The Sign of the Four
The Strange Story of Jonathan Small
| A very patient man was that inspector in the
cab, for it was a
weary time before I rejoined him. His face clouded over when I
showed him the empty box.
"There goes the reward!" said he gloomily. "Where there is
no money there is no pay. This night's work would have been
worth a tenner each to Sam Brown and me if the treasure had
"Mr. Thaddeus Sholto is a rich man," I said; "he will see
that you are rewarded, treasure or no."
The inspector shook his head despondently, however.
"It's a bad job," he repeated; "and so Mr. Athelney Jones
His forecast proved to be correct, for the detective looked
blank enough when I got to Baker Street and showed him the
empty box. They had only just arrived, Holmes, the prisoner,
and he, for they had changed their plans so far as to report
themselves at a station upon the way. My companion lounged in
his armchair with his usual listless expression, while Small sat
stolidly opposite to him with his wooden leg cocked over his
sound one. As I exhibited the empty box he leaned back in his
chair and laughed aloud.
"This is your doing, Small," said Athelney Jones angrily.
"Yes, I have put it away where you shall never lay hand upon
it," he cried exultantly. "It is my treasure, and if I can't have
the loot I'll take darned good care that no one else does. I tell
you that no living man has any right to it, unless it is three men
who are in the Andaman convict-barracks and myself. I know
now that I cannot have the use of it, and I know that they cannot.
I have acted all through for them as much as for myself. It's
been the sign of four with us always. Well, I know that they
would have had me do just what I have done, and throw the
treasure into the Thames rather than let it go to kith or kin of
Sholto or Morstan. It was not to make them rich that we did for
Achmet. You'll find the treasure where the key is and where
little Tonga is. When I saw that your launch must catch us, I put
the loot away in a safe place. There are no rupees for you this
"You are deceiving us, Small," said Athelney Jones sternly;
"if you had wished to throw the treasure into the Thames, it
would have been easier for you to have thrown box and all."
"Easier for me to throw and easier for you to recover," he
answered with a shrewd, side-long look. "The man that was
clever enough to hunt me down is clever enough to pick an iron
box from the bottom of a river. Now that they are scattered over
five miles or so, it may be a harder job. It went to my heart to do
it though. I was half mad when you came up with us. However,
there's no good grieving over it. I've had ups in my life, and
I've had downs, but I've learned not to cry over spilled milk."
"This is a very serious matter, Small," said the detective. "If
you had helped justice, instead of thwarting it in this way, you
would have had a better chance at your trial."
"Justice!" snarled the ex-convict. "A pretty justice! Whose
loot is this, if it is not ours? Where is the justice that I should
give it up to those who have never earned it? Look how I have
earned it! Twenty long years in that fever-ridden swamp, all day
at work under the mangrove-tree, all night chained up in the
filthy convict-huts, bitten by mosquitoes, racked with ague,
bullied by every cursed black-faced policeman who loved to take
it out of a white man. That was how I earned the Agra treasure,
and you talk to me of justice because I cannot bear to feel that I
have paid this price only that another may enjoy it! I would
rather swing a score of times, or have one of Tonga's darts in my
hide, than live in a convict's cell and feel that another man is at
his ease in a palace with the money that should be mine."
Small had dropped his mask of stoicism, and all this came out
in a wild whirl of words, while his eyes blazed, and the hand-
cuffs clanked together with the impassioned movement of his
hands. I could understand, as I saw the fury and the passion of
the man, that it was no groundless or unnatural terror which had
possessed Major Sholto when he first learned that the injured
convict was upon his track.
"You forget that we know nothing of all this," said Holmes
quietly. "We have not heard your story, and we cannot tell how
far justice may originally have been on your side."
"Well, sir, you have been very fair-spoken to me, though I
can see that I have you to thank that I have these bracelets upon
my wrists. Still, I bear no grudge for that. It is all fair and
above-board. If you want to hear my story, I have no wish to
hold it back. What I say to you is God's truth, every word of it.
Thank you, you can put the glass beside me here, and I'll put my
lips to it if I am dry.
"I am a Worcestershire man myself, born near Pershore. I
dare say you would find a heap of Smalls living there now if you
were to look. I have often thought of taking a look round there,
but the truth is that I was never much of a credit to the family,
and I doubt if they would be so very glad to see me. They were
all steady, chapel-going folk, small farmers, well known and
respected over the countryside, while I was always a bit of a
rover. At last, however, when I was about eighteen, I gave them
no more trouble, for I got into a mess over a girl and could only
get out of it again by taking the Queen's shilling and joining the
Third Buffs, which was just starting for India.
