Sign of the Four
Arthur Conan Doyle
Part 2 out of 3
Toby proved to an ugly, long-haired, lop-eared creature, half
spaniel and half lurcher, brown-and-white in color, with a very
clumsy waddling gait. It accepted after some hesitation a lump
of sugar which the old naturalist handed to me, and, having thus
sealed an alliance, it followed me to the cab, and made no
difficulties about accompanying me. It had just struck three on
the Palace clock when I found myself back once more at
Pondicherry Lodge. The ex-prize-fighter McMurdo had, I found,
been arrested as an accessory, and both he and Mr. Sholto had
been marched off to the station. Two constables guarded the
narrow gate, but they allowed me to pass with the dog on my
mentioning the detective's name.
Holmes was standing on the door-step, with his hands in his
pockets, smoking his pipe.
"Ah, you have him there!" said he. "Good dog, then! Atheney
Jones has gone. We have had an immense display of energy since
you left. He has arrested not only friend Thaddeus, but the
gatekeeper, the housekeeper, and the Indian servant. We have the
place to ourselves, but for a sergeant up-stairs. Leave the dog
here, and come up."
We tied Toby to the hall table, and reascended the stairs. The
room was as he had left it, save that a sheet had been draped
over the central figure. A weary-looking police-sergeant
reclined in the corner.
"Lend me your bull's-eye, sergeant," said my companion. "Now tie
this bit of card round my neck, so as to hang it in front of me.
Thank you. Now I must kick off my boots and stockings.--Just you
carry them down with you, Watson. I am going to do a little
climbing. And dip my handkerchief into the creasote. That will
do. Now come up into the garret with me for a moment."
We clambered up through the hole. Holmes turned his light once
more upon the footsteps in the dust.
"I wish you particularly to notice these footmarks," he said.
"Do you observe anything noteworthy about them?"
"They belong," I said, "to a child or a small woman."
"Apart from their size, though. Is there nothing else?"
"They appear to be much as other footmarks."
"Not at all. Look here! This is the print of a right foot in
the dust. Now I make one with my naked foot beside it. What is
the chief difference?"
"Your toes are all cramped together. The other print has each
toe distinctly divided."
"Quite so. That is the point. Bear that in mind. Now, would
you kindly step over to that flap-window and smell the edge of
the wood-work? I shall stay here, as I have this handkerchief in
I did as he directed, and was instantly conscious of a strong
"That is where he put his foot in getting out. If YOU can trace
him, I should think that Toby will have no difficulty. Now run
down-stairs, loose the dog, and look out for Blondin."
By the time that I got out into the grounds Sherlock Holmes was
on the roof, and I could see him like an enormous glow-worm
crawling very slowly along the ridge. I lost sight of him behind
a stack of chimneys, but he presently reappeared, and then
vanished once more upon the opposite side. When I made my way
round there I found him seated at one of the corner eaves.
"That you, Watson?" he cried.
"This is the place. What is that black thing down there?"
"Top on it?"
"No sign of a ladder?"
"Confound the fellow! It's a most break-neck place. I ought to
be able to come down where he could climb up. The water-pipe
feels pretty firm. Here goes, anyhow."
There was a scuffling of feet, and the lantern began to come
steadily down the side of the wall. Then with a light spring he
came on to the barrel, and from there to the earth.
"It was easy to follow him," he said, drawing on his stockings
and boots. "Tiles were loosened the whole way along, and in his
hurry he had dropped this. It confirms my diagnosis, as you
doctors express it."
The object which he held up to me was a small pocket or pouch
woven out of colored grasses and with a few tawdry beads strung
round it. In shape and size it was not unlike a cigarette-case.
Inside were half a dozen spines of dark wood, sharp at one end
and rounded at the other, like that which had struck Bartholomew
"They are hellish things," said he. "Look out that you don't
prick yourself. I'm delighted to have them, for the chances are
that they are all he has. There is the less fear of you or me
finding one in our skin before long. I would sooner face a
Martini bullet, myself. Are you game for a six-mile trudge,
"Certainly," I answered.
"Your leg will stand it?"
"Here you are, doggy! Good old Toby! Smell it, Toby, smell it!"
He pushed the creasote handkerchief under the dog's nose, while
the creature stood with its fluffy legs separated, and with a
most comical cock to its head, like a connoisseur sniffing the
bouquet of a famous vintage. Holmes then threw the handkerchief
to a distance, fastened a stout cord to the mongrel's collar, and
led him to the foot of the water-barrel. The creature instantly
broke into a succession of high, tremulous yelps, and, with his
nose on the ground, and his tail in the air, pattered off upon
the trail at a pace which strained his leash and kept us at the
top of our speed.
The east had been gradually whitening, and we could now see some
distance in the cold gray light. The square, massive house, with
its black, empty windows and high, bare walls, towered up, sad
and forlorn, behind us. Our course led right across the grounds,
in and out among the trenches and pits with which they were
scarred and intersected. The whole place, with its scattered
dirt-heaps and ill-grown shrubs, had a blighted, ill-omened look
which harmonized with the black tragedy which hung over it.
On reaching the boundary wall Toby ran along, whining eagerly,
underneath its shadow, and stopped finally in a corner screened
by a young beech. Where the two walls joined, several bricks had
been loosened, and the crevices left were worn down and rounded
upon the lower side, as though they had frequently been used as a
ladder. Holmes clambered up, and, taking the dog from me, he
dropped it over upon the other side.
"There's the print of wooden-leg's hand," he remarked, as I
mounted up beside him. "You see the slight smudge of blood upon
the white plaster. What a lucky thing it is that we have had no
very heavy rain since yesterday! The scent will lie upon the
road in spite of their eight-and-twenty hours' start."
I confess that I had my doubts myself when I reflected upon the
great traffic which had passed along the London road in the
interval. My fears were soon appeased, however. Toby never
hesitated or swerved, but waddled on in his peculiar rolling
fashion. Clearly, the pungent smell of the creasote rose high
above all other contending scents.
"Do not imagine," said Holmes, "that I depend for my success in
this case upon the mere chance of one of these fellows having put
his foot in the chemical. I have knowledge now which would
enable me to trace them in many different ways. This, however,
is the readiest and, since fortune has put it into our hands, I
should be culpable if I neglected it. It has, however, prevented
the case from becoming the pretty little intellectual problem
which it at one time promised to be. There might have been some
credit to be gained out of it, but for this too palpable clue."
"There is credit, and to spare," said I. "I assure you, Holmes,
that I marvel at the means by which you obtain your results in
this case, even more than I did in the Jefferson Hope Murder.
The thing seems to me to be deeper and more inexplicable. How,
for example, could you describe with such confidence the wooden-
"Pshaw, my dear boy! it was simplicity itself. I don't wish to
be theatrical. It is all patent and above-board. Two officers
who are in command of a convict-guard learn an important secret
as to buried treasure. A map is drawn for them by an Englishman
named Jonathan Small. You remember that we saw the name upon the
chart in Captain Morstan's possession. He had signed it in
behalf of himself and his associates,--the sign of the four, as
he somewhat dramatically called it. Aided by this chart, the
officers--or one of them--gets the treasure and brings it to
England, leaving, we will suppose, some condition under which he
received it unfulfilled. Now, then, why did not Jonathan Small
get the treasure himself? The answer is obvious. The chart is
dated at a time when Morstan was brought into close association
with convicts. Jonathan Small did not get the treasure because
he and his associates were themselves convicts and could not get
"But that is mere speculation," said I.
"It is more than that. It is the only hypothesis which covers
the facts. Let us see how it fits in with the sequel. Major
Sholto remains at peace for some years, happy in the possession
of his treasure. Then he receives a letter from India which
gives him a great fright. What was that?"
"A letter to say that the men whom he had wronged had been set
"Or had escaped. That is much more likely, for he would have
known what their term of imprisonment was. It would not have
been a surprise to him. What does he do then? He guards himself
against a wooden-legged man,--a white man, mark you, for he
mistakes a white tradesman for him, and actually fires a pistol
at him. Now, only one white man's name is on the chart. The
others are Hindoos or Mohammedans. There is no other white man.
Therefore we may say with confidence that the wooden-legged man
is identical with Jonathan Small. Does the reasoning strike you
as being faulty?"
"No: it is clear and concise."
"Well, now, let us put ourselves in the place of Jonathan Small.
Let us look at it from his point of view. He comes to England
with the double idea of regaining what he would consider to be
his rights and of having his revenge upon the man who had wronged
him. He found out where Sholto lived, and very possibly he
established communications with some one inside the house. There
is this butler, Lal Rao, whom we have not seen. Mrs. Bernstone
gives him far from a good character. Small could not find out,
however, where the treasure was hid, for no one ever knew, save
the major and one faithful servant who had died. Suddenly Small
learns that the major is on his death-bed. In a frenzy lest the
secret of the treasure die with him, he runs the gauntlet of the
guards, makes his way to the dying man's window, and is only
deterred from entering by the presence of his two sons. Mad with
hate, however, against the dead man, he enters the room that
night, searches his private papers in the hope of discovering
some memorandum relating to the treasure, and finally leaves a
momento of his visit in the short inscription upon the card. He
had doubtless planned beforehand that should he slay the major he
would leave some such record upon the body as a sign that it was
not a common murder, but, from the point of view of the four
associates, something in the nature of an act of justice.
