Kim

Kim’s skin was tanned as dark as a native’s and while he was fluent in speaking several Indian languages, his English was imperfect. But Kim was white – a Sahib (European). His mother had been a nursemaid in a Colonel’s family, and his father had been Kimball O’Hara, a colour-sergeant in an Irish regiment before leaving the military to take a low-ranking job with the Indian railway.

Kim’s mother died of cholera, and his father took to drinking and using opium, and “died as poor whites die in India.” Before Kimball O’Hara, Sr. died he told his son he was leaving him a legacy of three pieces of paper that had great magic. His father had died when Kim was quite young, and the half-caste woman who cared for the boy didn’t understand English well, so the boy was told that once the legacy became known the Colonel and 900 devils – who worshipped the Red Bull in a green field – would come and tend to him.

India’s people had many religions, with many gods, and so Kim accepted that a Red Bull would be an important part of his future. The three “magic” papers were sewn into a leather amulet-case that the boy always wore around his neck.

Kim hated wearing the restrictive shirts and trousers worn by Sahibs, preferring loose-fitting native clothing. Though he’d received a few reading lessons, sitting in a classroom didn’t interest him. He would prowl through alleys and run across rooftops to deliver messages, or learn secrets, and he’d then report to those who gave coins to boys who didn’t mind a bit of danger.

When Kim was 13 he met an elderly Tibetan Lama on a pilgrimage to find the Holy Places of Buddhism, especially the River of the Arrow. The Lama’s chela (disciple) had died, and Kim agreed to travel with the holy man, for the journey would be a chance to take his own pilgrimage and find the Red Bull in a green field.

He soon discovered the Lama was an innocent who didn’t understand people could be dishonest, and since Kim was familiar with the seedier realities of life he became the Lama’s protector.

When a horse trader by the name of Mahbub Ali learned that Kim would be traveling through the town of Umballa he asked the boy to give an army officer a written message about the pedigree of a white stallion. Kim knew he was not being told what the true message was, but he accepted the assignment.

When he arrived in Umballa Kim found the correct location to pass on a sealed packet of papers, and then he spied and overheard an officer say that he’d received information concerning the need for 8,000 soldiers, plus heavy artillery.

Kim and the Lama traveled on India’s Grand Trunk Road, and while the Lama was focused on enlightenment, and seeking clues to where the River of the Arrow might be, Kim wanted to explore locations near the road, to learn more about parts of India he’d never seen before.

One day Kim came upon a field and saw a group of soldiers scouting out a location for their regiment to make camp. One of the soldiers had a flag depicting a Red Bull on a green background. He had come upon his father’s Irish regiment.

Kim rushed back to tell the Lama he had found his Red Bull, and then found a comfortable place for his holy man to sit and wait for his return. He snuck into the army camp in hopes of learning about the promised legacy from his father.

The regiment’s Anglican chaplain caught the boy spying, dragged Kim into his tent, and then called upon the Catholic chaplain for assistance. Kim attempted an escape, the Anglican tried to grab hold of him, and tore off the leather amulet holding the three “magic” papers. Kim frantically insisted that he must have his magic returned to him, and the chaplains cut open the amulet to see the contents.

They found a paper certifying Kimball O’Hara’s membership in a Masonic Lodge, a military document, and the boy’s birth certificate. Kim told the men he needed his papers, and that he must return to care for his holy man. He was told he couldn’t leave – he was a military orphan and the regiment would make sure that he was educated, and trained to be a soldier.

Kim was allowed bring the Lama into the camp in order to say goodbye to him, and as soon as the man learned his beloved helper was a Sahib he agreed he must be sent to a Sahib school. Kim was told the regiment would take him to his new school, but the boy said that wasn’t going to happen because they would soon be in a war involving 8,000 soldiers. (He knew a thing or two about keeping secrets, and so said nothing about delivering the message concerning “the pedigree of a white stallion.”)

All who heard the boy’s war prediction scoffed at the foolish tale – until they were ordered to change plans and take part in a military action involving thousands of soldiers. Then officials took a special interest in the white boy who looked and acted like a native.

Kim was told the very best Sahib school in India was St. Xavier’s, where he could not only learn how to read and write, but how to survey land and prepare accurate maps. There were military men who took part in what was called the Great Game by disguising themselves, learning secrets, and providing maps of remote locations. Kim had no interest in learning to be a soldier who marched all day, but the Great Game would be a life of adventure.

Kim was enrolled at St. Xavier’s, became a good student, and usually followed school rules. His only infractions were the few times when he was seen outside of the school, conversing with an old beggar. The Tibetan Lama had put his pilgrimage on hold in order to live near his young Sahib disciple.

When Kim was 16 several men who took part in the Great Game – including Mahbub Ali the horse trader – decided the young man had received enough schooling and should be sent on his first mission, but not before he was given six months to travel with the Lama. They understood that Kim would not give his full attention to his life’s work until the holy man was at peace in his search for enlightenment.

Kim was given an amulet to wear, and told that if he met someone he thought might be a part of the Great Game there were certain subjects to be mentioned, using certain speech patterns. Then he was sent off on his six month holiday.

Unfortunately, during a train ride with the Lama, Kim met up with an injured man. Kim caught sight of the man’s amulet, conversed with him on certain subjects, and learned the Great Game required that a message be delivered, and that the injured man was too weak to escape from enemies on his trail ….

Several years ago I watched an old movie entitled Kim, so I knew the novel would contain adventure, and that is the major portion of the story, but I didn’t realize how much of Kim involved the Lama’s pilgrimage, and discussions about India’s diverse religious beliefs and traditions. For the most part I found the pilgrimage conversations to be of interest, though there were a time or two when I wished the talkers had gotten to their point a little sooner. Be warned that those wanting non-stop thrills and adventures might find Kim a little slow-moving at times.

