English > ESL Library Index

Online ESL Literature Library
Great literature free and accessible for everyone.


THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES

by Arthur Conan Doyle


ADVENTURE I. A SCANDAL IN BOHEMIA

I.

To Sherlock Holmes she is always THE woman. I have seldom heard
him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses
and predominates the whole of her sex. It was not that he felt
any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that
one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but
admirably balanced mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect
reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen, but as a
lover he would have placed himself in a false position. He never
spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer. They
were admirable things for the observer--excellent for drawing the
veil from men's motives and actions. But for the trained teasoner
to admit such intrusions into his own delicate and finely
adjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which
might throw a doubt upon all his mental results. Grit in a
sensitive instrument, or a crack in one of his own high-power
lenses, would not be more disturbing than a strong emotion in a
nature such as his. And yet there was but one woman to him, and
that woman was the late Irene Adler, of dubious and questionable
memory.

I had seen little of Holmes lately. My marriage had drifted us
away from each other. My own complete happiness, and the
home-centred interests which rise up around the man who first
finds himself master of his own establishment, were sufficient to
absorb all my attention, while Holmes, who loathed every form of
society with his whole Bohemian soul, remained in our lodgings in
Baker Street, buried among his old books, and alternating from
week to week between cocaine and ambition, the drowsiness of the
drug, and the fierce energy of his own keen nature. He was still,
as ever, deeply attracted by the study of crime, and occupied his
immense faculties and extraordinary powers of observation in
following out those clews, and clearing up those mysteries which
had been abandoned as hopeless by the official police. From time
to time I heard some vague account of his doings: of his summons
to Odessa in the case of the Trepoff murder, of his clearing up
of the singular tragedy of the Atkinson brothers at Trincomalee,
and finally of the mission which he had accomplished so
delicately and successfully for the reigning family of Holland.
Beyond these signs of his activity, however, which I merely
shared with all the readers of the daily press, I knew little of
my former friend and companion.

One night--it was on the twentieth of March, 1888--I was
returning from a journey to a patient (for I had now returned to
civil practice), when my way led me through Baker Street. As I
passed the well-remembered door, which must always be associated
in my mind with my wooing, and with the dark incidents of the
Study in Scarlet, I was seized with a keen desire to see Holmes
again, and to know how he was employing his extraordinary powers.
His rooms were brilliantly lit, and, even as I looked up, I saw
his tall, spare figure pass twice in a dark silhouette against
the blind. He was pacing the room swiftly, eagerly, with his head
sunk upon his chest and his hands clasped behind him. To me, who
knew his every mood and habit, his attitude and manner told their
own story. He was at work again. He had risen out of his
drug-created dreams and was hot upon the scent of some new
problem. I rang the bell and was shown up to the chamber which
had formerly been in part my own.

His manner was not effusive. It seldom was; but he was glad, I
think, to see me. With hardly a word spoken, but with a kindly
eye, he waved me to an armchair, threw across his case of cigars,
and indicated a spirit case and a gasogene in the corner. Then he
stood before the fire and looked me over in his singular
introspective fashion.

"Wedlock suits you," he remarked. "I think, Watson, that you have
put on seven and a half pounds since I saw you."

"Seven!" I answered.

"Indeed, I should have thought a little more. Just a trifle more,
I fancy, Watson. And in practice again, I observe. You did not
tell me that you intended to go into harness."

"Then, how do you know?"

"I see it, I deduce it. How do I know that you have been getting
yourself very wet lately, and that you have a most clumsy and
careless servant girl?"

"My dear Holmes," said I, "this is too much. You would certainly
have been burned, had you lived a few centuries ago. It is true
that I had a country walk on Thursday and came home in a dreadful
mess, but as I have changed my clothes I can't imagine how you
deduce it. As to Mary Jane, she is incorrigible, and my wife has
given her notice, but there, again, I fail to see how you work it
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
inside of your left shoe, just where the firelight strikes it,
the leather is scored by six almost parallel cuts. Obviously they
have been caused by someone who has very carelessly scraped round
the edges of the sole in order to remove crusted mud from it.
Hence, you see, my double deduction that you had been out in vile
weather, and that you had a particularly malignant boot-slitting
specimen of the London slavey. As to your practice, if a
gentleman walks into my rooms smelling of iodoform, with a black
mark of nitrate of silver upon his right forefinger, and a bulge
on the right side of his top-hat to show where he has secreted
his stethoscope, I must be dull, indeed, if I do not pronounce
him to be an active member of the medical profession."

I could not help laughing at the ease with which he explained his
process of deduction. "When I hear you give your reasons," I
remarked, "the thing always appears to me to be so ridiculously
simple that I could easily do it myself, though at each
successive instance of your reasoning I am baffled until you
explain your process. And yet I believe that my eyes are as good
as yours."

"Quite so," he answered, lighting a cigarette, and throwing
himself down into an armchair. "You see, but you do not observe.
The distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen
the steps which lead up from the hall to this room."

