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Kim, by Rudyard Kipling
In the afternoon the red-faced
schoolmaster told Kim that he had been 'struck off the strength', which
conveyed no meaning to him till he was ordered to go away and play. Then he
ran to the bazar, and found the young letter-writer to whom he owed a stamp.
'Now I pay,' said Kim royally,
'and now I need another letter to be written.'
'Mahbub Ali is in Umballa,' said
the writer jauntily. He was, by virtue of his office, a bureau of general
'This is not to Mahbub, but to a
priest. Take thy pen and write quickly. To Teshoo La ma, the Holy One from
Bhotiyal seeking for a River, who is now in the Temple ofihe Tirthankars at
Benares. Take more ink! In three days I am to go down to Nucklao to the
school at Nucklao. The name of the school is Xavier. I do not know where
that school is, but it is at Nucklao.'
'But I know Nucklao,' the writer
interrupted. 'I know the school.'
'Tell him where it is, and I give
half an anna.'
The reed pen scratched busily.
'He cannot mistake.' The man lifted his head. 'Who watches us across the
Kim looked up hurriedly and saw
Colonel Creighton in tennis- flannels.
'Oh, that is some Sahib who knows
the fat priest in the barracks. He is beckoning me.'
'What dost thou?' said the
Colonel, when Kim trotted up.
I am not running away. I send a letter to my Holy One at Benares.'
'I had not thought of that. Hast
thou said that I take thee to Lucknow?'
'Nay, I have not. Read the
letter, if there be a doubt.'
'Then why hast thou left out my
name in writing to that Holy One?' The Colonel smiled a queer smile. Kim
took his courage in both hands.
'It was said once to me that it
is inexpedient to write the names of strangers concerned in any matter,
because by the naming of names many good plans are brought to confusion.'
'Thou hast been well taught,' the
Colonel replied, and Kim flushed. 'I have left my cheroot-case in the
Padre's veranda. Bring it to my house this even.'
'Where is the house?' said Kim.
His quick wit told him that he was being tested in some fashion or another,
and he stood on guard.
'Ask anyone in the big bazar.'
The Colonel walked on.
'He has forgotten his
cheroot-case,' said Kim, returning. 'I must bring it to him this evening.
That is all my letter except, thrice over, Come to me! Come to me! Come to
me! Now I will pay for a stamp and put it in the post. He rose to go, and as
an afterthought asked: 'Who is that angry-faced Sahib who lost the
'Oh, he is only Creighton Sahib -
a very foolish Sahib, who is a Colonel Sahib without a regiment.'
'What is his business?'
'God knows. He is always buying
horses which he cannot ride, and asking riddles about the works of God -
such as plants and stones and the customs of people. The dealers call him
the father of fools, because he is so easily cheated about a horse. Mahbub
Ali says he is madder than most other Sahibs.'
'Oh!' said Kim, and departed. His
training had given him some small knowledge of character, and he argued that
fools are not given information which leads to calling out eight thousand
men besides guns. The Commander-in-Chief of all India does not talk, as Kim
had heard him talk, to fools. Nor would Mahbub Ali's tone have changed, as
it did every time he mentioned the Colonel's name, if the Colonel had been a
fool. Consequently - and this set Kim to skipping - there was a mystery
somewhere, and Mahbub Ali probably spied for the Colonel much as Kim had
spied for Mahbub. And, like the horse-dealer, the Colonel evidently
respected people who did not show themselves to be too clever.
rejoiced that he had not betrayed his knowledge of the Colonel's house; and
when, on his return to barracks, he discovered that no cheroot-case had been
left behind, he beamed with delight. Here was a man after his own heart - a
tortuous and indirect person playing a hidden game. Well, if he could be a
fool, so could Kim.
