The End of the Islander
Our meal was a merry one. Holmes could talk exceedingly well when he chose, and that night he did choose. He appeared to be in a state of nervous exaltation. I have never known him so brilliant. He spoke on a quick succession of subjectson miracle plays, on mediæval pottery, on Stradivarius violins, on the Buddhism of Ceylon, and on the warships of the futurehandling each as though he had made a special study of it. His bright humour marked the reaction from his black depression of the preceding days. Athelney Jones proved to be a sociable soul in his hours of relaxation and faced his dinner with the air of a bon vivant. For myself, I felt elated at the thought that we were nearing the end of our task, and I caught something of Holmess gaiety. None of us alluded during dinner to the cause which had brought us together.
When the cloth was cleared Holmes glanced at his watch and filled up three glasses with port.
One bumper, said he, to the success of our little expedition. And now it is high time we were off. Have you a pistol, Watson?
I have my old service-revolver in my desk.
You had best take it, then. It is well to be prepared. I see that the cab is at the door. I ordered it for half-past six.
It was a little past seven before we reached the Westminster wharf and found our launch awaiting us. Holmes eyed it critically.
Is there anything to mark it as a police-boat?
Yes, that green lamp at the side.
Then take it off.
The small change was made, we stepped on board, and the ropes were cast off. Jones, Holmes, and I sat in the stern. There was one man at the rudder, one to tend the engines, and two burly police-inspectors forward.
Where to? asked Jones.
To the Tower. Tell them to stop opposite to Jacobsons Yard.
Our craft was evidently a very fast one. We shot past the long lines of loaded barges as though they were stationary. Holmes smiled with satisfaction as we overhauled a river steamer and left her behind us.
We ought to be able to catch anything on the river, he said.
Well, hardly that. But there are not many launches to beat us.
We shall have to catch the Aurora, and she has a name for being a clipper. I will tell you how the land lies, Watson. You recollect how annoyed I was at being baulked by so small a thing?
Well, I gave my mind a thorough rest by plunging into a chemical analysis. One of our greatest statesmen has said that a change of work is the best rest. So it is. When I had succeeded in dissolving the hydrocarbon which I was at work at, I came back to our problem of the Sholtos, and thought the whole matter out again. My boys had been up the river and down the river without result. The launch was not at any landing-stage or wharf, nor had it returned. Yet it could hardly have been scuttled to hide their traces, though that always remained as a possible hypothesis if all else failed. I knew that this man Small had
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