A Break in the Chain

It was late in the afternoon before I woke, strengthened and refreshed.
Sherlock Holmes still sat exactly as I had left him, save that he had
laid aside his violin and was deep in a book. He looked across at me,
as I stirred, and I noticed that his face was dark and troubled.

“You have slept soundly,” he said. “I feared that our talk would wake
you.”

“I heard nothing,” I answered. “Have you had fresh news, then?”

“Unfortunately, no. I confess that I am surprised and disappointed. I
expected something definite by this time. Wiggins has just been up to
report. He says that no trace can be found of the launch. It is a
provoking check, for every hour is of importance.”

“Can I do anything? I am perfectly fresh now, and quite ready for
another night’s outing.”

“No, we can do nothing. We can only wait. If we go ourselves, the
message might come in our absence, and delay be caused. You can do
what you will, but I must remain on guard.”

“Then I shall run over to Camberwell and call upon Mrs. Cecil
Forrester. She asked me to, yesterday.”

“On Mrs. Cecil Forrester?” asked Holmes, with the twinkle of a smile in
his eyes.

“Well, of course Miss Morstan too. They were anxious to hear what
happened.”

“I would not tell them too much,” said Holmes. “Women are never to be
entirely trusted,–not the best of them.”

I did not pause to argue over this atrocious sentiment. “I shall be
back in an hour or two,” I remarked.

“All right! Good luck! But, I say, if you are crossing the river you
may as well return Toby, for I don’t think it is at all likely that we
shall have any use for him now.”

I took our mongrel accordingly, and left him, together with a
half-sovereign, at the old naturalist’s in Pinchin Lane. At Camberwell
I found Miss Morstan a little weary after her night’s adventures, but
very eager to hear the news. Mrs. Forrester, too, was full of
curiosity. I told them all that we had done, suppressing, however, the
more dreadful parts of the tragedy. Thus, although I spoke of Mr.
Sholto’s death, I said nothing of the exact manner and method of it.
With all my omissions, however, there was enough to startle and amaze
them.

“It is a romance!” cried Mrs. Forrester. “An injured lady, half a
million in treasure, a black cannibal, and a wooden-legged ruffian.
They take the place of the conventional dragon or wicked earl.”

“And two knight-errants to the rescue,” added Miss Morstan, with a
bright glance at me.

“Why, Mary, your fortune depends upon the issue of this search. I don’t
think that you are nearly excited enough. Just imagine what it must be
to be so rich, and to have the world at your feet!”

It sent a little thrill of joy to my heart to notice that she showed no
sign of elation at the prospect. On the contrary, she gave a toss of
her proud head, as though the matter were one in which she took small
interest.

“It is for Mr. Thaddeus Sholto that I am anxious,” she said. “Nothing
else is of any consequence; but I think that he has behaved most kindly
and honorably throughout. It is our duty to clear him of this dreadful
and unfounded charge.”

It was evening before I left Camberwell, and quite dark by the time I
reached home. My companion’s book and pipe lay by his chair, but he
had disappeared. I looked about in the hope of seeing a note, but
there was none.

“I suppose that Mr. Sherlock Holmes has gone out,” I said to Mrs.
Hudson as she came up to lower the blinds.

“No, sir. He has gone to his room, sir. Do you know, sir,” sinking
her voice into an impressive whisper, “I am afraid for his health?”

“Why so, Mrs. Hudson?”

“Well, he’s that strange, sir. After you was gone he walked and he
walked, up and down, and up and down, until I was weary of the sound of
his footstep. Then I heard him talking to himself and muttering, and
every time the bell rang out he came on the stairhead, with ‘What is
that, Mrs. Hudson?’ And now he has slammed off to his room, but I can
hear him walking away the same as ever. I hope he’s not going to be
ill, sir. I ventured to say something to him about cooling medicine,
but he turned on me, sir, with such a look that I don’t know how ever I
got out of the room.”

“I don’t think that you have any cause to be uneasy, Mrs. Hudson,” I
answered. “I have seen him like this before. He has some small matter
upon his mind which makes him restless.” I tried to speak lightly to
our worthy landlady, but I was myself somewhat uneasy when through the
long night I still from time to time heard the dull sound of his tread,
and knew how his keen spirit was chafing against this involuntary
inaction.

