Kim by Rudyard Kipling - HTML preview
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Who hath desired the Sea - the sight of salt-water unbounded?
The heave and the halt and the hurl and the crash of the comber wind-hounded? The sleek-barrelled swell before storm - grey, foamless, enormous, and growing? Stark calm on the lap of the Line - or the crazy-eyed hurricane blowing? His Sea in no showing the same - his Sea and the same 'neath all showing - His Sea that his being fulfils?
So and no otherwise - so and no otherwise hill-men desire their Hills!
'I have found my heart again,' said E23, 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 hunt for me. Thou hast saved my head.'
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 E23. 'Thev go carriage by carriage, like fisher-folk netting a pool.'
When the procession reached their compartment, E23 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, glancing 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 E23, 'lies in sending a wire as to the place where I hid that letter 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 so? 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.
E23 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.
E23, 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. 'Nickle-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 saving,' - the Englishman flushed angrily - 'but it's some piece of blasted impertinence. Come out of that!' E23, 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 today, Holy One!'
The Saddhu followed the policeman, fawning and supplicating. The ruck of passengers, busy, with their babies andtheir bundles, had not noticed the affair. Kim slipped outbehind him; for it flashed through his head that he had heardthis angry, stupid Sahib discoursing loud personalities to an oldlady 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. Thev told me he was in Peshawur. I might have known that 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 Mewar 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 at the Game yet. Farewell!'
'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 savcd 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 gripped 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 Sahibs, and he feared a 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 sidelong 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 E23 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 E23 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 Kulu woman's house' said Kim, and stepped forth cheerily under the bundles. Early morning Saharunpore-way is clean and well scented. He thought of the other mornings 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 koss 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 afteroccasion - softly, softly. Now we will wander loose-foot, waiting upon the Chain of Things. The Search is sure.'
So they travelled very easily across and among the broad bloomful fruit-gardens - by way of Aminabad, Sahaigunge, Akrola of the Ford, and little Phulesa - the line of the Siwaliks 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 siris, 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 Heaven 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 over-eating - 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 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 that 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 came -?'
'There is much wealth, as men count it, in Bhotiyal,' the lama returned with composure. 'In my own place I have the illusion of 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 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 those places 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, each tale called up by some wayside thing, he spoke of all his wanderings up and down Hind; till Kim, who had loved him without reason, now loved him for fifty good reasons. So they enjoyed themselves in high felicity, abstaining, as the Rule demands, from evil words, covetous desires; not over- eating, not lying on high beds, nor wearing rich clothes. Their stomachs told them the time, and the people brought 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 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 fields 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 torchlight; 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 as always the amplest title, 'is it my fault that none other than a Sahib - a polis-Sahib - called the Maharanee whose face he -' 'Chutt! That was on the pilgrimage. When we travel - thou knowest the proverb.'
'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 thine 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, rogue - 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 if 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 through, 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 nights 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 to 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 calamitv.'
'There is a talking mynah' - the thrust came back with the well- remembered snap of the jewelled fore-finger - 'over the stables which has picked up the very tone of the family priest. Maybe I forget 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 in-auspicious 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.) Tomorrow, 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 dovecote'
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 dovecote
'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,' piped the voice inside the palanquin.
'I have, too, our drugs which loosen humours of the head in hot and angry men. Sina 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 salep 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 mere 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 often), 'how much more shall children clever as some that I know bear away prizes at rich Calcutta.'
'Never,' said the voice, 'have I seen such a child! Born in an auspicious hour, and - but for that colic which, alas! turning into black cholers, 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 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.
'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, Mister 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 chewed leisurely upon a few cardamom seeds, but he breathed uneasily. 'But why come here, Babuji?'
'Ah! Thatt is the question, as Shakespeare hath it. 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 dam'-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 of work appreciated by fellow- workers. Earth has nothing on the same plane to compare with it. But, cried the Oriental in him, Babus do not travel far to retail compliments.
'Tell thy 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 you take the bally bun, by Jove! It was splendid. I come to tell you so.''Umm!'
The frogs were busy in the ditches, and the moon slid to her setting. Some happy servant had gone out to commune with the night 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 of the Ford, and hear all about you, and I talk here and talk there. All the common people know what you do. I knew 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 Europeans, 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 bukh [babble] 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 everyone 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 Ali. 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. HilaS and Bunar - 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 unoffeecialiv to elucidate political situation, Mister O'Hara. Offeecially, I am debarred from criticizing any action of superiors. Now I go on. - This pleased the Government, anxious to avoid expense, and a bond was made for so many rupees a month that Hilas and Bunar 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 Bunar, Hilas, and the Government.''So? And then?'
'I tell you, it was jolly-beastly cold up there too, after summer,' said Hurree Babu confidentially. 'I was afraid these Bunar 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. Nevar mind thatt. I go on colloquially ... I send word many times that these two Kings were sold to the North; and Mahbub Ali, 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?'
'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 Hilas and Bunar. 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 Government knows', but does nothing. The three other Kings, who were not paid for guarding the Passes, tell them by runner of the bad faith of Bunar and Hilas. 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 tomorrow 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."'Hurree 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 your 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 quick 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.' 'Why?'
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 suppose. 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 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 the 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 indent, 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 Munsoorie 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 Chandernagore.''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 -'
'Oah! 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 tomorrow, and you the next day, 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 Hindustani:
'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 Ali - 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?' 'Very strictly.'
'Then it must be written, or she will deafen me with her clamour.' He fumbled at his pencase.
'In the Plains,' said Kim, 'are always too many people. In the Hills, as I understand, there are fewer.'
'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 dovecote washing his teeth with ostentatious ritual. Full-fleshed, heavy-haunched, bull-necked, and deep-voiced, he 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 therefore - 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 brazen 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 love Asiatic; 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 age's lack of decency. And Kim, as interested in the life of this world as she soon to leave it, squatted with his feet under the hem of his robe, drinking all in, while the lama demolished one after another every theory of bodycuring 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 Doon, 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 cooking-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 not follow thy chela too openly. I know the women of Kulu. Take heed, chela, lest he 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 provision 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-waters 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, need 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 Jataka; 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 sure!'He set his ivory-yellow face, serene and untroubled, towards the beckoning Hills; his shadow shouldering far before him in the dust.
Who hath desired the Sea - the immense and contemptuous surges? The shudder, the stumble, the swerve ere the star-stabbing bowsprit merges - The orderly clouds of the Trades and the ridged roaring sapphire thereunder - Unheralded cliff-lurking flaws and the head-sails' low-volleying thunder? His Sea in no wonder the same - his Sea and the same in each wonder - His Sea that his being fulfils?
So and no otherwise - so and no otherwise hill-men desire their Hills!
They had crossed the Siwaliks and the half-tropical Doon, left Mussoorie behind them, and headed north along the narrow hill-roads. Day after day they struck deeper into the huddled mountains, and day after day Kim watched the lama return to a man's strength. Among the terraces of the Doon he had leaned on the boy's shoulder, ready to profit by wayside halts. Under the great ramp to Mussoorie he drew himself together as an old hunter faces a well-remembered bank, and where he should have sunk exhausted swung his long draperies about him, drew a deep double-lungful of the diamond air, and walked as only a hillman can. Kim, plains-bred and plains-fed, sweated and panted astonished. 'This is my country,' said the lama. 'Beside Such-zen, this is flatter than a rice-field'; and with steady, driving strokes from the loins he strode upwards. But it was on the steep downhill marches, three thousand feet in three hours, that he went utterly away from Kim, whose back ached with holding back, and whose big toe was nigh cut off by his grass sandal-string. Through the speckled shadow of the great deodar-forests; through oak feathered and plumed with ferns; birch, ilex, rhododendron, and pine, out on to the bare hillsides' slippery sunburnt grass, and back into the woodlands' coolth again, till oak gave way to bamboo and palm of the valley, the lama swung untiring.
Glancing back in the twilight at the huge ridges behind him and the faint, thin line of the road whereby they had come, he would lay out, with a hillman's generous breadth of vision, fresh marches for the morrow; or, halting in the neck of some uplifted pass that gave on Spiti and Kulu, would stretch out his hands yearningly towards the high snows of the horizon. In the dawns they flared windy-red above stark blue, as Kedar- nath and Badrinath - kings of that wilderness - took the first sunlight. All day long they lay like molten silver under the sun, and at evening put on their jewels again. At first they breathed temperately upon the travellers, winds good to meet when one crawled over some gigantic hog's-back; but in a few days, at a height of nine or ten thousand feet, those breezes bit; and Kim kindly allowed a village of hillmen to acquire merit by giving him a rough blanket-coat. The lama was mildly surprised that anyone should object to the knifeedged breezes which had cut the years off his shoulders.'These are but the lower hills, chela. There is no cold till we come to the true Hills.'
'Air and water are good, and the people are devout enough, but the food is very bad,' Kim growled; 'and we walk as though we were mad - or English. It freezes at night, too.' 'A little, maybe; but only enough to make old bones rejoice in the sun. We must not always delight in soft beds and rich food.''We might at least keep to the road.'
Kim had all a plainsman's affection for the well-trodden track, not six feet wide, that snaked among the mountains; but the lama, being Tibetan, could not refrain from short cuts over spurs and the rims of gravel-strewn slopes. As he explained to his limping disciple, a man bred among mountains can prophesy the course of a mountain-road, and though low-lying clouds might be a hindrance to a short-cutting stranger, they made no earthly difference to a thoughtful man. Thus, after long hours of what would be reckoned very fair mountaineering in civilized countries, they would pant over a saddle-back, sidle past a few landslips, and drop through forest at an angle of forty- five onto the road again. Along their track lay the villages of the hillfolk - mud and earth huts, timbers now and then rudely carved with an axe - clinging like swallows' nests against the steeps, huddled on tiny flats half-way down a three-thousand-foot glissade; jammed into a corner between cliffs that funnelled and focused every wandering blast; or, for the sake of summer pasture, cowering down on a neck that in winter would be ten feet deep in snow. And the people - the sallow, greasy, duffle- clad people, with short bare legs and faces almost Esquimaux - would flock out and adore. The Plains - kindly and gentle - had treated the lama as a holy man among holy men. But the Hills worshipped him as one in the confidence of all their devils. Theirs was an almost obliterated Buddhism, overlaid with a nature-worship fantastic as their own landscapes, elaborate as the terracing of their tiny fields; but they recognized the big hat, the clicking rosary, and the rare Chinese texts for great authority; and they respected the man beneath the hat.
'We saw thee come down over the black Breasts of Eua,' said a Betah who gave them cheese, sour milk, and stone-hard bread one evening. 'We do not use that often - except when calving cows stray in summer. There is a sudden wind among those stones that casts men down on the stillest day. But what should such folk care for the Devil of Eua!'
Then did Kim, aching in every fibre, dizzy with looking down, footsore with cramping desperate toes into inadequate crannies, take joy in the day's march - such joy as a boy of St Xavier's who had won the quarter-mile on the flat might take in the praises of his friends. The hills sweated the ghi and sugar suet off his bones; the dry air, taken sobbingly at the head of cruel passes, firmed and built out his upper ribs; and the tilted levels put new hard muscles into calf and thigh.
They meditated often on the Wheel of Life - the more so since, as the lama said, they were freed from its visible temptations. Except the grey eagle and an occasional far-seen bear grubbing and rooting on the hillside; a vision of a furious painted leopard met at dawn in a still valley devouring a goat; and now and again a bright- coloured bird, they were alone with the winds and the grass singing under the wind. The women of the smoky huts over whose roofs the two walked as they descended the mountains, were unlovely and unclean, wives of many husbands, and afflicted with goitre. The men were woodcutters when they were not farmers - meek, and of an incredible simplicity. But that suitable discourse might not fail, Fate sent them, overtaking and overtaken upon the road, the courteous Dacca physician, who paid for his food in ointments good for goitre and counsels that restore peace between men and women. He seemed to know these hills as well as he knew the hill dialects, and gave the lama the lie of the land towards Ladakh and Tibet. He said they could return to the Plains at any moment. Meantime, for such as loved mountains, yonder road might amuse. This was not all revealed in a breath, but at evening encounters on the stone threshing- floors, when, patients disposed of, the doctor would smoke and the lama snuff, while Kim watched the wee cows grazing on the housetops, or threw his soul after his eyes across the deep blue gulfs between range and range. And there were talks apart in the dark woods, when the doctor would seek herbs, and Kim, as budding physician, must accompany him.
'You see, Mister O'Hara, I do not know what the deuce-an'- all I shall do when I find our sporting friends; but if you will kindly keep within sight of my umbrella, which is fine fixed point for cadastral survey, I shall feel much better.'Kim looked out across the jungle of peaks. 'This is not my country, hakim. Easier, I think, to find one louse in a bear-skin.'
'Oah, thatt is my strong points. There is no hurry for Hurree. They were at Leh not so long ago. They said they had come down from the Karakorum with their heads and horns and all. I am onlee afraid they will have sent back all their letters and compromising things from Leh into Russian territoree. Of course they will walk away as far to the East as possible - just to show that they were never among the Western States. You do not know the Hills?' He scratched with a twig on the earth. 'Look! They should have come in by Srinagar or Abbottabad. Thatt is their short road - down the river by Bunji and Astor. But they have made mischief in the West. So' - he drew a furrow from left to right - 'they march and they march away East to Leh (ah! it is cold there), and down the Indus to Hanle (I know that road), and then down, you see, to Bushahr and Chini valley. That is ascertained by process of elimination, and also by asking questions from people that I cure so well. Our friends have been a long time playing about and producing impressions. So they are well known from far off. You will see me catch them somewhere in Chini valley. Please keep your eye on the umbrella.'
