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KIM flung himself whole-heartedly upon the next turn of the wheel. He would be a Sahib again for a while. In that idea, as soon as he had reached the broad road under Simla town-hall, he cast about for one to impress. A Hindu child, some ten years old, squatted under a lamp-post.
‘Where is Mr. Lurgan’s house?’ demanded Kim.
‘I do not understand English,’ was the answer, and Kim shifted his speech accordingly.
‘I will show.’
Together they set off through the mysterious dusk, full of the noises of a city below the hillside, and the breath of a cool wind in deodar-crowned Jakko, shouldering the stars. The house-lights, scattered on every level, made, as it were, a double firmament. Some were fixed, others belonged to the rickshaws of careless, open-spoken English folk, going out to dinner.
‘It is here,’ said Kim’s guide, and halted in a verandah flush with the main road. No door stayed them, but a curtain of beaded reeds that split up the lamp-light beyond.
‘He is come,’ said the boy, in a voice little louder than a sigh, and vanished. Kim felt sure that the boy had been posted to guide him from the first, but putting a bold face on it, parted the curtain. A black-bearded man with a green shade over his eyes, sat at a table, and, one by one, with short, white hands, picked up globules of light from a tray before him, threaded them on a glancing silken string and hummed to himself the while. Kim was conscious that beyond the circle of light the room was full of things that smelt like all the temples of all the East.
A whiff of musk, a puff of sandal-wood, and a breath of sickly jessamine-oil caught his opened nostrils.
‘I am here,’ said Kim at last, speaking in the vernacular — for the smells made him forget that he was going to be a Sahib henceforward.
‘Seventy-nine, eighty, eighty-one,’ the man counted to himself, stringing pearl after pearl so quickly that Kim could scarcely follow his fingers. He slid off the green shade and looked intently at Kim for a full half-minute. The pupils of the eye dilated and closed to pin-pricks, as if at will. There was a faquir by the Taksali Gate who had just this gift and made money by it, especially when cursing silly women. Kim stared intently. His disreputable friend could further twitch his ears, almost like a goat, and Kim was disappointed that this new man did not imitate him.
‘Do not be afraid,’ said Mr. Lurgan suddenly.
‘Why should I fear?’
‘Thou wilt sleep here to-night, and stay with me till it is time to go again to Nucklao. It is an order.’
‘It is an order,’ Kim repeated. ‘But where shall I sleep?’
‘Here in this room.’ Lurgan Sahib waved his hand towards the darkness behind him.
‘So be it,’ said Kim composedly. ‘Now?’
He nodded and held the lamp above his head. As the light swept them, there leaped out from the walls a collection of Tibetan devil-dance masks, hanging above the fiend-embroidered draperies of those ghastly functions — horned masks, scowling masks, and masks of idiotic terror. In a corner, a Japanese warrior, mailed and plumed, menaced him with a halberd, and a score of lances and khandas and kuttars gave back the unsteady gleam. But what interested Kim more than all these things — he had seen devil-dance masks at the Lahore Museum — was a glimpse of the soft-eyed Hindu child who had left him in the doorway, Sitting cross-legged under the table of pearls with a little smile on his scarlet lips.
‘I think that Lurgan Sahib wishes to make me afraid. And I am sure that the devil’s brat below the table wishes to see me afraid. This place,’ he said aloud, ‘is like a wonder-house. Where is my bed?’
Lurgan Sahib pointed to a native quilt in a corner by the loathsome masks, picked up the lamp, and left the room in black darkness.
‘Was that Lurgan Sahib’?’ Kim asked as he cuddled down. No answer. He could hear the Hindu boy breathing, however, and, guided by the sound, crawled across the floor, and cuffed into the darkness, crying: ‘Give answer, devil. Is this the way to lie to a Sahib?’
From the darkness he fancied he could hear the echo of a chuckle. It could not be his soft-fleshed companion, because he was weeping. So Kim lifted up his voice and called aloud: ‘Lurgan Sahib, O Lurgan Sahib! Is it an order that thy servant does not speak to me?’
‘It is an order.’ The voice came from behind him and he started.
‘Very good. But remember,’ he muttered, as he resought the quilt, ‘I will beat thee in the morning. I do not like Hindus.’
That was no cheerful night; the room being overful of voices and music. Kim was waked twice by some one calling his name. The second time he set out in search, and ended by bruising his nose against a box that certainly spoke with a human tongue, but in no sort of human accent. It seemed to end in a tin trumpet and to be joined by wires to a smaller box on the floor — so far, at least, as he could judge by touch. And the voice, very hard and whirring, came out of the trumpet, singing, ‘Taza ba taza nao benao.’ Kim rubbed his nose and grew furious, thinking, as usual, in Hindi.
