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Classic Short Story Mystery: The Five Orange Pips

Updated: Jan 27

The Five Orange Pips

by Arthur Conan Doyle

A Sherlock Holmes short story by the British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It was first published in the November 1891 issue of the magazine The Strand. It would be republished on October 14, 1892 as the fifth story in the anthology The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

Part One

I have a complete record of all Sherlock Holmes' cases between 1880 and 1897. My friend and I worked together on some very important crimes during that period. We also worked on some very strange cases together. The strangest of all the cases is the one I am going to write about now.

It all began in September.

The weather was terrible, I remember. It rained and it was very windy all day. The weather grew worse in the evening. Sherlock Holmes and I sat by the fire in his flat in Baker Street. We did not say much. Holmes was working with some papers and I was reading a story. Suddenly I heard the bell. 'I wonder who that is?' I said. 'Are you expecting a friend,

Holmes?' 'No,' he said quietly. 'You're my only friend, Watson. I don't like people visiting me at home.' 'Then it must be a client,' I suggested. 'If it is a client,' Holmes replied gravely, 'it is a serious case. No one would walk through this storm if the case were not serious.' The landlady opened the front door of the house. A few moments later there was a knock on the door of Holmes' flat.

'Come in!' cried Holmes.

A young man entered the room. He looked about 22 years old and he was well dressed. He seemed very nervous and he was pale. 'Give me your coat and umbrella,' Holmes ordered. 'I will hang them up to dry. I see you have come to London from the Southwest,' he added. 'Yes,' the young man agreed. He looked surprised. 'I've just come from Horsham. But how did you know that?' 'The clay and chalk on your shoes is very distinctive,' Holmes told him. 'I've come for advice,' said the young man. 'Advice is easy to give,' Holmes replied. 'I need help as well as advice,' the young man added. 'Help is not always easy to give,' Holmes said seriously. 'I've heard a lot about you, Mr. Holmes,' the young man said. 'Major Prendergast told me how you helped him in the Tankerville Club Scandal.' 'Ah, yes,' Holmes remembered with a smile. 'The Major was accused of cheating at cards.' 'He said you could solve any mystery!' the young man cried.

'That was an exaggeration,' Holmes said quietly. 'The Major said you are always successful!' 'That's not true,' Holmes corrected him. 'I have lost four times - three times against men and once against woman.' 'But you've had hundreds of cases,' the young man went on. 'Four defeats are nothing against hundreds of successes! I'm sure you'll be successful with my case.' 'Please tell us all about it,' my friend suggested. 'It's a strange case,' the young man began. 'The things that have happened in my family are very mysterious.'

'Tell us everything,' Holmes repeated.

'My name is John Openshaw,' the young man said. 'I have very little to do with the story. To understand it, you will have to know something about the history of my family.' He paused for a moment, then he went on. 'My grandfather had two sons - my uncle Elias and my father Joseph. My father had a bicycle factory in Coventry. He was very successful and when he retired he was a rich man. 'My uncle Elias went to America when he was a young man. He, too, became a successful man. He owned property in Florida. He fought for the South in the American Civil War. He became a Colonel in the Confederate army. He did not want black people in America to have the vote. When the South was defeated, my uncle Elias returned to his property in Florida. He came back to England some years ago. 'He bought a house in Horsham. He was an odd man. He was not very friendly and he lived by himself. His neighbors sometimes saw him in his garden, but he generally stayed in the house. He drank a lot of brandy and he never had any visitors. He did not want to see his brother. 'He seemed fond of me, however,' Mr. Openshaw continued. 'He asked my father if I could live with him. I first went to his house when I was about twelve years old. He was kind, in his own way. He played draughts with me, and he put me in charge of the servants in the house. By the time I was sixteen, I was master of the house. I had all the keys of the house and I could do what I wanted.

