The Adventure of the Dancing Men
Holmes had been seated for some hours in silence with his
long, thin back curved over a chemical vessel in which he was
brewing a particularly malodorous product. His head was sunk
upon his breast, and he looked from my point of view like a
strange, lank bird, with dull gray plumage and a black top-knot.
"So, Watson," said he, suddenly, "you do not propose to
invest in South African securities?"
I gave a start of astonishment. Accustomed as I was to Holmes's
curious faculties, this sudden intrusion into my most intimate
thoughts was utterly inexplicable.
"How on earth do you know that?" I asked.
He wheeled round upon his stool, with a steaming test-tube in
his hand, and a gleam of amusement in his deep-set eyes.
"Now, Watson, confess yourself utterly taken aback," said
"I ought to make you sign a paper to that effect."
"Because in five minutes you will say that it is all so absurdly
"I am sure that I shall say nothing of the kind."
"You see, my dear Watson" -- he propped his test-tube in the
rack, and began to lecture with the air of a professor addressing
his class -- "it is not really difficult to construct a series of
inferences, each dependent upon its predecessor and each simple
in itself. If, after doing so, one simply knocks out all the central
inferences and presents one's audience with the starting-point
and the conclusion, one may produce a startling, though possi-
bly a meretricious, effect. Now, it was not really difficult, by an
inspection of the groove between your left forefinger and thumb,
to feel sure that you did not propose to invest your small capital
in the gold fields."
"I see no connection."
"Very likely not; but I can quickly show you a close connec-
tion. Here are the missing links of the very simple chain: 1. You
had chalk between your left finger and thumb when you returned
from the club last night. 2. You put chalk there when you play
billiards, to steady the cue. 3. You never play billiards except
with Thurston. 4. You told me, four weeks ago, that Thurston
had an option on some South African property which would
expire in a month, and which he desired you to share with him.
5. Your check book is locked in my drawer, and you have not
asked for the key. 6. You do not propose to invest your money
in this manner."
"How absurdly simple!" I cried.
"Quite so!" said he, a little nettled. "Every problem becomes
very childish when once it is explained to you. Here is an
unexplained one. See what you can make of that, friend Wat-
son." He tossed a sheet of paper upon the table, and turned once
more to his chemical analysis.
I looked with amazement at the absurd hieroglyphics upon the
"Why, Holmes, it is a child's drawing," I cried.
"Oh, that's your idea!"
"What else should it be?"
"That is what Mr. Hilton Cubitt, of Riding Thorpe Manor,
Norfolk, is very anxious to know. This little conundrum came by
the first post, and he was to follow by the next train. There's a
ring at the bell, Watson. I should not be very much surprised if
this were he."
A heavy step was heard upon the stairs, and an instant later
there entered a tall, ruddy, clean-shaven gentleman, whose clear
eyes and florid cheeks told of a life led far from the fogs of
Baker Street. He seemed to bring a whiff of his strong, fresh,
bracing, east-coast air with him as he entered. Having shaken
hands with each of us, he was about to sit down, when his eye
rested upon the paper with the curious markings, which I had
just examined and left upon the table.
"Well, Mr. Holmes, what do you make of these?" he cried.
"They told me that you were fond of queer mysteries, and I
don't think you can find a queerer one than that. I sent the paper
on ahead, so that you might have time to study it before I
"It is certainly rather a curious production,'' said Holmes.
"At first sight it would appear to be some childish prank. It
consists of a number of absurd little figures dancing across the
paper upon which they are drawn. Why should you attribute any
importance to so grotesque an object?"
"I never should, Mr. Holmes. But my wife does. It is fright-
ening her to death. She says nothing, but I can see terror in her
eyes. That's why I want to sift the matter to the bottom."
Holmes held up the paper so that the sunlight shone full upon
it. It was a page torn from a notebook. The markings were done
in pencil, and ran in this way:
Holmes examined it for some time, and then, folding it carefully
up, he placed it in his pocketbook.
"This promises to be a most interesting and unusual case,"
said he. "You gave me a few particulars in your letter, Mr.
Hilton Cubitt, but I should be very much obliged if you would
kindly go over it all again for the benefit of my friend, Dr.
"I'm not much of a story-teller," said our visitor, nervously
clasping and unclasping his great, strong hands. "You'll just ask
me anything that I don't make clear. I'll begin at the time of my
marriage last year, but I want to say first of all that, though I'm
not a rich man, my people have been at Riding Thorpe for a
matter of five centuries, and there is no better known family in
the County of Norfolk. Last year I came up to London for the
Jubilee, and I stopped at a boardinghouse in Russell Square,
because Parker, the vicar of our parish, was staying in it. There
was an American young lady there -- Patrick was the name --
Elsie Patrick. In some way we became friends, until before my
month was up I was as much in love as man could be. We were
quietly married at a registry office, and we returned to Norfolk a
wedded couple. You'll think it very mad, Mr. Holmes, that a
man of a good old family should marry a wife in this fashion,
knowing nothing of her past or of her people, but if you saw her
and knew her, it would help you to understand.
