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Sign of the Four by Arthur Conan Doyle

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plantation was at a place called Muttra, near the border of the
Northwest Provinces. Night after night the whole sky was alight
with the burning bungalows, and day after day we had small
companies of Europeans passing through our estate with their
wives and children, on their way to Agra, where were the nearest
troops. Mr. Abelwhite was an obstinate man. He had it in his
head that the affair had been exaggerated, and that it would blow
over as suddenly as it had sprung up. There he sat on his
veranda, drinking whiskey-pegs and smoking cheroots, while the
country was in a blaze about him. Of course we stuck by him, I
and Dawson, who, with his wife, used to do the book-work and the
managing. Well, one fine day the crash came. I had been away on
a distant plantation, and was riding slowly home in the evening,
when my eye fell upon something all huddled together at the
bottom of a steep nullah. I rode down to see what it was, and
the cold struck through my heart when I found it was Dawson's
wife, all cut into ribbons, and half eaten by jackals and native
dogs. A little further up the road Dawson himself was lying on
his face, quite dead, with an empty revolver in his hand and four
Sepoys lying across each other in front of him. I reined up my
horse, wondering which way I should turn, but at that moment I
saw thick smoke curling up from Abelwhite's bungalow and the
flames beginning to burst through the roof. I knew then that I
could do my employer no good, but would only throw my own life
away if I meddled in the matter. From where I stood I could see
hundreds of the black fiends, with their red coats still on their
backs, dancing and howling round the burning house. Some of them
pointed at me, and a couple of bullets sang past my head; so I
broke away across the paddy-fields, and found myself late at
night safe within the walls at Agra.

"As it proved, however, there was no great safety there, either.
The whole country was up like a swarm of bees. Wherever the
English could collect in little bands they held just the ground
that their guns commanded. Everywhere else they were helpless
fugitives. It was a fight of the millions against the hundreds;
and the cruellest part of it was that these men that we fought
against, foot, horse, and gunners, were our own picked troops,
whom we had taught and trained, handling our own weapons, and
blowing our own bugle-calls. At Agra there were the 3d Bengal
Fusiliers, some Sikhs, two troops of horse, and a battery of
artillery. A volunteer corps of clerks and merchants had been
formed, and this I joined, wooden leg and all. We went out to
meet the rebels at Shahgunge early in July, and we beat them back
for a time, but our powder gave out, and we had to fall back upon
the city. Nothing but the worst news came to us from every
side,--which is not to be wondered at, for if you look at the map
you will see that we were right in the heart of it. Lucknow is
rather better than a hundred miles to the east, and Cawnpore
about as far to the south. From every point on the compass there
was nothing but torture and murder and outrage.

"The city of Agra is a great place, swarming with fanatics and
fierce devil-worshippers of all sorts. Our handful of men were
lost among the narrow, winding streets. Our leader moved across
the river, therefore, and took up his position in the old fort at
Agra. I don't know if any of you gentlemen have ever read or
heard anything of that old fort. It is a very queer place,--the
queerest that ever I was in, and I have been in some rum corners,
too. First of all, it is enormous in size. I should think that
the enclosure must be acres and acres. There is a modern part,
which took all our garrison, women, children, stores, and
everything else, with plenty of room over. But the modern part
is nothing like the size of the old quarter, where nobody goes,
and which is given over to the scorpions and the centipedes. It
is all full of great deserted halls, and winding passages, and
long corridors twisting in and out, so that it is easy enough for
folk to get lost in it. For this reason it was seldom that any
one went into it, though now and again a party with torches might
go exploring.

"The river washes along the front of the old fort, and so
protects it, but on the sides and behind there are many doors,
and these had to be guarded, of course, in the old quarter as
well as in that which was actually held by our troops. We were
short-handed, with hardly men enough to man the angles of the
building and to serve the guns. It was impossible for us,
therefore, to station a strong guard at every one of the
innumerable gates. What we did was to organize a central guard-
house in the middle of the fort, and to leave each gate under the
charge of one white man and two or three natives. I was selected
to take charge during certain hours of the night of a small
isolated door upon the southwest side of the building. Two Sikh
troopers were placed under my command, and I was instructed if
anything went wrong to fire my musket, when I might rely upon
help coming at once from the central guard. As the guard was a
good two hundred paces away, however, and as the space between
was cut up into a labyrinth of passages and corridors, I had
great doubts as to whether they could arrive in time to be of any
use in case of an actual attack.

