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Kim, by Rudyard Kipling
At moonrise the cautious coolies
got under way. The lama, refreshed by his sleep and the spirit, needed no
more than Kim's shoulder to bear him along - a silent, swift-striding man.
They held the shale- sprinkled grass for an hour, swept round the shoulder
of an immortal cliff, and climbed into a new country entirely blocked off
from all sight of Chini valley. A huge pasture-ground ran up fan-shaped to
the living snow. At its base was perhaps half an acre of flat land, on which
stood a few soil and timber huts. Behind
them - for, hill- fashion, they were perched on the edge of all things - the
ground fell sheer two thousand feet to Shamlegh-midden, where never yet man
has set foot.
The men made no motion to divide
the plunder till they had seen the lama bedded down in the best room of the
place, with Kim shampooing his feet, Mohammedan-fashion.
'We will send food, ' said the
Ao-chung man, 'and the red- topped kilta. By dawn there will be none to give
evidence, one way or the other. If anything is not needed in the kilta - see
He pointed through the window -
opening into space that was filled with moonlight reflected from the snow -
and threw out an empty whisky-bottle.
'No need to listen for the fall.
This is the world's end,' he said, and went out. The lama looked forth, a
hand on either sill, with eyes that shone like yellow opals. From the
enormous pit before him white peaks lifted themselves yearning to the
moonlight. The rest was as the darkness of interstellar space.
'These,' he said slowly, 'are
indeed my Hills. Thus should a man abide, perched above the world, separated
from delights, considering vast matters.'
'Yes; if he has a chela to
prepare tea for him, and to fold a blanket for his head, and to chase out
A smoky lamp burned in a niche,
but the full moonlight beat it down; and by the mixed light, stooping above
the food-bag and cups, Kim moved like a tall ghost.
But now I have let the blood cool, my head still beats and drums, and
there is a cord round the back of my neck.'
'No wonder. It was a strong blow. May
he who dealt it -'
'But for my own passions there
would have been no evil.'
'What evil? Thou hast saved the Sahibs from the death they deserved a
'The lesson is not well learnt,
chela.' The lama came to rest on a folded blanket, as Kim went forward with
his evening routine. 'The blow was but a shadow upon a shadow. Evil in
itself - my legs weary apace these latter days! - it met evil in me anger,
rage, and a lust to return evil. These wrought in my blood, woke tumult in
my stomach, and dazzled my ears.' Here he drank scalding block-tea
ceremonially, taking the hot cup from Kim's hand. 'Had I been passionless,
the evil blow would have done only bodily evil - a scar, or a bruise - which
is illusion. But my mind was
not abstracted, for rushed in straightway a lust to let the Spiti men kill.
In fighting that lust, my soul was torn and wrenched beyond a thousand
blows. Not till I had repeated the Blessings' (he meant the Buddhist
Beatitudes) 'did I achieve calm. But
the evil planted in me by that moment's carelessness works out to its end.
Just is the Wheel, swerving not a hair!
Learn the lesson, chela.'
'It is too high for me,' Kim
muttered. 'I am still all shaken. I am glad I hurt the man.'
'I felt that, sleeping upon thy
knees, in the wood below. It disquieted me in my dreams - the evil in thy
soul working through to mine. Yet on the other hand' - he loosed his rosary
-'I have acquired merit by saving two lives - the lives of those that
wronged me. Now I must see into the Cause of Things.The boat of my soul
'Sleep, and be strong. That is
'I meditate. There is a need
greater than thou knowest.'
Till the dawn, hour after hour,
as the moonlight paled on the high peaks, and that which had been belted
blackness on the sides of the far hills showed as tender green forest, the
lama stared fixedly at the wall. From time to time he groaned. Outside the
barred door, where discomfited kine came to ask for their old stable,
Shamlegh and the coolies gave itself up to plunder and riotous living. The Ao-chung man was their leader, and once they had opened
the Sahibs' tinned foods and found that they were very good they dared not
turn back. Shamlegh kitchen-midden took the dunnage.
When Kim, after a night of bad
dreams, stole forth to brush his teeth in the morning chill, a fair-coloured
woman with turquoise- studded headgear drew him aside.
