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 Most of life is so dull that there is nothing to be said about it, and the books and talk that would describe it as interesting are obliged to exaggerate, in the hope of justifying their own existence. Inside its cocoon of work or social obligation, the human spirit slumbers for the most part, registering the distinction between pleasure and pain, but not nearly as alert as we pretend. There are periods in the most thrilling day during which nothing happens, and though we continue to exclaim, “I do enjoy myself,” or, “I am horrified,” we are insincere. “As far as I feel anything, it is enjoyment, horror”—it’s no more than that really, and a perfectly adjusted organism would be silent.
It so happened that Mrs. Moore and Miss Quested had felt nothing acutely for a fortnight. Ever since Professor Godbole had sung his queer little song, they had lived more or less inside cocoons, and the difference between them was that the elder lady accepted her own apathy, while the younger resented hers. It was Adela’s faith that the whole stream of events is important and interesting, and if she grew bored she blamed herself severely and compelled her lips to utter enthusiasms. This was the only insincerity in a character otherwise sincere, and it was indeed the intellectual protest of her youth. She was particularly vexed now because she was both in India and engaged to be married, which double event should have made every instant sublime.
India was certainly dim this morning, though seen under the auspices of Indians. Her wish had been granted, but too late. She could not get excited over Aziz and his arrangements. She was not the least unhappy or depressed, and the various odd objects that surrounded her—the comic “purdah” carriage, the piles of rugs and bolsters, the rolling melons, the scent of sweet oils, the ladder, the brass-bound box, the sudden irruption of Mahmoud Ali’s butler from the lavatory with tea and poached eggs upon a tray—they were all new and amusing, and led her to comment appropriately, but they wouldn’t bite into her mind. So she tried to find comfort by reflecting that her main interest would henceforward be Ronny.
“What a nice cheerful servant! What a relief after Antony!”
“They startle one rather. A strange place to make tea in,” said Mrs. Moore, who had hoped for a nap.
“I want to sack Antony. His behaviour on the platform has decided me.”
Mrs. Moore thought that Antony’s better self would come to the front at Simla. Miss Quested was to be married at Simla; some cousins, with a house looking straight on to Thibet, had invited her.
“Anyhow, we must get a second servant, because at Simla you will be at the hotel, and I don’t think Ronny’s Baldeo . . .” She loved plans.
“Very well, you get another servant, and I’ll keep Antony with me. I am used to his unappetizing ways. He will see me through the Hot Weather.”
“I don’t believe in the Hot Weather. People like Major Callendar who always talk about it—it’s in the hope of making one feel inexperienced and small, like their everlasting, ‘I’ve been twenty years in this country.’”
“I believe in the Hot Weather, but never did I suppose it would bottle me up as it will.” For owing to the sage leisureliness of Ronny and Adela, they could not be married till May, and consequently Mrs. Moore could not return to England immediately after the wedding, which was what she had hoped to do. By May a barrier of fire would have fallen across India and the adjoining sea, and she would have to remain perched up in the Himalayas waiting for the world to get cooler.
“I won’t be bottled up,” announced the girl. “I’ve no patience with these women here who leave their husbands grilling in the plains. Mrs. McBryde hasn’t stopped down once since she married; she leaves her quite intelligent husband alone half the year, and then’s surprised she’s out of touch with him.”
“She has children, you see.”
“Oh yes, that’s true,” said Miss Quested, disconcerted.
“It is the children who are the first consideration. Until they are grown up, and married off. When that happens one has again the right to live for oneself—in the plains or the hills, as suits.”
“Oh yes, you’re perfectly right. I never thought it out.”
“If one has not become too stupid and old.” She handed her empty cup to the servant.
“My idea now is that my cousins shall find me a servant in Simla, at all events to see me through the wedding, after which Ronny means to reorganize his staff entirely. He does it very well for a bachelor; still, when he is married no doubt various changes will have to be made—his old servants won’t want to take their orders from me, and I don’t blame them.”
