Forward by Dr. Mercy
In this day and age, when what's left of Transhumanity has been exiled from our homeworld, very few people, and even fewer Scum in particular, have the time or interest to curl up with a good book, and enjoy the works of classic literature. This is, I fear, a mistake, as names like Arthur Conan Doyle, Samuel Clemens, Charles Dickens should be remembered, along with the likes of William Shakespeare and Homer, until the day the last Transhuman cogitates their last, and hopefully beyond.
It is particularly the works of Arthur Conan Doyle which concern me personally, however. A poem over a century old says it best, I think, which is somehow particularly poignant in this day and age, which I'll include at the end of this. But I digress; onto the explanation for this little posting.
You see, for those of you don't understand, a very long time ago a man called Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote many very powerful works of literature, centering around the exploits of the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, with the framing device being that the stories were being penned after the fact by Holmes' companion and chronicler, Dr. John Watson. While these tales of Victorian era intrigue and mystery are, sadly, underappreciated in these days when few people know who in the hell Queen Victoria was without having their muse consult SolArchive, there are those of us for whom it will always be 1895 (238 BF, for you heathens who insist on dating everything by our recent calamity,) even if only when we pick up a good book.
So, what does that have to do with us? Well, as with everything in life, if you can dream it, you can build a simulspace for it, and here on the Get Your Ass to Mars Swarm, we have a fairly small but dedicated cadre of Holmesian scholars who have built a monumental recreation of what we call Holmesian England - a temporally nebulous recreation of England (and select parts of Europe,) which is a multi-user, semi-persistent shared world, where the Great Detective himself flits to and fro, investigating cases, and where those who enter can be brought in on those cases, design for entirely new mysteries to see if they can succeed in stumping the Great Detective (no mean feat, I assure you!,) or even wind up independently investigating mystery cases, either those from the Sherlockian canon, the expanded universe of cases added by others in years following A. C. Doyle's writings, or entirely original cases, proceedurally-generated by the game or by other players.
This is where I come in. You see, I moved in. As an infomorph, there's nothing stopping me from taking up permanent residence in a simulation, and I decided to move into this simulation; I set up my mental aid practice in a beautiful Victorian sitting room, directly opposite the fabled 221b Baker Street which your muses will no doubt have already served you information about. I receive outside clients here (though of course I can change the setting if they find it nonconductive to discussing their problems,) and what happened recently was a series of extraordinary events that resulted in two of my acquaintances, who are as far as I can tell, essentially lay-persons to the Holmesian mythos (familiar, but only passingly,) undertaking one of Holmes's own cases, one of those rare few in which he failed, and turning it into an astonishing, and entirely unorthodox, success.
Naturally, I prevailed upon my good, if simulated, friend, Dr. John Watson, to write up the narrative in his usual fashion, although the role he and Holmes played in this story were far different from their usual. (I'm still not entirely convinced the simulation has Dr. Waton's "voice" down as to be a perfect imitation of the writings of A. C. Doyle, so please excuse any slight inconsistencies and errors.)
By Dr. John Watson
When I glance over my notes and records of the Sherlock 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 surmise than on that absolute logical proof which was so dear to him.
And then there are the cases which are simply strange. It may be hard for a devoted reader of my queer tales to believe, but not all criminality in England revolves entirely around my friend Sherlock Holmes. From time to time, we have found ourselves on the periphery of a case in which others have performed, in their own way, admirably, yet my friend Holmes has still involved himself and myself. None of those cases, however, save this one, began in our sitting room yet did not begin with us.
My dear friend Holmes was, as often the case, grappling with a conundrum, late in September of '87. As he often did, he needed a modicum of solitude in which to turn the facts over in that fantastic brain of his, free from distraction. On such occasions, he would often implore me to make it convenient to be elsewhere, but that particular night was an absolutely dreadful one, and not even my friend would visit the abuse of such a storm on me for the simple expediency of having me gone. Possibly it also weighed in on his calculation of the choice not to ask me to find somewhere to go, the fact that I had recently, as of the day before, taken upon myself a pit-fighting dog whose fighting days were over; a sorrowful creature, its opponent had had out its eye and taken a goodly chunk from its thigh, and though my new dog had prevailed in the fight, his trainer intended to drown him. (The reasons we found ourselves in the back kennels of a dog-fighting ring having to do with the case Holmes himself was working on, and which I will hopefully someday soon publish under the title The Adventure of the Killer Companion.) When I learned that the dog's name was Toby, reminding me of the hound whom Holmes and I had employed on a prior case entitled The Sign of the Four, I insisted - demanded quite roughly in fact - that the owner relinquish the dog to me. On the way home, I visited a veterinarian, who gave me a draught to give the dog, with instructions to give it a carefully-measured dose with milk, once an hour until midnight, to the tolling of the distant clock-bell, and to dress its wounds carefully, as I would a man's.
Those, then, are the circumstances which led to me sitting in a chair in front of our bay window, the dog curled up on a cushion on the window-ledge, as quiet and gentle a thing as could be that it was hard to imagine it was capable of inflicting any violence whatsoever on any other of God's creatures great or small, administering a small dose of medicine with milk once an hour, whilst I was thoroughly engrossed in one of Clark Russel's fine sea-stories, so deeply into the narrative that the howl of the equinoctial gale without seemed to blend with the text, and the splash of rain on the window to lengthen out into the long swash of 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 Street. Across the street, I could see the light on in the company of a most singular fellow, almost as singular as that of my companion, Holmes; that window belonged to Dr. Mercy, a specialist in the health of the mind, and of the various ways in which it can become afflicted. Though I've not mentioned Mercy in any of the tales I've published before, Holmes and I have, from time to time, called in those offices to query that expert in the strange ways of the mind about peculiar psychosis and neurosis, if such knowledge would be beneficial to our cases.
Holmes had been wandering the sitting-room for over two hours, but at that particular moment, he was in his easy chair, before the fire, smoking the clay pipe of his disputatious moods, when suddenly he launched himself upright, walking straight over to me. I placed a marker in my book, set it aside, as Holmes queried me about the case we were then working on. I'll not reproduce our conversation from that time verbatim, in this tale, as it is connected only very tangentially, and the details of our conversation had to do with points of a case which has yet, as of my penning this tale, to go the Assizes, and I've no wish to potentially find myself on the wrong side of a magistrate for potentially influencing the pool of potential jurors. Suffice to say that Holmes illustrated each of the points he posed to me with a gesture of his pipe, and I was forced to accede to each of his points. Then, in one of his brilliant strokes of deduction which I would like to write about sometime, he told me exactly where we would find a murderer on whose trail we were after, and that we had to fly immediately to Scotland Yard to collect Inspector Gregson.
I found myself in a difficult spot, then, as I surely wished to see the end of this case, but I'd no wish to abandon poor Toby. Mrs. Hudson took one look at his eye and the brutal state of his leg, and had nearly fainted; she wouldn't approach him for the world. As Holmes got his coat and sent for a cab, I had the idea of asking our commissionaire, Peterson, to tend the dog, but he had to go home to his wife, and as he already had a dog, he couldn't take a pit-fighting animal with him to care for it, lest Toby attack his dog.
At a loss, then, I almost despaired, but I cast my eyes upon the lit sitting-room window in the second floor of Camden House, across the street. I couldn't imagine that Dr. Mercy was with a patient on a night like this, at such a late hour, so I asked Peterson to ask Mercy to care for my animal until midnight.
Peterson agreed that he would do so, although I know he has some small quarrel with Dr. Mercy which ill-disposes him to interact with my professional ally, and I trusted that my new dog would be well-cared-for in Mercy's capable hands. As it happened, what I couldn't concieve of was the fact, and Mercy was occupied at that time, but it was of little matter, as Holmes and I dashed out the door, into the cab, and hurried to Scotland Yard.
Suffice to say, we brought the Adventure of the Killer Companion (a working title, at this juncture, if the final title changes I shall note in a foreward to the story that it becomes that it was first mentioned in this tale, under that name,) to a highly satisfactory conclusion which has led to three men and a dog awaiting the Assizes.
We arrived home quite late, as Mrs. Hudson was surely asleep by the hour at which the case had been solved, and Inspector Gregson had gregariously offered to share a meal with us at the canteen in Scotland Yard, and it proved impossible to turn down the offer of a meal, however basic, from a man whose life I had saved that very night by shooting the pistol out of the hand of another man. (A most fortuitous mishap, as in truth I was aiming for his chest. But that is a tale for another time.)
When we arrived, Holmes immediately noticed that our sitting room was in a state of disarray, and I noticed a few moments later the distinct absence of my dog. Naturally, my companion put himself immediately to the task of investigating our own quarters, while I sat in my chair and found, folded into my book, with the bookmark, a note written on some pages of my own foolscap, which explained the intrusion in some detail. I let Holmes do his work, however.
"Watson, our home has been invaded. No fewer than three persons, two of whom lingered for several hours, and who successfully prevailed upon Mrs. Hudson for a meal." I looked at him, and he continued, "Two men, one woman. One of them helped himself to some of my tobacco, though he made use of his own pipe. They have also availed themselves of my reference materials, as they've left many of them out of place. By the books which were left open, presumably to the topics on which they were reading, they required the conversion of measurements from apothecary's units to the metric system, which from my books they accomplished by converting through our own Imperial units. They have also used my chemistry tools to do some minor measuring work, and haven't seen fit to clean them."
"Do you suppose, Holmes," I asked, feeling slightly mischievous, "that some fellows, direly requiring such conversions, happened to be on our street, recognized our address, and so elected to prevail upon Mrs. Hudson to allow us to access your private books and tools, and her larder, and she agreed?"
"No," Holmes said. "Such an event would be outside the realm of probability. So the question remains, then, what would they have done? And why? Surely, I shall discover it by continuing my investigation. Such an interesting problem."
I couldn't help myself but to smile. "Well, Holmes, I don't mean to spoil your intellectual investigation, but the answer is simple. I wrote instructions on Toby's medication for Dr. Mercy; they were simple instructions, for someone medically minded. However, instead of Dr. Mercy, two acquaintances thereof wound up being dispatched to meet my request that my dog be looked after; two acquaintances who were unfamiliar with both our Imperial system and apothecary's measurements, but who were familiar with the metric system. As the instructions I wrote were to give the dog a quarter of a dram on the hour, every hour, until midnight, and as they lacked the simple tools that doctors such as Mercy and myself carry, they naturally would have needed to use your tools, and your books to convert the measurement."
Holmes listened to me, patiently. "A fine deduction, Watson, but you're overlooking the fact that there were three people here. Although only two of them dined, apparently."
I held up the sheet. "That, my dear Holmes, is easily explained; Mercy sent over two acquaintances to look after my dog. As they were going to stay for some time, Mrs. Hudson saw fit to feed them. While they were here, looking after Toby, a client came, seeking us. The client was in such a frightful state that Mercy's acquaintances, quite naturally and humanly, felt obliged to make him comfortable in our sitting room, and to prevail upon him to share the sordid details of his troubles. Having heard the cause that brought the man to seek the aid of Sherlock Holmes, and in the absence thereof, Mercy's companions elected to volunteer themselves to assist the man, and thus they left with him, taking my dog so as to continue administering treatment on their journey."
It is a very rare thing indeed that I get to be the one explaining the facts to my friend Sherlock Holmes, and gratifying when it does occur. Holmes took the papers from me and began to read, the text of which I shall reproduce below.
To Mr. Sherlock Holmes, of 221b Baker St,
My name is John Openshaw. I have come on this dreadful night to seek your advice and aid, unfortunately you were out, undoubtedly on some issue of great urgency given the hour and dreadful weather. Fortunately for me, however, those acquaintances of yours who were caring for Dr. Watson's dog listened to my problem in your stead, and while clearly not possessed of the same faculty of deduction for which you are widely reputed, have nevertheless chosen to stand by me in your stead in this, my greatest hour of need. We leave to travel together to my home near Horsham.
I am sure you will wish the details of the case, so I will attempt to summarize them as succinctly as possible:
My uncle, Elias Openshaw, emigrated to America as a young man. He became a planter in Florida, where he did well. When the war broke out, he fought on behalf of the Confederacy, and when Lee laid down arms, he returned to his plantation, for three or four years. Around 1869 or 1870, he came back to England, taking a small estate in Sussex, near Horsham (that same estate I now live in.) My uncle was a retiring, almost reclusive man, never once setting foot in town in all the time that I knew him, and the only person in the world whose company he preferred to keep was that of myself.
