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 Although Miss Quested had known Ronny well in England, she felt well advised to visit him before deciding to be his wife. India had developed sides of his character that she had never admired. His self-complacency, his censoriousness, his lack of subtlety, all grew vivid beneath a tropic sky; he seemed more indifferent than of old to what was passing in the minds of his fellows, more certain that he was right about them or that if he was wrong it didn’t matter. When proved wrong, he was particularly exasperating; he always managed to suggest that she needn’t have bothered to prove it. The point she made was never the relevant point, her arguments conclusive but barren, she was reminded that he had expert knowledge and she none, and that experience would not help her because she could not interpret it. A Public School, London University, a year at a crammer’s, a particular sequence of posts in a particular province, a fall from a horse and a touch of fever were presented to her as the only training by which Indians and all who reside in their country can be understood; the only training she could comprehend, that is to say, for of course above Ronny there stretched the higher realms of knowledge, inhabited by Callendars and Turtons, who had been not one year in the country but twenty and whose instincts were superhuman. For himself he made no extravagant claims; she wished he would. It was the qualified bray of the callow official, the “I am not perfect, but——” that got on her nerves.
How gross he had been at Mr. Fielding’s—spoiling the talk and walking off in the middle of the haunting song! As he drove them away in the tum-tum, her irritation became unbearable, and she did not realize that much of it was directed against herself. She longed for an opportunity to fly out at him, and since he felt cross too, and they were both in India, an opportunity soon occurred. They had scarcely left the College grounds before she heard him say to his mother, who was with him on the front seat, “What was that about caves?” and she promptly opened fire.
“Mrs. Moore, your delightful doctor has decided on a picnic, instead of a party in his house; we are to meet him out there—you, myself, Mr. Fielding, Professor Godbole—exactly the same party.”
“Out where?” asked Ronny.
“The Marabar Caves.”
“Well, I’m blessed,” he murmured after a pause. “Did he descend to any details?”
“He did not. If you had spoken to him, we could have arranged them.”
He shook his head laughing.
“Have I said anything funny?”
“I was only thinking how the worthy doctor’s collar climbed up his neck.”
“I thought you were discussing the caves.”
“So I am. Aziz was exquisitely dressed, from tie-pin to spats, but he had forgotten his back collar-stud, and there you have the Indian all over: inattention to detail; the fundamental slackness that reveals the race. Similarly, to ‘meet’ in the caves as if they were the clock at Charing Cross, when they’re miles from a station and each other.”
“Have you been to them?”
“No, but I know all about them, naturally.”
“Oh naturally!”
“Are you too pledged to this expedition, mother?”
“Mother is pledged to nothing,” said Mrs. Moore, rather unexpectedly. “Certainly not to this polo. Will you drive up to the bungalow first, and drop me there, please? I prefer to rest.”
“drop me too,” said Adela. “I don’t want to watch polo either, I’m sure.”
“Simpler to drop the polo,” said Ronny. Tired and disappointed, he quite lost self-control, and added in a loud lecturing voice, “I won’t have you messing about with Indians any more! If you want to go to the Marabar Caves, you’ll go under British auspices.”
“I’ve never heard of these caves, I don’t know what or where they are,” said Mrs. Moore, “but I really can’t have”—she tapped the cushion beside her—“so much quarrelling and tiresomeness!”
The young people were ashamed. They dropped her at the bungalow and drove on together to the polo, feeling it was the least they could do. Their crackling bad humour left them, but the heaviness of their spirit remained; thunderstorms seldom clear the air. Miss Quested was thinking over her own behaviour, and didn’t like it at all. Instead of weighing Ronny and herself, and coming to a reasoned conclusion about marriage, she had incidentally, in the course of a talk about mangoes, remarked to mixed company that she didn’t mean to stop in India. Which meant that she wouldn’t marry Ronny: but what a way to announce it, what a way for a civilized girl to behave! She owed him an explanation, but unfortunately there was nothing to explain. The “thorough talk” so dear to her principles and temperament had been postponed until too late. There seemed no point in being disagreeable to him and formulating her complaints against his character at this hour of the day, which was the evening. . . . The polo took place on the Maidan near the entrance of Chandrapore city. The sun was already declining and each of the trees held a premonition of night. They walked away from the governing group to a distant seat, and there, feeling that it was his due and her own, she forced out of herself the undigested remark: “We must have a thorough talk, Ronny, I’m afraid.”
