The Pursuit of the House-Boat
John Kendrick Bangs
Part 2 out of 2
"But on what terms?" expostulated Raleigh. "If we had all the wealth
of the Indies we'd have difficulty in paying you the sums you
"But I am only president of the company," explained Charon. "I'd
like, as president, to show you some courtesy, and I'm perfectly
willing to do so; but when it comes down to giving you a vessel like
that, I'm bound by my official oath to consider the interest of the
stockholders. It isn't as it used to be when I had boats to hire in
my own behalf alone. In those days I had nobody's interest but my
own to look after. Now the ships all belong to the Styx Navigation
Company. Can't you see the difference?"
"You own all the stock, don't you?" insisted Raleigh.
"I don't know," Charon answered, blandly. "I haven't seen the
"But you know that you did own every share of it, and that you
haven't sold any, don't you?" put in Hamlet.
Charon was puzzled for a moment, but shortly his face cleared, and
Sir Walter's heart sank, for it was evident that the old fellow could
not be cornered.
"Well, it's this way, Sir Walter, and your Highness," he said, "I--I
can't say whether any of that stock has been transferred or not. The
fact is, I've been speculating a little on margin, and I've put up
that stock as security, and, for all I know, I may have been sold out
by my brokers. I've been so upset by this unfortunate occurrence
that I haven't seen the market reports for two days. Really you'll
have to be content with my offer or go without the Gehenna. There's
too much suspicion attached to high corporate officials lately for me
to yield a jot in the position I have taken. It would never do to
get you all ready to start, and then have an injunction clapped on
you by some unforeseen stockholder who was not satisfied with the
terms offered you; nor can I ever let it be said of me that to retain
my position as janitor of your organization I sacrificed a trust
committed to my charge. I'll gladly lend you my private launch,
though I don't think it will aid you much, because the naphtha-tank
has exploded, and the screw slipped off and went to the bottom two
weeks ago. Still, it is at your service, and I've no doubt that
either Phidias or Benvenuto Cellini will carve out a paddle for you
if you ask him to."
"Bah!" retorted Raleigh. "You might as well offer us a pair of
"I would, if I thought the river'd freeze," retorted Charon, blandly.
Raleigh and Hamlet turned away impatiently and left Charon to his own
devices, which for the time being consisted largely of winking his
other eye quietly and outwardly making a great show of grief.
"He's too canny for us, I am afraid," said Sir Walter. "We'll have
to pay him his money."
"Let us first consult Sherlock Holmes," suggested Hamlet, and this
they proceeded at once to do.
"There is but one thing to be done," observed the astute detective
after he had heard Sir Walter's statement of the case. "It is an old
saying that one should fight fire with fire. We must meet modern
business methods with modern commercial ideas. Charter his vessel at
his own price."
"But we'd never be able to pay," said Hamlet.
"Ha-ha!" laughed Holmes. "It is evident that you know nothing of the
laws of trade nowadays. Don't pay!"
"But how can we?" asked Raleigh.
"The method is simple. You haven't anything to pay with," returned
Holmes. "Let him sue. Suppose he gets a verdict. You haven't
anything he can attach--if you have, make it over to your wives or
"Is that honest?" asked Hamlet, shaking his head doubtfully.
"It's business," said Holmes.
"But suppose he wants an advance payment?" queried Hamlet.
"Give him a check drawn to his own order. He'll have to endorse it
when he deposits it, and that will make him responsible," laughed
"What a simple thing when you understand it!" commented Raleigh.
"Very," said Holmes. "Business is getting by slow degrees to be an
exact science. It reminds me of the Brighton mystery, in which I
played a modest part some ten years ago, when I first took up
ferreting as a profession. I was sitting one night in my room at one
of the Brighton hotels, which shall be nameless. I never give the
name of any of the hotels at which I stop, because it might give
offence to the proprietors of other hotels, with the result that my
books would be excluded from sale therein. Suffice it to say that I
was spending an early summer Sunday at Brighton with my friend
Watson. We had dined well, and were enjoying our evening smoke
together upon a small balcony overlooking the water, when there came
a timid knock on the door of my room.
"'Watson,' said I, 'here comes some one for advice. Do you wish to
wager a small bottle upon it?'
"'Yes,' he answered, with a smile. 'I am thirsty and I'd like a
small bottle; and while I do not expect to win, I'll take the bet. I
should like to know, though, how you know.'
"'It is quite simple,' said I. 'The timidity of the knock shows that
my visitor is one of two classes of persons--an autograph-hunter or a
client, one of the two. You see I give you a chance to win. It may
be an autograph-hunter, but I think it is a client. If it were a
creditor, he would knock boldly, even ostentatiously; if it were the
maid, she would not knock at all; if it were the hall-boy, he would
not come until I had rung five times for him. None of these things
has occurred; the knock is the half-hearted knock which betokens
either that the person who knocked is in trouble, or is uncertain as
to his reception. I am willing, however, considering the heat and my
desire to quench my thirst, to wager that it is a client.'
"'Done,' said Watson; and I immediately remarked, 'Come in.'
"The door opened, and a man of about thirty-five years of age, in a
bathing-suit, entered the room, and I saw at a glance what had
"'Your name is Burgess,' I said. 'You came here from London this
morning, expecting to return to-night. You brought no luggage with
you. After luncheon you went bathing. You had machine No. 35, and
when you came out of the water you found that No. 35 had disappeared,
with your clothes and the silver watch your uncle gave you on the day
you succeeded to his business.'
"Of course, gentlemen," observed the detective, with a smile at Sir
Walter and Hamlet--"of course the man fairly gasped, and I continued:
'You have been lying face downward in the sand ever since, waiting
for nightfall, so that you could come to me for assistance, not
considering it good form to make an afternoon call upon a stranger at
his hotel, clad in a bathing-suit. Am I correct?'
"'Sir,' he replied, with a look of wonder, 'you have narrated my
story exactly as it happened, and I find I have made no mistake in
coming to you. Would you mind telling me what is your course of
"'It is plain as day,' said I. 'I am the person with the red beard
with whom you came down third class from London this morning, and you
told me your name was Burgess and that you were a butcher. When you
looked to see the time, I remarked upon the oddness of your watch,
which led to your telling me that it was the gift of your uncle.'
"'True,' said Burgess, 'but I did not tell you I had no luggage.'
"'No,' said I, 'but that you hadn't is plain; for if you had brought
any other clothing besides that you had on with you, you would have
put it on to come here. That you have been robbed I deduce also from
"'But the number of the machine?' asked Watson.
"'Is on the tag on the key hanging about his neck,' said I.
"'One more question,' queried Burgess. 'How do you know I have been
lying face downward on the beach ever since?'
"'By the sand in your eyebrows,' I replied; and Watson ordered up the
"I fail to see what it was in our conversation, however," observed
Hamlet, somewhat impatient over the delay caused by the narration of
this tale, "that suggested this train of thought to you."
"The sequel will show," returned Holmes.
"Oh, Lord!" put in Raleigh. "Can't we put off the sequel until a
later issue? Remember, Mr. Holmes, that we are constantly losing
"The sequel is brief, and I can narrate it on our way to the office
of the Navigation Company," observed the detective. "When the bottle
came I invited Mr. Burgess to join us, which he did, and as the hour
was late when we came to separate, I offered him the use of my parlor
overnight. This he accepted, and we retired.
"The next morning when I arose to dress, the mystery was cleared."
"You had dreamed its solution?" asked Raleigh.
"No," replied Holmes. "Burgess had disappeared with all my clothing,
my false-beard, my suit-case, and my watch. The only thing he had
left me was the bathing-suit and a few empty small bottles."
"And why, may I ask," put in Hamlet, as they drew near to Charon's
office--"why does that case remind you of business as it is conducted
"In this, that it is a good thing to stay out of unless you know it
all," explained Holmes. "I omitted in the case of Burgess to observe
one thing about him. Had I observed that his nose was rectilinear,
incurved, and with a lifted base, and that his auricular temporal
angle was between 96 and 97 degrees, I should have known at once that
he was an impostor Vide Ottolenghui on 'Ears and Noses I Have Met,'
"Do you mean to say that you can tell a criminal by his ears?"
"If he has any--yes; but I did not know that at the time of the
Brighton mystery. Therefore I should have stayed out of the case.
But here we are. Good-morning, Charon."
By this time the trio had entered the private office of the president
of the Styx Navigation Company, and in a few moments the vessel was
chartered at a fabulous price.
On the return to the wharf, Sir Walter somewhat nervously asked
Holmes if he thought the plan they had settled upon would work.
"Charon is a very shrewd old fellow," said he. "He may outwit us
"The chances are just two and one-eighth degrees in your favor,"
observed Holmes, quietly, with a glance at Raleigh's ears. "The
temporal angle of your ears is 93.125 degrees, whereas Charon's stand
out at 91, by my otometer. To that extent your criminal instincts
are superior to his. If criminology is an exact science, reasoning
by your respective ears, you ought to beat him out by a perceptible
though possibly narrow margin."
With which assurance Raleigh went ahead with his preparations, and
within twelve hours the Gehenna was under way, carrying a full
complement of crew and officers, with every state-room on board
occupied by some spirit of the more illustrious kind.
Even Shylock was on board, though no one knew it, for in the dead of
night he had stolen quietly up the gang-plank and had hidden himself
in an empty water-cask in the forecastle.
"'Tisn't Venice," he said, as he sat down and breathed heavily
through the bung of the barrel, "but it's musty and damp enough, and,
considering the cost, I can't complain. You can't get something for
nothing, even in Hades."
CHAPTER VIII: ON BOARD THE "GEHENNA"
When the Gehenna had passed down the Styx and out through the
beautiful Cimmerian Harbor into the broad waters of the ocean, and
everything was comparatively safe for a while at least, Sherlock
Holmes came down from the bridge, where he had taken his place as the
commander of the expedition at the moment of departure. His brow was
furrowed with anxiety, and through his massive forehead his brain
could be seen to be throbbing violently, and the corrugations of his
gray matter were not pleasant to witness as he tried vainly to
squeeze an idea out of them.
"What is the matter?" asked Demosthenes, anxiously. "We are not in
any danger, are we?"
"No," replied Holmes. "But I am somewhat puzzled at the bubbles on
the surface of the ocean, and the ripples which we passed over an
hour or two ago, barely perceptible through the most powerful
microscope, indicate to my mind that for some reason at present
unknown to me the House-boat has changed her course. Take that
bubble floating by. It is the last expiring bit of aerial agitation
of the House-boat's wake. Observe whence it comes. Not from the
Azores quarter, but as if instead of steering a straight course
thither the House-boat had taken a sharp turn to the north-east, and
was making for Havre; or, in other words, Paris instead of London
seems to have become their destination."
Demosthenes looked at Holmes with blank amazement, and, to keep from
stammering out the exclamation of wonder that rose to his lips, he
opened his bonbonniere and swallowed a pebble.
"You don't happen to have a cocaine tablet in your box, do you?"
"No," returned the Greek. "Cocaine makes me flighty and nervous, but
these pebbles sort of ballast me and hold me down. How on earth do
you know that that bubble comes from the wake of the House-boat?"
"By my chemical knowledge, merely," replied Holmes. "A merely
worldly vessel leaves a phosphorescent bubble in its wake. That one
we have just discovered is not so, but sulphurescent, if I may coin a
word which it seems to me the English language is very much in need
of. It proves, then, that the bubble is a portion of the wake of a
Stygian craft, and the only Stygian craft that has cleared the
Cimmerian Harbor for years is the House-boat--Q. E. D."
"We can go back until we find the ripple again, and follow that, I
presume," sneered Le Coq, who did not take much stock in the theories
of his great rival, largely because he was a detective by intuition
rather than by study of the science.
"You can if you want to, but it is better not to," rejoined Holmes,
simply, as though not observing the sneer, "because the ripple
represents the outer lines of the angle of disturbance in the water;
and as any one of the sides to an angle is greater than the
perpendicular from the hypothenuse to the apex, you'd merely be going
the long way. This is especially important when you consider the
formation of the bow of the House-boat, which is rounded like the
stern of most vessels, and comes near to making a pair of ripples at
an angle of ninety degrees."
"Then," observed Sir Walter, with a sigh of disappointment, "we must
change our course and sail for Paris?"
"I am afraid so," said Holmes; "but of course it's by no means
certain as yet. I think if Columbus would go up into the mizzentop
and look about him, he might discover something either in
confirmation or refutation of the theory."
"He couldn't discover anything," put in Pinzon. "He never did."
"Well, I like that!" retorted Columbus. "I'd like to know who
"So should I," observed Leif Ericson, with a wink at Vespucci.
"Tut!" retorted Columbus. "I did it, and the world knows it, whether
you claim it or not."
"Yes, just as Noah discovered Ararat," replied Pinzon. "You sat upon
the deck until we ran plumb into an island, after floating about for
three months, and then you couldn't tell it from a continent, even
when you had it right before your eyes. Noah might just as well have
told his family that he discovered a roof garden as for you to go
back to Spain telling 'em all that San Salvador was the United
"Well, I don't care," said Columbus, with a short laugh. "I'm the
one they celebrate, so what's the odds? I'd rather stay down here in
the smoking-room enjoying a small game, anyhow, than climb up that
mast and strain my eyes for ten or a dozen hours looking for evidence
to prove or disprove the correctness of another man's theory. I
wouldn't know evidence when I saw it, anyhow. Send Judge
"I draw the line at the mizzentop," observed Blackstone. "The
dignity of the bench must and shall be preserved, and I'll never
consent to climb up that rigging, getting pitch and paint on my
ermine, no matter who asks me to go."
"Whomsoever I tell to go, shall go," put in Holmes, firmly. "I am
commander of this ship. It will pay you to remember that, Judge
"And I am the Court of Appeals," retorted Blackstone, hotly. "Bear
that in mind, captain, when you try to send me up. I'll issue a writ
of habeas corpus on my own body, and commit you for contempt."
"There's no use of sending the Judge, anyhow," said Raleigh, fearing
by the glitter that came into the eye of the commander that trouble
might ensue unless pacificatory measures were resorted to. "He's
accustomed to weighing everything carefully, and cannot be rushed
into a decision. If he saw any evidence, he'd have to sit on it a
week before reaching a conclusion. What we need here more than
anything else is an expert seaman, a lookout, and I nominate Shem.
He has sailed under his father, and I have it on good authority that
he is a nautical expert."
Holmes hesitated for an instant. He was considering the necessity of
disciplining the recalcitrant Blackstone, but he finally yielded.
"Very well," he said. "Shem be it. Bo'sun, pipe Shem on deck, and
tell him that general order number one requires him to report at the
mizzentop right away, and that immediately he sees anything he shall
come below and make it known to me. As for the rest of us, having a
very considerable appetite, I do now decree that it is dinner-time.
Shall we go below?"
"I don't think I care for any, thank you," said Raleigh. "Fact is--
ah--I dined last week, and am not hungry."
Noah laughed. "Oh, come below and watch us eat, then," he said.
"It'll do you good."
But there was no reply. Raleigh had plunged head first into his
state-room, which fortunately happened to be on the upper deck. The
rest of the spirits repaired below to the saloon, where they were
soon engaged in an animated discussion of such viands as the larder
"This," said Dr. Johnson, from the head of the table, "is what I call
comfort. I don't know that I am so anxious to recover the House-
boat, after all."
"Nor I," said Socrates, "with a ship like this to go off cruising on,
and with such a larder. Look at the thickness of that puree, Doctor-
"Excuse me," said Boswell, faintly, "but I--I've left my note--bub--
book upstairs, Doctor, and I'd like to go up and get it."
"Certainly," said Dr. Johnson. "I judge from your color, which is
highly suggestive of a modern magazine poster, that it might be well
too if you stayed on deck for a little while and made a few entries
in your commonplace book."
"Thank you," said Boswell, gratefully. "Shall you say anything
clever during dinner, sir? If so, I might be putting it down while
"Get out!" roared the Doctor. "Get up as high as you can--get up
with Shem on the mizzentop--"
"Very good, sir," replied Boswell, and he was off.
"You ought to be more lenient with him, Doctor," said Bonaparte; "he
"I know it," observed Johnson; "but he's so very previous. Last
winter, at Chaucer's dinner to Burns, I made a speech, which Boswell
printed a week before it was delivered, with the words 'laughter' and
'uproarious applause' interspersed through it. It placed me in a
"How did he know what you were going to say?" queried Demosthenes.
"Don't know," replied Johnson. "Kind of mind-reader, I fancy," he
added, blushing a trifle. "But, Captain Holmes, what do you deduce
from your observation of the wake of the House-boat? If she's going
to Paris, why the change?"
"I have two theories," replied the detective.
"Which is always safe," said Le Coq.
"Always; it doubles your chances of success," acquiesced Holmes.
"Anyhow, it gives you a choice, which makes it more interesting. The
change of her course from Londonward to Parisward proves to me either
that Kidd is not satisfied with the extent of the revenge he has
already taken, and wishes to ruin you gentlemen financially by
turning your wives, daughters, and sisters loose on the Parisian
shops, or that the pirates have themselves been overthrown by the
ladies, who have decided to prolong their cruise and get some fun out
of their misfortune."
"And where else than to Paris would any one in search of pleasure
go?" asked Bonaparte.
"I had more fun a few miles outside of Brussels," said Wellington,
with a sly wink at Washington.
"Oh, let up on that!" retorted Bonaparte. "It wasn't you beat me at
Waterloo. You couldn't have beaten me at a plain ordinary game of
old-maid with a stacked pack of cards, much less in the game of war,
if you hadn't had the elements with you."
"Tut!" snapped Wellington. "It was clear science laid you out,
"Taisey-voo!" shouted the irate Corsican. "Clear science be hanged!
Wet science was what did it. If it hadn't been for the rain, my
little Duke, I should have been in London within a week, my
grenadiers would have been camping in your Rue Peekadeely, and the
Old Guard all over everywhere else."
"You must have had a gay army, then," laughed Caesar. "What are
French soldiers made of, that they can't stand the wet--unshrunk
linen or flannel?"
