From the private diary of Dr. John Watson
Of the many cases on which I have assisted Sherlock Holmes in the past ten years, I know that this, out of all of them, shall never see the light of day. Yet though I originally undertook the craft of writing in order to share Holmes' astonishing gifts with the world, in my years as his biographer, I've learned to gain a simple comfort from putting my thoughts to paper. Of the thirty cases we've been involved with this year, none weigh so heavily upon my mind as this, and so I will endeavor to transcribe it, though I find that the personal nature of the case makes it difficult even to begin. Perhaps I should commence this account with the same words I used so many years ago, for they are as apt now as they were then.
To Sherlock Holmes, she was always the woman.
In all the years that I've known him, Holmes has never betrayed a glimmer of interest in the gentler sex. Some of the most beautiful ladies in London have graced our rooms in Baker Street to ask for Holmes' assistance, yet he's displayed nothing but a clinical regard for all of them, save for her: Irene Norton, nee Adler. The woman. To Holmes, she eclipses the whole of her sex. Since I published "A Scandal in Bohemia," many readers have written to me, asking if Holmes ever crossed her path again. In truth, he did, but the account of that tale will never reach the eyes of the public, for it reveals far too much about both our hearts.
It was a cold December evening when Irene Norton came back into our lives. I remember it well. I'd been returning to Baker Street from an afternoon spent with an old friend, and though I am no coward, I must admit that I hesitated before our building, dreading to enter. Earlier that afternoon, I'd left Holmes slumped in his favorite chair beside the fire, his piercing eyes dulled with the soporific properties of the seven-percent solution he favored. Two weeks had passed since he'd solved his last case, and though requests for his assistance plied him every day through the post, he'd found none of them worthy of his skill.
I've often compared Holmes' mind to a machine, a marvelous contraption of spinning gears and polished brass altogether too complicated for me to comprehend, no matter how long I studied it. When engaged in a case, Holmes' keen intellect could tirelessly examine and analyze every detail of the problem, churning through clues with a rapid accuracy that no ordinary brain could hope to match. Yet without a puzzle to occupy his attention, that same complex mass of machinery would falter, thoughts grinding on each other like misplaced gears, and his energy level plummeting. Holmes' mind was built for perpetual motion. He found boredom abhorrent. In the bleak days between cases, Holmes fell into a depression so deep that he could only endure it through the dubious aid of his cocaine bottle. Though I had no medical objection to his habit, I hated to see a man so brilliant reduced to seeking solace through a needle.
My unease grew at the faint strains of violin music that became audible as I ascended the step, and swelled in volume as I opened the front door. The tune was one of Holmes' own compositions, a melody that alternately soared and swooped as the eddying currents of his moods moved him. He favored it when he was particularly troubled, and I wasn't surprised to see our landlady, Mrs. Hudson, hurrying towards me with a frown.
"He's been like this since the post arrived," she said, helping me out of my jacket. "See if you can't calm him down, would you? If you can't do something with him, nobody can."
Promising to do my best, I started up the stairs towards the rooms that Holmes and I shared. I opened the door to find him standing beside the mantel with his violin tucked beneath his chin, his eyes half-lidded as he played. He didn't glance towards me as I stepped inside, but after years of working with Holmes, I knew that he'd observed through the corner of his eye what most men would overlook in an hour of direct study. Crossing to my room to change into my housecoat and slippers, I emerged to lean against the doorframe and listen to him play.
My meagre play with words can do nothing to express how thrilling it is to watch Sherlock Holmes take up the violin. In another life, he could have been a concert violinist, and though he swears that he is only competent at best, I have yet to hear an equal to his soaring and plaintive music anywhere outside of a concert hall. I am fortunate that, with his love of music, he's never questioned why I find his performances so fascinating. There is a beauty and a gentleness to his thin fingers when they are closed around a bow, and when playing, his expression softens into a rare expression of peace.
When he finished, he set down the violin and smiled at me. I felt the tension in my neck and shoulders start to ease at the brightness of his eyes, unclouded by the cocaine.
