He sat, in defiance of municipal orders, astride the gun Zam Zammah on her brick platform opposite the old Ajaib–Gher — the Wonder House, as the natives call the Lahore Museum. Who hold Zam–Zammah, that ‘fire-breathing dragon’, hold the Punjab, for the great green-bronze piece is always first of the conqueror’s loot.
There was some justification for Kim — he had kicked Lala Dinanath’s boy off the trunnions — since the English held the Punjab and Kim was English. Though he was burned black as any native; though he spoke the vernacular by preference, and his mother-tongue in a clipped uncertain sing-song; though he consorted on terms of perfect equality with the small boys of the bazar; Kim was white — a poor white of the very poorest. The half-caste woman who looked after him (she smoked opium, and pretended to keep a second-hand furniture shop by the square where the cheap cabs wait) told the missionaries that she was Kim’s mother’s sister; but his mother had been nursemaid in a Colonel’s family and had married Kimball O’Hara, a young colour-sergeant of the Mavericks, an Irish regiment. He afterwards took a post on the Sind, Punjab, and Delhi Railway, and his Regiment went home without him. The wife died of cholera in Ferozepore, and O’Hara fell to drink and loafing up and down the line with the keen-eyed three-year-old baby. Societies and chaplains, anxious for the child, tried to catch him, but O’Hara drifted away, till he came across the woman who took opium and learned the taste from her, and died as poor whites die in India. His estate at death consisted of three papers — one he called his ‘ne varietur’ because those words were written below his signature thereon, and another his ‘clearance-certificate’. The third was Kim’s birth-certificate. Those things, he was used to say, in his glorious opium-hours, would yet make little Kimball a man. On no account was Kim to part with them, for they belonged to a great piece of magic — such magic as men practised over yonder behind the Museum, in the big blue-and-white Jadoo–Gher — the Magic House, as we name the Masonic Lodge. It would, he said, all come right some day, and Kim’s horn would be exalted between pillars — monstrous pillars — of beauty and strength. The Colonel himself, riding on a horse, at the head of the finest Regiment in the world, would attend to Kim — little Kim that should have been better off than his father. Nine hundred first-class devils, whose God was a Red Bull on a green field, would attend to Kim, if they had not forgotten O’Hara — poor O’Hara that was gang-foreman on the Ferozepore line. Then he would weep bitterly in the broken rush chair on the veranda. So it came about after his death that the woman sewed parchment, paper, and birth-certificate into a leather amulet-case which she strung round Kim’s neck.
‘And some day,’ she said, confusedly remembering O’Hara’s prophecies, ‘there will come for you a great Red Bull on a green field, and the Colonel riding on his tall horse, yes, and’ dropping into English — ‘nine hundred devils.’
‘Ah,’ said Kim, ‘I shall remember. A Red Bull and a Colonel on a horse will come, but first, my father said, will come the two men making ready the ground for these matters. That is how my father said they always did; and it is always so when men work magic.’
If the woman had sent Kim up to the local Jadoo–Gher with those papers, he would, of course, have been taken over by the Provincial Lodge, and sent to the Masonic Orphanage in the Hills; but what she had heard of magic she distrusted. Kim, too, held views of his own. As he reached the years of indiscretion, he learned to avoid missionaries and white men of serious aspect who asked who he was, and what he did. For Kim did nothing with an immense success. True, he knew the wonderful walled city of Lahore from the Delhi Gate to the outer Fort Ditch; was hand in glove with men who led lives stranger than anything Haroun al Raschid dreamed of; and he lived in a life wild as that of the Arabian Nights, but missionaries and secretaries of charitable societies could not see the beauty of it. His nickname through the wards was ‘Little Friend of all the World’; and very often, being lithe and inconspicuous, he executed commissions by night on the crowded housetops for sleek and shiny young men of fashion. It was intrigue, — of course he knew that much, as he had known all evil since he could speak, — but what he loved was the game for its own sake — the stealthy prowl through the dark gullies and lanes, the crawl up a waterpipe, the sights and sounds of the women’s world on the flat roofs, and the headlong flight from housetop to housetop under cover of the hot dark. Then there were holy men, ash-smeared fakirs by their brick shrines under the trees at the riverside, with whom he was quite familiar — greeting them as they returned from begging-tours, and, when no one was by, eating from the same dish. The woman who looked after him insisted with tears that he should wear European clothes — trousers, a shirt and a battered hat. Kim found it easier to slip into Hindu or Mohammedan garb when engaged on certain businesses. One of the young men of fashion — he who was found dead at the bottom of a well on the night of the earthquake — had once given him a complete suit of Hindu kit, the costume of a lowcaste street boy, and Kim stored it in a secret place under some baulks in Nila Ram’s timber-yard, beyond the Punjab High Court, where the fragrant deodar logs lie seasoning after they have driven down the Ravi. When there was business or frolic afoot, Kim would use his properties, returning at dawn to the veranda, all tired out from shouting at the heels of a marriage procession, or yelling at a Hindu festival. Sometimes there was food in the house, more often there was not, and then Kim went out again to eat with his native friends.
As he drummed his heels against Zam–Zammah he turned now and again from his king-of-the-castle game with little Chota Lal and Abdullah the sweetmeat-seller’s son, to make a rude remark to the native policeman on guard over rows of shoes at the Museum door. The big Punjabi grinned tolerantly: he knew Kim of old. So did the water-carrier, sluicing water on the dry road from his goat-skin bag. So did Jawahir Singh, the Museum carpenter, bent over new packing-cases. So did everybody in sight except the peasants from the country, hurrying up to the Wonder House to view the things that men made in their own province and elsewhere. The Museum was given up to Indian arts and manufactures, and anybody who sought wisdom could ask the Curator to explain.
He stopped; for there shuffled round the corner, from the roaring Motee Bazar, such a man as Kim, who thought he knew all castes, had never seen. He was nearly six feet high, dressed in fold upon fold of dingy stuff like horse-blanketing, and not one fold of it could Kim refer to any known trade or profession. At his belt hung a long open-work iron pencase and a wooden rosary such as holy men wear. On his head was a gigantic sort of tam-o’-shanter. His face was yellow and wrinkled, like that of Fook Shing, the Chinese bootmaker in the bazar. His eyes turned up at the corners and looked like little slits of onyx.
‘We be followers of the Middle Way, living in peace in our lamasseries, and I go to see the Four Holy Places before I die. Now do you, who are children, know as much as I do who am old.’ He smiled benignantly on the boys.
‘I do not wish to eat yet.’ He turned his head like an old tortoise in the sunlight. ‘Is it true that there are many images in the Wonder House of Lahore?’ He repeated the last words as one making sure of an address.
Kim clicked round the self-registering turnstile; the old man followed and halted amazed. In the entrance-hall stood the larger figures of the Greco–Buddhist sculptures done, savants know how long since, by forgotten workmen whose hands were feeling, and not unskilfully, for the mysteriously transmitted Grecian touch. There were hundreds of pieces, friezes of figures in relief, fragments of statues and slabs crowded with figures that had encrusted the brick walls of the Buddhist stupas and viharas of the North Country and now, dug up and labelled, made the pride of the Museum. In open-mouthed wonder the lama turned to this and that, and finally checked in rapt attention before a large alto-relief representing a coronation or apotheosis of the Lord Buddha. The Master was represented seated on a lotus the petals of which were so deeply undercut as to show almost detached. Round Him was an adoring hierarchy of kings, elders, and old-time Buddhas. Below were lotus-covered waters with fishes and water-birds. Two butterfly-winged devas held a wreath over His head; above them another pair supported an umbrella surmounted by the jewelled headdress of the Bodhisat.
To Him the Way, the Law, apart,Whom Maya held beneath her heart,Ananda’s Lord, the Bodhisat.
‘Yonder is the Sahib.’ said Kim, and dodged sideways among the cases of the arts and manufacturers wing. A white-bearded Englishman was looking at the lama, who gravely turned and saluted him and after some fumbling drew forth a note-book and a scrap of paper.
The office was but a little wooden cubicle partitioned off from the sculpture-lined gallery. Kim laid himself down, his ear against a crack in the heat-split cedar door, and, following his instinct, stretched out to listen and watch.
Most of the talk was altogether above his head. The lama, haltingly at first, spoke to the Curator of his own lamassery, the Such-zen, opposite the Painted Rocks, four months’ march away. The Curator brought out a huge book of photos and showed him that very place, perched on its crag, overlooking the gigantic valley of many-hued strata.
‘Ay, ay!’ The lama mounted a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles of Chinese work. ‘Here is the little door through which we bring wood before winter. And thou — the English know of these things? He who is now Abbot of Lung–Cho told me, but I did not believe. The Lord — the Excellent One — He has honour here too? And His life is known?’
Incident by incident in the beautiful story he identified on the blurred stone, puzzled here and there by the unfamiliar Greek convention, but delighted as a child at each new trove. Where the sequence failed, as in the Annunciation, the Curator supplied it from his mound of books — French and German, with photographs and reproductions.
Here was the devout Asita, the pendant of Simeon in the Christian story, holding the Holy Child on his knee while mother and father listened; and here were incidents in the legend of the cousin Devadatta. Here was the wicked woman who accused the Master of impurity, all confounded; here was the teaching in the Deer-park; the miracle that stunned the fire-worshippers; here was the Bodhisat in royal state as a prince; the miraculous birth; the death at Kusinagara, where the weak disciple fainted; while there were almost countless repetitions of the meditation under the Bodhi tree; and the adoration of the alms-bowl was everywhere. In a few minutes the Curator saw that his guest was no mere bead-telling mendicant, but a scholar of parts. And they went at it all over again, the lama taking snuff, wiping his spectacles, and talking at railway speed in a bewildering mixture of Urdu and Tibetan. He had heard of the travels of the Chinese pilgrims, Fu–Hiouen and Hwen–Tsiang, and was anxious to know if there was any translation of their record. He drew in his breath as he turned helplessly over the pages of Beal and Stanislas Julien. “Tis all here. A treasure locked.’ Then he composed himself reverently to listen to fragments hastily rendered into Urdu. For the first time he heard of the labours of European scholars, who by the help of these and a hundred other documents have identified the Holy Places of Buddhism. Then he was shown a mighty map, spotted and traced with yellow. The brown finger followed the Curator’s pencil from point to point. Here was Kapilavastu, here the Middle Kingdom, and here Mahabodhi, the Mecca of Buddhism; and here was Kusinagara, sad place of the Holy One’s death. The old man bowed his head over the sheets in silence for a while, and the Curator lit another pipe. Kim had fallen asleep. When he waked, the talk, still in spate, was more within his comprehension.
‘And thus it was, O Fountain of Wisdom, that I decided to go to the Holy Places which His foot had trod — to the Birthplace, even to Kapila; then to Mahabodhi, which is Buddh Gaya — to the Monastery — to the Deer-park — to the place of His death.’
The lama lowered his voice. ‘And I come here alone. For five — seven — eighteen — forty years it was in my mind that the Old Law was not well followed; being overlaid, as thou knowest, with devildom, charms, and idolatry. Even as the child outside said but now. Ay, even as the child said, with but-parasti.’
‘Thinkest thou? The books of my lamassery I read, and they were dried pith; and the later ritual with which we of the Reformed Law have cumbered ourselves — that, too, had no worth to these old eyes. Even the followers of the Excellent One are at feud on feud with one another. It is all illusion. Ay, maya, illusion. But I have another desire’ — the seamed yellow face drew within three inches of the Curator, and the long forefinger-nail tapped on the table. ‘Your scholars, by these books, have followed the Blessed Feet in all their wanderings; but there are things which they have not sought out. I know nothing — nothing do I know — but I go to free myself from the Wheel of Things by a broad and open road.’ He smiled with most simple triumph. ‘As a pilgrim to the Holy Places I acquire merit. But there is more. Listen to a true thing. When our gracious Lord, being as yet a youth, sought a mate, men said, in His father’s Court, that He was too tender for marriage. Thou knowest?’
‘And, overshooting all other marks, the arrow passed far and far beyond sight. At the last it fell; and, where it touched earth, there broke out a stream which presently became a River, whose nature, by our Lord’s beneficence, and that merit He acquired ere He freed himself, is that whoso bathes in it washes away all taint and speckle of sin.’
‘Nay, if it please thee to forget — the one thing only that thou hast not told me. Surely thou must know? See, I am an old man! I ask with my head between thy feet, O Fountain of Wisdom. We know He drew the bow! We know the arrow fell! We know the stream gushed! Where, then, is the River? My dream told me to find it. So I came. I am here. But where is the River?’
‘By it one attains freedom from the Wheel of Things,’ the lama went on, unheeding. ‘The River of the Arrow! Think again! Some little stream, maybe — dried in the heats? But the Holy One would never so cheat an old man.’
‘First to Kashi [Benares]: where else? There I shall meet one of the pure faith in a Jain temple of that city. He also is a Seeker in secret, and from him haply I may learn. Maybe he will go with me to Buddh Gaya. Thence north and west to Kapilavastu, and there will I seek for the River. Nay, I will seek everywhere as I go — for the place is not known where the arrow fell.’
‘By road and the trains. From Pathankot, having left the Hills, I came hither in a te-rain. It goes swiftly. At first I was amazed to see those tall poles by the side of the road snatching up and snatching up their threads,’ — he illustrated the stoop and whirl of a telegraph-pole flashing past the train. ‘But later, I was cramped and desired to walk, as I am used.’
‘For the journey, I take up the Master’s begging-bowl. Yes. Even as He went so go I, forsaking the ease of my monastery. There was with me when I left the hills a chela [disciple] who begged for me as the Rule demands, but halting in Kulu awhile a fever took him and he died. I have now no chela, but I will take the alms-bowl and thus enable the charitable to acquire merit.’ He nodded his head valiantly. Learned doctors of a lamassery do not beg, but the lama was an enthusiast in this quest.
‘Be it so,’ said the Curator, smiling. ‘Suffer me now to acquire merit. We be craftsmen together, thou and I. Here is a new book of white English paper: here be sharpened pencils two and three — thick and thin, all good for a scribe. Now lend me thy spectacles.’
‘I will take them and the pencils and the white note-book,’ said the lama, ‘as a sign of friendship between priest and priest — and now —’ He fumbled at his belt, detached the open-work iron pincers, and laid it on the Curator’s table. ‘That is for a memory between thee and me — my pencase. It is something old — even as I am.’
It was a piece of ancient design, Chinese, of an iron that is not smelted these days; and the collector’s heart in the Curator’s bosom had gone out to it from the first. For no persuasion would the lama resume his gift.
‘When I return, having found the River, I will bring thee a written picture of the Padma Samthora such as I used to make on silk at the lamassery. Yes — and of the Wheel of Life,’ he chuckled, ‘for we be craftsmen together, thou and I.’
The Curator would have detained him: they are few in the world who still have the secret of the conventional brush-pen Buddhist pictures which are, as it were, half written and half drawn. But the lama strode out, head high in air, and pausing an instant before the great statue of a Bodhisat in meditation, brushed through the turnstiles.
Kim followed like a shadow. What he had overheard excited him wildly. This man was entirely new to all his experience, and he meant to investigate further, precisely as he would have investigated a new building or a strange festival in Lahore city. The lama was his trove, and he purposed to take possession. Kim’s mother had been Irish, too.
‘Those who beg in silence starve in silence,’ said Kim, quoting a native proverb. The lama tried to rise, but sank back again, sighing for his disciple, dead in far-away Kulu. Kim watched head to one side, considering and interested.
‘No,’ said Kim. ‘Thy man is rather yagi [bad-tempered] than yogi [a holy man]. But this priest is new. The Sahib in the Wonder House has talked to him like a brother. O my mother, fill me this bowl. He waits.’
‘That bowl indeed! That cow-bellied basket! Thou hast as much grace as the holy bull of Shiv. He has taken the best of a basket of onions already, this morn; and forsooth, I must fill thy bowl. He comes here again.’
The huge, mouse-coloured Brahmini bull of the ward was shouldering his way through the many-coloured crowd, a stolen plantain hanging out of his mouth. He headed straight for the shop, well knowing his privileges as a sacred beast, lowered his head, and puffed heavily along the line of baskets ere making his choice. Up flew Kim’s hard little heel and caught him on his moist blue nose. He snorted indignantly, and walked away across the tram-rails, his hump quivering with rage.
‘It is a hole as big as thy head,’ said the woman fretfully. But she filled it, none the less, with good, steaming vegetable curry, clapped a fried cake atop, and a morsel of clarified butter on the cake, dabbed a lump of sour tamarind conserve at the side; and Kim looked at the load lovingly.
‘And thou?’ laughed the woman. ‘But speak well of bulls. Hast thou not told me that some day a Red Bull will come out of a field to help thee? Now hold all straight and ask for the holy man’s blessing upon me. Perhaps, too, he knows a cure for my daughter’s sore eyes. Ask. him that also, O thou Little Friend of all the World.’
‘Thus do we beg who know the way of it,’ said he proudly to the lama, who opened his eyes at the contents of the bowl. ‘Eat now and — I will eat with thee. Ohe, bhisti!’ he called to the water-carrier, sluicing the crotons by the Museum. ‘Give water here. We men are thirsty.’
They ate together in great content, clearing the beggingbowl. Then the lama took snuff from a portentous wooden snuff-gourd, fingered his rosary awhile, and so dropped into the easy sleep of age, as the shadow of Zam–Zammah grew long.
Kim loafed over to the nearest tobacco-seller, a rather lively young Mohammedan woman, and begged a rank cigar of the brand that they sell to students of the Punjab University who copy English customs. Then he smoked and thought, knees to chin, under the belly of the gun, and the outcome of his thoughts was a sudden and stealthy departure in the direction of Nila Ram’s timber-yard.
The lama did not wake till the evening life of the city had begun with lamp-lighting and the return of white-robed clerks and subordinates from the Government offices. He stared dizzily in all directions, but none looked at him save a Hindu urchin in a dirty turban and Isabella-coloured clothes. Suddenly he bowed his head on his knees and wailed.
‘It was a boy who came to me in place of him who died, on account of the merit which I had gained when I bowed before the Law within there.’ He pointed towards the Museum. ‘He came upon me to show me a road which I had lost. He led me into the Wonder House, and by his talk emboldened me to speak to the Keeper of the Images, so that I was cheered and made strong. And when I was faint with hunger he begged for me, as would a chela for his teacher. Suddenly was he sent. Suddenly has he gone away. It was in my mind to have taught him the Law upon the road to Benares.’
‘Thy chela,’ said Kim simply, sitting on his heels. ‘I have never seen anyone like to thee in all this my life. I go with thee to Benares. And, too, I think that so old a man as thou, speaking the truth to chance-met people at dusk, is in great need of a disciple.’
‘Not I,” Kim laughed uneasily. ‘I go to look for — for a bull — a Red. Bull on a green field who shall help me.’ Boylike, if an acquaintance had a scheme, Kim was quite ready with one of his own; and, boylike, he had really thought for as much as twenty minutes at a time of his father’s prophecy.
‘God knows, but so my father told me’. I heard thy talk in the Wonder House of all those new strange places in the Hills, and if one so old and so little — so used to truth-telling — may go out for the small matter of a river, it seemed to me that I too must go a-travelling. If it is our fate to find those things we shall find them — thou, thy River; and I, my Bull, and the Strong Pillars and some other matters that I forget.’
The hot and crowded bazars blazed with light as they made their way through the press of all the races in Upper India, and the lama mooned through it like a man in a dream. It was his first experience of a large manufacturing city, and the crowded tram-car with its continually squealing brakes frightened him. Half pushed, half towed, he arrived at the high gate of the Kashmir Serai: that huge open square over against the railway station, surrounded with arched cloisters, where the camel and horse caravans put up on their return from Central Asia. Here were all manner of Northern folk, tending tethered ponies and kneeling camels; loading and unloading bales and bundles; drawing water for the evening meal at the creaking well-windlasses; piling grass before the shrieking, wild-eyed stallions; cuffing the surly caravan dogs; paying off camel-drivers; taking on new grooms; swearing, shouting, arguing, and chaffering in the packed square. The cloisters, reached by three or four masonry steps, made a haven of refuge around this turbulent sea. Most of them were rented to traders, as we rent the arches of a viaduct; the space between pillar and pillar being bricked or boarded off into rooms, which were guarded by heavy wooden doors and cumbrous native padlocks. Locked doors showed that the owner was away, and a few rude — sometimes very rude — chalk or paint scratches told where he had gone. Thus: ‘Lutuf Ullah is gone to Kurdistan.’ Below, in coarse verse: ‘O Allah, who sufferest lice to live on the coat of a Kabuli, why hast thou allowed this louse Lutuf to live so long?’
Kim, fending the lama between excited men and excited beasts, sidled along the cloisters to the far end, nearest therailway station, where Mahbub Ali, the horse-trader, lived when he came in from that mysterious land beyond the Passes of the North.
Kim had had many dealings with Mahbub in his little life, especially between his tenth and his thirteenth year — and the big burly Afghan, his beard dyed scarlet with lime (for he was elderly and did not wish his grey hairs to show), knew the boy’s value as a gossip. Sometimes he would tell Kim to watch a man who had nothing whatever to do with horses: to follow him for one whole day and report every soul with whom he talked. Kim would deliver himself of his tale at evening, and Mahbub would listen without a word or gesture. It was intrigue of some kind, Kim knew; but its worth lay in saying nothing whatever to anyone except Mahbub, who gave him beautiful meals all hot from the cookshop at the head of the serai, and once as much as eight annas in money.
The horse-trader, his deep, embroidered Bokhariot belt unloosed, was lying on a pair of silk carpet saddle-bags, pulling lazily at an immense silver hookah. He turned his head very slightly at the cry; and seeing only the tall silent figure, chuckled in his deep chest.
‘God’s curse on all unbelievers!’ said Mahbub. ‘I do not give to a lousy Tibetan; but ask my Baltis over yonder behind the camels. They may value your blessings. Oh, horseboys, here is a countryman of yours. See if he be hungry.’
A shaven, crouching Balti, who had come down with the horses, and who was nominally some sort of degraded Buddhist, fawned upon the priest, and in thick gutturals besought the Holy One to sit at the horseboys’ fire.
‘To whom else should I come? I have no money. It is not good to go about without money. Thou wilt sell many horses to the officers. They are very fine horses, these new ones: I have seen them. Give me a rupee, Mahbub Ali, and when I come to my wealth I will give thee a bond and pay.’
‘He is my disciple. He was sent, I think, to guide me to that River. Sitting under a gun was I when he came suddenly. Such things have befallen the fortunate to whom guidance was allowed. But I remember now, he said he was of this world — a Hindu.’
‘Why should I ask? There is neither high nor low in the Middle Way. If he is my chela — does — will — can anyone take him from me? for, look you, without him I shall not find my River.’ He wagged his head solemnly.
‘And if thou wilt carry a message for me as far as Umballa, I will give thee money. It concerns a horse — a white stallion which I have sold to an officer upon the last time I returned from the Passes. But then — stand nearer and hold up hands as begging — the pedigree of the white stallion was not fully established, and that officer, who is now at Umballa, bade me make it clear.’ (Mahbub here described the horse and the appearance of the officer.) ‘So the message to that officer will be: “The pedigree of the white stallion is fully established.” By this will he know that thou comest from me. He will then say “What proof hast thou?” and thou wilt answer: “Mahbub Ali has given me the proof.”’
He turned as feeling on the floor beside him and tossed a flap of soft, greasy Mussalman bread to the boy. ‘Go and lie down among my horseboys for tonight — thou and the lama. Tomorrow I may give thee service.’
Kim slunk away, his teeth in the bread, and, as he expected, he found a small wad of folded tissue-paper wrapped in oilskin, with three silver rupees — enormous largesse. He smiled and thrust money and paper into his leather amulet-case. The lama, sumptuously fed by Mahbub’s Baltis, was already asleep in a corner of one of the stalls. Kim lay down beside him and laughed. He knew he had rendered a service to Mahbub Ali, and not for one little minute did he believe the tale of the stallion’s pedigree.
But Kim did not suspect that Mahbub Ali, known as one of the best horse-dealers in the Punjab, a wealthy and enterprising trader, whose caravans penetrated far and far into the Back of Beyond, was registered in one of the locked books of the Indian Survey Department as C25 IB. Twice or thrice yearly C25 would send in a little story, baldly told but most interesting, and generally — it was checked by the statements of R17 and M4 — quite true. It concerned all manner of out-of-the-way mountain principalities, explorers of nationalities other than English, and the guntrade — was, in brief, a small portion of that vast mass of ‘information received’ on which the Indian Government acts. But, recently, five confederated Kings, who had no business to confederate, had been informed by a kindly Northern Power that there was a leakage of news from their territories into British India. So those Kings’ Prime Ministers were seriously annoyed and took steps, after the Oriental fashion. They suspected, among many others, the bullying, red-bearded horsedealer whose caravans ploughed through their fastnesses belly-deep in snow. At least, his caravan that season had been ambushed and shot at twice on the way down, when Mahbub’s men accounted for three strange ruffians who might, or might not, have been hired for the job. Therefore Mahbub had avoided halting at the insalubrious city of Peshawur, and had come through without stop to Lahore, where, knowing his country-people, he anticipated curious developments.
And there was that on Mahbub Ali which he did not wish to keep an hour longer than was necessary — a wad of closely folded tissue-paper, wrapped in oilskin — an impersonal, unaddressed statement, with five microscopic pin-holes in one corner, that most scandalously betrayed the five confederated Kings, the sympathetic Northern Power, a Hindu banker in Peshawur, a firm of gun-makers in Belgium, and an important, semi-independent Mohammedan ruler to the south. This last was R17’s work, which Mahbub had picked up beyond the Dora Pass and was carrying in for R17, who, owing to circumstances over which he had no control, could not leave his post of observation. Dynamite was milky and innocuous beside that report of C25; and even an Oriental, with an Oriental’s views of the value of time, could see that the sooner it was in the proper hands the better. Mahbub had no particular desire to die by violence, because two or three family blood-feuds across the Border hung unfinished on his hands, and when these scores were cleared he intended to settle down as a more or less virtuous citizen. He had never passed the serai gate since his arrival two days ago, but had been ostentatious in sending telegrams to Bombay, where he banked some of his money; to Delhi, where a sub-partner of his own clan was selling horses to the agent of a Rajputana state; and to Umballa, where an Englishman was excitedly demanding the pedigree of a white stallion. The public letter-writer, who knew English, composed excellent telegrams, such as: ‘Creighton, Laurel Bank, Umballa. Horse is Arabian as already advised. Sorrowful delayed pedigree which am translating.’ And later to the same address: ‘Much sorrowful delay. Will forward pedigree.’ To his sub-partner at Delhi he wired: ‘Lutuf Ullah. Have wired two thousand rupees your credit Luchman Narain’s bank-’ This was entirely in the way of trade, but every one of those telegrams was discussed and re-discussed, by parties who conceived themselves to be interested, before they went over to the railway station in charge of a foolish Balti, who allowed all sorts of people to read them on the road.
When, in Mahbub’s own picturesque language, he had muddied the wells of inquiry with the stick of precaution, Kim had dropped on him, sent from Heaven; and, being as prompt as he was unscrupulous, Mahbub Ali used to taking all sorts of gusty chances, pressed him into service on the spot.
He called for a new light-ball to his hookah, and considered the case. If the worst came to the worst, and the boy came to harm, the paper would incriminate nobody. And he would go up to Umballa leisurely and — at a certain risk of exciting fresh suspicion — repeat his tale by word of mouth to the people concerned.
But R17’s report was the kernel of the whole affair, and it would be distinctly inconvenient if that failed to come to hand. However, God was great, and Mahbub Ali felt he had done all he could for the time being. Kim was the one soul in the world who had never told him a lie. That would have been a fatal blot on Kim’s character if Mahbub had not known that to others, for his own ends or Mahbub’s business, Kim could lie like an Oriental.
Then Mahbub Ali rolled across the serai to the Gate of the Harpies who paint their eyes and trap the stranger, and was at some pains to call on the one girl who, he had reason to believe, was a particular friend of a smooth-faced Kashmiri pundit who had waylaid his simple Balti in the matter of the telegrams. It was an utterly foolish thing to do; because they fell to drinking perfumed brandy against the Law of the Prophet, and Mahbub grew wonderfully drunk, and the gates of his mouth were loosened, and he pursued the Flower of Delight with the feet of intoxication till he fell flat among the cushions, where the Flower of Delight, aided by a smooth-faced Kashmiri pundit, searched him from head to foot most thoroughly.
About the same hour Kim heard soft feet in Mahbub’s deserted stall. The horse-trader, curiously enough, had left his door unlocked, and his men were busy celebrating their return to India with a whole sheep of Mahbub’s bounty. A sleek young gentleman from Delhi, armed with a bunch of keys which the Flower had unshackled from the senseless one’s belt, went through every single box, bundle, mat, and saddle-bag in Mahbub’s possession even more systematically than the Flower and the pundit were searching the owner.
‘And I think.’ said the Flower scornfully an hour later, one rounded elbow on the snoring carcass, ‘that he is no more than a pig of an Afghan horse-dealer, with no thought except women and horses. Moreover, he may have sent it away by now — if ever there were such a thing.’
The Delhi man laughed and resettled his turban as he entered. ‘I searched between the soles of his slippers as the Flower searched his clothes. This is not the man but another. I leave little unseen.’
Phew!’ said the Flower with deep disgust, rolling Mahbub’s head from her lap. ‘I earn my money. Farrukh Shah is a bear, Ali Beg a swashbuckler, and old Sikandar Khan — yaie! Go! I sleep now. This swine will not stir till dawn.’
When Mahbub woke, the Flower talked to him severely on the sin of drunkenness. Asiatics do not wink when they have outmanoeuvred an enemy, but as Mahbub Ali cleared his throat, tightened his belt, and staggered forth under the early morning stars, he came very near to it.
‘What a colt’s trick!’ said he to himself. ‘As if every girl in Peshawur did not use it! But ’twas prettily done. Now God He knows how many more there be upon the Road who have orders to test me — perhaps with the knife. So it stands that the boy must go to Umballa — and by rail — for the writing is something urgent. I abide here, following the Flower and drinking wine as an Afghan coper should.’
But it was Kim who had wakened the lama — Kim with one eye laid against a knot-hole in the planking, who had seen the Delhi man’s search through the boxes. This was no common thief that turned over letters, bills, and saddles — no mere burglar who ran a little knife sideways into the soles of Mahbub’s slippers, or picked the seams of the saddle-bags so deftly. At first Kim had been minded to give the alarm — the long-drawn choor — choor! [thief! thief!] that sets the serai ablaze of nights; but he looked more carefully, and, hand on amulet, drew his own conclusions.
‘It must be the pedigree of that made-up horse-lie,’ said he, ‘the thing that I carry to Umballa. Better that we go now. Those who search bags with knives may presently search bellies with knives. Surely there is a woman behind this. Hai! Hai! in a whisper to the light-sleeping old man. ‘Come. It is time — time to go to Benares.’
‘This is the work of devils!’ said the lama, recoiling from the hollow echoing darkness, the glimmer of rails between the masonry platforms, and the maze of girders above. He stood in a gigantic stone hall paved, it seemed, with the sheeted dead third-class passengers who had taken their tickets overnight and were sleeping in the waiting-rooms. All hours of the twenty-four are alike to Orientals, and their passenger traffic is regulated accordingly.
The lama, not so well used to trains as he had pretended, started as the 3.25 a.m. south-bound roared in. The sleepers sprang to life, and the station filled with clamour and shoutings, cries of water and sweetmeat vendors, shouts of native policemen, and shrill yells of women gathering up their baskets, their families, and their husbands.
‘It is the train — only the te-rain. It will not come here. Wait!’ Amazed at the lama’s immense simplicity (he had handed him a small bag full of rupees), Kim asked and paid for a ticket to Umballa. A sleepy clerk grunted and flung out a ticket to the next station, just six miles distant.
‘Now another to Amritzar,’ said Kim, who had no notion of spending Mahbub Ali’s money on anything so crude as a paid ride to Umballa. ‘The price is so much. The small money in return is just so much. I know the ways of the te-rain ... Never did yogi need chela as thou dost,’ he went on merrily to the bewildered lama. ‘They would have flung thee out at Mian Mir but for me. This way! Come!’ He returned the money, keeping only one anna in each rupee of the price of the Umballa ticket as his commission — the immemorial commission of Asia.
‘There is no room even for a mouse,’ shrilled the wife of a well-to-do cultivator — a Hindu Jat from the rich Jullundur, district. Our night trains are not as well looked after as the day ones, where the sexes are very strictly kept to separate carriages.
‘And my lap full of seventy times seven bundles! Why not bid him sit on my knee, Shameless? But men are ever thus!’ She looked round for approval. An Amritzar courtesan near the window sniffed behind her head drapery.
‘I say,’ began the money-lender, pursing his lips, ‘that there is not one rule of right living which these te-rains do not cause us to break. We sit, for example, side by side with all castes and peoples.’
‘The Gods help us poor women if we may not speak. Oho! He is of that sort which may not look at or reply to a woman.’ For the lama, constrained by his Rule, took not the faintest notice of her. ‘And his disciple is like him?’
‘My sister’s brother’s son is naik (corporal] in that regiment,’ said the Sikh craftsman quietly. ‘There are also some Dogra companies there.’ The soldier glared, for a Dogra is of other caste than a Sikh, and the banker tittered.
‘Nay, but all who serve the Sirkar with weapons in their hands are, as it were, one brotherhood. There is one brotherhood of the caste, but beyond that again’ — she looked round timidly —‘the bond of the Pulton — the Regiment — eh?’
‘Thy Sikhs at least were of that opinion,’ said the soldier, with a scowl at the placid old man in the corner. ‘Thy Sikhs thought so when our two companies came to help them at the Pirzai Kotal in the face of eight Afridi standards on the ridge not three months gone.’
The lamps were paling in the dawn when the half-caste guard came round. Ticket-collecting is a slow business in the East, where people secrete their tickets in all sorts of curious places. Kim produced his and was told to get out.
Kim burst into a flood of tears, protesting that the lama was his father and his mother, that he was the prop of the lama’s declining years, and that the lama would die without his care. All the carriage bade the guard be merciful — the banker was specially eloquent here — but the guard hauled Kim on to the platform. The lama blinked — he could not overtake the situation and Kim lifted up his voice and wept outside the carriage window.
Golden, rose, saffron, and pink, the morning mists smoked away across the flat green levels. All the rich Punjab lay out in the splendour of the keen sun. The lama flinched a little as the telegraph-posts swung by.
‘And that is still far from Benares,’ said the lama wearily, mumbling over the cakes that Kim offered. They all unloosed their bundles and made their morning meal. Then the banker, the cultivator, and the soldier prepared their pipes and wrapped the compartment in choking, acrid smoke, spitting and coughing and enjoying themselves. The Sikh and the cultivator’s wife chewed pan; the lama took snuff and told his beads, while Kim, cross-legged, smiled over the comfort of a full stomach.
‘Clean — to return again to the Gods,’ the lama muttered. ‘And to go forth on the round of lives anew — still tied to the Wheel.’ He shook his head testily. ‘But maybe there is a mistake. Who, then, made Gunga in the beginning?’
He began in Urdu the tale of the Lord Buddha, but, borne by his own thoughts, slid into Tibetan and long-droned texts from a Chinese book of the Buddha’s life. The gentle, tolerant folk looked on reverently. All India is full of holy men stammering gospels in strange tongues; shaken and consumed in the fires of their own zeal; dreamers, babblers, and visionaries: as it has been from the beginning and will continue to the end.
‘Um!’ said the soldier of the Ludhiana Sikhs. ‘There was a Mohammedan regiment lay next to us at the Pirzai Kotal, and a priest of theirs — he was, as I remember, a naik — when the fit was on him, spake prophecies. But the mad all are in God’s keeping. His officers overlooked much in that man.’
This was much more to their taste, and they listened curiously while he told it. ‘Now, O people of Hind, I go to seek that River. Know ye aught that may guide me, for we be all men and women in evil case.’
‘To search every river in the Punjab is no small matter,’ said her husband. ‘For me, a stream that leaves good silt on my land suffices, and I thank Bhumia, the God of the Home-stead.’ He shrugged one knotted, bronzed shoulder.
‘The last of the Great Ones,’ said the Sikh with authority, ‘was Sikander Julkarn [Alexander the Great]. He paved the streets of Jullundur and built a great tank near Umballa. That pavement holds to this day; and the tank is there also. I never heard of thy God.’
The lama sighed and shrank into himself, a dingy, shapeless mass. In the pauses of their talk they could hear the low droning ‘Om mane pudme hum! Om mane pudme hum!’ — and the thick click of the wooden rosary beads.
‘He — we — went to the Ajaib–Gher in Lahore to pray before the Gods there,’ Kim explained to the openly listening company. ‘And the Sahib of the Wonder House talked to him — yes, this is truth as a brother. He is a very holy man, from far beyond the Hills. Rest, thou. In time we come to Umballa.’
‘What is this?’ The cultivator’s wife leaned forward, her bracelets clinking on her arm. ‘Do ye both dream dreams? A Red Bull on a green field, that shall carry thee to the heavens or what? Was it a vision? Did one make a prophecy? We have a Red Bull in our village behind Jullundur city, and he grazes by choice in the very greenest of our fields!’
‘Give a woman an old wife’s tale and a weaver-bird a leaf and a thread’, they will weave wonderful things,’ said the Sikh. ‘All holy men dream dreams, and by following holy men their disciples attain that power.’
‘It may be that the Bull knows — that he is sent to guide us both.’ said the lama, hopefully as a child. Then to the company, indicating Kim: ‘This one was sent to me but yesterday. He is not, I think, of this world.’
‘We abide here upon a law-suit,’ said the cultivator’s wife to Kim. ‘We lodge with my man’s cousin’s younger brother. There is room also in the courtyard for thy yogi and for thee. Will — will he give me a blessing?’
‘Thy cousin’s younger brother owes my father’s cousin something yet on his daughter’s marriage-feast,’ said the woman crisply. ‘Let him put their food to that account. The yogi will beg, I doubt not.’
‘Now,’ said he, when the lama had come to an anchor in the inner courtyard of a decent Hindu house behind the cantonments, ‘I go away for a while — to — to buy us victual in the bazar. Do not stray abroad till I return.’
Kim stole out and away, as unremarkable a figure as ever carried his own and a few score thousand other folk’s fate slung round his neck. Mahbub Ali’s directions left him little doubt of the house in which his Englishman lived; and a groom, bringing a dog-cart home from the Club, made him quite sure. It remained only to identify his man, and Kim slipped through the garden hedge and hid in a clump of plumed grass close to the veranda. The house blazed with lights, and servants moved about tables dressed with flowers, glass, and silver. Presently forth came an Englishman, dressed in black and white, humming a tune. It was too dark to see his face, so Kim, beggar-wise, tried an old experiment.
‘Mahbub Ali has given me this proof.’ Kim flipped the wad of folded paper into the air, and it fell in the path beside the man, who put his foot on it as a gardener came round the corner. When the servant passed he picked it up, dropped a rupee — Kim could hear the clink — and strode into the house, never turning round. Swiftly Kim took up the money; but for all his training, he was Irish enough by birth to reckon silver the least part of any game. What he desired was the visible effect of action; so, instead of slinking away, he lay close in the grass and wormed nearer to the house.
He saw — Indian bungalows are open through and through — the Englishman return to a small dressing-room, in a comer of the veranda, that was half office, littered with papers and despatch-boxes, and sit down to study Mahbub Ali’s message. His face, by the full ray of the kerosene lamp, changed and darkened, and Kim, used as every beggar must be to watching countenances, took good note.
The man dashed out bareheaded as a big landau with four native troopers behind it halted at the veranda, and a tall, black haired man, erect as an arrow, swung out, preceded by a young officer who laughed pleasantly.
‘Tell one of the troopers to wait,’ said the tall man, and they both passed into the dressing-room together as the landau rolled away. Kim saw their heads bent over Mahbub Ali’s message, and heard the voices — one low and deferential, the other sharp and decisive.
‘It isn’t a question of weeks. It is a question of days — hours almost,’ said the elder. ‘I’d been expecting it for some time, but this’ — he tapped Mahbub Ali’s paper — ‘clinches it. Grogan’s dining here to-night, isn’t he?’
‘Very good. I’ll speak to them myself. The matter will be referred to the Council, of course, but this is a case where one is justified in assuming that we take action at once. Warn the Pined and Peshawar brigades. It will disorganize all the summer reliefs, but we can’t help that. This comes of not smashing them thoroughly the first time. Eight thousand should be enough.’
‘He bears out the other’s information. Practically, they showed their hand six months back. But Devenish would have it there was a chance of peace. Of course they used it to make themselves stronger. Send off those telegrams at once — the new code, not the old — mine and Wharton’s. I don’t think we need keep the ladies waiting any longer. We can settle the rest over the cigars. I thought it was coming. It’s punishment — not war.’
As the trooper cantered off, Kim crawled round to the back of the house, where, going on his Lahore experiences, he judged there would be food — and information. The kitchen was crowded with excited scullions, one of whom kicked him.
‘And all that trouble,’ said he to himself, thinking as usual in Hindustani, ‘for a horse’s pedigree! Mahbub Ali should have come to me to learn a little lying. Every time before that I have borne a message it concerned a woman. Now it is men. Better. The tall man said that they will loose a great army to punish someone — somewhere — the news goes to Pindi and Peshawur. There are also guns. Would I had crept nearer. It is big news!’
He returned to find the cultivator’s cousin’s younger brother discussing the family law-suit in all its bearings with the cultivator and his wife and a few friends, while the lama dozed. After the evening meal some one passed him a water-pipe; and Kim felt very much of a man as he pulled at the smooth coconut-shell, his legs spread abroad in the moonlight, his tongue clicking in remarks from time to time. His hosts were most polite; for the cultivator’s wife had told them of his vision of the Red Bull, and of his probable descent from another world. Moreover, the lama was a great and venerable curiosity.
The family priest, an old, tolerant Sarsut Brahmin, dropped in later, and naturally started a theological argument to impress the family. By creed, of course, they were all on their priest’s side, but the lama was the guest and the novelty. His gentle kindliness, and his impressive Chinese quotations, that sounded like spells, delighted them hugely; and in this sympathetic, simple air, he expanded like the Bodhisat’s own lotus, speaking of his life in the great hills of Such-zen, before, as he said, ‘I rose up to seek enlightenment.’
Then it came out that in those worldly days he had been a master-hand at casting horoscopes and nativities; and the family priest led him on to describe his methods; each giving the planets names that the other could not understand, and pointing upwards as the big stars sailed across the dark. The children of the house tugged unrebuked at his rosary; and he clean forgot the Rule which forbids looking at women as he talked of enduring snows, landslips, blocked passes, the remote cliffs where men find sapphires and turquoise, and that wonderful upland road that leads at last into Great China itself.
