A Scandal in Bohemia. B2 Graded Reader.

This graded reader edition of the classic Sherlock Holmes Story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has been specially adapted for B2 level English-langauge learners. The first part is presented here for this reading comprehension exercise.

Part 1

Sherlock Holmes always called her “the woman.” He hardly ever mentioned her by any other name. In his eyes, she was better than and more important than any other woman he had ever met. This does not mean that he had romantic feelings for Irene Adler, as he found emotions to be unappealing and avoided them altogether. He was, without a doubt, the most logical and observant person in the history of the world. If he had allowed himself to become romantically involved with anyone, it would have jeopardised his abilities as a detective. Sherlock only talked about “softer passions” if he was being sarcastic and his only use for them was as a way of understanding the behaviour and motivation of other people. But as a trained observer, he did not allow his own emotions to interfere with his finely-tuned senses, which could have disrupted his ability to reason accurately. In spite of all this, there was only one woman who he regarded in such a way, and that was the late Irene Adler, whose reputation was uncertain.

I hadn’t seen much of Holmes lately, as my marriage had caused us to spend more and more time apart. My complete happiness and my obligations as a homeowner had consumed my attention. Meanwhile, Holmes, who absolutely despised all forms of social interaction, remained in our apartment in Baker Street, surrounded by his old books, alternating between cocaine and ambition, between the effects of the drug and the intense energy of his nature. Despite everything, he was still deeply interested in studying crime, using his remarkable observation skills and extraordinary intellect to investigate clues and solve mysteries that the official police had given up on. Occasionally, I heard rumours about his work, such as when he was asked to go to Odessa for the Trepoff murder case, or how he had successfully solved the Atkinson brothers’ strange tragedy in Trincomalee, and finally, his delicate and successful mission for the royal family in Holland. However, beyond these small details, which I only found out about from the news, I knew very little about my former friend and companion.

One night, on March 20th, I was coming back from visiting a patient (I had returned to practising medicine), and my route took me through Baker Street. As I passed the familiar door, which I always associate with the time when my wife and I started going out together and the dark events of a previous case, I felt a strong desire to see Holmes again and find out how he was using his remarkable abilities. His rooms were brightly lit, and as I looked up, I saw his tall, thin figure pass twice in a dark outline against the window shade. He was pacing quickly, with his head down and his hands behind his back. Knowing his every mood and habit, his posture and behaviour told their own story: He was working again. He had woken up from his drug-induced dreams and was on the path to solving a new mystery. I rang the bell and was taken to the room that used to be mine.

He didn’t show his feelings in a very enthusiastic way, but I think he was happy to see me. Without saying much, he gestured for me to sit in an armchair and offered me his case of cigars. He also offered me some brandy. Then, he stood in front of the fire and looked at me in his unique introspective style.

“Being married suits you, you look good Watson,” he said. “I think you’ve put on three and a half kilos since I last saw you.”

“Three?!” I asked.

“I would have thought a little more. Just a bit more, I believe, Watson. And I see you’ve gone back to working as a doctor again. You didn’t tell me you planned on working again.”

“How did you know?”

“I can see it. I deduced it. And how do I know you’ve got wet lately and that you have a clumsy and careless housekeeper?”

“My dear Holmes,” I said, “this is too much. You would have been burned as a witch if you had lived a few centuries ago. It’s true I went on a walk in the country on Thursday and came back in a terrible mess, but I changed my clothes. I can’t imagine how you figured it out. And as for the housekeeper, Mary Jane, she’s hopeless. My wife has sacked her, but I still don’t understand how you worked that out.”

He laughed to himself and rubbed his long, nervous hands together.

“It’s quite simple,” he said. “My eyes tell me that on the inside of your left shoe, where the light of the fire is shining on it, the leather is marked by six parallel cuts. Obviously, someone carelessly scraped around the edges of the sole of your shoe to remove dried mud. That’s how I deduced that you’ve been out in horrible weather and that you had an especially bad housekeeper who cuts shoes when she cleans them. And regarding your medical practice, if a man walks into my room smelling of antiseptic, and a bulge on the right side of his top hat where he has hidden his stethoscope, I’d be a fool not to say he’s a doctor.”

I couldn’t help laughing at how easily he explained his process of deduction. “Whenever you give your reasons,” I said, “it always seems so simple that I could do it myself. However, every time you give your conclusions, I’m confused until you explain how you reached those conclusions. But I’m sure that my eyes are just as good as yours.”

“Absolutely,” he replied, lighting a cigar and relaxing into an armchair. “You see, but you don’t observe. The difference is clear. For example, you’ve seen the steps that lead up from the hall to this room many times.”

