“So a poor ghost, beside his misty streams,
Is haunted by strange doubts, evasive dreams,
Hints of a pre-Lethean life, of men,
Stars, rocks, and flesh, things unintelligible,
And light on waving grass, he knows not when,
And feet that ran, but where, he cannot tell.”
G. R. Girdlestone
Friend And Skilful Surgeon
In Gratitude And Kindness
Of Durgeswar the guidebooks are silent. The cold-weather tourist does not visit it. It lives to India only; and to a section of India, at that.
Thirteen hundred years ago, Kalidasa, most famous of Sanskrit classical poets, sent a Cloud journeying over the plains and mountains of Central India. He bade it move at leisure, and pause where he commanded. Especially did his love exhort it to linger over Ujjain, his home, a city which the splendours of his verse have set in eternal fairyland—over Ujjain and over Sipra, the river which washed the foundation-stones of its palaces.
Durgeswar is on the Sipra; and also on the Ichchhavati, “the Wilful Stream,” a brook whose waters tumble from the forest-clad Vindhyas, halt abruptly and swing against a rock which makes a pool, withholding them from Sipra, scarcely a hundred yards away. Now there is a section of The Cloud Messenger named and known as “erotic”; and this obscure pool, in the annotation and exposition of the section, is a place of stumbling. The Durgeswar pundits claim that to the poet the brook’s arrest (as of love’s careless happiness confronted with demand for surrender, for sublimation of all straying sportive unfructuous caresses and playfulness—Sipra an impatient bridegroom halted at the very gate of the nymph who has come a virgin from her mountain haunts) stood personified. Think a moment, and you will see how reasonable this interpretation is.
The depths and perils that follow from surrender (that deep strong-flowing tide which carries life’s traffic—and shelters the ravenous tribe of crocodiles) wait almost within sight, with merely the curtain of a cliff interposed. How could the poet have overlooked, or have neglected, a similitude so made for him, and by Nature herself? He loved the Sipra above all other streams! This is “Kalidasa’s Pool.”
But the crux of the question, of course, is the “breezes” stanza, of which I will remind you:
Breezes at dawn from Sipra blow, and bring
Shrill calls of cranes whom Love has moved to sing—
Breezes that off the lotus-blooms convey
Fragrance which from our ladies wafts away
The lassitude of Love’s hot night of stress,
Soothing their bodies like a friend’s caress.
The orthodox commentators—not orthodox in this Central India (which, after all, was the poet’s home) but held for the heaviest and stupidest of heretics—assert that in these lines Kalidasa is not thinking of Durgeswar, and certainly not of this pool in a mountain torrent, but of Ujjain, and of Sipra at Ujjain. To which the Durgeswar pundits point out that the breezes are not spoken of as moving on the face of Sipra’s stream, but as coming from it, wandering sweetly and coolly up the mountain-side (as at dawn breezes do).
Moreover, by the brook is a temple which all the countryside knows as the Kalidasa Temple. It marks the spot where the Goddess Sarasvati, Lady of Music and Poetry, disguised as a forest girl of freshest wildest beauty met the stripling poet and lured him to the dhak-grove (which too you may still find for yourself on the heights that overlook Durgeswar), there revealing herself as above a mortal’s love but not beyond his devotion as her servant. And that huddle of brick and earth alongside the Kalidasa Temple (from here to vanished Ujjain are many such mounds covering what were once splendid mansions) is still held in honour as the site of the poet’s earliest home, before King Vikramaditya, “The Brightness of Prowess,” called him to His capital, to be the Gem among his Nine Gems.
* * *
Every mile of Sipra’s course is memorable with its own legend. We have seen how dear it was to Sarasvati. It has been hallowed also by rishis1 who built their huts beside it, and knew the wiles and loveliness of the forest nymphs and devis whom the Gods stirred to tempt them from their austerities. As naturally as in spring the red flowers sprout from the black and tortured branches of the dhak, ugliest of all trees that have a season when they mask themselves in glory, so naturally did shapes of more than human sweetness rise from the rugged shores of Sipra and the vast solemn wilderness. There were rishis who fell, as well as rishis who resisted and triumphed. And the countryside, if we may judge by the vigour and vivacity of legend, honours both alike, holding that a grove may be memorable for one ecstatic hour no less than for an hour of noble combat. Nay, the very Muslims, not to be without a memory on so great a stream, have their own story of the wooded nook at Fatehpur, “the City of Victory,” which you can just discern, looking up-river from Durgeswar. There is no city at Fatehpur; merely a tomb and an attendant’s house. But there was once a victory there. It was at Fatehpur that the Empress of the Peris, decked in all the jungle’s wonder of Phalgun blossoming, sought to seduce the boy-saint Ali; and veiled her repulse in a shower of rain, as she fled weeping to her fastnesses, her buds and jewels blasted by the fierce breath of mortal sanctity.
And if a trivial brook that shoots down from Vindhya almost in a succession of cataracts bears away with those who know it the distinction of one stanza—the “breezes” stanza of The Cloud Messenger—a river so rich as Sipra can surely afford to relinquish a legend, even (as I say) to a mere mountain-torrent. Justice, as well as logic, seems on the side of the Durgeswar pundits, as against the arrogance which would grasp all for one already over-celebrated stream.
