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:

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.”


“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.”


  1. Although Sherlock Holmes has brought a detective from Scotland Yard with him, along with Dr. Watson who is armed with a revolver, it is Holmes who apprehends the main culprit. The great detective is invariably featured when there is dangerous work to be done. This is to show that he is not a mere thinking machine but a man of action when action is required. The conflict in this story is between Holmes and John Clay, so it is appropriate that the resolution should be achieved in a physical struggle between these two men.

    — William Delaney
  2. It is a nice touch for the crooks to have Wilson involved in copying out the Encyclopedia Britannica. His task keeps his mind fully occupied and prevents him from thinking about his assistant, or Duncan Ross, or this Red-Headed League, or wondering how things are going at his pawnshop. Wilson reveals that he became quite engrossed in the copying work, so he must have remained in the little office and seated at his table for the entire four hours each day.

    The fact that the Encyclopedia Britannica is so enormous makes Wilson feel secure in his position. It would take years to copy out the entire set of books. If he has been working for two months and hasn't yet gotten to the B's, then we might guess that it would take about ten weeks for each letter and something like 260 weeks, or five years, to copy the whole encyclopedia.

    — William Delaney
  3. Red-haired people, both men and women, are commonly thought, rightly or wrongly, 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
  4. Although Jabez Wilson may be naive and gullible, he is shrewd enough when it comes to money matters. His 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.

    — William Delaney
  5. These are really loaded questions. The crooks do not care about the propagation and spread of red-heads, but they want to make sure Wilson does not have any relatives, such as grown sons or daughters, who might come visiting the shop. It is pretty obvious that Wilson is not married, but there is some possibility that he has a wife who happens to be away on a long trip. No doubt the crooks are mainly concerned about the intrusion of grown children who might trip down the cellar steps out of curiosity and discover the gaping entrance to the tunnel, along with a big mound of dirt, a lantern, and some digging tools.

    — William Delaney
  6. This is just another sign that Jabez Wilson is in poor physical condition. The author wants to forestall the obvious question: "Why doesn't Wilson ever go down into his own cellar to see what his assistant is doing?" Wilson is "very stout, florid-faced and elderly." Cellar steps are usually steep, narrow, and made of cheap lumber, and cellars are usually dark or badly lighted. No doubt John Clay has thought about the possibility of Wilson's catching him in the act of digging a tunnel and is not too concerned. Clay is quite capable of murdering Wilson with his shovel and burying his employer in his own cellar, if necessary. Clay could discharge the girl who does the housework and cooking. Then he would have the place to himself. He could tell people that Wilson was away on a business trip.

    — William Delaney
  7. Notice how Arthur Conan Doyle customarily inserts minor conflicts into most of his scenes. A short story is a dramatic narrative. Drama is built on conflict. In this particular story there will be a major conflict between Sherlock Holmes and John Clay, a criminal Holmes describes as "the fourth smartest man in London." But then in each scene there is at least one minor problem or conflict. In the opening scene Jabez Wilson introduces his own conflict which he wants Holmes to solve for him. Watson doesn't want to intrude, but Holmes insists on his listening to Wilson's story. Holmes and Watson have a minor disagreement over the question of whether "life itself offers more strange effects and extraordinary combinations.... than any effort of the imagination." During this scene Wilson becomes offended and threatens to leave when Holmes and Watson both laugh at him. 

    — William Delaney
  8. Wilson has had a hard time finding the advertisement because he is not used to reading and probably never reads newspapers.

    — William Delaney
  9. Wilson will have a hard time finding the advertisement he is looking for. This suggests that he is not a good reader and that he doesn't read a daily newspaper. Doyle needed to explain to the reader how it was that the assistant could claim that nearly everybody had heard about the American millionaire who had established the Red-headed League, while Wilson had heard nothing at all. Wilson must have been away at sea at the time the League was supposedly established. When he came back to London and set up his pawnbroker shop, he wouldn't have heard about the supposedly frequent openings for red-headed men because (1) he seldom leaves the shop, and (2) he does not read a daily newspaper because he is too tight to pay for one, and furthermore he is not a good reader. It is true that he has been copying articles out of the Encyclopedia Britannica, but copying words is not quite the same as reading, and he may have been working very slowly..