'The others have gone. They left
thee this kilta as the promise was. I do not love Sahibs, but thou wilt make
us a charm in return for it. We do not wish little Shamlegh to get a bad
name on account of the - accident. I
am the Woman of Shamlegh.' She looked him over with bold, bright eyes,
unlike the usual furtive glance of hillwomen.
'Assuredly. But it must be done
She raised the heavy kilta like a
toy and slung it into her own hut.
'Out and bar the door!
Let none come near till it is finished,' said Kim.
'But afterwards - we may talk?'
Kim tilted the kilta on the floor
- a cascade of Survey-instruments, books, diaries, letters, maps, and
queerly scented native correspondence. At the very bottom was an embroidered
bag covering a sealed, gilded, and illuminated document such as one King
sends to another. Kim caught his breath with delight,and reviewed the
situation from a Sahib's point of view.
'The books I do not want.
Besides, they are logarithms - Survey, I suppose.' He laid them aside. 'The
letters I do not understand, but Colonel Creighton will. They must all be
kept. The maps - they draw better maps than me - of course. All the native
letters - oho! - and particularly the murasla.' He sniffed the embroidered
bag. 'That must be from Hilas or Bunar, and Hurree Babu spoke truth. By
Jove! It is a fine haul. I wish Hurree could know . . . The rest must go out
of the window.' He fingered a superb prismatic compass and the shiny top of
a theodolite. But after all, a Sahib cannot very well steal, and the things
might be inconvenient evidence later. He sorted out every scrap of
manuscript, every map, and the native letters. They made one softish slab.
The three locked ferril-backed books,
with five worn pocket-books, he put aside.
'The letters and the murasla I
must carry inside my coat and under my belt, and the hand-written books I
must put into the food-bag. It will be very heavy. No. I do not think there
is anything more. If there is, the coolies have thrown it down the khud, so
thatt is all right. Now you go too.' He repacked the kilta with all he meant
to lose, and hove it up on to the windowsill. A thousand feet below lay a
long, lazy, round-shouldered bank of mist, as yet untouched by the morning
sun. A thousand feet below that was a hundred-year-old pine- forest. He
could see the green tops looking like a bed of moss when a wind-eddy thinned
I don't think any one will go after you!'
The wheeling basket vomited its
contents as it dropped. The theodolite hit a jutting cliff-ledge and
exploded like a shell; the books, inkstands, paint-boxes, compasses, and
rulers showed for a few seconds like a swarm of bees. Then they vanished;
and, though Kim, hanging half out of the window, strained his young ears,
never a sound came up from the gulf.
'Five hundred - a thousand rupees
could not buy them,' he thought sorrowfully. 'It was verree wasteful, but I
have all their other stuff - everything they did - I hope. Now how the deuce
am I to tell Hurree Babu, and whatt the deuce am I to do? And my old man is
sick. I must tie up the letters in oilskin. That is something to do first -
else they will get all sweated ... And I am all alone!' He bound them into a
neat packet, swedging down the stiff, sticky oilskin at the comers, for his
roving life had made him as methodical as an old hunter in matters of the
road. Then with double care he packed away the books at the bottom of the
The woman rapped at the door.
'But thou hast made no charm,'
she said, looking about.
'There is no need.' Kim had
completely overlooked the necessity for a little patter-talk. The woman
laughed at his confusion irreverently.
'None - for thee. Thou canst cast
a spell by the mere winking of an eye. But think of us poor people when thou
art gone. They were all too drunk last night to hear a woman. Thou art not
'I am a priest.' Kim had
recovered himself, and, the woman being aught but unlovely, thought best to
stand on his office.
'I warned them that the Sahibs
will be angry and will make an inquisition and a report to the Rajah.
There is also the Babu with them.
Clerks have long tongues.'
'Is that all thy trouble?' The
plan rose fully formed in Kim's mind, and he smiled ravishingly.
'Not all,' quoth the woman,
putting out a hard brown hand all covered with turquoises set in silver.
'I can finish that in a breath,'
he went on quickly. 'The Babu is the very hakim (thou hast heard of him?)
who was wandering among the hills by Ziglaur. I know him.'
'He will tell for the sake of a
reward. Sahibs cannot distinguish one hillman from another, but Babus have
eyes for men - and women.'
'Carry a word to him from me.'