'There was only one place I couldn't go into,' Mr. Openshaw said. 'There was a room in the attic that my uncle kept locked all the time. He did not allow anyone to go in there. I looked through the keyhole of that room when I was a boy, but it wasn't very interesting, I could only see pieces of old luggage and boxes of papers. 'One day my uncle received a letter. He looked carefully at the foreign stamp on the envelope. "From India! I wonder what it can be," he muttered. He opened the letter quickly. Five orange pips fell out of it onto the table. My uncle went very pale. He looked terrified. He stared at the envelope. "KKK!" he cried loudly. He looked at the postmark on the envelope. "From Pondicherry," he said. '''What's the matter, Uncle?" I cried. '"Death," he said. "That's what this letter means. I have done bad things in the past — and now I'm going to die!" He got up from the table and went into his room. He was still very pale. I picked up the envelope and saw the letters 'KKK' written on the inside of the flap. There was no letter inside it. Just the five orange pips. I couldn't understand what was happening. I left the dining room a few minutes later and went upstairs. I saw my uncle coming down the stairs. He was carrying a key in one hand and a box in the other. He had been into the locked room in the attic. '"They can try if they want," he muttered mysteriously. "'But I'll beat them in the end." Then he spoke to me. "Call Mr. Fordham, my lawyer," he ordered. 'That afternoon the lawyer arrived. My uncle called me into the room.

There was a fire burning in the room. There were lots of papers burning in the fire. The box from the attic room was open on the table. I saw the letters 'KKK' on the inside of the lid. '"I'm making a will," Uncle Elias told me. ''I'm leaving everything to your father. When he dies, you will have it all, John. Enjoy it if you can," he told me. Then he said a very odd thing. "But if you can't enjoy it, give everything to your worst enemy!" 'My uncle changed after that day. He began to drink a lot more. He spent most of the time in his room. Once or twice he came out of the room carrying a revolver. He sometimes rushed into the garden, crying that he was not afraid of anyone. 'One day he rushed into the garden with his revolver. This time he did not come back. We found him lying at the edge of a pond in the garden. His head was in the water. He was dead. 'There was an investigation, of course. The coroner decided that Uncle Elias had committed suicide. My father inherited the property.'

Part Two

'One moment,' said Holmes eagerly. 'This is a very interesting story. I want to be sure of the facts. When did your uncle receive the letter with the five orange pips?' 'The letter arrived on the 10th of March, 1883,' Mr. Openshaw answered. 'And when did he die?' Holmes asked him. 'He died seven weeks later, on the 2nd of May,' Mr. Openshaw replied. 'I see,' Holmes said quietly. 'Now please go on with the story. Tell us what happened next.' 'My father examined the property very carefully,' Mr. Openshaw said. 'He searched the room in the attic. The box was there. A label on the inside of the box had the letters 'KKK' written on it. There was a note on the label, which said, 'Letters, papers, receipts'. The box was empty, but my father found some other papers in the attic. These were records of my uncle's military career. Other papers came from the period after the Civil War. They showed that my uncle did not like the new political situation in America. He did not like the new freedom that black people had. He did not like the new politicians from the North who came to Florida. 'My father came to live in the house in Horsham at the beginning of 1884. Everything went well for about a year. Then, one morning at breakfast, he suddenly gave a cry of surprise. I looked up, and he was sitting with an envelope in one hand. In his other hand he was holding five orange pips! Of course he knew the story of the five orange pips, but he had always laughed at it.

Now he looked worried. "'What does this mean, John?" he asked me. His voice sounded scared. "'It's 'KKK'," I replied. He looked inside the envelope. "'You're right," he said. "But what about this?" he asked anxiously. "What does this mean?" 'He showed me the envelope. Above the letters 'KKK' there was some writing. '''Put the papers on the sundial in the garden," I read. "'What papers? I don't understand any of this." '''The papers must be the ones from the attic," I told him, "Uncle Elias destroyed them all before he died." 'My father was worried, but he was determined to fight his fear. "'This is all nonsense," he decided. "Where does this letter come from?" 'I looked at the postmark on the outside of the envelope. "Dundee," I told him. "The letter was posted in Dundee." 'We were silent for a moment. "'I think you should tell the police," I warned my father. "'They'd laugh at me!" he said quickly. "This is just a foolish joke, John. We'll say no more about it." 'I tried to persuade my father to do something about the letter and the five orange pips. It was no good. He refused to do anything. 'About three days later he went to stay with an old friend of his, Major Freebody. I was glad my father was away from the house. I thought he was out of danger - but I was wrong!