At breakfast-time he looked worn and haggard, with a little fleck of
feverish color upon either cheek.

“You are knocking yourself up, old man,” I remarked. “I heard you
marching about in the night.”

“No, I could not sleep,” he answered. “This infernal problem is
consuming me. It is too much to be balked by so petty an obstacle,
when all else had been overcome. I know the men, the launch,
everything; and yet I can get no news. I have set other agencies at
work, and used every means at my disposal. The whole river has been
searched on either side, but there is no news, nor has Mrs. Smith heard
of her husband. I shall come to the conclusion soon that they have
scuttled the craft. But there are objections to that.”

“Or that Mrs. Smith has put us on a wrong scent.”

“No, I think that may be dismissed. I had inquiries made, and there is
a launch of that description.”

“Could it have gone up the river?”

“I have considered that possibility too, and there is a search-party
who will work up as far as Richmond. If no news comes to-day, I shall
start off myself to-morrow, and go for the men rather than the boat.
But surely, surely, we shall hear something.”

We did not, however. Not a word came to us either from Wiggins or from
the other agencies. There were articles in most of the papers upon the
Norwood tragedy. They all appeared to be rather hostile to the
unfortunate Thaddeus Sholto. No fresh details were to be found,
however, in any of them, save that an inquest was to be held upon the
following day. I walked over to Camberwell in the evening to report
our ill success to the ladies, and on my return I found Holmes dejected
and somewhat morose. He would hardly reply to my questions, and busied
himself all evening in an abstruse chemical analysis which involved
much heating of retorts and distilling of vapors, ending at last in a
smell which fairly drove me out of the apartment. Up to the small hours
of the morning I could hear the clinking of his test-tubes which told
me that he was still engaged in his malodorous experiment.

In the early dawn I woke with a start, and was surprised to find him
standing by my bedside, clad in a rude sailor dress with a pea-jacket,
and a coarse red scarf round his neck.

“I am off down the river, Watson,” said he. “I have been turning it
over in my mind, and I can see only one way out of it. It is worth
trying, at all events.”

“Surely I can come with you, then?” said I.

“No; you can be much more useful if you will remain here as my
representative. I am loath to go, for it is quite on the cards that
some message may come during the day, though Wiggins was despondent
about it last night. I want you to open all notes and telegrams, and to
act on your own judgment if any news should come. Can I rely upon you?”

“Most certainly.”

“I am afraid that you will not be able to wire to me, for I can hardly
tell yet where I may find myself. If I am in luck, however, I may not
be gone so very long. I shall have news of some sort or other before I
get back.”

I had heard nothing of him by breakfast-time. On opening the Standard,
however, I found that there was a fresh allusion to the business.
“With reference to the Upper Norwood tragedy,” it remarked, “we have
reason to believe that the matter promises to be even more complex and
mysterious than was originally supposed. Fresh evidence has shown that
it is quite impossible that Mr. Thaddeus Sholto could have been in any
way concerned in the matter. He and the housekeeper, Mrs. Bernstone,
were both released yesterday evening. It is believed, however, that
the police have a clue as to the real culprits, and that it is being
prosecuted by Mr. Athelney Jones, of Scotland Yard, with all his
well-known energy and sagacity. Further arrests may be expected at any
moment.”

“That is satisfactory so far as it goes,” thought I. “Friend Sholto is
safe, at any rate. I wonder what the fresh clue may be; though it
seems to be a stereotyped form whenever the police have made a blunder.”

I tossed the paper down upon the table, but at that moment my eye
caught an advertisement in the agony column. It ran in this way:

“Lost.–Whereas Mordecai Smith, boatman, and his son, Jim, left Smith’s
Wharf at or about three o’clock last Tuesday morning in the steam
launch Aurora, black with two red stripes, funnel black with a white
band, the sum of five pounds will be paid to any one who can give
information to Mrs. Smith, at Smith’s Wharf, or at 221b Baker Street,
as to the whereabouts of the said Mordecai Smith and the launch Aurora.”

This was clearly Holmes’s doing. The Baker Street address was enough
to prove that. It struck me as rather ingenious, because it might be
read by the fugitives without their seeing in it more than the natural
anxiety of a wife for her missing husband.

