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Chapter 8 The Baker Street Irregulars

  • "What now?" I asked. "Toby has lost his character for infallibility. "
  • "He acted according to his lights," said Holmes, lifting him down from th_arrel and walking him out of the timber-yard. "If you consider how muc_reosote is carted about London in one day, it is no great wonder that ou_rail should have been crossed. It is much used now, especially for th_easoning of wood. Poor Toby is not to blame."
  • "We must get on the main scent again, I suppose."
  • "Yes. And, fortunately, we have no distance to go. Evidently what puzzled th_og at the corner of Knight's Place was that there were two different trail_unning in opposite directions. We took the wrong one. It only remains t_ollow the other."
  • There was no difficulty about this. On leading Toby to the place where he ha_ommitted his fault, he cast about in a wide circle and finally dashed off i_ fresh direction.
  • "We must take care that he does not now bring us to the place where th_reosote-barrel came from," I observed.
  • "I had thought of that. But you notice that he keeps on the pavement, wherea_he barrel passed down the roadway. No, we are on the true scent now."
  • It tended down towards the riverside, running through Belmont Place an_rince's Street. At the end of Broad Street it ran right down to the water'_dge, where there was a small wooden wharf. Toby led us to the very edge o_his and there stood whining, looking out on the dark current beyond.
  • "We are out of luck," said Holmes. "They have taken to a boat-here. "
  • Several small punts and skiffs were lying about in the water and on the edg_f the wharf. We took Toby round to each in turn, but though he sniffe_arnestly he made no sign.
  • Close to the rude landing-stage was a small brick house, with a wooden placar_lung out through the second window. "Mordecai Smith" was printed across it i_arge letters, and, underneath, "Boats to hire by the hour or day." A secon_nscription above the door informed us that a steam launch was kept — _tatement which was confirmed by a great pile of coke upon the jetty. Sherloc_olmes looked slowly round, and his face assumed an ominous expression.
  • "This looks bad," said he. "These fellows are sharper than I expected. The_eem to have covered their tracks. There has, I fear, been preconcerte_anagement here."
  • He was approaching the door of the house, when it opened, and a little curly- headed lad of six came running out, followed by a stoutish, red-faced woma_ith a large sponge in her hand.
  • "You come back and be washed, Jack," she shouted. "Come back, you young imp; for if your father comes home and finds you like that he'll let us hear o_t."
  • "Dear little chap!" said Holmes strategically. "What a rosy-cheeked youn_ascal! Now, Jack, is there anything you would like?"
  • The youth pondered for a moment.
  • "I'd like a shillin'," said he.
  • "Nothing you would like better?"
  • "I'd like two shillin' better," the prodigy answered after some thought.
  • "Here you are, then! Catch! — A fine child, Mrs. Smith!"
  • "Lor' bless you, sir, he is that, and forward. He gets a'most too much for m_o manage, 'specially when my man is away days at a time."
  • "Away, is he?" said Holmes in a disappointed voice. "I am sorry for that, fo_ wanted to speak to Mr. Smith."
  • "He's been away since yesterday mornin', sir, and, truth to tell, I a_eginnin' to feel frightened about him. But if it was about a boat, sir, mayb_ could serve as well."
  • "I wanted to hire his steam launch."
  • "Why, bless you, sir, it is in the steam launch that he has gone. That's wha_uzzles me, for I know there ain't more coals in her than would take her t_bout Woolwich and back. If he's been away in the barge I'd ha' though_othin'; for many a time a job has taken him as far as Gravesend, and then i_here was much doin' there he might ha' stayed over. But what good is a stea_aunch without coals?"
  • "He might have bought some at a wharf down the river."
  • "He might, sir, but it weren't his way. Many a time I've heard him call out a_he prices they charge for a few odd bags. Besides, I don't like that wooden- legged man, wi' his ugly face and outlandish talk. What did he want alway_nockin' about here for?"
  • "A wooden-legged man?" said Holmes with bland surprise.
  • "Yes, sir, a brown, monkey-faced chap that's called more'n once for my ol_an. It was him that roused him up yesternight and, what's more, my man kne_e was comin', for he had steam up in the launch. I tell you straight, sir, _on't feel easy in my mind about it."
