Lurgan Sahib did not use as direct speech, but his advice tallied with Mahbub’s; and the upshot was good for Kim. He knew better now than to leave Lucknow city in native garb, and if Mahbub were anywhere within reach of a letter, it was to Mahbub’s camp he headed, and made his change under the Pathan’s wary eye. Could the little Survey paint-box that he used for map-tinting in term-time have found a tongue to tell of holiday doings, he might have been expelled. Once Mahbub and he went together as far as the beautiful city of Bombay, with three truckloads of tram-horses, and Mahbub nearly melted when Kim proposed a sail in a dhow across the Indian Ocean to buy Gulf Arabs, which, he understood from a hanger-on of the dealer Abdul Rahman, fetched better prices than mere Kabulis.
He dipped his hand into the dish with that great trader when Mahbub and a few co-religionists were invited to a big Haj dinner. They came back by way of Karachi by sea, when Kim took his first experience of sea-sickness sitting on the fore-hatch of a coasting-steamer, well persuaded he had been poisoned. The Babu’s famous drug-box proved useless, though Kim had restocked it at Bombay. Mahbub had business at Quetta, and there Kim, as Mahbub admitted, earned his keep, and perhaps a little over, by spending four curious days as scullion in the house of a fat Commissariat sergeant, from whose office-box, in an auspicious moment, he removed a little vellum ledger which he copied out — it seemed to deal entirely with cattle and camel sales — by moonlight, lying behind an outhouse, all through one hot night. Then he returned the ledger to its place, and, at Mahbub’s word, left that service unpaid, rejoining him six miles down the road, the clean copy in his bosom.
‘That soldier is a small fish,’ Mahbub Ali explained, ‘but in time we shall catch the larger one. He only sells oxen at two prices — one for himself and one for the Government — which I do not think is a sin.’
‘Why could not I take away the little book and be done with it?’
‘Then he would have been frightened, and he would have told his master. Then we should miss, perhaps, a great number of new rifles which seek their way up from Quetta to the North. The Game is so large that one sees but a little at a time.’
‘Oho!’ said Kim, and held his tongue. That was in the monsoon holidays, after he had taken the prize for mathematics. The Christmas holidays he spent — deducting ten days for private amusements — with Lurgan Sahib, where he sat for the most part in front of a roaring wood-fire — Jakko road was four feet deep in snow that year — and — the small Hindu had gone away to be married — helped Lurgan to thread pearls. He made Kim learn whole chapters of the Koran by heart, till he could deliver them with the very roll and cadence of a mullah. Moreover, he told Kim the names and properties of many native drugs, as well as the runes proper to recite when you administer them. And in the evenings he wrote charms on parchment — elaborate pentagrams crowned with the names of devils — Murra, and Awan the Companion of Kings — all fantastically written in the corners. More to the point, he advised Kim as to the care of his own body, the cure of fever-fits, and simple remedies of the Road. A week before it was time to go down, Colonel Creighton Sahib — this was unfair — sent Kim a written examination paper that concerned itself solely with rods and chains and links and angles.
Next holidays he was out with Mahbub, and here, by the way, he nearly died of thirst, plodding through the sand on a camel to the mysterious city of Bikanir, where the wells are four hundred feet deep, and lined throughout with camel-bone. It was not an amusing trip from Kim’s point of view, because — in defiance of the contract — the Colonel ordered him to make a map of that wild, walled city; and since Mohammedan horse-boys and pipe-tenders are not expected to drag Survey-chains round the capital of an independent Native State, Kim was forced to pace all his distances by means of a bead rosary. He used the compass for bearings as occasion served — after dark chiefly, when the camels had been fed — and by the help of his little Survey paint-box of six colour-cakes and three brushes, he achieved something not remotely unlike the city of Jeysulmir. Mahbub laughed a great deal, and advised him to make up a written report as well; and in the back of the big account-book that lay under the flap of Mahbub’s pet saddle Kim fell to work..
