小说搜索     点击排行榜   最新入库
首页 » 英文短篇小说 » A Passage to India » CHAPTER XXIV
选择底色: 选择字号:【大】【中】【小】
CHAPTER XXIV
 Making sudden changes of gear, the heat accelerated its advance after Mrs. Moore’s departure until existence had to be endured and crime punished with the thermometer at a hundred and twelve. Electric fans hummed and spat, water splashed on to screens, ice clinked, and outside these defences, between a greyish sky and a yellowish earth, clouds of dust moved hesitatingly. In Europe life retreats out of the cold, and exquisite fireside myths have resulted—Balder, Persephone—but here the retreat is from the source of life, the treacherous sun, and no poetry adorns it because disillusionment cannot be beautiful. Men yearn for poetry though they may not confess it; they desire that joy shall be graceful and sorrow august and infinity have a form, and India fails to accommodate them. The annual helter-skelter of April, when irritability and lust spread like a canker, is one of her comments on the orderly hopes of humanity. Fish manage better; fish, as the tanks dry, wriggle into the mud and wait for the rains to uncake them. But men try to be harmonious all the year round, and the results are occasionally disastrous. The triumphant machine of civilization may suddenly hitch and be immobilized into a car of stone, and at such moments the destiny of the English seems to resemble their predecessors’, who also entered the country with intent to refashion it, but were in the end worked into its pattern and covered with its dust.
Adela, after years of intellectualism, had resumed her morning kneel to Christianity. There seemed no harm in it, it was the shortest and easiest cut to the unseen, and she could tack her troubles on to it. Just as the Hindu clerks asked Lakshmi for an increase in pay, so did she implore Jehovah for a favourable verdict. God who saves the King will surely support the police. Her deity returned a consoling reply, but the touch of her hands on her face started prickly heat, and she seemed to swallow and expectorate the same insipid clot of air that had weighed on her lungs all the night. Also the voice of Mrs. Turton disturbed her. “Are you ready, young lady?” it pealed from the next room.
“Half a minute,” she murmured. The Turtons had received her after Mrs. Moore left. Their kindness was incredible, but it was her position not her character that moved them; she was the English girl who had had the terrible experience, and for whom too much could not be done. No one, except Ronny, had any idea of what passed in her mind, and he only dimly, for where there is officialism every human relationship suffers. In her sadness she said to him, “I bring you nothing but trouble; I was right on the Maidan, we had better just be friends,” but he protested, for the more she suffered the more highly he valued her. Did she love him? This question was somehow draggled up with the Marabar, it had been in her mind as she entered the fatal cave. Was she capable of loving anyone?
“Miss Quested, Adela, what d’ye call yourself, it’s half-past seven; we ought to think of starting for that Court when you feel inclined.”
“She’s saying her prayers,” came the Collector’s voice.
“Sorry, my dear; take your time. . . . Was your chhota hazri all right?”
“I can’t eat; might I have a little brandy?” she asked, deserting Jehovah.
When it was brought, she shuddered, and said she was ready to go.
“Drink it up; not a bad notion, a peg.”
“I don’t think it’ll really help me, Burra Sahib.”
“You sent brandy down to the Court, didn’t you, Mary?”
“I should think I did, champagne too.”
“I’ll thank you this evening, I’m all to pieces now,” said the girl, forming each syllable carefully as if her trouble would diminish if it were accurately defined. She was afraid of reticence, in case something that she herself did not perceive took shape beneath it, and she had rehearsed with Mr. McBryde in an odd, mincing way her terrible adventure in the cave, how the man had never actually touched her but dragged her about, and so on. Her aim this morning was to announce, meticulously, that the strain was appalling, and she would probably break down under Mr. Amritrao’s cross-examination and disgrace her friends. “My echo has come back again badly,” she told them.
“How about aspirin?”
“It is not a headache, it is an echo.”
Unable to dispel the buzzing in her ears, Major Callendar had diagnosed it as a fancy, which must not be encouraged. So the Turtons changed the subject. The cool little lick of the breeze was passing over the earth, dividing night from day; it would fail in ten minutes, but they might profit by it for their drive down into the city.