“My temper’s rotten, I must apologize,” was his reply. “I didn’t mean to order you and mother about, but of course the way those Bengalis let you down this morning annoyed me, and I don’t want that sort of thing to keep happening.”
“It’s nothing to do with them that I . . .”
“No, but Aziz would make some similar muddle over the caves. He meant nothing by the invitation, I could tell by his voice; it’s just their way of being pleasant.”
“It’s something very different, nothing to do with caves, that I wanted to talk over with you.” She gazed at the colourless grass. “I’ve finally decided we are not going to be married, my dear boy.”
The news hurt Ronny very much. He had heard Aziz announce that she would not return to the country, but had paid no attention to the remark, for he never dreamt that an Indian could be a channel of communication between two English people. He controlled himself and said gently, “You never said we should marry, my dear girl; you never bound either yourself or me—don’t let this upset you.”
She felt ashamed. How decent he was! He might force his opinions down her throat, but did not press her to an “engagement,” because he believed, like herself, in the sanctity of personal relationships: it was this that had drawn them together at their first meeting, which had occurred among the grand scenery of the English Lakes. Her ordeal was over, but she felt it should have been more painful and longer. Adela will not marry Ronny. It seemed slipping away like a dream. She said, “But let us discuss things; it’s all so frightfully important, we mustn’t make false steps. I want next to hear your point of view about me—it might help us both.”
His manner was unhappy and reserved. “I don’t much believe in this discussing—besides, I’m so dead with all this extra work Mohurram’s bringing, if you’ll excuse me.”
“I only want everything to be absolutely clear between us, and to answer any questions you care to put to me on my conduct.”
“But I haven’t got any questions. You’ve acted within your rights, you were quite right to come out and have a look at me doing my work, it was an excellent plan, and anyhow it’s no use talking further—we should only get up steam.” He felt angry and bruised; he was too proud to tempt her back, but he did not consider that she had behaved badly, because where his compatriots were concerned he had a generous mind.
“I suppose that there is nothing else; it’s unpardonable of me to have given you and your mother all this bother,” said Miss Quested heavily, and frowned up at the tree beneath which they were sitting. A little green bird was observing her, so brilliant and neat that it might have hopped straight out of a shop. On catching her eye it closed its own, gave a small skip and prepared to go to bed. Some Indian wild bird. “Yes, nothing else,” she repeated, feeling that a profound and passionate speech ought to have been delivered by one or both of them. “We’ve been awfully British over it, but I suppose that’s all right.”
“As we are British, I suppose it is.”
“Anyhow we’ve not quarrelled, Ronny.”
“Oh, that would have been too absurd. Why should we quarrel?”
“I think we shall keep friends.”
“I know we shall.”
“Quite so.”
As soon as they had exchanged this admission, a wave of relief passed through them both, and then transformed itself into a wave of tenderness, and passed back. They were softened by their own honesty, and began to feel lonely and unwise. Experiences, not character, divided them; they were not dissimilar, as humans go; indeed, when compared with the people who stood nearest to them in point of space they became practically identical. The Bhil who was holding an officer’s polo pony, the Eurasian who drove the Nawab Bahadur’s car, the Nawab Bahadur himself, the Nawab Bahadur’s debauched grandson—none would have examined a difficulty so frankly and coolly. The mere fact of examination caused it to diminish. Of course they were friends, and for ever. “Do you know what the name of that green bird up above us is?” she asked, putting her shoulder rather nearer to his.
“Oh no, Ronny, it has red bars on its wings.”
“Parrot,” he hazarded.
“Good gracious no.”
The bird in question dived into the dome of the tree. It was of no importance, yet they would have liked to identify it, it would somehow have solaced their hearts.
But nothing in India is identifiable, the mere asking of a question causes it to disappear or to merge in something else.
“McBryde has an illustrated bird book,” he said dejectedly. “I’m no good at all at birds, in fact I’m useless at any information outside my own job. It’s a great pity.”
“So am I. I’m useless at everything.”
“What do I hear?” shouted the Nawab Bahadur at the top of his voice, causing both of them to start. “What most improbable statement have I heard? An English lady useless? No, no, no, no, no.” He laughed genially, sure, within limits, of his welcome.
“Hallo, Nawab Bahadur! Been watching the polo again?” said Ronny tepidly.
“I have, sahib, I have.”
