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Kim

Chapter 1
O ye who tread the Narrow Way
By Tophet-flare to judgment Day,
Be gentle when 'the heathen' pray
To Buddha at Kamakura!
Buddha at Kamakura.
He sat, in defiance of municipal orders, astride the gun Zam Zammah on her brick
platform opposite the old Ajaib-Gher - the Wonder House, as the natives call the Lahore
Museum. Who hold Zam-Zammah, that 'fire-breathing dragon', hold the Punjab, for the
great green-bronze piece is always first of the conqueror's loot.
There was some justification for Kim - he had kicked Lala Dinanath's boy off the
trunnions - since the English held the Punjab and Kim was English. Though he was
burned black as any native; though he spoke the vernacular by preference, and his
mother-tongue in a clipped uncertain sing-song; though he consorted on terms of perfect
equality with the small boys of the bazar; Kim was white - a poor white of the very
poorest. The half-caste woman who looked after him (she smoked opium, and pretended
to keep a second-hand furniture shop by the square where the cheap cabs wait) told the
missionaries that she was Kim's mother's sister; but his mother had been nursemaid in a
Colonel's family and had married Kimball O'Hara, a young colour- sergeant of the
Mavericks, an Irish regiment. He afterwards took a post on the Sind, Punjab, and Delhi
Railway, and his Regiment went home without him. The wife died of cholera in
Ferozepore, and O'Hara fell to drink and loafing up and down the line with the keen-eyed
three-year-old baby. Societies and chaplains, anxious for the child, tried to catch him, but
O'Hara drifted away, till he came across the woman who took opium and learned the taste
from her, and died as poor whites die in India. His estate at death consisted of three
papers - one he called his 'ne varietur' because those words were written below his
signature thereon, and another his 'clearance-certificate'. The third was Kim's birth-
certificate. Those things, he was used to say, in his glorious opium-hours, would yet
make little Kimball a man. On no account was Kim to part with them, for they belonged
to a great piece of magic - such magic as men practised over yonder behind the Museum,
in the big blue-and-white Jadoo-Gher - the Magic House, as we name the Masonic
Lodge. It would, he said, all come right some day, and Kim's horn would be exalted
between pillars - monstrous pillars - of beauty and strength. The Colonel himself, riding
on a horse, at the head of the finest Regiment in the world, would attend to Kim - little
Kim that should have been better off than his father. Nine hundred first-class devils,
whose God was a Red Bull on a green field, would attend to Kim, if they had not
forgotten O'Hara - poor O'Hara that was gang- foreman on the Ferozepore line. Then he
would weep bitterly in the broken rush chair on the veranda. So it came about after his
death that the woman sewed parchment, paper, and birth- certificate into a leather amulet-
case which she strung round Kim's neck.
'And some day,' she said, confusedly remembering O'Hara's prophecies, 'there will come
for you a great Red Bull on a green field, and the Colonel riding on his tall horse, yes,
and' dropping into English - 'nine hundred devils.'
 
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