|Table of Contents|
Kim, by Rudyard Kipling
Behind them an angry farmer
brandished a bamboo pole. He was a market-gardener, Arain by caste, growing
vegetables and flowers for Umballa city, and well Kim knew the breed.
'Such an one,' said the lama,
disregarding the dogs, 'is impolite to strangers, intemperate of speech and
uncharitable. Be warned by his demeanour, my disciple.'
'Ho, shameless beggars!' shouted
the farmer. 'Begone! Get hence!'
'We go,' the lama returned, with
quiet dignity. 'We go from these unblessed fields.'
'Ah,' said Kim, sucking in his
breath. 'If the next crops fail, thou canst only blame thine own tongue.'
The man shuffled uneasily in his
slippers. 'The land is full of beggars,' he began, half apologetically.
'And by what sign didst thou know
that we would beg from thee, O Mali?' said Kim tartly, using the name that a
market-gardener least likes. 'All we sought was to look at that river beyond
the field there.'
'River, forsooth!' the man
snorted. 'What city do ye hail from not to know a canal-cut? It runs as
straight as an arrow ' and I pay for the water as though it were molten
silver. There is a branch of a river beyond. But if ye need water I can give
that - and milk.'
'Nay, we will go to the river,'
said the lama, striding out.
'Milk and a meal.' the man
stammered, as he looked at the strange tall figure. 'I - I would not draw
evil upon myself - or my crops. But beggars are so many in these hard days.'
'Take notice.' The lama turned to
Kim. 'He was led to speak harshly by the Red Mist of anger. That clearing
from his eyes, he becomes courteous and of an affable heart. May his fields
be blessed! Beware not to judge men too hastily, O farmer.'
'I have met holy ones who would
have cursed thee from hearthstone to byre,' said Kim to the abashed man. 'Is
he not wise and holy? I am his disciple.'
He cocked his nose in the air
loftily and stepped across the narrow field-borders with great dignity.
'There is no pride,' said the
lama, after a pause, 'there is no pride among such as follow the Middle
'But thou hast said he was
low-caste and discourteous.'
'Low-caste I did not say, for how
can that be which is not? Afterwards he amended his discourtesy, and I
forgot the offence. Moreover, he is as we are, bound upon the Wheel of
Things; but he does not tread the way of deliverance.' He halted at a little
runlet among the fields, and considered the hoof-pitted bank.
'Now, how wilt thou know thy
River?' said Kim, squatting in the shade of some tall sugar-cane.
'When I find it, an enlightenment
will surely be given. This, I feel, is not the place. O littlest among the
waters, if only thou couldst tell me where runs my River! But be thou
blessed to make the fields bear!'
'Look! Look!' Kim sprang to his
side and dragged him back. A yellow-and-brown streak glided from the purple
rustling stems to the bank, stretched its neck to the water, drank, and lay
still - a big cobra with fixed, lidless eyes.
'I have no stick - I have no
stick,' said Kim. '1 will get me one and break his back.'
'Why? He is upon the Wheel as we
are - a life ascending or descending - very far from deliverance. Great evil
must the soul have done that is cast into this shape.'
'I hate all snakes,' said Kim. No
native training can quench the white man's horror of the Serpent.
'Let him live out his life.' The
coiled thing hissed and half opened its hood. 'May thy release come soon,
brother!' the lama continued placidly. 'Hast thou knowledge, by chance, of
'Never have I seen such a man as
thou art,' Kim whispered, overwhelmed. 'Do the very snakes understand thy
'Who knows?' He passed within a
foot of the cobra's poised head. It flattened itself among the dusty coils.
'Come, thou!' he called over his
'Not I,' said Kim'. 'I go round.'
'Come. He does no hurt.'
Kim hesitated for a moment. The
lama backed his order by some droned Chinese quotation which Kim took for a
charm. He obeyed and bounded across the rivulet, and the snake, indeed, made
'Never have I seen such a man.'
Kim wiped the sweat from his forehead. 'And now, whither go we?'
'That is for thee to say. I am
old, and a stranger - far from my own place. But that the rel-carriage fills
my head with noises of devil-drums I would go in it to Benares now ... Yet
by so going we may miss the River. Let us find another river.'
