The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
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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 endeavored, after the fashion of my companion, to read the indications which
might be presented by his dress or appearance.
I did not gain very much, however, by my inspection. Our visitor bore every
mark of being an average commonplace British tradesman, obese, pompous, and
slow. He wore rather baggy 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 carpenter."
"Your hands, my dear sir. Your right hand is quite a size larger than your
left. You have worked with it, and the muscles are more developed."
"Well, the snuff, then, and the Freemasonry?"
"I won't insult your intelligence by telling you how I read that,
especially as, rather against the strict rules of your order, you use an
"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?"
"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.
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 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 Court, Fleet
"What on earth does this mean?" I ejaculated after I had twice read over
the extraordinary announcement.
Holmes chuckled and wriggled in his chair, as was his habit when in high
spirits. "It is a little off the beaten track, isn't it?" said he. "And now, Mr.
Wilson, off you go at scratch and tell us all about yourself, your household,
and the effect which this advertisement had upon your fortunes. You will first
make a note, Doctor, of the paper and the date."
"It is The Morning Chronicle of April 27, 1890. Just two months ago."
"Very good. Now, Mr. Wilson?"
"Well, it is just as I have been telling you, Mr. Sherlock Holmes," said
Jabez Wilson, mopping his forehead; "I have a small pawnbroker's business at
Coburg Square, near the City. It's not a very large affair, and of late years it
has not done more than just give me a living. I used to be able to keep two
assistants, but now I only keep one; and I would have a job to pay him but that
he is willing to come for half wages so as to learn the business."
"What is the name of this obliging youth?" asked Sherlock Holmes.
"His name is Vincent Spaulding, and he's not such a youth, either. It's
hard to say his age. I should not wish a smarter assistant, Mr. Holmes; and I
know very well that he could better himself and earn twice what I am able to
give him. But, after all, if he is satisfied, why should I put ideas in his
"Why, indeed? You seem most fortunate in having an employee who comes under
the full market price. It is not a common experience among employers in this
age. I don't know that your assistant is not as remarkable as your
"Oh, he has his faults, too," said Mr. Wilson. "Never was such a fellow for
photography. Snapping away with a camera when he ought to be improving his mind,
and then diving down into the cellar like a rabbit into its hole to develop his
pictures. That is his main fault, but on the whole he's a good worker. There's
no vice in him."
"He is still with you, I presume?"
"Yes, sir. He and a girl of fourteen, who does a bit of simple cooking and
keeps the place clean--that's all I have in the house, for I am a widower and
never had any family. We live very quietly, sir, the three of us; and we keep a
roof over our heads and pay our debts, if we do nothing more.
"The first thing that put us out was that advertisement. Spaulding, he came
down into the office just this day eight weeks, with this very paper in his
hand, and he says:
"'I wish to the Lord, Mr. Wilson, that I was a red-headed man.'
"'Why that?' I asks.
"'Why,' says he, 'here's another vacancy on the League of the 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 color,
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.
"'Why, I wonder at that, for you are eligibile yourself for one of the
"'And what are they worth?' I asked.
"'Oh, merely a couple of hundred a year, but the work is slight, and it
need not interfere very much with one's other occupations.'
"Well, you can easily think that that made me prick up my ears, for the
business has not been over-good for some years, and an extra couple of hundred
would have been very handy.
"'Tell me all about it,' said I.
"'Well ' said he, showing me the advertisement, 'you can see for yourself
that the League has a vacancy, and there is the address where you should apply
for particulars. As far as I can make out, the League was founded by an American
millionaire, Ezekiah Hopkins, who was very peculiar in his ways. He was himself
red-headed, and he had a great sympathy for all 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 color. From all I hear it is splendid pay and very little
"'But,' said I, 'there would be millions of red-headed men who would
"'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
"I never hope to see such a sight as that again, Mr. Holmes. From north,
south, east, and west every man who had a shade of red in his hair had tramped
into the city to answer the advertisement. Fleet Street was choked with
red-headed folk, and Pope's Court looked like a coster's orange barrow. I should
not have thought there were so many in the whole country as were brought
together by that single advertisement. Every shade of color they were--straw,
lemon, orange, brick, Irish-setter, liver, clay; but, as Spaulding said, there
were not many who had the real vivid flame-colored 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 favorable to me than to any of the others, and he
closed the door as we entered, so that he might have a private word with us.
"'This is Mr. Jabez Wilson,' said my assistant, 'and he is willing to fill
a vacancy in the League.'
"'And he is admirably suited for it,' the other answered. 'He has every
requirement. I cannot recall when I have seen anything so fine.' He took a step
backward, cocked his head on one side, and gazed at my hair until I felt quite
bashful. Then suddenly he plunged forward, wrung my hand, and congratulated me
warmly on my success.
"'It would be injustice to hesitate,' said he. 'You will, however, I am
sure, excuse me for taking an obvious precaution.' With that he seized my hair
in both his hands, and tugged until I yelled with the pain. 'There is water in
your eyes,' said he as he released me. 'I perceive that all is as it should be.
But we have to be careful, for we have twice been deceived by wigs and once by
paint. I could tell you tales of cobbler's wax which would disgust you with
human nature.' He stepped over to the window and shouted through it at the top
of his voice that the vacancy was filled. A groan of disappointment came up from
below, and the folk all trooped away in different directions until there was not
a red-head to be seen except my own and that of the manager.
"'My name,' said he, 'is Mr. Duncan Ross, and I am myself one of the
pensioners upon the fund left by our noble benefactor. Are you a married man,
Mr. Wilson? Have you a family?'
"I answered that I had not.
"His face fell immediately.
"'Dear me!' he said gravely, 'that is very serious indeed! I am sorry to
hear you say that. The fund was, of course, for the propagation and spread of
the red-heads as well as for their maintenance. It is exceedingly unfortunate
that you should be a bachelor.'
"My face lengthened at this, Mr. Holmes, for I thought that I was not to
have the vacancy after all; but after thinking it over for a few minutes he said
that it would be all right.
"'In the case of another,' said he, 'the objection might be fatal, but we
must stretch a point in favor of a man with such a head of hair as yours. When