"She was very straight about it, was Elsie. I can't say that she
did not give me every chance of getting out of it if I wished to do
so. 'l have had some very disagreeable associations in my life,'
said she, 'I wish to forget all about them. I would rather never
allude to the past, for it is very painful to me. If you take me,
Hilton, you will take a woman who has nothing that she need be
personally ashamed of; but you will have to be content with my
word for it, and to allow me to be silent as to all that passed up
to the time when I became yours. If these conditions are too
hard, then go back to Norfolk, and leave me to the lonely life in
which you found me.' It was only the day before our wedding
that she said those very words to me. I told her that I was content
to take her on her own terms, and I have been as good as my
"Well, we have been married now for a year, and very happy
we have been. But about a month ago, at the end of June, I saw
for the first time signs of trouble. One day my wife received a
letter from America. I saw the American stamp. She turned
deadly white, read the letter, and threw it into the fire. She made
no allusion to it afterwards, and I made none, for a promise is a
promise, but she has never known an easy hour from that
moment. There is always a look of fear upon her face -- a look as
if she were waiting and expecting. She would do better to trust
me. She would find that I was her best friend. But until she
speaks, I can say nothing. Mind you, she is a truthful woman,
Mr. Holmes, and whatever trouble there may have been in her
past life it has been no fault of hers. I am only a simple Norfolk
squire, but there is not a man in England who ranks his family
honour more highly than I do. She knows it well, and she knew
it well before she married me. She would never bring any stain
upon it -- of that I am sure.
"Well, now I come to the queer part of my story. About a
week ago -- it was the Tuesday of last week -- I found on one of
the window-sills a number of absurd little dancing figures like
these upon the paper. They were scrawled with chalk. I thought
that it was the stable-boy who had drawn them, but the lad swore
he knew nothing about it. Anyhow, they had come there during
the night. I had them washed out, and I only mentioned the
matter to my wife afterwards. To my surprise, she took it very
seriously, and begged me if any more came to let her see them.
None did come for a week, and then yesterday morning I found
this paper Iying on the sundial in the garden. I showed it to
Elsie, and down she dropped in a dead faint. Since then she has
looked like a woman in a dream, half dazed, and with terror
always lurking in her eyes. It was then that I wrote and sent the
paper to you, Mr. Holmes. It was not a thing that I could take to
the police, for they would have laughed at me, but you will tell
me what to do. I am not a rich man, but if there is any danger
threatening my little woman, I would spend my last copper to
He was a fine creature, this man of the old English soil --
simple, straight, and gentle, with his great, earnest blue eyes and
broad, comely face. His love for his wife and his trust in her
shone in his features. Holmes had listened to his story with the
utmost attention, and now he sat for some time in silent thought.
"Don't you think, Mr. Cubitt," said he, at last, "that your
best plan would be to make a direct appeal to your wife, and to
ask her to share her secret with you?"
Hilton Cubitt shook his massive head.
"A promise is a promise, Mr. Holmes. If Elsie wished to tell
me she would. If not, it is not for me to force her confidence.
But I am justified in taking my own line -- and I will."
"Then I will help you with all my heart. In the first place,
have you heard of any strangers being seen in your neighbour-
"I presume that it is a very quiet place. Any fresh face would
"In the immediate neighbourhood, yes. But we have several
small watering-places not very far away. And the farmers take in
"These hieroglyphics have evidently a meaning. If it is a
purely arbitrary one, it may be impossible for us to solve it. If,
on the other hand, it is systematic, I have no doubt that we shall
get to the bottom of it. But this particular sample is so short that
I can do nothing, and the facts which you have brought me are
so indefinite that we have no basis for an investigation. I would
suggest that you return to Norfolk, that you keep a keen lookout,
and that you take an exact copy of any fresh dancing men which
may appear. It is a thousand pities that we have not a reproduc-
tion of those which were done in chalk upon the window-sill.
Make a discreet inquiry also as to any strangers in the neigh-
bourhood. When you have collected some fresh evidence, come
to me again. That is the best advice which I can give you, Mr.
Hilton Cubitt. If there are any pressing fresh developments, I
shall be always ready to run down and see you in your Norfolk
The interview left Sherlock Holmes very thoughtful, and sev-
eral times in the next few days I saw him take his slip of paper
from his notebook and look long and earnestly at the curious
figures inscribed upon it. He made no allusion to the affair,
however, until one afternoon a fortnight or so later. I was going
out when he called me back.
"You had better stay here, Watson."
"Because I had a wire from Hilton Cubitt this morning. You
remember Hilton Cubitt, of the dancing men? He was to reach
Liverpool Street at one-twenty. He may be here at any moment.
I gather from his wire that there have been some new incidents
We had not long to wait, for our Norfolk squire came straight
from the station as fast as a hansom could bring him. He was
looking worried and depressed, with tired eyes and a lined
"It's getting on my nerves, this business, Mr. Holmes," said
he, as he sank, like a wearied man, into an armchair. "It's bad
enough to feel that you are surrounded by unseen, unknown folk,
who have some kind of design upon you, but when, in addition
to that, you know that it is just killing your wife by inches, then
it becomes as much as flesh and blood can endure. She's wear-
ing away under it -- just wearing away before my eyes."
"Has she said anything yet?"
"No, Mr. Holmes, she has not. And yet there have been times
when the poor girl has wanted to speak, and yet could not quite
bring herself to take the plunge. I have tried to help her, but I
daresay I did it clumsily, and scared her from it. She has spoken
about my old family, and our reputation in the county, and our
pride in our unsullied honour, and I always felt it was leading to
the point, but somehow it turned off before we got there."
"But you have found out something for yourself?"
"A good deal, Mr. Holmes. I have several fresh dancing-men
pictures for you to examine, and, what is more important, I have
seen the fellow."
