The Musgrave Ritual
An anomaly which often struck me in the character of my friend Sherlock
Holmes was that, although in his methods of thought he was the neatest
and most methodical of mankind, and although also he affected a certain
quiet primness of dress, he was none the less in his personal habits one
of the most untidy men that ever drove a fellow-lodger to distraction.
Not that I am in the least conventional in that respect myself. The
rough-and-tumble work in Afghanistan, coming on the top of a natural
Bohemianism of disposition, has made me rather more lax than befits a
medical man. But with me there is a limit, and when I find a man who
keeps his cigars in the coal-scuttle, his tobacco in the toe end of
a Persian slipper, and his unanswered correspondence transfixed by a
jack-knife into the very centre of his wooden mantelpiece, then I begin
to give myself virtuous airs. I have always held, too, that pistol
practice should be distinctly an open-air pastime; and when Holmes, in
one of his queer humors, would sit in an arm-chair with his hair-trigger
and a hundred Boxer cartridges, and proceed to adorn the opposite
wall with a patriotic V. R. done in bullet-pocks, I felt strongly that
neither the atmosphere nor the appearance of our room was improved by
Our chambers were always full of chemicals and of criminal relics which
had a way of wandering into unlikely positions, and of turning up in
the butter-dish or in even less desirable places. But his papers were
my great crux. He had a horror of destroying documents, especially those
which were connected with his past cases, and yet it was only once in
every year or two that he would muster energy to docket and arrange
them; for, as I have mentioned somewhere in these incoherent memoirs,
the outbursts of passionate energy when he performed the remarkable
feats with which his name is associated were followed by reactions of
lethargy during which he would lie about with his violin and his books,
hardly moving save from the sofa to the table. Thus month after month
his papers accumulated, until every corner of the room was stacked with
bundles of manuscript which were on no account to be burned, and which
could not be put away save by their owner. One winter's night, as we
sat together by the fire, I ventured to suggest to him that, as he had
finished pasting extracts into his common-place book, he might employ
the next two hours in making our room a little more habitable. He could
not deny the justice of my request, so with a rather rueful face he went
off to his bedroom, from which he returned presently pulling a large tin
box behind him. This he placed in the middle of the floor and, squatting
down upon a stool in front of it, he threw back the lid. I could see
that it was already a third full of bundles of paper tied up with red
tape into separate packages.
"There are cases enough here, Watson," said he, looking at me with
mischievous eyes. "I think that if you knew all that I had in this box
you would ask me to pull some out instead of putting others in."
"These are the records of your early work, then?" I asked. "I have often
wished that I had notes of those cases."
"Yes, my boy, these were all done prematurely before my biographer
had come to glorify me." He lifted bundle after bundle in a tender,
caressing sort of way. "They are not all successes, Watson," said he.
"But there are some pretty little problems among them. Here's the record
of the Tarleton murders, and the case of Vamberry, the wine merchant,
and the adventure of the old Russian woman, and the singular affair
of the aluminium crutch, as well as a full account of Ricoletti of the
club-foot, and his abominable wife. And here--ah, now, this really is
something a little recherche."
He dived his arm down to the bottom of the chest, and brought up a small
wooden box with a sliding lid, such as children's toys are kept in. From
within he produced a crumpled piece of paper, and old-fashioned brass
key, a peg of wood with a ball of string attached to it, and three rusty
old disks of metal.
"Well, my boy, what do you make of this lot?" he asked, smiling at my
"It is a curious collection."
"Very curious, and the story that hangs round it will strike you as
being more curious still."
"These relics have a history then?"
"So much so that they are history."
"What do you mean by that?"
Sherlock Holmes picked them up one by one, and laid them along the edge
of the table. Then he reseated himself in his chair and looked them over
with a gleam of satisfaction in his eyes.
"These," said he, "are all that I have left to remind me of the
adventure of the Musgrave Ritual."
I had heard him mention the case more than once, though I had never been
able to gather the details. "I should be so glad," said I, "if you would
give me an account of it."
