'Who hath desired the Sea--the immense and contemptuous surges? The shudder, the stumble, the swerve ere the star-stabbing bowsprit emerges-- The orderly clouds of the Trades and the ridged roaring sapphire thereunder-- Unheralded cliff-lurking flaws and the head-sails' low-volleying thunder? His Sea in no wonder the same--his Sea and the same in each wonder-- His Sea that his being fulfils? So and no otherwise--so and no otherwise Hill-men desire their Hills!'
'WHO goes to the Hills goes to his mother.'
They had crossed the Sewaliks and the half-tropical Doon, left Mussooriebehind them, and headed north along the narrow hill-roads. Day after daythey struck deeper into the huddled mountains, and day after day Kimwatched the lama return to a man's strength. Among the terraces of theDoon he had leaned on the boy's shoulder, ready to profit by waysidehalts. Under the great ramp to Mussoorie he drew himself together as anold hunter faces a well-remembered bank, and where he should have sunkexhausted swung his long draperies about him, drew a deepdouble-lungful of the diamond air, and walked as only a hillman can.Kim, plains-bred and plains-fed, sweated and panted astonished. 'This ismy country,' said the lama. 'Beside Suchzen, this is flatter than arice-field'; and with steady, driving strokes from the loins he strodeupwards. But it was on the steep downhill marches, three thousand feetin three hours, that he went utterly away from Kim, whose back achedwith holding back, and whose big toe was nigh cut off by his grasssandal-string. Through the speckled shadow of the great deodar-forests;through oak feathered and plumed with ferns; birch, ilex, rhododendron,and pine, out on to the bare hillsides' slippery sunburnt grass, andback into the woodlands' coolth again, till oak gave way to bamboo andpalm of the valley, the lama swung untiring.
Glancing back in the twilight at the huge ridges behind him and thefaint thin line of the road whereby they had come, he would lay out,with a hillman's generous breadth of vision, fresh marches for themorrow; or, halting in the neck of some uplifted pass that gave on Spitiand Kulu, would stretch out his hands yearningly towards the high snowsof the horizon. In the dawns they flared windy-red above stark blue, asKedarnath and Badrinath--kings of that wilderness--took the firstsunlight. All day long they lay like molten silver under the sun, and atevening put on their jewels again. At first they breathed temperatelyupon the travellers, winds good to meet when one crawled over somegigantic hogback; but in a few days, at a height of nine or ten thousandfeet, those breezes bit: and Kim kindly allowed a village of hillmen toacquire merit by giving him a rough blanket-coat. The lama was mildlysurprised that any one should object to the knife-edged breezes whichhad cut the years off his shoulders.
'These are but the lower hills, chela. There is no cold till we come tothe true Hills.'
'Air and water are good, and the people are devout enough, but the foodis very bad,' Kim growled; 'and we walk as though we were mad--orEnglish. It freezes at night, too.'
'A little, maybe; but only enough to make old bones rejoice in the sun.We must not always delight in the soft beds and rich food.'
'We might at the least keep to the road.'
Kim had all a plains-man's affection for the well-trodden track, not sixfeet wide, that snaked among the mountains; but the lama, being Tibetan,could not refrain from short cuts over spurs and the rims ofgravel-strewn slopes. As he explained to his limping disciple, a manbred among mountains can prophesy the course of a mountain-road, andthough low-lying clouds might be a hindrance to a short-cuttingstranger, they made no earthly difference to a thoughtful man. Thus,after long hours of what would be reckoned very fair mountaineering incivilised countries, they would pant over a saddle-back, sidle past afew landslips, and drop through forest at an angle of forty-five on tothe road again. Along their track lay the villages of the hill-folk--mudand earth huts, the timbers now and then rudely carved with anaxe--clinging like swallows' nests against the steeps, huddled on tinyflats half-way down a three-thousand-foot glissade; jammed into a cornerbetween cliffs that funnelled and focused every wandering blast; or, forthe sake of summer pasture, cowering down on a neck that in winter wouldbe ten feet deep in snow. And the people--the sallow, greasy,duffle-clad people, with short bare legs and faces almostEsquimaux--would flock out and adore. The Plains--kindly and gentle--hadtreated the lama as a holy man among holy men. But the Hills worshippedhim as one in the confidence of all the devils. Theirs was an almostobliterated Buddhism, overlaid with a nature-worship fantastic as theirown landscapes, elaborate as the terracing of their tiny fields; butthey recognised the big hat, the clicking rosary, and the rare Chinesetexts for great authority; and they respected the man under the hat.
'We saw thee come down over the black Breasts of Eua,' said a Betah whogave them cheese, sour milk, and stone-hard bread one evening. 'We donot use that often--except when calving cows stray in summer. There is asudden wind among those stones that casts men down on the stillest day.But what should such folk care for the Devil of Eua!'