"Bah!" observed Napoleon, shrugging his shoulders and walking a few
paces away. "You do not understand the French. The Frenchman is not
a pell-mell soldier like you Romans; he is the poet of arms; he does
not go in for glory at the expense of his dignity; style, form, is
dearer to him than honor, and he has no use for fighting in the wet
and coming out of the fight conspicuous as a victor with the curl out
of his feathers and his epaulets rusted with the damp. There is no
glory in water. But if we had had umbrellas and mackintoshes, as
every Englishman who comes to the Continent always has, and a bath-
tub for everybody, then would your Waterloo have been different
again, and the great democracy of Europe with a Bonaparte for emperor
would have been founded for what the Americans call the keeps; and as
for your little Great Britain, ha! she would have become the
Blackwell's Island of the Greater France."
"You're almost as funny as Punch isn't," drawled Wellington, with an
angry gesture at Bonaparte. "You weren't within telephoning distance
of victory all day. We simply played with you, my boy. It was a
regular game of golf for us. We let you keep up pretty close and win
a few holes, but on the home drive we had you beaten in one stroke.
Go to, my dear Bonaparte, and stop talking about the flood."
"It's a lucky thing for us that Noah wasn't a Frenchman, eh?" said
Frederick the Great. "How that rain would have fazed him if he had
been! The human race would have been wiped out."
"Oh, pshaw!" ejaculated Noah, deprecating the unseemliness of the
quarrel, and putting his arm affectionately about Bonaparte's
shoulder. "When you come down to that, I was French--as French as
one could be in those days--and these Gallic subjects of my friend
here were, every one of 'em, my lineal descendants, and their hatred
of rain was inherited directly from me, their ancestor."
"Are not we English as much your descendants?" queried Wellington,
arching his eyebrows.
"You are," said Noah, "but you take after Mrs. Noah more than after
me. Water never fazes a woman, and your delight in tubs is an
essentially feminine trait. The first thing Mrs. Noah carried aboard
was a laundry outfit, and then she went back for rugs and coats and
all sorts of hand-baggage. Gad, it makes me laugh to this day when I
think of it! She looked for all the world like an Englishman
travelling on the Continent as she walked up the gang-plank behind
the elephants, each elephant with a Gladstone bag in his trunk and a
hat-box tied to his tail." Here the venerable old weather-prophet
winked at Munchausen, and the little quarrel which had been imminent
passed off in a general laugh.
"Where's Boswell? He ought to get that anecdote," said Johnson.
"I've locked him up in the library," said Holmes. "He's in charge of
the log, and as I have a pretty good general idea as to what is about
to happen, I have mapped out a skeleton of the plot and set him to
work writing it up." Here the detective gave a sudden start, placed
his hand to his ear, listened intently for an instant, and, taking
out his watch and glancing at it, added, quietly, "In three minutes
Shem will be in here to announce a discovery, and one of great
importance, I judge, from the squeak."
The assemblage gazed earnestly at Holmes for a moment.
"The squeak?" queried Raleigh.
"Precisely," said Holmes. "The squeak is what I said, and as I
always say what I mean, it follows logically that I meant what I
"I heard no squeak," observed Dr. Johnson; "and, furthermore, I fail
to see how a squeak, if I had heard it, would have portended a
discovery of importance."
"It would not--to you," said Holmes; "but with me it is different.
My hearing is unusually acute. I can hear the dropping of a pin
through a stone wall ten feet thick; any sound within a mile of my
eardrum vibrates thereon with an intensity which would surprise you,
and it is by the use of cocaine that I have acquired this wonderfully
acute sense. A property which dulls the senses of most people
renders mine doubly apprehensive; therefore, gentlemen, while to you
there was no auricular disturbance, to me there was. I heard Shem
sliding down the mast a minute since. The fact that he slid down the
mast instead of climbing down the rigging showed that he was in great
haste, therefore he must have something to communicate of great
"Why isn't he here already, then? It wouldn't take him two minutes
to get from the deck here," asked the ever-auspicious Le Coq.
"It is simple," returned Holmes, calmly. "If you will go yourself
and slide down that mast you will see. Shem has stopped for a little
witch-hazel to soothe his burns. It is no cool matter sliding down a
mast two hundred feet in height."
As Sherlock Holmes spoke the door burst open and Shem rushed in.
"A signal of distress, captain!" he cried.
"From what quarter--to larboard?" asked Holmes.
"No," returned Shem, breathless.
"Then it must be dead ahead," said Holmes.
"Why not to starboard?" asked Le Coq, dryly.
"Because," answered Holmes, confidently, "it never happens so. If
you had ever read a truly exciting sea-tale, my dear Le Coq, you
would have known that interesting things, and particularly signals of
distress, are never seen except to larboard or dead ahead."
A murmur of applause greeted this retort, and Le Coq subsided.
"The nature of the signal?" demanded Holmes.
"A black flag, skull and cross-bones down, at half-mast!" cried Shem,
"and on a rock-bound coast!"
"They're marooned, by heavens!" shouted Holmes, springing to his feet
and rushing to the deck, where he was joined immediately by Sir
Walter, Dr. Johnson, Bonaparte, and the others.
"Isn't he a daisy?" whispered Demosthenes to Diogenes as they climbed
"He is more than that; he's a blooming orchid," said Diogenes, with
intense enthusiasm. "I think I'll get my X-ray lantern and see if
CHAPTER IX: CAPTAIN KIDD MEETS WITH AN OBSTACLE
"Excuse me, your Majesty," remarked Helen of Troy as Cleopatra
accorded permission to Captain Kidd to speak, "I have not been
introduced to this gentleman nor has he been presented to me, and I
really cannot consent to any proceeding so irregular as this. I do
not speak to gentlemen I have not met, nor do I permit them to
"Hear, hear!" cried Xanthippe. "I quite agree with the principle of
my young friend from Troy. It may be that when we claimed for
ourselves all the rights of men that the right to speak and be spoken
to by other men without an introduction will included in the list,
but I for one have no desire to avail myself of the privilege,
especially when it's a horrid-looking man like this."
Kidd bowed politely, and smiled so terribly that several of the
"I will withdraw," he said, turning to Cleopatra; and it must be said
that his suggestion was prompted by his heartfelt wish, for now that
he found himself thus conspicuously brought before so many women,
with falsehood on his lips, his courage began to ooze.
"Not yet, please," answered the chairlady. "I imagine we can get
about this difficulty without much trouble."
"I think it a perfectly proper objection too," observed Delilah,
rising. "If we ever needed etiquette we need it now. But I have a
plan which will obviate any further difficulty. If there is no one
among us who is sufficiently well acquainted with the gentleman to
present him formally to us, I will for the time being take upon
myself the office of ship's barber and cut his hair. I understand
that it is quite the proper thing for barbers to talk, while cutting
their hair, to persons to whom they have not been introduced. And,
besides, he really needs a hair-cut badly. Thus I shall establish an
acquaintance with the captain, after which I can with propriety
introduce him to the rest of you."
"Perhaps the gentleman himself might object to that," put in Queen
Elizabeth. "If I remember rightly, your last customer was very much
dissatisfied with the trim you gave him."
"It will be unnecessary to do what Delilah proposes," said Mrs. Noah,
with a kindly smile, as she rose up from the corner in which she had
been sitting, an interested listener. "I can introduce the gentleman
to you all with perfect propriety. He's a member of my family. His
grandfather was the great-grandson a thousand and eight times removed
of my son Shem's great-grandnephew on his father's side. His
relationship to me is therefore obvious, though from what I know of
his reputation I think he takes more after my husband's ancestors
than my own. Willie, dear, these ladies are friends of mine.
Ladies, this young man is one of my most famous descendants. He has
been a man of many adventures, and he has been hanged once, which,
far from making him undesirable as an acquaintance, has served merely
to render him harmless, and therefore a safe person to know. Now, my
son, go ahead and speak your piece."
The good old spirit sat down, and the scruples of the objectors
having thus been satisfied, Captain Kidd began.
"Now that I know you all," he remarked, as pleasantly as he could
under the circumstances, "I feel that I can speak more freely, and
certainly with a great deal less embarrassment than if I were
addressing a gathering of entire strangers. I am not much of a hand
at speaking, and have always felt somewhat nonplussed at finding
myself in a position of this nature. In my whole career I never
experienced but one irresistible impulse to make a public address of
any length, and that was upon that unhappy occasion to which the
greatest and grandest of my great-grandmothers has alluded, and that
only as the chain by which I was suspended in mid-air tightened about
my vocal chords. At that moment I could have talked impromptu for a
year, so fast and numerously did thoughts of the uttermost import
surge upward into my brain; but circumstances over which I had no
control prevented the utterance of those thoughts, and that speech is
therefore lost to the world."
"He has the gift of continuity," observed Madame Recamier.
"Ought to be in the United States Senate," smiled Elizabeth.
"I wish I could make up my mind as to whether he is outrageously
handsome or desperately ugly," remarked Helen of Troy. "He
fascinates me, but whether it is the fascination of liking or of
horror I can't tell, and it's quite important."
