Ralph Edwards - Fri, 17 Mar 1995
We have here the solid British
husband, the flighty (but high-minded) American bride, the suitor unexpectedly
returned from a far country -- why, it might almost be The Noble Bachelor
all over again. Is some lesson implied here about the importance of
sticking with one's own tribe and class?
The Dancing Men is one of the canon's saddest accounts. The good guy dies and the bad guy lives. The damsel in distress is disagreeable. Holmes does not exactly shine. At the same time, it's also a story which has received a great deal of scholarly scrutiny, and is a favorite of many Sherlockians. As we read it this weekend, here are a few questions and comments to kick off the discussion:
Hilton Cubitt was the huge
and handsome scion of an old Norfolkshire family of landed gentry. He came
to London for Queen Victoria's second Jubilee in 1897, and there he met
Elsie Patrick, an American with a veiled past whom he married within a
month. The happy couple returned to his Norfolk estate, Riding Thorpe Manor,
and settled into a loving domestic routine.
In June of the following year Elsie Cubitt received a letter from America which seemed to terrify her and threatened the tranquility of her new life in England. Within a month her agitation increased as graffiti seemingly scrawled by children began appearing in various locations near their home. Hilton Cubitt finally sought Sherlock Holmes's advice but Holmes couldn't act without additional information. That information was forthcoming, but not in time to prevent the murder of Hilton Cubitt, apparently shot by his wife who then turned the gun on herself in an unsuccessful attempt at suicide.
In a few minutes the Mâitre de Chasse will wind his hunting horn to summon the Hounds upon a trail composed of seemingly innocent stick-figures. In them lies the key to this incomprehensible tragedy.
I wanted to do the subject
line in Dancing Men code, but there are no known symbols for "Q" and "U"
in that code.
Brad Keefauver - Thu, 15 Mar 2001
There is mention of Hilton Cubitt meeting Elsie Patrick during the Jubilee celebration, which must have been the one in 1897. In June of the following year Elsie, now happily (and quietly) married, received a letter at Riding Thorpe Manor which left her terrified. Who wrote the letter, and how did the sender know where to address it?
After Hilton Cubitt is killed, we learn that "The old hall...had been turned into a court of investigation." Mrs. King, the cook, stated that she and Saunders, the housemaid, "had been aroused from their sleep by the sound of an explosion." Following the interrogation of the servants, Holmes, Watson, Inspector Martin, and the country doctor left the hall and went into the study. There is no indication that the servants followed them into that room. After Holmes found evidence of a third shot having been fired, he says, "'I should like to see Mrs. King, the cook, again. You said, Mrs. King, that you were awakened by a loud explosion.'" [Emphasis Watson's.] In the first place, Watson did not record that Mrs. King mentioned a loud explosion. How did Holmes know that the first report was louder than the second? Further, how did Mrs. King get into the study so quickly that Holmes could turn to her and ask her a question immediately after stating that he would like to see her again?
Revolvers do not automatically eject spent cartridge casings; some manual operation is required on the part of the user to accomplish this. Could we therefore infer that Abe Slaney was armed with a semi-automatic pistol? But, consider that for all practical purposes semi-automatic pistols, which do eject spent casings, were not available to the public until after 1900. Yet, if we conclude that Slaney was armed with a revolver, there is the picture of him standing calmly in the flower-bed ejecting a spent casing before exiting the scene of the crime, while the whole household has been alarmed. This does not agree with Slaney's later statement that he "went away across the garden" and heard the window shut behind him. Slaney refers to his weapon only as a "gun." What kind of gun was it?
In discussing his decipherment of the Dancing Men code, Holmes makes an unwarranted supposition that "* E * E *" was the word "never." Could it not have been "seven" or "leper?" (There is support for this latter interpretation because the same symbol stands for "V" in one message and "P" in another.) What other anomalies can the Hounds find in the Dancing Men code as Holmes construed it?
Rosemary Michaud - Thu, 20 Jan 2000
Return to Introducing the 60 Stories
Brad Keefauver - Thu, 15 Mar 2001