‘It must hold everything that thou hast seen or touched or considered. Write as though the Jung-i-Lat Sahib himself had come by stealth with a vast army outsetting to war.’
‘How great an army?’
‘Oh, half a lakh of men.’
‘Folly! Remember how few and bad were the wells in the sand. Not a thousand thirsty men could come near by here.’
‘Then write that down — also all the old breaches in the walls and whence the firewood is cut — and what is the temper and disposition of the King. I stay here till all my horses are sold. I will hire a room by the gateway, and thou shalt be my accountant. There is a good lock to the door.’
The report in its unmistakable St Xavier’s running script, and the brown, yellow, and lake-daubed map, was on hand a few years ago (a careless clerk filed it with the rough notes of E’s second Seistan survey), but by now the pencil characters must be almost illegible. Kim translated it, sweating under the light of an oil-lamp, to Mahbub, the second day of their return-journey.
The Pathan rose and stooped over his dappled saddle-bags.
‘I knew it would be worthy a dress of honour, and so I made one ready,’ he said, smiling. ‘Were I Amir of Afghanistan (and some day we may see him), I would fill thy mouth with gold.’ He laid the garments formally at Kim’s feet. There was a gold-embroidered Peshawur turban-cap, rising to a cone, and a big turban-cloth ending in a broad fringe of gold. There was a Delhi embroidered waistcoat to slip over a milky white shirt, fastening to the right, ample and flowing; green pyjamas with twisted silk waist-string; and that nothing might be lacking, russia-leather slippers, smelling divinely, with arrogantly curled tips.
‘Upon a Wednesday, and in the morning, to put on new clothes is auspicious,’ said Mahbub solemnly. ‘But we must not forget the wicked folk in the world. So!’
He capped all the splendour, that was taking Kim’s delighted breath away, with a mother-of-pearl, nickel-plated, self-extracting .450 revolver.
‘I had thought of a smaller bore, but reflected that this takes Government bullets. A man can always come by those — especially across the Border. Stand up and let me look.’ He clapped Kim on the shoulder. ‘May you never be tired, Pathan! Oh, the hearts to be broken! Oh, the eyes under the eyelashes, looking sideways!’
Kim turned about, pointed his toes, stretched, and felt mechanically for the moustache that was just beginning. Then he stooped towards Mahbub’s feet to make proper acknowledgment with fluttering, quick-patting hands; his heart too full for words. Mahbub forestalled and embraced him.
‘My son, said he, ‘what need of words between us? But is not the little gun a delight? All six cartridges come out at one twist. It is borne in the bosom next the skin, which, as it were, keeps it oiled. Never put it elsewhere, and please God, thou shalt some day kill a man with it.’
‘Hai mai!’ said Kim ruefully. ‘If a Sahib kills a man he is hanged in the jail.’
‘True: but one pace beyond the Border, men are wiser. Put it away; but fill it first. Of what use is a gun unfed?’
‘When I go back to the madrissah I must return it. They do not allow little guns. Thou wilt keep it for me?’
‘Son, I am wearied of that madrissah, where they take the best years of a man to teach him what he can only learn upon the Road. The folly of the Sahibs has neither top nor bottom. No matter. Maybe thy written report shall save thee further bondage; and God He knows we need men more and more in the Game.’
They marched, jaw-bound against blowing sand, across the salt desert to Jodhpur, where Mahbub and his handsome nephew Habib Ullah did much trading; and then sorrowfully, in European clothes, which he was fast outgrowing, Kim went second-class to St Xavier’s. Three weeks later, Colonel Creighton, pricing Tibetan ghost-daggers at Lurgan’s shop, faced Mahbub Ali openly mutinous. Lurgan Sahib operated as support in reserve.
‘The pony is made — finished — mouthed and paced, Sahib! From now on, day by day, he will lose his manners if he is kept at tricks. Drop the rein on his back and let go,’ said the horse-dealer. ‘We need him.’
