The next day, reports of the “Brixton Mystery” fill the papers, which Watson and Holmes read together at breakfast. Watson summarizes to the reader the findings of a few newspapers, most of which insinuate that liberalism or socialism was at work and which praise Lestrade’s and Gregson’s involvement in the case. Despite the newspapers’ misinformation, Watson learns some new facts about the case, such as the fact that Drebber and Stangerson had been staying at a boarding house belonging to Madame Charpentier in Camberwell (a district in London), that they had been seen together at a train station, and that Stangerson’s whereabouts are unknown.
The newspapers’ reports on the “Brixton Mystery” prove to be grossly wrong, both in their theories regarding the murderer’s motivations and in their high praise of Lestrade’s and Gregson’s detective work. The papers’ attribution of credit to the Scotland Yard detectives even before the case is solved is a form of injustice that Watson will later try to correct in his account of the murder case.
Moments later, Watson hears a multitude of footsteps on their stairs, and Holmes informs him that it is “the Baker Street division of the detective police force.” When Watson opens the door he sees six urchins, whom he describes as “the dirtiest and most ragged street Arabs,” standing at attention. Their leader, Wiggins, reports that they have not yet found something Holmes is looking for. Holmes pays them a shilling each and sends them off to keep looking. He remarks to Watson that they are more useful than many among the police force and that he has hired them to work on the Brixton case.
A “street Arab” is an antiquated (and needless to say, racist) term for a homeless child. Watson’s view of the children as unsavory reveals his elitist attitude toward people of lower social classes. By contrast, Holmes recognizes their merit, acknowledging them to be superior to the Scotland Yard policemen. His ability to see past their social class is perhaps a consequence of his defiance of many social mores. Identified as the Baker Street Irregulars in the book The Sign of the Four, Holmes’ “street Arabs” were likely inspired by Doyle’s childhood leadership of his own street gang.
At this moment, Gregson approaches the apartment, seeking congratulations for solving the case. Holmes appears anxious until Gregson tells him that he has arrested Arthur Charpentier, a sublieutenant in the navy. Relieved, Holmes smugly asks the Scotland Yard detective to tell them more. Gregson, who is only too pleased to ridicule Lestrade’s pursuit of Stangerson, proudly explains how he had noticed the maker of Drebber’s hat and had found Drebber’s address at Madame Charpentier’s through the hat seller.
Holmes’ initial worry that Gregson has caught the murderer indicates his desire not merely to have the case solved, but to solve it himself, and to solve it first. Though he is amused by the gibes Gregson and Lestrade aim at each other, Holmes also participates in this petty competition.
Gregson visited Madame Charpentier, whose daughter Alice was visibly upset. Madame Charpentier originally claimed that the last time they saw Drebber was at eight o’clock the night before his death, when he left for the train station. But at Alice’s prompting, Charpentier told the truth. Drebber and Stangerson had stayed at their boarding house for three weeks. Drebber was often drunk and brutish, his behavior “disgustingly free and familiar” toward the maids. However, because he was paying her well, Madame Charpentier allowed him to stay until he grabbed Alice and tried to kiss her. When her son Arthur walked in on Drebber trying to abduct Alice, Arthur went into a rage and chased Drebber into the street. The next morning Drebber was dead.
Confirming Watson’s certainty that Drebber was malicious, Madame Charpentier discloses Drebber’s attempted sexual assaults on and misogynistic behavior toward the maids and Alice. His attempted abduction of Alice echoes his abduction of Lucy (as we earn later). But whereas Drebber was successful in abducting Lucy, he is prevented from doing the same to Alice by her brother, whose anger at Drebber arouses Gregson’s suspicion.
Gregson continued to question Madame Charpentier, who revealed that Arthur does not have an alibi for Drebber’s murder. Holmes congratulates Gregson on his theory that Arthur is the murderer, and Gregson, not realizing that Holmes is mocking him, again derides Lestrade’s pursuit of Stangerson. At that moment Lestrade arrives, disheveled and troubled. He announces that Joseph Stangerson was murdered in his hotel at six o’clock that morning.
Though Gregson’s suspicion of Arthur, who had motive and opportunity to kill Drebber, is perfectly reasonable, Holmes nevertheless mocks Gregson’s actions, revealing his own pettiness and sense of superiority. Stangerson’s surprising murder suddenly undercuts both Gregson’s claim that Arthur is the murderer and Lestrade’s suspicion that Stangerson himself was guilty.