Where the hard-worked soil gives
three and even four crops a year through patches of sugar-cane, tobacco,
long white radishes, and nol-kol, all that day they strolled on, turning
aside to every glimpse of water; rousing village dogs and sleeping villages
at noonday; the lama replying to the volleyed questions with an unswerving
simplicity. They sought a River a River of miraculous healing. Had any one
knowledge of such a stream? Sometimes men laughed, but more often heard the
story out to the end and offered them a place in the shade, a drink of milk,
and a meal. The women were always kind, and the little children as children
are the world over, alternately shy and venturesome. Evening found them at
rest under the village tree of a mud- walled, mud-roofed hamlet, talking to
the headman as the cattle came in from the grazing-grounds and the women
prepared the day's last meal. They had passed beyond the belt of
market-gardens round hungry Umballa, and were among the mile-wide green of
the staple crops.
He was a white-bearded and
affable elder, used to entertaining strangers. He dragged out a string
bedstead for the lama, set warm cooked food before him, prepared him a pipe,
and, the evening ceremonies being finished in the village temple, sent for
the village priest.
Kim told the older children tales
of the size and beauty of Lahore, of railway travel, and such-like city
things, while the men talked, slowly as their cattle chew the cud.
'I cannot fathom it,' said the
headman at last to the priest. 'How readest thou this talk?' The lama, his
tale told, was silently telling his beads.
'He is a Seeker.' the priest
answered. 'The land is full of such. Remember him who came only last, month
- the fakir with the tortoise?'
'Ay, but that man had right and
reason, for Krishna Himself appeared in a vision promising him Paradise
without the burning- pyre if he journeyed to Prayag. This man seeks no God
who is within my knowledge.'
'Peace, he is old: he comes from
far off, and he is mad,' the smooth-shaven priest replied. 'Hear me.' He
turned to the lama. 'Three koss [six miles] to the westward runs the great
road to Calcutta.' 'But I would
go to Benares - to Benares.'
'And to Benares also. It crosses
all streams on this side of Hind. Now my word to thee, Holy One, is rest
here till tomorrow. Then take the road' (it was the Grand Trunk Road he
meant) 'and test each stream that it overpasses; for, as I understand, the
virtue of thy River lies neither in one pool nor place, but throughout its
length. Then, if thy Gods will, be assured that thou wilt come upon thy
'That is well said.' The lama was
much impressed by the plan. 'We will begin tomorrow, and a blessing on thee
for showing old feet such a near road.' A deep, sing-song Chinese half-chant
closed the sentence. Even the priest was impressed, and the headman feared
an evil spell: but none could look at the lama's simple, eager face and
doubt him long.
'Seest thou my chela?' he said,
diving into his snuff-gourd with an important sniff. It was his duty to
repay courtesy with courtesy.
'I see - and hear.' The headman
rolled his eye where Kim was chatting to a girl in blue as she laid
crackling thorns on a fire.
'He also has a Search of his own.
No river, but a Bull. Yea, a Red Bull on a green field will some day raise
him to honour. He is, I think, not altogether of this world. He was sent of
a sudden to aid me in this search, and his name is Friend of all the World.'
The priest smiled. 'Ho, there,
Friend of all the World,' he cried across the sharp-smelling smoke, 'what
'This Holy One's disciple,' said
'He says thou are a but [a
'Can buts eat?' said Kim, with a
twinkle. 'For I am hungry.'
'It is no jest,' cried the lama.
'A certain astrologer of that city whose name I have forgotten -'
'That is no more than the city of
Umballa where we slept last night,' Kim whispered to the priest.
'Ay, Umballa was it? He cast a
horoscope and declared that my chela should find his desire within two days.
But what said he of the meaning of the stars, Friend of all the World?'
Kim cleared his throat and looked
around at the village greybeards.
'The meaning of my Star is War,'
he replied pompously.
Somebody laughed at the little
tattered figure strutting on the brickwork plinth under the great tree.
Where a native would have lain down, Kim's white blood set him upon his
'Ay, War,' he answered.
'That is a sure prophecy,'
rumbled a deep voice. 'For there is always war along the Border -as I know.'
It was an old, withered man, who
had served the Government in the days of the Mutiny as a native officer in a
newly raised cavalry regiment. The Government had given him a good holding
in the village, and though the demands of his sons, now grey-bearded
officers on their own account, had impoverished him, he was still a person
of consequence. English officials - Deputy Commissioners even - turned aside
from the main road to visit him, and on those occasions he dressed himself
in the uniform of ancient days, and stood up like a ramrod.
