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
"Has he been moved?" asked Holmes.
"We have moved nothing except the lady. We could not leave her lying
wounded upon the floor."
"How long have you been here, Doctor?"
"Since four o'clock."
"Yes, the constable here."
"And you have touched nothing?"
"You have acted with great discretion. Who sent for you?"
"The housemaid, Saunders."
"Was it she who gave the alarm?"
"She and Mrs. King, the cook."
"Where are they now?"
"In the kitchen, I believe."
"Then I think we had better hear their story at once."
The old hall, oak-panelled and high-windowed, had been turned into a
court of investigation. Holmes sat in a great, old-fashioned chair, his
inexorable eyes gleaming out of his haggard face. I could read in them
a set purpose to devote his life to this quest until the client whom he
had failed to save should at last be avenged. The trim Inspector Martin,
the old, gray-headed country doctor, myself, and a stolid village
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"Is it a lonely farm?"
"Very lonely, sir."
"Perhaps they have not heard yet of all that happened here during the
"Maybe not, sir."
Holmes thought for a little, and then a curious smile played over his
"Saddle a horse, my lad," said he. "I shall wish you to take a note to
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 XXX 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 XXX.
"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 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
.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 was striding up the path which led to the door. He was a tall,
handsome, swarthy fellow, clad in a suit of gray flannel, with a Panama
hat, a bristling black beard, and a great, aggressive hooked nose, and
flourishing a cane as he walked. He swaggered up a path as if as if
the place belonged to him, and we heard his loud, confident peal at the
"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
"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