Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
Sir Author Conan Doyle
Part 3 out of 7
soldiers, a captain, three mates, a doctor, a
chaplain, and four warders. Nearly a hundred souls
were in her, all told, when we set said from Falmouth.
"'The partitions between the cells of the convicts,
instead of being of thick oak, as is usual in
convict-ships, were quite thin and frail. The man
next to me, upon the aft side, was one whom I had
particularly noticed when we were led down the quay.
He was a young man with a clear, hairless face, a
long, thin nose, and rather nut-cracker jaws. He
carried his head very jauntily in the air, had a
swaggering style of walking, and was, above all else,
remarkable for his extraordinary height. I don't
think any of our heads would have come up to his
shoulder, and I am sure that he could not have
measured less than six and a half feet. It was
strange among so many sad and weary faces to see one
which was full of energy and resolution. The sight of
it was to me like a fire in a snow-storm. I was glad,
then, to find that he was my neighbor, and gladder
still when, in the dead of the night, I heard a
whisper close to my ear, and found that he had managed
to cut an opening in the board which separated us.
"'"Hullo, chummy!" said he, "what's your name, and
what are you here for?"
"'I answered him, and asked in turn who I was talking
"'"I'm Jack Prendergast," said he, "and by God! You'll
learn to bless my name before you've done with me."
"'I remembered hearing of his case, for it was one
which had made an immense sensation throughout the
country some time before my own arrest. He was a man
of good family and of great ability, but on incurably
vicious habits, who had be an ingenious system of
fraud obtained huge sums of money from the leading
"'"Ha, ha! You remember my case!" said he proudly.
"'"Very well, indeed."
"'"Then maybe you remember something queer about it?"
"'"What was that, then?"
"'"I'd had nearly a quarter of a million, hadn't I?"
"'"So it was said."
"'"But none was recovered, eh?"
"'"Well, where d'ye suppose the balance is?" he asked.
"'"I have no idea," said I.
"'"Right between my finger and thumb," he cried. "By
God! I've go more pounds to my name than you've hairs
on your head. And if you've money, my son, and know
how to handle it and spread it, you can do anything.
Now, you don't think it likely that a man who could do
anything is going to wear his breeches out sitting in
the stinking hold of a rat-gutted, beetle-ridden,
mouldy old coffin of a Chin China coaster. No, sir,
such a man will look after himself and will look after
his chums. You may lay to that! You hold on to him,
and you may kiss the book that he'll haul you
"'That was his style of talk, and at first I thought
it meant nothing; but after a while, when he had
tested me and sworn me in with all possible solemnity,
he let me understand that there really was a plot to
gain command of the vessel. A dozen of the prisoners
had hatched it before they came aboard, Prendergast
was the leader, and his money was the motive power.
"'"I'd a partner," said he, "a rare good man, as true
as a stock to a barrel. He's got the dibbs, he has,
and where do you think he is at this moment? Why,
he's the chaplain of this ship--the chaplain, no less!
He came aboard with a black coat, and his papers
right, and money enough in his box to buy the thing
right up from keel to main-truck. The crew are his,
body and soul. He could buy 'em at so much a gross
with a cash discount, and he did it before ever they
signed on. He's got two of the warders and Mereer,
the second mate, and he'd get the captain himself, if
he thought him worth it."
"'"What are we to do, then?" I asked.
"'"What do you think?" said he. "We'll make the coats
of some of these soldiers redder than ever the tailor
"'"But they are armed," said I.
"'"And so shall we be, my boy. There's a brace of
pistols for every mother's son of us, and if we can't
carry this ship, with the crew at our back, it's time
we were all sent to a young misses' boarding-school.
You speak to your mate upon the left to-night, and see
if he is to be trusted."
