A Scandal In Bohemia
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 obse
ving 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
I had seen little of Holmes lately. My marriage had drifted us
away from each other. My own complete happiness, and the
home-centred 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 companion.
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
"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
He chuckled to himself and rubbed his long, nervous hands
"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
"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."
"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 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 wear a mask."
"This is indeed a mystery," I remarked. "What do you imagine that
"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
"The man who wrote it was presumably well to do," I remarked,
endeavouring 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
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 fronts of his double-breasted coat, while
the deep blue cloak which was thrown over his shoulders was lined
with flame-coloured 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
"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 honour 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 honour
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 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
"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
"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
"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
"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 authenticity?"
"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
"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 travelled. 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
"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 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."
"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 note-book 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 cabinet?"
"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."
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
"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 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 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 neighbourhood 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 they had to tell, I began to walk up
and down near Briony Lodge once more, and to think over my plan
"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
"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 moustached--
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
"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 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 towards
"'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
"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
"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
"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."
"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
equalled. 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
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' succinct description,
but the locality appeared to be less private than I expected. On
the contrary, for a small street in a quiet neighbourhood, 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
"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."
"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 side-lights 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 centre 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, 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 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 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 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 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 lead towards the
"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 your
"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 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
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 someone 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
"I've heard that voice before," said Holmes, staring down the
dimly lit street. "Now, I wonder who the deuce that could have
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
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 up stairs, 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 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 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 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."
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 honour 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
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 honourable title of the woman.