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A Sandal in Bohemia

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To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman. And although it is not true that I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name, I am positive that in his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex (the eclipsing part being largely due to the woman's rather portly figure). It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Mrs Hudson. He admired her skills as a cook, her efficiency as a messenger, and also her stamina as she run up and down the seventeen steps that led to our humble lodgings at his every call, but there was no place in his Bohemian soul for even the slightest hint of Oedipus complex. Indeed, all emotions, and love particularly, were abhorrent to his cold precise mind.

The above paragraph hasn't really anything to do with the rest of this narrative, but I thought that the first sentence should nicely appeal to those members of the reading public who are partial to sensationalism. Subsequently it ought to help in boosting the sales of The Strand Magazine and earn me a few bob more. I could do with some cash, because my darling wife – a charming flower of English womanhood: my violet, my rose, my... Mary actually (forgive me, gentle but perhaps a love story-seeking reader, while I briefly indulge my romantic streak; Holmes may scorn it, but he isn't the one writing this account now, is he?) – is no stranger to the turf and the noble sport of betting our money on horses.

Anyway, some day after my marriage, as I was passing by the well-remembered door of 221B Baker Street, which must always be associated in my mind with my hasty romance and instantaneous engagement to my dear Mary (at this point I would like to state firmly that there had not been any additional reason behind our swift action but pure and chaste love), I was seized with an intense desire to see Holmes again. His rooms were brilliantly lit and as I looked up, I saw he was currently employing his extraordinary powers to moving small paper-cut silhouettes against the blind. In a word, playing with shadow theatre (which really is four words, however, that is not in the least bit important).

I stepped in, went upstairs and entered the sitting room, which until recently I had the pleasure and privilege of sharing with the world's only unofficial consulting detective or something of the sort. He was glad, I fancy, to see me. His countenance bore the slightest hint of a smile when he waved me to an arm-chair. Then he looked me over in his singular introspective fashion, which often gave me a distinct impression that his gaze could penetrate all the layers of my clothing.

'I think, Watson, that you have put on seven and a half pounds since I saw you last.'

My impression appeared to be correct.

'Seven actually,' I answered and heard him mutter that he knew seven and a half when he saw it and he was seeing it now. I preferred not to dwell upon that point, therefore I enquired about my friend's latest cases of investigatory nature.

Holmes rubbed his long nervous hands together and giggled.

'Ah, yes. If you still retain some interest in those little problems and my not inconsiderable genius when it comes down to solving said problems, you may perhaps care to meet my new client. I think he has just arrived. Come in!'

The door opened to admit a tall powerful man of about forty, disguised as a postbox. I instantly knew that he was a foreigner for in England his dress would be looked upon as akin to bad taste. Which it frankly was.

Upon entering the man stood in the middle of our sitting room, trying to convey impression of being an ordinary metalled, red-painted postbox and almost succeeded, except that I, and Holmes probably as well, thought it highly unconvincing.

Finally, Holmes broke the silence.

'I fancy Your Majesty would find standing more comfortable if he abandoned his disguise.'

The visitor started, but shook the postbox off of himself. With a tremendous clatter, it rolled to the corner by the window, no doubt causing a fair chunk of plaster to part with the rest of the ceiling in kitchen underneath the sitting room. I only hoped Mrs Hudson wouldn't mind too much.

'How the deuce could you know that I am the King?' the visitor cried, a trifle agitated.

'Today Your Majesty was kind enough to send me a letter informing of Your Majesty's arrival at my humble abode. The letter was signed Willy-Nilly Weltschmerz von Obitstein, Grand Duke of Donnerwetter and hereditiary King of Bohemia. But my suspicions have just been confirmed by Your Majesty's choice of disguise – a postbox for Royal Mail.'

'Rum,' grunted the King, settling in an arm-chair.

'I'm afraid we can only offer Your Majesty some whisky.' I thought it reasonable to point out.

The King gave me a dirty look.

'I meant "odd", but you may fetch me a drink as well, my good man.'

