The Pursuit of the House Boat

Author: John Kendrick Bangs

Chapter III: The Search-Party Is Organized

"Well, Mr. Holmes," said Sir Walter Raleigh, after three rousing cheers, led by Hamlet, had been given with a will by the assembled spirits, "after this demonstration in your honor I think it is hardly necessary for me to assure you of our hearty co-operation in anything you may venture to suggest. There is still manifest, however, some desire on the part of the ever-wise King Solomon and my friend Confucius to know how you deduce that Kidd has sailed for London, from the cigar end which you hold in your hand."

"I can easily satisfy their curiosity," said Sherlock Holmes, genially. "I believe I have already proven that it is the end of Kidd’s cigar. The marks of the teeth have shown that. Now observe how closely it is smoked—there is barely enough of it left for one to insert between his teeth. Now Captain Kidd would hardly have risked the edges of his mustache and the comfort of his lips by smoking a cigar down to the very light if he had had another; nor would he under any circumstances have smoked it that far unless he were passionately addicted to this particular brand of the weed. Therefore I say to you, first, this was his cigar; second, it was the last one he had; third, he is a confirmed smoker. The result, he has gone to the one place in the world where these Connecticut handrolled Havana cigars—for I recognize this as one of them—have a real popularity, and are therefore more certainly obtainable, and that is at London. You cannot get so vile a cigar as that outside of a London hotel. If I could have seen a quarter-inch more of it, I should have been able definitely to locate the hotel itself. The wrappers unroll to a degree that varies perceptibly as between the different hotels. The Fortuna cigar can be smoked a quarter through before its wrapper gives way; the Felix wrapper goes as soon as you light the cigar; whereas the River, fronting on the Thames, is surrounded by a moister atmosphere than the others, and, as a consequence, the wrapper will hold really until most people are willing to throw the whole thing away."

"It is really a wonderful art!" said Solomon.

"The making of a Connecticut Havana cigar?" laughed Holmes. "Not at all. Give me a head of lettuce and a straw, and I’ll make you a box."

"I referred to your art—that of detection," said Solomon. "Your logic is perfect; step by step we have been led to the irresistible conclusion that Kidd has made for London, and can be found at one of these hotels."

"And only until next Tuesday, when he will take a house in the neighborhood of Scotland Yard," put in Holmes, quickly, observing a sneer on Hawkshaw’s lips, and hastening to overwhelm him by further evidence of his ingenuity. "When he gets his bill he will open his piratical eyes so wide that he will be seized with jealousy to think of how much more refined his profession has become since he left it, and out of mere pique he will leave the hotel, and, to show himself still cleverer than his modern prototypes, he will leave his account unpaid, with the result that the affair will be put in the hands of the police, under which circumstances a house in the immediate vicinity of the famous police headquarters will be the safest hidingplace he can find, as was instanced by the remarkable case of the famous Penstock bond robbery. A certain churchwarden named Hinkley, having been appointed cashier thereof, robbed the Penstock Imperial Bank of 1,000,000 pounds in bonds, and, fleeing to London, actually joined the detective force at Scotland Yard, and was detailed to find himself, which of course he never did, nor would he ever have been found had he not crossed my path."

Hawkshaw gazed mournfully off into space, and Le Coq muttered profane words under his breath.

"We’re not in the same class with this fellow, Hawkshaw," said Le Coq. "You could tap your forehead knowingly eight hours a day through all eternity with a sledge-hammer without loosening an idea like that."

"Nevertheless I’ll confound him yet," growled the jealous detective. "I shall myself go to London, and, disguised as Captain Kidd, will lead this visionary on until he comes there to arrest me, and when these club members discover that it is Hawkshaw and not Kidd he has run to earth, we’ll have a great laugh on Sherlock Holmes."

"I am anxious to hear how you solved the bond-robbery mystery," said Socrates, wrapping his toga closely about him and settling back against one of the spiles of the wharf.

"So are we all," said Sir Walter. "But meantime the House-boat is getting farther away."

"Not unless she’s sailing backwards," sneered Noah, who was still nursing his resentment against Sir Christopher Wren for his reflections upon the speed of the Ark

"What’s the hurry?" asked Socrates. "I believe in making haste slowly; and on the admission of our two eminent naval architects, Sir Christopher and Noah, neither of their vessels can travel more than a mile a week, and if we charter the Flying Dutchman to go in pursuit of her we can catch her before she gets out of the Styx into the Atlantic."