"'I did so, and found my other neighbor to be a young
fellow in much the same position as myself, whose
crime had been forgery. His name was Evans, but he
afterwards changed it, like myself, and his is now a
rich and prosperous man in the south of England. He
was ready enough to join the conspiracy, as the only
means of saving ourselves, and before we had crossed
the Bay there were only two of the prisoners who were
not in the secret. One of these was of weak mind, and
we did not dare to trust him, and the other was
suffering from jaundice, and could not be of any use
"'From the beginning there was really nothing to
prevent us from taking possession of the ship. The
crew were a set of ruffians, specially picked for the
job. The sham chaplain came into our cells to exhort
us, carrying a black bag, supposed to be full of
tracts, and so often did he come that by the third day
we had each stowed away at the foot of our beds a
file, a brace of pistols, a pound of powder, and
twenty slugs. Two of the warders were agents of
Prendergast, and the second mate was his right-hand
man. The captain, the two mates, two warders
Lieutenant Martin, his eighteen soldiers, and the
doctor were all that we had against us. Yet, safe as
it was, we determined to neglect no precaution, and to
make our attack suddenly by night. It came, however,
more quickly than we expected, and in this way.
"'One evening, about the third week after our start,
the doctor had come down to see one of the prisoners
who was ill, and putting his hand down on the bottom
of his bunk he felt the outline of the pistols. If he
had been silent he might have blown the whole thing,
but he was a nervous little chap, so he gave a cry of
surprise and turned so pale that the man knew what was
up in an instant and seized him. He was gagged before
he could give the alarm, and tied down upon the bed.
He had unlocked the door that led to the deck, and we
were through it in a rush. The two sentries were shot
down, and so was a corporal who came running to see
what was the matter. There were two more soldiers at
the door of the state-room, and their muskets seemed
not to be loaded, for they never fired upon us, and
they were shot while trying to fix their bayonets.
Then we rushed on into the captain's cabin, but as we
pushed open the door there was an explosion from
within, and there he lay wit his brains smeared over
the chart of the Atlantic which was pinned upon the
table, while the chaplain stood with a smoking pistol
in his hand at his elbow. The two mates had both been
seized by the crew, and the whole business seemed to
"'The state-room was next the cabin, and we flocked in
there and flopped down on the settees, all speaking
together, for we were just mad with the feeling that
we were free once more. There were lockers all round,
and Wilson, the sham chaplain, knocked one of them in,
and pulled out a dozen of brown sherry. We cracked
off the necks of the bottles, poured the stuff out
into tumblers, and were just tossing them off, when in
an instant without warning there came the roar of
muskets in our ears, and the saloon was so full of
smoke that we could not see across the table. When it
cleared again the place was a shambles. Wilson and
eight others were wriggling on the top of each other
on the floor, and the blood and the brown sherry on
that table turn me sick now when I think of it. We
were so cowed by the sight that I think we should have
given the job up if had not been for Prendergast. He
bellowed like a bull and rushed for the door with all
that were left alive at his heels. Out we ran, and
there on the poop were the lieutenent and ten of his
men. The swing skylights above the saloon table had
been a bit open, and they had fired on us through the
slit. We got on them before they could load, and they
stood to it like men; but we had the upper hand of
them, and in five minutes it was all over. My God!
Was there ever a slaughter-house like that ship!
Predergast was like a raging deveil, and he picked the
soldiers up as if they had been children and threw
them overboard alive or dead. There was one sergeant
that was horribly wounded and yet kept on swimming for
a surprising time, until some one in mercy blew out
his brains. When the fighting was over there was no
one left of our enemies except just the warders the
mates, and the doctor.
"'It was over them that the great quarrel arose.
There were many of us who were glad enough to win back
our freedom, and yet who had no wish to have murder on
our souls. It was one thing to knock the soldiers
over with their muskets in their hands, and it was
another to stand by while men were being killed in
cold blood. Eight of us, five convicts and three
sailors, said that we would not see it done. But
there was no moving Predergast and those who were with
him. Our only chance of safety lay in making a clean
job of it, said he, and he would not leave a tongue
with power to wag in a witness-box. It nearly came to
our sharing the fate of the prisoners, but at last he
said that if we wished we might take a boat and go.
We jumped at the offer, for we were already sick of
these blookthirsty doings, and we saw that there would
be worse before it was done. We were given a suit of
sailor togs each, a barrel of water, two casks, one of
junk and one of biscuits, and a compass. Prendergast
threw us over a chart, told us that we were
shipwrecked mariners whose ship had foundered in Lat.
15 degrees and Long 25 degrees west, and then cut the painter and
let us go.
