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CHAPTER XXVI
 Evening approached by the time Fielding and Miss Quested met and had the first of their numerous curious conversations. He had hoped, when he woke up, to find someone had fetched her away, but the College remained isolated from the rest of the universe. She asked whether she could have “a sort of interview,” and, when he made no reply, said, “Have you any explanation of my extraordinary behaviour?”
“None,” he said curtly. “Why make such a charge if you were going to withdraw it?”
“Why, indeed.”
“I ought to feel grateful to you, I suppose, but——”
“I don’t expect gratitude. I only thought you might care to hear what I have to say.”
“Oh, well,” he grumbled, feeling rather schoolboyish. “I don’t think a discussion between us is desirable. To put it frankly, I belong to the other side in this ghastly affair.”
“Would it not interest you to hear my side?”
“Not much.”
“I shouldn’t tell you in confidence, of course. So you can hand on all my remarks to your side, for there is one great mercy that has come out of all to-day’s misery: I have no longer any secrets. My echo has gone—I call the buzzing sound in my ears an echo. You see, I have been unwell ever since that expedition to the caves, and possibly before it.”
The remark interested him rather; it was what he had sometimes suspected himself. “What kind of illness?” he enquired.
She touched her head at the side, then shook it.
“That was my first thought, the day of the arrest: hallucination.”
“Do you think that would be so?” she asked with great humility. “What should have given me an hallucination?”
“One of three things certainly happened in the Marabar,” he said, getting drawn into a discussion against his will. “One of four things. Either Aziz is guilty, which is what your friends think; or you invented the charge out of malice, which is what my friends think; or you have had an hallucination. I’m very much inclined”—getting up and striding about—“now that you tell me that you felt unwell before the expedition—it’s an important piece of evidence—I believe that you yourself broke the strap of the field-glasses; you were alone in that cave the whole time.”
“Perhaps. . . .”
“Can you remember when you first felt out of sorts?”
“When I came to tea with you there, in that garden-house.”
“A somewhat unlucky party. Aziz and old Godbole were both ill after it too.”
“I was not ill—it is far too vague to mention: it is all mixed up with my private affairs. I enjoyed the singing . . . but just about then a sort of sadness began that I couldn’t detect at the time . . . no, nothing as solid as sadness: living at half pressure expresses it best. Half pressure. I remember going on to polo with Mr. Heaslop at the Maidan. Various other things happened—it doesn’t matter what, but I was under par for all of them. I was certainly in that state when I saw the caves, and you suggest (nothing shocks or hurts me)—you suggest that I had an hallucination there, the sort of thing—though in an awful form—that makes some women think they’ve had an offer of marriage when none was made.”
“You put it honestly, anyhow.”
“I was brought up to be honest; the trouble is it gets me nowhere.”
Liking her better, he smiled and said, “It’ll get us to heaven.”
“Will it?”
“If heaven existed.”
“Do you not believe in heaven, Mr. Fielding, may I ask?” she said, looking at him shyly.
“I do not. Yet I believe that honesty gets us there.”
“How can that be?”
“Let us go back to hallucinations. I was watching you carefully through your evidence this morning, and if I’m right, the hallucination (what you call half pressure—quite as good a word) disappeared suddenly.”
She tried to remember what she had felt in court, but could not; the vision disappeared whenever she wished to interpret it. “Events presented themselves to me in their logical sequence,” was what she said, but it hadn’t been that at all.
“My belief—and of course I was listening carefully, in hope you would make some slip—my belief is that poor McBryde exorcised you. As soon as he asked you a straightforward question, you gave a straightforward answer, and broke down.”
“Exorcise in that sense. I thought you meant I’d seen a ghost.”
“I don’t go to that length!”
“People whom I respect very much believe in ghosts,” she said rather sharply. “My friend Mrs. Moore does.”
“She’s an old lady.”
“I think you need not be impolite to her, as well as to her son.”
“I did not intend to be rude. I only meant it is difficult, as we get on in life, to resist the supernatural. I’ve felt it coming on me myself. I still jog on without it, but what a temptation, at forty-five, to pretend that the dead live again; one’s own dead; no one else’s matter.”
“Because the dead don’t live again.”
“I fear not.”
“So do I.”
There was a moment’s silence, such as often follows the triumph of rationalism. Then he apologized handsomely enough for his behaviour to Heaslop at the club.
“What does Dr. Aziz say of me?” she asked, after another pause.
