To Sherlock Holmes she is always _the_ woman. I have seldom heard himmention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses andpredominates the whole of her sex. It was not that he felt any emotionakin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly,were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. Hewas, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine thatthe world has seen, but as a lover he would have placed himself in afalse position. He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibeand a sneer. They were admirable things for the observer—excellent fordrawing the veil from men’s motives and actions. But for the trainedreasoner to admit such intrusions into his own delicate and finelyadjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which mightthrow a doubt upon all his mental results. Grit in a sensitiveinstrument, or a crack in one of his own high-power lenses, would notbe more disturbing than a strong emotion in a nature such as his. Andyet there was but one woman to him, and that woman was the late IreneAdler, of dubious and questionable memory.
I had seen little of Holmes lately. My marriage had drifted us awayfrom each other. My own complete happiness, and the home-centredinterests which rise up around the man who first finds himself masterof his own establishment, were sufficient to absorb all my attention,while Holmes, who loathed every form of society with his whole Bohemiansoul, remained in our lodgings in Baker Street, buried among his oldbooks, and alternating from week to week between cocaine and ambition,the drowsiness of the drug, and the fierce energy of his own keennature. He was still, as ever, deeply attracted by the study of crime,and occupied his immense faculties and extraordinary powers ofobservation in following out those clues, and clearing up thosemysteries which had been abandoned as hopeless by the official police.From time to time I heard some vague account of his doings: of hissummons to Odessa in the case of the Trepoff murder, of his clearing upof the singular tragedy of the Atkinson brothers at Trincomalee, andfinally of the mission which he had accomplished so delicately andsuccessfully for the reigning family of Holland. Beyond these signs ofhis activity, however, which I merely shared with all the readers ofthe 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 ajourney to a patient
for I had now returned to civil practice
, whenmy way led me through Baker Street. As I passed the well-remembereddoor, which must always be associated in my mind with my wooing, andwith the dark incidents of the Study in Scarlet, I was seized with akeen desire to see Holmes again, and to know how he was employing hisextraordinary powers. His rooms were brilliantly lit, and, even as Ilooked up, I saw his tall, spare figure pass twice in a dark silhouetteagainst the blind. He was pacing the room swiftly, eagerly, with hishead sunk upon his chest and his hands clasped behind him. To me, whoknew his every mood and habit, his attitude and manner told their ownstory. He was at work again. He had risen out of his drug-createddreams and was hot upon the scent of some new problem. I rang the belland 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 wavedme to an armchair, threw across his case of cigars, and indicated aspirit case and a gasogene in the corner. Then he stood before the fireand looked me over in his singular introspective fashion.
“Wedlock suits you,” he remarked. “I think, Watson, that you have puton seven and a half pounds since I saw you.”
“Seven!” I answered.
“Indeed, I should have thought a little more. Just a trifle more, Ifancy, Watson. And in practice again, I observe. You did not tell methat 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 gettingyourself very wet lately, and that you have a most clumsy and carelessservant girl?”
“My dear Holmes,” said I, “this is too much. You would certainly havebeen burned, had you lived a few centuries ago. It is true that I had acountry walk on Thursday and came home in a dreadful mess, but as Ihave changed my clothes I can’t imagine how you deduce it. As to MaryJane, 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 insideof your left shoe, just where the firelight strikes it, the leather isscored by six almost parallel cuts. Obviously they have been caused bysomeone who has very carelessly scraped round the edges of the sole inorder to remove crusted mud from it. Hence, you see, my doublededuction that you had been out in vile weather, and that you had aparticularly malignant boot-slitting specimen of the London slavey. Asto your practice, if a gentleman walks into my rooms smelling ofiodoform, with a black mark of nitrate of silver upon his rightforefinger, and a bulge on the right side of his top-hat to show wherehe has secreted his stethoscope, I must be dull, indeed, if I do notpronounce him to be an active member of the medical profession.”
I could not help laughing at the ease with which he explained hisprocess of deduction. “When I hear you give your reasons,” I remarked,“the thing always appears to me to be so ridiculously simple that Icould easily do it myself, though at each successive instance of yourreasoning I am baffled until you explain your process. And yet Ibelieve that my eyes are as good as yours.”
