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Encyclopedia > The Adventure of the Dancing Men
"The Adventure of the Dancing Men"
by Arthur Conan Doyle
Released 1903
Series The Return of Sherlock Holmes
Client(s) Hilton Cubitt
Set in 1898
Villain(s) Abe Slaney

The Adventure of the Dancing Men, one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of 13 stories in the cycle collected as The Return of Sherlock Holmes. Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle, DL (22 May 1859 – 7 July 1930) was a Scottish author most noted for his stories about the detective Sherlock Holmes, which are generally considered a major innovation in the field of crime fiction, and for the adventures of Professor Challenger. ... Year 1903 (MCMIII) was a common year starting on Thursday (link will display calendar) of the Gregorian calendar or a common year starting on Wednesday of the 13-day slower Julian calendar. ... The Return of Sherlock Holmes is a collection of Sherlock Holmes stories, originally published in 1903-1904, by Arthur Conan Doyle. ... Year 1898 (MDCCCXCVIII) was a common year starting on Saturday (link will display the full calendar) of the Gregorian calendar (or a common year starting on Monday of the 12-day-slower Julian calendar). ... This article is about Arthur Conan Doyles fictional detective. ... Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle, DL (22 May 1859 – 7 July 1930) was a Scottish author most noted for his stories about the detective Sherlock Holmes, which are generally considered a major innovation in the field of crime fiction, and for the adventures of Professor Challenger. ... The Return of Sherlock Holmes is a collection of Sherlock Holmes stories, originally published in 1903-1904, by Arthur Conan Doyle. ...

Contents

Synopsis

What would most people make of this childish-looking scrawl: a piece of junk drawn by a first-grade elementary student? Or is it actually a secret code!!

…or more to the point, what does Sherlock Holmes make of it? From The Adventure of the Dancing Men Sherlock Holmes story. ...

Holmes examining the drawing.
Holmes examining the drawing.

Mr. Hilton Cubitt of Ridling Thorp Manor in Norfolk submits this very question. The little dancing men are at the heart of a mystery which seems to be driving his young wife Elsie to distraction. He married her about a year ago, and until recently, everything was well. She is American, and before the wedding, she asked her husband-to-be to promise her never to ask about her past, as she had had some “very disagreeable associations” in her life, although she said that there was nothing that she was personally ashamed of. Mr. Cubitt swore the promise and, being an honourable English gentleman, insists on living by it, which is one of the things causing difficulty at Ridling Thorpe Manor. Norfolk (pronounced ) is a low-lying county in East Anglia in the east of southern England. ... For other uses, see Wedding (disambiguation). ...


The trouble began when Elsie received a letter from the United States, which evidently disturbed her, and she threw the letter on the fire. Then the dancing men appeared, sometimes on a piece of paper left on the sundial overnight, sometimes scrawled in chalk on a wall or door, even a windowsill. Each time, their appearance has an obvious, terrifying effect on Elsie, but she will not tell her husband what is going on. For other uses, see Sundial (disambiguation). ... For other uses, see Chalk (disambiguation). ...


Holmes tells Cubitt that he wants to see every occurrence of the dancing men. They are to be copied down and brought or sent to him at 221B Baker Street. Cubitt duly does this, and it provides Holmes with the most important clue in the mystery. 221B Baker Street is the fictional London residence of the detective Sherlock Holmes, created by author Arthur Conan Doyle. ...


Holmes quickly realizes that it is a substitution cipher. Through much brainwork, he cracks the code by frequency analysis. The last of the messages conveyed by the dancing men is a particularly chilling one, and Holmes rushes down to Ridling Thorpe Manor only to find Cubitt dead of a bullet to the heart and his wife gravely wounded in the head. Inspector Martin of the Norfolk Constabulary believes that it is a murder-suicide, or will be if Elsie dies. She is the prime suspect in her husband’s death. In cryptography, a substitution cipher is a method of encryption by which units of plaintext are substituted with ciphertext according to a regular system; the units may be single letters (the most common), pairs of letters, triplets of letters, mixtures of the above, and so forth. ... A typical distribution of letters in English language text. ... A murder-suicide is an act in which an individual kills one or more other persons immediately before, or while killing himself or herself. ...


As is so often the case, Holmes sees things differently. Why is there a bullet hole in the windowsill, making a total of three shots, while Cubitt and his wife were each only shot once? Why are only two chambers in Cubitt’s revolver empty? What is the large sum of money doing in the room? The discovery of a trampled flowerbed just outside the window, and the discovery of a shell casing therein confirm what Holmes has suspected — a third person was involved, and it is surely the one who has been sending the curious dancing-man messages. For other uses, see Revolver (disambiguation). ...


Holmes knows certain things that Inspector Martin does not. He seemingly picks the name “Elrige’s” out of the air, and Cubitt’s stable boy recognizes it as a local farmer’s name. Holmes quickly writes a message — in dancing men characters — and sends the boy to Elrige’s Farm to deliver it to a lodger there, whose name he has also apparently picked out of the air. Of course, Holmes has learned both men's names by reading the dancing men code.


While waiting for the result of this message, Holmes takes the opportunity to explain to Watson and Inspector Martin how he cracked the code of the dancing men, and the messages are revealed. The last one, which caused Holmes and Watson to rush to Norfolk, read “ELSIE PREPARE TO MEET THY GOD”.

Slaney is arrested.
Slaney is arrested.

The lodger, Mr. Abe Slaney, another American, unaware that Elsie is at death’s door and quite unable to communicate, duly arrives at Ridling Thorpe Manor a short while later, much to everyone’s astonishment, except Holmes’s. He has sent for Slaney using the dancing men, knowing that Slaney will believe that the message is from Elsie. He is seized as he comes through the door.