Then did Kim, aching in every fibre, dizzy with looking down, footsorewith cramping desperate toes into inadequate crannies, take joy in theday's march--such joy as a boy of St. Xavier's who had won thequarter-mile on the flat might take in the praises of his friends. Thehills sweated the ghi and sugar suet off his bones; the dry air, takensobbingly at the head of cruel passes, firmed and built out his upperribs; and tilted levels put new hard muscles into calf and thigh.
They meditated often on the Wheel of Life--the more so since, as thelama said, they were freed from its visible temptations. Except the grayeagle and an occasional far-seen bear grubbing and rooting on thehillside, the vision of a furious painted leopard met at dawn in a stillvalley devouring a goat, and now and again a bright-coloured bird, theywere alone with the winds and the grass singing under the wind. Thewomen of the smoky huts over whose roofs the two walked as theydescended the mountains, were unlovely and unclean, wives of manyhusbands, and afflicted with goitre. The men were wood-cutters when theywere not farmers--meek, and of an incredible simplicity. But thatsuitable discourse might not fail, Fate sent them, overtaking andovertaken upon the road, the courteous Dacca physician, who paid for hisfood in ointments good for goitre and counsels that restore peacebetween men and women. He seemed to know these hills as well as he knewthe hill dialects, and gave the lama the lie of the land towards Ladakhand Tibet. He said they could return to the Plains at any moment.Meantime, for such as loved mountains, yonder road might amuse. This wasnot all revealed in a breath, but at evening encounters on the stonethreshing-floors, when, patients disposed of, the doctor would smoke andthe lama snuff, while Kim watched the wee cows grazing on thehouse-tops, or threw his soul after his eye across the deep blue gulfsbetween range and range. And there were talks apart in the dark woods,when the doctor would seek herbs, and Kim, as budding physician, mustaccompany him.
'You see, Mister O'Hara, I do not know what the deuce-an'-all I shall dowhen I find our sporting friends; but if you will kindly keep withinsight of my umbrella, which is fine fixed point for cadastral survey, Ifeel much better.'
Kim looked out across the jungle of peaks. 'This is not my country,hakim. Easier, I think, to find one louse in a bearskin.'
'Oah, thatt is my strong points. There is no hurry for Hurree. They wereat Leh not so long ago. They said they had come down from the Kara Korumwith their heads and horns and all. I am onlee afraid they will havesent back all their letters and compromising things from Leh intoRussian territoree. Of course they will walk away as far to the East aspossible--just to show that they were never among the Western States.You do not know the Hills?' He scratched with a twig on the earth.'Look! They should have come in by Srinagar or Abbottabad. Thatt istheir short road--down the river by Bunji and Astor. But they have mademischief in the West. So'--he drew a furrow from left to right--'theymarch and they march away East to Leh (ah! it is cold there), and downthe Indus to Han-le (I know that road), and then down, you see, toBushahr an
It nodded like a wind-blown harebell down the valleys and round themountain sides, and in due time the lama and Kim, who steered bycompass, would overhaul it, vending ointments and powders at eventide.'We came by such and such a way!' The lama would throw a careless fingerbackward at the ridges, and the umbrella would expend itself incompliments.
They crossed a snowy pass in cold moonlight, when the lama, mildlychaffing Kim, went through up to his knees, like a Bactrian camel--thesnow-bred, shag-haired sort that come into the Kashmir Serai. Theydipped across beds of light snow and snow-powdered shale, where theytook refuge from a gale in a camp of Tibetans hurrying down tiny sheep,each laden with a bag of borax. They came out upon grassy shouldersstill snow-speckled, and through forest, to grass anew. For all theirmarchings, Kedarnath and Badrinath were not impressed; and it was onlyafter days of travel that Kim, uplifted upon some insignificantten-thousand-foot hummock, could see that a shoulder-knot or horn of thetwo great lords had--ever so slightly--changed outline.
At last they entered a world within a world--a valley of leagues wherethe high hills were fashioned of the mere rubble and refuse from off theknees of the mountains. Here one day's march carried them no farther, itseemed, than a dreamer's clogged pace bears him in a nightmare. Theyskirted a shoulder painfully for hours, and, behold, it was but anoutlying boss in an outlying buttress of the main pile! A rounded meadowrevealed itself, when they had reached it, for a vast tableland runningfar into the valley. Three days later, it was a dim fold in the earth tosouthward.
'Surely the Gods live here,' said Kim, beaten down by the silence andthe appalling sweep and dispersal of the cloud-shadows after rain. 'Thisis no place for men!'