I was twelve when uncle Elias prevailed upon my father to allow me to stay with him, in the year 1878, eight or nine years after his return to England, and he was quite happy to have me serve as his representative with both the tradespeople, the folk of the town, and even the servants, such that by the age of sixteen I was quite the master of the house. There was but one exception to my mastery of the home; a lumber-room in the attics, invariably locked and to which my uncle alone kept the key. Through the keyhole, I saw nothing but old trunks and bundles, as would be expected of such a room, and from what the servants could tell me, my uncle had moved all of the contents of that room into it by himself, refusing to allow anyone else to have anything to do with it.
One day, in March of 1883, a letter with a foreign stamp came for my uncle; it was not at all a common thing for him to recieve letters, as all the bills were paid for in ready money and he had no friends of any sort. The letter had been posted from Pondicherry. Within the envelope, for there was no letter within, was naught but five dried orange pips. At first I thought this comical, but the look of horror on my uncle's face erased any such notions.
My uncle screamed "K. K. K.! My god, my sins have overtaken me!" When I asked him what it meant, he said only that it meant "Death," and returned to his room. Upon the envelope's inner flap, just above the gum, were scrawled in red ink the letters "K. K. K."
What followed were events most queer; my uncle produced, from some place unknown to be then (but which I now know must have been his locked lumber-room,) a brass box, like a cashbox. He told me to tell the servant Mary to build a fire in his rooms, despite that it was not a cold day, and then to fetch the lawyer from town. Upon the brass box's lid I noticed the mark of K. K. K. as well.
Upon returning with the lawyer, Mr. Fordham of Horsham, my uncle had burnt the contents of the box, which were apparently paper. He wrote out his will, leaving all of his estate and worldly belongings to his brother, my father, Joseph Openshaw, and compelled me to witness it, and the lawyer bore it away. A great change then came over my uncle; he was always retiring, but now he locked his doors, save on rare occasion when he would take a revolver and tear about the gardens and our fields, as if attempting to brazen it out against an omnipresent threat of death, before fleeing back into his room and locking the door again.
About his estate, my uncle seemed to be of no illusions that it would descend from my father to me, and his words seemed to indicate that he felt that such inheritance would come rather soon. He said, then, "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!"
Ultimately, my uncle's fears proved founded. Seven weeks after the arrival of the five orange pips, my uncle, Elias Openshaw, was found dead, facedown in a little green-scummed pond at the foot of our garden. There was no sign of violence upon his body, and the water was but two feet deep, so the jury, with regard to his eccentricities, brought in a verdict of suicide.
Mr. Holmes, I swear to you, as I swore to the fellows who will depart with me, that my uncle was a man with a terrible fear of death. He would never have ended his own life (and, I feel, thinking now about the matter, should he have felt a need to commit suicide, he would have chosen his old revolver rather than drowning,) and that my uncle's death was murder most subtle.
So it came to pass, then, that my father inherited my uncle's estate; in addition to the lands and properties, the sum amounted to the sum of £14,000 which lay to his credit in the bank. Putting it into writing, it occurs to me that that might speak of motive, so allow me to clarify that my father was never an impoverished man by any means, and he was a patentee of the Openshaw unbreakable tire, the business to manufacture which he sold to retire upon quite handsomely, and while my uncle's estate can hardly be termed insubstantial to my father's financial situation, my father was already wealthier than my uncle by far, and not a covetous or miserly man, so I assure you that you may put any thoughts that my father perpetrated this heinous deed upon my uncle in order to inherit his money and estate out of your mind.
Nevertheless, my father chose to move his dwelling, and reside in the Horsham estate beginning early in '84, as it is in fact quite a nice home to which I had become accustomed. All was well for less than a year, however, as in January of 1885 my father gave a sharp cry of surprise at the breakfast-table. He was holding an opened envelope in one hand, and in the other five dried orange pips.
My father had always pooh-poohed the "cock-and-bull story" of my uncle's death, taking the orange pips as a prank played upon them, but now he was laughing no longer. I grew fearful, and told him that it was the K. K. K., and when he checked the inside of the envelope, there was the marking of that hateful society. But above it were the letters "put the papers on the sundial."
Undoubtedly, this referred to the sundial in the gardens, and the papers which my uncle had destroyed. The postmark this time was not from Pondicherry, but from Dundee. (The Dundee in Scotland, I feel obliged to here make note, as your strange but stalwart visitors, foreigners to these lands, had believed I meant perhaps one of the ones in America or Canada, or Australia.)
Unfortunately, my father attempted to dismiss the letter as a preposterous practical joke, and refused to speak to the police, and forbade my doing so. My father was every bit the obstinate man my uncle was. Three days after receiving this ill omen, my father went from the home to visit an old friend of his, Major Freebody, in command of one of the forts upon Portsdown Hill, and I was glad that he should go, as it seemed he would be both farther from danger, and nearer to a large body of soldiers who could protect him.
Two days after he departed, I received a telegram from the Major, with the most strenuous exhortations to come at once. My father had fallen over into one of the deep chalk-pits which abound in the neighborhood, and was lying senseless, his skull shattered. I hurried, but my father passed without ever having recovered consciousness.
From what it appeared, he had been returning from Fareham in the twilight, and as the country was unknown to him, and the chalk-pit unfenced, the jury turned in a verdict of death from accidental causes. I attempted, in my own way, to employ your own methods as put down in the writings of your friend, Dr. Watson, of which I confess to being a follower, but I was unable to find a shred of evidence which pointed to murder: no signs of violence upon my father that could not be adequately explained by the fall (although, conversely, there were also no signs of violence upon him that could not be adequately explained by the blow of a cudgel,) I could find no footmarks, no robbery, and no record of strangers upon the road. Yet I was well convinced that my father, like my uncle, had been helped into his grave by persons of malevolent intent.
In this way I came into my own inheritance. You might ask, and in truth, I ask myself now, why I did not dispose of it, withdraw the cash in ready money, sell the properties, and fly from the area, or from England entirely, remaking myself with a new name and a new home. I was convinced however, that either those fiends who set about this bloody business would be satisfied with having done in the previous generation of Openshaws, and thus I would be safe from their hand, or their need for retribution was limitless, and they would hound me to the ends of the earth, no matter what I called myself or where I fled to.
It was in January of '85 that my uncle met his end. Two years and eight months have elapsed since then, and I believed myself in the clear, living happily at Horsham and believing that the murderous intent ended with the last generation of Openshaw. Two days ago, however, I myself received the pips, in an envelope marked K. K. K., and again bearing the instruction "leave the papers on the sundial." You will find that very envelope, and the pips within, in the back of the book in which I have left this note. It arrived yesterday, with a postmark from East London.
Those are the facts as they come to me at this time, and I think this a reasonably thorough account of my woes. Those acquaintances of yours, Mr. Fairburn Oakley, the former American navy man, and his acquaintance, Ms. Jin of the exotic orient, who comforted me in your absence and allowed me to tell them this tale have convinced me that I must act, and have sworn to act with me in the matter. We will returning to Horsham, there to lie in wait for these devils. I may yet meet my end, but I will not let them have the satisfaction of hearing my death proclaimed an accident.
Mr. John Openshaw, of Horsham.
P.S. As the people I met were charged with looking after your dog, and were unwilling to abandon the poor creature, we have taken it with us, that we may administer his medicine and tend to his wounds as we travel. It seems a quite thoroughly amiable creature, and in truth I am glad to have him with us.
Holmes finished reading the letters, setting them down. Wordlessly, I withdrew from the back of my book, between the last page and the hard cover, an envelope, handing it to him, and Holmes set it upon the table, opening it and pouring out five dried orange pips. He looked the envelope over, carefully, as I crossed to him.
"Well, Holmes?" "It is as young Openshaw describes in his letter," Holmes confirmed, "five dried orange pips, the letters K. K. K., and above them, the words 'leave the papers on the sundial.' Was there anything else?"
I checked the book again, and said "It seems not, old man. What do you make of it?"
Sherlock Holmes didn't answer immediately, sitting for some time in silence, his head sunk forward and his eyes bent upon the red glow of the fire. Presently he lit his pipe, and leaning back in the chair, 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 Openshaw 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 utilise 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 encyclopaedias, 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 endeavoured 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 Encyclopaedia 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 Elias Openshaw, undoubtedly an officer of some note to judge by the wealth which he left America, had some very strong reason for his departure. 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 someone or something, so we may assume as a working hypothesis that it was fear of someone 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 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 seaports. That the writer was on board of a ship.”
“Excellent. We have already a clue. 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 send 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. Oh, to think that we missed him, and his fate, for the rest of the night, at least, rests in the hands of a man and, of all things, a woman of the Orient, both unknown to us!"
"Be calm, Holmes," I advised him, for he was clearly distressed. "We both know Dr. Mercy." "Yes, Mercy is a treater of the ailments of the mind," Holmes pointedly observed, and I shook my head. "I do not believe Mercy would have assigned two mentally unwell people to watch my dog. No, I think, in this case, the balance of probability, as you are fond of saying, is that my dog and our client have been entrusted to the care of two of Mercy's own acquaintances, friends. Most likely they are capable enough."
Holmes looked at me, unimpressed. "Capable. Would you describe Inspector Lestrade as capable?" I nodded. "I would, Holmes. Not, of course, as capable of investigation as you are, but I do believe that the good inspector could certainly safeguard the life of this young man, at least for one night, if he believed his tale wholeheartedly and had agreed to journey with him home and watch over him. After all, they apparently took pains to make the deaths of the elder Openshaws appear to be accidents; they are averse to open confrontation, and struck the elder Openshaws when they were alone, and I do not believe these friends of Mercy's will leave him."
Holmes let out a sigh, and nodded. "I will have to trust you are right, Watson. But I am not in a mood for taking chances. I will send a telegram at once to Horsham, to be run into young Master Openshaw's hands, and advise him to do exactly as these K. K. K. fellows demand; to leave the box with their inscription, and a note declaring that his uncle burnt the papers years ago. Hopefully that will keep them off his back long enough for us to gather evidence sufficient to see them hanged."
Holmes darted at once out of the room, grabbing his jacket and hat, and I sat in my chair by the window. I realized that he had actually failed to elaborate upon who was sending these letters under the name K. K. K., and I looked over to his American Encyclopedia, then down to the excellent sea-story in my hands.
I laid down again that excellent novel of Clark Russel's, and crossed back over to the dining table, upon which lay the American Encyclopedia open to K, and also Mr. Openshaw's letter to Holmes. With notepad in hand, I began reading both, and was thoroughly absorbed in my own study of the matter when Holmes returned.
"From the look of things, you've used your time productively, Watson," Holmes said by way of greeting, and I nodded to him. "I trust that I have, old man. I believe that K. K. K. is not the symbol of one man, or even of three, but the symbol of a society!"
Holmes nodded in satisfaction, sitting at the table with me. "Very good, Watson. This as much I knew, but I had not the facts regarding the organization at hand. As you've researched the matter, why don't you explain it to me?"
"Very well, old man," I said, and presently I read aloud from the American Encyclopedia:
“‘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 terrorising 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 recognised 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 organisation 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 organisation 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.’"
Holmes listened intently, and looked up, his eyes alite with intuition. "Watson, what do you deduce from the encyclopedia entry and the facts in hand?" I suspected he was playing a trick on me, perhaps a return for my earlier withholding of the papers in my book to watch him work his methods upon the debris of our unseen visitors. I consulted my notebook.
"Well, Holmes, it has occurred to me after twice re-reading the letters young Mr. Openshaw left, that the year in which his uncle, Elias Openshaw, departed Florida's sunny climate to return to England was also the year in which the organization collapsed suddenly."
"Well noted, Watson, a thorough summary of the facts. Now, what do they suggest to you?" I drummed my fingers on the table for a moment, thinking the matter over. "Well, it seems to me that he fought on the side of the Confederates during the war - the side which lost. Presuming that he was proud of that service, and resentful of the loss, he may have associated himself with these K. K. K. fellows, as the organization was formed by his fellow-Confederates. With the collapse of the organization, he may have felt himself as thoroughly unwelcome and without friend in America as anywhere else, and decided that if he was to be friendless, it would at least be on his native soil."
