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Kim

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He built his fire as close to the cart as he dared, waiting for one of the escort to order him away. The lama dropped wearily to the ground, much as a heavy fruit-eating bat cowers, and returned to his rosary. </P> <P> 'Stand farther off, beggar!' The order was shouted in broken Hindustani by one of the hillmen. </P> <P> 'Huh! It is only a pahari [a hillman]', said Kim over his shoulder. 'Since when have the hill-asses owned all Hindustan?' </P> <P> The retort was a swift and brilliant sketch of Kim's pedigree for three generations. </P> <P> 'Ah!' Kim's voice was sweeter than ever, as he broke the dung-cake into fit pieces. 'In my country we call that the beginning of love-talk.' </P> <P> A harsh, thin cackle behind the curtains put the hillman on his mettle for a second shot. </P> <P> 'Not so bad&mdash;not so bad,' said Kim with calm. 'But have a care, my brother, lest we&mdash;we, I say&mdash;be minded to give a curse or so in return. And our curses have the knack of biting home.' </P> <P> The Ooryas laughed; the hillman sprang forward threateningly. The lama suddenly raised his head, bringing his huge tam-o'-shanter hat into the full light of Kim's new-started fire. </P> <P> 'What is it?' said he. </P> <P> The man halted as though struck to stone. 'I&mdash;I&mdash;am saved from a great sin,' he stammered. </P> <P> 'The foreigner has found him a priest at last,' whispered one of the Ooryas. </P> <P> 'Hai! Why is that beggar-brat not well beaten?' the old woman cried. </P> <P> The hillman drew back to the cart and whispered something to the curtain. There was dead silence, then a muttering. </P> <P> 'This goes well,' thought Kim, pretending neither to see nor hear. </P> <P> 'When&mdash;when&mdash;he has eaten'&mdash;the hillman fawned on Kim&mdash;'it&mdash;it is requested that the Holy One will do the honour to talk to one who would speak to him.' </P> <P> 'After he has eaten he will sleep,' Kim returned loftily. He could not quite see what new turn the game had taken, but stood resolute to profit by it. 'Now I will get him his food.' The last sentence, spoken loudly, ended with a sigh as of faintness. </P> <P> 'I&mdash;I myself and the others of my people will look to that&mdash;if it is permitted.' </P> <P> 'It is permitted,' said Kim, more loftily than ever. 'Holy One, these people will bring us food.' </P> <P> 'The land is good. All the country of the South is good&mdash;a great and a terrible world,' mumbled the lama drowsily. </P> <P> 'Let him sleep,' said Kim, 'but look to it that we are well fed when he wakes. He is a very holy man.' </P> <P> Again one of the Ooryas said something contemptuously. </P> <P> 'He is not a fakir. He is not a down-country beggar,' Kim went on severely, addressing the stars. 'He is the most holy of holy men. He is above all castes. I am his chela.' </P> <P> 'Come here!' said the flat thin voice behind the curtain; and Kim came, conscious that eyes he could not see were staring at him. One skinny brown finger heavy with rings lay on the edge of the cart, and the talk went this way: </P> <P> 'Who is that one?' </P> <P> 'An exceedingly holy one. He comes from far off. He comes from Tibet.' </P> <P> 'Where in Tibet?' </P> <P> 'From behind the snows&mdash;from a very far place. He knows the stars; he makes horoscopes; he reads nativities. But he does not do this for money. He does it for kindness and great charity. I am his disciple. I am called also the Friend of the Stars.' </P> <P> 'Thou art no hillman.' </P> <P> 'Ask him. He will tell thee I was sent to him from the Stars to show him an end to his pilgrimage.' </P> <P> 'Humph! Consider, brat, that I am an old woman and not altogether a fool. Lamas I know, and to these I give reverence, but thou art no more a lawful chela than this my finger is the pole of this wagon. Thou art a casteless Hindu&mdash;a bold and unblushing beggar, attached, belike, to the Holy One for the sake of gain.' </P> <P> 'Do we not all work for gain?' Kim changed his tone promptly to match that altered voice. 'I have heard'&mdash;this was a bow drawn at a venture&mdash;'I have heard&mdash;' </P> <P> 'What hast thou heard?' she snapped, rapping with the finger. </P> <P> 'Nothing that I well remember, but some talk in the bazars, which is doubtless a lie, that even Rajahs&mdash;small Hill Rajahs&mdash;' </P> <P> 'But none the less of good Rajput blood.' </P> <P> 'Assuredly of good blood. That these even sell the more comely of their womenfolk for gain. Down south they sell them&mdash;to zemindars and such&mdash;all of Oudh.' </P> <P> If there be one thing in the world that the small Hill Rajahs deny it is just this charge; but it happens to be one thing that the bazars believe, when they discuss the mysterious slave-traffics of India. The old lady explained to Kim, in a tense, indignant whisper, precisely what manner and fashion of malignant liar he was. Had Kim hinted this when she was a girl, he would have been pommelled to death that same evening by an elephant. This was perfectly true. </P> <P> 'Ahai! I am only a beggar's brat, as the Eye of Beauty has said,' he wailed in extravagant terror. </P> <P> 'Eye of Beauty, forsooth! Who am I that thou shouldst fling beggar-endearments at me?' And yet she laughed at the long-forgotten word. 'Forty years ago that might have been said, and not without truth. Ay. thirty years ago. But it is the fault of this gadding up and down Hind that a king's widow must jostle all the scum of the land, and be made a mock by beggars.' </P> <P> 'Great Queen,' said Kim promptly, for he heard her shaking with indignation, 'I am even what the Great Queen says I am; but none the less is my master holy. He has not yet heard the Great Queen's order that&mdash;' </P> <P> 'Order? I order a Holy One&mdash;a Teacher of the Law&mdash;to come and speak to a woman? Never!' </P> <P> 'Pity my stupidity. I thought it was given as an order&mdash;' </P> <P> 'It was not. It was a petition. Does this make all clear?' </P> <P> A silver coin clicked on the edge of the cart. Kim took it and salaamed profoundly. The old lady recognized that, as the eyes and the ears of the lama, he was to be propitiated. </P> <P> 'I am but the Holy One's disciple. When he has eaten perhaps he will come.' </P> <P> 'Oh, villain and shameless rogue!' The jewelled forefinger shook itself at him reprovingly; but he could hear the old lady's chuckle. </P> <P> 'Nay, what is it?' he said, dropping into his most caressing and confidential tone&mdash;the one, he well knew, that few could resist. 'Is&mdash;is there any need of a son in thy family? Speak freely, for we priests&mdash;' That last was a direct plagiarism from a fakir by the Taksali Gate. </P> <P> 'We priests! Thou art not yet old enough to&mdash;' She checked the joke with another laugh. 'Believe me, now and again, we women, O priest, think of other matters than sons. Moreover, my daughter has borne her man-child.' </P> <P> 'Two arrows in the quiver are better than one; and three are better still.' Kim quoted the proverb with a meditative cough, looking discreetly earthward. </P> <P> 'True&mdash;oh, true. But perhaps that will come. Certainly those down-country Brahmins are utterly useless. I sent gifts and monies and gifts again to them, and they prophesied.' </P> <P> 'Ah,' drawled Kim, with infinite contempt, 'they prophesied!' A professional could have done no better. </P> <P> 'And it was not till I remembered my own Gods that my prayers were heard. I chose an auspicious hour, and&mdash;perhaps thy Holy One has heard of the Abbot of the Lung-Cho lamassery. It was to him I put the matter, and behold in the due time all came about as I desired. The Brahmin in the house of the father of my daughter's son has since said that it was through his prayers&mdash;which is a little error that I will explain to him when we reach our journey's end. And so afterwards I go to Buddh Gaya, to make shraddha for the father of my children.' </P> <P> 'Thither go we.' </P> <P> 'Doubly auspicious,' chirruped the old lady. 'A second son at least!' </P> <P> 'O Friend of all the World!' The lama had waked, and, simply as a child bewildered in a strange bed, called for Kim. </P> <P> 'I come! I come, Holy One!' He dashed to the fire, where he found the lama already surrounded by dishes of food, the hillmen visibly adoring him and the Southerners looking sourly. </P> <P> 'Go back! Withdraw!' Kim cried. 'Do we eat publicly like dogs?' They finished the meal in silence, each turned a little from the other, and Kim topped it with a native-made cigarette. </P> <P> 'Have I not said an hundred times that the South is a good land? Here is a virtuous and high-born widow of a Hill Rajah on pilgrimage, she says, to Buddha Gay. She it is sends us those dishes; and when thou art well rested she would speak to thee.' </P> <P> 'Is this also thy work?' The lama dipped deep into his snuff-gourd. </P> <P> 'Who else watched over thee since our wonderful journey began?' Kim's eyes danced in his head as he blew the rank smoke through his nostrils and stretched him on the dusty ground. 'Have I failed to oversee thy comforts, Holy One?' </P> <P> 'A blessing on thee.' The lama inclined his solemn head. 'I have known many men in my so long life, and disciples not a few. But to none among men, if so be thou art woman-born, has my heart gone out as it has to thee&mdash;thoughtful, wise, and courteous; but something of a small imp.' </P> <P> 'And I have never seen such a priest as thou.' Kim considered the benevolent yellow face wrinkle by wrinkle. 'It is less than three days since we took the road together, and it is as though it were a hundred years.' </P> <P> 'Perhaps in a former life it was permitted that I should have rendered thee some service. Maybe'&mdash;he smiled&mdash;'I freed thee from a trap; or, having caught thee on a hook in the days when I was not enlightened, cast thee back into the river.' </P> <P> 'Maybe,' said Kim quietly. He had heard this sort of speculation again and again, from the mouths of many whom the English would not consider imaginative. 'Now, as regards that woman in the bullock-cart. I think she needs a second son for her daughter.' </P> <P> 'That is no part of the Way,' sighed the lama. 'But at least she is from the Hills. Ah, the Hills, and the snow of the Hills!' </P> <P> He rose and stalked to the cart. Kim would have given his ears to come too, but the lama did not invite him; and the few words he caught were in an unknown tongue, for they spoke some common speech of the mountains. The woman seemed to ask questions which the lama turned over in his mind before answering. Now and again he heard the singsong cadence of a Chinese quotation. It was a strange picture that Kim watched between drooped eyelids. The lama, very straight and erect, the deep folds of his yellow clothing slashed with black in the light of the parao fires precisely as a knotted tree-trunk is slashed with the shadows of the low sun, addressed a tinsel and lacquered ruth which burned like a many-coloured jewel in the same uncertain light. The patterns on the gold-worked curtains ran up and down, melting and reforming as the folds shook and quivered to the night wind; and when the talk grew more earnest the jewelled forefinger snapped out little sparks of light between the embroideries. Behind the cart was a wall of uncertain darkness speckled with little flames and alive with half-caught forms and faces and shadows. The voices of early evening had settled down to one soothing hum whose deepest note was the steady chumping of the bullocks above their chopped straw, and whose highest was the tinkle of a Bengali dancing-girl's sitar. Most men had eaten and pulled deep at their gurgling, grunting hookahs, which in full blast sound like bull-frogs. </P> <P> At last the lama returned. A hillman walked behind him with a wadded cotton-quilt and spread it carefully by the fire. </P> <P> 'She deserves ten thousand grandchildren,' thought Kim. 'None the less, but for me, those gifts would not have come.' </P> <P> 'A virtuous woman&mdash;and a wise one.' The lama slackened off, joint by joint, like a slow camel. 'The world is full of charity to those who follow the Way.' He flung a fair half of the quilt over Kim. </P> <P> 'And what said she?' Kim rolled up in his share of it. </P> <P> 'She asked me many questions and propounded many problems&mdash;the most of which were idle tales which she had heard from devil-serving priests who pretend to follow the Way. Some I answered, and some I said were foolish. Many wear the Robe, but few keep the Way.' </P> <P> 'True. That is true.' Kim used the thoughtful, conciliatory tone of those who wish to draw confidences. </P> <P> 'But by her lights she is most right-minded. She desires greatly that we should go with her to Buddh Gaya; her road being ours, as I understand, for many days' journey to the southward.' </P> <P> 'And?' </P> <P> 'Patience a little. To this I said that my Search came before all things. She had heard many foolish legends, but this great truth of my River she had never heard. Such are the priests of the lower hills! She knew the Abbot of Lung-Cho, but she did not know of my River&mdash;nor the tale of the Arrow.' </P> <P> 'And?' </P> <P> 'I spoke therefore of the Search, and of the Way, and of matters that were profitable; she desiring only that I should accompany her and make prayer for a second son.' </P> <P> 'Aha! "We women" do not think of anything save children,' said Kim sleepily. </P> <P> 'Now, since our roads run together for a while, I do not see that we in any way depart from our Search if so be we accompany her&mdash;at least as far as&mdash;I have forgotten the name of the city.' </P> <P> 'Ohe!' said Kim, turning and speaking in a sharp whisper to one of the Ooryas a few yards away. 'Where is your master's house?' </P> <P> 'A little behind Saharunpore, among the fruit gardens.' He named the village. </P> <P> 'That was the place,' said the lama. 