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CHAPTER XVIII
 Mr. McBryde, the District Superintendent of Police, was the most reflective and best educated of the Chandrapore officials. He had read and thought a good deal, and, owing to a somewhat unhappy marriage, had evolved a complete philosophy of life. There was much of the cynic about him, but nothing of the bully; he never lost his temper or grew rough, and he received Aziz with courtesy, was almost reassuring. “I have to detain you until you get bail,” he said, “but no doubt your friends will be applying for it, and of course they will be allowed to visit you, under regulations. I am given certain information, and have to act on it—I’m not your judge.” Aziz was led off weeping. Mr. McBryde was shocked at his downfall, but no Indian ever surprised him, because he had a theory about climatic zones. The theory ran: “All unfortunate natives are criminals at heart, for the simple reason that they live south of latitude 30. They are not to blame, they have not a dog’s chance—we should be like them if we settled here.” Born at Karachi, he seemed to contradict his theory, and would sometimes admit as much with a sad, quiet smile.
“Another of them found out,” he thought, as he set to work to draft his statement to the Magistrate.
He was interrupted by the arrival of Fielding.
He imparted all he knew without reservations. Miss Derek had herself driven in the Mudkul car about an hour ago, she and Miss Quested both in a terrible state. They had gone straight to his bungalow where he happened to be, and there and then he had taken down the charge and arranged for the arrest at the railway station.
“What is the charge, precisely?”
“That he followed her into the cave and made insulting advances. She hit at him with her field-glasses; he pulled at them and the strap broke, and that is how she got away. When we searched him just now, they were in his pocket.”
“Oh no, oh no, no; it’ll be cleared up in five minutes,” he cried again.
“Have a look at them.”
The strap had been newly broken, the eye-piece was jammed. The logic of evidence said “Guilty.”
“Did she say any more?”
“There was an echo that appears to have frightened her. Did you go into those caves?”
“I saw one of them. There was an echo. Did it get on her nerves?”
“I couldn’t worry her overmuch with questions. She’ll have plenty to go through in the witness-box. They don’t bear thinking about, these next weeks. I wish the Marabar Hills and all they contain were at the bottom of the sea. Evening after evening one saw them from the club, and they were just a harmless name. . . . Yes, we start already.” For a visiting card was brought; Vakil Mahmoud Ali, legal adviser to the prisoner, asked to be allowed to see him. McBryde sighed, gave permission, and continued: “I heard some more from Miss Derek—she is an old friend of us both and talks freely; well—her account is that you went off to locate the camp, and almost at once she heard stones falling on the Kawa Dol and saw Miss Quested running straight down the face of a precipice. Well. She climbed up a sort of gully to her, and found her practically done for—her helmet off——”
“Was a guide not with her?” interrupted Fielding.
“No. She had got among some cactuses. Miss Derek saved her life coming just then—she was beginning to fling herself about. She helped her down to the car. Miss Quested couldn’t stand the Indian driver, cried, ‘Keep him away’—and it was that that put our friend on the track of what had happened. They made straight for our bungalow, and are there now. That’s the story as far as I know it yet. She sent the driver to join you. I think she behaved with great sense.”
“I suppose there’s no possibility of my seeing Miss Quested?” he asked suddenly.
“I hardly think that would do. Surely.”
“I was afraid you’ld say that. I should very much like to.”
“She is in no state to see anyone. Besides, you don’t know her well.”
“Hardly at all. . . . But you see I believe she’s under some hideous delusion, and that that wretched boy is innocent.”
The policeman started in surprise, and a shadow passed over his face, for he could not bear his dispositions to be upset. “I had no idea that was in your mind,” he said, and looked for support at the signed deposition, which lay before him.
“Those field-glasses upset me for a minute, but I’ve thought since: it’s impossible that, having attempted to assault her, he would put her glasses into his pocket.”
“Quite possible, I’m afraid; when an Indian goes bad, he goes not only very bad, but very queer.”
“I don’t follow.”
“How should you? When you think of crime you think of English crime. The psychology here is different. I dare say you’ll tell me next that he was quite normal when he came down from the hill to greet you. No reason he should not be. Read any of the Mutiny records; which, rather than the Bhagavad Gita, should be your Bible in this country. Though I’m not sure that the one and the other are not closely connected. Am I not being beastly? But, you see, Fielding, as I’ve said to you once before, you’re a schoolmaster, and consequently you come across these people at their best. That’s what puts you wrong. They can be charming as boys. But I know them as they really are, after they have developed into men. Look at this, for instance.” He held up Aziz’ pocket-case. “I am going through the contents. They are not edifying. Here is a letter from a friend who apparently keeps a brothel.”
