This tale begins—and ends, in its way—with Sir Osgood Mapplethorpe. Surely nothing I say of the man shall constitute fresh information to anyone, but in the interests of expediency I shall provide a potted biography, that it may be added to the official record for posterity.
Osgood Mapplethorpe was rich. Exceedingly rich—a millionaire several times over, I believe. He inherited significant wealth from his father, an importer of teas and spices from India. Osgood was born in the East yet schooled in London, and he would likely have been an eager proponent of the Duke of Wellington’s—born in Ireland but resolutely British—famous dictum that “being born in a stable does not make one a horse.” I’m sure our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ—stable-born but famously not a horse—would also subscribe to this theory.
I digress. Osgood struck gold—in a manner of speaking—by investing much of his inheritance in South African mines shortly before the 1868 discovery of deep reserves of diamonds. He chose not to indulge in any extravagances despite his untold riches, living a relatively modest existence in an inherited country estate consisting of six acres just outside London. The house had eleven bedrooms and as many bathrooms, presumably a contingency of design lest a large weekend get-together take a turn for the unthinkable after an ill-prepared meal. It was rumoured of Osgood that he contented himself with inhabiting no more than three or four rooms, all clustered together in a mini-residence on the first floor. The rest of the house lay dormant, gathering dust, virgin terrain to Osgood.
Speaking of, he never married and was not known to have any surviving relatives. Thus, he had no heirs. He had latterly invested in racehorses, but sold these creatures at the merest hint of success, lest he attract any unwanted media attention. He also quietly amassed a large newspaper portfolio—ultimately numbering a dozen—possibly as another bulwark to protect his jealously-guarded privacy: if you control the medium of discourse, you control discourse itself. However, it is said he refrained from involving himself in day-to-day editorial matters, leaving each newspaper to be run by its appointed team. He was knighted—as is customary for millionaires—an honour he apparently wished to refuse on the grounds that he was merely a child of privilege who had chanced upon some lucky investments. Ultimately, though, he deduced that to turn down the honour would attract far more attention than the alternative, and so acceded to quietly becoming Sir Osgood. In short, he was a rich man and a private man, not possessed of any remarkable character traits.
The knighthood was awarded two years ago, in 1903. And then, six months ago, he announced he was dying. And what an announcement—published, as befits the recluse, on the front page of a dozen newspapers.
Again, you’re no doubt familiar with the announcement, but should you grant me some small leeway I shall recount it in full here:
I, Sir Osgood Eglinton Mapplethorpe, publisher of this fine periodical, announce with regret that I am not long for this world. My doctors, despite heroic efforts and recourse to the finest and most recent scientific advancements, have regretfully informed me that they fear I shall not see out the year. I have led a good life, and am haunted by neither the ghosts of decisions made nor opportunities not taken. Even so, I do not feel ready to depart this life for the next, but then again who among us does? And thus, in an effort to imbue my final days with a sense of excitement, and to stave off thoughts of the encroaching darkness, I issue the following challenge to all who are intrepid, or foolhardy, enough to meet it.
Nothing excites the human mind quite like tales of murder, crazed killers and courtroom drama, as evidenced by the great literary successes of Conan Doyle, and several of his lesser contemporaries. Ergo, I solemnly announce that I, Osgood Mapplethorpe, hereby bequeath my entire estate and holdings to the man (or lady!) who can successfully prove that he is directly responsible for ending my life, yet who also avoids being prosecuted for my murder in a court of law as a consequence of his actions. My will has been amended to incorporate the terms of this challenge.