‘This with a beggar from the bazar might be good but — I am a Sahib and the son of a Sahib and, which is twice as much more beside, a student of Lucknao. Yess’ (here he turned to English), ‘a boy of St. Xavier’s. Damn Mr. Lurgan’s eyes! — It is some sort of machinery like a sewing-machine. Oh, it is great cheek of him — we are not frightened that way in Lucknow — No.’ Then in Hindi: ‘But what does he gain? He is only a trader — I am in his shop. But Creighton Sahib is a Colonel — and I think Creighton Sahib gave orders that it should be done. How I will beat that Hindu bastard in the morning. What is this?’
The trumpet-box was pouring out a string of the most elaborate abuse that even Kim had ever heard, in a level uninterested voice, that for a moment lifted the short hairs in his neck. When the vile thing drew breath, Kim was reassured by the soft, sewing-machine-like whirr.
‘Chūp!’(be still) he cried, and again he heard a chuckle, that decided him. ‘Chūp — or I break your head.’
The box took no heed. Kim wrenched at the tin trumpet and something lifted with a click. He had evidently raised a lid. If there were a devil inside, now was its time for — he sniffed — thus did the sewing-machines of the bazar smell. He would clean that shaitan. He slipped off his jacket, and plunged it into the box’s mouth. Something long and round bent under the pressure, there was a whirr and the voice stopped — as voices must if you ram a thrice-doubled coat on to the wax cylinder and into the works of an expensive phonograph. Kim finished his slumbers with a serene mind.
In the morning he was aware of Lurgan Sahib looking down on him.
‘Oah!’ said Kim, firmly resolved to cling to his Sahib-dom. ‘There was a box in the night that gave me gali. So I stopped it. Was it your box?’
The man held out his hand.
‘Shake hands, O’Hara,’ he said. ‘Yes, it was my box. I keep such things because my friends the Rajahs like them. That one is broken, but it was cheap at the price. Yes, my friends, the Kings, are very fond of toys — and so am I sometimes.’
Kim looked at him out of the corners of his eyes. He was a Sahib in that he wore Sahib’s clothes; the accent of his Urdu, the intonation of his English, showed that he was anything but a Sahib. He seemed to understand what moved in Kim’s mind ere the boy opened his mouth, and he took no pains to explain himself as Father Victor or the Lucknow masters did. Sweetest of all — sweeter than the pilau — he treated Kim as an equal on the Asiatic side.
‘I am sorry you cannot beat my boy this morning. He says he will kill you with a knife or poison. He is jealous, so I have put him in the corner and I shall not speak to him to-day. He has just tried to kill me. You must help me with the jewels. He is almost too jealous to trust, just now.’
Now a genuine imported Sahib from England would have made a great to do over this tale. Lurgan Sahib stated it as simply as Mahbub All recorded his little doings in the North.
The black verandah of the shop was built out over the sheer hillside, and they looked down into their neighbours’ chimney-pots, as is the custom of Simla. But even more than the purely Persian meal cooked by Lurgan Sahib with his own hands, the shop fascinated Kim. The Lahore Museum was larger, but here were more wonders — ghost-daggers and prayer-wheels from Tibet; turquoise and raw amber necklaces; green jade bangles; curiously packed incense sticks in jars crusted Over with raw garnets; the devil-masks of overnight and a wall full of peacock-blue draperies; gilt figures of Buddha, and little portable altars of lacquer; Russian samovars with turquoises on the lid; egg-shell china sets in quaint octagonal cane boxes; yellow ivory crucifixes — from Japan of all places in the world, so Lurgan Sahib said; carpets in dusty bales, smelling atrociously, pushed back behind torn and rotten screens of geometrical-work; Persian water-jugs for the hands after meals; dull copper incense-burners neither Chinese nor Persian, with friezes of fantastic devils running round them; tarnished silver belts that knotted like raw hide; hair-pins of jade, ivory, and plasma; arms of all sorts and kinds, and a thousand other oddments were cased or piled, or merely thrown into the room, leaving a clear space only round the rickety deal table, where Lurgan Sahib worked.
‘Those things are nothing,’ said his host, watching Kim’s admiring eye. ‘I buy them because they are pretty, and sometimes I sell — if I like the buyer’s look. My work is on the table — some of it.’
It blazed in the morning light — all red and blue and green flashes, picked out with the vicious blue-white spurt of a diamond here and there. Kim opened his eyes.
