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CHAPTER VII
 This Mr. Fielding had been caught by India late. He was over forty when he entered that oddest portal, the Victoria Terminus at Bombay, and—having bribed a European ticket inspector—took his luggage into the compartment of his first tropical train. The journey remained in his mind as significant. Of his two carriage companions one was a youth, fresh to the East like himself, the other a seasoned Anglo-Indian of his own age. A gulf divided him from either; he had seen too many cities and men to be the first or to become the second. New impressions crowded on him, but they were not the orthodox new impressions; the past conditioned them, and so it was with his mistakes. To regard an Indian as if he were an Italian is not, for instance, a common error, nor perhaps a fatal one, and Fielding often attempted analogies between this peninsula and that other, smaller and more exquisitely shaped, that stretches into the classic waters of the Mediterranean.
His career, though scholastic, was varied, and had included going to the bad and repenting thereafter. By now he was a hard-bitten, good-tempered, intelligent fellow on the verge of middle age, with a belief in education. He did not mind whom he taught; public schoolboys, mental defectives and policemen, had all come his way, and he had no objection to adding Indians. Through the influence of friends, he was nominated Principal of the little college at Chandrapore, liked it, and assumed he was a success. He did succeed with his pupils, but the gulf between himself and his countrymen, which he had noticed in the train, widened distressingly. He could not at first see what was wrong. He was not unpatriotic, he always got on with Englishmen in England, all his best friends were English, so why was it not the same out here? Outwardly of the large shaggy type, with sprawling limbs and blue eyes, he appeared to inspire confidence until he spoke. Then something in his manner puzzled people and failed to allay the distrust which his profession naturally inspired. There needs must be this evil of brains in India, but woe to him through whom they are increased! The feeling grew that Mr. Fielding was a disruptive force, and rightly, for ideas are fatal to caste, and he used ideas by that most potent method—interchange. Neither a missionary nor a student, he was happiest in the give-and-take of a private conversation. The world, he believed, is a globe of men who are trying to reach one another and can best do so by the help of good will plus culture and intelligence—a creed ill suited to Chandrapore, but he had come out too late to lose it. He had no racial feeling—not because he was superior to his brother civilians, but because he had matured in a different atmosphere, where the herd-instinct does not flourish. The remark that did him most harm at the club was a silly aside to the effect that the so-called white races are really pinko-grey. He only said this to be cheery, he did not realize that “white” has no more to do with a colour than “God save the King” with a god, and that it is the height of impropriety to consider what it does connote. The pinko-grey male whom he addressed was subtly scandalized; his sense of insecurity was awoken, and he communicated it to the rest of the herd.
Still, the men tolerated him for the sake of his good heart and strong body; it was their wives who decided that he was not a sahib really. They disliked him. He took no notice of them, and this, which would have passed without comment in feminist England, did him harm in a community where the male is expected to be lively and helpful. Mr. Fielding never advised one about dogs or horses, or dined, or paid his midday calls, or decorated trees for one’s children at Christmas, and though he came to the club, it was only to get his tennis or billiards, and to go. This was true. He had discovered that it is possible to keep in with Indians and Englishmen, but that he who would also keep in with Englishwomen must drop the Indians. The two wouldn’t combine. Useless to blame either party, useless to blame them for blaming one another. It just was so, and one had to choose. Most Englishmen preferred their own kinswomen, who, coming out in increasing numbers, made life on the home pattern yearly more possible. He had found it convenient and pleasant to associate with Indians and he must pay the price. As a rule no Englishwoman entered the College except for official functions, and if he invited Mrs. Moore and Miss Quested to tea, it was because they were new-comers who would view everything with an equal if superficial eye, and would not turn on a special voice when speaking to his other guests.
The College itself had been slapped down by the Public Works Department, but its grounds included an ancient garden and a garden-house, and here he lived for much of the year. He was dressing after a bath when Dr. Aziz was announced. Lifting up his voice, he shouted from the bedroom, “Please make yourself at home.” The remark was unpremeditated, like most of his actions; it was what he felt inclined to say.
