`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.'
`And this is known to me also,' said Kim, readjusting the live charcoal-ball on the weed. `It is a very sure tie between us. Indeed, thy hold is surer even than mine; for who would miss a boy beaten to death, or, it may be, thrown into a well by the roadside? Most people here and in Simla and across the passes behind the Hills would, on the other hand, say: `What has come to Mahbub Ali?' if he were found dead among his horses. Surely, too, the Colonel Sahib would make inquiries. But again,' - Kim's face puckered with cunning, - `he would not make overlong inquiry, lest people should ask: `What has this Colonel Sahib to do with that horse-dealer?' But I - if I lived - '
`As thou wouldst surely die - '
`Maybe; but I say, if I lived, I, and I alone, would know that one had come by night, as a common thief perhaps, to Mahbub Ali's bulkhead in the serai, and there had slain him, either before or after that thief had made a full search into his saddlebags and between the soles of his slippers. Is that news to tell to the Colonel, or would he say to me - (I have not forgotten when he sent me back for a cigar-case that he had not left behind him) - `What is Mahbub Ali to me?'?'
Up went a gout of heavy smoke. There was a long pause: then Mahbub Ali spoke in admiration: `And with these things on thy mind, dost thou lie down and rise again among all the Sahibs' little sons at the madrissah and meekly take instruction from thy teachers?'
`It is an order,' said Kim blandly. `Who am I to dispute an order?'
`A most finished Son of Eblis,' said Mahbub Ali. `But what is this tale of the thief and the search?'
`That which I saw,' said Kim, `the night that my lama and I lay next thy place in the Kashmir Serai. The door was left unlocked, which I think is not thy custom, Mahbub. He came in as one assured that thou wouldst not soon return. My eye was against a knot-hole in the plank. He searched as it were for something - not a rug, not stirrups, nor a bridle, nor brass pots - something little and most carefully hid. Else why did he prick with an iron between the soles of thy slippers?'
`Ha!' Mahbub Ali smiled gently. `And seeing these things, what tale didst thou fashion to thyself; Well of the Truth?'
`None. I put my hand upon my amulet, which lies always next to my skin, and, remembering the pedigree of a white stallion that I had bitten out of a piece of Mussalmani bread, I went away to Umballa perceiving that a heavy trust was laid upon me. At that hour, had I chosen, thy head was forfeit. It needed only to say to that man, `I have here a paper concerning a horse which I cannot read.' And then?' Kim peered at Mahbub under his eyebrows.
`Then thou wouldst have drunk water twice - perhaps thrice, afterwards. I do not think more than thrice,' said Mahbub simply.
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