* * *
But Kalidasa and his Cloud, Vikramaditya and his Nine Gems, are an old story. The great family of the Maharanas of Durgeswar is not. Among the freebooting chieftains who founded in the eighteenth century the Maratha principalities of modern India, Chawar the shepherd rose to a fame hardly inferior to that of the other shepherd leader, Holkar of Indore. A lowly origin being familiar to all, the wiser pride does not attempt concealment. The clan which arose to reputation first at Durgeswar, when the first Chawar, a mere commander of twenty men, surprised the rock-fortress, now has its capital elsewhere, at Ryalgarh, five miles away. But no member of it has ever forgotten that it was at Durgeswar that the original warrior shepherd won glory. It remains the Chawar “stamping-ground,” whither all are brought for the last rites, and brought, if possible, even to die, with their almost unconscious limbs lapped by the softly flowing Sipra. Along the river’s banks are the memorials of kings and queens long dead. And of the mass of temples that rise with the towering cliff that was once a fortress, stone and marble cunningly setting their feet in the rock as if a part of it, the noblest is the Temple of Rukmini Bai, the dowager Chawar who was Regent in the last four decades of the eighteenth century. Durgeswar, as its name testifies, is the place of Siva the Lord of Durga; there is a splendid temple to Durga and her husband. But it was an official devotion that built this; and an official devotion continues to minister to its fame. No official devotion, but a deep and glowing pride, lives about the Temple of the deified Rukmini, majestic Lady of the Chawar line. Is it not said that Warren Hastings himself styled her “the ablest and wisest and most honourable Prince of all India”?
As each day passes into dusk with the quick dipping of the sun, the gongs beat to her worship. The wild bees add their hum, rising in clouds from gigantic combs festooning her roof, the accumulation of four generations of the lives of men. The deep music moving slowly over wide-watered shores reaches the peasant in his fields; and he knows the Devi2 herself watches over her folk, and assures them of tutelary protection, in her death as in her life. It is the Angelus of the Sipra villager.
* * *
Yet it is at Ryalgarh, not Durgeswar, that the last four Chawars have held their court. Why? Partly because of the renowned purity of Ryalgarh water, though this is not a reason you could give to the dwellers beside the holy Sipra. Manifestly, no water could be better, for soul’s and body’s health equally, than that which has served such countless rishis and forest devis, both for drink and bathing. Even to-day, when simple faith is so hard pressed by the fables and tyrannies of a godless science and progress-cult, in the spring festival of Siva the stream of Durgeswar is made to overflow by the pilgrim concourse. There could not, therefore, be aught amiss in water which has power to purify the sins of all who enter it. Even to hint at the possibility is impiety, of which we shall not be guilty.
It is to the nature of the terrain behind Durgeswar that we must look for explanation of the migration to Ryalgarh. Of this terrain the country folk tell a story: when the Gods were creating Central India, the dwarves whom they pressed into service as coolies wearied of piling Vindhya parallel with Satpura, and of laying the beams of never-ending hills. In an hour of exhaustion and rebellion they tossed the last of their burdens all together here, a rugged precipitation. The result was admirable as a refuge for a robber chief. It is useless as the capital of one of modern India’s leading chieftains.
And to Mrs. Kennedy, wife of his Resident, the reigning Maharana gave yet a third cause of flight, which the judicious will not dismiss as entirely imaginary. It will emerge in the course of our story.
From Ryalgarh to Delhi is eight hours by train. Mrs. Kennedy, up for Christmas shopping, met Sir John Chalmers at the Red Cross Dance in Maiden’s Hotel.
“You never let us know,” he reproached her.
“Didn’t know myself—till I found I had actually come,” she laughed. “I thought at first I would do everything through the post this year. It saves money. But it isn’t really satisfactory.”
He was sympathetic at once. The economic blizzard has hit no class harder than India’s high officials.
“I know. One has to cut to the bone, with all this world depression.”
But with Lauretta he cheered up.
“Mary’ll never forgive you when she finds you were in Delhi, and never came to us. She’s over there, with the Boyces.”
Lauretta turned to look. Then she said, “You had me for Princes’ Week. I’d promised to stay with the Montmorencys next time I came up. Besides, I hadn’t the face to reappear over your threshold so soon.”
He wanted to say something complimentary. But away from his files his brain refused to think. He rejected, “My dear lady, you have the face for anything,” as vaguely inadequate. And said at last, “Oh, rot! You know Mary and I simply can’t see you too often.” He began to talk about himself.
“I’m turning author.”
She expressed her deep interest (knowing that nothing on earth would prevent its being satisfied). “What are you calling your book?”
“Sport and Work of an Indian Official. Rather good, don’t you think?”
She agreed that it was.
* * *
Dancing had not begun, and there were people she wanted to see. This man, however, knew his conversation was too important to be rationed except by himself. He must be allowed to say what he meant to say; and without interruption, that she might escape the sooner.