It nodded like a wind-blown harebell down the valleys and round the mountain sides, and in due time the lama and Kim, who steered by compass, would overhaul it, vending ointments and powders at eventide. 'We came by such and such a way!' The lama would throw a careless finger backward at the ridges, and the umbrella would expend itself in compliments.
They crossed a snowy pass in cold moonlight, when the lama, mildly chaffing Kim, went through up to his knees, like a Bactrian camel - the snow-bred, shag-haired sort that came into the Kashmir Serai. They dipped across beds of light snow and snow-powdered shale, where they took refuge from a gale in a camp of Tibetans hurrying down tiny sheep, each laden with a bag of borax. They came out upon grassy shoulders still snow-speckled, and through forest, to grass anew. For all their marchings, Kedarnath and Badrinath were not impressed; and it was only after days of travel that Kim, uplifted upon some insignificant ten-thousand-foot hummock, could see that a shoulder-knot or horn of the two great lords had - ever so slightly - changed outline.
At last they entered a world within a world - a valley of leagues where the high hills were fashioned of a mere rubble and refuse from off the knees of the mountains. Here one day's march carried them no farther, it seemed, than a dreamer's clogged pace bears him in a nightmare. They skirted a shoulder painfully for hours, and, behold, it was but an outlying boss in an outlying buttress of the main pile! A rounded meadow revealed itself, when they had reached it, for a vast tableland running far into the valley. Three days later, it was a dim fold in the earth to southward.'Surely the Gods live here!' said Kim, beaten down by the silence and the appalling sweep and dispersal of the cloud-shadows after rain. 'This is no place for men!'
'Long and long ago,' said the lama, as to himself, 'it was asked of the Lord whether the world were everlasting. o this the Excellent One returned no answer ... When I was in Ceylon, a wise Seeker confirmed that from the gospel which is written in Pali. Certainly, since we know the way to Freedom, the question were unprofitable, but - look, and know illusion, chela! These- are the true Hills! They are like my hills by Suchzen. Never were such hills!'
Above them, still enormously above them, earth towered away towards the snow-line, where from east to west across hundreds of miles, ruled as with a ruler, the last of the bold birches stopped. Above that, in scarps and blocks upheaved, the rocks strove to fight their heads above the white smother. Above these again, changeless since the world's beginning, but changing to every mood of sun and cloud, lay out the eternal snow. They could see blots and blurs on its face where storm and wandering wullie-wa got up to dance. Below them, as they stood, the forest slid away in a sheet of blue-green for mile upon mile; below the forest was a village in its sprinkle of terraced fields and steep grazing-grounds. Below the village they knew, though a thunderstorm worried and growled there for the moment, a pitch of twelve or fifteen hundred feet gave to the moist valley where the streams gather that are the mothers of young Sutluj.
As usual, the lama had led Kim by cow-track and by-road, far from the main route along which Hurree Babu, that 'fearful man', had bucketed three days before through a storm to which nine Englishmen out of ten would have given full right of way. Hurree was no game- shot - the snick of a trigger made him change colour - but, as he himself would have said, he was 'fairly effeecient stalker', and he had raked the huge valley with a pair of cheap binoculars to some purpose. Moreover, the white of worn canvas tents against green carries far. Hurree Babu had seen all he wanted to see when he sat on the threshingfloor of Ziglaur, twenty miles away as the eagle flies, and forty by road - that is to say, two small dots which one day were just below the snow-line, and the next had moved downward perhaps six inches on the hillside. Once cleaned out and set to the work, his fat bare legs could cover a surprising amount of ground, and this was the reason why, while Kim and the lama lay in a leaky hut at Ziglaur till the storm should be over-past, an oily, wet, but always smiling Bengali, talking the best of English with the vilest of phrases, was ingratiating himself with two sodden and rather rheumatic foreigners. He had arrived, revolving many wild schemes, on the heels of a thunderstorm which had split a pine over against their camp, and so convinced a dozen or two forcibly impressed baggage-coolies the day was inauspicious for farther travel that with one accord they had thrown down their loads and jibbed. They were subjects of a Hill Rajah who farmed out their services, as is the custom, for his private gain; and, to add to their personal distresses, the strange Sahibs had already threatened them with rifles. The most of them knew rifles and Sahibs of old: they were trackers and shikarris of the Northern valleys, keen after bear and wild goat; but they had never been thus treated in their lives. So the forest took them to her bosom, and, for all oaths and clamour, refused to restore. There was no need to feign madness or - the Babu had thought of another means of securing a welcome. He wrung out his wet clothes, slipped on his patent-leather shoes, opened the blue- and-white umbrella, and with mincing gait and a heart beating against his tonsils appeared as 'agent for His Royal Highness, the Rajah of Rampur, gentlemen. What can I do for you, please?'
The gentlemen were delighted. One was visibly French, the other Russian, but they spoke English not much inferior to the Babu's. They begged his kind offices. Their native servants had gone sick at Leh. They had hurried on because they were anxious to bring the spoils of the chase to Simla ere the skins grew moth-eaten. They bore a general letter of introduction (the Babu salaamed to it orientally) to all Government officials. No, they had not met any other shooting-parties en route. They did for themselves. They had plenty of supplies. They only wished to push on as soon as might be. At this he waylaid a cowering hillman among the trees, and after three minutes' talk and a little silver (one cannot be economical upon State service, though Hurree's heart bled at the waste) the eleven coolies and the three hangers-on reappeared. At least the Babu would be a witness to their oppression.
'My royal master, he will be much annoyed, but these people are onlee common people and grossly ignorant. If your honours will kindly overlook unfortunate affair, I shall be much pleased. In a little while rain will stop and we can then proceed. You have been shooting, eh? That is fine performance!'
He skipped nimbly from one kilta to the next, making pretence to adjust each conical basket. The Englishman is not, as a rule, familiar with the Asiatic, but he would not strike across the wrist a kindly Babu who had accidentally upset a kilta with a red oilskin top. On the other hand, he would not press drink upon a Babu were he never so friendly, nor would he invite him to meat. The strangers did all these things, and asked many questions
- about women mostly - to which Hurree returned gay and unstudied answers. They gave him a glass of whitish fluid like to gin, and then more; and in a little time his gravity departed from him. He became thickly treasonous, and spoke in terms of sweeping indecency of a Government which had forced upon him a white man's education and neglected to supply him with a white man's salary. He babbled tales of oppression and wrong till the tears ran down his cheeks for the miseries of his land. Then he staggered off, singing love-songs of Lower Bengal, and collapsed upon a wet tree-trunk. Never was so unfortunate a product of English rule in India more unhappily thrust upon aliens.
'They are all just of that pattern,' said one sportsman to the other in French. 'When we get into India proper thou wilt see. I should like to visit his Rajah. One might speak the good word there. It is possible that he has heard of us and wishes to signify his good- will.''We have not time. We must get into Simla as soon as may be,' his companion replied. 'For my own part, I wish our reports had been sent back from Hilas, or even Leh.' 'The English post is better and safer. Remember we are given all facilities - and Name of God! - they give them to us too! Is it unbelievable stupidity?' 'It is pride - pride that deserves and will receive punishment.' 'Yes! To fight a fellow-Continental in our game is something. There is a risk attached, but these people - bah! It is too easy.' 'Pride - all pride, my friend.'
'Now what the deuce is good of Chandernagore being so close to Calcutta and all,' said Hurree, snoring open-mouthed on the sodden moss, 'if I cannot understand their French? They talk so particularly fast! It would have been much better to cut their beastly throats.'
When he presented himself again he was racked with a headache - penitent, and volubly afraid that in his drunkenness he might have been indiscreet. He loved the British Government - it was the source of all prosperity and honour, and his master at Rampur held the very same opinion. Upon this the men began to deride him and to quote past words, till step by step, with deprecating smirks, oily grins, and leers of infinite cunning, the poor Babu was beaten out of his defences and forced to speak - truth. When Lurgan was told the tale later, he mourned aloud that he could not have been in the place of the stubborn, inattentive coolies, who with grass mats over their heads and the raindrops puddling in their footprints, waited on the wea- ther. All the Sahibs of their acquaintance
- rough-clad men joyously returning year after year to their chosen gullies - had servants and cooks and orderlies, very often hillmen. These Sahibs travelled without any retinue. Therefore they were poor Sahibs, and ignorant; for no Sahib in his senses would follow a Bengali's advice. But the Bengali, appearing from somewhere, had given them money, and could make shift with their dialect. Used to comprehensive ill-treatment from their own colour, they suspected a trap somewhere, and stood by to run if occasion offered.
Then through the new-washed air, steaming with delicious earth- smells, the Babu led the way down the slopes - walking ahead of the coolies in pride; walking behind the foreigners in humility. His thoughts were many and various. The least of them would have interested his companions beyond words. But he was an agreeable guide, ever keen to point out the beauties of his royal master's domain. He peopled the hills with anything thev had a mind to slay - thar, ibex, or markhor, and bear by Elisha's allowance. He discoursed of botany and ethnology with unimpeachable inaccuracy, and his store of local legends - he had been a trusted agent of the State for fifteen years, remember - was inexhaustible.'Decidedly this fellow is an original,' said the taller of the two foreigners. 'He is like the nightmare of a Viennese courier.' 'He represents in little India in transition - the monstrous hybridism of East and West,' the Russian replied. 'It is we who can deal with Orientals.' 'He has lost his own country and has not acquired any other. But he has a most complete hatred of his conquerors. Listen. He confided to me last night,' said the other.
Under the striped umbrella Hurree Babu was straining ear and brain to follow the quickpoured French, and keeping both eyes on a kilta full of maps and documents - an extralarge one with a double red oil-skin cover. He did not wish to steal anything. He only desired to know what to steal, and, incidentally, how to get away when he had stolen it. He thanked all the Gods of Hindustan, and Herbert Spencer, that there remained some valuables to steal.
On the second dav the road rose steeply to a grass spur above the forest; and it was here, about sunset, that they came across an aged lama - but they called him a bonze - sitting cross-legged above a mysterious chart held down by stones, which he was explaining to a young man, evidently a neophyte, of singular, though unwashen, beauty. The striped umbrella had been sighted half a march away, and Kim had suggested a halt till it came up to them.'Ha!' said Hurree Babu, resourceful as Puss-in-Boots. 'That is eminent local holy man. Probably subject of my royal master.' 'What is he doing? It is very curious.' 'He is expounding holy picture - all hand-worked.' The two men stood bareheaded in the wash of the afternoon sunlight low across the goldcoloured grass. The sullen coolies, glad of the check, halted and slid down their loads. 'Look!' said the Frenchman. 'It is like a picture for the birth of a religion - the first teacher and the first disciple. Is he a Buddhist?'
'Of some debased kind,' the other answered. 'There are no true Buddhists among the Hills. But look at the folds of the drapery. Look at his eyes - how insolent! Why does this make one feel that we are so young a people?' The speaker struck passionately at a tall weed. 'We have nowhere left our mark yet. Nowhere! That, do you understand, is what disquiets me.' He scowled at the placid face, and the monumental calm of the pose.'Have patience. We shall make your mark together - we and you young people. Meantime, draw his picture.' The Babu advanced loftily; his back out of all keeping with his deferential speech, or his wink towards Kim. 'Holy One, these be Sahibs. My medicines cured one of a flux, and I go into Simla to oversee his recovery. They wish to see thy picture -' 'To heal the sick is always good. This is the Wheel of Life,' said the lama, 'the same I showed thee in the hut at Ziglaur when the rain fell.' 'And to hear thee expound it.' The lama's eyes lighted at the prospect of new listeners. 'To expound the Most Excellent Way is good. Have they any knowledge of Hindi, such as had the Keeper of Images?' 'A little, maybe.'
Hereat, simply as a child engrossed with a new game, the lama threw back his head and began the full-throated invocation of the Doctor of Divinity ere he opens the full doctrine. The strangers leaned on their alpenstocks and listened. Kim, squatting humbly, watched the red sunlight on their faces, and the blend and parting of their long shadows. They wore un-English leggings and curious girt-in belts that reminded him hazily of the pictures in a book in St Xavier's library "The Adventures of a Young Naturalist in Mexico" was its name. Yes, they looked very like the wonderful M. Sumichrast of that tale, and very unlike the 'highly unscrupulous folk' of Hurree Babu's imagining. The coolies, earth-coloured and mute, crouched reverently some twenty or thirty yards away, and the Babu, the slack of his thin gear snapping like a marking-flag in the chill breeze, stood by with an air of happy proprietorship.
'These are the men,' Hurree whispered, as the ritual went on and the two whites followed the grass-blade sweeping from Hell to Heaven and back again. 'All their books are in the large kilta with the reddish top - books and reports and maps - and I have seen a King's letter that either Hilas or Bunar has written. They guard it most carefully. They have sent nothing back from Hilas or Leh. That is sure.''Who is with them?' 'Only the beegar-coolies. They have no servants. They are so close they cook their own food.' 'But what am I to do?' 'Wait and see. Only if any chance comes to me thou wilt know where to seek for the papers.' 'This were better in Mahbub Ali's hands than a Bengali's,' said Kim scornfully. 'There are more ways of getting to a sweetheart than butting down a wall.'
'See here the Hell appointed for avarice and greed. Flanked upon the one side by Desire and on the other by Weariness.' The lama warmed to his work, and one of the strangers sketched him in the quick- fading light.'That is enough,' the man said at last brusquely. 'I cannot understand him, but I want that picture. He is a better artist than I. Ask him if he will sell it.'
'He says "No, sar,"' the Babu replied. The lama, of course, would no more have parted with his chart to a casual wayfarer than an archbishop would pawn the holy vessels of his cathedral. All Tibet is full of cheap reproductions of the Wheel; but the lama was an artist, as well as a wealthy Abbot in his own place.
'Perhaps in three days, or four, or ten, if I perceive that the Sahib is a Seeker and of good understanding, I may myself draw him another. But this was used for the initiation of a novice. Tell him so, hakim.''He wishes it now - for money.'