“I don’t want to hear his private letters.”
“It’ll have to be quoted in Court, as bearing on his morals. He was fixing up to see women at Calcutta.”
“Oh, that’ll do, that’ll do.”
McBryde stopped, naively puzzled. It was obvious to him that any two sahibs ought to pool all they knew about any Indian, and he could not think where the objection came in.
“I dare say you have the right to throw stones at a young man for doing that, but I haven’t. I did the same at his age.”
So had the Superintendent of Police, but he considered that the conversation had taken a turn that was undesirable. He did not like Fielding’s next remark either.
“Miss Quested really cannot be seen? You do know that for a certainty?”
“You have never explained to me what’s in your mind here. Why on earth do you want to see her?”
“On the off chance of her recanting before you send in that report and he’s committed for trial, and the whole thing goes to blazes. Old man, don’t argue about this, but do of your goodness just ring up your wife or Miss Derek and enquire. It’ll cost you nothing.”
“It’s no use ringing up them,” he replied, stretching out for the telephone. “Callendar settles a question like that, of course. You haven’t grasped that she’s seriously ill.”
“He’s sure to refuse, it’s all he exists for,” said the other desperately.
The expected answer came back: the Major would not hear of the patient being troubled.
“I only wanted to ask her whether she is certain, dead certain, that it was Aziz who followed her into the cave.”
“Possibly my wife might ask her that much.”
“But I wanted to ask her. I want someone who believes in him to ask her.”
“What difference does that make?”
“She is among people who disbelieve in Indians.”
“Well, she tells her own story, doesn’t she?”
“I know, but she tells it to you.”
McBryde raised his eyebrows, murmuring: “A bit too finespun. Anyhow, Callendar won’t hear of you seeing her. I’m sorry to say he gave a bad account just now. He says that she is by no means out of danger.”
They were silent. Another card was brought into the office—Hamidullah’s. The opposite army was gathering.
“I must put this report through now, Fielding.”
“I wish you wouldn’t.”
“How can I not?”
“I feel that things are rather unsatisfactory as well as most disastrous. We are heading for a most awful smash. I can see your prisoner, I suppose.”
He hesitated. “His own people seem in touch with him all right.”
“Well, when he’s done with them.”
“I wouldn’t keep you waiting; good heavens, you take precedence of any Indian visitor, of course. I meant what’s the good. Why mix yourself up with pitch?”
“I say he’s innocent——”
“Innocence or guilt, why mix yourself up? What’s the good?”
“Oh, good, good,” he cried, feeling that every earth was being stopped. “One’s got to breathe occasionally, at least I have. I mayn’t see her, and now I mayn’t see him. I promised him to come up here with him to you, but Turton called me off before I could get two steps.”
“Sort of all-white thing the Burra Sahib would do,” he muttered sentimentally. And trying not to sound patronizing, he stretched his hand over the table, and said: “We shall all have to hang together, old man, I’m afraid. I’m your junior in years, I know, but very much your senior in service; you don’t happen to know this poisonous country as well as I do, and you must take it from me that the general situation is going to be nasty at Chandrapore during the next few weeks, very nasty indeed.”
“So I have just told you.”
“But at a time like this there’s no room for—well—personal views. The man who doesn’t toe the line is lost.”
“I see what you mean.”
“No, you don’t see entirely. He not only loses himself, he weakens his friends. If you leave the line, you leave a gap in the line. These jackals”—he pointed at the lawyers’ cards—“are looking with all their eyes for a gap.”
“Can I visit Aziz?” was his answer.
“No.” Now that he knew of Turton’s attitude, the policeman had no doubts. “You may see him on a magistrate’s order, but on my own responsibility I don’t feel justified. It might lead to more complications.”
He paused, reflecting that if he had been either ten years younger or ten years longer in India, he would have responded to McBryde’s appeal. The bit between his teeth, he then said, “To whom do I apply for an order?”
“City Magistrate.”
“That sounds comfortable!”
“Yes, one can’t very well worry poor Heaslop.”
More “evidence” appeared at this moment—the table-drawer from Aziz’ bungalow, borne with triumph in a corporal’s arms.
“Photographs of women. Ah!”
“That’s his wife,” said Fielding, wincing.
“How do you know that?”
“He told me.”
McBryde gave a faint, incredulous smile, and started rummaging in the drawer. His face became inquisitive and slightly bestial. “Wife indeed, I know those wives!” he was thinking. Aloud he said: “Well, you must trot off now, old man, and the Lord help us, the Lord help us all. . .”
As if his prayer had been heard, there was a sudden rackety-dacket on a temple bell.


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