Here come I to my own again Fed, forgiven, and known again Claimed by bone of my bone again, And sib to flesh of my flesh! The fatted calf is dressed for me, But the husks have greater zest for me ... I think my pigs will be best for me, So I'm off to the styes afresh.
The Prodigal Son.
Once more the lazy, string-tied, shuffling procession got under way, and she slept till they reached the next halting-stage. It was a very short march, and time lacked an hour to sundown, so Kim cast about for means of amusement.
'But why not sit and rest?' said one of the escort. 'Only the devils and the English walk to and fro without reason.'
'Never make friends with the Devil, a Monkey, or a Boy. No man knows what they will do next,' said his fellow.
Kim turned a scornful back - he did not want to hear the old story how the Devil played with the boys and repented of it and walked idly across country.
The lama strode after him. All that day, whenever they passed a stream, he had turned aside to look at it, but in no case had he received any warning that he had found his River. Insensibly, too, the comfort of speaking to someone in a reasonable tongue, and of being properly considered and respected as her spiritual adviser by a well-born woman, had weaned his thoughts a little from the Search. And further, he was prepared to spend serene years in his quest; having nothing of the white man's impatience, but a great faith.
'Where goest thou?' he called after Kim.
'Nowhither - it was a small march, and all this' - Kim waved his hands abroad - 'is new to me.'
'She is beyond question a wise and a discerning woman. But it is hard to meditate when -'
'All women are thus.' Kim spoke as might have Solomon.
'Before the lamassery was a broad platform,' the lama muttered, looping up the well-worn rosary, 'of stone. On that I have left the marks of my feet - pacing to and fro with these.'
He clicked the beads, and began the 'Om mane pudme hum's of his devotion; grateful for the cool, the quiet, and the absence of dust.
One thing after another drew Kim's idle eye across the plain. There was no purpose in his wanderings, except that the build of the huts near by seemed new, and he wished to investigate.
They came out on a broad tract of grazing-ground, brown and purple in the afternoon light, with a heavy clump of mangoes in the centre. It struck Kim as curious that no shrine stood in so eligible a spot: the boy was observing as any priest for these things. Far across the plain walked side by side four men, made small by the distance. He looked intently under his curved palms and caught the sheen of brass.
'Soldiers. White soldiers!' said he. 'Let us see.'
'It is always soldiers when thou and I go out alone together. But I have never seen the white soldiers.'
'They do no harm except when they are drunk. Keep behind this tree.'
They stepped behind the thick trunks in the cool dark of the mango- tope. Two little figures halted; the other two came forward uncertainly. They were the advance-party of a regiment on the march, sent out, as usual, to mark the camp. They bore five-foot sticks with fluttering flags, and called to each other as they spread over the flat earth.
At last they entered the mango-grove, walking heavily.
'It's here or hereabouts - officers' tents under the trees, I take it, an' the rest of us can stay outside. Have they marked out for the baggage-wagons behind?'
They cried again to their comrades in the distance, and the rough answer came back faint and mellowed.
'Shove the flag in here, then,' said one.
'What do they prepare?' said the lama, wonderstruck. 'This is a great and terrible world. What is the device on the flag?'
A soldier thrust a stave within a few feet of them, grunted discontentedly, pulled it up again, conferred with his companion, who looked up and down the shaded cave of greenery, and returned it.
Kim stared with all his eyes, his breath coming short and sharp between his teeth. The soldiers stamped off into the sunshine.
'O Holy One!' he gasped. 'My horoscope! The drawing in the dust by the priest at Umballa! Remember what he said. First come two - ferashes - to make all things ready - in a dark place, as it is always at the beginning of a vision.'
'But this is not vision,' said the lama. 'It is the world's Illusion, and no more.'
'And after them comes the Bull - the Red Bull on the green field. Look! It is he!'
He pointed to the flag that was snap snapping in the evening breeze not ten feet away. It was no more than an ordinary camp marking- flag; but the regiment, always punctilious in matters of millinery, had charged it with the regimental device, the Red Bull, which is the crest of the Mavericks - the great Red Bull on a background of Irish green.
'I see, and now I remember.' said the lama. 'Certainly it is thy Bull. Certainly, also, the two men came to make all ready.'
'They are soldiers - white soldiers. What said the priest? "The sign over against the Bull is the sign of War and armed men." Holy One, this thing touches my Search.'
'True. It is true.' The lama stared fixedly at the device that flamed like a ruby in the dusk. 'The priest at Umballa said that thine was the sign of War.'
'What is to do now?'
'Wait. Let us wait.'
'Even now the darkness clears,' said Kim. It was only natural that the descending sun should at last strike through the tree-trunks, across the grove, filling it with mealy gold light for a few minutes; but to Kim it was the crown of the Umballa Brahmin's prophecy.
'Hark!' said the lama. 'One beats a drum - far off!'
At first the sound, carrying diluted through the still air, resembled the beating of an artery in the head. Soon a sharpness was added.
'Ah! The music,' Kim explained. He knew the sound of a regimental band, but it amazed the lama.
At the far end of the plain a heavy, dusty column crawled in sight. Then the wind brought the tune:
We crave your condescension To tell you what we know Of marching in the Mulligan Guards To Sligo Port below!
Here broke in the shrill-tongued fifes:
We shouldered arms, We marched - we marched away. From Phoenix Park We marched to Dublin Bay. The drums and the fifes, Oh, sweetly they did play, As we marched - marched - marched - with the Mulligan Guards!
It was the band of the Mavericks playing the regiment to camp; for the men were route-marching with their baggage. The rippling column swung into the level - carts behind it divided left and right, ran about like an ant-hill, and ...
'But this is sorcery!' said the lama.
The plain dotted itself with tents that seemed to rise, all spread, from the carts. Another rush of men invaded the grove, pitched a huge tent in silence, ran up yet eight or nine more by the side of it, unearthed cooking-pots, pans, and bundles, which were taken possession of by a crowd of native servants; and behold the mango- tope turned into an orderly town as they watched!
'Let us go,' said the lama, sinking back afraid, as the fires twinkled and white officers with jingling swords stalked into the Mess-tent.
'Stand back in the shadow. No one can see beyond the light of a fire,' said Kim, his eyes still on the flag. He had never before watched the routine of a seasoned regiment pitching camp in thirty minutes.
'Look! look! look!' clucked the lama. 'Yonder comes a priest.' It was Bennett, the Church of England Chaplain of the regiment, limping in dusty black. One of his flock had made some rude remarks about the Chaplain's mettle; and to abash him Bennett had marched step by step with the men that day. The black dress, gold cross on the watch-chain, the hairless face, and the soft, black wideawake hat would have marked him as a holy man anywhere in all India. He dropped into a camp-chair by the door of the Mess-tent and slid off his boots. Three or four officers gathered round him, laughing and joking over his exploit.
'The talk of white men is wholly lacking in dignity,' said the lama, who judged only by tone. 'But I considered the countenance of that priest and I think he is learned. Is it likely that he will understand our talk? I would talk to him of my Search.'
'Never speak to a white man till he is fed,' said Kim, quoting a well-known proverb. 'They will eat now, and - and I do not think they are good to beg from. Let us go back to the resting-place. After we have eaten we will come again. It certainly was a Red Bull - my Red Bull.'
They were both noticeably absent-minded when the old lady's retinue set their meal before them; so none broke their reserve, for it is not lucky to annoy guests.
'Now,' said Kim, picking his teeth, 'we will return to that place; but thou, O Holy One, must wait a little way off, because thy feet are heavier than mine and I am anxious to see more of that Red Bull.'
'But how canst thou understand the talk? Walk slowly. The road is dark,' the lama replied uneasily.
Kim put the question aside. 'I marked a place near to the trees,' said he, 'where thou canst sit till I call. Nay,' as the lama made some sort of protest, 'remember this is my Search - the Search for my Red Bull. The sign in the Stars was not for thee. I know a little of the customs of white soldiers, and I always desire to see some new things.'
