Behind them an angry farmer brandished a bamboo pole. He was a market-gardener, Arain by caste, growing vegetables and flowers for Umballa city, and well Kim knew the breed.
`Such an one,' said the lama, disregarding the dogs, `is impolite to strangers, intemperate of speech and uncharitable. Be warned by his demeanour, my disciple.'
`Ho, shameless beggars!' shouted the farmer. `Begone! Get hence!'
`We go,' the lama returned, with quiet dignity. `We go from these unblessed fields.'
`Ah,' said Kim, sucking in his breath. `If the next crops fail, thou canst only blame thine own tongue.'
The man shuffled uneasily in his slippers. `The land is full of beggars,' he began, half apologetically.
`And by what sign didst thou know that we would beg from thee, O Mali?' said Kim tartly, using the name that a market-gardener least likes. `All we sought was to look at that river beyond the field there.'
`River, forsooth!' the man snorted. `What city do ye hail from not to know a canal-cut? It runs as straight as an arrow, and I pay for the water as though it were molten silver. There is a branch of a river beyond. But if ye need water I can give that - and milk.'
`Nay, we will go to the river,' said the lama, striding out.
`Milk and a meal,' the man stammered, as he looked at the strange tall figure. `I - I would not draw evil upon myself - or my crops. But beggars are so many in these hard days.'
`Take notice.' The lama turned to Kim. `He was led to speak harshly by the Red Mist of anger. That clearing from his eyes, he becomes courteous and of an affable heart. May his fields be blessed! Beware not to judge men too hastily, O farmer.'
`I have met holy ones who would have cursed thee from hearthstone to byre,' said Kim to the abashed man. `Is he not wise and holy? I am his disciple.'
He cocked his nose in the air loftily and stepped across the narrow field-borders with great dignity.
`There is no pride,' said the lama, after a pause, `there is no pride among such as follow the Middle Way.'
`But thou hast said he was low-caste and discourteous.'
`Low-caste I did not say, for how can that be which is not? Afterwards he amended his discourtesy, and I forgot the offence. Moreover, he is as we are, bound upon the Wheel of Things; but he does not tread the way of deliverance.' He halted at a little runlet among the fields, and considered the hoof-pitted bank.
`Now, how wilt thou know thy River?' said Kim, squatting in the shade of some tall sugar-cane.
`When I find it, an enlightenment will surely be given. This, I feel, is not the place. O littlest among the waters, if only thou couldst tell me where runs my River! But be thou blessed to make the fields bear!'
`Look! Look!' Kim sprang to his side and dragged him back. A yellow-and-brown streak glided from the purple rustling stems to the bank, stretched its neck to the water, drank, and lay still - a big cobra with fixed, lidless eyes.
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