"And leave the litter as it is?" he cried, mischievously. "Your tidiness
won't bear much strain after all, Watson. But I should be glad that you
should add this case to your annals, for there are points in it which
make it quite unique in the criminal records of this or, I believe,
of any other country. A collection of my trifling achievements would
certainly be incomplete which contained no account of this very singular
"You may remember how the affair of the Gloria Scott, and my
conversation with the unhappy man whose fate I told you of, first turned
my attention in the direction of the profession which has become my
life's work. You see me now when my name has become known far and
wide, and when I am generally recognized both by the public and by the
official force as being a final court of appeal in doubtful cases.
Even when you knew me first, at the time of the affair which you have
commemorated in 'A Study in Scarlet,' I had already established a
considerable, though not a very lucrative, connection. You can hardly
realize, then, how difficult I found it at first, and how long I had to
wait before I succeeded in making any headway.
"When I first came up to London I had rooms in Montague Street, just
round the corner from the British Museum, and there I waited, filling in
my too abundant leisure time by studying all those branches of science
which might make me more efficient. Now and again cases came in my way,
principally through the introduction of old fellow-students, for during
my last years at the University there was a good deal of talk there
about myself and my methods. The third of these cases was that of the
Musgrave Ritual, and it is to the interest which was aroused by that
singular chain of events, and the large issues which proved to be at
stake, that I trace my first stride towards the position which I now
"Reginald Musgrave had been in the same college as myself, and I had
some slight acquaintance with him. He was not generally popular among
the undergraduates, though it always seemed to me that what was set down
as pride was really an attempt to cover extreme natural diffidence.
In appearance he was a man of exceedingly aristocratic type, thin,
high-nosed, and large-eyed, with languid and yet courtly manners. He was
indeed a scion of one of the very oldest families in the kingdom,
though his branch was a cadet one which had separated from the northern
Musgraves some time in the sixteenth century, and had established itself
in western Sussex, where the Manor House of Hurlstone is perhaps the
oldest inhabited building in the county. Something of his birth place
seemed to cling to the man, and I never looked at his pale, keen face
or the poise of his head without associating him with gray archways and
mullioned windows and all the venerable wreckage of a feudal keep. Once
or twice we drifted into talk, and I can remember that more than once he
expressed a keen interest in my methods of observation and inference.
"For four years I had seen nothing of him until one morning he walked
into my room in Montague Street. He had changed little, was dressed like
a young man of fashion--he was always a bit of a dandy--and preserved
the same quiet, suave manner which had formerly distinguished him.
"'How has all gone with you Musgrave?' I asked, after we had cordially
"'You probably heard of my poor father's death,' said he; 'he was
carried off about two years ago. Since then I have of course had the
Hurlstone estates to manage, and as I am member for my district as well,
my life has been a busy one. But I understand, Holmes, that you are
turning to practical ends those powers with which you used to amaze us?'
"'Yes,' said I, 'I have taken to living by my wits.'
"'I am delighted to hear it, for your advice at present would be
exceedingly valuable to me. We have had some very strange doings at
Hurlstone, and the police have been able to throw no light upon the
matter. It is really the most extraordinary and inexplicable business.'
"You can imagine with what eagerness I listened to him, Watson, for
the very chance for which I had been panting during all those months
of inaction seemed to have come within my reach. In my inmost heart I
believed that I could succeed where others failed, and now I had the
opportunity to test myself.
"'Pray, let me have the details,' I cried.
"Reginald Musgrave sat down opposite to me, and lit the cigarette which
I had pushed towards him.
"'You must know,' said he, 'that though I am a bachelor, I have to keep
up a considerable staff of servants at Hurlstone, for it is a rambling
old place, and takes a good deal of looking after. I preserve, too, and
in the pheasant months I usually have a house-party, so that it would
not do to be short-handed. Altogether there are eight maids, the cook,
the butler, two footmen, and a boy. The garden and the stables of course
have a separate staff.
"'Of these servants the one who had been longest in our service was
Brunton the butler. He was a young school-master out of place when he
was first taken up by my father, but he was a man of great energy and
character, and he soon became quite invaluable in the household. He was
a well-grown, handsome man, with a splendid forehead, and though he has
been with us for twenty years he cannot be more than forty now. With
his personal advantages and his extraordinary gifts--for he can speak
several languages and play nearly every musical instrument--it is
wonderful that he should have been satisfied so long in such a position,
but I suppose that he was comfortable, and lacked energy to make any
change. The butler of Hurlstone is always a thing that is remembered by
all who visit us.