“Yes, many times.”

“How many times?”

“Well, hundreds of times.”

“Then how many steps are there?”

“How many? I don’t know.”

“Exactly! You’ve seen but you haven’t observed. However, I know there are seventeen steps because I’ve both seen and observed. By the way, since you’re interested in these little problems, and since you’re kind enough to keep notes about some of my experiences, you may find this one interesting.” He threw a sheet of thick, pink-tinted paper that had been lying open on the table. “It arrived in the mail,” he said. “Read it out loud.”

The note had no date or signature, and no address.

“A man will call on you tonight at quarter to eight,” it said, “to consult you on a matter of great importance. Your recent services to a royal family of Europe have shown that you are someone who can be trusted with such important tasks. This account of you we have from all sources received. Be in your room at that time and do not be offended if your visitor wears a mask.”

“This is really a mystery,” I said. “What do you think it means?”

“I don’t have any information yet. It’s a big mistake to theorise before we have enough information. Without even realising it, we begin to twist facts to fit theories rather than theories to fit facts. But the letter itself. What can you deduce from it?”

I looked closely at the writing and the paper it was written on. “The person who wrote this note must be wealthy,” I said, trying to use Holmes’ methods of deduction. “This is very expensive paper. It must have cost a lot of money, relatively speaking. It is particularly strong and stiff.”

“That’s the right word,” said Holmes. “This is not English paper at all. Hold it up to the light.”

I did as he said and saw a large “E” with a small “g”, a “P”, and a large “G” with a small “t” woven into the texture of the paper.

“What do you think?” Holmes asked.

“I think that it could be the maker’s name, or his logo.”

“Not at all. The ‘G’ with the small ‘t’ stands for ‘Gesellschaft’, which means ‘company’ in German. It’s a common abbreviation like our ‘Co.’ ‘P’, of course, stands for ‘Papier’, which means ‘paper’ in German. Now let’s look it up in the international encyclopaedia.” He took down a heavy brown book from his bookshelves. “Eglow, Eglonitz – here we are, Egria. It’s in a German-speaking country – Bohemia, not far from Carlsbad. ‘Notable for its numerous glass factories and paper mills.’ Ha, ha, my friend, what do you think of that?” His eyes sparkled, and he sent up a large cloud of smoke from his cigar in celebration.

“The paper must have been made in Bohemia,” I said.

“Exactly. And the person who wrote the note must be German. Do you notice the unusual sentence structure – ‘This account of you we have from all sources received.’ A Frenchman or Russian would not have written like that. This kind of unnatural sentence structure is typical of the type of mistake that Germans make when speaking English. So all we have left to do is figure out what this German, who writes on Bohemian paper and prefers to wear a mask instead of showing his face, wants. And here he comes, if I’m not mistaken, to answer all of our questions.”

As he spoke, we heard the sharp sound of horses’ hooves and wheels grinding against the curb, followed by a ring of the doorbell. Holmes whistled.

“It sounds as if there are two horses, from the sound of them arriving,” he said. “Yes,” he continued, glancing out the window. “A nice little carriage and a pair of beautiful horses. They must be worth a lot of money. There’s money in this case, Watson, if nothing else.”

“I think I should go, Holmes.”

“Not at all, Doctor. Stay where you are. I need my biographer and companion, and this looks like an interesting case. It would be a shame to miss it.”

“But what about your client?”

“Don’t worry about him. I might need your help, and so might he. Here he comes. Sit in that armchair, Doctor, and pay attention.”

We heard a slow and heavy step on the stairs and in the hallway, which stopped right outside the door. Then there was a loud and authoritative knock.

Holmes said, “Come in!” and a man entered who was incredibly tall, at least six feet and six inches, he looked like a strong man. He wore expensive clothes that would be considered bad taste in England. Thick fur decorated the sleeves and fronts of his coat, and he wore a dark blue cloak over his shoulders, lined with orange silk and fastened at the neck with a bright gemstone. His boots extended halfway up his calves and were trimmed with brown fur, making him look like a rich barbarian. He carried a large hat in his hand and wore a black mask that covered most of his face, He looked as if he was a man of strong character with thick lips and a long, straight chin that made him look determined.

The man asked, in a deep voice with a strong German accent, “Did you receive my letter? I explained that I would come to visit.” He looked from one to the other of us, uncertain which person to speak to.

Holmes said, “Please take a seat. This is my friend and colleague, Dr. Watson, who occasionally helps me with my cases. Who do I have the honour of addressing?”