“How do you do?” said Adela, likewise pulling herself together. She held out her hand. The old gentleman judged from so wanton a gesture that she was new to his country, but he paid little heed. Women who exposed their face became by that one act so mysterious to him that he took them at the valuation of their men folk rather than at his own. Perhaps they were not immoral, and anyhow they were not his affair. On seeing the City Magistrate alone with a maiden at twilight, he had borne down on them with hospitable intent. He had a new little car, and wished to place it at their disposal; the City Magistrate would decide whether the offer was acceptable.
Ronny was by this time rather ashamed of his curtness to Aziz and Godbole, and here was an opportunity of showing that he could treat Indians with consideration when they deserved it. So he said to Adela, with the same sad friendliness that he had employed when discussing the bird, “Would half an hour’s spin entertain you at all?”
“Oughtn’t we to get back to the bungalow.”
“Why?” He gazed at her.
“I think perhaps I ought to see your mother and discuss future plans.”
“That’s as you like, but there’s no hurry, is there?”
“Let me take you to the bungalow, and first the little spin,” cried the old man, and hastened to the car.
“He may show you some aspect of the country I can’t, and he’s a real loyalist. I thought you might care for a bit of a change.”
Determined to give him no more trouble, she agreed, but her desire to see India had suddenly decreased. There had been a factitious element in it.
How should they seat themselves in the car? The elegant grandson had to be left behind. The Nawab Bahadur got up in front, for he had no intention of neighbouring an English girl. “Despite my advanced years, I am learning to drive,” he said. “Man can learn everything if he will but try.” And foreseeing a further difficulty, he added, “I do not do the actual steering. I sit and ask my chauffeur questions, and thus learn the reason for everything that is done before I do it myself. By this method serious and I may say ludicrous accidents, such as befell one of my compatriots during that delightful reception at the English Club, are avoided. Our good Panna Lal! I hope, sahib, that great damage was not done to your flowers. Let us have our little spin down the Gangavati road. Half one league onwards!” He fell asleep.
Ronny instructed the chauffeur to take the Marabar road rather than the Gangavati, since the latter was under repair, and settled himself down beside the lady he had lost. The car made a burring noise and rushed along a chaussée that ran upon an embankment above melancholy fields. Trees of a poor quality bordered the road, indeed the whole scene was inferior, and suggested that the country-side was too vast to admit of excellence. In vain did each item in it call out, “Come, come.”
There was not enough god to go round. The two young people conversed feebly and felt unimportant. When the darkness began, it seemed to well out of the meagre vegetation, entirely covering the fields each side of them before it brimmed over the road. Ronny’s face grew dim—an event that always increased her esteem for his character. Her hand touched his, owing to a jolt, and one of the thrills so frequent in the animal kingdom passed between them, and announced that all their difficulties were only a lovers’ quarrel. Each was too proud to increase the pressure, but neither withdrew it, and a spurious unity descended on them, as local and temporary as the gleam that inhabits a firefly. It would vanish in a moment, perhaps to reappear, but the darkness is alone durable. And the night that encircled them, absolute as it seemed, was itself only a spurious unity, being modified by the gleams of day that leaked up round the edges of the earth, and by the stars.
They gripped . . . bump, jump, a swerve, two wheels lifted in the air, breaks on, bump with tree at edge of embankment, standstill. An accident. A slight one. Nobody hurt. The Nawab Bahadur awoke. He cried out in Arabic, and violently tugged his beard.
“What’s the damage?” enquired Ronny, after the moment’s pause that he permitted himself before taking charge of a situation. The Eurasian, inclined to be flustered, rallied to the sound of his voice, and, every inch an Englishman, replied, “You give me five minutes’ time, I’ll take you any dam anywhere.”
“Frightened, Adela?” He released her hand.
“Not a bit.”
“I consider not to be frightened the height of folly,” cried the Nawab Bahadur quite rudely.
“Well, it’s all over now, tears are useless,” said Ronny, dismounting. “We had some luck butting that tree.”
“All over . . . oh yes, the danger is past, let us smoke cigarettes, let us do anything we please. Oh yes . . . enjoy ourselves—oh my merciful God . . .” His words died into Arabic again.
“Wasn’t the bridge. We skidded.”
“We didn’t skid,” said Adela, who had seen the cause of the accident, and thought everyone must have seen it too. “We ran into an animal.”
A loud cry broke from the old man: his terror was disproportionate and ridiculous.
“An animal?”
“A large animal rushed up out of the dark on the right and hit us.”
