My friend was an enthusiastic musician, being himself not only
very capable perfomer but a composer of no ordinary merit. All
the afternoon he sat in the stalls wrapped in the most perfect
happiness, gently waving his long, thin fingers in time to the
music, while his gently smiling face and his languid, dreamy eyes
were as unlike those of Holmes, the sleuth-hound, Holmes the
relentless, keen-witted, ready-handed criminal agent, as it was
possible to conceive. In his singular character the dual nature
alternately asserted itself, and his extreme exactness and
astuteness represented, as I have often thought, the reaction
against the poetic and contemplative mood which occasionally
predominated in him. The swing of his nature took him from
extreme languor to devouring energy; and, as I knew well, he was
never so truly formidable as when, for days on end, he had been
lounging in his armchair amid his improvisations and his
black-letter editions. Then it was that the lust of the chase
would suddenly come upon him, and that his brilliant reasoning
power would rise to the level of intuition, until those who were
unacquainted with his methods would look askance at him as on
man whose knowledge was not that of other mortals. When I saw
that afternoon so enwrapped in the music at St. James's Hall I
felt that an evil time might be coming upon those whom he had
himself to hunt down.
"You want to go home, no doubt, Doctor," he remarked
"Yes, it would be as well."
"And I have some business to do which will take some hours.
business at Coburg Square is serious."
"A considerable crime is in contemplation. I have every
believe that we shall be in time to stop it. But to-day being
Saturday rather complicates matters. I shall want your help
"At what time?"
"Ten will be early enough."
"I shall be at Baker Street at ten."
"Very well. And, I say, Doctor, there may be some little
so kindly put your army revolver in your pocket." He waved
hand, turned on his heel, and disappeared in an instant among
I trust that I am not more dense than my neighbors, but I was
always oppressed with a sense of my own stupidity in my dealings
with Sherlock Holmes. Here I had heard what he had heard, I had
seen what he had seen, and yet from his words it was evident that
he saw clearly not only what had happened but what was about to
happen, while to me the whole business was still confused and
grotesque. As I drove home to my house in Kensington I thought
over it all, from the extraordinary story of the red-headed
copier of the Encyclopaedia down to the visit to Saxe-Coburg
Square, and the ominous words with which he had parted from me.
What was this nocturnal expedition, and why should I go armed?
Where were we going, and what were we to do? I had the hint from
Holmes that this smooth-faced pawnbroker's assistant was a
formidable man--a man who might play a deep game. I tried to
puzzle it out, but gave it up in despair and set the matter aside
until night should bring an explanation.
It was a quarter-past nine when I started from home and made
way across the Park, and so through Oxford Street to Baker
Street. Two hansoms were standing at the door, and as I entered
the passage I heard the sound of voices from above. On entering
his room I found Holmes in animated conversation with two men,
one of whom I recognized as Peter Jones, the official police
agent, while the other was a long, thin, sad-faced man, with a
very shiny hat and oppressively respectable frock-coat.
"Ha! Our party is complete," said Holmes, buttoning
peajacket and taking his heavy hunting crop from the rack.
"Watson, I think you know Mr. Jones, of Scotland Yard? Let
introduce you to Mr. Merryweather, who is to be our companion
"We're hunting in couples again, Doctor, you see,"
said Jones in
his consequential way. "Our friend here is a wonderful man
starting a chase. All he wants is an old dog to help him to do
the running down."
"I hope a wild goose may not prove to be the end of our
observed Mr. Merryweather gloomily.
"You may place considerable confidence in Mr. Holmes, sir,"
the police agent loftily. "He has his own little methods,
are, if he won't mind my saying so, just a little too theoretical
and fantastic, but he has the makings of a detective in him. It
is not too much to say that once or twice, as in that business
the Sholto murder and the Agra treasure, he has been more nearly
correct than the official force."
"Oh, if you say so, Mr. Jones, it is all right," said
stranger with deference. "Still, I confess that I miss my
It is the first Saturday night for seven-and-twenty years that
have not had my rubber."
"I think you will find," said Sherlock Holmes, "that
play for a higher stake to-night than you have ever done yet,
that the play will be more exciting. For you, Mr. Merryweather,
the stake will be some 30,000 pounds; and for you, Jones, it will
be the man upon whom you wish to lay your hands."
