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THE ADVENTURE OF THE DANCING MEN - Arthur Connan Doyle

                                                                            
                                      1903                                  
                                                                            
                                SHERLOCK HOLMES                             
                                                                            
                        THE ADVENTURE OF THE DANCING MEN                    
                                                                            
                           by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle                        
                                                                            
                                                                            
                                                                            
  Holmes had been seated for some hours in silence with his long, thin      
back curved over a chemical vessel in which he was brewing a                
particularly malodorous product. His head was sunk upon his breast,         
and he looked from my point of view like a strange, lank bird, with         
dull gray plumage and a black top-knot.                                     
  "So, Watson," said he, suddenly, "you do not propose to invest in         
South African securities?"                                                  
  I gave a start of astonishment. Accustomed as I was to Holmes's           
curious faculties, this sudden intrusion into my most intimate              
thoughts was utterly inexplicable.                                          
  "How on earth do you know that?" I asked.                                 
  He wheeled round upon his stool, with a steaming test-tube in his         
hand, and a gleam of amusement in his deep-set eyes.                        
  "Now, Watson, confess yourself utterly taken aback," said he.             
  "I am."                                                                   
  "I ought to make you sign a paper to that effect."                        
  "Why?"                                                                    
  "Because in five minutes you will say that it is all so absurdly          
simple."                                                                    
  "I am sure that I shall say nothing of the kind."                         
  "You see, my dear Watson"- he propped his test-tube in the rack, and      
began to lecture with the air of a professor addressing his class- "it      
is not really difficult to construct a series of inferences, each           
dependent upon its predecessor and each simple in itself. If, after         
doing so, one simply knocks out all the central inferences and              
presents one's audience with the starting-point and the conclusion,         
one may produce a startling, though possibly a meretricious, effect.        
Now, it was not really difficult, by an inspection of the groove            
between your left forefinger and thumb, to feel sure that you did           
not propose to invest your small capital in the gold fields."               
  "I see no connection."                                                    
  "Very likely not; but I can quickly show you a close connection.          
Here are the missing links of the very simple chain: 1. You had             
chalk between your left finger and thumb when you returned from the         
club last night. 2. You put chalk there when you play billiards, to         
steady the cue. 3. You never play billiards except with Thurston.           
4. You told me, four weeks ago, that Thurston had an option on some         
South African property which would expire in a month, and which he          
desired you to share with him. 5. Your check book is locked in my           
drawer, and you have not asked for the key. 6. You do not propose to        
invest your money in this manner."                                          
  "How absurdly simple!" I cried.                                           
  "Quite so!" said he, a little nettled. "Every problem becomes very        
childish when once it is explained to you. Here is an unexplained one.      
See what you can make of that, friend Watson." He tossed a sheet of         
paper upon the table, and turned once more to his chemical analysis.        
  I looked with amazement at the absurd hieroglyphics upon the paper.       
  "Why, Holmes, it is a child's drawing," I cried.                          
  "Oh, that's your idea!"                                                   
  "What else should it be?"                                                 
  "That is what Mr. Hilton Cubitt, of Riding Thorpe Manor, Norfolk, is      
very anxious to know. This little conundrum came by the first post,         
and he was to follow by the next train. There's a ring at the bell,         
Watson. I should not be very much surprised if this were he."               
  A heavy step was heard upon the stairs, and an instant later there        
entered a tall, ruddy, clean-shaven gentleman, whose clear eyes and         
florid cheeks told of a life led far from the fogs of Baker Street. He      
seemed to bring a whiff of his strong, fresh, bracing, east-coast           
air with him as he entered. Having shaken hands with each of us, he         
was about to sit down, when his eye rested upon the paper with the          
curious markings, which I had just examined and left upon the table.        
  "Well, Mr. Holmes, what do you make of these?" he cried. "They            
told me that you were fond of queer mysteries, and I don't think you        
can find a queerer one than that. I sent the paper on ahead, so that        
you might have time to study it before I came."                             
  "It is certainly rather a curious production," said Holmes. "At           
first sight it would appear to be some childish prank. It consists          
of a number of absurd little figures dancing across the paper upon          
which they are drawn. Why should you attribute any importance to so         
grotesque an object?"                                                       
  "I never should, Mr. Holmes. But my wife does. It is frightening her      
to death. She says nothing, but I can see terror in her eyes. That's        
why I want to sift the matter to the bottom."                               
  Holmes held up the paper so that the sunlight shone full upon it. It      
was a page torn from a notebook. The markings were done in pencil, and      
ran in this way:                                                            
-                                                                           
                                                                            