“By Jove, she’s right,” Ronny exclaimed. “The paint’s gone.”
“By Jove, sir, your lady is right,” echoed the Eurasian. Just by the hinges of the door was a dent, and the door opened with difficulty.
“Of course I’m right. I saw its hairy back quite plainly.”
“I say, Adela, what was it?”
“I don’t know the animals any better than the birds here—too big for a goat.”
“Exactly, too big for a goat . . .” said the old man.
Ronny said, “Let’s go into this; let’s look for its tracks.”
“Exactly; you wish to borrow this electric torch.”
The English people walked a few steps back into the darkness, united and happy. Thanks to their youth and upbringing, they were not upset by the accident. They traced back the writhing of the tyres to the source of their disturbance. It was just after the exit from a bridge; the animal had probably come up out of the nullah. Steady and smooth ran the marks of the car, ribbons neatly nicked with lozenges, then all went mad. Certainly some external force had impinged, but the road had been used by too many objects for any one track to be legible, and the torch created such high lights and black shadows that they could not interpret what it revealed. Moreover, Adela in her excitement knelt and swept her skirts about, until it was she if anyone who appeared to have attacked the car. The incident was a great relief to them both. They forgot their abortive personal relationship, and felt adventurous as they muddled about in the dust.
“I believe it was a buffalo,” she called to their host, who had not accompanied them.
“Unless it was a hyena.”
Ronny approved this last conjecture. Hyenas prowl in nullahs and headlights dazzle them.
“Excellent, a hyena,” said the Indian with an angry irony and a gesture at the night. “Mr. Harris!”
“Half a mo-ment. Give me ten minutes’ time.”
“Sahib says hyena.”
“Don’t worry Mr. Harris. He saved us from a nasty smash. Harris, well done!”
“A smash, sahib, that would not have taken place had he obeyed and taken us Gangavati side, instead of Marabar.”
“My fault that. I told him to come this way because the road’s better. Mr. Lesley has made it pukka right up to the hills.”
“Ah, now I begin to understand.” Seeming to pull himself together, he apologized slowly and elaborately for the accident. Ronny murmured, “Not at all,” but apologies were his due, and should have started sooner: because English people are so calm at a crisis, it is not to be assumed that they are unimportant. The Nawab Bahadur had not come out very well.
At that moment a large car approached from the opposite direction. Ronny advanced a few steps down the road, and with authority in his voice and gesture stopped it. It bore the inscription “Mudkul State” across its bonnet. All friskiness and friendliness, Miss Derek sat inside.
“Mr. Heaslop, Miss Quested, what are you holding up an innocent female for?”
“We’ve had a breakdown.”
“But how putrid!”
“We ran into a hyena!”
“How absolutely rotten!”
“Can you give us a lift?”
“Yes, indeed.”
“Take me too,” said the Nawab Bahadur.
“Heh, what about me?” cried Mr. Harris.
“Now what’s all this? I’m not an omnibus,” said Miss Derek with decision. “I’ve a harmonium and two dogs in here with me as it is. I’ll take three of you if one’ll sit in front and nurse a pug. No more.”
“I will sit in front,” said the Nawab Bahadur.
“Then hop in: I’ve no notion who you are.”
“Heh no, what about my dinner? I can’t be left alone all the night.” Trying to look and feel like a European, the chauffeur interposed aggressively. He still wore a topi, despite the darkness, and his face, to which the Ruling Race had contributed little beyond bad teeth, peered out of it pathetically, and seemed to say, “What’s it all about? Don’t worry me so, you blacks and whites. Here I am, stuck in dam India same as you, and you got to fit me in better than this.”
“Nussu will bring you out some suitable dinner upon a bicycle,” said the Nawab Bahadur, who had regained his usual dignity. “I shall despatch him with all possible speed. Meanwhile, repair my car.”
They sped off, and Mr. Harris, after a reproachful glance, squatted down upon his hams. When English and Indians were both present, he grew self-conscious, because he did not know to whom he belonged. For a little he was vexed by opposite currents in his blood, then they blended, and he belonged to no one but himself.
