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‘I have found my heart again,’ said E.23, under cover of the platform’s tumult. ‘Hunger and fear make men dazed, or I might have thought of this escape before. I was right. They come to look for me. Thou hast saved my life.’
A group of yellow-trousered Punjab policemen, headed by a hot and perspiring young Englishman, parted the crowd about the carriages. Behind them, inconspicuous as a cat, ambled a small fat person who looked like a lawyer’s tout.
‘See the young Sahib reading from a paper. My description is in his hand,’ said E.23. ‘They go carriage by carriage, like fisher-folk netting a pool.’
When the procession reached their compartment, E.23 was counting his beads with a steady jerk of the wrist; while Kim jeered at him for being so drugged as to have lost the ringed fire-tongs which are the Saddhu’s distinguishing mark. The lama, deep in meditation, stared straight before him; and the farmer, looking furtively, gathered up his belongings.
‘Nothing here but a parcel of holy-bolies,’ said the Englishman aloud, and passed on amid a ripple of uneasiness; for native police mean extortion to the native all India over.
‘The trouble now,’ whispered E.23, ‘lies in sending a wire as to the place where I hid that which I was sent to find. I cannot go to the tar-office in this guise.’
‘Is it not enough I have saved thy neck?’
‘Not if the work be left unfinished. Did never the healer of sick pearls tell thee? Comes another Sahib! Ah!’
This was a tallish, sallowish District Superintendent of Police, — belt, helmet, polished spurs and all, — strutting and twirling his dark moustache.
‘What fools are these police Sahibs!’ said Kim genially.
E.23 glanced up under his eyelids. ‘It is well said,’ he muttered in a changed voice. ‘I go to drink water. Keep my place.’
He blundered out almost into the Englishman’s arms, and was bad-worded in clumsy Urdu.
‘Tum mut? You drunk? You mustn’t bang about as though Delhi station belonged to you, my friend.’
E.23, not moving a muscle of his countenance, answered with a stream of the filthiest abuse, at which Kim naturally rejoiced. It reminded him of the drummer-boys and the barrack-sweepers at Umballa in the terrible time of his first schooling.
‘My good fool,’ the Englishman drawled. ‘Nick-lao jao! Go back to your carriage.’
Step by step, withdrawing deferentially, and dropping his voice, the yellow Saddhu clomb back to the carriage, cursing the D.S.P. to remotest posterity by — here Kim almost jumped — by the curse of the Queen’s Stone, by the writing under the Queen’s Stone, and by an assortment of Gods with wholly new names.
‘I don’t know what you’re saying,’ — the Englishman flushed angrily,— ‘but it’s some piece of blasted impertinence. Come out of that!’
E.23, affecting to misunderstand, gravely produced his ticket, which the Englishman wrenched angrily from his hand.
‘Oh zoolum! What oppression!’ growled the Jat from his corner. ‘All for the sake of a jest too.’ He had been grinning at the freedom of the Saddhu’s tongue. ‘Thy charms do not work well to-day, Holy One!’
The Saddhu followed the policeman, fawning and supplicating. The ruck of passengers, busy with their babies and their bundles, had not noticed the affair. Kim slipped out behind him; for it flashed through his head that he had heard this angry, stupid Sahib discoursing loud personalities to an old lady near Umballa three years ago.
‘It is well,’ the Saddhu whispered, jammed in the calling, shouting, bewildered press — a Persian greyhound between his feet and a cageful of yelling hawks under charge of a Rajput falconer in the small of his back. ‘He has gone now to send word of the letter which I hid. They told me he was in Peshawur. I might have known he is like the crocodile — always at the other ford. He has saved me from present calamity, but I owe my life to thee.’
‘Is he also one of Us?’ Kim ducked under a Meiwar camel-driver’s greasy armpit and cannoned off a covey of jabbering Sikh matrons.
‘Not less than the greatest. We are both fortunate! I will make report to him of what thou hast done. I am safe under his protection.’
He bored through the edge of the crowd, besieging the carriages, and squatted by the bench near the telegraph-office.
‘Return, or they take thy place! Have no fear for the work, brother — or my life. Thou hast given me breathing-space, and Strickland Sahib has pulled me to land. We may work together on the road yet. Farewell!’
Kim hurried to his carriage: elated, bewildered, and a little nettled in that he had no key to the secrets about him.
‘I am only a beginner at the Game, that is sure. I could not have leaped into safety as did the Saddhu. He knew it was darkest under the lamp. I could not have thought to tell news under pretence of cursing and how clever was the Sahib! No matter, I saved the life of one. . . . Where is the Kamboh gone, Holy One? ‘ he whispered, as he took his seat in the now crowded compartment.
‘A fear took him,’ the lama replied, with a touch of tender malice. ‘He saw thee change the Mahratta to a Saddhu in the twinkling of an eye, as a protection against evil. That shook him. Then he saw the Saddhu fall sheer into the hands of the polis — all the effect of thy art. Then he gathered up his son and fled; for he said that thou didst change a quiet trader into an impudent bandier of words with the Sahib-log, and he feared the like fate. Where is the Saddhu?’
‘With the polis,’ said Kim. . . . ‘Yet I saved the Kamboh’s child.’
The lama snuffed blandly.
