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Sherlock Holmes - the famous detective

Doctor Watson - a doctor and Sherlock’s friend

Jabez Wilson - a red-haired shopkeeper

Vincent Spaulding - Wilson’s assistant, also known as John Clay

Duncan Ross - Spaulding’s accomplice, a man with red hair

Mr.Jones - a detective from Scotland Yard
     Dr. Watson visits the apartment of his friend Sherlock Holmes. He finds detective Holmes talking to a client with bright red hair, Mr. Jabez Wilson. Holmes asks Dr. Watson to hear the unusual story of the client.

     Wilson says that he runs a pawnshop. One day in his shop, his assistant, Vincent Spaulding, showed an advertisement in the newspaper that announced an opening in the Red-Headed League. The announcement promised a salary of four pounds a week. Spaulding urged Wilson to apply. The timid red - haired pawnbroker did so. Wilson was accepted into the League by Mr. Duncan Ross, the head of the League.
     He learned that the nominal duties consisted only of his coming to the office from \(10:00\) a.m. until \(2:00\) p.m. each day and copying out the Encyclopaedia Britannica in longhand. This he did for eight weeks until one day he arrived at the office to find it closed, with a notice on the door that the Red-Headed League had been dissolved. He was so disturbed by the thought that someone had been playing a practical joke on him that he came to Holmes for a solution. Holmes promises to look into the case and Wilson leaves. Holmes and Dr. Watson move to Wilson’s shop in Saxe-Coburg Square at once.

Let’s read this play extract to know the happenings.

     (Outside Wilson’s shop in Saxe-Coburg Square. Holmes is walking up and down. Now and then he hits the ground outside the shop with his walking stick. Then he knocks on the door of the shop. Spaulding opens the shop door. The legs of his trousers are dirty.)
Scene I
Spaulding: Can I help you?

Holmes: Yes. How can I get to the Strand?

Spaulding: Third on the right, and fourth on the left. (He goes back into the shop and closes the door.)
Holmes: He’s a clever young man, Watson.

Watson: Is he? Why did you ask about the Strand? You know London very well! You wanted to see him.

Holmes: Did you notice his trousers?

Watson: His trousers? No. But I saw you hit the ground with your stick?

Holmes: My dear Watson, this is not the time for discussion. I must go and look at the road behind Saxe-Coburg Square. You had to go to work.
Watson: Yes, to the hospital.

Holmes: Right, but I want your help tonight. Come at ten o’clock
Scene II
(The strong room at a bank, with many boxes and crates in it. Holmes, Watson, Jones and a policeman are on stage hiding behind some boxes.)

Holmes: Is everything ready upstairs, Mr. Jones?

Jones: My men are waiting at the front door of the bank and near the shop.

Holmes: Good. Now we must be quiet and wait.
(He puts out the light. The strong room is dark, but we can see the men waiting behind the crates. Nothing happens. Watson looks at his watch.)
Watson: (whispering) It’s 11.15, Holmes. When _____

Holmes: Sshh! Don’t spoil our investigation.
(They see a light coming through the stone floor. Suddenly the stones give way. First a hand with a gun comes out of the ground, then another hand; Spaulding comes out followed by Ross.)
Spaulding: (to Ross) Now, have you got________?
(With his light, Holmes comes out from behind his box, and hits Spaulding’s arm. Now the gun is on the ground. Ross quickly gets back into the tunnel. Jones wants to stop him, but he cannot.)
Holmes: You can’t get away, John Clay!

Spaulding: No. But Ross! My friend__________

Holmes: There are three men waiting for him at the other end.

Spaulding: You think of everything, Mr. Holmes. You’re very clever.

Holmes: So are you, John Clay! Your Red-Headed League was clever!
Scene III
(Sherlock Holmes’s study. Holmes and Watson are sitting on chairs.)

Holmes: There was never any red-headed league. The villains wanted Wilson away from the shop for some hours every day. Then Clay saw the colour of Ross’s hair and thought of a Red-Headed League! So when Wilson went to work in their office every day, they had time to make their tunnel. Very clever!
Watson: So Spaulding is John Clay, the notorious thief. When did you first know that?
Holmes: I suspected when Spaulding was happy to work for half-wages. ‘Why? I thought. Spaulding often went down to the cellar. ‘What’s he doing down there?’ I thought. ‘Tunnels! Is Spaulding making a tunnel?’ I thought. ‘To another building?’ Watson, you saw me hitting the ground with my stick, outside the shop.
Watson: Yes... now I understand. You wanted to know if the cellar was in front of  the shop.
Holmes: Yes, I did. And it wasn’t. The cellar was behind the shop. Then I saw the man ‘Spaulding.’ I recognized him immediately. Did you see his trousers? They were dirty, Watson! Why? Because making a tunnel is dirty work!
Watson: Very clever, Holmes!

Holmes: Then I went into the next street, at the back of the shop. And what did I see? The Bank!
Watson: The bank, yes! Of course!

Holmes: ‘Why is that young man making a tunnel?’ I thought. To get into the bank’s strong room, of course!
Watson: But why tonight? How did you know?
Holmes: Because they closed the offices of the Red-Headed League. ‘The tunnel must be ready,’ I thought. And Saturday is a good day. The bank does not open on Sunday. It would have given the thieves enough time to get away.
Watson: (laughing) But they didn’t get away, Holmes. You’re very clever.

Holmes: (in a serious tone) That’s very true, Watson.
                      - by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
State Council of Educational Research and Training (2019). Term-1 English Standard-7. The Red-Headed League by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (pp. 45-49). Published by the Tamil Nadu Textbook and Educational Services Corporation.