Good Luck, she is never a lady,|
But the cursedest quean alive.
Tricksy, wincing, and jady—
Kittle to lead or drive.
Greet her—she hailing a stranger!
Meet her—she’s busking to leave!
Let her alone for a shrew to the bone
And the hussy comes plucking your sleeve!
Largesse! Largesse, O Fortune!
Give or hold at your will
If I’ve no care for Fortune,
Fortune must follow me still!
THEN, lowering their voices, they spoke together. Kim came to rest under a tree, but the lama tugged impatiently at his elbow.
“Let us go on. The River is not here.”
“Hai mai? Have we not walked enough for a little? Our River will not run away. Patience, and he will give us a dole.”
“That,” said the old soldier suddenly, “is the Friend of the Stars. He brought me the news yesterday. Having seen the very man Himself, in a vision, giving orders for the war.”
“Hm!” said his son, all deep in his broad chest. “He came by a bazar-rumour and made profit of it.”
His father laughed. “At least he did not ride to me begging for a new charger and the Gods know how many rupees. Are thy brothers’ regiments also under orders?”
“I do not know. I took leave and came swiftly to thee in case— “
“In case they ran before thee to beg. O gamblers and spendthrifts all! But thou hast never yet ridden in a charge. A good horse is needed there, truly. A good follower and a good pony also for the marching. Let us see— let us see.” He thrummed on the pommel.
“This is no place to cast thy accounts in, my father. Let us go to thy house.”
“At least pay the boy then: I have no pice with me, and he brought auspicious news. Ho! Friend of all the World, a war is toward as thou hast said.”
“Nay, as I know, the war,” returned Kim composedly.
“Eh?” said the lama, fingering his beads, all eager for the road.
“My master does not trouble the Stars for hire. We brought the news— bear witness we brought the news, and now we go.” Kim half-crooked his hand at his side.
The son tossed a silver coin through the sunlight, grumbling something about beggars and jugglers. It was a four-anna piece, and would feed them well for some days. The lama, seeing the flash of the metal, droned a blessing.
“Go thy way, Friend of all the World,” piped the old soldier, wheeling his scrawny mount. “For once in all my days I have met a true prophet— who was not in the Army.”
Father and son swung round together: the old man sitting as erect as the younger.
A Punjabi constable in yellow linen trousers slouched across the road. He had seen the money pass.
“Halt!” he cried in impressive English. “Know ye not that there is a takkus of two annas a head, which is four annas, on those who enter the road from this side-road. It is the order of the Sirkar, and the money is spent for the planting of trees and the beautification of the ways.”
“And the bellies of the police,” said Kim, skipping out of arm’s reach. “Consider for a while, man with a mud head. Think you we came from the nearest pond like the frog, thy father-in-law. Hast thou ever heard the name of thy brother?”
“And who was he? Leave the boy alone,” cried a senior constable, immensely delighted, as he squatted down to smoke his pipe in the veranda.
“He took a label from a bottle of belaitee-pani (soda-water), and, affixing it to a bridge, collected taxes for a month from those who passed, saying that it was the Sirkar’s order. Then came an Englishman and broke his head. Ah, brother, I am a town-crow, not a village-crow!”
The policeman drew back abashed, and Kim hooted at him all down the road.
“Was there ever such a disciple as I?” he cried merrily to the lama. “All earth would have picked thy bones within ten mile of Lahore city if I had not guarded thee.”
“I consider in my own mind whether thou art a spirit, sometimes, or sometimes an evil imp,” said the lama, smiling slowly.
“I am thy chela.” Kim dropped into step at his side— that indescribable gait of the long-distance tramp all the world over.
“Now let us walk,” muttered the lama, and to the click of his rosary they walked in silence mile upon mile. The lama, as usual, was deep in meditation, but Kim’s bright eyes were open wide. This broad, smiling river of life, he considered, was a vast improvement on the cramped and crowded Lahore streets. There were new people and new sights at every stride— castes he knew and castes that were altogether out of his experience.