‘Ah, chela, see how thou art overtaken! Thou didst cure the Kamboh’s child solely to acquire merit. But thou didst put a spell on the Mahratta with prideful workings — I watched thee — and with side-long glances to bewilder an old old man and a foolish farmer. Whence calamity and suspicion.’
Kim controlled himself with an effort beyond his years. Not more than any other youngster did he like to eat dirt or to be misjudged, but he saw himself in a cleft stick. The train rolled out of Delhi into the night.
‘It is true,’ he murmured. ‘Where I have offended thee I have done wrong.’
‘It is more, chela. Thou hast loosed an act upon the world, and as a stone thrown into a pool so spread the consequences thou canst not tell how far.’
This ignorance was well both for Kim’s vanity and for the lama’s peace of mind, when we think that there was then being handed in at Simla a code wire reporting the arrival of E.23 at Delhi, and, more important, the whereabouts of a letter he had been commissioned to — abstract. Incidentally, an over-zealous policeman had arrested, on charge of murder done in a far southern State, a horribly indignant Ajmir cotton-broker, who was explaining himself to a Mr. Strickland on Delhi platform while E.23 was paddling through byways into the locked heart of Delhi city. In two hours several telegrams had reached the angry minister of a southern State reporting that all trace of a somewhat bruised Mahratta had been lost; and by the time the leisurely train halted at Saharunpore the last ripple of the stone Kim had helped to heave was lapping against the steps of a mosque in far-away Roum — where it disturbed a pious man at prayers.
The lama made his in ample form near the dewy bougainvillea trellis near the platform, cheered by the clear sunshine and the presence of his disciple. ‘We will put these things behind us,’ he said, indicating the brazen engine and the gleaming track. ‘The jolting of the te-rain — though a wonderful thing —has turned my bones to water. We will use clean air henceforward.’
‘Let us go to the Rajputni’s house.’ Kim stepped forth cheerily under the bundles. Early morning Saharunpore-way is clean and well scented. He thought of the morning classes at St. Xavier’s, and it topped his already thrice-heaped contentment.
‘Where is this new haste born from? Wise men do not run about like chickens in the sun. We have come hundreds upon hundreds of kos already, and, till now, I have scarcely been alone with thee an instant. How canst thou receive instruction all jostled of crowds? How can I, whelmed by a flux of talk, meditate upon the Way?’
‘Her tongue grows no shorter with the years, then?’ The disciple smiled.
‘Nor her desire for charms. I remember once when I spoke of the Wheel of Life ‘— the lama fumbled in his bosom for his latest copy — ‘she was only curious about the devils that besiege children. She shall acquire merit by entertaining us — in a little while — at an after occasion — softly, softly. Now we will wander loose-foot, waiting upon the Chain of Things. The Search is great.’
So they travelled very easily across and among the broad bloom-full fruit-gardens — by way of Aminabad, Sahaigunge, Akrola of the Ford, and little Phulesa — the line of the Sewaliks always to the north, and behind them again the snows. After long, sweet sleep under the dry stars came the lordly, leisurely passage through a waking village — begging-bowl held forth in silence, but eyes roving in defiance of the Law from sky’s edge to sky’s edge. Then would Kim return soft-footed through the soft dust to his master under the shadow of a mango tree or the thinner shade of a white Doon sins, to eat and drink at ease. At mid-day, after talk and a little wayfaring, they slept; meeting the world refreshed when the air was cooler. Night found them adventuring into new territory — some chosen village spied three hours before across the fat land, and much discussed upon the road.
There they told their tale, — a new one each evening so far as Kim was concerned, — and there were they made welcome, either by priest or headman, after the custom of the kindly East.
When the shadows shortened and the lama leaned more heavily upon Kim, there was always the Wheel of Life to draw forth, to hold flat under wiped stones, and with a long straw to expound cycle by cycle. Here sat the Gods on high — and they were dreams of dreams. Here was our Heavens and the world of the demi-Gods — horsemen fighting among the hills. Here were the agonies done upon the beasts, souls ascending or descending the ladder and therefore not to be interfered with. Here were the Hells, hot and cold, and the abodes of tormented ghosts. Let the chela study the troubles that come from overeating —bloated stomach and burning bowels. Obediently then, with bowed head and brown finger alert to follow the pointer, did the chela study; but when they came to the Human World, busy and profitless, that is just above the Hells, his mind was distracted; for by the roadside trundled the very Wheel itself, eating, drinking, trading, marrying, and quarrelling —all warmly alive. Often the lama made the living pictures the matter of his text, bidding Kim — too ready — note how the flesh takes a thousand thousand shapes, desirable or detestable as men reckon, but in truth of no account either way; and how the stupid spirit, bond-slave to the Hog, the Dove, and the Serpent — lusting after betel-nut, a new yoke of oxen, women, or the favour of kings — is bound to follow the body through all the Heavens and all the Hells, and strictly round again. Sometimes a woman or a poor man, watching the ritual — it was nothing less — when the great yellow chart was unfolded, would throw a few flowers or a handful of cowries upon its edge. It sufficed these humble ones they had met a Holy One who might be moved to remember them in his prayers.
‘Cure them if they are sick,’ said the lama, when Kim’s sporting instincts woke. ‘Cure them if they have fever, but by no means work charms. Remember what befell the Mahratta.’
‘Then all doing is evil?’ Kim replied, lying out under a big tree at the fork of the Doon road, watching the little ants run over his hand.
