Watson spends the night at 221B Baker Street. In the morning, he and Holmes are met by an excited and impatient King, who asks if they have the photo yet. Holmes explains his plan and the three men hop into the King’s carriage and make their way to Irene’s. On the way, Holmes informs the King that Irene is married—this is good news, because she will not likely interfere with the King’s wedding plans.
This adventure has brought Holmes and Watson back together. Watson’s loyalty is so strong that he must spend the night in his old apartment with Holmes instead of going home to his beloved wife. While Watson claimed to enjoy married life, it will take a backseat to adventures with his friend and companion, Holmes.
As the men arrive at Irene’s house, her housemaid informs them that she has already left England for Europe, never to return. Holmes rushes to the hiding spot in search of the photo and finds instead a different photo of Irene along with a letter addressed to “Mr. Sherlock Holmes.”
The men’s expectations are dashed as they arrive at Irene’s house. While they hoped to surprise her by arriving so early in the morning, they find themselves one step behind—not a common occurrence for Sherlock Holmes.
In her letter, Irene explains that she realized too late that Holmes had tricked her into revealing her hiding spot, but that she had turned the tables on him by disguising herself and eavesdropping on his conversation with Watson. She and Norton decided they must leave England immediately, and have taken the photo with them only as a safeguard. She promises not to expose the King’s indiscretion, as she is “loved by a better man than he” and has no need to prevent him from marrying another woman.
Sherlock Holmes has been outwitted by a woman, and Irene’s letter details how she did it. It also portrays Irene as a thoughtful and intelligent woman who has chosen the love of a good man over her feelings of jealousy and abandonment. She proves the quality of her character so much that the King takes her word that she will not blackmail him with the photo, which she is keeping.
Holmes apologizes to the King for an unsatisfactory ending to the case, but the King is satisfied with Irene’s promise. He offers Holmes a valuable emerald ring as payment, but the detective asks only to keep the photo of Irene, as a memory of the woman who bested him.