"Ladies," resumed the captain, his uneasiness increasing as he came
to the point, "I am but the agent of your respective husbands,
fiances, and other masculine guardians. The gentlemen who were
previously the tenants of this club-house have delegated to me the
important, and I may add highly agreeable, task of showing you the
world. They have noted of late years the growth of that feeling of
unrest which is becoming every day more and more conspicuous in
feminine circles in all parts of the universe--on the earth, where
women are clamoring to vote, and to be allowed to go out late at
night without an escort, in Hades, where, as you are no doubt aware,
the management of the government has fallen almost wholly into the
hands of the Furies; and even in the halls of Jupiter himself, where,
I am credibly informed, Juno has been taking private lessons in the
art of hurling thunderbolts--information which the extraordinary
quality of recent electrical storms on the earth would seem to
confirm. Thunderbolts of late years have been cast hither and yon in
a most erratic fashion, striking where they were least expected, as
those of you who keep in touch with the outer world must be fully
aware. Now, actuated by their usual broad and liberal motives, the
men of Hades wish to meet the views of you ladies to just that extent
that your views are based upon a wise selection, in turn based upon
experience, and they have come to me and in so many words have said,
'Mr. Kidd, we wish the women of Hades to see the world. We want them
to be satisfied. We do not like this constantly increasing spirit of
unrest. We, who have seen all the life that we care to see, do not
ourselves feel equal to the task of showing them about. We will pay
you liberally if you will take our House-boat, which they have always
been anxious to enter, and personally conduct our beloved ones to
Paris, London, and elsewhere. Let them see as much of life as they
can stand. Accord them every privilege. Spare no expense; only
bring them back again to us safe and sound.' These were their words,
ladies. I asked them why they didn't come along themselves, saying
that even if they were tired of it all, they should make some
personal sacrifice to your comfort; and they answered, reasonably and
well, that they would be only too glad to do so, but that they feared
they might unconsciously seem to exert a repressing influence upon
you. 'We want them to feel absolutely free, Captain Kidd,' said
they, 'and if we are along they may not feel so.' The answer was
convincing, ladies, and I accepted the commission."
"But we knew nothing of all this," interposed Elizabeth. "The
subject was not broached to us by our husbands, brothers, fiances, or
fathers. My brother, Sir Walter Raleigh--"
Cleopatra chuckled. "Brother! Brother's good," she said.
"Well, that's what he is," retorted Elizabeth, quickly. "I promised
to be a sister to him, and I'm going to keep my word. That's the
kind of a queen I am. I was about to remark," Elizabeth added,
turning to the captain, "that my brother, Sir Walter Raleigh, never
even hinted at any such plan, and usually he asked my advice in
matters of so great importance."
"That is easily accounted for, madame," retorted Kidd. "Sir Walter
intended this as a little surprise for you, that is all. The
arrangements were all placed in his hands, and it was he who bound us
all to secrecy. None of the ladies were to be informed of it."
"It does not sound altogether plausible," interposed Portia. "If you
ladies do not object, I should like to cross-examine this--ah--
Kidd paled visibly. He was not prepared for any such trial; however,
he put as good a face on the matter as he could, and announced his
willingness to answer any questions that he might be asked.
"Shall we put him under oath?" asked Cleopatra.
"As you please, ladies," said the pirate. "A pirate's word is as
good as his bond; but I'll take an oath if you choose--a half-dozen
of 'em, if need be."
"I fancy we can get along without that," said Portia. "Now, Captain
Kidd, who first proposed this plan?"
"Socrates," said Kidd, unblushingly with a sly glance at Xanthippe.
"What?" cried Xanthippe. "My husband propose anything that would
contribute to my pleasure or intellectual advancement? Bah! Your
story is transparently false at the outset."
"Nevertheless," said Kidd, "the scheme was proposed by Socrates. He
said a trip of that kind for Xanthippe would be very restful and
"For me?" cried Xanthippe, sceptically.
"No, madame, for him," retorted Kidd.
"Ah--ho-ho! That's the way of it, eh?" said Xanthippe, flushing to
the roots of her hair. "Very likely. You--ah--you will excuse my
doubting your word, Captain Kidd, a moment since. I withdraw my
remark, and in order to make fullest reparation, I beg to assure
these ladies that I am now perfectly convinced that you are telling
the truth. That last observation is just like my husband, and when I
get back home again, if I ever do, well--ha, ha!--we'll have a merry
time, that's all."
"And what was--ah--Bassanio's connection with this affair?" added
"He was not informed of it," said Kidd, archly. "I am not acquainted
with Bassanio, my lady, but I overheard Sir Walter enjoining upon the
others the absolute necessity of keeping the whole affair from
Bassanio, because he was afraid he would not consent to it.
'Bassanio has a most beautiful wife, gentlemen,' said Sir Walter,
'and he wouldn't think of parting with her under any circumstances;
therefore let us keep our intentions a secret from him.' I did not
hear whom the gentleman married, madame; but the others, Prince
Hamlet, the Duke of Buckingham, and Louis the Fourteenth, all agreed
that Mrs. Bassanio was too beautiful a person to be separated from,
and that it was better, therefore, to keep Bassanio in the dark as to
their little enterprise until it was too late for him to interfere."
A pink glow of pleasure suffused the lovely countenance of the cross-
examiner, and it did not require a very sharp eye to see that the
wily Kidd had completely won her over to his side. On the other
hand, Elizabeth's brow became as corrugated as her ruff, and the
spirit of the pirate shivered to the core as he turned and gazed upon
that glowering face.
"Sir Walter agreed to that, did he?" snapped Elizabeth. "And yet he
was willing to part with--ah--his sister."
"Well, your Majesty," began Kidd, hesitatingly, "you see it was this
way: Sir Walter--er--did say that, but--ah--he--ah--but he added
that he of course merely judged--er--this man Bassanio's feelings by
his own in parting from his sister--"
"Did he say sister?" cried Elizabeth.
"Well--no--not in those words," shuffled Kidd, perceiving quickly
wherein his error lay, "but--ah--I jumped at the conclusion, seeing
his intense enthusiasm for the lady's beauty and--er--intellectual
qualities, that he referred to you, and it is from yourself that I
have gained my knowledge as to the fraternal, not to say sororal,
relationship that exists between you."
"That man's a diplomat from Diplomaville!" muttered Sir Henry Morgan,
who, with Abeuchapeta and Conrad, was listening at the port without.
"He is that," said Abeuchapeta, "but he can't last much longer. He's
perspiring like a pitcher of ice-water on a hot day, and a spirit of
his size and volatile nature can't stand much of that without
evaporating. If you will observe him closely you will see that his
left arm already has vanished into thin air."
"By Jove!" whispered Conrad, "that's a fact! If they don't let up on
him he'll vanish. He's getting excessively tenuous about the top of
All of which was only too true. Subjected to a scrutiny which he had
little expected, the deceitful ambassador of the thieving band was
rapidly dissipating, and, as those without had so fearsomely noted,
was in imminent danger of complete sublimation, which, in the case of
one possessed of so little elementary purity, meant nothing short of
annihilation. Fortunately for Kidd, however, his wonderful tact had
stemmed the tide of suspicion. Elizabeth was satisfied with his
explanation, and in the minds of at least three of the most
influential ladies on board, Portia, Xanthippe, and Elizabeth, he had
become a creature worthy of credence, which meant that he had nothing
more to fear.
"I am prepared, your Majesty," said Elizabeth, addressing Cleopatra,
"to accept from this time on the gentleman's word. The little that
he has already told us is hall-marked with truth. I should like to
ask, however, one more question, and that is how our gentleman
friends expected to embark us upon this voyage without letting us
into the secret?"
"Oh, as for that," replied Kidd, with a deep-drawn sigh of relief,
for he too had noticed the gradual evaporation of his arm and the
incipient etherization of his cranium--"as for that, it was simple
enough. There was to have been a day set apart for ladies' day at
the club, and when you were all on board we were quietly to weigh
anchor and start. The fact that you had anticipated the day, of your
own volition, was telephoned by my scouts to me at my headquarters,
and that news was by me transmitted by messenger to Sir Walter at
Charon's Glen Island, where the long-talked-of fight between Samson
and Goliath was taking place. Raleigh immediately replied, 'Good!
Start at once. Paris first. Unlimited credit. Love to Elizabeth.'
Wherefore, ladies," he added, rising from his chair and walking to
the door--"wherefore you are here and in my care. Make yourselves
comfortable, and with the aid of the fashion papers which you have
already received prepare yourselves for the joys that await you.
With the aid of Madame Recamier and Baedeker's Paris, which you will
find in the library, it will be your own fault if when you arrive
there you resemble a great many less fortunate women who don't know
what they want."
With these words Kidd disappeared through the door, and fainted in
the arms of Sir Henry Morgan. The strain upon him had been too
"A charming fellow," said Portia, as the pirate disappeared.
"Most attractive," said Elizabeth.
"Handsome, too, don't you think?" asked Helen of Troy.
"And truthful beyond peradventure," observed Xanthippe, as she
reflected upon the words the captain had attributed to Socrates. "I
didn't believe him at first, but when he told me what my sweet-
tempered philosopher had said, I was convinced."
"He's a sweet child," interposed Mrs. Noah, fondly. "One of my
"Which makes it embarrassing for me to say," cried Cassandra,
starting up angrily, "that he is a base caitiff!"
Had a bomb been dropped in the middle of the room, it could not have
created a greater sensation than the words of Cassandra.
"What?" cried several voices at once. "A caitiff?"
"A caitiff with a capital K," retorted Cassandra. "I know that,
because while he was telling his story I was listening to it with one
ear and looking forward into the middle of next week with the other--
I mean the other eye--and I saw--"
"Yes, you saw?" cried Cleopatra.
