Dorian Fence went to school in the rue de la Pompe, Paris. Then Cambridge. He drank. He gambled. He acted. He drank. He graduated. How, God knows. Back in Paris. He wrote a novel — a failure. He consoled himself. Of that category Maupassant had also written. He had written two for love and the waste-paper-basket. And wasn’t talent a long patience? Who said that, Dorian forgot. That he was impatient, he also forgot. And in Paris there was something else. O yes! There was Lucille Gautier. That was Paris, complete.
And one day the wire came that his father, Sir Alfred Fence, was very ill. Dorian rushed from Paris to Charles Street. His father was dead.
Father — dead! And, lo and behold, mother, née Maria Teselli, Italian, young, unmeridionally young, fiery and beautiful. The tears were wet on her cheeks. She mourned and moaned. Yet she married again. It had to be. And with what shabby haste, with what invincible, exacerbating promptness she did it. Guido Basso, the eternal hovering presence, the profuse sympathiser, so Italianly profuse, the smooth satyr came and stayed on for ever in Charles Street.
That man! Rudely he burst upon the magic intimacy of the house. Roughly he jostled the kind presence of the vanished. Violently he knocked aside the sweet ghost of Sir Alfred. Sir Alfred — how Dorian had adored him, blindly, madly, the crass magnate of Bombay with his chin of success, his chin that was knighted! Sir Alfred had gone. That man Guido Basso! Something terrible had happened. Dorian thought upon the house amid the Sussex dales. Ruby, bright, unlost in that green sea. And the long, black, open Rolls-Royce breasting of that green sea the airy billows, sibilant, nipping, maddening of an early morning. And, lost in warm satin-wood, listening to Sir Alfred playing Mozart and Scarlatti. How he played! It proved he had a soul, a veritable, profound thing. Dorian was happy then. Happy. It was so far, so dim. Now — he could laugh, ugly, to jar. That man Guido Basso!
To console, Lucille Gautier had followed Dorian to London. She stayed a month. Her brother was soon to marry Louise de la Pionne. She had to leave. She left for Paris the day after Lady Fence-Basso and her husband returned to Charles Street from Genoa — the Bassi were of Genoa. It was an awful day in March, 1929. Lucille left by an afternoon train. When Dorian was back home from seeing her off at Victoria, his mother wasn’t in. Later, it was past six o’clock by the quaint square clock on the mantel-piece in the drawing-room, when son encountered mother. They were alone, and likely to remain so, Guido Basso being often kept busy till late hours at the Anglo-Italian private bank in London Wall, of which he was the most energetic partner.
The mother was at the son with her almost first word.
‘How could you do such a thing? Thank heavens, she’s gone! Have the girl install herself in my house! Really, Dorian, how could you?’
‘Well, why not?’ answered he quietly. ‘She’s my mistress. Quite a daughter-in-law! Even more!’
‘Really! . . .’ desperately, his mother couldn’t say more.
Then Dorian’s eyes, his mother’s eyes, pools of black fire, burned his mother up.
‘What about that Basso?’ he shouted. ‘He can be here — in father’s room, too.’
‘What a comparison! He’s my lawful husband. We’re married.’
‘Married!’ cried the son, and gave a slight rueful laugh. ‘What’s that got to do with it? I wish you weren’t.’
Matrimony, he thought, gave a public sanction to the odious union. It made legal a shameful betrayal, a profligate deceit. It heightened the foul offence to his father’s memory. It became a calculated, conspiratorial slight. The man in the street, the first-met drayman, joined Guido Basso and his mother to revile Sir Alfred.
‘I wish you weren’t married,’ he continued. ‘You needn’t have married. He could have been your lover. That would have been more decent. Instead of a horrid, clamant thing like a marriage so soon. . . . Oh, mother, why did you?’
A tear of remorse almost stood in his mother’s eye. ‘It needn’t affect us,’ she forced herself to say.
In her eye, however, was still another message. It was a message of indifference, of rejection. He was discarded, obtrusive, a stranger. He had better go his way, so seemed to run the message. She, however, repeated: ‘It needn’t affect us.’
‘But you know it must. Well, well, it’s no use talking now. It’s too late. I’ll get out of your life. Give me three hundred a year.’
His mother opened her eyes wide. He could well have asked for three thousand a year. But Dorian wanted to show his self-reliance. He was going to depend on himself, on the stuff in him. There was stuff in him, he was sure. He was going to get some-where. He was proud of his virile sacrifice.
‘I’ll be on my own,’ he went on. ‘I’ll leave you in peace.’
‘But,’ she began a fatuous attempt at motherliness, ‘what are you going to do? What will become of you? This writing is all very well but it doesn’t seem to get you anywhere. It’s so risky. Why don’t you do something definite? Why don’t you go to India and join your cousin Alan Markham? It was your father’s firm. Or if you like to go into business here in London, Guido could —’
‘Oh, for God’s sake!’
He walked out of the room in a temper.
Brooding, alone, he wanted something to happen to him, something to wrench him from himself. If he could forget. . . . Oh, his mother, that man, everything! If he could forget in Lucille’s arms. . . . But they were far away. Besides, they wouldn’t suffice, perhaps.
Brooding, alone, he made his way in the electric glare of the hoardings in Piccadilly Circus. Mechanically he responded to the commissionaire’s prompt, stiff greeting and descended the steps into the spacious, bright, sweltering cavern of the Café Trianon. There was noise and a jazz-band. He got a nasty whiff of drink. He meant to get drunk.
‘Mr. Fence! Mr. Fence!’
Dorian recognised the countrified, effusive, somewhat servile voice. He wondered what she was doing at the Trianon in London. In a moment she was by his side. She had almost run from her table. She was Mrs. Ruby Clarke, widow, ex-waitress, who owned Frazzle’s, the little tea-shop he used to frequent in Cambridge. She was freckled, blonde, youngish, almost pretty, somewhat stout. Those unbalancing breasts heaved with such preposterous voluptuousness. She was changed from her Cambridge condition. She looked glorified, so glorified. There was more and better lipstick and the rest. There was more and stronger scent. The dress was expensive, meretricious. Between the manicured, plump, be-ringed fingers of her right hand was an elaborate tortoise-shell cigarette-holder out of which jutted the stumpless glow of a cigarette.
‘Well, if it ain’t Mr. Fence!’ She was exuberant. ‘How d’you do, Mr. Fence? I am so pleased to see you! Reely I am!’ In the old days she was unforward, subdued, she wouldn’t have dared without much encouragement, but now she said it without a moment’s hesitation. ‘You will come and join me over there, won’t you? For old time’s sake we must have one together.’
She had always had a very soft corner for Dorian. It was a pity he had proved so unresponsive, so inaccessible, not like the other men who came to Frazzle’s, Scrapes, Cartridge and the others. Though he don’t look it, she used to say to herself. Though he don’t look it and ’e’s ’arf Italian. And she used to fall to thinking of the enigma.
Dorian accepted Ruby Clarke’s invitation with disarming alacrity.
The ex-waitress made her way to her table eyeing her neighbours with arrogance. Her gait oscillated with proud satisfaction and imperiously bade those around observe her distinguished companion, awesomely, humbly take in the fact of Dorian Fence with her.
‘You remember Posie, don’t you?’ said she, when they got to the table. ‘My niece, Posie Lang.’
Posie got up and offered her hand to Dorian, smiling, somewhat abashed. She was the slight dark girl, he remembered, who was an assistant in a music-shop near where he lodged. He also remembered frequent glimpses of her pink cheeks and dimples in Mrs. Clarke’s tea-rooms.
‘Of course I remember Posie!’ Dorian shook hands warmly with her.
Posie was hatless and wore a disconcertingly short white dress. Clumsily she dropped into her chair when her hand was released.
Two empty wine-glasses stood in front of Mrs. Clarke and Posie.
‘What will you have to drink?’ asked Dorian.
‘No, no!’ said Mrs. Clarke. ‘I asked you here. You must have a drink with me.’
They fenced a bit.
‘You must!’ Mrs. Clarke was inexorable. ‘You must!’
At length he assented. ‘I’ll have a Sidecar.’
‘Sidecar!’ said Mrs. Clarke. ‘That’s it, Sidecar! I told you it was, Posie. And you said no. That’s what I’ve been wanting to have the whole evening. Sidecar! That’s the name. I told you it was. I had a few once at the Grey Horse in Cambridge with Mr. Cartridge.’ Then, forgetfully unladylike, she shouted loudly: ‘Waiter, waiter!’
‘Three Sidecars!’ she commanded imposingly when the waiter stood by her side bending obsequiously for her order. He had already served her often that evening.
Meanwhile Dorian compared the quiet, circumspect Mrs. Clarke that was in Cambridge with the devastating Mrs. Clarke that was in front of him.
Ruby Clarke’s raciness had been there before, anxious, keen, terribly keen, yet only potential, undangerous, quiet, circumspect. A glint flamed in her eye. Yet not to all — for Ruby Clarke was quiet, circumspect — did its secret promise shine forth of temperament, volumes of it, volumes, fabulously infinite. It was there, blindingly there, exasperatingly wasted on Dorian. It was there, most satisfactorily prized by Scrapes and Cartridge and the others. It was famous — the glint at Frazzle’s. But the proctors never saw it. Now it was there to stay, dauntless, defiant, inescapable. Now it taunted Dorian, sure, blustering. He was diverted, intrigued, somewhat dazed by the picture of confident, passionful embonpoint. He was curious to know how it came to be so confident. He soon knew.
‘We’re in town till day after to-morrow,’ said Mrs. Clarke in her new grand way. ‘And then we’re going to Paris!’ She looked around making sure that at least some in her vicinity had heard. ‘We’re waiting for Jim Bross. He’s coming too. You know him, don’t you, Mr. Fence?’
Dorian nodded. Yes; he knew Jim Bross the barber in Trinity Street.
‘Tell him about the money, auntie,’ said Posie Lang.
Disconcerted, Ruby Clarke made a face at her niece. She felt she had been a millionairess since ever so long — all her life in fact. Now she was sharply reminded that one sudden day last week . . .
‘I got a legacy,’ she said.
‘Ten thousand pounds!’ her niece supplemented annoyingly. ‘Her aunt in Australia is gone and died and left her all she got.’
‘That’s nice for you,’ said Dorian to Mrs. Clarke. ‘So you’re taking Jim Bross and Posie with you to Paris.’
‘Not Jim Bross,’ said Ruby Clarke, indignant and haughty. The breasts were up, imposing. She hated to spend money on her lovers. ‘He takes himself. . . . Have a cigarette.’ In a flash she produced a cigarette case from her flaming bag. The cigarette case, like everything else, was an ornate affair. Somewhat too large, half onyx, half jade, it bore her initials in diamonds on the onyx half. Her disdainful finger on its recondite mechanism flapped it open under Dorian’s nose disclosing some dainty slender cigarettes with fiery crimson tips. ‘Smart, aren’t they? Have one, won’t you? Had them made in Bond Street, at Facrolo’s, special for me. Otherwise, it’s Russian, I always smokes Russian. And the case’s smart, too. And how d’you like this?’ The blob of red nail on her index finger tapped the cigarette-holder when she had fitted one of Facrolo’s Special to it. ‘Fine, ain’t it? Reel tortoise-shell! Genuine! Finnigan’s!’
‘Cost you a lot, didn’t it, auntie?’ put in Posie.
Ruby Clarke was grateful to her niece for those words. ‘Didn’t it just!’
‘Wonderful! Wonderful!’ Dorian was in raptures over it all. ‘And the most wonderful is you, Mrs. Clarke. You’re looking marvellous! You’ve grown so much younger and prettier since Cambridge — if that were possible. Oh, you’re looking marvellous, Mrs. Clarke! Too marvellous!’
Mrs. Clarke blushed joyously, modestly.
‘Oh, Mr. Fence,’ she said, ‘you always was one to say pretty things. Not that you ever flirted, as one may say. Dignified and respectable. But you knew as how to say things.’
‘So you’re going to Paris,’ he said.
‘Yes! And taking Posie with me. You know, give her a chance to see life. You know what I mean.’ Smiling, she stretched her hand and gave Posie’s arm an affectionate squeeze. ‘You know, give her a chance.’
Dorian smiled internally.
‘Why didn’t you ask me too, Mrs. Clarke?’ he asked. ‘But I’d be in the way. Of course, there’s Jim Bross. I’d forgotten. . . .’
Mrs. Clarke was speechless with delight. The pink freckledness broke into a smile, fecund, spacious, sweeping, that hied in unneeded aid to the glint, fortifying, galvanising what was already unbearably vigorous, electric.
‘But I never as dreamed that you would. . . . But you ain’t serious, Mr. Fence? You’re pulling me leg! I bet you are! You won’t go about with a shopkeeper woman like me.’
‘You’re nothing like that, Mrs. Clarke,’ he said. You’re a lady as real and as good as any. I’d give anything to go with you.’
‘Then why don’t you come? Do come.’
Ruby Clarke began to feel that Jim Bross was a nuisance. She regretted enormously her entanglement with the fashionable barber of Cambridge, were he ever so fashionable.
‘But I haven’t the cash,’ said Dorian, who had three hundred pounds a year. ‘I haven’t a bean. My family’s very badly off. They can hardly keep me. Damn! It’s a pity. I wish I could come. But I haven’t a farthing.’
‘Oh, poor Mr. Fence!’ Ruby Clarke sympathised superiorly. And she had looked up to this man! How ridiculous! Now she felt a little contempt for him. But that feeling gave way to another ever-present, deep, aggressive. Her concupiscence seeing a devastating possibility of being quietened roused itself dangerously. He seemed buyable. Then he was worth buying. ‘Poor boy! Poor Dorian!’ There was no further need to mister him.
Dorian correctly gauging the situation enjoyed being unsparingly unsubtle, blatant.
‘If you take me I’ll come,’ he said. ‘I shan’t be expensive. Besides, think of the advantages to yourself. I know Paris inside out. I know the language perfectly. I’ll give you a hell of a good time for your money. I’m a wonderful dancer, you know. All the advantages. . . .’
He rose out of his chair, and, raising his arms, he adroitly held the air as a dancing partner, and performed a half-twirl in front of the ex-waitress.
Ruby Clarke greedily observed her prospective purchase. He was much above the average height, with polished black hair parted on the extreme left side, the features regular except for the too wide slit of the lips, and those eyes, black and scintillating. The sinuous, powerful figure was elegantly dressed in dark blue. Jim Bross the barber fared very badly in comparison — Jim Bross, sillily whiskery, loud-dirty-spatted, Ruby Clarke had a sudden insight into the cheapnesses. And Dorian Fence was a real gentleman, the real stuff, educated and all. O yes, there was no question, no hesitation! She didn’t like to spend money on her lovers, but Dorian — that was different! And as if her internal assent, her silent decision became visible on her face with the glint in her eye more terrible, more merciless, more havocking than ever, Dorian raised that plump, beringed hand to his lips with sublime grace to seal the contract. Ruby Clarke found him more than gratifyingly cicisbean and continental. She could barely keep back a cry of joy.
Several eyes looked on wonderingly. Remotely the head-waiter of the Trianon also surveyed the little scene. For a moment he thought of intervening. But Dorian subsided into his seat, and the pacified head-waiter allowed his interest to drift to something else.
Boundlessly happy, Ruby Clarke beckoned to the waiter. Drinks, more and more.
‘We must do it in style,’ she proclaimed.
‘We’ll have a wonderful time,’ said Dorian with infinite heartiness. ‘We’ll go places and do things.’
‘What about your clothes?’ A sudden alarm clouded Ruby’s gaiety. His family misfortunes had perhaps robbed him of his fine wardrobe. And buying him she had bought him immaculately clothed. ‘You have all your Cambridge suits still?’
Yes. Reassured, she smiled with extra exuberance.
‘We must do it in style,’ she repeated.
‘What about Jim Bross, auntie?’ said Posie Lang.
‘Mind your own business,’ answered Ruby Clarke shortly.
In the lounge of the Hotel Mocador Ruby Clarke waited the whole afternoon for Dorian. He was to come and they were to go for a drive together. Posie Lang kept her company. Outside rumbled the boulevard traffic. Through the glass of the revolving door Ruby could see the violet Hispano-Suiza which Dorian had made her hire. It also awaited Dorian’s pleasure.
Frequently she raised her eyes to the ticking clock on the blue-papered wall in front of her. She shuffled her feet. In silence she waited. Dorian didn’t come. In her exasperation she got an idea. She sent Posie to buy a bouquet from the florist opposite. As Ruby Clarke was not a believer in half measures, the bouquet had to be costly.
At last Dorian came — in a temper; offered no explanation for his long absence and proceeded at once to order a drink for himself.
Miserable, Ruby Clarke tried to appear gay.
‘I met a great friend,’ she told Dorian. ‘See those flowers? She pointed at the bouquet Posie had just dearly purchased. ‘They’re from him. Charming man! He took me for a long drive. He’s got a lovely big car. He’s coming to see me again. Going to take me out. He’s a count or something!’
Posie repressed a smile with difficulty.
‘Splendid!’ said Dorian. He gulped down his drink. ‘Well, that’s fine! I’m glad you’ve got someone to take care of you. Then you don’t want me. I’ll be off. Have a good time.’
He took up his hat and seemed about to leave.
Ruby was desperate that her ruse had failed, that Dorian hadn’t become madly jealous about the stranger’s flowers. Fightless, she surrendered.
‘Stay, Dorian, please,’ she entreated. ‘I prefer you to him.’ She tried to smile. ‘Posie can tell him I’ve gone. Let’s go for a drive. There’s a dear! Remember, you promised me. Now stay. Stay please.’
He consented to remain and take her for the promised drive. Ruby Clarke cast a parting glance of hate at the flowers — wasted like her wasted love — and passed through the revolving door of the hotel with Dorian. Posie was left behind in the lounge with the flowers.
The spring day was paling. The car was soon involved in the end-of-the-day traffic. Slowly they left the Opera behind and sped along towards the Étoile.
The flowers still chafed Ruby. Dorian might have given her some, she thought. Instead, however, he spent all her money on drink.
Dorian broke the long silence.
‘We are now in the Étoile, in English, the Star. It is the Hyde Park Corner of Paris. That is the Arc de Triomphe, in English, the Arch of Triumph. There lies the Unknown Soldier of France. There burns a flame, bright, eternal, to quicken the memory of the Frenchman lest he forget the War, lest he forget the unholy enemy that bled him without mercy, lest he forget the God that saved France and humanity, lest he forget security and the armament firms.’ He added in a mumble, ‘Pearls before swine!’ And then aloud again, ‘And now we are in the Bois de Boulogne-the Wood of Boulogne.’
Dorian’s voice was stentorian, impassive. Ruby Clarke didn’t heed. She didn’t care if it was the what’s-’is-name or wasn’t. She was mortally unhappy. She hadn’t come to Paris to hear that such and such a place or thing was the what’s-’is-name. She wasn’t interested in all that sort of thing. She sought love and didn’t get it. And Dorian Fence was drunk and truant, continually, inexorably. But she loved him still. In the corner of the car rolling heavily, placidly down the Avenue du Bois, she continued to muse sadly. Dorian was surely drunk again, she thought. Or he wouldn’t have talked all that lengthy gibberish about the what’s-’is-name. In fact, however, Dorian wasn’t drunk. Drunk or not, Ruby Clarke was glad enough to have him with her. Nevertheless, she was mortally unhappy. Of course there was the Hispano-Suiza, the liveried chauffeur; the smart restaurants, the good food and the wine — she had learnt from Dorian’s inflexible guide-voice of the four great chateaux, in English, estates, which provided the best Bordeaux; the best, strangest, most incredible cafés and cabarets. In that way Dorian was matchless. The idea of Jim Bross the barber in his place was truly ludicrous. She had got Paris all right. But she wanted Dorian.
‘The Bois de Boulogne. . .’ Dorian started again.
She stopped his rigmaroley nonsense. She drew near.
‘Darling,’ she said, ‘I don’t want you to be a guide. You know, you’re not here for that. You know what I mean. Darling!’
He knew what she meant only too well. He winced at the near prospect of the customary endearments. Yet he was surprised at her restraint on the whole. Really she was very sparing. And he was such a swine!
‘Why do you drink so much?’ she said. ‘It’s so bad for you.’
‘It’s poisonous!’ he exclaimed. ‘It’s killing me! The doctor says I must stop it. But I can’t. Anyway, I don’t care a damn. I don’t care what happens to me. I’ve had all I wanted. I had a good time at Cambridge. After that, women and all that. There’s nothing more. I don’t care what happens now.’
His desperate tone quite took her in. He loved to play the frantic martyr, the hero made by her consoling.
‘Oh, Dorian, you mustn’t say things like that! You mustn’t!’
Her sympathy was so fresh, so tender, so naïve, so abundant that he was touched. He almost gave her a kiss.
Almost everyone was drunk at Hugh Belvington’s orgy. Hugh was tall, slenderly nordic, with an enormous pale forehead and white-gold hair. There was a calm rhythmic motionlessness about him. He was the perfect still-life hermaphrodite. He had bared the large, cream-coloured, square drawing-room of his lordly flat in the Avenue Victor Hugo for the orgy. He loved giving orgies. He looked on, amused, philosophic, disinterested.
The panotrope was blaring forth To-day, to-day, it’s just the day! Jo Coolidge, the negro star of the Casino de Paris, and his beautiful café-au-lait partner, Claire Trance, deftly secured for the orgy by Dorian, delivered themselves entirely to the Spirit of Jazz for the entertainment of their fellow-guests. They were frantically wonderful in their way. The guests relished them.
‘Wonderful,’ called out Dorian drunkenly, ‘wonderful!’
The Spirit of Jazz gripped him and rent him in twain. He stepped out on the floor behind the negro and his partner and surrendered himself with a convulsed frenzied abandon to Dance as he often did in the privacy of his bedroom to the strains of gramophone dance-music, jazz, Slavonic — he didn’t mind what it was as long as it lived and moved exuberantly. He was almost as good as the professionals, with more rhythm, more feeling, but naturally less ordered, less varied. He danced for the sake of dancing. He was annihilated, beingless with joy, soporifically possessed by a wild, profound, Rasputinesque fury.
Ethereal, Hugh Belvington looked on, appalled and attracted by the fleshiness of the three furious figures.
There were two Frenchmen present. The rest were the wilder of the pupils at Monsieur André Pécornet’s School for British Diplomats and Civil Servants, which Dorian attended for lectures on French and German literature — M. Pécornet always secured the best teachers for the embryonic bureaucrats of the British Empire. They had come, almost all of them, with their female commitments. They loved Hugh Belvington’s orgies when they came on occasional Saturdays to intersperse the fevered, incessant, infernal toil at the problem of the influence of Sir Walter Scott on the French Romanticists, of a cross-channel tunnel, of the place of Palestrina in Music, of the expediency of the nationalisation of the coal industry in England, of the causes of the War of 1870 and at other similar and dissimilar encyclopedic problems that had absorbed them during the past week, during several past weeks, and would absorb them further and unmercifully during several weeks to come. Drinking, loving, merry-making, they enjoyed watching the animal, desperate convolutions of the three dancers.
‘Bloody swine!’ Arthur Pranse the Australian, who was good at Rugger, struck a discordant note amid all the jollity. He watched Dorian’s frenzied antics. ‘Bloody swine!’ There was such rending violence in his bluff austerity.
The melody, accompanied by the patter of rhythmic feet, came to mock him, unheeded, alone, aloof, sullen at the little pastel-blue bar in a corner of the drawing-room. The gay, wicked world scoffed at his vigorous rectitude. In despair he re-helped himself to whisky. He determined to maintain a strict aloofness throughout the orgy. Negroes — and of all the people in the world, Posie Lang! She had bitten him once in Cambridge. It hadn’t been a kiss-mingled bite of passion. It had been a fevered tenacity of virtue resisting a fevered tenderness. Negroes and Posie! It was undeniably upsetting. To go chez Belvington the hermaphrodite was always upsetting. Yet wine flowed abundantly chez Belvington. You couldn’t insist on the dogma of heterosexuality. To-night, however, there were negroes and Posie as well. He was sorry he had come. He wanted to leave at once. He had some more whisky.
The negroes now finished their turn. Dorian’s nimble desperation subsided, deteriorated into a vague, nondescript whirling. He came circlingly towards Pranse.
‘Bloody old Fence!’
‘Just animal!’ responded Dorian and smiled his fine, shapely white teeth infuriatingly at Pranse. ‘Just animal! Divine!’
Then he grabbed the nearest woman and danced off with her, to the indignation of Ruby Clarke, who stood quite near hoping ardently it would be her he chose.
The floor was seized by all.
Pranse’s eye, however, was only for Dorian.
‘Bloody swine!’ His righteous vituperations were anguished. He had become engaged to a girl in London before returning to study in Paris. A week’s sobriety and chastity had made him aggressively moral and principled. Virtue burned within him acrid, torturing, Savonarolesque when he thought of Dorian — Dorian who womanised so obviously, unashamedly, unapologetically. Bloody swine! Just like one who hadn’t been to a public school and was half-Italian! And then this being kept by a waitress! Pranse couldn’t quite understand it. It didn’t fit in with Dorian’s lasciviousness. Anyhow, he concluded somewhat illogically, it was just the sort of thing the swine would do. He hadn’t wanted to come to the party for yet another reason — for fear he might be encouraging the monstrous Dorian. He poured himself another drink.
Young Lord Pampel contemplated the spectacle with superb blond hauteur, diverted, tolerant of all. He had just returned from his holiday in Italy.
‘Tell me about Rome, Pampel,’ Belvington approached listlessly. ‘How was the Embassy? Lots of affairs, I suppose. Your looks, your title. Blond succulence for the dark hungry eyes of Signora la Marchesa, Signora la Principessa. . . . Oh, too hungry! Horrid!’
‘As a matter of fact,’ said Lord Pampel glumly, ‘I couldn’t risk it. I didn’t dare try anyone’s virtue. You know it’s awkward getting compromised. I had to get on with the pros.’
‘Oh, how ghastly!’ exclaimed Belvington, looking into Lord Pampel’s face. ‘Coward! Stupid! I thought better of you.’
He walked away, sublime, indolent, jostled here, there by intrepid dancers, by amorously-absorbed dancers. His flesh tingled with wine, with the warm revelry around. He approached Lucille Gautier. Dorian had left her in his safe, cold hands. He had neglected her atrociously so far. To make up he asked her for a dance now.
They danced. They didn’t. They strolled.
‘What’s the matter with Dorian?’ Lucille said. ‘A gigolo! He’s mad.’
‘Don’t take him seriously,’ was Belvington’s toneless comment, ‘don’t take anything seriously. I never do.’
At that moment he thought of Jacques Marin, the tennis star. The little tiff in the morning. Jacques was getting sillily jealous, tiresome. Belvington, however, was rather peeved that Jacques had carried out his threat of not turning up at the orgy. But he wouldn’t let that upset him excessively. Lucille’s pretty frock of blue nuance caught his eye. He complimented her on it. He added his usual, pertinent, expert comments.
‘I like you awfully,’ she cried with effusive candour. ‘You understand women. You know about dresses and all that. You’re so interesting. I like being with you.’
‘This is not a proposal, is it?’ said Belvington the hermaphrodite in his calm voice that dawdled. ‘What about Dorian? He’ll be jealous, won’t he? But I won’t take advantage. Pity I am what I am, isn’t it?’
He smiled at her quizzically.
‘Ah, you misunderstand, of course!’ cried Lucille impatiently. ‘You’re like all men. Woman is just a sex-instrument, you think.’
And, though she hadn’t offered herself, she felt wounded to be so plainly rejected.
A week’s abstinence had helped considerably to dislodge Pranse from his furious asceticism. He was fairly drunk, social, genial. He was dancing with Lulu, whom in his new affianced state he had hitherto scrupulously evaded. Lulu belonged vaguely, indiscriminately to the pupils of Pécornet’s school, but she was essentially Pranse’s monopoly. She loved him. So it wasn’t much fun for him dancing with her. His primed eyes roved around. He decided to brighten the evening for himself. He would dance with Claire Trance, whose negroness now assumed acceptable hue and form; and, having boldly effected a rapprochement with Posie Lang, whose teeth once curbed his energetic importunacies, he would dance with her as well. There was always a chance. There was no harm in trying. He later put his decision into execution.
Ruby Clarke was the centre of an interested group.
‘This is reel tortous-shell!’ she was saying of her cigarette-holder, and everyone was ecstatic. ‘Reel! Genuine! I got it at Finnigan’s! Very expensive! And these cigarettes. Fine, aren’t they? What they call chic. They’re made special for me. At Facrolo’s, you know. Otherwise, it’s Russian. I always smokes Russian!’
‘Ruby — I may call you Ruby, mayn’t I?’ cried Belvington who stood by, happy to have shed Lucille. ‘You’re delightful. Gorgeous!’
Ruby smiled gratefully at him, and then her eyes turned anxiously to seek Dorian. To-day he had been most attentive. Yet she found him evasive. She saw him at the farther end of the room dancing with Lucille. She was furious, though ignorant of the extent of their friendship; for she allowed Dorian to dance with no woman beside herself. He, however, continually infringed her ruling on this point as on every other.
Some of the guests had moved for expediency to the inner recesses of Hugh Belvington’s flat. The drawing-room was less populous now.
In a corner Lord Pampel recounted to Pranse one of his Roman exploits, ‘. . . she shouted at me, ”non cosi presto, non cosi presto!”’
He smiled. Pranse laughed his laugh that was thunderous and gigantic.
‘How can you?’ Lucille was saying to Dorian, while they danced. At last almost at the end of the evening they had got together. ‘How can you? That woman! Mon Dieu, c’est une grue! You must be mad. Ah, I think I know. I have it! It is for your book.’
Dorian laughed and broke away from her. He rushed to Ruby Clarke with open arms.
‘Ruby, Ruby,’ he cried. ‘They think you’re awful, ghastly. But I love you, darling. I love you. I think you’re wonderful.’
And in the midst of everyone he kissed her bewildered face. Then he seized her and whirled her round and round to a wild trumpeting of jazz. Unwieldy, panting, Ruby Clarke did her best to keep pace with his terrific, ecstatic agility. She felt Dorian’s strong, warm, tight arms round her and a beatitudinous smile lit her freckled face.
Those dark eyes of his were on her, close, consuming. He said: ‘So Paris — and love!’
Pranse the Australian hadn’t enjoyed a torrid reception from Claire Trance the coloured danseuse or from Posie Lang. Posie had been particularly nasty, being long bespoke elsewhere — to one of the Frenchmen. Common and yet so bloody fussy, commented Pranse internally on her. Grieved, he returned to Lulu. They went to the bar for drinks. Sipping his drink, leaning against the wall, Pranse saw Dorian leaping round with Ruby.
‘Bloody swine!’ the Australian swore aloud.
Dorian was scarcely back from the orgy. He had thrown off his overcoat and lay sprawling on his bed. He had returned with Ruby to the hotel, leaving Posie to pass the night in the arms of her Gallic adventure. His clothes still on, he seemed to be reposing a while. The drunkenness had worn off. He dreaded every moment the appearance of Ruby from the next room. He had a separate room, at least. Thank God! He had insisted on that. Ruby had been surprised to find him become suddenly, fearsomely discreet and prudish. Intransigent, he had exacted a room for himself. It lay adjacent to hers.
The communicant door became ajar. It was open. Ruby in her nightdress came through and stood at the corner of his bed. Her eyes were desperate, tearful. She sat down on the edge of the bed. Timid, her hand lay lightly on his arm.
Her face was newly powdered, rouged. Her lips were thick with paint. She was freshly besprinkled with her garish, asphyxiating whore-scent. She just sat silent, begging, her hand gentle, afraid on his arm. Then she began to sob. She always sobbed.
He was just appalled, nauseated. Such a swine he was, he told himself. Such a cad! That was the limit of his sympathy. Beyond that he couldn’t go. He couldn’t feel sorry for her. She was vulgar, horrible, grotesque. Grotesque like himself for the incredible prank he had played her. Caddish it was, but he enjoyed it for the moments of self-forgetfulness it brought. He stared at her, cold, unfeeling, despising. She was weeping violently. His body gave a furious twitch. He sat up. He hated her now desperately, with a blunt, dull, profound hatred. Her sobs drove him to a wild, overwhelming frenzy. She was wincingly horrible.
He started up from the bed. He walked to the chair, where his overcoat and hat lay.
She gazed at him, helpless, gaping, ridiculous.
‘You’re not going out?’ a voice asked, frantic, entreating. ‘Always running away. . . .’
She left the bed and approached Dorian.
‘Leave me alone,’ he shrieked at her. ‘Leave me alone. I’m going out — to get drunk, drunk, dead drunk.’ He hesitated. ‘No, no. It’s not that. I’m going to my girl — my girl!’
A demonic, suffocating laugh burst from him. He tortured for revenge. He hated the world that had no use for him. Those fellows at Pécornet’s school. He was jealous of them, madly jealous. They had fathers and mothers. They would get somewhere. They would become diplomats, Civil Servants. . . . And he had so much more stuff in him. He was as good as them all put together. He knew it. He was sure of it. Even that vile, lecherous moron Pranse would get somewhere. But he — what would happen to him? He was so wantonly abandoned by everybody. He had no one. Not even Lucille. For she had begun to fail to suffice. And he needed someone, something badly, badly. . . .
He picked up his hat and his coat and almost ran out of the room.
‘Cheat! . . . bloody cheat!’ Ruby called after him.
From the balcony of his room, she watched him into a taxi in front of the hotel entrance. Long, long down the dark empty boulevard the taxi sped, then it vanished.
With Posie Ruby Clarke was back in London, Dorianless, loveless, cursing the elegant toff who was a dirty, drunken cheat. Jim Bross the barber would have been better after all.
About the same time, Lady Fence-Basso was reading in her home in Charles Street, ‘. . . caviare, champagne, the Ritz, Giro’s, all that. It’s difficult to do all that on six pounds a week. But it’s easy when you find someone rich to spend on you. It’s lucky that Ruby Clarke, a Cambridge waitress, picked me of all the several rivals for her bounties when Destiny suddenly was kind to her. She is stout. Some may call her gross. But what a heart! She repays her exigences with such a charming, bewildering munificence. Oh, that heart!
‘You were always telling me, mother, of a definite job. Well, I’ve got it, as you see. It’s definite all right and good — but, alas, only as long as it lasts. I expect to be thrown off any day. There are so many others better. Why should it be me? Anyhow, at present I can just hold my own. I hope I can hang on long . . .’
‘C’est comme ça chez Blaa,’ shouted the negro band-leader, full of the tedium of existing, showing his big white teeth nevertheless, and put down his baton.
The Saturday-night noceurs returned to their tables with their mistresses. The dance-floor emptied. Its tinyness became very apparent. The tables of the late-comers had been huddled together round its in-extensive rim. What remained of space for the fox-trotters and the tangoers was smaller even than Fashion dictated.
Our friends from Pécornet’s school were there. They occupied two tables near the bar.
‘Ruby must have cursed you all the way back to town,’ Lord Pampel said to Dorian, and turned to tell the mannequin with him all about Dorian’s exploit.
‘Too instinctive for a gigolo,’ smiled Lucille. ‘It is not a job for you, mon petit.’
‘You’re a bloody cad, Fence,’ burst out Pranse the Australian with habitual vigour. ‘Bloody old Fence!’
‘Oh, don’t be gross, Pranse,’ Belvington suddenly came out of himself, and with a sharp, school-mistress-like, venomed energy proceeded to rip and mangle Pranse. ‘You’re just gross and stupid. So blind stupid. And I’m so mockable, aren’t I? Vile? I am what I am. No attitudes for us, for God’s sake! We know you too well. Keep them for old Pécornet. In spite of all the vehement Grundyism — oh, the blind-pure soul of a tough — God knows where venery and drink are going to land you. And sex is good enough only when everything is darkest, soddenest — always with you. A little advice: just be tough. Stick to Rugger. Stick to it hard. It’s a sin. But a healthy sin. Let your sin save you.’
Pranse, maddeningly red even for Pranse, wanted to hit Belvington. He fidgeted violently. Then he crumpled up, infinitesimal.
Satisfied with the reprimand he had administered, Belvington turned to Dorian and said in his usual, impassive, lackadaisical voice: ‘You need Rugger too. Dostoieffski isn’t healthy. So you’re the new Stavrogin. Sleeping with unappetising women is right at the bottom of the ladder of self-domination. Elementary, elementary, and you failed terribly.’
‘I’m no Stavrogin,’ Dorian smiled. ‘Ruby Clarke was just a momentary aberration.’
He wouldn’t edify them more. They wouldn’t understand him. They didn’t take him seriously. They didn’t take themselves seriously.
‘I’m as instinctive as ever,’ he went on. ‘Just animal!’
He smiled exasperatingly at Pranse. The Australian, still suffering from Belvington’s virulent clawing, fumed silent and submissive, and ordered a drink to console himself for the miscomprehension of his fellow-beings.
The trouble about you, Dorian,’ said Belvington, ‘is that you’re just a blatant continental about sex.’
‘Not blatant,’ responded Dorian, ‘and not a continental, please. Not a continental. He’s as vile as the Grundyite. The Grundyite, in trying to abolish the body, pursues sex as a forbidden delicious joy. The continental emphasises it and banalises it. It’s so bloody de rigueur with him to have a mistress. Wife and paramour combine to run the male household. No, no, I’m not like that. I want instinct. . . .’
‘Let’s not be highbrow,’ broke in Pranse, bored. He didn’t like to be in the midst of the wrangling sexological, sociological. The prospect before him was dull, he was thinking. Lulu the demi-mondaine who awaited him in a café in the Place des Termes, or the letter to his fiancée in London and the essay on the French Encyclopedists which awaited him at home among other arrears of work. He ordered himself another drink. He leaned over towards Lord Pampel. ‘Did you hear that one about the camel?’
Lord Pampel had. Pranse relapsed into a sullen silence. Later he broke out again: ‘We are all so damned highbrow. Come and dance, Lucille.’
Lucille and he made their way to the floor and were soon lost in the perfumed, perspiring mass that heaved, gyrated in promiscuous, rhythmic mingledness.
Lucille suddenly found herself in a very tight grip. She looked up at Pranse. He leered at her.
‘You like Fence?’ he asked her, wondering, annoyed that she could love such a foul tick of a dago that was Fence.
‘Yes,’ she said, surprised.
‘Have you known him long?’
‘You are very curious,’ she answered. ‘Yes. Anything else?’
‘Yes, only this,’ said Pranse. ‘We can meet in Paris, you know.’
He had said it now. He was glad to have it over. His voice had been supremely impassive, a monotone. He had been able to conceal his extreme agitation. He was anxious, for he was unable to gauge Lucille’s receptivity.
‘Comment! she said, pretending not to understand.
Damn the girl! He had to say it all over again. But he felt quite bold now. He spoke fast.
‘I say let us meet. We can have a rendezvous. To-morrow, to-night later, if you like, if you can get rid of Fence. We can go to another boîte. Casanova’s! Some champagne!’
‘Ça, alors,’ she burst out, ‘c’est trop fort! Leave me. You are horrid. I stop the dance. Please stop.’
She struggled in his arms. He tightened his hold.
Please let’s go on,’ he begged. ‘Je vous en prie. It will look too bad. They will suspect. Please don’t let me down. Besides, I was only joking. You don’t think I really meant it, do you? Once you smiled at me. I thought, perhaps. . . . What can I do? I love you, Lucille. . . .’
‘You love me!’ she said scornfully. ‘Oui, oui, je sais. I know the love of you. I or another. It is all equal to you. Vous êtes grotesque!.’
The music stopped.
‘C’est comme ça chez Blaa,’ came the negro’s voice.
‘Don’t say anything, please,’ Pranse entreated. They walked back in silence to the others.
‘. . . And even I am no good,’ Dorian was saying. ‘Too much imagination, jazz or something else. Not instinct.’
Pranse was silent and sullen. He was maddened by the unhesitating, scornful rebuff from Lucille. He forced himself to be cheerful.
He asked Lord Pampel: ‘D’you know that one about the camel?’
‘Yes, I’ve heard it three times already, that’s all.’
Pranse ordered a drink.
'They're all libertines,' said Dorian, 'eroticists, perverts. It's all cocktail, movies, jazz. There's no love left in the world. It's all aphrodisiacal lust.'
Pranse the Australian was sprawling, massive, it seemed deliberately massive, on the valiant, dignified person of the commissionaire chez Blaa. Then he thumped him on the head so that his cap half obscured the ex-soldier’s face. A sandwich, that had got cleft on its exuberant way out of the night club, smudged its sly path from Pranse’s hand into the vast pocket of the commissionaire’s grey-blue livery coat.
‘Good old Grégoire! Good old Grégoire! My only friend Grégoire!’
Grégoire allowed himself to be pulled, whacked humiliatingly, mercilessly awry with amiable, ingratiating apathy. He would only permit the coming of the taxi to rescue him from the patronal violences. At last the taxi came and Pranse, assisted by the untiring Grégoire, got in with wobbling, heavy effort. The door of the taxi vacillated ajar quite a while.
‘Eh, bien! . . .’ Grégoire allowed his hope to express itself.
Pranse in his dark corner seemed inertly, hopelessly unconscious of the world beyond the taxi, of the pressing presence of the commissionaire.
‘Salaud d’anglais!’ After an eternity the Frenchman banged the taxi-door with a ferocity quite in measure with his resentment at being exuberantly mauled without a fat gratuity, without the smallest gratuity. ‘Salaud d’anglais! Espèce de —’
Pranse chuckled at his well-mimed exuberant drunkenness. It had saved him a tip to Grégoire. It was, however, the barest chuckle, most unhearty. Rattling home in the taxi, he was furious to think that he was sober, remorselessly sober. He had drunk, drunk, drunk. There had been infinite quantities of whisky and gin. Expensive but fruitless. His efforts, as on the previous occasions, had failed to end the monotonous horrid sobriety of the past four nights. The evening had started full of promise but had fizzled out in the haughty, mortifying constancy of Lucille. And now he felt so tiresomely untired, buoyant. He was possessed of boundless energetic cheeriness. Sleep was impossible. The alternatives were not terribly exciting: the letter to his bride-to-be, the essay on the French Encyclopedists, or Lulu, if it was not too late for her. He was horribly, starkly awake, exasperatingly worked up but for quite other things than writing a letter to his future wife and disserting on Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot and D’Alambert. He pictured to himself his desk in his small room in the rue Franklin strewn with the notes borrowed from Belvington for the coming essay. He was appalled. What a waste of a Saturday night! The day had not given him a full, fair measure of life. He couldn’t go to bed thus empty-handed. Lulu perhaps still waited for him. He would have a look at the café in the Place des Termes. He directed the taxi-driver accordingly.
The little café was almost empty. The chairs and tables were gathered and heaped together on one side. In the half-light within, in a corner, Pranse saw Lulu. A man was talking to her, leaning with his hands on the marble slab of her table, almost shielding her from view.
‘Ah, mon Tou-Tou,’ she shouted to Pranse, ‘it is you at last.’
Then she turned to the man at her table and said:
‘Go away. Don’t pester me. Fiche-moi la paix.
She waved him away imperiously. Pranse had made him so unnecessary, so odious. The man departed, cursorily scowling at the elegantly-dressed massive Englishman, whose arrival was so importunate. Lulu got up at once from the table and left with Pranse in the waiting, throbbing taxi.
‘Why you come so late?’ Lulu asked, cuddled close to him, cowering in the giant shade of his maleness. ‘I wait and wait. Hours. That man — he worry me.’