"Frequently."

"How often?"

"Well, some hundreds of times."

"Then how many are there?"

"How many? I don't know."

"Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is
just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps,
because I have both seen and observed. By-the-way, since you are
interested in these little problems, and since you are good
enough to chronicle one or two of my trifling experiences, you
may be interested in this." He threw over a sheet of thick,
pink-tinted note-paper which had been lying open upon the table.
"It came by the last post," said he. "Read it aloud."

The note was undated, and without either signature or address.

"There will call upon you to-night, at a quarter to eight
o'clock," it said, "a gentleman who desires to consult you upon a
matter of the very deepest moment. Your recent services to one of
the royal houses of Europe have shown that you are one who may
safely be trusted with matters which are of an importance which
can hardly be exaggerated. This account of you we have from all
quarters received. Be in your chamber then at that hour, and do
not take it amiss if your visitor wear a mask.

"This is indeed a mystery," I remarked. "What do you imagine that
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 man 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 Holmes. "It is not an
English paper at all. Hold it up to the light."

I did so, and saw a large "E" with a small "g," a "P," and a
large "G" with a small "t" woven into the texture of the paper.

"What do you make of that?" asked Holmes.

"The name of the maker, no doubt; or his monogram, rather."

"Not at all. The 'G' with the small 't' stands for
'Gesellschaft,' which is the German for 'Company.' It is a
customary contraction like our 'Co.' 'P,' of course, stands for
'Papier.' Now for the 'Eg.' Let us glance at our Continental
Gazetteer." He took down a heavy brown volume from his shelves.
"Eglow, Eglonitz--here we are, Egria. It is in a German-speaking
country--in Bohemia, not far from Carlsbad. 'Remarkable as being
the scene of the death of Wallenstein, and for its numerous
glass-factories and paper-mills.' Ha, ha, my boy, what do you
make of that?" His eyes sparkled, and he sent up a great blue
triumphant cloud from his cigarette.

"The paper was made in Bohemia," I said.

"Precisely. And the man who wrote the note is a German. Do you
note the peculiar construction of the sentence--'This account of
you we have from all quarters received.' A Frenchman or Russian
could not have written that. It is the German who is so
uncourteous to his verbs. It only remains, therefore, to discover
what is wanted by this German who writes upon Bohemian paper and
prefers wearing a mask to showing his face. And here he comes, if
I am not mistaken, to resolve all our doubts."

As he spoke there was the sharp sound of horses' hoofs and
grating wheels against the curb, followed by a sharp pull at the
bell. Holmes whistled.

"A pair, by the sound," said he. "Yes," he continued, glancing
out of the window. "A nice little brougham and a pair of
beauties. A hundred and fifty guineas apiece. There's money in
this case, Watson, if there is nothing else."

"I think that I had better go, Holmes."

"Not a bit, Doctor. Stay where you are. I am lost without my
Boswell. And this promises to be interesting. It would be a pity
to miss it."

"But your client--"

"Never mind him. I may want your help, and so may he. Here he
comes. Sit down in that armchair, Doctor, and give us your best
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 Holmes.

A man entered who could hardly have been less than six feet six
inches in height, with the chest and limbs of a Hercules. His
dress was rich with a richness which would, in England, be looked
upon as akin to bad taste. Heavy bands of astrakhan were slashed
across the sleeves and fronts of his double-breasted coat, while
the deep blue cloak which was thrown over his shoulders was lined
with flame-colored silk and secured at the neck with a brooch
which consisted of a single flaming beryl. Boots which extended
halfway up his calves, and which were trimmed at the tops with
rich brown fur, completed the impression of barbaric opulence
which was suggested by his whole appearance. He carried a
broad-brimmed hat in his hand, while he wore across the upper
part of his face, extending down past the cheekbones, a black
vizard mask, which he had apparently adjusted that very moment,
for his hand was still raised to it as he entered. From the lower
part of the face he appeared to be a man of strong character,
with a thick, hanging lip, and a long, straight chin suggestive
of resolution pushed to the length of obstinacy.

"You had my note?" he asked with a deep harsh voice and a
strongly marked German accent. "I told you that I would call." He
looked from one to the other of us, as if uncertain which to
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. Whom have I the honor to address?"

"You may address me as the Count Von Kramm, a Bohemian nobleman.
I understand that this gentleman, your friend, is a man of honor
and discretion, whom I may trust with a matter of the most
extreme importance. If not, I should much prefer to communicate
with you alone."

I rose to go, but Holmes caught me by the wrist and pushed me
back into my chair. "It is both, or none," said he. "You may say
before this gentleman anything which you may say to me."

The Count shrugged his broad shoulders. "Then I must begin," said
he, "by binding you both to absolute secrecy for two years; at
the end of that time the matter will be of no importance. At
present it is not too much to say that it is of such weight it
may have an influence upon European history."

"I promise," said Holmes.

"And I."