    — William Delaney
  10. Watson is always used as a foil or contrast to his brilliant friend Sherlock Holmes. Watson has ordinary intelligence, but he seems obtuse compared to Holmes. He gets along well with the great detective because he is an exceptionally good-natured, tolerant man who can put up with Holmes' bad habits and testy temperament. Watson, of course, is indispensable to his creator Arthur Conan Doyle, because almost all the Sherlock Holmes stories are narrated from Watson's point of view. In fact, Watson is presented as the narrator.

    — William Delaney
  11. The condition of Wilson's clothing suggest that he does not go out much and that he does not like to spend money either on buying new clothes or on having his clothes cleaned or laundered. One of his chief characteristics is that he is a tightwad. That was why John Clay had an easy time landing the job Wilson was offering. Clay offered to work for half the usual wages. If Wilson had not been such a tightwad he would not have thought of asking the famous detective Sherlock Holmes to work for him for nothing, and he would not have been so distressed about the closure of the Red-Headed League.

    — William Delaney
  12. Doyle wants Wilson to begin again at the beginning because the reader must hear the whole story. Watson could not have arrived just when Wilson began to tell about his experience. That would be too unlikely, too much of a coincidence. And Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories are remarkable for their attention to the smallest details. They are models of the best literary craftsmanship. It is not "my friend Dr. Watson [who] has not heard the opening part" but the reader. Doyle's readers would want to know the whole story.

    — William Delaney
  13. Doyle emphasizes that Jabez Wilson is overweight and elderly. This is to explain why the pawnbroker would never go down into the cellar below his shop to see what his employee, who calls himself Vincent Spaulding and is supposedly interested in photography, was doing down there. Wilson only "half-rose" from his chair, showing that even that much activity was a strain for him. Watson had also described him as "florid-faced." To a doctor like Watson this would suggest high blood pressure and danger of a stroke. Wilson would not want to climb up and down a flight of steep steps. It could be very dangerous for him—in more than one way! If his assistant was not there, Wilson could have a stroke while climbing back up the steps. If his assistant was there at the time, he was quite capable of murdering Wilson with one of the tools he was using to dig the tunnel.

    — William Delaney
  14. This is intended to help characterize Jabez Wilson as a naturally suspicious man. The author knows that the reader is likely to question the whole business of the Red-Headed League, so it would undermine the verisimilitude if Wilson were made to seem too simple-minded and too gullible. He doesn't jump at the bait but asks a lot of questions and spends the entire night thinking about the post he has been given even after he has accepted it. Gradually the reader is also convinced that it seems authentic—which is the author's intention and the author's problem. It is not only Wilson who must fall for the phony story but the person who is reading Doyle's yarn for the first time. We should remember the popular saying: "If something sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't true." What the parsimonious Wilson can't understand is why anyone should pay good money for the kind of "nominal" work he is assigned to do. Four pounds was a lot of money in those days. Clerks were typically paid one pound a week. Scrooge's clerk Bob Cratchit was getting paid a little less than a pound a week in Charles Dickens' famous story "A Christmas Carol," and Cratchit was supporting a whole family.

    — William Delaney
  15. Apparently the two conspirators require Wilson to buy his own ink, pens, and paper because they will represent a sort of cash investment in the League and keep him coming to the office for the first week until he receives his first four pounds as wages.

    — William Delaney
  16. Sherlock Holmes does not rely solely on observation and deduction. He has acquired a great deal of specialized knowledge, all of which he felt was useful for his profession as a "consulting detective." When Dr. Watson first meets Holmes in A Study in Scarlet, he is amazed to discover that the detective is exclusively absorbed in his work and cares nothing about extraneous information. He explains his attitude to Watson:

     "You see," he explained, I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones."

