Our captive sat in the cabin opposite to the iron box which he had done s_uch and waited so long to gain. He was a sunburned reckless-eyed fellow, wit_ network of lines and wrinkles all over his mahogany features, which told o_ hard, open-air life. There was a singular prominence about his bearded chi_hich marked a man who was not to be easily turned from his purpose. His ag_ay have been fifty or thereabouts, for his black, curly hair was thickly sho_ith gray. His face in repose was not an unpleasing one, though his heav_rows and aggressive chin gave him, as I had lately seen, a terribl_xpression when moved to anger. He sat now with his handcuffed hands upon hi_ap, 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. I_eemed to me that there was more sorrow than anger in his rigid and containe_ountenance. Once he looked up at me with a gleam of something like humour i_is eyes.
"Well, Jonathan Small," said Holmes, lighting a cigar, "I am sorry that it ha_ome to this."
"And so am I, sir," he answered frankly. "I don't believe that I can swin_ver the job. I give you my word on the book that I never raised hand agains_r. Sholto. It was that little hell-hound; Tonga, who shot one of his curse_arts into him. I had no part in it, sir. I was as grieved as if it had bee_y blood-relation. I welted the little devil with the slack end of the rop_or 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 thi_lack fellow to overpower Mr. Sholto and hold him while you were climbing th_ope?"
"You seem to know as much about it as if you were there, sir. The truth i_hat I hoped to find the room clear. I knew the habits of the house prett_ell, and it was the time when Mr. Sholto usually went down to his supper. _hall make no secret of the business. The best defence that I can make is jus_he simple truth. Now, if it had been the old major I would have swung for hi_ith a light heart. I would have thought no more of knifing him than o_moking this cigar. But it's cursed hard that I should be lagged over thi_oung Sholto, with whom I had no quarrel whatever."
"You are under the charge of Mr. Athelney Jones, of Scotland Yard. He is goin_o bring you up to my rooms, and I shall ask you for a true account of th_atter. You must make a clean breast of it, for if you do I hope that I may b_f use to you. I think I can prove that the poison acts so quickly that th_an 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 hi_rinning 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 no_crambled off. That was how he came to leave his club, and some of his dart_oo, as he tells me, which I dare say helped to put you on our track; thoug_ow you kept on it is more than I can tell. I don't feel no malice against yo_or it. But it does seem a queer thing," he added with a bitter smile, "tha_, who have a fair claim to half a million of money, should spend the firs_alf of my life building a breakwater in the Andamans, and am like to spen_he other half digging drains at Dartmoor. It was an evil day for me whe_irst I clapped eyes upon the merchant Achmet and had to do with the Agr_reasure, which never brought anything but a curse yet upon the man who owne_t. To him it brought murder, to Major Sholto it brought fear and guilt, to m_t has meant slavery for life."
At this moment Athelney Jones thrust his broad face and heavy shoulders int_he tiny cabin.
"Quite a family party," he remarked. "I think I shall have a pull at tha_lask, Holmes. Well, I think we may all congratulate each other. Pity w_idn't take the other alive, but there was no choice. I say, Holmes, you mus_onfess 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 tha_he Aurora was such a clipper."
"Smith says she is one of the fastest launches on the river, and that if h_ad had another man to help him with the engines we should never have caugh_er. He swears he knew nothing of this Norwood business."
"Neither he did," cried our prisoner — "not a word. I chose his launch becaus_ heard that she was a flier. We told him nothing; but we paid him well, an_e was to get something handsome if we reached our vessel, the Esmeralda, a_ravesend, outward bound for the Brazils."
"Well, if he has done no wrong we shall see that no wrong comes to him. If w_re 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 t_ive himself airs on the strength of the capture. From the slight smile whic_layed over Sherlock Holmes's face, I could see that the speech had not bee_ost 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 _ery grave responsibility upon myself in doing this. It is most irregular, bu_f 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 wil_rive, no doubt?"
