“What are you discussing?”
Villard returned, forehead drenched in perspiration. “The restaurants in London and what we should treat you to later,” Holmes answered.
The redhead detective blushed. “Oh, there’s no need for that. I’m not here on holiday. Don’t worry about me; I’ll settle for a simple meal.”
Holmes couldn’t help but smile at the fellow’s reaction. “Villard, my friend, we were actually looking for the missing oil painting.”
“What? You found the oil painting?!” Villard nearly leaped into the air. “That was fast! But how?”
“If you do as I say, stay calm, and pay attention to the details that you might have missed, you will also be able to piece the answer together.”
“Oh, you have such a high opinion of me. It may be child’s play to you, but to the unexceptional man like us, it’s like reaching for the moon,” Villard sincerely admitted.
“It’s not like that. As I said, you have the potential, Villard, but you haven’t fully tapped into it yet. In fact, Zhang Heng here is about to find the answer as well, and he hasn’t been in this business for long.”
“The people in your company are certainly not ordinary-I can only hope to learn from them.”
Unlike Gregson, this red-haired detective was unduly modest, always putting himself down, playing the humble student.
With nothing to combat Villard’s self-vilification, Holmes said, “It was a joke, but since you’re our guest and it’s almost lunch, let’s have a meal together. You can rest later in the afternoon and mull over the case. I’ll need the afternoon to look into something anyway, so we’ll be seeing each other again tonight.”
The three subsequently had lunch at the famous Royal Restaurant in London. After the meal, Holmes left in a hurry as he had declared, leaving Villard to return to the hotel and Zhang Heng to Baker Street alone. As soon as he opened the door, Mrs. Hudson shot him a strange look.
“What is it?”
“You have a guest,” she answered. “A guest?” Zhang Heng looked puzzled. He was all alone here in this 19th century London and had neither friends nor relatives. The only person he was close to was Holmes, and nearly everyone who came to 221B Baker Street was his guests.
Then, suddenly someone came to mind-the gypsy busker he met that afternoon in the East End. Before they parted ways, the busker had asked for his name and address and promised a visit.
Zhang Heng thought that the gypsy had only said it in passing, never expecting the fellow to actually come, and the very next day, to boot.
However, when Zhang Heng walked into the drawing-room and saw his guest, he was surprised to see that instead of the gypsy busker, a woman was seated on the sofa-and a gorgeous woman at that. No, to put in in a more precise way, she was the ultimate fantasy of every Victorian man, elegant, well-dressed, and all around her, an inherently mysterious persona.
“What is it?” the woman asked as she bit into a biscuit. “Don’t you recognize me?”
“You’ve gone through an immense transformation.”
Zhang Heng had to admit that if Holmes’ makeup skills were at a level two, this mysterious woman was at a full-blown level three. Her disguise as a man was very natural, to put it mildly, even covering up her neck with a long scarf. It made it impossible to see that she did not have Adam’s apple, a dead giveaway.
Of course, it was also mostly because Zhang Heng paid little attention to her at the time. He was simply helping her. Also, unlike Holmes, she was not a familiar face, and numerous factors contributed to his failure in noticing those tiny little details.
“I didn’t mean to deceive you, but as you can see, if I went as myself, I wouldn’t have been able to go,” said the woman.
“Then what is lady such as yourself doing in the East End?”
“I’m the lead singer of an opera troupe, and I am fairly well-known in London, but I guess you probably haven’t seen me perform. I went there looking for inspiration for the new piece,” the woman answered. “Sorry, I rarely pamper myself with operas.” “It’s alright. I’m performing at the Queen’s Theatre tonight. If you like, you can come watch with your friend.”
The woman produced two tickets and placed them on the table.
“I only helped because I happened to there. You really don’t have to.”
“Then, treat it as making an acquaintance.” The woman did not take the tickets back. After finishing the last cookie in her hand, she went to Mrs. Hudson, complimenting, “Good bake.”“Well, I’m glad you like it!” Mrs. Hudson trilled in delight.
The opera singer stretched lazily. She had come with the intention of gifting Zhang Heng the tickets, and now that it was done, she stood up from the sofa to leave.
But Zhang Heng called out to her, “I didn’t get your name.” “Adler,” the opera singer turned around and smiled, “Irene Adler.”
She reinstalled her bowler’s hat and veil, showing herself out. A two-wheeled carriage was already at the ready.
Zhang Heng flinched when he heard the name. Those who read the “Sherlock Holmes” series would find the name Irene Adler all too familiar. Holmes once told Watson that he had only lost to four people. Among them, were three men and a woman, and that woman was the mysterious opera singer, Irene Adler. The confrontation between the pair was recorded in “A Scandal in Bohemia.” The female singer and her new husband fled London one night and Holmes failed to complete the commission, but it turned out to be a perfect ending for both parties. In the end, Holmes asked to have Adler’s photo as a souvenir, and since then, had only referred to her as “that woman.”
Consequently, certain readers suspected that Holmes might have had a secret affection for the opera singer.
Nonetheless, as Sherlock Holmes’s new roommate, Zhang Heng, was more inclined to think that it was pure admiration for a like-minded soul. In fact, Holmes was a stranger to the softer passions, such as love. His attitude toward it was always one of repugnance, believing that such things would damage rationale, its effects of which far worse than the substances he injected himself with. Love was like sand that had fallen into a precision instrument or cracks on a high-powered lens.
Therefore, he had always stayed away from love and the likes of it. Of course, he did still study the psychology of people in love, but it was all in the name of solving cases.