Yea, voice of every Soul that clung To life that strove from rung to rung When Devadatta's rule was young, The warm wind brings Kamakura.
Buddha at Kamakura.
Behind them an angry farmer brandished a bamboo pole. He was a market-gardener, Arain by caste, growing vegetables and flowers for Umballa city, and well Kim knew the breed.
'Such an one,' said the lama, disregarding the dogs, 'is impolite to strangers, intemperate of speech and uncharitable. Be warned by his demeanour, my disciple.'
'Ho, shameless beggars!' shouted the farmer. 'Begone! Get hence!'
'We go,' the lama returned, with quiet dignity. 'We go from these unblessed fields.'
'Ah,' said Kim, sucking in his breath. 'If the next crops fail, thou canst only blame thine own tongue.'
The man shuffled uneasily in his slippers. 'The land is full of beggars,' he began, half apologetically.
'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.'
'Nay, we will go to the river,' said the lama, striding out.
'Milk and a meal.' the man stammered, as he looked at the strange tall figure. 'I - I would not draw evil upon myself - or my crops. But beggars are so many in these hard days.'
'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.'
'I have met holy ones who would have cursed thee from hearthstone to byre,' said Kim to the abashed man. 'Is he not wise and holy? I am his disciple.'
He cocked his nose in the air loftily and stepped across the narrow field-borders with great dignity.
'There is no pride,' said the lama, after a pause, 'there is no pride among such as follow the Middle Way.'
'But thou hast said he was low-caste and discourteous.'
'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.
'Now, how wilt thou know thy River?' said Kim, squatting in the shade of some tall sugar-cane.
'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.
'I have no stick - I have no stick,' said Kim. '1 will get me one and break his back.'
'Why? He is upon the Wheel as we are - a life ascending or descending - very far from deliverance. Great evil must the soul have done that is cast into this shape.'
'I hate all snakes,' said Kim. No native training can quench the white man's horror of the Serpent.
'Let him live out his life.' The coiled thing hissed and half opened its hood. 'May thy release come soon, brother!' the lama continued placidly. 'Hast thou knowledge, by chance, of my River?'
'Never have I seen such a man as thou art,' Kim whispered, overwhelmed. 'Do the very snakes understand thy talk?'
'Who knows?' He passed within a foot of the cobra's poised head. It flattened itself among the dusty coils.
'Come, thou!' he called over his shoulder.
'Not I,' said Kim'. 'I go round.'
'Come. He does no hurt.'
Kim hesitated for a moment. The lama backed his order by some droned Chinese quotation which Kim took for a charm. He obeyed and bounded across the rivulet, and the snake, indeed, made no sign.
'Never have I seen such a man.' Kim wiped the sweat from his forehead. 'And now, whither go we?'
'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.
Kim told the older children tales of the size and beauty of Lahore, of railway travel, and such-like city things, while the men talked, slowly as their cattle chew the cud.
'I cannot fathom it,' said the headman at last to the priest. 'How readest thou this talk?' The lama, his tale told, was silently telling his beads.
'He is a Seeker.' the priest answered. 'The land is full of such. Remember him who came only last, month - the fakir with the tortoise?'
'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.'
'Peace, he is old: he comes from far off, and he is mad,' the smooth-shaven priest replied. 'Hear me.' He turned to the lama. 'Three koss [six miles] to the westward runs the great road to Calcutta.'
'But I would go to Benares - to Benares.'
'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.
'Seest thou my chela?' he said, diving into his snuff-gourd with an important sniff. It was his duty to repay courtesy with courtesy.
'I see - and hear.' The headman rolled his eye where Kim was chatting to a girl in blue as she laid crackling thorns on a fire.
'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.'
The priest smiled. 'Ho, there, Friend of all the World,' he cried across the sharp-smelling smoke, 'what art thou?'
'This Holy One's disciple,' said Kim.
'He says thou are a but [a spirit].'
'Can buts eat?' said Kim, with a twinkle. 'For I am hungry.'
'It is no jest,' cried the lama. 'A certain astrologer of that city whose name I have forgotten -'
'That is no more than the city of Umballa where we slept last night,' Kim whispered to the priest.
'Ay, Umballa was it? He cast a horoscope and declared that my chela should find his desire within two days. But what said he of the meaning of the stars, Friend of all the World?'
