‘This is better than some other meat that I ate with the Sikh,’ said Kim, grinning as he squatted, ’and assuredly they give no such victuals at my madrissah.’
‘I have a desire to hear of that same madrissah.’ Mahbub stuffed himself with great boluses of spiced mutton fried in fat with cabbage and golden-brown onions. ’But tell me first, altogether and truthfully, the manner of thy escape. For, O Friend of all the World,’ — he loosed his cracking belt — ’I do not think it is often that a Sahib and the son of a Sahib runs away from there.’
‘How should they? They do not know the land. It was nothing,’ said Kim, and began his tale. When he came to the disguisement and the interview with the girl in the bazar, Mahbub Ali’s gravity went from him. He laughed aloud and beat his hand on his thigh.
’Shabash! Shabash! Oh, well done, little one! What will the healer of turquoises say to this? Now, slowly, let us hear what befell afterwards — step by step, omitting nothing.’
Step by step then, Kim told his adventures between coughs as the full-flavoured tobacco caught his lungs.
‘I said,’ growled Mahbub Ali to himself, ’I said it was the pony breaking out to play polo. The fruit is ripe already -except that he must learn his distances and his pacings, and his rods and his compasses. Listen now. I have turned aside the Colonel’s whip from thy skin, and that is no small service.’
‘True.’ Kim pulled serenely. ‘That is true.’
’But it is not to be thought that this running out and in is any way good.’
’It was my holiday, Hajji. I was a slave for many weeks. Why should I not run away when the school was shut? Look, too, how I, living upon my friends or working for my bread, as I did with the Sikh, have saved the Colonel Sahib a great expense.’
Mahbub’s lips twitched under his well-pruned Mohammedan moustache.
‘What are a few rupees’ — the Pathan threw out his open hand carelessly — ’to the Colonel Sahib? He spends them for a purpose, not in any way for love of thee.’
‘That,’ said Kim slowly, ‘I knew a very long time ago.’
’The Colonel Sahib himself. Not in those many words, but plainly enough for one who is not altogether a mud-head. Yea, he told me in the te-rain when we went down to Lucknow.’
’Be it so. Then I will tell thee more, Friend of all the World, though in the telling I lend thee my head.’
‘It was forfeit to me,’ said Kim, with deep relish, ’in Umballa, when thou didst pick me up on the horse after the drummer-boy beat me.’
’Speak a little plainer. All the world may tell lies save thou and I. For equally is thy life forfeit to me if I chose to raise my finger here.’