The Adventure of the Speckled Band
ON GLANCING OVER my notes of the seventy odd cases in which I have during the last eight years studied the methods of my friend Sherlock Holmes, I find many tragic, some comic, a large number merely strange, but none commonplace; for, working as he did rather for the love of his art than for the acquirement of wealth, he refused to associate himself with any investigation which did not tend towards the unusual, and even the fantastic. Of all these varied cases, however, I cannot recall any which presented more singular features than that which was associated with the well-known Surrey family of the Roylotts of Stoke Moran. The events in question occurred in the early days of my association with Holmes, when we were sharing rooms as bachelors in Baker Street. It is possible that I might have placed them upon record before, but a promise of secrecy was made at the time, from which I have only been freed during the last month by the untimely death of the lady to whom the pledge was given. It is perhaps as well that the facts should now come to light, for I have reasons to know that there are widespread rumours as to the death of Dr. Grimesby Roylott which tend to make the matter even more terrible than the truth.
It was early in April in the year '83 that I woke one morning to find Sherlock Holmes standing, fully dressed, by the side of my bed. He was a late riser, as a rule, and as the clock on the mantelpiece showed me that it was only a quarter-past seven, I blinked up at him in some surprise, and perhaps just a little resentment, for I was myself regular in my habits.
“Very sorry to knock you up, Watson,” said he, “but it's the common lot this morning. Mrs. Hudson has been knocked up, she retorted upon me, and I on you.”
“What is it, then—a fire?”
“No; a client. It seems that a young lady has arrived in a considerable state of excitement, who insists upon seeing me. She is waiting now in the sitting-room. Now, when young ladies wander about the metropolis at this hour of the morning, and knock sleepy people up out of their beds, I presume that it is something very pressing which they have to communicate. Should it prove to be an interesting case, you would, I am sure, wish to follow it from the outset. I thought, at any rate, that I should call you and give you the chance.”
“My dear fellow, I would not miss it for anything.”
I had no keener pleasure than in following Holmes in his professional investigations, and in admiring the rapid deductions, as swift as intuitions, and yet always founded on a logical basis with which he unravelled the problems which were submitted to him. I rapidly threw on my clothes and was ready in a few minutes to accompany my friend down to the sitting-room. A lady dressed in black and heavily veiled, who had been sitting in the window, rose as we entered.
“Good-morning, madam,” said Holmes cheerily. “My name is Sherlock Holmes. This is my intimate friend and associate, Dr. Watson, before whom you can speak as freely as before myself. Ha! I am glad to see that Mrs. Hudson has had the good sense to light the fire. Pray draw up to it, and I shall order you a cup of hot coffee, for I observe that you are shivering.”
“It is not cold which makes me shiver,” said the woman in a low voice, changing her seat as requested.
“It is fear, Mr. Holmes. It is terror.” She raised her veil as she spoke, and we could see that she was indeed in a pitiable state of agitation, her face all drawn and grey, with restless frightened eyes, like those of some hunted animal. Her features and figure were those of a woman of thirty, but her hair was shot with premature grey, and her expression was weary and haggard. Sherlock Holmes ran her over with one of his quick, all-comprehensive glances.
“You must not fear,” said he soothingly, bending forward and patting her forearm. “We shall soon set matters right, I have no doubt. You have come in by train this morning, I see.”
“You know me, then?”
“No, but I observe the second half of a return ticket in the palm of your left glove. You must have started early, and yet you had a good drive in a dog-cart, along heavy roads, before you reached the station.”
The lady gave a violent start and stared in bewilderment at my companion.
“There is no mystery, my dear madam,” said he, smiling. “The left arm of your jacket is spattered with mud in no less than seven places. The marks are perfectly fresh. There is no vehicle save a dog-cart which throws up mud in that way, and then only when you sit on the left-hand side of the driver.”
“Whatever your reasons may be, you are perfectly correct,” said she. “I started from home before six, reached Leatherhead at twenty past, and came in by the first train to Waterloo. Sir, I can stand this strain no longer; I shall go mad if it continues. I have no one to turn to—none, save only one, who cares for me, and he, poor fellow, can be of little aid. I have heard of you, Mr. Holmes; I have heard of you from Mrs. Farintosh, whom you helped in the hour of her sore need. It was from her that I had your address. Oh, sir, do you not think that you could help me, too, and at least throw a little light through the dense darkness which surrounds me? At present it is out of my power to reward you for your services, but in a month or six weeks I shall be married, with the control of my own income, and then at least you shall not find me ungrateful.”
Holmes turned to his desk and, unlocking it, drew out a small casebook, which he consulted.
“Farintosh,” said he. “Ah yes, I recall the case; it was concerned with an opal tiara. I think it was before your time, Watson. I can only say, madam, that I shall be happy to devote the same care to your case as I did to that of your friend. As to reward, my profession is its own reward; but you are at liberty to defray whatever expenses I may be put to, at the time which suits you best. And now I beg that you will lay before us everything that may help us in forming an opinion upon the matter.”
“Alas!” replied our visitor, “the very horror of my situation lies in the fact that my fears are so vague, and my suspicions depend so entirely upon small points, which might seem trivial to another, that even he to whom of all others I have a right to look for help and advice looks upon all that I tell him about it as the fancies of a nervous woman. He does not say so, but I can read it from his soothing answers and averted eyes. But I have heard, Mr. Holmes, that you can see deeply into the manifold wickedness of the human heart. You may advise me how to walk amid the dangers which encompass me.”
“I am all attention, madam.”
“My name is Helen Stoner, and I am living with my stepfather, who is the last survivor of one of the oldest Saxon families in England, the Roylotts of Stoke Moran, on the western border of Surrey.”
Holmes nodded his head. “The name is familiar to me,” said he.
“The family was at one time among the richest in England, and the estates extended over the borders into Berkshire in the north, and Hampshire in the west. In the last century, however, four successive heirs were of a dissolute and wasteful disposition, and the family ruin was eventually completed by a gambler in the days of the Regency. Nothing was left save a few acres of ground, and the two-hundred-year-old house, which is itself crushed under a heavy mortgage. The last squire dragged out his existence there, living the horrible life of an aristocratic pauper; but his only son, my stepfather, seeing that he must adapt himself to the new conditions, obtained an advance from a relative, which enabled him to take a medical degree and went out to Calcutta, where, by his professional skill and his force of character, he established a large practice. In a fit of anger, however, caused by some robberies which had been perpetrated in the house, he beat his native butler to death and narrowly escaped a capital sentence. As it was, he suffered a long term of imprisonment and afterwards returned to England a morose and disappointed man.
“When Dr. Roylott was in India he married my mother, Mrs. Stoner, the young widow of Major-General Stoner, of the Bengal Artillery. My sister Julia and I were twins, and we were only two years old at the time of my mother's re-marriage. She had a considerable sum of money—not less than £1000 a year—and this she bequeathed to Dr. Roylott entirely while we resided with him, with a provision that a certain annual sum should be allowed to each of us in the event of our marriage. Shortly after our return to England my mother died—she was killed eight years ago in a railway accident near Crewe. Dr. Roylott then abandoned his attempts to establish himself in practice in London and took us to live with him in the old ancestral house at Stoke Moran. The money which my mother had left was enough for all our wants, and there seemed to be no obstacle to our happiness.
“But a terrible change came over our stepfather about this time. Instead of making friends and exchanging visits with our neighbours, who had at first been overjoyed to see a Roylott of Stoke Moran back in the old family seat, he shut himself up in his house and seldom came out save to indulge in ferocious quarrels with whoever might cross his path. Violence of temper approaching to mania has been hereditary in the men of the family, and in my stepfather's case it had, I believe, been intensified by his long residence in the tropics. A series of disgraceful brawls took place, two of which ended in the police-court, until at last he became the terror of the village, and the folks would fly at his approach, for he is a man of immense strength, and absolutely uncontrollable in his anger.
“Last week he hurled the local blacksmith over a parapet into a stream, and it was only by paying over all the money which I could gather together that I was able to avert another public exposure. He had no friends at all save the wandering gipsies, and he would give these vagabonds leave to encamp upon the few acres of bramble-covered land which represent the family estate, and would accept in return the hospitality of their tents, wandering away with them sometimes for weeks on end. He has a passion also for Indian animals, which are sent over to him by a correspondent, and he has at this moment a cheetah and a baboon, which wander freely over his grounds and are feared by the villagers almost as much as their master.
“You can imagine from what I say that my poor sister Julia and I had no great pleasure in our lives. No servant would stay with us, and for a long time we did all the work of the house. She was but thirty at the time of her death, and yet her hair had already begun to whiten, even as mine has.”
“Your sister is dead, then?”
“She died just two years ago, and it is of her death that I wish to speak to you. You can understand that, living the life which I have described, we were little likely to see anyone of our own age and position. We had, however, an aunt, my mother's maiden sister, Miss Honoria Westphail, who lives near Harrow, and we were occasionally allowed to pay short visits at this lady's house. Julia went there at Christmas two years ago, and met there a half-pay major of marines, to whom she became engaged. My stepfather learned of the engagement when my sister returned and offered no objection to the marriage; but within a fortnight of the day which had been fixed for the wedding, the terrible event occurred which has deprived me of my only companion.”
Sherlock Holmes had been leaning back in his chair with his eyes closed and his head sunk in a cushion, but he half opened his lids now and glanced across at his visitor.
“Pray be precise as to details,” said he.
“It is easy for me to be so, for every event of that dreadful time is seared into my memory. The manor-house is, as I have already said, very old, and only one wing is now inhabited. The bedrooms in this wing are on the ground floor, the sitting-rooms being in the central block of the buildings. Of these bedrooms the first is Dr. Roylott's, the second my sister's, and the third my own. There is no communication between them, but they all open out into the same corridor. Do I make myself plain?”
“The windows of the three rooms open out upon the lawn. That fatal night Dr. Roylott had gone to his room early, though we knew that he had not retired to rest, for my sister was troubled by the smell of the strong Indian cigars which it was his custom to smoke. She left her room, therefore, and came into mine, where she sat for some time, chatting about her approaching wedding. At eleven o'clock she rose to leave me, but she paused at the door and looked back.
“ ‘Tell me, Helen,’ said she, ‘have you ever heard anyone whistle in the dead of the night?’
“ ‘Never,’ said I.
“ ‘I suppose that you could not possibly whistle, yourself, in your sleep?’
“ ‘Certainly not. But why?’
“ ‘Because during the last few nights I have always, about three in the morning, heard a low, clear whistle. I am a light sleeper, and it has awakened me. I cannot tell where it came from—perhaps from the next room, perhaps from the lawn. I thought that I would just ask you whether you had heard it.’
“ ‘No, I have not. It must be those wretched gipsies in the plantation.’
“ ‘Very likely. And yet if it were on the lawn, I wonder that you did not hear it also.’