Kim cleared his throat and looked around at the village greybeards.
'The meaning of my Star is War,' he replied pompously.
Somebody laughed at the little tattered figure strutting on the brickwork plinth under the great tree. Where a native would have lain down, Kim's white blood set him upon his feet.
'Ay, War,' he answered.
'That is a sure prophecy,' rumbled a deep voice. 'For there is always war along the Border - as I know.'
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.
'But this shall be a great war - a war of eight thousand.' Kim's voice shrilled across the quick-gathering crowd, astonishing himself.
'Redcoats or our own regiments?' the old man snapped, as though he were asking an equal. His tone made men respect Kim.
'Redcoats,' said Kim at a venture. 'Redcoats and guns.'
'But - but the astrologer said no word of this,' cried the lama, snuffing prodigiously in his excitement.
'But I know. The word has come to me, who am this Holy One's disciple. There will rise a war - a war of eight thousand redcoats. From Pindi and Peshawur they will be drawn. This is sure.'
'The boy has heard bazar-talk,' said the priest.
'But he was always by my side,' said the lama. 'How should he know? I did not know.'
'He will make a clever juggler when the old man is dead,' muttered the priest to the headman. 'What new trick is this?'
'A sign. Give me a sign,' thundered the old soldier suddenly. 'If there were war my sons would have told me.'
'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.
'Old man, give me a sign. Do underlings order the goings of eight thousand redcoats - with guns?'
'No.' Still the old man answered as though Kim were an equal.
'Dost thou know who He is, then, that gives the order?'
'I have seen Him.'
'To know again?'
'I have known Him since he was a lieutenant in the topkhana (the Artillery).'
'A tall man. A tall man with black hair, walking thus?' Kim took a few paces in a stiff, wooden style.
'Ay. But that anyone may have seen.' The crowd were breathless - still through all this talk.
'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.
The old man groaned, inarticulate with amazement; and the crowd shivered.
'So - so - so. But what does He when He is about to give an order?'
'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."'
The old man rose stiffly and saluted.
'"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!"'
'Enough. I believe. I have seen Him thus in the smoke of battles. Seen and heard. It is He!'
'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?'
'It is He. Past all doubt it is He.'
The crowd drew a long, quavering breath, staring alternately at the old man, still at attention, and ragged Kim against the purple twilight.
'Said I not - said I not he was from the other world?' cried the lama proudly. 'He is the Friend of all the World. He is the Friend of the Stars!'
'At least it does not concern us,' a man cried. 'O thou young soothsayer, if the gift abides with thee at all seasons, I have a red-spotted cow. She may be sister to thy Bull for aught I know -'
'Or I care,' said Kim. 'My Stars do not concern themselves with thy cattle.'
'Nay, but she is very sick,' a woman struck in. 'My man is a buffalo, or he would have chosen his words better. Tell me if she recover?'
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.
The priest looked at him sideways, something bitterly - a dry and blighting smile.
'Is there no priest, then, in the village? I thought I had seen a great one even now,' cried Kim.
'Ay - but -' the woman began.
'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 master-beggar art thou,' purred the priest approvingly. 'Not the cunning of forty years could have done better. Surely thou hast made the old man rich?'
'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."
He knew what the fakirs of the Taksali Gate were like when they talked among themselves, and copied the very inflection of their lewd disciples.
'Is his Search, then, truth or a cloak to other ends? It may be treasure.'
'He is mad - many times mad. There is nothing else.'
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.
'Where is the money?' he whispered, beckoning the old man off into the darkness.
'In my bosom. Where else?'
'Give it me. Quietly and swiftly give it me.'
'But why? Here is no ticket to buy.'
'Am I thy chela, or am I not? Do I not safeguard thy old feet about the ways? Give me the money and at dawn I will return it.' He slipped his hand above the lama's girdle and brought away the purse.
'Be it so - be it so.' The old man nodded his head. 'This is a great and terrible world. I never knew there were so many men alive in it.'
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.
'Certainly the air of this country is good,' said the lama. 'I sleep lightly, as do all old men; but last night I slept unwaking till broad day. Even now I am heavy.'
'Drink a draught of hot milk,' said Kim, who had carried not a few such remedies to opium-smokers of his acquaintance. 'It is time to take the Road again.'