"'But this paragon has one fault. He is a bit of a Don Juan, and you can
imagine that for a man like him it is not a very difficult part to play
in a quiet country district. When he was married it was all right, but
since he has been a widower we have had no end of trouble with him. A
few months ago we were in hopes that he was about to settle down again
for he became engaged to Rachel Howells, our second house-maid; but he
has thrown her over since then and taken up with Janet Tregellis, the
daughter of the head game-keeper. Rachel--who is a very good girl, but
of an excitable Welsh temperament--had a sharp touch of brain-fever,
and goes about the house now--or did until yesterday--like a black-eyed
shadow of her former self. That was our first drama at Hurlstone; but a
second one came to drive it from our minds, and it was prefaced by the
disgrace and dismissal of butler Brunton.
"'This was how it came about. I have said that the man was intelligent,
and this very intelligence has caused his ruin, for it seems to have
led to an insatiable curiosity about things which did not in the least
concern him. I had no idea of the lengths to which this would carry him,
until the merest accident opened my eyes to it.
"'I have said that the house is a rambling one. One day last week--on
Thursday night, to be more exact--I found that I could not sleep,
having foolishly taken a cup of strong cafe noir after my dinner. After
struggling against it until two in the morning, I felt that it was quite
hopeless, so I rose and lit the candle with the intention of continuing
a novel which I was reading. The book, however, had been left in the
billiard-room, so I pulled on my dressing-gown and started off to get
"'In order to reach the billiard-room I had to descend a flight of
stairs and then to cross the head of a passage which led to the library
and the gun-room. You can imagine my surprise when, as I looked down
this corridor, I saw a glimmer of light coming from the open door of the
library. I had myself extinguished the lamp and closed the door before
coming to bed. Naturally my first thought was of burglars. The corridors
at Hurlstone have their walls largely decorated with trophies of old
weapons. From one of these I picked a battle-axe, and then, leaving my
candle behind me, I crept on tiptoe down the passage and peeped in at
the open door.
"'Brunton, the butler, was in the library. He was sitting, fully
dressed, in an easy-chair, with a slip of paper which looked like a
map upon his knee, and his forehead sunk forward upon his hand in deep
thought. I stood dumb with astonishment, watching him from the darkness.
A small taper on the edge of the table shed a feeble light which
sufficed to show me that he was fully dressed. Suddenly, as I looked,
he rose from his chair, and walking over to a bureau at the side, he
unlocked it and drew out one of the drawers. From this he took a paper,
and returning to his seat he flattened it out beside the taper on the
edge of the table, and began to study it with minute attention. My
indignation at this calm examination of our family documents overcame
me so far that I took a step forward, and Brunton, looking up, saw me
standing in the doorway. He sprang to his feet, his face turned livid
with fear, and he thrust into his breast the chart-like paper which he
had been originally studying.
"'"So!" said I. "This is how you repay the trust which we have reposed
in you. You will leave my service to-morrow."
"'He bowed with the look of a man who is utterly crushed, and slunk past
me without a word. The taper was still on the table, and by its light
I glanced to see what the paper was which Brunton had taken from the
bureau. To my surprise it was nothing of any importance at all,
but simply a copy of the questions and answers in the singular old
observance called the Musgrave Ritual. It is a sort of ceremony peculiar
to our family, which each Musgrave for centuries past has gone through
on his coming of age--a thing of private interest, and perhaps of some
little importance to the archaeologist, like our own blazonings and
charges, but of no practical use whatever.'
"'We had better come back to the paper afterwards,' said I.
"'If you think it really necessary,' he answered, with some hesitation.
'To continue my statement, however: I relocked the bureau, using the key
which Brunton had left, and I had turned to go when I was surprised to
find that the butler had returned, and was standing before me.