They met a troop of long-haired, strong-scented Sansis with baskets of lizards and other unclean food on their backs, their lean dogs sniffing at their heels. These people kept their own side of the road, moving at a quick, furtive jog-trot, and all other castes gave them ample room; for the Sansi is deep pollution. Behind them, walking wide and stiffly across the strong shadows, the memory of his leg-irons still on him, strode one newly released from the jail; his full stomach and shiny skin to prove that the Government fed its prisoners better than most honest men could feed themselves. Kim knew that walk well, and made broad jest of it as they passed. Then an Akali, a wild-eyed, wild-haired Sikh devotee in the blue-checked clothes of his faith, with polished-steel quoits glistening on the cone of his tall blue turban, stalked past, returning from a visit to one of the independent Sikh States, where he had been singing the ancient glories of the Khalsa to College-trained princelings in top-boots and white-cord breeches. Kim was careful not to irritate that man; for the Akali’s temper is short and his arm quick. Here and there they met or were overtaken by the gaily dressed crowds of whole villages turning out to some local fair; the women, with their babes on their hips, walking behind the men, the older boys prancing on sticks of sugar-cane, dragging rude brass models of locomotives such as they sell for a halfpenny, or flashing the sun into the eyes of their betters from cheap toy mirrors. One could see at a glance what each had bought; and if there were any doubt it needed only to watch the wives comparing, brown arm against brown arm, the newly purchased dull glass bracelets that come from the North-West. These merry-makers stepped slowly, calling one to the other and stopping to haggle with sweetmeat-sellers, or to make a prayer before one of the wayside shrines— sometimes Hindu, sometimes Mussalman— which the low caste of both creeds share with beautiful impartiality. A solid line of blue, rising and falling like the back of a caterpillar in haste, would swing up through the quivering dust and trot past to a chorus of quick cackling. That was a gang of changars— the women who have taken all the embankments of all the Northern railways under their charge— a flat-footed, big-bosomed, strong-limbed, blue-petticoated clan of earth-carriers, hurrying north on news of a job, and wasting no time by the road. They belong to the caste whose men do not count, and they walked with squared elbows, swinging hips, and heads on high, as suits women who carry heavy weights. A little later a marriage procession would strike into the Grand Trunk with music and shoutings, and a smell of marigold and jasmine stronger even than the reek of the dust. One could see the bride’s litter, a blur of red and tinsel, staggering through the haze, while the bridegroom’s bewreathed pony turned aside to snatch a mouthful from a passing fodder-cart. Then Kim would join the Kentish-fire of good wishes and bad jokes, wishing the couple a hundred sons and no daughters, as the saying is. Still more interesting and more to be shouted over it was when a strolling juggler with some half-trained monkeys, or a panting, feeble bear, or a woman who tied goats’ horns to her feet, and with these danced on a slack-rope, set the horses to shying and the women to shrill, long-drawn quavers of amazement.
The lama never raised his eyes. He did not note the money-lender on his goose-rumped pony, hastening along to collect the cruel interest; or the long-shouting, deep-voiced little mob— still in military formation— of native soldiers on leave, rejoicing to be rid of their breeches and puttees, and saying the most outrageous things to the most respectable women in sight. Even the seller of Ganges-water he did not see, and Kim expected that he would at least buy a bottle of that precious stuff. He looked steadily at the ground, and strode as steadily hour after hour, his soul busied elsewhere. But Kim was in the seventh heaven of joy. The Grand Trunk at this point was built on an embankment to guard against winter floods from the foothills, so that one walked, as it were, a little above the country, along a stately corridor, seeing all India spread out to left and right. It was beautiful to behold the many-yoked grain and cotton waggons crawling over the country-roads: one could hear their axles, complaining a mile away, coming nearer, till with shouts and yells and bad words they climbed up the steep incline and plunged on to the hard main road, carter reviling carter. It was equally beautiful to watch the people, little clumps of red and blue and pink and white and saffron, turning aside to go to their own villages, dispersing and growing small by twos and threes across the level plain. Kim felt these things, though he could not give tongue to his feelings, and so contented himself with buying peeled sugar-cane and spitting the pith generously about his path. From time to time the lama took snuff, and at last Kim could endure the silence no longer.