‘Sorry, Lulu,’ he said. ‘But you know I’m so busy.’ She wouldn’t let him go on. At last she had him in her arms. She kissed him ardently on the lips.
‘Augh!’ She blenched and pushed him back brusquely. ‘Busy! Yes, I know. Busy getting drunk. Tou-Tou, you mustn’t. You come to me and you are drunk. Always drunk.’
‘I’m not drunk,’ he said. ‘Anyhow drink’s wonderful. It’s the best thing in life.’
‘Oh, mon gros Englishman! How you talk like a bébé! I love you.’
She smiled and forgave the whisky and the gin on the lips. She took his head in her hands and kissed him again. Her endearments were fiery, overflowing.
‘I’m a poor mad woman,’ she murmured. ’Je t’aime. ]e t’aime. I am mad about you. If I had but money or a rich husband, you would be my boy, mon petit gigolo. All mine. Quite mine. Ah, how I love you!’
‘Your kept boy!’ He laughed his colossal laugh. The taxi rocked with it. ‘Like that bloody swine Fence!’
They got to her home on the ground floor in a house near the Trocadero. She allowed only a reading-lamp with a pink flowered shade to light up the place. It was large, bare, neat, clean. A light grey carpeted floor, a preposterously cushioned divan of so many colours shimmering in the bare light. Little else. Above the mantelpiece was a mirror — a tale-telling mirror.
She gave herself to him with an infinite coquetry prompted by her great love. She was perverse with an eager candour. She was tremendously exigent. She loved love the rare times she could get it. A sage instinct and a profound skill enabled her to effect her exactions.
And he was annoyed to have been compulsorily generous with his love. Lulu had made him go far beyond the limits he had marked for himself. He was angry to think that when he played Rugger on the morrow for the English colony in Paris his game would lack its customary, brilliant, savage sting. And so much was expected of a recent Old Blue! Besides, he loved to excel at Rugger. He was in a bad humour as he dressed.
He approached the little table by the divan to take his collar-stud. He picked up the stud from the table and stood adjusting his collar, mirrorless, by the divan. There was a broché novel on the little table.
LE TORT — MON CORPS
Pranse saw the neatly folded notes jutting out of its pages. His petit cadeau. Lula had remonstrated. She always did. She didn’t want anything from him. He had insisted. Furtively she had watched him put the notes between the sheaves of the book on the little table by the bed. He now suddenly looked round at her lying in a limp, deep somnolence with her back to him. She appeared to him so completely had, experienced, known, exasperatingly uncoveted and uncovetable at any future time. He was whetted, satiated utterly. He never wanted to see her again. And she, he thought, the little fool, loved him still. She really did love him. A prostitute had no right to be in love. The little fool! She still gushed over him. And to have to pay for her. . . . Damn her! And that swine Fence had a pretty mistress who cost him nothing. LE TORT — MON CORPS par Maurice Dorval. The red-brown letters flamed under the reading-lamp. Those notes. Those notes. He was hard up. From Sydney his father had written to him he was spending too much money in Paris. ‘You better go slow.’ Those notes. He stretched his hands and deftly twitched the notes out of the book, and slid them into his trouser pocket. Lulu remained safe in a prone doze, turned away from him.
He went to take his tie, waistcoat and coat which lay on the chair in front of Lulu’s dressing-table. Dressed, he came to Lulu to bid her farewell. She had revived now from her drowsiness.
‘Good night, Tou-Tou,’ she said. ‘Kiss me. Leave the light on. I want to read a bit.’
Pranse shook with fright. If she picked up the book. . . .
‘Darling,’ he said, ‘you mustn’t read. You’re too tired to read. Go to sleep now. It’s very late. I’m going to put out the light.’
He bent over her and kissed her.
‘All right, Tou-Tou. Put out the light as you go. Bon soir, chéri. Téléphone-moi. Et vite!’
As he closed the door of the flat behind him, a chuckle escaped Pranse.
The next day he could indulge his mirth in his habitual titanic fashion when he related the exploit to Lord Pampel and others.
His affair with Lucille was two and a half years old. Dorian noticed it sink into a horrible domesticity. Almost anguished, he remarked that Lucille had become to him tame, insipid. He deplored it all the more because he liked her. But a union couldn’t stand on mere liking.
One day while they sat in a café in the Champs Elysées Lucille suddenly broke the silence which, long and imperious, so thoroughly pervaded their meetings nowadays.
‘I’m going to be married,’ she said.
Dorian almost started from his seat. Lucille — married? He was angry. He felt deluded, let down. Instead of his disposing of Lucille, he was being disposed of by her. His self-esteem was hurt. He felt very possessive. He might have been consulted, he thought. He asked who the man was. She told him. Dorian knew him vaguely. He approved of him.
‘I’m sure you’ll be happy,’ he said, casual, conventional.
After a pause, he said: ‘By the way, I’m leaving Paris. I’m going to Berlin.’
He didn’t tell her that he had just made up his mind to go. For quite a while he had been thinking of paying a visit to the German capital. Now he had decided to leave definitely and soon.
Lucille pierced through his casualness. She was happy to realise that her forthcoming marriage had distressed him a little, at least.
‘It had to be, hadn’t it?’ she said, wistfully.
It was a reproach, he knew. He winced. She had waited all along for him to marry her. She had watched his love grow cold. Now she was brave before inevitability. They would part. She would go her way. He felt he had to say something.
‘You know,’ he began to stammer, ‘I couldn’t marry you on the money I get. I won’t ask my mother —’
‘Oh, Dorian, don’t make excuses, at least. You know it’s not that. Why pretend to me? It’s so humiliating. . . . C’est la fin, simplement.’
He called himself a stupid brute for what he had said to her. He wanted to run away at once, at once. Each moment more with her pained him dreadfully.
In a silence, full, horridly palpable they drove in a taxi to Lucille’s house in the Avenue Henri-Martin.
She was brave throughout. Lingeringly she held his hand as they were about to part at her door.
‘It’s the end, then,’ he said in a strange quiet voice.
He gave her a long caressing kiss and bolted away.
‘All those women have been mine,’ pronounced Hans von Meldorf, the son of Nathan Nathansohn the long-dead, famous banker of Hamburg. He was large, rather flabby, a vague square face, grey eyes, a nose that made him look like ten Jews, as the Berlin expression ran, a few thin long hairs of his dense black crop astray across his broad forehead. To give himself a better chance in life Hans had abandoned the name ‘Nathansohn’, teeming though it was with ancestral triumphs without number — triumphs wrung despite, no, because of the million mean persecutions and tyrannies exercised by the jealous, miserable, spineless Goyim, or Gentiles. ‘Nathansohn’ offered a vista of such horrific martyrising possibilities. Hans didn’t want to be a martyr. He wanted to live, really to live. Unwilling to be the victim of a fortuitous badge, Hans Nathansohn became Hans von Meldorf, which sounded to his ears adequately non-Semitic and Aryan.For a while Berlin had smiled superciliously at the ‘von Meldorf’ — from Hans used to come a vague, muttered, inaudible explanation — then it ceased to notice it. It accepted Hans von Meldorf yet saw unmistakably, palpably before its eyes Hans Nathansohn. Dorian knew von Meldorf at Cambridge, where the latter had spent a year to perfect his English. In Berlin, Dorian found him invaluable. Hans von Meldorf knew everyone and everything. ‘All those women have been mine at some time or another. Elise Dudu, Anny Brockdorf, Maria Zorda, Greta Brick — oh, there are so many!’
The orchestra at Busi’s played so near and so loud that Dorian had to lean right across the table to listen to the computation of von Meldorf’s amorous conquests. It was strange that one whose life was a plethora of erotic triumphs amongst the ladies of the Berlin stage and high society, should come to the blatant, noisy, plebeian Palais de Danse that was Busi’s. It couldn’t be for Dorian’s sake. For Dorian had long passed the stage when Busi’s had appeared a novelty to him. And von Meldorf who went about a lot with him knew that.
The band stopped. The floor emptied.
Dorian leaned back in his chair to listen more comfortably to von Meldorf.
‘The best of the lot,’ the German was saying, ‘was the Tinelli. She paid us a flying visit from Paris a year ago. Ach Gott! What a woman! What a figure! Berlin raved over her. I remember once I was caressing her, and she said to me, “Don’t, don’t. Please don’t do that,” in a way that expressed an infinite pleasure and an infinite fear — a fear that she should fall too easily, too soon.’
‘And what happened?’ questioned Dorian, knowing the answer full well. ‘She went the way of the rest, I suppose. She fell.’
A bell disturbed von Meldorf’s assent to Dorian’s surmise. It was the exigent telephone that connected their table with every other at Busi’s, down below around the dance floor where they sat, and above along the circle of the overtopping balcony. A square metal plaque bearing a number in figures, loud and distinct beyond error, stood at the side of each table nearest the floor, proclaiming the whereabouts and accessibility of everyone to everyone else. The ‘17’ of Dorian’s table was an immensely popular number. The telephone rang, determined, inexorable above the clamour of the orchestra that had started again. With his hand Dorian shut the jazz out of one ear and held the telephone to the other. So many were using their apparatus. It was impossible to say whence came the voice.
‘Ach, du, mein süsser,’ female, pointy, the voice immediately assumed a familiar stance, ‘was hist du? Italiener? Amerikaner? Nice eyes you have. Come and meet me outside. Darling! I give you dee Paradies. Jawohl! O boy! Yes?’
The voice ceased and waited, expectant. Silent, Dorian put down the receiver. The telephone rang again. He lifted the receiver to let it lie idle on the table.
‘They swarm round the foreigners,’ said von Meldorf almost enviously. ‘Another kind the girls like is the prematurely grey. Very seductive. Most promising. . . . Look at that girl.’ He pointed to a blonde in a brownish frock. ‘Looks a nice bit.’
He ogled her with anticipatory relish and noted her down with a thick, heavy pencil-stroke mentally. Parted from her partner, the girl made her way to a table at the other end of the immense hall. Von Meldorf saw the number of her table. He was about to dial the number, when, suddenly mindful of Dorian, he abandoned the project. He who had to tear himself from the frenzied caresses of Elise Dudu and the Tinelli, not to mention the other names but a little less famed, couldn’t have time for a drab little shop-girl.
‘You know,’ he went on, ‘sometimes you pick up some good bits here. Not classy, but that doesn’t matter. All women are the same, anyhow.’
Von Meldorf, who was a snob about everything, suddenly became an egalitarian about women.
‘But,’ said Dorian, ‘I thought you were most fastidious about women. If you’re so easily satisfied, why d’you bother about actresses and society women?’
‘I don’t bother about them,’ he said. He saw that he had betrayed his unfastidiousness. He determined to make amends. ‘I don’t bother about them. When they come to me, I can’t refuse them, can I? Besides, these cheap women around here are no good, really. I find them impossible. They were all right in my young days. But one outgrows them. Then it was women for women’s sake. Now it’s different. Now it’s women for the sake of the sport.’
‘Now,’ supplemented Dorian, with a laugh in his eyes to which the German was blind, ‘it’s a matter of prestige.’
‘There are women and women,’ remarked von Meldorf, quite repudiating his minute-old republican attitude towards the opposite sex.
‘Let us go,’ he said after some time. ‘Nothing much here. We’ll go to the Pink-Red. There’s a dance on there this evening. Herr Ober! Herr Ober!’
He let Dorian pay the waiter for the two beers and they rose from the table.
They passed out of the dance-hall into the gaudy, beige, thickly-carpeted, popularly palatial vestibule. In front of the large resplendent mirrors that covered vast tracts of its walls several women were busy tidying, magnifying their beauty, rehearsing their coquetries for the telephonic exchanges and after. By the cloak-room two women wrestled for a little old Indian. The latter finally decided the issue by grasping one of the women round the waist. The other, strictly observant of professional etiquette, at once abandoned her claims.
‘You can,’ she called sneeringly to her rival whose charms had proved more powerful, ‘you can have the old nigger if it gives you any pleasure. To tell you the truth, I feel sorry for you. So was impotentes!’
The Indian, not having understood a word, gave his resentful detractress a smile, wan, dejected, entreating, explaining that not he but Nature left her out.
‘Don’t sulk,’ shouted the girl in his feverish decrepit grasp to her vanquished colleague. ‘Better luck next time!’
Then, turning to the aged Indian beside her, she said:
‘Come, my little Gandhi.’
She helped him on with his overcoat and dragged out into the street her tottering booty.
Von Meldorf got into his Buick two-seater which he had purchased like a great deal of his possessions on credit. Little else remained, thanks to revolution and inflation, of the Nathansohn fortune. Dorian was sitting beside him.
In the late autumn evening they drove down Kurfürstendamm. The electric traffic-signs twinkled above. Eternally, measuredly, the green circles merged into yellow, yellow into red.
‘And how do you like our Berlin?’ asked von Meldorf breezily, expecting an ecstatic response. ‘How do you like our free love?’
‘It’s free, all right. But I don’t see much love.’
‘Love!’ said von Meldorf, astounded, almost smiling at his friend’s ingenuousness. ‘Love! There’s no such thing. I used the wrong word. I meant Eroticismus. Anyhow, you can’t complain. I think you like it quite well.’
There was a little jealousy in his tone. Dorian sometimes allowed himself to join in the love-hunts undertaken by von Meldorf. The spoils, which fell to Dorian with far greater ease than to the baptised Jew, he sometimes even deigned to enjoy. Von Meldorf, however, consoled himself for his defeats by a recital of one of his outstanding triumphs.
‘I must,’ he said, ‘tell you about Ima Rutting. You know, the film diva. I think that was my longest affair--a month!’
The car came to a stop at the command of the red orb in the heavens.
‘Fromm’s Akt!’ shrieked a hoarding from a bus beside them. It was a famous brand of contraceptives. ‘Fromm’s Akt! Fromm’s Akt! Fromm’s Akt!’
The buses, the trams, the tubes, the barbers’ shops, all were yelling, roaring, ‘Fromm’s Akt!’ Berlin was in a fury of Birth Control. The ubiquitous, tempestuous clamour didn’t deafen Dorian. His ear was used to it.
‘Yes, about Ima Rutting —’ continued von Meldorf, as the car restarted.
’Ach Gott! Again!’
At the next cross-road they had just missed the green light which allowed them to pass. They had to stop before the crimson inexorability of the lamp above. The cars stood three abreast. Von Meldorf’s car was alongside the pavement. A blonde girl stood on the edge. Von Meldorf looked at her and remembered that his friends had cars and mistresses. He at the moment had only his Buick.
He poked his face out of the car, the nose tremendous, all-surmounting, widened at the nostrils, the rest of the features, vague, molten, slid — there were rivulets, deep streams all over the place — into a vast smirk. He said, politest:
‘Gnädiges Fraulein, can I drop you anywhere?’
‘Leave me alone, you cheeky Jew!’ the girl snapped at him and turned away.
The green signal came on and he drove off.
‘Serve you right!’ said Dorian.
‘Damn the woman!’ said the German, wild to be reminded of his Israelite origin, especially in Dorian’s presence, when his sympathies were so heartily with the National Socialists, or Nazis, who feverishly wanted a Germany for the Germans and not for the Jews. He remembered that his best friends were ardent supporters of Adolf Hitler. He would have liked to remind Dorian of that fact. He would have liked to yell that fact at the young woman who had flung in his teeth his long-discarded Judaism. ‘Damn the woman! She is too respectable. . . . Must be a scullery-maid! It’s only they who behave like that. They’re the only Puritans left. They can’t compete with the splendid, luxurious, highly-perfumed, Mercédès-Benz easy virtue of their mistresses. So they become doggedly prudish. In desperation, they jealously cling to what no one wants. It’s the last possession of the dispossessed.’
They were both silent for a while.
Then Dorian said:
‘You lost the War, but you conquered Paris. It’s a solemn cathedral town compared to Berlin. You have there, of course, a few bold bad young women in society.’ He thought of Lucille Gautier. ‘But, on the whole, it’s only the midinettes and the mannequins who accommodate. Now Paris is dead. Now it’s Berlin —’
‘Yes, all the women here are to be had,’ said von Meldorf. Then he assumed his Donjuanity and became pontifical for a moment. ‘Of course, you must know how to go about it.’
Dorian smiled to himself.
‘It’s the equality of the sexes,’ the German went on, ‘fully attained. At last the girl has got the right to sow her oats. What did the parents do with her virtue, when they controlled it? Anxious-eyed, they guarded it and then they prostituted it to the highest bidder. Now, a girl’s virtue is entirely her own problem, but some young man generally succeeds in making it a personal affair of his.’
‘Fine, marvellous, isn’t it?’ cried Dorian. ‘The girl left the cloister to get into a brothel.’
‘Good heavens!’ exclaimed von Meldorf. ‘You sound like the Pope’s Encyclical! It’s not a brothel. It’s an idyll of love, lust, sensation, whatever you like to call it.’
He was silent a while.
Then he turned to Dorian, his eyes were dead earnest of a sudden. He gave a loud, frantic laugh.
‘Swine, I am,’ he said, ‘fraud, coward! You’re right. You’re right. I am. Bloody coward! All this running away from being a Jew. But the minute matters, that’s all. Don’t you see?’ Then he was angry, wildly angry. ‘I like your bloody complacence! You know a damn lot, don’t you? You’ve been through a hell of a lot, haven’t you? Yes, brothel. What if it is a brothel? Which is better, a cloister or a brothel, when life’s a dirty, silly minute, and the next minute, if there is one, is probably, certainly going to be foul, ghastly, unbearable? And then to-morrow a war again. They’ll manage it yet, the Aryan swine. War — again! Gott! I won’t fight. No, in spite of all my Nazismus. No. The Fatherland! I’ll shoot myself when they come to claim me for the Fatherland.’
After a short silence, he said:
‘Anyhow, you make the best of the brothel, don’t you?’
‘I’m flesh,’ answered Dorian, ‘I’m weak sometimes. When you’re in the world, you’re of it.’
‘Yes!’ said von Meldorf, ‘so say the virgins too and join in the erotic-neurotic scrimmage. They can’t stress their purity. If they do they’ll have a thin time. Virginity is no longer a virtue, it’s a bad advertisement.’
The car underwent a slight bump over the tram-lines. A tram jarringly scraped out of the tree-sheltered terminus near by. Von Meldorf turned off into a side lane that proved to be a blind alley. They came into a row of cars parked about a gate. It was the Pink-Red Tennis Club, one of the smartest clubs in Berlin. The club entrance fee was graduated according to the degree of Gentileness and tennis capacity of the candidates for membership. Von Meldorf lacked the latter quality abysmally. And the sacred baptismal waters, it was considered, hadn’t quite purged him of his rank Judaic matter. He was one of the Less Gentile Jews. It had cost him a fortune to become a member.
He and Dorian walked through the club building and stopped at the door of the ball-room full of smoke and noise. A tall, thin, middle-aged man, monocled, high-collared, his head clean-shaven, addressed von Meldorf a few casual, deigning words, and then seemed to move off evasively. It was the Freiherr von Birecz, one of von Meldorf’s little collection of Nazi debtors. Von Meldorf had little money for himself but he always had some for his anti-Semitic debtors.
Von Meldorf’s eyes gazed around the crowded ball-room. He discovered Peter Reppert, his boon companion, his habitual co-love-hunter, and an assiduous borrower, with two pretty women. One of them he was delighted to recognise as the daughter of Heinrich Harzl the famous Berlin lawyer. Von Meldorf had always wanted to meet her.
With Dorian he made his way to his friend’s table. They were introduced. Anna Harzl extended her hand to von Meldorf with a somewhat wry countenance. She appeared more interested and responsive about Dorian. The absence of reaction from him annoyed her.
‘An English friend,’ von Meldorf expatiated on his introduction of Dorian. ‘I shared with him in Cambridge a year of medieval crampedness and sex-starvation. And then I left.’
They all laughed.
The orchestra started to play a Viennese waltz full of delicious sentimentality. Von Meldorf danced with Anna Harzl. Dorian danced with the other girl.
Von Meldorf was glad beyond limit to feel Anna Harzl, the daughter of the celebrated Berlin jurist, in his arms. He asked her to meet him again. She evaded, declined. He pressed her. She was silent.
The music ceased and they returned to their seats.
Doggedly von Meldorf continued to court Anna Harzl. He begged her for a rendezvous. Exasperated, Anna Harzl looked at him. Monstrous nose mounted on the pulpy, indefinite face. Mieser Yid, she thought, horrid Jew. What a hope! But she wouldn’t mind meeting his meridional English friend. . . . But von Meldorf — well, he was a mieser Yid But she couldn’t tell him so.
‘It’s no use,’ she said at last. ‘It’s a waste of time. I have my lover.’
Even von Meldorf was taken aback by her awesome directness.
‘I hadn’t meant to be biological,’ he managed to stammer eventually. He smiled weakly.
‘Quite,’ remarked the girl. She looked so much scorn at him. ‘I quite believe that.’
‘Oh, but do let’s meet,’ persisted von Meldorf. ‘A lover’s no obstacle. Is it as bad as all that? What virtue! What virtue!’
‘Unheard of, isn’t it?’ bantered Anna Harzl. ‘Fabelhaft!’
He shrugged his shoulders. He turned to Dorian.
‘See, my dear friend,’ he cried and indicated Anna Harzl. ‘See. Virtue at last in Berlin! Virtue, crowned but alone!’
‘What!’ said Dorian. ‘At it again? Really, you’re incorrigible!’
‘Poor Hans!’ put in Peter Reppert. ‘You’re losing your sex-appeal. Tough luck!’
They all laughed.
Somewhat later Anna Harzl and her friend went home. The three men were left alone. Von Meldorf and Reppert proposed dinner at the club and then a love-hunt. Dorian didn’t want to join in. He left the two Germans and returned by tram to his flat in Mommsen Strasse.
Von Meldorf wasn’t sorry to be rid of the squeamish Dorian. Now he could take home anyone he liked and not be ashamed of it. He needn’t be any more the fastidious, never-to-be-pleased lover of Elsie Dudu, and the Tinelli, the star from Paris. He could be himself. He remembered the blonde girl in the brownish frock at Busi’s. She had looked the kind he could have easily. He hoped she would still be at Busi’s when they stopped there on their round.
‘He’s an odd sort of fellow,’ he remarked of Dorian to his companion. ‘He wants love too. He gets no kick otherwise. Love! That’s asking for too much. Nicht wahr, Peter?’
He laughed and smacked his friend hard on the back.
The glass-enclosed Café Tumpf was derangingly metallic, white, transparent in the winter evening. The contrast it set up disturbed more than it relieved. In its dense central-heatedness, Dorian sipped some warm punch. Behind its thick glass panes, he gazed at the snow-covered muffled bustle in Kurfürstendamm.
He was exulting in silence. He was exulting because he had just received five pounds from London for a piece of literary work. It was the first money he had earned in his life. He felt like Crœsus. Yet in this moment of exuberant glory, he was so alone. His triumph was so bleak. He felt restive for applause, congratulation. He was annoyed that life passed on in Kurfürstendamm, ignoring him, the coming author. Restless, and for want of something better to do, he quaffed off his punch and rapped on the table, two loud, too lively, inviting the rather testy attention of the waiter. The waiter came, stared somewhat at Dorian, and went away to return listlessly with another punch.
For a moment Dorian thought of returning to his tiny flat in Mommsen Strasse to do a bit of writing. He decided, however, that he felt too violent, too boisterous to write. He wanted to dance, to sing his hope and faith in life, to cry his boundless exultation, to weep uproarious tears on the breast of a woman who understood him, who held him, held him fast and warm, and told him there was to be no more gay, feverish, aspiring futility, no more ardent, rakish meandering, the future was hope, wildest, crag-high, fulfilled. He died for the soft, incentive whispers of such a woman. He thought of the Meldorfian love-hunts. The horrid, brittle embraces of those women. He shuddered. He shuddered.
Before his eyes floated a vast, cream, resplendent Rolls-Royce. The vision was lackadaisical, sibilant, shimmering. Glowing, it passed by and disappeared round the corner of the street at which the Cafe Tumpf stood. At the wheel Dorian saw a lady, alone, chauffeurless. It was Freyja Zilding. The Zilding. Dorian recognised her at the first glimpse. With the rest of Berlin he had marvelled at her performance in Die Tochter.
Quivering, he rose from his seat, a couple of marks from his pocket jingling across the marble slab of the table, and hurried out into the sharp winter air in the track of the Rolls-Royce. He meant to give chase in a taxi. He turned down the side-street and found, to his joy, the large cream beast of a car standing a little distance away from the entrance to the Kempinski store. When he came to it he looked back at the lighted fair of Kurfürstendamm. The noisy buses and cars flowed ceaselessly on under the blanket of snow. The commissionaire at Kempinski’s, rubbing his hands furiously, was chatting with a friend and displaying a vast liveried back to Dorian. No one noticed the Englishman. Briskly he turned the door-handle and entered the chestnut-wood, opulently-upholstered rear of Freyja Zilding’s car. He shut out the nipping air, and crouched lowly, minutely on the floor, hugging the corner made by the wall of the wheel-seat and the door by which he had entered. He waited so with palpitating heart.
At length Freyja came, dropped a parcel beside the driving seat, and got into the car; the door was banged after her by the commissionaire who bade her good evening, and she drove off.
In violent agitation, Dorian arose from the floor of the car.
‘Please, Gnädige Frau,’ he heard a weak, unknown voice say, ‘please don’t mind. May I accost you?’
Then he tried to smile. He hoped he had sounded brave.
A little shriek escaped from the actress and the car stopped furiously abrupt.
Under the quaint little green felt bowlerish hat, Dorian saw a little of the gold-red hair, the alarmed limpid blue-green eyes, the voluptuous red lips in the white oval face looking at him.
‘So was! Really, this is too much!’ Freyja exploded. ‘Get out at once! Really, I —’
He cut her short. He was bolder now.
‘Oh, don’t take it so frightfully amiss. I’ve been following you all over Berlin. I wanted terribly to talk to you. I’ve seen you four times within the last week in Die Tochter. I’ve admired and worshipped. Last night, too. I wanted absolutely to speak to you. Oh, look here, I must sound a terrible fool,’ he made an impatient desperate gesture. ‘So like the others. . . . Just a tricked-up speech.’
The foreign accent, the occasional mistakes in the glib speech, beat pleasingly on Freyja’s ear. Dorian’s earnest impetuosity charmed her. She softened. She liked those eyes. She liked that roguish twirl of the lips.
‘I won’t,’ he went on, ‘I won’t pretend I know you, or that I met you at the Pink-Red Club, or at the Press Ball. I don’t know you, but I want to terribly. You don’t mind my —’
At last Freyja allowed herself to smile a little.
‘What are you?’ she asked. ‘A foreign priest? To-day there have been two priests already.’
He laughed. Delighted to see her less vexed, he grabbed at her words to build upon them deftly, insensibly, a long conversation.
‘What do they say — the priests?’
‘One of them asked me if I were interested in cathedrals? He’d show me round, he said.’
‘But no one so cheeky as you,’ she went on. ‘To get into my car like this. You’ve become a Berliner all right.’
‘Did I appear so terribly bold? If you only knew the effort it cost me. . . . Didn’t you hear the voice quiver? You know the reason, I suppose. I am madly in love with you.’
He really looked it, too, she thought. His eyes were marvellously aflame, piercing, a velvet fire. He touched her with a fierce, smooth warmth.
‘Really,’ he repeated, ‘I’m madly in love with you.’
‘If you say things like that, I’d better be going. Already I’ve stopped too long.’
‘No, no,’ he entreated. ‘Don’t go, please.’
Saying so, he rapidly got out of the rear of the car and stepped in again,in front this time, beside Freyja.
‘Look here,’ he began again, ‘let me be with you a little at least. Let’s go for a drive.’
‘But,’ she protested, ‘I have an appointment. . .’
Yet she let herself go for a drive with him. They turned down into the Kant Strasse and drove in the direction of the Wireless Tower. Two eyes of yellow fire lighted up the desert of snow.
‘I’m madly in love with you,’ Dorian went on. ‘It all looks so silly, so commonplace. Vulgar. Meeting you like this, I’m under an awful disadvantage. But I had to talk to you . . .’
‘What are you?’ Freyja intervened suddenly, remembering she hadn’t yet discovered that particular. ‘Who are you?’
‘Dorian Fence. English. I write. I had my first success to-day. Five pounds.’
‘You’re English!’ she was surprised.
‘Yes, yes,’ she said, after having examined his face a while, ‘you could be English. You have a little something English in you.’
It was delicious to feel the interest he stirred in her.
‘Can’t I talk of love?’ he questioned. ‘I am really madly in love with you.’
‘Without knowing me,’ she said.
‘No, no. I know you. I know you perfectly. I’ve seen you on the stage so often. And off, too. I’ve dreamt of you. I know you absolutely. Every detail. It’s all worked out. I understand you perfectly. And you me.’
She turned to him a second and laughed. There were so many glowing white sparks in the red mouth. He took her left gloved hand that lay light on the wheel, drew back the glove a bit and glued his lips lingeringly to her wrist. She let him hold her hand until she had to turn the car round.
They were back now in the Kant Strasse. At last she stopped the car and with a smile on her face that gave Dorian hope, said:
‘Well, you must go now. I have someone to see.’
He was reluctant to leave her.
‘When shall I see you again?’ he asked with calm confidence. ‘To-night — after the show?’
‘Never,’ she said, struck with Dorian and pondering over her recent, somewhat penitential, trying fidelity to Josef Pilzheim, the famous Jewish banker. Of late, he had been trustifying and hadn’t had time to be infatuated with her. She liked Josef. He had helped so much to make her the great actress she was. And he spoilt her so imperially. Yet he was unassuming and unpretentious in the love he asked of her. The largesse, senescent, easy, smiling, with which he allowed her her intrigues, sometimes tortured Freyja’s conscience for the brutal, complacent fullness with which she exploited it. Her indiscretions, however, had to be discreet. Josef Pilzheim had amour-propre. He didn’t want to be made a fool of publicly. ‘Never. We can’t meet again. That’s out of the question.’
Her sure voice cast him into a deep pit of melancholy.
‘Oh, please, don’t say that. We must meet. We must. Just to be with you.’
She gave him a tender smile, to see him so ardent, so gloomy.
‘Oh, let me see you,’ he begged on. ‘I know what. I’ll come and teach you English. I’ll give you lessons. Oh, let’s meet.’
Touched by his boyishness, she gave a happy soft laugh. He saw her almost acquiescent.
‘Yes, yes,’ he was nimble with opportunity. ‘Say you will, you will. When? To-night? At the theatre?
She gazed at him, silent, non-committal, a little to tantalise. Then she nodded.
‘Not at the theatre. At the Rolf. The Cafe Rolf. It’s in a lane off the Budapester Strasse. There’s no one there at night. D’you know it?’
‘Yes, yes,’ he cried in ebullient joy. ‘Don’t worry. I’ll find out where it is. You will be there? You’re not just putting me off?’
‘Ach!’ she exclaimed, ‘As to that, faith! Faith!’
He seized her hand and, again partially lifting her glove off, laid a burning kiss on the wrist.
She drove away.
Freyja Zilding wanted to go to Dorian’s little flat in Mommsen Strasse. He vetoed that successfully. He would have none of his shabby flat. He wanted something odorous and elegant. They went to Freyja’s flat in Kurfürsten Strasse, which Josef Pilzheim had provided and furnished according to the taste of the famous comedienne.
Dorian lay in her tender, mothering arms. He was tearful with passion. She surrendered herself to his poignant, youthful brutality with a calm grace. There was no irksome, too-prolonged vacillation, nor an abandon that was woundingly facile and rapid, but delicate, voluptuous, masterful, tinged with a slight, fine, compassionate irony. Freyja’s tact was infinite. She was ineffable, divine.
Darkling, in the passive, haunting aroma of her pillows Dorian was drowning. He told her softly his hundredth sweet nothing.
‘You know German well,’ she said. ‘Especially all these things.’
‘I can’t make love in English any more. It sticks in the throat.’
There was a silence, when he breathed the gentle perfume of her nearness.
‘How old are you?’ she asked suddenly.
‘Why do you roam about alone like this? What’s happened to your family?’
He told her about himself, his father who was dead, his mother who had married again. He recounted how he might have gone to India to join his cousin in business. That had been suggested to him by his mother. He — in business! He laughed. In the end, he found himself, gay-miserable, sauntering, striving on five hundred marks a month.
‘Ach, mein lieber, lieber Dorian!’ she drew near and kissed him. ‘All alone in the world! How can you get on with five hundred marks a month when you’ve been so spoilt?’
‘Oh, I manage somehow,’ he said. ‘I haven’t to worry about clothes for a long time. My suits are still quite fresh. Oh, I manage all right. I’m used to it now. Besides, it won’t always be just five hundred a year. To-day I earned five pounds. That’s a hundred marks.’
‘And next month,’ she smiled at him in the darkness, ‘and next month, perhaps, another hundred marks. My poor dear Dorian! You can’t go on like, that for ever. Josef will help you. He’s very influential. You know whom I mean — Josef Pilzheim.’
Yes, yes, Dorian knew of him, alas. Von Meldorf had often spoken to him of the great Jewish financier. He was hurt that Freyja mentioned the man so readily, as if he were so inevitable in her life. It was a little indelicate of her, he thought.
‘You must meet Josef,’ she went on. ‘He’s a wonderful man. So understanding.’
‘I suppose,’ broke in Dorian, ‘I suppose he’ll understand, too, when he sees us in bed together.
‘Of course,’ she replied, ‘of course. Josef is wonderful that way. He knows his place. He’s getting on in years. . . . I’ll speak to him about you.’
‘You won’t!’ he said fitfully. ‘I don’t want anyone’s help . . . I just want to be in love with you. No ambition, no future, just you.’
Uxorious arms clasped her fast. Then, a dread seizing him, he released her suddenly. With a swift impulse, he raised himself on his elbow and stared at Freyja. There was a menace in his flashing eyes. His hand that was free pressed down Freyja’s left shoulder.
‘You’ve been so wonderful,’ he said. ‘You’ve been so wonderful, Freyja. It is love? It is really love? A little, at least. Not pity? Not a silly little adventure? Not a spot of recreation? Tell me.’
‘Ach, you are a silly boy, Dorian!’ she soothed. ‘You know I love you.’
He was somewhat unconvinced, troubled. He allowed himself, however, to subside again into the soft, odorous pillows.
There was a silence.
‘You know,’ Freyja said, ‘Josef Pilzheim made me a Nazi.’
‘Through his love, I expect,’ said Dorian. ‘It makes you loathe all Jews.’
‘No, no. I made money through the Nazis.’ She laughed. ‘Josef was the first to hear that the Nazis were going to have a terrific success at the last election. So he at once became a bear on the Stock Exchange, and I with him. The Nazis did have a terrific success. The Stock Exchange did crash. And we, wise bears, did make a fortune. Ever since then I’m a fervent admirer of Hitler. Almost every time he has a political success, I make a little fortune. I’m dreading he’ll turn sensible and sedate and my little fortunes will stop coming in.’
‘Well, look here, Dorian,’ she went on. ‘You must join me in a gamble on the Stock Exchange. I’ll get a good tip from Josef.’
‘I haven’t any money to put up.’
‘Oh, that doesn’t matter, mein lieber.’
‘Oh, that’s brutal of you,’ laughed Dorian, surprised at Freyja’s lack of sensibility. ‘How can you say such a thing! No, no! That won’t do at all! I’m not going to be a gigolo a second time. I’ve been one once already.’
He told Freyja about Ruby Clarke of Cambridge.
She laughed at the tale.
‘Poor woman! I’ll make you squirm for treating my sex so badly,’ she pronounced a playful threat.
‘I expect you can if you want to,’ said Dorian, sullen.
With faith or unfaith in her love, he seized her in his strong arms and kissed her with rapt fury.
'Oh, that wonderful mouth of yours!'
A secret has a short life in Berlin. Unknown to them, von Meldorf saw Dorian many a time too often with Freyja Zilding. He guessed the import of the frequent, seemingly clandestine meetings. Socially and snobistically it was almost equally important for him to discover and trumpet aloud an intrigue in his world as to engage himself in one. Jealous of his English friend, he refused on this occasion, however, to proclaim his unwelcome suspicions. He wouldn’t be the harbinger of Dorian’s success.
Once he ran into Dorian and Freyja at Bimmel’s, the smartest Lokal in Berlin, full of a strange greenish effect, its walls covered with the most awry, scandalous, modernist pictures. It was a supreme rarity for Freyja to allow herself to be seen openly with Dorian — the rarity established the safe Platonicity of their relationship. Von Meldorf decided to sit with them.
‘This,’ he said, aiming the reverberant impact of his words more at Freyja than at Dorian, as she was in his eyes the primary one to be impressed, ‘this is where I first met Emil Ludwig. Charming man! The Woolworth of History!’
He laughed. The lie that he knew Emil Ludwig was such a happy one, for it had given him an opportunity of producing one of his mots.
‘There are,’ he went on telling Freyja, ‘quite a lot of people I know in your profession. I love the stage. It’s almost a speciality with me. Now whom do I know? Elise Dudu, Anny Brockdorf, Greta Brick. . . . What did you think of the Tinelli when she came over to Berlin? She’s all of a genre, don’t you think? And all that ineffable je ne sais quoi of Paris. And, personally, so charming, so wonderful . . .’
He gave a slight laugh and assumed an arch look.
‘And, intimately, so sublime!’ Dorian broke impatiently, bluntly upon von Meldorf’s desperate insinuativeness.
‘Really!’ Hans made a show of expostulation, in fact, however, extremely gratified, as Freyja would now inescapably know of that indispensable something that had allegedly existed between him and the Tinelli.
‘You know,’ Dorian told Freyja and patted von Meldorf on the shoulder, ‘Hans is a great Don Juan.’
Von Meldorf smiled, satisfied with progress achieved, and decided for the present to slacken his endeavour to impose.
The orchestra, which consisted principally of a negro whose teeth were brilliantly white even for a negro, started playing a paso doble. The floor filled. Dorian and Freyja got up to dance.
‘He’s dreadful,’ said Freyja, ‘your friend Hans.’
‘I’m afraid,’ said Dorian, ‘he’ll hang around the whole evening. What a pity we came here! I wish we had gone straight to your place.’
He pressed Freyja nearer to him.
‘Don’t, don’t,’ she whispered. ‘We must behave here.’
In Freyja’s ear then sang a wild, delightful, electric threat which she knew from experience would be rigorously carried out.
Meanwhile von Meldorf scanned all the pretty faces at Bimmel’s, desiring each in turn. When Dorian and Freyja returned to the table, he became encyclopedic. He indicated some people at a table next to the orchestra. It was a group of four — two men and two girls. The two men were exactly alike, heavy, blond, with bullish heads. Only when one of them smiled and disclosed a set of teeth, entirely, immaculately gold, was it apparent that his face wore still other vestiges of senility and that he was the father of the other. The girls also possessed a remarkable identity of appearance, more justly though, being twins.
‘That’s the banker von Donau,’ von Meldorf informed. ‘He’s one of the directors of Bouffa’s, the film company. They are going to dedicate their next film to German Youth — The Great Adventure! It is to fight the emasculating pacificism of All Quiet on the Western Front. Ha-ha! It is going to put beauty and glory back into war. . . . Von Donau’s one of Voronoff’s successes. He always goes love-hunting with his son. They’re like brothers to each other. To-night they’ve got Lia and Mia with them — the famous twins from the Revue Theatre. I think Lia is the blue one.’
‘And what about Frau von Donau?’ enquired Dorian.
‘She’s old,’ answered von Meldorf, ‘and stays at home in Potsdam.’
Just then, in a musicless moment, Josef Pilzheim, the celebrated Jewish financier, entered the hot, smoky atmosphere of Bimmel’s, accompanied by the Minister of Economy. They were led across the dance-floor by a waiter to a corner table. In passing Pilzheim suddenly noticed Freyja. He gave her a brief, live nod of recognition and bestowed an unwavering, strange stare upon Dorian.
‘That’s him!’ said Freyja, somewhat alarmed by the look Pilzheim gave Dorian. ‘That’s him! Josef!’
Dorian measured his rival. He was slight, with a mobile, puckish face, Semitic, grossly Voltairean, with striking, jagged, black tufts of eyebrows; yet puny, too mundane.
‘Oh, Freyja!’ cried Dorian, ‘not that, for God’s sake! That’s not him, please!’
‘It is,’ she asserted, smiling. ‘He’s a wonderful man. He’s most attractive. You don’t know my Josef.’
‘Oh, for God’s sake!’
‘Have you been long in Germany?’
Dorian suddenly heard a young, airy voice ask in English at the table immediately to his left.
It was Donald Henderson who had recently left Rugby and was staying with a German family in Grunewald, learning German before going to Cambridge next autumn. He was a large, ruddy-cheeked, athletic young man. The person to whom he addressed his question was strangely different in appearance, Robert van Golovden, who belonged to one of the oldest families in Amsterdam, was a slight, neat young man with a drawn, pale, very white face with tragic, velvety, grey-blue eyes. His thin gold hair was brushed straight back from a shapely forehead. He was dressed in a very elegant, close-fitting grey suit, which showed off to advantage the delicate, trim, rhythmic contours of his person. He wore a black silk shirt with a low collar, elegantly unusual, graced by an Eton tie. After Eton, Robert van Golovden had gone to Oxford. Donald Henderson who felt somewhat lonely in Berlin had been glad to run into the dapper young foreigner who spoke English with such exquisite correctness at Tumpf’s in Kurfürstendamm. The Dutchman had been most, most charming. After a short conversation, they had decided to visit a night club together. Henderson had assented despite the black shirt of his new acquaintance. The Eton tie blinded him to that monstrosity. At the mention of the words night club, he had insisted on Bimmel’s. He had heard so much of Bimmel’s. It had to be Bimmel’s. And, to the perceptible annoyance of the ethereal stranger, it was to Bimmel’s that they drove in the latter’s gigantic, light blue, super-charged racing Mercédès-Benz. Later, on a closer examination of his Dutch companion, Henderson had remarked an ornate gold bracelet round the left wrist against the background of the tight black silk cuff, also a too sedulous care, shapeliness, and tintedness of the finger nails. He was appalled. But the Eton tie excused all.
His eyes riotous in beholding Lia and Mia, the twin sisters from the Revue Theatre, Henderson asked Robert van Golovden:
‘Don’t you think the women in Berlin are marvellous?’
Van Golovden turned and eyed his companion in silence. Then, in a thin, drawling voice with a perfect Oxford accent, he said:
‘Of course, women are very beautiful and all that. But, you see, I am content to regard them aesthetically. They play no role in my sexual life.’ And in a tone that was flamboyant, laughing, hysterical, tragic and accompanied by a florid gesture of his right hand, he added: ‘You see, I’m different.’ And in case his companion hadn’t understood, he repeated: ‘I’m different.’
‘What?’ asked Henderson, absent, his eyes hopelessly roaming from Lia to Mia, from Mia to Lia. ‘You’re what? By Jove, they’re damn good-looking, those women!’
Van Golovden turned away contemptuously from the old Rugbeian, and in doing so his eyes met Dorian’s. The Englishman had overheard his avowal. A sudden, brilliant smile lighted up the Dutchman’s countenance. He leaned across Henderson and called out to Dorian:
‘You are Angloid, or are you?’
Startled, Dorian nodded vaguely.
‘There!’ said van Golovden, ‘I thought so. D’you mind if we join you, or do you?’
Saying so, he carried himself and his drink to Dorian’s table. Henderson followed, bewildered, timid.
Van Golovden introduced himself and his acquaintance.
