Om -- The Secret of Ahbor Valley by Talbot Mundy

DECIPHERED FROM A PALM-LEAP MANUSCRIPT DISCOVERED IN A CAVE IN HINDUSTAN

Those who are acquainted with the day and night know that the Day of Brahma is a thousand revolutions of the Yugas, and that the Night extendeth for a thousand more. Now the Mahayuga consisteth of four parts, of which the last, being called the Kali-Yuga, is the least, having but four-hundred-and-thirty-two thousand years. The length of a Maha-yuga is four-million-and-three-hundred-and-twenty thousand years; that is, one thousandth part of a Day of Brahma. And man was in the beginning, although not as he is now, nor as he will be . . . [Here the palm-leaf is broken and illegible] . . . There were races in the world, whose wise men knew all the seven principles, so that they understood matter in all its forms and were its masters. They were those to whom gold was as nothing, because they could make it, and for whom the elements brought forth. . . . . [Here there is another break] . . . And there were giants on the earth in those days, and there were dwarfs, most evil. There, was war, and they destroyed. . . . [Here the, leaf is broken off, and all the rest is missing.]

Chapter III

"WHAT IS FEAR?"

Chutter Chand's shop in the Chandni Chowk is a place of chaos and a joy for ever, if you like life musty and assorted. There are diamonds in the window, kodak cameras, theodolites, bric-a-brac, second-hand rifles, scientific magazines, and a living hamadryad cobra in a wire enclosure (into which rats and chickens are introduced at intervals). You enter through a door on either side of which hang curtains that were rather old when Clive was young; and you promptly see your reflection facing you in a mirror that came from Versailles when the French were bribing Indian potentates to keep the English out.

Every square foot of the walls within is covered with ancient curios. A glass counter-show-case runs the full length of the store, and is stuffed with enough jewelry to furnish a pageant of Indian history; converted into cash it would finance a very fair-sized bank. Rising to the level of the counter at the rear is a long row of pigeonholed shelves crowded with ancient books and manuscripts that smell like recently unwound mummies. Between shelf and counter lives (and reputedly sleeps by night) the most efficient jeweler's babu in India -- a meek, alert, weariless man who is said to be able to estimate any one's bank balance by glancing at him as he enters through the front door. But Chutter Chand keeps himself out of sight, in a room at the rear of the store, whence he comes out only in emergency. On this particular occasion there were extra reasons for remaining in the background -- reasons suggested by the presence of a special "constabeel" on duty outside the shop-door, who eyed Ommony nervously as he walked in.

Ommony went straight to the room at the rear and found Chutter Chand at his desk -- a wizened, neat little man in a yellow silk turban and a brown alpaca suit of English cut. The suit and his brown skin were almost of the same shade; an amber pin in his yellow necktie corresponded with the color of his laced shoes; the gold of his heavy watch-chain matched the turban; his lemon silk handkerchief matched his socks; his dark-brown, kindly, intelligent eyes struck the key-note of the color harmony.

Unlike so many Indians who adopt a modified European style of dress, he had an air of breeding, poise and distinction.

"There is always something interesting when you come, Ommonee!" he said, rising and shaking hands. "Wait while I remove the specimens from that chair. No, the snakes can not escape; they are all poisonous, but carefully imprisoned. There -- be seated. You are full of news, or you would have asked me how I am. Thank you, I am very well. And you? Now let us get to business!"

Ommony grinned at the gibe, but he had his own way of going about things. He preferred to soak in his surroundings and adjust his mind to the environment in silence before broaching business. He lit a cigar, and stared about him at the snakes in cages and the odds and ends of rarities heaped everywhere in indescribable confusion. There were an enormous brass Gautama Buddha resting on iron rollers, a silver Christian crucifix from a Goanese cathedral, and some enamel vases, that were new since his last visit; but the same old cobwebs were still in place in the corners of the teak beams, and the same cat came and rubbed herself against his shins -- until she spied Diana in the outer shop and grew instantly blasphemous.

Still saying nothing, Ommony at last produced the lump of jade from his hip pocket.