'But this shall be a great war -
a war of eight thousand.' Kim's voice shrilled across the quick-gathering
crowd, astonishing himself.
'Redcoats or our own regiments?'
the old man snapped, as though he were asking an equal. His tone made men
'Redcoats,' said Kim at a
venture. 'Redcoats and guns.'
'But - but the astrologer said no
word of this,' cried the lama, snuffing prodigiously in his excitement.
'But I know. The word has come to
me, who am this Holy One's disciple. There will rise a war - a war of eight
thousand redcoats. >From Pindi and Peshawur they will be drawn. This is
'The boy has heard bazar-talk,'
said the priest.
'But he was always by my side,'
said the lama. 'How should he know? I did not know.'
'He will make a clever juggler
when the old man is dead,' muttered the priest to the headman. 'What new
trick is this?'
'A sign. Give me a sign,'
thundered the old soldier suddenly. 'If there were war my sons would have
'When all is ready, thy sons,
doubt not, will be told. But it is a long road from thy sons to the man in
whose hands these things lie.' Kim warmed to the game, for it reminded him
of experiences in the letter-carrying line, when, for the sake of a few pice,
he pretended to know more than he knew. But now he was playing for larger
things - the sheer excitement and the sense of power. He drew a new breath
and went on.
'Old man, give me a sign. Do
underlings order the goings of eight thousand redcoats -with guns?'
'No.' Still the old man answered
as though Kim were an equal.
'Dost thou know who He is, then,
that gives the order?'
'I have seen Him.'
'To know again?'
'I have known Him since he was a
lieutenant in the topkhana (the Artillery].'
'A tall man. A tall man with
black hair, walking thus?' Kim took a few paces in a stiff, wooden style.
'Ay. But that anyone may have
seen.' The crowd were breathless- still through all this talk.
'That is true,' said Kim. 'But I
will say more. Look now. First the great man walks thus. Then He thinks
thus.' (Kim drew a forefinger over his forehead and downwards till it came
to rest by the angle of the jaw.) 'Anon He twitches his fingers thus. Anon
He thrusts his hat under his left armpit.' Kim illustrated the motion and
stood like a stork.
The old man groaned, inarticulate
with amazement; and the crowd shivered.
'So - so - so. But what does He
when He is about to give an order?'
'He rubs the skin at the back of
his neck - thus. Then falls one finger on the table and He makes a small
sniffing noise through his nose. Then He speaks, saying: "Loose such
and such a regiment. Call out such guns."'
The old man rose stiffly and
'"For"' - Kim
translated into the vernacular the clinching sentences he had heard in the
dressing-room at Umballa - '"For," says He, "we should have
done this long ago. It is not war - it is a chastisement. Snff!"'
'Enough. I believe. I have seen
Him thus in the smoke of battles. Seen and heard. It is He!'
'I saw no smoke' - Kim's voice
shifted to the rapt sing-song of the wayside fortune-teller. 'I saw this in
darkness. First came a man to make things clear. Then came horsemen. Then
came He. standing in a ring of light. The rest followed as I have said. Old
man, have I spoken truth?'
'It is He. Past all doubt it is
The crowd drew a long, quavering
breath, staring alternately at the old man, still at attention, and ragged
Kim against the purple twilight.
'Said I not - said I not he was
from the other world?' cried the lama proudly. 'He is the Friend of all the
World. He is the Friend of the Stars!'
'At least it does not concern
us,' a man cried. 'O thou young soothsayer, if the gift abides with thee at
all seasons, I have a red-spotted cow. She may be sister to thy Bull for
aught I know - '
'Or I care,' said Kim. 'My Stars
do not concern themselves with thy cattle.'
'Nay, but she is very sick,' a
woman struck in. 'My man is a buffalo, or he would have chosen his words
better. Tell me if she recover?'
Had Kim been at all an ordinary
boy, he would have carried on the play; but one does not know Lahore city,
and least of all the fakirs by the Taksali Gate, for thirteen years without
also knowing human nature.
The priest looked at him
sideways, something bitterly - a dry and blighting smile.
'Is there no priest, then, in the
village? I thought I had seen a great one even now,' cried Kim.
'Ay - but -' the woman began.