"'"Mr. Musgrave, sir," he cried, in a voice which was hoarse with
emotion, "I can't bear disgrace, sir. I've always been proud above my
station in life, and disgrace would kill me. My blood will be on your
head, sir--it will, indeed--if you drive me to despair. If you cannot
keep me after what has passed, then for God's sake let me give you
notice and leave in a month, as if of my own free will. I could stand
that, Mr. Musgrave, but not to be cast out before all the folk that I
know so well."
"'"You don't deserve much consideration, Brunton," I answered. "Your
conduct has been most infamous. However, as you have been a long time in
the family, I have no wish to bring public disgrace upon you. A month,
however is too long. Take yourself away in a week, and give what reason
you like for going."
"'"Only a week, sir?" he cried, in a despairing voice. "A fortnight--say
at least a fortnight!"
"'"A week," I repeated, "and you may consider yourself to have been very
leniently dealt with."
"'He crept away, his face sunk upon his breast, like a broken man, while
I put out the light and returned to my room.
"'"For two days after this Brunton was most assiduous in his attention
to his duties. I made no allusion to what had passed, and waited with
some curiosity to see how he would cover his disgrace. On the third
morning, however he did not appear, as was his custom, after breakfast
to receive my instructions for the day. As I left the dining-room I
happened to meet Rachel Howells, the maid. I have told you that she had
only recently recovered from an illness, and was looking so wretchedly
pale and wan that I remonstrated with her for being at work.
"'"You should be in bed," I said. "Come back to your duties when you are
"'She looked at me with so strange an expression that I began to suspect
that her brain was affected.
"'"I am strong enough, Mr. Musgrave," said she.
"'"We will see what the doctor says," I answered. "You must stop work
now, and when you go downstairs just say that I wish to see Brunton."
"'"The butler is gone," said she.
"'"Gone! Gone where?"
"'"He is gone. No one has seen him. He is not in his room. Oh, yes, he
is gone, he is gone!" She fell back against the wall with shriek after
shriek of laughter, while I, horrified at this sudden hysterical attack,
rushed to the bell to summon help. The girl was taken to her room, still
screaming and sobbing, while I made inquiries about Brunton. There was
no doubt about it that he had disappeared. His bed had not been slept
in, he had been seen by no one since he had retired to his room the
night before, and yet it was difficult to see how he could have left
the house, as both windows and doors were found to be fastened in the
morning. His clothes, his watch, and even his money were in his room,
but the black suit which he usually wore was missing. His slippers,
too, were gone, but his boots were left behind. Where then could butler
Brunton have gone in the night, and what could have become of him now?
"'Of course we searched the house from cellar to garret, but there was
no trace of him. It is, as I have said, a labyrinth of an old house,
especially the original wing, which is now practically uninhabited; but
we ransacked every room and cellar without discovering the least sign
of the missing man. It was incredible to me that he could have gone away
leaving all his property behind him, and yet where could he be? I called
in the local police, but without success. Rain had fallen on the night
before and we examined the lawn and the paths all round the house, but
in vain. Matters were in this state, when a new development quite drew
our attention away from the original mystery.
"'For two days Rachel Howells had been so ill, sometimes delirious,
sometimes hysterical, that a nurse had been employed to sit up with her
at night. On the third night after Brunton's disappearance, the nurse,
finding her patient sleeping nicely, had dropped into a nap in the
arm-chair, when she woke in the early morning to find the bed empty, the
window open, and no signs of the invalid. I was instantly aroused, and,
with the two footmen, started off at once in search of the missing girl.
It was not difficult to tell the direction which she had taken, for,
starting from under her window, we could follow her footmarks easily
across the lawn to the edge of the mere, where they vanished close to
the gravel path which leads out of the grounds. The lake there is eight
feet deep, and you can imagine our feelings when we saw that the trail
of the poor demented girl came to an end at the edge of it.
"'Of course, we had the drags at once, and set to work to recover the
remains, but no trace of the body could we find. On the other hand, we
brought to the surface an object of a most unexpected kind. It was a
linen bag which contained within it a mass of old rusted and discolored
metal and several dull-colored pieces of pebble or glass. This strange
find was all that we could get from the mere, and, although we made
every possible search and inquiry yesterday, we know nothing of the fate
either of Rachel Howells or of Richard Brunton. The county police are at
their wits' end, and I have come up to you as a last resource.'