  (See illustration.)                                                       
-                                                                           
Holmes examined it for some time, and then, folding it carefully up,        
he placed it in his pocketbook.                                             
  "This promises to be a most interesting and unusual case," said           
he. "You gave me a few particulars in your letter, Mr. Hilton               
Cubitt, but I should be very much obliged if you would kindly go            
over it all again for the benefit of my friend, Dr. Watson."                
  "I'm not much of a story-teller," said our visitor, nervously             
clasping and unclasping his great, strong hands. "You'll just ask me        
anything that I don't make clear. I'll begin at the time of my              
marriage last year, but I want to say first of all that, though I'm         
not a rich man, my people have been at Riding Thorpe for a matter of        
five centuries, and there is no better known family in the County of        
Norfolk. Last year I came up to London for the Jubilee, and I               
stopped at a boardinghouse in Russell Square, because Parker, the           
vicar of our parish, was staying in it. There was an American young         
lady there- Patrick was the name- Elsie Patrick. In some way we became      
friends, until before my month was up I was as much in love as man          
could be. We were quietly married at a registry office, and we              
returned to Norfolk a wedded couple. You'll think it very mad, Mr.          
Holmes, that a man of a good old family should marry a wife in this         
fashion, knawing nothing of her past or of her people, but if you           
saw her and knew her, it would help you to understand.                      
  "She was very straight about it, was Elsie. I can't say that she did      
not give me every chance of getting out of it if I wished to do so. `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         
face- a look as if she were waiting and expecting. She would do better      
to trust me. She would find that I was her best friend. But until           
she speaks, I can say nothing. Mind you, she is a truthful woman,           
Mr. Holmes, and whatever trouble there may have been in her past            
life it has been no fault of hers. I am only a simple Norfolk               
squire, but there is not a man in England who ranks his family              
honour more highly than I do. She knows it well, and she knew it            
well before she married me. She would never bring any stain upon it-        
of that I am sure.                                                          
  "Well, now I come to the queer part of my story. About a week ago-        
it was the Tuesday of last week- I found on one of the window-sills         
a number of absurd little dancing figures like these upon the paper.        
They were scrawled with chalk. I thought that it was the stable-boy         
who had drawn them, but the lad swore he knew nothing about it.             
Anyhow, they had come there during the night. I had them washed out,        
and I only mentioned the matter to my wife afterwards. To my surprise,      
she took it very seriously, and begged me if any more came to let           
her see them. None did come for a week, and then yesterday morning I        
found this paper 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 soil-simple,          
straight, and gentle, with his great, earnest blue eyes and broad,          
comely face. His love for his wife and his trust in her shone in his        
features. Holmes had listened to his story with the utmost                  
attention, and now he sat for some time in silent thought.                  
  "Don't you think, Mr. Cubitt," said he, at last, "that your best          
plan would be to make a direct appeal to your wife, and to ask her          
to share her secret with you?"                                              
  Hilton Cubitt shook his massive head.                                     
  "A promise is a promise, Mr. Holmes. If Elsie wished to tell me           
she would. If not, it is not for me to force her confidence. But I          
am justified in taking my own line- and I will."                            
  "Then I will help you with all my heart. In the first place, have         
you heard of any strangers being seen in your neighbourhood?"               
  "No."                                                                     
  "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 Norfolk home."                                                         
  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."                                       
  "Why?"                                                                    
  "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.                
  "It's getting on my nerves, this business, Mr. Holmes," said he,          
as he sank, like a wearied man, into an armchair. "It's bad enough          
to feel that you are surrounded by unseen, unknown folk, who have some      
kind of design upon you, but when, in addition to that, you know            
that it is just killing your wife by inches, then it becomes as much        
as flesh and blood can endure. She's wearing away under it- just            
wearing away before my eyes."                                               
  "Has she said anything yet?"                                              
  "No, Mr. Holmes, she has not. And yet there have been times when the      
poor girl has wanted to speak, and yet could not quite bring herself        
to take the plunge. I have tried to help her, but I daresay I did it        
clumsily, and scared her from it. She has spoken about my old               
family, and our reputation in the county, and our pride in our              
unsullied honour, and I always felt it was leading to the point, but        
somehow it turned off before we got there."                                 
  "But you have found out something for yourself?"                          
  "A good deal, Mr. Holmes. I have several fresh dancing-men                
pictures for you to examine, and, what is more important, I have            
seen the fellow."                                                           
  "What, the man who draws them?"                                           
  "Yes, I saw him at his work. But I will tell you everything in            
order. When I got back after my visit to you, the very first thing I        
saw next morning was a fresh crop of dancing men. They had been             
drawn in chalk upon the black wooden door of the tool-house, which          
stands beside the lawn in full view of the front windows. I took an         
exact copy, and here it is." He unfolded a paper and laid it upon           
the table. Here is a copy of the hieroglyphics:                             
-                                                                           
                                                                            