The lama shook his head slowly and began to fold up the Wheel. The Russian, on his side, saw no more than an unclean old man haggling over a dirty piece of paper. He drew out a handful of rupees, and snatched half-jestingly at the chart, which tore in the lama's grip. A low murmur of horror went up from the coolies - some of whom were Spiti men and, by their lights, good Buddhists. The lama rose at the insult; his hand went to the heavy iron pencase that is the priest's weapon, and the Babu danced in agony. 'Now you see - you see why I wanted witnesses. They are highly unscrupulous people. Oh, sar! sar! You must not hit holyman!''Chela! He has defiled the Written Word!'
It was too late. Before Kim could ward him off, the Russian struck the old man full on the face. Next instant he was rolling over and over downhill with Kim at his throat. The blow had waked every unknown Irish devil in the boy's blood, and the sudden fall of his enemy did the rest. The lama dropped to his knees, half-stunned; the coolies under their loads fled up the hill as fast as plainsmen run aross the level. They had seen sacrilege unspeakable, and it behoved them to get away before the Gods and devils of the hills took vengeance. The Frenchman ran towards the lama, fumbling at his revolver with some notion of making him a hostage for his companion. A shower of cutting stones - hillmen are very straight shots - drove him away, and a coolie from Ao-chung snatched the lama into the stampede. All came about as swiftly as the sudden mountain-darkness.'They have taken the baggage and all the guns,' yelled the Frenchman, firing blindly into the twilight.
'All right, sar! All right! Don't shoot. I go to rescue,' and Hurree, pounding down the slope, cast himself bodily upon the delighted and astonished Kim, who was banging his breathless foe's head against a boulder.
'Go back to the coolies,' whispered the Babu in his ear. 'They have the baggage. The papers are in the kilta with the red top, but look through all. Take their papers, and specially the murasla [King's letter]. Go! The other man comes!'Kim tore uphill. A revolver-bullet rang on a rock by his side, and he cowered partridgewise. 'If you shoot,' shouted Hurree, 'they will descend and annihilate us. I have rescued the gentleman, sar. This is particularly dangerous.'
'By Jove!' Kim was thinking hard in English. 'This is dam'-tight place, but I think it is self-defence.' He felt in his bosom for Mahbub's gift, and uncertainly - save for a few practice shots in the Bikanir desert, he had never used the little gun -pulled the trigger.'What did I say, sar!' The Babu seemed to be in tears. 'Come down here and assist to resuscitate. We are all up a tree, I tell you.' The shots ceased. There was a sound of stumbling feet, and Kim hurried upward through the gloom, swearing like a cat - or a country-bred. 'Did they wound thee, chela?' called the lama above him. 'No. And thou?' He dived into a clump of stunted firs.
'Unhurt. Come away. We go with these folk to Shamlegh-under-the- Snow.' 'But not before we have done justice,' a voice cried. 'I have got the Sahibs' guns - all four. Let us go down.''He struck the Holy One - we saw it! Our cattle will be barren- our wives will cease to bear! The snows will slide upon us as we go home ... Atop of all other oppression too!'
The little fir-clump filled with clamouring coolies - panic- stricken, and in their terror capable of anything. The man from Ao-chung clicked the breech-bolt of his gun impatiently, and made as to go downhill.'Wait a little, Holy One; they cannot go far. Wait till I return,' said he. 'It is this person who has suffered wrong,' said the lama, his hand over his brow. 'For that very reason,' was the reply. 'If this person overlooks it, your hands are clean. Moreover, ye acquire merit by obedience.' 'Wait, and we will all go to Shamlegh together,' the man insisted. For a moment, for just so long as it needs to stuff a cartridge into a breech-loader, the lama hesitated. Then he rose to his feet, and laid a finger on the man's shoulder.
'Hast thou heard? I say there shall be no killing - I who was Abbot of Such-zen. Is it any lust of thine to be re-born as a rat,or a snake under the eaves - a worm in the belly of the most mean beast? Is it thy wish to -'The man from Ao-chung fell to his knees, for the voice boomed like a Tibetan devilgong. 'Ai! ai!' cried the Spiti men.'Do not curse us - do not curse him. It was but his zeal, Holy One! . . . Put down the rifle, fool!'
'Anger on anger! Evil on evil! There will be no killing. Let the priest-beaters go in bondage to their own acts. Just and sure is the Wheel, swerving not a hair! They will be born many times - in torment.' His head drooped, and he leaned heavily on Kim's shoulder.
'I have come near to great evil, chela,' he whispered in that dead hush under the pines. 'I was tempted to loose the bullet; and truly, in Tibet there would have been a heavy and a slow death for them ... He struck me across the face ... upon the flesh ...' He slid to the ground, breathing heavily, and Kim could hear the over-driven heart bump and check.'Have they hurt him to the death?' said the Ao-chung man, while the others stood mute.
Kim knelt over the body in deadly fear. 'Nay,' he cried passionately, 'this is only a weakness.' Then he remembered that he was a white man, with a white man's campfittings at his service. 'Open the kiltas! The Sahibs may have a medicine.' 'Oho! Then I know it,' said the Ao-chung man with a laugh. 'Not for five years was I Yankling Sahib's shikarri without knowing that medicine. I too have tasted it. Behold!'He drew from his breast a bottle of cheap whisky - such as is sold to explorers at Leh and cleverly forced a little between the lama's teeth.
'So I did when Yankling Sahib twisted his foot beyond Astor. Aha! I have already looked into their baskets - but we will make fair division at Shamlegh. Give him a little more. It is good medicine. Feel! His heart goes better now. Lay his head down and rub a little on the chest. If he had waited quietly while I accounted for the Sahibs this would never have come. But perhaps the Sahibs may chase us here. Then it would not be wrong to shoot them with their own guns, heh?''One is paid, I think, already,' said Kim between his teeth. 'I kicked him in the groin as we went downhill. Would I had killed him!'
'It is well to be brave when one does not live in Rampur,' said one whose hut lay within a few miles of the Rajah's rickety palace. 'If we get a bad name among the Sahibs, none will employ us as shikarris any more.''Oh, but these are not Angrezi Sahibs - not merry-minded men like Fostum Sahib or Yankling Sahib. They are foreigners - they cannot speak Angrezi as do Sahibs.' Here the lama coughed and sat up, groping for the rosary. 'There shall be no killing,' he murmured. 'Just is the Wheel! Evil on evil -'
'Nay, Holy One. We are all here.' The Ao-chung man timidly patted his feet. 'Except by thy order, no one shall be slain. Rest awhile. We will make a little camp here, and later, as the moon rises, we go to Shamlegh-under-the-Snow.''After a blow, ' said a Spiti man sententiously, 'it is best to sleep.'
'There is, as it were, a dizziness at the back of my neck, and a pinching in it. Let me lay my head on thy lap, chela. I am an old man, but not free from passion . . . We must think of the Cause of Things.''Give him a blanket. We dare not light a fire lest the Sahibs see.' 'Better get away to Shamlegh. None will follow us to Shamlegh.' This was the nervous Rampur man.
'I have been Fostum Sahib's shikarri, and I am Yankling Sahib's shikarri. I should have been with Yankling Sahib now but for this cursed beegar [the corvee]. Let two men watch below with the guns lest the Sahibs do more foolishness. I shall not leave this Holy One.'
They sat down a little apart from the lama, and, after listening awhile, passed round a water-pipe whose receiver was an old Day and Martin blacking-bottle. The glow of the red charcoal as it went from hand to hand lit up the narrow, blinking eyes, the high Chinese cheek-bones, and the bull-throats that melted away into the dark duffle folds round the shoulders. They looked like kobolds from some magic mine - gnomes of the hills in conclave. And while they talked, the voices of the snow-waters round them diminished one by one as the night- frost choked and clogged the runnels.'
'How he stood up against us!' said a Spiti man admiring. 'I remember an old ibex, out Ladakh-way, that Dupont Sahib missed on a shoulder- shot, seven seasons back, standing up just like him. Dupont Sahib was a good shikarri.''Not as good as Yankling Sahib.' The Ao-chung man took a pull at the whisky-bottle and passed it over. 'Now hear me - unless any other man thinks he knows more.' The challenge was not taken up. 'We go to Shamlegh when the moon rises. There we will fairly divide the baggage between us. I am content with this new little rifle and all its cartridges.' 'Are the bears only bad on thy holding? said a mate, sucking at the pipe.
'No; but musk-pods are worth six rupees apiece now, and thy women can have the canvas of the tents and some of the cooking-gear. We will do all that at Shamlegh before dawn. Then we all go our ways, remembering that we have never seen or taken service with these Sahibs, who may, indeed, say that we have stolen their baggage.''That is well for thee, but what will our Rajah say?'
'Who is to tell him? Those Sahibs, who cannot speak our talk, or the Babu, who for his own ends gave us money? Will he lead an army against us? What evidence will remain? That we do not need we shall throw on Shamlegh-midden, where no man has yet set foot.''Who is at Shamlegh this summer?' The place was only a grazing centre of three or four huts.
'The Woman of Shamlegh. She has no love for Sahibs, as we know. The others can be pleased with little presents; and here is enough for us all.' He patted the fat sides of the nearest basket.'But - but -' 'I have said they are not true Sahibs. All their skins and heads were bought in the bazar at Leh. I know the marks. I showed them to ye last march.' 'True. They were all bought skins and heads. Some had even the moth in them.' That was a shrewd argument, and the Ao-chung man knew his fellows.
'If the worst comes to the worst, I shall tell Yankling Sahib, who is a man of a merry mind, and he will laugh. We are not doing any wrong to any Sahibs whom we know. They are priest-beaters. They frightened us. We fled! Who knows where we dropped the baggage? Do ye think Yankling Sahib will permit down-country police to wander all over the hills, disturbing his game? It is a far cry from Simla to Chini, and farther from Shamlegh to Shamlegh-midden.''So be it, but I carry the big kilta. The basket with the red top that the Sahibs pack themselves every morning.'
'Thus it is proved,' said the Shamlegh man adroitly, 'that they are Sahibs of no account. Who ever heard of Fostum Sahib, or Yankling Sahib, or even the little Peel Sahib that sits up of nights to shoot serow - I say, who, ever heard of these Sahibs coming into the hills without a down-country cook, and a bearer, and - and all manner of well-paid, highhanded and oppressive folk in their tail? How can they make trouble? What of the kilta?''Nothing, but that it is full of the Written Word - books and papers in which they wrote, and strange instruments, as of worship.' 'Shamlegh-midden will take them all.'
'True! But how if we insult the Sahibs' Gods thereby! I do not like to handle the Written Word in that fashion. And their brass idols are beyond my comprehension. It is no plunder for simple hill-folk.''The old man still sleeps. Hst! We will ask his chela.' The Ao-chung man refreshed himself, and swelled with pride of leadership. 'We have here,' he whispered, 'a kilta whose nature we do not know.'
'But I do,' said Kim cautiously. The lama drew breath in natural, easy sleep, and Kim had been thinking of Hurree's last words. As a player of the Great Game, he was disposed just then to reverence the Babu. 'It is a kilta with a red top full of very wonderful things, not to be handled by fools.''I said it; I said it,' cried the bearer of that burden. 'Thinkest thou it will betray us?' 'Not if it be given to me. I can draw out its magic. Otherwise it will do great harm.' 'A priest always takes his share.' Whisky was demoralizing the Ao- chung man. 'It is no matter to me.' Kim answered, with the craft of his mother- country. 'Share it among you, and see what comes!' 'Not I. I was only jesting. Give the order. There is more than enough for us all. We go our way from Shamlegh in the dawn.'
They arranged and re-arranged their artless little plans for another hour, while Kim shivered with cold and pride. The humour of the situation tickled the Irish and the Oriental in his soul. Here were the emissaries of the dread Power of the North, very possibly as great in their own land as Mahbub or Colonel Creighton, suddenly smitten helpless. One of them, he privately knew, would be lame for a time. They had made promises to Kings. Tonight they lay out somewhere below him, chartless, foodless, tentless, gunless - except for Hurree Babu, guideless. And this collapse of their Great Game (Kim wondered to whom they would report it), this panicky bolt into the night, had come about through no craft of Hurree's or contrivance of Kim's, but simply, beautifully, and inevitably as the capture of Mahbub's fakir-friends by the zealous young policeman at Umballa.'They are there - with nothing; and, by Jove, it is cold! I am here with all their things. Oh, they will be angry! I am sorry for Hurree Babu.'
Kim might have saved his pity, for though at that moment the Bengali suffered acutely in the flesh, his soul was puffed and lofty. A mile down the hill, on the edge of the pineforest, two half-frozen men - one powerfully sick at intervals - were varying mutual recriminations with the most poignant abuse of the Babu, who seemed distraught with terror. They demanded a plan of action. He explained that they were very lucky to be alive; that their coolies, if not then stalking them, had passed beyond recall; that the Rajah, his master, was ninety miles away, and, so far from lending them money and a retinue for the Simla journey, would surely cast them into prison if he heard that they had hit a priest. He enlarged on this sin and its consequences till they bade him change the subject. Their one hope, said he, was unostentatious flight from village to village till they reached civilization; and, for the hundredth time dissolved in tears, he demanded of the high stars why the Sahibs 'had beaten holy man'.
Ten steps would have taken Hurree into the creaking gloom utterly beyond their reach - to the shelter and food of the nearest village, where glib-tongued doctors were scarce. But he preferred to endure cold, belly-pinch, bad words, and occasional blows in the company of his honoured employers. Crouched against a tree-trunk, he sniffed dolefully.'And have you thought,' said the uninjured man hotly, 'what sort of spectacle we shall present wandering through these hills among these aborigines?' Hurree Babu had thought of little else for some hours, but the remark was not to his address. 'We cannot wander! I can hardly walk,' groaned Kim's victim. 'Perhaps the holy man will be merciful in loving-kindness, sar, otherwise -' 'I promise myself a peculiar pleasure in emptying my revolver into that young bonze when next we meet,' was the unchristian answer.
