List Of Contents | Contents of The Pursuit of the House-Boat, by John Bangs
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

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
the stairs.

"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
he's honest."


"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
address me."

"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
ladies fainted.

"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
Portia, hesitatingly.

"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

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: