Here come I to my own again
Fed, forgiven, and known again
Claimed by bone of my bone again,
And sib to flesh of my flesh!
The fatted calf is dressed for me,
But the husks have greater zest for me …
I think my pigs will be best for me,
So I’m off to the styes afresh.
The Prodigal Son.
Once more the lazy, string-tied, shuffling procession got under way, and she slept till they reached the next halting-stage. It was a very short march, and time lacked an hour to sundown, so Kim cast about for means of amusement.
‘But why not sit and rest?’ said one of the escort. ‘Only the devils and the English walk to and fro without reason.’
‘Never make friends with the Devil, a Monkey, or a Boy. No man knows what they will do next,’ said his fellow.
Kim turned a scornful back—he did not want to hear the old story how the Devil played with the boys and repented of it and walked idly across country.
The lama strode after him. All that day, whenever they passed a stream, he had turned aside to look at it, but in no case had he received any warning that he had found his River. Insensibly, too, the comfort of speaking to someone in a reasonable tongue, and of being properly considered and respected as her spiritual adviser by a well-born woman, had weaned his thoughts a little from the Search. And further, he was prepared to spend serene years in his quest; having nothing of the white man’s impatience, but a great faith.
‘Where goest thou?’ he called after Kim.
‘Nowhither—it was a small march, and all this’—Kim waved his hands abroad—’is new to me.’
‘She is beyond question a wise and a discerning woman. But it is hard to meditate when—’
‘All women are thus.’ Kim spoke as might have Solomon.
‘Before the lamassery was a broad platform,’ the lama muttered, looping up the well-worn rosary, ‘of stone. On that I have left the marks of my feet—pacing to and fro with these.’
He clicked the beads, and began the ‘Om mane pudme hum’s of his devotion; grateful for the cool, the quiet, and the absence of dust.
One thing after another drew Kim’s idle eye across the plain. There was no purpose in his wanderings, except that the build of the huts near by seemed new, and he wished to investigate.
They came out on a broad tract of grazing-ground, brown and purple in the afternoon light, with a heavy clump of mangoes in the centre. It struck Kim as curious that no shrine stood in so eligible a spot: the boy was observing as any priest for these things. Far across the plain walked side by side four men, made small by the distance. He looked intently under his curved palms and caught the sheen of brass.
‘Soldiers. White soldiers!’ said he. ‘Let us see.’
‘It is always soldiers when thou and I go out alone together. But I have never seen the white soldiers.’
‘They do no harm except when they are drunk. Keep behind this tree.’
They stepped behind the thick trunks in the cool dark of the mango-tope. Two little figures halted; the other two came forward uncertainly. They were the advance-party of a regiment on the march, sent out, as usual, to mark the camp. They bore five-foot sticks with fluttering flags, and called to each other as they spread over the flat earth.
At last they entered the mango-grove, walking heavily.
‘It’s here or hereabouts—officers’ tents under the trees, I take it, an’ the rest of us can stay outside. Have they marked out for the baggage-wagons behind?’
They cried again to their comrades in the distance, and the rough answer came back faint and mellowed.
‘Shove the flag in here, then,’ said one.
‘What do they prepare?’ said the lama, wonderstruck. ‘This is a great and terrible world. What is the device on the flag?’
A soldier thrust a stave within a few feet of them, grunted discontentedly, pulled it up again, conferred with his companion, who looked up and down the shaded cave of greenery, and returned it.
Kim stared with all his eyes, his breath coming short and sharp between his teeth. The soldiers stamped off into the sunshine.
‘O Holy One!’ he gasped. ‘My horoscope! The drawing in the dust by the priest at Umballa! Remember what he said. First come two—ferashes—to make all things ready—in a dark place, as it is always at the beginning of a vision.’
‘But this is not vision,’ said the lama. ‘It is the world’s Illusion, and no more.’
‘And after them comes the Bull—the Red Bull on the green field. Look! It is he!’
He pointed to the flag that was snap snapping in the evening breeze not ten feet away. It was no more than an ordinary camp marking-flag; but the regiment, always punctilious in matters of millinery, had charged it with the regimental device, the Red Bull, which is the crest of the Mavericks—the great Red Bull on a background of Irish green.
‘I see, and now I remember.’ said the lama. ‘Certainly it is thy Bull. Certainly, also, the two men came to make all ready.’
‘They are soldiers—white soldiers. What said the priest? “The sign over against the Bull is the sign of War and armed men.” Holy One, this thing touches my Search.’
‘True. It is true.’ The lama stared fixedly at the device that flamed like a ruby in the dusk. ‘The priest at Umballa said that thine was the sign of War.’
‘What is to do now?’
‘Wait. Let us wait.’
‘Even now the darkness clears,’ said Kim. It was only natural that the descending sun should at last strike through the tree-trunks, across the grove, filling it with mealy gold light for a few minutes; but to Kim it was the crown of the Umballa Brahmin’s prophecy.
‘Hark!’ said the lama. ‘One beats a drum—far off!’
At first the sound, carrying diluted through the still air, resembled the beating of an artery in the head. Soon a sharpness was added.
‘Ah! The music,’ Kim explained. He knew the sound of a regimental band, but it amazed the lama.
At the far end of the plain a heavy, dusty column crawled in sight. Then the wind brought the tune:
We crave your condescension
To tell you what we know
Of marching in the Mulligan Guards
To Sligo Port below!
Here broke in the shrill-tongued fifes:
We shouldered arms,
We marched—we marched away.
From Phoenix Park
We marched to Dublin Bay.
The drums and the fifes,
Oh, sweetly they did play,
As we marched—marched—marched—with the
It was the band of the Mavericks playing the regiment to camp; for the men were route-marching with their baggage. The rippling column swung into the level—carts behind it divided left and right, ran about like an ant-hill, and …
‘But this is sorcery!’ said the lama.
The plain dotted itself with tents that seemed to rise, all spread, from the carts. Another rush of men invaded the grove, pitched a huge tent in silence, ran up yet eight or nine more by the side of it, unearthed cooking-pots, pans, and bundles, which were taken possession of by a crowd of native servants; and behold the mango-tope turned into an orderly town as they watched!
‘Let us go,’ said the lama, sinking back afraid, as the fires twinkled and white officers with jingling swords stalked into the Mess-tent.
‘Stand back in the shadow. No one can see beyond the light of a fire,’ said Kim, his eyes still on the flag. He had never before watched the routine of a seasoned regiment pitching camp in thirty minutes.
‘Look! look! look!’ clucked the lama. ‘Yonder comes a priest.’ It was Bennett, the Church of England Chaplain of the regiment, limping in dusty black. One of his flock had made some rude remarks about the Chaplain’s mettle; and to abash him Bennett had marched step by step with the men that day. The black dress, gold cross on the watch-chain, the hairless face, and the soft, black wideawake hat would have marked him as a holy man anywhere in all India. He dropped into a camp-chair by the door of the Mess-tent and slid off his boots. Three or four officers gathered round him, laughing and joking over his exploit.
‘The talk of white men is wholly lacking in dignity,’ said the lama, who judged only by tone. ‘But I considered the countenance of that priest and I think he is learned. Is it likely that he will understand our talk? I would talk to him of my Search.’
‘Never speak to a white man till he is fed,’ said Kim, quoting a well-known proverb. ‘They will eat now, and—and I do not think they are good to beg from. Let us go back to the resting-place. After we have eaten we will come again. It certainly was a Red Bull—my Red Bull.’
They were both noticeably absent-minded when the old lady’s retinue set their meal before them; so none broke their reserve, for it is not lucky to annoy guests.
‘Now,’ said Kim, picking his teeth, ‘we will return to that place; but thou, O Holy One, must wait a little way off, because thy feet are heavier than mine and I am anxious to see more of that Red Bull.’
‘But how canst thou understand the talk? Walk slowly. The road is dark,’ the lama replied uneasily.
Kim put the question aside. ‘I marked a place near to the trees,’ said he, ‘where thou canst sit till I call. Nay,’ as the lama made some sort of protest, ‘remember this is my Search—the Search for my Red Bull. The sign in the Stars was not for thee. I know a little of the customs of white soldiers, and I always desire to see some new things.’
‘What dost thou not know of this world?’ The lama squatted obediently in a little hollow of the ground not a hundred yards from the hump of the mango-trees dark against the star-powdered sky.
‘Stay till I call.’ Kim flitted into the dusk. He knew that in all probability there would be sentries round the camp, and smiled to himself as he heard the thick boots of one. A boy who can dodge over the roofs of Lahore city on a moonlight night, using every little patch and corner of darkness to discomfit his pursuer, is not likely to be checked by a line of well-trained soldiers. He paid them the compliment of crawling between a couple, and, running and halting, crouching and dropping flat, worked his way toward the lighted Mess-tent where, close pressed behind the mango-tree, he waited till some chance word should give him a returnable lead.
The one thing now in his mind was further information as to the Red Bull. For aught he knew, and Kim’s limitations were as curious and sudden as his expansions, the men, the nine hundred thorough devils of his father’s prophecy, might pray to the beast after dark, as Hindus pray to the Holy Cow. That at least would be entirely right and logical, and the padre with the gold cross would be therefore the man to consult in the matter. On the other hand, remembering sober-faced padres whom he had avoided in Lahore city, the priest might be an inquisitive nuisance who would bid him learn. But had it not been proven at Umballa that his sign in the high heavens portended War and armed men? Was he not the Friend of the Stars as well as of all the World, crammed to the teeth with dreadful secrets? Lastly—and firstly as the undercurrent of all his quick thoughts—this adventure, though he did not know the English word, was a stupendous lark—a delightful continuation of his old flights across the housetops, as well as the fulfilment of sublime prophecy. He lay belly-flat and wriggled towards the Mess-tent door, a hand on the amulet round his neck.
It was as he suspected. The Sahibs prayed to their God; for in the centre of the Mess-table—its sole ornament when they were on the line of march—stood a golden bull fashioned from old-time loot of the Summer Palace at Pekin—a red-gold bull with lowered head, ramping upon a field of Irish green. To him the Sahibs held out their glasses and cried aloud confusedly.
Now the Reverend Arthur Bennett always left Mess after that toast, and being rather tired by his march his movements were more abrupt than usual. Kim, with slightly raised head, was still staring at his totem on the table, when the Chaplain stepped on his right shoulder-blade. Kim flinched under the leather, and, rolling sideways, brought down the Chaplain, who, ever a man of action, caught him by the throat and nearly choked the life out of him. Kim then kicked him desperately in the stomach. Mr Bennett gasped and doubled up, but without relaxing his grip, rolled over again, and silently hauled Kim to his own tent. The Mavericks were incurable practical jokers; and it occurred to the Englishman that silence was best till he had made complete inquiry.
‘Why, it’s a boy!’ he said, as he drew his prize under the light of the tent-pole lantern, then shaking him severely cried: ‘What were you doing? You’re a thief. Choor? Mallum?’ His Hindustani was very limited, and the ruffled and disgusted Kim intended to keep to the character laid down for him. As he recovered his breath he was inventing a beautifully plausible tale of his relations to some scullion, and at the same time keeping a keen eye on and a little under the Chaplain’s left arm-pit. The chance came; he ducked for the doorway, but a long arm shot out and clutched at his neck, snapping the amulet-string and closing on the amulet.
‘Give it me. O, give it me. Is it lost? Give me the papers.’
The words were in English—the tinny, saw-cut English of the native-bred, and the Chaplain jumped.
‘A scapular,’ said he, opening his hand. ‘No, some sort of heathen charm. Why—why, do you speak English? Little boys who steal are beaten. You know that?’
‘I do not—I did not steal.’ Kim danced in agony like a terrier at a lifted stick. ‘Oh, give it me. It is my charm. Do not thieve it from me.’
The Chaplain took no heed, but, going to the tent door, called aloud. A fattish, clean-shaven man appeared.
‘I want your advice, Father Victor,’ said Bennett. ‘I found this boy in the dark outside the Mess-tent. Ordinarily, I should have chastised him and let him go, because I believe him to be a thief. But it seems he talks English, and he attaches some sort of value to a charm round his neck. I thought perhaps you might help me.’
Between himself and the Roman Catholic Chaplain of the Irish contingent lay, as Bennett believed, an unbridgeable gulf, but it was noticeable that whenever the Church of England dealt with a human problem she was very likely to call in the Church of Rome. Bennett’s official abhorrence of the Scarlet Woman and all her ways was only equalled by his private respect for Father Victor.
‘A thief talking English, is it? Let’s look at his charm. No, it’s not a scapular, Bennett.’ He held out his hand.
‘But have we any right to open it? A sound whipping—’
‘I did not thieve,’ protested Kim. ‘You have hit me kicks all over my body. Now give me my charm and I will go away.’
‘Not quite so fast. We’ll look first,’ said Father Victor, leisurely rolling out poor Kimball O’Hara’s ‘ne varietur’ parchment, his clearance-certificate, and Kim’s baptismal certificate. On this last O’Hara—with some confused idea that he was doing wonders for his son—had scrawled scores of times: ‘Look after the boy. Please look after the boy’—signing his name and regimental number in full.
‘Powers of Darkness below!’ said Father Victor, passing all over to Mr Bennett. ‘Do you know what these things are?’
‘Yes.’ said Kim. ‘They are mine, and I want to go away.’
‘I do not quite understand,’ said Mr Bennett. ‘He probably brought them on purpose. It may be a begging trick of some kind.’
‘I never saw a beggar less anxious to stay with his company, then. There’s the makings of a gay mystery here. Ye believe in Providence, Bennett?’
‘I hope so.’
‘Well, I believe in miracles, so it comes to the same thing. Powers of Darkness! Kimball O’Hara! And his son! But then he’s a native, and I saw Kimball married myself to Annie Shott. How long have you had these things, boy?’
‘Ever since I was a little baby.’
Father Victor stepped forward quickly and opened the front of Kim’s upper garment. ‘You see, Bennett, he’s not very black. What’s your name?’
‘Perhaps. Will you let me go away?’
‘They call me Kim Rishti ke. That is Kim of the Rishti.’
‘What is that—”Rishti”?’
‘Eye-rishti—that was the Regiment—my father’s.’
‘Irish—oh, I see.’
‘Yess. That was how my father told me. My father, he has lived.’
‘Has lived where?’
‘Has lived. Of course he is dead—gone-out.’
‘Oh! That’s your abrupt way of putting it, is it?’
Bennett interrupted. ‘It is possible I have done the boy an injustice. He is certainly white, though evidently neglected. I am sure I must have bruised him. I do not think spirits—’
‘Get him a glass of sherry, then, and let him squat on the cot. Now, Kim,’ continued Father Victor, ‘no one is going to hurt you. Drink that down and tell us about yourself. The truth, if you’ve no objection.’
Kim coughed a little as he put down the empty glass, and considered. This seemed a time for caution and fancy. Small boys who prowl about camps are generally turned out after a whipping. But he had received no stripes; the amulet was evidently working in his favour, and it looked as though the Umballa horoscope and the few words that he could remember of his father’s maunderings fitted in most miraculously. Else why did the fat padre seem so impressed, and why the glass of hot yellow drink from the lean one?
‘My father, he is dead in Lahore city since I was very little. The woman, she kept kabarri shop near where the hire-carriages are.’ Kim began with a plunge, not quite sure how far the truth would serve him.
‘No!’—with a gesture of disgust. ‘She went out when I was born. My father, he got these papers from the Jadoo-Gher what do you call that?’ (Bennett nodded) ‘because he was in good-standing. What do you call that?’ (again Bennett nodded). ‘My father told me that. He said, too, and also the Brahmin who made the drawing in the dust at Umballa two days ago, he said, that I shall find a Red Bull on a green field and that the Bull shall help me.’
‘A phenomenal little liar,’ muttered Bennett.
‘Powers of Darkness below, what a country!’ murmured Father Victor. ‘Go on, Kim.’
‘I did not thieve. Besides, I am just now disciple of a very holy man. He is sitting outside. We saw two men come with flags, making the place ready. That is always so in a dream, or on account of a—a—prophecy. So I knew it was come true. I saw the Red Bull on the green field, and my father he said: “Nine hundred pukka devils and the Colonel riding on a horse will look after you when you find the Red Bull!” I did not know what to do when I saw the Bull, but I went away and I came again when it was dark. I wanted to see the Bull again, and I saw the Bull again with the—the Sahibs praying to it. I think the Bull shall help me. The holy man said so too. He is sitting outside. Will you hurt him, if I call him a shout now? He is very holy. He can witness to all the things I say, and he knows I am not a thief.’
‘”Sahibs praying to a bull!” What in the world do you make of that?’ said Bennett. “‘Disciple of a holy man!” Is the boy mad?’
‘It’s O’Hara’s boy, sure enough. O’Hara’s boy leagued with all the Powers of Darkness. It’s very much what his father would have done if he was drunk. We’d better invite the holy man. He may know something.’
‘He does not know anything,’ said Kim. ‘I will show you him if you come. He is my master. Then afterwards we can go.’
‘Powers of Darkness!’ was all that Father Victor could say, as Bennett marched off, with a firm hand on Kim’s shoulder.
They found the lama where he had dropped.
‘The Search is at an end for me,’ shouted Kim in the vernacular. ‘I have found the Bull, but God knows what comes next. They will not hurt you. Come to the fat priest’s tent with this thin man and see the end. It is all new, and they cannot talk Hindi. They are only uncurried donkeys.’
‘Then it is not well to make a jest of their ignorance,’ the lama returned. ‘I am glad if thou art rejoiced, chela.’
Dignified and unsuspicious, he strode into the little tent, saluted the Churches as a Churchman, and sat down by the open charcoal brazier. The yellow lining of the tent reflected in the lamplight made his face red-gold.
Bennett looked at him with the triple-ringed uninterest of the creed that lumps nine-tenths of the world under the title of ‘heathen’.
‘And what was the end of the Search? What gift has the Red Bull brought?’ The lama addressed himself to Kim.
‘He says, “What are you going to do?”‘ Bennett was staring uneasily at Father Victor, and Kim, for his own ends, took upon himself the office of interpreter.
‘I do not see what concern this fakir has with the boy, who is probably his dupe or his confederate,’ Bennett began. ‘We cannot allow an English boy—Assuming that he is the son of a Mason, the sooner he goes to the Masonic Orphanage the better.’
‘Ah! That’s your opinion as Secretary to the Regimental Lodge,’ said Father Victor; ‘but we might as well tell the old man what we are going to do. He doesn’t look like a villain.’
‘My experience is that one can never fathom the Oriental mind. Now, Kimball, I wish you to tell this man what I say word for word.’
Kim gathered the import of the next few sentences and began thus:
‘Holy One, the thin fool who looks like a camel says that I am the son of a Sahib.’
‘Oh, it is true. I knew it since my birth, but he could only find it out by rending the amulet from my neck and reading all the papers. He thinks that once a Sahib is always a Sahib, and between the two of them they purpose to keep me in this Regiment or to send me to a madrissah [a school]. It has happened before. I have always avoided it. The fat fool is of one mind and the camel-like one of another. But that is no odds. I may spend one night here and perhaps the next. It has happened before. Then I will run away and return to thee.’
‘But tell them that thou art my chela. Tell them how thou didst come to me when I was faint and bewildered. Tell them of our Search, and they will surely let thee go now.’
‘I have already told them. They laugh, and they talk of the police.’
‘What are you saying?’ asked Mr Bennett.
‘Oah. He only says that if you do not let me go it will stop him in his business—his ur-gent private af-fairs.’ This last was a reminiscence of some talk with a Eurasian clerk in the Canal Department, but it only drew a smile, which nettled him. ‘And if you did know what his business was you would not be in such a beastly hurry to interfere.’
‘What is it then?’ said Father Victor, not without feeling, as he watched the lama’s face.
‘There is a River in this country which he wishes to find so verree much. It was put out by an Arrow which—’ Kim tapped his foot impatiently as he translated in his own mind from the vernacular to his clumsy English. ‘Oah, it was made by our Lord God Buddha, you know, and if you wash there you are washed away from all your sins and made as white as cotton-wool.’ (Kim had heard mission-talk in his time.) ‘I am his disciple, and we must find that River. It is so verree valuable to us.’
‘Say that again,’ said Bennett. Kim obeyed, with amplifications.
‘But this is gross blasphemy!’ cried the Church of England.
‘Tck! Tck!’ said Father Victor sympathetically. ‘I’d give a good deal to be able to talk the vernacular. A river that washes away sin! And how long have you two been looking for it?’
‘Oh, many days. Now we wish to go away and look for it again. It is not here, you see.’
‘I see,’ said Father Victor gravely. ‘But he can’t go on in that old man’s company. It would be different, Kim, if you were not a soldier’s son. Tell him that the Regiment will take care of you and make you as good a man as your—as good a man as can be. Tell him that if he believes in miracles he must believe that—’
‘There is no need to play on his credulity,’ Bennett interrupted.
‘I’m doing no such thing. He must believe that the boy’s coming here—to his own Regiment—in search of his Red Bull is in the nature of a miracle. Consider the chances against it, Bennett. This one boy in all India, and our Regiment of all others on the line o’ march for him to meet with! It’s predestined on the face of it. Yes, tell him it’s Kismet. Kismet, mallum? [Do you understand?]’
He turned towards the lama, to whom he might as well have talked of Mesopotamia.
‘They say,’—the old man’s eye lighted at Kim’s speech ‘they say that the meaning of my horoscope is now accomplished, and that being led back—though as thou knowest I went out of curiosity—to these people and their Red Bull I must needs go to a madrissah and be turned into a Sahib. Now I make pretence of agreement, for at the worst it will be but a few meals eaten away from thee. Then I will slip away and follow down the road to Saharunpore. Therefore, Holy One, keep with that Kulu woman—on no account stray far from her cart till I come again. Past question, my sign is of War and of armed men. See how they have given me wine to drink and set me upon a bed of honour! My father must have been some great person. So if they raise me to honour among them, good. If not, good again. However it goes, I will run back to thee when I am tired. But stay with the Rajputni, or I shall miss thy feet … Oah yess,’ said the boy, ‘I have told him everything you tell me to say.’
‘And I cannot see any need why he should wait,’ said Bennett, feeling in his trouser-pocket. ‘We can investigate the details later—and I will give him a ru—’
‘Give him time. Maybe he’s fond of the lad,’ said Father Victor, half arresting the clergyman’s motion.
The lama dragged forth his rosary and pulled his huge hat-brim over his eyes.
‘What can he want now?’
‘He says’—Kim put up one hand. ‘He says: “Be quiet.” He wants to speak to me by himself. You see, you do not know one little word of what he says, and I think if you talk he will perhaps give you very bad curses. When he takes those beads like that, you see, he always wants to be quiet.’
The two Englishmen sat overwhelmed, but there was a look in Bennett’s eye that promised ill for Kim when he should be relaxed to the religious arm.
‘A Sahib and the son of a Sahib—’ The lama’s voice was harsh with pain. ‘But no white man knows the land and the customs of the land as thou knowest. How comes it this is true?’
‘What matter, Holy One?—but remember it is only for a night or two. Remember, I can change swiftly. It will all be as it was when I first spoke to thee under Zam-Zammah the great gun—’
‘As a boy in the dress of white men—when I first went to the Wonder House. And a second time thou wast a Hindu. What shall the third incarnation be?’ He chuckled drearily. ‘Ah, chela, thou has done a wrong to an old man because my heart went out to thee.’
‘And mine to thee. But how could I know that the Red Bull would bring me to this business?’
The lama covered his face afresh, and nervously rattled the rosary. Kim squatted beside him and laid hold upon a fold of his clothing.
‘Now it is understood that the boy is a Sahib?’ he went on in a muffled tone. ‘Such a Sahib as was he who kept the images in the Wonder House.’ The lama’s experience of white men was limited. He seemed to be repeating a lesson. ‘So then it is not seemly that he should do other than as the Sahibs do. He must go back to his own people.’
‘For a day and a night and a day,’ Kim pleaded.
‘No, ye don’t!’ Father Victor saw Kim edging towards the door, and interposed a strong leg.
‘I do not understand the customs of white men. The Priest of the Images in the Wonder House in Lahore was more courteous than the thin one here. This boy will be taken from me. They will make a Sahib of my disciple? Woe to me! How shall I find my River? Have they no disciples? Ask.’
‘He says he is very sorree that he cannot find the River now any more. He says, Why have you no disciples, and stop bothering him? He wants to be washed of his sins.’
Neither Bennett nor Father Victor found any answer ready.
Said Kim in English, distressed for the lama’s agony: ‘I think if you will let me go now we will walk away quietly and not steal. We will look for that River like before I was caught. I wish I did not come here to find the Red Bull and all that sort of thing. I do not want it.’
‘It’s the very best day’s work you ever did for yourself, young man,’ said Bennett.
‘Good heavens, I don’t know how to console him,’ said Father Victor, watching the lama intently. ‘He can’t take the boy away with him, and yet he’s a good man—I’m sure he’s a good man. Bennett, if you give him that rupee he’ll curse you root and branch!’
They listened to each other’s breathing—three—five full minutes. Then the lama raised his head, and looked forth across them into space and emptiness.
‘And I am a Follower of the Way,’ he said bitterly. ‘The sin is mine and the punishment is mine. I made believe to myself for now I see it was but make-belief—that thou wast sent to me to aid in the Search. So my heart went out to thee for thy charity and thy courtesy and the wisdom of thy little years. But those who follow the Way must permit not the fire of any desire or attachment, for that is all Illusion. As says …’ He quoted an old, old Chinese text, backed it with another, and reinforced these with a third. ‘I stepped aside from the Way, my chela. It was no fault of thine. I delighted in the sight of life, the new people upon the roads, and in thy joy at seeing these things. I was pleased with thee who should have considered my Search and my Search alone. Now I am sorrowful because thou art taken away and my River is far from me. It is the Law which I have broken!’
‘Powers of Darkness below!’ said Father Victor, who, wise in the confessional, heard the pain in every sentence.
‘I see now that the sign of the Red Bull was a sign for me as well as for thee. All Desire is red—and evil. I will do penance and find my River alone.’
‘At least go back to the Kulu woman,’ said Kim, ‘otherwise thou wilt be lost upon the roads. She will feed thee till I run back to thee.’
The lama waved a hand to show that the matter was finally settled in his mind.
‘Now,’—his tone altered as he turned to Kim,—’what will they do with thee? At least I may, acquiring merit, wipe out past ill.’
‘Make me a Sahib—so they think. The day after tomorrow I return. Do not grieve.’
‘Of what sort? Such an one as this or that man?’ He pointed to Father Victor. ‘Such an one as those I saw this evening, men wearing swords and stamping heavily?’
‘That is not well. These men follow desire and come to emptiness. Thou must not be of their sort.’
‘The Umballa priest said that my Star was War,’ Kim interjected. ‘I will ask these fools—but there is truly no need. I will run away this night, for all I wanted to see the new things.’
Kim put two or three questions in English to Father Victor, translating the replies to the lama.
Then: ‘He says, “You take him from me and you cannot say what you will make him.” He says, “Tell me before I go, for it is not a small thing to make a child.”‘
‘You will be sent to a school. Later on, we shall see. Kimball, I suppose you’d like to be a soldier?’
‘Gorah-log [white-folk]. No-ah! No-ah!’ Kim shook his head violently. There was nothing in his composition to which drill and routine appealed. ‘I will not be a soldier.’
‘You will be what you’re told to be,’ said Bennett; ‘and you should be grateful that we’re going to help you.’
Kim smiled compassionately. If these men lay under the delusion that he would do anything that he did not fancy, so much the better.
Another long silence followed. Bennett fidgeted with impatience, and suggested calling a sentry to evict the fakir.
‘Do they give or sell learning among the Sahibs? Ask them,’ said the lama, and Kim interpreted.
‘They say that money is paid to the teacher—but that money the Regiment will give … What need? It is only for a night.’
‘And—the more money is paid the better learning is given?’ The lama disregarded Kim’s plans for an early flight. ‘It is no wrong to pay for learning. To help the ignorant to wisdom is always a merit.’ The rosary clicked furiously as an abacus. Then he faced his oppressors.
‘Ask them for how much money do they give a wise and suitable teaching? And in what city is that teaching given?’
‘Well,’ said Father Victor in English, when Kim had translated, ‘that depends. The Regiment would pay for you all the time you are at the Military Orphanage; or you might go on the Punjab Masonic Orphanage’s list (not that he or you ‘ud understand what that means); but the best schooling a boy can get in India is, of course, at St Xavier’s in Partibus at Lucknow.’ This took some time to interpret, for Bennett wished to cut it short.
