Original by Arthur Conan Doyle
To Shirley Holmes he is always the man. I have seldom heard her mention him under any other name. In her eyes he eclipses and predominates the whole of his sex. It was not that she felt any emotion akin to love for Ira Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to her cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. She was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen, but as a lover she would have placed herself in a false position. She 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 women’s motives and actions. But for the trained reasoner to admit such intrusions into her own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all her mental results. Grit in a sensitive instrument, or a crack in one of her own high-power lenses, would not be more disturbing than a strong emotion in a nature such as hers. And yet there was but one man to her, and that man was the late Ira Adler, of dubious and questionable memory.
I had seen little of Miss 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 woman who first finds herself mistress of her own establishment, were sufficient to absorb all my attention, while Miss Holmes, who loathed every form of society with her whole Bohemian soul, remained in our lodgings in Baker Street, buried among her old books, and alternating from week to week between cocaine and ambition, the drowsiness of the drug, and the fierce energy of her own keen nature. She was still, as ever, deeply attracted by the study of crime, and occupied her 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 her doings: of her summons to Odell in the case of the Trepoff murder, of her clearing up of the singular tragedy of the Atkinson sisters at Trincomalee, and finally of the mission which she had accomplished so delicately and successfully for the reigning family of Holland. Beyond these signs of her 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 Miss Holmes again, and to know how she was employing her extraordinary powers. Her rooms were brilliantly lit, and, even as I looked up, I saw her tall, spare figure pass twice in a dark silhouette against the blind. She was pacing the room swiftly, eagerly, with her head sunk upon her chest and her hands clasped behind her. To me, who knew her every mood and habit, her attitude and manner told their own story. She was at work again. She had risen out of her 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.
Her manner was not effusive. It seldom was; but she was glad, I think, to see me. With hardly a word spoken, but with a kindly eye, she waved me to an armchair, threw across her case of cigars, and indicated a spirit case and a gasogene in the corner. Then she stood before the fire and looked me over in her singular introspective fashion.
“Wedlock suits you,” she remarked. “I think, Dr 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, Jane. 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 boy?”
“My dear Miss 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 Mark James, he is incorrigible, and my husband has given him notice, but there, again, I fail to see how you work it out.”
She chuckled to herself and rubbed her long, nervous hands together.
“It is simplicity itself,” said she; “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 lady walks into my rooms smelling of iodoform, with a black mark of nitrate of silver upon her right forefinger, and a bulge on the right side of her top-hat to show where she has secreted her stethoscope, I must be dull, indeed, if I do not pronounce her to be an active member of the medical profession.”
I could not help laughing at the ease with which she explained her process of deduction. “When I hear you give your reasons,” I remarked, “the thing always appears to me to be so ridiculously simple that I could easily do it myself, though at each successive instance of your reasoning I am baffled until you explain your process. And yet I believe that my eyes are as good as yours.”
“Quite so,” she answered, lighting a cigarette, and throwing herself 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.” She 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 she. “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 lady 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 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 woman 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 Miss 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 Miss Holmes.
“The name of the maker, no doubt; or her 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.” She took down a heavy brown volume from her 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 girl, what do you make of that?” Her eyes sparkled, and she sent up a great blue triumphant cloud from her cigarette.
“The paper was made in Bohemia,” I said.
“Precisely. And the woman 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 Frenchwoman or Russian could not have written that. It is the German who is so uncourteous to her 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 her face. And here she comes, if I am not mistaken, to resolve all our doubts.”
As she spoke there was the sharp sound of horses’ hoofs and grating wheels against the curb, followed by a sharp pull at the bell. Miss Holmes whistled.
“A pair, by the sound,” said she. “Yes,” she 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, Dr Watson, if there is nothing else.”
“I think that I had better go, Miss Holmes.”
“Not a bit, Doctor. Stay where you are. I am lost without my Miss Boswell. And this promises to be interesting. It would be a pity to miss it.”
“But your client – ”
“Never mind her. I may want your help, and so may she. Here she 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 Miss Holmes.
A woman entered who could hardly have been less than six feet six inches in height, with the chest and limbs of a Hippolyta. Her 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 her double-breasted coat, while the deep blue cloak which was thrown over her 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 her calves, and which were trimmed at the tops with rich brown fur, completed the impression of barbaric opulence which was suggested by her whole appearance. She carried a broad-brimmed hat in her hand, while she wore across the upper part of her face, extending down past the cheekbones, a black vizard mask, which she had apparently adjusted that very moment, for her hand was still raised to it as she entered. From the lower part of the face she appeared to be a woman 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?” she asked with a deep harsh voice and a strongly marked German accent. “I told you that I would call.” She looked from one to the other of us, as if uncertain which to address.