"You will excuse this mask," continued our strange visitor. "The
august person who employs me wishes his agent to be unknown to
you, and I may confess at once that the title by which I have
just called myself is not exactly my own."

"I was aware of it," said Holmes 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 kings of Bohemia."

"I was also aware of that," murmured Holmes, settling himself
down in his armchair and closing his eyes.

Our visitor glanced with some apparent surprise at the languid,
lounging figure of the man who had been no doubt depicted to him
as the most incisive reasoner and most energetic agent in Europe.
Holmes slowly reopened his eyes and looked impatiently at his
gigantic client.

"If your Majesty would condescend to state your case," he
remarked, "I should be better able to advise you."

The man sprang from his chair and paced up and down the room in
uncontrollable agitation. Then, with a gesture of desperation, he
tore the mask from his face and hurled it upon the ground. "You
are right," he cried; "I am the King. Why should I attempt to
conceal it?"

"Why, indeed?" murmured Holmes. "Your Majesty had not spoken
before I was aware that I was addressing Wilhelm Gottsreich
Sigismond von Ormstein, Grand Duke of Cassel-Felstein, and
hereditary King of Bohemia."

"But you can understand," said our strange visitor, sitting down
once more and passing his hand over his high white forehead, "you
can understand that I am not accustomed to doing such business in
my own person. Yet the matter was so delicate that I could not
confide it to an agent without putting myself in his power. I
have come incognito from Prague for the purpose of consulting
you."

"Then, pray consult," said Holmes, shutting his eyes once more.

"The facts are briefly these: Some five years ago, during a
lengthy visit to Warsaw, I made the acquaintance of the wellknown
adventuress, Irene Adler. The name is no doubt farmiliar to you."

"Kindly look her up in my index, Doctor," murmured Holmes without
opening his eyes. For many years he had adopted a system of
docketing all paragraphs concerning men and things, so that it
was difficult to name a subject or a person on which he could not
at once furnish information. In this case I found her biography
sandwiched in between that of a Hebrew rabbi and that of a
staff-commander who had written a monograph upon the deep-sea
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! Your Majesty, as I understand, became entangled
with this young person, wrote her some compromising letters, and
is now desirous of getting those letters back."

"Precisely so. But how--"

"Was there a secret marriage?"

"None."

"No legal papers or certificates?"

"None."

"Then I fail to follow your Majesty. If this young person should
produce her letters for blackmailing or other purposes, how is
she to prove their authenticity?"

"There is the writing."

"Pooh, pooh! Forgery."

"My private note-paper."

"Stolen."

"My own seal."

"Imitated."

"My photograph."

"Bought."

"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 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."

"Stolen, then."

"Five attempts have been made. Twice burglars in my pay ransacked
her house. Once we diverted her luggage when she travelled. Twice
she has been waylaid. There has been no result."

"No sign of it?"

"Absolutely none."

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."

"But how?"

"I am about to be married."

"So I have heard."

"To Clotilde Lothman von Saxe-Meningen, second daughter of the
King of Scandinavia. You may know the stnct principles of her
family. She is herself the very soul of delicacy. A shadow of a
doubt as to my conduct would bring the matter to an end."

"And Irene Adler?"

"Threatens to send them the photograph. And she will do it. I
know that she will do it. You do not know her, but she has a soul
of steel. She has the face of the most beautiful of women, and
the mind of the most resolute of men. Rather than I should marry
another woman, there are no lengths to which she would not
go--none."

"You are sure that she has not sent it yet?"

"I am sure."

"And why?"

"Because she has said that she would send it on the day when the
betrothal was publicly proclaimed. That will be next Monday."

"Oh, then we have three days yet," said Holmes with a yawn. "That
is very fortunate, as I have one or two matters of importance to
look into just at present. Your Majesty will, of course, stay in
London for the present?"

"Certainly. You will find me at the Langham under the name of the
Count Von Kramm."

"Then I shall drop you a line to let you know how we progress."

"Pray do so. I shall be all anxiety."

"Then, as to money?"

"You have carte blanche."

"Absolutely?"

"I tell you that I would give one of the provinces of my kingdom
to have that photograph."

"And for present expenses?"

The King took a heavy chamois leather bag from under his cloak
and laid it on the table.

"There are three hundred pounds in gold and seven hundred in
notes," he said.

Holmes scribbled a receipt upon a sheet of his note-book and
handed it to him.

"And Mademoiselle's address?" he asked.

"Is Briony Lodge, Serpentine Avenue, St. John's Wood."

Holmes took a note of it. "One other question," said he. "Was the
photograph a cabinet?"

"It was."

"Then, good-night, your Majesty, and I trust that we shall soon
have some good news for you. And good-night, Watson," he added,
as the wheels of the royal brougham rolled down the street. "If
you wlll be good enough to call to-morrow afternoon at three
o'clock I should like to chat this little matter over with you."



Many Thanks for Using the ESL Literature Library from 1-language.com.


Copyright © 2013 All rights reserved.