'There is nothing I would not do
He accepted the compliment
calmly, as men must in lands where women make the love, tore a leaf from a
note-book, and with a patent indelible pencil wrote in gross Shikast - the
script that bad little boys use when they write dirt on walls: 'I have
everything that they have written: their pictures of the country, and many
letters. Especially the murasla. Tell me what to do. I am at Shamlegh-under-
the-Snow. The old man is sick.'
"Take this to him. It will
altogether shut his mouth. He cannot have gone far.'
'Indeed no. They are still in the
forest across the spur. Our children went to watch them when the light came,
and have cried the news as they moved.'
Kim looked his astonishment; but
from the edge of the sheep-pasture floated a shrill, kite-like trill. A
child tending cattle had picked it up from a brother or sister on the far
side of the slope that commanded Chini valley,
'My husbands are also out there
gathering wood.' She drew a handful of walnuts from her bosom, split one
neatly, and began to eat. Kim affected blank ignorance.
'Dost thou not know the meaning
of the walnut -- priest?' she said coyly, and handed him the half-shells.
'Well thought of.' He slipped the
piece of paper between them quickly. 'Hast thou a little wax to close them
on this letter?'
The woman sighed aloud, and Kim
'There is no payment till service
has been rendered. Carry this to the Babu, and say it was sent by the Son of
Truly! Truly! By a magician - who is like a Sahib.'
'Nay, a Son of the Charm: and ask
if there be any answer.'
'But if he offer a rudeness? I -
I am afraid.'
Kim laughed. 'He is, I have no
doubt, very tired and very hungry. The Hills make cold bedfellows. Hai, my'
- it was on the tip of his tongue to say Mother, but he turned it to Sister
-'thou art a wise and witty woman. By this time all the villages know what
has befallen the Sahibs - eh?'
'True. News was at Ziglaur by
midnight, and by tomorrow should be at Kotgarh. The villages are both afraid
'No need. Tell the villages to
feed the Sahibs and pass them on, in peace. We must get them quietly away
from our valleys. To steal is one thing - to kill another. The Babu will
understand, and there will be no after-complaints. Be swift. I must tend my
master when he wakes.'
'So be it. After service - thou
hast said? - comes the reward. I am the Woman of Shamlegh, and I hold from
the Rajah. I am no common bearer
of babes. Shamlegh is thine: hoof and horn and hide, milk and butter. Take
She turned resolutely uphill, her
silver necklaces clicking on her broad breast, to meet the morning sun
fifteen hundred feet above them. This time Kim thought in the vernacular as
he waxed down the oilskin edges of the packets.
'How can a man follow the Way or
the Great Game when he is so-always pestered by women? There was that girl
at Akrola of the Ford; and there was the scullion's wife behind the dovecot
- not counting the others - and now comes this one! When I was a child it
was well enough, but now I am a man and they will not regard me as a man.
Walnuts, indeed! Ho! ho! It is almonds in the Plains!'
He went out to levy on the
village - not with a begging-bowl, which might do for down-country, but in
the manner of a prince. Shamlegh's summer population is only three families
- four women and eight or nine men. They were all full of tinned meats and
mixed drinks, from ammoniated quinine to white vodka, for they had taken
their full share in the overnight loot. The neat Continental tents had been
cut up and shared long ago, and there were patent aluminium saucepans
But they considered the lama's
presence a perfect safeguard against all consequences, and impenitently
brought Kim of their best - even to a drink of chang - the barley-beer that
comes from Ladakh-way. Then
they thawed out in the sun, and sat with their legs hanging over infinite
abysses, chattering, laughing, and smoking. They judged India and its
Government solely from their experience of wandering Sahibs who had employed
them or their friends as shikarris. Kim heard tales of shots missed upon
ibex, serow, or markhor, by Sahibs twenty years in their graves - every
detail lighted from behind like twigs on tree-tops seen against lightning.
They told him of their little diseases, and, more important, the diseases of
their tiny, sure-footed cattle; of trips as far as Kotgarh, where the
strange missionaries live, and beyond even to marvellous Simla, where the
streets are paved with silver, and anyone, look you, can get service with
the Sahibs, who ride about in two-wheeled carts and spend money with a
spade. Presently, grave and
aloof, walking very heavily, the lama joined himself to the chatter under
the eaves, and they gave him great room. The thin air refreshed him, and he
sat on the edge of precipices with the best of them, and, when talk
languished, flung pebbles into the void. Thirty miles away, as the eagle
flies, lay the next range, seamed and channelled and pitted with little
patches of brush - forests, each a day's dark march. Behind the village,
Shamlegh hill itself cut off all view to southward. It was like sitting in a swallow's nest under the eaves of
the roof of the world.
