The Red-Headed League

I HAD CALLED upon my friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, one day in the autumn of last year and found him in deep conversation with a very stout, florid-faced elderly gentleman with fiery red hair. With an apology for my intrusion, I was about to withdraw when Holmes pulled me abruptly into the room and closed the door behind me.

“You could not possible have come at a better time, my dear Watson,” he said cordially.

“So I am. Very much so.”

“Then I can wait in the next room.”

“Not at all. This gentleman, Mr. Wilson, has been my partner and helper in many of my most successful cases, and I have no doubt that he will be of the utmost use to me in yours also.”

The stout gentleman half rose from his chair and gave a bob of greeting, with a quick little questioning glance from his small fat-encircled eyes.

“Try the settee,” said Holmes, relapsing into his armchair and putting his fingertips together, as was his custom when in judicial moods. “I know, my dear Watson, that you share my love of all that is bizarre and outside the conventions and humdrum routine of everyday life. You have shown your relish for it by the enthusiasm which has prompted you to chronicle, and, if you will excuse my saying so, somewhat to embellish so many of my own little adventures.”

“Your cases have indeed been of the greatest interest to me,” I observed.

“You will remember that I remarked the other day, just before we went into the very simple problem presented by Miss Mary Sutherland, that for strange effects and extraordinary combinations we must go to life itself, which is always far more daring than any effort of the imagination.”

“A proposition which I took the liberty of doubting.”

“You did, Doctor, but none the less you must come round to my view, for otherwise I shall keep on piling fact upon fact on you until your reason breaks down under them and acknowledges me to be right. Now, Mr. Jabez Wilson here has been good enough to call upon me this morning, and to begin a narrative which promises to be one of the most singular which I have listened to for some time. You have heard me remark that the strangest and most unique things are very often connected not with the larger but with the smaller crimes, and occasionally, indeed, where there is room for doubt whether any positive crime has been committed. As far as I have heard, it is impossible for me to say whether the present case is an instance of crime or not, but the course of events is certainly among the most singular that I have ever listened to. Perhaps, Mr. Wilson, you would have the great kindness to recommence your narrative. I ask you not merely because my friend Dr. Watson has not heard the opening part but also because the peculiar nature of the story makes me anxious to have every possible detail from your lips. As a rule, when I have heard some slight indication of the course of events, I am able to guide myself by the thousands of other similar cases which occur to my memory. In the present instance I am forced to admit that the facts are, to the best of my belief, unique.”

The portly client puffed out his chest with an appearance of some little pride and pulled a dirty and wrinkled newspaper from the inside pocket of his greatcoat. As he glanced down the advertisement column, with his head thrust forward and the paper flattened out upon his knee, I took a good look at the man and endeavoured, after the fashion of my companion, to read the indications which might be presented by his dress or appearance.

I did not gain very much, however, by my inspection. Our visitor bore every mark of being an average commonplace British tradesman, obese, pompous, and slow. He wore rather baggy grey shepherd's check trousers, a not over-clean black frock-coat, unbuttoned in the front, and a drab waistcoat with a heavy brassy Albert chain, and a square pierced bit of metal dangling down as an ornament. A frayed top-hat and a faded brown overcoat with a wrinkled velvet collar lay upon a chair beside him. Altogether, look as I would, there was nothing remarkable about the man save his blazing red head, and the expression of extreme chagrin and discontent upon his features.

Sherlock Holmes' quick eye took in my occupation, and he shook his head with a smile as he noticed my questioning glances. “Beyond the obvious facts that he has at some time done manual labour, that he takes snuff, that he is a Freemason, that he has been in China, and that he has done a considerable amount of writing lately, I can deduce nothing else.”

Mr. Jabez Wilson started up in his chair, with his forefinger upon the paper, but his eyes upon my companion.

“How, in the name of good-fortune, did you know all that, Mr. Holmes?” he asked. “How did you know, for example, that I did manual labour. It's as true as gospel, for I began as a ship's carpenter.”

“Your hands, my dear sir. Your right hand is quite a size larger than your left. You have worked with it, and the muscles are more developed.”

“Well, the snuff, then, and the Freemasonry?”

“I won't insult your intelligence by telling you how I read that, especially as, rather against the strict rules of your order, you use an arc-and-compass breastpin.”

“Ah, of course, I forgot that. But the writing?”

“What else can be indicated by that right cuff so very shiny for five inches, and the left one with the smooth patch near the elbow where you rest it upon the desk?”

“Well, but China?”

“The fish that you have tattooed immediately above your right wrist could only have been done in China. I have made a small study of tattoo marks and have even contributed to the literature of the subject. That trick of staining the fishes' scales of a delicate pink is quite peculiar to China. When, in addition, I see a Chinese coin hanging from your watch-chain, the matter becomes even more simple.”

Mr. Jabez Wilson laughed heavily. “Well, I never!” said he. “I thought at first that you had done something clever, but I see that there was nothing in it after all.”

“I begin to think, Watson,” said Holmes, “that I make a mistake in explaining. ‘Omne ignotum pro magnifico,’ you know, and my poor little reputation, such as it is, will suffer shipwreck if I am so candid. Can you not find the advertisement, Mr. Wilson?”

“Yes, I have got it now,” he answered with his thick red finger planted halfway down the column. “Here it is. This is what began it all. You just read it for yourself, sir.”

I took the paper from him and read as follows:

“What on earth does this mean?” I ejaculated after I had twice read over the extraordinary announcement.

Holmes chuckled and wriggled in his chair, as was his habit when in high spirits. “It is a little off the beaten track, isn't it?” said he. “And now, Mr. Wilson, off you go at scratch and tell us all about yourself, your household, and the effect which this advertisement had upon your fortunes. You will first make a note, Doctor, of the paper and the date.”

“It is The Morning Chronicle of April 27, 1890. Just two months ago.”

“Very good. Now, Mr. Wilson?”

“Well, it is just as I have been telling you, Mr. Sherlock Holmes,” said Jabez Wilson, mopping his forehead; “I have a small pawnbroker's business at Coburg Square, near the City. It's not a very large affair, and of late years it has not done more than just give me a living. I used to be able to keep two assistants, but now I only keep one; and I would have a job to pay him but that he is willing to come for half wages so as to learn the business.”

“What is the name of this obliging youth?” asked Sherlock Holmes.

“His name is Vincent Spaulding, and he's not such a youth, either. It's hard to say his age. I should not wish a smarter assistant, Mr. Holmes; and I know very well that he could better himself and earn twice what I am able to give him. But, after all, if he is satisfied, why should I put ideas in his head?”

“Why, indeed? You seem most fortunate in having an employee who comes under the full market price. It is not a common experience among employers in this age. I don't know that your assistant is not as remarkable as your advertisement.”

“Oh, he has his faults, too,” said Mr. Wilson. “Never was such a fellow for photography. Snapping away with a camera when he ought to be improving his mind, and then diving down into the cellar like a rabbit into its hole to develop his pictures. That is his main fault, but on the whole he's a good worker. There's no vice in him.”

“He is still with you, I presume?”

“Yes, sir. He and a girl of fourteen, who does a bit of simple cooking and keeps the place clean—that's all I have in the house, for I am a widower and never had any family. We live very quietly, sir, the three of us; and we keep a roof over our heads and pay our debts, if we do nothing more.

“The first thing that put us out was that advertisement. Spaulding, he came down into the office just this day eight weeks, with this very paper in his hand, and he says:

“ ‘I wish to the Lord, Mr. Wilson, that I was a red-headed man.’ ”

“ ‘Why that?’ I asks.”

“ ‘Why,’ says he, ‘here's another vacancy on the League of the Redheaded Men. It's worth quite a little fortune to any man who gets it, and I understand that there are more vacancies than there are men, so that the trustees are at their wits' end what to do with the money. If my hair would only change colour, here's a nice little crib all ready for me to step into.’ ”

“ ‘Why, what is it, then?’ I asked. You see, Mr. Holmes, I am a very stay-at-home man, and as my business came to me instead of my having to go to it, I was often weeks on end without putting my foot over the door-mat. In that way I didn't know much of what was going on outside, and I was always glad of a bit of news.”

“ ‘Have you never heard of the League of the Red-headed Men?’ he asked with his eyes open.”

“ ‘Never.’”

“ ‘Why, I wonder at that, for you are eligible yourself for one of the vacancies.’ ”

“ ‘And what are they worth?’ I asked.”

“ ‘Oh, merely a couple of hundred a year, but the work is slight, and it need not interfere very much with one's other occupations.’ ”

“Well, you can easily think that that made me prick up my ears, for the business has not been over good for some years, and an extra couple of hundred would have been very handy.”

“ ‘Tell me all about it,’ said I.”

“ ‘Well,’ said he, showing me the advertisement, ‘you can see for yourself that the League has a vacancy, and there is the address where you should apply for particulars. As far as I can make out, the League was founded by an American millionaire, Ezekiah Hopkins, who was very peculiar in his ways. He was himself red-headed, and he had a great sympathy for all redheaded men; so, when he died, it was found that he had left his enormous fortune in the hands of trustees, with instructions to apply the interest to the providing of easy berths to men whose hair is of that colour. From all I hear it is splendid pay and very little to do.’ ”

“ ‘But,’ said I, ‘there would be millions of red-headed men who would apply.’ ”

“ ‘Not so many as you might think,’ he answered. ‘You see it is really confined to Londoners, and to grown men. This American had started from London when he was young, and he wanted to do the old town a good turn. Then, again, I have heard it is no use your applying if your hair is light red, or dark red, or anything but real bright, blazing, fiery red. Now, if you cared to apply, Mr. Wilson, you would just walk in; but perhaps it would hardly be worth your while to put yourself out of the way for the sake of a few hundred pounds.’ ”

“Now, it is a fact, gentlemen, as you may see for yourselves, that my hair is of a very full and rich tint, so that it seemed to me that if there was to be any competition in the matter I stood as good a chance as any man that I had ever met. Vincent Spaulding seemed to know so much about it that I thought he might prove useful, so I just ordered him to put up the shutters for the day and to come right away with me. He was very willing to have a holiday, so we shut the business up and started off for the address that was given us in the advertisement.

“I never hope to see such a sight as that again, Mr. Holmes. From north, south, east, and west every man who had a shade of red in his hair had tramped into the city to answer the advertisement. Fleet Street was choked with red-headed folk, and Pope's Court looked like a coster's orange barrow. I should not have thought there were so many in the whole country as were brought together by that single advertisement. Every shade of colour they were—straw, lemon, orange, brick, Irish-setter, liver, clay; but, as Spaulding said, there were not many who had the real vivid flame-coloured tint. When I saw how many were waiting, I would have given it up in despair; but Spaulding would not hear of it. How he did it I could not imagine, but he pushed and pulled and butted until he got me through the crowd, and right up to the steps which led to the office. There was a double stream upon the stair, some going up in hope, and some coming back dejected; but we wedged in as well as we could and soon found ourselves in the office.”

“Your experience has been a most entertaining one,” remarked Holmes as his client paused and refreshed his memory with a huge pinch of snuff. “Pray continue your very interesting statement.”

“There was nothing in the office but a couple of wooden chairs and a deal table, behind which sat a small man with a head that was even redder than mine. He said a few words to each candidate as he came up, and then he always managed to find some fault in them which would disqualify them. Getting a vacancy did not seem to be such a very easy matter, after all. However, when our turn came the little man was much more favourable to me than to any of the others, and he closed the door as we entered, so that he might have a private word with us.

