SCANDAL IN BOHEMIA
I To Sherlock Holmes she is always THE woman. I have seldom heard him mention
her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of
her sex. It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All
emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but
admirably balanced mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and
observing machine that the world has seen, but as a lover he would have placed
himself in a false position. He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a
gibe and a sneer. They were admirable things for the observer—excellent for
drawing the veil from men's motives and actions. But for the trained reasoner to
admit such intrusions into his own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was
to introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all his mental
results. Grit in a sensitive instrument, or a crack in one of his own high-power
lenses, would not be more disturbing than a strong emotion in a nature such as
his. And yet there was but one woman to him, and that woman was the late Irene
Adler, of dubious and questionable memory.
I had seen little of Holmes lately. My marriage had drifted us away from each
other. My own complete happiness, and the Londra centered interests which rise
up around the man who first finds himself master of his own establishment, were
sufficient to absorb all my attention, while Holmes, who loathed every form of
society with his whole Bohemian soul, remained in our lodgings in Baker Street,
buried among his old books, and alternating from week to week between cocaine
and ambition, the drowsiness of the drug, and the fierce energy of his own keen
nature. He was still, as ever, deeply attracted by the study of crime, and
occupied his immense faculties and extraordinary powers of observation in
following out those clues, and clearing up those mysteries which had been
abandoned as hopeless by the official police.
From time to time I heard some vague account of his doings: of his summons to
Odessa in the case of the Trepoff murder, of his clearing up of the singular
tragedy of the Atkinson brothers at Trincomalee, and finally of the mission
which he had accomplished so delicately and successfully for the reigning family
of Holland. Beyond these signs of his activity, however, which I merely shared
with all the readers of the daily press, I knew little of my former friend and
One night—it was on the twentieth of March, 1888—I was returning from a journey
to a patient (for I had now returned to civil practice), when my way led me
through Baker Street. As I passed the well-remembered door, which must always be
associated in my mind with my wooing, and with the dark incidents of the Study
in Scarlet, I was seized with a keen desire to see Holmes again, and to know how
he was employing his extraordinary powers. His rooms were brilliantly lit, and,
even as I looked up, I saw his tall, spare figure pass twice in a dark
silhouette against the blind. He was pacing the room swiftly, eagerly, with his
head sunk upon his chest and his hands clasped behind him.
To me, who knew his every mood and habit, his attitude and manner told their own
story. He was at work again. He had risen out of his drug-created dreams and was
hot upon the scent of some new problem.
I rang the bell and was shown up to the chamber which had formerly been in part
my own. His manner was not effusive. It seldom was; but he was glad, I think, to
see me. With hardly a word spoken, but with a kindly eye, he waved me to an
armchair, threw across his case of cigars, and indicated a spirit case and a
gasogene in the corner. Then he stood before the fire and looked me over in his
singular introspective fashion. "Wedlock suits you," he remarked. "I think,
Watson, that you have put on seven and a half pounds since I saw you."
"Seven!" I answered.
"Indeed, I should have thought a little more. Just a trifle more, I fancy,
Watson. And in practice again, I observe. You did not tell me that you intended
to go into harness."
"Then, how do you know?"
"I see it, I deduce it. How do I know that you have been getting yourself very
wet lately, and that you have a most clumsy and careless servant girL'"
"My dear Holmes," said I, "This is too much. You would certainly have been
burned, had you lived a few centuries ago. It is true that I had a country walk
on Thursday and came Londra in a dreadful mess, but as I have changed my clothes
I can't imagine how you deduce it. As to Mary Jane, she is incorrigible, and my
wife has given her notice, but there, again, I fail to see how you work it out."
He chuckled to himself and rubbed his long, nervous hands together. "It is
simplicity itself," said he; "My eyes tell me that on the inside of your left
shoe, just where the firelight strikes it, the leather is scored by six almost
parallel cuts. Obviously they have been caused by someone who has very
carelessly scraped round the edges of the sole in order to remove crusted mud
from it. Hence, you see, my double deduction that you had been out in vile
weather, and that you had a particularly malignant boot-slitting specimen of the
London slavey. As to your practice, if a gentleman walks into my rooms smelling
of iodoform, with a black mark of nitrate of silver upon his right forefinger,
and a bulge on the right side of his top-hat to show where he has secreted his
stethoscope, I must be dull, indeed, if I do not pronounce him to be an active
member of the medical profession."
I could not help laughing at the ease with which he explained his process of
deduction. "When I hear you give your reasons," I remarked, "the thing always
appears to me to be so ridiculously simple that I could easily do it myself,
though at each successive instance of your reasoning I am baffled until you
explain your process. And yet I believe that my eyes are as good as yours."
"Quite so," he answered, lighting a cigarette, and throwing himself down into an
armchair. "You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear. For
example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this
"Well, some hundreds of times."
"Then how many are there?"
