new year I heard my
father give a sharp cry of surprise as we sat together at the
breakfast-table. There he was, sitting with a newly opened
envelope in one hand and five dried orange pips in the
outstretched palm of the other one. He had always laughed at what
he called my cock-and-bull story about the colonel, but he looked
very scared and puzzled now that the same thing had come upon
"'Why, what on earth does this mean, John?' he stammered.
"My heart had turned to lead. 'It is K. K. K.,' said I.
"He looked inside the envelope. 'So it is,' he cried. 'Here are
the very letters. But what is this written above them?'
"'Put the papers on the sundial,' I read, peeping over his
"'What papers? What sundial?' he asked.
"'The sundial in the garden. There is no other,' said I; 'but the
papers must be those that are destroyed.'
"'Pooh!' said he, gripping hard at his courage. 'We are in a
civilized land here, and we can't have tomfoolery of this kind.