‘To abstain from action is well — except to acquire merit.’
‘At the Gates of Learning we were taught that to abstain from action was unbefitting a Sahib. And I am a Sahib.’
‘Friend of all the World ‘ — the lama looked directly at Kim, — ‘I am an old man — pleased with shows as are children. To those who follow the Way there is neither black nor white, Hind nor Bhotiyal. We be all souls seeking escape. No matter. what thy wisdom learned among Sahibs, when we come to my River thou wilt be freed from all illusion — at my side. Hai! my bones ache for that River, as they ached in the te-rain; but my spirit sits above my bones, waiting. The Search is sure!’
‘I am answered. Is it permitted to ask a question?’
The lama inclined his stately head.
‘I ate thy bread for three years — as thou knowest. Holy One, whence come —’
‘There is much wealth, as men count it, in Bhotiyal,’ the lama returned with composure. ‘In my own place I have honour. I ask for that I need. I am not concerned with the account. That is for my monastery. Ai! the black high seats in the monastery, and the novices all in order.’
And he told stories, tracing with a finger in the dust, of the immense and sumptuous ritual of avalanche-guarded cathedrals; of processions and devil-dances; of the changing of monks and nuns into swine; of holy cities fifteen thousand feet in the air; of intrigue between monastery and monastery; of voices among the hills, and of that mysterious mirage that dances on dry snow. He spoke even of Lhassa and of the Dalai Lama, whom he had seen and adored.
Each long, perfect day rose behind Kim for a barrier to cut him off from his race and his mother tongue. He slipped back to thinking and dreaming in the vernacular, and mechanically followed the lama’s ceremonial observances at eating, drinking, and the like. The old man’s mind turned more and more to his monastery as his eyes turned to the steadfast snows. His River troubled him nothing. Now and again, indeed, he would gaze long and long at a tuft or a twig, expecting, he said, the earth to cleave and deliver its blessing; but he was content to be with his disciple, at ease in the temperate wind that comes down from the Doon. This was not Ceylon, nor Buddh-Gaya, nor Bombay, nor some grass-tangled ruins that he seemed to have stumbled upon two years ago. He spoke of them all as a scholar removed from vanity, as a Seeker walking in humility, as an old man, wise and temperate, illumining knowledge with brilliant insight. Bit by bit, disconnectedly, the story called up by some wayside sight, he spoke of all his wanderings up and down Hind; and Kim, who had loved him without reason, loved him now for fifty good reasons. So they enjoyed themselves in high felicity, abstaining from evil words, covetous desires, not over-eating, not lying on high beds, or wearing rich clothes, as the Rule demands. Their stomach told them the time, and the people gave them their food, as the saying is. They were lords of the villages of Aminabad, Sahaigunge, Akrola of the Ford, and little Phulesa, where Kim gave the soulless woman a blessing.
But news travels fast in India, and too soon there shuffled across the crop-land, bearing a basket of fruits with a box of Kabul grapes and gilt oranges, a white-whiskered servitor — a lean, dry Oorya — begging them to bring the honour of their presence to his mistress, distressed in her mind that the lama had neglected her so long.
‘Now do I remember’ — the lama spoke as though it were a wholly new proposition — ‘she is virtuous, but an inordinate talker.’
Kim was sitting on the edge of a cow’s manger, telling stories to a village smith’s children.
‘She will only ask for another son for her daughter. I have not forgotten her,’ he said. ‘Let her acquire merit. Send word that we will come.’
They covered eleven miles through the crop-lands in two days, and were overwhelmed with attentions at the end; for the old lady held a fine tradition of hospitality, to which she forced her son-in-law, who was under the thumb of his women-folk and bought peace by borrowing of the money-lender. Age had not weakened her tongue or her memory, and from a discreetly barred upper window, in the hearing of not less than a dozen servants, she paid Kim compliments that would have flung European audiences into unclean dismay.
‘But thou art still the shameless beggar-brat of the parao,’ she shrilled. ‘I have not forgotten thee. Wash ye and eat. The father of my daughter’s son is gone away awhile. So we poor women are dumb and useless.’
For proof, she harangued the entire household unsparingly till food and drink were brought; and in the evening — the smoke-scented evening, copper-dun and turquoise across the fields — it pleased her to order her palanquin to be set down in the untidy forecourt by smoky torch-light; and there, behind not too closely drawn curtains, she gossiped.
‘Had the Holy One come alone, I should have received him otherwise; but with this rogue, who can be too careful?’
‘Maharanee,’ said Kim, choosing the amplest title, ‘is it my fault that none other than a Sahib—a polissahib — called the Maharanee whose face he —’
‘Chitt! That was on the pilgrimage. When we travel — thou knowest the proverb.’
‘Called the Maharanee a Breaker of Hearts and a Dispenser of Delights?’
‘To remember that! It was true. So he did. That was in the time of the bloom of my beauty.’ She chuckled like a contented parrot above the sugar lump. ‘Now tell me of thy goings and comings —as much as may be without shame. How many maids, and whose wives, hang upon thy eyelashes? Ye hail from Benares? I would have gone there again this year, but my daughter — we have only two sons. Phaii! Such is the effect of these low plains. Now in Kulu men are elephants. But I would ask thy Holy One — stand aside, nut-cut — a charm against most lamentable windy colics that in mango-time overtake my daughter’s eldest. Two years back he gave me a powerful spell.’