'Long and long ago,' said the lama, as to himself, 'it was asked of theLord whether the world were everlasting. To this the Excellent Onereturned no answer. . . . When I was in Ceylon, a wise Seeker confirmedthat from the gospel which is written in Pali. Certainly, since we knowthe way to Freedom, the question were unprofitable, but--look, and knowillusion, chela! These are the true Hills! They are like my hills bySuchzen. Never were such hills!'
Above them, still enormously above them, earth towered away towards thesnow-line, where from east to west across hundreds of miles, ruled aswith a ruler, the last of the bold birches stopped. Above that, inscarps and blocks upheaved, the rocks strove to fight their heads abovethe white smother. Above these again, changeless since the world'sbeginning, but changing to every mood of sun and cloud, lay out theeternal snow. They could see blots and blurs on its face where storm andwandering wullie-wa got up to dance. Below them, as they stood, theforest slid away in a sheet of blue-green for mile upon mile; below theforest was a village in its sprinkle of terraced fields and steepgrazing-grounds; below the village they knew, though a thunderstormworried and growled there for the moment, a pitch of twelve or fifteenhundred feet gave to the moist valley where the streams gather that arethe mothers of young Sutluj.
As usual, the lama had led Kim by cow-track and byroad, far from themain route along which Hurree Babu, that 'fearful man,' had bucketedthree days before through a storm to which nine Englishmen out of tenwould have given full right of way. Hurree was no game-shot,--the snickof a trigger made him change colour,--but, as he himself would havesaid, he was 'fairly effeecient stalker,' and he had raked the hugevalley with a pair of cheap binoculars to some purpose. Moreover, thewhite of worn canvas tents against green carries far. Hurree Babu hadseen all he wanted to see when he sat on the threshing-floor of Ziglaur,twenty miles away as the eagle flies, and forty by road--that is tosay, two small dots which one day were just below the snow-line, and thenext had moved downward perhaps six inches on the hillside. Once cleanedout and set to the work, his fat bare legs could cover a surprisingamount of ground, and this was the reason why, while Kim and the lamalay in a leaky hut at Ziglaur till the storm should be overpassed, anoily, wet, but always smiling Bengali, talking the best of English withthe vilest of phrases, was ingratiating himself with two sodden andrather rheumatic foreigners. He had arrived, revolving many wildschemes, on the heels of a thunderstorm which had split a pine overagainst their camp, and so convinced a dozen or two forcibly impressedbaggage-coolies the day was inauspicious for farther travel that withone accord they had thrown down their loads and jibbed. They weresubjects of a Hill-Rajah who farmed out their services, as is thecustom, for his private gain; and, to add to their personal distresses,the strange Sahibs had already threatened them with rifles. The most ofthem knew rifles and Sahibs of old: they were trackers and shikarris ofthe Northern valleys, keen after bear and wild goat; but they had neverbeen thus treated in their lives. So the forest took them to her bosom,and, for all oaths and clamour, refused to restore. There was no need tofeign madness or--the Babu had thought of another means of securing awelcome. He wrung out his wet clothes, slipped on his patent-leathershoes, opened the blue and white umbrella, and with mincing gait and aheart beating against his tonsils appeared as 'agent for His RoyalHighness, the Rajah of Rampur, gentlemen. What can I do for you,please?'
The gentlemen were delighted. One was visibly French, the otherRussian, but they spoke English not much inferior to the Babu's. Theybegged his kind offices. Their native servants had gone sick at Leh.They had hurried on because they were anxious to bring the spoils of thechase to Simla ere the skins grew moth-eaten. They bore a general letterof introduction (the Babu salaamed to it orientally) to all Governmentofficials. No, they had not met any other shooting-parties en route.They did for themselves. They had plenty of supplies. They only wishedto push on as soon as might be. At this he waylaid a cowering hillmanamong the trees, and after three minutes' talk and a little silver (onecannot be economical upon State service, though Hurree's heart bled atthe waste) the eleven coolies and the three hangers-on reappeared. Atleast the Babu would be a witness to oppression.
'My royal master, he will be much annoyed, but these people are onleecommon people and grossly ignorant. If your honours will kindly overlookunfortunate affair, I shall be much pleased. In a little while rain willstop and we can then proceed. You have been shooting, eh? That is fineperformance!'
He skipped nimbly from one kilta to the next, making pretence to adjusteach conical basket. The Englishman is not, as a rule, familiar with theAsiatic, but he would not strike across the wrist a kindly Babu who hadaccidentally upset a kilta with a red oilskin top. On the other hand, hewould not press drink upon a Babu were he never so friendly, nor wouldhe invite him to meat. The strangers did all these things, and askedmany questions,--about women mostly,--to which Hurree returned gay andunstudied answers. They gave him a glass of whitish fluid like to gin,and then more; and in a little time his gravity departed from him. Hebecame thickly treasonous, and spoke in terms of sweeping indecency of aGovernment which had forced upon him a white man's education andneglected to supply him with a white man's salary. He babbled tales ofoppression and wrong till the tears ran down his cheeks for the miseriesof his land. Then he staggered off, singing love-songs of Lower Bengal,and collapsed upon a wet tree-trunk. Never was so unfortunate a productof English rule in India more unhappily thrust upon aliens.
