“And what do you think of it all, Watson?” asked Sherlock Holmes, leaning back in his chair.
“It seems to me to be a most dark and sinister business.”
“Dark enough and sinister enough.”
The Speckled Band is one of the stories in the collection The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and one that shows why the Holmes stories are still the stuff of legend. It is a fairly short story that combines a cracking locked room mystery with the ongoing story of the friendship between Holmes and Watson. In this one, we get to know a little bit more about Holmes attitudes towards his friend Watson, ladies in danger, and bullies.
There have been a few adaptations of the Holmes stories which seemed to imply that Holmes is a cold-hearted intellectual who has no regard for his fellow man, and less so women. While this may be true with respect to romantic attachments, this just isn’t the case with respect to simply caring for the people he meets:
“You have done wisely,” said my friend. “But have you told me all?”
“Miss Roylott, you have not. You are screening your stepfather.”
“Why, what do you mean?”
For answer Holmes pushed back the frill of black lace which fringed the hand that lay upon our visitor’s knee. Five little livid spots, the marks of four fingers and a thumb, were printed upon the white wrist.
“You have been cruelly used,” said Holmes.
The lady coloured deeply and covered over her injured wrist.
“He is a hard man,” she said, “and perhaps he hardly knows his own strength.”
There was a long silence, during which Holmes leaned his chin upon his hands and stared into the crackling fire. “This is a very deep business,” he said at last.
I’m also still smarting from my encounter with the version of Holmes in the Mary Russel series, which portrays Holmes as taking advantage of Watson and treating him as a lackey, who has little importance in Holmes’ life other than as a tool.
While Holmes does ask for Watson to provide protection for them in this story, The Speckled Band also contains one of the most defining scenes of his concern for and gratitude to his friend – even if expressing this in his own way may come across a little stoically:
“Do you know, Watson,” said Holmes as we sat together in the gathering darkness, “I have really some scruples as to taking you to-night. There is a distinct element of danger.”
“Can I be of assistance?”
“Your presence might be invaluable.”
“Then I shall certainly come.”
“It is very kind of you.”
I first read this story when I was in my early teens and I was given my first collection of Holmes stories. This is one of the stories that has always stuck with me. Apart from the scenes between Holmes and Watson, and the ingenious twist that proves the solution to the conundrum of The Speckled Band, there is also one the most memorable scenes of Holmes encounters with an adversary of his:
“Which of you is Holmes?” asked this apparition.
“My name, sir; but you have the advantage of me,” said my companion quietly.
“I am Dr. Grimesby Roylott, of Stoke Moran.”
“Indeed, Doctor,” said Holmes blandly. “Pray take a seat.”
“I will do nothing of the kind. My stepdaughter has been here. I have traced her. What has she been saying to you?”
“It is a little cold for the time of the year,” said Holmes.
“What has she been saying to you?” screamed the old man furiously.
“But I have heard that the crocuses promise well,” continued my companion imperturbably.
“Ha! You put me off, do you?” said our new visitor, taking a step forward and shaking his hunting-crop. “I know you, you scoundrel! I have heard of you before. You are Holmes, the meddler.”
My friend smiled.
“Holmes, the busybody!”
His smile broadened.
“Holmes, the Scotland Yard Jack-in-office!”
Holmes chuckled heartily. “Your conversation is most entertaining,” said he. “When you go out close the door, for there is a decided draught.”
Isn’t this just one of the most fabulous exchanges ever found in literature of the same period? The only other works I can remember having similar exchanges are those of Oscar Wilde or George Bernhard Shaw.
On this particular re-read, I also came across another skill of Holmes’ that I had never really acknowledged so far – his minimalist approach to travelling:
“And now, Watson, this is too serious for dawdling, especially as the old man is aware that we are interesting ourselves in his affairs; so if you are ready, we shall call a cab and drive to Waterloo. I should be very much obliged if you would slip your revolver into your pocket. An Eley’s No. 2 is an excellent argument with gentlemen who can twist steel pokers into knots. That and a tooth-brush are, I think, all that we need.”
Love. Love. Love.
(And, yes, Jeremy Brett IS my Holmes.)