‘Who is Kim — Kim — Kim?’
He squatted in a corner of the clanging waiting-room, rapt from all other thoughts; hands folded in lap, and pupils contracted to pin-points. In a minute — in another half-second — he felt he would arrive at the solution of the tremendous puzzle; but here, as always happens, his mind dropped away from those heights with a rush of a wounded bird, and passing his hand before his eyes, he shook his head.
A long-haired Hindu bairagi [holy man], who had just bought a ticket, halted before him at that moment and stared intently.
‘I also have lost it,’ he said sadly. ’It is one of the Gates to the Way, but for me it has been shut many years.’
‘What is the talk?’ said Kim, abashed.
’Thou wast wondering there in thy spirit what manner of thing thy soul might be. The seizure came of a sudden. I know. Who should know but I? Whither goest thou?’
‘Toward Kashi [Benares].’
’There are no Gods there. I have proved them. I go to Prayag [Allahabad] for the fifth time — seeking the Road to Enlightenment. Of what faith art thou?’
‘I too am a Seeker,’ said Kim, using one of the lama’s pet words. ’Though’- he forgot his Northern dress for the moment — ’though Allah alone knoweth what I seek.’
The old fellow slipped the bairagi’s crutch under his armpit and sat down on a patch of ruddy leopard’s skin as Kim rose at the call for the Benares train.
‘Go in hope, little brother,’ he said. ’It is a long road to the feet of the One; but thither do we all travel.’
Kim did not feel so lonely after this, and ere he had sat out twenty miles in the crowded compartment, was cheering his neighbours with a string of most wonderful yarns about his own and his master’s magical gifts.
Benares struck him as a peculiarly filthy city, though it was pleasant to find how his cloth was respected. At least one-third of the population prays eternally to some group or other of the many million deities, and so reveres every sort of holy man. Kim was guided to the Temple of the Tirthankars, about a mile outside the city, near Sarnath, by a chance-met Punjabi farmer — a Kamboh from Jullundur-way who had appealed in vain to every God of his homestead to cure his small son, and was trying Benares as a last resort.
‘Thou art from the North?’ he asked, shouldering through the press of the narrow, stinking streets much like his own pet bull at home.
’Ay, I know the Punjab. My mother was a pahareen, but my father came from Amritzar — by Jandiala,’ said Kim, oiling his ready tongue for the needs of the Road.
’Jandiala — Jullundur? Oho! Then we be neighbours in some sort, as it were.’ He nodded tenderly to the wailing child in his arms. ’Whom dost thou serve?’
‘A most holy man at the Temple of the Tirthankers.’