‘No man is all perfect,’ said the lama gravely, recoiling the rosary. ‘Run now to thy mother, little one.’
‘Hear him!’ said the soldier to Kim. ’He is ashamed for that he has made a child happy. There was a very good householder lost in thee, my brother. Hai, child!’ He threw it a pice. ’Sweetmeats are always sweet.’ And as the little figure capered away into the sunshine: ’They grow up and become men. Holy One, I grieve that I slept in the midst of thy preaching. Forgive me.’
‘We be two old men,’ said the lama. ’The fault is mine. I listened to thy talk of the world and its madness, and one fault led to the next.’
’Hear him! What harm do thy Gods suffer from play with a babe? And that song was very well sung. Let us go on and I will sing thee the song of Nikal Seyn before Delhi — the old song.’
And they fared out from the gloom of the mango tope, the old man’s high, shrill voice ringing across the field, as wail by long-drawn wail he unfolded the story of Nikal Seyn [Nicholson] — the song that men sing in the Punjab to this day. Kim was delighted, and the lama listened with deep interest.
’Ahi! Nikal Seyn is dead — he died before Delhi! Lances of the North, take vengeance for Nikal Seyn.’ He quavered it out to the end, marking the trills with the flat of his sword on the pony’s rump.
‘And now we come to the Big Road,’ said he, after receiving the compliments of Kim; for the lama was markedly silent. ’It is long since I have ridden this way, but thy boy’s talk stirred me. See, Holy One — the Great Road which is the backbone of all Hind. For the most part it is shaded, as here, with four lines of trees; the middle road — all hard — takes the quick traffic. In the days before rail-carriages the Sahibs travelled up and down here in hundreds. Now there are only country-carts and such like. Left and right is the rougher road for the heavy carts — grain and cotton and timber, fodder, lime and hides. A man goes in safety here for at every few koss is a police-station. The police are thieves and extortioners (I myself would patrol it with cavalry — young recruits under a strong captain), but at least they do not suffer any rivals. All castes and kinds of men move here.
’Look! Brahmins and chumars, bankers and tinkers, barbers and bunnias, pilgrims and potters — all the world going and coming. It is to me as a river from which I am withdrawn like a log after a flood.’
And truly the Grand Trunk Road is a wonderful spectacle. It runs straight, bearing without crowding India’s traffic for fifteen hundred miles — such a river of life as nowhere else exists in the world. They looked at the green-arched, shade-flecked length of it, the white breadth speckled with slow-pacing folk; and the two-roomed police-station opposite.
‘Who bears arms against the law?’ a constable called out laughingly, as he caught sight of the soldier’s sword. ’Are not the police enough to destroy evil-doers?’