List Of Contents | Contents of The Pursuit of the House-Boat, by John Bangs
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"But the House-boat--you haven't told us how you lost her," put in
Raleigh, impatiently.

"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

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.


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
a merry-go-round."

"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
us fast."

"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
untie it."

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
recaptured now."

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
or not."

"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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