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THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES

by Arthur Conan Doyle


I took a step forward. In an instant his strange headgear began
to move, and there reared itself from among his hair the squat
diamond-shaped head and puffed neck of a loathsome serpent.

"It is a swamp adder!" cried Holmes; "the deadliest snake in
India. He has died within ten seconds of being bitten. Violence
does, in truth, recoil upon the violent, and the schemer falls
into the pit which he digs for another. Let us thrust this
creature back into its den, and we can then remove Miss Stoner to
some place of shelter and let the county police know what has
happened."

As he spoke he drew the dog-whip swiftly from the dead man's lap,
and throwing the noose round the reptile's neck he drew it from
its horrid perch and, carrying it at arm's length, threw it into
the iron safe, which he closed upon it.

Such are the true facts of the death of Dr. Grimesby Roylott, of
Stoke Moran. It is not necessary that I should prolong a
narrative which has already run to too great a length by telling
how we broke the sad news to the terrified girl, how we conveyed
her by the morning train to the care of her good aunt at Harrow,
of how the slow process of official inquiry came to the
conclusion that the doctor met his fate while indiscreetly
playing with a dangerous pet. The little which I had yet to learn
of the case was told me by Sherlock Holmes as we travelled back
next day.

"I had," said he, "come to an entirely erroneous conclusion which
shows, my dear Watson, how dangerous it always is to reason from
insufficient data. The presence of the gypsies, and the use of
the word 'band,' which was used by the poor girl, no doubt to
explain the appearance which she had caught a hurried glimpse of
by the light of her match, were sufficient to put me upon an
entirely wrong scent. I can only claim the merit that I instantly
reconsidered my position when, however, it became clear to me
that whatever danger threatened an occupant of the room could not
come either from the window or the door. My attention was
speedily drawn, as I have already remarked to you, to this
ventilator, and to the bell-rope which hung down to the bed. The
discovery that this was a dummy, and that the bed was clamped to
the floor, instantly gave rise to the suspicion that the rope was
there as a bridge for something passing through the hole and
coming to the bed. The idea of a snake instantly occurred to me,
and when I coupled it with my knowledge that the doctor was
furnished with a supply of creatures from India, I felt that I
was probably on the right track. The idea of using a form of
poison which could not possibly be discovered by any chemical
test was just such a one as would occur to a clever and ruthless
man who had had an Eastern training. The rapidity with which such
a poison would take effect would also, from his point of view, be
an advantage. It would be a sharp-eyed coroner, indeed, who could
distinguish the two little dark punctures which would show where
the poison fangs had done their work. Then I thought of the
whistle. Of course he must recall the snake before the morning
light revealed it to the victim. He had trained it, probably by
the use of the milk which we saw, to return to him when summoned.
He would put it through this ventilator at the hour that he
thought best, with the certainty that it would crawl down the
rope and land on the bed. It might or might not bite the
occupant, perhaps she might escape every night for a week, but
sooner or later she must fall a victim.

"I had come to these conclusions before ever I had entered his
room. An inspection of his chair showed me that he had been in
the habit of standing on it, which of course would be necessary
in order that he should reach the ventilator. The sight of the
safe, the saucer of milk, and the loop of whipcord were enough to
finally dispel any doubts which may have remained. The metallic
clang heard by Miss Stoner was obviously caused by her stepfather
hastily closing the door of his safe upon its terrible occupant.
Having once made up my mind, you know the steps which I took in
order to put the matter to the proof. I heard the creature hiss
as I have no doubt that you did also, and I instantly lit the
light and attacked it."

"With the result of driving it through the ventilator."

"And also with the result of causing it to turn upon its master
at the other side. Some of the blows of my cane came home and
roused its snakish temper, so that it flew upon the first person
it saw. In this way I am no doubt indirectly responsible for Dr.
Grimesby Roylott's death, and I cannot say that it is likely to
weigh very heavily upon my conscience."


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