  (See illustration.)                                                       
-                                                                           
  "Excellent!" said Holmes. "Excellent! Pray continue."                     
  "When I had taken the copy, I rubbed out the marks, but, two              
mornings later, a fresh inscription had appeared. I have a copy of          
it here":                                                                   
-                                                                           
                                                                            
  (See illustration.)                                                       
-                                                                           
  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                  
dressinggown. 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 us.'                   
  "`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 seen."                                                  
  "Have you that fresh drawing?"                                            
  "Yes, it is very short, but I made a copy of it, and here it is."         
  Again he produced a paper. The new dance was in this form:                
-                                                                           
                                                                            
  (See illustration.)                                                       
-                                                                           
  "Tell me," said Holmes- and I could see by his eyes that he was much      
excited- "was this a mere addition to the first or did it appear to be      
entirely separate?"                                                         
  "It was on a different panel of the door."                                
  "Excellent! This is far the most important of all for our purpose.        
It fills me with hopes. Now, Mr. Hilton Cubitt, please continue your        
most interesting statement."                                                
  "I have nothing more to say, Mr. Holmes, except that I was angry          
with my wife that night for having held me back when I might have           
caught the skulking rascal. She said that she feared that I might come      
to harm. For an instant it had crossed my mind that perhaps what she        
really feared was that he might come to harm, for I could not doubt         
that she knew who this man was, and what he meant by these strange          
signals. But there is a tone in my wife's voice, Mr. Holmes, and a          
look in her eyes which forbid doubt, and I am sure that it was              
indeed my own safety that was in her mind. There's the whole case, and      
now I want your advice as to what I ought to do. My own inclination is      
to put half a dozen of my farm lads in the shrubbery, and when this         
fellow comes again to give him such a hiding that he will leave us          
in peace for the future."                                                   
  "I fear it is too deep a case for such simple remedies," said             
Holmes. "How long can you stay in London?"                                  
  "I must go back 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         
Cubitt's broad back had disappeared through the door my comrade rushed      
to the table, laid out all the slips of paper containing dancing men        
in front of him, and threw himself into an intricate and elaborate          
calculation. For two hours I watched him as he covered sheet after          
sheet of paper with figures and letters, so completely absorbed in his      
task that he had evidently forgotten my presence. Sometimes he was          
making progress and whistled and sang at his work; sometimes he was         
puzzled, and would sit for long spells with a furrowed brow and a           
vacant eye. Finally he sprang from his chair with a cry of                  
satisfaction, and walked up and down the room rubbing his hands             
together. Then he wrote a long telegram upon a cable form. "If my           
answer to this is as I hope, you will have a very pretty case to add        
to your collection, Watson," said he. "I expect that we shall be            
able to go down to Norfolk tomorrow, and to take our friend some            
very definite news as to the secret of his annoyance."                      
  I confess that I was filled with curiosity, but I was aware that          
Holmes liked to make his disclosures at his own time and in his own         
way, so I waited until it should suit him to take me into his               
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. 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:                
-                                                                           
                                                                            
