The View from the East End
L.E.S.K. for DANC
by Inspector Hopkins
Another classic “secret coding” mystery alongside Poe’s “The Gold Bug” and Verne’s “Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon”! Let’s take a quick look at some “Loose Ends and Story Killers” (L.E.S.K.) for the tale of The Dancing Men . . . a story of family secrets, suspense, and threatened murder.
This one follows a path not unlike several of Watson’s other reports.
If Elsie Cubitt had immediately confided in her husband Hilton about the mysterious letter she had received from America, as well as the cryptic messages scrawled on various locations around their property, there wouldn’t have been any problems! But then, of course, there wouldn’t be any story to tell, either. Other possibilities for a story killer exist, such as Hilton arranging for his farm hands to ambush the mysterious stranger, etc. but the root story killer boils down to the lack of communication between husband and wife.
We will see similar story killers in other cases as time goes by.
Here are just a few loose ends worth consideration, and not necessarily in order:
1) What? . . . Why not the Death Sentence? How could Abe Slaney’s death sentence for murder have been possibly overturned? This one bothers me a lot. I mean, come on folks . . . this guy follows (stalks) Elsie all the way across the Atlantic, pursues her, challenges her, and then finally threatens her with “Prepare to meet thy God”. If that’s not an indication of his intent to murder her, than what is? My take on this loose end (as well as the next one) is that Watson was trying to create a “happier” ending to one of the more tragic stories in the Canon.
2) The “self-defense” defense: Again, how could anyone believe that Slaney was innocent of murder and/or attempted murder because of “mitigating circumstances, and the certainty that Hilton Cubitt had fired the first shot”? How was that proven, by the way? My thought is that possibly Elsie corroborated Slaney’s testimony to the authorities when she regained her senses. Nonetheless, Abe Slaney was evidently in pursuit of Elsie, came to her house at night, armed, with the expressed intent of killing her. The argument that he was defending himself is completely absurd. If anyone was defending anything, it was Hilton Cubitt, who was trying to save his wife’s life as well as defend his property.
3) That pesky “brazen cylinder”: This one has been written about before. Out of all the Sherlock Holmes adventures, this loose end seems particularly bad to me. Without going into a lot of detail here, suffice it to say that, after firing a shot at Hilton Cubitt, we are asked to believe that Abe Slaney was going to take the time and trouble to eject a spent cartridge from his revolver before running away? Some thoughts on this issue from one of my old articles can be found here: That Brazen Cylinder As I mentioned in that article, Brad Keefauver and Jon Holliday published an excellent Holmes & Watson Report (which accounts for all the facts). A link to their work can be found here: The Single Cartridge Problem After due consideration of all this material, I submit that a very easy fix for this loose end would have been for Holmes to determine that the bullet fired by Abe Slaney came in through the windowsill from the outside. Although ballistics was in its infancy at the time, it still would have been a relatively simple matter to examine the woodwork, determine that a fresh bullet hole existed, that the entrance hole on the outside was smooth, and that the exit hole on the inside was splintered. Voila! Problem solved! All that would have been needed would be to slightly re-write the story, assigning the bullet hole to Abe Slaney firing IN, versus assigning it to Hilton Cubitt firing OUT.
As Watson himself exclaimed, “How absurdly simple!”
Until next time, and thanking you for your attention, I am, as always,
Past 2010 Columns