To Aziz it had a very definite meaning. “May I really, Mr. Fielding? It’s very good of you,” he called back; “I like unconventional behaviour so extremely.” His spirits flared up, he glanced round the living-room. Some luxury in it, but no order—nothing to intimidate poor Indians. It was also a very beautiful room, opening into the garden through three high arches of wood. “The fact is I have long wanted to meet you,” he continued. “I have heard so much about your warm heart from the Nawab Bahadur. But where is one to meet in a wretched hole like Chandrapore?” He came close up to the door. “When I was greener here, I’ll tell you what. I used to wish you to fall ill so that we could meet that way.” They laughed, and encouraged by his success he began to improvise. “I said to myself, How does Mr. Fielding look this morning? Perhaps pale. And the Civil Surgeon is pale too, he will not be able to attend upon him when the shivering commences. I should have been sent for instead. Then we would have had jolly talks, for you are a celebrated student of Persian poetry.”
“You know me by sight, then.”
“Of course, of course. You know me?”
“I know you very well by name.”
“I have been here such a short time, and always in the bazaar. No wonder you have never seen me, and I wonder you know my name. I say, Mr. Fielding?”
“Yes?”
“Guess what I look like before you come out. That will be a kind of game.”
“You’re five feet nine inches high,” said Fielding, surmising this much through the ground glass of the bedroom door.
“Jolly good. What next? Have I not a venerable white beard?”
“Blast!”
“Anything wrong?”
“I’ve stamped on my last collar stud.”
“Take mine, take mine.”
“Have you a spare one?”
“Yes, yes, one minute.”
“Not if you’re wearing it yourself.”
“No, no, one in my pocket.” Stepping aside, so that his outline might vanish, he wrenched off his collar, and pulled out of his shirt the back stud, a gold stud, which was part of a set that his brother-in-law had brought him from Europe. “Here it is,” he cried.
“Come in with it if you don’t mind the unconventionality.”
“One minute again.” Replacing his collar, he prayed that it would not spring up at the back during tea. Fielding’s bearer, who was helping him to dress, opened the door for him.
“Many thanks.” They shook hands smiling. He began to look round, as he would have with any old friend. Fielding was not surprised at the rapidity of their intimacy. With so emotional a people it was apt to come at once or never, and he and Aziz, having heard only good of each other, could afford to dispense with preliminaries.
“But I always thought that Englishmen kept their rooms so tidy. It seems that this is not so. I need not be so ashamed.” He sat down gaily on the bed; then, forgetting himself entirely, drew up his legs and folded them under him. “Everything ranged coldly on shelves was what I thought.—I say, Mr. Fielding, is the stud going to go in?”
“I hae ma doots.”
“What’s that last sentence, please? Will you teach me some new words and so improve my English?”
Fielding doubted whether “everything ranged coldly on shelves” could be improved. He was often struck with the liveliness with which the younger generation handled a foreign tongue. They altered the idiom, but they could say whatever they wanted to say quickly; there were none of the babuisms ascribed to them up at the club. But then the club moved slowly; it still declared that few Mohammedans and no Hindus would eat at an Englishman’s table, and that all Indian ladies were in impenetrable purdah. Individually it knew better; as a club it declined to change.
“Let me put in your stud. I see . . . the shirt back’s hole is rather small and to rip it wider a pity.”
“Why in hell does one wear collars at all?” grumbled Fielding as he bent his neck.
“We wear them to pass the Police.”
“What’s that?”
“If I’m biking in English dress—starch collar, hat with ditch—they take no notice. When I wear a fez, they cry, ‘Your lamp’s out!’ Lord Curzon did not consider this when he urged natives of India to retain their picturesque costumes.—Hooray! Stud’s gone in.—Sometimes I shut my eyes and dream I have splendid clothes again and am riding into battle behind Alamgir. Mr. Fielding, must not India have been beautiful then, with the Mogul Empire at its height and Alamgir reigning at Delhi upon the Peacock Throne?”
“Two ladies are coming to tea to meet you—I think you know them.”
“Meet me? I know no ladies.”
“Not Mrs. Moore and Miss Quested?”
“Oh yes—I remember.” The romance at the mosque had sunk out of his consciousness as soon as it was over. “An excessively aged lady; but will you please repeat the name of her companion?”
“Miss Quested.”
“Just as you wish.” He was disappointed that other guests were coming, for he preferred to be alone with his new friend.
“You can talk to Miss Quested about the Peacock Throne if you like—she’s artistic, they say.”
“Is she a Post Impressionist?”
