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THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES

by Arthur Conan Doyle


About nine o'clock the light among the trees was extinguished,
and all was dark in the direction of the Manor House. Two hours
passed slowly away, and then, suddenly, just at the stroke of
eleven, a single bright light shone out right in front of us.

"That is our signal," said Holmes, springing to his feet; "it
comes from the middle window."

As we passed out he exchanged a few words with the landlord,
explaining that we were going on a late visit to an acquaintance,
and that it was possible that we might spend the night there. A
moment later we were out on the dark road, a chill wind blowing
in our faces, and one yellow light twinkling in front of us
through the gloom to guide us on our sombre errand.

There was little difficulty in entering the grounds, for
unrepaired breaches gaped in the old park wall. Making our way
among the trees, we reached the lawn, crossed it, and were about
to enter through the window when out from a clump of laurel
bushes there darted what seemed to be a hideous and distorted
child, who threw itself upon the grass with writhing limbs and
then ran swiftly across the lawn into the darkness.

"My God!" I whispered; "did you see it?"

Holmes was for the moment as startled as I. His hand closed like
a vise upon my wrist in his agitation. Then he broke into a low
laugh and put his lips to my ear.

"It is a nice household," he murmured. "That is the baboon."

I had forgotten the strange pets which the doctor affected. There
was a cheetah, too; perhaps we might find it upon our shoulders
at any moment. I confess that I felt easier in my mind when,
after following Holmes's example and slipping off my shoes, I
found myself inside the bedroom. My companion noiselessly closed
the shutters, moved the lamp onto the table, and cast his eyes
round the room. All was as we had seen it in the daytime. Then
creeping up to me and making a trumpet of his hand, he whispered
into my ear again so gently that it was all that I could do to
distinguish the words:

"The least sound would be fatal to our plans."

I nodded to show that I had heard.

"We must sit without light. He would see it through the
ventilator."

I nodded again.

"Do not go asleep; your very life may depend upon it. Have your
pistol ready in case we should need it. I will sit on the side of
the bed, and you in that chair."

I took out my revolver and laid it on the corner of the table.

Holmes had brought up a long thin cane, and this he placed upon
the bed beside him. By it he laid the box of matches and the
stump of a candle. Then he turned down the lamp, and we were left
in darkness.

How shall I ever forget that dreadful vigil? I could not hear a
sound, not even the drawing of a breath, and yet I knew that my
companion sat open-eyed, within a few feet of me, in the same
state of nervous tension in which I was myself. The shutters cut
off the least ray of light, and we waited in absolute darkness.

From outside came the occasional cry of a night-bird, and once at
our very window a long drawn catlike whine, which told us that
the cheetah was indeed at liberty. Far away we could hear the
deep tones of the parish clock, which boomed out every quarter of
an hour. How long they seemed, those quarters! Twelve struck, and
one and two and three, and still we sat waiting silently for
whatever might befall.

Suddenly there was the momentary gleam of a light up in the
direction of the ventilator, which vanished immediately, but was
succeeded by a strong smell of burning oil and heated metal.
Someone in the next room had lit a dark-lantern. I heard a gentle
sound of movement, and then all was silent once more, though the
smell grew stronger. For half an hour I sat with straining ears.
Then suddenly another sound became audible--a very gentle,
soothing sound, like that of a small jet of steam escaping
continually from a kettle. The instant that we heard it, Holmes
sprang from the bed, struck a match, and lashed furiously with
his cane at the bell-pull.

"You see it, Watson?" he yelled. "You see it?"

But I saw nothing. At the moment when Holmes struck the light I
heard a low, clear whistle, but the sudden glare flashing into my
weary eyes made it impossible for me to tell what it was at which
my friend lashed so savagely. I could, however, see that his face
was deadly pale and filled with horror and loathing. He had
ceased to strike and was gazing up at the ventilator when
suddenly there broke from the silence of the night the most
horrible cry to which I have ever listened. It swelled up louder
and louder, a hoarse yell of pain and fear and anger all mingled
in the one dreadful shriek. They say that away down in the
village, and even in the distant parsonage, that cry raised the
sleepers from their beds. It struck cold to our hearts, and I
stood gazing at Holmes, and he at me, until the last echoes of it
had died away into the silence from which it rose.

"What can it mean?" I gasped.

"It means that it is all over," Holmes answered. "And perhaps,
after all, it is for the best. Take your pistol, and we will
enter Dr. Roylott's room."

With a grave face he lit the lamp and led the way down the
corridor. Twice he struck at the chamber door without any reply
from within. Then he turned the handle and entered, I at his
heels, with the cocked pistol in my hand.

It was a singular sight which met our eyes. On the table stood a
dark-lantern with the shutter half open, throwing a brilliant
beam of light upon the iron safe, the door of which was ajar.
Beside this table, on the wooden chair, sat Dr. Grimesby Roylott
clad in a long gray dressing-gown, his bare ankles protruding
beneath, and his feet thrust into red heelless Turkish slippers.
Across his lap lay the short stock with the long lash which we
had noticed during the day. His chin was cocked upward and his
eyes were fixed in a dreadful, rigid stare at the corner of the
ceiling. Round his brow he had a peculiar yellow band, with
brownish speckles, which seemed to be bound tightly round his
head. As we entered he made neither sound nor motion.

"The band! the speckled band!" whispered Holmes.


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