The original story may be found in the book “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
A SCANDAL IN BOHEMIA
She has always been the woman.
It is not that I have ever felt anything remotely akin to love for Irene Alder. Indeed, I never have – and never will – allow myself to fall into the unnecessary state of mind known as emotion. How much less love! Such things are as poison to a balanced mind. They only serve as increasers of doubt and strife. Still, there is only one woman in my mind which I respect as an equal – perhaps more than that – to myself. Indeed, Irene Adler always has been, and always will be the woman.
There is quite a large amount of optimism in this particular case. I had not seen Watson for over four years, as he had moved out, taking Mary Watson as his wife. Throughout the passing years, something had kept him occupied enough to stay away from our quaint rooms in Baker Street. I assumed he had taken up his old practice, becoming a physician again. I never came to call, for I despise going out into society unless for a specific reason. It is a waste of time and energy, which are inexplicably valuable, being the essence of all things worthy, in humanity. Perhaps it was that it pained him to see me in certain states of depression, for when my overly active mind had nothing to do, it was easy for me to become desperate and adopt means of comfort which Watson thought taxing to my physical and mental health. However, no matter of loneliness could keep me away from my keen desire for the hunt.
I have heard it said that my observation skills are the finest in all of London – a statement I do not agree with. A statement that I do agree with, which holds complete sincerity, is the rumor that I have a keen desire to track down criminals. Indeed, I have gone so far as to develop my own methods of deduction to aid me in this game, and they serve me quite efficiently. Another opinion I agree with (admittedly scorned by some) is that these methods of deduction are more effective than those adopted by Scotland Yard. In fact, throughout the years I have picked up and solved quite a few mysteries abandoned as hopeless by the police. I suppose Watson had read of me, in the papers. For such trivial matters such as my summons to Odessa, the case of the Trepoff murder, and the tragedy of the Altkinson brothers in Trincomalee, had indeed made their way into the public. Nevertheless, all this did nothing to change the fact that Watson had not bothered visited me in over four years’ time. Still, I was sure (and reminded myself often of this fact) that Watson would never completely loose interest in our old partnership, for he always showed a keen fascination for all the cases we deduced and solved together in our rooms at Baker Street.
As it turns out I was ultimately correct in my assumptions. It took a considerable amount of time for chance to lure him toward his old home, but on the twentieth of March at approximately 7:12p.m., the year 1888, he passed my way. The first time Watson passed, he had been going to call on a patient. I deduced this by the purpose in which he walked. He was almost marching – a habit that resurfaced when he was in dire situations, due to his days in the war. He didn’t stop at this time; he didn’t even look at my window. If he had, he would have seen me peering out at him from behind the shutters.
When he made his return, he looked tired and yet, at the same time reassured. Assuming he had been on a house call, his patient was doing well; in any case, it was safe to assume he had received good news after a long period of anxiety. When he made this return I was pacing my rooms in Baker Street, mind racing, exploring all possibilities in different form and pose. He paused, and I knew from the mannerism in the way he tilted his head, looking up, that it was indeed my dear old friend and colleague, Watson.
I opened the door for him, with eagerness. He paused, and looked at me, as I observed him hesitating in the doorway. I waved him in, bidding him to step inside. I grabbed his coat from him, hanging it on a knife sticking securely in the mantle. Afterwards I put a hand on his shoulder, guiding him into a deep green armchair, offering him a cigar.
Standing next to my own chair, which was directly across from his, I looked him over.
“Wedlock suits you. I think, Watson, that you have put on seven and a half pounds since I saw you.”
An old and familiar look of reproach passed across his features, although he tried to hide it. “Seven.” He retorted, in a controlled, calm voice.
“Indeed,” I raised an eyebrow. “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.” I glanced at him, drinking in every detail about his person. “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,” Watson said, a trifle of a smile lingering under his short mustache. “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.”
I let out a brief bout of laughter, rubbing my hands together, as was habit, dealing with my nervous energy. “It is simplicity itself. 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.” Watson looked at the inside of his shoe, almost surprised to see that I was correct. “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.”
