Here is another graded reader for intermediate learners of English. It is a Sherlock Holmes story.
Five Orange Pips
That day in the second half of September there was an extremely strong storm. All day the wind screamed and the rain beat against the windows. When the evening came, the storm grew even stronger and louder. Sherlock Holmes sat at one side of his fireplace reading. I was sitting at the other one watching the flames, feeling happy that I can stay in a warm flat. My wife was on a visit to her mother’s, so for a few days I stayed at Baker Street with Sherlock.
“Oh, I am sure that I heard the bell,” I said and looked at my friend. “Who could come to-night? Your friend?”
“I don’t have any other friend than you,” he answered.
“A client, then?”
“If so, it is a serious case. No one would come in such weather if it wasn’t really serious. But I think it will be a landlady’s lover. ”
But Sherlock Holmes was wrong. Someone knocked on our door.
“Come in!” Sherlock said.
The man who entered was young, and well dressed. I could see that his face was white and his eyes tired. He seemed like a man who has a really big problem.
“I am sorry to come so late and in such weather.“ he said.
“Give me your coat and umbrella,” said Holmes. “ They will dry over here ”
“I have come for advice.”
“That is easy to give.”
“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. People thought that he was cheating at cards. But they were wrong.”
“He said that you could solve anything.”
“He said too much.”
“That you never lose.”
“I have lost four times — three times to men, and once to a woman. But it is true that I usually win.”
“Then you may help me.”
“Please, pull your chair to the fire and tell me some details of your case. ”
“It is all very strange.”
“Most of the cases here are.”
“And yet I think that you have never heard a more mysterious and stranger story than the one that happened to my family. ”
“I am really interested,” said Holmes. “Please give me the basic facts and then I will ask you about the details. ”
The young man pulled his chair up and pushed his wet feet out towards the fire.
“My name,” he said, “is John Openshaw, but the whole problem started before I was born and it has stayed with my family for many years now.
“My grandfather had two sons — my uncle Elias and my father Joseph. My father had a small company at Coventry and after some time he was so successful that he sold his business and retired.
“My uncle Elias went to America when he was a young man and became a farmer in Florida, where he was very successful too. During the Civil War he fought for the South and became a colonel. When the South gave up, my uncle returned to his farm, where he worked for three or four years. In about 1869 or 1870 he came back to Europe and bought a small farm in Sussex, near Horsham. He had got really rich in the States, and he left them because he didn’t like the black people and the fact that they got more and more rights. He was a strange man. He got angry easily and used dirty words a lot. He didn’t like society and during all the years that he lived at Horsham, I think he never went to the town. He had a garden and two or three fields round his house, and there he walked. But very often he would stay in his room and wouldn’t leave it for weeks. He drank a lot of alcohol and smoked a lot too. He didn’t want any friends and he didn’t want to see even his brother.
“He didn’t mind me; in fact, he liked me so much that when I was twelve, it was in the year 1878, he asked my father to let me live with him and he was very kind to me. When he didn’t drink we would play backgammon and chess. I represented him and by the time that I was sixteen I was the master of the house. I kept all the keys and could go where I liked and do what I liked. There was just one room I could not go into. Of course I was curious, so I looked through the keyhole but all I could see were old boxes.
“One day — it was in March, 1883 — a letter with a foreign stamp arrived for my uncle. It was very strange for him to receive letters. ‘From India!’ said he as he took it up, ‘Pondicherry postmark! What can this be?’ He opened it quickly and there were five little dried orange pips. I began to laugh at this, but then I saw his face. ‘K. K. K.!’ he screamed, and then, ‘My God, my God, my bad past has found me!’
“ ‘What is it, uncle?’ I cried.
“ ‘Death,’ he said, and went to his room. I took the envelope and saw that inside the envelope there were three Ks written in red colour. There was nothing else, only the five dried pips. Why was my uncle so scared? I left the breakfast-table, and as I went up the stair I met him with an old key, which must have belonged to the locked room, in one hand, and a small box in the other.
“ ‘They may do what they like, but I’ll win,’ he said. ‘Tell Mary that I want fire in my room to-day, and send for a lawyer.’
“I did as he ordered, and when the lawyer arrived I was asked to come to his room. The fire was burning brightly, and it was full of burnt paper. The box was open and empty. As I looked at the box I saw that there were three Ks written on it too.
“ ‘I wish you, John,’ said my uncle, ‘to witness my will. I leave my farm to my brother, your father and one day you will get it. 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 worst enemy. I am sorry to give you such a tricky thing, but I don’t know what is going to happen. Please sign the paper where Mr. Fordham shows you.’
