Hitherto I had mainly admired Mrs. Packard's person and the extreme
charm of manner which never deserted her, no matter how she felt.
Now I found myself compelled to admire the force and quality of
her mind, her readiness to meet emergencies and the tact with
which she had availed herself of the superstition latent in the
Irish temperament. For I had no more faith in the explanation
she had seen fit to give these ignorant girls than I had in the
apparition itself. Emotion such as she had shown called for a more
matter-of-fact basis than the one she had ascribed to it. No unreal
and purely superstitious reason would account for the extreme joy
and self-abandonment with which she had hailed the possibility of
Mr. Steele's death. The "no" she had given me when I asked if she
considered this man her husband's enemy had been a lying no. To
her, for some cause as yet unexplained, the secretary was a
dangerous ally to the man she loved; an ally so near and so
dangerous that the mere rumor of his death was capable of lifting
her from the depths of despondency into a state of abnormal
exhilaration and hope. Now why? What reason had she for this
belief, and how was it in my power to solve the mystery which I
felt to be at the bottom of all the rest?
But one means suggested itself. I was now assured that Mrs.
Packard would never take me into her actual confidence, any more
than she had taken her husband. What I learned must be in spite of
her precautions. The cipher of which I had several specimens
might, if properly read, give me the clue I sought. I had a free
hour before me. Why not employ it in an endeavor to pick out the
meaning of those odd Hebraic characters? I had in a way received
her sanction to do so-if I could; and if I should succeed, what
shadows might it not clear from the path of the good man whose
interests it was my chief duty to consult?
Ciphers have always possessed a fascination for me. This one, from
the variety of its symbols, offered a study of unusual interest.
Collecting the stray specimens which I had picked up, I sat down in
my cozy little room and laid them all out before me, with the
[transcriber's note: the symbols cannot be converted to ASCII so I
have shown them as follows:]
 is a Square
[-] is sides and bottom of a square,
C is top, bottom and left side of a square,
L is left side and bottom of a square,
V is two lines forming a V shape
. appearing before a symbol should be inside the symbol
) appearing before a symbol means the mirror image of that symbol
^ appearing before a symbol means the inverted symbol
? is a curve inside the symbol
all other preceding symbols are my best approximation for shapes
shown inside that symbol.
; is used to separate each symbol
1. ; V; ; .>; V; [-]; <;
2. ; V; ; .>; V; [-]; <; L; ).L; <; )7; .7;
3. ; V; ; .>; V; [-]; <; ).L; .C;; .L; >; ,C; ; .<; ^[-];
4. ; V; ; .>; V; [-]; <; <; L; >; ^V; L; V; ; )L; ^V; [-];
; V; ).C; ^[-]; >; )C; ),C; V; <; C; ^V; ^[-]; .>; [-]; <;
5. *>; ; V; ; *V; ; ~7; )C; .>; ^[o]; )L; ^V; ; Lo; ^V; )C;
)7*; V; )C?; L; )L; 7; .>; .^[-]; )L; >; <; :[-], [-]; Lo; .<; ?[-
]; )7; [-]; )C; ; .C; [-]; *7; L; .7; ^V; )o7; *>; C; ^V; .C; .<;
[-]; ; 7; .C; )L; :7; [-]; )*L; C; ^V; .L; .>; ^[%]; C; 7; *L; 7;
):L; )7; ^.V; ; [-]; .L;[-]
No.1: My copy of the characters, as I remember seeing them on the
envelope which Mrs. Packard had offered to Mr. Steele and afterward
thrown into the fire.
Nos.2,3 and 4: The discarded scraps I had taken from the waste-
basket in her room.
No. 5: The lengthy communication in another hand, which Mrs.
Packard had found pinned on the baby's cloak, and at my
intercession had handed over to me.
A goodly array, if the latter was a specimen of the same cipher as
the first, a fact which its general appearance seemed to establish,
notwithstanding the few added complexities observable in it, and
one which a remembrance of her extreme agitation on opening it
would have settled in my mind, even if these complexities had been
greater and the differences even more pronounced than they were.
Lines entirely unsuggestive of meaning to her might have aroused
her wonder and possibly her anger, but not her fear; and the
emotion which I chiefly observed in her at that moment had been
So! out of these one hundred and fifty characters, many of them
mere repetitions, it remained for me to discover a key whereby
their meaning might be rendered intelligible.
To begin, then, what peculiarities were first observable in them?
First: The symbols followed one after the other without breaks,
whether the communication was limited to one word or to many.
