The Opal of Delhi [I] (Fragment)

Clark Ashton Smith

Whence it came originally no one knows, although there are many tales current about it. One legend says that the stone came from Persia about the time of Noushirnan Khosrou, having been given by that monarch to one of the Ranas of Meywar. It remained in the possession of this family until the taking of Cheltore by the great Moghul, Akbar, when it was stolen from the palace by a Moslem soldier. This man lost it in Delhi, and the stone was picked up by a jeweler, from whom a neighbor stole it. This man was robbed shortly afterwards, and the thieves took the jewel to Akbar. Akbar discovered their crime, appropriated the opal, and clapped the thieves into prison. Next it was stolen by a eunuch of the palace, who lost it. It was then found by a poor tailor, who sold it, and received a considerable sum. The opal remained in the possession of the purchaser’s family down to 1880.

There are other tales, of course, but the one given above is perhaps the most authentic. At any rate, the stone was deemed lucky, and greatly valued by the family of Udai Chand, its owner.

In March 1880, the opal was stolen, and in such a clever manner that no trace of the thief or thieves was found. Udai Chand immediately sent for the chief of the Delhi police, at that time Mir Adbul Ali, and communicated the case to him. As I have helped the Sirdar on more than one occasion, Mir Abdul Ali, who was much puzzled, called upon me one evening, and told me the tale.

"Have you any theory?" I asked.

"Not as yet," replied the Sirdar, "but I am thinking a great deal about this case. I am much puzzled as to who the thief, or thieves, could have been, and have sent detectives all over the city, who have visited every jewelry shop, but they report that no trace of the opal has been found.

"It is a large stone, too, fully as large as a pigeon’s egg, and such are not to be disposed of without exciting remark. My opinion is that it was stolen at the instigation of some private individual of means, or else was sold to such a man by the thieves. Or, failing this, it has been taken from the city, which is more likely. At any rate, I am determined to find it."

About a month later Mir Abdul Ali dropped in. He is a rather small and quiet man, and his face is generally impassive. On this occasion, however, he was beaming from the tip of his blue turban to his heels.

"I have found the opal," he said, "and the thieves are in jail."

"How did you do it?" I asked. Mir Abdul seated himself, and after a few preliminary remarks, related the following tale:

"Soon after I learned of the theft, I made inquiries of Udai Chand as to whom he suspected of being the thief. He had no suspicions, it seems, but nevertheless I demanded of him the names of all his intimate friends and relatives. These he gave with some reluctance, and I immediately began to investigate the persons named, and learned as much of their characters and habits as possible. All but two I dismissed as innocent.

The first of these was Fulsi Dass, a cousin of Udai Chand and an impecunious young man. He often visited Udai Chand, and, as I soon learned, was generally in need of money. However, he had a good reputation, and was said to be honorable. Well—knowing that the most honest of men may commit crimes on the spur of necessity, or from some unexplained cause or motive, I put little faith in the man’s reputation, but placed spies to watch him day and night. In this way I hoped to learn of any attempt on his part to dispose of the opal, unless he had already sold it.

The second person on my list was Krishna Mal, a high-caste gentleman of Rajpoot blood, but one who was not above suspicion. He, too, often visited Udai Chand. Krishna was known to be in need of funds at the time of the theft, but immediately afterwards paid off his debts, and displayed a surprising affluence. Him I suspected most.

So much for the two men who fell under my suspicion. About a week passed without anything unusual developing, and then I learned that Krishna Mal had been paying visits to the house of a Bengali, a very oily and suspicious individual, suave like all of his class, and as slippery as an eel. This man was a native of Calcutta, who had taken up his residency in Delhi. His source of income was not known, but he always seemed well-provided with money. The reason for Krishna Mal’s visit was not known. I caused inquiries to be made and soon learned that a previous visit had been made to the Bengali’s house, and this on the day following the disappearance of the opal. I therefore became satisfied in my mind that Krishna Mal was the thief, and that the stone had been sold to the Bengali. But to prove this was another matter. I soon hit upon a plan.

As you well know I am able to disguise myself in many ways, and am, if I may say so, rather an adept in the art. On this occasion, after completing my plans, I dressed as a wandering facquir and made my way to the neighborhood of the Baboo’s house, accompanied by two assistants disguised in the same manner.

We arrived before the house, which was situated on a busy street not far from the Afmir Gate, and after loitering about some time requested admission, saying that we would perform some marvelous feats. We were shortly admitted and found ourselves in a large courtyard. The servants hastened to summon their master, who soon appeared upon the scene, and asked us what we wanted.