"I saw that he was deceiving us. Mark my words, ladies, he is a base
caitiff," replied Cassandra--"a base caitiff."
"What did you see?" cried Elizabeth, excitedly.
"This," said Cassandra, and she began a narration of future events
which I must defer to the next chapter. Meanwhile his associates
were endeavoring to restore the evaporated portions of the prostrated
Kidd's spirit anatomy by the use of a steam-atomizer, but with
indifferent success. Kidd's training had not fitted him for an
intellectual combat with superior women, and he suffered accordingly.
CHAPTER X: A WARNING ACCEPTED
"It is with no desire to interrupt my friend Cassandra
unnecessarily," said Mrs. Noah, as the prophetess was about to
narrate her story, "that I rise to beg her to remember that, as an
ancestress of Captain Kidd, I hope she will spare a grandmother's
feelings, if anything in the story she is about to tell is improper
to be placed before the young. I have been so shocked by the stories
of perfidy and baseness generally that have been published of late
years, that I would interpose a protest while there is yet time if
there is a line in Cassandra's story which ought to be withheld from
the public; a protest based upon my affection for posterity, and in
the interests of morality everywhere."
"You may rest easy upon that score, my dear Mrs. Noah," said the
prophetess. "What I have to say would commend itself, I am sure,
even to the ears of a British matron; and while it is as complete a
demonstration of man's perfidy as ever was, it is none the less as
harmless a little tale as the Dottie Dimple books or any other more
recent study of New England character."
"Thank you for the load your words have lifted from my mind," said
Mrs. Noah, settling back in her chair, a satisfied expression upon
her gentle countenance. "I hope you will understand why I spoke, and
withal why modern literature generally has been so distressful to me.
When you reflect that the world is satisfied that most of man's
criminal instincts are the result of heredity, and that Mr. Noah and
I are unable to shift the responsibility for posterity to other
shoulders than our own, you will understand my position. We were
about the most domestic old couple that ever lived, and when we see
the long and varied assortment of crimes that are cropping out
everywhere in our descendants it is painful to us to realize what a
pair of unconsciously wicked old fogies we must have been."
"We all understand that," said Cleopatra, kindly; "and we are all
prepared to acquit you of any responsibility for the advanced
condition of wickedness to-day. Man has progressed since your time,
my dear grandma, and the modern improvements in the science of crime
are no more attributable to you than the invention of the telephone
or the oyster cocktail is attributable to your husband."
"Thank you kindly," murmured the old lady, and she resumed her
knitting upon a phantom tam-o'-shanter, which she was making as a
Christmas surprise for her husband.
"When Captain Kidd began his story," said Cassandra, "he made one
very bad mistake, and yet one which was prompted by that courtesy
which all men instinctively adopt when addressing women. When he
entered the room he removed his hat, and therein lay his fatal error,
if he wished to convince me of the truth of his story, for with his
hat removed I could see the workings of his mind. While you ladies
were watching his lips or his eyes, some of you taking in the
gorgeous details of his dress, all of you hanging upon his every
word, I kept my eye fixed firmly upon his imagination, and I saw,
what you did not, THAT HE WAS DRAWING WHOLLY UPON THAT!"
"How extraordinary!" cried Elizabeth.
"Yes--and fortunate," said Cassandra. "Had I not done so, a week
hence we should, every one of us, have been lost in the surging
wickedness of the city of Paris."
"But, Cassandra," said Trilby, who was anxious to return once more to
the beautiful city by the Seine, "he told us we were going to Paris."
"Of course he did," said Madame Recamier, "and in so many words.
Certainly he was not drawing upon his imagination there."
"And one might be lost in a very much worse place," put in Marguerite
de Valois, "if, indeed, it were possible to lose us in Paris at all.
I fancy that I know enough about Paris to find my way about."
"Humph!" ejaculated Cassandra. "What a foolish little thing you are!
You don't imagine that the Paris of to-day is the Paris of your time,
or even the Paris of that sweet child Trilby's time, do you? If you
do you are very much mistaken. I almost wish I had not warned you of
your danger and had let you go, just to see those eyes of yours open
with amazement at the change. You'd find your Louvre a very
different sort of a place from what it used to be, my dear lady.
Those pleasing little windows through which your relations were wont
in olden times to indulge in target practice at people who didn't go
to their church are now kept closed; the galleries which used to
swarm with people, many of whom ought to have been hanged, now swarm
with pictures, many of which ought not to have been hung; the romance
which clung about its walls is as much a part of the dead past as
yourselves, and were you to materialize suddenly therein you would
find yourselves jostled and hustled and trodden upon by the curious
from other lands, with Argus eyes taking in five hundred pictures a
minute, and traversing those halls at a rate of speed at which
Mercury himself would stand aghast."
"But my beloved Tuileries?" cried Marie Antoinette.
"Has been swallowed up by a play-ground for the people, my dear,"
said Cassandra, gently. "Paris is no place for us, and it is the
intention of these men, in whose hands we are, to take us there and
then desert us. Can you imagine anything worse than ourselves, the
phantoms of a glorious romantic past, basely deserted in the streets
of a wholly strange, superficial, material city of to-day? What do
you think, Elizabeth, would be your fate if, faint and famished, you
begged for sustenance at an English door to-day, and when asked your
name and profession were to reply, 'Elizabeth, Queen of England'?"
"Insane asylum," said Elizabeth, shortly.
"Precisely. So in Paris with the rest of us," said Cassandra.
"How do you know all this?" asked Trilby, still unconvinced.
"I know it just as you knew how to become a prima donna," said
Cassandra. "I am, however, my own Svengali, which is rather
preferable to the patent detachable hypnotizer you had. I hypnotize
myself, and direct my mind into the future. I was a professional
forecaster in the days of ancient Troy, and if my revelations had
been heeded the Priam family would, I doubt not, still be doing
business at the old stand, and Mr. AEneas would not have grown round-
shouldered giving his poor father a picky-back ride on the opening
night of the horse-show, so graphically depicted by Virgil."
"I never heard about that," said Trilby. "It sounds like a very
funny story, though."
"Well, it wasn't so humorous for some as it was for others," said
Cassandra, with a sly glance at Helen. "The fact is, until you
mentioned it yourself, it never occurred to me that there was much
fun in any portion of the Trojan incident, excepting perhaps the
delirium tremens of old Laocoon, who got no more than he deserved for
stealing my thunder. I had warned Troy against the Greeks, and they
all laughed at me, and said my eye to the future was strabismatic;
that the Greeks couldn't get into Troy at all, even if they wanted
to. And then the Greeks made a great wooden horse as a gift for the
Trojans, and when I turned my X-ray gaze upon it I saw that it
contained about six brigades of infantry, three artillery regiments,
and sharp-shooters by the score. It was a sort of military Noah's
Ark; but I knew that the prejudice against me was so strong that
nobody would believe what I told them. So I said nothing. My
prophecies never came true, they said, failing to observe that my
warning as to what would be was in itself the cause of their non-
fulfilment. But desiring to save Troy, I sent for Laocoon and told
him all about it, and he went out and announced it as his own private
prophecy; and then, having tried to drown his conscience in strong
waters, he fell a victim to the usual serpentine hallucination, and
everybody said he wasn't sober, and therefore unworthy of belief.
The horse was accepted, hauled into the city, and that night orders
came from hindquarters to the regiments concealed inside to march.
They marched, and next morning Troy had been removed from the map;
ninety per cent of the Trojans died suddenly, and AEneas, grabbing up
his family in one hand and his gods in the other, went yachting for
several seasons, ultimately settling down in Italy. All of this
could have been avoided if the Trojans would have taken the hint from
my prophecies. They preferred, however, not to do it, with the
result that to-day no one but Helen and myself knows even where Troy
was, and we'll never tell."
"It is all true," said Helen, proudly. "I was the woman who was at
the bottom of it all, and I can testify that Cassandra always told
the truth, which is why she was always so unpopular. When anything
that was unpleasant happened, after it was all over she would turn
and say, sweetly, 'I told you so.' She was the original 'I told you
so' nuisance, and of course she had the newspapyruses down on her,
because she never left them any sensation to spring upon the public.
If she had only told a fib once in a while, the public would have had
more confidence in her."
"Thank you for your endorsement," said Cassandra, with a nod at
Helen. "With such testimony I cannot see how you can refrain from
taking my advice in this matter; and I tell you, ladies, that this
man Kidd has made his story up out of whole cloth; the men of Hades
had no more to do with our being here than we had; they were as much
surprised as we are to find us gone. Kidd himself was not aware of
our presence, and his object in taking us to Paris is to leave us
stranded there, disembodied spirits, vagrant souls with no familiar
haunts to haunt, no place to rest, and nothing before us save
perpetual exile in a world that would have no sympathy for us in our
misfortune, and no belief in our continued existence."
"But what, then, shall we do?" cried Ophelia, wringing her hands in
"It is a terrible problem," said Cleopatra, anxiously; "and yet it
does seem as if our woman's instinct ought to show us some way out of
"The Committee on Treachery," said Delilah, "has already suggested a
chafing-dish party, with Lucretia Borgia in charge of the lobster
"That is true," said Lucretia; "but I find, in going through my
reticule, that my maid, for some reason unknown to me, has failed to
renew my supply of poisons. I shall discharge her on my return home,
for she knows that I never go anywhere without them; but that does
not help matters at this juncture. The sad fact remains that I could
prepare a thousand delicacies for these pirates without fatal
"You mean immediately fatal, do you not?" suggested Xanthippe. "I
could myself prepare a cake which would in time reduce our captors to
a state of absolute dependence, but of course the effect is not
"We might give a musicale, and let Trilby sing 'Ben Bolt' to them,"
suggested Marguerite de Valois, with a giggle.
