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THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES

by Arthur Conan Doyle


"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?'

"'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 round him.

"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.

"Nothing."

"Nothing?"

"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."

"Ah!"

"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 cried.

"They have, however, allowed me a policeman, who may remain in
the house with me."

"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 at once?"

"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 act."

"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 understand?"

"Entirely."

"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 parties."

"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.



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