“ ‘This is Mr. Jabez Wilson,’ said my assistant, ‘and he is willing to fill a vacancy in the League.’ ”

“ ‘And he is admirably suited for it,’ the other answered. ‘He has every requirement. I cannot recall when I have seen anything so fine.’ He took a step backward, cocked his head on one side, and gazed at my hair until I felt quite bashful. Then suddenly he plunged forward, wrung my hand, and congratulated me warmly on my success.”

“ ‘It would be injustice to hesitate,’ said he. ‘You will, however, I am sure, excuse me for taking an obvious precaution.’ With that he seized my hair in both his hands, and tugged until I yelled with the pain. ‘There is water in your eyes,’ said he as he released me. ‘I perceive that all is as it should be. But we have to be careful, for we have twice been deceived by wigs and once by paint. I could tell you tales of cobbler's wax which would disgust you with human nature.’ He stepped over to the window and shouted through it at the top of his voice that the vacancy was filled. A groan of disappointment came up from below, and the folk all trooped away in different directions until there was not a red-head to be seen except my own and that of the manager.

“ ‘My name,’ said he, ‘is Mr. Duncan Ross, and I am myself one of the pensioners upon the fund left by our noble benefactor. Are you a married man, Mr. Wilson? Have you a family?'

“I answered that I had not.

“His face fell immediately.'

“ ‘Dear me!’ he said gravely, ‘that is very serious indeed! I am sorry to hear you say that. The fund was, of course, for the propagation and spread of the red-heads as well as for their maintenance. It is exceedingly unfortunate that you should be a bachelor.'

“My face lengthened at this, Mr. Holmes, for I thought that I was not to have the vacancy after all; but after thinking it over for a few minutes he said that it would be all right.

“ ‘In the case of another,’ said he, ‘the objection might be fatal, but we must stretch a point in favour of a man with such a head of hair as yours. When shall you be able to enter upon your new duties?'

“ ‘Well, it is a little awkward, for I have a business already,’ said I.'

“ ‘Oh, never mind about that, Mr. Wilson!’ said Vincent Spaulding. ‘I should be able to look after that for you.'

“ ‘What would be the hours?’ I asked.'

“ ‘Ten to two.'

“Now a pawnbroker's business is mostly done of an evening, Mr. Holmes, especially Thursday and Friday evening, which is just before payday; so it would suit me very well to earn a little in the mornings. Besides, I knew that my assistant was a good man, and that he would see to anything that turned up.

“ ‘That would suit me very well,’ said I. ‘And the pay?'

“ ‘Is £4 a week.'

“ ‘And the work?'

“ ‘Is purely nominal.'

“ ‘What do you call purely nominal?'

“ ‘Well, you have to be in the office, or at least in the building, the whole time. If you leave, you forfeit your whole position forever. The will is very clear upon that point. You don't comply with the conditions if you budge from the office during that time.'

“ ‘It's only four hours a day, and I should not think of leaving,’ said I.

“ ‘No excuse will avail,’ said Mr. Duncan Ross; ‘neither sickness nor business nor anything else. There you must stay, or you lose your billet.'

“ ‘And the work?'

“ ‘Is to copy out the Encyclopaedia Britannica. There is the first volume of it in that press. You must find your own ink, pens, and blotting-paper, but we provide this table and chair. Will you be ready to-morrow?'

“ ‘Certainly,’ I answered.

“ ‘Then, good-bye, Mr. Jabez Wilson, and let me congratulate you once more on the important position which you have been fortunate enough to gain.’ He bowed me out of the room and I went home with my assistant, hardly knowing what to say or do, I was so pleased at my own good fortune.

“Well, I thought over the matter all day, and by evening I was in low spirits again; for I had quite persuaded myself that the whole affair must be some great hoax or fraud, though what its object might be I could not imagine. It seemed altogether past belief that anyone could make such a will, or that they would pay such a sum for doing anything so simple as copying out the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Vincent Spaulding did what he could to cheer me up, but by bedtime I had reasoned myself out of the whole thing. However, in the morning I determined to have a look at it anyhow, so I bought a penny bottle of ink, and with a quill-pen, and seven sheets of foolscap paper, I started off for Pope's Court.

“Well, to my surprise and delight, everything was as right as possible. The table was set out ready for me, and Mr. Duncan Ross was there to see that I got fairly to work. He started me off upon the letter A, and then he left me; but he would drop in from time to time to see that all was right with me. At two o'clock he bade me good-day, complimented me upon the amount that I had written, and locked the door of the office after me.

“This went on day after day, Mr. Holmes, and on Saturday the manager came in and planked down four golden sovereigns for my week's work. It was the same next week, and the same the week after. Every morning I was there at ten, and every afternoon I left at two. By degrees Mr. Duncan Ross took to coming in only once of a morning, and then, after a time, he did not come in at all. Still, of course, I never dared to leave the room for an instant, for I was not sure when he might come, and the billet was such a good one, and suited me so well, that I would not risk the loss of it.

“Eight weeks passed away like this, and I had written about Abbots and Archery and Armour and Architecture and Attica, and hoped with diligence that I might get on to the B's before very long. It cost me something in foolscap, and I had pretty nearly filled a shelf with my writings. And then suddenly the whole business came to an end.”

“To an end?”

“Yes, sir. And no later than this morning. I went to my work as usual at ten o'clock, but the door was shut and locked, with a little square of cardboard hammered on to the middle of the panel with a tack. Here it is, and you can read for yourself.”

He held up a piece of white cardboard about the size of a sheet of note-paper. It read in this fashion:

THE RED-HEADED LEAGUE
IS
DISSOLVED.
October 9, 1890.

Sherlock Holmes and I surveyed this curt announcement and the rueful face behind it, until the comical side of the affair so completely overtopped every other consideration that we both burst out into a roar of laughter.

“I cannot see that there is anything very funny,” cried our client, flushing up to the roots of his flaming head. “If you can do nothing better than laugh at me, I can go elsewhere.” “No, no,” cried Holmes, shoving him back into the chair from which he had half risen. “I really wouldn't miss your case for the world. It is most refreshingly unusual. But there is, if you will excuse my saying so, something just a little funny about it. Pray what steps did you take when you found the card upon the door?”

“I was staggered, sir. I did not know what to do. Then I called at the offices round, but none of them seemed to know anything about it. Finally, I went to the landlord, who is an accountant living on the ground floor, and I asked him if he could tell me what had become of the Red-headed League. He said that he had never heard of any such body. Then I asked him who Mr. Duncan Ross was. He answered that the name was new to him.

“ ‘Well,’ said I, ‘the gentleman at No. 4.'

“ ‘What, the red-headed man?'

“ ‘Yes.'

“ ‘Oh,’ said he, ‘his name was William Morris. He was a solicitor and was using my room as a temporary convenience until his new premises were ready. He moved out yesterday.'

“ ‘Where could I find him?'

“ ‘Oh, at his new offices. He did tell me the address. Yes, 17 King Edward Street, near St. Paul's.'

“I started off, Mr. Holmes, but when I got to that address it was a manufactory of artificial knee-caps, and no one in it had ever heard of either Mr. William Morris or Mr. Duncan Ross.”

“And what did you do then?” asked Holmes.

“I went home to Saxe-Coburg Square, and I took the advice of my assistant. But he could not help me in any way. He could only say that if I waited I should hear by post. But that was not quite good enough, Mr. Holmes. I did not wish to lose such a place without a struggle, so, as I had heard that you were good enough to give advice to poor folk who were in need of it, I came right away to you.”

“And you did very wisely,” said Holmes. “Your case is an exceedingly remarkable one, and I shall be happy to look into it. From what you have told me I think that it is possible that graver issues hang from it than might at first sight appear.”

“Grave enough!” said Mr. Jabez Wilson. “Why, I have lost four pound a week.”

“As far as you are personally concerned,” remarked Holmes, “I do not see that you have any grievance against this extraordinary league. On the contrary, you are, as I understand, richer by some £30, to say nothing of the minute knowledge which you have gained on every subject which comes under the letter A. You have lost nothing by them.”

“No, sir. But I want to find out about them, and who they are, and what their object was in playing this prank—if it was a prank—upon me. It was a pretty expensive joke for them, for it cost them two and thirty pounds.”

“We shall endeavour to clear up these points for you. And, first, one or two questions, Mr. Wilson. This assistant of yours who first called your attention to the advertisement—how long had he been with you?”

“About a month then.”

“How did he come?”

“In answer to an advertisement.”

“Was he the only applicant?”

“No, I had a dozen.”

“Why did you pick him?”

“Because he was handy and would come cheap.”

“At half wages, in fact.”

“Yes.”

“What is he like, this Vincent Spaulding?”

“Small, stout-built, very quick in his ways, no hair on his face, though he's not short of thirty. Has a white splash of acid upon his forehead.”

Holmes sat up in his chair in considerable excitement. “I thought as much,” said he. “Have you ever observed that his ears are pierced for ear-rings?”

“Yes, sir. He told me that a gipsy had done it for him when he was a lad.”

“Hum!” said Holmes, sinking back in deep thought. “He is still with you?”

“Oh, yes, sir; I have only just left him.”

“And has your business been attended to in your absence?”

“Nothing to complain of, sir. There's never very much to do of a morning.”

“That will do, Mr. Wilson. I shall be happy to give you an opinion upon the subject in the course of a day or two. To-day is Saturday, and I hope that by Monday we may come to a conclusion.”

“Well, Watson,” said Holmes when our visitor had left us, “what do you make of it all?”

“I make nothing of it,” I answered frankly. “It is a most mysterious business.”

“As a rule,” said Holmes, “the more bizarre a thing is the less mysterious it proves to be. It is your commonplace, featureless crimes which are really puzzling, just as a commonplace face is the most difficult to identify. But I must be prompt over this matter.”

“What are you going to do, then?” I asked.

“To smoke,” he answered. “It is quite a three pipe problem, and I beg that you won't speak to me for fifty minutes.” He curled himself up in his chair, with his thin knees drawn up to his hawk-like nose, and there he sat with his eyes closed and his black clay pipe thrusting out like the bill of some strange bird. I had come to the conclusion that he had dropped asleep, and indeed was nodding myself, when he suddenly sprang out of his chair with the gesture of a man who has made up his mind and put his pipe down upon the mantelpiece.

“Sarasate plays at the St. James's Hall this afternoon,” he remarked. “What do you think, Watson? Could your patients spare you for a few hours?”

“I have nothing to do to-day. My practice is never very absorbing.”

“Then put on your hat and come. I am going through the City first, and we can have some lunch on the way. I observe that there is a good deal of German music on the programme, which is rather more to my taste than Italian or French. It is introspective, and I want to introspect. Come along!”

We travelled by the Underground as far as Aldersgate; and a short walk took us to Saxe-Coburg Square, the scene of the singular story which we had listened to in the morning. It was a pokey, little, shabby-genteel place, where four lines of dingy two-storied brick houses looked out into a small railed-in enclosure, where a lawn of weedy grass and a few clumps of faded laurel bushes made a hard fight against a smoke-laden and uncongenial atmosphere. Three gilt balls and a brown board with “JABEZ WILSON” in white letters, upon a corner house, announced the place where our redheaded client carried on his business. Sherlock Holmes stopped in front of it with his head on one side and looked it all over, with his eyes shining brightly between puckered lids. Then he walked slowly up the street, and then down again to the corner, still looking keenly at the houses. Finally he returned to the pawnbroker's, and, having thumped vigorously upon the pavement with his stick two or three times, he went up to the door and knocked. It was instantly opened by a bright-looking, clean-shaven young fellow, who asked him to step in.

“Thank you,” said Holmes, “I only wished to ask you how you would go from here to the Strand.”