‘Oh, Holy One!’ said Kim, bubbling with mirth at the lama’s rueful face.
‘It is true. I gave her one against wind.’
‘Teeth — teeth — teeth,’ snapped the old woman. ‘Cure them when they are sick,’ Kim quoted relishingly, ‘but by no means work charms. Remember what befell the Mahratta.’
‘That was two rains ago; she wearied me with her continual importunity.’ The lama groaned as the unjust judge had groaned before him. ‘Thus it comes — take note, my chela — that even those who would follow the Way are thrust aside by idle women. Three days, when the child was sick, she talked to me.’
‘Arre! and to whom else should I talk? The boy’s mother knew nothing, and the father — in the night of the cold weather it was —“ Pray to the Gods” said he, forsooth, and turning over, snored.’
‘I gave her the charm. What is an old man to do?’
‘“To abstain from action is well — except when we acquire merit.”’
‘Ah, chela, if thou desertest me, I am all alone.’
‘He found his milk-teeth easily at any rate,’ said the old lady. ‘But all priests are alike.’
Kim coughed severely. Being young, he did not approve of her flippancy. ‘To importune the wise out of season is to invite calamity.’
‘There is a talking mynah ‘— the thrust came back with the well-remembered snap of the jewelled forefinger—’ over the stables which has picked up the very tone of the family priest. Maybe I forgot honour to my guests, but if ye had seen him double his fists into his belly, which was like a half-grown gourd, and cry: “Here is the pain!” ye would forgive. I am half minded to take the hakim’s medicine. He sells it cheap, and certainly it makes him fat as Shiv’s own bull. He does not deny remedies, but I doubted for the child because of the inauspicious colour of the bottles.’
The lama, under cover of the monologue, had faded out into the darkness towards the room prepared.
‘Thou hast angered him, belike,’ said Kim.
‘Not he. He is wearied, and I forgot, being a grandmother. (None but a grandmother should ever oversee, a child. Mothers are only fit for bearing.) To-morrow, when he sees how my daughter’s son is grown, he will write the charm. Then, too, he can judge of the new hakim’s drugs.’
‘Who is the hakim, Maharanee?’
‘A wanderer, as thou art, but a most sober Bengali from Dacca — a master of medicine. He relieved me of an oppression after meat by means of a small pill that wrought like a devil unchained. He travels about now, vending preparations of great value. He has even papers, printed in Angrezi, telling what things he has done for weak-backed men and slack women. He has been here four days; but hearing ye were coming (hakims and priests are snake and tiger the world over) he has, as I take it, gone to cover.’
While she drew breath after this volley, the ancient servant, sitting unrebuked on the edge of the torchlight, muttered: ‘This house is a cattle-pound, as it were, for all charlatans and — priests. Let the boy stop eating mangoes . . . but who can argue with a grandmother?’ He raised his voice respectfully:
‘Sahiba, the hakim sleeps after his meat. He is in the quarters behind the dovecot.’
Kim bristled like an expectant terrier. To outface and down-talk a Calcutta-taught Bengali, a voluble Dacca drug-vendor, would be a good game. It was not seemly that the lama, and incidentally himself, should be thrown aside for such an one. He knew those curious bastard English advertisements at the backs of native newspapers. St. Xavier’s boys sometimes brought them in by stealth to snigger over among their mates; for the language of the grateful patient recounting his symptoms is most simple and revealing. The Oorya, not unanxious to play off one parasite against the other, slunk away towards the dovecot.
‘Yes,’ said Kim, with measured scorn. ‘Their stock-in-trade is a little coloured water and a very great shamelessness. Their prey are broken-down kings and overfed Bengalis. Their profit is in children — who are not born.’
The old lady chuckled. ‘Do not be envious. Charms are better, eh? I never gainsaid it. See that thy Holy One writes me a good amulet by the morning.’
‘None but the ignorant deny’ — a thick, heavy voice boomed through the darkness, as a figure came to rest squatting — ‘None but the ignorant deny the value of charms. None but the ignorant deny the value of medicines.’
‘A rat found a piece of turmeric. Said he: “I will open a grocer’s shop,”’ Kim retorted.
Battle was fairly joined now, and they heard the old lady stiffen to attention.
‘The priest’s son knows the names of his nurse and three Gods. Says he: “Hear me, or I will curse you by the three million great ones.” ’ Decidedly this invisible had an arrow or two in his quiver. He went on: ‘I am but a teacher of the alphabet. I have learned all the wisdom of the Sahibs.’
‘The Sahibs never grow old. They dance and they play like children when they are grandfathers. A strong-backed breed,’ said the voice inside the palanquin.
‘I have our drugs which loosen humours of the head for hot and angry men — sind well compounded when the moon stands in the proper House. Yellow earths I have — arplan from China that makes a man renew his youth and astonish his household; saffron from Kashmir, and the best salop of Kabul. Many people have died before —’
‘That I surely believe,’ said Kim.
‘They knew the value of my drugs. I do not give my sick the ink in which a charm is written, but hot and rending drugs which descend and wrestle with the evil.’
‘Very mightily they do so,’ sighed the old lady.