  (See illustration.)                                                       
-                                                                           
  Holmes bent over this grotesque frieze for some minutes, and then         
suddenly sprang to his feet with an exclamation of surprise and             
dismay. His face was haggard with anxiety.                                  
  "We have let this affair go far enough," said he. "Is there a             
train to North Walsham to-night?"                                           
  I turned up the time-table. The last had just gone.                       
  "Then we shall breakfast early and take the very first in the             
morning," said Holmes. "Our presence is most urgently needed. Ah! here      
is our expected cablegram. One moment, Mrs. Hudson, there may be an         
answer. No, that is quite as I expected. This message makes it even         
more essential that we should not lose an hour in letting Hilton            
Cubitt know how matters stand, for it is a singular and a dangerous         
web in which our simple Norfolk squire 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 Holmes's face.                            
  "What makes you think such a thing?"                                      
  "Because Inspector Martin from Norwich has just passed through.           
But maybe you are the surgeons. She's not dead- or wasn't by last           
accounts. You may be in time to save her yet- though it be for the          
gallows."                                                                   
  Holmes's brow was dark with anxiety.                                      
  "We are going to Riding Thorpe Manor," said he, "but we have heard        
nothing of what has passed there."                                          
  "It's a terrible business," said the stationmaster. "They are shot        
both Mr. Hilton Cubitt and his wife. She shot him and then herself- so      
the servants say. He's dead and her life is despaired of. Dear,             
dear, one of the oldest families in the county of Norfolk, and one          
of the most honoured."                                                      
  Without a word Holmes hurried to a carriage, and during the long          
seven miles' drive he never opened his mouth. Seldom have I seen him        
so utterly despondent. He had been uneasy during all our journey            
from town, and I had observed that he had turned over the morning           
papers with anxious attention, but now this sudden realization of           
his worst fears left him in a blank 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. "That's Riding Thorpe Manor,"        
said he.                                                                    
  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 companion.                          
  "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 it."                  
  "Then you must have important evidence, of which we are ignorant,         
for they were said to be a most united couple."                             
  "I have only the evidence of the dancing men," said Holmes. "I            
will explain the matter to you later. Meanwhile, since it is too            
late to prevent this tragedy, I am very anxious that I should use           
the knowledge which I possess in order to insure that justice be done.      
Will you associate me in your investigation, or will you prefer that I      
should act independently?"                                                  
  "I should be proud to feel that we were acting together, Mr.              
Holmes," said the inspector, earnestly.                                     
  "In that case I should be glad to hear the evidence and to examine        
the premises without an instant of unnecessary delay."                      
  Inspector Martin had the good sense to allow my friend to do              
things in his own fashion, and contented himself with carefully noting      
the results. The local surgeon, an old, white-haired man, had just          
come down from Mrs. Hilton Cubitt's room, and he reported that her          
injuries were serious, but not necessarily fatal. The bullet had            
passed through the front of her brain, and it would probably be some        
time before she could regain 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 o'clock."                                                     
  "Anyone else?"                                                            
  "Yes, the constable here."                                                
  "And you have touched nothing?"                                           
  "Nothing."                                                                
  "You have acted with great discretion. Who sent for you?"                 
  "The housemaid, Saunders."                                                
  "Was it she who gave the alarm?"                                          
  "She and Mrs. King, the cook."                                            
  "Where are they now?"                                                     
  "In the kitchen, I believe."                                              
  "Then I think we had better hear their story at once."                    
  The old hall, oak-panelled and high-windowed, had been turned into a      
court of investigation. Holmes sat in a great, old-fashioned chair,         
his inexorable eyes gleaming out of his haggard face. I could read          
in them a set purpose to devote his life to this quest until the            
client whom he had failed to save should at last be avenged. The            
trim Inspector Martin, the old, gray-headed country doctor, myself,         
and a stolid village 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 dress- he 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 hand.                                           
  "The absence of the latter means nothing, though its presence may         