"Don't be flippant, please," said Portia. "We haven't time to waste
on flippant suggestions. Perhaps a court-martial of these pirates,
supplemented by a yard-arm, wouldn't be a bad thing. I'll prosecute
"You forget that you are dealing with immortal spirits," observed
Cleopatra. "If these creatures were mortals, hanging them would be
all right, and comparatively easy, considering that we outnumber them
ten to one, and have many resources for getting them, more or less,
in our power, but they are not. They have gone through the refining
process of dissolution once, and there's an end to that. Our only
resource is in the line of deception, and if we cannot deceive them,
then we have ceased to be women."
"That is truly said," observed Elizabeth. "And inasmuch as we have
already provided ourselves with a suitable committee for the
preparation of our plans of a deceptive nature, I move, as the
easiest possible solution of the difficulty for the rest of us, that
the Committee on Treachery be requested to go at once into executive
session, with orders not to come out of it until they have suggested
a plausible plan of campaign against our abductors. We must be rid
of them. Let the Committee on Treachery say how."
"Second the motion," said Mrs. Noah. "You are a very clear-headed
young woman, Lizzie, and your grandmother is proud of you."
The Committee on Treachery were about to protest, but the chair
refused to entertain any debate upon the question, which was put and
carried with a storm of approval.
Five minutes later a note was handed through the port, addressed to
Cleopatra, which read as follows:
"Dear Madame,--Six bells has just struck, and the officers and crew
are hungry. Will you and your fair companions co-operate with us in
our enterprise by having a hearty dinner ready within two hours? A
speck has appeared on the horizon which betokens a coming storm, else
we would prepare our supper ourselves. As it is, we feel that your
safety depends on our remaining on deck. If there is any beer on the
ice, we prefer it to tea. Two cases will suffice.
"HENRY MORGAN, Bart.; First Mate."
"Hurrah!" cried Cleopatra, as she read this communication. "I have
an idea. Tell the Committee on Treachery to appear before the full
meeting at once."
The committee was summoned, and Cleopatra announced her plan of
operation, and it was unanimously adopted; but what it was we shall
have to wait for another chapter to learn.
CHAPTER XI: MAROONED
When Captain Holmes arrived upon deck he seized his glass, and,
gazing intently through it for a moment, perceived that the faithful
Shem had not deceived him. Flying at half-mast from a rude, roughly
hewn pole set upon a rocky height was the black flag, emblem of
piracy, and, as Artemus Ward put it, "with the second joints
reversed." It was in very truth a signal of distress.
"I make it a point never to be surprised," observed Holmes, as he
peered through the glass, "but this beats me. I didn't know there
was an island of this nature in these latitudes. Blackstone, go
below and pipe Captain Cook on deck. Perhaps he knows what island
"You'll have to excuse me, Captain Holmes," replied the Judge. "I
didn't ship on this voyage as a cabin-boy or a messenger-boy.
"Bonaparte, put the Judge in irons," interrupted Holmes, sternly. "I
expect to be obeyed, Judge Blackstone, whether you shipped as a Lord
Chief-Justice or a state-room steward. When I issue an order it must
be obeyed. Step lively there, Bonaparte. Get his honor ironed and
summon your marines. We may have work to do before night. Hamlet,
pipe Captain Cook on deck."
"Aye, aye, sir," replied Hamlet, with alacrity, as he made off.
"That's the way to obey orders," said Holmes, with a scornful glance
"I was only jesting, Captain," said the latter, paling somewhat.
"That's all right," said Holmes, taking up his glass again. "So was
I when I ordered you in irons, and in order that you may appreciate
the full force of the joke I repeat it. Bonaparte, do your duty."
In an instant the order was obeyed, and the unhappy Judge shortly
found himself manacled and alone in the forecastle. Meanwhile
Captain Cook, in response to the commander's order, repaired to the
deck and scanned the distant coast.
"I can't place it," he said. "It can't be Monte Cristo, can it?"
"No, it can't," said the Count, who stood hard by. "My island was in
the Mediterranean, and even if it dragged anchor it couldn't have got
out through the Strait of Gibraltar."
"Perhaps it's Robinson Crusoe's island," suggested Doctor Johnson.
"Not it," observed De Foe. "If it is, the rest of you will please
keep off. It's mine, and I may want to use it again. I've been
having a number of interviews with Crusoe latterly, and he's given me
a lot of new points, which I intend incorporating in a sequel for the
"Well, in the name of Atlas, what island is it, then?" roared Holmes,
angrily. "What is the matter with all you learned lubbers that I
have brought along on this trip? Do you suppose I've brought you to
whistle up favorable winds? Not by the beard of the Prophet! I
brought you to give me information, and now when I ask for the name
of a simple little island like that in plain sight there's not one of
you able so much as to guess at it reasonably. The next man I ask
for information goes into irons with Judge Blackstone if he doesn't
answer me instantly with the information I want. Munchausen, what
island is that?"
"Ahem! that?" replied Munchausen, trembling, as he reflected upon the
Captain's threat. "What? Nobody knows what island that is? Why,
you surprise me -
"See here, Baron," retorted Holmes, menacingly, "I ask you a plain
question, and I want a plain answer, with no evasions to gain time.
Now it's irons or an answer. What island is that?"
"It's an island that doesn't appear on any chart, Captain,"
Munchausen responded instantly, pulling himself together for a mighty
effort, "and it has never been given a name; but as you insist upon
having one, we'll call it Holmes Island, in your honor. It is not
stationary. It is a floating island of lava formation, and is a
menace to every craft that goes to sea. I spent a year of my life
upon it once, and it is more barren than the desert of Sahara,
because you cannot raise even sand upon it, and it is devoid of water
of any sort, salt or fresh."
"What did you live on during that year?" asked Holmes, eying him
"Canned food from wrecks," replied the Baron, feeling much easier now
that he had got a fair start--"canned food from wrecks, commander.
There is a magnetic property in the upper stratum of this piece of
derelict real estate, sir, which attracts to it every bit of canned
substance that is lost overboard in all parts of the world. A ship
is wrecked, say, in the Pacific Ocean, and ultimately all the loose
metal upon her will succumb to the irresistible attraction of this
magnetic upper stratum, and will find its way to its shores. So in
any other part of the earth. Everything metallic turns up here
sooner or later; and when you consider that thousands of vessels go
down every year, vessels which are provisioned with tinned foods
only, you will begin to comprehend how many millions of pounds of
preserved salmon, sardines, pate de foie gras, peaches, and so on,
can be found strewn along its coast."
"Munchausen," said Holmes, smiling, "by the blush upon your cheek,
coupled with an occasional uneasy glance of the eye, I know that for
once you are standing upon the, to you, unfamiliar ground of truth,
and I admire you for it. There is nothing to be ashamed of in
telling the truth occasionally. You are a man after my own heart.
Come below and have a cocktail. Captain Cook, take command of the
Gehenna during my absence; head her straight for Holmes Island, and
when you discover anything new let me know. Bonaparte, in honor of
Munchausen's remarkable genius, I proclaim general amnesty to our
prisoners, and you may release Blackstone from his dilemma; and if
you have any tin soldiers among your marines, see that they are
lashed to the rigging. I don't want this electric island of the
Baron's to get a grip upon my military force at this juncture."
With this Holmes, followed by Munchausen, went below, and the two
worthies were soon deep in the mysteries of a phantom cocktail, while
Doctor Johnson and De Foe gazed mournfully out over the ocean at the
"De Foe," said Johnson "that ought to be a lesson to you. This
realism that you tie up to is all right when you are alone with your
conscience; but when there are great things afoot, an imagination and
a broad view as to the limitations of truth aren't at all bad. You
or I might now be drinking that cocktail with Holmes if we'd only
risen to the opportunity the way Munchausen did."
"That is true," said De Foe, sadly. "But I didn't suppose he wanted
that kind of information. I could have spun a better yarn than that
of Munchausen's with my eyes shut. I supposed he wanted truth, and I
"I'd like to know what has become of the House-boat," said Raleigh,
anxiously gazing through the glass at the island. "I can see old
Henry Morgan sitting down there on the rocks with his elbows on his
knees and his chin in his hands, and Kidd and Abeuchapeta are
standing back of him, yelling like mad, but there isn't a boat in
"Who is that man, off to the right, dancing a fandango?" asked
"It looks like Conrad, but I can't tell. He appears to have gone
crazy. He's got that wild look on his face which betokens insanity.
We'll have to be careful in our parleyings with these people," said
"Anything new?" asked Holmes, returning to the deck, smacking his
lips in enjoyment of the cocktail.
"No--except that we are almost within hailing distance," said Cook.
"Then give orders to cast anchor," observed Holmes. "Bonaparte, take
a crew of picked men ashore and bring those pirates aboard. Take the
three musketeers with you, and don't let Kidd or Morgan give you any
back talk. If they try any funny business, exorcise them."