Whimsical and bizarre conceits of this kind are common enough in
the annals of crime, and usually afford valuable indications as
to the criminal. Do you follow all this?"
"Now, what could Jonathan Small do? He could only continue to
keep a secret watch upon the efforts made to find the treasure.
Possibly he leaves England and only comes back at intervals.
Then comes the discovery of the garret, and he is instantly
informed of it. We again trace the presence of some confederate
in the household. Jonathan, with his wooden leg, is utterly
unable to reach the lofty room of Bartholomew Sholto. He takes
with him, however, a rather curious associate, who gets over this
difficulty, but dips his naked foot into creasote, whence comes
Toby, and a six-mile limp for a half-pay officer with a damaged
"But it was the associate, and not Jonathan, who committed the
"Quite so. And rather to Jonathan's disgust, to judge by the way
he stamped about when he got into the room. He bore no grudge
against Bartholomew Sholto, and would have preferred if he could
have been simply bound and gagged. He did not wish to put his
head in a halter. There was no help for it, however: the savage
instincts of his companion had broken out, and the poison had
done its work: so Jonathan Small left his record, lowered the
treasure-box to the ground, and followed it himself. That was
the train of events as far as I can decipher them. Of course as
to his personal appearance he must be middle-aged, and must be
sunburned after serving his time in such an oven as the Andamans.
His height is readily calculated from the length of his stride,
and we know that he was bearded. His hairiness was the one point
which impressed itself upon Thaddeus Sholto when he saw him at
the window. I don't know that there is anything else."
"Ah, well, there is no great mystery in that. But you will know
all about it soon enough. How sweet the morning air is! See how
that one little cloud floats like a pink feather from some
gigantic flamingo. Now the red rim of the sun pushes itself over
the London cloud-bank. It shines on a good many folk, but on
none, I dare bet, who are on a stranger errand than you and I.
How small we feel with our petty ambitions and strivings in the
presence of the great elemental forces of nature! Are you well
up in your Jean Paul?"
"Fairly so. I worked back to him through Carlyle."
"That was like following the brook to the parent lake. He makes
one curious but profound remark. It is that the chief proof of
man's real greatness lies in his perception of his own smallness.
It argues, you see, a power of comparison and of appreciation
which is in itself a proof of nobility. There is much food for
thought in Richter. You have not a pistol, have you?"
"I have my stick."
"It is just possible that we may need something of the sort if we
get to their lair. Jonathan I shall leave to you, but if the
other turns nasty I shall shoot him dead." He took out his
revolver as he spoke, and, having loaded two of the chambers, he
put it back into the right-hand pocket of his jacket.
We had during this time been following the guidance of Toby down
the half-rural villa-lined roads which lead to the metropolis.
Now, however, we were beginning to come among continuous streets,
where laborers and dockmen were already astir, and slatternly
women were taking down shutters and brushing door-steps. At the
square-topped corner public houses business was just beginning,
and rough-looking men were emerging, rubbing their sleeves across
their beards after their morning wet. Strange dogs sauntered up
and stared wonderingly at us as we passed, but our inimitable
Toby looked neither to the right nor to the left, but trotted
onwards with his nose to the ground and an occasional eager whine
which spoke of a hot scent.
We had traversed Streatham, Brixton, Camberwell, and now found
ourselves in Kennington Lane, having borne away through the side-
streets to the east of the Oval. The men whom we pursued seemed
to have taken a curiously zigzag road, with the idea probably of
escaping observation. They had never kept to the main road if a
parallel side-street would serve their turn. At the foot of
Kennington Lane they had edged away to the left through Bond
Street and Miles Street. Where the latter street turns into
Knight's Place, Toby ceased to advance, but began to run
backwards and forwards with one ear cocked and the other
drooping, the very picture of canine indecision. Then he waddled
round in circles, looking up to us from time to time, as if to
ask for sympathy in his embarrassment.
"What the deuce is the matter with the dog?" growled Holmes.
"They surely would not take a cab, or go off in a balloon."
"Perhaps they stood here for some time," I suggested.
"Ah! it's all right. He's off again," said my companion, in a
tone of relief.
He was indeed off, for after sniffing round again he suddenly
made up his mind, and darted away with an energy and
determination such as he had not yet shown. The scent appeared
to be much hotter than before, for he had not even to put his
nose on the ground, but tugged at his leash and tried to break
into a run. I cold see by the gleam in Holmes's eyes that he
thought we were nearing the end of our journey.
Our course now ran down Nine Elms until we came to Broderick and
Nelson's large timber-yard, just past the White Eagle tavern.
Here the dog, frantic with excitement, turned down through the
side-gate into the enclosure, where the sawyers were already at
work. On the dog raced through sawdust and shavings, down an
alley, round a passage, between two wood-piles, and finally, with
a triumphant yelp, sprang upon a large barrel which still stood
upon the hand-trolley on which it had been brought. With lolling
tongue and blinking eyes, Toby stood upon the cask, looking from
one to the other of us for some sign of appreciation. The staves
of the barrel and the wheels of the trolley were smeared with a
dark liquid, and the whole air was heavy with the smell of
Sherlock Holmes and I looked blankly at each other, and then
burst simultaneously into an uncontrollable fit of laughter.
The Baker Street Irregulars
"What now?" I asked. "Toby has lost his character for
"He acted according to his lights," said Holmes, lifting him down
from the barrel and walking him out of the timber-yard. "If you
consider how much creasote is carted about London in one day, it
is no great wonder that our trail should have been crossed. It
is much used now, especially for the seasoning of wood. Poor
Toby is not to blame."
"We must get on the main scent again, I suppose."
"Yes. And, fortunately, we have no distance to go. Evidently
what puzzled the dog at the corner of Knight's Place was that
there were two different trails running in opposite directions.
We took the wrong one. It only remains to follow the other."
There was no difficulty about this. On leading Toby to the place
where he had committed his fault, he cast about in a wide circle
and finally dashed off in a fresh direction.
"We must take care that he does not now bring us to the place
where the creasote-barrel came from," I observed.
"I had thought of that. But you notice that he keeps on the
pavement, whereas the barrel passed down the roadway. No, we are
on the true scent now."
It tended down towards the river-side, running through Belmont
Place and Prince's Street. At the end of Broad Street it ran
right down to the water's edge, where there was a small wooden
wharf. Toby led us to the very edge of this, and there stood
whining, looking out on the dark current beyond.
"We are out of luck," said Holmes. "They have taken to a boat
here." Several small punts and skiffs were lying about in the
water and on the edge of the wharf. We took Toby round to each
in turn, but, though he sniffed earnestly, he made no sign.
Close to the rude landing-stage was a small brick house, with a
wooden placard slung out through the second window. "Mordecai
Smith" was printed across it in large letters, and, underneath,
"Boats to hire by the hour or day." A second inscription above
the door informed us that a steam launch was kept,--a statement
which was confirmed by a great pile of coke upon the jetty.
Sherlock Holmes looked slowly round, and his face assumed an
"This looks bad," said he. "These fellows are sharper than I
expected. They seem to have covered their tracks. There has, I
fear, been preconcerted management here."
He was approaching the door of the house, when it opened, and a
little, curly-headed lad of six came running out, followed by a
stoutish, red-faced woman with a large sponge in her hand.
"You come back and be washed, Jack," she shouted. "Come back,
you young imp; for if your father comes home and finds you like
that, he'll let us hear of it."
"Dear little chap!" said Holmes, strategically. "What a rosy-
cheeked young rascal! Now, Jack, is there anything you would
The youth pondered for a moment. "I'd like a shillin'," said he.
"Nothing you would like better?"
"I'd like two shillin' better," the prodigy answered, after some
"Here you are, then! Catch!--A fine child, Mrs. Smith!"
"Lor' bless you, sir, he is that, and forward. He gets a'most
too much for me to manage, 'specially when my man is away days at
"Away, is he?" said Holmes, in a disappointed voice. "I am sorry
for that, for I wanted to speak to Mr. Smith."
"He's been away since yesterday mornin', sir, and, truth to tell,
I am beginnin' to feel frightened about him. But if it was about
a boat, sir, maybe I could serve as well."
"I wanted to hire his steam launch."
"Why, bless you, sir, it is in the steam launch that he has gone.
That's what puzzles me; for I know there ain't more coals in her
than would take her to about Woolwich and back. If he'd been
away in the barge I'd ha' thought nothin'; for many a time a job
has taken him as far as Gravesend, and then if there was much
doin' there he might ha' stayed over. But what good is a steam
launch without coals?"
