Kim
Chapter 7

Public Domain

Unto whose use the pregnant suns are poised
With idiot moons and stars retracing stars?
Creep thou betweene--thy coming’s all unnoised.
Heaven hath her high, as Earth her baser, wars.
Heir to these tumults, this affright, that fraye
(By Adam’s, fathers’, own, sin bound alway);
Peer up, draw out thy horoscope and say
Which planet mends thy threadbare fate or mars?

Sir John Christie.

In the afternoon the red-faced schoolmaster told Kim that he had been ‘struck off the strength’, which conveyed no meaning to him till he was ordered to go away and play. Then he ran to the bazar, and found the young letter-writer to whom he owed a stamp.

‘Now I pay,’ said Kim royally, ‘and now I need another letter to be written.’

‘Mahbub Ali is in Umballa,’ said the writer jauntily. He was, by virtue of his office, a bureau of general misinformation.

‘This is not to Mahbub, but to a priest. Take thy pen and write quickly. To Teshoo Lama, the Holy One from Bhotiyal seeking for a River, who is now in the Temple of the Tirthankars at Benares. Take more ink! In three days I am to go down to Nucklao to the school at Nucklao. The name of the school is Xavier. I do not know where that school is, but it is at Nucklao.’

‘But I know Nucklao,’ the writer interrupted. ‘I know the school.’

‘Tell him where it is, and I give half an anna.’

The reed pen scratched busily. ‘He cannot mistake.’ The man lifted his head. ‘Who watches us across the street?’

Kim looked up hurriedly and saw Colonel Creighton in tennis-flannels.

‘Oh, that is some Sahib who knows the fat priest in the barracks. He is beckoning me.’

‘What dost thou?’ said the Colonel, when Kim trotted up.

‘I--I am not running away. I send a letter to my Holy One at Benares.’

‘I had not thought of that. Hast thou said that I take thee to Lucknow?’

‘Nay, I have not. Read the letter, if there be a doubt.’

‘Then why hast thou left out my name in writing to that Holy One?’ The Colonel smiled a queer smile. Kim took his courage in both hands.

‘It was said once to me that it is inexpedient to write the names of strangers concerned in any matter, because by the naming of names many good plans are brought to confusion.’

‘Thou hast been well taught,’ the Colonel replied, and Kim flushed. ‘I have left my cheroot-case in the Padre’s veranda. Bring it to my house this even.’

‘Where is the house?’ said Kim. His quick wit told him that he was being tested in some fashion or another, and he stood on guard.

‘Ask anyone in the big bazar.’ The Colonel walked on.

‘He has forgotten his cheroot-case,’ said Kim, returning. ‘I must bring it to him this evening. That is all my letter except, thrice over, Come to me! Come to me! Come to me! Now I will pay for a stamp and put it in the post. He rose to go, and as an afterthought asked: ‘Who is that angry-faced Sahib who lost the cheroot-case?’

‘Oh, he is only Creighton Sahib--a very foolish Sahib, who is a Colonel Sahib without a regiment.’

‘What is his business?’

‘God knows. He is always buying horses which he cannot ride, and asking riddles about the works of God--such as plants and stones and the customs of people. The dealers call him the father of fools, because he is so easily cheated about a horse. Mahbub Ali says he is madder than most other Sahibs.’

‘Oh!’ said Kim, and departed. His training had given him some small knowledge of character, and he argued that fools are not given information which leads to calling out eight thousand men besides guns. The Commander-in-Chief of all India does not talk, as Kim had heard him talk, to fools. Nor would Mahbub Ali’s tone have changed, as it did every time he mentioned the Colonel’s name, if the Colonel had been a fool. Consequently--and this set Kim to skipping--there was a mystery somewhere, and Mahbub Ali probably spied for the Colonel much as Kim had spied for Mahbub. And, like the horse-dealer, the Colonel evidently respected people who did not show themselves to be too clever.

He rejoiced that he had not betrayed his knowledge of the Colonel’s house; and when, on his return to barracks, he discovered that no cheroot-case had been left behind, he beamed with delight. Here was a man after his own heart--a tortuous and indirect person playing a hidden game. Well, if he could be a fool, so could Kim.