I poured a hefty dose of the restorative and handed it to His Majesty. Meanwhile Holmes endeavoured to elicit from our guest further information about the case. His Majesty gave me another dirty look.

'I would rather not discuss the matter in the presence of your valet, Mr Holmes.'

I nearly staggered. King or no King, I was going to biff him right in the eye, but my friend's restraining hand prevented me from pursuing this course of action.

'Perhaps Your Majesty should reconsider. Watson is no valet of mine, but a dear friend and companion and, to put it simply, it's both of us or none.' With those words, Holmes pushed me into a chair.

I was just as stunned as I was dumbfounded, for I finally caught a glimpse of Holmes's great heart. Had I been a lesser man I would have been moved to tears, but I managed to manfully keep my composure in the end.

'Forgive me, sir, but the matter is of extreme delicacy,' the King sighed. 'The facts, Mr Holmes, are briefly these: some years ago during my lengthy visit to Bydgoszcz, which is renowned for its architecture, philharmonic halls and general bohemian spirit, I met a well-known adventuress Irene Adder.'

'Watson,' Holmes turned to me, 'be an angel and fetch my index book.'

I complied and handed him the heavy volume.

'Let us see. Ah yes, born in 1843 in Hammersmith. Pugilist—hum. Known best for singing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star to the opponents he defeated on the ring—now that's what I call entertainment! Has a voice described as "half bass, half tenor"—we can assume it's baritone. Look also under "Vigor, the Hammersmith wonder".'

There was a pause and then Holmes fixed me with a highly suspicious eye.

'Have you been cross-indexing my books again?'

I naturally denied any such thing, although in truth I did change some entries a little in honour of last year's April Fool's Day. A trifle belated joke but one worth playing on the great detective nonetheless.

'Well, never mind,' said Holmes. 'I have memorised the contents of all of those index books anyway, so I shall just show off.'

And he did.

'Irene Adder, born in Bohemia in the year 1858. Has big blue eyes and a face, and possibly other body parts, a man might die for. Travelled around the continent, performing various jobs; she was an actress, a singer as well as a sweeper in La Scala and Imperial Opera of Bydgoszcz.'

I was quite in awe of Holmes's pronunciation. Those alliterations and foreign languages can be a real challenge for one's tongue.

'Hmm, I uderstand Your Majesty became entangled with this young person, wrote her some compromising letters and is now desirous of getting those letters back.'

'Er, not exactly. But how—'

'Never mind. So, what exactly is the matter?'

'I admit, Mr Holmes, it was very foolish of me, but I gave her a pair of royal sandals. It is a long-standing tradition of my family to present the intended bride with the sandals, and although I naturally could not marry Miss Adder, I gave them to her nonetheless. As I said, it was an extremely unjudicious action.'

'Yes, no doubt, no doubt.' Holmes tapped his chin thoughtfully while I silently ruminated on the strange nature of foreign marital customs.

'Has Your Majesty tried to talk to the young lady?' Holmes finally spoke.

'Yes, she will not return them. I also tried bribe, ambush and plain theft – all to no avail.'

'Does Miss Adder keep the sandals hidden?'

'It would appear so. Mr Holmes, I am about to be married and the engagement will take place on first Thursday of April. By that time I simply must have the royal sandals in my possession again.'

'There is plenty of time, then,' Holmes yawned. 'Now, as to the payment.'

'I shall certainly do anything you want,' the King cried earnestly.

My friend gave him the calculating eye.

'I would prefer money, if Your Majesty doesn't mind.'

'Well, of course, that is what I meant. You can have my American Express.'

Holmes grunted something that sounded rather rude - like "smart-arse", to be precise - but louder he said,

'I'm afraid Cox and Co. won't accept it for another sixty years, but I'm willing to agree to carte blanche and some small fund for present expenses.'

