This is the first part of a short story that takes place during the hiatus of Sherlock Holmes, shortly before his return to London. (I am sorry, my grammar is not yet perfect as I am German - so any hints regarding possible corrections are welcome...)

From the memoirs of Irene Norton (née Adler)

It was in the late summer of 1893, when a small concert tour brought me to Montpellier in the south of France. I had already retired from the stages of the great international opera houses some time before my marriage – but I must admit I have never been really comfortable with singing completely disclosed from the public.

Luckily, my husband, Godfrey Norton, has always been quite appreciative of my need for a now-and-then audience – and as we had been forced by circumstances to leave England, my adopted home country, I was now rendering smaller performances in France, which had become our new home.

In the meantime I had, together with my maiden name, also abandoned that part of my past which had once brought me into the focus of the probably greatest criminalist of our time.

This confrontation had eventually been the cause for my beginning a new life abroad, because I then considered (and I still do) that I simply could not afford such a formidable adversary as Sherlock Holmes.

The later news about his death in the Swiss Reichenbach Falls had reached me, as well as the wider public, by means of the literary coverage of his chronicler and associate Dr. John Watson - and I am not afraid to admit that this had found me rather affected.

Though Mr. Holmes had become my opponent (and a positively dangerous one) on behalf of a European royal house, I had never borne him any resentment on a personal level.

On the contrary, his unbelievable resourcefulness, not to mention his obvious talent as an actor (which had even granted him access into my house, wearing the disguise of an elderly preacher) has always commanded my respect. But in those times, I would have much rather wished him to be my partner on stage as a sleuth close on my heels. I sometimes marvel, even nowadays, the fact that I actually had managed to slip through his fingers at the very last moment.

Those incidents, though, had already been laying far behind me during my time at Montpellier. When I was not performing I was leading a rather tranquil life, as well as a tranquil but harmonious marriage. The Mediterranean atmosphere of Southern France had turned out to be much to my taste, and I remember my Montpellier sojourn as one of the most agreeable ones during those years.

Godfrey had been called to Paris on business matters, so I spent quite some time on my own. When I was not rehearsing or performing, I indulged myself in long walks and rides, visited exhibitions and – maybe for sentimental reasons – even dabbled in composing an opera.

At least once a week I enjoyed the beautiful paintings of the Musée Fabre, and it was then and there, where I date the start of a quite remarkable acquaintance.

I had first noticed the Gentleman a few days before, during one of my evening walks, when he had been pacing briskly in my direction. He was a tall, thin and cultivated man with a well-groomed beard, his age somewhere between mid-thirties and forties. I had not known him, then, but when passing me by, he had politely lifted his top hat and mumbled: "Madame Norton…"

It had struck me as curious, because people who know me only from the stage still call me by my maiden name "Adler", so I am not used to strangers calling me "Norton". Also, as a musician, I have a very good ear for sounds, and something in this voice had rung a very distant bell in my mind, though I had not been able to combine the memory with a face.

The night after this encounter I had given a public performance, and there I had seen the gentleman again, sitting in the fourth row, his eyes closed, his raptor like features utterly relaxed, with a slight smile on his face. It is not unusual for me to read from the faces of my audience expressions of enjoyment – but something in this smile had touched me deeply – maybe the vague idea that it was a smile not often to be shown.