The Red-headed League


Arthur Conan Doyle


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 possibly have come at a better time, my dear

Watson," he said cordially.

"I was afraid that you were engaged."

"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 combina-

tions 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,


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 Brit-

ish tradesman, obese, pompous, and slow. He wore rather baggy

gray 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's 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


"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 be-

comes 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.


"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.



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 pounds 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. Appiy in person

on Monday, at eleven o'clock, to Duncan Ross, at the

offices of the League, 7 Pope's Coun, 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, 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


"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 em-

ployee 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


" 'Why that?' I asks.

" 'Why,' says he, 'here's another vacancy on the League of

the Red-headed 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, [ wonder at that, for you are eligibile 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


"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 Ameri-

can 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 advertise-

ment. 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," re-

marked Holmes as his client paused and refreshed his memory

with a huge pinch of snuff. "Pray continue your very interesting


"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


" '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


" '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


"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 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 pounds 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 Encyclopedia 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 congratu-

late 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

Encyclopedia 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 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:





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


"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 extraordi-

nary league. On the contrary, you are, as I understand, richer by

some 30 pounds, 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 earrings?"

"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 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


"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, feature-

less 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


"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 introspec-

tive, 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 enclo-

sure, 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 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


"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 out-

ward, while the footpaths 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 glanc-

ing 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 knowl-

edge 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 perfomer 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 astute-

ness 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 edi-

tions. 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 knowl-

edge was not that of other mortals. When I saw him that after-

noon 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


"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 Encyclopedia 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 pawn-

broker'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 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

peajacket 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 meth-

ods, 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 pounds; 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 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 profes-

sion. 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 formi-

dable 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 exarnine 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 carree, 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 de-

pressing 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?"

"l have an inspector and two officers waiting at the front


"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


Its disappearance, however, was but momentary. With a rend-

ing, 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's hunting crop came

down on the man's wrist, and the pistol clinked upon the stone


"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


"There are three men waiting for him at the door," said


"Oh, indeed! You seem to have done the thing very com-

pletely. 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 sweep-

ing bow to the three of us and walked quietly off in the custody

of the detective.

"Really, Mr. Holmes," said Mr. Merryweather as we fol-

lowed 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 advertise-

ment of the League, and the copying of the Encyclopedia, 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 pounds 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


"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."


Moti’s note: The French here means, I think: "The man doesn’t matter--it’s what he does that is everything."