Summary: Part II, Chapter VI: A Continuation of the Reminiscences of John Watson, M.D.
This chapter returns the narrative to Holmes and Watson’s rooms, immediately after Hope’s capture. At Scotland Yard, Hope urges the police to take his statement since he has a deadly heart condition. He shares much of the story recounted earlier and admits that he killed Drebber and Stangerson, who were responsible for the deaths of a father and daughter, the daughter being Hope’s fiancée.
Hope explains that he followed Drebber and Stangerson to London, where he got a job as a cab driver and tailed the men. He explains that he couldn’t take action until the evening Drebber missed the train to Liverpool. While Stangerson went back to his hotel, Drebber got drunk and returned to the boardinghouse, only to get thrown out after a ruckus. Drebber jumped into Hope’s cab, went to a bar for hours, and then got in the cab again.
Hope says that he resolved not to kill Drebber and Stangerson, but to give them a chance at life. At a previous job, he learned about a poison that led to instantaneous death. He had taken some of the poison and made it into pills. Hope explains that he possessed two pillboxes, each with one poison pill and one harmless pill. He knew it was time to use one of the boxes.
Hope explains that he drove to the vacant house and that the still-drunk Drebber walked into the building with Hope. Inside, Hope lit a candle, and Drebber recognized him. Despite Drebber’s claims of innocence, Hope showed him the pills, telling him one brings death and one life. At knifepoint, Drebber made his choice. Each man swallowed a pill, and then Hope dangled the wedding ring in front of the dying Drebber. Hope’s nose started bleeding, inspiring him to write rache on the wall as a red herring. Hope then left the house, got in his cab, and drove away.
Later, realizing he had lost the ring, Hope returned to the house and only narrowly avoided the police by pretended to be drunk. Then Hope tells how he killed Stangerson after sneaking into his hotel room through a window. Hope described Drebber’s death to Stangerson and then presented the second pillbox with the same options. Stangerson attacked Hope, so Hope stabbed him in self-defense. Hope says he continued driving his cab to save money to return to the United States. He responded to a call at 221B Baker Street and ended up in handcuffs. When Holmes asks about his accomplice who came for the ring, Hope says a friend volunteered to help.
Analysis: Part II, Chapter VI
The novel’s denouement begins with Jefferson Hope’s own account of events, which subverts the familiar trope of the villain whose evil plans are foiled by virtuous heroes. Along with the American part of the narrative, Hope’s account paints a more complex picture of events and even garners sympathy from Holmes, Watson, and the two Scotland Yard detectives. Moreover, Hope’s personality does not fit the preconceived notions of what a “criminal” should be. Aside from the murders themselves, Hope’s actions thus far and his narrative show him to be an honorable, hardworking, and decent man. Indeed, the murders are consistent with Hope’s own sense of honor, rather than a deviation from it. Hope is convinced he has done the right thing, so much so that he accepts his impending death “placidly,” feeling that he has now completed his life’s work.
Hope’s new details about the murders serve to paint a sympathetic and even poignant picture of Jefferson Hope and clarify some of the more mysterious aspects of the case. Hope explains that he lit a cigar—the ashes of which Holmes identified in Part I, Chapter III—to calm his nerves, showing that cold-blooded murder would be difficult for a man like Hope. The issue of the little pills, which Lestrade found in Stangerson’s room in Part I, Chapter VII, is cleared up when Hope explains their use, showing Hope’s firm belief in providence and softening somewhat the brutal fact that Hope committed murder. Hope knows it is a terrible deed, but he does it to honor Lucy and John Ferrier and in a way that lets “the high God” decide who will live and who will die. In this way, Jefferson Hope paradoxically turns a tragedy and a crime into the hopeful notion that “there is justice upon the earth.”