Unto whose use the pregnant suns are poised With idiot moons and stars retracing stars? Creep thou betweene - thy coming's all unnoised. Heaven hath her high, as Earth her baser, wars. Heir to these tumults, this affright, that fraye (By Adam's, fathers', own, sin bound alway); Peer up, draw out thy horoscope and say Which planet mends thy threadbare fate or mars?
Sir John Christie.
In the afternoon the red-faced schoolmaster told Kim that he had been 'struck off the strength', which conveyed no meaning to him till he was ordered to go away and play. Then he ran to the bazar, and found the young letter-writer to whom he owed a stamp.
'Now I pay,' said Kim royally, 'and now I need another letter to be written.'
'Mahbub Ali is in Umballa,' said the writer jauntily. He was, by virtue of his office, a bureau of general misinformation.
'This is not to Mahbub, but to a priest. Take thy pen and write quickly. To Teshoo Lama, the Holy One from Bhotiyal seeking for a River, who is now in the Temple of the Tirthankars at Benares. Take more ink! In three days I am to go down to Nucklao to the school at Nucklao. The name of the school is Xavier. I do not know where that school is, but it is at Nucklao.'
'But I know Nucklao,' the writer interrupted. 'I know the school.'
'Tell him where it is, and I give half an anna.'
The reed pen scratched busily. 'He cannot mistake.' The man lifted his head. 'Who watches us across the street?'
Kim looked up hurriedly and saw Colonel Creighton in tennis- flannels.
'Oh, that is some Sahib who knows the fat priest in the barracks. He is beckoning me.'
'What dost thou?' said the Colonel, when Kim trotted up.
'I - I am not running away. I send a letter to my Holy One at Benares.'
'I had not thought of that. Hast thou said that I take thee to Lucknow?'
'Nay, I have not. Read the letter, if there be a doubt.'
'Then why hast thou left out my name in writing to that Holy One?' The Colonel smiled a queer smile. Kim took his courage in both hands.
'It was said once to me that it is inexpedient to write the names of strangers concerned in any matter, because by the naming of names many good plans are brought to confusion.'
'Thou hast been well taught,' the Colonel replied, and Kim flushed. 'I have left my cheroot-case in the Padre's veranda. Bring it to my house this even.'
'Where is the house?' said Kim. His quick wit told him that he was being tested in some fashion or another, and he stood on guard.
'Ask anyone in the big bazar.' The Colonel walked on.
'He has forgotten his cheroot-case,' said Kim, returning. 'I must bring it to him this evening. That is all my letter except, thrice over, Come to me! Come to me! Come to me! Now I will pay for a stamp and put it in the post. He rose to go, and as an afterthought asked: 'Who is that angry-faced Sahib who lost the cheroot-case?'
'Oh, he is only Creighton Sahib - a very foolish Sahib, who is a Colonel Sahib without a regiment.'
'What is his business?'
'God knows. He is always buying horses which he cannot ride, and asking riddles about the works of God - such as plants and stones and the customs of people. The dealers call him the father of fools, because he is so easily cheated about a horse. Mahbub Ali says he is madder than most other Sahibs.'
'Oh!' said Kim, and departed. His training had given him some small knowledge of character, and he argued that fools are not given information which leads to calling out eight thousand men besides guns. The Commander-in-Chief of all India does not talk, as Kim had heard him talk, to fools. Nor would Mahbub Ali's tone have changed, as it did every time he mentioned the Colonel's name, if the Colonel had been a fool. Consequently - and this set Kim to skipping - there was a mystery somewhere, and Mahbub Ali probably spied for the Colonel much as Kim had spied for Mahbub. And, like the horse-dealer, the Colonel evidently respected people who did not show themselves to be too clever.
He rejoiced that he had not betrayed his knowledge of the Colonel's house; and when, on his return to barracks, he discovered that no cheroot-case had been left behind, he beamed with delight. Here was a man after his own heart - a tortuous and indirect person playing a hidden game. Well, if he could be a fool, so could Kim.
He showed nothing of his mind when Father Victor, for three long mornings, discoursed to him of an entirely new set of Gods and Godlings - notably of a Goddess called Mary, who, he gathered, was one with Bibi Miriam of Mahbub Ali's theology. He betrayed no emotion when, after the lecture, Father Victor dragged him from shop to shop buying articles of outfit, nor when envious drummer- boys kicked him because he was going to a superior school did he complain, but awaited the play of circumstances with an interested soul. Father Victor, good man, took him to the station, put him into an empty second-class next to Colonel Creighton's first, and bade him farewell with genuine feeling.
'They'll make a man o' you, O'Hara, at St Xavier's - a white man, an', I hope, a good man. They know all about your comin', an' the Colonel will see that ye're not lost or mislaid anywhere on the road. I've given you a notion of religious matters, - at least I hope so, - and you'll remember, when they ask you your religion, that you're a Cath'lic. Better say Roman Cath'lic, tho' I'm not fond of the word.'
Kim lit a rank cigarette - he had been careful to buy a stock in the bazar - and lay down to think. This solitary passage was very different from that joyful down-journey in the third-class with the lama. 'Sahibs get little pleasure of travel,' he reflected.
'Hai mai! I go from one place to another as it might be a kickball. It is my Kismet. No man can escape his Kismet. But I am to pray to Bibi Miriam, and I am a Sahib.' He looked at his boots ruefully. 'No; I am Kim. This is the great world, and I am only Kim. Who is Kim?' He considered his own identity, a thing he had never done before, till his head swam. He was one insignificant person in all this roaring whirl of India, going southward to he knew not what fate.
Presently the Colonel sent for him, and talked for a long time. So far as Kim could gather, he was to be diligent and enter the Survey of India as a chain-man. If he were very good, and passed the proper examinations, he would be earning thirty rupees a month at seventeen years old, and Colonel Creighton would see that he found suitable employment.
Kim pretended at first to understand perhaps one word in three of this talk. Then the Colonel, seeing his mistake, turned to fluent and picturesque Urdu and Kim was contented. No man could be a fool who knew the language so intimately, who moved so gently and silently, and whose eyes were so different from the dull fat eyes of other Sahibs.
'Yes, and thou must learn how to make pictures of roads and mountains and rivers, to carry these pictures in thine eye till a suitable time comes to set them upon paper. Perhaps some day, when thou art a chain-man, I may say to thee when we are working together: "Go across those hills and see what lies beyond." Then one will say: "There are bad people living in those hills who will slay the chain-man if he be seen to look like a Sahib." What then?'
Kim thought. Would it be safe to return the Colonel's lead?
'I would tell what that other man had said.'
'But if I answered: "I will give thee a hundred rupees for knowledge of what is behind those hills - for a picture of a river and a little news of what the people say in the villages there"?'
'How can I tell? I am only a boy. Wait till I am a man.' Then, seeing the Colonel's brow clouded, he went on: 'But I think I should in a few days earn the hundred rupees.'
'By what road?'
Kim shook his head resolutely. 'If I said how I would earn them, another man might hear and forestall me. It is not good to sell knowledge for nothing.'
'Tell now.' The Colonel held up a rupee. Kim's hand half reached towards it, and dropped.
'Nay, Sahib; nay. I know the price that will be paid for the answer, but I do not know why the question is asked.'