‘But he is so young, Mahbub — not more than sixteen — is he?’
‘When I was fifteen, I had shot my man and begot my man, Sahib.’
‘You impenitent old heathen!’ Creighton turned to Lurgan. The black beard nodded assent to the wisdom of the Afghan’s dyed scarlet.
‘I should have used him long ago,’ said Lurgan. ‘The younger the better. That is why I always have my really valuable jewels watched by a child. You sent him to me to try. I tried him in every way: he is the only boy I could not make to see things.’
‘In the crystal — in the ink-pool?’ demanded Mahbub.
‘No. Under my hand, as I told you. That has never happened before. It means that he is strong enough — but you think it skittles, Colonel Creighton — to make anyone do anything he wants. And that is three years ago. I have taught him a good deal since, Colonel Creighton. I think you waste him now.’
‘Hmm! Maybe you’re right. But, as you know, there is no Survey work for him at present.’
‘Let him out let him go,’ Mahbub interrupted. ‘Who expects any colt to carry heavy weight at first? Let him run with the caravans — like our white camel-colts — for luck. I would take him myself, but —’
‘There is a little business where he would be most useful — in the South,’ said Lurgan, with peculiar suavity, dropping his heavy blued eyelids.
‘E.23 has that in hand,’ said Creighton quickly. ‘He must not go down there. Besides, he knows no Turki.’
‘Only tell him the shape and the smell of the letters we want and he will bring them back,’ Lurgan insisted.
‘No. That is a man’s job,’ said Creighton.
It was a wry-necked matter of unauthorized and incendiary correspondence between a person who claimed to be the ultimate authority in all matters of the Mohammedan religion throughout the world, and a younger member of a royal house who had been brought to book for kidnapping women within British territory. The Moslem Archbishop had been emphatic and over-arrogant; the young prince was merely sulky at the curtailment of his privileges, but there was no need he should continue a correspondence which might some day compromise him. One letter indeed had been procured, but the finder was later found dead by the roadside in the habit of an Arab trader, as E.23, taking up the work, duly reported.
These facts, and a few others not to be published, made both Mahbub and Creighton shake their heads.
‘Let him go out with his Red Lama,’ said the horse-dealer with visible effort. ‘He is fond of the old man. He can learn his paces by the rosary at least.’
‘I have had some dealings with the old man — by letter,’ said Colonel Creighton, smiling to himself. ‘Whither goes he?’
‘Up and down the land, as he has these three years. He seeks a River of Healing. God’s curse upon all —’ Mahbub checked himself. ‘He beds down at the Temple of the Tirthankars or at Buddh Gaya when he is in from the Road. Then he goes to see the boy at the madrissah, as we know for the boy was punished for it twice or thrice. He is quite mad, but a peaceful man. I have met him. The Babu also has had dealings with him. We have watched him for three years. Red Lamas are not so common in Hind that one loses track.’
‘Babus are very curious,’ said Lurgan meditatively. ‘Do you know what Hurree Babu really wants? He wants to be made a member of the Royal Society by taking ethnological notes. I tell you, I tell him about the lama everything which Mahbub and the boy have told me. Hurree Babu goes down to Benares — at his own expense, I think.’
‘I don’t,’ said Creighton briefly. He had paid Hurree’s travelling expenses, out of a most lively curiosity to learn what the lama might be.
‘And he applies to the lama for information on lamaism, and devil-dances, and spells and charms, several times in these few years. Holy Virgin! I could have told him all that yeears ago. I think Hurree Babu is getting too old for the Road. He likes better to collect manners and customs information. Yes, he wants to be an FRS.
‘Hurree thinks well of the boy, doesn’t he?’
‘Oh, very indeed — we have had some pleasant evenings at my little place — but I think it would be waste to throw him away with Hurree on the Ethnological side.’
‘Not for a first experience. How does that strike you, Mahbub? Let the boy run with the lama for six months. After that we can see. He will get experience.’