"Aye, aye, sir," replied Bonaparte, and in a moment a boat had been
lowered and a sturdy crew of sailors were pulling for the shore. As
they came within ten feet of it the pirates made a mad dash down the
rough, rocky hillside and clamored to be saved.
"What's happened to you?" cried Bonaparte, ordering the sailors to
back water lest the pirates should too hastily board the boat and
"We are marooned," replied Kidd, "and on an island of a volcanic
nature. There isn't a square inch of it that isn't heated up to 125
degrees, and seventeen of us have already evaporated. Conrad has
lost his reason; Abeuchapeta has become so tenuous that a child can
see through him. As for myself, I am growing iridescent with
anxiety, and unless I get off this infernal furnace I'll disappear
like a soap-bubble. For Heaven's sake, then, General, take us off,
on your own terms. We'll accept anything."
As if in confirmation of Kidd's words, six of the pirate crew
collapsed and disappeared into thin air, and a glance at Abeuchapeta
was proof enough of his condition. He had become as clear as
crystal, and had it not been for his rugged outlines he would hardly
have been visible even to his fellow-spirits. As for Kidd, he had
taken on the aspect of a rainbow, and it was patent that his fears
for himself were all too well founded.
Bonaparte embarked the leaders of the band first, returning
subsequently for the others, and repaired with them at once to the
Gehenna, where they were ushered into the presence of Sherlock
Holmes. The first question he asked was as to the whereabouts of the
"That we do not know," replied Kidd, mournfully, gazing downward at
the wreck of his former self. "We came ashore, sir, early yesterday
morning, in search of food. It appears that when--acting in a wholly
inexcusable fashion, and influenced, I confess it, by motives of
revenge--I made off with your club-house, I neglected to ascertain if
it were well stocked with provisions, a fatal error; for when we
endeavored to get supper we discovered that the larder contained but
half a bottle of farcie olives, two salted almonds, and a soda
cracker--not a luxurious feast for sixty-nine pirates and a hundred
and eighty-three women to sit down to."
"That's all nonsense," said Demosthenes. "The House Committee had
provided enough supper for six hundred people, in anticipation of the
appetite of the members on their return from the fight."
"Of course they did," said Confucius; "and it was a good one, too--
salads, salmon glace, lobsters--every blessed thing a man can't get
at home we had; and what is more, they'd been delivered on board. I
saw to that before I went up the river."
"Then," moaned Kidd, "it is as I suspected. We were the victims of
base treachery on the part of those women."
"Treachery? Well, I like that. Call it reciprocity," said Hamlet,
"We were informed by the ladies that there was nothing for supper
save the items I have already referred to," said Kidd. "I see it all
now. We had tried to make them comfortable, and I put myself to some
considerable personal inconvenience to make them easy in their minds,
but they were ungrateful."
"Whatever induced you to take 'em along with you?" asked Socrates.
"We didn't want them," said Kidd.
"We didn't know they were on board until it was too late to turn
back. They'd broken in, and were having the club all to themselves
in your absence."
"It served you good and right," said Socrates, with a laugh. "Next
time you try to take things that don't belong to you, maybe you'll be
a trifle more careful as to whose property you confiscate."
"But the House-boat--you haven't told us how you lost her," put in
"Well, it was this way," said Kidd. "When, in response to our polite
request for supper, the ladies said there was nothing to eat on
board, something had to be done, for we were all as hungry as bears,
and we decided to go ashore at the first port and provision.
Unfortunately the crew got restive, and when this floating frying-pan
loomed into view, to keep them good-natured we decided to land and
see if we could beg, borrow, or steal some supplies. We had to.
Observations taken with the sextant showed that there was no port
within five hundred miles; the island looked as if it might be
inhabited at least by goats, and ashore we went, every man of us,
leaving the House-boat safely anchored in the harbor. At first we
didn't mind the heat, and we hunted and hunted and hunted; but after
three or four hours I began to notice that three of my sailors were
shrivelling up, and Conrad began to act as if he were daft. Hawkins
burst right before my eyes. Then Abeuchapeta got prismatic around
the eyes and began to fade, and I noticed a slight iridescence about
myself; and as for Morgan, he had the misfortune to lie down to take
a nap in the sun, and when he waked up, his whole right side had
evaporated. Then we saw what the trouble was. We'd struck this lava
island, and were gradually succumbing to its intense heat. We rushed
madly back to the harbor to embark; and our ship, gentlemen, and your
House-boat, was slowly but surely disappearing over the horizon, and
flying from the flag-staff at the fore were signals of farewell, with
an unfeeling P.S. below to this effect: 'DON'T WAIT UP FOR US. WE
MAY NOT BE BACK UNTIL LATE.'"
There was a pause, during which Socrates laughed quietly to himself,
while Abeuchapeta and the one-sided Morgan wept silently.
"That, gentlemen of the Associated Shades, is all I know of the
whereabouts of the House-boat," continued Captain Kidd. "I have no
doubt that the ladies practised a deception, to our discomfiture, and
I must say that I think it was exceedingly clever--granting that it
was desirable to be rid of us, which I don't, for we meant well by
them, and they would have enjoyed themselves."
"But," cried Hamlet, "may they not now be in peril? They cannot
navigate that ship."
"They got her out of the harbor all right," said Kidd. "And I judged
from the figure at the helm that Mrs. Noah had taken charge. What
kind of a seaman she is I don't know."
"Almighty bad," ejaculated Shem, turning pale. "It was she who ran
us ashore on Ararat."
"Well, wasn't that what you wanted?" queried Munchausen.
"What we wanted!" cried Shem. "Well, I guess not. You don't want
your yacht stranded on a mountain-top, do you? She was a dead loss
there, whereas if mother hadn't been in such a hurry to get ashore,
we could have waited a month and landed on the seaboard."
"You might have turned her into a summer hotel," suggested
"Well, we must up anchor and away," said Holmes. "Our pursuit has
merely begun, apparently. We must overtake this vessel, and the
question to be answered is--where?"
"That's easy," said Artemus Ward. "From what Shem says, I think we'd
better look for her in the Himalayas."
"And, meanwhile, what shall be done with Kidd?" asked Holmes.
"He ought to be expelled from the club," said Johnson.
"We can't expel him, because he's not a member," replied Raleigh.
"Then elect him," suggested Ward.
"What on earth for?" growled Johnson.
"So that we can expel him," said Ward. And while Boswell's hero was
trying to get the value of this notion through his head, the others
repaired to the deck, and the Gehenna was soon under way once more.
Meanwhile Captain Kidd and his fellows were put in irons and stowed
away in the forecastle, alongside of the water-cask in which Shylock
lay in hiding.
CHAPTER XII: THE ESCAPE AND THE END
If there was anxiety on board of the Gehenna as to the condition and
whereabouts of the House-boat, there was by no means less uneasiness
upon that vessel itself. Cleopatra's scheme for ridding herself and
her abducted sisters of the pirates had worked to a charm, but,
having worked thus, a new and hitherto undreamed-of problem, full of
perplexities bearing upon their immediate safety, now confronted
them. The sole representative of a seafaring family on board was
Mrs. Noah, and it did not require much time to see that her knowledge
as to navigation was of an extremely primitive order, limited indeed
to the science of floating.
When the last pirate had disappeared behind the rocks of Holmes
Island, and all was in readiness for action, the good old lady, who
had hitherto been as calm and unruffled as a child, began to get red
in the face and to bustle about in a manner which betrayed
considerable perturbation of spirit.
"Now, Mrs. Noah," said Cleopatra, as, peeping out from the billiard-
room window, she saw Morgan disappearing in the distance, "the coast
is clear, and I resign my position of chairman to you. We place the
vessel in your hands, and ourselves subject to your orders. You are
in command. What do you wish us to do?"
"Very well," replied Mrs. Noah, putting down her knitting and
starting for the deck. "I'm not certain, but I think the first thing
to do is to get her moving. Do you know, I've never discovered
whether this boat was a steamboat or a sailing-vessel? Does anybody
"I think it has a naphtha tank and a propeller," said Elizabeth,
"although I don't know. It seems to me my brother Raleigh told me
they'd had a naphtha engine put in last winter after the freshet,
when the House-boat was carried ten miles down the river, and had to
be towed back at enormous expense. They put it in so that if she
were carried away again she could get back of her own power."
"That's unfortunate," said Mrs. Noah, "because I don't know anything
about these new fangled notions. If there's any one here who knows
anything about naphtha engines, I wish they'd speak."
"I'm of the opinion," said Portia, "that I can study out the theory
of it in a short while."
"Very well, then," said Mrs. Noah, "you can do it. I'll appoint you
engineer, and give you all your orders now, right away, in advance.
Set her going and keep her going, and don't stop without a written
order signed by me. We might as well be very careful, and have
everything done properly, and it might happen that in the excitement
of our trip you would misunderstand my spoken orders and make a fatal
error. Therefore, pay no attention to unwritten orders. That will
do for you for the present. Xanthippe, you may take Ophelia and
Madame Recamier, and ten other ladies, and, every morning before
breakfast, swab the larboard deck. Cassandra, Tuesdays you will
devote to polishing the brasses in the dining-room, and the balance
of your time I wish you to expend in dusting the bric-a-brac. Dido,
you always were strong at building fires. I'll make you chief
stoker. You will also assist Lucretia Borgia in the kitchen.
