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CHAPTER XXV
 Miss Quested had renounced her own people. Turning from them, she was drawn into a mass of Indians of the shopkeeping class, and carried by them towards the public exit of the court. The faint, indescribable smell of the bazaars invaded her, sweeter than a London slum, yet more disquieting: a tuft of scented cotton wool, wedged in an old man’s ear, fragments of pan between his black teeth, odorous powders, oils—the Scented East of tradition, but blended with human sweat as if a great king had been entangled in ignominy and could not free himself, or as if the heat of the sun had boiled and fried all the glories of the earth into a single mess. They paid no attention to her. They shook hands over her shoulder, shouted through her body—for when the Indian does ignore his rulers, he becomes genuinely unaware of their existence. Without part in the universe she had created, she was flung against Mr. Fielding.
“What do you want here?”
Knowing him for her enemy, she passed on into the sunlight without speaking.
He called after her, “Where are you going, Miss Quested?”
“I don’t know.”
“You can’t wander about like that. Where’s the car you came in?”
“I shall walk.”
“What madness . . . there’s supposed to be a riot on . . . the police have struck, no one knows what’ll happen next. Why don’t you keep to your own people?”
“Ought I to join them?” she said, without emotion. She felt emptied, valueless; there was no more virtue in her.
“You can’t, it’s too late. How are you to get round to the private entrance now? Come this way with me—quick—I’ll put you into my carriage.”
“Cyril, Cyril, don’t leave me,” called the shattered voice of Aziz.
“I’m coming back. . . . This way, and don’t argue.” He gripped her arm. “Excuse manners, but I don’t know anyone’s position. Send my carriage back any time to-morrow, if you please.”
“But where am I to go in it?”
“Where you like. How should I know your arrangements?”
The victoria was safe in a quiet side lane, but there were no horses, for the sais, not expecting the trial would end so abruptly, had led them away to visit a friend. She got into it obediently. The man could not leave her, for the confusion increased, and spots of it sounded fanatical. The main road through the bazaars was blocked, and the English were gaining the civil station by by-ways; they were caught like caterpillars, and could have been killed off easily.
“What—what have you been doing?” he cried suddenly. “Playing a game, studying life, or what?”
“Sir, I intend these for you, sir,” interrupted a student, running down the lane with a garland of jasmine on his arm.
“I don’t want the rubbish; get out.”
“Sir, I am a horse, we shall be your horses,” another cried as he lifted the shafts of the victoria into the air.
“Fetch my sais, Rafi; there’s a good chap.”
“No, sir, this is an honour for us.”
Fielding wearied of his students. The more they honoured him the less they obeyed. They lassoed him with jasmine and roses, scratched the splash-board against a wall, and recited a poem, the noise of which filled the lane with a crowd.
“Hurry up, sir; we pull you in a procession.” And, half affectionate, half impudent, they bundled him in.
“I don’t know whether this suits you, but anyhow you’re safe,” he remarked. The carriage jerked into the main bazaar, where it created some sensation. Miss Quested was so loathed in Chandrapore that her recantation was discredited, and the rumour ran that she had been stricken by the Deity in the middle of her lies. But they cheered when they saw her sitting by the heroic Principal (some addressed her as Mrs. Moore!), and they garlanded her to match him. Half gods, half guys, with sausages of flowers round their necks, the pair were dragged in the wake of Aziz’ victorious landau. In the applause that greeted them some derision mingled. The English always stick together! That was the criticism. Nor was it unjust. Fielding shared it himself, and knew that if some misunderstanding occurred, and an attack was made on the girl by his allies, he would be obliged to die in her defence. He didn’t want to die for her, he wanted to be rejoicing with Aziz.
Where was the procession going? To friends, to enemies, to Aziz’ bungalow, to the Collector’s bungalow, to the Minto Hospital where the Civil Surgeon would eat dust and the patients (confused with prisoners) be released, to Delhi, Simla. The students thought it was going to Government College. When they reached a turning, they twisted the victoria to the right, ran it by side lanes down a hill and through a garden gate into the mango plantation, and, as far as Fielding and Miss Quested were concerned, all was peace and quiet. The trees were full of glossy foliage and slim green fruit, the tank slumbered; and beyond it rose the exquisite blue arches of the garden-house. “Sir, we fetch the others; sir, it is a somewhat heavy load for our arms,” were heard. Fielding took the refugee to his office, and tried to telephone to McBryde. But this he could not do; the wires had been cut. All his servants had decamped. Once more he was unable to desert her. He assigned her a couple of rooms, provided her with ice and drinks and biscuits, advised her to lie down, and lay down himself—there was nothing else to do. He felt restless and thwarted as he listened to the retreating sounds of the procession, and his joy was rather spoilt by bewilderment. It was a victory, but such a queer one.
At that moment Aziz was crying, “Cyril, Cyril . . .” Crammed into a carriage with the Nawab Bahadur, Hamidullah, Mahmoud Ali, his own little boys, and a heap of flowers, he was not content; he wanted to be surrounded by all who loved him. Victory gave no pleasure, he had suffered too much. From the moment of his arrest he was done for, he had dropped like a wounded animal; he had despaired, not through cowardice, but because he knew that an Englishwoman’s word would always outweigh his own. “It is fate,” he said; and, “It is fate,” when he was imprisoned anew after Mohurram. All that existed, in that terrible time, was affection, and affection was all that he felt in the first painful moments of his freedom. “Why isn’t Cyril following? Let us turn back.” But the procession could not turn back. Like a snake in a drain, it advanced down the narrow bazaar towards the basin of the Maidan, where it would turn about itself, and decide on its prey.