"Yes," said Chutter Chand, "I have already seen it." But he took off his gold-rimmed spectacles and wiped them as if he was eager to see it again.

"What do you know about it?" asked Ommony.

"Very little, Sahib. To crystallize hypothesis into a mistake is all too easy. I prefer to distinguish between knowledge and conjecture."

"All right. Tell me what little you do know."

"It is jade undoubtedly, although I have never seen jade exactly like it -- I, who have studied every known species of precious and semi-precious stone."

"Then why do you say it is jade?"

"Because I know that. I have analyzed it. It is chloromelanite, consisting of a silicate of aluminium and sodium, with peroxide of iron, peroxide of manganese, and potash. It has been broken from a greater piece -- perhaps from an enormous piece. The example I have previously seen that most resembled this was found in the Kara-Kash Valley of Turkestan; but that was not nearly so transparent. That piece you hold in your hand is more fusible than nephrite, which is the commoner form of jade; and it has a specific gravity of 3.3."

"What makes you believe it was broken from a larger piece?"

"I know by the arc of the curve of the one side, and by the shape of the fracture on the other, that it has been broken by external violence from a piece considerably larger than itself. I have worked out a law of vibration and fracture that in as interesting in its way as Einstein's law of relativity. Do you understand mathematics?"

"No. I'll take your word for it. What else do you know positively?"

"Positively is the only way to know," the jeweler answered, screwing up his face until he looked almost like a Chinaman. "There was human blood on it -- a smear on the fractured side, that looked as if a careless attempt had been made to wipe it off before the blood was quite dry. Also the print of a woman's thumb and forefinger, plainly visible under the microscope, with several other fingerprints that certainly were Tin Lal's. The stone had come in contact with some oily substance, probably butter, but there was too little of it to determine. Furthermore, I know, Ommonee, that you are afraid of the stone because to touch it makes you nervous, and to peer into it makes you see things you can not explain."

Ommony laughed. The stone did make him nervous.

"Did you see things?" he asked.

"That is how I know it makes you see them, Ommonee! Compared to me you are a child in such respects. If I, who know more than you, nonetheless see things when I peer into that stone, it is logical to my mind that you also see things, although possibly not the same things. Knowing the inherent superstition of the human mind, I therefore know you are afraid -- just as people were afraid when Galileo told them that the earth moves."

"Are you afraid of it?" asked Ommony, shifting his cigar and laying the stone on the desk.

"What is fear?" the jeweler answered. "Is it not recognition of something the senses can not understand and therefore can not master? I think the fact that we feel a sort of fear is proof that we stand on the threshold of new knowledge or rather, of knowledge that is new to us as individuals."

"You mean, then, if a policeman's afraid of a burglar, he's --"

"Certainly! He is in a position to learn something he never knew before. That doesn't mean that he will learn, but that he may if he cares to. People used to be afraid of a total eclipse of the sun; some still are afraid of it. Imagine, if you can, what Julius Caesar, or Alexander the Great, or Timour Ilang, or Akbar would have thought of radio, or a thirty-six-inch astronomical telescope, or a kodak camera."

"All those things can be explained. This stone is a mystery."

"Ommonee, everything that we do not yet understand is a mystery. To a pig, it must be a mystery why a man flings turnips to him over the wall of his sty. To that dog of yours it must be a mystery why you took such care to train her. Look into the stone now, Sahib, and tell me what you see."

"Not I," said Ommony. "I've done it twice. You look."

Chutter Chand took up the stone in both hands and held it in the light from an overhead window. The thing glowed as if full of liquid-green fire, yet from ten feet away Ommony could see through it the lines on the palm of the jeweler's hand.

"Interesting! Interesting! Ommonee, the world is full of things we don't yet know!"

Chutter Chand's brows contracted, the right side more than the left, in the habit-fixed expression of a man whose business is to use a microscope. Two or three times he glanced away and blinked before looking again. Finally he put the stone back on the desk and wiped his spectacles from force of habit.