“I am sure to break down,” she repeated.
“You won’t,” said the Collector, his voice full of tenderness.
“Of course she won’t, she’s a real sport.”
“But Mrs. Turton . . .”
“Yes, my dear child?”
“If I do break down, it is of no consequence. It would matter in some trials, not in this. I put it to myself in the following way: I can really behave as I like, cry, be absurd, I am sure to get my verdict, unless Mr. Das is most frightfully unjust.”
“You’re bound to win,” he said calmly, and did not remind her that there was bound to be an appeal. The Nawab Bahadur had financed the defence, and would ruin himself sooner than let an “innocent Moslem perish,” and other interests, less reputable, were in the background too. The case might go up from court to court, with consequences that no official could foresee. Under his very eyes, the temper of Chandrapore was altering. As his car turned out of the compound, there was a tap of silly anger on its paint—a pebble thrown by a child. Some larger stones were dropped near the mosque. In the Maidan, a squad of native police on motor cycles waited to escort them through the bazaars. The Collector was irritated and muttered, “McBryde’s an old woman”; but Mrs. Turton said, “Really, after Mohurram a show of force will do no harm; it’s ridiculous to pretend they don’t hate us, do give up that farce.” He replied in an odd, sad voice, “I don’t hate them, I don’t know why,” and he didn’t hate them; for if he did, he would have had to condemn his own career as a bad investment. He retained a contemptuous affection for the pawns he had moved about for so many years, they must be worth his pains. “After all, it’s our women who make everything more difficult out here,” was his inmost thought, as he caught sight of some obscenities upon a long blank wall, and beneath his chivalry to Miss Quested resentment lurked, waiting its day—perhaps there is a grain of resentment in all chivalry. Some students had gathered in front of the City Magistrate’s Court—hysterical boys whom he would have faced if alone, but he told the driver to work round to the rear of the building. The students jeered, and Rafi (hiding behind a comrade that he might not be identified) called out the English were cowards.
They gained Ronny’s private room, where a group of their own sort had collected. None were cowardly, all nervy, for queer reports kept coming in. The Sweepers had just struck, and half the commodes of Chandrapore remained desolate in consequence—only half, and Sweepers from the District, who felt less strongly about the innocence of Dr. Aziz, would arrive in the afternoon, and break the strike, but why should the grotesque incident occur? And a number of Mohammedan ladies had sworn to take no food until the prisoner was acquitted; their death would make little difference, indeed, being invisible, they seemed dead already, nevertheless it was disquieting. A new spirit seemed abroad, a rearrangement, which no one in the stern little band of whites could explain. There was a tendency to see Fielding at the back of it: the idea that he was weak and cranky had been dropped. They abused Fielding vigorously: he had been seen driving up with the two counsels, Amritrao and Mahmoud Ali; he encouraged the Boy Scout movement for seditious reasons; he received letters with foreign stamps on them, and was probably a Japanese spy. This morning’s verdict would break the renegade, but he had done his country and the Empire incalculable disservice. While they denounced him, Miss Quested lay back with her hands on the arms of her chair and her eyes closed, reserving her strength. They noticed her after a time, and felt ashamed of making so much noise.
“Can we do nothing for you?” Miss Derek said.
“I don’t think so, Nancy, and I seem able to do nothing for myself.”
“But you’re strictly forbidden to talk like that; you’re wonderful.”
“Yes indeed,” came the reverent chorus.
“My old Das is all right,” said Ronny, starting a new subject in low tones.
“Not one of them’s all right,” contradicted Major Callendar.
“Das is, really.”
“You mean he’s more frightened of acquitting than convicting, because if he acquits he’ll lose his job,” said Lesley with a clever little laugh.
Ronny did mean that, but he cherished “illusions” about his own subordinates (following the finer traditions of his service here), and he liked to maintain that his old Das really did possess moral courage of the Public School brand. He pointed out that—from one point of view—it was good that an Indian was taking the case. Conviction was inevitable; so better let an Indian pronounce it, there would be less fuss in the long run. Interested in the argument, he let Adela become dim in his mind.