'They are all just of that pattern,' said one sportsman to the other inFrench. 'When we get into India proper thou wilt see. I should like tovisit his Rajah. One might speak the good word there. It is possiblethat he has heard of us and wishes to signify his goodwill.'
'We have not time. We must get into Simla as soon as may be,' hiscompanion replied. 'For my own part, I wish our reports had been sentback from Hilas, or even Leh.'
'The English post is better and safer. Remember we are given allfacilities--and name of God!--they give them to us too! Is itunbelievable stupidity?'
'Yes! To fight a fellow-Continental in our game is something. There is arisk attached, but these people--bah! It is too easy.'
'Pride--all pride, my friend.'
'Now what the deuce is good of Chandernagore being so close to Calcuttaand all,' said Hurree, snoring open-mouthed on the sodden moss, 'if Icannot understand their French. They talk so par-tic-ularly fast! Itwould have been much better to cut their beastly throats.'
When he presented himself again he was racked with a headache--penitent,and volubly afraid that in his drunkenness he might have beenindiscreet. He loved the British Government--it was the source of allprosperity and honour, and his master at Rampur held the very sameopinion. Upon this the men began to deride him and to quote past words,till step by step, with deprecating smirks, oily grins, and leers ofinfinite cunning, the poor Babu was beaten out of his defences andforced to speak--truth! When Lurgan was told the tale later, he mournedaloud that he could not have been in the place of the stubborn,inattentive coolies, who with grass mats over their heads and theraindrops puddling in their foot-prints, waited on the weather. All theSahibs of their acquaintance--rough-clad men joyously returning yearafter year to their chosen gullies--had servants and cooks andorderlies, very often hillmen. These Sahibs travelled without anyretinue. Therefore they were poor Sahibs, and ignorant; for no Sahib inhis senses would follow a Bengali's advice. But the Bengali, appearingfrom somewhere, had given them money, and would make shift with theirdialect. Used to comprehensive ill-treatment from their own colour, theysuspected a trap somewhere, and stood by to run if occasion offered.
Then through the new-washed air, steaming with delicious earth-smells,the Babu led the way down the slopes--walking ahead of the coolies inpride; walking behind the foreigners in humility. His thoughts were manyand various. The least of them would have interested his companionsbeyond words. But he was an agreeable guide, ever keen to point out thebeauties of his royal master's domain. He peopled the hills withanything they had a mind to slay--thar, ibex, or markhor, and bear byElisha's allowance. He discoursed of botany and ethnology withunimpeachable inaccuracy, and his store of local legends--he had been atrusted agent of the State for fifteen years, remember--wasinexhaustible.
'Decidedly this fellow is an original,' said the taller of the twoforeigners. 'He is like the nightmare of a Viennese courier.'
'He represents in petto India in transition--the monstrous hybridism ofEast and West,' the Russian replied. 'It is we who can deal withOrientals.'
'He has lost his own country and has not acquired any other. But he hasa most complete hatred of his conquerors. Listen. He confides to me lastnight,' etc.
Under the striped umbrella Hurree Babu was straining ear and brain tofollow the quick-poured French, and keeping both eyes on a kilta full ofmaps and documents--an extra large one with a double red oilskin cover.He did not wish to steal anything. He only desired to know what tosteal, and, incidentally, how to get away when he had stolen it. Hethanked all the Gods of Hindustan, and Herbert Spencer, that thereremained some valuables to steal.
On the second day the road rose steeply to a grass spur above theforest; and it was here, about sunset, that they came across an agedlama--but they called him a bonze--sitting cross-legged above amysterious chart held down by stones, which he was explaining to a youngman, evidently a neophyte, of singular, though unwashen, beauty. Thestriped umbrella had been sighted half a march away, and Kim hadsuggested a halt till it came up to them.
'Ha!' said Hurree Babu, resourceful as Puss-in-Boots. 'That is eminentlocal holy man. Probably subject of my royal master.'
'What is he doing? It is very curious.'
'He is expounding holy picture--all hand-worked.'
The two men stood bare-headed in the wash of the afternoon sunlight lowacross the gold-coloured grass. The sullen coolies, glad of the check,halted and slid down their loads.
'Look!' said the Frenchman. 'It is like a picture for the birth of areligion--the first teacher and the first disciple. Is he a Buddhist?'