"'And now I come to the most surprising part of my
story, my dear son. The seamen had hauled the
fore-yard aback during the rising, but now as we left
them they brought it square again, and as there was a
light wind from the north and east the bark began to
draw slowly away from us. Our boat lay, rising and
falling, upon the long, smooth rollers, and Evans and
I, who were the most educated of the party, were
sitting in the sheets working out our position and
planning what coast we should make for. It was a nice
question, for the Cape de Verds were about five
hundred miles to the north of us, and the African
coast about seven hundred to the east. On the whole,
as the wind was coming round to the north, we thought
that Sierra Leone might be best, and turned our head
in that direction, the bark being at that time nearly
hull down on our starboard quarter. Suddenly as we
looked at her we saw a dense black cloud of smoke
shoot up from her, which hung like a monstrous tree
upon the sky line. A few seconds later a roar like
thunder burst upon our ears, and as the smoke thinned
away there was no sign left of the Gloria Scott. In
an instant we swept the boat's head round again and
pulled with all our strength for the place where the
haze still trailing over the water marked the scene of
"'It was a long hour before we reached it, and at
first we feared that we had come too late to save any
one. A splintered boat and a number of crates and
fragments of spars rising and falling on the waves
showed us where the vessel had foundered; but there
was no sign of life, and we had turned away in despair
when we heard a cry for help, and saw at some distance
a piece of wreckage with a man lying stretched across
it. When we pulled him aboard the boat he proved to
be a young seaman of the name of Hudson, who was so
burned and exhausted that he could give us no account
of what had happened until the following morning.
"'It seemed that after we had left, Prendergast and
his gang had proceeded to put to death the five
remaining prisoners. The two warders had been shot
and thrown overboard, and so also had the third mate.
Prendergast then descended into the 'tween-decks and
with his own hands cut the throat of the unfortunate
surgeon. There only remained the first mate, who was
a bold and active man. When he saw the convict
approaching him with the bloody knife in his hand he
kicked off his bonds, which he had somehow contrived
to loosen, and rushing down the deck he plunged into
the after-hold. A dozen convicts, who descended with
their pistols in search of him, found him with a
match-box in his hand seated beside an open
powder-barrel, which was one of a hundred carried on
board, and swearing that he would blow all hands up if
he were in any way molested. An instant later the
explosion occurred, though Hudson thought it was
caused by the misdirected bullet of one of the
convicts rather than the mate's match. Be the cause
what I may, it was the end of the Gloria Scott and of
the rabble who held command of her.
"'Such, in a few words, my dear boy, is the history of
this terrible business in which I was involved. Next
day we were picked up by the brig Hotspur, bound for
Australia, whose captain found no difficulty in
believing that we were the survivors of a passenger
ship which had foundered. The transport ship Gloria
Scott was set down by the Admiralty as being lost at
sea, and no word has ever leaked out as to her true
fate. After an excellent voyage the Hotspur landed us
at Sydney, where Evans and I changed our names and
made our way to the diggings, where, among the crowds
who were gathered from all nations, we had no
difficulty in losing our former identities. The rest
I need not relate. We prospered, we traveled, we came
back as rich colonials to England, and we bought
country estates. For more than twenty years we have
led peaceful and useful lives, and we hoped that our
past was forever buried. Imagine, then, my feelings
when in the seaman who came to us I recognized
instantly the man who had been picked off the wreck.
He had tracked us down somehow, and had set himself to
live upon our fears. You will understand now how it
was that I strove to keep the peace with him, and you
will in some measure sympathize with me in the fears
which fill me, now that he has gone from me to his
other victim with threats upon his tongue.'
"Underneath is written in a hand so shaky as to be
hardly legible, 'Beddoes writes in cipher to say H.
Has told all. Sweet Lord, have mercy on our souls!'
"That was the narrative which I read that night to
young Trevor, and I think, Watson, that under the
circumstances it was a dramatic one. The good fellow
was heart-broken at it, and went out to the Terai tea
planting, where I hear that he is doing well. As to
the sailor and Beddoes, neither of them was ever heard
of again after that day on which the letter of warning
was written. They both disappeared utterly and
completely. No complaint had been lodged with he
police, so that Beddoes had mistaken a threat for a
deed. Hudson had been seen lurking about, and it was
believed by the police that he had done away with
Beddoes and had fled. For myself I believe that the
truth was exactly the opposite. I think that it is
most probable that Beddoes, pushed to desperation and
believing himself to have been already betrayed, had
revenged himself upon Hudson, and had fled from the
country with as much money as he could lay his hands
on. Those are the facts of the case, Doctor, and if
they are of any use to your collection, I am sure that
they are very heartily at your service."