“You see, it gets in both sides of my career. It’s being published this autumn. You know I’m going home this April?”
He knew she knew this. She asked about his plans.
“Oh, I shall see Sam Hoare” (a wave of pity swept over her for Sam Hoare; but at any rate, India was about to lose John Chalmers, and the interests of an individual are trivial compared with those of society). “Sam Hoare and the India Office people, and scrounge round a bit. Don’t suppose there’ll be anything straight away. Too many of these job-hunters and politicians nosing round nowadays; they keep out the fellows with experience, don’t you know. If there’s nothing else, I might take a job at one of the ’Varsities. Politics or Economics or Indian History or Geography. You see,” he said modestly, “I got ahead early. I’ve been knocking round where Politics and History were actually being made, pretty well all my time, and have made a goodish bit myself, so naturally I can’t help knowing about them. Besides, I’ve always been interested in them—that is, until I simply had no time for any sort of reading at all, barring my files. And it’s frightfully essential in these times, as Gubbins says, that they get the right men in these jobs, so that the young fellows who may becoming out here come with the right ideas, don’t you know.”
There are men—there were some in this room—who might have noticed that they were talking to a very tired woman. Finding that she was expected to make some comment, she asked, “But those jobs aren’t worth taking, are they?”
“No,” he admitted. “Of course, they aren’t, if you look at it that way. But one has to get what one can. A pension doesn’t go very far in these days, does it?”
She was familiar with the argument. He and her husband began their service together; he was getting more than twice her husband’s pay; he was getting more than the Prime Minister of Great Britain, who has no pension. As he said, he had got ahead early; for most of his career he had been able to put away a large proportion of his receipts. But of course, taxation in England is cruel; and particularly hard on men like Sir John Chalmers.
Suddenly she saw a hole of escape. “There are the Wilsons! I simply must speak to Mona Wilson! Do you mind, John?”
But she was destined to see much more of him this evening. “You’ve got to give me a dance when we can just sit out. There’s a fellow coming to Ryalgarh whom I want to warn you about. It’s frightfully important.” She gave him a dance for this purpose.
* * *
When it came round, he said, “By the way, Lauretta, you’re looking divine to-night.”
People still said this to her, aware that others had been saying it for nearly twenty years.
She thanked him. “But, my dear John—is it altogether tactful to introduce a compliment with ‘By the way’?”
“Afraid I don’t follow—quite.”
“Unfortunately, people are beginning to say what you said just as you said it.”
He wrinkled his brows, and thought. “Do you mind being a bit explicit?”
“Oh, it doesn’t matter.”
“But it does. I don’t like feeling I’ve slipped up on something, or haven’t understood something people were saying.”
“Well, you can take it from me that to come here, where one has been coming for almost donkeys’ years, and to see all the fresh young creatures just out from home, is as good as a mirror to a woman. In fact, it’s better. As revealing, but a little more painless.”
“Why, did I say anything wrong? I only meant to be nice to you.”
“Oh, nothing wrong.”
“You see, I had something on my mind. I was thinking about something else.”
“Quite. There was a man you wanted to warn me against. If it’s John Barrymore, you needn’t. I’ve ceased to be one of his fans.”
“It’s a fellow called Rattray.”
“Yes. Rattray. That’s the name. Philip Rattray.”
“Not Mr. Rattray who was in Ryalgarh before the War?”
He woke up.
“You’ve heard about him, then? Of course. I’d forgotten, for the moment, that he used to be in Ryalgarh—though it’s that which makes his coming now such a nuisance.”
“I’ve met him,” she said, withdrawing into herself, and giving him no more than a watchful flicker of attention. “Ages ago.”
“The deuce you have!”
“I was visiting in Ryalgarh soon after the War broke out, staying with the Grimsdales. Mr. Rattray had just been commissioned in the Army.”
“Well, he’s in India again.”
“What’s he doing?”
“Special Correspondent for a real bad rag—one of these regular bolshy rags that pretend to be moderate and patriotic and all that.”
“But aren’t really?” She knew the rest of this piece.
“Quite.” He liked talking to Lauretta; she was so quick to take a point. “Mind you, I’m all for political advance when Indians show they’re fit for it.” She knew the rest of this piece also; but she could listen charmingly. “We’ve given our word, and of course we’ll keep it, as soon as ever we’re dead sure that going ahead won’t mean that the mass of the people suffer.”
It was Lauretta’s turn to say, “Quite.” She added, “But tell me about Mr. Ratt—Mr. Rattigan, was it?”
“No. Rattray. Philip Rattray. Rattray. Got it?”
“Rattray. Philip Rattray. Yes, I think I’ve got it.”
“Well, he’s a writing fellow now, though he used to be in the Educational Service. These writing fellows can be a nuisance, especially when they’ve been out here and have picked up a smattering of facts—and so-called facts—which they think is the whole sub cheez.3 And the worst of it is, Lauretta—” He dropped his voice.
She was now listening intently. Providence had been kind in bringing the news—not that it was of any importance—through that impercipient creature man. A woman might have noticed.