Holmes listened gravely. "Perhaps not entirely incorrect, Watson, but your deductions seem to veer towards assuming the best of old Elias Openshaw, rather than the balance of probability."
"What, then, do you make of it, Holmes?"
"Well, it's hardly elementary, but the organization collapsed suddenly, in the year Elias Openshaw fled America. He fled, with a considerable sum of wealth, not to London, to begin a business, nor even to continue his agricultural enterprises by purchasing fields upon fields here, but to a quiet house in Sussex, where he became a recluse. That suggests, then, that he had enemies to fear. We also know that now, almost twenty years after the K. K. K. collapsed in America, there remain men dedicated and willing to kill in its name, men who have spent years aboard a ship. We might infer the possibility, then, that those men went to sea to complete an agenda, though that is pure conjecture. What is not, however, is that both elder Openshaws have been killed, after having received the sign that the Ku Klux Klan had ill will towards them. I would therefore suppose that Elias Openshaw may have, himself, had something to do with the collapse of the organization which he most likely affiliated with; perhaps he had a turn of conscience and gave evidence which would bring it down, or declared that he would do the same, or perhaps he himself wound up with the lawman's web drawn around him for his actions with the K. K. K., and gave said evidence in exchange for his own life and the opportunity to leave American shores for good with his fortune. Perhaps neither of those possibilities, but the balance of probability is that, somehow, those who resented the collapse of the society blamed Elias Openshaw for it, and murdered him in retribution. But that's not all."
"No?" I looked askance at Holmes. "It seems a clear enough deduction to me."
"Oh, indeed, however, few but the most heartless vengeance-seekers will visit their retribution onto the kin of a man who has wronged them. Do recall, as you mentioned earlier, that case which you recorded under the name The Sign of the Four. If ever a man had motive to revenge himself upon another man, Johnathan Small had ample reason to want to see Captain Morstan and Major Sholto dead, but he bore no grudge against their descendants, and was aghast when that wretched creature of his killed Bartholomew Sholto.
"So, Holmes, what you're saying is that the killing of Elias Openshaw was revenge, but the killing of his brother, and this threat upon the life of his nephew, are aimed to achieve an objective?"
"Exactly, Watson. They want the papers, presumably the papers that Openshaw burnt. If the contents of the papers are so well-known to them for them to demand them to be handed over, the balance of probability is not that they require the papers themselves, but they require that they become absent from the world, such that evidence contained within them cannot be used by the authorities. That, then, I deduce, is likely the reason the Openshaw family has such implacable spirits upon their track; that the papers they mentioned may implicate some of the first men in the South, and there are many who cannot sleep easy until they are recovered."
"But the papers have been destroyed, Holmes," I pointed out, and Holmes nodded to me.
"Exactly the conundrum, Watson. They may not have given Elias Openshaw the opportunity to tell them that when they took him; they may have interrogated him about the matter and not believed him, or he may, indeed, have lied, to spite them. We cannot know, but we do know their goal, their willingness to murder over the matter, and the likelihood they mean to strike young Mr. Openshaw. Quite possibly at this moment, in fact. If he is lucky, he will have received my telegram, and will be following its instructions to the letter."
I listened to Holmes, nodding, and he said "Now, there is nothing more to be said or done to-night, so hand me my violin, and let us try to forget for half an hour this miserable weather and the still more miserable ways of our fellow man. I fear tomorrow shall not be restful in the slightest."
"Why do you say that, Holmes?"
"That, my dear Watson, is in fact elementary: We shall be on the very first train which will convey us to Horsham. The sooner I can get to Mr. Openshaw, the sooner I may see to his safety personally."
I couldn't argue with that, and I retrieved my Bradshaw's Guide, as Holmes began to play, an improvisation of long and melancholy sounds which quite fit the moment. The first train, it seemed, departed London quite early, and was scheduled to arrive at dawn.
Waking at such an early hour to move out was reminiscent of my Army days; fortunately, I was not so far removed from them that I was unable to rise when Holmes' agenda demanded. We were far too early for a civilized breakfast in our own sitting-room, as Mrs. Hudson was quite soundly asleep. We hurried to the train station in a cab, and took a rude breakfast from a street vendor, eating quickly on the platform as the early crowd, including us, boarded.
We were in quite a crowd, filtering onto the train, aiming for a day-coach instead of one of the common cars, when I spotted a familiar face in the crowd. "I say, Holmes," I said, getting his attention by taking his elbow, "Is that not Inspector Lestrade?" He turned, and without needing to so much as ask me to whom I was referring, despite the fact that the inspector's back had turned, he said "By Jove, Watson, it is. I do believe the poor fellow is being obliged to travel in the common car." He glanced at our tickets. "Go get him and bring him to our compartment. I dare say the attendant would have little objection to a Scotland Yard detective consulting with us."
I retrieved Lestrade, who was surprised to see me boarding a train before dawn, and together we went to the small compartment Holmes had secured; it had little but a pair reasonably comfortable benches and a table between them, but that was more than sufficient to have a consultation with the Inspector.
"Holmes, Watson. I wonder what brings you out at this hour," Lestrade asked, and Holmes gave him a thin smile in return.
"I rather suspect the same reason which brings you to this train," Holmes said to him. "Pray, what exactly brings you to this train at so early an hour?"
Lestrade scoffed. "I doubt we're on the same mission, or even due for the same stop. The local constabulary in Horsham wired last night in quite a fit of urgency, for a Scotland Yard inspector to be sent. There's been quite a grotesque event in Horsham last night."
"Oh, no, we are too late," Holmes said. "Murder? Mr. John Openshaw is dead, by any chance?" He seemed crestfallen.
"Dead? Hardly," Lestrade said, raising his eyebrows. "But he was involved. From what I can gather, there was a fantastic shoot-out in and around his house late last night. Three men are dead, and two, including Mr. Openshaw himself, are badly injured.
It is a rare turn of events to see my friend Sherlock Holmes utterly surprised, but this was one such occasion. "A shoot-out," he asked, and Lestrade nodded. "Yes, a shoot-out, quite like something out of a Wild West story in Harper's New Monthly Magazine," he said, derisively. "I intend to get to the bottom of this, but such a straightforward, if ghastly, event hardly should interest you, Holmes.
"Quite the contrary," Holmes said. "Mr. John Openshaw came to my home last night, while I was out. He left a note regarding his concern that his life was in danger, and he apparently engaged two foreigners he met in London to protect him."
Seeing Inspector Lestrade utterly surprised and dumbfounded, I must say, is not a rare turn of events at all, but this one was gratifying. "So, we are all headed for Horsham after all," he asked, and I nodded. "Well... I suppose we'll see what we see when we get there. I doubt there will be much use for your skills, Holmes, but I can hardly say you haven't a right to investigate, if you know the fellow."
Upon arrival at Horsham at dawn, a man from the local constabulary met us at the station. "Inspector Lestrade," he asked, "and I trust this is Holmes of Baker Street and his companion?"
"Yes, that's us," Lestrade answered him. "What can we do for you?"
"I've got a cab, sir. The inspector has been expecting you."
We bundled into the cab, and presently found ourselves at the local police-station, with the local inspector waiting at the desk. "Darby, sirs, Inspector Lestor Darby." He shook all our hands in turn, beginning with Lestrade and ending with me. "We've had quite the dreadful event, the town's all talking about it."
"Well, let's have it," Holmes said. "The sooner we've heard your version, the sooner we can get on to inspecting the scene."
"Quite," Darby responded, sitting down, as did we. "The facts as we can gather are this. Yesterday, young Mr. Openshaw came to me, with an envelope containing five orange pips and some scrawling on the inside flap. He swore up and down that his life was in danger, but, well, I couldn't imagine it was anything more than a harmless prank. But he insisted that the same five orange pips had come upon his uncle and father shortly before their own deaths - which deaths, I will note, the coroner's jury had no trouble declaring to be suicide and misadventure, respectively - and he was quite beside himself with worry, and I feared he might do himself a mischief if ignored entirely, so I obliged him by ordering a man to stay with him in his home for a few days."
Holmes had a sharp look on his face, and I noted from the moment his reproach started that he already had taken a dim view of Inspector Darby's capabilities, beginning with the moment Darby admitted he couldn't see the threat behind the pips. Darby continued, obliviously, saying "Anyway, my man followed his orders - perhaps I should have worded them better," he conceded, "and remained in his house, while Mr. Openshaw travelled to London yesterday, apparently to engage your services, Mr. Holmes. He didn't find you, but he did find two rather queerer individuals than yourself and Mr. Watson, who accompanied him home. Apparently, they quite convinced him his life was in grave danger, and as a result, he elected to stop at a London gun merchant, whereat he purchased three brand-new Webley revolvers and two brand-new Winchester rifles."
Lestrade and I both gave a start at that, and I scoffed. "Three Webley revolvers and two Winchester rifles, all new? Good heavens, that's quite an arsenal!"
Holmes nodded. "Yes, and from the fact that Mr. Openshaw is wounded but not dead, we may infer that it was, in the final tally of things, not an imprudent arsenal to procure. Please, continue, Darby."
Lestrade nodded his assent, and Darby continued. "Upon returning home, they had a cold supper, and took my man, Constable Buttersworth, into their confidence. Buttersworth was under orders to humour Mr. Openshaw, although he believed, as I did, that the orange pips were all a load of poppycock. Nevertheless, he agreed to stand guard, and it's a good job he did."
"Well? What happened, man!" Holmes was impatient, I could tell that he wanted data, not prevarication.
"As I understand it, Openshaw and the strange man, a..." Darby consulted a notepad on his desk, but Holmes beat him to it.
"Mr. Fairburn Oakley, formerly a Captain in the United States Navy," he supplied, and Darby blinked.
"You know the man?"
"As it happens I do not, but he was mentioned in Openshaw's correspondence with myself, as was an Oriental woman by the name of Jin," Holmes said, and Darby nodded.
"Right. Well, this Oakley and Openshaw had concocted a plan. The lady and he would walk out into the garden, carrying lanterns and himself carrying the box containing the remaining piece of the papers mentioned in the envelope -"
"A piece of the papers surived? Why was this never mentioned before now! I must have the paper at once," Holmes ejaculated, and Darby held his hand up.
"We have it in evidence, Mr. Holmes, I promise, you can examine it at your leisure. Pray, let me finish!"
Holmes sank back into his chair, nodding, his jaw set, and Darby continued to speak. "Openshaw and the oriental woman bore lanterns and the box into the gardens, intent on leaving a lantern and the box on the sundial, as directed. They fully expected, from their own admissions, to come under attack at this time, and in preperation for that event, Openshaw was armed with one of the revolvers, while his man Oakley and my man Buttersworth were stationed in the topmost window of the house overlooking the garden with the sundial, both armed with the Winchester rifles. My man and his were to cover him from the house, and if they came under attack would open fire, but if the assailants approached open-handed, would be given a chance to surrender. If no strangers produced themselves, they would then make the appearance that the house had retired to bed as normal, but two men would remain on watch overlooking the garden at all times with the Winchesters, whilst someone from the house would be ready to spring out and demand the surrender of anyone who approached the sundial."
Holmes simply nodded, and Lestrade took the opportunity to speak. "Laying an ambush with rifles? I must say, that sounds rather a rough and crude thing to do, questionably legal, even if someone were to trespass on his land. I'm surprised your man agreed to be part of it."
"He had, as I said, orders to humour Mr. Openshaw, until this fear for his life passed, and as he didn't expect anything except a long night watching an empty garden with a lantern that was burning itself dry, he saw no reason not to follow those orders. Anyway, it turned out that Openshaw's fears were, I am sorry to say, entirely founded."
"Yes, naturally they were. It's outside the balance of probability that two brothers should recieve orange pips in the post, and then die, and that the son of that third man should recieve the same pips and that an attempt on his life not be made," Holmes said, with a particularly vitriolic note in his voice that made it clear exactly how low his opinion of the investigatory skills of the Horsham constabulary were.
