BY RUDYARD KIPLING.
COPYRIGHT 1901 IN THE U.S.A. BY
[ALL RIGHTS STRICTLY RESERVED.]
" We go to Shamlegh when the moon rises. There we will fairly divide the baggage between us. I am content with this new little rifle and all its cartridges.
" Are the bears only bad on thy holding ?" said a mate, sucking at the pipe.
" No ; but musk pods are worth six rupees apiece now, and thy women can have the canvas of the tents and some of the cooking gear. We will do all that at Shamlegh before dawn. Then we will go our ways, remembering that 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 Sabibs, who cannot speak our talk, or the Babu, who for his own ends gave us money ? Will he lead an army against us ? What evidence will remain ? That we do not need we shall throw on Shamlegh midden, where no man has yet set foot."
" Who is at Shamlegh this summer ?" The place was only a grazing centre of three or four
" The Woman of Shamlegh. She has no love for Sahibs, as we know. The others can be pleased with little presents ; and here is enough for us all." He patted the fat sides of the nearest
" I have said they are not true Sahibs. All their skins and heads were bought in the bazar at Leh. I know the marks. I showed them to ye last March."
" True. They were all bought skins and heads.
Some had even the moth in them."
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 a man of a merry mind, and he will laugh. We are not doing any wrong to any Sahibs whom we know. They are priest-
beaters. They frightened us. We fled ! Who knows where we dropped the baggage ? Do ye think Yanking Sahib will permit down-country police to wander all over the hills, disturbing his game ? It is a far cry from Simla to Chini, and farther from Shamlegh to Shamlegh-midden."
" So be it, but I carry the big kilta. The bas- ket with the red top that the Sahibs pack them- selves every morning."
" Thus it is proved," said the Shamlegh man adroitly, " that they are Sahibs 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—I say, who ever heard of these Sahibs coming into the hills without a down- country cook and a bearer, and—and all manner of well-paid, high-handed and oppressive folk in their tail ? How can they make trouble ? What
of the kilta ?"
" Nothing, but that it is full of the Written Word—books and papers in which 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 to handle the Written Word in that fashion. And their brass idols are beyond my comprehension. It is no plunder for simple hill-folk."
" The old man still sleeps. Hst ! We will ask his chela." The Ao-chung man refreshed 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, easy sleep, and Kim had been thinking of Hurree's last words. As a player of the Great Game, he was disposed just then to reverence the Babu. " It is a kilta with a red top full of very wonderful things, not to be handled by fools."
" I said it, I said it," cried the bearer of that burden. " Thinkest thou it will betray
" Not if it be given to me. I will draw out its magic. Otherwise it will do great harm."
" A priest always takes his share." Whisky was demoralising the Ao-chung man.
" It is no matter to me," Kim answered, with the craft of his mother-country. " Share it among you, and see what comes !"
" Not I. I was only jesting. Give the order. There is more than enough for us all. We go our way from Shamlegh in the dawn."
They arranged and re-arranged their artless little plans for another hour, while Kim shivered with cold and pride. The humour of the situation tickled the Irish and the Oriental in his soul.
Here were the emissaries of the dread Power of the North, very possibly as great in their own land as Mahbub or Colonel Creighton, suddenly smitten helpless. One of them, he privately knew, would be lame for a time. They had made promises to Kings. To-night, they lay out some- where below him, chartless, foodless, tentless, gunless—except for Hurree Babu, guideless. And this collapse of their Great Game (Kim won-
dered to whom they would report it), this panicky bolt into the night, had come about through no craft of Hurree's or contri-
vance of Kim's, but simply, bountifully, and inevitably as the capture of Mah- bub's faquir-friends by the zealous young police-
man at Umballa.
" They are there—with nothing ; and, by Jove, it is cold. I am here with all their things. Oh, they will be angry ! I am sorry for Hurree
Kim might have saved his pity, for though at that moment the Bengali suffered acutely in the flesh, his soul was puffed and lofty. A mile down the hill, on the edge of the pine-forest, two half-frozen men—one powerfully sick at intervals—were varying mutual recriminations with the most poignant abuse of the Babu, who seemed distraught with terror. They demanded a plan of action. He explained that they were very lucky to be alive ; that their coolies, if not then stalking them, had passed beyond recall ;
that the Rajah, his master, was 90 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 a priest. He enlarged on this sin and its conse- quences till they bade him change the subject. Their only hope was unostentatious flight from village to village till they reached civilisation ; and, for the hundredth time dissolved in tears, he demanded of the high stars why the Sahibs
" had beaten holy man."
Ten steps would have taken Hurree into the creaking gloom utterly beyond their reach—to the shelter and food of the nearest village, where glib-tongued doctors were scarce. But he pre- ferred to endure cold, belly-pinch, bad words, and occasional blows in the company of his honoured employers. Crouched against a tree-trunk, he sniffed dolefully.
" And have you thought," said the uninjured man hotly, " what sort of spectacle we shall pre- sent wandering through these hills among these aborigines ?"
Hurree Babu had thought of little else for some hours, but the remark was 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 that young bonze when next we meet," was the unchristian answer.
" Revolvers ! Vengeance ! Bonzes !" Hur- ree crouched lower. The war was breaking out afresh. " Have you no consideration for our loss ? The baggage ! The baggage ! He could hear the speaker literally dancing on the grass. " Everything we bore ! Everything we have secured ! Our gains ! Eight months' work ! Do you know what that means ? ' Decidedly it is we who can deal with Orientals !' Oh, you
have done well."
They fell to it in several tongues, and Hurree smiled. Kim was with the kiltas, and in the kiltas lay eight months of good diplomacy. There was no means of communicating with the boy, but he could be trusted. For the rest, he could stage-manage the journey through the hills so that Hilas, Bunar, and 400 miles of hill-roads should tell the tale for a generation. Men who cannot control their own coolies are little respected 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 been better ; 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 ! Thee outrage was accidental, but onlee me could have worked it—ah—for all it was dam well worth. Consider the moral effect upon these ignorant people ! No treaties—no papers—no written documents at all—and me to interpret for them. How I shall laugh with the
Colonel ! I wish I had their papers also ; but you cannot occupy two places in space simul- taneously. That is axiomatic."