>From time to time the lama
stretched out his hand, and with a little low-voiced prompting would point
out the road to Spiti and north across the Parungla.
'Beyond, where the hills lie
thickest, lies De-ch'en' (he meant Han-le'), 'the great Monastery.
s'Tag-stan-ras-ch'en built it,and of him there runs this tale.' Whereupon he
told it: a fantastic piled narrative of bewitchment and miracles that set
Shamlegh a-gasping. Turning west a little, he speered for the green hills of
Kulu, and sought Kailung under the glaciers.'For thither came I in the old,
old days. From Leh I came, over
'Yes, yes; we know it,' said the
far-faring people of Shamlegh.
'And I slept two nights with the
priests of Kailung. These are the Hills of my delight! Shadows blessed above
all other shadows! There my eyes opened on this world; there my eyes were
opened to this world; there I found Enlightenment; and there I girt my loins
for my Search. Out of the Hills I came - the high Hills and the strong
winds. Oh, just is the Wheel!' He blessed them in detail - the great
glaciers, the naked rocks, the piled moraines and tumbled shale; dry upland,
hidden salt-lake, age-old timber and fruitful water-shot valley one after
the other, as a dying man blesses his folk; and Kim marvelled at his
'Yes - yes. There is no place
like our Hills,' said the people of Shamlegh. And they fell to wondering how
a man could live in the hot terrible Plains where the cattle run as big as
elephants, unfit to plough on a hillside; where village touches village,
they had heard, for a hundred miles; where folk went about stealing in
gangs, and what the robbers spared the Police carried utterly away.
So the still forenoon wore
through, and at the end of it Kim's messenger dropped from the steep pasture
as unbreathed as when she had set out.
'I sent a word to the hakim,' Kim
explained, while she made reverence.
'He joined himself to the
idolaters? Nay, I remember he did a healing upon one of them. He has
acquired merit, though the healed employed his strength for evil. Just is
the Wheel! What of the hakim?'
'I feared that thou hadst been
bruised and - and I knew he was wise.' Kim took the waxed walnut-shell and
read in English on the back of his note: Your favour received. Cannot get
away from present company at present, but shall take them into Simla. After
which, hope to rejoin you. Inexpedient to follow angry gentlemen. Return by
same road you came, and will overtake. Highly gratified about correspondence
due to my forethought. 'He says, Holy One, that he will escape from the
idolaters, and will return to us. Shall we wait awhile at Shamlegh, then?'
The lama looked long and lovingly
upon the hills and shook his head.
'That may not be, chela. From my
bones outward I do desire it, but it is forbidden. I have seen the Cause of
'Why? When the Hills give thee
back thy strength day by day? Remember we were weak and fainting down below
there in the Doon.'
'I became strong to do evil and
to forget. A brawler and a swashbuckler upon the hillsides was I.' Kim bit
back a smile. 'Just and perfect is the Wheel, swerving not a hair. When I
was a man - a long time ago - I did pilgrimage to Guru Ch'wan among the
poplars' (he pointed Bhotanwards), 'where they keep the Sacred Horse.'
'Quiet, be quiet!' said Shamlegh,
all arow. 'He speaks of Jam-lin- nin-k'or, the Horse That Can Go Round The
World In a Day.'
'I speak to my chela only,' said
the lama, in gentle reproof, and they scattered like frost on south eaves of
a morning. 'I did not seek truth in those days, but the talk of doctrine.
All illusion! I drank the beer and ate the bread of Guru Ch'wan. Next day
one said: "We go out to fight Sangor Gutok down the valley to
discover" (mark again how Lust is tied to Anger!) "which Abbot
shall bear rule in the valley and take the profit of the prayers they print
at Sangor Gutok." I went, and we fought a day.'
'But how, Holy One?'
