Give the man who is not made To his trade Swords to fling and catch again, Coins to ring and snatch again, Men to harm and cure again, Snakes to charm and lure again - He'll be hurt by his own blade, By his serpents disobeyed, By his clumsiness bewrayed,' By the people mocked to scorn - So 'tis not with juggler born! Pinch of dust or withered flower, Chance-flung fruit or borrowed staff, Serve his need and shore his power, Bind the spell, or loose the laugh! But a man who, etc.
The Juggler's Song, op. 15
Followed a sudden natural reaction.
'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.
'Who is Kim - Kim - Kim?'
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.
A long-haired Hindu bairagi [holy man], who had just bought a ticket, halted before him at that moment and stared intently.
'I also have lost it,' he said sadly. 'It is one of the Gates to the Way, but for me it has been shut many years.'
'What is the talk?' said Kim, abashed.
'Thou wast wondering there in thy spirit what manner of thing thy soul might be. The seizure came of a sudden. I know. Who should know but I? Whither goest thou?'
'Toward Kashi [Benares].'
'There are no Gods there. I have proved them. I go to Prayag [Allahabad] for the fifth time - seeking the Road to Enlightenment. Of what faith art thou?'
'I too am a Seeker,' said Kim, using one of the lama's pet words. 'Though'- he forgot his Northern dress for the moment - 'though Allah alone knoweth what I seek.'
The old fellow slipped the bairagi's crutch under his armpit and sat down on a patch of ruddy leopard's skin as Kim rose at the call for the Benares train.
'Go in hope, little brother,' he said. 'It is a long road to the feet of the One; but thither do we all travel.'
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.
'Thou art from the North?' he asked, shouldering through the press of the narrow, stinking streets much like his own pet bull at home.
'Ay, I know the Punjab. My mother was a pahareen, but my father came from Amritzar - by Jandiala,' said Kim, oiling his ready tongue for the needs of the Road.
'Jandiala - Jullundur? Oho! Then we be neighbours in some sort, as it were.' He nodded tenderly to the wailing child in his arms. 'Whom dost thou serve?'
'A most holy man at the Temple of the Tirthankers.'
'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 child turned on the cushion of the huge corded arms and looked at Kim through heavy eyelids.
'And was it all worthless?' Kim asked, with easy interest.
'All worthless - all worthless,' said the child, lips cracking with fever.
'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.
'Call him forth and I will give him a bond on my best yoke, so that the child is cured.'
Kim halted at the carved outer door of the temple. A white-clad Oswal banker from Ajmir, his sins of usury new wiped out, asked him what he did.
'I am chela to Teshoo Lama, an Holy One from Bhotiyal -within there. He bade me come. I wait. Tell him.'
'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.
Hardly had the tall figure shown in the doorway than the Jat ran before him, and, lifting up the child, cried: 'Look upon this, Holy One; and if the Gods will, he lives - he lives!'
He fumbled in his waist-belt and drew out a small silver coin.
'What is now?' The lama's eyes turned to Kim. It was noticeable he spoke far clearer Urdu than long ago, under ZamZammah; but father would allow no private talk.
'It is no more than a fever,' said Kim. 'The child is not well fed.'
'He sickens at everything, and his mother is not here.'
'If it be permitted, I may cure, Holy One.'
'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.'
'Gods, what wisdom!' said the Kamboh, snatching.
It was as much as Kim could remember of his own treatment in a bout of autumn malaria - if you except the patter that he added to impress the lama.
'Now go! Come again in the morning.'
'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?'
'They are alike, these Jats,' said Kim softly. 'The Jat stood on his dunghill and the King's elephants went by. "O driver," said he, "what will you sell those little donkeys for?"'
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.'
He moved away, crooning and mumbling. The lama turned to Kim, and all the loving old soul of him looked out through his narrow eyes.
'To heal the sick is to acquire merit; but first one gets knowledge. That was wisely done, O Friend of all the World.'
'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?'
