Chapter 5

Here come I to my own again
Fed, forgiven, and known again--
Claimed by bone of my bone again,

And sib to flesh of my flesh!
The fatted calf is dressed for me,
But the husks have greater zest for me...
I think my pigs will be best for me,
So I'm off to the styes afresh.

The Prodigal Son.

Once more the lazy, string-tied, shuffling procession got under way, and she slept till they reached the next halting-stage. It was a very short march, and time lacked an hour to sundown, so Kim cast about for means of amusement.

`But why not sit and rest?' said one of the escort. `Only the devils and the English walk to and fro without reason.'

`Never make friends with the Devil, a Monkey, or a Boy. No man knows what they will do next,' said his fellow.

Kim turned a scornful back - he did not want to hear the old story how the Devil played with the boys and repented of it - and walked idly across country.

The lama strode after him. All that day, whenever they passed a stream, he had turned aside to look at it, but in no case had he received any warning that he had found his River. Insensibly, too, the comfort of speaking to someone in a reasonable tongue, and of being properly considered and respected as her spiritual adviser by a well-born woman, had weaned his thoughts a little from the Search. And further, he was prepared to spend serene years in his quest; having nothing of the white man's impatience, but a great faith.

`Where goest thou?' he called after Kim.

`Nowhither - it was a small march, and all this' - Kim waved his hands abroad - `is new to me.'

`She is beyond question a wise and a discerning woman. But it is hard to meditate when - '

`All women are thus.' Kim spoke as might have Solomon.

`Before the lamassery was a broad platform,' the lama muttered, looping up the well-worn rosary, `of stone. On that I have left the marks of my feet - pacing to and fro with these.'

He clicked the beads, and began the `Om mane pudme hum's of his devotion; grateful for the cool, the quiet, and the absence of dust.

One thing after another drew Kim's idle eye across the plain. There was no purpose in his wanderings, except that the build of the huts near by seemed new, and he wished to investigate.

They came out on a broad tract of grazing-ground, brown and purple in the afternoon light, with a heavy clump of mangoes in the centre. It struck Kim as curious that no shrine stood in so eligible a spot: the boy was observing as any priest for these things. Far across the plain walked side by side four men, made small by the distance. He looked intently under his curved palms and caught the sheen of brass.

`Soldiers. White soldiers!' said he. `Let us see.'

`It is always soldiers when thou and I go out alone together. But I have never seen the white soldiers.'

`They do no harm except when they are drunk. Keep behind this tree.'

  By PanEris using Melati.

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