“I signed the paper, and the lawyer took it away with him. This thing made a deep impression on me and I thought about it a lot but I could not come up with any solution. And I felt quite scared, but as weeks passed and nothing happened I started to feel calmer. But my uncle changed. He drank more than ever and then he sometimes got so drunk that he ran out of the house with a gun and shouted that he was not afraid of any man. But it was clear that he was really scared.
“Well, and in the end there came a night when he got drunk, ran out of the house and never came back. We found him in a little pool, which was at the end of the garden. There was no sign of any fight, and the water was only 60 centimetres deep, so the police said that he killed himself. But I didn’t believe it. My uncle was scared of death. Then my father got the farm and some £14,000.”
“Can I interrupt you?” Holmes said. “Your story is one of the most interesting I have ever heard but do you remember the exact dates when your uncle received the letter and the date when he died? ”
“The letter arrived on March 10, 1883. His death was seven weeks later, at night of May 2nd.”
“Thank you. Please, go on.”
“When my father took the farm we went into the locked room. We found the box there, but it was empty. Inside the box there were written the letters K. K. K. and ‘Letters and documents’. We think that these documents were destroyed by my uncle. Otherwise there were only many papers and notebooks which described what my uncle did in America.
“Well, it was the beginning of 1884 when my father came to live at Horsham, and all went as well as possible until the January of 1885. On the fourth day after the new year I heard my father give a 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 other one. He had always laughed at my story about the uncle, but he looked very scared now.
“ ‘What on earth does this mean, John?’ he asked
“I was scared too. ‘It is K. K. K.,’ I said.
“He looked inside the envelope. ‘Yes, it is,’ he cried. ‘Here are the very letters. But there is something above them too?’
“ ‘Put the papers on the bench in the garden,’ I read over his shoulder.
“ ‘What papers? What bench?’ he asked.
“ ‘The bench in the garden. There is only one,’ I said; ‘but the papers must be those that the uncle burnt.’
“ ‘Pooh!’ he said in the end. ‘We are in a civilised country here. Where does the thing come from?’
“ ‘From Dundee,’ I answered after checking the postmark.
“ ‘It is a bad joke,’ he said. ‘I will do nothing.’
“ ‘I would certainly speak to the police,’ I said.
“ ‘They would laugh at me. I will do nothing.’
“ ‘Then let me do it?’
“ ‘No, you mustn’t. I don’t want the police think that we are stupid.’
“It was useless to argue with him but I was afraid.
“On the third day after the letter came my father went to visit an old friend, Major Freebody. I was happy that he went there because I thought that he was farther from danger when he was away from home. But I was wrong. On the second day after my father left, I received a telegram from the major. My father had fallen into one of the deep chalk-pits and broke his head. I hurried to him, but he died after a few hours. It seems that he was coming back home and because he didn’t know it there and there was no fence around the chalk-pit, he fell into it by accident. The police said it was an accident and didn’t care about it any more. I examined every fact connected with his death carefully but I couldn’t find anything which could suggest the idea of murder. There were no signs of fight, no footmarks, no robbery, no strangers upon the roads. And yet I was quite sure that there was something bad about it.
“In this way I got the farm and the money. You will ask me why I did not sell it? I answer, because I thought that our problems were connected with my uncle’s life not with the house and that the danger would be the same anywhere else too.
“It was in January, 1885, that my poor father died, and two years and eight months have passed since then. During that time I have lived happily at Horsham, and I had begun to hope that this problem had passed away from the family. But yesterday it came to me too.”
The young man took from his coat an envelope, and shook out five little dried orange pips.
“This is the envelope,” he continued. “The postmark is London — eastern part. Inside there are the same words which were in my father’s last message: ‘K. K. K.’; and then ‘Put the papers on the bench.’ ”
“What have you done?” asked Holmes.
“To tell the truth” — he put his face into his thin, white hands — “I have felt that there is nothing I can do.”
“Tut! tut!” cried Sherlock Holmes. “You must act, man, or you are lost. Only an action can save you. This is no time for being sad now.”
“I have seen the police.”
“But they listened to my story with a smile. I am sure that the inspector thinks that the letters are all just bad jokes, and that the deaths of my relations were just accidents.”
Holmes shook his hands in the air. “Imbecility!” he cried.
“They have, however, given me a policeman, who stays in the house with me.”
“Has he come with you to-night?”
“No. He has to stay in the house.”