'What dost thou not know of this world?' The lama squatted obediently in a little hollow of the ground not a hundred yards from the hump of the mango-trees dark against the star-powdered sky.
'Stay till I call.' Kim flitted into the dusk. He knew that in all probability there would be sentries round the camp, and smiled to himself as he heard the thick boots of one. A boy who can dodge over the roofs of Lahore city on a moonlight night, using every little patch and corner of darkness to discomfit his pursuer, is not likely to be checked by a line of well-trained soldiers. He paid them the compliment of crawling between a couple, and, running and halting, crouching and dropping flat, worked his way toward the lighted Mess-tent where, close pressed behind the mango-tree, he waited till some chance word should give him a returnable lead.
The one thing now in his mind was further information as to the Red Bull. For aught he knew, and Kim's limitations were as curious and sudden as his expansions, the men, the nine hundred thorough devils of his father's prophecy, might pray to the beast after dark, as Hindus pray to the Holy Cow. That at least would be entirely right and logical, and the padre with the gold cross would be therefore the man to consult in the matter. On the other hand, remembering sober-faced padres whom he had avoided in Lahore city, the priest might be an inquisitive nuisance who would bid him learn. But had it not been proven at Umballa that his sign in the high heavens portended War and armed men? Was he not the Friend of the Stars as well as of all the World, crammed to the teeth with dreadful secrets? Lastly - and firstly as the undercurrent of all his quick thoughts -this adventure, though he did not know the English word, was a stupendous lark - a delightful continuation of his old flights across the housetops, as well as the fulfilment of sublime prophecy. He lay belly-flat and wriggled towards the Mess-tent door, a hand on the amulet round his neck.
It was as he suspected. The Sahibs prayed to their God; for in the centre of the Mess-table - its sole ornament when they were on the line of march - stood a golden bull fashioned from old-time loot of the Summer Palace at Pekin - a red-gold bull with lowered head, ramping upon a field of Irish green. To him the Sahibs held out their glasses and cried aloud confusedly.
Now the Reverend Arthur Bennett always left Mess after that toast, and being rather tired by his march his movements were more abrupt than usual. Kim, with slightly raised head, was still staring at his totem on the table, when the Chaplain stepped on his right shoulder-blade. Kim flinched under the leather, and, rolling sideways, brought down the Chaplain, who, ever a man of action, caught him by the throat and nearly choked the life out of him. Kim then kicked him desperately in the stomach. Mr Bennett gasped and doubled up, but without relaxing his grip, rolled over again, and silently hauled Kim to his own tent. The Mavericks were incurable practical jokers; and it occurred to the Englishman that silence was best till he had made complete inquiry.
'Why, it's a boy!' he said, as he drew his prize under the light of the tent-pole lantern, then shaking him severely cried: 'What were you doing? You're a thief. Choor? Mallum?' His Hindustani was very limited, and the ruffled and disgusted Kim intended to keep to the character laid down for him. As he recovered his breath he was inventing a beautifully plausible tale of his relations to some scullion, and at the same time keeping a keen eye on and a little under the Chaplain's left arm-pit. The chance came; he ducked for the doorway, but a long arm shot out and clutched at his neck, snapping the amulet-string and closing on the amulet.
'Give it me. O, give it me. Is it lost? Give me the papers.'
The words were in English - the tinny, saw-cut English of the native-bred, and the Chaplain jumped.
'A scapular,' said he, opening his hand. 'No, some sort of heathen charm. Why - why, do you speak English? Little boys who steal are beaten. You know that?'
'I do not - I did not steal.' Kim danced in agony like a terrier at a lifted stick. 'Oh, give it me. It is my charm. Do not thieve it from me.'
The Chaplain took no heed, but, going to the tent door, called aloud. A fattish, clean-shaven man appeared.
'I want your advice, Father Victor,' said Bennett. 'I found this boy in the dark outside the Mess-tent. Ordinarily, I should have chastised him and let him go, because I believe him to be a thief. But it seems he talks English, and he attaches some sort of value to a charm round his neck. I thought perhaps you might help me.'
Between himself and the Roman Catholic Chaplain of the Irish contingent lay, as Bennett believed, an unbridgeable gulf, but it was noticeable that whenever the Church of England dealt with a human problem she was very likely to call in the Church of Rome. Bennett's official abhorrence of the Scarlet Woman and all her ways was only equalled by his private respect for Father Victor.
'A thief talking English, is it? Let's look at his charm. No, it's not a scapular, Bennett.' He held out his hand.
'But have we any right to open it? A sound whipping -'
'I did not thieve,' protested Kim. 'You have hit me kicks all over my body. Now give me my charm and I will go away.'
'Not quite so fast. We'll look first,' said Father Victor, leisurely rolling out poor Kimball O'Hara's 'ne varietur' parchment, his clearance-certificate, and Kim's baptismal certificate. On this last O'Hara - with some confused idea that he was doing wonders for his son - had scrawled scores of times: 'Look after the boy. Please look after the boy' - signing his name and regimental number in full.
'Powers of Darkness below!" said Father Victor, passing all over to Mr Bennett. 'Do you know what these things are?'
'Yes.' said Kim. 'They are mine, and I want to go away.'
'I do not quite understand,' said Mr Bennett. 'He probably brought them on purpose. It may be a begging trick of some kind.'
'I never saw a beggar less anxious to stay with his company, then. There's the makings of a gay mystery here. Ye believe in Providence, Bennett?'
'I hope so.'
'Well, I believe in miracles, so it comes to the same thing. Powers of Darkness! Kimball O'Hara! And his son! But then he's a native, and I saw Kimball married myself to Annie Shott. How long have you had these things, boy?'
'Ever since I was a little baby.'
Father Victor stepped forward quickly and opened the front of Kim's upper garment. 'You see, Bennett, he's not very black. What's your name?'
'Perhaps. Will you let me go away?'
'They call me Kim Rishti ke. That is Kim of the Rishti.'
'What is that - "Rishti"?'
'Eye-rishti - that was the Regiment - my father's.'
'Irish - oh, I see.'
'Yess. That was how my father told me. My father, he has lived.'
'Has lived where?'
'Has lived. Of course he is dead - gone-out.'
'Oh! That's your abrupt way of putting it, is it?'
Bennett interrupted. 'It is possible I have done the boy an injustice. He is certainly white, though evidently neglected. I am sure I must have bruised him. I do not think spirits -'
'Get him a glass of sherry, then, and let him squat on the cot. Now, Kim,' continued Father Victor, 'no one is going to hurt you. Drink that down and tell us about yourself. The truth, if you've no objection.'
Kim coughed a little as he put down the empty glass, and considered. This seemed a time for caution and fancy. Small boys who prowl about camps are generally turned out after a whipping. But he had received no stripes; the amulet was evidently working in his favour, and it looked as though the Umballa horoscope and the few words that he could remember of his father's maunderings fitted in most miraculously. Else why did the fat padre seem so impressed, and why the glass of hot yellow drink from the lean one?
'My father, he is dead in Lahore city since I was very little. The woman, she kept kabarri shop near where the hire-carriages are.' Kim began with a plunge, not quite sure how far the truth would serve him.
'No!' - with a gesture of disgust. 'She went out when I was born. My father, he got these papers from the Jadoo-Gher what do you call that?' (Bennett nodded) 'because he was in good-standing. What do you call that?' (again Bennett nodded). 'My father told me that. He said, too, and also the Brahmin who made the drawing in the dust at Umballa two days ago, he said, that I shall find a Red Bull on a green field and that the Bull shall help me.'
'A phenomenal little liar,' muttered Bennett.
'Powers of Darkness below, what a country!' murmured Father Victor. 'Go on, Kim.'
