illustration of Sherlock Holmes in profile looking across a cityscape with a magnifying glass in the distance and a speckled band visible through the glass

The Adventure of the Speckled Band

by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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What examples from "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" illustrate Sherlock Holmes's cleverness?

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One example of Sherlock Holmes' cleverness comes in the careful way he inspects the room at Stoke Moran that Helen sleeps in, which is the same room where her sister died. He notes details that others might overlook, such as the bell rope meant to summon servants but which is not connected to any bell. He also notices an oddly placed ventilation shaft between Roylott's room and Helen's room that doesn't seem to serve any purpose. He observes as well that the bed is attached firmly to the floor. None of these details make sense, but not only does Holmes notice them, he knows they must have meaning and goes searching for answers.

Holmes is also clever in that when gets on the wrong track, he doesn't stay wedded to his erroneous ideas. For instance, as he explains near the end of the story, the presence of the gypsies and the word "band," which he assumed meant the band of gypsies, had him thinking that gypsies were involved in Helen's murder. However, he was clever enough to realize that the gypsies couldn't have committed the crime and to redirect his thinking to what made sense, which was explaining the oddities about the room mentioned above. As he puts it:

The presence of the gipsies, 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 ...

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In "The Adventure of the Speckled Band," Sherlock Holmes illustrates cleverness not only in how he deduces the nature of Roylott's crimes but also in his use of deception and misdirection in the interests of solving the case. When he first arrives at Stoke Moran, for example, and is being driven to the mansion, Holmes misleads the driver into thinking he was there on some business related to the house's repair. In that way, he can maintain a low profile as he goes about solving the case.

More significantly, there is his outmaneuvering of Roylott himself. Recognizing Roylott as the murderer (and having, from his examinations at Stoke Moran, deduced the essential nature of case), he engineers another far grander deception in the interest of catching Roylott mid-murder attempt. Helen would retire to the bedroom, all so that her stepfather would assume she was alone and vulnerable. Then, later that night, she would open the shutters, granting Holmes and Watson access to the bedroom from outside. In that way, they would be armed and waiting when the murder is attempted.

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One expression of Sherlock Holmes' cleverness is that he does not jump to conclusions. He amasses the evidence and then follows plausible combinations of leads.

In this case, one prominent clue was the dying girl's exclamation, "the speckled band." Holmes considered several meanings but did not immediately settle on any one.

Another layer of complication is added by Dr. Roylott being a physician so he is knowledgeable about causes of death, having spent time in India and having numerous eccentricities, such as keeping a pet cheetah. Again, Holmes had to sort through a number of possibilities.

Two things that he put together did not necessarily seem related. One was that the dead sister's body showed no visible signs of the cause of death, and the other, that Roylott basically forced Helen to sleep in her dead sister's room. Once Holmes realizes that the room is the key, he and Watson examine it and sleep there themselves. In that way they discover what the "band" is and solve the mystery.

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