Again Holmes was angry.
“Why did you not come at once?”
“I did not know about you. It was only today that I spoke to Major Prendergast about my troubles and he advised me to come to you.”
“It is really two days since you received the letter. It might be late now. You have no other information or a detail which might help us?”
“There is one thing,” said John Openshaw and he took an old piece of blue paper out of his coat pocket. “I think that on the day when my uncle burnt the papers I saw that the papers had this colour. I found this sheet on the floor of his room, and I believe that this one was not burnt by accident. But I don’t think it will help us much. I think that it is a page from a diary. It was certainly written by my uncle.”
Holmes moved the lamp, and we both looked at the sheet of paper. At the top there was written: “March, 1869,” and lower there were the following words, which didn’t make much sense:
“4th. Hudson came. Same old platform.
“7th. Sent the pips to McCauley, Paramore, and John Swain, of St. Augustine.
“9th. McCauley cleared.
“10th. John Swain cleared.
“12th. Visited Paramore. All well.”
“Thank you!” said Holmes, and returned the paper to our visitor. “And now you must not lose any time. You must go home and act immediately.”
“What shall I do?”
“There is only one thing to do. Put this paper into the box. You must also put in a note to say that all the other papers were burnt by your uncle, and that this is the only one which you have. Then put the box on the bench. Do you understand?”
“Do not try to catch the people. First we have to stop the danger and only then we can try to solve the mystery and to punish the bad men.”
“Thank you,” the young man said and put on his coat. “I will do what you said.”
“Hurry up. And, above all, take care of yourself because you are in a real danger. How do you go back?”
“By train from Waterloo.”
“It is not yet nine. The streets will be crowded, so I think you should be safe. But be careful.”
“I’ve got a gun.”
“That is good. Tomorrow I will try to solve your case.”
“Will you come to Horsham?”
“No, your secret is hidden here in London and I will find it here.”
“I will visit you in a day or two and tell you what happened to the box and the papers. I will take your advice.” He shook hands with us and went away. Outside it was still raining and the wind was blowing.
Sherlock Holmes sat for some time in silence. Then he lit his pipe and smoked.
“I think, Watson,” he remarked at last, “that this is the most interesting case we have ever had.”
“But do you have,” I asked, “any idea who are these dangerous men?”
“I think it is absolutely clear,” he answered.
“Then what are they? Who is this K. K. K., and why does he attack this unhappy family?”
Sherlock Holmes closed his eyes and placed his elbows upon the arms of his chair.
„Please, can you hand me the letter K of the American Encyclopaedia which stands on the shelf next to you. Thank you. Now let us think about the situation and see what may be deduced from it. In the first place, I think that it is clear that Colonel Openshaw had some very strong reason for leaving America. Men of his age do not change all their life easily.The fact that he wanted to be alone suggests that he was afraid of someone or something, so we may assume that it was fear of someone or something which drove him from America. Did you notice the postmarks of those letters?”
“The first was from Pondicherry, the second from Dundee, and the third from London.”
“From East London. What do you deduce from that?”
“They are all ports. The writer was on a ship.”
“Excellent. The writer was probably on a ship. And now let us consider another fact. When the letter came from India, it took seven weeks before someone died. In Dundee it was only some three or four days. Does that mean anything?”
“A greater way to travel.”
“But the letter had also a greater way to come.”
“Then I do not know.”
“I believe it is because the man or men are on a sailing ship. It looks as if they always send the letter before they start their mission. You see how quickly the action followed the letter when it came from Dundee. If they had come from India in a steamer they would have arrived almost as soon as their letter. But, it took them seven weeks. I think that those seven weeks were the difference between the boat which brought the letter and the sailing boat which brought the writer.”
“It is possible.”
“And now you see why I asked young Openshaw to be careful. The death has always come at the end of the time which it would take the senders to travel the distance. But this one comes from London, and that is why we do not have much time.”
“Good God!” I cried. “Why do they do it?”
“The papers which the uncle had are clearly extremely important for the person or persons in the sailing-ship. I think that it is quite clear that there must be more than one of them. A single man could not have carried out two deaths so perfectly. They want to get the papers. So as you see, K.K.K. cannot stand for an individual, they must stand for a society. ”
“But what society?”
“Have you never—” said Sherlock Holmes, “have you never heard of the Ku Klux Klan?”
“I have not.”