He showed nothing of his mind
when Father Victor, for three long mornings, discoursed to him of an
entirely new set of Gods and Godlings - notably of a Goddess called Mary,
who, he gathered, was one with Bibi Miriam of Mahbub Ali's theology. He
betrayed no emotion when, after the lecture, Father Victor dragged him from
shop to shop buying articles of outfit, nor when envious drummer- boys
kicked him because he was going to a superior school did he complain, but
awaited the play of circumstances with an interested soul. Father Victor,
good man, took him to the station, put him into an empty second-class next
to Colonel Creighton's first, and bade him farewell with genuine feeling.
'They'll make a man o' you,
O'Hara, at St Xavier's - a white man, an', I hope, a good man. They know all
about your comin', an' the Colonel will see that ye're not lost or mislaid
anywhere on the road. I've given you a notion of religious matters, - at
least I hope so, - and you'll remember, when they ask you your religion,
that you're a Cath'lic. Better say Roman Cath'lic, tho' I'm not fond of the
Kim lit a rank cigarette - he had
been careful to buy a stock in the bazar - and lay down to think. This
solitary passage was verv different from that joyful down-journey in the
third-class with the lama. 'Sahibs get little pleasure of travel,' he
'Hai mai! I go from one place to
another as it might be a kickball. It is my Kismet. No man can escape his
Kismet. But I am to pray to Bibi Miriam, and I am a Sahib.' He looked at his
boots ruefully. 'No; I am Kim. This is the great world, and I am only Kim.
Who is Kim?' He considered his own identity, a thing he had never done
before, till his head swam. He was one insignificant person in all this
roaring whirl of India, going southward to he knew not what fate.
Presently the Colonel sent for
him, and talked for a long time. So far as Kim could gather, he was to be
diligent and enter the Survey of India as a chain-man. If he were very good,
and passed the proper examinations, he would be earning thirty rupees a
month at seventeen years old, and Colonel Creighton would see that he found
Kim pretended at first to
understand perhaps one word in three of this talk. Then the Colonel, seeing
his mistake, turned to fluent and picturesque Urdu and Kim was contented. No
man could be a fool who knew the language so intimately, who moved so gently
and silently, and whose eyes were so different from the dull fat eyes of
'Yes, and thou must learn how to
make pictures of roads and mountains and rivers
to carry these pictures in thine eye till a suitable time comes to
set them upon paper. Perhaps some day, when thou art a chain-man, I may say
to thee when we are working together: "Go across those hills and see
what lies beyond." Then one will say: "There are bad people living
in those hills who will slay the chain-man if he be seen to look like a
Sahib." What then?'
Kim thought. Would it be safe to
return the Colonel's lead?
'I would tell what that other man
'But if I answered: "I will
give thee a hundred rupees for knowledge of what is behind those hills - for
a picture of a river and a little news of what the people say in the
'How can I tell? I am only a boy.
Wait till I am a man.' Then, seeing the Colonel's brow clouded, he went on:
'But I think I should in a few days earn the hundred rupees.'
'By what road?'
Kim shook his head resolutely.
'If I said how I would earn them, another man might hear and forestall me.
It is not good to sell knowledge for nothing.'
'Tell now.' The Colonel held up a
rupee. Kim's hand half reached towards it, and dropped.
'Nay, Sahib; nay. I know the
price that will be paid for the answer, but I do not know why the question
'Take it for a gift, then,' said
Creighton, tossing it over. 'There is a good spirit in thee. Do not let it
be blunted at St Xavier's. There are many boys there who despise the black
'Their mothers were bazar-women,'
said Kim. He knew well there is no hatred like that of the half-caste for
'True; but thou art a Sahib and
the son of a Sahib. Therefore, do not at any time be led to contemn the
black men. I have known boys newly entered into the service of the
Government who feigned not to understand the talk or the customs of black
men. Their pay was cut for ignorance. There is no sin so great as ignorance.
Several times in the course of
the long twenty-four hours' run south did the Colonel send for Kim, always
developing this latter text.
'We be all on one lead-rope,
then,' said Kim at last, 'the Colonel, Mahbub Ali, and I - when I become a
chain-man. He will use me as Mahbub Ali employed me, I think. That is good,
if it allows me to return to the Road again. This clothing grows no easier
When they came to the crowded
Lucknow station there was no sign of the lama. He swallowed his
disappointment, while the Colonel bundled him into a ticca-gharri
with his neat belongings and despatched him alone to St Xavier's.