But Miss Derek was in tearing spirits. She had succeeded in stealing the Mudkul car. Her Maharajah would be awfully sick, but she didn’t mind, he could sack her if he liked. “I don’t believe in these people letting you down,” she said. “If I didn’t snatch like the devil, I should be nowhere. He doesn’t want the car, silly fool! Surely it’s to the credit of his State I should be seen about in it at Chandrapore during my leave. He ought to look at it that way. Anyhow he’s got to look at it that way. My Maharani’s different—my Maharani’s a dear. That’s her fox terrier, poor little devil. I fished them out both with the driver. Imagine taking dogs to a Chiefs’ Conference! As sensible as taking Chiefs, perhaps.” She shrieked with laughter. “The harmonium—the harmonium’s my little mistake, I own. They rather had me over the harmonium. I meant it to stop on the train. Oh lor’!”
Ronny laughed with restraint. He did not approve of English people taking service under the Native States, where they obtain a certain amount of influence, but at the expense of the general prestige. The humorous triumphs of a free lance are of no assistance to an administrator, and he told the young lady that she would outdo Indians at their own game if she went on much longer.
“They always sack me before that happens, and then I get another job. The whole of India seethes with Maharanis and Ranis and Begums who clamour for such as me.”
“Really. I had no idea.”
“How could you have any idea, Mr. Heaslop? What should he know about Maharanis, Miss Quested? Nothing. At least I should hope not.”
“I understand those big people are not particularly interesting,” said Adela, quietly, disliking the young woman’s tone. Her hand touched Ronny’s again in the darkness, and to the animal thrill there was now added a coincidence of opinion.
“Ah, there you’re wrong. They’re priceless.”
“I would scarcely call her wrong,” broke out the Nawab Bahadur, from his isolation on the front seat, whither they had relegated him. “A Native State, a Hindu State, the wife of a ruler of a Hindu State, may beyond doubt be a most excellent lady, and let it not be for a moment supposed that I suggest anything against the character of Her Highness the Maharani of Mudkul. But I fear she will be uneducated, I fear she will be superstitious. Indeed, how could she be otherwise? What opportunity of education has such a lady had? Oh, superstition is terrible, terrible! oh, it is the great defect in our Indian character!”—and as if to point his criticism, the lights of the civil station appeared on a rise to the right. He grew more and more voluble. “Oh, it is the duty of each and every citizen to shake superstition off, and though I have little experience of Hindu States, and none of this particular one, namely Mudkul (the Ruler, I fancy, has a salute of but eleven guns)—yet I cannot imagine that they have been as successful as British India, where we see reason and orderliness spreading in every direction, like a most health-giving flood!”
Miss Derek said “Golly!”
Undeterred by the expletive, the old man swept on. His tongue had been loosed and his mind had several points to make. He wanted to endorse Miss Quested’s remark that big people are not interesting, because he was bigger himself than many an independent chief; at the same time, he must neither remind nor inform her that he was big, lest she felt she had committed a discourtesy. This was the groundwork of his oration; worked in with it was his gratitude to Miss Derek for the lift, his willingness to hold a repulsive dog in his arms, and his general regret for the trouble he had caused the human race during the evening. Also he wanted to be dropped near the city to get hold of his cleaner, and to see what mischief his grandson was up to. As he wove all these anxieties into a single rope, he suspected that his audience felt no interest, and that the City Magistrate fondled either maiden behind the cover of the harmonium, but good breeding compelled him to continue; it was nothing to him if they were bored, because he did not know what boredom is, and it was nothing to him if they were licentious, because God has created all races to be different. The accident was over, and his life, equably useful, distinguished, happy, ran on as before and expressed itself in streams of well-chosen words.
When this old geyser left them, Ronny made no comment, but talked lightly about polo; Turton had taught him that it is sounder not to discuss a man at once, and he reserved what he had to say on the Nawab’s character until later in the evening. His hand, which he had removed to say good-bye, touched Adela’s again; she caressed it definitely, he responded, and their firm and mutual pressure surely meant something. They looked at each other when they reached the bungalow, for Mrs. Moore was inside it. It was for Miss Quested to speak, and she said nervously, “Ronny, I should like to take back what I said on the Maidan.” He assented, and they became engaged to be married in consequence.
Neither had foreseen such a consequence. She had meant to revert to her former condition of important and cultivated uncertainty, but it had passed out of her reach at its appropriate hour. Unlike the green bird or the hairy animal, she was labelled now. She felt humiliated again, for she deprecated labels, and she felt too that there should have been another scene between her lover and herself at this point, something dramatic and lengthy. He was pleased instead of distressed, he was surprised, but he had really nothing to say. What indeed is there to say? To be or not to be married, that was the question, and they had decided it in the affirmative.