'Take it for a gift, then,' said Creighton, tossing it over. 'There is a good spirit in thee. Do not let it be blunted at St Xavier's. There are many boys there who despise the black men.'
'Their mothers were bazar-women,' said Kim. He knew well there is no hatred like that of the half-caste for his brother-in-law.
'True; but thou art a Sahib and the son of a Sahib. Therefore, do not at any time be led to contemn the black men. I have known boys newly entered into the service of the Government who feigned not to understand the talk or the customs of black men. Their pay was cut for ignorance. There is no sin so great as ignorance. Remember this.'
Several times in the course of the long twenty-four hours' run south did the Colonel send for Kim, always developing this latter text.
'We be all on one lead-rope, then,' said Kim at last, 'the Colonel, Mahbub Ali, and I - when I become a chain-man. He will use me as Mahbub Ali employed me, I think. That is good, if it allows me to return to the Road again. This clothing grows no easier by wear.'
When they came to the crowded Lucknow station there was no sign of the lama. He swallowed his disappointment, while the Colonel bundled him into a ticca-gharri with his neat belongings and despatched him alone to St Xavier's.
'I do not say farewell, because we shall meet again,' he cried. 'Again, and many times, if thou art one of good spirit. But thou art not yet tried.'
'Not when I brought thee' - Kim actually dared to use the turn of equals - 'a white stallion's pedigree that night?'
'Much is gained by forgetting, little brother,' said the Colonel, with a look that pierced through Kim's shoulder-blades as he scuttled into the carriage.
It took him nearly five minutes to recover. Then he sniffed the new air appreciatively. 'A rich city,' he said. 'Richer than Lahore. How good the bazars must be! Coachman, drive me a little through the bazars here.'
'My order is to take thee to the school.' The driver used the 'thou', which is rudeness when applied to a white man. In the clearest and most fluent vernacular Kim pointed out his error, climbed on to the box-seat, and, perfect understanding established, drove for a couple of hours up and down, estimating, comparing, and enjoying. There is no city - except Bombay, the queen of all - more beautiful in her garish style than Lucknow, whether you see her from the bridge over the river, or from the top of the Imambara looking down on the gilt umbrellas of the Chutter Munzil, and the trees in which the town is bedded. Kings have adorned her with fantastic buildings, endowed her with charities, crammed her with pensioners, and drenched her with blood. She is the centre of all idleness, intrigue, and luxury, and shares with Delhi the claim to talk the only pure Urdu.
'A fair city - a beautiful city.' The driver, as a Lucknow man, was pleased with the compliment, and told Kim many astounding things where an English guide would have talked of the Mutiny.
'Now we will go to the school,' said Kim at last. The great old school of St Xavier's in Partibus, block on block of low white buildings, stands in vast grounds over against the Gumti River, at some distance from the city.
'What like of folk are they within?' said Kim.
'Young Sahibs - all devils. But to speak truth, and I drive many of them to and fro from the railway station, I have never seen one that had in him the making of a more perfect devil than thou - this young Sahib whom I am now driving.'
Naturally, for he was never trained to consider them in any way improper, Kim had passed the time of day with one or two frivolous ladies at upper windows in a certain street, and naturally, in the exchange of compliments, had acquitted himself well. He was about to acknowledge the driver's last insolence, when his eye - it was growing dusk - caught a figure sitting by one of the white plaster gate-pillars in the long sweep of wall.
'Stop!' he cried. 'Stay here. I do not go to the school at once.'
'But what is to pay me for this coming and re-coming?' said the driver petulantly. 'Is the boy mad? Last time it was a dancing- girl. This time it is a priest.'
Kim was in the road headlong, patting the dusty feet beneath the dirty yellow robe.
'I have waited here a day and a half,' the lama's level voice began. 'Nay, I had a disciple with me. He that was my friend at the Temple of the Tirthankars gave me a guide for this journey. I came from Benares in the te-rain, when thy letter was given me. Yes, I am well fed. I need nothing.'
'But why didst thou not stay with the Kulu woman, O Holy One? In what way didst thou get to Benares? My heart has been heavy since we parted.'
'The woman wearied me by constant flux of talk and requiring charms for children. I separated myself from that company, permitting her to acquire merit by gifts. She is at least a woman of open hands, and I made a promise to return to her house if need arose. Then, perceiving myself alone in this great and terrible world, I bethought me of the te-rain to Benares, where I knew one abode in the Tirthankars' Temple who was a Seeker, even as I.'
'Ah! Thy River,' said Kim. 'I had forgotten the River.'
'So soon, my chela? I have never forgotten it. But when I had left thee it seemed better that I should go to the Temple and take counsel, for, look you, India is very large, and it may be that wise men before us, some two or three, have left a record of the place of our River. There is debate in the Temple of the Tirthankars on this matter; some saying one thing, and some another. They are courteous folk.'
'So be it; but what dost thou do now?'
'I acquire merit in that I help thee, my chela, to wisdom. The priest of that body of men who serve the Red Bull wrote me that all should be as I desired for thee. I sent the money to suffice for one year, and then I came, as thou seest me, to watch for thee going up into the Gates of Learning. A day and a half have I waited, not because I was led by any affection towards thee - that is no part of the Way - but, as they said at the Tirthankars' Temple, because, money having been paid for learning, it was right that I should oversee the end of the matter. They resolved my doubts most clearly. I had a fear that, perhaps, I came because I wished to see thee - misguided by the Red Mist of affection. It is not so ... Moreover, I am troubled by a dream.'
'But surely, Holy One, thou hast not forgotten the Road and all that befell on it. Surely it was a little to see me that thou didst come?'
'The horses are cold, and it is past their feeding-time,' whined the driver.
'Go to Jehannum and abide there with thy reputationless aunt!' Kim snarled over his shoulder. 'I am all alone in this land; I know not where I go nor what shall befall me. My heart was in that letter I sent thee. Except for Mahbub Ali, and he is a Pathan, I have no friend save thee, Holy One. Do not altogether go away.'
'I have considered that also,' the lama replied, in a shaking voice. 'It is manifest that from time to time I shall acquire merit if before that I have not found my River - by assuring myself that thy feet are set on wisdom. What they will teach thee I do not know, but the priest wrote me that no son of a Sahib in all India will be better taught than thou. So from time to time, therefore, I will come again. Maybe thou wilt be such a Sahib as he who gave me these spectacles' - the lama wiped them elaborately - 'in the Wonder House at Lahore. That is my hope, for he was a Fountain of Wisdom - wiser than many abbots .... Again, maybe thou wilt forget me and our meetings.'
'If I eat thy bread,' cried Kim passionately, 'how shall I ever forget thee?'
'No - no.' He put the boy aside. 'I must go back to Benares. From time to time, now that I know the customs of letter- writers in this land, I will send thee a letter, and from time to time I will come and see thee.'
'But whither shall I send my letters?' wailed Kim, clutching at the robe, all forgetful that he was a Sahib.
'To the Temple of the Tirthankars at Benares. That is the place I have chosen till I find my River. Do not weep; for, look you, all Desire is Illusion and a new binding upon the Wheel. Go up to the Gates of Learning. Let me see thee go ... Dost thou love me? Then go, or my heart cracks ... I will come again. Surely I will come again.
