"The Adventure of the Dancing Men" was perhaps the best read of the Summer of Sherlock here in Peoria so far, for one simple reason: The Hansoms of John Clayton were with me on this one.
Thirty-six years, eight month, and nine days ago, six Hansoms first came together at an address about three hundred yards from where nine of us gathered last night to discuss "Dancing Men," so Peoria's Sherlock Holmes group has a certain consistency to it, to be sure. Certain rituals were observed, as they have been from that first gathering, but I also have to say that I think the discussion of the story at hand was as good as it ever has been in those years gone by.
The theme that kept coming up in our discussions of "The Adventure of the Dancing Men" was that of honor. While honor doesn't specifically come up in the story (nor in the Canon, according to Moonfind, except for "Speckled Band"'s Honoria Westphail), it seemed like a key factor.
In the modern day, Elsie Cubitt's actions in not telling her husband about her past are a little hard to understand. A simple statement like "My father was a gang leader and there was a very dangerous man who is now stalking me!" might have saved her husband's life and spared her a horrible wound.
We debated her love for her husband and found it sound. We delved into Abe Slaney's mind and found it dangerously obsessive. But what we kept coming back to was the "why" of Elsie's silence. It was a different day, to be sure, and reputation meant a lot, especially to a man of an old, old British family. But how much? Elsie Patrick confides to her future husband that she has "nothing personally to be ashamed of" and says it is simply "the disagreeable associations" of her past which make her promise her future husband to allow her not to talk about her past. And yet she is so frightened by the possibility of him knowing the truth that she will not utter a peep about a direct threat to their lives and marriage.
It is a very hard attitude to grasp for a modern American, but then, like Australia, we're a country born of more than a few criminals and cast-offs of more polite British society. And like it or not, Abe Slaney comes from Chicago, the city that means gangsters, in a state with more governors who wind up in prison than we care to speak of, so we Illinoisians may have a more casual attitude toward a criminal past than most.
Our discussions roamed through those hard-to-understand cultures where killing is accepted for honor and even my completely rejected theory that the line "There was an American young lady there -- Patrick was the name," indicated that Hilton Cubitt's wife was a transvestite and Abe Slaney her/his former gay lover. (Hey, what better code for a hidden Chicago gay community of Victorian times than "dancing men?") But we kept coming back to Elsie Patrick Cubitt's motivations for her silence, which seems much less reasonable to us these days than Effie Munro's fears of racism in "The Yellow Face," a problem we still deal with today.
In any case, "The Adventure of the Dancing Men" yielded a very nice social evening for this Summer of Sherlock here in Peoria. It's always good to see that our old Canon has the power to do that, even after thirty-six years here, and a lot longer elsewhere.
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