January 29, 2024

#08-831: The Adventure of the Speckled Band

Holmes strikes at the speckled band (Wikipedia)

Note: British doctor Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote 56 stories about the adventures of Sherlock Homes, and four novels. "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" was his personal favorite.

Get Ready: Have you--or anyone you know--ever kept an exotic pet? If so, what was it? If not, is there one you would like to have?

Helen Stoner lives with her step-father, Dr. Grimesby Roylott of Stoke Moran. It is a small country estate, but Roylott had returned from service in India broke. Helen and her twin sister Julia had an annual income from their late mother adequate to support them and Roylott, but no more.

She is greatly afraid. A correspondent in India had sent Dr. Roylott a baboon and a cheetah that he kept on the estate, but aside from these vanities he is a sullen man, given to fits of anger. The people of the local village fear him.

About two years before, Julia had become engaged. But she had died in mysterious circumstances shortly--less than two weeks--before the wedding.

Julia had slept in the bedroom next to the doctor, and before her death had told Helen that at night she would sometimes hear a low whistle followed by a loud iron CLANG! Helen, whose bedroom was on the far side of Julia's from the doctor's, had not heard it. Julia could also smell the doctor smoking cigars, though there was no door between the rooms.

Then, one night, after bedtime, Helen had heard her sister scream. Helen ran out into the hallway as her sister came out of her room and into the hallway, where--as her sister fell in a fit and died--she heard the low whistle and CLANG! that her sister had described. Julia's last words were, "Oh, my God! Helen! It was the band! The speckled band!"

The county coroner was unable to find the cause of Julia's death, and Helen believed she had died of fright, but of what she did not know.

Now, two years later, Helen is engaged to be married. Work is being done on her room, so she is sleeping in the middle room where her sister had died. And sure enough, last night she heard the low whistle and the CLANG! This caused her to seek out the help of Sherlock Holmes.

He agrees to help, but after she leaves her step-father enters Holmes's rooms and threatens "Holmes, the busybody" to stay out of Roylott's business. Nevertheless, Holmes and his sidekick Watson visit Stoke Moran while Roylott is out and examine the bedroom.

Holmes notices several peculiarities. The bed is bolted to the floor. A rope comes from the ceiling down to the bed pillows, supposedly to be pulled to call the servants. But it is a dummy, attached to no bell. Its top, however, is attached near a ventilator that passes between this bedroom and the doctor's--the source of the cigar smell.

They then examine the doctor's room, where Homes observes a locked iron safe with a bowl of milk on top--but no cat. He also notes that the doctor has been standing on the chair near the ventilator.

Homes arranges secretly to spend the night in the middle room--with Watson--while Helen sleeps in her old room on the end.

During the pitch-dark night the men hear a "hiss" and Holmes quickly lights a candle and starts beating on the bell-pull with his stick. He and Watson rush into the doctor's room where they discover him dead--and a speckled snake wrapped around his forehead.

The doctor had kept a venomous snake in his safe; the whistle was to call it back for the milk, and the CLANG! was the sound of him closing it back in the safe. He had slipped it through the ventilator where it climbed down the rope, night after night until at last it had fatally bitten Julia. But Holmes saves Helen from that fate.

For once the girls had married, they would have lost their income, and the doctor depended on their money.


Practice: Match the term to its definition:

Term Definition
  1. adequate
  2. annual 
  3. bolted
  4. coroner
  5. dummy
  6. forehead
  7. shortly
  8. speckled
  9. step-father
  10. sullen
  1. sour; surly
  2. attached
  3. fake
  4. mother's second husband
  5. good enough
  6. yearly
  7. the area above the eyes
  8. a little while
  9. spotted
  10. medical examiner

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for January 30, 2024

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. e; 2. f; 3. b; 4. j; 5. c; 6. g; 7. h; 8. i; 9. d; 10. a