Inasmuch as the latter's maid has neglected to supply her with the
usual line of poisons, I think we can safely entrust to Lucretia's
hands the responsibilities of the culinary department."
"I'm perfectly willing to do anything I can," said Lucretia, "but I
must confess that I don't approve of your methods of commanding a
ship. A ship's captain isn't a domestic martinet, as you are setting
out to be. We didn't appoint you housekeeper."
"Now, my child," said Mrs. Noah, firmly, "I do not wish any words.
If I hear any more impudence from you, I'll put you ashore without a
reference; and the rest of you I would warn in all kindness that I
will not tolerate insubordination. You may, all of you, have one
night of the week and alternate Sundays off, but your work must be
done. The regimen I am adopting is precisely that in vogue on the
Ark, only I didn't have the help I have now, and things got into very
bad shape. We were out forty days, and, while the food was poor and
the service execrable, we never lost a life."
The boat gave a slight tremor.
"Hurrah!" cried Elizabeth, clapping her hands with glee, "we are
"I will repair to the deck and get our bearings," said Mrs. Noah,
putting her shawl over her shoulders. "Meantime, Cleopatra, I
appoint you first mate. See that things are tidied up a bit here
before I return. Have the windows washed, and to-morrow I want all
the rugs and carpets taken up and shaken."
Portia meanwhile had discovered the naphtha engine, and, after
experimenting several times with the various levers and stop-cocks,
had finally managed to move one of them in such a way as to set the
engine going, and the wheel began to revolve.
"Are we going all right?" she cried, from below.
"I am afraid not," said the gallant commander. "The wheel is roiling
up the water at a great rate, but we don't seem to be going ahead
very fast--in fact, we're simply moving round and round as though we
were on a pivot."
"I'm afraid we're aground amidships," said Xanthippe, gazing over the
side of the House-boat anxiously. "She certainly acts that way--like
"Well, there's something wrong," said Mrs. Noah; "and we've got to
hurry and find out what it is, or those men will be back and we shall
be as badly off as ever."
"Maybe this has something to do with it," observed Mrs. Lot, pointing
to the anchor rope. "It looks to me as if those horrid men had tied
"That's just what it is," snapped Mrs. Noah. "They guessed our plan,
and have fastened us to a pole or something, but I imagine we can
Portia, who had come on deck, gave a short little laugh.
"Why, of course we don't move," she said--"we are anchored!"
"What's that?" queried Mrs. Noah. "We never had an experience like
that on the Ark."
Portia explained the science of the anchor.
"What nonsense!" ejaculated Mrs. Noah. "How can we get away from
"We've got to pull it up," said Portia. "Order all hands on deck and
have it pulled up."
"It can't be done, and, if it could, I wouldn't have it!" said Mrs.
Noah, indignantly. "The idea! Lifting heavy pieces of iron, my dear
Portia, is not a woman's work. Send for Delilah, and let her cut the
rope with her scissors."
"It would take her a week to cut a hawser like that," said Elizabeth,
who had been investigating. "It would be more to the purpose, I
think, to chop it in two with an axe."
"Very well," replied Mrs. Noah, satisfied. "I don't care how it is
done as long as it is done quickly. It would never do for us to be
The suggestion of Elizabeth was carried out, and the queen herself
cut the hawser with six well-directed strokes of the axe.
"You ARE an expert with it, aren't you?" smiled Cleopatra.
"I am, indeed," replied Elizabeth, grimly. "I had it suspended over
my head for so long a time before I got to the throne that I couldn't
help familiarizing myself with some of its possibilities."
"Ah!" cried Mrs. Noah, as the vessel began to move. "I begin to feel
easier. It looks now as if we were really off."
"It seems to me, though," said Cleopatra, gazing forward, "that we
are going backward."
"Oh, well, what if we are!" said Mrs. Noah. "We did that on the Ark
half the time. It doesn't make any difference which way we are going
as long as we go, does it?"
"Why, of course it does!" cried Elizabeth. "What can you be thinking
of? People who walk backward are in great danger of running into
other people. Why not the same with ships? It seems to me, it's a
very dangerous piece of business, sailing backward."
"Oh, nonsense," snapped Mrs. Noah. "You are as timid as a zebra.
During the Flood, we sailed days and days and days, going backward.
It didn't make a particle of difference how we went--it was as safe
one way as another, and we got just as far away in the end. Our main
object now is to get away from the pirates, and that's what we are
doing. Don't get emotional, Lizzie, and remember, too, that I am in
charge. If I think the boat ought to go sideways, sideways she shall
go. If you don't like it, it is still not too late to put you
The threat calmed Elizabeth somewhat, and she was satisfied, and all
went well with them, even if Portia had started the propeller
revolving reverse fashion; so that the House-boat was, as Elizabeth
had said, backing her way through the ocean.
The day passed, and by slow degrees the island and the marooned
pirates faded from view, and the night came on, and with it a dense
"We're going to have a nasty night, I am afraid," said Xanthippe,
looking anxiously out of the port.
"No doubt," said Mrs. Noah, pleasantly. "I'm sorry for those who
have to be out in it."
"That's what I was thinking about," observed Xanthippe. "It's going
to be very hard on us keeping watch."
"Watch for what?" demanded Mrs. Noah, looking over the tops of her
glasses at Xanthippe.
"Why, surely you are going to have lookouts stationed on deck?" said
"Not at all," said Mrs. Noah. "Perfectly absurd. We never did it on
the Ark, and it isn't necessary now. I want you all to go to bed at
ten o'clock. I don't think the night air is good for you. Besides,
it isn't proper for a woman to be out after dark, whether she's new
"But, my dear Mrs. Noah," expostulated Cleopatra, "what will become
of the ship?"
"I guess she'll float through the night whether we are on deck or
not," said the commander. "The Ark did, why not this? Now, girls,
these new-fangled yachting notions are all nonsense. It's night, and
there's a fog as thick as a stone-wall all about us. If there were a
hundred of you upon deck with ten eyes apiece, you couldn't see
anything. You might much better be in bed. As your captain,
chaperon, and grandmother, I command you to stay below."
"But--who is to steer?" queried Xanthippe.
"What's the use of steering until we can see where to steer to?"
demanded Mrs. Noah. "I certainly don't intend to bother with that
tiller until some reason for doing it arises. We haven't any place
to steer to yet; we don't know where we are going. Now, my dear
children, be reasonable, and don't worry me. I've had a very hard
day of it, and I feel my responsibilities keenly. Just let me
manage, and we'll come out all right. I've had more experience than
any of you, and if--"
A terrible crash interrupted the old lady's remarks. The House-boat
shivered and shook, careened way to one side, and as quickly righted
and stood still. A mad rush up the gangway followed, and in a moment
a hundred and eighty-three pale-faced, trembling women stood upon the
deck, gazing with horror at a great helpless hulk ten feet to the
rear, fastened by broken ropes and odd pieces of rigging to the
stern-posts of the House-boat, sinking slowly but surely into the
It was the Gehenna!
The House-boat had run her down and her last hour had come, but,
thanks to the stanchness of her build and wonderful beam, the
floating club-house had withstood the shock of the impact and now
rode the waters as gracefully as ever.
Portia was the first to realize the extent of the catastrophe, and in
a short while chairs and life-preservers and tables--everything that
could float--had been tossed into the sea to the struggling immortals
therein. On board the Gehenna, those who had not cast themselves
into the waters, under the cool direction of Holmes and Bonaparte,
calmly lowered the boats, and in a short while were not only able to
felicitate themselves upon their safety, but had likewise the good
fortune to rescue their more impetuous brethren who had preferred to
swim for it. Ultimately, all were brought aboard the House-boat in
safety, and the men in Hades were once more reunited to their wives,
daughters, sisters, and fiancees, and Elizabeth had the satisfaction
of once more saving the life of Raleigh by throwing him her ruff as
she had done a year or so previously, when she and her brother had
been upset in the swift current of the river Styx.
Order and happiness being restored, Holmes took command of the House-
boat and soon navigated her safely back into her old-time berth. The
Gehenna went to the bottom and was never seen again, and when the
roll was called it was found that all who had set out upon her had
returned in safety save Shylock, Kidd, Sir Henry Morgan, and
Abeuchapeta; but even they were not lost, for, five weeks later,
these four worthies were found early one morning drifting slowly up
the river Styx, gazing anxiously out from the top of a water-cask and
yelling lustily for help.
And here endeth the chronicle of the pursuit of the good old House-
boat. Back to her moorings, the even tenor of her ways was once more
resumed, but with one slight difference.
The ladies became eligible for membership, and, availing themselves
of the privilege, began to think less and less of the advantages of
being men and to rejoice that, after all, they were women; and even
Xanthippe and Socrates, after that night of peril, reconciled their
differences, and no longer quarrel as to which is the more entitled
to wear the toga of authority. It has become for them a divided
As for Kidd and his fellows, they have never recovered from the
effects of their fearful, though short, exile upon Holmes Island, and
are but shadows of their former shades; whereas Mr. Sherlock Holmes
has so endeared himself to his new-found friends that he is quite as
popular with them as he is with us, who have yet to cross the dark
river and be subjected to the scrutiny of the Committee on Membership
at the House-boat on the Styx.
Even Hawkshaw has been able to detect his genius.
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