‘Oh, they are quite well, those stones. It will not hurt them to see the sun. Besides, they are cheap. But with sick stones it is very different.’ He piled Kim’s plate anew. ‘There is no one but me can doctor a sick pearl and re-blue turquoises. I grant you opals — any fool can cure an opal — but for a sick pearl there is only me. Suppose I were to die! Then there would be no one. . . . Oh no! You cannot do anything with jewels. It will be quite enough if you understand a little about turquoises — some day.’
He moved to the end of the verandah to refill the heavy, porous clay water-jug from the filter.
‘Do you want drink?’
Kim nodded. Lurgan Sahib, fifteen feet away, laid one hand on the jar. Next instant it stood at Kim’s elbow, full to within half an inch of the brim — the white cloth only showing, by a small wrinkle, that it had slid into its place.
‘Wah!’ said Kim in most utter amazement. ‘That is magic.’ Lurgan Sahib’s smile showed that the compliment had gone home.
‘Throw it back.’
‘It will break.’
‘I say, throw it back.’
Kim grasped it by the neck and pitched it at random. It fell short and crashed into fifty pieces, while the water dripped through the rough verandah boarding.
‘I said it would break.’
‘All one. Look at it. Look at the largest piece.’
That lay with a sparkle of water in its curve, as it were a star on the floor. Kim looked intently; Lurgan Sahib laid one hand gently on the nape of his neck, stroked it twice or thrice, and whispered: ‘Look. It shall come to life again, piece by piece. First the big piece shall join itself to two others on the right and the left ‘— on the right and the left. Look!’
To save his life, Kim could not have turned his head. The light touch held him as in a vice, and his blood tingled pleasantly through him. There was one large piece of the jar where there had been three, and above them the shadowy outline of the entire vessel. He could see the verandah through it, but it was thickening and darkening with each beat of his pulse. Yet the jar — how slowly the thoughts came! — the jar had been smashed before his eyes. Another wave of prickling fire raced down his neck, as Lurgan Sahib moved his hand.
‘Look! It is coming into shape,’ said Lurgan Sahib. So far Kim had been thinking in Hindi, but a tremor came on him, and with an effort like that of a swimmer before sharks, who hurls himself half out of the water, his mind leaped up from a darkness that was swallowing it and took refuge in — the multiplication table in English!
‘Look! It is coming into shape,’ whispered Lurgan Sahib.
The jar had been smashed — yess, smashed — not the native word, he would not think of that — but smashed — into fifty pieces, and twice three was six, and thrice three was nine, and four times three was twelve. He clung desperately to the repetition. The shadow-outline of the jar cleared like a mist after rubbing eyes. There were the broken shards; there was the spilt water drying in the sun, and through the cracks of the verandah showed, all ribbed, the white house-wall below — and thrice twelve was thirty-six!
‘Look! Is it coming into shape?’ asked Lurgan Sahib.
‘But it is smashed — smashed,’ he gasped — Lurgan Sahib had been muttering softly for the last half-minute. Kim wrenched his head aside. ‘Look! Dekko! It is there as it was there.’
‘It is there as it was there,’ said Lurgan, watching Kim closely while the boy rubbed his neck. ‘But you are the first of a many who have ever seen it so.’ He wiped his broad forehead.
‘Was that more magic?’ Kim asked suspiciously. The tingle had gone from his blood; he felt unusually wide awake.
‘No, that was not magic. It was only to see if there was a flaw in a jewel. Remember when any man asks you to look close at anything and waves his hand — so! — you must not do it. But’ — he went on to himself — ‘it is very curious that he should have saved himself. Tell me, did you see the shape of the pot?’
‘For a little time. It began to grow like a flower from the ground.’
‘And then what did you do? I mean, how did you think?’
‘Oah! I knew it was broken, and so I think that was what I thought — and it was broken.’
‘H’m! Has any one ever done that same sort of ‘magic to you before?’
‘If it was,’ said Kim, ‘do you think I should let it again? I should run away.’
‘And now you are not afraid — eh?’
Lurgan Sahib looked at him more closely than ever. ‘I shall ask Mahbub Ali — not now, but some day later,’ he muttered. ‘I am pleased with you —yes; and I am pleased with you — no. You are the first that ever saved himself. I wish I knew what it was that you began to think. . . . But you are right. You should not tell that — not even to me.’
He turned into the dusky gloom of the shop, and sat down at the table rubbing his hands softly. A small, husky sob came from behind a pile of carpets. It was the Hindu child obediently facing towards the wall. His slim shoulders worked with grief.
‘Ah! He is jealous, so jealous. I wonder if he will try to poison me again in my breakfast, and make me cook it twice.’