"What, the man who draws them?"
"Yes, I saw him at his work. But I will tell you everything in
order. When I got back after my visit to you, the very first thing
I saw next morning was a fresh crop of dancing men. They had
been drawn in chalk upon the black wooden door of the tool-
house, which stands beside the lawn in full view of the front
windows. I took an exact copy, and here it is." He unfolded a
paper and laid it upon the table. Here is a copy of the hiero-
"Excellent!" said Holmes. "Excellent! Pray continue."
"When I had taken the copy, I rubbed out the marks, but, two
mornings later, a fresh inscription had appeared. I have a copy of
Holmes rubbed his hands and chuckled with delight.
"Our material is rapidly accumulating," said he.
"Three days later a message was left scrawled upon paper,
and placed under a pebble upon the sundial. Here it is. The
characters are, as you see, exactly the same as the last one. After
that I determined to lie in wait, so I got out my revolver and I sat
up in my study, which overlooks the lawn and garden. About
two in the morning I was seated by the window, all being dark
save for the moonlight outside, when I heard steps behind me,
and there was my wife in her dressing-gown. She implored me to
come to bed. I told her frankly that I wished to see who it was
who played such absurd tricks upon us. She answered that it was
some senseless practical joke, and that I should not take any
notice of it.
" 'If it really annoys you, Hilton, we might go and travel, you
and I, and so avoid this nuisance.'
"'What, be driven out of our own house by a practical
joker?' said I. 'Why, we should have the whole county laughing
" 'Well, come to bed.' said she, 'and we can discuss it in the
"Suddenly, as she spoke, I saw her white face grow whiter
yet in the moonlight, and her hand tightened upon my shoulder.
Something was moving in the shadow of the tool-house. I saw a
dark, creeping figure which crawled round the corner and squat-
ted in front of the door. Seizing my pistol, I was rushing out,
when my wife threw her arms round me and held me with
convulsive strength. I tried to throw her off, but she clung to me
most desperately. At last I got clear, but by the time I had
opened the door and reached the house the creature was gone.
He had left a trace of his presence, however, for there on the
door was the very same arrangement of dancing men which had
already twice appeared, and which I have copied on that paper.
There was no other sign of the fellow anywhere, though I ran all
over the grounds. And yet the amazing thing is that he must have
been there all the time, for when I examined the door again in
the morning, he had scrawled some more of his pictures under
the line which I had already seen."
"Have you that fresh drawing?"
"Yes, it is very short, but I made a copy of it, and here it is."
Again he produced a paper. The new dance was in this form:
"Tell me," said Holmes -- and I could see by his eyes that he
was much excited -- "was this a mere addition to the first or did
it appear to be entirely separate?"
"It was on a different panel of the door."
"Excellent! This is far the most important of all for our
purpose. It fills me with hopes. Now, Mr. Hilton Cubitt, please
continue your most interesting statement."
"I have nothing more to say, Mr. Holmes, except that I was
angry with my wife that night for having held me back when I
might have caught the skulking rascal. She said that she feared
that I might come to harm. For an instant it had crossed my mind
that perhaps what she really feared was that he might come to
harm, for I could not doubt that she knew who this man was, and
what he meant by these strange signals. But there is a tone in my
wife's voice, Mr. Holmes, and a look in her eyes which forbid
doubt, and I am sure that it was indeed my own safety that was
in her mind. There's the whole case, and now I want your advice
as to what I ought to do. My own inclination is to put half a
dozen of my farm lads in the shrubbery, and when this fellow
comes again to give him such a hiding that he will leave us in
peace for the future."
"I fear it is too deep a case for such simple remedies," said
Holmes. "How long can you stay in London?"
"I must go back today. I would not leave my wife alone all
night for anything. She is very nervous, and begged me to come
"I daresay you are right. But if you could have stopped. I
might possibly have been able to return with you in a day or two.
Meanwhile you will leave me these papers, and I think that it is
very likely that I shall be able to pay you a visit shortly and to
throw some light upon your case."
Sherlock Holmes preserved his calm professional manner until
our visitor had left us, although it was easy for me, who knew
him so well, to see that he was profoundly excited. The moment
that Hilton Cubitt's broad back had disappeared through the door
my comrade rushed to the table, laid out all the slips of paper
containing dancing men in front of him, and threw himself into
an intricate and elaborate calculation. For two hours I watched
him as he covered sheet after sheet of paper with figures and
letters, so completely absorbed in his task that he had evidently
forgotten my presence. Sometimes he was making progress and
whistled and sang at his work; sometimes he was puzzled, and
would sit for long spells with a furrowed brow and a vacant eye.
Finally he sprang from his chair with a cry of satisfaction, and
walked up and down the room rubbing his hands together. Then
he wrote a long telegram upon a cable form. "If my answer to
this is as I hope, you will have a very pretty case to add to your
collection, Watson," said he. "I expect that we shall be able to
go down to Norfolk tomorrow, and to take our friend some very
definite news as to the secret of his annoyance."
I confess that I was filled with curiosity, but I was aware that
Holmes liked to make his disclosures at his own time and in his
own way, so I waited until it should suit him to take me into his
But there was a delay in that answering telegram, and two
days of impatience followed, during which Holmes pricked up
his ears at every ring of the bell. On the evening of the second
there came a letter from Hilton Cubitt. All was quiet with him,
save that a long inscription had appeared that morning upon the
pedestal of the sundial. He inclosed a copy of it, which is here
Holmes bent over this grotesque frieze for some minutes, and
then suddenly sprang to his feet with an exclamation of surprise
and dismay. His face was haggard with anxiety.