“Post Impressionism, indeed! Come along to tea. This world is getting too much for me altogether.”
Aziz was offended. The remark suggested that he, an obscure Indian, had no right to have heard of Post Impressionism—a privilege reserved for the Ruling Race, that. He said stiffly, “I do not consider Mrs. Moore my friend, I only met her accidentally in my mosque,” and was adding “a single meeting is too short to make a friend,” but before he could finish the sentence the stiffness vanished from it, because he felt Fielding’s fundamental good will. His own went out to it, and grappled beneath the shifting tides of emotion which can alone bear the voyager to an anchorage but may also carry him across it on to the rocks. He was safe really—as safe as the shore-dweller who can only understand stability and supposes that every ship must be wrecked, and he had sensations the shore-dweller cannot know. Indeed, he was sensitive rather than responsive. In every remark he found a meaning, but not always the true meaning, and his life though vivid was largely a dream. Fielding, for instance, had not meant that Indians are obscure, but that Post Impressionism is; a gulf divided his remark from Mrs. Turton’s “Why, they speak English,” but to Aziz the two sounded alike. Fielding saw that something had gone wrong, and equally that it had come right, but he didn’t fidget, being an optimist where personal relations were concerned, and their talk rattled on as before.
“Besides the ladies I am expecting one of my assistants—Narayan Godbole.”
“Oho, the Deccani Brahman!”
“He wants the past back too, but not precisely Alamgir.”
“I should think not. Do you know what Deccani Brahmans say? That England conquered India from them—from them, mind, and not from the Moguls. Is not that like their cheek? They have even bribed it to appear in text-books, for they are so subtle and immensely rich. Professor Godbole must be quite unlike all other Deccani Brahmans from all I can hear say. A most sincere chap.”
“Why don’t you fellows run a club in Chandrapore, Aziz?”
“Perhaps—some day . . . just now I see Mrs. Moore and—what’s her name—coming.”
How fortunate that it was an “unconventional” party, where formalities are ruled out! On this basis Aziz found the English ladies easy to talk to, he treated them like men. Beauty would have troubled him, for it entails rules of its own, but Mrs. Moore was so old and Miss Quested so plain that he was spared this anxiety. Adela’s angular body and the freckles on her face were terrible defects in his eyes, and he wondered how God could have been so unkind to any female form. His attitude towards her remained entirely straightforward in consequence.
“I want to ask you something, Dr. Aziz,” she began. “I heard from Mrs. Moore how helpful you were to her in the mosque, and how interesting. She learnt more about India in those few minutes’ talk with you than in the three weeks since we landed.”
“Oh, please do not mention a little thing like that. Is there anything else I may tell you about my country?”
“I want you to explain a disappointment we had this morning; it must be some point of Indian etiquette.”
“There honestly is none,” he replied. “We are by nature a most informal people.”
“I am afraid we must have made some blunder and given offence,” said Mrs. Moore.
“That is even more impossible. But may I know the facts?”
“An Indian lady and gentleman were to send their carriage for us this morning at nine. It has never come. We waited and waited and waited; we can’t think what happened.”
“Some misunderstanding,” said Fielding, seeing at once that it was the type of incident that had better not be cleared up.
“Oh no, it wasn’t that,” Miss Quested persisted. “They even gave up going to Calcutta to entertain us. We must have made some stupid blunder, we both feel sure.”
“I wouldn’t worry about that.”
“Exactly what Mr. Heaslop tells me,” she retorted, reddening a little. “If one doesn’t worry, how’s one to understand?”
The host was inclined to change the subject, but Aziz took it up warmly, and on learning fragments of the delinquents’ name pronounced that they were Hindus.
“Slack Hindus—they have no idea of society; I know them very well because of a doctor at the hospital. Such a slack, unpunctual fellow! It is as well you did not go to their house, for it would give you a wrong idea of India. Nothing sanitary. I think for my own part they grew ashamed of their house and that is why they did not send.”
“That’s a notion,” said the other man.
“I do so hate mysteries,” Adela announced.
“We English do.”
“I dislike them not because I’m English, but from my own personal point of view,” she corrected.
“I like mysteries but I rather dislike muddles,” said Mrs. Moore.
“A mystery is a muddle.”
“Oh, do you think so, Mr. Fielding?”