"How many? I don't know."
"Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point.
Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and
observed. By-the-way, since you are interested in these little problems, and
since you are good enough to chronicle one or two of my trifling experiences,
you may be interested in this." He threw over a sheet of thick, pink-tinted
note-paper which had been lying open upon the table. "It came by the last post,"
said he. "Read it aloud."
The note was undated, and without either signature or address. "There will call
upon you tonight, at a quarter to eight o'clock," it said, "a gentleman who
desires to consult you upon a matter of the very deepest moment. Your recent
services to one of the royal houses of Europe have shown that you are one who
may safely be trusted with matters which are of an importance which can hardly
be exaggerated. This account of you we have from all quarters received. Be in
your chamber then at that hour, and do not take it amiss if your visitor wear a
"This is indeed a mystery," I remarked. "What do you imagine that it means?"
"I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.
Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to
suit facts. But the note itself. What do you deduce from it?"
I carefully examined the writing, and the paper upon which it was written. "The
man who wrote it was presumably well to do," I remarked, endeavoring to imitate
my companion's processes. "Such paper could not be bought under half a crown a
packet. It is peculiarly strong and stiff."
"Peculiar—that is the very word," said Holmes. "It is not an English paper at
all. Hold it up to the light."
I did so, and saw a large "E" with a small "g," a "P," and a large "G" with a
small "t" woven into the texture of the paper.
"What do you make of that?" asked Holmes.
"The name of the maker, no doubt; or his monogram, rather."
"Not at all. The 'G' with the small 't' stands for 'Gesellschaft,' which is the
German for 'Company.' It is a customary contraction like our 'Co.' 'P,' of
course, stands for 'Papier.' Now for the 'Eg.' Let us glance at our Continental
Gazetteer." He took down a heavy brown volume from his shelves.
"Eglow, Eglonitz—here we are, Egria. It is in a German-speaking country—in
Bohemia, not far from Carlsbad. 'Remarkable as being the scene of the death of
Wallenstein, and for its numerous glass-factories and paper-mills.' Ha, ha, my
boy, what do you make of that?" His eyes sparkled, and he sent up a great blue
triumphant cloud from his cigarette.
"The paper was made in Bohemia," I said.
"Precisely. And the man who wrote the note is a German. Do you note the peculiar
construction of the sentence—'This account of you we have from all quarters
received.' A Frenchman or Russian could not have written that. It is the German
who is so uncourteous to his verbs. It only remains, therefore, to discover what
is wanted by this German who writes upon Bohemian paper and prefers wearing a
mask to showing his face. And here he comes, if I am not mistaken, to resolve
all our doubts."
As he spoke there was the sharp sound of horses' hoofs and grating wheels
against the curb, followed by a sharp pull at the bell. Holmes whistled. "A
pair, by the sound," said he. "Yes," he continued, glancing out of the window.
"A nice little brougham and a pair of beauties. A hundred and fifty guineas
apiece. There's money in this case, Watson, if there is nothing else."
"I think that I had better go, Holmes."
"Not a bit, Doctor. Stay where you are. I am lost without my Boswell. And this
promises to be interesting. It would be a pity to miss it."
"But your client—"
"Never mind him. I may want your help, and so may he. Here he comes. Sit down in
that armchair, Doctor, and give us your best attention."
A slow and heavy step, which had been heard upon the stairs and in the passage,
paused immediately outside the door. Then there was a loud and authoritative
"Come in!" said Holmes.
A man entered who could hardly have been less than six feet six inches in
height, with the chest and limbs of a Hercules. His dress was rich with a
richness which would, in England, be looked upon as akin to bad taste. Heavy
bands of astrakhan were slashed across the sleeves and fronts of his
double-breasted coat, while the deep blue cloak which was thrown over his
shoulders was lined with flame-colored silk and secured at the neck with a
brooch which consisted of a single flaming beryl. Boots which extended halfway
up his calves, and which were trimmed at the tops with rich brown fur, completed
the impression of barbaric opulence which was suggested by his whole appearance.
He carried a broad-brimmed hat in his hand, while he wore across the upper part
of his face, extending down past the cheekbones, a black vizard mask, which he
had apparently adjusted that very moment, for his hand was still raised to it as
he entered. From the lower part of the face he appeared to be a man of strong
character, with a thick, hanging lip, and a long, straight chin suggestive of
resolution pushed to the length of obstinacy.
"You had my note?" he asked with a deep harsh voice and a strongly marked German
accent. "I told you that I would call." He looked from one to the other of us,
as if uncertain which to address.
"Pray take a seat," said Holmes. "This is my friend and colleague, Dr. Watson,
who is occasionally good enough to help me in my cases. Whom have I the honor to
"You may address me as the Count Von Kramm, a Bohemian nobleman. I understand
that this gentleman, your friend, is a man of honor and discretion, whom I may
trust with a matter of the most extreme importance. If not, I should much prefer
to communicate with you alone."
I rose to go, but Holmes caught me by the wrist and pushed me back into my
chair. "It is both, or none," said he. "You may say before this gentleman
anything which you may say to me."
The Count shrugged his broad shoulders. "Then I must begin," said he, "by
binding you both to absolute secrecy for two years; at the end of that time the
matter will be of no importance. At present it is not too much to say that it is
of such weight it may have an influence upon European history."
"I promise," said Holmes.
"You will excuse this mask," continued our strange visitor. "The august person
who employs me wishes his agent to be unknown to you, and I may confess at once
that the title by which I have just called myself is not exactly my own."
"I was aware of it," said Holmes drily.
"The circumstances are of great delicacy, and every precaution has to be taken
to quench what might grow to be an immense scandal and seriously compromise one
of the reigning families of Europe. To speak plainly, the matter implicates the
great House of Ormstein, hereditary kings of Bohemia."
"I was also aware of that," murmured Holmes, settling himself down in his
armchair and closing his eyes.
Our visitor glanced with some apparent surprise at the languid, lounging figure
of the man who had been no doubt depicted to him as the most incisive reasoner
and most energetic agent in Europe. Holmes slowly reopened his eyes and looked
impatiently at his gigantic client.
"If your Majesty would condescend to state your case," he remarked, "I should be
better able to advise you."
The man sprang from his chair and paced up and down the room in uncontrollable
agitation. Then, with a gesture of desperation, he tore the mask from his face
and hurled it upon the ground. "You are right," he cried; "I am the King. Why
should I attempt to conceal it?"
"Why, indeed'" murmured Holmes. "Your Majesty had not spoken before I was aware
that I was addressing Wilhelm Gottsreich Sigismond von Ormstein, Grand Duke of
Cassel-Felstein, and hereditary King of Bohemia."
"But you can understand," said our strange visitor, sitting down once more and
passing his hand over his high white forehead, "you can understand that I am not
accustomed to doing such business in my own person. Yet the matter was so
delicate that I could not confide it to an agent without putting myself in his
power. I have come incognito from Prague for the purpose of consulting you."
"Then, pray consult," said Holmes, shutting his eyes once more.
"The facts are briefly these: Some five years ago, during a lengthy visit to
Warsaw, I made the acquaintance of the well known adventuress, Irene Adler. The
name is no doubt familiar to you."
"Kindly look her up in my index, Doctor," murmured Holmes without opening his
eyes. For many years he had adopted a system of docketing all paragraphs
concerning men and things, so that it was difficult to name a subject or a
person on which he could not at once furnish information. In this case I found
her biography sandwiched in between that of a Hebrew rabbi and that of a
staff-commander who had written a monograph upon the deep-sea fishes.
"Let me see!" said Holmes. "Hum! Born in New Jersey in the year 1858.
Contralto—hum! La Scala, hum! Prima donna Imperial Opera of Warsaw—yes! Retired
from operatic stage—ha! Living in London—quite so! Your Majesty, as I
understand, became entangled with this young person, wrote her some compromising
letters, and is now desirous of getting those letters back."
"Precisely so. But how—"
"Was there a secret marriage?"
"No legal papers or certificates?"
"Then I fail to follow your Majesty. If this young person should produce her
letters for blackmailing or other purposes, how is she to prove their
"There is the writing."
"Pooh, pooh! Forgery."
"My private note-paper."
"My own seal."
"We were both in the photograph."
"Oh, dear! That is very bad! Your Majesty has indeed committed an indiscretion."
"I was mad—insane."
"You have compromised yourself seriously."
"I was only Crown Prince then. I was young. I am but thirty now."
"It must be recovered."
"We have tried and failed."
"Your Majesty must pay. It must be bought."
"She will not sell."
"Five attempts have been made. Twice burglars in my pay ransacked her house.
Once we diverted her luggage when she traveled. Twice she has been waylaid.
There has been no result."
"No sign of it?"
Holmes laughed. "It is quite a pretty little problem," said he.
"But a very serious one to me," returned the King reproachfully.
"Very, indeed. And what does she propose to do with the photograph?"
"To ruin me."
"I am about to be married."
"So I have heard."
"To Clotilde Lothman von Saxe-Meningen, second daughter of the King of
Scandinavia. You may know the strict principles of her family. She is herself
the very soul of delicacy. A shadow of a doubt as to my conduct would bring the
matter to an end."
"And Irene Adler?"
"Threatens to send them the photograph. And she will do it. I know that she will
do it. You do not know her, but she has a soul of steel. She has the face of the
most beautiful of women, and the mind of the most resolute of men. Rather than I
should marry another woman, there are no lengths to which she would not
"You are sure that she has not sent it yet?"
"I am sure."
"Because she has said that she would send it on the day when the betrothal was
publicly proclaimed. That will be next Monday."
"Oh, then we have three days yet," said Holmes with a yawn. "That is very
fortunate, as I have one or two matters of importance to look into just at
present. Your Majesty will, of course, stay in London for the present?"
"Certainly. You will find me at the Langham under the name of the Count Von
"Then I shall drop you a line to let you know how we progress."
"Pray do so. I shall be all anxiety."
"Then, as to money?"
"You have carte blanche."
"I tell you that I would give one of the provinces of my kingdom to have that
"And for present expenses?"
The King took a heavy chamois leather bag from under his cloak and laid it on
the table. "There are three hundred pounds in gold and seven hundred in notes,"
Holmes scribbled a receipt upon a sheet of his notebook and handed it to him.
"And Mademoiselle's address?" he asked.
"Is Briony Lodge, Serpentine Avenue, St. John's Wood."
Holmes took a note of it. "One other question," said he. "Was the photograph a
"Then, goodnight, your Majesty, and I trust that we shall soon have some good
news for you. And goodnight, Watson," he added, as the wheels of the royal
brougham rolled down the street. "If you will be good enough to call tomorrow
afternoon at three o'clock I should like to chat this little matter over with
II. At three o'clock precisely I was at Baker Street, but Holmes had not yet
returned. The landlady informed me that he had left the house shortly after
eight o'clock in the morning. I sat down beside the fire, however, with the
intention of awaiting him, however long he might be. I was already deeply
interested in his inquiry, for, though it was surrounded by none of the grim and
strange features which were associated with the two crimes which I have already
recorded, still, the nature of the case and the exalted station of his client
gave it a character of its own. Indeed, apart from the nature of the
investigation which my friend had on hand, there was something in his masterly
grasp of a situation, and his keen, incisive reasoning, which made it a pleasure
to me to study his system of work, and to follow the quick, subtle methods by
which he disentangled the most inextricable mysteries. So accustomed was I to
his invariable success that the very possibility of his failing had ceased to
enter into my head.
It was close upon four before the door opened, and a drunken looking groom,
ill-kempt and side-whiskered, with an inflamed face and disreputable clothes,
walked into the room. Accustomed as I was to my friend's amazing powers in the
use of disguises, I had to look three times before I was certain that it was
indeed he. With a nod he vanished into the bedroom, whence he emerged in five
minutes tweed-suited and respectable, as of old. Putting his hands into his
pockets, he stretched out his legs in front of the fire and laughed heartily for
some minutes. "Well, really!" he cried, and then he choked and laughed again
until he was obliged to lie back, limp and helpless, in the chair.
"What is it?"
"It's quite too funny. I am sure you could never guess how I employed my
morning, or what I ended by doing."
"I can't imagine. I suppose that you have been watching the habits, and perhaps
the house, of Miss Irene Adler."
"Quite so; but the sequel was rather unusual. I will tell you, however. I left
the house a little after eight o'clock this morning in the character of a groom
out of work. There is a wonderful sympathy and freemasonry among horsy men. Be
one of them, and you will know all that there is to know. I soon found Briony
Lodge. It is a bijou villa, with a garden at the back, but built out in front
right up to the road, two stories. Chubb lock to the door. Large sitting-room on
the right side, well furnished, with long windows almost to the floor, and those
preposterous English window fasteners which a child could open. Behind there was
nothing remarkable, save that the passage window could be reached from the top
of the coach-house. I walked round it and examined it closely from every point
of view, but without noting anything else of interest.
"I then lounged down the street and found, as I expected, that there was a mews
in a lane which runs down by one wall of the garden. I lent the ostlers a hand
in rubbing down their horses, and received in exchange tuppence, a glass of half
and half, two fills of shag tobacco, and as much information as I could desire
about Miss Adler, to say nothing of half a dozen other people in the
neighborhood in whom I was not in the least interested, but whose biographies I
was compelled to listen to."
"And what of Irene Adler?" I asked.
"Oh, she has turned all the men's heads down in that part. She is the daintiest
thing under a bonnet on this planet. So say the Serpentine-mews, to a man. She
lives quietly, sings at concerts, drives out at five every day, and returns at
seven sharp for dinner. Seldom goes out at other times, except when she sings.
Has only one male visitor, but a good deal of him. He is dark, handsome, and
dashing, never calls less than once a day, and often twice. He is a Mr. Godfrey
Norton, of the Inner Temple. See the advantages of a cabman as a confidant. They
had driven him Londra a dozen times from Serpentine-mews, and knew all about
him. When I had listened to all they had to tell, I began to walk up and down
near Briony Lodge once more, and to think over my plan of campaign.
"This Godfrey Norton was evidently an important factor in the matter. He was a
lawyer. That sounded ominous. What was the relation between them, and what the
object of his repeated visits? Was she his client, his friend, or his mistress?