For those seeking an exotic tale set during the days of British colonial rule in India I recommend Rudyard Kipling’s classic novel.

Kim can be downloaded free of charge at:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2226

Captains Courageous

I’ll ‘fess up and say that while I can’t swim, and am afraid of going out on the water, I have a fascination for the lore of sailing ships. As long as I’m on dry land and in a comfy seat I enjoy an occasional sea story filled with descriptions of sails and riggings and the changing appearance of the seemingly-endless ocean.

 Captains Courageous, Rudyard Kipling’s 1897 novel, subtitled A Story of the Grand Banks, takes its title from the ballad Mary Ambree, which speaks of “captains courageous of valour so bold.” The novel’s main character, fifteen-year-old Harvey Cheyne, Jr., did not immediately have such noble thoughts towards the captain of the fishing boat that became his unplanned home for many months.

The reader first learns of Harvey through uncomplimentary remarks made in the smoking room of a ocean liner. The only child of a wealthy California businessman, Harvey was traveling with his mother, who was going to Europe “with the boy and her nerves, trying to find out what will amuse him.”

Harvey entered the smoking room, boasted of never getting seasick, and asked if anyone had a cigarette. As a cruel joke he was offered a cheap cigar. To avoid anyone knowing the harsh tobacco made him sick he staggered out to a deserted part of the deck, and a roll of the ship sent him overboard.

He was rescued by a fisherman, and taken to the Gloucester schooner We’re Here. After meeting the captain, Disko Troop, Harvey demanded to be taken to New York right away. To prove that his father was wealthy Harvey reached into his pocket for his large roll of money, discovered it was gone, and accused Disko of stealing it.

Disko thought Harvey’s talk of a wealthy father, and getting two hundred dollars a month for spending money, was caused by a knock on the head when he fell overboard, and offered to hire him at ten-and-a-half dollars a month, since one of the crew had drowned.

The offer angered Harvey, but for the first time in his life his demands were refused, so he agreed to work as a “second boy” after Disko bloodied his nose to knock some sense into him.

Disko’s son, Dan, liked having someone his own age to work and talk with. He believed Harvey’s story of being wealthy, but couldn’t imagine Mr. Cheyne, Sr. having enough money to buy anything as grand as a fishing boat.

A boy’s work on the We’re Here  was cleaning the schooner and helping the cook until the men returned from fishing out of dories. After supper, work continued with cleaning and salting the day’s catch. (The livers of codfish were scooped out and dumped into a separate container.) After that the boys took their turns keeping night watch.

Harvey felt pride in his growing skills, and in the occasional grunted acknowledgements that his work was acceptable. He wondered what his parents’ reaction would be if they knew of the tasks he was mastering.

Captains Courageous introduces the reader to everyone working on the We’re Here.  All are interesting characters, but Penn – short for Pennsylvania – tugged at my sympathies. Penn was a hard working but unskilled fisherman who worried about Harvey’s parents, for it seemed to him that nothing could be worse than believing your child had died.

Dan told Harvey that Penn had been a preacher, and he and his family were staying at a hotel in Johnstown, Pennsylvania on the night the dam broke and destroyed the town. Penn’s wife and children drowned, and after that he wandered about with no memory of his past. Dan’s Uncle Salters took Penn under his wing, and saw that no harm came to him. It was believed that if Penn ever remembered what had happened it would kill him.

I enjoyed learning the fisherman’s life along with Harvey. There was joy and beauty, but also danger. The weather often turned deadly, plus an ocean liner could collide with a smaller sailing vessel and not even know it had left death and destruction in its wake.

I won’t give details to spoil the story for anyone who will read the novel, but at one point there was a great tragedy, and Penn stepped forward, declared he was a minister of the gospel, prayed for a miracle, and everyone on board credited him with obtaining one. Afterwards poor bewildered Penn commented that he’d had a strange dream, with no recollection of what he had accomplished.

After many adventures the We’re Here returned to Gloucester with flag at half-mast in honor of the fisherman who’d been swept overboard in a gale before Harvey came onboard. Harvey stayed with the Troop family, including Uncle Salters and Penn, and sent off a telegram to his father.

For a time the story switches to another point of view, and the reader learns what an 1890s multimillionaire can do if he wants to break the speed record for traveling across country.

Harvey Cheyne, Sr. owned several railroads and had a private car, so telegrams were sent out ordering all regularly scheduled trains to be sidelined so he and his wife could have the right-of-way as they raced to be reunited with their son.

After an exhilarating train trip Mr. and Mrs. Cheyne were in awe of the transformation of their weak and selfish son into a strong and healthy young man. And Harvey and Dan both delighted over Disko Troop’s consternation at being “mistook in his judgments” when he learned Harvey hadn’t been lying when he had insisted he was wealthy.

If I had written Captains Courageous I would have ended the story there, or perhaps after telling about the annual memorial day where the names of all who’d died at sea were read aloud. (In a year’s time Gloucester had lost 117 seamen.) But Kipling goes on to plan out Harvey and Dan’s careers, and the story ends when Harvey is a year away from graduating from college. Not a bad ending, but it wasn’t as exciting as the adventures on the We’re Here.

Three movies have been based on Captains Courageous. I’m told that the 1977 television movie is an accurate depiction of the novel’s plot, but the 1937 theatrical release and the 1996 television version tell a good story, though not the one Kipling wrote.

If you’d like to read the book it can be downloaded free of charge at:
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2186/2186-h/2186-h.htm