I’d not give room for an Emperor--
I’d hold my road for a King.
To the Triple Crown I’d not bow down--
But this is a different thing!
I’ll not fight with the Powers of Air--
Sentry, pass him through!
Drawbridge let fall--He’s the Lord of us all--
The Dreamer whose dream came true!
The Siege of the Fairies.
Two hundred miles north of Chini, on the blue shale of Ladakh, lies Yankling Sahib, the merry-minded man, spy-glassing wrathfully across the ridges for some sign of his pet tracker--a man from Ao-chung. But that renegade, with a new Mannlicher rifle and two hundred cartridges, is elsewhere, shooting musk-deer for the market, and Yankling Sahib will learn next season how very ill he has been.
Up the valleys of Bushahr--the far-beholding eagles of the Himalayas swerve at his new blue-and-white gored umbrella--hurries a Bengali, once fat and well-looking, now lean and weather-worn. He has received the thanks of two foreigners of distinction, piloted not unskilfully to Mashobra tunnel, which leads to the great and gay capital of India. It was not his fault that, blanketed by wet mists, he conveyed them past the telegraph-station and European colony of Kotgarh. It was not his fault, but that of the Gods, of whom he discoursed so engagingly, that he led them into the borders of Nahan, where the Rahah of that State mistook them for deserting British soldiery. Hurree Babu explained the greatness and glory, in their own country, of his companions, till the drowsy kinglet smiled. He explained it to everyone who asked--many times--aloud--variously. He begged food, arranged accommodation, proved a skilful leech for an injury of the groin--such a blow as one may receive rolling down a rock-covered hillside in the dark--and in all things indispensable. The reason of his friendliness did him credit. With millions of fellow-serfs, he had learned to look upon Russia as the great deliverer from the North. He was a fearful man. He had been afraid that he could not save his illustrious employers from the anger of an excited peasantry. He himself would just as lief hit a holy man as not, but ... He was deeply grateful and sincerely rejoiced that he had done his ‘little possible’ towards bringing their venture to--barring the lost baggage--a successful issue, he had forgotten the blows; denied that any blows had been dealt that unseemly first night under the pines. He asked neither pension nor retaining fee, but, if they deemed him worthy, would they write him a testimonial? It might be useful to him later, if others, their friends, came over the Passes. He begged them to remember him in their future greatnesses, for he ‘opined subtly’ that he, even he, Mohendro Lal Dutt, MA of Calcutta, had ‘done the State some service’.
They gave him a certificate praising his courtesy, helpfulness, and unerring skill as a guide. He put it in his waist-belt and sobbed with emotion; they had endured so many dangers together. He led them at high noon along crowded Simla Mall to the Alliance Bank of Simla, where they wished to establish their identity. Thence he vanished like a dawn-cloud on Jakko.
Behold him, too fine-drawn to sweat, too pressed to vaunt the drugs in his little brass-bound box, ascending Shamlegh slope, a just man made perfect. Watch him, all Babudom laid aside, smoking at noon on a cot, while a woman with turquoise-studded headgear points south-easterly across the bare grass. Litters, she says, do not travel as fast as single men, but his birds should now be in the Plains. The holy man would not stay though Lispeth pressed him. The Babu groans heavily, girds up his huge loins, and is off again. He does not care to travel after dusk; but his days’ marches--there is none to enter them in a book--would astonish folk who mock at his race. Kindly villagers, remembering the Dacca drug-vendor of two months ago, give him shelter against evil spirits of the wood. He dreams of Bengali Gods, University text-books of education, and the Royal Society, London, England. Next dawn the bobbing blue-and-white umbrella goes forward.
