S-BOMB warning. That’s SPOILER-ALERT, for those less crude than I.
And now for the second short story I tackled recently of Sherlock Holmes, this one being The Musgrave Ritual. It’s another of my more… favored(?) stories, albeit a short one. It involves Holmes telling Watson of a tale from before their partnership, so far back that he was not on Baker St., was hardly infamous in his field, and was very much eager to learn and receive cases, mostly coming in from acquaintances from the university. In this way he reunites with Reginald Musgrave of the Hurlstone estates.
The case is that of a missing person (or two, really), and the reasons behind their strange behavior. Holmes eagerly takes the case and travels with Musgrave to Hurlstone after hearing the tale. The issue is over the former butler, a Brunton. He has always been of exceptional character and intelligence, but in the last of his days with Musgrave, he violated the trust of his master by going through personal documents searching for… something. This sparks Holmes’ interest, and he inquires after the papers to find out that they are: an odd coming of age ritual passed down amongst the Musgraves each generation. But the ritual is a series of questions and answers that even a casual reader should recognize as instructions to finding something–or, I suppose, this might only be obvious to those with curiosity and imagination. As Holmes himself mentions near the end of the story, the fact that the ritual was not made plain by any generation of Musgrave since its inception but easily noticed by Brunton says a lot.
The other missing person is a housemaid that Brunton had engaged then scorned. She went into hysterics after it was noticed he had disappeared and disappeared herself from her bed at night, her tracks leading to the lake, where she threw in a bag filled with peculiar objects.
Immediately upon arrival at Hurlstone, Holmes follows the directions of the ritual, towards their end, with a little assistance from Musgrave. They find a hidden hole in the cellar of the estate, with the body of Brunton and a chest that dates back to Charles I. From there, Holmes does a bit of his now-infamous conjecture and asks to see the back of trinkets. In it is Charles I’s diadem, weathered and hidden by the elements and age. The story ends swiftly from here, with a general shrugging off as to what happened to the housemaid and a mention that if Watson wishes to see the crown, he need only mention his association with Holmes.
It always interests me how a story is told in Sherlock Holmes’ world, particularly because they are written or shared to us via Watson. I stop and imagine, when not provided, what Watson feels about certain things, or how much is embellished or forgotten by him (or Holmes, as with this story). It’s a fun exercise when you enjoy the world of the story. For example, it feels okay to accept that Holmes brushes off the housemaid’s involvement because really, how would he prove her part of the death of Brunton (if any?), and with that in mind, he has absolutely no reason to be concerned with her disappearance.
Interested in The Musgrave Ritual? It can be purchased here.