The lama watched the ticca-gharri rumble into the compound, and strode off, snuffing between each long stride.
'The Gates of Learning' shut with a clang.
The country born and bred boy has his own manners and customs, which do not resemble those of any other land; and his teachers approach him by roads which an English master would not understand. Therefore, you would scarcely be interested in Kim's experiences as a St Xavier's boy among two or three hundred precocious youths, most of whom had never seen the sea. He suffered the usual penalties for breaking out of bounds when there was cholera in the city. This was before he had learned to write fair English, and so was obliged to find a bazar letter-writer. He was, of course, indicted for smoking and for the use of abuse more full-flavoured than even St Xavier's had ever heard. He learned to wash himself with the Levitical scrupulosity of the native-born, who in his heart considers the Englishman rather dirty. He played the usual tricks on the patient coolies pulling the punkahs in the sleeping- rooms where the boys threshed through the hot nights telling tales till the dawn; and quietly he measured himself against his self- reliant mates.
They were sons of subordinate officials in the Railway, Telegraph, and Canal Services; of warrant-officers, sometimes retired and sometimes acting as commanders-in-chief to a feudatory Rajah's army; of captains of the Indian Marine Government pensioners, planters, Presidency shopkeepers, and missionaries. A few were cadets of the old Eurasian houses that have taken strong root in Dhurrumtollah - Pereiras, De Souzas, and D'Silvas. Their parents could well have educated them in England, but they loved the school that had served their own youth, and generation followed sallow- hued generation at St Xavier's. Their homes ranged from Howrah of the railway people to abandoned cantonments like Monghyr and Chunar; lost tea-gardens Shillong-way; villages where their fathers were large landholders in Oudh or the Deccan; Mission-stations a week from the nearest railway line; seaports a thousand miles south, facing the brazen Indian surf; and cinchona-plantations south of all. The mere story of their adventures, which to them were no adventures, on their road to and from school would have crisped a Western boy's hair. They were used to jogging off alone through a hundred miles of jungle, where there was always the delightful chance of being delayed by tigers; but they would no more have bathed in the English Channel in an English August than their brothers across the world would have lain still while a leopard snuffed at their palanquin. There were boys of fifteen who had spent a day and a half on an islet in the middle of a flooded river, taking charge, as by right, of a camp of frantic pilgrims returning from a shrine. There were seniors who had requisitioned a chance-met Rajah's elephant, in the name of St Francis Xavier, when the Rains once blotted out the cart-track that led to their father's estate, and had all but lost the huge beast in a quicksand. There was a boy who, he said, and none doubted, had helped his father to beat off with rifles from the veranda a rush of Akas in the days when those head-hunters were bold against lonely plantations.
And every tale was told in the even, passionless voice of the native-born, mixed with quaint reflections, borrowed unconsciously from native foster-mothers, and turns of speech that showed they had been that instant translated from the vernacular. Kim watched, listened, and approved. This was not insipid, single-word talk of drummer-boys. It dealt with a life he knew and in part understood. The atmosphere suited him, and he throve by inches. They gave him a white drill suit as the weather warmed, and he rejoiced in the new- found bodily comforts as he rejoiced to use his sharpened mind over the tasks they set him. His quickness would have delighted an English master; but at St Xavier's they know the first rush of minds developed by sun and surroundings, as they know the half- collapse that sets in at twenty-two or twenty-three.
None the less he remembered to hold himself lowly. When tales were told of hot nights, Kim did not sweep the board with his reminiscences; for St Xavier's looks down on boys who 'go native all-together.' One must never forget that one is a Sahib, and that some day, when examinations are passed, one will command natives. Kim made a note of this, for he began to understand where examinations led.
Then came the holidays from August to October - the long holidays imposed by the heat and the Rains. Kim was informed that he would go north to some station in the hills behind Umballa, where Father Victor would arrange for him.
'A barrack-school?' said Kim, who had asked many questions and thought more.
'Yes, I suppose so,' said the master. 'It will not do you any harm to keep you out of mischief. You can go up with young De Castro as far as Delhi.'
Kim considered it in every possible light. He had been diligent, even as the Colonel advised. A boy's holiday was his own property - of so much the talk of his companions had advised him, - and a barrack-school would be torment after St Xavier's. Moreover - this was magic worth anything else - he could write. In three months he had discovered how men can speak to each other without a third party, at the cost of half an anna and a little knowledge. No word had come from the lama, but there remained the Road. Kim yearned for the caress of soft mud squishing up between the toes, as his mouth watered for mutton stewed with butter and cabbages, for rice speckled with strong scented cardamoms, for the saffron-tinted rice, garlic and onions, and the forbidden greasy sweetmeats of the bazars. They would feed him raw beef on a platter at the barrack- school, and he must smoke by stealth. But again, he was a Sahib and was at St Xavier's, and that pig Mahbub Ali ... No, he would not test Mahbub's hospitality - and yet ... He thought it out alone in the dormitory, and came to the conclusion he had been unjust to Mahbub.
The school was empty; nearly all the masters had gone away; Colonel Creighton 's railway pass lay in his hand, and Kim puffed himself that he had not spent Colonel Creighton's or Mahbub's money in riotous living. He was still lord of two rupees seven annas. His new bullock-trunk, marked 'K. O'H.', and bedding-roll lay in the empty sleeping-room.
'Sahibs are always tied to their baggage,' said Kim, nodding at them. 'You will stay here' He went out into the warm rain, smiling sinfully, and sought a certain house whose outside he had noted down some time before...
'Arre'! Dost thou know what manner of women we be in this quarter? Oh, shame!'
'Was I born yesterday?' Kim squatted native-fashion on the cushions of that upper room. 'A little dyestuff and three yards of cloth to help out a jest. Is it much to ask?'
'Who is she? Thou art full young, as Sahibs go, for this devilry.'
'Oh, she? She is the daughter of a certain schoolmaster of a regiment in the cantonments. He has beaten me twice because I went over their wall in these clothes. Now I would go as a gardener's boy. Old men are very jealous.'
'That is true. Hold thy face still while I dab on the juice.'
'Not too black, Naikan. I would not appear to her as a hubshi (nigger).'
'Oh, love makes nought of these things. And how old is she?'
'Twelve years, I think,' said the shameless Kim. 'Spread it also on the breast. It may be her father will tear my clothes off me, and if I am piebald -' he laughed.
The girl worked busily, dabbing a twist of cloth into a little saucer of brown dye that holds longer than any walnut-juice.
'Now send out and get me a cloth for the turban. Woe is me, my head is all unshaved! And he will surely knock off my turban.'
'I am not a barber, but I will make shift. Thou wast born to be a breaker of hearts! All this disguise for one evening? Remember, the stuff does not wash away.' She shook with laughter till her bracelets and anklets jingled. 'But who is to pay me for this? Huneefa herself could not have given thee better stuff.'
'Trust in the Gods, my sister,' said Kim gravely, screwing his face round as the stain dried. 'Besides, hast thou ever helped to paint a Sahib thus before?'
'Never indeed. But a jest is not money.'
'It is worth much more.'
'Child, thou art beyond all dispute the most shameless son of Shaitan that I have ever known to take up a poor girl's time with this play, and then to say: "Is not the jest enough?" Thou wilt go very far in this world.' She gave the dancing-girls' salutation in mockery.
