tell? Dear me, how very unkind of you! Well, well, I daresay that a
couple of rabbits would account both for the blood and for the charred
ashes. If ever you write an account, Watson, you can make rabbits serve
THE ADVENTURE OF THE DANCING MEN
Holmes had been seated for some hours in silence with his long,
thin back curved over a chemical vessel in which he was brewing a
particularly malodorous product. His head was sunk upon his breast, and
he looked from my point of view like a strange, lank bird, with dull
gray plumage and a black top-knot.
"So, Watson," said he, suddenly, "you do not propose to invest in South
I gave a start of astonishment. Accustomed as I was to Holmes's curious
faculties, this sudden intrusion into my most intimate thoughts was
"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 ought to make you sign a paper to that effect."
"Because in five minutes you will say that it is all so absurdly
"I am sure that I shall say nothing of the kind."
"You see, my dear Watson," - he propped his test-tube in the rack, and
began to lecture with the air of a professor addressing his class - "it
is not really difficult to construct a series of inferences, each
dependent upon its predecessor and each simple in itself. If, after
doing so, one simply knocks out all the central inferences and presents
one's audience with the starting-point and the conclusion, one may
produce a startling, though 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
"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:
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 boarding-house in
Russell Square, because Parker, the vicar of our parish, was staying in
it. There was an American young lady there - Patrick was the name - Elsie
Patrick. In some way we became friends, until before my month was up
I was as much in love as man could be. We were quietly married at a
registry office, and we returned to Norfolk a wedded couple. You'll
think it very mad, Mr. Holmes, that a man of a good old family should
marry a wife in this fashion, knowing nothing of her past or of
her people, but if you saw her and knew her, it would help you to
"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
"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
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?"
"I presume that it is a very quiet place. Any fresh face would cause
"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."
"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
"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:
"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:"
Holmes rubbed his hands and chuckled with delight.
"Our material is rapidly accumulating," said he.
"Three days later a message was left scrawled upon paper, and placed
under a pebble upon the sundial. Here it is. The characters are, as you
see, exactly the same as the last one. After that I determined to lie in
wait, so I got out my revolver and I sat up in my study, which overlooks
the lawn and garden. About two in the morning I was seated by the
window, all being dark save for the moonlight outside, when I heard
steps behind me, and there was my wife in her dressing-gown. She
implored me to come to bed. I told her frankly that I wished to see who
it was who played such absurd tricks upon us. She answered that it was
some senseless practical joke, and that I should not take any notice of
"'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:
"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
"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
"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
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. On the evening of the second there came a letter from
Hilton Cubitt. All was quiet with him, save that a long inscription had
appeared that morning upon the pedestal of the sundial. He inclosed a
copy of it, which is here reproduced:
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 station-master 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
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
"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