The Red-Headed League (Part 1) - A Sherlock Holmes mystery (simplified) by Arthur Conan Doyle


One day in the autumn, I visited my friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, and found him in a serious conversation with a very fat, red-faced old man with bright red hair. I made an apology for my interruption, and I was about to leave when Holmes pulled me quickly into the room and closed the door behind me.

“You could not have come at a better time, my dear Watson," he said happily”

“I was afraid that you were busy.”

“And I am. Very busy.”

“Then I can wait in the next room.”

“Not at all. Mr. Wilson, this man has been my partner and helper in many of my most successful cases, and I am sure that he will be very helpful to me in solving your case.”

The fat man stood and nodded his head in greeting, with a quick questioning look from his small eyes.

“Try the sofa,” said Holmes, sitting in his armchair again and putting his fingertips together, as he often did when he was thinking. “My dear Watson, I know that we are both interested in unusual and strange events. You write everything down in great detail, and, if you will excuse my saying so, add even more fantastic details to so many of my own little adventures.”

“Your cases have been of great interest to me,” I observed.

“Just the other day, you will remember that I said that, for strange effects and extraordinary events, we must go to life itself, which is always far more interesting than imagination.”

“An idea which I did not believe.”

“You did, doctor, but you must agree with me now, or I will keep adding fact to fact until your reason breaks down under them and you say that I am right. Now, Mr. Jabez Wilson here visited me this morning and began a story which is one of the most interesting I have heard in a long time. You have heard me say that the strangest and most unique things are often connected not with the larger crimes but with the smaller ones. So far, it is impossible to say whether Mr. Wilson’s case is a crime or not, but the events are among the most strange that I have ever heard. Perhaps, Mr. Wilson, you would continue your story from the beginning. I ask you because Dr. Watson has not heard the beginning and also because the strangeness of the story makes me want to hear every possible detail again. Usually, when I hear even a few facts I am able to figure out the problem by comparing it to the thousands of other similar cases which I remember. In this case, I have to admit that the facts are unique.”

The fat man stuck out his chest with some pride, and pulled a dirty and wrinkled newspaper from the pocket of his coat. As he looked down the advertisement column, I took a good look at the man, and tried to understand the man from his dress or appearance.

I did not learn very much, however. Our visitor looked like an average British businessman, fat, arrogant, and slow. He wore baggy gray trousers and a dirty black coat, unbuttoned in the front. A worn hat and an old brown overcoat were on a chair beside him. Altogether, there was nothing special about the man except his bright red hair and a look of great unhappiness.

Sherlock Holmes’s saw what I was doing, and he shook his head with a smile. “Beyond the fact that he has done manual labor, that he is a Freemason, that he has been in China, and that he has done a considerable amount of writing lately, I can see nothing else.”

Mr. Jabez Wilson sat up quickly in his chair with his finger on the paper, but his eyes were on Dr. Watson.

“How did you know all that, Mr. Holmes?” he asked. “How did you know, for example, that I did manual labor? It’s true because I began as a ship’s carpenter.”

“Your hands. Your right hand is larger than your left. You have worked with it and the muscles are more developed.”

“Well, the Freemasonry?”

“You wear an arc and an instrument containing a compass breastpin.”

“Ah, of course, I forgot that. But the writing?”

“Your right cuff is very shiny for five inches, and the left one has the smooth patch near the elbow where you rest it on the desk.”

“Well, but China?”

“The fish which you have tattooed above your wrist was done in China. I have studied tattoo marks. That trick of staining the fishes’ scales a delicate pink is quite unique to China. In addition, I see a Chinese coin hanging from your watch chain.”

Mr. Jabez Wilson laughed. “Well, I never! I thought at first that you had done something clever, but I see that there was nothing in it after all.”

“I think, Watson,” said Holmes, “that I made a mistake in explaining. My reputation will be destroyed if I am so honest. Can’t you find the advertisement, Mr. Wilson?”

“Yes, I have it now,” he answered, with his thick, red finger pointed halfway down the column. “Here it is. This is what started it all. You just read it for yourself, sir.”