Extreme Makeovers

אין מעידין אלא על פרצוף פנים עם החוטם אע”פ שיש סימנין בגופו ובכליו …

תנו רבנן פדחת ולא פרצוף פנים פרצוף פנים ולא פדחת [מצח] אין מעידין עד שיהו שניהם עם החוטם

אמר אביי ואיתימא רב כהנא מאי קרא הכרת פניהם ענתה בם

אבא בר מרתא דהוא אבא בר מניומי הוה מסקי ביה דבי רישא גלותא זוזי אייתי קירא דבק בבלייתא [הדביקה במעט מטלית בלויה] דבק באפותיה [במצחו] חלף קמייהו ולא בשקרוה:1

‘No,’ said Kim. ‘I will beg a tikkut for the te-rain.’ One does not own to the possession of money in India.

‘Then, in the name of the Gods, let us take the fire-carriage. My son is best in his mother’s arms. The Government has brought on us many taxes, but it gives us one good thing – the te-rain that joins friends and unites the anxious. A wonderful matter is the te-rain.’

They all piled into it a couple of hours later, and slept through the heat of the day. The Kamboh plied Kim with ten thousand questions as to the lama’s walk and work in life, and received some curious answers. Kim was content to be where he was, to look out upon the flat North-Western landscape, and to talk to the changing mob of fellow-passengers. Even today, tickets and ticket- clipping are dark oppression to Indian rustics. They do not understand why, when they have paid for a magic piece of paper, strangers should punch great pieces out of the charm. So, long and furious are the debates between travellers and Eurasian ticket- collectors. Kim assisted at two or three with grave advice, meant to darken counsel and to show off his wisdom before the lama and the admiring Kamboh. But at Somna Road the Fates sent him a matter to think upon. There tumbled into the compartment, as the train was moving off, a mean, lean little person – a Mahratta, so far as Kim could judge by the cock of the tight turban. His face was cut, his muslin upper-garment was badly torn, and one leg was bandaged. He told them that a country-cart had upset and nearly slain him: he was going to Delhi, where his son lived. Kim watched him closely. If, as he asserted, he had been rolled over and over on the earth, there should have been signs of gravel-rash on the skin. But all his injuries seemed clean cuts, and a mere fall from a cart could not cast a man into such extremity of terror. As, with shaking fingers, he knotted up the torn cloth about his neck he laid bare an amulet of the kind called a keeper-up of the heart. Now, amulets are common enough, but they are not generally strung on square-plaited copper wire, and still fewer amulets bear black enamel on silver. There were none except the Kamboh and the lama in the compartment, which, luckily, was of an old type with solid ends. Kim made as to scratch in his bosom, and thereby lifted his own amulet. The Mahratta’s face changed altogether at the sight, and he disposed the amulet fairly on his breast.

‘Yes,’ he went on to the Kamboh, ‘I was in haste, and the cart, driven by a bastard, bound its wheel in a water-cut, and besides the harm done to me there was lost a full dish of tarkeean. I was not a Son of the Charm [a lucky man] that day.’ …

‘Art thou anything of a healer? I am ten leagues deep in calamity,’ cried the Mahratta, picking up the cue. …

‘Show me the cuts.’ Kim bent over the Mahratta’s neck, his heart nearly choking him; for this was the Great Game with a vengeance. ‘Now, tell thy tale swiftly, brother, while I say a charm.’

‘I come from the South, where my work lay. One of us they slew by the roadside. Hast thou heard?’ Kim shook his head. He, of course, knew nothing of E’s predecessor, slain down South in the habit of an Arab trader. ‘Having found a certain letter which I was sent to seek, I came away. I escaped from the city and ran to Mhow. So sure was I that none knew, I did not change my face. At Mhow a woman brought charge against me of theft of jewellery in that city which I had left. Then I saw the cry was out against me. I ran from Mhow by night, bribing the police, who had been bribed to hand me over without question to my enemies in the South. Then I lay in old Chitor city a week, a penitent in a temple, but I could not get rid of the letter which was my charge. I buried it under the Queen’s Stone, at Chitor, in the place known to us all.’