"I wasn't destined to do much soldiering, however. I had just
got past the goose-step and learned to handle my musket, when I
was fool enough to go swimming in the Ganges. Luckily for me,
my company sergeant, John Holder, was in the water at the same
time, and he was one of the finest swimmers in the service. A
crocodile took me just as I was halfway across and nipped off
my right leg as clean as a surgeon could have done it, just above
the knee. What with the shock and the loss of blood, I fainted,
and should have been drowned if Holder had not caught hold of
me and paddled for the bank. I was five months in hospital over
it, and when at last I was able to limp out of it with this timber
toe strapped to my stump, I found myself invalided out of the
Army and unfitted for any active occupation.
"I was, as you can imagine, pretty down on my luck at this
time, for I was a useless cripple, though not yet in my twentieth
year. However, my misfortune soon proved to be a blessing in
disguise. A man named Abel White, who had come out there as
an indigo-planter, wanted an overseer to look after his coolies
and keep them up to their work. He happened to be a friend of
our colonel's, who had taken an interest in me since the acci-
dent. To make a long story shon, the colonel recommended me
strongly for the post, and, as the work was mostly to be done on
horseback, my leg was no great obstacle, for I had enough thigh
left to keep a good grip on the saddle. What I had to do was to
ride over the plantation, to keep an eye on the men as they
worked, and to report the idlers. The pay was fair, I had com-
fortable quarters, and altogether I was content to spend the
remainder of my life in indigo-planting. Mr. Abel White was a
kind man, and he would often drop into my little shanty and
smoke a pipe with me, for white folk out there feel their hearts
warm to each other as they never do here at home.
"Well, I was never in luck's way long. Suddenly, without a
note of warning, the great mutiny broke upon us. One month
India lay as still and peaceful, to all appearance, as Surrey or
Kent; the next there were two hundred thousand black devils let
loose, and the country was a perfect hell. Of course you know all
about it, gentlemen -- a deal more than I do, very like, since
reading is not in my line. I only know what I saw with my own
eyes. Our plantation was at a place called Muttra, near the
border of the Nonhwest 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. Abel White 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 whisky-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 re-
volver 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 Abel White'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. Wher-
ever 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 Third 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 of
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 anyone 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, there-
fore, to station a strong guard at every one of the innumerable
gates. What we did was to organize a central guardhouse 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 south-west 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 Punjabees. 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 gateway, 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 neighbours 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 gateway 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 conver-
sation, 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
" '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 honour of your mother, by the cross of your faith,
to raise no hand and speak no word against us, either now or
" '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 us.'
" 'There are but three,' said I.
" 'No; Dost Akbar must have his share. We can tell the tale to
you while we wait 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
" '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, how-
ever, 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 his 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 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 moi-
dores. I had, therefore, already made up my mind. Abdullah
Khan, however, thinking that I hesitated, pressed the matter
" '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
" '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 begin-
ning of the wet season. Brown, heavy clouds were drifting
across the sky, and it was hard to see more than a stonecast. 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 Punjabees 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 Abdul-
lah. '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 onward, 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 halfway up to the gate before I
" '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 cum-
merbund. 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 gateway. Never was a man so
compassed round with death. I remained at the gateway 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 a 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 where 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 word of the business
just exactly as it happened, whether it is in my favour or not."
He stopped and held out his manacled hands for the whisky
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
"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 shorrt. 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 gateway 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 advan-
tage. 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 re-
lieved 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 con-
cerned in it. The three Sikhs got penal servitude for life, and I
was condemned to death, though my sentence was afterwards
commuted to 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 son 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 na-
tives, 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 to 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 away.
"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 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 him.
"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
" '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
anyone. And the queer thing about it is that the real owner is
outlawed and cannot hold property, so that it belongs to the first
" '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 anyone about it, and I shall see you
"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 conclu-
sion 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 you 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 friends. I think we may very well
" 'It's a dirty business,' the other answered. 'Yet, as you say,
the money will 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
" '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 pres-
ent. 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 I lived only for vengeance. I thought of it by
day and I nursed it by night. It became an overpowering, absorb-
ing 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
"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, cocoanuts,
and sweet potatoes.
"He was staunch 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 a 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
"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 on 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 anyone 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. Banholomew
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 trapdoor 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 bloodthirsty 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 l thought she would be a handy craft for our escape
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 windup 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
humoured, 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 downstairs. 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 sat 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 honour to
accept me as a husband in prospective."
He gave a most dismal groan.
"I feared as much," said he. "I really cannot congratulate
I was a little hurt.
"Have you any reason to be dissatisfied with my choice?" I
"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 ali
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
"Yes," he answered, "there are in me the makings of a very
fine loafer, and also of a pretty spry, sort of a fellow. I often
think of those lines of old Goethe:
"Schade dass die Natur
nur einen Mensch aus dir schuf,
By the way, apropos of this Norwood business, you see