Mrs. Moore pushed up the shutters and looked out. She had brought Ronny and Adela together by their mutual wish, but really she could not advise them further. She felt increasingly (vision or nightmare?) that, though people are important, the relations between them are not, and that in particular too much fuss has been made over marriage; centuries of carnal embracement, yet man is no nearer to understanding man. And to-day she felt this with such force that it seemed itself a relationship, itself a person who was trying to take hold of her hand.
“Anything to be seen of the hills?”
“Only various shades of the dark.”
“We can’t be far from the place where my hyena was.” She peered into the timeless twilight. The train crossed a nullah. “Pomper, pomper, pomper,” was the sound that the wheels made as they trundled over the bridge, moving very slowly. A hundred yards on came a second nullah, then a third, suggesting the neighbourhood of higher ground. “Perhaps this is mine; anyhow, the road runs parallel with the railway.” Her accident was a pleasant memory; she felt in her dry, honest way that it had given her a good shake up, and taught her Ronny’s true worth. Then she went back to her plans; plans had been a passion with her from girlhood. Now and then she paid tribute to the present, said how friendly and intelligent Aziz was, ate a guava, couldn’t eat a fried sweet, practised her Urdu on the servant; but her thoughts ever veered to the manageable future, and to the Anglo-Indian life she had decided to endure. And as she appraised it with its adjuncts of Turtons and Burtons, the train accompanied her sentences, “pomper, pomper,” the train half asleep, going nowhere in particular and with no passenger of importance in any of its carriages, the branch-line train, lost on a low embankment between dull fields. Its message—for it had one—avoided her well-equipped mind. Far away behind her, with a shriek that meant business, rushed the Mail, connecting up important towns such as Calcutta and Lahore, where interesting events occur and personalities are developed. She understood that. Unfortunately, India has few important towns. India is the country, fields, fields, then hills, jungle, hills, and more fields. The branch line stops, the road is only practicable for cars to a point, the bullock-carts lumber down the side tracks, paths fray out into the cultivation, and disappear near a splash of red paint. How can the mind take hold of such a country? Generations of invaders have tried, but they remain in exile. The important towns they build are only retreats, their quarrels the malaise of men who cannot find their way home. India knows of their trouble. She knows of the whole world’s trouble, to its uttermost depth. She calls “Come” through her hundred mouths, through objects ridiculous and august. But come to what? She has never defined. She is not a promise, only an appeal.
“I will fetch you from Simla when it’s cool enough. I will unbottle you in fact,” continued the reliable girl. “We then see some of the Mogul stuff—how appalling if we let you miss the Taj!—and then I will see you off at Bombay. Your last glimpse of this country really shall be interesting.” But Mrs. Moore had fallen asleep, exhausted by the early start. She was in rather low health, and ought not to have attempted the expedition, but had pulled herself together in case the pleasure of the others should suffer. Her dreams were of the same texture, but there it was her other children who were wanting something, Stella and Ralph, and she was explaining to them that she could not be in two families at once. When she awoke, Adela had ceased to plan, and leant out of a window, saying, “They’re rather wonderful.”
Astonishing even from the rise of the civil station, here the Marabar were gods to whom earth is a ghost. Kawa Dol was nearest. It shot up in a single slab, on whose summit one rock was poised—if a mass so great can be called one rock. Behind it, recumbent, were the hills that contained the other caves, isolated each from his neighbour by broad channels of the plain. The assemblage, ten in all, shifted a little as the train crept past them, as if observing its arrival.
“I’ld not have missed this for anything,” said the girl, exaggerating her enthusiasm. “Look, the sun’s rising—this’ll be absolutely magnificent—come quickly—look. I wouldn’t have missed this for anything. We should never have seen it if we’d stuck to the Turtons and their eternal elephants.”
As she spoke, the sky to the left turned angry orange. Colour throbbed and mounted behind a pattern of trees, grew in intensity, was yet brighter, incredibly brighter, strained from without against the globe of the air. They awaited the miracle. But at the supreme moment, when night should have died and day lived, nothing occurred. It was as if virtue had failed in the celestial fount. The hues in the east decayed, the hills seemed dimmer though in fact better lit, and a profound disappointment entered with the morning breeze. Why, when the chamber was prepared, did the bridegroom not enter with trumpets and shawms, as humanity expects? The sun rose without splendour. He was presently observed trailing yellowish behind the trees, or against insipid sky, and touching the bodies already at work in the fields.