Kim did not know, but not for worlds would he have broken the thread.

‘At Chitor, look you, I was all in Kings’ country; for Kotah to the east is beyond the Queen’s law, and east again lie Jaipur and Gwalior. Neither love spies, and there is no justice. I was hunted like a wet jackal; but I broke through at Bandakui, where I heard there was a charge against me of murder in the city I had left – of the murder of a boy. They have both the corpse and the witnesses waiting.’

‘But cannot the Government protect?’

‘We of the Game are beyond protection. If we die, we die. Our names are blotted from the book. That is all. At Bandakui, where lives one of Us, I thought to slip the scent by changing my face, and so made me a Mahratta. Then I came to Agra, and would have turned back to Chitor to recover the letter. So sure I was I had slipped them. Therefore I did not send a tar [telegram] to any one saying where the letter lay. I wished the credit of it all.’

Kim nodded. He understood that feeling well.

‘But at Agra, walking in the streets, a man cried a debt against me, and approaching with many witnesses, would hale me to the courts then and there. Oh, they are clever in the South! He recognized me as his agent for cotton. May he burn in Hell for it!’

‘And wast thou?’

‘O fool! I was the man they sought for the matter of the letter! I ran into the Fleshers’ Ward and came out by the House of the Jew, who feared a riot and pushed me forth. I came afoot to Somna Road – I had only money for my tikkut to Delhi – and there, while I lay in a ditch with a fever, one sprang out of the bushes and beat me and cut me and searched me from head to foot. Within earshot of the te- rain it was!’

‘Why did he not slay thee out of hand?’

‘They are not so foolish. If I am taken in Delhi at the instance of lawyers, upon a proven charge of murder, my body is handed over to the State that desires it. I go back guarded, and then – I die slowly for an example to the rest of Us. The South is not my country. I run in circles – like a goat with one eye. I have not eaten for two days. I am marked’ – he touched the filthy bandage on his leg – ‘so that they will know me at Delhi.’

‘Thou art safe in the te-rain, at least.’

‘Live a year at the Great Game and tell me that again! The wires will be out against me at Delhi, describing every tear and rag upon me. Twenty – a hundred, if need be – will have seen me slay that boy. And thou art useless!’

Kim knew enough of native methods of attack not to doubt that the case would be deadly complete – even to the corpse. The Mahratta twitched his fingers with pain from time to time. The Kamboh in his corner glared sullenly; the lama was busy over his beads; and Kim, fumbling doctor-fashion at the man’s neck, thought out his plan between invocations.

‘Hast thou a charm to change my shape? Else I am dead. Five – ten minutes alone, if I had not been so pressed, and I might -‘ …

It was the usual collection of small oddments: bits of cloth, quack medicines, cheap fairings, a clothful of atta – greyish, rough- ground native flour – twists of down-country tobacco, tawdry pipe- stems, and a packet of curry-stuff, all wrapped in. a quilt. Kim turned it over with the air of a wise warlock, muttering a Mohammedan invocation. …

‘Quick! Be quick!’ gasped the Mahratta. ‘The train may stop.’

‘A healing against the shadow of death,’ said Kim, mixing the Kamboh’s flour with the mingled charcoal and tobacco ash in the red- earth bowl of the pipe. E, without a word, slipped off his turban and shook down his long black hair. …

‘I see hope,’ said E23. ‘What is thy scheme?’

‘This comes next,’ said Kim, plucking the thin body-shirt. E23 hesitated, with all a North-West man’s dislike of baring his body.

‘What is caste to a cut throat?’ said Kim, rending it to the waist. ‘We must make thee a yellow Saddhu all over. Strip – strip swiftly, and shake thy hair over thine eyes while I scatter the ash. Now, a caste-mark on thy forehead.’ He drew from his bosom the little Survey paint-box and a cake of crimson lake.

‘Art thou only a beginner?’ said E23, labouring literally for the dear life, as he slid out of his body-wrappings and stood clear in the loin-cloth while Kim splashed in a noble caste-mark on the ash- smeared brow.

‘But two days entered to the Game, brother,’ Kim replied. ‘Smear more ash on the bosom.’