Our visitor frowned slightly but took out a purse and placed it on the table. It contained three pounds in gold and seven in notes. Small fund indeed that was just enough for our train tickets. The tickets (and the train journey) were necessary, for Miss Adder, together with the royal sandals as it turned out, was currently back in Bohemia. However, as it was a whole month until the actual date of the King's engagement, Holmes was in no hurry to do anything about the case just yet.

That evening, after our illustrious client had left, Holmes and I spent the time as was our habit back in my bachelor days: I reading newspapers and my companion tinkering with chemicals, chain-smoking the foulest brand of tobacco, pracising target-shooting indoors, and in the process adorning one of the walls with patriotic as well as not-so-patriotic patterns, and gazing longingly at his cocaine bottle. An ordinary quiet evening at home.

'I trust you are willing to help me in this, perhaps trifling, but undoubtedly lucrative matter,' Holmes spoke as I was about to bid him farewell and retire to my own home. I answered in the affirmative. The lucrativeness, truly, played no part in my decision.

'Excellent. I shall send you a telegram but until then you can go back to wallowing in your marital bliss. And pray, give my regards to Mrs Watson. I still cannot congratulate you on the fact that you married, but I might as well finally get accustomed to it.' Holmes's expression turned sour and I was more than a little piqued, as usual when my friend displayed his anti-social spirit. The fact that it was also anti- my marriage, certainly did not help.

I also refrained from pointing out that Mary and I often invited him for a dinner, so that he could stop regarding my wife as something that has to be avoided at all costs. He declined every time. My darling Mary worried that Holmes did not like her for some reason, but I assured her that Holmes did not like any woman.

'That's queer, is it not?' she then wondered and I had to agree.

Now Holmes seeing my scowl, steered me to the door.

'Be off with you, Doctor. I need to think over the case.' And he closed the door in my face. I considered some verbal remonstrance but in the end I just stuck my tongue at him, now that he was out of sight. It was, perhaps, puerile but I did feel better.

For the subsequent three weeks I had no contact with Sherlock Holmes, save reading about his successes in newspapers. Single-handedly, he caught Frank N. Furter - the corset stealer, solved the mystery of errant parsley in the butter on a hot summer day (it was a truly remarkable achievement, considering it was actually March yet again) and appeared on the centrefold in The Illustrated Police News, wearing a funny-looking hat and smoking an elegantly-looking pipe. I wondered if inspector Lestrade pinned that picture somewhere in his office – he had often complained about the lack of suitable target for his darts-throwing practice.

As for myself, I was busy with my patients. I might add, in the interests of those readers who are of intensely curious disposition, that the more interesting cases included opium addicts, thumbless engineers, monomaniacs and children who showed great imagination when it came down to swallowing inedible things. If my memory serves me correct, one of them actually swallowed a whole barrel. Either that or the kid was really fat.

All in all, my life was not an uneventful one and there was never a dull moment between my practice and my wife, who had just taken to redecorating our house. For the most part I did not object, but I felt justified in refusing to give residence to some experimental sculptures, dubiously and, in my opinion, rather unfairly called "art".

In the midst of excitement brought by married life, I had almost completely forgotten about the case of the King and his precious footwear until one morning, at breakfast, I received a telegram. In a short and concise fashion, so typical of my friend (who was also mindful that a wire costed tuppence a word), it said: Come, the game is afoot. Paddington 11:15.

'What is it, my dear?' asked Mary.

I handed her the message.

'Ah,' she smiled. 'I see Mr Holmes is in need of your help again. It appears to be something urgent.'

'With Holmes it is always urgent,' I sighed, remembering how once I was out of London on some business and Holmes sent a wire summoning me to his side. I did not come at once but a few days later, only to find the case solved and Holmes sulking and ignoring me for the following week, during which everytime I ventured to say something, he would adopt a thoughtful expression and say "Most peculiar, I could swear I have just heard Watson's voice. But, of course it's quite impossible as he is not here."

Finally, he registered my presence, saying "So, there you are, my dear fellow. I thought you were to return next Friday but it's just as well you are earlier. Although you have missed a very interesting investigation, I'm afraid."