"My dear Watson," he said. "How fortunate that you've arrived home early. I hope your friend Murray is well. I see he has yet to replace his old servant."
"Why, yes," I said. "Though for the life of me, I can't see how you deduced that."
"Look at your trousers, my good man! They're soaked a good half-inch above the cuff. The street is bare and you certainly didn't get that way riding in carriage. Clearly, Murray has no servant to properly shovel his walk."
"My dear Holmes, after all these years --"
"I still have the power to amaze you," he finished for me. "I am fortunate for that. If you ever grew bored with my work, Doctor, no doubt you would return to private practice. As I have said in the past, I am lost without my Boswell. Something fascinating has come up, Watson."
"A client?" I ventured.
"Precisely." Reaching into his waistcoat, he removed a folded envelope and handed it to me. "Tell me what you make of this."
My dear Mr. Sherlock Holmes,
Though it's been years since our first and only meeting, which your friend, Dr. Watson, so flatteringly described in his book, I hope that you might remember me. Indeed, the good doctor's account of that incident, colored though it must be with the necessity to please his readers, gives me hope that you will not dismiss this letter out of hand.
Once I called you an adversary. Now, I hope you will be my friend, for I am in sore need of one. Indeed, the trouble surrounding me is so great that I can't risk visiting your rooms in person for fear of being followed. I am taking a tremendous risk even smuggling this letter out of my home. Please meet me at Charing Cross station at nine o'clock tomorrow morning. There I can describe the situation in which I currently find myself.
The note was unsigned, but from the sparkle in Holmes' eye, I had no doubt that he knew the sender's identity.
"It's a woman's writing," I said. "American, from the spelling."
"Obviously," he said. "What else?"
I lifted the paper to the light before he could instruct me to do so, and studied the watermark. "The paper is British, and of mediocre quality." "No doubt, the author has fallen on hard times," he agreed. "Observe the uneven lines of the pen. The nib should have been replaced."
"She references a prior meeting," I said thoughtfully. "One which I reported. And she refers to you as an adversary . . ." Too slowly, the writer's identity dawned on me, and I glanced up at Holmes, startled."Good Lord," I said. "It's not . . .?"
"Irene Norton, nee Adler," he said. "No doubt, this shall promise to be an unusual case, Watson."
* * *
The train rumbled into the station, and a stream of passengers descended from the steps. My first and only glimpse of Irene Norton had been years ago, and her face was vague in my memory. I watched the women making their careful way down the train's steps, trying to match each of them to the beauty I remembered. Yet the train released its last passenger -- a young man who boldly leapt from the top step and swaggered to the wall to lean rather indolently against it and pull a cigarette from his pocket – and still I caught no sign of Norton. I glanced at Holmes, unsure whether we ought to wait for the next train in hopes that it might contain our client. But Holmes had frozen, staring at the smoking youth. To my surprise, Holmes stepped towards him, nodding his head in greeting.
"Mrs. Norton, I presume," he said.
The young man glanced up, and a radiant smile stretched across his face. Upon seeing it, I wondered that I'd ever mistaken Irene Norton for a man; even dressed in a top hat and trousers, with her auburn hair pulled back, her unlined face and brilliant grey eyes gave her a beauty that women half her age must envy. Yet her posture and her pose were clearly masculine. When she spoke, her clear contralto betrayed the operatic talents that had made her famous.
"Mr. Sherlock Holmes," she answered warmly. "How grateful I am that you were able to meet me here on such short notice. I scarcely recognized you without your clergy robes. You looked quite different the last time we met."
"As did you, madam," he said stiffly.
She laughed, a low, delighted peal that utterly belied her clothing. "Mr. Holmes, surely a man as astute as you can understand the difficulties that await a woman traveling on her own. Male costume was imminently more practical, given the circumstance."
"You show a good sense that too often fails to appear in your sex, Mrs. Norton." Holmes gestured towards me, and said, "Please allow me to formally introduce my friend and biographer."