“Ah, that must be the false dawn—isn’t it caused by dust in the upper layers of the atmosphere that couldn’t fall down during the night? I think Mr. McBryde said so. Well, I must admit that England has it as regards sunrises. Do you remember Grasmere?”
“Ah, dearest Grasmere!” Its little lakes and mountains were beloved by them all. Romantic yet manageable, it sprang from a kindlier planet. Here an untidy plain stretched to the knees of the Marabar.
“Good morning, good morning, put on your topis,” shouted Aziz from farther down the train. “Put on your topis at once, the early sun is highly dangerous for heads. I speak as a doctor.”
“Good morning, good morning, put on your own.”
“Not for my thick head,” he laughed, banging it and holding up pads of his hair.
“Nice creature he is,” murmured Adela.
“Listen—Mohammed Latif says ‘Good morning’ next.” Various pointless jests.
“Dr. Aziz, what’s happened to your hills? The train has forgotten to stop.”
“Perhaps it is a circular train and goes back to Chandrapore without a break. Who knows!”
Having wandered off into the plain for a mile, the train slowed up against an elephant. There was a platform too, but it shrivelled into insignificance. An elephant, waving her painted forehead at the morn! “Oh, what a surprise!” called the ladies politely. Aziz said nothing, but he nearly burst with pride and relief. The elephant was the one grand feature of the picnic, and God alone knew what he had gone through to obtain her. Semi-official, she was best approached through the Nawab Bahadur, who was best approached through Nureddin, but he never answered letters, but his mother had great influence with him and was a friend of Hamidullah Begum’s, who had been excessively kind and had promised to call on her provided the broken shutter of the purdah carriage came back soon enough from Calcutta. That an elephant should depend from so long and so slender a string filled Aziz with content, and with humorous appreciation of the East, where the friends of friends are a reality, where everything gets done sometime, and sooner or later every one gets his share of happiness. And Mohammed Latif was likewise content, because two of the guests had missed the train, and consequently he could ride on the howdah instead of following in a cart, and the servants were content because an elephant increased their self-esteem, and they tumbled out the luggage into the dust with shouts and bangs, issuing orders to one another, and convulsed with goodwill.
“It takes an hour to get there, an hour to get back, and two hours for the caves, which we will call three,” said Aziz, smiling charmingly. There was suddenly something regal about him. “The train back is at eleven-thirty, and you will be sitting down to your tiffin in Chandrapore with Mr. Heaslop at exactly your usual hour, namely, one-fifteen. I know everything about you. Four hours—quite a small expedition—and an hour extra for misfortunes, which occur somewhat frequently among my people. My idea is to plan everything without consulting you; but you, Mrs. Moore, or Miss Quested, you are at any moment to make alterations if you wish, even if it means giving up the caves. Do you agree? Then mount this wild animal.”
The elephant had knelt, grey and isolated, like another hill. They climbed up the ladder, and he mounted shikar fashion, treading first on the sharp edge of the heel and then into the looped-up tail. When Mohammed Latif followed him, the servant who held the end of the tail let go of it according to previous instructions, so that the poor relative slipped and had to cling to the netting over the buttocks. It was a little piece of Court buffoonery, and distressed only the ladies, whom it was intended to divert. Both of them disliked practical jokes. Then the beast rose in two shattering movements, and poised them ten feet above the plain. Immediately below was the scurf of life that an elephant always collects round its feet—villagers, naked babies. The servants flung crockery into tongas. Hassan annexed the stallion intended for Aziz, and defied Mahmoud Ali’s man from its altitude. The Brahman who had been hired to cook for Professor Godbole was planted under an acacia tree, to await their return. The train, also hoping to return, wobbled away through the fields, turning its head this way and that like a centipede. And the only other movement to be seen was a movement as of antennae, really the counterpoises of the wells which rose and fell on their pivots of mud all over the plain and dispersed a feeble flow of water. The scene was agreeable rather than not in the mild morning air, but there was little colour in it, and no vitality.