"Jonah might lend us his whale, if the beast is in commission," suggested Munchausen, dryly. "I for one would rather take a stateroom in Jonah’s whale than go aboard the Flying Dutchman again. I made one trip on the Dutchman, and she’s worse than a dory for comfort; further—I don’t see what good it would do us to charter a boat that can’t land oftener than once in seven years, and spends most of her time trying to double the Cape of Good Hope."

"My whale is in commission," said Jonah, with dignity. "But Baron Munchausen need not consider the question of taking a state-room aboard of her. She doesn’t carry second-class passengers. And if I took any stock in the idea of a trip on the Flying Dutchman amounting to a seven years’ exile, I would cheerfully pay the Baron’s expenses for a round trip."

"We are losing time, gentlemen," suggested Sherlock Holmes. "This is a moment, I think, when you should lay aside personal differences and personal preferences for immediate action. I have examined the wake of the House-boat, and I judge from the condition of what, for want of a better term, I may call the suds, when she left us the Houseboat was making ten knots a day. Almost any craft we can find suitably manned ought to be able to do better than that; and if you could summon Charon and ascertain what boats he has at hand, it would be for the good of all concerned."

"That’s a good plan," said Johnson. "Boswell, see if you can find Charon."

"I am here already, sir," returned the ferryman, rising. "Most of my boats have gone into winter quarters, your Honor. The Mayflower went into dry dock last week to be calked up; the Pinta and the Santa Maria are slow and cranky; the Monitor and the Merrimac I haven’t really had time to patch up; and the Valkyrie is two months overdue. I cannot make up my mind whether she is lost or kept back by excursion steamers. Hence I really don’t know what I can lend you. Any of these boat I have named you could have had for nothing; but my others are actively employed, and I couldn’t let them go without a serious interference with my business."

The old man blinked sorrowfully across the waters at the opposite shore. It was quite evident that he realized what a dreadful expense the club was about to be put to, and while of course there would be profit in it for him, he was sincerely sorry for them.

"I repeat," he added, "those boats you could have had for nothing, but the others I’d have to charge you for, though of course I’ll give you a discount."

And he blinked again, as he meditated upon whether that discount should be an eighth or one-quarter of one per cent.

"The Flying Dutchman," he pursued, "ain’t no good for your purposes. She’s too fast. She’s built to fly by, not to stop. You’d catch up with the House-boat in a minute with her, but you’d go right on and disappear like a visionary; and as for the Ark, she’d never do—with all respect to Mr. Noah. She’s just about as suitable as any other waterlogged cattle-steamer’d be, and no more—first-rate for elephants and kangaroos, but no good for cruiser-work, and so slow she wouldn’t make a ripple high enough to drown a gnat going at the top of her speed. Furthermore, she’s got a great big hole in her bottom, where she was stove in by running afoul of—Mount Arrus-root, I believe it was called when Captain Noah went cruising with that menagerie of his."

"That’s an unmitigated falsehood!" cried Noah, angrily. "This man talks like a professional amateur yachtsman. He has no regard for facts, but simply goes ahead and makes statements with an utter disregard of the truth. The Ark was not stove in. We beached her very successfully. I say this in defence of my seamanship, which was top-notch for my day."

"Couldn’t sail six weeks without fouling a mountain-peak!" sneered Wren, perceiving a chance to get even.

"The hole’s there, just the same," said Charon. "Maybe she was a centreboard, sad that’s where you kept the board."

"The hole is there because it was worn there by one of the elephants," retorted Noah. "You get a beast like the elephant shuffling one of his fore-feet up and down, up and down, a plank for twenty-four hours a day for forty days in one of your boats, and see where your boat would be."

"Thanks," said Charon, calmly. "But the elephants don’t patronize my line. All the elephants I’ve ever seen in Hades waded over, except Jumbo, and he reached his trunk across, fastened on to a tree limb with it, and swung himself over. However, the Ark isn’t at all what you want, unless you are going to man her with a lot of centaurs. If that’s your intention, I’d charter her; the accommodations are just the thing for a crew of that kind."

"Well, what do you suggest?" asked Raleigh, somewhat impatiently. "You’ve told us what we can’t do. Now tell us what we can do."