"We have let this affair go far enough," said he. "Is there a
train to North Walsham to-night?"
I turned up the time-table. The last had just gone.
"Then we shall breakfast early and take the very first in the
morning," said Holmes. "Our presence is most urgently needed.
Ah! here is our expected cablegram. One moment, Mrs. Hudson,
there may be an answer. No, that is quite as I expected. This
message makes it even more essential that we should not lose an
hour in letting Hilton Cubitt know how matters stand, for it is a
singular and a dangerous web in which our simple Norfolk squire
So, indeed, it proved, and as I come to the dark conclusion of
a story which had seemed to me to be only childish and bizarre, I
experience once again the dismay and horror with which I was
filled. Would that I had some brighter ending to communicate to
my readers, but these are the chronicles of fact, and I must
follow to their dark crisis the strange chain of events which for
some days made Riding Thorpe Manor a household word through
the length and breadth of England.
We had hardly alighted at North Walsham, and mentioned the
name of our destination, when the stationmaster hurried towards
us. "I suppose that you are the detectives from London?" said
A look of annoyance passed over Holmes's face.
"What makes you think such a thing?"
"Because Inspector Martin from Norwich has just passed
through. But maybe you are the surgeons. She's not dead -- or
wasn't by last accounts. You may be in time to save her yet --
though it be for the gallows."
Holmes's brow was dark with anxiety.
"We are going to Riding Thorpe Manor," said he, "but we
have heard nothing of what has passed there."
"It's a terrible business," said the stationmaster. "They are
shot, both Mr. Hilton Cubitt and his wife. She shot him and then
herself -- so the servants say. He's dead and her life is despaired
of. Dear, dear, one of the oldest families in the county of
Norfolk, and one of the most honoured."
Without a word Holmes hurried to a carriage, and during the
long seven miles' drive he never opened his mouth. Seldom have
I seen him so utterly despondent. He had been uneasy during all
our journey from town, and I had observed that he had turned
over the morning papers with anxious attention, but now this
sudden realization of his worst fears left him in a blank melan-
choly. He leaned back in his seat, lost in gloomy speculation.
Yet there was much around to interest us, for we were passing
through as singular a countryside as any in England, where a few
scattered cottages represented the populatlon of to-day, while on
every hand enormous square-towered churches bristled up from
the flat green landscape and told of the glory and prosperity of
old East Anglia. At last the violet rim of the German Ocean
appeared over the green edge of the Norfolk coast, and the driver
pointed with his whip to two old brick and timber gables which
projected from a grove of trees. "That's Riding Thorpe Manor,"
As we drove up to the porticoed front door, I observed in front
of it, beside the tennis lawn, the black tool-house and the
pedestalled sundial with which we had such strange associations.
A dapper little man, with a quick, alert manner and a waxed
moustache, had just descended from a high dog-cart. He intro-
duced himself as Inspector Martin, of the Norfolk Constabulary
and he was considerably astonished when he heard the name of
"Why, Mr. Holmes, the crime was only committed at three
this morning. How could you hear of it in London and get to the
spot as soon as l?"
"I anticipated it. I came in the hope of preventing it."
"Then you must have important evidence, of which we are
ignorant, for they were said to be a most united couple."
"I have only the evidence of the dancing men," said Holmes.
"I will explain the matter to you later. Meanwhile, since it is too
late to prevent this tragedy, I am very anxious that I should use
the knowledge which I possess in order to insure that justice be
done. Will you associate me in your investigation, or will you
prefer that I should act independently?"
"I should be proud to feel that we were acting together, Mr.
Holmes," said the inspector, earnestly.
"In that case I should be glad to hear the evidence and to
examine the premises without an instant of unnecessary delay."
Inspector Martin had the good sense to allow my friend to do
things in his own fashion, and contented himself with carefully
noting the results. The local surgeon, an old, white-haired man,
had just come down from Mrs. Hilton Cubitt's room, and he
reported that her injuries were serious, but not necessarily fatal.
The bullet had passed through the front of her brain, and it
would probably be some time before she could regain conscious-
ness. On the question of whether she had been shot or had shot
herself, he would not venture to express any decided opinion.
Certainly the bullet had been discharged at very close quarters.
There was only the one pistol found in the room, two barrels of
which had been emptied. Mr. Hilton Cubitt had been shot through
the heart. It was equally conceivable that he had shot her and then
himself, or that she had been the criminal, for the revolver lay
upon the floor midway between them.
"Has he been moved?" asked Holmes.
"We have moved nothing except the lady. We could not leave
her lying wounded upon the floor."
"How long have you been here, Doctor?"
"Since four o'clock."
"Yes, the constable here."
"And you have touched nothing?"
"You have acted with great discretion. Who sent for you?"
"The housemaid, Saunders."
"Was it she who gave the alarm?"
"She and Mrs. King, the cook."
"Where are they now?"
"In the kitchen, I believe."
"Then I think we had better hear their story at once."