'Of some debased kind,' the other answered. 'There are no true Buddhistsamong the Hills. But look at the folds of the drapery. Look at hiseyes--how insolent! Why does this make one feel that we are so young apeople?' The speaker struck passionately at a tall weed. 'We havenowhere left our mark yet. Nowhere! That, do you understand, is whatdisquiets me.' He scowled at the placid face, and the monumental calm ofthe pose.
'Have patience. We shall make your mark together--we and you youngpeople. Meantime, draw his picture.'
The Babu advanced loftily; his back out of all keeping with hisdeferential speech, or his wink towards Kim.
'Holy One, these be Sahibs. My medicines cured one of a flux, and I gointo Simla to oversee his recovery. They wish to see thy picture--'
'To heal the sick is always good. This is the Wheel of Life,' said thelama, 'the same I showed thee in the hut at Ziglaur when the rain fell.'
'And to hear thee expound it.'
The lama's eyes lighted at the prospect of new listeners. 'To expoundthe Most Excellent Way is good. Have they any knowledge of Hindi, suchas had the Keeper of Images?'
'A little, maybe.'
Hereat, simply as a child engrossed with a new game, the lama threw backhis head and began the full-throated invocation of the Doctor ofDivinity ere he opens the full doctrine. The strangers leaned on theiralpenstocks and listened. Kim, squatting humbly, watched the redsunlight on their faces, and the blend and parting of their longshadows. They wore un-English leggings and curious girt-in belts thatreminded him hazily of the pictures in a book at St. Xavier's library:'The Adventures of a Young Naturalist in Mexico' was its name. Yes, theylooked very like the wonderful M. Sumichrast of that tale, and veryunlike the 'highly unscrupulous folk' of Hurree Babu's imagining. Thecoolies, earth-coloured and mute, crouched reverently some twenty orthirty yards away, and the Babu, the slack of his thin gear snappinglike a marking-flag in the chill breeze, stood by with an air of happyproprietorship.
'These are the men,' Hurree whispered, as the ritual went on and the twowhites followed the grass blade sweeping from Hell to Heaven and backagain. 'All their books are in the large kilta with the reddishtop,--books and reports and maps,--and I have seen a King's letter thateither Hilas or Bunar has written. They guard it most carefully. Theyhave sent nothing back from Hilas or Leh. That is sure.'
'Who is with them?'
'Only the beggar-coolies. They have no servants. They are so close theycook their own food.'
'But what am I to do?'
'Wait and see. Only if any chance comes to me thou wilt know where toseek for the papers.'
'This were better in Mahbub Ali's hands than a Bengali's,' said Kimscornfully.
'There are more ways of getting to a sweetheart than butting down awall.'
'See here the Hell appointed for avarice and greed. Flanked upon the oneside by Desire and on the other by Weariness.' The lama warmed to hiswork, and one of the strangers sketched him in the quick-fading light.
'That is enough,' the man said at last brusquely. 'I cannot understandhim, but I want that picture. He is a better artist than I. Ask him ifhe will sell it.'
'He says "No, sar,"' the Babu replied. The lama, of course, would nomore have parted with his chart to a casual wayfarer than an archbishopwould pawn the holy vessels of a cathedral. All Tibet is full of cheapreproductions of the Wheel; but the lama was an artist, as well as awealthy abbot in his own place.
'Perhaps in three days, or four, or ten, if I perceive that the Sahib isa Seeker and of good understanding, I may myself draw him another. Butthis was used for the initiation of a novice. Tell him so, hakim.'
'He wishes it now--for money.'
The lama shook his head slowly and began to fold up the Wheel. TheRussian, on his side, saw no more than an unclean old man haggling overa dirty piece of paper. He drew out a handful of rupees, and snatchedhalf-jestingly at the chart, w
'Now you see--you see why I wanted witnesses. They are highlyunscrupulous people. Oh Sar! Sar! You must not hit holy man!'
'Chela! He has defiled the Written Word!'
It was too late. Before Kim could ward him off, the Russian struck theold man full on the face. Next instant he was rolling over and over downhill with Kim at his throat. The blow had waked every unknown Irishdevil in the boy's blood, and the sudden fall of his enemy did the rest.The lama dropped to his knees, half-stunned; the coolies under theirloads fled up the hill as fast as plainsmen run across the level. Theyhad seen sacrilege unspeakable, and it behoved them to get away beforethe Gods and devils of the hills took vengeance. The Frenchman rantowards the lama, fumbling at his revolver with some notion of makinghim a hostage for his companion. A shower of cutting stones--hillmen arevery straight shots--drove him away, and a coolie from Ao-chung snatchedthe lama into the stampede. All came about as swiftly as the suddenmountain-darkness.
'They have taken the baggage and all the guns,' yelled the Frenchman,firing blindly into the twilight.
