Hello, Distrofol, and welcome!
I thought it best to go right to the source--Sir Arthur's text--since my mind was a bit hazy as to the circumstances of young Mr. Oppenshaw meeting his untimely death. The Five Orange Pips is in the public domain on the Internet, so I reproduce the relevant portion here for us to have a look at.
"I thank you," said the young man, rising, and pulling on his overcoat. "You have given me fresh life and hope. I shall certainly do as you advise."
"Do not lose an instant. And, above all, take care of yourself in the meanwhile, for I do not think that there can be a doubt that you are threatened by a very real and imminent danger. How do you go back?"
"By train from Waterloo."
"It is not yet nine. The streets will be crowded, so I trust that you may be in safety. And yet you cannot guard yourself too closely."
"I am armed."
"That is well. To-morrow I shall set to work upon your case."
"I shall see you at Horsham, then?"
"No, your secret lies in London. It is there that I shall seek it."
"Then I shall call upon you in a day, or in two days, with news as to the box and the papers. I shall take your advice in every particular." He shook hands with us, and took his leave. Outside the wind still screamed, and the rain splashed and pattered against the windows. This strange, wild story seemed to have come to us from amid the mad elements—blown in upon us like a sheet of sea-weed in a gale—and now to have been reabsorbed by them once more.
Sherlock Holmes sat for some time in silence, with his head sunk forward and his eyes bent upon the red glow of the fire. Then he lit his pipe, and leaning back in his chair he watched the blue smoke-rings as they chased each other up to the ceiling.
"I think, Watson," he remarked at last, "that of all our cases we have had none more fantastic than this."
"Save, perhaps, the Sign of Four."
"Well, yes. Save, perhaps, that. And yet this John shaw seems to me to be walking amid even greater perils than did the Sholtos."
"But have you," I asked, "formed any definite conception as to what these perils are?"
"There can be no question as to their nature," he answered.
"Then what are they? Who is this K. K. K., and why does he pursue this unhappy family?"
Sherlock Holmes closed his eyes and placed his elbows upon the arms of his chair, with his finger-tips together. "The ideal reasoner," he remarked, "would, when he had once been shown a single fact in all its bearings, deduce from it not only all the chain of events which led up to it, but also all the results which would follow from it. As Cuvier could correctly describe a whole animal by the contemplation of a single bone, so the observer who has thoroughly understood one link in a series of incidents, should be able to accurately state all the other ones, both before and after. We have not yet grasped the results which the reason alone can attain to. Problems may be solved in the study which have baffled all those who have sought a solution by the aid of their senses. To carry the art, however, to its highest pitch, it is necessary that the reasoner should be able to utilize all the facts which have come to his knowledge; and this in itself implies, as you will readily see, a possession of all knowledge, which, even in these days of free education and encyclopædias, is a somewhat rare accomplishment. It is not so impossible, however, that a man should possess all knowledge which is likely to be useful to him in his work, and this I have endeavored in my case to do. If I remember rightly, you on one occasion, in the early days of our friendship, defined my limits in a very precise fashion."
"Yes," I answered, laughing. "It was a singular document. Philosophy, astronomy, and politics were marked at zero, I remember. Botany variable, geology profound as regards the mud-stains from any region within fifty miles of town, chemistry eccentric, anatomy unsystematic, sensational literature and crime records unique, violin-player, boxer, swordsman, lawyer, and self-poisoner by cocaine and tobacco. Those, I think, were the main points of my analysis."
Holmes grinned at the last item. "Well," he said, "I say now, as I said then, that a man should keep his little brain-attic stocked with all the furniture that he is likely to use, and the rest he can put away in the lumber-room of his library, where he can get it if he wants it. Now, for such a case as the one which has been submitted to us to-night, we need certainly to muster all our resources. Kindly hand me down the letter K of the American Encyclopædia which stands upon the shelf beside you. Thank you. Now let us consider the situation, and see what may be deduced from it. In the first place, we may start with a strong presumption that Colonel Openshaw had some very strong reason for leaving America. Men at his time of life do not change all their habits, and exchange willingly the charming climate of Florida for the lonely life of an English provincial town. His extreme love of solitude in England suggests the idea that he was in fear of some one or something, so we may assume as a working hypothesis that it was fear of some one or something which drove him from America. As to what it was he feared, we can only deduce that by considering the formidable letters which were received by himself and his successors. Did you remark the post-marks 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 seaports. That the writer was on board of a ship."