‘I’m Robert van Golovden, but all my friends call me Tango. I’m the son of Cornells van Golovden. He’s disgustingly rich, beastily rich. Owns Amsterdam!’ Then apologetic: ‘This is Donald Henderson.’ He bowed deep over Freyja’s hand and kissed it lightly. ‘Ah!’ he exclaimed. ‘The divine Zilding! Really, really! This is just too too! Gnädige Frau, I have admired your art so often.’
Then addressing the company generally, he said:
‘It’s just too too on our part, rather, on my part, to butt in like this. But it’s such superlative fun being Angloid together. It’s so too, too rarely one can be. You don’t mind, do you? Or do you?’
‘Rationalise,’ Josef Pilzheim was saying.
‘Nationalise.’ The Minister of Economy offered his panacea for the globe in a moment of bold indiscreetness.
A slight altercation now arose between the von Donaus, father and son. They had both resolved that Lia was the better of the twins. An awkward situation thus arose. Finally von Donau senior said that dice would settle the matter. The waiter brought the dice from the bar, and Lia fell to the lot of von Donau senior. Lia was unhappy. Von Donau junior was unhappy. Von Donau senior couldn’t rave over his good luck — he grinned gold, burnished gold — as really he could perceive no difference between Lia and Mia. Having noticed, however, his son’s marked preference for Lia, he had been afraid that he was getting the worst of a bargain in having Mia. Amour-propre had made him insist on the dice.
Henderson sat silent, neglected, desperately engrossed in Lia and Mia. Tango thought he must say a word to him.
‘And what are you going to read at Cambridge? What are you going to become?’
‘I’m going to be an engineer.’
‘God!’ exclaimed Tango. ‘How ghastily prosaic! Oh, this is just too too! Poor boy! I suppose you must.’
The band started to play a tango. The negro bawlingly sang across the room with a grin:
‘Je veux savoir pourquoi les femmes blondes ont des . . . sourcils noirs.’
There was uproarious laughter from the French visitors to Berlin, who sat at the bar.
‘Oh, let’s go elsewhere,’ Tango was saying to von Meldorf. ‘It’s just too too here. So healthy, so hearty, so “hetero”! Let’s go elsewhere.’
Von Meldorf laughed. ‘Ach, you flamboyant heretic!’
They stayed on at Bimmel’s. Tango supported his agony as best he could.
Lia, the review star, angry to be abandoned by Fortune to the Voronoffian mercy of von Donau senior, was becoming obstreperously drunk. She had just thumped the negro band-leader, who drummed beside her, a hard one on the back. In the midst of his tango, the man from Africa turned to leer at her, ingratiating, aspiring. . . . The rejuvenated banker could only keep her quiet by the promise of another drink.
‘Englishwomen!’ Tango was saying, ‘oh, sticks, sticks, dry, dry, dry, wincingly! But Englishmen, oh, they’re marvellous! Temperamentvoll! Temperamentvoll! As good as the Swedes. But nothing to touch the Germans. Germany’s my spiritual home. Except here,’ his disparaging eyes surveyed the night club. ‘Except here. It’s so beer, so Stock Exchange!’
‘But what about your soul, Tango?’ questioned Dorian in an earnest voice. ‘You know the table-rappers have heard Oscar Wilde groan in hell.’ The world, Dorian thought, saw content by determinedly closing its eyes to misfortune in its very midst. Society punished man for Nature’s mistakes. Sexual aberration was crime. There was to be no sympathy for the hapless creatures, no understanding, no attempt to help them. No, they were to be harassed, implacably hunted down by brutal ignorance. It was like flogging a madman for his madness. And, dead, they were to taste the Christian-movies idyll of the spiritualists only through a ruthless eternity of scorching flames. Tango, however, was unable fully to evoke Dorian’s sympathy. ‘Aren’t you afraid for your soul?’
Tango couldn’t penetrate the irony. He turned away in petulant despair from Dorian, whom at first he had thought looked so understanding.
The negro chanted:
’Je veux savoir pourquoi les femmes blondes ont des .. . (the whoop of Gallic ribaldry) . . . sourcils noirs.’
Whenever she was with Dorian, Freyja wanted to be as inconspicuous as possible. She had, therefore, wontedly left her brilliant Rolls-Royce behind. Von Meldorf, who would stay on at Bimmel’s inexorably as long as they did, till about one o’clock, was driving them now to their respective homes in his car. Freyja would be dropped first in the Kurfürsten Strasse, where she would officially part from Dorian. Then Dorian, having been deposited at his home, would issue forth again when von Meldorf was securely remote, and, with Freyja’s house and flat keys jingling in his pocket, fly back to her arms in a taxi.
They were driving down the bright, still lively Tauentzien Strasse, approaching Würtemberger Platz, when a taxi passed von Meldorf’s car. A vast, red, bloated face at the wheel turned and suddenly scowled at seeing von Meldorf. The red face slackened speed, drew level. It grimaced at von Meldorf and what seemed an oath blurredly left its lips. Then it fell behind and then — a bang and a violent grating on the right rear mudguard. . . .
Von Meldorf drew on a side and stopped. He got out, Dorian and Freyja with him. A little behind the taxi had also stopped, and the driver, jumping out, came charging unsteadily at von Meldorf.
‘You bloody Jew!’ shrieked the gigantic German, cap awry, red, flabby face, a large grey overcoat open and flapping about his person. ‘You bloody Jew! What the hell d’you mean. . . .’
A dirty red fist shot out and felled von Meldorf.
‘You damn Jew! You bloody Jew!’
A few passers-by stopped to see what was the matter. Soon a little group had swollen to a fair-sized crowd.
‘It’s a Jew! . . . Damned Jew! . . . Out with the Jews! Down with the Jewish swine! . . . Out with the Jews!. . .’
Various voices sustained with sympathy, with promises of support, if need be, the battling Teuton who stood over the prostrate Jew with a fresh, enormous, inebriate menace.
Dorian rushed away to get police aid. Freyja was left alone.
Von Meldorf managed to stagger up on his feet. Desperately he appealed:
‘But I’m a Nazi! I’m a Nazi!’
‘God forbid!’ shouted someone in the crowd. ‘Jüdischer Schwein! . . . Jüdischer Schwein! . . . du Scheisstück! . . . Juden raus! Deutschland, erwache!’ . . . (Germany, awake!) . . . ‘Deutschland, erwache!’
And a second blow from the dirty red fist stretched von Meldorf low upon the pavement amid a burst of anti-Semitic song from those around.
A cry broke forth from the multitude, a cry, desperate, plaintive, starving, thirsting; a cry, futile, consciously futile, bleeding, lost and frantic amid the asphyxiating clouds of oppression and penury and prospectlessness; a cry, seeking madly to escape from a weaponed, black doom, seeking madly for a place in the sun, seeking madly for vanished, deserved splendours. A blow from the colossal taxi-driver on the face of the flabby, helpless young Jew — the multitude exulted at the triumph. The bloody Jews! Jews, swinish, podgy, oily; Jews, gold-wallowing, usurious, traitorous; Jews, riotous, routing, Rolls-Roycey; Jews, rich-kosher-guzzling, night-club-infesting, luxuriously-fornicating. The loathsome French, the leeching Reparation-tributes, the felonious, emasculating Treaty of Versailles - the Jews were all that and more and more!
‘Juden raus! . . . Deutschland, erwache! . . . Juden raus! du Scheisstück! . . . Juden raus!'
At length someone saw Dorian come running from the Gedächtniskirche with three policemen. The crowd scurried away, and the taxi disappeared round a street corner, but not before one of the policemen made out its number.
Von Meldorf’s nose had been tended to at a hospital. It had been permanently damaged. It hurt him badly as he lay in bed in his flat. His body twitched and he swore. He would henceforth look more like ten Jews than ever. In his pain and fury and woe there was one bright thought. The white face of Tango of Amsterdam flashed brightly in his black silk shirt, emblazoned with the Eton tie. He was a great discovery. He was a social jewel, precious, scintillating. Von Meldorf would cultivate him sedulously. He would display him to his most exclusive world. He would partake in the hit the Dutchman was bound to make. Besides, Tango seemed very rich. Von Meldorf would borrow from him for Peter Reppert, for the Freiherr von Birecz, for his other Nazi friends — and for himself.
Dozing, his lips grazing Freyja’s fragrant pink shoulder, Dorian was thinking:
If Hitler didn’t have the Jews, he’d have to invent them.’
Dorian sat in a chesterfield gazing at Freyja, as she leant against the mantelpiece in her drawing-room. Red-gold flame against the subtle blue of the mantelpiece, of the wall. Through the windows about which hung, long and limp, deep pink curtains was Berlin smiling in summer. It came into the room, radiant, warm, still. No one had spoken for quite a while. Freyja looked pensive, whimsical. Suddenly she spoke.
‘You have someone in India, haven’t you, Dorian? A cousin? How would you like to go to India?’
He roused himself.
‘What a funny question! What made you ask such a thing?’
‘But, tell me,’ she said, ‘how would you like it? It would be very interesting, I should think. Especially now — with Gandhi! And for a writer. . . .’
He got up from his seat and came to her.
‘What are you driving at, Freyja? You are looking at me so strangely. D’you want to get rid of me?’
He was sure not. He gave a confident laugh.
‘No, darling, of course not!’
She pulled him to her and their mouths clung desperately together.
‘But, you remember,’ she went on, ‘once you told me that you hated to go to India. Oh, but that was to go into business. . . . Yes, yes, it is, dear, it is. It is to get rid . . .’
She couldn’t go on. The words stuck in her throat. She covered his face with kisses.
At last he freed himself to say:
‘What’s happened, Freyja? What’s —’
‘It’s the end. It’s got to be the end. Josef Pilzheim knew all along. I suspected when he stared at you like that at Bimmel’s — that fatal night. And now the assault case. And the papers gloatingly full of us. All through your friend Hans. Everyone knows about you and me. Dorian, Dorian . . .’
‘It can’t be,’ he said. ‘It can’t be.’
‘It has to be,’ she said. ‘Forget me. You’re going to India. I’ve got you a job. I spoke to Birnholz of the Berliner Morgenblatt and they’ve made you their correspondent in India. You’ll be all right there. It’s just the thing for you. You’ll be happy working. You’ll forget me easily enough. Dorian, you mustn’t be weak. . . . Women, women, it’s always women with you! Why d’you waste yourself? You mustn’t. There’s so much in you. You’re so clever. India’s just the thing for you. You’ll forget me. . . .’
‘Oh, don’t mother me,’ Dorian shouted in a fury. Then he was beseeching again: ‘I want you, Freyja. I can’t leave you. I can’t. You don’t know what they’ve meant to me — these past months! Our love — it was the one thing in my life. It can’t just end like this. You and I, we were so happy. So completely happy. We were one person. We can’t break it all up. . . .’
‘But,’ she said, unflinching, almost hard, ‘it must be so, Dorian. You must be strong and go. You must be strong.’
‘Is it weak to love?’
‘Yes,’ she managed to make herself say. ‘It is, Dorian. It is weak to love the way you do. Love is not the only thing. Love is not the whole thing.’
‘Oh, for God’s sake!’ he shouted. ‘Don’t say that, Freyja. I always thought you were different from that, different from the other women. . . . Don’t say that. . . . So it was only a trick, just play-acting. I was only a toy. I should have known. . . . There can always be so many Dorians as adjuncts to the one inevitable Pilzheim. . . . What’ll happen to me?’
She threw herself on him, anguish in her voice.
‘And me? Don’t be unjust, Dorian. You must understand. . . . I love. you. I love you. You know that. You must know that. But what’s to be done? Life . . .’
All was over then. The beautiful love story had ended — and sadly. The rapturous dream had faded away. Those divine breakfasts they used to prepare themselves and have on the red divan in her boudoir, deliciously alone with themselves! So glorious, so inexorably fading away!
And in anger and despair he seized her, took her, limp, crushed with grief, tearful, happy. But almost at once he pushed her away and started back. Oh, it had gone. Love had gone. He could have shouted, yelled from the very depths of him. Madly, blindly he clutched at it. Elusive, gone for ever. How he would keep it! Away, away, away. In him was such a void. He wished to die that second. Some little something, some unsayable something, how unmeant, perhaps it wasn’t there, easy, swift, so swift, horrifying, mortifying. . . . Conciliating, consoling. . . . The last solace. He could laugh, laugh. . . . And he was blinded to all save that swarthy, lean, clever, puckish face. Those tufts of eyebrows. Little jagged flames of black silk. So near, near, real, horribly real, and calmly grinning. His body quivered terribly.
He cried aloud:
‘Oh, God! I see you with him. Always with him. Josef Pilzheim.’ He gave a loud agonised laugh. ‘It’s the end now. Really, the end. You, Freyja, you — and he! That man. . . .’
He covered his face and a violent sob escaped him. But when he showed his face again, he was a different man. He was steel. His eyes were wild, wondrous. He looked at Freyja, stricken, huddled on the sofa, her hair disordered, wiping away her million tears with a handkerchief. His gaze seemed to pass over her intact, distant, piercing. She was held back, intimidated, pinned by his regard.
His wide lips were very thin, set, cruel.
‘It is the end, then. . . . I’m going to India. . . .’
He laughed, cold, inhuman, jarring.
From her was a frightened look, an ineffable gesture, bare, without movement.
Slowly he walked away, proud, alone, abandoned to a memory, tingling, torturing. . . .
In the vaulted gloom of the Anhalter Bahnhof, he was dreamily watching his luggage being weighed. Then he walked to the train with von Meldorf, who had insisted on coming to see him off, and the porter with his things.
‘Poor Dorian!’ said von Meldorf, whose information was global. ‘I pity you. India! Ach Gott! What a terrible country! Between Hindu virtue, Mahommedan purdah and Colonial Grundyism what’ll happen to you? No more other men’s wives, daughters or sisters. Ach Gott! India — the land of sex-famine! It’s the paradise of the prostitute!’
‘Damn women!’ said Dorian deafly, listening to another remote voice. ‘They’re not everything. Love is not the whole thing. I’m going to India to work, really to work. Nothing else matters.’
He wondered if he was going to work for the sake of working and achieving something, or if work to him was merely another pleasure, a new experience. Perhaps it was just hedonistic of him.
‘Work!’ von Meldorf laughed as if to say that Dorian made his pretty speech to blind him, but he knew Dorian all right. ‘Poor Dorian, I feel sorry for you, really.’
Dorian couldn’t bother to retort, to argue that it was otherwise. He was irritated. He would have liked to be alone with his thoughts. He felt von Meldorf importunate, exacerbating with his gratuitous sympathy. He was sullen. Von Meldorf got into the compartment with him. They talked trivialities till the train was about to leave. Then von Meldorf insisted on embracing Dorian, and they bade each other farewell.
Out of the semi-light the train slowly sped into the blinding day. . . .
The monsoon was near. There were few passengers destined for India. After Port Said, the Brahmaputra was almost empty.
The chief steward was mournfully ruminating on the abyssal dearth of tips he could expect at Bombay. Then he became businesslike.
‘I’ve had to rearrange the table, sir,’ he told Dorian, who had suddenly appeared before the seat-map in the dining-saloon. ‘I’ve put you, sir, at the captain’s table next to the Ny . . . Ny . .. to the Nycaraguan gentleman, sir, and his wife as I’ve heard you talking French. They can’t get no conversation and no food as they can’t talk English. It’s a good seat, sir. There is no other place for you, sir, unless the table where the Indians is. And you don’t want to be with them blacks, sir, do you?’
With a dash of his pencil on the map he proceeded to confirm Dorian in his new seat.
Dorian thought a moment. He almost agreed to abide by the chief steward’s direction, but he felt a qualm.
‘As it happens, I do want to be with them,’ he said. ‘Put me with the Indians, will you.’
The chief steward did as he was commanded.
He thought Dorian mad. So did the other passengers when they saw him seated with the young Hindu couple and the partially-paralysed Hindu student at a large isolated table in the centre of the dining-saloon. Just the four of them.
It flattered the Indians a great deal. But it upset them far more. They were eager, grateful; they smiled eternally well-disposed; aggressively, pathetically well-disposed. But internally, perhaps unconsciously, they cursed Dorian. Left to themselves, they would have been far happier. Dorian’s presence staggered them. He made them vaguer about the respective faculties of their various knives and forks. The Hindu couple yearned for the calm privacy of those six months’ meals eaten delightfully in their own, own way, with hands and all, up in their own rooms in the Brompton Road hotel, away, deliciously away from the strange, staring, frightening, white public in the general dining-room downstairs. And now — there was this horrid, charming young Englishman. The rest of the voyage they wriggled and writhed, even the paralytic student wriggled and writhed through foodless, speechless meals.
They were ignored by the other white passengers. Even the Nicaraguan tourist caught the infection of insolent insularity. He, too, ignored the Indians. It was not pity that held him from exploiting them with the shreds of his Hindustani. Naturally, they too were left out of the sweepstakes and the sports. But Dorian partially remedied that and somewhat allayed the misery caused by his devastating presence at meals.
His partner in the deck-tennis tournament was Colonel Bloodhunt, one of the seniors of the many military men on board. He was blond, large, and heavy, with a golden moustache. Just before their first match, Dorian came to the colonel limping atrociously.
‘Look here, sir,’ he lied with excruciating graveness, ‘I’ve just had a terrible fall. My ankle’s gone. I’m afraid, sir, I shan’t be able to play with you. I’m terribly sorry. But I have a substitute. Ooh!’ he winced with non-existent pain, and hobbled off to a bench near by.
At this point, Naidu, the young Hindu husband, who had been vaguely lurking in the vicinity, came minutely, wrigglingly forward, smiling and well-disposed.
‘I have played much deck-tennis in Bombay,’ he said in a rapid staccato, in his ineffable, unintelligible accent. ‘I used —’ he was going on, but was daunted by the imperious, silent majesty of six-footed wrath. He forced himself, however, to say, ‘Com’ahn, I will play with you. Com’ahn, we will show them. We will beat them in a jiffy.’ With his hand he indicated the sacrificial opponents, and shaking his head rapidly, pendulumwise, he grinned his eagerness to accommodate the colonel. Already shorn of his coat, in flannels, he stood prepared for the fray.
Colonel Bloodhunt became very red. He was speechless with anger.
‘Mr. Naidu,’ said Dorian with exacerbating suavity, ‘Mr. Naidu has most kindly agreed to take my place, Colonel.’
The colonel fumed and prayed with silent fervour for the end of the world. But Fate laughed at his plight. Nothing could save him. Rooted to the ground in irate paralysis, his eyes looked around for some sign, some occult promise of heaven’s delivering aid.
Turning to the colonel’s opponents, Dorian said: ‘Of course, you don’t mind, do you, if Mr. Naidu takes my place?’
The last hope for the colonel. Perhaps, his opponents might raise an objection and claim a walk over. But with an almost malevolent readiness they agreed to the substitution despite the agony in the colonel’s face. For him the last ray of light vanished from the earth.
His game that day was more ponderously useless than ever. But the minute Naidu, terrifically in his element, poached with such heroic despair, with such frantic agility, with such ubiquitous nimbleness, with such self-effacing thoroughness, with such meek effrontery, that Colonel Bloodhunt won the match — and, to his inexpressible, torturing indignation, after a few more similar horrific ordeals went on to win the tournament.
Dorian’s limp was gone with indecent haste. The colonel never greeted him again.
‘And if the rupee goes to hell?’ the chartered accountant was asking.
‘I don’t care,’ said the Collector of Mutchipore. ‘I get my pension in sterling.’
‘By Jove, you’re lucky!’
‘Lucky! What d’you mean? That’s the least one can expect. I gave my life to India.’
‘So did I,’ said the accountant. ‘But my firm will give me my pension in rupees, and I’ll have to turn them into pounds at heaven knows what rate.’
‘Well,’ said the official, gloating in security, ‘I don’t think the rupee will remain at one-and-six. It’s hardly worth more than a bob.’
‘Canto, canto . . .’ and a slow stream of Spanish song from the gramophone of the Nicaraguan tourist. The tourist kept time with his foot. Opposite, alongside the deck-rails, his wife was sedately reading. While his neighbour, the young Austrian commercial traveller, swooned rapturously in his deck-chair at the soft sentiment of the melody. As usual, he had stolen across from the second-class deck to have a chat with the tourist.
The Anglo-Indians strolled by with deprecatory faces. Tangos should not be tolerated. They deplored the liberty of song.
The Indian Ocean was dark, hot and silent. Silent. So was Dorian Fence. Effortlessly silent.
‘Well, I adore London. I think it’s the greatest city in the world. I always have such a glorious time there. Did you ever go to that wonderful place in Jermyn Street. Lambroso’s?’ No pause. A rhetorical question. ‘Much better than Goloso’s and the others! Oh, it’s too marvellous! I went to it once with mummy.’
On and on. The untiring flow came from blonde and pretty Dora Poynton, the accountant’s daughter. She was, if nothing else, definitely female. The other women on the boat were barely female. They defied approach with their promise of palpable unbeauty and aggressive aridity. Why must she talk, thought Dorian. She would be so nice if she didn’t.
‘Listen to the sea,’ he said to hush the torrent of words.
The gramophone from Nicaragua was silent. After a while the tourist’s wife arose to go down to her cabin. The young Teuton was unwilling to lose a second. He started at once on his favourite topic. Here was a chance, too, of first-hand information.
‘Vous savez . . . das Buch .. .le livre “Le Chemin de Buenos Aires”? Vrai? Oui? C’est vrai? Ja?’
‘Si, si, si,’ said the South American.
‘Comme chez un coiffeur?’ queried the Austrian, ‘Oui? On attend. Viele Leute. Plein. Plein de monde. Avec des journaux.’ He laughed, enchanted. So quintessentially the Spirit of Germanic Organisedness! Even Vienna’s love-shops lacked it. ‘On attend et on lit et puis. . . . Ha-ha!’
‘It’s a shame about my pension,’ the accountant was saying. ‘It’s a shame. It’s a shame.’
‘H’m!’ There was little life in his companion’s sympathy.
From the bar came the patter of falling dice.
‘Four threes!’ someone shouted in a very nasal voice. The American, the R.A.F. officer and the young bank assistant, all on their first trip to the East, were having a good time.
‘Just before I left,’ said the bank assistant, ‘I saw the boss of the London branch. You know, official call. “One thing,” he told me, “don’t let the pretty alluring sharks get you. Bombay and Calcutta are full of them. They lie on the look out. Don’t let them get you landed.”’
‘’Ot tropic night! It’s an ’ot tropic night!’ said the R.A.F. man, jocularly cockney. He said so at frequent intervals.
‘Steward!’ he shouted. ‘Drink, boys, drink. They’re on me this time. ’Ot tropic night! It’s an ’ot tropic night!’
‘He was bowld and she was willaing,’ the bank-assistant was singing loudly.
‘I was in Paris, then,’ Dora chattered on. ‘I stayed with a family. I could go out and do all I wanted. But, of course, I was too sensible. I love the Comédie Française! I think it’s just too wonderful!’
‘H’m!’ murmured Dorian wearily. By now he was resigned.
A tall, unbending, lone figure silently went past. It was the Army officer Abbot. Fiercely he had persecuted Dora with his attentions during the early part of the voyage. In fact, Dorian had filched her from him. The rigid, solitary figure strode leisuredly by oblivious of Dorian and Dora.
‘Good night,’ called Dorian honeydly at the vanishing back.
Dora laughed delightedly. The voyage was being such a tremendous success for her.
‘He used to propose several times daily,’ she said gaily of her ex-aspirant.
She turned to Dorian. She leaned slightly out of her deck-chair. What enormous blue eyes! And the carmine lips! It could all be his.
‘Mother likes you,’ she smiled. ‘But father doesn’t. Too much of a Don Juan for him.’
She laughed, confirming her father’s appraisal. She laughed, happy at her profound psychological insight. Now he was a Don Juan, wasn’t he? She was glad he was. She was proffering herself with a look that horrified Dorian. He hadn’t dreamt of a virtue so painfully facile in those eyes. She placed her hand on his arm. He felt he had to kiss it. It belonged to his role to do that. No one saw except the South American. The broad white flash of the teeth surprised in his swarthy face. The knowing grin from him sickened Dorian.
Old Poynton, alone now, had just completed another round of the deck. He stopped in front of his daughter’s chair, looking full of angry distrust at Dorian.
‘Well, dear,’ he said, ‘aren’t you coming down? It’s time to turn in. Mother’s waiting for you down below.’
I shan’t be long,’ said Dora. ‘I’ll be coming down in a moment.’
He went, ignoring Dorian.
‘Oh, dash him!’ said Dora. ‘It’s funny. Daddy’s never behaved like this before. He’s so trusting usually. I suppose it’s that silly jealous fool Abbot. He’s been putting him up to it, I suppose. Well, well! Never mind. What was I saying? Oh, yes, Paris! Yes. I loved Paris. You know I used to go riding in the Bois. Do you like riding? And hunting. I used to hunt too. I hunt a lot in Sussex. You know, I think it’s the best sport in the world. Do you hunt? I think it’s just too wonderful.’
O Lord, said Dorian to himself. Must he? Must he hear it? Must she talk? What had he brought upon himself! Why hadn’t he abandoned her to the Army? O Lord! Freyja Zilding!
The young Hindu couple passed by, anxiously smiling, ecstatically worshipping. They could never show Dorian adequately how much they appreciated. . . . Behind them limped the paralytic Indian student on the arms of two Goanese stewards. They had to be Goanese stewards. White stewards were too good for that sort of thing. They all responded with eager, grateful voices to Dorian’s good night.
‘I can’t understand how you mix with those nig people, Dorian,’ Dora said. ‘Really, really! I mean to say. . . . I can’t understand.’
‘You wouldn’t,’ he murmured glumly.
He was a black-leg to his fellow-whites. But she liked him. She forgave him his objectionable, very damning peculiarity.
She went on: ‘A girl has a good time in India. Tennis, golf, riding, swimming, dancing, and the rest. There are a lot of men around one too, I believe. Ten men to one girl!’
She looked at him with a tearful desperation. He was silent and sullen. A peculiarly unenterprising Don Juan. As stolid and stodgy as the Army.
‘To-night’s our last night together, isn’t it? Won’t I see you in India ever? ‘
‘Yes, perhaps.’ He was vague, so excruciatingly unkeen. What a Don Juan!
They walked down the deserted deck to the stairway leading to the deck below, where Dora’s cabin lay. Suddenly she jumped up on her toes and kissed Dorian. ‘Good night.’ Then she clattered down the steps into the obscure passage below.
On his way to his cabin, Dorian passed the Austrian and the South American. The Nicaraguan was intently listening to the Austrian, who was proudly parading his experience of India.
‘S’amuser?’ The Teuton was saying. ‘Ja, ja. A Calcutta, on peut s’amuser. Il y a des endroits. Oui, oui. Die girls. Die girls. Und wie! Et comment! Et comment!’
He laughed coarsely. The Latin hearkened with hungry, bulging eyes.
That night a little later Dorian awoke with a start and sat up in bed. Somebody was trying to force the cabin-door. He was sure that he had been hearing the noise in his sleep for some time past. A loud, hoarse whisper came through.
‘Dorian, Dorian. . . . Open the door, open the door . . . quickly, quickly . . . Dorian, wake up . . . wake up . . . Dorian, Dorian.’
He lay back on his pillows, perfectly still.
Dora went on.
‘Dorian, Dorian . . . wake up . . . quickly . . . Dorian, Dorian . . . open the door. . . .’
What a blessing it was he had locked the door, he thought. Poor thing! She’d better go away soon, or she’d wake up the neighbourhood.
‘Dorian, Dorian. . . .’ Then all was quiet again.
Dora had gone back to her cabin for a restless, sleepless night. Dorian could not help the brutal profanity of a smile. She had been anxiously, ruthlessly bestowing herself on him. The hints, the self-display. She had been the supreme cynosure in a crowded circle of admiring eyes. Ten men to one girl! And he had turned out to be so dull and disappointing. He hadn’t proposed. He looked so darkly dangerous. So much potential, perilous thrill lurked in him. And again he had let her down. That was the unkindest cut of all. He had been deaf to the throbbing raptures at his very door; deaf to the shrill, petulant passion of the maiden immolating herself on the altar of adventure. He couldn’t be asleep. She had knocked too loud. Horrible and prosaic, she would call him. The Don Juan had turned out to be a dull, horrid bourgeois.
About an hour later, just as he was about to fall asleep again, shaky, heavy, leaping feet ran down the deck. Almost a cavalry platoon. The furious feet vacillated at his cabin-window. A mighty, heavy-loaded bang on the wooden shutters. A little further down, a roaring, bawling singing.
‘It’s an ’ot tropic night, an ’ot tropic night. . .’
‘He was bowld and she was willaing. . . . He was bowld and she was willaing . . .’
The large silver Daimler slowly hissed along Queen’s Road.
‘Have you seen a lot of Bombay?’ asked Sybil Markham. She was sitting between Dorian and her husband.
‘Yes, almost all,’ said Dorian, turning to Sybil’s brilliant dark eyes.
She looked earnestly at him. Her face always wore an earnest expression. There was something unreally delicate about her that contrasted acutely with the blatant school-masterly aggressiveness of her husband. He looked bluntly awesome, intimidating. His lips and chin were brutal and irresistible. Under the almost invisible reddish eyebrows were his big blue eyes. They were inanimate, expressionless, just two lightless opaque orbs. But at times they lit up with an almost preternatural glint. At the moment, they were blankly fixed on the chauffeur’s head.
Alan Markham, Dorian’s cousin, was the head of Messrs. Fence, Markham & Co., Ltd., Merchants and Bankers, Ballard Estate, Bombay. The firm had been originally founded by Dorian’s father, who had been joined later by the elder Markham. His own father’s death, Sir Alfred’s retirement and his own ability made Alan the essential man in the firm. The Fences still retained a sleeping interest in the business. By birth and merit Alan was the real boss, though long not officially recognised as such. When in India the late Sir Alfred hated Alan. He admitted he was efficient. He found him, however, too self-willed and domineering; qualities that he did not appreciate in a junior. Experience was everything after all, he argued. Age is its own recommendation. A young man’s primary sin is his youth. If he did the right thing at times, it was a fluke. But one cannot fluke through an entire existence. Therefore, when Sir Alfred in England heard of the continued progress and ascension of the firm under Alan Markham’s guidance, he came to think that his nephew was not only lucky but capable. The watching, carping, hostile figure of Alan no longer oppressed him with its presence. The tenacious ability he had formerly recognised grudgingly, with a smile of incredulity, he now spontaneously, enthusiastically applauded. All the restraints that prudence and ill-will had moved him to impose on Alan’s executive power were cast aside and his sole supremacy was officially admitted when he was dubbed Managing Director. His figure assumed tremendous, titanic proportions in old Fence’s mind. A bête noire became a splendid myth.
At forty Alan had evolved into one of India’s leading business men and politicians. He was at once the sword and the shield of the European Association, the stalwart Trade Union of the Englishman in India. In a few years he intended to leave India and devote himself to politics at Westminster. Titles, Cabinet rank, everything would follow, as things always did with him, in a natural logical inevitable sequence. It was only a matter of time — and a matter of a short time at that.
‘What I go after, I get,’ Alan always said. There was another thing he always said. ‘You always get what you deserve.’ On these two beliefs pivotted the world of Alan Markham.
A week after his arrival, Dorian had shifted from the Imperial Hotel to Markham’s flat on Malabar Hill. Alan had insisted on that. He had been very bland and charming.
‘You must stay with us,’ he had told Dorian with his rare and capacious smile. ‘Sybil is going to Poona shortly, and I shall be alone and very appreciative of company. You must put up with us. Sybil would love it, I’m sure. I shall just ring her up and tell her you’re coming.’ He had telephoned to his wife then and there.
It was Queen’s Road eternally. The car crushed the bare slender night-shadows of the palms that lined the road on the left. A narrow footpath separated the palms from the parallel track of the electric suburban railway. A train just then raced by, unpuffingly. Walls of advertisements flanked the road on the opposite side — patent medicines, talkies, talkies and talkies. At last the hoardings merged into a blank wall.
‘There’s the burning-ground of the Hindus,’ said Sybil. She pointed to the wall, behind which a little murky smoke and a faint glow rose into the night sky. There was a bare whiff of burning flesh in the air.
That morning in a main street Dorian had seen a Hindu corpse being borne along to be cremated. ‘Ram-bolo-bhai, Ram-bolo-bhai,’ cried the carriers as they swung by businesslike, with swift, springy, jaunty steps. The corpse threatened every moment to leap out of the bier.
Sybil turned to Dorian, shadowy in the corner of the car.
‘How do you like our Boat Club?’ she asked in her charming somewhat inconsequential way. They had been dining there.
‘Very nice, indeed,’ said Dorian. ‘Why weren’t any Indians there to-night?’
Alan laughed, mildly, heavily.
‘By Jove, you are rather naïve, Dorian,’ he said, his thick lips unmoving, rigid. ‘No decent self-respecting European club in India has Indian members. Things are not so far gone yet, thank God! An Englishman’s club is his castle. You can’t have aliens, especially black aliens bursting in on its sanctity. The Boat Club’s one of the best clubs in India. We are most exclusive at the Boat Club.’ (He was a member of the Club Committee.) ‘Yes, most exclusive!’
‘Exclusive! All you keep out are Indians, I suppose,’ remarked Dorian.
He hated the determined, race-conscious bias of these Anglo-Indians. They seemed completely unaware of it: and if they were aware of it, they would wrap themselves in it more thoroughly, more impenetrably. Prejudice as a policy! To keep the flag flying!
‘What cheek!’ he went on. ‘What colossal preposterous cheek! The best clubs in the country are closed to the inhabitants of the country. The Indian is an outcast in his own land. It’s so patently absurd.’
‘Absurd! What d’you mean?’ said Alan. In his impassive way he was astonished and shocked at Dorian’s outburst.
They had never discussed Indian politics before. Dorian studiously avoided the subject, aware of a great difference between his and Alan’s views. To make a thorough investigation of the Indian situation, one had to move in as wide a circle as possible, to keep in with the Indians and the Europeans. The primary task of the journalist was to be a diplomat. If he airs his own views, he sticks himself with a label, he limits his field of observation. When a Socialist meets a Diehard, they are both free with the familiar jargon of their respective creeds. But they are careful not to be very self-revealing and mutually edifying. Dorian imposed upon himself a politic reticence. Socially and professionally, it was the best policy. He reserved his views until later — for the column of the Berliner Morgenblatt and the leaves of his book. The Markhams entertained lavishly. It suited his purpose admirably to stay with them. An injudicious expression of contrary opinions would prejudice his position. It would lay a heavy strain on his relations with his host. Besides, was it any good arguing with people like Alan Markham? Words couldn’t cope with prejudice. But there had been something revoltingly complacent in Alan’s tone of voice drat had angered him into his outburst. That sure, unquestioning, supercilious assumption of racial superiority — it maddened him. He thought of some of the types at Pécornet’s school in Paris for British diplomats and Civil Servants. That awful drunken lecher Pranse! Swine! He must be lording it somewhere in India to-day, or representing the glory and the dignity of the British Empire in some foreign city. Still a drunken lecher!
‘You’re rather rash and hasty,’ said Alan. He was willing to be lenient and forgiving. He was several years older than Dorian and felt rather fatherly towards him. ‘I’ve been years in India now and I can speak with a certain amount of authority, perhaps with a great deal of authority. Just imagine having Indians at the Boat Club! It’s all right meeting them in business or at the Assembly. That’s unavoidable. But in clubs? Good God! Why, it’s your only refuge! You want to get away from them sometimes. Think of having wogs at the Boat Club! The whole place would be overrun with little black children. Oh, it’s quite unthinkable! Impossible!’
A little wog child dashing into the knee of a provincial Governor in the smoking-room of the Boat Club. Alan Markham’s world threatened to crash to pieces at the thought of it. He believed in the divinely-established superiority of the white man, the Englishman. He believed in it in a most complacent way. But it was a complacent way not because he was cynical, egoistic, opportunistic, but because it was such a burning conviction with him. It was a belief that carried with it not only privileges but duties. He was the last person to shirk those duties. The divinely-directed mission of the white man. It was an enormous responsibility. But he was brave and willing to shoulder it.
‘India,’ he said in one of his speeches, ‘India gropes on the road to freedom. But who can direct her footsteps? Who can bring her most surely, most rapidly to her goal? We, the British. It is only with our essential and able assistance that India can attain ultimately to that fullness and completeness which is the innate longing and especial birthright of every people. And the British are ready to help her. Yes, we are ready to take up this mighty Herculean labour. And we take it up with courage and fortitude. But, be it remembered, we do it in no spirit of vaingloriousness, but because we owe it to our Maker, to humanity and to the glorious traditions of the British Empire to lead these helpless, floundering myriads through the winding vale of tribulation to enjoy, in the highlands of self-consummation, fully and unsparingly of those joys and blessings divinely allocated to a nation.
‘But you can only be taught and directed by those you respect. If we are to guide Indians, they must be made to look upon us with confidence, with reverence, with — I may almost say — with an admiring awe. If I may be allowed to transform a well-known adage, “Equality breeds contempt.” An Indian must always be made conscious of his natural inferiority to the Englishman. A due distance must always be preserved between the white and the coloured man. Our noble aim always ahead of us, we must act with resolution. The reins of government we must clasp in a firm, determined, always controlling hand. At times we may seem harsh and brutal. But are harshness and brutality not better than anarchy and rivers of blood?
‘Thus alone can we save India from herself. Thus alone can we save India from the vapid fanaticism of Gandhis and the muddled-idealism of Irwins. Thus alone can India see its heroic, glamorous dream come true. Thus alone can we justify the arduous efforts of those bold Empire builders, the Clives, the Warren Hastings, the Havelocks, and all those single-minded, selfless, fabulous Titans of the past.’
As usual Markham was intensely moved at the end of his peroration. For a while he was unable to heed the burst of applause that came from his European hearers. His eyes glowed peculiarly.
‘Equality breeds contempt,’ he repeated now for Dorian’s benefit. ‘The maintenance of British prestige demands social demarcation between the rulers and the ruled. The British must consciously and steadfastly uphold their inherent superiority. After all, isn’t it prestige that keeps three hundred and fifty millions in holy awe of a few score thousand white people? And, by the way, Dorian, I shouldn’t express Gandhi-ite opinions, if I were you. I wouldn’t like to have people know that I have a Congress-wallah and a Bolshie staying with me.’
To Markham everyone was a Bolshie, who did not agree with his opinions. He meant to convey something stigmatic with the word. He used it not as a political label, but rather as a stinging libel.
‘I’m not a Congress-wallah or a Bolshie,’ said Dorian quietly. ‘I’m entirely free from prejudices either way and I keep an open mind. But it seemed to me so unfair what you said about Indians not being allowed to join the best clubs. No dogs and wogs admitted! It seemed so unfair, so unjust.’
‘Well, one must make allowances,’ interrupted Markham. ‘You’re young. You have not been here long enough to know better. Remind me about sending you some of my speeches and essays on India. Read a few of them. They’ll put you right. You’ll soon know the right attitude to take up . . .’
Markham forgot that he had already sent Dorian his speeches and writings a few days ago. That was strange. For Markham rarely forgot. Dorian, however, was disinclined to remind his cousin of the fact. For his especial profit, Markham had marked the choicer parts in bold red pencil. Dorian had glanced over them and then thrown the whole lot away;
The car now turned suddenly and was bumped up and down on the lumpy gravel of a side-street on Malabar Hill. It stopped before a dark yellow brick house.
As they entered the drawing-room, a piping female voice exclaimed:
‘Pung and mah jong! Three hidden Pungs and East Wind. How many doubles in that? What do I get for this hand?’
The hostess, a stubby middle-aged woman, playing at the same table, hastily got up and rushed to welcome the new comers.
‘Hullo, Sybil! Hullo, Alan! I’m glad you dropped in. So this is your cousin. How d’you do, Mr. Fence?’
She spoke very fast.
‘Alan, I’ve a good bridge four for you with Herbertson, Sir Francis and my husband. What about you, Sybil dear? Oh! I’m sorry, dear. I always forget. You don’t play bridge or mah jong, do you? And you, Mr. Fence, would you like to cut in for some bridge.’
‘No, thank you very much. I don’t play bridge.’
‘Well, would you like to take my place at mah jong?’
‘I’m afraid I don’t play mah jong either. Thanks very much. Quite a useless sort of person socially, I’m afraid.’
After the interruption occasioned by the arrival of the new guests, everyone settled down again to quiet, serious play. The bridge four rumbled in the far corner of the room.
It was again the same person at the mah jong table declaring in a high-pitched voice, after a very brief interval, it seemed:
‘Mah jong! What do I get for this hand?’
A very great deal, as usual, to the most ill-concealed disgust of her co-players. It was bad enough, they thought, her disclosing periodically, monotonously, the most exorbitantly magnificent hands, containing the most elaborate harmonies of Green Dragons, Red Dragons, Soaps, Seasons and Flowers; always some variegated, picturesque combination carrying with it an abominably vast number of points; however, to have to value the hands for her as well, and to tell her the result, usually in thousands---well, that did rather excessively weigh upon their endurance. What do I get for this hand! Indeed! Indeed!
‘Perhaps, I ought to learn to score,’ Mrs. Bury said what she had already said so often during the evening, meticulously counting and doling in the chips. The hand had turned out more than usually sumptuous. ‘Perhaps I ought to learn to score.’
It was by way of apology. But her opponents looked up at her with flashing, angry eyes. They thought they caught a tang of irony in her words. They strongly suspected her of exercising a perverted sense of humour at their expense. But the sight of the long thin face and the long thin nose was endearingly pathetic. They realised how base and cruel were their suspicions. A moment ago, in the heat of the loss of several large denominational chips, her left-hand neighbour might have emitted a testy rebuke, but now she said gently, without the least tone of reprimand:
‘Perhaps, dear, as you do play so much, you ought to learn to score.’
It was a soft tentative suggestion. She had been suggesting as much for the last three years. In fact, ever since Mrs. Bury had taken up mah jong.
Mah jong was very important to Mrs. Bury. It was monotonous, exhausting, nerve-racking. But it was worth it — to the Bury household. It brought in monthly as much as half of Mr. Bury’s salary. And whereas that had been appreciably axed by his firm owing to the economic depression, Mrs. Bury’s winnings came in abundantly as ever. At her husband’s instigation she had bitterly and successfully opposed a reduction of stakes suggested by her co-players. To diminish in any manner this steady, regular source of income especially in such bad times — why, it was absolutely unthinkable. The very suggestion was wicked and immoral, Bury persuaded himself and his wife. Why, it was robbing the poor of their mite.
Mrs. Bury was superstitious. Lucky in cards (or tiles), unlucky in love, they said. And Mrs. Bury believed. Alas, she believed only too staunchly.
She adored her husband. But her husband, having long ceased adoring her, adored other women. He was one of the raciest individuals in Bombay. The tales of his amorous affairs, of his violent, less violent and passively facile seductions in India and Europe, glorious with the poetry of rumour and exaggeration, made women an easy prey to him, even before they had set eyes upon him. In anticipation, they felt the sizzling darts on their body of his daring, insatiable eyes. They fluttered and thrilled vicariously at the thought of his caresses. But the extraordinary part of it was that his eyes were strangely blue and cool. Therein, in fact, lay their fascination. He obtained an easy mastery over women because he looked at them coolly, delvingly; as a calm, critical connoisseur, not as a mere admirer too promiscuously ardent to be fastidious.