"You can imagine, Watson, with what eagerness I listened to this
extraordinary sequence of events, and endeavored to piece them together,
and to devise some common thread upon which they might all hang. The
butler was gone. The maid was gone. The maid had loved the butler, but
had afterwards had cause to hate him. She was of Welsh blood, fiery
and passionate. She had been terribly excited immediately after his
disappearance. She had flung into the lake a bag containing some
curious contents. These were all factors which had to be taken into
consideration, and yet none of them got quite to the heart of the
matter. What was the starting-point of this chain of events? There lay
the end of this tangled line.
"'I must see that paper, Musgrave,' said I, 'which this butler of your
thought it worth his while to consult, even at the risk of the loss of
"'It is rather an absurd business, this ritual of ours,' he answered.
'But it has at least the saving grace of antiquity to excuse it. I have
a copy of the questions and answers here if you care to run your eye
"He handed me the very paper which I have here, Watson, and this is the
strange catechism to which each Musgrave had to submit when he came to
man's estate. I will read you the questions and answers as they stand.
"'Whose was it?'
"'His who is gone.'
"'Who shall have it?'
"'He who will come.'
"'Where was the sun?'
"'Over the oak.'
"'Where was the shadow?'
"'Under the elm.'
"How was it stepped?'
"'North by ten and by ten, east by five and by five, south by two and by
two, west by one and by one, and so under.'
"'What shall we give for it?'
"'All that is ours.'
"'Why should we give it?'
"'For the sake of the trust.'
"'The original has no date, but is in the spelling of the middle of the
seventeenth century,' remarked Musgrave. 'I am afraid, however, that it
can be of little help to you in solving this mystery.'
"'At least,' said I, 'it gives us another mystery, and one which is even
more interesting than the first. It may be that the solution of the one
may prove to be the solution of the other. You will excuse me, Musgrave,
if I say that your butler appears to me to have been a very clever man,
and to have had a clearer insight than ten generations of his masters.'
"'I hardly follow you,' said Musgrave. 'The paper seems to me to be of
no practical importance.'
"'But to me it seems immensely practical, and I fancy that Brunton took
the same view. He had probably seen it before that night on which you
"'It is very possible. We took no pains to hide it.'
"'He simply wished, I should imagine, to refresh his memory upon that
last occasion. He had, as I understand, some sort of map or chart which
he was comparing with the manuscript, and which he thrust into his
pocket when you appeared.'
"'That is true. But what could he have to do with this old family custom
of ours, and what does this rigmarole mean?'
"'I don't think that we should have much difficulty in determining
that,' said I; 'with your permission we will take the first train down
to Sussex, and go a little more deeply into the matter upon the spot.'
"The same afternoon saw us both at Hurlstone. Possibly you have seen
pictures and read descriptions of the famous old building, so I will
confine my account of it to saying that it is built in the shape of
an L, the long arm being the more modern portion, and the shorter the
ancient nucleus, from which the other had developed. Over the low,
heavily-lintelled door, in the centre of this old part, is chiseled the
date, 1607, but experts are agreed that the beams and stone-work are
really much older than this. The enormously thick walls and tiny windows
of this part had in the last century driven the family into building the
new wing, and the old one was used now as a store-house and a cellar,
when it was used at all. A splendid park with fine old timber surrounds
the house, and the lake, to which my client had referred, lay close to
the avenue, about two hundred yards from the building.
"I was already firmly convinced, Watson, that there were not three
separate mysteries here, but one only, and that if I could read the
Musgrave Ritual aright I should hold in my hand the clue which would
lead me to the truth concerning both the butler Brunton and the maid
Howells. To that then I turned all my energies. Why should this servant
be so anxious to master this old formula? Evidently because he saw
something in it which had escaped all those generations of country
squires, and from which he expected some personal advantage. What was it
then, and how had it affected his fate?
"It was perfectly obvious to me, on reading the ritual, that the
measurements must refer to some spot to which the rest of the document
alluded, and that if we could find that spot, we should be in a fair way
towards finding what the secret was which the old Musgraves had thought
it necessary to embalm in so curious a fashion. There were two guides
given us to start with, an oak and an elm. As to the oak there could be
no question at all. Right in front of the house, upon the left-hand
side of the drive, there stood a patriarch among oaks, one of the most
magnificent trees that I have ever seen.