mean everything," said Holmes. "Unless the powder from a badly fitting      
cartridge happens to spurt backward, one may fire many shots without        
leaving a sign. I would suggest that Mr. Cubitt's body may now be           
removed. I suppose, Doctor, you have not recovered the bullet which         
wounded the lady?"                                                          
  "A serious operation will be necessary before that can be done.           
But there are still four cartridges in the revolver. Two have been          
fired and two wounds inflicted, so that each bullet can be 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 window?"           
  He had turned suddenly, and his long, thin finger was pointing to         
a hole which had been drilled right through the lower window-sash,          
about an inch above the bottom.                                             
  "By George!" cried the inspector. "How ever did you see that?"            
  "Because I looked for it."                                                
  "Wonderful!" 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 you."                     
  "It suggested that at the time of the firing, the window as well          
as the door of the room had been open. Otherwise the fumes of powder        
could not have been blown so rapidly through the house. A draught in        
the room was necessary for that. Both door and window were only open        
for a very short time, however."                                            
  "How do you prove that?"                                                  
  "Because the candle was not guttered."                                    
  "Capital!" cried the inspector. "Capital!                                 
  "Feeling sure that the window had been open at the time of the            
tragedy, I conceived that there might have been a third person in           
the affair, who stood outside this opening and fired through it. Any        
shot directed at this person might hit the sash. I looked, and              
there, sure enough, was the bullet mark!"                                   
  "But how came the window to be shut and fastened?"                        
  "The woman's first instinct would be to shut and fasten the               
window. But, halloa! What is this?"                                         
  It was a lady's hand-bag which stood upon the study table- a trim         
little handbag of crocodile-skin and silver. Holmes opened it and           
turned the contents out. There were twenty fifty-pound notes of the         
Bank of England, held together by an india-rubber band- nothing 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 don't think that it might have been two shots fired almost at        
the same instant?"                                                          
  "I am sure I couldn't say, sir."                                          
  "I believe that it was undoubtedly so. I rather think, Inspector          
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 brazen cylinder.                             
  "I thought so," said he, "the revolver had an ejector, and here is        
the third cartridge. I really think, Inspector Martin, that our case        
is almost complete."                                                        
  The country inspector's face had shown his intense amazement at           
the rapid and masterful progress of Holmes's investigation. At first        
he had shown some disposition to assert his own position, but now he        
was overcome with admiration, and ready to follow without question          
wherever Holmes led.                                                        
  "Whom do you suspect?" he asked.                                          
  "I'll go into that later. There are several points in this problem        
which I have not been able to explain to you yet. Now that I have           
got so far, I had best proceed on my own lines, and then clear the          
whole matter up once and for all."                                          
  "Just as you wish, Mr. Holmes, so long as we get our man."                
  "I have no desire to make mysteries, but it is impossible at the          
moment of action to enter into long and complex explanations. I have        
the threads of this affair all in my hand. Even if this lady should         
never recover consciousness, we can still reconstruct the events of         
last night and insure that justice be done. First of all, I wish to         
know whether there is any inn in this neighbourhood known as                
`Elrige's'?"                                                                
  The servants were cross-questioned, but none of them had heard of         
such a place. The stable-boy threw a light upon the matter by               
remembering that a farmer of that name lived some miles off, in the         
direction of East Ruston.                                                   
  "Is it a lonely farm?"                                                    
  "Very lonely, sir."                                                       
  "Perhaps they have not heard yet of all that happened here during         
the night?"                                                                 
  "Maybe not, sir."                                                         
  Holmes thought for a little, and then a curious smile played over         
his face.                                                                   
  "Saddle a horse, my lad," said he. "I shall wish you to take a            
note to Elrige's Farm."                                                     
  He took from his pocket the various slips of the dancing men. With        
these in front of him, he worked for some time at the study-table.          
Finally he handed a note to the boy, with directions to put it into         
the hands of the person to whom it was addressed, and especially to         
