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    "The Adventure of the Dancing Men"

    Arthur Conan Doyle Autograph Manuscript "The Adventure of the Dancing Men" Signed Three Times.

    1903. 53 pages, written on the recto only of wide-ruled paper, plus autograph title page. Bound in plain vellum, and inscribed by Doyle at top left corner adding "Anno Belli / Germanici / IV" at top right. A second signature, "A. Conan Doyle," appears on the holograph title page. There is a third signature alongside a holograph epilogue, beneath which he has added "Undershaw / Hindhead." Undershaw was Doyle's residence from 1897 to 1907, and is where he wrote many of his Holmes stories, including the The Hound of the Baskervilles. The manuscript is written on wide-ruled paper, which leaves ample room for Doyle's edits throughout. Some pages are free of emendations, others have text crossed out with corrections and additions directly above. When text is crossed out, it is done cleanly so that both the original and revised text is legible. "The Adventure of the Dancing Men" is one of the 13 stories in the collection titled The Return of Sherlock Holmes. Doyle ranked this story as his third favorite. Housed in full leather clam shell case with author and title gilt-stamped on front and on spine.

    This story Doyle features Sherlock Holmes and his loyal companion Dr. John Watson. It is one of 13 stories in the cycle later published in book form under the title of The Return of Sherlock Holmes. The story begins in Holmes's rooms at 221B Baker Street when Hilton Cubitt of Ridling Thorpe Manor in Norfolk visits the detective and gives him a piece of paper with a mysterious sequence of stick figures, one of several recent messages received featuring the odd symbols. Cubitt explains to Holmes and Watson that he has recently married an American woman named Elsie Patrick, and before their wedding she had asked Cubitt never to ask about her past, as she had had some "very disagreeable associations" in her life, although there nothing for which she was personally ashamed. Their happy marriage was suddenly disrupted by the arrival of these messages, first mailed from the United States and then appearing in the garden. The messages struck fear in Elsie, but she refused to explain the reasons for her behavior. Cubitt insisted on honoring his promise not to ask about his wife's life in the United States. Holmes, upon examining all of the occurrences of the dancing figures, determines that it is a substitution cipher and thus 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 in grave condition due to a gunshot wound in the head. The local constable believes that it is a murder-suicide attempt, with Elsie as the prime suspect. Holmes, however, proves that there is a third person involved. Holmes writes a message using dancing figure characters and has it delivered to a lodger at a nearby farm. While waiting for a response to his message, Holmes explains to Watson and the local inspector 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." The lodger, Abe Slaney, another American, unaware that Elsie is seriously wounded, arrives at Ridling Thorpe Manor and is arrested. Holmes sent for Slaney using the dancing men, knowing that Slaney would think that Elsie had sent the message. Slaney admits that he had been engaged to Elsie, the daughter of the Chicago crime boss for whom Slaney works, and that she had fled to escape her old life. Slaney had come to England to get her back. When Cubit found Slaney and Elsie speaking through an open window, shots were exchanged and Cubitt was killed. After Slaney fled the scene, Elsie apparently 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 the rest of her life helping the poor and administering her late husband's estate. This is one of only two Sherlock Holmes short stories in which Holmes's client dies after seeking his help.

    Arthur Conan Doyle achieved fame as the creator of the character of Sherlock Holmes. The first Holmes story, a novella entitled A Study in Scarlet, was published in 1887. This and the next novella, The Sign of Four, published in 1890, appeared to positive reviews, but it was not until the appearance of the first of 56 short stories in the Strand Magazine in London, that the Sherlock Holmes craze began in full force. The "Adventure of the Dancing Men" first appeared in the Strand Magazine in 1903, and later appeared in a book of collected stories, entitled The Return of Sherlock, published in England and the United States in 1905. Doyle ranked "The Adventure of the Dancing Men" third in his list of his twelve favorite Holmes stories.

    Condition: All pages gently toned with occasional ink smudges throughout. Pencil identification on front paste down in an unknown hand, "Conan Doyle / 'Dancing Men'". Small clean tear on blank page that immediately follows title page. Title page has tiny split at gutter. Puncture hole through all pages at top left, not affecting any words; paper loss a bit larger on first page. Pencil annotation in left margin on first page appears to read "1800 words"; but the "1" is likely a "9" as the actual word count of the published story is between 9700 and 9800 words. Ink stain on page 3 with transference to facing page. Emendations throughout vary from simple deletions or adding text. Page 38 has a ragged margin not affecting any text. Page 36 has a strip about 1.5" high cleanly torn off at bottom - with no loss of continuity, suggesting that it was torn off by the author.

    Additional Information as provided by Randall Stock on his website

    The manuscript for "The Adventure of the Dancing Men" was donated by Arthur Conan Doyle to an auction held in 1918 for the benefit of the Red Cross at Christie's, and was purchased by Maggs Brothers. David Gage Joyce, sold it as part of his collection at Anderson Galleries in 1923. Sold at Hodgson's in 1925, probably purchased by Paton. Purchased by Brian Perkins in Texas circa 1974. Gifted to our consignor in 2012.

    Stock writes:
    Conan Doyle got the idea for the dancing men cipher in May 1903. He signed a young woman's autograph book while staying at the Hill House Hotel in Norfolk (England). The book also contained drawings on another page by two children: Gilbert John Cubitt and Edith Alice Cubitt.

    Gilbert used decorated letters to create "secret" writing. His sister Edith drew "A Musical Tragedy" with stick-figure notes on five-line musical staves to convey a brief skit. Conan Doyle combined these elements, along with memories of Poe's "The Gold Bug," to come up with the dancing men cipher. He later used the family name "Cubitt" for the client in this story.

    He first mentions the story in a May 1903 letter to his editor at the Strand Magazine. Although the manuscript is not dated, Conan Doyle's diary and other sources suggest he finished the story in early June 1903. Written as the fourth story in The Return, it was published as the third tale in order to give a stronger start to the new series. It first appeared in the December 1903 Strand Magazine and in the December 5, 1903 issue of Collier's Weekly, and was later collected in The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1905).

    When he rated the Sherlock Holmes tales as part of a 1927 contest held by the Strand Magazine, Conan Doyle ranked "The Dancing Men" as the third best Holmes story. All of the major Sherlockian polls since then have placed it among the 10 best Holmes stories.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    April, 2018
    18th Wednesday
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