The View from the East End
L.E.S.K. for FIVE
by Inspector Hopkins
Definitely not one of my own personal favourites, but a story that’s a bit different in that it displays both Holmes’s failure to save his client, as well as his deft perception of the situation.
Let’s take a fast look at some “Loose Ends and Story Killers” (L.E.S.K.) for the case of The Five Orange Pips.
This one is fairly straightforward . . . . if John Openshaw had simply used his own common sense, he would have put the brass box (with the last scrap of paper left from his uncle, plus an explanatory note) on the sundial. In that way, he might have avoided the wrath of the KKK. But fortunately for us (as Sherlockians), it took Sherlock Holmes to provide that advice . . . otherwise there would be no story for Watson to relate.
This story has a few Loose Ends, the first of which provides fuel for one of the ongoing (and unending) debates amongst fans of the series:
1) Mrs. Watson: Another classic Canonical crux! Watson mentions that his wife was away visiting her mother, thus giving him a chance to visit Holmes for a few days. But which wife was Watson speaking of? As I had once pointed out before, most Sherlockians seem to agree that Watson met Mary Morstan in September of 1888 (in “The Sign of the Four”) and married her a few months later. Since Mary Morstan stated that her mother was dead in SIGN, and since Watson recorded that “The Five Orange Pips” occurred in September 1887 (a full year before he met Mary), then this “wife” could not have been her. To add to the confusion, Watson specifically mentions SIGN in FIVE. Did Watson get his dates mixed up or did he mean that Mary was visiting someone else? We’ll never know.
2) Chalk and Mud Stains: After traveling through a September hurricane where the wind was “sobbing like a child in the chimney”, and rain was beating against the windows, how could any “clay and chalk mixture” survive on John Openshaw’s shoes for Holmes to detect? Sherlockians have also debated this one before. My take on this is simply that Watson wanted to provide a demonstration of Holmes’s powers of observation. In fact, he mentions Holmes’s ability to distinguish mud stains further on in the story. Recognizing that Openshaw traveled by train from Horsham to London, he would still have to walk in some places, and perhaps take a hansom in others (thus providing the opportunity for getting mud stains). An easy fix for this L.E. would be to have Holmes recognize the clay and chalk mixture from Horsham, but have the stains appear on another part of Openshaw’s clothing, perhaps higher up on his trousers, which would have been more protected from the rain by his raincoat and umbrella.
3) Sick Sense of Humour: Recall that John Openshaw related that his father Joseph laughed at John’s “cock and bull” story when he related the incident of the orange pips falling out onto his uncle’s plate. Recall further that Joseph did not laugh when the same thing happened to him. So . . . what was so funny then? This little detail seems a bit unnecessary and perhaps should have been left out of the story. Instead, Joseph could have just been concerned or alarmed.
4) Confused Juries: Why wouldn’t the Coroner’s Jury bring in a verdict of “accidental causes” for Colonel Openshaw’s death as they did for Joseph Openshaw? Recall that they ruled the colonel’s death as a “suicide”. How could that be? A verdict of suicide doesn’t make any sense at all, especially in light of John’s insistence that his uncle had a great fear of death. Therefore, both cases should have been ruled as accidents. Perhaps Watson was simply trying to provide a bit more variety in the jury’s findings to heighten the mystery of the story, but the first finding seems a bit of a stretch to this commentator.
5) Lack of Evidence: Towards the end of the story Holmes stated that Captain Calhoun and the two mates were “badly wanted here on a charge of murder”. Granting that his powers of reasoning and deduction led him to suspect Calhoun and the two mates, he had absolutely no concrete proof whatsoever that they murdered John Openshaw. How did Holmes intend to prove their guilt beyond all reasonable doubt? The “Lone Star” being in a nearby dock at the time of the murder wouldn’t be anything beyond a coincidence. Any decent lawyer would have pointed out that Holmes’s suspicions were merely based on circumstantial evidence. I believe that Watson recognized this, and in order to provide a nice, tidy ending to the case, he decided that Providence meted out justice to the guilty parties in the form of a tropical storm which sank them.
6) Lack of Judgment: Sherlock Holmes has been roundly criticized in debates and discussion groups for allowing John Openshaw to head back home to Horsham alone, without providing him with any protection. This attempt to get home of course, led to Openshaw’s demise. But consider Holmes’s probable reasoning. It was still not very late in the evening, perhaps nine pm. In spite of the stormy night, people would still be about, thus providing witnesses against any crime. Openshaw was a young man and was armed. There was a policeman stationed in his house, and would guard against any intrusion there. It was a stormy, blustery night, with howling winds and beating rains . . . I certainly wouldn’t want to go out in that sort of weather, and neither would Holmes! He most likely thought that assassins would also be deterred from going out on such a night, and concluded that Openshaw would, in all probability, be safe. Thus, he should be exonerated from any charges of bad judgment.
Besides, consider that if Holmes and Watson did indeed accompany Openshaw back home, and prevent his murder, it would constitute another Story Killer, and we’d have to start this whole analysis all over again! ;-)
Until next time, and wishing all of our readers a very Happy Thanksgiving, I am as always,
Past 2010 Columns