‘I do not know; but upon the hour that I cried first fell the great earthquake in Srinagar which is in Kashmir.’ This Kim had from the woman who took care of him, and she again from Kimball O’Hara. The earthquake had been felt in India, and for long stood a leading date in the Punjab.
‘None reared in the knowledge,’ said the family priest, ‘forget how the planets stood in their Houses upon that night.’ He began to draw in the dust of the courtyard. ‘At least thou hast good claim to a half of the House of the Bull. How runs thy prophecy?’
‘Yes: thus ever at the opening of a vision. A thick darkness that clears slowly; anon one enters with a broom making ready the place. Then begins the Sight. Two men — thou sayest? Ay, ay. The Sun, leaving the House of the Bull, enters that of the Twins. Hence the two men of the prophecy. Let us now consider. Fetch me a twig, little one.’
Next morning, though they were pressed to stay, the lama insisted on departure. They gave Kim a large bundle of good food and nearly three annas in copper money for the needs of the road, and with many blessings watched the two go southward in the dawn.
‘And by what sign didst thou know that we would beg from thee, O Mali?’ said Kim tartly, using the name that a market-gardener least likes. ‘All we sought was to look at that river beyond the field there.’
‘River, forsooth!’ the man snorted. ‘What city do ye hail from not to know a canal-cut? It runs as straight as an arrow, and I pay for the water as though it were molten silver. There is a branch of a river beyond. But if ye need water I can give that — and milk.’
‘Take notice.’ The lama turned to Kim. ‘He was led to speak harshly by the Red Mist of anger. That clearing from his eyes, he becomes courteous and of an affable heart. May his fields be blessed! Beware not to judge men too hastily, O farmer.’
‘Low-caste I did not say, for how can that be which is not? Afterwards he amended his discourtesy, and I forgot the offence. Moreover, he is as we are, bound upon the Wheel of Things; but he does not tread the way of deliverance.’ He halted at a little runlet among the fields, and considered the hoof-pitted bank.
‘When I find it, an enlightenment will surely be given. This, I feel, is not the place. O littlest among the waters, if only thou couldst tell me where runs my River! But be thou blessed to make the fields bear!’
‘Look! Look!’ Kim sprang to his side and dragged him back. A yellow-and-brown streak glided from the purple rustling stems to the bank, stretched its neck to the water, drank, and lay still — a big cobra with fixed, lidless eyes.
‘That is for thee to say. I am old, and a stranger — far from my own place. But that the rail-carriage fills my head with noises of devil-drums I would go in it to Benares now ... Yet by so going we may miss the River. Let us find another river.’
Where the hard-worked soil gives three and even four crops a year through patches of sugar-cane, tobacco, long white radishes, and nol-kol, all that day they strolled on, turning aside to every glimpse of water; rousing village dogs and sleeping villages at noonday; the lama replying to the volleyed questions with an unswerving simplicity. They sought a River: a River of miraculous healing. Had any one knowledge of such a stream?
Sometimes men laughed, but more often heard the story out to the end and offered them a place in the shade, a drink of milk, and a meal. The women were always kind, and the little children as children are the world over, alternately shy and venturesome.
Evening found them at rest under the village tree of a mud-walled, mud-roofed hamlet, talking to the headman as the cattle came in from the grazing-grounds and the women prepared the day’s last meal. They had passed beyond the belt of market-gardens round hungry Umballa, and were among the mile-wide green of the staple crops.
He was a white-bearded and affable elder, used to entertaining strangers. He dragged out a string bedstead for the lama, set warm cooked food before him, prepared him a pipe, and, the evening ceremonies being finished in the village temple, sent for the village priest.
‘Ay, but that man had right and reason, for Krishna Himself appeared in a vision promising him Paradise without the burning-pyre if he journeyed to Prayag. This man seeks no God who is within my knowledge.’
‘And to Benares also. It crosses all streams on this side of Hind. Now my word to thee, Holy One, is rest here till tomorrow. Then take the road’ (it was the Grand Trunk Road he meant) ‘and test each stream that it overpasses; for, as I understand, the virtue of thy River lies neither in one pool nor place, but throughout its length. Then, if thy Gods will, be assured that thou wilt come upon thy freedom.’
‘That is well said.’ The lama was much impressed by the plan. ‘We will begin tomorrow, and a blessing on thee for showing old feet such a near road.’ A deep, sing-song Chinese half-chant closed the sentence. Even the priest was impressed, and the headman feared an evil spell: but none could look at the lama’s simple, eager face and doubt him long.
‘He also has a Search of his own. No river, but a Bull. Yea, a Red Bull on a green field will some day raise him to honour. He is, I think, not altogether of this world. He was sent of a sudden to aid me in this search, and his name is Friend of all the World.’
It was an old, withered man, who had served the Government in the days of the Mutiny as a native officer in a newly raised cavalry regiment. The Government had given him a good holding in the village, and though the demands of his sons, now grey-bearded officers on their own account, had impoverished him, he was still a person of consequence. English officials — Deputy Commissioners even — turned aside from the main road to visit him, and on those occasions he dressed himself in the uniform of ancient days, and stood up like a ramrod.
‘When all is ready, thy sons, doubt not, will be told. But it is a long road from thy sons to the man in whose hands these things lie.’ Kim warmed to the game, for it reminded him of experiences in the letter-carrying line, when, for the sake of a few pice, he pretended to know more than he knew. But now he was playing for larger things — the sheer excitement and the sense of power. He drew a new breath and went on.
‘That is true,’ said Kim. ‘But I will say more. Look now. First the great man walks thus. Then He thinks thus.’ (Kim drew a forefinger over his forehead and downwards till it came to rest by the angle of the jaw.) ‘Anon He twitches his fingers thus. Anon He thrusts his hat under his left armpit.’ Kim illustrated the motion and stood like a stork.
‘He rubs the skin at the back of his neck — thus. Then falls one finger on the table and He makes a small sniffing noise through his nose. Then He speaks, saying: “Loose such and such a regiment. Call out such guns.”’
‘“For”’ — Kim translated into the vernacular the clinching sentences he had heard in the dressing-room at Umballa — ‘“For,” says He, “we should have done this long ago. It is not war — it is a chastisement. Snff!”’
‘I saw no smoke’ — Kim’s voice shifted to the rapt sing-song of the wayside fortune-teller. ‘I saw this in darkness. First came a man to make things clear. Then came horsemen. Then came He standing in a ring of light. The rest followed as I have said. Old man, have I spoken truth?’
Had Kim been at all an ordinary boy, he would have carried on the play; but one does not know Lahore city, and least of all the fakirs by the Taksali Gate, for thirteen years without also knowing human nature.
‘But thou and thy husband hoped to get the cow cured for a handful of thanks.’ The shot told: they were notoriously the closest-fisted couple in the village. ‘It is not well to cheat the temples. Give a young calf to thine own priest, and, unless thy Gods are angry past recall, she will give milk within a month.’
‘A little flour, a little butter and a mouthful of cardamoms,’ Kim retorted, flushed with the praise, but still cautious — ‘Does one grow rich on that? And, as thou canst see, he is mad. But it serves me while I learn the road at least.”
Here the old soldier bobbled up and asked if Kim would accept his hospitality for the night. The priest recommended him to do so, but insisted that the honour of entertaining the lama belonged to the temple — at which the lama smiled guilelessly. Kim glanced from one face to the other, and drew his own conclusions.
Next morning the priest was in a very bad temper, but the lama was quite happy; and Kim had enjoyed a most interesting evening with the old man, who brought out his cavalry sabre and, balancing it on his dry knees, told tales of the Mutiny and young captains thirty years in their graves, till Kim dropped off to sleep.
‘The long Road that overpasses all the rivers of Hind,’ said the lama gaily. ‘Let us go. But how thinkest thou, chela, to recompense these people, and especially the priest, for their great kindness? Truly they are but parast, but in other lives, maybe, they will receive enlightenment. A rupee to the temple? The thing within is no more than stone and red paint, but the heart of man we must acknowledge when and where it is good.’
‘I would set thee on thy road for a little, Friend of all the World, thou and thy yellow man.’ The old soldier ambled up the village street, all shadowy in the dawn, on a punt, scissor-hocked pony. ‘Last night broke up the fountains of remembrance in my so-dried heart, and it was as a blessing to me. Truly there is war abroad in the air. I smell it. See! I have brought my sword.’
He sat long-legged on the little beast, with the big sword at his side — hand dropped on the pommel — staring fiercely over the flat lands towards the North. ‘Tell me again how He showed in thy vision. Come up and sit behind me. The beast will carry two.’
‘I am this Holy One’s disciple,’ said Kim, as they cleared the village-gate. The villagers seemed almost sorry to be rid of them, but the priest’s farewell was cold and distant. He had wasted some opium on a man who carried no money.
‘That is well spoken. I am not much used to holy men, but respect is always good. There is no respect in these days — not even when a Commissioner Sahib comes to see me. But why should one whose Star leads him to war follow a holy man?’
They followed the rutted and worn country road that wound across the flat between the great dark-green mango-groves, the line of the snowcapped Himalayas faint to the eastward. All India was at work in the fields, to the creaking of well-wheels, the shouting of ploughmen behind their cattle, and the clamour of the crows. Even the pony felt the good influence and almost broke into a trot as Kim laid a hand on the stirrup-leather.
‘The sword,’ he said, fumbling it. ‘Oh, that was a fancy of mine an old man’s fancy. Truly the police orders are that no man must bear weapons throughout Hind, but’ — he cheered up and slapped the hilt — ‘all the constabeels hereabout know me.’
‘Very little — as I know; but if evil men were not now and then slain it would not be a good world for weaponless dreamers. I do not speak without knowledge who have seen the land from Delhi south awash with blood.’
‘The Gods, who sent it for a plague, alone know. A madness ate into all the Army, and they turned against their officers. That was the first evil, but not past remedy if they had then held their hands. But they chose to kill the Sahibs’ wives and children. Then came the Sahibs from over the sea and called them to most strict account.’
‘Many strove to do so, but with very small profit. I was then in a regiment of cavalry. It broke. Of six hundred and eighty sabres stood fast to their salt — how many, think you? Three. Of whom I was one.’
‘Merit! We did not consider it merit in those days. My people, my friends, my brothers fell from me. They said: “The time of the English is accomplished. Let each strike out a little holding for himself.” But I had talked with the men of Sobraon, of Chilianwallah, of Moodkee and Ferozeshah. I said: “Abide a little and the wind turns. There is no blessing in this work.” In those days I rode seventy miles with an English Memsahib and her babe on my saddle-bow. (Wow! That was a horse fit for a man!) I placed them in safety, and back came I to my officer — the one that was not killed of our five. “Give me work,” said I, “for I am an outcast among my own kind, and my cousin’s blood is wet on my sabre.” “Be content,” said he. “There is great work forward. When this madness is over there is a recompense.”’
‘They did not hang medals in those days on all who by accident had heard a gun fired. No! In nineteen pitched battles was I; in six-and-forty skirmishes of horse; and in small affairs without number. Nine wounds I bear; a medal and four clasps and the medal of an Order, for my captains, who are now generals, remembered me when the Kaisar-i-Hind had accomplished fifty years of her reign, and all the land rejoiced. They said: “Give him the Order of Berittish India.” I carry it upon my neck now. I have also my jaghir [holding] from the hands of the State — a free gift to me and mine. The men of the old days — they are now Commissioners — come riding to me through the crops — high upon horses so that all the village sees — and we talk out the old skirmishes, one dead man’s name leading to another.’
‘Let the Gods order it. I have never pestered Them with prayers. I do not think They will pester me. Look you, I have noticed in my long life that those who eternally break in upon Those Above with complaints and reports and bellowings and weepings are presently sent for in haste, as our Colonel used to send for slack-jawed down-country men who talked too much. No, I have never wearied the Gods. They will remember this, and give me a quiet place where I can drive my lance in the shade, and wait to welcome my sons: I have no less than three Rissaldar — majors all — in the regiments.’
‘Ay,’ the old soldier chuckled. ‘Three Rissaldar — majors in three regiments. Gamblers a little, but so am I. They must be well mounted; and one cannot take the horses as in the old days one took women. Well, well, my holding can pay for all. How thinkest thou? It is a well-watered strip, but my men cheat me. I do not know how to ask save at the lance’s point. Ugh! I grow angry and I curse them, and they feign penitence, but behind my back I know they call me a toothless old ape.’
‘It is not Gunga. The River that I know washes from all taint of sin. Ascending the far bank one is assured of Freedom. I do not know thy life, but thy face is the face of the honourable and courteous. Thou hast clung to thy Way, rendering fidelity when it was hard to give, in that Black Year of which I now remember other tales. Enter now upon the Middle Way which is the path to Freedom. Hear the Most Excellent Law, and do not follow dreams.’
The lama squatted under the shade of a mango, whose shadow played checkerwise over his face; the soldier sat stiffly on the pony; and Kim, making sure that there were no snakes, lay down in the crotch of the twisted roots.
There was a drowsy buzz of small life in hot sunshine, a cooing of doves, and a sleepy drone of well-wheels across the fields. Slowly and impressively the lama began. At the end of ten minutes the old soldier slid from his pony, to hear better as he said, and sat with the reins round his wrist. The lama’s voice faltered, the periods lengthened. Kim was busy watching a grey squirrel. When the little scolding bunch of fur, close pressed to the branch, disappeared, preacher and audience were fast asleep, the old officer’s strong-cut head pillowed on his arm, the lama’s thrown back against the tree-bole, where it showed like yellow ivory. A naked child toddled up, stared, and, moved by some quick impulse of reverence, made a solemn little obeisance before the lama — only the child was so short and fat that it toppled over sideways, and Kim laughed at the sprawling, chubby legs. The child, scared and indignant, yelled aloud.
‘Hai! Hai!’ said the soldier, leaping to his feet. ‘What is it? What orders? ... It is ... a child! I dreamed it was an alarm. Little one — little one — do not cry. Have I slept? That was discourteous indeed!’
‘As I remember, before the sleep came on us, thou hadst told me that marriage and bearing were darkeners of the true light, stumbling-blocks upon the Way. Do children drop from Heaven in thy country? Is it the Way to sing them songs?’
‘Hear him!’ said the soldier to Kim. ‘He is ashamed for that he has made a child happy. There was a very good householder lost in thee, my brother. Hai, child!’ He threw it a pice. ‘Sweetmeats are always sweet.’ And as the little figure capered away into the sunshine: ‘They grow up and become men. Holy One, I grieve that I slept in the midst of thy preaching. Forgive me.’
And they fared out from the gloom of the mango tope, the old man’s high, shrill voice ringing across the field, as wail by long-drawn wail he unfolded the story of Nikal Seyn [Nicholson] — the song that men sing in the Punjab to this day. Kim was delighted, and the lama listened with deep interest.
‘And now we come to the Big Road,’ said he, after receiving the compliments of Kim; for the lama was markedly silent. ‘It is long since I have ridden this way, but thy boy’s talk stirred me. See, Holy One — the Great Road which is the backbone of all Hind. For the most part it is shaded, as here, with four lines of trees; the middle road — all hard — takes the quick traffic. In the days before rail-carriages the Sahibs travelled up and down here in hundreds. Now there are only country-carts and such like. Left and right is the rougher road for the heavy carts — grain and cotton and timber, fodder, lime and hides. A man goes in safety here for at every few koss is a police-station. The police are thieves and extortioners (I myself would patrol it with cavalry — young recruits under a strong captain), but at least they do not suffer any rivals. All castes and kinds of men move here.
‘Look! Brahmins and chumars, bankers and tinkers, barbers and bunnias, pilgrims and potters — all the world going and coming. It is to me as a river from which I am withdrawn like a log after a flood.’
And truly the Grand Trunk Road is a wonderful spectacle. It runs straight, bearing without crowding India’s traffic for fifteen hundred miles — such a river of life as nowhere else exists in the world. They looked at the green-arched, shade-flecked length of it, the white breadth speckled with slow-pacing folk; and the two-roomed police-station opposite.
‘Son of a swine, is the soft part of the road meant for thee to scratch thy back upon? Father of all the daughters of shame and husband of ten thousand virtueless ones, thy mother was devoted to a devil, being led thereto by her mother. Thy aunts have never had a nose for seven generations! Thy sister — What Owl’s folly told thee to draw thy carts across the road? A broken wheel? Then take a broken head and put the two together at leisure!’
The voice and a venomous whip-cracking came out of a pillar of dust fifty yards away, where a cart had broken down. A thin, high Kathiawar mare, with eyes and nostrils aflame, rocketed out of the jam, snorting and wincing as her rider bent her across the road in chase of a shouting man. He was tall and grey-bearded, sitting the almost mad beast as a piece of her, and scientifically lashing his victim between plunges.
‘In case they ran before thee to beg. O gamblers and spendthrifts all! But thou hast never yet ridden in a charge. A good horse is needed there, truly. A good follower and a good pony also for the marching. Let us see — let us see.’ He thrummed on the pommel.
The son tossed a silver coin through the sunlight, grumbling something about beggars and jugglers. It was a four-anna piece, and would feed them well for days. The lama, seeing the flash of the metal, droned a blessing.
‘Halt!’ he cried in impressive English. ‘Know ye not that there is a takkus of two annas a head, which is four annas, on those who enter the Road from this side-road? It is the order of the Sirkar, and the money is spent for the planting of trees and the beautification of the ways.’
‘And the bellies of the police,’ said Kim, slipping out of arm’s reach. ‘Consider for a while, man with a mud head. Think you we came from the nearest pond like the frog, thy father-inlaw? Hast thou ever heard the name of thy brother?’
‘He took a label from a bottle of belaitee-pani [soda-water], and, affixing it to a bridge, collected taxes for a month from those who passed, saying that it was the Sirkar’s order. Then came an Englishman and broke his head. Ah, brother, I am a town-crow, not a village-crow!’
‘Now let us walk,’ muttered the lama, and to the click of his rosary they walked in silence mile upon mile. The lama as usual, was deep in meditation, but Kim’s bright eyes were open wide. This broad, smiling river of life, he considered, was a vast improvement on the cramped and crowded Lahore streets. There were new people and new sights at every stride — castes he knew and castes that were altogether out of his experience.
They met a troop of long-haired, strong-scented Sansis with baskets of lizards and other unclean food on their backs, their lean dogs sniffing at their heels. These people kept their own side of the road’, moving at a quick, furtive jog-trot, and all other castes gave them ample room; for the Sansi is deep pollution. Behind them, walking wide and stiffly across the strong shadows, the memory of his leg-irons still on him, strode one newly released from the jail; his full stomach and shiny skin to prove that the Government fed its prisoners better than most honest men could feed themselves. Kim knew that walk well, and made broad jest of it as they passed. Then an Akali, a wild-eyed, wild-haired Sikh devotee in the blue-checked clothes of his faith, with polished-steel quoits glistening on the cone of his tall blue turban, stalked past, returning from a visit to one of the independent Sikh States, where he had been singing the ancient glories of the Khalsa to College-trained princelings in top-boots and white-cord breeches. Kim was careful not to irritate that man; for the Akali’s temper is short and his arm quick. Here and there they met or were overtaken by the gaily dressed crowds of whole villages turning out to some local fair; the women, with their babes on their hips, walking behind the men, the older boys prancing on sticks of sugar-cane, dragging rude brass models of locomotives such as they sell for a halfpenny, or flashing the sun into the eyes of their betters from cheap toy mirrors. One could see at a glance what each had bought; and if there were any doubt it needed only to watch the wives comparing, brown arm against brown arm, the newly purchased dull glass bracelets that come from the North–West. These merry-makers stepped slowly, calling one to the other and stopping to haggle with sweetmeat-sellers, or to make a prayer before one of the wayside shrines — sometimes Hindu, sometimes Mussalman — which the low-caste of both creeds share with beautiful impartiality. A solid line of blue, rising and falling like the back of a caterpillar in haste, would swing up through the quivering dust and trot past to a chorus of quick cackling. That was a gang of changars — the women who have taken all the embankments of all the Northern railways under their charge — a flat-footed, big-bosomed, strong-limbed, blue-petticoated clan of earth-carriers, hurrying north on news of a job, and wasting no time by the road. They belong to the caste whose men do not count, and they walked with squared elbows, swinging hips, and heads on high, as suits women who carry heavy weights. A little later a marriage procession would strike into the Grand Trunk with music and shoutings, and a smell of marigold and jasmine stronger even than the reek of the dust. One could see the bride’s litter, a blur of red and tinsel, staggering through the haze, while the bridegroom’s bewreathed pony turned aside to snatch a mouthful from a passing fodder-cart. Then Kim would join the Kentish-fire of good wishes and bad jokes, wishing the couple a hundred sons and no daughters, as the saying is. Still more interesting and more to be shouted over it was when a strolling juggler with some half-trained monkeys, or a panting, feeble bear, or a woman who tied goats’ horns to her feet, and with these danced on a slack-rope, set the horses to shying and the women to shrill, long-drawn quavers of amazement.
The lama never raised his eyes. He did not note the money-lender on his goose-rumped pony, hastening along to collect the cruel interest; or the long-shouting, deep-voiced little mob — still in military formation — of native soldiers on leave, rejoicing to be rid of their breeches and puttees, and saying the most outrageous things to the most respectable women in sight. Even the seller of Ganges-water he did not see, and Kim expected that he would at least buy a bottle of that precious stuff. He looked steadily at the ground, and strode as steadily hour after hour, his soul busied elsewhere. But Kim was in the seventh heaven of joy. The Grand Trunk at this point was built on an embankment to guard against winter floods from the foothills, so that one walked, as it were, a little above the country, along a stately corridor, seeing all India spread out to left and right. It was beautiful to behold the many-yoked grain and cotton wagons crawling over the country roads: one could hear their axles, complaining a mile away, coming nearer, till with shouts and yells and bad words they climbed up the steep incline and plunged on to the hard main road, carter reviling carter. It was equally beautiful to watch the people, little clumps of red and blue and pink and white and saffron, turning aside to go to their own villages, dispersing and growing small by twos and threes across the level plain. Kim felt these things, though he could not give tongue to his feelings, and so contented himself with buying peeled sugar-cane and spitting the pith generously about his path. From time to time the lama took snuff, and at last Kim could endure the silence no longer.
The crowd thickened as they neared the resting-place which marked the end of their day’s journey. A line of stalls selling very simple food and tobacco, a stack of firewood, a police-station, a well, a horse-trough, a few trees, and, under them, some trampled ground dotted with the black ashes of old fires, are all that mark a parao on the Grand Trunk; if you except the beggars and the crows — both hungry.
By this time the sun was driving broad golden spokes through the lower branches of the mango-trees; the parakeets and doves were coming. home in their hundreds; the chattering, grey-backed Seven Sisters, talking over the day’s adventures, walked back and forth in twos and threes almost under the feet of the travellers; and shufflings and scufflings in the branches showed that the bats were ready to go out on the night-picket. Swiftly the light gathered itself together, painted for an instant the faces and the cartwheels and the bullocks’ horns as red as blood. Then the night fell, changing the touch of the air, drawing a low, even haze, like a gossamer veil of blue, across the face of the country, and bringing out, keen and distinct, the smell of wood-smoke and cattle and the good scent of wheaten cakes cooked on ashes. The evening patrol hurried out of the police-station with important coughings and reiterated orders; and a live charcoal ball in the cup of a wayside carter’s hookah glowed red while Kim’s eye mechanically watched the last flicker of the sun on the brass tweezers.
The life of the parao was very like that of the Kashmir Serai on a small scale. Kim dived into the happy Asiatic disorder which, if you only allow time, will bring you everything that a simple man needs.
His wants were few, because, since the lama had no caste scruples, cooked food from the nearest stall would serve; but, for luxury’s sake, Kim bought a handful of dung-cakes to build a fire. All about, coming and going round the little flames, men cried for oil, or grain, or sweetmeats, or tobacco, jostling one another while they waited their turn at the well; and under the men’s voices you heard from halted, shuttered carts the high squeals and giggles of women whose faces should not be seen in public.
Nowadays, well-educated natives are of opinion that when their womenfolk travel — and they visit a good deal — it is better to take them quickly by rail in a properly screened compartment; and that custom is spreading. But there are always those of the old rock who hold by the use of their forefathers; and, above all, there are always the old women — more conservative than the men — who toward the end of their days go on a pilgrimage. They, being withered and undesirable, do not, under certain circumstances, object to unveiling. After their long seclusion, during which they have always been in business touch with a thousand outside interests, they love the bustle and stir of the open road, the gatherings at the shrines, and the infinite possibilities of gossip with like-minded dowagers. Very often it suits a longsuffering family that a strong-tongued, iron-willed old lady should disport herself about India in this fashion; for certainly pilgrimage is grateful to the Gods. So all about India, in the most remote places, as in the most public, you find some knot of grizzled servitors in nominal charge of an old lady who is more or less curtained and hid away in a bullock-cart. Such men are staid and discreet, and when a European or a high-caste native is near will net their charge with most elaborate precautions; but in the ordinary haphazard chances of pilgrimage the precautions are not taken. The old lady is, after all, intensely human, and lives to look upon life.
Kim marked down a gaily ornamented ruth or family bullock-cart, with a broidered canopy of two domes, like a double-humped camel, which had just been drawn into the par. Eight men made its retinue, and two of the eight were armed with rusty sabres — sure signs that they followed a person of distinction, for the common folk do not bear arms. An increasing cackle of complaints, orders, and jests, and what to a European would have been bad language, came from behind the curtains. Here was evidently a woman used to command.
Kim looked over the retinue critically. Half of them were thin-legged, grey-bearded Ooryas from down country. The other half were duffle-clad, felt-hatted hillmen of the North; and that mixture told its own tale, even if he had not overheard the incessant sparring between the two divisions. The old lady was going south on a visit — probably to a rich relative, most probably to a son-inlaw, who had sent up an escort as a mark of respect. The hillmen would be of her own people — Kulu or Kangra folk. It was quite clear that she was not taking her daughter down to be wedded, or the curtains would have been laced home and the guard would have allowed no one near the car. A merry and a high-spirited dame, thought Kim, balancing the dung-cake in one hand, the cooked food in the other, and piloting the lama with a nudging shoulder. Something might be made out of the meeting. The lama would give him no help, but, as a conscientious chela, Kim was delighted to beg for two.
He built his fire as close to the cart as he dared, waiting for one of the escort to order him away. The lama dropped wearily to the ground, much as a heavy fruit-eating bat cowers, and returned to his rosary.
‘After he has eaten he will sleep,’ Kim returned loftily. He could not quite see what new turn the game had taken, but stood resolute to profit by it. ‘Now I will get him his food.’ The last sentence, spoken loudly, ended with a sigh as of faintness.
‘Come here!’ said the flat thin voice behind the curtain; and Kim came, conscious that eyes he could not see were staring at him. One skinny brown finger heavy with rings lay on the edge of the cart, and the talk went this way:
‘From behind the snows — from a very far place. He knows the stars; he makes horoscopes; he reads nativities. But he does not do this for money. He does it for kindness and great charity. I am his disciple. I am called also the Friend of the Stars.’
‘Humph! Consider, brat, that I am an old woman and not altogether a fool. Lamas I know, and to these I give reverence, but thou art no more a lawful chela than this my finger is the pole of this wagon. Thou art a casteless Hindu — a bold and unblushing beggar, attached, belike, to the Holy One for the sake of gain.’
If there be one thing in the world that the small Hill Rajahs deny it is just this charge; but it happens to be one thing that the bazars believe, when they discuss the mysterious slave-traffics of India. The old lady explained to Kim, in a tense, indignant whisper, precisely what manner and fashion of malignant liar he was. Had Kim hinted this when she was a girl, he would have been pommelled to death that same evening by an elephant. This was perfectly true.
‘Eye of Beauty, forsooth! Who am I that thou shouldst fling beggar-endearments at me?’ And yet she laughed at the long-forgotten word. ‘Forty years ago that might have been said, and not without truth. Ay. thirty years ago. But it is the fault of this gadding up and down Hind that a king’s widow must jostle all the scum of the land, and be made a mock by beggars.’
‘Great Queen,’ said Kim promptly, for he heard her shaking with indignation, ‘I am even what the Great Queen says I am; but none the less is my master holy. He has not yet heard the Great Queen’s order that —’
‘Nay, what is it?’ he said, dropping into his most caressing and confidential tone — the one, he well knew, that few could resist. ‘Is — is there any need of a son in thy family? Speak freely, for we priests —’ That last was a direct plagiarism from a fakir by the Taksali Gate.
‘We priests! Thou art not yet old enough to —’ She checked the joke with another laugh. ‘Believe me, now and again, we women, O priest, think of other matters than sons. Moreover, my daughter has borne her man-child.’
‘And it was not till I remembered my own Gods that my prayers were heard. I chose an auspicious hour, and — perhaps thy Holy One has heard of the Abbot of the Lung–Cho lamassery. It was to him I put the matter, and behold in the due time all came about as I desired. The Brahmin in the house of the father of my daughter’s son has since said that it was through his prayers — which is a little error that I will explain to him when we reach our journey’s end. And so afterwards I go to Buddh Gaya, to make shraddha for the father of my children.’
‘Have I not said an hundred times that the South is a good land? Here is a virtuous and high-born widow of a Hill Rajah on pilgrimage, she says, to Buddha Gay. She it is sends us those dishes; and when thou art well rested she would speak to thee.’
‘Who else watched over thee since our wonderful journey began?’ Kim’s eyes danced in his head as he blew the rank smoke through his nostrils and stretched him on the dusty ground. ‘Have I failed to oversee thy comforts, Holy One?’
‘A blessing on thee.’ The lama inclined his solemn head. ‘I have known many men in my so long life, and disciples not a few. But to none among men, if so be thou art woman-born, has my heart gone out as it has to thee — thoughtful, wise, and courteous; but something of a small imp.’
‘And I have never seen such a priest as thou.’ Kim considered the benevolent yellow face wrinkle by wrinkle. ‘It is less than three days since we took the road together, and it is as though it were a hundred years.’
‘Perhaps in a former life it was permitted that I should have rendered thee some service. Maybe’ — he smiled — ‘I freed thee from a trap; or, having caught thee on a hook in the days when I was not enlightened, cast thee back into the river.’
‘Maybe,’ said Kim quietly. He had heard this sort of speculation again and again, from the mouths of many whom the English would not consider imaginative. ‘Now, as regards that woman in the bullock-cart. I think she needs a second son for her daughter.’
He rose and stalked to the cart. Kim would have given his ears to come too, but the lama did not invite him; and the few words he caught were in an unknown tongue, for they spoke some common speech of the mountains. The woman seemed to ask questions which the lama turned over in his mind before answering. Now and again he heard the singsong cadence of a Chinese quotation. It was a strange picture that Kim watched between drooped eyelids. The lama, very straight and erect, the deep folds of his yellow clothing slashed with black in the light of the parao fires precisely as a knotted tree-trunk is slashed with the shadows of the low sun, addressed a tinsel and lacquered ruth which burned like a many-coloured jewel in the same uncertain light. The patterns on the gold-worked curtains ran up and down, melting and reforming as the folds shook and quivered to the night wind; and when the talk grew more earnest the jewelled forefinger snapped out little sparks of light between the embroideries. Behind the cart was a wall of uncertain darkness speckled with little flames and alive with half-caught forms and faces and shadows. The voices of early evening had settled down to one soothing hum whose deepest note was the steady chumping of the bullocks above their chopped straw, and whose highest was the tinkle of a Bengali dancing-girl’s sitar. Most men had eaten and pulled deep at their gurgling, grunting hookahs, which in full blast sound like bull-frogs.
‘She asked me many questions and propounded many problems — the most of which were idle tales which she had heard from devil-serving priests who pretend to follow the Way. Some I answered, and some I said were foolish. Many wear the Robe, but few keep the Way.’
‘Patience a little. To this I said that my Search came before all things. She had heard many foolish legends, but this great truth of my River she had never heard. Such are the priests of the lower hills! She knew the Abbot of Lung–Cho, but she did not know of my River — nor the tale of the Arrow.’
The diamond-bright dawn woke men and crows and bullocks together. Kim sat up and yawned, shook himself, and thrilled with delight. This was seeing the world in real truth; this was life as he would have it — bustling and shouting, the buckling of belts, and beating of bullocks and creaking of wheels, lighting of fires and cooking of food, and new sights at every turn of the approving eye. The morning mist swept off in a whorl of silver, the parrots shot away to some distant river in shrieking green hosts: all the well-wheels within ear-shot went to work. India was awake, and Kim was in the middle of it, more awake and more excited than anyone, chewing on a twig that he would presently use as a toothbrush; for he borrowed right — and left-handedly from all the customs of the country he knew and loved. There was no need to worry about food — no need to spend a cowrie at the crowded stalls. He was the disciple of a holy man annexed by a strong-willed old lady. All things would be prepared for them, and when they were respectfully invited so to do they would sit and eat. For the rest — Kim giggled here as he cleaned his teeth — his hostess would rather heighten the enjoyment of the road. He inspected her bullocks critically, as they came up grunting and blowing under the yokes. If they went too fast — it was not likely — there would be a pleasant seat for himself along the pole; the lama would sit beside the driver. The escort, of course, would walk. The old lady, equally of course, would talk a great deal, and by what he had heard that conversation would not lack salt. She was already ordering, haranguing, rebuking, and, it must be said, cursing her servants for delays.
‘Get her her pipe. In the name of the Gods, get her her pipe and stop her ill-omened mouth,’ cried an Oorya, tying up his shapeless bundles of bedding. ‘She and the parrots are alike. They screech in the dawn.’
‘Ai! Yai! Yai! That within there is the Queen of Delhi going to pray for a son,’ the man called back over his high load. ‘Room for the Queen of Delhi and her Prime Minister the grey monkey climbing up his own sword!’ Another cart loaded with bark for a down-country tannery followed close behind, and its driver added a few compliments as the ruth-bullocks backed and backed again.
From behind the shaking curtains came one volley of invective. It did not last long, but in kind and quality, in blistering, biting appropriateness, it was beyond anything that even Kim had heard. He could see the carter’s bare chest collapse with amazement, as the man salaamed reverently to the voice, leaped from the pole, and helped the escort haul their volcano on to the main road. Here the voice told him truthfully what sort of wife he had wedded, and what she was doing in his absence.
‘Well done, indeed? It is a shame and a scandal that a poor woman may not go to make prayer to her Gods except she be jostled and insulted by all the refuse of Hindustan — that she must eat gali [abuse] as men eat ghi. But I have yet a wag left to my tongue — a word or two well spoken that serves the occasion. And still am I without my tobacco! Who is the one-eyed and luckless son of shame that has not yet prepared my pipe?’
If Kim had walked proudly the day before, disciple of a holy man, today he paced with tenfold pride in the train of a semi-royal procession, with a recognized place under the patronage of an old lady of charming manners and infinite resource. The escort, their heads tied up native-fashion, fell in on either side the cart, shuffling enormous clouds of dust.
The lama and Kim walked a little to one side; Kim chewing his stick of sugarcane, and making way for no one under the status of a priest. They could hear the old lady’s tongue clack as steadily as a rice-husker. She bade the escort tell her what was going on on the road; and so soon as they were clear of the parao she flung back the curtains and peered out, her veil a third across her face. Her men did not eye her directly when she addressed them, and thus the proprieties were more or less observed.
‘That is a nut-cut [rogue],’ she said. ‘All police-constables are nut-cuts; but the police-wallahs are the worst. Hai, my son, thou hast never learned all that since thou camest from Belait [Europe]. Who suckled thee?’
‘These be the sort’ — she took a fine judicial tone, and stuffed her mouth with pan — ‘These be the sort to oversee justice. They know the land and the customs of the land. The others, all new from Europe, suckled by white women and learning our tongues from books, are worse than the pestilence. They do harm to Kings.’ Then she told a long, long tale to the world at large, of an ignorant young policeman who had disturbed some small Hill Rajah, a ninth cousin of her own, in the matter of a trivial land-case, winding up with a quotation from a work by no means devotional.
Then her mood changed, and she bade one of the escort ask whether the lama would walk alongside and discuss matters of religion. So Kim dropped back into the dust and returned to his sugar-cane. For an hour or more the lama’s tam-o’shanter showed like a moon through the haze; and, from all he heard, Kim gathered that the old woman wept. One of the Ooryas half apologized for his rudeness overnight, saying that he had never known his mistress of so bland a temper, and he ascribed it to the presence of the strange priest. Personally, he believed in Brahmins, though, like all natives, he was acutely aware of their cunning and their greed. Still, when Brahmins but irritated with begging demands the mother of his master’s wife, and when she sent them away so angry that they cursed the whole retinue (which was the real reason of the second off-side bullock going lame, and of the pole breaking the night before), he was prepared to accept any priest of any other denomination in or out of India. To this Kim assented with wise nods, and bade the Oorya observe that the lama took no money, and that the cost of his and Kim’s food would be repaid a hundred times in the good luck that would attend the caravan henceforward. He also told stories of Lahore city, and sang a song or two which made the escort laugh. As a town-mouse well acquainted with the latest songs by the most fashionable composers — they are women for the most part — Kim had a distinct advantage over men from a little fruit-village behind Saharunpore, but he let that advantage be inferred.
At noon they turned aside to eat, and the meal was good, plentiful, and well-served on plates of clean leaves, in decency, out of drift of the dust. They gave the scraps to certain beggars, that all requirements might be fulfilled, and sat down to a long, luxurious smoke. The old lady had retreated behind her curtains, but mixed most freely in the talk, her servants arguing with and contradicting her as servants do throughout the East. She compared the cool and the pines of the Kangra and Kulu hills with the dust and the mangoes of the South; she told a tale of some old local Gods at the edge of her husband’s territory; she roundly abused the tobacco which she was then smoking, reviled all Brahmins, and speculated without reserve on the coming of many grandsons.
Once more the lazy, string-tied, shuffling procession got under way, and she slept till they reached the next halting-stage. It was a very short march, and time lacked an hour to sundown, so Kim cast about for means of amusement.
The lama strode after him. All that day, whenever they passed a stream, he had turned aside to look at it, but in no case had he received any warning that he had found his River. Insensibly, too, the comfort of speaking to someone in a reasonable tongue, and of being properly considered and respected as her spiritual adviser by a well-born woman, had weaned his thoughts a little from the Search. And further, he was prepared to spend serene years in his quest; having nothing of the white man’s impatience, but a great faith.
They came out on a broad tract of grazing-ground, brown and purple in the afternoon light, with a heavy clump of mangoes in the centre. It struck Kim as curious that no shrine stood in so eligible a spot: the boy was observing as any priest for these things. Far across the plain walked side by side four men, made small by the distance. He looked intently under his curved palms and caught the sheen of brass.
They stepped behind the thick trunks in the cool dark of the mango-tope. Two little figures halted; the other two came forward uncertainly. They were the advance-party of a regiment on the march, sent out, as usual, to mark the camp. They bore five-foot sticks with fluttering flags, and called to each other as they spread over the flat earth.
‘O Holy One!’ he gasped. ‘My horoscope! The drawing in the dust by the priest at Umballa! Remember what he said. First come two — ferashes — to make all things ready — in a dark place, as it is always at the beginning of a vision.’
He pointed to the flag that was snap snapping in the evening breeze not ten feet away. It was no more than an ordinary camp marking-flag; but the regiment, always punctilious in matters of millinery, had charged it with the regimental device, the Red Bull, which is the crest of the Mavericks — the great Red Bull on a background of Irish green.
‘Even now the darkness clears,’ said Kim. It was only natural that the descending sun should at last strike through the tree-trunks, across the grove, filling it with mealy gold light for a few minutes; but to Kim it was the crown of the Umballa Brahmin’s prophecy.
We crave your condescensionTo tell you what we knowOf marching in the Mulligan GuardsTo Sligo Port below!
We shouldered arms,We marched — we marched away.From Phoenix ParkWe marched to Dublin Bay.The drums and the fifes,Oh, sweetly they did play,As we marched — marched — marched — with theMulligan Guards!
It was the band of the Mavericks playing the regiment to camp; for the men were route-marching with their baggage. The rippling column swung into the level — carts behind it divided left and right, ran about like an ant-hill, and ...
The plain dotted itself with tents that seemed to rise, all spread, from the carts. Another rush of men invaded the grove, pitched a huge tent in silence, ran up yet eight or nine more by the side of it, unearthed cooking-pots, pans, and bundles, which were taken possession of by a crowd of native servants; and behold the mango-tope turned into an orderly town as they watched!
‘Stand back in the shadow. No one can see beyond the light of a fire,’ said Kim, his eyes still on the flag. He had never before watched the routine of a seasoned regiment pitching camp in thirty minutes.
‘Look! look! look!’ clucked the lama. ‘Yonder comes a priest.’ It was Bennett, the Church of England Chaplain of the regiment, limping in dusty black. One of his flock had made some rude remarks about the Chaplain’s mettle; and to abash him Bennett had marched step by step with the men that day. The black dress, gold cross on the watch-chain, the hairless face, and the soft, black wideawake hat would have marked him as a holy man anywhere in all India. He dropped into a camp-chair by the door of the Mess-tent and slid off his boots. Three or four officers gathered round him, laughing and joking over his exploit.
‘The talk of white men is wholly lacking in dignity,’ said the lama, who judged only by tone. ‘But I considered the countenance of that priest and I think he is learned. Is it likely that he will understand our talk? I would talk to him of my Search.’
‘Never speak to a white man till he is fed,’ said Kim, quoting a well-known proverb. ‘They will eat now, and — and I do not think they are good to beg from. Let us go back to the resting-place. After we have eaten we will come again. It certainly was a Red Bull — my Red Bull.’
‘Now,’ said Kim, picking his teeth, ‘we will return to that place; but thou, O Holy One, must wait a little way off, because thy feet are heavier than mine and I am anxious to see more of that Red Bull.’
Kim put the question aside. ‘I marked a place near to the trees,’ said he, ‘where thou canst sit till I call. Nay,’ as the lama made some sort of protest, ‘remember this is my Search — the Search for my Red Bull. The sign in the Stars was not for thee. I know a little of the customs of white soldiers, and I always desire to see some new things.’
‘Stay till I call.’ Kim flitted into the dusk. He knew that in all probability there would be sentries round the camp, and smiled to himself as he heard the thick boots of one. A boy who can dodge over the roofs of Lahore city on a moonlight night, using every little patch and corner of darkness to discomfit his pursuer, is not likely to be checked by a line of well-trained soldiers. He paid them the compliment of crawling between a couple, and, running and halting, crouching and dropping flat, worked his way toward the lighted Mess-tent where, close pressed behind the mango-tree, he waited till some chance word should give him a returnable lead.