'I did not thieve. Besides, I am just now disciple of a very holy man. He is sitting outside. We saw two men come with flags, making the place ready. That is always so in a dream, or on account of a - a - prophecy. So I knew it was come true. I saw the Red Bull on the green field, and my father he said: "Nine hundred pukka devils and the Colonel riding on a horse will look after you when you find the Red Bull!" I did not know what to do when I saw the Bull, but I went away and I came again when it was dark. I wanted to see the Bull again, and I saw the Bull again with the - the Sahibs praying to it. I think the Bull shall help me. The holy man said so too. He is sitting outside. Will you hurt him, if I call him a shout now? He is very holy. He can witness to all the things I say, and he knows I am not a thief.'
'"Sahibs praying to a bull!" What in the world do you make of that?' said Bennett. "'Disciple of a holy man!" Is the boy mad?'
'It's O'Hara's boy, sure enough. O'Hara's boy leagued with all the Powers of Darkness. It's very much what his father would have done if he was drunk. We'd better invite the holy man. He may know something.'
'He does not know anything,' said Kim. 'I will show you him if you come. He is my master. Then afterwards we can go.'
'Powers of Darkness!' was all that Father Victor could say, as Bennett marched off, with a firm hand on Kim's shoulder.
They found the lama where he had dropped.
'The Search is at an end for me,' shouted Kim in the vernacular. 'I have found the Bull, but God knows what comes next. They will not hurt you. Come to the fat priest's tent with this thin man and see the end. It is all new, and they cannot talk Hindi. They are only uncurried donkeys.'
'Then it is not well to make a jest of their ignorance,' the lama returned. 'I am glad if thou art rejoiced, chela.'
Dignified and unsuspicious, he strode into the little tent, saluted the Churches as a Churchman, and sat down by the open charcoal brazier. The yellow lining of the tent reflected in the lamplight made his face red-gold.
Bennett looked at him with the triple-ringed uninterest of the creed that lumps nine-tenths of the world under the title of 'heathen'.
'And what was the end of the Search? What gift has the Red Bull brought?' The lama addressed himself to Kim.
'He says, "What are you going to do?"' Bennett was staring uneasily at Father Victor, and Kim, for his own ends, took upon himself the office of interpreter.
'I do not see what concern this fakir has with the boy, who is probably his dupe or his confederate,' Bennett began. 'We cannot allow an English boy - Assuming that he is the son of a Mason, the sooner he goes to the Masonic Orphanage the better.'
'Ah! That's your opinion as Secretary to the Regimental Lodge,' said Father Victor; 'but we might as well tell the old man what we are going to do. He doesn't look like a villain.'
'My experience is that one can never fathom the Oriental mind. Now, Kimball, I wish you to tell this man what I say word for word.'
Kim gathered the import of the next few sentences and began thus:
'Holy One, the thin fool who looks like a camel says that I am the son of a Sahib.'
'Oh, it is true. I knew it since my birth, but he could only find it out by rending the amulet from my neck and reading all the papers. He thinks that once a Sahib is always a Sahib, and between the two of them they purpose to keep me in this Regiment or to send me to a madrissah [a school]. It has happened before. I have always avoided it. The fat fool is of one mind and the camel-like one of another. But that is no odds. I may spend one night here and perhaps the next. It has happened before. Then I will run away and return to thee.'
'But tell them that thou art my chela. Tell them how thou didst come to me when I was faint and bewildered. Tell them of our Search, and they will surely let thee go now.'
'I have already told them. They laugh, and they talk of the police.'
'What are you saying?' asked Mr Bennett.
'Oah. He only says that if you do not let me go it will stop him in his business - his ur-gent private af-fairs.' This last was a reminiscence of some talk with a Eurasian clerk in the Canal Department, but it only drew a smile, which nettled him. 'And if you did know what his business was you would not be in such a beastly hurry to interfere.'
'What is it then?' said Father Victor, not without feeling, as he watched the lama's face.
'There is a River in this country which he wishes to find so verree much. It was put out by an Arrow which -' Kim tapped his foot impatiently as he translated in his own mind from the vernacular to his clumsy English. 'Oah, it was made by our Lord God Buddha, you know, and if you wash there you are washed away from all your sins and made as white as cotton-wool.' (Kim had heard mission-talk in his time.) 'I am his disciple, and we must find that River. It is so verree valuable to us.'
'Say that again,' said Bennett. Kim obeyed, with amplifications.
'But this is gross blasphemy!' cried the Church of England.
'Tck! Tck!' said Father Victor sympathetically. 'I'd give a good deal to be able to talk the vernacular. A river that washes away sin! And how long have you two been looking for it?'
'Oh, many days. Now we wish to go away and look for it again. It is not here, you see.'
'I see,' said Father Victor gravely. 'But he can't go on in that old man's company. It would be different, Kim, if you were not a soldier's son. Tell him that the Regiment will take care of you and make you as good a man as your - as good a man as can be. Tell him that if he believes in miracles he must believe that -'
'There is no need to play on his credulity,' Bennett interrupted.
'I'm doing no such thing. He must believe that the boy's coming here -to his own Regiment - in search of his Red Bull is in the nature of a miracle. Consider the chances against it, Bennett. This one boy in all India, and our Regiment of all others on the line o' march for him to meet with! It's predestined on the face of it. Yes, tell him it's Kismet. Kismet, mallum? [Do you understand?]'
He turned towards the lama, to whom he might as well have talked of Mesopotamia.
'They say,' - the old man's eye lighted at Kim's speech 'they say that the meaning of my horoscope is now accomplished, and that being led back - though as thou knowest I went out of curiosity - to these people and their Red Bull I must needs go to a madrissah and be turned into a Sahib. Now I make pretence of agreement, for at the worst it will be but a few meals eaten away from thee. Then I will slip away and follow down the road to Saharunpore. Therefore, Holy One, keep with that Kulu woman - on no account stray far from her cart till I come again. Past question, my sign is of War and of armed men. See how they have given me wine to drink and set me upon a bed of honour! My father must have been some great person. So if they raise me to honour among them, good. If not, good again. However it goes, I will run back to thee when I am tired. But stay with the Rajputni, or I shall miss thy feet ... Oah yess,' said the boy, 'I have told him everything you tell me to say.'
'And I cannot see any need why he should wait,' said Bennett, feeling in his trouser-pocket. 'We can investigate the details later - and I will give him a ru -'
'Give him time. Maybe he's fond of the lad,' said Father Victor, half arresting the clergyman's motion.
The lama dragged forth his rosary and pulled his huge hat-brim over his eyes.
'What can he want now?'
'He says' - Kim put up one hand. 'He says: "Be quiet." He wants to speak to me by himself. You see, you do not know one little word of what he says, and I think if you talk he will perhaps give you very bad curses. When he takes those beads like that, you see, he always wants to be quiet.'
The two Englishmen sat overwhelmed, but there was a look in Bennett's eye that promised ill for Kim when he should be relaxed to the religious arm.
'A Sahib and the son of a Sahib -' The lama's voice was harsh with pain. 'But no white man knows the land and the customs of the land as thou knowest. How comes it this is true?'
'What matter, Holy One? - but remember it is only for a night or two. Remember, I can change swiftly. It will all be as it was when I first spoke to thee under Zam-Zammah the great gun -'
'As a boy in the dress of white men - when I first went to the Wonder House. And a second time thou wast a Hindu. What shall the third incarnation be?' He chuckled drearily. 'Ah, chela, thou has done a wrong to an old man because my heart went out to thee.'
'And mine to thee. But how could I know that the Red Bull would bring me to this business?'
The lama covered his face afresh, and nervously rattled the rosary. Kim squatted beside him and laid hold upon a fold of his clothing.
'Now it is understood that the boy is a Sahib?' he went on in a muffled tone. 'Such a Sahib as was he who kept the images in the Wonder House.' The lama's experience of white men was limited. He seemed to be repeating a lesson. 'So then it is not seemly that he should do other than as the Sahibs do. He must go back to his own people.'
'For a day and a night and a day,' Kim pleaded.
'No, ye don't!' Father Victor saw Kim edging towards the door, and interposed a strong leg.