I frowned slightly at the memories.

'I suppose I had better start packing.'

'Oh, so you won't be back for dinner?'

'No, darling, I'm sorry. But the case ought to take no more than a few days. You don't mind, do you?'

'No, of course not,' Mary smiled sweetly. She really was a most forgiving soul, though at that moment, I confess, I had a dreadful suspicion that my dear wife wanted me to go, simply so that she could continue with redecoration of our house undisturbed. Perhaps, it would be prudent to be prepared for some surprising acquisitions awaiting me here upon my return.

'I know,' she was saying, 'how much you enjoy Mr Holmes's company and that little detective business of his. Off you go.'

Mary had a peculiar way of speaking about my friend's profession (at least I think that's what she referred to; Mary's sense of humour was peculiar too) and although I was positive she meant no disrespect, I did not think that calling his - well, ours, as Holmes insisted - agency "little" would appeal to him in the slightest.

I arrived at Paddington with ample time, in which to search for Holmes. However, I could not catch sight of him anywhere but just as I was contemplating what to do next, I heard his voice behind me.

'It's good to see you again, Watson.'

I turned around.

'Oh yes, it is good, isn't it?' I really paid no attention to what I was saying and only later did I realise that my reply was not entirely curteous nor civil but, I admit, I was rather baffled by the sight that greeted my eyes. A young and very attractive lady hung on my friend's arm. That, in itself, was a rare event (of an "elephant walking the streets of London" variety) but even more bewildering was the look of utter adoration upon the young lady's features, directed apparently at the detective. I could not fathom what it was that warranted such a stare – Holmes might be a fairly handsome chap but he is certainly no beauty. Unless, of course, the young lady admired so ardently his great and truly remarkable brain but, as it is commonly known that the brain is not normally visible on the outside, I somehow doubted it.

Holmes finished writing something, gave it to his female companion and she, thanking profusely, planted a peck on Holmes's cheek before he could dodge it, and scampered off.

'Those women,' Holmes muttered, wiping off the kiss.

'Who was that?' I finally recovered from my astonishment enough to ask.

'Oh, some fangirl.' He shrugged. 'Since I appeared on that centrefold, they have been pestering me for autographs and then they kiss me, not even bothering to ask whether I like it or not. I'm telling you, Watson, there's unquestionably one thing to be said for your narratives: they never provoked such a reaction.'

'Well, thank you very much,' I murmured slightly vexed, hearing such a backhanded compliment.

'You're very welcome. Now, let us go and find that train. I need a holiday, er'—he threw a glance at me—'I mean, a case away from London.'

We had a first-class compartment to ourselves; Holmes took out his pocket Petrarch, I my pocket edition of The Adventures of Dr Quinn - the Medicine Woman and companionable silence descended.

Upon arriving at Dover, we boarded a ferry to journey across the Channel. I endeavoured to extract some information from my companion, regarding his ideas on how to proceed once we get to Bohemia. For all I knew it was slightly bigger than London and the thought that finding Miss Adder might prove somewhat difficult was not beyond the realms of possibility. My reticent friend, characteristically, revealed nothing except the astonishing (it certainly seemed so to me) fact that he had already ascertained Miss Adder's current address. Asked "how?" he evaded the question, saying "You know my methods." That was not reassuring. I began to ruminate moodily on a variety of not particularly pleasant means, by which he could have obtained this information but was interrupted by Holmes's laughter and his words:

'Watson, you ass. All it took was a telegram and five minutes of logical thinking.'

Apparently Holmes, as was his wont about which I had unwisely forgotten, read my thoughts again. I made a mental note to hide my thoughts, along with my face, behind a large newspaper in the future.

'Really,' he continued. 'I think, I should be quite disappointed with you, Doctor.'

'Holmes,' I assumed my best expression of innocent befuddlement. I hoped it worked. 'I would never suspect you of doing anything ungentlemanly. I trust you unconditionally and I am positive your splendid powers of deductive reasoning allowed you to devise a truly ingenious plan of action. I should be glad to know how you are proposing to retrieve the royal sandals.'

