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Part 2

Interlude - The Grand Trunk Road

The Grand Trunk Road, at the Khyber. Black, barren, jagged hills scowl into the chasm that cleaves them. Tribesmen's villages on either side--each house in itself a fortalice, its high fighting towers surrounded by high, blind walls loop-holed for rifles.

"What is your calling?" you ask the master. "What but the calling of my people?" says he. "We are raiders."

They may not shoot across the road, it being the highway of the King-Emperor. But on either side they shoot as they please, the country being their country. Their whole life is war, clan on clan, house on house, man on man, yet, for utter joy, Muslim on Hindu. Hills are bare, food is scarce, and the delight of life is stalking human prey, excelling its cunning.

Two miles of camels, majestic, tail to nose, nose to tail, bearing salt, cotton and sugar from India to Asia, swinging gloriously past two miles of camels, nose to tail, tail to nose, bearing the wares of Asia into India. Armed escorts of Afridi soldiers. Armed posts. Frequent roadside emplacements for three or four sharpshooters with rifles. Barbed wire entanglements. Tribesmen afoot, hawk-nosed, hawk-eyed, carrying two rifles apiece, taking the lay of the land on the off-chance. Tramp--tramp--a marching detachment of the 2nd Battalion Royal Fusiliers--open-faced, bright-skinned English lads, smart and keen--an incredible sight in that setting. Yet because of them and them only may the Hindu today venture the Khyber. Until the Pax Britannica reached so far, few Hindus came through alive, unless mounted and clad as women.

The Grand Trunk Road rolls South and South--a broad, smooth river of peace whose waves are unthinking humanity. Monkeys of many sorts play along its sides. Peacocks. Deer. Herds of camels shepherded by little naked boys entirely competent. Dust of traffic. White bullocks, almond-eyed, string upon string of sky-blue beads twisted around their necks and horns, pulling wains heaped high with cotton for Japan. Villages--villages--villages--true homes of India, scattered, miles apart, across the open country. Each just a handful of mud-walled huts clustered beside the hole they took the mud from, now half full of stagnant water in which they wash and bathe and quench their thirst. In villages such as these live nine-tenths of all the peoples of India. Hindu or Muhammadan alike--hard-working cultivators of the soil, simple, illiterate, peaceful, kindly, save when men steal amongst them carrying fire.

Sunset. The ghost of a ghost--a thin long veil of blue, floating twice a man's height above the earth. Softly it widens, deepens, till all the air is blue and the tall tree-trunks and the stars themselves show blue behind it. Now comes its breath--a biting tang of smoke--the smoke of all the hearth-fires in all the villages. And this is the hour, this the incense, this the invocation of Mother India, walking among the tree-trunks in the twilight, veiled in the smoke of the hearth-fires of her children, her hands outstretched in entreaty, blue stars shining in her hair.

For the rest, the Grand Trunk is just Kim. Read it again, for all of it is true. Zam Zammah still stands in Lahore. Mahbub Ali died three years ago, but his two boys are in England at school. And the Old Lady still travels in her bullock-cart, scolding shrilly through her curtains into the clouds of dust.