[Untitled] (Fragment)

Clark Ashton Smith

I then dismissed the matter from my mind, having several important cases on hand.

My subordinate, Lal Singh, a Sikh, reported the following morning.

"Sirdar," he said, "I have obeyed your orders. The turban was sold by one Ibrahim Marrash, a clothing dealer whose place of business is in the Chandui Chowk. He promptly identified it, and told me that it had been sold two weeks ago to one Indra Singh. Indra Singh is a wealthy and wellknown Punjaubi, and is of high caste."

Indra Singh was a personal friend of mine, and therefore you may judge of my surprise upon hearing this. To verify it, I paid a visit in person to Ibrahim Marrash’s shop, and received substantially the same story, with some added information, even to the price of the article.

"Indra Singh," said the dealer, "is an old customer of mine, and I have never sold him any but the best goods. Yes, I remember that turban well. I am confident that there is not another like it in Delhi. Sirdar, here are Russia- leather slippers such as a Maharajah might wear, and the price is just seven rupees!"

This affair was very perplexing. How came Indra Singh’s turban into the merchant’s house? I did not like to think that the Panjaubi was the thief. I knew him to be rich, and besides, he was honorable. High castes are not in the habit of appropriating other people’s jewelry.

The Sapphire, in spite of the most stringent search, was not found, not did I come any nearer to discovering the identity of the thief. As to Indra Singh’s part in this matter, I gradually became convinced that there had been some mistake in regard to the turban. And besides, the presence of his turban in Leja Puri’s house by itself, was small proof of the Punjaubi’s guilt.

Leja Puri, who appeared to set a great value on his sapphire, came often, and seemed much disheartened that no progress had been made. The jewel, he told me, had belonged to his father, and had had an eventful history. It had originally been the property of a high-caste Punjaubi family from whom it had been taken during the terrible days of the mutiny. This family, it appeared, had remained true to the English during those times, and in consequence their house, after the mutineers had taken possession of the city and murdered the English inhabitants, had been looted by a mob. The sapphire fell into the hands of a low-caste Mohammedan, and was purchased from this man for a small sum by Leja Puri’s father. Leja Puri gave the name of the original owner as Phairon Singh. The mentioning of this name gave me the first clue to the sapphire’s disappearance. Phairon Singh was Indra Singh’s father. Investigation revealed that he had remained faithful during the mutiny, and that his house had been sacked by an angry mob. I also learned that such a sapphire had been possessed by him, and that it had disappeared at this time.

It did not take long to put these facts and the finding of Indra Singh’s turban together. Taking all into consideration, I decided that Indra Singh was the thief. First the sapphire had belonged to his father. Then by a low-caste it had come into Leja Puri’s family. Lawfully, it was the Punjaubi’s property, and Puri had no more right to it than the low-caste. I became convinced that Indra Singh, learning of this, and wishing for some reason to regain the sapphire, had entered Puri’s house and stolen it. How he had come to lose his turban I could not surmise. There were very many other things that I did not understand in the case. However, everything pointed to Indra Singh as the thief.

Several days later I paid a visit to the Punjaubi, with the full determination of getting to the bottom of the case. Nothing could be proved by inaction. The only thing was to get the truth out of Indra himself. I was morally convinced of his guilt, but could not prove it unless I obtained his confession.

Indra Singh was a man perhaps thirty years of age. He was tall, even for a Punjaubi, and wore a heavy, black beard.

He greeted me cordially. I could detect nothing in his manner which might indicate apprehension. If he were indeed guilty, it was clear that he did not connect my visit with the sapphire, or else he was an adept at hiding his feelings.

I stated the object of my visit at once.

"Indra," I said, drawing forth the red turban, "does this belong to you?" He started at seeing the article, but beyond that betrayed no emotion. He hesitated a while before answering.

"Sirdar," he said at last, "It is mine." I proceeded to tell him where it had been found, and my suspicions in regard to himself.

"Yes," he confessed slowly. "I may not lie. It was I who stole the sapphire from Leja Puri." He stopped, drew a small metal case from his bosom, and opened it. Within lay a sapphire of perhaps six carats weight, and which I, who am no expert in such matters, saw plainly to be flawless.

"Six hundred years," he continued, "this stone remained in our family. It is of great value apart from its intrinsic worth—for a legend no one knows how old, deems that it will bring good luck to the possessor. Six hundred years—and then the mutiny, when India was drenched in blood, and a madness more terrible than midsummer heat lay upon all the land. The stone was stolen. Till the day of his death my father, Phairon Singh, sought to regain it but in vain. And after him, I, his son, took up the search, and carried it to the end which you have seen. It was no easy matter to trace the thief—why detail?—but success crowned my efforts, and I learned that the sapphire had been sold to Leja Puri’s father, and that it was now in the former’s possession.

"The only method of regaining it which suggested itself, was theft. There was much risk, but my courage, nerved by determination to regain the sapphire, was equal to the deed. I learned from Puri’s servants where he kept his jewels, and selecting a dark night, entered his house. I found the room broke open the case containing the sapphire and was about to leave when I heard footsteps in the next room.

"Fearing that I was detected, a panic seized me, and in my haste to escape, a loose fold of my turban became entangled and I left the turban behind. I afterwards regretted this greatly, fearing that it might furnish a clue and have always cursed myself for my carelessness. Doubtless the person whose footsteps I heard was totally unaware of my presence, and had no intentions toward me."

"Of course," said I, "as the jewel was stolen from your father, it is legally your property. The fact that the thief who sold it to Leja Puri’s father does not entitle the latter to it. But there is another side of the case. You had no right to enter Leja Puri’s house secretly, even for the purpose of regaining what was legally yours. Had you been caught in the act, there would have been little difficulty in convicting you for burglary.

"For over thirty years the sapphire was in the possession of the Puri family, having been purchased by Leja’s father." I paused, and then went on.

"I have come here to urge you to return the sapphire. You will hand it over to me, I guarantee that the matter will be dropped. Leja will be only too happy to have it back, and will not make close inquiries as to the identity of the thief or the method of recovery."

I went on to inform him that if this demand was not complied with, it would be regretfully necessary to place him under arrest.

"I should be very sorry," I said, "for you have always been a good friend to me. But in the performing of duty, friendship is not to be considered, and my duty would be to arrest you for entering Leja Puri’s residence for purposes of burglary."

Indra Singh thought the matter over, and recognized the justice of my remarks. I pointed out the situation to him in detail, and he finally, though reluctantly, assented, and gave me the sapphire. Fear of arrest perhaps had much to do with this but, from my knowledge of his character, I think that he really came around to my views.

Leja Puri received the sapphire. The tale which I told him of how I had discovered the thief, and of the jewel’s recovery, I have always regarded as a masterpiece.

Printed from: www.eldritchdark.com/writings/short-stories/274
Printed on: November 17, 2017