THE RICHES OF DELHI
I will now proceed to give an account of my experience when acting as an assistant to an officer who was accredited by the prize agents with a permit to search for plunder. This officer, an old friend of mine, asked me to accompany him on his expeditions, saying also that he had no objection to my helping myself in moderation to part of the loot which we might happen to find. Carrying with us the necessary tools, such as hammers, spades, and pickaxes, we each day started - accompanied by two coolies - on our plundering excursions. For some days we were very unsuccessful, and for nearly a week only managed to gather together and transmit to the agents articles of little value. But, soon gaining experience from continued practice, and taking note of the different houses in which there was a likelihood of finding prize, we settled down to a systematic course of search, which in the end proved highly remunerative. Scarcely anything of value was found lying about the different rooms; these had been already gutted and the contents destroyed by the soldiers, both European and native, who, since the day of assault, had roamed about the city. At the time we began our search all was comparatively quiet, and during our operations, such was the vast extent of the city and so numerous the buildings, that only on two or three occasions were we interrupted by parties engaged in the same quest as ourselves.
My companion was a good Hindustani scholar, and taking advantage of his proficiency in the language, he made a point of interviewing several natives of the city, who, in the capacity of workmen in different trades, were allowed in Delhi, and were employed in their several occupations. From one of these, a mason and builder, N - received information that a large quantity of treasure was concealed in the house of a former rich resident. This man had helped to secrete the hoard, and on the promise of a small reward was willing to help us in unearthing the booty.
One morning in the beginning of October, attended by the mason, and carrying the necessary implements, we were taken to the house in question. This was a large building with a courtyard in the centre, the rooms of which showed the remains of luxury and wealth, but, as usual, had been despoiled by the plunderers of our army. Every article was scattered about in dire confusion; there were piles of clothing and bedding; rich and ornamental stuffs were torn to pieces, and the household furniture, broken up, was strewn about the courtyard. Our guide took us to a small room, about 80 feet square - in fact, it was the closet of the establishment - the walls of which were whitewashed, the floor being covered with a hard cement. Here, we were told, the treasure was concealed under the flooring of the room, and we lost no time in commencing operations, the mason assisting us. Picking through the cement, we came on a large flagstone, which we lifted out of the cavity. Then we dug a hole about 3 feet square, and the same depth in the loose earth, disclosing the mouth of a large earthenware gharra, or jar. Loosening the soil all around, we attempted to raise the jar out of the ground, but all our efforts were unavailing - its great weight preventing us from lifting it one inch out of the bed. Then, trembling with excitement, for we felt sure that a rich display would greet our eyes, we began slowly to remove each article from the gharra, and place it on the floor of the room. A heavy bag lying at the mouth of the jar was first taken out, and on opening it, and afterwards counting its contents, we found that it contained 700 native gold mohurs, worth nearly L1,200. Then came dozens of gold bangles, or anklets, of pure metal, such as those worn by dancing-girls. We were fairly bewildered at the sight, our hands trembling and our eyes ablaze with excitement, for such an amount of pure gold as that already discovered we had never seen before. But the treasure was not yet half exhausted. The jar seemed a perfect mine of wealth - gold chains, plain and of filigree workmanship, each worth from L10 to L30; ornaments of the same metal of every sort of design, and executed in a style for which the Delhi jewellers are celebrated all over India. Then came small silver caskets filled with pearls, together to the number of more than 200, each worth from L3 to L4, pierced for stringing. Others, containing small diamonds, rubies, and emeralds, and the greatest prize of all - reclining in a casket by itself - a large diamond, which was sold afterwards by the prize agents for L1,000. There were many other articles of value besides those I have mentioned - gold rings and tiaras inlaid with precious stones, nose-rings of the kind worn by women through the nostrils, earrings, bracelets, and necklaces of small pearls without number.
All these various articles we spread out on the floor of the room, examining each again and again, and with avaricious thoughts intent, lamenting that we were not allowed to appropriate what would have been to us a fortune. Truly such a temptation to enrich themselves without fear of detection was never till this occasion set before two impecunious subalterns of the British Army. Here, spread out before us, lay loot to the value of thousands of pounds, all our own were we to follow the example of some who had already feathered their nests with much larger amounts, defying those in authority to take the plunder from them. However, such a course could not be entertained for one moment, and, moreover, were we to possess ourselves of all the contents of the jar, there was no secure place of concealment to be found, and unpleasant inquiries and prying eyes would soon have revealed to the world our abduction of the booty.