"Well, I was pretty proud at having this small command given me,
since I was a raw recruit, and a game-legged one at that. For
two nights I kept the watch with my Punjaubees. They were tall,
fierce-looking chaps, Mahomet Singh and Abdullah Khan by name,
both old fighting-men who had borne arms against us at Chilian-
wallah. They could talk English pretty well, but I could get
little out of them. They preferred to stand together and jabber
all night in their queer Sikh lingo. For myself, I used to stand
outside the gate-way, looking down on the broad, winding river
and on the twinkling lights of the great city. The beating of
drums, the rattle of tomtoms, and the yells and howls of the
rebels, drunk with opium and with bang, were enough to remind us
all night of our dangerous neighbors across the stream. Every
two hours the officer of the night used to come round to all the
posts, to make sure that all was well.

"The third night of my watch was dark and dirty, with a small,
driving rain. It was dreary work standing in the gate-way hour
after hour in such weather. I tried again and again to make my
Sikhs talk, but without much success. At two in the morning the
rounds passed, and broke for a moment the weariness of the night.
Finding that my companions would not be led into conversation, I
took out my pipe, and laid down my musket to strike the match.
In an instant the two Sikhs were upon me. One of them snatched
my firelock up and levelled it at my head, while the other held a
great knife to my throat and swore between his teeth that he
would plunge it into me if I moved a step.

"My first thought was that these fellows were in league with the
rebels, and that this was the beginning of an assault. If our
door were in the hands of the Sepoys the place must fall, and the
women and children be treated as they were in Cawnpore. Maybe
you gentlemen think that I am just making out a case for myself,
but I give you my word that when I thought of that, though I felt
the point of the knife at my throat, I opened my mouth with the
intention of giving a scream, if it was my last one, which might
alarm the main guard. The man who held me seemed to know my
thoughts; for, even as I braced myself to it, he whispered,
'Don't make a noise. The fort is safe enough. There are no
rebel dogs on this side of the river.' There was the ring of
truth in what he said, and I knew that if I raised my voice I was
a dead man. I could read it in the fellow's brown eyes. I
waited, therefore, in silence, to see what it was that they
wanted from me.

"'Listen to me, Sahib,' said the taller and fiercer of the pair,
the one whom they called Abdullah Khan. 'You must either be with
us now or you must be silenced forever. The thing is too great a
one for us to hesitate. Either you are heart and soul with us on
your oath on the cross of the Christians, or your body this night
shall be thrown into the ditch and we shall pass over to our
brothers in the rebel army. There is no middle way. Which is it
to be, death or life? We can only give you three minutes to
decide, for the time is passing, and all must be done before the
rounds come again.'

"'How can I decide?' said I. 'You have not told me what you want
of me. But I tell you now that if it is anything against the
safety of the fort I will have no truck with it, so you can drive
home your knife and welcome.'

"'It is nothing against the fort,' said he. 'We only ask you to
do that which your countrymen come to this land for. We ask you
to be rich. If you will be one of us this night, we will swear
to you upon the naked knife, and by the threefold oath which no
Sikh was ever known to break, that you shall have your fair share
of the loot. A quarter of the treasure shall be yours. We can
say no fairer.'

"'But what is the treasure, then?' I asked. 'I am as ready to be
rich as you can be, if you will but show me how it can be done.'

"'You will swear, then,' said he, 'by the bones of your father,
by the honor of your mother, by the cross of your faith, to raise
no hand and speak no word against us, either now or afterwards?'

"'I will swear it,' I answered, 'provided that the fort is not

"'Then my comrade and I will swear that you shall have a quarter
of the treasure which shall be equally divided among the four of

"'There are but three,' said I.

"'No; Dost Akbar must have his share. We can tell the tale to
you while we await them. Do you stand at the gate, Mahomet
Singh, and give notice of their coming. The thing stands thus,
Sahib, and I tell it to you because I know that an oath is
binding upon a Feringhee, and that we may trust you. Had you
been a lying Hindoo, though you had sworn by all the gods in
their false temples, your blood would have been upon the knife,
and your body in the water. But the Sikh knows the Englishman,
and the Englishman knows the Sikh. Hearken, then, to what I have
to say.

"'There is a rajah in the northern provinces who has much wealth,
though his lands are small. Much has come to him from his
father, and more still he has set by himself, for he is of a low
nature and hoards his gold rather than spend it. When the
troubles broke out he would be friends both with the lion and the
tiger,--with the Sepoy and with the Company's Raj. Soon,
however, it seemed to him that the white men's day was come, for
through all the land he could hear of nothing but of their death
and their overthrow. Yet, being a careful man, he made such
plans that, come what might, half at least of his treasure should
be left to him. That which was in gold and silver he kept by him
in the vaults of his palace, but the most precious stones and the
choicest pearls that he had he put in an iron box, and sent it by
a trusty servant who, under the guise of a merchant, should take
it to the fort at Agra, there to lie until the land is at peace.
Thus, if the rebels won he would have his money, but if the
Company conquered his jewels would be saved to him. Having thus
divided his hoard, he threw himself into the cause of the Sepoys,
since they were strong upon his borders. By doing this, mark
you, Sahib, his property becomes the due of those who have been
true to their salt.

