In "The Red-Headed League," why does Jabez Wilson come to see Sherlock Holmes?

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Jabez Wilson loves money. It is appropriate that he is a pawn broker because, like a banker, he lends money for interest. He was very pleased with his job at the offices of the Red-Headed League because the work was easy and the pay of four pounds per week was extremely generous. In those days many clerks worked long hours, Monday through Saturday, for only one pound a week. Wilson feels that he has little chance of getting his job back, since the Red-Headed League, which never really existed, has supposedly been dissolved. But he is hoping against hope that he might somehow find the man who called himself Duncan Ross and get his job back. Even if the job is lost irretrievably, Wilson is a stubborn and temperamental man who wants to find out what the apparent hoax was all about. He has come to Sherlock Holmes because he knows the great detective will sometimes help people on a pro bono basis if their problems interest him. Wilson explains his motives as follows:

"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.”

When Holmes tells Wilson that he hasn't really lost anything but is about thirty pounds to the good, the frustrated man protests:

“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.”

So Wilson is hoping that he can get his sinecure back or at least find out why Duncan Ross played such an elaborate and expensive prank on him. Wilson does not suspect his new shop-assistant, who calls himself Vincent Spaulding, of having been involved in the prank. As Sherlock Holmes says of Wilson towards the end of the story, he is not overly bright. Otherwise he probably would have been suspicious of Spaulding and might have even gone down into his basement to see was was going on. That would have been unfortunate for Wilson, because if he discovered a tunnel and mounds of dirt in his basement he would most likely have been killed by Spaulding, who was really a dangerous "murderer, thief, smasher, and forger" named John Clay.

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