'The Major sent me a telegram two days after my father's arrival. Something terrible had happened. My father had fallen over the edge of a chalk-pit while he was out walking one evening. He died a few days later. 'I investigated the accident very carefully, Mr. Holmes. There was no evidence of murder. The coroner decided that my father had died as a result of an accident. 'That is the story of my family,' Mr. Openshaw said. 'That is how I became the owner of my uncle's house about three years ago. I have lived there very happily, Mr. Holmes.' Mr. Openshaw stopped talking for a moment. He put his hand in his pocket and took out an envelope. 'Until yesterday morning that is,' he said slowly. He emptied the contents of the envelope onto the table in front of him. Five orange pips rolled out of it. 'The envelope was posted in London,' Mr. Openshaw told us. 'There was the same message that my father received: "'KKK'. Put the papers on the sundial." 'What have you done about it?' Holmes wanted to know. 'Nothing,' the young man replied. 'Nothing?' Holmes repeated in surprise. 'What could I do?' Mr. Openshaw asked him. 'I feel desperate like an animal in a trap!' 'You must act!' Holmes announced. 'You must save yourself.' 'I went to the police,' Mr. Openshaw said. 'It was no good. They listened to my story, but they didn't believe me. They just sent a policeman to the house,' he added. 'Why did you come to me?' Holmes wanted to know. 'And why didn't you come sooner?' 'I only spoke to Major Prendergast today,' the young man said. Holmes began to speak quickly. 'You received the letter yesterday,' he said. 'Do you have any other evidence to show me?' 'Only this,' Mr. Openshaw told him. He put a piece of blue paper on the table. 'I found this piece of paper in my uncle's room after he burnt the papers from the box,' he explained. 'It was on the floor. It seems to be a page from a diary.'

Holmes and I looked at the piece of paper. It was dated 'March, 1869', and beneath it was written: 4th. Hudson came. Same old platform. 7th. Sent the pips to McCauley, Laramore, and John Swain of St. Augustine. 9th. McCauley cleared. 10th. John swain cleared. 12th. visited Laramore. All well. Holmes studied the piece of paper for a few minutes and then he turned to Mr. Openshaw. 'You must go home at once,' he ordered him. 'Put this piece of paper into the box from the room in the attic. Then put the box on the sundial in the garden. You must also write a note. Explain that your uncle burnt all the other papers. You can do nothing else at the moment. Do you understand?' 'Yes, I do,' Mr. Openshaw said. 'I'll do what you advise, Mr. Holmes.' 'Go home straight away,' Holmes told him. 'And be very careful - you are in great danger!' 'I'm carrying a revolver,' Mr. Openshaw replied. 'Good,' Holmes replied. 'I will begin working on the case tomorrow.' 'You'll come to the house in Horsham, then?' Mr Openshaw asked him. 'No,' Holmes said. 'The secret of the case is here in London. I shall stay here to solve the mystery.

Part Three

Mr. Openshaw left the flat a little while later. Holmes and I sat in silence for a while. Then he lit his pipe and smoked for a few minutes. 'This is a strange case, Watson,' he said at last. 'John Openshaw is in very great danger — very great danger indeed!' 'What kind of danger, Holmes?' I asked excitedly. Holmes did not reply to my question. 'Pass me the American Encyclopaedia,' he said. 'I think we shall find out something useful if we study the volume for the letter "K",' he told me. 'We also have to think about Colonel Openshaw,' he said. 'Why did he leave America, I wonder? Was he frightened of something? And why did he lead such a solitary life when he arrived here in England? Was he still afraid of something?' He paused for a moment. 'What do the envelopes tell us?' he asked me. 'Where were the letters sent from, Watson?' 'They were sent from Pondicherry, Dundee and London,' I said. 'The last one came from East London,' he said. 'What does that information tell you, Watson?' 'They are all seaports!' I cried excitedly. 'The writer was on a ship.' 'Precisely!' agreed Holmes. 'Now think about this. Colonel Openshaw died seven weeks after he received the orange pips. His brother died only a few days after he received the pips. How do you explain that, Watson?' 'I can't,' I admitted. 'What does it mean, Holmes?' 'The writer sends each letter on the mail boat,' Holmes said. 'He then takes another boat to come to England.

There is always a delay between the arrival of the letter and the death. The reason for the delay is clear. The mail boat is a fast steam vessel. The writer of the letters travels on a slower boat — a sailing-ship!' 'But why, Holmes,' I asked. 'What is the reason for these murders?' 'Colonel Openshaw's papers were very important to the writer of these letters,' Holmes said. 'I think there is more than one man, Watson. There have been two murders. That suggests an organization. 'KKK' are not the initials of an individual. They are the sign of an organization, you see. The organization wants Colonel Openshaw's papers. And they will kill to get them.' 'What organization, Holmes?' Holmes turned the pages of the American Encyclopaedia. 'The Ku Klux Klan, Watson. It's a secret organization that came into existence after the American Civil War. It had centers in Tennessee, Louisiana, Georgia and Florida. Colonel Openshaw lived in Florida, you remember. The purpose of the Ku Klux Klan was terrible. They were against giving black Americans the right to vote. They were very dangerous. They also had a strange tradition, Watson. If they wanted to kill a man, they sent him a warning first. They used oak leaves, melon seeds or orange pips as the warning. The victim then had a chance to change his ways, or to leave the country. The Ku Klux Klan collapsed in 1869.' Holmes looked at me closely.

