Sherlock Holmes sat for some time in silence, with his head sunk
forward and his eyes bent upon the red glow of the fire. Then
lit his pipe, and leaning back in his chair he watched the blue
smoke-rings as they chased each other up to the ceiling.
"I think, Watson," he remarked at last, "that
of all our cases we
have had none more fantastic than this."
"Save, perhaps, the Sign of Four."
"Well, yes. Save, perhaps, that. And yet this John Openshaw
to me to be walking amid even greater perils than did the
"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
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
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
has thoroughly understood one link in a series of incidents
should be able to accurately state all the other ones, both
before and after. We have not yet grasped the results which the
reason alone can attain to. Problems may be solved in the study
which have baffled all those who have sought a solution by the
aid of their senses. To carry the art, however, to its highest
pitch, it is necessary that the reasoner should be able to
utilize all the facts which have come to his knowledge; and this
in itself implies, as you will readily see, a possession of all
knowledge, which, even in these days of free education and
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
endeavored in my case to do. If I remember rightly, you on one
occasion, in the early days of our friendship, defined my limits
in a very precise fashion."
"Yes," I answered, laughing. "It was a singular
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
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
deduced from it. In the first place, we may start with a strong
presumption that Colonel Openshaw had some very strong reason
leaving America. Men at his time of life do not change all their
habits and exchange willingly the charming climate of Florida
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
considering the formidable letters which were received by himself
and his successors. Did you remark the postmarks of those
"The first was from Pondicherry, the second from Dundee,
third from London."
"From East London. What do you deduce from that?"
"They are all seaports. That the writer was on board of
"Excellent. We have already a clew. There can be no doubt
the probability--the strong probability--is that the writer was
on board of a ship. And now let us consider another point. In
case of Pondicherry, seven weeks elapsed between the threat and
its fulfillment, 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
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
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 mailboat which
brought the letter and the sailing vessel which brought the
"It is possible."
"More than that. It is probable. And now you see the deadly
urgency of this new case, and why I urged young Openshaw to
caution. The blow has always fallen at the end of the time which
it would take the senders to travel the distance. But this one
comes from London, and therefore we cannot count upon delay."
"Good God!" I cried. "What can it mean, this relentless
"The papers which Openshaw carried are obviously of vital
importance to the person or persons in the sailing-ship. I think
that it is quite clear that there must be more than one of them.
A single man could not have carried out two deaths in such a way
as to deceive a coroner's jury. There must have been several in
it, and they must have been men of resource and determination.
Their papers they mean to have, be the holder of them who it may.
In this way you see K. K. K. ceases to be the initials of an
individual and becomes the badge of a society."
"But of what society?"
"Have you never--" said Sherlock Holmes, bending forward
sinking his voice--"have you never heard of the Ku Klux Klan?"
"I never have."
Holmes turned over the leaves of the book upon his knee. "Here
is," said he presently:
"Ku Klux Klan. A name derived from the fanciful resemblance
the sound produced by cocking a rifle. This terrible secret
society was formed by some ex-Confederate soldiers in the
Southern states after the Civil War, and it rapidly formed local
branches in different parts of the country, notably in Tennessee,
Louisiana, the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida. Its power was
used for political purposes, principally for the terrorizing of
the negro voters and the murdering and driving from the country
of those who were opposed to its views. Its outrages were usually
preceded by a warning sent to the marked man in some fantastic
but generally recognized shape--a sprig of oak-leaves in some
parts, melon seeds or orange pips in others. On receiving this
the victim might either openly abjure his former ways, or might
fly from the country. If he braved the matter out, death would
unfailingly come upon him, and usually in some strange and
unforeseen manner. So perfect was the organization of the
society, and so systematic its methods, that there is hardly a
case upon record where any man succeeded in braving it with
impunity, or in which any of its outrages were traced home to
perpetrators. For some years the organization flourished in spite
of the efforts of the United States government and of the better
classes of the community in the South. Eventually, in the year
1869, the movement rather suddenly collapsed, although there have
been sporadic outbreaks of the same sort since that date.
"You will observe," said Holmes, laying down the volume,
the sudden breaking up of the society was coincident with the
disappearance of Openshaw from America with their papers. It may
well have been cause and effect. It is no wonder that he and his
family have some of the more implacable spirits upon their track.
You can understand that this register and diary may implicate
some of the first men in the South, and that there may be many
who will not sleep easy at night until it is recovered."
"Then the page we have seen--"
"Is such as we might expect. It ran, if I remember right,
the pips to A, B, and C'--that is, sent the society's warning
them. Then there are successive entries that A and B cleared,
left the country, and finally that C was visited, with, I fear,
sinister result for C. Well, I think, Doctor, that we may let
some light into this dark place, and I believe that the only
chance young Openshaw has in the meantime is to do what I have
told him. There is nothing more to be said or to be done
to-night, so hand me over my violin and let us try to forget for
half an hour the miserable weather and the still more miserable
ways of our fellow-men."