‘He wants to know how much?’ said Kim placidly.
‘Two or three hundred rupees a year.’ Father Victor was long past any sense of amazement. Bennett, impatient, did not understand.
‘He says: “Write that name and the money upon a paper and give it him.” And he says you must write your name below, because he is going to write a letter in some days to you. He says you are a good man. He says the other man is a fool. He is going away.’
The lama rose suddenly. ‘I follow my Search,’ he cried, and was gone.
‘He’ll run slap into the sentries,’ cried Father Victor, jumping up as the lama stalked out; ‘but I can’t leave the boy.’ Kim made swift motion to follow, but checked himself. There was no sound of challenge outside. The lama had disappeared.
Kim settled himself composedly on the Chaplain’s cot. At least the lama had promised that he would stay with the Raiput woman from Kulu, and the rest was of the smallest importance. It pleased him that the two padres were so evidently excited. They talked long in undertones, Father Victor urging some scheme on Mr Bennett, who seemed incredulous. All this was very new and fascinating, but Kim felt sleepy. They called men into the tent—one of them certainly was the Colonel, as his father had prophesied—and they asked him an infinity of questions, chiefly about the woman who looked after him, all of which Kim answered truthfully. They did not seem to think the woman a good guardian.
After all, this was the newest of his experiences. Sooner or later, if he chose, he could escape into great, grey, formless India, beyond tents and padres and colonels. Meantime, if the Sahibs were to be impressed, he would do his best to impress them. He too was a white man.
After much talk that he could not comprehend, they handed him over to a sergeant, who had strict instructions not to let him escape. The Regiment would go on to Umballa, and Kim would be sent up, partly at the expense of the Lodge and in part by subscription, to a place called Sanawar.
‘It’s miraculous past all whooping, Colonel,’ said Father Victor, when he had talked without a break for ten minutes. ‘His Buddhist friend has levanted after taking my name and address. I can’t quite make out whether he’ll pay for the boy’s education or whether he is preparing some sort of witchcraft on his own account.’ Then to Kim: ‘You’ll live to be grateful to your friend the Red Bull yet. We’ll make a man of you at Sanawar—even at the price o’ making you a Protestant.’
‘Certainly—most certainly,’ said Bennett.
‘But you will not go to Sanawar,’ said Kim.
‘But we will go to Sanawar, little man. That’s the order of the Commander-in-Chief, who’s a trifle more important than O’Hara’s son.’
‘You will not go to Sanawar. You will go to thee War.’
There was a shout of laughter from the full tent.
‘When you know your own Regiment a trifle better you won’t confuse the line of march with line of battle, Kim. We hope to go to “thee War” sometime.’
‘Oah, I know all thatt.’ Kim drew his bow again at a venture. If they were not going to the war, at least they did not know what he knew of the talk in the veranda at Umballa.
‘I know you are not at thee war now; but I tell you that as soon as you get to Umballa you will be sent to the war—the new war. It is a war of eight thousand men, besides the guns.’
‘That’s explicit. D’you add prophecy to your other gifts? Take him along, sergeant. Take up a suit for him from the Drums, an’ take care he doesn’t slip through your fingers. Who says the age of miracles is gone by? I think I’ll go to bed. My poor mind’s weakening.’
At the far end of the camp, silent as a wild animal, an hour later sat Kim, newly washed all over, in a horrible stiff suit that rasped his arms and legs.
‘A most amazin’ young bird,’ said the sergeant. ‘He turns up in charge of a yellow-headed buck-Brahmin priest, with his father’s Lodge certificates round his neck, talkin’ God knows what all of a red bull. The buck-Brahmin evaporates without explanations, an’ the bhoy sets cross-legged on the Chaplain’s bed prophesyin’ bloody war to the men at large. Injia’s a wild land for a God-fearin’ man. I’ll just tie his leg to the tent-pole in case he’ll go through the roof. What did ye say about the war?’
‘Eight thousand men, besides guns,’ said Kim. ‘Very soon you will see.’
‘You’re a consolin’ little imp. Lie down between the Drums an’ go to bye-bye. Those two boys will watch your slumbers.’