    In many Sherlock Holmes tales the great detective will come up with observations based on his specialized knowledge acquired through reading, observation, and experimentation. Watson frequently describes Holmes making experiments with chemicals, and these are always for the purpose of solving crimes or adding to his criminological expertise. The fact that Holmes is capable of focusing his mind exclusively on one branch of knowledge is largely responsible for his brilliant achievements as a detective.

    — William Delaney
  17. Both Vincent Spaulding and the man who calls himself Duncan Ross are described as "small." This fact would make it easier for them to dig a tunnel because they wouldn't have to remove as much dirt to accommodate their small size. Later when Holmes asks Wilson to describe Spaulding, Wilson says, "Small, stout-built, very quick in his ways." Spaulding is probably quite strong, and his quickness would be an asset in getting in and out of his tunnel. Assuming that the 30,000 French gold coins each weighs one ounce, the two men would have to drag approximately 1900 pounds of gold all the way from the bank to the pawn-shop basement through their narrow tunnel.

    — William Delaney
  18. If Wilson had not invited Spaulding to come with him, Spaulding would have undoubtedly suggested it himself. He needed to accompany Wilson to the address shown in the advertisement for at least two reasons:

    • He had to introduce Wilson to his confederate who is calling himself Duncan Ross, who probably has never seen Wilson in person.
    • He expected a large crowd of redheaded men to respond to the ad, and he wanted to make sure Wilson didn't get discouraged by the sight of all that competition and decide to return to his shop. As a matter of fact, Wilson actually tells Holmes: "When I saw how many were waiting, I would have given up in despair; but Spaulding would not hear of it."
    — William Delaney
  19. John Clay, posing as Vincent Spaulding, knows Wilson is a tightwad and that he needs money. But Clay does not want to seem too insistent because he does not want Wilson suspecting that he might have some ulterior interest in bringing up the advertisement and telling the cooked-up story of the Red-Headed League.

    — William Delaney
  20. 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 work, the jobs are always interesting and rarely require any physical exertion.

    — William Delaney
  21. The usual way for a fiction writer to create a believable character is to give him one dominant trait and one contrasting trait. Doyle shows here that Sherlock Holmes is not only supremely intelligent and analytical, but has a poetic side to his nature and loves music. Without that softer side, Holmes would be a much less sympathetic character and would seem merely cold, self-indulgent and inhuman. Conan Doyle did such a perfect job of creating and refining this fictional character that many people still believe he was a real person who lived at 221B Baker Street.

    — William Delaney
  22. Apparently Duncan Ross is not concerned about locking the office door after Wilson leaves. There is nothing to steal but a wooden table, a wooden chair, a bookcase, and one volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica. But it seems unlikely that Wilson would be entrusted with a key. Duncan Ross must come by later in the afternoon to lock up.

    — William Delaney
  23. Wilson would have no opportunities to meet anyone else in the building who might have cast some doubt on the existence of any Red-Headed League. 

    — William Delaney
  24. The work week in those days was Monday through Saturday, with only Sunday's off. However, Wilson must have considered himself very fortunate in only having to work four hours each day.

    — William Delaney
  25. It is hard to understand why redheaded men should need anyone's great sympathy. Perhaps red hair is associated with being Irish, and there was great discrimination against Irish immigrants in America at that time.

    — William Delaney
  26. Wilson is obviously not very intelligent or educated. He probably does very little reading. He says of himself:

    "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.”

    He must have at least two reasons for not reading a daily newspaper. One is that he is a tightwad and doesn't want to spend money on newspapers. The other is that he is not a good reader. Whatever bits of news he gets comes through conversations with his customers and with his new assistant.