‘Hast thou met – a physician of sick pearls?’ He switched out his long, tight-rolled turban-cloth and, with swiftest hands, rolled it over and under about his loins into the intricate devices of a Saddhu’s cincture.

‘Hah! Dost thou know his touch, then? He was my teacher for a while. We must bar thy legs. Ash cures wounds. Smear it again.’

‘I was his pride once, but thou art almost better. The Gods are kind to us! Give me that.’

It was a tin box of opium pills among the rubbish of the Jat’s bundle. E23 gulped down a half handful. ‘They are good against hunger, fear, and chill. And they make the eyes red too,’ he explained. ‘Now I shall have heart to play the Game. We lack only a Saddhu’s tongs. What of the old clothes?’

Kim rolled them small, and stuffed them into the slack folds of his tunic. With a yellow-ochre paint cake he smeared the legs and the breast, great streaks against the background of flour, ash, and turmeric.

‘The blood on them is enough to hang thee, brother.’

‘Maybe; but no need to throw them out of the window … It is finished.’ His voice thrilled with a boy’s pure delight in the Game. ‘Turn and look, O Jat!’

‘The Gods protect us,’ said the hooded Kamboh, emerging like a buffalo from the reeds. ‘But – whither went the Mahratta? What hast thou done?’

Kim had been trained by Lurgan Sahib; E23, by virtue of his business, was no bad actor. In place of the tremulous, shrinking trader there lolled against the corner an all but naked, ash- smeared, ochre-barred, dusty-haired Saddhu, his swollen eyes – opium takes quick effect on an empty stomach – luminous with insolence and bestial lust, his legs crossed under him, Kim’s brown rosary round his neck, and a scant yard of worn, flowered chintz on his shoulders. The child buried his face in his amazed father’s arms. …

E23, with relaxed mouth, gave himself up to the opium that is meat, tobacco, and medicine to the spent Asiatic.

So, in a silence of awe and great miscomprehension, they slid into Delhi about lamp-lighting time.2

‘I have found my heart again,’ said E23, under cover of the platform’s tumult. ‘Hunger and fear make men dazed, or I might have thought of this escape before. I was right. They come to hunt for me. Thou hast saved my head.’

A group of yellow-trousered Punjab policemen, headed by a hot and perspiring young Englishman, parted the crowd about the carriages. Behind them, inconspicuous as a cat, ambled a small fat person who looked like a lawyer’s tout.

‘See the young Sahib reading from a paper. My description is in his hand,’ said E23. ‘Thev go carriage by carriage, like fisher-folk netting a pool.’

When the procession reached their compartment, E23 was counting his beads with a steady jerk of the wrist; while Kim jeered at him for being so drugged as to have lost the ringed fire-tongs which are the Saddhu’s distinguishing mark. The lama, deep in meditation, stared straight before him; and the farmer, glancing furtively, gathered up his belongings.

‘Nothing here but a parcel of holy-bolies,’ said the Englishman aloud, and passed on amid a ripple of uneasiness; for native police mean extortion to the native all India over.

‘The trouble now,’ whispered E23, ‘lies in sending a wire as to the place where I hid that letter I was sent to find. I cannot go to the tar-office in this guise.’

‘Is it not enough I have saved thy neck?’

‘Not if the work be left unfinished. Did never the healer of sick pearls tell thee so? Comes another Sahib! Ah!’

This was a tallish, sallowish District Superintendent of Police – belt, helmet, polished spurs and all – strutting and twirling his dark moustache.

‘What fools are these Police Sahibs!’ said Kim genially.

E23 glanced up under his eyelids. ‘It is well said,’ he muttered in a changed voice. ‘I go to drink water. Keep my place.’

He blundered out almost into the Englishman’s arms, and was bad- worded in clumsy Urdu.

‘Tum mut? You drunk? You mustn’t bang about as though Delhi station belonged to you, my friend.’

E23, not moving a muscle of his countenance, answered with a stream of the filthiest abuse, at which Kim naturally rejoiced. It reminded him of the drummer-boys and the barrack-sweepers at Umballa in the terrible time of his first schooling.