My last attempt at gaining some knowledge about what lay ahead. I reasoned that if this didn't work, nothing would.

Holmes flushed slightly. The flattery, I had long observed, usually worked upon my companion although, it seemed, not this time. Damn.

'All in good time. You shall see soon enough.'

That did not bode well. Such reluctance could only mean that his plans involved elaborate disguises and possibly cross-dressing, extensive use of acting skills, memorising copious amounts of otherwise useless information, inappropriate displays of Holmes's perverted sense of humour or all-night vigils in dank dark and dreary places. And in all probability, all of the above.

I was preparing for the worst and, as most of the times, I could hardly wait.

Otherwise the subsequent journey through France and Germany lacked somewhat in excitement, which was perhaps just as well, for I anticipated that once Holmes started the investigation in Bohemia, the pace of events would increase markedly.

I was not wrong.

Late in the evening, we the reached place of our destination – a small town where Miss Irene Adder supposedly resided – and proceeded to the nearest inn.

'One should think that His Majesty Your Client would book rooms for us at some decent place or at least give us money to pay for renting some cottage,' I grumbled perhaps a little ungraciously after we had already trodden for five miles in our quest for the Nearest Inn but, I have to admit, I was rather tired.

'He did,' said Holmes. 'We have got two adjoining rooms at a very nice place and also free meals for as long as we want.'

I was indeed glad to hear it, however, there was still one thing worrying me slightly.

'How far is the inn?'

'Oh, perhaps another five miles. It is the nearest one, you know,' he added as though it was supposed to explain anything.

When we finally found it, I gratefully went to my room and fell down upon the bed to sleep.

I woke up refreshed, if somewhat hungry, having foregone any sort of supper on the previous day. While shaving, I wondered yet again what my friend's plans were, but I eventually decided that such speculations could only result in a nick on my cheek, so instead I turned my thoughts to upcoming breakfast.

When I entered the dining room, Holmes was seated at one of the tables and presently he waved me to join him. I observed that his coffee cup already contained two cigarette butts and a good portion of ash from the third one – a sure sign that the detective had been thinking intensely.

'So,' I broke the silence at last. 'What are we going to do today?'

Holmes dropped his half-smoked cigarette into his coffee and watched it float for a moment.

'Smart ciggies – don't sink,' he murmured. Then cleared his throat and spoke louder: 'Not much. We shall go and see Miss Adder's house. We must gather some information about the surrounding area for we shall need it tonight.'

'Holmes, you do not intend to break in there, do you?' I asked cautiously.

'Whatever gave you that idea, my dear boy? Of course not.' Holmes's eyes sparkled with mirth. 'We are only going to use some good old-fashioned persuasion techniques.'

That did not ease my mind.

Nonetheless, after breakfast we went for our investigatory stroll. Well, Holmes was investigating, I simply enjoyed the clear air, admired architecture of the town and occasionally voiced my contentment with the world in general to my friend, who absentmindedly hmph-ed and mhm-ed in agreement. After about two hours of this pleasant conversation, we gained Miss Irene Adder's residence. I ascertained that it was the object that we were looking for from Holmes's suddenly piercing stare directed at the house (the house did not seem perturbed – a most unusual reaction, I must say), from his abrupt and surreptitious interest in the nearby flora and also from his urgent whisper: 'This is it.'

The "it" was a two-storey bijou villa. ('Not too big, so that means the servants do not live here. Excellent.' I heard Holmes mutter.) On the right side, there were long windows almost to the floor and behind them a large sitting room. At the back there was a garden and it was that that held my friend's attention. The garden was surrounded by a five-foot wall, over which we presently peered with discreet curiosity. I was more discreet while Holmes was more curious, but fortunately the street was empty and we were free to pursue our clandestine activities.

We continued in this moderately furtive fashion for some hours until Holmes announced that it was time to head back to the inn. It was high time indeed – I was practically famished for Holmes had not even wanted to hear about finding a place where we could appease our hunger, as food or other demands of the body meant nothing to him while he was working. He also did not let me slip quietly away and insisted that I took a closer look at the garden for reasons that became disturbingly apparent later that evening.

After our return and much needed dinner, Holmes revealed his plans. To say I was astounded would be a major understatement and I'm afraid that I rather goggled as Holmes removed our disguises from his carpet bag. Evidently, we were to pose as bohemian travelling musicians. Gypsies, to be precise. I listened in disbelief as Holmes expounded his theory, proposing that we conceal ourselves behind a convenient bush in Miss Adder's garden and serenade under her bedroom's window until she starts applauding or, in exasperation, throwing things at us.

'I'm sure that if we put adequate effort in our performance, she shall throw the royal sandals as well,' Holmes finished and disappeared into his room to change into his costume.

It seemed that I really had no alternative but to follow suit and so, after a brief moment of hesitation, closely succeeded by a fleeting desire to altogether refuse participating in such a farce, I donned the disguise.

Clad in knee-high boots, close-fitting dark trousers, yellow shirt with no buttons, and therefore revealing my naked chest, and holding a kerchief of bright red colour, I looked into a mirror and had a sudden wish to curl up and die. That wish became even more pronounced when I remembered that I would have to walk like this through half of the town. I was indeed glad that dusk was fast approaching and together with it, the forgiving shroud of darkness.

This was the moment Holmes chose to emerge from his bedroom. He was dressed in similar fashion, with the notable addition of a golden earring affixed to his left ear and an equally golden front tooth he flashed when he smiled.

'Perfect, my dear fellow,' Holmes's eyes shone eagerly, reflecting the sparks of glittering gold (false, I presumed) of his earring and tooth.

'Now,' he turned to his reflection and frowned slightly, 'why don't I look like Emmanuelle Bèart?' he murmured.

'Perhaps because you are not a French movie star,' I ventured an explanation for I was accustomed to meet my friend's, often quite bizarre, questions with equally bizarre answers.

'Hm, yes... what you say might be of some merit. Well, no matter. Fetch our overcoats, Watson. I fully realise your limits as an actor – we shall conceal our gay apparel until we reach Miss Adder's house.'

Thank the Lord for small mercies, I sighed. Then I put on my coat and followed Holmes out of the door.

Upon reaching the abode of Irene Adder, we climbed over the wall to the garden. By this time it was quite dark and I could not shed the nagging suspicion that somewhere within a three-foot distance there was an unlocked and easily accessible gate. Entering via opened gates was perhaps "no fun", as Holmes once put it, but I would not complain if we did it more often.

'Earlier today you no doubt observed this very fitting bush,' Holmes whispered in my ear, pointing to said bush. 'Come.' And promptly, we scuttled off to hide behind it.

'Now, Watson,' Holmes was shrugging off his coat, indicating I should do the same, 'take this.' He procured, seemingly out of thin air, something that looked like a pair of maracas. 'And I shall take care of this.' "This" being a mandolin of some sort. I hadn't the faintest notion where he had kept it or, for that matter, how he carried it here without anyone noticing.

'We may have to wait for some considerable time before it is safe to proceed. As soon as the house darkens, we shall begin. It is quite important to make sure the room behind those French windows you see in front of us, is empty. Otherwise, our plans could go a little awry.'

Indeed they could, especially if Miss Adder kept a dog there, which happened to be unappreciative of lurking strangers.

It was an hour or two before the lights inside were extinguished and another thirty minutes, during which we were making sure that the household - unsuspecting - drifted off to sleep. And then we charged through the foliage and out of our hiding place.

We stood decorously under Miss Irene Adder's bedroom window, which was conveniently situated at the back of the house and thus overlooked the garden.

'What do you think, Watson?' Holmes turned to me. 'I fancy Bohemian Rhapsody shall be quite a starter.'

