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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A Scandal in Bohemia. Part 2

listen and read level: Advanced
age: adult

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
A Scandal in Bohemia, Part II
(read by John Telfer)

“I was still balancing the matter in my mind when a hansom cab
drove up to Briony Lodge, and a gentleman sprang out. He was a
remarkably handsome man, dark, aquiline, and moustached —
evidently the man of whom I had heard. He appeared to be in a great
hurry, shouted to the cabman to wait, and brushed past the maid who
opened the door with the air of a man who was thoroughly at

“He was in the house about half an hour, and I could catch
glimpses of him in the windows of the sitting-room, pacing up and
down, talking excitedly, and waving his arms. Of her I could see
nothing. Presently he emerged, looking even more flurried than
before. As he stepped up to the cab, he pulled a gold watch from
his pocket and looked at it earnestly, ‘Drive like the devil,’ he
shouted, ‘first to Gross & Hankey’s in Regent Street, and then
to the Church of St. Monica 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 coachman with his coat only half-buttoned, and his tie under
his ear, while all the tags of his harness were sticking out of the
buckles. It hadn’t pulled up before she shot out of the hall door
and into it. I only caught a glimpse of her at the moment, but she
was a lovely woman, with a face that a man might die for.

“‘The Church of St. Monica, John,’ she cried, ‘and half a
sovereign if you reach it in twenty minutes.’

“This was quite too good to lose, Watson. I was just balancing
whether I should run for it, or whether I should perch behind her
landau when a cab came through the street. The driver looked twice
at such a shabby fare, but I jumped in before he could object. ‘The
Church of St. Monica,’ 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 man and hurried into the church. There was not a soul there
save the two whom I had followed and a surpliced clergyman, 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 Godfrey
Norton came running as hard as he could towards me.

“‘Thank God,’ he cried. ‘You’ll do. Come! Come!’

“‘What then?’ I asked.

“‘Come, man, come, only three minutes, or it won’t be

“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 Irene Adler, spinster, to
Godfrey Norton, bachelor. It was all done in an instant, and there
was the gentleman thanking me on the one side and the lady on the
other, while the clergyman 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 clergyman absolutely refused to marry them without a
witness of some sort, and that my lucky appearance saved the
bridegroom from having to sally out into the streets in search of a
best man. The bride 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 l; “and what

“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, he driving back to the Temple, and she to
her own house. ‘I shall drive out in the park at five as usual,’
she said as she left him. I heard no more. They drove away in
different directions, and I went off to make my own

“Which are?”

“Some cold beef and a glass of beer,” he 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

“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 man.”

“I was sure that I might rely on you.”

“But what is it you wish?”

“When Mrs. Turner has brought in the tray I will make it clear
to you. Now,” he said as he turned hungrily on the simple fare that
our landlady 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. Miss Irene, or Madame, rather, returns from
her drive at seven. We must be at Briony Lodge to meet her.”

“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


“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,” he said, taking a long
cigarshaped roll from his pocket. “It is an ordinary plumber’s
smokerocket, 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 comer 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.”

He disappeared into his bedroom and returned in a few minutes in
the character of an amiable and simple-minded Nonconformist
clergyman. His broad black hat, his baggy trousers, his white tie,
his sympathetic smile, and general look of peering and benevolent
curiosity were such as Mr. John Hare alone could have equalled. It
was not merely that Holmes changed his costume. His expression, his
manner, his very soul seemed to vary with every fresh part that he
assumed. The stage lost a fine actor, even as science lost an acute
reasoner, when he 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 Sherlock 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 neighbourhood, it was
remarkably animated. There was a group of shabbily dressed men
smoking and laughing in a corner, a scissors-grinder with his
wheel, two guardsmen who were flirting with a nurse-girl, and
several well-dressed young men 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 she would
be as averse to its being seen by Mr. Godfrey Norton, as our client
is to its coming to the eyes of his princess. Now the question is,
Where are we to find the photograph?”