'All right, Sar! All right! Don't shoot. I go to rescue,' and Hurree,pounding down the slope, cast himself bodily upon the delighted andastonished Kim, who was banging his breathless foe's head against aboulder.
'Go back to the coolies,' whispered the Babu in his ear. 'They have thebaggage. The papers are in the kilta with the red top, but look throughall. Take their papers, and specially the murasla (King's letter). Go!The other man comes!'
Kim tore up hill. A revolver-bullet rang on a rock by his side, and hecowered partridge-wise.
'If you shoot,' shouted Hurree, 'they will descend and annihilate us. Ihave rescued the gentleman, Sar. This is par-tic-ularly dangerous.'
'By Jove!' Kim was thinking hard in English. 'This is dam-tight place,but I think it is self-defence.' He felt in his bosom for Mahbub's gift,and uncertainly--save for a few practice shots in the Bikaner desert, hehad never used the little gun--pulled the trigger.
'What did I say, Sar!' The Babu seemed to be in tears. 'Come down hereand assist to resuscitate. We are all up a tree, I tell you.'
The shots ceased. There was a sound of stumbling feet, and Kim hurriedupward through the gloom, swearing like a cat--or a country-bred.
'Did they wound thee, chela?' called the lama above him.
'No. And thou?' He dived into a clump of stunted firs.
'Unhurt. Come away. We go with these folk to Shamlegh-under-the-Snow.'
'But not before we have done justice,' a voice cried. 'I have got theSahibs' guns--all four. Let us go down.'
'He struck the Holy One--we saw it! Our cattle will be barren--our wiveswill cease to bear! The snows will slide upon us as we go home. . . .Atop of all other oppression too!'
The little fir-clump filled with clamouring coolies--panic-stricken, andin their terror capable of anything. The man from Ao-chung clicked thebreech-bolt of his gun impatiently, and made as to go down hill.
'Wait a little, Holy One; they cannot go far: wait till I return.'
'It is this person who has suffered wrong,' said the lama, his hand overhis brow.
'For that very reason,' was the reply.
'If this person overlooks it, your hands are clean. Moreover, ye acquiremerit by obedience.'
'Wait, and we will all go to Shamlegh together,' the man insisted.
For a moment, for just so long as it needs to stuff a cartridge into abreech-loader, the lama hesitated. Then he rose to his feet, and laid afinger on the man's shoulder.
'Hast thou heard? I say there shall be no killing--I who was Abbot ofSuchzen. Is it any lust of thine to be re-born as a rat, or a snakeunder the eaves--a worm in the belly of the most mean beast? Is it thywish to--'
The man from Ao-chung fell to his knees, for the voice boomed like aTibetan devil-gong.
'Ai! ai!' cried the Spiti men. 'Do not curse us--do not curse him. Itwas but his zeal, Holy One! . . . Put down the rifle, fool!'
'Anger on anger! Evil on evil! There will be no killing. Let thepriest-beaters go in bondage to their own acts. Just and sure is theWheel, swerving not a hair! They will be born many times--in torment.'His head drooped, and he leaned heavily on Kim's shoulder.
'I have come near to great evil, chela,' he whispered in that dead hushunder the pines. 'I was tempted to loose the bullet; and truly, in Tibetthere would have been a heavy and a slow death for them. . . . He struckme across the face . . . upon the flesh . . .' He slid to the ground,breathing heavily, and Kim could hear the over-driven heart bump andcheck.
'Have they hurt him to the death?' said the Ao-chung man, while theothers stood mute.
Kim knelt over the body in deadly fear. 'Nay,' he cried passionately,'this is only a weakness.' Then he remembered that he was a white man,with a white man's camp-fittings at his service. 'Open the kiltas! TheSahibs may have a medicine.'
'Oho! Then I know it,' said the Ao-chung man with a laugh. 'Not for fiveyears was I Yankling Sahib's shikarri without knowing that medicine. Itoo have tasted it. Behold!'
He drew, from his breast a bottle of cheap whisky--such as is sold toexplorers at Leh--and cleverly forced a little between the lama's teeth.
'So I did when Yankling Sahib twisted his foot beyond Astor. Aha! I havealready looked into their baskets--but we will make fair division atShamlegh. Give him a little more. It is good medicine. Feel! His heartgoes better now. Lay his head down and rub a little on the chest. If hehad waited quietly while I accounted for the Sahibs this would neverhave come. But perhaps the Sahibs may chase us here. Then it would notbe wrong to shoot them with their own guns, heh?'
'One is paid, I think, already,' said Kim between his teeth. 'I kickedhim in the groin as we went down hill. Would I had killed him!'