“He—he has not been capable of thought in his misery, naturally he’s very bitter,” said Fielding, a little awkward, because such remarks as Aziz had made were not merely bitter, they were foul. The underlying notion was, “It disgraces me to have been mentioned in connection with such a hag.” It enraged him that he had been accused by a woman who had no personal beauty; sexually, he was a snob. This had puzzled and worried Fielding. Sensuality, as long as it is straight-forward, did not repel him, but this derived sensuality—the sort that classes a mistress among motor-cars if she is beautiful, and among eye-flies if she isn’t—was alien to his own emotions, and he felt a barrier between himself and Aziz whenever it arose. It was, in a new form, the old, old trouble that eats the heart out of every civilization: snobbery, the desire for possessions, creditable appendages; and it is to escape this rather than the lusts of the flesh that saints retreat into the Himalayas. To change the subject, he said, “But let me conclude my analysis. We are agreed that he is not a villain and that you are not one, and we aren’t really sure that it was an hallucination. There’s a fourth possibility which we must touch on: was it somebody else?”
“The guide.”
“Exactly, the guide. I often think so. Unluckily Aziz hit him on the face, and he got a fright and disappeared. It is most unsatisfactory, and we hadn’t the police to help us, the guide was of no interest to them.”
“Perhaps it was the guide,” she said quietly; the question had lost interest for her suddenly.
“Or could it have been one of that gang of Pathans who have been drifting through the district?”
“Someone who was in another cave, and followed me when the guide was looking away? Possibly.”
At that moment Hamidullah joined them, and seemed not too pleased to find them closeted together. Like everyone else in Chandrapore, he could make nothing of Miss Quested’s conduct. He had overheard their last remark. “Hullo, my dear Fielding,” he said. “So I run you down at last. Can you come out at once to Dilkusha?”
“At once?”
“I hope to leave in a moment, don’t let me interrupt,” said Adela.
“The telephone has been broken; Miss Quested can’t ring up her friends,” he explained.
“A great deal has been broken, more than will ever be mended,” said the other. “Still, there should be some way of transporting this lady back to the civil lines. The resources of civilization are numerous.” He spoke without looking at Miss Quested, and he ignored the slight movement she made towards him with her hand.
Fielding, who thought the meeting might as well be friendly, said, “Miss Quested has been explaining a little about her conduct of this morning.”
“Perhaps the age of miracles has returned. One must be prepared for everything, our philosophers say.”
“It must have seemed a miracle to the onlookers,” said Adela, addressing him nervously. “The fact is that I realized before it was too late that I had made a mistake, and had just enough presence of mind to say so. That is all my extraordinary conduct amounts to.”
“All it amounts to, indeed,” he retorted, quivering with rage but keeping himself in hand, for he felt she might be setting another trap. “Speaking as a private individual, in a purely informal conversation, I admired your conduct, and I was delighted when our warm-hearted students garlanded you. But, like Mr. Fielding, I am surprised; indeed, surprise is too weak a word. I see you drag my best friend into the dirt, damage his health and ruin his prospects in a way you cannot conceive owing to your ignorance of our society and religion, and then suddenly you get up in the witness-box: ‘Oh no, Mr. McBryde, after all I am not quite sure, you may as well let him go.’ Am I mad? I keep asking myself. Is it a dream, and if so, when did it start? And without doubt it is a dream that has not yet finished. For I gather you have not done with us yet, and it is now the turn of the poor old guide who conducted you round the caves.”
“Not at all, we were only discussing possibilities,” interposed Fielding.
“An interesting pastime, but a lengthy one. There are one hundred and seventy million Indians in this notable peninsula, and of course one or other of them entered the cave. Of course some Indian is the culprit, we must never doubt that. And since, my dear Fielding, these possibilities will take you some time”—here he put his arm over the Englishman’s shoulder and swayed him to and fro gently—“don’t you think you had better come out to the Nawab Bahadur’s—or I should say to Mr. Zulfiqar’s, for that is the name he now requires us to call him by.”
“Gladly, in a minute . . .”
“I have just settled my movements,” said Miss Quested. “I shall go to the Dak Bungalow.”
“Not the Turtons’?” said Hamidullah, goggle-eyed. “I thought you were their guest.”
The Dak Bungalow of Chandrapore was below the average, and certainly servantless. Fielding, though he continued to sway with Hamidullah, was thinking on independent lines, and said in a moment: “I have a better idea than that, Miss Quested. You must stop here at the College. I shall be away at least two days, and you can have the place entirely to yourself, and make your plans at your convenience.”