The one thing now in his mind was further information as to the Red Bull. For aught he knew, and Kim’s limitations were as curious and sudden as his expansions, the men, the nine hundred thorough devils of his father’s prophecy, might pray to the beast after dark, as Hindus pray to the Holy Cow. That at least would be entirely right and logical, and the padre with the gold cross would be therefore the man to consult in the matter. On the other hand, remembering sober-faced padres whom he had avoided in Lahore city, the priest might be an inquisitive nuisance who would bid him learn. But had it not been proven at Umballa that his sign in the high heavens portended War and armed men? Was he not the Friend of the Stars as well as of all the World, crammed to the teeth with dreadful secrets? Lastly — and firstly as the undercurrent of all his quick thoughts — this adventure, though he did not know the English word, was a stupendous lark — a delightful continuation of his old flights across the housetops, as well as the fulfilment of sublime prophecy. He lay belly-flat and wriggled towards the Mess-tent door, a hand on the amulet round his neck.
It was as he suspected. The Sahibs prayed to their God; for in the centre of the Mess-table — its sole ornament when they were on the line of march — stood a golden bull fashioned from old-time loot of the Summer Palace at Pekin — a red-gold bull with lowered head, ramping upon a field of Irish green. To him the Sahibs held out their glasses and cried aloud confusedly.
Now the Reverend Arthur Bennett always left Mess after that toast, and being rather tired by his march his movements were more abrupt than usual. Kim, with slightly raised head, was still staring at his totem on the table, when the Chaplain stepped on his right shoulder-blade. Kim flinched under the leather, and, rolling sideways, brought down the Chaplain, who, ever a man of action, caught him by the throat and nearly choked the life out of him. Kim then kicked him desperately in the stomach. Mr Bennett gasped and doubled up, but without relaxing his grip, rolled over again, and silently hauled Kim to his own tent. The Mavericks were incurable practical jokers; and it occurred to the Englishman that silence was best till he had made complete inquiry.
‘Why, it’s a boy!’ he said, as he drew his prize under the light of the tent-pole lantern, then shaking him severely cried: ‘What were you doing? You’re a thief. Choor? Mallum?’ His Hindustani was very limited, and the ruffled and disgusted Kim intended to keep to the character laid down for him. As he recovered his breath he was inventing a beautifully plausible tale of his relations to some scullion, and at the same time keeping a keen eye on and a little under the Chaplain’s left arm-pit. The chance came; he ducked for the doorway, but a long arm shot out and clutched at his neck, snapping the amulet-string and closing on the amulet.
‘I want your advice, Father Victor,’ said Bennett. ‘I found this boy in the dark outside the Mess-tent. Ordinarily, I should have chastised him and let him go, because I believe him to be a thief. But it seems he talks English, and he attaches some sort of value to a charm round his neck. I thought perhaps you might help me.’
Between himself and the Roman Catholic Chaplain of the Irish contingent lay, as Bennett believed, an unbridgeable gulf, but it was noticeable that whenever the Church of England dealt with a human problem she was very likely to call in the Church of Rome. Bennett’s official abhorrence of the Scarlet Woman and all her ways was only equalled by his private respect for Father Victor.
‘Not quite so fast. We’ll look first,’ said Father Victor, leisurely rolling out poor Kimball O’Hara’s ‘ne varietur’ parchment, his clearance-certificate, and Kim’s baptismal certificate. On this last O’Hara — with some confused idea that he was doing wonders for his son — had scrawled scores of times: ‘Look after the boy. Please look after the boy’ — signing his name and regimental number in full.
‘Well, I believe in miracles, so it comes to the same thing. Powers of Darkness! Kimball O’Hara! And his son! But then he’s a native, and I saw Kimball married myself to Annie Shott. How long have you had these things, boy?’
‘Get him a glass of sherry, then, and let him squat on the cot. Now, Kim,’ continued Father Victor, ‘no one is going to hurt you. Drink that down and tell us about yourself. The truth, if you’ve no objection.’
Kim coughed a little as he put down the empty glass, and considered. This seemed a time for caution and fancy. Small boys who prowl about camps are generally turned out after a whipping. But he had received no stripes; the amulet was evidently working in his favour, and it looked as though the Umballa horoscope and the few words that he could remember of his father’s maunderings fitted in most miraculously. Else why did the fat padre seem so impressed, and why the glass of hot yellow drink from the lean one?
‘My father, he is dead in Lahore city since I was very little. The woman, she kept kabarri shop near where the hire-carriages are.’ Kim began with a plunge, not quite sure how far the truth would serve him.
‘No!’ — with a gesture of disgust. ‘She went out when I was born. My father, he got these papers from the Jadoo–Gher what do you call that?’ (Bennett nodded) ‘because he was in good-standing. What do you call that?’ (again Bennett nodded). ‘My father told me that. He said, too, and also the Brahmin who made the drawing in the dust at Umballa two days ago, he said, that I shall find a Red Bull on a green field and that the Bull shall help me.’
‘I did not thieve. Besides, I am just now disciple of a very holy man. He is sitting outside. We saw two men come with flags, making the place ready. That is always so in a dream, or on account of a — a — prophecy. So I knew it was come true. I saw the Red Bull on the green field, and my father he said: “Nine hundred pukka devils and the Colonel riding on a horse will look after you when you find the Red Bull!” I did not know what to do when I saw the Bull, but I went away and I came again when it was dark. I wanted to see the Bull again, and I saw the Bull again with the — the Sahibs praying to it. I think the Bull shall help me. The holy man said so too. He is sitting outside. Will you hurt him, if I call him a shout now? He is very holy. He can witness to all the things I say, and he knows I am not a thief.’
‘It’s O’Hara’s boy, sure enough. O’Hara’s boy leagued with all the Powers of Darkness. It’s very much what his father would have done if he was drunk. We’d better invite the holy man. He may know something.’
‘The Search is at an end for me,’ shouted Kim in the vernacular. ‘I have found the Bull, but God knows what comes next. They will not hurt you. Come to the fat priest’s tent with this thin man and see the end. It is all new, and they cannot talk Hindi. They are only uncurried donkeys.’
Dignified and unsuspicious, he strode into the little tent, saluted the Churches as a Churchman, and sat down by the open charcoal brazier. The yellow lining of the tent reflected in the lamplight made his face red-gold.
‘I do not see what concern this fakir has with the boy, who is probably his dupe or his confederate,’ Bennett began. ‘We cannot allow an English boy — Assuming that he is the son of a Mason, the sooner he goes to the Masonic Orphanage the better.’
‘Oh, it is true. I knew it since my birth, but he could only find it out by rending the amulet from my neck and reading all the papers. He thinks that once a Sahib is always a Sahib, and between the two of them they purpose to keep me in this Regiment or to send me to a madrissah [a school]. It has happened before. I have always avoided it. The fat fool is of one mind and the camel-like one of another. But that is no odds. I may spend one night here and perhaps the next. It has happened before. Then I will run away and return to thee.’
‘Oah. He only says that if you do not let me go it will stop him in his business — his ur-gent private af-fairs.’ This last was a reminiscence of some talk with a Eurasian clerk in the Canal Department, but it only drew a smile, which nettled him. ‘And if you did know what his business was you would not be in such a beastly hurry to interfere.’
‘There is a River in this country which he wishes to find so verree much. It was put out by an Arrow which —’ Kim tapped his foot impatiently as he translated in his own mind from the vernacular to his clumsy English. ‘Oah, it was made by our Lord God Buddha, you know, and if you wash there you are washed away from all your sins and made as white as cotton-wool.’ (Kim had heard mission-talk in his time.) ‘I am his disciple, and we must find that River. It is so verree valuable to us.’
‘I see,’ said Father Victor gravely. ‘But he can’t go on in that old man’s company. It would be different, Kim, if you were not a soldier’s son. Tell him that the Regiment will take care of you and make you as good a man as your — as good a man as can be. Tell him that if he believes in miracles he must believe that —’
‘I’m doing no such thing. He must believe that the boy’s coming here — to his own Regiment — in search of his Red Bull is in the nature of a miracle. Consider the chances against it, Bennett. This one boy in all India, and our Regiment of all others on the line o’ march for him to meet with! It’s predestined on the face of it. Yes, tell him it’s Kismet. Kismet, mallum? [Do you understand?]’
‘They say,’ — the old man’s eye lighted at Kim’s speech ‘they say that the meaning of my horoscope is now accomplished, and that being led back — though as thou knowest I went out of curiosity — to these people and their Red Bull I must needs go to a madrissah and be turned into a Sahib. Now I make pretence of agreement, for at the worst it will be but a few meals eaten away from thee. Then I will slip away and follow down the road to Saharunpore. Therefore, Holy One, keep with that Kulu woman — on no account stray far from her cart till I come again. Past question, my sign is of War and of armed men. See how they have given me wine to drink and set me upon a bed of honour! My father must have been some great person. So if they raise me to honour among them, good. If not, good again. However it goes, I will run back to thee when I am tired. But stay with the Rajputni, or I shall miss thy feet ... Oah yess,’ said the boy, ‘I have told him everything you tell me to say.’
‘He says’ — Kim put up one hand. ‘He says: “Be quiet.” He wants to speak to me by himself. You see, you do not know one little word of what he says, and I think if you talk he will perhaps give you very bad curses. When he takes those beads like that, you see, he always wants to be quiet.’
‘As a boy in the dress of white men — when I first went to the Wonder House. And a second time thou wast a Hindu. What shall the third incarnation be?’ He chuckled drearily. ‘Ah, chela, thou has done a wrong to an old man because my heart went out to thee.’
‘Now it is understood that the boy is a Sahib?’ he went on in a muffled tone. ‘Such a Sahib as was he who kept the images in the Wonder House.’ The lama’s experience of white men was limited. He seemed to be repeating a lesson. ‘So then it is not seemly that he should do other than as the Sahibs do. He must go back to his own people.’
‘I do not understand the customs of white men. The Priest of the Images in the Wonder House in Lahore was more courteous than the thin one here. This boy will be taken from me. They will make a Sahib of my disciple? Woe to me! How shall I find my River? Have they no disciples? Ask.’
Said Kim in English, distressed for the lama’s agony: ‘I think if you will let me go now we will walk away quietly and not steal. We will look for that River like before I was caught. I wish I did not come here to find the Red Bull and all that sort of thing. I do not want it.’
‘Good heavens, I don’t know how to console him,’ said Father Victor, watching the lama intently. ‘He can’t take the boy away with him, and yet he’s a good man — I’m sure he’s a good man. Bennett, if you give him that rupee he’ll curse you root and branch!’
‘And I am a Follower of the Way,’ he said bitterly. ‘The sin is mine and the punishment is mine. I made believe to myself for now I see it was but make-belief — that thou wast sent to me to aid in the Search. So my heart went out to thee for thy charity and thy courtesy and the wisdom of thy little years. But those who follow the Way must permit not the fire of any desire or attachment, for that is all Illusion. As says ...’ He quoted an old, old Chinese text, backed it with another, and reinforced these with a third. ‘I stepped aside from the Way, my chela. It was no fault of thine. I delighted in the sight of life, the new people upon the roads, and in thy joy at seeing these things. I was pleased with thee who should have considered my Search and my Search alone. Now I am sorrowful because thou art taken away and my River is far from me. It is the Law which I have broken!’
‘And — the more money is paid the better learning is given?’ The lama disregarded Kim’s plans for an early flight. ‘It is no wrong to pay for learning. To help the ignorant to wisdom is always a merit.’ The rosary clicked furiously as an abacus. Then he faced his oppressors.
‘Well,’ said Father Victor in English, when Kim had translated, ‘that depends. The Regiment would pay for you all the time you are at the Military Orphanage; or you might go on the Punjab Masonic Orphanage’s list (not that he or you ‘ud understand what that means); but the best schooling a boy can get in India is, of course, at St Xavier’s in Partibus at Lucknow.’ This took some time to interpret, for Bennett wished to cut it short.
‘He says: “Write that name and the money upon a paper and give it him.” And he says you must write your name below, because he is going to write a letter in some days to you. He says you are a good man. He says the other man is a fool. He is going away.’
‘He’ll run slap into the sentries,’ cried Father Victor, jumping up as the lama stalked out; ‘but I can’t leave the boy.’ Kim made swift motion to follow, but checked himself. There was no sound of challenge outside. The lama had disappeared.
Kim settled himself composedly on the Chaplain’s cot. At least the lama had promised that he would stay with the Raiput woman from Kulu, and the rest was of the smallest importance. It pleased him that the two padres were so evidently excited. They talked long in undertones, Father Victor urging some scheme on Mr Bennett, who seemed incredulous. All this was very new and fascinating, but Kim felt sleepy. They called men into the tent — one of them certainly was the Colonel, as his father had prophesied — and they asked him an infinity of questions, chiefly about the woman who looked after him, all of which Kim answered truthfully. They did not seem to think the woman a good guardian.
After all, this was the newest of his experiences. Sooner or later, if he chose, he could escape into great, grey, formless India, beyond tents and padres and colonels. Meantime, if the Sahibs were to be impressed, he would do his best to impress them. He too was a white man.
After much talk that he could not comprehend, they handed him over to a sergeant, who had strict instructions not to let him escape. The Regiment would go on to Umballa, and Kim would be sent up, partly at the expense of the Lodge and in part by subscription, to a place called Sanawar.
‘It’s miraculous past all whooping, Colonel,’ said Father Victor, when he had talked without a break for ten minutes. ‘His Buddhist friend has levanted after taking my name and address. I can’t quite make out whether he’ll pay for the boy’s education or whether he is preparing some sort of witchcraft on his own account.’ Then to Kim: ‘You’ll live to be grateful to your friend the Red Bull yet. We’ll make a man of you at Sanawar — even at the price o’ making you a Protestant.’
‘That’s explicit. D’you add prophecy to your other gifts? Take him along, sergeant. Take up a suit for him from the Drums, an’ take care he doesn’t slip through your fingers. Who says the age of miracles is gone by? I think I’ll go to bed. My poor mind’s weakening.’
‘A most amazin’ young bird,’ said the sergeant. ‘He turns up in charge of a yellow-headed buck-Brahmin priest, with his father’s Lodge certificates round his neck, talkin’ God knows what all of a red bull. The buck-Brahmin evaporates without explanations, an’ the bhoy sets cross-legged on the Chaplain’s bed prophesyin’ bloody war to the men at large. Injia’s a wild land for a God-fearin’ man. I’ll just tie his leg to the tent-pole in case he’ll go through the roof. What did ye say about the war?’
Very early in the morning the white tents came down and disappeared as the Mavericks took a side-road to Umballa. It did not skirt the resting-place, and Kim, trudging beside a baggage-cart under fire of comments from soldiers’ wives, was not so confident as overnight. He discovered that he was closely watched — Father Victor on the one side, and Mr Bennett on the other.
In the forenoon the column checked. A camel-orderly handed the Colonel a letter. He read it, and spoke to a Major. Half a mile in the rear, Kim heard a hoarse and joyful clamour rolling down on him through the thick dust. Then someone beat him on the back, crying: ‘Tell us how ye knew, ye little limb of Satan? Father dear, see if ye can make him tell.’
Kim’s eyes sparkled. He shut his lips, nodded his head, and looked unspeakable things. The Chaplain moved on through the dust, and privates, sergeants, and subalterns called one another’s attention to the boy. The Colonel, at the head of the column, stared at him curiously. ‘It was probably some bazar rumour.’ he said; ‘but even then —’ He referred to the paper in his hand. ‘Hang it all, the thing was only decided within the last forty-eight hours.’
‘By what I saw of him he’s as well able to take care of himself as you. No. Ye’ve brought us luck, an’ we’re goin’ to make a man of you. I’ll take ye back to your baggage-cart and ye’ll come to me this evening.’
For the rest of the day Kim found himself an object of distinguished consideration among a few hundred white men. The story of his appearance in camp, the discovery of his parentage, and his prophecy, had lost nothing in the telling. A big, shapeless white woman on a pile of bedding asked him mysteriously whether he thought her husband would come back from the war. Kim reflected gravely, and said that he would, and the woman gave him food. In many respects, this big procession that played music at intervals — this crowd that talked and laughed so easily — resembled a festival in Lahore city. So far, there was no sign of hard work, and he resolved to lend the spectacle his patronage. At evening there came out to meet them bands of music, and played the Mavericks into camp near Umballa railway station. That was an interesting night. Men of other regiments came to visit the Mavericks. The Mavericks went visiting on their own account. Their pickets hurried forth to bring them back, met pickets of strange regiments on the same duty; and, after a while, the bugles blew madly for more pickets with officers to control the tumult. The Mavericks had a reputation for liveliness to live up to. But they fell in on the platform next morning in perfect shape and condition; and Kim, left behind with the sick, women, and boys, found himself shouting farewells excitedly as the trains drew away. Life as a Sahib was amusing so far; but he touched it with a cautious hand. Then they marched him back in charge of a drummer-boy to empty, lime-washed barracks, whose floors were covered with rubbish and string and paper, and whose ceilings gave back his lonely footfall. Native-fashion, he curled himself up on a stripped cot and went to sleep. An angry man stumped down the veranda, woke him up, and said he was a schoolmaster. This was enough for Kim, and he retired into his shell. He could just puzzle out the various English Police notices in Lahore city, because they affected his comfort; and among the many guests of the woman who looked after him had been a queer German who painted scenery for the Parsee travelling theatre. He told Kim that he had been ‘on the barricades in ‘Forty-eight,’ and therefore — at least that was how it struck Kim — he would teach the boy to write in return for food. Kim had been kicked as far as single letters, but did not think well of them.
‘I do not know anything. Go away!’ said Kim, scenting evil. Hereupon the man caught him by the ear, dragged him to a room in a far-off wing where a dozen drummer-boys were sitting on forms, and told him to be still if he could do nothing else. This he managed very successfully. The man explained something or other with white lines on a black board for at least half an hour, and Kim continued his interrupted nap. He much disapproved of the present aspect of affairs, for this was the very school and discipline he had spent two-thirds of his young life in avoiding. Suddenly a beautiful idea occurred to him, and he wondered that he had not thought of it before.
‘All right. I ain’t goin’. It’s too ‘ot. I can watch you from ’ere. It’s no good your runnin’ away. If you did, they’d spot you by your clothes. That’s regimental stuff you’re wearin’. There ain’t a picket in Umballa wouldn’t ‘ead you back quicker than you started out.’
This did not impress Kim as much as the knowledge that his raiment would tire him out if he tried to run. He slouched to the tree at the corner of a bare road leading towards the bazar, and eyed the natives passing. Most of them were barrack-servants of the lowest caste. Kim hailed a sweeper, who promptly retorted with a piece of unnecessary insolence, in the natural belief that the European boy could not follow it. The low, quick answer undeceived him. Kim put his fettered soul into it, thankful for the late chance to abuse somebody in the tongue he knew best. ‘And now, go to the nearest letter-writer in the bazar and tell him to come here. I would write a letter.’
‘Ay; and Hell is full of the same sort. Do my order, you — you Od! Thy mother was married under a basket! Servant of Lal Beg’ (Kim knew the God of the sweepers), ‘run on my business or we will talk again.’
‘Assuredly. To Mahbub Ali then. Begin! I have come down with the old man as far as Umballa in the train. At Umballa I carried the news of the bay mare’s pedigree.’ After what he had seen in the garden, he was not going to write of white stallions.
‘I went into their camp and was caught, and by means of the charm about my neck, which thou knowest, it was established that I was the son of some man in the regiment: according to the prophecy of the Red Bull, which thou knowest was common talk of our bazar.’ Kim waited for this shaft to sink into the letter-writer’s heart, cleared his throat, and continued: ‘A priest clothed me and gave me a new name ... One priest, however, was a fool. The clothes are very heavy, but I am a Sahib and my heart is heavy too. They send me to a school and beat me. I do not like the air and water here. Come then and help me, Mahbub Ali, or send me some money, for I have not sufficient to pay the writer who writes this.’
Though he would not say so, Kim of course disbelieved every word the drummer-boy spoke about the Liverpool suburb which was his England. It passed the heavy time till dinner — a most unappetizing meal served to the boys and a few invalids in a corner of a barrack-room. But that he had written to Mahbub Ali, Kim would have been almost depressed. The indifference of native crowds he was used to; but this strong loneliness among white men preyed on him. He was grateful when, in the course of the afternoon, a big soldier took him over to Father Victor, who lived in another wing across another dusty parade-ground. The priest was reading an English letter written in purple ink. He looked at Kim more curiously than ever.
‘That’s what I’m askin’. Now listen if you can make head or tail o’ this. We’ll skip the first part ... It’s written from Jagadhir Road ... “Sitting on wayside in grave meditation, trusting to be favoured with your Honour’s applause of present step, which recommend your Honour to execute for Almighty God’s sake. Education is greatest blessing if of best sorts. Otherwise no earthly use.” Faith, the old man’s hit the bull’s-eye that time! “If your Honour condescending giving my boy best educations Xavier” (I suppose that’s St Xavier’s in Partibus) “in terms of our conversation dated in your tent 15th instant” (a business-like touch there!) “then Almighty God blessing your Honour’s succeedings to third an’ fourth generation and” — now listen! —“confide in your Honour’s humble servant for adequate remuneration per hoondi per annum three hundred rupees a year to one expensive education St Xavier, Lucknow, and allow small time to forward same per hoondi sent to any part of India as your Honour shall address yourself. This servant of your Honour has presently no place to lay crown of his head, but going to Benares by train on account of persecution of old woman talking so much and unanxious residing Saharunpore in any domestic capacity.” Now what in the world does that mean?’
‘It’s clear to you, is it? It beats me altogether. “So going to Benares, where will find address and forward rupees for boy who is apple of eye, and for Almighty God’s sake execute this education, and your petitioner as in duty bound shall ever awfully pray. Written by Sobrao Satai, Failed Entrance Allahabad University, for Venerable Teshoo Lama the priest of Such-zen looking for a River, address care of Tirthankars’ Temple, Benares. P. M. — Please note boy is apple of eye, and rupees shall be sent per hoondi three hundred per annum. For God Almighty’s sake.” Now, is that ravin’ lunacy or a business proposition? I ask you, because I’m fairly at my wits’ end.’
The priest whistled; then he addressed Kim as an equal. ‘I don’t believe it; but we’ll see. You were goin’ off today to the Military Orphanage at Sanawar, where the Regiment would keep you till you were old enough to enlist. Ye’d be brought up to the Church of England. Bennett arranged for that. On the other hand, if ye go to St Xavier’s ye’ll get a better education an — an can have the religion. D’ye see my dilemma? Kim saw nothing save a vision of the lama going south in a train with none to beg for him.
‘Like most people, I’m going to temporize. If your friend sends the money from Benares — Powers of Darkness below, where’s a street-beggar to raise three hundred rupees? — ye’ll go down to Lucknow and I’ll pay your fare, because I can’t touch the subscription-money if I intend, as I do, to make ye a Catholic. If he doesn’t, ye’ll go to the Military Orphanage at the Regiment’s expense. I’ll allow him three days’ grace, though I don’t believe it at all. Even then, if he fails in his payments later on ... but it’s beyond me. We can only walk one step at a time in this world, praise God! An’ they sent Bennett to the Front an’ left me behind. Bennett can’t expect everything.’
‘There is nothing,’ said Kim, and scratched it. He was wondering whether Mahbub Ali would send him as much as a whole rupee. Then he could pay the letter-writer and write letters to the lama at Benares. Perhaps Mahbub Ali would visit him next time he came south with horses. Surely he must know that Kim’s delivery of the letter to the officer at Umballa had caused the great war which the men and boys had discussed so loudly over the barrack dinner-tables. But if Mahbub Ali did not know this, it would be very unsafe to tell him so. Mahbub Ali was hard upon boys who knew, or thought they knew, too much.
The day dragged to its weary end. When he wished to sleep he was instructed how to fold up his clothes and set out his boots; the other boys deriding. Bugles waked him in the dawn; the schoolmaster caught him after breakfast, thrust a page of meaningless characters under his nose, gave them senseless names and whacked him without reason. Kim meditated poisoning him with opium borrowed from a barrack-sweeper, but reflected that, as they all ate at one table in public (this was peculiarly revolting to Kim, who preferred to turn his back on the world at meals), the stroke might be dangerous. Then he attempted running off to the village where the priest had tried to drug the lama — the village where the old soldier lived. But far-seeing sentries at every exit headed back the little scarlet figure. Trousers and jacket crippled body and mind alike so he abandoned the project and fell back, Oriental-fashion, on time and chance. Three days of torment passed in the big, echoing white rooms. He walked out of afternoons under escort of the drummer-boy, and all he heard from his companions were the few useless words which seemed to make two-thirds of the white man’s abuse. Kim knew and despised them all long ago. The boy resented his silence and lack of interest by beating him, as was only natural. He did not care for any of the bazars which were in bounds. He styled all natives ‘niggers’; yet servants and sweepers called him abominable names to his face, and, misled by their deferential attitude, he never understood. This somewhat consoled Kim for the beatings.
On the morning of the fourth day a judgement overtook that drummer. They had gone out together towards Umballa racecourse. He returned alone, weeping, with news that young O’Hara, to whom he had been doing nothing in particular, had hailed a scarlet-bearded nigger on horseback; that the nigger had then and there laid into him with a peculiarly adhesive quirt, picked up young O’Hara, and borne him off at full gallop. These tidings came to Father Victor, and he drew down his long upper lip. He was already sufficiently startled by a letter from the Temple of the Tirthankars at Benares, enclosing a native banker’s note of hand for three hundred rupees, and an amazing prayer to ‘Almighty God’. The lama would have been more annoyed than the priest had he known how the bazar letter-writer had translated his phrase ‘to acquire merit.’
‘Powers of Darkness below!’ Father Victor fumbled with the note. ‘An’ now he’s off with another of his peep-o’-day friends. I don’t know whether it will be a greater relief to me to get him back or to have him lost. He’s beyond my comprehension. How the Divil — yes, he’s the man I mean — can a street-beggar raise money to educate white boys?’
‘But, Little Friend of all the World, there is my honour and reputation to be considered. All the officer-Sahibs in all the regiments, and all Umballa, know Mahbub Ali. Men saw me pick thee up and chastise that boy. We are seen now from far across this plain. How can I take thee away, or account for thy disappearing if I set thee down and let thee run off into the crops? They would put me in jail. Be patient. Once a Sahib, always a Sahib. When thou art a man — who knows? — thou wilt be grateful to Mahbub Ali.’
The stallion bounded wildly. Mahbub Ali had incautiously driven home the sharp-edged stirrup. (He was not the new sort of fluent horse-dealer who wears English boots and spurs.) Kim drew his own conclusions from that betrayal.
‘That was a small matter. It lay on the straight road to Benares. I and the Sahib have by this time forgotten it. I send so many letters and messages to men who ask questions about horses, I cannot well remember one from the other. Was it some matter of a bay mare that Peters Sahib wished the pedigree of?’
‘Hi! Mahbub, you old villain, pull up!’ cried a voice, and an Englishman raced alongside on a little polo-pony. ‘I’ve been chasing you half over the country. That Kabuli of yours can go. For sale, I suppose?’
‘A. boy,’ said Mahbub gravely. ‘He was being beaten by another boy. His father was once a white soldier in the big war. The boy was a child in Lahore city. He played with my horses when he was a babe. Now I think they will make him a soldier. He has been newly caught by his father’s Regiment that went up to the war last week. But I do not think he wants to be a soldier. I take him for a ride. Tell me where thy barracks are and I will set thee there.’
Here was deadly insult on deadlier injury — and the Sahib to whom he had so craftily given that war-waking letter heard it all. Kim beheld Mahbub Ali frying in flame for his treachery, but for himself he saw one long grey vista of barracks, schools, and barracks again. He gazed imploringly at the clear-cut face in which there was no glimmer of recognition; but even at this extremity it never occurred to him to throw himself on the white man’s mercy or to denounce the Afghan. And Mahbub stared deliberately at the Englishman, who stared as deliberately at Kim, quivering and tongue-tied.
‘No thanks to me, Padre. Besides, the boy wasn’t going away. You don’t know old Mahbub Ali.’ The horse-dealer sat impassive in the sunlight. ‘You will when you have been in the station a month. He sells us all our crocks. That boy is rather a curiosity. Can you tell me anything about him?’
A groom came round the corner. Colonel Creighton raised his voice, speaking in Urdu. ‘Very good, Mahbub Ali, but what is the use of telling me all those stories about the pony? Not one pice more than three hundred and fifty rupees will I give.’
‘The Sahib is a little hot and angry after riding,’ the horse-dealer returned, with the leer of a privileged jester. ‘Presently, he will see my horse’s points more clearly. I will wait till he has finished his talk with the Padre. I will wait under that tree.’
‘Confound you!’ The Colonel laughed. ‘That comes of looking at one of Mahbub’s horses. He’s a regular old leech, Padre. Wait, then, if thou hast so much time to spare, Mahbub. Now I’m at your service, Padre. Where is the boy? Oh, he’s gone off to collogue with Mahbub. Queer sort of boy. Might I ask you to send my mare round under cover?’
‘That is all one.’ The great red beard wagged solemnly. ‘Children should not see a carpet on the loom till the pattern is made plain. Believe me, Friend of all the World, I do thee great service. They will not make a soldier of thee.’
‘Small wonder the Padre does not know how to unravel the thread. How fast he talks to the Colonel Sahib!’ Mahbub Ali chuckled. ‘By Allah!’ the keen eyes swept the veranda for an Instant — ‘thy lama has sent what to me looks like a note of hand. I have had some few dealings in hoondis. The Colonel Sahib is looking at it.’
‘At any rate, the old man has sent the money. Gobind Sahai’s notes of hand are good from here to China,’ said the Colonel. ‘The more one knows about natives the less can one say what they will or won’t do.’
‘That’s consolin’ — from the head of the Ethnological Survey. It’s this mixture of Red Bulls and Rivers of Healing (poor heathen, God help him!) an’ notes of hand and Masonic certificates. Are you a Mason, by any chance?’
‘I’m glad ye see a reason in it. But as I said, it’s the mixture o’ things that’s beyond me. An’ his prophesyin’ to our Colonel, sitting on my bed with his little shimmy torn open showing his white skin; an’ the prophecy comin’ true! They’ll cure all that nonsense at St Xavier’s, eh?’
‘The lama, then, fails to pay next year. He’s a fine business head to plan on the spur of the moment, but he’s bound to die some day. An’ takin’ a heathen’s money to give a child a Christian education -’
‘But he said explicitly what he wanted. As soon as he knew the boy was white he seems to have made his arrangements accordingly. I’d give a month’s pay to hear how he explained it all at the Tirthankars’ Temple at Benares. Look here, Padre, I don’t pretend to know much about natives, but if he says he’ll pay, he’ll pay — dead or alive. I mean, his heirs will assume the debt. My advice to you is, send the boy down to Lucknow. If your Anglican Chaplain thinks you’ve stolen a march on him —’
‘Glory, leaving you the religion. Quite so! As a matter of fact I don’t think Bennett will mind. Put the blame on me. I— er — strongly recommend sending the boy to St Xavier’s. He can go down on pass as a soldier’s orphan, so the railway fare will be saved. You can buy him an outfit from the Regimental subscription. The Lodge will be saved the expense of his education, and that will put the Lodge in a good temper. It’s perfectly easy. I’ve got to go down to Lucknow next week. I’ll look after the boy on the way — give him in charge of my servants, and so on.’
‘Not in the least. Don’t make that mistake. The lama has sent us money for a definite end. We can’t very well return it. We shall have to do as he says. Well, that’s settled, isn’t it? Shall we say that, Tuesday next, you’ll hand him over to me at the night train south? That’s only three days. He can’t do much harm in three days.’
‘It’s not the least trouble indeed. You see, as an ethnologist, the thing’s very interesting to me. I’d like to make a note of it for some Government work that I’m doing. The transformation of a regimental badge like your Red Bull into a sort of fetish that the boy follows is very interesting.’
‘There’s one thing you can do. All we Ethnological men are as jealous as jackdaws of one another’s discoveries. They’re of no interest to anyone but ourselves, of course, but you know what book-collectors are like. Well, don’t say a word, directly or indirectly, about the Asiatic side of the boy’s character — his adventures and his prophecy, and so on. I’ll worm them out of the boy later on and — you see?’
‘Thank you. That goes straight to an ethnologist’s heart. Well, I must be getting back to my breakfast. Good Heavens! Old Mahbub here still?’ He raised his voice, and the horse-dealer came out from under the shadow of the tree, ‘Well, what is it?’
‘As regards that young horse,’ said Mahbub, ‘I say that when a colt is born to be a polo-pony, closely following the ball without teaching — when such a colt knows the game by divination — then I say it is a great wrong to break that colt to a heavy cart, Sahib!’
The dealer saluted, horseman-fashion, with a sweep of the off hand. ‘Be patient a little, Friend of all the World,’ he whispered to the agonized Kim. ‘Thy fortune is made. In a little while thou goest to Nucklao, and — here is something to pay the letter-writer. I shall see thee again, I think, many times,’ and he cantered off down the road.
‘Listen to me,’ said the Colonel from the veranda, speaking in the vernacular. ‘In three days thou wilt go with me to Lucknow, seeing and hearing new things all the while. Therefore sit still for three days and do not run away. Thou wilt go to school at Lucknow.’
‘At least Lucknow is nearer to Benares than Umballa. It may be thou wilt go under my protection. Mahbub Ali knows this, and he will be angry if thou returnest to the Road now. Remember — much has been told me which I do not forget.’
In the afternoon the red-faced schoolmaster told Kim that he had been ‘struck off the strength’, which conveyed no meaning to him till he was ordered to go away and play. Then he ran to the bazar, and found the young letter-writer to whom he owed a stamp.
‘This is not to Mahbub, but to a priest. Take thy pen and write quickly. To Teshoo Lama, the Holy One from Bhotiyal seeking for a River, who is now in the Temple of the Tirthankars at Benares. Take more ink! In three days I am to go down to Nucklao to the school at Nucklao. The name of the school is Xavier. I do not know where that school is, but it is at Nucklao.’
‘He has forgotten his cheroot-case,’ said Kim, returning. ‘I must bring it to him this evening. That is all my letter except, thrice over, Come to me! Come to me! Come to me! Now I will pay for a stamp and put it in the post. He rose to go, and as an afterthought asked: ‘Who is that angry-faced Sahib who lost the cheroot-case?’
‘God knows. He is always buying horses which he cannot ride, and asking riddles about the works of God — such as plants and stones and the customs of people. The dealers call him the father of fools, because he is so easily cheated about a horse. Mahbub Ali says he is madder than most other Sahibs.’
‘Oh!’ said Kim, and departed. His training had given him some small knowledge of character, and he argued that fools are not given information which leads to calling out eight thousand men besides guns. The Commander-inChief of all India does not talk, as Kim had heard him talk, to fools. Nor would Mahbub Ali’s tone have changed, as it did every time he mentioned the Colonel’s name, if the Colonel had been a fool. Consequently — and this set Kim to skipping — there was a mystery somewhere, and Mahbub Ali probably spied for the Colonel much as Kim had spied for Mahbub. And, like the horse-dealer, the Colonel evidently respected people who did not show themselves to be too clever.
He rejoiced that he had not betrayed his knowledge of the Colonel’s house; and when, on his return to barracks, he discovered that no cheroot-case had been left behind, he beamed with delight. Here was a man after his own heart — a tortuous and indirect person playing a hidden game. Well, if he could be a fool, so could Kim.
He showed nothing of his mind when Father Victor, for three long mornings, discoursed to him of an entirely new set of Gods and Godlings — notably of a Goddess called Mary, who, he gathered, was one with Bibi Miriam of Mahbub Ali’s theology. He betrayed no emotion when, after the lecture, Father Victor dragged him from shop to shop buying articles of outfit, nor when envious drummer-boys kicked him because he was going to a superior school did he complain, but awaited the play of circumstances with an interested soul. Father Victor, good man, took him to the station, put him into an empty second-class next to Colonel Creighton’s first, and bade him farewell with genuine feeling.
‘They’ll make a man o’ you, O’Hara, at St Xavier’s — a white man, an’, I hope, a good man. They know all about your comin’, an’ the Colonel will see that ye’re not lost or mislaid anywhere on the road. I’ve given you a notion of religious matters, — at least I hope so, — and you’ll remember, when they ask you your religion, that you’re a Cath’lic. Better say Roman Cath’lic, tho’ I’m not fond of the word.’
Kim lit a rank cigarette — he had been careful to buy a stock in the bazar — and lay down to think. This solitary passage was very different from that joyful down-journey in the third-class with the lama. ‘Sahibs get little pleasure of travel,’ he reflected.
‘Hai mai! I go from one place to another as it might be a kickball. It is my Kismet. No man can escape his Kismet. But I am to pray to Bibi Miriam, and I am a Sahib.’ He looked at his boots ruefully. ‘No; I am Kim. This is the great world, and I am only Kim. Who is Kim?’ He considered his own identity, a thing he had never done before, till his head swam. He was one insignificant person in all this roaring whirl of India, going southward to he knew not what fate.
Presently the Colonel sent for him, and talked for a long time. So far as Kim could gather, he was to be diligent and enter the Survey of India as a chain-man. If he were very good, and passed the proper examinations, he would be earning thirty rupees a month at seventeen years old, and Colonel Creighton would see that he found suitable employment.
Kim pretended at first to understand perhaps one word in three of this talk. Then the Colonel, seeing his mistake, turned to fluent and picturesque Urdu and Kim was contented. No man could be a fool who knew the language so intimately, who moved so gently and silently, and whose eyes were so different from the dull fat eyes of other Sahibs.
‘Yes, and thou must learn how to make pictures of roads and mountains and rivers, to carry these pictures in thine eye till a suitable time comes to set them upon paper. Perhaps some day, when thou art a chain-man, I may say to thee when we are working together: “Go across those hills and see what lies beyond.” Then one will say: “There are bad people living in those hills who will slay the chain-man if he be seen to look like a Sahib.” What then?’
‘True; but thou art a Sahib and the son of a Sahib. Therefore, do not at any time be led to contemn the black men. I have known boys newly entered into the service of the Government who feigned not to understand the talk or the customs of black men. Their pay was cut for ignorance. There is no sin so great as ignorance. Remember this.’
‘We be all on one lead-rope, then,’ said Kim at last, ‘the Colonel, Mahbub Ali, and I— when I become a chain-man. He will use me as Mahbub Ali employed me, I think. That is good, if it allows me to return to the Road again. This clothing grows no easier by wear.’
When they came to the crowded Lucknow station there was no sign of the lama. He swallowed his disappointment, while the Colonel bundled him into a ticca-gharri with his neat belongings and despatched him alone to St Xavier’s.
It took him nearly five minutes to recover. Then he sniffed the new air appreciatively. ‘A rich city,’ he said. ‘Richer than Lahore. How good the bazars must be! Coachman, drive me a little through the bazars here.’
‘My order is to take thee to the school.’ The driver used the ‘thou’, which is rudeness when applied to a white man. In the clearest and most fluent vernacular Kim pointed out his error, climbed on to the box-seat, and, perfect understanding established, drove for a couple of hours up and down, estimating, comparing, and enjoying. There is no city — except Bombay, the queen of all — more beautiful in her garish style than Lucknow, whether you see her from the bridge over the river, or from the top of the Imambara looking down on the gilt umbrellas of the Chutter Munzil, and the trees in which the town is bedded. Kings have adorned her with fantastic buildings, endowed her with charities, crammed her with pensioners, and drenched her with blood. She is the centre of all idleness, intrigue, and luxury, and shares with Delhi the claim to talk the only pure Urdu.
‘Now we will go to the school,’ said Kim at last. The great old school of St Xavier’s in Partibus, block on block of low white buildings, stands in vast grounds over against the Gumti River, at some distance from the city.
‘Young Sahibs — all devils. But to speak truth, and I drive many of them to and fro from the railway station, I have never seen one that had in him the making of a more perfect devil than thou — this young Sahib whom I am now driving.’
Naturally, for he was never trained to consider them in any way improper, Kim had passed the time of day with one or two frivolous ladies at upper windows in a certain street, and naturally, in the exchange of compliments, had acquitted himself well. He was about to acknowledge the driver’s last insolence, when his eye — it was growing dusk — caught a figure sitting by one of the white plaster gate-pillars in the long sweep of wall.
‘I have waited here a day and a half,’ the lama’s level voice began. ‘Nay, I had a disciple with me. He that was my friend at the Temple of the Tirthankars gave me a guide for this journey. I came from Benares in the te-rain, when thy letter was given me. Yes, I am well fed. I need nothing.’
‘The woman wearied me by constant flux of talk and requiring charms for children. I separated myself from that company, permitting her to acquire merit by gifts. She is at least a woman of open hands, and I made a promise to return to her house if need arose. Then, perceiving myself alone in this great and terrible world, I bethought me of the te-rain to Benares, where I knew one abode in the Tirthankars’ Temple who was a Seeker, even as I.’
‘So soon, my chela? I have never forgotten it. But when I had left thee it seemed better that I should go to the Temple and take counsel, for, look you, India is very large, and it may be that wise men before us, some two or three, have left a record of the place of our River. There is debate in the Temple of the Tirthankars on this matter; some saying one thing, and some another. They are courteous folk.’
‘I acquire merit in that I help thee, my chela, to wisdom. The priest of that body of men who serve the Red Bull wrote me that all should be as I desired for thee. I sent the money to suffice for one year, and then I came, as thou seest me, to watch for thee going up into the Gates of Learning. A day and a half have I waited, not because I was led by any affection towards thee — that is no part of the Way — but, as they said at the Tirthankars’ Temple, because, money having been paid for learning, it was right that I should oversee the end of the matter. They resolved my doubts most clearly. I had a fear that, perhaps, I came because I wished to see thee — misguided by the Red Mist of affection. It is not so ... Moreover, I am troubled by a dream.’
‘Go to Jehannum and abide there with thy reputationless aunt!’ Kim snarled over his shoulder. ‘I am all alone in this land; I know not where I go nor what shall befall me. My heart was in that letter I sent thee. Except for Mahbub Ali, and he is a Pathan, I have no friend save thee, Holy One. Do not altogether go away.’
‘I have considered that also,’ the lama replied, in a shaking voice. ‘It is manifest that from time to time I shall acquire merit if before that I have not found my River — by assuring myself that thy feet are set on wisdom. What they will teach thee I do not know, but the priest wrote me that no son of a Sahib in all India will be better taught than thou. So from time to time, therefore, I will come again. Maybe thou wilt be such a Sahib as he who gave me these spectacles’ — the lama wiped them elaborately — ‘in the Wonder House at Lahore. That is my hope, for he was a Fountain of Wisdom — wiser than many abbots .... Again, maybe thou wilt forget me and our meetings.’