The old hall, oak-panelled and high-windowed, had been
turned into a court of investigation. Holmes sat in a great,
old-fashioned chair, his inexorable eyes gleaming out of his
haggard face. I could read in them a set purpose to devote his
life to this quest until the client whom he had failed to save
should at last be avenged. The trim Inspector Martin, the old,
gray-headed country doctor, myself, and a stolid village police-
man made up the rest of that strange company.
The two women told their story clearly enough. They had
been aroused from their sleep by the sound of an explosion,
which had been followed a minute later by a second one. They
slept in adjoining rooms, and Mrs. King had rushed in to Saunders.
Together they had descended the stairs. The door of the study
was open, and a candle was burning upon the table. Their master
lay upon his face in the centre of the room. He was quite dead.
Near the window his wife was crouching, her head leaning
against the wall. She was horribly wounded, and the side of her
face was red with blood. She breathed heavily, but was incapa-
ble of saying anything. The passage, as well as the room, was
full of smoke and the smell of powder. The window was cer-
tainly shut and fastened upon the inside. Both women were
positive upon the point. They had at once sent for the doctor and
for the constable. Then, with the aid of the groom and the
stable-boy, they had conveyed their injured mistress to her room.
Both she and her husband had occupied the bed. She was clad in
her dress -- he in his dressing-gown, over his night-clothes. Noth-
ing had been moved in the study. So far as they knew, there had
never been any quarrel between husband and wife. They had
always looked upon them as a very united couple.
These were the main points of the servants' evidence. In
answer to Inspector Martin, they were clear that every door was
fastened upon the inside, and that no one could have escaped
from the house. In answer to Holmes, they both remembered that
they were conscious of the smell of powder from the moment
that they ran out of their rooms upon the top floor. "I commend
that fact very carefully to your attention." said Holmes to his
professional colleague. "And now I think that we are in a
position to undertake a thorough examination of the room."
The study proved to be a small chamber, lined on three sides
with books, and with a writing-table facing an ordinary window,
which looked out upon the garden. Our first attention was given
to the body of the unfortunate squire, whose huge frame lay
stretched across the room. His disordered dress showed that he
had been hastily aroused from sleep. The bullet had been fired at
him from the front, and had remained in his body, after penetrat-
ing the heart. His death had certainly been instantaneous and
painless. There was no powder-marking either upon his dressing-
gown or on his hands. According to the country surgeon, the
lady had stains upon her face, but none upon her hand.
"The absence of the latter means nothing, though its presence
may mean everything," said Holmes. "Unless the powder from
a badly fitting cartridge happens to spurt backward, one may fire
many shots without leaving a sign. I would suggest that Mr.
Cubitt's body may now be removed. I suppose, Doctor, you
have not recovered the bullet which wounded the lady?"
"A serious operation will be necessary before that can be
done. But there are still four cartridges in the revolver. Two have
been fired and two wounds inflicted, so that each bullet can be
"So it would seem," said Holmes. "Perhaps you can account
also for the bullet which has so obviously struck the edge of the
He had turned suddenly, and his long, thin finger was pointing
to a hole which had been drilled right through the lower window-
sash. about an inch above the bottom.
"By George!" cried the inspector. "How ever did you see
"Because I looked for it."
"Wonderful!" said the counlry doctor. "You are certainly
right, sir. Then a third shot has been fired, and therefore a third
person must have been present. But who could that have been,
and how could he have got away?"
"That is the problem which we are now about to solve," said
Sherlock Holmes. "You remember, Inspector Martin, when the
servants said that on leaving their room they were at once
conscious of a smell of powder, I remarked that the point was an
extremely important one?"
"Yes, sir; but I confess I did not quite follow you."
"It suggested that at the time of the firing, the window as well
as the door of the room had been open. Otherwise the fumes of
powder could not have been blown so rapidly through the house.
A draught in the room was necessary for that. Both door and
window were only open for a very short time, however."
"How do you prove that?"
"Because the candle was not guttered."
"Capital!" cried the inspector. "Capital!"
"Feeling sure that the window had been open at the time of
the tragedy, I conceived that there might have been a third
person in the affair, who stood outside this opening and fired
through it. Any shot directed at this person might hit the sash. I
looked, and there, sure enough, was the bullet mark!"
"But how came the window to be shut and fastened?"
"The woman's first instinct would be to shut and fasten the
window. But, halloa! what is this?"
It was a lady's hand-bag which stood upon the study table -- a
trim little handbag of crocodile-skin and silver. Holmes opened it
and turned the contents out. There were twenty fifty-pound notes
of the Bank of England, held together by an india-rubber band --
"This must be preserved, for it will figure in the trial," said
Holmes, as he handed the bag with its contents to the inspector.
"It is now necessary that we should try to throw some light upon
this third bullet, which has clearly, from the splintering of the
wood, been fired from inside the room. I should like to see Mrs.
King, the cook, again. You said, Mrs. King, that you were
awakened by a loud explosion. When you said that, did you
mean that it seemed to you to be louder than the second one?"
"Well, sir, it wakened me from my sleep, so it is hard to
judge. But it did seem very loud."
"You don't think that it might have been two shots fired
almost at the same instant?"
"I am sure I couldn't say, sir."
"I believe that it was undoubtedly so. I rather think, Inspector
Mattin, that we have now exhausted all that this room can teach
us. If you will kindly step round with me, we shall see what
fresh evidence the garden has to offer."