'With our long pencases as I
could have shown . . . I say,
we fought under the poplars, both Abbots and all the monks, and one laid
open my forehead to the bone. See!' He tilted back his cap and showed a
puckered silvery scar. 'Just and perfect is the Wheel! Yesterday the scar
itched, and after fifty years I recalled how it was dealt and the face of
him who dealt it; dwelling a little in illusion. Followed that which thou
didst see - strife and stupidity. Just is the Wheel! The idolater's blow
fell upon the scar. Then I was shaken in my soul: my soul was darkened, and
the boat of my soul rocked upon the waters of illusion. Not till I came to
Shamlegh could I meditate upon the Cause of Things, or trace the running
grass-roots of Evil. I strove all the long night.'
'But', Holy One, thou art
innocent of all evil. May I be thy sacrifice!'
Kim was genuinely distressed at
the old man's sorrow, and Mahbub Ali's phrase slipped out unawares.
'In the dawn,' the lama went on
more gravely, ready rosary clicking between the slow sentences, 'came
enlightenment. It is here ... I am an old man . . . hill-bred, hill-fed,
never to sit down among my Hills.
Three years I travelled through Hind, but - can earth be stronger
than Mother Earth? My stupid body yearned to the Hills and the snows of the
Hills, from below there. I
said, and it is true, my Search is sure. So, at the Kulu woman's house I
turned hillward, over-persuaded by myself.
There is no blame to the hakim.
He - following Desire - foretold that the Hills would make me strong.
They strengthened me to do evil, to forget my Search. I delighted in life
and the lust of life. I desired strong slopes to climb. I cast about to find
them. I measured the strength of my body, which is evil, against the high
Hills, I made a mock of thee when thy breath came short under Jamnotri. I
jested when thou wouldst not face the snow of the pass.'
'But what harm? I was afraid. It
was just. I am not a hillman; and I loved thee for thy new strength.'
'More than once I remember' - he
rested his cheek dolefully on his hand - 'I sought thy praise and the
hakim's for the mere strength of my legs. Thus evil followed evil till the
cup was full. Just is the Wheel! All Hind for three years did me all honour.
From the Fountain of Wisdom in the Wonder House to' - he smiled -'a little
child playing by a big gun - the world prepared my road. And why?'
'Because we loved thee.
It is only the fever of the blow.
I myself am still sick and shaken.'
'No! It was because I was upon
the Way - tuned as are si-nen [cymbals] to the purpose of the Law. I
departed from that ordinance. The tune was broken: followed the punishment.
In my own Hills, on the edge of my own country, in the very place of my evil
desire, comes the buffet - here!' (He touched his brow.) 'As a novice is
beaten when he misplaces the cups, so am I beaten, who was Abbot of Such-zen. No word, look you, but a blow, chela.'
'But the Sahibs did not know
thee, Holy One?'
'We were well matched. Ignorance
and Lust met Ignorance and Lust upon the road, and they begat Anger. The
blow was a sign to me, who am no better than a strayed yak, that my place is
not here. Who can read the Cause of an act is halfway to Freedom! "Back
to the path," says the Blow. "The Hills are not for thee. Thou
canst not choose Freedom and go in bondage to the delight of life."'
'Would we had never met that
'Our Lord Himself cannot make the
Wheel swing backward. And for my merit that I had acquired I gain yet
another sign.' He put his hand in his bosom, and drew forth the Wheel of
Life. 'Look! I considered this after I had meditated. There remains untorn
by the idolater no more than the breadth of my fingernail.'
'So much, then, is the span of my
life in this body. I have served the Wheel all my days. Now the Wheel serves
me. But for the merit I have acquired in guiding thee upon the Way, there
would have been added to me yet another life ere I had found my River. Is it
Kim stared at the brutally
disfigured chart. From left to right diagonally the rent ran - from the
Eleventh House where Desire gives birth to the Child (as it is drawn by
Tibetans) - across the human and animal worlds, to the Fifth House - the
empty House of the Senses. The logic was unanswerable.
'Before our Lord won
Enlightenment' - the lama folded all away with reverence - 'He was tempted.
I too have been tempted, but it is finished. The Arrow fell in the Plains -
not in the Hills. Therefore, what make we here?'
'Shall we at least wait for the
'I know how long I shall live in
this body. What can a hakim
'But thou art all sick and
shaken. Thou canst not walk.'
'How can I be sick if I see
Freedom?' He rose unsteadily to his feet.