'Ay,' said Kim. 'Dost thou remember when I leapt off the carriage the first day I went to -'
'The Gates of Learning? Truly. And the day that we ate the cakes together at the back of the river by Nucklao. Aha! Many times hast thou begged for me, but that day I begged for thee.'
'Good reason,' quoth Kim. 'I was then a scholar in the Gates of Learning, and attired as a Sahib. Do not forget, Holy One,' he went on playfully. 'I am still a Sahib - by thy favour.'
'True. And a Sahib in most high esteem. Come to my cell, chela.'
'How is that known to thee?'
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.
'A fat man?' said Kim, a twinkle in his eye.
'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.'
'Yes, that am I - a scribe, when I am a Sahib, but it is set aside when I come as thy disciple. I have accomplished the years appointed for a Sahib.'
'As it were a novice?' said the lama, nodding his head. 'Art thou freed from the schools? I would not have thee unripe.'
'I am all free. In due time I take service under the Government as a scribe -'
'Not as a warrior. That is well.'
'But first I come to wander with thee. Therefore I am here. Who begs for thee, these days?' he went on quickly. The ice was thin.
'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.
'It is well done, Holy One,' Kim murmured, sinking at ease on the cushions, very happy and rather tired.
'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 a little learned to draw,' said Kim. 'But this is a marvel beyond marvels.'
'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.'
'We take the Road, then?'
'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.'
He told Kim the story of the elephant with the leg-iron, as he had told it so often to the Jam priests.
'Further testimony is not needed,' he ended serenely. 'Thou wast sent for an aid. That aid removed, my Search came to naught. Therefore we will go out again together, and our Search sure.'
'Whither go we?'
'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 -'
'But thou art indeed old, Holy One.'
'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.'
'I think it good,' Kim yawned. 'What is there to eat? I have not eaten since yesterday even.'
'I had forgotten thy need. Yonder is good Bhotiyal tea and cold rice.'
'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.
'Thank the Gods of the Jains, brother,' he said, not knowing how those Gods were named. 'The fever is indeed broken.'
'Look! See!' The lama beamed in the background upon his hosts of three years. 'Was there ever such a chela? He follows our Lord the Healer.'
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.
'Remember,' - Kim bent over the child -. 'this trouble may come again.'
'Not if thou hast the proper spell,' said the father.
'But in a little while we go away.'
'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.'
'But I am not a beggar.' The cultivator rose to his feet, clutching the child.
'Be still. Do not trouble the Holy One,' a priest cried.
'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?'
The lama, both hands raised, intoned a final blessing in ornate Chinese. 'I must lean on thy shoulder,' said he, as the temple gates closed. 'We grow stiff, I think.'
The weight of a six-foot man is not light to steady through miles of crowded streets, and Kim, loaded down with bundles and packages for the way, was glad to reach the shadow of the railway bridge.
'Here we eat,' he said resolutely, as the Kamboh, blue-robed and smiling, hove in sight, a basket in one hand and the child in the other.
'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.'
'And we,' said Kim, turning his back and heaping a leafplatter for the lama, 'are beyond all castes.'
They gorged themselves on the good food in silence. Nor till he had licked the last of the sticky sweetstuff from his little finger did Kim note that the Kamboh too was girt for travel.
'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.'
'So be it,' said Kim. 'A good stick is a good reason.'
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.'
'What is the name?' said Kim.
'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.'
'Oho! the woman from Kulu. That is by Saharunpore.' Kim laughed.
'How does the spirit move thy master? Does he go afoot, for the sake of past sins?' the Jat demanded cautiously. 'It is a far cry to Delhi.'
'No,' said Kim. 'I will beg a tikkut for the te-rain.' One does not own to the possession of money in India.
'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.'
'That was a great loss,' said the Kamboh, withdrawing interest. His experience of Benares had made him suspicious.
'Who cooked it?' said Kim.
'A woman.' The Mahratta raised his eyes.
'But all women can cook tarkeean,' said the Kamboh. 'It is a good curry, as I know.'
'Oh yes, it is a good curry,' said the Mahratta.