'Revolvers! Vengeance! Bonzes!' Hurree crouched lower. The war was breaking out afresh. 'Have you no consideration for our loss? The baggage! The baggage!' He could hear the speaker literally dancing on the grass. 'Everything we bore! Everything we have secured! Our gains! Eight months' work! Do you know what that means? "Decidedly it is we who can deal with Orientals!" Oh, you have done well.'
They fell to it in several tongues, and Hurree smiled. Kim was with the kiltas, and in the kiltas lay eight months of good diplomacy. There was no means of communicating with the boy, but he could be trusted. For the rest, Hurree could so stage-manage the journey through the hills that Hilas, Bunar, and four hundred miles of hill- roads should tell the tale for a generation. Men who cannot control their own coolies are little respected in the Hills, and the hillman has a very keen sense of humour.
'If I had done it myself,' thought Hurree, 'it would not have been better; and, by Jove, now I think of it, of course I arranged it myself. How quick I have been! Just when I ran downhill I thought it! Thee outrage was accidental, but onlee me could have worked it - ah - for all it was dam'-well worth. Consider the moral effect upon these ignorant peoples! No treaties - no papers - no written documents at all - and me to interpret for them. How I shall laugh with the Colonel! I wish I had their papers also: but you cannot occupy two places in space simultaneously. Thatt is axiomatic.'
My brother kneels (so saith Kabir) To stone and brass in heathen wise, But in my brother's voice I hear
My own unanswered agonies.
His God is as his Fates assign -
His prayer is all the world's - and mine.
At moonrise the cautious coolies got under way. The lama, refreshed by his sleep and the spirit, needed no more than Kim's shoulder to bear him along - a silent, swift-striding man. They held the shale- sprinkled grass for an hour, swept round the shoulder of an immortal cliff, and climbed into a new country entirely blocked off from all sight of Chini valley. A huge pasture-ground ran up fan-shaped to the living snow. At its base was perhaps half an acre of flat land, on which stood a few soil and timber huts. Behind them - for, hill- fashion, they were perched on the edge of all things - the ground fell sheer two thousand feet to Shamlegh-midden, where never yet man has set foot.The men made no motion to divide the plunder till they had seen the lama bedded down in the best room of the place, with Kim shampooing his feet, Mohammedan-fashion.
'We will send food, ' said the Ao-chung man, 'and the red- topped kilta. By dawn there will be none to give evidence, one way or the other. If anything is not needed in the kilta
- see here!'
'No need to listen for the fall. This is the world's end,' he said, and went out. The lama looked forth, a hand on either sill, with eyes that shone like yellow opals. From the enormous pit before him white peaks lifted themselves yearning to the moonlight. The rest was as the darkness of interstellar space.'These,' he said slowly, 'are indeed my Hills. Thus should a man abide, perched above the world, separated from delights, considering vast matters.' 'Yes; if he has a chela to prepare tea for him, and to fold a blanket for his head, and to chase out calving cows.' A smoky lamp burned in a niche, but the full moonlight beat it down; and by the mixed light, stooping above the food-bag and cups, Kim moved like a tall ghost. 'Ai! But now I have let the blood cool, my head still beats and drums, and there is a cord round the back of my neck.' 'No wonder. It was a strong blow. May he who dealt it -' 'But for my own passions there would have been no evil.' 'What evil? Thou hast saved the Sahibs from the death they deserved a hundred times.'
'The lesson is not well learnt, chela.' The lama came to rest on a folded blanket, as Kim went forward with his evening routine. 'The blow was but a shadow upon a shadow. Evil in itself - my legs weary apace these latter days! - it met evil in me anger, rage, and a lust to return evil. These wrought in my blood, woke tumult in my stomach, and dazzled my ears.' Here he drank scalding block-tea ceremonially, taking the hot cup from Kim's hand. 'Had I been passionless, the evil blow would have done only bodily evil - a scar, or a bruise - which is illusion. But my mind was not abstracted, for rushed in straightway a lust to let the Spiti men kill. In fighting that lust, my soul was torn and wrenched beyond a thousand blows. Not till I had repeated the Blessings' (he meant the Buddhist Beatitudes) 'did I achieve calm. But the evil planted in me by that moment's carelessness works out to its end. Just is the Wheel, swerving not a hair! Learn the lesson, chela.''It is too high for me,' Kim muttered. 'I am still all shaken. I am glad I hurt the man.'
'I felt that, sleeping upon thy knees, in the wood below. It disquieted me in my dreams the evil in thy soul working through to mine. Yet on the other hand' - he loosed his rosary
-'I have acquired merit by saving two lives - the lives of those that wronged me. Now I must see into the Cause of Things. The boat of my soul staggers.'
Till the dawn, hour after hour, as the moonlight paled on the high peaks, and that which had been belted blackness on the sides of the far hills showed as tender green forest, the lama stared fixedly at the wall. From time to time he groaned. Outside the barred door, where discomfited kine came to ask for their old stable, Shamlegh and the coolies gave itself up to plunder and riotous living. The Ao-chung man was their leader, and once they had opened the Sahibs' tinned foods and found that they were very good they dared not turn back. Shamlegh kitchen-midden took the dunnage.When Kim, after a night of bad dreams, stole forth to brush his teeth in the morning chill, a fair-coloured woman with turquoise- studded headgear drew him aside.
'The others have gone. They left thee this kilta as the promise was. I do not love Sahibs, but thou wilt make us a charm in return for it. We do not wish little Shamlegh to get a bad name on account of the - accident. I am the Woman of Shamlegh.' She looked him over with bold, bright eyes, unlike the usual furtive glance of hillwomen.'Assuredly. But it must be done in secret.' She raised the heavy kilta like a toy and slung it into her own hut. 'Out and bar the door! Let none come near till it is finished,' said Kim.
'But afterwards - we may talk?' Kim tilted the kilta on the floor - a cascade of Survey-instruments, books, diaries, letters, maps, and queerly scented native correspondence. At the very bottom was an embroidered bag covering a sealed, gilded, and illuminated document such as one King sends to another. Kim caught his breath with delight, and reviewed the situation from a Sahib's point of view.
'The books I do not want. Besides, they are logarithms - Survey, I suppose.' He laid them aside. 'The letters I do not understand, but Colonel Creighton will. They must all be kept. The maps - they draw better maps than me - of course. All the native letters - oho! - and particularly the murasla.' He sniffed the embroidered bag. 'That must be from Hilas or Bunar, and Hurree Babu spoke truth. By Jove! It is a fine haul. I wish Hurree could know . . . The rest must go out of the window.' He fingered a superb prismatic compass and the shiny top of a theodolite. But after all, a Sahib cannot very well steal, and the things might be inconvenient evidence later. He sorted out every scrap of manuscript, every map, and the native letters. They made one softish slab. The three locked ferril-backedbooks, with five worn pocket-books, he put aside.
'The letters and the murasla I must carry inside my coat and under my belt, and the handwritten books I must put into the food-bag. It will be very heavy. No. I do not think there is anything more. If there is, the coolies have thrown it down the khud, so thatt is all right. Now you go too.' He repacked the kilta with all he meant to lose, and hove it up on to the windowsill. A thousand feet below lay a long, lazy, round-shouldered bank of mist, as yet untouched by the morning sun. A thousand feet below that was a hundred-year-old pine- forest. He could see the green tops looking like a bed of moss when a wind-eddy thinned the cloud.'No! I don't think any one will go after you!'
The wheeling basket vomited its contents as it dropped. The theodolite hit a jutting cliffledge and exploded like a shell; the books, inkstands, paint-boxes, compasses, and rulers showed for a few seconds like a swarm of bees. Then they vanished; and, though Kim, hanging half out of the window, strained his young ears, never a sound came up from the gulf.
'Five hundred - a thousand rupees could not buy them,' he thought sorrowfully. 'It was verree wasteful, but I have all their other stuff - everything they did - I hope. Now how the deuce am I to tell Hurree Babu, and whatt the deuce am I to do? And my old man is sick. I must tie up the letters in oilskin. That is something to do first - else they will get all sweated ... And I am all alone!' He bound them into a neat packet, swedging down the stiff, sticky oilskin at the comers, for his roving life had made him as methodical as an old hunter in matters of the road. Then with double care he packed away the books at the bottom of the food-bag.The woman rapped at the door. 'But thou hast made no charm,' she said, looking about. 'There is no need.' Kim had completely overlooked the necessity for a little patter-talk.
The woman laughed at his confusion irreverently.
'None - for thee. Thou canst cast a spell by the mere winking of an eye. But think of us poor people when thou art gone. They were all too drunk last night to hear a woman. Thou art not drunk?'
He accepted the compliment calmly, as men must in lands where women make the love, tore a leaf from a note-book, and with a patent indelible pencil wrote in gross Shikast - the script that bad little boys use when they write dirt on walls: 'I have everything that they have written: their pictures of the country, and many letters. Especially the murasla. Tell me what to do. I am at Shamlegh-under- the-Snow. The old man is sick.'"Take this to him. It will altogether shut his mouth. He cannot have gone far.' 'Indeed no. They are still in the forest across the spur. Our children went to watch them when the light came, and have cried the news as they moved.'
Kim looked his astonishment; but from the edge of the sheep-pasture floated a shrill, kitelike trill. A child tending cattle had picked it up from a brother or sister on the far side of the slope that commanded Chini valley,'My husbands are also out there gathering wood.' She drew a handful of walnuts from her bosom, split one neatly, and began to eat. Kim affected blank ignorance. 'Dost thou not know the meaning of the walnut -- priest?' she said coyly, and handed him the half-shells. 'Well thought of.' He slipped the piece of paper between them quickly. 'Hast thou a little wax to close them on this letter?' The woman sighed aloud, and Kim relented. 'There is no payment till service has been rendered. Carry this to the Babu, and say it was sent by the Son of the Charm.' 'Al! Truly! Truly! By a magician - who is like a Sahib.' 'Nay, a Son of the Charm: and ask if there be any answer.' 'But if he offer a rudeness? I - I am afraid.'
Kim laughed. 'He is, I have no doubt, very tired and very hungry. The Hills make cold bedfellows. Hai, my' - it was on the tip of his tongue to say Mother, but he turned it to Sister -'thou art a wise and witty woman. By this time all the villages know what has befallen the Sahibs - eh?''True. News was at Ziglaur by midnight, and by tomorrow should be at Kotgarh. The villages are both afraid and angry.'
'No need. Tell the villages to feed the Sahibs and pass them on, in peace. We must get them quietly away from our valleys. To steal is one thing - to kill another. The Babu will understand, and there will be no after-complaints. Be swift. I must tend my master when he wakes.'
'So be it. After service - thou hast said? - comes the reward. I am the Woman of Shamlegh, and I hold from the Rajah. I am no common bearer of babes. Shamlegh is thine: hoof and horn and hide, milk and butter. Take or leave.'
She turned resolutely uphill, her silver necklaces clicking on her broad breast, to meet the morning sun fifteen hundred feet above them. This time Kim thought in the vernacular as he waxed down the oilskin edges of the packets.
'How can a man follow the Way or the Great Game when he is so-always pestered by women? There was that girl at Akrola of the Ford; and there was the scullion's wife behind the dovecot - not counting the others - and now comes this one! When I was a child it was well enough, but now I am a man and they will not regard me as a man. Walnuts, indeed! Ho! ho! It is almonds in the Plains!'
He went out to levy on the village - not with a begging-bowl, which might do for downcountry, but in the manner of a prince. Shamlegh's summer population is only three families - four women and eight or nine men. They were all full of tinned meats and mixed drinks, from ammoniated quinine to white vodka, for they had taken their full share in the overnight loot. The neat Continental tents had been cut up and shared long ago, and there were patent aluminium saucepans abroad.
But they considered the lama's presence a perfect safeguard against all consequences, and impenitently brought Kim of their best - even to a drink of chang - the barley-beer that comes from Ladakh-way. Then they thawed out in the sun, and sat with their legs hanging over infinite abysses, chattering, laughing, and smoking. They judged India and its Government solely from their experience of wandering Sahibs who had employed them or their friends as shikarris. Kim heard tales of shots missed upon ibex, serow, or markhor, by Sahibs twenty years in their graves - every detail lighted from behind like twigs on tree-tops seen against lightning. They told him of their little diseases, and, more important, the diseases of their tiny, sure-footed cattle; of trips as far as Kotgarh, where the strange missionaries live, and beyond even to marvellous Simla, where the streets are paved with silver, and anyone, look you, can get service with the Sahibs, who ride about in two-wheeled carts and spend money with a spade. Presently, grave and aloof, walking very heavily, the lama joined himself to the chatter under the eaves, and they gave him great room. The thin air refreshed him, and he sat on the edge of precipices with the best of them, and, when talk languished, flung pebbles into the void. Thirty miles away, as the eagle flies, lay the next range, seamed and channelled and pitted with little patches of brush - forests, each a day's dark march. Behind the village, Shamlegh hill itself cut off all view to southward. It was like sitting in a swallow's nest under the eaves of the roof of the world.From time to time the lama stretched out his hand, and with a little low-voiced prompting would point out the road to Spiti and north across the Parungla.
'Beyond, where the hills lie thickest, lies De-ch'en' (he meant Han-le'), 'the great Monastery. s'Tag-stan-ras-ch'en built it,and of him there runs this tale.' Whereupon he told it: a fantastic piled narrative of bewitchment and miracles that set Shamlegh agasping. Turning west a little, he speered for the green hills of Kulu, and sought Kailung under the glaciers.'For thither came I in the old, old days. From Leh I came, over the Baralachi.''Yes, yes; we know it,' said the far-faring people of Shamlegh.
