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THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES

by Arthur Conan Doyle


ADVENTURE VIII. THE ADVENTURE OF THE SPECKLED BAND

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.
Of all these varied cases, however, I cannot recall any which
presented more singular features than that which was associated
with the well-known Surrey family of the Roylotts of Stoke Moran.
The events in question occurred in the early days of my
association with Holmes, when we were sharing rooms as bachelors
in Baker Street. It is possible that I might have placed them
upon record before, but a promise of secrecy was made at the
time, from which I have only been freed during the last month by
the untimely death of the lady to whom the pledge was given. It
is perhaps as well that the facts should now come to light, for I
have reasons to know that there are widespread rumours as to the
death of Dr. Grimesby Roylott which tend to make the matter even
more terrible than the truth.

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.

"Very sorry to knock you up, Watson," said he, "but it's the
common lot this morning. Mrs. Hudson has been knocked up, she
retorted upon me, and I on you."

"What is it, then--a fire?"

"No; a client. It seems that a young lady has arrived in a
considerable state of excitement, who insists upon seeing me. She
is waiting now in the sitting-room. Now, when young ladies wander
about the metropolis at this hour of the morning, and knock
sleepy people up out of their beds, I presume that it is
something very pressing which they have to communicate. Should it
prove to be an interesting case, you would, I am sure, wish to
follow it from the outset. I thought, at any rate, that I should
call you and give you the chance."

"My dear fellow, I would not miss it for anything."

I had no keener pleasure than in following Holmes in his
professional investigations, and in admiring the rapid
deductions, as swift as intuitions, and yet always founded on a
logical basis wlth which he unravelled the problems which were
submitted to him. I rapidly threw on my clothes and was ready in
a few minutes to accompany my friend down to the sitting-room. A
lady dressed in black and heavily veiled, who had been sitting in
the window, rose as we entered.

"Good-morning, madam," said Holmes cheerily. "My name is Sherlock
Holmes. This is my intimate friend and associate, Dr. Watson,
before whom you can speak as freely as before myself. Ha! 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."

"lt is not cold which makes me shiver," said the woman in a low
voice, changing her seat as requested.

"What, then?"

"It is fear, Mr. Holmes. It is terror." She raised her veil as
she spoke, and we could see that she was indeed in a pitiable
state of agitation, her face all drawn and gray, 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 gray, and her expression was weary and haggard.
Sherlock Holmes ran her over with one of his quick,
all-comprehensive glances.

"You must not fear," said he soothingly, bending forward and
patting her forearm. "We shall soon set matters right, I have no
doubt. You have come in by train this morning, I see."

"You know me, then?"

"No, but I observe the second half of a return ticket in the palm
of your left glove. You must have started early, and yet you had
a good drive in a dog-cart, along heavy roads, before you reached
the station."

The lady gave a violent start and stared in bewilderment at my
companion.

"There is no mystery, my dear madam," said he, smiling. "The left
arm of your jacket is spattered with mud in no less than seven
places. The marks are perfectly fresh. There is no vehicle save a
dog-cart which throws up mud in that way, and then only when you
sit on the left-hand side of the driver."

"Whatever your reasons may be, you are perfectly correct," said
she. "I started from home before six, reached Leatherhead at
twenty past, and came in by the first train to Waterloo. Sir, I
can stand this strain no longer; I shall go mad if it continues.
I have no one to turn to--none, save only one, who cares for me,
and he, poor fellow, can be of little aid. I have heard of you,
Mr. Holmes; I have heard of you from Mrs. Farintosh, whom you
helped in the hour of her sore need. It was from her that I had
your address. Oh, sir, do you not think that you could help me,
too, and at least throw a little light through the dense darkness
which surrounds me? At present it is out of my power to reward
you for your services, but in a month or six weeks I shall be
married, with the control of my own income, and then at least you
shall not find me ungrateful."

Holmes turned to his desk and, unlocking it, drew out a small
case-book, which he consulted.

"Farintosh," said he. "Ah yes, I recall the case; it was
concerned with an opal tiara. I think it was before your time,
Watson. I can only say, madam, that I shall be happy to devote
the same care to your case as I did to that of your friend. As to
reward, my profession is its own reward; but you are at liberty
to defray whatever expenses I may be put to, at the time which
suits you best. And now I beg that you will lay before us
everything that may help us in forming an opinion upon the
matter."

"Alas!" replied our visitor, "the very horror of my situation
lies in the fact that my fears are so vague, and my suspicions
depend so entirely upon small points, which might seem trivial to
another, that even he to whom of all others I have a right to
look for help and advice looks upon all that I tell him about it
as the fancies of a nervous woman. He does not say so, but I can
read it from his soothing answers and averted eyes. But I have
heard, Mr. Holmes, that you can see deeply into the manifold
wickedness of the human heart. You may advise me how to walk amid
the dangers which encompass me."

"I am all attention, madam."

"My name is Helen Stoner, and I am living with my stepfather, who
is the last survivor of one of the oldest Saxon families in
England, the Roylotts of Stoke Moran, on the western border of
Surrey."

Holmes nodded his head. "The name is familiar to me," said he.

"The family was at one time among the richest in England, and the
estates extended over the borders into Berkshire in the north,
and Hampshire in the west. In the last century, however, four
successive heirs were of a dissolute and wasteful disposition,
and the family ruin was eventually completed by a gambler in the
days of the Regency. Nothing was left save a few acres of ground,
and the two-hundred-year-old house, which is itself crushed under
a heavy mortgage. The last squire dragged out his existence
there, living the horrible life of an aristocratic pauper; but
his only son, my stepfather, seeing that he must adapt himself to
the new conditions, obtained an advance from a relative, which
enabled him to take a medical degree and went out to Calcutta,
where, by his professional skill and his force of character, he
established a large practice. In a fit of anger, however, caused
by some robberies which had been perpetrated in the house, he
beat his native butler to death and narrowly escaped a capital
sentence. As it was, he suffered a long term of imprisonment and
afterwards returned to England a morose and disappointed man.


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