The Musgrave Ritual is one of the short stories about Sherlock Holmes written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, first published in The Strand Magazine in 1894. It is now in the public domain. It has been transferred to electronic text by optical character recognition, and this copy has been reformatted for E2 and cleaned of OCR errors by rootbeer277. A paper version can be found in a collection of short stories called Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.
The Musgrave ritual itself is a question-and-answer session taken by ten generations of the Musgrave family upon taking possession of the family land and fortune. Somehow, they all managed to miss the idea that it was obviously a series of instructions to locate some buried artifact, a point which the current family butler and later Sherlock Holmes immediately recognize, as I'm sure the reader will as well.
Like The "Gloria Scott", this story is notable primarily for being a landmark case in the career of Sherlock Holmes. While not his first case, it was his breakout case that established his reputation as a consulting detective.
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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 patriotic 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, 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 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 murders, 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 recherché."
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 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 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 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
"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
"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 foot-men, and a boy. The garden and the stables of course have a
" '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 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 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 on his
coming of age — a thing of private interest, and perhaps of some
little importance to the archaeologist, like our own blazonings
and charges, but of no practical use whatever.'
" 'We had better come back to the paper afterwards,' said I.
" 'If you think it really necessary,' he answered with some
hesitation. 'To continue my statement, however: I relocked the
bureau, using the key which Brunton had left, and I had turned
to go when I was surprised to find that the butler had returned,
and was standing before me.
" ' "Mr. Musgrave, sir," he cried in a voice which was
hoarse with emotion, "I can't bear disgrace, sir. I've always
been proud above my station in life, and disgrace would kill me.
My blood will be on your head, sir — it will, indeed — if you
drive me to despair. If you cannot keep me after what has
passed, then for God's sake let me give you notice and leave in a
month, as if of my own free will. I could stand that, Mr.
Musgrave, but not to be cast out before all the folk that I know
" ' "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
" ' "Only a week, sir?" he cried in a despairing voice. "A
fortnight — say at least a fortnight!"
" ' "A week," I repeated, "and you may consider yourself to
have been very leniently dealt with."
" 'He crept away, his face sunk upon his breast, like a broken
man, while I put out the light and returned to my room.
" 'For two days after this Brunton was most assiduous in his
attention to his duties. I made no allusion to what had passed and
waited with some curiosity to see how he would cover his
disgrace. On the third morning, however, he did not appear, as
was his custom, after breakfast to receive my instructions for the
day. As I left the dining-room I happened to meet Rachel
Howells, the maid. I have told you that she had only recently
recovered from an illness and was looking so wretchedly pale
and wan that I remonstrated with her for being at work.
" ' "You should be in bed," I said. "Come back to your
duties when you are 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 original mystery.
" 'For two days Rachel Howells had been so ill, sometimes
delirious, sometimes hysterical, that a nurse had been employed
to sit up with her at night. On the third night after Brunton's
disappearance, the nurse, finding her patient sleeping nicely, had
dropped into a nap in the armchair, when she woke in the early
morning to find the bed empty, the window open, and no signs
of the invalid. I was instantly aroused, and, with the two foot-men, 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 discoloured metal and several dull-coloured 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 wit's end, and I have come up to you as a last
"You can imagine, Watson, with what eagerness I listened to
this extraordinary sequence of events, and endeavoured 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 yours 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 over them.'
"He handed me the very paper which I have here, Watson,
and this is the strange catechism to which each Musgrave had to
submit when he came to man's estate. I will read you the
questions and answers as they stand.
Whose was it?
His who is gone.
Who shall have it?
He who will come.
Where was the sun?
Over the oak.
Where was the shadow?
Under the elm.
How was it stepped?
North by ten and by ten, east by five and by five, south by two and by two, west by one and by one, and so under.
What shall we give for it?
All that is ours.
Why should we give it?
For the sake of the trust.
" 'The original has no date, but is in the spelling of the
middle of the seventeenth century,' remarked Musgrave. 'I am
afraid, however, that it can be of little help to you in solving this
" 'At least,' said I, 'it gives us another mystery, and one
which is even more interesting than the first. It may be that the
solution of the one may prove to be the solution of the other.
