Then Mahbub Ali rolled across the serai to the Gate of the Harpies who paint their eyes and trap the stranger, and was at some pains to call on the one girl who, he had reason to believe, was a particular friend of a smooth-faced Kashmiri pundit who had waylaid his simple Balti in the matter of the telegrams. It was an utterly foolish thing to do; because they fell to drinking perfumed brandy against the Law of the Prophet, and Mahbub grew wonderfully drunk, and the gates of his mouth were loosened, and he pursued the Flower of Delight with the feet of intoxication till he fell flat among the cushions, where the Flower of Delight, aided by a smooth-faced Kashmiri pundit, searched him from head to foot most thoroughly.
About the same hour Kim heard soft feet in Mahbub’s deserted stall. The horse-trader, curiously enough, had left his door unlocked, and his men were busy celebrating their return to India with a whole sheep of Mahbub’s bounty. A sleek young gentleman from Delhi, armed with a bunch of keys which the Flower had unshackled from the senseless one’s belt, went through every single box, bundle, mat, and saddle-bag in Mahbub’s possession even more systematically than the Flower and the pundit were searching the owner.
‘And I think.’ said the Flower scornfully an hour later, one rounded elbow on the snoring carcass, ’that he is no more than a pig of an Afghan horse-dealer, with no thought except women and horses. Moreover, he may have sent it away by now — if ever there were such a thing.’
’Nay — in a matter touching Five Kings it would be next his black heart,’ said the pundit. ‘Was there nothing?’
The Delhi man laughed and resettled his turban as he entered. ’I searched between the soles of his slippers as the Flower searched his clothes. This is not the man but another. I leave little unseen.’
‘They did not say he was the very man,’ said the pundit thoughtfully. ’They said, “Look if he be the man, since our counsels are troubled."’
’That North country is full of horse-dealers as an old coat of lice. There is Sikandar Khan, Nur Ali Beg, and Farrukh Shah all heads of kafilas [caravans] — who deal there,’ said the Flower.
‘They have not yet come in,’ said the pundit. ’Thou must ensnare them later.’
Phew!’ said the Flower with deep disgust, rolling Mahbub’s head from her lap. ’I earn my money. Farrukh Shah is a bear, Ali Beg a swashbuckler, and old Sikandar Khan — yaie! Go! I sleep now. This swine will not stir till dawn.’
When Mahbub woke, the Flower talked to him severely on the sin of drunkenness. Asiatics do not wink when they have outmanoeuvred an enemy, but as Mahbub Ali cleared his throat, tightened his belt, and staggered forth under the early morning stars, he came very near to it.
‘What a colt’s trick!’ said he to himself. ’As if every girl in Peshawur did not use it! But ’twas prettily done. Now God He knows how many more there be upon the Road who have orders to test me — perhaps with the knife. So it stands that the boy must go to Umballa — and by rail — for the writing is something urgent. I abide here, following the Flower and drinking wine as an Afghan coper should.’