"'That was there when your ritual was drawn up,' said I, as we drove
"'It was there at the Norman Conquest in all probability,' he answered.
'It has a girth of twenty-three feet.'
"'Have you any old elms?' I asked.
"'There used to be a very old one over yonder but it was struck by
lightning ten years ago, and we cut down the stump.'
"'You can see where it used to be?'
"'There are no other elms?'
"'No old ones, but plenty of beeches.'
"'I should like to see where it grew.'
"We had driven up in a dog-cart, and my client led me away at once,
without our entering the house, to the scar on the lawn where the
elm had stood. It was nearly midway between the oak and the house. My
investigation seemed to be progressing.
"'I suppose it is impossible to find out how high the elm was?' I asked.
"'I can give you it at once. It was sixty-four feet.'
"'How do you come to know it?' I asked, in surprise.
"'When my old tutor used to give me an exercise in trigonometry, it
always took the shape of measuring heights. When I was a lad I worked
out every tree and building in the estate.'
"This was an unexpected piece of luck. My data were coming more quickly
than I could have reasonably hoped.
"'Tell me,' I asked, 'did your butler ever ask you such a question?'
"Reginald Musgrave looked at me in astonishment. 'Now that you call it
to my mind,' he answered, 'Brunton did ask me about the height of the
tree some months ago, in connection with some little argument with the
"This was excellent news, Watson, for it showed me that I was on the
right road. I looked up at the sun. It was low in the heavens, and I
calculated that in less than an hour it would lie just above the topmost
branches of the old oak. One condition mentioned in the Ritual would
then be fulfilled. And the shadow of the elm must mean the farther end
of the shadow, otherwise the trunk would have been chosen as the guide.
I had, then, to find where the far end of the shadow would fall when the
sun was just clear of the oak."
"That must have been difficult, Holmes, when the elm was no longer
"Well, at least I knew that if Brunton could do it, I could also.
Besides, there was no real difficulty. I went with Musgrave to his study
and whittled myself this peg, to which I tied this long string with a
knot at each yard. Then I took two lengths of a fishing-rod, which came
to just six feet, and I went back with my client to where the elm had
been. The sun was just grazing the top of the oak. I fastened the rod
on end, marked out the direction of the shadow, and measured it. It was
nine feet in length.
"Of course the calculation now was a simple one. If a rod of six feet
threw a shadow of nine, a tree of sixty-four feet would throw one of
ninety-six, and the line of the one would of course be the line of the
other. I measured out the distance, which brought me almost to the
wall of the house, and I thrust a peg into the spot. You can imagine
my exultation, Watson, when within two inches of my peg I saw a conical
depression in the ground. I knew that it was the mark made by Brunton in
his measurements, and that I was still upon his trail.
"From this starting-point I proceeded to step, having first taken the
cardinal points by my pocket-compass. Ten steps with each foot took me
along parallel with the wall of the house, and again I marked my spot
with a peg. Then I carefully paced off five to the east and two to the
south. It brought me to the very threshold of the old door. Two steps
to the west meant now that I was to go two paces down the stone-flagged
passage, and this was the place indicated by the Ritual.
"Never have I felt such a cold chill of disappointment, Watson. For a
moment is seemed to me that there must be some radical mistake in my
calculations. The setting sun shone full upon the passage floor, and I
could see that the old, foot-worn gray stones with which it was paved
were firmly cemented together, and had certainly not been moved for many
a long year. Brunton had not been at work here. I tapped upon the floor,
but it sounded the same all over, and there was no sign of any crack
or crevice. But, fortunately, Musgrave, who had begun to appreciate the
meaning of my proceedings, and who was now as excited as myself, took
out his manuscript to check my calculation.
"'And under,' he cried. 'You have omitted the "and under."'
"I had thought that it meant that we were to dig, but now, of course,
I saw at once that I was wrong. 'There is a cellar under this then?' I
"'Yes, and as old as the house. Down here, through this door.'
