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Followed a sudden natural reaction.
‘Now am I alone — all alone,’ he thought. ‘In all India is no one so alone as I! If I die to-day, who shall bring the news — and to whom? If I live and God is good, there will be a price upon my head, for I am a Son of the Charm — I, Kim.’
A very few white people, but many Asiatics, can throw themselves into amazement as it were by repeating their own names over and over again to themselves, letting the mind go free upon speculation as to what is called personal identity. When one grows older, the power, usually, departs, but while it lasts it may descend upon a man at any moment.
‘Who is Kim — Kim — Kim?’
He squatted in a corner of the clanging waiting-room, rapt from all other thoughts; hands folded in lap, and pupils contracted to pin-points. In a minute — in another half second — he felt he would arrive at the solution of the tremendous puzzle; but here, as always happens, his mind dropped away from those heights with the rush of a wounded bird, and passing his hand before his eyes, he shook his head.
A long-haired Hindu bairagi (holy man), who had just bought a ticket, halted before him at that moment and stared intently.
‘I also have lost it,’ he said sadly. ‘It is one of the gates to the Way, but for me it has been shut many years.’
‘What is the talk?’ said Kim, abashed.
‘Thou wast wondering there in thy spirit what manner of thing thy soul might be. The seizure came of a sudden, I know. Who should know but I? Whither goest thou?’
‘Towards Kashi’ (Benares).
‘There are no Gods there. I have proved them. I go to Prayag (Allahabad) for the fifth time — seeking the road to Enlightenment. Of what faith art thou?’
‘They are all most holy and—most greedy . . . I have walked the pillars and trodden the
temples till my feet are flayed, and the child is no whit better.’
“‘They are all most holy and—most greedy ... I have walked the pillars and trodden the temples till my feet are flayed, and the child is no whit better.’”
‘I too am a Seeker,’ said Kim, using one of the lama’s pet words. ‘Though’ he forgot his Northern dress for the moment — ‘though Allah alone knoweth what I seek.’
The old fellow slipped the bairagi’s crutch under his armpit and sat down on a patch of ruddy leopard’s skin as Kim rose at the call for the Benares train.
‘Go in hope, little brother,’ he said, ‘It is a long road to the feet of the One; but thither do we all travel.’
Kim did not feel so lonely after this, and ere he had sat out twenty miles in the crowded compartment, was cheering his neighbours with a string of most wonderful yarns about his own and his master’s magical gifts.
Benares struck him as a peculiarly filthy city, though it was pleasant to find how his cloth was respected. At least one-third of the population prays eternally to some group or other of the many million deities, and so reveres every sort of holy man. Kim was guided to the Temple of the Tirthankers, about a mile outside the city, near Sarnath, by a chance-met Punjabi farmer — a Kamboh from Jullunder-way who had appealed in vain to every God of his homestead to cure his small son, and was trying Benares as a last resort.
‘Thou art from the North?’ he asked, shouldering through the press of the narrow, stinking streets much like his own pet bull at home.
‘Ay, but I know the Punjab. My mother was a Pahareen, but my father came from Amritzar — by Jandiala,’ said Kim, oiling his ready tongue for the needs of the road.
‘Jandiala — Jullunder? Oho! Then we be neighbours in some sort, as it were.’ He nodded tenderly to the wailing child in his arms. ‘Whom dost thou serve?’
‘A most holy man at the Temple of the Tirthankers.’
‘They are all most holy and — most greedy,’ said the Jat with bitterness. ‘I have walked the pillars and trodden the temples till my feet are flayed, and the child is no whit better. And the mother being sick too. . . . Hush, then, little one. . . . We changed his name when the fever came. We put him into girl’s clothes. There was nothing we did not do, except — I said to his mother when she bundled me off to Benares — she should have come with me — I said Sakhi Sarwar Sultan would serve us best. We know his generosity, but these down-country Gods are strangers.’
The child turned on the cushion of the huge corded arms and looked at Kim through heavy eyelids.
‘And was it all worthless?’ Kim asked, with easy interest.
‘All worthless — all worthless,’ said the child, lips cracking with fever.
‘The Gods have given him a good mind, at least,’ said the father proudly. ‘To think he should have listened so quietly. Yonder is thy temple. Now I am a poor man, — many priests have dealt with me, — but my son is my son, and if a gift to thy master can cure him — I am at my very wits’ tend.’
Kim considered for a while, tingling with pride. Three years ago he would have made a prompt profit on the situation and gone his way without a thought; but now the very respect the Jat paid him proved that he was a man. Moreover, he had tasted fever once or twice already, and knew enough to recognise starvation when he saw it.
‘Call him forth and I will give him a bond on my best yoke, so that the child is cured.’
Kim halted at the carved outer door of the temple. A white-clad Oswal bunnya from Ajmir, his sins of usury new wiped out, asked him what he did.
‘I am chela to Teshoo Lama, an Holy One from Bhotiyal — within there. He bade me come. I wait. Tell him.’