“Forward, forward,” shrieked Mahmoud Ali, whose every utterance had become a yell. “Down with the Collector, down with the Superintendent of Police.”
“Mr. Mahmoud Ali, this is not wise,” implored the Nawab Bahadur: he knew that nothing was gained by attacking the English, who had fallen into their own pit and had better be left there; moreover, he had great possessions and deprecated anarchy.
“Cyril, again you desert,” cried Aziz.
“Yet some orderly demonstration is necessary,” said Hamidullah, “otherwise they will still think we are afraid.”
“Down with the Civil Surgeon . . . rescue Nureddin.”
“Nureddin?”
“They are torturing him.”
“Oh, my God . . .”—for this, too, was a friend.
“They are not. I will not have my grandson made an excuse for an attack on the hospital,” the old man protested.
“They are. Callendar boasted so before the trial. I heard through the tatties; he said, ‘I have tortured that nigger.’”
“Oh, my God, my God. . . . He called him a nigger, did he?”
“They put pepper instead of antiseptic on the wounds.”
“Mr. Mahmoud Ali, impossible; a little roughness will not hurt the boy, he needs discipline.”
“Pepper. Civil Surgeon said so. They hope to destroy us one by one; they shall fail.”
The new injury lashed the crowd to fury. It had been aimless hitherto, and had lacked a grievance. When they reached the Maidan and saw the sallow arcades of the Minto they shambled towards it howling. It was near midday. The earth and sky were insanely ugly, the spirit of evil again strode abroad. The Nawab Bahadur alone struggled against it, and told himself that the rumour must be untrue. He had seen his grandson in the ward only last week. But he too was carried forward over the new precipice. To rescue, to maltreat Major Callendar in revenge, and then was to come the turn of the civil station generally.
But disaster was averted, and averted by Dr. Panna Lal.
Dr. Panna Lal had offered to give evidence for the prosecution in the hope of pleasing the English, also because he hated Aziz. When the case broke down, he was in a very painful position. He saw the crash coming sooner than most people, slipped from the court before Mr. Das had finished, and drove Dapple off through the bazaars, in flight from the wrath to come. In the hospital he should be safe, for Major Callendar would protect him. But the Major had not come, and now things were worse than ever, for here was a mob, entirely desirous of his blood, and the orderlies were mutinous and would not help him over the back wall, or rather hoisted him and let him drop back, to the satisfaction of the patients. In agony he cried, “Man can but die the once,” and waddled across the compound to meet the invasion, salaaming with one hand and holding up a pale yellow umbrella in the other. “Oh, forgive me,” he whined as he approached the victorious landau. “Oh, Dr. Aziz, forgive the wicked lies I told.” Aziz was silent, the others thickened their throats and threw up their chins in token of scorn. “I was afraid, I was mislaid,” the suppliant continued. “I was mislaid here, there, and everywhere as regards your character. Oh, forgive the poor old hakim who gave you milk when ill! Oh, Nawab Bahadur, whoever merciful, is it my poor little dispensary you require? Take every cursed bottle.” Agitated, but alert, he saw them smile at his indifferent English, and suddenly he started playing the buffoon, flung down his umbrella, trod through it, and struck himself upon the nose. He knew what he was doing, and so did they. There was nothing pathetic or eternal in the degradation of such a man. Of ignoble origin, Dr. Panna Lal possessed nothing that could be disgraced, and he wisely decided to make the other Indians feel like kings, because it would put them into better tempers. When he found they wanted Nureddin, he skipped like a goat, he scuttled like a hen to do their bidding, the hospital was saved, and to the end of his life he could not understand why he had not obtained promotion on the morning’s work. “Promptness, sir, promptness similar to you,” was the argument he employed to Major Callendar when claiming it.
When Nureddin emerged, his face all bandaged, there was a roar of relief as though the Bastille had fallen. It was the crisis of the march, and the Nawab Bahadur managed to get the situation into hand. Embracing the young man publicly, he began a speech about Justice, Courage, Liberty, and Prudence, ranged under heads, which cooled the passion of the crowd. He further announced that he should give up his British-conferred title, and live as a private gentleman, plain Mr. Zulfiqar, for which reason he was instantly proceeding to his country seat. The landau turned, the crowd accompanied it, the crisis was over. The Marabar caves had been a terrible strain on the local administration; they altered a good many lives and wrecked several careers, but they did not break up a continent or even dislocate a district.
“We will have rejoicings to-night,” the old man said. “Mr. Hamidullah, I depute you to bring out our friends Fielding and Amritrao, and to discover whether the latter will require special food. The others will keep with me. We shall not go out to Dilkusha until the cool of the evening, of course. I do not know the feelings of other gentlemen; for my own part, I have a slight headache, and I wish I had thought to ask our good Panna Lal for aspirin.”
For the heat was claiming its own. Unable to madden, it stupefied, and before long most of the Chandrapore combatants were asleep. Those in the civil station kept watch a little, fearing an attack, but presently they too entered the world of dreams—that world in which a third of each man’s life is spent, and which is thought by some pessimists to be a premonition of eternity.
 


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