The door of Briony Lodge was open, and an elderly woman stood upon the steps. She watched us with a 24)sardonic eye as we stepped from the 25)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 26)staggered back, white with 27)chagrin and surprise. “Do you mean that she has left England?”
“Never to return.”
“And the 28)papers?” asked the King 29)hoarsely. “All is lost.”
“We shall see.” He pushed past the servant and rushed into the 30)drawing-room, followed by the King and myself. The furniture was scattered about in every direction, with 31)dismantled shelves and open drawers, as if the lady had hurriedly 32)ransacked them before her 33)flight. Holmes rushed at the 34)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 35)superscribed to “Sherlock Holmes, 36)Esq. To be left till called for.” My friend tore it open and we all three read it together. It was ran in this way:
“MY DEAR MR. SHERLOCK HOLMES,—You really did it very well. You 37)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 38)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 39)coachman, to watch you, ran up stairs, got into my walking-clothes, 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…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 ADLER.”
“What a woman—oh, what a woman!” cried the King of Bohemia. “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 40)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 41)indebted to you. Pray tell me in what way I can reward you. This ring—” He slipped an 42)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.”
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 honor to wish you a very good-morning.” He bowed, and, turning away without observing the hand which the King had stretched out to him…