He showed nothing of his mind when Father Victor, for three long mornings, discoursed to him of an entirely new set of Gods and Godlings--notably of a Goddess called Mary, who, he gathered, was one with Bibi Miriam of Mahbub Ali’s theology. He betrayed no emotion when, after the lecture, Father Victor dragged him from shop to shop buying articles of outfit, nor when envious drummer-boys kicked him because he was going to a superior school did he complain, but awaited the play of circumstances with an interested soul. Father Victor, good man, took him to the station, put him into an empty second-class next to Colonel Creighton’s first, and bade him farewell with genuine feeling.

‘They’ll make a man o’ you, O’Hara, at St Xavier’s--a white man, an’, I hope, a good man. They know all about your comin’, an’ the Colonel will see that ye’re not lost or mislaid anywhere on the road. I’ve given you a notion of religious matters, --at least I hope so, --and you’ll remember, when they ask you your religion, that you’re a Cath’lic. Better say Roman Cath’lic, tho’ I’m not fond of the word.’

Kim lit a rank cigarette--he had been careful to buy a stock in the bazar--and lay down to think. This solitary passage was very different from that joyful down-journey in the third-class with the lama. ‘Sahibs get little pleasure of travel,’ he reflected.

‘Hai mai! I go from one place to another as it might be a kickball. It is my Kismet. No man can escape his Kismet. But I am to pray to Bibi Miriam, and I am a Sahib.’ He looked at his boots ruefully. ‘No; I am Kim. This is the great world, and I am only Kim. Who is Kim?’ He considered his own identity, a thing he had never done before, till his head swam. He was one insignificant person in all this roaring whirl of India, going southward to he knew not what fate.

Presently the Colonel sent for him, and talked for a long time. So far as Kim could gather, he was to be diligent and enter the Survey of India as a chain-man. If he were very good, and passed the proper examinations, he would be earning thirty rupees a month at seventeen years old, and Colonel Creighton would see that he found suitable employment.

Kim pretended at first to understand perhaps one word in three of this talk. Then the Colonel, seeing his mistake, turned to fluent and picturesque Urdu and Kim was contented. No man could be a fool who knew the language so intimately, who moved so gently and silently, and whose eyes were so different from the dull fat eyes of other Sahibs.

‘Yes, and thou must learn how to make pictures of roads and mountains and rivers, to carry these pictures in thine eye till a suitable time comes to set them upon paper. Perhaps some day, when thou art a chain-man, I may say to thee when we are working together: “Go across those hills and see what lies beyond.” Then one will say: “There are bad people living in those hills who will slay the chain-man if he be seen to look like a Sahib.” What then?’

Kim thought. Would it be safe to return the Colonel’s lead?

‘I would tell what that other man had said.’

‘But if I answered: “I will give thee a hundred rupees for knowledge of what is behind those hills--for a picture of a river and a little news of what the people say in the villages there”?’

‘How can I tell? I am only a boy. Wait till I am a man.’ Then, seeing the Colonel’s brow clouded, he went on: ‘But I think I should in a few days earn the hundred rupees.’

‘By what road?’

Kim shook his head resolutely. ‘If I said how I would earn them, another man might hear and forestall me. It is not good to sell knowledge for nothing.’

‘Tell now.’ The Colonel held up a rupee. Kim’s hand half reached towards it, and dropped.

‘Nay, Sahib; nay. I know the price that will be paid for the answer, but I do not know why the question is asked.’

‘Take it for a gift, then,’ said Creighton, tossing it over. ‘There is a good spirit in thee. Do not let it be blunted at St Xavier’s. There are many boys there who despise the black men.’

‘Their mothers were bazar-women,’ said Kim. He knew well there is no hatred like that of the half-caste for his brother-in-law.

‘True; but thou art a Sahib and the son of a Sahib. Therefore, do not at any time be led to contemn the black men. I have known boys newly entered into the service of the Government who feigned not to understand the talk or the customs of black men. Their pay was cut for ignorance. There is no sin so great as ignorance. Remember this.’