Second: Nos.2,3 and 4 started with the identical characters which
made up No. 1.
Third: While certain lines in Nos.2,3 and 4 were heavier than
others, no such distinction was observable in the characters
forming No. 1.
Fourth: This distinction was even more marked in the longer
specimen written by another hand, viz.: No.5.
Fifth: This distinction, which we will call shading, occurred
intermittently, sometimes in two consecutive characters, but never
Sixth: This shading was to be seen now on one limb of the character
it apparently emphasized and now on another.
Seventh: In the three specimens of the seven similar characters
commencing Nos.2,3 and 4, the exact part shaded was not always the
same as for instance, it was the left arm of the second character
in No. 2 which showed the heavy line, while the shading was on the
right-hand arm of the corresponding character in No.3.
Eighth: These variations of emphasis in No.4 coincided sometimes
with those seen in No.2 and again with those in No.3.
Ninth: Each one of these specimens, saving the first, ended in a
Tenth: While some of the characters were squares or parts of a
square, others were in the shape of a Y turned now this way and now
Eleventh: These characters were varied by the introduction of dots,
and, in some cases, by the insertion of minute sketches of animals,
birds, arrows, signs of the zodiac, etc., with here and there one
of a humorous, possibly sarcastic, nature.
Twelfth: Dots and dots only were to be found in the specimen
emanating from Mrs. Packard's hand; birds, arrows, skipping boys
and hanging men, etc., being confined to No. 5, the product of
another brain and hand, at present unknown.
Now what conclusions could I draw from these I shall give them to
you as they came to me that night. Others with wits superior to my
own may draw additional and more suggestive ones:
First: Division into words was not considered necessary or was made
in some other way than by breaks.
Second: The fact of the shading being omitted from No. 1 meant
nothing--that specimen being my own memory of lines, the shading or
non-shading of which would hardly have attracted my attention.
Third: The similarity observable in the seven opening characters of
the first four specimens being taken as a proof of their standing
for the same word or phrase, it was safe to consider this word or
phrase as a complete one to which she had tried to fit others, and
always to her dissatisfaction, till she had finally rejected all
but the simple one with which she had started.
Fourth: No.1, short as it was, was, therefore, a communication in
Fifth: The shading of a character was in some way essential to its
proper understanding, but not the exact place where that shading
Sixth: The dots were necessarily modifications, but not their shape
Seventh: This shading might indicate the end of a word.
Eighth: If so, the shading of two contiguous characters would show
the first one to be a word of one letter. There are but two words
in the English language of one letter--a and i--and in the
specimens before me but one character, that of , which shows
shading, next to another shaded character.
The real task still lay before me. It was to solve the meaning of
those first seven characters, which, if my theory were correct, was
a communication in itself, and one of such importance that, once
mastered, it would give the key to the whole situation.
You have all read The Gold Bug, and know something of the method by
which a solution is obtained by that simplest of all ciphers, where
a fixed character takes the place of each letter in the alphabet.
There are twenty-six letters in the English alphabet. Are there
twenty-six or nearly twenty-six different characters, in the one
hundred and one I find inscribed on the various slips spread out
No, there are but fourteen. A check to begin with.
But wait; the dots make a difference. Let us increase the list by
assuming that angles or squares thus marked are different letters
from those of the same shape in which no dots or sketches occur,
and we bring the list up to twenty. That is better.
The dotted or otherwise marked squares or angles are separate
Now, which one of these appears most frequently? The square, which
we have already decided must be either a or i. In the one short
word or phrase we are at present considering, it occurs twice. Now
supposing that this square stands for a, which according to Poe's
theory it should, a coming before s in the frequency in which it
occurs in ordinary English sentences, how would the phrase look
(still according to Poe) with dashes taking the place of the
remaining unknown letters?
A- a- -- if the whole is a phrase. That it was a phrase I was
convinced, possibly because one clings to so neat a theory as the
one which makes the shading, so marked a feature in all the
specimens before us, the sign of division into words. Let us take
these seven characters as a phrase then and not as a word. What
The dashes following the two a's stand for letters, each of which
should make a word when joined to a. What are these letters? Run
over the alphabet and see. The only letters making sense when
joined with a are h, m, n, s, t or x. Discarding the first and the
last, we have these four words, am, an, as, at. Is it possible to
start any intelligible phrase with any two of these arranged in any
conceivable way? No. Then  can not stand for a. Let us see if
it does for i. The words of two letters headed by i we find to be
if, in, is and it. A more promising collection than the first.