    — William Delaney
  27. A ship's carpenter was an important member of the crew in the days of wooden sailing vessels. He had to be able to make repairs to any part of the hull, masts, spars, steering mechanism, or rigging, and this would have required hard manual labor at a time when all carpentry work was done with hand tools. The fact that Wilson worked on ships undoubtedly explains how he got to China. And the fact that he had been a sailor explains why he got a tattoo. It also explains why Wilson would have been completely out of touch with events in England for long periods of time. Thus his assistant was able to persuade him that the foundation of the Red-Headed League was big news in London for a long while, even though Wilson had never heard about it. 

    — William Delaney
  28. The fact that there were so many redheaded men waiting to be interviewed helps to lend credibility to the League of Red-Headed Men. Clay and his partner had probably thought of this. The fact that the partner, who calls himself Duncan Ross, has flaming red hair was what gave them the idea in the first place. But the interviewer's flaming red hair helps to enhance Wilson's impression that this must indeed be the headquarters of the League. At this point the reader too may believe that the League and the job are genuine. 

    — William Delaney
  29. Wilson's assistant called Spaulding is anxious to accompany his employer to make sure he gets to the interview. It is only because of Spaulding's insistence that Wilson did not give up "in despair" when he saw how many men were competing for a single position. Conan Doyle has already established that Wilson is old and grossly overweight, two reasons why he might not wish to compete with such a mob of job seekers. 

    — William Delaney
  30. The story refers to Wilson's snuff-taking several times. At one point Wilson pauses in in his narrative to take "a huge pinch of snuff." The author's purpose may be to add another reason why Wilson would never think of going down into his cellar to see what his assistant is doing. In addition to being old, overweight, and apparently suffering from high blood pressure, the snuff may have a debilitating effect on Wilson's lungs. Snuff is nothing but finely pulverized tobacco, and all tobacco is poisonous and addictive. Doyle has to make it plausible that Spaulding/Clay could be digging a tunnel right under the nose of his employer, who never leaves the premises, without the employer finding out what he is up to. Perhaps it is fortunate for Wilson that he never did discover the tunnel, because John Clay seems quite capable of killing him and burying him in his own cellar. The fourteen-year-old housemaid could simply be discharged without notice and perhaps a few shillings severance pay; and Clay and his confederate could have the place to themselves for the short time they needed to finish their tunnel.

    — William Delaney
  31. Arthur Conan Doyle wants to emphasize that Jabez Wilson is fat because this will help to explain why he has never gone down into his own cellar to see what his assistant is doing. If he were to go down out of curiosity he would be astonished to see that the man called Vincent Spaulding had been digging a tunnel. But Wilson is described by Watson as "a very stout, florid-faced, elderly gentleman." Any one of these three conditions would be sufficient to explain why Wilson would not want to venture down the steep cellar stairs and climb back up again. All three conditions combined make it seem out of the question that he would make that precarious descent. His florid face indicates that he has high blood pressure and might risk a stroke. He is also portrayed as very sedentary. Furthermore, he is gullible and, as Holmes says, "not over-bright."

    This is an example of how a skillful fiction writer creates characters and settings to suit his plot. The pawnbroker is old and overweight. He is advertising for an assistant. His shop is conveniently situated for tunneling to the bank's strong room. His shop happens to have a cellar; not all shops would have cellars, but this shop has one because the plot requires one. Wilson has unusually brilliant red hair. and Clay's partner in crime who calls himself Duncan Ross also has flaming red hair. Wilson has been in the Far East for a long time. He does not subscribe to a newspaper because he is tight with his money. He seldom leaves his premises. All of this explains why he would not have heard about the founding of the Red-Headed League by an eccentric American, even though Spaulding/Clay tells him it is a very well-known institution. Wilson's business is declining. He needs money. His need makes the four pounds a week especially attractive and also motivates him to believe in the League, because people tend to believe what they want to believe. His concern about money is what motivates him to consult the famous Sherlock Holmes.


    — William Delaney
  32. 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, 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
  33. Spaulding's confederate says all this to imply that the League has existed for a long time.