"Doctor Watson, of course," she said with a smile. She offered her hand, and for a confused moment, I moved to kiss it, until she shifted her grip in mine, shaking my hand as a man would. Her hands were soft, but her grip strong. "I'm so very pleased to meet you."
A gleam in Holmes' eye expressed his amusement, and I knew from his expression that this meeting would play out as so many others had. Holmes would be the permissive Bohemian, and I his disproving bourgeoisie friend. Those roles weren't as clear cut as many of my stories might imply: despite Holmes' disregard for tradition and his willingness to break the law in the pursuit of truth, his own unique sense of morality gave him a certain righteousness which many more conventional men lacked. On the other hand, although I often felt myself boring compared to Holmes, my own, often stilted, Bohemian inclinations had only grown under close companionship with him. Yet I fell into the role as I always did, and allowed a hint of disapproval to sound in my voice as I replied to her.
"Likewise, Mrs. Norton."
"I should tell you," she said, "that despite tradition, I dislike being addressed by my married name. It has become hateful to me, for reasons you will soon understand. The best years of my life were spent using the name Irene Adler, and so I have returned to it, in hopes that the name might confer some measure of my former happiness to me."
Holmes laughed heartily at her brazen words, delight sparkling in his eyes. Then he stilled, for Irene Norton -- Adler had frozen, her cigarette dangling from her lips.
"What is it?" Holmes asked at once.
"Those men," she said, nodding to indicate two tall, broad-shouldered characters lurking in the shadows of the ticket booth. "They're agents of my brother-in-law, sent to follow me. I'd hoped my change in costume might have thrown them off my track, but it appears they've found me."
"Then we must lose them!" Holmes declared. He leaned close to whisper his plan in my ear, and I nodded, hurrying forward to signal a taxi.
As the hansome started towards us. Holmes ushered Irene Adler, into the cab, and leapt in himself, leaving me to take up the rear. I closed the door in time to see them hurrying into a second handsome behind us. As they climbed inside, Holmes flung open the opposite door of our cab, and he and Adler sidled through it, keeping low to the ground. The driver sped away mere moments later with me alone as passenger, and our pursuers followed. By the time the two men realized their mistake, Holmes and Adler had disappeared into the crowd. As for myself, the introduction of a service revolver does a great deal to convince hired thugs to leave things well enough alone.
* * *
We met at a cafe that Holmes and I sometimes frequented. I arrived first, but Holmes and Adler strolled in a few minutes later, arm-in-arm like a pair of old chums. It was a pose that I'd never seen Holmes adopt with anyone save myself, and I must admit that a bolt of jealousy shot through me at the sight. I swallowed, trying to maintain my composure. Holmes nodded when he saw me, his mouth softening a bit with warmth, while Adler graced me again with one of her beatific smiles.
"Doctor Watson," she breathed, as she settled at the table. "How good of you, to draw those villains off my trail. You've both been very kind to me. I owe you both an explanation."
"Indeed," Holmes said. "Aside from the fact that you are recently widowed, and in trouble with the law, I have very little to go on."
She paled at his words, wringing her hands in a feminine gesture that seemed out of place amidst the bravado of her men's clothes. "You're right," she said. "On both counts. However, I'm curious how you know. My dear Godfrey's body was only discovered two days ago, and the police have made no formal allegation against me."
"It's an easy matter," Holmes said, taking a drag of his cigarette. "You obviously dressed in a hurry this morning. No doubt, you had to assume your disguise in a train station, given the creases folded into your jacket and the mud-free state of your shoes when you emerged from the rail car -- you certainly didn't ride to the station wearing them. In your hurry to pack your costume, I see you neglected to pack a new handkerchief. The black one in your pocket indicates that you've been wearing full mourning. Obviously, you've suffered a death in your family. Yet you've neglected to carry your mourning colors into your male costume. That indicates that you wear mourning out of social, not personal reasons. You've removed your wedding ring -- that might be expected for somebody donning a disguise, yet though the pale band of skin on your finger suggests you've removed the ring recently, your skin displays none of the tell-tale puffiness to indicate that you've removed it only this morning. This, combined with your stated antipathy towards your married surname is enough to suggest that the death you are not mourning is your husband's. As for your trouble with the law . . . when a married man dies prematurely and his wife fails to mourn him, it's only natural that she should become a suspect."