On the edge of the Doon, Mussoorie well behind them and the Plains spread out in golden dust before, rests a worn litter in which--all the Hills know it--lies a sick lama who seeks a River for his healing. Villages have almost come to blows over the honour of bearing it, for not only has the lama given them blessings, but his disciple good money--full one-third Sahibs’ prices. Twelve miles a day has the dooli travelled, as the greasy, rubbed pole-ends show, and by roads that few Sahibs use. Over the Nilang Pass in storm when the driven snow-dust filled every fold of the impassive lama’s drapery; between the black horns of Raieng where they heard the whistle of the wild goats through the clouds; pitching and strained on the shale below; hard-held between shoulder and clenched jaw when they rounded the hideous curves of the Cut Road under Bhagirati; swinging and creaking to the steady jog-trot of the descent into the Valley of the Waters; pressed along the steamy levels of that locked valley; up, up and out again, to meet the roaring gusts off Kedarnath; set down of mid-days in the dun gloom of kindly oak-forests; passed from village to village in dawn-chill, when even devotees may be forgiven for swearing at impatient holy men; or by torchlight, when the least fearful think of ghosts--the dooli has reached her last stage. The little hill-folk sweat in the modified heat of the lower Siwaliks, and gather round the priests for their blessing and their wage.
‘Ye have acquired merit,’ says the lama. ‘Merit greater than your knowing. And ye will return to the Hills,’ he sighs.
‘Surely. The high Hills as soon as may be.’ The bearer rubs his shoulder, drinks water, spits it out again, and readjusts his grass sandal. Kim--his face is drawn and tired--pays very small silver from his belt, heaves out the food-bag, crams an oilskin packet--they are holy writings--into his bosom, and helps the lama to his feet. The peace has come again into the old man’s eyes, and he does not look for the hills to fall down and crush him as he did that terrible night when they were delayed by the flooded river.
The men pick up the dooli and swing out of sight between the scrub clumps.
The lama raises a hand toward the rampart of the Himalayas. ‘Not with you, O blessed among all hills, fell the Arrow of Our Lord! And never shall I breathe your airs again!’
‘But thou art ten times the stronger man in this good air,’ says Kim, for to his wearied soul appeal the well-cropped, kindly Plains. ‘Here, or hereabouts, fell the Arrow, yes. We will go very softly, perhaps, a koss a day, for the Search is sure. But the bag weighs heavy.’
‘Ay, our Search is sure. I have come out of great temptation.’
It was never more than a couple of miles a day now, and Kim’s shoulders bore all the weight of it--the burden of an old man, the burden of the heavy food-bag with the locked books, the load of the writings on his heart, and the details of the daily routine. He begged in the dawn, set blankets for the lama’s meditation, held the weary head on his lap through the noonday heats, fanning away the flies till his wrists ached, begged again in the evenings, and rubbed the lama’s feet, who rewarded him with promise of Freedom--today, tomorrow, or, at furthest, the next day.
‘Never was such a chela. I doubt at times whether Ananda more faithfully nursed Our Lord. And thou art a Sahib? When I was a man--a long time ago--I forgot that. Now I look upon thee often, and every time I remember that thou art a Sahib. It is strange.’
‘Thou hast said there is neither black nor white. Why plague me with this talk, Holy One? Let me rub the other foot. It vexes me. I am not a Sahib. I am thy chela, and my head is heavy on my shoulders.’
‘Patience a little! We reach Freedom together. Then thou and I, upon the far bank of the River, will look back upon our lives as in the Hills we saw our days’ marches laid out behind us. Perhaps I was once a Sahib.’
‘Was never a Sahib like thee, I swear it.’
‘I am certain the Keeper of the Images in the Wonder House was in past life a very wise Abbot. But even his spectacles do not make my eyes see. There fall shadows when I would look steadily. No matter--we know the tricks of the poor stupid carcass--shadow changing to another shadow. I am bound by the illusion of Time and Space. How far came we today in the flesh?’
‘Perhaps half a koss.’ (Three quarters of a mile, and it was a weary march.)
‘Half a koss. Ha! I went ten thousand thousand in the spirit. How, we are all lapped and swathed and swaddled in these senseless things.’ He looked at his thin blue-veined hand that found the beads so heavy. ‘Chela, hast thou never a wish to leave me?’
Kim thought of the oilskin packet and the books in the food-bag. If someone duly authorized would only take delivery of them the Great Game might play itself for aught he then cared. He was tired and hot in his head, and a cough that came from the stomach worried him.
‘No.’ he said almost sternly. ‘I am not a dog or a snake to bite when I have learned to love.’
‘Thou art too tender towards me.’