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
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
"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
"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
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 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 contained 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 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 to
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
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
"'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 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
"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
"'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 café 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 it.
"'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
"'"So!" said I. "This is how you repay the trust
which we have reposed in you. You will leave my
"'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,'
"'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
"'"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
""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 stronger."
"'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
"'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 shoe 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 his place.'
"'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
"'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
"'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 that 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 caught him.'
"'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
"'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
"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
"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 you ritual was drawn up,' said
I, as we drove past it.
"'It was there at the Norman Conquest in all
probability,' he answered. 'It has a girth of
"'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
"'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 dogcart, 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
"'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
"That must have been difficult, Holmes, when the elm
was no longer there."
"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 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
"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
"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 cried.
"'Yes, and as old as the house. Down here, through
"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
"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
"'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
"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 him 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 them.
"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
"'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 the Ritual.'
"'We may find something else of Charles the First,' I
cried, as the probable meaning of the first two
question of the Ritual broke suddenly upon me. 'Let
me see the contents of the bag which you fished from
"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
"'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 times.'
"'My ancestor, Sir Ralph Musgrave, as 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 curiosity.'
"'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 Stuarts.'
"'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
"'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."
The Reigate Puzzle
It was some time before the health of my friend Mr.
Sherlock Holmes recovered from the strain caused by
his immense exertions in the spring of '87. The whole
question of the Netherland-Sumatra Company and of the
colossal schemes of Baron Maupertuis are too recent in
the minds of the public, and are too intimately
concerned with politics and finance to be fitting
subjects for this series of sketches. They led,
however, in an indirect fashion to a singular and
complex problem which gave my friend an opportunity of
demonstrating the value of a fresh weapon among the
many with which he waged his life-long battle against
On referring to my notes I see that it was upon the
14th of April that I received a telegram from Lyons
which informed me that Holmes was lying ill in the
Hotel Dulong. Within twenty-four hours I was in his
sick-room, and was relieved to find that there was
nothing formidable in his symptoms. Even his iron
constitution, however, had broken down under the
strain of an investigation which had extended over two
months, during which period he had never worked less
than fifteen hours a day, and had more than once, as
he assured me, kept to his task for five days at a
stretch. Even the triumphant issue of his labors
could not save him from reaction after so terrible an
exertion, and at a time when Europe was ringing with
his name and when his room was literally ankle-deep
with congratulatory telegrams I found him a prey to
the blackest depression. Even the knowledge that he
had succeeded where the police of three countries had
failed, and that he had outmanoeuvred at every point
the most accomplished swindler in Europe, was
insufficient to rouse him from his nervous
Three days later we were back in Baker Street
together; but it was evident that my friend would be
much the better for a change, and the thought of a
week of spring time in the country was full of
attractions to me also. My old friend, Colonel
Hayter, who had come under my professional care in
Afghanistan, had now taken a house near Reigate in
Surrey, and had frequently asked me to come down to
him upon a visit. On the last occasion he had
remarked that if my friend would only come with me he
would be glad to extend his hospitality to him also.
A little diplomacy was needed, but when Holmes
understood that the establishment was a bachelor one,
and that he would be allowed the fullest freedom, he
fell in with my plans and a week after our return from
Lyons we were under the Colonel's roof. Hayter was a
fine old soldier who had seen much of the world, and
he soon found, as I had expected, that Holmes and he
had much in common.
On the evening of our arrival we were sitting in the
Colonel's gun-room after dinner, Holmes stretched upon
the sofa, while Hayter and I looked over his little
armory of Eastern weapons.
"By the way," said he suddenly, "I think I'll take one
of these pistols upstairs with me in case we have an
"An alarm!" said I.
"Yes, we've had a scare in this part lately. Old
Acton, who is one of our county magnates, had his
house broken into last Monday. No great damage done,
but the fellows are still at large."
"No clue?" asked Holmes, cocking his eye at the
"None as yet. But the affair is a pretty one, one of
our little country crimes, which must seem too small
for your attention, Mr. Holmes, after this great
Holmes waved away the compliment, though his smile
showed that it had pleased him.