‘He has it already, Sahib — as a fish controls the water he swims in. But for every reason it will be well to loose him from the school.’
‘Very good, then,’ said Creighton, half to himself. ‘He can go with the lama, and if Hurree Babu cares to keep an eye on them so much the better. He won’t lead the boy into any danger as Mahbub would. Curious — his wish to be an F R S. Very human, too. He is best on the Ethnological side — Hurree.’
No money and no preferment would have drawn Creighton from his work on the Indian Survey, but deep in his heart also lay the ambition to write ‘F R S’ after his name. Honours of a sort he knew could be obtained by ingenuity and the help of friends, but, to the best of his belief, nothing save work — papers representing a life of it — took a man into the Society which he had bombarded for years with monographs on strange Asiatic cults and unknown customs. Nine men out of ten would flee from a Royal Society soiree in extremity of boredom; but Creighton was the tenth, and at times his soul yearned for the crowded rooms in easy London where silver-haired, bald-headed gentlemen who know nothing of the Army move among spectroscopic experiments, the lesser plants of the frozen tundras, electric flight-measuring machines, and apparatus for slicing into fractional millimetres the left eye of the female mosquito. By all right and reason, it was the Royal Geographical that should have appealed to him, but men are as chancy as children in their choice of playthings. So Creighton smiled, and thought the better of Hurree Babu, moved by like desire.
He dropped the ghost-dagger and looked up at Mahbub.
‘How soon can we get the colt from the stable?’ said the horse-dealer, reading his eyes.
‘Hmm! If I withdraw him by order now — what will he do, think you? I have never before assisted at the teaching of such an one.’
‘He will come to me,’ said Mahbub promptly. ‘Lurgan Sahib and I will prepare him for the Road.’
‘So be it, then. For six months he shall run at his choice. But who will be his sponsor?’
Lurgan slightly inclined his head. ‘He will not tell anything, if that is what you are afraid of, Colonel Creighton.’
‘It’s only a boy, after all.’
‘Ye-es; but first, he has nothing to tell; and secondly, he knows what would happen. Also, he is very fond of Mahbub, and of me a little.’
‘Will he draw pay?’ demanded the practical horse-dealer.
‘Food and water allowance only. Twenty rupees a month.’
One advantage of the Secret Service is that it has no worrying audit. That Service is ludicrously starved, of course, but the funds are administered by a few men who do not call for vouchers or present itemized accounts. Mahbub’s eyes lighted with almost a Sikh’s love of money. Even Lurgan’s impassive face changed. He considered the years to come when Kim would have been entered and made to the Great Game that never ceases day and night, throughout India. He foresaw honour and credit in the mouths of a chosen few, coming to him from his pupil. Lurgan Sahib had made E.23 what E.23 was, out of a bewildered, impertinent, lying, little North–West Province man.
But the joy of these masters was pale and smoky beside the joy of Kim when St Xavier’s Head called him aside, with word that Colonel Creighton had sent for him.
‘I understand, O’Hara, that he has found you a place as an assistant chain-man in the Canal Department: that comes of taking up mathematics. It is great luck for you, for you are only sixteen; but of course you understand that you do not become pukka [permanent] till you have passed the autumn examination. So you must not think you are going out into the world to enjoy yourself, or that your fortune is made. There is a great deal of hard work before you. Only, if you succeed in becoming pukka, you can rise, you know, to four hundred and fifty a month.’ Whereat the Principal gave him much good advice as to his conduct, and his manners, and his morals; and others, his elders, who had not been wafted into billets, talked as only Anglo–Indian lads can, of favouritism and corruption. Indeed, young Cazalet, whose father was a pensioner at Chunar, hinted very broadly that Colonel Creighton’s interest in Kim was directly paternal; and Kim, instead of retaliating, did not even use language. He was thinking of the immense fun to come, of Mahbub’s letter of the day before, all neatly written in English, making appointment for that afternoon in a house the very name of which would have crisped the Principal’s hair with horror...
