The Sign of the Four

by

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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The Agra Treasure Symbol Analysis

The Agra Treasure Symbol Icon

The Agra treasure at the heart of The Sign of the Four symbolizes both a cushioned escape from society and imprisonment. It is a bountiful collection of luxurious jewels, originally owned by an Indian prince and stolen by Jonathan Small and his accomplices (the titular “four”). It is later stolen in turn by Major Sholto, causing Small to come looking for him. Thaddeus Sholto, Major Sholto’s son, judges Miss Morstan’s share to be around five hundred thousand pounds worth of jewels—an amount that would mean never having to work again. The treasure thus represents an escape from the norms and restrictions of society, an idea that especially appeals to Jonathan Small who has lived a hard life. But the treasure, paradoxically, also represents imprisonment. Captain Morstan, Major Sholto, Bartholomew Sholto, Jonathan Small—practically anyone who has a link to the treasure—are all visited before long by bad luck rather than the freedom and comfort that they think the jewels will bring. The treasure also has symbolic overtones in relation to the British Empire. India was seen as “jewel in the crown” of the Empire, and its theft subconsciously echoes the way that Britain saw India’s resources as fair game for exploitation and profiteering.

The Agra Treasure Quotes in The Sign of the Four

The The Sign of the Four quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Agra Treasure. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Empire and Imperialism Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Spencer Blackett edition of The Sign of the Four published in 1890.
Chapter 4 Quotes

"'I have only one thing,” he said, “which weighs upon my mind at this supreme moment. It is my treatment of poor Morstan's orphan. The cursed greed which has been my besetting sin through life has withheld from her the treasure, half at least of which should have been hers. And yet I have made no use of it myself, so blind and foolish a thing is avarice. The mere feeling of possession has been so dear to me that I could not bear to share it with another. See that chaplet dipped with pearls beside the quinine-bottle. Even that I could not bear to part with, although I had got it out with the design of sending it to her. You, my sons, will give her a fair share of the Agra treasure. But send her nothing—not even the chaplet—until I am gone. After all, men have been as bad as this and have recovered.”

Related Symbols: The Agra Treasure
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

I stooped to the hole, and recoiled in horror. Moonlight was streaming into the room, and it was bright with a vague and shifty radiance. Looking straight at me, and suspended, as it were, in the air, for all beneath was in shadow, there hung a face,—the very face of our companion Thaddeus. There was the same high, shining head, the same circular bristle of red hair, the same bloodless countenance. The features were set, however, in a horrible smile, a fixed and unnatural grin, which in that still and moonlit room was more jarring to the nerves than any scowl or contortion. So like was the face to that of our little friend that I looked round at him to make sure that he was indeed with us. Then I recalled to mind that he had mentioned to us that his brother and he were twins.

Related Characters: Dr. John Watson (speaker), Thaddeus Sholto, Bartholomew Sholto
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

The police had brought a cab with them, and in this I escorted Miss Morstan back to her home. After the angelic fashion of women, she had borne trouble with a calm face as long as there was some one weaker than herself to support, and I had found her bright and placid by the side of the frightened housekeeper. In the cab, however, she first turned faint, and then burst into a passion of weeping,—so sorely had she been tried by the adventures of the night. She has told me since that she thought me cold and distant upon that journey. She little guessed the struggle within my breast, or the effort of self-restraint which held me back. My sympathies and my love went out to her, even as my hand had in the garden. I felt that years of the conventionalities of life could not teach me to know her sweet, brave nature as had this one day of strange experiences. Yet there were two thoughts which sealed the words of affection upon my lips. She was weak and helpless, shaken in mind and nerve. It was to take her at a disadvantage to obtrude love upon her at such a time. Worse still, she was rich. If Holmes's researches were successful, she would be an heiress. Was it fair, was it honorable, that a half-pay surgeon should take such advantage of an intimacy which chance had brought about? Might she not look upon me as a mere vulgar fortune-seeker? I could not bear to risk that such a thought should cross her mind. This Agra treasure intervened like an impassable barrier between us.