The voice launched into an immense tale of misfortune and bankruptcy, studded with plentiful petitions to the Government. ‘But for my fate, which overrules all, I had been now in Government employ. I bear a degree from the great school at Calcutta — whither, maybe, the son of this house shall go.’
‘He shall indeed. If our neighbour’s brat can in a few years be made an F.A.’ (First Arts — she used the English word, of which she had heard so much), ‘how much more shall children clever as some that I know bear away prizes and awards at rich Calcutta.’
‘Never,’ said the voice, ‘have I seen a child! Born in an auspicious hour, and but for that colic which, alas! turning into black cholera, may carry him off like a pigeon, destined to many years, he is enviable.’
‘Hai mai!’ said the old lady. ‘To praise children is inauspicious, or I could listen to this talk. But the back of the house is unguarded, and even in this soft air men think themselves to be men and women we know. . . . The child’s father is away too, and I must be chowkedar (watchman) in my old age. Up! Up! Take up the palanquin. Let the hakim and the young priest settle it between them whether charms or medicine most avail. Ho! worthless people, fetch tobacco for the guests, and — round the homestead go I!’
The palanquin reeled off, followed by straggling torches and a horde of dogs. Twenty villages knew the Sahiba — her failings, her tongue, and her large charity. Twenty villages cheated her after immemorial custom, but no man would have stolen or robbed within her jurisdiction for any gift under Heaven. None the less, she made great parade of her formal inspections, the riot of which could be heard half-way to Mussoorie.
Kim relaxed, as one augur must when he meets another. The hakim, still squatting, slid over his hookah with a friendly foot, and Kim pulled at the good weed. The hangers-on expected grave professional debate, and perhaps a little free doctoring.
‘To discuss medicine before the ignorant is of one piece with teaching the peacock to sing,’ said the hakim.
‘True courtesy,’ Kim echoed, ‘is very often inattention.’
These, be it understood, were company manners, designed to impress.
‘Hi! I have an ulcer on my leg,’ cried a scullion. ‘Look at it.’
‘Get hence! Remove!’ said the hakim. ‘Is it the habit of the place to pester honoured guests? Ye crowd in like buffaloes.’
‘If the Sahiba knew —’ Kim began.
‘Ai! Ai! Come away. They are meat for our mistress. When her young Shaitan’s colics are cured perhaps we poor people may be suffered to —’
‘The mistress fed thy wife when thou wast in jail for breaking the money-lender’s head. Who speaks against her?’ The old servitor curled his white moustaches savagely in the young moonlight. ‘I am responsible for the honour of this house. Go!’ and he drove the underlings before him.
Said the hakim, hardly more than shaping the words with his lips: ‘How do you do, Mr. O’Hara? I am jolly glad to see you again.’
Kim’s hand clenched about the pipe-stem. Anywhere on the open road, perhaps, he would not have been astonished; but here, in this quiet backwater of life, he was not prepared for Hurree Babu. It annoyed him, too, that he had been hoodwinked.
‘Ah ha! I told you at Lucknow — resurgam — I shall rise again and you shall not know me. How much did you bet — eh?’
He was hardly more than shaping the English words with his lips.
‘But why come here, Babuji?’
‘Ah! Thatt is the question, as Shakespeare hath said. I come to congratulate you on your extraordinary effeecient performance at Delhi. Oah! I tell you we are all proud of you. It was verree neat and handy. Our mutual friend, he is old friend of mine. He has been in some damn tight places. Now he will be in some more. He told me, I tell Mr. Lurgan, and he is pleased you graduate so nicely. All the Department is pleased.’
For the first time in his life, Kim thrilled to the clean pride (it can be a deadly pitfall, none the less) of Departmental praise — ensnaring praise from an equal for work appreciated by a fellow-worker. Earth has nothing on the same plane to compare with it. But, said the Oriental in him, Babus do not travel about to retail compliments.
‘Tell the tale, Babu,’ he said authoritatively.
‘Oah, it is nothing. Onlee I was at Simla when the wire came in about what our mutual friend said he had hidden, and old Creighton —’ He looked to see how Kim would take this piece of audacity.
‘The Colonel Sahib,’ the boy from St. Xavier’s corrected.
‘Of course. He found me at a loose string, and I had to go down to Chitor to find that beastly letter. I do not like the South — too much railway travel; but I drew good travelling allowance. Ha! Ha! I meet our mutual at Delhi on the way back. He lies quiett just now, and says Saddhu disguise suits him to the ground. Well, there I hear what you have done so well, so quickly, upon the instantaneous spur of the moment. I tell our mutual friend you take the bally bun, by Jove. It was splendid. I come to tell you so.’
The pigs were busy in the ditches, and the moon went to her setting. Some happy servant had gone out to commune with the stars and to beat upon a drum. Kim’s next sentence was in the vernacular.
‘How didst thou follow us?’
‘Oah. Thatt was nothing. I know from our mutual friend you go to Saharunpore. So I come on. Red lamas are not inconspicuous persons. I buy myself my drug-box, and I am very good doctor really. I go to Akrola by the Ford, and hear all about you, and I talk here and talk there. All the common people know what you do. I know when the hospitable old lady sent the dooli. They have great recollections of the old lama’s visits here. I know old ladies cannot keep their hands from medicines. So I am a doctor, and you hear my talk. I think it is verree good. My word, Mister O’Hara, they know about you and the lama for fifty miles —the common people. So I come. Do you mind?’
