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Kim, by Rudyard Kipling
'Then in God's name take blue for
red,' said Mahbub, alluding to the Hindu colour of Kim's disreputable
Kim countered with the old
proverb, 'I will change my faith and my bedding, but thou must pay for it.'
The dealer laughed till he nearly
fell from his horse. At a shop on the outskirts of the city the change was
made, and Kim stood up, externally at least, a Mohammedan.
Mahbub hired a room over against
the railway station, sent for a cooked meal of the finest with the
almond-curd sweet-meats [balushai we call it] and fine-chopped Lucknow
'This is better than some other
meat that I ate with the Sikh,' said Kim, grinning as he squatted, 'and
assuredly they give no such victuals at my madrissah.'
'I have a desire to hear of that
same madrissah.' Mahbub stuffed himself with great boluses of spiced mutton
fried in fat with cabbage and golden-brown onions. 'But tell me first,
altogether and truthfully, the manner of thy escape. For, O Friend of all
the World,' - he loosed his
cracking belt - 'I do not think it is often that a Sahib and the son of a
Sahib runs away from there.'
'How should they? They do not
know the land. It was nothing,' said Kim, and began his tale. When he came
to the disguisement and the interview with the girl in the bazar, Mahbub
Ali's gravity went from him. He laughed aloud and beat his hand on his
'Shabash! Shabash! Oh, well done,
little one! What will the healer of turquoises say to this? Now, slowly, let
us hear what befell afterwards - step by step, omitting nothing.'
Step by step then, Kim told his
adventures between coughs as the full-flavoured tobacco caught his lungs.
'I said,' growled Mahbub Ali to
himself, 'I said it was the pony breaking out to play polo. The fruit is
ripe already -except that he must learn his distances and his pacings, and
his rods and his compasses. Listen now. I have turned aside the Colonel's
whip from thy skin, and that is no small service.'
'True.' Kim pulled serenely.
'That is true.'
'But it is not to be thought that
this running out and in is any way good.'
'It was my holiday, Hajji. I was
a slave for many weeks. Why should I not run away when the school was shut?
Look, too, how I, living upon my friends or working for my bread, as I did
with the Sikh, have saved the Colonel Sahib a great expense.'
Mahbub's lips twitched under his
well-pruned Mohammedan moustache.
'What are a few rupees' - the
Pathan threw out his open hand carelessly - 'to the Colonel Sahib? He spends
them for a purpose, not in any way for love of thee.'
'That,' said Kim slowly, 'I knew
a very long time ago.'
'The Colonel Sahib himself. Not
in those many words, but plainly enough for one who is not altogether a
mud-head. Yea, he told me in the te-rain when we went down to Lucknow.'
'Be it so. Then I will tell thee
more, Friend of all the World, though in the telling I lend thee my head.'
'It was forfeit to me,' said Kim,
with deep relish, 'in Umballa, when thou didst pick me up on the horse after
the drummer-boy beat me.'
'Speak a little plainer. All the
world may tell lies save thou and I. For equally is thy life forfeit to me
if I chose to raise my finger here.'
'And this is known to me also,'
said Kim, readjusting the live charcoal-ball on the weed. 'It is a very sure
tie between us. Indeed, thy hold is surer even than mine; for who would miss
a boy beaten to death, or, it may be, thrown into a well by the roadside?
Most people here and in Simla and across the passes behind the Hills would,
on the other hand, say: "What has come to Mahbub Ali?" if he were
found dead among his horses. Surely, too, the Colonel Sahib would make
inquiries. But again,'-
Kim's face puckered with cunning, - 'he would not make overlong
inquiry, lest people should ask: "What has this Colonel Sahib to do
with that horse-dealer?" But I - if I lived -,
'As thou wouldst surely die -,
'Maybe; but I say, if I lived, I,
and I alone, would know that one had come by night, as a common thief
perhaps, to Mahbub Ali's bulkhead in the serai, and there had slain him,
either before or after that thief had made a full search into his saddlebags
and between the soles of his slippers. Is that news to tell to the Colonel,
or would he say to me - (I have not forgotten when he sent me back for a
cigar-case that he had not left behind him) - "What is Mahbub Ali to
Up went a gout of heavy smoke.
There was a long pause: then Mahbub Ali spoke in admiration: 'And with these
things on thy mind, dost thou lie down and rise again among all the Sahibs'
little sons at the madrissah and meekly take instruction from thy teachers?'
'It is an order,' said Kim
blandly. 'Who am I to dispute an order?'
'A most finished Son of Eblis,'
said Mahbub Ali. 'But what is this tale of the thief and the search?'
'That which I saw,' said Kim,
'the night that my lama and I lay next thy place in the Kashmir Seral. The
door was left unlocked, which I think is not thy custom, Mahbub. He came in
as one assured that thou wouldst not soon return. My eye was against a
knot-hole in the plank. He searched as it were for something - not a rug,
not stirrups, nor a bridle, nor brass pots- something little and most
carefully hid. Else why did he prick with an iron between the soles of thy
'Ha!' Mahbub Ali smiled gently.
'And seeing these things, what tale didst thou fashion to thyself, Well of
'None. I put my hand upon my
amulet, which lies always next to my skin, and, remembering the pedigree of
a white stallion that I had bitten out of a piece of Mussalmani bread, I
went away to Umballa perceiving that a heavy trust was laid upon me. At that
hour, had I chosen, thy head was forfeit. It needed only to say to that man,
"I have here a paper concerning a horse which I cannot read." And
then?' Kim peered at Mahbub under his eyebrows.
'Then thou wouldst have drunk
water twice - perhaps thrice, afterwards. I do not think more than thrice,'
said Mahbub simply.
'It is true. I thought of that a
little, but most I thought that I loved thee, Mahbub. Therefore I went to
Umballa, as thou knowest, but (and this thou dost not know) I lay hid in the
garden-grass to see what Colonel Creighton Sahib might do upon reading the
white stallion's pedigree.'
'And what did he?' for Kim had
bitten off the conversation.
'Dost thou give news for love, or
dost thou sell it?' Kim asked.
'I sell and - I buy.' Mahbub took
a four-anna piece out of his belt and held it up.
'Eight!' said Kim, mechanically
following the huckster instinct of the East.
Mahbub laughed, and put away the
coin. It is too easy to deal in that market, Friend of all the World. Tell
me for love. Our lives lie in each other's hand.'
'Very good. I saw the Jang-i-Lat
Sahib [the Commander-in-Chief] come to a big dinner. I saw him in Creighton
Sahib's office. I saw the two read the white stallion's pedigree. I heard
the very orders given for the opening of a great war.'
'Hah!' Mahbub nodded with deepest
eyes afire. 'The game is well played. That war is done now, and the evil, we
hope, nipped before the flower- thanks to me - and thee. What didst thou
'I made the news as it were a
hook to catch me victual and honour among the villagers in a village whose
priest drugged my lama. But I bore away the old man's purse, and the Brahmin
found nothing. So next morning he was angry. Ho! Ho! And I also used the
news when I fell into the hands of that white Regiment with their Bull!'
'That was foolishness.' Mahbub
scowled. 'News is not meant to be thrown about like dung-cakes, but used
sparingly - like bhang.'
'So I think now, and moreover, it
did me no sort of good. But that was very long ago,'
he made as to brush it all away with a thin brown hand - 'and since
then, and especially in the nights under the punkah at the madrissah, I have
thought very greatly.'
'Is it permitted to ask whither
the Heaven-born's thought might have led?' said Mahbub, with an elaborate
sarcasm, smoothing his scarlet beard.
'It is permitted,' said Kim, and
threw back the very tone. 'They say at Nucklao that no Sahib must tell a
black man that he has made a fault.'