“A mystery is only a high-sounding term for a muddle. No advantage in stirring it up, in either case. Aziz and I know well that India’s a muddle.”
“India’s—— Oh, what an alarming idea!”
“There’ll be no muddle when you come to see me,” said Aziz, rather out of his depth. “Mrs. Moore and everyone—I invite you all—oh, please.”
The old lady accepted: she still thought the young doctor excessively nice; moreover, a new feeling, half languor, half excitement, bade her turn down any fresh path. Miss Quested accepted out of adventure. She also liked Aziz, and believed that when she knew him better he would unlock his country for her. His invitation gratified her, and she asked him for his address.
Aziz thought of his bungalow with horror. It was a detestable shanty near a low bazaar. There was practically only one room in it, and that infested with small black flies. “Oh, but we will talk of something else now,” he exclaimed. “I wish I lived here. See this beautiful room! Let us admire it together for a little. See those curves at the bottom of the arches. What delicacy! It is the architecture of Question and Answer. Mrs. Moore, you are in India; I am not joking.” The room inspired him. It was an audience hall built in the eighteenth century for some high official, and though of wood had reminded Fielding of the Loggia de’ Lanzi at Florence. Little rooms, now Europeanized, clung to it on either side, but the central hall was unpapered and unglassed, and the air of the garden poured in freely. One sat in public—on exhibition, as it were—in full view of the gardeners who were screaming at the birds and of the man who rented the tank for the cultivation of water chestnut. Fielding let the mango trees too—there was no knowing who might not come in—and his servants sat on his steps night and day to discourage thieves. Beautiful certainly, and the Englishman had not spoilt it, whereas Aziz in an occidental moment would have hung Maude Goodmans on the walls. Yet there was no doubt to whom the room really belonged. . . .
“I am doing justice here. A poor widow who has been robbed comes along and I give her fifty rupees, to another a hundred, and so on and so on. I should like that.”
Mrs. Moore smiled, thinking of the modern method as exemplified in her son. “Rupees don’t last for ever, I’m afraid,” she said.
“Mine would. God would give me more when he saw I gave. Always be giving, like the Nawab Bahadur. My father was the same, that is why he died poor.” And pointing about the room he peopled it with clerks and officials, all benevolent because they lived long ago. “So we would sit giving for ever—on a carpet instead of chairs, that is the chief change between now and then, but I think we would never punish anyone.”
The ladies agreed.
“Poor criminal, give him another chance. It only makes a man worse to go to prison and be corrupted.” His face grew very tender—the tenderness of one incapable of administration, and unable to grasp that if the poor criminal is let off he will again rob the poor widow. He was tender to everyone except a few family enemies whom he did not consider human: on these he desired revenge. He was even tender to the English; he knew at the bottom of his heart that they could not help being so cold and odd and circulating like an ice stream through his land. “We punish no one, no one,” he repeated, “and in the evening we will give a great banquet with a nautch and lovely girls shall shine on every side of the tank with fireworks in their hands, and all shall be feasting and happiness until the next day, when there shall be justice as before—fifty rupees, a hundred, a thousand—till peace comes. Ah, why didn’t we live in that time?—But are you admiring Mr. Fielding’s house? Do look how the pillars are painted blue, and the verandah’s pavilions—what do you call them?—that are above us inside are blue also. Look at the carving on the pavilions. Think of the hours it took. Their little roofs are curved to imitate bamboo. So pretty—and the bamboos waving by the tank outside. Mrs. Moore! Mrs. Moore!”
“Well?” she said, laughing.
“You remember the water by our mosque? It comes down and fills this tank—a skilful arrangement of the Emperors. They stopped here going down into Bengal. They loved water. Wherever they went they created fountains, gardens, hammams. I was telling Mr. Fielding I would give anything to serve them.”
He was wrong about the water, which no Emperor, however skilful, can cause to gravitate uphill; a depression of some depth together with the whole of Chandrapore lay between the mosque and Fielding’s house. Ronny would have pulled him up, Turton would have wanted to pull him up, but restrained himself. Fielding did not even want to pull him up; he had dulled his craving for verbal truth and cared chiefly for truth of mood. As for Miss Quested, she accepted everything Aziz said as true verbally. In her ignorance, she regarded him as “India,” and never surmised that his outlook was limited and his method inaccurate, and that no one is India.
