‘He does not tell me, even, whither he goes,’ said Mahbub. ’He is no fool. When his time is accomplished he will come to me. It is time the healer of pearls took him in hand. He ripens too quickly — as Sahibs reckon.’
This prophecy was fulfilled to the letter a month later. Mahbub had gone down to Umballa to bring up a fresh consignment of horses, and Kim met him on the Kalka road at dusk riding alone, begged an alms of him, was sworn at, and replied in English. There was nobody within earshot to hear Mahbub’s gasp of amazement.
‘Oho! And where hast thou been?’
‘Up and down — down and up.’
‘Come under a tree, out of the wet, and tell.’
’I stayed for a while with an old man near Umballa; anon with a household of my acquaintance in Umballa. With one of these I went as far as Delhi to the southward. That is a wondrous city. Then I drove a bullock for a teli [an oilman] coming north; but I heard of a great feast forward in Patiala, and thither went I in the company of a firework-maker. It was a great feast’ (Kim rubbed his stomach). ’I saw Rajahs, and elephants with gold and silver trappings; and they lit all the fireworks at once, whereby eleven men were killed, my fire-work-maker among them, and I was blown across a tent but took no harm. Then I came back to the rel with a Sikh horseman, to whom I was groom for my bread; and so here.’
‘Shabash!’ said Mahbub Ali.
‘But what does the Colonel Sahib say? I do not wish to be beaten.’
’The Hand of Friendship has averted the Whip of Calamity; but another time, when thou takest the Road it will be with me. This is too early.’
’Late enough for me. I have learned to read and to write English a little at the madrissah. I shall soon be altogether a Sahib.’
‘Hear him!’ laughed Mahbub, looking at the little drenched figure dancing in the wet. ‘Salaam — Sahib,’ and he saluted ironically.
’Well, art tired of the Road, or wilt thou come on to Umballa with me and work back with the horses?’
‘I come with thee, Mahbub Ali.’
Something I owe to the soil that grew —
More to the life that fed —
But most to Allah Who gave me two
Separate sides to my head.
I would go without shirts or shoes,
Friends, tobacco or bread
Sooner than for an instant lose
Either side of my head.’
The Two-Sided Man.
‘Then in God’s name take blue for red,’ said Mahbub, alluding to the Hindu colour of Kim’s disreputable turban.
Kim countered with the old proverb, ’I will change my faith and my bedding, but thou must pay for it.’
The dealer laughed till he nearly fell from his horse. At a shop on the outskirts of the city the change was made, and Kim stood up, externally at least, a Mohammedan.
Mahbub hired a room over against the railway station, sent for a cooked meal of the finest with the almond-curd sweet-meats [balushai we call it] and fine-chopped Lucknow tobacco.