"'This pretended merchant, who travels under the name of Achmet,
is now in the city of Agra, and desires to gain his way into the
fort. He has with him as travelling-companion my foster-brother
Dost Akbar, who knows his secret. Dost Akbar has promised this
night to lead him to a side-postern of the fort, and has chosen
this one for his purpose. Here he will come presently, and here
he will find Mahomet Singh and myself awaiting him. The place is
lonely, and none shall know of his coming. The world shall know
of the merchant Achmet no more, but the great treasure of the
rajah shall be divided among us. What say you to it, Sahib?'

"In Worcestershire the life of a man seems a great and a sacred
thing; but it is very different when there is fire and blood all
round you and you have been used to meeting death at every turn.
Whether Achmet the merchant lived or died was a thing as light as
air to me, but at the talk about the treasure my heart turned to
it, and I thought of what I might do in the old country with it,
and how my folk would stare when they saw their ne'er-do-well
coming back with his pockets full of gold moidores. I had,
therefore, already made up my mind. Abdullah Khan, however,
thinking that I hesitated, pressed the matter more closely.

"'Consider, Sahib,' said he, 'that if this man is taken by the
commandant he will be hung or shot, and his jewels taken by the
government, so that no man will be a rupee the better for them.
Now, since we do the taking of him, why should we not do the rest
as well? The jewels will be as well with us as in the Company's
coffers. There will be enough to make every one of us rich men
and great chiefs. No one can know about the matter, for here we
are cut off from all men. What could be better for the purpose?
Say again, then, Sahib, whether you are with us, or if we must
look upon you as an enemy.'

"'I am with you heart and soul,' said I.

"'It is well,' he answered, handing me back my firelock. 'You
see that we trust you, for your word, like ours, is not to be
broken. We have now only to wait for my brother and the

"'Does your brother know, then, of what you will do?' I asked.

"'The plan is his. He has devised it. We will go to the gate
and share the watch with Mahomet Singh.'

"The rain was still falling steadily, for it was just the
beginning of the wet season. Brown, heavy clouds were drifting
across the sky, and it was hard to see more than a stone-cast. A
deep moat lay in front of our door, but the water was in places
nearly dried up, and it could easily be crossed. It was strange
to me to be standing there with those two wild Punjaubees waiting
for the man who was coming to his death.

"Suddenly my eye caught the glint of a shaded lantern at the
other side of the moat. It vanished among the mound-heaps, and
then appeared again coming slowly in our direction.

"'Here they are!' I exclaimed.

"'You will challenge him, Sahib, as usual,' whispered Abdullah.
'Give him no cause for fear. Send us in with him, and we shall
do the rest while you stay here on guard. Have the lantern ready
to uncover, that we may be sure that it is indeed the man.'

"The light had flickered onwards, now stopping and now advancing,
until I could see two dark figures upon the other side of the
moat. I let them scramble down the sloping bank, splash through
the mire, and climb half-way up to the gate, before I challenged

"'Who goes there?' said I, in a subdued voice.

"'Friends,' came the answer. I uncovered my lantern and threw a
flood of light upon them. The first was an enormous Sikh, with a
black beard which swept nearly down to his cummerbund. Outside
of a show I have never seen so tall a man. The other was a
little, fat, round fellow, with a great yellow turban, and a
bundle in his hand, done up in a shawl. He seemed to be all in a
quiver with fear, for his hands twitched as if he had the ague,
and his head kept turning to left and right with two bright
little twinkling eyes, like a mouse when he ventures out from his
hole. It gave me the chills to think of killing him, but I
thought of the treasure, and my heart set as hard as a flint
within me. When he saw my white face he gave a little chirrup of
joy and came running up towards me.

"'Your protection, Sahib,' he panted,--'your protection for the
unhappy merchant Achmet. I have travelled across Rajpootana that
I might seek the shelter of the fort at Agra. I have been robbed
and beaten and abused because I have been the friend of the
Company. It is a blessed night this when I am once more in
safety,--I and my poor possessions.'

"'What have you in the bundle?' I asked.

"'An iron box,' he answered, 'which contains one or two little
family matters which are of no value to others, but which I
should be sorry to lose. Yet I am not a beggar; and I shall
reward you, young Sahib, and your governor also, if he will give
me the shelter I ask.'

"I could not trust myself to speak longer with the man. The more
I looked at his fat, frightened face, the harder did it seem that
we should slay him in cold blood. It was best to get it over.