‘Do not forget the child,’ cried the importunate Jat over his shoulder, and then bellowed in Punjabi:
‘O Holy One — O disciple of the Holy One — O Gods above all the worlds — behold affliction sitting at the gate.’ That cry is so common in Benares that the passers-by never turned their heads.
The Oswal, at peace with mankind, carried the message into the darkness behind him, Mid the easy, uncounted Eastern minutes slid by; for the lama was asleep in his cell, and no priest would wake him. When the click of his rosary again broke the hush of the inner court where the calm images of the Arhats stand, a novice whispered, ‘Thy chela is here,’ and the old man strode forth, forgetting the end of that prayer.
Hardly had the tall figure shown in the doorway than the Jat ran before him, and, lifting up the child, cried: ‘Look upon this, Holy One; and if the Gods will, he lives — he lives!’
He fumbled in his waist-belt and drew out a small silver coin.
‘What is this?’ The lama’s eyes turned to Kim. It was noticeable he spoke far clearer Urdu than long ago, under Zam-Zammeh; but the father would allow no private talk.
‘It is no more than a fever,’ said Kim. ‘The child is not well fed.’
‘He sickens at everything, and his mother is not here.’
‘If it be permitted, I may cure, Holy One.’
‘What! Have they made thee a healer? Wait here,’ said the lama, and be sat down by the Jat upon the lowest step of the temple, while Kim, looking out of the corner of his eyes, slowly opened the little betel-box. He had dreamed dreams at school of returning to the lama as a Sahib of chaffing the old man before he revealed himself — boy’s dreams all. There was more drama in this abstracted, brow-puckered search through the tabloid bottles, with a pause here and there for thought and a muttered invocation between whiles. Quinine he had in tablets, and dark brown meat lozenges — beef most probably, but that was not his business. The little thing would not eat, but it sucked at a lozenge greedily, and said it liked the salt taste.
‘Take then these six,’ Kim handed them to the man. ‘Praise the Gods, and boil three in milk; other three in water. After he has drunk the milk give him this (it was the half of a quinine pill), and wrap him warm. Give him the water of the other three, and the other half of this white pill when he wakes. Meantime, here is another brown medicine that he may suck at on the way home.’
‘Gods! What wisdom,’ said the Kamboh, snatching.
It was as much as Kim could remember of his own treatment in a bout of autumn malaria — if you except the patter that he added to impress the lama.
‘Now go! Come again in the morning.’
‘But the price — the price,’ said the Jat, and threw back his sturdy shoulders. ‘My son is my son. Now that he will be whole again, how shall I go back to his mother and say I took help by the wayside and did not even give a bowl of curds in return?’
‘They are alike, these Jats,’ said Kim softly. ‘The Jat stood on his dunghill and the King’s elephants went by. “ O driver,” said he, “what will you sell those little donkeys for?”’
The Jat burst into a roar of laughter, stifled with apologies to the lama. ‘It is the saying of my own country — the very talk of it. So are we Jats all. I will come to-morrow with the child; and the blessing of the Gods of the Homesteads — who are good little Gods — be on you both. . . . Now, son, we grow strong again. Do not spit it out, little Princeling! King of my Heart, do not spit it out, and we shall be strong men, wrestlers and club-wielders, by morning.’
He moved away, crooning and mumbling. The lama turned to Kim, and all the loving old soul of him looked out through his narrow eyes.
‘To heal the sick is to acquire merit; but first one gets knowledge. That was wisely done, O Friend of all the World.’
‘I was made wise by thee, Holy One,’ said Kim, forgetting the little play just ended; forgetting St. Xavier’s; forgetting his white blood; forgetting even the Great Game as he stooped, Mohammedan fashion, to touch his master’s feet in the dust of the Jam temple. ‘My teaching I owe to thee. I have eaten thy bread three years. My time is finished. I am loosed from the schools. I come to thee.’
‘Herein is my reward. Enter! Enter! And is all well?’ They passed to the inner court, where the afternoon sun sloped golden across. ‘Stand that I may see. So!’ He peered critically. ‘It is no longer a child, but a man, ripened in wisdom, walking as a physician. I did well — I did well when I gave thee up to the armed men on that black night. Dost thou remember our first day under Zam-Zammeh?’
‘Ay,’ said Kim. ‘Dost thou remember when I leapt off the carriage the first day I went to —’
‘The Gates of Learning? Truly. And the day that we ate the cakes together at the back of the river by Nucklao. Aha! Many times hast thou begged for mc, but that day I begged for thee.’
‘Good reason,’ quoth Kim. ‘I was then a scholar in the Gates of Learning, and attired as a Sahib. Do not forget, Holy One,’ he went on playfully, ‘I am still a Sahib — by thy favour.’
‘True. And a Sahib in most high esteem. Come to my cell, chela.’
‘How is that known to thee?’
