List Of Contents | Contents of The Pursuit of the House-Boat, by John Bangs
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"I have made a hobby of the study of cigar ends," said the stranger,
as the Associated Shades settled back to hear his account of himself.
"From my earliest youth, when I used surreptitiously to remove the
unsmoked ends of my father's cigars and break them up, and, in
hiding, smoke them in an old clay pipe which I had presented to me by
an ancient sea-captain of my acquaintance, I have been interested in
tobacco in all forms, even including these self-same despised
unsmoked ends; for they convey to my mind messages, sentiments,
farces, comedies, and tragedies which to your minds would never
become manifest through their agency."

The company drew closer together and formed themselves in a more
compact mass about the speaker.  It was evident that they were
beginning to feel an unusual interest in this extraordinary person,
who had come among them unheralded and unknown.  Even Shylock stopped
calculating percentages for an instant to listen.

"Do you mean to tell us," demanded Shakespeare, "that the unsmoked
stub of a cigar will suggest the story of him who smoked it to your

"I do," replied the stranger, with a confident smile.  "Take this
one, for instance, that I have picked up here upon the wharf; it
tells me the whole story of the intentions of Captain Kidd at the
moment when, in utter disregard of your rights, he stepped aboard
your House-boat, and, in his usual piratical fashion, made off with
it into unknown seas."

"But how do you know he smoked it?" asked Solomon, who deemed it the
part of wisdom to be suspicious of the stranger.

"There are two curious indentations in it which prove that.  The
marks of two teeth, with a hiatus between, which you will see if you
look closely," said the stranger, handing the small bit of tobacco to
Sir Walter, "make that point evident beyond peradventure.  The
Captain lost an eye-tooth in one of his later raids; it was knocked
out by a marine-spike which had been hurled at him by one of the crew
of the treasure-ship he and his followers had attacked.  The adjacent
teeth were broken, but not removed.  The cigar end bears the marks of
those two jagged molars, with the hiatus, which, as I have indicated,
is due to the destruction of the eye-tooth between them.  It is not
likely that there was another man in the pirate's crew with teeth
exactly like the commander's, therefore I say there can be no doubt
that the cigar end was that of the Captain himself."

"Very interesting indeed," observed Blackstone, removing his wig and
fanning himself with it; "but I must confess, Mr. Chairman, that in
any properly constituted law court this evidence would long since
have been ruled out as irrelevant and absurd.  The idea of two or
three hundred dignified spirits like ourselves, gathered together to
devise a means for the recovery of our property and the rescue of our
wives, yielding the floor to the delivering of a lecture by an entire
stranger on 'Cigar Ends He Has Met,' strikes me as ridiculous in the
extreme.  Of what earthly interest is it to us to know that this or
that cigar was smoked by Captain Kidd?"

"Merely that it will help us on, your honor, to discover the
whereabouts of the said Kidd," interposed the stranger.  "It is by
trifles, seeming trifles, that the greatest detective work is done.
My friends Le Coq, Hawkshaw, and Old Sleuth will bear me out in this,
I think, however much in other respects our methods may have
differed.  They left no stone unturned in the pursuit of a criminal;
no detail, however trifling, uncared for.  No more should we in the
present instance overlook the minutest bit of evidence, however
irrelevant and absurd at first blush it may appear to be.  The truth
of what I say was very effectually proven in the strange case of the
Brokedale tiara, in which I figured somewhat conspicuously, but which
have never made public, because it involves a secret affecting the
integrity of one of the noblest families in the British Empire.  I
really believe that mystery was solved easily and at once because I
happened to remember that the number of my watch was 86507B.  How
trivial and yet how important it was, to what then transpired, you
will realize when I tell you the incident."

The stranger's manner was so impressive that there was a unanimous
and simultaneous movement upon the part of all present to get up
closer, so as the more readily to hear what he said, as a result of
which poor old Boswell was pushed overboard, and fell, with a loud
splash into the Styx.  Fortunately, however, one of Charon's
pleasure-boats was close at hand, and in a short while the dripping,
sputtering spirit was drawn into it, wrung out, and sent home to dry.
The excitement attending this diversion having subsided, Solomon

"What was the incident of the lost tiara?"