“ ‘Ah, but I sleep more heavily than you.’
“ ‘Well, it is of no great consequence, at any rate.’ She smiled back at me, closed my door, and a few moments later I heard her key turn in the lock.”
“Indeed,” said Holmes. “Was it your custom always to lock yourselves in at night?”
“I think that I mentioned to you that the doctor kept a cheetah and a baboon. We had no feeling of security unless our doors were locked.”
“Quite so. Pray proceed with your statement.”
“I could not sleep that night. A vague feeling of impending misfortune impressed me. My sister and I, you will recollect, were twins, and you know how subtle are the links which bind two souls which are so closely allied. It was a wild night. The wind was howling outside, and the rain was beating and splashing against the windows. Suddenly, amid all the hubbub of the gale, there burst forth the wild scream of a terrified woman. I knew that it was my sister's voice. I sprang from my bed, wrapped a shawl round me, and rushed into the corridor. As I opened my door I seemed to hear a low whistle, such as my sister described, and a few moments later a clanging sound, as if a mass of metal had fallen. As I ran down the passage, my sister's door was unlocked, and revolved slowly upon its hinges. I stared at it horror-stricken, not knowing what was about to issue from it. By the light of the corridor-lamp I saw my sister appear at the opening, her face blanched with terror, her hands groping for help, her whole figure swaying to and fro like that of a drunkard. I ran to her and threw my arms round her, but at that moment her knees seemed to give way and she fell to the ground. She writhed as one who is in terrible pain, and her limbs were dreadfully convulsed. At first I thought that she had not recognised me, but as I bent over her she suddenly shrieked out in a voice which I shall never forget, ‘Oh, my God! Helen! It was the band! The speckled band!’ There was something else which she would fain have said, and she stabbed with her finger into the air in the direction of the doctor's room, but a fresh convulsion seized her and choked her words. I rushed out, calling loudly for my stepfather, and I met him hastening from his room in his dressing-gown. When he reached my sister's side she was unconscious, and though he poured brandy down her throat and sent for medical aid from the village, all efforts were in vain, for she slowly sank and died without having recovered her consciousness. Such was the dreadful end of my beloved sister.”
“One moment,” said Holmes, “are you sure about this whistle and metallic sound? Could you swear to it?”
“That was what the county coroner asked me at the inquiry. It is my strong impression that I heard it, and yet, among the crash of the gale and the creaking of an old house, I may possibly have been deceived.”
“Was your sister dressed?”
“No, she was in her night-dress. In her right hand was found the charred stump of a match, and in her left a match-box.”
“Showing that she had struck a light and looked about her when the alarm took place. That is important. And what conclusions did the coroner come to?”
“He investigated the case with great care, for Dr. Roylott's conduct had long been notorious in the county, but he was unable to find any satisfactory cause of death. My evidence showed that the door had been fastened upon the inner side, and the windows were blocked by old-fashioned shutters with broad iron bars, which were secured every night. The walls were carefully sounded, and were shown to be quite solid all round, and the flooring was also thoroughly examined, with the same result. The chimney is wide, but is barred up by four large staples. It is certain, therefore, that my sister was quite alone when she met her end. Besides, there were no marks of any violence upon her.”
“How about poison?”
“The doctors examined her for it, but without success.”
“What do you think that this unfortunate lady died of, then?”
“It is my belief that she died of pure fear and nervous shock, though what it was that frightened her I cannot imagine.”
“Were there gipsies in the plantation at the time?”
“Yes, there are nearly always some there.”
“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.”
Holmes shook his head like a man who is far from being satisfied.
“These are very deep waters,” said he; “pray go on with your narrative.”
“Two years have passed since then, and my life has been until lately lonelier than ever. A month ago, however, a dear friend, whom I have known for many years, has done me the honour to ask my hand in marriage. His name is Armitage—Percy Armitage—the second son of Mr. Armitage, of Crane Water, near Reading. My stepfather has offered no opposition to the match, and we are to be married in the course of the spring. Two days ago some repairs were started in the west wing of the building, and my bedroom wall has been pierced, so that I have had to move into the chamber in which my sister died, and to sleep in the very bed in which she slept. Imagine, then, my thrill of terror when last night, as I lay awake, thinking over her terrible fate, I suddenly heard in the silence of the night the low whistle which had been the herald of her own death. I sprang up and lit the lamp, but nothing was to be seen in the room. I was too shaken to go to bed again, however, so I dressed, and as soon as it was daylight I slipped down, got a dog-cart at the Crown Inn, which is opposite, and drove to Leatherhead, from whence I have come on this morning with the one object of seeing you and asking your advice.”
“You have done wisely,” said my friend. “But have you told me all?”
“Miss Roylott, you have not. You are screening your stepfather.”
“Why, what do you mean?”
For answer Holmes pushed back the frill of black lace which fringed the hand that lay upon our visitor's knee. Five little livid spots, the marks of four fingers and a thumb, were printed upon the white wrist.
“You have been cruelly used,” said Holmes.
The lady coloured deeply and covered over her injured wrist. “He is a hard man,” she said, “and perhaps he hardly knows his own strength.”
There was a long silence, during which Holmes leaned his chin upon his hands and stared into the crackling fire.
“This is a very deep business,” he said at last. “There are a thousand details which I should desire to know before I decide upon our course of action. Yet we have not a moment to lose. If we were to come to Stoke Moran to-day, would it be possible for us to see over these rooms without the knowledge of your stepfather?”
“As it happens, he spoke of coming into town to-day upon some most important business. It is probable that he will be away all day, and that there would be nothing to disturb you. We have a housekeeper now, but she is old and foolish, and I could easily get her out of the way.”
“Excellent. You are not averse to this trip, Watson?”
“By no means.”
“Then we shall both come. What are you going to do yourself?”
“I have one or two things which I would wish to do now that I am in town. But I shall return by the twelve o'clock train, so as to be there in time for your coming.”
“And you may expect us early in the afternoon. I have myself some small business matters to attend to. Will you not wait and breakfast?”
“No, I must go. My heart is lightened already since I have confided my trouble to you. I shall look forward to seeing you again this afternoon.” She dropped her thick black veil over her face and glided from the room.
“And what do you think of it all, Watson?” asked Sherlock Holmes, leaning back in his chair.
“It seems to me to be a most dark and sinister business.”
“Dark enough and sinister enough.”
“Yet if the lady is correct in saying that the flooring and walls are sound, and that the door, window, and chimney are impassable, then her sister must have been undoubtedly alone when she met her mysterious end.”
“What becomes, then, of these nocturnal whistles, and what of the very peculiar words of the dying woman?”
“I cannot think.”
“When you combine the ideas of whistles at night, the presence of a band of gipsies who are on intimate terms with this old doctor, the fact that we have every reason to believe that the doctor has an interest in preventing his stepdaughter's marriage, the dying allusion to a band, and, finally, the fact that Miss Helen Stoner heard a metallic clang, which might have been caused by one of those metal bars that secured the shutters falling back into its place, I think that there is good ground to think that the mystery may be cleared along those lines.”
“But what, then, did the gipsies do?”
“I cannot imagine.”
“I see many objections to any such theory.”
“And so do I. It is precisely for that reason that we are going to Stoke Moran this day. I want to see whether the objections are fatal, or if they may be explained away. But what in the name of the devil!”
The ejaculation had been drawn from my companion by the fact that our door had been suddenly dashed open, and that a huge man had framed himself in the aperture. His costume was a peculiar mixture of the professional and of the agricultural, having a black top-hat, a long frock-coat, and a pair of high gaiters, with a hunting-crop swinging in his hand. So tall was he that his hat actually brushed the cross bar of the doorway, and his breadth seemed to span it across from side to side. A large face, seared with a thousand wrinkles, burned yellow with the sun, and marked with every evil passion, was turned from one to the other of us, while his deep-set, bile-shot eyes, and his high, thin, fleshless nose, gave him somewhat the resemblance to a fierce old bird of prey.
“Which of you is Holmes?” asked this apparition.
“My name, sir; but you have the advantage of me,” said my companion quietly.
“I am Dr. Grimesby Roylott, of Stoke Moran.”
“Indeed, Doctor,” said Holmes blandly. “Pray take a seat.”
“I will do nothing of the kind. My stepdaughter has been here. I have traced her. What has she been saying to you?”
“It is a little cold for the time of the year,” said Holmes.
“What has she been saying to you?” screamed the old man furiously.
“But I have heard that the crocuses promise well,” continued my companion imperturbably.
“Ha! You put me off, do you?” said our new visitor, taking a step forward and shaking his hunting-crop. “I know you, you scoundrel! I have heard of you before. You are Holmes, the meddler.”
My friend smiled.
“Holmes, the busybody!”
His smile broadened.
“Holmes, the Scotland Yard Jack-in-office!”
Holmes chuckled heartily. “Your conversation is most entertaining,” said he. “When you go out close the door, for there is a decided draught.”
“I will go when I have said my say. Don't you dare to meddle with my affairs. I know that Miss Stoner has been here. I traced her! I am a dangerous man to fall foul of! See here.” He stepped swiftly forward, seized the poker, and bent it into a curve with his huge brown hands.
“See that you keep yourself out of my grip,” he snarled, and hurling the twisted poker into the fireplace he strode out of the room.
“He seems a very amiable person,” said Holmes, laughing. “I am not quite so bulky, but if he had remained I might have shown him that my grip was not much more feeble than his own.” As he spoke he picked up the steel poker and, with a sudden effort, straightened it out again.
“Fancy his having the insolence to confound me with the official detective force! This incident gives zest to our investigation, however, and I only trust that our little friend will not suffer from her imprudence in allowing this brute to trace her. And now, Watson, we shall order breakfast, and afterwards I shall walk down to Doctors' Commons, where I hope to get some data which may help us in this matter.”
It was nearly one o'clock when Sherlock Holmes returned from his excursion. He held in his hand a sheet of blue paper, scrawled over with notes and figures.
“I have seen the will of the deceased wife,” said he. “To determine its exact meaning I have been obliged to work out the present prices of the investments with which it is concerned. The total income, which at the time of the wife's death was little short of £1100, is now, through the fall in agricultural prices, not more than £750. Each daughter can claim an income of £250, in case of marriage. It is evident, therefore, that if both girls had married, this beauty would have had a mere pittance, while even one of them would cripple him to a very serious extent. My morning's work has not been wasted, since it has proved that he has the very strongest motives for standing in the way of anything of the sort. And now, Watson, this is too serious for dawdling, especially as the old man is aware that we are interesting ourselves in his affairs; so if you are ready, we shall call a cab and drive to Waterloo. I should be very much obliged if you would slip your revolver into your pocket. An Eley's No. 2 is an excellent argument with gentlemen who can twist steel pokers into knots. That and a tooth-brush are, I think, all that we need.”