“Quite so,” he answered, lighting a cigarette, and throwing himselfdown into an armchair. “You see, but you do not observe. Thedistinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen the stepswhich 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 justmy point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I haveboth seen and observed. By the way, since you are interested in theselittle problems, and since you are good enough to chronicle one or twoof my trifling experiences, you may be interested in this.” He threwover a sheet of thick, pink-tinted notepaper which had been lying openupon 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,” itsaid, “a gentleman who desires to consult you upon a matter of the verydeepest moment. Your recent services to one of the royal houses ofEurope have shown that you are one who may safely be trusted withmatters which are of an importance which can hardly be exaggerated.This account of you we have from all quarters received. Be in yourchamber then at that hour, and do not take it amiss if your visitorwear a mask.”
“This is indeed a mystery,” I remarked. “What do you imagine that itmeans?”
“I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorise before one hasdata. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead oftheories to suit facts. But the note itself. What do you deduce fromit?”
I carefully examined the writing, and the paper upon which it waswritten.
“The man who wrote it was presumably well to do,” I remarked,endeavouring to imitate my companion’s processes. “Such paper could notbe bought under half a crown a packet. It is peculiarly strong andstiff.”
“Peculiar—that is the very word,” said Holmes. “It is not an Englishpaper 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 likeour ‘Co.’ ‘P,’ of course, stands for ‘Papier.’ Now for the ‘Eg.’ Let usglance at our Continental Gazetteer.” He took down a heavy brown volumefrom his shelves. “Eglow, Eglonitz—here we are, Egria. It is in aGerman-speaking country—in Bohemia, not far from Carlsbad. ‘Remarkableas being the scene of the death of Wallenstein, and for its numerousglass-factories and paper-mills.’ Ha, ha, my boy, what do you make ofthat?” His eyes sparkled, and he sent up a great blue triumphant cloudfrom his cigarette.
“The paper was made in Bohemia,” I said.
“Precisely. And the man who wrote the note is a German. Do you note thepeculiar construction of the sentence—‘This account of you we have fromall quarters received.’ A Frenchman or Russian could not have writtenthat. It is the German who is so uncourteous to his verbs. It onlyremains, therefore, to discover what is wanted by this German whowrites upon Bohemian paper and prefers wearing a mask to showing hisface. And here he comes, if I am not mistaken, to resolve all ourdoubts.”
As he spoke there was the sharp sound of horses’ hoofs and gratingwheels against the curb, followed by a sharp pull at the bell. Holmeswhistled.
“A pair, by the sound,” said he. “Yes,” he continued, glancing out ofthe window. “A nice little brougham and a pair of beauties. A hundredand fifty guineas apiece. There’s money in this case, Watson, if thereis nothing else.”
“I think that I had better go, Holmes.”
“Not a bit, Doctor. Stay where you are. I am lost without my Boswell.And this promises to be interesting. It would be a pity to miss it.”
“But your client—”
“Never mind him. I may want your help, and so may he. Here he comes.Sit down in that armchair, Doctor, and give us your best attention.”
A slow and heavy step, which had been heard upon the stairs and in thepassage, paused immediately outside the door. Then there was a loud andauthoritative tap.
“Come in!” said Holmes.
A man entered who could hardly have been less than six feet six inchesin height, with the chest and limbs of a Hercules. His dress was richwith a richness which would, in England, be looked upon as akin to badtaste. Heavy bands of astrakhan were slashed across the sleeves andfronts of his double-breasted coat, while the deep blue cloak which wasthrown over his shoulders was lined with flame-coloured silk andsecured at the neck with a brooch which consisted of a single flamingberyl. Boots which extended halfway up his calves, and which weretrimmed at the tops with rich brown fur, completed the impression ofbarbaric opulence which was suggested by his whole appearance. Hecarried a broad-brimmed hat in his hand, while he wore across the upperpart of his face, extending down past the cheekbones, a black vizardmask, which he had apparently adjusted that very moment, for his handwas still raised to it as he entered. From the lower part of the facehe appeared to be a man of strong character, with a thick, hanging lip,and a long, straight chin suggestive of resolution pushed to the lengthof obstinacy.
“You had my note?” he asked with a deep harsh voice and a stronglymarked German accent. “I told you that I would call.” He looked fromone to the other of us, as if uncertain which to address.
“Pray take a seat,” said Holmes. “This is my friend and colleague, Dr.Watson, who is occasionally good enough to help me in my cases. Whomhave I the honour to address?”
“You may address me as the Count Von Kramm, a Bohemian nobleman. Iunderstand that this gentleman, your friend, is a man of honour anddiscretion, whom I may trust with a matter of the most extremeimportance. If not, I should much prefer to communicate with youalone.”