You will excuse me, Musgrave, if I say that your butler appears
to me to have been a very clever man, and to have had a clearer
insight than ten generations of his masters.'
" 'I hardly follow you,' said Musgrave. 'The paper seems to
me to be of no practical importance.'
" 'But to me it seems immensely practical, and I fancy that
Brunton took the same view. He had probably seen it before that
night on which you 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 rigmarole mean?'
" 'I don't think that we should have much difficulty in determining that,' said I; 'with your permission we will take the first
train down to Sussex and go a little more deeply into the matter
upon the spot.
"The same afternoon saw us both at Hurlstone. Possibly you
have seen pictures and read descriptions of the famous old
building, so I will confine my account of it to saying that it is
built in the shape of an L, the long arm being the more modern
portion, and the shorter the ancient nucleus from which the other
has developed. Over the low, heavy-lintelled door, in the centre
of this old part, is chiselled the date, 1607, but experts are
agreed that the beams and stonework 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 storehouse 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 his fate?
"It was perfectly obvious to me, on reading the Ritual, that
the measurements must refer to some spot to which the rest of
the document alluded, and that if we could find that spot we
should be in a fair way towards finding what the secret was
which the old Musgraves had thought it necessary to embalm in
so curious a fashion. There were two guides given us to start
with, an oak and an elm. As to the oak there could be no
question at all. Right in front of the house, upon the left-hand
side of the drive, there stood a patriarch among oaks, one of the
most magnificent trees that I have ever seen.
" 'That was there when your Ritual was drawn up,' said I as
we drove past it.
" 'It was there at the Norman Conquest in all probability,' he
answered. 'It has a girth of twenty-three feet.'
"Here was one of my fixed points secured.
" 'Have you any old elms?' I asked.
" 'There used to be a very old one over yonder, but it was
struck by lightning ten years ago, and we cut down the stump.'
" 'You can see where it used to be?'
" 'Oh, yes.'
" 'There are no other elms?'
" 'No old ones, but plenty of beeches.'
" 'I should like to see where it grew.'
"We had driven up in a dog-cart, and my client led me away
at once, without our entering the house, to the scar on the lawn
where the elm had stood. It was nearly midway between the oak
and the house. My investigation seemed to be progressing.
" 'I suppose it is impossible to find out how high the elm
was?' I asked.
" 'I can give you it at once. It was sixty-four feet.'
" 'How do you come to know it?' I asked in surprise.
" 'When my old tutor used to give me an exercise in trigonometry, it always took the shape of measuring heights. When I
was a lad I worked out every tree and building in the estate.'
"This was an unexpected piece of luck. My data were coming
more quickly than I could have reasonably hoped.
" 'Tell me,' I asked, 'did your butler ever ask you such a
"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 groom.'
"This was excellent news, Watson, for it showed me that I
was on the right road. I looked up at the sun. It was low in the
heavens, and I calculated that in less than an hour it would lie
just above the topmost branches of the old oak. One condition
mentioned in the Ritual would then be fulfilled. And the shadow
of the elm must mean the farther end of the shadow, otherwise
the trunk would have been chosen as the guide. I had, then, to
find where the far end of the shadow would fall when the sun
was just clear of the oak."
"That must have been difficult, Holmes, when the elm was no
"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
"Of course the calculation now was a simple one. If a rod of
six feet threw a shadow of nine, a tree of sixty-four feet would
throw one of ninety-six, and the line of the one would of course
be the line of the other. I measured out the distance, which
brought me almost to the wall of the house, and I thrust a peg
into the spot. You can imagine my exultation, Watson, when
within two inches of my peg I saw a conical depression in the
ground. I knew that it was the mark made by Brunton in his
measurements, and that I was still upon his trail.
