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Plot in The Adventure of the Speckled Band

Plot Examples in The Adventure of the Speckled Band:

The Adventure of the Speckled Band


"before he roused himself from his reverie...."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

Holmes likely solves the mystery in this moment of “reverie.” This pattern occurs in many Sherlock Holmes stories: Holmes pieces together a solution to the case before the story’s climax. In each story’s denouement, Holmes is already prepared with a lucid explanation. Holmes’s ability to crack the case before Watson and—in most cases—the reader is a large part of his mystique and appeal as a literary character.

"They seem to have been of a most interesting character—dummy bell-ropes, and ventilators which do not ventilate...."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

The case is coming together for Holmes and the reader. Because this is a “locked room mystery,” Doyle is highlighting the details of the dummy bell-pull and the oddly-directed ventilation shaft—both keys to understanding how Helen’s sister was intruded upon and murdered. The tension tightens as the possibilities narrow.

"That and a tooth-brush are, I think, all that we need...."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

One suspects this list—the pistol and the toothbrush—is meant to be a humorous touch. Spoiler: the toothbrush is never mentioned again in the story. Whether Holmes anticipated needing it is unclear. In retrospect, this looks like a joke.

"slip your revolver into your pocket...."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

By bringing Watson’s revolver into the narrative, Doyle evokes the dramatic principle of “Chekhov’s gun.” As Anton Chekhov famously wrote, “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there.” Look for the resolution to the tension of the revolver.

"Two days ago some repairs were started in the west wing of the building..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

Though Helen shares this development in the third person, it is clear that Dr. Roylott is responsible for the repairs and for potentially sinister reasons. One wonders whether Doyle uses the passive voice here to throw the reader off Roylott’s trail.

"It was early in April in the year '83..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

First published in 1892, the events in “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” and Conan Doyle’s writing of it are close to contemporaneous. This time was the height of both the Victorian era in England and British rule over India, a fact important to the story’s plot.

"“Do you know, Watson,” said Holmes as we sat together in the gathering darkness, “I have really some scruples as to taking you to-night. There is a distinct element of danger.”..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

The appearance of Dr. Roylott at Stoke Moran reminds the reader of the danger he represents. The author emphasizes the element of danger in many different ways because the reader is thrilled by sharing that danger vicariously. The Sherlock Holmes stories always contain both detection and adventure, and the word "adventure" is frequently contained in the stories' titles, as in "The Adventure of he Speckled Band."

"In her right hand was found the charred stump of a match, and in her left a match-box.”..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

Julia told her sister that she had been hearing a low whistling sound on several previous nights. On those nights the snake had been in the bed with her without her knowing it. On this last occasion she had evidently kept a match-box handy so that she could strike a light when she heard the whistle. In turning over in bed to reach for the matches, she must have rolled right on top of the snake and gotten bitten. This was the only time she actually saw the creature because it was the only time she had light.

"and a few moments later I heard her key turn in the lock.”..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

This establishes that Julia was in a locked room just before her death. The biggest problem that Sherlock Holmes has to deal with in this "locked room murder mystery" is how Julia Stoner could have been killed when she was in a room with the door locked and the window securely blocked by iron shutters.

"‘Oh, my God! Helen! It was the band! The speckled band!’ ..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

The term "the speckled band" is used in the title and will be repeated several times throughout the story. The author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, did not want to use the word "snake" because that might have given the whole plot away. The big question in this "locked room murder mystery" is: "How could anyone have killed Julia Stoner in a bedroom where the door is locked and the window sealed with impenetrable shutters? The author must keep both Sherlock Holmes and his readers in the dark until Holmes hears the low whistle, strikes a match, and begins lashing the snake with his cane. Even then he does not call it a snake. When he and Watson enter Dr. Roylott's room, they see the creature wrapped around the dead man's forehead. “The band! the speckled band!” whispered Holmes. And finally, for the first time, the word "snake" is used. “It is a swamp adder!” cried Holmes; “the deadliest snake in India."

Julia Stoner must have known she had been bitten by a snake, but she was not speaking coherently because she was dying. Holmes asks Helen:

“Ah, and what did you gather from this allusion to a band—a speckled band?”

“Sometimes I have thought that it was merely the wild talk of delirium, sometimes that it may have referred to some band of people, perhaps to these very gipsies in the plantation. I do not know whether the spotted handkerchiefs which so many of them wear over their heads might have suggested the strange adjective which she used.”

"and are feared by the villagers almost as much as their master..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

The intention of the author is evidently to narrow down the number of suspects by eliminating any unknown villager who might have been trying to kill Roylott or his stepdaughters because he had a grudge over some injury. Dr. Roylott is obviously the type of man who would make many enemies, including the local blacksmith, but they would all be afraid of him or his cheetah or baboon. Therefore the only logical suspects are Dr. Roylott himself or some member of the band of gypsies who camp on his property. The words "the speckled band" spoken by Julia as she was dying are intended to mislead the reader and even to mislead the great Sherlock Holmes. They suggest that the death of Julia might have been caused by a "band" of gypsies. Or the reader might guess that Dr. Roylott wanted his stepdaughter killed but got one or more members of the gypsy "band" to do it for him. Helen specifically states that Roylott was on very good terms with these gypsies and sometimes wandered away with them "for weeks on end." This shows that he could become very well acquainted with all of them even when they were not camping on his property. Arthur Conan Doyle wanted to mislead the reader because otherwise it would seem too obvious from the beginning that Dr. Roylott somehow murdered Julia himself and was probably planning to murder Helen.


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