Related Characters: Dr. John Watson (speaker), Miss Mary Morstan
Related Symbols: The Agra Treasure
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

"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 wicked earl."

"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 feet!"

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.

Related Characters: Dr. John Watson (speaker), Miss Mary Morstan (speaker), Mrs. Forrester (speaker), Sherlock Holmes
Related Symbols: The Agra Treasure
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

“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."

Related Symbols: The Agra Treasure
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

"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.

Related Characters: Dr. John Watson (speaker), Miss Mary Morstan (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Agra Treasure
Page Number: 71-72
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12 Quotes

Major Sholto was the hardest hit. He used to pay in notes and gold at first, but soon it came to notes of hand and for big sums. He sometimes would win for a few deals, just to give him heart, and then the luck would set in against him worse than ever. All day he would wander about as black as thunder, and he took to drinking a deal more than was good for him.

One night he lost even more heavily than usual. I was sitting in my hut when he and Captain Morstan came stumbling along on the way to their quarters. They were bosom friends, those two, and never far apart. The major was raving about his losses.

“It's all up, Morstan,” he was saying, as they passed my hut. “I shall have to send in my papers. I am a ruined man.”

Related Characters: Jonathan Small (The Wooden-Legged Man) (speaker), Major Sholto (speaker), Captain Morstan
Related Symbols: The Agra Treasure
Page Number: 84
Explanation and Analysis:

“Well, Small,” said the major, “we must, I suppose, try and meet you. We must first, of course, test the truth of your story. Tell me where the box is hid, and I shall get leave of absence and go back to India in the monthly relief-boat to inquire into the affair.”

“Not so fast,” said I, growing colder as he got hot. “I must have the consent of my three comrades. I tell you that it is four or none with us.”

“Nonsense!” he broke in. “What have three black fellows to do with our agreement?”

“Black or blue,” said I, “they are in with me, and we all go together.”

Related Characters: Jonathan Small (The Wooden-Legged Man) (speaker), Major Sholto (speaker), Captain Morstan
Related Symbols: The Agra Treasure
Page Number: 86
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Agra Treasure Symbol Timeline in The Sign of the Four