“I don’t agree at all,” said Hamidullah, with every symptom of dismay. “The idea is a thoroughly bad one. There may quite well be another demonstration to-night, and suppose an attack is made on the College. You would be held responsible for this lady’s safety, my dear fellow.”
“They might equally attack the Dak Bungalow.”
“Exactly, but the responsibility there ceases to be yours.”
“Quite so. I have given trouble enough.”
“Do you hear? The lady admits it herself. It’s not an attack from our people I fear—you should see their orderly conduct at the hospital; what we must guard against is an attack secretly arranged by the police for the purpose of discrediting you. McBryde keeps plenty of roughs for this purpose, and this would be the very opportunity for him.”
“Never mind. She is not going to the Dak Bungalow,” said Fielding. He had a natural sympathy for the down-trodden—that was partly why he rallied from Aziz—and had become determined not to leave the poor girl in the lurch. Also, he had a new-born respect for her, consequent on their talk. Although her hard schoolmistressy manner remained, she was no longer examining life, but being examined by it; she had become a real person.
“Then where is she to go? We shall never have done with her!” For Miss Quested had not appealed to Hamidullah. If she had shown emotion in court, broke down, beat her breast, and invoked the name of God, she would have summoned forth his imagination and generosity—he had plenty of both. But while relieving the Oriental mind, she had chilled it, with the result that he could scarcely believe she was sincere, and indeed from his standpoint she was not. For her behaviour rested on cold justice and honesty; she had felt, while she recanted, no passion of love for those whom she had wronged. Truth is not truth in that exacting land unless there go with it kindness and more kindness and kindness again, unless the Word that was with God also is God. And the girl’s sacrifice—so creditable according to Western notions—was rightly rejected, because, though it came from her heart, it did not include her heart. A few garlands from students was all that India ever gave her in return.
“But where is she to have her dinner, where is she to sleep? I say here, here, and if she is hit on the head by roughs, she is hit on the head. That is my contribution. Well, Miss Quested?”
“You are very kind. I should have said yes, I think, but I agree with Mr. Hamidullah. I must give no more trouble to you. I believe my best plan is to return to the Turtons, and see if they will allow me to sleep, and if they turn me away I must go to the Dak. The Collector would take me in, I know, but Mrs. Turton said this morning that she would never see me again.” She spoke without bitterness, or, as Hamidullah thought, without proper pride. Her aim was to cause the minimum of annoyance.
“Far better stop here than expose yourself to insults from that preposterous woman.”
“Do you find her preposterous? I used to. I don’t now.”
“Well, here’s our solution,” said the barrister, who had terminated his slightly minatory caress and strolled to the window. “Here comes the City Magistrate. He comes in a third-class band-ghari for purposes of disguise, he comes unattended, but here comes the City Magistrate.”
“At last,” said Adela sharply, which caused Fielding to glance at her.
“He comes, he comes, he comes. I cringe. I tremble.”
“Will you ask him what he wants, Mr. Fielding?”
“He wants you, of course.”
“He may not even know I’m here.”
“I’ll see him first, if you prefer.”
When he had gone, Hamidullah said to her bitingly: “Really, really. Need you have exposed Mr. Fielding to this further discomfort? He is far too considerate.” She made no reply, and there was complete silence between them until their host returned.
“He has some news for you,” he said. “You’ll find him on the verandah. He prefers not to come in.”
“Does he tell me to come out to him?”
“Whether he tells you or not, you will go, I think,” said Hamidullah.
She paused, then said, “Perfectly right,” and then said a few words of thanks to the Principal for his kindness to her during the day.
“Thank goodness, that’s over,” he remarked, not escorting her to the verandah, for he held it unnecessary to see Ronny again.
“It was insulting of him not to come in.”
“He couldn’t very well after my behaviour to him at the Club. Heaslop doesn’t come out badly. Besides, Fate has treated him pretty roughly to-day. He has had a cable to the effect that his mother’s dead, poor old soul.”
“Oh, really. Mrs. Moore. I’m sorry,” said Hamidullah rather indifferently.
“She died at sea.”
“The heat, I suppose.”
“Presumably.”
“May is no month to allow an old lady to travel in.”
“Quite so. Heaslop ought never to have let her go, and he knows it. Shall we be off?”
“Let us wait until the happy couple leave the compound clear . . . they really are intolerable dawdling there. Ah well, Fielding, you don’t believe in Providence, I remember. I do. This is Heaslop’s punishment for abducting our witness in order to stop us establishing our alibi.”
