When we think of Holmes and Watson lying in wait for villainy to strike, we think of many tales: The dark Stoke Moran bedroom of "Speckled Band." The doings on the moor in The Hound of the Baskervilles. The bank vault of "Red-Headed League." But our thoughts . . . or at least mine . . . rarely wander to "The Adventure of Black Peter," and Holmes and Watson hiding in the bushes outside of the harpooned man's cabin.
Watson tries to make it as dramatic as possible, before the somewhat anticlimactic arrival of the frail, thin, pale fellow who is . . . well, not very murderous. Here's how Watson describes their night-time vigil:
"It was a long and melancholy vigil, and yet it brought with it something of the thrill which the hunter feels when he lies beside the water-pool and waits for the coming of the thirsty beasts of prey. What savage creature was it which might steal upon us out of the darkness? Was it a fierce tiger of crime, which could only be taken fighting hard with flashing fang and claw, or would it prove to be some skulking jackal, dangerous only to the weak and unguarded?"
Once you get past the question of Watson's melancholy (It was 1895 -- still mourning "his sad bereavement?" Something not right between he and Holmes?), you come to the hunting scenario he describes . . . which makes absolutely no sense.
Maybe I'm just too used to Central Illinois hunters and their deer stands in the woods, the little treehouses that keep them above the fauna. But Watson's description just sounds like a ridiculously bad position for awaiting tigers and jackals. And the idea of "fighting hard with flashing fang and claw" brings an immediate reaction of "WHERE'S YOUR GUN, WATSON?!?"
It's almost like Watson is going from human hunter to bestial predator mid-metaphor, like he's some wild were-creature waiting to bring down a lesser beast.
When Watson writes of the voices of "belated villagers" wandering by after all that, he almost comes off as a little kid playing pretend in the bushes while the adults stroll by unawares. And Stanley Hopkins just grabbing a skinny guy by the collar is quite the letdown after all that build-up. Where's the fiesty Colonel Moran of "Empty House?" That guy would deserve such a prelude. But this?
Well, there's probably a reason this vigil doesn't come to mind when we remember Holmes and Watson doing midnight stake-outs.