“In fact, you disapprove of the appeal I forwarded to Lady Mellanby,” said Mrs. Turton with considerable heat. “Pray don’t apologize, Mr. Heaslop; I am accustomed to being in the wrong.”
“I didn’t mean that . . .”
“All right. I said don’t apologize.”
“Those swine are always on the look-out for a grievance,” said Lesley, to propitiate her.
“Swine, I should think so,” the Major echoed. “And what’s more, I’ll tell you what. What’s happened is a damn good thing really, barring of course its application to present company. It’ll make them squeal and it’s time they did squeal. I’ve put the fear of God into them at the hospital anyhow. You should see the grandson of our so-called leading loyalist.” He tittered brutally as he described poor Nureddin’s present appearance.
“His beauty’s gone, five upper teeth, two lower and a nostril. . . . Old Panna Lal brought him the looking-glass yesterday and he blubbered. . . . I laughed; I laughed, I tell you, and so would you; that used to be one of these buck niggers, I thought, now he’s all septic; damn him, blast his soul—er—I believe he was unspeakably immoral—er——” He subsided, nudged in the ribs, but added, “I wish I’d had the cutting up of my late assistant too; nothing’s too bad for these people.”
“At last some sense is being talked,” Mrs. Turton cried, much to her husband’s discomfort.
“That’s what I say; I say there’s not such a thing as cruelty after a thing like this.”
“Exactly, and remember it afterwards, you men. You’re weak, weak, weak. Why, they ought to crawl from here to the caves on their hands and knees whenever an Englishwoman’s in sight, they oughtn’t to be spoken to, they ought to be spat at, they ought to be ground into the dust, we’ve been far too kind with our Bridge Parties and the rest.”
She paused. Profiting by her wrath, the heat had invaded her. She subsided into a lemon squash, and continued between the sips to murmur, “Weak, weak.” And the process was repeated. The issues Miss Quested had raised were so much more important than she was herself that people inevitably forgot her.
Presently the case was called.
Their chairs preceded them into the Court, for it was important that they should look dignified. And when the chuprassies had made all ready, they filed into the ramshackly room with a condescending air, as if it was a booth at a fair. The Collector made a small official joke as he sat down, at which his entourage smiled, and the Indians, who could not hear what he said, felt that some new cruelty was afoot, otherwise the sahibs would not chuckle.
The Court was crowded and of course very hot, and the first person Adela noticed in it was the humblest of all who were present, a person who had no bearing officially upon the trial: the man who pulled the punkah. Almost naked, and splendidly formed, he sat on a raised platform near the back, in the middle of the central gangway, and he caught her attention as she came in, and he seemed to control the proceedings. He had the strength and beauty that sometimes come to flower in Indians of low birth. When that strange race nears the dust and is condemned as untouchable, then nature remembers the physical perfection that she accomplished elsewhere, and throws out a god—not many, but one here and there, to prove to society how little its categories impress her. This man would have been notable anywhere: among the thin-hammed, flat-chested mediocrities of Chandrapore he stood out as divine, yet he was of the city, its garbage had nourished him, he would end on its rubbish heaps. Pulling the rope towards him, relaxing it rhythmically, sending swirls of air over others, receiving none himself, he seemed apart from human destinies, a male fate, a winnower of souls. Opposite him, also on a platform, sat the little assistant magistrate, cultivated, self-conscious, and conscientious. The punkah wallah was none of these things: he scarcely knew that he existed and did not understand why the Court was fuller than usual, indeed he did not know that it was fuller than usual, didn’t even know he worked a fan, though he thought he pulled a rope. Something in his aloofness impressed the girl from middle-class England, and rebuked the narrowness of her sufferings. In virtue of what had she collected this roomful of people together? Her particular brand of opinions, and the suburban Jehovah who sanctified them—by what right did they claim so much importance in the world, and assume the title of civilization? Mrs. Moore—she looked round, but Mrs. Moore was far away on the sea; it was the kind of question they might have discussed on the voyage out before the old lady had turned disagreeable and queer.
