In "The New Jersey Sphinx" in Dr. Thorndyke's Case-Book by R. Austin Freeman, Thorndyke went to a porter to know the vacant chambers to let, and asked him whether it's quiet:


"Yes, pretty quiet. There's a metallurgist overhead—Highley—used to be Burt & Highley, but Burt has gone to the City, and I don't think Highley does much business now."

"Let me see," said Thorndyke, "I think I used to meet Highley sometimes—a tall, dark man, isn't he?"

"No, that would be Burt. Highley is a little, fairish man, rather bald, with a pretty rich complexion"—here Mr. Larkin tapped his nose knowingly and raised his little finger—"which may account for the falling off of business."

I found that "fairish" may mean "blonde or light skinned", but what's the meaning of "rich complexion"?

Does it mean "rich appearance"? or "vivid skin color"?

And why should that account for "falling of business"?


2 Answers 2


My interpretation of rich complexion (in this context) is flushed or red. This often a side effect of drinking or alcoholism and Larkin is implying that is the reason the business is failing.


That he is a "fairish man" probably means that he is blond-haired and light-skinned. I absolutely agree with the answer by Paula that "rich complexion" here means "flushed, as if from habitual drinking". When the text says that:

here Mr. Larkin tapped his nose knowingly and raised his little finger

the nose is stereotypically first to show a flush from overuse of alcohol, and the lifting of a little finger was then a standard gesture to indicate lifting a glass to drink from. The two together are almost a blatant way of saying "he drinks too much".

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