I have never before, in all my wide experience, seen a man whom I more disliked on first sight, than Ramchander Mukirjee, the Bengali. He had Baboo written all over him, and politeness and suavity issued from every pore, but still I disliked him. The truth was that he was too suave, too smooth, too polite, altogether. Therefore, I was suspicious.

He was short, fat, and had constantly shifting eyes. His features were not ugly, but their expression was too supercilious, too polite, for any man to retain unless it were to hide some sinister purpose. That I saw at once.

I replied to his question in a whining tone, such as is used by facquirs, and asked his permission to perform some feats of magic.

The Baboo, like all of his kind, was intensely superstitious, though they always affect an air of skepticism in the presence of Englishmen. However, when they are amongst their own people, they are not so particular. So Ramchander Mukirjee told us to go ahead and seated himself where he could obtain a full view of the performance.

The first feat that I performed was the mango trick, which, as you know, is merely sleight-of-hand. Mukirjee knew this and he took pains to explain to us most fully the exact manner in which the trick had been done.

I managed to look extremely pained at this, and offered to perform the feat in a different manner. This I did, but Mukirjee was still skeptical.

I was fully determined to make Mukirjee believe that I was a genuine magician, and as such, possessed of supernatural power. Therefore I resorted to a third, and very different method of performing the mango trick, a method which few yogis use, but which is very effective. Even the most skeptical of Europeans has been convinced by it.

"Ramchander Mukirjee," said I, "I am much pained at thy doubting. Therefore, to fully convince thee of my powers I will grow before you a mango tree forty feet in height."

I could plainly see that Mukirjee was startled at this, but he told me to go ahead.

Therefore, for the next twenty minutes I whirled about, much in the same manner as the Whirling Dervishes of Arabia and Egypt, and sang incantations in Sanskrit, until I judged that the desired effect had been obtained. Then, stopping, I drew myself up and said, commandingly:

"Behold a full-grown mango tree!" Mukirjee gasped, and several of his servants, who were clustered about the courtyard, shrieked. Evidently they saw the tree, as I had intended them to do, and they stared with wide-open eyes at a space immediately before me.

Of course, sahib, there was no tree in sight, but my incantations, and the whirling about, had so dazzled the sight of the beholders that they really thought the tree, when I commanded them to see it, to be before them. This is hypnotism, and it is a most difficult and exhausting feat. Most facquirs cannot perform it. I learned it in Agra once, when I was seeking a murderer, and was wandering about disguised. It is well to know such things, and I do not forget easily.

The trick (for it was little else) made a great impression on my audience, and I then proceeded to do a little fortune-telling, which I intended should startle the Baboo very much indeed. I saw that he believed me possessed of powers beyond those of ordinary mortals, and therefore I had little fear of his suspecting my true identity.

I pretended to be wrapt in meditation for some time, seated crosslegged, arms folded, eyes closed, and breathing regularly. Then I got up, approached the Bengali, and told him that I intended to inform him of some events of his past life, which none save himself knew, and also some things which were to happen to him in the future.

I saw him tremble a little at this, but he immediately recovered his selfcomposure and asked me to go on. I watched him closely and then continued.

"O most beneficent one," said I, "Siva has given me power to see all things, past, present, and future, and by such means I am enabled to tell thee those things which have before now occurred to thee, and which have yet to occur. The veil of the future has been flung back, and peering within I see all that is hidden to thee and to other men. Attend thou.

"Baboo, a week ago thou came into possession of a valuable stone, I think an opal, in size approaching a pigeon’s egg, which was sold to thee by a Rajpoot gentleman. Beware of this opal, for it bringeth naught but evil to thee, and I see many dark things in the future."

Here I observed that the Baboo was much agitated. He was trembling violently, and speaking in a voice somewhat different from his recent accents implored me by all the Gods of Hindustan to stop.

"Baboo," said I, slowly, "What is to be, will be. The opal will surely bring thee bad luck." He whimpered at this, and again implored me to stop. All his suavity was gone. He had not the least suspicion of my true identity. So well had I played upon his latent superstition, that he fully believed me to be a magician, gifted by the God Siva with marvelous powers.

"Unfortunate man that I am," he cried, as I continued to prophesy in detail the kind of bad luck that was to fall upon him.

Editor's Note:
Oddly enough, a separate page with the same title as the above exists

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Printed on: February 22, 2019