Darby certainly seemed appropriately chagrined, and continued, his voice growing stiff and factual. "Openshaw's companion on the trip to the garden, the Eastern woman, evidently detected the presence of others nearby, and she signalled this to Openshaw by drawing close him to him, as if in a lovers' embrace. This, apparently, caused Openshaw's man, Oakley, to take a good moment to survey the surroundings. He told my man, Buttersworth, that someone was coming from behind them, inside the house, and two more were outside. Then the attack came.
"Two men approached Openshaw and Ms. Jin with black sacks in their hands, apparently with the intent to use them. This was, in the American estimation of Mr. Oakley, sufficient cause to open fire without warning, and I'm ashamed to say I can't even fault him for it. He shot the lead man in the shoulder, which gave Openshaw time to draw his own pistol. Their man upstairs burst in on Oakley and my man Buttersworth, with a revolver already in his hand. My man got the drop on him, and apparently attempted to order him to surrender. Gunfire was exchanged in the attic, and from the statement of Mr. Oakley, Buttersworth attempted twice to compel the other man to surrender, and was shot down for his troubles over the next several seconds. In the garden, the two assailants therein drew pistols; the one Mr. Oakley shot in the shoulder was wholly unable to use his pistol to any effect, and Openshaw shot him dead easily, but the second man shot Openshaw quite badly, although Openshaw didn't let the attack go unanswered. Mr. Oakley finished their fight by shooting the man at a steep angle in the back, from the attic, turned around, and used that Winchester to devilish effect in taking revenge for my man Buttersworth.
Then Oakley, aided by one of Openshaw's household servants, who had rushed to the attic with a loaded blunderbuss to render aid, proceeded to save the life of my man, who was bleeding quite badly from his injures. I daresay that our own surgeons could do with studying the American techniques, as our town doctor swears he doesn't believe he could have saved a man with wounds like Buttersworth's more than one time in ten."
This got my notice, and I sat forward. "I've seen men expire from wounds which most doctors would say are not so bad, and have seen men recover from wounds which should have put them down for good," I explained, feeling a dull heat from the Jezzail bullet in my shoulder and the ache of the other assorted gunshots I'd suffered during my final action in Afghanistan, particularly the one in my leg. "Perhaps this Mr. Fairburn Oakley is, in fact, Dr. Fairburn Oakley, and he was a former surgeon himself?"
"He says that he is not, that he simply learned to save lives while he was in the military. Regardless, it is clear that both Mr. Openshaw and Constable Buttersworth owe the man their lives. Openshaw's own maid, Mary Morehouse, and the foreign lady, Ms. Jin, tended to his wounds, while the groom was sent with the horse to summon the constabulary and doctors. We arrived, removed the wounded, and took statements from those who were not. I then ordered that absolutely nothing where the fight took place be disturbed until our town's resident photographer could arrive and record the scenes."
Holmes half sprang out of his chair at this news. "That, Inspector Darby, is the first wholly-sensible action you've taken in this affair." He finished rising from his chair. "Come, Watson, there's no time to lose. If we hurry, we may be able to inspect a mostly intact scene!"
Darby and Lestrade were both surprised, as I stood and went to follow my friend. Behind me, I overheard Darby asking Lestrade, "Is he always so rude?" I didn't have time to hear Lestrade's response, as Holmes was hurrying us out to the cab, which he climbed into and ordered the driver to take us to the Openshaw house.
Arriving at the estate of young Mr. Openshaw, some two miles outside town, we found ourselves arriving at a somewhat small, stately manor-house, not very old but not new, with a row of tightly-planted trees seperating it from the main road. A U-shaped gravel path led up to the house itself, the environs were lush and green in the morning sun. The atrocious weather of the previous night had given way to a lovely Sussex morning, thankfully clear of fog.
Disembarking and entering the house, which had a constable outside though he let us pass, we met a woman in a servant's clothes, looking suitably distressed, and apparently preparing to begin cleaning bloodstains from the floor; a nice sitting-chair was also stained with significant amounts of it.
"Do not consider touching that stain until I have had ample time to examine it," my companion said, striding over to her. He gave the woman quite a fright, and she looked up.
"Oh, my goodness, you terrified me. You are, sir?"
"My name is Sherlock Holmes, your master attempted to engage my services last night. I was otherwise occupied at the time, but now I am here, to make an inquiry into these events."
I almost expected quarrelsome response from her, but she seemed relieved instead. "Oh, thank goodness, Mr. Holmes, you're here at last." She put her sponge back into the bucket, stood up, and after drying her hand on her apron, crossed to a writing desk. "Master Openshaw said to give you this at once when you arrived. It's a copy, I don't know what of, and he retains the original, I believe."
Holmes' eyes scanned the document, and he seemed pleased. "By Jove, Watson, it's a copy of that page of the diary. I do say, this certainly lends credence to my deduction that Elias Openshaw was involved with these K. K. K. fellows." He showed me the page, and I have reproduced it here.
4th. Hudson came. Same old platform.
7th. Set the pips on McCauley, Paramore, John Swain, of St. Augustine.
9th. McCauley cleared.
10th. John Swain cleared.
12th. Visited Paramore. All well.
"You see, Watson," Holmes said, "this makes it quite clear that the old Elias Openshaw, formerly of the Confederate army, was indeed a member of K. K. K. If portions of this diary which were, sadly, burnt, had not been, it almost certainly would have named the names of his fellow conspirators, and thus quite probably provided nooses for necks which had grown accustomed to rather finer accoutrements. No wonder they were willing to send men around the world to kill to get it."
The maid slunk away, and Holmes peered around the room. "Undoubtedly these bloodstains came from where the injured men were treated, prior to being taken away by the village doctors," he noted. "Shall we look in the garden?"
I had no objection, and so Holmes hurried us to the garden, where a photographer was busy, under the far-off, but watchful, eyes of the constabulary, taking photographs. Holmes walked up behind him, watching his step, and I followed suit, as Holmes introduced himself.
"Sherlock Holmes, of London," he said, extending his hand to the photographer, a man who was dressed in rather more rustic attire than I would have expected from a photographer, wearing a newsboy cap and with a stubbly beard. "I've been engaged to investigate this matter by the owner of the house." The photographer shook his hand, gamely.
"All right. What do you need, then, Mr. Holmes?"
"I need you, my good photographer, to tell me exactly and completely everything which has been touched since you arrived, and to prepare copies of all of the photographs you take for evidence for me."
The man snorted, and nodded. "Ay, I reckon I can supply that. Of course, copies of my photographs won't be free," he said, and Sherlock Holmes nodded. "I expected as much. My friend, Dr. Watson, will settle the account for any copies we require. In the meantime, what was touched?"
The photographer walked Holmes through his movements in the garden, and the places where he'd set up to take pictures. He hadn't moved anything to get a better shot, which was in my experience working with Holmes a valuable rare burst of sense in a photographer taking evidentiary photographs, and I provided the man with five sovereigns to provide Holmes with the best possible quality and size of photographs. Once the man had concluded his photographing, Holmes began his own work, with tape measure and powerful magnifying glass, examining footprints in the earth and grass, scuffs on the white paving stones, marks in the gravel circle on which the sundial stood, the sundial itself, with the box and now-dry lantern atop it, a cast-off lantern which had smashed open in the sodden grass, the bags dropped by the two men, and three revolvers we found on the ground, two by the dead men, one by the door into the house. He prevailed upon me to assist him in turning the bodies over, and searched their pockets and possessions.
I noted that the man nearer to the sundial had been shot once, in the back of the right shoulder, by a rifle bullet, and I felt a pang of pain from the Jezzail bullet in my own shoulder. It was not an injury from which a man could ever fully recover from, but which, with time and some luck, he could recover almost fully, as I had; but at the time, in the heat of the moment, with bone and tendon smashed and severed, it would have rendered his arm almost entirely nonfunctional, and debilitatingly painful. He had been stabbed once, in the front of the chest, and then shot twice at close range with a revolver.
The other man, the one nearer the house, had been shot three times. He had one wound in his chest, a revolver bullet from the look of it, and another to the back of the head, while a third shot was a rifle shot, delivered at a steep angle from behind.
I also noted that a window was smashed in the house. The contents of their pockets were two dozen rounds of ammunition each, which I presumed would fit their revolvers, being that they had dropped Colt Model 1889 revolvers and the ammunition in their pockets was .41 Long Colt. The third dropped revolver, at the door to the house, was a Webley in .445.
"Interesting choice of weapons, is it not, Watson," Holmes asked, after thoroughly investigating each of the revolvers, opening them up to examine the rounds within their chambers, and I nodded. "I suppose so. These are thoroughly American revolvers, which would fit with these men's presumed American origins." Holmes nodded. "Indeed, Watson, but have you not yet noticed the confirmation of our suppositions of last night?"
I looked up at him. "I confess I have not, old man. Would you care to explain it?"
"In due time, Watson. There is one more battlefield to examine, in the attic." He pointed to the window, which remained open a notch, and I nodded.
"Very well." Standing, I followed him, and we bade the maid to lead us up to the attics, the room in particular which overlooked the garden. She complied, without fuss, and we arrived to find the photographer hard at work.
There was certainly not sufficient room in the lumber-room for the photographer and ourselves to work at the same time, so Holmes, for once, waited patiently as he could, questioning the maid about everything she had perceived the previous night.
"Tell me what happened, from start to finish," Holmes asked her, and she nodded. "Yes, Mr. Holmes. Yesterday, Master Openshaw came home at an ungodly late hour. I was up worrying, and I think I was the only one. The policeman in the sitting room had dropped off, and the other house staff had fallen asleep, too. I was starting to fear some bad end had befallen him, when a cab came up the drive. He got out, opened the door, and two more people came in. I didn't know them, but their names were Oakley - the man, with chops on the side of his head but no beard or moustache, he spoke with an American accent. The woman's name was Jin, and though she wore a very nice dress she was clearly as Oriental as they come, but beautiful.
"They came in with the queerest assortment of boxes, long, short, small. Oh, and a dog, the woman carried a dog - poor thing, it was badly injured - into the sitting room, and let him lay on a cushion in the front room."
"Toby," I interrupted. "That's my dog. Where is he?"
"I believe he's with the Constable and master Openshaw at the town doctor's practice," the maid informed me, which I found queer, and by the look on my face she sensed it, and so continued, "when Master Openshaw and the constable were brought down, injured, the poor dog got to his legs, hobbled over to them, and curled up with the Constable, licking his hand. I think he wanted to comfort them."
"Well, I do say. As badly injured as he is, and his first thought is to be a comfort to an injured man," I said. "Holmes, I do believe I've done God's work saving that poor dog from that wretch who was to drown him!"
Sherlock Holmes raised an eyebrow at me, and nodded. "I suppose that may well be so, Watson. Anyway, Ms. Morehouse, please, continue. They brought in boxes and the dog."
The maid nodded. "Yes, and then they got to explaining their scheme to the constable, while I went to make them something to eat. The woman, the oriental lady, she came to help, which I thought was strange of her, being so finely dressed and all. She was nice, but a bit of a scamp; stole a morsel of the beef I was preparing, which made me smile. She didn't walk like a lady, either. More like... Well, like a man, who's confident, you know, like a constable, or your own selves, sirs.
"Anyway, I overheard them scheming; they were going to lay a trap for the men Master Openshaw feared were coming to kill him. Oh, it was frightening to hear them talk; the constable didn't seem to take them seriously. I think he was just humouring them, but there was no sign of doubt in the American's voice, nor in Master Openshaw's. They saw I was looking frightened by it all, and Master Openshaw told me I should go to bed and try to put it out of my mind, take a sedative, or stuff cotton in my ears."
Holmes nodded at her, and Ms. Morehouse sighed. "I didn't, though. I did lock my door, but I didn't take a sedative, nor did I stuff cotton in my ears. After that, a lot of time went by and nothing particularly noteworthy came to mind, then the... The shots rang out, just, loud bangs, fast cracks. By the time I got out of my room to see what was going on, the Oriental woman was half-dragging Master Openshaw into the house, calling my name. The master'd been shot, twice!"
Holmes nodded, gravely, as she continued, "She helped him sit down, and I... Well, I'm not a doctor or anything, but my family's had healers in it since before the Kingdoms were unified," she demurred, "and I, well... I'm more used to treating everyday cuts and scraps and the odd injury from the fields, but somehow I got through it, applied dressings with the oriental woman's help, and we kept Master Openshaw comfortable. The American man, and Old Bill, they did the same for the policeman, while he was in the attic, and brought him to the sitting room, laid him out and kept him going until the doctors got here. I didn't think he was going to make it, but he did, and I'm glad for that."