“Third right, fourth left,” answered the assistant promptly, closing the door.

“Smart fellow, that,” observed Holmes as we walked away. “He is, in my judgment, the fourth smartest man in London, and for daring I am not sure that he has not a claim to be third. I have known something of him before.”

“Evidently,” said I, “Mr. Wilson's assistant counts for a good deal in this mystery of the Red-headed League. I am sure that you inquired your way merely in order that you might see him.”

“Not him.”

“What then?”

“The knees of his trousers.”

“And what did you see?”

“What I expected to see.”

“Why did you beat the pavement?”

“My dear doctor, this is a time for observation, not for talk. We are spies in an enemy's country. We know something of Saxe-Coburg Square. Let us now explore the parts which lie behind it.”

The road in which we found ourselves as we turned round the corner from the retired Saxe-Coburg Square presented as great a contrast to it as the front of a picture does to the back. It was one of the main arteries which conveyed the traffic of the City to the north and west. The roadway was blocked with the immense stream of commerce flowing in a double tide inward and outward, while the footpaths were black with the hurrying swarm of pedestrians. It was difficult to realise as we looked at the line of fine shops and stately business premises that they really abutted on the other side upon the faded and stagnant square which we had just quitted.

“Let me see,” said Holmes, standing at the corner and glancing along the line, “I should like just to remember the order of the houses here. It is a hobby of mine to have an exact knowledge of London. There is Mortimer's, the tobacconist, the little newspaper shop, the Coburg branch of the City and Suburban Bank, the Vegetarian Restaurant, and McFarlane's carriage-building depot. That carries us right on to the other block. And now, Doctor, we've done our work, so it's time we had some play. A sandwich and a cup of coffee, and then off to violin-land, where all is sweetness and delicacy and harmony, and there are no red-headed clients to vex us with their conundrums.”

My friend was an enthusiastic musician, being himself not only a very capable performer but a composer of no ordinary merit. All the afternoon he sat in the stalls wrapped in the most perfect happiness, gently waving his long, thin fingers in time to the music, while his gently smiling face and his languid, dreamy eyes were as unlike those of Holmes the sleuth-hound, Holmes the relentless, keen-witted, ready-handed criminal agent, as it was possible to conceive. In his singular character the dual nature alternately asserted itself, and his extreme exactness and astuteness represented, as I have often thought, the reaction against the poetic and contemplative mood which occasionally predominated in him. The swing of his nature took him from extreme languor to devouring energy; and, as I knew well, he was never so truly formidable as when, for days on end, he had been lounging in his armchair amid his improvisations and his black-letter editions. Then it was that the lust of the chase would suddenly come upon him, and that his brilliant reasoning power would rise to the level of intuition, until those who were unacquainted with his methods would look askance at him as on a man whose knowledge was not that of other mortals. When I saw him that afternoon so enwrapped in the music at St. James's Hall I felt that an evil time might be coming upon those whom he had set himself to hunt down.

“You want to go home, no doubt, Doctor,” he remarked as we emerged.

“Yes, it would be as well.”

“And I have some business to do which will take some hours. This business at Coburg Square is serious.”

“Why serious?”

“A considerable crime is in contemplation. I have every reason to believe that we shall be in time to stop it. But to-day being Saturday rather complicates matters. I shall want your help to-night.”

“At what time?”

“Ten will be early enough.”

“I shall be at Baker Street at ten.”

“Very well. And, I say, Doctor, there may be some little danger, so kindly put your army revolver in your pocket.” He waved his hand, turned on his heel, and disappeared in an instant among the crowd.

I trust that I am not more dense than my neighbours, but I was always oppressed with a sense of my own stupidity in my dealings with Sherlock Holmes. Here I had heard what he had heard, I had seen what he had seen, and yet from his words it was evident that he saw clearly not only what had happened but what was about to happen, while to me the whole business was still confused and grotesque. As I drove home to my house in Kensington I thought over it all, from the extraordinary story of the redheaded copier of the Encyclopaedia down to the visit to Saxe-Coburg Square, and the ominous words with which he had parted from me. What was this nocturnal expedition, and why should I go armed? Where were we going, and what were we to do? I had the hint from Holmes that this smooth-faced pawnbroker's assistant was a formidable man—a man who might play a deep game. I tried to puzzle it out, but gave it up in despair and set the matter aside until night should bring an explanation.

It was a quarter-past nine when I started from home and made my way across the Park, and so through Oxford Street to Baker Street. Two hansoms were standing at the door, and as I entered the passage I heard the sound of voices from above. On entering his room, I found Holmes in animated conversation with two men, one of whom I recognised as Peter Jones, the official police agent, while the other was a long, thin, sad-faced man, with a very shiny hat and oppressively respectable frock-coat.

“Ha! Our party is complete,” said Holmes, buttoning up his pea-jacket and taking his heavy hunting crop from the rack. “Watson, I think you know Mr. Jones, of Scotland Yard? Let me introduce you to Mr. Merryweather, who is to be our companion in to-night's adventure.”

“We're hunting in couples again, Doctor, you see,” said Jones in his consequential way. “Our friend here is a wonderful man for starting a chase. All he wants is an old dog to help him to do the running down.”

“I hope a wild goose may not prove to be the end of our chase,” observed Mr. Merryweather gloomily.

“You may place considerable confidence in Mr. Holmes, sir,” said the police agent loftily. “He has his own little methods, which are, if he won't mind my saying so, just a little too theoretical and fantastic, but he has the makings of a detective in him. It is not too much to say that once or twice, as in that business of the Sholto murder and the Agra treasure, he has been more nearly correct than the official force.”

“Oh, if you say so, Mr. Jones, it is all right,” said the stranger with deference. “Still, I confess that I miss my rubber. It is the first Saturday night for seven-and-twenty years that I have not had my rubber.”

“I think you will find,” said Sherlock Holmes, “that you will play for a higher stake to-night than you have ever done yet, and that the play will be more exciting. For you, Mr. Merryweather, the stake will be some £30,000; and for you, Jones, it will be the man upon whom you wish to lay your hands.”

“John Clay, the murderer, thief, smasher, and forger. He's a young man, Mr. Merryweather, but he is at the head of his profession, and I would rather have my bracelets on him than on any criminal in London. He's a remarkable man, is young John Clay. His grandfather was a royal duke, and he himself has been to Eton and Oxford. His brain is as cunning as his fingers, and though we meet signs of him at every turn, we never know where to find the man himself. He'll crack a crib in Scotland one week, and be raising money to build an orphanage in Cornwall the next. I've been on his track for years and have never set eyes on him yet.”

“I hope that I may have the pleasure of introducing you to-night. I've had one or two little turns also with Mr. John Clay, and I agree with you that he is at the head of his profession. It is past ten, however, and quite time that we started. If you two will take the first hansom, Watson and I will follow in the second.”

Sherlock Holmes was not very communicative during the long drive and lay back in the cab humming the tunes which he had heard in the afternoon. We rattled through an endless labyrinth of gas-lit streets until we emerged into Farrington Street.

“We are close there now,” my friend remarked. “This fellow Merryweather is a bank director, and personally interested in the matter. I thought it as well to have Jones with us also. He is not a bad fellow, though an absolute imbecile in his profession. He has one positive virtue. He is as brave as a bulldog and as tenacious as a lobster if he gets his claws upon anyone. Here we are, and they are waiting for us.”

We had reached the same crowded thoroughfare in which we had found ourselves in the morning. Our cabs were dismissed, and, following the guidance of Mr. Merryweather, we passed down a narrow passage and through a side door, which he opened for us. Within there was a small corridor, which ended in a very massive iron gate. This also was opened, and led down a flight of winding stone steps, which terminated at another formidable gate. Mr. Merryweather stopped to light a lantern, and then conducted us down a dark, earth-smelling passage, and so, after opening a third door, into a huge vault or cellar, which was piled all round with crates and massive boxes.

“You are not very vulnerable from above,” Holmes remarked as he held up the lantern and gazed about him.

“Nor from below,” said Mr. Merryweather, striking his stick upon the flags which lined the floor. “Why, dear me, it sounds quite hollow!” he remarked, looking up in surprise.

“I must really ask you to be a little more quiet!” said Holmes severely. “You have already imperilled the whole success of our expedition. Might I beg that you would have the goodness to sit down upon one of those boxes, and not to interfere?”

The solemn Mr. Merryweather perched himself upon a crate, with a very injured expression upon his face, while Holmes fell upon his knees upon the floor and, with the lantern and a magnifying lens, began to examine minutely the cracks between the stones. A few seconds sufficed to satisfy him, for he sprang to his feet again and put his glass in his pocket.

“We have at least an hour before us,” he remarked, “for they can hardly take any steps until the good pawnbroker is safely in bed. Then they will not lose a minute, for the sooner they do their work the longer time they will have for their escape. We are at present, Doctor—as no doubt you have divined—in the cellar of the City branch of one of the principal London banks. Mr. Merryweather is the chairman of directors, and he will explain to you that there are reasons why the more daring criminals of London should take a considerable interest in this cellar at present.”

“It is our French gold,” whispered the director. “We have had several warnings that an attempt might be made upon it.”

“Your French gold?”

“Yes. We had occasion some months ago to strengthen our resources and borrowed for that purpose 30,000 napoleons from the Bank of France. It has become known that we have never had occasion to unpack the money, and that it is still lying in our cellar. The crate upon which I sit contains 2,000 napoleons packed between layers of lead foil. Our reserve of bullion is much larger at present than is usually kept in a single branch office, and the directors have had misgivings upon the subject.”

“Which were very well justified,” observed Holmes. “And now it is time that we arranged our little plans. I expect that within an hour matters will come to a head. In the meantime Mr. Merryweather, we must put the screen over that dark lantern.”

“And sit in the dark?”

“I am afraid so. I had brought a pack of cards in my pocket, and I thought that, as we were a partie carrée, you might have your rubber after all. But I see that the enemy's preparations have gone so far that we cannot risk the presence of a light. And, first of all, we must choose our positions. These are daring men, and though we shall take them at a disadvantage, they may do us some harm unless we are careful. I shall stand behind this crate, and do you conceal yourselves behind those. Then, when I flash a light upon them, close in swiftly. If they fire, Watson, have no compunction about shooting them down.”

I placed my revolver, cocked, upon the top of the wooden case behind which I crouched. Holmes shot the slide across the front of his lantern and left us in pitch darkness—such an absolute darkness as I have never before experienced. The smell of hot metal remained to assure us that the light was still there, ready to flash out at a moment's notice. To me, with my nerves worked up to a pitch of expectancy, there was something depressing and subduing in the sudden gloom, and in the cold dank air of the vault.

“They have but one retreat,” whispered Holmes. “That is back through the house into Saxe-Coburg Square. I hope that you have done what I asked you, Jones?”

“I have an inspector and two officers waiting at the front door.”

“Then we have stopped all the holes. And now we must be silent and wait.”

What a time it seemed! From comparing notes afterwards it was but an hour and a quarter, yet it appeared to me that the night must have almost gone, and the dawn be breaking above us. My limbs were weary and stiff, for I feared to change my position; yet my nerves were worked up to the highest pitch of tension, and my hearing was so acute that I could not only hear the gentle breathing of my companions, but I could distinguish the deeper, heavier in-breath of the bulky Jones from the thin, sighing note of the bank director. From my position I could look over the case in the direction of the floor. Suddenly my eyes caught the glint of a light.