Watson let himself give in to laughter. “When I hear you give your reasons 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,” he scratched his ear. “that my eyes are as good as yours.”
I picked up my cigarette tin. “Quite so,” I said, selecting one to light, and sinking into the 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.” He agreed.
“How often?” I challenged.
“Well, some hundreds of times.”
“Then how many are there?”
“How many! I don’t know.”
“Quite so! You have not observed.” I let my eyelids droop halfway shut, folding my hands. “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.” I sniffed, glancing at the side-table. “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.” I tossed a thick sheet of paper, died pink with some form of madder (most likely Rubia Tinctorum) in Watson’s lap. It was undated, and no address was to be found anywhere upon it. “It came by the last post.” I informed him. “Read it aloud.”
Watson began reading in his sturdy, unwavering voice. “There will call upon you to-night, at a quarter to eight o’clock, 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.”
I saw curiosity make Watson’s eyes twinkle. “This is indeed a mystery! What do you imagine that it means?” He peered into my eyes, attentively.
I waved it off as unimportant. “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?”
Watson tried to find important details. As he glared at the paper, squinting at it, I drank in the entirety of the note for the one hundred and twenty fifth time that night. “The man who wrote it was presumably well to do.” He stated. “Such paper could not be bought under half a crown a packet. It is peculiarly strong and stiff.”
“Peculiar –” I opened my eyes, briefly and pointing at Watson. “that is the very word. It is not an English paper at all. Hold it up to the light.” I moved the lamp towards Watson, who did as I asked without hesitation. There on the paper gleamed an “E” with a small “g,” a “P,” and a large “G” with a small “t”. It was etched into the paper, woven with the texture. “What do you make of that?” I challenged.
Watson looked up at me. “The name of the maker, no doubt; or his monogram, rather.”
I shook my head “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.”
I stood up and picked a book up off a very crowded bookshelf, carefully running my finger along its pages to a haphazard scrap of paper with an “E” scrawled on it in my own handwriting, which acted as a bookmark for the place. “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?” I tried not to smile, but the way recognition and admiration glowed on Watson’s face told me my eyes betrayed myself, as I clapped the book shut.
“The paper was made in Bohemia,” He said as he put together the pieces of the puzzle.
I smiled in satisfaction. “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.” I heard a carriage, the clatter of horse’s hooves. “And here he comes, if I am not mistaken, to resolve all our doubts.” I listened to the sharp clang as the bell was pulled. “A pair, by the sound. Yes,” I got up, to glance out 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.”
Watson adopted an air of uncertainly. “I think that I had better go, Holmes.” He said, preparing to stand up.
“Not a bit, Doctor.” I said, voice changing rapidly from good humor to almost commanding sincerity. “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—” I cut off his objection.
“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.”
As we had been speaking, the heavy footsteps of a rather large man who was marvelously clad had been making its way towards our room. And as I was conversing with Watson, a sharp rap was heard on the door. We both cut off in mid argument to turn and look at the entryway. “Come in!” I said.
He was tall. Approximately six feet and seven and a half inches in height. He had fine broad shoulders and a thick, heavyset chest. He was dressed in distastefully fine clothing in form of a double breasted coat decorated with bands of astrakhan upon the sleeves and front. His cloak was thrown richly over his shoulders, and it was lined with fiery red on the inside of the richly colored blue faced fabric. It was fashionably fastened at the throat with a beryl broach, and his boots, lined with the fur of the finest wild mink, came up to mid calf. As I quickly took his appearance in, he was adjusting the dark vizard mask he wore on his face with one hand, fingering a wide brimmed hat in the other.
“You had my note?” he asked gruffly, in a commanding manner that betrayed much of his character. “I told you that I would call.” His quick, animalistic eyes darted from me to Watson, as if to seek out our identities.