And it was kind of Providence to have chosen not just any man, but this particular man. Sir John Chalmers was known as “the Rhino.” He called up a vision of power and bulk aided by close little eyes and directness of purpose. The combination could burst through any jungle.
She had to find him another dance, to complete the opening up of his mind.
* * *
“Your Maharana met him at the Round Table Conference.”
“That was quite natural, wasn’t it? Mr. Rattray is a journalist who was once in Ryalgarh, and must have known the Maharana as a boy.”
“Quite. That’s just IT! It seems that this fellow Rattray used to be rather a hero of his. He could play games a bit, and was rather a dashing sort of fellow, don’t you know. He was a professor at the College in Ryalgarh, and for a time took on being private tutor to your fellow. Well, they met again in London, and he rather got round your man and they say he influenced his ideas quite a lot. In fact, Gubbins was saying that he believed it was because of Rattray that your fellow has begun to go wrong.”
Lauretta had her own theories as to why the Maharana was beginning to go wrong. But she could imagine Phil as a contributing cause. And for this reason (among others) she hoped his Ryalgarh visit was going to be brief.
“He writes, doesn’t he?” she asked. “I mean, books as well as articles in papers.”
“That’s just the trouble. He was always a bit of a bolshy, even when he was out here. Then he insisted on taking a commission in the War.”
She remembered this also.
“And of course the War spoiled him, as it spoiled a whole lot of fellows. He was all restless when he came back. Presently we tumbled to the fact that he was doing H.H. no good; also, we didn’t see why a fellow who was just a college usher should have any influence at all. The Resident got wrathy, and said H.H. paid a lot too much attention to him. H.H. was having the sort of political measles that once in a while gets hold of a Prince, and was talking about starting full self-government in Ryalgarh, and making himself what he called a constitutional monarch. Other Princes were watching and getting nervy. It came to this, that the Political Secretary wrote to Rattray and told him his job was to stick to telling his chaps how to paraphrase Shakespeare and Macaulay, and to realise once for all that it was no business of his to take an interest in higher matters. I understand he got a pretty pert answer.”
If he did, it was hardly surprising, seeing his technical right to tick off a person in one of the All-India Services was doubtful, however informally he did it. Lauretta, noting in her confidant a survival as heavily out of keeping with his landscape as the absolutely last iguanodon must have been, was weary and interested at once. She remembered that phase of post-War insolence and blindness, an Administration utterly unaware of what fierceness had been eddying elsewhere, or was beginning to eddy underneath its own hitherto unrocked stability. Mr. Edwin Montagu’s “pathetic contentment” has applied to others than the Indian masses; and in the eyes of everyone but their happy selves goes home to many who have used it with scorn. It was a favourite quotation of the Rhino, whose contentment was notorious—and to most people seemed pathetic in the extreme.
“Yes,” Sir John continued. “But that wasn’t all. This fellow Rattray’s a meddling sort of fellow. And just after the War” (he did not even remember the year, of what had been bitten so deeply into millions, in ineradicable memories of starvation!) “there was what these Nationalists called a famine. But the truth is, they don’t know what a famine is, nowadays. You’ll call me a regular sun-dried bureaucrat for saying that, Lauretta.”
“No,” she said. “I know it’s true—up to a point. ‘Jeshurun waxed fat and kicked.’ You might put that as the frontispiece to any History of Indian Nationalism. All the same, there was a shortage. I remember it.”
“Quite. Just a shortage—especially in certain parts. But these fellows called it a famine. In his College vacation Rattray took it on himself to do relief work outside his own particular place and job, and got all excited. I suppose,” the Rhino philosophised, “if you haven’t had experience you don’t know how to see things in proportion. And then, of course, there had been the War, which to many of these fellows was the only thing that had ever happened; and, just because it had upset them, they thought everyone ought to be upset and that the whole system of India ought to be turned upside down. However, those of us who had had the job of carrying on, while these fellows had the excitement, didn’t agree with Mr. Rattray and his kind. Well—you won’t believe what he did—”
“Oh, yes, I shall. I’ve heard something about it, from many people.”
“He got the idea that our economic system out here was all wrong, and that Government’s finance—which, as you know, has taken generations of fellows a damn sight abler and wiser than him to work out and perfect—was mean and shabby. He wrote to the Governor of the Province where he had seen fit to offer his assistance, and urged him to close down what he called Imperial Expenditure—he said that with the Allies completely victorious, and the whole world exhausted, they could even afford to let armaments rip for a while, and use the money during what he called ‘this breathing-space’ for what were, frankly, Lauretta, just Socialist measures. His Excellency was very decent about it, and asked to see him. I don’t know everything that happened, but what with one thing and another Rattray went on to criticise what he called the extravagance of official methods, and their wasting money on show and their own amenities—he said the whole system of letting the Princes squander what he called their people’s money was rotten and absolutely iniquitous, and that our own Governments cared a sight too much for their own buildings and their own comfort. And then H.E. let him have it—as I should have done long ago! Do you know what Rattray did?”
“Ah! Well, he told H.E. what he thought about him, in five or six crisp sentences — ”
“I must say I envy him that!” said Lauretta, startled into betrayal of her thoughts.
The Rhino generously ignored this. “Then he resigned double quick, so that H.E.’s disciplinary proposals to H.M. Government came as a dud shot.”
“I shall certainly ask Mr. Rattray to dinner,” she said, smiling. “If only to tell me what he said to H.E.”
“That’s what we want you to do. Gubbins said to me, ‘If only Mrs. Kennedy would pet the fellow a bit and talk to him!’ And I said, ‘Quite.’ It’s the sort of thing that makes a difference to these writing fellows. Hardly one of them has known a decent woman who’s been civil to them.”
“We could ask him to stay with us, if you think that would help.”
“Oh, I shouldn’t do that!” said Sir John, rightly shocked. “He’s not the kind of fellow a woman like you ought to waste much time on. After all—a fellow who was in one of the Services himself, and cleared out and became a writing fellow! Gubbins says—”
“He doesn’t write badly.”
“That’s not the point,” said the Rhino with severity. “The point is, he writes; and writes for bolshy papers. And what he did’s enough for me. To clear out of India now, when things are going to the dogs as hard as we’ll let them—it’s not a thing any decent fellow would have done! You can take it from me, Lauretta, any fellow who’s been in India and writes is a wrong ’un.”
She admitted this. “He is, usually.”
“And they tell me he’s gone sheerly gaga in politics. And this is the real point.” Lauretta started, finding that the Rhino had hitherto done nothing but preliminary flattening of bushes in his way. “Your neighbour, H.H. of Giansi, has asked him to go to him as what he chooses to call Minister for Education.”
Again he had drawn that direct gaze of astonished interest.
“Yes. It sounds absurd. But it’s a fact. We may have something to say about it, if it comes to anything—though it’s deuced awkward having to tell a nominally independent Prince that he can’t have an Englishman he has himself invited to enter his service.”
“Very awkward. How will you manage it?”
“Well, we’ve got our power of veto. But if we use it, he and his bolshy friends may find out and make a fuss. So I’ve had the India Office collect a file of some of the things Rattray’s been writing. When I’ve had time to go over them I may show ’em to Giansi and ask him what about them? Is he going to stand for a fellow who writes things like that? That might be one way. But the best way would be if someone like you could head him back to England.”
“When’s Mr. Rattray coming to Ryalgarh?”
“Gubbins told me, in about three weeks.”
“I’ll do what I can.”
“I told Gubbins I was sure you would.”
* * *
To-night’s mêlée was a packed one. The admiration with which her figure was followed as it was swept into the waves and lost was doubly justified whenever the gazer knew who she was. She was a woman who kept her secret (that is, ignored the fact that everyone knew it). Her person’s trim perfection was an outward and visible sign of inward valour.
Philip Rattray was in Delhi a week later, staying with his old brigadier, Sir B. R. A. Wilson (“Braw Laddie” Wilson). The General had to reason with him.
“You can’t just slip into a State where you were stationed, as if you owned the place. In ordinary decency, you’ve got to report to the Resident, and let him know you’re there.”
“I don’t feel like calling on Kennedy.”
“I daresay not. But you damn well must.”
“But why, sir?”
“Oh, because it’s done, Rattray, because it’s done! How often have I got to keep on telling you to toe the line, and be a decent social human? You want to argue—after being in the Army for four and a half years! I used to tell you—and by God! it was true—that you were the most insubordinate staff-captain I ever had. You always wanted reason for doing a thing!”
“Only because I liked understanding a business.”
“Well—you’ll call on Kennedy, just to save him from feeling annoyed if he hears that a journalist has been staying in Ryalgarh, and reporting God knows what about things there. You must put away the idea that you’re calling on Kennedy. We all know what he is. You’re calling on a bit of the British Raj, that has the right to know what other bits—”
“Even wandering journalistic bits?”
“Even wandering damned seditious bolshy journalistic bits,” said Braw Laddie ferociously. “What they are doing—particularly if they impinge on his corner. Personally, I’ve no use for Kennedy, and never met anyone who had.” He paused, to collect the fitting phrase, which we may mitigate into “blighter of the first water”—the Army has a one-syllabled word for such cases. He then added the extenuating circumstances, as was usual when Kennedy’s name came up. “He’s a mannerless clown, of course. They used to speak of him as H.G.I.—‘His Gauche Incompetence’—H.H. and H.G.I. of Ryalgarh—until Lauretta found out, and fellows realised how it hurt her. But Kennedy can’t help it altogether, poor devil. One drink knocks him absolutely blotto. Can you beat it? One drink, Philip! Damned rotten luck, but he simply can’t carry it. When he was A.G.G.4 at Goalpur his servants used to pick him up every night and cart him to bed. Just truss him up and tuck him in! It got so that he simply couldn’t attend State functions unless Lauretta sent his bearer round first with a special bottle labelled ‘whisky’ but actually containing lemonade. That’s why he’s been at Ryalgarh so long. The Goalpur States were too important a job for a man who let the Raj down every time he dined, except when he was strictly on the water wagon. They say Lauretta’s managed to pull together the nasty bits that are left and tie them up into something that just passes—for Ryalgarh! If you want to do her a favour—as you will when you meet her; and of course you’ll call, and of course you’ll dine with them—you’ll say you yourself are a virulent t.t. Health was the reason they gave for sending him as mere Resident to Ryalgarh after having been A.G.G. at Goalpur. Lauretta’s grateful to anyone who helps her to get Jim through this last lap, until she can bury him somewhere in Oxford or Cheltenham.”