Mahbub's hand shot into his
bosom, for to call a Pathan a 'black man' [kala admi] is a blood-insult.
Then he remembered and laughed. 'Speak, Sahib. Thy black man hears.'
'But,' said Kim, 'I am not a
Sahib, and I say I made a fault to curse thee, Mahbub Ali, on that day at
Umballa when I thought I was betrayed by a Pathan. I was senseless; for I
was but newly caught, and I wished to kill that low-caste drummer-boy. I say
now, Hajji, that it was well done; and I see my road all clear before me to
a good service. I will stay in the madrissah till I am ripe.'
'Well said. Especially are
distances and numbers and the manner of using compasses to be learned in
that game. One waits in the Hills above to show thee.'
'I will learn their teaching upon
a condition - that my time is given to me without question when the
madrissah is shut. Ask that for me of the Colonel.'
'But why not ask the Colonel in
the Sahibs' tongue?'
'The Colonel is the servant of
the Government. He is sent hither and yon at a word, and must consider his
own advancement. (See how much I have already learned at Nucklao!) Moreover,
the Colonel I know since three months only. I have known one Mahbub Ali for
six years. So! To the madrissah I will go. At the madrissah I will learn. In
the madrissah I will be a Sahib. But when the madrissah is shut, then must I
be free and go among my people. Otherwise I die!'
'And who are thy people, Friend
of all the World?'
'This great and beautiful land,'
said Kim, waving his paw round the little clay-walled room where the
oil-lamp in its niche burned heavily through the tobacco-smoke. 'And,
further, I would see my lama again. And, further, I need money.'
'That is the need of everyone,'
said Mahbub ruefully. 'I will give thee eight annas, for much money is not
picked out of horses' hooves, and it must suffice for many days. As to all
the rest, I am well pleased, and no further talk is needed. Make haste to
learn, and in three years, or it may be less, thou wilt be an aid - even to
'Have I been such a hindrance
till now?' said Kim, with a boy's giggle.
'Do not give answers,' Mahbub
grunted. 'Thou art my new horse-boy. Go and bed among my men. They are near
the north end of the station, with the horses.'
'They will beat me to the south
end of the station if I come without authority.'
Mahbub felt in his belt, wetted
his thumb on a cake of Chinese ink, and dabbed the impression on a piece of
soft native paper. From Balkh to Bombay men know that rough-ridged print
with the old scar running diagonally across it.
'That is enough to show my
headman. I come in the morning.'
'By which road?' said Kim.
'By the road from the city. There
is but one, and then we return to Creighton Sahib. I have saved thee a
'Allah! What is a beating when
the very head is loose on the shoulders?'
Kim slid out quietly into the
night, walked half round the house, keeping close to the walls, and headed
away from the station for a mile or so. Then, fetching a wide compass, he
worked back at leisure, for he needed time to invent a story if any of
Mahbub's retainers asked questions.
They were camped on a piece of
waste ground beside the railway, and, being natives, had not, of course,
unloaded the two trucks in which Mahbub's animals stood among a consignment
of country-breds bought by the Bombay tram-company. The headman, a
broken-down, consumptive-looking Mohammedan, promptly challenged Kim, but
was pacified at sight of Mahbub's sign-manual.
'The Hajji has of his favour
given me service,' said Kim testily. 'If this be doubted, wait till he comes
in the morning. Meantime, a place by the fire.'
Followed the usual aimless babble
that every low-caste native must raise on every occasion. It died down, and
Kim lay out behind the little knot of Mahbub's followers, almost under the
wheels of a horse-truck, a borrowed blanket for covering. Now a bed among
brickbats and ballast-refuse on a damp night, between overcrowded horses and
unwashed Baltis, would not appeal to many white boys; but Kim was utterly
happy. Change of scene, service, and surroundings were the breath of his
little nostrils, and thinking of the neat white cots of St Xavier's all arow
under the punkah gave him joy as keen as the repetition of the
multiplication-table in English.
