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22 May 1859, Edinburgh M.D., Kt, D.L., LL.D., Sportsman, Writer, Poet, Politician, Justicer, Spiritualist Crowborough, 7 July 1930

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The Adventure of the Dancing Men


1 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. 2 His head was sunk upon his breast, and he looked from my point of view like a strange, lank bird, with dull grey plumage and a black top-knot.
'So, Watson,' said he suddenly, 'you do not propose to invest in South African securities?'
4 I gave a start of astonishment. 5 Accustomed as I was to Holmes's curious faculties, this sudden intrusion into my most intimate thoughts was utterly inexplicable.
6 'How on earth do you know that?' I asked.
7 He wheeled round upon his stool, with a steaming test-tube in his hand and a gleam of amusement in his deep-set eyes.
8 'Now, Watson, confess yourself utterly taken aback,' said he.
9 'I am.'
10 'I ought to make you sign a paper to that effect.'
11 'Why?'
12 'Because in five minutes you will say that it is all so absurdly simple.'
13 'I am sure that I shall say nothing of the kind.'
14 '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. 15 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 possibly a meretricious, effect. 16 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 goldfields.'
17 'I see no connection.'
18 'Very likely not; but I can quickly show you a close connection. 19 Here are the missing links of the very simple chain: 20 1. You had chalk between your left finger and thumb when you returned from the club last night. 21 2. You put chalk there when you play billiards to steady the cue. 22 3. You never play billiards except with Thurston. 23 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. 24 5. Your cheque-book is locked in my drawer, and you have not asked for the key. 25 6. You do not propose to invest your money in this manner.'
26 'How absurdly simple!' I cried.
27 'Quite so!' said he, a little nettled. 28 'Every problem becomes very childish when once it is explained to you. 29 Here is an unexplained one. 30 See what you can make of that, friend Watson.' 31 He tossed a sheet of paper upon the table, and turned once more to his chemical analysis.
32 I looked with amazement at the absurd hieroglyphics upon the paper.
33 'Why, Holmes, it is a child's drawing!' I cried.
34 'Oh, that's your idea!'
35 'What else should it be?'
36 'That is what Mr Hilton Cubitt, of Ridling Thorpe Manor, Norfolk, is very anxious to know. 37 This little conundrum came by the first post, and he was to follow by the next train. 38 There's a ring at the bell, Watson. 39 I should not be very much surprised if this were he.'
40 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. 41 He seemed to bring a whiff of his strong, fresh, bracing, east-coast air with him as he entered. 42 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.
43 'Well, Mr Holmes, what do you make of these?' he cried. 44 'They told me that you were fond of queer mysteries, and I don't think you can find a queerer one than that. 45 I sent the paper on ahead so that you might have time to study it before I came.'
46 'It is certainly rather a curious production,' said Holmes. 47 'At first sight it would appear to be some childish prank. 48 It consists of a number of absurd little figures dancing across the paper upon which they are drawn. 49 Why should you attribute any importance to so grotesque an object?'
50 'I never should, Mr Holmes. 51 But my wife does. 52 It is frightening her to death. 53 She says nothing, but I can see terror in her eyes. 54 That's why I want to sift the matter to the bottom.'
55 Holmes held up the paper so that the sunlight shone full upon it. 56 It was a page torn from a note-book. 57 The markings were done in pencil, and ran in this way:

58 Holmes examined it for some time, and then, folding it carefully up, he placed it in his pocket-book.
59 'This promises to be a most interesting and unusual case,' said he. 60 '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.'
61 'I'm not much of a story-teller,' said our visitor, nervously clasping and unclasping his great, strong hands. 62 'You'll just ask me anything that I don't make clear. 63 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 Ridling Thorpe for a matter of five centuries, and there is no better-known family in the county of Norfolk. 64 Last year I came up to London for the Jubilee, and I stopped at a boarding-house in Russell Square, because Parker, the vicar of our parish, was staying in it. 65 There was an American young lady there - Patrick was the name - Elsie Patrick. 66 In some way we became friends, until before my month was up I was as much in love as a man could be. 67 We were quietly married at a registry office, and we returned to Norfolk a wedded couple. 68 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.
69 'She was very straight about it, was Elsie. 70 I can't say that she did not give me every chance of getting out of it if I wished to do so. 71 "I have had some very disagreeable associations in my life," said she; "I wish to forget all about them. 72 I would rather never allude to the past, for it is very painful to me. 73 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. 74 If these conditions are too hard, then go back to Norfolk and leave me to the lonely life in which you found me." 75 It was only the day before our wedding that she said those very words to me. 76 I told her that I was content to take her on her own terms, and I have been as good as my word.
77 'Well, we have been married now for a year, and very happy we have been. 78 But about a month ago, at the end of June, I saw for the first time signs of trouble. 79 One day my wife received a letter from America. 80 I saw the American stamp. 81 She turned deadly white, read the letter, and threw it into the fire. 82 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. 83 There is always a look of fear upon her face - a look as if she were waiting and expecting. 84 She would do better to trust me. 85 She would find that I was her best friend. 86 But until she speaks I can say nothing. 87 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. 88 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. 89 She knows it well, and she knew it well before she married me. 90 She would never bring any stain upon it - of that I am sure.
91 'Well, now I come to the queer part of my story. 92 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. 93 They were scrawled with chalk. 94 I thought that it was the stable-boy who had drawn them, but the lad swore he knew nothing about it. 95 Anyhow, they had come there during the night. 96 I had them washed out, and I only mentioned the matter to my wife afterwards. 97 To my surprise she took it very seriously, and begged me if any more came to let her see them. 98 None did come for a week, and then yesterday morning I found this paper lying on the sun-dial in the garden. 99 I showed it to Elsie, and down she dropped in a dead faint. 100 Since then she has looked like a woman in a dream, half dazed, and with terror always lurking in her eyes. 101 It was then that I wrote and sent the paper to you, Mr Holmes. 102 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. 103 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.'
104 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. 105 His love for his wife and his trust in her shone in his features. 106 Holmes had listened to his story with the utmost attention, and now he sat for some time in silent thought.
107 '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?'
108 Hilton Cubitt shook his massive head.
109 'A promise is a promise, Mr Holmes. 110 If Elsie wished to tell me, she would. 111 If not, it is not for me to force her confidence. 112 But I am justified in taking my own line - and I will.'
113 'Then I will help you with all my heart. 114 In the first place, have you heard of any strangers being seen in your neighbourhood?'
115 'No.'
116 'I presume that it is a very quiet place. 117 Any fresh face would cause comment?'
118 'In the immediate neighbourhood, yes. 119 But we have several small watering-places not very far away. 120 And the farmers take in lodgers.'
121 'These hieroglyphics have evidently a meaning. 122 If it is a purely arbitrary one, it may be impossible for us to solve it. 123 If, on the other hand, it is systematic, I have no doubt that we shall get to the bottom of it. 124 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. 125 I would suggest that you return to Norfolk, that you keep a keen look-out, and that you take an exact copy of any fresh dancing men which may appear. 126 It is a thousand pities that we have not a reproduction of those which were done in chalk upon the window-sill. 127 Make a discreet inquiry, also, as to any strangers in the neighbourhood. 128 When you have collected some fresh evidence, come to me again. 129 That is the best advice which I can give you, Mr Hilton Cubitt. 130 If there are any pressing fresh developments, I shall be always ready to run down and see you in your Norfolk home.'
131 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 note-book and look long and earnestly at the curious figures inscribed upon it. 132 He made no allusion to the affair, however, until one afternoon a fortnight or so later. 133 I was going out, when he called me back.
134 'You had better stay here, Watson.'
135 'Why?'
136 'Because I had a wire from Hilton Cubitt this morning - you remember Hilton Cubitt, of the dancing men? 137 He was to reach Liverpool Street at one-twenty. 138 He may be here at any moment. 139 I gather from his wire that there have been some new incidents of importance.'
140 We had not long to wait, for our Norfolk squire came straight from the station as fast as a hansom could bring him. 141 He was looking worried and depressed, with tired eyes and a lined forehead.
142 'It's getting on my nerves, this business, Mr Holmes,' said he, as he sank, like a wearied man, into an arm-chair. 143 '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. 144 She's wearing away under it - just wearing away before my eyes.'
145 'Has she said anything yet?'
146 'No, Mr Holmes, she has not. 147 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. 148 I have tried to help her; but I dare say I did it clumsily, and scared her off from it. 149 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.'
150 'But you have found out something for yourself?'
151 'A good deal, Mr Holmes. 152 I have several fresh dancing men pictures for you to examine, and, what is more important, I have seen the fellow.'
153 'What - the man who draws them?'
154 'Yes, I saw him at his work. 155 But I will tell you everything in order. 156 When I got back after my visit to you, the very first thing I saw next morning was a fresh crop of dancing men. 157 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. 158 I took an exact copy, and here it is.' 159 He unfolded a paper and laid it upon the table. 160 Here is a copy of the hieroglyphics:

161 'Excellent!' said Holmes. 162 'Excellent! 163 Pray continue.'
164 'When I had taken the copy I rubbed out the marks; but two mornings later a fresh inscription had appeared. 165 I have a copy of it here':

166 Holmes rubbed his hands and chuckled with delight.
167 'Our material is rapidly accumulating,' said he.
168 'Three days later a message was left scrawled upon paper, and placed under a pebble upon the sun-dial. 169 Here it is. 170 The characters are, as you see, exactly the same as the last one. 171 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. 172 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. 173 She implored me to come to bed. 174 I told her frankly that I wished to see who it was who played such absurd tricks upon us. 175 She answered that it was some senseless practical joke, and that I should not take any notice of it.
176 '"If it really annoys you, Hilton, we might go and travel, you and I, and so avoid this nuisance."
177 '"What, be driven out of our own house by a practical joker?" said I. 178 "Why, we should have the whole county laughing at us!"
179 '"Well, come to bed," said she, "and we can discuss it in the morning."
180 'Suddenly, as she spoke, I saw her white face grow whiter yet in the moonlight, and her hand tightened upon my shoulder. 181 Something was moving in the shadow of the tool-house. 182 I saw a dark, creeping figure which crawled round the corner and squatted in front of the door. 183 Seizing my pistol I was rushing out, when my wife threw her arms round me and held me with convulsive strength. 184 I tried to throw her off, but she clung to me most desperately. 185 At last I got clear, but by the time I had opened the door and reached the house the creature was gone. 186 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. 187 There was no other sign of the fellow anywhere, though I ran all over the grounds. 188 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.'
189 'Have you that fresh drawing?'
190 'Yes; it is very short, but I made a copy of it, and here it is.'
191 Again he produced a paper. 192 The new dance was in this form:

193 '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?'
194 'It was on a different panel of the door.'
195 'Excellent! 196 This is far the most important of all for our purpose. 197 It fills me with hopes. 198 Now, Mr Hilton Cubitt, please continue your most interesting statement.'
199 '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. 200 She said that she feared that I might come to harm. 201 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. 202 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. 203 There's the whole case, and now I want your advice as to what I ought to do. 204 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.'
205 'I fear it is too deep a case for such simple remedies,' said Holmes. 206 'How long can you stop in London?'
207 'I must go back to-day. 208 I would not leave my wife alone at night for anything. 209 She is very nervous and begged me to come back.'
210 'I dare say you are right. 211 But if you could have stopped I might possibly have been able to return with you in a day or two. 212 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.'
213 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. 214 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.
215 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. 216 Sometimes he was making progress, and whistled and sang at his work; sometimes he was puzzled and would sit for a long spell with a furrowed brow and a vacant eye. 217 Finally he sprang from his chair with a cry of satisfaction, and walked up and down the room rubbing his hands together. 218 Then he wrote a long telegram upon a cable form. 219 'If my answer to this is as I hope, you will have a very pretty case to add to your collection, Watson,' said he. 220 '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 annoyance.'
221 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.
222 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. 223 On the evening of the second there came a letter from Hilton Cubitt. 224 All was quiet with him, save that a long inscription had appeared that morning upon the pedestal of the sun-dial. 225 He enclosed a copy of it, which is here reproduced:

226 Holmes bent over this grotesque frieze for some minutes and then suddenly sprang to his feet with an exclamation of surprise and dismay. 227 His face was haggard with anxiety.
228 'We have let this affair go far enough,' said he. 229 'Is there a train to North Walsham to-night?'
230 I turned up the time-table. 231 The last had just gone.
232 'Then we shall breakfast early and take the very first in the morning,' said Holmes. 233 'Our presence is most urgently needed. 234 Ah, here is our expected cablegram. 235 One moment, Mrs Hudson - there may be an answer. 236 No, that is quite as I expected. 237 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 dangerous web in which our simple Norfolk squire is entangled.'
238 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. 239 Would that I had some brighter ending to communicate to my readers; but these are the chronicles of facts, and I must follow to their dark crisis the strange chain of events which for some days made Ridling Thorpe Manor a household word through the length and breadth of England.
240 We had hardly alighted at North Walsham, and mentioned the name of our destination, when the station-master hurried towards us. 241 'I suppose that you are the detectives from London?' said he.
242 A look of annoyance passed over Holmes's face. 243 'What makes you think such a thing?'
244 'Because Inspector Martin from Norwich has just passed through. 245 But maybe you are the surgeons. 246 She's not dead - or wasn't by last accounts. 247 You may be in time to save her yet though it be for the gallows.'
248 Holmes's brow was dark with anxiety.
249 'We are going to Ridling Thorpe Manor,' said he, 'but we have heard nothing of what has passed there.'
250 'It's a terrible business,' said the station-master. 251 'They are shot, both Mr Hilton Cubitt and his wife. 252 She shot him and then herself - so the servants say. 253 He's dead, and her life is despaired of. 254 Dear, dear! one of the oldest families in the county of Norfolk, and one of the most honoured.'
255 Without a word Holmes hurried to a carriage, and during the long, seven-miles drive he never opened his mouth. 256 Seldom have I seen him so utterly despondent. 257 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. 258 He leaned back in his seat, lost in gloomy speculation. 259 Yet there was much around us to interest us, for we were passing through as singular a country-side as any in England, where a few scattered cottages represented the population of today, 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. 260 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. 261 'That's Ridling Thorpe Manor,' said he.
262 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 sun-dial with which we had such strange associations. 263 A dapper little man, with a quick, alert manner and a waxed moustache, had just descended from a high dog-cart. 264 He introduced himself as Inspector Martin, of the Norfolk Constabulary, and he was considerably astonished when he heard the name of my companion.
265 'Why, Mr Holmes, the crime was only committed at three this morning! 266 How could you hear of it in London and get to the spot as soon as I?'
267 'I anticipated it. 268 I came in the hope of preventing it.'
269 'Then you must have important evidence of which we are ignorant, for they were said to be a most united couple.'
270 'I have only the evidence of the dancing men,' said Holmes. 271 'I will explain the matter to you later. 272 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 ensure that justice be done. 273 Will you associate me in your investigation, or will you prefer that I should act independently?'
274 'I should be proud to feel that we were acting together, Mr Holmes,' said the inspector earnestly.
275 'In that case I should be glad to hear the evidence and to examine the premises without an instant of unnecessary delay.'
276 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. 277 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. 278 The bullet had passed through the front of her brain, and it would probably be some time before she could regain consciousness. 279 On the question of whether she had been shot or had shot herself he would not venture to express any decided opinion. 280 Certainly the bullet had been discharged at very close quarters. 281 There was only the one pistol found in the room, two barrels of which had been emptied. 282 Mr Hilton Cubitt had been shot through the heart. 283 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.
284 'Has he been moved?' asked Holmes.
285 'We have moved nothing except the lady. 286 We could not leave her lying wounded upon the floor.'
287 'How long have you been here, doctor?'
288 'Since four o'clock.'
289 'Anyone else?'
290 'Yes, the constable here.'
291 'And you have touched nothing?'
292 'Nothing.'
293 'You have acted with great discretion. 294 Who sent for you?'
295 'The housemaid, Saunders.'
296 'Was it she who gave the alarm?'