The lama smiled. ‘First by means of letters from the kindly priest whom we met in the camp of armed men; but he is now gone to his own country, and I send the money to his brother.’ Colonel Creighton, who had succeeded to the trusteeship when Father Victor went to England with the Mavericks, was hardly the chaplain’s brother. ‘But I do not well understand Sahibs’ letters. They must be interpreted to me. I chose a surer way. Many times when I returned from my Search to this temple, which has always been a nest to me, there came one seeking Enlightenment — a man from Leh — that had been, he said, a Hindu, but wearied of all those Gods.’ The lama pointed to the Arhats.
‘A fat man?’ said Kim, a twinkle in his eye.
‘Very fat; but I perceived in a little his mind was wholly given up to useless things — such as devils and charms and the form and fashion of our tea-drinkings in the monasteries, and by what road we initiated the novices. A man abounding in questions; but he was a friend of thine, chela. He told me that thou wast on the road to much honour as a scribe. And I see thou art a physician.’
‘Yes, that am I — a scribe, when I am a Sahib, but it is set aside when I come as thy disciple. I have accomplished the years appointed for a Sahib.’
‘As it were a novice?’ said the lama, nodding his head. ‘Art thou freed from the schools? I would not have thee unripe.’
‘Even so. In due time I take service under the Government as a scribe —’
‘Not as a Warrior. That is well.’
‘But first I come to wander — with thee. Therefore I am here. Who begs for thee, these days? ‘ he went on quickly. The ice was thin.
‘Very often I beg myself; but, as thou knowest, I am seldom here, except when I come to look again at my disciple. From one end to another of Hind have I travelled afoot and in the te-rain. A great and a wonderful land! But here, when I put in, is as though I were on my own Bhotiyal.’
He looked round the little clean cell complacently. A low cushion gave him a seat, on which he had disposed himself in the cross-legged attitude of the Bodhisat emerging from meditation; a black teakwood table, not twenty inches high, and set with copper tea-cups, was before him. In one corner stood a tiny altar, also of heavily carved teak, bearing a copper-gilt image of the seated Buddha and fronted by a lamp, an incense-holder, and a pair of copper flower-pots.
‘The Keeper of the Images in the Wonder House acquired merit by giving me these a year since,’ said the lama, following Kim’s eye. ‘When one is far from one’s own land such things carry remembrance; and we must reverence the Lord for that He showed the Way. See! ‘ he pointed to a curiously built mound of coloured rice crowned with a fantastic metal ornament. ‘When I was abbot in my own place — before I came to better knowledge — I made that offering daily. It is the Sacrifice of the 11th-verse to the Lord. Thus do we of Bhotiyal offer all the world daily to the Excellent Law. And I do it even now, though I know that the Excellent One is beyond all pinchings and pattings.’ He snuffed from his gourd.
‘It is well done, Holy One,’ Kim murmured, sinking at ease on the cushions, very happy and rather tired.
‘And also,’ the old man chuckled, ‘I write pictures of the Wheel of Life. Three days to a picture. I was busied on it — or it may be I shut my eyes a little — when they brought word of thee. It is good to have thee here: I will show thee my art — not for pride’s sake, but because thou must learn. The Sahibs have not all this world’s wisdom.’
He drew from under the table a sheet of strangely scented yellow Chinese paper, the brushes, and the slab of India ink. In cleanest, severest outline he had traced the Great Wheel with its six spokes, whose centre is the conjoined Hog, Snake, and Dove (Ignorance, Anger, and Lust), and whose compartments are all the heavens and hells, and all the chances of human life. Men say that the Bodhisat Himself first drew it with grains of rice upon dust, to teach His disciples the cause of things. Many ages have crystallised it into a most wonderful convention crowded with hundreds of little figures whose every, line carries a meaning. Few can translate the picture parable: there are not twenty in all the world who can draw it surely without a copy: of those who can both draw and expound are but three.
‘I have a little learned to draw,’ said Kim. ‘But this is a marvel beyond marvels.’
‘I have written it for many years,’ said the lama. ‘Time was when I could write it all between one lamp-lighting and the next. I will teach thee the art — after due preparation; and I will show thee the meaning of the Wheel.’
‘We take the road, then?’
‘The road and our Search. I am but waiting for thee. It was made plain to me in a hundred dreams — notably one that came upon the night of the day that the Gates of Learning first shut — that without thee I should never find my River. Again and again, as thou knowest, I put this from me, fearing an illusion. Therefore I would not take thee with me that day at Lucknow, when we ate the cakes. I would not take thee till the time was ripe and auspicious. From the hills to the sea, from the sea to the hills have I gone, but it was vain. Then I remembered the Jātaka.’
He told Kim the story of the elephant with the leg-iron, as he had told it so often to the Jain priests.
‘Further testimony is not needed,’ he ended serenely. ‘Thou wast sent for an aid. That aid removed, my Search came to naught. Therefore we will go out again together, and our Search is sure.’
‘Whither go we?’