At first it was but a lurid spark upon the stone pavement. Then it lengthened out until it became a yellow line, and then, without any warning or sound, a gash seemed to open and a hand appeared, a white, almost womanly hand, which felt about in the centre of the little area of light. For a minute or more the hand, with its writhing fingers, protruded out of the floor. Then it was withdrawn as suddenly as it appeared, and all was dark again save the single lurid spark which marked a chink between the stones.

Its disappearance, however, was but momentary. With a rending, tearing sound, one of the broad, white stones turned over upon its side and left a square, gaping hole, through which streamed the light of a lantern. Over the edge there peeped a clean-cut, boyish face, which looked keenly about it, and then, with a hand on either side of the aperture, drew itself shoulder-high and waist-high, until one knee rested upon the edge. In another instant he stood at the side of the hole and was hauling after him a companion, lithe and small like himself, with a pale face and a shock of very red hair.

“It's all clear,” he whispered. “Have you the chisel and the bags? Great Scott! Jump, Archie, jump, and I'll swing for it!”

Sherlock Holmes had sprung out and seized the intruder by the collar. The other dived down the hole, and I heard the sound of rending cloth as Jones clutched at his skirts. The light flashed upon the barrel of a revolver, but Holmes' hunting crop came down on the man's wrist, and the pistol clinked upon the stone floor.

“It's no use, John Clay,” said Holmes blandly. “You have no chance at all.”

“So I see,” the other answered with the utmost coolness. “I fancy that my pal is all right, though I see you have got his coat-tails.”

“There are three men waiting for him at the door,” said Holmes.

“Oh, indeed! You seem to have done the thing very completely. I must compliment you.”

“And I you,” Holmes answered. “Your red-headed idea was very new and effective.”

“You'll see your pal again presently,” said Jones. “He's quicker at climbing down holes than I am. Just hold out while I fix the derbies.”

“I beg that you will not touch me with your filthy hands,” remarked our prisoner as the handcuffs clattered upon his wrists. “You may not be aware that I have royal blood in my veins. Have the goodness, also, when you address me always to say ‘sir’ and ‘please.’ ”

“All right,” said Jones with a stare and a snigger. “Well, would you please, sir, march upstairs, where we can get a cab to carry your Highness to the police-station?”

“That is better,” said John Clay serenely. He made a sweeping bow to the three of us and walked quietly off in the custody of the detective.

“Really, Mr. Holmes,” said Mr. Merryweather as we followed them from the cellar, “I do not know how the bank can thank you or repay you. There is no doubt that you have detected and defeated in the most complete manner one of the most determined attempts at bank robbery that have ever come within my experience.”

“I have had one or two little scores of my own to settle with Mr. John Clay,” said Holmes. “I have been at some small expense over this matter, which I shall expect the bank to refund, but beyond that I am amply repaid by having had an experience which is in many ways unique, and by hearing the very remarkable narrative of the Red-headed League.”

“You see, Watson,” he explained in the early hours of the morning as we sat over a glass of whisky and soda in Baker Street, “it was perfectly obvious from the first that the only possible object of this rather fantastic business of the advertisement of the League, and the copying of the Encyclopaedia, must be to get this not over-bright pawnbroker out of the way for a number of hours every day. It was a curious way of managing it, but, really, it would be difficult to suggest a better. The method was no doubt suggested to Clay's ingenious mind by the colour of his accomplice's hair. The £4 a week was a lure which must draw him, and what was it to them, who were playing for thousands? They put in the advertisement, one rogue has the temporary office, the other rogue incites the man to apply for it, and together they manage to secure his absence every morning in the week. From the time that I heard of the assistant having come for half wages, it was obvious to me that he had some strong motive for securing the situation.”

“But how could you guess what the motive was?”

“Had there been women in the house, I should have suspected a mere vulgar intrigue. That, however, was out of the question. The man's business was a small one, and there was nothing in his house which could account for such elaborate preparations, and such an expenditure as they were at. It must, then, be something out of the house. What could it be? I thought of the assistant's fondness for photography, and his trick of vanishing into the cellar. The cellar! There was the end of this tangled clue. Then I made inquiries as to this mysterious assistant and found that I had to deal with one of the coolest and most daring criminals in London. He was doing something in the cellar—something which took many hours a day for months on end. What could it be, once more? I could think of nothing save that he was running a tunnel to some other building.

“So far I had got when we went to visit the scene of action. I surprised you by beating upon the pavement with my stick. I was ascertaining whether the cellar stretched out in front or behind. It was not in front. Then I rang the bell, and, as I hoped, the assistant answered it. We have had some skirmishes, but we had never set eyes upon each other before. I hardly looked at his face. His knees were what I wished to see. You must yourself have remarked how worn, wrinkled, and stained they were. They spoke of those hours of burrowing. The only remaining point was what they were burrowing for. I walked round the corner, saw the City and Suburban Bank abutted on our friend's premises, and felt that I had solved my problem. When you drove home after the concert I called upon Scotland Yard and upon the chairman of the bank directors, with the result that you have seen.”

“And how could you tell that they would make their attempt to-night?” I asked.

“Well, when they closed their League offices that was a sign that they cared no longer about Mr. Jabez Wilson's presence—in other words, that they had completed their tunnel. But it was essential that they should use it soon, as it might be discovered, or the bullion might be removed. Saturday would suit them better than any other day, as it would give them two days for their escape. For all these reasons I expected them to come to-night.”

“You reasoned it out beautifully,” I exclaimed in unfeigned admiration. “It is so long a chain, and yet every link rings true.”

“It saved me from ennui,” he answered, yawning. “Alas! I already feel it closing in upon me. My life is spent in one long effort to escape from the commonplaces of existence. These little problems help me to do so.”

“And you are a benefactor of the race,” said I.

He shrugged his shoulders. “Well, perhaps, after all, it is of some little use,” he remarked. “ ‘L'homme c'est rien—l'oeuvre c'est tout,' as Gustave Flaubert wrote to George Sand.”

– August 1891

“TO THE RED-HEADED LEAGUE: On account of the bequest of the late Ezekiah Hopkins, of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, U. S. A., there is now another vacancy open which entitles a member of the League to a salary of £4 a week for purely nominal services. All redheaded men who are sound in body and mind and above the age of twenty-one years, are eligible. Apply in person on Monday, at eleven o'clock, to Duncan Ross, at the offices of the League, 7 Pope's Court, Fleet Street.”

Footnotes

  1. Two hundred pounds a year would be a substantial sum of money, especially for a man like Jabez Wilson who had no dependents. The average clerk in Victorian times was earning one pound a week, or fifty pounds per year. In Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," we see that Ebenezer Scrooge was paying his clerk Bob Cratchit slightly less than a pound a week, and Cratchit was supporting a large family. In his best novel, New Grub Street, the author George Gissing, who includes many remarks about living expenses, states that a man with a wife and child needed about three hundred pounds a year to maintain a respectable middle-class lifestyle.

    — William Delaney
  2. In a number of the Sherlock Holmes stories the great detective criticizes his friend Dr. Watson for "embellishing" (add to, exaggerate) the actual events. Holmes uses other terms to express his opinion, but it is clear that what he disapproves of is the emotional element which Watson takes the liberty of inserting into the narratives. Here are two examples:

    Holmes shot the slide across the front of his lantern and left us in pitch darkness—such an absolute darkness as I have never before experienced. The smell of hot metal remained to assure us that the light was still there, ready to flash out at a moment's notice. To me, with my nerves worked up to a pitch of expectancy, there was something depressing and subduing in the sudden gloom, and in the cold dank air of the vault.
    "The Adventure of The Red-Headed League"

    How long they seemed, those quarters! Twelve struck, and one and two and three, and still we sat waiting silently for whatever might befall....Suddenly there was the momentary gleam of a light up in the direction of the ventilator, which vanished immediately, but was succeeded by a strong smell of burning oil and heated metal. Someone in the next room had lit a dark-lantern. I heard a gentle sound of movement, and then all was silent once more, though the smell grew stronger. For half an hour I sat with straining ears. Then suddenly another sound became audible—a very gentle, soothing sound, like that of a small jet of steam escaping continually from a kettle. The instant that we heard it, Holmes sprang from the bed, struck a match, and lashed furiously with his cane at the bell-pull.
    "The Adventure of the Speckled Band"

    It is natural for Holmes to think that Watson puts too much drama into his stories. Holmes is always portrayed as unemotional, strictly intellectual and analytical. Watson, on the other hand, is always portrayed as a person with strong feelings. He wouldn't get involved with so many of Holmes' cases if he didn't relish the thrill involved as well as the intellectual challenge. The Sherlock Holmes stories often have titles that begin with the words "The Adventure." Arthur Conan Doyle knew that some readers would appreciate the "ratiocination" involved in the mystery, while others would get more fun out of the emotional aspect. In both "The Red-Headed League" and "The Speckled Band," for example, there is a strong mixture of deduction and suspense.

    Holmes and Watson make a good pair for the storyteller's art. Holmes provides the analysis, deduction, induction, ratiocination; Watson provides the more "human" element of curiosity, excitement, fear, wonder, amusement, and triumph. Together the two characters weave intellect and emotion into the stories that have remained so popular for over a hundred years.

    — William Delaney
  3. The author emphasizes that Jabez Wilson is grossly overweight. Elsewhere he calls him "obese." This is to suggest why Wilson never thinks of going down into his own cellar to see what his assistant is doing. It would be difficult for Wilson to get up and down the steep, probably rickety cellar steps which may not even have a wooden bannister. Being obese, Wilson probably suffers from high blood pressure. He is also described as "elderly." Wilson, as Holmes observes, is a snuff taker. Snuff is a finely powdered tobacco and must have an adverse effect on the lungs just like smoking tobacco. All in all, Wilson would never be tempted by curiosity to make the trek down into his cellar and the more arduous trek back up the stairs. John Clay, his assistant, is a very dangerous man. It is lucky for Wilson that he never goes down there. Clay is quite capable of murdering him with a shovel and burying him in his own cellar. He would do so if Wilson came down unexpectedly and caught him digging a tunnel.

    — William Delaney
  4. Watson at least notices that Wilson's clothes are of good quality but in poor condition. The frayed top hat and faded brown overcoat with a wrinkled velvet collar, for instance, show he had more money once, but, as he says, he is earning less. The velvet collar on the overcoat indicates that it was an expensive garment. This “less” is important because he takes on a clerk for half-wages and also because he is so eager to join the Red-Headed League and earn four pounds per week. The condition of a man's clothing, including his shoes, tell more about him than the articles themselves. 

     

    — William Delaney
  5. The author makes the landlord an accountant because such a person would be likely to provide accurate and specific information. The landlord is able to give Wilson the exact address he received from the red-headed man he knew as William Morris. The "new offices" are at 17 King Edward Street, near St. Paul's. When Wilson gets to that address and finds that no one there had ever heard of William Morris or Duncan Ross, Wilson knows the whole thing was a hoax. He doesn't think the accountant could have made a mistake because the informant was too precise in his information. Accountants are expected to be accurate.

    — William Delaney
  6. It is hard to account for this date. Wilson must have started work on April 28, 1890 and he says he worked for eight weeks. The ad ran in The Morning Chronicle of April 27, 1890, and Wilson went to work the very next day. The only possible explanation, other than that it was an authorial mistake, is that the League was to be officially dissolved as of October 9, 1890 but this branch office was closed and vacated as of June 27, 1890. 

    — William Delaney
  7. Jabez Wilson is telling an extremely long "back story" or exposition. The author uses interjections such as this to break up the narrative and remind the reader that this is an interview involving a two-way conversation. It can be noted that Conan Doyle does the same thing in "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" when Holmes is listening to Helen Stoner's long tale about her mother, her stepfather, and her sister Julia. For example:

    “Pray be precise as to details,” said he.