'I do not say farewell, because
we shall meet again,' he cried. 'Again, and many times, if thou art one of
good spirit. But thou art not yet tried.'
'Not when I brought thee' - Kim
actually dared to use the tum of equals - 'a white stallion's pedigree that
gained by forgetting, little brother,'
said the Colonel, with a look that pierced through Kim's
shoulder-blades as he scuttled
into the carriage.
It took him nearly five minutes
to recover. Then he sniffed the new air appreciatively. 'A rich city,'
he said. 'Richer than Lahore. How good the bazars must be! Coachman,
drive me a little through the bazars here.'
'My order is to take thee to the
school.' The driver used the 'thou', which is rudeness when applied to a
white man. In the clearest and most fluent vernacular Kim pointed out his
error, climbed on to the box-seat, and, perfect understanding established,
drove for a couple of hours up and down, estimating, comparing, and
enjoying. There is no city - except Bombay, the queen of all - more
beautiful in her garish style than Lucknow, whether you see her from the
bridge over the river, or from the top of the Imambara looking down on the
gilt umbrellas of the Chutter Munzil, and the trees in which the town is
bedded. Kings have adorned her with fantastic buildings, endowed her with
charities, crammed her with pensioners, and drenched her with blood. She is
the centre of all idleness, intrigue, and luxury, and shares with Delhi the
claim to talk the only pure Urdu.
'A fair city - a beautiful city.'
The driver, as a Lucknow man, was pleased with the compliment, and told Kim
many astounding things where an English guide would have talked of the
'Now we will go to the school,'
said Kim at last. The great old school of St Xavier's in Partibus, block on
block of low white buildings, stands in vast grounds over against the Gumti
River,' at some distance from the city.
'What like of folk are they
within?' said Kim.
'Young Sahibs - all devils. But
to speak truth, and I drive many of them to and fro from the railway
station, I have never seen one that had in him the making of a more perfect
devil than thou - this young Sahib whom I am now driving.'
Naturally, for he was never
trained to consider them in any way improper, Kim had passed the time of day
with one or two frivolous ladies at upper windows in a certain street, and
naturally, in the exchange of compliments, had acquitted himself well. He
was about to acknowledge the driver's last insolence, when his eye -
it was growing dusk - caught a figure sitting by one of the white
plaster gate-pillars in the long sweep of wall.
'Stop!' he cried. 'Stay here. I
do not go to the school at once.'
'But what is to pay me for this
coming and re-coming?' said the driver petulantly. 'Is the boy mad? Last
time it was a dancing- girl. This time it is a priest.'
Kim was in the road headlong,
patting the dusty feet beneath the dirty yellow robe.
'I have waited here a day and a
half,' the lama's level voice began. 'Nay, I had a disciple with me. He that
was my friend at the Temple of the Tirthankars gave me a guide for this
journey. I came from Benares in the te-rain, when thy letter was given me.
Yes, I am well fed. I need nothing.'
'But why didst thou not stay with
the Kulu woman, O Holy One? In what way didst thou get to Benares? My heart
has been heavy since we parted.'
'The woman wearied me by constant
flux of talk and requiring charms for children. I separated myself from that
company, permitting her to acquire merit by gifts. She is at least a woman
of open hands, and I made a promise to return to her house if need arose.
Then, perceiving myself alone in this great and terrible world, I bethought
me of the te-rain to Benares, where I knew one abode in the Tirthankars'
Temple who was a Seeker, even as I.'
'Ah! Thy River,' said Kim. 'I had
forgotten the River.'
'So soon, my chela? I have never
forgotten it. But when I had left thee it seemed better that I should go to
the Temple and take counsel, for, look you, India is very large, and it may
be that wise men before us, some two or three, have left a record of the
place of our River. There is debate in the Temple of the Tirthankars on this
matter; some saying one thing, and some another. They are courteous folk.'