‘What matters, Friend of all the World? The Search, I say, is sure. If need be, the River will break from the ground before us. I acquired merit when I sent thee to the Gates of Learning, and gave thee the jewel that is Wisdom. Thou didst return, I saw even now, a follower of Sakyamuni, the Physician, whose altars are many in Bhotiyal. It is sufficient. We are now together, and all things are as they were — Friend of all the World — Friend of the Stars — my chela.’
Then they talked of matters secular; but it was noticeable that the lama never asked him for any details of his life at St. Xavier’s, nor showed the faintest curiosity as to the manners and customs of Sahibs. His mind seemed all in the past, and he revived every step of their wonderful first journey together, rubbing his hands and chuckling, till it pleased him to curl himself up into the sudden sleep of old age.
Kim watched the last of the sunshine fade out of the court, and played with his ghost-dagger and rosary. The clamour of Benares, oldest of all earth’s cities awake before the Gods, day and night, beat round the walls as the roar of a sea round a breakwater. Now and again, a Jam priest crossed the court, with some small offering to the images, and swept the path about him lest by chance he should crush the life out of a living thing. A lamp twinkled, and there followed the sound of a prayer. Kim watched the stars as they rose one after another in the still, sticky dark, till he fell asleep at the foot of the altar. That night he dreamed in Hindustanee, with never an English word.
‘Holy One, there is the child to whom we gave the medicine,’ he said, about three o’clock in the morning, when the lama, also waking from dreams, would have fared forth on pilgrimage. ‘The Jat will be here at the dawn.’
‘I am well answered. In my haste I would have done a wrong.’ He sat down on the cushions and returned to his rosary. ‘Surely old folk are as children,’ he said pathetically. ‘They desire a matter. Behold, it must be done at once, or they fret and weep! Many times when I was upon the road I have been ready to stamp with my feet at the hindrance of an ox-cart in the way, or a mere cloud of dust. It was not so when I was a man — a long time ago. None the less it is wrongful —’
‘But thou art indeed old, Holy One.’
‘The thing was done. A Cause was put out into the world, and, old or young, sick or sound, knowing or unknowing, who can rein in the effect of that Cause? Does the Wheel hang still if a child spin it — or a drunkard? Chela, this is a great and a terrible world.’
‘I think it good,’ Kim yawned. ‘What is there to eat? I have not eaten since yesterday even.’
‘I had forgotten thy need. Yonder is good Bhotiyal tea and cold rice.’
‘We cannot walk far on such stuff.’ Kim felt all the European’s lust for flesh-meat, which is not accessible in the Jam temple. Yet, instead of going out at once with the begging-bowl, he stayed his stomach on slabs of cold rice till the full dawn. It brought the farmer, voluble, stuttering with gratitude.
‘In the night the fever broke and the sweat came,’ he cried. ‘Feel here — his skin is fresh and new! He esteemed the salt lozenges, and took milk with greed.’ He drew the cloth from the child’s face, and it smiled sleepily at Kim. A little knot of Jam priests, silent but all observant, gathered by the temple door. They knew,, and Kim knew that they knew, how the old lama had met his disciple. Being courteous folk, they had not obtruded themselves overnight by presence, word, or gesture. Wherefore Kim repaid them as the sun rose.
‘Thank the Gods of the Jains, brother,’ he said, not knowing how the Gods were named. ‘The fever is indeed broken.’
‘Look! See!’ The lama beamed in the background upon his hosts of three years. ‘Was there ever such a chela! He follows our Lord the Healer.’
Now the Jams officially recognise all the Gods of the Hindu creed, as well as the Lingam and the Snake. They wear the Brahminical thread; they adhere to every claim of Hindu caste-law. But, because they knew and loved the lama, because he was an old man, because he sought the Way, because he was their guest, and because he collogued long of nights with the head-priest — as free-thinking a metaphysician as ever split a hair into seventy —they murmured assent.
‘Remember,’ — Kim bent over the child,—’ this trouble may come again.’
‘Not if thou hast the proper spell,’ said the Kamboh.
‘But in a little while we go away.’
‘True,’ said the lama to all the Jams. ‘We go now together upon the Search whereof I have often spoken. I waited till my chela was ripe. Behold him! We go North. Never again shall I look upon this place of my rest, O people of good will.’
‘But I am not a beggar.’ The cultivator rose to his feet, clutching the child.
‘Be still. Do not trouble the Holy One,’ a priest said.
‘Go,’ Kim whispered. ‘Meet us again under the big railway bridge, and for the sake of all the Gods of our Punjab, bring food — curry pulse, cakes fried in fat, and sweetmeats. Specially sweetmeats. Be swift!’
The pallor of hunger suited Kim very well as he stood, tall and slim, in his sad-coloured, sweeping robes, one hand on his rosary and the other in the attitude of benediction, faithfully copied from the lama. An English observer might have said that be looked rather like a young saint of a stained glass window, whereas he was but a growing lad faint with emptiness.