‘Not that either. I have moved in one matter without consulting thee. I have sent a message to the Kulu woman by that woman who gave us the goat’s milk this morn, saying that thou wast a little feeble and wouldst need a litter. I beat myself in my mind that I did not do it when we entered the Doon. We stay in this place till the litter returns.’
‘I am content. She is a woman with a heart of gold, as thou sayest, but a talker--something of a talker.’
‘She will not weary thee. I have looked to that also. Holy One, my heart is very heavy for my many carelessnesses towards thee.’ An hysterical catch rose in his throat. ‘I have walked thee too far: I have not picked good food always for thee; I have not considered the heat; I have talked to people on the road and left thee alone ... I have--I have ... Hai mai! But I love thee ... and it is all too late ... I was a child ... Oh, why was I not a man?... ‘ Overborne by strain, fatigue, and the weight beyond his years, Kim broke down and sobbed at the lama’s feet.
‘What a to-do is here!’ said the old man gently. ‘Thou hast never stepped a hair’s breadth from the Way of Obedience. Neglect me? Child, I have lived on thy strength as an old tree lives on the lime of a new wall. Day by day, since Shamlegh down, I have stolen strength from thee. Therefore, not through any sin of thine, art thou weakened. It is the Body--the silly, stupid Body--that speaks now. Not the assured Soul. Be comforted! Know at least the devils that thou fightest. They are earth-born--children of illusion. We will go to the woman from Kulu. She shall acquire merit in housing us, and specially in tending me. Thou shalt run free till strength returns. I had forgotten the stupid Body. If there be any blame, I bear it. But we are too close to the Gates of Deliverance to weigh blame. I could praise thee, but what need? In a little--in a very little--we shall sit beyond all needs.’
And so he petted and comforted Kim with wise saws and grave texts on that little-understood beast, our Body, who, being but a delusion, insists on posing as the Soul, to the darkening of the Way, and the immense multiplication of unnecessary devils.
‘Hai! hai! Let us talk of the woman from Kulu. Think you she will ask another charm for her grandsons? When I was a young man, a very long time ago, I was plagued with these vapours--and some others--and I went to an Abbot--a very holy man and a seeker after truth, though then I knew it not. Sit up and listen, child of my soul! My tale was told. Said he to me, “Chela, know this. There are many lies in the world, and not a few liars, but there are no liars like our bodies, except it be the sensations of our bodies.” Considering this I was comforted, and of his great favour he suffered me to drink tea In his presence. Suffer me now to drink tea, for I am thirsty.’
With a laugh across his tears, Kim kissed the lama’s feet, and set about the tea-making.
‘Thou leanest on me in the body, Holy One, but I lean on thee for some other things. Dost know it?’
‘I have guessed maybe,’ and the lama’s eyes twinkled. ‘We must change that.’
So, when with scufflings and scrapings and a hot air of importance, paddled up nothing less than the Sahiba’s pet palanquin sent twenty miles, with that same grizzled old Oorya servant in charge, and when they reached the disorderly order of the long white rambling house behind Saharunpore, the lama took his own measures.
Said the Sahiba cheerily from an upper window, after compliments: ‘What is the good of an old woman’s advice to an old man? I told thee--I told thee, Holy One, to keep an eye upon the chela. How didst thou do it? Never answer me! I know. He has been running among the women. Look at his eyes--hollow and sunk--and the Betraying Line from the nose down! He has been sifted out! Fie! Fie! And a priest, too!’
Kim looked up, over-weary to smile, shaking his head in denial.
‘Do not jest,’ said the lama. ‘That time is done. We are here upon great matters. A sickness of soul took me in the Hills, and him a sickness of the body. Since then I have lived upon his strength--eating him.’
‘Children together--young and old,’ she sniffed, but forbore to make any new jokes. ‘May this present hospitality restore ye! Hold awhile and I will come to gossip of the high good Hills.’
At evening time--her son-in-law was returned, so she did not need to go on inspection round the farm--she won to the meat of the matter, explained low-voicedly by the lama. The two old heads nodded wisely together. Kim had reeled to a room with a cot in it, and was dozing soddenly. The lama had forbidden him to set blankets or get food.