'I do not understand the customs of white men. The Priest of the Images in the Wonder House in Lahore was more courteous than the thin one here. This boy will be taken from me. They will make a Sahib of my disciple? Woe to me! How shall I find my River? Have they no disciples? Ask.'
'He says he is very sorree that he cannot find the River now any more. He says, Why have you no disciples, and stop bothering him? He wants to be washed of his sins.'
Neither Bennett nor Father Victor found any answer ready.
Said Kim in English, distressed for the lama's agony: 'I think if you will let me go now we will walk away quietly and not steal. We will look for that River like before I was caught. I wish I did not come here to find the Red Bull and all that sort of thing. I do not want it.'
'It's the very best day's work you ever did for yourself, young man,' said Bennett.
'Good heavens, I don't know how to console him,' said Father Victor, watching the lama intently. 'He can't take the boy away with him, and yet he's a good man - I'm sure he's a good man. Bennett, if you give him that rupee he'll curse you root and branch!'
They listened to each other's breathing - three - five full minutes. Then the lama raised his head, and looked forth across them into space and emptiness.
'And I am a Follower of the Way,' he said bitterly. 'The sin is mine and the punishment is mine. I made believe to myself for now I see it was but make-belief - that thou wast sent to me to aid in the Search. So my heart went out to thee for thy charity and thy courtesy and the wisdom of thy little years. But those who follow the Way must permit not the fire of any desire or attachment, for that is all Illusion. As says ...' He quoted an old, old Chinese text, backed it with another, and reinforced these with a third. 'I stepped aside from the Way, my chela. It was no fault of thine. I delighted in the sight of life, the new people upon the roads, and in thy joy at seeing these things. I was pleased with thee who should have considered my Search and my Search alone. Now I am sorrowful because thou art taken away and my River is far from me. It is the Law which I have broken!'
'Powers of Darkness below!' said Father Victor, who, wise in the confessional, heard the pain in every sentence.
'I see now that the sign of the Red Bull was a sign for me as well as for thee. All Desire is red - and evil. I will do penance and find my River alone.'
'At least go back to the Kulu woman,' said Kim, 'otherwise thou wilt be lost upon the roads. She will feed thee till I run back to thee.'
The lama waved a hand to show that the matter was finally settled in his mind.
'Now,' - his tone altered as he turned to Kim, - 'what will they do with thee? At least I may, acquiring merit, wipe out past ill.'
'Make me a Sahib - so they think. The day after tomorrow I return. Do not grieve.'
'Of what sort? Such an one as this or that man?' He pointed to Father Victor. 'Such an one as those I saw this evening, men wearing swords and stamping heavily?'
'That is not well. These men follow desire and come to emptiness. Thou must not be of their sort.'
'The Umballa priest said that my Star was War,' Kim interjected. 'I will ask these fools - but there is truly no need. I will run away this night, for all I wanted to see the new things.'
Kim put two or three questions in English to Father Victor, translating the replies to the lama.
Then: 'He says, "You take him from me and you cannot say what you will make him." He says, "Tell me before I go, for it is not a small thing to make a child."'
'You will be sent to a school. Later on, we shall see. Kimball, I suppose you'd like to be a soldier?'
'Gorah-log [white-folk]. No-ah! No-ah!' Kim shook his head violently. There was nothing in his composition to which drill and routine appealed. 'I will not be a soldier.'
'You will be what you're told to be,' said Bennett; 'and you should be grateful that we're going to help you.'
Kim smiled compassionately. If these men lay under the delusion that he would do anything that he did not fancy, so much the better.
Another long silence followed. Bennett fidgeted with impatience, and suggested calling a sentry to evict the fakir.
'Do they give or sell learning among the Sahibs? Ask them,' said the lama, and Kim interpreted.
'They say that money is paid to the teacher - but that money the Regiment will give ... What need? It is only for a night.'
'And - the more money is paid the better learning is given?' The lama disregarded Kim's plans for an early flight. 'It is no wrong to pay for learning. To help the ignorant to wisdom is always a merit.' The rosary clicked furiously as an abacus. Then he faced his oppressors.
'Ask them for how much money do they give a wise and suitable teaching? And in what city is that teaching given?'
'Well,' said Father Victor in English, when Kim had translated, 'that depends. The Regiment would pay for you all the time you are at the Military Orphanage; or you might go on the Punjab Masonic Orphanage's list (not that he or you 'ud understand what that means); but the best schooling a boy can get in India is, of course, at St Xavier's in Partibus at Lucknow.' This took some time to interpret, for Bennett wished to cut it short.
'He wants to know how much?' said Kim placidly.
'Two or three hundred rupees a year.' Father Victor was long past any sense of amazement. Bennett, impatient, did not understand.
'He says: "Write that name and the money upon a paper and give it him." And he says you must write your name below, because he is going to write a letter in some days to you. He says you are a good man. He says the other man is a fool. He is going away.'
The lama rose suddenly. 'I follow my Search,' he cried, and was gone.
'He'll run slap into the sentries,' cried Father Victor, jumping up as the lama stalked out; 'but I can't leave the boy.' Kim made swift motion to follow, but checked himself. There was no sound of challenge outside. The lama had disappeared.
Kim settled himself composedly on the Chaplain's cot. At least the lama had promised that he would stay with the Raiput woman from Kulu, and the rest was of the smallest importance. It pleased him that the two padres were so evidently excited. They talked long in undertones, Father Victor urging some scheme on Mr Bennett, who seemed incredulous. All this was very new and fascinating, but Kim felt sleepy. They called men into the tent - one of them certainly was the Colonel, as his father had prophesied - and they asked him an infinity of questions, chiefly about the woman who looked after him, all of which Kim answered truthfully. They did not seem to think the woman a good guardian.
After all, this was the newest of his experiences. Sooner or later, if he chose, he could escape into great, grey, formless India, beyond tents and padres and colonels. Meantime, if the Sahibs were to be impressed, he would do his best to impress them. He too was a white man.
After much talk that he could not comprehend, they handed him over to a sergeant, who had strict instructions not to let him escape. The Regiment would go on to Umballa, and Kim would be sent up, partly at the expense of the Lodge and in part by subscription, to a place called Sanawar.
'It's miraculous past all whooping, Colonel,' said Father Victor, when he had talked without a break for ten minutes. 'His Buddhist friend has levanted after taking my name and address. I can't quite make out whether he'll pay for the boy's education or whether he is preparing some sort of witchcraft on his own account.' Then to Kim: 'You'll live to be grateful to your friend the Red Bull yet. We'll make a man of you at Sanawar - even at the price o' making you a Protestant.'
'Certainly - most certainly,' said Bennett.
'But you will not go to Sanawar,' said Kim.
'But we will go to Sanawar, little man. That's the order of the Commander-in-Chief, who's a trifle more important than O'Hara's son.'
'You will not go to Sanawar. You will go to thee War.'
There was a shout of laughter from the full tent.
'When you know your own Regiment a trifle better you won't confuse the line of march with line of battle, Kim. We hope to go to "thee War" sometime.'
'Oah, I know all thatt.' Kim drew his bow again at a venture. If they were not going to the war, at least they did not know what he knew of the talk in the veranda at Umballa.
'I know you are not at thee war now; but I tell you that as soon as you get to Umballa you will be sent to the war - the new war. It is a war of eight thousand men, besides the guns.'
'That's explicit. D'you add prophecy to your other gifts? Take him along, sergeant. Take up a suit for him from the Drums, an' take care he doesn't slip through your fingers. Who says the age of miracles is gone by? I think I'll go to bed. My poor mind's weakening.'
At the far end of the camp, silent as a wild animal, an hour later sat Kim, newly washed all over, in a horrible stiff suit that rasped his arms and legs.
'A most amazin' young bird,' said the sergeant. 'He turns up in charge of a yellow-headed buck-Brahmin priest, with his father's Lodge certificates round his neck, talkin' God knows what all of a red bull. The buck-Brahmin evaporates without explanations, an' the bhoy sets cross-legged on the Chaplain's bed prophesyin' bloody war to the men at large. Injia's a wild land for a God-fearin' man. I'll just tie his leg to the tent-pole in case he'll go through the roof. What did ye say about the war?'