If the former, she had probably transferred the photograph to his keeping. If
the latter, it was less likely. On the issue of this question depended whether I
should continue my work at Briony Lodge, or turn my attention to the gentleman's
chambers in the Temple. It was a delicate point, and it widened the field of my
inquiry. I fear that I bore you with these details, but I have to let you see my
little difficulties, if you are to understand the situation."
"I am following you closely," I answered.
"I was still balancing the matter in my mind when a hansom cab drove up to
Briony Lodge, and a gentleman sprang out. He was a remarkably handsome man,
dark, aquiline, and mustached— evidently the man of whom I had heard. He
appeared to be in a great hurry, shouted to the cabman to wait, and brushed past
the maid who opened the door with the air of a man who was thoroughly at Londra.
"He was in the house about half an hour, and I could catch glimpses of him in
the windows of the sitting-room, pacing up and down, talking excitedly, and
waving his arms. Of her I could see nothing. Presently he emerged, looking even
more flurried than before. As he stepped up to the cab, he pulled a gold watch
from his pocket and looked at it earnestly, 'Drive like the devil,' he shouted,
'first to Gross & Hankey's in Regent Street,
and then to the Church of St. Monica in the Edgeware Road. Half a guinea if you
do it in twenty minutes!'
"Away they went, and I was just wondering whether I should not do well to follow
them when up the lane came a neat little landau, the coachman with his coat only
half-buttoned, and his tie under his ear, while all the tags of his harness were
sticking out of the buckles. It hadn't pulled up before she shot out of the hall
door and into it. I only caught a glimpse of her at the moment, but she was a
lovely woman, with a face that a man might die for. "'The Church of St. Monica,
John,' she cried, 'and half a sovereign if you reach it in twenty minutes.'
"This was quite too good to lose, Watson. I was just balancing whether I should
run for it, or whether I should perch behind her landau when a cab came through
the street. The driver looked twice at such a shabby fare, but I jumped in
before he could object. 'The Church of St. Monica,' said I, 'and half a
sovereign if you reach it in twenty minutes.' It was twenty-five minutes to
twelve, and of course it was clear enough what was in the wind.
"My cabby drove fast. I don't think I ever drove faster, but the others were
there before us. The cab and the landau with their steaming horses were in front
of the door when I arrived. I paid the man and hurried into the church. There
was not a soul there save the two whom I had followed and a surprised clergyman,
who seemed to be expostulating with them. They were all three standing in a knot
in front of the altar. I lounged up the side aisle like any other idler who has
dropped into a church. Suddenly, to my surprise, the three at the altar faced
round to me, and Godfrey Norton came running as hard as he could towards me.
"Thank God," he cried. "You'll do. Come! Come!"
"What then?" I asked.
"Come, man, come, only three minutes, or it won't be legal."
I was half-dragged up to the altar, and before I knew where I was I found myself
mumbling responses which were whispered in my ear. And vouching for things of
which I knew nothing, and generally assisting in the secure tying up of Irene
Adler, spinster, to Godfrey Norton, bachelor. It was all done in an instant, and
there was the gentleman thanking me on the one side and the lady on the other,
while the clergyman beamed on me in front. It was the most preposterous position
in which I ever found myself in my life, and it was the thought of it that
started me laughing just now. It seems that there had been some informality
about their license, that the clergyman absolutely refused to marry them without
a witness of some sort, and that my lucky appearance saved the bridegroom from
having to sally out into the streets in search of a best man. The bride gave me
a sovereign, and I mean to wear it on my watch-chain in memory of the occasion."
"This is a very unexpected turn of affairs," said I; "And what then?"
"Well, I found my plans very seriously menaced. It looked as if the pair might
take an immediate departure, and so necessitate very prompt and energetic
measures on my part. At the church door, however, they separated, he driving
back to the Temple, and she to her own house. 'I shall drive out in the park at
five as usual,' she said as she left him. I heard no more. They drove away in
different directions, and I went off to make my own arrangements."
"Some cold beef and a glass of beer," he answered, ringing the bell. "I have
been too busy to think of food, and I am likely to be busier still this evening.
By the way, Doctor, I shall want your cooperation."
"I shall be delighted."
"You don't mind breaking the law?"
"Not in the least."
"Nor running a chance of arrest?"
"Not in a good cause."
"Oh, the cause is excellent!"
"Then I am your man."
"I was sure that I might rely on you."
"But what is it you wish?"
"When Mrs. Turner has brought in the tray I will make it clear to you. Now," he
said as he turned hungrily on the simple fare that our landlady had provided, "I
must discuss it while I eat, for I have not much time. It is nearly five now. In
two hours we must be on the scene of action. Miss Irene, or Madame, rather,
returns from her drive at seven. We must be at Briony Lodge to meet her."
"And what then?"
"You must leave that to me. I have already arranged what is to occur. There is
only one point on which I must insist. You must not interfere, come what may.