"He might have bought some at a wharf down the river."
"He might, sir, but it weren't his way. Many a time I've heard
him call out at the prices they charge for a few odd bags.
Besides, I don't like that wooden-legged man, wi' his ugly face
and outlandish talk. What did he want always knockin' about here
"A wooden-legged man?" said Holmes, with bland surprise.
"Yes, sir, a brown, monkey-faced chap that's called more'n once
for my old man. It was him that roused him up yesternight, and,
what's more, my man knew he was comin', for he had steam up in
the launch. I tell you straight, sir, I don't feel easy in my
mind about it."
"But, my dear Mrs. Smith," said Holmes, shrugging his shoulders,
"You are frightening yourself about nothing. How could you
possibly tell that it was the wooden-legged man who came in the
night? I don't quite understand how you can be so sure."
"His voice, sir. I knew his voice, which is kind o' thick and
foggy. He tapped at the winder,--about three it would be. 'Show
a leg, matey,' says he: 'time to turn out guard.' My old man
woke up Jim,--that's my eldest,--and away they went, without so
much as a word to me. I could hear the wooden leg clackin' on
"And was this wooden-legged man alone?"
"Couldn't say, I am sure, sir. I didn't hear no one else."
"I am sorry, Mrs. Smith, for I wanted a steam launch, and I have
heard good reports of the--Let me see, what is her name?"
"The Aurora, sir."
"Ah! She's not that old green launch with a yellow line, very
broad in the beam?"
"No, indeed. She's as trim a little thing as any on the river.
She's been fresh painted, black with two red streaks."
"Thanks. I hope that you will hear soon from Mr. Smith. I am
going down the river; and if I should see anything of the Aurora
I shall let him know that you are uneasy. A black funnel, you
"No, sir. Black with a white band."
"Ah, of course. It was the sides which were black. Good-
morning, Mrs. Smith.--There is a boatman here with a wherry,
Watson. We shall take it and cross the river.
"The main thing with people of that sort," said Holmes, as we sat
in the sheets of the wherry, "is never to let them think that
their information can be of the slightest importance to you. If
you do, they will instantly shut up like an oyster. If you
listen to them under protest, as it were, you are very likely to
get what you want."
"Our course now seems pretty clear," said I.
"What would you do, then?"
"I would engage a launch and go down the river on the track of
"My dear fellow, it would be a colossal task. She may have
touched at any wharf on either side of the stream between here
and Greenwich. Below the bridge there is a perfect labyrinth of
landing-places for miles. It would take you days and days to
exhaust them, if you set about it alone."
"Employ the police, then."
"No. I shall probably call Athelney Jones in at the last moment.
He is not a bad fellow, and I should not like to do anything
which would injure him professionally. But I have a fancy for
working it out myself, now that we have gone so far."
"Could we advertise, then, asking for information from
"Worse and worse! Our men would know that the chase was hot at
their heels, and they would be off out of the country. As it is,
they are likely enough to leave, but as long as they think they
are perfectly safe they will be in no hurry. Jones's energy will
be of use to us there, for his view of the case is sure to push
itself into the daily press, and the runaways will think that
every one is off on the wrong scent."
"What are we to do, then?" I asked, as we landed near Millbank
"Take this hansom, drive home, have some breakfast, and get an
hour's sleep. It is quite on the cards that we may be afoot to-
night again. Stop at a telegraph-office, cabby! We will keep
Toby, for he may be of use to us yet."
We pulled up at the Great Peter Street post-office, and Holmes
despatched his wire. "Whom do you think that is to?" he asked,
as we resumed our journey.
"I am sure I don't know."
"You remember the Baker Street division of the detective police
force whom I employed in the Jefferson Hope case?"
"Well," said I, laughing.
"This is just the case where they might be invaluable. If they
fail, I have other resources; but I shall try them first. That
wire was to my dirty little lieutenant, Wiggins, and I expect
that he and his gang will be with us before we have finished our
It was between eight and nine o'clock now, and I was conscious of
a strong reaction after the successive excitements of the night.
I was limp and weary, befogged in mind and fatigued in body. I
had not the professional enthusiasm which carried my companion
on, nor could I look at the matter as a mere abstract
intellectual problem. As far as the death of Bartholomew Sholto
went, I had heard little good of him, and could feel no intense
antipathy to his murderers. The treasure, however, was a
different matter. That, or part of it, belonged rightfully to
Miss Morstan. While there was a chance of recovering it I was
ready to devote my life to the one object. True, if I found it
it would probably put her forever beyond my reach. Yet it would
be a petty and selfish love which would be influenced by such a
thought as that. If Holmes could work to find the criminals, I
had a tenfold stronger reason to urge me on to find the treasure.
A bath at Baker Street and a complete change freshened me up
wonderfully. When I came down to our room I found the breakfast
laid and Homes pouring out the coffee.
"Here it is," said he, laughing, and pointing to an open
newspaper. "The energetic Jones and the ubiquitous reporter have
fixed it up between them. But you have had enough of the case.
Better have your ham and eggs first."
I took the paper from him and read the short notice, which was
headed "Mysterious Business at Upper Norwood."
"About twelve o'clock last night," said the Standard, "Mr.
Bartholomew Sholto, of Pondicherry Lodge, Upper Norwood, was
found dead in his room under circumstances which point to foul
play. As far as we can learn, no actual traces of violence were
found upon Mr. Sholto's person, but a valuable collection of
Indian gems which the deceased gentleman had inherited from his
father has been carried off. The discovery was first made by Mr.
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, who had called at the house with
Mr. Thaddeus Sholto, brother of the deceased. By a singular
piece of good fortune, Mr. Athelney Jones, the well-known member
of the detective police force, happened to be at the Norwood
Police Station, and was on the ground within half an hour of the
first alarm. His trained and experienced faculties were at once
directed towards the detection of the criminals, with the
gratifying result that the brother, Thaddeus Sholto, has already
been arrested, together with the housekeeper, Mrs. Bernstone, an
Indian butler named Lal Rao, and a porter, or gatekeeper, named
McMurdo. It is quite certain that the thief or thieves were well
acquainted with the house, for Mr. Jones's well-known technical
knowledge and his powers of minute observation have enabled him
to prove conclusively that the miscreants could not have entered
by the door or by the window, but must have made their way across
the roof of the building, and so through a trap-door into a room
which communicated with that in which the body was found. This
fact, which has been very clearly made out, proves conclusively
that it was no mere haphazard burglary. The prompt and energetic
action of the officers of the law shows the great advantage of
the presence on such occasions of a single vigorous and masterful
mind. We cannot but think that it supplies an argument to those
who would wish to see our detectives more decentralized, and so
brought into closer and more effective touch with the cases which
it is their duty to investigate."
"Isn't it gorgeous!" said Holmes, grinning over his coffee-cup.
"What do you think of it?"
"I think that we have had a close shave ourselves of being
arrested for the crime."
"So do I. I wouldn't answer for our safety now, if he should
happen to have another of his attacks of energy."
At this moment there was a loud ring at the bell, and I could
hear Mrs. Hudson, our landlady, raising her voice in a wail of
expostulation and dismay.
"By heaven, Holmes," I said, half rising, "I believe that they
are really after us."
"No, it's not quite so bad as that. It is the unofficial
force,--the Baker Street irregulars."
As he spoke, there came a swift pattering of naked feet upon the
stairs, a clatter of high voices, and in rushed a dozen dirty and
ragged little street-Arabs. There was some show of discipline
among them, despite their tumultuous entry, for they instantly
drew up in line and stood facing us with expectant faces. One of
their number, taller and older than the others, stood forward
with an air of lounging superiority which was very funny in such
a disreputable little scarecrow.
"Got your message, sir," said he, "and brought 'em on sharp.
Three bob and a tanner for tickets."
"Here you are," said Holmes, producing some silver. "In future
they can report to you, Wiggins, and you to me. I cannot have
the house invaded in this way. However, it is just as well that
you should all hear the instructions. I want to find the
whereabouts of a steam launch called the Aurora, owner Mordecai
Smith, black with two red streaks, funnel black with a white
band. She is down the river somewhere. I want one boy to be at
Mordecai Smith's landing-stage opposite Millbank to say if the
boat comes back. You must divide it out among yourselves, and do
both banks thoroughly. Let me know the moment you have news. Is
that all clear?"
"Yes, guv'nor," said Wiggins.
"The old scale of pay, and a guinea to the boy who finds the
boat. Here's a day in advance. Now off you go!" He handed them
a shilling each, and away they buzzed down the stairs, and I saw
them a moment later streaming down the street.
"If the launch is above water they will find her," said Holmes,
as he rose from the table and lit his pipe. "They can go
everywhere, see everything, overhear every one. I expect to hear
before evening that they have spotted her. In the mean while, we
can do nothing but await results. We cannot pick up the broken
trail until we find either the Aurora or Mr. Mordecai Smith."
