The Clarendon Hotel was a modern establishment which provided many amenities to its discerning guests, including a most comfortable smoking-lounge, a fine table d'hote, and balconies which offered a splendid view of St. Stephen's across the square.
"I thought I'd find you here," Watson said, joining Holmes on one such balcony on a mild May Sunday at noon. "Just what do you think you're doing?"
"Observing, Watson," Holmes said abstractedly, taking a drink from his flask, his eyes never leaving the church. The church bells had just begun to peal. "Such an opportunity to study the criminal mind is rarely offered us."
"You mean, you're mooning about Mrs. Falke."
"I am not, and I must ask you not to refer to her in that ridiculous way. Her name is Miss Irene Adler."
Watson consulted his watch. "Surely not by now, old boy. They should be finishing up any—"
"Look, Watson!" Holmes grabbed his arm.
The happy couple had just emerged from the church, arm-in-arm. Even from a distance, Mrs. Falke had a glorious proud head of dark curls above her high-necked mauve dress. At least she hadn't had the audacity to wear white, Watson thought, though he had to admit that the mauve probably became her better.
"Do you see? Look at the slight stiffness in her upper arm, the infinitesimal tilt of her cheek away from him! She can't possibly love him."
"I can't make out the musculature of her arm at all from here."
"Fortunately, there is a keener observer at work. I must rescue her." He let go of Watson to rummage wildly in his pockets. After a minute, he demanded, "Did you pinch my revolver, Watson?"
"I certainly did," Watson declared, "not that you could hit even their carriage from this distance. I won't have you sent up for murdering that chap. He's harmless."
He'd actually heard from friends in the Service that Johann Falke was anything but harmless, but then the new Mrs. Falke was just the same. He would gladly leave it to the two of them to sort it out between themselves.
"Improvise," Holmes murmured feverishly, casting his eyes around, "I can always improvise—"
"Oh, no, you don't." Watson seized Holmes in a fireman's carry, kicked the balcony door open behind him, and carried him back into the room, flailing.
If, as the church disappeared from his view, he saw the bride send up a glance at just the right angle to take them in, he decided to make nothing of it. She couldn't possibly have seen them.
"The first marriage," Holmes said, pacing about the room a few hours later, "the first marriage I can forgive her. She was young, she was foolish, and most importantly, she hadn't met me yet. You can't expect a beauty like that to immure herself on the off-chance we might cross paths. Though she might have shown a little foresight."
"Perfectly reasonable," Watson said wearily, sitting perched on the edge of the bed with his chin propped in one hand. There were three empty bottles on the dresser now, and Holmes had a fourth one in his hand. It was still safer in there than out on the streets, or back at their lodgings, where Holmes was liable to shut himself up in his rooms with a good quantity of opium for the next three weeks.
"Yes, I think so, too. And the second marriage is easily enough explained. It was a rebound after I'd rebuffed her during the Salerno affair."
"You mean, after she'd given you the slip, with the sapphires."
"Ah, your objection fails, Watson, when you consider that she couldn't have known for certain that she had deceived me. I might have let her escape out of indifference."
"Oh, of course."
"So she married the second out of pique. A woman's injured vanity, Watson, can cause more harm—"
"And the fact that he was a very handsome and very promising young writer had nothing to do with it."
"Of course not." Holmes waved the idea away, stumbling as the gesture threw him off-balance. "Preposterous."
Watson took a drink from his own flask. "Careful, Holmes, or you'll have me thinking you're jealous."
"Jealous? Watson, what are these absurdities? I don't object to her marriages out of envy, I object to them because all those domestic responsibilities interfere with our…our…"
His dramatic gesture was left hanging as he hunted for the mot juste. Watson resolutely refused to provide even sarcastic help.
"…arrangement," he concluded.
"Oh, your arrangement," Watson echoed, instantly reconciling himself to sarcasm.
"Yes. The doilies get in the way. But it's this marriage that particularly confounds and offends me, Watson. She is free, she has a certain amount of money from the prior two husbands, surely she has no need to marry again. And yet she does. Why?"
"He's a wealthy arms merchant," Watson said. "The Kaiser will make him a nobleman someday. And, again, he's very handsome."
Holmes scowled. "You are oddly focused, doctor, on the physical attractions of her suitors."
Not for the first time, Watson reflected that it was truly remarkable that a mind so keenly attuned to the facts of the natural world should be so oblivious to those of the mind. But if Holmes actually understood human nature as well as the other, he would have been marooned on some uninhabited island long before.
He sighed. "Look, Holmes, has it really never occurred to you how hard it is for a woman to be on her own in this world? Our whole society is founded on the notion that a woman will always have a man attached to her to do certain things for her. And it's no better elsewhere."
Holmes stared at him, all wild dark eyes. "But she's not alone. She has me."
"Getting her arrested is not one of the things I was referring to." Watson got to his feet. "You are drunk. What's in that bottle?"
Holmes wrapped it in the crook of his arm. "Get your own."
"Right. Come on. We'll never make it home, you might as well sleep here."
"Don't want to sleep."
"I know, I know." Watson was relieved to see that Holmes was drunk enough that he didn't require carrying, but could be led along like a ewe lamb. "You can deduce lying down as well as standing up."
"Quite true." Holmes nodded solemnly. "Quite true."
Half an hour later, Holmes was dozing in bed, and Watson in the chair next to it. Holmes flinched at something in his dreams and half-opened his eyes.
"Go back to sleep," Watson muttered, hardened by many half-conscious hours at a patient's bedside.
"I thought you'd gone," Holmes said. "I thought you'd gone to Vienna to open a pastry shop with William Cobbett."
Watson woke up enough to speak more soothingly. "That doesn't seem particularly likely, now does it?"
"I suppose not. You can't even make tea on your own."
"There, you see?" Watson pulled Holmes's blanket up a little further. "Nothing to worry about. Go back to sleep."
He thought Holmes had drifted off, but after a while he spoke again. "You're not going to go off and get married, are you, doctor?"
He smiled wryly. A battered old warhorse like him. Now that would be unaccountable, far more than the lovely Mrs. Falke choosing to torment Holmes by the disposition of her hand in marriage.
He had every intention of sending her the account for the room. Herr Falke could certainly afford it better than they could.
"That doesn't seem particularly likely either, now does it?"
"Don't underestimate yourself. You have many good qualities. You…" Holmes yawned widely. Watson hated to lose the rare compliment, but he was relieved when he heard Holmes begin to snore. This day had enough to live down already.