“Pray take a seat,” said Miss 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 Countess Von Kramm, a Bohemian noblewoman. I understand that this lady, your friend, is a woman 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 Miss Holmes caught me by the wrist and pushed me back into my chair. “It is both, or none,” said she. “You may say before this lady anything which you may say to me.”
The Countess shrugged her broad shoulders. “Then I must begin,” said she, “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 Miss Holmes.
“You will excuse this mask,” continued our strange visitor. “The august person who employs me wishes her agent to be unknown to you, and I may confess at once that the title by which I have just called myself is not exactly my own.”
“I was aware of it,” said Holmes drily.
“The circumstances are of great delicacy, and every precaution has to be taken to quench what might grow to be an immense scandal and seriously compromise one of the reigning families of Europe. To speak plainly, the matter implicates the great House of Ormstein, hereditary queens of Bohemia.”
“I was also aware of that,” murmured Miss Holmes, settling herself down in her armchair and closing her eyes.
Our visitor glanced with some apparent surprise at the languid, lounging figure of the woman who had been no doubt depicted to her as the most incisive reasoner and most energetic agent in Europe. Miss Holmes slowly reopened her eyes and looked impatiently at her gigantic client.
“If your Majesty would condescend to state your case,” she remarked, “I should be better able to advise you.”
The woman sprang from her chair and paced up and down the room in uncontrollable agitation. Then, with a gesture of desperation, she tore the mask from her face and hurled it upon the ground. “You are right,” she cried; “I am the Queen. Why should I attempt to conceal it?”
“Why, indeed?” murmured Miss Holmes. “Your Majesty had not spoken before I was aware that I was addressing Wilhelmina Göttinsreich Sigesmunde von Ormstein, Grand Duchess of Cassel-Felstein, and hereditary Queen of Bohemia.”
“But you can understand,” said our strange visitor, sitting down once more and passing her hand over her 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 her power. I have come incognito from Prague for the purpose of consulting you.”
“Then, pray consult,” said Miss Holmes, shutting her eyes once more.
“The facts are briefly these: Some five years ago, during a lengthy visit to Warsaw, I made the acquaintance of the wellknown adventurer, Ira Adler. The name is no doubt familiar to you.”
“Kindly look him up in my index, Doctor,” murmured Miss Holmes without opening her eyes. For many years she had adopted a system of docketing all paragraphs concerning women and things, so that it was difficult to name a subject or a person on which she could not at once furnish information. In this case I found his 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 Miss Holmes. “Hum! Born in New Jersey in the year 1858. Contralto – hum! La Scala, hum! Primo uomo 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 him 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 his letters for blackmailing or other purposes, how is he 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 indiscretion.”
“I was mad – insane.”
“You have compromised yourself seriously.”
“I was only Crown Princess 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.”
“He will not sell.”
“Five attempts have been made. Twice burglars in my pay ransacked his house. Once we diverted his luggage when he travelled. Twice he has been waylaid. There has been no result.”
“No sign of it?”
Miss Holmes laughed. “It is quite a pretty little problem,” said she.
“But a very serious one to me,” returned the Queen reproachfully.
“Very, indeed. And what does he propose to do with the photograph?”
“To ruin me.”
“I am about to be married.”
“So I have heard.”
“To Clarence Lothman von Saxe-Meningen, second son of the Queen of Scandinavia. You may know the strict principles of his family. He is himself the very soul of delicacy. A shadow of a doubt as to my conduct would bring the matter to an end.”
“And Ira Adler?”
“Threatens to send them the photograph. And he will do it. I know that he will do it. You do not know him, but he has a soul of steel. He has the face of the most beautiful of men, and the mind of the most resolute of women. Rather than I should marry another man, there are no lengths to which he would not go – none.”
“You are sure that he has not sent it yet?”
“I am sure.”
“Because he has said that he 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 Miss 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 Countess 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 queendom to have that photograph.”
“And for present expenses?”
The Queen took a heavy chamois leather bag from under her cloak and laid it on the table.
“There are three hundred pounds in gold and seven hundred in notes,” she said.
