A young woman, Helen Stoner, comes to Sherlock and Watson very early one morning. She explains that her twin sister was killed shortly before she was due to be married, and no one was able to figure out the cause. The only clue was that she had been hearing a soft whistle at night, and that just before she died, she screamed, then ran into the hallway and said something about a "speckled band" before becoming unconscious. Helen is now also engaged and her step-father has required her to move to her sister's old bedroom due to remodelling. The previous night, she too had heard a low whistle, and she came immediately to Sherlock for help. He agrees to see the house that afternoon. No sooner does she leave than the enraged step-father shows up and threatens Sherlock, telling him to stay out of his business, before twisting a steel poker and leaving in a huff. Holmes casually bends it back into shape. No word yet on whether he's capable of leaping tall buildings in a single bound, though.
Holmes examines Helen's bedroom and sees that the bed is fixed to the floor, and dummy bell pull rests on the pillow, and a ventilator connects the room with that of the step-father. In the step father's room he notes a metal safe, a large saucer of milk (not for the cheetah that roams the home, or the babboon, both animals from India where he used to live), and a dog whip. Holmes tells Helen she must not sleep in her room that night, but Holmes and Watson will sneak into the room at her signal. After several hours of sitting in silence, the whistle is heard, and Holmes starts whipping at something in the room. Shortly thereafter, the uncle's scream is heard. He had been keeping a "swamp adder" (a snake that does not actually exist) in the safe, training it with the milk to come when called. It had been released into the ventilator and crawled down the bellpull to the pillow, but when it was called back, the snake was so angry by the hubbub that it bit and killed the uncle, who stood to lose money if his step-daughters married. The snake itself was speckled, hence the "speckled band." Holmes says good riddance.
Possible discussion questions:
-This is one of the creepier mysteries we've read, with only "The Five Orange Pips" actually dealing with a successful murder. What makes this so icky?
-There have been a few mistakes found in this story. Snakes are generally deaf (though they can "hear" vibrations) so calling the snake with a whistle is rather dicey, how was the snake breathing in an iron safe, and lastly, snakes don't drink milk. They can, however, go up and down ropes, apparently. Too many errors for our dear Mr. Holmes?
-Holmes's lack of regret over the step-father's death is notable, and he does have a highly defined sense of vengence or perhaps karma. Does Holmes exhibit this tendency in any of the other stories?
-Holmes expresses concern over Watson's presense, yet he chooses not to tell him they are in the same room with a poisonous snake. Why?
With any luck, the strike will be over tonight. Hooray! We'll finish out Sherlock Holmes, though.