'And I slept two nights with the priests of Kailung. These are the Hills of my delight! Shadows blessed above all other shadows! There my eyes opened on this world; there my eyes were opened to this world; there I found Enlightenment; and there I girt my loins for my Search. Out of the Hills I came - the high Hills and the strong winds. Oh, just is the Wheel!' He blessed them in detail - the great glaciers, the naked rocks, the piled moraines and tumbled shale; dry upland, hidden salt-lake, age-old timber and fruitful water-shot valley one after the other, as a dying man blesses his folk; and Kim marvelled at his passion.
'Yes - yes. There is no place like our Hills,' said the people of Shamlegh. And they fell to wondering how a man could live in the hot terrible Plains where the cattle run as big as elephants, unfit to plough on a hillside; where village touches village, they had heard, for a hundred miles; where folk went about stealing in gangs, and what the robbers spared the Police carried utterly away.So the still forenoon wore through, and at the end of it Kim's messenger dropped from the steep pasture as unbreathed as when she had set out. 'I sent a word to the hakim,' Kim explained, while she made reverence.
'He joined himself to the idolaters? Nay, I remember he did a healing upon one of them. He has acquired merit, though the healed employed his strength for evil. Just is the Wheel! What of the hakim?'
'I feared that thou hadst been bruised and - and I knew he was wise.' Kim took the waxed walnut-shell and read in English on the back of his note: Your favour received. Cannot get away from present company at present, but shall take them into Simla. After which, hope to rejoin you. Inexpedient to follow angry gentlemen. Return by same road you came, and will overtake. Highly gratified about correspondence due to my forethought. 'He says, Holy One, that he will escape from the idolaters, and will return to us. Shall we wait awhile at Shamlegh, then?'
'I became strong to do evil and to forget. A brawler and a swashbuckler upon the hillsides was I.' Kim bit back a smile. 'Just and perfect is the Wheel, swerving not a hair. When I was a man - a long time ago - I did pilgrimage to Guru Ch'wan among the poplars' (he pointed Bhotanwards), 'where they keep the Sacred Horse.''Quiet, be quiet!' said Shamlegh, all arow. 'He speaks of Jam-lin- nin-k'or, the Horse That Can Go Round The World In a Day.'
'I speak to my chela only,' said the lama, in gentle reproof, and they scattered like frost on south eaves of a morning. 'I did not seek truth in those days, but the talk of doctrine. All illusion! I drank the beer and ate the bread of Guru Ch'wan. Next day one said: "We go out to fight Sangor Gutok down the valley to discover" (mark again how Lust is tied to Anger!) "which Abbot shall bear rule in the valley and take the profit of the prayers they print at Sangor Gutok." I went, and we fought a day.''But how, Holy One?'
'With our long pencases as I could have shown . . . I say, we fought under the poplars, both Abbots and all the monks, and one laid open my forehead to the bone. See!' He tilted back his cap and showed a puckered silvery scar. 'Just and perfect is the Wheel! Yesterday the scar itched, and after fifty years I recalled how it was dealt and the face of him who dealt it; dwelling a little in illusion. Followed that which thou didst see - strife and stupidity. Just is the Wheel! The idolater's blow fell upon the scar. Then I was shaken in my soul: my soul was darkened, and the boat of my soul rocked upon the waters of illusion. Not till I came to Shamlegh could I meditate upon the Cause of Things, or trace the running grass-roots of Evil. I strove all the long night.''But', Holy One, thou art innocent of all evil. May I be thy sacrifice!' Kim was genuinely distressed at the old man's sorrow, and Mahbub Ali's phrase slipped out unawares.
'In the dawn,' the lama went on more gravely, ready rosary clicking between the slow sentences, 'came enlightenment. It is here ... I am an old man . . . hill-bred, hill-fed, never to sit down among my Hills. Three years I travelled through Hind, but - can earth be stronger than Mother Earth? My stupid body yearned to the Hills and the snows of the Hills, from below there. I said, and it is true, my Search is sure. So, at the Kulu woman's house I turned hillward, over-persuaded by myself. There is no blame to the hakim. He - following Desire - foretold that the Hills would make me strong. They strengthened me to do evil, to forget my Search. I delighted in life and the lust of life. I desired strong slopes to climb. I cast about to find them. I measured the strength of my body, which is evil, against the high Hills, I made a mock of thee when thy breath came short under Jamnotri. I jested when thou wouldst not face the snow of the pass.''But what harm? I was afraid. It was just. I am not a hillman; and I loved thee for thy new strength.'
'More than once I remember' - he rested his cheek dolefully on his hand - 'I sought thy praise and the hakim's for the mere strength of my legs. Thus evil followed evil till the cup was full. Just is the Wheel! All Hind for three years did me all honour. From the Fountain of Wisdom in the Wonder House to' - he smiled -'a little child playing by a big gun - the world prepared my road. And why?''Because we loved thee. It is only the fever of the blow. I myself am still sick and shaken.'
'No! It was because I was upon the Way - tuned as are si-nen [cymbals] to the purpose of the Law. I departed from that ordinance. The tune was broken: followed the punishment. In my own Hills, on the edge of my own country, in the very place of my evil desire, comes the buffet - here!' (He touched his brow.) 'As a novice is beaten when he misplaces the cups, so am I beaten, who was Abbot of Such-zen. No word, look you, but a blow, chela.''But the Sahibs did not know thee, Holy One?'
'We were well matched. Ignorance and Lust met Ignorance and Lust upon the road, and they begat Anger. The blow was a sign to me, who am no better than a strayed yak, that my place is not here. Who can read the Cause of an act is halfway to Freedom! "Back to the path," says the Blow. "The Hills are not for thee. Thou canst not choose Freedom and go in bondage to the delight of life."''Would we had never met that cursed Russian!'
'Our Lord Himself cannot make the Wheel swing backward. And for my merit that I had acquired I gain yet another sign.' He put his hand in his bosom, and drew forth the Wheel of Life. 'Look! I considered this after I had meditated. There remains untorn by the idolater no more than the breadth of my fingernail.''I see.'
'So much, then, is the span of my life in this body. I have served the Wheel all my days. Now the Wheel serves me. But for the merit I have acquired in guiding thee upon the Way, there would have been added to me yet another life ere I had found my River. Is it plain, chela?'
Kim stared at the brutally disfigured chart. From left to right diagonally the rent ran - from the Eleventh House where Desire gives birth to the Child (as it is drawn by Tibetans) - across the human and animal worlds, to the Fifth House - the empty House of the Senses. The logic was unanswerable.
'Before our Lord won Enlightenment' - the lama folded all away with reverence - 'He was tempted. I too have been tempted, but it is finished. The Arrow fell in the Plains - not in the Hills. Therefore, what make we here?''Shall we at least wait for the hakim?' 'I know how long I shall live in this body. What can a hakim do?' 'But thou art all sick and shaken. Thou canst not walk.' 'How can I be sick if I see Freedom?' He rose unsteadily to his feet. 'Then I must get food from the village. Oh, the weary Road!' Kim felt that he too needed rest. 'That is lawful. Let us eat and go. he Arrow fell in the Plains ... but I yielded to Desire. Make ready, chela.' Kim turned to the woman with the turquoise headgear who had been idly pitching pebbles over the cliff. She smiled very kindly.
'I found him like a strayed buffalo in a cornfield - the Babu; snorting and sneezing with cold. He was so hungry that he forgot his dignity and gave me sweet words. The Sahibs have nothing.' She flung out an empty palm. 'One is very sick about the stomach. Thy work?'Kim nodded, with a bright eye.
'I spoke to the Bengali first - and to the people of a near-by village after. The Sahibs will be given food as they need it - nor will the people ask money. The plunder is already distributed. The Babu makes lying speeches to the Sahibs. Why does he not leave them?''Out of the greatness of his heart.' "Was never a Bengali yet had one bigger than a dried walnut. But it is no matter ... Now as to walnuts. After service comes reward. I have said the village is thine.'
'It is my loss,' Kim began. 'Even now I had planned desirable things in my heart which' there is no need to go through the compliments proper to these occasions. He sighed deeply . . . 'But my master, led by a vision -''Huh! What can old eyes see except a full begging-bowl?' '- turns from this village to the Plains again.' 'Bid him stay.' Kim shook his head. 'I know my Holy One, and his rage if he be crossed,' he replied impressively. 'His curses shake the Hills.' 'Pity they did not save him from a broken head! I heard that thou wast the tiger-hearted one who smote the Sahib. Let him dream a little longer. Stay!' 'Hillwoman,' said Kim, with austerity that could not harden the outlines of his young oval face, 'these matters are too high for thee.' 'The Gods be good to us! Since when have men and women been other than men and women?'
'A priest is a priest. He says he will go upon this hour. I am his chela, and I go with him. We need food for the Road. He is an honoured guest in all the villages, but' - he broke into a pure boy's grin - 'the food here is good. Give me some.''What if I do not give it thee? I am the woman of this village.' 'Then I curse thee - a little - not greatly, but enough to remember.' He could not help smiling.
'Thou hast cursed me already by the down-dropped eyelash and the uplifted chin. Curses? What should I care for mere words?' She clenched her hands upon her bosom . . . 'But I would not have thee to go in anger, thinking hardly of me - a gatherer of cow-dung and grass at Shamlegh, but still a woman of substance.''I think nothing,' said Kim, 'but that I am grieved to go, for I am very weary; and that we need food. Here is the bag.'
The woman snatched it angrily. 'I was foolish,' said she. 'Who is thy woman in the Plains? Fair or black? I was fair once. Laughest thou? Once, long ago, if thou canst believe, a Sahib looked on me with favour. Once, long ago, I wore European clothes at the Mission- house yonder.' She pointed towards Kotgarh. 'Once, long ago. I was Ker-listi-an and spoke English - as the Sahibs speak it. Yes. My Sahib said he would return and wed me - yes, wed me. He went away - I had nursed him when he was sick - but he never returned. Then I saw that the Gods of the Kerlistians lied, and I went back to my own people . . . I have never set eyes on a Sahib since. (Do not laugh at me. The fit is past, little priestling.) Thy face and thy walk and thy fashion of speech put me in mind of my Sahib, though thou art only a wandering mendicant to whom I give a dole. Curse me? Thou canst neither curse nor bless!' She set her hands on her hips and laughed bitterly. 'Thy Gods are lies; thy works are lies; thy words are lies. There are no Gods under all the Heavens. I know it ... But for awhile I thought it was my Sahib come back, and he was my God. Yes, once I made music on a pianno in the Mission-house at Kotgarh. Now I give alms to priests who are heatthen.' She wound up with the English word, and tied the mouth of the brimming bag.
'I wait for thee, chela, ' said the lama, leaning against the door- post. The woman swept the tall figure with her eyes. 'He walk! He cannot cover half a mile. Whither would old bones go?'At this Kim, already perplexed by the lama's collapse and foreseeing the weight of the bag, fairly lost his temper. 'What is it to thee, woman of ill-omen, where he goes?' 'Nothing - but something to thee, priest with a Sahib's face. Wilt thou carry him on thy shoulders?' 'I go to the Plains. None must hinder my return. I have wrestled with my soul till I am strengthless. The stupid body is spent, and we are far from the Plains.'
'Behold!' she said simply, and drew aside to let Kim see his own utter helplessness. 'Curse me. Maybe it will give him strength. Make a charm! Call on thy great God. Thou art a priest.' She turned away.
The lama had squatted limply, still holding by the door-post. One cannot strike down an old man that he recovers again like a boy in the night. Weakness bowed him to the earth, but his eyes that hung on Kim were alive and imploring.
'It is all well,' said Kim. 'It is the thin air that weakens thee. In a little while we go! It is the mountain-sickness. I too am a little sick at stomach,' ... and he knelt and comforted with such poor words as came first to his lips. Then the woman returned, more erect than ever.
'Thy Gods useless, heh? Try mine. I am the Woman of Shamlegh.' She hailed hoarsely, and there came out of a cow-pen her two husbands and three others with a dooli, the rude native litter of the Hills, that they use for carrying the sick and for visits of state. 'These cattle' - she did not condescend to look at them - 'are thine for so long as thou shalt need.''But we will not go Simla-way. We will not go near the Sahibs,' cried the first husband.
'They will not run away as the others did, nor will they steal baggage. Two I know for weaklings. Stand to the rear-pole, Sonoo and Taree.' They obeyed swiftly. 'Lower now, and lift in that holy man. I will see to the village and your virtuous wives till ye return.''When will that be?' 'Ask the priests. Do not pester me. Lay the food-bag at the foot, it balances better so.'
'Oh, Holy One, thy Hills are kinder than our Plains!' cried Kim, relieved, as the lama tottered to the litter. 'It is a very king's bed - a place of honour and ease. And we owe it to
'A woman of ill-omen. I need thy blessings as much as I do thy curses. It is my order and none of thine. Lift and away! Here! Hast thou money for the road?'
She beckoned Kim to her hut, and stooped above a battered English cash-box under her cot.
She looked up with a curious smile and laid a hand on his shoulder. 'At least, thank me. I am foul-faced and a hillwoman, but, as thy talk goes, I have acquired merit. Shall I show thee how the Sahibs render thanks?' and her hard eyes softened.'I am but a wandering priest,' said Kim, his eyes lighting in answer. 'Thou needest neither my blessings nor my curses.' 'Nay. But for one little moment - thou canst overtake the dooli in ten strides - if thou wast a Sahib, shall I show thee what thou wouldst do?' - 'How if I guess, though?' said Kim, and putting his arm round her waist, he kissed her on the cheek, adding in English: 'Thank you verree much, my dear.' Kissing is practically unknown among Asiatics, which may have been the reason that she leaned back with wide-open eyes and a face of panic.