"Yes, I shall drive."
"It is a pity there is no key, that we may make an inventory first. You wil_ave to break it open. Where is the key, my man?"
"At the bottom of the river," said Small shortly.
"Hum! There was no use your giving this unnecessary trouble. We have had wor_nough already through you. However, Doctor, I need not warn you to b_areful. Bring the box back with you to the Baker Street rooms. You will fin_s there, on our way to the station."
They landed me at Vauxhall, with my heavy iron box, and with a bluff, genia_nspector 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 ver_ate. Miss Morstan, however, was in the drawing-room, so to the drawing-room _ent, box in hand, leaving the obliging inspector in the cab.
She was seated by the open window, dressed in some sort of white diaphanou_aterial, with a little touch of scarlet at the neck and waist. The soft ligh_f a shaded lamp fell upon her as she leaned back in the basket chair, playin_ver her sweet grave face, and tinting with a dull, metallic sparkle the ric_oils of her luxuriant hair. One white arm and hand drooped over the side o_he chair, and her whole pose and figure spoke of an absorbing melancholy. A_he sound of my footfall she sprang to her feet, however, and a bright flus_f surprise and of pleasure coloured her pale cheeks.
"I heard a cab drive up," she said. "I thought that Mrs. Forrester had com_ack very early, but I never dreamed that it might be you. What news have yo_rought me?"
"I have brought something better than news," said I, putting down the box upo_he table and speaking jovially and boisterously, though my heart was heav_ithin me. "I have brought you something which is worth all the news in th_orld. I have brought you a fortune."
She glanced at the 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 i_haddeus Sholto's. You will have a couple of hundred thousand each. Think o_hat! An annuity of ten thousand pounds. There will be few richer young ladie_n England. Is it not glorious?"
I think I must have been rather over-acting my delight, and that she defecte_ hollow ring in my congratulations, for I saw her eyebrows rise a little, an_he 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 al_he will in the world, I could never have followed up-a clue which has taxe_ven his analytical genius. As it was, we very nearly lost it at the las_oment."
"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 ne_ethod of search, the discovery of the Aurora, the appearance of Athelne_ones, our expedition in the evening, and the wild chase down the Thames. Sh_istened 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 whit_hat I feared that she was about to faint.
"It is nothing," she said as I hastened to pour her out some water. "I am al_ight again. It was a shock to me to hear that I had placed my friends in suc_orrible peril."
"That is all over," I answered. "It was nothing. I will tell you no mor_loomy details. Let us turn to something brighter. There is the treasure. Wha_ould be brighter than that? I got leave to bring it with me, thinking that i_ould interest you to be the first to see it."
"It would be of the greatest interest to me," she said. There was no eagernes_n her voice, however. It had struck her, doubtless, that it might see_ngracious upon her part to be indifferent to a prize which had cost so muc_o win.
"What a pretty box!" she said, stooping over it. "This is Indian work, _uppose?"
"Yes; it is Benares metal-work."
"And so heavy!" she exclaimed, trying to raise it. "The box alone must be o_ome value. Where is the key?"
"Small threw it into the Thames," I answered. "I must borrow Mrs. Forrester'_oker."
There was in the front a thick and broad hasp, wrought in the image of _itting Buddha. Under this I thrust the end of the poker and twisted i_utward as a lever. The hasp sprang open with a loud snap. With tremblin_ingers I flung back the lid. We both stood gazing in astonishment. The bo_as empty!
No wonder that it was heavy. The ironwork was two-thirds of an inch thick al_ound. It was massive, well made, and solid, like a chest constructed to carr_hings of great price, but not one shred or crumb of metal or jewellery la_ithin 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 seeme_o pass from my soul. I did not know how this Agra treasure had weighed m_own until now that it was finally removed. It was selfish, no doubt, disloyal, wrong, but I could realize nothing save that the golden barrier wa_one 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 no_ithdraw 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 _an 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.