The Bronze Image

Clark Ashton Smith

It was a small bronze image of the God Ganesha, the elephant-headed, who is the [Hindu] deity of wisdom, and it stood on my writing desk. I had picked it up at an auction, it having formed part of a large collection which the owner, owing to financial embarrassment, had been compelled to sell. (The price was ridiculously low, there being no competitor, and I left thinking that I had made a bargain.)

The image was of Benares workmanship, and Allah alone knew how old. Also it was just the size for a paper-weight, and quite appropriate.

Holden dropped in about a week later. He is an old friend of mine—a grave, reticent sort of man. We had conversed for some time, when he suddenly caught sight of the image, and starting violently, cried out in amazement.

"Where did you get the Ganesha, Lane?" he asked. I told him.

"The last time I saw that image," he said, "was in Benares."

"I was not aware of your previous acquaintance with my paperweight," said I. Looking at him, I saw that he was deeply absorbed in thought.

"Well," he said finally, "I see that you are anxiously awaiting the story." He then proceeded to tell it as follows . . .

While at Calcutta, two years ago, I was employed by a certain firm, whose name I would prefer not to mention. I was sent up to Benares to negotiate with a Bengali merchant, one Lalji Chatterji. It was important that these negotiations be kept secret, at least for some time, and because of my previous experience with natives, and my general knowledge of India, I was chosen for the work.

So I went up to Benares, with full instructions and certain papers hidden securely in an inner pocket which were to be handed over to Lalji Chatterji.

My identity I deemed it best to conceal. So it was not in the person of Albert Holden that I reached Benares, but I stepped off the train as Fulsi Lal, and to all outward appearances a baboo of the deepest dye.

A baboo is an indigenous production; he belongs exclusively to India and there is nothing resembling him in all the world. From his spectacles to his English, which last is truly marvelous, he is individual.

How the son of Shaitan, who was representing a Central Indian Rajah, a gentleman much interested in my negotiations with Lalji Chatterji, discovered my identity I do not pretend to know. But it is a fact that he did.

When I arrived at Benares, and stepped out of a third class carriage into the teeming, seething station, I discovered a blue-turbaned, side whiskered, Rajput at my elbow, whose general description tallied essentially with that of a man whom I had been warned to avoid; namely, the agent of Baghwan Deos, the Central India Rajah.

Endeavors to lose this man in the crowd were in vain; it was not until I had traversed half the city of Benares and ended up eventually in the Monkey Temple, that I lost sight of the blue Turban and the side whiskers. I thanked Allah devoutly, emerged at the rear entrance, followed by all the monkeys in the neighborhood who evinced a most sociable disposition, and set off toward the Ganges.

Near the Burning-Ghats I again met Baghwan Deos's representative. We exchanged glances of mutual distrust. Once more I tried to shake my tenacious follower.

It was his mission I know, to keep the papers which I carried from reaching Lalji Chatterji. For certain reasons, into which I cannot here enter, Baghwan Deos did not wish this, and to this end had sent his agent to Benares. This man, I was aware, would not scruple at anything; he would kill me if necessary to gain possession of the papers.

About midday he was joined by another Rajput, and intuition told me that several more of these gentry probably lurked in the neighborhood of Lalji Chatterji's house, with instructions to prevent a certain specified baboo from entering. So, for a time, I abandoned hope of reaching the Bengali, and, entering a Khan, sat down to think.

The outcome of this was that Lalji Chatterji shortly afterwards received a letter instructing him to be at the Golden Temple at nine precisely the following morning. There he would receive some important papers from a Moslem horse-merchant.

At the appointed time he arrived. I had been waiting in the person of the aforesaid merchant about half-an-hour, and the local priests were getting suspicious. I had begun to fear that he had not received my letter, or that some accident had occurred, when Lalji Chatterji, a sleek, smiling, clean-shaven Bengali, entered, and looking about him sharply, at length perceived me. He came over, and we exchanged greetings.

"What a disguise, sahib," he said, "You are a perfect horse-trader; the very odor of the serai seems to emanate from you. Truly, I should never have suspected. And you have the papers? Ah, that is good. Now Baghwan Deos's emissaries can wait in vain. They have been hanging about my house for the last three days, following me everywhere, and making great nuisances of themselves. It was with the utmost difficulty that I this morning evaded their surveillance. But I know Benares like a book: her tangled streets are an open page and somewhere near Manikaranika Ghat two Rajputs are doubtless, at this moment, calling down curses on all Bengalis."

He laughed heartily, and I was about to pull the papers from my inner pocket when three men entered hastily, and seeing us, stopped. In one of them I recognized Baghwan Deos's agent. The other two I had not heretofore seen.

They looked at us keenly, and then about the temple in a furtive manner. The priests had disappeared. We were alone, and I felt a bit uneasy as to what would happen. The Rajputs were looking ugly, and I saw that they were armed. I had unfortunately left my revolver at the Khan, and was without weapons. Lalji Chatterji was also unarmed.

The three men began to edge towards us, in a casual manner, and sought, though they doubtless knew that we were aware of their identity, to appear oblivious of our presence, and totally without intentions toward us.

At last the Rajah's agent drew a revolver, and advancing to within a few steps, leveled it in my direction. His two companions stood just behind him in case he should need assistance.

"Sahib," he said, "you have in your possession certain documents which I have been ordered to secure. I request that you hand them over to me. If you do not—"

Here his words were interrupted by the entrance of a priest. He dropped the revolver for a moment and hesitated. In that moment I looked about for some weapon, and perceiving a small bronze image of Ganesha in a niche in the temple wall, snatched it up, and hurled it straight at the Rajput's head. There was a dull impact, a shriek, and image and Rajput struck the ground together, the latter with a crushed skull.

There is very little more to tell. The other Rajputs upon perceiving the fall of their leader, rushed from the temple, and Lalji Chatterji and myself followed close upon their heels. In the resultant confusion we made our escape, and did not pause until we had reached the Ghats. There, after a hasty consultation, we parted, Lalji Chatterji and the papers leaving shortly for Cawnpore, where it was in intention to hide for some time, and myself, having reassumed the baboo disguise, for Calcutta.

Baghwan Deos, I believe, used all his influence to keep the affair quiet. The death of his agent set down officially as an accident, and attracted but little attention. The bronze image which you possess is the same that crushed the skull of the Rajah's agent.

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