'Next time,' Kim went on, 'you must not be so sure of your heatthen priests. Now I say good-bye.' He held out his hand English-fashion. She took it mechanically. 'Good-bye, my dear.''Good-bye, and - and' - she was remembering her English words one by one -'you will come back again? Good-bye, and - thee God bless you.' Half an hour later, as the creaking litter jolted up the hill path that leads south-easterly from Shamlegh, Kim saw a tiny figure at the hut door waving a white rag. 'She has acquired merit beyond all others,' said the lama. 'For to set a man upon the way to Freedom is half as great as though she had herself found it.'
'Umm,' said Kim thoughtfully, considering the past. 'It may be that I have acquired merit also ... At least she did not treat me like a child.' He hitched the front of his robe, where lay the slab of documents and maps, re-stowed the precious food-bag at the lama's feet, laid his hand on the litter's edge, and buckled down to the slow pace of the grunting husbands.'These also acquire merit,' said the lama after three miles. 'More than that, they shall be paid in silver,' quoth Kim. The Woman of Shamlegh had given it to him; and it was only fair, he argued, that her men should earn it back again.
I'd not give room for an Emperor -
I'd hold my road for a King.
To the Triple Crown I'd not bow down - But this is a different thing!
I'll not fight with the Powers of Air - Sentry, pass him through!
Drawbridge let fall - He's the Lord of us all - The Dreamer whose dream came true!
Two hundred miles north of Chini, on the blue shale of Ladakh, lies Yankling Sahib, the merry-minded man, spy-glassing wrathfully across the ridges for some sign of his pet tracker - a man from Ao-chung. But that renegade, with a new Mannlicher rifle and two hundred cartridges, is elsewhere, shooting musk-deer for the market, and Yankling Sahib will learn next season how very ill he has been.
Up the valleys of Bushahr - the far-beholding eagles of the Himalayas swerve at his new blue-and-white gored umbrella - hurries a Bengali, once fat and well-looking, now lean and weather-worn. He has received the thanks of two foreigners of distinction, piloted not unskilfully to Mashobra tunnel, which leads to the great and gay capital of India. It was not his fault that, blanketed by wet mists, he conveyed them past the telegraph-station and European colony of Kotgarh. It was not his fault, but that of the Gods, of whom he discoursed so engagingly, that he led them into the borders of Nahan, where the Rahah of that State mistook them for deserting British soldiery. Hurree Babu explained the greatness and glory, in their own country, of his companions, till the drowsy kinglet smiled. He explained it to everyone who asked - many times - aloud - variously. He begged food, arranged accommodation, proved a skilful leech for an injury of the groin - such a blow as one may receive rolling down a rock-covered hillside in the dark - and in all things indispensable. The reason of his friendliness did him credit. With millions of fellow-serfs, he had learned to look upon Russia as the great deliverer from the North. He was a fearful man. He had been afraid that he could not save his illustrious employers from the anger of an excited peasantry. He himself would just as lief hit a holy man as not, but ... He was deeply grateful and sincerely rejoiced that he had done his 'little possible' towards bringing their venture to - barring the lost baggage - a successful issue, he had forgotten the blows; denied that any blows had been dealt that unseemly first night under the pines. He asked neither pension nor retaining fee, but, if they deemed him worthy, would they write him a testimonial? It might be useful to him later, if others, their friends, came over the Passes. He begged them to remember him in their future greatnesses, for he 'opined subtly' that he, even he, Mohendro Lal Dutt, MA of Calcutta, had 'done the State some service'.
They gave him a certificate praising his courtesy, helpfulness, and unerring skill as a guide. He put it in his waist-belt and sobbed with emotion; they had endured so many dangers together. He led them at high noon along crowded Simla Mall to the Alliance Bank of Simla, where they wished to establish their identity. Thence he vanished like a dawn-cloud on Jakko.
Behold him, too fine-drawn to sweat, too pressed to vaunt the drugs in his little brassbound box, ascending Shamlegh slope, a just man made perfect. Watch him, all Babudom laid aside, smoking at noon on a cot, while a woman with turquoise-studded headgear points south- easterly across the bare grass. Litters, she says, do not travel as fast as single men, but his birds should now be in the Plains. The holy man would not stay though Lispeth pressed him. The Babu groans heavily, girds up his huge loins, and is off again. He does not care to travel after dusk; but his days' marches - there is none to enter them in a book - would astonish folk who mock at his race. Kindly villagers, remembering the Dacca drug-vendor of two months ago, give him shelter against evil spirits of the wood. He dreams of Bengali Gods, University text-books of education, and the Royal Society, London, England. Next dawn the bobbing blue-and-white umbrella goes forward.
On the edge of the Doon, Mussoorie well behind them and the Plains spread out in golden dust before, rests a worn litter in which - all the Hills know it - lies a sick lama who seeks a River for his healing. Villages have almost come to blows over the honour of bearing it, for not only has the lama given them blessings, but his disciple good money - full one-third Sahibs' prices. Twelve miles a day has the dooli travelled, as the greasy, rubbed pole-ends show, and by roads that few Sahibs use. Over the Nilang Pass in storm when the driven snow-dust filled every fold of the impassive lama's drapery; between the black horns of Raieng where they heard the whistle of the wild goats through the clouds; pitching and strained on the shale below; hard-held between shoulder and clenched jaw when they rounded the hideous curves of the Cut Road under Bhagirati; swinging and creaking to the steady jog-trot of the descent into the Valley of the Waters; pressed along the steamy levels of that locked valley; up, up and out again, to meet the roaring gusts off Kedarnath; set down of mid-days in the dun gloom of kindly oak- forests; passed from village to village in dawn-chill, when even devotees may be forgiven for swearing at impatient holy men; or by torchlight, when the least fearful think of ghosts - the dooli has reached her last stage. The little hill-folk sweat in the modified heat of the lower Siwaliks, and gather round the priests for their blessing and their wage.'Ye have acquired merit,' says the lama. 'Merit greater than your knowing. And ye will return to the Hills,' he sighs.
'Surely. The high Hills as soon as may be.' The bearer rubs his shoulder, drinks water, spits it out again, and readjusts his grass sandal. Kim - his face is drawn and tired - pays very small silver from his belt', heaves out the food-bag, crams an oilskin packet - they are holy writings - into his bosom, and helps the lama to his feet. The peace has come again into the old man's eyes, and he does not look for the hills to fall down and crush him as he did that terrible night when they were delayed by the flooded river.The men pick up the dooli and swing out of sight between the scrub clumps. The lama raises a hand toward the rampart of the Himalayas. 'Not with you, O blessed among all hills, fell the Arrow of Our Lord! And never shall I breathe your airs again!'
'But thou art ten times the stronger man in this good air,' says Kim, for to his wearied soul appeal the well-cropped, kindly Plains. 'Here, or hereabouts, fell the Arrow, yes. We will go very softly, perhaps, a koss a day, for the Search is sure. But the bag weighs heavy.' 'Ay, our Search is sure. I have come out of great temptation.'
It was never more than a couple of miles a day now, and Kim's shoulders bore all the weight of it - the burden of an old man, the burden of the heavy food-bag with the locked books, the load of the writings on his heart, and the details of the daily routine. He begged in the dawn, set blankets for the lama's meditation, held the weary head on his lap through the noonday heats, fanning away the flies till his wrists ached, begged again in the evenings, and rubbed the lama's feet, who rewarded him with promise of Freedom today, tomorrow, or, at furthest, the next day.
'Never was such a chela. I doubt at times whether Ananda more faithfully nursed Our Lord. And thou art a Sahib? When I was a man - a long time ago - I forgot that. Now I look upon thee often, and every time I remember that thou art a Sahib. It is strange.'
'Thou hast said there is neither black nor white. Why plague me with this talk, Holy One? Let me rub the other foot. It vexes me. I am not a Sahib. I am thy chela, and my head is heavy on my shoulders.'
'Patience a little! We reach Freedom together. Then thou and I, upon the far bank of the River, will look back upon our lives as in the Hills we saw our days' marches laid out behind us. Perhaps I was once a Sahib.'"Was -never a Sahib like thee, I swear it.'
'I am certain the Keeper of the Images in the Wonder House was in past life a very wise Abbot. But even his spectacles do not make my eyes see. There fall shadows when I would look steadily. No matter - we know the tricks of the poor stupid carcass - shadow changing to another shadow. I am bound by the illusion of Time and Space. How far came we today in the flesh?''Perhaps half a koss.' (Three quarters of a mile, and it was a weary march.)
'Half a koss. Ha! I went ten thousand thousand in the spirit. How, we are all lapped and swathed and swaddled in these senseless things.' He looked at his thin blue-veined hand that found the beads so heavy. 'Chela, hast thou never a wish to leave me?'
Kim thought of the oilskin packet and the books in the food- bag. If someone duly authorized would only take delivery of them the Great Game might play itself for aught he then cared. He was tired and hot in his head, and a cough that came from the stomach worried him.'No.' he said almost sternly. 'I am not a dog or a snake to bite when I have learned to love.' 'Thou art too tender towards me.'
'Not that either. I have moved in one matter without consulting thee. I have sent a message to the Kulu woman by that woman who gave us the goat's milk this morn, saying that thou wast a little feeble and wouldst need a litter. I beat myself in mv mind that I did not do it when we entered the Doon. We stay in this place till the litter returns.' 'I am content. She is a woman with a heart of gold, as thou sayest, but a talker - something of a talker.'
'She will not weary thee. I have looked to that also. Holy One, my heart is very heavy for my many carelessnesses towards thee.' An hysterical catch rose in his throat. 'I have walked thee too far: I have not picked good food always for thee; I have not considered the heat; I have talked to people on the road and left thee alone ... I have - I have ... Hai mai! But I love thee ... and it is all too late ... I was a child . . . Oh, why was I not a man? . . .' Overborne by strain, fatigue, and the weight beyond his years, Kim broke down and sobbed at the lama's feet.
'What a to-do is here!' said the old man gently. 'Thou hast never stepped a hair's breadth from the Way of Obedience. Neglect me? Child, I have lived on thy strength as an old tree lives on the lime of a new wall. Day by day, since Shamlegh down, I have stolen strength from thee. Therefore, not through any sin of thine, art thou weakened. It is the Body - the silly, stupid Body - that speaks now. Not the assured Soul. Be comforted! Know at least the devils that thou fightest. They are earth-born - children of illusion. We will go to the woman from Kulu. She shall acquire merit in housing us, and specially in tending me. Thou shalt run free till strength returns. I had forgotten the stupid Body. If there be any blame, I bear it. But we are too close to the Gates of Deliverance to weigh blame. I could praise thee, but what need? In a little - in a very little - we shall sit beyond all needs.'
And so he petted and comforted Kim with wise saws and grave texts on that littleunderstood beast, our Body, who, being but a delusion, insists on posing as the Soul, to the darkening of the Way, and the immense multiplication of unnecessary devils.
'Hai! hai! Let us talk of the woman from Kulu. Think you she will ask another charm for her grandsons? When I was a young man, a very long time ago, I was plagued with these vapours - and some others - and I went to an Abbot - a very holy man and a seeker after truth, though then I knew it not. Sit up and listen, child of my soul! My tale was told. Said he to me, "Chela, know this. There are many lies in the world, and not a few liars, but there are no liars like our bodies, except it be the sensations of our bodies." Considering this I was comforted, and of his great favour he suffered me to drink tea In his presence. Suffer me now to drink tea, for I am thirsty.'With a laugh across his tears, Kim kissed the lama's feet, and set about the tea-making. 'Thou leanest on me in the body, Holy One, but I lean on thee for some other things. Dost know it?' 'I have guessed maybe,' and the lama's eyes twinkled. 'We must change that.'
So, when with scufflings and scrapings and a hot air of importance, paddled up nothing less than the Sahiba's pet palanquin sent twenty miles, with that same grizzled old Oorya servant in charge, and when they reached the disorderly order of the long white rambling house behind Saharunpore, the lama took his own measures.
Said the Sahiba cheerily from an upper window, after compliments: 'What is the good of an old woman's advice to an old man? I told thee - I told thee, Holy One, to keep an eye upon the chela. How didst thou do it? Never answer me! I know. He has been running among the women. Look at his eyes - hollow and sunk - and the Betraying Line from the nose down! He has been sifted out! Fie! Fie! And a priest, too!'Kim looked up, over-weary to smile, shaking his head in denial.
'Do not jest,' said the lama. 'That time is done. We are here upon great matters. A sickness of soul took me in the Hills, and him a sickness of the body. Since then I have lived upon his strength - eating him.'
'Children together - young and old,' she sniffed, but forbore to make any new jokes. 'May this present hospitality restore ye! Hold awhile and I will come to gossip of the high good Hills.'
At evening time - her son-in-law was returned, so she did not need to go on inspection round the farm - she won to the meat of the matter, explained low-voicedly by the lama. The two old heads nodded wisely together. Kim had reeled to a room with a cot in it, and was dozing soddenly. The lama had forbidden him to set blankets or get food.
'I know - I know. Who but I?' she cackled. 'We who go down to the burning-ghats clutch at the hands of those coming up from the River of Life with full water-jars - yes, brimming water-jars. I did the boy wrong. He lent thee his strength? It is true that the old eat the young daily. Stands now we must restore him.''Thou hast many times acquired merit -' 'My merit. What is it? Old bag of bones making curries for men who do not ask "Who cooked this?" Now if it were stored up for my grandson -' 'He that had the belly-pain?' 'To think the Holy One remembers that! I must tell his mother. It is most singular honour! "He that had the belly-pain" - straightway the Holy One remembered. She will be proud.' 'My chela is to me as is a son to the unenlightened.'