"Was there any feature of interest?"
"I fancy not. The thieves ransacked the library and
got very little for their pains. The whole place was
turned upside down, drawers burst open, and presses
ransacked, with the result that an odd volume of
Pope's 'Homer,' two plated candlesticks, an ivory
letter-weight, a small oak barometer, and a ball of
twine are all that have vanished."
"What an extraordinary assortment!" I exclaimed.
"Oh, the fellows evidently grabbed hold of everything
they could get."
Holmes grunted from the sofa.
"The county police ought to make something of that,"
said he; "why, it is surely obvious that--"
But I held up a warning finger.
"You are here for a rest, my dear fellow. For
Heaven's sake don't get started on a new problem when
your nerves are all in shreds."
Holmes shrugged his shoulders with a glance of comic
resignation towards the Colonel, and the talk drifted
away into less dangerous channels.
It was destined, however, that all my professional
caution should be wasted, for next morning the problem
obtruded itself upon us in such a way that it was
impossible to ignore it, and our country visit took a
turn which neither of us could have anticipated. We
were at breakfast when the Colonel's butler rushed in
with all his propriety shaken out of him.
"Have you heard the news, sir?" he gasped. "At the
"Burglary!" cried the Colonel, with his coffee-cup in
The Colonel whistled. "By Jove!" said he. "Who's
killed, then? The J.P. or his son?"
"Neither, sir. It was William the coachman. Shot
through the heart, sir, and never spoke again."
"Who shot him, then?"
"The burglar, sir. He was off like a shot and got
clean away. He'd just broke in at the pantry window
when William came on him and met his end in saving his
"It was last night, sir, somewhere about twelve."
"Ah, then, we'll step over afterwards," said the
Colonel, coolly settling down to his breakfast again.
"It's a baddish business," he added when the butler
had gone; "he's our leading man about here, is old
Cunningham, and a very decent fellow too. He'll be
cut up over this, for the man has been in his service
for years and was a good servant. It's evidently the
same villains who broke into Acton's."
"And stole that very singular collection," said
"Hum! It may prove the simplest matter in the world,
but all the same at first glance this is just a little
curious, is it not? A gang of burglars acting in the
country might be expected to vary the scene of their
operations, and not to crack two cribs in the same
district within a few days. When you spoke last night
of taking precautions I remember that it passed
through my mind that this was probably the last parish
in England to which the thief or thieves would be
likely to turn their attention--which shows that I
have still much to learn."
"I fancy it's some local practitioner," said the
Colonel. "In that case, of course, Acton's and
Cunningham's are just the places he would go for,
since they are far the largest about here."
"Well, they ought to be, but they've had a lawsuit for
some years which has sucked the blood out of both of
them, I fancy. Old Acton has some claim on half
Cunningham's estate, and the lawyers have been at it
with both hands."
"If it's a local villain there should not be much
difficulty in running him down," said Holmes with a
yawn. "All right, Watson, I don't intend to meddle."
"Inspector Forrester, sir," said the butler, throwing
open the door.
The official, a smart, keen-faced young fellow,
stepped into the room. "Good-morning, Colonel," said
he; "I hope I don't intrude, but we hear that Mr.
Holmes of Baker Street is here."
The Colonel waved his hand towards my friend, and the
"We thought that perhaps you would care to step
across, Mr. Holmes."
"The fates are against you, Watson," said he,
laughing. "We were chatting about the matter when you
came in, Inspector. Perhaps you can let us have a few
details." As he leaned back in his chair in the
familiar attitude I knew that the case was hopeless.
"We had no clue in the Acton affair. But here we have
plenty to go on, and there's no doubt it is the same
party in each case. The man was seen."
"Yes, sir. But he was off like a deer after the shot
that killed poor William Kirwan was fired. Mr.
Cunningham saw him from the bedroom window, and Mr.
Alec Cunningham saw him from the back passage. It was
quarter to twelve when the alarm broke out. Mr.
Cunningham had just got into bed, and Mr. Alec was
smoking a pipe in his dressing-gown. They both heard
William the coachman calling for help, and Mr. Alec
ran down to see what was the matter. The back door
was open, and as he came to the foot of the stairs he
saw two men wrestling together outside. One of them
fired a shot, the other dropped, and the murderer
rushed across the garden and over the hedge. Mr.