As the elephant moved towards the hills (the pale sun had by this time saluted them to the base, and pencilled shadows down their creases) a new quality occurred, a spiritual silence which invaded more senses than the ear. Life went on as usual, but had no consequences, that is to say, sounds did not echo or thoughts develop. Everything seemed cut off at its root, and therefore infected with illusion. For instance, there were some mounds by the edge of the track, low, serrated, and touched with whitewash. What were these mounds—graves, breasts of the goddess Parvati? The villagers beneath gave both replies. Again, there was a confusion about a snake which was never cleared up. Miss Quested saw a thin, dark object reared on end at the farther side of a watercourse, and said, “A snake!” The villagers agreed, and Aziz explained: yes, a black cobra, very venomous, who had reared himself up to watch the passing of the elephant, But when she looked through Ronny’s field-glasses, she found it wasn’t a snake, but the withered and twisted stump of a toddy-palm. So she said, “It isn’t a snake.” The villagers contradicted her. She had put the word into their minds, and they refused to abandon it. Aziz admitted that it looked like a tree through the glasses, but insisted that it was a black cobra really, and improvised some rubbish about protective mimicry. Nothing was explained, and yet there was no romance. Films of heat, radiated from the Kawa Dol precipices, increased the confusion. They came at irregular intervals and moved capriciously. A patch of field would jump as if it was being fried, and then lie quiet. As they drew closer the radiation stopped.
The elephant walked straight at the Kawa Dol as if she would knock for admission with her forehead, then swerved, and followed a path round its base. The stones plunged straight into the earth, like cliffs into the sea, and while Miss Quested was remarking on this, and saying that it was striking, the plain quietly disappeared, peeled off, so to speak, and nothing was to be seen on either side but the granite, very dead and quiet. The sky dominated as usual, but seemed unhealthily near, adhering like a ceiling to the summits of the precipices. It was as if the contents of the corridor had never been changed. Occupied by his own munificence, Aziz noticed nothing. His guests noticed a little. They did not feel that it was an attractive place or quite worth visiting, and wished it could have turned into some Mohammedan object, such as a mosque, which their host would have appreciated and explained. His ignorance became evident, and was really rather a drawback. In spite of his gay, confident talk, he had no notion how to treat this particular aspect of India; he was lost in it without Professor Godbole, like themselves.
The corridor narrowed, then widened into a sort of tray. Here, more or less, was their goal. A ruined tank held a little water which would do for the animals, and close above the mud was punched a black hole—the first of the caves. Three hills encircled the tray. Two of them pumped out heat busily, but the third was in shadow, and here they camped.
“A horrid, stuffy place really,” murmured Mrs. Moore to herself.
“How quick your servants are!” Miss Quested exclaimed. For a cloth had already been laid, with a vase of artificial flowers in its centre, and Mahmoud Ali’s butler offered them poached eggs and tea for the second time.
“I thought we would eat this before our caves, and breakfast after.”
“Isn’t this breakfast?”
“This breakfast? Did you think I should treat you so strangely?” He had been warned that English people never stop eating, and that he had better nourish them every two hours until a solid meal was ready.
“How very well it is all arranged.”
“That you shall tell me when I return to Chandrapore. Whatever disgraces I bring upon myself, you remain my guests.” He spoke gravely now. They were dependent on him for a few hours, and he felt grateful to them for placing themselves in such a position. All was well so far; the elephant held a fresh cut bough to her lips, the tonga shafts stuck up into the air, the kitchen-boy peeled potatoes, Hassan shouted, and Mohammed Latif stood as he ought, with a peeled switch in his hand. The expedition was a success, and it was Indian; an obscure young man had been allowed to show courtesy to visitors from another country, which is what all Indians long to do—even cynics like Mahmoud Ali—but they never have the chance. Hospitality had been achieved, they were “his” guests; his honour was involved in their happiness, and any discomfort they endured would tear his own soul.