I rose to go, but Holmes caught me by the wrist and pushed me back intomy chair. “It is both, or none,” said he. “You may say before thisgentleman 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 ofthat time the matter will be of no importance. At present it is not toomuch to say that it is of such weight it may have an influence uponEuropean history.”
“I promise,” said Holmes.
“You will excuse this mask,” continued our strange visitor. “The augustperson who employs me wishes his agent to be unknown to you, and I mayconfess at once that the title by which I have just called myself isnot exactly my own.”
“I was aware of it,” said Holmes dryly.
“The circumstances are of great delicacy, and every precaution has tobe taken to quench what might grow to be an immense scandal andseriously compromise one of the reigning families of Europe. To speakplainly, the matter implicates the great House of Ormstein, hereditarykings of Bohemia.”
“I was also aware of that,” murmured Holmes, settling himself down inhis 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 themost incisive reasoner and most energetic agent in Europe. Holmesslowly reopened his eyes and looked impatiently at his gigantic client.
“If your Majesty would condescend to state your case,” he remarked, “Ishould be better able to advise you.”
The man sprang from his chair and paced up and down the room inuncontrollable agitation. Then, with a gesture of desperation, he torethe 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 Iwas aware that I was addressing Wilhelm Gottsreich Sigismond vonOrmstein, Grand Duke of Cassel-Felstein, and hereditary King ofBohemia.”
“But you can understand,” said our strange visitor, sitting down oncemore and passing his hand over his high white forehead, “you canunderstand that I am not accustomed to doing such business in my ownperson. Yet the matter was so delicate that I could not confide it toan 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 lengthyvisit 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 withoutopening his eyes. For many years he had adopted a system of docketingall paragraphs concerning men and things, so that it was difficult toname a subject or a person on which he could not at once furnishinformation. In this case I found her biography sandwiched in betweenthat of a Hebrew rabbi and that of a staff-commander who had written amonograph 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! YourMajesty, as I understand, became entangled with this young person,wrote her some compromising letters, and is now desirous of gettingthose 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 shouldproduce her letters for blackmailing or other purposes, how is she toprove 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 anindiscretion.”
“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 herhouse. Once we diverted her luggage when she travelled. Twice she hasbeen waylaid. There has been no result.”
“No sign of it?”
Holmes laughed. “It is quite a pretty little problem,” said he.
“But a very serious one to me,” returned the King reproachfully.
“Very, indeed. And what does she propose to do with the photograph?”
“To ruin me.”
“I am about to be married.”
“So I have heard.”
“To Clotilde Lothman von Saxe-Meningen, second daughter of the King ofScandinavia. You may know the strict principles of her family. She isherself the very soul of delicacy. A shadow of a doubt as to my conductwould bring the matter to an end.”
“And Irene Adler?”
“Threatens to send them the photograph. And she will do it. I know thatshe will do it. You do not know her, but she has a soul of steel. Shehas the face of the most beautiful of women, and the mind of the mostresolute of men. Rather than I should marry another woman, there are nolengths to which she would not go—none.”
“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 thebetrothal was publicly proclaimed. That will be next Monday.”
“Oh, then we have three days yet,” said Holmes with a yawn. “That isvery fortunate, as I have one or two matters of importance to look intojust at present. Your Majesty will, of course, stay in London for thepresent?”
“Certainly. You will find me at the Langham under the name of the CountVon 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 tohave that photograph.”
“And for present expenses?”
The King took a heavy chamois leather bag from under his cloak and laidit on the table.
“There are three hundred pounds in gold and seven hundred in notes,” hesaid.
Holmes scribbled a receipt upon a sheet of his note-book and handed itto 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 thephotograph a cabinet?”
“Then, good-night, your Majesty, and I trust that we shall soon havesome good news for you. And good-night, Watson,” he added, as thewheels of the royal brougham rolled down the street. “If you will begood enough to call to-morrow afternoon at three o’clock I should liketo chat this little matter over with you.”
At three o’clock precisely I was at Baker Street, but Holmes had notyet returned. The landlady informed me that he had left the houseshortly 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 wassurrounded by none of the grim and strange features which wereassociated with the two crimes which I have already recorded, still,the nature of the case and the exalted station of his client gave it acharacter of its own. Indeed, apart from the nature of theinvestigation which my friend had on hand, there was something in hismasterly grasp of a situation, and his keen, incisive reasoning, whichmade it a pleasure to me to study his system of work, and to follow thequick, subtle methods by which he disentangled the most inextricablemysteries. So accustomed was I to his invariable success that the verypossibility of his failing had ceased to enter into my head.
