`To tell my story,’ said John Openshaw, `I must start at the beginning…
My grandfather had two sons – my uncle Elias and my father, Joseph. My father had a small business in Coventry. He invented a tyre that didn’t puncture. It was very successful. Eventually, he sold the business and retired.
When he was a young man, my uncle Elias went to Florida and bought a plantation. He did very well. Then war broke out between the North and the South. He fought for Jackson’s army and later for Hood. He became a colonel. When General Lee stopped fighting, my uncle went back to his plantation and worked there for another three or four years. He grew rich. Around 1867 or 1868, he came back to Europe and bought a small piece of land in Sussex, near Horsham. He was a single man, fierce and quick-tempered. But he mostly kept himself to himself. I don’t think he ever visited Horsham. He had a garden with two or three fields around his house. Sometimes, he stayed in his room, smoked heavily, and refused see anyone. Even his own brother.
But he liked me. When he first met me, I was twelve years old. This was in 1878. When I stayed at his house, we played backgammon and chess. He was very kind to me. He gave me the keys to his house, and I was allowed to go anywhere. But there was one room that I wasn’t allowed to go into. No one was. It was always locked. One day, I looked through the keyhole, but I couldn’t see much. Just some old trunks and suitcases…’
John Openshaw stopped talking and looked into the fire.