'Eight thousand men, besides guns,' said Kim. 'Very soon you will see.'
'You're a consolin' little imp. Lie down between the Drums an' go to bye-bye. Those two boys will watch your slumbers.'
Now I remember comrades - Old playmates on new seas - Whenas we traded orpiment Among the savages. Ten thousand leagues to southward, And thirty years removed - They knew not noble Valdez, But me they knew and loved.
Song of Diego Valdez.
Very early in the morning the white tents came down and disappeared as the Mavericks took a side-road to Umballa. It did not skirt the resting-place, and Kim, trudging beside a baggage-cart under fire of comments from soldiers' wives, was not so confident as overnight. He discovered that he was closely watched - Father Victor on the one side, and Mr Bennett on the other.
In the forenoon the column checked. A camel-orderly handed the Colonel a letter. He read it, and spoke to a Major. Half a mile in the rear, Kim heard a hoarse and joyful clamour rolling down on him through the thick dust. Then someone beat him on the back, crying: 'Tell us how ye knew, ye little limb of Satan? Father dear, see if ye can make him tell.'
A pony ranged alongside, and he was hauled on to the priest's saddlebow.
'Now, my son, your prophecy of last night has come true. Our orders are to entrain at Umballa for the Front tomorrow.'
'What is thatt?' said Kim, for 'front' and 'entrain' were newish words to him.
'We are going to "thee War," as you called it.'
'Of course you are going to thee War. I said last night.'
'Ye did; but, Powers o' Darkness, how did ye know?'
Kim's eyes sparkled. He shut his lips, nodded his head, and looked unspeakable things. The Chaplain moved on through the dust, and privates, sergeants, and subalterns called one another's attention to the boy. The Colonel, at the head of the column, stared at him curiously. 'It was probably some bazar rumour.' he said; 'but even then -' He referred to the paper in his hand. 'Hang it all, the thing was only decided within the last forty-eight hours.'
'Are there many more like you in India?' said Father Victor, 'or are you by way o' being a lusus naturae?'
'Now I have told you,' said the boy, 'will you let me go back to my old man? If he has not stayed with that woman from Kulu, I am afraid he will die.'
'By what I saw of him he's as well able to take care of himself as you. No. Ye've brought us luck, an' we're goin' to make a man of you. I'll take ye back to your baggage-cart and ye'll come to me this evening.'
For the rest of the day Kim found himself an object of distinguished consideration among a few hundred white men. The story of his appearance in camp, the discovery of his parentage, and his prophecy, had lost nothing in the telling. A big, shapeless white woman on a pile of bedding asked him mysteriously whether he thought her husband would come back from the war. Kim reflected gravely, and said that he would, and the woman gave him food. In many respects, this big procession that played music at intervals - this crowd that talked and laughed so easily - resembled a festival in Lahore city. So far, there was no sign of hard work, and he resolved to lend the spectacle his patronage. At evening there came out to meet them bands of music, and played the Mavericks into camp near Umballa railway station. That was an interesting night. Men of other regiments came to visit the Mavericks. The Mavericks went visiting on their own account. Their pickets hurried forth to bring them back, met pickets of strange regiments on the same duty; and, after a while, the bugles blew madly for more pickets with officers to control the tumult. The Mavericks had a reputation for liveliness to live up to. But they fell in on the platform next morning in perfect shape and condition; and Kim, left behind with the sick, women, and boys, found himself shouting farewells excitedly as the trains drew away. Life as a Sahib was amusing so far; but he touched it with a cautious hand. Then they marched him back in charge of a drummer-boy to empty, lime-washed barracks, whose floors were covered with rubbish and string and paper, and whose ceilings gave back his lonely footfall. Native-fashion, he curled himself up on a stripped cot and went to sleep. An angry man stumped down the veranda, woke him up, and said he was a schoolmaster. This was enough for Kim, and he retired into his shell. He could just puzzle out the various English Police notices in Lahore city, because they affected his comfort; and among the many guests of the woman who looked after him had been a queer German who painted scenery for the Parsee travelling theatre. He told Kim that he had been 'on the barricades in 'Forty-eight,' and therefore - at least that was how it struck Kim - he would teach the boy to write in return for food. Kim had been kicked as far as single letters, but did not think well of them.
'I do not know anything. Go away!' said Kim, scenting evil. Hereupon the man caught him by the ear, dragged him to a room in a far-off wing where a dozen drummer-boys were sitting on forms, and told him to be still if he could do nothing else. This he managed very successfully. The man explained something or other with white lines on a black board for at least half an hour, and Kim continued his interrupted nap. He much disapproved of the present aspect of affairs, for this was the very school and discipline he had spent two-thirds of his young life in avoiding. Suddenly a beautiful idea occurred to him, and he wondered that he had not thought of it before.
The man dismissed them, and first to spring through the veranda into the open sunshine was Kim.
' 'Ere, you! 'Alt! Stop!' said a high voice at his heels. 'I've got to look after you. My orders are not to let you out of my sight. Where are you goin'?'
It was the drummer-boy who had been hanging round him all the forenoon - a fat and freckled person of about fourteen, and Kim loathed him from the soles of his boots to his cap-ribbons.
'To the bazar - to get sweets - for you,' said Kim, after thought.
'Well, the bazar's out o' bounds. If we go there we'll get a dressing-down. You come back.'
'How near can we go?' Kim did not know what bounds meant, but he wished to be polite - for the present.
' 'Ow near? 'Ow far, you mean! We can go as far as that tree down the road.'
'Then I will go there.'
'All right. I ain't goin'. It's too 'ot. I can watch you from 'ere. It's no good your runnin' away. If you did, they'd spot you by your clothes. That's regimental stuff you're wearin'. There ain't a picket in Umballa wouldn't 'ead you back quicker than you started out.'
This did not impress Kim as much as the knowledge that his raiment would tire him out if he tried to run. He slouched to the tree at the corner of a bare road leading towards the bazar, and eyed the natives passing. Most of them were barrack-servants of the lowest caste. Kim hailed a sweeper, who promptly retorted with a piece of unnecessary insolence, in the natural belief that the European boy could not follow it. The low, quick answer undeceived him. Kim put his fettered soul into it, thankful for the late chance to abuse somebody in the tongue he knew best. 'And now, go to the nearest letter-writer in the bazar and tell him to come here. I would write a letter.'
'But - but what manner of white man's son art thou to need a bazar letter-writer? Is there not a schoolmaster in the barracks?'
'Ay; and Hell is full of the same sort. Do my order, you - you Od! Thy mother was married under a basket! Servant of Lal Beg' (Kim knew the God of the sweepers), 'run on my business or we will talk again.'
The sweeper shuffled off in haste. 'There is a white boy by the barracks waiting under a tree who is not a white boy,' he stammered to the first bazar letter-writer he came across. 'He needs thee.'
'Will he pay?' said the spruce scribe, gathering up his desk and pens and sealing-wax all in order.
'I do not know. He is not like other boys. Go and see. It is well worth.'
Kim danced with impatience when the slim young Kayeth hove in sight. As soon as his voice could carry he cursed him volubly.
'First I will take my pay,' the letter-writer said. 'Bad words have made the price higher. But who art thou, dressed in that fashion, to speak in this fashion?'
'Aha! That is in the letter which thou shalt write. Never was such a tale. But I am in no haste. Another writer will serve me. Umballa city is as full of them as is Lahore.'
'Four annas,' said the writer, sitting down and spreading his cloth in the shade of a deserted barrack-wing.
Mechanically Kim squatted beside him - squatted as only the natives can - in spite of the abominable clinging trousers.
The writer regarded him sideways.
'That is the price to ask of Sahibs,' said Kim. 'Now fix me a true one.'
'An anna and a half. How do I know, having written the letter, that thou wilt not run away?'
I must not go beyond this tree, and there is also the stamp to be considered.'