"John Clay, the murderer, thief, smasher, and forger. He's
young man, Mr. Merryweather, but he is at the head of his
profession, and I would rather have my bracelets on him than on
any criminal in London. He's a remarkable man, is young John
Clay. His grandfather was a royal duke, and he himself has been
to Eton and Oxford. His brain is as cunning.as his fingers, and
though we meet signs of him at every turn, we never know where
find the man himself. He'll crack a crib in Scotland one week,
and be raising money to build an orphanage in Cornwall the next.
I've been on his track for years and have never set eyes on him
"I hope that I may have the pleasure of introducing you
I've had one or two little turns also with Mr. John Clay, and
agree with you that he is at the head of his profession. It is
past ten, however, and quite time that we started. If you two
will take the first hansom, Watson and I will follow in the
Sherlock Holmes was not very communicative during the long drive
and lay back in the cab humming the tunes which he had heard in
the afternoon. We rattled through an endless labyrinth of gas-lit
streets until we emerged into Farrington Street.
"We are close there now," my friend remarked. "This
Merryweather is a bank director, and personally interested in
matter. I thought it as well to have Jones with us also. He is
not a bad fellow, though an absolute imbecile in his profession.
He has one positive virtue. He is as brave as a bulldog and as
tenacious as a lobster if he gets his claws upon anyone. Here
are, and they are waiting for us."
We had reached the same crowded thoroughfare in which we had
found ourselves in the morning. Our cabs were dismissed, and,
following the guidance of Mr. Merryweather, we passed down a
narrow passage and through a side door, which he opened for us.
Within there was a small corridor, which ended in a very massive
iron gate. This also was opened, and led down a flight of winding
stone steps, which terminated at another formidable gate. Mr.
Merryweather stopped to light a lantern, and then conducted us
down a dark, earth-smelling passage, and so, after opening a
third door, into a huge vault or cellar, which was piled all
round with crates and massive boxes.
"You are not very vulnerable from above," Holmes remarked
held up the lantern and gazed about him.
"Nor from below," said Mr. Merryweather, striking his
the flags which lined the floor. "Why, dear me, it sounds
hollow!" he remarked, looking up in surprise.
"I must really ask you to be a little more quiet!"
severely. "You have already imperilled the whole success
expedition. Might I beg that you would have the goodness to sit
down upon one of those boxes, and not to interfere?"
The solemn Mr. Merryweather perched himself upon a crate, with
very injured expression upon his face, while Holmes fell upon
knees upon the floor and, with the lantern and a magnifying lens,
began to examine minutely the cracks between the stones. A few
seconds sufficed to satisfy him, for he sprang to his feet again
and put his glass in his pocket.
"We have at least an hour before us," he remarked,
"for they can
hardly take any steps until the good pawnbroker is safely in bed.
Then they will not lose a minute, for the sooner they do their
work the longer time they will have for their escape. We are at
present, Doctor--as no doubt you have divined--in the cellar of
the City branch of one of the principal London banks. Mr.
Merryweather is the chairman of directors, and he will explain
you that there are reasons why the more daring criminals of
London should take a considerable interest in this cellar at
"It is our French gold," whispered the director. "We
several warnings that an attempt might be made upon it."
"Your French gold?"
"Yes. We had occasion some months ago to strengthen our
and borrowed for that purpose 30,000 napoleons from the Bank of
France. It has become known that we have never had occasion to
unpack the money, and that it is still lying in our cellar. The
crate upon which I sit contains 2,000 napoleons packed between
layers of lead foil. Our reserve of bullion is much larger at
present than is usually kept in a single branch office, and the
directors have had misgivings upon the subject."
"Which were very well justified," observed Holmes.
"And now it is
time that we arranged our little plans. I expect that within an
hour matters will come to a head. In the meantime Mr.
Merryweather, we must put the screen over that dark lantern."
"And sit in the dark?"
"I am afraid so. I had brought a pack of cards in my pocket,
I thought that, as we were a partie carree, you might have your
rubber after all. But I see that the enemy's preparations have
gone so far that we cannot risk the presence of a light. And,
first of all, we must choose our positions. These are daring men,
and though we shall take them at a disadvantage, they may do us
some harm unless we are careful. I shall stand behind this crate,
and do you conceal yourselves behind those. Then, when I flash
light upon them, close in swiftly. If they fire, Watson, have
compunction about shooting them down."
