What does the phrase "Holmes sprang from his bed, struck a match and lashed at it furiously with his cane" imply about Sherlock Holmes? 

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used the words "The Adventure" in many of his Sherlock Holmes stories. Doyle usually saw to it that his hero was not only responsible for the solutions to the mysteries, but that he took the lead in dealing with the adventures. A good example of how Holmes takes the lead in dealing with danger at the end of a story can be seen in the climax of "The Adventure of the Red-Headed League." Although Holmes has brought a Scotland Yard detective to the bank's underground strong-room, and although he has brought his friend Dr. Watson, who is armed with a revolver, it is Sherlock Holmes himself who apprehends the John Clay the dangerous criminal they have been waiting to trap.

Sherlock Holmes had sprung out and seized the intruder by the collar. The other dived down the hole, and I heard the sound of rending cloth as Jones clutched at his skirts. The light flashed upon the barrel of a revolver, but Holmes' hunting crop came down on the man's wrist, and the pistol clinked upon the stone floor.

Watson always describes Holmes as being very quick and agile in his movements when there is occasion for them. Otherwise, Holmes generally appears to be indolent and highly susceptible to ennui. It is characteristic behavior of the great detective to spring into action in "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" when he hears the low whistle and realizes that the so-called "speckled band," a poisonous snake, must be in the pitch-dark room with them. His actions imply that he is quick, decisive, courageous, and that he is willing to face the dangers that result from his investigations.

The fact that he whips the snake furiously with his cane leads to a completely satisfactory ending. The angry snake bites Dr. Roylott when it retreats through the ventilator into his room. With Roylott dead, there is no need to prove anything against him. It would not have been possible to prove that he murdered Julia Stoner two years earlier. And it would have been very hard to prove that he intended to kill Helen Stoner. He could have claimed that the snake got loose and crawled through the ventilator. 

Dr. Roylott's death also resolves the main conflict in the story, which is a battle of wits between Dr. Roylott and Sherlock Holmes. After Helen leaves Baker Street that morning, Roylott bursts into Holmes sitting-room and threatens him.

“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.

Dr. Roylott is not seen again until after his death, but his violent character seems to hang over the remainder of the story like a black cloud. His appearance at Baker Street, where he learns nothing, is intended to establish a dramatic conflict between himself and Sherlock Holmes. Appropriately, Holmes wins by being responsible for Roylott's death.

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.”


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The Adventure of the Speckled Band

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