Events and people captured his attention the way moving objects caught the notice of an amphibian: first a machinelike registration of proximity, next a calculation of worth, and last a decision to act or remain motionless.
This quotation about Holmes occurs in chapter three, after he goes to Englewood and proposes to buy the drugstore from Mrs. Holton. Holmes enters Mrs. Holton’s drugstore because he realizes that it is across the street from an empty lot, and thinks this location might be valuable for him. When he sees that Mrs. Holton is alone, he calculates whether he can get anything useful from her being alone, then decides to ask to work there. All of his tears on behalf of her husband’s illness are completely manufactured. Later, Holmes’ various wives get jealous of all the girls he sees in the store, and Holmes doesn’t get upset or emotional in response. He simply sees that his wife’s emotion is getting in his way and removes her from the situation, coldly calculating and behaving like an animal.