'I get no commission on the price of the stamp. Once more, what manner of white boy art thou?'
'That shall be said in the letter, which is to Mahbub Ali, the horse-dealer in the Kashmir Serai, at Lahore. He is my friend.'
'Wonder on wonder!' murmured the letter-writer, dipping a reed in the inkstand. 'To be written in Hindi?'
'Assuredly. To Mahbub Ali then. Begin! I have come down with the old man as far as Umballa in the train. At Umballa I carried the news of the bay mare's pedigree.' After what he had seen in the garden, he was not going to write of white stallions.
'Slower a little. What has a bay mare to do ... Is it Mahbub Ali, the great dealer?'
'Who else? I have been in his service. Take more ink. Again. As the order was, so I did it. We then went on foot towards Benares, but on the third day we found a certain regiment. Is that down?'
'Ay, pulton,' murmured the writer, all ears.
'I went into their camp and was caught, and by means of the charm about my neck, which thou knowest, it was established that I was the son of some man in the regiment: according to the prophecy of the Red Bull, which thou knowest was common talk of our bazar.' Kim waited for this shaft to sink into the letter-writer's heart, cleared his throat, and continued: 'A priest clothed me and gave me a new name ... One priest, however, was a fool. The clothes are very heavy, but I am a Sahib and my heart is heavy too. They send
me to a school and beat me. I do not like the air and water here. Come then and help me, Mahbub Ali, or send me some money, for I have not sufficient to pay the writer who writes this.'
' "Who writes this." It is my own fault that I was tricked. Thou art as clever as Husain Bux that forged the Treasury stamps at Nucklao. But what a tale! What a tale! Is it true by any chance?'
'It does not profit to tell lies to Mahbub Ali. It is better to help his friends by lending them a stamp. When the money comes I will repay.'
The writer grunted doubtfully, but took a stamp out of his desk, sealed the letter, handed it over to Kim, and departed. Mahbub Ali's was a name of power in Umballa.
'That is the way to win a good account with the Gods,' Kim shouted after him.
'Pay me twice over when the money comes,' the man cried over his shoulder.
'What was you bukkin' to that nigger about?' said the drummer-boy when Kim returned to the veranda. 'I was watch-in' you.'
'I was only talkin' to him.'
'You talk the same as a nigger, don't you?'
'No-ah! No-ah! I onlee speak a little. What shall we do now?'
'The bugles'll go for dinner in arf a minute. My Gawd! I wish I'd gone up to the Front with the Regiment. It's awful doin' nothin' but school down 'ere. Don't you 'ate it?'
I'd run away if I knew where to go to, but, as the men say, in this bloomin' Injia you're only a prisoner at large. You can't desert without bein' took back at once. I'm fair sick of it.'
'You have been in Be - England?'
'W'y, I only come out last troopin' season with my mother. I should think I 'ave been in England. What a ignorant little beggar you are! You was brought up in the gutter, wasn't you?'
'Oah yess. Tell me something about England. My father he came from there.'
Though he would not say so, Kim of course disbelieved every word the drummer-boy spoke about the Liverpool suburb which was his England. It passed the heavy time till dinner - a most unappetizing meal served to the boys and a few invalids in a corner of a barrack-room. But that he had written to Mahbub Ali, Kim would have been almost depressed. The indifference of native crowds he was used to; but this strong loneliness among white men preyed on him. He was grateful when, in the course of the afternoon, a big soldier took him over to Father Victor, who lived in another wing across another dusty parade-ground. The priest was reading an English letter written in purple ink. He looked at Kim more curiously than ever.
'An' how do you like it, my son, as far as you've gone? Not much, eh? It must be hard - very hard on a wild animal. Listen now. I've an amazin' epistle from your friend.'
'Where is he? Is he well? Oah! If he knows to write me letters, it is all right.'
'You're fond of him then?'
'Of course I am fond of him. He was fond of me.'
'It seems so by the look of this. He can't write English, can he?'
'Oah no. Not that I know, but of course he found a letter-writer who can write English verree well, and so he wrote. I do hope you understand.'
'That accounts for it. D'you know anything about his money affairs?' Kim's face showed that he did not.
'How can I tell?'
'That's what I'm askin'. Now listen if you can make head or tail o' this. We'll skip the first part ... It's written from Jagadhir Road ... "Sitting on wayside in grave meditation, trusting to be favoured with your Honour's applause of present step, which recommend your Honour to execute for Almighty God's sake. Education is greatest blessing if of best sorts. Otherwise no earthly use." Faith, the old man's hit the bull's-eye that time! "If your Honour condescending giving my boy best educations Xavier" (I suppose that's St Xavier's in Partibus) "in terms of our conversation dated in your tent 15th instant" (a business-like touch there!) "then Almighty God blessing your Honour's succeedings to third an' fourth generation and" - now listen! -"confide in your Honour's humble servant for adequate remuneration per hoondi per annum three hundred rupees a year to one expensive education St Xavier, Lucknow, and allow small time to forward same per hoondi sent to any part of India as your Honour shall address yourself. This servant of your Honour has presently no place to lay crown of his head, but going to Benares by train on account of persecution of old woman talking so much and unanxious residing Saharunpore in any domestic capacity." Now what in the world does that mean?'
'She has asked him to be her puro - her clergyman - at Saharunpore, I think. He would not do that on account of his River. She did talk.'
'It's clear to you, is it? It beats me altogether. "So going to Benares, where will find address and forward rupees for boy who is apple of eye, and for Almighty God's sake execute this education, and your petitioner as in duty bound shall ever awfully pray. Written by Sobrao Satai, Failed Entrance Allahabad University, for Venerable Teshoo Lama the priest of Such-zen looking for a River, address care of Tirthankars' Temple, Benares. P. M. -Please note boy is apple of eye, and rupees shall be sent per hoondi three hundred per annum. For God Almighty's sake." Now, is that ravin' lunacy or a business proposition? I ask you, because I'm fairly at my wits' end.'
'He says he will give me three hundred rupees a year? So he will give me them.'
'Oh, that's the way you look at it, is it?'
'Of course. If he says so!'
The priest whistled; then he addressed Kim as an equal. 'I don't believe it; but we'll see. You were goin' off today to the Military Orphanage at Sanawar, where the Regiment would keep you till you were old enough to enlist. Ye'd be brought up to the Church of England. Bennett arranged for that. On the other hand, if ye go to St Xavier's ye'll get a better education an - an can have the religion. D'ye see my dilemma? Kim saw nothing save a vision of the lama going south in a train with none to beg for him.
'Like most people, I'm going to temporize. If your friend sends the money from Benares - Powers of Darkness below, where's a street- beggar to raise three hundred rupees? - ye'll go down to Lucknow and I'll pay your fare, because I can't touch the subscription- money if I intend, as I do, to make ye a Catholic. If he doesn't, ye'll go to the Military Orphanage at the Regiment's expense. I'll allow him three days' grace, though I don't believe it at all. Even then, if he fails in his payments later on ... but it's beyond me. We can only walk one step at a time in this world, praise God! An' they sent Bennett to the Front an' left me behind. Bennett can't expect everything.'
'Oah yess,' said Kim vaguely.
The priest leaned forward. 'I'd give a month's pay to find what's goin' on inside that little round head of yours.'
'There is nothing,' said Kim, and scratched it. He was wondering whether Mahbub Ali would send him as much as a whole rupee. Then he could pay the letter-writer and write letters to the lama at Benares. Perhaps Mahbub Ali would visit him next time he came south with horses. Surely he must know that Kim's delivery of the letter to the officer at Umballa had caused the great war which the men and boys had discussed so loudly over the barrack dinner-tables. But if Mahbub Ali did not know this, it would be very unsafe to tell him so. Mahbub Ali was hard upon boys who knew, or thought they knew, too much.
'Well, till I get further news' - Father Victor's voice interrupted the reverie. 'Ye can run along now and play with the other boys. They'll teach ye something - but I don't think ye'll like it.'