'Say grandson, rather. Mothers have not the wisdom of our years. If a child cries they say the heavens are falling. Now a grandmother is far enough separated from the pain of bearing and the pleasure of giving the breast to consider whether a cry is wickedness pure or the wind. And since thou speakest once again of wind, when last the Holy One was here, maybe I offended in pressing for charms.''Sister,' said the lama, using that form of address a Buddhist monk may sometimes employ towards a nun, 'if charms comfort thee -' 'They are better than ten thousand doctors.' 'I say, if they comfort thee, I who was Abbot of Such-zen, will make as many as thou mayest desire. I have never seen thy face -' 'That even the monkeys who steal our loquats count for again. Hee! hee!'
'But as he who sleeps there said,' - he nodded at the shut door of the guest-chamber across the forecourt - 'thou hast a heart of gold ... And he is in the spirit my very "grandson" to me'
'Good! I am the Holy One's cow." This was pure Hinduism, but the lama never heeded. 'I am old. I have borne sons in the body. Oh, once I could please men! Now I can cure them.' He heard her armlets tinkle as though she bared arms for action. 'I will take over the boy and dose him, and stuff him, and make him all whole. Hat! hai'! We old people know something yet.'
Wherefore when Kim, aching in every bone, opened his eyes, and would go to the cookhouse to get his master's food, he found strong coercion about him, and a veiled old figure at the door, flanked by the grizzled manservant, who told him very precisely the things that he was on no account to do.
'Thou must have? Thou shalt have nothing. What? A locked box in which to keep holy books? Oh, that is another matter. Heavens forbid I should come between a priest and his prayers! It shall be brought, and thou shalt keep the key.'
They pushed the coffer under his cot, and Kim shut away Mahbub's pistol, the oilskin packet of letters, and the locked books and diaries, with a groan of relief. For some absurd reason their weight on his shoulders was nothing to their weight on his poor mind. His neck ached under it of nights.
'Thine is a sickness uncommon in youth these days: since young folk have given up tending their betters. The remedy is sleep, and certain drugs,' said the Sahiba; and he was glad to give himself up to the blankness that half menaced and half soothed him.
She brewed drinks, in some mysterious Asiatic equivalent to the still-room - drenches that smelt pestilently and tasted worse. She stood over Kim till they went down, and inquired exhaustively after they had come up. She laid a taboo upon the forecourt, and enforced it by means of an armed man. It is true he was seventy odd, that his scabbarded sword ceased at the hilt; but he represented the authority of the Sahiba, and loaded wains, chattering servants, calves, dogs, hens, and the like, fetched a wide compass by those parts. Best of all, when the body was cleared, she cut out from the mass of poor relations that crowded the back of the buildings - house-hold dogs, we name them - a cousin's widow, skilled in what Europeans, who know nothing about it, call massage. And the two of them, laying him east and west, that the mysterious earth-currents which thrill the clay of our bodies might help and not hinder, took him to pieces all one long afternoon - bone by bone, muscle by muscle, ligament by ligament, and lastly, nerve by nerve. Kneaded to irresponsible pulp, half hypnotized by the perpetual flick and readjustment of the uneasy chudders that veiled their eyes, Kim slid ten thousand miles into slumber - thirty-six hours of it - sleep that soaked like rain after drought.
Then she fed him, and the house spun to her clamour. She caused fowls to be slain; she sent for vegetables, and the sober, slow- thinking gardener, nigh as old as she, sweated for it; she took spices, and milk, and onion, with little fish from the brooks - anon limes for sherbets, fat quails from the pits, then chicken-livers upon a skewer, with sliced ginger between.
'I have seen something of this world,' she said over the crowded trays, 'and there are but two sorts of women in it -those who take the strength out of a man and those who put it back. Once I was that one, and now I am this. Nay - do not play the priestling with me. Mine was but a jest. If it does not hold good now, it will when thou takest the road again. Cousin,' - this to the poor relation, never wearied of extolling her patroness's charity -'he is getting a bloom on the skin of a new-curried horse. Our work is like polishing jewels to be thrown to a dance-girl - eh?'
Kim sat up and smiled. The terrible weakness had dropped from him like an old shoe. His tongue itched for free speech again, and but a week back the lightest word clogged it like ashes. The pain in his neck (he must have caught it from the lama) had gone with the heavy dengue-aches and the evil taste in the mouth. The two old women, a little, but not much, more careful about their veils now, clucked as merrily as the hens that had entered pecking through the open door.'Where is my Holy One?' he demanded.
'Hear him! Thy Holy One is well,' she snapped viciously. 'Though that is none of his merit., Knew I a charm to make him wise, I'd sell my jewels and buy it. To refuse good food that I cooked myself - and go roving into the fields for two nights on an empty belly
- and to tumble into a brook at the end of it - call you that holiness? Then, when he has nearly broken what thou hast left of my heart with anxiety, he tells me that he has acquired merit. Oh, how like are all men! No, that was not it - he tells me that he is freed from all sin. I could have told him that before he wetted himself all over. He is well now this happened a week ago - but burn me such holiness! A babe of three would do better. Do not fret thyself for the Holy One. He keeps both eyes on thee when he is not wading our brooks.'
'Maharanee,' Kim began, but led by the look in her eye, changed it to the title of plain love - 'Mother, I owe my life to thee. How shall I make thanks? Ten thousand blessings upon thy house and -'
'The house be unblessed!' (It is impossible to give exactly the old lady's word.) 'Thank the Gods as a priest if thou wilt, but thank me, if thou carest, as a son. Heavens above! Have I shifted thee and lifted thee and slapped and twisted thy ten toes to find texts flung at my head? Somewhere a mother must have borne thee to break her heart. What used thou to her - son?''I had no mother, my mother,' said Kim. 'She died, they tell me, when I was young.'
'Hai mai! Then none can say I have robbed her of any right if - when thou takest the road again and this house is but one of a thousand used for shelter and forgotten, after an easyflung blessing. No matter. I need no blessings, but - but -' She stamped her foot at the poor relation. 'Take up the trays to the house. What is the good of stale food in the room, O woman of ill-omen?'
'I ha - have borne a son in my time too, but he died,' whimpered the bowed sister-figure behind the chudder. 'Thou knowest he died! I only waited for the order to take away the, tray.'
'It is I that am the woman of ill-omen,' cried the old lady penitently. 'We that go down to the chattris [the big umbrellas above the burning-ghats where the priests take their last dues] clutch hard at the bearers of the chattis [water-jars - young folk full of the pride of life, she meant; but the pun is clumsy].When one cannot dance in the festival one must e'en look out of the window, and grandmothering takes all a woman's time. Thy master gives me all the charms I now desire for my daughter's eldest, by reason - is it? - that he is wholly free from sin. The hakim is brought very low these days. He goes about poisoning my servants for lack of their betters.''What hakim, mother?'
'That very Dacca man who gave me the pill which rent me in three pieces. He cast up like a strayed camel a week ago, vowing that he and thou had been blood-brothers together up Kulu-way, and feigning great anxiety for thy health. He was very thin and hungry, so I gave orders to have him stuffed too - him and his anxiety!''I would see him if he is here.'
'He eats five times a day, and lances boils for my hinds to save himself from an apoplexy. He is so full of anxiety for thy health that he sticks to the cook-house door and stays himself with scraps. He will keep. We shall never get rid of him.''Send him here, mother' - the twinkle returned to Kim's eye for a flash - 'and I will try.' 'I'll send him, but to chase him off is an ill turn. At least he had the sense to fish the Holy One out of the brook; thus, as the Holy One did not say, acquiring merit.' 'He is a very wise hakim. Send him, mother.'
'Priest praising priest? A miracle! If he is any friend of thine (ye squabbled at your last meeting) I'll hale him here with horse-ropes and - and give him a caste-dinner afterwards, my son ... Get up and see the world! This lying abed is the mother of seventy devils ... my son! my son!'
She trotted forth to raise a typhoon off the cook-house, and almost on her shadow rolled in the Babu, robed as to the shoulders like a Roman emperor, jowled like Titus, bareheaded, with new patent- leather shoes, in highest condition of fat, exuding joy and salutations.
'By Jove, Mister O'Hara, but I are jolly-glad to see you. I will kindly shut the door. It is a pity you are sick. Are you very sick?'
'The papers - the papers from the kilta. The maps and the murasla!' He held out the key impatiently; for the present need on his soul was to get rid of the loot.
'All that was handwritten in the kilta I took. The rest I threw down the hill.' He could hear the key's grate in the lock, the sticky pull of the slow-rending oilskin, and a quick shuffling of papers. He had been annoyed out of all reason by the knowledge that they lay below him through the sick idle days - a burden incommunicable. For that reason the blood tingled through his body, when Hurree, skipping elephantinely, shook hands again.
'This is fine! This is finest! Mister O'Hara! you have - ha! ha! swiped the whole bag of tricks - locks, stocks, and barrels. They told me it was eight months' work gone up the spouts! By Jove, how they beat me! ... Look, here is the letter from Hilas!' He intoned a line or two of Court Persian, which is the language of authorized and unauthorized diplomacy. 'Mister Rajah Sahib has just about put his foot in the holes. He will have to explain offeecially how the deuce-an'-all he is writing love-letters to the Czar. And they are very clever maps ... and there is three or four Prime Ministers of these parts implicated by the correspondence. By Gad, sar! The British Government will change the succession in Hilas and Bunar, and nominate new heirs to the throne. "Trea-son most base" ... but you do not understand? Eh?''Are they in thy hands?' said Kim. It was all he cared for.
'Just you jolly-well bet yourself they are.' He stowed the entire trove about his body, as only Orientals can. 'They are going up to the office, too. The old lady thinks I am permanent fixture here, but I shall go away with these straight off - immediately. Mr Lurgan will be proud man. You are offeecially subordinate to me, but I shall embody your name in my verbal report. It is a pity we are not allowed written reports. We Bengalis excel in thee exact science.' He tossed back the key and showed the box empty.'Good. That is good. I was very tired. My Holy One was sick, too. And did he fall into -'
'Oah yess. I am his good friend, I tell you. He was behaving very strange when I came down after you, and I thought perhaps he might have the papers. I followed him on his meditations, and to discuss ethnological points also. You see, I am verree small person here nowadays, in comparison with all his charms. By Jove, O'Hara, do you know, he is afflicted with infirmity of fits. Yess, I tell you. Cataleptic, too, if not also epileptic. I found him in such a state under a tree in articulo mortem, and he jumped up and walked into a brook and he was nearly drowned but for me. I pulled him out.''Because I was not there!' said Kim. 'He might have died.'
'Yes, he might have died, but he is dry now, and asserts he has undergone transfiguration.' The Babu tapped his forehead knowingly. 'I took notes of his statements for Royal Society - in posse. You must make haste and be quite well and come back to Simla, and I will tell you all my tale at Lurgan's. It was splendid. The bottoms of their trousers were quite torn, and old Nahan Rajah, he thought they were European soldiers deserting.'
'Oh, the Russians? How long were they with thee?' 'One was a Frenchman. Oh, days and days and days! Now all the hill- people believe all Russians are all beggars. By Jove! they had not one dam'-thing that I did not get them. And I told the common people - oah, such tales and anecdotes! -I will tell you at old Lurgan's when you come up. We will have - ah - a night out! It is feather in both our caps! Yess, and they gave me a certificate. That is creaming joke. You should have seen them at the Alliance Bank identifying themselves! And thank Almighty God you got their papers so well! You do not laugh verree much, but you shall laugh when you are well. Now I will go straight to the railway and get out. You shall have all sorts of credits for your game. When do you come along? We are very proud of you though you gave us great frights. And especially Mahbub.''Ay, Mahbub. And where is he?' 'Selling horses in this vi-cinity, of course.' 'Here! Why? Speak slowly. There is a thickness in my head still.'
The Babu looked shyly down his nose. 'Well, you see, I am fearful man, and I do not like responsibility. You were sick, you see, and I did not know where deuce-an'-all the papers were, and if so, how many. So when I had come down here I slipped in private wire to Mahbub - he was at Meerut for races - and I tell him how case stands. He comes up with his men and he consorts with the lama, and then he calls me a fool, and is very rude -''But wherefore - wherefore?'
'That is what I ask. I only suggest that if anyone steals the papers I should like some good strong, brave men to rob them back again. You see, they are vitally important, and Mahbub Ali he did not know where you were.''Mahbub Ali to rob the Sahiba's house? Thou art mad, Babu,' said Kim with indignation. 'I wanted the papers. Suppose she had stole them? It was only practical suggestion, I think. You are not pleased, eh?' A native proverb - unquotable - showed the blackness of Kim's disapproval.
'Well,' - Hurree shrugged his shoulders - 'there is no accounting for thee taste. Mahbub was angry too. He has sold horses all about here, and he says old lady is pukka [thorough] old lady and would not condescend to such ungentlemanly things. I do not care. I have got the papers, and I was very glad of moral support from Mahbub. I tell you, I am fearful man, but, somehow or other, the more fearful I am the more dam'-tight places I get into. So I was glad you came with me to Chini, and I am glad Mahbub was close by. The old lady she is sometimes very rude to me and my beautiful pills.''Allah be merciful!' said Kim on his elbow, rejoicing. 'What a beast of wonder is a Babu! And that man walked alone - if he did walk - with robbed and angry foreigners!'
'Oah, thatt was nothing, after they had done beating me; but if I lost the papers it was pretty-jolly serious. Mahbub he nearly beat me too, and he went and consorted with the lama no end. I shall stick to ethnological investigations henceforwards. Now good-bye, Mister O'Hara. I can catch 4.25 p.m. to Umballa if I am quick. It will be good times when we all tell thee tale up at Mr Lurgan's. I shall report you offeecially better. Good-bye, my dear fallow, and when next you are under thee emotions please do not use the Mohammedan terms with the Tibetan dress.'He shook hands twice - a Babu to his boot-heels - and opened the door. With the fall of the sunlight upon his still triumphant face he returned to the humble Dacca quack.