'I am very old,' he thought
sleepily. 'Every month I become a year more old. I was very young, and a
fool to boot, when I took Mahbub's message to Umballa. Even when I was with
that white Regiment I was very young and small and had no wisdom. But now I
learn every day, and in three years the Colonel will take me out of the
madrissah and let me go upon the Road with Mahbub hunting for horses'
pedigrees, or maybe I shall go by myself; or maybe I shall find the lama and
go with him. Yes; that is best. To walk again as a chela with my lama when
he comes back to Benares.' The thoughts came more slowly and disconnectedly.
He was plunging into a beautiful dreamland when his ears caught a whisper,
thin and sharp, above the monotonous babble round the fire. It came from
behind the iron-skinned
'He is not here, then?'
'Where should he be but
roystering in the city. Who looks for a rat in a frog-pond? Come away. He is
not our man.'
'He must not go back beyond the
Passes a second time. It is the order.'
'Hire some woman to drug him. It
is a few rupees only, and there is no evidence.'
'Except the woman. It must be
more certain; and remember the price upon his head.'
'Ay, but the police have a long
arm, and we are far from the Border. If it were in Peshawur, now!'
'Yes - in Peshawur,' the second
voice sneered. 'Peshawur, full of his blood-kin - full of bolt-holes and
women behind whose clothes he will hide. Yes, Peshawur or Jehannum would
suit us equally well.'
'Then what is the plan?'
'O fool, have I not told it a
hundred times? Wait till he comes to lie down, and then one sure shot. The
trucks are between us and pursuit. We have but to run back over the lines
and go our way. They will not see whence the shot came. Wait here at least
till the dawn. What manner of fakir art thou, to shiver at a little
'Oho!' thought Kim, behind
close-shut eyes. 'Once again it is Mahbub. Indeed a white stallion's
pedigree is not a good thing to peddle to Sahibs! Or maybe Mahbub has been
selling other news. Now what is to do, Kim? I know not where Mahbub houses,
and if he comes here before the dawn they will shoot him. That would be no
profit for thee, Kim. And this is not a matter for the police. That would be
no profit for Mahbub; and' - he giggled almost aloud - 'I do not remember
any lesson at Nucklao which will help me. Allah! Here is Kim and yonder are
they. First, then, Kim must wake and go away, so that they shall not
suspect. A bad dream wakes a man - thus -,
He threw the blanket off his
face, and raised himself suddenly with the terrible, bubbling, meaningless
yell of the Asiatic roused by nightmare.
Narain! The churel! The churel!'
A churel is the peculiarly
malignant ghost of a woman who has died in child-bed. She haunts lonely
roads, her feet are turned backwards on the ankles, and she leads men to
Louder rose Kim's quavering howl,
till at last he leaped to his feet and staggered off sleepily, while the
camp cursed him for waking them. Some twenty yards farther up the line he
lay down again, taking care that the whisperers should hear his grunts and
groans as he recomposed himself. After a few minutes he rolled towards the
road and stole away into the thick darkness.
He paddled along swiftly till he
came to a culvert, and dropped behind it, his chin on a level with the
coping-stone. Here he could command all the night-traffic, himself unseen.
Two or three carts passed,
jingling out to the suburbs; a coughing policeman and a hurrying
foot-passenger or two who sang to keep off evil spirits. Then rapped the
shod feet of a horse.
'Ah! This is more like Mahbub,'
thought Kim, as the beast shied at the little head above the culvert.
'Ohe', Mahbub Ali,' he whispered,
'have a care!'
The horse was reined back almost
on its haunches, and forced towards the culvert.
'Never again,' said Mahbub, 'will
I take a shod horse for night- work. They pick up all the bones and nails in
the city.' He stooped to lift its forefoot, and that brought his head within
a foot of Kim's. Down - keep down,' he muttered. 'The
night is full of eyes.'
