Summary: Part I, Chapter VI: Tobias Gregson Shows What He Can Do

The next day, the newspaper is filled with accounts of the “Brixton Mystery,” which several dub a political murder. One article presents details: Drebber, the dead American, was traveling with his secretary, Joseph Stangerson, and staying at Madame Charpentier’s boardinghouse. The article states that the men left the boardinghouse to take a train to Liverpool and that neither had been seen after that until the discovery of Drebber’s body. 

Suddenly, six street urchins appear in Holmes’s flat. Although they haven’t found what Holmes asked them to find, he pays them and tells them to keep looking. Holmes explains to Watson that he’s asked the urchins to gather information on the murder for him. 

Gregson visits to tell Holmes that he has located and locked up man he is certain is the murderer, Arthur Charpentier, an officer in the Navy and Madame Charpentier’s son. Gregson explains that while Lestrade pursued Stangerson, Gregson tracked Drebber to the boardinghouse, and when he questioned Madame Charpentier, she claimed that Drebber left for the train and she never saw him again. Gregson adds that at this point, Alice, Madame Charpentier’s daughter, insisted her mother tell Gregson the truth. Madame Charpentier had worried aloud that she’d incriminate Arthur, but Alice prevailed.

Madame Charpentier explained her history with Drebber. He and his secretary, Stangerson, had lodged with her for almost three weeks. Drebber was a lecherous drunk who made advances toward Alice, but the family needed the money, so Madame Charpentier allowed them to stay. On the day that Drebber disappeared, Madame Charpentier evicted him for physically grabbing Alice, but Drebber returned later and asked her Alice to run away with him. At that point, Arthur kicked Drebber out of the house and then left to follow him. The next morning, Alice and Madame Charpentier learned Drebber was dead. 

Upon Gregson’s questions, Madame Charpentier admitted she doesn’t know when Arthur returned or what he was doing that night. Gregson then located Arthur and arrested him for murder. Gregson believes that Arthur followed Drebber, got into another fight with him, killed him in the street, dragged him into the empty house, and then set up the scene to throw the police off track. Gregson adds that Arthur didn’t have a good alibi for that evening. Just then, Lestrade enters the room with the news that Stangerson has been found murdered in a hotel.

Analysis: Part I, Chapter VI

Watson’s decision to recap each newspaper’s take on the “Brixton Mystery” serves to introduce new facts about the case, and to show that the interpretation of facts is more important than the facts themselves. Each of the three newspapers has essentially the same set of facts, but each tells a different story based on those facts. Though each argues from a different political perspective, all three claim the crime has a political angle, thus proving Holmes’s prior intuition that “RACHE” was used to throw the police and media off the murderer’s scent. Holmes is merely amused by these versions of events, as well as the newspapers’ stated confidence in Gregson and Lestrade. Here Holmes again displays his arrogance, certain that his version of events will eventually prove to be the accurate interpretation.

Gregson’s arrival at 221B Baker Street claiming to have solved the mystery emphasizes the degree to which the facts of a case can be misinterpreted and lead to an incorrect conclusion. Holmes’s initial anxiety at the possibility that Gregson has actually solved the case shows that Holmes fears being outwitted more than he fears that the case will go unsolved. He also recoils at the idea of being considered Gregson’s equal, responding to any such indication with sarcasm and dead-pan wit. But Holmes’s mind is put at ease when he realizes Gregson has the wrong man. Gregson’s story brings certain as-yet unknown facts about Mr. Drebber to light, but he dismisses other important evidence out of hand and Holmes knows Gregson’s conclusions are off. As if to underscore the point, Lestrade reveals at the end of the chapter that Joseph Stangerson has also been murdered, undermining Gregson’s reasoning and proving that Tobias Gregson is no Sherlock Holmes.