It was a long day. Every time that a knock came to the door, or a
sharp step passed in the street, I imagined that it was either Holmes
returning or an answer to his advertisement. I tried to read, but my
thoughts would wander off to our strange quest and to the ill-assorted
and villainous pair whom we were pursuing. Could there be, I wondered,
some radical flaw in my companion’s reasoning. Might he be suffering
from some huge self-deception? Was it not possible that his nimble and
speculative mind had built up this wild theory upon faulty premises? I
had never known him to be wrong; and yet the keenest reasoner may
occasionally be deceived. He was likely, I thought, to fall into error
through the over-refinement of his logic,–his preference for a subtle
and bizarre explanation when a plainer and more commonplace one lay
ready to his hand. Yet, on the other hand, I had myself seen the
evidence, and I had heard the reasons for his deductions. When I
looked back on the long chain of curious circumstances, many of them
trivial in themselves, but all tending in the same direction, I could
not disguise from myself that even if Holmes’s explanation were
incorrect the true theory must be equally outre and startling.

At three o’clock in the afternoon there was a loud peal at the bell, an
authoritative voice in the hall, and, to my surprise, no less a person
than Mr. Athelney Jones was shown up to me. Very different was he,
however, from the brusque and masterful professor of common sense who
had taken over the case so confidently at Upper Norwood. His
expression was downcast, and his bearing meek and even apologetic.

“Good-day, sir; good-day,” said he. “Mr. Sherlock Holmes is out, I
understand.”

“Yes, and I cannot be sure when he will be back. But perhaps you would
care to wait. Take that chair and try one of these cigars.”

“Thank you; I don’t mind if I do,” said he, mopping his face with a red
bandanna handkerchief.

“And a whiskey-and-soda?”

“Well, half a glass. It is very hot for the time of year; and I have
had a good deal to worry and try me. You know my theory about this
Norwood case?”

“I remember that you expressed one.”

“Well, I have been obliged to reconsider it. I had my net drawn
tightly round Mr. Sholto, sir, when pop he went through a hole in the
middle of it. He was able to prove an alibi which could not be shaken.
From the time that he left his brother’s room he was never out of sight
of some one or other. So it could not be he who climbed over roofs and
through trap-doors. It’s a very dark case, and my professional credit
is at stake. I should be very glad of a little assistance.”

“We all need help sometimes,” said I.

“Your friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes is a wonderful man, sir,” said he, in
a husky and confidential voice. “He’s a man who is not to be beat. I
have known that young man go into a good many cases, but I never saw
the case yet that he could not throw a light upon. He is irregular in
his methods, and a little quick perhaps in jumping at theories, but, on
the whole, I think he would have made a most promising officer, and I
don’t care who knows it. I have had a wire from him this morning, by
which I understand that he has got some clue to this Sholto business.
Here is the message.”

He took the telegram out of his pocket, and handed it to me. It was
dated from Poplar at twelve o’clock. “Go to Baker Street at once,” it
said. “If I have not returned, wait for me. I am close on the track
of the Sholto gang. You can come with us to-night if you want to be in
at the finish.”

“This sounds well. He has evidently picked up the scent again,” said I.

“Ah, then he has been at fault too,” exclaimed Jones, with evident
satisfaction. “Even the best of us are thrown off sometimes. Of
course this may prove to be a false alarm; but it is my duty as an
officer of the law to allow no chance to slip. But there is some one at
the door. Perhaps this is he.”

A heavy step was heard ascending the stair, with a great wheezing and
rattling as from a man who was sorely put to it for breath. Once or
twice he stopped, as though the climb were too much for him, but at
last he made his way to our door and entered. His appearance
corresponded to the sounds which we had heard. He was an aged man,
clad in seafaring garb, with an old pea-jacket buttoned up to his
throat. His back was bowed, his knees were shaky, and his breathing
was painfully asthmatic. As he leaned upon a thick oaken cudgel his
shoulders heaved in the effort to draw the air into his lungs. He had
a colored scarf round his chin, and I could see little of his face save
a pair of keen dark eyes, overhung by bushy white brows, and long gray
side-whiskers. Altogether he gave me the impression of a respectable
master mariner who had fallen into years and poverty.

“What is it, my man?” I asked.

He looked about him in the slow methodical fashion of old age.

“Is Mr. Sherlock Holmes here?” said he.