"Excellent. We have already a clew. There can be no doubt that the probability—the strong probability—is that the writer was on board of a ship. And now let us consider another point. In the case of Pondicherry, seven weeks elapsed between the threat and its fulfilment, in Dundee it was only some three or four days. Does that suggest anything?"
"A greater distance to travel."
"But the letter had also a greater distance to come."
"Then I do not see the point."
"There is at least a presumption that the vessel in which the man or men are is a sailing-ship. It looks as if they always sent their singular warning or token before them when starting upon their mission. You see how quickly the deed followed the sign when it came from Dundee. If they had come from Pondicherry in a steamer they would have arrived almost as soon as their letter. But as a matter of fact seven weeks elapsed. I think that those seven weeks represented the difference between the mail-boat which brought the letter, and the sailing-vessel which brought the writer."
"It is possible."
"More than that. It is probable. And now you see the deadly urgency of this new case, and why I urged young Openshaw to caution. The blow has always fallen at the end of the time which it would take the senders to travel the distance. But this one comes from London, and therefore we cannot count upon delay."
"Good God!" I cried; "what can it mean, this relentless persecution?"
"The papers which Openshaw carried are obviously of vital importance to 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 in such a way as to deceive a coroner's jury. There must have been several in it, and they must have been men of resource and determination. Their papers they mean to have, be the holder of them who it may. In this way you see K. K. K. ceases to be the initials of an individual, and becomes the badge of a society."
"But of what society?"
"Have you never—" said Sherlock Holmes, bending forward and sinking his voice—"have you never heard of the Ku Klux Klan?"
"I never have."
Holmes turned over the leaves of the book upon his knee. "Here it is," said he, presently, " 'Ku Klux Klan. A name derived from the fanciful resemblance to the sound produced by cocking a rifle. This terrible secret society was formed by some ex-Confederate soldiers in the Southern States after the Civil War, and it rapidly formed local branches in different parts of the country, notably in Tennessee, Louisiana, the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida. Its power was used for political purposes, principally for the terrorizing of the negro voters, and the murdering and driving from the country of those who were opposed to its views. Its outrages were usually preceded by a warning sent to the marked man in some fantastic but generally recognized shape—a sprig of oak-leaves in some parts, melon seeds or orange pips in others. On receiving this the victim might either openly abjure his former ways, or might fly from the country. If he braved the matter out, death would unfailingly come upon him, and usually in some strange and unforeseen manner. So perfect was the organization of the society, and so systematic its methods, that there is hardly a case upon record where any man succeeded in braving it with impunity, or in which any of its outrages were traced home to the perpetrators. For some years the organization flourished, in spite of the efforts of the United States Government and of the better classes of the community in the South. Eventually, in the year 1869, the movement rather suddenly collapsed, although there have been sporadic outbreaks of the same sort since that date.'
"You will observe," said Holmes, laying down the volume, "that the sudden breaking up of the society was coincident with the disappearance of Openshaw from America with their papers. It may well have been cause and effect. It is no wonder that he and his family have some of the more implacable spirits upon their track. You can understand that this register and diary may implicate some of the first men in the South, and that there may be many who will not sleep easy at night until it is recovered."
"Then the page we have seen—"
"Is such as we might expect. It ran, if I remember right, 'sent the pips to A, B, and C,'—that is, sent the society's warning to them. Then there are successive entries that A and B cleared, or left the country, and finally that C was visited, with, I fear, a sinister result for C. Well, I think, Doctor, that we may let some light into this dark place, and I believe that the only chance young Openshaw has in the mean time is to do what I have told him. There is nothing more to be said or to be done to-night, so hand me over my violin, and let us try to forget for half an hour the miserable weather and the still more miserable ways of our fellowmen."