'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.'
'Holy One, hast thou ever taken the Road alone?' Kim looked up sharply, like the Indian crows so busy about the fields.
'Surely, child: from Kulu to Pathankot - from Kulu, where my first chela died. When men were kind to us we made offerings, and all men were well-disposed throughout all the Hills.'
'It is otherwise in Hind,' said Kim drily. 'Their Gods are many- armed and malignant. Let them alone.'
'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?'
'But he is a holy man,' said Kim earnestly. 'In truth, and in talk and in act, holy. He is not like the others. I have never seen such an one. We be not fortune-tellers, or jugglers, or beggars.'
'Thou art not. That I can see. But I do not know that other. He marches well, though.'
The first freshness of the day carried the lama forward with long, easy, camel-like strides. He was deep in meditation, mechanically clicking his rosary.
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.
'It repents me that I did not give a rupee to the shrine,' said the lama on the last bead of his eighty-one.
The old soldier growled in his beard, so that the lama for the first time was aware of him.
'Seekest thou the River also?' said he, turning.
'The day is new,' was the reply. 'What need of a river save to water at before sundown? I come to show thee a short lane to the Big Road.'
'That is a courtesy to be remembered, O man of good will. But why the sword?'
The old soldier looked as abashed as a child interrupted in his game of make-believe.
'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.'
'It is not a good fancy,' said the lama. 'What profit to kill men?'
'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.'
'What madness was that, then?'
'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.'
'Some such rumour, I believe, reached me once long ago. They called it the Black Year, as I remember.'
'What manner of life hast thou led, not to know The Year? A rumour indeed! All earth knew, and trembled!'
'Our earth never shook but once - upon the day that the Excellent One received Enlightenment.'
'Umph! I saw Delhi shake at least- and Delhi is the navel of the world.'
'So they turned against women and children? That was a bad deed, for which the punishment cannot be avoided.'
'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.'
'The greater merit.'
'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."'
'Ay, there is a recompense when the madness is over, surely?' the lama muttered half to himself.
'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.'
'And after?' said the lama.
'Oh, afterwards they go away, but not before my village has seen.'
'And at the last what wilt thou do?'
'At the last I shall die.'
'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.'
'And they likewise, bound upon the Wheel, go forth from life to life - from despair to despair,' said the lama below his breath, 'hot, uneasy, snatching.'
'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.'
'Hast thou never desired any other thing?'
'Yes - yes - a thousand times! A straight back and a close-clinging knee once more; a quick wrist and a keen eye; and the marrow that makes a man. Oh, the old days - the good days of my strength!'
'That strength is weakness.'
'It has turned so; but fifty years since I could have proved it otherwise,' the old soldier retorted, driving his stirrup-edge into the pony's lean flank.
'But I know a River of great healing.'
'I have drank Gunga-water to the edge of dropsy. All she gave me was a flux, and no sort of strength.'
'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.'
'Speak, then, old man,' the soldier smiled, half saluting. 'We be all babblers at our age.'
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!'
'I fear! I am afraid!' roared the child.
'What is it to fear? Two old men and a boy? How wilt thou ever make a soldier, Princeling?'
The lama had waked too, but, taking no direct notice of the child, clicked his rosary.
'What is that?' said the child, stopping a yell midway. 'I have never seen such things. Give them me.'
'Aha.' said the lama, smiling, and trailing a loop of it on the grass:
This is a handful of cardamoms, This is a lump of ghi: This is millet and chillies and rice, A supper for thee and me!
The child shrieked with joy, and snatched at the dark, glancing beads.
'Oho!' said the old soldier. 'Whence hadst thou that song, despiser of this world?'
'I learned it in Pathankot - sitting on a doorstep,' said the lama shyly. 'It is good to be kind to babes.'
'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?'
'No man is all perfect,' said the lama gravely, recoiling the rosary. 'Run now to thy mother, little one.'
'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.'
'We be two old men,' said the lama. 'The fault is mine. I listened to thy talk of the world and its madness, and one fault led to the next.'
'Hear him! What harm do thy Gods suffer from play with a babe? And that song was very well sung. Let us go on and I will sing thee the song of Nikal Seyn before Delhi - the old song.'