297 'She and Mrs King, the cook.'
298 'Where are they now?'
299 'In the kitchen, I believe.'
300 'Then I think we had better hear their story at once.'
301 The old hall, oak-panelled and high-windowed, had been turned into a court of investigation. 302 Holmes sat in a great, old-fashioned chair, his inexorable eyes gleaming out of his haggard face. 303 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. 304 The trim Inspector Martin, the old grey-headed country doctor, myself and a stolid village policeman made up the rest of that strange company.
305 The two women told their story clearly enough. 306 They had been aroused from their sleep by the sound of an explosion, which had been followed a minute later by a second one. 307 They slept in adjoining rooms, and Mrs King had rushed in to Saunders. 308 Together they had descended the stairs. 309 The door of the study was open and a candle was burning upon the table. 310 Their master lay upon his face in the centre of the room. 311 He was quite dead. 312 Near the window his wife was crouching, her head leaning against the wall. 313 She was horribly wounded, and the side of her face was red with blood. 314 She breathed heavily, but was incapable of saying anything. 315 The passage, as well as the room, was full of smoke and the smell of powder. 316 The window was certainly shut and fastened upon the inside. 317 Both women were positive upon the point. 318 They had at once sent for the doctor and for the constable. 319 Then, with the aid of the groom and the stable-boy, they had conveyed their injured mistress to her room. 320 Both she and her husband had occupied the bed. 321 She was clad in her dress - he in his dressing-gown, over his night-clothes. 322 Nothing had been moved in the study. 323 So far as they knew, there had never been any quarrel between husband and wife. 324 They had always looked upon them as a very united couple.
325 These were the main points of the servants' evidence. 326 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. 327 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. 328 'I commend that fact very carefully to your attention,' said Holmes to his professional colleague. 329 'And now I think that we are in a position to undertake a thorough examination of the room.'
330 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. 331 Our first attention was given to the body of the unfortunate squire, whose huge frame lay stretched across the room. 332 His disordered dress showed that he had been hastily aroused from sleep. 333 The bullet had been fired at him from the front, and had remained in his body after penetrating the heart. 334 His death had certainly been instantaneous and painless. 335 There was no powder-marking either upon his dressing- gown or on his hands. 336 According to the country surgeon, the lady had stains upon her face, but none upon her hand.
337 'The absence of the latter means nothing, though its presence may mean everything,' said Holmes. 338 'Unless the powder from a badly fitting cartridge happens to spurt backwards, one may fire many shots without leaving a sign. 339 I would suggest that Mr Cubitt's body may now be removed. 340 I suppose, doctor, you have not recovered the bullet which wounded the lady?'
341 'A serious operation will be necessary before that can be done. 342 But there are still four cartridges in the revolver. 343 Two have been fired and two wounds inflicted, so that each bullet can be accounted for.'
344 'So it would seem,' said Holmes. 345 'Perhaps you can account also for the bullet which has so obviously struck the edge of the window?'
346 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.
347 'By George!' cried the inspector. 348 'How ever did you see that?'
349 'Because I looked for it.'
350 'Wonderful!' said the country doctor. 351 'You are certainly right, sir. 352 Then a third shot has been fired, and therefore a third person must have been present. 353 But who could that have been, and how could he have got away?'
354 'That is the problem which we are now about to solve,' said Sherlock Holmes. 355 '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?'
356 'Yes, sir; but I confess I did not quite follow you.'
357 'It suggested that at the time of the firing the window as well as the door of the room had been open. 358 Otherwise the fumes of powder could not have been blown so rapidly through the house. 359 A draught in the room was necessary for that. 360 Both door and window were only open for a short time, however.'
361 'How do you prove that?'
362 'Because the candle has not guttered.'
363 'Capital!' cried the inspector. 364 'Capital!'
365 '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. 366 Any shot directed at this person might hit the sash. 367 I looked, and there, sure enough, was the bullet mark!'
368 'But how came the window to be shut and fastened?'
369 'The woman's first instinct would be to shut and fasten the window. 370 But, hullo! what is this?'