“This is a good land— the land of the South!” said he. “The air is good; the water is good. Eh?”
“And they are all bound upon the Wheel,” said the lama. “Bound from life after life. To none of these has the Way been shown.” He shook himself back to this world.
“And now we have walked a weary way,” said Kim. “Surely we shall soon come to a parao (a resting-place). Shall we stay there? Look, the sun is sloping.”
“Who will receive us this evening?”
“That is all one. This country is full of good folk. Besides”— he sunk his voice beneath a whisper— “we have money.”
The crowd thickened as they neared the resting-place which marked the end of their day’s journey. A line of stalls selling very simple food and tobacco, a stack of firewood, a police-station, a well, a horse-trough, a few trees, and, under them, some trampled ground dotted with the black ashes of old fires, are all that mark a parao on the Grand Trunk; if you except the beggars and the crows— both hungry.
By this time the sun was driving broad golden spokes through the lower branches of the mango trees; the parakeets and doves were coming home in their hundreds; the chattering, gray-backed Seven Sisters, talking over the day’s adventures, walked back and forth in twos and threes almost under the feet of the travellers; and shufflings and scufflings in the branches showed that the bats were ready to go out on the night-picket. Swiftly the light gathered itself together, painted for an instant the faces and the cart-wheels and the bullocks’ horns as red as blood. Then the night fell, changing the touch of the air, drawing a low, even haze, like a gossamer veil of blue, across the face of the country, and bringing out, keen and distinct, the smell of wood-smoke and cattle and the good scent of wheaten cakes cooked on ashes. The evening patrol hurried out of the police-station with important coughings and reiterated orders; and a live charcoal ball in the cup of a wayside carter’s hookah glowed red while Kim’s eye mechanically watched the last flicker of the sun on the brass tweezers.
The life of the parao was very like that of the Kashmir Serai on a small scale. Kim dived into the happy Asiatic disorder which, if you only allow time, will bring you everything that a simple man needs.
His wants were few, because, since the lama had no caste scruples, cooked food from the nearest stall would serve; but, for luxury’s sake, Kim bought a handful of dung-cakes to build a fire. All about, coming and going round the little flames, men cried for oil, or grain, or sweetmeats, or tobacco, jostling one another while they waited their turn at the well; and under the men’s voices you heard from halted, shuttered carts the high squeals and giggles of women whose faces should not be seen in public.
Nowadays, well-educated natives are of opinion that when their womenfolk travel— and they visit a good deal— it is better to take them quickly by rail in a properly screened compartment; and that custom is spreading. But there are always those of the old rock who hold by the use of their forefathers; and, above all, there are always the old women— more conservative than the men— who toward the end of their days go a pilgrimage. They, being withered and undesirable, do not, under certain circumstances, object to unveiling. After their long seclusion, during which they have always been in business touch with a thousand outside interests, they love the bustle and stir of the open road, the gatherings at the shrines, and the infinite possibilities of gossip with like-minded dowagers. Very often it suits a long-suffering family that a strong-tongued, iron-willed old lady should disport herself about India in this fashion; for certainly pilgrimage is grateful to the Gods. So all about India, in the most remote places, as in the most public, you find some knot of grizzled servitors in nominal charge of an old lady who is more or less curtained and hid away in a bullock-cart. Such men are staid and discreet, and when a European or a high-caste native is near will net their charge with most elaborate precautions; but in the ordinary haphazard chances of pilgrimage the precautions are not taken. The old lady is, after all, intensely human, and lives to look upon life.
Kim marked down a gaily ornamented ruth or family bullock-cart, with a broidered canopy of two domes, like a double-humped camel, which had just been drawn into the parao. Eight men made its retinue, and two of the eight were armed with rusty sabres— sure signs that they followed a person of distinction, for the common folk do not bear arms. An increasing cackle of complaints, orders, and jests, and what to a European would have been bad language, came from behind the curtains. Here was evidently a woman used to command.