“Pray take a seat,” I patted Watson on the back. “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?” I inquired, as a test of character. Of course, it was already entirely clear to me that he was the future King of Bohemia.
“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 was about to answer, when I saw Watson stand up as if to leave. I caught his wrist and planted a hand on his chest, gently shoving him back into the chair.
“It is both, or none,” I insisted. “You may say before this gentleman anything which you may say to me.” My determination won him over.
“Then I must begin 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 nodded hastily. “I promise,”
“And I.” Watson chimed in, to my pleasure.
“You will excuse this mask,” Said the King mysteriously, proceeding to dish out lies of questionable quality. “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 I, sitting down in my red chair casually.
“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.” He paused, developing an aura of graveness. “To speak plainly, the matter implicates the great House of Ormstein, hereditary kings of Bohemia.”
“I was also aware of that,” I closed my eyes.
I sensed his surprised glance. There was so much simplicity in my deductions, yet I felt his apprehension grow. If the gentleman had wanted his identity to remain a secret, he should have at least hidden it. If he found that impossible, then he should have come to a less observant man. It amuses me, sometimes, when people revere me as if I were some form of deity of supernatural prowess. I opened my eyes again, deciding to drop the pointless charade of pretense. “If your Majesty would condescend to state your case, I should be better able to advise you.” I watched him leap up from his chair and start pacing the carpet, in complete distress, tearing the mask from his face, and throwing it to the ground in fury. “You are right,” he shouted, all too loudly. “I am the King. Why should I attempt to conceal it?”
“Why, indeed?” I mumbled. “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,” he pleaded, sitting back down again in a fit of nervous tension. “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.”
I nodded, adjusting myself in my seat more comfortably. “Then, pray consult,” I said, closing my eyes, preparing to listen.
“The facts are briefly these: Some five years ago, during a lengthy visit to Warsaw, I made the acquaintance of the well-known adventuress, Irene Adler. The name is no doubt familiar to you.”
I let out a mumble of acknowledgement. “Kindly look her up in my index, Doctor,” I kept my eyes shut, blocking out the distractions of the outside world as Watson leafed through my numerous collection of papers and books. I had found that it was useful to make a collection of things and people, and the habits of their professional and sometimes personal life. I imagine that many of the criminals of England would have fervently sought to burn my rooms at Baker Street, had they known how specific a collection had accumulated through the years to my convenience. If memory serves, Watson should have found her paragraph somewhere between that of a Hebrew Rabbi and a man who had written a particular piece of literature involving fish of the deep sea. Presently he handed me the tome, opened to the exact page. “Let me see! Hum!” I put my finger under the lines, tracing as I read. “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.” I looked up at him as he nodded.
“Precisely so. But how—” I cut him off; I had an important torrent of questions which must be asked.
“Was there a secret marriage?”
“No legal papers or certificates?”
“Then I fail to follow your Majesty.” I said, closing the book, letting it sit on my knee. “If this young person should produce her letters for blackmailing or other purposes, how is she to prove their authenticity?”
“There is the writing.”
I waved it off. “Pooh, pooh! Forgery.”
“My private note-paper.”
“My own seal.”
“We were both in the photograph.”
“Oh, dear! That is very bad!” As the gravity of the situation was realized. “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.”
“Five attempts have been made. Twice burglars in my pay ransacked her house. Once we diverted her luggage when she traveled. Twice she has been waylaid. There has been no result.”
“No sign of it?”
“It is quite a pretty little problem,” I offended him with my laughter.
His eyes were dark. “But a very serious one to me,”
I nodded, in agreement. “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 of Scandinavia. You may know the strict 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.”
I looked at him, through half-lidded eyes. “And Irene Adler?”
“Threatens to send them the photograph.” The poor man stuttered. “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.”
“Because she has said that she would send it on the day when the betrothal was publicly proclaimed. That will be next Monday.”
I allowed myself to relax. “Oh, then we have three days yet. 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?” I inquired.
“You have carte blanche.”
“I tell you that I would give one of the provinces of my kingdom to have that photograph.”
