Kim grows up on the streets of Lahore. His Irish mother died when he was born, and his father, a former color-sergeant of an Irish regiment called the Mavericks, died eventually of drugs and drink. He left his son in the care of a half-caste woman. Young Kimball O’Hara thereupon became Kim, and under the hot Indian sun, his skin grew so dark that one could not tell he was a white boy.
One day, a Tibetan lama, in search of the holy River of the Arrow that will wash away all sin, comes to Lahore. Struck by the possibility of exciting adventure, Kim attaches himself to the lama as his chela. That night, at the edge of Lahore, Mahbub Ali, a horse trader, gives Kim a cryptic message to deliver to a British officer in Umballa. Kim does not know that Mahbub Ali is a member of the British secret service. He delivers the message as directed and then hides in the grass and watches and listens until he learns that his message means that eight thousand men will go to war.
Out on the big road, the lama and Kim encounter many people of all sorts. Conversation is easy. Kim is particularly interested in one group, an old lady traveling in a family bullock cart attended by a retinue of eight men. Kim and the lama attach themselves to her party. Toward evening, they see a group of soldiers making camp. It is the Maverick regiment. Kim, whose horoscope says that his life will be changed at the sign of a red bull in a field of green, is fascinated by the regimental flag, which is just that: a red bull against a background of bright green.
Caught by a chaplain, the Reverend Arthur Bennett, Kim accidentally jerks loose the amulet he carries around his neck. Mr. Bennett opens the amulet and discovers three papers folded inside, including Kim’s baptismal certificate and a note from his father asking that the boy be taken care of. Father Victor arrives in time to see the papers. When Kim tells his story, he is informed that he will be sent away to school. Though he parts sadly from the lama, Kim is sure that he will soon escape. The lama asks that Father Victor’s name and address and the costs of schooling Kim be written down and given to him. Then he disappears. Kim, pretending to prophesy, tells the priests and soldiers what he heard at Umballa. They laugh at him, but the next day his prophecy comes true, and eight thousand soldiers are sent to put down an uprising in the north. Kim remains in camp.
One day, a letter arrives from the lama. He encloses enough money for Kim’s first year at school and promises to provide the same amount yearly. He requests that the boy be sent to St. Xavier’s for his education. The drummer who is ordered to keep an eye on Kim is cruel to his charge. When Mahbub Ali comes upon the two boys, he gives the drummer a beating and begins talking to Kim. While they are thus engaged, Colonel Creighton comes up and learns from Mahbub Ali, in an indirect way, that once he is educated Kim will be a valuable member of the secret service.
On his way to St. Xavier’s, Kim spies the lama, who was waiting a day and a half to see him. They agree to see each other often. Kim is an apt pupil, but he dislikes being shut up in classrooms and dormitories. When vacation time comes, he goes to Umballa and persuades Mahbub Ali to let him return to the road until school reopens.
Traveling with Mahbub Ali, he plays the part of a horse boy and saves the trader’s life when he overhears two men plotting to kill the horse dealer. At Simla, Kim stays with Mr. Lurgan, who teaches him a great many subtle tricks and games and the art of make-up and disguise. Just as Mahbub Ali said, he now learns the great game, as the work of the secret service is called. At the end of the summer, Kim returns to his studies at St. Xavier’s, where he stays for three years.
At the end of that time, Mahbub Ali suggests to Mr. Lurgan and Colonel Creighton that Kim be permitted to go out on the road with his lama again. Kim’s skin is stained dark, and he resumes the...
(The entire section is 4,299 words.)