Irene Adler sat staring at Sherlock Holmes as if stricken. Finally, she shook her head, as though to clear it, and drew in a shuddering breath. "You are correct," she said. "On all counts but one. Make no mistake, Mr. Holmes: I loved my husband. His death grieves me to no end."
"Nevertheless," Holmes said, "you are the primary suspect in his murder."
She nodded, gripping her teacup. "My husband, Mr. Norton, died three days ago," she said. "As I mentioned earlier, his body was only found the day before yesterday. He was shot with a pistol." She glanced down, her lashes brushing against her cheekbone. "It was the pistol I keep in my room, Mr. Holmes. The police determined that using a monograph that you'd written, I believe. The police have yet to formally charge me, but it's only a matter of time."
Holmes tutted. "Ms. Adler," he said. "The evidence against you is quite damning."
"I may be many things, Mr. Holmes," Adler said, lifting her chin, "but I am not a murderess."
"Then you need my assistance to find the true killer?" he conjectured.
"No. I'm quite aware of the murderer's identity, Mr. Holmes. However, I need you to help me prove it."
Holmes leaned forward, his eyes gleaming. "Go on."
"It's my brother-in-law, Reginald Norton. My brother-in-law is a widower, Mr. Holmes," Adler explained. "He is four years older than Godfrey, and quite accustomed to having his own way. I'm afraid that after Godfrey and I moved back to his family's estate, Mr. Reginald Norton became somewhat . . . infatuated with me." She blushed to discuss such a delicate subject, and Holmes' lips thinned.
"Of course, I never encouraged his advances," she hastened to add. "But he could be quite insistent. Household gossip being what it is, it wasn't long before Godfrey learned of it. They quarreled over me, Mr. Holmes. They took their argument out of the house, but I could hear their voices carrying through the window. Neither of them came home that night. The next morning, Godfrey's body was found in the stable."
"Were there any witnesses?" Holmes asked. "Did anyone hear the gunshot?"
"Nobody, Mr. Holmes. My husband had given most of the servants the night off so that they could visit a dance on a neighboring farm. Only our old housekeeper remained that night, and she's practically deaf."
"No doubt the police interviewed your brother-in-law," Holmes said.
"Of course! He was the first person they spoke to. But he implicated me in his story, and since my pistol was the one he used . . ." She shuddered, raising her black handkerchief to her eyes. "I'm quite certain, Mr. Holmes, that Reginald Norton planned the murder to have his revenge on both of us: me, for not having him, and Godfrey for standing in his way."
Holmes frowned, his expression distant and distracted as he considered her story. Finally, he gave a small nod. "Make no mistake, Ms. Adler," he said. "The murderer will not be able to hide his true identity from me."
* * *
The afternoon found us headed south on a train for Godfrey Norton's estate. In the seat next to me, Holmes leaned forward, smoking hard, his brow creased in concentration as his powerful mind again sorted through the details of the case that Irene Adler had been able to provide. In the seat across from us, Adler leaned back against the upholstery wearily, her legs stretched out in their pinstriped trousers and crossed primly at the ankle. The brim of her top hat obscured her face. For my part, I sat quietly, glancing from one to the other, my mind caught up in a whirlwind of emotion that I didn't dare to name, for even as Holmes stared straight ahead, distracted, his eyes returned again and again to the face of our companion.
We reached the closest village to Norton's estate at nightfall, and Holmes decided against continuing on that evening.
"The morning light will aid my investigation," he said. "In the meantime, I must speak to the local police. Watson, would you be so kind as to procure us some rooms at the local inn, and perhaps some dinner? I will be famished when I return."