371 It was a lady's hand-bag which stood upon the study table - a trim little hand-bag of crocodile-skin and silver. 372 Holmes opened it and turned the contents out. 373 There were twenty fifty-pound notes of the Bank of England, held together by an India-rubber band - nothing else.
374 'This must be preserved, for it will figure in the trial,' said Holmes, as he handed the bag with its contents to the inspector. 375 '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. 376 I should like to see Mrs King, the cook, again... 377 You said, Mrs King, that you were awakened by a loud explosion. 378 When you said that, did you mean that it seemed to you to be louder than the second one?'
379 'Well, sir, it wakened me from my sleep, and so it is hard to judge. 380 But it did seem very loud.'
381 'You don't think that it might have been two shots fired almost at the same instant?'
382 'I am sure I couldn't say, sir.'
383 'I believe that it was undoubtedly so. 384 I rather think, Inspector Martin, that we have now exhausted all that this room can teach us. 385 If you will kindly step round with me we shall see what fresh evidence the garden has to offer.'
386 A flower-bed extended up to the study window, and we all broke into an exclamation as we approached it. 387 The flowers were trampled down, and the soft soil was imprinted all over with footmarks. 388 Large, masculine feet they were, with peculiarly long, sharp toes. 389 Holmes hunted about among the grass and leaves like a retriever after a wounded bird. 390 Then, with a cry of satisfaction, he bent forward and picked up a little brazen cylinder.
391 'I thought so,' said he; 'the revolver had an ejector, and here is the third cartridge. 392 I really think, Inspector Martin, that our case is almost complete.'
393 The country inspector's face had shown his intense amazement at the rapid and masterful progress of Holmes's investigations. 394 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.
395 'Whom do you suspect?' he asked.
396 'I'll go into that later. 397 There are several points in this problem which I have not been able to explain to you yet. 398 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.'
399 'Just as you wish, Mr Holmes, so long as we get our man.'
400 'I have no desire to make mysteries, but it is impossible at the moment of action to enter into long and complex explanations. 401 I have the threads of this affair all in my hand. 402 Even if this lady should never recover consciousness we can still reconstruct the events of last night and ensure that justice be done. 403 First of all I wish to know whether there is any inn in this neighbourhood known as "Elrige's?"'
404 The servants were cross-questioned, but none of them had heard of such a place. 405 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.
406 'Is it a lonely farm?'
407 'Very lonely, sir.'
408 'Perhaps they have not heard yet of all that happened here during the night?'
409 'Maybe not, sir.'
410 Holmes thought for a little, and then a curious smile played over his face.
411 'Saddle a horse, my lad,' said he. 412 'I shall wish you to take a note to Elrige's Farm.'
413 He took from his pocket the various slips of the dancing men. 414 With these in front of him he worked for some time at the study-table. 415 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. 416 I saw the outside of the note, addressed in straggling, irregular characters, very unlike Holmes's usual precise hand. 417 It was consigned to Mr Abe Slaney, Elrige's Farm, East Ruston, Norfolk.
418 '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 gaol. 419 The boy who takes this note could no doubt forward your telegram. 420 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.'
421 When the youth had been dispatched with the note, Sherlock Holmes gave his instructions to the servants. 422 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. 423 He impressed these points upon them with the utmost earnestness. 424 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. 425 The doctor had departed to his patients, and only the inspector and myself remained.
426 'I think 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. 427 'As to you, friend Watson, I owe you every atonement for having allowed your natural curiosity to remain so long unsatisfied. 428 To you, inspector, the whole incident may appeal as a remarkable professional study. 429 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.' 430 He then shortly recapitulated the facts which have already been recorded.
431 '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. 432 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 analyse one hundred and sixty separate ciphers; but I confess that this is entirely new to me. 433 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.
434 '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. 435 The first message submitted to me was so short that it was impossible for me to do more than say with some confidence that the symbol

