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 gray shepherds 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 Holmess 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?
Its as true as gospel, for I began as a ships 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 wont insult your intelligence by telling you how
I read that, especially as, rather against the strict rules of your order, you use an
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
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?
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,
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., 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 red-headed 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 oclock, to Duncan Ross, at the offices of the League,
7 Popes Court, Fleet Street.
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, isnt 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
pawnbrokers business at Coburg Square, near the City. Its 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
His name is Vincent Spaulding, and hes not such a
youth, either. Its 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 dont know that your assistant is not as remarkable as your
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 hes a good worker.
Theres 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 cleanthats 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
that? I asks.
Why, says he, heres another
vacancy on the League of the Red-headed Men. Its 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, heres 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 didnt know much of what was going on outside, and I was always glad of a bit
Have you never heard of the League of the
Red-headed Men? he asked with his eyes open.
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 ones other
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 red-headed 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 Popes Court looked like a costers 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 werestraw, 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 cobblers 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?
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 pawnbrokers business is mostly done of an
evening, Mr. Holmes, especially Thursday and Friday evening, which is just before pay-day;
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 dont comply with the conditions if you budge
from the office during that time.
Its 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
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 Popes 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
oclock 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 weeks 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 Bs 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 oclock, but the door was shut and locked, with a little square
of card-board 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 card-board about the size of a
sheet of note-paper. It read in this fashion:
THE RED-HEADED LEAGUE
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 wouldnt 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.
What, the red-headed man?
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. Pauls.
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.
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 prankif it was a prankupon 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 advertisementhow 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 hes not short of thirty. Has a white splash of acid upon his
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
Yes, sir. He told me that a gypsy 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
Nothing to complain of, sir. Theres 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.
are you going to do, then? I asked.
To smoke, he answered. It is quite a three
pipe problem, and I beg that you wont 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. Jamess 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
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 poky, 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 red-headed 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
pawnbrokers, 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. Wilsons
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.
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 enemys 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 foot-paths were black with the hurrying
swarm of pedestrians. It was difficult to realize 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
Mortimers, the tobacconist, the little newspaper shop, the Coburg branch of the City
and Suburban Bank, the Vegetarian Restaurant, and McFarlanes carriage-building
depot. That carries us right on to the other block. And now, Doctor, weve done our
work, so its 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.
Jamess 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.
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 red-headed 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
pawnbrokers assistant was a formidable mana 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
recognized 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-nights adventure.
Were 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 wont 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
John Clay, the murderer, thief, smasher, and forger.
Hes 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. Hes 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. Hell crack a crib
in Scotland one week, and be raising money to build an orphanage in Cornwall the next.
Ive 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. Ive 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
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, Doctoras no doubt you have divinedin
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
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 carree, you might have your
rubber after all. But I see that the enemys 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 darknesssuch 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 moments 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
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
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.
all clear, he whispered. Have you the chisel and the bags? Great Scott! Jump,
Archie, jump, and Ill 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 Holmess
hunting crop came down on the mans wrist, and the pistol clinked upon the stone
Its 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
There are three men waiting for him at the door,
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.
Youll see your pal again presently, said
Jones. Hes quicker at climbing down holes than I am. Just hold out while I fix
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
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 Clays ingenious
mind by the colour of his accomplices 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.
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 mans
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 assistants 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 cellarsomething 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
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
friends 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 Wilsons presencein 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. Lhomme cest
rienloeuvre cest tout, as Gustave Flaubert wrote to George