"From this starting-point I proceeded to step, having first
taken the cardinal points by my pocket-compass. Ten steps with
each foot took me along parallel with the wall of the house, and
again I marked my spot with a peg. Then I carefully paced off
five to the east and two to the south. It brought me to the very
threshold of the old door. Two steps to the west meant now that I
was to go two paces down the stone-flagged passage, and this
was the place indicated by the Ritual.
"Never have I felt such a cold chill of disappointment, Watson. For a moment it 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
" 'And under,' he cried. 'You have omitted the "and under." '
"I had thought that it meant that we were to dig, but now, of
course, I saw at once that I was wrong. 'There is a cellar under
this then?' I cried.
" 'Yes, and as old as the house. Down here, through this
"We went down a winding stone stair, and my companion,
striking a match, lit a large lantern which stood on a barrel in the
corner. In an instant it was obvious that we had at last come
upon the true place, and that we had not been the only people to
visit the spot recently.
"It had been used for the storage of wood, but the billets,
which had evidently been littered over the floor, were now piled
at the sides, so as to leave a clear space in the middle. In this
space lay a large and heavy flagstone with a rusted iron ring in
the centre to which a thick shepherd's-check muffler was attached.
" 'By Jove!' cried my client. 'That's Brunton's muffler. I
have seen it on him and could swear to it. What has the villain
been doing here?'
"At my suggestion a couple of the county police were summoned to be present, and I then endeavoured 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 upward, with this
curious old-fashioned key projecting from the lock. It was furred
outside by a thick layer of dust, and damp and worms had eaten
through the wood, so that a crop of livid fungi was growing on
the inside of it. Several discs of metal, old coins apparently,
such as I hold here, were scattered over the bottom of the box,
but it contained nothing else.
"At the moment, however, we had no thought for the old
chest, for our eyes were riveted upon that which crouched
beside it. It was the figure of a man, clad in a suit of black, who
squatted down upon his hams with his forehead sunk upon the
edge of the box and his two arms thrown out on each side of it.
The attitude had drawn all the stagnant blood to the face, and no
man could have recognized that distorted liver-coloured 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
"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 knew 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 someone 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 hole.
" 'These are coins of Charles the First,' said he, holding out
the few which had been in the box; 'you see we were right in
fixing our date for the Ritual.'
" 'We may find something else of Charles the First,' I cried,
as the probable meaning of the first two questions of the Ritual
broke suddenly upon me. 'Let me see the contents of the bag
which you fished from the mere.'
"We ascended to his study, and he laid the debris before me. I
could understand his regarding it as of small importance when I
looked at it, for the metal was almost black and the stones
lustreless and dull. I rubbed one of them on my sleeve, however,
and it glowed afterwards like a spark in the dark hollow of my
hand. The metal work was in the form of a double ring, but it
had been bent and twisted out of its original shape.
" '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, was a prominent cavalier and the right-hand man of Charles the Second in his wanderings,' said my friend.
" 'Ah, indeed!' I answered. 'Well now, I think that really
should give us the last link that we wanted. I must congratulate
you on coming into the possession, though in rather a tragic
manner, of a relic which is of great intrinsic value, but of even
greater importance as a historical curiosity.'
" 'What is it, then?' he gasped in astonishment.
" 'It is nothing less than the ancient crown of the kings of
" 'The crown!'
" '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 was finished.
" 'And how was it then that Charles did not get his crown
when he returned?' asked Musgrave, pushing back the relic into
its linen bag.
" 'Ah, there you lay your finger upon the one point which we
shall probably never be able to clear up. It is likely that the
Musgrave who held the secret died in the interval, and by some
oversight left this guide to his descendant without explaining the
meaning of it. From that day to this it has been handed down
from father to son, until at last it came within reach of a man
who tore its secret out of it and lost his life in the venture.'
"And that's the story of the Musgrave Ritual, Watson. They
have the crown down at Hurlstone — though they had some legal
bother and a considerable sum to pay before they were allowed
to retain it. I am sure that if you mentioned my name they would
be happy to show it to you. Of the woman nothing was ever
heard, and the probability is that she got away out of England
and carried herself and the memory of her crime to some land
beyond the seas."
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