It was close upon four before the door opened, and a drunken-lookinggroom, ill-kempt and side-whiskered, with an inflamed face anddisreputable clothes, walked into the room. Accustomed as I was to myfriend’s amazing powers in the use of disguises, I had to look threetimes before I was certain that it was indeed he. With a nod hevanished into the bedroom, whence he emerged in five minutestweed-suited and respectable, as of old. Putting his hands into hispockets, he stretched out his legs in front of the fire and laughedheartily for some minutes.
“Well, really!” he cried, and then he choked and laughed again until hewas 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 employedmy morning, or what I ended by doing.”
“I can’t imagine. I suppose that you have been watching the habits, andperhaps 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 thecharacter of a groom out of work. There is a wonderful sympathy andfreemasonry among horsey men. Be one of them, and you will know allthat 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 tothe road, two stories. Chubb lock to the door. Large sitting-room onthe right side, well furnished, with long windows almost to the floor,and those preposterous English window fasteners which a child couldopen. Behind there was nothing remarkable, save that the passage windowcould be reached from the top of the coach-house. I walked round it andexamined it closely from every point of view, but without notinganything else of interest.
“I then lounged down the street and found, as I expected, that therewas a mews in a lane which runs down by one wall of the garden. I lentthe ostlers a hand in rubbing down their horses, and received inexchange twopence, a glass of half-and-half, two fills of shag tobacco,and as much information as I could desire about Miss Adler, to saynothing of half a dozen other people in the neighbourhood in whom I wasnot in the least interested, but whose biographies I was compelled tolisten to.”
“And what of Irene Adler?” I asked.
“Oh, she has turned all the men’s heads down in that part. She is thedaintiest thing under a bonnet on this planet. So say theSerpentine-mews, to a man. She lives quietly, sings at concerts, drivesout at five every day, and returns at seven sharp for dinner. Seldomgoes out at other times, except when she sings. Has only one malevisitor, 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. GodfreyNorton, of the Inner Temple. See the advantages of a cabman as aconfidant. 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, Ibegan to walk up and down near Briony Lodge once more, and to thinkover 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 betweenthem, and what the object of his repeated visits? Was she his client,his friend, or his mistress? If the former, she had probablytransferred the photograph to his keeping. If the latter, it was lesslikely. On the issue of this question depended whether I shouldcontinue my work at Briony Lodge, or turn my attention to thegentleman’s chambers in the Temple. It was a delicate point, and itwidened the field of my inquiry. I fear that I bore you with thesedetails, but I have to let you see my little difficulties, if you areto understand the situation.”
“I am following you closely,” I answered.
“I was still balancing the matter in my mind when a hansom cab drove upto Briony Lodge, and a gentleman sprang out. He was a remarkablyhandsome man, dark, aquiline, and moustached—evidently the man of whomI had heard. He appeared to be in a great hurry, shouted to the cabmanto wait, and brushed past the maid who opened the door with the air ofa man who was thoroughly at home.
“He was in the house about half an hour, and I could catch glimpses ofhim in the windows of the sitting-room, pacing up and down, talkingexcitedly, and waving his arms. Of her I could see nothing. Presentlyhe emerged, looking even more flurried than before. As he stepped up tothe cab, he pulled a gold watch from his pocket and looked at itearnestly, ‘Drive like the devil,’ he shouted, ‘first to Gross &Hankey’s in Regent Street, and then to the Church of St. Monica in theEdgeware Road. Half a guinea if you do it in twenty minutes!’
“Away they went, and I was just wondering whether I should not do wellto follow them when up the lane came a neat little landau, the coachmanwith his coat only half-buttoned, and his tie under his ear, while allthe tags of his harness were sticking out of the buckles. It hadn’tpulled up before she shot out of the hall door and into it. I onlycaught a glimpse of her at the moment, but she was a lovely woman, witha face that a man might die for.
“‘The Church of St. Monica, John,’ she cried, ‘and half a sovereign ifyou reach it in twenty minutes.’