  • "But, my dear Mrs. Smith," said Holmes, shrugging his shoulders, "you ar_rightening yourself about nothing. How could you possibly tell that it wa_he wooden-legged man who came in the night? I don't quite understand how yo_an be so sure."
  • "His voice, sir. I knew his voice, which is kind o' thick and foggy. He tappe_t the winder — about three it would be. 'Show a leg, matey,' says he: 'tim_o turn out guard.' My old man woke up Jim — that's my eldest — and away the_ent without so much as a word to me. I could hear the wooden leg clackin' o_he stones."
  • "And was this wooden-legged man alone?"
  • "Couldn't say, I am sure, sir. I didn't hear no one else."
  • "I am sorry, Mrs. Smith, for I wanted a steam launch, and I have heard goo_eports of the — Let me see, what is her name?"
  • "The Aurora, sir."
  • "Ah! She's not that old green launch with a yellow line, very broad in th_eam?"
  • "No, indeed. She's as trim a little thing as any on the river. She's bee_resh painted, black with two red streaks."
  • "Thanks. I hope that you will hear soon from Mr. Smith. I am going down th_iver, and if I should see anything of the Aurora I shall let him know tha_ou are uneasy. A black funnel, you say?"
  • "No, sir. Black with a white band."
  • "Ah, of course. It was the sides which were black. Good-morning, Mrs. Smith.
  • There is a boatman here with a wherry, Watson. We shall take it and cross th_iver."
  • "The main thing with people of that sort," said Holmes as we sat in the sheet_f the wherry, "is never to let them think that their information can be o_he slightest importance to you. If you do they will instantly shut up like a_yster. If you listen to them under protest, as it were, you are very likel_o get what you want."
  • "Our course now seems pretty clear," said I.
  • "What would you do, then?"
  • "I would engage a launch and go down the river on the track of the Aurora."
  • "My dear fellow, it would be a colossal task. She may have touched at an_harf on either side of the stream between here and Greenwich. Below th_ridge there is a perfect labyrinth of landing-places for miles. It would tak_ou days and days to exhaust them if you set about it alone."
  • "Employ the police, then."
  • "No. I shall probably call Athelney Jones in at the last moment. He is not _ad fellow, and I should not like to do anything which would injure hi_rofessionally. But I have a fancy for working it out myself, now that we hav_one so far." "Could we advertise, then, asking for information fro_harfingers?
  • "Worse and worse! Our men would know that the chase was hot at their heels, and they would be off out of the country. As it is, they are likely enough t_eave, but as long as they think they are perfectly safe they will be in n_urry. Jones's energy will be of use to us there, for his view of the case i_ure to push itself into the daily press, and the runaways will think tha_veryone is off on the wrong scent."
  • "What are we to do, then?" I asked as we landed near Millbank Penitentiary.
  • "Take this hansom, drive home, have some breakfast, and get an hour's sleep.
  • It is quite on the cards that we may be afoot to-night again. Stop at _elegraph office, cabby! We will keep Toby, for he may be of use to us yet."
  • We pulled up at the Great Peter Street Post-Office, and Holmes dispatched hi_ire.
  • "Whom do you think that is to?" he asked as we resumed our journey.
  • "I am sure I don't know."
  • "You remember the Baker Street division of the detective police force whom _mployed in the Jefferson Hope case?"
  • "Well," said I, laughing.
  • "This is just the case where they might be invaluable. If they fail I hav_ther resources, but I shall try them first. That wire was to my dirty littl_ieutenant, Wiggins, and I expect that he and his gang will be with us befor_e have finished our breakfast."
  • It was between eight and nine o'clock now, and I was conscious of a stron_eaction after the successive excitements of the night. I was limp and weary, befogged in mind and fatigued in body. I had not the professional enthusias_hich carried my companion on, nor could I look at the matter as a mer_bstract intellectual problem. As far as the death of Bartholomew Sholto went, I had heard little good of him and could feel no intense antipathy to hi_urderers. The treasure, however, was a different matter. That, or part of it, belonged rightfully to Miss Morstan. While there was a chance of recovering i_ was ready to devote my life to the one object. True, if I found it, it woul_robably put her forever beyond my reach. Yet it would be a petty and selfis_ove which would be influenced by such a thought as that. If Holmes could wor_o find the criminals, I had a tenfold stronger reason to urge me on to fin_he treasure.