Kim looked over the retinue critically. Half of them were thin-legged, gray-bearded Ooryas from down country. The other half were duffle-clad, felt-hatted hillmen of the North: and that mixture told its own tale, even if he had not overheard the incessant sparring between the two divisions. The old lady was going south on a visit— probably to a rich relative, most probably to a son-in-law, who had sent up an escort as a mark of respect. The hillmen would be of her own people— Kulu or Kangra folk. It was quite clear that she was not taking her daughter down to be wedded, or the curtains would have been laced home and the guard would have allowed no one near the car. A merry and a high-spirited dame, thought Kim, balancing the dung-cake in one hand, the cooked food in the other, and piloting the lama with a nudging shoulder. Something might be made out of the meeting. The lama would give him no help, but, as a conscientious chela, Kim was delighted to beg for two.
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.
“Stand farther off, beggar!” The order was shouted in broken Hindustanee by one of the hillmen.
“Huh! It is only a pahari” (a hillman), said Kim over his shoulder. “Since when have the hill-asses owned all Hindustan?”
The retort was a swift and brilliant sketch of Kim’s pedigree for three generations.
“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.”
A harsh, thin cackle behind the curtains put the hillman on his mettle for a second shot.
“Not so bad— not so bad,” said Kim with calm. “But have a care, my brother, lest we— we, I say— be minded to give a curse or so in return. And our curses have the knack of biting home.”
The Ooryas laughed; the hillman sprang forward threateningly; the lama suddenly raised his head, bringing his huge tam-o’-shanter cap into the full light of Kim’s new-started fire.
“What is it?” said he.
The man halted as though struck to stone. “I— I— am saved from a great sin,” he stammered.
“The foreigner has found him a priest at last,” whispered one of the Ooryas.
“Hai! Why is that beggar-brat not well beaten?” the old woman cried.
The hillman drew back to the cart and whispered something to the curtain. There was dead silence, then a muttering.
“This goes well,” thought Kim, pretending neither to see nor hear.
“When— when— he has eaten?”— the hillman fawned on Kim -”it— it is requested that the Holy One will do the honour to talk to one who would speak to him.”
“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.
“I— I myself and the others of my people will look to that— if it is permitted.”
“It is permitted,” said Kim, more loftily than ever. “Holy One, these people will bring us food.”
“The land is good. All the country of the South is good— a great and a terrible world,” mumbled the lama drowsily.
“Let him sleep,” said Kim, “but look to it that we are well fed when he wakes. He is a very holy man.”
Again one of the Ooryas said something contemptuously.
“He is not a faquir. 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.”
“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:
“Who is that one?”
“An exceedingly holy one. He comes from far off. He comes from Tibet.”
“Where in Tibet?”
“From behind the snows— 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.”
“Thou art no hillman.”
“Ask him. He will tell thee I was sent to him from the stars to show him an end to his pilgrimage.”
“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 waggon. Thou art a casteless Hindu— a bold and unblushing beggar, attached, belike, to the Holy One for the sake of gain.”
“Do we not all work for gain?” Kim changed his tone promptly to match that altered voice. “I have heard”— this was a bow drawn at a venture— “I have heard-”
“What hast thou heard?” she snapped, rapping with the finger.
“Nothing that I well remember, but some talk in the bazars, which is doubtless a lie, that even Rajahs— small hill Rajahs— “
“But none the less of good Rajput blood.”
“Assuredly of good blood. That these even sell the more comely of their womenfolk for gain. Down south they sell them— to zemindars and such-all of Oudh.”
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.
“Ahai! I am only a beggar’s brat, as the Eye of Beauty has said,” he wailed in extravagant terror.
“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.”
“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— “
“Order? I order a Holy One— a Teacher of the Law— to come and speak to a woman? Never!”
“Pity my stupidity. I thought it was given as an order— “
“It was not. It was a petition. Does this make all clear?”
A silver coin clicked on the edge of the cart. Kim took it and salaamed profoundly. The old lady recognised that, as the eyes and the ears of the lama, he was to be propitiated.
“I am but the Holy One’s disciple. When he has eaten perhaps he will come.”