At Waterloo we were fortunate in catching a train for Leatherhead, where we hired a trap at the station inn and drove for four or five miles through the lovely Surrey lanes. It was a perfect day, with a bright sun and a few fleecy clouds in the heavens. The trees and wayside hedges were just throwing out their first green shoots, and the air was full of the pleasant smell of the moist earth. To me at least there was a strange contrast between the sweet promise of the spring and this sinister quest upon which we were engaged. My companion sat in the front of the trap, his arms folded, his hat pulled down over his eyes, and his chin sunk upon his breast, buried in the deepest thought. Suddenly, however, he started, tapped me on the shoulder, and pointed over the meadows.
“Look there!” said he.
A heavily timbered park stretched up in a gentle slope, thickening into a grove at the highest point. From amid the branches there jutted out the grey gables and high roof-tree of a very old mansion.
“Stoke Moran?” said he.
“Yes, sir, that be the house of Dr. Grimesby Roylott,” remarked the driver.
“There is some building going on there,” said Holmes; “that is where we are going.”
“There's the village,” said the driver, pointing to a cluster of roofs some distance to the left; “but if you want to get to the house, you'll find it shorter to get over this stile, and so by the foot-path over the fields. There it is, where the lady is walking.”
“And the lady, I fancy, is Miss Stoner,” observed Holmes, shading his eyes. “Yes, I think we had better do as you suggest.”
We got off, paid our fare, and the trap rattled back on its way to Leatherhead.
“I thought it as well,” said Holmes as we climbed the stile, “that this fellow should think we had come here as architects, or on some definite business. It may stop his gossip. Good-afternoon, Miss Stoner. You see that we have been as good as our word.”
Our client of the morning had hurried forward to meet us with a face which spoke her joy. “I have been waiting so eagerly for you,” she cried, shaking hands with us warmly. “All has turned out splendidly. Dr. Roylott has gone to town, and it is unlikely that he will be back before evening.”
“We have had the pleasure of making the doctor's acquaintance,” said Holmes, and in a few words he sketched out what had occurred. Miss Stoner turned white to the lips as she listened. “Good heavens!” she cried, “he has followed me, then.”
“So it appears.”
“He is so cunning that I never know when I am safe from him. What will he say when he returns?”
“He must guard himself, for he may find that there is someone more cunning than himself upon his track. You must lock yourself up from him to-night. If he is violent, we shall take you away to your aunt's at Harrow. Now, we must make the best use of our time, so kindly take us at once to the rooms which we are to examine.”
The building was of grey, lichen-blotched stone, with a high central portion and two curving wings, like the claws of a crab, thrown out on each side. In one of these wings the windows were broken and blocked with wooden boards, while the roof was partly caved in, a picture of ruin. The central portion was in little better repair, but the right-hand block was comparatively modern, and the blinds in the windows, with the blue smoke curling up from the chimneys, showed that this was where the family resided. Some scaffolding had been erected against the end wall, and the stonework had been broken into, but there were no signs of any workmen at the moment of our visit. Holmes walked slowly up and down the ill-trimmed lawn and examined with deep attention the outsides of the windows.
“This, I take it, belongs to the room in which you used to sleep, the centre one to your sister's, and the one next to the main building to Dr. Roylott's chamber?”
“Exactly so. But I am now sleeping in the middle one.”
“Pending the alterations, as I understand. By the way, there does not seem to be any very pressing need for repairs at that end wall.”
“There were none. I believe that it was an excuse to move me from my room.”
“Ah! that is suggestive. Now, on the other side of this narrow wing runs the corridor from which these three rooms open. There are windows in it, of course?”
“Yes, but very small ones. Too narrow for anyone to pass through.”
“As you both locked your doors at night, your rooms were unapproachable from that side. Now, would you have the kindness to go into your room and bar your shutters?”
Miss Stoner did so, and Holmes, after a careful examination through the open window, endeavoured in every way to force the shutter open, but without success. There was no slit through which a knife could be passed to raise the bar. Then with his lens he tested the hinges, but they were of solid iron, built firmly into the massive masonry. “Hum!” said he, scratching his chin in some perplexity, “my theory certainly presents some difficulties. No one could pass these shutters if they were bolted. Well, we shall see if the inside throws any light upon the matter.”
A small side door led into the whitewashed corridor from which the three bedrooms opened. Holmes refused to examine the third chamber, so we passed at once to the second, that in which Miss Stoner was now sleeping, and in which her sister had met with her fate. It was a homely little room, with a low ceiling and a gaping fireplace, after the fashion of old country-houses. A brown chest of drawers stood in one corner, a narrow white-counterpaned bed in another, and a dressing-table on the left-hand side of the window. These articles, with two small wicker-work chairs, made up all the furniture in the room save for a square of Wilton carpet in the centre. The boards round and the panelling of the walls were of brown, worm-eaten oak, so old and discoloured that it may have dated from the original building of the house. Holmes drew one of the chairs into a corner and sat silent, while his eyes travelled round and round and up and down, taking in every detail of the apartment.
“Where does that bell communicate with?” he asked at last pointing to a thick bell-rope which hung down beside the bed, the tassel actually lying upon the pillow.
“It goes to the housekeeper's room.”
“It looks newer than the other things?”
“Yes, it was only put there a couple of years ago.”
“Your sister asked for it, I suppose?”
“No, I never heard of her using it. We used always to get what we wanted for ourselves.”
“Indeed, it seemed unnecessary to put so nice a bell-pull there. You will excuse me for a few minutes while I satisfy myself as to this floor.” He threw himself down upon his face with his lens in his hand and crawled swiftly backward and forward, examining minutely the cracks between the boards. Then he did the same with the wood-work with which the chamber was panelled. Finally he walked over to the bed and spent some time in staring at it and in running his eye up and down the wall. Finally he took the bell-rope in his hand and gave it a brisk tug.
“Why, it's a dummy,” said he.
“Won't it ring?”
“No, it is not even attached to a wire. This is very interesting. You can see now that it is fastened to a hook just above where the little opening for the ventilator is.”
“How very absurd! I never noticed that before.”
“Very strange!” muttered Holmes, pulling at the rope. “There are one or two very singular points about this room. For example, what a fool a builder must be to open a ventilator into another room, when, with the same trouble, he might have communicated with the outside air!”
“That is also quite modern,” said the lady.
“Done about the same time as the bell-rope?” remarked Holmes.
“Yes, there were several little changes carried out about that time.”
“They seem to have been of a most interesting character—dummy bell-ropes, and ventilators which do not ventilate. With your permission, Miss Stoner, we shall now carry our researches into the inner apartment.”
Dr. Grimesby Roylott's chamber was larger than that of his stepdaughter, but was as plainly furnished. A camp-bed, a small wooden shelf full of books, mostly of a technical character, an armchair beside the bed, a plain wooden chair against the wall, a round table, and a large iron safe were the principal things which met the eye. Holmes walked slowly round and examined each and all of them with the keenest interest.
“What's in here?” he asked, tapping the safe.
“My stepfather's business papers.”
“Oh! you have seen inside, then?”
“Only once, some years ago. I remember that it was full of papers.”
“There isn't a cat in it, for example?”
“No. What a strange idea!”
“Well, look at this!” He took up a small saucer of milk which stood on the top of it.
“No; we don't keep a cat. But there is a cheetah and a baboon.”
“Ah, yes, of course! Well, a cheetah is just a big cat, and yet a saucer of milk does not go very far in satisfying its wants, I daresay. There is one point which I should wish to determine.” He squatted down in front of the wooden chair and examined the seat of it with the greatest attention.
“Thank you. That is quite settled,” said he, rising and putting his lens in his pocket. “Hullo! Here is something interesting!”
The object which had caught his eye was a small dog lash hung on one corner of the bed. The lash, however, was curled upon itself and tied so as to make a loop of whipcord.
“What do you make of that, Watson?”
“It's a common enough lash. But I don't know why it should be tied.”
“That is not quite so common, is it? Ah, me! it's a wicked world, and when a clever man turns his brains to crime it is the worst of all. I think that I have seen enough now, Miss Stoner, and with your permission we shall walk out upon the lawn.”
I had never seen my friend's face so grim or his brow so dark as it was when we turned from the scene of this investigation. We had walked several times up and down the lawn, neither Miss Stoner nor myself liking to break in upon his thoughts before he roused himself from his reverie.
“It is very essential, Miss Stoner,” said he, “that you should absolutely follow my advice in every respect.”
“I shall most certainly do so.”
“The matter is too serious for any hesitation. Your life may depend upon your compliance.”
“I assure you that I am in your hands.”
“In the first place, both my friend and I must spend the night in your room.”
Both Miss Stoner and I gazed at him in astonishment.
“Yes, it must be so. Let me explain. I believe that that is the village inn over there?”
“Yes, that is the Crown.”
“Very good. Your windows would be visible from there?”
“You must confine yourself to your room, on pretence of a headache, when your stepfather comes back. Then when you hear him retire for the night, you must open the shutters of your window, undo the hasp, put your lamp there as a signal to us, and then withdraw quietly with everything which you are likely to want into the room which you used to occupy. I have no doubt that, in spite of the repairs, you could manage there for one night.”
“Oh, yes, easily.”
“The rest you will leave in our hands.”
“But what will you do?”
“We shall spend the night in your room, and we shall investigate the cause of this noise which has disturbed you.”
“I believe, Mr. Holmes, that you have already made up your mind,” said Miss Stoner, laying her hand upon my companion's sleeve.
“Perhaps I have.”
“Then, for pity's sake, tell me what was the cause of my sister's death.”
“I should prefer to have clearer proofs before I speak.”
“You can at least tell me whether my own thought is correct, and if she died from some sudden fright.”
“No, I do not think so. I think that there was probably some more tangible cause. And now, Miss Stoner, we must leave you for if Dr. Roylott returned and saw us our journey would be in vain. Good-bye, and be brave, for if you will do what I have told you, you may rest assured that we shall soon drive away the dangers that threaten you.”
Sherlock Holmes and I had no difficulty in engaging a bedroom and sitting-room at the Crown Inn. They were on the upper floor, and from our window we could command a view of the avenue gate, and of the inhabited wing of Stoke Moran Manor House. At dusk we saw Dr. Grimesby Roylott drive past, his huge form looming up beside the little figure of the lad who drove him. The boy had some slight difficulty in undoing the heavy iron gates, and we heard the hoarse roar of the doctor's voice and saw the fury with which he shook his clinched fists at him. The trap drove on, and a few minutes later we saw a sudden light spring up among the trees as the lamp was lit in one of the sitting-rooms.
“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.”
“Can I be of assistance?”
“Your presence might be invaluable.”
“Then I shall certainly come.”
“It is very kind of you.”
“You speak of danger. You have evidently seen more in these rooms than was visible to me.”
“No, but I fancy that I may have deduced a little more. I imagine that you saw all that I did.”
“I saw nothing remarkable save the bell-rope, and what purpose that could answer I confess is more than I can imagine.”
