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THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES

by Arthur Conan Doyle


"When Dr. Roylott was in India he married my mother, Mrs. Stoner,
the young widow of Major-General Stoner, of the Bengal Artillery.
My sister Julia and I were twins, and we were only two years old
at the time of my mother's re-marriage. She had a considerable
sum of money--not less than 1000 pounds a year--and this she
bequeathed to Dr. Roylott entirely while we resided with him,
with a provision that a certain annual sum should be allowed to
each of us in the event of our marriage. Shortly after our return
to England my mother died--she was killed eight years ago in a
railway accident near Crewe. Dr. Roylott then abandoned his
attempts to establish himself in practice in London and took us
to live with him in the old ancestral house at Stoke Moran. The
money which my mother had left was enough for all our wants, and
there seemed to be no obstacle to our happiness.

"But a terrible change came over our stepfather about this time.
Instead of making friends and exchanging visits with our
neighbors, who had at first been overjoyed to see a Roylott of
Stoke Moran back in the old family seat, he shut himself up in
his house and seldom came out save to indulge in ferocious
quarrels with whoever might cross his path. 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. A series of
disgraceful brawls took place, two of which ended in the
police-court, until at last he became the terror of the village,
and the folks would fly at his approach, for he is a man of
immense strength, and absolutely uncontrollable in his anger.

"Last week he hurled the local blacksmith over a parapet into a
stream, and it was only by paying over all the money which I
could gather together that I was able to avert another public
exposure. He had no friends at all save the wandering gypsies,
and he would give these vagabonds leave to encamp upon the few
acres of bramble-covered land which represent the family estate,
and would accept in return the hospitality of their tents,
wandering away with them sometimes for weeks on end. He has a
passion also for Indian animals, which are sent over to him by a
correspondent, and he has at this moment a cheetah and a baboon,
which wander freely over his grounds and are feared by the
villagers almost as much as their master.

"You can imagine from what I say that my poor sister Julia and I
had no great pleasure in our lives. No servant would stay with
us, and for a long time we did all the work of the house. She was
but thirty at the time of her death, and yet her hair had already
begun to whiten, even as mine has."

"Your sister is dead, then?"

"She died just two years ago, and it is of her death that I wish
to speak to you. You can understand that, living the life which I
have described, we were little likely to see anyone of our own
age and position. We had, however, an aunt, my mother's maiden
sister, Miss Honoria Westphail, who lives near Harrow, and we
were occasionally allowed to pay short visits at this lady's
house. Julia went there at Christmas two years ago, and met there
a half-pay major of marines, to whom she became engaged. My
stepfather learned of the engagement when my sister returned and
offered no objection to the marriage; but wlthin a fortnight of
the day which had been fixed for the wedding, the terrible event
occurred which has deprived me of my only companion."

Sherlock Holmes had been leaning back in his chair with his eyes
closed and his head sunk in a cushion, but he half opened hls
lids now and glanced across at his visitor.

"Pray be precise as to details," said he.

"It is easy for me to be so, for every event of that dreadful
time is seared into my memory. The manor-house is, as I have
already said, very old, and only one wing is now inhabited. The
bedrooms in this wing are on the ground floor, the sitting-rooms
being in the central block of the buildings. Of these bedrooms
the first is Dr. Roylott's, the second my sister's, and the third
my own. There is no communication between them, but they all open
out into the same corridor. Do I make myself plain?"

"Perfectly so."

"The windows of the three rooms open out upon the lawn. That
fatal night Dr. Roylott had gone to his room early, though we
knew that he had not retired to rest, for my sister was troubled
by the smell of the strong Indian cigars which it was his custom
to smoke. She left her room, therefore, and came into mine, where
she sat for some time, chatting about her approaching wedding. At
eleven o'clock she rose to leave me, but she paused at the door
and looked back.

"'Tell me, Helen,' said she, 'have you ever heard anyone whistle
in the dead of the night?'

"'Never,' said I.

"'I suppose that you could not possibly whistle, yourself, in
your sleep?'

"'Certainly not. But why?'

"'Because during the last few nights I have always, about three
in the morning, heard a low, clear whistle. I am a light sleeper,
and it has awakened me. I cannot tell where it came from perhaps
from the next room, perhaps from the lawn. I thought that I would
just ask you whether you had heard it.'