    — William Delaney
  34. Wilson's business, for whatever reason, is declining. Meanwhile he is growing older. He must be extremely concerned about having enough money to live on in the future if his business fails or if he becomes too old to run it successfully. The four pounds a week he expected to receive from the Red-Headed League must have meant a lot to him because it was a real sinecure which would provide security for the rest of his life. A single man could live quite comfortably in London on two hundred pounds a year. The average salary for a clerk was a pound a week, and many clerks were supporting families on that income. Scrooge's clerk Bob Cratchit in "A Christmas Carol" is supporting a family on a salary of a bit less than one pound a week. 


    — William Delaney
  35. Holmes obviously does not expect to make any money off of this case. Doyle has taken pains in many of his Sherlock Holmes stories to show that the great detective has other motives besides money for helping clients, and Jabez Wilson has probably informed him before Watson's arrival that he can't afford to pay a fee. Holmes likes mental challenges. He also likes to help people who are in trouble. He sometimes finds, as he does in this story, that apparently trivial problems can have very complex ramifications and implications. At the very end of the story he tells Mr. Merryweather that he will not charge the bank for saving their French gold except to be reimbursed for some petty expenses. He also tells Watson:

    “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.”

    By establishing that Holmes takes on any kind of case that interests him and saves him from boredom, Arthur Conan Doyle makes it possible to write stories about a vastly wider variety of characters, settings, and problems than would have been possible if Holmes only worked for clients who could pay a fee commensurate with his immensely valuable services. 

    — William Delaney
  36. Wilson has already described Spaulding (Clay) as quick and agile. This description of Duncan Ross (Archie) is intended to show that he too is quick and agile, as they would both have to be in order to carry out such a difficult burglary.


    — William Delaney
  37. Here again Arthur Conan Doyle emphasizes that the two crooks are small, which means they could dig a small tunnel and crawl through it more easily than if they were bigger men.

    — William Delaney
  38. 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 building 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
  39. Wilson describes both Vincent Spaulding (John Clay) and Duncan Ross as "small." This is significant because it means that they can build a smaller tunnel than would have been required if either of them had been big men. Wilson also says of Spaulding that he is "very quick in his ways." This is another indication of his agility in addition to what Wilson has previously said about the assistant constantly "diving down into the cellar like a rabbit into its hole." Wilson also says that Spaulding (Clay) is "stout-built." This suggests that he is muscular in addition to being small and agile. All three characteristics would be assets to a burglar building a long tunnel in order to loot a bank.


    — William Delaney
  40. This description is intended to show that the assistant is very agile. He will be needing this agility to get from the pawnbroker's basement through the the tunnel to the strong room under the bank and back to the basement again. To remove all that gold, he probably will have to make many trips back and forth, along with his partner in crime who calls himself Duncan Ross and whom John Clay addresses as Archie when he says, "Great Scott! Jump, Archie, jump, and I'll swing for it!"

    — William Delaney
  41. Holmes reads all the London newspapers. He would have read about the so-called Red-Headed League if it has ever existed. He is naturally suspicious of the assistant who brought the opening to his employer's attention and claimed that the story of the League was well known. Up to this point, the reader has probably been taken in by the Red-Headed League along with Jabez Wilson. But now the reader realizes that there is something far more serious involved. What can it be?

    — William Delaney
  42. Naturally the two crooks want to hire Jabez Wilson and nobody else. But they don't want to make it look too easy for him to get the job because, even though he is very gullible, he might become suspicious.

    — William Delaney
  43. Jabez Wilson is obviously too old and fat to be doing his own housework, and he could hardly ask his assistant Vincent Spaulding to do it. Wilson has apparently hired a very young girl because he can get her to work for hardly anything but room and board. There were many orphaned and abandoned children living on the London streets in Victorian times. Wilson would have had no trouble finding a destitute girl to work for him as a live-in maid. She does not have to be especially skilled; she only "does a bit of simple cooking" in addition to some cleaning. The author had to explain how many people had access to the premises. The plot advantage of having a very young girl as housemaid would be that she could be easily intimidated by Vincent Spaulding. He would warn her in private that she was to stay out of the basement or she would lose her position. Wilson, of course, is in no condition to be climbing up and down steep basement steps. Watson describes him as "a very stout, florid-faced elderly gentleman." The red face indicates that he has high blood pressure. He probably spends most of his time sitting or lying in bed. He has to have some household help, which explains why the author invented the fourteen-year-old girl. His work at the League of the Redheaded Men involved sitting in a chair for four hours each day and writing.