‘I know--I know. Who but I?’ she cackled. ‘We who go down to the burning-ghats clutch at the hands of those coming up from the River of Life with full water-jars--yes, brimming water-jars. I did the boy wrong. He lent thee his strength? It is true that the old eat the young daily. Stands now we must restore him.’
‘Thou hast many times acquired merit--’
‘My merit. What is it? Old bag of bones making curries for men who do not ask “Who cooked this?” Now if it were stored up for my grandson--’
‘He that had the belly-pain?’
‘To think the Holy One remembers that! I must tell his mother. It is most singular honour! “He that had the belly-pain”--straightway the Holy One remembered. She will be proud.’
‘My chela is to me as is a son to the unenlightened.’
‘Say grandson, rather. Mothers have not the wisdom of our years. If a child cries they say the heavens are falling. Now a grandmother is far enough separated from the pain of bearing and the pleasure of giving the breast to consider whether a cry is wickedness pure or the wind. And since thou speakest once again of wind, when last the Holy One was here, maybe I offended in pressing for charms.’
‘Sister,’ said the lama, using that form of address a Buddhist monk may sometimes employ towards a nun, ‘if charms comfort thee--’
‘They are better than ten thousand doctors.’
‘I say, if they comfort thee, I who was Abbot of Such-zen, will make as many as thou mayest desire. I have never seen thy face--’
‘That even the monkeys who steal our loquats count for again. Hee! hee!’
‘But as he who sleeps there said,’--he nodded at the shut door of the guest-chamber across the forecourt--’thou hast a heart of gold ... And he is in the spirit my very “grandson” to me.’
‘Good! I am the Holy One’s cow.’ This was pure Hinduism, but the lama never heeded. ‘I am old. I have borne sons in the body. Oh, once I could please men! Now I can cure them.’ He heard her armlets tinkle as though she bared arms for action. ‘I will take over the boy and dose him, and stuff him, and make him all whole. Hai! hai! We old people know something yet.’
Wherefore when Kim, aching in every bone, opened his eyes, and would go to the cook-house to get his master’s food, he found strong coercion about him, and a veiled old figure at the door, flanked by the grizzled manservant, who told him very precisely the things that he was on no account to do.
‘Thou must have? Thou shalt have nothing. What? A locked box in which to keep holy books? Oh, that is another matter. Heavens forbid I should come between a priest and his prayers! It shall be brought, and thou shalt keep the key.’
They pushed the coffer under his cot, and Kim shut away Mahbub’s pistol, the oilskin packet of letters, and the locked books and diaries, with a groan of relief. For some absurd reason their weight on his shoulders was nothing to their weight on his poor mind. His neck ached under it of nights.
‘Thine is a sickness uncommon in youth these days: since young folk have given up tending their betters. The remedy is sleep, and certain drugs,’ said the Sahiba; and he was glad to give himself up to the blankness that half menaced and half soothed him.
She brewed drinks, in some mysterious Asiatic equivalent to the still-room--drenches that smelt pestilently and tasted worse. She stood over Kim till they went down, and inquired exhaustively after they had come up. She laid a taboo upon the forecourt, and enforced it by means of an armed man. It is true he was seventy odd, that his scabbarded sword ceased at the hilt; but he represented the authority of the Sahiba, and loaded wains, chattering servants, calves, dogs, hens, and the like, fetched a wide compass by those parts. Best of all, when the body was cleared, she cut out from the mass of poor relations that crowded the back of the buildings--house-hold dogs, we name them--a cousin’s widow, skilled in what Europeans, who know nothing about it, call massage. And the two of them, laying him east and west, that the mysterious earth-currents which thrill the clay of our bodies might help and not hinder, took him to pieces all one long afternoon--bone by bone, muscle by muscle, ligament by ligament, and lastly, nerve by nerve. Kneaded to irresponsible pulp, half hypnotized by the perpetual flick and readjustment of the uneasy chudders that veiled their eyes, Kim slid ten thousand miles into slumber--thirty-six hours of it--sleep that soaked like rain after drought.