"'Take him to the main guard,' said I. The two Sikhs closed in
upon him on each side, and the giant walked behind, while they
marched in through the dark gate-way. Never was a man so
compassed round with death. I remained at the gate-way with the

"I could hear the measured tramp of their footsteps sounding
through the lonely corridors. Suddenly it ceased, and I heard
voices, and a scuffle, with the sound of blows. A moment later
there came, to my horror, a rush of footsteps coming in my
direction, with the loud breathing of a running man. I turned my
lantern down the long, straight passage, and there was the fat
man, running like the wind, with a smear of blood across his
face, and close at his heels, bounding like a tiger, the great
black-bearded Sikh, with a knife flashing in his hand. I have
never seen a man run so fast as that little merchant. He was
gaining on the Sikh, and I could see that if he once passed me
and got to the open air he would save himself yet. My heart
softened to him, but again the thought of his treasure turned me
hard and bitter. I cast my firelock between his legs as he raced
past, and he rolled twice over like a shot rabbit. Ere he could
stagger to his feet the Sikh was upon him, and buried his knife
twice in his side. The man never uttered moan nor moved muscle,
but lay were he had fallen. I think myself that he may have
broken his neck with the fall. You see, gentlemen, that I am
keeping my promise. I am telling you every work of the business
just exactly as it happened, whether it is in my favor or not."

He stopped, and held out his manacled hands for the whiskey-and-
water which Holmes had brewed for him. For myself, I confess
that I had now conceived the utmost horror of the man, not only
for this cold-blooded business in which he had been concerned,
but even more for the somewhat flippant and careless way in which
he narrated it. Whatever punishment was in store for him, I felt
that he might expect no sympathy from me. Sherlock Holmes and
Jones sat with their hands upon their knees, deeply interested in
the story, but with the same disgust written upon their faces.
He may have observed it, for there was a touch of defiance in his
voice and manner as he proceeded.

"It was all very bad, no doubt," said he. "I should like to know
how many fellows in my shoes would have refused a share of this
loot when they knew that they would have their throats cut for
their pains. Besides, it was my life or his when once he was in
the fort. If he had got out, the whole business would come to
light, and I should have been court-martialled and shot as likely
as not; for people were not very lenient at a time like that."

"Go on with your story," said Holmes, shortly.

"Well, we carried him in, Abdullah, Akbar, and I. A fine weight
he was, too, for all that he was so short. Mahomet Singh was
left to guard the door. We took him to a place which the Sikhs
had already prepared. It was some distance off, where a winding
passage leads to a great empty hall, the brick walls of which
were all crumbling to pieces. The earth floor had sunk in at one
place, making a natural grave, so we left Achmet the merchant
there, having first covered him over with loose bricks. This
done, we all went back to the treasure.

"It lay where he had dropped it when he was first attacked. The
box was the same which now lies open upon your table. A key was
hung by a silken cord to that carved handle upon the top. We
opened it, and the light of the lantern gleamed upon a collection
of gems such as I have read of and thought about when I was a
little lad at Pershore. It was blinding to look upon them. When
we had feasted our eyes we took them all out and made a list of
them. There were one hundred and forty-three diamonds of the
first water, including one which has been called, I believe, 'the
Great Mogul' and is said to be the second largest stone in
existence. Then there were ninety-seven very fine emeralds, and
one hundred and seventy rubies, some of which, however, were
small. There were forty carbuncles, two hundred and ten
sapphires, sixty-one agates, and a great quantity of beryls,
onyxes, cats'-eyes, turquoises, and other stones, the very names
of which I did not know at the time, though I have become more
familiar with them since. Besides this, there were nearly three
hundred very fine pearls, twelve of which were set in a gold
coronet. By the way, these last had been taken out of the chest
and were not there when I recovered it.

"After we had counted our treasures we put them back into the
chest and carried them to the gate-way to show them to Mahomet
Singh. Then we solemnly renewed our oath to stand by each other
and be true to our secret. We agreed to conceal our loot in a
safe place until the country should be at peace again, and then
to divide it equally among ourselves. There was no use dividing
it at present, for if gems of such value were found upon us it
would cause suspicion, and there was no privacy in the fort nor
any place where we could keep them. We carried the box,
therefore, into the same hall where we had buried the body, and
there, under certain bricks in the best-preserved wall, we made a
hollow and put our treasure. We made careful note of the place,
and next day I drew four plans, one for each of us, and put the
sign of the four of us at the bottom, for we had sworn that we
should each always act for all, so that none might take
advantage. That is an oath that I can put my hand to my heart
and swear that I have never broken.

"Well, there's no use my telling you gentlemen what came of the
Indian mutiny. After Wilson took Delhi and Sir Colin relieved
Lucknow the back of the business was broken. Fresh troops came
pouring in, and Nana Sahib made himself scarce over the frontier.
A flying column under Colonel Greathed came round to Agra and
cleared the Pandies away from it. Peace seemed to be settling
upon the country, and we four were beginning to hope that the
time was at hand when we might safely go off with our shares of
the plunder. In a moment, however, our hopes were shattered by
our being arrested as the murderers of Achmet.