'So be it; but what dost thou do
'I acquire merit in that I help
thee, my chela, to wisdom. The priest of that body of men who serve the Red
Bull wrote me that all should be as I desired for thee. I sent the money to
suffice for one year, and then I came, as thou seest me, to watch for thee
going up into the Gates of Learning. A day and a half have I waited not
because I was led by any affection towards thee - that is no part of the Way
- but, as they said at the Tirthankars' Temple, because, money having been
paid for learning, it was right that I should oversee the end of the matter.
They resolved my doubts most clearly. I had a fear that, perhaps, I came
because I wished to see thee - misguided by the Red Mist of affection. It is
not so . . . Moreover, I am troubled by a dream.'
'But surely, Holy One, thou hast
not forgotten the Road and all that befell on it. Surely it was a little to
see me that thou didst come?'
'The horses are cold, and it is
past their feeding-time,' whined the driver.
'Go to Jehannum and abide there
with thy reputationless aunt!' Kim snarled over his shoulder. 'I am all
alone in this land; I know not where I go nor what shall befall me. My heart
was in that letter I sent thee. Except for Mahbub Ali, and he is a Pathan, I
have no friend save thee, Holy One. Do not altogether go away.'
'I have considered that also,'
the lama replied, in a shaking voice. 'It is manifest that from time to time
I shall acquire merit if before that I have not found my River - by assuring
myself that thy feet are set on wisdom. What they will teach thee I do
not know, but the priest wrote me that no son of a Sahib in all India
will be better taught than thou. So from time to time, therefore, I will
come again. Maybe thou wilt be such a Sahib as he who gave me these
spectacles' - the lama wiped them elaborately - 'in the Wonder House at
Lahore. That is my hope, for he was a Fountain of Wisdom - wiser than many
abbots .... Again, maybe thou wilt forget me and our meetings.'
'If I eat thy bread,' cried Kim
passionately, 'how shall I ever forget thee?'
'No - no.' He put the boy aside. 'I must go back to Benares. From
time to time,now that I know the customs of letter- writers in this land, I
will send thee a letter, and from time to time I will come and see thee.'
'But whither shall I send my
letters?' wailed Kim, clutching at the robe, all forgetful that he was a
'To the Temple of the Tirthankars
at Benares. That is the place I have chosen till I find my River. Do not
weep; for, look you, all Desire is Illusion and a new binding upon the
Wheel. Go up to the Gates of Learning. Let me see thee go . .. Dost thou
love me? Then go, or my heart cracks .. . I will come again. Surely I will
The lama watched the ticca-gharri
rumble into the compound, and strode off, snuffing between each long stride.
'The Gates of Learning' shut with
The country born and bred boy has
his own manners and customs, which do not resemble those of any other land;
and his teachers approach him by roads which an English master would not
understand. Therefore, you would scarcely be interested in Kim's experiences
as a St Xavier's boy among two or three hundred precocious youths, most of
whom had never seen the sea. He suffered the usual penalties for breaking
out of bounds when there was cholera in the city. This was before he had
learned to write fair English, and so was obliged to find a bazar
letter-writer. He was, of course, indicted for smoking and for the use of
abuse more full-flavoured than even St Xavier's had ever heard. He learned
to wash himself with the Levitical scrupulosity of the native-born, who in
his heart considers the Englishman rather dirty. He played the usual tricks
on the patient coolies pulling the punkahs in the sleeping- rooms where the
boys threshed through the hot nights telling tales till the dawn; and
quietly he measured himself against his self- reliant mates.