While thinking of Mrs. Moore she heard sounds, which gradually grew more distinct. The epoch-making trial had started, and the Superintendent of Police was opening the case for the prosecution.
Mr. McBryde was not at pains to be an interesting speaker; he left eloquence to the defence, who would require it. His attitude was, “Everyone knows the man’s guilty, and I am obliged to say so in public before he goes to the Andamans.” He made no moral or emotional appeal, and it was only by degrees that the studied negligence of his manner made itself felt, and lashed part of the audience to fury. Laboriously did he describe the genesis of the picnic. The prisoner had met Miss Quested at an entertainment given by the Principal of Government College, and had there conceived his intentions concerning her: prisoner was a man of loose life, as documents found upon him at his arrest would testify, also his fellow-assistant, Dr. Panna Lal, was in a position to throw light on his character, and Major Callendar himself would speak. Here Mr. McBryde paused. He wanted to keep the proceedings as clean as possible, but Oriental Pathology, his favourite theme, lay around him, and he could not resist it. Taking off his spectacles, as was his habit before enunciating a general truth, he looked into them sadly, and remarked that the darker races are physically attracted by the fairer, but not vice versa—not a matter for bitterness this, not a matter for abuse, but just a fact which any scientific observer will confirm.
“Even when the lady is so uglier than the gentleman?” The comment fell from nowhere, from the ceiling perhaps. It was the first interruption, and the Magistrate felt bound to censure it. “Turn that man out,” he said. One of the native policemen took hold of a man who had said nothing, and turned him out roughly.
Mr. McBryde resumed his spectacles and proceeded. But the comment had upset Miss Quested. Her body resented being called ugly, and trembled.
“Do you feel faint, Adela?” asked Miss Derek, who tended her with loving indignation.
“I never feel anything else, Nancy. I shall get through, but it’s awful, awful.”
This led to the first of a series of scenes. Her friends began to fuss around her, and the Major called out, “I must have better arrangements than this made for my patient; why isn’t she given a seat on the platform? She gets no air.”
Mr. Das looked annoyed and said: “I shall be happy to accommodate Miss Quested with a chair up here in view of the particular circumstances of her health.” The chuprassies passed up not one chair but several, and the entire party followed Adela on to the platform, Mr. Fielding being the only European who remained in the body of the hall.
“That’s better,” remarked Mrs. Turton, as she settled herself.
“Thoroughly desirable change for several reasons,” replied the Major.
The Magistrate knew that he ought to censure this remark, but did not dare to. Callendar saw that he was afraid, and called out authoritatively, “Right, McBryde, go ahead now; sorry to have interrupted you.”
“Are you all right yourselves?” asked the Superintendent.
“We shall do, we shall do.”
“Go on, Mr. Das, we are not here to disturb you,” said the Collector patronizingly. Indeed, they had not so much disturbed the trial as taken charge of it.
While the prosecution continued, Miss Quested examined the hall—timidly at first, as though it would scorch her eyes. She observed to left and right of the punkah man many a half-known face. Beneath her were gathered all the wreckage of her silly attempt to see India—the people she had met at the Bridge Party, the man and his wife who hadn’t sent their carriage, the old man who would lend his car, various servants, villagers, officials, and the prisoner himself. There he sat—strong, neat little Indian with very black hair, and pliant hands. She viewed him without special emotion. Since they last met, she had elevated him into a principle of evil, but now he seemed to be what he had always been—a slight acquaintance. He was negligible, devoid of significance, dry like a bone, and though he was “guilty” no atmosphere of sin surrounded him. “I suppose he is guilty. Can I possibly have made a mistake?” she thought. For this question still occurred to her intellect, though since Mrs. Moore’s departure it had ceased to trouble her conscience.
Pleader Mahmoud Ali now arose, and asked with ponderous and ill-judged irony whether his client could be accommodated on the platform too: even Indians felt unwell sometimes, though naturally Major Callendar did not think so, being in charge of a Government Hospital. “Another example of their exquisite sense of humour,” sang Miss Derek. Ronny looked at Mr. Das to see how he would handle the difficulty, and Mr. Das became agitated, and snubbed Pleader Mahmoud Ali severely.