‘Kubbee — kubbee nahin,’ came the broken answer.
‘And whether he will kill this other boy?’
‘Kubbee — kubbee nahin’ (never — never. No!) ‘What do you think he will do?’ He turned suddenly on Kim.
‘Oah! I do not know. Let him go, perhaps. Why did he want to poison you?’
‘Because he is so fond of me. Suppose you were fond of some one, and you saw some one come, and the man you were fond of was more pleased with him than he was with you, what would you do?’
Kim thought. Lurgan repeated the sentence slowly in the vernacular.
‘I should not poison that man,’ said Kim reflectively, ‘but I should beat that boy — if that boy was fond of my man. But first I would ask that boy if it were true.’
‘Ah! He thinks every one must be fond of me.’
‘Then I think he is a fool.’
‘Hearest thou?’ said Lurgan Sahib to the shaking shoulders. ‘The Sahib’s son thinks thou art a little fool. Come out, and next time thy heart is troubled, do not try white arsenic quite so openly. Surely the Devil Dasim was lord of the table-cloth that day! It might have made me ill, child, and then a stranger would have guarded the jewels. Come!’
The child, heavy-eyed with much weeping, crept out from behind the bale and flung himself passionately at Lurgan Sahib’s feet, with an extravagance of remorse that impressed even Kim.
‘I will look into the ink-pools — I will faithfully guard the jewels. Oh, my father and my mother, send him away.’ He indicated Kim with a backward jerk of his bare heel.
‘Not yet — not yet. In a little while he will go away again. But now he is at school — at a new madrissah — and thou shalt be his teacher. Play the play of the jewels against him. I will keep tally.’
The child dried his tears at once, and dashed to the back of the shop, whence he returned with a copper tray.
‘Give me!’ he said to Lurgan Sahib. ‘Let them come from thy hand, for he may say that I knew them before.’
‘Gently — gently,’ the man replied, and from a drawer under the table dealt a half handful of clattering trifles into the tray.
‘Now,’ said the child, waving an old copy of a paper. ‘Look on them as long as thou wilt, stranger. Count and, if need be, handle. One look is enough for me.’ He turned his back proudly.
‘But what is the game?’ Kim asked.
‘When thou hast counted and handled and art sure that thou canst remember them all, I cover them with this paper, and thou must tell over the tally to Lurgan Sahib. I will write mine.’
‘Oah!’ The instinct of competition waked in his breast. He bent over the tray. There were but fifteen stones on it. ‘That is easy,’ he said after a minute. The child slipped the paper over the winking jewels and scribbled in a limp-backed native account-book.
‘There are under that paper five blue stones —one big, one smaller, and three small,’ said Kim, all in haste. ‘There are four green stones, and one with a hole in it; there is one yellow stone that I can see through, and one like a pipe-stem. There are two red stones, and — and — I made the count fifteen, but two I have forgotten. No! Give me time. One was of ivory, little and brownish; and — and — give me time . . .’
‘One — two’ — Lurgan Sahib counted him out up to ten. Kim shook his head.
‘Hear my count,’ the child burst in, trilling with laughter. ‘First, are two flawed sapphires — one of two ruttees and one of four as I should judge. The four-ruttee sapphire is chipped at the edge. There is one Turkestan turquoise, plain with green veins, and there are two inscribed — one with a Name of God in gilt, and the other being cracked across, for it came out of an old ring, I cannot read. We have now the five blue stones. Four flawed emeralds there are, but one is drilled in two places, and one is a little carven —’
‘Their weight?’ said Lurgan Sahib impassively. ‘Three — five — five and four ruttees as I judge it. There is one piece of old greenish amber, and a cheap cut topaz from Europe. There is one ruby of Burma, of two ruttees, without a flaw, and there is a ballas ruby, flawed, of two ruttees. There is a carved ivory from China representing a rat sucking an egg; and there is last — ah ha! — a ball of crystal as big as a bean set in a gold leaf.’
He clapped his hands at the close.
‘He is thy master,’ said Lurgan Sahib, smiling.
‘Huh! He knew the names of the stones,’ said Kim, flushing. ‘Try again! With common things such as he and I both know.’
They heaped the tray again with odds and ends gathered from the shop, and even the kitchen, and every time the boy won, till Kim marvelled.
‘Bind my eyes — let me feel once with my fingers, and even them I will leave thee open-eyed behind,’ he challenged.
Kim stamped with vexation when the lad made his boast good.
‘If it were men — or horses,’ he said, ‘I could do better. This playing with tweezers and knives and Scissors is too little.’
‘Learn first — teach later,’ said Lurgan Sahib. ‘Is he thy master?’