"Our senses," he said, "are much more reliable than the brain that interprets them. We probably all see, and hear, and smell alike, but no two brains interpret in the same way. Try to describe to me your sensations when you looked into the stone."

"Almost a brain-storm," said Ommony. "A rush of thoughts that seemed to have no connection with one another. Something like modern politics or listening in on the radio when there's loads of interference, only more exasperating -- more personal -- more inside yourself, as it were."

Chutter Chand nodded confirmation. "Can you describe the thoughts, Ommonee? Do they take the form of words?"

"No. Pictures. But pictures of a sort I've never seen, even in dreams. Rather horrible. They appear to mean something, but the mind can't grasp them. They're broken off suddenly -- begin nowhere and end nowhere."

Chutter Chand nodded again. "Our experiences tally. You will notice that the stone is broken off; it also begins nowhere and ends nowhere. I have measured it carefully; from calculation of the curvature it is possible to surmise that it may have been broken off from an ellipsoid having a major axis of seventeen feet. That would be an immense mass of jade weighing very many tons; and if the whole were as perfect as this fragment, it would be a marvel such as we in our day have not seen. I suspect it to have qualities more remarkable than those of radium, and I think -- although, mind you, this is now conjecture -- that if we could find the original ellipsoid from which this piece was broken we would possess the open sesame to -- well -- to laws and facts of nature, the mere contemplation of which would fill all the lunatic asylums! I have never been so thrilled by anything in all my life."

But Ommony was not thrilled. He had seen men go mad from exploring without landmarks into the unknown. He laughed cynically.

" 'We fools of nature,' " he quoted, " 'so horridly to shake our disposition with thoughts beyond the reaches of our souls!' I'd rather wipe out the asylums."

"Or live in one, Sahib, and leave the lunatics outside! Shakespeare knew nothing of the atomic construction of the universe. We have advanced since his day -- in some respects. Has it occurred to you to wonder how this stone acquired such remarkable qualities? No! You merely wonder at it. But observe:

"You have seen a pudding stirred? The stupidest cook in the world can pour ingredients into a basin and stir them with water until they become something compounded, that does not in the least resemble any one of the component parts. Is that not so? The same fool bakes what he has mixed. A chemical process takes place, and behold! the idiot has wrought a miracle. Again, there is almost no resemblance to what the mixture was before. It even tastes and smells quite differently. It looks different. Its specific gravity is changed. Its properties are altered. It is now digestible. It decomposes at a different speed. It has lost some of the original qualities that went into the mixture, and has taken on others that apparently were not there before the chemical process began.

"You can see the same thing in a foundry, where they mix zinc with copper and produce brass, and the brass has qualities that neither zinc nor copper appears to contain. A deaf and dumb man, knowing neither writing nor arithmetic, could produce brass from zinc and copper. A savage, who never saw an abstraction, can produce wine from grapes. Good. Now listen, Sahib:

"Let us dive beneath the surface of these experiments. The capacity to become brass under certain conditions was inherent to begin with in the zinc and in the copper, was it not? But how so? It was inherent in the atoms, of which the zinc and the copper are composed; and, behind those again, in the electrons, of which the atoms are composed. Let us then consider the electrons.

"Suppose that we knew how to pour electrons into a receptacle and make, so to speak, a pudding of them! Could we not work what the world would think are miracles? I have made diamonds in my workshop. I believe I can make gold. What could I not do, if I knew how to manage electrons in the raw -- electrons, in every one of which is the capacity to become absolutely -- anything!

"It has possibly not occurred to you, Ommonee, but the more I pursue my studies the more I am convinced that there was once a race of people in the world, or possibly a school of scientists drawn from many then-existent races, who knew how to manage electrons. I think they lived simultaneously with the cave-men. We find the bones of cave-men because those were ignorant people, such as the Bushmen of to-day, who buried their dead. We do not find the bones of the scientists of that period, because they were enlightened and disposed of corpses in the fire. The art of the cave-men is evidence that there was art of a very high order, which some one presumably taught. They painted pictures in caves into which no sunlight penetrated; therefore, there must have been artificial light of a sort superior to torches or tallow candles, because otherwise the colorwork would have been impossible. That is proof that there was science in those days, of which the cave-men could avail themselves just as to-day a lunatic may use electric light. And the fact that we find no traces at present of what we can recognize as a very high order of civilization then existent is no proof that there was none; it may have been totally different from anything with which we are familiar. Furthermore, the world has only been extremely superficially explored.