Like most Orientals, Aziz overrated hospitality, mistaking it for intimacy, and not seeing that it is tainted with the sense of possession. It was only when Mrs. Moore or Fielding was near him that he saw further, and knew that it is more blessed to receive than to give. These two had strange and beautiful effects on him—they were his friends, his for ever, and he theirs for ever; he loved them so much that giving and receiving became one. He loved them even better than the Hamidullahs, because he had surmounted obstacles to meet them, and this stimulates a generous mind. Their images remained somewhere in his soul up to his dying day, permanent additions. He looked at her now as she sat on a deck-chair, sipping his tea, and had for a moment a joy that held the seeds of its own decay, for it would lead him to think, “Oh, what more can I do for her?” and so back to the dull round of hospitality. The black bullets of his eyes filled with soft expressive light, and he said, “Do you ever remember our mosque, Mrs. Moore?”
“I do. I do,” she said, suddenly vital and young.
“And how rough and rude I was, and how good you were.”
“And how happy we both were.”
“Friendships last longest that begin like that, I think. Shall I ever entertain your other children?”
“Do you know about the others? She will never talk about them to me,” said Miss Quested, unintentionally breaking a spell.
“Ralph and Stella, yes, I know everything about them. But we must not forget to visit our caves. One of the dreams of my life is accomplished in having you both here as my guests. You cannot imagine how you have honoured me. I feel like the Emperor Babur.”
“Why like him?” she enquired, rising.
“Because my ancestors came down with him from Afghanistan. They joined him at Herat. He also had often no more elephants than one, none sometimes, but he never ceased showing hospitality. When he fought or hunted or ran away, he would always stop for a time among hills, just like us; he would never let go of hospitality and pleasure, and if there was only a little food, he would have it arranged nicely, and if only one musical instrument, he would compel it to play a beautiful tune. I take him as my ideal. He is the poor gentleman, and he became a great king.”
“I thought another Emperor is your favourite—I forget the name—you mentioned him at Mr. Fielding’s: what my book calls Aurangzebe.”
“Alamgir? Oh yes, he was of course the more pious. But Babur—never in his whole life did he betray a friend, so I can only think of him this morning. And you know how he died? He laid down his life for his son. A death far more difficult than battle. They were caught in the heat. They should have gone back to Kabul for the bad weather, but could not for reasons of state, and at Agra Humayun fell sick. Babur walked round the bed three times, and said, ‘I have borne it away,’ and he did bear it away; the fever left his son and came to him instead, and he died. That is why I prefer Babur to Alamgir. I ought not to do so, but I do. However, I mustn’t delay you. I see you are ready to start.”
“Not at all,” she said, sitting down by Mrs. Moore again. “We enjoy talk like this very much.” For at last he was talking about what he knew and felt, talking as he had in Fielding’s garden-house; he was again the Oriental guide whom they appreciated.
“I always enjoy conversing about the Moguls. It is the chief pleasure I know. You see, those first six emperors were all most wonderful men, and as soon as one of them is mentioned, no matter which, I forget everything else in the world except the other five. You could not find six such kings in all the countries of the earth, not, I mean, coming one after the other—father, son.”
“Tell us something about Akbar.”
“Ah, you have heard the name of Akbar. Good. Hamidullah—whom you shall meet—will tell you that Akbar is the greatest of all. I say, ‘Yes, Akbar is very wonderful, but half a Hindu; he was not a true Moslem, which makes Hamidullah cry, ‘No more was Babur, he drank wine.’ But Babur always repented afterwards, which makes the entire difference, and Akbar never repented of the new religion he invented instead of the Holy Koran.”
“But wasn’t Akbar’s new religion very fine? It was to embrace the whole of India.”
“Miss Quested, fine but foolish. You keep your religion, I mine. That is the best. Nothing embraces the whole of India, nothing, nothing, and that was Akbar’s mistake.”
“Oh, do you feel that, Dr. Aziz?” she said thoughtfully. “I hope you’re not right. There will have to be something universal in this country—I don’t say religion, for I’m not religious, but something, or how else are barriers to be broken down?”
She was only recommending the universal brotherhood he sometimes dreamed of, but as soon as it was put into prose it became untrue.
“Take my own case,” she continued—it was indeed her own case that had animated her. “I don’t know whether you happen to have heard, but I’m going to marry Mr. Heaslop.”
“On which my heartiest congratulations.”