stood for E. 436 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. 437 Out of fifteen symbols in the first message four were the same, so it was reasonable to set this down as E. 438 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. 439 I accepted this as an hypothesis, and noted that E was represented by

440 'But now came the real difficulty of the inquiry. 441 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. 442 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. 443 I, therefore, waited for fresh material. 444 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. 445 Here are the symbols. 446 Now, in the single word I have already got the two E's coming second and fourth in a word of five letters. 447 It might be "sever", or "lever", or "never". 448 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. 449 Accepting it as correct we are now able to say that the symbols

stand respectively for N, V, and R.
450 'Even now I was in considerable difficulty, but a happy thought put me in possession of several other letters. 451 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 E's with three letters between might very well stand for the name "ELSIE". 452 On examination I found that such a combination formed the termination of the message which was three times repeated. 453 It was certainly some appeal to "Elsie". 454 In this way I had got my L, S, and I. 455 But what appeal could it be? 456 There were only four letters in the word which preceded "Elsie", and it ended in E. 457 Surely the word must be "C O M E". 458 I tried all other four letters ending in E, but could find none to fit the case. 459 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. 460 So treated it worked out in this fashion:

461 . M . ERE . E SL . NE .

462 '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. 463 Now it becomes:


465 Or, filling in the obvious vacancies in the name:


467 I had so many letters now that I could proceed with considerable confidence to the second message, which worked out in this fashion:

468 A. ELRI . ES

469 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.'
470 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.
471 'What did you do then, sir?' asked the inspector.
472 '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. 473 I had also every cause to think that there was some criminal secret in the matter. 474 The lady's allusions to her past and her refusal to take her husband into her confidence both pointed in that direction. 475 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. 476 I asked him whether the name of Abe Slaney was known to him. 477 Here is his reply: 478 "The most dangerous crook in Chicago." 479 On the very evening upon which I had his answer Hilton Cubitt sent me the last message from Slaney. 480 Working with known letters it took this form:


482 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. 483 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.'
484 'It is a privilege to be associated with you in the handling of a case,' said the inspector warmly. 485 'You will excuse me, however, if I speak frankly to you. 486 You are only answerable to yourself, but I have to answer to my superiors. 487 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.'
488 'You need not be uneasy. 489 He will not try to escape.'
490 'How do you know?'
491 'To fly would be a confession of guilt.'
492 'Then let us go to arrest him.'
493 'I expect him here every instant.'
494 'But why should he come?'
495 'Because I have written and asked him.'
496 'But this is incredible, Mr Holmes! 497 Why should he come because you have asked him? 498 Would not such a request rather rouse his suspicions and cause him to fly?'
499 'I think I have known how to frame the letter,' said Sherlock Holmes. 500 'In fact, if I am not very much mistaken, here is the gentleman himself coming up the drive.'
501 A man was striding up the path which led to the door. 502 He was a tall, handsome, swarthy fellow, clad in a suit of grey flannel, with a Panama hat, a bristling black beard and a great, aggressive, hooked nose, and flourishing a cane as he walked. 503 He swaggered up the path as if the place belonged to him, and we heard his loud, confident peal at the bell.
504 'I think, gentlemen,' said Holmes quietly, 'that we had best take up our position behind the door. 505 Every precaution is necessary when dealing with such a fellow. 506 You will need your handcuffs, Inspector. 507 You can leave the talking to me.'
508 We waited in silence for a minute - one of those minutes which one can never forget. 509 Then the door opened, and the man stepped in. 510 In an instant Holmes clapped a pistol to his head, and Martin slipped the handcuffs over his wrists. 511 It was all done so swiftly and deftly that the fellow was helpless before he knew that he was attacked. 512 He glared from one to the other of us with a pair of blazing black eyes. 513 Then he burst into a bitter laugh.
514 'Well, gentlemen, you have the drop on me this time. 515 I seem to have knocked up against something hard. 516 But I came here in answer to a letter from Mrs Hilton Cubitt. 517 Don't tell me that she is in this? 518 Don't tell me that she helped to set a trap for me?'
519 'Mrs Hilton Cubitt was seriously injured, and is at death's door.'
520 The man gave a hoarse cry of grief which rang through the house.
521 'You're crazy!' he cried fiercely. 522 'It was he that was hurt, not she. 523 Who would have hurt little Elsie? 524 I may have threatened her, God forgive me, but I would not have touched a hair of her pretty head. 525 Take it back you! 526 Say that she is not hurt!'
527 'She was found badly wounded by the side of her dead husband.'
528 He sank with a deep groan on to the settee, and buried his face in his manacled hands. 529 For five minutes he was silent. 530 Then he raised his face once more, and spoke with the cold composure of despair.
531 'I have nothing to hide from you, gentlemen,' said he. 532 'If I shot the man he had his shot at me, and there's no murder in that. 533 But if you think I could have hurt that woman, then you don't know either me or her. 534 I tell you there was never a man in this world loved a woman more than I loved her. 535 I had a right to her. 536 She was pledged to me years ago. 537 Who was this Englishman that he should come between us? 538 I tell you that I had the first right to her, and that I was only claiming my own.'
539 'She broke away from your influence when she found the man that you are,' said Holmes sternly. 540 'She fled from America to avoid you, and she married an honourable gentleman in England. 541 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. 542 You have ended by bringing about the death of a noble man and driving his wife to suicide. 543 That is your record in this business, Mr Abe Slaney, and you will answer for it to the law.'
544 'If Elsie dies I care nothing what becomes of me,' said the American. 545 He opened one of his hands and looked at a note crumpled up in his palm. 546 'See here, mister,' he cried, with a gleam of suspicion in his eyes, 'you're not trying to scare me over this, are you? 547 If the lady is hurt as bad as you say, who was it that wrote this note?' 548 He tossed it forward on to the table.
549 'I wrote it to bring you here.'
550 'You wrote it? 551 There was no one on earth outside the joint who knew the secret of the dancing men. 552 How came you to write it?'
553 'What one man can invent another can discover,' said Holmes. 554 'There is a cab coming to convey you to Norwich, Mr Slaney. 555 But, meanwhile, you have time to make some small reparation for the injury you have wrought. 556 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? 557 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.'
558 'I ask nothing better,' said the American. 559 'I guess the very best case I can make for myself is the absolute naked truth.'
560 '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 law.
561 Slaney shrugged his shoulders.
562 'I'll chance that,' said he. 563 'First of all, I want you gentlemen to understand that I have known this lady since she was a child. 564 There were seven of us in a gang in Chicago, and Elsie's father was the boss of the Joint. 565 He was a clever man, was old Patrick. 566 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. 567 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. 568 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. 569 It was only after her marriage to this Englishman that I was able to find out where she was. 570 I wrote to her, but got no answer. 571 After that I came over, and, as letters were of no use, I put my messages where she could read them.
572 'Well, I have been here a month now. 573 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. 574 I tried all I could to coax Elsie away. 575 I knew that she read the messages, for once she wrote an answer under one of them. 576 Then my temper got the better of me, and I began to threaten her. 577 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. 578 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. 579 She came down and brought money with her, trying to bribe me to go. 580 This made me mad, and I caught her arm and tried to pull her through the window. 581 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. 582 I was heeled also, and I held up my gun to scare him off and let me get away. 583 He fired and missed me. 584 I pulled off almost at the same instant, and down he dropped. 585 I made away across the garden, and as I went I heard the window shut behind me. 586 That's God 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.'
587 A cab had driven up whilst the American had been talking. 588 Two uniformed policemen sat inside. 589 Inspector Martin rose and touched his prisoner on the shoulder.
590 'It is time for us to go.'
591 'Can I see her first?'
592 'No, she is not conscious. 593 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.'
594 We stood at the window and watched the cab drive away. 595 As I turned back my eye caught the pellet of paper which the prisoner had tossed upon the table. 596 It was the note with which Holmes had decoyed him.
597 'See if you can read it, Watson,' said he, with a smile.
598 It contained no word, but this little line of dancing men:

599 'If you use the code which I have explained,' said Holmes, 'you will find that it simply means "Come here at once." 600 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. 601 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. 602 Three-forty is our train, and I fancy we should be back in Baker Street for dinner.'
603 Only one word of epilogue. 604 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. 605 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.

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