“Excuse me——” It was the turn of the eminent barrister from Calcutta. He was a fine-looking man, large and bony, with grey closely cropped hair. “We object to the presence of so many European ladies and gentlemen upon the platform,” he said in an Oxford voice. “They will have the effect of intimidating our witnesses. Their place is with the rest of the public in the body of the hall. We have no objection to Miss Quested remaining on the platform, since she has been unwell; we shall extend every courtesy to her throughout, despite the scientific truths revealed to us by the District Superintendent of Police; but we do object to the others.”
“Oh, cut the cackle and let’s have the verdict,” the Major growled.
The distinguished visitor gazed at the Magistrate respectfully.
“I agree to that,” said Mr. Das, hiding his face desperately in some papers. “It was only to Miss Quested that I gave permission to sit up here. Her friends should be so excessively kind as to climb down.”
“Well done, Das, quite sound,” said Ronny with devastating honesty.
“Climb down, indeed, what incredible impertinence!” Mrs. Turton cried.
“Do come quietly, Mary,” murmured her husband.
“Hi! my patient can’t be left unattended.”
“Do you object to the Civil Surgeon remaining, Mr. Amritrao?”
“I should object. A platform confers authority.”
“Even when it’s one foot high; so come along all,” said the Collector, trying to laugh.
“Thank you very much, sir,” said Mr. Das, greatly relieved. “Thank you, Mr. Heaslop; thank you ladies all.”
And the party, including Miss Quested, descended from its rash eminence. The news of their humiliation spread quickly, and people jeered outside. Their special chairs followed them. Mahmoud Ali (who was quite silly and useless with hatred) objected even to these; by whose authority had special chairs been introduced, why had the Nawab Bahadur not been given one? etc. People began to talk all over the room, about chairs ordinary and special, strips of carpet, platforms one foot high.
But the little excursion had a good effect on Miss Quested’s nerves. She felt easier now that she had seen all the people who were in the room. It was like knowing the worst. She was sure now that she should come through “all right”—that is to say, without spiritual disgrace, and she passed the good news on to Ronny and Mrs. Turton. They were too much agitated with the defeat to British prestige to be interested. From where she sat, she could see the renegade Mr. Fielding. She had had a better view of him from the platform, and knew that an Indian child perched on his knee. He was watching the proceedings, watching her. When their eyes met, he turned his away, as if direct intercourse was of no interest to him.
The Magistrate was also happier. He had won the battle of the platform, and gained confidence. Intelligent and impartial, he continued to listen to the evidence, and tried to forget that later on he should have to pronounce a verdict in accordance with it. The Superintendent trundled steadily forward: he had expected these outbursts of insolence—they are the natural gestures of an inferior race, and he betrayed no hatred of Aziz, merely an abysmal contempt.
The speech dealt at length with the “prisoner’s dupes,” as they were called—Fielding, the servant Antony, the Nawab Bahadur. This aspect of the case had always seemed dubious to Miss Quested, and she had asked the police not to develop it. But they were playing for a heavy sentence, and wanted to prove that the assault was premeditated. And in order to illustrate the strategy, they produced a plan of the Marabar Hills, showing the route that the party had taken, and the “Tank of the Dagger” where they had camped.
The Magistrate displayed interest in archæology.
An elevation of a specimen cave was produced; it was lettered “Buddhist Cave.”
“Not Buddhist, I think, Jain. . . .”
“In which cave is the offence alleged, the Buddhist or the Jain?” asked Mahmoud Ali, with the air of unmasking a conspiracy.
“All the Marabar caves are Jain.”
“Yes, sir; then in which Jain cave?”
“You will have an opportunity of putting such questions later.”