Then she fed him, and the house spun to her clamour. She caused fowls to be slain; she sent for vegetables, and the sober, slow-thinking gardener, nigh as old as she, sweated for it; she took spices, and milk, and onion, with little fish from the brooks--anon limes for sherbets, fat quails from the pits, then chicken-livers upon a skewer, with sliced ginger between.
‘I have seen something of this world,’ she said over the crowded trays, ‘and there are but two sorts of women in it--those who take the strength out of a man and those who put it back. Once I was that one, and now I am this. Nay--do not play the priestling with me. Mine was but a jest. If it does not hold good now, it will when thou takest the road again. Cousin,’--this to the poor relation, never wearied of extolling her patroness’s charity--’he is getting a bloom on the skin of a new-curried horse. Our work is like polishing jewels to be thrown to a dance-girl--eh?’
Kim sat up and smiled. The terrible weakness had dropped from him like an old shoe. His tongue itched for free speech again, and but a week back the lightest word clogged it like ashes. The pain in his neck (he must have caught it from the lama) had gone with the heavy dengue-aches and the evil taste in the mouth. The two old women, a little, but not much, more careful about their veils now, clucked as merrily as the hens that had entered pecking through the open door.
‘Where is my Holy One?’ he demanded.
‘Hear him! Thy Holy One is well,’ she snapped viciously. ‘Though that is none of his merit. Knew I a charm to make him wise, I’d sell my jewels and buy it. To refuse good food that I cooked myself--and go roving into the fields for two nights on an empty belly--and to tumble into a brook at the end of it--call you that holiness? Then, when he has nearly broken what thou hast left of my heart with anxiety, he tells me that he has acquired merit. Oh, how like are all men! No, that was not it--he tells me that he is freed from all sin. I could have told him that before he wetted himself all over. He is well now--this happened a week ago--but burn me such holiness! A babe of three would do better. Do not fret thyself for the Holy One. He keeps both eyes on thee when he is not wading our brooks.’
‘I do not remember to have seen him. I remember that the days and nights passed like bars of white and black, opening and shutting. I was not sick: I was but tired.’
‘A lethargy that comes by right some few score years later. But it is done now.’
‘Maharanee,’ Kim began, but led by the look in her eye, changed it to the title of plain love--’Mother, I owe my life to thee. How shall I make thanks? Ten thousand blessings upon thy house and--’
‘The house be unblessed!’ (It is impossible to give exactly the old lady’s word.) ‘Thank the Gods as a priest if thou wilt, but thank me, if thou carest, as a son. Heavens above! Have I shifted thee and lifted thee and slapped and twisted thy ten toes to find texts flung at my head? Somewhere a mother must have borne thee to break her heart. What used thou to her--son?’
‘I had no mother, my mother,’ said Kim. ‘She died, they tell me, when I was young.’
‘Hai mai! Then none can say I have robbed her of any right if--when thou takest the road again and this house is but one of a thousand used for shelter and forgotten, after an easy-flung blessing. No matter. I need no blessings, but--but--’ She stamped her foot at the poor relation. ‘Take up the trays to the house. What is the good of stale food in the room, O woman of ill-omen?’
‘I ha--have borne a son in my time too, but he died,’ whimpered the bowed sister-figure behind the chudder. ‘Thou knowest he died! I only waited for the order to take away the tray.’
‘It is I that am the woman of ill-omen,’ cried the old lady penitently. ‘We that go down to the chattris [the big umbrellas above the burning-ghats where the priests take their last dues] clutch hard at the bearers of the chattis [water-jars--young folk full of the pride of life, she meant; but the pun is clumsy]. When one cannot dance in the festival one must e’en look out of the window, and grandmothering takes all a woman’s time. Thy master gives me all the charms I now desire for my daughter’s eldest, by reason--is it?--that he is wholly free from sin. The hakim is brought very low these days. He goes about poisoning my servants for lack of their betters.’
‘What hakim, mother?’
‘That very Dacca man who gave me the pill which rent me in three pieces. He cast up like a strayed camel a week ago, vowing that he and thou had been blood-brothers together up Kulu-way, and feigning great anxiety for thy health. He was very thin and hungry, so I gave orders to have him stuffed too--him and his anxiety!’
‘I would see him if he is here.’