"Be patient, Ommonee. I am coming to my point. I have studied that piece of jade. Three days and nights I studied it without sleep. To me its peculiar properties appear to confirm observations -- micro-photographic observations that I have made and recorded during a period of ten years. In its essence, what is photography? It is the practise, by means of chemicals, of rendering visible to the human eye impressions of objects produced by light on a prepared surface. It is necessary to prepare the surface, which we call a dry plate or a film, because we do not yet know how else to render the light-made impression visible to the human eye. But it is there, whether we make it visible or not. And what I have discovered is this: that every particle of matter has a photographic quality, which varies only in degree. You stand against a rock -- and not necessarily in sunlight, although sunlight helps; your impression is indelibly photographed on that rock, as I can prove, if you have time to witness some experiments. It is photographed on anything against which you stand. Other images may be superimposed on yours, but yours remains. In rare instances, in certain atmospheric conditions, these impressions become visible without any other chemical process, although it seems to require a certain nervous state of alertness before the human eye can perceive them.

"You remember the case of the Brahman who hanged himself in a cellar not far from this shop of mine? His body hung there for a day before they found it. For weeks afterward what was supposed to be his ghost was seen -- by, scores of reputable witnesses -- hanging from the beam. That was several years ago. There was a great stir made about it at the time, and there were letters to the newspapers stating instances of similar occurrences. There was an investigation by experts from a research society, who denounced the whole story as an imposture.

"However, I was one of those who saw the ghost, and I made notes, and some experiments. Finally I photographed it! That satisfied me. I am sure that the alleged ghost was nothing but a photograph made on the wall, and that it was rendered visible by certain chemical conditions, not all of which I have been able to ascertain.

"Now then: if that is possible in one instance, it is possible in every instance. There is no such thing as an exception in nature; we have discovered a law. So take this piece of jade: we see things when we look into it. I deduce that they are photographic. And because no other piece of stone that I know of has the same quality of receiving impressions that are instantaneously visible, it seems probable to me that it has been intelligently treated by some one who knew how to do that."

"It might be a natural chemical process," said Ommony.

"I think not. Have you noticed that the strange moving images visible within the stone are not the reflections of objects? The stone is not a mirror in the ordinary sense. It does not seem to reflect at all the objects that surround it. I have never succeeded in seeing my face in it, for instance, although I have tried repeatedly, in all sorts of light, from every angle. It appears to me to reflect thought!"

Ommony made the peculiar noise between tongue and teeth that suggests polite but otherwise unconditioned incredulity. Chutter Chand, deep in his theme, ignored the interruption.

"I believe it reflects character! I believe that every thought that every man thinks, from the day he is born until the day he dies, leaves an invisible impress on his mind as well as a visible impress on his body. You know how changing character affects the lines on the palm of a man's hand, on the soles of his feet, at the corners of his eyes, at his mouth, and so on? Well: something of the same sort goes on in his mind, which is invisible and what we call intangible, but is nevertheless made up of electrons in motion. And those impressions are permanent. I believe that somebody, who knew how to manipulate electrons, has treated this stone in such a way that it reflects the whole of a man's thought since he was born -- just as a stone wall, if it could be treated properly, could be shown to retain the photograph of every object that had passed before it since the wall was built.

"I believe this was done very anciently, and for this reason: that if any one possessed of such intelligence and skill were alive in the world to-day, his intelligence would burn itself into our consciousness, so that we could not help but know of him.

