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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » A Passage to India » CHAPTER XVII
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 The Collector had watched the arrest from the interior of the waiting-room, and throwing open its perforated doors of zinc, he was now revealed like a god in a shrine. When Fielding entered the doors clapped to, and were guarded by a servant, while a punkah, to mark the importance of the moment, flapped dirty petticoats over their heads. The Collector could not speak at first. His face was white, fanatical, and rather beautiful—the expression that all English faces were to wear at Chandrapore for many days. Always brave and unselfish, he was now fused by some white and generous heat; he would have killed himself, obviously, if he had thought it right to do so. He spoke at last. “The worst thing in my whole career has happened,” he said. “Miss Quested has been insulted in one of the Marabar caves.”
“Oh no, oh no, no,” gasped the other, feeling sickish.
“She escaped—by God’s grace.”
“Oh no, no, but not Aziz . . . not Aziz . . .”
He nodded.
“Absolutely impossible, grotesque.”
“I called you to preserve you from the odium that would attach to you if you were seen accompanying him to the Police Station,” said Turton, paying no attention to his protest, indeed scarcely hearing it.
He repeated “Oh no,” like a fool. He couldn’t frame other words. He felt that a mass of madness had arisen and tried to overwhelm them all; it had to be shoved back into its pit somehow, and he didn’t know how to do it, because he did not understand madness: he had always gone about sensibly and quietly until a difficulty came right. “Who lodges this infamous charge?” he asked, pulling himself together.
“Miss Derek and—the victim herself. . . .” He nearly broke down, unable to repeat the girl’s name.
“Miss Quested herself definitely accuses him of——”
He nodded and turned his face away.
“Then she’s mad.”
“I cannot pass that last remark,” said the Collector, waking up to the knowledge that they differed, and trembling with fury. “You will withdraw it instantly. It is the type of remark you have permitted yourself to make ever since you came to Chandrapore.”
“I’m excessively sorry, sir; I certainly withdraw it unconditionally.” For the man was half mad himself.
“Pray, Mr. Fielding, what induced you to speak to me in such a tone?”
“The news gave me a very great shock, so I must ask you to forgive me. I cannot believe that Dr. Aziz is guilty.”
He slammed his hand on the table. “That—that is a repetition of your insult in an aggravated form.”
“If I may venture to say so, no,” said Fielding, also going white, but sticking to his point. “I make no reflection on the good faith of the two ladies, but the charge they are bringing against Aziz rests upon some mistake, and five minutes will clear it up. The man’s manner is perfectly natural; besides, I know him to be incapable of infamy.”
“It does indeed rest upon a mistake,” came the thin, biting voice of the other. “It does indeed. I have had twenty-five years’ experience of this country”—he paused, and “twenty-five years” seemed to fill the waiting-room with their staleness and ungenerosity—“and during those twenty-five years I have never known anything but disaster result when English people and Indians attempt to be intimate socially. Intercourse, yes. Courtesy, by all means. Intimacy—never, never. The whole weight of my authority is against it. I have been in charge at Chandrapore for six years, and if everything has gone smoothly, if there has been mutual respect and esteem, it is because both peoples kept to this simple rule. New-comers set our traditions aside, and in an instant what you see happens, the work of years is undone and the good name of my District ruined for a generation. I—I—can’t see the end of this day’s work, Mr. Fielding. You, who are imbued with modern ideas—no doubt you can. I wish I had never lived to see its beginning, I know that. It is the end of me. That a lady, that a young lady engaged to my most valued subordinate—that she—an English girl fresh from England—that I should have lived——”
Involved in his own emotions, he broke down. What he had said was both dignified and pathetic, but had it anything to do with Aziz? Nothing at all, if Fielding was right. It is impossible to regard a tragedy from two points of view, and whereas Turton had decided to avenge the girl, he hoped to save the man. He wanted to get away and talk to McBryde, who had always been friendly to him, was on the whole sensible, and could, anyhow, be trusted to keep cool.
“I came down particularly on your account—while poor Heaslop got his mother away. I regarded it as the most friendly thing I could do. I meant to tell you that there will be an informal meeting at the club this evening to discuss the situation, but I am doubtful whether you will care to come. Your visits there are always infrequent.”
“I shall certainly come, sir, and I am most grateful to you for all the trouble you have taken over me. May I venture to ask—where Miss Quested is.”
He replied with a gesture; she was ill.
“Worse and worse, appalling,” he said feelingly.
But the Collector looked at him sternly, because he was keeping his head. He had not gone mad at the phrase “an English girl fresh from England,” he had not rallied to the banner of race. He was still after facts, though the herd had decided on emotion. Nothing enrages Anglo-India more than the lantern of reason if it is exhibited for one moment after its extinction is decreed. All over Chandrapore that day the Europeans were putting aside their normal personalities and sinking themselves in their community. Pity, wrath, heroism, filled them, but the power of putting two and two together was annihilated.
Terminating the interview, the Collector walked on to the platform. The confusion there was revolting. A chuprassi of Ronny’s had been told to bring up some trifles belonging to the ladies, and was appropriating for himself various articles to which he had no right; he was a camp follower of the angry English. Mohammed Latif made no attempt to resist him. Hassan flung off his turban, and wept. All the comforts that had been provided so liberally were rolled about and wasted in the sun. The Collector took in the situation at a glance, and his sense of justice functioned though he was insane with rage. He spoke the necessary word, and the looting stopped. Then he drove off to his bungalow and gave rein to his passions again. When he saw the coolies asleep in the ditches or the shopkeepers rising to salute him on their little platforms, he said to himself: “I know what you’re like at last; you shall pay for this, you shall squeal.”


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