‘No — no.’ He put the boy aside. ‘I must go back to Benares. From time to time, now that I know the customs of letter-writers in this land, I will send thee a letter, and from time to time I will come and see thee.’
‘To the Temple of the Tirthankars at Benares. That is the place I have chosen till I find my River. Do not weep; for, look you, all Desire is Illusion and a new binding upon the Wheel. Go up to the Gates of Learning. Let me see thee go ... Dost thou love me? Then go, or my heart cracks ... I will come again. Surely I will come again.
The country born and bred boy has his own manners and customs, which do not resemble those of any other land; and his teachers approach him by roads which an English master would not understand. Therefore, you would scarcely be interested in Kim’s experiences as a St Xavier’s boy among two or three hundred precocious youths, most of whom had never seen the sea. He suffered the usual penalties for breaking out of bounds when there was cholera in the city. This was before he had learned to write fair English, and so was obliged to find a bazar letter-writer. He was, of course, indicted for smoking and for the use of abuse more full-flavoured than even St Xavier’s had ever heard. He learned to wash himself with the Levitical scrupulosity of the native-born, who in his heart considers the Englishman rather dirty. He played the usual tricks on the patient coolies pulling the punkahs in the sleeping-rooms where the boys threshed through the hot nights telling tales till the dawn; and quietly he measured himself against his self-reliant mates.
They were sons of subordinate officials in the Railway, Telegraph, and Canal Services; of warrant-officers, sometimes retired and sometimes acting as commanders-inchief to a feudatory Rajah’s army; of captains of the Indian Marine Government pensioners, planters, Presidency shopkeepers, and missionaries. A few were cadets of the old Eurasian houses that have taken strong root in Dhurrumtollah — Pereiras, De Souzas, and D’Silvas. Their parents could well have educated them in England, but they loved the school that had served their own youth, and generation followed sallow-hued generation at St Xavier’s. Their homes ranged from Howrah of the railway people to abandoned cantonments like Monghyr and Chunar; lost tea-gardens Shillong-way; villages where their fathers were large landholders in Oudh or the Deccan; Mission-stations a week from the nearest railway line; seaports a thousand miles south, facing the brazen Indian surf; and cinchona-plantations south of all. The mere story of their adventures, which to them were no adventures, on their road to and from school would have crisped a Western boy’s hair. They were used to jogging off alone through a hundred miles of jungle, where there was always the delightful chance of being delayed by tigers; but they would no more have bathed in the English Channel in an English August than their brothers across the world would have lain still while a leopard snuffed at their palanquin. There were boys of fifteen who had spent a day and a half on an islet in the middle of a flooded river, taking charge, as by right, of a camp of frantic pilgrims returning from a shrine. There were seniors who had requisitioned a chance-met Rajah’s elephant, in the name of St Francis Xavier, when the Rains once blotted out the cart-track that led to their father’s estate, and had all but lost the huge beast in a quicksand. There was a boy who, he said, and none doubted, had helped his father to beat off with rifles from the veranda a rush of Akas in the days when those head-hunters were bold against lonely plantations.
And every tale was told in the even, passionless voice of the native-born, mixed with quaint reflections, borrowed unconsciously from native foster-mothers, and turns of speech that showed they had been that instant translated from the vernacular. Kim watched, listened, and approved. This was not insipid, single-word talk of drummer-boys. It dealt with a life he knew and in part understood. The atmosphere suited him, and he throve by inches. They gave him a white drill suit as the weather warmed, and he rejoiced in the new-found bodily comforts as he rejoiced to use his sharpened mind over the tasks they set him. His quickness would have delighted an English master; but at St Xavier’s they know the first rush of minds developed by sun and surroundings, as they know the half-collapse that sets in at twenty-two or twenty-three.
None the less he remembered to hold himself lowly. When tales were told of hot nights, Kim did not sweep the board with his reminiscences; for St Xavier’s looks down on boys who ‘go native all-together.’ One must never forget that one is a Sahib, and that some day, when examinations are passed, one will command natives. Kim made a note of this, for he began to understand where examinations led.
Then came the holidays from August to October — the long holidays imposed by the heat and the Rains. Kim was informed that he would go north to some station in the hills behind Umballa, where Father Victor would arrange for him.
Kim considered it in every possible light. He had been diligent, even as the Colonel advised. A boy’s holiday was his own property — of so much the talk of his companions had advised him, — and a barrack-school would be torment after St Xavier’s. Moreover — this was magic worth anything else — he could write. In three months he had discovered how men can speak to each other without a third party, at the cost of half an anna and a little knowledge. No word had come from the lama, but there remained the Road. Kim yearned for the caress of soft mud squishing up between the toes, as his mouth watered for mutton stewed with butter and cabbages, for rice speckled with strong scented cardamoms, for the saffron-tinted rice, garlic and onions, and the forbidden greasy sweetmeats of the bazars. They would feed him raw beef on a platter at the barrack-school, and he must smoke by stealth. But again, he was a Sahib and was at St Xavier’s, and that pig Mahbub Ali ... No, he would not test Mahbub’s hospitality — and yet ... He thought it out alone in the dormitory, and came to the conclusion he had been unjust to Mahbub.
The school was empty; nearly all the masters had gone away; Colonel Creighton ‘s railway pass lay in his hand, and Kim puffed himself that he had not spent Colonel Creighton’s or Mahbub’s money in riotous living. He was still lord of two rupees seven annas. His new bullock-trunk, marked ‘K. O’H.’, and bedding-roll lay in the empty sleeping-room.
‘Sahibs are always tied to their baggage,’ said Kim, nodding at them. ‘You will stay here’ He went out into the warm rain, smiling sinfully, and sought a certain house whose outside he had noted down some time before...
‘Oh, she? She is the daughter of a certain schoolmaster of a regiment in the cantonments. He has beaten me twice because I went over their wall in these clothes. Now I would go as a gardener’s boy. Old men are very jealous.’
‘I am not a barber, but I will make shift. Thou wast born to be a breaker of hearts! All this disguise for one evening? Remember, the stuff does not wash away.’ She shook with laughter till her bracelets and anklets jingled. ‘But who is to pay me for this? Huneefa herself could not have given thee better stuff.’
‘Child, thou art beyond all dispute the most shameless son of Shaitan that I have ever known to take up a poor girl’s time with this play, and then to say: “Is not the jest enough?” Thou wilt go very far in this world.’ She gave the dancing-girls’ salutation in mockery.
‘All one. Make haste and rough-cut my head.’ Kim shifted from foot to foot, his eyes ablaze with mirth as he thought of the fat days before him. He gave the girl four annas, and ran down the stairs in the likeness of a low-caste Hindu boy — perfect in every detail. A cookshop was his next point of call, where he feasted in extravagance and greasy luxury.
On Lucknow station platform he watched young De Castro, all covered with prickly-heat, get into a second-class compartment. Kim patronized a third, and was the life and soul of it. He explained to the company that he was assistant to a juggler who had left him behind sick with fever, and that he would pick up his master at Umballa. As the occupants of the carriage changed, he varied this tale, or adorned it with all the shoots of a budding fancy, the more rampant for being held off native speech so long. In all India that night was no human being so joyful as Kim. At Umballa he got out and headed eastward, plashing over the sodden fields to the village where the old soldier lived.
About this time Colonel Creighton at Simla was advised from Lucknow by wire that young O’Hara had disappeared. Mahbub Ali was in town selling horses, and to him the Colonel confided the affair one morning cantering round Annandale racecourse.
‘Oh, that is nothing,’ said the horse-dealer. ‘Men are like horses. At certain times they need salt, and if that salt is not in the mangers they will lick it up from the earth. He has gone back to the Road again for a while. The madrissak wearied him. I knew it would. Another time, I will take him upon the Road myself. Do not be troubled, Creighton Sahib. It is as though a polo-pony, breaking loose, ran out to learn the game alone.’
‘Read,’ said the Colonel, with a sigh of relief. It was absurd that a man of his position should take an interest in a little country-bred vagabond; but the Colonel remembered the conversation in the train, and often in the past few months had caught himself thinking of the queer, silent, self-possessed boy. His evasion, of course, was the height of insolence, but it argued some resource and nerve.
‘A name we give him in Lahore city. “The Friend of all the World takes leave to go to his own places. He will come back upon the appointed day. Let the box and the bedding-roll be sent for; and if there has been a fault, let the Hand of Friendship turn aside the Whip of Calamity.” There is yet a little more, but —’
‘“Certain things are not known to those who eat with forks. It is better to eat with both hands for a while. Speak soft words to those who do not understand this that the return may be propitious.” Now the manner in which that was cast is, of course, the work of the letter-writer, but see how wisely the boy has devised the matter of it so that no hint is given except to those who know!’
‘He turns to me to make a peace between you. Is he not wise? He says he will return. He is but perfecting his knowledge. Think, Sahib! He has been three months at the school. And he is not mouthed to that bit. For my part, I rejoice. The pony learns the game.’
‘Why? He went alone before he came under the Colonel Sahib’s protection. When he comes to the Great Game he must go alone — alone, and at peril of his head. Then, if he spits, or sneezes, or sits down other than as the people do whom he watches, he may be slain. Why hinder him now? Remember how the Persians say: The jackal that lives in the wilds of Mazanderan can only be caught by the hounds of Mazanderan.’
‘He does not tell me, even, whither he goes,’ said Mahbub. ‘He is no fool. When his time is accomplished he will come to me. It is time the healer of pearls took him in hand. He ripens too quickly — as Sahibs reckon.’
This prophecy was fulfilled to the letter a month later. Mahbub had gone down to Umballa to bring up a fresh consignment of horses, and Kim met him on the Kalka road at dusk riding alone, begged an alms of him, was sworn at, and replied in English. There was nobody within earshot to hear Mahbub’s gasp of amazement.
‘I stayed for a while with an old man near Umballa; anon with a household of my acquaintance in Umballa. With one of these I went as far as Delhi to the southward. That is a wondrous city. Then I drove a bullock for a teli [an oilman] coming north; but I heard of a great feast forward in Patiala, and thither went I in the company of a firework-maker. It was a great feast’ (Kim rubbed his stomach). ‘I saw Rajahs, and elephants with gold and silver trappings; and they lit all the fireworks at once, whereby eleven men were killed, my fire-work-maker among them, and I was blown across a tent but took no harm. Then I came back to the rel with a Sikh horseman, to whom I was groom for my bread; and so here.’
‘I have a desire to hear of that same madrissah.’ Mahbub stuffed himself with great boluses of spiced mutton fried in fat with cabbage and golden-brown onions. ‘But tell me first, altogether and truthfully, the manner of thy escape. For, O Friend of all the World,’ — he loosed his cracking belt — ‘I do not think it is often that a Sahib and the son of a Sahib runs away from there.’
‘How should they? They do not know the land. It was nothing,’ said Kim, and began his tale. When he came to the disguisement and the interview with the girl in the bazar, Mahbub Ali’s gravity went from him. He laughed aloud and beat his hand on his thigh.
‘I said,’ growled Mahbub Ali to himself, ‘I said it was the pony breaking out to play polo. The fruit is ripe already — except that he must learn his distances and his pacings, and his rods and his compasses. Listen now. I have turned aside the Colonel’s whip from thy skin, and that is no small service.’
‘It was my holiday, Hajji. I was a slave for many weeks. Why should I not run away when the school was shut? Look, too, how I, living upon my friends or working for my bread, as I did with the Sikh, have saved the Colonel Sahib a great expense.’
‘And this is known to me also,’ said Kim, readjusting the live charcoal-ball on the weed. ‘It is a very sure tie between us. Indeed, thy hold is surer even than mine; for who would miss a boy beaten to death, or, it may be, thrown into a well by the roadside? Most people here and in Simla and across the passes behind the Hills would, on the other hand, say: “What has come to Mahbub Ali?” if he were found dead among his horses. Surely, too, the Colonel Sahib would make inquiries. But again,’— Kim’s face puckered with cunning, — ‘he would not make overlong inquiry, lest people should ask: “What has this Colonel Sahib to do with that horse-dealer?” But I— if I lived —’
‘Maybe; but I say, if I lived, I, and I alone, would know that one had come by night, as a common thief perhaps, to Mahbub Ali’s bulkhead in the serai, and there had slain him, either before or after that thief had made a full search into his saddlebags and between the soles of his slippers. Is that news to tell to the Colonel, or would he say to me — (I have not forgotten when he sent me back for a cigar-case that he had not left behind him) — “What is Mahbub Ali to me?”?’
Up went a gout of heavy smoke. There was a long pause: then Mahbub Ali spoke in admiration: ‘And with these things on thy mind, dost thou lie down and rise again among all the Sahibs’ little sons at the madrissah and meekly take instruction from thy teachers?’
‘That which I saw,’ said Kim, ‘the night that my lama and I lay next thy place in the Kashmir Seral. The door was left unlocked, which I think is not thy custom, Mahbub. He came in as one assured that thou wouldst not soon return. My eye was against a knot-hole in the plank. He searched as it were for something — not a rug, not stirrups, nor a bridle, nor brass pots — something little and most carefully hid. Else why did he prick with an iron between the soles of thy slippers?’
‘None. I put my hand upon my amulet, which lies always next to my skin, and, remembering the pedigree of a white stallion that I had bitten out of a piece of Mussalmani bread, I went away to Umballa perceiving that a heavy trust was laid upon me. At that hour, had I chosen, thy head was forfeit. It needed only to say to that man, “I have here a paper concerning a horse which I cannot read.” And then?’ Kim peered at Mahbub under his eyebrows.
‘It is true. I thought of that a little, but most I thought that I loved thee, Mahbub. Therefore I went to Umballa, as thou knowest, but (and this thou dost not know) I lay hid in the garden-grass to see what Colonel Creighton Sahib might do upon reading the white stallion’s pedigree.’
‘Very good. I saw the Jang-i-Lat Sahib [the Commander-in-Chief] come to a big dinner. I saw him in Creighton Sahib’s office. I saw the two read the white stallion’s pedigree. I heard the very orders given for the opening of a great war.’
‘I made the news as it were a hook to catch me victual and honour among the villagers in a village whose priest drugged my lama. But I bore away the old man’s purse, and the Brahmin found nothing. So next morning he was angry. Ho! Ho! And I also used the news when I fell into the hands of that white Regiment with their Bull!’
‘So I think now, and moreover, it did me no sort of good. But that was very long ago,’ he made as to brush it all away with a thin brown hand — ‘and since then, and especially in the nights under the punkah at the madrissah, I have thought very greatly.’
‘But,’ said Kim, ‘I am not a Sahib, and I say I made a fault to curse thee, Mahbub Ali, on that day at Umballa when I thought I was betrayed by a Pathan. I was senseless; for I was but newly caught, and I wished to kill that low-caste drummer-boy. I say now, Hajji, that it was well done; and I see my road all clear before me to a good service. I will stay in the madrissah till I am ripe.’
‘The Colonel is the servant of the Government. He is sent hither and yon at a word, and must consider his own advancement. (See how much I have already learned at Nucklao!) Moreover, the Colonel I know since three months only. I have known one Mahbub Ali for six years. So! To the madrissah I will go. At the madrissah I will learn. In the madrissah I will be a Sahib. But when the madrissah is shut, then must I be free and go among my people. Otherwise I die!’
‘This great and beautiful land,’ said Kim, waving his paw round the little clay-walled room where the oil-lamp in its niche burned heavily through the tobacco-smoke. ‘And, further, I would see my lama again. And, further, I need money.’
‘That is the need of everyone,’ said Mahbub ruefully. ‘I will give thee eight annas, for much money is not picked out of horses’ hooves, and it must suffice for many days. As to all the rest, I am well pleased, and no further talk is needed. Make haste to learn, and in three years, or it may be less, thou wilt be an aid — even to me.’
Mahbub felt in his belt, wetted his thumb on a cake of Chinese ink, and dabbed the impression on a piece of soft native paper. From Balkh to Bombay men know that rough-ridged print with the old scar running diagonally across it.
Kim slid out quietly into the night, walked half round the house, keeping close to the walls, and headed away from the station for a mile or so. Then, fetching a wide compass, he worked back at leisure, for he needed time to invent a story if any of Mahbub’s retainers asked questions.
They were camped on a piece of waste ground beside the railway, and, being natives, had not, of course, unloaded the two trucks in which Mahbub’s animals stood among a consignment of country-breds bought by the Bombay tram-company. The headman, a broken-down, consumptive-looking Mohammedan, promptly challenged Kim, but was pacified at sight of Mahbub’s sign-manual.
Followed the usual aimless babble that every low-caste native must raise on every occasion. It died down, and Kim lay out behind the little knot of Mahbub’s followers, almost under the wheels of a horse-truck, a borrowed blanket for covering. Now a bed among brickbats and ballast-refuse on a damp night, between overcrowded horses and unwashed Baltis, would not appeal to many white boys; but Kim was utterly happy. Change of scene, service, and surroundings were the breath of his little nostrils, and thinking of the neat white cots of St Xavier’s all arow under the punkah gave him joy as keen as the repetition of the multiplication-table in English.
‘I am very old,’ he thought sleepily. ‘Every month I become a year more old. I was very young, and a fool to boot, when I took Mahbub’s message to Umballa. Even when I was with that white Regiment I was very young and small and had no wisdom. But now I learn every day, and in three years the Colonel will take me out of the madrissah and let me go upon the Road with Mahbub hunting for horses’ pedigrees, or maybe I shall go by myself; or maybe I shall find the lama and go with him. Yes; that is best. To walk again as a chela with my lama when he comes back to Benares.’
The thoughts came more slowly and disconnectedly. He was plunging into a beautiful dreamland when his ears caught a whisper, thin and sharp, above the monotonous babble round the fire. It came from behind the iron-skinned horse-truck.
‘Yes — in Peshawur,’ the second voice sneered. ‘Peshawur, full of his blood-kin — full of bolt-holes and women behind whose clothes he will hide. Yes, Peshawur or Jehannum would suit us equally well.’
‘O fool, have I not told it a hundred times? Wait till he comes to lie down, and then one sure shot. The trucks are between us and pursuit. We have but to run back over the lines and go our way. They will not see whence the shot came. Wait here at least till the dawn. What manner of fakir art thou, to shiver at a little watching?’
‘Oho!’ thought Kim, behind close-shut eyes. ‘Once again it is Mahbub. Indeed a white stallion’s pedigree is not a good thing to peddle to Sahibs! Or maybe Mahbub has been selling other news. Now what is to do, Kim? I know not where Mahbub houses, and if he comes here before the dawn they will shoot him. That would be no profit for thee, Kim. And this is not a matter for the police. That would be no profit for Mahbub; and’ — he giggled almost aloud — ‘I do not remember any lesson at Nucklao which will help me. Allah! Here is Kim and yonder are they. First, then, Kim must wake and go away, so that they shall not suspect. A bad dream wakes a man — thus —’
Louder rose Kim’s quavering howl, till at last he leaped to his feet and staggered off sleepily, while the camp cursed him for waking them. Some twenty yards farther up the line he lay down again, taking care that the whisperers should hear his grunts and groans as he recomposed himself. After a few minutes he rolled towards the road and stole away into the thick darkness.
‘Never again,’ said Mahbub, ‘will I take a shod horse for night-work. They pick up all the bones and nails in the city.’ He stooped to lift its forefoot, and that brought his head within a foot of Kim’s.
Mahbub wheeled his horse and vanished. Kim tore back down the ditch till he reached a point opposite his second resting-place, slipped across the road like a weasel, and re-coiled himself in the blanket.
An hour passed, and, with the best will in the world to keep awake all night, he slept deeply. Now and again a night train roared along the metals within twenty feet of him; but he had all the Oriental’s indifference to mere noise, and it did not even weave a dream through his slumber.
Mahbub was anything but asleep. It annoyed him vehemently that people outside his tribe and unaffected by his casual amours should pursue him for the life. His first and natural impulse was to cross the line lower down, work up again, and, catching his well-wishers from behind, summarily slay them. Here, he reflected with sorrow, another branch of the Government, totally unconnected with Colonel Creighton, might demand explanations which would be hard to supply; and he knew that south of the Border a perfectly ridiculous fuss is made about a corpse or so. He had not been troubled in this way since he sent Kim to Umballa with the message, and hoped that suspicion had been finally diverted.
‘The English do eternally tell the truth,’ he said, ‘therefore we of this country are eternally made foolish. By Allah, I will tell the truth to an Englishman! Of what use is the Government police if a poor Kabuli be robbed of his horses in their very trucks. This is as bad as Peshawur! I should lay a complaint at the station. Better still, some young Sahib on the Railway! They are zealous, and if they catch thieves it is remembered to their honour.’
‘Hullo, Mahbub Ali’ said a young Assistant District Traffic Superintendent who was waiting to go down the line — a tall, tow-haired, horsey youth in dingy white linen. ‘What are you doing here? Selling weeds — eh?’
‘They were only fakirs. They will no more than take a little grain, perhaps, from one of the trucks. There are many up the line. The State will never miss the dole. I came here seeking for my partner, Lutuf Ullah.’
When Mahbub Ali came to his camp in the dawn, no one thought it worth while to tell him any news of the night. No one, at least, but one small horseboy, newly advanced to the great man’s service, whom Mahbub called to his tiny tent to assist in some packing.
‘It is all known to me,’ whispered Kim, bending above saddlebags. ‘Two Sahibs came up on a te-train. I was running to and fro in the dark on this side of the trucks as the te-train moved up and down slowly. They fell upon two men sitting under this truck — Hajji, what shall I do with this lump of tobacco? Wrap it in paper and put it under the salt-bag? Yes — and struck them down. But one man struck at a Sahib with a fakir’s buck’s horn’ (Kim meant the conjoined black-buck horns, which are a fakir’s sole temporal weapon) — ‘the blood came. So the other Sahib, first smiting his own man senseless, smote the stabber with a short gun which had rolled from the first man’s hand. They all raged as though mad together.’
Mahbub smiled with heavenly resignation. ‘No! That is not so much dewanee [madness, or a case for the civil court — the word can be punned upon both ways] as nizamut [a criminal case]. A gun, sayest thou? Ten good years in jail.’
‘I have seen blood before. Jail is the sure place — and assuredly they will give false names, and assuredly no man will find them for a long time. They were unfriends of mine. Thy fate and mine seem on one string. What a tale for the healer of pearls! Now swiftly with the saddle-bags and the cooking-platter. We will take out the horses and away to Simla.’
Swiftly — as Orientals understand speed — with long explanations, with abuse and windy talk, carelessly, amid a hundred checks for little things forgotten, the untidy camp broke up and led the half-dozen stiff and fretful horses along the Kalka road in the fresh of the rain-swept dawn. Kim, regarded as Mahbub Ali’s favourite by all who wished to stand well with the Pathan, was not called upon to work. They strolled on by the easiest of stages, halting every few hours at a wayside shelter. Very many Sahibs travel along the Kalka road; and, as Mahbub Ali says, every young Sahib must needs esteem himself a judge of a horse, and, though he be over head in debt to the money-lender, must make as if to buy. That was the reason that Sahib after Sahib, rolling along in a stage-carriage, would stop and open talk. Some would even descend from their vehicles and feel the horses’ legs; asking inane questions, or, through sheer ignorance of the vernacular, grossly insulting the imperturbable trader.
‘When first I dealt with Sahibs, and that was when Colonel Soady Sahib was Governor of Fort Abazai and flooded the Commissioner’s camping-ground for spite,’ Mahbub confided to Kim as the boy filled his pipe under a tree, ‘I did not know how greatly they were fools, and this made me wroth. As thus —,’ and he told Kim a tale of an expression, misused in all innocence, that doubled Kim up with mirth. ‘Now I see, however,’ — he exhaled smoke slowly — ‘that it is with them as with all men — in certain matters they are wise, and in others most foolish. Very foolish it is to use the wrong word to a stranger; for though the heart may be clean of offence, how is the stranger to know that? He is more like to search truth with a dagger.’
‘Therefore, in one situate as thou art, it particularly behoves thee to remember this with both kinds of faces. Among Sahibs, never forgetting thou art a Sahib; among the folk of Hind, always remembering thou art —’ He paused, with a puzzled smile.
‘Thou art beyond question an unbeliever, and therefore thou wilt be damned. So says my Law — or I think it does. But thou art also my Little Friend of all the World, and I love thee. So says my heart. This matter of creeds is like horseflesh. The wise man knows horses are good — that there is a profit to be made from all; and for myself — but that I am a good Sunni and hate the men of Tirah — I could believe the same of all the Faiths. Now manifestly a Kathiawar mare taken from the sands of her birthplace and removed to the west of Bengal founders — nor is even a Balkh stallion (and there are no better horses than those of Balkh, were they not so heavy in the shoulder) of any account in the great Northern deserts beside the snow-camels I have seen. Therefore I say in my heart the Faiths are like the horses. Each has merit in its own country.’
‘And his to thine, I hear. Hearts are like horses. They come and they go against bit or spur. Shout Gul Sher Khan yonder to drive in that bay stallion’s pickets more firmly. We do not want a horse-fight at every resting-stage, and the dun and the black will be locked in a little ... Now hear me. Is it necessary to the comfort of thy heart to see that lama?’
‘Friend of all the World,’ said Mahbub, pushing over the pipe for the boy to clean, ‘I have met many men, women, and boys, and not a few Sahibs. I have never in all my days met such an imp as thou art.’
Kim will remember till he dies that long, lazy journey from Umballa, through Kalka and the Pinjore Gardens near by, up to Simla. A sudden spate in the Gugger River swept down one horse (the most valuable, be sure), and nearly drowned Kim among the dancing boulders. Farther up the road the horses were stampeded by a Government elephant, and being in high condition of grass food, it cost a day and a half to get them together again. Then they met Sikandar Khan coming down with a few unsaleable screws — remnants of his string — and Mahbub, who has more of horse-coping in his little fingernail than Sikandar Khan in all his tents, must needs buy two of the worst, and that meant eight hours’ laborious diplomacy and untold tobacco. But it was all pure delight — the wandering road, climbing, dipping, and sweeping about the growing spurs; the flush of the morning laid along the distant snows; the branched cacti, tier upon tier on the stony hillsides; the voices of a thousand water-channels; the chatter of the monkeys; the solemn deodars, climbing one after another with down-drooped branches; the vista of the Plains rolled out far beneath them; the incessant twanging of the tonga-horns and the wild rush of the led horses when a tonga swung round a curve; the halts for prayers (Mahbub was very religious in dry-washings and bellowings when time did not press); the evening conferences by the halting-places, when camels and bullocks chewed solemnly together and the stolid drivers told the news of the Road — all these things lifted Kim’s heart to song within him.
‘A fair land — a most beautiful land is this of Hind — and the land of the Five Rivers is fairer than all,’ Kim half chanted. ‘Into it I will go again if Mahbub Ali or the Colonel lift hand or foot against me. Once gone, who shall find me? Look, Hajji, is yonder the city of Simla? Allah, what a city!’
He led the horses below the main road into the lower Simla bazar — the crowded rabbit-warren that climbs up from the valley to the Town Hall at an angle of forty-five. A man who knows his way there can defy all the police of India’s summer capital, so cunningly does veranda communicate with veranda, alley-way with alley-way, and bolt-hole with bolt-hole. Here live those who minister to the wants of the glad city — jhampanis who pull the pretty ladies’ ‘rickshaws by night and gamble till the dawn; grocers, oil-sellers, curio-vendors, firewood-dealers, priests, pickpockets, and native employees of the Government. Here are discussed by courtesans the things which are supposed to be profoundest secrets of the India Council; and here gather all the sub-sub-agents of half the Native States. Here, too, Mahbub Ali rented a room, much more securely locked than his bulkhead at Lahore, in the house of a Mohammedan cattle-dealer. It was a place of miracles, too, for there went in at twilight a Mohammedan horseboy, and there came out an hour later a Eurasian lad — the Lucknow girl’s dye was of the best — in badly-fitting shop-clothes.
‘I have spoken with Creighton Sahib,’ quoth Mahbub Ali, ‘and a second time has the Hand of Friendship averted the Whip of Calamity. He says that thou hast altogether wasted sixty days upon the Road, and it is too late, therefore, to send thee to any Hill-school.’
‘Thou dost not know the honour. Lurgan Sahib himself asked for thee. Thou wilt go up the hill and along the road atop, and there thou must forget for a while that thou hast ever seen or spoken to me, Mahbub Ali, who sells horses to Creighton Sahib, whom thou dost not know. Remember this order.’
‘What talk is this of us, Sahib?’ Mahbub Ali returned, in the tone he used towards Europeans. ‘I am a Pathan; thou art a Sahib and the son of a Sahib. Lurgan Sahib has a shop among the European shops. All Simla knows it. Ask there ... and, Friend of all the World, he is one to be obeyed to the last wink of his eyelashes. Men say he does magic, but that should not touch thee. Go up the hill and ask. Here begins the Great Game.’
Kim flung himself whole-heartedly upon the next turn of the wheel. He would be a Sahib again for a while. In that idea, so soon as he had reached the broad road under Simla Town Hall, he cast about for one to impress. A Hindu child, some ten years old, squatted under a lamp-post.
Together they set off through the mysterious dusk, full of the noises of a city below the hillside, and the breath of a cool wind in deodar-crowned Jakko, shouldering the stars. The house-lights, scattered on every level, made, as it were, a double firmament. Some were fixed, others belonged to the ‘rickshaws of the careless, open-spoken English folk, going out to dinner.
‘He is come,’ said the boy, in a voice little louder than a sigh, and vanished. Kim felt sure that the boy had been posted to guide him from the first, but, putting a bold face on it, parted the curtain. A black-bearded man, with a green shade over his eyes, sat at a table, and, one by one, with short, white hands, picked up globules of light from a tray before him, threaded them on a glancing silken string, and hummed to himself the while. Kim was conscious that beyond the circle of light the room was full of things that smelt like all the temples of all the East. A whiff of musk, a puff of sandal-wood, and a breath of sickly jessamine-oil caught his opened nostrils.
‘Seventy-nine, eighty, eighty-one,’ the man counted to himself, stringing pearl after pearl so quickly that Kim could scarcely follow his fingers. He slid off the green shade and looked fixedly at Kim for a full half-minute. The pupils of the eye dilated and closed to pin-pricks, as if at will. There was a fakir by the Taksali Gate who had just this gift and made money by it, especially when cursing silly women. Kim stared with interest. His disreputable friend could further twitch his ears, almost like a goat, and Kim was disappointed that this new man could not imitate him.
He nodded and held the lamp above his head. As the light swept them, there leaped out from the walls a collection of Tibetan devil-dance masks, hanging above the fiend-embroidered draperies of those ghastly functions — horned masks, scowling masks, and masks of idiotic terror. In a corner, a Japanese warrior, mailed and plumed, menaced him with a halberd, and a score of lances and khandas and kuttars gave back the unsteady gleam. But what interested Kim more than all these things — he had seen devil-dance masks at the Lahore Museum — was a glimpse of the soft-eyed Hindu child who had left him in the doorway, sitting cross-legged under the table of pearls with a little smile on his scarlet lips.
‘Was that Lurgan Sahib?’ Kim asked as he cuddled down. No answer. He could hear the Hindu boy breathing, however, and, guided by the sound, crawled across the floor, and cuffed into the darkness, crying: ‘Give answer, devil! Is this the way to lie to a Sahib?’
That was no cheerful night; the room being overfull of voices and music. Kim was waked twice by someone calling his name. The second time he set out in search, and ended by bruising his nose against a box that certainly spoke with a human tongue, but in no sort of human accent. It seemed to end in a tin trumpet and to be joined by wires to a smaller box on the floor — so far, at least, as he could judge by touch. And the voice, very hard and whirring, came out of the trumpet. Kim rubbed his nose and grew furious, thinking, as usual, in Hindi.
‘This with a beggar from the bazar might be good, but — I am a Sahib and the son of a Sahib and, which is twice as much more beside, a student of Nucklao. Yess’ (here he turned to English), ‘a boy of St Xavier’s. Damn Mr Lurgan’s eyes! — It is some sort of machinery like a sewing-machine. Oh, it is a great cheek of him — we are not frightened that way at Lucknow — No!’ Then in Hindi: ‘But what does he gain? He is only a trader — I am in his shop. But Creighton Sahib is a Colonel — and I think Creighton Sahib gave orders that it should be done. How I will beat that Hindu in the morning! What is this?’
The trumpet-box was pouring out a string of the most elaborate abuse that even Kim had ever heard, in a high uninterested voice, that for a moment lifted the short hairs of his neck. When the vile thing drew breath, Kim was reassured by the soft, sewing-machine-like whirr.
The box took no heed. Kim wrenched at the tin trumpet and something lifted with a click. He had evidently raised a lid. If there were a devil inside, now was its time, for — he sniffed — thus did the sewing-machines of the bazar smell. He would clean that shaitan. He slipped off his jacket, and plunged it into the box’s mouth. Something long and round bent under the pressure, there was a whirr and the voice stopped — as voices must if you ram a thrice-doubled coat on to the wax cylinder and into the works of an expensive phonograph. Kim finished his slumbers with a serene mind.
‘Shake hands, O’Hara,’ he said. ‘Yes, it was my box. I keep such things because my friends the Rajahs like them. That one is broken, but it was cheap at the price. Yes, my friends, the Kings, are very fond of toys — and so am I sometimes.’
Kim looked him over out of the corners of his eyes. He was a Sahib in that he wore Sahib’s clothes; the accent of his Urdu, the intonation of his English, showed that he was anything but a Sahib. He seemed to understand what moved in Kim’s mind ere the boy opened his mouth, and he took no pains to explain himself as did Father Victor or the Lucknow masters. Sweetest of all — he treated Kim as an equal on the Asiatic side.
‘I am sorry you cannot beat my boy this morning. He says he will kill you with a knife or poison. He is jealous, so I have put him in the corner and I shall not speak to him today. He has just tried to kill me. You must help me with the breakfast. He is almost too jealous to trust, just now.’
The back veranda of the shop was built out over the sheer hillside, and they looked down into their neighbours’ chimney-pots, as is the custom of Simla. But even more than the purely Persian meal cooked by Lurgan Sahib with his own hands, the shop fascinated Kim. The Lahore Museum was larger, but here were more wonders — ghost-daggers and prayer-wheels from Tibet; turquoise and raw amber necklaces; green jade bangles; curiously packed incense-sticks in jars crusted over with raw garnets; the devil-masks of overnight and a wall full of peacock-blue draperies; gilt figures of Buddha, and little portable lacquer altars; Russian samovars with turquoises on the lid; egg-shell china sets in quaint octagonal cane boxes; yellow ivory crucifixes — from Japan of all places in the world, so Lurgan Sahib said; carpets in dusty bales, smelling atrociously, pushed back behind torn and rotten screens of geometrical work; Persian water-jugs for the hands after meals; dull copper incense-burners neither Chinese nor Persian, with friezes of fantastic devils running round them; tarnished silver belts that knotted like raw hide; hairpins of jade, ivory, and plasma; arms of all sorts and kinds, and a thousand other oddments were cased, or piled, or merely thrown into the room, leaving a clear space only round the rickety deal table, where Lurgan Sahib worked.
‘Oh, they are quite well, those stones. It will not hurt them to take the sun. Besides, they are cheap. But with sick stones it is very different.’ He piled Kim’s plate anew. ‘There is no one but me can doctor a sick pearl and re-blue turquoises. I grant you opals — any fool can cure an opal — but for a sick pearl there is only me. Suppose I were to die! Then there would be no one ... Oh no! You cannot do anything with jewels. It will be quite enough if you understand a little about the Turquoise — some day.’
Kim nodded. Lurgan Sahib, fifteen feet off, laid one hand on the jar. Next instant, it stood at Kim’s elbow, full to within half an inch of the brim — the white cloth only showing, by a small wrinkle, where it had slid into place.
That lay with a sparkle of water in its curve, as it were a star on the floor. Kim looked intently. Lurgan Sahib laid one hand gently on the nape of his neck, stroked it twice or thrice, and whispered: ‘Look! It shall come to life again, piece by piece. First the big piece shall join itself to two others on the right and the left — on the right and the left. Look!’
To save his life, Kim could not have turned his head. The light touch held him as in a vice, and his blood tingled pleasantly through him. There was one large piece of the jar where there had been three, and above them the shadowy outline of the entire vessel. He could see the veranda through it, but it was thickening and darkening with each beat of his pulse. Yet the jar — how slowly the thoughts came! — the jar had been smashed before his eyes. Another wave of prickling fire raced down his neck, as Lurgan Sahib moved his hand.
So far Kim had been thinking in Hindi, but a tremor came on him, and with an effort like that of a swimmer before sharks, who hurls himself half out of the water, his mind leaped up from a darkness that was swallowing it and took refuge in — the multiplication-table in English!
The jar had been smashed — yess, smashed — not the native word, he would not think of that — but smashed — into fifty pieces, and twice three was six, and thrice three was nine, and four times three was twelve. He clung desperately to the repetition. The shadow-outline of the jar cleared like a mist after rubbing eyes. There were the broken shards; there was the spilt water drying in the sun, and through the cracks of the veranda showed, all ribbed, the white house-wall below — and thrice twelve was thirty-six!
‘No, that was not magic. It was only to see if there was — a flaw in a jewel. Sometimes very fine jewels will fly all to pieces if a man holds them in his hand, and knows the proper way. That is why one must be careful before one sets them. Tell me, did you see the shape of the pot?’
Lurgan Sahib looked at him more closely than ever. ‘I shall ask Mahbub Ali — not now, but some day later,’ he muttered. ‘I am pleased with you — yes; and I am pleased with you — no. You are the first that ever saved himself. I wish I knew what it was that ... But you are right. You should not tell that — not even to me.’
He turned into the dusky gloom of the shop, and sat down at the table, rubbing his hands softly. A small, husky sob came from behind a pile of carpets. It was the Hindu child obediently facing towards the wall. His thin shoulders worked with grief.
Kim thought. Lurgan repeated the sentence slowly in the vernacular. ‘I should not poison that man,’ said Kim reflectively, ‘but I should beat that boy — if that boy was fond of my man. But first, I would ask that boy if it were true.’
‘Hearest thou?’ said Lurgan Sahib to the shaking shoulders. ‘The Sahib’s son thinks thou art a little fool. Come out, and next time thy heart is troubled, do not try white arsenic quite so openly. Surely the Devil Dasim was lord of our table-cloth that day! It might have made me ill, child, and then a stranger would have guarded the jewels. Come!’
‘Oah!’ The instinct of competition waked in his breast. He bent over the tray. There were but fifteen stones on it. ‘That is easy,’ he said after a minute. The child slipped the paper over the winking jewels and scribbled in a native account-book.
‘There are under that paper five blue stones — one big, one smaller, and three small,’ said Kim, all in haste. ‘There are four green stones, and one with a hole in it; there is one yellow stone that I can see through, and one like a pipe-stem. There are two red stones, and — and — I made the count fifteen, but two I have forgotten. No! Give me time. One was of ivory, little and brownish; and — and — give me time...’
‘Hear my count!’ the child burst in, trilling with laughter. ‘First, are two flawed sapphires — one of two ruttees and one of four as I should judge. The four-ruttee sapphire is chipped at the edge. There is one Turkestan turquoise, plain with black veins, and there are two inscribed — one with a Name of God in gilt, and the other being cracked across, for it came out of an old ring, I cannot read. We have now all five blue stones. Four flawed emeralds there are, but one is drilled in two places, and one is a little carven-’
‘Three — five — five — and four ruttees as I judge it. There is one piece of old greenish pipe amber, and a cut topaz from Europe. There is one ruby of Burma, of two ruttees, without a flaw, and there is a balas-ruby, flawed, of two ruttees. There is a carved ivory from China representing a rat sucking an egg; and there is last — ah ha! — a ball of crystal as big as a bean set on a gold leaf.’
‘And I will see that thou art well taught,’ said Lurgan Sahib, still speaking in the vernacular, ‘for except my boy here — it was foolish of him to buy so much white arsenic when, if he had asked, I could have given it — except my boy here I have not in a long time met with one better worth teaching. And there are ten days more ere thou canst return to Lucknao where they teach nothing — at the long price. We shall, I think, be friends.’
They were a most mad ten days, but Kim enjoyed himself too much to reflect on their craziness. In the morning they played the Jewel Game — sometimes with veritable stones, sometimes with piles of swords and daggers, sometimes with photo-graphs of natives. Through the afternoons he and the Hindu boy would mount guard in the shop, sitting dumb behind a carpet-bale or a screen and watching Mr Lurgan’s many and very curious visitors. There were small Rajahs, escorts coughing in the veranda, who came to buy curiosities — such as phonographs and mechanical toys. There were ladies in search of necklaces, and men, it seemed to Kim — but his mind may have been vitiated by early training — in search of the ladies; natives from independent and feudatory Courts whose ostensible business was the repair of broken necklaces — rivers of light poured out upon the table — but whose true end seemed to be to raise money for angry Maharanees or young Rajahs. There were Babus to whom Lurgan Sahib talked with austerity and authority, but at the end of each interview he gave them money in coined silver and currency notes. There were occasional gatherings of long-coated theatrical natives who discussed metaphysics in English and Bengali, to Mr Lurgan’s great edification. He was always interested in religions. At the end of the day, Kim and the Hindu boy — whose name varied at Lurgan’s pleasure — were expected to give a detailed account of all that they had seen and heard — their view of each man’s character, as shown in his face, talk, and manner, and their notions of his real errand. After dinner, Lurgan Sahib’s fancy turned more to what might be called dressing-up, in which game he took a most informing interest. He could paint faces to a marvel; with a brush-dab here and a line there changing them past recognition. The shop was full of all manner of dresses and turbans, and Kim was apparelled variously as a young Mohammedan of good family, an oilman, and once — which was a joyous evening — as the son of an Oudh landholder in the fullest of full dress. Lurgan Sahib had a hawk’s eye to detect the least flaw in the make-up; and lying on a worn teak-wood couch, would explain by the half-hour together how such and such a caste talked, or walked, or coughed, or spat, or sneezed, and, since ‘hows’ matter little in this world, the ‘why’ of everything. The Hindu child played this game clumsily. That little mind, keen as an icicle where tally of jewels was concerned, could not temper itself to enter another’s soul; but a demon in Kim woke up and sang with joy as he put on the changing dresses, and changed speech and gesture therewith.