Miss Holmes scribbled a receipt upon a sheet of her note-book and handed it to her.
“And Monsieur’s address?” she asked.
“Is Briony Lodge, Serpentine Avenue, St. Jane’s Wood.”
Holmes took a note of it. “One other question,” said she. “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, Dr Watson,” she 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 Miss Holmes had not yet returned. The landlord informed me that she had left the house shortly after eight o’clock in the morning. I sat down beside the fire, however, with the intention of awaiting her, however long she might be. I was already deeply interested in her 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 her 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 her masterly grasp of a situation, and her keen, incisive reasoning, which made it a pleasure to me to study her system of work, and to follow the quick, subtle methods by which she disentangled the most inextricable mysteries. So accustomed was I to her invariable success that the very possibility of her failing had ceased to enter into my head.
It was close upon four before the door opened, and a drunken-looking groomswoman, ill-kempt and dirty-faced, 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 she. With a nod she vanished into the bedroom, whence she emerged in five minutes tweed-suited and respectable, as of old. Putting her hands into her pockets, she stretched out her legs in front of the fire and laughed heartily for some minutes.
“Well, really!” she cried, and then she choked and laughed again until she 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 Master Ira 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 groomswoman out of work. There is a wonderful sympathy and freemasonry among horsy women. 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 Master 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 Ira Adler?” I asked.
“Oh, he has turned all the women’s heads down in that part. He is the daintiest thing under a hat on this planet. So say the Serpentine-mews, to a woman. He 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 he sings. Has only one female visitor, but a good deal of her. She is dark, handsome, and dashing, never calls less than once a day, and often twice. She is a Miss Godfrieda Norton, of the Inner Temple. See the advantages of a cabwoman as a confidant. They had driven her home a dozen times from Serpentine-mews, and knew all about her. When I had listened to all they had to tell, I began to walk up and down near Briony Lodge once more, and to think over my plan of campaign.
“This Godfrieda Norton was evidently an important factor in the matter. She was a lawyer. That sounded ominous. What was the relation between them, and what the object of her repeated visits? Was he her client, her friend, or her lover? If the former, he had probably transferred the photograph to her 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 lady’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 gentlewoman sprang out. She was a remarkably handsome woman, dark, aquiline, and glossy-haired – evidently the woman of whom I had heard. She appeared to be in a great hurry, shouted to the cabwoman to wait, and brushed past the servant who opened the door with the air of a woman who was thoroughly at home.
“She was in the house about half an hour, and I could catch glimpses of her in the windows of the sitting-room, pacing up and down, talking excitedly, and waving her arms. Of him I could see nothing. Presently she emerged, looking even more flurried than before. As she stepped up to the cab, she pulled a gold watch from her pocket and looked at it earnestly, ‘Drive like the devil,’ she shouted, ‘first to Gross & Hankey’s in Regent Street, and then to the Church of St. Montague 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 coachwoman with her coat only half-buttoned, and her tie under her ear, while all the tags of her harness were sticking out of the buckles. It hadn’t pulled up before he shot out of the hall door and into it. I only caught a glimpse of him at the moment, but he was a lovely man, with a face that a woman might die for.
“‘The Church of St. Montague, Jane,’ he cried, ‘and half a sovereign if you reach it in twenty minutes.’
“This was quite too good to lose, Dr Watson. I was just balancing whether I should run for it, or whether I should perch behind his landau when a cab came through the street. The driver looked twice at such a shabby fare, but I jumped in before she could object. ‘The Church of St. Montague,’ 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 woman and hurried into the church. There was not a soul there save the two whom I had followed and a surprised clergywoman, 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 Godfrieda Norton came running as hard as she could towards me.
“Thank the Goddess,” she cried. “You’ll do. Come! Come!”
“What then?” I asked.
“Come, woman, 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 Ira Adler, bachelor, to Godfrieda Norton, spinster. It was all done in an instant, and there was the lady thanking me on the one side and the gentleman on the other, while the clergywoman 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 clergywoman absolutely refused to marry them without a witness of some sort, and that my lucky appearance saved the bride from having to sally out into the streets in search of a best woman. The bridegroom 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, she driving back to the Temple, and he to his own house. ‘I shall drive out in the park at five as usual,’ he said as he left her. I heard no more. They drove away in different directions, and I went off to make my own arrangements.”
“Some cold beef and a glass of beer,” she 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 woman.”
“I was sure that I might rely on you.”