A flower-bed extended up to the study window, and we all
broke into an exclamation as we approached it. The flowers were
trampled down, and the soft soil was imprinted all over with
footmarks. Large, masculine feet they were, with peculiarly
long, sharp toes. Holmes hunted about among the grass and
leaves like a retriever after a wounded bird. Then, with a cry of
satisfaction, he bent forward and picked up a little brazen cylinder.
"I thought so," said he; "the revolver had an ejector, and
here is the third cartridge. I really think, Inspector Martin, that
our case is almost complete."
The country inspector's face had shown his intense amazement
at the rapid and masterful progress of Holmes's investigation. At
first he had shown some disposition to assert his own position,
but now he was overcome with admiration, and ready to follow
without question wherever Holmes led.
"Whom do you suspect?" he asked.
"I'll go into that later. There are several points in this problem
which I have not been able to explain to you yet. Now that I
have got so far, I had best proceed on my own lines, and then
clear the whole matter up once and for all."
"Just as you wish, Mr. Holmes, so long as we get our man."
"I have no desire to make mysteries, but it is impossible at the
moment of action to enter into long and complex explanations. I
have the threads of this affair all in my hand. Even if this lady
should never recover consciousness, we can still reconstruct the
events of last night, and insure that justice be done. First of all, I
wish to know whether there is any inn in this neighbourhood
known as 'Elrige's'?"
The servants were cross-questioned, but none of them had
heard of such a place. The stable-boy threw a light upon the
matter by remembering that a farmer of that name lived some
miles off, in the direction of East Ruston.
"Is it a lonely farm?"
"Very lonely, sir."
"Perhaps they have not heard yet of all that happened here
during the night?"
"Maybe not, sir."
Holmes thought for a little, and then a curious smile played
over his face.
"Saddle a horse, my lad," said he. "I shall wish you to take a
note to Elrige's Farm."
He took from his pocket the various slips of the dancing men.
With these in front of him he worked for some time at the
study-table. Finally he handed a note to the boy, with directions
to put it into the hands of the person to whom it was addressed,
and especially to answer no questions of any sort which might be
put to him. I saw the outside of the note, addressed in straggling,
irregular characters, very unlike Holmes's usual precise hand. It
was consigned to Mr. Abe Slaney, Elrige's Farm, East Ruston,
"I think, Inspector," Holmes remarked, "that you would do
well to telegraph for an escort, as, if my calculations prove to be
correct, you may have a particularly dangerous prisoner to con-
vey to the county jail. The boy who takes this note could no
doubt forward your telegram. If there is an afternoon train to
town, Watson, I think we should do well to take it, as I have a
chemical analysis of some interest to finish, and this investiga-
tion draws rapidly to a close."
When the youth had been dispatched with the note, Sherlock
Holmes gave his instructions to the servants. If any visitor were
to call asking for Mrs. Hilton Cubitt, no information should be
given as to her condition, but he was to be shown at once into
the drawing-room. He impressed these points upon them with the
utmost earnestness. Finally he led the way into the drawing-room,
with the remark that the business was now out of our hands, and
that we must while away the time as best we might until we
could see what was in store for us. The doctor had departed to
his patients and only the inspector and myself remained.
"I think that I can help you to pass an hour in an interesting
and profitable manner," said Holmes, drawing his chair up to
the table, and spreading out in front of him the various papers
upon which were recorded the antics of the dancing men. "As to
you, friend Watson, I owe you every atonement for having
allowed your natural curiosity to remain so long unsatisfied. To
you, Inspector, the whole incident may appeal as a remarkable
professional study. I must tell you, first of all, the interesting
circumstances connected with the previous consultations which
Mr. Hilton Cubitt has had with me in Baker Street." He then
shortly recapitulated the facts which have already been recorded.
"I have here in front of me these singular productions, at which
one might smile, had they not proved themselves to be the
forerunners of so terrible a tragedy. I am fairly familiar with all
forms of secret writings, and am myself the author of a trifling
monograph upon the subject, in which I analyze one hundred and
sixty separate ciphers, but I confess that this is entirely new to
me. The object of those who invented the system has apparently
been to conceal that these characters convey a message, and to
give the idea that they are the mere random sketches of children.
"Having once recognized, however, that the symbols stood
for letters, and having applied the rules which guide us in all
forms of secret writings, the solution was easy enough. The first
message submitted to me was so short that it was impossible for
me to do more than to say, with some confidence, that the
symbol ~ stood for E. As you are aware, E is the most common
letter in the English alphabet, and it predominates to so marked
an extent that even in a short sentence one would expect to find
it most often. Out of fifteen symbols in the first message, four
were the same, so it was reasonable to set this down as E. It is
true that in some cases the figure was bearing a flag, and in some
cases not, but it was probable, from the way in which the flags
were distributed, that they were used to break the sentence up
into words. I accepted this as a hypothesis, and noted that E was
represented by ~.
"But now came the real difficulty of the inquiry. The order of
the English letters after E is by no means well marked, and any
preponderance which may be shown in an average of a printed
sheet may be reversed in a single short sentence. Speaking
roughly, T, A, 0, I, N, S, H, R, D, and L are the numerical
order in which letters occur; but T, A, 0, and I are very nearly
abreast of each other, and it would be an endless task to try each
combination until a meaning was arrived at. I therefore waited
for fresh material. In my second interview with Mr. Hilton
Cubitt he was able to give me two other short sentences and one
message, which appeared -- since there was no flag -- to be a
single word. Here are the symbols. Now, in the single word I
have already got the two E's coming second and fourth in a word
of five letters. It might be 'sever.' or 'lever,' or 'never.' There
can be no question that the latter as a reply to an appeal is far the
most probable, and the circumstances pointed to its being a reply
written by the lady. Accepting it as correct, we are now able to say
that the symbols ~~~ stand respectively for N, V, and R.