'Two men wait thy coming behind
the horse-trucks. They will shoot thee at thy lying down, because there is a
price on thy head. I heard, sleeping near the horses.'
'Didst thou see them? . .. Hold
still, Sire of Devils!' This furiously to the horse.
'Was one dressed belike as a
'One said to the other,
"What manner of fakir art thou, to shiver at a little watching?"'
'Good. Go back to the camp and
lie down. I do not die tonight.'
Mahbub wheeled his horse and
vanished. Kim tore back down the ditch till he reached a point opposite his
second resting-place, slipped across the road like a weasel, and re-coiled
himself in the blanket.
'At least Mahbub knows,' he
thought contentedly. 'And certainly he spoke as one expecting it. I do not
think those two men will profit by tonight's watch.'
An hour passed, and, with the
best will in the world to keep awake all night, he slept deeply. Now and
again a night train roared along the metals within twenty feet of him; but
he had all the Oriental's indifference to mere noise, and it did not even
weave a dream through his slumber.
Mahbub was anything but asleep.
It annoyed him vehemently that people outside his tribe and unaffected by
his casual amours should pursue him for the life. His first and natural
impulse was to cross the line lower down, work up again, and, catching his
well-wishers from behind, summarily slay them. Here, he reflected with
sorrow, another branch of the Government, totally unconnected with Colonel
Creighton, might demand explanations which would be hard to supply; and he
knew that south of the Border a perfectly ridiculous fuss is made about a
corpse or so. He had not been troubled in this way since he sent Kim to
Umballa with the message, and hoped that suspicion had been finally
Then a most brilliant notion
'The English do eternally tell
the truth,' he said, 'therefore we of this country are eternally made
foolish. By Allah, I will tell the truth to an Englishman! Of what use is
the Government police if a poor Kabuli be robbed of his horses in their very
trucks. This is as bad as Peshawur! I should lay a complaint at the station.
Better still, some young Sahib on the Railway! They are zealous, and if they
catch thieves it is remembered to their honour.'
He tied up his horse outside the
station, and strode on to the platform.
'Hullo, Mahbub Ali' said a young
Assistant District Traffic Superintendent who was waiting to go down the
line - a tall, tow- haired, horsey youth in dingy white linen. 'What are you
doing here? Selling weeds - eh?'
'No; I am not troubled for my
horses. I come to look for Lutuf Ullah. I have a truck-load up the line.
Could anyone take them out without the Railway's knowledge?'
'Shouldn't think so, Mahbub. You
can claim against us if they do.'
'I have seen two men crouching
under the wheels of one of the trucks nearly all night. Fakirs do not steal
horses, so I gave them no more thought. I would find Lutuf Ullah, my
'The deuce you did? And you
didn't bother your head about it? 'Pon my word, it's just almost as well
that I met you. What were they like, eh?'
'They were only fakirs. They will
no more than take a little grain, perhaps, from one of the trucks. There are
many up the line. The State will never miss the dole. I came here seeking
for my partner, Lutuf Ullah
'Never mind your partner. Where
are your horse-trucks?'
'A little to this side of the
farthest place where they make lamps for the trains.'
'The signal-box! Yes.'
'And upon the rail nearest to the
road upon the right-hand side - looking up the line thus. But as regards
Lutuf Ullah - a tall man with a broken nose, and a Persian greyhound
The boy had hurried off to wake
up a young and enthusiastic policeman; for, as he said, the Railway had
suffered much from depredations in the goods-yard. Mahbub Ali chuckled in
his dyed beard.
'They will walk in their boots,
making a noise, and then they will wonder why there are no fakirs. They are
very clever boys--Barton Sahib and Young Sahib.'
He waited idly for a few minutes,
expecting to see them hurry up the line girt for action. A light engine slid
through the station, and he caught a glimpse of young.Barton in the cab.
'I did that child an injustice.
He is not altogether a fool,' said Mahbub Ali. 'To take a fire-carriage for
a thief is a new game!'