Said Kim to Mahbub in Lucknow railway station that evening, above the luggage-scales: ‘I feared lest at the last, the roof would fall upon me and cheat me. It is indeed all finished, O my father?’
Mahbub snapped his fingers to show the utterness of that end, and his eyes blazed like red coals.
‘Then where is the pistol that I may wear it?’
‘Softly! A half-year, to run without heel-ropes. I begged that much from Colonel Creighton Sahib. At twenty rupees a month. Old Red Hat knows that thou art coming.’
‘I will pay thee dustoorie [commission] on my pay for three months,’ said Kim gravely. ‘Yea, two rupees a month. But first we must get rid of these.’ He plucked his thin linen trousers and dragged at his collar. ‘I have brought with me all that I need on the Road. My trunk has gone up to Lurgan Sahib’s.’
‘Who sends his salaams to thee — Sahib.’
‘Lurgan Sahib is a very clever man. But what dost thou do?’
‘I go North again, upon the Great Game. What else? Is thy mind still set on following old Red Hat?’
‘Do not forget he made me that I am — though he did not know it. Year by year, he sent the money that taught me.’
‘I would have done as much — had it struck my thick head,’ Mahbub growled. ‘Come away. The lamps are lit now, and none will mark thee in the bazar. We go to Huneefa’s house.’
On the way thither, Mahbub gave him much the same sort of advice as his mother gave to Lemuel, and curiously enough, Mahbub was exact to point out how Huneefa and her likes destroyed kings.
‘And I remember,’ he quoted maliciously, ‘one who said, “Trust a snake before an harlot, and an harlot before a Pathan, Mahbub Ali.” Now, excepting as to Pathans, of whom I am one, all that is true. Most true is it in the Great Game, for it is by means of women that all plans come to ruin and we lie out in the dawning with our throats cut. So it happened to such a one.’ He gave the reddest particulars.
‘Then why —?’ Kim paused before a filthy staircase that climbed to the warm darkness of an upper chamber, in the ward that is behind Azim Ullah’s tobacco-shop. Those who know it call it The Birdcage — it is so full of whisperings and whistlings and chirrupings.
The room, with its dirty cushions and half-smoked hookahs, smelt abominably of stale tobacco. In one corner lay a huge and shapeless woman clad in greenish gauzes, and decked, brow, nose, ear, neck, wrist, arm, waist, and ankle with heavy native jewellery. When she turned it was like the clashing of copper pots. A lean cat in the balcony outside the window mewed hungrily. Kim checked, bewildered, at the door-curtain.
‘Is that the new stuff, Mahbub?’ said Huneefa lazily, scarce troubling to remove the mouthpiece from her lips. ‘O Buktanoos!’ — like most of her kind, she swore by the Djinns — ‘O Buktanoos! He is very good to look upon.’
‘That is part of the selling of the horse,’ Mahbub explained to Kim, who laughed.
‘I have heard that talk since my Sixth Day,’ he replied, squatting by the light. ‘Whither does it lead?’
‘To protection. Tonight we change thy colour. This sleeping under roofs has blanched thee like an almond. But Huneefa has the secret of a colour that catches. No painting of a day or two. Also, we fortify thee against the chances of the Road. That is my gift to thee, my son. Take out all metals on thee and lay them here. Make ready, Huneefa.’
Kim dragged forth his compass, Survey paint-box, and the new-filled medicine-box. They had all accompanied his travels, and boylike he valued them immensely.
The woman rose slowly and moved with her hands a little spread before her. Then Kim saw that she was blind. ‘No, no,’ she muttered, ‘the Pathan speaks truth — my colour does not go in a week or a month, and those whom I protect are under strong guard.’
‘When one is far off and alone, it would not be well to grow blotched and leprous of a sudden,’ said Mahbub. ‘When thou wast with me I could oversee the matter. Besides, a Pathan is a fair-skin. Strip to the waist now and look how thou art whitened.’ Huneefa felt her way back from an inner room. ‘It is no matter, she cannot see.’ He took a pewter bowl from her ringed hand.
