As their morning adventure had left him exhausted, Watson tries unsuccessfully to get some sleep but cannot stop thinking about the “distorted, baboon-like countenance of the murdered man.” Convinced that Drebber’s face reveals “vice of the most malignant type,” Watson feels “gratitude” toward Drebber’s murderer, while simultaneously recognizing that “justice must be done, and that the depravity of the victim was no condonement in the eyes of the law.” Unanswered questions about the nature of Drebber’s murder, his supposed poisoning, run through Watson’s mind, though he is sure that Holmes already has all the answers.
Claiming that Drebber’s “baboon-like” face reveals his vice, Watson tacitly endorses the pseudoscience of physiognomy—the practice of determining one’s character from their facial features. By doing so and by expressing his “gratitude” toward the murderer, Watson is priming us to feel sympathy towards Jefferson Hope, while still maintaining his belief that the murderer must be caught for the sake of both the law’s justice and Holmes’ reputation.
Holmes, who had attended a concert after questioning Rance, returns home late, his mood raised from the concert music. Watson, on the other hand, is still troubled by the case, which has left him with a greater sense of unease than seeing his “own comrades hacked to pieces at Maiwand.” Holmes attributes this to the air of mystery around the case and shows Watson the advertisement he sent out to the papers. Holmes published an announcement that a gold wedding ring had been found near a tavern by Brixton Road and that its owner should seek Watson at their apartment between 8 and 9 in the evening. Holmes gives Watson a facsimile of the ring to give to the murderer, and Watson gets out his old revolver.
Holmes and Watson’s contrasting moods after their morning adventure reveal another difference between the two. Whereas Watson is deeply disturbed by the murder, Holmes appears unaffected and even happy. Though Watson had witnessed brutal deaths in Afghanistan, he is more horrified by Drebber’s death, perhaps because it occurred in a context in which death is unexpected. Holmes displays his callousness through his lack of concern for the loss of human life as well as through his use of Watson as bait.
At around 8, the bell rings, and a servant lets in an old woman with a harsh voice. The woman, who says her last name is Sawyer, claims that the ring belongs to her daughter Sally Dennis. Following Holmes’ signal, Watson gives the ring to the woman, who thanks him and leaves. Soon after, Holmes goes out to follow her, believing her to be an accomplice of the murderer. Four hours later, Holmes returns, torn between “chagrin” and “amusement,” the latter of which wins out. Laughing at himself, Holmes describes to Watson how the woman had hailed a cab, shouting out her address, and how Holmes had secretly hitched a ride on the back of the cab. When they pulled up to her address, however, the driver discovered that the cab was empty, while Holmes discovered that there is no Sawyer or Dennis at the address she had given.
Despite his arrogance, Holmes shows that he is able to laugh at himself, and that he is not completely unaware of his personal faults. He also shows that he is appreciative of cleverness, even from his opponents, and even if it is demonstrated at his own expense. Holmes’ appreciation of the woman’s escape anticipates his later appreciation of Hope’s intelligence. Clearly he is pleased to have a worthy adversary, as it makes the case more interesting for him.
Watson expresses his amazement that an old woman could have outwitted Holmes, who exclaims, “We were the old women to be so taken in.” Holmes comes to the conclusion that it must have been a young man disguised as an old woman. Watson turns in for the night, but Holmes stays up late, meditating on the case and absentmindedly playing his violin.
Despite his admiration of the accomplice’s escape, Holmes is still annoyed with himself, as expressed in his misogynistic assumption that his being tricked is akin to being a woman.