I placed my revolver, cocked, upon the top of the wooden case
behind which I crouched. Holmes shot the slide across the front
of his lantern and left us in pitch darkness--such an absolute
darkness as I have never before experienced. The smell of hot
metal remained to assure us that the light was still there, ready
to flash out at a moment's notice. To me, with my nerves worked
up to a pitch of expectancy, there was something depressing and
subduing in the sudden gloom, and in the cold dank air of the
"They have but one retreat," whispered Holmes. "That
through the house into Saxe-Coburg Square. I hope that you have
done what I asked you, Jones?"
"l have an inspector and two officers waiting at the front
"Then we have stopped all the holes. And now we must be
What a time it seemed! From comparing notes afterwards it was
an hour and a quarter, yet it appeared to me that the night must
have almost gone. and the dawn be breaking above us. My limbs
were weary and stiff, for I feared to change my position; yet
nerves were worked up to the highest pitch of tension, and my
hearing was so acute that I could not only hear the gentle
breathing of my companions, but I could distinguish the deeper,
heavier in-breath of the bulky Jones from the thin, sighing note
of the bank director. From my position I could look over the case
in the direction of the floor. Suddenly my eyes caught the glint
of a light.
At first it was but a lurid spark upon the stone pavement. Then
it lengthened out until it became a yellow line, and then,
without any warning or sound, a gash seemed to open and a hand
appeared; a white, almost womanly hand, which felt about in the
centre of the little area of light. For a minute or more the
hand, with its writhing fingers, protruded out of the floor. Then
it was withdrawn as suddenly as it appeared, and all was dark
again save the single lurid spark which marked a chink between
Its disappearance, however, was but momentary. With a rending,
tearing sound, one of the broad, white stones turned over upon
its side and left a square, gaping hole, through which streamed
the light of a lantern. Over the edge there peeped a clean-cut,
boyish face, which looked keenly about it, and then, with a hand
on either side of the aperture, drew itself shoulder-high and
waist-high, until one knee rested upon the edge. In another
instant he stood at the side of the hole and was hauling after
him a companion, lithe and small like himself, with a pale face
and a shock of very red hair.
"It's all clear," he whispered. "Have you the
chisel and the
bags? Great Scott! Jump, Archie, jump, and I'll swing for it!"
Sherlock Holmes had sprung out and seized the intruder by the
collar. The other dived down the hole, and I heard the sound of
rending cloth as Jones clutched at his skirts. The light flashed
upon the barrel of a revolver, but Holmes's hunting crop came
down on the man's wrist, and the pistol clinked upon the stone
"It's no use, John Clay," said Holmes blandly. "You
chance at all."
"So I see," the other answered with the utmost coolness.
that my pal is all right, though I see you have got his
"There are three men waiting for him at the door,"
"Oh, indeed! You seem to have done the thing very completely.
must compliment you."
"And I you," Holmes answered. "Your red-headed
idea was very new
"You'll see your pal again presently," said Jones.
at climbing down holes than I am. Just hold out while I fix the
"I beg that you will not touch me with your filthy hands,"
remarked our prisoner as the handcuffs clattered upon his wrists.
"You may not be aware that I have royal blood in my veins.
the goodness, also, when you address me always to say 'sir' and
"All right," said Jones with a stare and a snigger.
you please, sir, march upstairs, where we can get a cab to carry
your Highness to the police-station?"
"That is better," said John Clay serenely. He made
a sweeping bow
to the three of us and walked quietly off in the custody of the
"Really, Mr. Holmes," said Mr. Merryweather as we followed
from the cellar, "I do not know how the bank can thank you
repay you. There is no doubt that you have detected and defeated
in the most complete manner one of the most determined attempts
at bank robbery that have ever come within my experience."
"I have had one or two little scores of my own to settle
John Clay," said Holmes. "I have been at some small
this matter, which I shall expect the bank to refund, but beyond
that I am amply repaid by having had an experience which is in
many ways unique, and by hearing the very remarkable narrative
the Red-headed League."