Good-night Mister Sherlock Holmes

February 26, 2009

It is a little off the beaten track, isn’t it?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mark Loper @ 4:03 pm
Tags: , ,

The Red Headed League is the second Sherlock Holmes short-story from Author Conan Doyle.  This time Sherlock Holmes is in fine form, it is Mr. Doyle who makes the faux pas.

Holmes prompts Jabez Wilson to explain his living circumstances, to which he makes this innocuous statement:

“Well, it is just as I have been telling you, Mr. Sherlock Holmes,” said Jabez Wilson, mopping his forehead; “I have a small pawnbroker’s business at Coburg Square, near the City. It’s not a very large affair, and of late years it has not done more than just give me a living. I used to be able to keep two assistants, but now I only keep one; and I would have a job to pay him but that he is willing to come for half wages so as to learn the business.” 

“What is the name of this obliging youth?” asked Sherlock Holmes. 

“His name is Vincent Spaulding, and he’s not such a youth, either. It’s hard to say his age. I should not wish a smarter assistant, Mr. Holmes; and I know very well that he could better himself and earn twice what I am able to give him. But, after all, if he is satisfied, why should I put ideas in his head?” 

“Why, indeed? You seem most fortunate in having an employé who comes under the full market price. It is not a common experience among employers in this age. I don’t know that your assistant is not as remarkable as your advertisement.” 

Why would Holmes ask the name of the “obliging youth”?  There is no reason whatsoever for him to do so.  He has yet to hear that it was the obliging youth (Spaulding) who first brought the Red Headed League advertisement to Wilson’s attention – which would indeed have been cause for Holmes to inquire after Spaulding – so Holmes should not suspect anything out of the ordinary.

Besides, Mr. Wilson has already told Holmes that Spaulding works for half-wages because he wants to learn the business (and whom Holmes is apparently satisfied is indeed a “youth”).   A perfectly reasonable explanation… and yet, for reasons apparently known only to Doyle, Holmes asks,  “I don’t know that your assistant is not as remarkable as your advertisement.”

The real kicker, though, is that Spaulding answered an advertisement by Jabez Wilson for an assistant.  Isn’t that a bit much to believe?  Spaulding (actually, John Clay) answers an advertisement from the exact business he needs to gain access to?  To push credulity even further, John Clay’s partner (Duncan Ross) just happens to have, like Wilson, a shock of very red hair!  I will allow that Ross may have dyed his hair red in order to pull off the Red Headed League charade though the story doesn’t give any reason to believe it so.

Finally, why would the Red Headed League dissolve on the very day the bank was to be robbed?  Why?  Why not just let Mr. Wilson keep believing that the League is still fully operational?  Better still, why not send Mr. Wilson on some type Red Headed League business?  It could have been a one-time errand so even if Mr. Wilson balked at having to travel for the League, he could be assuaged by knowing it was a one-time errand to, say, meet the president of the League?  As it turned out, John Clay began the bank assault with Mr. Wilson upstairs asleep in the house.  

No, it just won’t do Mr. Doyle.

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