    — William Delaney
  44. 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
  45. 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
  46. Miss Mary Sutherland is a client of Sherlock Holmes in the story "A Case of Identity," which appeared with eleven other stories in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, published in 1892. The conversation with Watson that Holmes refers to opens "A Case of Identity."

    "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."

         "And yet I am not convinced of it," I answered. "The cases which come to light in the papers are, as a rule, bald enough, and vulgar enough. We have in our police reports realism pushed to its extreme limits, and yet the result is, it must be confessed, neither fascinating nor artistic."

    — William Delaney
  47. Arthur Conan Doyle creates a character to fit the needs of his plot. Jabez Wilson is described as stout, florid-faced (or red-faced), and elderly. This would explain why he seldom goes outside his own premises and also why he never goes down into his cellar to see what his new assistant Vincent Spaulding has been doing down there. If he ever did go downstairs he would find that Spaulding has been working on a tunnel. The fact that Wilson is "florid-faced" suggests that he has high blood pressure, which would make it difficult if not actually dangerous to climb up the steep stairs from his cellar. Watson will refer to him again later as "stout" and will remark that he has "small fat-encircled eyes." It is primarily his stoutness and his advanced age that keep him from wanting to go down into his cellar. In those days doctors may not have known about high blood pressure, but Wilson's fatness and age could cause it. The fact that Wilson is "elderly" also explains why he no longer does manual labor and why he is no longer living in China. The fact that he fiery red hair gives his new assistant, who is really the master criminal John Clay, the idea for the bogus Red-Headed League.

    — William Delaney
  48. The crooks have not even gone to the expense of acquiring a complete set of the *Encyclopedia Britannica *because they must have decided that Jabez Wilson is very gullible and not overly intelligent. The copying work will keep his mind engaged for four hours a day and prevent him from doing much thinking about this Red-Headed League. 

    — William Delaney
  49. Clay would never have thought of inventing the Red-Headed League if it had been only Jabez Wilson who had the red hair, but the fact that his accomplice, whom he called Archie, also had red hair gave him the inspiration. Clay selected Wilson's shop as the place to start his tunnel because of the opportunity presented by the fact that Wilson happened to be advertising for an assistant.

    — William Delaney
  50. This indicates that Clay's companion is the same man who called himself Duncan Ross and hired Jabez Wilson. Evidently there are only two men involved in this bank job.

    — William Delaney
  51. When Holmes examined the floor he must have seen that the thieves had already chiseled out the mortar around one of the stones. All they will have to do is lift the stone to get inside the cellar.

    — William Delaney
  52. A press, as used here, is a cabinet. The crooks have not bothered to obtain the entire Encyclopedia Britannica but only Volume One. 

    — William Delaney
  53. Most people worked six days a week in Victorian times and even well into the twentieth century. Payday would have been on Saturday.

    — William Delaney
  54. A deal table is not a card table but a simple table made of cheap wood. The office is obviously nothing but a temporary "front" for the scam these rogues are perpetrating. Jabez Wilson has characterized as a man with limited intelligence and little worldly experience; otherwise he should have become suspicious when he saw the headquarters of this supposedly lavishly endowed League of Red-Headed Men.

    — William Delaney
  55. This little interjection is solely to break up the long passage of necessary exposition in the form of a narrative by Wilson. Note that Wilson conveniently pauses and refreshes his memory with a pinch of snuff. The pinch of snuff is added at least partly to prove that Holmes had been right in deducing that Wilson "takes snuff." Holmes obviously deduced this from seeing traces of snuff on Wilson's coat or waistcoat.