    This is obviously unnecessary since Helen Stoner is giving him a very precise exposition already.

    Life in Victorian times moved at a much slower pace, and readers were more patient with long passages of exposition and description. 

    — William Delaney
  8. There seems to be some mix-up in the dates. If Wilson went to work at the Red-Headed League office on about May 1, 1890 and worked there for eight weeks, then the League would have had to have been dissolved on about July 1, 1890. However, the notice which Wilson has removed from the office-door and shows to Holmes and Watson reads:

    THE RED-HEADED LEAGUE
    IS DISSOLVED 
    October 9, 1890.

    How can we account for the extra three months? 

    Presumably the two crooks have been working frantically on the tunnel ever since they got rid of Wilson. It seems as if they should have been able to finish the job, which John Clay had already started, in the eight weeks that Wilson worked at copying the Encyclopedia Britannica. In other words, they should have been ready to rob the bank by around the end of June.

    When Wilson shows Holmes and Watson the newspaper ad says, "It is The Morning Chronicle of April 27, 1890, just two months ago." Those would have been the eight weeks he has been working at the League office. So he should be talking to Holmes and Watson on June 27, 1890. 

    — William Delaney
  9. Wilson's assistant needs more than the advertisement to get his employer to apply for the spurious opening at the Red-Headed League. Wilson is, as he calls himself, a stay-at-home sort of person. He is not aggressive or enterprising, and he is sedentary and old. He immediately objects:

    "But...there would be millions of red-headed men who would apply."

    Spaulding (John Clay) has to reassure Wilson of his chances with a lot of false information about this League. Where did he get it? He has to pretend that the whole thing was big news when the eccentric red-headed American millionaire inaugurated it and that what he is telling his employer is well known. That is why Wilson would have had to be far away from England at that time, as far away as China. Spaulding-Clay must know that Wilson was abroad at the time the League was supposedly formed. Otherwise he and his partner could not have made up the ruse. In those days of wooden sailing vessels, a voyage could take several years. But Wilson may have remained in the Far East even longer than that. Wilson is not surprised that his assistant knows so much about this "League of Red-Headed Men," since is would have been big news if it had really happened.

    — William Delaney
  10. Both the crooks are described as small and agile. Their small size and agility are perfectly suited for their enterprise of digging a long tunnel into a bank storage vault and hauling away thirty-thousand gold coins. As usual, the author Arthur Conan Doyle creates his characters to suit the needs of his plots.

    — William Delaney
  11. The 30,000 gold Napoleons are evidently worth one pound each. A pound was equivalent to approximately five American dollars in those days, and five dollars was worth at least ten times or twenty times as much in purchasing power. So the treasure the thieves are after is equivalent to at least one-and-a-half million dollars. There would have to be a large amount at stake in order to justify the enormous amount of work these two crooks put in to dig a tunnel at least as long as a whole city block.

    — William Delaney
  12. He has a thick finger because, as Holmes observes, his right hand has grown larger from all the manual labor he did as a ship's carpenter, and naturally his fingers would have grown along with the rest of his hand. Furthermore, Wilson is described by Watson as "very stout." Doyle wanted to make it plausible that Wilson would never go down into his own cellar out of curiosity to see what his assistant was doing down there. Since Wilson is "a very stout, florid-faced elderly gentleman," he is not likely to want to venture down the step, dark stairs and then have to climb back up again. It is a good thing for Wilson that he doesn't go down there, because John Clay is known to Holmes to be a murderer, and he would think nothing of killing his employer if Wilson discovered that he was digging a tunnel instead of developing photographs.

    — William Delaney
  13. The fact that Jabez Wilson has a tattoo seems appropriate since he was a seaman for many years. He tells Holmes he worked as a ship's carpenter. Sailors were well known for getting themselves tattooed. The author, Arthur Conan Doyle, uses the fact that Wilson was away from England on long voyages partially to explain why he might not have heard about the origin of the Red-Headed League, in it had indeed existed. In many ways Doyle shapes his character to fit his plot needs. 

    — William Delaney
  14. Sherlock Holmes never carries a pistol, although, like many Victorian gentlemen, he uses a walking stick when he goes out and takes his hunting crop when he thinks he might need some sort of weapon. He often asks Watson to bring his army revolver along if there seems to be a possibility of serious danger. Earlier in this story, for example, Holmes adds: "And, I say, Doctor, there may be some little danger, so kindly put your army revolver in your pocket.” The fact that Holmes is never armed with a gun is intended by the author to emphasize his detective character's heroism and resourcefulness as well as his customary reliance on his intellect. In the climax of "The Red-Headed Men" it is Holmes who actually catches John Clay and who disarms Clay of his pistol. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle intended his Sherlock Holmes stories to include adventure as well as impressive detection and ratiocination. That is why many of the Sherlock Holmes stories are titled "The Adventure of..." one thing or another. The stories collected in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892) include:

    • The Adventure of the Red-Headed League
    • The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle
    • The Adventure of the Speckled Band
    • The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb
    • The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor
    • The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet
    • The Adventure of the Copper Beeches

    Conan Doyle evidently assumed that the detective work would interest some readers but the adventure aspect would appeal to others.

    — William Delaney
  15. Note that Sherlock Holmes makes the capture himself. He is the hero of the story, and it seems more heroic for him to take the lead in seizing John Clay than to wait for the policeman to do it. Holmes has to act quickly because Clay spots the waiting men by the light of the lantern which "streamed" through the "gaping hole." Clay might have gotten away temporarily if his retreat had not been blocked by his partner who was right behind him in the narrow tunnel. Doyle would not have wanted both crooks to be captured when they retreated to the pawnshop. The arrest had to be dramatized with action and dialogue.

    — William Delaney
  16. Doyle has to explain why John Clay doesn't recognize the famous Sherlock Holmes.

    — William Delaney
  17. By getting Wilson out of the way, it would be possible for both Clay and his partner to work on the tunnel for at least four hours a day. Otherwise Clay could not have gotten any assistance at all from the other man. Obviously Wilson has never met the man who calls himself Duncan Ross before the day he is employed by him, which means that this man with the flaming red hair has never been near Wilson's shop. Time is of the essence. The French gold will not remain in the bank's underground storeroom indefinitely. Mr. Merryweather tells Holmes that the bank managers have had "misgivings" about keeping so much bullion in a branch bank. They will undoubtedly wish to move it as soon as possible. 

    — William Delaney
  18. Clay and his partner probably did not expect such an enormous turnout of applicants for the fictitious position offered in their newspaper ad. It tended to discourage Wilson and to make it difficult to get to the office of the partner who called himself Duncan Ross. Of course, the crooks would have no way of foreseeing the effects of such an unusual ad. The flood of applicants suggests how much unemployment there must have been in London in those times. 

    — William Delaney
  19. Throughout the story Jabez Wilson shows that he is not entirely a fool. He is naturally suspicious of strangers. Perhaps this is because of the business he is in. He does not want to be cheated by people who come to his pawnshop, and there are many ways in which they could do so. For example, a thief might want to pawn a stolen item such as a piece of jewelry. Wilson could have the item confiscated by the police and even be accused of receiving stolen property.

    Doyle's reason for making Wilson both gullible and cagey is to lend credence to the Red-Headed League. Wilson has to be gullible--but not too gullible. Wilson has doubts about the "League" both before he goes to apply and after he has been accepted. As he tells Holmes and Watson:

    “Well, I thought over the matter all day, and by evening I was in low spirits again; for I had quite persuaded myself that the whole affair must be some great hoax or fraud, though what its object might be I could not imagine. It seemed altogether past belief that anyone could make such a will, or that they would pay such a sum for doing anything so simple as copying out the Encyclopaedia Britannica."

    The author, Arthur Conan Doyle, knew that his readers would also be skeptical about the existence of such an zany institution, so by making Jabez Wilson skeptical himself, Doyle manages to cope with the skepticism of the reader. If Wilson could be convinced, then it must be plausible and legitimate. We readers do not realize that the whole thing must have been a hoax until Wilson gets to the point in his story where he says he found the notice on the office-door reading:

    THE RED-HEADED LEAGUE IS
    DISSOLVED.
    October 9, 1890. 

    The major question presented to Sherlock Holmes is: Why would anyone wish to play such an elaborate and expensive hoax on a simple man like Jabez Wilson? 

     

    — William Delaney
  20. This helps to characterize John Clay, alias Vincent Spaulding, as an extremely bold, aggressive, strongly motivated and determined man. Wilson is depicted as being old and in poor physical condition. If he had gone to the League office by himself he would have either been immediately dismayed by the crowd of applicants or else would have grown exhausted from the long wait and given up. Watson describes Wilson early in the story as "a very stout, florid-faced elderly gentleman." 

    — William Delaney
  21. It was the coincidence that John Clay's partner in crime, who calls himself Duncan Ross, happens to have blazing red hair that inspired them to invent the Red-Headed League. Wilson tells Holmes and Watson:

    “There was nothing in the office but a couple of wooden chairs and a deal table, behind which sat a small man with a head that was even redder than mine."

    Clay could have arranged to get Wilson to apply for an opening in the fictitious Red-Headed League without running an ad in the newspaper. But he and his partner must have decided that bringing a whole mob of red-headed men to the office would make the hoax more convincing. If all these redheads believe the job offer is legitimate, then it must be legitimate. Wilson may never have heard of this Red-Headed League, but he would assume that many of the redheads in the crowd of applicants must know about it and may have even applied for other openings in the past.

    — William Delaney
  22. Rightly or wrongly, red-haired people, both men and women, are commonly thought to be quick-tempered. The red hair suggests "hot" temper, and most red-headed people have fair skins and blush, or flush, easily, as Wilson does when he becomes angry. Jabez Wilson is more than just a gullible stooge. He has been around the world and dealt with all kinds of people. He shows a certain amount of courage to be so aggressively pursuing the man or men he feels have injured him. The author, Arthur Conan Doyle, uses Wilson's reaction to the "roar of laughter" from both Holmes and Watson to characterize Wilson as the type of man who might become sufficiently outraged by the abrupt closure of the Red-Headed League, and the hoax he suspects was played on him, to investigate the League himself and then go so far as to take his case to the great Sherlock Holmes. Conan Doyle uses his characterization of Wilson to get over a sticky plot point. Why should anyone bring such a trivial matter to Sherlock Holmes and then expect him to investigate it for nothing? Jabez Wilson is the exceptional type of man who would do just that. He doesn't like to be the object of anyone's laughter or ridicule. No doubt growing up with such flaming red hair has made his somewhat defensive and self-conscious, because there are many people who would make fun of him for having hair of such an unusual color. His hypersensitivity may also explain why he seems to be such a recluse. So it is because Jabez Wilson has flaming red hair and a touchy disposition that Sherlock Holmes gets drawn into a case involving the attempted theft of a fortune in gold coins and apprehends the notorious "murderer, thief, smasher, and forger" John Clay, who will surely go to the gallows.

    — William Delaney
  23. Arthur Conan Doyle always has Watson describe Sherlock Holmes this way whenever Watson offers any physical description of his friend. Holmes has been portrayed many times by actors in motion-picture adaptation of the tales and is invariably played by a tall, thin, angular man such as Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett. His face and physique seem appropriate to a man whose life is totally absorbed in his cerebral functions. All Sherlock Holmes fans must visualize him in approximately the same way. 

    — William Delaney
  24. Holmes is probably thinking that the first three smartest men in London are:

    • Himself
    • Professor Moriarty
    • Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock's brother

    He may also be thinking that John Clay could rank as third for daring because Mycroft is lazy and phlegmatic.