Cunningham, looking out of his bedroom, saw the fellow
as he gained the road, but lost sight of him at once.
Mr. Alec stopped to see if he could help the dying
man, and so the villain got clean away. Beyond the
fact that he was a middle-sized man and dressed in
some dark stuff, we have no personal clue; but we are
making energetic inquiries, and if he is a stranger we
shall soon find him out."
"What was this William doing there? Did he say
anything before he died?"
"Not a word. He lives at the lodge with his mother,
and as he was a very faithful fellow we imagine that
he walked up to the house with the intention of seeing
that all was right there. Of course this Acton
business has put every one on their guard. The robber
must have just burst open the door--the lock has been
forced--when William came upon him."
"Did William say anything to his mother before going
"She is very old and deaf, and we can get no
information from her. The shock has made her
half-witted, but I understand that she was never very
bright. There is one very important circumstance,
however. Look at this!"
He took a small piece of torn paper from a note-book
and spread it out upon his knee.
"This was found between the finger and thumb of the
dead man. It appears to be a fragment torn from a
larger sheet. You will observe that the hour
mentioned upon it is the very time at which the poor
fellow met his fate. You see that his murderer might
have torn the rest of the sheet from him or he might
have taken this fragment from the murderer. It reads
almost as though it were an appointment."
Holmes took up the scrap of paper, a fac-simile of
which is here reproduced.
d at quarter to twelve
"Presuming that it is an appointment," continued the
Inspector, "it is of course a conceivable theory that
this William Kirwan--though he had the reputation of
being an honest man, may have been in league with the
thief. He may have met him there, may even have
helped him to break in the door, and then they may
have fallen out between themselves."
"This writing is of extraordinary interest," said
Holmes, who had been examining it with intense
concentration. "These are much deeper waters than I
had though." He sank his head upon his hands, while
the Inspector smiled at the effect which his case had
had upon the famous London specialist.
"Your last remark," said Holmes, presently, "as to the
possibility of there being an understanding between
the burglar and the servant, and this being a note of
appointment from one to the other, is an ingenious and
not entirely impossible supposition. But this writing
opens up--" He sank his head into his hands again and
remained for some minutes in the deepest thought.
When he raised his face again, I was surprised to see
that his cheek was tinged with color, and his eyes as
bright as before his illness. He sprang to his feet
with all his old energy.
"I'll tell you what," said he, "I should like to have
a quiet little glance into the details of this case.
There is something in it which fascinates me
extremely. If you will permit me, Colonel, I will
leave my friend Watson and you, and I will step round
with the Inspector to test the truth of one or two
little fancies of mine. I will be with you again in
half an hour."
An hour and half had elapsed before the Inspector
"Mr. Holmes is walking up and down in the field
outside," said he. "He wants us all four to go up to
the house together."
"To Mr. Cunningham's?"
The Inspector shrugged his shoulders. "I don't quite
know, sir. Between ourselves, I think Mr. Holmes had
not quite got over his illness yet. He's been
behaving very queerly, and he is very much excited."
"I don't think you need alarm yourself," said I. "I
have usually found that there was method in his
"Some folks might say there was madness in his
method," muttered the Inspector. "But he's all on
fire to start, Colonel, so we had best go out if you
We found Holmes pacing up and down in the field, his
chin sunk upon his breast, and his hands thrust into
his trousers pockets.
"The matter grows in interest," said he. "Watson,
your country-trip has been a distinct success. I have
had a charming morning."
"You have been up to the scene of the crime, I
understand," said the Colonel.
"Yes; the Inspector and I have made quite a little
"Well, we have seen some very interesting things.
I'll tell you what we did as we walk. First of all,
we saw the body of this unfortunate man. He certainly
died from a revolved wound as reported."
"Had you doubted it, then?"
"Oh, it is as well to test everything. Our inspection
was not wasted. We then had an interview with Mr.
Cunningham and his son, who were able to point out the
exact spot where the murderer had broken through the
garden-hedge in his flight. That was of great
"Then we had a look at this poor fellow's mother. We
could get no information from her, however, as she is
very old and feeble."
"And what is the result of your investigations?"
"The conviction that the crime is a very peculiar one.
