Why does Jabez Wilson come to see Sherlock Holmes?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Jabez Wilson not only needs money but is characterized as, among other things, a man who deals in money as a pawnbroker and who is very tight with his money. A detective as famous as Sherlock Holmes would charge a lot for his services, but Jabez comes to him because he has heard that Holmes will take cases on a pro bono basis if they interest him. As Wilson explains:

"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.”

This may still not satisfy the discriminating reader, who will wonder why Wilson is going to such trouble when he should realize that the Red-Headed League, if it ever existed, is now defunct. So Holmes tells him he hasn't lost anything but is actually thirty pounds richer. This brings out a further explanation of Wilson's motives. He says:

"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.”

It cost them two and thirty pounds, but Wilson may have only netted about thirty pounds after paying for the ink and paper. In addition to losing a profitable job which he was enjoying, Wilson is chagrined at the thought that somebody has apparently made a fool of him. A man with such blazing red hair must have been subject to many little jibes ever since his boyhood, and this could have led to Wilson's being overly sensitive.

It is mainly because of Wilson's parsimonious character that Holmes has the opportunity to get involved in a case involving the theft of 30,000 gold Napoleon coins from the underground strong-room of a bank. It would never occur to John Clay, who poses as Vincent Spaulding, that his employer would ever think of going to Sherlock Holmes for advice and assistance. And Wilson does not tell Clay about his visit to the detective because his suspicions of his assistant have been aroused by the questions Holmes has asked about him as well as the way Holmes has responded to the answers.

“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 his forehead.”

Holmes sat up in his chair in considerable excitement. “I thought as much,” said he. “Have you ever observed that his ears are pierced for ear-rings?”

“Yes, sir. He told me that a gipsy had done it for him when he was a lad.”

renelane eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mr. Wilson, a pawnshop owner, worked at a part-time job, that his assistant convinced him to apply for, sponsored by the Red-headed League. His job was fairly easy, the only requirement was that he copy from an encyclopedia for four hours, 10 a.m. -2 p.m. , and NEVER, leave the room for any reason for he would be fired.  Despite the odd request, he did not mind the work, and welcomed the extra money he made.

However, one day, he showed up for work to find it empty, only a sign saying that the league was dissolved. Mr. Wilson attempted to find out what had happened on his own. When he had no luck with this, he sought out Sherlock Holmes to investigate the matter.

Read the study guide:
The Red-Headed League

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