"I am about to tell you," returned the stranger; "and it must be
understood that you are told in the strictest confidence, for, as I
say, the incident involves a state secret of great magnitude.  In
life--in the mortal life--gentlemen, I was a detective by profession,
and, if I do say it, who perhaps should not, I was one of the most
interesting for purely literary purposes that has ever been known.  I
did not find it necessary to go about saying 'Ha! ha!' as M. Le Coq
was accustomed to do to advertise his cleverness; neither did I
disguise myself as a drum-major and hide under a kitchen-table for
the purpose of solving a mystery involving the abduction of a parlor
stove, after the manner of the talented Hawkshaw.  By mental
concentration alone, without fireworks or orchestral accompaniment of
any sort whatsoever, did I go about my business, and for that very
reason many of my fellow-sleuths were forced to go out of real
detective work into that line of the business with which the stage
has familiarized the most of us--a line in which nothing but
stupidity, luck, and a yellow wig is required of him who pursues it."

"This man is an impostor," whispered Le Coq to Hawkshaw.

"I've known that all along by the mole on his left wrist," returned
Hawkshaw, contemptuously.

"I suspected it the minute I saw he was not disguised," returned Le
Coq, knowingly.  "I have observed that the greatest villains latterly
have discarded disguises, as being too easily penetrated, and
therefore of no avail, and merely a useless expense."

"Silence!" cried Confucius, impatiently.  "How can the gentleman
proceed, with all this conversation going on in the rear?"

Hawkshaw and Le Coq immediately subsided, and the stranger went on.

"It was in this way that I treated the strange case of the lost
tiara," resumed the stranger.  "Mental concentration upon seemingly
insignificant details alone enabled me to bring about the desired
results in that instance.  A brief outline of the case is as follows:
It was late one evening in the early spring of 1894.  The London
season was at its height.  Dances, fetes of all kinds, opera, and the
theatres were in full blast, when all of a sudden society was
paralyzed by a most audacious robbery.  A diamond tiara valued at
50,000 pounds sterling had been stolen from the Duchess of Brokedale,
and under circumstances which threw society itself and every
individual in it under suspicion--even his Royal Highness the Prince
himself, for he had danced frequently with the Duchess, and was known
to be a great admirer of her tiara.  It was at half-past eleven
o'clock at night that the news of the robbery first came to my ears.
I had been spending the evening alone in my library making notes for
a second volume of my memoirs, and, feeling somewhat depressed, I was
on the point of going out for my usual midnight walk on Hampstead
Heath, when one of my servants, hastily entering, informed me of the
robbery.  I changed my mind in respect to my midnight walk
immediately upon receipt of the news, for I knew that before one
o'clock some one would call upon me at my lodgings with reference to
this robbery.  It could not be otherwise.  Any mystery of such
magnitude could no more be taken to another bureau than elephants
could fly--"

"They used to," said Adam.  "I once had a whole aviary full of winged
elephants.  They flew from flower to flower, and thrusting their
probabilities deep into--"

"Their what?" queried Johnson, with a frown.

"Probabilities--isn't that the word?  Their trunks," said Adam.

"Probosces, I imagine you mean," suggested Johnson.

"Yes--that was it.  Their probosces," said Adam.  "They were great
honey-gatherers, those elephants--far better than the bees, because
they could make so much more of it in a given time."

Munchausen shook his head sadly.  "I'm afraid I'm outclassed by these
antediluvians," he said.

"Gentlemen! gentlemen!" cried Sir Walter.  "These interruptions are

"That's what I think," said the stranger, with some asperity.  "I'm
having about as hard a time getting this story out as I would if it
were a serial.  Of course, if you gentlemen do not wish to hear it, I
can stop; but it must be understood that when I do stop I stop
finally, once and for all, because the tale has not a sufficiency of
dramatic climaxes to warrant its prolongation over the usual magazine
period of twelve months."

"Go on! go on!" cried some.

