O segundo romance que retrata as aventuras de Sherlock Holmes, intitulado The sign of the four, foi publicado em 1890.
Nessa aventura, o detetive-consultor e seu amigo, Doctor Watson, são procurados pela linda Ms Mary Morstan que, há algum tempo, vê-se envolvida em um mistério: desde o desaparecimento de seu pai — oficial licenciado do exército britânico — tem recebido uma pérola valiosa no dia de seu aniversário. Sua consternacão aumentou, porém, quando lhe foi endereçada uma carta com um convite para um encontro misterioso, sendo-lhe facultado ser acompanhada por dois cavalheiros de sua confiança.
O encontro descobra-se em um mistério ainda maior, porque o seu anfritrião, Thaddeus Sholto, esclarece que a morte do pai da jovem foi responsabilidade de seu próprio pai, oficial que servira na Índia. Além disso, revela que o capitão Morstain e seu pai tinham posse de um tesouro que agora, por herança, lhes pertence. Porém, só poderão dividi-lo após a aquiescência de seu irmão gêmeo, que acaba de descobrir o lugar onde se encontrava a fortuna.
Contudo, ao chegar à residência de Bartholemew Sholto, encontram-no morto em circunstâncias por demais estranhas.
As deduções e empeitadas investigativas de Holmes levam-no ao criminoso: Jonathan Small que, perseguido e preso, confessa sua culpa. À sua confissão, o doutor Watson dedica várias laudas, uma vez que o vilão, para justificar-se, conta toda sua história, desde a infância infeliz até o momento em que os oficiais britânicos, com quem entabulou acordo que garantiria liberdade para si e riqueza a todos, traíram sua confiança.
Eis os seguintes termos que interessam:
If you want to hear my story, I no wish to hold it back. What I say to you is God’s truth, evey word of it. (…)
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 trhought 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 countryside, while I was always a bit of rover. Al 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 ir again by taking the Queen’s shilling and joining the 3rd 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. (…) A crocodile took me, just as I was halfway 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 loss of blood, I fainted, nd should have been drowned if Holder had not caught hold of me anda 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 may 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, trough not yet in my twentieth year. However, my misfortune soon proved to be a blessing in disguise. A man named Abel White, who had come out there as an indigo-planter wanted an overseer to look after his coolies and keep them 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 mustly to be done on horseback, my leg was not a great obstacle (…).
Well, I was never in luck’s way long. Sunddenly, without a note or warning, the great mutiny broke upon us. (…) Mr Abel White was an obstinate man. He had it in his head that the affair had been exaggerated, and that it would blow over as sunddenly as it had sprung. There he sat on his verandah, drinking whisky-pegs and smoking cheroot, while the country was in blaze about him. Of course, we struck by him, I and Dawson, who, with his wife, used to do the bookwork and the managing. Well, one fine day the crash came. I had been away on a distant plantation and was riding slowly home in the evening when my eye fell upon something all huddled together at the bottom of a steeo nyllah. I rode down to see what it was, and the cold struck thought my heart when I found it was Dawnson’ wife, all cut into ribbons and half-eaten by jackals and native dogs. A little farther up the road Dawson himself was lying on his face, quite dead, with an empty revolver in his hand, and four sepoys lying across each other n front of him. I reined up my horse, wondering wich way I should turn; but at that moment I saw thick smoke curling up from Abel White’s bungalow, and the flames begining to brust through the roof. I knew then that I could do my employer no good, but would only throw my own life away if I meddled in the matter. From where I stood I could see hundreds of the black fiends, with their red coats still on their backs, dancing and howling round the burning house. Some of them pointed at me, and a couple of bullets sang past may head: so I broke away acroos the paddy-fields, and found myself late at night safe within the walls at Agra.
At it proved, however, there was no great safety here either. The whole country was up like a swarm of bees. (…)
What we did was to organize a central guard-house in the middle or the fort, and to leave each gate under the charge or one white man and two or three natives. I was selected to take charge during certain hours or the night of a small isolated door upon the south-west side of the building. Two Sikh troopers were placed under my command, and I was instructed if anything went wrong to fire my musket, when I might rely upon help coming at once from the central guard. (…)
Well, I was pretty pround at having this small command given me, since I was a raw recruit and a game-legged on at that. For two nights I kept the watch with my Punjabis. They were tall, fierce-looking chaps, Mahomet Singh and Abdullah Khan by names, both old fighting-men who had borne arms against us at Chilian Wallah. The could talk English pretty well, but I could get a little out of them. They preferred to stand together and jabber all night in their queer Sikh lingo. (…)
The third night of my watch was dark and dirty, with a small, driving rain. (…) Finding that my companions would not be led into conversation, I took out my pipe and laid down my musket to strike a match. In an instant the two Sukhs were upon me. One of them snatched my firelock up and levelled it at my head, while the other held a great knife to mey throat and swore between his teeth that he would plunge it into me if I moved a step.