The day dragged to its weary end. When he wished to sleep he was instructed how to fold up his clothes and set out his boots; the other boys deriding. Bugles waked him in the dawn; the schoolmaster caught him after breakfast, thrust a page of meaningless characters under his nose, gave them senseless names and whacked him without reason. Kim meditated poisoning him with opium borrowed from a barrack-sweeper, but reflected that, as they all ate at one table in public (this was peculiarly revolting to Kim, who preferred to turn his back on the world at meals), the stroke might be dangerous. Then he attempted running off to the village where the priest had tried to drug the lama -- the village where the old soldier lived. But far-seeing sentries at every exit headed back the little scarlet figure. Trousers and jacket crippled body and mind alike so he abandoned the project and fell back,
Oriental-fashion, on time and chance. Three days of torment passed in the big, echoing white rooms. He walked out of afternoons under escort of the drummer-boy, and all he heard from his companions were the few useless words which seemed to make two-thirds of the white man's abuse. Kim knew and despised them all long ago. The boy resented his silence and lack of interest by beating him, as was only natural. He did not care for any of the bazars which were in bounds. He styled all natives 'niggers'; yet servants and sweepers called him abominable names to his face, and, misled by their deferential attitude, he never understood. This somewhat consoled Kim for the beatings.
On the morning of the fourth day a judgement overtook that drummer. They had gone out together towards Umballa racecourse. He returned alone, weeping, with news that young O'Hara, to whom he had been doing nothing in particular, had hailed a scarlet-bearded nigger on horseback; that the nigger had then and there laid into him with a peculiarly adhesive quirt, picked up young O'Hara, and borne him off at full gallop. These tidings came to Father Victor, and he drew down his long upper lip. He was already sufficiently startled by a letter from the Temple of the Tirthankars at Benares, enclosing a native banker's note of hand for three hundred rupees, and an amazing prayer to 'Almighty God'. The lama would have been more annoyed than the priest had he known how the bazar letter- writer had translated his phrase 'to acquire merit.'
'Powers of Darkness below!' Father Victor fumbled with the note. 'An' now he's off with another of his peep-o'-day friends. I don't know whether it will be a greater relief to me to get him back or to have him lost. He's beyond my comprehension. How the Divil - yes, he's the man I mean -can a street-beggar raise money to educate white boys?'
Three miles off, on Umballa racecourse, Mahbub Ali, reining a grey Kabuli stallion with Kim in front of him, was saying:
'But, Little Friend of all the World, there is my honour and reputation to be considered. All the officer-Sahibs in all the regiments, and all Umballa, know Mahbub Ali. Men saw me pick thee up and chastise that boy. We are seen now from far across this plain. How can I take thee away, or account for thy disappearing if I set thee down and let thee run off into the crops? They would put me in jail. Be patient. Once a Sahib, always a Sahib. When thou art a man - who knows? - thou wilt be grateful to Mahbub Ali.'
'Take me beyond their sentries where I can change this red. Give me money and I will go to Benares and be with my lama again. I do not want to be a Sahib, and remember I did deliver that message.'
The stallion bounded wildly. Mahbub Ali had incautiously driven home the sharp-edged stirrup. (He was not the new sort of fluent horse-dealer who wears English boots and spurs.) Kim drew his own conclusions from that betrayal.
'That was a small matter. It lay on the straight road to Benares. I and the Sahib have by this time forgotten it. I send so many letters and messages to men who ask questions about horses, I cannot well remember one from the other. Was it some matter of a bay mare that Peters Sahib wished the pedigree of?'
Kim saw the trap at once. If he had said 'bay mare' Mahbub would have known by his very readiness to fall in with the amendment that the boy suspected something. Kim replied therefore:
'Bay mare. No. I do not forget my messages thus. It was a white stallion.'
'Ay, so it was. A white Arab stallion. But thou didst write "bay mare" to me.'
'Who cares to tell truth to a letter-writer?' Kim answered, feeling Mahbub's palm on his heart.
'Hi! Mahbub, you old villain, pull up!' cried a voice, and an Englishman raced alongside on a little polo-pony. 'I've been chasing you half over the country. That Kabuli of yours can go. For sale, I suppose?'
'I have some young stuff coming on made by Heaven for the delicate and difficult polo-game. He has no equal. He - '
'Plays polo and waits at table. Yes. We know all that. What the deuce have you got there?'
'A. boy,' said Mahbub gravely. 'He was being beaten by another boy. His father was once a white soldier in the big war. The boy was a child in Lahore city. He played with my horses when he was a babe. Now I think they will make him a soldier. He has been newly caught by his father's Regiment that went up to the war last week. But I do not think he wants to be a soldier. I take him for a ride. Tell me where thy barracks are and I will set thee there.'
'Let me go. I can find the barracks alone.'
'And if thou runnest away who will say it is not my fault?'
'He'll run back to his dinner. Where has he to run to?' the Englishman asked.
'He was born in the land. He has friends. He goes where he chooses. He is a chabuk sawai [a sharp chap]. It needs only to change his clothing, and in a twinkling he would be a low-caste Hindu boy.'
'The deuce he would!' The Englishman looked critically at the boy as Mahbub headed towards the barracks. Kim ground his teeth. Mahbub was mocking him, as faithless Afghans will; for he went on:
'They will send him to a school and put heavy boots on his feet and swaddle him in these clothes. Then he will forget all he knows. Now, which of the barracks is thine?'
Kim pointed - he could not speak - to Father Victor's wing, all staring white near by.
'Perhaps he will make a good soldier,' said Mahbub reflectively.
'He will make a good orderly at least. I sent him to deliver a message once from Lahore. A message concerning the pedigree of a white stallion.'
Here was deadly insult on deadlier injury - and the Sahib to whom he had so craftily given that war-waking letter heard it all. Kim beheld Mahbub Ali frying in flame for his treachery, but for himself he saw one long grey vista of barracks, schools, and barracks again. He gazed imploringly at the clear-cut face in which there was no glimmer of recognition; but even at this extremity it never occurred to him to throw himself on the white man's mercy or to denounce the Afghan. And Mahbub stared deliberately at the Englishman, who stared as deliberately at Kim, quivering and tongue-tied.
'My horse is well trained,' said the dealer. 'Others would have kicked, Sahib.'
'Ah,' said the Englishman at last, rubbing his pony's damp withers with his whip-butt. 'Who makes the boy a soldier?'
'He says the Regiment that found him, and especially the Padre- sahib of that regiment.
'There is the Padre!' Kim choked as bare-headed Father Victor sailed down upon them from the veranda.
'Powers O' Darkness below, O'Hara! How many more mixed friends do you keep in Asia?' he cried, as Kim slid down and stood helplessly before him.
'Good morning, Padre,' the Englishman said cheerily. 'I know you by reputation well enough. Meant to have come over and called before this. I'm Creighton.'
'Of the Ethnological Survey?' said Father Victor. The Englishman nodded. 'Faith, I'm glad to meet ye then; an' I owe you some thanks for bringing back the boy.'
'No thanks to me, Padre. Besides, the boy wasn't going away. You don't know old Mahbub Ali.' The horse-dealer sat impassive in the sunlight. 'You will when you have been in the station a month. He sells us all our crocks. That boy is rather a curiosity. Can you tell me anything about him?'
'Can I tell you?' puffed Father Victor. 'You'll be the one man that could help me in my quandaries. Tell you! Powers o' Darkness, I'm bursting to tell someone who knows something o' the native!'
A groom came round the corner. Colonel Creighton raised his voice, speaking in Urdu. 'Very good, Mahbub Ali, but what is the use of telling me all those stories about the pony? Not one pice more than three hundred and fifty rupees will I give.'
'The Sahib is a little hot and angry after riding,' the horse- dealer returned, with the leer of a privileged jester. 'Presently, he will see my horse's points more clearly. I will wait till he has finished his talk with the Padre. I will wait under that tree.'
