A 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

that 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 home-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

clews, 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 companion.



One night--it was on the 20th 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 lighted, 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 home 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 some one

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-slicking 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 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 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 room."



"Frequently."



"How often?"



"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 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 to-night, 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 wears a mask."



"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 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 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 tap.



"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 front 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

cheek-bones, a black visard 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, Doctor

Watson, who is occasionally good enough to help me in my cases. Whom have

I the honor to address?"



"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 that it may have an influence upon European

history."



"I promise," said Holmes.



"And I."



"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, dryly.



"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 sprung 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 for 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?"



"None."



"No legal papers or certificates?"



"None."



"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

authenticity?"



"There is the writing."



"Pooh-pooh! Forgery."



"My private note paper."



"Stolen."



"My own seal."



"Imitated."



"My photograph."



"Bought."



"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."



"Stolen, then."



"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?"



"Absolutely none."



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."



"But how?"



"I am about to be married."



"So I have heard."



"To Clotilde Lothman von Saxe-Meiningen, 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 go--none."



"You are sure she has not sent it yet?"



"I am sure."



"And why?"



"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 Kramm."



"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."



"Absolutely?"



"I tell you that I would give one of the provinces of my kingdom to have

that photograph."



"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," he

said.



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, thoughtfully.

"Was the photograph a cabinet?"



"It was."



"Then, good-night, your majesty, and I trust that we shall soon have some

good news for you. And good-night, Watson," he added, as the wheels of the

royal brougham rolled down the street. "If you will be good enough to call

to-morrow afternoon, at three o'clock, I should like to chat this little

matter over with you."





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 horsey 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 the 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

hostlers a hand in rubbing down their horses, and I received in exchange

twopence, 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 home a

dozen times from Serpentine Mews, and knew all about him. When I had

listened to all that 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 sprung 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 home.



"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 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 surpliced 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 toward 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."



"Which are?"



"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. You understand?"



"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."



"Yes."



"You are to watch me, for I will be visible to you."



"Yes."



"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?"



"Entirely."



"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."



"Precisely."



"Then you may entirely rely on me."



"That is excellent. I think, perhaps, it is almost time that I prepared

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 mouths.



"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?"



"Where, indeed?"



"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."



"Where, then?"



"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 burglarized."



"Pshaw! They did not know how to look."



"But how will you look?"



"I will not look."



"What then?"



"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 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 the 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, please." 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 lighted, 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 intrusted 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 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,

hostlers, and servant maids--joined in a general shriek of "Fire!" 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 led

toward 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 that 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 your chance."



"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 to-day 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 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 to-morrow,

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 some one passing said:



"Good night, 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

lighted 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.



"Not yet."



"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.



"Married! When?"



"Yesterday."



"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 the 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 the 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 good night, 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 to-morrow. 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 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, nee 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 my level?"



"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.





Wolfert Webber Or Golden Dreams A Case Of Identity facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Feedback