He tells the whole story. He is a former lover from Chicago and has come to England to woo Elsie back. She originally fled his clutches because he was a dangerous criminal, as Holmes has found out through telegraphic inquiries to the US. When an encounter at the window where the killing happened turned violent with Hilton Cubitt's appearance in the room, Slaney pulled out his gun and shot back at Cubitt, who had already shot at him. Cubitt was killed and Slaney fled. Apparently, Elsie then shot herself. Slaney seems genuinely upset that Elsie has come to harm. The threatening nature of some of his dancing-man messages is explained by Slaney's losing his temper at Elsie's apparent unwillingness to leave her husband. The money found in the room was apparently to have been a bribe to make Slaney go away. For other uses, see Chicago (disambiguation). ...


Slaney is arrested and later tried. He escapes the noose owing to mitigating circumstances. Elsie recovers from her serious injuries and spends her life helping the poor and administering her late husband’s estate. This article is about death by hanging. ...


Summary

Sherlock Holmes has found these paper clues, which has black scribblings of men dancing. Sherlock Holmes later finds out that the actual villian had used a code used in their gang from Chicago that no one can ever decode. However, Sherlock Holmes has actually found some answers. He's bound to get to the peak of the mystery, but then will that time be after the criminal escapse or before.....


Commentary

  • Holmes treats Inspector Martin with a bit more respect than Inspector Lestrade might usually expect, but then Martin seems genuinely impressed with Holmes and his methods, unlike Lestrade's obtusely low opinion of them.
  • The date at which the story is set may be deduced from a comment in the story itself. Hilton Cubitt mentions that "the Jubilee" was "last year". He surely means Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, which was in 1897; therefore, the story is set in 1898. Cubitt could mean the Golden Jubilee in 1887, but this was before Holmes's "death" and subsequent return, and such a story is therefore not likely to have been included in The Return.
  • Though not mentioned in previous messages, Holmes is able to decipher the letter 'C' and send it in a final message of his own in the "Dancing Men" code. It appears similarly to the E character that Holmes first discovers, but with a noticeable lower leg stance.

Inspector Lestrade arresting a suspect, by Sidney Paget Inspector Lestrade in the Granada television series Inspector Lestrade is a Scotland Yard detective appearing in several of the Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle. ... Queen Victoria redirects here. ... A Diamond Jubilee is a celebration held to mark a 60th anniversary. ... 1897 (MDCCCXCVII) was a common year starting on Friday (see link for calendar). ... Year 1898 (MDCCCXCVIII) was a common year starting on Saturday (link will display the full calendar) of the Gregorian calendar (or a common year starting on Monday of the 12-day-slower Julian calendar). ... Year 1887 (MDCCCLXXXVII) was a common year starting on Saturday (link will display the full calendar) of the Gregorian calendar (or a common year starting on Thursday of the 12-day slower Julian calendar). ...

References in other books

In Dorothy Sayers' "The Nine Tailors", Lord Peter Wimsey struggles with a difficult code: "He had never seen a secret message that looked so innocent. Sherlock Holmes' Little Dancing Men were, by comparison, obviously secretive" (Second part, Ch. 8). Dorothy Leigh Sayers (Oxford, 13 June 1893 – Witham, 17 December 1957) was a British author, translator, student of classical and modern languages, and Christian humanist. ... The Nine Tailors is a 1934 mystery novel by British writer Dorothy L. Sayers, her ninth featuring sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey. ... Lord Peter Death Bredon Wimsey is a fictional character in a series of detective novels and short stories by Dorothy L. Sayers. ...


In Robert Harris' thriller "Enigma" the protagonist, a WWII British cryptanalyst and a Sherlock Holmes fan, is mentioned as solving the Little Dancing Men secret message while recuperating from a severe nervous breakdown; from his point of view, as a professional involved in solving the wartime codes of Nazi Germany, Doyle's coded message is "simple but elegant". Robert Harris may refer to the following people: Rob Harris (curler), a Canadian curler. ... Enigma is a novel by Robert Harris, about a young mathematician trying to break the Germans Enigma ciphers during World War II. It was adapted to film in 2001. ... German soldiers at the Battle of Stalingrad World War II was the most extensive and costly armed conflict in the history of the world, involving the great majority of the worlds nations, being fought simultaneously in several major theatres, and costing tens of millions of lives. ... Nazi Germany, or the Third Reich, commonly refers to Germany in the years 1933–1945, when it was under the firm control of the totalitarian and fascist ideology of the Nazi Party, with the Führer Adolf Hitler as dictator. ...


Wikisource links

  • "The Adventure of the Dancing Men" on Wikisource.
Image File history File links Wikisource-logo. ... The original Wikisource logo. ...

  Results from FactBites:
 
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Scandal in Bohemia & The Dancing Men | Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network (202 words)
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Scandal in Bohemia and The Dancing Men
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Scandal in Bohemia and The Dancing Men
The little dancing men are at the heart of a mystery which seems to be driving his young wife Elsie to distraction.
The Adventure of the Dancing Men - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (1027 words)
The Adventure of the Dancing Men, one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of 13 stories in the cycle collected as The Return of Sherlock Holmes.
The little dancing men are at the heart of a mystery which seems to be driving his young wife Elsie to distraction.
Then the dancing men appeared, sometimes on a piece of paper left on the sundial overnight, sometimes scrawled in chalk on a wall or door, even a windowsill.
  More results at FactBites »

 
 

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