The Adventure of the Dancing Men

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"The Adventure of the Dancing Men"
Holmes examining the drawing, 1903 illustration by Sidney Paget
AuthorArthur Conan Doyle
SeriesThe Return of Sherlock Holmes
Publication date1903

"The Adventure of the Dancing Men", a Sherlock Holmes story written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of 13 stories in the cycle published as The Return of Sherlock Holmes. Doyle ranked "The Adventure of the Dancing Men" third in his list of his twelve favorite Holmes stories.[1] This is one of only two Sherlock Holmes short stories where Holmes' client dies after seeking his help. The other is "The Five Orange Pips", part of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.


The story begins when Hilton Cubitt of Ridling Thorpe Manor in Norfolk visits Sherlock Holmes and gives him a piece of paper with the following mysterious sequence of stick figures.

A diagram drawn by Conan Doyle

Cubitt explains to Holmes and Dr. Watson that he has recently married an American woman named Elsie Patrick. Before the wedding, she had asked her husband-to-be 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. Their marriage had been a happy one until the messages began to arrive, first mailed from the United States and then appearing in the garden.

The messages had made Elsie very afraid but she did not explain the reasons for her fear, and Cubitt insisted on honoring his promise not to ask about Elsie's life in the United States. Holmes examines all of the occurrences of the dancing figures, and they provide him with an important clue - he realizes that it is a substitution cipher and cracks the code by frequency analysis. The last of the messages causes Holmes to fear that the Cubitts are in immediate danger.

Holmes rushes to Ridling Thorpe Manor and finds Cubitt dead of a bullet to the heart and his wife gravely wounded from a gunshot to the head. Inspector Martin of the Norfolk Constabulary believes that it is a murder-suicide attempt; Elsie is the prime suspect. But Holmes, after noting some inconsistencies in that theory, proves that there is a third person involved.

Holmes writes a message — in dancing figure characters — and has it delivered to a lodger at a nearby farm. While waiting for the result of this message, Holmes explains to Watson and Inspector Martin how he cracked the code of the dancing figures. The last message, which caused Holmes and Watson to rush to Norfolk, read "ELSIE PREPARE TO MEET THY GOD".

Slaney is arrested.

The lodger, Abe Slaney, another American, unaware that Elsie is gravely wounded, arrives at Ridling Thorpe Manor and is seized as he comes through the door. Holmes had sent for Slaney using the dancing men, knowing that Slaney would believe the message is from Elsie. Slaney reveals that he had been engaged to Elsie, the daughter of the Chicago crime boss that Slaney works for, and that she had fled to escape her old life. Slaney had come to England to get her back. When Slaney and Elsie were speaking through a window, Cubitt had appeared and shots were exchanged; Cubitt was killed and Slaney had fled. Apparently, Elsie then shot herself. Slaney is arrested and sentenced to hang, but his sentence is reduced to penal servitude because Cubitt had fired the first shot. Elsie recovers from her injuries, and spends her life helping the poor and administering her late husband’s estate.



  1. ^ Temple, Emily (22 May 2018). "The 12 Best Sherlock Holmes Stories, According to Arthur Conan Doyle". Literary Hub. Retrieved 6 January 2019.
  2. ^ The Mystery of the Dancing Men (1923) - IMDb
  3. ^ Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1943) - IMDb
  4. ^ "Sherlock Holmes" The Dancing Men (TV episode 1968) - IMDb
  5. ^ IMDb - "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" The Dancing Men (TV episode 1984)
  6. ^ Bert Coules. "The Return of Sherlock Holmes". The BBC complete audio Sherlock Holmes. Retrieved 12 December 2016.
  7. ^ "Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century" The Adventure of the Dancing Men (TV episode 1999) - IMDb

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