Carried away by enthusiasm, he volunteered to show Lurgan Sahib one evening how the disciples of a certain caste of fakir, old Lahore acquaintances, begged doles by the roadside; and what sort of language he would use to an Englishman, to a Punjabi farmer going to a fair, and to a woman without a veil. Lurgan Sahib laughed immensely, and begged Kim to stay as he was, immobile for half an hour — cross-legged, ash-smeared, and wild-eyed, in the back room. At the end of that time entered a hulking, obese Babu whose stockinged legs shook with fat, and Kim opened on him with a shower of wayside chaff. Lurgan Sahib — this annoyed Kim — watched the Babu and not the play.
‘I think,’ said the Babu heavily, lighting a cigarette, ‘I am of opeenion that it is most extraordinary and effeecient performance. Except that you had told me I should have opined that — that — that you were pulling my legs. How soon can he become approximately effeecient chain-man? Because then I shall indent for him.’
‘Thou wilt understand many things later. He is a writer of tales for a certain Colonel. His honour is great only in Simla, and it is noticeable that he has no name, but only a number and a letter — that is a custom among us.’
‘Not yet; but if a boy rose up who is now sitting here and went — look, the door is open! — as far as a certain house with a red-painted veranda, behind that which was the old theatre in the Lower Bazar, and whispered through the shutters: “Hurree Chunder Mookerjee bore the bad news of last month”, that boy might take away a belt full of rupees.’
‘Eighty — perhaps a hundred — perhaps a hundred and fifty rupees; but the pay is the least part of the work. From time to time, God causes men to be born — and thou art one of them — who have a lust to go abroad at the risk of their lives and discover news — today it may be of far-off things, tomorrow of some hidden mountain, and the next day of some near-by men who have done a foolishness against the State. These souls are very few; and of these few, not more than ten are of the best. Among these ten I count the Babu, and that is curious. How great, therefore, and desirable must be a business that brazens the heart of a Bengali!’
‘True. But the days go slowly for me. I am yet a boy, and it is only within two months I learned to write Angrezi. Even now I cannot read it well. And there are yet years and years and long years before I can be even a chain-man.’
‘Have patience, Friend of all the World’ — Kim started at the title. ‘Would I had a few of the years that so irk thee. I have proved thee in several small ways. This will not be forgotten when I make my report to the Colonel Sahib.’ Then, changing suddenly into English with a deep laugh:
‘By Jove! O’Hara, I think there is a great deal in you; but you must not become proud and you must not talk. You must go back to Lucknow and be a good little boy and mind your book, as the English say, and perhaps, next holidays if you care, you can come back to me!’ Kim’s face fell. ‘Oh, I mean if you like. I know where you want to go.’
Four days later a seat was booked for Kim and his small trunk at the rear of a Kalka tonga. His companion was the whale-like Babu, who, with a fringed shawl wrapped round his head, and his fat openwork-stockinged left leg tucked under him, shivered and grunted in the morning chill.
‘How comes it that this man is one of us?’ thought Kim considering the jelly back as they jolted down the road; and the reflection threw him into most pleasant day-dreams. Lurgan Sahib had given him five rupees — a splendid sum — as well as the assurance of his protection if he worked. Unlike Mahbub, Lurgan Sahib had spoken most explicitly of the reward that would follow obedience, and Kim was content. If only, like the Babu, he could enjoy the dignity of a letter and a number — and a price upon his head! Some day he would be all that and more. Some day he might be almost as great as Mahbub Ali! The housetops of his search should be half India; he would follow Kings and Ministers, as in the old days he had followed vakils and lawyers’ touts across Lahore city for Mahbub Ali’s sake. Meantime, there was the present, and not at all unpleasant, fact of St Xavier’s immediately before him. There would be new boys to condescend to, and there would be tales of holiday adventures to hear. Young Martin, son of the tea-planter at Manipur, had boasted that he would go to war, with a rifle, against the head-hunters.
That might be, but it was certain young Martin had not been blown half across the forecourt of a Patiala palace by an explosion of fireworks; nor had he... Kim fell to telling himself the story of his own adventures through the last three months. He could paralyse St Xavier’s — even the biggest boys who shaved — with the recital, were that permitted. But it was, of course, out of the question. There would be a price upon his head in good time, as Lurgan Sahib had assured him; and if he talked foolishly now, not only would that price never be set, but Colonel Creighton would cast him off — and he would be left to the wrath of Lurgan Sahib and Mahbub Ali — for the short space of life that would remain to him.
‘So I should lose Delhi for the sake of a fish,’ was his proverbial philosophy. It behoved him to forget his holidays (there would always remain the fun of inventing imaginary adventures) and, as Lurgan Sahib had said, to work. Of all the boys hurrying back to St Xavier’s, from Sukkur in the sands to Galle beneath the palms, none was so filled with virtue as Kimball O’Hara, jiggeting down to Umballa behind Hurree Chunder Mookerjee, whose name on the books of one section of the Ethnological Survey was R.17.
And if additional spur were needed, the Babu supplied it. After a huge meal at Kalka, he spoke uninterruptedly. Was Kim going to school? Then he, an M A of Calcutta University, would explain the advantages of education. There were marks to be gained by due attention to Latin and Wordsworth’s Excursion (all this was Greek to Kim). French, too was vital, and the best was to be picked up in Chandernagore a few miles from Calcutta. Also a man might go far, as he himself had done, by strict attention to plays called Lear and Julius Caesar, both much in demand by examiners. Lear was not so full of historical allusions as Julius Caesar; the book cost four annas, but could be bought second-hand in Bow Bazar for two. Still more important than Wordsworth, or the eminent authors, Burke and Hare, was the art and science of mensuration. A boy who had passed his examination in these branches — for which, by the way, there were no cram-books — could, by merely marching over a country with a compass and a level and a straight eye, carry away a picture of that country which might be sold for large sums in coined silver. But as it was occasionally inexpedient to carry about measuring-chains a boy would do well to know the precise length of his own foot-pace, so that when he was deprived of what Hurree Chunder called adventitious aids’ he might still tread his distances. To keep count of thousands of paces, Hurree Chunder’s experience had shown him nothing more valuable than a rosary of eighty-one or a hundred and eight beads, for ‘it was divisible and sub-divisible into many multiples and sub-multiples’. Through the volleying drifts of English, Kim caught the general trend of the talk, and it interested him very much. Here was a new craft that a man could tuck away in his head and by the look of the large wide world unfolding itself before him, it seemed that the more a man knew the better for him.
Said the Babu when he had talked for an hour and a half ‘I hope some day to enjoy your offeecial acquaintance. Ad interim, if I may be pardoned that expression, I shall give you this betel-box, which is highly valuable article and cost me two rupees only four years ago.’ It was a cheap, heart-shaped brass thing with three compartments for carrying the eternal betel-nut, lime and pan-leaf; but it was filled with little tabloid-bottles.
‘That is reward of merit for your performance in character of that holy man. You see, you are so young you think you will last for ever and not take care of your body. It is great nuisance to go sick in the middle of business. I am fond of drugs myself, and they are handy to cure poor people too. These are good Departmental drugs — quinine and so on. I give it you for souvenir. Now good-bye. I have urgent private business here by the roadside.’
The record of a boy’s education interests few save his parents, and, as you know, Kim was an orphan. It is written in the books of St Xavier’s in Partibus that a report of Kim’s progress was forwarded at the end of each term to Colonel Creighton and to Father Victor, from whose hands duly came the money for his schooling. It is further recorded in the same books that he showed a great aptitude for mathematical studies as well as map-making, and carried away a prize (The Life of Lord Lawrence, tree-calf, two vols., nine rupees, eight annas) for proficiency therein; and the same term played in St Xavier’s eleven against the Alighur Mohammedan College, his age being fourteen years and ten months. He was also re-vaccinated (from which we may assume that there had been another epidemic of smallpox at Lucknow) about the same time. Pencil notes on the edge of an old muster-roll record that he was punished several times for ‘conversing with improper persons’, and it seems that he was once sentenced to heavy pains for ‘absenting himself for a day in the company of a street beggar’. That was when he got over the gate and pleaded with the lama through a whole day down the banks of the Gumti to accompany him on the Road next holidays — for one month — for a little week; and the lama set his face as a flint against it, averring that the time had not yet come. Kim’s business, said the old man as they ate cakes together, was to get all the wisdom of the Sahibs and then he would see. The Hand of Friendship must in some way have averted the Whip of Calamity, for six weeks later Kim seems to have passed an examination in elementary surveying ‘with great credit’, his age being fifteen years and eight months. From this date the record is silent. His name does not appear in the year’s batch of those who entered for the subordinate Survey of India, but against it stand the words ‘removed on appointment.’
Several times in those three years, cast up at the Temple of the Tirthankars in Benares the lama, a little thinner and a shade yellower, if that were possible, but gentle and untainted as ever. Sometimes it was from the South that he came — from south of Tuticorin, whence the wonderful fire-boats go to Ceylon where are priests who know Pali; sometimes it was from the wet green West and the thousand cotton-factory chimneys that ring Bombay; and once from the North, where he had doubled back eight hundred miles to talk for a day with the Keeper of the Images in the Wonder House. He would stride to his cell in the cool, cut marble — the priests of the Temple were good to the old man, — wash off the dust of travel, make prayer, and depart for Lucknow, well accustomed now to the way of the rail, in a third-class carriage. Returning, it was noticeable, as his friend the Seeker pointed out to the head-priest, that he ceased for a while to mourn the loss of his River, or to draw wondrous pictures of the Wheel of Life, but preferred to talk of the beauty and wisdom of a certain mysterious chela whom no man of the Temple had ever seen. Yes, he had followed the traces of the Blessed Feet throughout all India. (The Curator has still in his possession a most marvellous account of his wanderings and meditations.) There remained nothing more in life but to find the River of the Arrow. Yet it was shown to him in dreams that it was a matter not to be undertaken with any hope of success unless that seeker had with him the one chela appointed to bring the event to a happy issue, and versed in great wisdom — such wisdom as white-haired Keepers of Images possess. For example (here came out the snuff-gourd, and the kindly Jain priests made haste to be silent):
‘Long and long ago, when Devadatta was King of Benares — let all listen to the Tataka! — an elephant was captured for a time by the king’s hunters and ere he broke free, beringed with a grievous legiron. This he strove to remove with hate and frenzy in his heart, and hurrying up and down the forests, besought his brother-elephants to wrench it asunder. One by one, with their strong trunks, they tried and failed. At the last they gave it as their opinion that the ring was not to be broken by any bestial power. And in a thicket, new-born, wet with moisture of birth, lay a day-old calf of the herd whose mother had died. The fettered elephant, forgetting his own agony, said: “If I do not help this suckling it will perish under our feet.” So he stood above the young thing, making his legs buttresses against the uneasily moving herd; and he begged milk of a virtuous cow, and the calf throve, and the ringed elephant was the calf’s guide and defence. Now the days of an elephant — let all listen to the Tataka! — are thirty-five years to his full strength, and through thirty-five Rains the ringed elephant befriended the younger, and all the while the fetter ate into the flesh.
‘Then one day the young elephant saw the half-buried iron, and turning to the elder said: “What is this?” “It is even my sorrow,” said he who had befriended him. Then that other put out his trunk and in the twinkling of an eyelash abolished the ring, saying: “The appointed time has come.” So the virtuous elephant who had waited temperately and done kind acts was relieved, at the appointed time, by the very calf whom he had turned aside to cherish — let all listen to the Tataka! for the Elephant was Ananda, and the Calf that broke the ring was none other than The Lord Himself...’
Then he would shake his head benignly, and over the ever-clicking rosary point out how free that elephant-calf was from the sin of pride. He was as humble as a chela who, seeing his master sitting in the dust outside the Gates of Learning, over-leapt the gates (though they were locked) and took his master to his heart in the presence of the proud-stomached city. Rich would be the reward of such a master and such a chela when the time came for them to seek freedom together!
So did the lama speak, coming and going across India as softly as a bat. A sharp-tongued old woman in a house among the fruit-trees behind Saharunpore honoured him as the woman honoured the prophet, but his chamber was by no means upon the wall. In an apartment of the forecourt overlooked by cooing doves he would sit, while she laid aside her useless veil and chattered of spirits and fiends of Kulu, of grandchildren unborn, and of the free-tongued brat who had talked to her in the resting-place. Once, too, he strayed alone from the Grand Trunk Road below Umballa to the very village whose priest had tried to drug him; but the kind Heaven that guards lamas sent him at twilight through the crops, absorbed and unsuspicious, to the Rissaldar’s door. Here was like to have been a grave misunderstanding, for the old soldier asked him why the Friend of the Stars had gone that way only six days before.
‘He sat in that corner telling a hundred merry tales five nights ago,’ his host insisted. ‘True, he vanished somewhat suddenly in the dawn after foolish talk with my granddaughter. He grows apace, but he is the same Friend of the Stars as brought me true word of the war. Have ye parted?’
‘There is no holding the young pony from the game,’ said the horse-dealer when the Colonel pointed out that vagabonding over India in holiday time was absurd. ‘If permission be refused to go and come as he chooses, he will make light of the refusal. Then who is to catch him? Colonel Sahib, only once in a thousand years is a horse born so well fitted for the game as this our colt. And we need men.’
Lurgan Sahib did not use as direct speech, but his advice tallied with Mahbub’s; and the upshot was good for Kim. He knew better now than to leave Lucknow city in native garb, and if Mahbub were anywhere within reach of a letter, it was to Mahbub’s camp he headed, and made his change under the Pathan’s wary eye. Could the little Survey paint-box that he used for map-tinting in term-time have found a tongue to tell of holiday doings, he might have been expelled. Once Mahbub and he went together as far as the beautiful city of Bombay, with three truckloads of tram-horses, and Mahbub nearly melted when Kim proposed a sail in a dhow across the Indian Ocean to buy Gulf Arabs, which, he understood from a hanger-on of the dealer Abdul Rahman, fetched better prices than mere Kabulis.
He dipped his hand into the dish with that great trader when Mahbub and a few co-religionists were invited to a big Haj dinner. They came back by way of Karachi by sea, when Kim took his first experience of sea-sickness sitting on the fore-hatch of a coasting-steamer, well persuaded he had been poisoned. The Babu’s famous drug-box proved useless, though Kim had restocked it at Bombay. Mahbub had business at Quetta, and there Kim, as Mahbub admitted, earned his keep, and perhaps a little over, by spending four curious days as scullion in the house of a fat Commissariat sergeant, from whose office-box, in an auspicious moment, he removed a little vellum ledger which he copied out — it seemed to deal entirely with cattle and camel sales — by moonlight, lying behind an outhouse, all through one hot night. Then he returned the ledger to its place, and, at Mahbub’s word, left that service unpaid, rejoining him six miles down the road, the clean copy in his bosom.
‘That soldier is a small fish,’ Mahbub Ali explained, ‘but in time we shall catch the larger one. He only sells oxen at two prices — one for himself and one for the Government — which I do not think is a sin.’
‘Then he would have been frightened, and he would have told his master. Then we should miss, perhaps, a great number of new rifles which seek their way up from Quetta to the North. The Game is so large that one sees but a little at a time.’
‘Oho!’ said Kim, and held his tongue. That was in the monsoon holidays, after he had taken the prize for mathematics. The Christmas holidays he spent — deducting ten days for private amusements — with Lurgan Sahib, where he sat for the most part in front of a roaring wood-fire — Jakko road was four feet deep in snow that year — and — the small Hindu had gone away to be married — helped Lurgan to thread pearls. He made Kim learn whole chapters of the Koran by heart, till he could deliver them with the very roll and cadence of a mullah. Moreover, he told Kim the names and properties of many native drugs, as well as the runes proper to recite when you administer them. And in the evenings he wrote charms on parchment — elaborate pentagrams crowned with the names of devils — Murra, and Awan the Companion of Kings — all fantastically written in the corners. More to the point, he advised Kim as to the care of his own body, the cure of fever-fits, and simple remedies of the Road. A week before it was time to go down, Colonel Creighton Sahib — this was unfair — sent Kim a written examination paper that concerned itself solely with rods and chains and links and angles.
Next holidays he was out with Mahbub, and here, by the way, he nearly died of thirst, plodding through the sand on a camel to the mysterious city of Bikanir, where the wells are four hundred feet deep, and lined throughout with camel-bone. It was not an amusing trip from Kim’s point of view, because — in defiance of the contract — the Colonel ordered him to make a map of that wild, walled city; and since Mohammedan horse-boys and pipe-tenders are not expected to drag Survey-chains round the capital of an independent Native State, Kim was forced to pace all his distances by means of a bead rosary. He used the compass for bearings as occasion served — after dark chiefly, when the camels had been fed — and by the help of his little Survey paint-box of six colour-cakes and three brushes, he achieved something not remotely unlike the city of Jeysulmir. Mahbub laughed a great deal, and advised him to make up a written report as well; and in the back of the big account-book that lay under the flap of Mahbub’s pet saddle Kim fell to work..
‘Then write that down — also all the old breaches in the walls and whence the firewood is cut — and what is the temper and disposition of the King. I stay here till all my horses are sold. I will hire a room by the gateway, and thou shalt be my accountant. There is a good lock to the door.’
The report in its unmistakable St Xavier’s running script, and the brown, yellow, and lake-daubed map, was on hand a few years ago (a careless clerk filed it with the rough notes of E’s second Seistan survey), but by now the pencil characters must be almost illegible. Kim translated it, sweating under the light of an oil-lamp, to Mahbub, the second day of their return-journey.
‘I knew it would be worthy a dress of honour, and so I made one ready,’ he said, smiling. ‘Were I Amir of Afghanistan (and some day we may see him), I would fill thy mouth with gold.’ He laid the garments formally at Kim’s feet. There was a gold-embroidered Peshawur turban-cap, rising to a cone, and a big turban-cloth ending in a broad fringe of gold. There was a Delhi embroidered waistcoat to slip over a milky white shirt, fastening to the right, ample and flowing; green pyjamas with twisted silk waist-string; and that nothing might be lacking, russia-leather slippers, smelling divinely, with arrogantly curled tips.
‘I had thought of a smaller bore, but reflected that this takes Government bullets. A man can always come by those — especially across the Border. Stand up and let me look.’ He clapped Kim on the shoulder. ‘May you never be tired, Pathan! Oh, the hearts to be broken! Oh, the eyes under the eyelashes, looking sideways!’
Kim turned about, pointed his toes, stretched, and felt mechanically for the moustache that was just beginning. Then he stooped towards Mahbub’s feet to make proper acknowledgment with fluttering, quick-patting hands; his heart too full for words. Mahbub forestalled and embraced him.
‘My son, said he, ‘what need of words between us? But is not the little gun a delight? All six cartridges come out at one twist. It is borne in the bosom next the skin, which, as it were, keeps it oiled. Never put it elsewhere, and please God, thou shalt some day kill a man with it.’
‘Son, I am wearied of that madrissah, where they take the best years of a man to teach him what he can only learn upon the Road. The folly of the Sahibs has neither top nor bottom. No matter. Maybe thy written report shall save thee further bondage; and God He knows we need men more and more in the Game.’
They marched, jaw-bound against blowing sand, across the salt desert to Jodhpur, where Mahbub and his handsome nephew Habib Ullah did much trading; and then sorrowfully, in European clothes, which he was fast outgrowing, Kim went second-class to St Xavier’s. Three weeks later, Colonel Creighton, pricing Tibetan ghost-daggers at Lurgan’s shop, faced Mahbub Ali openly mutinous. Lurgan Sahib operated as support in reserve.
‘The pony is made — finished — mouthed and paced, Sahib! From now on, day by day, he will lose his manners if he is kept at tricks. Drop the rein on his back and let go,’ said the horse-dealer. ‘We need him.’
‘I should have used him long ago,’ said Lurgan. ‘The younger the better. That is why I always have my really valuable jewels watched by a child. You sent him to me to try. I tried him in every way: he is the only boy I could not make to see things.’
‘No. Under my hand, as I told you. That has never happened before. It means that he is strong enough — but you think it skittles, Colonel Creighton — to make anyone do anything he wants. And that is three years ago. I have taught him a good deal since, Colonel Creighton. I think you waste him now.’
‘Let him out let him go,’ Mahbub interrupted. ‘Who expects any colt to carry heavy weight at first? Let him run with the caravans — like our white camel-colts — for luck. I would take him myself, but —’
It was a wry-necked matter of unauthorized and incendiary correspondence between a person who claimed to be the ultimate authority in all matters of the Mohammedan religion throughout the world, and a younger member of a royal house who had been brought to book for kidnapping women within British territory. The Moslem Archbishop had been emphatic and over-arrogant; the young prince was merely sulky at the curtailment of his privileges, but there was no need he should continue a correspondence which might some day compromise him. One letter indeed had been procured, but the finder was later found dead by the roadside in the habit of an Arab trader, as E.23, taking up the work, duly reported.
‘Up and down the land, as he has these three years. He seeks a River of Healing. God’s curse upon all —’ Mahbub checked himself. ‘He beds down at the Temple of the Tirthankars or at Buddh Gaya when he is in from the Road. Then he goes to see the boy at the madrissah, as we know for the boy was punished for it twice or thrice. He is quite mad, but a peaceful man. I have met him. The Babu also has had dealings with him. We have watched him for three years. Red Lamas are not so common in Hind that one loses track.’
‘Babus are very curious,’ said Lurgan meditatively. ‘Do you know what Hurree Babu really wants? He wants to be made a member of the Royal Society by taking ethnological notes. I tell you, I tell him about the lama everything which Mahbub and the boy have told me. Hurree Babu goes down to Benares — at his own expense, I think.’
‘And he applies to the lama for information on lamaism, and devil-dances, and spells and charms, several times in these few years. Holy Virgin! I could have told him all that yeears ago. I think Hurree Babu is getting too old for the Road. He likes better to collect manners and customs information. Yes, he wants to be an FRS.
‘Very good, then,’ said Creighton, half to himself. ‘He can go with the lama, and if Hurree Babu cares to keep an eye on them so much the better. He won’t lead the boy into any danger as Mahbub would. Curious — his wish to be an F R S. Very human, too. He is best on the Ethnological side — Hurree.’
No money and no preferment would have drawn Creighton from his work on the Indian Survey, but deep in his heart also lay the ambition to write ‘F R S’ after his name. Honours of a sort he knew could be obtained by ingenuity and the help of friends, but, to the best of his belief, nothing save work — papers representing a life of it — took a man into the Society which he had bombarded for years with monographs on strange Asiatic cults and unknown customs. Nine men out of ten would flee from a Royal Society soiree in extremity of boredom; but Creighton was the tenth, and at times his soul yearned for the crowded rooms in easy London where silver-haired, bald-headed gentlemen who know nothing of the Army move among spectroscopic experiments, the lesser plants of the frozen tundras, electric flight-measuring machines, and apparatus for slicing into fractional millimetres the left eye of the female mosquito. By all right and reason, it was the Royal Geographical that should have appealed to him, but men are as chancy as children in their choice of playthings. So Creighton smiled, and thought the better of Hurree Babu, moved by like desire.
One advantage of the Secret Service is that it has no worrying audit. That Service is ludicrously starved, of course, but the funds are administered by a few men who do not call for vouchers or present itemized accounts. Mahbub’s eyes lighted with almost a Sikh’s love of money. Even Lurgan’s impassive face changed. He considered the years to come when Kim would have been entered and made to the Great Game that never ceases day and night, throughout India. He foresaw honour and credit in the mouths of a chosen few, coming to him from his pupil. Lurgan Sahib had made E.23 what E.23 was, out of a bewildered, impertinent, lying, little North–West Province man.
‘I understand, O’Hara, that he has found you a place as an assistant chain-man in the Canal Department: that comes of taking up mathematics. It is great luck for you, for you are only sixteen; but of course you understand that you do not become pukka [permanent] till you have passed the autumn examination. So you must not think you are going out into the world to enjoy yourself, or that your fortune is made. There is a great deal of hard work before you. Only, if you succeed in becoming pukka, you can rise, you know, to four hundred and fifty a month.’ Whereat the Principal gave him much good advice as to his conduct, and his manners, and his morals; and others, his elders, who had not been wafted into billets, talked as only Anglo–Indian lads can, of favouritism and corruption. Indeed, young Cazalet, whose father was a pensioner at Chunar, hinted very broadly that Colonel Creighton’s interest in Kim was directly paternal; and Kim, instead of retaliating, did not even use language. He was thinking of the immense fun to come, of Mahbub’s letter of the day before, all neatly written in English, making appointment for that afternoon in a house the very name of which would have crisped the Principal’s hair with horror...
‘I will pay thee dustoorie [commission] on my pay for three months,’ said Kim gravely. ‘Yea, two rupees a month. But first we must get rid of these.’ He plucked his thin linen trousers and dragged at his collar. ‘I have brought with me all that I need on the Road. My trunk has gone up to Lurgan Sahib’s.’
‘And I remember,’ he quoted maliciously, ‘one who said, “Trust a snake before an harlot, and an harlot before a Pathan, Mahbub Ali.” Now, excepting as to Pathans, of whom I am one, all that is true. Most true is it in the Great Game, for it is by means of women that all plans come to ruin and we lie out in the dawning with our throats cut. So it happened to such a one.’ He gave the reddest particulars.
‘Then why —?’ Kim paused before a filthy staircase that climbed to the warm darkness of an upper chamber, in the ward that is behind Azim Ullah’s tobacco-shop. Those who know it call it The Birdcage — it is so full of whisperings and whistlings and chirrupings.
The room, with its dirty cushions and half-smoked hookahs, smelt abominably of stale tobacco. In one corner lay a huge and shapeless woman clad in greenish gauzes, and decked, brow, nose, ear, neck, wrist, arm, waist, and ankle with heavy native jewellery. When she turned it was like the clashing of copper pots. A lean cat in the balcony outside the window mewed hungrily. Kim checked, bewildered, at the door-curtain.
‘Is that the new stuff, Mahbub?’ said Huneefa lazily, scarce troubling to remove the mouthpiece from her lips. ‘O Buktanoos!’ — like most of her kind, she swore by the Djinns — ‘O Buktanoos! He is very good to look upon.’
‘To protection. Tonight we change thy colour. This sleeping under roofs has blanched thee like an almond. But Huneefa has the secret of a colour that catches. No painting of a day or two. Also, we fortify thee against the chances of the Road. That is my gift to thee, my son. Take out all metals on thee and lay them here. Make ready, Huneefa.’
The woman rose slowly and moved with her hands a little spread before her. Then Kim saw that she was blind. ‘No, no,’ she muttered, ‘the Pathan speaks truth — my colour does not go in a week or a month, and those whom I protect are under strong guard.’
‘When one is far off and alone, it would not be well to grow blotched and leprous of a sudden,’ said Mahbub. ‘When thou wast with me I could oversee the matter. Besides, a Pathan is a fair-skin. Strip to the waist now and look how thou art whitened.’ Huneefa felt her way back from an inner room. ‘It is no matter, she cannot see.’ He took a pewter bowl from her ringed hand.
He could not see what the woman was about, but heard the dish-clash of her jewellery for many minutes. A match lit up the darkness; he caught the well-known purr and fizzle of grains of incense. Then the room filled with smoke — heavy aromatic, and stupefying. Through growing drowse he heard the names of devils — of Zulbazan, Son of Eblis, who lives in bazars and paraos, making all the sudden lewd wickedness of wayside halts; of Dulhan, invisible about mosques, the dweller among the slippers of the faithful, who hinders folk from their prayers; and Musboot, Lord of lies and panic. Huneefa, now whispering in his ear, now talking as from an immense distance, touched him with horrible soft fingers, but Mahbub’s grip never shifted from his neck till, relaxing with a sigh, the boy lost his senses.
‘..........I will lay a plot for their ruin! O Prophet, bear with the unbelievers. Let them alone awhile!’ Huneefa’s face, turned to the northward, worked horribly, and it was as though voices from the ceiling answered her.
Hurree Babu returned to his note-book, balanced on the window-sill, but his hand shook. Huneefa, in some sort of drugged ecstasy, wrenched herself to and fro as she sat cross-legged by Kim’s still head, and called upon devil after devil, in the ancient order of the ritual, binding them to avoid the boy’s every action.
‘I— I apprehend it is not at all malignant in its operation?’ said the Babu, watching the throat-muscles quiver and jerk as Huneefa spoke with tongues. ‘It — it is not likely that she has killed the boy? If so, I decline to be witness at the trial .....What was the last hypothetical devil mentioned?’
‘Babuji,’ said Mahbub in the vernacular. ‘I have no regard for the devils of Hind, but the Sons of Eblis are far otherwise, and whether they be jumalee [well-affected] or jullalee [terrible] they love not Kafirs.’
‘How am I to fear the absolutely non-existent?’ said Hurree Babu, talking English to reassure himself. It is an awful thing still to dread the magic that you contemptuously investigate — to collect folk-lore for the Royal Society with a lively belief in all Powers of Darkness.
Mahbub chuckled. He had been out with Hurree on the Road ere now. ‘Let us finish the colouring,’ said he. ‘The boy is well protected if — if the Lords of the Air have ears to hear. I am a Sufi [free-thinker], but when one can get blind-sides of a woman, a stallion, or a devil, why go round to invite a kick? Set him upon the way, Babu, and see that old Red Hat does not lead him beyond our reach. I must get back to my horses.’
‘And also I had honour to bring down from Lurgan your present costume. I am not in the habit offeecially of carrying such gauds to subordinates, but’ — he giggled — ‘your case is noted as exceptional on the books. I hope Mr Lurgan will note my action.’
‘Oho! That is inconspicuous dress of chela attached to service of lamaistic lama. Complete in every particular,’ said Hurree Babu, rolling into the balcony to clean his teeth at a goglet. ‘I am of opeenion it is not your old gentleman’s precise releegion, but rather sub-variant of same. I have contributed rejected notes To Whom It May Concern: Asiatic Quarterly Review on these subjects. Now it is curious that the old gentleman himself is totally devoid of releegiosity. He is not a dam’ particular.’
Hurree Babu held up his hand to show he was engaged in the prescribed rites that accompany tooth-cleaning and such things among decently bred Bengalis. Then he recited in English an Arya–Somaj prayer of a theistical nature, and stuffed his mouth with pan and betel.
Huneefa stirred in her sleep, and Hurree Babu jumped nervously to the copper incense-burner, all black and discoloured in morning-light, rubbed a finger in the accumulated lamp-black, and drew it diagonally across his face.
‘I go. At what hour runs the te-rain?’ He rose to his feet, looked round the desolate chamber and at the yellow-wax face of Huneefa as the low sun stole across the floor. ‘Is there money to be paid that witch?’
‘No. She has charmed thee against all devils and all dangers in the name of her devils. It was Mahbub’s desire.’ In English: ‘He is highly obsolete, I think, to indulge in such supersteetion. Why, it is all ventriloquy. Belly-speak — eh?’
Kim snapped his fingers mechanically to avert whatever evil — Mahbub, he knew, meditated none — might have crept in through Huneefa’s ministrations; and Hurree giggled once more. But as he crossed the room he was careful not to step in Huneefa’s blotched, squat shadow on the boards. Witches — when their time is on them — can lay hold of the heels of a man’s soul if he does that.
‘Now you must well listen,’ said the Babu when they were in the fresh air. ‘Part of these ceremonies which we witnessed they include supply of effeecient amulet to those of our Department. If you feel in your neck you will find one small silver amulet, verree cheap. That is ours. Do you understand?’
‘Huneefa she makes them for two rupees twelve annas with — oh, all sorts of exorcisms. They are quite common, except they are partially black enamel, and there is a paper inside each one full of names of local saints and such things. Thatt is Huneefa’s look-out, you see? Huneefa makes them onlee for us, but in case she does not, when we get them we put in, before issue, one small piece of turquoise. Mr Lurgan he gives them. There is no other source of supply; but it was me invented all this. It is strictly unoffeecial of course, but convenient for subordinates. Colonel Creighton he does not know. He is European. The turquoise is wrapped in the paper ... Yes, that is road to railway station ... Now suppose you go with the lama, or with me, I hope, some day, or with Mahbub. Suppose we get into a dam’-tight place. I am a fearful man — most fearful — but I tell you I have been in dam’-tight places more than hairs on my head. You say: “I am Son of the Charm.” Verree good.’
‘That is all raight. I am only Babu showing off my English to you. All we Babus talk English to show off;’ said Hurree, flinging his shoulder-cloth jauntily. ‘As I was about to say, “Son of the Charm” means that you may be member of the Sat Bhai — the Seven Brothers, which is Hindi and Tantric. It is popularly supposed to be extinct Society, but I have written notes to show it is still extant. You see, it is all my invention. Verree good. Sat Bhai has many members, and perhaps before they jolly-well-cut-your-throat they may give you just a chance of life. That is useful, anyhow. And moreover, these foolish natives — if they are not too excited — they always stop to think before they kill a man who says he belongs to any speecific organization. You see? You say then when you are in tight place, “I am Son of the Charm”, and you get — perhaps — ah — your second wind. That is only in extreme instances, or to open negotiations with a stranger. Can you quite see? Verree good. But suppose now, I, or any one of the Department, come to you dressed quite different. You would not know me at all unless I choose, I bet you. Some day I will prove it. I come as Ladakhi trader — oh, anything — and I say to you: “You want to buy precious stones?” You say: “Do I look like a man who buys precious stones?” Then I say: “Even verree poor man can buy a turquoise or tarkeean.” ’
‘Of course it is. You say: “Let me see the tarkeean.” Then I say: “It was cooked by a woman, and perhaps it is bad for your caste.” Then you say: “There is no caste when men go to — look for tarkeean.” You stop a little between those words, “to — look”. That is thee whole secret. The little stop before the words.’
‘That is all right. Then I will show you my turquoise if there is time, and then you know who I am, and then we exchange views and documents and those-all things. And so it is with any other man of us. We talk sometimes about turquoises and sometimes about tarkeean, but always with that little stop in the words. It is verree easy. First, “Son of the Charm”, if you are in a tight place. Perhaps that may help you — perhaps not. Then what I have told you about the tarkeean, if you want to transact offeecial business with a strange man. Of course, at present, you have no offeecial business. You are — ah ha! — supernumerary on probation. Quite unique specimen. If you were Asiatic of birth you might be employed right off; but this half-year of leave is to make you de~Englishized, you see? The lama he expects you, because I have demi-offeecially informed him you have passed all your examinations, and will soon obtain Government appointment. Oh ho! You are on acting-allowance, you see: so if you are called upon to help Sons of the Charm mind you jolly-well try. Now I shall say good-bye, my dear fellow, and I hope you — ah — will come out top-side all raight.’
Hurree Babu stepped back a pace or two into the crowd at the entrance of Lucknow station and — was gone. Kim drew a deep breath and hugged himself all over. The nickel-plated revolver he could feel in the bosom of his sad-coloured robe, the amulet was on his neck; begging-gourd, rosary, and ghost-dagger (Mr Lurgan had forgotten nothing) were all to hand, with medicine, paint-box, and compass, and in a worn old purse-belt embroidered with porcupine-quill patterns lay a month’s pay. Kings could be no richer. He bought sweetmeats in a leaf-cup from a Hindu trader, and ate them with glad rapture till a policeman ordered him off the steps.
‘Now am I alone — all alone,’ he thought. ‘In all India is no one so alone as I! If I die today, who shall bring the news — and to whom? If I live and God is good, there will be a price upon my head, for I am a Son of the Charm — I, Kim.’
A very few white people, but many Asiatics, can throw themselves into a mazement as it were by repeating their own names over and over again to themselves, letting the mind go free upon speculation as to what is called personal identity. When one grows older, the power, usually, departs, but while it lasts it may descend upon a man at any moment.
He squatted in a corner of the clanging waiting-room, rapt from all other thoughts; hands folded in lap, and pupils contracted to pin-points. In a minute — in another half-second — he felt he would arrive at the solution of the tremendous puzzle; but here, as always happens, his mind dropped away from those heights with a rush of a wounded bird, and passing his hand before his eyes, he shook his head.
Kim did not feel so lonely after this, and ere he had sat out twenty miles in the crowded compartment, was cheering his neighbours with a string of most wonderful yarns about his own and his master’s magical gifts.
Benares struck him as a peculiarly filthy city, though it was pleasant to find how his cloth was respected. At least one-third of the population prays eternally to some group or other of the many million deities, and so reveres every sort of holy man. Kim was guided to the Temple of the Tirthankars, about a mile outside the city, near Sarnath, by a chance-met Punjabi farmer — a Kamboh from Jullundur-way who had appealed in vain to every God of his homestead to cure his small son, and was trying Benares as a last resort.
‘They are all most holy and — most greedy,’ said the Jat with bitterness. ‘I have walked the pillars and trodden the temples till my feet are flayed, and the child is no whit better. And the mother being sick too ... Hush, then, little one ... We changed his name when the fever came. We put him into girl’s clothes. There was nothing we did not do, except — I said to his mother when she bundled me off to Benares — she should have come with me — I said Sakhi Sarwar Sultan would serve us best. We know His generosity, but these down-country Gods are strangers.’
‘The Gods have given him a good mind, at least’ said the father proudly. ‘To think he should have listened so cleverly. Yonder is thy Temple. Now I am a poor man — many priests have dealt with me — but my son is my son, and if a gift to thy master can cure him — I am at my very wits’ end.’
Kim considered for a while, tingling with pride. Three years ago he would have made prompt profit on the situation and gone his way without a thought; but now, the very respect the Jat paid him proved that he was a man. Moreover, he had tasted fever once or twice already, and knew enough to recognize starvation when he saw it.
‘Do not forget the child,’ cried the importunate Jat over his shoulder, and then bellowed in Punjabi; ‘O Holy One — O disciple of the Holy One — O Gods above all the Worlds — behold affliction sitting at the gate!’ That cry is so common in Benares that the passers never turned their heads.
The Oswal, at peace with mankind, carried the message into the darkness behind him, and the easy, uncounted Eastern minutes slid by; for the lama was asleep in his cell, and no priest would wake him. When the click of his rosary again broke the hush of the inner court where the calm images of the Arhats stand, a novice whispered, ‘Thy chela is here,’ and the old man strode forth, forgetting the end of that prayer.
‘What! Have they made thee a healer? Wait here,’ said the lama, and he sat down by the Jat upon the lowest step of the temple, while Kim, looking out of the corner of his eyes, slowly opened the little betel-box. He had dreamed dreams at school of returning to the lama as a Sahib — of chaffing the old man before he revealed himself — boy’s dreams all. There was more drama in this abstracted, brow-puckered search through the tabloid-bottles, with a pause here and there for thought and a muttered invocation between whiles. Quinine he had in tablets, and dark brown meat-lozenges — beef most probably, but that was not his business. The little thing would not eat, but it sucked at a lozenge greedily, and said it liked the salt taste.
‘Take then these six.’ Kim handed them to the man. ‘Praise the Gods, and boil three in milk; other three in water. After he has drunk the milk give him this’ (it was the half of a quinine pill), ‘and wrap him warm. Give him the water of the other three, and the other half of this white pill when he wakes. Meantime, here is another brown medicine that he may suck at on the way home.’
‘But the price — the price,’ said the Jat, and threw back his sturdy shoulders. ‘My son is my son. Now that he will be whole again, how shall I go back to his mother and say I took help by the wayside and did not even give a bowl of curds in return?’
The Jat burst into a roar of laughter, stifled with apologies to the lama. ‘It is the saying of my own country the very talk of it. So are we Jats all. I will come tomorrow with the child; and the blessing of the Gods of the Homesteads — who are good little Gods — be on you both ... Now, son, we grow strong again. Do not spit it out, little Princeling! King of my Heart, do not spit it out, and we shall be strong men, wrestlers and club-wielders, by morning.’
‘I was made wise by thee, Holy One,’ said Kim, forgetting the little play just ended; forgetting St Xavier’s; forgetting his white blood; forgetting even the Great Game as he stooped, Mohammedan-fashion, to touch his master’s feet in the dust of the Jain temple. ‘My teaching I owe to thee. I have eaten thy bread three years. My time is finished. I am loosed from the schools. I come to thee.’
‘Herein is my reward. Enter! Enter! And is all well?’ They passed to the inner court, where the afternoon sun sloped golden across. ‘Stand that I may see. So!’ He peered critically. ‘It is no longer a child, but a man, ripened in wisdom, walking as a physician. I did well — I did well when I gave thee up to the armed men on that black night. Dost thou remember our first day under Zam–Zammah?’
The lama smiled. ‘First by means of letters from the kindly priest whom we met in the camp of armed men; but he is now gone to his own country, and I sent the money to his brother.’ Colonel Creighton, who had succeeded to the trusteeship when Father Victor went to England with the Mavericks, was hardly the Chaplain’s brother. ‘But I do not well understand Sahibs’ letters. They must be interpreted to me. I chose a surer way. Many times when I returned from my Search to this Temple, which has always been a nest to me, there came one seeking Enlightenment — a man from Leh — that had been, he said, a Hindu, but wearied of all those Gods.’ The lama pointed to the Arhats.
‘Very fat; but I perceived in a little his mind was wholly given up to useless things — such as devils and charms and the form and fashion of our tea-drinkings in the monasteries, and by what road we initiated the novices. A man abounding in questions; but he was a friend of thine, chela. He told me that thou wast on the road to much honour as a scribe. And I see thou art a physician.’
‘Very often I beg myself; but, as thou knowest, I am seldom here, except when I come to look again at my disciple. From one end to another of Hind have I travelled afoot and in the te-rain. A great and a wonderful land! But here, when I put in, is as though I were in my own Bhotiyal.’
He looked round the little clean cell complacently. A low cushion gave him a seat, on which he had disposed himself in the cross-legged attitude of the Bodhisat emerging from meditation; a black teak-wood table, not twenty inches high, set with copper tea-cups, was before him. In one corner stood a tiny altar, also of heavily carved teak, bearing a copper-gilt image of the seated Buddha and fronted by a lamp, an incense-holder, and a pair of copper flower-pots.
‘The Keeper of the Images in the Wonder House acquired merit by giving me these a year since,’ he said, following Kim’s eye. ‘When one is far from one’s own land such things carry remembrance; and we must reverence the Lord for that He showed the Way. See!’ He pointed to a curiously-built mound of coloured rice crowned with a fantastic metal ornament. ‘When I was Abbot in my own place — before I came to better knowledge I made that offering daily. It is the Sacrifice of the Universe to the Lord. Thus do we of Bhotiyal offer all the world daily to the Excellent Law. And I do it even now, though I know that the Excellent One is beyond all pinchings and pattings.’ He snuffed from his gourd.
‘And also,’ the old man chuckled, ‘I write pictures of the Wheel of Life. Three days to a picture. I was busied on it — or it may be I shut my eyes a little — when they brought word of thee. It is good to have thee here: I will show thee my art — not for pride’s sake, but because thou must learn. The Sahibs have not all this world’s wisdom.’
