and so reveres every sort of holy man. Kim was guided to the Temple of the Tirthankars, about a mile outside the city, near Sarnath, by a chance-met Punjabi farmer - a Kamboh from Jullundurway who had appealed in vain to every God of his homestead to cure his small son, and was trying Benares as a last resort.

`Thou art from the North?' he asked, shouldering through the press of the narrow, stinking streets much like his own pet bull at home.

`Ay, I know the Punjab. My mother was a pahareen, but my father came from Amritzar - by Jandiala,' said Kim, oiling his ready tongue for the needs of the Road.

`Jandiala - Jullundur? Oho! Then we be neighbours in some sort, as it were.' He nodded tenderly to the wailing child in his arms. `Whom dost thou serve?'

`A most holy man at the Temple of the Tirthankers.'

`They are all most holy and - most greedy,' said the Jat with bitterness. `I have walked the pillars and trodden the temples till my feet are flayed, and the child is no whit better. And the mother being sick too... Hush, then, little one... We changed his name when the fever came. We put him into girl's clothes. There was nothing we did not do, except - I said to his mother when she bundled me off to Benares - she should have come with me - I said Sakhi Sarwar Sultan would serve us best. We know His generosity, but these down-country Gods are strangers.'

The child turned on the cushion of the huge corded arms and looked at Kim through heavy eyelids.

`And was it all worthless?' Kim asked, with easy interest.

`All worthless - all worthless,' said the child, lips cracking with fever.

`The Gods have given him a good mind, at least,' said the father proudly. `To think he should have listened so cleverly. Yonder is thy Temple. Now I am a poor man - many priests have dealt with me - but my son is my son, and if a gift to thy master can cure him - I am at my very wits' end.'

Kim considered for a while, tingling with pride. Three years ago he would have made prompt profit on the situation and gone his way without a thought; but now, the very respect the Jat paid him proved that he was a man. Moreover, he had tasted fever once or twice already, and knew enough to recognize starvation when he saw it.

`Call him forth and I will give him a bond on my best yoke, so that the child is cured.'

Kim halted at the carved outer door of the temple. A white-clad Oswal banker from Ajmir, his sins of usury new wiped out, asked him what he did.

`I am chela to Teshoo Lama, an Holy One from Bhotiyal - within there. He bade me come. I wait. Tell him.'

`Do not forget the child,' cried the importunate Jat over his shoulder, and then bellowed in Punjabi; `O Holy One - O disciple of the Holy One - O Gods above all the Worlds - behold affliction sitting at the gate!' That cry is so common in Benares that the passers never turned their heads.

The Oswal, at peace with mankind, carried the message into the darkness behind him, and the easy, uncounted Eastern minutes slid by; for the lama was asleep in his cell, and no priest would wake him. When the click of his rosary again broke the hush of the inner court where the calm images of the Arhats stand, a novice whispered, `Thy chela is here,' and the old man strode forth, forgetting the end of that prayer.

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter/page Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.