'He robbed them,' thought Kim, forgetting his own share in the game. 'He tricked them. He lied to them like a Bengali. They give him a chit [a testimonial]. He makes them a mock at the risk of his life - I never would have gone down to them after the pistol-shots - and then he says he is a fearful man ... And he is a fearful man. I must get into the world again.'
At first his legs bent like bad pipe-stems, and the flood and rush of the sunlit air dazzled him. He squatted by the white wall, the mind rummaging among the incidents of the long dooli journey, the lama's weaknesses, and, now that the stimulus of talk was removed, his own self-pity, of which, like the sick, he had great store. The unnerved brain edged away from all the outside, as a raw horse, once rowelled, sidles from the spur. It was enough, amply enough, that the spoil of the kilta was away - off his hands - out of his possession. He tried to think of the lama - to wonder why he had tumbled into a brook - but the bigness of the world, seen between the forecourt gates, swept linked thought aside. Then he looked upon the trees and the broad fields, with the thatched huts hidden among crops
- looked with strange eyes unable to take up the size and proportion and use of things - stared for a still half-hour. All that while he felt, though he could not put it into words, that his soul was out of gear with its surroundings - a cog-wheel unconnected with any machinery, just like the idle cog-wheel of a cheap Beheea sugar-crusher laid by in a corner. The breezes fanned over him, the parrots shrieked at him, the noises of the populated house behind - squabbles, orders, and reproofs - hit on dead ears.
He did not want to cry - had never felt less like crying in his life - but of a sudden easy, stupid tears trickled down his nose, and with an almost audible click he felt the wheels of his being lock up anew on the world without. Things that rode meaningless on the eyeball an instant before slid into proper proportion. Roads were meant to be walked upon, houses to belived in, cattle to be driven, fields to be tilled, and men and women to be talked to. They were all real and true - solidly planted upon the feet - perfectly comprehensible - clay of his clay, neither more nor less. He shook himself like a dog with a flea in his ear, and rambled out of the gate. Said the Sahiba, to whom watchful eyes reported this move: 'Let him go. I have done my share. Mother Earth must do the rest. When the Holy One comes back from meditation, tell him.'
There stood an empty bullock-cart on a little knoll half a mile away, with a young banyan tree behind - a look-out, as it were, above some new-ploughed levels; and his eyelids, bathed in soft air, grew heavy as he neared it. The ground was good clean dust - no new herbage that, living, is half-way to death already, but the hopeful dust that holds the seeds of all life. He felt it between his toes, patted it with his palms, and joint by joint, sighing luxuriously, laid him down full length along in the shadow of the wooden-pinned cart. And Mother Earth was as faithful as the Sahiba. She breathed through him to restore the poise he had lost lying so long on a cot cut off from her good currents. His head lay powerless upon her breast, and his opened hands surrendered to her strength. The many- rooted tree above him, and even the dead manhandled wood beside, knew what he sought, as he himself did not know. Hour upon hour he lay deeper than sleep.
Towards evening, when the dust of returning kine made all the horizons smoke, came the lama and Mahbub Ali, both afoot, walking cautiously, for the house had told them where he had gone.'Allah! What a fool's trick to play in open country!' muttered the horse-dealer. 'He could be shot a hundred times - but this is not the Border.'
'And,' said the lama, repeating a many-times-told tale, 'never was such a chela. Temperate, kindly, wise, of ungrudging disposition, a merry heart upon the road, never forgetting, learned, truthful, courteous. Great is his reward!''I know the boy - as I have said.' 'And he was all those things?' 'Some of them - but I have not yet found a Red Hat's charm for making him overly truthful. He has certainly been well nursed.' 'The Sahiba is a heart of gold,' said the lama earnestly. 'She looks upon him as her son.'
'Hmph! Half Hind seems that way disposed. I only wished to see that the boy had come to no harm and was a free agent. As thou knowest, he and I were old friends in the first days of your pilgrimage together.''That is a bond between us.' The lama sat down. 'We are at the end of the pilgrimage.'
'No thanks to thee thine was not cut off for good and all a week back. I heard what the Sahiba said to thee when we bore thee up on the cot.' Mahbub laughed, and tugged his newly dyed beard.'I was meditating upon other matters that tide. It was the hakim from Dacca broke my meditations.'
'Otherwise' - this was in Pushtu for decency's sake -'thou wouldst have ended thy meditations upon the sultry side of Hell - being an unbeliever and an idolater for all thy child's simplicity. But now, Red Hat, what is to be done?'
'This very night,' - the words came slowly, vibrating with triumph - 'this very night he will be as free as I am from all taint of sin - assured as I am, when he quits this body, of Freedom from the Wheel of Things. I have a sign' - he laid his hand above the torn chart in his bosom -'that my time is short; but I shall have safeguarded him throughout the years. Remember, I have reached Knowledge, as I told thee only three nights back.'
'It must be true, as the Tirah priest said when I stole his cousin's wife, that I am a Sufi [a free-thinker]; for here I sit, I said Mahbub to himself, 'drinking in blasphemy unthinkable ... I remember the tale. On that, then, he goes to Fannatu l'Adn [the Gardens of Eden]. But how? Wilt thou slay him or drown him in that wonderful river from which the Babu dragged thee?''I was dragged from no river,' said the lama simply. 'Thou hast forgotten what befell. I found it by Knowledge.' 'Oh, ay. True,' stammered Mahbub, divided between high indignation and enormous mirth. 'I had forgotten the exact run of what happened. Thou didst find it knowingly.' 'And to say that I would take life is - not a sin, but a madness simple. My chela aided me to the River. It is his right to be cleansed from sin - with me.' 'Ay, he needs cleansing. But afterwards, old man - afterwards?' 'What matter under all the Heavens? He is sure of Nibban - enlightened - as I am.' 'Well said. I had a fear he might mount Mohammed's Horse and fly away.' 'Nay - he must go forth as a teacher.' 'Aha! Now I see! That is the right gait for the colt. Certainly he must go forth as a teacher. He is somewhat urgently needed as a scribe by the State, for instance.'
'To that end he was prepared. I acquired merit in that I gave alms for his sake. A good deed does not die. He aided me in my Search. I aided him in his. Just is the Wheel, O horse-seller from the North. Let him be a teacher; let him be a scribe - what matter? He will have attained Freedom at the end. The rest is illusion.'
'What matter? When I must have him with me beyond Balkh in six months! I come up with ten lame horses and three strong-backed men - thanks to that chicken of a Babu - to break a sick boy by force out of an old trot's house. It seems that I stand by while a young Sahib is hoisted into Allah knows what of an idolater's Heaven by means of old Red Hat. And I am reckoned something of a player of the Game myself! But the madman is fond of the boy; and I must be very reasonably mad too.''What is the prayer?' said the lama, as the rough Pushtu rumbled into the red beard.
'No matter at all; but now I understand that the boy, sure of Paradise, can yet enter Government service, my mind is easier. I must get to my horses. It grows dark. Do not wake him. I have no wish to hear him call thee master.''But he is my disciple. What else?' 'He has told me.' Mahbub choked down his touch of spleen and rose laughing. 'I am not altogether of thy faith, Red Hat - if so small a matter concern thee.'
'It is nothing, said the lama. 'I thought not. Therefore it will not move thee, sinless, new- washed and three parts drowned to boot, when I call thee a good man - a very good man. We have talked together some four or five evenings now, and for all I am a horse-coper I can still, as the saying is, see holiness beyond the legs of a horse. Yea, can see, too, how our Friend of all the World put his hand in thine at the first. Use him well, and suffer him to return to the world as a teacher, when thou hast - bathed his legs, if that be the proper medicine for the colt.''Why not follow the Way thyself, and so accompany the boy?'
Mahbub stared stupefied at the magnificent insolence of the demand, which across the Border he would have paid with more than a blow. Then the humour of it touched his worldly soul.
'Softly - softly - one foot at a time, as the lame gelding went over the Umballa jumps. I may come to Paradise later - I have workings that way - great motions - and I owe them to thy simplicity. Thou hast never lied?''What need?' 'O Allah, hear him! "What need" in this Thy world! Nor ever harmed a man?' 'Once - with a pencase - before I was wise.'
'So? I think the better of thee. Thy teachings are good. Thou hast turned one man that I know from the path of strife.' He laughed immensely. 'He came here open-minded to commit a dacoity [a house- robbery with violence]. Yes, to cut, rob, kill, and carry off what he desired.''A great foolishness!' 'Oh! black shame too. So he thought after he had seen thee - and a few others, male and female. So he abandoned it; and now he goes to beat a big fat Babu man.' 'I do not understand.' 'Allah forbid it! Some men are strong in knowledge, Red Hat. Thy strength is stronger still. Keep it - I think thou wilt. If the boy be not a good servant, pull his ears off.' With a hitch of his broad Bokhariot belt the Pathan swaggered off into the gloaming, and the lama came down from his clouds so far as to look at the broad back.
'That person lacks courtesy, and is deceived by the shadow of appearances. But he spoke well of my chela, who now enters upon his reward. Let me make the prayer! ... Wake, O fortunate above all born of women. Wake! It is found!'
Kim came up from those deep wells, and the lama attended his yawning pleasure; duly snapping fingers to head off evil spirits.
'I have slept a hundred years. Where -? Holy One, hast thou been here long? I went out to look for thee, but' - he laughed drowsily - 'I slept by the way. I am all well now. Hast thou eaten? Let us go to the house. It is many days since I tended thee. And the Sahiba fed thee well? Who shampooed thy legs? What of the weaknesses - the belly and the neck, and the beating in the ears?'
He peered at the cross-legged figure, outlined jet-black against the lemon-coloured drift of light. So does the stone Bodhisat sit who looks down upon the patent self-registering turnstiles of the Lahore Museum.The lama held his peace. Except for the click of the rosary and a faint clop-clop of Mahbub's retreating feet, the soft, smoky silence of evening in India wrapped them close. 'Hear me! I bring news.' 'But let us -' Out shot the long yellow hand compelling silence. Kim tucked his feet under his robeedge obediently.
'Hear me! I bring news! The Search is finished. Comes now the Reward ... Thus. When we were among the Hills, I lived on thy strength till the young branch bowed and nigh broke. When we came out of the Hills, I was troubled for thee and for other matters which I held in my heart. The boat of my soul lacked direction; I could not see into the Cause of Things. So I gave thee over to the virtuous woman altogether. I took no food. I drank no water. Still I saw not the Way. They pressed food upon me and cried at my shut door. So I removed myself to a hollow under a tree. I took no food. I took no water. I sat in meditation two days and two nights, abstracting my mind; inbreathing and outbreathing in the required manner . . . Upon the second night - so great was my reward
- the wise Soul loosed itself from the silly Body and went free. This I have never before attained, though I have stood on the threshold of it. Consider, for it is a marvel!'
'Yea, my Soul went free, and, wheeling like an eagle, saw indeed that there was no Teshoo Lama nor any other soul. As a drop draws to water, so my Soul drew near to the Great Soul which is beyond all things. At that point, exalted in contemplation, I saw all Hind, from Ceylon in the sea to the Hills, and my own Painted Rocks at Such-zen; I saw every camp and village, to the least, where we have ever rested. I saw them at one time and in one place; for they were within the Soul. By this I knew the Soul had passed beyond the illusion of Time and Space and of Things. By this I knew that I was free. I saw thee lying in thy cot, and I saw thee falling downhill under the idolater - at one time, in one place, in my Soul, which, as I say, had touched the Great Soul. Also I saw the stupid body of Teshoo Lama lying down, and the hakim from Dacca kneeled beside, shouting in its ear. Then my Soul was all alone, and I saw nothing, for I was all things, having reached the Great Soul. And I meditated a thousand thousand years, passionless, well aware of the Causes of all Things. Then a voice cried: "What shall come to the boy if thou art dead?" and I was shaken back and forth in myself with pity for thee; and I said: "I will return to my chela, lest he miss the Way." Upon this my Soul, which is the Soul of Teshoo Lama, withdrew itself from the Great Soul with strivings and yearnings and retchings and agonies not to be told. As the egg from the fish, as the fish from the water, as the water from the cloud, as the cloud from the thick air, so put forth, so leaped out, so drew away, so fumed up the Soul of Teshoo Lama from the Great Soul. Then a voice cried: "The River! Take heed to the River!" and I looked down upon all the world, which was as I had seen it before - one in time, one in place - and I saw plainly the River of the Arrow at my feet. At that hour my Soul was hampered by some evil or other whereof I was not wholly cleansed, and it lay upon my arms and coiled round my waist; but I put it aside, and I cast forth as an eagle in my flight for the very place of the River. I pushed aside world upon world for thy sake. I saw the River below me - the River of the Arrow - and, descending, the waters of it closed over me; and behold I was again in the body of Teshoo Lama, but free from sin, and the hakim from Decca bore up my head in the waters of the River. It is here! It is behind the mango- tope here - even here!''Allah kerim! Oh, well that the Babu was by! Wast thou very wet?'
'Why should I regard? I remember the hakim was concerned for the body of Teshoo Lama. He haled it out of the holy water in his hands, and there came afterwards thy horse-seller from the North with a cot and men, and they put the body on the cot and bore it up to the Sahiba's house.''What said the Sahiba?'
'I was meditating in that body, and did not hear. So thus the Search is ended. For the merit that I have acquired, the River of the Arrow is here. It broke forth at our feet, as I have said. I have found it. Son of my Soul, I have wrenched my Soul back from the Threshold of Freedom to free thee from all sin - as I am free, and sinless! Just is the Wheel! Certain is our deliverance! Come!'He crossed his hands on his lap and smiled, as a man may who has won salvation for himself and his beloved.