“This was quite too good to lose, Watson. I was just balancing whetherI should run for it, or whether I should perch behind her landau when acab came through the street. The driver looked twice at such a shabbyfare, but I jumped in before he could object. ‘The Church of St.Monica,’ said I, ‘and half a sovereign if you reach it in twentyminutes.’ It was twenty-five minutes to twelve, and of course it wasclear enough what was in the wind.
“My cabby drove fast. I don’t think I ever drove faster, but the otherswere there before us. The cab and the landau with their steaming horseswere in front of the door when I arrived. I paid the man and hurriedinto the church. There was not a soul there save the two whom I hadfollowed and a surpliced clergyman, who seemed to be expostulating withthem. They were all three standing in a knot in front of the altar. Ilounged up the side aisle like any other idler who has dropped into achurch. Suddenly, to my surprise, the three at the altar faced round tome, and Godfrey Norton came running as hard as he could towards me.
“‘Thank God,’ he cried. ‘You’ll do. Come! Come!’
“‘What then?’ I asked.
“‘Come, man, come, only three minutes, or it won’t be legal.’
“I was half-dragged up to the altar, and before I knew where I was Ifound myself mumbling responses which were whispered in my ear, andvouching for things of which I knew nothing, and generally assisting inthe secure tying up of Irene Adler, spinster, to Godfrey Norton,bachelor. It was all done in an instant, and there was the gentlemanthanking me on the one side and the lady on the other, while theclergyman beamed on me in front. It was the most preposterous positionin which I ever found myself in my life, and it was the thought of itthat started me laughing just now. It seems that there had been someinformality about their license, that the clergyman absolutely refusedto marry them without a witness of some sort, and that my luckyappearance saved the bridegroom from having to sally out into thestreets in search of a best man. The bride gave me a sovereign, and Imean 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 thepair might take an immediate departure, and so necessitate very promptand energetic measures on my part. At the church door, however, theyseparated, he driving back to the Temple, and she to her own house. ‘Ishall drive out in the park at five as usual,’ she said as she lefthim. I heard no more. They drove away in different directions, and Iwent off to make my own arrangements.”
“Some cold beef and a glass of beer,” he answered, ringing the bell. “Ihave been too busy to think of food, and I am likely to be busier stillthis evening. By the way, Doctor, I shall want your co-operation.”
“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 ourlandlady had provided, “I must discuss it while I eat, for I have notmuch time. It is nearly five now. In two hours we must be on the sceneof action. Miss Irene, or Madame, rather, returns from her drive atseven. 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 smallunpleasantness. Do not join in it. It will end in my being conveyedinto the house. Four or five minutes afterwards the sitting-room windowwill 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 giveyou to throw, and will, at the same time, raise the cry of fire. Youquite follow me?”
“It is nothing very formidable,” he said, taking a long cigar-shapedroll from his pocket. “It is an ordinary plumber’s smoke-rocket, fittedwith a cap at either end to make it self-lighting. Your task isconfined to that. When you raise your cry of fire, it will be taken upby quite a number of people. You may then walk to the end of thestreet, and I will rejoin you in ten minutes. I hope that I have mademyself clear?”
“I am to remain neutral, to get near the window, to watch you, and atthe signal to throw in this object, then to raise the cry of fire, andto 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 preparefor the new role I have to play.”
He disappeared into his bedroom and returned in a few minutes in thecharacter of an amiable and simple-minded Nonconformist clergyman. Hisbroad black hat, his baggy trousers, his white tie, his sympatheticsmile, and general look of peering and benevolent curiosity were suchas Mr. John Hare alone could have equalled. It was not merely thatHolmes changed his costume. His expression, his manner, his very soulseemed to vary with every fresh part that he assumed. The stage lost afine actor, even as science lost an acute reasoner, when he became aspecialist in crime.
It was a quarter past six when we left Baker Street, and it stillwanted ten minutes to the hour when we found ourselves in SerpentineAvenue. It was already dusk, and the lamps were just being lighted aswe paced up and down in front of Briony Lodge, waiting for the comingof its occupant. The house was just such as I had pictured it fromSherlock Holmes’ succinct description, but the locality appeared to beless private than I expected. On the contrary, for a small street in aquiet neighbourhood, it was remarkably animated. There was a group ofshabbily dressed men smoking and laughing in a corner, ascissors-grinder with his wheel, two guardsmen who were flirting with anurse-girl, and several well-dressed young men who were lounging up anddown with cigars in their mouths.