“You saw the ventilator, too?”
“Yes, but I do not think that it is such a very unusual thing to have a small opening between two rooms. It was so small that a rat could hardly pass through.”
“I knew that we should find a ventilator before ever we came to Stoke Moran.”
“My dear Holmes!”
“Oh, yes, I did. You remember in her statement she said that her sister could smell Dr. Roylott's cigar. Now, of course that suggested at once that there must be a communication between the two rooms. It could only be a small one, or it would have been remarked upon at the coroner's inquiry. I deduced a ventilator.”
“But what harm can there be in that?”
“Well, there is at least a curious coincidence of dates. A ventilator is made, a cord is hung, and a lady who sleeps in the bed dies. Does not that strike you?”
“I cannot as yet see any connection.”
“Did you observe anything very peculiar about that bed?”
“It was clamped to the floor. Did you ever see a bed fastened like that before?”
“I cannot say that I have.”
“The lady could not move her bed. It must always be in the same relative position to the ventilator and to the rope—or so we may call it, since it was clearly never meant for a bell-pull.”
“Holmes,” I cried, “I seem to see dimly what you are hinting at. We are only just in time to prevent some subtle and horrible crime.”
“Subtle enough and horrible enough. When a doctor does go wrong he is the first of criminals. He has nerve and he has knowledge. Palmer and Pritchard were among the heads of their profession. This man strikes even deeper, but I think, Watson, that we shall be able to strike deeper still. But we shall have horrors enough before the night is over; for goodness' sake let us have a quiet pipe and turn our minds for a few hours to something more cheerful.”
About nine o'clock the light among the trees was extinguished, and all was dark in the direction of the Manor House. Two hours passed slowly away, and then, suddenly, just at the stroke of eleven, a single bright light shone out right in front of us.
“That is our signal,” said Holmes, springing to his feet; “it comes from the middle window.”
As we passed out he exchanged a few words with the landlord, explaining that we were going on a late visit to an acquaintance, and that it was possible that we might spend the night there. A moment later we were out on the dark road, a chill wind blowing in our faces, and one yellow light twinkling in front of us through the gloom to guide us on our sombre errand.
There was little difficulty in entering the grounds, for unrepaired breaches gaped in the old park wall. Making our way among the trees, we reached the lawn, crossed it, and were about to enter through the window when out from a clump of laurel bushes there darted what seemed to be a hideous and distorted child, who threw itself upon the grass with writhing limbs and then ran swiftly across the lawn into the darkness.
“My God!” I whispered; “did you see it?”
Holmes was for the moment as startled as I. His hand closed like a vice upon my wrist in his agitation. Then he broke into a low laugh and put his lips to my ear.
“It is a nice household,” he murmured. “That is the baboon.”
I had forgotten the strange pets which the doctor affected. There was a cheetah, too; perhaps we might find it upon our shoulders at any moment. I confess that I felt easier in my mind when, after following Holmes' example and slipping off my shoes, I found myself inside the bedroom. My companion noiselessly closed the shutters, moved the lamp onto the table, and cast his eyes round the room. All was as we had seen it in the daytime. Then creeping up to me and making a trumpet of his hand, he whispered into my ear again so gently that it was all that I could do to distinguish the words:
“The least sound would be fatal to our plans.”
I nodded to show that I had heard.
“We must sit without light. He would see it through the ventilator.”
I nodded again.
“Do not go asleep; your very life may depend upon it. Have your pistol ready in case we should need it. I will sit on the side of the bed, and you in that chair.”
I took out my revolver and laid it on the corner of the table.
Holmes had brought up a long thin cane, and this he placed upon the bed beside him. By it he laid the box of matches and the stump of a candle. Then he turned down the lamp, and we were left in darkness.
How shall I ever forget that dreadful vigil? I could not hear a sound, not even the drawing of a breath, and yet I knew that my companion sat open-eyed, within a few feet of me, in the same state of nervous tension in which I was myself. The shutters cut off the least ray of light, and we waited in absolute darkness.
From outside came the occasional cry of a night-bird, and once at our very window a long drawn catlike whine, which told us that the cheetah was indeed at liberty. Far away we could hear the deep tones of the parish clock, which boomed out every quarter of an hour. How long they seemed, those quarters! Twelve struck, and one and two and three, and still we sat waiting silently for whatever might befall.
Suddenly there was the momentary gleam of a light up in the direction of the ventilator, which vanished immediately, but was succeeded by a strong smell of burning oil and heated metal. Someone in the next room had lit a dark-lantern. I heard a gentle sound of movement, and then all was silent once more, though the smell grew stronger. For half an hour I sat with straining ears. Then suddenly another sound became audible—a very gentle, soothing sound, like that of a small jet of steam escaping continually from a kettle. The instant that we heard it, Holmes sprang from the bed, struck a match, and lashed furiously with his cane at the bell-pull.
“You see it, Watson?” he yelled. “You see it?”
But I saw nothing. At the moment when Holmes struck the light I heard a low, clear whistle, but the sudden glare flashing into my weary eyes made it impossible for me to tell what it was at which my friend lashed so savagely. I could, however, see that his face was deadly pale and filled with horror and loathing. He had ceased to strike and was gazing up at the ventilator when suddenly there broke from the silence of the night the most horrible cry to which I have ever listened. It swelled up louder and louder, a hoarse yell of pain and fear and anger all mingled in the one dreadful shriek. They say that away down in the village, and even in the distant parsonage, that cry raised the sleepers from their beds. It struck cold to our hearts, and I stood gazing at Holmes, and he at me, until the last echoes of it had died away into the silence from which it rose.
“What can it mean?” I gasped.
“It means that it is all over,” Holmes answered. “And perhaps, after all, it is for the best. Take your pistol, and we will enter Dr. Roylott's room.”
With a grave face he lit the lamp and led the way down the corridor. Twice he struck at the chamber door without any reply from within. Then he turned the handle and entered, I at his heels, with the cocked pistol in my hand.
It was a singular sight which met our eyes. On the table stood a dark-lantern with the shutter half open, throwing a brilliant beam of light upon the iron safe, the door of which was ajar. Beside this table, on the wooden chair, sat Dr. Grimesby Roylott clad in a long grey dressing-gown, his bare ankles protruding beneath, and his feet thrust into red heelless Turkish slippers. Across his lap lay the short stock with the long lash which we had noticed during the day. His chin was cocked upward and his eyes were fixed in a dreadful, rigid stare at the corner of the ceiling. Round his brow he had a peculiar yellow band, with brownish speckles, which seemed to be bound tightly round his head. As we entered he made neither sound nor motion.
“The band! the speckled band!” whispered Holmes.
I took a step forward. In an instant his strange headgear began to move, and there reared itself from among his hair the squat diamond-shaped head and puffed neck of a loathsome serpent.
“It is a swamp adder!” cried Holmes; “the deadliest snake in India. He has died within ten seconds of being bitten. Violence does, in truth, recoil upon the violent, and the schemer falls into the pit which he digs for another. Let us thrust this creature back into its den, and we can then remove Miss Stoner to some place of shelter and let the county police know what has happened.”
As he spoke he drew the dog-whip swiftly from the dead man's lap, and throwing the noose round the reptile's neck he drew it from its horrid perch and, carrying it at arm's length, threw it into the iron safe, which he closed upon it.
Such are the true facts of the death of Dr. Grimesby Roylott, of Stoke Moran. It is not necessary that I should prolong a narrative which has already run to too great a length by telling how we broke the sad news to the terrified girl, how we conveyed her by the morning train to the care of her good aunt at Harrow, of how the slow process of official inquiry came to the conclusion that the doctor met his fate while indiscreetly playing with a dangerous pet. The little which I had yet to learn of the case was told me by Sherlock Holmes as we travelled back next day.
“I had,” said he, “come to an entirely erroneous conclusion which shows, my dear Watson, how dangerous it always is to reason from insufficient data. The presence of the gipsies, and the use of the word ‘band,’ which was used by the poor girl, no doubt, to explain the appearance which she had caught a hurried glimpse of by the light of her match, were sufficient to put me upon an entirely wrong scent. I can only claim the merit that I instantly reconsidered my position when, however, it became clear to me that whatever danger threatened an occupant of the room could not come either from the window or the door. My attention was speedily drawn, as I have already remarked to you, to this ventilator, and to the bell-rope which hung down to the bed. The discovery that this was a dummy, and that the bed was clamped to the floor, instantly gave rise to the suspicion that the rope was there as a bridge for something passing through the hole and coming to the bed. The idea of a snake instantly occurred to me, and when I coupled it with my knowledge that the doctor was furnished with a supply of creatures from India, I felt that I was probably on the right track. The idea of using a form of poison which could not possibly be discovered by any chemical test was just such a one as would occur to a clever and ruthless man who had had an Eastern training. The rapidity with which such a poison would take effect would also, from his point of view, be an advantage. It would be a sharp-eyed coroner, indeed, who could distinguish the two little dark punctures which would show where the poison fangs had done their work. Then I thought of the whistle. Of course he must recall the snake before the morning light revealed it to the victim. He had trained it, probably by the use of the milk which we saw, to return to him when summoned. He would put it through this ventilator at the hour that he thought best, with the certainty that it would crawl down the rope and land on the bed. It might or might not bite the occupant, perhaps she might escape every night for a week, but sooner or later she must fall a victim.
“I had come to these conclusions before ever I had entered his room. An inspection of his chair showed me that he had been in the habit of standing on it, which of course would be necessary in order that he should reach the ventilator. The sight of the safe, the saucer of milk, and the loop of whipcord were enough to finally dispel any doubts which may have remained. The metallic clang heard by Miss Stoner was obviously caused by her stepfather hastily closing the door of his safe upon its terrible occupant. Having once made up my mind, you know the steps which I took in order to put the matter to the proof. I heard the creature hiss as I have no doubt that you did also, and I instantly lit the light and attacked it.”
“With the result of driving it through the ventilator.”
“And also with the result of causing it to turn upon its master at the other side. Some of the blows of my cane came home and roused its snakish temper, so that it flew upon the first person it saw. In this way I am no doubt indirectly responsible for Dr. Grimesby Roylott's death, and I cannot say that it is likely to weigh very heavily upon my conscience.”
– February 1892
Throughout “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” Doyle weaves a theme of the exotic as sinister. Specifically, there is a sense that the British colony of India—which would have loomed large in the mind’s of Doyle’s Victorian readership—is associated with a certain kind of wickedness, or at least wildness. The serpent itself embodies the subcontinent while being freighted with all of the sinister connotations of the snake. This idea of India as a place that inculcates wickedness is bolstered by Dr. Roylott himself. When he is first introduced, Ms. Stoner says, “violence of temper approaching to mania has been... intensified by his long residence in the tropics.” The historical backdrop of British colonialism is impossible to ignore, particularly because it contributes so directly to the macabre nature of the story.— Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
Cursory research indicates that no such snake exists. Not only is the “swamp adder” an invented species, there are no adders native to India. Herpetologists have suggested that the species that most closely resembled Doyle’s snake is the Indian Cobra, which is adequately speckled and releases a fast-acting neurotoxin. It is unclear whether Doyle was mistaken or chose to have Holmes misidentify the snake.— Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
Doyle’s subtle diction here elevates the atmosphere of dread and anticipation. The use of “fatal” here is figurative but in the reader’s mind it triggers a sense of death.— Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
The pet baboon and cheetah are odd touches in this story. It is likely that Doyle employs the beasts metaphorically and metonymically to suggest the wildness and beastliness of their owner. It is also possible that these animals offer a justification for the presence of the exotic serpent.— Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
As is standard in the Sherlock Holmes stories, Watson serves as the reader’s eyes and ears. Doyle shows us all of the details of the case that Watson sees. Thus, we are invited to share in Watson’s sense of wonder when Holmes draws a solution from very same pool of details available to us.— Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
“Hasp” is an obscure word for a hinged metal fastener for doors and windows.— Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
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.— Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
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.— Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
Doyle’s description of the ruined manor serves two potential purposes. On the level of plot, it offers Roylott a reason to undergo construction, thus forcing Helen into the adjacent bedroom. On a symbolic level, a house often serves as a metaphor and metonym for family. A house in ruins tells us that the family residing there is in a state of dysfunction and disarray, as is the case with Ms. Stoner and Dr. Roylott. Thus the description of the manor carries a deep emotional resonance.— Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
Notice the way Doyle uses improper, vernacular grammar here to indicate the driver’s lower social standing. This gives the world of the story some verisimilitude and shows Holmes’s and Watson’s comparatively high level of refinement and education.— Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
Passages of narrative exposition such as this show us the differences between Watson and Holmes. Holmes is perpetually focused on the details of the case, and he is depicted in this scene as “buried in thought.” Watson, by contrast, has a taste for simple pleasures, such as the beauty of a country landscape on a bright day. These tastes can only be revealed in his narration, since Doyle keeps the dialogues with Holmes case-oriented.— Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
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.— Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
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.— Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
The mention of breakfast is quite humorous. Its everydayness stands in stark contrast to the bizarre case that has just unfolded. The point is that such excitement is all in a day’s work for Sherlock Holmes.— Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
Despite Holmes’s often severe manner, he has sharp wit. Here he sarcastically goads on Roylott for two reasons. First, he does not wish to reveal any case information. Second, he hopes to gain an upper hand on the man. Seeing that Roylott is a fearful, quick-tempered brute, Holmes employs a calm, belittling demeanor to indicate that he is unthreatened.— Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
Here we see the cleverness in Doyle’s word choice in devising the phrase “speckled band.” A “band” is broad enough to potentially refer to any number of objects, as well as groups of people.— Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
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.— Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
In Victorian England, Gypsy communities were looked down upon for their unconventional social mores and itinerant lifestyles. As Victorian scholar George K. Behlmer has noted, many English people viewed Gypsies as “an intolerable affront to the values of modern civilization.” Doyle’s readers may not have been surprised by Helen’s descriptions of Gypsies as vagabonds or as “wretched.” Behlmer, George K. "The Gypsy Problem in Victorian England." Victorian Studies 2, no. 2 (Winter 1985): 231.— Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
Throughout the Sherlock Holmes stories, Holmes makes reference to at least 80 cases never told in full. The Farintosh case here is just one of them. Conan Doyle uses these untold cases to flesh out Holmes’s world and backstory. These passing references make Holmes seem all the more seasoned.— Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
Doyle uses these moments of impressive but unimportant deduction at the story’s beginning to introduce both Holmes’s client, and the reader, to Holmes’s intellectual feats. His final solutions are more credible if the reader already understands what he is capable of.— Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
Doyle’s use of figurative language gives the description of Helen Stoner a connotative undercurrent of violence and victimhood. The notion of her hair as being “shot” primes the reader for the grim nature of the case.— Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
In the character of Sherlock Holmes, Doyle attempted to create someone guided by pure reason and deduction. Time and again, Holmes expresses his distaste for emotionally driven actions. Doyle based Holmes’s character on his medical school professor, Joseph Bell, whom he studied under at the University of Edinburgh. Doyle admired Bell’s extremely logical methods of treatment. In a letter he sent to Bell in 1892, Doyle wrote, “It is most certainly to you that I owe Sherlock Holmes ... round the centre of deduction and inference and observation which I have heard you inculcate I have tried to build up a man.”— Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
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.— Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
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."— William Delaney
This is evidently intended to show that Dr. Roylott is a menace to his stepdaughter Helen as well as to Holmes and Watson. Roylott's violent and half-insane character adds dramatic interest to the entire story. He also emphasizes that Helen is in urgent need of protection, which only Holmes and Watson can provide.— William Delaney
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.— William Delaney
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.— William Delaney
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.”— William Delaney
Dr. Watson is always represented as a great note-taker. Perhaps this is something he was taught in medical school. It characterizes him as an especially methodical, practical, conscientious, objective, and disciplined man of science. We can trust his observations to be accurate, although we cannot always rely on the deductions he makes from those observations. As a scientist, Watson is interested in studying Sherlock Holmes as a unique human specimen as well as in being the great detective's "Boswell," his biographer. Dr. Watson has to refer to his notes in order to refresh his memory of the case he is about to describe. As he says, "The events in question occurred in the early days of my association with Holmes..." About eight years have passed since then, and it appears that Helen Stoner ("...the lady to whom the pledge was given") had suffered an "untimely death" which frees Watson to tell more of the details of her story. Watson has to place this story in the past in order to account for the fact that he was still occupying one of the bedrooms at Baker Street when Holmes came to wake him up at seven-fifteen in the morning. Watson is writing the story at a later date when he is no longer sharing rooms with Holmes.— William Delaney
Many of the Sherlock Holmes tales take place mainly out in the country, including the well-known "The Hound of the Baskervilles." Arthur Conan Doyle was interested in offering as much variety as possible in settings, characters, and mysteries. The country settings also offer the reader an imaginary pleasure excursion. The train service in Britain was dependable and extensive. Holmes and Watson could get practically anywhere by taking a train to a country station and then hiring a horse-drawn conveyance to take them to their final destination.— William Delaney
Arthur Conan Doyle has a practical reason for emphasizing that the weather is very cold, but it will not become apparent until the climax of the tale. Dr. Roylott killed his stepdaughter Julia by sending a poisonous Indian swamp adder through the ventilator into her adjoining room. The snake slithered down the dummy bell-rope and directly onto her bed. It was evidently doing this every night for a long period of time before it finally bit her and caused her to die in agony within minutes. In the early morning hours, if the snake had not bitten Julia, Roylott would call it back up the bell-rope and through the ventilator, where he would feed it some milk and lock it up in his safe. The reader might wonder why the snake wouldn't take advantage of its temporary release from the safe to try to escape from captivity. Doyle does not explain, but the reader can assume that this species of snake from a hot climate would be looking for warmth and would not want to venture out into a cold English night even if it had the opportunity. Instead, what probably happened was that the snake actually crawled under Julia's bed-covers and nestled beside her to get as much warmth as possible. The poor girl did not realize that she was sleeping with a horrible snake. It was only a matter of time before she would turn over in her sleep and roll right on top of the swamp adder. That was probably how she had finally gotten bitten through her nightgown. Helen Stoner, too, might have had the snake sleeping beside her on one or two recent night.— William Delaney
These were the days when the British Empire was at the height of its power and glory. To quote Rudyard Kipling, it held "dominion over palm and pine." Britannia ruled the waves, and "the sun never set on British soil." India was called "the Crown Jewel in the Royal Crown."— William Delaney
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.— William Delaney
This shows that the driver could not only overhear any conversation between Holmes and Watson but is probably curious about the reason for their visit and listening intently while looking straight ahead.— William Delaney
This description helps to characterize Holmes, but it also serves to eliminate any conversation between the two men. Doyle does not want Watson to be asking questions. They are seated in such a way that conversation would have been nearly impossible. Besides, they would certainly not want the driver to overhear anything of importance.— William Delaney
Doyle writes this story in an unusual way. He makes it obvious that Dr. Roylott must have been involved in the death of Julia Stoner and is probably plotting to kill Helen Stoner in the same manner--whatever that manner was! So Doyle presents the reader with the most likely suspect and that suspect's motive at the beginning of the inquiry; then, however, the author attempts to keep the reader guessing mainly about two things: (1) Why was there no apparent sign of poisoning? and (2) How could Roylott have gotten at Julia when her door and window were securely locked? This is not the standard "whodunit" but a question of how it was done--a "howdunit." The reader is given false clues, mainly involving a band of gypsies who are camping on the grounds, and with whom Dr. Roylott has been spending a great deal of time. Did Roylott commit the murder himself or did he get one of the gypsies to do it? But if a gypsy killed Julia and is attempting to kill Helen, there are still the same questions of how someone got to a girl in a locked room and what method of murder would be undetectable in an autopsy. Perhaps these gypsies know of some secret way of committing a murder without leaving a trace? If so, that only leaves the question of how one of them got to Julia in her locked room. The gypsies only serve to muddy the waters, so to speak. And no individual gypsy is ever introduced, so there seems to be no alternative suspect. Dr. Roylott makes himself appear even more guilty by bursting into Holmes' sitting room and threatening him with violence if he involves himself with Helen. Dr. Roylott is a strong suspect because: - He has an obvious motive for killing either Julia or Helen if they were to become engaged and wanted one-third of his income. - He is a doctor, so he has a special knowledge of all sorts of drugs and poisons. - He lived in India, where he could have learned about drugs and poisons that were completely unknown in England. - He has shown himself to Holmes and Watson to be an extremely strong and violent man. - Helen relates other examples of Dr. Roylott's temper and violence. For instance, Roylott threw the blacksmith off the bridge. - When Roylott was in India he actually committed a murder by beating a man to death, and he served a long term in prison for murder. - He shows he is afraid of being identified as Julia's murderer when he follows Helen to Baker Street and warns Holmes not to interfere with his affairs. - Roylott is deeply in debt. His house is dilapidated and heavily mortgaged.— William Delaney
