The Adventure of the Speckled Band Questions and Answers

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Read real teacher answers to our most interesting The Adventure of the Speckled Band questions.

How does Sherlock Holmes make money?

One of the things we like best about the Sherlock Holmes stories is being able to identify with the great detective's lifestyle. He does not have to go to work in an office, and he has acquired such a reputation that he never has to worry about money. He can spend most of his time doing whatever pleases him in his comfortable lodgings, where Mrs. Hudson serves his meals in his own living-room and takes care of all the housework. Holmes as a general rule does not even need to call on potential clients. They come to him, even kings, high-level government officials, police detectives, aristocratic ladies and gentlemen--and he may refuse to accept any client if the case fails to interest him. In the case of the "Adventure of the Speckled Band," Holmes involves himself because of its intriguing aspect and his sympathy for Helen Stoner. He doesn't get paid a cent, but that is of no importance to him. If we readers should wonder about how he manages to maintain such an enviable lifestyle of virtual retirement and leisure, we are shown in other Sherlock Holmes stories how he makes a great deal of money; and so we are satisfied that he can live in comfort and security for the rest of his life. In "The Adventure of the Priory School," for example, Holmes receives a check for six thousand pounds from the Duke of Holderness for a few days of work. That would have been equivalent to $30,000 at the time, and over half-a-million American dollars today.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle acknowledged his indebtedness to Edgar Allan Poe's detective stories as the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes. Poe's private detective C. Auguste Dupin is also a gentleman of leisure who occasionally gets involved in a case that interests him. In "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" Dupin solves the case pro bono. He explains to his friend, the narrator of the story:

“As for these murders, let us enter into some examinations for ourselves, before we make up an opinion respecting them. An inquiry will afford us amusement,” (I thought this an odd term, so applied, but said nothing) “and, besides, Le Bon once rendered me a service for which I am not ungrateful. We will go and see the premises with our own eyes. I know G—, the Prefect of Police, and shall have no difficulty in obtaining the necessary permission.”

Dupin is not concerned about money. He is looking for "amusement" and wishes to help a young man wrongfully accused of the gruesome murders. But in "The Purloined Letter" Dupin is told by Monsieur G., the Prefect of the Parisian Police, that a huge reward has been offered for the recovery of the letter:

“Why, a very great deal—a very liberal reward—I don't like to say how much, precisely; but one thing I will say, that I wouldn't mind giving my individual check for fifty thousand francs to any one who could obtain me that letter. 

At the story's conclusion, Dupin collects that share of Monsieur G's reward, which should be sufficient to keep Dupin in comfortable indolence for many years.

In both "The Adventure of the Priory School" and "The Purloined Letter," the intention of the authors seems to be to assure the reader that their detective-heroes are able to maintain an enviable lifestyle without having to hold any kind of regular job. Both have complete freedom from work and freedom from financial worry. We would all like to be like them, and that is one of the reasons we find their stories so interesting that we can read them over and over again, even when we know how they are going to end.

How does Doyle use foreshadowing?

"The Adventure of the Speckled Band" begins with a revealing opening sentence:

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.

Doyle uses Watson to get the reader intrigued in the coming story by suggesting that Sherlock Holmes "refused to associate himself with any investigation which did not tend towards the unusual, and even the fantastic." Naturally the reader assumes that the story Watson is about to narrate will be unusual and possibly even fantastic. Doyle could not say this if he were the narrator himself because it would sound like self-advertising. Watson could not even say it about himself as the putative author of the published work because it might sound boastful. The reader might be skeptical. After all, any author could claim in his opening words that the story he was about to tell was gripping, spellbinding, fantastic, or anything else. But when Watson attributes everything in the story to his friend Sherlock Holmes, who only takes cases that are interesting and challenging, the reader is easily beguiled into assuming that "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" will be interesting because it fits Holmes' specifications.

Doyle often introduces his Sherlock Holmes stories in a similar manner. He has Watson state, in so many words, that the case he is about to describe is not only weird but that it demonstrates Sherlock Holmes' remarkable powers of deduction. In the opening sentence of the story about the Speckled Band, Watson also states that Holmes works for the love of his art and doesn't especially care about money. This will help to explain why Holmes gets involved in so many cases in which there is no possibility of his receiving any remuneration. In "The Red-Headed League," for example, Jabez Wilson comes to Holmes with his petty problem because he has heard that the great detective will often work for nothing if a problem intrigues him. The same is apparently true in "The Adventure of the Speckled Band." Helen Stoner has no money to pay Holmes to help her, since her stepfather has control of all her assets. Holmes takes the case because it interests him and also because he feels some sympathy for the frightened girl.

The word "Adventure" in the title also suggests that there will be something more than mere investigation and deduction. It suggests an element of danger, either to Holmes himself or to his client. In this case the danger threatens both Holmes and his client Helen Stoner in the person of the half-mad Dr. Roylott. So the reader is promised adventure as well as an unusual and possibly fantastic story.

