Summary for 'The Red-Headed League' by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Expert Answers info

mwestwood eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2006

write16,149 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

The story opens as Dr. Holmes visits the apartment of Sherlock Holmes who is interviewing a man with flaming red hair. As he apologizes for his intrusion, Holmes quickly leads him into another room, telling him that he could not have arrived at a more propitious time because this new case will appeal to Watson's love of the bizarre. He tells Watson,

"You will remember that....for strange effects and extraordinary combinations we must go to life itself, which is always far more daring than any effort of the imagination.”

Further, he explains that Mr. Jabez Wilson has come to him with a most "singular" narrative, and it promises to be a very intriguing case. So, Dr. Watson remains and observes the British tradesman who talks with Holmes. pulling an advertisement from his pocket to which his assistant, Vincent Spaulding brought to his attention. It is a call to men with red hair who are of good health, entitling them as a member of the Red-Headed League to a salary of four pounds per week for nominal services.

Holmes then questions Mr. Wilson about his employee, whom Wilson describes as an obliging youth who is willing to work for lower wages and loves to take photographs, rushing downstairs to develop them. He also expressed his wish that he were red-headed so he could join this league founded by an American millionaire named Ezekiah Hopkins. This he does and comes for an interview with Mr. Duncan Ross, one of the pensioners upon the fund, who is disappointed that Wilson is not married as Hopkins wished the aid the propagation of red-heads. Nevertheless, Wilson is hired and works from two until four in the afternoons, copying an encyclopedia. But, one day when he reports to work after being there for eight weeks, but the door is locked and a sign reads "The Red-Headed League is Dissolved. Distraught, Wilson goes to the landlord of the office, who tells him that a solicitor named Morris, not Ross, rented the office until his new premises were ready. Mr. Morris's new address is 17 King Edward Street, near St. Paul's cathedral. But, when Wilson goes there it is a "manufactory of artificial kneecaps." 

Sherlock Holmes assures him that he can solve this mystery, which he believes involves graver issues.

"Grave enough!" said Mr. Jabez Wilson, "Why, I have lost four pounds."

Holmes retorts that Wilson is really thirty pounds richer by the Red-Headed League. But, this expensive joke must lead to something else. Then, he asks Wilson to describe his assistant for him, and somehow knows that Spaulding's ears have been pierced. Holmes then dismisses Wilson, promising him a solution by Monday; he subsequently asks Watson not to speak to him for fifteen minutes while he sits still and smokes his pipe. Finally, he suggests that he and Watson go to hear Saraste, a Spanish violinist via the Underground. When they come up from the subway, Holmes passes the pawnbroker Wilson's shop, all the while inspecting the area; then, he pounds on the pavement with his walking stick, after which he knocks on Wilson's door. When a "bright-looking, clean-shaven young fellow" answers,...

(The entire section contains 1,083 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now

check Approved by eNotes Editorial