"The Adventure of the Speckled Band" is a Sherlock Holmes short story by the British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It was first published in the February 1892 issue of the magazine The Strand. It would be republished in October of the same year as the eighth of the twelve stories in the anthology The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. In August 1905, the story was published, under the title "The Speckled Band", in the New York World newspaper.
In the story, a woman named Helen Stoner approaches Sherlock Holmes for help. Following the mysterious death of her twin sister Julia two years earlier, Helen Stoner has become the only person (apart from an old housekeeper) to share the home of her bad tempered stepfather Dr. Grimesby Roylott. Julia died in agony two weeks before she was due to be married. The last words which she spoke to Helen concerned a "speckled band". A few hours before she died, Julia asked her sister if she had ever heard a whistle late at night. Shortly after she gets engaged to be married herself, Helen hears a whistle late at night for the first time. She immediately comes to the conclusion that her life is in danger.
There have been numerous adaptations of "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" to other media, including a stage play written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself.
In a list of the twelve best Sherlock Holmes stories compiled by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for The Strand magazine in 1927, the author named "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" as his favorite. The story was also ranked as number one in a list of the ten best Sherlock Holmes stories which were voted for by readers of The Baker Street Journal in 1959.
The story takes place in April 1883. Dr. John Watson has not yet married and is still living with his friend the detective Sherlock Holmes in Baker Street. Watson explains that he had promised not to write about the case earlier. However, he now feels at liberty to do so because the client who brought it to Holmes' attention has died.
Dr. Watson is awoken shortly after seven o'clock one morning by Holmes. Holmes explains that a client, a young woman, has arrived. The fact that a female client has come to see him so early suggests that the case will be an interesting one and Holmes does not want his friend to miss out on any of its details. The woman who has come to see Holmes is named Helen Stoner. She appears to be about thirty years old but her hair is already turning grey. It is clear that she is very frightened.
Helen Stoner tells Holmes and Watson that she lives with her stepfather Grimesby Roylott in his ancestral home of Stoke Moran in Surrey. The aristocratic Roylotts had once been one of the wealthiest families in England. However, by the time that Grimesby Roylott was born, the family fortune had almost completely gone and he was forced to work for a living. Grimesby Roylott studied medicine and worked as a doctor in India. It was in India that he met and married Helen's mother, a widow with one other child, Helen's twin sister Julia. Mrs. Stoner had an annual income of a thousand pounds. She agreed to give all of the money to Dr. Roylott but with the stipulation that each of her daughters would receive two hundred and fifty pounds a year from that money after they married. The family returned to England, where Mrs. Stoner died.
Dr. Roylott and his stepdaughters took up residence at the Stoke Moran manor house, an old house in a bad state of repair, only part of which being inhabitable. The bedrooms of Dr. Roylott, Julia and Helen were all close together on the ground floor. Dr. Roylott soon became bad tempered and violent. He also maintained a love for Indian animals and kept a pet baboon and cheetah. He had no friends except for the Gypsies who he allowed to camp on his land. Consequently, Julia and Helen had little opportunity to socialize, except when they went to visit their aunt in Harrow. It was during one of their visits to their aunt that Julia got engaged to be married. Grimesby Roylott did not appear to show any objections to the marriage.
One night, about two weeks before she was due to be married, Julia, who was bothered by the smell of strong cigar smoke coming from her stepfather's bedroom, went to see her sister. She asked Helen if she had ever heard a whistle late at night. Helen answered that she had not. Later that night, Julia emerged from her room, obviously in great pain. Before she fell unconscious, Julia said to her sister, "It was the band! The speckled band!" Helen then heard a whistle followed by a metallic clang. Julia never regained consciousness and died soon afterwards. An inquest failed to determine the cause of her death. Both Julia and Helen kept their bedroom doors locked and their windows tightly shut because they were scared of the cheetah and baboon. An examination of the walls and floorboards of Julia's room found them to be solid.
Two years later, Helen becomes engaged to be married herself. Again, Grimesby Roylott has not shown any objections to the marriage. Due to repairs that are being done to her own bedroom, Helen is forced to sleep in the room where Julia died. When Helen hears a whistle late at night for the first time, she is terrified. She leaves for London to see Sherlock Holmes as soon as she gets up the next morning.
When Holmes asks her what she thinks Julia's last words about a "speckled band" refer to, Helen says that she thinks it might be a group of men. It could refer to the Gypsies that Dr. Roylott allows to camp on his land and the spotted handkerchiefs that many of them wear on their heads. Having found out that Grimesby Roylott will be away all day, Sherlock Holmes promises to come to Stoke Moran later that same day and inspect the rooms.
Soon after Helen leaves, Grimesby Roylott, who has followed his stepdaughter, enters Sherlock Holmes' apartment. He demands to know what Helen said. When Holmes evades the question, Grimesby Roylott threatens him, bending an iron poker in half as a display of his strength.
Holmes finds a copy of Helen's mother's will. He finds out that the investments, which were once the source of her annual income of one thousand pounds, are now only worth seven hundred and fifty pounds a year. However, Dr. Roylott is still obliged to pay two hundred and fifty pounds of that money to Helen each year if she marries. If both of Mrs. Stoner's daughters had lived and married, he would have been left with very little.
Watson and Holmes arrive at Stoke Moran and meet up with Helen once more. Together, they inspect Julia's old bedroom and that of Dr. Roylott. Holmes notices that all of the furnishings in Julia's former room are very old, except for a bell-rope and a ventilator. Helen explains that they were both added the year that her sister died. She believes that the bell-rope, which rests on the bed's pillow, is connected to the housekeeper's room but adds that her sister never used it. Holmes finds that the rope is not connected to a bell at all. He also notices that the ventilator does not bring in air from the outside but from Dr. Roylott's bedroom and that the bed cannot be moved because it is bolted to the floor. In Dr. Roylott's room, Holmes notices a wooden chair leaning against a wall and an iron safe. There is a saucer of milk on top of the safe, even though there is no cat in the house.
Having made sure that Julia's old bedroom window can be clearly seen from the nearby village inn, Holmes advises Helen to put up with the repairs being done to her own bedroom and sleep there, instead of in Julia's old room, that night. When Grimesby Roylott goes to bed, she should place a lamp in Julia's bedroom window as a signal. That night, Holmes and Watson watch the manor house from their room in the village inn. They see Grimesby Roylott return home. At eleven o'clock, they see the lamp being placed in the window. They go back to the house, enter Julia's old bedroom through the open window, and wait in complete silence and complete darkness for several hours. Watson has brought his revolver and Holmes has brought a walking stick.
At three o'clock in the morning, Watson hears, "a very gentle soothing sound, like that of a small jet of steam escaping continually from a kettle". The light and smell which come from the ventilator indicate that there is somebody with a lantern behind it. Holmes begins angrily striking at something, which Watson cannot see, with his walking stick. Shortly afterwards, a whistle is heard, followed by a horrible cry. Holmes and Watson enter Dr. Roylott's room. They find him sitting on the wooden chair with what they immediately recognize as the "speckled band", a yellow band with brown speckles, on his head. The band moves and reveals itself to be a snake, identified by Holmes as a swamp adder, "the deadliest snake in India". The poisonous snake has bitten and killed Dr. Roylott.
Holmes later explains that, after he found out about her plans to marry and deprive him of part of his annual income, Dr. Roylott stood on the wooden chair against his bedroom wall and sent the snake into Julia's room each night through the ventilator, certain that it would eventually bite her. The dummy bell rope was for the snake to climb down. Using the saucer of milk as a reward, Dr. Roylott had trained the snake to return when it heard a whistle. The metallic clang which Helen heard on the night that Julia died was the sound of Dr. Roylott hurriedly closing the door of the safe in which he kept the snake. The sound that Watson heard, which reminded him of a kettle, was the snake hissing. When Holmes attacked the snake with his walking stick, it was forced back into Dr. Roylott's room. The angry snake then attacked the first person that it saw. Holmes realizes that he is partially responsible for Dr. Roylott's death but does not feel guilty about it.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle adapted his short story "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" for the stage himself. It was the third stage play that Doyle wrote and the second play about Sherlock Holmes. Doyle's play The Speckled Band opened at London's Adelphi Theatre on June 24, 1910. It starred H.A. Sainsbury as Holmes, Claude King as Watson and Lyn Harding as Grimesby Rylott (as the character of Grimesby Roylott was renamed for the play). The part of the "speckled band" was played by a live boa. The play ran for one hundred and sixty-nine performances at the Adelphi Theatre. It later toured England and was performed in New York. There was a London revival in 1921.
The story was adapted for American radio in 1945, 1947, 1948 and 1977. It was adapted for British radio in 2008.
"The Adventure of the Speckled Band" was adapted as the sixth episode of the Granada TV series Sherlock Holmes, starring Jeremy Brett, which first aired in the United Kingdom on the ITV network on May 29, 1984. Other television adaptations were produced in the United States in 1949, in the United Kingdom in 1964 and in the Soviet Union in 1979.
The story was adapted as the now lost 1912 British-French film Le ruban moucheté/The Speckled Band, as the 1923 British film The Speckled Band and as the 1931 British film The Speckled Band, in which Raymond Massey plays Holmes and Lyn Harding reprises his role of Grimesby Rylott from the 1910 stage play. The plot of the 1944 American film The Spider Woman, which stars Basil Rathbone as Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Watson, is based on elements taken from "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" as well as three other Sherlock Holmes short stories ("The Final Problem", "The Adventure of the Empty House" and "The Adventure of the Devil's Foot") and one novel (The Sign of the Four).
- ↑ The reference to Gypsies turns out to be a red herring. This is also the case in another Sherlock Holmes short story that was first published in 1892, "Silver Blaze".
- ↑ The highly poisonous Indian swamp adder is a completely fictitious animal.
- ↑ The 1910 play The Speckled Band is predated by the 1899 play Sherlock Holmes. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the first draft of Sherlock Holmes but the script was extensively rewritten by the American actor William Gillette before the play was performed.
- ↑ The 1979 Russian-language TV movie Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson: Acquaintance, starring Vasily Livanov as Holmes and Vitaly Solomin as Watson, is an adaptation of "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" and the novel A Study in Scarlet.