“Mrs. Moore, may I put our difficulty to Dr. Aziz—I mean our Anglo-Indian one?”
“It is your difficulty, not mine, my dear.”
“Ah, that’s true. Well, by marrying Mr. Heaslop, I shall become what is known as an Anglo-Indian.”
He held up his hand in protest. “Impossible. Take back such a terrible remark.”
“But I shall; it’s inevitable. I can’t avoid the label. What I do hope to avoid is the mentality. Women like——” She stopped, not quite liking to mention names; she would boldly have said “Mrs. Turton and Mrs. Callendar” a fortnight ago. “Some women are so—well, ungenerous and snobby about Indians, and I should feel too ashamed for words if I turned like them, but—and here’s my difficulty—there’s nothing special about me, nothing specially good or strong, which will help me to resist my environment and avoid becoming like them. I’ve most lamentable defects. That’s why I want Akbar’s ‘universal religion’ or the equivalent to keep me decent and sensible. Do you see what I mean?”
Her remarks pleased him, but his mind shut up tight because she had alluded to her marriage. He was not going to be mixed up in that side of things. “You are certain to be happy with any relative of Mrs. Moore’s,” he said with a formal bow.
“Oh, my happiness—that’s quite another problem. I want to consult you about this Anglo-Indian difficulty. Can you give me any advice?”
“You are absolutely unlike the others, I assure you. You will never be rude to my people.”
“I am told we all get rude after a year.”
“Then you are told a lie,” he flashed, for she had spoken the truth and it touched him on the raw; it was itself an insult in these particular circumstances. He recovered himself at once and laughed, but her error broke up their conversation—their civilization it had almost been—which scattered like the petals of a desert flower, and left them in the middle of the hills. “Come along,” he said, holding out a hand to each. They got up a little reluctantly, and addressed themselves to sightseeing.
The first cave was tolerably convenient. They skirted the puddle of water, and then climbed up over some unattractive stones, the sun crashing on their backs. Bending their heads, they disappeared one by one into the interior of the hills. The small black hole gaped where their varied forms and colours had momentarily functioned. They were sucked in like water down a drain. Bland and bald rose the precipices; bland and glutinous the sky that connected the precipices; solid and white, a Brahminy kite flapped between the rocks with a clumsiness that seemed intentional. Before man, with his itch for the seemly, had been born, the planet must have looked thus. The kite flapped away. . . . Before birds, perhaps. . . . And then the hole belched and humanity returned.
A Marabar cave had been horrid as far as Mrs. Moore was concerned, for she had nearly fainted in it, and had some difficulty in preventing herself from saying so as soon as she got into the air again. It was natural enough: she had always suffered from faintness, and the cave had become too full, because all their retinue followed them. Crammed with villagers and servants, the circular chamber began to smell. She lost Aziz and Adela in the dark, didn’t know who touched her, couldn’t breathe, and some vile naked thing struck her face and settled on her mouth like a pad. She tried to regain the entrance tunnel, but an influx of villagers swept her back. She hit her head. For an instant she went mad, hitting and gasping like a fanatic. For not only did the crush and stench alarm her; there was also a terrifying echo.
Professor Godbole had never mentioned an echo; it never impressed him, perhaps. There are some exquisite echoes in India; there is the whisper round the dome at Bijapur; there are the long, solid sentences that voyage through the air at Mandu, and return unbroken to their creator. The echo in a Marabar cave is not like these, it is entirely devoid of distinction. Whatever is said, the same monotonous noise replies, and quivers up and down the walls until it is absorbed into the roof. “Boum” is the sound as far as the human alphabet can express it, or “bou-oum,” or “ou-boum,”—utterly dull. Hope, politeness, the blowing of a nose, the squeak of a boot, all produce “boum.” Even the striking of a match starts a little worm coiling, which is too small to complete a circle but is eternally watchful. And if several people talk at once, an overlapping howling noise begins, echoes generate echoes, and the cave is stuffed with a snake composed of small snakes, which writhe independently.