Perhaps our visit now may do something to make it less
obscure. I think that we are both agreed, Inspector
that the fragment of paper in the dead man's hand,
bearing, as it does, the very hour of his death
written upon it, is of extreme importance."
"It should give a clue, Mr. Holmes."
"It does give a clue. Whoever wrote that note was the
man who brought William Kirwan out of his bed at that
hour. But where is the rest of that sheet of paper?"
"I examined the ground carefully in the hope of
finding it," said the Inspector.
"It was torn out of the dead man's hand. Why was some
one so anxious to get possession of it? Because it
incriminated him. And what would he do with it?
Thrust it into his pocket, most likely, never noticing
that a corner of it had been left in the grip of the
corpse. If we could get the rest of that sheet it is
obvious that we should have gone a long way towards
solving the mystery."
"Yes, but how can we get at the criminal's pocket
before we catch the criminal?"
"Well, well, it was worth thinking over. Then there
is another obvious point. The note was sent to
William. The man who wrote it could not have taken
it; otherwise, of course, he might have delivered his
own message by word of mouth. Who brought the note,
then? Or did it come through the post?"
"I have made inquiries," said the Inspector. "William
received a letter by the afternoon post yesterday.
The envelope was destroyed by him."
"Excellent!" cried Holmes, clapping the Inspector on
the back. "You've seen the postman. It is a pleasure
to work with you. Well, here is the lodge, and if you
will come up, Colonel, I will show you the scene of
We passed the pretty cottage where the murdered man
had lived, and walked up an oak-lined avenue to the
fine old Queen Anne house, which bears the date of
Malplaquet upon the lintel of the door. Holmes and
the Inspector led us round it until we came to the
side gate, which is separated by a stretch of garden
from the hedge which lines the road. A constable was
standing at the kitchen door.
"Throw the door open, officer," said Holmes. "Now, it
was on those stairs that young Mr. Cunningham stood
and saw the two men struggling just where we are. Old
Mr. Cunningham was at that window--the second on the
left--and he saw the fellow get away just to the left
of that bush. Then Mr. Alec ran out and knelt beside
the wounded man. The ground is very hard, you see,
and there are no marks to guide us." As he spoke two
men came down the garden path, from round the angle of
the house. The one was an elderly man, with a strong,
deep-lined, heavy-eyed face; the other a dashing young
fellow, whose bright, smiling expression and showy
dress were in strange contract with the business which
had brought us there.
"Still at it, then?" said he to Holmes. "I thought
you Londoners were never at fault. You don't seem to
be so very quick, after all."
"Ah, you must give us a little time," said Holmes
"You'll want it," said young Alec Cunningham. "Why, I
don't see that we have any clue at all."
"There's only one," answered the Inspector. "We
thought that if we could only find--Good heavens, Mr.
Holmes! What is the matter?"
My poor friend's face had suddenly assumed the most
dreadful expression. His eyes rolled upwards, his
features writhed in agony, and with a suppressed groan
he dropped on his face upon the ground. Horrified at
the suddenness and severity of the attack, we carried
him into the kitchen, where he lay back in a large
chair, and breathed heavily for some minutes.
Finally, with a shamefaced apology for his weakness,
he rose once more.
"Watson would tell you that I have only just recovered
from a severe illness," he explained. "I am liable to
these sudden nervous attacks."
"Shall I send you home in my trap?" asked old
"Well, since I am here, there is one point on which I
should like to feel sure. We can very easily verify
"What was it?"
"Well, it seems to me that it is just possible that
the arrival of this poor fellow William was not
before, but after, the entrance of the burglary into
the house. You appear to take it for granted that,
although the door was forced, the robber never got
"I fancy that is quite obvious," said Mr. Cunningham,
gravely. "Why, my son Alec had not yet gone to bed,
and he would certainly have heard any one moving
"Where was he sitting?"
"I was smoking in my dressing-room."
"Which window is that?"
"The last on the left next my father's."
"Both of your lamps were lit, of course?"
"There are some very singular points here," said
Holmes, smiling. "Is it not extraordinary that a
burglary--and a burglar who had had some previous
experience--should deliberately break into a house at
a time when he could see from the lights that two of
the family were still afoot?"
"He must have been a cool hand."
