The original news item concerning the diamond of the goddess Kali was handed in to the city editor. He smiled and held it for a moment above the wastebasket. Then he laid it back on his desk and said: "Try the Sunday people; they might work something out of it."
The Sunday editor glanced the item over and said: "H′m!" Afterward he sent for a reporter and expanded his comment.
"You might see General Ludlow," he said, "and make a story out of this if you can. Diamond stories are a drug; but this one is big enough to be found by a scrubwoman wrapped up in a piece of newspaper and tucked under the corner of the hall linoleum. Find out first if the General has a daughter who intends to go on the stage. If not, you can go ahead with the story. Run cuts of the Kohinoor and J. P. Morgan′s collection, and work in pictures of the Kimberley mines and Barney Barnato. Fill in with a tabulated comparison of the values of diamonds, radium, and veal cutlets since the meat strike; and let it run to a half page."
On the following day the reporter turned in his story. The Sunday editor let his eye sprint along its lines. "H′m!" he said again. This time the copy went into the waste-basket with scarcely a flutter.
The reporter stiffened a little around the lips; but he was whistling softly and contentedly between his teeth when I went over to talk with him about it an hour later.
"I don′t blame the ′old man′," said he, magnanimously, "for cutting it out. It did sound like funny business; but it happened exactly as I wrote it. Say, why don′t you fish that story out of the w.-b. and use it? Seems to me it′s as good as the tommyrot you write."
I accepted the tip, and if you read further you will learn the facts about the diamond of the goddess Kali as vouched for by one of the most reliable reporters on the staff.
Gen. Marcellus B. Ludlow lives in one of those decaying but venerated old red-brick mansions in the West Twenties. The General is a member of an old New York family that does not advertise. He is a globe-trotter by birth, a gentleman by predilection, a millionaire by the mercy of Heaven, and a connoisseur of precious stones by occupation.
The reporter was admitted promptly when he made himself known at the General′s residence at about eight thirty on the evening that he received the assignment. In the magnificent library he was greeted by the distinguished traveller and connoisseur, a tall, erect gentleman in the early fifties, with a nearly white moustache, and a bearing so soldierly that one perceived in him scarcely a trace of the National Guardsman. His weather-beaten countenance lit up with a charming smile of interest when the reporter made known his errand.
"Ah, you have heard of my latest find. I shall be glad to show you what I conceive to be one of the six most valuable blue diamonds in existence."
The General opened a small safe in a corner of the library and brought forth a plush-covered box. Opening this, he exposed to the reporter′s bewildered gaze a huge and brilliant diamond — nearly as large as a hailstone.
"This stone," said the General, "is something more than a mere jewel. It once formed the central eye of the three-eyed goddess Kali, who is worshipped by one of the fiercest and most fanatical tribes of India. If you will arrange yourself comfortably I will give you a brief history of it for your paper.
General Ludlow brought a decanter of whiskey and glasses from a cabinet, and set a comfortable armchair for the lucky scribe.
"The Phansigars, or Thugs, of India," began the General, "are the most dangerous and dreaded of the tribes of North India. They are extremists in religion, and worship the horrid goddess Kali in the form of images. Their rites are interesting and bloody. The robbing and murdering of travellers are taught as a worthy and obligatory deed by their strange religious code. Their worship of the three-eyed goddess Kali is conducted so secretly that no traveller has ever heretofore had the honour of witnessing the ceremonies. That distinction was reserved for myself.
"While at Sakaranpur, between Delhi and Khelat, I used to explore the jungle in every direction in the hope of learning something new about these mysterious Phansigars.
"One evening at twilight I was making my way through a teakwood forest, when I came upon a deep circular depression in an open space, in the centre of which was a rude stone temple. I was sure that this was one of the temples of the Thugs, so I concealed myself in the undergrowth to watch.
"When the moon rose the depression in the clearing was suddenly filled with hundreds of shadowy, swiftly gliding forms. Then a door opened in the temple, exposing a brightly illuminated image of the goddess Kali, before which a white-robed priest began a barbarous incantation, while the tribe of worshippers prostrated themselves upon the earth.
"But what interested me most was the central eye of the huge wooden idol. I could see by its flashing brilliancy that it was an immense diamond of the purest water.
"After the rites were concluded the Thugs slipped away into the forest as silently as they had come. The priest stood for a few minutes in the door of the temple enjoying the cool of the night before closing his rather warm quarters. Suddenly a dark, lithe shadow slipped down into the hollow, leaped upon the priest; and struck him down with a glittering knife. Then the murderer sprang at the image of the goddess like a cat and pried out the glowing central eye of Kali with his weapon. Straight toward me he ran with his royal prize. When he was within two paces I rose to my feet and struck him with all my force between the eyes. He rolled over senseless and the magnificent jewel fell from his hand. That is the splendid blue diamond you have just seen — a stone worthy of a monarch′s crown."
"That′s a corking story," said the reporter. "That decanter is exactly like the one that John W. Gates always sets out during an interview."
"Pardon me," said General Ludlow, "for forgetting hospitality in the excitement of my narrative. Help yourself."
"Here′s looking at you," said the reporter.