In the midst of her inordinate good luck, Mrs. Bury kept constantly turning round and looking with her now lorgnetted eyes at the veranda behind her. By leaning slightly out of her chair she could just catch sight of her husband’s shining black shoes resting on the banisters. He had been sitting out in the veranda with an attractive young woman ever since dinner. Mrs. Bury imagined her husband in the veranda flirting as effectively and engagingly as ever. This time, as always, he would ruthlessly perpetrate another of his constant, scrupulous, consistent infidelities. Mrs. Bury’s life was one long betrayal. By now she was almost completely resigned to that. She accepted the fact that she was one of Nature’s cocues with a heart-rending grace, with a facile apathy almost Asiatic. But sometimes her soul flared up at her husband’s open and flaunting betrayal of her. Her jealousy was the more burning because it was rare.
Lucky at cards, unlucky in love, she was hurtfully ruminating. Then the lorgnettes were suddenly very busy. She glanced around at the veranda. Her husband’s shoes no longer darkly shone from the banisters.
‘Jimmy!’ she shouted. ‘Jimmy!’
‘Hullo!’ a voice dawdlingly responded.
At length he came, not bothering to conceal his annoyance at being disturbed. He was very handsome with his remarkable golden hair brushed back on his head, and his profound blue eyes.
‘Hullo, dear, what is it? What’s the matter?’ he said.
‘Jimmy, where have you been all the time?’ she asked pathetically. As if she didn’t know. ‘Darling, come and sit here and watch my hand. I am so lucky to-night.’
‘To-night!’ said her neighbour. ‘To-night!’
The luck which exploited them was bad enough. Why rub it in by asking the husband to sit by and watch? It was as if they were going to join hands and gloat together.
‘To-night?’ continued her neighbour. ‘What d’you mean by “to-night”? You’re always lucky, Mrs. Bury. Always lucky. Have you ever known yourself to lose?’
‘Yes, of course. Why, I lost this afternoon,’ said Mrs. Bury.
‘You lost this afternoon!’ said the lady opposite her. ‘Yes, I know you lost this afternoon. I was there and I saw you lose this afternoon. And what did you lose, pray? Two rupees! You lost just two rupees. And what are you winning now? Fifty rupees! And then complaining about losing two rupees! Really, really! Not that I grudge you your winnings. No, not in the least. Personally, I play the game for the game itself.’ She said that pointedly. ‘I love mah jong. I think there’s something so wonderful about it and I play it although I always lose. Yes, I always lose.’
‘You’re not casting aspersions on my wife’s sporting spirit, I hope,’ said Bury. ‘One would gather from the way you went on that she made a regular living out of mah jong.’
‘Good heavens, no.’ The three co-players protested in chorus and looked at each other significantly.
The game went on.
‘Pung . . . Chow . . . Red Dragon . . . Soap . . . Season . . . Nine Rings . . . Seven Rings . . . Seven Cracs. . .’
‘Mah jong! What do I get for this hand?’ queried the eternally victorious voice.
Mrs. Bury proceeded to gather in her winnings.
Then, leaning back from her lucrative toil, she looked up at her husband. She was delighted beyond measure to feel her Jim near her in the moment of her triumph. The horrid beautiful girl in the veranda didn’t exist any more. The betrayals, so frequent and so regular, were forgotten. She let her hand steal contortedly behind to grasp his as it dangled beside the back of her chair. The two hands met. Jim’s underwent a squeeze of wonted fury. Then it travelled forward and was pressed hard against his wife’s side. Finally, Mrs. Bury laid his hand against her cheek, and, with her head slowly bending over sideways, ecstatically crushed her husband’s fingers against her right shoulder.
Her co-players looked at her in this rapturous posture. But their prim, deprecatory glances didn’t worry Mrs. Bury very much. Only very slowly and quite voluntarily did she let her head come erect again. She thought, however, that her public effusiveness required some explanation.
‘Marriage,’ she proclaimed pontifically to her co-players, ‘marriage to be a success must feel like a liaison.’ And she looked up at her husband with a smile of fantastic, desperate, overpowering coquetry. ‘Marriage must feel like a liaison.’
There was a bare smile on Jim Bury’s face as he heard his wife’s oft-repeated dictum. He didn’t know where she had read it. Heartily in accord with it, he had contrived to make his marriage an infinite series of liaisons.
Her co-players knew their Jim Bury and when they looked up from their tiles at his wife there was more pity than scorn in their eyes.
The game continued. Everyone was purposeful, engrossed.
The hard, crispy sounds of the tiles on the glass-covered table. ‘Seven Bams . . . Green Dragon . . . Two Rings . . .’
Five Diamonds . . . Five Hearts.’ The growls and grumbles from the bridge table of post-mortemising partners.
Soon Jim Bury was tired of watching his wife’s hand. He had watched mah jong to distraction. His wife was getting another splendid hand. Every time she drew a good tile, excitedly she would turn her head up to him with a smile of triumph. As a response, his lips twitched themselves into a threadbare smirk. He could not possibly share her joy. How could she possibly expect him to be interested in mah jong! Good God! Something was beckoning him elsewhere. Noiselessly, completely conscienceless, he gave in to desire and slunk away to the side of the young woman in the veranda.
‘So this is India,’ said Dorian. Seated on a divan, he and Sybil were conversing.
‘In India, do as the English do,’ said Sybil. ‘You can live in this country and not meet an Indian from one year’s end to another, except your chauffeur and your bearer.’
‘But that’s ideal,’ said Dorian. ‘That’s ideal according to Alan, isn’t it? The races must be kept apart. That’s what he wants, isn’t it, for the weal of the Indians? Servility is the condition of their salvation.’
‘Don’t laugh, Dorian,’ cried Sybil. ‘Alan means every word he says. He is genuine. Hundred per cent. Poor Alan! He takes himself really seriously; so seriously that I don’t dare laugh at him. Though I feel like bursting out sometimes. All his serious friends, all the seriousness generally. It’s rather funny if it were not so dull for me. Yet, he’s so sure of himself and what he says. There’s no arguing with him. You can’t reason with prejudice. He’s so terribly, terribly sure that he’s right. To hear him speak, you might be convinced yourself. There is a strange look in his eyes — mystical.’
‘Maniacal!’ said Dorian. ‘I’m glad I can talk freely with you, at least, Sybil. I was terrified you’d share your husband’s opinions, or prejudices, rather, as you call them.’
‘Well,’ she said. ‘I’m not on the side of the bullies. I’m not with the tanks and the machine-guns.’
They were silent.
‘What is it like being married to a man like Alan Markham?’ Dorian suddenly said.
‘That’s rather a leading question, isn’t it?’ said Sybil, smiling.
‘Well, I was just wondering to myself aloud.’
‘Alan’s a great success. Oh, he goes down terribly well with the Europeans. He’s one of the firmest pillars of Western civilisation in India. Oh, yes. He goes down terribly well here, except when people like you arrive on the scene, scoffers, with mischievous twinkles in their eyes. But, I assure you, you’re in a hopeless minority. Alan loves India. He’s got everything he wants. Politics, business and bridge.’
‘And what have you got?’ asked Dorian. ‘What about you? Your opinions are so different. Are you —’
‘You want to know a lot, young man, don’t you?’ she said, playfully scolding. ‘I’m his wife. His faithful, obedient, adoring wife.’
‘Aie! . . . aie! . . .’ a shrill wailing suddenly burst upon the room from Mrs. Bury.
In a moment everyone had collected round her chair. She had sunk deep in her seat, her head hanging piteously on her chest. Her face was very pale and perspiring. At intervals she emitted shrieks, long drawn-out, strident, hysterical. The ten hours of mah jong, repeated for the fourth time during the week, and a sudden jealousy, violent and uncontrollable, of her truant husband, had proved too much for Mrs. Bury.
‘Aie!. . . aie! . . .’ she howled miserably in a semi-coma.
Someone held up her head and dabbed a wet sponge on her forehead and her face. Another fanned her vigorously with a newspaper. While her husband, perforce in attendance, was actively trying to make her swallow some brandy.
‘Wine, wine,’ she managed to utter.
‘Come on, darling, drink this, drink this,’ Bury said, pressing the brandy to her lips. ‘I told you not to play so much mah jong, didn’t I? Why must you play so much?’
She was too helpless to answer his lie. Her teeth were firmly clenched. Suddenly her face would relax and she would shout, ‘Wine, wine . . .’ and then again the jaws would close together, adamant.
At length, with a nimble and powerful exertion of his left hand, Bury forced her jaws apart while with the right he poured down her throat the brandy and almost a bit of the wine-glass as well. She gurgled it down and her head sank back on her chair.
Mrs. Bury’s fit was generally regretted as it terminated the mah jong and bridge for the day. The guests now posted themselves around the room vaguely, ubiquitously, chatting and drinking. Bury was again flirting in the veranda.
Later, when Mrs. Bury came out of the hostess’s bedroom, where she had been resting a while, quite recovered now and in the highest spirits after other generous gulps of brandy, Sybil rushed up to her.
‘Mrs. Bury, Mrs. Bury,’ she said. ‘Your dress is all undone. Look. Let me help you do it up.’
A little naked strip of Mrs. Bury’s flank, in fact, peeped demurely through to the light.
‘Oh! Let it be, let it be,’ cried Mrs. Bury almost aloud and grinned prodigiously. ‘Let it be. Give the darlings a little thrill. Give the poor darlings a spot of excitement. It lures the men on all the more, you know.’
And she strutted away gaily, grotesquely, desperately coquettish.
‘I welcome this idea,’ said Sir Kaikhushroo Jabrajee, Kt., the Parsi magnate, continuing his speech, and his bald head and his yellow horse-face lolled rather unsteadily on his neck. His small jet eyes surveyed his audience consisting almost entirely of his European hosts, the members of the Bombay Dinner Club, a few white ladies — all the whites in evening dress — and a sprinkling of Indian guests in their Gandhi uniforms. Sir Kaikhushroo, himself, as befitting a Knight of the British Empire and the Liberal blend of his political convictions (as opposed to the advanced views of the National Congressists) conformed sartorially to the Western convention. He was rather vain in fact of his four-guinea Burlington Arcade boiled shirt and his thirty-guinea Savile Row dress-suit and felt quite brilliant beside his compatriots in their stoically coarse and careless khaddar garments. ‘I welcome this idea of a club to encourage social contact between Indians and Europeans for the purpose of fostering a better understanding between the East and the West. I congratulate those bold young spirits amongst you, ladies and gentlemen, who are responsible for the conception and realisation of this excellent idea. Every city in India should follow your splendid example and establish a similar society of its own.
‘In the foundation of this society I detect a new spirit — a spirit that wants to know and understand. But, alas — and here I take it upon myself to speak freely and frankly — but, alas, ladies and gentlemen, this spirit has been too slow in coming; this spirit has arrived, perhaps, already too late.
‘Thirty years ago we might have called this spirit a far-sighted, broad-minded, enlightened one. To-day, with the greatest regret I say it, to-day it is nothing but a surrender to the obvious. It is an expedient compliment paid by Englishmen, or rather by a certain section of them, to the national consciousness of the Indian people; to that national consciousness, so contemptuously and foully ignored, yet so abundantly and effectively vindicated last year, during the Civil Disobedience Campaign, when this ancient country under an inspired leadership triumphantly overcame the ordeal of a non-violent war against the established powers and gave a proof to the world of its pristine vigour and perennial youth. Ladies and gentlemen, it is because Mahatma Gandhi was victorious last year that we meet here, Indians and Europeans together, in this manner to-night.
‘So, ladies and gentlemen, after so many decades of being with us, the British have realised that we have a point of view. A somewhat tardy recognition, you must admit! Some of you have come forward at last to try and understand us, our ambitions and our aspirations.
‘What do the English people know about us?’ suddenly shouted Sir Kaikhushroo angrily. ‘The Civil Servant, the omnipotent bureaucrat, knows a great deal, but he looks at things with eyes blurred with prejudice and self-interest. He is from beforehand disinclined to believe what he sees. But what does the average Englishman who comes out to India know about us? He knows nothing, I tell you, nothing — and cares less. He brings along with him his native insularity and the unfamiliar climate makes him rather more phlegmatic. He lives here on isolated islands.’
He hurled the words with extraordinary violence at his English audience; they looked astonished, almost chastened.
‘On isolated islands,’ the table rocked perilously under the vigorous thumps of Sir Kaikhushroo’s hand. ‘On isolated islands — the creations of his racial snobbery. In every city of India he sets up a miniature of his beloved England, complete with the inevitable clubs, cricket and chota-pegs, its petty exclusiveness and sacred prejudices. He never has a good friend amongst the Indians he knows. They remain to him just casual, tiresome acquaintances. He never enters an Indian household, nor does an Indian enter his. In the same town, Indian and European live in entirely different worlds. India to the Englishman is just Kensington, Stepney, Watford or Birmingham with more pay, more sun, more trees, and many very docile black servants.
‘Meanwhile, the true India beats, pulsates just outside his door. So near, yet inaccessible to him. Habits, traditions, a certain self-preservative instinct — it’s a false instinct, mind you — wall him in unassailably. Years of his life he spends in this country, and finally he leaves it — alas, a complete stranger.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, when you talk of social contact between Indians and Europeans, that is what you come up against. If the problem of India is to be settled in a satisfactory way, it must be tackled amicably, with understanding and intelligence. Though Indians, we are your fellow human beings. I think you will agree to that! There must be no difference in footing between Indian and Englishman. Learn to know us, really to know us, then only can you comprehend us. And learn to know us as equals. Equality, remember — we insist on that. Let us break down the barriers that have kept us apart. Let us have no more racial differentiation.
‘I asked you, ladies and gentlemen, to allow me to be frank. I hope you have not found me too frank. In the heat of the moment I may have been guilty of bad taste towards my hospitable hosts. But I am positive that you will readily excuse me. After all, I was invited by you to tell you what I really think. I have done so to the best of my ability, perhaps, at too great length. (He smiled.) It was a pleasure, a strange rare pleasure, for me not to be a politician for once. (He smiled broadly.) Not to indulge in colourless, vapid platitudes that lead one nowhere. If my plain-speaking was excessive, I ask you to consider it as but the vehement ardour of sincerity. I thank you.’
He bowed and took his seat.
The applause was polite and restrained. Only Mr. Ganpat Rao (ex-Member of the Legislative Assembly) clapped loudly, almost obstreperously. Everything about him was loud and noisy, except his sedate Gandhi costume. A Gandhi cap perched precariously on the gigantic head, tiny; large enough, however, to conceal the coconut-oiled traditional shehndi, the sole few lengthy wisps of hair curled in a knot about the top of the otherwise completely shaven head. Then came the enormous face of burnished ebony which necklessly merged with an intense series of chins into a broad stumpy body. He had greatly enjoyed the speech, and his applause was in measure with his appreciation. But all at once he checked himself. He remembered that he was a Hindu, and therefore his enthusiasm for a Parsi must not be too unqualified.
‘Good speech,’ said Dorian to him. They were neighbours.
‘Quite good, quite good,’ said Mr. Ganpat Rao, chewing his pahn. His boisterous appreciativeness was now well under control.
The vegetarian menu provided for the Hindu guests had had an irresistible appeal for Mr. Ganpat Rao. Especially the vegetable cutlets. They were so much better than anything his wife gave him at home. And they reminded him of that meat dish which, a year ago in France, half unavoidably, half wilfully, he had eaten and found so relishing. He was rather prone to gluttony. He had decided to let himself go to-night and had guzzled away very thoroughly at the Imperial Hotel menu. Nature now taxed him with the consequences. Mr. Ganpat Rao always allowed Nature to take her course. He refused to impede metabolism in any way. He belched very audibly.
It was with a most ostentatious imperturbability that Mr. Ganpat Rao disregarded the accepted usages of the Westerners. There was such an all ingenuous and unselfconscious air about him that it was difficult to decide whether his strange table manners arose from mere ignorance or from studied contempt. ‘It’s a good speech,’ the red-bespattered lips said, and a violent eructation again disturbed the flow of his speech but not his self-possession. He continued calmly. ‘But you noticed the dig at the politicians, “the vapid platitudes of the politicians!”’ he misquoted. ‘Well, no one is a more artful politician than Jabrajee himself. You never know how he’s thinking. He’s always sitting on the fence. At the moment he wants to play up to Congress, I suppose. Hence this speech. It’s plain speaking all right, but with a motive, an ulterior motive. I tell you he has a motive.’
The next speaker was an Englishman. He read his speech. It sounded like an abridged history of India to Dorian. He found it more interesting to listen to the informative Mr. Ganpat Rao.
‘There’s nobody very important here amongst the Englishmen. All the people here are small fry — the chokra boys. The burrah sahibs keep away. They look askance at the Dinner Club as something rather illicit and irresponsible. Englishmen entertaining Congress agitators who ought rightly to be in gaol! Just think of that. What is happening to English-men? India’s surely heading for hell at this rate. That’s what they must be saying.’ He laughed. His fingers convulsively played with his coffee spoon. ‘They must be woefully shaking their grey and feeble heads. But Congress is the voice of India — that they either do not know or ignore. And there are far more Gandhi-wallahs than you see Gandhi caps.’
‘The Moguls under Akbar . . .’ read the speaker from his paper.
‘O God!’ said Mr. Ganpat Rao. ‘We should have brought our history books along with us to verify the chap’s dates.’ He laughed with calm gusto.
Everyone’s eyes were riveted on him. The speaker looked up from his paper with a mild frown and then went on — with details of Emperor Akbar’s reign.
A Goanese waiter walked in with drinks. His white canvas shoes creaked horribly.
‘Look at that man,’ said Mr. Ganpat Rao, indicating a young man sitting a little distance away on the opposite side of the table. ‘That’s Fellowes. At the last meeting of the Dinner Club, when Bhadlibhai, Gandhi’s lieutenant, was the guest of the evening, Fellowes got up immediately after Bhadlibhai and made a pretty rollicking pro-Congress speech.’ He paused. ‘Well, it wasn’t really so very terrible, now that I come to think of it. Yet it was startling because it came from an Englishman. Well, his bosses got to hear about it and they’ve threatened to kick him out of his job if he opens his mouth again at any of these meetings. So now he sits silent, and simmers.’
‘The battle of Plassey, 1757 . . .’ came the droning voice of the orator.
Mr. Ganpat Rao tipped himself over on his left buttock and, like the old lady in Rousseau’s Confessions, emitted a gros pet. A low, booming sound was distinct, beyond misunderstanding.
‘Have you ever visited an Indian in his home?’ asked Mr. Ganpat Rao.
‘No, I haven’t,’ said Dorian.
‘Well, you must come and have dinner with me once,’ said Mr. Ganpat Rao, largely patronizing. ‘But I’m warning you. An Indian’s home is his homestead — or his pig-sty!’ A whole, stumpy, straggling mountain swayed with mirth at Dorian’s side.
‘I’ll give you a real Hindu dinner,’ continued the Indian. ‘Vegetable food of course! I love meat, I eat meat, but, alas, I have to be a vegetarian — for my body’s peace, not my soul’s! Ha-ha-ha! And you mustn’t mind sitting on the floor and eating with your hands; and you’ll have to eat from strange plates. Oh, that reminds me. Your Queen Victoria used to say that the Indians were so wealthy that they only ate once from a plate and then threw it away. But the plates are Nature’s plates — leaves! We get them at eight annas a thousand. The old lady thought they were of gold and silver.’ There was only a titter this time, executed, however, in the customary hearty style.
The dinner was now at an end. The hosts and guests were departing together. Mr. Ganpat Rao rose violently, broadly out of his chair. He stood chatting with Dorian. Sybil joined them. She had come with Dorian, but they had been allocated to different tables and had been parted during the dinner.
‘So you’re the wife of the European-Association-wallah,’ Mr. Ganpat Rao unceremoniously remarked to Sybil, when introduced. He proceeded to scrutinize her with concupiscent enjoyment. ‘I detest your husband.’
‘Thank you very much,’ said Sybil, and smiled. ‘That’s an overwhelming compliment so early in our acquaintanceship.’
‘I’m always very frank,’ said the Indian.
They walked down the hotel veranda overlooking the harbour. The gleams of the ship-lights sprang up out of the black motionless water. Behind were the distant hills, vague and shifting in the night.
Dorian suggested a drink. They crossed the passage leading into the winter-garden. Mr. Ganpat Rao, spacious dwarf, bustled his heroic and unwieldy way ahead of his two white companions.
‘Then you are going to come to my place, aren’t you?’ Mr. Ganpat Rao proffered his invitation more warmly this time, when they had settled down at a table in the winter-garden.
Dorian nodded. He was appalled as well as attracted by the prospect of a visit to the anarchical abode of the Hindu.
‘What are the rules of conduct for a guest in a Hindu house?’ asked Dorian.
‘We have no rules,’ answered Mr. Ganpat Rao with an abruptness that was almost impolite. ‘With us there are no conventions, no regulations. Leave your etiquette behind when you come to us. All that sort of thing, the outer veneer, all that is reserved for you Westerners. Be with us perfectly natural. Be yourself.’
‘But you’re a Brahmin,’ said Dorian. ‘Surely you can’t entertain me, one who is uninitiated, an infidel? What about your religious scruples? Haven’t you any?’
‘Of course not,’ said Mr. Ganpat Rao emphatically. ‘I don’t care a damn for all that sort of thing. But my wife does. And she might make a fuss about your coming to the house. But I’ll get round her. You’re an exception, aren’t you? As for me, I’m born a Brahmin, but I don’t feel myself to be the least bit Hindu. I’m a sceptic, an agnostic, an iconoclast as well. But, my dear sir, agnosticism, pagnosticism, iconoclasm, picononclasm, that’s all finished once you are past the house portals.’ The short fat arms waved about chaotically, then, with a strange gesture of his right hand suggesting an utter finality, he laid a doleful emphasis on his last words. ‘Yes, alas, that’s all finished. Then the woman’s rule begins. In India the home is matriarchal. Outside I may bellow like a buffalo, but at home I am the meekest mouse. Here I may harangue for hours about Nietzsche or Karl Marx, but at home I have to return docilely to the Vedas. Yes, woman, the eternal Mother, she’s queen. In religion she can be as capricious and imperious as the most impossible mistress. I have to submit or commit social suicide. It’s ridiculous.’
He went on. To-night he was feeling more than usually chatty.
‘Thank God, I have not a daughter — but five sons! But if I had one, I could not kiss her. Did you know that?’
‘Really! Couldn’t kiss your daughter!’ said Dorian.
‘I could not kiss her if she were more than eight years old.’
For once Mr. Ganpat Rao felt somewhat diffident. He turned his head cautiously, shyly towards Sybil. Her presence seemed to disturb him. He didn’t think he could safely proceed in the presence of such a rudimentary thing as a woman.
‘Don’t mind me, Mr. Rao,’ she said, guessing his droughts. ‘You won’t find me easily shockable. Do go on. I’m terribly interested.’
‘Well, you see,’ he said, ‘in India a daughter never really belongs to her family. She’s somebody else’s property — dhun we call it — from the very moment of her birth. She gets married at the age of eleven or twelve, and she is betrothed when she is eight or nine. It’s not done for her father to kiss her after about her eighth year. Her lips are reserved for someone else, her fiancé. . . .’
‘It really is very stupid,’ he added. ‘If anything, it helps to create the trouble it is trying to prevent. Restrictions like that only make one morbidly sex-conscious. And, besides, a mere ban on kissing his helpless daughter really will do nothing to stop a lecherous, licentious father if he seriously intends incest. Well, the whole thing comes of the great importance we attach to chastity in women. Two things we do believe in for women. Chastity and marriage. Pre-marital chastity and pre-natal marriage.’ He laughed. ‘Yes, pre-natal marriage. Hindu marriages are really arranged in heaven — when the unborn bride and bridegroom are there — and celebrated on earth. Love, looks, temperament, wealth play no part in pairing man and woman. We are mated according to the ineluctable choice of our parents. But women do get married. They are, at least, sure of that. All of them. We don’t have any old maids. Such creatures are to be found amongst the more advanced Parsis — more advanced in aping the Westerners,’ he sneered.
‘The women get married,’ said Sybil, ‘but do they get love?’
‘Love!’ said Mr. Ganpat Rao with scorn, and the pahn-covered face advanced menacingly towards Sybil. ‘What do you all know about love? Nothing! Marriage makes you white people fall out of love — or lust! Yes, lust! No love! No love! Lust!’ He bellowed with laughter. He was having such a rare hell of a good time to-night, verbally banging and biffing these bloody English people into shapelessness. ‘But marriage finds love for us Indians. Real love!’
‘H’m! Perhaps,’ said Dorian, unconvinced.
Anyhow, said Mr. Ganpat Rao, ‘the women get a haven.’
‘The haven is pretty often a hell,’ said Sybil.
‘But religion, madam, makes that hell into heaven, or at least into purgatory. Religion was invented to ease the lot of the Hindu woman on earth. It enables her to accept her fate willingly, joyfully. She worships her husband, however monstrous he may be, as her Lord and Master. What, she consoles herself, are the transient sorrows and hardships of a mere lifetime to the soul’s long, terrible struggle through eternity? What is to-day, when there is the inevitable, severe series of to-morrow’s to go through? Blindly, doggedly with calm, complete faith she clings to religion, her safeguard and her solace, and ruthlessly imposes it on her husband. And here we see the gap between husband and wife — the great and horrible gap of culture. They belong to different worlds. And who conquers in the end? The wife. Every time it’s the wife. Nothing can dislodge her from the solid, impregnable stronghold of her faith. For faith, after all, is beyond reason. Hers then is the victory. Hers the tyranny that is established. It’s the triumph of obscurantism over enlightenment. Light is bound to the wheels of the floundering chariot of darkness.’
‘But things are different now, aren’t they?’ said Dorian.
‘Yes, things are improving,’ said Mr. Ganpat Rao. ‘The woman is slowly advancing. Our Maha-Mahatma Gandhi, my guru, has done a great deal for her. She is at last beginning to be conscious of herself. Yes, the Indian woman has made a great leap forward. But orthodoxy is still pretty firmly entrenched — especially in my family.’ He laughed and slapped Dorian violently on the back, enjoying to the full the most uncommon thrill of a vigorous familiarity with an Englishman. Then it was as easy as all that! ‘Remember, when you come to my place, my wife’s the boss, not I. You better discard your trousers for the occasion and wear a dhoti. It will help a bit to reconcile you to her. She’s a terror for orthodoxy. She’ll give you your tea in a silver mug, while we have ours in brass tumblers. Do you know the reason? A touch of your lips will permanently defile brass. But silver is all right. You can’t pollute silver permanently. It can be purified for our use again. Giving you silver mugs looks like a compliment, doesn’t it? Very flattering for a guest. But it isn’t a compliment. It’s really a damned insult. It’s treating you burrah sahibs like damned untouchables. It’s as if you were a bunghi, a sweeper. And you know . . .’
But he could not go on. He was helplessly held in a cramp of laughter. The uncontrollable guffaws resounded through the room. His doubled-up body swayed convulsively on the chair and from his distorted open mouth, as he bent down, a massive blob of red-tinted betel-nut phlegm gravitated to the floor. He felt a thin stream of saliva run down his chin from the corner of his lips. He brought out his handkerchief, wiped his chin and, holding the handkerchief to his mouth, gagged his laughter. His sandal seized on the lump of phlegm and turned it round and round on the floor till it almost vanished.
Dorian made a wry face. He looked at Sybil. Their eyes exchanged eloquent messages of disgust and mutual sympathy.
‘You must come to me. You must come to me,’ said the Indian when he was able to speak again after his furious laughter.
Dorian nodded with as pleasant a grace as he could muster. But he told himself, ‘I’m damned if I must!’
Mr. Ganpat Rao’s mental lithenesses became associated in his mind with the infinite odours and pollutions of the bazaar. The Hindu’s indelicacy seemed to threaten the cause of Indian independence. But he told himself that he oughtn’t to be so squeamish. He must go to Ganpat Rao’s house. And, in fact, he did go.
‘I’d like to ask you over too, Mrs. Markham,’ continued Mr. Ganpat Rao. ‘But your husband, you know. . . . Oh, here he is. O Lord, I must be off, O Lord! Good-bye. Good-bye.’
He got up hastily and, in doing so, his arm knocked his glass off the table.
‘Arrrr!’ he registered surprise and regret at the occurrence.
He rushed away from the approaching Markham, wading through the lemon squash and the splinters of the broken glass.
‘Good-bye, good-bye,’ the squat figure shouted back at them and jogged away, bovine and unwieldy.
‘Hullo, Sybil and Dorian,’ Markham arrived, deep-voiced, immense.
He had been to a Masonic dinner and had come directly afterwards to the Imperial Hotel to meet Sybil and Dorian.
‘What on earth was that fellow Ganpat Rao doing here? Wherever did you get to know him, Sybil?’ He sat down. The invisible reddish eyebrows were elevated in high astonishment.
Sybil just remembered that she hadn’t told Dorian that their attending the Dinner Club meeting was to be a secret. Under no circumstances was Markham to know of it. She had told her husband that Dorian and she were going to dine at the Imperial and then go to a cinema. She tried to retrieve the situation at the eleventh hour by imposing silence on Dorian. She caught his eye. She shook her head as violently as she could and her lips mouthed the soundless words, ‘Don’t tell him, don’t tell him.’
It all escaped Markham’s attention. His face was turned away from her towards Dorian. But, unfortunately, it also escaped Dorian’s understanding. He could not in the least comprehend all the agitated signals and grimaces that came from Sybil.
‘I’m responsible,’ he said in his innocence. He was wondering what Sybil was trying to convey to him.
‘I introduced Ganpat Rao to Sybil after the meeting. He was my neighbour during dinner — most entertaining fellow. . . .’
‘Meeting? What meeting?’ questioned Markham abruptly. He was more and more amazed. He turned to his wife for explanation. ‘Didn’t you go to a cinema, Sybil?’
Nothing could stop Dorian.
‘You know the young Europeans. . .’ he continued, inexorably.
‘We went to the Dinner Club meeting, Alan,’ Sybil corroborated quietly, unmistakably.
‘You’re joking! You don’t really mean that?’ said Markham.
‘Seriously, Alan. We really did go,’ replied his wife.
He was speechless and dumbfounded. Then he burst out, volcanically, almost incoherent.
‘B . . . b . . . but how could you, Sybil? How could you? Don’t you realise it places me in such an awkward position? For heaven’s sake, Sybil, do you know what you’ve done? A club of Europeans treating with agitators, anarchists, unprincipled bounders, people with nothing to lose. My own wife! No, I can’t believe it. O Sybil! Really, really! What have you done?’
He barely looked around him. The lounge was empty and abandoned. Through its outer pillars could be seen the void, dark, steel-enclosed path of the lifts. Since some time no light had shown there. The lifts had ceased their busy constant plying between the floors. Sybil, Dorian and he were the only inhabitants in a vast desert. Markham felt no need to restrain himself. His wrath was terrible. It made him look repulsive. There was a low, spiteful, unearthly resentment burning in his big rolling eyes. His large, loose mouth opened and shut rapidly. His nose looked horribly big, fleshy. The sweat shone on it. He spoke, stooping slightly, and waved his long hands wildly. His features, which usually lent strength, almost a fineness to his face, were transfigured now into a coarse, disfiguring prominence. They became vilely obtrusive. The vast ponderous figure seemed all head and arms, no body.
‘Don’t you see what you’ve done? I’ve been fighting against those Dinner Club people all along. Dirty whipper-snappers, they are, wrecking the solidarity of the white man. Renegade Europeans, that’s what they are. And my own wife associates with them. I shall be laughed at, ridiculed. Just think of it. And I — one of the leaders of the European Association!’
‘Oh, don’t be so silly, Alan,’ said Sybil, amazed at the violence of Markham’s anger. He, who was always so impeccably proper, so calm, so controlled, so weirdly, inhumanly imperturbable, shrieking wildly in the lounge of a hotel! Not so inhuman, dead, after all! Whence this life, passion in a stone? She was secretly delighted. Those eyes of his could devour her.
She tried to cool him down.
‘Don’t make such a fuss about it. It’s nothing so terrible after all.’
He did not heed her in the least. He saw Dorian move in his chair. He turned on him the full blast of his anger.
‘You’re to blame for this,’ he said. ‘You! You!’ His index finger was within an inch of Dorian’s nose.
‘Oh, don’t be absurd, Alan,’ cried Sybil. ‘You’re crazy. Dorian didn’t have anything to do with it. I wanted to go. Don’t bring him into it. You are absurd, really.’
‘Oh, shut up,’ he snapped at her, with a coarse finality.
‘Control yourself, Alan,’ she said.
‘I know you put her up to it,’ he went on. His eyes flashed at Dorian. ‘I know it. Don’t try to deny it. Don’t dare. I know you did it. You, with your ridiculous Bolshie ideas. Well, keep them to yourself. D’you understand? Keep them to yourself. I don’t want you meddling in my affairs. D’you understand?’
He was positively yelling. His voice was almost hoarse with excitement and shouting. Dorian was silent. He was completely unruffled and looked it. He was enjoying the whole affair thoroughly. Suddenly a slight smile broke on his lips. It was most tactless but irrepressible. It drove Alan to frantic exasperation.
‘You laugh! How dare you? You’re laughing at me? You! How dare you? You have the cheek to smile. You put my wife up to do things behind my back and then laugh at me. Do you realise who I am? I’m one of the leading people of India. I’ve done things. I’ve achieved things. And you dare laugh at me. You, you worthless good-for-nothing!’
He jeered. His eyes were full of venomous loathing. All his hate of Dorian was coming out at last. He had disliked him from the start. They were fundamentally antagonistic.
‘You, what have you ever done in your life? Nothing, nothing. Literature! Journalism! H’m! Humbug! Moonshine! Who’d read your rotten cant, full of your damn fool ideas. All you’re good for is fooling around. Dancing, night life. That’s your style. You’re just a dirty, useless Bohemian. I know the sort of life you’ve led. I’ve heard all about it. Womanising, that’s all you’re good for. Just a dirty, useless Bohemian. Ambitions, have you? You won’t get anywhere, my boy. You haven’t the guts. Ha-ha-ha! You’re just a contemptible, indecent worm. That’s all.’
Dorian laughed in his face.
‘Shut up, shut up,’ Markham screamed. ‘Don’t try to interfere in the affairs of respectable, decent people. D’you understand?’
He was quaking with self-righteous fury. How utterly he loathed the other man. Utterly. Yet he had no reason to hate his cousin. He had nothing definite against him. There was only the great opposedness between them. He looked down upon the other man from his high tower of moral rectitude, vindictive. He knew nothing of Dorian’s previous life. But it had to be a free and loose one to fit in with his prejudiced mental picture of him. He could not, however, beat down the taunting, bold gaze that met him. Then there was the strong sympathy between Sybil and Dorian. It had grown so rapidly. It alarmed him. It threatened to break the ascendancy, complete, easy and impassible, that he exercised over his wife. Was there a sign of rebellion? He wasn’t jealous of his wife. He was jealous of his career. A wife was an integral part of a career. Sybil was needed for his schemes. Was he going to be thwarted in his plans?
‘This has to stop,’ he went on ceaselessly. ‘You’re not going to interfere in my affairs. D’you understand? D’you understand?’
‘Oh, be quiet, Alan,’ cried Sybil, allaying.
She got up to go. There was peace as they went down in the lift and while they waited for the car in the hotel entrance.
As soon as the car was on its way, the truce came to an end.
‘And you lied to me, Sybil,’ Markham began again. ‘You said you were going to a cinema. A miserable lie. I never thought you’d do a thing like that. So you’re deceitful, are you? Despicable!’
He was enraged because Sybil had lied to him. He was taken by surprise. She was usually so conscientiously good and correct. From his perch of utter uprightness he seized the opportunity to condemn such a prodigious delinquency on her part.
‘So you stoop to low deception? Really, Sybil, really! Despicable! Disgusting!’ He rubbed it well in on what he knew was a tender, very tender spot with her.
What angered him still more, however, was that the lie was such an easy, excellent, devastating method of obviating his opposition or of deferring it until it was too late and ineffective. He was staggered by the sudden, strange, secretive strategy employed by Sybil. If he had but known of her desire to attend the dinner. . . . But to be taken thus unawares, impotently to have to face a fait accompli — it really was unfair. If he had only known, he would have nagged the desire out of her. For Markham always got his way by nagging. It was the secret of his success in life. His ideas were unoriginal, borrowed. But when he adopted them, supported them with his staying, nagging powers they became living forces that ran an irresistible course impelled by the unconquerable impetus he had instilled into them.
Markham could nag people into and out of anything. Possessed of an inexhaustible, resolute patience, he made them, poor weaklings, surrender from sheer, maddening desperation to his insistent, inexorable will. ‘I never take “no” for an answer,’ he always said. Not only ‘no,’ but ‘no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, and no,’ infinite dozens of ‘noes’ did not suffice to parry his persistence. No refusal, no rebuff, however blunt, decided, final, hopeless, humiliating, contemptuous, snubbing damped his confidence and his optimism. He would try again. In the end he always nagged himself to victory. Undeterred by failure in the early stages of a campaign, he returned with added vigour and zest to the onslaught. All the siege-works were carefully laid, the plans of the offensive and the defensive were executed to the minutest detail; unscrupulous ruse was ready, if necessary, at hand. And ultimately the attack succeeded. It had to succeed. Irresistibly the objective was carried. Coaxing, cajoling, coercing, have his way he must and did in the end; often without having in the least convinced. During the first Civil Disobedience Campaign he had tried to persuade the Governor to establish Martial Law in Bombay, in order to free the soldiers from the tiresome and too cautious control of the civil authorities; to facilitate the taking of ‘strong measures’ to meet the urgent situation. The Governor whose resistance had been completely battered down was only saved by the opportune intervention of an A.D.C. who, though he did not understand much of Markham’s wordiness, recognised his chief’s peril and rid him of the visitor with his resolute bluff tact and a scarcely veiled threat of violent expulsion.
Markham could not get over the deception practised on him by Sybil. It mustn’t happen again, he told himself. It certainly mustn’t. He could have kicked himself with contempt at having allowed him-self to be so easily tricked.
‘So you deceived me, did you?’ he said. By now the furious explosiveness of the volcano had subsided. But a steady, sustained rumbling continued to issue permanently through the barely-opened lips, impassively boring, grinding, more insidiously devastating in its results. ‘A mean, unscrupulous trick! I never thought you were like that, Sybil. I thought I could trust you implicitly. Now I know for the future what sort of person you are. But there’s one thing to be said for you. You’re not really responsible. It’s Dorian who influenced you. I know it. I know it. It’s his fault. It’s his fault.’
‘Oh, don’t keep on saying that, Alan,’ said Sybil. ‘Don’t, don’t, please. I tell you I’m entirely responsible. I promise. He didn’t have anything to do with it. I swear it. I really wanted to go.’
‘I really wanted to go,’ she repeated it with a desperate perplexed insistence, her forehead puckered up with worry. Her conscience was sorely troubled. Yet she was surprised and happy at having acted with so much spirit and independence for once in her life.
‘But think of it.’ The rumbling went on. ‘You tricked me with a lie. You lied to me. It was a dirty lie. A dirty lie!’
He played with the sore calmly, mercilessly. He knew he was torturing Sybil.
‘But, darling, I had to,’ she said. ‘I wanted to go so badly. Do believe me. I really wanted to go to the Dinner Club meeting.’ She spoke with great diffidence. ‘You know . . . eh . . . my . . . I . . . I need not think the same as you always. Must I have the same ideas as you? You know about Indians, I think —’
‘Shhh! Oh, for God’s sake, shut up,’ he hissed her into silence with utter contempt. ‘Shhh! Your ideas! Oh, please, Sybil! Ha-ha-ha! Please don’t start telling me what you think about things. Oh, please not that! Ha-ha-ha! Your ideas! Oh, please, please! Spare me that. Oh, you are a stupid fool, Sybil. D’you think I care a damn what you think about anything? Oh, please!’
And all the way back home to Malabar Hill, the dull rumbling was sustained relentlessly.
‘You lied to me. You deceived me. A dirty trick, that’s all. A dirty trick! D’you know what you’ve done? D’you realise what you’ve done?’
He went on and on and on. He was getting his own back — and more.
‘You lied to me. . . . You lied to me. . . . D’you know what you’ve done? You lied, you lied . . .’
Dorian found it impossible to bear it all in silence. The man went on endlessly, blunt and unfeeling. Couldn’t he say something? Couldn’t he interfere? He felt like seizing Markham, thrashing him, thrashing him. How could Sybil stand it! How could she live with such a man! It was maddening. He felt like screaming, but he clenched his hands and contained himself.
‘You lied to me. You lied to me. Don’t try to justify yourself. D’you understand? D’you understand? D’you realise what you’ve done? A dirty lie, that’s all. A dirty lie!. . .’
Ali Mirza Habibullah had been up at Cambridge with Dorian Fence. He had been an ardent student, and had obtained a double first in History, an honour most stingily and discriminately awarded. His rich voice had often been heard in the pillared auditorium of the university debating society, the Union. He was easily the most brilliant speaker up at the university in his day. But Habibullah surrendered almost too easily at times to emotion and his accent became too nationally idiosyncratic to be intelligible. In time, however, he was able to correct this fault.
His first appearance at the Union threatened to become a terrific fiasco, but he met the situation with unusual, Disraelian courage and equanimity. From that day Ali became a celebrity in Cambridge. The first words of his speech had been almost drowned amidst titters and guffaws, but Habibullah howled his hearers into silence and dazzled them for twenty minutes with the wit and irony of his oratory. He resumed his seat, an epic figure, the undergraduate arrived in his first term.
Lavishly he spent his regal allowance. His enormous rooms in King’s Parade were decorated in a manner suggesting a fantastic magnificence, blending elegance and weirdness. The living-room was entirely enveloped in a glowing cloud of crimson curtains of thick satin falling from the utter black ceiling. Only the wall above the mantelpiece was blackly naked and from it threatened three dragon-like, ferocious, foaming horses of a matching crimson, figures fabulous and monstrous. They had been executed for Habibullah by an exorbitant Paris artist. Under the glaring terror of these horses sat the many friends whom Ali entertained.
He was an unholy son of Islam, regarding the Koran as no more than a work of problematical literary worth, being not only a qualmless contrevenor of its command to the faithful to abstain from drink, but a very connoisseur of wine and the proud possessor of the best cellar in Cambridge.
It was difficult to believe that the owner of Cambridge’s best cellar and best car — a mighty Bentley limousine — was a Socialist. But Habibullah was a Socialist, whatever the incredulous world may have said of the apparent anomaly. It was not salon posturing. Habibullah insisted on his Socialism. He was sure of it. It did not appear to him the cause of the envious and resentful, a hope of desperate meanness. It was the only true Evangel, the only possible, the one mode of escape for suffering humanity, the single road to Utopia. Personally, he did not care, however, to share his wealth with the world. The individual renunciation of worldly goods, according to Ali, was vain, silly self-abnegation, not even appreciated in a world where each sought his own interest. It was merely crippling. Wealth after all did bestow opportunities of self-betterment, which was an individual matter in this unsocialistic world. The entire gamut of experience and knowledge was accessible most easily to the wealthy who were wise. Besides, his Millennium, the Millennium of Reason and Science, was still too far away for self-martyrdom. Even his excessive luxury, Habibullah said, was the pardonable phantasy of an oriental, aesthetic temperament.
In his third year, when he met Dorian, Habibullah was aspiring to the throne of the Union. His success as a speaker, his ability and charm deluded him into this fond ambition. What deceived him still more was the facile active sympathy of his Socialistic friends. Perforce citizens of the world, they saw nothing strange in an Indian undergraduate occupying one of the most treasured posts in a famous old English university. They encouraged Ali in his maddest visions.