The dye-stuff showed blue and gummy. Kim experimented on the back of his wrist, with a dab of cotton-wool; but Huneefa heard him.
‘No, no,’ she cried, ‘the thing is not done thus, but with the proper ceremonies. The colouring is the least part. I give thee the full protection of the Road.’
‘Tadoo? [magic],‘said Kim, with a half start. He did not like the white, sightless eyes. Mahbub’s hand on his neck bowed him to the floor, nose within an inch of the boards.
‘Be still. No harm comes to thee, my son. I am thy sacrifice!’
He could not see what the woman was about, but heard the dish-clash of her jewellery for many minutes. A match lit up the darkness; he caught the well-known purr and fizzle of grains of incense. Then the room filled with smoke — heavy aromatic, and stupefying. Through growing drowse he heard the names of devils — of Zulbazan, Son of Eblis, who lives in bazars and paraos, making all the sudden lewd wickedness of wayside halts; of Dulhan, invisible about mosques, the dweller among the slippers of the faithful, who hinders folk from their prayers; and Musboot, Lord of lies and panic. Huneefa, now whispering in his ear, now talking as from an immense distance, touched him with horrible soft fingers, but Mahbub’s grip never shifted from his neck till, relaxing with a sigh, the boy lost his senses.
‘Allah! How he fought! We should never have done it but for the drugs. That was his white blood, I take it,’ said Mahbub testily. ‘Go on with the dawut [invocation]. Give him full Protection.’
‘O Hearer! Thou that hearest with ears, be present. Listen, O Hearer!’ Huneefa moaned, her dead eyes turned to the west. The dark room filled with moanings and snortings.
From the outer balcony, a ponderous figure raised a round bullet head and coughed nervously.
‘Do not interrupt this ventriloquial necromanciss, my friend,’ it said in English. ‘I opine that it is very disturbing to you, but no enlightened observer is jolly-well upset.’
‘..........I will lay a plot for their ruin! O Prophet, bear with the unbelievers. Let them alone awhile!’ Huneefa’s face, turned to the northward, worked horribly, and it was as though voices from the ceiling answered her.
Hurree Babu returned to his note-book, balanced on the window-sill, but his hand shook. Huneefa, in some sort of drugged ecstasy, wrenched herself to and fro as she sat cross-legged by Kim’s still head, and called upon devil after devil, in the ancient order of the ritual, binding them to avoid the boy’s every action.
‘With Him are the keys of the Secret Things! None knoweth them besides Himself He knoweth that which is in the dry land and in the sea!’ Again broke out the unearthly whistling responses.
‘I — I apprehend it is not at all malignant in its operation?’ said the Babu, watching the throat-muscles quiver and jerk as Huneefa spoke with tongues. ‘It — it is not likely that she has killed the boy? If so, I decline to be witness at the trial .....What was the last hypothetical devil mentioned?’
‘Babuji,’ said Mahbub in the vernacular. ‘I have no regard for the devils of Hind, but the Sons of Eblis are far otherwise, and whether they be jumalee [well-affected] or jullalee [terrible] they love not Kafirs.’
‘Then you think I had better go?’ said Hurree Babu, half rising. ‘They are, of course, dematerialized phenomena. Spencer says ’
Huneefa’s crisis passed, as these things must, in a paroxysm of howling, with a touch of froth at the lips. She lay spent and motionless beside Kim, and the crazy voices ceased.
‘Wah! That work is done. May the boy be better for it; and Huneefa is surely a mistress of dawut. Help haul her aside, Babu. Do not be afraid.’
‘How am I to fear the absolutely non-existent?’ said Hurree Babu, talking English to reassure himself. It is an awful thing still to dread the magic that you contemptuously investigate —to collect folk-lore for the Royal Society with a lively belief in all Powers of Darkness.