‘Truly. But how is it done?’
‘By doing it many times over till it is done perfectly — for it is worth doing.’
The Hindu boy in highest feather actually patted Kim on the back.
‘Do not despair,’ he said. ‘I myself will teach thee.’
‘And I will see that thou art well taught,’ said Lurgan Sahib, still speaking in the vernacular, ‘for except my boy here — it was foolish of thee to buy so much white arsenic when, if thou hadst asked, I could have given it to thee — except my boy here I have not in a long time met with one better worth teaching. And there are ten days more ere thou canst return to Lucknao — where they teach nothing at a long price. We shall, I think, be friends.’
They were a most mad ten days, but Kim enjoyed himself too much to reflect on their craziness. In the morning they played the ‘jewel game ‘— sometimes with veritable stones, sometimes with piles of swords and daggers, sometimes with photographs (in this event Kim won). Through the afternoons he and the Hindu boy would mount guard in the shop, sitting dumb behind a carpet bale or a screen and watching the many and very curious visitors who came to buy curiosities. There were small Rajahs, their escorts coughing in the verandah, who came to buy curiosities — phonographs and French mechanical toys.
There were ladies in search of necklaces, and men, it seemed to Kim — but his mind may have been vitiated by early training — in search of the ladies; natives from independent and feudatory courts whose ostensible business was the repair of broken necklaces — rivers of light poured out upon the table — but whose real end seemed to be to raise money for angry Maharanees or young Rajahs. There were Babus to whom Lurgan Sahib talked with austerity and authority, but at the end of each interview he gave them money in coined silver and currency notes. There were occasional gatherings of long-coated theatrical natives who talked metaphysics in English and Bengali, to Mr. Lurgan’s great edification. He was always interested in religion. At the end of the day, Kim and the Hindu boy—whose name varied at Lurgan’s pleasure — were expected to give a detailed account of all that they had seen and heard—their view of each man’s character, as shown in his face, talk, and manner, and their notions of his real business. After dinner, Lurgan Sahib’s fancy turned more to what might be called dressing-up, in which game he took the most informing interest. He could paint faces to a marvel; with a brush-dab here and a line there changing them past recognition. The shop was full of all manner of dresses and turbans, and Kim was apparelled variously as a young Mohammedan of good family, an oilman, and once — which was a joyous evening — as the son of an Oudh landholder in the fullest of full dress. Lurgan Sahib had a hawk’s eye to detect the least flaw in the make-up; and lying on a worn teak-wood couch, would explain by the half hour together how such and such a caste talked, or walked, or coughed, or spat, or sneezed, and since ‘hows’ matter little in this world, the ‘why’ of everything. The Hindu boy played this game clumsily. The little mind, keen as an icicle where tally of jewels was concerned, could not temper itself to enter into another’s soul; but there was that in Kim which woke up and sang with joy as he put on the changing dresses, and changed his speech and gesture therewith.
Carried away by enthusiasm, he volunteered to show Lurgan Sahib one evening how the disciples of a certain caste of faquir, old Lahore acquaintances, begged doles by the roadside, and what sort of language he would use to an Englishman, to a Punjabi farmer going to a fair, and to a woman without a veil. Lurgan Sahib laughed immensely, and begged Kim to stay as he was, immobile for half an hour —cross-legged, ash-smeared, and wild-eyed, in the back room. At the end of that time entered a hulking, obese Babu whose stockinged legs shook with fat, and Kim hailed him with a shower of wayside chaff.
Lurgan Sahib — this annoyed Kim — watched the Babu and not the play.
‘I think,’ said the Babu heavily, lighting a cigarette, ‘I am of opeenion that it is most extraordinary and effeecient performance. Except that you had told me I should have opined that — that you were pulling my legs. How soon can he become approximately effeecient chainman? Because then I shall indent for him.’
‘That is what he must learn at Lucknow.’
‘Then order him to be jolly dam quick. Good-night, Lurgan.’ The Babu swung out with the gait of a bagged cow.
When they were telling over the day’s list of visitors, Lurgan Sahib asked Kim who he thought the Babu might be.
‘God knows,’ said Kim cheerily. The tone might almost have deceived Mahbub Ali, but it failed entirely with the healer of sick pearls.
‘That is true. God, He knows; but I wish to know what you think.’
Kim glanced sideways at his companion, whose eye had a way of compelling truth.
‘I — I think he will want me when I come from the school, but’ — confidentially, as Lurgan Sahib nodded approval — ‘I do not understand how he can wear many dresses and talk many tongues.’