How did Dr. Roylott know that his snake would stay on the bed until he recalled it with his whistle? He must have known that the snake would stay there because the weather was cold and the bed was the warmest place in the room. The text refers repeatedly to the unusually cold weather. It is early April when Helen Stoner comes to consult with Holmes, and it had been December when her sister Julia had become engaged.— William Delaney
Watson's presence would not be necessary except for the possibility that there might be an encounter with Dr. Roylott, who would be quite capable of trying to shoot both of them if he found them right inside his home. Watson is carrying a revolver at the request of Holmes, but Roylott, like any typical country squire of the times, would be sure to have a shotgun and a rifle handy. No doubt a man like Roylott would enjoy killing birds, rabbits, and other game. It turns out that Watson is not needed. Holmes is the hero, and Doyle gives him the job of attacking the poisonous snake and driving it back up the bell-rope and into Roylott's bedroom. Doyle occasionally portrays Holmes as a man of action in order to show that his hero is not a mere "thinking machine." In "The Adventure of the Naval Treaty" Holmes hides in a room alone and apprehends a violent culprit who wounds him with a knife in the struggle.— William Delaney
Holmes has the theory that someone must have entered the bedroom through the window. He may think that Dr. Roylott was behind the intrusion but that he hired someone else, probably a gypsy, to do the actual murder--however it was accomplished. It is noteworthy that Helen Stoner tells Holmes at the initial interview that Roylott was not merely tolerant of the gipsies but spent a great deal of time visiting them and traveling around with them. Her actual words were: > "He had no friends at all save the wandering gipsies, and he would give these vagabonds leave to encamp upon the few acres of bramble-covered land which represent the family estate, and would accept in return the hospitality of their tents, wandering away with them sometimes for weeks on end." Doyle takes pains to establish that the gipsies are present on the property. The author wanted to suggest some alternative explanations to what the reader might otherwise guess had happened. Roylott is a doctor. He knows a lot about Indian drugs. He could have poisoned Helen before she went to her bedroom and the poison, which was undetectable, did not take effect for some hours. In police terminology, Doyle is creating some confusion as to whether Helen's murder was an "inside job" or an "outside job." There is a third alternative, too, which is that it wasn't a murder at all but a death from a heart attack. Helen offered Holmes yet another alternative when he questioned her at Baker Street: > “It is my belief that she died of pure fear and nervous shock, though what it was that frightened her I cannot imagine.” Doyle makes Dr. Roylott seem like a monster, and a monster with a strong motive to murder both his stepdaughters, but the author wants to keep the reader guessing right up to the point where Holmes lights the candle and reveals the poisonous snake.— William Delaney
Obviously the driver, a young boy, is not the same person who drove Holmes and Watson to Stoke Moran earlier. This is specified by the author to show that it is highly unlikely that Roylott has heard anything about two men from London visiting his home that day. He will go ahead with his plan to send the snake into Helen's room that night after he is sure she is fast asleep. Roylott's verbal abuse of the poor boy gives further evidence of his savage character.— William Delaney
This information is inserted to explain why there are only three bedrooms available in such an enormous mansion. All the bedrooms are on the ground floor with windows opening on the front lawn, and the three rooms are situated side by side. The setting is essential to the plot because it explains how Julia was killed and how Roylott attempted to kill Helen.— William Delaney
The snake's "temper" was roused for two reasons. One was that it was seeking the warm body in the warm bed. Instead the bed was cold and it was severely beaten with a cane.— William Delaney
This quotation from the Old Testament is the thesis or "message" of "The Adventure of the Speckled Band."— William Delaney
The tasseled end of the bell-rope, or bell-pull, is lying on the pillow to make it inevitable that the snake will crawl directly onto the bed. It will stay on the bed next to the sleeping occupant because of the warmth provided by her body, and it is likely to crawl under the covers beside her seeking more warmth, since it is a cold-blooded reptile and comes from the hot climate of India.— William Delaney
Holmes wants the driver to think that he and Watson are architects involved with the work being done on Stoke Moran. This should help to keep gossip from spreading in the village concerning two visitors from London. Holmes is probably mainly concerned about word getting back to Dr. Roylott that two strangers were visiting his home that day. The same man who is driving Holmes and Watson might be driving Roylott home from the railroad station later, but Roylott is so thoroughly hated and feared that the driver is unlikely to do much talking to him. For the storyteller, Arthur Conan Doyle, it is especially important that Roylott should know nothing about the visit, because Holmes and Watson will be hiding in the bedroom right next door to his. In fact, Doyle probably invented the remodeling work in order to provide Holmes with a plausible lie that he and Watson were architects, or perhaps were employers of the construction crew. Holmes tells Watson: > "I thought it as well that this fellow should think we had come here as architects, or on some definite business. It may stop his gossip."— William Delaney
It was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's intention to give "zest" to the investigation. This was the author's main purpose for introducing Dr. Roylott at this point in the story. It is titled "The Adventure of the Speckled Band." There has to be some element of adventure in the investigation, and this is supplied by the threat that Dr. Roylott might appear at any moment while Holmes and Watson are examining his house. We can imagine this violent man's reaction if he caught them in the act of examining his own bedroom! If Roylott was good at tracing his stepdaughter's trip to consult Holmes, he could be astute enough to lay in wait for him and Watson somewhere near Stoke Moran--or even inside that large portion of the building that is never used. Since "a man's home is his castle," Roylott could appear with a rifle or shotgun. He told Helen he would be in London for most of the day, but that could have been part of his nefarious scheme. He would be likely to think that Holmes would show up at Stoke Moran quite soon if he were going to come at all. The reader, of course, identifies with Holmes and Watson and feels the same danger to which they are exposing themselves. The snake does not present much danger to them at any time, nor do the cheetah and the baboon. So Roylott has to represent the suspect, the danger, the zest, and the adventure.— William Delaney
The reader must imagine much of the snake's behavior because the truly horrific details are not explained. The snake is a cold-blooded reptile and comes from the warm climate of India. When it crawled through the ventilator and down the bell-pull, it would not seek a way to escape into the cold outdoors in the wintertime. Instead, as Dr. Roylott expected, it would remain on the bed and probably crawl under the covers with the sleeping Julia, curling up right next to her warm body. If she touched it inadvertently in her sleep or even rolled over on top of it, the snake would bite her through her nightgown and kill her almost instantly. Julia must have had this loathsome snake sleeping with her for at least three nights before it finally struck. Helen has probably had it beside her for only one night so far. Doyle offers further evidence that the snake would remain indoors and seek out the warmth afforded by a human body where he has Helen describe the turbulent weather conditions on the night of Julia's death: > "The wind was howling outside, and the rain was beating and splashing against the windows." The rain splashing against the windows would certainly discourage the snake from attempting to escape from Dr. Roylott.— William Delaney
The Leatherhead station was quite close to London. There would be many trains going to London in the morning and early afternoon but few returning with commuters until the workday ended.— William Delaney
Roylott could conceivably try to force Helen to tell him why she went to see Sherlock Holmes, but Roylott would be risking showing his worry and guilt. Holmes is here suggesting that Roylott will say nothing to Helen in the hope that he has frightened Holmes into backing away from his affairs, in which case Helen might not learn that her stepfather followed her to Baker Street. In any case, Dr. Roylott does not have to bring the subject up immediately. He can adopt a wait-and-see policy and confront Helen at any time if he chooses. She doesn't really suspect Roylott of murdering her sister or of trying to murder her. She thinks it has something to do with outsiders, probably connected with "those gipsies." When Holmes says, "He must guard himself, for he may find that there is someone more cunning than himself upon his track," he is implying that Roylott now knows that Helen has a powerful contact who has connections with Scotland Yard and that she could go back to Holmes again if her stepfather mistreated her. He wants to kill her, but he doesn't want to be suspected of any involvement with her death.— William Delaney
Doyle has Dr. Roylott show that he knows a lot about Sherlock Holmes in order to explain why, when Roylott traced his stepdaughter's movements to 221B Baker Street, he knew that Helen had come to the residence of the famous detective. And Roylott assumed that her visit must be connected to his murder of Helen's sister Julia two years earlier. Roylott probably does not think that Helen wants personal help, since he has only sent his snake through the ventilator after her on one night thus far, and she was obviously unaware of its presence in her bed because she was not attacked and did not scream. When Roylott calls Holmes "the Scotland Yard jack-in-office," he is both being insulting and inadvertently revealing his fear that Holmes might get the police to reopen the investigation into Julia's mysterious death. Scotland Yard was not involved in the local matter when it happened. They could be a much more potent force to reckon with, along with Sherlock Holmes himself. The mere fact that Dr. Roylott has followed Helen to Baker Street shows that he is not only angry and suspicious but frightened--and Holmes knows it! He cannot attack Holmes physically, especially with Dr. Watson present as a witness. Roylott would go to jail, and in the meantime his snake would die of starvation and Helen would get married.— William Delaney
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle refers to the cold weather several times in this story. This is to account for the behavior of Dr. Roylott's snake. It is a tropical reptile and would seek warmth when it entered the bedroom where Helen was sleeping. Rather than trying to find a way to escape from confinement, it would curl up beside the warm human body and very likely crawl under the girl's blankets to be even closer and warmer. It is significant that it was wintertime, right around Christmas, and even colder, when Julia became engaged two years before. She would have the loathsome snake in bed with her for at least several nights before it struck. What Dr. Roylott evidently expected was that eventually Julia would turn over in her sleep and cover the snake with her entire body, provoking it to kill her by biting through her nightgown. When Holmes tells Roylott, "It is a little cold for the time of the year," this is because it is early April when Helen pays her urgent visit, but the nights would still be cold enough for the cold-blooded snake to seek warmth when it crawled through the ventilator, down the bell-pull, and onto--or into--the warm bed where Helen lay asleep.— William Delaney
Grimesby Roylott is an unusual name. The author has deliberately chosen such an odd name for this hateful character in order to avoid choosing a name that might belong to a real person. If there were a real Grimesby Roylott living in Great Britain, there certainly couldn't have been one of Stoke Moran because the place did not exist. The name Grimesby seems to suit this sinister character well.— William Delaney
Dr. Roylott puts on a great show of ferocity, but actually he is frightened--and Holmes knows it. Roylott is very vulnerable in more than one way. Holmes might not only prevent him from murdering Helen but the astute detective might even be able to find out how he murdered Julia. At worst, Roylott could be hanged. Even if that didn't happen, he could be financially ruined if Helen married Percy Armitage and claimed one third of the capital he is holding. He is heavily in debt, the capital has been shrinking because of the fall in agricultural prices, and the old house is heavily mortgaged. He probably has other debts besides the mortgage. He must realize that he has plenty of incriminating evidence in his bedroom, including the poisonous snake locked in his safe. He can't get rid of that evidence as long as he has to keep trying to kill Helen. He knows he is taking a great risk trying to kill her after she has sought the aid of Sherlock Holmes, who, as Roylott says, has close contacts with Scotland Yard. And he also must realize that he has a terrible reputation in the neighborhood as well as a criminal record both in India and in England. No doubt Holmes could find out a great deal more about this man if he took the trouble to investigate.— William Delaney