"Toby could eat these scraps, I dare say. Are you going to bed,
"No: I am not tired. I have a curious constitution. I never
remember feeling tired by work, though idleness exhausts me
completely. I am going to smoke and to think over this queer
business to which my fair client has introduced us. If ever man
had an easy task, this of ours ought to be. Wooden-legged men
are not so common, but the other man must, I should think, be
"That other man again!"
"I have no wish to make a mystery of him,--to you, anyway. But
you must have formed your own opinion. Now, do consider the
data. Diminutive footmarks, toes never fettered by boots, naked
feet, stone-headed wooden mace, great agility, small poisoned
darts. What do you make of all this?"
"A savage!" I exclaimed. "Perhaps one of those Indians who were
the associates of Jonathan Small."
"Hardly that," said he. "When first I saw signs of strange
weapons I was inclined to think so; but the remarkable character
of the footmarks caused me to reconsider my views. Some of the
inhabitants of the Indian Peninsula are small men, but none could
have left such marks as that. The Hindoo proper has long and
thin feet. The sandal-wearing Mohammedan has the great toe well
separated from the others, because the thong is commonly passed
between. These little darts, too, could only be shot in one way.
They are from a blow-pipe. Now, then, where are we to find our
"South American," I hazarded.
He stretched his hand up, and took down a bulky volume from the
shelf. "This is the first volume of a gazetteer which is now
being published. It may be looked upon as the very latest
authority. What have we here? 'Andaman Islands, situated 340
miles to the north of Sumatra, in the Bay of Bengal.' Hum! hum!
What's all this? Moist climate, coral reefs, sharks, Port Blair,
convict-barracks, Rutland Island, cottonwoods--Ah, here we are.
'The aborigines of the Andaman Islands may perhaps claim the
distinction of being the smallest race upon this earth, though
some anthropologists prefer the Bushmen of Africa, the Digger
Indians of America, and the Terra del Fuegians. The average
height is rather below four feet, although many full-grown adults
may be found who are very much smaller than this. They are a
fierce, morose, and intractable people, though capable of forming
most devoted friendships when their confidence has once been
gained.' Mark that, Watson. Now, then, listen to this. 'They
are naturally hideous, having large, misshapen heads, small,
fierce eyes, and distorted features. Their feet and hands,
however, are remarkably small. So intractable and fierce are
they that all the efforts of the British official have failed to
win them over in any degree. They have always been a terror to
shipwrecked crews, braining the survivors with their stone-headed
clubs, or shooting them with their poisoned arrows. These
massacres are invariably concluded by a cannibal feast.' Nice,
amiable people, Watson! If this fellow had been left to his own
unaided devices this affair might have taken an even more ghastly
turn. I fancy that, even as it is, Jonathan Small would give a
good deal not to have employed him."
"But how came he to have so singular a companion?"
"Ah, that is more than I can tell. Since, however, we had
already determined that Small had come from the Andamans, it is
not so very wonderful that this islander should be with him. No
doubt we shall know all about it in time. Look here, Watson; you
look regularly done. Lie down there on the sofa, and see if I
can put you to sleep."
He took up his violin from the corner, and as I stretched myself
out he began to play some low, dreamy, melodious air,--his own,
no doubt, for he had a remarkable gift for improvisation. I have
a vague remembrance of his gaunt limbs, his earnest face, and the
rise and fall of his bow. Then I seemed to be floated peacefully
away upon a soft sea of sound, until I found myself in dream-
land, with the sweet face of Mary Morstan looking down upon me.
A Break in the Chain
It was late in the afternoon before I woke, strengthened and
refreshed. Sherlock Holmes still sat exactly as I had left him,
save that he had laid aside his violin and was deep in a book.
He looked across at me, as I stirred, and I noticed that his face
was dark and troubled.
"You have slept soundly," he said. "I feared that our talk would
"I heard nothing," I answered. "Have you had fresh news, then?"
"Unfortunately, no. I confess that I am surprised and
disappointed. I expected something definite by this time.
Wiggins has just been up to report. He says that no trace can be
found of the launch. It is a provoking check, for every hour is
"Can I do anything? I am perfectly fresh now, and quite ready
for another night's outing."
"No, we can do nothing. We can only wait. If we go ourselves,
the message might come in our absence, and delay be caused. You
can do what you will, but I must remain on guard."
"Then I shall run over to Camberwell and call upon Mrs. Cecil
Forrester. She asked me to, yesterday."
"On Mrs. Cecil Forrester?" asked Holmes, with the twinkle of a
smile in his eyes.
"Well, of course Miss Morstan too. They were anxious to hear
"I would not tell them too much," said Holmes. "Women are never
to be entirely trusted,--not the best of them."
I did not pause to argue over this atrocious sentiment. "I shall
be back in an hour or two," I remarked.
"All right! Good luck! But, I say, if you are crossing the
river you may as well return Toby, for I don't think it is at all
likely that we shall have any use for him now."
I took our mongrel accordingly, and left him, together with a
half-sovereign, at the old naturalist's in Pinchin Lane. At
Camberwell I found Miss Morstan a little weary after her night's
adventures, but very eager to hear the news. Mrs. Forrester,
too, was full of curiosity. I told them all that we had done,
suppressing, however, the more dreadful parts of the tragedy.
Thus, although I spoke of Mr. Sholto's death, I said nothing of
the exact manner and method of it. With all my omissions,
however, there was enough to startle and amaze them.
"It is a romance!" cried Mrs. Forrester. "An injured lady, half
a million in treasure, a black cannibal, and a wooden-legged
ruffian. They take the place of the conventional dragon or
"And two knight-errants to the rescue," added Miss Morstan, with
a bright glance at me.
"Why, Mary, your fortune depends upon the issue of this search.
I don't think that you are nearly excited enough. Just imagine
what it must be to be so rich, and to have the world at your
It sent a little thrill of joy to my heart to notice that she
showed no sign of elation at the prospect. On the contrary, she
gave a toss of her proud head, as though the matter were one in
which she took small interest.
"It is for Mr. Thaddeus Sholto that I am anxious," she said.
"Nothing else is of any consequence; but I think that he has
behaved most kindly and honorably throughout. It is our duty to
clear him of this dreadful and unfounded charge."
It was evening before I left Camberwell, and quite dark by the
time I reached home. My companion's book and pipe lay by his
chair, but he had disappeared. I looked about in the hope of
seeing a note, but there was none.
"I suppose that Mr. Sherlock Holmes has gone out," I said to Mrs.
Hudson as she came up to lower the blinds.
"No, sir. He has gone to his room, sir. Do you know, sir,"
sinking her voice into an impressive whisper, "I am afraid for
"Why so, Mrs. Hudson?"
"Well, he's that strange, sir. After you was gone he walked and
he walked, up and down, and up and down, until I was weary of the
sound of his footstep. Then I heard him talking to himself and
muttering, and every time the bell rang out he came on the
stairhead, with 'What is that, Mrs. Hudson?' And now he has
slammed off to his room, but I can hear him walking away the same
as ever. I hope he's not going to be ill, sir. I ventured to
say something to him about cooling medicine, but he turned on me,
sir, with such a look that I don't know how ever I got out of the
"I don't think that you have any cause to be uneasy, Mrs.
Hudson," I answered. "I have seen him like this before. He has
some small matter upon his mind which makes him restless." I
tried to speak lightly to our worthy landlady, but I was myself
somewhat uneasy when through the long night I still from time to
time heard the dull sound of his tread, and knew how his keen
spirit was chafing against this involuntary inaction.
At breakfast-time he looked worn and haggard, with a little fleck
of feverish color upon either cheek.
"You are knocking yourself up, old man," I remarked. "I heard
you marching about in the night."
"No, I could not sleep," he answered. "This infernal problem is
consuming me. It is too much to be balked by so petty an
obstacle, when all else had been overcome. I know the men, the
launch, everything; and yet I can get no news. I have set other
agencies at work, and used every means at my disposal. The whole
river has been searched on either side, but there is no news, nor
has Mrs. Smith heard of her husband. I shall come to the
conclusion soon that they have scuttled the craft. But there are
objections to that."
"Or that Mrs. Smith has put us on a wrong scent."
"No, I think that may be dismissed. I had inquiries made, and
there is a launch of that description."
"Could it have gone up the river?"
"I have considered that possibility too, and there is a search-
party who will work up as far as Richmond. If no news comes to-
day, I shall start off myself to-morrow, and go for the men
rather than the boat. But surely, surely, we shall hear
We did not, however. Not a word came to us either from Wiggins
or from the other agencies. There were articles in most of the
papers upon the Norwood tragedy. They all appeared to be rather
hostile to the unfortunate Thaddeus Sholto. No fresh details
were to be found, however, in any of them, save that an inquest
was to be held upon the following day. I walked over to
Camberwell in the evening to report our ill success to the
ladies, and on my return I found Holmes dejected and somewhat
morose. He would hardly reply to my questions, and busied
himself all evening in an abstruse chemical analysis which
involved much heating of retorts and distilling of vapors, ending
at last in a smell which fairly drove me out of the apartment.