Several times in the course of the long twenty-four hours’ run south did the Colonel send for Kim, always developing this latter text.

‘We be all on one lead-rope, then,’ said Kim at last, ‘the Colonel, Mahbub Ali, and I--when I become a chain-man. He will use me as Mahbub Ali employed me, I think. That is good, if it allows me to return to the Road again. This clothing grows no easier by wear.’

When they came to the crowded Lucknow station there was no sign of the lama. He swallowed his disappointment, while the Colonel bundled him into a ticca-gharri with his neat belongings and despatched him alone to St Xavier’s.

‘I do not say farewell, because we shall meet again,’ he cried. ‘Again, and many times, if thou art one of good spirit. But thou art not yet tried.’

‘Not when I brought thee’--Kim actually dared to use the turn of equals--’a white stallion’s pedigree that night?’

‘Much is gained by forgetting, little brother,’ said the Colonel, with a look that pierced through Kim’s shoulder-blades as he scuttled into the carriage.

It took him nearly five minutes to recover. Then he sniffed the new air appreciatively. ‘A rich city,’ he said. ‘Richer than Lahore. How good the bazars must be! Coachman, drive me a little through the bazars here.’

‘My order is to take thee to the school.’ The driver used the ‘thou’, which is rudeness when applied to a white man. In the clearest and most fluent vernacular Kim pointed out his error, climbed on to the box-seat, and, perfect understanding established, drove for a couple of hours up and down, estimating, comparing, and enjoying. There is no city--except Bombay, the queen of all--more beautiful in her garish style than Lucknow, whether you see her from the bridge over the river, or from the top of the Imambara looking down on the gilt umbrellas of the Chutter Munzil, and the trees in which the town is bedded. Kings have adorned her with fantastic buildings, endowed her with charities, crammed her with pensioners, and drenched her with blood. She is the centre of all idleness, intrigue, and luxury, and shares with Delhi the claim to talk the only pure Urdu.

‘A fair city--a beautiful city.’ The driver, as a Lucknow man, was pleased with the compliment, and told Kim many astounding things where an English guide would have talked of the Mutiny.

‘Now we will go to the school,’ said Kim at last. The great old school of St Xavier’s in Partibus, block on block of low white buildings, stands in vast grounds over against the Gumti River, at some distance from the city.

‘What like of folk are they within?’ said Kim.

‘Young Sahibs--all devils. But to speak truth, and I drive many of them to and fro from the railway station, I have never seen one that had in him the making of a more perfect devil than thou--this young Sahib whom I am now driving.’

Naturally, for he was never trained to consider them in any way improper, Kim had passed the time of day with one or two frivolous ladies at upper windows in a certain street, and naturally, in the exchange of compliments, had acquitted himself well. He was about to acknowledge the driver’s last insolence, when his eye--it was growing dusk--caught a figure sitting by one of the white plaster gate-pillars in the long sweep of wall.

‘Stop!’ he cried. ‘Stay here. I do not go to the school at once.’

‘But what is to pay me for this coming and re-coming?’ said the driver petulantly. ‘Is the boy mad? Last time it was a dancing-girl. This time it is a priest.’

Kim was in the road headlong, patting the dusty feet beneath the dirty yellow robe.

‘I have waited here a day and a half,’ the lama’s level voice began. ‘Nay, I had a disciple with me. He that was my friend at the Temple of the Tirthankars gave me a guide for this journey. I came from Benares in the te-rain, when thy letter was given me. Yes, I am well fed. I need nothing.’

‘But why didst thou not stay with the Kulu woman, O Holy One? In what way didst thou get to Benares? My heart has been heavy since we parted.’

‘The woman wearied me by constant flux of talk and requiring charms for children. I separated myself from that company, permitting her to acquire merit by gifts. She is at least a woman of open hands, and I made a promise to return to her house if need arose. Then, perceiving myself alone in this great and terrible world, I bethought me of the te-rain to Benares, where I knew one abode in the Tirthankars’ Temple who was a Seeker, even as I.’

