Rudyard Kipling slid a clean sheet of paper into the typewriter and turned the knob to line it up. He typed a few words, then looked out of the window at the Lahore museum across the square. He absently wiped the sweat from his neck as he watched a boy dressed in Hindu rags climb onto the large gun that sat outside the museum and kick a bare foot a companion who tried to join him. He turned back to the typewriter with a smile, picturing a Tibetan lama standing with bowed head beside the gun.
Kim, Friend of All the World.
But for now, a regiment was preparing to put down the rebellion of a minor rajah and he had a story to write for the Civil and Military Gazette. He wiped his neck again and typed. At length, he pulled the paper from the typewriter and added it to a stack of typed sheets on the desk.
“It’s deuced hot and I should have gone to Simla last week,” he said, although he was alone in the newspaper office. “I’m off to the Club for a drink.”
He grabbed his hat and walked out to the square. On the street, he spied a yellow-paneled ‘rickshaw, pulled by four jhampanies. A woman’s voice seemed to float by on the non-existent breeze.
“Jack, darling, it’s some hideous mistake, I’m sure. Please forgive me, Jack, and let’s be friends again.”
He looked again, but the ‘rickshaw was gone. Perhaps it was a phantom. Shaking his head, he entered the Club and found a place at the bar under the pukka fan. He looked around the room with a tumbler of scotch at his elbow. A pair of men he didn’t know sat at a table with a single piece of paper between them. They spoke in low voices, waving their arms and pushing the paper back and forth across the table top. Words came to him from nowhere.
Kings in Kafiristan
He smiled, and returned to his drink. They would sign a contract not to drink or carouse with women, to stay focused on the goal. They would brave the dangers of Afghanistan - the mountains and the bandits – to reach Kafiristan where anyone could be a king. He pulled a pencil from a pocket and jotted notes on a napkin. Time passed unnoticed, but finally, his drink was gone and he stood, tucking the napkin into his pocket.
When he entered the newspaper office again, his editor was waiting by the door. He dragged a handkerchief across a balding head, revealing large wet circles under his arms, and looked up at Kipling.
“Thank goodness you’re back. The Colonel’s wife dropped by to tell us plans have changed. The regiment is leaving at dawn. She’s hosting a farewell dinner for the officers. We’re to go, so you must hurry and finish your article. I’m off to dress. Must uphold the honor of the paper and all that, eh?”
Kipling laughed as he ran out the door, the handkerchief flapping in his hand.
If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…
He attended the dinner dressed in his best white shirt and starched collar, but slipped out to the veranda when the port came out. It would have been cooler if he could have unbuttoned his collar. Instead, he lit a cheroot and gazed across the still garden. In the distance he could hear a faint howling. He cocked his head and listened.
“Look – look well, O Wolves.”
A snarl in the lane startled him and he pictured a yellow tiger, limping and hungry, looking for prey.
“What have the Free People to do with a man’s cub?”
What, indeed? he thought. Mowgli, will you show them?
The sounds of glasses clinking and a woman’s laugh came to him from inside the house. With his back to it, he leaned on the rail, puffed his cigar, and waited for more words to come to him.
works include: Kim, The Phantom Rickshaw, The Man Who Would be King, If and The Jungle Book.
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