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle specifies here and at the beginning of the story that the weather is quite cold. When he first meets Helen Stoner at Baker Street he invites her to sit close to the fire and says he will order her a cup of hot coffee. It is very early in spring the nights are cold. This will make it easy for the reader to understand why the snake behaves as it does. Only a snake would serve Dr. Roylott's purpose. It crawled through the ventilator and down the bell-pull onto Julia's bed. Being a cold-blooded reptile, it was naturally attracted to her warm bed and warm body. It might have actually crawled under the heavy covers and nestled beside her night after night until Roylott summoned it back with his whistle. The snake was not likely to bite her unless she did something to alarm it. Roylott knew that sooner or later she would turn over in her sleep and might turn on top of the deadly snake. It could have bitten her practically anywhere and not necessarily on her upper body. The snake came from a tropical climate. In cold weather in would be more likely to seek warmth than to crawl around the girl's room looking for a way to escape. The snake must have spent at least one night in bed with Helen Stoner as well. It had probably become quite accustomed to spending part of each night with a warm human being. The horror of this happening while the girls were unconscious makes Dr. Roylott seem even more fiendish and more deserving of the poetic justice meted out to him by his own poisonous pet.— William Delaney
In retrospect Helen will realize that her sister had a horrible poisonous snake in bed with her for several nights. It must have crawled down the dummy bell-rope and onto her bed several hours before it was recalled by Dr. Roylott's whistle about three in the morning. The snake might have curled up close to the sleeping girl or even crawled under the covers for warmth. Helen would also have realized that the same loathsome snake must have been in her own bed just last night. It was the whistle that frightened her so badly that she has come to see Sherlock Holmes the first thing this morning.— William Delaney
Roylott was a doctor himself. He must have sent for medical aid because he wanted a doctor to be able to testify that there was no apparent wound or injection to cause Julia's death. However, at this point it is not established that Roylott was in any way responsible for her death.— William Delaney
Evidently Julia was trying to indicate that the "speckled band" had come from Dr. Roylott's room and that he was responsible for her dying condition.— William Delaney
Victorian women wore long billowing dresses that covered them all the way to their shoes. Helen would appear to "glide" if Watson could not see her feet moving.— William Delaney
This establishes that there is an inn very close to Roylott's big house. Holmes and Watson will be able to stay there and watch Helen Stoner's bedroom window for the light she plans to place there that night in accordance with Holmes' instructions.— William Delaney
Here begins an extremely long back story which takes up many pages. Holmes will occasionally interject comments and questions to remind the reader that this is an interview. The back story does not end until Helen concludes by telling Holmes: "I slipped down, got a dog-cart at the Crown Inn, which is opposite, and drove to Leatherhead, from whence I have come on this morning with the one object of seeing you and asking your advice.”— William Delaney
Helen has to refer to her fiance because her problem has arisen from the fact that she is engaged to be married. However, she says that her fiance, Percy Armitage, "looks upon all that I tell him about it as the fancies of a nervous woman."— William Delaney
No explanation is given by Watson or Helen Stoner of why she is wearing mourning when her sister has been dead for two years. It might be that a young Victorian woman would feel uncomfortable traveling unescorted at such an early hour and that she chose to wear the mourning dress which she still had because it would discourage any stranger from making unwelcome advances. On the other hand, she might be wearing black because it gave her an excuse to wear a heavy black veil. She would not have to worry about concealing her identity in London, but she might have wanted to avoid being recognized by people in her own neighborhood. Perhaps she thought the veil would protect her from being followed by her stepfather--but she should have taken a cab from Waterloo station to one destination, such as a shop, and then switched to another cab to get to Baker Street.— William Delaney
Doyle is whetting the reader's interest by implying that this story must "tend towards the unusual, and even the fantastic."— William Delaney
Why should Helen be screening her stepfather? She may be afraid of him, but she obviously does not believe that he was responsible for her sister's death. Roylott is such a glaring suspect throughout this story that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is trying to preserve some mystery by offering various alternatives. Holmes himself is put off the scent by the words "the speckled band" and Helen's description of the gipsies. He tells Watson at the end that he had come to "an entirely different conclusion" because of the gipsies and the word "band," which he took to mean a band of gipsies who might have been trying to break into the big house. This was in line with Doyle's intentions. The reader certainly suspects Dr. Roylott of being the villain but has to keep reading in order to find out for sure. The reader also wants to know the "how" as well as the "who." It is the insidious means employed by Roylott to murder his stepdaughters that constitutes the unique character of "The Adventure of the Speckled Band." The "whodunit" element is not as important as how it was done. This is an example of what is called a "locked-room murder mystery."— William Delaney
What makes "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" especially creepy is the thought that a young woman could have a poisonous snake in bed with her every night while she was sound asleep. She might remain unharmed by this hideous creature as long as she remained motionless. But if she were to turn over in her sleep she could get bitten and die a horrible death. The snake would probably remain beside her for warmth until recalled up the rope and through the ventilator by the whistle.— William Delaney
Dr. Roylott says twice that he has traced her to Baker Street. It is a little improbable that he could have done it so quickly, but Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had to show a meeting between Roylott and Holmes, and the best time and place to stage it was right after Helen leaves and in Holmes' sitting room. In other words, Doyle brought Roylott all the way to London just for the purpose of dramatizing a fiery meeting between the two opponents. Holmes could not have encountered Roylott at Stoke Moran because that would have alerted Roylott that he was being investigated and probably would have made him decide not to try to kill Helen, at least for a little while. She is to be married fairly soon, but he should be able to wait a week or two at least. She told Holmes she was to be married "in the course of the spring." It is now early April and spring lasts until June 21st.— William Delaney
Dr. Roylott would have known that Helen took the train from the Leatherhead station to London. He would have gone to London by train himself and asked questions among the cabbies who would be waiting at the station to pick up arriving passengers. Since Helen came early in the morning and may have been the only unaccompanied female, it would be easy enough for Roylott to find the cabbie who took her to see Sherlock Holmes. Holmes tells Watson that he hopes Helen won't suffer from her "imprudence" in allowing her stepfather to trace her to Baker Street. What Holmes implies is that Helen should have switched cabs en route. Roylott says twice that he traced her to this address, but how did he know this was the residence of Sherlock Holmes? Roylott seems to know a lot about Holmes, whom he calls "Holmes, the meddler," "Holmes, the busybody," and "Holmes, the Scotland Yard jack-in-office." A jack-in-office is a self-important petty official, a man whose authority is derived from those above him. He is implying that Holmes is only successful as a consulting detective because he works for the police. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has to show that Roylott knows a lot about Sherlock Holmes in order to explain why Roylott would know, when he traced his stepdaughter to 221B Baker Street, that she had come to that address to consult Sherlock Holmes.— William Delaney
Dr. Roylott had to be presented in person at least once, since he is such an important character. The fact that he was able to trace his stepdaughter to Baker Street so quickly proves that he is very intelligent as well as physically powerful and aggressive. Although this is his only confrontation with Sherlock Holmes, his wicked and dangerous personality will haunt the story until he dies in agony with the speckled band wrapped around his head.— William Delaney
It is "probable" but not certain that the dangerous Dr. Roylott will be "away all day." The inspection of the rooms at Stoke Moran is made dramatic by the possibility that the owner might return and catch Holmes and Watson invading his domain. There would surely be a serious confrontation. Holmes will ask Watson to bring his revolver on the trip, but Roylott might own many guns himself.— William Delaney
Earlier in the story Sherlock Holmes leaned forward and patted Helen sympathetically on the forearm. He obviously noticed that she was trying to conceal something with the sleeve of her dress, and he wanted to get a close look. She is being somewhat protective of her stepfather, as also shown by the effort she made to help him when he got in trouble with the law for throwing the local blacksmith off the bridge. Doyle goes to considerable pains to make Dr. Roylott seem like an exceptionally powerful and dangerous man in order to enhance the dramatic element of the story. It is, after all, a conflict between Holmes and Roylott. When Holmes and Watson go to inspect Stoke Moran, there is a mood of imminent danger. If Dr. Roylott were to return and find them in his house he might go so far as to try to kill both of them with a rifle or shotgun. He might even feel legally justified in doing so on the principle that "A man's home is his castle." There is also some danger haunting the visit from the lurking presence of a cheetah and a baboon. Doyle used the word "Adventure" in the titles of many Sherlock Holmes stories. He did not want his detective-hero to be perceived as a man who did nothing but sit in an armchair smoking a pipe. The reader was well aware that Holmes was a thinker, but Doyle wanted the reader to realize that Holmes was also a man of action. Fans of the Sherlock Holmes stories and novels are frequently described as "armchair detectives."— William Delaney
Doyle uses these gipsies to keep it from being too obvious that Dr. Roylott is responsible for Julia Stoner's death and might be plotting to murder Helen too. However, it does not seem that the gipsies would have any motive for killing either of the young women.— William Delaney
This is unusual behavior for Sherlock Holmes, who shuns displays of emotion. He is probably doing it because he wants to look at her forearm. Later he will reveal that he has seen the marks Dr. Roylott made on her wrist by gripping it too hard.— William Delaney
Evidently women in Victorian times did not usually dye their hair, either because it was considered improper or because such dyes were not as readily available and as easy to use as they are today.— William Delaney
This part of Helen Stoner's description of the incident with the local blacksmith is intended to show that she has a little money of her own and didn't have to ask her stepfather for money when she wanted to come to London to see Sherlock Holmes. If she were obviously in a nervous and frightened state and asked him for money, he would have guessed that she wanted to go somewhere to ask for help or advice, and he might have refused to let her go. He is, after all, a doctor and would be hard to deceive. Even so, he was suspicious and managed to trace her to 221B Baker Street that same morning.— William Delaney
This passage does several things at once. It shows that Helen Stoner is engaged but that her fiance, whose name is Percy Armitage, is unable and unwilling to help her; it thereby explains why she has come all the way to London to seek help from the famous Sherlock Holmes. And the fact that she is engaged to be married is Dr. Roylott's motive for intending to kill her, although neither she nor Holmes is aware of this during their initial interview. The reader is being given several important clues to the solution of the problem. It was, of course, Julia's engagement that led to her death two years earlier.— William Delaney
Doyle wanted even Sherlock Holmes to have an erroneous theory about the case so that the reader would remain in the dark until the true facts were revealed. Holmes explains to Watson that it was the discovery of the dummy bell-rope, the ventilator, and the fact that the bed had been fastened to the floor that made him change his theory. He says, "The idea of a snake instantly occurred to me..." But does it occur to the reader? And if so, at what point in the narrative?— William Delaney
Prison is a hardening and embittering experience for anyone. It is also a place where it is necessary to associate with some of the worst types of humanity, from whom it is possible to learn new kinds of criminality and to pick up antisocial ideas. Roylott might not have thought of murdering Julia Stoner or her sister Helen if he had not spent a long time in prison in India. After all, he was a doctor and must have started out with the idea of being of service to humanity.— William Delaney