It certainly was. For a while I stood there, simply gaping at my friend as he strummed his mandolin and bawled about being a poor boy whose life had just begun. I had never heard Holmes sing before, but it was not so terrible as I had feared it would be. His voice was perhaps unconventional – one had a curious impression that he was singing simultaneously in and out of tune – but it was not entirely unpleasant. Local cats and dogs appeared to agree with my opinion and joined Holmes midway through the song. However, Miss Adder's window, as well as all the others, remained black.

'It seems we need more drastic measures,' I said when all was quiet again.

'Yes, perhaps,' was the reply, followed by a riveting rendering of an old folk tune, where the author startlingly compares the Moon to a big pizza pie and then there is this romatic bit about amore.

That too did not bring the desired result, and out of professional habit I began to wonder if Miss Adder's hearing was impaired or if perhaps there were some tablets involved that she had taken to have such a deep slumber. Ruefully I reflected on many nights, during which Holmes had been practising his violin playing, when I would have heartily welcomed such magical medication myself. Of course, there was no purpose in dwelling on it now, for Mary made a much more pleasant company and especially at night.

'Don't you think we should try some other course of action?' I suggested. 'It might be just my impression, but this one doesn't seem to work.'

'No. This will certainly work and therefore I need your trusty presence directly in front of me.' Saying so, Holmes stepped behind my back. I was momentarily confused as to the meaning of his last remark, until I heard him yodelling about great snowy mountains, little Heidi and a forest. About a minute into his performance in Miss Adder's bedroom a lamp was lit, the window opened and out leant a woman that I assumed was the lady herself. I do not know whether Holmes was seized with compunction (chances for that were indeed very slim), 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. Even in the scant light I could see her long auburn hair framing her lovely face slightly flushed from sleep, and spilling down over her nightshirt. It was a positively ravishing sight.

The next instant, however, my appreciation was greatly diminished, for out of those perfect lips flowed a stream of such foul curses that would make a sailor blush and, additionally, various objects were violently thrown at us.

'Catch, Watson,' I heard Holmes hiss.

I complied, which was not particularly difficult, for I had my not inconsiderable experience of playing rugby during my university days to rely upon. I managed to intercept a flying hairbrush, two books, an inkwell (thankfully empty), a rubber chicken, a Viking's helmet and a worn item of footwear.

'Finally.' Holmes ceased his infernal yodelling and bent to pick up what turned out to be an old sandal. I looked on it with some disappointment.

'Are you sure this is the King's property?'

'Quite. Now, let us go. I'm afraid that if we linger, the lady might actually call a constable. It would certainly be amusing if we ended by sharing the same cell as we once shared our rooms.'

I could see nothing amusing in it.

Quickly, we gathered our coats and departed in the same fashion that we came, only by some miracle avoiding falling flat on our faces as the darkness was almost complete by now.

When we were again safely ensconed in our rooms at the inn, I took the opportunity to examine the sandal more closely. It did not seem exceptional in any way, save perhaps an unobtrusive silver clasp with tiny lettering, saying: Made in China.

'I think we should retire for the night,' said Holmes, lighting his after-hard-piece-of-work pipe. 'We still have to retrieve the second sandal and that is our objective for tomorrow.'

After this night's events I welcomed sleep with relief. For some time I heard Holmes sawing at the strings of his mandolin with a violin bow, playing something that resembled Mendelssohn's Lieder, but I quickly surrendered to my weariness.

The following day, shortly after breakfast, Holmes and I once more walked the familiar route to the house of Irene Adder. This time, at least, we were dressed as befitted a proper gentleman and his slightly potty, but elegant detective friend.

'When we arrive,' that friend was saying as we neared our destination, 'you shall knock on the door and request a meeting with our bird.'

'You mean, Miss Adder?'

'Who else could I mean?' Holmes gave me a disapproving look.

I don't know, the last time he used those words he meant duck a l'Orange.

'All right.' I paused. 'What is the purpose of my meeting her?'