'All one. Make haste and rough-cut my head.' Kim shifted from foot to foot, his eyes ablaze with mirth as he thought of the fat days before him. He gave the girl four annas, and ran down the stairs in the likeness of a low-caste Hindu boy - perfect in every detail. A cookshop was his next point of call, where he feasted in extravagance and greasy luxury.
On Lucknow station platform he watched young De Castro, all covered with prickly-heat, get into a second-class compartment. Kim patronized a third, and was the life and soul of it. He explained to the company that he was assistant to a juggler who had left him behind sick with fever, and that he would pick up his master at Umballa. As the occupants of the carriage changed, he varied this tale, or adorned it with all the shoots of a budding fancy, the more rampant for being held off native speech so long. In all India that night was no human being so joyful as Kim. At Umballa he got out and headed eastward, plashing over the sodden fields to the village where the old soldier lived.
About this time Colonel Creighton at Simla was advised from Lucknow by wire that young O'Hara had disappeared. Mahbub Ali was in town selling horses, and to him the Colonel confided the affair one morning cantering round Annandale racecourse.
'Oh, that is nothing,' said the horse-dealer. 'Men are like horses. At certain times they need salt, and if that salt is not in the mangers they will lick it up from the earth. He has gone back to the Road again for a while. The madrissak wearied him. I knew it would. Another time, I will take him upon the Road myself. Do not be troubled, Creighton Sahib. It is as though a polo-pony, breaking loose, ran out to learn the game alone.'
'Then he is not dead, think you?'
'Fever might kill him. I do not fear for the boy otherwise. A monkey does not fall among trees.'
Next morning, on the same course, Mahbub's stallion ranged alongside the Colonel.
'It is as I had thought,' said the horse-dealer. 'He has come through Umballa at least, and there he has written a letter to me, having learned in the bazar that I was here.'
'Read,' said the Colonel, with a sigh of relief. It was absurd that a man of his position should take an interest in a little country- bred vagabond; but the Colonel remembered the conversation in the train, and often in the past few months had caught himself thinking of the queer, silent, self-possessed boy. His evasion, of course, was the height of insolence, but it argued some resource and nerve.
Mahbub's eyes twinkled as he reined out into the centre of the cramped little plain, where none could come near unseen.
'"The Friend of the Stars, who is the Friend of all the World -"'
'What is this?'
'A name we give him in Lahore city. "The Friend of all the World takes leave to go to his own places. He will come back upon the appointed day. Let the box and the bedding-roll be sent for; and if there has been a fault, let the Hand of Friendship turn aside the Whip of Calamity." There is yet a little more, but -'
'No matter, read.'
'"Certain things are not known to those who eat with forks. It is better to eat with both hands for a while. Speak soft words to those who do not understand this that the return may be propitious." Now the manner in which that was cast is, of course, the work of the letter-writer, but see how wisely the boy has devised the matter of it so that no hint is given except to those who know!'
'Is this the Hand of Friendship to avert the Whip of Calamity?' laughed the Colonel.
'See how wise is the boy. He would go back to the Road again, as I said. Not knowing yet thy trade -'
'I am not at all sure of that,' the Colonel muttered.
'He turns to me to make a peace between you. Is he not wise? He says he will return. He is but perfecting his knowledge. Think, Sahib! He has been three months at the school. And he is not mouthed to that bit. For my part, I rejoice. The pony learns the game.'
'Ay, but another time he must not go alone.'
'Why? He went alone before he came under the Colonel Sahib's protection. When he comes to the Great Game he must go alone - alone, and at peril of his head. Then, if he spits, or sneezes, or sits down other than as the people do whom he watches, he may be slain. Why hinder him now? Remember how the Persians say: The jackal that lives in the wilds of Mazanderan can only be caught by the hounds of Mazanderan.'
'True. It is true, Mahbub Ali. And if he comes to no harm, I do not desire anything better. But it is great insolence on his part.'
'He does not tell me, even, whither he goes,' said Mahbub. 'He is no fool. When his time is accomplished he will come to me. It is time the healer of pearls took him in hand. He ripens too quickly - as Sahibs reckon.'
This prophecy was fulfilled to the letter a month later. Mahbub had gone down to Umballa to bring up a fresh consignment of horses, and Kim met him on the Kalka road at dusk riding alone, begged an alms of him, was sworn at, and replied in English. There was nobody within earshot to hear Mahbub's gasp of amazement.
'Oho! And where hast thou been?'
'Up and down - down and up.'
'Come under a tree, out of the wet, and tell.'
'I stayed for a while with an old man near Umballa; anon with a household of my acquaintance in Umballa. With one of these I went as far as Delhi to the southward. That is a wondrous city. Then I drove a bullock for a teli [an oilman] coming north; but I heard of a great feast forward in Patiala, and thither went I in the company of a firework-maker. It was a great feast' (Kim rubbed his stomach). 'I saw Rajahs, and elephants with gold and silver trappings; and they lit all the fireworks at once, whereby eleven men were killed, my fire-work-maker among them, and I was blown across a tent but took no harm. Then I came back to the rel with a Sikh horseman, to whom I was groom for my bread; and so here.'
'Shabash!' said Mahbub Ali.
'But what does the Colonel Sahib say? I do not wish to be beaten.'
'The Hand of Friendship has averted the Whip of Calamity; but another time, when thou takest the Road it will be with me. This is too early.'
'Late enough for me. I have learned to read and to write English a little at the madrissah. I shall soon be altogether a Sahib.'
'Hear him!' laughed Mahbub, looking at the little drenched figure dancing in the wet. 'Salaam - Sahib,' and he saluted ironically.
'Well, art tired of the Road, or wilt thou come on to Umballa with me and work back with the horses?'
'I come with thee, Mahbub Ali.'
Something I owe to the soil that grew - More to the life that fed - But most to Allah Who gave me two Separate sides to my head.
I would go without shirts or shoes, Friends, tobacco or bread Sooner than for an instant lose Either side of my head.'
The Two-Sided Man.
'Then in God's name take blue for red,' said Mahbub, alluding to the Hindu colour of Kim's disreputable turban.
Kim countered with the old proverb, 'I will change my faith and my bedding, but thou must pay for it.'
The dealer laughed till he nearly fell from his horse. At a shop on the outskirts of the city the change was made, and Kim stood up, externally at least, a Mohammedan.
Mahbub hired a room over against the railway station, sent for a cooked meal of the finest with the almond-curd sweet-meats [balushai we call it] and fine-chopped Lucknow tobacco.
'This is better than some other meat that I ate with the Sikh,' said Kim, grinning as he squatted, 'and assuredly they give no such victuals at my madrissah.'
'I have a desire to hear of that same madrissah.' Mahbub stuffed himself with great boluses of spiced mutton fried in fat with cabbage and golden-brown onions. 'But tell me first, altogether and truthfully, the manner of thy escape. For, O Friend of all the World,' - he loosed his cracking belt - 'I do not think it is often that a Sahib and the son of a Sahib runs away from there.'
'How should they? They do not know the land. It was nothing,' said Kim, and began his tale. When he came to the disguisement and the interview with the girl in the bazar, Mahbub Ali's gravity went from him. He laughed aloud and beat his hand on his thigh.
