: / The Red-Headed League

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  :   / The Red-Headed League -

I

I called on my friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, one day in the autumn of last year and found him speaking to an elderly gentleman with fiery red hair.

You could not have come at a better time, [1] my dear Watson, Holmes said.

I was afraid that you were engaged.

So I am.

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 use to me in yours also.

The gentleman half rose from his chair and nodded.

I know, my dear Watson, that you share my love of all that is outside the routine of everyday life. You have shown it by the enthusiasm with which you chronicled so many of my adventures, said Holmes.

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

Now, Mr. Jabez Wilson here has been good enough to call upon me this morning and go begin a story which promises to be one of the most unusual which I have listened to for some time. As far as I have heard, it is impossible for me to say whether this case is an example of crime or not, but events are certainly very unusual. Perhaps, Mr. Wilson, you would repeat your story. I ask you not only because my friend, Dr. Watson, has not heard the beginning but also because your story makes me anxious to hear every detail. As a rule, when I have heard some story, I am able to think of the thousands of other similar cases. But not now.

The client, looking a little proud, took a newspaper from the pocket of his coat. As he glanced down the advertisement column, I took a good look at the man and tried, like my companion, to read what his dress or appearance could tell me.

I did not learn very much, however. Our visitor looked like a common British tradesman. There was nothing remarkable about the man except his blazing red head.

Sherlock Holmes saw my glances. Except the facts that he has at some time worked with his hands, that he is a Freemason, that he has been in China, and that he has done a lot of writing lately, I can deduce nothing else.

How did you know all that, Mr. Holmes? Mr. Jabez Wilson asked. How did you know, for example, that I worked with my hands? Its true, for I began as a carpenter.

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

Well, and the Freemasonry?

I wont tell you how I read that, especially as, rather against the strict rules of your order, you use an arc-and-compass breastpin. [2]

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

Your right cuff is so shiny, and the left one has a patch near the elbow where you put it on the desk.

Well, but China?

The fish that you have tattooed on your hand could only be done in China. I have made a small study of tattoos.

Mr. Jabez Wilson laughed. Well, I never! [3] 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. Can you not find the advertisement, Mr. Wilson?

Yes, I have got it now, he answered. 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.

TO THE RED-HEADED LEAGUE: On account of the bequest of the late Ezekiah Hopkins, of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, U. S. A., [4] there is now another vacancy open for a member of the League with a salary of 4 pounds a week. All red-headed men who are above the age of twenty-one years, are eligible. Apply on Monday, at eleven oclock, to Duncan Ross, at the offices of the League, 7, Fleet Street.

What does this mean? I exclaimed after I had twice read the advertisement.

And now, Mr. Wilson, tell us all about yourself, your household, and the effect which this advertisement had on your life. 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 told you, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, said Jabez Wilson; I have a small pawnbrokers business at Coburg Square, near the City. Its not very large, and it has just given me a living. I used to be able to keep two assistants, but now I keep one; and I can do it only because he agrees to work for half wages to learn the business.

What is the name of this young man? asked Sherlock Holmes.

His name is Vincent Spaulding, and hes not very young. Its hard to say his age. I do not wish a better assistant, Mr. Holmes; and I know very well that he could earn twice what I am able to give him. But, after all, if he is satisfied, why should I put ideas in his head? [5]

Why, indeed? You seem most lucky to have an assistant for half wages. Your assistant is as remarkable as your advertisement.

Oh, he has his faults, too, said Mr. Wilson. He is very much interested in photography. He slips away with a camera when he ought to be working, and then dives down into the cellar like a rabbit into its hole to develop his pictures. That is his main fault, but hes a good worker.

He is still with you, I presume?

Yes, sir. He and a girl of fourteen, who does simple cooking and keeps the place clean thats all I have in the house, for I am a widower. We live very quietly, sir, the three of us.

Spaulding, he came into the office eight weeks ago, with this paper in his hand and said:

I wish, Mr. Wilson, that I was a red-headed man.

Why? I asked.

Heres a vacancy on the League of the Red-headed Men, said he. Its worth a little fortune to any man who gets it, and I understand that there are more vacancies than there are men.

Why, what is it? I asked. You see, Mr. Holmes, I am a very stay-at-home man, and, as my business came to me instead of my going to it, [6] I often stayed in for several weeks. So I didnt know much of what was going on outside, and I was always glad of any news.

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

Never.

Why, how strange, for you are eligibile yourself for one of the vacancies.

And what are they worth? I asked.

Oh, a couple of hundred a year, but the work is easy, and you can do some other work at the same time.

Well, the business has not been very good for some years, and an extra couple of hundred would be 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 can apply. As far as I know, the League was founded by an American millionaire, Ezekiah Hopkins. He was himself red-headed, and he had a great sympathy for all red-headed men; so when he died it was found that he had left his enormous fortune with instructions to help men whose hair is of that colour. From all I hear it is good pay, and very little to do.

But, said I, there are millions of red-headed men who can apply.

Not so many as you think, he answered. They must be Londoners, and grown men. This American started from London when he was young. Then 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, it is a fact, gentlemen, as you may see for yourselves, that my hair is of that very colour, so it seemed to me that if there was any competition I had a good chance. Vincent Spaulding seemed to know so much about it that I ordered him to come with me. So we shut the business up and started off for the address that was given us in the advertisement.