Long and formal were the farewells, thrice ended and thrice renewed. The Seeker — he who had invited the lama to that haven from far-away Tibet, a silver-faced, hairless ascetic — took no part in it, but meditated, as always, alone among the images. The others were very human; pressing small comforts upon the old man, — a betel-box, a fine new iron pen-case, a food-bag, and such like, — warning him against the dangers of the world without, and prophesying a happy end to the Search. Meantime Kim, lonelier than ever, squatted on the steps, and swore to himself in the language of St. Xavier’s.
‘But it is my own fault,’ he concluded. ‘With Mahbub, I ate Mahbub’s bread, or Lurgan Sahib’s. At St. Xavier’s, three meals a day. Here I must jolly well look out for myself. Besides, I am not in good training. How I could eat a plate of beef now! . . . Is it finished, Holy One?’
The lama, both hands raised, intoned a final blessing in ornate Chinese. ‘I must lean on thy shoulder,’ said he, as the temple gates shut. ‘We grow stiff, I think.’
The weight of a six-foot man is not light to steady through miles of crowded streets, and Kim, loaded down with bundles and packages for the way, was glad to reach the shadow of the railway bridge.
‘Here we eat,’ he said resolutely, as the Kamboh, blue-robed and smiling, hove in sight, a basket in one hand and the child on the other.
‘Fall to, Holy Ones!’ he cried from fifty yards. (This was on the shoal under the first bridge-span, out of sight of hungry priests.) ‘Rice and good curry, cakes all warm and well scented with hing (asafœtida), curds and sugar. King of my fields,’ this to the small son, ‘let us show these holy men that we Jats of Jullunder can pay a service. . . . I had heard the Jams would eat nothing that they had not cooked, but truly ‘ — he looked away politely over the broad river — ‘ where there is no eye there is no caste.’
‘And we,’ said Kim, turning his back and heaping a leaf-platter for the lama, ‘are beyond all castes.’
They gorged themselves on the good food in silence. Nor till he had licked the last of the sticky sweet-stuff from his little finger did Kim note that the Kamboh too was girt for travel.
‘If out roads be together,’ he said roughly, ‘I go with thee. One does not often find a worker of miracles, and the child is still weak. But I am not altogether a reed.’ He picked up his lathi — a five-foot male bamboo ringed with bands of polished iron — and flourished it in the air. ‘The Jats are called a quarrelsome folk, but that is not true. Except when we are crossed, we are like our own buffaloes.’
‘So be it,’ said Kim. ‘A good stick is a good reason.’
The lama gazed placidly up-stream, where in long, smudged perspective the ceaseless columns of smoke go up from the burning-ghats by the river. Now and again, despite all municipal regulations, the fragment of a half-burned body went by on the full current.
‘But for thee,’ said the Kamboh, drawing the child into his hairy breast, ‘I might to-day have gone thither — with this one. The priests tell us that Benares is holy — which none doubt — and desirable to die in. But I do not know their Gods, and they ask for money; and when one has done one worship a shaved-head vows it is of none effect except one do another. Wash here! Wash there! Pour, drink, lave, and scatter flowers — but always pay the priests. No, the Punjab for me, and the soil of the Jullunder doab for the best soil in it.’
‘I have said many times — in the temple I think — that if need be, the River will open at our feet. We will therefore go North,’ said the lama, rising. ‘I remember a pleasant place, set about with fruit-trees, where one can walk in meditation — and the air is cooler there. It comes from the hills and the snow of the hills.’
‘What is the name?’ said Kim.
‘How should I know? Didst thou not — no, that was after the army rose out of the earth and took thee away. I abode there in meditation in a room against the dovecot — except when she talked eternally.’
‘Oho! the woman from Kulu. That is by Saharunpore.’ Kim laughed.
‘How does the spirit move him? Does he go afoot, for the sake of past sins?’ the Jat demanded cautiously. ‘It is a far cry to Delhi.’
‘No,’ said Kim promptly. ‘I will beg a tikkut for the te-rain.’ One does not own to the possession of money in India.
‘Then in the name of the Gods, let us take the fire-carriage. My son is best in his mother’s arms. The Government has brought on us many taxes, but it gives us one good thing — the te-rain that joins friends and unites the anxious. A wonderful matter is the te-rain.’
