The Sign of the Four
The Baker Street Irregulars
| "What now?" I asked. "Toby has lost his character
"He acted according to his lights," said Holmes, lifting him
down from the barrel and walking him out of the timber-yard.
"If you consider how much creosote is carted about London in
one day, it is no great wonder that our trail should have been
crossed. It is much used now, especially for the seasoning 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 the dog at the corner of Knight's Place was that
there were two different trails running in opposite directions. We
took the wrong one. It only remains to follow the other."
There was no difficulty about this. On leading Toby to the
place where he had committed his fault, he cast about in a wide
circle and finally dashed off in a fresh direction.
"We must take care that he does not now bring us to the place
where the creosote-barrel came from," I observed.
"I had thought of that. But you notice that he keeps on the
pavement, whereas the barrel passed down the roadway. No, we
are on the true scent now."
It tended down towards the riverside, running through Bel-
mont Place and Prince's Street. At the end of Broad Street it ran
right down to the water's edge, where there was a small wooden
wharf. Toby led us to the very edge of this and there stood
whining, looking out on the dark current beyond.
"We are out of luck," said Holmes. "They have taken to a
Several small punts and skiffs were lying about in the water
and on the edge of the wharf. We took Toby round to each in
turn, but though he sniffed earnestly he made no sign.
Close to the rude landing-stage was a small brick house, with
a wooden placard slung out through the second window. "Mordecai
Smith" was printed across it in large letters, and, underneath,
"Boats to hire by the hour or day." A second inscription above
the door informed us that a steam launch was kept -- a statement
which was confirmed by a great pile of coke upon the jetty.
Sherlock Holmes looked slowly round, and his face assumed an
"This looks bad," said he. "These fellows are sharper than I
expected. They seem to have covered their tracks. There has, I
fear, been preconcerted management 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 woman with 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 of it."
"Dear little chap!" said Holmes strategically. "What a rosy-
cheeked young rascal! Now, Jack, is there anything you would
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
"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 me to 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, for I wanted to speak to Mr. Smith."
"He's been away since yesterday mornin', sir, and, truth to
tell, I am beginnin' to feel frightened about him. But if it was
about a boat, sir, maybe I 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 what puzzles me, for I know there ain't more coals
in her than would take her to about Woolwich and back. If he's
been away in the barge I'd ha' thought nothin'; for many a time
a job has taken him as far as Gravesend, and then if there was
much doin' there he might ha' stayed over. But what good is a
steam launch 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 at the 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 always knockin' about
"A wooden-legged man?" said Holmes with bland surprise.
"Yes, sir, a brown, monkey-faced chap that's called more'n
once for my old man. It was him that roused him up yesternight
and, what's more, my man knew he was comin', for he had
steam up in the launch. I tell you straight, sir, I don't feel easy in
my mind about it."
"But, my dear Mrs. Smith," said Holmes, shrugging his
shoulders, "you are frightening yourself about nothing. How
could you possibly tell that it was the wooden-legged man who
came in the night? I don't quite understand how you can be so
"His voice, sir. I knew his voice, which is kind o' thick and
foggy. He tapped at the winder -- about three it would be. 'Show
a leg, matey,' says he: 'time to turn out guard.' My old man
woke up Jim -- that's my eldest -- and away they went without so
much as a word to me. I could hear the wooden leg clackin' on
"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 good reports 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 the beam?"
"No, indeed. She's as trim a little thing as any on the river.
She's been fresh painted, black with two red streaks."
"Thanks. I hope that you will hear soon from Mr. Smith. I am
going down the river, and if I should see anything of the Aurora
I shall let him know that you are uneasy. A black funnel, you
"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 the river."
"The main thing with people of that sort," said Holmes as we
sat in the sheets of the wherry, "is never to let them think that
their information can be of the slightest importance to you. If
you do they will instantly shut up like an oyster. If you listen to
them under protest, as it were, you are very likely to get what
"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 any wharf on either side of the stream between here
and Greenwich. Below the bridge there is a perfect labyrinth of
landing-places for miles. It would take you 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 mo-
ment. He is not a bad fellow, and I should not like to do
anything which would injure him professionally. But I have a
fancy for working it out myself, now that we have gone so far."
"Could we advertise, then, asking for information from
"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 to leave, but as long as they think they
are perfectly safe they will be in no hurry. Jones's energy will be
of use to us there, for his view of the case is sure to push itself
into the daily press, and the runaways will think that everyone is
off on the wrong scent."
"What are we to do, then?" I asked as we landed near
"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 a telegraph 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 his wire.
"Whom do you think that is to?" he asked as we resumed our
"I am sure I don't know."
"You remember the Baker Street division of the detective
police force whom I employed in the Jefferson Hope case?"
"Well," said I, laughing.
"This is just the case where they might be invaluable. If they
fail I have other resources, but I shall try them first. That wire
was to my dirty little lieutenant, Wiggins, and I expect that he
and his gang will be with us before we have finished our
It was between eight and nine o'clock now, and I was con-
scious of a strong reaction after the successive excitements of the
night. I was limp and weary, befogged in mind and fatigued in
body. I had not the professional enthusiasm which carried my
companion on, nor could I look at the matter as a mere abstract
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 his murderers. The treasure, however, was a differ-
ent matter. That, or part of it, belonged rightfully to Miss
Morstan. While there was a chance of recovering it I was ready
to devote my life to the one object. True, if I found it, it would
probably put her forever beyond my reach. Yet it would be a
petty and selfish love which would be influenced by such a
thought as that. If Holmes could work to find the criminals, I
had a tenfold stronger reason to urge me on to find the treasure.
A bath at Baker Street and a complete change freshened me up
wonderfully. When I came down to our room I found the break-
fast laid and Holmes pouring out the coffee.
"Here it is," said he, laughing and pointing to an open
newspaper. "The energetic Jones and the ubiquitous reporter
have fixed it up between them. But you 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.
"Isn't it gorgeous!" said Holmes, grinning over
"Andaman Islands, situated
340 miles to the north of Su-
Hum! hum! What's all this? Moist climate, coral reefs,
"The aborigines of
the Andaman Islands may perhaps
Mark that, Watson. Now, then listen to this.
"They are naturally
hideous, having large, misshapen heads,
Nice, amiable people, Watson! If this fellow had been
left to his