'And cheap,' said Kim. 'But what about caste?'
'Oh, there is no caste where men go to - look for tarkeean,' the Mahratta replied, in the prescribed cadence. 'Of whose service art thou?'
'Of the service of this Holy One.' Kim pointed to the happy, drowsy lama, who woke with a jerk at the well-loved word.
'Ah, he was sent from Heaven to aid me. He is called the Friend of all the World. He is also called the Friend of the Stars. He walks as a physician - his time being ripe. Great is his wisdom.'
'And a Son of the Charm,' said Kim under his breath, as the Kamboh made haste to prepare a pipe lest the Mahratta should beg.
'And who is that?' the Mahratta asked, glancing sideways nervously.
'One whose child I - we have cured, who lies under great debt to us. Sit by the window, man from Jullundur. Here is a sick one.'
'Humph! I have no desire to mix with chance-met wastrels. My ears are not long. I am not a woman wishing to overhear secrets.' The Jat slid himself heavily into a far corner.
'Art thou anything of a healer? I am ten leagues deep in calamity,' cried the Mahratta, picking up the cue.
'This man is cut and bruised all over. I go about to cure him,' Kim retorted. 'None interfered between thy babe and me.'
'I am rebuked,' said the Kamboh meekly. 'I am thy debtor for the life of my son. Thou art a miracle-worker - I know it.'
'Show me the cuts.' Kim bent over the Mahratta's neck, his heart nearly choking him; for this was the Great Game with a vengeance. 'Now, tell thy tale swiftly, brother, while I say a charm.'
'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.'
Kim did not know, but not for worlds would he have broken the thread.
'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.'
'But cannot the Government protect?'
'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.'
Kim nodded. He understood that feeling well.
'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!'
'And wast thou?'
'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!'
'Why did he not slay thee out of hand?'
'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.'
'Thou art safe in the te-rain, at least.'
'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.
'Hast thou a charm to change my shape? Else I am dead. Five - ten minutes alone, if I had not been so pressed, and I might -'
'Is he cured yet, miracle-worker?' said the Kamboh jealously. 'Thou hast chanted long enough.'
'Nay. There is no cure for his hurts, as I see, except he sit for three days in the habit of a bairagi.' This is a common penance, often imposed on a fat trader by his spiritual teacher.
'One priest always goes about to make another priest,' was the retort. Like most grossly superstitious folk, the Kamboh could not keep his tongue from deriding his Church.
'Will thy son be a priest, then? It is time he took more of my quinine.'
'We Jats are all buffaloes,' said the Kamboh, softening anew.
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?'
Up flew the man's huge paws in supplication. 'Nay - nay. Do not mock me thus.'
'It pleases me to cure this sick one. Thou shalt acquire merit by aiding. What colour ash is there in thy pipe-bowl? White. That is auspicious. Was there raw turmeric among thy foodstuffs?'
'I - I -'
'Open thy bundle!'
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?'
'Friend of the Stars, thou hast done well in all things. Let it be at thy pleasure. Is it another healing?'
'Quick! Be quick!' gasped the Mahratta. 'The train may stop.'
'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.
'That is my food - priest,' the jat growled.
'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!'
'I am blind - dumb. Forbear to curse! Co - come, child; we will play a game of hiding. Do not, for my sake, look from under the cloth.'
'I see hope,' said E23. 'What is thy scheme?'
'This comes next,' said Kim, plucking the thin body-shirt. E23 hesitated, with all a North-West man's dislike of baring his body.
'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.
'But two days entered to the Game, brother,' Kim replied. 'Smear more ash on the bosom.'
'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.
'Hah! Dost thou know his touch, then? He was my teacher for a while. We must bar thy legs. Ash cures wounds. Smear it again.'
'I was his pride once, but thou art almost better. The Gods are kind to us! Give me that.'
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.
'The blood on them is enough to hang thee, brother.'
'Maybe; but no need to throw them out of the window ... It is finished.' His voice thrilled with a boy's pure delight in the Game. 'Turn and look, O Jat!'
