‘I wait for thee, chela,’ said the lama, leaning against the door-post.
The woman swept the tall figure with her eyes. ’He walk! He cannot cover half a mile. Whither would old bones go?’
At this Kim, already perplexed by the lama’s collapse and foreseeing the weight of the bag, fairly lost his temper.
‘What is it to thee, woman of ill-omen, where he goes?’
’Nothing — but something to thee, priest with a Sahib’s face. Wilt thou carry him on thy shoulders?’
’I go to the Plains. None must hinder my return. I have wrestled with my soul till I am strengthless. The stupid body is spent, and we are far from the Plains.’
‘Behold!’ she said simply, and drew aside to let Kim see his own utter helplessness. ’Curse me. Maybe it will give him strength. Make a charm! Call on thy great God. Thou art a priest.’ She turned away.
The lama had squatted limply, still holding by the door-post. One cannot strike down an old man that he recovers again like a boy in the night. Weakness bowed him to the earth, but his eyes that hung on Kim were alive and imploring.
‘It is all well,’ said Kim. ’It is the thin air that weakens thee. In a little while we go! It is the mountain-sickness. I too am a little sick at stomach,’ — and he knelt and comforted with such poor words as came first to his lips. Then the woman returned, more erect than ever.
‘Thy Gods useless, heh? Try mine. I am the Woman of Shamlegh.’ She hailed hoarsely, and there came out of a cow-pen her two husbands and three others with a dooli, the rude native litter of the Hills, that they use for carrying the sick and for visits of state. ’These cattle’ — she did not condescend to look at them — ’are thine for so long as thou shalt need.’
‘But we will not go Simla-way. We will not go near the Sahibs,’ cried the first husband.
’They will not run away as the others did, nor will they steal baggage. Two I know for weaklings. Stand to the rear-pole, Sonoo and Taree.’ They obeyed swiftly. ’Lower now, and lift in that holy man. I will see to the village and your virtuous wives till ye return.’