'It shall give me the opportunity to stealthily sneak into her bedroom where she must keep the second sandal, since yesterday she was able to throw the first one at us so swiftly, supposedly without leaving the room. I am sure you can keep Miss Adder occupied for a while. With your natural advantages, Watson, I have no doubts that she shall be most unwilling to relinquish your company for at least an hour.'

I was about to demand some explanation as to what Holmes meant by that, but at that very moment we saw a hansom cab dash down the road, with Miss Irene Adder inside.

'Well, that's a nice coincidence,' Holmes remarked after we finished coughing up the dust that the cab left in its wake.

'It should be much easier now. Come, Watson.'

We reached the house and Holmes knocked energetically. The door was opened by a middle-aged parlour maid of a somewhat sulky disposition.

'What?' she asked politely.

'We have come to inquire for Miss Irene Adder.' Sherlock Holmes smiled affably.

'What about 'er?' The maid was unmoved.

'We should like to see her.'

'Can't.'

'I beg your pardon?'

'You can't, sirs. The mistress's just left.'

'Well, then I think we shall wait.'

'That'll sure take some time.'

'Nonetheless, that is what we are intending to do.'

Holmes never lost his charming manner and I had to admire the man for his remarkable self-restraint. If it had not been for the case, he would have already been in the middle of his "listen, you nincompoop, you are going to let me in or I am going to insult your intelligence, job qualifications and parentage for the next three hours" speech.

The maid shrugged and led us to the sitting room. However, she seemed very unwilling to leave us alone, as if she suspected that we would steal all the silver spoons the instant her back was turned. Perhaps our constant association with criminal world did show a little after all. She sat in the biggest arm-chair and proceeded to stare at us in a decidedly fishy fashion. I caught Holmes's frustrated look and deemed it best to engage the maid in conversation, hoping it would provide some distraction for Holmes to either discreetly search this room or creep upstairs.

I began to spin a yarn about the war and my time in India and, fortunately, our unwanted guardian proved to possess quite a fascination for morbid details. Therefore we chatted amicably while Holmes cast around furtive glances.

Suddenly my interlocutor asked, 'So you were a soldier, sir, eh?'

'No, an Assistant Surgeon attached to the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers,' I replied.

'Bloody hell, a doctor!' She paled and appeared ready to faint. And then she did faint.

'Miss? miss?' With one hand, I gently patted her cheeks and with the other my own pockets in attempt to locate the vial of smelling salts that I usually carried on my person. Such situations happened with decent regularity in the course of Holmes's cases and it was always wise to be prepared.

'Excellent, Watson.' Holmes was peering eagerly over my shoulder. 'You eliminated her most efficiently.'

I could not help but feel proud at my friend's words of praise, for it was not often that I heard them. However, my modesty was telling me that it was not my doing and my medical instincts insisted that I should do something about the hapless woman.

'No, no, leave her until I search the bedroom,' Holmes stopped me. 'It is very fortunate that she suffers from iatrophobia.'

'What?'

'Fear of going to the doctor. Or of doctors,' Holmes continued. 'Note that she exhibited acute symptoms of panic when you spoke of your profession.'

'Yes, I know what iatrophobia is but, surely, you can't be serious.' I looked doubtfully at the recumbent form. 'Well... perhaps there might be something in it,' I conceded.

'Mhm. Now, wait here.' He gave me a pat on the arm and quickly disappeared upstairs.

Sherlock Holmes did indeed find the royal sandal exactly where he suspected it to be – dangling securely in the chimney flue – and the investigation was brought to a fruitful conclusion. We stayed in Bohemia for another two days, making full use of those free meals courtesy of our client, before journeying back to England.

The King was naturally overjoyed upon receiving his precious footwear and afterwards, widely advertised my friend's skills as a lost-items-of-clothing detective, which action, I am pleased to report, brought on Holmes's doorstep some of the most unusual cases. I still retain those chronicles among many other papers pertaining to the time I spent with Mr Sherlock Holmes, as they make an entertaining bedtime reading. I find, however, that those narratives are rather something for which the world is not yet prepared.