He was now much excited, chattering away hard, and even saying damn when he got mixed up in his sentences. He told them of his profession, and of the operations he had witnessed and performed, and he went into details that scared Mrs. Moore, though Miss Quested mistook them for proofs of his broad-mindedness; she had heard such talk at home in advanced academic circles, deliberately free. She supposed him to be emancipated as well as reliable, and placed him on a pinnacle which he could not retain. He was high enough for the moment, to be sure, but not on any pinnacle. Wings bore him up, and flagging would deposit him.
The arrival of Professor Godbole quieted him somewhat, but it remained his afternoon. The Brahman, polite and enigmatic, did not impede his eloquence, and even applauded it. He took his tea at a little distance from the outcasts, from a low table placed slightly behind him, to which he stretched back, and as it were encountered food by accident; all feigned indifference to Professor Godbole’s tea. He was elderly and wizen with a grey moustache and grey-blue eyes, and his complexion was as fair as a European’s. He wore a turban that looked like pale purple macaroni, coat, waistcoat, dhoti, socks with clocks. The clocks matched the turban, and his whole appearance suggested harmony—as if he had reconciled the products of East and West, mental as well as physical, and could never be discomposed. The ladies were interested in him, and hoped that he would supplement Dr. Aziz by saying something about religion. But he only ate—ate and ate, smiling, never letting his eyes catch sight of his hand.
Leaving the Mogul Emperors, Aziz turned to topics that could distress no one. He described the ripening of the mangoes, and how in his boyhood he used to run out in the Rains to a big mango grove belonging to an uncle and gorge there. “Then back with water streaming over you and perhaps rather a pain inside. But I did not mind. All my friends were paining with me. We have a proverb in Urdu: ‘What does unhappiness matter when we are all unhappy together?’ which comes in conveniently after mangoes. Miss Quested, do wait for mangoes. Why not settle altogether in India?”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” said Adela. She made the remark without thinking what it meant. To her, as to the three men, it seemed in key with the rest of the conversation, and not for several minutes—indeed, not for half an hour—did she realize that it was an important remark, and ought to have been made in the first place to Ronny.
“Visitors like you are too rare.”
“They are indeed,” said Professor Godbole. “Such affability is seldom seen. But what can we offer to detain them?”
“Mangoes, mangoes.”
They laughed. “Even mangoes can be got in England now,” put in Fielding. “They ship them in ice-cold rooms. You can make India in England apparently, just as you can make England in India.”
“Frightfully expensive in both cases,” said the girl.
“I suppose so.”
“And nasty.”
But the host wouldn’t allow the conversation to take this heavy turn. He turned to the old lady, who looked flustered and put out—he could not imagine why—and asked about her own plans. She replied that she should like to see over the College. Everyone immediately rose, with the exception of Professor Godbole, who was finishing a banana.
“Don’t you come too, Adela; you dislike institutions.”
“Yes, that is so,” said Miss Quested, and sat down again.
Aziz hesitated. His audience was splitting up. The more familiar half was going, but the more attentive remained. Reflecting that it was an “unconventional” afternoon, he stopped.
Talk went on as before. Could one offer the visitors unripe mangoes in a fool? “I speak now as a doctor: no.” Then the old man said, “But I will send you up a few healthy sweets. I will give myself that pleasure.”
“Miss Quested, Professor Godbole’s sweets are delicious,” said Aziz sadly, for he wanted to send sweets too and had no wife to cook them. “They will give you a real Indian treat. Ah, in my poor position I can give you nothing.”
“I don’t know why you say that, when you have so kindly asked us to your house.”
He thought again of his bungalow with horror. Good heavens, the stupid girl had taken him at his word! What was he to do? “Yes, all that is settled,” he cried.
“I invite you all to see me in the Marabar Caves.”
“I shall be delighted.”
“Oh, that is a most magnificent entertainment compared to my poor sweets. But has not Miss Quested visited our caves already?”
“No. I’ve not even heard of them.”
“Not heard of them?” both cried. “The Marabar Caves in the Marabar Hills?”
“We hear nothing interesting up at the club. Only tennis and ridiculous gossip.”
The old man was silent, perhaps feeling that it was unseemly of her to criticize her race, perhaps fearing that if he agreed she would report him for disloyalty. But the young man uttered a rapid “I know.”