Up to the small hours of the morning I could hear the clinking of
his test-tubes which told me that he was still engaged in his
In the early dawn I woke with a start, and was surprised to find
him standing by my bedside, clad in a rude sailor dress with a
pea-jacket, and a coarse red scarf round his neck.
"I am off down the river, Watson," said he. "I have been turning
it over in my mind, and I can see only one way out of it. It is
worth trying, at all events."
"Surely I can come with you, then?" said I.
"No; you can be much more useful if you will remain here as my
representative. I am loath to go, for it is quite on the cards
that some message may come during the day, though Wiggins was
despondent about it last night. I want you to open all notes and
telegrams, and to act on your own judgment if any news should
come. Can I rely upon you?"
"I am afraid that you will not be able to wire to me, for I can
hardly tell yet where I may find myself. If I am in luck,
however, I may not be gone so very long. I shall have news of
some sort or other before I get back."
I had heard nothing of him by breakfast-time. On opening the
Standard, however, I found that there was a fresh allusion to the
business. "With reference to the Upper Norwood tragedy," it
remarked, "we have reason to believe that the matter promises to
be even more complex and mysterious than was originally supposed.
Fresh evidence has shown that it is quite impossible that Mr.
Thaddeus Sholto could have been in any way concerned in the
matter. He and the housekeeper, Mrs. Bernstone, were both
released yesterday evening. It is believed, however, that the
police have a clue as to the real culprits, and that it is being
prosecuted by Mr. Athelney Jones, of Scotland Yard, with all his
well-known energy and sagacity. Further arrests may be expected
at any moment."
"That is satisfactory so far as it goes," thought I. "Friend
Sholto is safe, at any rate. I wonder what the fresh clue may
be; though it seems to be a stereotyped form whenever the police
have made a blunder."
I tossed the paper down upon the table, but at that moment my eye
caught an advertisement in the agony column. It ran in this way:
"Lost.--Whereas Mordecai Smith, boatman, and his son, Jim, left
Smith's Wharf at or about three o'clock last Tuesday morning in
the steam launch Aurora, black with two red stripes, funnel black
with a white band, the sum of five pounds will be paid to any one
who can give information to Mrs. Smith, at Smith's Wharf, or at
221b Baker Street, as to the whereabouts of the said Mordecai
Smith and the launch Aurora."
This was clearly Holmes's doing. The Baker Street address was
enough to prove that. It struck me as rather ingenious, because
it might be read by the fugitives without their seeing in it more
than the natural anxiety of a wife for her missing husband.
It was a long day. Every time that a knock came to the door, or
a sharp step passed in the street, I imagined that it was either
Holmes returning or an answer to his advertisement. I tried to
read, but my thoughts would wander off to our strange quest and
to the ill-assorted and villainous pair whom we were pursuing.
Could there be, I wondered, some radical flaw in my companion's
reasoning. Might he be suffering from some huge self-deception?
Was it not possible that his nimble and speculative mind had
built up this wild theory upon faulty premises? I had never
known him to be wrong; and yet the keenest reasoner may
occasionally be deceived. He was likely, I thought, to fall into
error through the over-refinement of his logic,--his preference
for a subtle and bizarre explanation when a plainer and more
commonplace one lay ready to his hand. Yet, on the other hand, I
had myself seen the evidence, and I had heard the reasons for his
deductions. When I looked back on the long chain of curious
circumstances, many of them trivial in themselves, but all
tending in the same direction, I could not disguise from myself
that even if Holmes's explanation were incorrect the true theory
must be equally outre and startling.
At three o'clock in the afternoon there was a loud peal at the
bell, an authoritative voice in the hall, and, to my surprise, no
less a person than Mr. Athelney Jones was shown up to me. Very
different was he, however, from the brusque and masterful
professor of common sense who had taken over the case so
confidently at Upper Norwood. His expression was downcast, and
his bearing meek and even apologetic.
"Good-day, sir; good-day," said he. "Mr. Sherlock Holmes is out,
"Yes, and I cannot be sure when he will be back. But perhaps you
would care to wait. Take that chair and try one of these
"Thank you; I don't mind if I do," said he, mopping his face with
a red bandanna handkerchief.
"And a whiskey-and-soda?"
"Well, half a glass. It is very hot for the time of year; and I
have had a good deal to worry and try me. You know my theory
about this Norwood case?"
"I remember that you expressed one."
"Well, I have been obliged to reconsider it. I had my net drawn
tightly round Mr. Sholto, sir, when pop he went through a hole in
the middle of it. He was able to prove an alibi which could not
be shaken. From the time that he left his brother's room he was
never out of sight of some one or other. So it could not be he
who climbed over roofs and through trap-doors. It's a very dark
case, and my professional credit is at stake. I should be very
glad of a little assistance."
"We all need help sometimes," said I.
"Your friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes is a wonderful man, sir," said
he, in a husky and confidential voice. "He's a man who is not to
be beat. I have known that young man go into a good many cases,
but I never saw the case yet that he could not throw a light
upon. He is irregular in his methods, and a little quick perhaps
in jumping at theories, but, on the whole, I think he would have
made a most promising officer, and I don't care who knows it. I
have had a wire from him this morning, by which I understand that
he has got some clue to this Sholto business. Here is the
He took the telegram out of his pocket, and handed it to me. It
was dated from Poplar at twelve o'clock. "Go to Baker Street at
once," it said. "If I have not returned, wait for me. I am
close on the track of the Sholto gang. You can come with us to-
night if you want to be in at the finish."
"This sounds well. He has evidently picked up the scent again,"
"Ah, then he has been at fault too," exclaimed Jones, with
evident satisfaction. "Even the best of us are thrown off
sometimes. Of course this may prove to be a false alarm; but it
is my duty as an officer of the law to allow no chance to slip.
But there is some one at the door. Perhaps this is he."
A heavy step was heard ascending the stair, with a great wheezing
and rattling as from a man who was sorely put to it for breath.
Once or twice he stopped, as though the climb were too much for
him, but at last he made his way to our door and entered. His
appearance corresponded to the sounds which we had heard. He was
an aged man, clad in seafaring garb, with an old pea-jacket
buttoned up to his throat. His back was bowed, his knees were
shaky, and his breathing was painfully asthmatic. As he leaned
upon a thick oaken cudgel his shoulders heaved in the effort to
draw the air into his lungs. He had a colored scarf round his
chin, and I could see little of his face save a pair of keen dark
eyes, overhung by bushy white brows, and long gray side-whiskers.
Altogether he gave me the impression of a respectable master
mariner who had fallen into years and poverty.
"What is it, my man?" I asked.
He looked about him in the slow methodical fashion of old age.
"Is Mr. Sherlock Holmes here?" said he.
"No; but I am acting for him. You can tell me any message you
have for him."
"It was to him himself I was to tell it," said he.
"But I tell you that I am acting for him. Was it about Mordecai
"Yes. I knows well where it is. An' I knows where the men he is
after are. An' I knows where the treasure is. I knows all about
"Then tell me, and I shall let him know."
"It was to him I was to tell it," he repeated, with the petulant
obstinacy of a very old man.
"Well, you must wait for him."
"No, no; I ain't goin' to lose a whole day to please no one. If
Mr. Holmes ain't here, then Mr. Holmes must find it all out for
himself. I don't care about the look of either of you, and I
won't tell a word."
He shuffled towards the door, but Athelney Jones got in front of
"Wait a bit, my friend," said he. "You have important
information, and you must not walk off. We shall keep you,
whether you like or not, until our friend returns."
The old man made a little run towards the door, but, as Athelney
Jones put his broad back up against it, he recognized the
uselessness of resistance.
"Pretty sort o' treatment this!" he cried, stamping his stick.
"I come here to see a gentleman, and you two, who I never saw in
my life, seize me and treat me in this fashion!"
"You will be none the worse," I said. "We shall recompense you
for the loss of your time. Sit over here on the sofa, and you
will not have long to wait."
He came across sullenly enough, and seated himself with his face
resting on his hands. Jones and I resumed our cigars and our
talk. Suddenly, however, Holmes's voice broke in upon us.
"I think that you might offer me a cigar too," he said.
We both started in our chairs. There was Holmes sitting close to
us with an air of quiet amusement.
"Holmes!" I exclaimed. "You here! But where is the old man?"
"Here is the old man," said he, holding out a heap of white hair.
"Here he is,--wig, whiskers, eyebrows, and all. I thought my
disguise was pretty good, but I hardly expected that it would
stand that test."
"Ah, You rogue!" cried Jones, highly delighted. "You would have
made an actor, and a rare one. You had the proper workhouse
cough, and those weak legs of yours are worth ten pound a week.
I thought I knew the glint of your eye, though. You didn't get
away from us so easily, You see."