They were sons of subordinate
officials in the Railway, Telegraph, and Canal Services; of
warrant-officers, sometimes retired and sometimes acting as
commanders-in-chief to a feudatory Rajah's army; of captains of the Indian
Marine Government pensioners, planters, Presidency shopkeepers, and
missionaries. A few were cadets of the old Eurasian houses that have taken
strong root in Dhurrumtollah - Pereiras, De Souzas, and D'Silvas. Their
parents could well have educated them in England, but they loved the school
that had served their own youth, and generation followed sallow- hued
generation at St Xavier's. Their homes ranged from Howrah of the railway
people to abandoned cantonments like Monghyr and Chunar; lost tea-gardens
Shillong-way; villages where their fathers were large landholders in Oudh or
the Deccan; Mission-stations a week from the nearest railway line; seaports
a thousand miles south, facing the brazen Indian surf; and
cinchona-plantations south of all. The mere story of their adventures, which
to them were no adventures, on their road to and from school would have
crisped a Western boy's hair. They were used to jogging off alone
through a hundred miles of jungle, where there was always the delightful
chance of being delayed by tigers; but they would no more have bathed in the
English Channel in an English August than their brothers across the world
would have lain still while a leopard snuffed at their palanquin.
There were boys of fifteen who had spent a day and a half on an islet
in the middle of a flooded river, taking charge, as by right, of a camp of
frantic pilgrims returning from a shrine. There were seniors who had
requisitioned a chance-met Rajah's elephant, in the name of St Francis
Xavier, when the Rains once blotted out the cart-track that led to their
father's estate, and had all but lost the huge beast in a quicksand. There
was a boy who, he said, and none doubted, had helped his father to beat off
with rifles from the veranda a rush of Akas in the days when those
head-hunters were bold against lonely plantations.
And every tale was told in the
even, passionless voice of the native-born, mixed with quaint reflections,
borrowed unconsciously from native foster-mothers, and turns of speech that
showed they had been that instant translated from the vernacular. Kim
watched, listened, and approved. This was not insipid, single-word talk of
drummer-boys. It dealt with a life he knew and in part understood. The
atmosphere suited him, and he throve by inches. They gave him a white drill
suit as the weather warmed, and he rejoiced in the new- found bodily
comforts as he rejoiced to use his sharpened mind over the tasks they set
him. His quickness would have delighted an English master; but at St
Xavier's they know the first rush of minds developed by sun and
surroundings, as they know the half- collapse that sets in at twenty-two or
None the less he remembered to
hold himself lowly. When tales were told of hot nights, Kim did not sweep
the board with his reminiscences; for St Xavier's looks down on boys who 'go
native all-together.' One must never forget that one is a Sahib, and that
some day, when examinations are passed, one will command natives. Kim made a
note of this, for he began to understand where examinations led.
Then came the holidays from
August to October - the long holidays imposed by the heat and the Rains. Kim
was informed that he would go north to some station in the hills behind
Umballa, where Father Victor would arrange for him.
'A barrack-school?' said Kim, who
had asked many questions and thought more.
'Yes, I suppose so,' said the
master. 'It will not do you any harm to keep you out of mischief. You can go
up with young De Castro as far as Delhi.'
Kim considered it in every
possible light. He had been diligent, even as the Colonel advised. A boy's
holiday was his own property - of so much the talk of his companions had
advised him, - and a barrack-school would be torment after St Xavier's.
Moreover - this was magic worth anything else - he could write. In three
months he had discovered how men can speak to each other without a third
party, at the cost of half an anna and a little knowledge. No word had come
from the lama, but there remained the Road. Kim yearned for the caress of
soft mud squishing up between the toes, as his mouth watered for mutton
stewed with butter and cabbages, for rice speckled with strong scented
cardamoms, for the saffron-tinted rice, garlic and onions, and the forbidden
greasy sweetmeats of the bazars. They would feed him raw beef on a platter
at the barrack- school, and he must smoke by stealth. But again, he was a
Sahib and was at St Xavier's, and that pig Mahbub Ali ... No, he would not
test Mahbub's hospitality - and yet ... He thought
it out alone in the dormitory,
and came to the conclusion he had been unjust to Mahbub.
The school was empty; nearly all
the masters had gone away; Colonel Creighton 's railway pass lay in his
hand, and Kim puffed himself that he had not spent Colonel Creighton 's or
Mahbub's money in riotous living. He was still lord of two rupees seven
annas. His new bullock-trunk, marked 'K. O'H.', and bedding-roll lay in the
empty sleeping-room. 'Sahibs are always tied to their baggage,' said Kim,
nodding at them. 'You will stay here' He went out into the warm rain,
smiling sinfully, and sought a certain house whose outside he had noted down
some time before. . .