“Then tell me everything you will, or I shall never understand India. Are they the hills I sometimes see in the evening? What are these caves?”
Aziz undertook to explain, but it presently appeared that he had never visited the caves himself—had always been “meaning” to go, but work or private business had prevented him, and they were so far. Professor Godbole chaffed him pleasantly. “My dear young sir, the pot and the kettle! Have you ever heard of that useful proverb?”
“Are they large caves?” she asked.
“No, not large.”
“Do describe them, Professor Godbole.”
“It will be a great honour.” He drew up his chair and an expression of tension came over his face. Taking the cigarette box, she offered to him and to Aziz, and lit up herself. After an impressive pause he said: “There is an entrance in the rock which you enter, and through the entrance is the cave.”
“Something like the caves at Elephanta?”
“Oh no, not at all; at Elephanta there are sculptures of Siva and Parvati. There are no sculptures at Marabar.”
“They are immensely holy, no doubt,” said Aziz, to help on the narrative.
“Oh no, oh no.”
“Still, they are ornamented in some way.”
“Oh no.”
“Well, why are they so famous? We all talk of the famous Marabar Caves. Perhaps that is our empty brag.”
“No, I should not quite say that.”
“Describe them to this lady, then.”
“It will be a great pleasure.” He forewent the pleasure, and Aziz realized that he was keeping back something about the caves. He realized because he often suffered from similar inhibitions himself. Sometimes, to the exasperation of Major Callendar, he would pass over the one relevant fact in a position, to dwell on the hundred irrelevant. The Major accused him of disingenuousness, and was roughly right, but only roughly. It was rather that a power he couldn’t control capriciously silenced his mind. Godbole had been silenced now; no doubt not willingly, he was concealing something. Handled subtly, he might regain control and announce that the Marabar Caves were—full of stalactites, perhaps; Aziz led up to this, but they weren’t.
The dialogue remained light and friendly, and Adela had no conception of its underdrift. She did not know that the comparatively simple mind of the Mohammedan was encountering Ancient Night. Aziz played a thrilling game. He was handling a human toy that refused to work—he knew that much. If it worked, neither he nor Professor Godbole would be the least advantaged, but the attempt enthralled him and was akin to abstract thought. On he chattered, defeated at every move by an opponent who would not even admit that a move had been made, and further than ever from discovering what, if anything, was extraordinary about the Marabar Caves.
Into this Ronny dropped.
With an annoyance he took no trouble to conceal, he called from the garden: “What’s happened to Fielding? Where’s my mother?”
“Good evening!” she replied coolly.
“I want you and mother at once. There’s to be polo.”
“I thought there was to be no polo.”
“Everything’s altered. Some soldier men have come in. Come along and I’ll tell you about it.”
“Your mother will return shortly, sir,” said Professor Godbole, who had risen with deference. “There is but little to see at our poor college.”
Ronny took no notice, but continued to address his remarks to Adela; he had hurried away from his work to take her to see the polo, because he thought it would give her pleasure. He did not mean to be rude to the two men, but the only link he could be conscious of with an Indian was the official, and neither happened to be his subordinate. As private individuals he forgot them.
Unfortunately Aziz was in no mood to be forgotten. He would not give up the secure and intimate note of the last hour. He had not risen with Godbole, and now, offensively friendly, called from his seat, “Come along up and join us, Mr. Heaslop; sit down till your mother turns up.”
Ronny replied by ordering one of Fielding’s servants to fetch his master at once.
“He may not understand that. Allow me——” Aziz repeated the order idiomatically.
Ronny was tempted to retort; he knew the type; he knew all the types, and this was the spoilt Westernized. But he was a servant of the Government, it was his job to avoid “incidents,” so he said nothing, and ignored the provocation that Aziz continued to offer. Aziz was provocative. Everything he said had an impertinent flavour or jarred. His wings were failing, but he refused to fall without a struggle. He did not mean to be impertinent to Mr. Heaslop, who had never done him harm, but here was an Anglo-Indian who must become a man before comfort could be regained. He did not mean to be greasily confidential to Miss Quested, only to enlist her support; nor to be loud and jolly towards Professor Godbole. A strange quartette—he fluttering to the ground, she puzzled by the sudden ugliness, Ronny fuming, the Brahman observing all three, but with downcast eyes and hands folded, as if nothing was noticeable. A scene from a play, thought Fielding, who now saw them from the distance across the garden grouped among the blue pillars of his beautiful hall.