‘Babuji,’ said Kim, looking up at the broad, grinning face, ‘I am a Sahib.’
‘My dear Mister O’Hara —’
‘And I hope to play the Great Game.’
‘You are subordinate to me departmentally at present.’
‘Then why talk like an ape in a tree? Men do not come after one from Simla and change their dress for the sake of a few sweet words. I am not a child. Talk Hindi and let us get to the yolk of the egg. Thou art here — speaking not one word of truth in ten. Why art thou here? Give a straight answer.’
‘That is so verree disconcerting of the European, Mister O’Hara. You should know a heap better at your time of life.’
‘But I want to know,’ said Kim, laughing. ‘If it is the Game, I may help. How can I do anything if you bukk (boggle) all round the shop?’
Hurree Babu reached for the pipe, and sucked it till it guggled again.
‘Now I will speak vernacular. You sit tight, Mister O’Hara. It concerns the pedigree of a white stallion.’
‘Still? That was finished long ago.’
‘When every one is dead the Great Game is finished. Not before. Listen to me till the end. There were Five Kings who prepared a sudden war three years ago, when thou wast given the stallion’s pedigree by Mahbub Au. Upon them, because of that news, and ere they were ready, fell our Army.’
‘Ay eight thousand men with guns. I remember that night.’
‘But the war was not pushed. That is the Government custom. The troops were recalled because the Government believed the Five Kings were cowed; and it is not cheap to feed men among the high passes. Hilás and Bunár — Rajahs with guns —undertook for a price to guard the passes against all coming from the North. They protested both fear and friendship.’ He broke off with a giggle into English: ‘Of course, I tell you this unoffeecially to elucidate political situation, Mister O’Hara. Offeecially I am debarred from criticising any action of superior. Now I go on. — This pleased the Sirkar, anxious to avoid expense, and a bond was made for so many rupees a month that Hilás and Bunár should guard the passes as soon as the State’s troops were withdrawn. At that time — it was after we two met — I, who had been selling tea in Leh, became a clerk of accounts in the Army. When the troops were withdrawn, I was left behind to pay the coolies who made new roads in the hills. This road-making was part of the bond between Bunár, Hilás, and the Government.’
‘So; and then?’
‘I tell you, it was jolly beastly cold up there too, after India,’ said Hurree Babu confidentially. ‘I was afraid these Bunár men would cut my throat every night for thee pay-chest. My native sepoy guard, they laughed at me! By Jove! I was such a fearful man. Nevah mind thatt. I go on colloquially. — I send word many times that these two Kings were sold to the North; and Mahbub Au, who was yet farther north, amply confirmed it. Nothing was done. Only my feet were frozen, and a toe dropped off. I sent word that the roads for which I was paying money to the diggers were being made for the feet of strangers and enemies.’
‘For the Russians. The thing was an open jest among the coolies. Then I was called down to tell what I knew by speech of tongue. Mahbub came south too. See the end! Over the passes this year after snow-melting’ — he shivered afresh — ‘come two strangers under cover of shooting wild goats. They bear guns, but they bear also chains and levels and compasses.’
‘Oho! The thing gets clearer.’
‘They are well received by Hilás and Bunár. They make great-promises; they speak as the mouthpiece of a Kaisar with gifts. Up the valleys, down the valleys go they, saying, “Here is a place to build a breastwork; here can ye pitch a fort. Here can ye hold the road against an army “ — the very roads for which I paid out the rupees monthly. The Sirkar knows, but does nothing. The three other Kings, who were not paid for guarding the passes, tell them runner of the bad faith of Bunár and Hilás. When all the evil is done, look you — when these two strangers with the levels and the compasses make the Five Kings to believe that a great army will sweep the passes to-morrow or the next day — hill people are all fools — comes the order to me, Hurree Babu, “Go North and see what those strangers do.” I say to Creighton Sahib, “This is not a lawsuit, that we go about to collect evidence.”’ He returned to his English with a jerk: ‘“By Jove,” I said, “why the dooce do you not issue demi-offeecial orders to some brave man to poison them, for an example? It is, if you permit the observation, most reprehensible laxity on your part.” And Colonel Creighton, he laughed at me! It is all that beastly English pride. You think no one dare conspire! That is all tommy-rott.’
Kim smoked slowly, revolving the business, so far as he understood it, in his mind.
‘Then thou goest forth to follow the strangers?’
‘No; to meet them. They are coming in to Simla to send down their horns and heads to be dressed at Calcutta. They are exclusively sporting gentlemen, and they are allowed special faceelities by the Government. Of course, we always do that. It is our British pride.’
‘Then what is to fear from them?’
‘By Jove, they are not black people. I can do all sorts of things with black people, of course. They are Russians, and highly unscrupulous people. I — I do not want to consort with them without a witness.’
‘Will they kill thee?’
‘Oah, thatt is nothing. I am good enough Herbert Spencerian, I trust, to meet little thing like death, which is all in my fate, you know. But — but they may beat me.’
Hurree Babu snapped his fingers with irritation. ‘Of course I shall affeeliate myself to their camp in supernumerary capacity as perhaps interpreter, or person mentally impotent and hungree, or some such thing. And then I must pick up what I can, I sup. pose. That is as easy for me as playing Mister Doctor to the old lady. Onlee — onlee — you see, Mister O’Hara, I am unfortunately Asiatic, which is a serious detriment in some respects. And allso I am Bengali — a fearful man.’