"What I am afraid of now," said the General, lowering his voice, "is that I may be robbed of the diamond. The jewel that formed an eye of their goddess is their most sacred symbol. Somehow the tribe suspected me of having it; and members of the band have followed me half around the earth. They are the most cunning and cruel fanatics in the world, and their religious vows would compel them to assassinate the unbeliever who has desecrated their sacred treasure.
"Once in Lucknow three of their agents, disguised as servants in a hotel, endeavoured to strangle me with a twisted cloth. Again, in London, two Thugs, made up as street musicians, climbed into my window at night and attacked me. They have even tracked me to this country. My life is never safe. A month ago, while I was at a hotel in the Berkshires, three of them sprang upon me from the roadside weeds. I saved myself then by my knowledge of their customs."
"How was that, General?" asked the reporter.
"There was a cow grazing near by," said General Ludlow, "a gentle Jersey cow. I ran to her side and stood. The three Thugs ceased their attack, knelt and struck the ground thrice with their foreheads. Then, after many respectful salaams, they departed."
"Afraid the cow would hook?" asked the reporter.
"No; the cow is a sacred animal to the Phansigars. Next to their goddess they worship the cow. They have never been known to commit any deed of violence in the presence of the animal they reverence."
"It′s a mighty interesting story," said the reporter.
"If you don′t mind I′ll take another drink, and then a few notes."
"I will join you," said General Ludlow, with a courteous wave of his hand.
"If I were you," advised the reporter, "I′d take that sparkler to Texas. Get on a cow ranch there, and the Pharisees —"
"Phansigars," corrected the General.
"Oh, yes; the fancy guys would run up against a long horn every time they made a break."
General Ludlow closed the diamond case and thrust it into his bosom.
"The spies of the tribe have found me out in New York," he said, straightening his tall figure. "I′m familiar with the East Indian cast of countenance, and I know that my every movement is watched. They will undoubtedly attempt to rob and murder me here."
"Here?" exclaimed the reporter, seizing the decanter and pouring out a liberal amount of its contents.
"At any moment," said the General. "But as a soldier and a connoisseur I shall sell my life and my diamond as dearly as I can."
At this point of the reporter′s story there is a certain vagueness, but it can be gathered that there was a loud crashing noise at the rear of the house they were in. General Ludlow buttoned his coat closely and sprang for the door. But the reporter clutched him firmly with one hand, while he held the decanter with the other.
"Tell me before we fly," he urged, in a voice thick with some inward turmoil, "do any of your daughters contemplate going on the stage?"
"I have no daughters — fly for your life — the Phansigars are upon us!" cried the General.
The two men dashed out of the front door of the house.
The hour was late. As their feet struck the side-walk strange men of dark and forbidding appearance seemed to rise up out of the earth and encompass them. One with Asiatic features pressed close to the General and droned in a terrible voice:
"Buy cast clo′!"
Another, dark-whiskered and sinister, sped lithely to his side and began in a whining voice:
"Say, mister, have yer got a dime fer a poor feller what —"
They hurried on, but only into the arms of a black-eyed, dusky-browed being, who held out his hat under their noses, while a confederate of Oriental hue turned the handle of a street organ near by.
Twenty steps farther on General Ludlow and the reporter found themselves in the midst of half a dozen villainous-looking men with high-turned coat collars and faces bristling with unshaven beards.
"Run for it!" hissed the General. "They have discovered the possessor of the diamond of the goddess Kali."
The two men took to their heels. The avengers of the goddess pursued.
"Oh, Lordy!" groaned the reporter, "there isn′t a cow this side of Brooklyn. We′re lost!"
When near the corner they both fell over an iron object that rose from the sidewalk close to the gutter. Clinging to it desperately, they awaited their fate.
"If I only had a cow!" moaned the reporter — "or another nip from that decanter, General!"
As soon as the pursuers observed where their victims had found refuge they suddenly fell back and retreated to a considerable distance.
"They are waiting for reinforcements in order to attack us," said General Ludlow.
But the reporter emitted a ringing laugh, and hurled his hat triumphantly into the air.
"Guess again," he shouted, and leaned heavily upon the iron object. "Your old fancy guys or thugs, whatever you call ′em, are up to date. Dear General, this is a pump we′ve stranded upon — same as a cow in New York (hic!) see? Thas′h why the ′nfuriated smoked guys don′t attack us — see? Sacred an′mal, the pump in N′ York, my dear General!"
But further down in the shadows of Twenty-eighth Street the marauders were holding a parley.
"Come on, Reddy," said one. "Let′s go frisk the old ′un. He′s been shown′ a sparkler as big as a hen egg all around Eighth Avenue for two weeks past."
"Not on your silhouette," decided Reddy. "You see ′em rallyin′ round The Pump? They′re friends of Bill′s. Bill won′t stand for nothin′ of this kind in his district since he got that bid to Esopus."
This exhausts the facts concerning the Kali diamond. But it is deemed not inconsequent to close with the following brief (paid) item that appeared two days later in a morning paper.
"It is rumored that a niece of Gen. Marcellus B. Ludlow, of New York City, will appear on the stage next season.
"Her diamonds are said to be extremely valuable and of much historic interest."