'But thou and thy husband hoped
to get the cow cured for a handful of thanks.' The shot told: they were
notoriously the closest-fisted couple in the village. 'It is not well to
cheat the temples. Give a young calf to thine own priest, and, unless thy
Gods are angry past recall, she will give milk within a month.'
'A master-beggar art thou,'
purred the priest approvingly. 'Not the cunning of forty years could have
done better. Surely thou hast made the old man rich?'
'A little flour, a little butter
and a mouthful of cardamoms,' Kim retorted, flushed with the praise, but
still cautious -'Does one grow rich on that? And, as thou canst see, he is
mad. But it serves me while I learn the road at least."
He knew what the fakirs of the
Taksali Gate were like when they talked among themselves, and copied the
very inflection of their lewd disciples.
'Is his Search, then, truth or a
cloak to other ends? It may be treasure.'
'He is mad - many times mad.
There is nothing else.'
Here the old soldier bobbled up
and asked if Kim would accept his hospitality for the night. The priest
recommended him to do so, but insisted that the honour of entertaining the
lama belonged to the temple - at which the lama smiled guilelessly. Kim
glanced from one face to the other, and drew his own conclusions.
'Where is the money?' he
whispered, beckoning the old man off into the darkness.
'In my bosom. Where else?'
'Give it me. Quietly and swiftly
give it me.'
'But why? Here is no ticket to
'Am I thy chela, or am I not? Do
I not safeguard thy old feet about the ways? Give me the money and at dawn I
will return it.' He slipped his hand above the lama's girdle and brought
away the purse.
'Be it so - be it so.' The old
man nodded his head. 'This is a great and terrible world. I never knew there
were so many men alive in it.'
Next morning the priest was in a
very bad temper, but the lama was quite happy; and Kim had enjoyed a most
interesting evening with the old man, who brought out his cavalry sabre and,
balancing it on his dry knees, told tales of the Mutiny and young captains
thirty years in their graves, till Kim dropped off to sleep.
'Certainly the air of this
country is good,' said the lama. 'I sleep lightly, as do all old men; but
last night I slept unwaking till broad day. Even now I am heavy.'
'Drink a draught of hot milk,'
said Kim, who had carried not a few such remedies to opium-smokers of his
acquaintance. 'It is time to take the Road again.'
'The long Road that overpasses
all the rivers of Hind,' said the lama gaily. 'Let us go. But how thinkest
thou, chela, to recompense these people, and especially the priest, for
their great kindness? Truly they are but-parast, but in other lives, maybe,
they will receive enlightenment. A rupee to the temple? The thing within is
no more than stone and red paint, but the heart of man we must acknowledge
when and where it is good.'
'Holy One, hast thou ever taken
the Road alone?' Kim looked up sharply, like the Indian crows so busy about
'Surely, child: from Kulu to
Pathankot - from Kulu, where my first chela died. When men were kind to us
we made offerings, and all men were well-disposed throughout all the Hills.'
'It is otherwise in Hind,' said
Kim drily. 'Their Gods are many- armed and malignant. Let them alone.'
'I would set thee on thy road for
a little, Friend of all the World thou and thy yellow man.' The old soldier
ambled up the village street, all shadowy in the dawn, on a punt,
scissor-hocked pony. 'Last night broke up the fountains of remembrance in my
so-dried heart, and it was as a blessing to me. Truly there is war abroad in
the air. I smell it. See! I have brought my sword.'
He sat long-legged on the little
beast, with the big sword at his side -hand dropped on the pommel - staring
fiercely over the flat lands towards the North. 'Tell me again how He showed
in thy vision. Come up and sit behind me. The beast will carry two.'
'I am this Holy One's disciple,'
said Kim, as they cleared the village-gate. The villagers seemed almost
sorry to be rid of them, but the priest's farewell was cold and distant. He
had wasted some opium on a man who carried no money.
'That is well spoken. I am not
much used to holy men, but respect is always good. There is no respect in
these days - not even when a Commissioner Sahib
comes to see me. But why should one whose Star leads him to war
follow a holy man?'
'But he is a holy man,' said Kim
earnestly. 'In truth, and in talk and in act, holy. He is not like the
others. I have never seen such an one. We be not fortune-tellers, or
jugglers, or beggars.'
'Thou art not. That I can see.
But I do not know that other. He marches well, though.'