‘God made the hare and the Bengali. What shame?’ said Kim, quoting the proverb.
‘It was process of Evolution, I think, from Primal Necessity, but the fact remains in all its cui bono. I am, oh, awfully fearful — I remember once they wanted to cut off my head on the road to Lhassa. (No, I have never reached to Lhassa.) I sat down and cried, Mister O’Hara, anticipating Chinese tortures. I do not suppose these two gentlemen will torture me, but I like to provide for possible contingency with European assistance in emergency.’ He coughed and spat out the cardamoms. ‘It is purely unoffeecial request, to which you can say “No, Babu.” If you have no pressing engagement with your old man — perhaps you might divert him; perhaps I can seduce his fancies — I should like you to keep in Departmental touch with me — till I find those sporting coves. I have great opeenion of you since I met my friend at Delhi. And also I will embody your name in my offeecial report when matter is finally adjudicated. It will be a great feather in your cap. That is why I come really.’
‘Humph! The end of the tale, I think, is true; but what of the fore part?’
‘About the Five Kings? Oah! there is ever so much truth in it. A lots more than you would suppose,’ said Hurree earnestly. ‘You come — eh? I go from here straight into the Doon. It is verree verdant and painted meads. I shall go to Mussoorie — to good old Mussoorie Pahar, as the gentlemen and ladies say. Then by Rampur into Chini. That is the only way they can come. I do not like waiting in the cold, but we must wait for them. I want to walk with them to Simla. You see, one Russian is a Frenchman, and I know my French pretty well. I have friends in Chundernagore.’
‘He would certainly rejoice to see the Hills again,’ said Kim meditatively. ‘All his speech these ten days past has been of little else. If we go together —’
‘Oh! We can be quite strangers on the road, if your lama prefers. I shall just be four or five miles ahead. There is no hurry for Hurree. That is an Europe pun, ha! ha! and you come after. There is plenty of time; they will plot and survey and map of course. I shall go to-morrow, and you the next clay, if you choose. Eh? You go think on it till morning. By Jove, it is near morning now.’ He yawned ponderously, and with never a civil word lumbered off to his sleeping-place. But Kim slept little, and his thoughts ran in Hindustanee.
‘Well is the Game called great! I was four days a scullion at Quetta, waiting on the wife of the man whose book I stole. And that was part of the Great Game! From the South — God knows how far —came up the Mahratta, playing the Great Game in fear of his life. Now I shall go far and far into the North playing the Great Game. Truly, it runs like a shuttle throughout all Hind. And my share and my joy’ — he smiled to the darkness — ‘I owe to the lama here. Also to Mahbub All — also to Creighton Sahib, but chiefly to the Holy One. He is right — a great and a wonderful world — and I am Kim — Kim — Kim — alone — one person — in the middle of it all. But I will see these strangers with their levels and chains.’
‘What was the upshot of last night’s babble?’ said the lama, after his orisons.
‘There came a strolling seller of drugs — a hanger-on of the Sahiba’s. Him I abolished by arguments and prayers, proving that our charms are worthier than his coloured waters.’
‘Alas! my charms. Is the virtuous woman still bent upon a new one?’
‘Then it must be written, or she will deafen me with her clamour.’ He fumbled at his pen-case.
‘In the plains,’ said Kim, ‘are always too many people. In the hills, as I understand, there are fewer.’
‘Oh! the hills, and the snow upon the hills.’ The lama tore off a tiny square of paper fit to go in an amulet. ‘But what dost thou know of the hills?’
‘They are very close.’ Kim thrust open the door and looked at the long, peaceful line of the Himalayas flushed in morning gold. ‘Except in the dress of a Sahib, I have never set foot among them.’
The lama snuffed the wind wistfully.
‘If we go north,’ — Kim put the question to the waking sunrise, — ‘would not much mid-day heat be avoided by walking among the lower hills at least?…..Is the charm made, Holy One?’
‘I have written the names of seven silly devils —not one of whom is worth a grain of dust in the eye. Thus do foolish women drag us from the Way!’
Hurree Babu came out from behind the dovecot, washing his teeth with ostentatious ritual. Full-fleshed, heavy-haunched, bull-necked, and deep-voiced, be did not look like ‘a fearful man.’ Kim signed almost imperceptibly that matters were in good train, and when the morning toilet was over Hurree Babu, in flowery speech, came to do honour to the lama. They ate, of course, apart, and afterwards the old lady, more or less veiled behind a window, returned to the vital business of green-mango colics in the young. The lama’s knowledge of medicine was of course sympathetic only. He believed that the dung of a black horse, mixed with sulphur, and carried in a snake-skin, was a sound remedy for cholera; but the symbolism interested him far more than the science. Hurree Babu deferred to these views with enchanting politeness, so that the lama called him a courteous physician. Hurree Babu replied that he was no more than an inexpert dabbler in the mysteries; but at least— he thanked the Gods therefor — he knew when he sat in the presence of a master. He himself had been taught by the Sahibs, who do not consider expense, in the lordly halls of Calcutta; but, as he was ever first to acknowledge, there lay a wisdom behind earthly wisdom — the high and lonely lore of meditation. Kim looked on with envy. The Hurree Babu of his knowledge — oily, effusive, and nervous — was gone; gone too was the braggart drug-vendor of overnight. There remained — polished, polite; attentive — a sober, learned son of experience and adversity, gathering wisdom from the lama’s lips. The old lady confided to Kim that these rare levels were beyond her. She liked charms with plenty of ink that one could wash off in water, swallow, and be done with. Else what was the use of the Gods? She liked men and women, and she spoke of them — of kinglets she had known in the past; of her own youth and beauty; of the depredations of leopards and the eccentricities of Asiatic love; of the incidence of taxation, rack-renting, funeral ceremonies, her son-in-law (this by allusion, easy to be followed), the care of the young, and the world’s lack of decency. And Kim, as interested in the life of this world as she who was soon to leave it, squatted with his feet under the hem of his robe, drinking it all in, while the lama demolished one after another every theory of body-curing put forward by Hurree Babu.
