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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Discussion Topic

The young lady who visits Holmes and Watson in "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" and her reasons for seeking their help

Summary:

The young lady who visits Holmes and Watson in "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" is Helen Stoner. She seeks their help because she fears for her life after the mysterious and sudden death of her twin sister, Julia, who died under suspicious circumstances in their family home while uttering the words "the speckled band."

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How is the woman described who visits Holmes and Watson in "The Adventure of the Speckled Band"?

The client is a young woman who is dressed in black and terribly frightened.

Helen Stoner is a young lady “in a considerable state of excitement” when she comes to hire Sherlock Holmes.  Of course, most clients are probably not incredibly calm.  They are hiring a detective, after all.  It means they are in trouble of some kind.  However, this one is “dressed in black and heavily veiled.”  She is also shivering.  Holmes asks her if she is cold.  She says it is terror.

[She] was indeed in a pitiable state of agitation, her face all drawn and grey, with restless frightened eyes, like those of some hunted animal. Her features and figure were those of a woman of thirty, but her hair was shot with premature grey, and her expression was weary and haggard.

Holmes tells her not to worry.  He deduces that she came by train, but partially by dog cart because he points out that the “left arm of your jacket is spattered with mud in no less than seven places.”  She tells him that the horror of her situation is that her fears are vague, and finally introduces herself as Helen Stoner.

Helen Stoner’s problem is that her stepfather killed her sister for the inheritance, and wants to kill her too.  Her stepfather is a dangerous man.

Violence of temper approaching to mania has been hereditary in the men of the family, and in my stepfather's case it had, I believe, been intensified by his long residence in the tropics.

Holmes listens to her story, and determines that he needs to go to her home with her in order to solve the case, which he does.  The murder weapon?  It is a snake.

In this case we see another example of how Holmes deduces a lot of important information about the case only from a person's physical characteristics.  People tell us a lot about their circumstances and where they have been by their mannerisms, and the condition of their clothes.  It seems extraordinary, but it is just deduction.

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Who is the young lady in "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" and why did she visit Sherlock Holmes?

The young lady is named Helen Stoner. She has come to Holmes because of a number of suspicious occurrences in her family home that have her afraid for her life. She lives with her abusive stepfather, a man by the name of Grimesby Roylott, and until recently she also lived with her twin sister, Julia, who died under suspicious circumstances. Helen has since been forced to move into her late sister's room, and she has started hearing the same noises that preceded her sister's death. Further, her sister died two weeks before she was scheduled to be married, and now Helen is engaged. Her stepfather's income comes from the estate of her late mother and is set to be reduced by part when the girls marry, which would leave him with very little income, giving him a great deal of motive for the murders, a fact Helen is well aware of.

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