"I am to be neutraL'"
"To do nothing whatever. There will probably be some small unpleasantness. Do
not join in it. It will end in my being conveyed into the house. Four or five
minutes afterwards the sitting-room window will open. You are to station
yourself close to that open window."
"You are to watch me, for I will be visible to you."
"And when I raise my hand—so—you will throw into the room what I give you to
throw, and will, at the same time, raise the cry of fire. You quite follow me?"
"It is nothing very formidable," he said, taking a long cigar-shaped roll from
his pocket. "It is an ordinary plumber's smoke-rocket, fitted with a cap at
either end to make it self-lighting. Your task is confined to that. When you
raise your cry of fire, it will be taken up by quite a number of people. You may
then walk to the end of the street, and I will rejoin you in ten minutes. I hope
that I have made myself clear?"
"I am to remain neutral, to get near the window, to watch you, and at the signal
to throw in this object, then to raise the cry of fire, and to wait you at the
corner of the street."
"Then you may entirely rely on me."
"That is excellent. I think, perhaps, it is almost time that I prepare for the
new role I have to play."
He disappeared into his bedroom and returned in a few minutes in the character
of an amiable and simple-minded Nonconformist clergyman. His broad black hat,
his baggy trousers, his white tie, his sympathetic smile, and general look of
peering and benevolent curiosity were such as Mr. John Hare alone could have
equaled. It was not merely that Holmes changed his costume. His expression, his
manner, his very soul seemed to vary with every fresh part that he assumed. The
stage lost a fine actor, even as science lost an acute reasoner, when he became
a specialist in crime.
It was a quarter past six when we left Baker Street, and it still wanted ten
minutes to the hour when we found ourselves in Serpentine Avenue. It was already
dusk, and the lamps were just being lighted as we paced up and down in front of
Briony Lodge, waiting for the coming of its occupant. The house was just such as
I had pictured it from Sherlock Holmes's succinct description, but the locality
appeared to be less private than I expected. On the contrary, for a small street
in a quiet neighborhood, it was remarkably animated. There was a group of
shabbily dressed men smoking and laughing in a corner, a scissors-grinder with
his wheel, two guardsmen who were flirting with a nurse-girl, and several
well-dressed young men who were lounging up and down with cigars in their
"You see," remarked Holmes, as we paced to and fro in front of the house, "This
marriage rather simplifies matters. The photograph becomes a double-edged weapon
now. The chances are that she would be as averse to its being seen by Mr.
Godfrey Norton, as our client is to its coming to the eyes of his princess. Now
the question is, Where are we to find the photograph?"
"It is most unlikely that she carries it about with her. It is cabinet size. Too
large for easy concealment about a woman's dress. She knows that the King is
capable of having her waylaid and searched. Two attempts of the sort have
already been made. We may take it, then, that she does not carry it about with
"Her banker or her lawyer. There is that double possibility. But I am inclined
to think neither. Women are naturally secretive, and they like to do their own
secreting. Why should she hand it over to anyone else? She could trust her own
guardianship, but she could not tell what indirect or political influence might
be brought to bear upon a business man. Besides, remember that she had resolved
to use it within a few days. It must be where she can lay her hands upon it. It
must be in her own house."
"But it has twice been burgled."
"Pshaw! They did not know how to look."
"But how will you look?"
"I will not look."
"I will get her to show me."
"But she will refuse."
"She will not be able to. But I hear the rumble of wheels. It is her carriage.
Now carry out my orders to the letter."
As he spoke the gleam of the sidelights of a carriage came round the curve of
the avenue. It was a smart little landau which rattled up to the door of Briony
Lodge. As it pulled up, one of the loafing men at the corner dashed forward to
open the door in the hope of earning a copper, but was elbowed away by another
loafer, who had rushed up with the same intention. A fierce quarrel broke out,
which was increased by the two guardsmen, who took sides with one of the
loungers, and by the scissors grinder, who was equally hot upon the other side.
A blow was struck, and in an instant the lady, who had stepped from her
carriage, was the center of a little knot of flushed and struggling men, who
struck savagely at each other with their fists and sticks.
Holmes dashed into the crowd to protect the lady; but just as he reached her he
gave a cry and dropped to the ground, with the blood running freely down his
face. At his fall the guardsmen took to their heels in one direction and the
loungers in the other, while a number of better-dressed people, who had watched
the scuffle without taking part in it, crowded in to help the lady and to attend
to the injured man. Irene Adler, as I will still call her, had hurried up the
steps; but she stood at the top with her superb figure outlined against the
lights of the hall, looking back into the street. "Is the poor gentleman much
hurt?" she asked.
"He is dead," cried several voices.
"No, no, there's life in him!" shouted another. "But he'll be gone before you
can get him to hospital."