He saw Rattray’s troubled face; and, misinterpreting it, went on, “Yes, it’s a poor show. Mind you, I don’t want to give you the notion that the man’s a drunkard! If he were, it wouldn’t be so bad, in a way. But he isn’t. He’s depressing in the extreme. But if he were an ordinarily made fellow he could put away his bottle of whisky a night, if he felt so inclined, as other fellows do, and provided he didn’t mix his drinks too much he’d be all there at the end and as right as rain next morning. As I say, it’s just sheer foul luck.” And Braw Laddie paused again, this time to brood on the ways of Providence, which deals out its gifts so diversely, and to some is so ungenerous. “We had them up for the Pindi Horse Show in 1929, and Lauretta made me go on the water wagon myself the whole time. I did it—for her sake. But, boy! it was a tough week! They tell me it isn’t safe now to have soda or anything fizzy near Jim Kennedy, for it puts his mind on what ought to go with it. He’s such a poor thing anyway, I think he might by way of compensation have been given an ordinary head for liquor. However, we’ve got to take ourselves as the Lord has been pleased to make us, and to do the best we can.”
On this pious note the argument closed. Philip promised to call at the Residency.
It was pitch-dark when the train reached Ryalgarh, a branch line of little traffic, at the inconvenient hour of four in the morning. The Christmas rains, which some call the mango rains, in 1933 fell late, on January 13 and 14. They were still a mist in the air, two days later, when Philip reached Ryalgarh.
A young man peering about with a lantern found his carriage. “You are Mr. Rattiri, isn’t it? My name is Kelkar. I am one of Mr. Drake’s ish-students. Mr. Drake is very sorry he cannot come. So sorry. He is not well. Too old.”
Drake must be (Philip mentally calculated, dismissing from his mind the conscientiously active figure he knew in pre-War days) not far short of seventy; sixty-five, at any rate. It would have been unreasonable to expect him to turn out in the cold and dark. The explanation was adequate.
Mr. Kelkar apologised for his brother’s absence also. His brother was Foreign Minister of Ryalgarh State; it was he who in London had conveyed His Highness’s invitation to be a State guest. He had pressed the invitation with an altogether charming insistence, so that Philip, with reasons for and against revisiting Ryalgarh equally poised, had given way. “My brother, he is sorry, so sorry. But he is at Gwalior, on special duty for His Highness.”
On their way to Drake’s bungalow, his guide told Philip, “His Highness is very eager to see with you. He has consented to give you an audience at ten-thirty this morning. He says he is sorry he cannot have privilege of entertaining you as honoured State guest in his own guest-house, but he quite understands that you will wish to be with old friend Mr. Drake. But car has been placed at disposal, and chauffeur has orders to be at College every morning and go where you wish.”
Philip knew this princely hospitality of India, given with negligent disdain to every foreigner who can muster up interest enough for letters of introduction. A car would be at his beck and call; a young man in attendance to take him to any city or sight of importance. He need hardly even affix his own postage stamps! But the Prince, in waiving the jealously kept ceremony of letting him first pay formal respects and then await notification of an “audience,” had indicated that he did not propose to forget old acquaintance and the more recent friendliness of intercourse in London.
“I myself,” said Mr. Kelkar in going, “have His Highness’s orders to attend you. I am entering State service after I have passed B.A. this year. And His Highness has appointed me to be in charge of State guests for this year also.”
Philip was shown to his room in Drake’s bungalow.
A servant brought tea and toast, for which, after the chill drive, he was grateful. He poured out a cup, and lay down under a mosquito-curtain on the bed, merely taking off his coat and shoes. As he did not intend to let himself go to sleep, there was no point in undressing.
