In the story "The Adventure of the Speckled Band," why were Holmes and Watson awake at an early hour?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Watson, the narrator of nearly all the Sherlock Holmes stories, tells us that "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" took place at a time in the past when he was still sharing rooms at 221B Baker Street with Holmes.

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.

Holmes himself had been awakened by their landlady Mrs. Hudson because they had an early-morning caller, a young woman wearing heavily-veiled mourning clothing. Being Victorian gentlemen, Holmes and Watson get fully dressed and meet Helen Stoner downstairs in the sitting-room. When the highly agitated Helen Stoner tells them her story, it becomes obvious why Holmes and Watson were awake at such an early hour.

Helen lives with her stepfather Dr. Grimesby Roylott at his crumbling old mansion called Stoke Moran. Her sister Julia died two years ago under very mysterious circumstances. Julia had told Helen about hearing a strange low whistling sound for three nights in a row before the night of her agonizing death. Now Helen is living temporarily in Julia's former bedroom because her stepfather has ordered some repair work on her own bedroom. Last night she heard the same low whistling her sister had told her about, and it terrified her because she naturally connected it with Julia's subsequent death. 

"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.”

The train station at Leatherhead is very close to London. It probably took her less than a half-hour to reach Waterloo Station and another fifteen minutes to get to Baker Street. So it was Helen Stoner's terror that caused her to arrive there so early in the morning. This fact is important to the plot because Holmes has the whole case wrapped up in a single day. He and Watson go down to Stoke Moran that afternoon to inspect Helen's and her stepfather's rooms. They wait in pitch darkness in Helen's bedroom all through the night. There is an ominous silence until around three-thirty in the morning.

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.

Holmes drives the "speckled band," a poisonous snake, back up the bell-pull and through the ventilator, where it bites the fiendish Dr. Roylott and kills him. Holmes not only solves the "locked-room murder mystery" of Julia Stoner's death but saves the life of Helen Stoner, all within less than twenty-four hours.

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The Adventure of the Speckled Band

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