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The Sign of the Four

Chapter XI
The Great Agra Treasure


  Our captive sat in the cabin opposite to the iron box which he
had done so much and waited so long to gain. He was a
sunburned reckless-eyed fellow, with a network of lines and
wrinkles all over his mahogany features, which told of a hard,
open-air life. There was a singular prominence about his bearded
chin which marked a man who was not to be easily turned from
his purpose. His age may have been fifty or thereabouts, for his
black, curly hair was thickly shot with gray. His face in repose
was not an unpleasing one, though his heavy brows and aggres-
sive chin gave him, as I had lately seen, a terrible expression
when moved to anger. He sat now with his handcuffed hands
upon his lap, and his head sunk upon his breast, while he looked
with his keen, twinkling eyes at the box which had been the
cause of his ill-doings. It seemed to me that there was more
sorrow than anger in his rigid and contained countenance. Once
he looked up at me with a gleam of something like humour in his
eyes.
  "Well, Jonathan Small," said Holmes, lighting a cigar, "I am
sorry that it has come to this."
  "And so am I, sir," he answered frankly. "I don't believe
that I can swing over the job. I give you my word on the book
that I never raised hand against Mr. Sholto. It was that little
hell-hound; Tonga, who shot one of his cursed darts into him. I
had no part in it, sir. I was as grieved as if it had been my
blood-relation. I welted the little devil with the slack end of the
rope for it, but it was done, and I could not undo it again."
  "Have a cigar," said Holmes; "and you had best take a pull
out of my flask, for you are very wet. How could you expect so
small and weak a man as this black fellow to overpower Mr.
Sholto and hold him while you were climbing the rope?"
  "You seem to know as much about it as if you were there, sir.
The truth is that I hoped to find the room clear. I knew the habits
of the house pretty well, and it was the time when Mr. Sholto
usually went down to his supper. I shall make no secret of the
business. The best defence that I can make is just the simple
truth. Now, if it had been the old major I would have swung for
him with a light heart. I would have thought no more of knifing
him than of smoking this cigar. But it's cursed hard that I should
be lagged over this young Sholto, with whom I had no quarrel
whatever."
  "You are under the charge of Mr. Athelney Jones, of Scotland
Yard. He is going to bring you up to my rooms, and I shall ask
you for a true account of the matter. You must make a clean
breast of it, for if you do I hope that I may be of use to you. I
think T can prove that the poison acts so quickly that the man was
dead before ever you reached the room."
  "That he was, sir. I never got such a turn in my life as when I
saw him grinning at me with his head on his shoulder as I
climbed through the window. It fairly shook me, sir. I'd have
half killed Tonga for it if he had not scrambled off. That was
how he came to leave his club, and some of his darts too, as he
tells me, which I dare say helped to put you on our track; though
how you kept on it is more than I can tell. I don't feel no malice
against you for it. But it does seem a queer thing," he added
with a bitter smile, "that I, who have a fair claim to half a
million of money, should spend the first half of my life building
a breakwater in the Andamans, and am like to spend the other
half digging drains at Dartmoor. It was an evil day for me when
first I clapped eyes upon the merchant Achmet and had to do
with the Agra treasure, which never brought anything but a curse
yet upon the man who owned it. To him it brought murder, to
Major Sholto it brought fear and guilt, to me it has meant slavery
for life."
  At this moment Athelney Jones thrust his broad face and
heavy shoulders into the tiny cabin.
  "Quite a family party," he remarked. "I think I shall have a
pull at that flask, Holmes. Well, I think we may all congratulate
each other. Pity we didn't take the other alive, but there was no
choice. I say, Holmes, you must confess that you cut it rather
fine. It was all we could do to overhaul her."
  "All is well that ends well," said Holmes. "But I certainly
did not know that the Aurora was such a clipper."
  "Smith says she is one of the fastest launches on the river,
and that if he had had another man to help him with the engines
we should never have caught her. He swears he knew nothing of
this Norwood business."
  "Neither he did," cried our prisoner -- "not a word. I chose
his launch because I heard that she was a flier. We told him
nothing; but we paid him well, and he was to get something
handsome if we reached our vessel, the Esmeralda, at Graves-
end, outward bound for the Brazils."
  "Well, if he has done no wrong we shall see that no wrong
comes to him. If we are pretty quick in catching our men, we are
not so quick in condemning them." It was amusing to notice
how the consequential Jones was already beginning to give
himself airs on the strength of the capture. From the slight smile
which played over Sherlock Holmes's face, I could see that the
speech had not been lost upon him.
  "'We will be at Vauxhall Bridge presently," said Jones, "and
shall land you, Dr. Watson, with the treasure-box. I need hardly
tell you that I am taking a very grave responsibility upon myself
in doing this. It is most irregular, but of course an agreement is
an agreement. I must, however, as a matter of duty, send an
inspector with you, since you have so valuable a charge. You
will drive, no doubt?"
  "Yes, I shall drive."
  "It is a pity there is no key, that we may make an inventory