‘Ah! Thy River,’ said Kim. ‘I had forgotten the River.’

‘So soon, my chela? I have never forgotten it. But when I had left thee it seemed better that I should go to the Temple and take counsel, for, look you, India is very large, and it may be that wise men before us, some two or three, have left a record of the place of our River. There is debate in the Temple of the Tirthankars on this matter; some saying one thing, and some another. They are courteous folk.’

‘So be it; but what dost thou do now?’

‘I acquire merit in that I help thee, my chela, to wisdom. The priest of that body of men who serve the Red Bull wrote me that all should be as I desired for thee. I sent the money to suffice for one year, and then I came, as thou seest me, to watch for thee going up into the Gates of Learning. A day and a half have I waited, not because I was led by any affection towards thee--that is no part of the Way--but, as they said at the Tirthankars’ Temple, because, money having been paid for learning, it was right that I should oversee the end of the matter. They resolved my doubts most clearly. I had a fear that, perhaps, I came because I wished to see thee--misguided by the Red Mist of affection. It is not so ... Moreover, I am troubled by a dream.’

‘But surely, Holy One, thou hast not forgotten the Road and all that befell on it. Surely it was a little to see me that thou didst come?’

‘The horses are cold, and it is past their feeding-time,’ whined the driver.

‘Go to Jehannum and abide there with thy reputationless aunt!’ Kim snarled over his shoulder. ‘I am all alone in this land; I know not where I go nor what shall befall me. My heart was in that letter I sent thee. Except for Mahbub Ali, and he is a Pathan, I have no friend save thee, Holy One. Do not altogether go away.’

‘I have considered that also,’ the lama replied, in a shaking voice. ‘It is manifest that from time to time I shall acquire merit if before that I have not found my River--by assuring myself that thy feet are set on wisdom. What they will teach thee I do not know, but the priest wrote me that no son of a Sahib in all India will be better taught than thou. So from time to time, therefore, I will come again. Maybe thou wilt be such a Sahib as he who gave me these spectacles’--the lama wiped them elaborately--’in the Wonder House at Lahore. That is my hope, for he was a Fountain of Wisdom--wiser than many abbots ... Again, maybe thou wilt forget me and our meetings.’

‘If I eat thy bread,’ cried Kim passionately, ‘how shall I ever forget thee?’

‘No--no.’ He put the boy aside. ‘I must go back to Benares. From time to time, now that I know the customs of letter-writers in this land, I will send thee a letter, and from time to time I will come and see thee.’

‘But whither shall I send my letters?’ wailed Kim, clutching at the robe, all forgetful that he was a Sahib.

‘To the Temple of the Tirthankars at Benares. That is the place I have chosen till I find my River. Do not weep; for, look you, all Desire is Illusion and a new binding upon the Wheel. Go up to the Gates of Learning. Let me see thee go ... Dost thou love me? Then go, or my heart cracks ... I will come again. Surely I will come again.

The lama watched the ticca-gharri rumble into the compound, and strode off, snuffing between each long stride.

‘The Gates of Learning’ shut with a clang.

The country born and bred boy has his own manners and customs, which do not resemble those of any other land; and his teachers approach him by roads which an English master would not understand. Therefore, you would scarcely be interested in Kim’s experiences as a St Xavier’s boy among two or three hundred precocious youths, most of whom had never seen the sea. He suffered the usual penalties for breaking out of bounds when there was cholera in the city. This was before he had learned to write fair English, and so was obliged to find a bazar letter-writer. He was, of course, indicted for smoking and for the use of abuse more full-flavoured than even St Xavier’s had ever heard. He learned to wash himself with the Levitical scrupulosity of the native-born, who in his heart considers the Englishman rather dirty. He played the usual tricks on the patient coolies pulling the punkahs in the sleeping-rooms where the boys threshed through the hot nights telling tales till the dawn; and quietly he measured himself against his self-reliant mates.

There is more of this chapter...
The source of this story is Finestories

To read the complete story you need to be logged in:
Log In or
Register for a Free account (Why register?)

Get No-Registration Temporary Access*

* Allows you 3 stories to read in 24 hours.