"He's a brave fellow," said a woman. "They would have had the lady's purse and
watch if it hadn't been for him. They were a gang, and a rough one, too. Ah,
he's breathing now."
"He can't lie in the street. May we bring him in, marm?"
"Surely. Bring him into the sitting-room. There is a comfortable sofa. This way,
Slowly and solemnly he was borne into Briony Lodge and laid out in the principal
room, while I still observed the proceedings from my post by the window. The
lamps had been lit, but the blinds had not been drawn, so that I could see
Holmes as he lay upon the couch. I do not know whether he was seized with
compunction at that moment for the part he was playing, but I know that I never
felt more heartily ashamed of myself in my life than when I saw the beautiful
creature against whom I was conspiring, or the grace and kindliness with which
she waited upon the injured man.
And yet it would be the blackest treachery to Holmes to draw back now from the
part which he had entrusted to me. I hardened my heart, and took the
smoke-rocket from under my ulster. After all, I thought, we are not injuring
her. We are but preventing her from injuring another. Holmes had sat up upon the
couch, and I saw him motion like a man who is in need of air. A maid rushed
across and threw open the window. At the same instant I saw him raise his hand
and at the signal I tossed my rocket into the room with a cry of "Fire!"
The word was no sooner out of my mouth than the whole crowd of spectators, well
dressed and ill—gentlemen, ostlers, and servant-maids—joined in a general shriek
Thick clouds of smoke curled through the room and out at the open window. I
caught a glimpse of rushing figures, and a moment later the voice of Holmes from
within assuring them that it was a false alarm. Slipping through the shouting
crowd I made my way to the corner of the street, and in ten minutes was rejoiced
to find my friend's arm in mine, and to get away from the scene of uproar. He
walked swiftly and in silence for some few minutes until we had turned down one
of the quiet streets which lead towards the Edgeware Road.
"You did it very nicely, Doctor," he remarked. "Nothing could have been better.
It is all right."
"You have the photograph?"
"I know where it is."
"And how did you find out?"
"She showed me, as I told you she would."
"I am still in the dark."
"I do not wish to make a mystery," said he, laughing. "The matter was perfectly
simple. You, of course, saw that everyone in the street was an accomplice. They
were all engaged for the evening."
"I guessed as much."
"Then, when the row broke out, I had a little moist red paint in the palm of my
hand. I rushed forward, fell down, clapped my hand to my face, and became a
piteous spectacle. It is an old trick."
"That also I could fathom."
"Then they carried me in. She was bound to have me in. What else could she do?
And into her sitting-room, which was the very room which I suspected. It lay
between that and her bedroom, and I was determined to see which. They laid me on
a couch, I motioned for air, they were compelled to open the window. And you had
"How did that help you?"
"It was all-important. When a woman thinks that her house is on fire, her
instinct is at once to rush to the thing which she values most. It is a
perfectly overpowering impulse, and I have more than once taken advantage of it.
In the case of the Darlington substitution scandal it was of use to me, and also
in the Arnsworth Castle business. A married woman grabs at her baby; an
unmarried one reaches for her jewel-box. Now it was clear to me that our lady of
today had nothing in the house more precious to her than what we are in quest
of. She would rush to secure it. The alarm of fire was admirably done. The smoke
and shouting were enough to shake nerves of steel. She responded beautifully.
The photograph is in a recess behind a sliding panel just above the right
bell-pull. She was there in an instant, and I caught a glimpse of it as she
half-drew it out. When I cried out that it was a false alarm, she replaced it,
glanced at the rocket, rushed from the room, and I have not seen her since. I
rose, and, making my excuses, escaped from the house. I hesitated whether to
attempt to secure the photograph at once; but the coachman had come in, and as
he was watching me narrowly it seemed safer to wait. A little over-precipitance
may ruin all."
"And now?" I asked.
"Our quest is practically finished. I shall call with the King tomorrow, and
with you, if you care to come with us. We will be shown into the sitting-room to
wait for the lady; but it is probable that when she comes she may find neither
us nor the photograph. It might be a satisfaction to his Majesty to regain it
with his own hands."
"And when will you call'"
"At eight in the morning. She will not be up, so that we shall have a clear
field. Besides, we must be prompt, for this marriage may mean a complete change
in her life and habits. I must wire to the King without delay." We had reached
Baker Street and had stopped at the door. He was searching his pockets for the
key when someone passing said:
"Goodnight, Mister Sherlock Holmes." There were several people on the pavement
at the time, but the greeting appeared to come from a slim youth in an Ulster
who had hurried by.
"I've heard that voice before," said Holmes, staring down the dimly lit street.
"Now, I wonder who the deuce that could have been."
III. I slept at Baker Street that night, and we were engaged upon our toast and
coffee in the morning when the King of Bohemia rushed into the room. "You have
really got it!" he cried, grasping Sherlock Holmes by either shoulder and
looking eagerly into his face.
"But you have hopes?"