When Mahbub Ali came to his camp
in the dawn, no one thought it worth while to tell him any news of the
night. No one, at least, but one small horseboy, newly advanced to the great
man's service, whom Mahbub called to his tiny tent to assist in some
'It is all known to me,'
whispered Kim, bending above saddlebags. 'Two Sahibs came up on a te-train.
I was running to and fro in the dark on this side of the trucks as the te-train
moved up and down slowly. They fell upon two men sitting under this truck -
Hajji, what shall I do with this lump of tobacco? Wrap it in paper and put
it under the salt-bag? Yes - and struck them down. But one man struck at a
Sahib with a fakir's buck's horn' (Kim meant the conjoined black-buck horns,
which are a fakir's sole temporal weapon) - 'the blood came. So the other
Sahib, first smiting his own man senseless, smote the stabber with a short
gun which had rolled from the first man's hand. They all raged as though mad
Mahbub smiled with heavenly
resignation. 'No! That is not so much dewanee [madness, or a case for the
civil court - the word can be punned upon both ways] as nizamut [a criminal
case]. A gun, sayest thou? Ten good years in jail.'
'Then they both lay still, but I
think they were nearly dead when they were put on the te-train. Their heads
moved thus. And there is much blood on the line. Come and see?'
'I have seen blood before. Jail
is the sure place - and assuredly they will give false names, and assuredly
no man will find them for a long time. They were unfriends of mine. Thy fate
and mine seem on one string. What a tale for the healer of pearls! Now
swiftly with the saddle-bags and the cooking-platter. We will take out the
horses and away to Simla.'
Swiftly - as Orientals understand
speed - with long explanations, with abuse and windy talk, carelessly, amid
a hundred checks for little things forgotten, the untidy camp broke up and
led the half- dozen stiff and fretful horses along the Kalka road in the
fresh of the rain-swept dawn. Kim, regarded as Mahbub Ali's favourite by all
who wished to stand well with the Pathan, was not called upon to work. They
strolled on by the easiest of stages, halting every few hours at a wayside
shelter. Very many Sahibs travel along the Kalka road; and, as Mahbub Ali
says, every young Sahib must needs esteem himself a judge of a horse, and,
though he be over head in debt to the money-lender, must make as if to buy.
That was the reason that Sahib after Sahib, rolling along in a
stage-carriage, would stop and open talk. Some would even descend from their
vehicles and feel the horses' legs; asking inane questions, or, through
sheer ignorance of the vernacular, grossly insulting the imperturbable
'When first I dealt with Sahibs,
and that was when Colonel Soady Sahib was Governor of Fort Abazai and
flooded the Commissioner's camping-ground for spite,' Mahbub confided to Kim
as the boy filled his pipe under a tree, 'I did not know how greatly they
were fools, and this made me wroth. As thus -, and he told Kim a tale of an
expression, misused in all innocence, that doubled Kim up with mirth. 'Now I
see, however,' - he exhaled smoke slowly - 'that it is with them as with all
men - in certain matters they are wise, and in others most foolish. Very
foolish it is to use the wrong word to a stranger; for though the heart may
be clean of offence, how is the stranger to know that? He is more like to
search truth with a dagger.'
'True. True talk,' said Kim
solemnly. 'Fools speak of a cat when a woman is brought to bed, for
instance. I have heard them.'
'Therefore, in one situate as
thou art, it particularly behoves thee to remember this with both kinds of
faces. Among Sahibs, never forgetting thou art a Sahib; among the folk of
Hind, always remembering thou art -' He paused, with a puzzled smile.
'What am I? Mussalman, Hindu,
Jain, or Buddhist? That is a hard knot.'