    — William Delaney
  25. Vincent Spaulding/John Clay must keep the front door locked so that customers will have to knock on the door and give him time to pop up out of the cellar. Jabez Wilson has described his assistant as "very quick in his ways." Most small shops do not keep their doors locked during business hours in our times and probably did not do so in Victorian London. However, because Wilson is a pawnbroker and has a lot of small items on display which could be easily pilfered, he may do things differently. 

    — William Delaney
  26. Jabez Wilson describes both Vincent Spaulding and Duncan Ross as "small." This feature would make it somewhat easier for them to dig a tunnel, because they would not need as much head room as larger men and thus would not have to remove as much dirt. Vincent Spaulding is also "stout-built," suggesting that he is strong, and as "very quick in his ways," which suggests, among other things, that he would be adept at scrambling in and out of his tunnel and also that he could get upstairs quickly if a customer entered. 

    — William Delaney
  27. It seems hard to understand why the newspaper should be in that condition. It might be wrinkled because Wilson had been carrying it around inside his overcoat pocket for a long time. It may have been "dirty" because John Clay had been handling it down in the cellar while he was in the process of digging his tunnel, in which case it would be a good clue. Clay might even have been using the entire edition to kneel on while he was burrowing down there. No doubt he would have made a practice of kneeling on something while working in order to protect his trousers as well sd he could manage. Even so, it would have been impossible to keep entirely neat and clean. Towards the end of the story, Holmes explains why he called at the shop on the pretext of asking for directions:

    I hardly looked at his face. His knees were what I wished to see. You must yourself have remarked how worn, wrinkled, and stained they were. They spoke of those hours of burrowing. 

    — William Delaney
  28. Why should anyone have "a great sympathy for all redheaded men"? Is having red hair some kind of a stigma? Or handicap? One possibility is that red hair might suggest Irish ethnicity, and the Irish who were emigrating to America were often victims of discrimination. Ezekiah Hopkins (if he had really existed) might have felt sympathy for redheaded men if they came to America. As a matter of fact, there may have been hostility towards Irishmen who came to England looking for work. But Jabez Wilson is not Irish, and not all redheaded men, or women, are of Irish extraction. What other reason would there be for all redheaded men, or women, to deserve sympathy?

    — William Delaney
  29. Arthur Conan Doyle wrote fifty-six Sherlock Holmes stories as well as four Sherlock Holmes novels. He must have had great difficulty inventing new kinds of cases for his detective to solve, which may explain why at one time he tried to kill his hero off at Reichenbach Falls. In this whole paragraph Doyle is evidently speaking for himself through his character Sherlock Holmes. Just as Holmes is always on the lookout for unusual problems, so Doyle too was trying to think of problems other than the run-of-the-mill types involving stolen jewels, unsolved murders, or purloined documents. It seems likely that what sparked the idea for "The Red-Headed League" was Doyle's noticing a man who caught his attention because of his "blazing red hair." For a creative mind like Doyle's, it wouldn't take more than a hint to start him constructing an entire plot in his imagination. Since few men have hair of such a striking color, the idea of a "league" might have occurred to the author as one of the first steps in constructing his plot. When Holmes says, "...the facts are, to the best of my belief, unique," he is certainly correct, since the whole story is such an "unique," non-formulaic literary creation.

    — William Delaney
  30. Doyle immediately introduces the most important factor in the story--that Jabez Wilson has an unusually striking shade of red hair. It was Wilson's red hair that gave John Clay the inspiration to invent a League of Red-Headed Men, which is an indication of Clay's cleverness and audacity. Wilson's unusually "bright, blazing, fiery red hair" is the first thing any stranger would notice about him.

    — William Delaney
  31. Jabez Wilson may be naive and gullible, but he is shrewd enough when it comes to money. His pawnbroker business consists almost entirely of dealing in small sums--evaluating, lending, charging interest, selling unclaimed pledges--so he must be thinking about money most of the time. He may never have heard the word "nominal" before. As used here it means "existing in name only." It is not really work at all, since nothing will ever be done with all the handwritten pages he produces. This is one of the aspects of the situation that make Wilson feel suspicious. He tells Holmes and Watson:

    “Well, I thought over the matter all day, and by evening I was in low spirits again; for I had quite persuaded myself that the whole affair must be some great hoax or fraud, though what its object might be I could not imagine."

    — William Delaney
  32. Holmes does not caution Wilson against mentioning to his assistant that he has consulted the famous private detective about the Red-Headed League. But Holmes already expects the matter will come to a head that very Saturday and presumably would not be concerned if the crooks thought they had the whole weekend to carry out their burglary. In fact, if John Clay thought that Sherlock Holmes might be getting involved in the case it would prompt him to act quickly and assure Holmes of being able to catch him and his partner redhanded that Saturday night. Conan Doyle probably did not have Holmes warn Wilson to keep this meeting a secret from Spaulding because, for story purposes, the author did not want to emphasize that the detective knew John Clay and suspected him of planning to commit a serious crime very soon.

    — William Delaney
  33. The author emphasizes in many ways that Jabez Wilson has been out of the country for years and that he seldom leaves his shop and attached living quarters now that he is established in London. This is to make it credible that Wilson would never have heard of the Red-Headed League before his new assistant showed him the advertisement and explained the League's history. The assistant, who calls himself Vincent Spaulding, expresses surprise that Wilson has never heard of this entirely fictitious organization, but Wilson never reads newspapers and rarely talks to anyone except on business with pawnshop customers and to Spaulding. Being a Freemason, Wilson would not even go to church and would thus have no fellow parishioners to gossip with on Sundays. Conan Doyle has created exactly the kind of character who is needed for the plot of his story. Wilson is reclusive, not "over bright," as Holmes says of him, so thrifty that he comes close to being a miser, and has flaming red hair which inspires Spaulding (John Clay) to invent the Red-Headed League. Wilson is also elderly, fat, and lethargic, which would explain why he has never gone down into his own cellar to see what Vincent Spaulding might be doing down there. Wilson is a heavy user of snuff, which must have had a harmful effect on his lungs. His florid complexion suggests to Watson, a doctor, that the man has high blood pressure, adding to the unlikelihood that he would want to climb up and down steep cellar stairs.

    — William Delaney
  34. Miss Mary Sutherland was Sherlock Holmes' client in "A Case of Identity," published in 1891. It is the third story included in the collection The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The motive of the villain, the client's stepfather, in "A Case of Identity" was to prevent Mary Sutherland from marrying and causing him to lose control of her fortune. The story is therefore somewhat similar to the much more sinister "The Adventure of the Speckled Band," in which Dr. Grimesby Roylott murders his stepdaughter Julia to prevent her from getting married and to keep control of her capital, and is attempting to murder his other stepdaughter Helen when she becomes engaged to be married. 
    "The Spectacled Band" was also included as one of the twelve stories in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

    — William Delaney
  35. Wilson describes Duncan Ross as "a small man" and "the little man" in this paragraph. The pawnbroker has already told Holmes that his assistant is a small man. The author, Conan Doyle, made both men small in order to simplify their work in digging such a long tunnel. Bigger men would have to have a bigger tunnel and would have more dirt to dispose of. It would also obviously be easier for small men to go back and forth through a tunnel on hands and knees in order to remove all that French gold from the bank's strong room. No doubt it would require several round trips dragging heavy bags filled with gold coins.

     

    — William Delaney
  36. Holmes is in high spirits because he is delighted to have an unusual new puzzle to work with. He actually wriggles in his chair.

    Sir Arthur Conan Doyle freely acknowledged his indebtedness to Edgar Allan Poe, whose amateur detective hero C. Auguste Dupin he imitated. In "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" Poe describes the kind of person who has strong "analytical" powers and delights in using them. Here is the opening paragraph of that famous story:

    THE MENTAL FEATURES discoursed of as the analytical, are, in themselves, but little susceptible of analysis. We appreciate them only in their effects. We know of them, among other things, that they are always to their possessor, when inordinately possessed, a source of the liveliest enjoyment. As the strong man exults in his physical ability,...so glories the analyst in that moral activity which disentangles. He derives pleasure from even the most trivial occupations bringing his talents into play. He is fond of enigmas, of conundrums, of hieroglyphics; exhibiting in his solutions of each a degree of acumen which appears to the ordinary apprehension preternatural. His results, brought about by the very soul and essence of method, have, in truth, the whole air of intuition.

    Sherlock Holmes frequently takes on clients who are unable to pay him a fee for his services. He often does this because he loves solving puzzles--the more unusual, the better. This enabled the author to invent a much wider range of stories than would have been possible if the great detective only worked for clients who could afford to pay what his services were worth. In the case of "The Red-Headed League" Holmes is working for Jabez Wilson for nothing, and he doesn't even ask the banker Mr. Merryweather to reward him for saving the fortune in French gold.

    C. Auguste Dupin does not receive any payment for solving the locked-room murder mystery in "The Murders in the Rue Morgue." However, he receives a reward of fifty-thousand francs for recovering the letter in "The Purloined Letter." Thus he is able to live in luxurious indolence most of the time. The same is true of Sherlock Holmes, who occasionally receives big fees for his services and never has to worry about money. In "The Adventure of the Priory School," for instance, Holmes receives a check for six thousand pounds, which was a small fortune in Victorian times.

    — William Delaney
  37. Watson had shared the rooms on Baker Street with Sherlock Holmes for many years. Watson describes the rooms and the detective in the novel A Study in Scarlet (1887).

    WE met next day as he had arranged, and inspected the rooms at No. 221B, Baker Street, of which he had spoken at our meeting. They consisted of a couple of comfortable bed-rooms and a single large airy sitting-room, cheerfully furnished, and illuminated by two broad windows. So desirable in every way were the apartments, and so moderate did the terms seem when divided between us, that the bargain was concluded upon the spot, and we at once entered into possession. That very evening I moved my things round from the hotel, and on the following morning Sherlock Holmes followed me with several boxes and portmanteaus. For a day or two we were busily employed in unpacking and laying out our property to the best advantage. That done, we gradually began to settle down and to accommodate ourselves to our new surroundings.

    Holmes was just getting started as a "consulting detective" and needed someone to share the rent. Eventually Watson got married and resumed private practice as a physician, while Holmes became sufficiently prosperous to keep the rooms by himself.  The two men continue to keep up their friendship, and Watson continues to get involved in some of Holmes' cases, as he does in "The Red-Headed League."

    — William Delaney
  38. Doyle has Sherlock Holmes explain why he is interested in this case in which there is no fee involved and "room for doubt whether any positive crime has been committed." This characteristic, or idiosyncrasy, of his detective-hero enabled Doyle to create all sorts of strange stories in which Holmes is motivated by sympathy, curiosity, patriotism, or something else rather than money. Holmes will prove the correctness of this statement when he establishes that the Red-Headed League was fabricated in order for two crooks to steal a huge fortune in French gold coins.

    — William Delaney
  39. Holmes is referring to the "view" he expresses in the story "A Case of Identity," which is contained in the opening paragraph:

    "My dear fellow," said Sherlock Holmes, as we sat on either side of the fire in his lodgings at Baker Street, "life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man can invent. We would not dare to conceive the things which are really mere commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs, and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the plannings, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chains of events, working through generations, and leading to the most outre results, it would make all fiction, with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions, most stale and unprofitable."