"I have hopes."
"Then, come. I am all impatience to be gone."
"We must have a cab."
"No, my brougham is waiting."
"Then that will simplify matters."
We descended and started off once more for Briony Lodge.
"Irene Adler is married," remarked Holmes.
"But to whom?"
"To an English lawyer named Norton."
"But she could not love him."
"I am in hopes that she does."
"And why in hopes?"
"Because it would spare your Majesty all fear of future annoyance. If the lady
loves her husband, she does not love your Majesty. If she does not love your
Majesty, there is no reason why she should interfere with your Majesty's plan."
"It is true. And yet—Well! I wish she had been of my own station! What a queen
she would have made!" He relapsed into a moody silence, which was not broken
until we drew up in Serpentine Avenue.
The door of Briony Lodge was open, and an elderly woman stood upon the steps.
She watched us with a sardonic eye as we stepped from the brougham. "Mr.
Sherlock Holmes, I believe?" said she.
"I am Mr. Holmes," answered my companion, looking at her with a questioning and
rather startled gaze.
"Indeed! My mistress told me that you were likely to call. She left this morning
with her husband by the 5:15 train from Charing Cross for the Continent."
"What!" Sherlock Holmes staggered back, white with chagrin and surprise. "Do you
mean that she has left England'"
"Never to return."
"And the papers?" asked the King hoarsely. "All is lost."
"We shall see." He pushed past the servant and rushed into the drawing-room,
followed by the King and myself. The furniture was scattered about in every
direction, with dismantled shelves and open drawers, as if the lady had
hurriedly ransacked them before her flight. Holmes rushed at the bell-pull, tore
back a small sliding shutter, and, plunging in his hand, pulled out a photograph
and a letter. The photograph was of Irene Adler herself in evening dress, the
letter was superscribed to
"Sherlock Holmes, Esq. To be left till called for."
My friend tore it open and we all three read it together. It was dated at
midnight of the preceding night and ran in this way:
MY DEAR MR. SHERLOCK HOLMES,—
You really did it very well. You took me in completely. Until after the alarm of
fire, I had not a suspicion. But then, when I found how I had betrayed myself, I
began to think. I had been warned against you months ago. I had been told that
if the King employed an agent it would certainly be you. And your address had
been given me. Yet, with all this, you made me reveal what you wanted to know.
Even after I became suspicious, I found it hard to think evil of such a dear,
kind old clergyman. But, you know, I have been trained as an actress myself.
Male costume is nothing new to me. I often take advantage of the freedom which
it gives. I sent John, the coachman, to watch you, ran upstairs, got into my
walking-clothes, as I call them, and came down just as you departed. Well, I
followed you to your door, and so made sure that I was really an object of
interest to the celebrated Mr. Sherlock Holmes. Then I, rather imprudently,
wished you goodnight, and started for the Temple to see my husband. We both
thought the best resource was flight, when pursued by so formidable an
antagonist; so you will find the nest empty when you call tomorrow. As to the
photograph, your client may rest in peace. I love and am loved by a better man
than he. The King may do what he will without hindrance from one whom he has
cruelly wronged. I keep it only to safeguard myself, and to preserve a weapon
which will always secure me from any steps which he might take in the future. I
leave a photograph which he might care to possess;
and I remain, dear Mr. Sherlock Holmes,
Very truly yours,
IRENE NORTON, née ADLER.
"What a woman—oh, what a woman!" cried the King of Bohemia, when we had all
three read this epistle. "Did I not tell you how quick and resolute she was?
Would she not have made an admirable queen? Is it not a pity that she was not on
"From what I have seen of the lady she seems indeed to be on a very different
level to your Majesty," said Holmes coldly. "I am sorry that I have not been
able to bring your Majesty's business to a more successful conclusion."
"On the contrary, my dear sir," cried the King; "nothing could be more
successful. I know that her word is inviolate. The photograph is now as safe as
if it were in the fire."
"I am glad to hear your Majesty say so."
"I am immensely indebted to you. Pray tell me in what way I can reward you. This
ring—" He slipped an emerald snake ring from his finger and held it out upon the
palm of his hand.
"Your Majesty has something which I should value even more highly," said Holmes.
"You have but to name it."
"This photograph!" The King stared at him in amazement. "Irene's photograph!" he
cried. "Certainly, if you wish it."
"I thank your Majesty. Then there is no more to be done in the matter. I have
the honor to wish you a very good-morning." He bowed, and, turning away without
observing the hand which the King had stretched out to him, he set off in my
company for his chambers.
And that was how a great scandal threatened to affect the kingdom of Bohemia,
and how the best plans of Mr. Sherlock Holmes were beaten by a woman's wit. He
used to make merry over the cleverness of women, but I have not heard him do it
of late. And when he speaks of Irene Adler, or when he refers to her photograph,
it is always under the honorable title of THE woman.
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