The Sign of Four
Then I got back to Baker Street, Holmes, Inspector Jones and the prisoner, Jonathan Small, were all waiting for me. I showed them the empty treasure chest. Small began to laugh.
‘Where is the treasure, Small?’ shouted Jones angrily.
‘The Agra Treasure belongs to the Sign of Four,’ said Small quietly. ‘No one else will have it. I threw it all to the bottom of the river.’
We all stood astonished. The great treasure of Agra was lost forever.
‘The Agra Treasure is unlucky,’ said Small. ‘It has never brought happiness to anyone. It brought death to Captain Morstan. It brought fear and guilt to Major Sholto. Bartholomew Sholto was murdered because of it. And to me and the other members of the Sign of Four, it has brought prison for the rest of our lives.’
‘You must tell us your story,’ said Holmes. ‘What is the Sign of Four?’
Jonathan Small began his strange story and we listened.
‘I went to India as a soldier in the British Army,’ said Small. ‘One day, soon after I arrived, I had an accident and lost my leg. After that, I could not fight any more.
‘Then there was terrible fighting between the Indians and the British. The British all hid in an old fortress at Agra. They shut themselves inside. The walls of this fortress were very thick. The Indians could not get in.
‘I also went to Agra. I had three Indian friends who had fought for the British. They came to Agra with me. These men were Mahomet Singh, Abdullah Khan and Dost Akbar. When we were in the Agra fortress, we heard a strange story. It was about a great treasure which had been hidden in the fortress. It had been hidden for many years. The four of us decided to look for this treasure. And one day we found it. It was hidden under the floor in a secret room.
‘We were astonished by what we had found. We had never seen so many beautiful jewels. The four of us decided not to say anything about what we had found. We decided to leave the treasure hidden in the secret room in the fortress. When the fighting was finished, we would be able to take the treasure away with us.
‘We made a promise to each other. We agreed that we would always work together. We would share the treasure between us.
We became the Sign of Four. But a terrible thing happened. Two British soldiers were killed in a fight. We had not killed them but we were arrested for their murder. We were sent to prison in the Andaman Islands.’
‘Is that where you met Major Sholto and Captain Morstan?’ asked Holmes.
‘Yes,’ said Small. ‘Sholto and Morstan were the officers in charge of the prisoners there.
‘We were in a terrible situation. We knew where the Agra Treasure was. But we were not able to go and get it. We were prisoners. Also, we were afraid that someone else might find the treasure. We did not know what to do. At last we told Sholto and Morstan about the great treasure. We asked them to help the four of us to escape. When we were free, we would get the treasure and share it with them. But Sholto said that he did not believe us. He said he did not know if we were speaking the truth. Sholto did not know if the treasure would be there. He said he would go to India. If he found the treasure, he would come back. He would help us escape from prison. Sholto asked the four of us to give him a plan of the fortress at Agra.
‘We did not want to give Sholto the plan. I didn’t trust him. But in the end we had to agree. We gave one plan to Sholto and another to Morstan. Sholto went to India. But he never came back. He found the treasure and took it to England. He stole it from the Sign of Four and also from his friend Morstan. And from that day, I decided to have revenge on Sholto.’
Small was silent for a few moments. He was thinking about what Sholto had done. Then he went on with his story.
‘I made friends with one of the people of the Andaman Islands,’ he said. ‘The people there are pygmies. They are very small, but they are very brave.
‘One day, I found one of these pygmies lying under a tree. He was very ill. I looked after him. He slowly got better. He became my friend. His name was Tonga.
‘Tonga helped me to escape from the islands. He had a small boat. One dark night, we put lots of food into the boat and we sailed together from the Andaman Islands.’
Holmes had been listening carefully while Small told his story. Now he spoke, ‘Ah — I understand,’ he said, ‘Major Sholto received a letter. What was written in the letter frightened him to death. It must have been the news of your escape which killed him.’
Small went on with his story. ‘At last Tonga and I reached London. But I was too late to have revenge on Sholto. Sholto was dying. He saw my face at the window. That night I got into his room and left a message. It was from The Sign of Four.
‘Tonga and I waited six years. We watched Pondicherry Lodge and Bartholomew Sholto carefully. When Bartholomew Sholto found the treasure, we knew about it immediately. With Tonga’s help, I got into his room. Tonga killed Bartholomew Sholto with a poisoned thorn. We took the treasure, left the paper and went.
‘I had paid Mordecai Smith to take us to a ship. We were planning to go to America. But now everything has changed. Tonga is dead and I am your prisoner. And the Agra Treasure is lost forever.’
We were all silent. We were thinking of the great treasure which was lost in the mud at the bottom of the River Thames. Perhaps it was better there.
‘Doctor Watson,’ said Holmes, when Inspector Jones had taken Small away, ‘that is the end of our adventure.’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘But I have some very good news. Miss Morstan and I are going to get married.’
‘Excellent,’ said Holmes. ‘The Agra Treasure has at last brought happiness to someone.’