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.
'Ahi! Nikal Seyn is dead - he died before Delhi! Lances of the North, take vengeance for Nikal Seyn.' He quavered it out to the end, marking the trills with the flat of his sword on the pony's rump.
'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.
'Who bears arms against the law?' a constable called out laughingly, as he caught sight of the soldier's sword. 'Are not the police enough to destroy evil-doers?'
'It was because of the police I bought it,' was the answer. 'Does all go well in Hind?'
'Rissaldar Sahib, all goes well.'
'I am like an old tortoise, look you, who puts his head out from the bank and draws it in again. Ay, this is the Road of Hindustan. All men come by this way...'
'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.
The old man's face lit with pride. 'My child!' said he briefly, and strove to rein the pony's neck to a fitting arch.
'Am I to be beaten before the police?' cried the carter. 'Justice! I will have Justice -'
'Am I to be blocked by a shouting ape who upsets ten thousand sacks under a young horse's nose? That is the way to ruin a mare.'
'He speaks truth. He speaks truth. But she follows her man close,' said the old man. The carter ran under the wheels of his cart and thence threatened all sorts of vengeance.
'They are strong men, thy sons,' said the policeman serenely, picking his teeth.
The horseman delivered one last vicious cut with his whip and came on at a canter.
'My father!' He reigned back ten yards and dismounted.
The old man was off his pony in an instant, and they embraced as do father and son in the East.
Good Luck, she is never a lady, But the cursedest quean alive, Tricksy, wincing, and jady - Kittle to lead or drive. Greet her - she's hailing a stranger! Meet her - she's busking to leave! Let her alone for a shrew to the bone And the hussy comes plucking your sleeve! Largesse! Largesse, O Fortune! Give or hold at your will. If I've no care for Fortune, Fortune must follow me still!
Then, lowering their voices, they spoke together. Kim came to rest under a tree, but the lama tugged impatiently at his elbow.
'Let us go on. The River is not here.'
'Hai mai! Have we not walked enough for a little? Our River will not run away. Patience, and he will give us a dole.'
'This.' said the old soldier suddenly, 'is the Friend of the Stars. He brought me the news yesterday. Having seen the very man Himself, in a vision, giving orders for the war.'
'Hm!' said his son, all deep in his broad chest. 'He came by a bazar-rumour and made profit of it.'
His father laughed. 'At least he did not ride to me begging for a new charger, and the Gods know how many rupees. Are thy brothers' regiments also under orders?'
'I do not know. I took leave and came swiftly to thee in case -'
'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.
'This is no place to cast accounts in, my father. Let us go to thy house.'
'At least pay the boy, then: I have no pice with me, and he brought auspicious news. Ho! Friend of all the World, a war is toward as thou hast said.'
'Nay, as I know, the war,' returned Kim composedly.
'Eh?' said the lama, fingering his beads, all eager for the road.
'My master does not trouble the Stars for hire. We brought the news bear witness, we brought the news, and now we go.' Kim half-crooked his hand at his side.
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.
'Go thy way, Friend of all the World,' piped the old soldier, wheeling his scrawny mount. 'For once in all my days I have met a true prophet - who was not in the Army.'
Father and son swung round together: the old man sitting as erect as the younger.
A Punjabi constable in yellow linen trousers slouched across the road. He had seen the money pass.
'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-in-law? Hast thou ever heard the name of thy brother?'
'And who was he? Leave the boy alone,' cried a senior constable, immensely delighted, as he squatted down to smoke his pipe in the veranda.
'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!'
The policeman drew back abashed, and Kim hooted at him all down the road.
'Was there ever such a disciple as I?' he cried merrily to the lama. 'All earth would have picked thy bones within ten mile of Lahore city if I had not guarded thee.'
'I consider in my own mind whether thou art a spirit, sometimes, or sometimes an evil imp,' said the lama, smiling slowly.
'I am thy chela.' Kim dropped into step at his side - that indescribable gait of the long-distance tramp all the world over.
'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.
'This is a good land - the land of the South!' said he. 'The air is good; the water is good. Eh?'
'And they are all bound upon the Wheel,' said the lama. 'Bound from life after life. To none of these has the Way been shown.' He shook himself back to this world.