'It is well to be brave when one does not live in Rampur,' said onewhose hut lay within a few miles of the Rajah's rickety palace. 'If weget a bad name among the Sahibs, none will employ us as shikarris anymore.'
'Oh, but these are not Angrezi Sahibs--not merry-minded men like FostumSahib or Yankling Sahib. They are foreigners--they cannot speak Angrezias do Sahibs.'
Here the lama coughed and sat up, groping for the rosary.
'There shall be no killing,' he murmured. 'Just is the Wheel! Evil onevil--'
'Nay, Holy One. We are all here.' The Ao-chung man timidly patted hisfeet. 'Except by thy order, no one shall be slain. Rest awhile. We willmake a little camp here, and later, as the moon rises, we go toShamlegh-under-the-Snow.'
'After a blow,' said a Spiti man sententiously, 'it is best to sleep.'
'There is, as it were, a dizziness at the back of my neck, and apinching in it. Let me lay my head on thy lap, chela. I am an old man,but not free from passion. . . . We must think of the Cause of Things.'
'Give him a blanket. We dare not light a fire lest the Sahibs see.'
'Better get away to Shamlegh. None will follow us to Shamlegh.'
This was the nervous Rampur man.
'I have been Fostum Sahib's shikarri, and I am Yankling Sahib'sshikarri. I should have been with Yankling Sahib now but for this cursedbeegar (the corvee). Let two men watch below with the guns lest theSahibs do more foolishness. I shall not leave this Holy One.'
They sat down a little apart from the lama, and, after listening awhile,passed round a water-pipe whose receiver was an old Day and Martinblacking-bottle. The glow of the red charcoal as it went from hand tohand lit up the narrow, blinking eyes, the high Chinese cheek-bones, andthe bull-throats that melted away into the dark duffle folds round theshoulders. They looked like kobolds from some magic mine--gnomes of thehills in conclave. And while they talked, the voices of the snow-watersround them diminished one by one as the night-frost choked and cloggedthe runnels.
'Not as good as Yankling Sahib.' The Ao-chung man took a pull at thewhisky-bottle and passed it over. 'Now hear me--unless any other manthinks he knows more.'
The challenge was not taken up.
'We go to Shamlegh when the moon rises. There we will fairly divide thebaggage between us. I am content with this new little rifle and all itscartridges.'
'Are the bears only bad on thy holding?' said a mate, sucking at thepipe.
'No; but musk-pods are worth six rupees apiece now, and thy women canhave the canvas of the tents and some of the cooking-gear. We will doall that at Shamlegh before dawn. Then we all go our ways, rememberingthat we have never seen or taken service with these Sahibs, who may,indeed, say that we have stolen their baggage.'
'That is well for thee, but what will our Rajah say?'
'Who is to tell him? Those Sahibs, who cannot speak our talk, or theBabu, who for his own ends gave us money? Will he lead an army againstus? What evidence will remain? That we do not need we shall throw onShamlegh midden, where no man has yet set foot.'
'Who is at Shamlegh this summer?' The place was only a grazing centre ofthree or four huts.
'The Woman of Shamlegh. She has no love for Sahibs, as we know. Theothers can be pleased with little presents; and here is enough for usall.' He patted the fat sides of the nearest basket.
'I have said they are not true Sahibs. All their skins and heads werebought in the bazar at Leh. I know the marks. I showed them to ye lastmarch.'
'True. They were all bought skins and heads. Some had even the moth inthem.'
That was a shrewd argument, and the Ao-chung man knew his fellows.
'If the worst comes to the worst, I shall tell Yankling Sahib, who is aman of a merry mind, and he will laugh. We are not doing any wrong toany Sahibs whom we know. They are priest-beaters. They frightened us. Wefled! Who knows where we dropped the baggage? Do ye think Yankling Sahibwill permit down-country police to wander all over the hills, disturbinghis game? It is a far cry from Simla to Chini, and farther from Shamleghto Shamlegh midden.'
'So be it, but I carry the big kilta. The basket with the red top thatthe Sahibs pack themselves every morning.'
'Thus it is proved,' said the Shamlegh man adroitly, 'that they areSahibs of no account. Who ever heard of Fostum Sahib, or Yankling Sahib,or even the little Peel Sahib that sits up of nights to shoot serow--Isay, who ever heard of these Sahibs coming into the hills without adown-country cook, and a bearer, and--and all manner of well-paid,high-handed and oppressive folk in their tail? How can they maketrouble? What of the kilta?'
'Nothing, but that it is full of the Written Word--books and papers inwhich they wrote, and strange instruments, as of worship.'
'Shamlegh midden will take them all.'
'True! But how if we insult the Sahibs' Gods thereby? I do not like tohandle the Written Word in that fashion. And their brass idols arebeyond my comprehension. It is no plunder for simple hill-folk.'