"I have been working in that get-up all day," said he, lighting
his cigar. "You see, a good many of the criminal classes begin
to know me,--especially since our friend here took to publishing
some of my cases: so I can only go on the war-path under some
simple disguise like this. You got my wire?"
"Yes; that was what brought me here."
"How has your case prospered?"
"It has all come to nothing. I have had to release two of my
prisoners, and there is no evidence against the other two."
"Never mind. We shall give you two others in the place of them.
But you must put yourself under my orders. You are welcome to
all the official credit, but you must act on the line that I
point out. Is that agreed?"
"Entirely, if you will help me to the men."
"Well, then, in the first place I shall want a fast police-boat--
a steam launch--to be at the Westminster Stairs at seven
"That is easily managed. There is always one about there; but I
can step across the road and telephone to make sure."
"Then I shall want two stanch men, in case of resistance."
"There will be two or three in the boat. What else?"
"When we secure the men we shall get the treasure. I think that
it would be a pleasure to my friend here to take the box round to
the young lady to whom half of it rightfully belongs. Let her be
the first to open it.--Eh, Watson?"
"It would be a great pleasure to me."
"Rather an irregular proceeding," said Jones, shaking his head.
"However, the whole thing is irregular, and I suppose we must
wink at it. The treasure must afterwards be handed over to the
authorities until after the official investigation."
"Certainly. That is easily managed. One other point. I should
much like to have a few details about this matter from the lips
of Jonathan Small himself. You know I like to work the detail of
my cases out. There is no objection to my having an unofficial
interview with him, either here in my rooms or elsewhere, as long
as he is efficiently guarded?"
"Well, you are master of the situation. I have had no proof yet
of the existence of this Jonathan Small. However, if you can
catch him I don't see how I can refuse you an interview with
"That is understood, then?"
"Perfectly. Is there anything else?"
"Only that I insist upon your dining with us. It will be ready
in half an hour. I have oysters and a brace of grouse, with
something a little choice in white wines.--Watson, you have never
yet recognized my merits as a housekeeper."
The End of the Islander
Our meal was a merry one. Holmes coud talk exceedingly well when
he chose, and that night he did choose. He appeared to be in a
state of nervous exaltation. I have never known him so
brilliant. He spoke on a quick succession of subjects,--on
miracle-plays, on medieval pottery, on Stradivarius violins, on
the Buddhism of Ceylon, and on the war-ships of the future,--
handling each as though he had made a special study of it. His
bright humor marked the reaction from his black depression of the
preceding days. Athelney Jones proved to be a sociable soul in
his hours of relaxation, and faced his dinner with the air of a
bon vivant. For myself, I felt elated at the thought that we
were nearing the end of our task, and I caught something of
Holmes's gaiety. None of us alluded during dinner to the cause
which had brought us together.
When the cloth was cleared, Holmes glanced at his watch, and
filled up three glasses with port. "One bumper," said he, "to
the success of our little expedition. And now it is high time we
were off. Have you a pistol, Watson?"
"I have my old service-revolver in my desk."
"You had best take it, then. It is well to be prepared. I see
that the cab is at the door. I ordered it for half-past six."
It was a little past seven before we reached the Westminster
wharf, and found our launch awaiting us. Holmes eyed it
"Is there anything to mark it as a police-boat?"
"Yes,--that green lamp at the side."
"Then take it off."
The small change was made, we stepped on board, and the ropes
were cast off. Jones, Holmes, and I sat in the stern. There was
one man at the rudder, one to tend the engines, and two burly
"Where to?" asked Jones.
"To the Tower. Tell them to stop opposite Jacobson's Yard."
Our craft was evidently a very fast one. We shot past the long
lines of loaded barges as though they were stationary. Holmes
smiled with satisfaction as we overhauled a river steamer and
left her behind us.
"We ought to be able to catch anything on the river," he said.
"Well, hardly that. But there are not many launches to beat us."
"We shall have to catch the Aurora, and she has a name for being
a clipper. I will tell you how the land lies, Watson. You
recollect how annoyed I was at being balked by so small a thing?"
"Well, I gave my mind a thorough rest by plunging into a chemical
analysis. One of our greatest statesmen has said that a change
of work is the best rest. So it is. When I had succeeded in
dissolving the hydrocarbon which I was at work at, I came back to
our problem of the Sholtos, and thought the whole matter out
again. My boys had been up the river and down the river without
result. The launch was not at any landing-stage or wharf, nor
had it returned. Yet it could hardly have been scuttled to hide
their traces,--though that always remained as a possible
hypothesis if all else failed. I knew this man Small had a
certain degree of low cunning, but I did not think him capable of
anything in the nature of delicate finesse. That is usually a
product of higher education. I then reflected that since he had
certainly been in London some time--as we had evidence that he
maintained a continual watch over Pondicherry Lodge--he could
hardly leave at a moment's notice, but would need some little
time, if it were only a day, to arrange his affairs. That was
the balance of probability, at any rate."
"It seems to me to be a little weak," said I. "It is more
probable that he had arranged his affairs before ever he set out
upon his expedition."
"No, I hardly think so. This lair of his would be too valuable a
retreat in case of need for him to give it up until he was sure
that he could do without it. But a second consideration struck
me. Jonathan Small must have felt that the peculiar appearance
of his companion, however much he may have top-coated him, would
give rise to gossip, and possibly be associated with this Norwood
tragedy. He was quite sharp enough to see that. They had
started from their head-quarters under cover of darkness, and he
would wish to get back before it was broad light. Now, it was
past three o'clock, according to Mrs. Smith, when they got the
boat. It would be quite bright, and people would be about in an
hour or so. Therefore, I argued, they did not go very far. They
paid Smith well to hold his tongue, reserved his launch for the
final escape, and hurried to their lodgings with the treasure-
box. In a couple of nights, when they had time to see what view
the papers took, and whether there was any suspicion, they would
make their way under cover of darkness to some ship at Gravesend
or in the Downs, where no doubt they had already arranged for
passages to America or the Colonies."
"But the launch? They could not have taken that to their
"Quite so. I argued that the launch must be no great way off, in
spite of its invisibility. I then put myself in the place of
Small, and looked at it as a man of his capacity would. He would
probably consider that to send back the launch or to keep it at a
wharf would make pursuit easy if the police did happen to get on
his track. How, then, could he conceal the launch and yet have
her at hand when wanted? I wondered what I should do myself if I
were in his shoes. I could only think of one way of doing it. I
might land the launch over to some boat-builder or repairer, with
directions to make a trifling change in her. She would then be
removed to his shed or yard, and so be effectually concealed,
while at the same time I could have her at a few hours' notice."
"That seems simple enough."
"It is just these very simple things which are extremely liable
to be overlooked. However, I determined to act on the idea. I
started at once in this harmless seaman's rig and inquired at all
the yards down the river. I drew blank at fifteen, but at the
sixteenth--Jacobson's--I learned that the Aurora had been handed
over to them two days ago by a wooden-legged man, with some
trivial directions as to her rudder. 'There ain't naught amiss
with her rudder,' said the foreman. 'There she lies, with the
red streaks.' At that moment who should come down but Mordecai
Smith, the missing owner? He was rather the worse for liquor. I
should not, of course, have known him, but he bellowed out his
name and the name of his launch. 'I want her to-night at eight
o'clock,' said he,--'eight o'clock sharp, mind, for I have two
gentlemen who won't be kept waiting.' They had evidently paid
him well, for he was very flush of money, chucking shillings
about to the men. I followed him some distance, but he subsided
into an ale-house: so I went back to the yard, and, happening to
pick up one of my boys on the way, I stationed him as a sentry
over the launch. He is to stand at water's edge and wave his
handkerchief to us when they start. We shall be lying off in the
stream, and it will be a strange thing if we do not take men,
treasure, and all."
"You have planned it all very neatly, whether they are the right
men or not," said Jones; "but if the affair were in my hands I
should have had a body of police in Jacobson's Yard, and arrested
them when they came down."
"Which would have been never. This man Small is a pretty shrewd
fellow. He would send a scout on ahead, and if anything made him
suspicious lie snug for another week."
"But you might have stuck to Mordecai Smith, and so been led to
their hiding-place," said I.
"In that case I should have wasted my day. I think that it is a
hundred to one against Smith knowing where they live. As long as
he has liquor and good pay, why should he ask questions? They
send him messages what to do. No, I thought over every possible
course, and this is the best."
While this conversation had been proceeding, we had been shooting
the long series of bridges which span the Thames. As we passed
the City the last rays of the sun were gilding the cross upon the
summit of St. Paul's. It was twilight before we reached the
"That is Jacobson's Yard," said Holmes, pointing to a bristle of
masts and rigging on the Surrey side. "Cruise gently up and down
here under cover of this string of lighters." He took a pair of
night-glasses from his pocket and gazed some time at the shore.