"It came about in this way. When the rajah put his jewels into
the hands of Achmet he did it because he knew that he was a
trusty man. They are suspicious folk in the East, however: so
what does this rajah do but take a second even more trusty
servant and set him to play the spy upon the first? This second
man was ordered never to let Achmet out of his sight, and he
followed him like his shadow. He went after him that night and
saw him pass through the doorway. Of course he thought he had
taken refuge in the fort, and applied for admission there himself
next day, but could find no trace of Achmet. This seemed to him
so strange that he spoke about it to a sergeant of guides, who
brought it to the ears of the commandant. A thorough search was
quickly made, and the body was discovered. Thus at the very
moment that we thought that all was safe we were all four seized
and brought to trial on a charge of murder,--three of us because
we had held the gate that night, and the fourth because he was
known to have been in the company of the murdered man. Not a
word about the jewels came out at the trial, for the rajah had
been deposed and driven out of India: so no one had any
particular interest in them. The murder, however, was clearly
made out, and it was certain that we must all have been concerned
in it. The three Sikhs got penal servitude for life, and I was
condemned to death, though my sentence was afterwards commuted
into the same as the others.

"It was rather a queer position that we found ourselves in then.
There we were all four tied by the leg and with precious little
chance of ever getting out again, while we each held a secret
which might have put each of us in a palace if we could only have
made use of it. It was enough to make a man eat his heart out to
have to stand the kick and the cuff of every petty jack-in-
office, to have rice to eat and water to drink, when that
gorgeous fortune was ready for him outside, just waiting to be
picked up. It might have driven me mad; but I was always a
pretty stubborn one, so I just held on and bided my time.

"At last it seemed to me to have come. I was changed from Agra
to Madras, and from there to Blair Island in the Andamans. There
are very few white convicts at this settlement, and, as I had
behaved well from the first, I soon found myself a sort of
privileged person. I was given a hut in Hope Town, which is a
small place on the slopes of Mount Harriet, and I was left pretty
much to myself. It is a dreary, fever-stricken place, and all
beyond our little clearings was infested with wild cannibal
natives, who were ready enough to blow a poisoned dart at us if
they saw a chance. There was digging, and ditching, and yam-
planting, and a dozen other things to be done, so we were busy
enough all day; though in the evening we had a little time to
ourselves. Among other things, I learned to dispense drugs for
the surgeon, and picked up a smattering of his knowledge. All
the time I was on the lookout for a chance of escape; but it is
hundreds of miles from any other land, and there is little or no
wind in those seas: so it was a terribly difficult job to get

"The surgeon, Dr. Somerton, was a fast, sporting young chap, and
the other young officers would meet in his rooms of an evening
and play cards. The surgery, where I used to make up my drugs,
was next to his sitting-room, with a small window between us.
Often, if I felt lonesome, I used to turn out the lamp in the
surgery, and then, standing there, I could hear their talk and
watch their play. I am fond of a hand at cards myself, and it
was almost as good as having one to watch the others. There was
Major Sholto, Captain Morstan, and Lieutenant Bromley Brown, who
were in command of the native troops, and there was the surgeon
himself, and two or three prison-officials, crafty old hands who
played a nice sly safe game. A very snug little party they used
to make.

"Well, there was one thing which very soon struck me, and that
was that the soldiers used always to lose and the civilians to
win. Mind, I don't say that there was anything unfair, but so it
was. These prison-chaps had done little else than play cards
ever since they had been at the Andamans, and they knew each
other's game to a point, while the others just played to pass the
time and threw their cards down anyhow. Night after night the
soldiers got up poorer men, and the poorer they got the more keen
they were to play. Major Sholto was the hardest hit. He used to
pay in notes and gold at first, but soon it came to notes of hand
and for big sums. He sometimes would win for a few deals, just
to give him heart, and then the luck would set in against him
worse than ever. All day he would wander about as black as
thunder, and he took to drinking a deal more than was good for

"One night he lost even more heavily than usual. I was sitting
in my hut when he and Captain Morstan came stumbling along on the
way to their quarters. They were bosom friends, those two, and
never far apart. The major was raving about his losses.

"'It's all up, Morstan,' he was saying, as they passed my hut.
'I shall have to send in my papers. I am a ruined man.'

"'Nonsense, old chap!' said the other, slapping him upon the
shoulder. 'I've had a nasty facer myself, but--' That was all I
could hear, but it was enough to set me thinking.

"A couple of days later Major Sholto was strolling on the beach:
so I took the chance of speaking to him.

"'I wish to have your advice, major,' said I.