As a Socialist his chances were greatly prejudiced. For the wild hopes and ideals of Cambridge youth ran in those days very predominantly on plutocratic lines. But as an Indian, he was ‘with a congenital defect’, as he himself said, and his dream became quite irrealisable, absolutely insensate. He was bound to be disappointed. And disappointed he was. Another, a Tory, was elected.
To his haughty, sensitive, rather unpractical nature his laughably overwhelming defeat came as a crushing blow. Shortly after this he was to receive another blow.
It was his misfortune to belong to Warwick College. Amongst the intellectuals and the dilettanti of the various literary and artistic societies he knew many people. But at Warwick he was friendless and more than unappreciated. At an institution famed above all others for its amazingly prolific production of Blues of every genus, it was the most heinous crime, the utterly unforgivable sin to be an Indian highbrow.
‘Highbrows,’ had said one of these Blues, a leading Cambridge oarsman, ‘highbrows are a bloody ghastly crowd, anyhow. But a nig highbrow — O God, that makes me see red.’
It must have been a very fiery, virulent crimson that he saw once on a Lent night in Habibullah’s last year when the furies of a Bump Supper festivity were raging at their highest. For together with a few other similarly-minded and equally-drunk eminent brothers of sport, he dragged the hapless Habibullah out of the infuriatingly smart car in which the latter had just come down from London, mauled and man-handled him vigorously and dropped him unconscious into the street drain in front of the college. There they left him.
‘Bloody aesthete! Filthy nig!’
They had heard about his strangely decorated room. He had become to them a legendary, evil, spidery figure. In chastising him, they thought they were performing almost a deed of morality, an act of duty.
The proctor found Habibullah later, when the storm of revelry had abated, stunned and with his left leg broken. Only one of the perpetrators, a boxing Blue, was brought to justice, and sent down. In the darkness the others escaped in anonymity. And Habibullah’s leg was broken.
Before returning to India, Ali Habibullah completed his travels in Europe. Then he spent a year at the University of Heidelberg. And Heidelberg pressed him to its bosom with such bluff fervency that Ali loathed Warwick College and England more than ever. Finally Ali visited Russia. He became fascinated. Henceforth his soul was subjugate. When he reached Bombay he was utterly in the thrall of the Muscovite Enlightenment. It was a little more than Sir Mahomed Habibullah, the second baronet, and his wife had bargained for in giving their son a Western education.
Sir Mahomed was a simple, kindly, God-fearing man, moderately efficient in business. He was impossibly devoted to Ali, his only son. Of late, Ali’s letters had become progressively less prolix, but Sir Mahomed, knowing that multifarious activities engaged his son’s attention, readily excused his neglect. He heard from indirect sources more fully of Ali’s doings, of his scholastic feats, of his rhetorical prowess. He heard even of his Socialism, but with no feeling of anxiety. Could one, he told himself, who had distinguished himself so greatly in his studies, in History, believe the demagogic cant of the Socialists? It was all right for the gullible hands who worked in his mills to believe that sort of thing; and even they turned round sometimes and thrashed their impudent, self-appointed deluders in misery and exasperation. Sir Mahomed respected his son’s judgment and common sense. He felt entirely reassured. He awaited Ali’s arrival with hope and confidence. It was natural, because, very fatherlike, he had not failed to project massive bits of himself on to his son’s personality. What he expected in Ali was a new edition of himself expurgated of the common flaws and tares that marred his own perfection, and possessed of a teeming measure of those admirable qualities, which he commendably confessed to himself to own in only a very modest share. The envisaged Ali had bound- less capacities for business efficiency and admiration verging on awe for the conventional standards of Sir Mahomed. He was to be devoted to Sir Mahomed just as Sir Mahomed had been madly devoted to his own father, the first baronet. Sir Mahomed’s well-meaning fancies had so far depurated Ali that finally he became an utterly colourless figure. The father broke down in pathetic stupefaction when the domesticated divinity turned out to be a rhapsodic Communist, proud of his irreligion, and aggressively anxious to trample to dust the paternal idols. As for Lady Habibullah, she was quite speechless at the change in her son. It seemed to her that some supernatural power of evil had got hold of him. She was fated to sit by with folded hands and watch his rapid and complete demonic transfiguration.
The idea of business as a career for Ali was brushed aside without a moment’s thought. For him the vision it brought forth of dull, opulent complacence was too horrific. At once he laid his febrile energies and implacable, serviceable loathing of the British at the feet of Mother India. He joined the staff of one of the advanced Nationalist newspapers in Bombay. Sir Mahomed was mortally unhappy. His own political convictions were almost unconsciously kept at a tepid atmosphere to smooth the road to mightier fortunes. He was aghast at Ali’s folly, at the thought of so much mis-spent ability and exertion. He rued the day he had thought of sending his son to Europe. Past generations of Habibullahs had lived and thriven without the influence of Western culture. It was left to him to do what his forebears had judiciously left undone. Western nurture had given him an unnatural son. He cursed himself and his foolishness.
But “Allah ho Akbar. God is great. Allah ho Akbar’ he expressed his hopes and consolations. He remembered the beautiful Mohammedan bride he had chosen for Ali. She would bring him back to reason and religion, he was certain.
At this point, however, Damayanti Deodhar interposed. Far away from her Brahminical home, she had in unorthodox fashion spent the latter part of her youth in a Parisian finishing school for young ladies. She was a very fashionable young woman. When she first returned to India she used to don her latest acquirements from the chic Paris shops. But she quickly reverted to her national garb and wore the most gaily gorgeous saris, which she knew heightened her beauty far more than Paquin’s most perfect model. Her advanced ideas and her enthusiasm for the national cause were facets in the modish and elegant ensemble that Damayanti always strove to present to the world. Revolutionism, the newest cocktail and the latest turn of the shingle were equally vital for Damayanti’s well-being and her hold on her own little admiring but exigent public. She had ever to be à la page.
She joined naturally with the other members of Bombay’s young advanced set in lionising the lame martyr-hero from Cambridge. Strangely enough she was considered of all the most deemed for Ali’s almost Messianic attentions. She became his favourite disciple. For hours on end he discoursed to her on Ruskin, William Morris, the imminent débâcle of Capitalism and the Communistic regeneration of mankind. Damayanti did not understand what she heard and was not interested enough to try to understand. She felt very bored. She dabbed her lipstick on her lips, and gave a new lease of life to the look of awesome, urgent, ingénue attentiveness in his resplendent eyes. She played her part with such alarming ease and effect that Ali did not in the least suspect. Delighted with his devout apt pupil, he continued to declaim, hysterical, idyllic. He became ever more anxious to impress her and the oracular lessons flowed at an increasingly ruthless rate from his earnest lips. Poor Damayanti! There were quite perceptibly hopeful signs, of course, but it was tedious work for her. She used to hasten away with an excuse sometimes when it became impossible. But bravely and with absurdly sure faith in ultimate triumph, she returned to the fray. Mercilessly, the brilliant rays in a highly elaborate setting of lid, lash and brow played on Ali. At last the meticulous stage effects succeeded and Ali was wrung away from the Economic Interpretation of History. There was no more pure Sociology. Damayanti had no longer to suffer undiluted Leninism. Dissertations about the future polity got mixed up with kissing and cuddling. Ali found himself desperately in love. He proposed and was accepted. Damayanti heaved a secret sigh of relief and returned home in triumph bearing the glad tidings.
A year ago her father had died when his preposterous financial fancies had devoured the last rupee of his once large fortune. In memory of his beloved departed sister, her maternal uncle had taken the destitute Damayanti into his home. When she laconically declared her intention to marry a Mohammedan, her guardian was not at all surprised. He had prepared himself to expect far worse things of his errant, turbulent ward. At heart, he was overjoyed. For Damayanti had proved an impossible handful. She had persisted in her self-indulgence, behaving as though her father were still alive and a millionaire. Her uncle found her an exorbitant act of dharma, a too valiant bit of charity. He was glad to be rid of her. With a violent conventional expression of horror at her wickedness and a curse on her monstrous impiety, he left her undowried to depart. The thought of the Habibullah crores, however, enabled Damayanti to smile at his blasting anathema and financial neglect.
A little later she was married to Ali.
When Lady Habibullah heard of her son’s marriage, she went very pale and swooned away. For two days she lost the power of speech. She was a weak, cheerful, ineffective, inconspicuous woman, brought up in purdah and piety. She was meek and humble though her family claimed direct descent from the prophet. Ali marrying a Hindu girl! O Allah, Allah! A Gentile or a Jewess wouldn’t matter. Her religion permitted Ali’s bride to be a Kitabia, a Jewess or a Christian; a Jewess from Poland or a Christian from Norway, but a heathen Hindu woman — why, the thing was unthinkable, too ghastly. Her most sacred instincts, the deepest cords of her being were alarmed into a terribly live feeling of ineffable shame and annihilation. All values were at an end for her. A heavy black cloud had descended on the dreary desolation of the earth, where stark evil roved rampant.
‘I knew it was coming. I knew it was coming.’ She wept bitterly. Her grief became violent. She beat her forehead and breast furiously with her hands.
Inwardly the poor woman had, in fact, predicted the catastrophe. Would one who treated the tenets of the Koran with such unblushing contempt stop at anything? When she heard that Ali mixed freely with the young men and women of the other communities, the Hindus and the Parsis, she was filled with the darkest forebodings. But she couldn’t stop it. Even Sir Mahomed had tried and failed. The danger had been there and she had impotently watched it grow. But she had not openly confessed to herself the existence of the peril. There was a dread, a vague dread, which ever remained vague, was not allowed to grow more definite and precise. In coward, stupid hope she had run away from the unerring premonition of her instinct. She had not dared to contemplate the actual, brutal fact of such a calamity.
Once she tried to speak to her husband about the fateful marriage.
‘Not a word. Not a word to me,’ he commanded silence with an imperious gesture. ‘Don’t talk to me. Don’t you see I’m unwell. I’m unwell, I’m unwell. Leave me alone, will you.’ He shouted at her in hasty anger.
Those were all his words about the affair. And then he shut himself up in his brooding, impervious silence. He moved about with his face clouded and sullen. She had to efface herself, as usual, repress herself. Alone, she wept silently. Altogether a pathetic creature to behold. She wanted so badly to talk to her husband. Mutual recriminations and consolations. They might join forces in grief. But she could never get her husband to do that, to do anything she wanted. It was always like that. She was ineffectual, absolutely ineffectual with her husband, her son, in life generally. She was terribly miserable. The tears gushed forth torrentially. She would cry in her room, cry and cry and beat her head and her breasts. She was always alone when she cried. Her husband would be annoyed if he caught her in tears. It was killing him to see her grief, he would angrily complain. So this lachrymal release too, was vouchsafed her only in limited degree. She would look at her husband with her barely dried eyes. Yes, at least, she could look at him. He sat darkly sullen, silent. Her eyes were reproachful. It relieved her slightly to think that principally he was to blame for the catastrophe. With an obstinate determination he had spoilt Ali, made him self-willed, capricious. Yes, Sir Mahomed was to blame. It was he who had sent Ali to Europe, where no more under their watchful eye, he had been started on the road to ruin.
‘O Allah, Allah! Why should it happen to me? Why should it happen to me? Why to me of all persons?’ she would whimper in silence.
‘What have I done to deserve this of my son? O God, what have I done? What have I done? The Prophet’s daughter has sinned. The Prophet’s daughter has sinned. Yes, I must have sinned. I must have sinned.’
She fell on her knees and her head touched the floor. ‘O Allah, Allah! Forgive me. Forgive me,’ she shrieked in wild dismay, in insensate fear.
Someone tried to soothe her.
‘You mustn’t take it so seriously! You mustn’t! You mustn’t! Mixed marriages are nothing to-day. They happen often in these modern times.’
‘But I’m not modern,’ Lady Habibullah shouted in fury at her friend, refusing to be consoled. ‘I’m not modern. I don’t want to be modern. I don’t want to be modern.’
Then she prayed.
‘Allah ho Akbar! Forgive him, O Lord, forgive him. Forgive thy impious son. He is young. He is foolish. He has insulted Thy Prophet, his Father. Forgive him for the way he has treated us. Be merciful. Forgive him. Forgive him. O Allah, the Great Allah!’
The grief became too great for Lady Habibullah. She was too outraged. The silent sorrow gnawed eagerly at her body and soul. The plump, blithe woman was being consumed apace and nothing remained of her but a dull-eyed, greenish emaciation and misery. The sore was never left alone to heal. She had to undergo the cumulative effect of the half-hearted, half-triumphant, eternally reiterated commiserations of her myriad sisters, cousins, aunts, nieces and female friends, who seemed to try desperately to keep her in a vital awareness of the horrifying, monstrous wake-dream that had become her life. Lady Habibullah became mad. Two ayahs were engaged to keep a passive wary watch over her. She grew very silent and prayed incessantly.
Strange, complete bliss seemed to have descended upon her. Ali was to her no more a disobedient, sinful, apostate, hell-bound son, but Ali, sixteen years old, young as he was before he went to his tutor in Kent to prepare for Cambridge; Ali, the exemplary son, the serious, devout Mussulman. Whenever she saw him, she approached him and gently stroked his cheek.
‘Ali, my good Ali. My goo-od Ali,’ she would say. ‘Always be sensible. Be good. God will make you great. Allah ho Akbar.’
Sir Mahomed, meanwhile, brooded darkly and sullenly. His wife’s insanity added greatly to his woes. But he seemed to stand up to them sturdily. He became almost philosophical about All’s affair.
‘She’s at least a high-caste Hindu girl, of good family,’ he said of Damayanti to someone. ‘It’s better than falling to the wiles of a housemaid in Europe. That seems to be the height of aspiration of lots of our young men. They bring out one of the bitches and set her as tyrant over their parents’ heads.’
Ali and Damayanti were staying at a flat near by in Pedder Road. Damayanti had never seen Sir Mahomed or Lady Habibullah. She was banned the house. Much besought by his son, however, Sir Mahomed at last consented to see her. A month after the marriage, Ali brought Damayanti to his father. They waited for him in the little salon on the side of the veranda. It was Ali’s favourite room. It had light grey walls, on one of which hung the reprint of some bright, delicate blue masterpiece of a Mogul artist. A picture in the house! It was a surrender to unorthodoxy, to modernity which Lady Habibullah, like all the best Mohammedan people had been persuaded to allow.
It was just then that Lady Habibullah, having eluded her gaolers, slipped downstairs and came into the veranda. She approached the little salon and entered it. She saw her son sitting on a sofa under the vivid Mogul picture. He was holding Damayanti in his arms and his lips were pressed against hers. A light, sudden, momentary, flashed through Lady Habibullah’s mind. A frantic unearthly shriek burst from her. She turned and fled. In fleeing, she fell. Ali rushed to his mother. She was dead.
He cried piteously. For a moment Damayanti was almost forgotten. Unconsciously the tender memories of his youth were revoked. He loved his mother at that moment. He wept with boyish, fresh passion.
His wife’s death seemed to make surprisingly little difference to Sir Mahomed. He preferred her dead to mad beyond hope. A nullity had vanished from his life, traceless. Her death was not the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Sir Mahomed did not like Damayanti even apart from her Hinduness. And he told Ali so, once when they met. Their meetings were periodical rows.
‘Well, I’ve married her, father,’ said Ali gruffly. ‘Not you. It’s my funeral, anyhow.’
Sir Mahomed got annoyed.
‘But who’s paying for the funeral,’ he said. ‘I’m doing that. I’ve got to stump up, haven’t I, to let you make an ass of yourself? That’s it, isn’t it?’
‘Oh, it’s always the same thing with you. Money! Money!’ burst uncontrollably from Ali. ‘You needn’t stump up, you know. You needn’t stump up. I’m a Communist and I’m going to live up to my convictions. I don’t want any of your money. I’m independent, I can keep myself and my wife.’
He was marvellously optimistic. The paltry salary for his work on the daily and the little money he earned for his literary odds and ends were going to suffice for his and Damayanti’s wants.
‘O God, what a fool! What a fool!’ said Sir Mahomed. ‘What a fool I have for a son. What a silly fool you are, Ali. Oh, Ali, Ali!’ he laughed bitterly. ‘What a palace I built for you. What a palace! And you bombed it, bombed it to bits, to bits. Oh, Ali!’
He approached his son, faced him and placed his hands on his shoulders.
‘All my life I waited for this moment,’ he said. ‘How I was looking forward to your coming back from Europe! And this is what it has turned out to be. O God! How you’ve thrown your life away. But still it’s not too late. Is it too late? Is it too late?’
Tears suddenly welled in Sir Mahomed’s eyes. His voice was intense with emotion.
Ali could almost see his father’s point of view. He was conscious of the chasm dividing them. He was very touched. But he would not give in to his feelings. No sentimentality, he told himself, no sentimentality. He was intransigent, debonair, imperious.
‘Say “cursed Europe”,’ he mocked. ‘Say that. Go on. Go on. Say you’re sorry you ever sent me there. You can never forgive yourself, can you? “Cursed Europe!” No, I should have been kept here and then shoved into that filthy office of yours. How happy you would have been to catch me young for that filthy job.’
Then he changed his tone. He was earnest, appealing. If only his father could understand. . . .
‘You don’t know, father, what Europe has meant to me? It has made me. I’m a different man now. I could never have forgiven you if you had deprived me of it. It was everything to me. Everything, everything!’
‘You wouldn’t have known what you missed, if you didn’t go,’ said Sir Mahomed abruptly.
‘But don’t you see, father, what it has done for me? It has made me. Don’t you see what it has done for me?’
‘It may have made you, but what about me? What’s it done for me? Brought all this trouble and misery, that’s what it’s done for me. You may be all right. But don’t I come in somewhere? Aren’t I to be considered at all?’
‘Well, why are you so blind, father?’ said Ali desperately. ‘You all live static complacent lives. Why did you let time pass by and leave you behind? It has gone by and trampled on your most sacred belongings. You have nothing left to live by except dogged, beautiful, empty ideals. Empty. Damned empty. And with you all they are the only realities. Why don’t you move on with us? It’s as if you have to live in a new house and you’d rather die than let your children explain to you the strange furniture, the new contrivances. But with us the strange chairs and tables, the new appliances are vital, all-important. You condemn them because they are new. We’ve helped to make them. Our life depends on them.’
It was getting very intricate and involved for Sir Mahomed.
‘What’s all that got to do with what we’ve been talking about?’ he said. ‘How did I benefit from your going to Europe?’
‘Why should you benefit?’ said Ali. ‘That’s the point. Why should you benefit? Don’t think of me as an extension of yourself. I’m quite a separate, independent being. I’m not just a bit of you. There should be lots of impersonality between father and son. A child’s first duty is to himself. The child knows that, but the father doesn’t and suffers. Remember, after all paternity is the world’s worst job.’
‘O God!’ unheedingly said Sir Mahomed to himself. ‘What a fool I’ve been! What a fool I’ve been!’
He shook his head woefully. Then the thought of frustrated purpose, his wasted, fond love and his unbridled, cocksure son drove him to wild fury. He thought of his awesome, almost abject devotion to his own father, the first baronet.
‘I should have whipped you, thrashed you,’ burst from him. His body shook convulsively. He waved his arms about wildly. He drew near to his son, his pahn-covered tongue thickly gripped between the big, prominent, yellowed teeth. He clenched his fists. He was about to strike Ali. With a sudden, supreme effort, however, he checked himself. He felt his finger nails deep in the palms of his hands. ‘I should have whipped you, that’s what I should have done. Your mother was right. She knew you’d go wrong. I spoilt you. I ruined you. Sensible, I thought you were. Sensible. You’re a fool, a damned scoundrel, a badmash! Whipped you, that’s what I should have done. Broken your will. Thrashings, that’s what you needed. You with your endless, high-falutin’ talk and your burrah, burrah ideas. Cambridge? You don’t deserve a sweeper’s job. You can’t earn an honest rupee. You’re not fit to be a bunghi.’
‘All that’s for being a Communist!’ said Ali quietly.
Sir Mahomed, unhearing, looked up with an agonised face.
‘O God, this is the moment I was waiting for. O God! This is what I was waiting for.’
He laughed bitterly. He collapsed into a chair, lifeless, absent.
‘It’s your fault.’ Ali laughed at him outright. ‘It’s your fault. Why didn’t you keep me here? I’d have been such a dear sweet son. Such a respectable little darling, worshipping that wonderful Allah of yours. He’s a damned lot of use, isn’t He? Why didn’t He help mother? Why doesn’t He help you now?’
It was just as well his father didn’t hear or else something catastrophic might have occurred.
‘And you married a Hindu woman. . . .’ Sir Mahomed said deafly.
He bounded up from his chair and perpetrated some grotesque preposterous hops across the floor. He was supposed to be aping Damayanti’s languorous swaying walk. It was, naturally, no imitation. It was an extravagantly hideous parody where the model was laughably irrecognisable. Buttocks protruding, his body raised on his toes, his lips in a prodigiously contorted pout, Sir Mahomed crossed the room with a rapid, stiff, swinging, duck-like motion. A dark blue serge coat buttoned up to his chin and sweeping his knees, the almost skin-tight thin yellow silk trousers, the heavily-bearded face twisted into a horrible grimace, a funny little gold cap stuck on the back of his bald head, the old obese figure of Sir Mahomed liltingly hopped about the room. It was a stupendous, vulgar, excruciating sight. It revolted Ali. Then Sir Mahomed stopped his coarse, antic gambols and faced his son. He jerked his fingers rapidly across his eyebrows, across his lips, across his face. That was the undainty fashion in which he mimicked Damayanti’s deft-fingered, meticulous manoeuvring of her face with her lip-stick and rouge.
‘That’s the woman my son married,’ he said. ‘That’s the sort of woman you married. Painted like a prostitute.’
‘Shut up,’ shrieked Ali in a crazy voice. ‘Shut up. She’s my wife, remember. She’s my wife. Shut up.’
‘Your wife!’ went on Sir Mahomed. ‘Your wife! You married her over your mother’s dead body. And mine too,’ he added with justifiable exaggeration. ‘And mine too.’
‘But I love her,’ said Ali. ‘I love her. I need her. She means everything to me. Don’t you see?
There was a desperate look in his eyes.
‘Don’t you see?’ he went on. ‘Can’t you understand? I need her. She means everything to me. I had to marry her. I fought for my life against your rotten, exploded ideas. It was my life against your cursed, filthy religion. That’s what it is, cursed and filthy. Hundred per cent, monstrous, cruel humbug. It was life against those dirty prejudices. Can’t you understand? Can’t you understand?’
His father thought him mad. Ali’s large eyes burned, bright, sullen bright. He was frantic with excitement. Nothing could stop him now.
‘Mother had lived her life. You’ve lived your life. Yes, you’ve lived your life. There’s nothing left for you now. It’s I who matter now. Yes, I. Understand that. Only I matter. Your life’s over. You’re finished now. Empty egg-shell. You might as well be dead. I matter. Only I.’
He was almost crying.
Sir Mahomed was bursting with emotion. No one can describe the turmoil of his feelings then.
With restrained, quiet voice, he pronounced the words, ‘I curse you for ever. Now leave. We will not meet again.’
Ali had a startled, nonplussed look.
But. . . . Oh, well,’ he said impatiently, and limped out of the room.
Thus melodramatically he limped out of his father’s life and millions — into Damayanti’s arms, he thought. But she gave him up immediately. Her arms soon enlaced someone else. With an angry, disdainful, unmaidenly oath she spurned the spiritual ecstasy of slumming with a demoneyed Messiah for the more palpable, regal rewards of sleeping with a sugar magnate.
Her magnate had his podgy fingers in most of India’s financial pies, amongst others, the budding Indian film industry. Thus Damayanti became a film star.
The exasperated soul of Ali Habibullah tried to find refuge in a frenzy of work. He took an active part in the first Civil Disobedience Campaign. His journal was seized and he himself arrived in gaol some weeks later with a lathi-broken pate. Just before his arrest, Sir Mahomed died, leaving his possessions to charity. Ali, of course, had already relinquished his claim to the title. The baronetcy became extinct.
When Ali came out of prison he was virtually rupeeless. He was thankful to get his old job.
Once at the Imperial Hotel Dorian ran into him. They were both there copy-hunting. It was the bustling time of the exodus of the delegates to the second Round Table Conference in London. Representatives had arrived in Bombay from the farthest corners of the country and were stopping at the Imperial before departing to erect the future India at St. James’s Palace.
Dorian sat sipping a drink in the lounge after a strenuous day of work. A jazz-band played on a raised platform at one end of the room. A female form danced slowly by in someone’s indifferent arms. The eyes glowed and smiled discreetly in Dorian’s direction.
‘Bo-ah! Bo-ah!’ He was thinking of what a Madras delegate to London had told him. ‘Bo-ah, bo-ah.’ The placid untouchable in some South Indian jungle was humiliatingly heralding himself. ‘Bo-ah! Bo-ah!’ Pathetic centuries of them had done it, informing the world self-annihilatingly of their approach. ‘Bah! Bah!’ The despotic holy voice of the higher-caste Hindu, roused from a squatting somnolence, furiously menaced the unclean intruder and charged him not to transgress the tradition-prescribed limit of higher-caste accessibility, and thereby incur the curse of the gods and the more immediate peril of a sound thrashing. ‘Bo-ah! Bo-ah!’ came the fading voice of the fleeing pariah. The other Hindu was silent, happy. The peace of his soul was undisturbed and his celestial arrangements were unjeopardised.
And now Dorian saw the contented, torpid trunk of the higher-caste Hindu in the South Indian forest suddenly grow bigger and bigger and bigger; and it set violently a-lolling; and a volcanic gurgle escaped from it and rushed away to lose itself in the farthest recesses of the jungle. And now, above transfigured breasts of ebony, breasts Gargantuan, hairy, billowy, could be suddenly, strangely distinguished the immense pahn-bespattered grin of Mr. Ganpat Rao — Mr. Ganpat Rao, ex-member of the Legislative Assembly, Brahmin, agnostic and iconoclast, who gibed at religion, who was ruled by his smiling, tranquil, wordless bigot of a wife, and who spat prodigiously and made ostentatious odious noises. Mr. Ganpat Rao, capacious dwarf, had become a giant. Slowly his trunk rose from the ground. A sharply white loin-cloth separated it from interminable squat legs. The erupting stocky giant ran down the sylvan glade with ponderous swiftness, seized the hapless, yelping untouchable and thrashed him mercilessly, mirthfully. The helpless squeals were lost in the roar of Mr. Ganpat Rao’s Etnaic laughter. At last the untouchable was set down, and raced shrilling away. The jocose volcano was silenced, dead, but there still remained an expansive menace of a re-birth on the pahn-smeared crater of the lips. Polluted by the touch of the chastised untouchable, Mr. Ganpat Rao, safe from the silent, smiling, meticulous bigotry of his wife, omitted to cleanse himself at the well of water hard by. The stumpy legs without end sank into the ground. The colossal Brahmin subsided into a nirvanic squat. And now, on the vast wavy table-land of the hairy breasts, round the immeasurable neck, danced a dryad in modern garb. The Buddha-like form of Mr. Ganpat Rao at last entirely faded out of sight and only the dryad remained in an elegant frock gambolling disturbingly across the Indian jungle. . . .
Dorian was brought back with a start to the Imperial Hotel lounge. The dryad was swaying lingeringly past. Dorian’s eyes, however, did not follow her far. The demi-monde did not lure him. Prostitutes were tame creatures. The Imperial, he pondered, was closely following the highest traditions of the Ritzes and the Carltons — the abode of the distinguished and an attraction of the disreputable.
Someone went by with a limp. A strangely familiar limp, thought Dorian. He remembered, got up and hastened to Ali.
‘Hullo, Habibullah! After years!’
‘Who are — Oh, of course, it’s Fence! How are you?’ He was pleased to see Dorian. They had been good friends at Cambridge, where they had first met at a literary reunion. ‘What are you doing here?’
‘Journalising. Surprising, isn’t it, for me? Being serious for once.’ Dorian smiled. He invited Ali to have a drink.
‘You’ll never guess whom I’m staying with? A great friend of yours, I believe.’ Dorian laughed.
The quiet smile on Ali’s face faded away. It gave place to a sullen look of reserve and distrust.
‘Oh, don’t take it like that,’ cried Dorian mirthfully. ‘It’s a spiritual experience staying with a man like that. Besides, he’s my cousin, you know. But what’s happened to you, Habibullah? You’ve taken to homespun, have you?’
‘Well, what’s wrong with khaddar, anyhow?’ said Ali rather pugnaciously. He felt rather self-conscious in his dilapidated homespun Gandhi clothes with a man who had known him in his prosperous days. Then he cursed his weakness.
‘It’s cheap,’ he asserted with proud emphasis, and tried to retrieve lost ground with a smile. ‘It’s cheap and it’s patriotic. No more Gent’s Natty Suits made in Savile Row for me. I’m tasting life without a Bentley and equine mural decorations. I’m no more a Socialist and small-scale Mæcenas at the same time — that must have looked so damned absurd. I’m a full-blooded Communist now, by conviction — and by circumstance. It’s a long story. I’ll tell it to you later.’
His eye kept moving constantly to the lifts. At last his dread was justified. Damayanti suddenly stepped out of one, dazzling as usual, with a stout Indian wearing a China-silk suit and a loud crimson tie.
‘I’ve never seen you . . .’ Dorian started to say something.
‘Let’s get out of this place,’ said Ali, interrupting him and getting up hastily from his chair. He almost fell as he reached forward balancing on his sound right foot to seize his stick which lay on a chair opposite. Dorian saved him. ‘Let’s get out of this place, for God’s sake. I can’t stand the atmosphere.’ He waved his hands vaguely in the direction of the jazz orchestra.
‘Let’s go over to my place and have a chat,’ he added.
In the taxi he sketched his past briefly for Dorian’s benefit.
All’s house lay in a bazaary street. Along its entire lengths on each side sat the traders on divans on the thresholds of their shops. An endless line of low tarpaulins protected the shop-fronts, lying like a heavy cloud over the pavements. A few lights already appeared in the street.
Dorian paid for the taxi. They mounted the dark smelly stairs.
‘I live in a shabby but saintly part of the world,’ said Ali. ‘Gandhi’s in the neighbourhood.’
He limped up laboriously ahead of Dorian.
‘Romantically sordid, isn’t it?’ The vague tall outline of his figure stopped a moment to call out to his friend behind: ‘You never quite expected this, did you? The real stuff!’
At last they reached the requisite landing. Dorian was glad to get a whiff of decent, almost unbazaary air when Ali opened the door of the apartment he occupied. It consisted of a single room and a tiny kitchen. The two windows were open and the draught made a fearful scattering and scurrying of papers and sheets from the unholy mess of journals and books on the table in the centre of the room. Ali re-established a scant order when the door was shut and weighted down the central heap of papers with a strange-looking roundish brazen pot which seemed properly to belong to a kitchen. He limped to a cupboard in the corner of the room and picked up a Primus stove that lay by its side on the floor. He set it on a cleared angle of the table, and began to boil water for some tea.
‘Have some tea,’ he invited Dorian. ‘Nothing else to offer you, I’m afraid. No whisky-sodas.’ He laughed. He loved to be able to say that. In actual fact he had some whisky in his cupboard. Yet, offering whisky to Dorian seemed so absurd, so Cambridge-like, quite unthinkable in his present sordid little dwelling-place.
‘I take a lot of tea,’ he added. ‘Will you have some?’
‘No, thank you. You’re quite Russianised, I see,’ Dorian smiled.
Ali looked up a second from his tea-making, angry, imagining he caught a tone of scorn in Dorian’s voice. He was silent.
Dorian looked round the room. Very dingy. In the left-hand corner near the window was a small steel bed with its white mosquito-curtains turned grey-brown, inveterately dirty. It looked as if the curtain had been left a long while in peace to gather its coat of dust. In the middle of the room was the large table which served for meals and as a desk. Near the cupboard in the corner by the door was a crammed book-stand. Everything seemed singularly unwiped, buried under a layer of dust. A man was partially employed to clean the place daily. He also cooked light meals occasionally for Ali when he stayed at home. The servant often neglected to dust the apartment. But Ali didn’t mind. Perhaps, he didn’t notice. He had gradually become callous to dirt. He might have been able to live better if he had not been so shockingly bad at husbanding his small resources.
Dorian sat down at the table where Ali was making his tea. His hand unwittingly came across a bronze ash-tray, almost black with accumulated cigarette-stains. It seemed very familiar to him. He remembered having one like it himself in Cambridge. When he examined it more closely he found that the college crest engraved on it had been carefully, unrecognisably erased with a knife. Ali did not want to be reminded of Warwick College. Dorian thought of him sitting and broodingly scratching, scratching with his knife at the crest.
On the bottom shelf of the book-stand were the remains of Ali’s Cambridge ménage, still too much of it and far too fine-looking for his present circumstances. He went to the book-stand, got out a cup and saucer for himself, sat down at the table opposite Dorian, and poured himself some tea which he actually drank in Russian style, milkless, with a slice of lemon.
‘D’you know why I wanted to leave the Imperial?’
Dorian nodded. ‘I can guess.’
‘You saw her then, did you?’ He tried to laugh. ‘Yes, that was Damayanti who arrived just before we left with the swine who’s keeping her. Of course, I can’t compete with a magnate.’ He came out with a deliberate jocularity which cost him some effort. It was best to treat the affair as a joke. He didn’t want anybody’s pity.
‘I’m not such a hell of a catch without a title and a few crores. And with a leg like this!’ He laughed. Then he went on with his desperate joke. ‘She’s just a prostitute, nothing else. Yet not one of the common or garden street hagglers. Oh, no. A poule de luxe! De grand luxe!’
There was a silence. Ali sipped his tea.
‘I’ve never seen you at any of the Dinner Club meetings,’ said Dorian, anxious to start his friend on a new tack.
‘No, thank you,’ cried Ali. ‘Nothing like that for me, thank you very much! I’m not interested in reforming the Europeans. I often wonder how people like Gandhi and Jawahralal Nehru could bother about lecturing to the youthful nonentities who congregate at those meetings. Talk, talk, nothing but talk. What’s the good of that? And this Round Table Conference! What a bloody farce! A country never got its freedom by talking. And what will Gandhi be able to do in London against the Government nominees — India’s representatives, they’re supposed to be.’ He laughed. ‘He hasn’t a hope against the hireling caterwaulers. Not a hope! And then the English popular press will boost to the world the fierce storm in our very camp. What fine theatrical propaganda!’
‘But England is sincere about India,’ said Dorian. ‘She means to do her best by her.’
‘Ha-ha-ha!’ Ali laughed. ‘Look at the facts. Read a History book. Don’t you see they don’t really care a damn about us. All India means to them is a chance of becoming nabobs, that’s all. Yes, the nabob theory still holds good.’
‘That’s the spirit, you see,’ he added. ‘Get rich and get out.’
‘And what about all that England’s done for India?’ asked Dorian.
‘But don’t you see,’ said Ali, ‘that all the good they’ve done is incidental, just by the way, in making India more profitable for themselves. There’s nothing been done for India herself. India’s only there for England’s rapacity. What did old Curzon say? “If we lose India, the sun of our Empire will have set.” An Englishman hears that and sanctions the vilest repression here with complacent ardour.’
‘England,’ he went on, ‘England still looks at India through the spectacles of the eighteenth century. All along up to this day, it’s been the same game — mercantilist, Philistine gluttony. Rapine, once haphazard, slip-shod, rough and ready, has become a science.’
‘That’s all very well,’ said Dorian, rather impatiently. ‘That may be true. But can’t you understand that only facts count. Only facts count. And the fact of Indian weakness doesn’t count much against the British Lion. Your trouble is your own wretched weakness. The point is that if the British walk out to-day there’ll be a wild, heterogeneous stampede for power. Chaos will be the sure result. . . . Let the British stay on. To hell with political power! To hell with politics! What you ought to mind is your sociology.’
‘Don’t be a fool,’ Ali shouted exasperatedly. ‘It’s hopeless to expect anything as long as the British are here. It’s impossible to progress as long as they’re here. They hinder us at each step. Don’t you see? What have we got out of two hundred years of British mastery? Millions and millions illiterate, millions and millions with barely a meal a day. The revenues there for the army, for the officials. Education and health! Oh, well, they don’t matter! Why should Indians be educated or healthy? O God! and that’s leading us to heaven! How can they be so foully Pharasaic! Like that fellow Markham of yours!’
‘Oh, he’s not a Pharisee,’ said Dorian. ‘He’s honest. He really means well. That’s the best part of it!’
‘Well, then he’s a fool, that’s all. He’s a benevolent moron. He’s just bloody well obtuse. He’s a conscientious humbug.’
He started up from his seat, frantic, distortedly angular with his limp.
‘Oh, how I loathe the swine!’ he shrieked, the hands vigorously everywhere. ‘All of them! Warwick swine! That’s what they are. Like the fellows who broke my leg! Warwick swine! All of them!’
His college grudge rankled in his breast and he characterised his hate of white humanity with a sweep. He limped about excitedly. He was shaking all over. His eyes were bulging, shining coals set in the passionate, ascetic face.
‘Warwick swine!’ he went on. ‘What vile hypocrites! How I loathe them! They’re here for our goods, not our good. Ha-ha! All they want to do is to hold India for Bigger and Brighter Business and keep the slaves slaves, while they stalk about as though they were carrying out the divine dispensation. Demons, Machiavellian money-grubbers posing as humanitarians! God’s Trustees have shop-keepers’ souls! Think of the combination, God and Beavermere!’ He yelled with hysterical laughter. He was crazy with the thought of his own impotence.
‘Can’t something be done? We have a vampire sucking out our vitality and we think we need it! Can’t something be done? We are destitute, decrepit, ignorant, superstitious, torn by race war and religious strife. But the British have made us so.’
‘Yes. The British have made us so,’ he was shrieking louder and louder. ‘Will we never learn a lesson? Can’t we ever unite? What have the British given us? Salt, opium, liquor, all that’s so efficiently exploited. The revenue machine is excellent, exquisite. But what else have we got from the British? What else? Look at the colossal deserts of humanity! Deserts! Deserts!’
‘They should never have been,’ said Dorian. ‘Birth Control! It’s the only hope.’
‘No, no!’ Ali gave a horrid laugh. ‘Birth Control’s there for the fornicators at the hotels. Those who need it mustn’t know of it.’
‘Look at the myriads of living stultifications!’ he went on, his hands waving about menacingly. ‘Meanwhile, what does the Englishman do? Meanwhile, the Englishman laughs with ribald tears at the smutty stories of Gandhi’s alleged amours and paramours. God, what people! What a crowd! India’s the paradise of the vulgar toughs and the third-rates from the West. Haven’t you seen them? Our rulers! The vile crowd, they’re everywhere! Hard-up husbands wife-farming to rich Marwaris and Mohammedans. The stolid burrah sahibs, reclining in their arm-chairs, reading Mother India with eyes glistening with self-righteousness, with eyes voracious for its juicy, luscious dirt. It’s a conscience-balm. They feel so justified after it. It puts them right with their God. They can go on with the good and essential work of evangelising. And at the same time it gives them the food their festering imagination craves for in the vital, periodical lapses from Puritanism. . . . What’s Mother India? Big business gets to work and the Government of India lends a willing, frantic hand to display India’s gutters. It’s archaic horror! It’s a criminal anachronism! But the gutters are British like the rest. The British are responsible for the gutters too. They can’t get away from that.
‘The Tsars drenched Russia into subjection with vodka. The British have steeped us in a bog of poverty and ignorance. And they keep us there with fixed bayonets. It’s they who’ve given us our suicidal shibboleths. They’ve set up the cow to enrage Hindu against Mohammedan. We can devour ourselves with mad-dog religious hate. But England’s too tolerant and too impartial to interfere. Oh, no! England won’t interfere. Our frenzied fratricidal bigotries are there to be preserved, to be pickled to savour the meat for the lion’s jaws. It’s easier like that to eat up all our guts.’
‘But if the British go, there’s chaos,’ insisted Dorian. ‘Or Hindu tyranny — some Marwari Beavermere!’
‘Chaos!’ shriekingly laughed Ali. ‘What’s chaos? Isn’t Europe in a chaos? What’s Europe after the War to end War?
‘Isn’t that chaos?’ he went on. ‘We will go to hell or heaven the way we like. You bludgeon us into slavery and call that law and order. Oh, the crimes that have been committed in India in the name of law and order! Jallianawallah Bagh! Shooting down four hundred unarmed men, women and children! The Crawling Order! Dyer did all that for law and order. We don’t want law and order as long as they’re British. Revolution, regular revolution, that’s what we want. Thorough revolution. Our fundamentals must be changed.’
‘I know,’ said Dorian quietly, sneering, ‘I know. The Communist State is coming. That spells paradise, of course. When you’ve destroyed religion, what will you do about God? You can’t build on Reason and Science alone.’
‘We will find our God,’ Ali answered hysterically. ‘We will find our God. You can’t teach us anything with your tattered ideals. The West is empty, absolutely empty. Don’t talk as if you were living in an Utopia. You’re in a bloody mess yourselves. What d’you think we’re striving after? Metro-Goldwyn-Mayerism? The “Bright Young Thing”? That’s the pinnacle of your achievement. “Bright Young Things”, hysterical harlots! Ha-ha-ha!’
There was stupendous, frantic laughter from him.
A pause. Then Ali proceeded, slowly, quietly.
‘We must be free. The British must go. No more medieval shibboleths. No more medieval monsters, the Maharajahs preserved by the British. But Gandhi can’t do it,’ he was shouting again with ferocity. ‘He’s no damn good with his milk-and-water non-violence. He can’t save India. He can’t save India. He’s waiting for a change of heart! What a mad hope! A change of heart in England, in Beavermere! O God! No more non-violence! It’s the final token of our emasculation! The supreme insult! No; no more Ahimsa! Just murder!’
‘But you’re stronger with non-violence. It’s the wisest weapon for the unarmed,’ said Dorian.
He spoke unheeded.
‘The insult of non-violence!’ Ali raved on. ‘The insult! We’ll show them. We’ll shoot.’
‘And shoot in the back, of course,’ Dorian shouted his violent contempt. ‘Always in the back.’
‘Well, that’s the privilege of slaves,’ said Ali. ‘Shoot in the back — shoot them, knife them, kill them, anyhow. Yes, kill them, that’s the only thing to do. Murder is the only thing. We’ll murder our way to freedom.’
Dorian got up from his seat and looked dolefully at Ali.
‘Freedom!’ he said. ‘And when you’ve got it, Gandhi will fly with a frantic deputation to bring the British back at any price before they’ve got to Aden.’
‘You are the bloodiest fool, Ali!’ he went on and gave a withering laugh. ‘Murder for new shackles — for French shackles or Japanese shackles or Russian shackles! Murder for Monsieur Citroen! Murder for a new slavery — a slavery so much more crushing, blighting! Murder for the drab tyranny of the Bolshevist machine! You can’t help it. Ha-ha! The quintessential exploitees! Inherent victims!’
‘Ford and Marx,’ Dorian smiled inwardly as he left, ‘Beavermere and Stalin, they’re all bloody, they’re all equally ghastly.’
There was a burst of cricket-song. Night. Everything dimmed. A faint white spot gleamed in the firmament. Then another and another. Soon without number, they shone with tremendous power, with peculiar Eastern zest.
Sybil, cradled and cushioned in a roomy swing, sat watching the spouting drops of the fountain just beyond the portico. She loved this house in Poona. They had been able to rent the same one last year. She loved the house despite the ugly cretonne covers, despite the quaint hurly-burly of Parsi furniture. It had a large veranda where she spent her entire days, and a huge lovely garden full of jasmine and roses. Indian-fashion, she wore some jasmine in her hair. Beyond the gate across the road was an enormous banyan tree bent low beneath its lengthy locks of aerial roots.