Holmes nodded, and the photographer carefully exited the room, carrying his camera and tripod. "There you are, Mr. Holmes. Minded the blood, I did, I'd suggest you do same." He slid by us, and Holmes entered the room, with me following. It was poorly lit by nature, despite the windows, but thankfully there were lanterns on-hand and lit. Holmes investigated, taking out his measuring tape, taking notes of bullet holes in the walls, and where bullet holes had notably failed to be made, taking note of the discarded Winchester rifles and the ejected brass casings from the rifles, and the dead man. Then, with my help, we conducted the ghastly affair of conducting a search of the dead man's belongings; he had dropped another revolver, a Colt identical to those of the men outside, and a search of his pockets failed to turn up anything else of identifying nature; just more ammunition and pocket change, and three ticket stubs. The dead man had been shot twice in the chest, at very close range once and then at quite close range a second time, by rifle bullets.
After this examination, Holmes stood up. "Well, Watson, I've seen everything I need to see here." We departed, and once outside the house, realized that the photographer had engaged the cab we'd taken to bring us here.
Being only slightly put out by this turn of events, we began the walk back into the village together, and I asked Holmes, "Well, old man, would you like to explain what you noted so peculiar about their weapons, beyond the fact that all of them were of American manufacture?"
"Certainly, Watson," my friend said. "Last night, we hypothesized that the men who meant to murder young Openshaw were likely on boad of a sailing ship, accounting for the difference between the mail steamer from Pondicherry and the sailing vessel which brought them to England.
"What we discovered to-day is confirmation of that. Surely, you noted by their clothes that they were men of the sea," he asked me, and I nodded.
"Well, old boy, the heavy jackets and sturdy build of their clothes makes a living on the sea certainly a possibility, I grant you. And with the delay we'd already speculated about, it seems to fit. But they had no papers identifying themselves as mariners."
Sherlock Holmes nodded. "They did not, Watson, however, their effects do. Allow me to summarize: their clothes are hard-wearing and have seen hard wear, and water-resistant, but they are made with some degree of wealth. Clearly, then, although these men made their way in life in some kind of rough trade, they were not mere laborers, but men of some status. The man who fell nearest to the sundial in the garden was noticeably better dressed than the others, so it may be inferred that he had some status above his confederates, at least aboard the vessel.
"Their weapons, however, clinched it. The Colt revolvers they are carrying are nickel-plated. The nickel-plating finish adds considerable expense to the cost of the weapon over the standard factory blueing of the steel. Only men of significant wealth purchase the nickel-finished version as a matter of vanity, and if that were they case, they likely would have chosen engraved wooden hilts, instead of the hard rubber. Therefore, these men chose nickle-plated revolvers as a practical matter, that being that the nickle-plate resists the corrison of exposure to sea-air and sea-water far better than ordinary blued steel, and rubber handles are far more practical than wooden ones in wet environments. Therefore, the balance of probability lies with them being the mariners we suspected them to be, and they undoubtedly made an attempt on young Openshaw's life last night."
I nodded at each of his points. "You know, Holmes, it's indisputable, everything you say. And the train tickets we found, unless I'm very much off my mark, they would have taken the dead men from London to Horsham - at the same time Mr. Openshaw travelled by the very same conveyance!"
"Indeed, Watson, and well-noted. That fact would likely have eventually come to light to the official investigators, but the inference would elude them. Has it eluded you?"
I turned the matter over in my head for a moment. "Why, it means they travelled from London to Horsham by the very last train available yesterday. I might go so far as to say that they had far more opportunities to travel to Horsham from London yesterday, if that were their intent; they could have taken a direct train from London to the Horsham station, which would have taken less time, and the tickets were for the common cars. If they were indeed men of not meager means, then certainly they could have afforded a compartment ticket. Therefore, they had not the option; the compartment cars on the train were all sold out, and their only option, therefore, was to sit in the rows of seats of a common car. I conclude, then, that the men boarded the train at the very last moment, quite possibly even as it was departing the station."
Sherlock Holmes nodded. "All very correct, Watson, but you've been conservative in drawing deductions from your conclusions. The men were in London, late at night. We know their target was young John Openshaw, and we know they were familiar with his home from the last time they visited it. It stands to reason, then, that if they intended to do him harm, they would have travelled to Horsham, to pay visit upon him in the night, and return by one of the late trains. Yet, they did not. They travelled by the very last train available, meaning they would be stuck in Horsham for the better part of no fewer than eight hours."
I nodded at him. "Exactly. By Jove - stuck in a small town for eight hours after committing murder there. That takes a cold man. What do you deduce from that, my old friend?"
"The balance of probability, it seems to me, Watson, is that they did not plan to take the very last train to Horsham, but that their hand was forced. Obviously, the reason they took the very last train to Horsham was that they were following young Openshaw in London, and as he took that train to Horsham, they had little choice but to do so, or abandon their plot."
"The implications of that are..." I trailed off for a moment. "Holmes, do you mean to say that somehow, they knew that their prey had come to London, and were stalking him in town?"
"That, my dear Watson, is exactly what the facts indicate. It stands to reason that they wouldn't have done so for the purpose of surveillance, since they already knew where he was, but most likely to engage in their murderous plot."
I felt myself go ashen. "Do you mean to say, my good man, that at the very instant he came to our sitting room seeking aid, those rough men were lurking nearby, intending to do him harm?" "It's entirely probable, Watson. If that be the case, then it also stands to reason, I must admit, that his life was almost certainly saved by your dog."
"My dog!" I looked up at him, incredulous, and Holmes nodded.
"Yes, Watson, your dog. You recall, of course, that you and I needed to leave your dog in the care of another party, which ultimately turned out to be the ones who accompanied young Openshaw here, the friends of Dr. Mercy. They were unwilling to abandon your dog, and of course they could hardly carry a gravely injured pit bull throughout the breadth of London in their arms, and Toby was in no shape to walk, so the only option, therefore, was to take a cab. Clearly, the time Mr. Openshaw spent writing his missive to us was the time necessary for a cab to be fetched and brought straight to the door, affording the malefactors no chance whatsoever to put their plans in motion between our doorstep and Horsham."
The thought of how young Openshaw might have come within a hairsbreadth of disaster filled my chest with a heavy feeling. "Perhaps, Holmes, things have worked out for the best, then."
Holmes shook his head. "Hardly for the best, Watson, as if you remember, young Openshaw and Constable Buttersworth are in hospital with gunshot wounds. But they could have been much worse."
We were arriving back to the town, and a suggestion to Holmes that we could do with a cup of strong coffee before continuing our investigation was heeded; we paused in a small, town cafe, for coffee and a light midmorning meal, then proceeded to the police station.
"Watson, we should split up," Holmes suggested. "I am sure that Dr. Mercy's friends are eager to return to London, so I should like to interview them. I would like you to go to the hospital, take a detailed account of the wounds suffered by young Mr. Openshaw and Constable Buttersworth, confer with your professional colleagues, and if you have time, interview Buttersworth and Openshaw before I arrive. And, I am sure, you will wish to check on your dog."
"Very well, Holmes. I'll see you when you're finished," I replied, and departed at once for the local hospital. Upon arrival, I was led to the injured men, who were lying in beds in a room together, from which I peered in from the door. I was pleased to see that Buttersworth had regained consciousness, and although he wasn't in a great way, he and Openshaw were conversing. Toby, my injured pit-bull, was laying on Buttersworth's legs, and the wounded man was slowly scratching his head.
I spoke with their surgeon, who was standing outside the room, who explained to me the extent of their injuries. Openshaw's had not been terrible; flesh wounds primarily, to the arm and chest. Grave and painful, to be sure, but survivable. he estimated Openshaw to make a complete recovery in six months.
Constable Buttersworth was in much graver condition. The first revolver bullet had found its mark in his left shoulder, though it had missed smashing the bone, as had the Jezzail bullet which resulted in my being invalided out of the army. The second shot, on the other hand, was much more dire, having taken him in the neck. The surgeon found it amazing that Buttersworth hadn't bled out from that wound, but Mr. Oakley had treated it so proficiently that he saw no means by which he could improve on the dressing technique save to update it with materials more suitable to dress a wound than whatever cloth came to hand. Buttersworth was thus in stable, but critical, condition, for fear the wound might re-open and he bleed out rapidly, but at present it was holding.
I entered, then, to speak with the men; we exchanged pleasantries, I spoke to them of injuries and recovery, and I asked them to recount for me the events of the previous night, which they did. Openshaw seemed hesitant to claim to be the gunslinging hero in the gardens which the report by Inspector Darby made him out to be, and he demurred that it must have happened however the police said it happened, claiming that it was all so sudden he barely recollects the exchange of gunfire.
Constable Buttersworth's report was more thorough and detailed, but he had turned from the garden window to watch the door at the time when the attack came, and he couldn't swear as to the events outside. He said how he had seen the woman in the yard draw close to Openshaw, then Oakley had told him there was a man moving towards them on the other side of the door. He'd taken cover behind a chest and an upturned chair, and how when a man had entered with a pistol in hand, he'd opened up his dark-lantern, shining the light on the man, and demanded he surrender himself in the Queen's name. Instead, the man had moved to fire upon him, and Buttersworth had fired first. They exchanged gunfire, Winchester and Colt, and after the first exchange, Buttersworth had attempted a second demand for surrender, which had been unsuccessful. That was when he felt the bullet in his neck, and he fell, helpless and bleeding, but saw Oakley (who had been firing rapidly from the window,) turn around and put Buttersworth's assailant down with a shot from his own Winchester.
I didn't press him, for fear of agitating him, making him move violently and opening the wound. Besides, his story was entirely consistent with that Inspector Darby had given us, and, from what I could tell, the evidence we'd seen.
Presently, Holmes arrived, and I briefed him on what I'd heard. He spent some time speaking with young Openshaw, apologizing for having missed them, and expressing his gratitude that Openshaw was alive and did not require avenging. It was a very brief conversation, as both Openshaw and Buttersworth were exhausted and badly injured, so Holmes and I left presently, after I had collected my dog. Holmes led me to a waiting cab, and directed it back to the train station, but it wasn't until we were in a carriage, rolling towards London, that he spoke up.
"The story as it has been told, my dear Watson, is not entirely representive of the events which took place last night," he declares. This took me by surprise, as everything seemed quite in keeping with what I'd seen.
"How do you mean, Holmes?"
"I'm afraid it's quite elementary, Watson. Consider the exchange of gunfire in the garden."
I considered it. "The two ruffians surprised Mr. Openshaw, but they were in turn surprised by an accurate, well-aimed rifle bullet from the window, which gave Openshaw the initiative he needed to finish the fight," I said, but Holmes shook his head.
"John Openshaw, whilst he undoubtedly participated in the gun-battle and even shot one of his assailants, did not, with no apparent vast breadth of skill with pistols, overcome two hardened, American gunslingers, both of whom cared enough for the craft of gunslinging to own the very finest pistols currently on market in the United States. And what's more, I can prove it."
"Oh? Don't simply leave it at that, old man, you must tell me."
"I intend to, Watson. Now, consider the gunfight. No, let us consider it together," he said. "Produce your foolscap and pen, please." I did as directed, and he smoothed the paper out upon the desk, then drew a crude sketch of the garden. "John Openshaw and Madame Jin were here," he said, adding a circle to the circle next to the sundial, "when the hostilities erupted. The footprint evidence in the gravel cannot be mistaken. Now, Oakley's first shot took the first man in the shoulder, disabling his pistol arm, and though he did succeed in clearing his pocket with his revolver, his shots were entirely unable to find any effect. Indeed, he simply discharged his revolver into the ground."
I nodded. "With you so far, Holmes," and Holmes nodded back.