Holmes turned over the leaves of the book on his knees. “Here it is,” he said after a while:
“ ‘Ku Klux Klan. This terrible secret society was formed by some ex-Confederate soldiers in the Southern states after the Civil War, and it quickly formed local branches in different parts of the country, mainly in Tennessee, Louisiana, the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida. Its power was used for the terrorising of the black men and murdering and driving from the country of those who didn’t want to obey them. Before each action they usually sent a warning to the people. This warning could be for example melon seeds or orange pips. When the person got such a warning he could either publicly announce that he changed his opinion or run away from the country. If he didn’t do this, he would always die in a strange way. The organisation was so perfect that nearly no one was able to oppose them. For some years the organisation worked very well but then it suddenly collapsed in 1869.’
Holmes lay down the book and said. “Do you see that the sudden end of the organisation happened at the same time when Openshaw ran away from America with the papers? There are probably many people in the South who will not sleep easy until the papers are found. ”
“Then the page we have seen—”
“It is a typical example. If I remember right there was: ‘sent the pips to A, B, and C’ — that means that they sent the warning to them. Then there was written that A and B cleared, or left the country, and finally that C was visited. I am afraid that it means that he was killed. I believe that the only chance young Openshaw has is to do what I have told him. There is nothing more to be said or done tonight.”
The sky was blue in the morning, and the sun was shining. Sherlock Holmes was already at breakfast when I came there.
“Sorry for not waiting for you,” he said; “I have a long day before me. I will try to solve young Openshaw’s case.”
“What steps will you take?” I asked.
“It will very much depend on the answers to my first questions. I may have to go to Horsham.”
“You will not go there first?”
“No, I will start in the City. Just ring the bell and the maid will bring up your coffee.”
As I waited, I took the unopened newspaper from the table and looked over it.
“Holmes,” I cried, “you are too late.”
“Ah!” he said, “I feared as much. How was it done?”
“ ‘Tragedy Near Waterloo Bridge.’“ I read.
“ ‘Between nine and ten last night Police-Constable Cook on duty near Waterloo Bridge, heard a cry for help and a splash in the water. The night, however, was really dark and stormy, so, in spite of the help of several people who were going by, it was quite impossible to save the man. The police found the body several hours later. It was a young gentleman whose name was John Openshaw. It is believed that he may have been hurrying down to catch the last train from Waterloo Station, and that in his hurry and the darkness he missed his path and walked into the river. There were no traces of violence and it is clear that it was an accident.’ ”
We sat in silence for some minutes, Holmes more shaken than I had ever seen him.
“Now it is personal, Watson,” he said at last. “I will catch them! They must be really clever devils. How could they get him down there? It is not on the direct line to the station. The bridge was probably too crowded for them. Well, Watson, we will see who will win in the end. I am going out now!”
“To the police?”
“No; I will be the police.”
I had a lot of patients that day and I returned to Baker Street in the evening. Sherlock Holmes had not come back yet. It was nearly ten o’clock when he came. He was looking white and tired. He sat down and started eating.
“You are hungry,” I remarked.
“ I have had nothing since breakfast.”
“Nothing. I had no time to think of it.”
“And how have you succeeded?”
“You have a clue?”
“I have them. I will give them the same medicine they serve!”
“What do you mean?”
He took an orange from the cupboard, and squeezed out the pips on the table. He took five of them and put them into an envelope. On the inside he wrote “S. H. for J. O.” Then he wrote the address: “Captain James Calhoun, Ship Lone Star, Savannah, Georgia.”
“That will wait for him when he arrives,” he said and laughed. “It may give him a sleepless night. He will know the death is coming as Openshaw did.”
“And who is this Captain Calhoun?”
“The leader of the gang.”
“How did you find him?”
He took a large sheet of paper from his pocket. It was full of dates and names.
“I have spent the whole day,” he said, „studying what each ship that was in Pondicherry, India, in January and February in 1883 did later. There were thirty-six ships which came there during those months. ”
“I searched the Dundee records, and when I found that only the ship Lone Star was in both places at those times, I was quite sure. I then asked which ships are now in the port of London.”
“The Lone Star had arrived here last week. I went down there and found that she had left this morning. It went home to Savannah.”
“What will you do, now?”
“There are three Americans on that ship. The others are Finns and Germans. I know, also, that they were all three away from the ship last night. By the time their sailing-ship reaches Savannah the mail-boat will have carried this letter, and the telegram will have informed the police of Savannah that these three men are wanted here for murder.”
However, this never happened. We waited for some news from Savannah but none came. The Lone Star sank in the middle of the Atlantic and all the people died before Sherlock could punish them.