'Confound you!' The Colonel laughed. 'That comes of looking at one of Mahbub's horses. He's a regular old leech, Padre. Wait, then, if thou hast so much time to spare, Mahbub. Now I'm at your service, Padre. Where is the boy? Oh, he's gone off to collogue with Mahbub. Queer sort of boy. Might I ask you to send my mare round under cover?'
He dropped into a chair which commanded a clear view of Kim and Mahbub Ali in conference beneath the tree. The Padre went indoors for cheroots.
Creighton heard Kim say bitterly: 'Trust a Brahmin before a snake, and a snake before an harlot, and an harlot before a Pathan, Mahbub Ali.'
'That is all one.' The great red beard wagged solemnly. 'Children should not see a carpet on the loom till the pattern is made plain. Believe me, Friend of all the World, I do thee great service. They will not make a soldier of thee.'
'You crafty old sinner!' thought Creighton. 'But you're not far wrong. That boy mustn't be wasted if he is as advertised.'
'Excuse me half a minute,' cried the Padre from within, 'but I'm gettin' the documents in the case.'
'If through me the favour of this bold and wise Colonel Sahib comes to thee, and thou art raised to honour, what thanks wilt thou give Mahbub Ali when thou art a man?'
'Nay, nay! I begged thee to let me take the Road again, where I should have been safe; and thou hast sold me back to the English. What will they give thee for blood-money?'
'A cheerful young demon!' The Colonel bit his cigar, and turned politely to Father Victor.
'What are the letters that the fat priest is waving before the Colonel? Stand behind the stallion as though looking at my bridle!' said Mahbub Ali.
'A letter from my lama which he wrote from Jagadhir Road, saying that he will pay three hundred rupees by the year for my schooling.'
'Oho! Is old Red Hat of that sort? At which school?'
'God knows. I think in Nucklao.'
'Yes. There is a big school there for the sons of Sahibs - and half-Sahibs. I have seen it when I sell horses there. So the lama also loved the Friend of all the World?'
'Ay; and he did not tell lies, or return me to captivity.'
'Small wonder the Padre does not know how to unravel the thread. How fast he talks to the Colonel Sahib!' Mahbub Ali chuckled. 'By Allah!' the keen eyes swept the veranda for an Instant - 'thy lama has sent what to me looks like a note of hand. I have had some few dealings in hoondis. The Colonel Sahib is looking at it.'
'What good is all this to me?' said Kim wearily. 'Thou wilt go away, and they will return me to those empty rooms where there is no good place to sleep and where the boys beat me.'
'I do not think that. Have patience, child. All Pathans are not faithless - except in horseflesh.'
Five - ten - fifteen minutes passed, Father Victor talking energetically or asking questions which the Colonel answered.
'Now I've told you everything that I know about the boy from beginnin to end; and it's a blessed relief to me. Did ye ever hear the like?'
'At any rate, the old man has sent the money. Gobind Sahai's notes of hand are good from here to China,' said the Colonel. 'The more one knows about natives the less can one say what they will or won't do.'
'That's consolin' - from the head of the Ethnological Survey. It's this mixture of Red Bulls and Rivers of Healing (poor heathen, God help him!) an' notes of hand and Masonic certificates. Are you a Mason, by any chance?'
'By Jove, I am, now I come to think of it. That's an additional reason,' said the Colonel absently.
'I'm glad ye see a reason in it. But as I said, it's the mixture o' things that's beyond me. An' his prophesyin' to our Colonel, sitting on my bed with his little shimmy torn open showing his white skin; an' the prophecy comin' true! They'll cure all that nonsense at St Xavier's, eh?'
'Sprinkle him with holy water,' the Colonel laughed.
'On my word, I fancy I ought to sometimes. But I'm hoping he'll be brought up as a good Catholic. All that troubles me is what'll happen if the old beggar-man -'
'Lama, lama, my dear sir; and some of them are gentlemen in their own country.'
'The lama, then, fails to pay next year. He's a fine business head to plan on the spur of the moment, but he's bound to die some day. An' takin' a heathen's money to give a child a Christian education -'
'But he said explicitly what he wanted. As soon as he knew the boy was white he seems to have made his arrangements accordingly. I'd give a month's pay to hear how he explained it all at the Tirthankars' Temple at Benares. Look here, Padre, I don't pretend to know much about natives, but if he says he'll pay, he'll pay - dead or alive. I mean, his heirs will assume the debt. My advice to you is, send the boy down to Lucknow. If your Anglican Chaplain thinks you've stolen a march on him -'
'Bad luck to Bennett! He was sent to the Front instead o' me. Doughty certified me medically unfit. I'll excommunicate Doughty if he comes back alive! Surely Bennett ought to be content with -'
'Glory, leaving you the religion. Quite so! As a matter of fact I don't think Bennett will mind. Put the blame on me. I - er - strongly recommend sending the boy to St Xavier's. He can go down on pass as a soldier's orphan, so the railway fare will be saved. You can buy him an outfit from the Regimental subscription. The Lodge will be saved the expense of his education, and that will put the Lodge in a good temper. It's perfectly easy. I've got to go down to Lucknow next week. I'll look after the boy on the way - give him in charge of my servants, and so on.'
'You're a good man.'
'Not in the least. Don't make that mistake. The lama has sent us money for a definite end. We can't very well return it. We shall have to do as he says. Well, that's settled, isn't it? Shall we say that, Tuesday next, you'll hand him over to me at the night train south? That's only three days. He can't do much harm in three days.'
'It's a weight off my mind, but - this thing here?' - he waved the note of hand - 'I don't know Gobind Sahai: or his bank, which may be a hole in a wall.'
'You've never been a subaltern in debt. I'll cash it if you like, and send you the vouchers in proper order.'
'But with all your own work too! It's askin' -'
'It's not the least trouble indeed. You see, as an ethnologist, the thing's very interesting to me. I'd like to make a note of it for some Government work that I'm doing. The transformation of a regimental badge like your Red Bull into a sort of fetish that the boy follows is very interesting.'
'But I can't thank you enough.'
'There's one thing you can do. All we Ethnological men are as jealous as jackdaws of one another's discoveries. They're of no interest to anyone but ourselves, of course, but you know what book-collectors are like. Well, don't say a word, directly or indirectly, about the Asiatic side of the boy's character - his adventures and his prophecy, and so on. I'll worm them out of the boy later on and - you see?'
'I do. Ye'll make a wonderful account of it. Never a word will I say to anyone till I see it in print.'
'Thank you. That goes straight to an ethnologist's heart. Well, I must be getting back to my breakfast. Good Heavens! Old Mahbub here still?' He raised his voice, and the horse-dealer came out from under the shadow of the tree, 'Well, what is it?'
'As regards that young horse,' said Mahbub, 'I say that when a colt is born to be a polo-pony, closely following the ball without teaching - when such a colt knows the game by divination - then I say it is a great wrong to break that colt to a heavy cart, Sahib!'
'So say I also, Mahbub. The colt will be entered for polo only. (These fellows think of nothing in the world but horses, Padre.) I'll see you tomorrow, Mahbub, if you've anything likely for sale.'
The dealer saluted, horseman-fashion, with a sweep of the off hand. 'Be patient a little, Friend of all the World,' he whispered to the agonized Kim. 'Thy fortune is made. In a little while thou goest to Nucklao, and - here is something to pay the letter-writer. I shall see thee again, I think, many times,' and he cantered off down the road.
'Listen to me,' said the Colonel from the veranda, speaking in the vernacular. 'In three days thou wilt go with me to Lucknow, seeing and hearing new things all the while. Therefore sit still for three days and do not run away. Thou wilt go to school at Lucknow.'
'Shall I meet my Holy One there?' Kim whimpered.
'At least Lucknow is nearer to Benares than Umballa. It may be thou wilt go under my protection. Mahbub Ali knows this, and he will be angry if thou returnest to the Road now. Remember - much has been told me which I do not forget.'
'I will wait,' said Kim, 'but the boys will beat me.'
Then the bugles blew for dinner.