Plot Summary of the Adventure of the Speckled Band

Updated on March 22, 2018
Colin Quartermain profile image

Colin has been reading as long as he can remember, and the works of Conan Doyle were some of the early works that kept him reading.

The Adventure of the Speckled Band is one of the most memorable stories that tell of the cases of Sherlock Holmes. The Adventure of the Speckled Band is arguably the first case to feature an “evil” villain, where Holmes has to best a conniving, mad murderer.

Publication

The Adventure of the Speckled Band was written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for the February 1892 edition of the Strand Magazine. The previous month The Man with the Twisted Lip had been published, and so The Adventure of the Speckled Band is the eighth published of the original 56 short Sherlock Holmes stories.

Later on in 1892, The Adventure of the Speckled Band was republished as part of the compilation work, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

Holmes, in 1927, would list his 12 favourite Sherlock Holmes stories, and in that list, The Adventure of the Speckled Band was first named.

A Short Review

The Adventure of the Speckled Band is one of the darker Sherlock Holmes stories dealing with murder by unusual means.

The story is written as if it was one of the earliest cases undertaken by Holmes and Watson as a duo, with the case being brought to the consulting detective by a scared young lady, Helen Stoner.

Helen Stoner’s sister had died in mysterious circumstances, and ultimately this death proved to be one of the earliest examples in crime fiction, of a “Locked Room” mystery. Subsequently, this type of problem was taken up by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in The Adventure of the Empty House and The Adventure of the Crooked Man; and, of course, ever since the time of Conan Doyle, crime writers have made use the locked room problem.

The Adventure of the Speckled Band is of course memorable because of the murder, but it is also praised, amongst fans of Sherlock Holmes, for highlighting all of the best characteristics of the detective. In the story Holmes shows a real concern for his client, overlooking the lack of payment for services, as wells as concern for the wellbeing of Dr Watson. The case also shows the physical strength of Holmes, and of course, his ability to deduce and extrapolate from the evidence presented to him.

As with many of the Sherlock Holmes stories, The Adventure of the Speckled Band was adapted for TV by Granada, with Jeremy Brett starring as Sherlock Holmes; the adaptation being the sixth episode of the first series.

Meeting the Client

Sidney Paget (1860 - 1908) PD-life-70
Sidney Paget (1860 - 1908) PD-life-70 | Source

Spoiler Alert - Plot Summary

The narrative of The Adventure of the Speckled Band starts with Dr Watson looking back at the earliest cases of Sherlock Holmes; with the good doctor explaining that a vow of secrecy had previously prevented him from publishing the case.

The case commences with the arrival of a client at 221B Baker Street at 7:15am. Normally, a client would not have been admitted at this time, but Mrs Hudson had given entrance as the prospective client was a frightened young lady.

The lady in question was Helen Stoner, and it was immediately obvious from her demeanour and appearance, that she was in fear for her life. Before presenting her case though, Miss Stoner makes it clear that she cannot pay Holmes for his services at that time. Holmes quickly brushes aside this minor detail, and ushers Helen Stoner to tell her tale.

Helen Stoner resides at Stoke Moran, with her stepfather, Dr Grimesby Roylott.

The Roylotts are one of England’s oldest families, and Stoke Moran is the family’s ancestral home. Generations of overindulgence had left the Roylotts impoverished, and so Grimesby Roylott, being the last of the family line, had departed years earlier for India, in order to make his own money.

Grimesby Roylott had actually been relatively successful in India, but he had also spent time in prison there, when he had killed his own butler. It was well known that Grimesby Roylott had a short temper.

Whilst in India, Roylott had married Helen Stoner’s mother, who herself was a widower with two children, Helen and her twin sister, Julia. After Helen’s mother dies, Grimesby Roylott returns to England, and Stoke Moran, and brings his two stepdaughters with him.

Grimesby Roylott’s temper does not improve back in England, and it is the main reason why Helen and Julia find Stoke Moran to be an extremely lonely place. There are no visitors, and no servants will agree to work at Stoke Moran. Household chores are undertaken by the two sisters, but the house is slowly decaying.

There are though other reasons that keep people away from Stoke Moran, as Grimesby Roylott has acquired a collection of exotic pets, including a cheetah and a baboon, which roam the grounds of the house. Additionally, Roylott also allows a band of gypsies to camp with the grounds of Stoke Moran.