* * *
For two hours he lay awake, unable to take hold on reality again. The bustling post-War years of journalism and politics and literature—very ineffective years, so far as his own share in them went—seemed so much pottering. While with others, it was easy to fool yourself that writing and talking mattered. But there is no human activity which so swiftly becomes dead cold ashes. The most important meeting, crowded out with eager faces, within twenty-four hours is over—“and that’s all you can say for it,” he told himself. “It’s as far away as anything that happened in Babylonian times, and as sheerly just historical.” The most dazzling and enthralling novel—“it kept me fascinated till the last page”; “it is safe to say that no reader who once takes it up can set it down till she has reached the last sentence”; “for me at least this is The Book of the Year—its perusal an experience absolutely unforgettable—vivid, memorable, exciting”—when mid-summer or Christmas arrives is pushed away like the withered leaves of autumn, swept into some corner where no gardener will again bother to pick it out. Or if here and there a book appears to persist, a Spanish Farm or A Passage to India, it is not to what we used confidently to style “literary immortality,” but to a life that is merely a tenuous unnoticeable trickle in the roaring abundance of the age. As for the articles in which, week by week, our magazines untangle the world’s perplexities, they have (thought Philip, himself a considerable contributor of them) Friday afternoon, Saturday, and in remote rectories a chance of survival through part of Sunday. Occasionally some essay he had written in The New Statesman or the defunct Nation had stirred a momentary annoyance in august circles. Sometimes he had brought out a book, delicately and cautiously half commended by The Times Literary Supplement, with reprimands for erring patches and suggestions that “Mr. Rattray, as the reader will scarcely require to be told, is a tendentious as well as lively writer”; given an occasional deliberately friendly boost by some journalist who knew nothing of India but regarded Philip Rattray as a decentish fellow, with brains after a queer fashion. It made little difference to sales, either way; and it was hard to decide which kind of tribute, the warily semi-respectful or the noisily ignorant, gave the author deeper (or shallower) gratification. However, he had carried on; and longevity counts in English letters, almost more than any other quality. At last he seemed to be gathering a tiny public of his own, which saw past his surface activities to the truth that he was essentially a dreamer, with in his dreams a tinge of romantic idealism rendered just respectable by some knowledge of reality. The signs were that if he continued, he would, given reasonable luck, be a minor celebrity just about the time he should be due to die—in another thirty years, say. The Times would give him close on half a column, written (as those notices are—let us lose no fairly come-by chance of paying tribute to excellence, for this is a world strewn with the trivial and the impudently casual) with sympathy, knowledge, fairness. Even if he died now, he would probably get a third of a column, for he had been a rather interesting man, and to some people when met as attractive as to others he was detestable. And it was by no means always those who thought as he did, who found Philip Rattray most attractive.
He had wasted the twelve years since he had been here last.
* * *
Yet there are jobs to do—sane and useful jobs that really get something forward. He had once had one of these, in this very Ryalgarh. And temptation had returned his way, with this offer from the Giansi Maharaja that he had just accepted. He was under no illusions as to Giansi’s character; the Maharaja was one of those Princes who are always playing with the idea of employing foreigners. He would put you to the expense of joining him; and then, in some freak back out of his contract. Or it would be merely some mood of parsimony—alarmed at his mounting expenditure, he would satisfy disquiet by cutting a trivial item here and another there, and by telling you he could not afford your services. Philip risked all this, however.
Even in the dimness of the drive from the station enough had loomed out of the double mist of night and his own memory, to stab his thought into wonder whether he had not been a fool. The silliest and cheapest kind of fool, a vain opinionated one. The tragedy was, he had only part of his mind in the world that thinks and scribbles, or has time for just the scribbling only. He liked doing things, and power and responsibility.
He thought, Government is bound to hear soon of what is proposed; and I am far from persona grata at Delhi. He said to himself pessimistically, Delhi will never let the Maharaja carry his contract through.
* * *
He was growing drowsy when he dreamt he heard a stirring in the next room. The dream was broken by Drake, in dressing-gown and slippers, shuffling in.
“Hullo, old man! Rotten of me not to be at the station.”
“Not at all. That train comes in at an infernal hour.”
Philip raised himself on his elbow, then decided to get up altogether. While he had been brooding (possibly he had even been asleep in some fashion), his things had been unpacked and put away. He took his own dressing-gown out of an almira, and put it on. And grew wakeful enough to see his friend’s face closely.
The first shock was that Drake’s hair had gone white. The second was a jerking, twisted limp as he led the way to the veranda, the more noticeable in such a big man.
“Arthritis,” Drake explained, dragging a chair towards his guest, and sinking himself into another. “No, not so bad as yet. But bad enough to keep me from going to meet that morning train.”
“I should think so!”
“It’s in the family. I’d an uncle who was crippled with it for years before he died. I might have known India would make it a certainty for me sooner or later. Oh, well! I did know; but I thought it worth it, since I was likely to get it anyway. I hope you’re not feeling cold?”
“Not I. But what about you, old man? You ought not to be sitting out here at this hour.”
“That’s all right. After you’ve been in the East as long as I have, you look on cold as a luxury. Besides, it’ll pass off quickly enough, now the sun’s above the horizon. We’ll shout for some hot tea,” Drake concluded, and pulled himself to his feet.
Philip jumped up. “No, you stay here, and let me shout. I know where your godowns are.”
“Right-oh. I’m a bit earlier than my boy usually reckons. But he ought to be about by now.”
When the tea had been brought, Drake asked, “What’s this about your going to join Giansi?”
“I suppose everyone in India’s heard of it,” said Philip, needlessly crestfallen.
“Of course. Everyone that’s the least bit interested. Don’t forget,” said Drake, stooping over and sipping his tea with the luxuriousness of old age seeking warmth above all else, “it was an Eastern book that warned us that whatever we say in secret will be bawled from the house-tops.”
“No, talked about on the house-tops,” said Philip, whom his journalistic, and especially his reviewing, activities had thrust into possession of a vast amount of unrelated useless knowledge.
Drake did not push this aside as pedantry. “I see,” he said, interested. “Yes, that would be it—when the women were dawdling about on the flat roofs in the evening, exchanging scandal with their neighbours. Well, anyway, it comes to the same thing.”
