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Sadly, this story has nothing to do with actual dancing men and cannot be subtitled "Watson and Holmes hit the London Club Scene." Serious bummer.
The story opens with Holmes doing one of his parlor tricks, where he startles Watson with some out-of-the-blue observation and then explains how he arrived at the observation with the power of logic.
In this case, Holmes explains how he figured out that Watson didn't want to invest in some property in South Africa.
After this Holmes throws Watson a sheet with little dancing men drawn on it.
Turns out Holmes is trying to decipher it for a client, Hilton Cubitt.
We've got to say that this might be the most inefficient code ever. It has lots of little dancing stick figure people, which must take forever to draw.
Conveniently, Hilton Cubitt arrives at Baker Street and explains the case himself.
In a nutshell: Hilton met and married a nice American girl with mysterious past named Elsie Patrick about a year ago. Elsie asked him never to ask about her past, and Hilton agreed.
All was well till they started getting these weird encrypted messages. Hilton thought it was a joke, but Elsie got increasingly freaked out about the whole thing.
She still refuses to confide in her husband, and he is stressed out. So he has hired Sherlock Holmes to figure out what's going on here.
Holmes agrees to take on the case and he spends the next few days trying to translate the code.
A few days later Hilton returns to Baker Street with an update.
He's received more messages scrawled in chalk on a shed door outside. He copied them and brought them for Holmes to see.
Also, Hilton came close to catching the person leaving messages late at night. But his wife Elsie held him back, saying she feared for his safety.
Hilton is getting increasingly frustrated by all this weirdness
Hilton goes back home to Norfolk, and Holmes gets back to code-cracking.
A few days later Hilton sends them another coded message in the mail.
After seeing this message Holmes springs up and tells Watson they have to rush to Norfolk immediately.
Unfortunately, they arrive too late: Hilton Cubitt is dead and his wife is near death from a gunshot wound.
The police, led by Inspector Martin suspect it's a murder/attempted-suicide. Martin is a fan of Holmes and basically lets him take over the case, because of his awesomeness.
Martin, Holmes, and Watson arrive at the Cubitt house and talk to the servants.
The servants heard the sound of gunshots and rushed in to find Hilton dead and his wife wounded, with a gun lying on the floor between them.
Then Holmes examines the room and finds evidence of a third gunshot, which Martin had missed.
It's a miracle any crime gets solved without Holmes's help.
Holmes also finds evidence that the window was briefly open. And he finds a woman's purse with money in it.
Finally Holmes sends an encoded message to a nearby farm called "Elridge's."
After this he gives a lengthy explanation about how he cracked the dancing men code. Basically, Holmes does puzzles and crosswords in his spare time. He used his genius skills to crack the code by figuring out the most common letters in the English language first and proceeding from there.
Watson and Martin are duly impressed.
The messages are signed Abe Slaney and the last one threatens Elsie.
After giving Holmes enough time to speechify, Abe Slaney himself arrives, having been lured there by the coded message Holmes sent. Abe thought the note was from Elsie.
Abe is arrested, and he confesses everything, as criminals in these stories tend to do.
Turns out Abe is a member of a gang in Chicago run by Elsie's dad.
Abe was engaged to Elsie, but she got sick of living a life of crime and ran away to England.
Abe followed her and proceeded to stalk her with funky encoded messages. The code was invented by Elsie's dad.
Abe upset to hear that Elsie shot herself. He also confesses to shooting Hilton himself. He had come to the house to meet Elsie, and she tried to pay him to leave. Hilton stumbled upon them and took a shot at Abe.
In an epilogue, Watson explains that Abe got jail time but not the death penalty since no one could prove who fired the first shot, Hilton or Abe. Elsie recovered from her suicide attempt.