'Shabash! Shabash! Oh, well done, little one! What will the healer of turquoises say to this? Now, slowly, let us hear what befell afterwards - step by step, omitting nothing.'
Step by step then, Kim told his adventures between coughs as the full-flavoured tobacco caught his lungs.
'I said,' growled Mahbub Ali to himself, 'I said it was the pony breaking out to play polo. The fruit is ripe already -except that he must learn his distances and his pacings, and his rods and his compasses. Listen now. I have turned aside the Colonel's whip from thy skin, and that is no small service.'
'True.' Kim pulled serenely. 'That is true.'
'But it is not to be thought that this running out and in is any way good.'
'It was my holiday, Hajji. I was a slave for many weeks. Why should I not run away when the school was shut? Look, too, how I, living upon my friends or working for my bread, as I did with the Sikh, have saved the Colonel Sahib a great expense.'
Mahbub's lips twitched under his well-pruned Mohammedan moustache.
'What are a few rupees' - the Pathan threw out his open hand carelessly - 'to the Colonel Sahib? He spends them for a purpose, not in any way for love of thee.'
'That,' said Kim slowly, 'I knew a very long time ago.'
'The Colonel Sahib himself. Not in those many words, but plainly enough for one who is not altogether a mud-head. Yea, he told me in the te-rain when we went down to Lucknow.'
'Be it so. Then I will tell thee more, Friend of all the World, though in the telling I lend thee my head.'
'It was forfeit to me,' said Kim, with deep relish, 'in Umballa, when thou didst pick me up on the horse after the drummer-boy beat me.'
'Speak a little plainer. All the world may tell lies save thou and I. For equally is thy life forfeit to me if I chose to raise my finger here.'
'And this is known to me also,' said Kim, readjusting the live charcoal-ball on the weed. 'It is a very sure tie between us. Indeed, thy hold is surer even than mine; for who would miss a boy beaten to death, or, it may be, thrown into a well by the roadside? Most people here and in Simla and across the passes behind the Hills would, on the other hand, say: "What has come to Mahbub Ali?" if he were found dead among his horses. Surely, too, the Colonel Sahib would make inquiries. But again,'- Kim's face puckered with cunning, - 'he would not make overlong inquiry, lest people should ask: "What has this Colonel Sahib to do with that horse-dealer?" But I - if I lived -'
'As thou wouldst surely die -'
'Maybe; but I say, if I lived, I, and I alone, would know that one had come by night, as a common thief perhaps, to Mahbub Ali's bulkhead in the serai, and there had slain him, either before or after that thief had made a full search into his saddlebags and between the soles of his slippers. Is that news to tell to the Colonel, or would he say to me - (I have not forgotten when he sent me back for a cigar-case that he had not left behind him) - "What is Mahbub Ali to me?"?'
Up went a gout of heavy smoke. There was a long pause: then Mahbub Ali spoke in admiration: 'And with these things on thy mind, dost thou lie down and rise again among all the Sahibs' little sons at the madrissah and meekly take instruction from thy teachers?'
'It is an order,' said Kim blandly. 'Who am I to dispute an order?'
'A most finished Son of Eblis,' said Mahbub Ali. 'But what is this tale of the thief and the search?'
'That which I saw,' said Kim, 'the night that my lama and I lay next thy place in the Kashmir Seral. The door was left unlocked, which I think is not thy custom, Mahbub. He came in as one assured that thou wouldst not soon return. My eye was against a knot-hole in the plank. He searched as it were for something - not a rug, not stirrups, nor a bridle, nor brass pots - something little and most carefully hid. Else why did he prick with an iron between the soles of thy slippers?'
'Ha!' Mahbub Ali smiled gently. 'And seeing these things, what tale didst thou fashion to thyself, Well of the Truth?'
'None. I put my hand upon my amulet, which lies always next to my skin, and, remembering the pedigree of a white stallion that I had bitten out of a piece of Mussalmani bread, I went away to Umballa perceiving that a heavy trust was laid upon me. At that hour, had I chosen, thy head was forfeit. It needed only to say to that man, "I have here a paper concerning a horse which I cannot read." And then?' Kim peered at Mahbub under his eyebrows.
'Then thou wouldst have drunk water twice - perhaps thrice, afterwards. I do not think more than thrice,' said Mahbub simply.
'It is true. I thought of that a little, but most I thought that I loved thee, Mahbub. Therefore I went to Umballa, as thou knowest, but (and this thou dost not know) I lay hid in the garden-grass to see what Colonel Creighton Sahib might do upon reading the white stallion's pedigree.'
'And what did he?' for Kim had bitten off the conversation.
'Dost thou give news for love, or dost thou sell it?' Kim asked.
'I sell and - I buy.' Mahbub took a four-anna piece out of his belt and held it up.
'Eight!' said Kim, mechanically following the huckster instinct of the East.
Mahbub laughed, and put away the coin. 'It is too easy to deal in that market, Friend of all the World. Tell me for love. Our lives lie in each other's hand.'
'Very good. I saw the Jang-i-Lat Sahib [the Commander-in-Chief] come to a big dinner. I saw him in Creighton Sahib's office. I saw the two read the white stallion's pedigree. I heard the very orders given for the opening of a great war.'
'Hah!' Mahbub nodded with deepest eyes afire. 'The game is well played. That war is done now, and the evil, we hope, nipped before the flower - thanks to me - and thee. What didst thou later?'
'I made the news as it were a hook to catch me victual and honour among the villagers in a village whose priest drugged my lama. But I bore away the old man's purse, and the Brahmin found nothing. So next morning he was angry. Ho! Ho! And I also used the news when I fell into the hands of that white Regiment with their Bull!'
'That was foolishness.' Mahbub scowled. 'News is not meant to be thrown about like dung-cakes, but used sparingly - like bhang.'
'So I think now, and moreover, it did me no sort of good. But that was very long ago,' he made as to brush it all away with a thin brown hand - 'and since then, and especially in the nights under the punkah at the madrissah, I have thought very greatly.'
'Is it permitted to ask whither the Heaven-born's thought might have led?' said Mahbub, with an elaborate sarcasm, smoothing his scarlet beard.
'It is permitted,' said Kim, and threw back the very tone. 'They say at Nucklao that no Sahib must tell a black man that he has made a fault.'
Mahbub's hand shot into his bosom, for to call a Pathan a 'black man' [kala admi] is a blood-insult. Then he remembered and laughed. 'Speak, Sahib. Thy black man hears.'
'But,' said Kim, 'I am not a Sahib, and I say I made a fault to curse thee, Mahbub Ali, on that day at Umballa when I thought I was betrayed by a Pathan. I was senseless; for I was but newly caught, and I wished to kill that low-caste drummer-boy. I say now, Hajji, that it was well done; and I see my road all clear before me to a good service. I will stay in the madrissah till I am ripe.'
'Well said. Especially are distances and numbers and the manner of using compasses to be learned in that game. One waits in the Hills above to show thee.'
'I will learn their teaching upon a condition - that my time is given to me without question when the madrissah is shut. Ask that for me of the Colonel.'
'But why not ask the Colonel in the Sahibs' tongue?'