The first freshness of the day
carried the lama forward with long, easy, camel-like strides. He was deep in
meditation, mechanically clicking his rosary.
They followed the rutted and worn
country road that wound across the flat between the great dark-green
mango-groves, the line of the snowcapped Himalayas faint to the eastward.
All India was at work in the fields, to the creaking of well-wheels, the
shouting of ploughmen behind their cattle, and the clamour of the crows.
Even the pony felt the good influence and almost broke into a trot as Kim
laid a hand on the stirrup-leather.
'It repents me that I did not
give a rupee to the shrine,' said the lama on the last bead of his
The old soldier growled in his
beard, so that the lama for the first time was aware of him.
'Seekest thou the River also?'
said he, turning.
'The day is new,' was the reply.
'What need of a river save to water at before sundown? I come to show thee a
short lane to the Big Road.'
'That is a courtesy to be
remembered, O man of good will. But why the sword?'
The old soldier looked as abashed
as a child interrupted in his game of make-believe.
'The sword,' he said, fumbling
it. 'Oh, that was a fancy of mine an old man's fancy. Truly the police
orders are that no man must bear weapons throughout Hind, but' - he cheered
up and slapped the hilt - 'all the constabeels hereabout know me.'
'It is not a good fancy,' said
the lama. 'What profit to kill men?'
'Very little - as I know; but if
evil men were not now and then slain it would not be a good world for
weaponless dreamers. I do not speak without knowledge who have seen the land
from Delhi south awash with blood.'
'What madness was that, then?'
'The Gods', who sent it for a
plague, alone know. A madness ate into all the Army, and they turned against
their officers. That was the first evil, but not past remedy if they had
then held their hands. But they chose to kill the Sahibs' wives and
children. Then came the Sahibs from over the sea and called them to most
'Some such rumour, I believe,
reached me once long ago. They called it the Black Year, as I remember.'
'What manner of life hast thou
led, not to know The Year? A rumour indeed! All earth knew, and trembled!'
'Our earth never shook but once -
upon the day that the Excellent One received Enlightenment.'
'Umph! I saw Delhi shake at
least- and Delhi is the navel of the world.'
'So they turned against women and
children? That was a bad deed, for which the punishment cannot be avoided.'
'Many strove to do so, but with
very small profit. I was then in a regiment of cavalry. It broke. Of six
hundred and eighty sabres stood fast to their salt - how many, think you?
Three. Of whom I was one.'
'The greater merit.'
'Merit! We did not consider it
merit in those days. My people, my friends, my brothers fell from me. They
said: "The time of the English is accomplished. Let each strike out a
little holding for himself." But I had talked with the men of Sobraon,
of Chilianwallah, of Moodkee and Ferozeshah. I said: "Abide a little
and the wind turns. There is no blessing in this work." In those days I
rode seventy miles with an English Memsahib and her babe on my saddle-bow.
(Wow! That was a horse fit for a man!) I placed them in safety, and back
came I to my officer the one that was not killed of our five. "Give me
work," said I, "for I am an outcast among my own kind, and my
cousin's blood is wet on my sabre." "Be content," said he.
"There is great work forward. When this madness is over there is a
'Ay, there is a recompense when
the madness is over, surely?' the lama muttered half to himself.
'They did not hang medals in
those days on all who by accident had heard a gun fired. No! In nineteen
pitched battles was I; in six- and-forty skirmishes of horse; and in small
affairs without number. Nine wounds I bear; a medal and four clasps and the
medal of an Order, for my captains, who are now generals, remembered me when
the Kaisar-i-Hind had
accomplished fifty years of her reign, and all the land rejoiced. They said:
"Give him the Order of Berittish India." I carry it upon my neck
now. I have also my jaghir [holding] from the hands of the State - a free
gift to me and mine. The men of the old days -they are now Commissioners -
come riding to me through the crops - high upon horses so that all the
village sees - and we talk out the old skirmishes, one dead man's name
leading to another.'
'And after?' said the lama.
'Oh, afterwards they go away, but
not before my village has seen.
'And at the last what wilt thou
'At the last I shall die.'
'Let the Gods order it. I have
never pestered Them with prayers. I do not think They will pester me. Look
you, I have noticed in my long life that those who eternally break in upon
Those Above with complaints and reports and bellowings and weepings are
presently sent for in haste, as our Colonel used to send for slack-jawed
down-country men who talked too much. No, I have never wearied the Gods.