"Even now I was in considerable difficulty, but a happy
thought put me in possession of several other letters. It occurred
to me that if these appeals came, as I expected, from someone
who had been intimate with the lady in her early life, a combina-
tion which contained two E's with three letters between might
very well stand for the name 'ELSIE.' On examination I found
that such a combination formed the termination of the message
which was three times repeated. It was certainly some appeal to
'Elsie.' In this way I had got my L, S, and I. But what appeal
could it be? There were only four letters in the word which
preceded 'Elsie,' and it ended in E. Surely the word must be
'COME.' I tried all other four letters ending in E, but could find
none to fit the case. So now I was in possession of C. 0, and
M, and I was in a position to attack the first message once more,
dividing it into words and putting dots for each symbol which
was still unknown. So treated, it worked out in this fashion:
. M . ERE . . E SL . NE.
"Now the first letter can only be A, which is a most useful
discovery, since it occurs no fewer than three times in this short
sentence, and the H is also apparent in the second word. Now it
AM HERE A . E SLANE.
Or, filling in the obvious vacancies in the name:
AM HERE ABE SLANEY.
I had so many letters now that I could proceed with considerable
confidence to the second message, which worked out in this
A . ELRI . ES
Here I could only make sense by putting T and G for the missing
letters, and supposing that the name was that of some house or
inn at which the writer was staying."
Inspector Martin and I had listened with the utmost interest to
the full and clear account of how my friend had produced results
which had led to so complete a command over our difficulties.
"What did you do then, sir?" asked the inspector.
"I had every reason to suppose that this Abe Slaney was an
American, since Abe is an American contraction, and since a
letter from America had been the starting-point of all the trouble.
I had also every cause to think that there was some criminal
secret in the matter. The lady's allusions to her past, and her
refusal to take her husband into her confidence, both pointed in
that direction. I therefore cabled to my friend, Wilson Hargreave,
of the New York Police Bureau, who has more than once made
use of my knowledge of London crime. I asked him whether the
name of Abe Slaney was known to him. Here is his reply: 'The
most dangerous crook in Chicago.' On the very evening upon
which I had his answer, Hilton Cubitt sent me the last message
from Slaney. Working with known letters, it took this form:
ELSIE . RE . ARE TO MEET THY GO.
The addition of a P and a D completed a message which showed
me that the rascal was proceeding from persuasion to threats, and
my knowledge of the crooks of Chicago prepared me to find that
he might very rapidly put his words into action. I at once came
to Norfolk with my friend and colleague, Dr. Watson, but,
unhappily, only in time to find that the worst had already
"It is a privilege to be associated with you in the handling of a
case," said the inspector, warmly. "You will excuse me, how-
ever, if I speak frankly to you. You are only answerable to
yourself, but I have to answer to my superiors. If this Abe
Slaney, living at Elrige's, is indeed the murderer, and if he has
made his escape while I am seated here, I should certainly get
into serious trouble."
"You need not be uneasy. He will not try to escape."
"How do you know?"
"To fly would be a confession of guilt."
"Then let us go to arrest him."
"I expect him here every instant."
"But why should he come?"
"But this is incredible, Mr. Holmes! Why should he come
because you have asked him? Would not such a request rather
rouse his suspicions and cause him to fly?"
"I think I have known how to frame the letter," said Sherlock
Holmes. "In fact, if I am not very much mistaken, here is the
gentleman himself coming up the dnve."
A man was striding up the path which led to the door. He was
a tall, handsome, swarthy fellow, clad in a suit of gray flannel,
with a Panama hat, a bristling black beard, and a great, aggres-
sive hooked nose, and flourishing a cane as he walked. He
swaggered up the path as if the place belonged to him, and we
heard his loud, confident peal at the bell.
"I think, gentlemen," said Holmes, quietly, "that we had
best take up our position behind the door. Every precaution is
necessary when dealing with such a fellow. You will need your
handcuffs, Inspector. You can leave the talking to me."
We waited in silence for a minute -- one of those minutes
which one can never forget. Then the door opened and the man
stepped in. In an instant Holmes clapped a pistol to his head, and
Martin slipped the handcuffs over his wrists. It was all done so
swiftly and deftly that the fellow was helpless before he knew
that he was attacked. He glared from one to the other of us with
a pair of blazing black eyes. Then he burst into a bitter laugh.
"Well, gentlemen, you have the drop on me this time. I seem
to have knocked up against something hard. But I came here in
answer to a letter from Mrs. Hilton Cubitt. Don't tell me that she
is in this? Don't tell me that she helped to set a trap for me?"
The man gave a hoarse cry of grief, which rang through the
"You're crazy!" he cried, fiercely. "It was he that was hurt,
not she. Who would have hurt little Elsie? I may have threatened
her -- God forgive me! -- but I would not have touched a hair of
her pretty head. Take it back -- you! Say that she is not hurt!"
