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 been there.”

“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 will think.”

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 arm-chair 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 of 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 journey.”

“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, sidelong 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 handcuffs 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 country-side, 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 3d 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
half-way 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 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
Abelwhite, 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 accident. To make a long story short, 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 knee
left to keep 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 comfortable quarters, and
altogether I was content to spend the remainder of my life in
indigo-planting. Mr. Abelwhite 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 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
endangered.’

“‘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 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 merchant.’

“‘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 them.

“‘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 lantern.

“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 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 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 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 his lips.

“‘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 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 friend. I think we may very well trust him.’

“‘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 together.’

“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 potatoes.

“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 vigor.”

“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.