    Holmes believes that reality is stranger than fiction. Watson says that is "A proposition which I took the liberty of doubting." Watson chronicles Holmes' cases but believes that his manner of "embellishing them" is necessary to make them more interesting to the reader. This is the subject of a friendly ongoing argument between the two friends. It provides a minor conflict which enhances the dramatic interest of some of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Obviously Holmes only cares about the cold facts, whereas Watson is of a more emotional and imaginative disposition. Thus they serve as foils by contrasting with each other in the ways in which they perceive the same incidents and the persons involved in them. Their contrasting views also serve to give the stories greater realism and depth.

    — William Delaney
  40. The presence of so many red-headed men helps to reassure Wilson that the League of Red-Headed Men is a legitimate and well-known institution. Perhaps some of these other men might never have heard of it, but surely there must be some in the crowd who know all about it. They are not all necessarily responding to a single ad in the newspaper. Wilson would assume that some had heard from friends or had even read a newspaper article about how some member of the League had died and they would immediately be seeking a replacement. The crowd of red-headed men also serves to fool the reader at this point, because Wilson has not yet told Holmes and Watson that the League had been dissolved. It was Doyle's intention for the reader to be just as surprised as Wilson that the Red-Headed League had been dissolved. Then, of course, the reader will understand that it was a hoax and begin wondering about the real reason it was started in the first place. The reader does not necessarily think that Clay knew anything about the hoax. The ad in the newspaper was legitimate because Clay had placed it, and he could have come across it for the first time when he was reading the newspaper that morning.

    — William Delaney
  41. Cornwall is a county at the extreme southern tip of Britain and as far away from Scotland as it would be possible to get on the same large island.

    — William Delaney
  42. Clay and his partner underestimated Jabez Wilson. The "not over-bright pawnbroker" could do little on his own, but they couldn't foresee that he might go straight to Sherlock Holmes, of all people, for advice! "The Adventure of the Red-Headed League" is one of the best of the Sherlock Holmes stories because of its two unusual characters, Jabez Wilson and John Clay, as well as the display of analytical genius by the great detective.

    — William Delaney
  43. These two words suggest that the League is well funded and has been in existence for some time.

    — William Delaney
  44. John Clay must have known when he placed this ad that it would attract a horde of red-headed men. He probably reasoned this would be a good thing because it would help to convince Jabez Wilson, when he saw the mob, that the League must be well known to the public. Although the crowd might tend to discourage Wilson from applying for the job, it would also tend to make him feel that he would be extremely fortunate if he were able to get it. The big response to the ad also shows Clay's cunning and audacity, as well as that of his partner in crime. They are willing to take the slight risk that someone in the building might deny the existence of any Red-Headed League--but the benevolent institution could be known only to men with red hair.

    — William Delaney
  45. Doyle frequently refers to the fact that Holmes is subject to ennui, or boredom. This helps to explain his motivation in many of his cases. He would rather be working and using his brain than doing nothing. It also helps to explain why Holmes will take on cases which involve no prospect of payment for his services. Since Holmes works for all kinds of people, rich and poor, Doyle is able to create a much broader variety of characters, problems, and stories than would be the case if Holmes only worked for clients who could afford to pay equitably for his valuable services. Holmes occasionally is richly rewarded by a wealthy client, as in "The Adventure of the Priory School," which enables the detective to take on other cases pro bono, without pay.

    — William Delaney
  46. It was typical of the Sherlock Holmes stories for the detective to explain his line of reasoning at the conclusion in order to keep the story itself as fully dramatic as possible as well as to preserve the mystery element. Edgar Allan Poe invented this convention, as can be seen especially in "The Purloined Letter" and "The Gold Bug."

    — William Delaney
  47. Mr. Merryweather exists as a character in the story mainly to give Holmes and Watson official conduct into the bank cellar and to provide some insider information  about the French gold. Doyle keeps these scenes dramatic by creating some conflict between Merryweather and Holmes. Merryweather complains about missing his usual whist game on what he expects to be a "wild goose chase.". He is very skeptical about Holmes prediction of an attempted break-in, especially since Holmes is not an official detective. Then Holmes has to admonish him about rapping on the floor with his stick and order him to sit down and shut up. 

    — William Delaney
  48. This is intended to inform the reader that the robbers plan to break the crates open and put all the coins into bags. The crates would be harder to drag through the tunnel and harder to conceal in a wagon.  

    — William Delaney
  49. This identifies Clay's partner as the man who called himself Duncan Ross and posed as an official with the League of Red-Headed Men. The whole scheme is obviously a two-man job which can be wrapped up quickly.

    — William Delaney
  50. John Clay is not a serious physical threat. Neither is his partner. Doyle does not want the reader to think that Holmes should have more policemen present in the cellar to arrest two men. Clay is dangerous because of his brain. Once he is caught he is no serious problem to handle. The other man tries to escape through the tunnel, so Doyle does not have to describe two arrests being made; the other will occur offstage, so to speak. This is a case of brain against brain and not brain against brawn. 

    — William Delaney
  51. Doyle differentiates these two minor characters by contrast. Jones is big and strong, while Merryweather is thin, rather elderly and sedentary. 

    — William Delaney
  52. That is, outside the front door of Wilson's pawnshop, which is the only available exit for Clay's partner. Arthur Conan Doyle realized that more than one police officer should be involved in such a major crime, but he did not want to introduce them all or to have large number of officers in the bank vault. This would tend to weaken the feeling of danger and suspense. 

    — William Delaney
  53. The gold is going to be moved because of the directors' doubts (misgivings) about keeping so much in a single branch office. This puts Clay and his partner under time pressure. They know the gold will soon be moved if they don't get to it quickly.

    — William Delaney
  54. Since there are 30,000 gold coins, there must be fifteen crates full of gold.

    — William Delaney
  55. If they are going to steal the French gold that weekend, they have to do it at night when Wilson is asleep. If they waited until Sunday night the robbery might be discovered as early as Monday morning.

    — William Delaney
  56. Doyle wishes to impress the reader with the impregnable appearance of the bank on the outside. 

    — William Delaney
  57. Jones can not only handle the arrest but will give official sanction to the apprehension of Clay and his confederate. This enables Doyle to handle the ending cleanly and swiftly. Jones can also assign other police officers to arrest Clay's partner when he retreats through the tunnel and tries to exit through the front door of the pawnshop.

    — William Delaney
  58. Sherlock Holmes has great mental self-discipline. From years of developing and training his mind, he has become capable of focusing on a single problem for hours and to shift to something else at will. His humming also shows that he has great self-confidence because he has handled so many hundreds of cases successfully. The fact that he is humming the violin tunes he heard that afternoon is intended to remind the reader that all of this is happening on the same day. Jabez Wilson comes to him on Saturday morning and John Clay is carried off to jail that night. Watson does not ask any questions on the ride because he does not want to interrupt Holmes in his meditations and his humming the tunes they both heard at the St. James's Hall. Eventually Watson will see the crime in progress and hear Holmes' deductions when they return to Baker Street.

    — William Delaney
  59. The author does not want all four men riding together because that would necessitate some conversation including questions which Doyle would prefer to be left unanswered until the answers could be shown dramatically inside the bank cellar. Mr. Merryweather and Jones the police agent know that John Clay is supposedly going to attempt to break in and steal all the French gold, but they don't know how Holmes thinks he intends to do it. The reader will be shown, rather than told. 

    — William Delaney
  60. Everything in the story takes place on the same Saturday that Jabez Wilson comes to consult Sherlock Holmes in the morning. Clay and Ross made a serious mistake in dissolving the Red-Headed League that morning. Ross would have had to pay Wilson four more pounds at two o'clock, but that was false economy, assuming that was their reason for dissolving the League when they did. They didn't anticipate that Wilson would go to Sherlock Holmes, of all people! It does seem that these two men were short of cash, even though they expected to have 30,000 French gold coins that night. Evidently by dissolving the League on Saturday morning, they were cheating Wilson out of five days wages, because Wilson stated that Ross always paid him on Saturday. 

    — William Delaney
  61. This should be Farringdon Street, a major artery. George Gissing, a distinguished contemporary of Arthur Conan Doyle, describes it in one of his novels:

    Down in Farringdon Street the carts, waggons, vans, cabs, omnibuses, crossed and intermingled in a steaming splash-bath of mud; human beings, reduced to their due paltriness, seemed to toil in exasperation along the strips of pavement, bound on errands, which were a mockery, driven automaton-like by forces they neither understood nor could resist.
    The Nether World
    (1889)

                              *

    — William Delaney
  62. Holmes is not wearing his customary overcoat, or ulster, but a thick jacket, because he wants freedom of movement if there is violence. The hunting crop will serve as a weapon, but he has asked Watson to bring his revolver.

    — William Delaney
  63. Arthur Conan Doyle wants to keep the ending as a surprise, although Holmes has to tell the policeman and the bank director that he is expecting an attempted break-in at the bank that night. Holmes, however, does not reveal anything more to Watson, and therefore the reader does not know that Holmes is expected Clay and Ross to break in through a tunnel.

    — William Delaney
  64. Hansoms were two-wheel carriages with only one seat to accommodate two passengers at most. The driver sat up high outside in back so that he could see over the roof. These light vehicles were easy to maneuver in heavy London traffic. They were drawn by a single horse.

    — William Delaney
  65. Arthur Conan Doyle frequently describes Sherlock Holmes this way because it enhances reader identification. Sedentary men like to imagine themselves capable of being men of action if occasion demands. The typical Sherlock Holmes reader of Doyle's day was probably an armchair detective who liked to smoke a pipe, read escapist literature, and sip port or sherry while lounging at ease at his club.

    Holmes has to be portrayed as a man capable of violent action, because the Sherlock Holmes stories are invariably presented as adventures. In this story it is Holmes who disarms John Clay with a blow of his hunting crop, just as it is Holmes who lashes the poisonous snake in "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" and causes it to retreat to Dr. Roylott's room where it kills him. In almost all Sherlock Holmes tales there is a combination of deep reasoning and physical activity, including travel and violence. John Clay is a very dangerous adversary.

    — William Delaney
  66. Again Doyle establishes that this is a Saturday. Holmes assumes the thieves will plan to break into the bank on Saturday night, while will give them all day Sunday to make a getaway with the French gold. That is why Holmes is sure he can set a trap for them in the bank's basement that night. He knows they will have to wait until Wilson will be sound asleep. Holmes does expect the break-in attempt to occur until midnight.

    — William Delaney
  67. This explains Wilson's motive for consulting a famous private detective. He is still hoping to recover his lucrative job somehow, and he wants to understand why he was the victim of an "expensive prank." He only consults Holmes because he has heard that the great detective will take some cases for nothing, on a pro bono basis. Wilson obviously doesn't intend to part with the 32 pounds he has earned for eight weeks work.

    — William Delaney
  68. Wilson finds the announcement that the League is dissolved when he comes to work on a Saturday morning. He goes to see Holmes that same day, after trying to do a little investigating on his own. A lot is accomplished in that one day. Holmes deduces that Clay and his partner will break into the bank that very night, but they will have to wait until Wilson is sound asleep in his room up above the pawnshop. Holmes does expect them to attempt the break-in until midnight.

    — William Delaney
  69. Ross and Clay are not sure that even Wilson will fully believe in their preposterous Red-Headed League. Wilson might talk to someone else in the building and learn that the Red-Headed League is unknown. Someone might drop into the office while Wilson was working, and word would get around that a man was doing nothing but copying articles out of the Encyclopedia Britannica. This would create gossip and arouse curiosity throughout the building with unforeseeable consequences. Ross and Clay are a little afraid Wilson might sneak away from the League office and come back to see if there was something funny going on in his shop. So Ross comes into the office once each morning and finally quits coming altogether. Ross is undoubtedly assisting Clay with digging the tunnel. They are under time pressure. The French gold will only be at the bank for a short time, as Mr. Merryweather later explains.