"She was found, badly wounded, by the side of her dead
He sank with a deep groan on to the settee, and buried his face
in his manacled hands. For five minutes he was silent. Then he
raised his face once more, and spoke with the cold composure of
"I have nothing to hide from you, gentlemen," said he. "If I
shot the man he had his shot at me, and there's no murder in
that. But if you think I could have hurt that woman, then you
don't know either me or her. I tell you, there was never a man in
this world loved a woman more than I loved her. I had a right to
her. She was pledged to me years ago. Who was this Englishman
that he should come between us? I tell you that I had the first
right to her, and that I was only claiming my own."
"She broke away from your influence when she found the
man that you are," said Holmes, sternly. "She fled from Amer-
ica to avoid you, and she married an honourable gentleman in
England. You dogged her and followed her and made her life a
misery to her, in order to induce her to abandon the husband
whom she loved and respected in order to fly with you, whom
she feared and hated. You have ended by bringing about the
death of a noble man and driving his wife to suicide. That is
your record in this business, Mr. Abe Slaney, and you will
answer for it to the law.
"If Elsie dies, I care nothing what becomes of me," said the
American. He opened one of his hands, and looked at a note
crumpled up in his palm. "See here, mister," he cried, with a
gleam of suspicion in his eyes, "you're not trying to scare me
over this, are you? If the lady is hurt as bad as you say, who was
it that wrote this note?" He tossed it forward on to the table.
"I wrote it, to bring you here."
"You wrote it? There was no one on earth outside the Joint
who knew the secret of the dancing men. How came you to write
"What one man can invent another can discover," said Holmes.
"There is a cab coming to convey you to Norwich, Mr. Slaney.
But, meanwhile, you have time to make some small reparation
for the injury you have wrought. Are you aware that Mrs. Hilton
Cubitt has herself lain under grave suspicion of the murder of her
husband, and that it was only my presence here, and the knowl-
edge which I happened to possess, which has saved her from the
accusation? The least that you owe her is to make it clear to the
whole world that she was in no way, directly or indirectly,
responsible for his tragic end."
"I ask nothing better," said the American. "I guess the very
best case I can make for myself is the absolute naked truth."
"It is my duty to warn you that it will be used against you,"
cried the inspector, with the magnificent fair play of the British
Slaney shrugged his shoulders.
"I'll chance that," said he. "First of all, I want you gentle-
men to understand that I have known this lady since she was a
child. There were seven of us in a gang in Chicago, and Elsie's
father was the boss of the Joint. He was a clever man, was old
Patrick. It was he who invented that writing, which would pass
as a child's scrawl unless you just happened to have the key to it.
Well Elsie learned some of our ways. but she couldn't stand
the business, and she had a bit of honest money of her own. so
she gave us all the slip and got away to London. She had been
engaged to me, and she would have married me, I believe, if I
had taken over another profession, but she would have nothing to
do with anything on the cross. It was only after her marriage to
this Englishman that I was able to find out where she was. I
wrote to her, but got no answer. After that I came over, and, as
letters were no use, I put my messages where she could read
"Well, I have been here a month now. I lived in that farm,
where I had a room down below, and could get in and out every
night, and no one the wiser. I tried all I could to coax Elsie
away. I knew that she read the messages, for once she wrote an
answer under one of them. Then my temper got the better of me,
and I began to threaten her. She sent me a letter then, imploring
me to go away, and saying that it would break her heart if any
scandal should come upon her husband. She said that she would
come down when her husband was asleep at three in the morn-
ing, and speak with me through the end window, if I would go
away afterwards and leave her in peace. She came down and
brought money with her, trying to bribe me to go. This made
me mad and I caught her arm and tried to pull her through
the window. At that moment in rushed the husband with his
revolver in his hand. Elsie had sunk down upon the floor,
and we were face to face. I was heeled also, and I held up my
gun to scare him off and let me get away. He fired and missed
me. I pulled off almost at the same instant, and down he
dropped. I made away across the garden, and as I went I heard
the window shut behind me. That's God's truth, gentlemen,
every word of it: and I heard no more about it until that lad came
riding up with a note which made me walk in here, like a jay,
and give myself into your hands."
A cab had driven up whilst the American had been talking.
Two uniformed policemen sat inside. Inspector Martin rose and
touched his prisoner on the shoulder.
"It is time for us to go."
"Can I see her first?"
"No, she is not conscious. Mr. Sherlock Holmes. I only hope
that, if ever again I have an important case, I shall have the
good fortune to have you by my side."
We stood at the window and watched the cab drive away. As I
turned back, my eye caught the pellet of paper which the pris-
oner had tossed upon the table. It was the note with which
Holmes had decoyed him.
"See if you can read it, Watson," said he, with a smile.
It contained no word, but this little line of dancing men:
"If you use the code which I have explained," said Holmes,
"you will find that it simply means 'Come here at once.' I was
convinced that it was an invitation which he would not refuse,
since he could never imagine that it could come from anyone but
the lady. And so, my dear Watson, we have ended by turning the
dancing men to good when they have so often been the agents of
evil, and I think that I have fulfilled my promise of giving you
something unusual for your notebook. Three-forty is our train,
and I fancy we should be back in Baker Street for dinner."
Only one word of epilogue. The American, Abe Slaney, was
condemned to death at the winter assizes at Norwich, but his
penalty was changed to penal servitude in consideration of miti-
gating circumstances, and the certainty that Hilton Cubitt had
fired the first shot. Of Mrs. Hilton Cubitt I only know that I have
heard she recovered entirely, and that she still remains a widow,
devoting her whole life to the care of the poor and to the
administration of her husband's estate.