“You see,” remarked Holmes, as we paced to and fro in front of thehouse, “this marriage rather simplifies matters. The photograph becomesa double-edged weapon now. The chances are that she would be as averseto its being seen by Mr. Godfrey Norton, as our client is to its comingto the eyes of his princess. Now the question is, Where are we to findthe photograph?”
“It is most unlikely that she carries it about with her. It is cabinetsize. Too large for easy concealment about a woman’s dress. She knowsthat the King is capable of having her waylaid and searched. Twoattempts of the sort have already been made. We may take it, then, thatshe does not carry it about with her.”
“Her banker or her lawyer. There is that double possibility. But I aminclined to think neither. Women are naturally secretive, and they liketo do their own secreting. Why should she hand it over to anyone else?She could trust her own guardianship, but she could not tell whatindirect or political influence might be brought to bear upon abusiness man. Besides, remember that she had resolved to use it withina few days. It must be where she can lay her hands upon it. It must bein 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 hercarriage. Now carry out my orders to the letter.”
As he spoke the gleam of the sidelights of a carriage came round thecurve of the avenue. It was a smart little landau which rattled up tothe door of Briony Lodge. As it pulled up, one of the loafing men atthe corner dashed forward to open the door in the hope of earning acopper, but was elbowed away by another loafer, who had rushed up withthe same intention. A fierce quarrel broke out, which was increased bythe two guardsmen, who took sides with one of the loungers, and by thescissors-grinder, who was equally hot upon the other side. A blow wasstruck, and in an instant the lady, who had stepped from her carriage,was the centre of a little knot of flushed and struggling men, whostruck savagely at each other with their fists and sticks. Holmesdashed 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 freelydown his face. At his fall the guardsmen took to their heels in onedirection and the loungers in the other, while a number of betterdressed people, who had watched the scuffle without taking part in it,crowded in to help the lady and to attend to the injured man. IreneAdler, as I will still call her, had hurried up the steps; but shestood at the top with her superb figure outlined against the lights ofthe 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 gonebefore you can get him to hospital.”
“He’s a brave fellow,” said a woman. “They would have had the lady’spurse and watch if it hadn’t been for him. They were a gang, and arough 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 theprincipal room, while I still observed the proceedings from my post bythe 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 knowwhether he was seized with compunction at that moment for the part hewas playing, but I know that I never felt more heartily ashamed ofmyself in my life than when I saw the beautiful creature against whom Iwas conspiring, or the grace and kindliness with which she waited uponthe injured man. And yet it would be the blackest treachery to Holmesto draw back now from the part which he had intrusted to me. I hardenedmy heart, and took the smoke-rocket from under my ulster. After all, Ithought, we are not injuring her. We are but preventing her frominjuring another.
Holmes had sat up upon the couch, and I saw him motion like a man whois in need of air. A maid rushed across and threw open the window. Atthe same instant I saw him raise his hand and at the signal I tossed myrocket into the room with a cry of “Fire!” The word was no sooner outof my mouth than the whole crowd of spectators, well dressed andill—gentlemen, ostlers, and servant maids—joined in a general shriek of“Fire!” Thick clouds of smoke curled through the room and out at theopen window. I caught a glimpse of rushing figures, and a moment laterthe voice of Holmes from within assuring them that it was a falsealarm. Slipping through the shouting crowd I made my way to the cornerof the street, and in ten minutes was rejoiced to find my friend’s armin mine, and to get away from the scene of uproar. He walked swiftlyand in silence for some few minutes until we had turned down one of thequiet streets which lead towards the Edgeware Road.
“You did it very nicely, Doctor,” he remarked. “Nothing could have beenbetter. 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 wasperfectly simple. You, of course, saw that everyone in the street wasan 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 thepalm of my hand. I rushed forward, fell down, clapped my hand to myface, 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 couldshe do? And into her sitting-room, which was the very room which Isuspected. It lay between that and her bedroom, and I was determined tosee which. They laid me on a couch, I motioned for air, they werecompelled 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. Itis a perfectly overpowering impulse, and I have more than once takenadvantage of it. In the case of the Darlington Substitution Scandal itwas of use to me, and also in the Arnsworth Castle business. A marriedwoman 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 housemore precious to her than what we are in quest of. She would rush tosecure it. The alarm of fire was admirably done. The smoke and shoutingwere enough to shake nerves of steel. She responded beautifully. Thephotograph is in a recess behind a sliding panel just above the rightbell-pull. She was there in an instant, and I caught a glimpse of it asshe half drew it out. When I cried out that it was a false alarm, shereplaced it, glanced at the rocket, rushed from the room, and I havenot seen her since. I rose, and, making my excuses, escaped from thehouse. I hesitated whether to attempt to secure the photograph at once;but the coachman had come in, and as he was watching me narrowly, itseemed safer to wait. A little over-precipitance may ruin all.”