"Shut up!" cried others--addressing the interrupting members, of

"As I was saying," resumed the stranger, "I felt confident that
within an hour, in some way or other, that case would be placed in my
hands.  It would be mine either positively or negatively--that is to
say, either the person robbed would employ me to ferret out the
mystery and recover the diamonds, or the robber himself, actuated by
motives of self-preservation, would endeavor to direct my energies
into other channels until he should have the time to dispose of his
ill-gotten booty.  A mental discussion of the probabilities inclined
me to believe that the latter would be the case.  I reasoned in this
fashion:  The person robbed is of exalted rank.  She cannot move
rapidly because she is so.  Great bodies move slowly.  It is probable
that it will be a week before, according to the etiquette by which
she is hedged about, she can communicate with me.  In the first
place, she must inform one of her attendants that she has been
robbed.  He must communicate the news to the functionary in charge of
her residence, who will communicate with the Home Secretary, and from
him will issue the orders to the police, who, baffled at every step,
will finally address themselves to me.  'I'll give that side two
weeks,' I said.  On the other hand, the robber:  will he allow
himself to be lulled into a false sense of security by counting on
this delay, or will he not, noting my habit of occasionally entering
upon detective enterprises of this nature of my own volition, come to
me at once and set me to work ferreting out some crime that has never
been committed?  My feeling was that this would happen, and I pulled
out my watch to see if it were not nearly time for him to arrive.
The robbery had taken place at a state ball at the Buckingham Palace.
'H'm!' I mused.  'He has had an hour and forty minutes to get here.
It is now twelve-twenty.  He should be here by twelve-forty-five.  I
will wait.'  And hastily swallowing a cocaine tablet to nerve myself
up for the meeting, I sat down and began to read my Schopenhauer.
Hardly had I perused a page when there came a tap upon my door.  I
rose with a smile, for I thought I knew what was to happen, opened
the door, and there stood, much to my surprise, the husband of the
lady whose tiara was missing.  It was the Duke of Brokedale himself.
It is true he was disguised.  His beard was powdered until it looked
like snow, and he wore a wig and a pair of green goggles; but I
recognized him at once by his lack of manners, which is an
unmistakable sign of nobility.  As I opened the door, he began:

"'You are Mr.--'

"'I am,' I replied.  'Come in.  You have come to see me about your
stolen watch.  It is a gold hunting-case watch with a Swiss movement;
loses five minutes a day; stem-winder; and the back cover, which does
not bear any inscription, has upon it the indentations made by the
molars of your son Willie when that interesting youth was cutting his
teeth upon it.'"

"Wonderful!" cried Johnson.

"May I ask how you knew all that?" asked Solomon, deeply impressed.
"Such penetration strikes me as marvellous."

"I didn't know it," replied the stranger, with a smile.  "What I said
was intended to be jocular, and to put Brokedale at his ease.  The
Americans present, with their usual astuteness, would term it bluff.
It was.  I merely rattled on.  I simply did not wish to offend the
gentleman by letting him know that I had penetrated his disguise.
Imagine my surprise, however, when his eye brightened as I spoke, and
he entered my room with such alacrity that half the powder which he
thought disguised his beard was shaken off on to the floor.  Sitting
down in the chair I had just vacated, he quietly remarked:

"'You are a wonderful man, sir.  How did you know that I had lost my

"For a moment I was nonplussed; more than that, I was completely
staggered.  I had expected him to say at once that he had not lost
his watch, but had come to see me about the tiara; and to have him
take my words seriously was entirely unexpected and overwhelmingly
surprising.  However, in view of his rank, I deemed it well to fall
in with his humour.  'Oh, as for that,' I replied, 'that is a part of
my business.  It is the detective's place to know everything; and
generally, if he reveals the machinery by means of which he reaches
his conclusions, he is a fool, since his method is his secret, and
his secret his stock-in-trade.  I do not mind telling you, however,
that I knew your watch was stolen by your anxious glance at my clock,
which showed that you wished to know the time.  Now most rich
Americans have watches for that purpose, and have no hesitation about
showing them.  If you'd had a watch, you'd have looked at it, not at
my clock.'

"My visitor laughed, and repeated what he had said about my being a
wonderful man.

"'And the dents which my son made cutting his teeth?' he added.

"'Invariably go with an American's watch.  Rubber or ivory rings
aren't good enough for American babies to chew on,' said I.  'They
must have gold watches or nothing.'

"'And finally, how did you know I was a rich American?' he asked.

"'Because no other can afford to stop at hotels like the Savoy in the
height of the season,' I replied, thinking that the jest would end
there, and that he would now reveal his identity and speak of the
tiara.  To my surprise, however, he did nothing of the sort.

"'You have an almost supernatural gift,' he said.  'My name is
Bunker.  I am stopping at the Savoy.  I AM an American.  I WAS rich
when I arrived here, but I'm not quite so bloated with wealth as I
was, now that I have paid my first week's bill.  I HAVE lost my
watch; such a watch, too, as you describe, even to the dents.  Your

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