  • A bath at Baker Street and a complete change freshened me up wonderfully. Whe_ came down to our room I found the breakfast laid and Holmes pouring out th_offee.
  • "Here it is," said he, laughing and pointing to an open newspaper. "Th_nergetic Jones and the ubiquitous reporter have fixed it up between them. Bu_ou have had enough of the case. Better have your ham and eggs first."
  • I took the paper from him and read the short notice, Which was headed
  • "Mysterious Business at Upper Norwood."
  • About twelve o'clock last night [said the Standard] Mr. Bartholomew Sholto, o_ondicherry Lodge, Upper Norwood, was found dead in his room unde_ircumstances which point to foul play. As far as we can learn, no actua_races of violence were found upon Mr. Sholto's person, but a valuabl_ollection of Indian gems which the deceased gentleman had inherited from hi_ather has been carried off. The discovery was first made by Mr. Sherloc_olmes and Dr. Watson, who had called at the house with Mr.Thaddeus Sholto, brother of the deceased. By a singular piece of good fortune, Mr. Athelne_ones, the well-known member of the detective police force, happened to be a_he Norwood police station and was on the ground within half an hour of th_irst alarm. His trained and experienced faculties were at once directe_owards the detection of the criminals, with the gratifying result that th_rother, Thaddeus Sholto, has already been arrested, together with th_ousekeeper, Mrs. Bernstone, an Indian butler named Lal Rao, and a porter, o_atekeeper, named McMurdo. It is quite certain that the thief or thieves wer_ell acquainted with the house, for Mr. Jones's well-known technical knowledg_nd his powers of minute observation have enabled him to prove conclusivel_hat the miscreants could not have entered by the door or by the window bu_ust have made their way across the roof of the building, and so through _rapdoor into a room which communicated with that in which the body was found.
  • This fact, which has been very clearly made out, proves conclusively that i_as no mere haphazard burglary. The prompt and energetic action of th_fficers of the law shows the great advantage of the presence on suc_ccasions of a single vigorous and masterful mind. We cannot but think that i_upplies an argument to those who would wish to see our detectives mor_ecentralized, and so brought into closer and more effective touch with th_ases which it is their duty to investigate.
  • "Isn't it gorgeous!" said Holmes, grinning over his coffee cup. "What do yo_hink of it?"
  • "I think that we have had a close shave ourselves of being arrested for th_rime."
  • "So do I. I wouldn't answer for our safety now if he should happen to hav_nother of his attacks of energy."
  • At this moment there was a loud ring at the bell, and I could hear Mrs.
  • Hudson, our landlady, raising her voice in a wail of expostulation and dismay.
  • "By heavens, Holmes," I said, half rising, "I believe that they are reall_fter us."
  • "No, it's not quite so bad as that. It is the unofficial force — the Bake_treet irregulars."
  • As he spoke, there came a swift pattering of naked feet upon the stairs, _latter of high voices, and in rushed a dozen dirty and ragged little stree_rabs. There was some show of discipline among them, despite their tumultuou_ntry, for they instantly drew up in line and stood facing us with expectan_aces. One of their number, taller and older than the others, stood forwar_ith an air of lounging superiority which was very funny in such _isreputable little scarecrow.
  • "Got your message, sir," said he, "and brought 'em on sharp. Three bob and _anner for tickets."
  • "Here you are," said Holmes, producing some silver. "In future they can repor_o you, Wiggins, and you to me. I cannot have the house invaded in this way.
  • However, it is just as well that you should all hear the instructions. I wan_o find the whereabouts of a steam launch called the Aurora, owner Mordeca_mith, black with two red streaks, funnel black with a white band. She is dow_he river somewhere. I want one boy to be at Mordecai Smith's landing-stag_pposite Millbank to say if the boat comes back. You must divide it out amon_ourselves and do both banks thoroughly. Let me know the moment you have news.
  • Is that all clear?"
  • "Yes, guv'nor," said Wiggins.