“Listen to me, sahib”, said the taller and fiercer of the pair, the one whom they called Abdullah Khan. “You must either be with us now, or you must be silenced or ever. The thing is too great a one for us to hesitate. Either you are heart and soul with us on your oath on the cross of the Christians, or your body this night shall be throw into the ditch, and we shall pass over to our brothers in the rebel army. There is no middle way. Which is it to be — death or life? We can only give you three minutes to decide (…)”.
“It is nothing against the fort”, said he. “We only ask you to do that which your countrymen come to this land for. We ask you to be rich (…)”.
“There is a rajah in the northern provinces who has much wealth, through his lands are small. Much has come to him from his father, and more still he has set by himself, for he is of a low nature, and hoards his gold rather tham spend it. When the troubles broke out he would be friends both with the lion and the tiger — with the sepoy and with the Company’s Raj. Soon, however, it seemed to him that the white men’s day was come, for throught all the land he could hear or nothing but or their death and therir overthrow. Yet, being a carefull man, he made such plans that, como what might, half at least of his treasure should be left to him. That which was n gold and silver he kept by him in the vaults of his palace; but the most precious stones and the choicest pearls that he had he put in an iron box and sent it by a trusty servant, who, under the guise of a merchant, should take it to fort at Agra, there to lie until the land is at peace.(…)
In Worcestershire the life of a man seems a great anda sacred thing; but it is very different when there is fire and blood all round, and you have been used to meeting death at every turn. Whether Achmet the merchant lived or died was a thing as light as air to me, but at the talk about the treasure my heart turned to it, and I throught of what I might do in the old country with it, and how my folk would stare when they saw their ne’er-do-well coming back with his pockets full of gold moidores. I had, therefor, already made up my mind. (…)
It came about in this way. When the rajah put his jewels into the hands of Achmet, he did it because he knew he was 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? The second man was ordered never to let Achment out of his sight, and he followed him like his shadow. He went after him that night and saw him pass though the doorway. Of course, he throught he had taken refuge in the fort, and applied for admission there himself nexto day, but could find no trace of Achmet. This seemed to him so strange that he spooke about it to a sergeant of guides, who brought it to the ears of the commandant. (…) 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, through my sentence was afterwards commuted into the same as the others.
(…) I was changed from Agra to Madras, and from ther to Blair Island in the Andamans (…).
A couple of days later Major Sholto was strolling on the beach: so I took the chance os speaking to him.
“I want to ask you, sir”, said I, “who is the proper person to whom hidden treasure should be handed over. I knouw where half millions worth lies, and, as I cannot use it myself, I throught perhaps the best thing that I could do would be to hand ir over to the proper authorities, and then perhaps they would get my sentence shortened for me.”
(…) Major Sholto was to to to India to test our story.
(…) The villain Sholto went off to India, but he never came back again. Captain Morstan showed me his name among a list of passengers in one of the mail-boats very shortly afterwards.
O vilão desse romance apresenta-se como um desaventurado, alguém para quem a sorte nunca sorriu. Dado à vagabundagem, ele se envolveu em problemas por causa de um mulher e optou por servir ao exército, como alternativa à prisão. Nesse processo, perdeu a perna direita em um ataque de crocodilo no rio Gange; viu-se dispensado da força militar por inutilidade. Quando conseguiu um trabalho digno, explodiu uma rebelião que o levou de volta ao engajamento militar. Foi no momento em que zelava pela segurança do forte que acabou sendo convencido pelos dois siques que o acompanhavam a empreender um golpe: matar um pretenso comerciante que transportava pedras preciosas a mando de um rajá cuja pretensão era colaborar com os dois lados da guerra.
Há um aspecto moral que se destaca no discuso de Jonathan Small: a fidelidade. Tendo dado sua palavra aos comparsas siques, ele não cogita de quebrá-la em nenhum momento e por nenhum motivo. É possível perceber que seu ódio contra o major Sholto deve-se ao fato de ele ter faltando com sua palavra, na medida em que se apossou das joias e foi para a Inglaterra sem facilitar a fuga de Small e seus comparsas, conforme fora entre eles combinado.
O vilão não é responsável diretamente pela morte do major Sholto nem de seu filho Bartholomew, apesar de confessar seu desejo de matar o primeiro. Observa-se que suas ações pautam-se em um desejo tão ardente de vingança, que ele chega redimensionar o sentido da palavra justiça:
“Justice! 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 love to take it out of a white man. That was how I earned the Agra treaseure, 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 or Tonga’s darts in my hide, than live in a convict’s cell and feel that another man is at his ease in palace with the money that shoul be mine.”
Conquanto seja a ganância um motivo inafastável quando se analisa a participação de Jonathan Small no assassinato de Achmet (o pretenso comerciante), fica evidente que a perseguição e os ataques ao major Sholto foram vindita, em razão do comportamento do oficial inglês. Assim como ocorreu com Jefferson Hope, o vilão argumenta ser superior à sua vítima em termos morais.