'The Gods protect us,' said the hooded Kamboh, emerging like a buffalo from the reeds. 'But - whither went the Mahratta? What hast thou done?'
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.
'Look up, Princeling! We travel with warlocks, but they will not hurt thee. Oh, do not cry ... What is the sense of curing a child one day and killing him with fright the next?'
'The child will be fortunate all his life. He has seen a great healing. When I was a child I made clay men and horses.'
'I have made them too. Sir Banas, he comes in the night and makes them all alive at the back of our kitchen-midden,' piped the child.
'And so thou art not frightened at anything. Eh, Prince?'
'I was frightened because my father was frightened. I felt his arms shake.'
'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.'
'The fewer money-lenders the better, say I; but, Saddhu or no Saddhu, he should pay for my stuff on his shoulders.'
'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.
So, in a silence of awe and great miscomprehension, they slid into Delhi about lamp-lighting time.
Who hath desired the Sea - the sight of salt-water unbounded? The heave and the halt and the hurl and the crash of the comber wind-hounded? The sleek-barrelled swell before storm - grey, foamless, enormous, and growing? Stark calm on the lap of the Line - or the crazy-eyed hurricane blowing? His Sea in no showing the same - his Sea and the same 'neath all showing - His Sea that his being fulfils? So and no otherwise - so and no otherwise hill-men desire their Hills!
The Sea and the Hills.
'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.
'See the young Sahib reading from a paper. My description is in his hand,' said E23. 'Thev go carriage by carriage, like fisher-folk netting a pool.'
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.
'Nothing here but a parcel of holy-bolies,' said the Englishman aloud, and passed on amid a ripple of uneasiness; for native police mean extortion to the native all India over.
'The trouble now,' whispered E23, 'lies in sending a wire as to the place where I hid that letter I was sent to find. I cannot go to the tar-office in this guise.'
'Is it not enough I have saved thy neck?'
'Not if the work be left unfinished. Did never the healer of sick pearls tell thee so? Comes another Sahib! Ah!'
This was a tallish, sallowish District Superintendent of Police - belt, helmet, polished spurs and all - strutting and twirling his dark moustache.
'What fools are these Police Sahibs!' said Kim genially.
E23 glanced up under his eyelids. 'It is well said,' he muttered in a changed voice. 'I go to drink water. Keep my place.'
He blundered out almost into the Englishman's arms, and was bad- worded in clumsy Urdu.
'Tum mut? You drunk? You mustn't bang about as though Delhi station belonged to you, my friend.'
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.
'My good fool,' the Englishman drawled. 'Nickle-jao! Go back to your carriage.'
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.
'I don't know what you're saying,' - the Englishman flushed angrily - 'but it's some piece of blasted impertinence. Come out of that!'
E23, affecting to misunderstand, gravely produced his ticket, which the Englishman wrenched angrily from his hand.
'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.'
'Is he also one of Us?' Kim ducked under a Mewar camel-driver's greasy armpit and cannoned off a covey of jabbering Sikh matrons.
'Not less than the greatest. We are both fortunate! I will make report to him of what thou hast done. I am safe under his protection.'
He bored through the edge of the crowd besieging the carriages, and squatted by the bench near the telegraph-office.
'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!'
Kim hurried to his carriage: elated, bewildered, but a little nettled in that he had no key to the secrets about him.
'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?'
'With the polis,' said Kim ... 'Yet I saved the Kamboh's child.'
The lama snuffed blandly.
'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.
'It is true,' he murmured. 'Where I have offended thee I have done wrong.'
'It is more, chela. Thou hast loosed an Act upon the world, and as a stone thrown into a pool so spread the consequences thou canst not tell how far.'
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?'
'Her tongue grows no shorter with the years, then?' the disciple smiled.
'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.
There they told their tale - a new one each evening so far as Kim was concerned - and there were they made welcome, either by priest or headman, after the custom of the kindly East.
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.