'Then I must get food from the
village. Oh, the weary Road!' Kim felt that he too needed rest.
'That is lawful. Let us eat and
go. he Arrow fell in the Plains
... but I yielded to Desire. Make ready, chela.'
Kim turned to the woman with the
turquoise headgear who had been idly pitching pebbles over the cliff. She
smiled very kindly.
'I found him like a strayed
buffalo in a cornfield - the Babu; snorting and sneezing with cold. He was
so hungry that he forgot his dignity and gave me sweet words. The Sahibs
have nothing.' She flung out an empty palm. 'One is very sick about the
stomach. Thy work?'
Kim nodded, with a bright eye.
'I spoke to the Bengali first -
and to the people of a near-by village after. The Sahibs will be given food
as they need it - nor will the people ask money. The plunder is already
distributed. The Babu makes lying speeches to the Sahibs. Why does he not
'Out of the greatness of his
"Was never a Bengali yet had
one bigger than a dried walnut. But it is no matter ... Now as to walnuts.
After service comes reward. I have said the village is thine.'
'It is my loss,' Kim began. 'Even
now I had planned desirable things in my heart which' - there is no need to
go through the compliments proper to these occasions. He sighed deeply . . .
'But my master, led by a vision -'
'Huh! What can old eyes see
except a full begging-bowl?'
'- turns from this village to the
'Bid him stay.'
Kim shook his head. 'I know my
Holy One, and his rage if he be crossed,' he replied impressively. 'His
curses shake the Hills.'
'Pity they did not save him from
a broken head! I heard that thou wast the tiger-hearted one who smote the
Sahib. Let him dream a little longer. Stay!'
'Hillwoman,' said Kim, with
austerity that could not harden the outlines of his young oval face, 'these
matters are too high for thee.'
'The Gods be good to us! Since
when have men and women been other than men and women?'
'A priest is a priest. He says he
will go upon this hour. I am his chela, and I go with him. We need food for
the Road. He is an honoured guest in all the villages, but' - he broke into
a pure boy's grin - 'the food here is good. Give me some.'
'What if I do not give it thee? I
am the woman of this village.'
'Then I curse thee - a little -
not greatly, but enough to remember.' He could not help smiling.
'Thou hast cursed me already by
the down-dropped eyelash and the uplifted chin. Curses? What should I care
for mere words?' She clenched her hands upon her bosom . . . 'But I would
not have thee to go in anger, thinking hardly of me - a gatherer of cow-dung
and grass at Shamlegh, but still a woman of substance.'
'I think nothing,' said Kim, 'but
that I am grieved to go, for I am very weary; and that we need food. Here is
The woman snatched it angrily. 'I
was foolish,' said she. 'Who is thy woman in the Plains? Fair or black? I
was fair once. Laughest thou? Once, long ago, if thou canst believe, a Sahib
looked on me with favour. Once, long ago, I wore European clothes at the
Mission- house yonder.' She pointed towards Kotgarh. 'Once, long ago. I was
Ker-lis-ti-an and spoke English - as the Sahibs speak it. Yes. My Sahib said
he would return and wed me - yes, wed me. He went away - I had nursed him
when he was sick - but he never returned. Then I saw that the Gods of the
Kerlistians lied, and I went back to my own people . . . I have never set
eyes on a Sahib since. (Do not laugh at me. The fit is past, little
priestling.) Thy face and thy walk and thy fashion of speech put me in mind
of my Sahib, though thou art only a wandering mendicant to whom I give a
dole. Curse me? Thou canst neither curse nor bless!' She set her hands on
her hips and laughed bitterly. 'Thy Gods are lies; thy works are lies; thy
words are lies. There are no Gods under all the Heavens. I know it ... But
for awhile I thought it was my Sahib come back, and he was my God. Yes, once
I made music on a pianno in the Mission-house at Kotgarh. Now I give alms to
priests who are heatthen.' She wound up with the English word, and tied the
mouth of the brimming bag.
'I wait for thee, chela, ' said
the lama, leaning against the door- post.
The woman swept the tall figure
with her eyes. 'He walk! He cannot cover half a mile. Whither would old
At this Kim, already perplexed by
the lama's collapse and foreseeing the weight of the bag, fairly lost his
'What is it to thee, woman of
ill-omen, where he goes?'