One could easily start a phrase with any of these, even with any
two of them such as If it, Is in, Is it, It is.  is then the
symbol of i, and some one of the above named combinations forms the
beginning of the short phrase ending with a word of three letters
symbolized by V [-] .<
If my reasoning is correct up to this point, it should not be hard
First, one of these three symbols, the V, is a repetition of one of
those we have already shown to be s, t, f, or n. Of the remaining
two, [-] <, one must be a vowel, that is, it must be either u, e,
o, u, or y; i being already determined upon. Now how many [-]'s
and <'s do we find in the collection before us? Ten or more of the
first, and six, or about six, of the latter. Recalling the table
made out by Poe--a table I once learned as a necessary part of my
schooling as a cipher interpreter--I ran over it thus: e is the one
letter most in use in English. Afterward the succession runs thus
a, o, i d, h, n, r, etc. There being then ten [-]'s to six <'s [-]
must be a vowel, and in all probability the vowel e, as no other
character in the whole collection, save the plentiful squares, is
repeated so often.
I am a patient woman usually, but I was nervous that night, and,
perhaps, too deeply interested in the outcome to do myself justice.
I could think of no word with a for one of its three letters which
would make sense when added on to It is, Is it, I f it, Is in.
Conscious of no mistake, yet always alive to the possibility of
one, I dropped the isolated scrap I was working upon and took up
the longer and fuller ones, and with them a fresh line of
reasoning. If my argument so far had been trustworthy, I should
find, in these other specimens, a double [-][-] standing for the
double e so frequently found in English. Did I find such? No.
Another shock to my theory.
Should I, then, give it up? Not while another means of verification
remained. The word the should occur more than once in a collection
of words as long as the one before me. If U is really e, I should
find it at the end of the supposed thes. Do I so find it? There are
several words scattered through the whole, of only three letters.
Are any of them terminated by U? Not one. My theory is false, then,
and I must begin all over.
Discarding every previous conclusion save this, that the shading of
a line designated the termination of a word, I hunted first for the
thes. Making a list of the words containing only three letters, I
was confronted by the following:
V [-] <
)L )C C
< L >
^V L V
< C ^V
.> .[-]) )L
.V ).C L.
.< .[-] )7
^V C 7
)L .L >
No two alike. Astonishing! Thirty-two words of English and only
one the in the whole? Could it be that the cipher was in a foreign
language? The preponderance of i's so out of proportion to the
other vowels had already given me this fear, but the lack of thes
seemed positively to indicate it. Yet I must dig deeper before
Th is a combination of letters which Poe says occurs so often in
our language that they can easily be picked out in a cipher of this
length. How many times can a conjunction of two similar characters
be found in the lines before us. .> .[-] occurs three times, which
is often enough, perhaps, to establish the fact that they stand for
th. Do I find them joined with a third character in the list of
possible thes? Yes. .> [-] which would seem to fix both the th and
But I have grown wary and must make myself sure. Do I find a word
in which this combination of. > .[-] occurs twice, as sometimes
happens with the th we are considering? No, but I find two other
instances in which like contiguous symbols do appear twice in one
word; the .< .[-] in No.3 and the .V .)C in No.4--a discovery the
most embarrassing of all, since in both cases the symbols which
begin the word are reversed at its end, as witness: .V .)C - - - )C
.V -- .< .[-] - - - .[-] .<. For, if .V )C stands for th, and the
whole word showed in letters th- - -ht, which to any eye suggests
the word thought, what does .< .[-] stand for, concerning which the
same conditions are observable?
Rules which applied to one part of the cipher failed in another.
Could it be that a key was necessary to its proper solution? I
began to think so, and, moreover, that Mrs. Packard had made use of
some such help as I watched her puzzling in the window over these
symbols. I recalled her movements, the length of time which
elapsed before the cry of miserable understanding escaped her lips,
the fact that her dress was torn apart at the throat when she came
out, and decided that she had not only drawn some paper from her
bosom helpful to the elucidation of these symbols, but that this
paper was the one which had been the object of her frantic search
the night I watched her shadow on the wall.
So convinced was I by these thoughts that any further attempt to
solve the cryptogram without such aid as I have mentioned would end
by leaving me where I was at present,--that is, in the fog,--that
I allowed the lateness of the hour to influence me; and, putting
aside my papers, I went to bed. If I had sat over them another
hour, should I have been more fortunate? Make the attempt yourself