The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual: Summary

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Two disappearances, a treasure map and hidden gems. Those are the intriguing components of 'The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual.' In this lesson, we'll learn more about this story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Knock, Knock

Do you enjoy riddles? If so, this is the Sherlock Holmes tale for you. ''The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual'' combines an ancient ritual, a riddle with a hidden meaning and valuable ancient jewels. And, what exactly is the gentleman in the photo here doing?

An artistic rendering of Richard Brunton at the end of his treasure hunt.
musgrave ritual, holmes

Intrigued? Let's take a look at this story.

''The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual''

Sherlock Holmes is messy. And, that's not important except for the fact that to distract Dr. John Watson from encouraging the detective to clean things up a bit, Holmes regales him with the story of an early case involving a man named Reginald Musgrave and a family ritual.

As it turns out, Reginald Musgrave and Sherlock Holmes had been colleagues at university together. Musgrave visited Holmes for help one day after two members of his household staff disappeared: a maid named Rachel Howells and his longtime butler Richard Brunton. Brunton, Musgrave said, is something of a playboy, popular with the ladies, with an ''insatiable curiosity.'' Brunton's curiosity got him in trouble when the master of the house found him going through personal family papers: ''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 is fired on the spot, but talks his way out of it and is allowed one week to leave the premises using whatever reason he wishes to give.

The Musgrave Ritual

The paper Brunton was so eager to read was known in the family as the Musgrave Ritual, and reads like a riddle:

''Whose was it?''
''His who is gone.''
''Who shall have it?''
''He who will come.''
''Where was the sun?''
''Over the oak.''
''Where was the shadow?''
''Under the elm.''
''How was it stepped?''
''North by ten and by ten, east by five and by five, south by two and by two, west by one and by one, and so under.''
''What shall we give for it?''
''All that is ours.''
''Why should we give it?''
''For the sake of the trust.''

Pretty perplexing, huh? Yet, this was on the document that Brunton was caught reading in Musgrave's library. Musgrave said, ''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.''

Brunton Disappears

A few days after being ''fired'' by Musgrave, Brunton is gone. Curiously, he has disappeared without many of his belongings and without saying one word to anyone in the house. This turn of events is sorely shocking to the maid, Rachel Howells, a former sweetheart of Brunton, and she reacts hysterically when speaking to Musgrave about it.

Howells is so upset that a nurse has to be hired to keep watch over her. On the third night, the nurse falls asleep and Howells herself disappears! Musgrave and some others track her footprints to the edge of a lake, where they disappear. Thinking she has drowned herself, they have the lake dragged, but the only thing of note recovered is ''a linen bag which contained within it a mass of old rusted and discolored metal and several dull-colored pieces of pebble or glass.''

Holmes Works the Clues

For his part, Holmes feels certain that the two disappearances and the coded text of the Musgrave Ritual are all interlinked, with each mystery capable of being solved by understanding the text of the riddle.

Holmes believes the riddle to be a treasure map. He ventures into the yard and comes up with some measurements (perhaps not surprisingly, Brunton himself had quizzed Musgrave in recent days about the height of a tree mentioned in the riddle).

At the calculated spot, Holmes and Musgrave discover a door and, remembering the text of the riddle that says ''so under,'' the men realize there is a cellar door beneath them.

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