"We went down a winding stone stair, and my companion, striking a match,
lit a large lantern which stood on a barrel in the corner. In an instant
it was obvious that we had at last come upon the true place, and that we
had not been the only people to visit the spot recently.
"It had been used for the storage of wood, but the billets, which had
evidently been littered over the floor, were now piled at the sides, so
as to leave a clear space in the middle. In this space lay a large and
heavy flagstone with a rusted iron ring in the centre to which a thick
shepherd's-check muffler was attached.
"'By Jove!' cried my client. 'That's Brunton's muffler. I have seen it
on him, and could swear to it. What has the villain been doing here?'
"At my suggestion a couple of the county police were summoned to be
present, and I then endeavored to raise the stone by pulling on the
cravat. I could only move it slightly, and it was with the aid of one
of the constables that I succeeded at last in carrying it to one side.
A black hole yawned beneath into which we all peered, while Musgrave,
kneeling at the side, pushed down the lantern.
"A small chamber about seven feet deep and four feet square lay open to
us. At one side of this was a squat, brass-bound wooden box, the lid of
which was hinged upwards, with this curious old-fashioned key projecting
from the lock. It was furred outside by a thick layer of dust, and damp
and worms had eaten through the wood, so that a crop of livid fungi
was growing on the inside of it. Several discs of metal, old coins
apparently, such as I hold here, were scattered over the bottom of the
box, but it contained nothing else.
"At the moment, however, we had no thought for the old chest, for our
eyes were riveted upon that which crouched beside it. It was the figure
of a man, clad in a suit of black, who squatted down upon his hams with
his forehead sunk upon the edge of the box and his two arms thrown out
on each side of it. The attitude had drawn all the stagnant blood to
the face, and no man could have recognized that distorted liver-colored
countenance; but his height, his dress, and his hair were all sufficient
to show my client, when we had drawn the body up, that it was indeed his
missing butler. He had been dead some days, but there was no wound or
bruise upon his person to show how he had met his dreadful end. When
his body had been carried from the cellar we found ourselves still
confronted with a problem which was almost as formidable as that with
which we had started.
"I confess that so far, Watson, I had been disappointed in my
investigation. I had reckoned upon solving the matter when once I had
found the place referred to in the Ritual; but now I was there, and was
apparently as far as ever from knowing what it was which the family had
concealed with such elaborate precautions. It is true that I had thrown
a light upon the fate of Brunton, but now I had to ascertain how that
fate had come upon him, and what part had been played in the matter by
the woman who had disappeared. I sat down upon a keg in the corner and
thought the whole matter carefully over.
"You know my methods in such cases, Watson. I put myself in the man's
place and, having first gauged his intelligence, I try to imagine how I
should myself have proceeded under the same circumstances. In this
case the matter was simplified by Brunton's intelligence being quite
first-rate, so that it was unnecessary to make any allowance for the
personal equation, as the astronomers have dubbed it. He know that
something valuable was concealed. He had spotted the place. He found
that the stone which covered it was just too heavy for a man to move
unaided. What would he do next? He could not get help from outside, even
if he had some one whom he could trust, without the unbarring of doors
and considerable risk of detection. It was better, if he could, to have
his helpmate inside the house. But whom could he ask? This girl had been
devoted to him. A man always finds it hard to realize that he may have
finally lost a woman's love, however badly he may have treated her. He
would try by a few attentions to make his peace with the girl Howells,
and then would engage her as his accomplice. Together they would come at
night to the cellar, and their united force would suffice to raise the
stone. So far I could follow their actions as if I had actually seen
"But for two of them, and one a woman, it must have been heavy work the
raising of that stone. A burly Sussex policeman and I had found it no
light job. What would they do to assist them? Probably what I should
have done myself. I rose and examined carefully the different billets
of wood which were scattered round the floor. Almost at once I came
upon what I expected. One piece, about three feet in length, had a very
marked indentation at one end, while several were flattened at the sides
as if they had been compressed by some considerable weight. Evidently,
as they had dragged the stone up they had thrust the chunks of wood into
the chink, until at last, when the opening was large enough to crawl
through, they would hold it open by a billet placed lengthwise, which
might very well become indented at the lower end, since the whole weight
of the stone would press it down on to the edge of this other slab. So
far I was still on safe ground.
