Let us look at his attitude towards the case.
At first, he laughed “it is quite a pretty little problem” and was pretty sure he could handle it without any difficulty. What he wanted is “Then, as to money?” and then “And for present expenses?” He is kind of looking down upon the King, as well as the case. He simply thought he could easily earn a large sum of money.
Later, he said he had hope and then promised the King: “I trust that we shall soon have some good news for you.”
In the end, when Holmes heard that Irene and her husband had left before Holmes, Watson, and the King arrived, he got shocked. “ ‘What!’ Sherlock Holmes staggered back, white with chagrin and surprise. ‘Do you mean that she has left England?’ ”
Sherlock Holmes was overconfident. Of course he has been overconfident in any case he had. However, Even Homer sometimes nods.
*How did Sherlock Holmes lose in this case?
1. He ignored the King’s warning.
Here are the King’s comments on her:
“You do not know her, but she has a soul of steel . . . and the mind of the most resolute of men.” And “there are no lengths to which she would not go—none.”
When they found out they had no way to get Irene and the picture, the King said to Holmes, “Did I not tell you how quick and resolute she was?" I think because he did not think the King was smart, so he did not take the king’s warning seriously.
In his mind, he thinks the King’s scared from his being less intelligent, and Sherlock himself has no problem of intelligence.
2. He ignored his situation and women’s ability and wisdom, especially Irene’s occupation.
He himself is very good at disguising and gets information; he probably never thought a woman could do the same thing to him!
He forgot his occupation and fame have been exposed in public. Once somebody is in those circumstances, I mean, becomes famous to all, it is easy for other people to recognize and take measures ahead to prevent him.
The possibilities for Irene to beat Holmes
Firstly, of course, she is smart. From the reason she keeps the picture and the way she hid the picture, which so many robbers and burglars failed to find, we can easily infer she is a smart woman.
Secondly, she had enough preparation for the burglars, those who waylaid her, etc., and, knew the King would do more right before his marriage. Let us not forget the fact: it is she, Irene who threatens the King by using the picture as a weapon! If she’s not confident about her ability to beat the King, she would have given up long time ago. After all, who would like to be disturbed by burglars and robbers as often as it could be?
Thirdly, she wrote very clearly in her letter to all that she had been warned against Holmes months ago. “I had been told that if the King employed an agent it would certainly be you. And your address had been given me.” I’m sure she did the research about the style of Sherlock Holmes in handling cases. There is a saying in ancient Chinese: Knowing the enemy and yourself, you can fight a hundred battles and win them all. That is why when she and her husband found out that the most formidable Sherlock Holmes had been involved, they chose to leave. Facing powerful nemeses, the best thing to do now is to quit. That is another Chinese strategy. They did not take any risk of staying there waiting for Sherlock Holmes to beat them.
Fourthly, her new husband, the lawyer Norton, had pushed her into leaving England as soon as possible. Even though the story does not tell us directly about this, we can infer from the scene that Sherlock Holmes viewed through the window, and their rush to the church, as well as Sherlock Holmes becoming the witness of their marriage accidentally. Sherlock Holmes just simply takes this event as an interesting experience and enjoys it, but he forgets to ask why. Why do they need to marry in such a hurry??? He was aware that “it looked like the pair might take an immediate departure.” But how soon? From the hurry of their marriage, I can see they were going to leave that night or early the next morning. Time is success! He and the King just missed by several hours.
Fifthly, Sherlock Holmes was careless and he disguised himself two times in front of Irene closely. That is a danger to be recognized. One time he dressed like an unemployed hostler, and, the second time as a clergyman. He is so good at the disguising to Dr. Watson, who thinks that “[t]he stage lost a fine actor.” However, he forgot that Irene herself is an actress and knows all the tricks. The most wonderful part in this story is when Irene said goodnight to Sherlock Holmes under disguised costume, casual and elegant.