‘Thou wilt understand many things later. He is a writer of tales for a certain Colonel. His honour is great only in Simla, and it is noticeable that he has no name, but only a number and a letter — that is the custom.’
‘And is there a price upon his head too — as upon all the others?’
‘Not yet; but if a boy rose up who is now sitting here and went — look, the door is open — as far as a certain house with a red-painted verandah, behind that which was the old theatre in the Lower Bazar, and whispered through the shutters: “Hurree Chunder Mookerjee bore the bad news of last month,” that boy might take away a belt full of silver.’
‘How many?’ said Kim promptly.
‘Five hundred — a thousand — as many as he might ask for.’
‘Good. And how long might such a boy live after the news was told?’ He smiled merrily at Lurgan Sahib’s very beard.
‘Ah! That is to be well thought of. Perhaps if he were very clever, he might live out the day — but not the night. By no means the night.’
‘Then what is the Babu’s pay for his work if so much is put upon his life?’
‘Eighty — perhaps a hundred — perhaps a hundred and fifty rupees; but the pay is the least part of the work. From time to time, God causes men to be born — and thou art one of them — who have a lust to go abroad at the risk of their lives and discover news — to-day it may be of far-off things, to-morrow of some hidden mountain, and the next day of some near-by man who has done a foolishness against the State. These men are very few; and of these few, not more than ten are of the best. Among these ten I count the Babu, and that is curious. How great therefore and desirable must be a business that changes the heart of a Bengali.’
‘True. But the days go slowly for me. I am yet a boy, and it is only within two months I learned to write Angrezi. Even now I cannot read it well. And there are yet years and years and long years before I can be even a chainman.’
‘Have patience, Friend of all the World,’ — Kim started at the title. ‘I would I had a few of the years that so irk thee. I have proved thee in several small ways. This will not be forgotten when I make my report to the Colonel Sahib.’
Then, changing suddenly into English with a deep laugh — ‘By Jove! O’Hara, I think there is a great deal in you; but you must not become proud and you must not talk. You must go back to Lucknow and be a good little boy and mind your book, as the English say, and perhaps, next holidays if you care, you can come back to me!’ Kim’s face fell. ‘Oh, I mean if you like. I know where you want to go.’
Four days later a seat was booked for Kim and his small trunk at the rear of a Kalka tonga. His companion was the whale-like Babu, who, with a fringed shawl wrapped round his head, and his fat open-worked stockinged left leg tucked under him, shivered and grunted in the morning chill.
‘How comes it that this man is one of us? ‘thought Kim, considering the jelly-back as they jolted down the road; and the reflection threw him into most pleasant day-dreams. Lurgan Sahib had given him five rupees — an enormous sum — as well as the assurance of his protection if he worked. The indoor life (and never did a visitor see less of Simla in a ten days’ visit) had preyed upon him, and he yearned for the open road. If only, like the Babu, he could enjoy the dignity of a letter and a number — and a price upon his head! Some day he would be all that and more. Some day he might be almost as great as Mahbub Au! The housetops of his search should be half India; he would follow kings and ministers, as in the old days he had followed vakils and lawyers’ touts across Lahore city for Mahbub Ali’s sake. Meantime, there was the present, and not at all unpleasant, fact of St. Xavier’s immediately before him. There would be new boys to condescend to, and there would be tales of holiday adventures to hear. Young Martin, the son of a tea-planter at Manipur, had boasted that he would go to war, with a rifle, against the head-hunters. That might be, but it was certain young Martin had not been blown half across the forecourt of a Patiala palace by an explosion of fireworks; nor had he. . . . Kim fell to telling himself the story of his own adventures through the last three months. He could paralyse St. Xavier’s even the biggest boys who shaved — with the recital were that permitted. But it was, of course, out of the question. There would be a price upon his head in good time, as Lurgan Sahib had assured him; but if he told stories now, not only would that price never be set, but Colonel Creighton would cast him — and he would be left to the wrath of Lurgan Sahib and Mahbub Ali — for the short space of life that would remain to him.
‘So I should lose Delhi for the sake of a fish,’ was his proverbial philosophy. It behoved him to forget his holidays (there would always remain the fun of inventing imaginary adventures), and, as Lurgan Sahib had said, to work. As if any one but a fool of a Sahib would show his method!
Of all the boys hurrying back to St. Xavier’s, from Sukkur in the sands to Galle beneath the palms, none was so filled with virtue as Kimball O’Hara, jigetting down to Umballa behind Hurree Chunder Mookerjee, whose name on the books of one section of the Ethnological Survey was R.17.
