The Red Headed League – by Sidney Paget
The Red Headed League is the second short story in the “Adventures of Sherlock Holmes”. It first appeared in the Strand Magazine in 1891.
The Red Headed League is also one of the reviewer’s favourite short stories – It has an innocuous beginning which leads to (almost) a catastrophic ending – which is averted by the quick-witted Holmes. The story begins with a visit to Holmes and Watson by Jabez Wilson – a typical middle class, working Brit. Wilson is a London pawnbroker and has come to consult Holmes about a strange problem he is facing. While studying his client, both Holmes and Watson notice his red hair, which has a distinct flame-like hue. Holmes, in his usual style – deduces that Wilson has done manual labour in his early life, has spent some time in China,takes snuff, is a Freemason and has done a considerable amount of writing recently. Wilson, of course, like Holmes’s other clients is completely amazed.
Wilson tells both Holmes and Watson that some weeks before, his young assistant, Vincent Spaulding, cajoled the generally lethargic Wilson to respond to a newspaper ad – offering highly-paid work to only Red-headed men.
The following morning, Wilson waits in a long line of fellow red-headed men, but gets dragged by Spaulding through the ocean of red-headed men and is the only applicant to be hired, because none of the other applicants qualified; their red hair was either too dark or too bright, and did not match Wilson’s unique flame color. Wilson also notes with some regret that the person who hires him pulls his hair very hard ( till Wilson cries, literally) to verify that indeed – his red hair is natural and not coloured.
Wilson furthers the story. He tells Holmes how his business has been struggling & since his pawn shop did most of its business in the evenings, he was able to leave his shop for short periods in the afternoon, receiving £4 a week for about 8 weeks. The work obviously clerical and useless – copying the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Wilson writes much about topics beginning from the letter”A” and is looking forward to the letter,”B” when an unexpected circumstance presents itself one morning with an inexplicable announcement – “The Red Headed League is dissolved—Oct. 9, 1890.”
Wilson is obviously disappointed to lose an opportunity to earn some much needed money and meets the Landlord of the building in which the League had its office. The landlord tells a stunned Wilson that he has never heard of Duncan Ross, the person who was in charge.
Sherlock Holmes and Watson burst into laughter at the ridiculous situation, but Holmes assures a very dejected Wilson that he will hear from him shortly and sends him home, but not before he has taken a short description of Vincent Spaulding from Wilson.
Holmes decides to go and see Spaulding, who Holmes notices has dirty trouser knees. Holmes then taps on the pavement in front of the pawnbroker’s shop. The case is solved. Holmes summons Police Inspector Jones and Mr. Merryweather, a director of the bank located next to Wilson’ house.
The four hide themselves in the bank vault and are able to apprehend the thieves when they show up. The leader of the thieves is John Clay who is Vincent Spaulding and his helper Archie, who is Duncan Ross. John Clay has a long history of robberies to his credit already. Under the aliases of Spaulding and Ross, they had schemed up the ‘Red-Headed League’ to keep Wilson out of his shop while they dug in the basement, in order to break into the bank next door. Although paying Jabez Wilson four pounds a week was a costly proposition , it was nothing compared to the steals they would have gotten!
The story itself is very creative – the use of red hair as a plot device was unusual back then( It will be unusual now,too). Grenada Television had created the entire adventures of Sherlock Holmes for television. The Reviewer found the link to this on Daily Motion which he will share here :-
Getting to the Business end of this review,
Story :- 4.7/5
Writing : 4.7/5
Highly Recommended! Do you want to share your feedback with us ? Please feel free to get in touch with us by submitting your details below. We will write back to you at the soonest. The reviewer has also written a review about the first short story of Sherlock Holmes. Read about it here.