In the touring Packard she and Dorian came up on a Friday exactly four weeks ago — without Alan, who could not tear himself away from his affairs.
The car was monstrously powerful. It devoured the roads, often most unruly, especially nearing Poona. The heavy recent rain had shrivelled up the track and as the chauffeur insisted on taking the bumps rapidly, there were quick jerky jumps into the air — too quick, however, for any severity.
Mile upon mile was uneventful and uninspiring. Village upon village, same and squalid.
At the village of Chowk the rain came thickly pelting into the car. It thudded on the roof. They stopped to close the windows. It was an awesome, forbidding place lying under the thick, tenebrous, livid pall of a cloud-wreathed mountain. The car stood panting in front of a hut as moribund as the village. An ill-clad figure appeared suddenly from the nowhere inside at the narrow, rudimentary door. Two gleaming eyes blinked amazedly at the obstreperous apparition outside and then vanished into the inner obscurity. A goat took the place of the human being. Twice it bleated in a silly way and then withdrew inside to comfort the she-goat in her labour-pains.
The generous monsoons had spread around a wild profusion. But a restive dolefulness tinged the atmosphere. There was a general forlornness and desolation that made the surrounding magnificence a morose greenishness. But far to the west the clouds abruptly ended and the soft orange of the late afternoon sun smiled faintly on tree-topped highlands.
The ascending car soon lost itself in the billows of an ocean of mist. But it found itself again, propped up high and dry in the air, and all around beneath stretched the impenetrable, fathomless, misty expanses. They were on the Deccan Plateau.
The earth was orbless. The horizon of gold became silver and twilight figures above, grey, jagged, preposterous, moved majestically in a world of rich pink. Then everything faded into utter night save the brook of light racing headlong on the lonely road. Poona was sighted — a diadem of glowing diamonds and the twinkling ruby of Government House.
After a restful week-end, on Monday Dorian returned by rail to Bombay.
Sybil was left to long walks and longer drives. There was the Poona Gymkhana; but it was too markedly the monopoly of the military and officialdom. Sybil preferred long walks and longer drives. She had a few friends whom she saw during the week. There was a general livening up during the week-ends, when the husbands came up for their wives and the races. Markham always promised to come but never did. He was too busy.
The days for Sybil though not exactly breathless with excitement passed surprisingly quickly. The routine of idleness, dull and monotonous, was very full and swallowed the time up in an extraordinary way. Fridays came and went and there was no Markham. Sybil felt rather distressed, annoyed. There was always eager expectancy on her side, so the disappointment was acute. Poona was tedious and futile. She wondered why she had come up.
Again to-day — it was a Friday — she was expecting her husband — and Dorian. It was too uncertain, however, about their coming so she hadn’t gone to welcome them at the station. She only sent the car.
Sybil swung on her seat, lazy to put on the lights, hating to disturb the quiet, chirping, languorous darkness. She felt a little chilly. She threw the light coat with her over herself and cuddled more thoroughly into her cushion.
She mused. The years took a leap back and she saw herself in her boarding-school in Surrey. How she hated it! Still she hated the ominous chimes of the neighbouring chapel. At night the sombre bells used to make her cry. They still did when she was fairly grown-up. With what speed and happiness she used to rush away at the end of the terms to her widowed father, to town!
And then at last she finished altogether with school. She could always be with her father in town.
Heir to a rich father, he lived in easy retirement. Sybil had sometimes felt the retirement as a seclusion. But she did not mind very much. Her father doted so on her. He tried to be paternalistic in his mild way. Weak, amused, pleased, she allowed him. They were both weak. He was weaker. He had become a habit with her — a habit that had been adopted and yet came just a little bit in the way of her life. Just a bare little thought. It did not obtrude. It was as though he were a faithful, devoted guardian, a fussy old retainer who had to be tolerantly handled, humoured. She conceded him his caprices, not from defeat, however, but consciously, from a sense of superiority. It was strange, this sense of superiority. He was not on equal terms with her. She always looked upon him from an inexplicable vantage ground. Their life was a compromise conceded by her from weak kindness. A compromise that did not exact much from her. In fact, nothing. She always had her way in things that seemed to her essential, amid his gentle reproofs.
When a heart attack took him away, she realised how necessary he had been to her. Life had been unbothered, effortless, rapturous, with him managing the details. She was alone now with callous relatives. The housewife-father dead, the everyday problems of existence, which she had drought simple and trivial, became tangled, difficult, important. From her suspended, irresponsible, unreal existence as her father’s daughter, she came down with a jolt upon the life which she had to lead herself.
To soften the jolt, however, there were a hundred thousand pounds from her father and Miss Aline Pother, her maiden aunt, who resolutely appointed herself Sybil’s duenna. Miss Pother had a great deal to commend her for the job. She was forty-five, plain and painstaking.
Thus armed, Sybil did the tour of Europe. She felt very safe with the nondescript, large, assiduous guardsman-companion beside her. Miss Pother possessed even the utter breastlessness requisite of a woman-policeman.
The historical monuments, the art treasures of France, Germany, Spain and Italy were thoroughly ransacked, were valiantly rummaged for all they would yield. The Louvre, the Musée Condé, the National Galleries of Berlin and Dresden, the Palazzo ducale, the Ca’ d’Oro, the Museo Poldo Pezzoli, the Galleria Pitti, the Galleria degli Uffizi, the Galleria Farnese, the Galleria Borghese, the Cappella Sistina and the Vatican did not leave such an indelible imprint on Sybil’s life as the Hotel Boccioso in Rome. In its mondain ballroom, she first fell in love.
‘Signorina, may I ask you to dance?’
Alone Signor il Conte Jacopo di Sanzara braved the forbidding, loquacious glare of Miss Pother and offered himself to Sybil — the spruce, lightish hair, the handsome rectangular face intent and grave as if requesting her hand in marriage, the velvety, sea-blue eyes, far away and supercilious, a delicate pearl tie-pin riding demurely on an expansive wave of rich dark-red satin.
It was an obsequious command. Sybil obeyed.
‘My name is Jacopo,’ he informed her in his serious way while they danced. He uttered his English with such an endearing accent, thought Sybil. Correcting himself, for ‘Jacopo’ alone sounded too informal, he went on: ‘My name is Jacopo Sebastiano Senzaltro, Conte di Sanzara. The name is famous. You know, without doubt. No? Yes, the name is famous in Italia. In Siena, you may visit me at our home, the Palazzo Sanzara. We have a Pinturicchio, two Crivelli.’
Sybil vaguely remembered the names of the two artists. She was duly impressed. She danced with Jacopo again. He was alone — the friends he had been expecting had singularly not turned up, he said — so she asked him to join her table.
Miss Pother was not delighted. She was chary of counts, especially Italian ones. She was abrupt, huffy, rather offensive. But Jacopo was soothing. He was very stylish, full of la grande manière d’autre-fois, so delightfully unblatant, un-American, and very proper. The combination was terribly impressive. At length Miss Pother had to allow herself to be mollified by the sedate distinction, the sombre elegance, the quiet charm and the fatal svelteness of the Tuscan count.
Sybil was thrilled with her find. She was glad to have something with which to intersperse the dull thrall of Miss Pother.
‘Let’s go to a night club,’ said Jacopo. ‘We must celebrate our meeting,’ he added, slightly unctuous, smiling his fine white teeth at Sybil.
‘Yes, do let’s,’ said Sybil enthusiastically.
Miss Pother was horrified.
‘Count upon me,’ cried Jacopo, heavily appeasing, thoroughly reassuring. ‘Count upon me. It will be quite all right, I assure you. It will be quite all right. You will like it.’ He addressed himself, bending slightly forward, to Miss Pother in a quiet, homely tone. ‘You will like it.’
He looked at her, conveying something special and subtle.
‘Ha-ha!’ Miss Pother gave an arch thrill and consented. There was a certain message she had caught in Jacopo’s eyes. She decoded it with nervous joy.
There was no mistaking its meaning. She blushed. Henceforth, she convinced herself, Sybil was safe in Jacopo’s hands, but she would have to tend to her own security.
Bartolo’s was nothing like the flamboyant, riotous places Miss Pother had never been to, but heard of. It was unlike them for the simple reason that it wasn’t a night club. Jacopo had brought them to a highly respectable café. Miss Pother in fact was secretly disappointed that all the fare of thrills Bartolo’s could provide was restricted to a florid décor and garish Neapolitan music. She was, however, tremendously pleased with Jacopo for his inordinately restrained, respectable, conservative taste. Thank God, he was not like those other foreigners, the vile dagoes, faugh! He took a huge leap up in her estimation.
Jacopo pointed to the seats of the absent elegance of Rome.
‘I am well-known here,’ he assured Miss Pother, who needed no assurance.
‘I am sure you are famous everywhere in Rome,’ she beamed at him with a luxuriant smile.
He bowed his head in graceful gratitude.
‘I never knew night clubs were so nice,’ she said.
‘Ah, yes, signorina!’ cried Jacopo, ‘In Italia it is so.’
‘But don’t you dance at night clubs?’ she asked.
‘No, no!’ said Jacopo politely impatient. ‘At the night clubs where go the eleganzia of Rome there is no dancing!’
Miss Pother felt ashamed of her ignorance. She nearly apologised.
She went to bed that night a little excited and congratulating herself on the able choice of a cavalier — for whom, whether for Sybil or herself, it wasn’t quite clear. And Sybil slept with the titillating memory of Jacopo’s humble, dashing lips crushed against her hand in the shadow of a lamp-post.
The next day Jacopo arrived at the hotel in a dark-hued Lancia, with flowers. A bouquet of red roses for each of the wooed. On that and consecutive days there were lunches, excursions, dinners, theatres and real night clubs together undertaken and enjoyed.
Gradually Miss Pother was shelved. Again played false by ever elusive love, she became once more the inveterate old maid, the tenacious duenna, though she did not quite cease to hanker after Jacopo’s alluring glances.
Sybil met the spurious eleganzia of Italy, magically gathered by Jacopo in pretentious parade — decadent assemblages of dubious youths and maidens passed off as luminaries of the Peninsula’s First Four Hundred. There were constrained gallops in the Pincio, with the curbing, admonishing figure of Miss Pother perspiring and frantic on foot in the never too distant rear.
The flirtations became less formal, more intimate — with Sybil eager, urgent but with an anxious eye for untoward reactions from Miss Pother, and Jacopo not unwilling, dexterous, insinuating but on the whole tantalisingly lackadaisical.
His outward apathy notwithstanding, Jacopo was growing desperate. He had to get beyond pleasant, Platonic idiocies, beyond mere, vain philandering. The pimps, with international reputations and ramifications, who were running him, were greedy for their gain. They mocked his slow progress. His running expenses were too great. Even the Lancia hadn’t been able to help much. He was too clumsy, no doubt. They threatened to displace him with the gigantic blond Swede, Georg Lagequist, their Erotic Expert Number One at present on a case in Cannes. Sybil was a big prize, and it was worth while fetching the celebrated Fast Worker from the South of France as he was bound to put the thing over with a bang, as they vehemently informed Jacopo in the local dialect.
Jacopo felt he had to act and act quickly. One day he invited Sybil and Miss Pother to an ancient castello, transfigured into a chic restaurant, on the outskirts of Rome. There, after a rapid dinner, Sybil escaped with some slender pretext from the eagle eyes of Miss Pother. She left her and Jacopo to a fresh bottle of Orvieto and the endless nasal squabbling of a neighbouring American couple. The interminable ‘oh-yeahs’ of mutual scorn and loathing were too much for Sybil in her love-sick frame of mind. She ran away.
Meanwhile, Jacopo prepared to pay as usual. He took out a cheque that had already been filled in. It was for 5,000 lire.
‘I wasn’t able to go to the bank,’ he said, ‘I hope they can change it for me.’
Miss Pother saw the amount written in the top corner of the cheque.
‘Oh, let me change it for you,’ she smiled softly at Jacopo. Bitterly she thought how she loved him still. She wanted so badly, so ardently to be of service. She always carried large quantities of Sybil’s money in her bag. ‘They might make a silly fuss about taking a cheque. I know you’re safe.’ She gave her little spurt of shrill laughter. A Lancia car and all the expensive entertaining of the past days were sufficient guarantee of a sound bank account.
Jacopo expostulated. ‘There is no need, I assure you. I am well-known here. There is no need.’
Yet he allowed himself to be persuaded. He took the money and deftly managed to retain the cheque in his own possession. For the sake of her rankling love, Miss Pother eagerly sacrificed five thousand lire of her ward’s money.
Sybil had escaped meanwhile to one of the inner rooms of the castello. Jacopo surreptitiously stole to her there, leaving Miss Pother alone with the Orvieto and the nasal scolding of the Americans. The room was vast, barely lit and walled with mirrors — the scene, now musty and decayed, of some fabulous, rampageous orgies of the Cinquecento. Here with surprising alacrity Jacopo abandoned his measured groomedness. He became the brutal, elemental lover.
‘Che occhi!’ he burst forth in burning tones, with a rattle of passion in his throat. He held her head between his hands. ‘Che occhi! Che belli occhi! Ti amo. Ti amo. Mia Sybilla! O Dio, Dio!’
He pulled Sybil violently to him, kissed her lips, her eyes, her neck, her breasts.
The way he held her, the way he kissed her with lips burning and lingering, was too unreally perfect, too sublimely divine. Sybil felt herself in some primordial power. What were the half-stifled, gauche effusions of Tommie Brace, Hugh Prentice and the other juvenile admirers in London to this annihilating cataract! Ceasing to wriggle, Sybil lay limp in his arms. Her eyes were closed in utter delirium. The pent-up poetry and romance of twenty-one years ran riot in wild release. He lifted her up into his arms and was carrying her rigid, blissful body to a couch near the wall, when, in the midst of transportation, a wild shriek resounded through the room. Sybil was abruptly plumped down upon the edge of the couch and opened her eyes to prosaic, unpleasant reality.
‘Figlia di puttana!’ swore Jacopo savagely, for once uncouth, and turned to dodge the fierce, unrelenting, rancorous parasol which Miss Pother was brandishing in parlous proximity to his head. With a mere loss of five thousand lire, the inescapable, conscientious, jealous sleuth-hound had narrowly saved Sybil from compulsorily becoming La Contessa Jacopo di Sanzara, the wife of an infinite assortment of panders and gigolos of diverse climes and complexions.
A couple of days later Sybil was back in the respectability of London.
And now doggedly they ran after her for two years — furious admirers, old and new. There was Fred Stanton who had to mate with a fortune or go to that vile job in Nigeria. The menace of Africa on their heads, his brothers had done it. Why couldn’t he? They hadn’t been swallowed up by the vast dark continent, they hadn’t been lost to most patrician London. And he, Fred Stanton, had his most superior assets. He was the greatest friend of the greatest friend of Hugh Tall who wrote about the Best People for the Daily Graphic. Thus, Fred Stanton strode pavoninely into Buckingham Palace; he was the first to hear that the wife of His Excellency Istowazoochi Dambuk-Tawo, intrepid Minister of Punchodia at St. James’s, was not his wife; he called Mr. Lloyd George by his most exclusive pet name; he had a standing invitation to drop in at any old time for the odd cocktail at a certain Labour Cabinet Minister’s; and he tweaked often and devastatingly the lengthy nose of the latter’s flirtatious wife; he saw, he heard, he did other things more, far more fabulous.
He would have Sybil preserve him from Africa for all that. He brandished in her eyes the dying, frantic, brilliant, meagre taper of his financial resources. He was still chasing Sybil when Alan Markham, who had recently returned to England on holiday from India, had already bulked into her life. There were daily telephonic chases with enchanting prospects held out of dancing with Fred Stanton at the Duchess of --’s party at Grosvenor House, or supping with Fred Stanton at the Embassy Club amid a galaxy of Persian princesses, and so forth. Sybil banged the receiver down on his blunt, weeping persistence — she wouldn’t save him, she drove him to Africa — and avidly picked it up again, at last, thank God, to listen to the heavy melody of Alan Markham.
What a relief — after the ghastly, hollow, bedrabbling make-belief of Jacopo, after the tearful, pretentious pursuing of Fred Stanton, after the whole horrible rough-and-tumble of the money-grubbers, Basil Bosom, Frederick Cohn, Arthur Bottleton and the others! They were all like Jacopo — unscrupulously hungry for the material contentment she could buy them — only far less good-looking. She had become terribly suspicious of all her aspirants, terrified of being married for her financial allurements.
With a fluent grace she abandoned herself to Markham’s safe ardours. He was wealthy, successful, going to be infinitely more successful. Markham, on his side, believed in marrying a self-supporting woman. With his usual comprehensive thoroughness he set about to win Sybil. But she had not to be won. She was already his. There was no need of a lengthy, laborious besieging. Yet he did not fail to impress her. His jaw, the turn of the lips, tautened, compulsive, the glowing hueless eyebrows, always aloft and aloof, lowered, and the opaque eyes, generally blankly whimsical, now domineered with their fierce magnetism. Sybil averted her coward gaze. He threw in her face his terrific personality, his tremendous success, his phenomenal future. Sybil was overwhelmed.
When she bade Miss Pother adieu, she married more than security. She married some incalculable, vertiginous, elemental power that could whisk huge mountains off its tearing path.
By night they crossed over to the Hook of Holland, then traversing Germany to spend their honeymoon in Baden.
After dinner, they sat up on deck. They had the boat almost to themselves. It was a breathless, sultry summer night.
‘I’m glad it’s all over,’ said Markham.
It was the tenth time he had made the remark. He had said it in the taxi going to Liverpool Street Station. He had repeated it often in the train sitting opposite Sybil in the restaurant car. Then he had been silent and stared at the scenery through the window. Sybil also had not contrived to say anything.
‘I’m glad it’s all over,’ he reiterated now.
‘Darling!’ said Sybil effusively, and put her hand on his arm. He raised it slowly to his lips, and held it there, his eyes deeply, blankly ruminating the while. Then, as if with a self-imposed alacrity, he drew himself out of his deck-chair and kissed Sybil on the mouth. It was the second kiss since their marriage six hours ago.
Again they relapsed into heavy silence, holding hands.
Some time later two men strolled by. They stared. One of them said something to his companion.
‘. . . honeymooning couple? Ha-ha!’
The words and the titter drifted to Sybil with a stray, bare puff of wind. She brought out a slight laugh and turned to Markham, giving his hand an energetic squeeze. The strong, blunt profile stared unflinchingly straight ahead. It did not relax. Pretending not to have heard or noticed anything, the little colourless tufts of his eyebrows pricked themselves up, questioningly. What on earth was the matter, they seemed to be asking in a cool, superior way.
It was awkward to explain, when he was out of the current, so far away. Sybil was silent. She felt a little self-conscious. She blushed slightly.
Then Markham after a while sprang up suddenly from his seat and broke the interminable silence.
‘You’ll be going down to the cabin, I suppose?’ The invisible tufts were raised in calm enquiry. His deep voice was rigid, matter-of-fact. Then it appeared to soften a little. ‘It’s a cabin-de-luxe.’ He gave a little laugh. ‘I’m sure you’ll find it very nice, Sybil. Well, I’ll go for a little stroll round the deck now. I must have some exercise. I’ll be seeing you later. So long.’
He went off.
In front of the cheval-glass in the cabin below, Sybil arranged herself, re-arranged herself endlessly. There was however a nervous hurry about the whole proceeding. She did not want to be surprised at the mirror by him. She wanted to be in bed when he came. She would be out of place anywhere else when he came. It would spoil the picture, her being elsewhere.
The glistening pinky-white form revolved itself appraising, admiring on the red mules. A puff of wind came through the porthole. A bare shiver — and the arms crossed and hugged her closely. The plenteous, resolute breasts stanced defiantly beneath the écru lace. The tremulous dark eyes gazed thoughtfully at the twin crystal globes of perfume — one purple, the other clotted blood. Which was it to be? She decided. The colour of clotted blood. Passion Sombre. She took of it copiously. Then a dash of red at the lips, a little more stressing of the eyes, new to the experience, and she bounced off and dived into bed, her dainty slippers hurtling wildly through space and landing near the cabin door. A moment later she skipped across the cabin on her bare toes to put out the lights. It was rather illogical after the anxious manipulations in front of the mirror.
She lay quivering and eager under the sheets, her eyes worried and riveted on the door. She heard some footsteps in the passage. Her heart beat frantically. The cabin door was reached and passed. But the throbs subsided. She was worked up now into tense expectancy. For hours she waited. Why didn’t he come? Why didn’t he come? There was a little misery in her impatience. At last she thought she heard him. It must be him. The footsteps were bold, measured, unmistakably his, yet somewhat blurred in their aimed boldness. He came in and almost banged the cabin door behind him. The light blinded Sybil when it came on. Then gradually she could make out Markham. With his long legs thrown slightly forward, he leant back on the door, smiling strangely at her. A harassed, desperate smile.
His face was flushed and somewhat sweaty. His eyes bleared at her blankly. He was slightly drunk. A rare occurrence. He seldom drank. Suddenly, he jerked himself forward, came to her and bent down clumsily. His lips sought hers enduringly. They clung momentarily together and Sybil tore hers away. She pushed him back, blenching horribly at the strong drink-reeking of his lips. She turned away from him, repulsed. Blind to her rebellious movement, he gathered her in his arms and gripped her bluntly, tightly, with awkward tenacity, and rained violent kisses on her shoulders and neck. Abruptly then he released her and commenced to undress quietly, unsteadily, without any apparent haste.
‘I’m glad we’re going to Germany,’ he said, while he dragged off his shirt. He spoke with an assumed nonchalance, gay and garrulous. The words came out shakily.
‘I like Germany!’ he went on with his cheery, airy chatter. ‘Great spot! Oh, it’s a wonderful country! You’ll like Baden, I am sure. And the Black Forest, miles and miles of woods. What walks we’ll have! By the way, it’s a nice cabin, isn’t it? Cabin-de-luxe.’ He laughed.
It was a strange, forced-out laugh. He leered at her. She was disturbingly silent. He caught sight of her eyes intently looking at him. It upset him. He stopped his chatter. The grin vanished from his lips. For a while he hovered near, then he turned away and walked to the cheval-glass beside the head of Sybil’s bed. Absently, thinking of quite something else, he stroked his hair before the mirror, fidgeted with a vest-button. Then he turned away, worried, as if undecided what next to do. Surreptitiously he looked at Sybil from the corner of his eye. He hovered near her bunk, miserable. Then he plunged at her again desperately. He strummed his fingers on her chest, tickled her round the neck. His hands lost themselves vaguely, chastely in her night-gown.
The ponderous figure suddenly became a six-year-old child. The child’s lips were pouted.
‘Oh, my sweetie, sweetie, leetle, leetle Sybilly-billy!’ the child lisped. ‘I’ve got a vewy, vewy nice cabin-de-luxey for my sweetie, leetle, leetle Sybilly-billy, awen’t I? Oh, you tweetie, tweetie, little thing. You awe a leetle dear, awen’t you?’ He grinned at her broadly. ‘Oh, my tweetie, tweetie, leetle dear.’
These playful fondnesses evoked little amusement in Sybil. The prolonged tickling was becoming rather tiresome, she thought. She looked at Markham, slightly bored, bewildered. He left off, intimidated, and resumed his undressing.
‘It’s a nice cabin, isn’t it?’ he spoke now markedly normal. He had suddenly become terribly matter-of- fact. ‘Quite smart-looking for this line! We’ll get to the Hook early in the morning. It’s rather a nuisance travelling at night, I always think. Don’t you?’ She barely nodded her head.
He stopped abruptly, thinking how fatuously he had been talking. He disappeared into the bathroom. Sybil could hear him gargling there. It seemed to be an endless process. Markham was inordinately thorough with his gargle that night.
He came back to her after an eternity, buttoning his pyjama-coat. The sprightly whisky effervescence had died down altogether. He could no more produce the former breezy nonchalance. Horrible anticipation impelled itself on him, compelling, ineluctable. He sat on the edge of the bed, perilously balanced on the edge, uneasy and harassed, exuding soap and listerine.
The topmost button of his pyjama-coat was open. His neck was too fleshy and loose-skinned, thought Sybil, too milky white, effeminately, sickly white. She preferred him dressed up. He was made of sterner stuff with a collar on. Why did he stare at her so blankly, sheepishly? All the forceful brutal determination seemed to have gone out of him. Sybil stretched a symbolic hand towards him. It was reassuring support. He sidled into the bunk beside her.
There he lay, long, enormous, passive and cramped. He could hear his heart throb. Sybil desperately took the initiative. Impetuous, she warmed up to his body. But there was no response to her effusions. He lay prone and corpse-like on his back, his arms clung tightly to his cold, clammy sides. She jostled him impatiently, almost raging. Then she was sorry. She returned to him, tenderly, poignantly. She was deft, artful so far as her inexperience allowed. Markham’s opaque orbs looked at her sheep-like, helpless. She moved away from him. Suddenly there was a brisk movement in the bed. With a start he seemed to come to life. With a sharp spurt of energy he turned round towards Sybil and she, live with hope abounding, felt herself entwined furiously in his arms. She could feel his warm, panting breath on her face. The vice tightened. For some time she remained thus, immobile, utterly bound in his grip, in a state of suspended rapture. Gradually, however, the hold seemed to loosen, to loosen till it was quite relaxed. His arms no longer held her.
Markham’s heart slowly ceased its desperate beating. It regained its ineffable calm. The painful rigidity, the stifling proneness were gone. He became oblivious of the palpable, terrible proximity of Sybil. He forgot Sybil. He at last realised what a tiring, eventful day he had had. He was glad it was all over, he told himself yet once again. He was conscious of an infinite weariness. He became delightfully drowsy. Bewildered, Sybil turned her head and, to her dismay, found Markham dozing off to sleep. Her mouth was all awry when she turned away to bury her face in stanchless, soundless tears. Crouched by his side, her body rent itself with silent weeping through the night.
The dawn, the Dutch coast elated Markham’s spirits. It was the symbol not of the passing of a dreaded ordeal but of the coming back into his own. He had not been able even to bungle through love in his Pickwickian, cramped fashion. But his brutal, mechanical amorousnesses, his awkward, shame-faced, tenacious ineptitudes and his physical ineffectualness were not given a thought when the fresh morn breezes reinstated the old Alan Markham. The abject, jejune, pathetic figure of the night was no more. The Titan was back. Sybil was cowed, in complete subjection once again. Markham looked at her and smilingly wondered at his ridiculous, frantic perturbation of the past night. After all, it was only Sybil.
There was no sympathy, no affinities between him and Sybil. He stared at her unthinkingly with that bull-head of his and smiled. He found before him a pretty porcelain doll. He was glad he was married. One had to be married, he told himself when he thought of his career. One had to be married. A pretty porcelain doll was useful in a career. He strutted forward from success to inordinate success with gay, determined, smooth, bustling speed. It was a pity, perhaps, that his wife did not have the same interests, the same tastes as he. But she was pliant and docile. She could be moulded, educated, spiritualised. The lectures that were started in the Black Forest were long continued. The self-denial of the private individual, the assertion of the social self, and the higher claims of citizenship; those were the formulae. Necessary self-martyrdom (necessary for the world of course), and the search for the Higher Being that was in one, became the reasons for marital incompetence, for a physical defectiveness.
Then there was Fascism.
‘What India needs,’ he once told Sybil, ‘is a Mussolini. You can’t make voters out of slaves. All this talk about democracy is a lot of bunkum. Why, even in Europe it’s been such a failure! In India, it’s absolutely ridiculous. What you need here is an absolute autocrat to run the whole show.’
The Omnipotent, Omniscient Autocrat would have to be imported from England of course. Markham was preparing himself for the job.
‘Gandhi’s of course a damned fanatic,’ he went on. ‘The right place for him is the padded cell. Yet he’s right in some of his ideas. You know, he’s a worthy sort of a fellow. I like Gandhi the man, although his politics are all crazy. He’s good at bottom. He’s devoted himself to his country, so he’s no longer a family man. No more family ties for him. Quite right! Quite right!’
He did not go on. What he meant was clear enough to Sybil. So she had married a kind of Moral Vegetarian Mussolini — the Quintessential World Citizen whom Destiny carried and bound to India, the Utter Universal Patriot who was logically a celibate.
‘But what about me?’ she asked him. ‘What about your wife?’
Markham didn’t hear. His eyes were blankly ruminating as usual.
A high, frantic, hysterical voice laughed: ‘So this is the man I’ve married! What have I done? What have I done?’
She burst on him suddenly: ‘I suppose you are going to be India’s Mussolini. But I don’t want to be the wife of a Mussolini. I want to be just an ordinary woman. Can’t we just be ordinary people? Let us be ordinary people. That’s all I want.’
He turned on her from his plannings and pre-occupations, unmovedly, savagely contemptuous.
‘Oh, all right, all right!’ said the barely-parted lips, trenchant, conclusive. ‘All right, Sybil! Be quiet, please!’
She got up and went away. And when she was away, she stamped and raged in anguish and resentment.
At times the old Adam stirred in Markham. There was a faint, bleak glow. There was also a bare rustle of conscience. He came to his wife. But there were too many obstacles. Again there were the awkward, meditative hovering, the endless, harassed fidgeting in the vicinity of her bed.
It was offensive to Sybil. She was sure he was doing it for her sake; he was making a desperate attempt to keep up appearances; not that he loved her or was attracted by her; oh, no; it was just out of pity. Why would he? Why would he? It wasn’t necessary. She didn’t care, she told herself, caring tremendously all the while. She didn’t care. He was such a fool. A pathetic, miserable, desperate fool.
There he lay on her bed, immense, ponderous, stiff, awkward. There was no fruition to his purpose. His resolve remained bare resolve. And he thanked God that she left the initiative to him, that she lay still, quiet, unaggressive. Invisibly his body began to relax. He had ceased to desire Sybil long ago. Drowsily, vaguely he was thinking of the Assembly at Delhi, of the falling exports and imports of Fence, Markham’s, and, notwithstanding, of the fundamental rock-strength of the firm, and the latest scheme suggested to him to replenish its evaporating profits. It all became vaguer and vaguer. He was asleep.
To Sybil, however, he still appeared desperate, fatuous, making a fool of himself and her. She refused to look at the sheepish, helpless eyes. She lay flat on her back staring at the ceiling, frantic, miserable. Soon, however, she had a different intimation. Markham’s cheek dashed against her shoulder. Then only she saw that his eyes were closed in slumber.
‘Go away. Go away,’ she shrieked at him, her spirit in frantic revolt.
She pushed him off the bed. He couldn’t even keep up the horrid play-acting, the screaming mummery. How could he be so completely unfeeling!
‘Go away. Go away.’
Markham opened his eyes to find almost the whole of himself on the floor.
‘What’s the matter?’ he murmured weakly, in a drowsy stupor, the opaque eyes bewildered and stupid. ‘It’s very late. I’m tired. Good night, dear, good night.’
He stumbled shakily out of the room on his bare feet to his own bed in the adjacent chamber.
The child of nature was withering in the hands of the monk. Love was besmirched with shame. Tendernesses without passion were wrapped in compromise and calculation.
Markham ignored Sybil. At best he took her for granted. He was too busy to do otherwise. But Sybil could not rebel against his flagrant, impassible indifference. At times she was stung into an outburst; a quite irrational outburst perhaps, occasioned by a minor offence, by a petty, unmeant slight, whereas the most blatant stony cruelties may have been supported in silence and unflinching. There could be no sustained rebellion. There were only frantic jets of resentment, uproarious, spasmodic, transient. They passed away and were forgotten. The thrall of Markham remained firm and absolute as ever.
Fragile, she clung to his ruthless, sullen, domineering nature, to his vast achievements, to his ample successes. She partook of the adulation he received. The social rounds she went through with Markham were boring. Markham’s friends were boring. Yet, on the whole, she enjoyed the sun of his glory, though somewhat befogged and dreary. She could not go away to be alone and cold.
Markham’s neglect, his bodilessness, became powerful weapons of mastery. Sybil painfully confessed to herself how unspiritual, gross, demeaning were the desires, the torments that racked her. She felt ashamedly conscious of her limitations, of her earthliness. At the same time, Markham’s physical incapacity gave him almost the strength, the terrible lure of the unattainable. Doting, admiring, she looked up to him, aspiring to his superior soulfulness, and, when she wasn’t spying on herself, she ached to share his couch.
Recently there had been the affair with Mrs. Brenx. Markham had suddenly, strangely found time to carry on a brief flirtation with that red-haired, intimidating beauty. It had lasted a few weeks and then the two had unnoticeably, unmistakably gone apart. Markham had been formal, rather aggressive in his philandering, while consciously ignoring his wife. But occasionally a furtive eye stole to her seat.
Sybil looked on, amused, unconcerned, contemptuous. Her own experience of Markham allayed her anxiety. She knew the potential limits of his indiscreetness. He couldn’t go far wrong. The evidence of the bedroom neutralised Markham’s drawing-room naughtinesses. But suddenly there was something besides amused, impassive contempt. Sybil began to question her own suitability as a wife for Markham. There was a gnawing doubt in her breast. She had no charms for Markham perhaps, she thought. Her faith, hitherto unassailed, in her physical allurements seemed to dim. The blame for the mésalliance was perhaps hers. She couldn’t attract him. She had no hold over him. She became jealous, irritably jealous of Mrs. Brenx, who, she thought, was a rival with far superior, solider claims to her husband’s affection. As usual, she was patient and silent in her mortification.
The Dinner Club incident was a strange piece of bravado for her. She suddenly found the courage to deceive her husband and deliberately go against his will. She attended the meeting and braved the consequences. Dorian was in no way responsible. He did not attempt to persuade Sybil. He said he was going. She decided to go with him despite Markham. There was discovered a feeling of sympathy between Sybil and him. She found sudden extraordinary strength in this sympathy. She willed to go and she went.
In Dorian’s presence Markham felt a contrary insidious influence at work on his wife. He felt a deep invincible dislike for Dorian. Dorian was too unconventional, too much of a revolté. All the external orderlinesses, all the seeming nicenesses, all the shams that Markham accepted as the realities of life, Dorian saw through and decried. The world was a brutal, wicked, stupid place in his eyes. But in Markham’s attitude there was a serious, intent acceptance of the semblances. He could only see order in the world. He realised a hostile scorn in Dorian. Dorian was silently laughing at him. He wanted at times to hint him out of the house, but he desisted. He swallowed his deep antagonism. He did not wish to appear afraid, weak before the younger man. He was very sure of himself and, therefore, very sure of Sybil. No, Dorian could remain in the house. It was quite all right. He almost felt paternalistic towards Dorian. By having him in the house he could control him, direct him. There was a mingled sentiment of self-importance and self-imposed responsibility. He liked to see his tutelage extended — the more to patronise, to rule. Perhaps, he thought, Dorian could be roped into his schemes. In fact, however, there was no interference with Dorian. The two men were distant, silent, civil. They had nonchalant, brief conversations about things that didn’t matter. There was an unpleasant, deranging awareness of each other.
It had suddenly started to rain. A loud familiar rumble sounded in the lane and the strong, bedewed headlights swung into the drive. For an instant they flashed Sybil’s face bright, white in the darkness and then sprang away through a door into the drawing-room.
Sybil darted up from her musing. She ran away to her room to tidy herself. She heard the car turn into the portico and stop harshly, dead. Dorian got out alone. A servant ran out of the drawing-room to put on the lights.
Sybil came out of the drawing-room.
‘Oh, it’s you, Dorian!’ she said.
‘Hullo, Sybil!’ Dorian proffered his hand. ‘It’s only me. Again Alan couldn’t come, I’m afraid.’
She looked at him. All grey, very well dressed, so comely, his brilliant dark eyes piercing. She was suddenly glad. The world was vividly complete. In spite of the rain the world was bright, full of joy. It was better that there was no Markham, the heavy, sullen loomingness. Her spirit was unclouded, blithe, loadless. There could be freedom, illimitable enjoyment, no oppressiveness. Gaily, bird-like she flitted about, bustling the servants, generally, vaguely tending to Dorian’s wants and comforts.
The next night she sat bubbling over a bottle of Liebfraumilch. They had been to the Saturday races. The exercise and the excitement were invigorating, exhilarating. She sat flushed, laughing.
‘I’m so glad you came,’ she said effusively. ‘I’m so glad you came, Dorian. It’s so dull in Poona alone.
They rose from the extemporised dinner-table in the veranda. While the servants cleared, they strolled about in the garden.
When she came back to the veranda, she plunged into the swing, into the masses of cushions. Dorian arranged them for her. Then he playfully, gently laid her head on them. She felt him warm near her. He was smiling, debonair, full of ease. So full of maleishness, she thought, so woman-mastering, but not flippant or blasé, but intent, purposeful, like an animal.
He sat on a chair opposite. He was looking at her, calm, deliberate. The graceful, highly-arched feet in the deeply cut-in crimson shoes rested on a multi-coloured cushion. Across the sombre blue of her dress slashed a broad belt of glistening crimson flamboyantly. The waist was gathered in, trim. The breasts, heightened, significant. He looked at her hands. Fine, well-moulded, fragile. He liked the high polish of the nails. Small, oblongish, red dabs.
‘You’re so wasted! You’re so wasted!’ he said, almost to himself. There was a sudden realisation that he loved Sybil.
‘What?’ questioned Sybil.
He was silent, absent.
He didn’t want to start an affair, he was thinking. It was upsetting, disturbing. He had promised himself not to, when he arrived in India. He was here for work. Yes, simply for work. Love was over for him. Love would disturb all his plans. No, love like that was no good for him, with one especial woman. It was too entangling, absorbing. He must not let himself be wrenched out of his path. He must not forget the future, his ambitions. No, there must be no attempt with Sybil. He must leave her alone. It was better to fornicate without passion, if he were driven to it, to hire love. He would go away and forget her, and then all would be well. He would start earlier on his journey to Calcutta, to Delhi and Agra — on the Grand Tour. Life had a purpose for him at last. Politics? Literature? He was going to achieve something. Life was going to be a success. He felt sure of himself, of success. How could he muck it all up with a love affair bearing untold consequences! Where would it lead him? Markham was not given a thought. He hated Markham. Markham was not to be considered. He was to be sacrificed. He was a fool and a brute. Love, however, had to be curbed for the sake of expediency. Instinct had to be stunted for life.
But he felt suddenly vital and buoyant. He was in the grip of some impelling force. Insidious, electric, he let it overwhelm him. He surrendered himself to the sullen, ruthless power gladly, gladly . . .
‘You’re so wasted! You’re so wasted!’ he told Sybil.
‘What d’you mean?’ cried Sybil, looking at him strangely, solemnly.
‘Well . . .’ he started to speak, but came abruptly to a stop.
He had risen from his seat. He looked at Sybil, desperate, questioning. He had suddenly lost his self-possession. That queer, solemn look of hers disturbed his equanimity. He had calmly assumed her tacit, tame acceptance of him. He was afraid now, suddenly. He might be making a fool of himself. He was no more cool, unruffled, dominating. She maddened him now with desire. He approached and grasped her hand.
‘Look here! I. . . I. . . I am making such a horrible fool of myself. Don’t say so, for God’s sake. Please! Really I . . .’
He floundered hopelessly.
But he held her hand. She let it linger in his grasp. He kissed it violently, rapturously. He felt the fresh, fragrant flesh in his hand. He breathed the fragrance. Enduringly he kissed her hand, her arm with kisses of ascending passion. So fragrant! So wonderful!
She did not take it away. She smiled. He was so different from what she had expected. Not overweening, sophisticated, mechanically amorous through over-schooling. He was grave, purposeful, solemn, like an animal; hesitant, groping, spontaneous, thoroughly boyish. It touched her. It braced her, gave her life. There was a boiling, overwhelming surging within her. A hot sea came on and on and on overpowering her.
‘Look here!’ he said in an anxious voice. ‘I’m an awful fool. I didn’t want this to happen. Really, I didn’t! For heaven’s sake, don’t let me down. Please!’
‘Why should I let you down?’ she said, softly, kindly.
She rose. Her body touched his. The hot sea was engulfing her, engulfing her completely. Unresisting, she let him hold her violently to him, kiss her. He kissed her again and again. He had regained his nerve. He was composed. She was so real, so palpable, so vivid in his arms. His lips waited on her lips, stopping like a bee stops long moments on the sweetness of a flower. Long kisses. Kisses that had strong, barking echoes in her entire being.
‘I’m so sex-starved,’ came out of her suddenly, in spite of herself. She was almost crying. She was anxious to explain her non-resistance, his too easy conquest, her infidelity. She clung closer to him. ‘I’m starved of love.’
‘You’re so wasted on Markham,’ he told her passionately. He hated Markham utterly then. A blind, obsessing hate. ‘You can’t go on with him. He’s impossible! How can you stick it? How can you go on?’
‘But I love him,’ she said. ‘I adore him.’
She felt too abjectly towards Markham. His hold on her could not be released so rapidly. The yoke sat heavily, surely. It was too arduous for her to throw it off. The endeavour seemed beyond her.
‘You can’t love him, for God’s sake? You can’t love him still?’
He pulled her to him, feeling her breasts pressing firmly against him. He smothered her with kisses.
She disengaged herself, disconcerted. She was a little frightened. She stood away disarmingly.
‘This will only mean misery,’ she said with a certain desperation. ‘It must stop here. It can’t go beyond a flirtation — a violent flirtation.’
She tried to laugh him out of his wildness, his solemn, animal purposefulness.
‘Why misery?’ he said. ‘Not for us. And Markham — well, it’ll be just a little hurt pride with him. That’s all. He’ll feel a little ashamed. A loss in prestige!’
‘No, it must be only a flirtation. No more,’ she said with a worried look in her eyes.
‘But what about the way he treats you? Will you stick it? Haven’t you any pride? He’s so shabby with you. How can you stand it?’
‘What d’you know about it?’ she cried out in a fury. She was incensed that he knew so much. Were people talking then? Why must she be lacerated in public? Why had she to be sat upon, trounced in the street? Why couldn’t her woes be her own.
‘One sees. One hears. One gathers. People talk. They guess things.’
‘No, I can’t deceive Alan. I can’t deceive him. I don’t know what he’d do if he knew. He’d shoot me perhaps, if he found out.’ She pronounced a crazy, vain hope. ‘He’d shoot me if he found out.’ She said it also to justify herself before Dorian.
‘I wish he would for your sake,’ he said quietly. ‘I wish he were capable of that. But he wouldn’t dream of doing that. It’s impossible for him. He’s too busy. Yes, he’s too busy. Ha-ha! He’s too busy to mind infidelity. He doesn’t care a damn what happens to you.’
‘For God’s sake,’ he shouted in exasperation, ‘haven’t two years taught you, Sybil? Will you go on for ever being the whipped dog. Always whipped and sent into the corner. How can you go on like that? Aren’t you a woman?’
‘But I haven’t done my duty by Alan, either,’ she said, again desperately justifying her abjectness, her servile acceptance of Markham, her supineness. ‘I haven’t been a saint by any means. There are lots he can complain of about me. Lots! I haven’t been such a wonderful wife. No, by no means! I haven’t been so perfect, I can assure you.’
She had to rehabilitate herself before Dorian and the world. Desperately, she clung to her excuse. ‘I haven’t been so perfect. I might be more interested in his work. I might help him.’