“But what is it you wish?”
“When Mr Turner has brought in the tray I will make it clear to you. Now,” she said as she turned hungrily on the simple fare that our landlord 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. Master Ira, or Mr, rather, returns from his drive at seven. We must be at Briony Lodge to meet him.”
“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,” she said, taking a long cigar- shaped roll from her 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.”
She disappeared into her bedroom and returned in a few minutes in the character of an amiable and simple-minded Nonconformist clergywoman. Her broad black hat, her baggy trousers, her white tie, her sympathetic smile, and general look of peering and benevolent curiosity were such as Miss Joyce Hare alone could have equalled. It was not merely that Holmes changed her costume. Her expression, her manner, her very soul seemed to vary with every fresh part that she assumed. The stage lost a fine actress, even as science lost an acute reasoner, when she 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 Shirley 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 women smoking and laughing in a corner, a scissors-grinder with her wheel, two guardswomen who were flirting with a nurse-boy, and several well-dressed young women 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 he would be as averse to its being seen by Mrs Godfrieda Norton, as our client is to its coming to the eyes of her prince. Now the question is, where are we to find the photograph?”
“It is most unlikely that he carries it about with him. It is cabinet size. Too large for easy concealment about a man’s suit. He knows that the Queen is capable of having him waylaid and searched. Two attempts of the sort have already been made. We may take it, then, that he does not carry it about with him.”
“His banker or his lawyer. There is that double possibility. But I am inclined to think neither. Men are naturally secretive, and they like to do their own secreting. Why should he hand it over to anyone else? He could trust his own guardianship, but he could not tell what indirect or political influence might be brought to bear upon a business woman. Besides, remember that he had resolved to use it within a few days. It must be where he can lay his hands upon it. It must be in his 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 him to show me.”
“But he will refuse.”
“He will not be able to. But I hear the rumble of wheels. It is his carriage. Now carry out my orders to the letter.”
As she 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 women 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 guardswomen, who took sides with one of the loungers, and by the scissorsgrinder, who was equally hot upon the other side. A blow was struck, and in an instant the gentleman, who had stepped from his carriage, was the centre of a little knot of flushed and struggling women, who struck savagely at each other with their fists and sticks. Miss Holmes dashed into the crowd to protect the gentleman; but just as she reached him she gave a cry and dropped to the ground, with the blood running freely down her face. At her 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 gentleman and to attend to the injured woman. Ira Adler, as I will still call him, had hurried up the steps; but he stood at the top with his superb figure outlined against the lights of the hall, looking back into the street.
“Is the poor lady much hurt?” he asked.
“She is dead,” cried several voices.
“No, no, there’s life in her!” shouted another. “But she’ll be gone before you can get her to hospital.”
“She’s a brave fellow,” said a man. “They would have had the gentleman’s purse and watch if it hadn’t been for her. They were a gang, and a rough one, too. Ah, she’s breathing now.”
“She can’t lie in the street. May we bring her in, sir?”
“Surely. Bring her into the sitting-room. There is a comfortable sofa. This way, please!”
Slowly and solemnly she 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 Miss Holmes as she lay upon the couch. I do not know whether she was seized with compunction at that moment for the part she 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 he waited upon the injured woman. And yet it would be the blackest treachery to Miss Holmes to draw back now from the part which she 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 him. We are but preventing him from injuring another.
Miss Holmes had sat up upon the couch, and I saw her motion like a woman who is in need of air. A manservant rushed across and threw open the window. At the same instant I saw her raise her 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 – gentlewomen, ostlers, and serving-men – 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 Miss 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. She walked swiftly and in silence for some few minutes until we had turned down one of the quiet streets which lead towards the Edgeware Road.
“You did it very nicely, Doctor,” she 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?”
“He showed me, as I told you he would.”
“I am still in the dark.”
“I do not wish to make a mystery,” said she, 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. He was bound to have me in. What else could he do? And into his sitting-room, which was the very room which I suspected. It lay between that and his 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 man thinks that his house is on fire, his instinct is at once to rush to the thing which he 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 man grabs at his baby; an unmarried one reaches for his jewel-box. Now it was clear to me that our gentleman of to-day had nothing in the house more precious to his than what we are in quest of. He would rush to secure it. The alarm of fire was admirably done. The smoke and shouting were enough to shake nerves of steel. He responded beautifully. The photograph is in a recess behind a sliding panel just above the right bell-pull. He was there in an instant, and I caught a glimpse of it as he half-drew it out. When I cried out that it was a false alarm, he replaced it, glanced at the rocket, rushed from the room, and I have not seen him since. I rose, and, making my excuses, escaped from the house. I hesitated whether to attempt to secure the photograph at once; but the coachwoman had come in, and as she 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 Queen to-morrow, and with you, if you care to come with us. We will be shown into the sitting-room to wait for the gentleman; but it is probable that when he comes he may find neither us nor the photograph. It might be a satisfaction to her Majesty to regain it with her own hands.”
