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.