Mr. McBryde smiled faintly at their fatuity. Indians invariably collapse over some such point as this. He knew that the defence had some wild hope of establishing an alibi, that they had tried (unsuccessfully) to identify the guide, and that Fielding and Hamidullah had gone out to the Kawa Dol and paced and measured all one moonlit night. “Mr. Lesley says they’re Buddhist, and he ought to know if anyone does. But may I call attention to the shape?” And he described what had occurred there. Then he spoke of Miss Derek’s arrival, of the scramble down the gully, of the return of the two ladies to Chandrapore, and of the document Miss Quested signed on her arrival, in which mention was made of the field-glasses. And then came the culminating evidence: the discovery of the field-glasses on the prisoner. “I have nothing to add at present,” he concluded, removing his spectacles. “I will now call my witnesses. The facts will speak for themselves. The prisoner is one of those individuals who have led a double life. I dare say his degeneracy gained upon him gradually. He has been very cunning at concealing, as is usual with the type, and pretending to be a respectable member of society, getting a Government position even. He is now entirely vicious and beyond redemption, I am afraid. He behaved most cruelly, most brutally, to another of his guests, another English lady. In order to get rid of her, and leave him free for his crime, he crushed her into a cave among his servants. However, that is by the way.”
But his last words brought on another storm, and suddenly a new name, Mrs. Moore, burst on the court like a whirlwind. Mahmoud Ali had been enraged, his nerves snapped; he shrieked like a maniac, and asked whether his client was charged with murder as well as rape, and who was this second English lady.
“I don’t propose to call her.”
“You don’t because you can’t, you have smuggled her out of the country; she is Mrs. Moore, she would have proved his innocence, she was on our side, she was poor Indians’ friend.”
“You could have called her yourself,” cried the Magistrate. “Neither side called her, neither must quote her as evidence.”
“She was kept from us until too late—I learn too late—this is English justice, here is your British Raj. Give us back Mrs. Moore for five minutes only, and she will save my friend, she will save the name of his sons; don’t rule her out, Mr. Das; take back those words as you yourself are a father; tell me where they have put her, oh, Mrs. Moore. . . .”
“If the point is of any interest, my mother should have reached Aden,” said Ronny dryly; he ought not to have intervened, but the onslaught had startled him.
“Imprisoned by you there because she knew the truth.” He was almost out of his mind, and could be heard saying above the tumult: “I ruin my career, no matter; we are all to be ruined one by one.”
“This is no way to defend your case,” counselled the Magistrate.
“I am not defending a case, nor are you trying one. We are both of us slaves.”
“Mr. Mahmoud Ali, I have already warned you, and unless you sit down I shall exercise my authority.”
“Do so; this trial is a farce, I am going.” And he handed his papers to Amritrao and left, calling from the door histrionically yet with intense passion, “Aziz, Aziz—farewell for ever.” The tumult increased, the invocation of Mrs. Moore continued, and people who did not know what the syllables meant repeated them like a charm. They became Indianized into Esmiss Esmoor, they were taken up in the street outside. In vain the Magistrate threatened and expelled. Until the magic exhausted itself, he was powerless.
“Unexpected,” remarked Mr. Turton.
Ronny furnished the explanation. Before she sailed, his mother had taken to talk about the Marabar in her sleep, especially in the afternoon when servants were on the verandah, and her disjointed remarks on Aziz had doubtless been sold to Mahmoud Ali for a few annas: that kind of thing never ceases in the East.
“I thought they’d try something of the sort. Ingenious.” He looked into their wide-open mouths. “They get just like over their religion,” he added calmly. “Start and can’t stop. I’m sorry for your old Das, he’s not getting much of a show.”
“Mr. Heaslop, how disgraceful dragging in your dear mother,” said Miss Derek, bending forward.
“It’s just a trick, and they happened to pull it off. Now one sees why they had Mahmoud Ali—just to make a scene on the chance. It is his speciality.” But he disliked it more than he showed. It was revolting to hear his mother travestied into Esmiss Esmoor, a Hindu goddess.
“Esmiss Esmoor
Esmiss Esmoor
Esmiss Esmoor
Esmiss Esmoor. . . .”
“Ronny——”
“Yes, old girl?”
“Isn’t it all queer.”
“I’m afraid it’s very upsetting for you.”
“Not the least. I don’t mind it.”
“Well, that’s good.”