'The Colonel is the servant of the Government. He is sent hither and yon at a word, and must consider his own advancement. (See how much I have already learned at Nucklao!) Moreover, the Colonel I know since three months only. I have known one Mahbub Ali for six years. So! To the madrissah I will go. At the madrissah I will learn. In the madrissah I will be a Sahib. But when the madrissah is shut, then must I be free and go among my people. Otherwise I die!'
'And who are thy people, Friend of all the World?'
'This great and beautiful land,' said Kim, waving his paw round the little clay-walled room where the oil-lamp in its niche burned heavily through the tobacco-smoke. 'And, further, I would see my lama again. And, further, I need money.'
'That is the need of everyone,' said Mahbub ruefully. 'I will give thee eight annas, for much money is not picked out of horses' hooves, and it must suffice for many days. As to all the rest, I am well pleased, and no further talk is needed. Make haste to learn, and in three years, or it may be less, thou wilt be an aid - even to me.'
'Have I been such a hindrance till now?' said Kim, with a boy's giggle.
'Do not give answers,' Mahbub grunted. 'Thou art my new horse-boy. Go and bed among my men. They are near the north end of the station, with the horses.'
'They will beat me to the south end of the station if I come without authority.'
Mahbub felt in his belt, wetted his thumb on a cake of Chinese ink, and dabbed the impression on a piece of soft native paper. From Balkh to Bombay men know that rough-ridged print with the old scar running diagonally across it.
'That is enough to show my headman. I come in the morning.'
'By which road?' said Kim.
'By the road from the city. There is but one, and then we return to Creighton Sahib. I have saved thee a beating.'
'Allah! What is a beating when the very head is loose on the shoulders?'
Kim slid out quietly into the night, walked half round the house, keeping close to the walls, and headed away from the station for a mile or so. Then, fetching a wide compass, he worked back at leisure, for he needed time to invent a story if any of Mahbub's retainers asked questions.
They were camped on a piece of waste ground beside the railway, and, being natives, had not, of course, unloaded the two trucks in which Mahbub's animals stood among a consignment of country-breds bought by the Bombay tram-company. The headman, a broken-down, consumptive-looking Mohammedan, promptly challenged Kim, but was pacified at sight of Mahbub's sign-manual.
'The Hajji has of his favour given me service,' said Kim testily. 'If this be doubted, wait till he comes in the morning. Meantime, a place by the fire.'
Followed the usual aimless babble that every low-caste native must raise on every occasion. It died down, and Kim lay out behind the little knot of Mahbub's followers, almost under the wheels of a horse-truck, a borrowed blanket for covering. Now a bed among brickbats and ballast-refuse on a damp night, between overcrowded horses and unwashed Baltis, would not appeal to many white boys; but Kim was utterly happy. Change of scene, service, and surroundings were the breath of his little nostrils, and thinking of the neat white cots of St Xavier's all arow under the punkah gave him joy as keen as the repetition of the multiplication-table in English.
'I am very old,' he thought sleepily. 'Every month I become a year more old. I was very young, and a fool to boot, when I took Mahbub's message to Umballa. Even when I was with that white Regiment I was very young and small and had no wisdom. But now I learn every day, and in three years the Colonel will take me out of the madrissah and let me go upon the Road with Mahbub hunting for horses' pedigrees, or maybe I shall go by myself; or maybe I shall find the lama and go with him. Yes; that is best. To walk again as a chela with my lama when he comes back to Benares.'
The thoughts came more slowly and disconnectedly. He was plunging into a beautiful dreamland when his ears caught a whisper, thin and sharp, above the monotonous babble round the fire. It came from behind the iron-skinned horse-truck.
'He is not here, then?'
'Where should he be but roystering in the city. Who looks for a rat in a frog-pond? Come away. He is not our man.'
'He must not go back beyond the Passes a second time. It is the order.'
'Hire some woman to drug him. It is a few rupees only, and there is no evidence.'
'Except the woman. It must be more certain; and remember the price upon his head.'
'Ay, but the police have a long arm, and we are far from the Border. If it were in Peshawur, now!'
'Yes - in Peshawur,' the second voice sneered. 'Peshawur, full of his blood-kin - full of bolt-holes and women behind whose clothes he will hide. Yes, Peshawur or Jehannum would suit us equally well.'
'Then what is the plan?'
'O fool, have I not told it a hundred times? Wait till he comes to lie down, and then one sure shot. The trucks are between us and pursuit. We have but to run back over the lines and go our way. They will not see whence the shot came. Wait here at least till the dawn. What manner of fakir art thou, to shiver at a little watching?'
'Oho!' thought Kim, behind close-shut eyes. 'Once again it is Mahbub. Indeed a white stallion's pedigree is not a good thing to peddle to Sahibs! Or maybe Mahbub has been selling other news. Now what is to do, Kim? I know not where Mahbub houses, and if he comes here before the dawn they will shoot him. That would be no profit for thee, Kim. And this is not a matter for the police. That would be no profit for Mahbub; and' - he giggled almost aloud - 'I do not remember any lesson at Nucklao which will help me. Allah! Here is Kim and yonder are they. First, then, Kim must wake and go away, so that they shall not suspect. A bad dream wakes a man - thus -'
He threw the blanket off his face, and raised himself suddenly with the terrible, bubbling, meaningless yell of the Asiatic roused by nightmare.
'Urr-urr-urr-urr! Ya-la-la-la-la! Narain! The churel! The churel!'
A churel is the peculiarly malignant ghost of a woman who has died in child-bed. She haunts lonely roads, her feet are turned backwards on the ankles, and she leads men to torment.
Louder rose Kim's quavering howl, till at last he leaped to his feet and staggered off sleepily, while the camp cursed him for waking them. Some twenty yards farther up the line he lay down again, taking care that the whisperers should hear his grunts and groans as he recomposed himself. After a few minutes he rolled towards the road and stole away into the thick darkness.
He paddled along swiftly till he came to a culvert, and dropped behind it, his chin on a level with the coping-stone. Here he could command all the night-traffic, himself unseen.
Two or three carts passed, jingling out to the suburbs; a coughing policeman and a hurrying foot-passenger or two who sang to keep off evil spirits. Then rapped the shod feet of a horse.
'Ah! This is more like Mahbub,' thought Kim, as the beast shied at the little head above the culvert.
'Ohe', Mahbub Ali,' he whispered, 'have a care!'
The horse was reined back almost on its haunches, and forced towards the culvert.
'Never again,' said Mahbub, 'will I take a shod horse for night- work. They pick up all the bones and nails in the city.' He stooped to lift its forefoot, and that brought his head within a foot of Kim's.
'Down - keep down,' he muttered. 'The night is full of eyes.'
'Two men wait thy coming behind the horse-trucks. They will shoot thee at thy lying down, because there is a price on thy head. I heard, sleeping near the horses.'
'Didst thou see them? ... Hold still, Sire of Devils!' This furiously to the horse.
'Was one dressed belike as a fakir?'
'One said to the other, "What manner of fakir art thou, to shiver at a little watching?"'
'Good. Go back to the camp and lie down. I do not die tonight.'
Mahbub wheeled his horse and vanished. Kim tore back down the ditch till he reached a point opposite his second resting-place, slipped across the road like a weasel, and re-coiled himself in the blanket.