'Thou art beyond question an
unbeliever, and therefore thou wilt be damned. So says my Law - or I think
it does. But thou art also my Little Friend of all the World, and I love
thee. So says my heart. This matter of creeds is like horseflesh. The wise
man knows horses are good - that there is a profit to be made from all; and
for myself- but that I am a good Sunni and hate the men of Tirah
- I could believe the same of all the Faiths. Now manifestly a
Kathiawar mare taken from the sands of her birthplace and removed to the
west of Bengal founders - nor is even a Balkh stallion (and there are no
better horses than those of Balkh, were they not so heavy in the shoulder)
of any account in the great Northern deserts beside the snow-camels I have
seen. Therefore I say in my heart the Faiths are like the horses. Each has
merit in its own country.'
'But my lama said altogether a
'Oh, he is an old dreamer of
dreams from Bhotiyal. My heart is a little angry, Friend of all the World,
that thou shouldst see such worth in a man so little known.'
'It is true, Hajji; but that
worth do I see, and to him my heart is drawn.'
'And his to thine, I hear. Hearts
are like horses. They come and they go against bit or spur. Shout Gul Sher
Khan yonder to drive in that bay stallion's pickets more firmly. We do not
want a horse- fight at every resting-stage, and the dun and the black will
be locked in a little . . . Now
hear me. Is it necessary to the comfort of thy heart to see that lama?'
'It is one part of my bond,' said
Kim. 'If I do not see him, and if he is taken from me, I will go out of that
madrissah in Nucklao and, and - once gone, who is to find me again?'
'It is true. Never was colt held
on a lighter heel-rope than thou.' Mahbub nodded his head.
'Do not be afraid.' Kim spoke as
though he could have evanished on the moment. 'My lama has said that he will
come to see me at the madrissah -,
'A beggar and his bowl in the
presence of those young Sa -'
'Not all!' Kim cut in with a
snort. 'Their eyes are blued and their nails are blackened with low-caste
blood, many of them. Sons of mehteranees - brothers-in-law to the bhungi
We need not follow the rest of
the pedigree; but Kim made his little point clearly and without heat,
chewing a piece of sugar- cane the while.
'Friend of all the World,' said
Mahbub, pushing over the pipe for the boy to clean, 'I have met many men,
women, and boys, and not a few Sahibs. I have never in all my days met such
an imp as thou art.'
'And why? When I always tell thee
'Perhaps the very reason, for
this is a world of danger to honest men.' Mahbub Ali hauled himself off the
ground, girt in his belt, and went over to the horses.
'Or sell it?'
There was that in the tone that
made Mahbub halt and turn. 'What new devilry?'
'Eight annas, and I will tell,'
said Kim, grinning. 'It touches thy peace.'
'O Shaitan!' Mahbub gave the
'Rememberest thou the little
business of the thieves in the dark, down yonder at Umballa?'
'Seeing they sought my life, I
have not altogether forgotten. Why?'
'Rememberest thou the Kashmir
'I will twist thy ears in a
moment - Sahib.'
'No need - Pathan. Only, the
second fakir, whom the Sahibs beat senseless, was the man who came to search
thy bulkhead at Lahore. I saw his face as they helped him on the engine. The
very same man.'
'Why didst thou not tell before?'
'Oh, he will go to jail, and be
safe for some years. There is no need to tell more than is necessary at any
one time. Besides, I did not then need money for sweetmeats.'
'Allah kerim!' said Mahbub Ah.
'Wilt thou some day sell my head for a few sweetmeats if the fit takes
Kim will remember till he dies
that long, lazy journey from Umballa, through Kalka and the Pinjore Gardens
near by, up to Simla. A sudden
spate in the Gugger River swept down one horse (the most valuable, be sure),
and nearly drowned Kim among the dancing boulders. Farther up the road the
horses were stampeded by a Government elephant, and being in high condition
of grass food, it cost a day and a half to get them together again. Then
they met Sikandar Khan coming down with a few unsaleable screws - remnants
of his string -and Mahbub, who has more of horse-coping in his little
fingernail than Sikandar Khan in all his tents, must needs buy two of the
worst, and that meant eight hours' laborious diplomacy and untold tobacco.
