The Five Orange Pips
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Strand Magazine
| When I glance over my notes and records of
Holmes cases between the years '82 and '90, I am faced by so
many which present strange and interesting features that it is no
easy matter to know which to choose and which to leave. Some,
however, have already gained publicity through the papers, and
others have not offered a field for those peculiar qualities which
my friend possessed in so high a degree, and which it is the
object of these papers to illustrate. Some, too, have baffled his
analytical skill, and would be, as narratives, beginnings without
an ending, while others have been but partially cleared up, and
have their explanations founded rather upon conjecture and sur-
mise than on that absolute logical proof which was so dear to
him. There is, however, one of these last which was so remark-
able in its details and so startling in its results that I am tempted
to give some account of it in spite of the fact that there are points
in connection with it which never have been, and probably never
will be, entirely cleared up.
The year '87 furnished us with a long series of cases of
greater or less interest, of which I retain the records. Among my
headings under this one twelve months I find an account of the
adventure of the Paradol Chamber, of the Amateur Mendicant
Society, who held a luxurious club in the lower vault of a
furniture warehouse, of the facts connected with the loss of the
British bark Sophy Anderson, of the singular adventures of the
Grice Patersons in the island of Uffa, and finally of the Camberwell
poisoning case. In the latter, as may be remembered, Sherlock
Holmes was able, by winding up the dead man's watch, to prove
that it had been wound up two hours before, and that therefore
the deceased had gone to bed within that time -- a deduction
which was of the greatest importance in clearing up the case. All
these I may sketch out at some future date, but none of them
present such singular features as the strange train of circum-
stances which I have now taken up my pen to describe.
It was in the latter days of September, and the equinoctial
gales had set in with exceptional violence. All day the wind had
screamed and the rain had beaten against the windows, so that
even here in the heart of great, hand-made London we were
forced to raise our minds for the instant from the routine of life
and to recognize the presence of those great elemental forces
which shriek at mankind through the bars of his civilization, like
untamed beasts in a cage. As evening drew in, the storm grew
higher and louder, and the wind cried and sobbed like a child in
the chimney. Sherlock Holmes sat moodily at one side of the
fireplace cross-indexing his records of crime, while I at the other
was deep in one of Clark Russell's fine sea-stories until the howl
of the gale from without seemed to blend with the text, and the
splash of the rain to lengthen out into the long swash of the sea
waves. My wife was on a visit to her mother's, and for a few
days I was a dweller once more in my old quarters at Baker
"Why," said I, glancing up at my companion, "that was
surely the bell. Who could come to-night? Some friend of yours,
"Except yourself I have none," he answered. "I do not
"A client, then?"
"If so, it is a serious case. Nothing less would bring a man
out on such a day and at such an hour. But I take it that it is
more likely to be some crony of the landlady's."
Sherlock Holmes was wrong in his conjecture, however, for
there came a step in the passage and a tapping at the door. He
stretched out his long arm to turn the lamp away from himself
and towards the vacant chair upon which a newcomer must sit.
"Come in!" said he.
The man who entered was young, some two-and-twenty at the
outside, well-groomed and trimly clad, with something of refine-
ment and delicacy in his bearing. The streaming umbrella which
he held in his hand, and his long shining waterproof told of the
fierce weather through which he had come. He looked about him
anxiously in the glare of the lamp, and I could see that his face
was pale and his eyes heavy, like those of a man who is weighed
down with some great anxiety.
"l owe you an apology," he said, raising his golden pince-nez
to his eyes. "I trust that I am not intruding. I fear that I have
brought some traces of the storm and rain into your snug chamber."
"Give me your coat and umbrella," said Holmes. "They may
rest here on the hook and will be dry presently. You have come
up from the south-west, I see."
"Yes, from Horsham."
"That clay and chalk mixture which I see upon your toe caps
is quite distinctive."
"I have come for advice."
"That is easily got."
"That is not always so easy."
"I have heard of you, Mr. Holmes. I heard from Major
Prendergast how you saved him in the Tankerville Club scandal."
"Ah, of course. He was wrongfully accused of cheating at
"He said that you could solve anything."
"He said too much."
"That you are never beaten."
"I have been beaten four times - three times by men, and
once by a woman."
"But what is that compared with the number of your successes?"
"It is true that I have been generally successful."
"Then you may be so with me."
"I beg that you will draw your chair up to the fire and favour
me with some details as to your case."
"It is no ordinary one."
"None of those which come to me are. I am the last court of
"And yet I question, sir, whether, in all your experience, you
have ever listened to a more mysterious and inexplicable chain of
events than those which have happened in my own family."
"You fill me with interest," said Holmes. "Pray give us the
essential facts from the commencement, and I can afterwards
question you as to those details which seem to me to be most
The young man pulled his chair up and pushed his wet feet out
towards the blaze.
"My name," said he, "is John Openshaw, but my own affairs
have, as far as I can understand, little to do with this awful
business. It is a hereditary matter; so in order to give you an idea
of the facts, I must go back to the commencement of the affair.
