Adventure of the Noble Bachelor
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"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, nee ADLER.
"What a woman--oh, what a woman!" cried the King of Bohemia, when
we had all three read this epistle. "Did I not tell you how quick
and resolute she was? Would she not have made an admirable queen?
Is it not a pity that she was not on my level?"
"From what I have seen of the lady she seems indeed to be on a
very different level to your Majesty," said Holmes coldly. "I am
sorry that I have not been able to bring your Majesty's business
to a more successful conclusion."
"On the contrary, my dear sir," cried the King; "nothing could be
more successful. I know that her word is inviolate. The
photograph is now as safe as if it were in the fire."
"I am glad to hear your Majesty say so."
"I am immensely indebted to you. Pray tell me in what way I can
reward you. This ring--" He slipped an emerald snake ring from