Doyle wrote fifty-six Sherlock Holmes stories. He was continually seeking variety in settings, characters, and crimes in order to avoid becoming formulaic, as could so easily have happened. In "The Adventure of the Scarlet Band" the story begins in London at familiar Baker Street, but all the significant action takes place out in the English countryside, where Holmes and Watson must travel by train and then by dogcart. The character of Dr. Roylott is unusual because of his personality and his specialized knowledge; and his fiendish method of committing his first crime and attempting his second crime is also unusual. The setting is a familiar English country manor, but Doyle has enlivened the place a little by adding a baboon, a cheetah, and a swamp adder, all from India. 

Holmes often goes out into the country, as he does, for example, in the famous story "The Hound of the Baskervilles." In one case a swamp adder does the killing, in the other it is a gigantic hound. It was quite an achievement for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to create fifty-six Sherlock Holmes stories as well as four Sherlock Holmes novels which all seem different in so many ways. 

Who is Dr. Watson?

Dr. Watson is indispensable to the Sherlock Holmes stories. First of all, he is the narrator in almost all of them. The reader sees everything from his point of view. Secondly, he is an active participant in Holmes' cases and adventures. In "The Hound of the Baskervilles" Watson has an even more important role than Sherlock Holmes because Holmes sends him on ahead to Baskerville Hall where he sees the mansion, the moor, and meets all the other characters first.

In addition to being the narrator and the great detective's loyal companion, Watson serves as an interlocutor, a word defined as "a person who takes part in a dialogue or conversation." Through this literary device the reader is able to learn something of what is going on in Holmes' mind. A good example of both Watson as loyal comrade and as interlocutor can be found in "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" when the two men arrive at the Crown Inn near Stoke Moran and are waiting for Helen Stoner to signal them with a lamp in her window.

"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."

[This is where Watson becomes the valuable interlocutor.]

"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."

This conversation continues, with Holmes calling attention to various aspects of the room they both examined earlier. Finally:

"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 crime."

Dr. Watson's three functions as narrator, comrade, and interlocutor are to be found in most of the Sherlock Holmes stories. He is truly indispensable.

How did Julia Stoner die?

Julia Stoner died in agony two years before her twin sister Helen came to London to ask Sherlock Holmes for advice and assistance. We do not learn the cause of Julia’s death until towards the end of the story. The author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, never offers an exact description of how Julia’s death was caused by her wicked stepfather. This was mainly because the notorious prudery of Victorian times prevented the author from depicting a young woman in her nightgown in her bed. Actually her own sister didn't see her until she staggered out into the corridor and died in her arms. But Conan Doyle undoubtedly intended to have the reader imagine exactly what had occurred in that bedroom. What was not told to the reader in so many words was in fact more horrible than anything explicitly described. Here is what must have happened.

For several nights running Dr. Roylott slipped his poisonous snake through the ventilator. It slithered down the dummy bell-rope onto the pillow beside the sleeping girl’s head. Why didn’t it try to escape from its cruel captivity now that it was at least partially free? The snake comes from a tropical climate and the weather is remarkably cold, as the author suggests many times.

"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.”
“It is a little cold for the time of the year,” said Holmes.
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. 

The tropical reptile's natural inclination would be to seek warmth. Dr. Roylott must have known that. On each of the nights the snake crawled down the bell-rope it would not only have remained on the bed, but it would have crawled under the bed-covers and curled up right beside the sleeping Julia. The snake had no reason to attack the girl whose body heat was keeping it warm, but sooner or later, as the murderer knew, the girl would turn over in bed and right on top of the swamp adder. When that happened, the snake would bite her through her nightgown. She would scream, and Roylott would immediately blow his whistle to summon the “speckled band” back up the bell-rope and through the ventilator, where he could capture it and return it to the steel safe.

The reader—and especially the female reader—can imagine how horrible it would be to have a snake as a bed companion. The same thing would have happened to Helen if her sister hadn’t told her about that mysterious whistle. Helen heard it on only one occasion and went to see Sherlock Holmes immediately next morning—but she must have had the swamp adder in bed with her for at least one night.

Why is Sherlock Holmes a late riser?

In the opening of "The Adventure of the Speckled Band," Watson writes:

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.

One of the things that appeals to Sherlock Holmes fans is the enviable lifestyle of the famous detective. When Watson calls him "a late riser" he is just dropping another example of Holmes' independence, comfort, and self-indulgence. By seven-thirty in the morning most of the men in England would have gotten up on a cold, foggy morning and would have been on their way to work in the offices, factories, and warehouses of the great city. But Holmes probably didn't think about getting up much before around 9 A.M. And even then he would put on a robe and stroll out to the living room for a cup of coffee and a smoke while he browsed through the morning papers. The same was true of Dr. Watson when he lived with Holmes at Baker Street. Watson had been wounded in India and was living on a government pension. So he could sleep as late as Holmes.