They will remember this, and give me a quiet place where I can drive my
lance in the shade, and wait to welcome my sons: I have no less than three
Rissaldar-majors all - in the regiments.'
'And they likewise, bound upon
the Wheel, go forth from life to life - from despair to despair,' said the
lama below his breath, 'hot, uneasy, snatching.'
'Ay,' the old soldier chuckled.
'Three Rissaldar-majors in three regiments. Gamblers a little, but so am I.
They must be well mounted; and one cannot take the horses as in the old days
one took women. Well, well, my holding can pay for all. How thinkest thou?
It is a well-watered strip, but my men cheat me. I do not know how to ask
save at the lance's point. Ugh! I grow angry and I curse them, and they
feign penitence, but behind my back I know they call me a toothless old
'Hast thou never desired any
'Yes - yes - a thousand times! A
straight back and a close-clinging knee once more; a quick wrist and a keen
eye; and the marrow that makes a man. Oh, the old days - the good days of my
'That strength is weakness.'
'It has turned so; but fifty
years since I could have proved it otherwise,' the old soldier retorted,
driving his stirrup-edge into the pony's lean flank.
'But I know a River of great
'I have drank Gunga-water to the
edge of dropsy. All she gave me was a flux, and no sort of strength.'
'It is not Gunga. The
River that I know washes from all taint of sin. Ascending the far bank one
is assured of Freedom. I do not know thy life, but thy face is the face of
the honourable and courteous. Thou hast clung to thy Way, rendering fidelity
when it was hard to give, in that Black Year of which I now remember other
tales. Enter now upon the Middle Way which is the path to Freedom. Hear the
Most Excellent Law, and do not follow dreams.'
'Speak, then, old man,' the
soldier smiled, half saluting. 'We be all babblers at our age.'
The lama squatted under the shade
of a mango, whose shadow played checkerwise over his face; the soldier sat
stiffly on the pony; and Kim, making sure that there were no snakes, lay
down in the crotch of the twisted roots.
There was a drowsy buzz of small
life in hot sunshine, a cooing of doves, and a sleepy drone of well-wheels
across the fields. Slowly and impressively the lama began. At the end of ten
minutes the old soldier slid from his pony, to hear better as he said, and
sat with the reins round his wrist. The lama's voice faltered the periods
lengthened. Kim was busy watching a grey squirrel. When the little scolding
bunch of fur, close pressed to the branch, disappeared, preacher and
audience were fast asleep, the old officer's strong-cut head pillowed on his
arm, the lama's thrown back against the tree-bole, where it showed like
yellow ivory. A naked child toddled up, stared, and, moved by some quick
impulse of reverence, made a solemn little obeisance before the lama - only
the child was so short and fat that it toppled over sideways, and Kim
laughed at the sprawling, chubby legs. The child, scared and indignant,
'Hai! Hai!' said the soldier,
leaping to his feet. 'What is it? What orders? ... It is ... a child! I
dreamed it was an alarm. Little one - little one - do not cry. Have I slept?
That was discourteous indeed!'
'I fear! I am afraid!' roared the
'What is it to fear? Two old men
and a boy? How wilt thou ever make a soldier, Princeling?'
The lama had waked too, but,
taking no direct notice of the child, clicked his rosary.
'What is that?' said the child,
stopping a yell midway. 'I have never seen such things. Give them me.'
'Aha.' said the lama, smiling,
and trailing a loop of it on the grass:
This is a handful of cardamoms,
This is a lump of ghi: This is millet and chillies and rice, A supper for
thee and me!
The child shrieked with joy, and
snatched at the dark, glancing beads.
'Oho!' said the old soldier.
'Whence hadst thou that song, despiser of this world?'
'I learned it in Pathankot -
sitting on a doorstep,' said the lama shyly. 'It is good to be kind to
'As I remember, before the sleep
came on us, thou hadst told me that marriage and bearing were darkeners of
the true light, stumbling-blocks upon the Way. Do children drop from Heaven
in thy country? Is it the Way to sing them songs?'
'No man is all perfect,' said the
lama gravely, recoiling the rosary. 'Run now to thy mother, little one.'
'Hear him!' said the soldier to
Kim. 'He is ashamed for that he has made a child happy. There was a very
good householder lost in thee, my brother. Hai, child!' He threw it a pice.