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Agra Treasure appears in The Sign of the Four. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 4 — The Story of the Bald-Headed Man
Empire and Imperialism Theme Icon
Wealth Theme Icon
...been treated. He asked them to give Miss Morstan her fair share of the Agra treasure, and to send her some pearls that he had kept with him. (full context)
Empire and Imperialism Theme Icon
Wealth Theme Icon
This treasure, continued Major Sholto at the time, had come into his and Captain Morstan’s possession in... (full context)
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The Victorian Gothic Theme Icon
Just at that moment, Sholto had been about to reveal the location of the Agra treasure. But looking up from his bed, he saw a bearded face at the window; this... (full context)
Empire and Imperialism Theme Icon
Wealth Theme Icon
Thaddeus recounts how he and his brother searched high and low for the treasure. Bartholomew didn’t want to send the pearls to Miss Morstan, but Thaddeus insisted, seeing himself... (full context)
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The group gets into a cab outside. Thaddeus explains that the value of the treasure is around “half a million sterling.” Watson thinks to himself how this will make Miss... (full context)
Chapter 5 — The Tragedy of Pondicherry Lodge
Wealth Theme Icon
The Victorian Gothic Theme Icon
...Holmes. The earth has been dug up all over the place in search of the treasure. (full context)
Rationality vs. Emotion Theme Icon
...“a few missing links to have an entirely connected case.” Thaddeus remarks anxiously that the treasure has gone. Holmes instructs him to go the police and report what’s happened. (full context)
Chapter 7 — The Episode of the Barrel
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Watson takes Miss Morstan back to her home, feeling that the Agra treasure is “like an impassable barrier” between them. By now, it is nearly 2 A.M. Watson... (full context)
Wealth Theme Icon
Rationality vs. Emotion Theme Icon
...and Major Sholto, which would explain why he is now seeking his share of the treasure—it was him who told them of the treasure’s whereabouts, presumably on the agreement that they... (full context)
Empire and Imperialism Theme Icon
Wealth Theme Icon
Rationality vs. Emotion Theme Icon
...was most likely from the man he had wronged, now free to come for his treasure. Holmes reminds Watson that, according to Thaddeus, Sholto once shot at a white man with... (full context)
Wealth Theme Icon
Rationality vs. Emotion Theme Icon
Holmes continues that Small must have returned to England now to find his treasure. He probably made contact with the staff of the Sholto household, trying to find an... (full context)
Chapter 9 — A Break in the Chain
Rationality vs. Emotion Theme Icon
...He says that he knows the whereabouts of the Aurora, the criminals, and the Agra treasure. He makes to leave, saying he only wants to speak to Holmes, and as Holmes... (full context)
Chapter 10 — The End of the Islander
Wealth Theme Icon
Rationality vs. Emotion Theme Icon
The Victorian Gothic Theme Icon
...in “wild and desolate” marsh-land. Holmes and his company ensnare Jonathan Small, and recover the treasure chest from the boat. Holmes and Watson notice a poison dart stuck in the wood... (full context)
Chapter 11 — The Great Agra Treasure
Empire and Imperialism Theme Icon
Wealth Theme Icon
...am like to spend the other half digging drains in Dartmoor.” He curses the Agra treasure and all those involved. (full context)
Wealth Theme Icon
...he was just doing his job. Small tells the men that the key for the treasure is at the bottom of the river. (full context)
Wealth Theme Icon
Rationality vs. Emotion Theme Icon
Watson is dropped off at Vauxhall bridge with the treasure box and takes it to Miss Morstan’s house. She is dressed in “white diaphanous material,”... (full context)
Wealth Theme Icon
Without a key to open the treasure box, Watson wedges it open using a poker. To their amazement, the box is entirely... (full context)
Chapter 12 — The Strange Story of Jonathan Small
Empire and Imperialism Theme Icon
Wealth Theme Icon
...Baker Street and reconvenes with Holmes, Jones and Jonathan Small. Watson shows them the empty treasure box. Small admits that this was his doing—he scattered the jewels in the Thames during... (full context)
Empire and Imperialism Theme Icon
Wealth Theme Icon
The Victorian Gothic Theme Icon
...to take it out of a white man. That was how I earned the Agra treasure.” (full context)
Empire and Imperialism Theme Icon
Wealth Theme Icon
...no one at the fort was endangered. The two men then explained about the Agra treasure, which they proposed would be divided by four (the fourth man, Dost Akbar, wasn’t there... (full context)
Empire and Imperialism Theme Icon
Wealth Theme Icon
...rajah’s merchant, continued Abdullah Khan, would be travelling to Agra to hide part of the treasure there. He would be with Dost Akbar, Abdullah’s foster brother; the men therefore had the... (full context)
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That night, the men executed their plan, killing the merchant and snatching the treasure. Small pauses for a drink of whiskey and water and then continues his story. After... (full context)
Empire and Imperialism Theme Icon
Wealth Theme Icon
The Victorian Gothic Theme Icon
...lot of money playing cards. Small decided to tell him and Captain Morstan about the treasure, offering to share it with them if they aided his escape. The men agreed and... (full context)
Empire and Imperialism Theme Icon
As part of the plan, Major Sholto was supposed to first verify that the treasure was where Small said it was, before reporting back. Sholto double-crossed them and stole the... (full context)
Empire and Imperialism Theme Icon
The Victorian Gothic Theme Icon
...and perform a “war-dance.” Finally, Small heard from an insider at Pondicherry Lodge that the treasure had been found and was told about the trapdoor in the roof. (full context)