They all piled into it a couple of hours later, and slept through the heat of the day. The Kamboh plied Kim with ten thousand questions as to the lama’s walk and work in life, and received some curious answers. Kim was content to be where he was, to look out upon the flat Northwestern landscape, and to talk to the changing mob of fellow-passengers. Even to-day, tickets and ticket-clipping are dark oppression to Indian rustics. They do not understand why, when they have paid for a magic piece of paper, strangers should punch great pieces out of the charm. So,, many and furious are the debates between travellers and Eurasian ticket-collectors. Kim assisted at two or three with grave advice, meant to darken counsel and to show off his wisdom before the lama and the admiring Kamboh. But at Somna Road the Fates sent him something to think upon. There tumbled into the compartment, as the train was moving off, a mean, lean little person — a Mahratta, so far as Kim could judge by the cock of the tight turban. His face was cut, his muslin upper-garment was badly torn, and one leg was bandaged. He told them that a country cart had upset and nearly slain him. He was going to Delhi, where his son lived. Kim watched him closely. If, as he asserted, he had been rolled over and over on the earth, there should have been signs of gravel-rash on the skin. But all his injuries seemed clean cuts, and a mere fall from a cart could not cast a man into such extremity of terror. As he knotted up the torn cloth about his neck with shaking fingers, he laid bare an amulet of the kind called a keeper-up of the heart. Now, amulets are common enough, but they are not generally strung on square-plaited copper wire, and still fewer amulets are black enamel on silver. There were none except the Kamboh and the lama in the compartment, which, luckily, was of an old type with solid ends. Kim made as to scratch in his bosom, and thereby lifted his own amulet. The Mahratta’s face changed altogether at the sight, and he disposed the amulet fairly on his breast.
‘Yes,’ he went on to the Kamboh, ‘I was in haste, and the cart, driven by a bastard, bound its wheel in a water-cut, and besides the harm done to me there was lost a full dish of tarkeean. I was not a Son of the Charm (lucky man) that day.’
‘That was a great loss,’ said the Kamboh, withdrawing interest. His experience of Benares had made him suspicious.
‘Who cooked it?’ said Kim.
‘A woman.’ The Mahratta raised his eyes.
‘But all women can cook tarkeean,’ said the Kamboh. ‘It is a good curry, as I know.’
‘Oh yes, it is a good curry,’ said the Mahratta.
‘And cheap,’ said Kim. ‘But what about caste?’
‘Oh, there is no caste where men go to — look for tarkeean,’ the Mahratta replied, in the prescribed cadence. ‘Of whose service art thou?’
‘Of the service of this Holy One.’ Kim pointed to the happy, drowsy lama, who woke with a jerk at the well-loved word.
‘Ah, he was sent from heaven to aid me. He is called the Friend of all the World. He is also called the Friend of the Stars. He walks as a physician —the time being ripe. Great is his wisdom.’
‘And a Son of the Charm,’ said Kim under his breath, as the Kamboh made haste to prepare a pipe lest the Mahratta should beg.
‘And who is that?’ the Mahratta asked, glancing sideways nervously.
‘One whose child I — we have cured, who lies under great debt to us. — Sit by the window, man from Jullunder. Here is a sick one.’
‘Humph! I have no desire to mix with chance-met wastrels. My ears are not long. I am not a woman wishing to overhear secrets.’ The Jat slid himself heavily into a far corner.
‘Art thou anything of a healer? I am ten leagues deep in calamity,’ cried the Mahratta, picking up the cue.
‘The man is cut and bruised all over. I go about to cure him,’ Kim retorted. ‘None interfered between thy babe and me.’
‘I am rebuked,’ said the Kamboh meekly. ‘I am thy debtor for the life of my son. Thou art a miracle-worker. I know it.’
‘Show me the cuts.’ Kim bent over the Mahratta’s neck, his heart nearly choking him; for this was the Great Game with a vengeance. ‘Now tell thy tale swiftly, brother, while I say a charm.’
‘I come from the South, where my work lay. One of us they slew by the roadside. Hast thou heard?’ Kim shook his head. He, of course, knew nothing of E.23’s predecessor, slain down South in the habit of an Arab trader. ‘Having found a certain letter which I was sent to seek, I came away. I escaped from the city and ran to Mhow. So sure was I that none knew, I did not change my face. At Mhow a woman brought charges against me of theft of jewellery in that city which I had left. Then I saw the cry was out against me. I ran from Mhow by night, bribing the police, who had been bribed to hand me over without question to my enemies in the South. Then I lay in old Chitor city a week, a penitent in a temple, but I could not get rid of the letter which was my charge. I buried it under the Queen’s Stone, at Chitor, in the place known to us all.’
Kim did not know, but not for worlds would he have broken the thread.
‘At Chitor, look you, I was all in Kings’ country; for Kotah to the east is beyond the Sirkar’s law, and east again lie Jeypur and Gwakior. Neither love spies, and there is no justice. I was hunted like a wet jackal; but I broke through at Bandakai, where I heard there was a charge against me of murder in the city I had left — of the murder of a boy. They have both the corpse and the witnesses waiting.’
‘But cannot the Sirkar protect?’
‘We of the Game are beyond protection. If we die, we die. Our names are blotted from the book. That is all. At Bandakai, where lives one of us, I thought to slip the scent by changing my face, and so made me a Mahratta. Then I came to Agra, and would have turned back to Chitor to recover the letter. So sure I was I had slipped them. Therefore I did not send a tar (telegram) to any one saying where the letter lay. I wished the credit of it all.’