After Mrs. Moore all the others poured out. She had given the signal for the reflux. Aziz and Adela both emerged smiling and she did not want him to think his treat was a failure, so smiled too. As each person emerged she looked for a villain, but none was there, and she realized that she had been among the mildest individuals, whose only desire was to honour her, and that the naked pad was a poor little baby, astride its mother’s hip. Nothing evil had been in the cave, but she had not enjoyed herself; no, she had not enjoyed herself, and she decided not to visit a second one.
“Did you see the reflection of his match—rather pretty?” asked Adela.
“I forget . . .”
“But he says this isn’t a good cave, the best are on the Kawa Dol.”
“I don’t think I shall go on to there. I dislike climbing.”
“Very well, let’s sit down again in the shade until breakfast’s ready.”
“Ah, but that’ll disappoint him so; he has taken such trouble. You should go on; you don’t mind.”
“Perhaps I ought to,” said the girl, indifferent to what she did, but desirous of being amiable.
The servants, etc., were scrambling back to the camp, pursued by grave censures from Mohammed Latif. Aziz came to help the guests over the rocks. He was at the summit of his powers, vigorous and humble, too sure of himself to resent criticism, and he was sincerely pleased when he heard they were altering his plans. “Certainly, Miss Quested, so you and I will go together, and leave Mrs. Moore here, and we will not be long, yet we will not hurry, because we know that will be her wish.”
“Quite right. I’m sorry not to come too, but I’m a poor walker.”
“Dear Mrs. Moore, what does anything matter so long as you are my guests? I am very glad you are not coming, which sounds strange, but you are treating me with true frankness, as a friend.”
“Yes, I am your friend,” she said, laying her hand on his sleeve, and thinking, despite her fatigue, how very charming, how very good, he was, and how deeply she desired his happiness. “So may I make another suggestion? Don’t let so many people come with you this time. I think you may find it more convenient.”
“Exactly, exactly,” he cried, and, rushing to the other extreme, forbade all except one guide to accompany Miss Quested and him to the Kawa Dol. “Is that all right?” he enquired.
“Quite right, now enjoy yourselves, and when you come back tell me all about it.” And she sank into the deck-chair.
If they reached the big pocket of caves, they would be away nearly an hour. She took out her writing-pad, and began, “Dear Stella, Dear Ralph,” then stopped, and looked at the queer valley and their feeble invasion of it. Even the elephant had become a nobody. Her eye rose from it to the entrance tunnel. No, she did not wish to repeat that experience. The more she thought over it, the more disagreeable and frightening it became. She minded it much more now than at the time. The crush and the smells she could forget, but the echo began in some indescribable way to undermine her hold on life. Coming at a moment when she chanced to be fatigued, it had managed to murmur, “Pathos, piety, courage—they exist, but are identical, and so is filth. Everything exists, nothing has value.” If one had spoken vileness in that place, or quoted lofty poetry, the comment would have been the same—“ou-boum.” If one had spoken with the tongues of angels and pleaded for all the unhappiness and misunderstanding in the world, past, present, and to come, for all the misery men must undergo whatever their opinion and position, and however much they dodge or bluff—it would amount to the same, the serpent would descend and return to the ceiling. Devils are of the North, and poems can be written about them, but no one could romanticize the Marabar because it robbed infinity and eternity of their vastness, the only quality that accommodates them to mankind.
She tried to go on with her letter, reminding herself that she was only an elderly woman who had got up too early in the morning and journeyed too far, that the despair creeping over her was merely her despair, her personal weakness, and that even if she got a sunstroke and went mad the rest of the world would go on. But suddenly, at the edge of her mind, Religion appeared, poor little talkative Christianity, and she knew that all its divine words from “Let there be Light” to “It is finished” only amounted to “boum.” Then she was terrified over an area larger than usual; the universe, never comprehensible to her intellect, offered no repose to her soul, the mood of the last two months took definite form at last, and she realized that she didn’t want to write to her children, didn’t want to communicate with anyone, not even with God. She sat motionless with horror, and, when old Mohammed Latif came up to her, thought he would notice a difference. For a time she thought, “I am going to be ill,” to comfort herself, then she surrendered to the vision. She lost all interest, even in Aziz, and the affectionate and sincere words that she had spoken to him seemed no longer hers but the air’s.


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