"I’d stay right here," said Charon, "and let the ladies rescue themselves. That’s what I’d do. I’ve had the honor of bringing ’em over here, and I think I know ’em pretty well. I’ve watched ’em close, and it’s my private opinion that before many days you’ll see your club-house sailing back here, with Queen Elizabeth at the hellum, and the other ladies on the for’ard deck knittin’ and crochetin’, and tearin’ each other to pieces in a conversational way, as happy as if there never had been any Captain Kidd and his pirate crew."

"That suggestion is impossible," said Blackstone, rising. "Whether the relief expedition amounts to anything or not, it’s good to be set going. The ladies would never forgive us if we sat here inactive, even if they were capable of rescuing themselves. It is an accepted principle of law that this climate hath no fury like a woman left to herself, and we’ve got enough professional furies hereabouts without our aiding in augmenting the ranks. We must have a boat."

"It’ll cost you a thousand dollars a week," said Charon.

"I’ll subscribe fifty," cried Hamlet.

"I’ll consult my secretary," said Solomon, "and find out how many of my wives have been abducted, and I’ll pay ten dollars apiece for their recovery."

"That’s liberal," said Hawkshaw. "There are sixty-three of ’em on board, together with eighty of his fiancees. What’s the quotation on fiancees, King Solomon?"

"Nothing," said Solomon. "They’re not mine yet, and it’s their father’s business to get ’em back. Not mine."

Other subscriptions came pouring in, and it was not long before everybody save Shylock had put his name down for something. This some one of the more quick-witted of the spirits soon observed, and, with reckless disregard of the feelings of the Merchant of Venice, began to call, "Shylock! Shylock! How much?"

The Merchant tried to leave the pier, but his path was blocked.

"Subscribe, subscribe!" was the cry. "How much?"

"Order, gentlemen, order!" said Sir Walter, rising and holding a bottle aloft. "A black person by the name of Friday, a valet of our friend Mr. Crusoe, has just handed me this bottle, which he picked up ten minutes ago on the bank of the river a few miles distant. It contains a bit of paper, and may perhaps give us a clew based upon something more substantial than even the wonderful theories of our new brother Holmes."

A deathly silence followed the chairman’s words, as Sir Walter drew a corkscrew from his pocket and opened the bottle. He extracted the paper, and, as he had surmised, it proved to be a message from the missing vessel. His face brightening with a smile of relief, Sir Walter read, aloud:

"Have just emerged into the Atlantic Club in hands of Kidd and forty ruffians. One hundred and eighty-three ladies on board. Headed for the Azores. Send aid at once. All well except Xanthippe, who is seasick in the billiard-room. (Signed) Portia."

"Aha!" cried Hawkshaw. "That shows how valuable the Holmes theory is."

"Precisely," said Holmes. "No woman knows anything about seafaring, but Portia is right. The ship is headed for the Azores, which is the first tack needed in a windward sail for London under the present conditions."

The reply was greeted with cheers, and when they subsided the cry for Shylock’s subscription began again, but he declined.

"I had intended to put up a thousand ducats," he said, defiantly, "but with that woman Portia on board I won’t give a red obolus!" and with that he wrapped his cloak about him and stalked off into the gathering shadows of the wood.

And so the funds were raised without the aid of Shylock, and the shapely twin-screw steamer the Gehenna was chartered of Charon, and put under the command of Mr. Sherlock Holmes, who, after he had thanked the company for their confidence, walked abstractedly away, observing in strictest confidence to himself that he had done well to prepare that bottle beforehand and bribe Crusoe’s man to find it.

"For now," he said, with a chuckle, "I can get back to earth again free of cost on my own hook, whether my eminent inventor wants me there or not. I never approved of his killing me off as he did at the very height of my popularity."


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Chicago: John Kendrick Bangs, "Chapter III: The Search-Party Is Organized," The Pursuit of the House Boat in The Pursuit of the House Boat (New York: The Century Co., 1918), Original Sources, accessed January 31, 2023,

MLA: Bangs, John Kendrick. "Chapter III: The Search-Party Is Organized." The Pursuit of the House Boat, in The Pursuit of the House Boat, New York, The Century Co., 1918, Original Sources. 31 Jan. 2023.

Harvard: Bangs, JK, 'Chapter III: The Search-Party Is Organized' in The Pursuit of the House Boat. cited in 1918, The Pursuit of the House Boat, The Century Co., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 31 January 2023, from