‘The blood on them is enough to hang thee, brother.’
’Maybe; but no need to throw them out of the window ... It is finished.’ His voice thrilled with a boy’s pure delight in the Game. ‘Turn and look, O Jat!’
‘The Gods protect us,’ said the hooded Kamboh, emerging like a buffalo from the reeds. ’But — whither went the Mahratta? What hast thou done?’
Kim had been trained by Lurgan Sahib; E23, by virtue of his business, was no bad actor. In place of the tremulous, shrinking trader there lolled against the corner an all but naked, ash-smeared, ochre-barred, dusty-haired Saddhu, his swollen eyes — opium takes quick effect on an empty stomach — luminous with insolence and bestial lust, his legs crossed under him, Kim’s brown rosary round his neck, and a scant yard of worn, flowered chintz on his shoulders. The child buried his face in his amazed father’s arms.
’Look up, Princeling! We travel with warlocks, but they will not hurt thee. Oh, do not cry ... What is the sense of curing a child one day and killing him with fright the next?’
’The child will be fortunate all his life. He has seen a great healing. When I was a child I made clay men and horses.’
’I have made them too. Sir Banas, he comes in the night and makes them all alive at the back of our kitchen-midden,’ piped the child.
‘And so thou art not frightened at anything. Eh, Prince?’
’I was frightened because my father was frightened. I felt his arms shake.’
‘Oh, chicken-man!’ said Kim, and even the abashed Jat laughed. ’I have done a healing on this poor trader. He must forsake his gains and his account-books, and sit by the wayside three nights to overcome the malignity of his enemies. The Stars are against him.’
’The fewer money-lenders the better, say I; but, Saddhu or no Saddhu, he should pay for my stuff on his shoulders.’
’So? But that is thy child on thy shoulder — given over to the burning-ghat not two days ago. There remains one thing more. I did this charm in thy presence because need was great. I changed his shape and his soul. None the less, if, by any chance, O man from Jullundur, thou rememberest what thou hast seen, either among the elders sitting under the village tree, or in thine own house, or in company of thy priest when he blesses thy cattle, a murrain will come among the buffaloes, and a fire in thy thatch, and rats in the corn-bins, and the curse of our Gods upon thy fields that they may be barren before thy feet and after thy ploughshare.’ This was part of an old curse picked up from a fakir by the Taksali Gate in the days of Kim’s innocence. It lost nothing by repetition.
‘Cease, Holy One! In mercy, cease!’ cried the Jat. ’Do not curse the household. I saw nothing! I heard nothing! I am thy cow!’ and he made to grab at Kim’s bare foot beating rhythmically on the carriage floor. ’But since thou hast been permitted to aid me in the matter of a pinch of flour and a little opium and such trifles as I have honoured by using in my art, so will the Gods return a blessing,’ and he gave it at length, to the man’s immense relief. It was one that he had learned from Lurgan Sahib.