At noon the Babu strapped up his brass-bound drug-box, took his patent-leather shoes of ceremony in one hand, a gay blue and white umbrella in the other, and set off northwards to the Boon, where, he said, he was in demand among the lesser kings of those parts.
‘We will go in the cool of the evening, chela,’ said the lama. ‘That doctor, learned in physic and courtesy affirms that the people among these lower hills are devout, generous, and much in need of a teacher. In a very short time — so says the hakim — we come to cool air and the smell of pines.’
‘Ye go to the Hills. And by Kulu road? Oh, thrice happy! ‘ shrilled the old lady. ‘But that I am a little pressed with the care of the homestead I would take palanquin . . . but that would be shameless, and my reputation would be cracked. Ho! Ho! I know the road — every march of the road I know. Ye will find charity throughout — it is not denied to the well-looking. I will give orders for provision. A servant to set you forth upon your journey? No. . . . Then I will at least cook ye good food.’
‘What a woman is the Sahiba!’ said the white-bearded Oorya, when a tumult rose by the kitchen quarters. ‘She has never forgotten a friend: she has never forgotten an enemy in all her years. And her cookery — wah!’ He rubbed his slim stomach.
There were cakes, there were sweetmeats, there was cold fowl stewed to rags with rice and prunes — enough to burden Kim like a mule.
‘I am old and useless,’ she said. ‘None now love me — and none respect — but there are few to compare with me when I call on the Gods and squat to my cookery-pots. Come again, O people of good will. Holy One and disciple, come again. The room is always prepared; the welcome is always ready…. See, the women do follow thy chela too openly. I know the women of Kulu. Take heed, chela, lest he do not run away when he smells his hills again….. Hai! Do not tilt the rice-bag upside down. Bless the household, Holy One, and forgive thy servant her stupidities.’
She wiped her red old eyes on a corner of her veil, and clucked throatily.
‘Women talk,’ said the lama at last, ‘but that is a woman’s infirmity. I gave her a charm. She is upon the Wheel and wholly given over to the shows of this life, but none the less, chela, she is virtuous, kindly, hospitable — of a whole and zealous heart. Who shall say she does not acquire merit?’
‘Not I, Holy One,’ said Kim, reslinging the bountiful provisions on his shoulders. ‘In my mind —behind my eyes — I have tried to picture such an one altogether freed from the Wheel — desiring nothing, causing nothing — a nun, as it were.’
‘And, O imp?’ The lama almost laughed aloud.
‘I cannot make the picture.’
‘Nor I. But there are many, many millions of lives before her. She will get wisdom a little, it may be, in each one.’
‘And will she forget how to make stews with saffron upon that road?’
‘Thy mind is set on things unworthy. But she has skill. I am refreshed all over. When we reach the lower hills I shall be yet stronger. The hakim spoke truly to me this morn when he said a breath from the snows blows away twenty years from the life of a man. We will go up into the hills — the high hills — up to the sound of snow-water and the sound of the trees — for a little while. The hakim said that at any time we may return to the plains, for we do no more than skirt the pleasant places. The hakim is full of learning; but he is in no way proud. I spoke to him — when thou wast talking to the Sahiba — of a certain dizziness that lays hold upon the back of my neck in the night, and he said it rose from excessive heat — to be cured by cool air. Upon consideration, I marvelled that I had not thought of such a simple remedy.’
‘Didst thou tell him of thy Search?’ said Kim, a little jealously. He preferred to sway the lama by his own speech — not through the wiles of Hurree Babu.
‘Assuredly. I told him of my dream, and of the manner by which I had acquired merit by causing thee to be taught wisdom.’
‘Thou didst not say I was a Sahib?’
‘What need? I have told thee many times we be but two souls seeking escape. he said — and he is just herein — that the River of Healing will break forth even as I dreamed — at my feet if need be. Having found the Way, seest thou, that shall free me from the Wheel, should I trouble to find a way about the mere fields of earth — which are illusion? That were senseless. I have my dreams, night upon night repeated; I have the Jâtaka; and I have thee, Friend of all the World. It was written in thy horoscope that a Red Bull on a green field — I have not forgotten — should bring thee to honour. Who but I saw that prophecy accomplished? Indeed, I was the instrument. Thou shalt find me my River, being in return the instrument. The Search is great.’
He set his ivory-yellow face, serene and untroubled, towards the beckoning hills; his shadow shouldering far before him in the dust.