And if additional spur were needed, the Babu supplied it. After a huge meal at Kalka, he spoke as a stranger. Was Kim going to school? Then he, an M.A. of Calcutta University, would explain the advantages of education. There were marks to be gained by due attention to Latin and Wordsworth’s Excursion (all this was Greek to Kim). Also a man might go far, as he himself had done, by strict attention to plays called Lear and Julius Caesar, both much in demand by examiners on the Bengal side. Lear was not so full of historical allusions as Julius Caesar; the book cost four annas, but could be bought second-hand in Bow Bazar for two. No one should waste his money on new books. Still, more important than Wordsworth, or the eminent authors, Burke and Hare, was the art and science of mensuration which included trigonometry and the survey of land. A boy who had passed his examination in these branches — for which, by the way, there were no cram-books — could, by merely marching over a country with a compass and a level and a straight eye, carry away a picture of that country which might be sold for large sums in coined silver. But as it was occasionally inexpedient to carry about measuring-chains, a boy would do well to know the precise length of his own foot-pace, so that when he was deprived of what Hurree Chunder called ‘adventitious aids’ he might still tread his distances. To keep count of thousands of paces, Hurree Chunder’s experience had shown him nothing more valuable than a rosary of eighty-one or a hundred and eight beads, for ‘it was divisible and sub-divisible into many multiples and sub-multiples.’ Through the volleying drifts of English, Kim caught the general trend of the talk, and it interested him ‘a very much.’ Here was a new craft that a man could carry in his head; and by the look of the large wide world unfolding itself before him, it seemed that the more a man knew the better for him.
Said the Babu when he had talked for an hour and a half, ‘I hope some day to enjoy your offeecial acquaintance. Ad interim, if I may be pardoned that expression, I shall give you this betel-box which is highly valuable article and cost me two rupees only four years ago.’ It was a cheap, heart-shaped brass box with three compartments for carrying the eternal betel-nut, lime and pan-leaf; but it was filled with little tabloid bottles. ‘That is reward of merit for your performance in character of that holy man. You see, you are so young you think you will last for ever and not take care of your body. It is great nuisance to go sick in the middle of business. I am verree fond of drugs myself, and they are handy to impress poor people too. I give it you for souvenir. Now good-bye. I have urgent private business here by the roadside.’
He slipped out noiselessly as a cat, on the Umballa road, hailed a passing ekka and jingled away, while Kim, tongue-tied, twiddled the brass betel-box in his hands.
* * * * *
The record of a boy’s education interests few save his parents, and, as you know, Kim was an orphan. It is written in the books of St. Xavier in Partibus that a report of Kim’s progress was forwarded at the end of each term to Colonel Creighton and to Father Victor, from whose hand duly came the money for his schooling. It is further recorded in the same books that he showed a great aptitude for mathematical studies as well as map-making, and carried away a prize (The Life of Lord Lawrence, tree calf, two vols., nine rupees, eight annas) for proficiency therein; and the same term played in St. Xavier’s eleven against the Allyghur Mohammedan College, his age being fourteen years and ten months. He was also vaccinated (from which we may assume that there had been another epidemic of small-pox at Lucknow) about the same time. Pencil notes on the edge of an old muster-roll record that he was punished several times for ‘conversing with improper persons,’ and the principal knows that he was once sentenced to heavy pains for ‘ absenting himself for a day in the company of a street beggar.’ That was when he got over the gate and he pleaded with the lama down the banks of the Goomte to accompany him on the road next holidays — for one month — for a little week; and the lama set his face as a flint against it, saying that the time had not yet come. Kim’s business, said the old man as they ate cakes together, was to get all the wisdom of the Sahibs and then he would see. The hand of friendship must have in a way averted the whip of calamity, for six weeks later Kim seems to have passed an examination in elementary surveying ‘with great credit,’ his age being fifteen years and four months. From this date the record is silent. His name does not appear in the year’s batch of those who entered for the subordinate survey of India, but against it stands the words ‘removed on appointment.’