answer no questions of any sort which might be put to him. I saw the        
outside of the note, addressed in straggling, irregular characters,         
very unlike Holmes's usual precise hand. It was consigned to Mr. Abe        
Slaney, 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 [of the stickman    
with both arms extended up in the air]                                      
-                                                                           
-                                                                           
stood for E. As you are aware, E is the most common letter in the           
English alphabet, and it predominates to so marked an extent that even      
in a short sentence one would expect to find it most often. Out of          
fifteen symbols in the first message, four were the same, so it was         
reasonable to set this down as E. It is true that in some cases the         
figure was bearing a flag, and in some cases not but it was                 
probable, from the way in which the flags were distributed, that            
they were used to break the sentence up into words. I accepted this as      
a hypothesis, and noted that E was represented by [the stickman with        
both arms extended up in the air]                                           
  "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 appeared- since there was no         
flag- to be a single word. Here are the symbols. Now, in the single         
word I have already got the two E's coming second and fourth in a word      
of five letters. It might be `sever,' or `lever,' or `never.' There         
can be no question that the latter as a reply to an appeal is far           
the most probable, and the circumstances pointed to its being a             
reply written by the lady. Accepting it as correct, we are now able to      
say that the symbols [of the stickman with right hand on his hip, left      
arm raised and knees bent, stickman with leg extended to the left, and      
stickman with both arms raised in the air and left leg extended.]           
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 E's with three letters between might very well stand for      
-                                                                           
the name `ELSIE.' On examination I found that such a combination            
formed the termination of the message which was three times                 
repeated. It was certainly some appeal to `Elsie.' In this way I had        
got my L, S, and I. But what appeal could it be? There were only            
four letters in the word which preceded `Elsie,' and it ended in E.         
Surely the word must be `COME.' I tried all other four letters              
ending in E, but could find none to fit the case. So now I was in           
possession of C, 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 .. E SL . NE.                               
-                                                                           
  "Now the first letter can only be A, which is a most useful               
discovery, since it occurs no fewer than three times in this short          
sentence, and the H is also apparent in the second word. Now it             
becomes:                                                                    
-                                                                           
                       AM HERE A . E SLANE.                                 
-                                                                           
Or, filling in the obvious vacancies in the name:                           
-                                                                           
                        AM HERE ABE SLANEY.                                 
-                                                                           
I had so many letters now that I could proceed with considerable            
confidence to the second message, which worked out in this 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 lady's allusions to her past, and her refusal to take           
her husband into her confidence, both pointed in that direction. I          
therefore cabled to my friend, Wilson Hargreave, of the New York            
Police Bureau, who has more than once made use of my knowledge of           
London crime. I asked him whether the name of Abe Slaney was known          
to him. Here is his reply: `The most dangerous crook in Chicago.' On        
the very evening upon which I had his answer, Hilton Cubitt sent me         
the last message from Slaney. Working with known letters, it took this      
form:                                                                       
-                                                                           
                ELSIE . RE . ARE TO MEET THY GO.                            
-                                                                           
The addition of a P and a D completed a message which showed me that        
the rascal was proceeding from persuasion to threats, and my knowledge      
of the crooks of Chicago prepared me to find that he might very             
rapidly put his words into action. I at once came to Norfolk with my        
friend and colleague, Dr. Watson, but, unhappily, only in time to find      
that the worst had already 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               
Elrige's, is indeed the murderer, and if he has made his escape             
while I am seated here, I should certainly get into serious trouble."       
  "You need not be uneasy. He will not try to escape."                      
  "How do you know?"                                                        
  "To fly would be a confession of guilt."                                  
  "Then let us go 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 striding up the path which led to the door. He was a tall,          
handsome, swarthy fellow, clad in a suit of 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 a path as if the           