  • "The old scale of pay, and a guinea to the boy who finds the boat. Here's _ay in advance. Now off you go!"
  • He handed them a shilling each, and away they buzzed down the stairs, and _aw them a moment later streaming down the street.
  • "If the launch is above water they will find her," said Holmes as he rose fro_he table and lit his pipe. "They can go everywhere, see everything, overhea_veryone. I expect to hear before evening that they have spotted her. In th_eanwhile, we can do nothing but await results. We cannot pick up the broke_rail until we find either the Aurora or Mr. Mordecai Smith."
  • "Toby could eat these scraps, I dare say. Are you going to bed, Holmes?"
  • "No: I am not tired. I have a curious constitution. I never remember feelin_ired by work, though idleness exhausts me completely. I am going to smoke an_o think over this queer business to which my fair client has introduced us.
  • If ever man had an easy task, this of ours ought to be. Wooden-legged men ar_ot so common, but the other man must, I should think, be absolutely unique."
  • "That other man again!"
  • "I have no wish to make a mystery of him to you, anyway. But you must hav_ormed your own opinion. Now, do consider the data. Diminutive footmarks, toe_ever fettered by boots, naked feet, stone-headed wooden mace, great agility, small poisoned darts. What do you make of all this?"
  • "A savage!" I exclaimed. "Perhaps one of those Indians who were the associate_f Jonathan Small."
  • "Hardly that," said he. "When first I saw signs of strange weapons I wa_nclined to think so, but the remarkable character of the footmarks caused m_o reconsider my views. Some of the inhabitants of the Indian Peninsula ar_mall men, but none could have left such marks as that. The Hindoo proper ha_ong and thin feet. The sandal-wearing Mohammedan has the great toe wel_eparated from the others because the thong is commonly passed between. Thes_ittle darts, too, could only be shot in one way. They are from a blow-pipe.
  • Now, then, where are we to find our savage?"
  • "South America," I hazarded.
  • He stretched his hand up and took down a bulky volume from the shelf.
  • "This is the first volume of a gazetteer which is now being published. It ma_e looked upon as the very latest authority. What have we here?
  • "Andaman Islands, situated 340 miles to the north of Sumatra, in the Bay o_engal.
  • Hum! hum! What's all this? Moist climate, coral reefs, sharks, Port Blair.
  • convict barracks, Rutland Island, cottonwoods — Ah here we are!
  • "The aborigines of the Andaman Islands may perhaps claim the distinction o_eing the smallest race upon this earth, though some anthropologists prefe_he Bushmen of Africa, the Digger Indians of America, and the Terra de_uegians. The average height is rather below four feet, although many full- grown adults may be found who are very much smaller than this. They are _ierce, morose, and intractable people, though capable of forming most devote_riendships when their confidence has once been gained.
  • Mark that, Watson. Now, then listen to this.
  • "They are naturally hideous, having large, misshapen heads, small fierce eyes, and distorted features. Their feet and hands, however, are remarkably small.
  • So intractable and fierce are they, that all the efforts of the Britis_fficials have failed to win them over in any degree. They have always been _error to shipwrecked crews, braining the survivors with their stone-heade_lubs or shooting them with their poisoned arrows. These massacres ar_nvariably concluded by a cannibal feast.
  • "Nice, amiable people, Watson! If this fellow had been left to his own unaide_evices, this affair might have taken an even more ghastly turn. I fancy that, even as it is, Jonathan Small would give a good deal not to have employe_im."
  • "But how came he to have so singular a companion?"
  • "Ah, that is more than I can tell. Since, however, we had already determine_hat Small had come from the Andamans, it is not so very wonderful that thi_slander should be with him. No doubt we shall know all about it in time. Loo_ere, Watson; you look regularly done. Lie down there on the sofa and see if _an put you to sleep."
  • He took up his violin from the corner, and as I stretched myself out he bega_o play some low, dreamy, melodious air — his own, no doubt, for he had _emarkable gift for improvisation. I have a vague remembrance of his gaun_imbs, his earnest face and the rise and fall of his bow. Then I seemed to b_loated peacefully away upon a soft sea of sound until I found myself i_reamland, with the sweet face of Mary Morstan looking down upon me.