‘You’re hopeless,’ he shouted at her. ‘You’re hopeless. Yes, of course, you could shorthand and type his speeches. All that twaddle about God and humanity and progress. He’s the Moses of the Indians whipping them into the Promised Land. Go on. Go on. Help him in the good work.’ He made a frantic gesture. ‘Oh, it’s no use! You’re hopeless. You must be bullied and humiliated. That’s your job in life. You like it. You’re unhappy if you’re not being spanked and whacked. You love getting the lickings. That’s what you’re there for! Too tame to resist! Too tame to bite back! Just whine and crawl back to your corner. Come out again only for the whipping. The born whipped dog! The ideal whipped dog!’
There was no offensiveness in his drastic words, just harsh, brutal, passionate anger at her tameness, at her feebleness, at her wilful resignation, at her placid apathy. It made him wild to see that she was almost content with her lot. He changed his tone. He spoke with soft, tender, desperate passion. He loved her terribly. Was she really hopeless? Couldn’t he shake her out of her apathy?
‘This must stop!’ he said. ‘Can’t you see, Sybil? You can’t go on like this.’
His black eyes pierced her through and through. All eyes he was. She was thirsty for his kisses. She made a brusque movement towards him. Again she was in his arms. Limp, she let him kiss her. Again and again.
‘You can’t go on like this,’ he went on. ‘You’re a woman. Don’t you realise what’s happening to you? What about life? Don’t you want ever to live? Will you drudge through life? A dowdy drudge, that’s what Alan wants you to be. That’s what you’ll become. A dowdy drudge! His dowdy secretary-drudge! Why, you can buy that sort of thing for a couple of pounds a week! The dowdier, the deader, the better! Oh, the swine! Can’t you see it at all? Can’t you see it?’
‘I can’t deceive Alan! I can’t do it!’ The note was high, hysterical. Her face was clouded, screwed up in worry. Her head was on Dorian’s shoulder. She was crying a little. ‘I can’t do it! I can’t do it!’
‘Fool!’ Dorian broke away from her angrily. ‘You fool! You fool! O God, you’re hopeless. Hopeless!’
‘I can’t do it,’ she said, alone, deaf to him, deep in the vortex of her problem. ‘I can’t do it. . . I can’t do it. . .’
Abruptly Dorian left her. He shut himself up in his room.
Early next morning Dorian returned to Bombay.
Shortly after he left for the Grand Tour.
There was an endless clanking of tram-bells and a surly, throaty growling of motor-horns in the glare of a January afternoon at a point where several of Bombay’s most important thoroughfares met and parted. The crowd, deaf to the behests and threats of the mechanical beasts of the streets, wilfully, obstinately dawdled across the road in serried, disorderly groups in front of a large straggling brown building. It was very interested in the white-domed porch, which covered the principal entrance to the building. Here stood numerous policemen — European officers dressed completely in white except for the dark brown of their shoulder belts and the yellow of their helmet-bands, ready with revolvers in hand, and sepoys in dark blue tunics wearing the time-honoured buttercup caps, periodically brandishing their long lathis (staves), languorously threatening.
Back and forth the crowd streamed. It tried to gain a foothold on the pavement surrounding the porch — with no avail. The police drove it away back into the street amid the screaming vociferations of the trams and the motor cars.
‘Mahatma Gandhi ki jai!’ shrieked the crowd as it recrossed the road to the opposite side. ‘Mahatma Gandhi ki jai!’
A batch of young men, some of them mere boys, took a stand a little away from the police officers. They were dressed in the national colours; orange shirts, green shorts and the inevitable white caps.
‘Down with liquor!’ they cried aloud. ‘Down with liquor!’
‘Mahatma Gandhi ki jai!’ echoed the crowd. ‘Mahatma Gandhi ki jai!’
‘Bycutt Birrteesse Goods!’ a sole, strident, high-pitched, irrelevant voice rent the air when the multitude of throats was silent.
Beyond the porch, past the doors of the large building inaccessibly guarded by the police, the annual auction was proceeding of licences for the sale of liquor in Bombay and its suburbs.
‘Down with liquor! Down with liquor!’
The police officers looked on, bored and impassive. They had heard the cry of the picketers often enough that day. They had just arrested the seventh batch of orange shirts and packed them off to the police station in a van that was standing by. Yet magically, inevitably, a new batch appeared with fresh, ardent throats.
‘Down with liquor! Down with liquor!’
Again the crowd advanced in irregular array across the street.
‘Mahatma Gandhi ki jai! Mahatma Gandhi ki jai!’
The orange shirts stood a little nearer to the portico this time. There were four of them — three boys and an old man. In twos, they stood facing each other.
From the opposite pavement, Dorian and Ali Habibullah watched the spectacle. Ali’s tall, drooping figure was conspicuous.
‘No more gaol for me,’ he was saying. ‘I was a fool last time. They made me join the movement. So I got a broken head and four months of gaol, “C” class too, for acting against my own convictions.’
‘No, thank you very much!’ he added in a whisper to Dorian, ‘no more non-violence for me. I’m going to do something big some day.’
Dorian turned alarmedly to his friend. Ali’s face was singularly calm and peaceful. He smiled. Dorian felt reassured, but only slightly.
‘Down with liquor!’ the picketers, with their arms folded on their breasts, uttered their eternal, insistent cry. ‘Down with liquor!’
Wriggling through the crowd, an old Parsi, a tall, sloping, unsteady figure in a long dark grey coat and the traditional cow’s hoof headgear, came by. A would-be bidder at the auction, he showed the nearest police officer the card which alone enabled him to enter the auctioneer’s room. The policeman, satisfied, pointed him on to the portico.
With nervous, hasty steps he passed through the double line of picketers. Automatically, four pairs of hands came smoothly together, supplicatingly before four bowed heads. It was a forceless remonstrance, a silent, beseeching prayer. The Parsi ignored it and passed on. His head twitched a glance behind.
‘Down with liquor!’ intoned the picketers. ‘Down with liquor!’
At the same time one of them broke away from his place, ran a few steps, stopped short as he got past the Parsi and once again went through the prayerful gesture with joined hands.
‘Don’t, don’t go in,’ he begged this time with words as well, just as the prospective licensee came up with him.
Courageous at the welcome sight of the glistening white uniforms of the police officers a few paces away, and, at the same time, frightened into a sudden ferocity, the Parsi revolved and struck out at the youthful picketer with vindictive, violent fury.
‘Maro, maro, beat me, beat me,’ cried the youth and poked his face forward with aggressive humility for more slaps.
‘Hey! Hey! Hey!’ the crowd gave a terrific whoop of resentment (it seemed suddenly to have arrived perilously near the portico) as the lengthy tottering shanks of the Parsi shuffled out of sight past the guarded doors into the auctioneer’s room with a panicky senile energy.
Hurriedly a few policemen arrested the four picketers and packed them off into the Black Maria that waited on the other side of the porch. The other guardians of the peace rushed to do all they could to keep back the angry tide of humanity that threatened now from the street. Lathis waved with vigorous sweeping flashes in the air.
‘Mahatma Gandhi ki jai,’ the crowd rallied itself with a shout, ‘Mahatma Gandhi ki jai.’
‘Parsi, Parsi kagra kao!’ some voices derided the vanishing Parsi, invoking immediately the vultures that were to mutilate him after death at the Towers of Silence. There was a burst of laughter from the crowd. ‘Parsi, Parsi kagra kao! Parsi, Parsi kagra kao! They crowed with scorn.
‘Mahatma Gandhi ki jai!’ yelped delightedly the crowd when six new picketers were suddenly seen to be marching to the positions vacated by their captured comrades.
They were, however, immediately arrested and hauled off. The police were now free to tackle the mob. Four white officers advanced to the support of the lathi-wielding sepoys.
‘Mahatma Gandhi ki jai!’ yelled the crowd fiercely at them.
The officers cocked their pistols. One of them, burly, red-faced, enterprisingly menacing, farthest in front, raised his gun aloft and fired in the air. A booming thud.
‘Come on. Come on,’ he addressed the mob. ‘Come on. Why don’t you come on now? No more lathis for you! You’ll get this now!’ He brandished his revolver. ‘You’ll get this! Come on. Come on.’
‘Hai shabash! shouted someone in the foremost rank. It was a Sikh in a white turban. ‘Brave sahib! Brave police-wallah! He’s brave with his gun.’
With ponderous wrathful vigour the police officer lurched forward and his left fist shot out. The Sikh couldn’t dodge the massive blow. It fell heavily on his bearded jaw. Two sepoys dragged him out of the ranks and carried him off.
A general attack now started. The sepoys, backed by the stalwart pistols, advanced with their staves. Right and left the lathis hacked and slashed and swiped. Jeering, the crowd fled and reformed on the other side of the street. There for a time it waited and watched, sullen.
‘Mahatma Gandhi ki jai!’ it greeted a new lot of orange shirts boisterously.
‘India’s free to get drunk!’ said Ali Habibullah. ‘Freer than the hour-bound Briton. The Government insists on India’s absolute liberty to drink herself to death. And advocating temperance is a crime. And so is propaganda for Swadeshi goods. Patriotism begins and ends at home — in England. Here the patriot gets the whip or the felon’s cell. Patriotism is the exclusive prerogative of Macdonald’s National Government.’
‘But you’re just as crazy as the Diehards,’ said Dorian. ‘They’re a pretty bloody lot of lunatics, I admit. They get away with their lunacy. But you can’t get away with your treasonous, anarchical pranks. They get away with their antics, however monstrous and mischievous. They’re complacently accepted, even applauded. They’ve got law and respectability behind their vilest exuberances. Your trouble, Ali, is that you’ve got the wrong set of prejudices.’
‘Poor Ali!’ he added with a laugh. ‘The man of faith! At last a modern who believes in something! Pure fire! Naïve fire! Delightful, though. So refreshing! He gave up God for Karl Marx. But Beavermere’s so much more comfortable, you know.’
‘Oh, can’t you be serious?’ Ali was incensed at Dorian’s acrid flippancy. ‘Well, mine won’t be the wrong set of prejudices for long! Not for long! The shadow of Russia lies heavily on India.’
‘And before you get to Russia, it’s got to be murder, wholesale murder. Some more of the tame, organised carnage we had in the War. Ingeniously elaborated horrors.’
‘Oh, not so bad!’ exclaimed Ali. ‘Not so sordid — on our side! Dashing, heroic — what a relief after this dreary swinishness!’ said he, with a wave of his hand at the mob and the police, at the invisible but implied tanks, machine-guns and bayonets. ‘But murder it’s got to be. There’s no help for it. Murder and be murdered. A million of our lives sacrificed perhaps. The world can only understand that. There’s no other way. But it’s worth it, isn’t it?’
‘Guts against machine-guns!’said Dorian. ‘But are there any guts left?’
Ali was silent.
With the main crowd they drifted away to the Oval, a vast bright stretch of green ringed with tall palms. A little beyond was the brown scorched sparseness of reclaimed land and occasionally the bluey silver strips of the sea.
Soon Dorian and Ali lost themselves in an endless stream of white caps. Everyone looked with curiosity at the Englishman beside the tall limping Mohammedan. There were one or two mistrusting, hostile glances.
In the void centre of the green was the dais. Round the dais the crowd shoved, heaved, shouldered, surged, expectant, restive. None appeared to address it. A few hours ago the would-be orator had been arrested and his speech silenced. He was in gaol now, like Gandhi, like most of the essential leaders and vast numbers of the rank and file of the Congress. There seemed to be none to replace him. The meeting-organisers were still bustling frantically about the city trying to find a substitute from the paucity of material at their disposal. The dais looked miserably empty.
Nothing happened. The crowd just waited, eager and watchful. It punctuated its presence with spasmodic shouts of ’’Mahatma Gandhi ki jai’. A few students on the outside fringe of the green greeted with ebullient, hilarious yells the vehicles passing on the parallel roads flanking the Oval. No one volunteered to mount the dais and harangue the assembly.
The excitement really began with the irruption of the police to break up the crowd. From the right they burst in, white officers, sepoys and mounted sowars with yellow and dark blue turbans. Before the brown snorting horses the crowd scattered. Beside the dais, however, a large group determined to stand firm.
‘Mahatma Gandhi ki jai! they flung their challenge to the oncoming mass of sombre blue, patched with brown and white and yellow. While the main crowd, in retirement and in safety, echoed boisterously their hardy clamour. Several youths from the undaunted group darted about the crowd, exhorting, entreating, deriding the coward fugitives to make a resolute stand against the enemy.
‘Bandé Mataram!’ A fervent, fierce appeal rang out — for Mother India. ‘Bandé Mataram!’
But there was no rally. A few lingered, undecided whether to risk the lathis. The rest melted away alarmingly.
Then one of these youths, more enterprising than the rest, leapt on the dais. He waved the little tri-colour in his hand. Wildly he spoke and gesticulated. With vehemence, with emphasis he postured, he grimaced, he menaced, he entreated, he dared. The heavens remained deaf to his uplifted, urgent hands. A few feathery clouds passed serenely under the blue glare to which his eyes were elevated, appealing, as it were, for an immediate manifestation of the wrathful justice of the Deity. And the bustle and the jostle around paid no heed to his furious vituperations, to his extravagant gestures, to his violent anguish. A few occasional fragments of his sentences reached Dorian and Ali above the turmoil.
‘Why . . . not . . . stand? Be men . . . strength . . . when tested . . . opportunity . . . the Satanic Government . . . the districts . . . butchered . . . not slaves. . .
For a while there was complete silence as a few sepoys approached to arrest the audacious stripling. His face showed a little crimson despite its utter blackness, and silky gleams played on his cheeks. Aloft he waved his tiny standard and let out a crazy, earthy-rending screech,
‘O Grave! Where is thy victory?
O Death! Where is thy sting?'
and with that he jumped almost from his statuesque posturing into the arms of his captors.
‘Mahatma Gandhi ki jai!’ shouted the band of those who had remained unflinching by the dais, and surrendered themselves likewise peaceably to the servants of alien justice.
‘Silly! Paltry! Puerile!’ remarked Dorian. ‘He’s got eight annas for his heroics, I suppose.’
‘No, no!’ said Ali, offended, with a certain warmness. ‘It’s genuine all right. He really feels it. You can see that. But, O God, how pathetic! So humiliating! Humiliating! They look so callow, brittle. Yet they’ve got some fight left in them. But non-violence is the wrong thing. You want something militant. You want to make warriors, not martyrs. They’ll be broken in the end — broken, resigned, fightless.’
‘What’s the alternative?’ said Dorian. ‘Try force and be shot down like rats. Give Gandhi a chance still.’
Silent, Ali stood rooted to the spot, morbidly staring at the scene of the recent episode, as, at a theatre, when the show is over and the audience departed, a spectator may still linger absently in his seat and visualise through the fallen curtains the players, the words, the acts that have played such havoc with his feelings. There was an infinite gloom in his eyes at the thought of so much stamping, frantic impotence. The wild-eyed, harpooned beast gave its last, convulsive gasps, its hopeless, desperate wriggles. Ali gazed at the empty dais and boiled inside.
‘Oh, let’s go,’ said Dorian, somewhat tired of the Indian problem — for the day, at least. ‘It’s not safe for you to hang around too long. Let’s go and have a drink at the Imperial.’
‘What! The Imperial!’ Ali started out of his painful reverie. ‘The Imperial — after this! Oh, for God’s sake! I can’t stand the bloody place. Cocktails and jazz! O God! All those frightful Parsis — so bloody go-ahead, they think themselves. Zealously, frantically Americanising themselves.’ He was full of austere fire. ‘To watch the filthy, erotic swayings, the loathsome navel-scratching! O God! They ought to keep that sort of thing for the bedroom, not the ball-room.’
‘Western culture!’ he added with a sardonic laugh and wave of his hand.
‘Is it really jazz or Damayanti again that keeps you away?’ Dorian could not help asking.
‘Oh, not Damayanti!’ said Ali bravely, almost believing himself. ‘I don’t care a damn if I see her. I’ve got over her. I’ve . . .’
Swift, hard footfalls sounded behind. They turned round to find themselves confronted by a police officer.
‘Come on. Come on. We want you.’ He addressed himself with peremptory facetious familiarity to Ali. ‘Arrest on suspicion. Old friends we are. I had the pleasure last year. I know you. Remember me?’
‘But,’ interposed Dorian, ‘you haven’t any grounds. My friend’s been merely watching as a journalist.’
‘Who are you to say anything, anyhow?’ said the officer of the law, annoyed, eyeing Dorian with distinct malevolence. ‘Besides, what are you doing here? Got anything to identify yourself?’
‘Journalist,’ said Dorian drily, and handed the policeman his passport.
‘H’m’ grunted the latter and poked it back at Dorian, having cursorily examined it.
‘Come on. Come on.’ The policeman laid a casual arm on Ali, who pulled a hopeless shrug of his shoulders and turned to limp off with him.
Herr Doctor Albert von Klöppenthau, Consul for Germany, looked at the card in his hand.
Mr. Alan Markham, M.L.A.,
Messrs. Fence, Markham & Co., Ltd.,
He winced. He rapped the edge of his writing-desk with the paper-knife in his hand. Then, after a moment’s thought, he signed with it to the bowed, contemplative figure of the waiting office-hamal who departed to usher in the visitor.
It was going to be awkward, thought the consul. He hated sceney interviews. And this one was likely to become a very sceney one if . . . But the consul didn’t wish to formulate his worst fears in words. He had been told to be firm, to insist. They were definitely in the right and he had to insist on getting what they wanted. They had barked at him all their woes and left him to do the dirty work. There was no chance of being able to withdraw with grace. They were in the right. He had to be firm.
Markham hurtled in, the gigantic, smooth bull, through the swinging glass door. He was dressed in dark blue serge. He was always dressed in dark blue serge, even at the apex of the Bombay hot weather. It was dressy. There was a white carnation in his button-hole. He looked unusually corpulent that January morning, prosperous, spruce, wide-awake in spite of the colourless eyes, and mercurially confident.
‘Good morning, Herr von Klöppenthau,’ he said through the impassible, undivided lips.
The consul rose to greet him. Long, thin, tidy, over-cultured, the pince-nez astride the nose concealing partly the dormancy of the eyes. The gaunt stalk-legs slapped together, mechanically precise. The heels kissed. Cluck.
‘How do you do, Mr. Markham? How do you do?’
The salutation over, he returned slowly to his seat, trim and dignified.
‘You haven’t been to us for quite a while,’ said Markham, smiling thickly his hospitable soul. ‘But I shall be seeing you at the club to-day or to-morrow. We’ll fix up something. You must come over. We must have one of our long chats.’ He smiled, irresistible. ‘We haven’t had one for a long time. I missed them.’
The consul hated to be reminded that he was supposed to be on such good terms with Markham, that they were so much together socially, at the clubs. He had often been to the lavish Markhamian entertainments. It was all so complicating. It was all so difficult. But he concentrated all his strength for a valiant effort to do his duty.
‘Mr. Markham,’ he got going, formal, grim. ‘Mr. Markham, I have asked you to come here because . . . oh, have a cigarette.’
He proffered the case. Delay. Perturbation.
Once again, tidying and stiffening himself internally, he started. ‘Well, Mr. Markham, some of the German firms here in this city have made representations to me regarding your firm. I have not had time to go into the matter as thoroughly as I would have desired, and in fact as thoroughly as I intend to do. But I thought, perhaps, that as it concerned you, perhaps, I had better have an informal talk with you about it first. You know,’ he smiled gently, ‘you know these chats, these informal talks can do a great deal. Ja, Ja! I believe in them. They can much help. Brüning and Briand can arrange Europe over a private cup of tea.’
A little jet of laughter issued from him with some difficulty.
There was a bold, hearty echo of a laugh from Markham.
‘Yes, quite true!’ he said. ‘Quite true! Nothing like an unofficial tête-à-tête!’
At the calm that pervaded his chamber the consul was overjoyed. The interview augured well so far. He would achieve peace with honour. A little delight pierced through to his cultured, inanimate face.
The bloody fool, Markham was saying to himself. Why doesn’t he get to the point at once. What an indescribable ass! I suppose he’s trying to break it gently to me. He wants to spare my feelings. Do it delicately, not suddenly, painfully. I suppose he thinks I don’t know what he wants me about. He writes to me to come and see him about a special, urgent matter, and he imagines that I won’t guess what he wants me for. What a simpleton! Well, I suppose I must let him take his time over it. He’s got a bit of a conscience too for the liqueurs and cigars he’s had at our place. That’ll make him still slower. Markham resigned himself to patience. The dull opaqueness of his eyes riveted itself on the consul.
The consul went on in his mild voice.
‘Germany, you realise of course, Mr. Markham, is in a very bad way. The mail-bags from home bring to us a never ending, and each time more sad tale of woe. Patiently have we borne our sufferings. The fundamental, robust sanity of the German people has withstood with fortitude the hardships and the oppressions, the severe jolts administered by cruel economics and the wicked, blind, stupid politicians whose antiquated values . . .’
‘H’m!’ Markham wriggled violently in his chair. How long was this to go on, he wondered. The bloody fool! He decided to interrupt. He leant forward. His hands fidgeted with the arms of his chair. ‘H’m! Wasn’t there something you had to say about my firm?’ He hardly attempted to conceal his impatience.
‘I was coming to that,’ said Mr. von Klöppenthau, wounded at being disturbed amid his rhetoric. The pale, lifeless face almost betrayed a slight annoyance. Then he proceeded with becoming, quiet solemnity. ‘As I was saying, whose antiquated values created at Versailles in 1918 a peace that made real peace impossible.’
The consul paused to relish fully the luscious oratorical roll. A little animation penetrated through the pince-nez.
‘What is it you want of me?’ Markham broke in again.
‘I have used my good offices,’ went on the German, ignoring the words and raising his voice a bit as if to drown them, determined more than ever to say his say in his own fashion. ‘I have used my good offices on your behalf, Mr. Markham, even perhaps to the prejudice of the interests of my co-nationals. I have done so because we have always been good friends since a long time now. But the reclamations made by my co-nationals against you have been repeated so often and have been so vehement that I can no longer afford to be deaf to them. Even my honesty and my loyalty have been impeached by certain of my ill-wishers. They have gone to the length of suggesting that I have received bribes from you for blinking my eyes to this sort of business. I have not thought that a firm of outstanding integrity and importance like Fence, Markham’s would endanger its reputation, I can say its international reputation, by such doubtful conduct. I have hastened to refute the charges levelled against your firm of wilfully deceiving the public, knowing you to be a man of high ideals. Beside your political convictions . . .’
‘Well, what is it?’ said Markham, his face full of obscure mystification. ‘I’m really quite in the dark. What are you driving at, Herr von Klöppenthau?’
‘Mr. Markham, it is alleged — and the parties who make these serious charges are reliable and worthy of all my respect and trust — it is alleged that during the last Civil Disobedience Campaign when a strict boycott of British goods had been initiated by the Indian National Congress, your firm were disposing of large quantities of its imports from England by stamping them “Made in Germany” and actually selling them as German goods.’
‘Ah!’ Markham leant back in his chair with great apparent relief. ‘You mean those umbrellas and waterproofs? Why, I remember something about that! Oh, yes! But I can explain that quite easily. Quite easily.’ He smiled. ‘I didn’t know what you were going to bring up against me. Really, I was quite alarmed. But I can explain about the umbrellas and the waterproofs to your entire satisfaction. Our friendship will not have to be severely tested, Herr von Klöppenthau. The cordiality which exists between us will without difficulty survive this — allegation!’ His smile was roomy, warm.
Umbrellas and waterproofs, repeated the consul to himself. But surely there was much besides umbrellas and waterproofs in the list that enumerated the sins of Messrs. Fence, Markham & Co., Ltd. There was an entire miscellany of goods; hardware, toys, piece-goods, glass-ware, etc. They had all been palmed off on buyers as German. He felt rather uneasy about the coming explanation. Yet Markham’s eyes had suddenly become so alight. They blazed forth now with such fervid sincerity, with such vehement fellow-feeling. He looked so convincingly. By accepting the explanation the hateful interview would be brought to a peaceful end. It was a wonderful way of escape. His duty shall have been performed and a scene averted. Besides, the consul told himself to soothe his conscience, you had to be circumspect with Markham. You could not be too exacting with him. Markham was too powerful in business circles. He could do a lot of mischief if he wanted. It was best to accept the explanation and remain at peace with him. Definitely, it was the best course. Herr von Klöppenthau was delighted that there would be no scene.
‘Well, Herr von Klöppenthau, you see about those consignments of umbrellas and waterproofs, I remember now what happened. You see, we, as merchants, don’t come in contact with the buying public. We import the goods and sell them to the dealers. There our responsibility ceases. It’s the fault of the dealers. They’re to blame. I remember at the time hearing that some of them fearing a boycott of their stocks disposed of them in the manner you relate.’
‘That’s a lie. That’s a lie,’ a new, angry, stentorian voice disturbed the tranquil harmony of the consul’s room. Its possessor, noisily erupting through the door of the glass partition behind the consul’s chair, stood aggressively before Markham — a young, blond, Teutonic giant in a white shirt with a wide open collar and khaki shorts. Massive and towering in his tropical garb, he vociferated dangerously, his brawny arms hurled constant menaces at Markham. It was the vice-consul Müller. Having overheard the conversation from the adjacent, partition-separated room, he had decided to intervene.
‘That’s a lie. That’s a lie,’ he shouted at Markham. ‘That’s a lie. And you know it is!’
Herr von Klöppenthau arose from his chair, flabbergasted, shaking. He was speechless. His eyes in terror stared at the floor. There was a barely perceptible shrug of his shoulders. The worst had happened. Things were beyond him now.
‘That’s a lie,’ went on the vice-consul. ‘It’s you who imported the goods especially unmarked and had them stamped here. I know it. I have definite proofs. D’you want to be confronted with the dealers. Well, I can arrange that if you want. And there are other things besides waterproofs and umbrellas. What about the hardware, the electrical goods, the piece-goods and the rest? You can’t get away so easily, Mr. Markham. No, you can’t get away so easily from me. We are old friends! Ha-ha!’
He gave a harsh, resounding, unpleasant laugh. His big, ugly teeth flashed vindictively at Markham.
‘We are old friends! I have already had dealings with you. One year ago we met already. Yes! You haven’t forgotten Albert Schröder of Hamburg, have you? I haven’t forgotten, anyhow. I was in business then — his partner. I remember the damaged rice you sent us. You didn’t compensate us for that. Not a pfennig did you pay us! You ruined me. You ruined me. I had to get out of business. I won’t forget that in a hurry. You got away then. . . .’
‘If we were to blame, why did you withdraw the law-suit?’ Markham put in with a bland smile. ‘What happened to frighten you away? Why were you afraid?’
‘We weren’t afraid,’ cried Müller savagely. ‘We weren’t afraid. We couldn’t afford it. And if the law played us a trick . . . So you got off. But not this time, Mr. Markham. I’ve got you this time. You have to face me! Remember, me!’ He bellowed at Markham. ‘Yes, me! Not Herr Doctor von Klöppenthau!’
He looked at his senior, shrivelled up in his seat. The consul’s eyes were deep in the stone floor. Mute and passive, he was resigned to being superseded.
‘Germany,’ Müller continued, ‘Germany is hard hit by the depreciated pound. It becomes impossibly difficult for her to export. And exports mean life to her. Now that Gandhi has revived the boycott against England, your English goods are to remain English. Yes, they must remain English. D’you understand? You can’t get rid of your stocks at our expense. Remember that. You can’t!’
‘Mr. Müller,’said Markham, ignoring the younger man and speaking to the inanimate, bent form of the consul opposite, ‘Mr. Müller does not realise the gravity of the accusations he has made against my firm. Fence, Markham’s have always enjoyed an unimpeachable reputation. The young man that he is, he has been more valorous than discreet.’
Then he suddenly turned on Müller. He no longer spoke through closed, motionless lips. His mouth worked rubber-like, the wide lips flapping vigorously, frantically.
‘D’you know who I am?’ he shouted at the mountainous figure beside him. ‘D’you realise who I am? My word goes very far, I can ruin you if I want. . . . Credits! You’ve heard of them. German firms need them badly. I’m a director of many banks. You perhaps know that the sphere of influence of my firm is not inconsiderable — here, in England, everywhere. It’s one of the largest houses in India. We can use propaganda against you, widely, thoroughly. We can damage German trade seriously —’
‘Get out of here,’ thundered Müller at him. ‘Get out.’
He approached the Englishman. Markham arose from his chair with as much dignity as could be securely mingled with fearful precipitation. He moved towards the glass door.
‘So you’re threatening?’ shrieked Müller, crimson with fury. ‘So you’re threatening? Do your worst. Do your worst. Also, gut. We’ll show you. We can use propaganda too. We’ll tell the facts to the public. They will all hear about the honourable firm of Fence, Markham, about the great Mr. Markham, how you swindled the public. They’ll all hear about your business morality. You wait and see. Fence, Markham will be a byword in Central Europe! A byword! A byword! Now get out of here. Get out of here.’
‘You’ll pay dearly one day for your insolent foolishness,’ Markham hurled back confidently. He hugged the door. ‘You’ll get the worst of this. You’ll —’
‘Get out of here. Get out of here. Hau ab. Hau ab, du verdammter . . .’
Müller virtually bundled him out of the room.
They were in Dorian’s room at the Imperial Hotel. ‘Fifteen days,’ Ali was saying, ‘fifteen days in gaol. Without trial. Without trial, mind you! And then you’re released and told to appear at the police station every day, sometimes twice a day, to say you re behaving yourself. Oh, those ghastly visits! So humiliating, humiliating! They kept me at it for a fortnight. It wasn’t like a man. It wasn’t. But I had to do it, I had to or else get two years of “C” class — and all for non-violence! I couldn’t stand that. At last after a fortnight they’ve let me off. No more Civil Disobedience for me! They got me to promise that easily enough. They found me so sweetly reasonable. I’m going to be a very good boy from to-day on.’
‘The humiliation!’ went on Ali feverishly. The memory of the daily-endured and supinely-undergone ignominy was lacerating. ‘The humiliation!’
‘What do you expect!’ said Dorian. ‘They’re fighting you. War is war. It’s not a game of football — knock you down, then set you on your feet again.’
‘They don’t fight us. They humiliate us. The whole system’s on the one principle — humiliate us, break our spirit, make us still less men than we are so that we can’t fight, can’t stand up to them. . . . And now the riots! So convenient! So opportune! Exquisitely arranged! England’s gloating to-day —’
‘Rot! The old story!’
‘Of course they’re engineered. The trouble was brewing all along yet the authorities were peculiarly unready.’
‘Gandhi’s to blame,’ said Dorian. ‘He’s been working frantically all along to destroy all respect for the law. He has succeeded. You can’t preach chaos and expect order. You wanted revolution. Well, you’re getting it. Why grumble? A squabble of factions---it’s all in the game! It’s a part of revolution, especially when you’re nowhere near ready for it.’
‘But the authorities could have stopped it,’ insisted Ali. ‘What was the Governor doing? Where was the Governor? His Excellency, of course, was away in Gograpura, at Simla’s commands. Why didn’t the military step in at once? Why should they? Ha-ha-ha! Divide and rule! It pays infallibly. England rules India with half a dozen Mohammedan mawalis.’
They left the room and descended in the lift to the sunlit street. Although the fury of rioting had somewhat abated, no taxi-driver ventured to drive them to the scenes of trouble. Dorian therefore hired a car for the day and drove it himself. Being a white man he was in no danger. Yet he took his revolver with him. Ali, being Indian and the possessor of a sombrely black anti-British past, wasn’t allowed to carry arms. In his Gandhi cap and khaddar shirt he looked a Hindu and felt safe therefore from the unpleasant exuberances of a Hindu mob.
‘We’re going to the Middle Ages!’ said Ali, candescent as ever. ‘The Middle Ages!’
The calm of the Fort was left behind and they were approaching Kutchrapura. Everywhere were houses looted, burnt down. Sullen, desolate streets were spread with debris. An armoured car rumbled by, alone, forbidding, ponderous, unwieldy, ridiculous, impotent to awe the frenzied murderers in the numberless inaccessible dark alleys of the neighbourhood.
In Kutchrapura they came into a large crowd of Hindus, armed with lathis, knives, stones and bottles, prepared for an attack from their Muslim neighbours. The journalists found themselves in a narrow bazaar street, intact, singularly unravaged by the riots, lined on both sides with the customary low shop buildings. The street led into a square in the centre of which stood a temple. The crowd was thickest in the square. It paraded round the temple brandishing its various weapons, periodically vociferating, and otherwise keeping itself alert for a possible onslaught. All the shops in the vicinity (there was of course no possibility of business in such days) were shut, carefully bolted and barred. The shopkeepers promenaded outside on guard. Together with their hired protectors, the stalwart Bayiahs. The rest, the greater part of the crowd, consisted of hooligans, mostly young, tattered, often capless, their shirts unbuttoned, their dhoties, or nether garments, rolled up high above their knees.
The crowd had just occupied itself with a Muslim youth. He had fondly ventured to pass through the locality. He had begged to be left alone. Deaf, blunt, a lathi had struck him. He had looked around — Hindus, all, everywhere, inexorably!
He had snatched out a knife and made a mad dash for life. He had run a few steps and then had been felled by a lathi. And then amid cries of ‘Maro, maro, beat him,’ someone had dropped a large flat stone on the head that lay on the ground, crushing it.
Now the crowd turned its attention to Dorian and Ali. Some of the hooligans ran along with the car which had perforce slowed down. Two of them jumped on the foot-board, good-humoured in their excessively boisterous way.
‘Maro, maro,’ a sudden voice yelled. ‘Mussulman hai!’ (He’s a Mussulman!) ‘Mussulman hai!’
Someone had pierced through what seemed Ali’s disguise. A suspicion had become a certainty. And the individual certainty was soon universal. The shop-keepers, the Bayiahs, the mawalis burned with the horrible realisation of the fact. A Mohammedan in a Gandhi cap and khaddar shirt posing as a Hindu! It was a pity an English sahib was with the Mussulman swine. He might be a nuisance. He might obstruct. His presence was annoyingly deterrent. They would have to be deft and nimble in the way they got at the Mussulman. They couldn’t just bluntly, bunglingly do him to death. They might hurt the English sahib if they were clumsy.
‘Salah Mussulman! Bloody Mussulman! Maro, maro. Salah Mussulman!’
The Hindus rushed in fury at Ali. The mawalis on the foot-board got in their blows. Lathis swung their menace. Ali defended himself ferociously. The crawling car stopped dead. Dorian nimbly jumped up on the driving-seat, and with his revolver imposed quiescence and awe on the mob. It retreated in disorder to bide chance, sullen.
‘Salah Mussulman! Salah Mussulman! (Bloody Mussulmans!)
‘Nor Hindus, nor Mussulmans, but Indians all!’
A voice called to the erring fold. It came from a Congress volunteer. Pale, sick at the thought of so much deaf, ruthless, potential violence around him, Gandhi’s disciple struggled through the sinning mob to get to the surrounded car. Soon he was joined by a colleague. Here was a case for their urgent attention.
‘He’s your brother!’ shouted the first Congressman. ‘You’re brothers, all of you! Leave the Mussulman alone. I know him. He’s a friend of mine. Nor Hindus, nor Mussulmans, but Indians all!’
‘We know all about that,’ an angry voice responded. ‘Salah Mussulman! Badmash lok! They’ve paid Pathans to murder us!’
‘Rumours! Rumours!’ soothed the Congressman.
The meek, daring voice was drowned, however, in the clamour from the hundred exasperated, thwarted Hindu breasts, convulsed at the sight of Ali alive. They never wanted anyone so much as him.
‘Get out of that car and we’ll show you. Salah Mussulman!’
The Congressmen worked frantically to pacify. Gently, ever so gently, they pushed back the crowd in order to make room for Dorian’s car to turn and depart.
‘Come on, now. Come on. Let him be. You’re brothers, remember. Nor Hindus, nor Mussulmans, but Indians all!’
The mob retired before the entreating rebukes of the Congressmen. Inexorably, a moment later, it returned, passively ebullient and evil-intentioned as ever, constrained only by the revolver in Dorian’s hand.
‘Be brothers. Be brothers.’
At last there was an echo of sympathy. At last there was a fraternising voice, an amalgamating voice, a national voice.
‘Mahatma Gandhi ki jai!’ shrieked the voice, and its possessor gesticulated at Dorian. ‘England’s making merry to see us fighting! Why did you come here? To watch the fun? Mahatma Gandhi jai!’
The voice was lone, unheeded. The Hindus wouldn’t hear of Gandhi to-day. There in the car was a Mussulman alive before their eyes. True, he wore a Gandhi cap and a khaddar shirt. True, those were symbols of the nation’s cause, badges of Swaraj. Khaddar! Swaraj! Gandhi — in a cell in far Yerowda! What was all that beside the frantic issue of the day — the glorious triumph of Hinduism over Islam! Bayiahs or Pathans? And the Mussulman in the car stood in the way of that triumph. He dimmed the ineffable refulgence of Brahma and Vishnu and Shiva. The Hindus would render the gods their awesome dazzlement. It was righteous. It was expedient. The Hindus yearned to reach Ali. They yearned for a short cut to heaven.
‘Mussulman dogs! Salah Mussulman!’
‘Let him be,’ cried the first Congressman, rendering himself thoroughly unpopular and risking his skin. ‘Let him be.’
Deaf, implacable, the crowd engirdled the car, achingly watching for an opportunity. How it wanted Ali!
The first Congressman grew desperate.
‘Leave him alone,’ he cried, and proceeded to play his trump card. ‘What if he’s a Mussulman? He’s like one of us! His wife’s a Hindu!
A violent tremor of rage passed through the crowd. So the bloody Mussulman had got one of their girls! There was a perceptible threat of a forward rush at Ali.
Dorian with his pistol menaced death all around as actively, comprehensively as he could.
‘I’ll fire,’ he threatened ubiquitously. ‘I’ll fire. . . . You bloody fool!’ he shrieked at the Congressman. ‘Tell them he’s an atheist, too. That’ll help a lot!’
Then suddenly from the right a lathi hummed through the air and sent Dorian’s revolver flying out of his hand to lose itself in the crowd.
A delirious stampede ensued.
‘Salah Mussulman! Maro, maro, maro. Salah Mussulman!’
‘You’re brothers! You’re brothers! Nor Hindus, nor —’
The Congressmen were violently whisked about amid smelly Hindu fury tumbling in hysterical glee towards Ali. At last! Now they had surely got Ali! God help the Englishman if he came in the way!
‘Slaves!’ shrieked Ali at the oncoming assassins. ‘Slaves! You can have me, lame, unarmed! One against a hundred! Spineless vermin! That’s all you’re good for!’
Dorian covered his friend with his body. They fought like heroes. At last the Hindus managed to pull Dorian off Ali. Damayanti, apostasy, his hate of Allah, nothing could save Ali from Hindu fervency. It was the end. Yet just then the assailants leapt off the car and scurried away. The rumble was near, terribly, gloriously near. And the heavenly sound of the firing. Behind Dorian’s car an armoured car had miraculously appeared.
Dorian drove back to the Fort, to civilisation. Seated beside him, Ali nursed in silence his nose that bled from a mawali’s parting blow. Two British soldiers occupied the rear seats of the car. The bayonets on their rifles glistened in the sun.
Tat, tat-tat-tat, tat-tat, tat-tat-tat-tat, tat-tat-tat.
The mechanical thuds sounded without end in the veranda. Markham had returned early with Sybil from a dinner party, having sacrificed a game of bridge, to work. He looked up from the key-board of his typewriter, coatless, collarless, with the sleeves of his dress-shirt neatly rolled up, his vast face taut and perspiringly a-glitter in the bright electric blaze descending from the ceiling. The violent electric fan, too immediately above him, could not be worked as it would disturb him in his typing.
Markham’s eyes, lost in work, looked dully, fixedly through Sybil who sat on a sofa opposite. The fluid opaque was inextricably immersed in something that lay apparently through and beyond her.
Then again, tat-tat-tat, tat-tat, tat-tat-tat-tat, tat- tat-tat, and his head was almost entirely lost to sight behind a huge barricade of newspapers that stood in front of the typewriter.
Around the table, on the floor were more newspapers, mounded up impressively in fresh, virgin piles — all the significant journals of India, journals of repute and notoriety. Dated alike, there were numerous copies — about a score — of each. They all dealt with Markham’s latest political speech, delivered three days ago. What each contained of interest to him had been red-pencilled by Markham. The next day his secretary would cut out and file the numerous copies of the marked sections. Recorded sometimes with generous, approving amplitude, sometimes with inimical, wilful brevity or an equally inimical derisive largesse, the speech occasioned in some an exorbitant, clamant chorus of applause, in others violent, vociferating, incoherent jets of corroding hate and abuse. They all, however, conjointly attested to Markham’s importance. He was definitely there; very much there; he had to be dealt with; he could not be ignored.
No, he could not be ignored, pondered Sybil too. He impinged so massively, indelibly on her life.
The metallic sounds came to a stop. Markham looked up and caught Sybil’s eye.
‘Hullo, dear!’ the lips unmovingly said, mechanical, absent, amidst an inaudible mumble of the words he was about to tap down.
Sybil was silent.
Again swiftly she was out of the range of those glassy, impervious eyes. He was utterly closed in again, in the tower of his thoughts.
Beside Markham, one at either hand, lay two pistols. He always had them within reach in these days, in fact ever since a terrorists’ attempt had been made on his life two months ago. In bed at night, on his office-desk during the day, they were always with him, permanent guards, efficient, dumb except when the minute of need should present itself. They lay by him, large and sombre with menace.
The big, bovine, reddish head, glistening in the light, was ponderously impinging as ever. Soundlessly masticating words, impassive as a statue, it sat all-dominating from the centre of the room. The thickish, terrifying lips; the fleshy, protuberant nose; a roll of neck-flesh caught on the stiffness of the collar-band. The loose fleshiness and the oozing of sweat. Repulsive! Sybil shuddered. Common clay like the rest, she thought. So earthy and yet — inhuman! She said it aloud to herself. ‘Inhuman!’
Again his head was bowed and the opaque eyes dartingly pursued the fingers nimbly prancing on the keys. Fingers, nimble, efficient. Inevitably efficient. Whereas she was so generally useless; especially at typing she was so hopelessly slow. And it was the one thing he wanted her to learn in her arid days. For then she could help him in his work. But she found it so tedious learning. She couldn’t bother. And anyhow, why should she bother about that sort of thing? Why should she? He, on the other hand, was horribly good at it, like at everything else, in spite of his multifarious occupations. No, not in spite but because of his eternal, frenzied activity, he was good at it. Efficiency, excellence were habits with him. They were part of him. They belonged together. Always thorough, monstrously thorough. The endeavour of will left no sign of strain behind. Thorough, effortlessly, smoothly, noiselessly, impassively, like an automaton. All about him was deliberate, studied, organised. A clever all-round automation! Yes, an automaton, that’s what he was. An automaton! Ghastly, she cried to herself, ghastly, Vigorous, tenaciously persevering, like some nightmarish mechanical elaboration on legs, keyed up, set to pursuing unrelentingly its predestined prey; never, in no wise to be gainsaid; impelled, inspired, as by some occult Authority into unthinking cruelties, unscrupulosities that cleared the way to the goal. Organised, that was his trouble. Why was he so very organised? Horrible — not a man! A ruthless Robot!
Sybil moved restlessly on the sofa. She shuffled her feet. Meanwhile Markham typed on and on, absorbedly. The wall of journals shielded him at the moment from Sybil’s rancorous regard. Then her gaze moved away from the spick columns of paper monuments to Markham’s eminence and passed to the squat teak book-shelf that stood slightly to the left of him against the wall that faced her. Bridge. Bridge. Bridge. Bridge. Bridge. Bridge. Interminably, entirely bridge. Three shelves of it. Tomes, fat and thin, in every colour under the sun, all culminating on the topmost shelf in that huge, ungainly, hurtfully yellow volume by some German professor. That was just like him. So typical. Organised, diabolically thorough even in bridge. Yes, in bridge too.