Holmes himself seems to be thinking that the gipsies must have been involved in Julia's death and that one of them is making the whistling sound in the early morning. Doyle is trying to maintain the mystery until Holmes arrives at Stoke Moran and is able to examine both Helen's and Dr. Roylott's bedrooms in person. By that point the reader should suspect that Roylott keeps something in the safe which he sends through the ventilator and controls with a whistle; but the reader is thoroughly hooked and will continue reading to see whether his suspicions are correct and what happens to Dr. Roylott. Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories have always appealed to so-called "armchair detectives."— William Delaney
Holmes does not quote the "very peculiar words" about the speckled band because the author wants the reader to suspect the gipsies of Julia's death, whereas a "speckled band" might suggest a poisonous snake.— William Delaney
Doyle has to send his character Helen Stoner back to Stoke Moran since she has nowhere else to go. She has already served her purpose in giving the detective all the necessary background information and showing that she is in extreme danger. After this the focus will be on Holme and Watson, except for the intrusion by Dr. Roylott himself, which is necessary to introduce him as a real participant and not exclusively by hearsay. Roylott is actually the protagonist, since none of this would have happened without his motivation and machinations. He contributes dramatic suspense but does not appear again until his death scene when he is bitten by his own poisonous snake.— William Delaney
This explains why Helen Stoner has come to see Sherlock Holmes now. Her sister died two years ago. There is no question of investigating her sister's death but of saving Helen from the same fate.— William Delaney
This is the most important fact in the story. It makes it a "locked-room murder mystery." How could a person be killed when there was apparently no possible way for the killer to gain entrance to the room? This is the main problem in the prototype of all locked-room murder mysteries, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," by Edgar Allan Poe.— William Delaney
Helen Stoner could hardly have been making herself more plain. This is another break in her long exposition which is arranged in an orderly fashion and spoken in flawless English. The reader is going to have a hard time remembering all the details.— William Delaney
Another of many interjections into a long passage of exposition by Helen Stoner. It is intended to remind the reader that Holmes is listening intently and taking note of all the details. Watson, of course, is also listening intently.— William Delaney
These interjections by Holmes are used to break up a long exposition by Helen Stoner and to keep reminding the reader that this is all supposed to be a dialogue.— William Delaney
Dr. Roylott adds an element of danger to what would otherwise only be a puzzle, since Holmes is not being asked to investigate Julia's death and no threat has been made against Helen.— William Delaney
A blacksmith would be a powerful man because of the type of work he did. The mention of the man's occupation makes Dr. Roylott seem all the more formidable.— William Delaney
Leatherhead is a small town not far from London. It had a big railway station for many years.— William Delaney
Most heating was supplied by fireplaces. The fires were fueled by coal. The air in London was often very bad because of all the burning coal.— William Delaney
In these Victorian times both Holmes and Watson take care to be fully dressed before meeting with a young lady caller. The meeting takes place downstairs and not inside the men's rooms. Mrs. Hudson is in attendance as a sort of chaperone.— William Delaney
Watson usually gets involved in Holmes' cases out of curiosity. In fact, Watson represents the reader, who is following the adventure for the same reason as Watson. Holmes leads a fascinating life, and both Watson and his readers would like to share in that life because their own lives are dull.— William Delaney
This is part of the build-up of suspense. The visitor's problem is serious and urgent.— William Delaney
Arthur Conan Doyle has Dr. Watson set "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" back in the time when he was still sharing rooms in Baker Street with Sherlock Holmes mainly because the author needed to explain why Watson would be there when Helen Stoner called at such an early hour of the morning. Watson would never call on Holmes so early because, as he says, "...he was a late riser, as a rule..." Since Doyle has established that this story took place in the early days of their relationship, he can have Watson go on to explain that he has refrained from writing about it until now because he had made a promise of secrecy to Helen Stoner, from which promise he has lately been freed by her untimely death. Doyle, as Watson, can also hint that the story is sensational because it has created widespread rumors about the death of Dr. Grimesby Roylott "which tend to make the matter even more terrible than the truth." This is a good introduction to a mystery story. The reader is hooked from the start. How did he die? What is the terrible truth? Watson also gives the old story contemporaneity, timeliness, news value, which editors of newspapers and magazines want. What are the rumors about Dr. Roylott? Why has Watson had to keep silent for ten years?— William Delaney
Dr. Roylott must be very intelligent to be able to trace his stepdaughter to Baker Street in such a short time, especially in a big city like London. Helen left Stoke Moran before six a.m. and caught the train to Waterloo station around six-twenty; and Watson says that when Holmes woke him up "the clock on the mantelpiece showed me that it was only a quarter-past seven." Dr. Roylott did not follow Helen but "traced" her. The fact that there is a clock on the mantelpiece in Watson's bedroom indicates that each room was heated by a fireplace.— William Delaney
The whole mystery turns on the problem of how Helen's sister could have been killed when she was "undoubtedly alone when she met her mysterious end." It seems fairly obvious that the violent and headstrong Dr. Roylott was responsible and that his motive was money.— William Delaney
Arthur Conan Doyle ended up writing fifty-six Sherlock Holmes stories. He felt he had to seek variety in settings, crimes, and characters in order to avoid having his stories become stereotyped. This led the author to invent situations in which Holmes became involved with people who were unable to pay him his usual fee as a private detective. Doyle occasionally has either Holmes or Watson explain that Holmes is more interested in solving problems and aiding in the preservation of law and order than in making money. Holmes sometimes works for wealthy and aristocratic clients and receives large rewards, but Doyle did not want this to become a familiar pattern. Because it has become generally known to the English public that Holmes assists anyone who is in need of his services, he frequently receives callers who are not typical of the kind of people who employ private detectives. Holmes is always the protagonist, and as such he must have a strong motivation for pursuing an investigation and sometimes risking his life. In "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" his motive is sympathy for a young woman who is terrified because her life is apparently in danger. Doyle's description of Helen Stoner's distress and a bit later his description of the intrusion of the terrible Dr. Roylott are sufficient to make the reader identify with Holmes' motivation to help the girl. Motivation is fundamental to the plotting of any short story.— William Delaney
A trap was a light two-wheeled carriage with springs meant for traveling short distances. The railway system in England was excellent in those days, but getting from a station to a final local destination could be a hit-and-miss proposition. Sometimes Holmes and Watson would have a driver sent to pick them up. Sometimes they would hire a man to drive them to wherever they were going and then leave them to find their own way back. They might even walk or hire horses at the livery stable and go on horseback. Helen rode to the station in a dog-cart, another kind of two-wheeled carriage, but did not say how she hired it in the days before telephones. It might have been that the dog-cart belonged to Stoke Moran and a servant drove her to the station and was told when to pick her up when she returned on the twelve-o'clock train. Sherlock Holmes frequently travels to outlying districts and seems to know all the train lines and even some of the timetables.— William Delaney
This spells out exactly what is at stake for Dr. Roylott. He would have been reduced to an income of only 250 pounds per year if both girls married, and he could not have maintained that big, heavily mortgaged house. He obviously had a strong motive for murdering Julia and for attempting to murder Helen when she became engaged.— William Delaney
This story is an example of what is commonly called a "locked-room murder mystery." The biggest question the detective must answer is: How could the victim have been murdered when he or she was locked inside a room? The prototype for all "locked-room murder mysteries" is Edgar Allan Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue." In that case two women were murdered in a room in which all doors and windows were thought to be securely locked. Arthur Conan Doyle freely acknowledged his indebtedness to the American literary genius for the creation of his Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.— William Delaney
That was a very good annual income in Victorian times. If it was obtained from a secure interest rate of three percent, the capital sum would have been approximately 34,000 pounds, equivalent to approximately $170,000 American dollars and worth ten or twenty times that much in contemporary buying power. Helen Stoner does not say what "annual sum" was to be paid to the girls if and when they married, but she does say that the big house at Stoke Moran "is itself crushed under a heavy mortgage"; so it would be hard for Dr. Roylott to part with a share of the thousand-pounds annual income. Later on in the story Holmes ascertains that each girl is to receive one-third of the annual income but that the principal has shrunk in value, so Helen would receive 250 pounds per year and her sister would have received approximately the same amount if she had lived. Roylott would be desperate if he had to live on the remaining 250 pounds a year, since the big house is heavily mortgaged and so badly in need of repairs that it would be impossible to sell it.— William Delaney
This is an indication of Dr. Roylott's vicious temper, which will be dramatically demonstrated when he appears at Baker Street in person.— William Delaney
This substantiates what Watson says about Holmes in the opening sentence of the story: "... for, working as he did rather for the love of his art than for the acquirement of wealth, he refused to associate himself with any investigation which did not tend towards the unusual, and even the fantastic." If Holmes had only worked for a fixed fee, it would have prevented Doyle from writing some of his most interesting Sherlock Holmes stories, including, for example, "The Red-Headed League," in which his client Jabez Wilson came to him hoping the great detective would assist him in a trivial matter for nothing, or "The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist," in which Holmes helps another young lady in distress. Doyle had to explain that Holmes occasionally received very large rewards for his services and was therefore free to pick and choose the cases he accepted.— William Delaney
It requires a lot of explanation before Holmes and Watson ever meet their visitor, but Doyle's readers would have wanted to be assured that the meeting was conducted with the fullest Victorian propriety. The Victorian era was a period of extreme propriety and inhibition. It was unusual for a young lady to call upon a gentleman at his residence. She did not apply to Sherlock Holmes directly but to his landlady Mrs. Hudson. Holmes did not present himself to her immediately. He had to be fully dressed. Meaning that he was wearing his suit with a vest, shirt, and necktie, and he asked Watson to dress before he joined him. Watson explains that after Holmes woke him in his bed: "I rapidly threw on my clothes and was ready in a few minutes to accompany my friend down to the sitting-room." So both Holmes and Watson were fully dressed before they ever encountered Helen Stoner, and Holmes was never alone with her for a moment. The "sitting-room" must not be the big room in the flat that Holmes and Watson share but a room on the ground floor, since Watson says he accompanied his friend **down** to the sitting room. Not only was Watson present during the meeting, but Mrs. Hudson was in attendance nearby.— William Delaney
Holmes is showing off. He knows how she traveled because of the state of her clothes and the ticket stub. He deduces from observing, in order to know what kind of situation he is in.— Trinity Tracy
Scotland Yard Jack-in-office – an insulting comment linking Holmes with incompetent policemen; notice his reaction to the insult a bit later.— Owl Eyes Reader
imprudence – foolishness; a lack of wisdom Holmes seems to be suggesting that Helen should have been more cautious and not taken a cab directly from the train station to Baker Street. Instead she should have switched cabs somewhere along the line. But Helen is naive, innocent, unworldly, and inexperienced. She is an easy victim for her wicked stepfather.— Owl Eyes Reader
Waterloo – a station on the London Underground; also, the place where the English defeated Napoleon's army in 1815.— Owl Eyes Reader
Palmer and Pritchard – Dr. William Palmer and Dr. Edward Pritchard, two actual English murderers, who poisoned their victims— Owl Eyes Reader