"'No, I have not. It must be those wretched gypsies in the
plantation.'

"'Very likely. And yet if it were on the lawn, I wonder that you
did not hear it also.'

"'Ah, but I sleep more heavily than you.'

"'Well, it is of no great consequence, at any rate.' She smiled
back at me, closed my door, and a few moments later I heard her
key turn in the lock."

"Indeed," said Holmes. "Was it your custom always to lock
yourselves in at night?"

"Always."

"And why?"

"I think that I mentioned to you that the doctor kept a cheetah
and a baboon. We had no feeling of security unless our doors were
locked."

"Quite so. Pray proceed with your statement."

"I could not sleep that night. A vague feeling of impending
misfortune impressed me. My sister and I, you will recollect,
were twins, and you know how subtle are the links which bind two
souls which are so closely allied. It was a wild night. The wind
was howling outside, and the rain was beating and splashing
against the windows. Suddenly, amid all the hubbub of the gale,
there burst forth the wild scream of a terrified woman. I knew
that it was my sister's voice. I sprang from my bed, wrapped a
shawl round me, and rushed into the corridor. As I opened my door
I seemed to hear a low whistle, such as my sister described, and
a few moments later a clanging sound, as if a mass of metal had
fallen. As I ran down the passage, my sister's door was unlocked,
and revolved slowly upon its hinges. I stared at it
horror-stricken, not knowing what was about to issue from it. By
the light of the corridor-lamp I saw my sister appear at the
opening, her face blanched with terror, her hands groping for
help, her whole figure swaying to and fro like that of a
drunkard. I ran to her and threw my arms round her, but at that
moment her knees seemed to give way and she fell to the ground.
She writhed as one who is in terrible pain, and her limbs were
dreadfully convulsed. At first I thought that she had not
recognized me, but as I bent over her she suddenly shrieked out
in a voice which I shall never forget, 'Oh, my God! Helen! It was
the band! The speckled band!' There was something else which she
would fain have said, and she stabbed with her finger into the
air in the direction of the doctor's room, but a fresh convulsion
seized her and choked her words. I rushed out, calling loudly for
my stepfather, and I met him hastening from his room in his
dressing-gown. When he reached my sister's side she was
unconscious, and though he poured brandy down her throat and sent
for medical aid from the village, all efforts were in vain, for
she slowly sank and died without having recovered her
consciousness. Such was the dreadful end of my beloved sister."

"One moment," said Holmes, "are you sure about this whistle and
metallic sound? Could you swear to it?"

"That was what the county coroner asked me at the inquiry. It is
my strong impression that I heard it, and yet, among the crash of
the gale and the creaking of an old house, I may possibly have
been deceived."

"Was your sister dressed?"

"No, she was in her night-dress. In her right hand was found the
charred stump of a match, and in her left a match-box."

"Showing that she had struck a light and looked about her when
the alarm took place. That is important. And what conclusions did
the coroner come to?"

"He investigated the case with great care, for Dr. Roylott's
conduct had long been notorious in the county, but he was unable
to find any satisfactory cause of death. My evidence showed that
the door had been fastened upon the inner side, and the windows
were blocked by old-fashioned shutters with broad iron bars,
which were secured every night. The walls were carefully sounded,
and were shown to be quite solid all round, and the flooring was
also thoroughly examined, with the same result. The chimney is
wide, but is barred up by four large staples. It is certain,
therefore, that my sister was quite alone when she met her end.
Besides, there were no marks of any violence upon her."

"How about poison?"

"The doctors examined her for it, but without success."

"What do you think that this unfortunate lady died of, then?"

"It is my belief that she died of pure fear and nervous shock,
though what it was that frightened her I cannot imagine."

"Were there gypsies in the plantation at the time?"

"Yes, there are nearly always some there."

"Ah, and what did you gather from this allusion to a band--a
speckled band?"

"Sometimes I have thought that it was merely the wild talk of
delirium, sometimes that it may have referred to some band of
people, perhaps to these very gypsies in the plantation. I do not
know whether the spotted handkerchiefs which so many of them wear
over their heads might have suggested the strange adjective which
she used."

Holmes shook his head like a man who is far from being satisfied.

"These are very deep waters," said he; "pray go on with your
narrative."


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