    — William Delaney
  56. For plot purposes it was necessary for Vincent Spaulding to accompany Jabez Wilson so that Spaulding (John Clay) could identify Wilson to his confederate Duncan Ross among all those other red-headed applicants.

    — William Delaney
  57. 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.

    — William Delaney
  58. Watson had shared the rooms on Baker Street with Sherlock Holmes for many years. 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's cases, as he does in "The Red-Headed League."

    — William Delaney
  59. By saying, "I'll swing for it," John Clay does not mean that he'll try some other way of escaping but that he will hang for the attempted burglary. The term "swing" was the common slang word for hang. In Oscar Wilde's "Ballad of Reading Gaol," one convict tells another, "That fellow's got to swing." One of their fellow convicts is sentenced to be hanged. There were many crimes punishable by hanging in Victorian England. Fagin, in Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist, is condemned to be hanged and is awaiting his execution in terror at the end of the novel.

    John Clay shows some signs of decency when he and his confederate Archie are caught red-handed. Clay knows he is doomed but tries to save Archie. Perhaps Arthur Conan Doyle gave Clay this bit of dialogue to suggest that he did indeed have royal blood in his veins, that he was better than a common crook.

    "I'll swing for it" might be interpreted as meaning the same as "I'll take the rap for both of us." 

    — William Delaney
  60. Clay is anxious to get back to his tunneling. He gives complete directions to the Strand in only four hasty words and hurries back inside. This means he pays no attention to Holmes' appearance. Otherwise such a cunning man as Clay might have wondered whether the stranger had some ulterior motive for calling at this particular shop. Clay should have had some general idea of what Sherlock Holmes looked like—tall, thin, sharp-features, keen eyes—and might have wondered if that gentleman could have been Holmes.

    — William Delaney
  61. The fact that Wilson is a tightwad explains why he took Vincent Spaulding on at half-wages, why he did not subscribe to a newspaper, why he was so distressed about losing a job that paid four pounds a week, and why he had taken the drastic step of coming to see the distinguished Sherlock Holmes, hoping that he will get advice and help for nothing. He is actually successful in getting the great detective to assist him.

    — William Delaney
  62. Doyle takes pains to characterize Jabez Wilson as tight with his money. One of the many indications of this trait is that he must not subscribe to a newspaper. The one he brings to Baker Street was apparently bought by Vincent Spaulding. The fact that Wilson does not subscribe to a newspaper explains, among other things, why he might never have heard of the League of Red-Headed Men—assuming such an organization exists.

    — William Delaney
  63. Holmes is able to call on Clay at the pawnshop because they have never seen each other in person. Later Holmes will mention to Mr. Merryweather: "I've been on his track for years and have never set eyes on him yet." This is not quite accurate, since Holmes had recently seen Clay at Wilson's pawnshop when he asked for directions. However, Holmes was mainly interested in the knees of his trousers and may have only glanced at the man's face.

    — William Delaney
  64. The fact that Sherlock Holmes has never seen John Clay also indicates that Clay has never seen Holmes. Doyle evidently inserts this information to make it possible to have Holmes call at Wilson's pawnshop on the pretense of inquiring how to get to the Strand. He does not want to see Clay, but just to look at his knees.

    — William Delaney
  65. Since there are 30,000 French napoleons in the bank's basement, each napoleon must be worth one pound.

    — William Delaney
  66. This whole paragraph is intended to give further reasons why Jabez Wilson might never have heard of the League of Red-headed Men and why Vincent Spaulding/John Clay was able to convince him that it was very well known and that he himself knew all about it simply from reading the newspapers.

    — William Delaney
  67. Arthur Conan Doyle takes pains to show how it would be possible for Jabez Wilson not to have heard anything about the League of the Red-headed Men, even though he has blazing red hair and the establishment of the League by an American millionaire had supposedly been in all the papers. Wilson has been out of the country.

    — William Delaney