She had spoken more naturally and healthily than usual. Bending into the middle of her friends, she said: “Don’t worry about me, I’m much better than I was; I don’t feel the least faint; I shall be all right, and thank you all, thank you, thank you for your kindness.” She had to shout her gratitude, for the chant, Esmiss Esmoor, went on.
Suddenly it stopped. It was as if the prayer had been heard, and the relics exhibited. “I apologize for my colleague,” said Mr. Amritrao, rather to everyone’s surprise. “He is an intimate friend of our client, and his feelings have carried him away.”
“Mr. Mahmoud Ali will have to apologize in person,” the Magistrate said.
“Exactly, sir, he must. But we had just learnt that Mrs. Moore had important evidence which she desired to give. She was hurried out of the country by her son before she could give it; and this unhinged Mr. Mahmoud Ali—coming as it does upon an attempt to intimidate our only other European witness, Mr. Fielding. Mr. Mahmoud Ali would have said nothing had not Mrs. Moore been claimed as a witness by the police.” He sat down.
“An extraneous element is being introduced into the case,” said the Magistrate. “I must repeat that as a witness Mrs. Moore does not exist. Neither you, Mr. Amritrao, nor, Mr. McBryde, you, have any right to surmise what that lady would have said. She is not here, and consequently she can say nothing.”
“Well, I withdraw my reference,” said the Superintendent wearily. “I would have done so fifteen minutes ago if I had been given the chance. She is not of the least importance to me.”
“I have already withdrawn it for the defence.” He added with forensic humour: “Perhaps you can persuade the gentlemen outside to withdraw it too,” for the refrain in the street continued.
“I am afraid my powers do not extend so far,” said Das, smiling.
So peace was restored, and when Adela came to give her evidence the atmosphere was quieter than it had been since the beginning of the trial. Experts were not surprised. There is no stay in your native. He blazes up over a minor point, and has nothing left for the crisis. What he seeks is a grievance, and this he had found in the supposed abduction of an old lady. He would now be less aggrieved when Aziz was deported.
But the crisis was still to come.
Adela had always meant to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, and she had rehearsed this as a difficult task—difficult, because her disaster in the cave was connected, though by a thread, with another part of her life, her engagement to Ronny. She had thought of love just before she went in, and had innocently asked Aziz what marriage was like, and she supposed that her question had roused evil in him. To recount this would have been incredibly painful, it was the one point she wanted to keep obscure; she was willing to give details that would have distressed other girls, but this story of her private failure she dared not allude to, and she dreaded being examined in public in case something came out. But as soon as she rose to reply, and heard the sound of her own voice, she feared not even that. A new and unknown sensation protected her, like magnificent armour. She didn’t think what had happened, or even remember in the ordinary way of memory, but she returned to the Marabar Hills, and spoke from them across a sort of darkness to Mr. McBryde. The fatal day recurred, in every detail, but now she was of it and not of it at the same time, and this double relation gave it indescribable splendour. Why had she thought the expedition “dull”? Now the sun rose again, the elephant waited, the pale masses of the rock flowed round her and presented the first cave; she entered, and a match was reflected in the polished walls—all beautiful and significant, though she had been blind to it at the time. Questions were asked, and to each she found the exact reply; yes, she had noticed the “Tank of the Dagger,” but not known its name; yes, Mrs. Moore had been tired after the first cave and sat in the shadow of a great rock, near the dried-up mud. Smoothly the voice in the distance proceeded, leading along the paths of truth, and the airs from the punkah behind her wafted her on. . . .
“. . . the prisoner and the guide took you on to the Kawa Dol, no one else being present?”
“The most wonderfully shaped of those hills. Yes.” As she spoke, she created the Kawa Dol, saw the niches up the curve of the stone, and felt the heat strike her face. And something caused her to add: “No one else was present to my knowledge. We appeared to be alone.”
“Very well, there is a ledge half-way up the hill, or broken ground rather, with caves scattered near the beginning of a nullah.”
“I know where you mean.”
“You went alone into one of those caves?”
“That is quite correct.”
“And the prisoner followed you.”
“Now we’ve got ’im,” from the Major.
She was silent. The court, the place of question, awaited her reply. But she could not give it until Aziz entered the place of answer.