'Arre'! Dost thou know what
manner of women we be in this quarter? Oh, shame!'
'Was I born yesterday?' Kim squatted native-fashion on the cushions
of that upper room. 'A little dyestuff and three yards of cloth to help out
a jest. Is it much to ask?'
'Who is she? Thou art full young,
as Sahibs go, for this devilry.'
'Oh, she? She is the daughter of
a certain schoolmaster of a
regiment in the cantonments. He
has beaten me twice because I
went over their wall in these
clothes. Now I would go as a
gardener's boy. Old men are very
'That is true. Hold thy face
still while I dab on the juice.'
'Not too black, Naikan.
I would not appear to her as a hubshi [nigger).'
'Oh, love makes nought of these
things. And how old is she?'
'Twelve years, I think,' said the
shameless Kim. 'Spread it also on the breast. It may be her father will tear
my clothes off me, and if I am piebald -' he laughed.
The girl worked busily, dabbing a
twist of cloth into a little saucer of brown dye that holds longer than any
'Now send out and get me a cloth
for the turban. Woe is me, my head is all unshaved! And he will surely knock
off my turban.'
'I am not a barber, but I will
make shift. Thou wast born to be a breaker of hearts! All this disguise for
one evening? Remember, the stuff does not wash away.' She shook with
laughter till her bracelets and anklets jingled. 'But who is to pay me for
this? Huneefa herself could not have given thee better stuff.'
'Trust in the Gods, my sister,'
said Kim gravely, screwing his face round as the stain dried. 'Besides, hast
thou ever helped to paint a Sahib thus before?'
'Never indeed. But a jest is not
'It is worth much more.'
'Child, thou art beyond all
dispute the most shameless son of Shaitan
that I have ever known to take up a poor girl's time with this play,
and then to say: "Is not the jest enough?" Thou wilt go very far
in this world.' She gave the dancing-girls' salutation in mockery.
'All one. Make haste and
rough-cut my head.' Kim shifted from foot to foot, his eyes ablaze with
mirth as he thought of the fat days before him. He gave the girl four annas,
and ran down the stairs in the likeness of a low-caste Hindu boy -perfect in
every detail. A cookshop was his next point of call, where he feasted in
extravagance and greasy luxury.
On Lucknow station platform he
watched young De Castro, all covered with prickly-heat, get into a
second-class compartment. Kim patronized a third, and was the life and soul
of it. He explained to the company that he was assistant to a juggler who
had left him behind sick with fever, and that he would pick up his master at
Umballa. As the occupants of the carriage changed, he varied this tale, or
adorned it with all the shoots of a budding fancy, the more rampant for
being held off native speech so long. In all India that night was no human
being so joyful as Kim. At Umballa he got out and headed eastward, plashing
over the sodden fields to the village where the old soldier lived.
About this time Colonel Creighton
at Simla was advised from Lucknow by wire that young O'Hara had disappeared.
Mahbub Ali was in town selling horses, and to him the Colonel confided the
affair one morning cantering round Annandale racecourse.
'Oh, that is nothing,' said the
horse-dealer. 'Men are like horses. At certain times they need salt, and if
that salt is not in the mangers they will lick it up from the earth. He has
gone back to the Road again for a while. The madrissak wearied him. I knew
it would. Another time, I will take him upon the Road myself. Do not be
troubled, Creighton Sahib. It is as though a polo-pony, breaking loose, ran
out to learn the game alone.'
'Then he is not dead, think you?'
'Fever might kill him. I do not
fear for the boy otherwise. A monkey does not fall among trees.'
Next morning, on the same course,
Mahbub's stallion ranged alongside the Colonel.
'It is as I had thought,' said
the horse-dealer. 'He has come through Umballa at least, and there he has
written a letter to me, having learned in the bazar that I was here.'