“Come along and let’s tell the mater all this”—opening the perforated zinc door that protected the bungalow from the swarms of winged creatures. The noise woke the mater up. She had been dreaming of the absent children who were so seldom mentioned, Ralph and Stella, and did not at first grasp what was required of her. She too had become used to thoughtful procrastination, and felt alarmed when it came to an end.
When the announcement was over, he made a gracious and honest remark. “Look here, both of you, see India if you like and as you like—I know I made myself rather ridiculous at Fielding’s, but . . . it’s different now. I wasn’t quite sure of myself.”
“My duties here are evidently finished, I don’t want to see India now; now for my passage back,” was Mrs. Moore’s thought. She reminded herself of all that a happy marriage means, and of her own happy marriages, one of which had produced Ronny. Adela’s parents had also been happily married, and excellent it was to see the incident repeated by the younger generation. On and on! the number of such unions would certainly increase as education spread and ideals grew loftier, and characters firmer. But she was tired by her visit to Government College, her feet ached, Mr. Fielding had walked too fast and far, the young people had annoyed her in the tum-tum, and given her to suppose they were breaking with each other, and though it was all right now she could not speak as enthusiastically of wedlock or of anything as she should have done. Ronny was suited, now she must go home and help the others, if they wished. She was past marrying herself, even unhappily; her function was to help others, her reward to be informed that she was sympathetic. Elderly ladies must not expect more than this.
They dined alone. There was much pleasant and affectionate talk about the future. Later on they spoke of passing events, and Ronny reviewed and recounted the day from his own point of view. It was a different day from the women’s, because while they had enjoyed themselves or thought, he had worked. Mohurram was approaching, and as usual the Chandrapore Mohammedans were building paper towers of a size too large to pass under the branches of a certain pepul tree. One knew what happened next; the tower stuck, a Mohammedan climbed up the pepul and cut the branch off, the Hindus protested, there was a religious riot, and Heaven knew what, with perhaps the troops sent for. There had been deputations and conciliation committees under the auspices of Turton, and all the normal work of Chandrapore had been hung up. Should the procession take another route, or should the towers be shorter? The Mohammedans offered the former, the Hindus insisted on the latter. The Collector had favoured the Hindus, until he suspected that they had artificially bent the tree nearer the ground. They said it sagged naturally. Measurements, plans, an official visit to the spot. But Ronny had not disliked his day, for it proved that the British were necessary to India; there would certainly have been bloodshed without them. His voice grew complacent again; he was here not to be pleasant but to keep the peace, and now that Adela had promised to be his wife, she was sure to understand.
“What does our old gentleman of the car think?” she asked, and her negligent tone was exactly what he desired.
“Our old gentleman is helpful and sound, as he always is over public affairs. You’ve seen in him our show Indian.”
“Have I really?”
“I’m afraid so. Incredible, aren’t they, even the best of them? They’re all—they all forget their back collar studs sooner or later. You’ve had to do with three sets of Indians to-day, the Bhattacharyas, Aziz, and this chap, and it really isn’t a coincidence that they’ve all let you down.”
“I like Aziz, Aziz is my real friend,” Mrs. Moore interposed.
“When the animal runs into us the Nawab loses his head, deserts his unfortunate chauffeur, intrudes upon Miss Derek . . . no great crimes, no great crimes, but no white man would have done it.”
“What animal?”
“Oh, we had a small accident on the Marabar road. Adela thinks it was a hyena.”
“An accident?” she cried.
“Nothing; no one hurt. Our excellent host awoke much rattled from his dreams, appeared to think it was our fault, and chanted exactly, exactly.”
Mrs. Moore shivered, “A ghost!” But the idea of a ghost scarcely passed her lips. The young people did not take it up, being occupied with their own outlooks, and deprived of support it perished, or was reabsorbed into the part of the mind that seldom speaks.
“Yes, nothing criminal,” Ronny summed up, “but there’s the native, and there’s one of the reasons why we don’t admit him to our clubs, and how a decent girl like Miss Derek can take service under natives puzzles me. . . . But I must get on with my work. Krishna!” Krishna was the peon who should have brought the files from his office. He had not turned up, and a terrific row ensued. Ronny stormed, shouted, howled, and only the experienced observer could tell that he was not angry, did not much want the files, and only made a row because it was the custom. Servants, quite understanding, ran slowly in circles, carrying hurricane lamps. Krishna the earth, Krishna the stars replied, until the Englishman was appeased by their echoes, fined the absent peon eight annas, and sat down to his arrears in the next room.