"'Well, Small, what is it?' he asked, taking his cheroot from his

"'I wanted to ask you, sir,' said I, 'who is the proper person to
whom hidden treasure should be handed over. I know where half a
million worth lies, and, as I cannot use it myself, I thought
perhaps the best thing that I could do would be to hand it over
to the proper authorities, and then perhaps they would get my
sentence shortened for me.'

"'Half a million, Small?' he gasped, looking hard at me to see if
I was in earnest.

"'Quite that, sir,--in jewels and pearls. It lies there ready
for any one. And the queer thing about it is that the real owner
is outlawed and cannot hold property, so that it belongs to the
first comer.'

"'To government, Small,' he stammered,--'to government.' But he
said it in a halting fashion, and I knew in my heart that I had
got him.

"'You think, then, sir, that I should give the information to the
Governor-General?' said I, quietly.

"'Well, well, you must not do anything rash, or that you might
repent. Let me hear all about it, Small. Give me the facts.'

"I told him the whole story, with small changes so that he could
not identify the places. When I had finished he stood stock
still and full of thought. I could see by the twitch of his lip
that there was a struggle going on within him.

"'This is a very important matter, Small,' he said, at last.
'You must not say a word to any one about it, and I shall see you
again soon.'

"Two nights later he and his friend Captain Morstan came to my
hut in the dead of the night with a lantern.

"'I want you just to let Captain Morstan hear that story from
your own lips, Small,' said he.

"I repeated it as I had told it before.

"'It rings true, eh?' said he. 'It's good enough to act upon?'

"Captain Morstan nodded.

"'Look here, Small,' said the major. 'We have been talking it
over, my friend here and I, and we have come to the conclusion
that this secret of yours is hardly a government matter, after
all, but is a private concern of your own, which of course you
have the power of disposing of as you think best. Now, the
question is, what price would you ask for it? We might be
inclined to take it up, and at least look into it, if we could
agree as to terms.' He tried to speak in a cool, careless way,
but his eyes were shining with excitement and greed.

"'Why, as to that, gentlemen,' I answered, trying also to be
cool, but feeling as excited as he did, 'there is only one
bargain which a man in my position can make. I shall want yo to
help me to my freedom, and to help my three companions to theirs.
We shall then take you into partnership, and give you a fifth
share to divide between you.'

"'Hum!' said he. 'A fifth share! That is not very tempting.'

"'It would come to fifty thousand apiece,' said I.

"'But how can we gain your freedom? You know very well that you
ask an impossibility.'

"'Nothing of the sort,' I answered. 'I have thought it all out
to the last detail. The only bar to our escape is that we can
get no boat fit for the voyage, and no provisions to last us for
so long a time. There are plenty of little yachts and yawls at
Calcutta or Madras which would serve our turn well. Do you bring
one over. We shall engage to get aboard her by night, and if you
will drop us on any part of the Indian coast you will have done
your part of the bargain.'

"'If there were only one,' he said.

"'None or all,' I answered. 'We have sworn it. The four of us
must always act together.'

"'You see, Morstan,' said he, 'Small is a man of his word. He
does not flinch from his friend. I think we may very well trust

"'It's a dirty business,' the other answered. 'Yet, as you say,
the money would save our commissions handsomely.'

"'Well, Small,' said the major, 'we must, I suppose, try and meet
you. We must first, of course, test the truth of your story.
Tell me where the box is hid, and I shall get leave of absence
and go back to India in the monthly relief-boat to inquire into
the affair.'

"'Not so fast,' said I, growing colder as he got hot. 'I must
have the consent of my three comrades. I tell you that it is
four or none with us.'

"'Nonsense!' he broke in. 'What have three black fellows to do
with our agreement?'

"'Black or blue,' said I, 'they are in with me, and we all go

"Well, the matter ended by a second meeting, at which Mahomet
Singh, Abdullah Khan, and Dost Akbar were all present. We talked
the matter over again, and at last we came to an arrangement. We
were to provide both the officers with charts of the part of the
Agra fort and mark the place in the wall where the treasure was
hid. Major Sholto was to go to India to test our story. If he
found the box he was to leave it there, to send out a small yacht
provisioned for a voyage, which was to lie off Rutland Island,
and to which we were to make our way, and finally to return to
his duties. Captain Morstan was then to apply for leave of
absence, to meet us at Agra, and there we were to have a final
division of the treasure, he taking the major's share as well as
his own. All this we sealed by the most solemn oaths that the
mind could think or the lips utter. I sat up all night with
paper and ink, and by the morning I had the two charts all ready,
signed with the sign of four,--that is, of Abdullah, Akbar,
Mahomet, and myself.