“And now?” I asked.
“Our quest is practically finished. I shall call with the Kingto-morrow, and with you, if you care to come with us. We will be showninto the sitting-room to wait for the lady, but it is probable thatwhen she comes she may find neither us nor the photograph. It might bea 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 aclear field. Besides, we must be prompt, for this marriage may mean acomplete change in her life and habits. I must wire to the King withoutdelay.”
We had reached Baker Street and had stopped at the door. He wassearching 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 greetingappeared 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 litstreet. “Now, I wonder who the deuce that could have been.”
I slept at Baker Street that night, and we were engaged upon our toastand coffee in the morning when the King of Bohemia rushed into theroom.
“You have really got it!” he cried, grasping Sherlock Holmes by eithershoulder 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 oncemore 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. Ifthe lady loves her husband, she does not love your Majesty. If she doesnot love your Majesty, there is no reason why she should interfere withyour 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 thesteps. She watched us with a sardonic eye as we stepped from thebrougham.
“Mr. Sherlock Holmes, I believe?” said she.
“I am Mr. Holmes,” answered my companion, looking at her with aquestioning and rather startled gaze.
“Indeed! My mistress told me that you were likely to call. She leftthis morning with her husband by the 5:15 train from Charing Cross forthe Continent.”
“What!” Sherlock Holmes staggered back, white with chagrin andsurprise. “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 thedrawing-room, followed by the King and myself. The furniture wasscattered about in every direction, with dismantled shelves and opendrawers, 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. Thephotograph was of Irene Adler herself in evening dress, the letter wassuperscribed to “Sherlock Holmes, Esq. To be left till called for.” Myfriend tore it open, and we all three read it together. It was dated atmidnight of the preceding night and ran in this way:
“MY DEAR MR. SHERLOCK HOLMES,—You really did it very well. You tookme in completely. Until after the alarm of fire, I had not asuspicion. But then, when I found how I had betrayed myself, Ibegan to think. I had been warned against you months ago. I hadbeen told that, if the King employed an agent, it would certainlybe you. And your address had been given me. Yet, with all this, youmade me reveal what you wanted to know. Even after I becamesuspicious, I found it hard to think evil of such a dear, kind oldclergyman. But, you know, I have been trained as an actress myself.Male costume is nothing new to me. I often take advantage of thefreedom which it gives. I sent John, the coachman, to watch you,ran upstairs, got into my walking clothes, as I call them, and camedown just as you departed.
“Well, I followed you to your door, and so made sure that I wasreally an object of interest to the celebrated Mr. Sherlock Holmes.Then I, rather imprudently, wished you good-night, and started forthe Temple to see my husband.
“We both thought the best resource was flight, when pursued by soformidable an antagonist; so you will find the nest empty when youcall to-morrow. As to the photograph, your client may rest inpeace. I love and am loved by a better man than he. The King may dowhat he will without hindrance from one whom he has cruellywronged. I keep it only to safeguard myself, and to preserve aweapon which will always secure me from any steps which he mighttake in the future. I leave a photograph which he might care topossess; 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 hadall three read this epistle. “Did I not tell you how quick and resoluteshe was? Would she not have made an admirable queen? Is it not a pitythat she was not on my level?”
“From what I have seen of the lady, she seems, indeed, to be on a verydifferent level to your Majesty,” said Holmes coldly. “I am sorry thatI have not been able to bring your Majesty’s business to a moresuccessful conclusion.”
“On the contrary, my dear sir,” cried the King; “nothing could be moresuccessful. I know that her word is inviolate. The photograph is now assafe 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 rewardyou. This ring—” He slipped an emerald snake ring from his finger andheld 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 stretchedout to him, he set off in my company for his chambers.
And that was how a great scandal threatened to affect the kingdom ofBohemia, and how the best plans of Mr. Sherlock Holmes were beaten by awoman’s wit. He used to make merry over the cleverness of women, but Ihave not heard him do it of late. And when he speaks of Irene Adler, orwhen he refers to her photograph, it is always under the honourabletitle of _the_ woman.