He drew from under the table a sheet of strangely scented yellow Chinese paper, the brushes, and slab of Indian ink. In cleanest, severest outline he had traced the Great Wheel with its six spokes, whose centre is the conjoined Hog, Snake, and Dove (Ignorance, Anger, and Lust), and whose compartments are all the Heavens and Hells, and all the chances of human life. Men say that the Bodhisat Himself first drew it with grains of rice upon dust, to teach His disciples the cause of things. Many ages have crystallized it into a most wonderful convention crowded with hundreds of little figures whose every line carries a meaning. Few can translate the picture-parable; there are not twenty in all the world who can draw it surely without a copy: of those who can both draw and expound are but three.
‘I have written it for many years,’ said the lama. ‘Time was when I could write it all between one lamp-lighting and the next. I will teach thee the art — after due preparation; and I will show thee the meaning of the Wheel.’
‘The Road and our Search. I was but waiting for thee. It was made plain to me in a hundred dreams — notably one that came upon the night of the day that the Gates of Learning first shut that without thee I should never find my River. Again and again, as thou knowest, I put this from me, fearing an illusion. Therefore I would not take thee with me that day at Lucknow, when we ate the cakes. I would not take thee till the. time was ripe and auspicious. From the Hills to the Sea, from the Sea to the Hills have I gone, but it was vain. Then I remembered the Tataka.’
‘What matters, Friend of all the World? The Search, I say, is sure. If need be, the River will break from the ground before us. I acquired merit when I sent thee to the Gates of Learning, and gave thee the jewel that is Wisdom. Thou didst return, I saw even now, a follower of Sakyamuni, the Physician, whose altars are many in Bhotiyal. It is sufficient. We are together, and all things are as they were — Friend of all the World — Friend of the Stars — my chela!’
Then they talked of matters secular; but it was noticeable that the lama never demanded any details of life at St Xavier’s, nor showed the faintest curiosity as to the manners and customs of Sahibs. His mind moved all in the past, and he revived every step of their wonderful first journey together, rubbing his hands and chuckling, till it pleased him to curl himself up into the sudden sleep of old age.
Kim watched the last dusty sunshine fade out of the court, and played with his ghost-dagger and rosary. The clamour of Benares, oldest of all earth’s cities awake before the Gods, day and night, beat round the walls as the sea’s roar round a breakwater. Now and again, a Jain priest crossed the court, with some small offering to the images, and swept the path about him lest by chance he should take the life of a living thing. A lamp twinkled, and there followed the sound of a prayer. Kim watched the stars as they rose one after another in the still, sticky dark, till he fell asleep at the foot of the altar. That night he dreamed in Hindustani, with never an English word...
‘Holy One, there is the child to whom we gave the medicine,’ he said, about three o’clock in the morning, when the lama, also waking from dreams, would have fared forth on pilgrimage. ‘The Jat will be here at the light.’
‘I am well answered. In my haste I would have done a wrong.’ He sat down on the cushions and returned to his rosary. ‘Surely old folk are as children,’ he said pathetically. ‘They desire a matter — behold, it must be done at once, or they fret and weep! Many times when I was upon the Road I have been ready to stamp with my feet at the hindrance of an ox-cart in the way, or a mere cloud of dust. It was not so when I was a man — a long time ago. None the less it is wrongful —’
‘The thing was done. A Cause was put out into the world, and, old or young, sick or sound, knowing or unknowing, who can rein in the effect of that Cause? Does the Wheel hang still if a child spin it — or a drunkard? Chela, this is a great and a terrible world.’
‘We cannot walk far on such stuff.’ Kim felt all the European’s lust for flesh-meat, which is not accessible in a Jain temple. Yet, instead of going out at once with the begging-bowl, he stayed his stomach on slabs of cold rice till the full dawn. It brought the farmer, voluble, stuttering with gratitude.
‘In the night the fever broke and the sweat came,’ he cried. ‘Feel here — his skin is fresh and new! He esteemed the salt lozenges, and took milk with greed.’ He drew the cloth from the child’s face, and it smiled sleepily at Kim. A little knot of Jain priests, silent but all-observant, gathered by the temple door. They knew, and Kim knew that they knew, how the old lama had met his disciple. Being courteous folk, they had not obtruded themselves overnight by presence, word, or gesture. Wherefore Kim repaid them as the sun rose.
Now the Jains officially recognize all the Gods of the Hindu creed, as well as the Lingam and the Snake. They wear the Brahminical thread; they adhere to every claim of Hindu caste-law. But, because they knew and loved the lama, because he was an old man, because he sought the Way, because he was their guest, and because he collogued long of nights with the head-priest — as free-thinking a metaphysician as ever split one hair into seventy — they murmured assent.
‘True,’ said the lama to all the Jains. ‘We go now together upon the Search whereof I have often spoken. I waited till my chela was ripe. Behold him! We go North. Never again shall I look upon this place of my rest, O people of good will.’
‘Go,’ Kim whispered. ‘Meet us again under the big railway bridge, and for the sake of all the Gods of our Punjab, bring food — curry, pulse, cakes fried in fat, and sweetmeats. Specially sweetmeats. Be swift!’
The pallor of hunger suited Kim very well as he stood, tall and slim, in his sand-coloured, sweeping robes, one hand on his rosary and the other in the attitude of benediction, faithfully copied from the lama. An English observer might have said that he looked rather like the young saint of a stained-glass window, whereas he was but a growing lad faint with emptiness.
Long and formal were the farewells, thrice ended and thrice renewed. The Seeker — he who had invited the lama to that haven from far-away Tibet, a silver-faced, hairless ascetic — took no part in it, but meditated, as always, alone among the images. The others were very human; pressing small comforts upon the old man — a betel-box, a fine new iron pencase, a food-bag, and such-like — warning him against the dangers of the world without, and prophesying a happy end to the Search. Meantime Kim, lonelier than ever, squatted on the steps, and swore to himself in the language of St Xavier’s.
‘But it is my own fault,’ he concluded. ‘With Mahbub, I ate Mahbub’s bread, or Lurgan Sahib’s. At St Xavier’s, three meals a day. Here I must jolly-well look out for myself. Besides, I am not in good training. How I could eat a plate of beef now! ... Is it finished, Holy One?’
‘Fall to, Holy Ones!’ he cried from fifty yards. (They were by the shoal under the first bridge-span, out of sight of hungry priests.) ‘Rice and good curry, cakes all warm and well scented with hing [asafoetida], curds and sugar. King of my fields,’ — this to the small son — ‘let us show these holy men that we Jats of Jullundur can pay a service ... I had heard the Jains would eat nothing that they had not cooked, but truly’ — he looked away politely over the broad river — ‘where there is no eye there is no caste.’
‘If our roads lie together,’ he said roughly, ‘I go with thee. One does not often find a worker of miracles, and the child is still weak. But I am not altogether a reed.’ He picked up his lathi — a five-foot male-bamboo ringed with bands of polished iron — and flourished it in the air. ‘The Jats are called quarrel-some, but that is not true. Except when we are crossed, we are like our own buffaloes.’
The lama gazed placidly up-stream, where in long, smudged perspective the ceaseless columns of smoke go up from the burning-ghats by the river. Now and again, despite all municipal regulations, the fragment of a half-burned body bobbed by on the full current.
‘But for thee,’ said the Kamboh to Kim, drawing the child into his hairy breast, ‘I might today have gone thither — with this one. The priests tell us that Benares is holy — which none doubt — and desirable to die in. But I do not know their Gods, and they ask for money; and when one has done one worship a shaved-head vows it is of none effect except one do another. Wash here! Wash there! Pour, drink, lave, and scatter flowers — but always pay the priests. No, the Punjab for me, and the soil of the Jullundur-doab for the best soil in it.’
‘I have said many times — in the Temple, I think — that if need be, the River will open at our feet. We will therefore go North,’ said the lama, rising. ‘I remember a pleasant place, set about with fruit-trees, where one can walk in meditation — and the air is cooler there. It comes from the Hills and the snow of the Hills.’
‘How should I know? Didst thou not — no, that was after the Army rose out of the earth and took thee away. I abode there in meditation in a room against the dovecot — except when she talked eternally.’
‘Then, in the name of the Gods, let us take the fire-carriage. My son is best in his mother’s arms. The Government has brought on us many taxes, but it gives us one good thing — the te-rain that joins friends and unites the anxious. A wonderful matter is the te-rain.’
They all piled into it a couple of hours later, and slept through the heat of the day. The Kamboh plied Kim with ten thousand questions as to the lama’s walk and work in life, and received some curious answers. Kim was content to be where he was, to look out upon the flat North–Western landscape, and to talk to the changing mob of fellow-passengers. Even today, tickets and ticket-clipping are dark oppression to Indian rustics. They do not understand why, when they have paid for a magic piece of paper, strangers should punch great pieces out of the charm. So, long and furious are the debates between travellers and Eurasian ticket-collectors. Kim assisted at two or three with grave advice, meant to darken counsel and to show off his wisdom before the lama and the admiring Kamboh. But at Somna Road the Fates sent him a matter to think upon. There tumbled into the compartment, as the train was moving off, a mean, lean little person — a Mahratta, so far as Kim could judge by the cock of the tight turban. His face was cut, his muslin upper-garment was badly torn, and one leg was bandaged. He told them that a country-cart had upset and nearly slain him: he was going to Delhi, where his son lived. Kim watched him closely. If, as he asserted, he had been rolled over and over on the earth, there should have been signs of gravel-rash on the skin. But all his injuries seemed clean cuts, and a mere fall from a cart could not cast a man into such extremity of terror. As, with shaking fingers, he knotted up the torn cloth about his neck he laid bare an amulet of the kind called a keeper-up of the heart. Now, amulets are common enough, but they are not generally strung on square-plaited copper wire, and still fewer amulets bear black enamel on silver. There were none except the Kamboh and the lama in the compartment, which, luckily, was of an old type with solid ends. Kim made as to scratch in his bosom, and thereby lifted his own amulet. The Mahratta’s face changed altogether at the sight, and he disposed the amulet fairly on his breast.
‘Yes,’ he went on to the Kamboh, ‘I was in haste, and the cart, driven by a bastard, bound its wheel in a water-cut, and besides the harm done to me there was lost a full dish of tarkeean. I was not a Son of the Charm [a lucky man] that day.’
‘I come from the South, where my work lay. One of us they slew by the roadside. Hast thou heard?’ Kim shook his head. He, of course, knew nothing of E’s predecessor, slain down South in the habit of an Arab trader. ‘Having found a certain letter which I was sent to seek, I came away. I escaped from the city and ran to Mhow. So sure was I that none knew, I did not change my face. At Mhow a woman brought charge against me of theft of jewellery in that city which I had left. Then I saw the cry was out against me. I ran from Mhow by night, bribing the police, who had been bribed to hand me over without question to my enemies in the South. Then I lay in old Chitor city a week, a penitent in a temple, but I could not get rid of the letter which was my charge. I buried it under the Queen’s Stone, at Chitor, in the place known to us all.’
‘At Chitor, look you, I was all in Kings’ country; for Kotah to the east is beyond the Queen’s law, and east again lie Jaipur and Gwalior. Neither love spies, and there is no justice. I was hunted like a wet jackal; but I broke through at Bandakui, where I heard there was a charge against me of murder in the city I had left — of the murder of a boy. They have both the corpse and the witnesses waiting.’
‘We of the Game are beyond protection. If we die, we die. Our names are blotted from the book. That is all. At Bandakui, where lives one of Us, I thought to slip the scent by changing my face, and so made me a Mahratta. Then I came to Agra, and would have turned back to Chitor to recover the letter. So sure I was I had slipped them. Therefore I did not send a tar [telegram] to any one saying where the letter lay. I wished the credit of it all.’
‘But at Agra, walking in the streets, a man cried a debt against me, and approaching with many witnesses, would hale me to the courts then and there. Oh, they are clever in the South! He recognized me as his agent for cotton. May he burn in Hell for it!’
‘O fool! I was the man they sought for the matter of the letter! I ran into the Fleshers’ Ward and came out by the House of the Jew, who feared a riot and pushed me forth. I came afoot to Somna Road — I had only money for my tikkut to Delhi — and there, while I lay in a ditch with a fever, one sprang out of the bushes and beat me and cut me and searched me from head to foot. Within earshot of the te-rain it was!’
‘They are not so foolish. If I am taken in Delhi at the instance of lawyers, upon a proven charge of murder, my body is handed over to the State that desires it. I go back guarded, and then — I die slowly for an example to the rest of Us. The South is not my country. I run in circles — like a goat with one eye. I have not eaten for two days. I am marked’ — he touched the filthy bandage on his leg — ‘so that they will know me at Delhi.’
‘Live a year at the Great Game and tell me that again! The wires will be out against me at Delhi, describing every tear and rag upon me. Twenty — a hundred, if need be — will have seen me slay that boy. And thou art useless!’
Kim knew enough of native methods of attack not to doubt that the case would be deadly complete — even to the corpse. The Mahratta twitched his fingers with pain from time to time. The Kamboh in his corner glared sullenly; the lama was busy over his beads; and Kim, fumbling doctor-fashion at the man’s neck, thought out his plan between invocations.
Kim rubbed a finger-tip of bitterness on the child’s trusting little lips. ‘I have asked for nothing,’ he said sternly to the father, ‘except food. Dost thou grudge me that? I go to heal another man. Have I thy leave — Prince?’
It was the usual collection of small oddments: bits of cloth, quack medicines, cheap fairings, a clothful of atta — greyish, rough-ground native flour — twists of down-country tobacco, tawdry pipe — stems, and a packet of curry-stuff, all wrapped in. a quilt. Kim turned it over with the air of a wise warlock, muttering a Mohammedan invocation.
‘This is wisdom I learned from the Sahibs,’ he whispered to the lama; and here, when one thinks of his training at Lurgan’s, he spoke no more than the truth. ‘There is a great evil in this man’s fortune, as shown by the Stars, which — which troubles him. Shall I take it away?’
‘A healing against the shadow of death,’ said Kim, mixing the Kamboh’s flour with the mingled charcoal and tobacco ash in the red-earth bowl of the pipe. E, without a word, slipped off his turban and shook down his long black hair.
‘A buffalo in the temple! Hast thou dared to look even thus far?’ said Kim. ‘I must do mysteries before fools; but have a care for thine eyes. Is there a film before them already? I save the babe, and for return thou — oh, shameless!’ The man flinched at the direct gaze, for Kim was wholly in earnest.
‘Shall I curse thee, or shall I—’ He picked up the outer cloth of the bundle and threw it over the bowed head. ‘Dare so much as to think a wish to see, and — and — even I cannot save thee. Sit! Be dumb!’
‘What is caste to a cut throat?’ said Kim, rending it to the waist. ‘We must make thee a yellow Saddhu all over. Strip — strip swiftly, and shake thy hair over thine eyes while I scatter the ash. Now, a caste-mark on thy forehead.’ He drew from his bosom the little Survey paint-box and a cake of crimson lake.
‘Art thou only a beginner?’ said E23, labouring literally for the dear life, as he slid out of his body-wrappings and stood clear in the loin-cloth while Kim splashed in a noble caste-mark on the ash-smeared brow.
‘Hast thou met — a physician of sick pearls?’ He switched out his long, tight-rolled turban-cloth and, with swiftest hands, rolled it over and under about his loins into the intricate devices of a Saddhu’s cincture.
It was a tin box of opium pills among the rubbish of the Jat’s bundle. E23 gulped down a half handful. ‘They are good against hunger, fear, and chill. And they make the eyes red too,’ he explained. ‘Now I shall have heart to play the Game. We lack only a Saddhu’s tongs. What of the old clothes?’
Kim rolled them small, and stuffed them into the slack folds of his tunic. With a yellow-ochre paint cake he smeared the legs and the breast, great streaks against the background of flour, ash, and turmeric.
Kim had been trained by Lurgan Sahib; E23, by virtue of his business, was no bad actor. In place of the tremulous, shrinking trader there lolled against the corner an all but naked, ash-smeared, ochre-barred, dusty-haired Saddhu, his swollen eyes — opium takes quick effect on an empty stomach — luminous with insolence and bestial lust, his legs crossed under him, Kim’s brown rosary round his neck, and a scant yard of worn, flowered chintz on his shoulders. The child buried his face in his amazed father’s arms.
‘Oh, chicken-man!’ said Kim, and even the abashed Jat laughed. ‘I have done a healing on this poor trader. He must forsake his gains and his account-books, and sit by the wayside three nights to overcome the malignity of his enemies. The Stars are against him.’
‘So? But that is thy child on thy shoulder — given over to the burning-ghat not two days ago. There remains one thing more. I did this charm in thy presence because need was great. I changed his shape and his soul. None the less, if, by any chance, O man from Jullundur, thou rememberest what thou hast seen, either among the elders sitting under the village tree, or in thine own house, or in company of thy priest when he blesses thy cattle, a murrain will come among the buffaloes, and a fire in thy thatch, and rats in the corn-bins, and the curse of our Gods upon thy fields that they may be barren before thy feet and after thy ploughshare.’ This was part of an old curse picked up from a fakir by the Taksali Gate in the days of Kim’s innocence. It lost nothing by repetition.
‘Cease, Holy One! In mercy, cease!’ cried the Jat. ‘Do not curse the household. I saw nothing! I heard nothing! I am thy cow!’ and he made to grab at Kim’s bare foot beating rhythmically on the carriage floor. ‘But since thou hast been permitted to aid me in the matter of a pinch of flour and a little opium and such trifles as I have honoured by using in my art, so will the Gods return a blessing,’ and he gave it at length, to the man’s immense relief. It was one that he had learned from Lurgan Sahib.
The lama stared through his spectacles as he had not stared at the business of disguisement. ‘Friend of the Stars,’ he said at last, ‘thou hast acquired great wisdom. Beware that it do not give birth to pride. No man having the Law before his eyes speaks hastily of any matter which he has seen or encountered.’
‘No — no — no, indeed,’ cried the farmer, fearful lest the master should be minded to improve on the pupil. E23, with relaxed mouth, gave himself up to the opium that is meat, tobacco, and medicine to the spent Asiatic.
‘I have found my heart again,’ said E23, under cover of the platform’s tumult. ‘Hunger and fear make men dazed, or I might have thought of this escape before. I was right. They come to hunt for me. Thou hast saved my head.’
A group of yellow-trousered Punjab policemen, headed by a hot and perspiring young Englishman, parted the crowd about the carriages. Behind them, inconspicuous as a cat, ambled a small fat person who looked like a lawyer’s tout.
When the procession reached their compartment, E23 was counting his beads with a steady jerk of the wrist; while Kim jeered at him for being so drugged as to have lost the ringed fire-tongs which are the Saddhu’s distinguishing mark. The lama, deep in meditation, stared straight before him; and the farmer, glancing furtively, gathered up his belongings.
E23, not moving a muscle of his countenance, answered with a stream of the filthiest abuse, at which Kim naturally rejoiced. It reminded him of the drummer-boys and the barrack-sweepers at Umballa in the terrible time of his first schooling.
Step by step, withdrawing deferentially and dropping his voice, the yellow Saddhu clomb back to the carriage, cursing the D.S.P. to remotest posterity, by — here Kim almost jumped — by the curse of the Queen’s Stone, by the writing under the Queen’s Stone, and by an assortment of Gods “with wholly, new names.
‘Oh, zoolum! What oppression!’ growled the Jat from his corner. ‘All for the sake of a jest too.’ He had been grinning at the freedom of the Saddhu’s tongue. ‘Thy charms do not work well today, Holy One!’
The Saddhu followed the policeman, fawning and supplicating. The ruck of passengers, busy, with their babies and their bundles, had not noticed the affair. Kim slipped out behind him; for it flashed through his head that he had heard this angry, stupid Sahib discoursing loud personalities to an old lady near Umballa three years ago.
‘It is well’, the Saddhu whispered, jammed in the calling, shouting, bewildered press — a Persian greyhound between his feet and a cageful of yelling hawks under charge of a Rajput falconer in the small of his back. ‘He has gone now to send word of the letter which I hid. They told me he was in Peshawur. I might have known that he is like the crocodile — always at the other ford. He has saved me from present calamity, but I owe my life to thee.’
‘Return, or they take thy place! Have no fear for the work, brother — or my life. Thou hast given me breathing-space, and Strickland Sahib has pulled me to land. We may work together at the Game yet. Farewell!’
‘I am only a beginner at the Game, that is sure. I could not have leaped into safety as did the Saddhu. He knew it was darkest under the lamp. I could not have thought to tell news under pretence of cursing ... and how clever was the Sahib! No matter, I saved the life of one ... Where is the Kamboh gone, Holy One?’ he whispered, as he took his seat in the now crowded compartment.
‘A fear gripped him,’ the lama replied, with a touch of tender malice. ‘He saw thee change the Mahratta to a Saddhu in the twinkling of an eye, as a protection against evil. That shook him. Then he saw the Saddhu fall sheer into the hands of the polis — all the effect of thy art. Then he gathered up his son and fled; for he said that thou didst change a quiet trader into an impudent bandier of words with the Sahibs, and he feared a like fate. Where is the Saddhu?’
‘Ah, chela, see how thou art overtaken! Thou didst cure the Kamboh’s child solely to acquire merit. But thou didst put a spell on the Mahratta with prideful workings — I watched thee — and with sidelong glances to bewilder an old old man and a foolish farmer: whence calamity and suspicion.’
Kim controlled himself with an effort beyond his years. Not more than any other youngster did he like to eat dirt or to be misjudged, but he saw himself in a cleft stick. The train rolled out of Delhi into the night.
This ignorance was well both for Kim’s vanity and for the lama’s peace of mind, when we think that there was then being handed in at Simla a code-wire reporting the arrival of E23 at Delhi, and, more important, the whereabouts of a letter he had been commissioned to — abstract. Incidentally, an over-zealous policeman had arrested, on charge of murder done in a far southern State, a horribly indignant Ajmir cotton-broker, who was explaining himself to a Mr Strickland on Delhi platform, while E23 was paddling through byways into the locked heart of Delhi city. In two hours several telegrams had reached the angry minister of a southern State reporting that all trace of a somewhat bruised Mahratta had been lost; and by the time the leisurely train halted at Saharunpore the last ripple of the stone Kim had helped to heave was lapping against the steps of a mosque in far-away Roum — where it disturbed a pious man at prayers.
The lama made his in ample form near the dewy bougainvillea-trellis near the platform, cheered by the clear sunshine and the presence of his disciple. ‘We will put these things behind us,’ he said, indicating the brazen engine and the gleaming track. ‘The jolting of the te-rain — though a wonderful thing — has turned my bones to water. We will use clean air henceforward.’
‘Let us go to the Kulu woman’s house’ said Kim, and stepped forth cheerily under the bundles. Early morning Saharunpore-way is clean and well scented. He thought of the other mornings at St Xavier’s, and it topped his already thrice-heaped contentment.
‘Where is this new haste born from? Wise men do not run about like chickens in the sun. We have come hundreds upon hundreds of koss already, and, till now, I have scarcely been alone with thee an instant. How canst thou receive instruction all jostled of crowds? How can I, whelmed by a flux of talk, meditate upon the Way?’
‘Nor her desire for charms. I remember once when I spoke of the Wheel of Life’ — the lama fumbled in his bosom for his latest copy — ‘she was only curious about the devils that besiege children. She shall acquire merit by entertaining us — in a little while — at an after-occasion — softly, softly. Now we will wander loose-foot, waiting upon the Chain of Things. The Search is sure.’
So they travelled very easily across and among the broad bloomful fruit-gardens — by way of Aminabad, Sahaigunge, Akrola of the Ford, and little Phulesa — the line of the Siwaliks always to the north, and behind them again the snows. After long, sweet sleep under the dry stars came the lordly, leisurely passage through a waking village — begging-bowl held forth in silence, but eyes roving in defiance of the Law from sky’s edge to sky’s edge. Then would Kim return soft-footed through the soft dust to his master under the shadow of a mango-tree or the thinner shade of a white Doon siris, to eat and drink at ease. At mid-day, after talk and a little wayfaring, they slept; meeting the world refreshed when the air was cooler. Night found them adventuring into new territory — some chosen village spied three hours before across the fat land, and much discussed upon the road.
When the shadows shortened and the lama leaned more heavily upon Kim, there was always the Wheel of Life to draw forth, to hold flat under wiped stones, and with a long straw to expound cycle by cycle. Here sat the Gods on high — and they were dreams of dreams. Here was our Heaven and the world of the demi-Gods — horsemen fighting among the hills. Here were the agonies done upon the beasts, souls ascending or descending the ladder and therefore not to be interfered with. Here were the Hells, hot and cold, and the abodes of tormented ghosts. Let the chela study the troubles that come from over-eating — bloated stomach and burning bowels. Obediently, then, with bowed head and brown finger alert to follow the pointer, did the chela study; but when they came to the Human World, busy and profitless, that is just above the Hells, his mind was distracted; for by the roadside trundled the very Wheel itself, eating, drinking, trading, marrying, and quarrelling — all warmly alive. Often the lama made the living pictures the matter of his text, bidding Kim — too ready — note how the flesh takes a thousand shapes, desirable or detestable as men reckon, but in truth of no account either way; and how the stupid spirit, bond-slave to the Hog, the Dove, and the Serpent — lusting after betel-nut, a new yoke of oxen, women, or the favour of kings — is bound to follow the body through all the Heavens and all the Hells, and strictly round again. Sometimes a woman or a poor man, watching the ritual — it was nothing less — when the great yellow chart was unfolded, would throw a few flowers or a handful of cowries upon its edge. It sufficed these humble ones that they had met a Holy One who might be moved to remember them in his prayers.
‘Friend of all the World,’ — the lama looked directly at Kim — ‘I am an old man — pleased with shows as are children. To those who follow the Way there is neither black nor white, Hind nor Bhotiyal. We be all souls seeking escape. No matter what thy wisdom learned among Sahibs, when we come to my River thou wilt be freed from all illusion — at my side. Hai! My bones ache for that River, as they ached in the te-rain; but my spirit sits above my bones, waiting. The Search is sure!’
‘There is much wealth, as men count it, in Bhotiyal,’ the lama returned with composure. ‘In my own place I have the illusion of honour. I ask for that I need. I am not concerned with the account. That is for my monastery. Ai! The black high seats in the monastery, and novices all in order!’
And he told stories, tracing with a finger in the dust, of the immense and sumptuous ritual of avalanche-guarded cathedrals; of processions and devil-dances; of the changing of monks and nuns into swine; of holy cities fifteen thousand feet in the air; of intrigue between monastery and monastery; of voices among the hills, and of that mysterious mirage that dances on dry snow. He spoke even of Lhassa and of the Dalai Lama, whom he had seen and adored.
Each long, perfect day rose behind Kim for a barrier to cut him off from his race and his mother-tongue. He slipped back to thinking and dreaming in the vernacular, and mechanically followed the lama’s ceremonial observances at eating, drinking, and the like. The old man’s mind turned more and more to his monastery as his eyes turned to the steadfast snows. His River troubled him nothing. Now and again, indeed, he would gaze long and long at a tuft or a twig, expecting, he said, the earth to cleave and deliver its blessing; but he was content to be with his disciple, at ease in the temperate wind that comes down from the Doon. This was not Ceylon, nor Buddh Gaya, nor Bombay, nor some grass-tangled ruins that he seemed to have stumbled upon two years ago. He spoke of those places as a scholar removed from vanity, as a Seeker walking in humility, as an old man, wise and temperate, illumining knowledge with brilliant insight. Bit by bit, disconnectedly, each tale called up by some wayside thing, he spoke of all his wanderings up and down Hind; till Kim, who had loved him without reason, now loved him for fifty good reasons. So they enjoyed themselves in high felicity, abstaining, as the Rule demands, from evil words, covetous desires; not over-eating, not lying on high beds, nor wearing rich clothes. Their stomachs told them the time, and the people brought them their food, as the saying is. They were lords of the villages of Aminabad, Sahaigunge, Akrola of the Ford, and little Phulesa, where Kim gave the soulless woman a blessing.
But news travels fast in India, and too soon shuffled across the crop-land, bearing a basket of fruits with a box of Kabul grapes and gilt oranges, a white-whiskered servitor — a lean, dry Oorya — begging them to bring the honour of their presence to his mistress, distressed in her mind that the lama had neglected her so long.
They covered eleven miles through the fields in two days, and were overwhelmed with attentions at the end; for the old lady held a fine tradition of hospitality, to which she forced her son-inlaw, who was under the thumb of his women-folk and bought peace by borrowing of the money-lender. Age had not weakened her tongue or her memory, and from a discreetly barred upper window, in the hearing of not less than a dozen servants, she paid Kim compliments that would have flung European audiences into unclean dismay.
‘But thou art still the shameless beggar-brat of the parao,’ she shrilled. ‘I have not forgotten thee. Wash ye and eat. The father of my daughter’s son is gone away awhile. So we poor women are dumb and useless.’
For proof, she harangued the entire household unsparingly till food and drink were brought; and in the evening — the smoke-scented evening, copper-dun and turquoise across the fields — it pleased her to order her palanquin to be set down in the untidy forecourt by smoky torchlight; and there, behind not too closely drawn curtains, she gossiped.
‘Maharanee,’ said Kim, choosing as always the amplest title, ‘is it my fault that none other than a Sahib — a polis-Sahib — called the Maharanee whose face he —’ ‘Chutt! That was on the pilgrimage. When we travel — thou knowest the proverb.’
‘To remember that! It was true. So he did. That was in the time of the bloom of my beauty.’ She chuckled like a contented parrot above the sugar lump. ‘Now tell me of thy goings and comings — as much as may be without shame. How many maids, and whose wives, hang upon thine eyelashes? Ye hail from Benares? I would have gone there again this year, but my daughter — we have only two sons. Phaii! Such is the effect of these low plains. Now in Kulu men are elephants. But I would ask thy Holy One — stand aside, rogue — a charm against most lamentable windy colics that in mango-time overtake my daughter’s eldest. Two years back he gave me a powerful spell.’
‘That was two Rains ago; she wearied me with her continual importunity.’ The lama groaned as the Unjust Judge had groaned before him. ‘Thus it comes — take note, my chela — that even those who would follow the Way are thrust aside by idle women. Three days through, when the child was sick, she talked to me.’
‘There is a talking mynah’ — the thrust came back with the well-remembered snap of the jewelled fore-finger — ‘over the stables which has picked up the very tone of the family priest. Maybe I forget honour to my guests, but if ye had seen him double his fists into his belly, which was like a half-grown gourd, and cry: “Here is the pain!” ye would forgive. I am half minded to take the hakim’s medicine. He sells it cheap, and certainly it makes him fat as Shiv’s own bull. He does not deny remedies, but I doubted for the child because of the inauspicious colour of the bottles.’
‘Not he. He is wearied, and I forgot, being a grandmother. (None but a grandmother should ever oversee a child. Mothers are only fit for bearing.) Tomorrow, when he sees how my daughter’s son is grown, he will write the charm. Then, too, he can judge of the new hakim’s drugs.’
‘A wanderer, as thou art, but a most sober Bengali from Dacca — a master of medicine. He relieved me of an oppression after meat by means of a small pill that wrought like a devil unchained. He travels about now, vending preparations of great value. He has even papers, printed in Angrezi, telling what things he has done for weak-backed men and slack women. He has been here four days; but hearing ye were coming (hakims and priests are snake and tiger the world over) he has, as I take it, gone to cover.’
While she drew breath after this volley, the ancient servant, sitting unrebuked on the edge of the torchlight, muttered: ‘This house is a cattle-pound, as it were, for all charlatans and — priests. Let the boy stop eating mangoes ... but who can argue with a grandmother?’ He raised his voice respectfully: ‘Sahiba, the hakim sleeps after his meat. He is in the quarters behind the dovecote.’
Kim bristled like an expectant terrier. To outface and down-talk a Calcutta-taught Bengali, a voluble Dacca drug-vendor, would be a good game. It was not seemly that the lama, and incidentally himself, should be thrown aside for such an one. He knew those curious bastard English advertisements at the backs of native newspapers. St Xavier’s boys sometimes brought them in by stealth to snigger over among their mates; for the language of the grateful patient recounting his symptoms is most simple and revealing. The Oorya, not unanxious to play off one parasite against the other, slunk away towards the dovecote.
‘Yes,’ said Kim, with measured scorn. ‘Their stock-intrade is a little coloured water and a very great shamelessness. Their prey are broken-down kings and overfed Bengalis. Their profit is in children — who are not born.’ The old lady chuckled. ‘Do not be envious. Charms are better, eh? I never gainsaid it. See that thy Holy One writes me a good amulet by the morning.’
‘None but the ignorant deny’ — a thick, heavy voice boomed through the darkness, as a figure came to rest squatting — ‘None but the ignorant deny the value of charms. None but the ignorant deny the value of medicines.’
‘The priest’s son knows the names of his nurse and three Gods. Says he: “Hear me, or I will curse you by the three million Great Ones.”’ Decidedly this invisible had an arrow or two in his quiver. He went on: ‘I am but a teacher of the alphabet. I have learned all the wisdom of the Sahibs.’
‘I have, too, our drugs which loosen humours of the head in hot and angry men. Sina well compounded when the moon stands in the proper House; yellow earths I have — arplan from China that makes a man renew his youth and astonish his household; saffron from Kashmir, and the best salep of Kabul. Many people have died before —’
The voice launched into an immense tale of misfortune and bankruptcy, studded with plentiful petitions to the Government. ‘But for my fate, which overrules all, I had been now in Government employ. I bear a degree from the great school at Calcutta — whither, maybe, the son of this House shall go.’
‘He shall indeed. If our neighbour’s brat can in a few years be made an F A’ (First Arts — she used the English word, of which she had heard so often), ‘how much more shall children clever as some that I know bear away prizes at rich Calcutta.’
‘Never,’ said the voice, ‘have I seen such a child! Born in an auspicious hour, and — but for that colic which, alas! turning into black cholers, may carry him off like a pigeon — destined to many years, he is enviable.’
‘Hai mai!’ said the old lady. ‘To praise children is inauspicious, or I could listen to this talk. But the back of the house is unguarded, and even in this soft air men think themselves to be men, and women we know ... The child’s father is away too, and I must be chowkedar [watchman] in my old age. Up! Up! Take up the palanquin. Let the hakim and the young priest settle between them whether charms or medicine most avail. Ho! worthless people, fetch tobacco for the guests, and — round the homestead go I!’
The palanquin reeled off, followed by straggling torches and a horde of dogs. Twenty villages knew the Sahiba — her failings, her tongue, and her large charity. Twenty villages cheated her after immemorial custom, but no man would have stolen or robbed within her jurisdiction for any gift under heaven. None the less, she made great parade of her formal inspections, the riot of which could be heard half-way to Mussoorie.
Kim relaxed, as one augur must when he meets another. The hakim, still squatting, slid over his hookah with a friendly foot, and Kim pulled at the good weed. The hangers-on expected grave professional debate, and perhaps a little free doctoring.
‘The mistress fed thy wife when thou wast in jail for breaking the money-lender’s head. Who speaks against her?’ The old servitor curled his white moustaches savagely in the young moonlight. ‘I am responsible for the honour of this house. Go!’ and he drove the underlings before him.
Kim’s hand clenched about the pipe-stem. Anywhere on the open road, perhaps, he would not have been astonished; but here, in this quiet backwater of life, he was not prepared for Hurree Babu. It annoyed him, too, that he had been hoodwinked.
‘Ah! Thatt is the question, as Shakespeare hath it. I come to congratulate you on your extraordinary effeecient performance at Delhi. Oah! I tell you we are all proud of you. It was verree neat and handy. Our mutual friend, he is old friend of mine. He has been in some dam’-tight places. Now he will be in some more. He told me; I tell Mr Lurgan; and he is pleased you graduate so nicely. All the Department is pleased.’
For the first time in his life, Kim thrilled to the clean pride (it can be a deadly pitfall, none the less) of Departmental praise — ensnaring praise from an equal of work appreciated by fellow-workers. Earth has nothing on the same plane to compare with it. But, cried the Oriental in him, Babus do not travel far to retail compliments.
‘The Colonel Sahib,’ the boy from St Xavier’s corrected. ‘Of course. He found me at a loose string, and I had to go down to Chitor to find that beastly letter. I do not like the South — too much railway travel; but I drew good travelling allowance. Ha! Ha! I meet our mutual at Delhi on the way back. He lies quiett just now, and says Saddhu-disguise suits him to the ground. Well, there I hear what you have done so well, so quickly, upon the instantaneous spur of the moment. I tell our mutual you take the bally bun, by Jove! It was splendid. I come to tell you so.’
‘Oah. Thatt was nothing. I know from our mutual friend you go to Saharunpore. So I come on. Red Lamas are not inconspicuous persons. I buy myself my drug-box, and I am very good doctor really. I go to Akrola of the Ford, and hear all about you, and I talk here and talk there. All the common people know what you do. I knew when the hospitable old lady sent the dooli. They have great recollections of the old lama’s visits here. I know old ladies cannot keep their hands from medicines. So I am a doctor, and — you hear my talk? I think it is verree good. My word, Mister O’Hara, they know about you and the lama for fifty miles — the common people. So I come. Do you mind?’
‘Then why talk like an ape in a tree? Men do not come after one from Simla and change their dress, for the sake of a few sweet words. I am not a child. Talk Hindi and let us get to the yolk of the egg. Thou art here — speaking not one word of truth in ten. Why art thou here? Give a straight answer.’
‘When everyone is dead the Great Game is finished. Not before. Listen to me till the end. There were Five Kings who prepared a sudden war three years ago, when thou wast given the stallion’s pedigree by Mahbub Ali. Upon them, because of that news, and ere they were ready, fell our Army.’
‘But the war was not pushed. That is the Government custom. The troops were recalled because the Government believed the Five Kings were cowed; and it is not cheap to feed men among the high Passes. Hilas and Bunar — Rajahs with guns — undertook for a price to guard the Passes against all coming from the North. They protested both fear and friendship.’ He broke off with a giggle into English: ‘Of course, I tell you this unoffeecially to elucidate political situation, Mister O’Hara. Offeecially, I am debarred from criticizing any action of superiors. Now I go on. — This pleased the Government, anxious to avoid expense, and a bond was made for so many rupees a month that Hilas and Bunar should guard the Passes as soon as the State’s troops were withdrawn. At that time — it was after we two met — I, who had been selling tea in Leh, became a clerk of accounts in the Army. When the troops were withdrawn, I was left behind to pay the coolies who made new roads in the Hills. This road-making was part of the bond between Bunar, Hilas, and the Government.’
‘I tell you, it was jolly-beastly cold up there too, after summer,’ said Hurree Babu confidentially. ‘I was afraid these Bunar men would cut my throat every night for thee pay-chest. My native sepoy-guard, they laughed at me! By Jove! I was such a fearful man. Nevar mind thatt. I go on colloquially ... I send word many times that these two Kings were sold to the North; and Mahbub Ali, who was yet farther North, amply confirmed it. Nothing was done. Only my feet were frozen, and a toe dropped off. I sent word that the roads for which I was paying money to the diggers were being made for the feet of strangers and enemies.’
‘For the Russians. The thing was an open jest among the coolies. Then I was called down to tell what I knew by speech of tongue. Mahbub came South too. See the end! Over the Passes this year after snow-melting’ — he shivered afresh — ‘come two strangers under cover of shooting wild goats. They bear guns, but they bear also chains and levels and compasses.’
‘They are well received by Hilas and Bunar. They make great promises; they speak as the mouthpiece of a Kaisar with gifts. Up the valleys, down the valleys go they, saying, “Here is a place to build a breastwork; here can ye pitch a fort. Here can ye hold the road against an army” — the very roads for which I paid out the rupees monthly. The Government knows, but does nothing. The three other Kings, who were not paid for guarding the Passes, tell them by runner of the bad faith of Bunar and Hilas. When all the evil is done, look you — when these two strangers with the levels and the compasses make the Five Kings to believe that a great army will sweep the Passes tomorrow or the next day — Hill-people are all fools — comes the order to me, Hurree Babu, “Go North and see what those strangers do.” I say to Creighton Sahib, “This is not a lawsuit, that we go about to collect evidence.”’ Hurree returned to his English with a jerk: “‘By Jove,” I said, “why the dooce do you not issue demi-offeecial orders to some brave man to poison them, for an example? It is, if you permit the observation, most reprehensible laxity on your part.” And Colonel Creighton, he laughed at me! It is all your beastly English pride. You think no one dare conspire! That is all tommy-rott.’
‘No. To meet them. They are coming in to Simla to send down their horns and heads to be dressed at Calcutta. They are exclusively sporting gentlemen, and they are allowed special faceelities by the Government. Of course, we always do that. It is our British pride.’
‘By Jove, they are not black people. I can do all sorts of things with black people, of course. They are Russians, and highly unscrupulous people. I— I do not want to consort with them without a witness.’
Hurree Babu snapped his fingers with irritation. ‘Of course I shall affeeliate myself to their camp in supernumerary capacity as perhaps interpreter, or person mentally impotent and hungree, or some such thing. And then I must pick up what I can, I suppose. That is as easy for me as playing Mister Doctor to the old lady. Onlee — onlee — you see, Mister O’Hara, I am unfortunately Asiatic, which is serious detriment in some respects. And all-so I am Bengali — a fearful man.’
‘It was process of Evolution, I think, from Primal Necessity, but the fact remains in all the cui bono. I am, oh, awfully fearful! — I remember once they wanted to cut off my head on the road to Lhassa. (No, I have never reached to Lhassa.) I sat down and cried, Mister O’Hara, anticipating Chinese tortures. I do not suppose these two gentlemen will torture me, but I like to provide for possible contingency with European assistance in emergency.’ He coughed and spat out the cardamoms. ‘It is purely unoffeecial indent, to which you can say “No, Babu”. If you have no pressing engagement with your old man — perhaps you might divert him; perhaps I can seduce his fancies — I should like you to keep in Departmental touch with me till I find those sporting coves. I have great opeenion of you since I met my friend at Delhi. And also I will embody your name in my offeecial report when matter is finally adjudicated. It will be a great feather in your cap. That is why I come really.’
‘About the Five Kings? Oah! there is ever so much truth in it. A lots more than you would suppose,’ said Hurree earnestly. ‘You come — eh? I go from here straight into the Doon. It is verree verdant and painted meads. I shall go to Mussoorie to good old Munsoorie Pahar, as the gentlemen and ladies say. Then by Rampur into Chini. That is the only way they can come. I do not like waiting in the cold, but we must wait for them. I want to walk with them to Simla. You see, one Russian is a Frenchman, and I know my French pretty well. I have friends in Chandernagore.’