“Where, indeed?”

“It is most unlikely that she carries it about with her. It is
cabinet size. Too large for easy concealment about a woman’s dress.
She knows that the King is capable of having her waylaid and
searched. Two attempts of the sort have already been made. We may
take it, then, that she does not carry it about with her.”

“Where, then?”

“Her banker or her lawyer. There is that double possibility. But
I am inclined to think neither. Women are naturally secretive, and
they like to do their own secreting. Why should she hand it over to
anyone else? She could trust her own guardianship, but she could
not tell what indirect or political influence might be brought to
bear upon a business man. Besides, remember that she had resolved
to use it within a few days. It must be where she can lay her hands
upon it. It must be in her 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.”

“What then?”

“I will get her to show me.”

“But she will refuse.”

“She will not be able to. But I hear the rumble of wheels. It is
her carriage. Now carry out my orders to the letter.”

As he 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 men 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 guardsmen, 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
lady, who had stepped from her carriage, was the centre of a little
knot of flushed and struggling men, who struck savagely at each
other with their fists and sticks. Holmes dashed into the crowd to
protect the lady; but just as he reached her he gave a cry and
dropped to the ground, with the blood running freely down his face.
At his 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 lady and to attend to the injured man. Irene Adler, as
I will still call her, had hurried up the steps; but she stood at
the top with her superb figure outlined against the lights of the
hall, looking back into the street.

“Is the poor gentleman much hurt?” she asked.

“He is dead,” cried several voices.

“No, no, there’s life in him!” shouted another. “But he’ll be
gone before you can get him to hospital.”

“He’s a brave fellow,” said a woman. “They would have had the
lady’s purse and watch if it hadn’t been for him. They were a gang,
and a rough one, too. Ah, he’s breathing now.”

“He can’t lie in the street. May we bring him in, marm?”

“Surely. Bring him into the sitting room. There is a comfortable
sofa. This way, please!”

Slowly and solemnly he 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 Holmes as he lay upon the
couch. I do not know whether he was seized with compunction at that
moment for the part he 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 she waited upon the injured man. And yet it
would be the blackest treachery to Holmes to draw back now from the
part which he 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 her. We are but preventing her from injuring

Holmes had sat up upon the couch, and I saw him motion like a
man who is in need of air. A maid rushed across and threw open the
window. At the same instant I saw him raise his 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 — gentlemen, ostlers, and
servant-maids — 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 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. He walked
swiftly and in silence for some few minutes until we had turned
down one of the quiet streets which lead towards the Edgeware

“You did it very nicely, Doctor,” he 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?”

“She showed me, as I told you she would.”

“I am still in the dark.”

“I do not wish to make a mystery,” said he, laughing. “The
matter was perfectly simple. You, of course, saw that everyone in
the street was an accomplice. They were all engaged for the

“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

“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
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

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.

“Not yet.”

“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.

“Married! When?”


“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 Serpentine

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:


You really did it very well. You took me in completely.
Until after the alarm of fire, I had not a suspicion. But
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 upstairs,
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

“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 his
finger and held it out upon the palm of his hand.

“Your Majesty has something which I should value even more
highly,” said Holmes.

“You have but to name it.”

“This photograph!”

The King stared at him in amazement.

“Irene’s photograph!” he cried. “Certainly, if you wish it.”

“I thank your Majesty. Then there is no more to be done in the
matter. I have the honour to wish you a very good-morning.” He
bowed, and, turning away without observing the hand which the King
had stretched out to him, he set off in my company for his

And that was how a great scandal threatened to affect the
kingdom of Bohemia, and how the best plans of Mr. Sherlock Holmes
were beaten by a woman’s wit. He used to make merry over the
cleverness of women, but I have not heard him do it of late. And
when he speaks of Irene Adler, or when he refers to her photograph,
it is always under the honourable title of the woman.

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