"Now, the official story is that, at this juncture, Openshaw apparently clears his Webley from his pocket with the snake-like speed of a Wild West gunfighter. He then shoots the first man twice in the chest, and he is dead before he hits the ground. The second man shoots twice, giving him serious but not fatal injuries, and Openshaw, who is now injured by two pistol bullets, clears another round into that man's chest, his fourth round going wild and smashing into his own kitchen-window. Oakley then fires again, twice, from the upper floors, one of his rounds goes wide, and the other takes the man in the center of the back, dropping him to the ground, paralyzed or dead. Then Openshaw, who is bleeding from two wounds, numb, stumbles towards the house, but has enough cold-mindedness about him to discharge his pistol one final time, into the back of the head of the second man, ensuring beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is dead."
I listened, intently, and felt myself go ashen at that last mention. "Shooting a man on the ground... In the back of the head? Why, that's murder, Holmes, he could have posed no threat at that stage."
"Keep your voice down, Watson," Holmes encouraged me. "It is almost certain that the man would have expired of his injuries forthwith, given that the people of the house and guests were busy tending to their own wounded and quite naturally had neither time nor inclination to tend to the wounds of their would-be assassins. Before the Assizes it might be called murder, but in the heat of the moment, with the circumstances being what they were, I would characterize it as, at worst, cold-minded insurance that the man on the ground could not recover his wits sufficiently to grasp the gun lying in his hand and make one final attempt to see his killers die with him, and at best a mercy, sparing the man from living the life of a crippled inmate until his date with the hangman's noose."
I nodded, though I still felt ashen, but I had no particular interest in pushing the matter. Holmes himself then continued, "however, the question is that we are compelled to believe that Mr. Openshaw, a man who has, before last night, never fired a revolver and only occasionally fired a rifle, went into and won a gunfight with two superior gunslingers, discharging five rounds in as many seconds, four of which found their marks, three of which would have been in the heat of the moment, and one of which would have been whilst he was gravely injured."
"It does seem somewhat difficult to believe," I was forced to concede.
"Precisely, Watson! If it were Wild Bill Hickok himself who had come to our sitting room to engage our services, I might, at a stretch, have believed it. But an untrained man performing as well as a hardened Wild West gunslinger? No, Watson, there is chicanery afoot. Consider further, that I can account for five discharges of a Webley revolver from the general vicinity of Openshaw's position when he took his stand, but when I inspected his revolver, which slipped from his grip as he entered his home, only two cartridges had been discharged."
I looked down at the paper. "They purchased three revolvers in London. One was in Openshaw's possession, the second was in Oakley's. Who received the third, then, the Constable? No, he was in the attic, and never mentioned being entrusted with a revolver. Then, there was another gunman, one who has not been mentioned," I concluded, and Holmes shook his head.
"The facts you have stated are correct, but your deduction erroneous, Watson, and unsupported by any tracks on the property. For that to be the case, this third gunman would have been obliged to be invisible to the sight of Constable Buttersworth, a man who is thorough if uninspired in his reporting of the events he perceived. As I do not believe that a cloak has yet been invented that will allow a man's body to vanish from sight into thin air, such a man would have been obliged to have been concealed out of sight of Buttersworth, not only in the garden but also in the house, during the scheme-laying. He would have had to have materialized in the time between Buttersworth's moving to guard the door to the lumber-room and the commencement of the gunfight, and would have been required to cross from his hiding place to the position of young Openshaw and Madame Jin in that time. Consider that such a man, lying in wait, would have had to not only elude Constable Buttersworth's sight, but that of the K. K. K.; and mostly, consider that such a man, having successfully eluded the K. K. K., would have been then in a uniquely ideal position to turn their own ambush upon them, yet chose not to do so, nor to fire from his allegedly impeccable hiding-spot, but to dash into the light where he could become a target himself. And then, after the deed was done, he would have had to vanish so swiftly that none of the servants saw him, and yet have had time to completely erase any tracks his passage might have left upon the lawn or the gravel walk, which was, I recall, traversed in short order by the groom, with the horse."
I nodded. "Your body of objections quite firmly rules out any possibility of there having been a fourth gunman on the garden, then. Are you saying that young Mr. Openshaw, in the middle of the first gunfight of his life, brandished simultaneously two pistols, with enough accuracy to land three of his four shots?"
Holmes snorted. "The facts in evidence would allow for such an event, at the very remotest outside probability, but they would not permit for that second pistol to evaporate into thin air. No, Watson, I am saying you are looking too hard for a fourth gunman on the lawn. There was already a fourth actor present: madame Jin."
"Holmes... You can't mean that the woman -"
"Of course I can. I must," Holmes interrupted me. "You know my methods, Doctor. Once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be considered. She acts the coy thing, singing Openshaw's praises as the hero of the hour, but there is, I feel, duplicity in her words. She does not want to take credit for her deeds of the night, but she is the only person who makes sense. Allow me to suggest an alternative flow of events."
He went back to the map. "We know that Madame Jin was the first to notice the K. K. K., which she drew attention to by drawing close to Openshaw. Quite possibly she kissed him. I believe she used this gesture both to signal her confederate that trouble was afoot, and to conceal herself making ready her weapons."
"Weapons, Holmes, plural?"
"Plural, Watson; or have you forgotten the stab-wound the K. K. K. man nearest the sundial incurred?"
In truth I had, though I had been the one to identify it as the blow of a blade, not the impact of a bullet, and I expressed as much, with chagrin.
"So, the woman makes the incoming trouble known, by her signal, and uses that moment to conceal her own readiness for violence. Openshaw takes the hint, and uses the moment to draw his own revolver. The K. K. K. men may believe they are attacking a well-to-do squire and his exotic lover, for they still have black, rubberized sacks in their hands, instead of guns. A shot rings out, and the man in the lead is struck in the right shoulder; either a monumental stroke of luck, or a well-aimed shot calculated to destroy his ability to perpetrate violence. Either way, he is now irrelevant in this battle, as his destroyed shoulder, a subject with which you should be familiar, my dear Watson, makes him unable to hit anything with a firearm."
I nodded my consent. "Right so far, Holmes. For a man with an injury like that to make any kind of use of a firearm in that hand would be a minor miracle. Even if he had the ironclad pain resistance of a heavyweight champion prize-fighter on opium, his shoulder was physically destroyed. He would have been entirely unable to take any kind of effective shot with it."
"I'm glad I have you, Watson," Holmes noted, and I felt bouyed slightly by his praise. "Although you have done not but confirmed my own conclusion in the matter, I cannot deny that your knowledge of medicine and anatomy exceeds even my own, and your opinions in matters such as this are never under any circumstances to be discounted. Our conclusion is born out by the fact that the man, although mustering a herculean effort, was only able to draw the pistol from his pocket, not to raise it, and he discharged it twice into the ground."
I nodded, and Holmes continued. "Now, the jig is up, the K. K. K. have lost the initiative. Has Openshaw got his revolver in his hand at this moment, and the other man is a champion quickdraw? Or have they not yet cleared their coat pockets? We may not know, if the survivors of the battle who witnessed the events in the garden will not make a clean breast of it, but I suspect that Openshaw was slow on his own draw, as he is not a man used to violence, and the K. K. K. man had to take a moment to rid himself of the bag. Either way, they were both slower than Ms. Jin, who stabbed the first man. I am quite confident the blow from her knife came before that man's revolver was fired, from the half-step back the earth clearly shows he took, obviously the recoil from the blow from the front. Then he discharged his revolver, twice, into the ground, evidently in an attempt to dispatch the woman attacking him, and she discharged her revolver twice, into his chest.
"Meanwhile, Mr. Openshaw and the second K. K. K. man are confronting one another. Does Openshaw get the drop, as he was pre-warned, and delay, possibly calling for the man's surrender? Or is the other man so fast that he clears his pocket at the same time as Openshaw, despite the former having the advantage of forewarning, and the latter being hindered by having a sack in his hands? Either way, they exchange gunfire, simultaneously as I can make out, but at the end of the exchange, Openshaw is the worst off, having taken two bullets in exchange for only one of his own having found its mark. At this time, Ms. Jin, by my deductions, is finishing off her assailant with her revolver, rather than her blade, and Mr. Oakley fires once more from the window, down into the back of the man who is gunfighting with young Openshaw.
"What happens next, Watson, is quite simple. Openshaw is injured, but not fatally. He stumbles towards the house, and Ms. Jin follows him. She pauses long enough to finish off the man who was exchanging gunfire with young Openshaw, and then to secure her blade and revolver about her person, while Openshaw, numbly, drops his revolver. He isn't thinking right; either numb with shock, or in the worst agony of his life. Ms. Jin is uninjured, and is thinking correctly, for a very cold value of correct. She bears him into the sitting-room, calls for Mary Morehouse, the maid, to administer lifesaving measures. Everything else is as it was reported to us, and insists that the man of the house is the hero of the hour."
I shook my head in disbelief. "A gunfight in sleepy Sussex that might well have occurred in Dodge City or Deadwood Gulch, American weapons, American malefactors and benefactors both, and an exotic, beautiful woman from the far east more comfortable with bloodletting than a British surgeon. A blood feud borne against two generations and three members of the same family, a lost diary implicating powerful men in heinous crimes for which they'd hang. Holmes, I dare say this is one hell of a case!"
Holmes nodded to me, and sat back. "It is indeed, Watson. there are, however, questions yet unanswered, but I will have answers. To satisfy myself if to no other constructive end."
When we returned to London, Holmes bade me to return to 221b Baker Street, with my dog. I did so gladly, noting to myself that these quarters seemed far more like home than that which I shared with my wife, and Mrs. Hudson kindly brought lunch for myself and the dog, apologizing for having refused to look after him. I insisted that I could not accept the apology, for her refusal had resulted in a man's life being saved from men who meant to murder him, which turned her pale.
The rest of the afternoon, I spent in my easy chair, with my feet upon the seat of Holmes's, the dog in my lap, fire burning low at my side, a pipe in my mouth and Clark Russell's abandoned sea-story in my hands.
In late evening, a note was brought up by Mrs. Hudson, with impeccable timing as I had only just finished my excellent novel.
Intend to dine at Goldini's Restaraunt, Gloucester Road, Kensington, please join me. Send a note to your friend Dr. Mercy and co. that invitation extends to them, but dispatch note such that you and I will arrive first. S.H.
Although the instructions were slightly peculiar, I carried them out to the letter, and in an hour I was sitting in a garish Italian restaurant, which was I must admit full of wonderful-smelling food. I joined Holmes at a large round table in the back of the room; an antipasto platter was already upon the table, a small pile of smoked fish, beef and chicken, with various cheeses, olives, and other such accoutrements. My friend was busy eating it with great gusto and rapidity, and I had to chance his fork to secure for myself a small cabana sausage.
"My word, Holmes, have you eaten since Horsham?"
"I have not, Watson, for I have been on the case."
"You must have been very busy," I noted, and he nodded. "I was indeed, Watson. But come, I see, unless I am very much mistaken, your friend Dr. Mercy leading the way, with three in tow. Oh, how interesting."
They were a sight, and it was the first time I clapped my eyes upon Mr. Fairburn Oakley and Madame Jin. I shall now describe the party that joined us at dinner.
Dr. Mercy is a professional ally, both to myself in the sciences of health maintenance and restoration, and to Holmes and I in the art of criminal tracking. Mercy is such an androgynous figure that I find it hard to put the word "his" to paper in reference to Mercy and not feel as if I am perpetrating a lie upon my readers, for my friend Mercy has a beautiful face, a slight build and noticeable hips such that if dressed in a gown, none would have any trouble believing that Mercy were a woman. Indeed, a few people, such as the commissionaire, have trouble believing Mercy is a man!
Whatever Mercy's build and facial features, however, I cannot under any circumstance deny that Dr. Mercy is one of the most effective mental healthcare professionals the world has known, but of a retiring nature. If Mercy were of a mind to, I dare say he could easily brush Freud himself away as the predominant light in the literature of the field! In this instance, Mercy had joined us whilst wearing a dapper, mint-green dinner jacket, with matching top hat and trousers, and white shoes.
Next was a man whom I understood from description to be Mr. Fairburn Oakley. He was tall, well-built and well-shouldered, wearing a three-piece suit and no hat. His fair hair was oiled back, and although his chin and lips were devoid of hair, he had long mutton-chop sideburns reaching down his jaw, and he carried a cane so wide it quite obviously had a sword within. The overall effect was that of a man who was well-off, and while he could fit himself into polite society, of being equally at home stripping his jacket and coat off and solving his problems with his fists.