“And for present expenses?”
He took a heavy leather bag out, setting it on the side table where the pink paper had previously been. It landed with a heavy thump that indicated hundreds of pounds, plus paper notes. “There are three hundred pounds in gold and seven hundred in notes,” he confirmed.
I scrawled out a receipt upon a sheet of note-book paper I found under the seat of the chair, proceeding to hand it to him. “And Mademoiselle’s address?”
“Is Briony Lodge, Serpentine Avenue, St. John’s Wood.” He replied.
I uncuffed my shirt sleeve, dipping a quill in ink and taking a brief note on the faded fabric. “One other question; was the photograph a cabinet?”
I let the ink air-dry, dismissing our guest. “Then, good-night, your Majesty, and I trust that we shall soon have some good news for you.” As we listened to the brougham roll down the street, away from our quaint little rooms, I saw the Doctor stand up. “And good-night, Watson,” I barely glanced up, as I stuffed my pipe full of tobacco. “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.”
As it turned out, though I spent the majority the night with my eyes shut, I did not acquire over four hours of sleep. I sat in my armchair, carefully considering the methods which I would take in order to gain the photo from Irene Adler. Eventually, I grabbed the Persian slipper from the mantle, and took some tobacco from it in a thoughtful manner. After stuffing my much used clay pipe and lighting it, I surrendered myself to profound thoughts. After an hour of which I had planned my mission to the very last fine line, finding my mind restless with what the note had brought to my attention. However, as unusual as it were, I found that the majority of my thoughts were not occupied by this – the first case I had had in months – but rather by the man who had come calling that night here at Baker Street. Indeed, I was almost entirely conscientious as to the appearance of the visitor at my door, to the point where I could no longer remain sitting transfixed in one place.
Distraction does not come easily to me; indeed, it is something I normally attempt to avoid at all costs. I let out a long and heavy sigh, which was colored with blue smoke. I left my chair, and for a half hour stood, looking out the window at the bleak, London horizon, and the houses that shrouded it darkly. What crimes were being committed behind the very doors and windows of my neighbors? What cruel fates were the innocent being subjected to, under shallow motive? What was I leaving untouched, that I could be making better? I was just one man; I could only play one game at a time. There would always be criminals that escaped my grasp. How many more were they than I! One man against a thousand; a futile battle against evil. These were the things I normally thought about; these were the things that kept my mind occupied for hours – tonight I found myself in the mood to abandon them.
The sun had long since gone down, and the fire died, when I turned, and left my pipe on the windowsill. Stepping over the haphazard piles of paper, and brushing aside an end-table full of empty glass vials, I made my way across the mess. When I had finally dug my way into a back corner of the room, I made my way to a bookshelf full of oddities and ends. Postcards, gifts, a stuffed duck. An old wooden case.
I picked up the latter with a silent reverence. It had lain untouched for so long that my fingers left prints on it where they disturbed the dust. I had not felt like picking it up for four years, two months, and ten days, precisely. As I made my way back to the empty space by the window, and opened the case with definitive care, memories which I had suppressed for a considerable amount of time surfaced from the deep chasms of my mind. I picked up the wooden instrument, and blew on it. Dust spread across the air, and I held the violin snug against my collarbone, adjusting my fingers accordingly. Then I picked up the bow, laying it across the strings of the instrument, and gently guided it along them.
I was aware of three things happening in a single, fluid moment in time, all at once. A single note, low and sorrowful broke the nighttime air, I felt the sensation of the vibrations of the strings under my fingertips, and my mind became one with the music. Everything melted away. The sounds of the song calmed me, as only music can do. No matter of deducing, injection, or action could ever put me in a state of mind like the violin could. I played deep into the night, singing with nothing but the movements of the bow, and the direction of my mind. The beauty of said song transfixing me, holding me captive. Within the course of three hours, the music purged my mind of all evils, all doubts, all regrets; until nothing but the future remained. A future I knew I had the power to change.
To Be Continued…