Watson arrives at 221B Baker Street at exactly three o’clock the next day, but Holmes has not returned. Watson waits for an hour, when a “drunken-looking groom” arrives. Watson finally recognizes Holmes in his disguise, and the two men discuss the progress of the investigation up to that point. That afternoon, Holmes took on the persona of a horse-groom and socialized with the other grooms at the mews near Irene Adler’s house, in order to get information about her. He heard from the men that Irene has a suitor, a lawyer named Godfrey Norton, who calls on her regularly.
Holmes begins this adventure in disguise, in order to get as close as possible to Irene and collect data for the case. The fact that Watson is fooled by Holmes’s disguise shows the detective’s extraordinary skill at transforming himself into another person, even if it is for something as simple as information-gathering. This scene also demonstrates the unorthodox methods Holmes uses in his cases.
While Holmes was still observing Irene’s house, Godfrey Norton arrived, spent about half an hour in the house, and then hopped in to a carriage, asking the driver to take him to St. Monica’s Church as fast as he can. Holmes followed him and found both Godfrey and Irene inside the church already, with a clergyman. To his surprise, the three of them turned to him to ask if he would witness their marriage ceremony.
While still in information-gathering mode, Holmes is swept up into the action, becoming part of Irene and Godfrey’s wedding. The wedding is strangely rushed, and Irene and Godfrey have not even brought a friend along to witness the ceremony.
Holmes took part in the ceremony, still dressed in the disguise of the out-of-work groom, and when they finished, Irene gave him a sovereign coin, which he still keeps with him as a souvenir of the strange occasion. He hoped to follow them out of the church, but each of them got into a different carriage and departed in a different direction. Holmes then returned to plan the next phase of his investigation with Watson.
The wedding of Irene and Godfrey presents a strong contrast to what one would imagine a royal wedding might be like. This ceremony is sparse and rushed, and when the newly-married couple exit the church, they leave in different directions, as if this were a minor part of their day. Irene’s marriage complicates the notion that she is planning to sabotage the King’s relationship out of jealousy, although Irene’s unorthodox ceremony certainly raises questions about what she’s up to.
Holmes asks Watson if he will help, even if it means breaking the law and running the risk of arrest. Watson agrees enthusiastically and Holmes explains the plan. Holmes and Watson will be at Irene Adler’s house when she returns home at 7:00 p.m. Sherlock will be involved in “some small unpleasantness,” and Watson must not interfere in any way. If all goes to plan, Holmes will be brought into Irene’s house, at which point Watson will shoot off a rocket and call fire. Finally, Watson must wait for Holmes at the end of the street once the plan has been completed.
Energized from his earlier adventure, Holmes forms a new plan that is even more unorthodox, dangerous, and theatrical. Watson takes up his role as sidekick and loyal partner, cheerfully agreeing to break the law for the sake of an interesting case. This exchange highlights the fact that this is neither a mystery to be solved nor a case for the police, but rather a fun adventure for Holmes and Watson
Once Watson has agreed to the plans, Holmes changes into his disguise—that of a clergyman. Watson notes that his friend does not simply dress the part; he embodies it, transforming “his expression, his manner, his very soul” with each new disguise.
Once again, Holmes’s disguise is an opportunity for him to transform himself and demonstrate his extraordinary cunning (and for Watson to admire his friend for it).
As they wait for Irene, Holmes and Watson discuss her marriage to Godfrey Norton, guessing that she will not want her new husband to see the photo and will have hidden it well. The King had twice employed men to burgle her house to find the photo but, as Holmes notes, “they did not know how to look.” He then informs Watson that Irene will show him where the photo is hidden.
Holmes and Watson spend some time trying to get into Irene’s mind and understand her thinking. This is part of Holmes’s method of investigation: rather than searching her entire house, as the King’s men have done in the past, he will think like Irene in order to discover the hiding place.
At that moment Irene’s carriage pulls up, and as she exits, she is rushed by two men hoping to earn money by helping her. The situation quickly turns into a fight among the men. Holmes, still in disguise as the clergyman, steps forward to help Irene and is struck to the ground. The fight breaks up, and a passerby asks if Irene will let the man into her house to lie down. Irene agrees. While Holmes is on her sofa, he asks for some fresh air; when the window is opened, Watson throws the rocket into the house and shouts fire. After a few moments of confusion, Holmes announces that it is a false alarm, and he leaves shortly after that.
This staged scene is the climax of the adventure, giving Holmes a grand stage for his theatrical work. His choice of costume (a clergyman) helps to establish him as beyond suspicion, and when he is injured while trying to help Irene, she feels obligated to let him into her house. And it is a testament to Holmes’s transformation that Irene does not recognize him as the drunken groomsman who witnessed her wedding earlier that day.
Once the men are reunited on the street, Holmes explains to Watson that he employed everyone on the street, other than Irene, as part of his plan. He orchestrated the fire alarm because he knew that Irene would immediately save her most valuable possession, the photograph of her and the King. When she ran to a sliding panel in her wall, Holmes knew that must be where she kept it.
Once Holmes and Watson are reunited, the detective finally reveals his secrets to his companion. While he does not yet have the photos themselves, he was able to find their location without even letting Irene know he was looking for them—or so he thinks.
Holmes and Watson make plans to retrieve the photo the following day, in the company of the King, at 8:00 a.m. They will arrive early to catch Irene by surprise. As they arrive at the door of 221B Baker Street, a youth passes by and bids them goodnight. Sherlock is sure he has heard the voice before, but he cannot place it.