"I see my sentry at his post," he remarked, "but no sign of a
"Suppose we go down-stream a short way and lie in wait for them,"
said Jones, eagerly. We were all eager by this time, even the
policemen and stokers, who had a very vague idea of what was
"We have no right to take anything for granted," Holmes answered.
"It is certainly ten to one that they go down-stream, but we
cannot be certain. From this point we can see the entrance of
the yard, and they can hardly see us. It will be a clear night
and plenty of light. We must stay where we are. See how the
folk swarm over yonder in the gaslight."
"They are coming from work in the yard."
"Dirty-looking rascals, but I suppose every one has some little
immortal spark concealed about him. You would not think it, to
look at them. There is no a priori probability about it. A
strange enigma is man!"
"Some one calls him a soul concealed in an animal," I suggested.
"Winwood Reade is good upon the subject," said Holmes. "He
remarks that, while the individual man is an insoluble puzzle, in
the aggregate he becomes a mathematical certainty. You can, for
example, never foretell what any one man will do, but you can say
with precision what an average number will be up to. Individuals
vary, but percentages remain constant. So says the statistician.
But do I see a handkerchief? Surely there is a white flutter
"Yes, it is your boy," I cried. "I can see him plainly."
"And there is the Aurora," exclaimed Holmes, "and going like the
devil! Full speed ahead, engineer. Make after that launch with
the yellow light. By heaven, I shall never forgive myself if she
proves to have the heels of us!"
She had slipped unseen through the yard-entrance and passed
behind two or three small craft, so that she had fairly got her
speed up before we saw her. Now she was flying down the stream,
near in to the shore, going at a tremendous rate. Jones looked
gravely at her and shook his head.
"She is very fast," he said. "I doubt if we shall catch her."
"We MUST catch her!" cried Holmes, between his teeth. "Heap it
on, stokers! Make her do all she can! If we burn the boat we
must have them!"
We were fairly after her now. The furnaces roared, and the
powerful engines whizzed and clanked, like a great metallic
heart. Her sharp, steep prow cut through the river-water and
sent two rolling waves to right and to left of us. With every
throb of the engines we sprang and quivered like a living thing.
One great yellow lantern in our bows threw a long, flickering
funnel of light in front of us. Right ahead a dark blur upon the
water showed where the Aurora lay, and the swirl of white foam
behind her spoke of the pace at which she was going. We flashed
past barges, steamers, merchant-vessels, in and out, behind this
one and round the other. Voices hailed us out of the darkness,
but still the Aurora thundered on, and still we followed close
upon her track.
"Pile it on, men, pile it on!" cried Holmes, looking down into
the engine-room, while the fierce glow from below beat upon his
eager, aquiline face. "Get every pound of steam you can."
"I think we gain a little," said Jones, with his eyes on the
"I am sure of it," said I. "We shall be up with her in a very
At that moment, however, as our evil fate would have it, a tug
with three barges in tow blundered in between us. It was only by
putting our helm hard down that we avoided a collision, and
before we could round them and recover our way the Aurora had
gained a good two hundred yards. She was still, however, well in
view, and the murky uncertain twilight was setting into a clear
starlit night. Our boilers were strained to their utmost, and
the frail shell vibrated and creaked with the fierce energy which
was driving us along. We had shot through the Pool, past the
West India Docks, down the long Deptford Reach, and up again
after rounding the Isle of Dogs. The dull blur in front of us
resolved itself now clearly enough into the dainty Aurora. Jones
turned our search-light upon her, so that we could plainly see
the figures upon her deck. One man sat by the stern, with
something black between his knees over which he stooped. Beside
him lay a dark mass which looked like a Newfoundland dog. The
boy held the tiller, while against the red glare of the furnace I
could see old Smith, stripped to the waist, and shovelling coals
for dear life. They may have had some doubt at first as to
whether we were really pursuing them, but now as we followed
every winding and turning which they took there could no longer
be any question about it. At Greenwich we were about three
hundred paces behind them. At Blackwall we could not have been
more than two hundred and fifty. I have coursed many creatures
in many countries during my checkered career, but never did sport
give me such a wild thrill as this mad, flying man-hunt down the
Thames. Steadily we drew in upon them, yard by yard. In the
silence of the night we could hear the panting and clanking of
their machinery. The man in the stern still crouched upon the
deck, and his arms were moving as though he were busy, while
every now and then he would look up and measure with a glance the
distance which still separated us. Nearer we came and nearer.
Jones yelled to them to stop. We were not more than four boat's
lengths behind them, both boats flying at a tremendous pace. It
was a clear reach of the river, with Barking Level upon one side
and the melancholy Plumstead Marshes upon the other. At our hail
the man in the stern sprang up from the deck and shook his two
clinched fists at us, cursing the while in a high, cracked voice.
He was a good-sized, powerful man, and as he stood poising
himself with legs astride I could see that from the thigh
downwards there was but a wooden stump upon the right side. At
the sound of his strident, angry cries there was movement in the
huddled bundle upon the deck. It straightened itself into a
little black man--the smallest I have ever seen--with a great,
misshapen head and a shock of tangled, dishevelled hair. Holmes
had already drawn his revolver, and I whipped out mine at the
sight of this savage, distorted creature. He was wrapped in some
sort of dark ulster or blanket, which left only his face exposed;
but that face was enough to give a man a sleepless night. Never
have I seen features so deeply marked with all bestiality and
cruelty. His small eyes glowed and burned with a sombre light,
and his thick lips were writhed back from his teeth, which
grinned and chattered at us with a half animal fury.
"Fire if he raises his hand," said Holmes, quietly. We were
within a boat's-length by this time, and almost within touch of
our quarry. I can see the two of them now as they stood, the
white man with his legs far apart, shrieking out curses, and the
unhallowed dwarf with his hideous face, and his strong yellow
teeth gnashing at us in the light of our lantern.
It was well that we had so clear a view of him. Even as we
looked he plucked out from under his covering a short, round
piece of wood, like a school-ruler, and clapped it to his lips.
Our pistols rang out together. He whirled round, threw up his
arms, and with a kind of choking cough fell sideways into the
stream. I caught one glimpse of his venomous, menacing eyes amid
the white swirl of the waters. At the same moment the wooden-
legged man threw himself upon the rudder and put it hard down, so
that his boat made straight in for the southern bank, while we
shot past her stern, only clearing her by a few feet. We were
round after her in an instant, but she was already nearly at the
bank. It was a wild and desolate place, where the moon glimmered
upon a wide expanse of marsh-land, with pools of stagnant water
and beds of decaying vegetation. The launch with a dull thud ran
up upon the mud-bank, with her bow in the air and her stern flush
with the water. The fugitive sprang out, but his stump instantly
sank its whole length into the sodden soil. In vain he struggled
and writhed. Not one step could he possibly take either forwards
or backwards. He yelled in impotent rage, and kicked frantically
into the mud with his other foot, but his struggles only bored
his wooden pin the deeper into the sticky bank. When we brought
our launch alongside he was so firmly anchored that it was only
by throwing the end of a rope over his shoulders that we were
able to haul him out, and to drag him, like some evil fish, over
our side. The two Smiths, father and son, sat sullenly in their
launch, but came aboard meekly enough when commanded. The Aurora
herself we hauled off and made fast to our stern. A solid iron
chest of Indian workmanship stood upon the deck. This, there
could be no question, was the same that had contained the ill-
omened treasure of the Sholtos. There was no key, but it was of
considerable weight, so we transferred it carefully to our own
little cabin. As we steamed slowly up-stream again, we flashed
our search-light in every direction, but there was no sign of the
Islander. Somewhere in the dark ooze at the bottom of the Thames
lie the bones of that strange visitor to our shores.
"See here," said Holmes, pointing to the wooden hatchway. "We
were hardly quick enough with our pistols." There, sure enough,
just behind where we had been standing, stuck one of those
murderous darts which we knew so well. It must have whizzed
between us at the instant that we fired. Holmes smiled at it and
shrugged his shoulders in his easy fashion, but I confess that it
turned me sick to think of the horrible death which had passed so
close to us that night.
The Great Agra Treasure
Our captive sat in the cabin opposite to the iron box which he
had done so much and waited so long to gain. He was a sunburned,
reckless-eyed fellow, with a net-work of lines and wrinkles all
over his mahogany features, which told of a hard, open-air life.
There was a singular prominence about his bearded chin which
marked a man who was not to be easily turned from his purpose.
His age may have been fifty or thereabouts, for his black, curly
hair was thickly shot with gray. His face in repose was not an
unpleasing one, though his heavy brows and aggressive chin gave
him, as I had lately seen, a terrible expression when moved to
anger. He sat now with his handcuffed hands upon his lap, and
his head sunk upon his breast, while he looked with his keen,
twinkling eyes at the box which had been the cause of his ill-
doings. It seemed to me that there was more sorrow than anger in
his rigid and contained countenance. Once he looked up at me
with a gleam of something like humor in his eyes.
"Well, Jonathan Small," said Holmes, lighting a cigar, "I am
sorry that it has come to this."