'At least Mahbub knows,' he thought contentedly. 'And certainly he spoke as one expecting it. I do not think those two men will profit by tonight's watch.'
An hour passed, and, with the best will in the world to keep awake all night, he slept deeply. Now and again a night train roared along the metals within twenty feet of him; but he had all the Oriental's indifference to mere noise, and it did not even weave a dream through his slumber.
Mahbub was anything but asleep. It annoyed him vehemently that people outside his tribe and unaffected by his casual amours should pursue him for the life. His first and natural impulse was to cross the line lower down, work up again, and, catching his well-wishers from behind, summarily slay them. Here, he reflected with sorrow, another branch of the Government, totally unconnected with Colonel Creighton, might demand explanations which would be hard to supply; and he knew that south of the Border a perfectly ridiculous fuss is made about a corpse or so. He had not been troubled in this way since he sent Kim to Umballa with the message, and hoped that suspicion had been finally diverted.
Then a most brilliant notion struck him.
'The English do eternally tell the truth,' he said, 'therefore we of this country are eternally made foolish. By Allah, I will tell the truth to an Englishman! Of what use is the Government police if a poor Kabuli be robbed of his horses in their very trucks. This is as bad as Peshawur! I should lay a complaint at the station. Better still, some young Sahib on the Railway! They are zealous, and if they catch thieves it is remembered to their honour.'
He tied up his horse outside the station, and strode on to the platform.
'Hullo, Mahbub Ali' said a young Assistant District Traffic Superintendent who was waiting to go down the line - a tall, tow- haired, horsey youth in dingy white linen. 'What are you doing here? Selling weeds - eh?'
'No; I am not troubled for my horses. I come to look for Lutuf Ullah. I have a truck-load up the line. Could anyone take them out without the Railway's knowledge?'
'Shouldn't think so, Mahbub. You can claim against us if they do.'
'I have seen two men crouching under the wheels of one of the trucks nearly all night. Fakirs do not steal horses, so I gave them no more thought. I would find Lutuf Ullah, my partner.'
'The deuce you did? And you didn't bother your head about it? 'Pon my word, it's just almost as well that I met you. What were they like, eh?'
'They were only fakirs. They will no more than take a little grain, perhaps, from one of the trucks. There are many up the line. The State will never miss the dole. I came here seeking for my partner, Lutuf Ullah.'
'Never mind your partner. Where are your horse-trucks?'
'A little to this side of the farthest place where they make lamps for the trains.'
'The signal-box! Yes.'
'And upon the rail nearest to the road upon the right-hand side - looking up the line thus. But as regards Lutuf Ullah - a tall man with a broken nose, and a Persian greyhound Aie!'
The boy had hurried off to wake up a young and enthusiastic policeman; for, as he said, the Railway had suffered much from depredations in the goods-yard. Mahbub Ali chuckled in his dyed beard.
'They will walk in their boots, making a noise, and then they will wonder why there are no fakirs. They are very clever boys -- Barton Sahib and Young Sahib.'
He waited idly for a few minutes, expecting to see them hurry up the line girt for action. A light engine slid through the station, and he caught a glimpse of young Barton in the cab.
'I did that child an injustice. He is not altogether a fool,' said Mahbub Ali. 'To take a fire-carriage for a thief is a new game!'
When Mahbub Ali came to his camp in the dawn, no one thought it worth while to tell him any news of the night. No one, at least, but one small horseboy, newly advanced to the great man's service, whom Mahbub called to his tiny tent to assist in some packing.
'It is all known to me,' whispered Kim, bending above saddlebags. 'Two Sahibs came up on a te-train. I was running to and fro in the dark on this side of the trucks as the te-train moved up and down slowly. They fell upon two men sitting under this truck - Hajji, what shall I do with this lump of tobacco? Wrap it in paper and put it under the salt-bag? Yes - and struck them down. But one man struck at a Sahib with a fakir's buck's horn' (Kim meant the conjoined black-buck horns, which are a fakir's sole temporal weapon) - 'the blood came. So the other Sahib, first smiting his own man senseless, smote the stabber with a short gun which had rolled from the first man's hand. They all raged as though mad together.'
Mahbub smiled with heavenly resignation. 'No! That is not so much dewanee [madness, or a case for the civil court - the word can be punned upon both ways] as nizamut [a criminal case]. A gun, sayest thou? Ten good years in jail.'
'Then they both lay still, but I think they were nearly dead when they were put on the te-train. Their heads moved thus. And there is much blood on the line. Come and see?'
'I have seen blood before. Jail is the sure place - and assuredly they will give false names, and assuredly no man will find them for a long time. They were unfriends of mine. Thy fate and mine seem on one string. What a tale for the healer of pearls! Now swiftly with the saddle-bags and the cooking-platter. We will take out the horses and away to Simla.'
Swiftly - as Orientals understand speed - with long explanations, with abuse and windy talk, carelessly, amid a hundred checks for little things forgotten, the untidy camp broke up and led the half- dozen stiff and fretful horses along the Kalka road in the fresh of the rain-swept dawn. Kim, regarded as Mahbub Ali's favourite by all who wished to stand well with the Pathan, was not called upon to work. They strolled on by the easiest of stages, halting every few hours at a wayside shelter. Very many Sahibs travel along the Kalka road; and, as Mahbub Ali says, every young Sahib must needs esteem himself a judge of a horse, and, though he be over head in debt to the money-lender, must make as if to buy. That was the reason that Sahib after Sahib, rolling along in a stage-carriage, would stop and open talk. Some would even descend from their vehicles and feel the horses' legs; asking inane questions, or, through sheer ignorance of the vernacular, grossly insulting the imperturbable trader.
'When first I dealt with Sahibs, and that was when Colonel Soady Sahib was Governor of Fort Abazai and flooded the Commissioner's camping-ground for spite,' Mahbub confided to Kim as the boy filled his pipe under a tree, 'I did not know how greatly they were fools, and this made me wroth. As thus -,' and he told Kim a tale of an expression, misused in all innocence, that doubled Kim up with mirth. 'Now I see, however,' - he exhaled smoke slowly - 'that it is with them as with all men - in certain matters they are wise, and in others most foolish. Very foolish it is to use the wrong word to a stranger; for though the heart may be clean of offence, how is the stranger to know that? He is more like to search truth with a dagger.'
'True. True talk,' said Kim solemnly. 'Fools speak of a cat when a woman is brought to bed, for instance. I have heard them.'
'Therefore, in one situate as thou art, it particularly behoves thee to remember this with both kinds of faces. Among Sahibs, never forgetting thou art a Sahib; among the folk of Hind, always remembering thou art -' He paused, with a puzzled smile.
'What am I? Mussalman, Hindu, Jain, or Buddhist? That is a hard knot.'
'Thou art beyond question an unbeliever, and therefore thou wilt be damned. So says my Law - or I think it does. But thou art also my Little Friend of all the World, and I love thee. So says my heart. This matter of creeds is like horseflesh. The wise man knows horses are good - that there is a profit to be made from all; and for myself - but that I am a good Sunni and hate the men of Tirah - I could believe the same of all the Faiths. Now manifestly a Kathiawar mare taken from the sands of her birthplace and removed to the west of Bengal founders - nor is even a Balkh stallion (and there are no better horses than those of Balkh, were they not so heavy in the shoulder) of any account in the great Northern deserts beside the snow-camels I have seen. Therefore I say in my heart the Faiths are like the horses. Each has merit in its own country.'