Kim nodded. He understood that feeling well.
‘But at Agra, walking in the streets, a man cried a debt against me, and approaching with many witnesses, would have me to the courts then and there. Oh, they are clever in the South! He recognised me as his agent for cotton. May he burn in hell for it!’
‘And wast thou?’
‘O fool! I was the man they sought for the matter of the letter. I ran into the Fleshers’ Ward and came out by the House of the Jew, who feared a riot and pushed me out. I came afoot to Somna Road —I had only money for my tikkut to Delhi, and there, while I lay in a ditch with the fever, one sprang out of the bushes and beat me and cut me and searched me from head to foot. Within earshot of the te-rain it was!’
‘Why did he not slay thee out of hand?’
‘They are not so foolish. If I am taken in Delhi at the instance of lawyers, upon a proven charge of murder, my body is handed over to the State that desires it. I go back guarded, and then — I die slowly for an example to the rest of us. The South is not my country. I run in circles — like a goat with one eye.
I have not eaten for two days. I am marked’ — he touched the filthy bandage on his leg — ‘so that they will know me at Delhi.’
‘Thou art safe in the te-rain, at least.’
‘Live a year at the Great Game and tell me that again. The wires will be out against me at Delhi, describing every tear and rag upon me. Twenty — a hundred, if need be — will have seen me slay that boy. And thou art useless!’
Kim knew enough of native methods of attack not to doubt that the case would be deadly complete — even to the corpse. The Mahratta twitched his fingers with pain from time to time. The Kamboh in his corner glared sullenly; the lama was busy over his beads; and Kim, fumbling doctor fashion at the man’s neck, thought out his plan between invocations.
‘Hast thou a charm to change my shape? Else I am dead. Five ten minutes alone, if I had not been so pressed, and I might —’
‘Is he cured yet, miracle-worker?’ said the Kamboh jealously. ‘Thou hast chanted long enough.’
‘Nay. There is no cure for his hurts, as I see, except he sit for three days in the habit of a bairagi.’ This is a common penance, often imposed on a fat trader by his spiritual teacher.
‘One priest always goes about to make another priest,’ was the retort. Like most grossly superstitious folk, the Kamboh could not keep his tongue from deriding his church.
‘Will thy son be a priest, then? It is time he took more of my white medicine.’
‘We Jats are all buffaloes,’ said the Kamboh, softening anew.
Kim rubbed a finger-tip of bitterness on the child’s trusting little lips. ‘I have asked for nothing,’ he said sternly to the father, ‘except food. Post thou grudge me that? I go to heal another man. Have I thy leave — Prince?’
Up flew the man’s huge paws in supplication. ‘Nay — nay. Do not speak to me thus.’
‘It pleases me to cure this sick one. Thou shalt acquire merit by aiding. What colour ash is there in thy pipe bowl? White. That is auspicious. Was there raw turmeric among thy food-stuffs?’
‘I— I —’
‘Open thy bundle.’
It was the usual collection of small oddments: bits of cloth, quack medicines, cheap fairings, a clothful of atta, — the cheap, grayish, rough-ground native flour, — twists of down-country tobacco, tawdry pipe-stems, and heaven knows what else, wrapped in a quilt. Kim turned it over with the air of a wise jackdaw, muttering a Mohammedan invocation.
‘This is wisdom I learned from the Sahibs,’ he whispered to the lama; and here, when one thinks of his training at Lurgan’s, he spoke no more than the truth. ‘There is a great evil in this man’s fortune, as shown by the stars, which — which troubles him. Shall I take it away?’
‘Friend of the Stars, thou hast done well in all things. Let it be at thy pleasure. Is it another healing?’
‘Quick! Be quick!’ gasped the Mahratta. ‘The train may stop.’
‘A healing against the shadow of death,’ said Kim, mixing the Kamboh’s flour with the mingled charcoal and tobacco ash in the red-earth bowl of the pipe. E.23, without a word, slipped off his turban and shook down his long black hair.
‘That is my food — priest,’ the man growled.
‘A buffalo in the temple! Hast thou dared to look even thus far?’ said Kim. ‘I must do mysteries before fools; but have a care for thy eyes. Is there a film before them already? I save the babe, and all thou canst do — oh, shameless!’ The man flinched at the direct gaze, for Kim was wholly in earnest. ‘Shall I curse thee, or shall I —’ He picked up the outer cloth of the bundle and threw it over the man’s head. ‘Dare so much as to think a wish to see, and — and — even I cannot save thee. Sit! Be dumb!’
‘I am blind — dumb. Forbear to curse. Co —come, child; we will play a game of hiding. Do not, for my sake, look from under the cloth.’
‘I see hope,’ said E.23. ‘What is thy scheme?’
‘This comes next,’ said Kim, plucking the thin body-shirt. R23 hesitated, with all a Northwest man’s dislike of baring his body.