'So far, at least, we can go with her.' </P> <P> 'Flies go to carrion,' said the Oorya, in an abstracted voice. </P> <P> 'For the sick cow a crow; for the sick man a Brahmin.' Kim breathed the proverb impersonally to the shadow-tops of the trees overhead. </P> <P> The Oorya grunted and held his peace. </P> <P> 'So then we go with her, Holy One?' </P> <P> 'Is there any reason against? I can still step aside and try all the rivers that the road overpasses. She desires that I should come. She very greatly desires it.' </P> <P> Kim stifled a laugh in the quilt. When once that imperious old lady had recovered from her natural awe of a lama he thought it probable that she would be worth listening to. </P> <P> He was nearly asleep when the lama suddenly quoted a proverb: 'The husbands of the talkative have a great reward hereafter.' Then Kim heard him snuff thrice, and dozed off, still laughing. </P> <P> The diamond-bright dawn woke men and crows and bullocks together. Kim sat up and yawned, shook himself, and thrilled with delight. This was seeing the world in real truth; this was life as he would have it&mdash;bustling and shouting, the buckling of belts, and beating of bullocks and creaking of wheels, lighting of fires and cooking of food, and new sights at every turn of the approving eye. The morning mist swept off in a whorl of silver, the parrots shot away to some distant river in shrieking green hosts: all the well-wheels within ear-shot went to work. India was awake, and Kim was in the middle of it, more awake and more excited than anyone, chewing on a twig that he would presently use as a toothbrush; for he borrowed right- and left-handedly from all the customs of the country he knew and loved. There was no need to worry about food&mdash;no need to spend a cowrie at the crowded stalls. He was the disciple of a holy man annexed by a strong-willed old lady. All things would be prepared for them, and when they were respectfully invited so to do they would sit and eat. For the rest&mdash;Kim giggled here as he cleaned his teeth&mdash;his hostess would rather heighten the enjoyment of the road. He inspected her bullocks critically, as they came up grunting and blowing under the yokes. If they went too fast&mdash;it was not likely&mdash;there would be a pleasant seat for himself along the pole; the lama would sit beside the driver. The escort, of course, would walk. The old lady, equally of course, would talk a great deal, and by what he had heard that conversation would not lack salt. She was already ordering, haranguing, rebuking, and, it must be said, cursing her servants for delays. </P> <P> 'Get her her pipe. In the name of the Gods, get her her pipe and stop her ill-omened mouth,' cried an Oorya, tying up his shapeless bundles of bedding. 'She and the parrots are alike. They screech in the dawn.' </P> <P> 'The lead-bullocks! Hai! Look to the lead-bullocks!' They were backing and wheeling as a grain-cart's axle caught them by the horns. 'Son of an owl, where dost thou go?' This to the grinning carter. </P> <P> 'Ai! Yai! Yai! That within there is the Queen of Delhi going to pray for a son,' the man called back over his high load. 'Room for the Queen of Delhi and her Prime Minister the grey monkey climbing up his own sword!' Another cart loaded with bark for a down-country tannery followed close behind, and its driver added a few compliments as the ruth-bullocks backed and backed again. </P> <P> From behind the shaking curtains came one volley of invective. It did not last long, but in kind and quality, in blistering, biting appropriateness, it was beyond anything that even Kim had heard. He could see the carter's bare chest collapse with amazement, as the man salaamed reverently to the voice, leaped from the pole, and helped the escort haul their volcano on to the main road. Here the voice told him truthfully what sort of wife he had wedded, and what she was doing in his absence. </P> <P> 'Oh, shabash!' murmured Kim, unable to contain himself, as the man slunk away. </P> <P> 'Well done, indeed? It is a shame and a scandal that a poor woman may not go to make prayer to her Gods except she be jostled and insulted by all the refuse of Hindustan&mdash;that she must eat gali [abuse] as men eat ghi. But I have yet a wag left to my tongue&mdash;a word or two well spoken that serves the occasion. And still am I without my tobacco! Who is the one-eyed and luckless son of shame that has not yet prepared my pipe?' </P> <P> It was hastily thrust in by a hillman, and a trickle of thick smoke from each corner of the curtains showed that peace was restored. </P> <P> If Kim had walked proudly the day before, disciple of a holy man, today he paced with tenfold pride in the train of a semi-royal procession, with a recognized place under the patronage of an old lady of charming manners and infinite resource. The escort, their heads tied up native-fashion, fell in on either side the cart, shuffling enormous clouds of