“And when will you call?”
“At eight in the morning. He 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 his life and habits. I must wire to the Queen without delay.”
We had reached Baker Street and had stopped at the door. She was searching her pockets for the key when someone passing said:
“Good-night, Miss Shirley Holmes.”
There were several people on the pavement at the time, but the greeting appeared to come from a slim girl in an ulster who had hurried by.
“I’ve heard that voice before,” said Holmes, staring down the dimly lit street. “Now, I wonder who the deuce that could have been.”
I slept at Baker Street that night, and we were engaged upon our toast and coffee in the morning when the Queen of Bohemia rushed into the room.
“You have really got it!” she cried, grasping Shirley Holmes by either shoulder and looking eagerly into her 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.
“Ira Adler is married,” remarked Miss Holmes.
“But to whom?”
“To an English lawyer named Miss Norton.”
“But he could not love her.”
“I am in hopes that he does.”
“And why in hopes?”
“Because it would spare your Majesty all fear of future annoyance. If the gentleman loves his wife, he does not love your Majesty. If he does not love your Majesty, there is no reason why he should interfere with your Majesty’s plan.”
“It is true. And yet – Well! I wish he had been of my own station! What a king he would have made!” She 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 man stood upon the steps. He watched us with a sardonic eye as we stepped from the brougham.
“Miss Shirley Holmes, I believe?” said he.
“I am Miss Holmes,” answered my companion, looking at him with a questioning and rather startled gaze.
“Indeed! My master told me that you were likely to call. He left this morning with his wife by the 5:15 train from Charing Cross for the Continent.”
“What!” Shirley Holmes staggered back, white with chagrin and surprise. “Do you mean that he has left England?”
“Never to return.”
“And the papers?” asked the Queen hoarsely. “All is lost.”
“We shall see.” She pushed past the servant and rushed into the drawing-room, followed by the Queen and myself. The furniture was scattered about in every direction, with dismantled shelves and open drawers, as if the gentleman had hurriedly ransacked them before his flight. Holmes rushed at the bell-pull, tore back a small sliding shutter, and, plunging in her hand, pulled out a photograph and a letter. The photograph was of Ira Adler himself in evening dress, the letter was superscribed to “Shirley 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 Miss Shirley 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 Queen 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 clergywoman. But, you know, I have been trained as an actor myself. Female costume is nothing new to me. I often take advantage of the freedom which it gives. I sent Jane, the coachwoman, 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 Miss Shirley Holmes. Then I, rather imprudently, wished you good-night, and started for the Temple to see my wife. 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 woman than she. The Queen may do what she will without hindrance from one whom she has cruelly wronged. I keep it only to safeguard myself, and to preserve a weapon which will always secure me from any steps which she might take in the future. I leave a photograph which she might care to possess; and I remain, dear Miss Shirley Holmes,
Very truly yours,
Ira Norton, né Adler.
“What a man – oh, what a man!” cried the Queen of Bohemia, when we had all three read this epistle. “Did I not tell you how quick and resolute he was? Would he not have made an admirable king? Is it not a pity that he was not on my level?”
“From what I have seen of the gentleman he 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 madam,” cried the Queen; “nothing could be more successful. I know that his 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 -” She slipped an emerald snake ring from her finger and held it out upon the palm of her hand.
“Your Majesty has something which I should value even more highly,” said Miss Holmes.
“You have but to name it.”
The Queen stared at her in amazement.
“Ira’s photograph!” she 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.” She bowed, and, turning away without observing the hand which the Queen had stretched out to her, she set off in my company for her chambers.
And that was how a great scandal threatened to affect the queendom of Bohemia, and how the best plans of Miss Shirley Holmes were beaten by a man’s wit. She used to make merry over the cleverness of men, but I have not heard her do it of late. And when she speaks of Ira Adler, or when she refers to his photograph, it is always under the honorable title of the man.