“Don’t trouble to come, mother,” Ronny called; “we’re just starting.” Then he hurried to Fielding, drew him aside and said with pseudo-heartiness, “I say, old man, do excuse me, but I think perhaps you oughtn’t to have left Miss Quested alone.”
“I’m sorry, what’s up?” replied Fielding, also trying to be genial.
“Well . . . I’m the sun-dried bureaucrat, no doubt; still, I don’t like to see an English girl left smoking with two Indians.”
“She stopped, as she smokes, by her own wish, old man.”
“Yes, that’s all right in England.”
“I really can’t see the harm.”
“If you can’t see, you can’t see. . . . Can’t you see that fellow’s a bounder?”
Aziz flamboyant, was patronizing Mrs. Moore.
“He isn’t a bounder,” protested Fielding. “His nerves are on edge, that’s all.”
“What should have upset his precious nerves?”
“I don’t know. He was all right when I left.”
“Well, it’s nothing I’ve said,” said Ronny reassuringly. “I never even spoke to him.”
“Oh well, come along now, and take your ladies away; the catastrophe over.”
“Fielding . . . don’t think I’m taking it badly, or anything of that sort. . . . I suppose you won’t come on to the polo with us? We should all be delighted.”
“I’m afraid I can’t, thanks all the same. I’m awfully sorry you feel I’ve been remiss. I didn’t mean to be.”
So the leave-taking began. Every one was cross or wretched. It was as if irritation exuded from the very soil. Could one have been so petty on a Scotch moor or an Italian alp? Fielding wondered afterwards. There seemed no reserve of tranquillity to draw upon in India.
Either none, or else tranquillity swallowed up everything, as it appeared to do for Professor Godbole. Here was Aziz all shoddy and odious, Mrs. Moore and Miss Quested both silly, and he himself and Heaslop both decorous on the surface, but detestable really, and detesting each other.
“Good-bye, Mr. Fielding, and thank you so much. . . . What lovely College buildings!”
“Good-bye, Mrs. Moore.”
“Good-bye, Mr. Fielding. Such an interesting afternoon. . . .”
“Good-bye, Miss Quested.”
“Good-bye, Dr. Aziz.”
“Good-bye, Mrs. Moore.”
“Good-bye, Dr. Aziz.”
“Good-bye, Miss Quested.” He pumped her hand up and down to show that he felt at ease. “You’ll jolly jolly well not forget those caves, won’t you? I’ll fix the whole show up in a jiffy.”
“Thank you. . .
Inspired by the devil to a final effort, he added, “What a shame you leave India so soon! Oh, do reconsider your decision, do stay.”
“Good-bye, Professor Godbole,” she continued, suddenly agitated. “It’s a shame we never heard you sing.”
“I may sing now,” he replied, and did.
His thin voice rose, and gave out one sound after another. At times there seemed rhythm, at times there was the illusion of a Western melody. But the ear, baffled repeatedly, soon lost any clue, and wandered in a maze of noises, none harsh or unpleasant, none intelligible. It was the song of an unknown bird. Only the servants understood it. They began to whisper to one another. The man who was gathering water chestnut came naked out of the tank, his lips parted with delight, disclosing his scarlet tongue. The sounds continued and ceased after a few moments as casually as they had begun—apparently half through a bar, and upon the subdominant.
“Thanks so much: what was that?” asked Fielding.
“I will explain in detail. It was a religious song. I placed myself in the position of a milkmaiden. I say to Shri Krishna, ‘Come! come to me only.’ The god refuses to come. I grow humble and say: ‘Do not come to me only. Multiply yourself into a hundred Krishnas, and let one go to each of my hundred companions, but one, O Lord of the Universe, come to me.’ He refuses to come. This is repeated several times. The song is composed in a raga appropriate to the present hour, which is the evening.”
“But He comes in some other song, I hope?” said Mrs. Moore gently.
“Oh no, he refuses to come,” repeated Godbole, perhaps not understanding her question. “I say to Him, Come, come, come, come, come, come. He neglects to come.”
Ronny’s steps had died away, and there was a moment of absolute silence. No ripple disturbed the water, no leaf stirred.
 


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