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 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 humours, would sit in an
armchair with his hair-trigger and a hundred Boxer cartridges
and proceed to adorn the opposite wall with a patnotic V. R.
done in bullet-pocks, I felt strongly that neither the atmosphere
nor the appearance of our room was improved by it.
  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, tbe 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 commonplace 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 mur-
ders, and the case of Vamberry, the wine merchant, and the
adventure of the old Russian woman, and the singular affair of
the aluminum 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,
an old-fashioned brass key, a peg of wood with a ball of string
attached to it, and three rusty old discs of metal.
  "Well, my boy, what do you make of this lot?" he asked,
smiling at my expression.
  "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 con-
tained no account of this very singular business.
  "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 recog-
nized 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 bv 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 hold.
  "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 an 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 win-
dows 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 shaken hands.
  " '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 estate 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. Al-
together there are eight maids, the cook, the butler, two foot-
men, 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 schoolmaster
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 housemaid; 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 af 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 it.
  " 'In order to reach the biilliard-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 burglar. 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