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The View from the East End
May 15 , 2011, Number 99

L.E.S.K. for MUSG

by Inspector Hopkins

One of Sherlock Holmes’s earliest cases is a classic tale! Let’s take a look at some “Loose Ends and Story Killers” (L.E.S.K.) for the tale of The Musgrave Ritual . . . a story of betrayal, ancient family rituals and murder.

“Story Killer”

This one seems a trifle obvious.

Recall that the butler, Richard Brunton, was quite the ladies man. He was an excellent servant as well as a gifted musician, a well-grown, handsome man with a “splendid forehead”, no less! Alas, he was also not quite faithful to Rachel Howells, and left her for Janet Tregellis.

Therefore, if Brunton had NOT dumped Rachel Howells, she most probably would have stood by him, and assisted him in solving the ancient ritual (rusty metal disks notwithstanding) rather than finish him off in a pique of anger. There wouldn’t have been any disappearance, and thus, there wouldn’t be any story to tell.

“Loose Ends”

Here are just a few loose ends possibly worth consideration:

1) The search of the house: In looking for Richard Brunton, Musgrave stated that the house was “searched from cellar to garret”. Previous Sherlockian scholars and commentators have pointed this out and wondered why Brunton’s impromptu sepulcher (with his muffler tied around its iron ring, no less) was missed. If one recalls that this cellar was in an uninhabited part of the house, then it might help to clear up this point. “Uninhabited” means just that. Why search for the house butler in any other area than his usual haunts?

2) The muffler itself: Another interesting “loose end” involves Brunton’s muffler mentioned above. No other Sherlockian scholar seems to have pointed this out, but . . . why did he have on a muffler in the first place? Was it really that cold? Even further . . . suppose that Rachel also threw this muffler along in the linen bag with the rusty metal discs, and then tossed a few pieces of firewood on top of the iron ring? Here is an example of where we might have a “loose end” with another built-in “story killer”, eh? Perhaps she was too distraught to think of this.

3) The heights of the trees: If the heights of the oak and elm trees changed, as they surely would have over the years, wouldn’t it then throw off the calculations for determining the location of the secret treasure? I am still counting on my fingers, and am certainly no mathematician, but it seems to me that they might. I have read some debate about this point, and it may be subject to interpretation. For example, the oak tree just might have been a reference point for direction, rather than height. Once again, however, the Granada Film series neatly covers this point by suggesting that when “the sun is over the oak”, it refers to an oak tree that is part of the weathervane on top of the house . . . and not a live oak tree. Thus, that exact location, or height, would NOT change for centuries, unless of course, the weathervane was removed for any reason.

4) Brunton in the Library: To me, this seems to be a major “loose end”. In spite of having lightly researched the role of servants in the British household, I still cannot help but think that Reginald Musgrave’s treatment of Brunton was severe, to say the least. Consider the facts: Brunton was a trusted family servant for some twenty years, and performed his job impeccably. Musgrave stated that visitors always remembered the butler of Hurlstone. Thus, Brunton was indeed a well-established fixture, loyal to the family, and had dedicated his life to their comfort and well being. So what, then, if he availed himself of the Library in the middle of the night? Regarding the copy of the ancient Ritual, Reginald Musgrave stated that they “took no pains to hide it”, and that “it was nothing of any importance at all”. If this was indeed the case, and Brunton was merely looking at it, then why did Musgrave fire him over such a trivial matter? Further, why didn’t Brunton object? He could have told Musgrave that he couldn’t sleep, and was availing himself of the Library. Perhaps I have not fully appreciated the so-called class differences between servants and aristocracy, but my take on this is that Brunton’s firing was a literary device; that is, he had to be dismissed to escalate the tension in the story and force him to act quickly to find the treasure before his time was up. Personally, I believe he could have been fired for a different reason, such as harassing other female servants! In fact, I think that Watson originally wrote the story up that way, but his friend and literary agent, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, edited it, and changed it to the version we have today.

How’s that for a logical explanation? ;-)

Until next time, when we will briefly depart from our present course, and examine some work by Jack London, I remain indeed,

Yours Faithfully,
STANLEY HOPKINS

 

 

Archives for
2002 to 2008

Past 2010 Columns

November 21 , 2010
Dirty Old Men in the Canon

December 19, 2010
It'sThat Time Again

January 16, 2011
Loose Ends and Story Killers

February 13, 2011
L.E.S.K. for REDH

March 13, 2011
L.E.S.K. for NAVA

April 10, 2011
L.E.S.K. for BRUC

May 15, 2011
L.E.S.K. for MUSG