"Well, of course, if the case were not an odd one we
should not have been driven to ask you for an
explanation," said young Mr. Alec. "But as to your
ideas that the man had robbed the house before William
tackled him, I think it a most absurd notion.
Wouldn't we have found the place disarranged, and
missed the things which he had taken?"
"It depends on what the things were," said Holmes.
"You must remember that we are dealing with a burglar
who is a very peculiar fellow, and who appears to work
on lines of his own. Look, for example, at the queer
lot of things which he took from Acton's--what was
it?--a ball of string, a letter-weight, and I don't
know what other odds and ends."
"Well, we are quite in your hands, Mr. Holmes," said
old Cunningham. "Anything which you or the Inspector
may suggest will most certainly be done."
"In the first place," said Holmes, "I should like you
to offer a reward--coming from yourself, for the
officials may take a little time before they would
agree upon the sum, and these things cannot be done
too promptly. I have jotted down the form here, if
you would not mind signing it. Fifty pound was quite
enough, I thought."
"I would willingly give five hundred," said the J.P.,
taking the slip of paper and the pencil which Holmes
handed to him. "This is not quite correct, however,"
he added, glancing over the document.
"I wrote it rather hurriedly."
"You see you begin, 'Whereas, at about a quarter to
one on Tuesday morning an attempt was made,' and so
on. It was at a quarter to twelve, as a matter of
I was pained at the mistake, for I knew how keenly
Holmes would feel any slip of the kind. It was his
specialty to be accurate as to fact, but his recent
illness had shaken him, and this one little incident
was enough to show me that he was still far from being
himself. He was obviously embarrassed for an instant,
while the Inspector raised his eyebrows, and Alec
Cunningham burst into a laugh. The old gentleman
corrected the mistake, however, and handed the paper
back to Holmes.
"Get it printed as soon as possible," he said; "I
think your idea is an excellent one."
Holmes put the slip of paper carefully away into his
"And now," said he, "it really would be a good thing
that we should all go over the house together and make
certain that this rather erratic burglar did not,
after all, carry anything away with him."
Before entering, Holmes made an examination of the
door which had been forced. It was evident that a
chisel or strong knife had been thrust in, and the
lock forced back with it. We could see the marks in
the wood where it had been pushed in.
"You don't use bars, then?" he asked.
"We have never found it necessary."
"You don't keep a dog?"
"Yes, but he is chained on the other side of the
"When do the servants go to bed?"
"I understand that William was usually in bed also at
"It is singular that on this particular night he
should have been up. Now, I should be very glad if
you would have the kindness to show us over the house,
A stone-flagged passage, with the kitchens branching
away from it, led by a wooden staircase directly to
the first floor of the house. It came out upon the
landing opposite to a second more ornamental stair
which came up from the front hall. Out of this
landing opened the drawing-room and several bedrooms,
including those of Mr. Cunningham and his son. Holmes
walked slowly, taking keen note of the architecture of
the house. I could tell from his expression that he
was on a hot scent, and yet I could not in the least
imagine in what direction his inferences were leading
"My good sir," said Mr. Cunningham with some
impatience, "this is surely very unnecessary. That is
my room at the end of the stairs, and my son's is the
one beyond it. I leave it to your judgment whether it
was possible for the thief to have come up here
without disturbing us."
"You must try round and get on a fresh scent, I
fancy," said the son with a rather malicious smile.
"Still, I must ask you to humor me a little further.
I should like, for example, to see how far the windows
of the bedrooms command the front. This, I understand
is your son's room"--he pushed open the door--"and
that, I presume, is the dressing-room in which he sat
smoking when the alarm was given. Where does the
window of that look out to?" He stepped across the
bedroom, pushed open the door, and glanced round the
"I hope that you are satisfied now?" said Mr.
"Thank you, I think I have seen all that I wished."
"Then if it is really necessary we can go into my
"If it is not too much trouble."
The J. P. shrugged his shoulders, and led the way into
his own chamber, which was a plainly furnished and
commonplace room. As we moved across it in the
direction of the window, Holmes fell back until he and
I were the last of the group. Near the foot of the
bed stood a dish of oranges and a carafe of water. As
we passed it Holmes, to my unutterable astonishment,
leaned over in front of me and deliberately knocked
the whole thing over. The glass smashed into a
thousand pieces and the fruit rolled about into every
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