“You may address me as Count Von Kramm, a Bohemian nobleman,” the man replied. “I understand that your friend is a man of honour and discretion whom I may trust with a matter of great importance. If he is not, I would prefer to speak with you alone.”

I got up to leave, but Holmes grabbed my wrist and pushed me back into my chair. “It’s both of us, or none,” he said. “You can say anything in front of this gentleman that you would say to me.”

The Count shrugged his broad shoulders and said, “Then I must begin by asking you both to keep this matter totally secret for two years. After that time, it won’t be important. But at the moment, it’s of such great importance that it may have an impact on European history.”

“I promise,” said Holmes.

“So do I,” I added.

The Count continued, “Please excuse this mask. The person who employs me wishes that I remain anonymous, and I must confess that the title I just used is not exactly mine.”

“I was already aware of that,” Holmes said dryly.

“The circumstances are delicate, and every precaution must be taken to prevent a scandal that could seriously compromise one of the ruling families of Europe. To be clear, the matter involves the great House of Ormstein, hereditary kings of Bohemia.”

Holmes relaxed in his armchair and closed his eyes. The visitor glanced at Holmes with some obvious surprise at how relaxed Homes looked, considering that he had been described as the most incisive reasoner and most energetic detective in Europe. Holmes slowly opened his eyes again and looked impatiently at the tall man. “If you described the situation in more detail, I would be able to help you better, Your Highness,” he said. The man quickly stood up from his chair and walked up and down the room. He looked agitated. Then, with a gesture of desperation, he quickly removed the mask from his face and threw it on the floor. “You are right,” he cried; “I am the King. Why should I attempt to cover it up?”

“You can understand that I am not used to doing business like this in person. But the problem was so delicate that I could not share it with anyone else without exposing myself to more risk. So I have come to consult you from Prague in disguise.”

“These are the basic facts: About five years ago, during a long stay in Warsaw, I met the well-known adventurer, Irene Adler. I am sure that you know her name.”

“Please look her name up in our records Doctor.” asked Holmes, with his eyes still closed. We had kept notes and records of many of the important characters that we had met and heard about during our investigations and had collected such extensive records that it was easy to find information about any important person. I easily found her name in our records and passed the pages to Holmes.

“Let me see!” said Holmes. “Born in New Jersey in 1858. A Contralto operatic singer at La Scala, Prima donna at the Imperial Opera of Warsaw—yes! Retired from operatic stage. Living in London—right! 

“Your Majesty, I understand that you became involved with this young woman, you wrote her some compromising letters, and now you want to get those letters back.” said Holmes.

“Yes, we have tried and failed.”

“Did you secretly get married to her?” asked Holmes.

“No!” answered the King.

“Were there any legal contracts or documents involved?” enquired Holmes.

“No, not at all.” responded the King.

“Then this doesn’t seem like an enormous problem,” said Holmes.

“But a very serious one to me,” replied the King.

“I am engaged to be married but any doubt about my behaviour would bring the matter to an end.”

“She is threatening to send them the photograph. And she will do it. I know that she will do it. You do not know her, but she has a soul of steel. There is nothing that she would not do to stop me from marrying another woman. Nothing!”

“You are sure that she has not sent it yet?”

“I am sure.”

“Then we still have three days,” said Holmes. “That is very fortunate, as I have one or two important matters to look into at the moment. Will your majesty be staying in London for the moment?”

“Yes.” replied the King “You will find me at The Langham Hotel under the name of the Count Von Kramm.” he continued.

“Then I will be in touch to let you know how we are progressing.” offered Holmes.

“Please do, I will be very anxious until this is resolved.” continued the King.

“Then, what about money?” asked Holmes “Whatever you need.” replied the King “Whatever I need?” enquired Holmes. “Absolutely, I would give one of the provinces of my kingdom to get that photograph back.” “And for expenses?” The King took a heavy leather bag from under his cloak and laid it on the table. “There are three hundred pounds in gold and seven hundred in notes,” he said. Holmes quickly wrote a receipt on a sheet of his note-book and handed it to him. “And the lady’s address?” he asked. “Briony Lodge, Serpentine Avenue, St. John’s Wood.” Holmes quickly wrote it down. “One more question,” he said. “Was the photograph a large format, to fit in a large frame?” “It was.” “Then, good-night, your Majesty, and I believe that we will soon have some good news for you.” As the King was leaving and the wheels of the royal carriage rolled down the street, he added “And goodnight, Watson. Please come back tomorrow afternoon at three o’clock. I would like to talk about this case with you.”

The text of this edition Copyright 2023 Gavin Hamann. Original characters and story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle copyright expired.