‘What is caste to a cut throat?’ said Kim, rending it to the waist. ‘We must make thee a yellow Saddhu all over. Strip — strip swiftly, and shake thy hair over thy eyes while I scatter the ash. Now, a caste-mark on thy forehead.’ He dived into his bosom for the little greasy paint-box and a cake of crimson lake.
‘Art thou only a beginner?’ said E.23, labouring literally for the dear life, as he slid out of his body-wrappings and stood clear in the loin-cloth while Kim splashed in a noble caste-mark on the smeared brow.
‘But two days entered to the Game, brother,’ Kim replied. ‘Smear more ash on the bosom.’
‘Hast thou met — a physician of sick pearls?’ He switched out the long, tight-rolled turban cloth and, with swiftest hands, rolled it over and under about his loins into the intricate devices of a Saddhu’s cincture.
‘Hah! Post thou know his touch, then? He was my teacher for a while. We must bar thy legs. Ash cures wounds. Smear it again.’
‘I was his pride once, but thou art almost better. The Gods are good to us. Give me that.’
It was a tin box of opium pills among the rubbish of the Jat’s bundle. E.23 gulped down a half handful. ‘They are good against hunger, fear, and chill. And they make the eyes red, too,’ he explained. ‘Now I shall have heart to play the Game. We lack only the Saddhu’s tongs. What of the old clothes?’
Kim rolled them small, and stuffed them into the slack folds of his bosom. With the yellow ochre cake he smeared the legs and the breast, great streaks against the background of flour and ash and turmeric.
‘The blood on them is enough to hang thee, brother.’
‘Maybe; but no need to throw them out of the window. . . . It is finished.’ His voice thrilled with a boy’s pure delight in the Game. ‘Turn and look, O Jat!’
‘The Gods protect us,’ said the hooded Kamboh, emerging like a buffalo from a swamp. ‘But —whither went the Mahratta? What hast thou done?’
Kim had been trained by Lurgan Sahib; and E.23, by virtue of his business, was no bad actor. In place of the tremulous, shrinking trader there lolled against the corner an all but naked, ash-smeared, ochrebarred, dusty-haired Saddhu, his swollen eyes —opium takes quick effect on an empty stomach —luminous with insolence and bestial lust, his legs crossed under him, Kim’s brown rosary round his neck, and a scant yard of worn, flowered chintz on his shoulders. The child buried his face in his amazed father’s arms.
‘Look up, Princeling! We travel with warlocks, but they will not hurt thee. Oh, do not cry…. What is the sense of curing a child one day and killing him with fright the next?’
‘The child will be fortunate all his days. He has seen a great healing. When I was a child I made clay men and horses.’
‘I have made them too. Sir Bangs, he comes in the night and makes them all alive at the back of our kitchen midden,’ said the child.
‘And so thou art not frightened at anything. Eh, Prince?’
‘I was frightened because my father was frightened. I felt his arms shake.’
‘Oh, chicken-man,’ said Kim, and even the abashed Jat laughed. ‘I have done a healing on this poor trader. He must forsake his gains and his account-books, and sit by the wayside three nights to overcome the malignity of his enemies. The stars are against him.’
‘The fewer money-lenders, the better, say I; but, Saddhu or no Saddhu, he must pay for my stuff on his shoulders.’
‘So! But that is thy child on thy shoulder— given over to the burning-ghat not two days ago. There remains one thing more. I did this charm in thy presence because need was great. I changed his shape and his soul. None the less, if, by any chance, O man from Jullunder, thou rememberest what thou hast seen, either among the elders sitting under the village tree, or in thy own house, or in company of thy priest when he blesses thy cattle, a murrain will come among the buffaloes, and a fire in thy thatch, and rats in the corn-bin, and the curse of our Gods upon thy fields that they may be barren before thy feet and after thy ploughshare.’ This was part of an old curse picked up from a faquir by the Taksali Gate in the days of Kim’s innocence. It lost nothing by repetition.
‘Cease, Holy One! In mercy, cease!’ cried the Jat. ‘Do not curse the household. I saw nothing! I heard nothing! I am thy cow!’ and he made to grab at Kim’s bare foot beating rhythmically on the carriage floor.
‘But since thou hast been permitted to aid me in the matter of a pinch of flour and a little opium and such trifles as I have honoured by using in my art, so will the Gods return a blessing,’ and he gave it at length, to the man’s immense relief. It was one that he had learned from Lurgan Sahib.
The lama stared through his spectacles as be had not stared at the business of disguisement.
‘Friend of the Stars,’ he said at last, ‘thou hast acquired great wisdom. Beware that it do not give birth to pride. No man having the Law before his eyes speaks hastily of any matter which he has seen or encountered.’
‘No — no — no indeed,’ cried the farmer, fearful lest the master should be minded to improve on the pupil. E.23, with relaxed mouth, gave himself up to the opium that is meat, tobacco, and medicine to the spent Asiatic.
So, in a silence of awe and great miscomprehension, they slid into Delhi about lamp-lighting time.