place belonged to him, and we heard his loud, confident peal at the         
bell.                                                                       
  "I think, gentlemen," said Holmes, quietly, "that we had best take        
up our position behind the door. Every precaution is necessary when         
dealing with such a fellow. You will need your handcuffs, Inspector.        
You can leave the talking to me."                                           
  We waited in silence for a minute- one of those minutes which one         
can never forget. Then the door opened and the man stepped in. In an        
instant Holmes clapped a pistol to his head, and Martin slipped the         
handcuffs over his wrists. It was all done so swiftly and deftly            
that the fellow was helpless before he knew that he was attacked. He        
glared from one to the other of us with a pair of blazing black             
eyes. Then he burst into a bitter laugh.                                    
  "Well, gentlemen, you have the drop on me this time. I seem to            
have knocked up against something hard. But I came here in answer to a      
letter from Mrs. Hilton Cubitt. Don't tell me that she is in this?          
Don't tell me that she helped to set a trap for me?"                        
  "Mrs. Hilton Cubitt was seriously injured, and is at death's door."       
  The man gave a hoarse cry of grief, which rang through the house.         
  "You're crazy!" he cried, fiercely. "It was he that was hurt, not         
she. Who would have hurt little Elsie? I may have threatened her-           
God forgive me!- but I would not have touched a hair of her pretty          
head. Take it back- you! Say that she is not hurt!"                         
  "She was found badly wounded, by the side of her dead husband."           
  He sank with a deep groan on 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 there's no murder in that. But if        
you think I could have hurt that woman, then you don't know either          
me or her. I tell you, there was never a man in this world loved a          
woman more than I loved her. I had a right to her. She was pledged          
to me years ago. Who was this Englishman that he should come between        
us? I tell you that I had the first right to her, and that I was            
only claiming my own.                                                       
  "She broke away from your influence when she found the man that           
you are," said Holmes, sternly. "She fled from 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, "you're not trying to scare me over this, are you? If the         
lady is hurt as bad as you say, who was it that wrote this note?" He        
tossed it forward on to the table.                                          
  "I wrote it, to bring you here."                                          
  "You wrote it? There was no one on earth outside the Joint who            
knew the secret of the dancing men. How came you to write 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 law.                                                               
  Slaney shrugged his shoulders.                                            
  "I'll 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 Elsie's father was the boss      
of the Joint. He was a clever man, was old Patrick. It was he who           
invented that writing, which would pass as a child's scrawl unless you      
just happened to have the key to it. Well, Elsie learned some of our        
ways, but she couldn't stand the business, and she had a bit of honest      
money of her own, so she gave us all the slip and got away to               
London. She had been engaged to me, and she would have married me, I        
believe, if I had taken over another profession, but she would have         
nothing to do with anything on the cross. It was only after her             
marriage to this Englishman that I was able to find out where she was.      
I wrote to her, but got no answer. After that I came over, and, as          
letters were no use, I put my messages where she could read 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. That's God's truth, gentlemen, every word of         
it, and I heard no more about it until that lad came riding up with         
a note which made me walk in here, like a jay, and give myself into         
your hands."                                                                
  A cab had driven up whilst the American had been talking. Two             
uniformed policemen sat inside. Inspector Martin rose and touched           
his prisoner on the shoulder.                                               
  "It is time for us to go."                                                
  "Can I see her first?"                                                    
  "No, she is not conscious. Mr. Sherlock Holmes, I only hope that          
if ever again I have an important case, I shall have the good               
fortune to have you by my side."                                            
  We stood at the window and watched the cab drive away. As I turned        
back, my eye caught the pellet of paper which the 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 smile.                  
  It contained no word, but this little line of dancing men:                
-                                                                           
                                                                            
  (See illustration.)                                                       
-                                                                           
  "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 husband's estate.                                                                                   
                                                                         
                          -THE END-                                         

    

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