Several times in those three years, cast up at the Temple of the Tirthankers in Benares the lama, a little thinner and a shade yellower, if that were possible, but still burning with his inextinguishable hope. Sometimes it was from the South that he came from south of Tuticorin — whence the wonderful fire-boats go to Ceylon and the priests who know Pali; sometimes it was from the wet green West amid the thousand cotton-factory chimneys that ring Bombay; and once from the North, where he had doubled back eight hundred miles to talk a day with the Keeper of the Images in the Wonder House. He would go to his cell in the cool, cut marble — for the priests of the Temple were good to the old man — wash off the dust of travel, make prayer, and depart for Lucknow, well accustomed now to the ways of the rail, in a third-class carriage. Returning, it was noticeable, as his friend the Seeker pointed out to the head priest, that he ceased for a while to mourn the loss of his River, or to draw wondrous pictures of the Wheel of Life, and preferred to talk of the beauty and wisdom of a certain mysterious chela whom no man of the temple had ever seen. Yes, he had followed the traces of the Blessed Feet throughout all India (the curator has still in his possession a most marvellous account of his wanderings and meditations); there remained nothing more in life but to find the River of Healing. Yet it seemed to him that it was a matter not to be undertaken with any hope of success unless the Seeker took with him the one chela appointed to bring the event to a happy issue, and versed in great wisdom — such wisdom as white-haired Keepers of Images possessed. For example (here came out the snuff-gourd, and the kindly Jam priests made haste to be silent).
‘Long and long ago, when Devadatta was King of Benares—let all listen to the Jātaka! — an elephant was captured for a time by the king’s hunters, and ere he broke free, ringed with a grievous leg-iron. This he strove to remove with hate and frenzy in his heart, and hurrying up and down the forest besought his brother elephants to wrench it asunder. One by one they tried with their strong trunks and failed. At the last they gave it as their opinion that the ring was not to be broken by any bestial power. And in a thicket, new-born, wet with the moisture of birth, lay a day-old calf of the herd whose mother had died. The fettered elephant, forgetting his own agony, said: “If I do not help this suckling it will perish under our feet.” So he stood above the young thing, making his legs buttresses against the uneasily moving herd; and he begged milk of a virtuous cow, and the calf throve, and the ringed elephant was the calf’s guide and defence. Now the days of an elephant — let all listen to the Jātaka! — are thirty-five years to his full strength, and through thirty-five rains the ringed elephant befriended the younger, and all the while the fetter ate into the flesh.
‘Then one day the young elephant saw the half-buried coil, and turning to the elder said: “What is this?” “It is even my sorrow,” said he who had befriended him. Then that other put out his trunk and in the twinkling of an eye-lash abolished the ring, saying: “The appointed time has come.” So the virtuous elephant who had waited temperately and done kind acts was relieved, at the appointed time, by the very calf whom he had turned aside to cherish — let all listen to the Jātaka! — for the elephant was Ananda, and the calf that broke the ring was none other than The Lord himself…...’
Then be would shako his head benignly, and over the ever-clicking rosary point out how free that elephant calf was from the sin of pride. He was as humble as a chela who, seeing his master sitting in the dust outside the gates of learning, overleapt the gates (though they were locked) and took his master to his heart in the presence of the proud-stomached city. Rich would be the reward of such a master and such a chela when the time came for them to seek freedom together.
So did the lama speak, coming and going across India as softly as a bat. A sharp-tongued old woman in a house among the fruit-trees behind Saharunpore honoured them as the woman honoured the prophet, but his chamber was by no means upon the wall. In an apartment of the forecourt overlooked by cooing doves he would sit, while she laid aside her useless veil and chattered of spirits and fiends of Kubi, of grandchildren unborn, and the free-tongued brat who had talked to her in the resting-place. Once, too, ho strayed alone from the Grand Trunk road below Umballa to the very village whose priest had tried to drug him; but the kind heaven that guards lamas sent him at twilight through the crops, clicking his rosary, to the ressaldar’s door. Here was like to have been a grave misunderstanding, for the old soldier asked him why the Friend of the Stars had gone that way only six days before.
‘That may not be,’ said the lama. ‘He has gone back to his own people.’
‘He sat in that corner telling a hundred merry tales five nights ago,’ his host insisted. ‘True, he vanished somewhat suddenly in the dawn after foolish talk with my grand-daughter. He grows apace, but he is the same Friend of the Stars as brought me true word of the war. Have ye parted then?’
‘Yes — and No,’ the lama replied. ‘We — we have not altogether parted, but the time is not ripe that we should take the road together. He acquires wisdom in another place. We must wait.’
‘All one — but if it were not the boy how did he come to speak so continually of thee?’
'And what said he?’ asked the lama eagerly.
‘Sweet words — an hundred thousand — that thou art his father and mother and such all. Pity that he does not take the Queen’s service.’
This news amazed the lama, who then did not know how religiously Kim kept to the contract made with Mahbub Ali, and perforce ratified by Colonel Creighton. ‘There is no holding the young pony from the game,’ said the horse-dealer when the Colonel pointed out that vagabonding over India in holiday time was absurd. ‘If permission be refused to go and come as he chooses, he will make light of the refusal. Then who is to catch him? Colonel Sahib, only once in a thousand years is a horse born so well fitted for the game as this our colt.’