'The old man still sleeps. Hst! We will ask his chela.' The Ao-chung manrefreshed himself, and swelled with pride of leadership.
'We have here,' he whispered, 'a kilta whose nature we do not know.'
'But I do,' said Kim cautiously. The lama drew breath in natural, easysleep, and Kim had been thinking of Hurree's last words. As a player ofthe Great Game, he was disposed just then to reverence the Babu. 'It isa kilta with a red top full of very wonderful things, not to be handledby fools.'
'I said it; I said it,' cried the bearer of that burden. 'Thinkest thouit will betray us?'
'Not if it be given to me. I will draw out its magic. Otherwise it willdo great harm.'
'A priest always takes his share.' Whisky was demoralising the Ao-chungman.
'It is no matter to me,' Kim answered, with the craft of hismother-country. 'Share it among you, and see what comes!'
'Not I. I was only jesting. Give the order. There is more than enoughfor us all. We go our way from Shamlegh in the dawn.'
They arranged and re-arranged their artless little plans for anotherhour, while Kim shivered with cold and pride. The humour of thesituation tickled the Irish and the Oriental in his soul. Here were theemissaries of the dread Power of the North, very possibly as great intheir own land as Mahbub or Colonel Creighton, suddenly smittenhelpless. One of them, he privately knew, would be lame for a time. Theyhad made promises to Kings. To-night they lay out somewhere below him,chartless, foodless, tentless, gunless--except for Hurree Babu,guideless. And this collapse of their Great Game (Kim wondered to whomthey would report it), this panicky bolt into the night, had come aboutthrough no craft of Hurree's or contrivance of Kim's, but simply,beautifully, and inevitably as the capture of Mahbub's faquir-friends bythe zealous young policeman at Umballa.
'They are there--with nothing; and, by Jove, it is cold! I am here withall their things. Oh, they will be angry! I am sorry for Hurree Babu.'
Kim might have saved his pity, for though at that moment the Bengalisuffered acutely in the flesh, his soul was puffed and lofty. A miledown the hill, on the edge of the pine-forest, two half-frozen men--onepowerfully sick at intervals--were varying mutual recriminations withthe most poignant abuse of the Babu, who seemed distraught with terror.They demanded a plan of action. He explained that they were very luckyto be alive; that their coolies, if not then stalking them, had passedbeyond recall; that the Rajah, his master, was ninety miles away, and,so far from lending them money and a retinue for the Simla journey,would surely cast them into prison if he heard that they had hit apriest. He enlarged on this sin and its consequences till they bade himchange the subject. Their one hope, said he, was unostentatious flightfrom village to village till they reached civilisation; and, for thehundredth time dissolved in tears, he demanded of the high stars why theSahibs 'had beaten holy man.'
Ten steps would have taken Hurree into the creaking gloom utterly beyondtheir reach--to the shelter and food of the nearest village, whereglib-tongued doctors were scarce. But he preferred to endure cold,belly-pinch, bad words, and occasional blows in the company of hishonoured employers. Crouched against a tree-trunk, he sniffed dolefully.
'And have you thought,' said the uninjured man hotly, 'what sort ofspectacle we shall present wandering through these hills among theseaborigines?'
Hurree Babu had thought of little else for some hours, but the remarkwas not to his address.
'We cannot wander! I can hardly walk,' groaned Kim's victim.
'Perhaps the holy man will be merciful in loving-kindness, Sar,otherwise--'
'I promise myself a peculiar pleasure in emptying my revolver into thatyoung bonze when next we meet,' was the unchristian answer.
'Revolvers! Vengeance! Bonzes!' Hurree crouched lower. The war wasbreaking out afresh. 'Have you no consideration for our loss? Thebaggage! The baggage!' He could hear the speaker literally dancing onthe grass. 'Everything we bore! Everything we have secured! Our gains!Eight months' work! Do you know what that means? "Decidedly it is we whocan deal with Orientals!" Oh, you have done well.'
They fell to it in several tongues, and Hurree smiled. Kim was with thekiltas, and in the kiltas lay eight months of good diplomacy. There wasno means of communicating with the boy, but he could be trusted. For therest, he could so stage-manage the journey through the hills that Hilas,Bunar, and four hundred miles of hill-roads should tell the tale for ageneration. Men who cannot control their own coolies are littlerespected in the Hills, and the hillman has a very keen sense of humour.
'If I had done it myself,' thought Hurree, 'it would not have beenbetter; and, by Jove, now I think of it, of course I arranged it myself.How quick I have been! Just when I ran down hill I thought it! Theeoutrage was accidental, but onlee me could have worked it--ah--for allit was dam well worth. Consider the
Kim by Rudyard Kipling / Actions & Adventure have rating 4.1 out of 5 / Based on37 votes