Mahbub chuckled. He had been out with Hurree on the Road ere now. ‘Let us finish the colouring,’ said he. ‘The boy is well protected if — if the Lords of the Air have ears to hear. I am a Sufi [free-thinker], but when one can get blind-sides of a woman, a stallion, or a devil, why go round to invite a kick? Set him upon the way, Babu, and see that old Red Hat does not lead him beyond our reach. I must get back to my horses.’
‘All raight,’ said Hurree Babu. ‘He is at present curious spectacle.’
About third cockcrow, Kim woke after a sleep of thousands of years. Huneefa, in her corner, snored heavily, but Mahbub was gone.
‘I hope you were not frightened,’ said an oily voice at his elbow. ‘I superintended entire operation, which was most interesting from ethnological point of view. It was high-class dawut.’
‘Huh!’ said Kim, recognizing Hurree Babu, who smiled ingratiatingly.
‘And also I had honour to bring down from Lurgan your present costume. I am not in the habit offeecially of carrying such gauds to subordinates, but’ — he giggled — ‘your case is noted as exceptional on the books. I hope Mr Lurgan will note my action.’
Kim yawned and stretched himself. It was good to turn and twist within loose clothes once again.
‘What is this?’ He looked curiously at the heavy duffle-stuff loaded with the scents of the far North.
‘Oho! That is inconspicuous dress of chela attached to service of lamaistic lama. Complete in every particular,’ said Hurree Babu, rolling into the balcony to clean his teeth at a goglet. ‘I am of opeenion it is not your old gentleman’s precise releegion, but rather sub-variant of same. I have contributed rejected notes To Whom It May Concern: Asiatic Quarterly Review on these subjects. Now it is curious that the old gentleman himself is totally devoid of releegiosity. He is not a dam’ particular.’
‘Do you know him?’
Hurree Babu held up his hand to show he was engaged in the prescribed rites that accompany tooth-cleaning and such things among decently bred Bengalis. Then he recited in English an Arya–Somaj prayer of a theistical nature, and stuffed his mouth with pan and betel.
‘Oah yes. I have met him several times at Benares, and also at Buddh Gaya, to interrogate him on releegious points and devil-worship. He is pure agnostic — same as me.’
Huneefa stirred in her sleep, and Hurree Babu jumped nervously to the copper incense-burner, all black and discoloured in morning-light, rubbed a finger in the accumulated lamp-black, and drew it diagonally across his face.
‘Who has died in thy house?’ asked Kim in the vernacular.
‘None. But she may have the Evil Eye — that sorceress,’ the Babu replied.
‘What dost thou do now, then?’
‘I will set thee on thy way to Benares, if thou goest thither, and tell thee what must be known by Us.’
‘I go. At what hour runs the te-rain?’ He rose to his feet, looked round the desolate chamber and at the yellow-wax face of Huneefa as the low sun stole across the floor. ‘Is there money to be paid that witch?’
‘No. She has charmed thee against all devils and all dangers in the name of her devils. It was Mahbub’s desire.’ In English: ‘He is highly obsolete, I think, to indulge in such supersteetion. Why, it is all ventriloquy. Belly-speak — eh?’
Kim snapped his fingers mechanically to avert whatever evil — Mahbub, he knew, meditated none — might have crept in through Huneefa’s ministrations; and Hurree giggled once more. But as he crossed the room he was careful not to step in Huneefa’s blotched, squat shadow on the boards. Witches —when their time is on them — can lay hold of the heels of a man’s soul if he does that.
‘Now you must well listen,’ said the Babu when they were in the fresh air. ‘Part of these ceremonies which we witnessed they include supply of effeecient amulet to those of our Department. If you feel in your neck you will find one small silver amulet, verree cheap. That is ours. Do you understand?’
‘Oah yes, hawa-dilli [a heart-lifter],’ said Kim, feeling at his neck.