'But my lama said altogether a different thing.'
'Oh, he is an old dreamer of dreams from Bhotiyal. My heart is a little angry, Friend of all the World, that thou shouldst see such worth in a man so little known.'
'It is true, Hajji; but that worth do I see, and to him my heart is drawn.'
'And his to thine, I hear. Hearts are like horses. They come and they go against bit or spur. Shout Gul Sher Khan yonder to drive in that bay stallion's pickets more firmly. We do not want a horse- fight at every resting-stage, and the dun and the black will be locked in a little ... Now hear me. Is it necessary to the comfort of thy heart to see that lama?'
'It is one part of my bond,' said Kim. 'If I do not see him, and if he is taken from me, I will go out of that madrissah in Nucklao and, and - once gone, who is to find me again?'
'It is true. Never was colt held on a lighter heel-rope than thou.' Mahbub nodded his head.
'Do not be afraid.' Kim spoke as though he could have vanished on the moment. 'My lama has said that he will come to see me at the madrissah -'
'A beggar and his bowl in the presence of those young Sa -'
'Not all!' Kim cut in with a snort. 'Their eyes are blued and their nails are blackened with low-caste blood, many of them. Sons of mehteranees - brothers-in-law to the bhungi [sweeper].'
We need not follow the rest of the pedigree; but Kim made his little point clearly and without heat, chewing a piece of sugar- cane the while.
'Friend of all the World,' said Mahbub, pushing over the pipe for the boy to clean, 'I have met many men, women, and boys, and not a few Sahibs. I have never in all my days met such an imp as thou art.'
'And why? When I always tell thee the truth.'
'Perhaps the very reason, for this is a world of danger to honest men.' Mahbub Ali hauled himself off the ground, girt in his belt, and went over to the horses.
'Or sell it?'
There was that in the tone that made Mahbub halt and turn. 'What new devilry?'
'Eight annas, and I will tell,' said Kim, grinning. 'It touches thy peace.'
'O Shaitan!' Mahbub gave the money.
'Rememberest thou the little business of the thieves in the dark, down yonder at Umballa?'
'Seeing they sought my life, I have not altogether forgotten. Why?'
'Rememberest thou the Kashmir Serai?'
'I will twist thy ears in a moment - Sahib.'
'No need - Pathan. Only, the second fakir, whom the Sahibs beat senseless, was the man who came to search thy bulkhead at Lahore. I saw his face as they helped him on the engine. The very same man.'
'Why didst thou not tell before?'
'Oh, he will go to jail, and be safe for some years. There is no need to tell more than is necessary at any one time. Besides, I did not then need money for sweetmeats.'
'Allah kerim!' said Mahbub Ah. 'Wilt thou some day sell my head for a few sweetmeats if the fit takes thee?'
Kim will remember till he dies that long, lazy journey from Umballa, through Kalka and the Pinjore Gardens near by, up to Simla. A sudden spate in the Gugger River swept down one horse (the most valuable, be sure), and nearly drowned Kim among the dancing boulders. Farther up the road the horses were stampeded by a Government elephant, and being in high condition of grass food, it cost a day and a half to get them together again. Then they met Sikandar Khan coming down with a few unsaleable screws - remnants of his string - and Mahbub, who has more of horse-coping in his little fingernail than Sikandar Khan in all his tents, must needs buy two of the worst, and that meant eight hours' laborious diplomacy and untold tobacco. But it was all pure delight - the wandering road, climbing, dipping, and sweeping about the growing spurs; the flush of the morning laid along the distant snows; the branched cacti, tier upon tier on the stony hillsides; the voices of a thousand water-channels; the chatter of the monkeys; the solemn deodars, climbing one after another with down-drooped branches; the vista of the Plains rolled out far beneath them; the incessant twanging of the tonga-horns and the wild rush of the led horses when a tonga swung round a curve; the halts for prayers (Mahbub was very religious in dry-washings and bellowings when time did not press); the evening conferences by the halting-places, when camels and bullocks chewed solemnly together and the stolid drivers told the news of the Road - all these things lifted Kim's heart to song within him.
'But, when the singing and dancing is done,' said Mahbub Ali, 'comes the Colonel Sahib's, and that is not so sweet.'
'A fair land - a most beautiful land is this of Hind - and the land of the Five Rivers is fairer than all,' Kim half chanted. 'Into it I will go again if Mahbub Ali or the Colonel lift hand or foot against me. Once gone, who shall find me? Look, Hajji, is yonder the city of Simla? Allah, what a city!'
'My father's brother, and he was an old man when Mackerson Sahib's well was new at Peshawur, could recall when there were but two houses in it.'
He led the horses below the main road into the lower Simla bazar - the crowded rabbit-warren that climbs up from the valley to the Town Hall at an angle of forty-five. A man who knows his way there can defy all the police of India's summer capital, so cunningly does veranda communicate with veranda, alley-way with alley-way, and bolt-hole with bolt-hole. Here live those who minister to the wants of the glad city - jhampanis who pull the pretty ladies' 'rickshaws by night and gamble till the dawn; grocers, oil-sellers, curio-vendors, firewood-dealers, priests, pickpockets, and native employees of the Government. Here are discussed by courtesans the things which are supposed to be profoundest secrets of the India Council; and here gather all the sub-sub-agents of half the Native States. Here, too, Mahbub Ali rented a room, much more securely locked than his bulkhead at Lahore, in the house of a Mohammedan cattle-dealer. It was a place of miracles, too, for there went in at twilight a Mohammedan horseboy, and there came out an hour later a Eurasian lad - the Lucknow girl's dye was of the best - in badly- fitting shop-clothes.
'I have spoken with Creighton Sahib,' quoth Mahbub Ali, 'and a second time has the Hand of Friendship averted the Whip of Calamity. He says that thou hast altogether wasted sixty days upon the Road, and it is too late, therefore, to send thee to any Hill- school.'
'I have said that my holidays are my own. I do not go to school twice over. That is one part of my bond.'
'The Colonel Sahib is not yet aware of that contract. Thou art to lodge in Lurgan Sahib's house till it is time to go again to Nucklao.'
'I had sooner lodge with thee, Mahbub.'
'Thou dost not know the honour. Lurgan Sahib himself asked for thee. Thou wilt go up the hill and along the road atop, and there thou must forget for a while that thou hast ever seen or spoken to me, Mahbub Ali, who sells horses to Creighton Sahib, whom thou dost not know. Remember this order.'
Kim nodded. 'Good,' said he, 'and who is Lurgan Sahib? Nay' - he caught Mahbub's sword-keen glance - 'indeed I have never heard his name. Is he by chance - he lowered his voice - 'one of us?'
'What talk is this of us, Sahib?' Mahbub Ali returned, in the tone he used towards Europeans. 'I am a Pathan; thou art a Sahib and the son of a Sahib. Lurgan Sahib has a shop among the European shops. All Simla knows it. Ask there ... and, Friend of all the World, he is one to be obeyed to the last wink of his eyelashes. Men say he does magic, but that should not touch thee. Go up the hill and ask. Here begins the Great Game.'