The second of Mercy's companions could only have been the Ms. Jin whom my friend Holmes accused of having participated in a gunfight without taking a scratch, and of having killed one man from the front and cold-bloodedly executed another. Frankly, it seemed absurd to see her that she could have been so; she was short and slight, with fair hair exceedingly uncommon among Asian people, features of the far orient, of ancient and mysterious China, wearing a silk, Chinese dress patterned with flowers and decorated with sashes. On second look, though, the words of the maid Morehouse came back to me; her walk was altogether not remotely similar to that of a demure and quiet woman, or even a cunning and calculating woman. She walked with uncommon confidence, even among men; I could only liken it to the easy footloose stride of a sailor ready to spring into motion in any direction as should be required.
The third of Mercy's dining companions, and the most surprising given that we hadn't heard of her before now, was another young woman, of our own fair race, with orange-red hair oiled to the point of being glossy. Her dress was considerably more subdued than that of her dining companions; I might even have gone so far as to call it almost plain, a simple, yellowed dress, with very little body to the skirt at all. It was almost too under-dressed, though Goldini's staff are consummate professionals and very capable of keeping their mouths shut; and the management is quite glad to take the money of anyone who can afford to dine here, provided they are not so outrageously dressed as to drive off more patrons than they represent.
Holmes had already ordered, I realized, as his meal was approaching, and I quickly glanced down at my menu to place my own order. Dr. Mercy took the liberty of ordering for the group approaching us, before they sat, and in short order Holmes and I were joined by three perfect strangers; Oakley and Jin looking quite confident, the woman unknown to me quiet, looking around in amazement that led me to believe that dining at a restaurant such as Goldini's was normally far above her means.
I took the liberty of broaching conversation, by way of issuing my thanks. "I would like to begin by thanking you for caring for my dog. I rescued the poor animal from a rather unworthy pit trainer, who was going to drown him. Such an ugly affair," I noted, suppressing a gesture of revulsion at the events so fresh in my memory, "but at least the dog is well, and, I am told, was of some comfort in his own way to those poor young men who were shot during last night's unfortunate altercation."
To my surprise, the Oriental woman spoke up first, smiling at me and simply noting "Indeed, he was a welcome companion on our travels. I do hope that he brings you joy for years to come." The sentiment was a welcome one, and I expected that Toby would, but the American man spoke up next, before I could even respond.
"He was brave in his own way, a good quality for any companion animal. Though I must first, ask that you accept our sincere apologies for endangering your dog by bringing him to the estate when we had suspicions those Klansmen might attack. The tenor of this conversation might have been different if the two presently braving the hospital hadn't been quite so stalwart." He offered a slight smile as he said it, and I nodded to him.
"No apology is necessary. You were caught between the choice of abandoning young Openshaw to his own devices, or abandoning Toby, and chose instead to abandon neither. The danger Toby was in was rather incidental to that young Openshaw and the good Constable were placed in, but thankfully, they all survived. More than partly thanks to the two of you, I am told."
My friend had finally set down his fork, nodding at me. "Yes, indeed. I cannot say that I would have endorsed so aggressive a response. However, results are hard to argue with, no matter how difficult they were to come by. I spent the day tracking the three men, which was made difficult by their lack of documentation, but substantially easier by the choice of weapons they chose to bring. Clearly, they meant to use the sacks to abduct young Openshaw and most likely madame Jin, no doubt to arrange for some accident, using the ruse that you'd not be harmed if you went with them. The men were, obviously, American, and they earned their livelihoods upon a sailing ship. They were obviously no mere seamen, but men of some position. Using those facts, and the postmarks on the letters received by the Openshaw family, I spent the day at Lloyds researching vessels, until I located that which bore them here to bring their blood vendetta to these shores."
Dr. Mercy leaned forward, excited, as he always was to hear the conclusions of Sherlock Holmes. "By Jove, Holmes, you mustn't leave us hanging on that statement! Out with it, man!"
Holmes offered a thin smile, delaying just a moment by taking a sip from his wine glass. "I have spent virtually the whole day at Lloyd's, over their registers and files of old papers. I began by following the future career of every vessel which touched in Pondicherry in January and February of '83. There were thirty-six ships of fair tonnage which were reported there in those months. Of these, one, the Lone Star, attracted my attention, since, although it was reported as having cleared from London, the name is that which is given to one of the states of the Union."
"Texas," said Dr. Mercy, myself, the as-yet unintroduced woman, and Mr. Oakley, simultaineously, though I was forced to add "I think," to the end of mine.
Holmes nodded. "It seems the fact of the matter is well known to those at this table who are not myself. Regardless, then, it is indisputable that the barque Lone Star has some attachment to the Union, and this crime is, fundamentally, American. From there, I discovered that she was in Dundee, Scotland, in January of '85, and suspicion became certainty. I then inquired as to which vessels lay at present in the port of London."
"Yes," I asked, leaning towards my friend, hanging on his words, for this tale was becoming thick. Holmes smiled. "It seems that the master and two mates of the barque Lone Star are all American, and her home port is Savannah, Georgia. She was due to clear this morning, but has been tied up at her mooring since the master and mates have not returned from some business they had in town yesterday."
"Goodness, Holmes. What next," Mercy asked, and Holmes smiled. "I went to the dock, of course, and made my investigation known. I am confident that the entirety of the actors in this conspiracy are now gracing the Horsham morgue, as beyond the captain - James Calhoun - and his mates, the remainder of the crew are Finns and German, with not a single other American aboard. The crew, apparently, knew nothing of their other activities of the Captain and his mates, nor did any of them recognize the letters K. K. K."
"The men, Holmes," I said excitedly. "You are positive it was them who died in Horsham last night?" "Oh, yes," Holmes explained. "You paid the photographer quite handsomely, and though I expected he scalped you, he provided top-rate service, fully deserving of the five sovereigns you paid." Holmes then produced three ghastly photographs, the faces of the dead men. "I showed these to the crew, and though they were understandably upset, they had no trouble identifying the faces of the Captain and mates of their vessel.
"Wow," said the unintroduced woman, her accent also American. "So, what happens now? The, uh, the murderers, they're dead. Mr Openshaw's in the clear?"
"In all probability," Holmes answered. "For you see, shortly after I boarded the vessel and confirmed the dead men's identity, Inspector Lestrade arrived at my behest, and together we seized and made a thorough search of the ship. In Captain Calhoun's very own private log were some entries of particular note!"
He then drew from his pocket a piece of paper, reading from it.
"February 15, 1883, Pondicherry, India. Set the pips upon Colonel Elias Openshaw. Whether he clears, hands over the papers, or does nothing, Openshaw will pay for what he did to K.K.K. Expect message will arrive in mid-March, and our arrival at London in late June."
"May 3rd, 1883, London, England. Elias Openshaw has paid dearly for his crimes against his white brothers. It will look to all the world like he took his own life, a fitting end for the coward. To the end, he swore himself hoarse that he burnt the papers already, but I don't believe him. Elias Openshaw is a spiteful bastard. My brothers and I are of the belief he gave the papers to his brother, perhaps to use to blackmail the men mentioned therein. We can do nothing about it now, however."
Holmes took another swig of wine, continuing his reading. "January 3rd, 1885, Dundee, Scotland. Set the pips upon Joseph Openshaw. I'd like to see the brother of the great betrayer dead, but our orders are clear: we have to recover, and destroy, Elias Openshaw's journal and any other documents he may have had, so we sent the pips with the simple instruction to leave the papers on the sundial. If God is willing, he won't comply, and we can do this my way."
Holmes took a moment to take a bite, as my meal and that of Mercy's party arrived; the scent of pasta and meat filled my nose, and I was quite glad to cut a meatball in the center of my plate in half, eating it. Holmes then reached over with his fork, impertinently stealing the other half of my meatball (as his own dish was chicken,) eating it himself. To my surprise, this display of impishness drew a smile from every one of Mercy's group, and then myself, as Holmes continued his reading.
"January 8th, 1885, London, England. God was with me. Joseph Openshaw didn't see fit to place the papers on the sundial, so we watched for him to leave the house alone. He did, but he stepped straight from his steps into a cab, and rode it straight to the train station. We gave pursuit, and gave some thought to pushing him between the train cars, but he locked the door to his compartment and neither I nor the brothers with me are skilled at lockpicking. (Note: After this, I will purchase locksmithing manuals and lockpicks for Jebediah. Locked doors must not stop the avenging of the K. K. K.) We trailed him to a place called Portsdown Hill, where he walked, but in daytime, and we had the devil's own time tracking him in unfamiliar terrain without being seen by the locals. Fortunately, our time in the army was not wasted, though it is decades past us. We concealed ourselves in the scrub and waited, observing as he visited one of the forts crawling with soldiers. He remained within for a time, and I feared that if he stayed the night he would be beyond our grasp, as we'd be obligated to seek shelter, and we couldn't set upon him with the locals having memory of our visited. Our luck held, however, and he left just before dark. In the twilight hours we came upon him, dragging him to the bushes and interrogated him with our billy clubs, but he professed to know nothing about the papers, no matter what we did. In the end, Jebediah brained him, and we cast him into one of those chalk quarries that line the roads, and then I very carefully concealed our tracks as we left the area. Perhaps the papers really were destroyed."
We were all, needless to say, riveted on Holmes' tale, though he was clearly more interested in his dinner, and spent some time eating. We tried to follow suit, but it was obvious to me that every ear at the table was ready in an instant to put down their food and listen when Holmes resumed, which he presently did.
"September 13, 1887 London, England. There is just one more chapter to be written, and the avenging of the K. K. K. will be complete. Elias Openshaw's nephew, John Openshaw, has inherited his estate, and so must have the papers. In truth, I expect they were destroyed, which suits me just fine, as papers which are already destroyed are, to me, exactly the same as papers which the target withholds. We set the pips upon John Openshaw, and repeated the message to put the papers on the sundial. God have mercy on the boy, for I will have none." Holmes then cleared his throat.
"September 15, 1887, London, England. We set out today for Horsham. If the boy has a lick of sense in his head, he won't be coming out-of-doors alone or unarmed. Fortunately, Jebediah's lockpicking skills have become masterful in the last two years of practice. If he won't come out, we'll go in to him."
The four diners across from us were on the edges of their seats, as Holmes slowly took a draw from his wine-flute, and then delivered the penultimate entry. "September 16, 1887, London, England. The house was lit up like the White House, and there was a policeman inside with him. We hadn't reckoned on him being quite so on-his-guard, and though we waited long into the night, there was no opportunity to sneak in. We took the late train back to London, to get some shut-eye. We're going back to Horsham early tomorrow, to watch and wait. We're taking our revolvers this time, and a dozen spare rounds each. If we have to kill a local English law-man and his servants, so be it. Openshaw brought their deaths on them by bringing them into this matter."
Holmes grinned, then, and read the final entry of interest to us. "September 16, 1887, London, England. Openshaw's proving to be cleverer or more desperate than I thought. We were settling in to watch his house when a cab drove up, and he got into it, practically stepping in from his front porch. We had to run like men possessed to reach the train station before his train left. There's no opportunity to strike in these crowds in daylight, but I have plan as to how a man in an unfamiliar town might be steered into the water by some clever men, and the barometer is predicting a hell of a storm, which will cover our tracks fantastically. We tracked him to Baker Street, to the home of a detective named Sherlock Holmes, a man of such renown that the stories penned about him reach as far away as San Francisco and Sydney, but when he knocked on the door, he was told the detective was out, and said he'd call again later in the evening. This gives me some worry, as Holmes is known to keep company with an army man, and they both keep revolvers in the house, but gunfire at the house of a man known to shoot patriotic abbreviations into his walls won't draw an immediate police response. In a way, it will be two-for; we'll wait, and if Openshaw leaves the protection of the Baker Street man, we'll steer him into the Thames. If he takes shelter for the night, we'll pick the back lock, climb the stairs, and burst in upon them, and eliminate Openshaw and the man most likely to be able to track us back. We'll have to eliminate the landlady, of course, and anyone else in the house, and set a fire to cover our tracks. Until then, we're going to lurk at Baker Street, where we know he'll come, and wait for him to arrive. Meanwhile, I've got Jebediah and Bill reading every copy of those stories they can find, looking for clues about the layout of the house. We will have our man tonight, and I don't care who gets in the way."
