The Adventure of the Speckled Band: Plot Summary & Analysis

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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Celeste Bright

Celeste has taught college English for four years and holds a Ph.D. in English Language and Literature.

Have you ever watched a seemingly innocent object turn into something terrifying? We'll learn about the plot of ''The Adventure of the Speckled Band'' and analyze this Arthur Conan Doyle adventure.

''The Adventure of the Speckled Band''

In ''The Adventure of the Speckled Band,'' a terrified lady named Helen Stoner visits Holmes and Watson. She explains that she lives with her stepfather, Dr. Grimesby Roylott, who belongs to an old English family. Roylott became a doctor and opened a practice in Calcutta, India. There, he married a young widow, who brought considerable wealth to the marriage. The couple had twin girls, Helen and Julia, who would receive most of the money when they married. Roylott had a violent temper. Once, angry about some theft from the house, he blamed the butler and beat him to death. After a long prison sentence, Roylott brought his family to London. Soon after, his wife was killed in a railway accident.

Roylott brought his daughters to his family estate at Stoke Moran. He forced them into a reclusive life and attacked the locals. He liked Indian animals, and bought a baboon and a cheetah to live on his property.

Despite all this, Julia eventually became engaged. As the wedding date approached, she began hearing a strange low whistle at 3:00 a.m. One night, Helen heard Julia screaming in her bedroom, then a low whistle and a metallic clang. Julia ran out and died in Helen's arms, shrieking: 'It was the speckled band!' The sisters locked their doors at night, and the windows were heavily shuttered inside, so it was impossible for anyone to have entered Julia's room.

Two years later, Helen became engaged. Roylott began construction on her room, forcing her to stay in Julia's bedroom. Helen began to hear the whistle her sister mentioned just before her death. Terrified, Helen decided to ask Holmes for help.

Holmes arranges to visit Helen at the estate with Watson the same day while Roylott is out. After she leaves, Roylott (who has followed her) bursts in and threatens them if they investigate. Holmes and Watson go anyway. During their investigation of the house, Holmes finds a dummy (non-functional) bell pull and ventilator in Helen's room. A Victorian bell pull, or a vertical rope attached to a bell, was used to summon servants; a ventilator is a vent. The ventilator connects with Roylott's bedroom, and the bed is bolted to the floor so it can't be moved away from the vent. In Roylott's room, they find an iron safe, a dog lash (leash) with a loop at the end, and a saucer of milk. On a hunch, Holmes insists that Helen sleep in her previous bedroom while he and Watson secretly camp out in Julia's.

Holmes and Watson return that night and quietly hide in Julia's room. After 3:00 a.m., they see a light through the ventilator and hear a hissing sound. Holmes strikes a match and attacks the bell pull with his cane. Moments later, there's a yell from Roylott's room, and the two find him dead in a chair with a brown-speckled yellow snake wrapped around his head. Holmes identifies it as a swamp adder, the deadliest poisonous snake in India.

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