It had cleared in the morning, and the sun was shining with a subdued brightness through the dim veil which hangs over the great city. Sherlock Holmes was already at breakfast when I came down.
"You will excuse me for not waiting for you," said he; "I have, I foresee, a very busy day before me in looking into this case of young Openshaw's."
"What steps will you take?" I asked.
"It will very much depend upon the results of my first inquiries. I may have to go down to Horsham, after all."
"You will not go there first?"
"No, I shall commence with the city. Just ring the bell, and the maid will bring up your coffee."
As I waited, I lifted the unopened newspaper from the table and glanced my eye over it. It rested upon a heading which sent a chill to my heart.
"Holmes," I cried, "you are too late."
"Ah!" said he, laying down his cup, "I feared as much. How was it done?" He spoke calmly, but I could see that he was deeply moved.
"My eye caught the name of Openshaw, and the heading, 'Tragedy near Waterloo Bridge.' Here is the account: 'Between nine and ten last night Police-constable Cook, of the H Division, on duty near Waterloo Bridge, heard a cry for help and a splash in the water. The night, however, was extremely dark and stormy, so that, in spite of the help of several passers-by, it was quite impossible to effect a rescue. The alarm, however, was given, and, by the aid of the water-police, the body was eventually recovered. It proved to be that of a young gentleman whose name, as it appears from an envelope which was found in his pocket, was John Openshaw, and whose residence is near Horsham. It is conjectured that he may have been hurrying down to catch the last train from Waterloo Station, and that in his haste and the extreme darkness he missed his path and walked over the edge of one of the small landing-places for river steamboats. The body exhibited no traces of violence, and there can be no doubt that the deceased had been the victim of an unfortunate accident, which should have the effect of calling the attention of the authorities to the condition of the river-side landing-stages.' "
We sat in silence for some minutes, Holmes more depressed and shaken than I had ever seen him.
"That hurts my pride, Watson," he said, at last. "It is a petty feeling, no doubt, but it hurts my pride. It becomes a personal matter with me now, and, if God sends me health, I shall set my hand upon this gang. That he should come to me for help, and that I should send him away to his death—!" He sprang from his chair and paced about the room in uncontrollable agitation, with a flush upon his sallow cheeks, and a nervous clasping and unclasping of his long, thin hands.
"They must be cunning devils," he exclaimed, at last. "How could they have decoyed him down there? The Embankment is not on the direct line to the station. The bridge, no doubt, was too crowded, even on such a night, for their
"HOLMES,' I CRIED, 'YOU ARE TOO LATE'"
purpose. Well, Watson, we shall see who will win in the long run. I am going out now!"
"To the police?"
"No; I shall be my own police. When I have spun the web they may take the flies, but not before."
It seems to me that the only 'Why' here is that in this case, Sherlock underestimated how imminent the threat to his client was. The man was young, fit and assured Holmes that he carried a firearm. He was not supposed to be wandering in lonely areas. But he didn't stick to the crowded streets and his gun wasn't of any use. With no injuries on the body, it seems that he was simply shoved into the Thames and being unable to swim, drowned. Had he taken a taxi from Baker Street, he would have survived the evening. Maybe Sherlock should have insisted. That he didn't was a mistake of judgement, which the Great Detective makes rarely, but he does make them. He's not infallible, and he was unfamiliar with this particular gang of assassins, the KKK. My recollection is that SH didn't seem to care very much that he had endangered his client . . who may have been kidnapped from the street and dumped in the river rather than being lured to the riverbank and going there of his own accord. I see that SH was on the contrary, very upset and depressed about what he had allowed to happen. But he doesn't linger long. The young gentleman also had some responsibility for his own safety and could have asked for an escort, or even to stay at Baker Street until it was daylight. Seems that he too underestimated the threat he was under, despite having the precaution of a gun. Had Holmes or Watson gone with him to the station, they might have been killed as well, so at least it was not a worse outcome, though the worst possible one for Mr. Openshaw. Mr. Holmes is a consulting detective, not a bodyguard for hire, nor is Watson. The client knew better than Holmes the people he was dealing with and yet he still went out on London streets alone at night. I don't think SH deserves all the blame here for what happened.