'Openshaw came to England in 1869,' he reminded me. 'I think he was carrying the Ku Klux Klan's papers. That may be the reason for the organization's sudden collapse. His diary contains details about the organization's members. They are not safe until they have the diary back.' 'What about the page from the diary?' I asked. 'What does that mean?' 'It's pretty clear what it means,' Holmes said. "Sent the pips to McCauley, Paramore, and John Swajn of St. Augustine." That's the warning, you see. The next entry I says, "McCauley cleared." That means he ran away. Then there's the final entry, "Visited Paramore." I expect the visit was a fatal one.'

The next morning Holmes and I had breakfast together at his flat. 'I'm worried about Mr. Openshaw,' he told me. 'I may go to Horsham, after all.' As he spoke, I picked up the newspaper that was lying on the table. I saw the headline immediately. 'Holmes,' I cried, 'you're too late!' 'What do you mean?' Holmes asked quickly. I passed him the morning newspaper.


Police Constable Hook was on duty yesterday evening near Waterloo Bridge. He heard a cry for help and then a splash in the water. It was a very dark night and the weather was bad. The constable could not rescue the man. The water police found the body of a young man in the river. The man was John Openshaw of Horsham. Police believe that he was hurrying through the dark streets and fell into the river by accident. There was no sign of violence on the body.

Holmes put the newspaper down. I have never seen him look so angry. 'I'll get them Watson. I'll find the men who did this!' my friend said. 'Openshaw came to me for help. Now he's dead.' He thought for a moment and then he made a decision. 'I'm going out!' he announced. 'To the police?' I asked him. 'Are you going to talk to them?' 'Not yet, Watson — not until I've solved the mystery.'

I did not see my friend for the rest of the day. I returned to the flat in Baker Street early that evening. Holmes was not there so I waited for him. He came in at about 10 o'clock. He was pale and he looked very tired. He ate a piece of bread hungrily and took a long drink of water. 'You're hungry,' I commented. 'I haven't eaten since this morning,' he told me. 'I've been very busy all day.' He faced me excitedly. 'I've got them, Watson. I've got them!' he cried. 'I know who they are now. And I know what I'm going to do!' He took an orange from the table and began to pull the pips out of it. He put five pips into an envelope and wrote a name and address on it: 'Captain James Calhoun, Barque Lone Star, Savannah, Georgia.' 'That message will be waiting for him when he arrives,' Holmes said with a smile. 'But who is he? Who is this Captain Calhoun?' I asked. 'He's the leader of the organization,' Holmes told me. 'How did you find out about him?' I asked. Holmes smiled at me. 'I spent the day studying old newspapers,' he informed me. 'I made a list of all the sailing ships that stopped at Pondicherry in January and February 1883.

There were thirty-six of them. One of them was called the Lone Star. The name gave me a connection with America, you see.' 'Texas is sometimes called the Lone Star State,' I confirmed. 'Then what did you do, Holmes?' 'I made a list of all the sailing ships that stopped in Dundee in January 1885,' Holmes said. 'Again, the Lone Star was one of them. Then I discovered that the Lone Star arrived in London a week ago. She has left London now and is returning to Savannah.' 'What are you going to do?' 'That's easy,' Holmes replied. 'Only three members of the crew are Americans — Captain Calhoun and two others. I also know that the three Americans left the ship last night. I spoke to one of the sailors on the boat, you see. The mail boat is faster than the Lone Star. My letter will be waiting for these three men when they arrive - and so will the American police!' he concluded. Holmes was wrong.

There is ever a flaw, however, in the best laid of human plans, and the murderers of John Openshaw were never to receive the orange pips which would show them that another, as cunning and as resolute as themselves, was upon their track. Very long and very severe were the equinoctial gales that year. We waited long for news of the “Lone Star” of Savannah, but none ever reached us. We did at last hear that somewhere far out in the Atlantic a shattered stern-post of a boat was seen swinging in the trough of a wave, with the letters “L. S.” carved upon it, and that is all which we shall ever know of the fate of the “Lone Star.

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