Scandal in Bohemia
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Holmes sat up in his chair in considerable excitement. "I thought
as much," said he. "Have you ever observed that his ears are
pierced for earrings?"
"Yes, sir. He told me that a gypsy had done it for him when he
was a lad."
"Hum!" said Holmes, sinking back in deep thought. "He is still
"Oh, yes, sir; I have only just left him."
"And has your business been attended to in your absence?"
"Nothing to complain of, sir. There's never very much to do of a
"That will do, Mr. Wilson. I shall be happy to give you an
opinion upon the subject in the course of a day or two. To-day is
Saturday, and I hope that by Monday we may come to a conclusion."
"Well, Watson," said Holmes when our visitor had left us, "what
do you make of it all?"
"I make nothing of it," I answered frankly. "It is a most
"As a rule," said Holmes, "the more bizarre a thing is the less
mysterious it proves to be. It is your commonplace, featureless
crimes which are really puzzling, just as a commonplace face is
the most difficult to identify. But I must be prompt over this
"What are you going to do, then?" I asked.
"To smoke," he answered. "It is quite a three pipe problem, and I
beg that you won't speak to me for fifty minutes." He curled
himself up in his chair, with his thin knees drawn up to his
hawk-like nose, and there he sat with his eyes closed and his
black clay pipe thrusting out like the bill of some strange bird.
I had come to the conclusion that he had dropped asleep, and
indeed was nodding myself, when he suddenly sprang out of his
chair with the gesture of a man who has made up his mind and put
his pipe down upon the mantelpiece.
"Sarasate plays at the St. James's Hall this afternoon," he
remarked. "What do you think, Watson? Could your patients spare
you for a few hours?"
"I have nothing to do to-day. My practice is never very
"Then put on your hat and come. I am going through the City
first, and we can have some lunch on the way. I observe that
there is a good deal of German music on the programme, which is
rather more to my taste than Italian or French. It is
introspective, and I want to introspect. Come along!"
We travelled by the Underground as far as Aldersgate; and a short
walk took us to Saxe-Coburg Square, the scene of the singular
story which we had listened to in the morning. It was a poky,
little, shabby-genteel place, where four lines of dingy
two-storied brick houses looked out into a small railed-in
enclosure, where a lawn of weedy grass and a few clumps of faded
laurel-bushes made a hard fight against a smoke-laden and
uncongenial atmosphere. Three gilt balls and a brown board with
"JABEZ WILSON" in white letters, upon a corner house, announced
the place where our red-headed client carried on his business.
Sherlock Holmes stopped in front of it with his head on one side
and looked it all over, with his eyes shining brightly between
puckered lids. Then he walked slowly up the street, and then down
again to the corner, still looking keenly at the houses. Finally
he returned to the pawnbroker's, and, having thumped vigorously
upon the pavement with his stick two or three times, he went up
to the door and knocked. It was instantly opened by a
bright-looking, clean-shaven young fellow, who asked him to step
"Thank you," said Holmes, "I only wished to ask you how you would
go from here to the Strand."
"Third right, fourth left," answered the assistant promptly,
closing the door.
"Smart fellow, that," observed Holmes as we walked away. "He is,
in my judgment. the fourth smartest man in London, and for daring
I am not sure that he has not a claim to be third. I have known
something of him before."
"Evidently," said I, "Mr. Wilson's assistant counts for a good
deal in this mystery of the Red-headed League. I am sure that you
inquired your way merely in order that you might see him."
"The knees of his trousers."
"And what did you see?"
"What I expected to see."
"Why did you beat the pavement?"
"My dear doctor, this is a time for observation, not for talk. We
are spies in an enemy's country. We know something of Saxe-Coburg
Square. Let us now explore the parts which lie behind it."
The road in which we found ourselves as we turned round the
corner from the retired Saxe-Coburg Square presented as great a
contrast to it as the front of a picture does to the back. It was
one of the main arteries which conveyed the traffic of the City
to the north and west. The roadway was blocked with the immense
stream of commerce flowing in a double tide inward and outward,
while the footpaths were black with the hurrying swarm of
pedestrians. It was difficult to realize as we looked at the line
of fine shops and stately business premises that they really
abutted on the other side upon the faded and stagnant square
which we had just quitted.
"Let me see," said Holmes, standing at the corner and glancing
along the line, "I should like just to remember the order of the
houses here. It is a hobby of mine to have an exact knowledge of
London. There is Mortimer's, the tobacconist, the little
newspaper shop, the Coburg branch of the City and Suburban Bank,
the Vegetarian Restaurant, and McFarlane's carriage-building
depot. That carries us right on to the other block. And now,
Doctor, we've done our work, so it's time we had some play. A
sandwich and a cup of coffee, and then off to violin-land, where
all is sweetness and delicacy and harmony, and there are no
red-headed clients to vex us with their conundrums."
My friend was an enthusiastic musician, being himself not only a
very capable perfomer but a composer of no ordinary merit. All
the afternoon he sat in the stalls wrapped in the most perfect
happiness, gently waving his long, thin fingers in time to the
music, while his gently smiling face and his languid, dreamy eyes
were as unlike those of Holmes, the sleuth-hound, Holmes the
relentless, keen-witted, ready-handed criminal agent, as it was
possible to conceive. In his singular character the dual nature
alternately asserted itself, and his extreme exactness and
astuteness represented, as I have often thought, the reaction
against the poetic and contemplative mood which occasionally
predominated in him. The swing of his nature took him from
extreme languor to devouring energy; and, as I knew well, he was
never so truly formidable as when, for days on end, he had been
lounging in his armchair amid his improvisations and his
black-letter editions. Then it was that the lust of the chase
would suddenly come upon him, and that his brilliant reasoning
power would rise to the level of intuition, until those who were
unacquainted with his methods would look askance at him as on a
man whose knowledge was not that of other mortals. When I saw him
that afternoon so enwrapped in the music at St. James's Hall I
felt that an evil time might be coming upon those whom he had set
himself to hunt down.
"You want to go home, no doubt, Doctor," he remarked as we
"Yes, it would be as well."
"And I have some business to do which will take some hours. This
business at Coburg Square is serious."
"A considerable crime is in contemplation. I have every reason to
believe that we shall be in time to stop it. But to-day being
Saturday rather complicates matters. I shall want your help
"At what time?"
"Ten will be early enough."
"I shall be at Baker Street at ten."
"Very well. And, I say, Doctor, there may be some little danger,
so kindly put your army revolver in your pocket." He waved his
hand, turned on his heel, and disappeared in an instant among the
I trust that I am not more dense than my neighbors, but I was
always oppressed with a sense of my own stupidity in my dealings
with Sherlock Holmes. Here I had heard what he had heard, I had
seen what he had seen, and yet from his words it was evident that
he saw clearly not only what had happened but what was about to
happen, while to me the whole business was still confused and
grotesque. As I drove home to my house in Kensington I thought
over it all, from the extraordinary story of the red-headed
copier of the Encyclopaedia down to the visit to Saxe-Coburg
Square, and the ominous words with which he had parted from me.
What was this nocturnal expedition, and why should I go armed?
Where were we going, and what were we to do? I had the hint from
Holmes that this smooth-faced pawnbroker's assistant was a
formidable man--a man who might play a deep game. I tried to
puzzle it out, but gave it up in despair and set the matter aside