'And now we have walked a weary way,' said Kim. 'Surely we shall soon come to a parao [a resting-place]. Shall we stay there? Look, the sun is sloping.'
'Who will receive us this evening?'
'That is all one. This country is full of good folk. Besides' he sunk his voice beneath a whisper - 'we have money.'
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-in- law, 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.
'Stand farther off, beggar!' The order was shouted in broken Hindustani by one of the hillmen.
'Huh! It is only a pahari [a hillman]', said Kim over his shoulder. 'Since when have the hill-asses owned all Hindustan?'
The retort was a swift and brilliant sketch of Kim's pedigree for three generations.
'Ah!' Kim's voice was sweeter than ever, as he broke the dung-cake into fit pieces. 'In my country we call that the beginning of love-talk.'
A harsh, thin cackle behind the curtains put the hillman on his mettle for a second shot.
'Not so bad - not so bad,' said Kim with calm. 'But have a care, my brother, lest we - we, I say - be minded to give a curse or so in return. And our curses have the knack of biting home.'
The Ooryas laughed; the hillman sprang forward threateningly. The lama suddenly raised his head, bringing his huge tam-o'-shanter hat into the full light of Kim's new-started fire.
'What is it?' said he.
The man halted as though struck to stone. 'I - I - am saved from a great sin,' he stammered.
'The foreigner has found him a priest at last,' whispered one of the Ooryas.
'Hai! Why is that beggar-brat not well beaten?' the old woman cried.
The hillman drew back to the cart and whispered something to the curtain. There was dead silence, then a muttering.
'This goes well,' thought Kim, pretending neither to see nor hear.
'When - when - he has eaten' - the hillman fawned on Kim - 'it - it is requested that the Holy One will do the honour to talk to one who would speak to him.'
'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.
'I - I myself and the others of my people will look to that - if it is permitted.'
'It is permitted,' said Kim, more loftily than ever. 'Holy One, these people will bring us food.'
'The land is good. All the country of the South is good - a great and a terrible world,' mumbled the lama drowsily.
'Let him sleep,' said Kim, 'but look to it that we are well fed when he wakes. He is a very holy man.'
Again one of the Ooryas said something contemptuously.
'He is not a fakir. He is not a down-country beggar,' Kim went on severely, addressing the stars. 'He is the most holy of holy men. He is above all castes. I am his chela.'
'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:
'Who is that one?'
'An exceedingly holy one. He comes from far off. He comes from Tibet.'
'Where in Tibet?'
'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.'
'Thou art no hillman.'
'Ask him. He will tell thee I was sent to him from the Stars to show him an end to his pilgrimage.'
'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.'
'Do we not all work for gain?' Kim changed his tone promptly to match that altered voice. 'I have heard' - this was a bow drawn at a venture - 'I have heard -'
'What hast thou heard?' she snapped, rapping with the finger.
'Nothing that I well remember, but some talk in the bazars, which is doubtless a lie, that even Rajahs - small Hill Rajahs -'
'But none the less of good Rajput blood.'
'Assuredly of good blood. That these even sell the more comely of their womenfolk for gain. Down south they sell them - to zemindars and such - all of Oudh.'
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.
'Ahai! I am only a beggar's brat, as the Eye of Beauty has said,' he wailed in extravagant terror.
'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 -'
'Order? I order a Holy One - a Teacher of the Law - to come and speak to a woman? Never!'
'Pity my stupidity. I thought it was given as an order -'
'It was not. It was a petition. Does this make all clear?'
A silver coin clicked on the edge of the cart. Kim took it and salaamed profoundly. The old lady recognized that, as the eyes and the ears of the lama, he was to be propitiated.
'I am but the Holy One's disciple. When he has eaten perhaps he will come.'
'Oh, villain and shameless rogue!' The jewelled forefinger shook itself at him reprovingly; but he could hear the old lady's chuckle.
'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.'
'Two arrows in the quiver are better than one; and three are better still.' Kim quoted the proverb with a meditative cough, looking discreetly earthward.
'True - oh, true. But perhaps that will come. Certainly those down- country Brahmins are utterly useless. I sent gifts and monies and gifts again to them, and they prophesied.'
'Ah,' drawled Kim, with infinite contempt, 'they prophesied!' A professional could have done no better.
'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.'