"Well, gentlemen, I weary you with my long story, and I know that
my friend Mr. Jones is impatient to get me safely stowed in
chokey. I'll make it as short as I can. The villain Sholto went
off to India, but he never came back again. Captain Morstan
showed me his name among a list of passengers in one of the mail-
boats very shortly afterwards. His uncle had died, leaving him a
fortune, and he had left the army, yet he could stoop to treat
five men as he had treated us. Morstan went over to Agra shortly
afterwards, and found, as we expected, that the treasure was
indeed gone. The scoundrel had stolen it all, without carrying
out one of the conditions on which we had sold him the secret.
From that day I lived only for vengeance. I thought of it by day
and I nursed it by night. It became an overpowering, absorbing
passion with me. I cared nothing for the law,--nothing for the
gallows. To escape, to track down Sholto, to have my hand upon
his throat,--that was my one thought. Even the Agra treasure had
come to be a smaller thing in my mind than the slaying of Sholto.

"Well, I have set my mind on many things in this life, and never
one which I did not carry out. But it was weary years before my
time came. I have told you that I had picked up something of
medicine. One day when Dr. Somerton was down with a fever a
little Andaman Islander was picked up by a convict-gang in the
woods. He was sick to death, and had gone to a lonely place to
die. I took him in hand, though he was as venomous as a young
snake, and after a couple of months I got him all right and able
to walk. He took a kind of fancy to me then, and would hardly go
back to his woods, but was always hanging about my hut. I
learned a little of his lingo from him, and this made him all the
fonder of me.

"Tonga--for that was his name--was a fine boatman, and owned a
big, roomy canoe of his own. When I found that he was devoted to
me and would do anything to serve me, I saw my chance of escape.
I talked it over with him. He was to bring his boat round on a
certain night to an old wharf which was never guarded, and there
he was to pick me up. I gave him directions to have several
gourds of water and a lot of yams, cocoa-nuts, and sweet

"He was stanch and true, was little Tonga. No man ever had a
more faithful mate. At the night named he had his boat at the
wharf. As it chanced, however, there was one of the convict-
guard down there,--a vile Pathan who had never missed a chance of
insulting and injuring me. I had always vowed vengeance, and now
I had my chance. It was as if fate had placed him in my way that
I might pay my debt before I left the island. He stood on the
bank with his back to me, and his carbine on his shoulder. I
looked about for a stone to beat out his brains with, but none
could I see. Then a queer thought came into my head and showed
me where I could lay my hand on a weapon. I sat down in the
darkness and unstrapped my wooden leg. With three long hops I
was on him. He put his carbine to his shoulder, but I struck him
full, and knocked the whole front of his skull in. You can see
the split in the wood now where I hit him. We both went down
together, for I could not keep my balance, but when I got up I
found him still lying quiet enough. I made for the boat, and in
an hour we were well out at sea. Tonga had brought all his
earthly possessions with him, his arms and his gods. Among other
things, he had a long bamboo spear, and some Andaman cocoa-nut
matting, with which I made a sort of sail. For ten days we were
beating about, trusting to luck, and on the eleventh we were
picked up by a trader which was going from Singapore to Jiddah
with a cargo of Malay pilgrims. They were a rum crowd, and Tonga
and I soon managed to settle down among them. They had one very
good quality: they let you alone and asked no questions.

"Well, if I were to tell you all the adventures that my little
chum and I went through, you would not thank me, for I would have
you here until the sun was shining. Here and there we drifted
about the world, something always turning up to keep us from
London. All the time, however, I never lost sight of my purpose.
I would dream of Sholto at night. A hundred times I have killed
him in my sleep. At last, however, some three or four years ago,
we found ourselves in England. I had no great difficulty in
finding where Sholto lived, and I set to work to discover whether
he had realized the treasure, or if he still had it. I made
friends with someone who could help me,--I name no names, for I
don't want to get any one else in a hole,--and I soon found that
he still had the jewels. Then I tried to get at him in many
ways; but he was pretty sly, and had always two prize-fighters,
besides his sons and his khitmutgar, on guard over him.

"One day, however, I got word that he was dying. I hurried at
once to the garden, mad that he should slip out of my clutches
like that, and, looking through the window, I saw him lying in
his bed, with his sons on each side of him. I'd have come
through and taken my chance with the three of them, only even as
I looked at him his jaw dropped, and I knew that he was gone. I
got into his room that same night, though, and I searched his
papers to see if there was any record of where he had hidden our
jewels. There was not a line, however: so I came away, bitter
and savage as a man could be. Before I left I bethought me that
if I ever met my Sikh friends again it would be a satisfaction to
know that I had left some mark of our hatred: so I scrawled down
the sign of the four of us, as it had been on the chart, and I
pinned it on his bosom. It was too much that he should be taken
to the grave without some token from the men whom he had robbed
and befooled.