'Read,' said the Colonel, with a
sigh of relief. It was absurd that a man of his position should take an
interest in a little country- bred vagabond; but the Colonel remembered the
conversation in the train, and often in the past few months had caught
himself thinking of the queer, silent, self-possessed boy. His evasion, of
course, was the height of insolence, but it argued some resource and nerve.
Mahbub's eyes twinkled as he
reined out into the centre of the cramped little plain, where none could
come near unseen.
'"The Friend of the Stars,
who is the Friend of all the World-"'
'What is this?'
'A name we give him in Lahore
city. "The Friend of all the World takes leave to go to his own places.
He will come back upon the appointed day. Let the box and the bedding-roll
be sent for; and if there has been a fault, let the Hand of Friendship turn
aside the Whip of Calamity." There is yet a little more, but-'
'No matter, read.'
'"Certain things are not
known to those who eat with forks. It is better to eat with both hands for a
while. Speak soft words to those who do not understand this that the return
may be propitious." Now the manner in which that was cast is, of
course, the work of the letter-writer, but see how wisely the boy has
devised the matter of it so that no hint is given except to those who know!'
'Is this the Hand of Friendship
to avert the Whip of Calamity?' laughed the Colonel.
'See how wise is the boy. He
would go back to the Road again, as I said. Not knowing yet thy trade -'
'I am not at all sure of that,'
the Colonel muttered.
'He turns to me to make a peace
between you. Is he not wise? He says he will return. He is but perfecting
his knowledge. Think, Sahib! He has been three months at the school. And he
is not mouthed to that bit. For my part, I rejoice. The pony learns the
'Ay, but another time he must not
'Why? He went alone before he
came under the Colonel Sahib's protection. When he comes to the Great Game
he must go alone - alone, and at peril of his head. Then, if he spits, or
sneezes, or sits down other than as the people do whom he watches, he may be
slain. Why hinder him now? Remember how the Persians say: The jackal that
lives in the wilds of Mazanderan can only be caught by
the hounds of Mazanderan.'
'True. It is true, Mahbub Ali.
And if he comes to no harm, I do not desire anything better. But it is great
insolence on his part.'
'He does not tell me, even,
whither he goes,' said Mahbub. 'He is no fool. When his time is accomplished
he will come to me. It is time the healer of pearls took him in hand. He
ripens too quickly - as Sahibs reckon.'
This prophecy was fulfilled to
the letter a month later. Mahbub had gone down to Umballa to bring up a
fresh consignment of horses, and Kim met him on the Kalka road
at dusk riding alone, begged an alms of him, was sworn at, and
replied in English. There was nobody within earshot to hear Mahbub's gasp of
'Oho! And where hast thou been?'
'Up and down - down and up.'
'Come under a tree, out of the
wet, and tell.' 'I stayed for a while with an old man near Umballa; anon
with a household of my acquaintance in Umballa. With one of these I went as
far as Delhi to the southward. That is a wondrous city. Then I drove a
bullock for a teli [an oilman] coming north; but I heard of a great feast
forward in Patiala, and thither went I in the company of a firework-maker.
It was a great feast' (Kim rubbed his stomach). 'I saw Rajahs, and elephants
with gold and silver trappings; and they lit all the fireworks at once,
whereby eleven men were killed, my fire-work-maker among them, and I was
blown across a tent but took no harm. Then I came back to the rel with a
Sikh horseman, to whom I was groom for my bread; and so here.'
'Shabash!' said Mahbub Ali.
'But what does the Colonel Sahib
say? I do not wish to be beaten.
'The Hand of Friendship has
averted the Whip of Calamity; but another time, when thou takest the Road it
will be with me. This is too early.'
'Late enough for me. I have
learned to read and to write English a little at the madrissah. I shall soon
be altogether a Sahib.'
'Hear him!' laughed Mahbub,
looking at the little drenched figure dancing in the wet. 'Salaam - Sahib,'
and he saluted ironically. 'Well, art tired of the Road, or wilt thou come
on to Umballa with me and work back with the horses?'
'I come with thee, Mahbub Ali.'
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