‘Oah! We can be quite strangers on the road, if your lama prefers. I shall just be four or five miles ahead. There is no hurry for Hurree — that is an Europe pun, ha! ha! — and you come after. There is plenty of time; they will plot and survey and map, of course. I shall go tomorrow, and you the next day, if you choose. Eh? You go think on it till morning. By Jove, it is near morning now.’ He yawned ponderously, and with never a civil word lumbered off to his sleeping-place. But Kim slept little, and his thoughts ran in Hindustani:
‘Well is the Game called great! I was four days a scullion at Quetta, waiting on the wife of the man whose book I stole. And that was part of the Great Game! From the South — God knows how far — came up the Mahratta, playing the Great Game in fear of his life. Now I shall go far and far into the North playing the Great Game. Truly, it runs like a shuttle throughout all Hind. And my share and my joy’ — he smiled to the darkness — ‘I owe to the lama here. Also to Mahbub Ali — also to Creighton Sahib, but chiefly to the Holy One. He is right — a great and a wonderful world — and I am Kim — Kim — Kim — alone — one person — in the middle of it all. But I will see these strangers with their levels and chains ...’
Hurree Babu came out from behind the dovecote washing his teeth with ostentatious ritual. Full-fleshed, heavy-haunched, bull-necked, and deep-voiced, he did not look like ‘a fearful man’. Kim signed almost imperceptibly that matters were in good train, and when the morning toilet was over, Hurree Babu, in flowery speech, came to do honour to the lama. They ate, of course, apart, and afterwards the old lady, more or less veiled behind a window, returned to the vital business of green-mango colics in the young. The lama’s knowledge of medicine was, of course, sympathetic only. He believed that the dung of a black horse, mixed with sulphur, and carried in a snake-skin, was a sound remedy for cholera; but the symbolism interested him far more than the science. Hurree Babu deferred to these views with enchanting politeness, so that the lama called him a courteous physician. Hurree Babu replied that he was no more than an inexpert dabbler in the mysteries; but at least — he thanked the Gods therefore — he knew when he sat in the presence of a master. He himself had been taught by the Sahibs, who do not consider expense, in the lordly halls of Calcutta; but, as he was ever first to acknowledge, there lay a wisdom behind earthly wisdom — the high and lonely lore of meditation. Kim looked on with envy. The Hurree Babu of his knowledge — oily, effusive, and nervous — was gone; gone, too, was the brazen drug-vendor of overnight. There remained — polished, polite, attentive — a sober, learned son of experience and adversity, gathering wisdom from the lama’s lips. The old lady confided to Kim that these rare levels were beyond her. She liked charms with plenty of ink that one could wash off in water, swallow, and be done with. Else what was the use of the Gods? She liked men and women, and she spoke of them — of kinglets she had known in the past; of her own youth and beauty; of the depredations of leopards and the eccentricities of love Asiatic; of the incidence of taxation, rack-renting, funeral ceremonies, her son-inlaw (this by allusion, easy to be followed), the care of the young, and the age’s lack of decency. And Kim, as interested in the life of this world as she soon to leave it, squatted with his feet under the hem of his robe, drinking all in, while the lama demolished one after another every theory of body-curing put forward by Hurree Babu.
At noon the Babu strapped up his brass-bound drug-box, took his patent-leather shoes of ceremony in one hand, a gay blue-and-white umbrella in the other, and set off northwards to the Doon, where, he said, he was in demand among the lesser kings of those parts.
‘We will go in the cool of the evening, chela,’ said the lama. ‘That doctor, learned in physic and courtesy, affirms that the people among these lower hills are devout, generous, and much in need of a teacher. In a very short time — so says the hakim — we come to cool air and the smell of pines.’
‘Ye go to the Hills? And by Kulu road? Oh, thrice happy!’ shrilled the old lady. ‘But that I am a little pressed with the care of the homestead I would take palanquin ... but that would be shameless, and my reputation would be cracked. Ho! Ho! I know the road — every march of the road I know. Ye will find charity throughout — it is not denied to the well-looking. I will give orders for provision. A servant to set you forth upon your journey? No ... Then I will at least cook ye good food.’
‘What a woman is the Sahiba!’ said the white-bearded Oorya, when a tumult rose by the kitchen quarters. ‘She has never forgotten a friend: she has never forgotten an enemy in all her years. And her cookery — wah!’ He rubbed his slim stomach.
‘I am old and useless,’ she said. ‘None now love me — and none respect — but there are few to compare with me when I call on the Gods and squat to my cooking-pots. Come again, O people of good will. Holy One and disciple, come again. The room is always prepared; the welcome is always ready ... See the women do not follow thy chela too openly. I know the women of Kulu. Take heed, chela, lest he run away when he smells his Hills again ... Hai! Do not tilt the rice-bag upside down ... Bless the household, Holy One, and forgive thy servant her stupidities.’
‘Women talk,’ said the lama at last, ‘but that is a woman’s infirmity. I gave her a charm. She is upon the Wheel and wholly given over to the shows of this life, but none the less, chela, she is virtuous, kindly, hospitable — of a whole and zealous heart. Who shall say she does not acquire merit?’
‘Not I, Holy One,’ said Kim, reslinging the bountiful provision on his shoulders. ‘In my mind — behind my eyes — I have tried to picture such an one altogether freed from the Wheel — desiring nothing, causing nothing — a nun, as it were.’
‘Thy mind is set on things unworthy. But she has skill. I am refreshed all over. When we reach the lower hills I shall be yet stronger. The hakim spoke truly to me this morn when he said a breath from the snows blows away twenty years from the life of a man. We will go up into the Hills — the high hills — up to the sound of snow-waters and the sound of the trees — for a little while. The hakim said that at any time we may return to the Plains, for we do no more than skirt the pleasant places. The hakim is full of learning; but he is in no way proud. I spoke to him — when thou wast talking to the Sahiba — of a certain dizziness that lays hold upon the back of my neck in the night, and he said it rose from excessive heat — to be cured by cool air. Upon consideration, I marvelled that I had not thought of such a simple remedy.’
‘What need? I have told thee many times we be but two souls seeking escape. He said — and he is just herein — that the River of Healing will break forth even as I dreamed — at my feet, if need be. Having found the Way, seest thou, that shall free me from the Wheel, need I trouble to find a way about the mere fields of earth — which are illusion? That were senseless. I have my dreams, night upon night repeated; I have Jataka; and I have thee, Friend of all the World. It was written in thy horoscope that a Red Bull on a green field — I have not forgotten — should bring thee to honour. Who but I saw that prophecy accomplished? Indeed, I was the instrument. Thou shalt find me my River, being in return the instrument. The Search is sure!’
They had crossed the Siwaliks and the half-tropical Doon, left Mussoorie behind them, and headed north along the narrow hill-roads. Day after day they struck deeper into the huddled mountains, and day after day Kim watched the lama return to a man’s strength. Among the terraces of the Doon he had leaned on the boy’s shoulder, ready to profit by wayside halts. Under the great ramp to Mussoorie he drew himself together as an old hunter faces a well-remembered bank, and where he should have sunk exhausted swung his long draperies about him, drew a deep double-lungful of the diamond air, and walked as only a hillman can. Kim, plains-bred and plains-fed, sweated and panted astonished. ‘This is my country,’ said the lama. ‘Beside Such-zen, this is flatter than a rice-field’; and with steady, driving strokes from the loins he strode upwards. But it was on the steep downhill marches, three thousand feet in three hours, that he went utterly away from Kim, whose back ached with holding back, and whose big toe was nigh cut off by his grass sandal-string. Through the speckled shadow of the great deodar-forests; through oak feathered and plumed with ferns; birch, ilex, rhododendron, and pine, out on to the bare hillsides’ slippery sunburnt grass, and back into the woodlands’ coolth again, till oak gave way to bamboo and palm of the valley, the lama swung untiring.
Glancing back in the twilight at the huge ridges behind him and the faint, thin line of the road whereby they had come, he would lay out, with a hillman’s generous breadth of vision, fresh marches for the morrow; or, halting in the neck of some uplifted pass that gave on Spiti and Kulu, would stretch out his hands yearningly towards the high snows of the horizon. In the dawns they flared windy-red above stark blue, as Kedar — nath and Badrinath — kings of that wilderness — took the first sunlight. All day long they lay like molten silver under the sun, and at evening put on their jewels again. At first they breathed temperately upon the travellers, winds good to meet when one crawled over some gigantic hog’s-back; but in a few days, at a height of nine or ten thousand feet, those breezes bit; and Kim kindly allowed a village of hillmen to acquire merit by giving him a rough blanket-coat. The lama was mildly surprised that anyone should object to the knife-edged breezes which had cut the years off his shoulders.
Kim had all a plainsman’s affection for the well-trodden track, not six feet wide, that snaked among the mountains; but the lama, being Tibetan, could not refrain from short cuts over spurs and the rims of gravel-strewn slopes. As he explained to his limping disciple, a man bred among mountains can prophesy the course of a mountain-road, and though low-lying clouds might be a hindrance to a short-cutting stranger, they made no earthly difference to a thoughtful man. Thus, after long hours of what would be reckoned very fair mountaineering in civilized countries, they would pant over a saddle-back, sidle past a few landslips, and drop through forest at an angle of forty-five onto the road again. Along their track lay the villages of the hillfolk — mud and earth huts, timbers now and then rudely carved with an axe — clinging like swallows’ nests against the steeps, huddled on tiny flats half-way down a three-thousand-foot glissade; jammed into a corner between cliffs that funnelled and focused every wandering blast; or, for the sake of summer pasture, cowering down on a neck that in winter would be ten feet deep in snow. And the people — the sallow, greasy, duffle-clad people, with short bare legs and faces almost Esquimaux — would flock out and adore. The Plains — kindly and gentle — had treated the lama as a holy man among holy men. But the Hills worshipped him as one in the confidence of all their devils. Theirs was an almost obliterated Buddhism, overlaid with a nature-worship fantastic as their own landscapes, elaborate as the terracing of their tiny fields; but they recognized the big hat, the clicking rosary, and the rare Chinese texts for great authority; and they respected the man beneath the hat.
‘We saw thee come down over the black Breasts of Eua,’ said a Betah who gave them cheese, sour milk, and stone-hard bread one evening. ‘We do not use that often — except when calving cows stray in summer. There is a sudden wind among those stones that casts men down on the stillest day. But what should such folk care for the Devil of Eua!’
Then did Kim, aching in every fibre, dizzy with looking down, footsore with cramping desperate toes into inadequate crannies, take joy in the day’s march — such joy as a boy of St Xavier’s who had won the quarter-mile on the flat might take in the praises of his friends. The hills sweated the ghi and sugar suet off his bones; the dry air, taken sobbingly at the head of cruel passes, firmed and built out his upper ribs; and the tilted levels put new hard muscles into calf and thigh.
They meditated often on the Wheel of Life — the more so since, as the lama said, they were freed from its visible temptations. Except the grey eagle and an occasional far-seen bear grubbing and rooting on the hillside; a vision of a furious painted leopard met at dawn in a still valley devouring a goat; and now and again a bright-coloured bird, they were alone with the winds and the grass singing under the wind. The women of the smoky huts over whose roofs the two walked as they descended the mountains, were unlovely and unclean, wives of many husbands, and afflicted with goitre. The men were woodcutters when they were not farmers — meek, and of an incredible simplicity. But that suitable discourse might not fail, Fate sent them, overtaking and overtaken upon the road, the courteous Dacca physician, who paid for his food in ointments good for goitre and counsels that restore peace between men and women. He seemed to know these hills as well as he knew the hill dialects, and gave the lama the lie of the land towards Ladakh and Tibet. He said they could return to the Plains at any moment. Meantime, for such as loved mountains, yonder road might amuse. This was not all revealed in a breath, but at evening encounters on the stone threshing-floors, when, patients disposed of, the doctor would smoke and the lama snuff, while Kim watched the wee cows grazing on the housetops, or threw his soul after his eyes across the deep blue gulfs between range and range. And there were talks apart in the dark woods, when the doctor would seek herbs, and Kim, as budding physician, must accompany him.
‘You see, Mister O’Hara, I do not know what the deuce-an’ all I shall do when I find our sporting friends; but if you will kindly keep within sight of my umbrella, which is fine fixed point for cadastral survey, I shall feel much better.’
‘Oah, thatt is my strong points. There is no hurry for Hurree. They were at Leh not so long ago. They said they had come down from the Karakorum with their heads and horns and all. I am onlee afraid they will have sent back all their letters and compromising things from Leh into Russian territoree. Of course they will walk away as far to the East as possible — just to show that they were never among the Western States. You do not know the Hills?’ He scratched with a twig on the earth. ‘Look! They should have come in by Srinagar or Abbottabad. Thatt is their short road — down the river by Bunji and Astor. But they have made mischief in the West. So’ — he drew a furrow from left to right — ‘they march and they march away East to Leh (ah! it is cold there), and down the Indus to Hanle (I know that road), and then down, you see, to Bushahr and Chini valley. That is ascertained by process of elimination, and also by asking questions from people that I cure so well. Our friends have been a long time playing about and producing impressions. So they are well known from far off. You will see me catch them somewhere in Chini valley. Please keep your eye on the umbrella.’
It nodded like a wind-blown harebell down the valleys and round the mountain sides, and in due time the lama and Kim, who steered by compass, would overhaul it, vending ointments and powders at eventide. ‘We came by such and such a way!’ The lama would throw a careless finger backward at the ridges, and the umbrella would expend itself in compliments.
They crossed a snowy pass in cold moonlight, when the lama, mildly chaffing Kim, went through up to his knees, like a Bactrian camel — the snow-bred, shag-haired sort that came into the Kashmir Serai. They dipped across beds of light snow and snow-powdered shale, where they took refuge from a gale in a camp of Tibetans hurrying down tiny sheep, each laden with a bag of borax. They came out upon grassy shoulders still snow-speckled, and through forest, to grass anew. For all their marchings, Kedarnath and Badrinath were not impressed; and it was only after days of travel that Kim, uplifted upon some insignificant ten-thousand-foot hummock, could see that a shoulder-knot or horn of the two great lords had — ever so slightly — changed outline.
At last they entered a world within a world — a valley of leagues where the high hills were fashioned of a mere rubble and refuse from off the knees of the mountains. Here one day’s march carried them no farther, it seemed, than a dreamer’s clogged pace bears him in a nightmare. They skirted a shoulder painfully for hours, and, behold, it was but an outlying boss in an outlying buttress of the main pile! A rounded meadow revealed itself, when they had reached it, for a vast tableland running far into the valley. Three days later, it was a dim fold in the earth to southward.
‘Long and long ago,’ said the lama, as to himself, ‘it was asked of the Lord whether the world were everlasting. On this the Excellent One returned no answer ... When I was in Ceylon, a wise Seeker confirmed that from the gospel which is written in Pali. Certainly, since we know the way to Freedom, the question were unprofitable, but — look, and know illusion, chela! These — are the true Hills! They are like my hills by Suchzen. Never were such hills!’
Above them, still enormously above them, earth towered away towards the snow-line, where from east to west across hundreds of miles, ruled as with a ruler, the last of the bold birches stopped. Above that, in scarps and blocks upheaved, the rocks strove to fight their heads above the white smother. Above these again, changeless since the world’s beginning, but changing to every mood of sun and cloud, lay out the eternal snow. They could see blots and blurs on its face where storm and wandering wullie-wa got up to dance. Below them, as they stood, the forest slid away in a sheet of blue-green for mile upon mile; below the forest was a village in its sprinkle of terraced fields and steep grazing-grounds. Below the village they knew, though a thunderstorm worried and growled there for the moment, a pitch of twelve or fifteen hundred feet gave to the moist valley where the streams gather that are the mothers of young Sutluj.
As usual, the lama had led Kim by cow-track and by-road, far from the main route along which Hurree Babu, that ‘fearful man’, had bucketed three days before through a storm to which nine Englishmen out of ten would have given full right of way. Hurree was no game-shot — the snick of a trigger made him change colour — but, as he himself would have said, he was ‘fairly effeecient stalker’, and he had raked the huge valley with a pair of cheap binoculars to some purpose. Moreover, the white of worn canvas tents against green carries far. Hurree Babu had seen all he wanted to see when he sat on the threshing-floor of Ziglaur, twenty miles away as the eagle flies, and forty by road — that is to say, two small dots which one day were just below the snow-line, and the next had moved downward perhaps six inches on the hillside. Once cleaned out and set to the work, his fat bare legs could cover a surprising amount of ground, and this was the reason why, while Kim and the lama lay in a leaky hut at Ziglaur till the storm should be over-past, an oily, wet, but always smiling Bengali, talking the best of English with the vilest of phrases, was ingratiating himself with two sodden and rather rheumatic foreigners. He had arrived, revolving many wild schemes, on the heels of a thunderstorm which had split a pine over against their camp, and so convinced a dozen or two forcibly impressed baggage-coolies the day was inauspicious for farther travel that with one accord they had thrown down their loads and jibbed. They were subjects of a Hill Rajah who farmed out their services, as is the custom, for his private gain; and, to add to their personal distresses, the strange Sahibs had already threatened them with rifles. The most of them knew rifles and Sahibs of old: they were trackers and shikarris of the Northern valleys, keen after bear and wild goat; but they had never been thus treated in their lives. So the forest took them to her bosom, and, for all oaths and clamour, refused to restore. There was no need to feign madness or — the Babu had thought of another means of securing a welcome. He wrung out his wet clothes, slipped on his patent-leather shoes, opened the blue-and-white umbrella, and with mincing gait and a heart beating against his tonsils appeared as ‘agent for His Royal Highness, the Rajah of Rampur, gentlemen. What can I do for you, please?’
The gentlemen were delighted. One was visibly French, the other Russian, but they spoke English not much inferior to the Babu’s. They begged his kind offices. Their native servants had gone sick at Leh. They had hurried on because they were anxious to bring the spoils of the chase to Simla ere the skins grew moth-eaten. They bore a general letter of introduction (the Babu salaamed to it orientally) to all Government officials. No, they had not met any other shooting-parties en route. They did for themselves. They had plenty of supplies. They only wished to push on as soon as might be. At this he waylaid a cowering hillman among the trees, and after three minutes’ talk and a little silver (one cannot be economical upon State service, though Hurree’s heart bled at the waste) the eleven coolies and the three hangers-on reappeared. At least the Babu would be a witness to their oppression.
‘My royal master, he will be much annoyed, but these people are onlee common people and grossly ignorant. If your honours will kindly overlook unfortunate affair, I shall be much pleased. In a little while rain will stop and we can then proceed. You have been shooting, eh? That is fine performance!’
He skipped nimbly from one kilta to the next, making pretence to adjust each conical basket. The Englishman is not, as a rule, familiar with the Asiatic, but he would not strike across the wrist a kindly Babu who had accidentally upset a kilta with a red oilskin top. On the other hand, he would not press drink upon a Babu were he never so friendly, nor would he invite him to meat. The strangers did all these things, and asked many questions — about women mostly — to which Hurree returned gay and unstudied answers. They gave him a glass of whitish fluid like to gin, and then more; and in a little time his gravity departed from him. He became thickly treasonous, and spoke in terms of sweeping indecency of a Government which had forced upon him a white man’s education and neglected to supply him with a white man’s salary. He babbled tales of oppression and wrong till the tears ran down his cheeks for the miseries of his land. Then he staggered off, singing love-songs of Lower Bengal, and collapsed upon a wet tree-trunk. Never was so unfortunate a product of English rule in India more unhappily thrust upon aliens.
‘They are all just of that pattern,’ said one sportsman to the other in French. ‘When we get into India proper thou wilt see. I should like to visit his Rajah. One might speak the good word there. It is possible that he has heard of us and wishes to signify his good-will.’
‘Now what the deuce is good of Chandernagore being so close to Calcutta and all,’ said Hurree, snoring open-mouthed on the sodden moss, ‘if I cannot understand their French? They talk so particularly fast! It would have been much better to cut their beastly throats.’
When he presented himself again he was racked with a headache — penitent, and volubly afraid that in his drunkenness he might have been indiscreet. He loved the British Government — it was the source of all prosperity and honour, and his master at Rampur held the very same opinion. Upon this the men began to deride him and to quote past words, till step by step, with deprecating smirks, oily grins, and leers of infinite cunning, the poor Babu was beaten out of his defences and forced to speak — truth. When Lurgan was told the tale later, he mourned aloud that he could not have been in the place of the stubborn, inattentive coolies, who with grass mats over their heads and the raindrops puddling in their footprints, waited on the weather. All the Sahibs of their acquaintance — rough-clad men joyously returning year after year to their chosen gullies — had servants and cooks and orderlies, very often hillmen. These Sahibs travelled without any retinue. Therefore they were poor Sahibs, and ignorant; for no Sahib in his senses would follow a Bengali’s advice. But the Bengali, appearing from somewhere, had given them money, and could make shift with their dialect. Used to comprehensive ill-treatment from their own colour, they suspected a trap somewhere, and stood by to run if occasion offered.
Then through the new-washed air, steaming with delicious earth-smells, the Babu led the way down the slopes — walking ahead of the coolies in pride; walking behind the foreigners in humility. His thoughts were many and various. The least of them would have interested his companions beyond words. But he was an agreeable guide, ever keen to point out the beauties of his royal master’s domain. He peopled the hills with anything thev had a mind to slay — thar, ibex, or markhor, and bear by Elisha’s allowance. He discoursed of botany and ethnology with unimpeachable inaccuracy, and his store of local legends — he had been a trusted agent of the State for fifteen years, remember — was inexhaustible.
Under the striped umbrella Hurree Babu was straining ear and brain to follow the quick-poured French, and keeping both eyes on a kilta full of maps and documents — an extra-large one with a double red oil-skin cover. He did not wish to steal anything. He only desired to know what to steal, and, incidentally, how to get away when he had stolen it. He thanked all the Gods of Hindustan, and Herbert Spencer, that there remained some valuables to steal.
On the second day the road rose steeply to a grass spur above the forest; and it was here, about sunset, that they came across an aged lama — but they called him a bonze — sitting cross-legged above a mysterious chart held down by stones, which he was explaining to a young man, evidently a neophyte, of singular, though unwashen, beauty. The striped umbrella had been sighted half a march away, and Kim had suggested a halt till it came up to them.
‘Of some debased kind,’ the other answered. ‘There are no true Buddhists among the Hills. But look at the folds of the drapery. Look at his eyes — how insolent! Why does this make one feel that we are so young a people?’ The speaker struck passionately at a tall weed. ‘We have nowhere left our mark yet. Nowhere! That, do you understand, is what disquiets me.’ He scowled at the placid face, and the monumental calm of the pose.
Hereat, simply as a child engrossed with a new game, the lama threw back his head and began the full-throated invocation of the Doctor of Divinity ere he opens the full doctrine. The strangers leaned on their alpenstocks and listened. Kim, squatting humbly, watched the red sunlight on their faces, and the blend and parting of their long shadows. They wore unEnglish leggings and curious girt-in belts that reminded him hazily of the pictures in a book in St Xavier’s library “The Adventures of a Young Naturalist in Mexico” was its name. Yes, they looked very like the wonderful M. Sumichrast of that tale, and very unlike the ‘highly unscrupulous folk’ of Hurree Babu’s imagining. The coolies, earth-coloured and mute, crouched reverently some twenty or thirty yards away, and the Babu, the slack of his thin gear snapping like a marking-flag in the chill breeze, stood by with an air of happy proprietorship.
‘These are the men,’ Hurree whispered, as the ritual went on and the two whites followed the grass-blade sweeping from Hell to Heaven and back again. ‘All their books are in the large kilta with the reddish top — books and reports and maps — and I have seen a King’s letter that either Hilas or Bunar has written. They guard it most carefully. They have sent nothing back from Hilas or Leh. That is sure.’
‘See here the Hell appointed for avarice and greed. Flanked upon the one side by Desire and on the other by Weariness.’ The lama warmed to his work, and one of the strangers sketched him in the quick-fading light.
‘He says “No, sar,”’ the Babu replied. The lama, of course, would no more have parted with his chart to a casual wayfarer than an archbishop would pawn the holy vessels of his cathedral. All Tibet is full of cheap reproductions of the Wheel; but the lama was an artist, as well as a wealthy Abbot in his own place.
‘Perhaps in three days, or four, or ten, if I perceive that the Sahib is a Seeker and of good understanding, I may myself draw him another. But this was used for the initiation of a novice. Tell him so, hakim.’
The lama shook his head slowly and began to fold up the Wheel. The Russian, on his side, saw no more than an unclean old man haggling over a dirty piece of paper. He drew out a handful of rupees, and snatched half-jestingly at the chart, which tore in the lama’s grip. A low murmur of horror went up from the coolies — some of whom were Spiti men and, by their lights, good Buddhists. The lama rose at the insult; his hand went to the heavy iron pencase that is the priest’s weapon, and the Babu danced in agony.
It was too late. Before Kim could ward him off, the Russian struck the old man full on the face. Next instant he was rolling over and over downhill with Kim at his throat. The blow had waked every unknown Irish devil in the boy’s blood, and the sudden fall of his enemy did the rest. The lama dropped to his knees, half-stunned; the coolies under their loads fled up the hill as fast as plainsmen run aross the level. They had seen sacrilege unspeakable, and it behoved them to get away before the Gods and devils of the hills took vengeance. The Frenchman ran towards the lama, fumbling at his revolver with some notion of making him a hostage for his companion. A shower of cutting stones — hillmen are very straight shots — drove him away, and a coolie from Ao-chung snatched the lama into the stampede. All came about as swiftly as the sudden mountain-darkness.
‘All right, sar! All right! Don’t shoot. I go to rescue,’ and Hurree, pounding down the slope, cast himself bodily upon the delighted and astonished Kim, who was banging his breathless foe’s head against a boulder.
‘Go back to the coolies,’ whispered the Babu in his ear. ‘They have the baggage. The papers are in the kilta with the red top, but look through all. Take their papers, and specially the murasla [King’s letter]. Go! The other man comes!’
‘By Jove!’ Kim was thinking hard in English. ‘This is dam’-tight place, but I think it is self-defence.’ He felt in his bosom for Mahbub’s gift, and uncertainly — save for a few practice shots in the Bikanir desert, he had never used the little gun — pulled the trigger.
The little fir-clump filled with clamouring coolies — panic-stricken, and in their terror capable of anything. The man from Ao-chung clicked the breech-bolt of his gun impatiently, and made as to go downhill.
‘Hast thou heard? I say there shall be no killing — I who was Abbot of Such-zen. Is it any lust of thine to be re-born as a rat,or a snake under the eaves — a worm in the belly of the most mean beast? Is it thy wish to —’
‘Anger on anger! Evil on evil! There will be no killing. Let the priest-beaters go in bondage to their own acts. Just and sure is the Wheel, swerving not a hair! They will be born many times — in torment.’ His head drooped, and he leaned heavily on Kim’s shoulder.
‘I have come near to great evil, chela,’ he whispered in that dead hush under the pines. ‘I was tempted to loose the bullet; and truly, in Tibet there would have been a heavy and a slow death for them ... He struck me across the face ... upon the flesh ...’ He slid to the ground, breathing heavily, and Kim could hear the over-driven heart bump and check.
Kim knelt over the body in deadly fear. ‘Nay,’ he cried passionately, ‘this is only a weakness.’ Then he remembered that he was a white man, with a white man’s camp-fittings at his service. ‘Open the kiltas! The Sahibs may have a medicine.’
‘So I did when Yankling Sahib twisted his foot beyond Astor. Aha! I have already looked into their baskets — but we will make fair division at Shamlegh. Give him a little more. It is good medicine. Feel! His heart goes better now. Lay his head down and rub a little on the chest. If he had waited quietly while I accounted for the Sahibs this would never have come. But perhaps the Sahibs may chase us here. Then it would not be wrong to shoot them with their own guns, heh?’
‘It is well to be brave when one does not live in Rampur,’ said one whose hut lay within a few miles of the Rajah’s rickety palace. ‘If we get a bad name among the Sahibs, none will employ us as shikarris any more.’
‘Nay, Holy One. We are all here.’ The Ao-chung man timidly patted his feet. ‘Except by thy order, no one shall be slain. Rest awhile. We will make a little camp here, and later, as the moon rises, we go to Shamlegh-under-the-Snow.’
‘There is, as it were, a dizziness at the back of my neck, and a pinching in it. Let me lay my head on thy lap, chela. I am an old man, but not free from passion ... We must think of the Cause of Things.’
‘I have been Fostum Sahib’s shikarri, and I am Yankling Sahib’s shikarri. I should have been with Yankling Sahib now but for this cursed beegar [the corvee]. Let two men watch below with the guns lest the Sahibs do more foolishness. I shall not leave this Holy One.’
They sat down a little apart from the lama, and, after listening awhile, passed round a water-pipe whose receiver was an old Day and Martin blacking-bottle. The glow of the red charcoal as it went from hand to hand lit up the narrow, blinking eyes, the high Chinese cheek-bones, and the bull-throats that melted away into the dark duffle folds round the shoulders. They looked like kobolds from some magic mine — gnomes of the hills in conclave. And while they talked, the voices of the snow-waters round them diminished one by one as the night-frost choked and clogged the runnels.
‘How he stood up against us!’ said a Spiti man admiring. ‘I remember an old ibex, out Ladakh-way, that Dupont Sahib missed on a shoulder-shot, seven seasons back, standing up just like him. Dupont Sahib was a good shikarri.’
‘No; but musk-pods are worth six rupees apiece now, and thy women can have the canvas of the tents and some of the cooking-gear. We will do all that at Shamlegh before dawn. Then we all go our ways, remembering that we have never seen or taken service with these Sahibs, who may, indeed, say that we have stolen their baggage.’
‘Who is to tell him? Those Sahibs, who cannot speak our talk, or the Babu, who for his own ends gave us money? Will he lead an army against us? What evidence will remain? That we do not need we shall throw on Shamlegh-midden, where no man has yet set foot.’
‘If the worst comes to the worst, I shall tell Yankling Sahib, who is a man of a merry mind, and he will laugh. We are not doing any wrong to any Sahibs whom we know. They are priest-beaters. They frightened us. We fled! Who knows where we dropped the baggage? Do ye think Yankling Sahib will permit down-country police to wander all over the hills, disturbing his game? It is a far cry from Simla to Chini, and farther from Shamlegh to Shamlegh-midden.’
‘Thus it is proved,’ said the Shamlegh man adroitly, ‘that they are Sahibs of no account. Who ever heard of Fostum Sahib, or Yankling Sahib, or even the little Peel Sahib that sits up of nights to shoot serow — I say, who, ever heard of these Sahibs coming into the hills without a down-country cook, and a bearer, and — and all manner of well-paid, high-handed and oppressive folk in their tail? How can they make trouble? What of the kilta?’
‘True! But how if we insult the Sahibs’ Gods thereby! I do not like to handle the Written Word in that fashion. And their brass idols are beyond my comprehension. It is no plunder for simple hill-folk.’
‘But I do,’ said Kim cautiously. The lama drew breath in natural, easy sleep, and Kim had been thinking of Hurree’s last words. As a player of the Great Game, he was disposed just then to reverence the Babu. ‘It is a kilta with a red top full of very wonderful things, not to be handled by fools.’
They arranged and re-arranged their artless little plans for another hour, while Kim shivered with cold and pride. The humour of the situation tickled the Irish and the Oriental in his soul. Here were the emissaries of the dread Power of the North, very possibly as great in their own land as Mahbub or Colonel Creighton, suddenly smitten helpless. One of them, he privately knew, would be lame for a time. They had made promises to Kings. Tonight they lay out somewhere below him, chartless, foodless, tentless, gunless — except for Hurree Babu, guideless. And this collapse of their Great Game (Kim wondered to whom they would report it), this panicky bolt into the night, had come about through no craft of Hurree’s or contrivance of Kim’s, but simply, beautifully, and inevitably as the capture of Mahbub’s fakir-friends by the zealous young policeman at Umballa.
Kim might have saved his pity, for though at that moment the Bengali suffered acutely in the flesh, his soul was puffed and lofty. A mile down the hill, on the edge of the pine-forest, two half-frozen men — one powerfully sick at intervals — were varying mutual recriminations with the most poignant abuse of the Babu, who seemed distraught with terror. They demanded a plan of action. He explained that they were very lucky to be alive; that their coolies, if not then stalking them, had passed beyond recall; that the Rajah, his master, was ninety miles away, and, so far from lending them money and a retinue for the Simla journey, would surely cast them into prison if he heard that they had hit a priest. He enlarged on this sin and its consequences till they bade him change the subject. Their one hope, said he, was unostentatious flight from village to village till they reached civilization; and, for the hundredth time dissolved in tears, he demanded of the high stars why the Sahibs ‘had beaten holy man’.
Ten steps would have taken Hurree into the creaking gloom utterly beyond their reach — to the shelter and food of the nearest village, where glib-tongued doctors were scarce. But he preferred to endure cold, belly-pinch, bad words, and occasional blows in the company of his honoured employers. Crouched against a tree-trunk, he sniffed dolefully.
‘Revolvers! Vengeance! Bonzes!’ Hurree crouched lower. The war was breaking out afresh. ‘Have you no consideration for our loss? The baggage! The baggage!’ He could hear the speaker literally dancing on the grass. ‘Everything we bore! Everything we have secured! Our gains! Eight months’ work! Do you know what that means? “Decidedly it is we who can deal with Orientals!” Oh, you have done well.’
They fell to it in several tongues, and Hurree smiled. Kim was with the kiltas, and in the kiltas lay eight months of good diplomacy. There was no means of communicating with the boy, but he could be trusted. For the rest, Hurree could so stage-manage the journey through the hills that Hilas, Bunar, and four hundred miles of hill-roads should tell the tale for a generation. Men who cannot control their own coolies are little respected in the Hills, and the hillman has a very keen sense of humour.
‘If I had done it myself,’ thought Hurree, ‘it would not have been better; and, by Jove, now I think of it, of course I arranged it myself. How quick I have been! Just when I ran downhill I thought it! Thee outrage was accidental, but onlee me could have worked it — ah — for all it was dam’-well worth. Consider the moral effect upon these ignorant peoples! No treaties — no papers — no written documents at all — and me to interpret for them. How I shall laugh with the Colonel! I wish I had their papers also: but you cannot occupy two places in space simultaneously. Thatt is axiomatic.’
At moonrise the cautious coolies got under way. The lama, refreshed by his sleep and the spirit, needed no more than Kim’s shoulder to bear him along — a silent, swift-striding man. They held the shale-sprinkled grass for an hour, swept round the shoulder of an immortal cliff, and climbed into a new country entirely blocked off from all sight of Chini valley. A huge pasture-ground ran up fan-shaped to the living snow. At its base was perhaps half an acre of flat land, on which stood a few soil and timber huts. Behind them — for, hill-fashion, they were perched on the edge of all things — the ground fell sheer two thousand feet to Shamlegh-midden, where never yet man has set foot.
‘No need to listen for the fall. This is the world’s end,’ he said, and went out. The lama looked forth, a hand on either sill, with eyes that shone like yellow opals. From the enormous pit before him white peaks lifted themselves yearning to the moonlight. The rest was as the darkness of interstellar space.
‘The lesson is not well learnt, chela.’ The lama came to rest on a folded blanket, as Kim went forward with his evening routine. ‘The blow was but a shadow upon a shadow. Evil in itself — my legs weary apace these latter days! — it met evil in me: anger, rage, and a lust to return evil. These wrought in my blood, woke tumult in my stomach, and dazzled my ears.’ Here he drank scalding black-tea ceremonially, taking the hot cup from Kim’s hand. ‘Had I been passionless, the evil blow would have done only bodily evil — a scar, or a bruise — which is illusion. But my mind was not abstracted, for rushed in straightway a lust to let the Spiti men kill. In fighting that lust, my soul was torn and wrenched beyond a thousand blows. Not till I had repeated the Blessings’ (he meant the Buddhist Beatitudes) ‘did I achieve calm. But the evil planted in me by that moment’s carelessness works out to its end. Just is the Wheel, swerving not a hair! Learn the lesson, chela.’
‘I felt that, sleeping upon thy knees, in the wood below. It disquieted me in my dreams — the evil in thy soul working through to mine. Yet on the other hand’ — he loosed his rosary — ‘I have acquired merit by saving two lives — the lives of those that wronged me. Now I must see into the Cause of Things. The boat of my soul staggers.’
Till the dawn, hour after hour, as the moonlight paled on the high peaks, and that which had been belted blackness on the sides of the far hills showed as tender green forest, the lama stared fixedly at the wall. From time to time he groaned. Outside the barred door, where discomfited kine came to ask for their old stable, Shamlegh and the coolies gave itself up to plunder and riotous living. The Ao-chung man was their leader, and once they had opened the Sahibs’ tinned foods and found that they were very good they dared not turn back. Shamlegh kitchen-midden took the dunnage.
‘The others have gone. They left thee this kilta as the promise was. I do not love Sahibs, but thou wilt make us a charm in return for it. We do not wish little Shamlegh to get a bad name on account of the — accident. I am the Woman of Shamlegh.’ She looked him over with bold, bright eyes, unlike the usual furtive glance of hillwomen.
Kim tilted the kilta on the floor — a cascade of Survey-instruments, books, diaries, letters, maps, and queerly scented native correspondence. At the very bottom was an embroidered bag covering a sealed, gilded, and illuminated document such as one King sends to another. Kim caught his breath with delight, and reviewed the situation from a Sahib’s point of view.
‘The books I do not want. Besides, they are logarithms — Survey, I suppose.’ He laid them aside. ‘The letters I do not understand, but Colonel Creighton will. They must all be kept. The maps — they draw better maps than me — of course. All the native letters — oho! — and particularly the murasla.’ He sniffed the embroidered bag. ‘That must be from Hilas or Bunar, and Hurree Babu spoke truth. By Jove! It is a fine haul. I wish Hurree could know ... The rest must go out of the window.’ He fingered a superb prismatic compass and the shiny top of a theodolite. But after all, a Sahib cannot very well steal, and the things might be inconvenient evidence later. He sorted out every scrap of manuscript, every map, and the native letters. They made one softish slab. The three locked ferril-backed books, with five worn pocket-books, he put aside.
‘The letters and the murasla I must carry inside my coat and under my belt, and the hand-written books I must put into the food-bag. It will be very heavy. No. I do not think there is anything more. If there is, the coolies have thrown it down the khud, so thatt is all right. Now you go too.’ He repacked the kilta with all he meant to lose, and hove it up on to the windowsill. A thousand feet below lay a long, lazy, round-shouldered bank of mist, as yet untouched by the morning sun. A thousand feet below that was a hundred-year-old pine-forest. He could see the green tops looking like a bed of moss when a wind-eddy thinned the cloud.
The wheeling basket vomited its contents as it dropped. The theodolite hit a jutting cliff-ledge and exploded like a shell; the books, inkstands, paint-boxes, compasses, and rulers showed for a few seconds like a swarm of bees. Then they vanished; and, though Kim, hanging half out of the window, strained his young ears, never a sound came up from the gulf.
‘Five hundred — a thousand rupees could not buy them,’ he thought sorrowfully. ‘It was verree wasteful, but I have all their other stuff — everything they did — I hope. Now how the deuce am I to tell Hurree Babu, and whatt the deuce am I to do? And my old man is sick. I must tie up the letters in oilskin. That is something to do first — else they will get all sweated ... And I am all alone!’ He bound them into a neat packet, swedging down the stiff, sticky oilskin at the comers, for his roving life had made him as methodical as an old hunter in matters of the road. Then with double care he packed away the books at the bottom of the food-bag.
He accepted the compliment calmly, as men must in lands where women make the love, tore a leaf from a note-book, and with a patent indelible pencil wrote in gross Shikast — the script that bad little boys use when they write dirt on walls: ‘I have everything that they have written: their pictures of the country, and many letters. Especially the murasla. Tell me what to do. I am at Shamlegh-under-the-Snow. The old man is sick.’
Kim looked his astonishment; but from the edge of the sheep-pasture floated a shrill, kite-like trill. A child tending cattle had picked it up from a brother or sister on the far side of the slope that commanded Chini valley.
Kim laughed. ‘He is, I have no doubt, very tired and very hungry. The Hills make cold bedfellows. Hai, my’ — it was on the tip of his tongue to say Mother, but he turned it to Sister — ‘thou art a wise and witty woman. By this time all the villages know what has befallen the Sahibs — eh?’
‘No need. Tell the villages to feed the Sahibs and pass them on, in peace. We must get them quietly away from our valleys. To steal is one thing — to kill another. The Babu will understand, and there will be no after-complaints. Be swift. I must tend my master when he wakes.’
‘So be it. After service — thou hast said? — comes the reward. I am the Woman of Shamlegh, and I hold from the Rajah. I am no common bearer of babes. Shamlegh is thine: hoof and horn and hide, milk and butter. Take or leave.’
She turned resolutely uphill, her silver necklaces clicking on her broad breast, to meet the morning sun fifteen hundred feet above them. This time Kim thought in the vernacular as he waxed down the oilskin edges of the packets.
‘How can a man follow the Way or the Great Game when he is so — always pestered by women? There was that girl at Akrola of the Ford; and there was the scullion’s wife behind the dovecot — not counting the others — and now comes this one! When I was a child it was well enough, but now I am a man and they will not regard me as a man. Walnuts, indeed! Ho! ho! It is almonds in the Plains!’
He went out to levy on the village — not with a begging-bowl, which might do for down-country, but in the manner of a prince. Shamlegh’s summer population is only three families — four women and eight or nine men. They were all full of tinned meats and mixed drinks, from ammoniated quinine to white vodka, for they had taken their full share in the overnight loot. The neat Continental tents had been cut up and shared long ago, and there were patent aluminium saucepans abroad.
But they considered the lama’s presence a perfect safeguard against all consequences, and impenitently brought Kim of their best — even to a drink of chang — the barley-beer that comes from Ladakh-way. Then they thawed out in the sun, and sat with their legs hanging over infinite abysses, chattering, laughing, and smoking. They judged India and its Government solely from their experience of wandering Sahibs who had employed them or their friends as shikarris. Kim heard tales of shots missed upon ibex, serow, or markhor, by Sahibs twenty years in their graves — every detail lighted from behind like twigs on tree-tops seen against lightning. They told him of their little diseases, and, more important, the diseases of their tiny, sure-footed cattle; of trips as far as Kotgarh, where the strange missionaries live, and beyond even to marvellous Simla, where the streets are paved with silver, and anyone, look you, can get service with the Sahibs, who ride about in two-wheeled carts and spend money with a spade. Presently, grave and aloof, walking very heavily, the lama joined himself to the chatter under the eaves, and they gave him great room. The thin air refreshed him, and he sat on the edge of precipices with the best of them, and, when talk languished, flung pebbles into the void. Thirty miles away, as the eagle flies, lay the next range, seamed and channelled and pitted with little patches of brush — forests, each a day’s dark march. Behind the village, Shamlegh hill itself cut off all view to southward. It was like sitting in a swallow’s nest under the eaves of the roof of the world.