'Thither go we.'
'Doubly auspicious,' chirruped the old lady. 'A second son at least!'
'O Friend of all the World!' The lama had waked, and, simply as a child bewildered in a strange bed, called for Kim.
'I come! I come, Holy One!' He dashed to the fire, where he found the lama already surrounded by dishes of food, the hillmen visibly adoring him and the Southerners looking sourly.
'Go back! Withdraw!' Kim cried. 'Do we eat publicly like dogs?' They finished the meal in silence, each turned a little from the other, and Kim topped it with a native-made cigarette.
'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.'
'Is this also thy work?' The lama dipped deep into his snuff-gourd.
'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.'
'That is no part of the Way,' sighed the lama. 'But at least she is from the Hills. Ah, the Hills, and the snow of the Hills!'
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.
At last the lama returned. A hillman walked behind him with a wadded cotton-quilt and spread it carefully by the fire.
'She deserves ten thousand grandchildren,' thought Kim. 'None the less, but for me, those gifts would not have come.'
'A virtuous woman - and a wise one.' The lama slackened off, joint by joint, like a slow camel. 'The world is full of charity to those who follow the Way.' He flung a fair half of the quilt over Kim.
'And what said she?' Kim rolled up in his share of it.
'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.'
'True. That is true.' Kim used the thoughtful, conciliatory tone of those who wish to draw confidences.
'But by her lights she is most right-minded. She desires greatly that we should go with her to Buddh Gaya; her road being ours, as I understand, for many days' journey to the southward.'
'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.'
'I spoke therefore of the Search, and of the Way, and of matters that were profitable; she desiring only that I should accompany her and make prayer for a second son.'
'Aha! "We women" do not think of anything save children,' said Kim sleepily.
'Now, since our roads run together for a while, I do not see that we in any way depart from our Search if so be we accompany her - at least as far as - I have forgotten the name of the city.'
'Ohe!' said Kim, turning and speaking in a sharp whisper to one of the Ooryas a few yards away. 'Where is your master's house?'
'A little behind Saharunpore, among the fruit gardens.' He named the village.
'That was the place,' said the lama. 'So far, at least, we can go with her.'
'Flies go to carrion,' said the Oorya, in an abstracted voice.
'For the sick cow a crow; for the sick man a Brahmin.' Kim breathed the proverb impersonally to the shadow-tops of the trees overhead.
The Oorya grunted and held his peace.
'So then we go with her, Holy One?'
'Is there any reason against? I can still step aside and try all the rivers that the road overpasses. She desires that I should come. She very greatly desires it.'
Kim stifled a laugh in the quilt. When once that imperious old lady had recovered from her natural awe of a lama he thought it probable that she would be worth listening to.
He was nearly asleep when the lama suddenly quoted a proverb: 'The husbands of the talkative have a great reward hereafter.' Then Kim heard him snuff thrice, and dozed off, still laughing.
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.'
'The lead-bullocks! Hai! Look to the lead-bullocks!' They were backing and wheeling as a grain-cart's axle caught them by the horns. "Son of an owl, where dost thou go?' This to the grinning carter.
'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.
'Oh, shabash!' murmured Kim, unable to contain himself, as the man slunk away.
'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?'
It was hastily thrust in by a hillman, and a trickle of thick smoke from each corner of the curtains showed that peace was restored.
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.
A dark, sallowish District Superintendent of Police, faultlessly uniformed, an Englishman, trotted by on a tired horse, and, seeing from her retinue what manner of person she was, chaffed her.
'O mother,' he cried, 'do they do this in the zenanas? Suppose an Englishman came by and saw that thou hast no nose?'
'What?' she shrilled back. 'Thine own mother has no nose? Why say so, then, on the open road?'
It was a fair counter. The Englishman threw up his hand with the gesture of a man hit at sword-play. She laughed and nodded.
'Is this a face to tempt virtue aside?' She withdrew all her veil and stared at him.
It was by no means lovely, but as the man gathered up his reins he called it a Moon of Paradise, a Disturber of Integrity, and a few other fantastic epithets which doubled her up with mirth.
'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?'
'A pahareen - a hillwoman of Dalhousie, my mother. Keep thy beauty under a shade - O Dispenser of Delights,' and he was gone.
'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.