THE SIGN OF FOUR

THE SIGN OF FOUR
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第40章

"After we had counted our treasures we put them back into the chest and carried them to the gateway to show them to Mahomet Singh.

Then we solemnly renewed our oath to stand by each other and be true to our secret.We agreed to conceal our loot in a safe place until the country should be at peace again, and then to divide it equally among ourselves.There was no use dividing it at present, for if gems of such value were found upon us it would cause suspicion, and there was no privacy in the fort nor any place where we could keep them.We carried the box, therefore, into the same hall where we had buried the body, and there, under certain bricks in the best-preserved wall, we made a hollow and put our treasure.We made careful note of the place, and next day I drew four plans, one for each of us, and put the sign of the four of us at the bottom, for we had sworn that we should each always act for all, so that none might take advantage.

That is an oath that I can put my hand to my heart and swear that Ihave never broken.

"Well, there's no use my telling you gentlemen what came of the Indian mutiny.After Wilson took Delhi and Sir Colin relieved Lucknow the back of the business was broken.Fresh troops came pouring in, and Nana Sahib made himself scarce over the frontier.A flying column under Colonel Greathed came round to Agra and cleared the Pandies away from it.Peace seemed to be settling upon the country, and we four were beginning to hope that the time was at hand when we might safely go off with our shares of the plunder.In a moment, however, our hopes were shattered by our being arrested as the murderers of Achmet.

"It came about in this way.When the rajah put his jewels into the hands of Achmet he did it because he knew that he was a trusty man.

They are suspicious folk in the East, however: so what does this rajah do but take a second even more trusty servant and set him to play the spy upon the first.This second man was ordered never to let Achmet out of his sight, and he followed him like his shadow.He went after him that night and saw him pass through the doorway.Of course he thought he had taken refuge in the fort and applied for admission there himself next day, but could find no trace of Achmet.

This seemed to him so strange that he spoke about it to a sergeant of guides, who brought it to the ears of the commandant.A thorough search was quickly made, and the body was discovered.Thus at the very moment that we thought that all was safe we were all four seized and brought to trial on a charge of murder- three of us because we had held the gate that night, and the fourth because he was known to have been in the company of the murdered man.Not a word about the jewels came out at the trial, for the rajah had been deposed and driven out of India: so no one had any particular interest in them.

The murder, however, was clearly made out, and it was certain that we must all have been concerned in it.The three Sikhs got penal servitude for life, and I was condemned to death, though my sentence was afterwards commuted to the same as the others.

"It was rather a queer position that we found ourselves in then.

There we were all four tied by the leg and with precious little chance of ever getting out again, while we each held a secret which might have put each of us in a palace if we could only have made use of it.It was enough to make a man eat his heart out to have to stand the kick and the cuff of every petty jack-in-office, to have rice to eat and water to drink, when that gorgeous fortune was ready for him outside, just waiting to be picked up.It might have driven me mad;but I was always a pretty stubborn one, so I just held on and bided my time.

"At last it seemed to me to have come.I was changed from Agra to Madras, and from there to Blair Island in the Andamans.There are very few white convicts at this settlement, and, as I had behaved well from the first, I soon found myself a sort of privileged person.I was given a hut in Hope Town, which is a small place on the slopes of Mount Harriet, and I was left pretty much to myself.It is a dreary, fever-stricken place, and all beyond our little clearings was infested with wild cannibal natives, who were ready enough to blow a poisoned dart at us if they saw a chance.There was digging and ditching and yam-planting, and a dozen other things to be done, so we were busy enough all day, though in the evening we had a little time to ourselves.Among other things, I learned to dispense drugs for the surgeon, and picked up a smattering of his knowledge.All the time Iwas on the lookout for a chance to escape; but it is hundreds of miles from any other land, and there is little or no wind in those seas:

so it was a terribly difficult job to get away.

"The surgeon, Dr.Somerton, was a fast, sporting young chap, and the other young officers would meet in his rooms of an evening and play cards.The surgery, where I used to make up my drugs, was next to his sitting-room, with a small window between us.Often, if I felt lonesome, I used to turn out the lamp in the surgery, and then, standing there, I could hear their talk and watch their play.I am fond of a hand at cards myself, and it was almost as good as having one to watch the others.There was Major Sholto, Captain Morstan, and Lieutenant Bromley Brown, who were in command of the native troops, and there was the surgeon himself, and two or three prison-officials, crafty old hands who played a nice sly safe game.

A very snug little party they used to make.

"Well, there was one thing which very soon struck me, and that was that the soldiers used always to lose and the civilians to win.

Arthur Conan Doyle

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