‘He eats five times a day, and lances boils for my hinds to save himself from an apoplexy. He is so full of anxiety for thy health that he sticks to the cook-house door and stays himself with scraps. He will keep. We shall never get rid of him.’
‘Send him here, mother’--the twinkle returned to Kim’s eye for a flash--’and I will try.’
‘I’ll send him, but to chase him off is an ill turn. At least he had the sense to fish the Holy One out of the brook; thus, as the Holy One did not say, acquiring merit.’
‘He is a very wise hakim. Send him, mother.’
‘Priest praising priest? A miracle! If he is any friend of thine (ye squabbled at your last meeting) I’ll hale him here with horse-ropes and--and give him a caste-dinner afterwards, my son ... Get up and see the world! This lying abed is the mother of seventy devils ... my son! my son!’
She trotted forth to raise a typhoon off the cook-house, and almost on her shadow rolled in the Babu, robed as to the shoulders like a Roman emperor, jowled like Titus, bare-headed, with new patent-leather shoes, in highest condition of fat, exuding joy and salutations.
‘By Jove, Mister O’Hara, but I are jolly-glad to see you. I will kindly shut the door. It is a pity you are sick. Are you very sick?’
‘The papers--the papers from the kilta. The maps and the murasla!’ He held out the key impatiently; for the present need on his soul was to get rid of the loot.
‘You are quite right. That is correct Departmental view to take. You have got everything?’
‘All that was handwritten in the kilta I took. The rest I threw down the hill.’ He could hear the key’s grate in the lock, the sticky pull of the slow-rending oilskin, and a quick shuffling of papers. He had been annoyed out of all reason by the knowledge that they lay below him through the sick idle days--a burden incommunicable. For that reason the blood tingled through his body, when Hurree, skipping elephantinely, shook hands again.
‘This is fine! This is finest! Mister O’Hara! you have--ha! ha! swiped the whole bag of tricks--locks, stocks, and barrels. They told me it was eight months’ work gone up the spouts! By Jove, how they beat me! ... Look, here is the letter from Hilas!’ He intoned a line or two of Court Persian, which is the language of authorized and unauthorized diplomacy. ‘Mister Rajah Sahib has just about put his foot in the holes. He will have to explain offeecially how the deuce-an’-all he is writing love-letters to the Czar. And they are very clever maps ... and there is three or four Prime Ministers of these parts implicated by the correspondence. By Gad, sar! The British Government will change the succession in Hilas and Bunar, and nominate new heirs to the throne. “Trea-son most base” ... but you do not understand? Eh?’
‘Are they in thy hands?’ said Kim. It was all he cared for.
‘Just you jolly-well bet yourself they are.’ He stowed the entire trove about his body, as only Orientals can. ‘They are going up to the office, too. The old lady thinks I am permanent fixture here, but I shall go away with these straight off--immediately. Mr Lurgan will be proud man. You are offeecially subordinate to me, but I shall embody your name in my verbal report. It is a pity we are not allowed written reports. We Bengalis excel in thee exact science.’ He tossed back the key and showed the box empty.
‘Good. That is good. I was very tired. My Holy One was sick, too. And did he fall into--’
‘Oah yess. I am his good friend, I tell you. He was behaving very strange when I came down after you, and I thought perhaps he might have the papers. I followed him on his meditations, and to discuss ethnological points also. You see, I am verree small person here nowadays, in comparison with all his charms. By Jove, O’Hara, do you know, he is afflicted with infirmity of fits. Yess, I tell you. Cataleptic, too, if not also epileptic. I found him in such a state under a tree in articulo mortem, and he jumped up and walked into a brook and he was nearly drowned but for me. I pulled him out.’
‘Because I was not there!’ said Kim. ‘He might have died.’
‘Yes, he might have died, but he is dry now, and asserts he has undergone transfiguration.’ The Babu tapped his forehead knowingly. ‘I took notes of his statements for Royal Society--in posse. You must make haste and be quite well and come back to Simla, and I will tell you all my tale at Lurgan’s. It was splendid. The bottoms of their trousers were quite torn, and old Nahan Rajah, he thought they were European soldiers deserting.’
‘Oh, the Russians? How long were they with thee?’