He left us with a spring in his powerful stride -- Holmes was never happiest when on the scent of a case. I watched him disappear around the corner, towards the police station. When I turned around, Adler's gaze was upon me.
"He is quite a remarkable man, isn't he?" she remarked. The knowing expression in her keen eyes sent a queer flutter of nervousness through my stomach, and I swallowed, trying to control my expression.
"He is the world's foremost detective," I answered.
She smiled, a bit sadly. "Then I am lucky to have his assistance," she said. For a moment, her expression clouded, and then she shook her head to clear it. Standing tall, she offered me her arm, as a gentleman might a friend, and said, "The village inn is a few streets down. If you'll accompany me, Doctor?"
We found the inn where Adler said, and a quick word with the innkeeper obtained us their last two rooms, and the promise of dinner when we rang for it. Adler took her leave with a demure smile, and swept through the door to her room. Feeling somewhat at loose ends, I unlocked the door to the room I would be sharing with Holmes, and stepped inside.
The room was smaller than some we'd occupied. Although shining with wood oil, the few furnishings were starting to show signs of wear. A large bed with a faded quilt thrown over it occupied the center of the room. Holmes and I would be sharing, then. Suppressing the guilty thrill of pleasure that stole through me at the thought, I busied myself unpacking my case, a task which only occupied a few moments of my time. My years in the service followed by my time spent accompanying Holmes on his cases had taught me to pack efficiently.
Not knowing when Holmes would return, I decided to spend my time until then productively: the room lacked a proper writing dress, but the small, scuffed table in the corner was serviceable enough, and it was there that I spent the next few hours editing my account of one of Holmes' cases. A good hour passed before the door to the room opened, and a red-faced, bearded vagrant dashed inside.
"If you ever need to learn something of the nobility, just ask their servants, Watson," he said, as he untied the ratty scarf from around his neck and let it fall to the floor. "A few sips of whiskey earned me a chair before the gardener's fire, and all I needed to know of Reginald Norton."
Divesting himself of his jacket, Holmes rolled his shirt sleeves up to his elbows, revealing his sinewy forearms. He crossed to the basin against the far wall, and, wetting a cloth, proceeded to dab at the adhesive holding the beard to his cheeks. I rang for dinner as he continued to shed his disguise, and as we ate, he told me what he had learned from Norton's gardener.
"The woman understated Norton's temper, Watson. The servants all fear to cross him, and he's had some frightful rows with his brother in the past. His late wife died in childbirth, the infant along with her, but it seems she lived in fear of him."
"You suspect him, then?"
Holmes leaned back in his chair, sipping his wine. "It's unwise to conjecture until one has seen all the facts, Watson. I've warned you against that in the past."
"Did you learn anything else useful?" I asked, guessing from his expression that there was more he was not sharing with me.
Holmes frowned, gazing past me out the window belong. "Perhaps," he said quietly. "We shall have to see." He said no more on the subject, and I knew better than to push him.
At length, I began preparing for bed, but Holmes only moved his seat closer to the window, gazing out the leaded panes. "I trust I won't disturb you if I remain up and smoke, Watson? I need to think through this case more closely."
The last thing I saw before I fell asleep that night was Holmes' faced, cast into silhouette by the streetlights behind him. He sat in the wicker chair with his knees drawn up to his chest, puffing pensively on his pipe.
* * * We broke our fast in the common room of the inn the next morning. At length, Irene Adler joined us, her male costume exchanged for full mourning. For a second, I could only blink at her, and then I rose belatedly, hurrying to draw a third chair to our table for her. How difficult it was to reconcile yesterday's Adler, lithe and carefree in men's clothing, with this new creature swathed in a shapeless black dress, her dynamic face hidden beneath the dull black crape of her mourning veil. Even her movements seemed slower, wearier somehow. She reminded me of a grounded moth, trying to lift herself into the air, but lacking the necessary momentum.
Holmes was studying her, as well, a troubled expression clouding his keen eyes. When the serving girl came to clear away the dishes, he ventured, "May I ask you a personal question, Ms. Adler?"