“The prisoner followed you, didn’t he?” he repeated in the monotonous tones that they both used; they were employing agreed words throughout, so that this part of the proceedings held no surprises.
“May I have half a minute before I reply to that, Mr. McBryde?”
“Certainly.”
Her vision was of several caves. She saw herself in one, and she was also outside it, watching its entrance, for Aziz to pass in. She failed to locate him. It was the doubt that had often visited her, but solid and attractive, like the hills, “I am not——” Speech was more difficult than vision. “I am not quite sure.”
“I beg your pardon?” said the Superintendent of Police.
“I cannot be sure . . .”
“I didn’t catch that answer.” He looked scared, his mouth shut with a snap. “You are on that landing, or whatever we term it, and you have entered a cave. I suggest to you that the prisoner followed you.”
She shook her head.
“What do you mean, please?”
“No,” she said in a flat, unattractive voice. Slight noises began in various parts of the room, but no one yet understood what was occurring except Fielding. He saw that she was going to have a nervous breakdown and that his friend was saved.
“What is that, what are you saying? Speak up, please.” The Magistrate bent forward.
“I’m afraid I have made a mistake.”
“What nature of mistake?”
“Dr. Aziz never followed me into the cave.”
The Superintendent slammed down his papers, then picked them up and said calmly: “Now, Miss Quested, let us go on. I will read you the words of the deposition which you signed two hours later in my bungalow.”
“Excuse me, Mr. McBryde, you cannot go on. I am speaking to the witness myself. And the public will be silent. If it continues to talk, I have the court cleared. Miss Quested, address your remarks to me, who am the Magistrate in charge of the case, and realize their extreme gravity. Remember you speak on oath, Miss Quested.”
“Dr. Aziz never——”
“I stop these proceedings on medical grounds,” cried the Major on a word from Turton, and all the English rose from their chairs at once, large white figures behind which the little magistrate was hidden. The Indians rose too, hundreds of things went on at once, so that afterwards each person gave a different account of the catastrophe.
“You withdraw the charge? Answer me,” shrieked the representative of Justice.
Something that she did not understand took hold of the girl and pulled her through. Though the vision was over, and she had returned to the insipidity of the world, she remembered what she had learnt. Atonement and confession—they could wait. It was in hard prosaic tones that she said, “I withdraw everything.”
“Enough—sit down. Mr. McBryde, do you wish to continue in the face of this?”
The Superintendent gazed at his witness as if she was a broken machine, and said, “Are you mad?”
“Don’t question her, sir; you have no longer the right.”
“Give me time to consider——”
“Sahib, you will have to withdraw; this becomes a scandal,” boomed the Nawab Bahadur suddenly from the back of the court.
“He shall not,” shouted Mrs. Turton against the gathering tumult. “Call the other witnesses; we’re none of us safe——” Ronny tried to check her, and she gave him an irritable blow, then screamed insults at Adela.
The Superintendent moved to the support of his friends, saying nonchalantly to the Magistrate as he did so, “Right, I withdraw.”
Mr. Das rose, nearly dead with the strain. He had controlled the case, just controlled it. He had shown that an Indian can preside. To those who could hear him he said, “The prisoner is released without one stain on his character; the question of costs will be decided elsewhere.”
And then the flimsy framework of the court broke up, the shouts of derision and rage culminated, people screamed and cursed, kissed one another, wept passionately. Here were the English, whom their servants protected, there Aziz fainted in Hamidullah’s arms. Victory on this side, defeat on that—complete for one moment was the antithesis. Then life returned to its complexities, person after person struggled out of the room to their various purposes, and before long no one remained on the scene of the fantasy but the beautiful naked god. Unaware that anything unusual had occurred, he continued to pull the cord of his punkah, to gaze at the empty dais and the overturned special chairs, and rhythmically to agitate the clouds of descending dust.


欢迎访问英文小说网http://novel.tingroom.com

©英文小说网 2005-2010

有任何问题,请给我们留言,管理员邮箱:tinglishi@gmail.com  站长QQ :点击发送消息和我们联系56065533