'Nothing - but something to thee,
priest with a Sahib's face. Wilt thou carry him on thy shoulders?'
'I go to the Plains. None must
hinder my return. I have wrestled with my soul till I am strengthless. The
stupid body is spent, and we are far from the Plains.'
'Behold!' she said simply, and
drew aside to let Kim see his own utter helplessness. 'Curse me. Maybe it
will give him strength. Make a charm! Call on thy great God. Thou art a
priest.' She turned away.
The lama had squatted limply,
still holding by the door-post. One cannot strike down an old man that he
recovers again like a boy in the night. Weakness bowed him to the earth, but
his eyes that hung on Kim were alive and imploring.
'It is all well,' said Kim. 'It
is the thin air that weakens thee. In a little while we go! It is the
mountain-sickness. I too am a little sick at stomach,' ... and he knelt and
comforted with such poor words as came first to his lips. Then the woman
returned, more erect than ever.
'Thy Gods useless, heh? Try mine.
I am the Woman of Shamlegh.' She hailed hoarsely, and there came out of a
cow-pen her two husbands and three others with a dooli, the rude native
litter of the Hills, that they use for carrying the sick and for visits of
state. 'These cattle' - she did not condescend to look at them - 'are thine
for so long as thou shalt need.'
'But we will not go Simla-way. We
will not go near the Sahibs,' cried the first husband.
'They will not run away as the
others did, nor will they steal baggage. Two I know for weaklings. Stand to
the rear-pole, Sonoo and Taree.' They obeyed swiftly. 'Lower now, and lift
in that holy man. I will see to the village and your virtuous wives till ye
'When will that be?'
'Ask the priests. Do not pester
me. Lay the food-bag at the foot, it balances better so.'
'Oh, Holy One, thy Hills are
kinder than our Plains!' cried Kim, relieved, as the lama tottered to the
litter. 'It is a very king's bed - a place of honour and ease. And we owe it
'A woman of ill-omen. I need thy
blessings as much as I do thy curses. It is my order and none of thine. Lift
and away! Here! Hast thou money for the road?'
She beckoned Kim to her hut, and
stooped above a battered English cash-box under her cot.
'I do not need anything,' said
Kim, angered where he should have been grateful. 'I am already rudely loaded
She looked up with a curious
smile and laid a hand on his shoulder. 'At least, thank me. I am foul-faced
and a hillwoman, but, as thy talk goes, I have acquired merit. Shall I show
thee how the Sahibs render thanks?' and her hard eyes softened.
'I am but a wandering priest,'
said Kim, his eyes lighting in answer. 'Thou needest neither my blessings
nor my curses.'
'Nay. But for one little moment -
thou canst overtake the dooli in ten strides - if thou wast a Sahib, shall I
show thee what thou wouldst do?' -
'How if I guess, though?' said
Kim, and putting his arm round her waist, he kissed her on the cheek, adding
in English: 'Thank you verree much, my dear.'
Kissing is practically unknown
among Asiatics, which may have been the reason that she leaned back with
wide-open eyes and a face of panic.
'Next time,' Kim went on, 'you
must not be so sure of your heatthen priests. Now I say good-bye.' He held
out his hand English-fashion. She took it mechanically. 'Good-bye, my dear.'
'Good-bye, and - and' - she was
remembering her English words one by one -'you will come back again?
Good-bye, and - thee God bless you.'
Half an hour later, as the
creaking litter jolted up the hill path that leads south-easterly from
Shamlegh, Kim saw a tiny figure at the hut door waving a white rag.
'She has acquired merit beyond
all others,' said the lama. 'For to set a man upon the way to Freedom is
half as great as though she had herself found it.'
'Umm,' said Kim thoughtfully,
considering the past. 'It may be that I have acquired merit also ... At
least she did not treat me like a child.' He hitched the front of his robe,
where lay the slab of documents and maps, re-stowed the precious food-bag at
the lama's feet, laid his hand on the litter's edge, and buckled down to the
slow pace of the grunting husbands.
'These also acquire merit,' said
the lama after three miles.
'More than that, they shall be
paid in silver,' quoth Kim. The Woman of Shamlegh had given it to him; and
it was only fair, he argued, that her men should earn it back again.
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