“Oh, villain and shameless rogue!” The jewelled forefinger shook itself at him reprovingly; but he could hear the old lady’s chuckle.
“Nay, what is it?” he said, dropping into his most caressing and confidential tone— the one, he well knew, that few could resist. “Is— is there any need of a son in thy family? Speak freely, for we priests-” That last was a direct plagiarism from a faquir by the Taksali Gate.
“We priests! Thou art not yet old enough to— “ 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.”
“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.
“True— 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.”
“Ah,” drawled Kim, with infinite contempt, “they prophesied!” A professional could have done no better.
“And it was not till I remembered my own Gods that my prayers were heard. I chose an auspicious hour, and— 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— 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.”
“Thither go we.”
“Doubly auspicious,” chirruped the old lady. “A second son at least!”
“O Friend of all the World!” The lama had waked, and, simply as a child bewildered in a strange bed, called for Kim.
“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.
“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.
“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 Buddh Gaya. She it is sends us those dishes; and when thou art well rested she would speak to thee.”
“Is this also thy work?” The lama dipped deep into his snuff-gourd.
“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 himself on the dusty ground. “Have I failed to oversee thy comforts, Holy One?”
“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— thoughtful, wise, and courteous, but something of a small imp.” f “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 road together, and it is as though it were a hundred years.”
“Perhaps in a former life it was permitted that I should have rendered thee some service. May be”— he smiled— “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.”
“May be,” 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.”
“That is not part of the Way,” sighed the lama. “But at least she is from the Hills. Ah, the Hills, and the snow of the Hills!”
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 sing-song 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 shadow of the long 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 re-forming 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.
At last the lama returned. A hillman walked behind him with a wadded cotton-quilt and spread it carefully by the fire.
“She deserves ten thousand grandchildren,” thought Kim. “None the less, but for me, these gifts would not have come.”
“A virtuous woman— 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.
“And what said she?” Kim rolled up in his share of it.
“She asked me many questions and propounded many problems— 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.”
“True. That is true.” Kim used the thoughtful, conciliatory tone of those who wish to draw confidences.
“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.”
“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— nor the tale of the Arrow.”
“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.”
“Aha! ‘We women’ do not think of anything save children,” said Kim sleepily.
“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— at least as far as— I have forgotten the name of the city.”
“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?”
“A little behind Saharunpore, among the fruit gardens.” He named the village.
“That was the place,” said the lama. “So far, at least, we can go with her.”
“Flies go to carrion,” said the Oorya, in an abstracted voice.
“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.
The Oorya grunted and held his peace.
“So then we go with her, Holy One?”
“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.”
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.
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.
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— 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 earshot went to work. India was awake, and Kim was in the middle of it, more awake and more excited than any one, 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— 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— Kim giggled here as he cleaned his teeth— 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— it was not likely— 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.
“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.”
“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.
“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 gray 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.
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.
“Oh, shabash!” murmured Kim, unable to contain himself, as the man slunk away.
“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— that she must eat gali (abuse) as men eat ghi. But I have yet a wag left to my tongue— 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?”
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.
If Kim had walked proudly the day before, disciple of a holy man, to-day he paced with tenfold pride in the train of a semi-royal procession, with a recognised 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.
The lama and Kim walked a little to one side; Kim chewing his stick of sugar-cane, 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.
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.
“O mother,” he cried, “do they do this in the zenanas? Suppose an Englishman came by and saw that thou hadst no nose?”
“What?” she shrilled back. “Thy own mother has no nose? Why say so, then, on the open road?”
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.
“Is this a face to tempt virtue aside?” She withdrew all her veil and stared at him.
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.
“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?”
“A pahareen— a hillwoman of Dalhousie, my mother. Keep thy beauty under a shade— O Dispenser of Delights,” and he was gone.
“These be the sort”— she took a fine judicial tone, and stuffed her mouth with pan. “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.
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 apologised 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— they are women for the most part— Kim had a distinct advantage over men from a little fruit-village behind Saharunpore, but he let that advantage be inferred.
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.