"And so am I, sir," he answered, frankly. "I don't believe that
I can swing over the job. I give you my word on the book that I
never raised hand against Mr. Sholto. It was that little hell-
hound Tonga who shot one of his cursed darts into him. I had no
part in it, sir. I was as grieved as if it had been my blood-
relation. I welted the little devil with the slack end of the
rope for it, but it was done, and I could not undo it again."
"Have a cigar," said Holmes; "and you had best take a pull out of
my flask, for you are very wet. How could you expect so small
and weak a man as this black fellow to overpower Mr. Sholto and
hold him while you were climbing the rope?"
"You seem to know as much about it as if you were there, sir.
The truth is that I hoped to find the room clear. I knew the
habits of the house pretty well, and it was the time when Mr.
Sholto usually went down to his supper. I shall make no secret
of the business. The best defence that I can make is just the
simple truth. Now, if it had been the old major I would have
swung for him with a light heart. I would have thought no more
of knifing him than of smoking this cigar. But it's cursed hard
that I should be lagged over this young Sholto, with whom I had
no quarrel whatever."
"You are under the charge of Mr. Athelney Jones, of Scotland
Yard. He is going to bring you up to my rooms, and I shall ask
you for a true account of the matter. You must make a clean
breast of it, for if you do I hope that I may be of use to you.
I think I can prove that the poison acts so quickly that the man
was dead before ever you reached the room."
"That he was, sir. I never got such a turn in my life as when I
saw him grinning at me with his head on his shoulder as I climbed
through the window. It fairly shook me, sir. I'd have half
killed Tonga for it if he had not scrambled off. That was how he
came to leave his club, and some of his darts too, as he tells
me, which I dare say helped to put you on our track; though how
you kept on it is more than I can tell. I don't feel no malice
against you for it. But it does seem a queer thing," he added,
with a bitter smile, "that I who have a fair claim to nigh upon
half a million of money should spend the first half of my life
building a breakwater in the Andamans, and am like to spend the
other half digging drains at Dartmoor. It was an evil day for me
when first I clapped eyes upon the merchant Achmet and had to do
with the Agra treasure, which never brought anything but a curse
yet upon the man who owned it. To him it brought murder, to
Major Sholto it brought fear and guilt, to me it has meant
slavery for life."
At this moment Athelney Jones thrust his broad face and heavy
shoulders into the tiny cabin. "Quite a family party," he
remarked. "I think I shall have a pull at that flask, Holmes.
Well, I think we may all congratulate each other. Pity we didn't
take the other alive; but there was no choice. I say, Holmes,
you must confess that you cut it rather fine. It was all we
could do to overhaul her."
"All is well that ends well," said Holmes. "But I certainly did
not know that the Aurora was such a clipper."
"Smith says she is one of the fastest launches on the river, and
that if he had had another man to help him with the engines we
should never have caught her. He swears he knew nothing of this
"Neither he did," cried our prisoner,--"not a word. I chose his
launch because I heard that she was a flier. We told him
nothing, but we paid him well, and he was to get something
handsome if we reached our vessel, the Esmeralda, at Gravesend,
outward bound for the Brazils."
"Well, if he has done no wrong we shall see that no wrong comes
to him. If we are pretty quick in catching our men, we are not
so quick in condemning them." It was amusing to notice how the
consequential Jones was already beginning to give himself airs on
the strength of the capture. From the slight smile which played
over Sherlock Holmes's face, I could see that the speech had not
been lost upon him.
"We will be at Vauxhall Bridge presently," said Jones, "and shall
land you, Dr. Watson, with the treasure-box. I need hardly tell
you that I am taking a very grave responsibility upon myself in
doing this. It is most irregular; but of course an agreement is
an agreement. I must, however, as a matter of duty, send an
inspector with you, since you have so valuable a charge. You
will drive, no doubt?"
"Yes, I shall drive."
"It is a pity there is no key, that we may make an inventory
first. You will have to break it open. Where is the key, my
"At the bottom of the river," said Small, shortly.
"Hum! There was no use your giving this unnecessary trouble. We
have had work enough already through you. However, doctor, I
need not warn you to be careful. Bring the box back with you to
the Baker Street rooms. You will find us there, on our way to
They landed me at Vauxhall, with my heavy iron box, and with a
bluff, genial inspector as my companion. A quarter of an hour's
drive brought us to Mrs. Cecil Forrester's. The servant seemed
surprised at so late a visitor. Mrs. Cecil Forrester was out for
the evening, she explained, and likely to be very late. Miss
Morstan, however, was in the drawing-room: so to the drawing-
room I went, box in hand, leaving the obliging inspector in the
She was seated by the open window, dressed n some sort of white
diaphanous material, with a little touch of scarlet at the neck
and waist. The soft light of a shaded lamp fell upon her as she
leaned back in the basket chair, playing over her sweet, grave
face, and tinting with a dull, metallic sparkle the rich coils of
her luxuriant hair. One white arm and hand drooped over the side
of the chair, and her whole pose and figure spoke of an absorbing
melancholy. At the sound of my foot-fall she sprang to her feet,
however, and a bright flush of surprise and of pleasure colored
her pale cheeks.
"I heard a cab drive up," she said. "I thought that Mrs.
Forrester had come back very early, but I never dreamed that it
might be you. What news have you brought me?"
"I have brought something better than news," said I, putting down
the box upon the table and speaking jovially and boisterously,
though my heart was heavy within me. "I have brought you
something which is worth all the news in the world. I have
brought you a fortune."
She glanced at iron box. "Is that the treasure, then?" she
asked, coolly enough.
"Yes, this is the great Agra treasure. Half of it is yours and
half is Thaddeus Sholto's. You will have a couple of hundred
thousand each. Think of that! An annuity of ten thousand
pounds. There will be few richer young ladies in England. Is it
I think that I must have been rather overacting my delight, and
that she detected a hollow ring in my congratulations, for I saw
her eyebrows rise a little, and she glanced at me curiously.
"If I have it," said she, "I owe it to you."
"No, no," I answered, "not to me, but to my friend Sherlock
Holmes. With all the will in the world, I could never have
followed up a clue which has taxed even his analytical genius.
As it was, we very nearly lost it at the last moment."
"Pray sit down and tell me all about it, Dr. Watson," said she.
I narrated briefly what had occurred since I had seen her last,--
Holmes's new method of search, the discovery of the Aurora, the
appearance of Athelney Jones, our expedition in the evening, and
the wild chase down the Thames. She listened with parted lips
and shining eyes to my recital of our adventures. When I spoke
of the dart which had so narrowly missed us, she turned so white
that I feared that she was about to faint.
"It is nothing," she said, as I hastened to pour her out some
water. "I am all right again. It was a shock to me to hear that
I had placed my friends in such horrible peril."
"That is all over," I answered. "It was nothing. I will tell
you no more gloomy details. Let us turn to something brighter.
There is the treasure. What could be brighter than that? I got
leave to bring it with me, thinking that it would interest you to
be the first to see it."
"It would be of the greatest interest to me," she said. There
was no eagerness in her voice, however. It had struck her,
doubtless, that it might seem ungracious upon her part to be
indifferent to a prize which had cost so much to win.
"What a pretty box!" she said, stooping over it. This is Indian
work, I suppose?"
"Yes; it is Benares metal-work."
"And so heavy!" she exclaimed, trying to raise it. "The box alone
must be of some value. Where is the key?"
"Small threw it into the Thames," I answered. "I must borrow
Mrs. Forrester's poker." There was in the front a thick and
broad hasp, wrought in the image of a sitting Buddha. Under this
I thrust the end of the poker and twisted it outward as a lever.
The hasp sprang open with a loud snap. With trembling fingers I
flung back the lid. We both stood gazing in astonishment. The
box was empty!
No wonder that it was heavy. The iron-work was two-thirds of an
inch thick all round. It was massive, well made, and solid, like
a chest constructed to carry things of great price, but not one
shred or crumb of metal or jewelry lay within it. It was
absolutely and completely empty.
"The treasure is lost," said Miss Morstan, calmly.
As I listened to the words and realized what they meant, a great
shadow seemed to pass from my soul. I did not know how this Agra
treasure had weighed me down, until now that it was finally
removed. It was selfish, no doubt, disloyal, wrong, but I could
realize nothing save that the golden barrier was gone from
between us. "Thank God!" I ejaculated from my very heart.
She looked at me with a quick, questioning smile. "Why do you
say that?" she asked.
"Because you are within my reach again," I said, taking her hand.
She did not withdraw it. "Because I love you, Mary, as truly as
ever a man loved a woman. Because this treasure, these riches,
sealed my lips. Now that they are gone I can tell you how I love
you. That is why I said, 'Thank God.'"
"Then I say, 'Thank God,' too," she whispered, as I drew her to
my side. Whoever had lost a treasure, I knew that night that I
had gained one.
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
"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
"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
Back to Full Books