He was of the best of players. She sickened to hear the name of the game.
Everything about him was aimed, intentional. Never spontaneous, unrelaxed, natural. And that Marie Stopes’s set, complete, in the best binding. Sybil remembered the books upright in a neat stand of their own on the high Jacobean chest of drawers in her bedroom. On a day strangely coinciding with her last birthday they had appeared. A shy, surreptitious gift from Markham. He never spoke of them. Silently, however, he insinuated their presence with a certain look of pride, an air of having justified himself. It was a way to admit the existence of those certain nasty Facts of Life! Surely that gesture was enough! His duty now was done! More could not be wanted of him! He was freed now from the torturing, hovering ordeals, from the screaming, frantic menace of a visit to his wife’s bedroom. Sybil smiled — at her husband, she thought. But she could not keep out a bitter feeling that she was being made more a fool of than ever. The books still stood in the bedroom — unchanged to this day their aspect of gleaming unopenedness, full of their supercilious strangeness. Bright beacons of lore and wisdom, their penetrating rays remained imprisoned, unshed. And in a dark, mysterious corner of her cupboard Sybil saw her secret little French book; its blatant, coloured cover of a naked woman rising out of the sea in a divine blaze of pinky light, illuminating while she proudly surveyed her prone and prostrate male worshippers gathered in a twilight-haze on the shore.
That was the Kama Sutra, the catalogue of love-relishes compiled by the ancient Hindu Vatsyayana. That was her own purchase for her own edification. Furtively, with a childlike, fretful, earnest restiveness, she had devoured its pages. She had hoped desperately. Perhaps. . . ? Fruitless and in vain. Markham was beyond hope. Its secrets divulged and purposeless, the book lay concealed in her cupboard in its crumpled lurid cover.
‘How much you could help me, you know.’
Markham always said that to Sybil when he saw her idle while he worked. Her inactiveness infuriated him. He would rub in her wordlessness. Unaided, relying on his sole energy, he had to go through his many Herculean labours.
‘How much you could help me, if you wanted. . . . There’s so much to be done.’
But to-night Sybil was going to burst out at him.
‘But I don’t want to,’ she was going to say, she was going to shriek. ‘That’s all. I don’t want to. I’m not interested.’
She was determined to say, to shriek that at him to-night. She had prepared herself. He would be surprised by the strange, aggressive rebellion in her voice.
But Sybil was disappointed. Somehow, her imposedly calm inertia and uninterestedness seemed to leave Markham immeasurably cold to-night. He just typed on, silent, seemingly quite oblivious of her. Her furious outburst, aimedly terrific, which was to astonish, stun him, remained unevoked, unuttered.
She had painfully to swallow her explosive, yelling, mutinous resentment. The cue for revolt hadn’t sounded. There would be no revolt.
Markham worked, silent. Far from realising Sybil’s real feelings towards him, he dreaded in fact that she might in a long-due moment of remorse offer to help him in his work to-night. He did not want that to happen. No, he didn’t want her co-operation to-night. No, it wasn’t the sort of thing that Sybil should type at his dictation. No, definitely it wasn’t.
Tat, tat-tat-tat, tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat.
The typing came to an end. Markham rolled the sheet off the machine and leant back in his chair to read his handiwork.
THE SINE QUA NON
The Something you must have
Life, Happiness depend
Your home is not complete
Most Honourable Messrs. Yuvo, Ltd.
God Himself bless you and Professor Josef Tcherchez! He is a mighty Benefactor of Mankind. For long years I have felt exhausted and have been tormented by terrible nervous complaints and troubles. He has brought peace and comfort to myself in my great age of 75 years and to my household. I and my sons all use the thrice-blessed ‘Yuvo’ pills and we are happy now. Harridas, the son of my eldest son, too uses it.
Long life and splendid success to the Great Professor be certainly granted. Please send me four Men’s boxes on receipt of same per V.P.P.
(Sd.) P. R.
This is but one of the latest voluntary and unsolicited testimonials we have received from contented Yuvo users. Shoals of these proofs of Yuvo’s worth and reliability arrive daily in our offices — all glowing with satisfaction and praise.
Years of ceaseless yet vain endeavour passed by before Professor Tcherchez of Malapest University was able to disclose to the world his epoch-making discovery. At last he succeeded where others had failed in the stupendous work that had lured some of the greatest Scientists of all times. His lengthy experiments led to a success that was regarded as a miracle. Yet now it is become an ordinary Fact of Science, by means of which all Nervous and Mental complaints rapidly disappear and Vigour and Vitality are reconsolidated to the actual pitch of youth. Yuvo is the source of a Veritable Vital Fluid which floods the body with its buoyant dynamic energy. The youngest of us wants to be younger still. After Yuvo we not only feel young, we are young again.
FRAIL NERVES, VITIATED MANHOOD
ARE NO LONGER THREATS THAT
YUVO BANISHES BARRENNESS
GREY HAIRS TURN GLOSSY BLACK
VIGOUR AND VIRILITY
Boxes of 50 tablets.
Men — Rs. 10-0-0
Women — Rs. 10-0-0
Women especially confidentially consult our Expert daily.
for particulars and our edifying booklet to:
P.O. Box 1001, BOMBAY
Markham looked at the paper in his hand, intently admiring. He could become quite good at that sort of thing, he thought, with a little more practise. He had pried into his advertising expert’s work. For once he had taken over the write-up for Yuvo. He was very satisfied with the execution. He was especially pleased with the letter from P.R. of Indrapore. That was original. Here and there he had borrowed from his expert’s idiom. But the letter was entirely his own contribution. Perhaps, on the whole, the write-up was rather too . . . Yes, perhaps. Well, it could be toned down for the more finicky newspapers. But, anyhow, in its present or modified form, with a suitable illustration or a pseudo-scientific diagram it was to appear on the front page of every newspaper in India — next to important reading matter. That was the minimum respect he always exacted and paid for for his advertisements. What thoroughgoing advertising had done for Yuvo! The results were quite amazing. Yuvo was the only import he could sell. Thank God, he had fallen on such a boon in these bad times. Not that Fence, Markham’s was in any peril. It was snugly unassailable as ever. It was highly satisfactory, however, to be able to carry on with large profits while most other firms shut up shop. Whatever happened, people always seemed to have money for Yuvo — bless them! Yes, advertising had done it. Advertising was a wonderful thing — a wonderful thing. Markham internally frothed over with excited enthusiasm about advertising. Civilisation was built on it. But for advertising, the creation of want, the world would not have moved from its primitive condition. The Kingdom of God depended on advertising!
In the case of Yuvo, however, there was no want-generating process required. Want had not to be created from non-existence, or stimulated from latency into active being. Want was there, a crying want, universal, insistent. Yuvo had merely to make itself known in order to direct that want towards itself. It was true that Yuvo was merely an aphrodisiac. All the more reason then that it should be effectively, extensively advertised. For through constant suggestion it was bound to become what it aimed to be — a real rejuvenating force.
There was the chauffeur who every month bought himself and his wife a box of Yuvo each. Williams, the manager of Yuvo Ltd., had laughed as he told Markham about the man. Desperately, he spent a third of his monthly pay on it. He had confided to Williams that he wanted to get a son who would tend him in his old age. Every month he came to the office of Yuvo Ltd., unmistakably suffering from Yuvo, completely sure of Yuvo, desperately wanting a son. Suggestion was sometimes slow to act. Nevertheless, he believed in suggestion, Markham emphatically told himself.
Officially, however, Markham didn’t avow any connection with Yuvo Ltd. That wasn’t the kind of agency Fence, Markham’s went in for. He might as well start a rubber goods shop, thought Markham with surly indignation. So Yuvo Ltd. was entirely on its own, without any recognised consanguinity with Fence, Markham’s. He had managed to arrange that. He smiled to himself.
He had also managed to silence the detrimental voice of German diplomacy, or rather of Vice-Consul Müller. He wasn’t going to let anyone get the better of him, Alan Markham. Vice-Consul Müller had been transferred to some town in China. A word in the right place had arranged that, accompanied by a little nagging that had made the measure appear indubitably urgent and essential.
The recollection of his happily-contrived intrigues put Markham in a sweet humour. Everything was going well for him, he thought. In politics, he reigned supreme as the leader of the Loyalists; in business, there was Yuvo. Markham pondered over the sensible Destiny that had elected him of all his fellow beings for her manifold gifts. You get what you deserve! God was in with him on the Mussolinian venture. Soon would dawn the triumphal day of the March on New Delhi.
The taut, enormous face relaxed a shade.
‘Ah!’ he sighed contentedly at the thought of the harassments of another day successfully overcome.
He put away the Yuvo write-up, crumpled up and threw away the scribbled partial draft, and prepared for some more typing.
‘Now the Calcutta speech!’ he said aloud. It was the last piece of work before he retired for the night. He was going to enjoy himself with that. He was going to let himself go. ‘I must finish that. I must finish that.’
‘. . . India was bleeding to death,’ Markham went on with the speech from where he had left off the day before. ‘India was bleeding to death. The blood flowed stanchlessly. Yet we stood aside, folded our arms and waited. Waited. For what? we might well ask. For chaos to be complete, for ruin to be everywhere. We were determined not to rule. We were determined to show India that she could go to hell if she pleased. Momentarily bereft of our senses, deafened by the venomous tirades of fanatical agitators in this country and by the inane chattering of despicable busybodies at home, with a contemptible apathy we resigned ourselves and India to those very same ridiculous fanatics for long so rightly and ignominiously ignored by the sane, steadfast loyalty of the masses whose aspirations they clamourously pretended to champion.
‘Yet that selfsame loyalty, fostered by a willing recognition of our selfless service, by a live consciousness of our sympathy and sincerity, and by an active appreciation of the only too palpable rewards of British rule, was being sapped to nothing, completely undermined by the despair and uncertainty of a leaderless people. The unbounded, unswerving faith in a Britannic destiny, magnificent as it is beneficent, had been rudely shattered. The rulers had ceased to rule. In its dire extremity, the people had to look elsewhere for guidance, for leadership. It yielded to the wiles of the false prophet. But, in erring, was it to blame? Had it not its excuse? It could well be fascinated by the hallucination of a madman who had officially negotiated with the King-Emperor’s representative. Gandhi was surely a Mahatma if he was allowed to sit and treat with the Viceroy. The sublime dignity of an Empire had been reduced to infamous, ineffaceable ridicule in a moment of inconceivable folly.
‘But India is safe again to-day. Nothing short of a heaven-sent miracle has snatched her from anarchy — from that anarchy of which we had a terrible foretaste just a short time ago in Bombay. It came to quicken our sense of responsibility. It came — a sign from God! We must hold India safe for herself. But to hold her safe we must not let her fall again into the hands of those who are ever ready to draw her to a swift and sure doom with their glib and gushing sentiment, with their facile hyperlyrical cant. We will save her from those hands. We will grasp her fast. This glorious heritage . . .’
Markham paused a moment in his work.
‘Then you are going to Calcutta?’ said Sybil from her corner. ‘You’re determined, are you?’
‘Yes, yes, I must go,’ he said, scarcely looking at her. Then, almost to himself, the eyes suddenly awake and luminous in the dead face, yes, I must be there. It’s most important. It’s vital. I must go. A little speechifying. We must put up a great show. Now! Now’s the time for it. Congress is being squashed. The riots have helped. The Mohammedans are more than vacillating. They can be wangled. We must rally the Loyalists. Now’s the time! We’ll show them. Smash Congress. Smash them altogether. We’ll do it yet!’
‘They might smash you,’ interposed Sybil, petulantly, almost spitefully, thus venting some of the clamant rancour stored within her. ‘You must go?’
‘You’re not thinking of the danger, are you?’ He laughed. ‘Oh, don’t worry about that. There’s no danger at all. I’ll be perfectly safe.’ He indicated one of the revolvers by his side. ‘I’ve seen to that. I’ll have detectives galore around me and the crack shot in India eternally guarding me from two inches away. The terrorists will find it a terrible job murdering me. By Jove, they will. Oh, don’t worry about me. I’ll be all right! It’s only for a few days, anyhow. Don’t you worry a bit about me.’ He ended militantly confident.
But Sybil hadn’t been worrying about him. Now she felt ashamed for not having done so. Dorian, she was thinking. He was back some time now. He was staying at the Imperial. She had seen him a few times. He was keeping away rather ostensibly. Markham didn’t seem to notice anything strange about all that. He was too engrossed, Sybil supposed. Dorian. What would happen? She wished Alan wouldn’t go away. She didn’t want to be left alone. Really she didn’t, she almost convinced herself.
‘Oh, besides, Dorian’s back, isn’t he!’ Markham telepathically remarked. ‘He’ll take care of you while I’m away.’
She started horribly. Thank God, Alan didn’t notice. No, he was far away, she said to herself almost bitterly in spite of her relief. He was sunk in his work again. He hadn’t meant to insinuate anything. He was almost being considerate, with a thoughtless unfelt considerateness. His mind was in the speech.
She was angry with him as she got up to go to bed. But a sudden, impetuous rush of tenderness seized her. She almost loved Markham still. Poor Alan! She stopped by his chair to kiss him good night.
With an effort Markham paused in his work, sat deep in his chair to receive the kiss. It was as an imposition. He suffered her to kiss him.
‘Well, dear, good night, good night. I’m very busy to-night.’
‘I . . . I only wanted. . . . Oh, you’re impossible!’ Sybil flared up and left him without the kiss.
Tat, tat-tat-tat, tat-tat, tat-tat-tat.
The ceaseless sounds from the typewriter reached Sybil in bed.
What a man! What a man! Amazing! Wonderful! So to be admired — and yet, and yet. . . . Marie Stopes grinned at her in the darkness from the top of the Jacobean chest of drawers. Oh, those horrid books! She wanted terribly, terribly to shriek.
Tat, tat-tat-tat, tat-tat, tat-tat-tat.
‘That eternal rowing,’ Damayanti told Ali Habibullah, ‘that eternal rowing with your father. That’s what did it.’
What a fool he was, Ali kept saying to himself. What was the use of his coming to see her? It was so miserably weak of him to do it. Yet he had come. He had to come.
Long moments of indecision he had spent outside the house. Nervously once or twice he had looked around to see if anyone was about. Then he had determined to walk in. He found her in the bedroom reclining on a couch. With what trepidation he approached her. The luxury, the elegance, the heavy scentedness of the place added to his confusion, to his miserable dismay. There was a rich atmosphere of electrically-lit blue about the room. Ali almost slipped and fell on the parquet floor. He approached Damayanti with the alarm of a proletarian in the presence of a grande dame.
She was dressed in a sari of luscious blue alight with little stars of gold. Round her ankles were slender gold bangles. The tiny gold sandals, encasing the almost white feet, were the dernier cri, demurely disclosing the elaborately polished crimson toe-nails.
Ali thought of his own insipid drab Swadeshi garb. The Communist shuddered when he remembered that it was not scrupulously clean. He had not changed his shirt that morning, he remembered. She would not notice the dubious whiteness of parts of his collar, he hoped.
The voluptuary in him was frenziedly awakened. He was possessed entirely by an uxorious stupor. The splendidness around, the odorous air intoxicated him. He hated to have to return to his dirty, dusty abode. Even political excitement couldn’t make his life other than dreary and sordid and grey.
‘I gave up everything for you,’ he said, standing before Damayanti, lank, rather emaciated, resting himself on his sound right leg. His right shoulder sagged badly. ‘What a little I’ve got out of life!’
He sat down suddenly, clumsily beside her on the sofa. His lame leg stuck out straight and prone. She let him hold her hand.
‘You were such a tactless fool,’ said Damayanti. ‘You bungled away a whole fortune. Your father had forgiven you for marrying me. Everything would have been all right. But you would row with him, always, always. You had to fling your Communism at him continually, all your silly advanced ideas. Such a tactless, obstinate fool! You couldn’t spare the old man. You had to tell him he was wrong. Always wrong, wrong in everything. You brought it all on yourself. Why couldn’t you keep your mouth shut and not blabber all your rubbish to him? You were out to change him, change the world.’
‘So when I was disowned you left me for that wretch Mangaldas, for his oily decrepit caresses.’
‘I don’t care,’ she said, impassive. ‘He was rich.’ She smiled. ‘And you still love me? Although I am — yes, I don’t mind saying it, although I am a cocotte I don’t care! Yes, I am one!’
She spoke deliberately, with a certain debonair animation.
‘You can’t hurt me by calling me a cocotte!’ she went on. ‘There’s something whorish about every woman — at least, if she is a woman. Of course if she’s just a log of wood . . . I must have all that.’ With a careless, sublime, flamboyant gesture she indicated her wardrobe and her dressing-table with all the jars and pots and boxes and bottles, all the choicest products of Guerlain, Caron, Worth, Chanel and Elizabeth Arden. ‘Yes, I must. I can’t do without all that.’
Nor, she thought, without the Rolls-Royce she had received that morning.
Why did he love her, Ali asked himself. Why did he want to be near her? Always near her. Why? Why? Despite everything, he wanted her. He wanted her madly. There could be no revulsion of feeling. Her calm, blatant, hard-boiled assumption of whorishness, he had to suffer that, he had to put up with that too. Why would she throw it in his face?
It made wider the gulf between them. It became ever more unspannable, inexorably unspannable. He loved her all the more. And he was so unnecessary to her. Utterly unnecessary. Quite outside her. She looked at him coldly, with complete indifference. He was quite outside her world, an absolute stranger. There was perhaps just a little softening through pity, scornful pity.
He wanted her madly, madly. If only he could boldly, bluntly take her in his arms, possess her. . . .
With clumsy effort he turned himself around, his lame leg outstretched, rigid, and hurled himself at her feet. He lifted her foot and kissed it with tender passion. For a moment he enjoyed peace and bliss. Infinite. Overwhelming. Couldn’t it endure? Couldn’t he always be there, at her feet, in utter blissful worship — always. He wanted to sob.
‘How romantic! How romantic!’ scoffed Damayanti, smiling.
Ali jerked himself up bolt upright again on the edge of the couch.
‘Oh, please, for God’s sake . . .’ he cried in tortured exasperation. Damayanti’s metallic, frigid, toneless words jarred him excruciatingly. They hit him with a harsh, dull, awakening force.
Again the awful chasm between them, the bottomless abyss. He sat at her feet, silent, with abject yearning in his eyes. There was no hope. Her answer was given. It was a clear rebuff, But he remained sitting at her feet, longing in abjection. His eyes roved over the gorgeous, rhythmic body under the rich blue. He sought desperately in her large dark dazzling eyes for hope, for a single streak that might illumine his deathly, cavernous woefulness. But the dark diamonds of her eyes turned away from his ardent, humble appeal. She tossed her legs up and recrossed them. With her hands she set straight her sari.
So restless, he thought. Fidgeting, ennui. I’m just a bore to her. A nuisance. It’s a hint for me to go. What a fool I’m making of myself. She’s given her answer once and for all.
‘Go on. Gloat,’ burst angrily from him in spite of himself. ‘You’re happy, aren’t you? You’re enjoying it?’ Then he was entreating again. ‘Why are you torturing me, Damayanti? Why are you torturing me?’
‘What d’you mean? How am I torturing you? I don’t know what you mean.’
Laboriously, ponderously he drew near to her. His hands pinioned her arms down and his face approached hers. He looked at her with the same abject grim desperation as before. Ravenously, he kissed her on the lips. She bore it.
‘Don’t torture me,’ he said hoarsely. ‘Don’t torture me. I want you. You must sleep with me.’
‘Must!’ For a moment Damayanti was almost coquettish. Then she pushed him scornfully away. Yet she spoke now with a little kindliness. ‘Ali, don’t behave like a little boy now. That’s all over between us! There’s no more of that.’
‘But you are my wife!’
‘Oh, don’t be so silly. You’re a little boy, Ali!’ She looked at her diamond wrist-watch.
‘Oh, it’s nearly seven o’clock!’ she said, rather anxiously. ‘You’d better go, Ali. Bob will soon be here.’
Ali’s heart sank. He did not enquire who Bob was. Bob was no other than the eighteen-year-old Maharajkumar Guddahsinghi of Foulnaggar. He was her latest acquisition — two days old! He had been a febrilely eager wooer. She had grasped chance firmly in her nimble hands. She had driven a hard bargain before ceding to his impetuous embraces. That morning a stupendous yellow Rolls-Royce had become hers. It was the major item in the spoils of surrender.
Damayanti looked at Ali. Such a reminiscent picture, she was thinking, of his own crazy ideas. Drab, squalid and soiled like the five-hundred-rupee-Viceroy-regime Gandhi was going to inaugurate. (Gandhiism, Communism were all the same to her.) His clothes were like the horrid Millennium that threatened to come, dull, wretched, shabby, where there would be no place for yellow Rolls-Royces or de luxe creatures like herself. The drab, horrid reporter that he was! Thank God, she had got free from him. She wished he would go away, leave her alone. His presence might endanger her further prospects with Bob of Foulnaggar.
‘You’ve got your Communism now!’ she said, vindictive, abusive. ‘Aren’t you satisfied? Why are you sulking? You’ve got what you wanted! All your fine talk and big words. Where are they all now? Where are they all gone to? All that damn rot you used to bore us with. See what it’s brought you to? Tactless fool! Bungling idiot! You threw away a whole fortune, a title. What a fool! What d’you think I married you for?’
Seeing a bitter reproachfulness in him, she was angry, flagrantly, heartlessly reviling.
‘What d’you think I married you for?’ she went on. ‘Your looks? Your Communism? All those damned ideas of yours? To live in a chawl on nothing a month with the — with the future Lenin! Ha-ha! What d’you think I married you for?’
She looked at him, incensed, derisive.
He suspected he caught a certain meaning in her eyes. His olive skin suddenly reddened all over, and his thin body shook convulsively.
‘Say it,’ he gave an inhuman shriek. ‘Say it. Why don’t you say it? Don’t spare me. For my limp! You married me for my limp.’
A frantic, horrible laugh burst from him.
‘Whore! Whore!’ he yelled at her.
But his violent anger left him almost immediately. He looked at her with sullen, terrible passion. Tears welled in his eyes. If he could only kiss her hand, her foot. . . .
He limped hastily out of the room.
That night he got drunk. Thoroughly, gloriously drunk. In a lordly, haughty fashion he hailed a taxi. He stretched himself in it and was wafted home in a sweet, supreme languor. What remained of his grief gave him a pleasant, voluptuous sensation. And he forgot that he was constitutionally broke, that he could ill afford the expensive drinks, the long taxi-ride. And the moon from above shone down on him, big, bright, with a gracious sympathy, so delicious, so quenching — a most un-British moon.
Ali was all unhinged, hysterical. He hadn’t been able to sleep for several nights past. The wide open eyes were bulging out of their sockets, peculiarly, crazily aglow in the ashen face more ascetic than ever.
After his light and loose Indian homespun garments, the thick blue serge suit, which he had fished out from the abandoned, unpawned remains of his Cambridge wardrobe, was so hot and exasperating on this hot February afternoon and smelt so horribly of camphor. There hadn’t been time to have it pressed. He had worn the suit as it was, creased and camphored. He felt strange and awkward. It seemed a huge misfit to him. And yet he looked almost smart in it. The suit still retained something of Savile Row. Between the dense and manifold creases there still peered the elegant cut. The fashionable tailor’s art had not been altogether exercised. The tie, too, was smart in its distinctive way. It was a unicoloured dark blue heavy satin tie belonging to the monochromatic series in various colours, which Ali had purchased at the exclusive shop on King’s Parade in his extravagant Cambridge days. It was badly frayed. Yet a strange, anxious, dexterous skill concealed that from the eye. Nothing in fact could betray the secret of its tattered condition except the largish knot.
Oh, the wretched suit! It was all a horrible misfit — the suit and the scene! The Bombay racecourse at Mahalaxmi, all the élite assembled for the biggest race of the year, for the event of the season. All the frantic hurry and bustle, the earnest jollification, the intent lightheartedness that peered through the economic crisis of each face. It was all so jarring, so odious. Thank God, Damayanti wasn’t there to complete his misery. It was all so appalling. What had he to do with it all? He wasn’t of it, thank God! All these people were unbearable aliens to him. He hated them. They rushed around in their senseless, famous, desperate fashion. The stupid, rapacious, tumbling wretches! And but a short while ago — the riots, the wallowing in brotherly blood! And meanwhile India’s maimed and foodless remained maimed and foodless in their millions. And a task Himalayan awaited the Saviour to come.
Ali’s tall, lank figure limped about on the lawn before the members’ stand. To get there he had borrowed the requisite badge from a friend. To the left, a fair distance away, was a long, straight road lined with palms. A row of smoking mill-chimneys confined the racecourse on the right. In the space intervening was the interminable greenness, beginning to yellow, and striped by the white course-rails.
The lawn, studded with white benches, was empty. Everyone had gone to watch the horses in the paddock. Ali limped about as he had to do something to pass the time. He would have condescended to a trifling bet. But he had no money to bet with. His paper, eternally on the verge of suspension for its violent seditiousness, and on the verge of bankruptcy because it purveyed news and not advertisements, hadn’t paid him his salary for the last two months. Strolling aimlessly on the green, for a moment he experienced a cool restfulness, a full, tragic serenity. But the bright daylight disturbed him. He hated the stark green-yellow glare around him. It made him terribly conscious of himself.
Someone rushed down the steps of the members’ stand and inadvertently bumped straight into Ali, almost knocking him over. The man hurried on violently without turning his head.
No apology. I’m only a native — a wog!
‘What the hell are you doing?’ Ali literally shrieked at the man. ‘Where d’you think you’re going?’
The man stopped short. Bewildered and speechless, he turned to Ali, then he raced on on his vital errand.
Ali saw his face. Not even an Englishman! An Eurasian! A bloody half-caste!
His limp made Ali too conspicuous. He retired to a secluded spot on the stand. When later he came down again, he happened upon Dorian. He tried hard to evade him. But Dorian came upon him inescapably. Ali faced the inevitable.
‘Hullo!’ Dorian greeted him from afar. ‘What’s the meaning of all this?’
The greeting was too loud, thought Ali, painfully conscious of the gaze of several eyes evoked by Dorian’s shout.
‘Sshh!’ he cautioned Dorian to silence.
‘What’s all the mystery?’ asked Dorian when they were more alone, marvelling at the other’s sudden sartorial transformation. ‘What’s happened to you? Where’s all the Swadeshi stuff gone to? This is not home-spun, surely? Really, what’s the mystery?’
‘No mystery at all,’ answered Ali. ‘It’s just — well, I’ve got sense at last! That’s the truth! I’ve given up Communism, politics, the whole bloody game. I see light at last. It’s no use. It’s a silly game, anyhow. I’m not going to take part in politics any more. Besides, I’ve given a pledge to the police.’
‘You don’t expect me to believe you, do you?’ Dorian eyed him carefully.
‘Really, really! It’s true. I’m going to be good and respectable. And now I’m here to enjoy myself!’ he added in a tone of gaiety. ‘I’m after the amenities of Capitalist civilisation. The most loyal subject of His Majesty the King-Emperor!’
‘But, really, I don’t understand, said Dorian. He sniffed the camphor. ‘This suit — I remember it in Cambridge! This metamorphosis! It’s all beyond me.’
They went to have a drink at the buffet of the Turf Club. On the way they passed the regimental band which was playing the Prologue from Pagliacci.
Ali was glad after all of the conversation and the drinks, which Dorian paid for. If only Dorian were not so persistently inquisitive, he thought. Dorian, however, continued to be inexorably curious.
‘Well,’ said Ali, desperate, with an impulsive laugh, ‘well, I’ve changed sides, you see. Your advice! I’ve gone Beavermerian! Yes, it is more comfortable, as you said. The Maharajah of Gograpura has made me his secretary. We’re going to tour America together. I shall speechify there for the cause of the Englishman-in-India. Ha-ha-ha! What a future before me! Money! Women! A Knighthood! Everything! Oh, it’s going to be wonderful! Ha-ha-ha!’
He was very excited and his strident, reckless laugh straggled through an eternity.
They had left the buffet and were nearing the vast crowd that seethed around the totalisator.
‘The baronetcy will be revived.’ Ali went on frantically. ‘Sir Ali Mirza Habibullah, Bart! Wonderful! Wonderful!’
‘Poor Ali!’ said Dorian. ‘What’s the matter? Why such a horrible mood? You’re not going to be silly!’
Ali was rebuked, snubbed as a child might be. He was maddened by the calm words.
‘Look here, wait a moment, will you?’ went on Dorian. ‘I’ve got to back a horse for somebody. Wait here. I’ll just be back.’
And he dashed away losing himself in the crowd.
‘Blast you!’ Ali hissed violently through clenched teeth at the vanishing, unhearing Dorian, ‘I don’t want your bloody pity!’
With that he quickly limped away from where he was to await Dorian.
Dorian returned to the spot promptly enough. He couldn’t find the Indian again in the dense crowd.
By now the red carpet had been flung down for the reception of the Governor and Lady Lyle. The central wooden doorway in front of the members’ stand was opened and on one side of this the regimental band already stood in readiness for the National Anthem. The Turf Club servants in their neat green and white liveries ran about to accomplish the final preparations. Repeatedly, one of them ran forward to straighten the crimson carpet crumpled by the wind that now blew. The Government House havildars in their more gorgeous red robes stood by the twin stairs leading to the Governor’s box. Under the balustrade of the box, between the two stairs, stood the stewards of the Turf Club, some high Government officials, and a couple of prominent citizens of Bombay, who were all to welcome His Excellency and Lady Lyle on arrival. The swallow-tails of their grey morning coats flew awry in the breeze. One, a tall fair man, smoothed the puggree of his white sun-hat with his coat sleeve. Beside him stood a diminutive Indian official in a grey silk hat. The Indian had an expression exquisitely urbane, predisposedly accommodating. They waited and chatted. At last, as the horses were going out for the next race, the Governor’s procession was sighted.
Brilliant and scarlet, it wended slowly along the palm-lined road on the left from which it would enter the course itself. Slowly it was approaching. The stewards of the Turf Club, the officials and the two well-known citizens moved forward to the central gate. Most people had returned to their seats to watch the spectacle. There was, however, quite a cluster standing by the ropes held along the red carpet to keep it clear. Again hasty hands were putting aright the flapping carpet. The procession wound round the bend. It entered the straight. The scarlet parasol protecting the gubernatorial heads flashed in the sun-light. The compact scarlet mass of the augustly bearded Sikh Bodyguards undulated with a rigid measure behind, the red and white pennons of their lances fluttering gaily in the air.
The carriage stopped. The troop of Bodyguards passed on a little way, halted and, left-turning, faced the Governor’s carriage.
The band struck up the National Anthem the moment the Governor and his wife alighted. Everyone stood up to attention, except for some Gandhi-capped Indians on the second floor of the members’ stand. Followed by the aides-de-camp, the Governor and Lady Lyle advanced then towards the gentlemen deputed to welcome them. It was as he was shaking hands with the second of these gentlemen that Sir Henry Lyle was shot.
There was a wild scramble and uproar. The assailant was easily seized by two aides-de-camp. Ali did not offer the least resistance. He stood now on the red carpet between his captors. At last he saw the burly veteran form of the Governor issue out of the anxious press of sympathisers. Sir Henry looked pale but otherwise quite sound. He faced Ali.
‘Why have you done such a thing, my boy? I’m sincerely sorry for you.’
The words were calm, utterly without anger, heroic. Softly he spoke in a tone of grave, genuine kindliness.
Ali felt bewildered. The horrible starkness of the day. The day was staring at him, blinding him with its ruthless, intense glare. The hushed suspense. Fleeting glimpses of a long red dress swaying in the wind. The excruciating lull. Time stood still. The eternal second. He saw himself caught, confined in a suffocating cell, guarded by the ineluctable phalanx of his fiendish enemies. He felt a vast, mad, fecund desire to escape, to be free, to live. Damayanti!
‘Swine!’ he shrieked in a frenzied voice and broke away from his unwary guards. ‘Swine! Warwick swine! All of you!’
He ran a few steps as best he could and then his body was seen to lurch forward. With a cry of pain he fell on his face. His lame leg could ill support him. With a strange agility, he turned round half up again on one knee on the red carpet. A second revolver appeared in his hand. He faced the Governor and his entourage.
‘Warwick swine! Swine! All of you! I’ve got you now! Ha-ha! Swine!
The pistol danced about in his hysterical hand. For a moment they were daunted. Then, they didn’t wait to let him cock his gun. Two shots from plain clothes policemen. Ali rolled over sideways and lay with his cheek on the turf. He was dead.
The large round pupils were hurtling out of his head, immobilely shining with ineffable rage. A little blood trickled over the right eye.
Above the hubbub and the excitement died more slowly the cawing of the multitude of crows, gathered magically, no one knew whence.
He tripped up the veranda steps, gay, so alive. He saw her bright, diaphanous. Antiquely statuesque in white lace, lightly spangled, close-clinging, voluminous skirt without end. Brilliant, solemn, awesome. The silvery priestess. Expecting him, she had dressed with added care. He saw it. He knew it. He smiled.
He said: ‘Hardly an hour and here I am. You’ve barely had dinner? But why evening dress, Sybil? So Simla! Or the Eurasians going to a cinema! God! Anyhow, it makes you more utterly beautiful.’
Those eyes, dark vasty pools of flame. Beyond doubt. They said, they had already said, often said, they couldn’t forget, they loved her still. She was alarmed to see that she thrilled to them so. Ah, but she wouldn’t yield. Never! In the drawing-room his arms were round her and she vacillated. He kissed her without further ado. She shook with a new awakening, she swayed with a new brusque being. The slender tree was palpitating with life. A kiss! And no struggle! What of her decision? There was no harm in a kiss.
He sat beside her on the sofa.
‘Thank heavens,’ he was saying, ‘I saw you at the club. I would never have known otherwise. Nobody knows Alan’s gone to Calcutta.’
‘He kept it quiet,’ said Sybil. ‘It’s safer to travel in secrecy. He got there to-day. And to-night’s the big show. His speech. Calcutta’s a death trap for him. But he would go. He would go.’
‘That’s the worst,’ cried Dorian, ‘of feeling evangelistic. You go any length. Nothing can stop you.’
He added with a smile, ‘I came soon enough, didn’t I? I didn’t waste much time.’
She looked at him beside her, sombre suit, red tie on the deep blue shirt. Roguishly adorable, he was, so seductive. Yet, never!
Serious of a sudden, she said:
‘You shouldn’t have come.’
He had been about to kiss her again. He stopped himself.
‘Oh! Are you sorry now I came?’
‘Alan said you’d take care of me. He trusts me with you.’
‘The noble fellow!’ he shouted at her, at once in arms. ‘He would. He wants to trick us. The old Jesus game, I know. Gandhi’s game too! Turn the other cheek. You flirt with my wife, well, then, have her and be damned. So you won’t take advantage of a noble, selfless fellow like that, will you? Oh, the wretch! He appeals to your sense of honour. Surely you won’t do a thing like that when he trusts you. The noble man! It’s killing with kindness. Killing our love with his self-sacrificing kindness. He’s the cad, not I. He’s the cad! . . . And you, Sybil, you can go on like this for ever?’
‘But you must understand, Dorian,’ she said, harassed and desperate. ‘I can’t give it all up at once. There’s something one’s got used to. Don’t you see? It’s a wrench. When one’s used to it for so long . . .’
‘Oh, marvellous, marvellous!’ Dorian laughed. ‘That’s wonderful. A wrench from the humiliations! A wrench from the contempt and the neglect! O God! Still the whipped dog! And your self-respect. Don’t you see he’s insulting you by trusting you. You’re too big a fool or too gutless to go astray. Sybil, for God’s sake, isn’t there anything left in you? You can’t let him freeze you, stifle you out of life. Aren’t you a woman?’
‘I can’t,’ a cry burst from her, sudden, frantic, crazy. ‘I can’t, Dorian. You must understand! . . . Anything for peace! . . . Besides, Alan might improve. He might be different. I must give him a chance.’
Dorian started from her, repelled.
‘Good God! It’s no good. You’re mad about him — in spite of everything! That’s right!’ he was taunting. ‘Wait and see. He might change. He deserves another chance. Wait till you’re forty.’
Sybil rushed to him, terrified she’d lose him.
‘No. I didn’t mean that. I love you, Dorian. But the trouble and the mess. We’ll be in such a mess. And you too, you too must be afraid. Your ambitions? You’ve often told me about your ambitions. What a time we’ll have to go through!’
‘Love and life!’ said Dorian. ‘To-day you can have both. I’ll have both anyhow.’
He said it, confident, defiant, full of an universal scorn. He stood at bay facing the world. He was so dreadless, unblenching, furiously jubilant. And the loathed world was cowed, vanquished. Let them rob him of her, of anything, if they dared. Love and life! No longer a gay-miserable sauntering through the days, the futile aspiring; no longer a brilliant failure. He had beaten the world in the end. The world had thwarted him. But he was avenged now. He was sure of Sybil. He had his book. He was sure of success. He had done down Markham. Yes, Markham — the prize of his triumph over life! He was quits with the world for crossing him so long. He had everything, everything, overwhelmingly.
His dark eyes flashed, irresistible. He was all eyes. The dark, transpiercing light, so close. Sybil was quite won, though her spirit still parried. Only a violent flirtation, it called out, frenzied, dying, only a violent flirtation. He pulled her to him impetuously. He held her fast and covered her with kisses of devastating fury. She was submissive in his arms. A limp child. Their bodies met. No longer could she resist. A thousand violent fires devoured her being. The thousand incisive flame-lashes burnt her through and through, burnt her out of sense and feeling. She was beingless, annihilated in his embrace. All eternity was ransacked for that moment. Then came the cool consciousness of slaked desire, an all-pervading becalmedness of feeling that follows the savage, wanton, leaping, tempestuous gusts of passion.
She disappeared later into her bedroom. She called to him there. He went to the room and found her in bed. The horrid stack of Stopean literature had been removed from the top of the Jacobean chest of drawers and hidden away. She had seen to that.
They smoked and chatted.
‘What about the servants?’ Sybil said in a sudden moment of caution. They were such horrid, ubiquitous, numerous things.
‘Damn them!’ said Dorian.
Yes! She laughed and, shedding suddenly all sense of human prudence, she decided likewise to damn them.
They were feverishly happy. Two joyful children. Happiness, however, came temporarily to an end.
‘You know,’ said Dorian, ‘I have to leave India soon. . . . And you must follow me.’
‘Leave! Oh, you won’t leave me!’ Sybil was in tears. Follow him! That sounded so inconceivable, so absurdly impossible. What about Alan, that ever-present menace, vivid, palpable, inexorable? He didn’t know Alan. Alan was not to be got rid of so easily. That oppressive, horrifying presence loomed as something destined, something fatal, something that was not to be exorcized. ‘You mustn’t leave me! I won’t let you!’
A petulant smile shone through her tears.
‘I have to leave,’ said Dorian. ‘They re after me. Too pro-Indian for their liking. They didn’t like some of my articles to Berlin. Besides, my friendship with poor old Ali Habibullah. I was too thick with him. I was always seen with him. And on Saturday at the races they saw me having a long talk with him just before his attempt on the Governor. Yesterday they questioned me. I’d better go, the police hinted. No, I’m definitely undesirable. I have to leave soon or they’ll kick me out. I —’
A sudden noise came from the veranda. Sybil almost shrieked with fright.
‘Heavens! What’s that?’
Dorian hastened to the bedroom door and peered through the Venetians into the veranda. All was dark. He could see nothing.
‘Oh, it’s nothing!’ he said.
When he came back, he found Sybil weeping violently.
‘Oh, what have I done? What have I done?’ she sobbed out. The vast, slow, sure coils encircled her, winding round and round, vice-like, outletless, remorseless. Markham, immense, ponderous monster, had got at her. He was thrashing her, thrashing her, impassible, deaf, implacable, nagging, nagging, nagging. . . . Oh, she wouldn’t survive it! Ineluctable lash-strokes of flames on the weeping, quivering, huddled heap of shame and misery. ‘Oh, what have I done?’
Then she saw, felt Dorian near her. She turned to him for forgiveness, for sympathy, for strength entreating.
‘Oh, I m sorry, dear,’ she said through her tears. ‘I didn’t mean that. I didn’t, really. . . . I love you. . . .’
She cried on. He fondled her. His kisses were assuaging. She dried her tears. She felt braver. She was smiling. So brave.
‘You re not really leaving India?’ she was saying to him, near, reassuring. ‘You mustn’t leave me! What’ll happen to me!’
‘Perhaps I won’t have to, after all,’ said Dorian blithely. ‘Perhaps I won’t have to. Alan can arrange it for me. He can arrange anything, everything, can’t he? He’ll restore me to favour.’ He laughed. ‘He’ll get me into Government House. He can, really, if he wants to. By Jove, I’ll get there yet! A dinner there for his wife’s lover! The adulterer in Government House! Ha-ha-ha!’
There was a dramatic, rollicking flourish of his hands.
Sybil couldn’t appreciate the Byronic gesture. She was deeply shocked. Adulterer! She shuddered.
‘Oh, Dorian, please! Don’t say things like that.’
‘I’m sorry, darling. . . . Conscience? Oh, darling! For God’s sake! Not for him! Not for that. . . .’
He bent over, kissed her. She forgave him with a tender smile. He held her to him, brutal. The breath of him, warm, vital, there. The essence of his sweet, violent ardency. . . . His strength crushed her . . . delightful, sweet, sweet. . . . Oh, Markham was so far, so far, vanished, dead, quite dead. He never had been.
‘To-morrow, darling, we’ll talk things over. To-morrow . . .’
His whispered parting word caressed her as a gentle fresh breeze. Fearless, utterly joyful, she was in a soft, serene half-sleep. The world was Markhamless. The world was an ineffable dawn-glow, radiant, calm, kind. It smiled. And the barest, whitest, limpidest cloud bore her amid the rosiness, bore her and Dorian, rushing, rushing, madly rushing . . . sweet, sweet, unbearably sweet. . . . And she was smiling, childlike, in Dorian’s arms — strong arms, tender arms. And his eyes were looking into her face, so close, wild eyes, solemn eyes, all of a sudden eyes laughing with an intense gaiety. . . .
And meanwhile Dorian noiselessly left Sybil's bedroom and passed out of the veranda into the garden.
The night was full of crickets. A shot rang out. Then, in the sudden, black, starlit stillness, sudden, desolate, frantic, was a heavy, blunt thud. His long dark figure quivering, reeling for the barest moment, Dorian crashed to the ground without a cry, a bullet through his heart.
Two men sped along the road, mute, elated, exulting.
Inquilab Zindabad! Long live Revolution! Inquilab Zindabad!
Bandé Mataram! The Mother is avenged! Bandé Mataram!
Yet another of the oppressors is dead! Alan Markham the tyrant is dead!
The night was full of crickets. Under the myriad stellar gleams the assassins disappeared into the bushes that banked the road, silencing the chirping in their path.
‘India will not be basely bartered to demagogues and revolutionaries. If the Government fails India, we shall not fail her in the awful hour of trial. For the traitor’s dagger, for the anarchist’s bomb, we have weapons to match. We shall terrorise the terrorists. Our conscience clear, our faith serene, we shall wage a ruthless battle for a boundless loyalty — to man, to God!’
Thus, a half-hour later, the prospective knight, Sir Alan Markham, concluded his speech in Calcutta. The hand was raised aloft. The eye with primal fire transfixed all. Despite a certain rotundity, the figure was imposing, almost tragic.