'Cure them if they are sick,' said the lama, when Kim's sporting instincts woke. 'Cure them if they have fever, but by no means work charms. Remember what befell the Mahratta.'
'Then all Doing is evil?' Kim replied, lying out under a big tree at the fork of the Doon road, watching the little ants run over his hand.
'To abstain from action is well - except to acquire merit.'
'At the Gates of Learning we were taught that to abstain from action was unbefitting a Sahib. And I am a Sahib.'
'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!'
'I am answered. Is it permitted to ask a question?'
The lama inclined his stately head.
'I ate thy bread for three years - as thou knowest. Holy One, whence came -?'
'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.
'Now do I remember' - the lama spoke as though it were a wholly new proposition. 'She is virtuous, but an inordinate talker.'
Kim was sitting on the edge of a cow's manger, telling stories to a village smith's children.
'She will only ask for another son for her daughter. I have not forgotten her,' he said. 'Let her acquire merit. Send word that we will come.'
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-in-law, 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.
'Had the Holy One come alone, I should have received him otherwise; but with this rogue, who can be too careful?'
'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.'
'Called the Maharanee a Breaker of Hearts and a Dispenser of Delights?'
'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.'
'Oh, Holy One!' said Kim, bubbling with mirth at the lama's rueful face.
'It is true. I gave her one against wind.'
'Teeth - teeth - teeth, ' snapped the old woman.
"'Cure them if they are sick,"' Kim quoted relishingly, "'but by no means work charms. Remember what befell the Mahratta."'
'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.'
'Arre! and to whom else should I talk? The boy's mother knew nothing, and the father - in the nights of the cold weather it was - "Pray to the Gods," said he, forsooth, and turning over, snored!'
'I gave her the charm. What is an old man to do?'
"'To abstain from action is well - except to acquire merit."'
'Ah chela, if thou desertest me, I am all alone.'
'He found his milk-teeth easily at any rate,' said the old lady. 'But all priests are alike.'
Kim coughed severely. Being young, he did not approve of her flippancy. 'To importune the wise out of season is to invite calamity.'
'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 in-auspicious colour of the bottles.'
The lama, under cover of the monologue, had faded out into the darkness towards the room prepared.
'Thou hast angered him, belike,' said Kim.
'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.'
'Who is the hakim, Maharanee?'
'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-in-trade 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.'
'A rat found a piece of turmeric. Said he: "I will open a grocer's shop,"' Kim retorted.
Battle was fairly joined now, and they heard the old lady stiffen to attention.
'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.'
'The Sahibs never grow old. They dance and they play like children when they are grandfathers. A strong-backed breed,' piped the voice inside the palanquin.
'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 -'
'That I surely believe,' said Kim.
'They knew the value of my drugs. I do not give my sick the mere ink in which a charm is written, but hot and rending drugs which descend and wrestle with the evil.'
'Very mightily they do so,' sighed the old lady.
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.
'To discuss medicine before the ignorant is of one piece with teaching the peacock to sing,' said the hakim.
'True courtesy,' Kim echoed, 'is very often inattention.'
These, be it understood, were company-manners, designed to impress.
'Hi! I have an ulcer on my leg,' cried a scullion. 'Look at it!'
'Get hence! Remove!' said the hakim. 'Is it the habit of the place to pester honoured guests? Ye crowd in like buffaloes.'
'If the Sahiba knew -' Kim began.
'Ai! Ai! Come away. They are meat for our mistress. When her young Shaitan's colics are cured perhaps we poor people may be suffered to -'
'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.
Said the hakim, hardly more than shaping the words with his lips: 'How do you do, Mister O'Hara? I am jolly glad to see you again.'
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 ha! I told you at Lucknow - resurgam - I shall rise again and you shall not know me. How much did you bet - eh?'
He chewed leisurely upon a few cardamom seeds, but he breathed uneasily.
'But why come here, Babuji?'
'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.
'Tell thy tale, Babu,' he said authoritatively.