"And now how was I to proceed to reconstruct this midnight drama?
Clearly, only one could fit into the hole, and that one was Brunton. The
girl must have waited above. Brunton then unlocked the box, handed up
the contents presumably--since they were not to be found--and then--and
then what happened?
"What smouldering fire of vengeance had suddenly sprung into flame in
this passionate Celtic woman's soul when she saw the man who had wronged
her--wronged her, perhaps, far more than we suspected--in her power?
Was it a chance that the wood had slipped, and that the stone had shut
Brunton into what had become his sepulchre? Had she only been guilty of
silence as to his fate? Or had some sudden blow from her hand dashed the
support away and sent the slab crashing down into its place? Be that
as it might, I seemed to see that woman's figure still clutching at her
treasure trove and flying wildly up the winding stair, with her ears
ringing perhaps with the muffled screams from behind her and with the
drumming of frenzied hands against the slab of stone which was choking
her faithless lover's life out.
"Here was the secret of her blanched face, her shaken nerves, her peals
of hysterical laughter on the next morning. But what had been in the
box? What had she done with that? Of course, it must have been the old
metal and pebbles which my client had dragged from the mere. She had
thrown them in there at the first opportunity to remove the last trace
of her crime.
"For twenty minutes I had sat motionless, thinking the matter out.
Musgrave still stood with a very pale face, swinging his lantern and
peering down into the hole.
"'These are coins of Charles the First,' said he, holding out the few
which had been in the box; 'you see we were right in fixing our date for
"'We may find something else of Charles the First,' I cried, as the
probable meaning of the first two questions of the Ritual broke suddenly
upon me. 'Let me see the contents of the bag which you fished from the
"We ascended to his study, and he laid the debris before me. I could
understand his regarding it as of small importance when I looked at it,
for the metal was almost black and the stones lustreless and dull. I
rubbed one of them on my sleeve, however, and it glowed afterwards like
a spark in the dark hollow of my hand. The metal work was in the form
of a double ring, but it had been bent and twisted out of its original
"'You must bear in mind,' said I, 'that the royal party made head in
England even after the death of the king, and that when they at last
fled they probably left many of their most precious possessions buried
behind them, with the intention of returning for them in more peaceful
"'My ancestor, Sir Ralph Musgrave, was a prominent Cavalier and the
right-hand man of Charles the Second in his wanderings,' said my friend.
"'Ah, indeed!' I answered. 'Well now, I think that really should give us
the last link that we wanted. I must congratulate you on coming into
the possession, though in rather a tragic manner of a relic which is of
great intrinsic value, but of even greater importance as an historical
"'What is it, then?' he gasped in astonishment.
"'It is nothing less than the ancient crown of the kings of England.'
"'Precisely. Consider what the Ritual says: How does it run? "Whose was
it?" "His who is gone." That was after the execution of Charles. Then,
"Who shall have it?" "He who will come." That was Charles the Second,
whose advent was already foreseen. There can, I think, be no doubt that
this battered and shapeless diadem once encircled the brows of the royal
"'And how came it in the pond?'
"'Ah, that is a question that will take some time to answer.' And with
that I sketched out to him the whole long chain of surmise and of proof
which I had constructed. The twilight had closed in and the moon was
shining brightly in the sky before my narrative was finished.
"'And how was it then that Charles did not get his crown when he
returned?' asked Musgrave, pushing back the relic into its linen bag.
"'Ah, there you lay your finger upon the one point which we shall
probably never be able to clear up. It is likely that the Musgrave who
held the secret died in the interval, and by some oversight left this
guide to his descendant without explaining the meaning of it. From that
day to this it has been handed down from father to son, until at last
it came within reach of a man who tore its secret out of it and lost his
life in the venture.'
"And that's the story of the Musgrave Ritual, Watson. They have the
crown down at Hurlstone--though they had some legal bother and a
considerable sum to pay before they were allowed to retain it. I am sure
that if you mentioned my name they would be happy to show it to you. Of
the woman nothing was ever heard, and the probability is that she got
away out of England and carried herself and the memory of her crime to
some land beyond the seas."
Next: The Reigate Puzzle
Previous: The Gloria Scott