“Will you play Patience with your future mother-in-law, dear Adela, or does it seem too tame?”
“I should like to—I don’t feel a bit excited—I’m just glad it’s settled up at last, but I’m not conscious of vast changes. We are all three the same people still.”
“That’s much the best feeling to have.” She dealt out the first row of “demon.”
“I suppose so,” said the girl thoughtfully.
“I feared at Mr. Fielding’s that it might be settled the other way . . . black knave on a red queen. . . .” They chatted gently about the game.
Presently Adela said: “You heard me tell Aziz and Godbole I wasn’t stopping in their country. I didn’t mean it, so why did I say it? I feel I haven’t been—frank enough, attentive enough, or something. It’s as if I got everything out of proportion. You have been so very good to me, and I meant to be good when I sailed, but somehow I haven’t been. . . . Mrs. Moore, if one isn’t absolutely honest, what is the use of existing?”
She continued to lay out her cards. The words were obscure, but she understood the uneasiness that produced them. She had experienced it twice herself, during her own engagements—this vague contrition and doubt. All had come right enough afterwards and doubtless would this time—marriage makes most things right enough. “I wouldn’t worry,” she said. “It’s partly the odd surroundings; you and I keep on attending to trifles instead of what’s important; we are what the people here call ‘new.’”
“You mean that my bothers are mixed up with India?”
“India’s——” She stopped.
“What made you call it a ghost?”
“Call what a ghost?”
“The animal thing that hit us. Didn’t you say ‘Oh, a ghost,’ in passing.”
“I couldn’t have been thinking of what I was saying.”
“It was probably a hyena, as a matter of fact.”
“Ah, very likely.”
And they went on with their Patience. Down in Chandrapore the Nawab Bahadur waited for his car. He sat behind his town house (a small unfurnished building which he rarely entered) in the midst of the little court that always improvises itself round Indians of position. As if turbans were the natural product of darkness a fresh one would occasionally froth to the front, incline itself towards him, and retire. He was preoccupied, his diction was appropriate to a religious subject. Nine years previously, when first he had had a car, he had driven it over a drunken man and killed him, and the man had been waiting for him ever since. The Nawab Bahadur was innocent before God and the Law, he had paid double the compensation necessary; but it was no use, the man continued to wait in an unspeakable form, close to the scene of his death. None of the English people knew of this, nor did the chauffeur; it was a racial secret communicable more by blood than speech. He spoke now in horror of the particular circumstances; he had led others into danger, he had risked the lives of two innocent and honoured guests. He repeated, “If I had been killed, what matter? it must happen sometime; but they who trusted me——”
The company shuddered and invoked the mercy of God. Only Aziz held aloof, because a personal experience restrained him: was it not by despising ghosts that he had come to know Mrs. Moore? “You know, Nureddin,” he whispered to the grandson—an effeminate youth whom he seldom met, always liked, and invariably forgot—“you know, my dear fellow, we Moslems simply must get rid of these superstitions, or India will never advance. How long must I hear of the savage pig upon the Marabar Road?” Nureddin looked down. Aziz continued: “Your grandfather belongs to another generation, and I respect and love the old gentleman, as you know. I say nothing against him, only that it is wrong for us, because we are young. I want you to promise me—Nureddin, are you listening?—not to believe in Evil Spirits, and if I die (for my health grows very weak) to bring up my three children to disbelieve in them too.” Nureddin smiled, and a suitable answer rose to his pretty lips, but before he could make it the car arrived, and his grandfather took him away.
The game of Patience up in the civil lines went on longer than this. Mrs. Moore continued to murmur “Red ten on a black knave,” Miss Quested to assist her, and to intersperse among the intricacies of the play details about the hyena, the engagement, the Maharani of Mudkul, the Bhattacharyas, and the day generally, whose rough desiccated surface acquired as it receded a definite outline, as India itself might, could it be viewed from the moon. Presently the players went to bed, but not before other people had woken up elsewhere, people whose emotions they could not share, and whose existence they ignored. Never tranquil, never perfectly dark, the night wore itself away, distinguished from other nights by two or three blasts of wind, which seemed to fall perpendicularly out of the sky and to bounce back into it, hard and compact, leaving no freshness behind them: the hot weather was approaching.


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