(Spoilers for the same, obviously.)
It's a fun story, always, more adventure and romance (in the sense of high emotions rather than boys and girls making kissy-faces at each other – think Romantic poetry and art, as in the time period) than mystery. that's fine, though, and it's fun to see the characters driven to extremes like this. Even Holmes. It feels a bit like those soaps on Telemundo that are always playing at the laundromat. But there's also so much sexism and it's such a central part of the story, from Holmes feeling free to run his hands all over his female client to the whole "worst fate that could befall a woman" thing, and Carruthers's talk of marriage as someone owning her… it's just a lot to work your way past, even by Doyle standards, I guess.
I think I've finally found a way to enjoy this story on its own terms, by looking not so much at the case as at Holmes's character:
Holmes's quiet day in the country had a singular termination, for he arrived at Baker Street late in the evening with a cut lip and a discoloured lump upon his forehead, besides a general air of dissipation which would have made his own person the fitting object of a Scotland Yard investigation. He was immensely tickled by his own adventures, and laughed heartily as he recounted them.
"I get so little active exercise that it is always a treat," said he. "You are aware that I have some proficiency in the good old British sport of boxing. Occasionally it is of service. To-day, for example, I should have come to very ignominious grief without it."
I begged him to tell me what had occurred.
"I found that country pub which I had already recommended to your notice, and there I made my discreet inquiries. I was in the bar, and a garrulous landlord was giving me all that I wanted. Williamson is a white-bearded man, and he lives alone with a small staff of servants at the Hall. There is some rumour that he is or has been a clergyman; but one or two incidents of his short residence at the Hall struck me as peculiarly unecclesiastical. I have already made some inquiries at a clerical agency, and they tell me that there WAS a man of that name in orders whose career has been a singularly dark one. The landlord further informed me that there are usually week-end visitors – "a warm lot, sir" – at the Hall, and especially one gentleman with a red moustache, Mr. Woodley by name, who was always there. We had got as far as this when who should walk in but the gentleman himself, who had been drinking his beer in the tap-room and had heard the whole conversation. Who was I? What did I want? What did I mean by asking questions? He had a fine flow of language, and his adjectives were very vigorous. He ended a string of abuse by a vicious back-hander which I failed to entirely avoid.. The next few minutes were delicious. It was a straight leg against a slogging ruffian. I emerged as you see me. Mr. Woodley went home in a cart. So ended my country trip, and it must be confessed that, however enjoyable, my day on the Surrey border has not been much more profitable than your own."
And then again:
From the instant that we passed the rise we could no longer see the vehicle, but we hastened onwards at such a pace that my sedentary life began to tell upon me, and I was compelled to fall behind. Holmes, however, was always in training, for he had inexhaustible stores of nervous energy upon which to draw. His springy steps never slowed until suddenly, when he was a hundred yards in front of me, he halted, and I saw him throw up his hand in a gesture of grief and despair.
And then the climax:
"You can take your beard off, Bob," said he. "I know you right enough. Well, you and your pals have just come in time for me to be able to introduce you to Mrs. Woodley."
Our guide's answer was a singular one. He snatched off the dark beard which had disguised him and threw it on the ground, disclosing a long, sallow, clean-shaven face below it. Then he raised his revolver and covered the young ruffian, who was advancing upon him with his dangerous riding-crop swinging in his hand.
"Yes," said our ally, "I AM Bob Carruthers, and I'll see this woman righted if I have to swing for it. I told you what I'd do if you molested her, and by the Lord, I'll be as good as my word!"
"You're too late. She's my wife!"
"No, she's your widow."
His revolver cracked, and I saw the blood spurt from the front of Woodley's waistcoat. He spun round with a scream and fell upon his back, his hideous red face turning suddenly to a dreadful mottled pallor. The old man, still clad in his surplice, burst into such a string of foul oaths as I have never heard, and pulled out a revolver of his own, but before he could raise it he was looking down the barrel of Holmes's weapon.
"Enough of this," said my friend, coldly. 'Drop that pistol! Watson, pick it up! Hold it to his ehad! Thank you. You, Carruthers, give me that revolver. We'll have no more violecnce. Come, hand it over!"
"Who are you, then?"
"My name is Sherlock Holmes."
In a word? BAMF.
I tend to think of Holmes as the brains and Watson the brawn of this little operation, so it's a bit exciting, taboo even, to see Holmes getting into pub brawls and being all sinewy strength. And it's pretty hilarious, to me at least, that the final missed clue came from Watson's own observations, not Holmes's, though neither of them appreciate it at the time.
It's actually a pretty fun story when you just focus on how awesome Holmes is. :-)