Adventure of the Noble Bachelor
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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,'
"'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
"'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
"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:
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 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?'
"'Oh,' said he, 'his name was William Morris. He was a solicitor
and was using my room as a temporary convenience until his new
premises were ready. He moved out yesterday.'
"'Where could I find him?'
"'Oh, at his new offices. He did tell me the address. Yes, 17
King Edward Street, near St. Paul's.'
"I started off, Mr. Holmes, but when I got to that address it was
a manufactory of artificial knee-caps, and no one in it had ever
heard of either Mr. William Morris or Mr. Duncan Ross."
"And what did you do then?" asked Holmes.
"I went home to Saxe-Coburg Square, and I took the advice of my
assistant. But he could not help me in any way. He could only say
that if I waited I should hear by post. But that was not quite
good enough, Mr. Holmes. I did not wish to lose such a place
without a struggle, so, as I had heard that you were good enough
to give advice to poor folk who were in need of it, I came right
away to you."
"And you did very wisely," said Holmes. "Your case is an
exceedingly remarkable one, and I shall be happy to look into it.
From what you have told me I think that it is possible that
graver issues hang from it than might at first sight appear."
"Grave enough!" said Mr. Jabez Wilson. "Why, I have lost four
pound a week."
"As far as you are personally concerned," remarked Holmes, "I do
not see that you have any grievance against this extraordinary
league. On the contrary, you are, as I understand, richer by some
30 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 endeavor 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