‘Beyond, where the hills lie thickest, lies De-ch’en’ (he meant Han-le’), ‘the great Monastery. s’Tag-stan-ras-ch’en built it, and of him there runs this tale.’ Whereupon he told it: a fantastic piled narrative of bewitchment and miracles that set Shamlegh a-gasping. Turning west a little, he steered for the green hills of Kulu, and sought Kailung under the glaciers. ‘For thither came I in the old, old days. From Leh I came, over the Baralachi.’
‘And I slept two nights with the priests of Kailung. These are the Hills of my delight! Shadows blessed above all other shadows! There my eyes opened on this world; there my eyes were opened to this world; there I found Enlightenment; and there I girt my loins for my Search. Out of the Hills I came — the high Hills and the strong winds. Oh, just is the Wheel!’ He blessed them in detail — the great glaciers, the naked rocks, the piled moraines and tumbled shale; dry upland, hidden salt-lake, age-old timber and fruitful water-shot valley one after the other, as a dying man blesses his folk; and Kim marvelled at his passion.
‘Yes — yes. There is no place like our Hills,’ said the people of Shamlegh. And they fell to wondering how a man could live in the hot terrible Plains where the cattle run as big as elephants, unfit to plough on a hillside; where village touches village, they had heard, for a hundred miles; where folk went about stealing in gangs, and what the robbers spared the Police carried utterly away.
‘I feared that thou hadst been bruised and — and I knew he was wise.’ Kim took the waxed walnut-shell and read in English on the back of his note: Your favour received. Cannot get away from present company at present, but shall take them into Simla. After which, hope to rejoin you. Inexpedient to follow angry gentlemen. Return by same road you came, and will overtake. Highly gratified about correspondence due to my forethought. ‘He says, Holy One, that he will escape from the idolaters, and will return to us. Shall we wait awhile at Shamlegh, then?’
‘I became strong to do evil and to forget. A brawler and a swashbuckler upon the hillsides was I.’ Kim bit back a smile. ‘Just and perfect is the Wheel, swerving not a hair. When I was a man — a long time ago — I did pilgrimage to Guru Ch’wan among the poplars’ (he pointed Bhotanwards), ‘where they keep the Sacred Horse.’
‘I speak to my chela only,’ said the lama, in gentle reproof, and they scattered like frost on south eaves of a morning. ‘I did not seek truth in those days, but the talk of doctrine. All illusion! I drank the beer and ate the bread of Guru Ch’wan. Next day one said: “We go out to fight Sangor Gutok down the valley to discover” (mark again how Lust is tied to Anger!) “which Abbot shall bear rule in the valley and take the profit of the prayers they print at Sangor Gutok.” I went, and we fought a day.’
‘With our long pencases as I could have shown ... I say, we fought under the poplars, both Abbots and all the monks, and one laid open my forehead to the bone. See!’ He tilted back his cap and showed a puckered silvery scar. ‘Just and perfect is the Wheel! Yesterday the scar itched, and after fifty years I recalled how it was dealt and the face of him who dealt it; dwelling a little in illusion. Followed that which thou didst see — strife and stupidity. Just is the Wheel! The idolater’s blow fell upon the scar. Then I was shaken in my soul: my soul was darkened, and the boat of my soul rocked upon the waters of illusion. Not till I came to Shamlegh could I meditate upon the Cause of Things, or trace the running grass-roots of Evil. I strove all the long night.’
‘In the dawn,’ the lama went on more gravely, ready rosary clicking between the slow sentences, ‘came enlightenment. It is here ... I am an old man ... hill-bred, hill-fed, never to sit down among my Hills. Three years I travelled through Hind, but — can earth be stronger than Mother Earth? My stupid body yearned to the Hills and the snows of the Hills, from below there. I said, and it is true, my Search is sure. So, at the Kulu woman’s house I turned hillward, over-persuaded by myself. There is no blame to the hakim. He — following Desire — foretold that the Hills would make me strong. They strengthened me to do evil, to forget my Search. I delighted in life and the lust of life. I desired strong slopes to climb. I cast about to find them. I measured the strength of my body, which is evil, against the high Hills, I made a mock of thee when thy breath came short under Jamnotri. I jested when thou wouldst not face the snow of the pass.’
‘More than once I remember’ — he rested his cheek dolefully on his hand — ‘I sought thy praise and the hakim’s for the mere strength of my legs. Thus evil followed evil till the cup was full. Just is the Wheel! All Hind for three years did me all honour. From the Fountain of Wisdom in the Wonder House to’ — he smiled — ‘a little child playing by a big gun — the world prepared my road. And why?’
‘No! It was because I was upon the Way — tuned as are si-nen [cymbals] to the purpose of the Law. I departed from that ordinance. The tune was broken: followed the punishment. In my own Hills, on the edge of my own country, in the very place of my evil desire, comes the buffet — here!’ (He touched his brow.) ‘As a novice is beaten when he misplaces the cups, so am I beaten, who was Abbot of Such-zen. No word, look you, but a blow, chela.’
‘We were well matched. Ignorance and Lust met Ignorance and Lust upon the road, and they begat Anger. The blow was a sign to me, who am no better than a strayed yak, that my place is not here. Who can read the Cause of an act is halfway to Freedom! “Back to the path,” says the Blow. “The Hills are not for thee. Thou canst not choose Freedom and go in bondage to the delight of life.”’
‘Our Lord Himself cannot make the Wheel swing backward. And for my merit that I had acquired I gain yet another sign.’ He put his hand in his bosom, and drew forth the Wheel of Life. ‘Look! I considered this after I had meditated. There remains untorn by the idolater no more than the breadth of my fingernail.’
‘So much, then, is the span of my life in this body. I have served the Wheel all my days. Now the Wheel serves me. But for the merit I have acquired in guiding thee upon the Way, there would have been added to me yet another life ere I had found my River. Is it plain, chela?’
Kim stared at the brutally disfigured chart. From left to right diagonally the rent ran — from the Eleventh House where Desire gives birth to the Child (as it is drawn by Tibetans) — across the human and animal worlds, to the Fifth House — the empty House of the Senses. The logic was unanswerable.
‘Before our Lord won Enlightenment’ — the lama folded all away with reverence — ‘He was tempted. I too have been tempted, but it is finished. The Arrow fell in the Plains — not in the Hills. Therefore, what make we here?’
‘I found him like a strayed buffalo in a cornfield — the Babu; snorting and sneezing with cold. He was so hungry that he forgot his dignity and gave me sweet words. The Sahibs have nothing.’ She flung out an empty palm. ‘One is very sick about the stomach. Thy work?’
‘I spoke to the Bengali first — and to the people of a near-by village after. The Sahibs will be given food as they need it — nor will the people ask money. The plunder is already distributed. The Babu makes lying speeches to the Sahibs. Why does he not leave them?’
‘It is my loss,’ Kim began. ‘Even now I had planned desirable things in my heart which’ — there is no need to go through the compliments proper to these occasions. He sighed deeply ... ‘But my master, led by a vision —’
‘A priest is a priest. He says he will go upon this hour. I am his chela, and I go with him. We need food for the Road. He is an honoured guest in all the villages, but’ — he broke into a pure boy’s grin — ‘the food here is good. Give me some.’
‘Thou hast cursed me already by the down-dropped eyelash and the uplifted chin. Curses? What should I care for mere words?’ She clenched her hands upon her bosom ... ‘But I would not have thee to go in anger, thinking hardly of me — a gatherer of cow-dung and grass at Shamlegh, but still a woman of substance.’
The woman snatched it angrily. ‘I was foolish,’ said she. ‘Who is thy woman in the Plains? Fair or black? I was fair once. Laughest thou? Once, long ago, if thou canst believe, a Sahib looked on me with favour. Once, long ago, I wore European clothes at the Mission-house yonder.’ She pointed towards Kotgarh. ‘Once, long ago. I was Ker-lis-ti-an and spoke English — as the Sahibs speak it. Yes. My Sahib said he would return and wed me — yes, wed me. He went away — I had nursed him when he was sick — but he never returned. Then I saw that the Gods of the Kerlistians lied, and I went back to my own people ... I have never set eyes on a Sahib since. (Do not laugh at me. The fit is past, little priestling.) Thy face and thy walk and thy fashion of speech put me in mind of my Sahib, though thou art only a wandering mendicant to whom I give a dole. Curse me? Thou canst neither curse nor bless!’ She set her hands on her hips and laughed bitterly. ‘Thy Gods are lies; thy works are lies; thy words are lies. There are no Gods under all the Heavens. I know it ... But for awhile I thought it was my Sahib come back, and he was my God. Yes, once I made music on a pianno in the Mission-house at Kotgarh. Now I give alms to priests who are heatthen.’ She wound up with the English word, and tied the mouth of the brimming bag.
‘Behold!’ she said simply, and drew aside to let Kim see his own utter helplessness. ‘Curse me. Maybe it will give him strength. Make a charm! Call on thy great God. Thou art a priest.’ She turned away.
The lama had squatted limply, still holding by the door-post. One cannot strike down an old man that he recovers again like a boy in the night. Weakness bowed him to the earth, but his eyes that hung on Kim were alive and imploring.
‘It is all well,’ said Kim. ‘It is the thin air that weakens thee. In a little while we go! It is the mountain-sickness. I too am a little sick at stomach,’ — and he knelt and comforted with such poor words as came first to his lips. Then the woman returned, more erect than ever.
‘Thy Gods useless, heh? Try mine. I am the Woman of Shamlegh.’ She hailed hoarsely, and there came out of a cow-pen her two husbands and three others with a dooli, the rude native litter of the Hills, that they use for carrying the sick and for visits of state. ‘These cattle’ — she did not condescend to look at them — ‘are thine for so long as thou shalt need.’
‘They will not run away as the others did, nor will they steal baggage. Two I know for weaklings. Stand to the rear-pole, Sonoo and Taree.’ They obeyed swiftly. ‘Lower now, and lift in that holy man. I will see to the village and your virtuous wives till ye return.’
She looked up with a curious smile and laid a hand on his shoulder. ‘At least, thank me. I am foul-faced and a hillwoman, but, as thy talk goes, I have acquired merit. Shall I show thee how the Sahibs render thanks?’ and her hard eyes softened.
‘Umm,’ said Kim thoughtfully, considering the past. ‘It may be that I have acquired merit also ... At least she did not treat me like a child.’ He hitched the front of his robe, where lay the slab of documents and maps, re-stowed the precious food-bag at the lama’s feet, laid his hand on the litter’s edge, and buckled down to the slow pace of the grunting husbands.
Two hundred miles north of Chini, on the blue shale of Ladakh, lies Yankling Sahib, the merry-minded man, spy-glassing wrathfully across the ridges for some sign of his pet tracker — a man from Ao-chung. But that renegade, with a new Mannlicher rifle and two hundred cartridges, is elsewhere, shooting musk-deer for the market, and Yankling Sahib will learn next season how very ill he has been.
Up the valleys of Bushahr — the far-beholding eagles of the Himalayas swerve at his new blue-and-white gored umbrella — hurries a Bengali, once fat and well-looking, now lean and weather-worn. He has received the thanks of two foreigners of distinction, piloted not unskilfully to Mashobra tunnel, which leads to the great and gay capital of India. It was not his fault that, blanketed by wet mists, he conveyed them past the telegraph-station and European colony of Kotgarh. It was not his fault, but that of the Gods, of whom he discoursed so engagingly, that he led them into the borders of Nahan, where the Rahah of that State mistook them for deserting British soldiery. Hurree Babu explained the greatness and glory, in their own country, of his companions, till the drowsy kinglet smiled. He explained it to everyone who asked — many times — aloud — variously. He begged food, arranged accommodation, proved a skilful leech for an injury of the groin — such a blow as one may receive rolling down a rock-covered hillside in the dark — and in all things indispensable. The reason of his friendliness did him credit. With millions of fellow-serfs, he had learned to look upon Russia as the great deliverer from the North. He was a fearful man. He had been afraid that he could not save his illustrious employers from the anger of an excited peasantry. He himself would just as lief hit a holy man as not, but ... He was deeply grateful and sincerely rejoiced that he had done his ‘little possible’ towards bringing their venture to — barring the lost baggage — a successful issue, he had forgotten the blows; denied that any blows had been dealt that unseemly first night under the pines. He asked neither pension nor retaining fee, but, if they deemed him worthy, would they write him a testimonial? It might be useful to him later, if others, their friends, came over the Passes. He begged them to remember him in their future greatnesses, for he ‘opined subtly’ that he, even he, Mohendro Lal Dutt, MA of Calcutta, had ‘done the State some service’.
They gave him a certificate praising his courtesy, helpfulness, and unerring skill as a guide. He put it in his waist-belt and sobbed with emotion; they had endured so many dangers together. He led them at high noon along crowded Simla Mall to the Alliance Bank of Simla, where they wished to establish their identity. Thence he vanished like a dawn-cloud on Jakko.
Behold him, too fine-drawn to sweat, too pressed to vaunt the drugs in his little brass-bound box, ascending Shamlegh slope, a just man made perfect. Watch him, all Babudom laid aside, smoking at noon on a cot, while a woman with turquoise-studded headgear points south-easterly across the bare grass. Litters, she says, do not travel as fast as single men, but his birds should now be in the Plains. The holy man would not stay though Lispeth pressed him. The Babu groans heavily, girds up his huge loins, and is off again. He does not care to travel after dusk; but his days’ marches — there is none to enter them in a book — would astonish folk who mock at his race. Kindly villagers, remembering the Dacca drug-vendor of two months ago, give him shelter against evil spirits of the wood. He dreams of Bengali Gods, University text-books of education, and the Royal Society, London, England. Next dawn the bobbing blue-and-white umbrella goes forward.
On the edge of the Doon, Mussoorie well behind them and the Plains spread out in golden dust before, rests a worn litter in which — all the Hills know it — lies a sick lama who seeks a River for his healing. Villages have almost come to blows over the honour of bearing it, for not only has the lama given them blessings, but his disciple good money — full one-third Sahibs’ prices. Twelve miles a day has the dooli travelled, as the greasy, rubbed pole-ends show, and by roads that few Sahibs use. Over the Nilang Pass in storm when the driven snow-dust filled every fold of the impassive lama’s drapery; between the black horns of Raieng where they heard the whistle of the wild goats through the clouds; pitching and strained on the shale below; hard-held between shoulder and clenched jaw when they rounded the hideous curves of the Cut Road under Bhagirati; swinging and creaking to the steady jog-trot of the descent into the Valley of the Waters; pressed along the steamy levels of that locked valley; up, up and out again, to meet the roaring gusts off Kedarnath; set down of mid-days in the dun gloom of kindly oak-forests; passed from village to village in dawn-chill, when even devotees may be forgiven for swearing at impatient holy men; or by torchlight, when the least fearful think of ghosts — the dooli has reached her last stage. The little hill-folk sweat in the modified heat of the lower Siwaliks, and gather round the priests for their blessing and their wage.
‘Surely. The high Hills as soon as may be.’ The bearer rubs his shoulder, drinks water, spits it out again, and readjusts his grass sandal. Kim — his face is drawn and tired — pays very small silver from his belt, heaves out the food-bag, crams an oilskin packet — they are holy writings — into his bosom, and helps the lama to his feet. The peace has come again into the old man’s eyes, and he does not look for the hills to fall down and crush him as he did that terrible night when they were delayed by the flooded river.
‘But thou art ten times the stronger man in this good air,’ says Kim, for to his wearied soul appeal the well-cropped, kindly Plains. ‘Here, or hereabouts, fell the Arrow, yes. We will go very softly, perhaps, a koss a day, for the Search is sure. But the bag weighs heavy.’
It was never more than a couple of miles a day now, and Kim’s shoulders bore all the weight of it — the burden of an old man, the burden of the heavy food-bag with the locked books, the load of the writings on his heart, and the details of the daily routine. He begged in the dawn, set blankets for the lama’s meditation, held the weary head on his lap through the noonday heats, fanning away the flies till his wrists ached, begged again in the evenings, and rubbed the lama’s feet, who rewarded him with promise of Freedom — today, tomorrow, or, at furthest, the next day.
‘Never was such a chela. I doubt at times whether Ananda more faithfully nursed Our Lord. And thou art a Sahib? When I was a man — a long time ago — I forgot that. Now I look upon thee often, and every time I remember that thou art a Sahib. It is strange.’
‘Thou hast said there is neither black nor white. Why plague me with this talk, Holy One? Let me rub the other foot. It vexes me. I am not a Sahib. I am thy chela, and my head is heavy on my shoulders.’
‘Patience a little! We reach Freedom together. Then thou and I, upon the far bank of the River, will look back upon our lives as in the Hills we saw our days’ marches laid out behind us. Perhaps I was once a Sahib.’
‘I am certain the Keeper of the Images in the Wonder House was in past life a very wise Abbot. But even his spectacles do not make my eyes see. There fall shadows when I would look steadily. No matter — we know the tricks of the poor stupid carcass — shadow changing to another shadow. I am bound by the illusion of Time and Space. How far came we today in the flesh?’
‘Half a koss. Ha! I went ten thousand thousand in the spirit. How, we are all lapped and swathed and swaddled in these senseless things.’ He looked at his thin blue-veined hand that found the beads so heavy. ‘Chela, hast thou never a wish to leave me?’
Kim thought of the oilskin packet and the books in the food-bag. If someone duly authorized would only take delivery of them the Great Game might play itself for aught he then cared. He was tired and hot in his head, and a cough that came from the stomach worried him.
‘Not that either. I have moved in one matter without consulting thee. I have sent a message to the Kulu woman by that woman who gave us the goat’s milk this morn, saying that thou wast a little feeble and wouldst need a litter. I beat myself in my mind that I did not do it when we entered the Doon. We stay in this place till the litter returns.’
‘She will not weary thee. I have looked to that also. Holy One, my heart is very heavy for my many carelessnesses towards thee.’ An hysterical catch rose in his throat. ‘I have walked thee too far: I have not picked good food always for thee; I have not considered the heat; I have talked to people on the road and left thee alone ... I have — I have ... Hai mai! But I love thee ... and it is all too late ... I was a child ... Oh, why was I not a man? ...’ Overborne by strain, fatigue, and the weight beyond his years, Kim broke down and sobbed at the lama’s feet.
‘What a to-do is here!’ said the old man gently. ‘Thou hast never stepped a hair’s breadth from the Way of Obedience. Neglect me? Child, I have lived on thy strength as an old tree lives on the lime of a new wall. Day by day, since Shamlegh down, I have stolen strength from thee. Therefore, not through any sin of thine, art thou weakened. It is the Body — the silly, stupid Body — that speaks now. Not the assured Soul. Be comforted! Know at least the devils that thou fightest. They are earth-born — children of illusion. We will go to the woman from Kulu. She shall acquire merit in housing us, and specially in tending me. Thou shalt run free till strength returns. I had forgotten the stupid Body. If there be any blame, I bear it. But we are too close to the Gates of Deliverance to weigh blame. I could praise thee, but what need? In a little — in a very little — we shall sit beyond all needs.’
And so he petted and comforted Kim with wise saws and grave texts on that little-understood beast, our Body, who, being but a delusion, insists on posing as the Soul, to the darkening of the Way, and the immense multiplication of unnecessary devils.
‘Hai! hai! Let us talk of the woman from Kulu. Think you she will ask another charm for her grandsons? When I was a young man, a very long time ago, I was plagued with these vapours — and some others — and I went to an Abbot — a very holy man and a seeker after truth, though then I knew it not. Sit up and listen, child of my soul! My tale was told. Said he to me, “Chela, know this. There are many lies in the world, and not a few liars, but there are no liars like our bodies, except it be the sensations of our bodies.” Considering this I was comforted, and of his great favour he suffered me to drink tea In his presence. Suffer me now to drink tea, for I am thirsty.’
So, when with scufflings and scrapings and a hot air of importance, paddled up nothing less than the Sahiba’s pet palanquin sent twenty miles, with that same grizzled old Oorya servant in charge, and when they reached the disorderly order of the long white rambling house behind Saharunpore, the lama took his own measures.
Said the Sahiba cheerily from an upper window, after compliments: ‘What is the good of an old woman’s advice to an old man? I told thee — I told thee, Holy One, to keep an eye upon the chela. How didst thou do it? Never answer me! I know. He has been running among the women. Look at his eyes — hollow and sunk — and the Betraying Line from the nose down! He has been sifted out! Fie! Fie! And a priest, too!’
‘Do not jest,’ said the lama. ‘That time is done. We are here upon great matters. A sickness of soul took me in the Hills, and him a sickness of the body. Since then I have lived upon his strength — eating him.’
At evening time — her son-inlaw was returned, so she did not need to go on inspection round the farm — she won to the meat of the matter, explained low-voicedly by the lama. The two old heads nodded wisely together. Kim had reeled to a room with a cot in it, and was dozing soddenly. The lama had forbidden him to set blankets or get food.
‘I know — I know. Who but I?’ she cackled. ‘We who go down to the burning-ghats clutch at the hands of those coming up from the River of Life with full water-jars — yes, brimming water-jars. I did the boy wrong. He lent thee his strength? It is true that the old eat the young daily. Stands now we must restore him.’
‘Say grandson, rather. Mothers have not the wisdom of our years. If a child cries they say the heavens are falling. Now a grandmother is far enough separated from the pain of bearing and the pleasure of giving the breast to consider whether a cry is wickedness pure or the wind. And since thou speakest once again of wind, when last the Holy One was here, maybe I offended in pressing for charms.’
‘Good! I am the Holy One’s cow.’ This was pure Hinduism, but the lama never heeded. ‘I am old. I have borne sons in the body. Oh, once I could please men! Now I can cure them.’ He heard her armlets tinkle as though she bared arms for action. ‘I will take over the boy and dose him, and stuff him, and make him all whole. Hai! hai! We old people know something yet.’
Wherefore when Kim, aching in every bone, opened his eyes, and would go to the cook-house to get his master’s food, he found strong coercion about him, and a veiled old figure at the door, flanked by the grizzled manservant, who told him very precisely the things that he was on no account to do.
‘Thou must have? Thou shalt have nothing. What? A locked box in which to keep holy books? Oh, that is another matter. Heavens forbid I should come between a priest and his prayers! It shall be brought, and thou shalt keep the key.’
They pushed the coffer under his cot, and Kim shut away Mahbub’s pistol, the oilskin packet of letters, and the locked books and diaries, with a groan of relief. For some absurd reason their weight on his shoulders was nothing to their weight on his poor mind. His neck ached under it of nights.
‘Thine is a sickness uncommon in youth these days: since young folk have given up tending their betters. The remedy is sleep, and certain drugs,’ said the Sahiba; and he was glad to give himself up to the blankness that half menaced and half soothed him.
She brewed drinks, in some mysterious Asiatic equivalent to the still-room — drenches that smelt pestilently and tasted worse. She stood over Kim till they went down, and inquired exhaustively after they had come up. She laid a taboo upon the forecourt, and enforced it by means of an armed man. It is true he was seventy odd, that his scabbarded sword ceased at the hilt; but he represented the authority of the Sahiba, and loaded wains, chattering servants, calves, dogs, hens, and the like, fetched a wide compass by those parts. Best of all, when the body was cleared, she cut out from the mass of poor relations that crowded the back of the buildings — house-hold dogs, we name them — a cousin’s widow, skilled in what Europeans, who know nothing about it, call massage. And the two of them, laying him east and west, that the mysterious earth-currents which thrill the clay of our bodies might help and not hinder, took him to pieces all one long afternoon — bone by bone, muscle by muscle, ligament by ligament, and lastly, nerve by nerve. Kneaded to irresponsible pulp, half hypnotized by the perpetual flick and readjustment of the uneasy chudders that veiled their eyes, Kim slid ten thousand miles into slumber — thirty-six hours of it — sleep that soaked like rain after drought.
Then she fed him, and the house spun to her clamour. She caused fowls to be slain; she sent for vegetables, and the sober, slow-thinking gardener, nigh as old as she, sweated for it; she took spices, and milk, and onion, with little fish from the brooks — anon limes for sherbets, fat quails from the pits, then chicken-livers upon a skewer, with sliced ginger between.
‘I have seen something of this world,’ she said over the crowded trays, ‘and there are but two sorts of women in it — those who take the strength out of a man and those who put it back. Once I was that one, and now I am this. Nay — do not play the priestling with me. Mine was but a jest. If it does not hold good now, it will when thou takest the road again. Cousin,’ — this to the poor relation, never wearied of extolling her patroness’s charity — ‘he is getting a bloom on the skin of a new-curried horse. Our work is like polishing jewels to be thrown to a dance-girl — eh?’
Kim sat up and smiled. The terrible weakness had dropped from him like an old shoe. His tongue itched for free speech again, and but a week back the lightest word clogged it like ashes. The pain in his neck (he must have caught it from the lama) had gone with the heavy dengue-aches and the evil taste in the mouth. The two old women, a little, but not much, more careful about their veils now, clucked as merrily as the hens that had entered pecking through the open door.
‘Hear him! Thy Holy One is well,’ she snapped viciously. ‘Though that is none of his merit., Knew I a charm to make him wise, I’d sell my jewels and buy it. To refuse good food that I cooked myself — and go roving into the fields for two nights on an empty belly — and to tumble into a brook at the end of it — call you that holiness? Then, when he has nearly broken what thou hast left of my heart with anxiety, he tells me that he has acquired merit. Oh, how like are all men! No, that was not it — he tells me that he is freed from all sin. I could have told him that before he wetted himself all over. He is well now — this happened a week ago — but burn me such holiness! A babe of three would do better. Do not fret thyself for the Holy One. He keeps both eyes on thee when he is not wading our brooks.’
‘The house be unblessed!’ (It is impossible to give exactly the old lady’s word.) ‘Thank the Gods as a priest if thou wilt, but thank me, if thou carest, as a son. Heavens above! Have I shifted thee and lifted thee and slapped and twisted thy ten toes to find texts flung at my head? Somewhere a mother must have borne thee to break her heart. What used thou to her — son?’
‘Hai mai! Then none can say I have robbed her of any right if — when thou takest the road again and this house is but one of a thousand used for shelter and forgotten, after an easy-flung blessing. No matter. I need no blessings, but — but —’ She stamped her foot at the poor relation. ‘Take up the trays to the house. What is the good of stale food in the room, O woman of ill-omen?’
‘It is I that am the woman of ill-omen,’ cried the old lady penitently. ‘We that go down to the chattris [the big umbrellas above the burning-ghats where the priests take their last dues] clutch hard at the bearers of the chattis [water-jars — young folk full of the pride of life, she meant; but the pun is clumsy]. When one cannot dance in the festival one must e’en look out of the window, and grandmothering takes all a woman’s time. Thy master gives me all the charms I now desire for my daughter’s eldest, by reason — is it? — that he is wholly free from sin. The hakim is brought very low these days. He goes about poisoning my servants for lack of their betters.’
‘That very Dacca man who gave me the pill which rent me in three pieces. He cast up like a strayed camel a week ago, vowing that he and thou had been blood-brothers together up Kulu-way, and feigning great anxiety for thy health. He was very thin and hungry, so I gave orders to have him stuffed too — him and his anxiety!’
‘He eats five times a day, and lances boils for my hinds to save himself from an apoplexy. He is so full of anxiety for thy health that he sticks to the cook-house door and stays himself with scraps. He will keep. We shall never get rid of him.’
‘Priest praising priest? A miracle! If he is any friend of thine (ye squabbled at your last meeting) I’ll hale him here with horse-ropes and — and give him a caste-dinner afterwards, my son ... Get up and see the world! This lying abed is the mother of seventy devils ... my son! my son!’
She trotted forth to raise a typhoon off the cook-house, and almost on her shadow rolled in the Babu, robed as to the shoulders like a Roman emperor, jowled like Titus, bare-headed, with new patent-leather shoes, in highest condition of fat, exuding joy and salutations.
‘All that was handwritten in the kilta I took. The rest I threw down the hill.’ He could hear the key’s grate in the lock, the sticky pull of the slow-rending oilskin, and a quick shuffling of papers. He had been annoyed out of all reason by the knowledge that they lay below him through the sick idle days — a burden incommunicable. For that reason the blood tingled through his body, when Hurree, skipping elephantinely, shook hands again.
‘This is fine! This is finest! Mister O’Hara! you have — ha! ha! swiped the whole bag of tricks — locks, stocks, and barrels. They told me it was eight months’ work gone up the spouts! By Jove, how they beat me! ... Look, here is the letter from Hilas!’ He intoned a line or two of Court Persian, which is the language of authorized and unauthorized diplomacy. ‘Mister Rajah Sahib has just about put his foot in the holes. He will have to explain offeecially how the deuce-an’-all he is writing love-letters to the Czar. And they are very clever maps ... and there is three or four Prime Ministers of these parts implicated by the correspondence. By Gad, sar! The British Government will change the succession in Hilas and Bunar, and nominate new heirs to the throne. “Trea-son most base” ... but you do not understand? Eh?’
‘Just you jolly-well bet yourself they are.’ He stowed the entire trove about his body, as only Orientals can. ‘They are going up to the office, too. The old lady thinks I am permanent fixture here, but I shall go away with these straight off — immediately. Mr Lurgan will be proud man. You are offeecially subordinate to me, but I shall embody your name in my verbal report. It is a pity we are not allowed written reports. We Bengalis excel in thee exact science.’ He tossed back the key and showed the box empty.
‘Oah yess. I am his good friend, I tell you. He was behaving very strange when I came down after you, and I thought perhaps he might have the papers. I followed him on his meditations, and to discuss ethnological points also. You see, I am verree small person here nowadays, in comparison with all his charms. By Jove, O’Hara, do you know, he is afflicted with infirmity of fits. Yess, I tell you. Cataleptic, too, if not also epileptic. I found him in such a state under a tree in articulo mortem, and he jumped up and walked into a brook and he was nearly drowned but for me. I pulled him out.’
‘Yes, he might have died, but he is dry now, and asserts he has undergone transfiguration.’ The Babu tapped his forehead knowingly. ‘I took notes of his statements for Royal Society — in posse. You must make haste and be quite well and come back to Simla, and I will tell you all my tale at Lurgan’s. It was splendid. The bottoms of their trousers were quite torn, and old Nahan Rajah, he thought they were European soldiers deserting.’
‘One was a Frenchman. Oh, days and days and days! Now all the hill-people believe all Russians are all beggars. By Jove! they had not one dam’-thing that I did not get them. And I told the common people — oah, such tales and anecdotes! — I will tell you at old Lurgan’s when you come up. We will have — ah — a night out! It is feather in both our caps! Yess, and they gave me a certificate. That is creaming joke. You should have seen them at the Alliance Bank identifying themselves! And thank Almighty God you got their papers so well! You do not laugh verree much, but you shall laugh when you are well. Now I will go straight to the railway and get out. You shall have all sorts of credits for your game. When do you come along? We are very proud of you though you gave us great frights. And especially Mahbub.’
The Babu looked shyly down his nose. ‘Well, you see, I am fearful man, and I do not like responsibility. You were sick, you see, and I did not know where deuce-an’-all the papers were, and if so, how many. So when I had come down here I slipped in private wire to Mahbub — he was at Meerut for races — and I tell him how case stands. He comes up with his men and he consorts with the lama, and then he calls me a fool, and is very rude —’
‘That is what I ask. I only suggest that if anyone steals the papers I should like some good strong, brave men to rob them back again. You see, they are vitally important, and Mahbub Ali he did not know where you were.’
‘Well,’ — Hurree shrugged his shoulders — ‘there is no accounting for thee taste. Mahbub was angry too. He has sold horses all about here, and he says old lady is pukka [thorough] old lady and would not condescend to such ungentlemanly things. I do not care. I have got the papers, and I was very glad of moral support from Mahbub. I tell you, I am fearful man, but, somehow or other, the more fearful I am the more dam’-tight places I get into. So I was glad you came with me to Chini, and I am glad Mahbub was close by. The old lady she is sometimes very rude to me and my beautiful pills.’
‘Oah, thatt was nothing, after they had done beating me; but if I lost the papers it was pretty-jolly serious. Mahbub he nearly beat me too, and he went and consorted with the lama no end. I shall stick to ethnological investigations henceforwards. Now good-bye, Mister O’Hara. I can catch 4.25 p.m. to Umballa if I am quick. It will be good times when we all tell thee tale up at Mr Lurgan’s. I shall report you offeecially better. Good-bye, my dear fallow, and when next you are under thee emotions please do not use the Mohammedan terms with the Tibetan dress.’
‘He robbed them,’ thought Kim, forgetting his own share in the game. ‘He tricked them. He lied to them like a Bengali. They give him a chit [a testimonial]. He makes them a mock at the risk of his life — I never would have gone down to them after the pistol-shots — and then he says he is a fearful man ... And he is a fearful man. I must get into the world again.’
At first his legs bent like bad pipe-stems, and the flood and rush of the sunlit air dazzled him. He squatted by the white wall, the mind rummaging among the incidents of the long dooli journey, the lama’s weaknesses, and, now that the stimulus of talk was removed, his own self-pity, of which, like the sick, he had great store. The unnerved brain edged away from all the outside, as a raw horse, once rowelled, sidles from the spur. It was enough, amply enough, that the spoil of the kilta was away — off his hands — out of his possession. He tried to think of the lama — to wonder why he had tumbled into a brook — but the bigness of the world, seen between the forecourt gates, swept linked thought aside. Then he looked upon the trees and the broad fields, with the thatched huts hidden among crops — looked with strange eyes unable to take up the size and proportion and use of things — stared for a still half-hour. All that while he felt, though he could not put it into words, that his soul was out of gear with its surroundings — a cog-wheel unconnected with any machinery, just like the idle cog-wheel of a cheap Beheea sugar-crusher laid by in a corner. The breezes fanned over him, the parrots shrieked at him, the noises of the populated house behind — squabbles, orders, and reproofs — hit on dead ears.
He did not want to cry — had never felt less like crying in his life — but of a sudden easy, stupid tears trickled down his nose, and with an almost audible click he felt the wheels of his being lock up anew on the world without. Things that rode meaningless on the eyeball an instant before slid into proper proportion. Roads were meant to be walked upon, houses to be lived in, cattle to be driven, fields to be tilled, and men and women to be talked to. They were all real and true — solidly planted upon the feet — perfectly comprehensible — clay of his clay, neither more nor less. He shook himself like a dog with a flea in his ear, and rambled out of the gate. Said the Sahiba, to whom watchful eyes reported this move: ‘Let him go. I have done my share. Mother Earth must do the rest. When the Holy One comes back from meditation, tell him.’
There stood an empty bullock-cart on a little knoll half a mile away, with a young banyan tree behind — a look-out, as it were, above some new-ploughed levels; and his eyelids, bathed in soft air, grew heavy as he neared it. The ground was good clean dust — no new herbage that, living, is half-way to death already, but the hopeful dust that holds the seeds of all life. He felt it between his toes, patted it with his palms, and joint by joint, sighing luxuriously, laid him down full length along in the shadow of the wooden-pinned cart. And Mother Earth was as faithful as the Sahiba. She breathed through him to restore the poise he had lost lying so long on a cot cut off from her good currents. His head lay powerless upon her breast, and his opened hands surrendered to her strength. The many-rooted tree above him, and even the dead manhandled wood beside, knew what he sought, as he himself did not know. Hour upon hour he lay deeper than sleep.
‘And,’ said the lama, repeating a many-times-told tale, ‘never was such a chela. Temperate, kindly, wise, of ungrudging disposition, a merry heart upon the road, never forgetting, learned, truthful, courteous. Great is his reward!’
‘Hmph! Half Hind seems that way disposed. I only wished to see that the boy had come to no harm and was a free agent. As thou knowest, he and I were old friends in the first days of your pilgrimage together.’
‘Otherwise’ — this was in Pushtu for decency’s sake — ‘thou wouldst have ended thy meditations upon the sultry side of Hell — being an unbeliever and an idolater for all thy child’s simplicity. But now, Red Hat, what is to be done?’
‘This very night,’ — the words came slowly, vibrating with triumph — ‘this very night he will be as free as I am from all taint of sin — assured as I am, when he quits this body, of Freedom from the Wheel of Things. I have a sign’ — he laid his hand above the torn chart in his bosom — ‘that my time is short; but I shall have safeguarded him throughout the years. Remember, I have reached Knowledge, as I told thee only three nights back.’
‘It must be true, as the Tirah priest said when I stole his cousin’s wife, that I am a Sufi [a free-thinker]; for here I sit,’ said Mahbub to himself, ‘drinking in blasphemy unthinkable ... I remember the tale. On that, then, he goes to Fannatu l’Adn [the Gardens of Eden]. But how? Wilt thou slay him or drown him in that wonderful river from which the Babu dragged thee?’
‘To that end he was prepared. I acquired merit in that I gave alms for his sake. A good deed does not die. He aided me in my Search. I aided him in his. Just is the Wheel, O horse-seller from the North. Let him be a teacher; let him be a scribe — what matter? He will have attained Freedom at the end. The rest is illusion.’
‘What matter? When I must have him with me beyond Balkh in six months! I come up with ten lame horses and three strong-backed men — thanks to that chicken of a Babu — to break a sick boy by force out of an old trot’s house. It seems that I stand by while a young Sahib is hoisted into Allah knows what of an idolater’s Heaven by means of old Red Hat. And I am reckoned something of a player of the Game myself! But the madman is fond of the boy; and I must be very reasonably mad too.’
‘No matter at all; but now I understand that the boy, sure of Paradise, can yet enter Government service, my mind is easier. I must get to my horses. It grows dark. Do not wake him. I have no wish to hear him call thee master.’
‘I thought not. Therefore it will not move thee, sinless, new-washed and three parts drowned to boot, when I call thee a good man — a very good man. We have talked together some four or five evenings now, and for all I am a horse-coper I can still, as the saying is, see holiness beyond the legs of a horse. Yea, can see, too, how our Friend of all the World put his hand in thine at the first. Use him well, and suffer him to return to the world as a teacher, when thou hast — bathed his legs, if that be the proper medicine for the colt.’
‘Softly — softly — one foot at a time, as the lame gelding went over the Umballa jumps. I may come to Paradise later — I have workings that way — great motions — and I owe them to thy simplicity. Thou hast never lied?’
‘So? I think the better of thee. Thy teachings are good. Thou hast turned one man that I know from the path of strife.’ He laughed immensely. ‘He came here open-minded to commit a dacoity [a house-robbery with violence]. Yes, to cut, rob, kill, and carry off what he desired.’
‘That person lacks courtesy, and is deceived by the shadow of appearances. But he spoke well of my chela, who now enters upon his reward. Let me make the prayer! ... Wake, O fortunate above all born of women. Wake! It is found!’
‘I have slept a hundred years. Where —? Holy One, hast thou been here long? I went out to look for thee, but’ — he laughed drowsily — ‘I slept by the way. I am all well now. Hast thou eaten? Let us go to the house. It is many days since I tended thee. And the Sahiba fed thee well? Who shampooed thy legs? What of the weaknesses — the belly and the neck, and the beating in the ears?’
He peered at the cross-legged figure, outlined jet-black against the lemon-coloured drift of light. So does the stone Bodhisat sit who looks down upon the patent self-registering turnstiles of the Lahore Museum.
‘Hear me! I bring news! The Search is finished. Comes now the Reward ... Thus. When we were among the Hills, I lived on thy strength till the young branch bowed and nigh broke. When we came out of the Hills, I was troubled for thee and for other matters which I held in my heart. The boat of my soul lacked direction; I could not see into the Cause of Things. So I gave thee over to the virtuous woman altogether. I took no food. I drank no water. Still I saw not the Way. They pressed food upon me and cried at my shut door. So I removed myself to a hollow under a tree. I took no food. I took no water. I sat in meditation two days and two nights, abstracting my mind; inbreathing and outbreathing in the required manner ... Upon the second night — so great was my reward — the wise Soul loosed itself from the silly Body and went free. This I have never before attained, though I have stood on the threshold of it. Consider, for it is a marvel!’
‘Yea, my Soul went free, and, wheeling like an eagle, saw indeed that there was no Teshoo Lama nor any other soul. As a drop draws to water, so my Soul drew near to the Great Soul which is beyond all things. At that point, exalted in contemplation, I saw all Hind, from Ceylon in the sea to the Hills, and my own Painted Rocks at Such-zen; I saw every camp and village, to the least, where we have ever rested. I saw them at one time and in one place; for they were within the Soul. By this I knew the Soul had passed beyond the illusion of Time and Space and of Things. By this I knew that I was free. I saw thee lying in thy cot, and I saw thee falling downhill under the idolater — at one time, in one place, in my Soul, which, as I say, had touched the Great Soul. Also I saw the stupid body of Teshoo Lama lying down, and the hakim from Dacca kneeled beside, shouting in its ear. Then my Soul was all alone, and I saw nothing, for I was all things, having reached the Great Soul. And I meditated a thousand thousand years, passionless, well aware of the Causes of all Things. Then a voice cried: “What shall come to the boy if thou art dead?” and I was shaken back and forth in myself with pity for thee; and I said: “I will return to my chela, lest he miss the Way.” Upon this my Soul, which is the Soul of Teshoo Lama, withdrew itself from the Great Soul with strivings and yearnings and retchings and agonies not to be told. As the egg from the fish, as the fish from the water, as the water from the cloud, as the cloud from the thick air, so put forth, so leaped out, so drew away, so fumed up the Soul of Teshoo Lama from the Great Soul. Then a voice cried: “The River! Take heed to the River!” and I looked down upon all the world, which was as I had seen it before — one in time, one in place — and I saw plainly the River of the Arrow at my feet. At that hour my Soul was hampered by some evil or other whereof I was not wholly cleansed, and it lay upon my arms and coiled round my waist; but I put it aside, and I cast forth as an eagle in my flight for the very place of the River. I pushed aside world upon world for thy sake. I saw the River below me — the River of the Arrow — and, descending, the waters of it closed over me; and behold I was again in the body of Teshoo Lama, but free from sin, and the hakim from Decca bore up my head in the waters of the River. It is here! It is behind the mango-tope here — even here!’
‘Why should I regard? I remember the hakim was concerned for the body of Teshoo Lama. He haled it out of the holy water in his hands, and there came afterwards thy horse-seller from the North with a cot and men, and they put the body on the cot and bore it up to the Sahiba’s house.’
‘I was meditating in that body, and did not hear. So thus the Search is ended. For the merit that I have acquired, the River of the Arrow is here. It broke forth at our feet, as I have said. I have found it. Son of my Soul, I have wrenched my Soul back from the Threshold of Freedom to free thee from all sin — as I am free, and sinless! Just is the Wheel! Certain is our deliverance! Come!’