The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
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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 himself.
"'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 shoulder.
"'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. Where does the thing come
"'From Dundee,' I answered, glancing at the postmark.
"'Some preposterous practical joke,' said he. 'What have I to do with
sundials and papers? I shall take no notice of such nonsense.'
"'I should certainly speak to the police,' I said.
"'And be laughed at for my pains. Nothing of the sort.'
"'Then let me do so?'
"'No, I forbid you. I won't have a fuss made about such nonsense.'
"It was in vain to argue with him, for he was a very obstinate man. I went
about, however, with a heart which was full of forebodings.
"On the third day after the coming of the letter my father went from home
to visit an old friend of his, Major Freebody, who is in command of one of the
forts upon Portsdown Hill. I was glad that he should go, for it seemed to me
that he was farther from danger when he was away from home. In that, however, I
was in error. Upon the second day of his absence I received a telegram from the
major, imploring me to come at once. My father had fallen over one of the deep
chalk-pits which abound in the neighborhood, and was lying senseless, with a
shattered skull. I hurried to him, but he passed away without having ever
recovered his consciousness. He had, as it appears, been returning from Fareham
in the twilight, and as the country was unknown to him, and the chalk-pit
unfenced, the jury had no hesitation in bringing in a verdict of 'death from
accidental causes.' Carefully as I examined every fact connected with his death,
I was unable to find anything which could suggest the idea of murder. There were
no signs of violence, no footmarks, no robbery, no record of strangers having
been seen upon the roads. And yet I need not tell you that my mind was far from
at ease, and that I was well-nigh certain that some foul plot had been woven
"In this sinister way I came into my inheritance. You will ask me why I did
not dispose of it? I answer, because I was well convinced that our troubles were
in some way dependent upon an incident in my uncle's life, and that the danger
would be as pressing in one house as in another.
"It was in January, '85, that my poor father met his end, and two years and
eight months have elapsed since then. During that time I have lived happily at
Horsham, and I had begun to hope that this curse had passed way from the family,
and that it had ended with the last generation. I had begun to take comfort too
soon, however; yesterday morning the blow fell in the very shape in which it had
come upon my father."
The young man took from his waistcoat a crumpled envelope, and turning to
the table he shook out upon it five little dried orange pips.
"This is the envelope," he continued. "The postmark is London--eastern
division. Within are the very words which were upon my father's last message:
'K. K. K.'; and then 'Put the papers on the sundial.'"
"What have you done?" asked Holmes.
"To tell the truth"--he sank his face into his thin, white hands--"I have
felt helpless. I have felt like one of those poor rabbits when the snake is
writhing towards it. I seem to be in the grasp of some resistless, inexorable
evil, which no foresight and no precautions can guard against."
"Tut! tut!" cried Sherlock Holmes. "You must act, man, or you are lost.
Nothing but energy can save you. This is no time for despair."
"I have seen the police."
"But they listened to my story with a smile. I am convinced that the
inspector has formed the opinion that the letters are all practical jokes, and
that the deaths of my relations were really accidents, as the jury stated, and
were not to be connected with the warnings."
Holmes shook his clenched hands in the air. "Incredible imbecility!" he
"They have, however, allowed me a policeman, who may remain in the house
"Has he come with you to-night?"
"No. His orders were to stay in the house."
Again Holmes raved in the air.
"Why did you come to me," he cried, "and, above all, why did you not come
"I did not know. It was only to-day that I spoke to Major Prendergast about
my troubles and was advised by him to come to you."
"It is really two days since you had the letter. We should have acted
before this. You have no further evidence, I suppose, than that which you have
placed before us--no suggestive detail which might help us?"
"There is one thing," said John Openshaw. He rummaged in his coat pocket,
and, drawing out a piece of discolored, blue-tinted paper, he laid it out upon
the table. "I have some remembrance," said he, "that on the day when my uncle
burned the papers I observed that the small, unburned margins which lay amid the
ashes were of this particular color. I found this single sheet upon the floor of
his room, and I am inclined to think that it may be one of the papers which has,
perhaps, fluttered out from among the others, and in that way has escaped
destruction. Beyond the mention of pips, I do not see that it helps us much. I
think myself that it is a page from some private diary. The writing is
undoubtedly my uncle's."
Holmes moved the lamp, and we both bent over the sheet of paper, which
showed by its ragged edge that it had indeed been torn from a book. It was
headed, "March, 1869," and beneath were the following enigmatical notices:
4th. Hudson came. Same old platform.
7th. Set the pips on McCauley, Paramore, and John Swain, of St. Augustine.
9th. McCauley cleared.
10th. John Swain cleared.
12th. Visited Paramore. All well.
"Thank you!" said Holmes, folding up the paper and returning it to our
visitor. "And now you must on no account lose another instant. We cannot spare
time even to discuss what you have told me. You must get home instantly and
"What shall I do?"
"There is but one thing to do. It must be done at once. You must put this
piece of paper which you have shown us into the brass box which you have
described. You must also put in a note to say that all the other papers were
burned by your uncle, and that this is the only one which remains. You must
assert that in such words as will carry conviction with them. Having done this,
you must at once put the box out upon the sundial, as directed. Do you
"Do not think of revenge, or anything of the sort, at present. I think that
we may gain that by means of the law; but we have our web to weave, while theirs
is already woven. The first consideration is to remove the pressing danger which
threatens you. The second is to clear up the mystery and to punish the guilty
"I thank you," said the young man, rising and pulling on his overcoat. "You
have given me fresh life and hope. I shall certainly do as you advise."
"Do not lose an instant. And, above all, take care of yourself in the
meanwhile, for I do not think that there can be a doubt that you are threatened
by a very real and imminent danger. How do you go back?
"By train from Waterloo."
"It is not yet nine. The streets will be crowded, so I trust that you may
be in safety. And yet you cannot guard yourself too closely."
"I am armed."
"That is well. To-morrow I shall set to work upon your case."
"I shall see you at Horsham, then?"
"No, your secret lies in London. It is there that I shall seek it."
"Then I shall call upon you in a day, or in two days, with news as to the
box and the papers. I shall take your advice in every particular." He shook
hands with us and took his leave. Outside the wind still screamed and the rain
splashed and pattered against the windows. This strange, wild story seemed to
have come to us from amid the mad elements--blown in upon us like a sheet of
sea-weed in a gale--and now to have been reabsorbed by them once more.
Sherlock Holmes sat for some time in silence, with his head sunk forward
and his eyes bent upon the red glow of the fire. Then he lit his pipe, and
leaning back in his chair he watched the blue smoke-rings as they chased each
other up to the ceiling.
"I think, Watson," he remarked at last, "that of all our cases we have had
none more fantastic than this."
"Save, perhaps, the Sign of Four."
"Well, yes. Save, perhaps, that. And yet this John Openshaw seems to me to
be walking amid even greater perils than did the Sholtos."
"But have you," I asked, "formed any definite conception as to what these
"There can be no question as to their nature," he answered.
"Then what are they? Who is this K. K. K., and why does he pursue this