‘My good fool,’ the Englishman drawled. ‘Nickle-jao! Go back to your carriage.’

Step by step, withdrawing deferentially and dropping his voice, the yellow Saddhu clomb back to the carriage, cursing the D.S.P. to remotest posterity, by – here Kim almost jumped – by the curse of the Queen’s Stone, by the writing under the Queen’s Stone, and by an assortment of Gods “with wholly, new names.

‘I don’t know what you’re saying,’ – the Englishman flushed angrily – ‘but it’s some piece of blasted impertinence. Come out of that!’

E23, affecting to misunderstand, gravely produced his ticket, which the Englishman wrenched angrily from his hand.

‘Oh, zoolum! What oppression!’ growled the Jat from his corner. ‘All for the sake of a jest too.’ He had been grinning at the freedom of the Saddhu’s tongue. ‘Thy charms do not work well today, Holy One!’

The Saddhu followed the policeman, fawning and supplicating. The ruck of passengers, busy, with their babies and their bundles, had not noticed the affair. Kim slipped out behind him; for it flashed through his head that he had heard this angry, stupid Sahib discoursing loud personalities to an old lady near Umballa three years ago.

‘It is well’, the Saddhu whispered, jammed in the calling, shouting, bewildered press – a Persian greyhound between his feet and a cageful of yelling hawks under charge of a Rajput falconer in the small of his back. ‘He has gone now to send word of the letter which I hid. They told me he was in Peshawur. I might have known that he is like the crocodile – always at the other ford. He has saved me from present calamity, but I owe my life to thee.’

‘Is he also one of Us?’ Kim ducked under a Mewar camel-driver’s greasy armpit and cannoned off a covey of jabbering Sikh matrons.

‘Not less than the greatest. We are both fortunate! I will make report to him of what thou hast done. I am safe under his protection.’

He bored through the edge of the crowd besieging the carriages, and squatted by the bench near the telegraph-office.

‘Return, or they take thy place! Have no fear for the work, brother – or my life. Thou hast given me breathing-space, and Strickland Sahib has pulled me to land. We may work together at the Game yet. Farewell!’

Kim hurried to his carriage: elated, bewildered, but a little nettled in that he had no key to the secrets about him.

‘I am only a beginner at the Game, that is sure. I could not have leaped into safety as did the Saddhu. He knew it was darkest under the lamp. I could not have thought to tell news under pretence of cursing … and how clever was the Sahib! No matter, I saved the life of one … Where is the Kamboh gone, Holy One?’ he whispered, as he took his seat in the now crowded compartment.

‘A fear gripped him,’ the lama replied, with a touch of tender malice. ‘He saw thee change the Mahratta to a Saddhu in the twinkling of an eye, as a protection against evil. That shook him. Then he saw the Saddhu fall sheer into the hands of the polis – all the effect of thy art. Then he gathered up his son and fled; for he said that thou didst change a quiet trader into an impudent bandier of words with the Sahibs, and he feared a like fate. Where is the Saddhu?’ …

‘It is more, chela. Thou hast loosed an Act upon the world, and as a stone thrown into a pool so spread the consequences thou canst not tell how far.’

This ignorance was well both for Kim’s vanity and for the lama’s peace of mind, when we think that there was then being handed in at Simla a code-wire reporting the arrival of E23 at Delhi, and, more important, the whereabouts of a letter he had been commissioned to – abstract. Incidentally, an over-zealous policeman had arrested, on charge of murder done in a far southern State, a horribly indignant Ajmir cotton-broker, who was explaining himself to a Mr Strickland on Delhi platform, while E23 was paddling through byways into the locked heart of Delhi city. In two hours several telegrams had reached the angry minister of a southern State reporting that all trace of a somewhat bruised Mahratta had been lost; and by the time the leisurely train halted at Saharunpore the last ripple of the stone Kim had helped to heave was lapping against the steps of a mosque in far-away Roum – where it disturbed a pious man at prayers.3

  1. יבמות קכ.ופירוש רש”י – קשר []
  2. Rudyard Kipling, Kim, Chapter 11. []
  3. Id. Chapter 12. []
This entry was posted in אבן העזר and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *