Holmes examined it for some time, and then, folding it carefully up, he placed it in his
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. Watson.
Im not much of a story-teller, said our
visitor, nervously clasping and unclasping his great, strong hands. Youll just
ask me anything that I dont make clear. Ill begin at the time of my marriage
last year, but I want to say first of all that, though Im 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 therePatrick was the nameElsie
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. Youll 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 cant
say that she did not give me  every
chance of getting out of it if I wished to do so. I 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 word.
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 facea
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 itof that I am
Well, now I come to the queer part of my story. About a
week agoit was the Tuesday of last weekI 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 lying 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 shield her.
He was a fine creature, this man of the old English
soilsimple, 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
Dont 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 lineand 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 neighbourhood?
I presume that it is a very quiet place. Any fresh face
would cause comment?
In the immediate neighbourhood, yes. But we have several
small watering-places not very far away. And the farmers take in lodgers.
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 reproduction of
those which were done in chalk upon the window-sill. Make a discreet inquiry also as to
any strangers in the neighbourhood. 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
The interview left Sherlock Holmes very thoughtful, and
several 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 of importance.
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 forehead.
Its getting on my nerves, this business, Mr.
Holmes, said he, as he sank, like a wearied man, into an armchair. Its
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. Shes wearing away
under itjust 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
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
Excellent! said Holmes. Excellent! Pray
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 it here:
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 at
Well, come to bed, said she, and we
can discuss it in the morning.
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 squatted 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
Have you that fresh drawing?
Yes, it is very short, but I made a copy of it, and here
Again he produced a paper. The new dance was in this form:
Tell me, said Holmesand I could see by
his eyes that he was much excitedwas this a mere addition to the first or did
it appear to be entirely separate?
It was on a different panel of the door.
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 wifes 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. Theres 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
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 to-day. I would not leave my wife alone
all night for anything. She is very nervous, and begged me to come back.
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 Cubitts 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
to-morrow, and to take our friend some very definite news as to the secret of his
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 confidence.
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 reproduced:
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 is entangled.
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 he.
A look of annoyance passed over Holmess face.
What makes you think such a thing?
Because Inspector Martin from Norwich has just passed
through. But maybe you are the surgeons. Shes not deador wasnt by last
accounts. You may be in time to save her yetthough it be for the gallows.
Holmess brow was dark with anxiety.
We are going to Riding Thorpe Manor, said he,
but we have heard nothing of what has passed there.
Its a terrible business, said the
stationmaster. They are shot, both Mr. Hilton Cubitt and his wife. She shot him and
then herselfso the servants say. Hes dead and her life is despaired of. Dear,
dear, one of the oldest families in the county of Norfolk, and one of the most
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 melancholy. 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 population 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. Thats Riding Thorpe Manor, said
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 introduced himself as Inspector Martin, of the
Norfolk Constabulary, and he was considerably astonished when he heard the name of my
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 I?
I anticipated it. I came in the hope of preventing
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 Cubitts
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 consciousness. 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 oclock.
Yes, the constable here.
And you have touched nothing?
You have acted with great discretion. Who sent for
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
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 policeman 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 incapable of saying anything. The passage, as well as the room,
was full of smoke and the smell of powder. The window was certainly 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 dresshe in his dressing-gown, over his night-clothes.
Nothing 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 penetrating 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
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. Cubitts 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 accounted for.
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
By George! cried the inspector. How ever did
you see that?
Because I looked for it.
said the country 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
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 womans first instinct would be to shut and
fasten the window. But, halloa! what is this?
It was a ladys hand-bag which stood upon the study
tablea trim little hand-bag 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 bandnothing else.
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 dont think that it might have been two shots
fired almost at the same instant?
I am sure I couldnt say, sir.
I believe that it was undoubtedly so. I rather think,
Inspector Martin, 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
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.
country inspectors face had shown his intense amazement at the rapid and masterful
progress of Holmess 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.
Ill 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
Just as you wish, Mr. Holmes, so long as we get our
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
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 Elriges 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
Holmess usual precise hand. It was consigned to Mr. Abe Slaney, Elriges Farm,
East Ruston, Norfolk.
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 convey 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 investigation 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
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, O, I, N, S, H, R, D, and L are the numerical order in
which letters occur; but T, A, O, 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 appearedsince there
was no flagto be a single word. Here are the symbols:
Now, in the single word I have already got the two Es 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 combination which contained two Es 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, O, 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. . ESL . 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 becomes:
AMHEREA . ESLANE.
Or, filling in the obvious vacancies in the name:
I had so many letters now that I could proceed with considerable confidence to the
second message, which worked out in this fashion:
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 ladys 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 . ARETOMEETTHYGO .
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 occurred.
It is a privilege to be associated with you in the
handling of a case, said the inspector, warmly. You will excuse me, however,
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 Elriges, is indeed the murderer, and if he
has made his escape while I am seated here, I should certainly get into serious
You need not be uneasy. He will not try to escape.
How do you know?
To fly would be a confession of guilt.
let us go to arrest him.
I expect him here every instant.
But why should he come?
Because I have written and asked him.
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 drive.
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, aggressive 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 minuteone 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. Dont tell me that she is in this? Dont tell me that she
helped to set a trap for me?
Mrs. Hilton Cubitt was seriously injured, and is at
The man gave a hoarse cry of grief, which rang through the
Youre crazy! he cried, fiercely. It
was he that was hurt, not she. Who would have hurt little Elsie? I may have threatened
herGod forgive me! but I would not have touched a hair of her pretty head.
Take it backyou! 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 despair.
I have nothing to hide from you, gentlemen,
said he. If I shot the man he had his shot at me, and theres no murder in
that. But if you think I could have hurt that woman, then you dont 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 America 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,
youre 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 it?
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 knowledge 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 criminal
Slaney shrugged his shoulders.
Ill chance that, said he. First of
all, I want you gentlemen to understand that I have known this lady since she was a child.
There were seven of us in a gang in Chicago, and Elsies 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 childs scrawl unless you just happened to have the key to it. Well,
Elsie learned some of our ways, but she couldnt 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 them.
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 morning, 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. Thats Gods 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
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 prisoner 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
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 mitigating 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 husbands estate.