"Of course," came her soft contralto.
"Tell me," Holmes said. "Were you happy with Norton?"
She frowned, twisting the napkin in her lap. "I was," she said thoughtfully. "At first. You must understand that I met him during a particularly tumultuous period in my life. Godfrey was the rock that I clung to during a storm, Mr. Holmes, endlessly patient, quietly attentive, and calmly forgiving of my past improprieties. How could I fail to love him for that?"
"And yet?" Holmes prompted.
"Norton was the quintessential English gentleman, Mr. Holmes," she said. "Firm of mind, steady of temperament, regular in his habits, and set in his convictions."
"Dull," Holmes interpreted, with a wry twist of his mouth.
"Exceedingly," she said dryly. "Godfrey's steadiness comforted me after that business with His Majesty, yet in time, the very characteristics which first drew me to him began to wear on me."
"I doubt that even your brilliant mind can fully comprehend what life is like for a woman, Mr. Holmes," she said, her voice ringing clear and passionate. "To know that one is capable of running free, yet forced by convention, to shackle oneself to a man whose mind and spirit are so clearly beneath one's. In truth, I envy you," she said bitterly. "You have freedom, Mr. Holmes, perhaps even more than most men. True freedom."
"Perhaps," he agreed thoughtfully, taking a drag on his cigarette. "Yet freedom comes at a cost, Ms. Adler."
* * *
After breakfast, we hired a coach and driver to bring us the seven miles to Norton's estate. The drive was wholly unremarkable -- Holmes clasped his hands together, frowning at the oak trees rising at the side of the own. A faint breeze stirred Adler's dull crape mourning veil.
The driver delivered us at the end of a long, winding drive, with a promise to remain until we were ready to depart. Holmes leapt from the coach, a hunting dog on the scent, his nostrils flared and his eyes bright and alert. Adler followed at a slower pace, allowing me to help her down.
"Where was your husband's body found, Ms. Adler?" Holmes asked.
"In the stable," she answered, starting towards it. "He was shot there."
The stable boy, a tow-headed, rawboned lad, started as Holmes threw open the door, and Adler hurried forward to calm him.
"Willy, I need you to do me a favor," she said. "Watch the road for me, and warn us if Mr. Norton returns. Can you do that?" She offered him a penny, and he took it, trembling. Leaning forward, she caught him by the shoulder and whispered something in his ear that made him smile.
Ignoring the exchange, Holmes had dropped to his hands and knees, and was peering at the wooden floor, his sharp nose only inches away from it.
"Aha!" he cried. "Here is where the body fell. The floor has been scrubbed, but a faint hint of discoloration remains, for those with eyes sharp enough to see it."
He leapt to his feet, crossing to the nearby wall. "And here is the bullet hole," he announced. Leaning in close to study it, he frowned, then shook his head. He squatted down to study it from below, then lifted onto his tiptoes to peer at it from above. Reaching into his pocket, he retrieved a measuring tape and stretched it across the tiny hole in the wall, nodding his head. "It's as I suspected," he said. "There can be no doubt who fired this weapon. Watson, I trust you still have your revolver."
"Excellent, my dear fellow." He retrieved it from me and proffered it to Adler with a smile upon his face. "Now, Miss Adler, I must impose on you to assist in the case. Do you see that knot in the wood?" he asked, gesturing to the opposite wall. "Shoot it."
She took the revolver into her small hand, and swept the veil away from her face. For a moment, she studied the knot in the wall. I expected her to step forward it -- even I would have difficulty hitting it from such a pace. Instead, she lifted the revolver in both hands, squared her shoulder, and fired, hitting it square in the middle.
Holmes gave a low whistle. "Remarkable. Not one man in ten could have made that shot." Bounding to the wall, he gave the new bullet hole a cursory examination, then nodded, as if confirming his suspicions. "It's clear that, for all of her skill in marksmanship, Irene Adler did not shoot her husband," he said. "Had she fired, the bullet hole would have been angled up in the wall, as this one is. The other is angled down, indicating that the assailant was a good deal taller than Ms. Adler."