"You must know that my grandfather had two sons -- my
uncle Elias and my father Joseph. My father had a small factory
at Coventry, which he enlarged at the time of the invention of
bicycling. He was a patentee of the Openshaw unbreakable tire,
and his business met with such success that he was able to sell it
and to retire upon a handsome competence.
"My uncle Elias emigrated to America when he was a young
man and became a planter in Florida, where he was reported to
have done very well. At the time of the war he fought in
Jackson's army, and afterwards under Hood, where he rose to be
a colonel. When Lee laid down his arms my uncle returned to his
plantation, where he remained for three or four years. About
1869 or 1870 he came back to Europe and took a small estate in
Sussex, near Horsham. He had made a very considerable fortune
in the States, and his reason for leaving them was his aversion to
the negroes, and his dislike of the Republican policy in extend-
ing the franchise to them. He was a singular man, fierce and
quick-tempered, very foul-mouthed when he was angry, and of a
most retiring disposition. During all the years that he lived at
Horsham, I doubt if ever he set foot in the town. He had a
garden and two or three fields round his house, and there he
would take his exercise, though very often for weeks on end he
would never leave his room. He drank a great deal of brandy and
smoked very heavily, but he would see no society and did not
want any friends, not even his own brother.
"He didn't mind me; in fact, he took a fancy to me, for at the
time when he saw me first I was a youngster of twelve or so.
This would be in the year 1878, after he had been eight or nine
years in England. He begged my father to let me live with him
and he was very kind to me in his way. When he was sober he
used to be fond of playing backgammon and draughts with me,
and he would make me his representative both with the servants
and with the tradespeople, so that by the time that I was sixteen I
was quite master of the house. I kept all the keys and could go
where I liked and do what I liked, so long as I did not disturb
him in his privacy. There was one singular exception, however,
for he had a single room, a lumber-room up among the attics,
which was invariably locked, and which he would never permit
either me or anyone else to enter. With a boy's curiosity I have
peeped through the keyhole, but I was never able to see more
than such a collection of old trunks and bundles as would be
expected in such a room.
"One day -- it was in March, 1883 -- a letter with a foreign
stamp lay upon the table in front of the colonel's plate. It was
not a common thing for him to receive letters, for his bills were
all paid in ready money, and he had no friends of any sort. 'From
India!' said he as he took it up, 'Pondicherry postmark! What
can this be?' Opening it hurriedly, out there jumped five little
dried orange pips, which pattered down upon his plate. I began
to laugh at this, but the laugh was struck from my lips at the
sight of his face. His lip had fallen, his eyes were protruding, his
skin the colour of putty, and he glared at the envelope which he
still held in his trembling hand, 'K. K. K.!' he shrieked, and
then, 'My God, my God, my sins have overtaken me!'
" 'What is it, uncle?' I cried.
" 'Death,' said he, and rising from the table he retired to his
room, leaving me palpitating with horror. I took up the envelope
and saw scrawled in red ink upon the inner flap, just above the
gum, the letter K three times repeated. There was nothing else
save the five dried pips. What could be the reason of his over-
powering terror? I left the breakfast-table, and as I ascended the
stair I met him coming down with an old rusty key, which must
have belonged to the attic, in one hand, and a small brass box,
like a cashbox, in the other.
" 'They may do what they like, but I'll checkmate them still,'
said he with an oath. 'Tell Mary that I shall want a fire in my
room to-day, and send down to Fordham, the Horsham lawyer.'
"I did as he ordered, and when the lawyer arrived I was asked
to step up to the room. The fire was burning brightly, and in the
grate there was a mass of black, fluffy ashes, as of burned paper,
while the brass box stood open and empty beside it. As I glanced
at the box I noticed, with a start, that upon the lid was printed
the treble K which I had read in the morning upon the envelope.
" 'I wish you, John,' said my uncle, 'to witness my will. I
leave my estate, with all its advantages and all its disadvantages,
to my brother, your father, whence it will, no doubt, descend to
you. If you can enjoy it in peace, well and good! If you find you
cannot, take my advice, my boy, and leave it to your deadliest
enemy. I am sorry to give you such a two-edged thing, but I
can't say what turn things are going to take. Kindly sign the
paper where Mr. Fordham shows you.'
"I signed the paper as directed, and the lawyer took it away
with him. The singular incident made, as you may think, the
deepest impression upon me, and I 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
"One moment," Holmes interposed, "your statement is, I
foresee, one of the most remarkable to which I have ever lis-
tened. 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 enve-
lope 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
" '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
" '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
" '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
"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
"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
neighbourhood, and was lying senseless, with a shattered skull. I
hurried to him, but he passed away without having ever recov-
ered 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
"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
"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
Holmes shook his clenched hands in the air. "Incredible
imbecility!" he cried.
"They have, however, allowed me a policeman, who may re-
main 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
"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 discoloured, blue-
tinted paper, he laid it out upon the table. "I have some remem-
brance," 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 colour. 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,
"Thank you!" said Holmes, folding up the paper
"Ku Klux Klan. A name
derived from the fanciful resem-
"You will observe," said Holmes, laying down
It had cleared in the morning, and the sun was
shining with a
"Between nine and ten
last night Police-Constable Cook,
We sat in silence for some minutes, Holmes more