Despite the isolated existence of the residents, Julia had managed to meet someone and a wedding date is announced. Shortly before she was due to get married, Julia dies in mysterious circumstances. One night she emerged from her locked room, proclaiming that it was the “speckled band”, before collapsing and dying.

Helen Stoner goes on to tell how, in the nights preceding her death, Julia had told her sister of hearing strange whistling noises.

Some suspicion of murder is directed towards Grimesby Roylott, but there is no evidence. Holmes though, does start to uncover a motive, as whilst currently £1000 each year goes to Grimesby Roylott from Helen’s mother’s estate, in the event that the two daughters were to marry, this sum would be reduced, as each sister would receive £250 annuities.

Julia’s death had occurred two years previously, but now Helen was scared, as her own life was mirroring that of her sister. Helen is now engaged to be married, and she is now also sleeping in her sister’s bedroom; Roylott having moved her into it due to building work. Also, like her sister, Helen has started to hear strange whistling noises at night.

Grimesby Roylott

Sidney Paget (1860 - 1908) PD-art-70
Sidney Paget (1860 - 1908) PD-art-70 | Source

Helen Stoner departs from Baker Street with the promise of Holmes to visit Stoke Moran. Before any plans can be made by Holmes and Watson though, Grimesby Roylott forces his way into the detective’s rooms. The angry nature of Roylott is on display, and he threatens Holmes with violence, in order that he should find out what Helen had discussed.

In a show of strength, Roylott bends a fireplace poker, and warns Sherlock Holmes to stay out of his business. The threat of violence and the show of strength do not seem to worry the detective though, and after Dr Roylott departs, Holmes easily bends the poker back straight, so that it can be used again.

Holmes and Watson do make their way down to Stoke Moran, and whilst Grimesby Roylott is absent, undertake an examination of the house.

Holmes quickly discovers that Helen’s new bedroom is secure from outside intrusion, the window being screwed down, making Julia’s death a true “Locked Room” problem. The inside of the bedroom also offer up strange clues; the bed is nailed into position, there is a fake bell-pull, and a strange air duct that leads to Roylott’s room next door.

Holmes and Watson also gain entry to Roylott’s room, and further strange clues are uncovered. A safe, a bowl of milk, and a small leash are all to be found in the room.

All of the clues combined make the solution to the case obvious to Sherlock Holmes, but Helen Stoner and Dr Watson are completely baffled.

Holmes does not reveal the solution, but concocts a plan of action for the forthcoming night. For her own safety, Helen is told to secretly make her old room her bedroom for the night.

When night comes, Holmes and Watson are to be found hidden in the grounds of Stoke Moran, and when Helen signals that the coast is clear, the pair surreptitiously gain entry to the house. Although to gain entry, the pair do have to face the possibility of a dangerous encounter with a cheetah or baboon, as they cross the grounds.

Once in the house though, Holmes and Watson secrete themselves in the now vacated bedroom, and make themselves comfortable.

Two hours pass, and then the peace of the night is shattered as Holmes strikes a match, and then strangely starts beating the fake bell-pull with his cane. Moments later a scream emanates from Dr Roylott’s room, and when Holmes and Watson gain entry to the room, they find Roylott on the floor dead. Around Roylott’s forehead is a speckled band of yellow and brown, a band which is actually an Indian Swamp adder. The snake had been forced back from what had been Julia’s bedroom, by Holmes and his use of the cane.

With Helen dispatched to her aunt’s, Holmes explains to Watson the entire mystery.

The discovery that outside entry to the bedroom was impossible meant that only Grimesby Roylott could have been responsible for Julia’s death. The fact that an air duct connected the two rooms was indicative, that something was passing between the two rooms, and the whistling that had been heard was probably a recall signal. Holmes also deduced the possibility that this something was a snake from the fact that Roylott had spent a great deal of time in India.

So Sherlock Holmes has solved another case, and whilst the detective was responsible for the death of Roylott, Holmes had no regrets as his client was alive and safe from future peril.

Holmes into Action

Sidney Paget (1860 - 1908) PD-life-70
Sidney Paget (1860 - 1908) PD-life-70 | Source

The Adventure of the Speckled Band

  • Date of Events - 1883
  • Client - Helen Stoner
  • Locations - Stoke Moran, Surrey
  • Villain - Grimesby Roylott

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