'Oah, it is nothing. Onlee I was at Simla when the wire came in about what our mutual friend said he had hidden, and old Creighton -' He looked to see how Kim
would take this piece of audacity.
'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.'
The frogs were busy in the ditches, and the moon slid to her setting. Some happy servant had gone out to commune with the night and to beat upon a drum. Kim's next sentence was in the vernacular.
'How didst thou follow us?'
'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?'
'Babuji,' said Kim, looking up at the broad, grinning face, 'I am a Sahib.'
'My dear Mister O'Hara -'
'And I hope to play the Great Game.'
'You are subordinate to me departmentally at present.'
'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.'
'That is so verree disconcerting of the Europeans, Mister O'Hara. You should know a heap better at your time of life.'
'But I want to know,' said Kim, laughing. 'If it is the Game, I may help. How can I do anything if you bukh [babble] all round the shop?'
Hurree Babu reached for the pipe, and sucked it till it gurgled again.
'Now I will speak vernacular. You sit tight, Mister O'Hara ... It concerns the pedigree of a white stallion.'
'Still? That was finished long ago.'
'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.'
'Ay - eight thousand men with guns. I remember that night.'
'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.'
'So? And then?'
'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.'
'Oho! The thing gets clearer.'
'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.'
Kim smoked slowly, revolving the business, so far as he understood it, in his quick mind.
'Then thou goest forth to follow the strangers?'
'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.'
'Then what is to fear from them?'
'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.'
'Will they kill thee?'
'Oah, thatt is nothing. I am good enough Herbert Spencerian, I trust, to meet little thing like death, which is all in my fate, you know. But - but they may beat me.'
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.'
'God made the Hare and the Bengali. What shame?' said Kim, quoting the proverb.
'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.'
'Humph! The end of the tale, I think, is true; but what of the fore-part?'
'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.'
'He would certainly rejoice to see the Hills again,' said Kim meditatively. 'All his speech these ten days past has been of little else. If we go together -'
'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 ...'
'What was the upshot of last night's babble?' said the lama, after his orisons
'There came a strolling seller of drugs - a hanger-on of the Sahiba's. Him I abolished by arguments and prayers, proving that our charms are worthier than his coloured waters.'
'Alas, my charms! Is the virtuous woman still bent upon a new one?'
'Then it must be written, or she will deafen me with her clamour.' He fumbled at his pencase.
'In the Plains,' said Kim, 'are always too many people. In the Hills, as I understand, there are fewer.'
'Oh! the Hills, and the snows upon the Hills.' The lami tore off a tiny square of paper fit to go in an amulet. 'But what dost thou know of the Hills?'
'They are very close.' Kim thrust open the door and looked at the long, peaceful line of the Himalayas flushed in morning-gold. 'Except in the dress of a Sahib, I have never set foot among them.'
The lama snuffed the wind wistfully.
'If we go North,' - Kim put the question to the waking sunrise - 'would not much mid-day heat be avoided by walking among the lower hills at least? ... Is the charm made, Holy One?'
'I have written the names of seven silly devils - not one of whom is worth a grain of dust in the eye. Thus do foolish women drag us from the Way!'
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-in-law (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.
There were cakes, there were sweetmeats, there was cold fowl stewed to rags with rice and prunes - enough to burden Kim like a mule.
'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.'
She wiped her red old eyes on a corner of her veil, and clucked throatily.
'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.'
'And, O imp?' The lama almost laughed aloud.
'I cannot make the picture.'
'Nor I. But there are many, many millions of lives before her. She will get wisdom a little, it may be, in each one.'
'And will she forget how to make stews with saffron upon that road?'
'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.'
'Didst thou tell him of thy Search?' said Kim, a little jealously. He preferred to sway the lama by his own speech - not through the wiles of Hurree Babu.
'Assuredly. I told him of my dream, and of the manner by which I had acquired merit by causing thee to be taught wisdom.'
'Thou didst not say I was a Sahib?'
'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!'
He set his ivory-yellow face, serene and untroubled, towards the beckoning Hills; his shadow shouldering far before him in the dust.