She blinked up at him. Her eyes were sparkling. "Bless you," she whispered, and kissed him.
For a moment, we both froze, Holmes in shock, and I with an unmistakable flash of jealousy. Holmes pulled away after a brief moment, but I observed the way his hand curled gently over her shoulder as he did so. His expression was inscrutable.
"Forgive me," she breathed. "I was far too forward."
A sound from the doorway drew our attention. We turned as a group to see a tall man with powerful arms and shoulders standing in the doorway.
"Irene?" he gasped, staggering forward. "You've returned! But . . ." Then he glanced from one of us to the other, and snarled, enraged. "God damn you!" he cried.
He lunged forward, and I caught sight of the pistol in his hand. He steadied it, taking aim at Holmes.
With a shout, I threw myself at Norton, knowing in my heart that I had no hope of reaching him before his finger tightened over the trigger.
The crack of a gunshot echoed through the stable.
To my shock, Reginald Norton staggered, and tumbled to the ground before me. Behind Holmes, Adler lowered her arm, my service revolver still smoking in her grip.
* * *
"You've cleared my name, Mr. Holmes," Adler said later, when the police had been called and Norton's body hauled away. "I am indebted to you both."
To my surprise, Holmes looked down at her coldly. "Indeed you are," he said. "I won't forget what happened here today, Ms. Adler."
"What do you mean?"
"Reginald Norton may have fired the pistol that killed your husband, but doubtless it was you who provoked him to it."
She crossed her arms over her chest, gazing up at him with a hard expression. "What, exactly, are you implying, Mr. Holmes?"
"I shan't lower myself to speak of your indiscretions," Holmes said with a sniff. "But that doesn't mean that the servants don't. The pistol in the polices' custody has been entirely wiped clean of your fingerprints, Ms. Adler. Odd, that your brother-in-law should clean away yours, while leaving his own. The only alternative is that you gave it to him."
"To what purpose?" she asked.
"For the same purpose that you called Watson and I here -- to rid yourself of an unwanted man in your life. You paid the stable boy to alert Norton to our presence," he said, his voice cold with rage. "You kissed me in an effort to enrage him. You knew his temper, and also, that Watson or I would be obliged to defend ourselves, if you hadn't fired first. Just as you, no doubt, led your husband to attack his brother in the first place. You've made me an accessory to murder, Ms. Adler."
She lifted her chin, gazing up at him defiantly. "You are correct, of course," she said. "Now what are you planning to do?"
Holmes glared at her. "You've won your freedom, Ms. Adler. Now take it, quickly, before I change my mind."
She held his eyes for a moment longer, then nodded, and swept out of the stable, letting the door swing shut behind her.
Holmes breathed in and out slowly -- when I placed my hand on his forearm, it was as tense as steel. We stood there for a moment, not speaking. At length, he allowed me to lead him back to the carriage.
* * *
When we returned to our rooms at Baker Street later that evening, Holmes crossed at once to his safe, and retrieved the photograph of Irene Adler from it. He held it up, so I could see her smiling face. Some trick of the firelight made her expression look oddly triumphant.
"There is no emotion more abhorrent than love, Watson," Holmes said fervently, "for it makes a man as malleable as clay. You see how cunningly she twisted both Norton's feelings to achieve her own ends?"
"Yet you didn't implicate her in the murder."
He sighed heavily, gazing down at the picture. At first, I thought he wouldn't respond, but after several moments had passed, he said, "As much as I abhor her methods, I can't deny having some sympathy for her. I thank the heavens that I wasn't born a woman, for if I had been . . . " He let the sentence trail off, swallowing uncomfortably. Then, with a shudder, he crumpled her picture and tossed it into the fire.
"Don't write of this, Watson," he said, as he crossed to his desk to retrieve the leather case in which he kept his cocaine vial. "I'd like nothing more than to wipe this case entirely from my memory."