I did not gain very much, however, by my inspection. Our visitor bore every mark of being an average commonplace British tradesman, obese, pompous, and slow. He wore rather baggy grey shepherd’s check trousers, a not over-clean black frock-coat, unbuttoned in the front, and a drab waistcoat with a heavy brassy Albert chain, and a square pierced bit of metal dangling down as an ornament. A frayed top-hat, and a faded brown overcoat with a wrinkled velvet collar lay upon a chair beside him. Altogether, look as I would, there was nothing remarkable about the man save his blazing red head, and the expression of extreme chagrin and discontent upon his features.

Sherlock Holmes’s quick eye took in my occupation, and he shook his head with a smile as he noticed my questioning glances. ‘Beyond the obvious facts that he has at some time done manual labour, that he takes snuff, that he is a Freemason, that he has been in China, and that he has done a considerable amount of writing lately, I can deduce nothing else.’

Mr Jabez Wilson started up in his chair, with his forefinger upon the paper, but his eyes upon my companion.

‘How, in the name of good fortune, did you know that, Mr Holmes?’ he asked. ‘How did you know, for example, that I did manual labour? It’s as true as gospel, and I began as a ship’s carpenter.’

‘Your hands, my dear sir. Your right hand is quite a size larger then your left. You have worked with it, and the muscles are more developed.’

‘Well, the snuff, then, and the Freemasonry?’

‘I won’t insult your intelligence by telling you how I read that, especially as, rather against the strict rules of your order, you use an arc and compass breastpin.’

‘Ah, of course, I forgot that. But the writing?’

‘What else can be indicated by that right cuff so very shiny for five inches, and the left one with the smooth patch near the elbow where you rest it upon the desk.’

‘Well, but China?’

‘The fish which you have tattooed immediately above your right wrist could only have been done in China. I have made a small study of tattoo marks, and have even contributed to the literature of the subject. That trick of staining the fishes’ scales of a delicate pink is quite peculiar to China. When, in addition, I see a Chinese coin hanging from your watch-chain, the matter becomes even more simple.’

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

‘I begin to think, Watson,’ said Holmes, ‘that I make a mistake in explaining. “Omne ignotum pro magnifico,” you know, and my poor little reputation, such as it is, will suffer shipwreck if I am so candid. Can you not find the advertisement, Mr Wilson?’

‘Yes, I have got it now,’ he answered, with his thick, red finger planted half-way down the column. ‘Here it is. This is what began it all. You must read it for yourself, sir.’

I took the paper from him and read as follows:

To the Red-Headed League—On account of the bequest of the late Ezekiah Hopkins, of Lebanon, Penn., U.S.A., there is now another vacancy open which entitles a member of the League to a salary of four pounds a week for purely nominal services. All red-headed men who are sound in body and mind, and above the age of twenty-one years, are eligible. Apply in person on Monday, at eleven o’clock, to Duncan Ross, at the offices of the League, 7, Pope’s Court, Fleet Street.

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