But it was all pure delight - the wandering road, climbing, dipping, and
sweeping about the growing spurs; the flush of the morning laid along the
distant snows; the branched cacti, tier upon tier on the stony hillsides;
the voices of a thousand water-channels; the chatter of the monkeys; the
solemn deodars, climbing one after another with down-drooped branches; the
vista of the Plains rolled out far beneath them; the incessant twanging of
the tonga-horns and the wild rush of the led horses when a tonga swung round
a curve; the halts for prayers (Mahbub was very religious in dry-washings
and bellowings when time did not press); the evening conferences by the
halting-places, when camels and bullocks chewed solemnly together and the
stolid drivers told the news of the Road - all these things lifted Kim's
heart to song within him.
'But, when the singing and
dancing is done,' said Mahbub Ali, 'comes the Colonel Sahib's, and that is
not so sweet.'
'A fair land - a most beautiful
land is this of Hind - and the land of the Five Rivers is fairer than all,'
Kim half chanted. 'Into it I will go again if Mahbub Ali or the Colonel lift
hand or foot against me. Once gone, who shall find me? Look, Hajji, is
yonder the city of Simla? Allah, what a city!'
'My father's brother, and he was
an old man when Mackerson Sahib's well
was new at Peshawur, could recall when there were but two houses in it.
He led the horses below the main
road into the lower Simla bazar - the crowded rabbit-warren that climbs up
from the valley to the Town Hall at an angle of forty-five. A man who knows
his way there can defy all the police of India's summer capital, so
cunningly does veranda communicate with veranda, alley-way with alley-way,
and bolt-hole with bolt-hole. Here live those who minister to the wants of
the glad city - jhampanis who pull the pretty ladies' 'rickshaws by night
and gamble till the dawn; grocers, oil-sellers, curio-vendors,
firewood-dealers, priests, pickpockets, and native employees of the
Government. Here are discussed by courtesans the things which are supposed
to be profoundest secrets of the India Council; and here gather all the
sub-sub-agents of half the Native States. Here, too, Mahbub Ali rented a
room, much more securely locked than his bulkhead at Lahore, in the house of
a Mohammedan cattle-dealer. It was a place of miracles, too, for there went
in at twilight a Mohammedan horseboy, and there came out an hour later a
Eurasian lad - the Lucknow girl's dye was of the best - in badly- fitting
'I have spoken with Creighton
Sahib,' quoth Mahbub Ali, and a second time has the Hand of Friendship
averted the Whip of Calamity. He says that thou hast altogether wasted sixty
days upon the Road, and it is too late, therefore, to send thee to any Hill-
'I have said that my holidays are
my own. I do not go to school twice over. That is one part of my bond.'
'The Colonel Sahib is not yet
aware of that contract. Thou art to lodge in Lurgan Sahib's house till it is
time to go again to Nucklao.'
'I had sooner lodge with thee,
'Thou dost not know the honour.
Lurgan Sahib himself asked for thee. Thou wilt go up the hill and along the
road atop, and there thou must forget for a while that thou hast ever seen
or spoken to me, Mahbub Ali, who sells horses to Creighton Sahib, whom thou
dost not know. Remember this order.'
Kim nodded. 'Good,' said he, 'and
who is Lurgan Sahib? Nay' - he caught Mahbub's sword-keen glance - 'indeed I
have never heard his name. Is he by chance - he lowered his voice -'one of
'What talk is this of us, Sahib?'
Mahbub Ali returned, in the tone he used towards Europeans. 'I am a Pathan;
thou art a Sahib and the son of a Sahib. Lurgan Sahib has a shop among the
European shops. All Simla knows it. Ask there ... and, Friend of all the
World, he is one to be obeyed to the last wink of his eyelashes. Men say he
does magic, but that should not touch thee. Go up the hill and ask. Here
begins the Great Game.'
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