“No; but I am acting for him. You can tell me any message you have for
him.”

“It was to him himself I was to tell it,” said he.

“But I tell you that I am acting for him. Was it about Mordecai
Smith’s boat?”

“Yes. I knows well where it is. An’ I knows where the men he is after
are. An’ I knows where the treasure is. I knows all about it.”

“Then tell me, and I shall let him know.”

“It was to him I was to tell it,” he repeated, with the petulant
obstinacy of a very old man.

“Well, you must wait for him.”

“No, no; I ain’t goin’ to lose a whole day to please no one. If Mr.
Holmes ain’t here, then Mr. Holmes must find it all out for himself. I
don’t care about the look of either of you, and I won’t tell a word.”

He shuffled towards the door, but Athelney Jones got in front of him.

“Wait a bit, my friend,” said he. “You have important information, and
you must not walk off. We shall keep you, whether you like or not,
until our friend returns.”

The old man made a little run towards the door, but, as Athelney Jones
put his broad back up against it, he recognized the uselessness of
resistance.

“Pretty sort o’ treatment this!” he cried, stamping his stick. “I come
here to see a gentleman, and you two, who I never saw in my life, seize
me and treat me in this fashion!”

“You will be none the worse,” I said. “We shall recompense you for the
loss of your time. Sit over here on the sofa, and you will not have
long to wait.”

He came across sullenly enough, and seated himself with his face
resting on his hands. Jones and I resumed our cigars and our talk.
Suddenly, however, Holmes’s voice broke in upon us.

“I think that you might offer me a cigar too,” he said.

We both started in our chairs. There was Holmes sitting close to us
with an air of quiet amusement.

“Holmes!” I exclaimed. “You here! But where is the old man?”

“Here is the old man,” said he, holding out a heap of white hair. “Here
he is,–wig, whiskers, eyebrows, and all. I thought my disguise was
pretty good, but I hardly expected that it would stand that test.”

“Ah, You rogue!” cried Jones, highly delighted. “You would have made
an actor, and a rare one. You had the proper workhouse cough, and
those weak legs of yours are worth ten pound a week. I thought I knew
the glint of your eye, though. You didn’t get away from us so easily,
You see.”

“I have been working in that get-up all day,” said he, lighting his
cigar. “You see, a good many of the criminal classes begin to know
me,–especially since our friend here took to publishing some of my
cases: so I can only go on the war-path under some simple disguise
like this. You got my wire?”

“Yes; that was what brought me here.”

“How has your case prospered?”

“It has all come to nothing. I have had to release two of my
prisoners, and there is no evidence against the other two.”

“Never mind. We shall give you two others in the place of them. But
you must put yourself under my orders. You are welcome to all the
official credit, but you must act on the line that I point out. Is
that agreed?”

“Entirely, if you will help me to the men.”

“Well, then, in the first place I shall want a fast police-boat–a
steam launch–to be at the Westminster Stairs at seven o’clock.”

“That is easily managed. There is always one about there; but I can
step across the road and telephone to make sure.”

“Then I shall want two stanch men, in case of resistance.”

“There will be two or three in the boat. What else?”

“When we secure the men we shall get the treasure. I think that it
would be a pleasure to my friend here to take the box round to the
young lady to whom half of it rightfully belongs. Let her be the first
to open it.–Eh, Watson?”

“It would be a great pleasure to me.”

“Rather an irregular proceeding,” said Jones, shaking his head.
“However, the whole thing is irregular, and I suppose we must wink at
it. The treasure must afterwards be handed over to the authorities
until after the official investigation.”

“Certainly. That is easily managed. One other point. I should much
like to have a few details about this matter from the lips of Jonathan
Small himself. You know I like to work the detail of my cases out.
There is no objection to my having an unofficial interview with him,
either here in my rooms or elsewhere, as long as he is efficiently
guarded?”

“Well, you are master of the situation. I have had no proof yet of the
existence of this Jonathan Small. However, if you can catch him I
don’t see how I can refuse you an interview with him.”

“That is understood, then?”

“Perfectly. Is there anything else?”

“Only that I insist upon your dining with us. It will be ready in half
an hour. I have oysters and a brace of grouse, with something a little
choice in white wines.–Watson, you have never yet recognized my merits
as a housekeeper.”