dust. </P> <P> The lama and Kim walked a little to one side; Kim chewing his stick of sugarcane, and making way for no one under the status of a priest. They could hear the old lady's tongue clack as steadily as a rice-husker. She bade the escort tell her what was going on on the road; and so soon as they were clear of the parao she flung back the curtains and peered out, her veil a third across her face. Her men did not eye her directly when she addressed them, and thus the proprieties were more or less observed. </P> <P> A dark, sallowish District Superintendent of Police, faultlessly uniformed, an Englishman, trotted by on a tired horse, and, seeing from her retinue what manner of person she was, chaffed her. </P> <P> 'O mother,' he cried, 'do they do this in the zenanas? Suppose an Englishman came by and saw that thou hast no nose?' </P> <P> 'What?' she shrilled back. 'Thine own mother has no nose? Why say so, then, on the open road?' </P> <P> It was a fair counter. The Englishman threw up his hand with the gesture of a man hit at sword-play. She laughed and nodded. </P> <P> 'Is this a face to tempt virtue aside?' She withdrew all her veil and stared at him. </P> <P> It was by no means lovely, but as the man gathered up his reins he called it a Moon of Paradise, a Disturber of Integrity, and a few other fantastic epithets which doubled her up with mirth. </P> <P> 'That is a nut-cut [rogue],' she said. 'All police-constables are nut-cuts; but the police-wallahs are the worst. Hai, my son, thou hast never learned all that since thou camest from Belait [Europe]. Who suckled thee?' </P> <P> 'A pahareen&mdash;a hillwoman of Dalhousie, my mother. Keep thy beauty under a shade&mdash;O Dispenser of Delights,' and he was gone. </P> <P> 'These be the sort'&mdash;she took a fine judicial tone, and stuffed her mouth with pan&mdash;'These be the sort to oversee justice. They know the land and the customs of the land. The others, all new from Europe, suckled by white women and learning our tongues from books, are worse than the pestilence. They do harm to Kings.' Then she told a long, long tale to the world at large, of an ignorant young policeman who had disturbed some small Hill Rajah, a ninth cousin of her own, in the matter of a trivial land-case, winding up with a quotation from a work by no means devotional. </P> <P> Then her mood changed, and she bade one of the escort ask whether the lama would walk alongside and discuss matters of religion. So Kim dropped back into the dust and returned to his sugar-cane. For an hour or more the lama's tam-o'shanter showed like a moon through the haze; and, from all he heard, Kim gathered that the old woman wept. One of the Ooryas half apologized for his rudeness overnight, saying that he had never known his mistress of so bland a temper, and he ascribed it to the presence of the strange priest. Personally, he believed in Brahmins, though, like all natives, he was acutely aware of their cunning and their greed. Still, when Brahmins but irritated with begging demands the mother of his master's wife, and when she sent them away so angry that they cursed the whole retinue (which was the real reason of the second off-side bullock going lame, and of the pole breaking the night before), he was prepared to accept any priest of any other denomination in or out of India. To this Kim assented with wise nods, and bade the Oorya observe that the lama took no money, and that the cost of his and Kim's food would be repaid a hundred times in the good luck that would attend the caravan henceforward. He also told stories of Lahore city, and sang a song or two which made the escort laugh. As a town-mouse well acquainted with the latest songs by the most fashionable composers&mdash;they are women for the most part&mdash;Kim had a distinct advantage over men from a little fruit-village behind Saharunpore, but he let that advantage be inferred. </P> <P> At noon they turned aside to eat, and the meal was good, plentiful, and well-served on plates of clean leaves, in decency, out of drift of the dust. They gave the scraps to certain beggars, that all requirements might be fulfilled, and sat down to a long, luxurious smoke. The old lady had retreated behind her curtains, but mixed most freely in the talk, her servants arguing with and contradicting her as servants do throughout the East. She compared the cool and the pines of the Kangra and Kulu hills with the dust and the mangoes of the South; she told a tale of some old local Gods at the edge of her husband's territory; she roundly abused the tobacco which she was then smoking, reviled all Brahmins, and speculated without reserve on the coming of many grandsons. </P> <BR><BR><BR>
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