‘Huneefa she makes them for two rupees twelve annas with — oh, all sorts of exorcisms. They are quite common, except they are partially black enamel, and there is a paper inside each one full of names of local saints and such things. Thatt is Huneefa’s look-out, you see? Huneefa makes them onlee for us, but in case she does not, when we get them we put in, before issue, one small piece of turquoise. Mr Lurgan he gives them. There is no other source of supply; but it was me invented all this. It is strictly unoffeecial of course, but convenient for subordinates. Colonel Creighton he does not know. He is European. The turquoise is wrapped in the paper ... Yes, that is road to railway station ... Now suppose you go with the lama, or with me, I hope, some day, or with Mahbub. Suppose we get into a dam’-tight place. I am a fearful man — most fearful — but I tell you I have been in dam’-tight places more than hairs on my head. You say: “I am Son of the Charm.” Verree good.’
‘I do not understand quite. We must not be heard talking English here.’
‘That is all raight. I am only Babu showing off my English to you. All we Babus talk English to show off;’ said Hurree, flinging his shoulder-cloth jauntily. ‘As I was about to say, “Son of the Charm” means that you may be member of the Sat Bhai — the Seven Brothers, which is Hindi and Tantric. It is popularly supposed to be extinct Society, but I have written notes to show it is still extant. You see, it is all my invention. Verree good. Sat Bhai has many members, and perhaps before they jolly-well-cut-your-throat they may give you just a chance of life. That is useful, anyhow. And moreover, these foolish natives — if they are not too excited — they always stop to think before they kill a man who says he belongs to any speecific organization. You see? You say then when you are in tight place, “I am Son of the Charm”, and you get — perhaps — ah —your second wind. That is only in extreme instances, or to open negotiations with a stranger. Can you quite see? Verree good. But suppose now, I, or any one of the Department, come to you dressed quite different. You would not know me at all unless I choose, I bet you. Some day I will prove it. I come as Ladakhi trader — oh, anything — and I say to you: “You want to buy precious stones?” You say: “Do I look like a man who buys precious stones?” Then I say: “Even verree poor man can buy a turquoise or tarkeean.” ’
‘That is kichree — vegetable curry,’ said Kim.
‘Of course it is. You say: “Let me see the tarkeean.” Then I say: “It was cooked by a woman, and perhaps it is bad for your caste.” Then you say: “There is no caste when men go to — look for tarkeean.” You stop a little between those words, “to — look”. That is thee whole secret. The little stop before the words.’
Kim repeated the test-sentence.
‘That is all right. Then I will show you my turquoise if there is time, and then you know who I am, and then we exchange views and documents and those-all things. And so it is with any other man of us. We talk sometimes about turquoises and sometimes about tarkeean, but always with that little stop in the words. It is verree easy. First, “Son of the Charm”, if you are in a tight place. Perhaps that may help you — perhaps not. Then what I have told you about the tarkeean, if you want to transact offeecial business with a strange man. Of course, at present, you have no offeecial business. You are — ah ha! — supernumerary on probation. Quite unique specimen. If you were Asiatic of birth you might be employed right off; but this half-year of leave is to make you de~Englishized, you see? The lama he expects you, because I have demi-offeecially informed him you have passed all your examinations, and will soon obtain Government appointment. Oh ho! You are on acting-allowance, you see: so if you are called upon to help Sons of the Charm mind you jolly-well try. Now I shall say good-bye, my dear fellow, and I hope you — ah — will come out top-side all raight.’
Hurree Babu stepped back a pace or two into the crowd at the entrance of Lucknow station and — was gone. Kim drew a deep breath and hugged himself all over. The nickel-plated revolver he could feel in the bosom of his sad-coloured robe, the amulet was on his neck; begging-gourd, rosary, and ghost-dagger (Mr Lurgan had forgotten nothing) were all to hand, with medicine, paint-box, and compass, and in a worn old purse-belt embroidered with porcupine-quill patterns lay a month’s pay. Kings could be no richer. He bought sweetmeats in a leaf-cup from a Hindu trader, and ate them with glad rapture till a policeman ordered him off the steps.