'Sweetmeats are always sweet.' And as the little figure capered away into
the sunshine: 'They grow up and become men. Holy One, I grieve that I slept
in the midst of thy preaching. Forgive me.'
'We be two old men,' said the
lama. 'The fault is mine. I listened to thy talk of the world and its
madness, and one fault led to the next.'
'Hear him! What harm do thy Gods
suffer from play with a babe? And that song was very well sung. Let us go on
and I will sing thee the song of Nikal Seyn before Delhi - the old song.'
And they fared out from the gloom
of the mango tope, the old man's high, shrill voice ringing across the
field, as wail by long-drawn wail he unfolded the story of Nikal Seyn
[Nicholson] - the song that men sing in the Punjab to this day. Kim was
delighted, and the lama listened with deep interest.
'Ahi! Nikal Seyn is dead - he
died before Delhi! Lances of the North, take vengeance for Nikal Seyn.' He
quavered it out to the end, marking the trills with the flat of his sword on
the pony's rump.
'And now we come to the Big
Road,' said he, after receiving the compliments of Kim; for the lama was
markedly silent. 'It is long since I have ridden this way, but thy boy's
talk stirred me. See, Holy One - the Great Road which is the backbone of all
Hind. For the most part it is shaded, as here, with four lines of trees; the
middle road -all hard takes the quick traffic. In the days before
rail-carriages the Sahibs travelled up and down here in hundreds. Now there
are only country-carts and such like. Left and right is the rougher road for
the heavy carts - grain and cotton and timber, fodder, lime and hides. A man
goes in safety here for at every few koss is a police-station. The police
are thieves and extortioners (I myself would patrol it with cavalry - young
recruits under a strong captain), but at least they do not suffer any
rivals. All castes and kinds of men move here.
Look! Brahmins and chumars,
bankers and tinkers, barbers and bunnias, pilgrims -and potters - all the
world going and coming. It is to me as a river from which I am withdrawn
like a log after a flood.'
And truly the Grand Trunk Road is
a wonderful spectacle. It runs straight, bearing without crowding India's
traffic for fifteen hundred miles - such a river of life as nowhere else
exists in the world. They looked at the green-arched, shade-flecked length
of it, the white breadth speckled with slow-pacing folk; and the two-roomed
'Who bears arms against the law?'
a constable called out laughingly, as he caught sight of the soldier's
sword. 'Are not the police enough to destroy evil-doers?'
'It was because of the police I
bought it,' was the answer. 'Does all go well in Hind?'
'Rissaldar Sahib, all goes well.'
'I am like an old tortoise, look
you, who puts his head out from the bank and draws it in again. Ay, this is
the Road of Hindustan. All men come by this way...'
'Son of a swine, is the soft part
of the road meant for thee to scratch thy back upon? Father of all the
daughters of shame and husband of ten thousand virtueless ones, thy mother
was devoted to a devil, being led thereto by her mother. Thy aunts have
never had a nose for seven generations! Thy sister - What Owl's folly told
thee to draw thy carts across the road? A broken wheel? Then take a broken
head and put the two together at leisure!'
The voice and a venomous
whip-cracking came out of a pillar of dust fifty yards away, where a cart
had broken down. A thin, high Kathiawar mare, with eyes and nostrils aflame,
rocketed out of the jam, snorting and wincing as her rider bent her across
the road in chase of a shouting man. He was tall and grey-bearded, sitting
the almost mad beast as a piece of her, and scientifically lashing his
victim between plunges.
The old man's face lit with
pride. 'My child!' said he briefly, and strove to rein the pony's neck to a
'Am I to be beaten before the
police?' cried the carter. 'Justice! I will have Justice -'
'Am I to be blocked by a shouting
ape who upsets ten thousand sacks under a young horse's nose? That is the
way to ruin a mare.'
'He speaks truth. He speaks
truth. But she follows her man close,' said the old man. The carter ran
under the wheels of his cart and thence threatened all sorts of vengeance.
'They are strong men, thy sons,'
said the policeman serenely, picking his teeth.
The horseman delivered one last
vicious cut with his whip and came on at a canter.
'My father!' He reigned back ten
yards and dismounted.
The old man was off his pony in
an instant, and they embraced as do father and son in the East.
|Table of Contents|