    — William Delaney
  70. People worked six days a week in Victorian times. In fact, a six-day week was common in England and America until the 1920s or 1930s at least.

    — William Delaney
  71. The author goes to great lengths to persuade the reader to believe that anyone could be taken in by his idea of a Red-Headed League. Doyle creates a character who is gullible, uninformed, and unintelligent; and yet the author makes it clear that even such a man as Jabez Wilson is skeptical about the League, which he had never heard of before Vincent Spaulding told him about it and showed him the ad. Wilson thinks "the whole affair must be some great hoax or fraud." He can't belief that anyone would make such a strange will, or that they would pay four pounds a week for copying articles from the Encyclopedia. Doyle wanted his character to be naive but not impossibly naive. After all, Wilson is a businessman and deals with all sorts of people. However, Wilson becomes convinced after the first week when he is paid in gold coins.

    — William Delaney
  72. The two crooks, Ross and Clay, are being very economical. They have only obtained one volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica and are not even providing Wilson with ink, pens, or paper. This suggests that they are currently short of cash and will explain why they shut down the Red-Headed League before they have stolen the gold. This was a mistake, because Wilson begins investigating and goes to Sherlock Holmes before they have broken into the bank. They should have kept Wilson employed for one more week.

    — William Delaney
  73. Spaulding had been working for Wilson for about one month before he called attention to the advertisement for the opening at the Red-Headed League, and Wilson tells Holmes that he worked at the League office for eight weeks before it was suddenly dissolved. So the work on the tunnel took approximately three months before they got to the area just below the floor of the bank's basement.

    — William Delaney
  74. Ross should know from Clay that Wilson has no wife or family, but they want to make sure that no grown children will drop in unexpectedly. If Wilson did have a grown son or daughter, that relative might go down into the cellar. It is essential to the scheme that no one should see what they are working on down there, and a big tunnel under construction would be impossible to hide. It took them around three months of digging before they were able to break into the bank.

    — William Delaney
  75. Clay and Ross could work on their tunnel virtually uninterrupted for four hours because there will be hardly any customers. In fact, they could put a CLOSED sign on the front door of the shop. The girl who does the cleaning would be busy on the second floor and would not notice what was going on down below. if she did intrude downstairs, Clay could give her such a tongue-lashing that she wouldn't do it again. 

    — William Delaney
  76. Duncan Ross is clever. He doesn't want to make Wilson's getting hired seem too easy. Wilson might start wondering about that later and become suspicious. But Wilson would remember that he only seemed to get the job because Ross made an exception for him due to his unusually brilliant red hair. The fact that Ross also has red hair explains why he and Clay thought of the idea of the Red-Headed League, and it lends credence to the deception to have a redheaded man in charge of the League office and the hiring of new recruits.

    — William Delaney
  77. This is further intended to show that Jabez Wilson is in poor physical condition. The reader might otherwise wonder why he never went down to the cellar out of curiosity. Wilson is fat, florid-faced, and elderly. Any exertion is taxing for him. 

    — William Delaney
  78. It was a virtual necessity for Spaulding to accompany Wilson to the League office because he had to make sure his partner Duncan Ross hired the right redheaded man.

    — William Delaney
  79. Wilson's presence was a great encumbrance. Clay had to invent some way to get rid of him for part of the day. Business was very slow in the morning and early afternoon, so that was the best time to have Wilson away at work at the office of the Red-Headed League.

    — William Delaney
  80. One of Holmes' deductions about Wilson was that he was a snuff-taker. This confirms that Holmes was right. Holmes didn't even bother to explain how he had deduced that. It would obvious that Wilson had sprinkled some snuff on his clothing. Watson had observed that Wilson's black frock-coat was unbuttoned in the front, so the snuff would probably have been on Wilson's waistcoat (vest).

    — William Delaney
  81. This is doubly significant. It explains why Wilson could believe that the Red-Headed League was well known although he himself had never heard about it. It also shows why Clay has to concoct some way of getting rid of him for at least four or five hours a day so he can work full-time on his tunnel. Wilson would be at the Red-Headed League office from ten to two, but it would take him a half-hour to get there and another half-hour to get back. With Wilson out of the way for all that time, Clay could get his partner to help him with the digging. The girl is young and wouldn't know or care what they were doing in the cellar.

    — William Delaney
  82. This indicates that Vincent Spaulding and the fourteen-year-old girl all live on the premises, undoubtedly in living quarters above the shop. The girl is unlikely to go down to the cellar, but Spaulding may have warned her against doing so and threatened her with loss of her job if she did.

    — William Delaney
  83. Jabez Wilson is not overly bright and quite naive in many ways, but he has the shrewdness of a typical British shopkeeper when it comes to money matters. He doesn't realize that Vincent Spaulding, who is really John Clay, may have an ulterior motive for working so cheaply. 

    — William Delaney
  84. This is intended to explain why Holmes would be taking an interest in such a trivial case, since Wilson obviously wants the detective to help him for nothing. Arthur Conan Doyle frequently writes that Holmes cares little about money and only takes cases that interest him. This makes it possible for the author to involve Holmes and Watson with a much wider spectrum of the population, from the richest to the poorest, the highest to the lowest. Most private detectives would only work for affluent people who could afford to pay them for their time and expertise.

    — William Delaney
  85. This is a further reminder that Wilson is very much overweight, which is intended to explain why he might never think of going down into his cellar and climbing back up again. His stoutness shows that he leads a very sedentary life, which would explain why the job copying from the Encyclopedia Britannica would exactly suit him.

    — William Delaney
  86. Wilson is stout, florid-faced, and elderly. Such a man would be likely only to make a gesture of rising from his chair, and even that much effort might explain why he only gives a bob of his head to acknowledge the introduction.

    — William Delaney
  87. Arthur Conan Doyle creates a character to suit the needs of his plot. Jabez Wilson is very stout, with a florid (or reddish) face, and he is elderly. The florid face suggests that he has high blood pressure. These characteristics are designed to explain why Wilson never goes down into the basement to see what his assistant is doing. Wilson would not only have difficulty getting down the steep stairs but more difficulty getting back up again. His age and physical condition also explain why he goes out so seldom and why he might never have heard about the Red-Headed League except through the assistant who calls himself Vincent Spaulding. In three words--"stout," "florid-faced," and "elderly"--Doyle takes care of a potential plot problem. The reader otherwise might wonder why Wilson never goes down into his own cellar to see what is going on down there.

    — William Delaney
  88. In the Sherlock Holmes stories the detective frequently mentions that he has written articles and pamphlets about various esoteric subjects. This would have contributed to broadening his reputation and helped to bring him clients. Readers like Holmes because, among other things, he has an enviable lifestyle. He works only when he feels like it, and his clients all have to come to him, even wealthy and aristocratic men and women. When he does decide to work, the jobs are always interesting and rarely require any physical exertion.

    — William Delaney
  89. This is actually a Chinese coin, most of which had holes in the centers. It is probably significant that Wilson, who loves money, should have kept a coin as a souvenir of his years in China. It is also significant that when he opened his own business in London he became a pawnbroker. A pawnbroker is like a small-time banker. He deals in money. The articles on which he lends money are only collateral for the loans. If any are not redeemed, he will sell them to get his money. It is all about money. 

    — William Delaney
  90. Ship's carpenters were essential to crews in the days of sailing ships with wooden hulls. They could repair damaged masts or damaged hulls. They did the repair work on spars, rigging and sails. Most of the repairs on merchant ships were needed because of storm damage. In wartime, of course, there could be more serious damage from cannon-fire. The work would be hard because of all the sawing and hammering involved.

    — William Delaney
  91. The condition of all Jabez Wilson's clothing indicates, not that he is poor, but that he is very tight with his money and wears his clothes until they are too shabby to be worn any longer. According to Watson's description, Wilson owns good-quality clothing, including a greatcoat, a frock-coat, and a waistcoat, with a pocket watch on an Albert chain and a top hat. This suggests a man who has money but doesn't like to part with it unless he has to do so. It also suggests, as it should have suggested to Sherlock Holmes, that Wilson doesn't go out very often. He himself says he is a stay-at-home sort of fellow--so why should he buy new clothes of the kind he would only wear if he went out on some special occasion? The fact that Wilson is a tightwad is important to the plot. It explains why he hired John Clay, who offered to work for half the customary wages. It also explains why Wilson is so upset about losing his position with the Red-Headed League and why he is going to so much trouble to locate the League's new premises, if it is still in existence somewhere. Wilson has come to Sherlock Holmes with his trivial problem because he is hoping that Holmes will take his case for nothing. He has heard, correctly, that the great detective will take some cases if he finds them intriguing. When Wilson finishes his story he says:

    "I did not wish to lose such a place without a struggle, so, as I had heard that you were good enough to give advice to poor folk who were in need of it, I came right away to you.”

    — William Delaney
  92. Any reader who has been a devotee of the Sherlock Holmes stories has probably developed a tendency, like Watson, to try to make deductions about people from observable clues. 

    — William Delaney
  93. Wilson's frock-coat had to be unbuttoned in the front so that Sherlock Holmes could see some of the clues he needed for his deductions about his client, especially the Freemason arc-and-compass breastpin and the Chinese coin attached to his watch-chain. Holmes probably noticed snuff on the waistcoat rather than on the frock-coat, since that was where the snuff was most likely to fall.

    A frock-coat is a long coat which comes down to just above the knees. Such coats were popular during Victorian and Edwardian times.

    — William Delaney
  94. This means that John Clay knows he will hang for the crime he has tried to commit. "Swing for it" was a very common slang term for hanging. In Victorian times there were a great many crimes punishable by hanging, and Clay's audacious attempt to steal a fortune in French gold from a bank would certainly be a hanging offense. It is a mark in his favor that he shows concern for his henchman Archie and is resigned to taking the rap himself. No doubt this is not exactly because he has royal blood but because he thinks highly of himself because of presumably having that royal blood. He can probably even imagine himself standing on the scaffold with aristocratic dignity and possibly even making a speech to the assembled crowd.

    — William Delaney
  95. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle inserts this bit of information about Jabez Wilson's having been in China to make it all the more plausible that he would not have heard about the so-called Red-headed League at the time when it was supposedly established by the American millionaire. Other suggestions help to make it plausible that Wilson would not have heard about this organization until his new assistant told him about it. For one thing, Wilson is very tight with his money. He probably does not subscribe to a daily newspaper or go out to buy one on the street. He tells the great detective:

    "You see, Mr. Holmes, I am a very stay-at-home man, and as my business came to me instead of my having to go to it, I was often weeks on end without putting my foot over the door-mat. In that way I didn't know much of what was going on outside, and I was always glad of a bit of news.”

    This seems a bit unusual for a man who has spent years in China, but it is also intended to show that the client could have been totally ignorant of the supposed existence of the League of the Redheaded Men. It further helps to explain why John Clay had to go to such extreme lengths to get his employer out of his pawnshop for a predictable length of time every day so that he could work on his tunnel. No doubt Wilson, like a lot of other London shopkeepers of the day, lived on the premises above the pawnshop.

    Doyle has created a unique character to suit the needs of his plot. Jabez Wilson has a head of brilliant red hair, he has been out of the country for a long time, he doesn't read the newspapers, he loves money, and he hardly ever leaves his shop. He has one other trait which is essential to the plot. As Holmes tells Watson at the end of the story, Wilson is "not over bright." He not only falls for John Clay's preposterous scheme, but he comes to Sherlock Holmes thinking the great private detective will help him pro bono wiith his trivial problem.

    — William Delaney