"I am of opinion that the process to which the jade was subjected rendered it at the same time transparent; because it is not in the nature of jade to be quite transparent normally. And in my mind there is connected with all this the knowledge (which is common property) that the Chinese -- a very ancient race -- regard jade as a sacred stone. Why? Is it not possible that jade peculiarly lends itself to this treatment, and that, though the science is forgotten, the dim memory of the peculiar property of the stone persists?"

"You've a fine imagination!" said Ommony.

"And what is imagination, Ommonee, if not a bridge between the known and unknown? Between conventional so-called knowledge and the unexplored realm of truth? Have you no imagination? Electricity was possible a thousand years ago; but until imagination hinted at the possibility, who had the use of it?"

Ommony returned the stone to his pocket. He was interested, and he liked Chutter Chand, but it occurred to him that he was wasting time.

"You're right, of course," he said, "that we have to imagine a thing before we can begin to understand it or produce or make it."

"Surely. You imagined your forest, Ommonee, before you planted it. But between imagination and production, there is labor. You see, what the West can't understand it scoffs at, whereas what the East can't understand it calls sacred and guards against all-comers! I think you will have to penetrate a secret that has been guarded for thousands of years. They say, you know, that there are Masters who guard these secrets and let them out a little at a time. May the gods whom you happen to vote for be grateful and assist you! I would like to go on the adventure with you -- but I am a family man. I am afraid. I am not strong. That stone has thrilled me, Ommonee!"

"If you like, I'll leave it with you for some more experiments, " said Ommony.

"Sahib -- my friend -- I wouldn't keep it for a rajah's ransom! It was traced to this place -- how, I don't know. You noticed the policeman at the door? He is put there to keep out murderers! There has been a ruffian here -- a Hillman -- a cutthroat who said he came from Spiti -- a great savage with a saw-edge tulwar! Ugh! He demanded the stone. He demanded to know where it was. If it had not been that I had a shop-full of customers, and that I promised to try to get the stone back from the man who now had it, he would have cut me in halves! He said so! I am afraid all the time that he will return, or that some of his friends will come. Oh, I wish I had your lack of an imagination, Ommonee! I could feel his saw-edged tulwar plunging into me! Listen!" (Chutter Chand began to tremble visibly). "Who is that?"

Ommony glanced into the shop. There were two men, evidently unarmed or the "constabeel" would never have admitted them, standing talking to the clerk across the show-case-counter. One was apparently a very old man and the other very young. Both were dressed in the Tibetan costume, but the older man was speaking English, which was of itself sufficiently remarkable, and he appeared to be slightly amused because the clerk insisted that Chutter Chand was "absent on a journey." Neither man paid the slightest attention to the jewelry in the show-case; they were evidently bent on seeing Chutter Chand, and nothing else.

"Admit 'em!" whispered Ommony. "I'll hide. No, never mind the dog; she'll follow them in and sniff them over. If they ask about the dog, say she belongs to one of your customers who left her in your charge for an hour or two. What's behind that brass Buddha?"

"Nothing, Sahib. It is hollow. There is no back."

"That'll do then. Help me pull it out from the wall -- quick! -- quiet!"

They made rather a lot of noise and Diana came in to investigate, which was opportune. Ommony gave her orders sotto voce and she returned into the shop to watch the two curious visitors.

"Now, don't let yourself get frightened out of your wits, Chutter Chand. Encourage 'em to talk. Ask any idiotic question that occurs to you. When they're ready to go, let 'em. And then, whatever you do, don't say a word to the policeman."

Ommony stepped behind the image of the Buddha. Chutter Chand, leaning all his weight against it, shoved it back nearly into place, but left sufficient space between it and the wall for Ommony to see into an old cracked mirror that reflected almost everything in the room. Then, taking a visible hold on his emotions, Chutter Chand strode to the door and stood there for a moment looking -- listening -- trying to breathe normally. He forced a smile at last.

"Oh, let them in -- I will talk to them," he said to the clerk in English, with an air of almost perfect, patronizing nonchalance. Only a very close observer might have known he was afraid -- that fear, perhaps, in him was more than "recognition of something that the senses do not understand."

Chapter IV

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