“You go rather too far there. The poor old lady’s evidence could have had no value, shout and shriek Mahmoud Ali as he will. She couldn’t see through the Kawa Dol even if she had wanted to. Only Miss Quested could have saved him.”
“She loved Aziz, he says, also India, and he loved her.”
“Love is of no value in a witness, as a barrister ought to know. But I see there is about to be an Esmiss Esmoor legend at Chandrapore, my dear Hamidullah, and I will not impede its growth.”
The other smiled, and looked at his watch. They both regretted the death, but they were middle-aged men, who had invested their emotions elsewhere, and outbursts of grief could not be expected from them over a slight acquaintance. It’s only one’s own dead who matter. If for a moment the sense of communion in sorrow came to them, it passed. How indeed is it possible for one human being to be sorry for all the sadness that meets him on the face of the earth, for the pain that is endured not only by men, but by animals and plants, and perhaps by the stones? The soul is tired in a moment, and in fear of losing the little she does understand, she retreats to the permanent lines which habit or chance have dictated, and suffers there. Fielding had met the dead woman only two or three times, Hamidullah had seen her in the distance once, and they were far more occupied with the coming gathering at Dilkusha, the “victory” dinner, for which they would be most victoriously late.
They agreed not to tell Aziz about Mrs. Moore till the morrow, because he was fond of her, and the bad news might spoil his fun.
“Oh, this is unbearable!” muttered Hamidullah. For Miss Quested was back again.
“Mr. Fielding, has Ronny told you of this new misfortune?”
He bowed.
“Ah me!” She sat down, and seemed to stiffen into a monument.
“Heaslop is waiting for you, I think.”
“I do so long to be alone. She was my best friend, far more to me than to him. I can’t bear to be with Ronny . . . I can’t explain . . . Could you do me the very great kindness of letting me stop after all?”
Hamidullah swore violently in the vernacular.
“I should be pleased, but does Mr. Heaslop wish it?”
“I didn’t ask him, we are too much upset—it’s so complex, not like what unhappiness is supposed to be. Each of us ought to be alone, and think. Do come and see Ronny again.”
“I think he should come in this time,” said Fielding, feeling that this much was due to his own dignity. “Do ask him to come.”
She returned with him. He was half miserable, half arrogant—indeed, a strange mix-up—and broke at once into uneven speech. “I came to bring Miss Quested away, but her visit to the Turtons has ended, and there is no other arrangement so far, mine are bachelor quarters now——”
Fielding stopped him courteously. “Say no more, Miss Quested stops here. I only wanted to be assured of your approval. Miss Quested, you had better send for your own servant if he can be found, but I will leave orders with mine to do all they can for you, also I’ll let the Scouts know. They have guarded the College ever since it was closed, and may as well go on. I really think you’ll be as safe here as anywhere. I shall be back Thursday.”
Meanwhile Hamidullah, determined to spare the enemy no incidental pain, had said to Ronny: “We hear, sir, that your mother has died. May we ask where the cable came from?”
“Aden.”
“Ah, you were boasting she had reached Aden, in court.”
“But she died on leaving Bombay,” broke in Adela. “She was dead when they called her name this morning. She must have been buried at sea.”
Somehow this stopped Hamidullah, and he desisted from his brutality, which had shocked Fielding more than anyone else. He remained silent while the details of Miss Quested’s occupation of the College were arranged, merely remarking to Ronny, “It is clearly to be understood, sir, that neither Mr. Fielding nor any of us are responsible for this lady’s safety at Government College,” to which Ronny agreed. After that, he watched the semi-chivalrous behavings of the three English with quiet amusement; he thought Fielding had been incredibly silly and weak, and he was amazed by the younger people’s want of proper pride. When they were driving out to Dilkusha, hours late, he said to Amritrao, who accompanied them: “Mr. Amritrao, have you considered what sum Miss Quested ought to pay as compensation?”
“Twenty thousand rupees.”
No more was then said, but the remark horrified Fielding. He couldn’t bear to think of the queer honest girl losing her money and possibly her young man too. She advanced into his consciousness suddenly. And, fatigued by the merciless and enormous day, he lost his usual sane view of human intercourse, and felt that we exist not in ourselves, but in terms of each others’ minds—a notion for which logic offers no support and which had attacked him only once before, the evening after the catastrophe, when from the verandah of the club he saw the fists and fingers of the Marabar swell until they included the whole night sky.


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