first. You will have to break it open. Where is the key, my
man?"
  "At the bottom of the river," said Small shortly.
  "Hum! There was no use your giving this unnecessary trou-
ble. We have had work enough already through you. However,
Doctor, I need not warn you to be careful. Bring the box back
with you to the Baker Street rooms. You will find us there, on
our way to the station."
  They landed me at Vauxhall, with my heavy iron box, and
with a bluff, genial inspector as my companion. A quarter of an
hour's drive brought us to Mrs. Cecil Forrester's. The servant
seemed surprised at so late a visitor. Mrs. Cecil Forrester was
out for the evening, she explained, and likely to be very late.
Miss Morstan, however, was in the drawing-room, so to the
drawing-room I went, box in hand, leaving the obliging inspec-
tor in the cab.
  She was seated by the open window, dressed in some sort of
white diaphanous material, with a little touch of scarlet at the
neck and waist. The soft light of a shaded lamp fell upon her as
she leaned back in the basket chair, playing over her sweet grave
face, and tinting with a dull, metallic sparkle the rich coils of her
luxuriant hair. One white arm and hand drooped over the side of
the chair, and her whole pose and figure spoke of an absorbing
melancholy. At the sound of my footfall she sprang to her feet,
however, and a bright flush of surprise and of pleasure coloured
her pale cheeks.
  "I heard a cab drive up," she said. "I thought that Mrs.
Forrester had come back very early, but I never dreamed that it
might be you. What news have you brought me?"
  "I have brought something better than news," said I, putting
down the box upon the table and speaking jovially and boister-
ously, though my heart was heavy within me. "I have brought
you something which is worth all the news in the world. I have
brought you a fortune."
  She glanced at the iron box.
  "Is that the treasure then?" she asked, coolly enough.
  "Yes, this is the great Agra treasure. Half of it is yours and
half is Thaddeus Sholto's. You will have a couple of hundred
thousand each. Think of that! An annuity of ten thousand pounds.
There will be few richer young ladies in England. Is it not
glorious?"
  I think I must have been rather over-acting my delight, and
that she defected a hollow ring in my congratulations, for I saw
her eyebrows rise a little, and she glanced at me curiously.
  "If I have it," said she, "I owe it to you."
  "No, no," I answered, "not to me but to my friend Sherlock
Holmes. With all the will in the world, I could never have
followed up-a clue which has taxed even his analytical genius.
As it was, we very nearly lost it at the last moment."
  "Pray sit down and tell me all about it, Dr. Watson," said
she.
  I narrated briefly what had occurred since I had seen her last.
Holmes's new method of search, the discovery of the Aurora,
the appearance of Athelney Jones, our expedition in the evening,
and the wild chase down the Thames. She listened with parted
lips and shining eyes to my recital of our adventures. When I
spoke of the dart which had so narrowly missed us, she turned so
white that I feared that she was about to faint.
  "It is nothing," she said as I hastened to pour her out some
water. "I am all right again. It was a shock to me to hear that I
had placed my friends in such horrible peril."
  "That is all over," I answered. "It was nothing. I will tell
you no more gloomy details. Let us turn to something brighter.
There is the treasure. What could be brighter than that? I got
leave to bring it with me, thinking that it would interest you to
be the first to see it."
  "It would be of the greatest interest to me," she said. There
was no eagerness in her voice, however. It had struck her,
doubtless, that it might seem ungracious upon her part to be
indifferent to a prize which had cost so much to win.
  "What a pretty box!" she said, stooping over it. "This is
Indian work, I suppose?"
  "Yes; it is Benares metal-work."
  "And so heavy!" she exclaimed, trying to raise it. "The box
alone must be of some value. Where is the key?"
  "Small threw it into the Thames," I answered. "I must
borrow Mrs. Forrester's poker."
  There was in the front a thick and broad hasp, wrought in the
image of a sitting Buddha. Under this I thrust the end of the
poker and twisted it outward as a lever. The hasp sprang open
with a loud snap. With trembling fingers I flung back the lid. We
both stood gazing in astonishment. The box was empty!
  No wonder that it was heavy. The ironwork was two-thirds of
an inch thick all round. It was massive, well made, and solid,
like a chest constructed to carry things of great price, but not one
shred or crumb of metal or jewellery lay within it. It was
absolutely and completely empty.
  "The treasure is lost," said Miss Morstan calmly.
  As I listened to the words and realized what they meant, a
great shadow seemed to pass from my soul. I did not know how
this Agra treasure had weighed me down until now that it was
finally removed. It was selfish, no doubt, disloyal, wrong, but I
could realize nothing save that the golden barrier was gone from
between us.
  "Thank God!" I ejaculated from my very heart.
  She looked at me with a quick, questioning smile.
  "Why do you say that?" she asked.
  "Because you are within my reach again," I said, taking her
hand. She did not withdraw it. "Because I love you, Mary, as
truly as ever a man loved a woman. Because this treasure, these
riches, sealed my lips. Now that they are gone I can tell you how
I love you. That is why I said, 'Thank God.' "
  "Then I say 'Thank God,' too," she whispered as I drew her
to my side.
  Whoever had lost a treasure, I knew that night that I had
gained one.
 
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