They stepped behind the thick trunks in the cool dark of the mango-tope. Two little figures halted; the other two came forward uncertainly. They were the advance-party of a regiment on the march, sent out, as usual, to mark the camp. They bore five-foot sticks with fluttering flags, and called to each other as they spread over the flat earth.
At last they entered the mango-grove, walking heavily.
`It's here or hereabouts - officers' tents under the trees, I take it, an' the rest of us can stay outside. Have they marked out for the baggage-wagons behind?'
They cried again to their comrades in the distance, and the rough answer came back faint and mellowed.
`Shove the flag in here, then,' said one.
`What do they prepare?' said the lama, wonderstruck. `This is a great and terrible world. What is the device on the flag?'
A soldier thrust a stave within a few feet of them, grunted discontentedly, pulled it up again, conferred with his companion, who looked up and down the shaded cave of greenery, and returned it.
Kim stared with all his eyes, his breath coming short and sharp between his teeth. The soldiers stamped off into the sunshine.
`O Holy One!' he gasped. `My horoscope! The drawing in the dust by the priest at Umballa! Remember what he said. First come two - ferashes - to make all things ready - in a dark place, as it is always at the beginning of a vision.'
`But this is not vision,' said the lama. `It is the world's Illusion, and no more.'
`And after them comes the Bull - the Red Bull on the green field. Look! It is he!'
He pointed to the flag that was snap-snapping in the evening breeze not ten feet away. It was no more than an ordinary camp marking-flag; but the regiment, always punctilious in matters of millinery, had charged it with the regimental device, the Red Bull, which is the crest of the Mavericks - the great Red Bull on a background of Irish green.
`I see, and now I remember,' said the lama. `Certainly it is thy Bull. Certainly, also, the two men came to make all ready.'
`They are soldiers - white soldiers. What said the priest? `The sign over against the Bull is the sign of War and armed men.' Holy One, this thing touches my Search.'
`True. It is true.' The lama stared fixedly at the device that flamed like a ruby in the dusk. `The priest at Umballa said that thine was the sign of War.'
`What is to do now?'
`Wait. Let us wait.'
`Even now the darkness clears,' said Kim. It was only natural that the descending sun should at last strike through the tree-trunks, across the grove, filling it with mealy gold light for a few minutes; but to Kim it was the crown of the Umballa Brahmin's prophecy.
`Hark!' said the lama. `One beats a drum - far off!'
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