The Adventure of the Speckled Band
Complete story, ready to print -- free -- by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930)
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 bache-
lors 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
plofessional investigations, and in admiring the rapid deductions,
as swift as intuitions, and yet always founded on a logical basis
wlth 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."
"lt 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 gray, 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 gray, and her expression was weary and haggard.
Sherlock Holmes ran her over with one of his quick, all-
"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
"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
case-book, 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
"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
Holmes nodded his head. "The name is familiar to me," said
"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 lOOO pounds 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 policecourt, 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 gypsies,
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
wlthin 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
hls 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
" '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 gypsies in the
" '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
"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
recognized 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
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
"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 gypsies 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
"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 gypsies 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
"These are very deep waters," said he; "pray go on with your
"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
"Miss Roylott, you have not. You are screening your
"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
"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
"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 gypsies 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 gypsies 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 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
"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
"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
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
"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 pounds, is now, through the fall in agricultural prices,
not more than 750 pounds. Each daughter can claim an income of
250 pounds, 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 laries. 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 mto a grove at the highest point. From amid the branches
there jutted out the gray gables and high roof-tree of a very old
"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
"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
The building was of gray, 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 stone-work 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
"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
"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 slde 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 whitecounterpaned 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
sllent, 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 belt-rope which hung down beside the bed,
the tassel actually lying upon the pi]low.
"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 dld 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
"Yes, there were severa} little changes carried out about that
"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 wail, 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
"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
"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. "Hello! 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 if should
"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
"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
"Perhaps I have."
"Then, for pity's sake, tell me what was the cause of my
"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
"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
"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 vise 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's 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
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 gray 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
"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 gypsies, 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."