The Sword of Zagan

Clark Ashton Smith


It was in Benares, in the year of 1897, that I met Rama Kalindra Das. I had been sent up from Calcutta on business, in which the aforesaid Rama was to take a part. It is of little moment what that business was, as it has nothing whatever to do with this story.

As the transaction was of a somewhat important nature, in which other persons were interested in preventing, it was arranged that we should meet in secret. The temple of the Tirthankers was named as the rendezvous. Therefore, on the following day I found myself at the temple, disguised as a wealthy down-country Zimindar, and on the lookout for another Zimindar from up-country, presumably from Allahabad, who was reputed to be a wealthy uncle of mine. At least so my confidential servant Mahbul had informed the Jain priests at the temple and the populace in general. And because of this a puffing Bengali baboo from Calcutta who was close on my track missed his quarry and returned to his hotel swearing in bad English and inquiring of all whom he met if they had seen anything of a Sahib who went by the name of Lansing. While the aforesaid baboo was thus returning in high dudgeon, I was closeted with Rama Kalindra Das. In about two hours the transaction was finished, and all that the baboo might in future do was rendered useless. A little later we issued from the temple and started for a stroll towards the river front.

I was tolerably well acquainted with the streets of Benares and so was my friend, the supposed up-country Zimindar. We walked out on one of the ghats and watched the people bathing. They were constantly passing up and down, chattering as they went. Several great Brahmin umbrellas upreared themselves near where we sat, and the priests proceeded to ply their trade. Each devotee as he came from the river paid money and received the dab of paint on his forehead. Nearby a white-robed pundit was expounding the sacred writings to a group of people, most of whom were women. A palanquin was carried down to the water's edge and a rajah flashing with jewels and rich raiment stepped out. Near him walked a Sadhee, blind and naked save for his loin-cloth.

Together they passed us side by sideā€”the rich and the poor, the blind and the seeing.

Laughing girls came up the steps carrying lotas of sacred water. They were Nautch-girls, probably attached to one of the Hindu temples. One, more beautiful than the rest, caught Rama's eye.

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