I found myself suddenly pale, looking at Holmes. "My god, old man - they meant to kill us."
Mercy had a queer look on his face, while Oakley, Jin, and the other woman whose name is still unknown to me looked aghast. Holmes nodded. "Quite so, Watson. These were lethal, implacable assassins, with plans for most every contingency. Thankfully, the one contingency they couldn't quite plan for was Openshaw engaging, in our home, the services of Mr. Oakley and Madame Jin, then proceeding directly to a gun store - places which are well-known and guarded by both Scotland Yard for fear they'll be robbed to arm criminals, and by the owners themselves, where they dared not initiate their hostilities, or from there straight to the train station, where they could go straight to another. They must not have struck upon the train for fear they'd be unable to get away, and they were clearly planning their unlawful entry of the house. Openshaw's venturing out into the garden, in your company, madame Jin, must have been seen as a godsend to them. Unfortunately for them, you had the better-laid trap, and Mr. Oakley's perceptive skills clearly rival that of my own."
Holmes raised his glass in toast, and Mercy asked, "So, what now?"
My friend smiled. "Now, my dear Doctor Mercy, John Openshaw gets to enjoy a quiet recovery and a return to a normal life. The diary of Captain James Calhoun references his masters, those who gave him his orders. While he doesn't name names, he indiscreetly, in three entries, one in 1884, one in 1886, and one in this year, let slip enough details and insinuations to make it clear that the man who gave him his orders was none other than the very man who owns the barque Lone Star. He is, as I suspected all along, one of the very first men in the South, very powerful and very wealthy."
I paled. "How do you intend to fight such a man, Holmes?" "Elementary, my dear Watson. I have already taken the liberty of setting the five orange pips upon him, with a note signed from S.H. In it, I explained to him that the evidence in the diary of Colonel Openshaw is destroyed, and thus Mr. John Openshaw is of no threat to him, and I further explained to him that I have the evidence to destroy him. In the letter, also, I explained what steps I have taken: these very steps, in fact. I have copied the relevant portions of both the private logs of Captain James Calhoun of the barque Lone Star. I have lodged five copies with prominent yet unnamed London solicitors, as well as three more with a prominent solicitor in the cities of Edinburgh and Dublin, and two more with law firms in each of the cities of New York, San Francisco, Tallahassee, and Washington. The names of precisely none of these law firms or solicitors have been made known to the man behind James Calhoun, but the names of each other have been made known to them, and they have been instructed - along with a fine stipend to ensure their compliance to the unusual terms of this arrangement - to watch the relevant newspapers. Should any break-in be reported at their homes or offices, or should they themselves; or, for that matter, should I myself, yourself, Watson, or Mr. Openshaw suffer an untimely death, each of these men is to publish the documents in their possession in no fewer than three newspapers and magazines. In this way, the master of James Calhoun would be utterly ruined, his guilt, if not established to the satisfaction of a court of law, sufficient to cause his business partners and political allies to abandon him and the voting public to curse his name rather than write it into the ballot. I have spun my web around him in such a particular manner that the only move he may make to avoid being entrapped is to make no move at all. The only concession to him I have made is that if news of his demise reaches those men before any news of each other's untimely death or their homes or offices being burglarized, they will destroy the copies in their possession, and that will be the end of the matter, and his descendants need not fear the effects of their father's misdeeds, which is more than can be said for the inheritors of Elias Openshaw."
I boggled at the thoroughness of Holmes' efforts, eventually sputtering, "That's... That's hardly elementary, my dear Holmes," to the quiet laughter of everyone at the table.
"Oh, I suppose you're quite right. It is, in fact, rather an extreme length to go to, but when you are matching your wits against one of the most wealthy and influential men in the South, you must go to rather significant measures. Additionally, the original copy will rest with Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard, and this is entirely unknown to our quarry, should he manage to do something genuinely unexpected and identify and have burglarized the offices and homes of nineteen powerful and prominent solicitors and law firms at once."
"Holmes, this really is the most remarkable set of efforts to go to. I am sure Openshaw will be grateful," Mercy said, and Holmes nodded. "I hope so. Hopefully he will be precisely so grateful as to reimburse the not-insignificant expense I've had to go to in order to pay nineteen powerful solicitors to assume such a task, for if he does not, this may well be the last meal I can eat outside my own home for years to come."
Mercy laughed at him, and shook his head. "I'm sure he will. From what I understand, he's quite a wealthy man, and I believe that paying for the measures which will wreak vengeance and stress upon the man whose hand ordered the death of his father and uncle will be a cost he will be all-too-happy to bear. I dare say that once your message reaches him, the man with such a sword of damocles hanging over his head won't be able to sleep soundly again; just thinking about the fact that some burglar unknown to him, half a world away, unknowing of what he's doing might burglarize a solicitor's office at any day and cause the axe to fall on his neck... He may well commit suicide!"
Holmes smiled, thinly. "The thought had occurred to me. Regardless, his own actions have forced this path. We cannot confront him directly, as while I'm certain I have enough evidence to have a warrant issued for his arrest by Scotland Yard, it is outside the balance of probability that the Americans would extradite him to face the Queen's hangman. But enough of this business. The business with these five orange pips is quite at an end, I believe, and if we finish dining soon, we will be quite in time to catch a show somewhere."
Our dinner conversation quickly devolved into the sort of show to be seen, and more pleasant topics.
Many days later, I found myself in the sitting room of Dr. Mercy's practice, across the street from the sitting room of my friend Sherlock Holmes. Mercy had done some minor redecorating since the last time I graced the practice, but by far and away the most stunning piece of work was a new oil painting, and I found myself regarding it with intense curiosity, for it depicted two creatures most fantastic. The first was, I thought, something akin to a minotaur, but with a bull's entire body cast into human form rather than merely a bull's head on a man's body, and obviously female, dressed in scandalously close to nothing whatsoever; tall, lean, powerfully muscled on the abdomen, with an enormous scar between its breasts, and incredible flowing black hair, piercing eyes, and a Webley revolver in her right hand. The painting gave the impression that the creature was very large, but was dwarfed by its companion, which defied such easy description; it had the torso of a woman, dressed in naught but metal chains and patches which somehow made it less modest than if it had been entirely bare; long, elfin ears raised from the head, with flowing silver hair. Wings, like those of an angel rose from its back, but at the hips it transitioned to scales, wherefrom it became an enormous, golden-scaled serpent. The creature was clutching in its arms a Winchester rifle.
"Admiring my new painting, I see," Mercy queried me, and I looked at him.
"I hardly know what to say about it," I conceded, and Mercy smiled brightly at me; such a bright smile could hardly be imagined to originate on a man's face.
"I expect the world isn't ready for art such as this," Mercy said, "and may not be for another seventy years at least."
I scoffed. "Seventy years... That would make it... The year nineteen-hundred and sixty-seven," I calculated, and Mercy shrugged.
"I believe that's right, Doctor Watson. Still, I didn't ask you here to critique my latest work of art." I turned to look at him.
"Oh? Then by all means, er... What did you want me to do?"
Mercy smiled again. "That wonderful habit of writing up your adventures with Holmes. I would like you to write this one you've just had. The Five Orange Pips. I'd consider it a favor."
"The... The Five Orange Pips? Holmes and I did little more than investigate after all the events were concluded," I objected. "I don't think it would be a very interesting tale."
Mercy, however, insisted. "I am absolutely sure it would be a fantastic tale. Please? You don't have to publish it right away, or ever, if you don't want to, but I would very much like the story written up, like one of your novellas in The Strand."
I let out a chuckle. "Well, Doctor, I can hardly refuse. You did, after all, set in motion the chain of events leading to John Openshaw's survival and enabling my friend Holmes to get at the evidence which led to the man behind the scheme being drawn into a web of his own creation. I'll gladly oblige."
Mercy smiled. "Thank you. And if you don't want to publish it, at least let me reimburse you the cost of the time it takes to put it to paper."
I shook my head. "Nonsense. If you're sure it will do well, I will, of course, publish it." I may leave this conversation out, though."
"Naturally," Mercy answered, with a smile. "But leave it in my copy, okay?"
I could hardly object, and after helping myself to a gin and Mercy's gasogene, we turned our conversation to other topics - one of the favorite of which was that of my friend, Sherlock Holmes.
Afterword by Dr. Mercy
What a tale! To think that such a story could be generated by two lay-persons, completely unskilled in the art of Holmesian deduction, tackling a given problem in their own way with their own skill-set. For those of you whose muses have not yet delivered the details, in the original story (which was less than half as long,) Holmes sent Openshaw back to Horsham from Baker Street, and he was steered somehow into the river Thames, where he drowned. Holmes spent the day investigating, and quickly identified James Calhoun and the mates on his ship as the perpetrators, but by that time the ship had sailed. He did, in the original story as in this one, set the five orange pips upon the highest-ranking conspirator he could find, James Calhoun, but in the original story the barque Lone Star never made it to her home port, and the last anyone ever saw of her was a chunk of wood floating in the Atlantic Ocean with the letters "L. S." engraved on it.
A big shout-out to my friends Oakley and Jin, who are very real, and who made this incredible retelling of an old tale happen by the simple expedient of being in the right place at the right time, and being simultaineously clever and thick enough to change the context of the problem so thoroughly that even the Great Detective himself could have done no more to change events.
Now for that poem I promised.
"Here dwell together still two men of note
Who never lived and so can never die:
How very near they seem, yet how remote
That age before the world went all awry.
But still the game's afoot for those with ears
Attuned to catch the distant view-halloo:
England is England yet, for all our fears—
Only those things the heart believes are true.
A yellow fog swirls past the window-pane
As night descends upon this fabled street:
A lonely hansom splashes through the rain,
The ghostly gas lamps fail at twenty feet.
Here, though the world explode, these two survive,
And it is always eighteen ninety-five."
— "221B", Vincent Starrett
Oh, and a word about chronology. The exact chronology of Holmes's adventures is a matter which has been styming Holmesian scholars for literally centuries, as Conan Doyle wrote them out of chronological order, and published them out of chronological order, so as to make new readers able to pick up any copy of The Strand Magazine and begin reading without feeling lost by having missed the previous tales.
In this case, The Five Orange Pips has several chronologically confusing issues about it. Certainly, Watson states quite unambiguously that these events took place in late September of the year 1887. However, he also alludes to the events of The Sign of the Four, and to having been married, an event which took place after he met Mary Morstan in that story. As Sign is almost always determined as having taken place in late 1888, this quite confuses things, and so some chronologers are tempted to ignore Watson's date and place The Five Orange Pips as being in September of 1889.
I, personally, subscribe to the "trust Watson" approach of Holmesian chronology, and assume that the man himself is the person most qualified to state on which day and year events take place. This raises the conundrum of the marriage, but this may be easily resolved by simply accepting that Watson was married more than once, especially as the details of this marriage (wife being off to stay with her mother,) are incongruent with Mary Morstan's being an orphan.
Thus, everything except the overt references to The Sign of the Four falls neatly into place. Once that's done, explaining the references to Sign are simple: Watson penned the shorter story of The Five Orange Pips either concurrently or subsequently to his writing of the longer story of The Sign of the Four, and included anachronistic references to Sign in the text of conversations between himself and Holmes, which obviously he couldn't have had during the actual events, as those events had yet to transpire, as a means of drumming up sales of the full-length novel The Sign of the Four, available at all better book-stalls.
In the simulation, of course, owing to the fact that you almost never get two Holmesian scholars to agree on an exact order of the canon cases, there is some fluidity to the exact chronological order of events, and though day and night, month and season, pass as normal, the actual numbers applied to the years do not. So, although this case happened ostensibly in 1887, Holmes and Watson referenced as if in the past the events of a case which will happen in 1888, although, truth be told, only NPCs were present at those references, which I only know about from reading them after the fact,) so this could be the simulation making Watson write as he normally would, in order to drum up his book sales as well.
Totally OOC notes: Yep! This all happened. Well, the bits where Oakley and Jin went into simulspace, left an NPC with another NPC and went thundering around Holmesian England like a bull-woman in a china shop happened. They turned one of the classic Holmesian failures into a Wild-West gunfight at midnight in the middle of Sussex.
Gotta love simulspace. Lets you do just about anything for a break from the usual X-Risks and wars and stuff, eh?