"We earned a living at this time by my exhibiting poor Tonga at
fairs and other such places as the black cannibal. He would eat
raw meat and dance his war-dance: so we always had a hatful of
pennies after a day's work. I still heard all the news from
Pondicherry Lodge, and for some years there was no news to hear,
except that they were hunting for the treasure. At last,
however, came what we had waited for so long. The treasure had
been found. It was up at the top of the house, in Mr.
Bartholomew Sholto's chemical laboratory. I came at once and had
a look at the place, but I could not see how with my wooden leg I
was to make my way up to it. I learned, however, about a trap-
door in the roof, and also about Mr. Sholto's supper-hour. It
seemed to me that I could manage the thing easily through Tonga.
I brought him out with me with a long rope wound round his waist.
He could climb like a cat, and he soon made his way through the
roof, but, as ill luck would have it, Bartholomew Sholto was
still in the room, to his cost. Tonga thought he had done
something very clever in killing him, for when I came up by the
rope I found him strutting about as proud as a peacock. Very
much surprised was he when I made at him with the rope's end and
cursed him for a little blood-thirsty imp. I took the treasure-
box and let it down, and then slid down myself, having first left
the sign of the four upon the table, to show that the jewels had
come back at last to those who had most right to them. Tonga
then pulled up the rope, closed the window, and made off the way
that he had come.

"I don't know that I have anything else to tell you. I had heard
a waterman speak of the speed of Smith's launch the Aurora, so I
thought she would be a handy craft for our escape. I engaged
with old Smith, and was to give him a big sum if he got us safe
to our ship. He knew, no doubt, that there was some screw loose,
but he was not in our secrets. All this is the truth, and if I
tell it to you, gentlemen, it is not to amuse you,--for you have
not done me a very good turn,--but it is because I believe the
best defence I can make is just to hold back nothing, but let all
the world know how badly I have myself been served by Major
Sholto, and how innocent I am of the death of his son."

"A very remarkable account," said Sherlock Holmes. "A fitting
wind-up to an extremely interesting case. There is nothing at
all new to me in the latter part of your narrative, except that
you brought your own rope. That I did not know. By the way, I
had hoped that Tonga had lost all his darts; yet he managed to
shoot one at us in the boat."

"He had lost them all, sir, except the one which was in his blow-
pipe at the time."

"Ah, of course," said Holmes. "I had not thought of that."

"Is there any other point which you would like to ask about?"
asked the convict, affably.

"I think not, thank you," my companion answered.

"Well, Holmes," said Athelney Jones, "You are a man to be
humored, and we all know that you are a connoisseur of crime, but
duty is duty, and I have gone rather far in doing what you and
your friend asked me. I shall feel more at ease when we have our
story-teller here safe under lock and key. The cab still waits,
and there are two inspectors down-stairs. I am much obliged to
you both for your assistance. Of course you will be wanted at
the trial. Good-night to you."

"Good-night, gentlemen both," said Jonathan Small.

"You first, Small," remarked the wary Jones as they left the
room. "I'll take particular care that you don't club me with
your wooden leg, whatever you may have done to the gentleman at
the Andaman Isles."

"Well, and there is the end of our little drama," I remarked,
after we had set some time smoking in silence. "I fear that it
may be the last investigation in which I shall have the chance of
studying your methods. Miss Morstan has done me the honor to
accept me as a husband in prospective."

He gave a most dismal groan. "I feared as much," said he. "I
really cannot congratulate you."

I was a little hurt. "Have you any reason to be dissatisfied
with my choice?" I asked.

"Not at all. I think she is one of the most charming young
ladies I ever met, and might have been most useful in such work
as we have been doing. She had a decided genius that way:
witness the way in which she preserved that Agra plan from all
the other papers of her father. But love is an emotional thing,
and whatever is emotional is opposed to that true cold reason
which I place above all things. I should never marry myself,
lest I bias my judgment."

"I trust," said I, laughing, "that my judgment may survive the
ordeal. But you look weary."

"Yes, the reaction is already upon me. I shall be as limp as a
rag for a week."

"Strange," said I, "how terms of what in another man I should
call laziness alternate with your fits of splendid energy and

"Yes," he answered, "there are in me the makings of a very fine
loafer and also of a pretty spry sort of fellow. I often think
of those lines of old Goethe,--

Schade dass die Natur nur EINEN Mensch aus Dir schuf,
Denn zum wuerdigen Mann war und zum Schelmen der Stoff.

"By the way, a propos of this Norwood business, you see that they
had, as I surmised, a confederate in the house, who could be none
other than Lal Rao, the butler: so Jones actually has the
undivided honor of having caught one fish in his great haul."

"The division seems rather unfair," I remarked. "You have done
all the work in this business. I get a wife out of it, Jones
gets the credit, pray what remains for you?"

"For me," said Sherlock Holmes, "there still remains the cocaine-
bottle." And he stretched his long white hand up for it.

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