“But no one mentioned the matter to me when I was in Delhi, though I saw Willingdon and all the Secretariat fellows.”
“Willingdon probably didn’t know. He wouldn’t be interested in your affairs, beyond the general fact (of which no doubt he was warned) that you were a journalist and a bad hat generally. And the old boy wouldn’t let that unduly bother him after he met you, if he found you to be a reasonably human creature—as of course you are.”
“I hope so. It’s loathsome being just a fellow who writes, when the world is run by chaps who do things far jollier and far better paid! Every writer, to keep himself aware of how utterly trivial his job and his enthusiasms are, ought to read The Tatler from end to end each week. He’d be left in no doubt then as to how much literature counts for.”
“Perhaps,” said Drake, slowly and thoughtfully going off at a tangent, “that’s why you’ve never been as much at home in writing as you should have been. Because you were fussed with yourself for being a writer, and more than half despised yourself.”
“I suppose so. But when I left India it seemed the right thing to do—for me.”
“And doesn’t now? Have a cheroot?”
“Thanks, no. I’ll smoke a pipe. I’ve got one in my pocket in there.” When he returned, he replied, “I’m not sure. But if I were—”
“If you were, you wouldn’t be thinking hard about an offer from notoriously the most unstable of India’s unstable Rajas—and their name is Legion.”
Philip hesitated, wondering to himself, as he blew through his pipe, then filled it. “It’s gone further than that,” he said at last.
“I’ve accepted Giansi’s offer. Three weeks ago.” He went on, “If Giansi lets me down I can go back to journalism.”
“Yes. After a fashion.”
“Why ‘after a fashion’?”
“How old are you, Phil?”
“Do you think a man of forty-six can afford to drop out of what they call ‘the literary world’ for a day more than three months at the outside? You’d find yourself forgotten when you tried to get back after wasting—shall we say a couple of years with Giansi? It’s only when you’re under thirty that you can afford to chuck writing for a while. Isn’t that so? Or am I wrong, watching the whole game from over here?”
“No. The damnable thing is, you’re plumb right. All the same, I mean to risk it. I want to be doing something again.”
“Yes. You’d be happier.”
“Much happier. I’ve learnt that.”
* * *
Dawn had passed into the clear crisp sweetness of an Indian January day, noisy with kokils flinging gusto of their madness abroad—a crying that mixed, if the different senses can hold any intercommunion, with the fresh exhilarating fragrances and easy flowing coolness of the air. Both men thought back to days when such an hour would not have been wasted sipping tea on a veranda. And both noted that for the other a whole period of life had gone by beyond expectation swiftly.
Drake said, “If I’d thought of it I’d have had a horse from the State cavalry here for you.”
“Never mind. I’d rather take this chance of talking to you.” He frowned. “You were saying that Willingdon wouldn’t fash himself, even if he were told that a man in permanent disgrace with the Powers is proposing to insinuate himself again into the august job of running this country. But I say that neither Willingdon nor anyone else in Delhi knew. Giansi’s dewan told me it was all strictly confidential.”
Even as he said this his voice quavered; it sounded so childish to cite as evidence anything that either Giansi or his dewan said.
“Then how do you suppose I knew?”
“I can’t guess. Except that you always were a fellow who knew more than the next ten men.”
“That’s true,” said Drake, adding with pride, “I’ve always been a fellow that other fellows told things to. However, in this case it was in Delhi that I first heard.”
“Delhi!” Philip’s frown returned.
“Heard it from no less than three chaps independently, two British and one Indian. I’m prepared to bet you never get to Giansi.”
“He’s given me a contract, all signed and O.K. It reached me at Gwalior, and I’ve brought it along with me.”
“I know about the contract, too. And I know that he’s already received a pretty frank—not to say menacing—preliminary intimation that His Majesty’s Government does not view favourably his proposal to appoint Mr. Philip Rattray, I.E.S. Retired, as his Minister for Education. If he wants an English Minister, there are plenty of sound I.C.S. Retired who will take on the job to the complete satisfaction of the Paramount Power. Phil,” he asked suddenly, “have you ever been to the Zoo when you were in London?”
“Not lately, I’m afraid.”
“A bad oversight. I always make a point of going when I visit England. Take my advice: go again: and go to the bear pit, and buy a tin of treacle from the attendant. Hold it on a long pole just out of one bear’s reach, and then quickly pass it to another bear. Watch the anguish on the first bear’s face as he sees the treacle disappearing from him! And you will know the suffering of the I.C.S. when they see a job marked as their special perq. being handed to an outsider and a heathen utterly uncovenanted.”
We know that the Indian Services are an efficient family. But they are not an extravagantly affectionate one; the I.C.S., in particular, are short of friends outside their own ranks. The narrator has no choice but to set Drake’s words down. But the reader will disregard them, as envious and erratic.
* * *
Philip brooded over this sedition in silence. Because he had friends in the Services, he had been ass enough to assume that his Giansi appointment would be taken as merely a welcoming back of a lost companion. It takes the mind a considerable while to accept the judgment of ourselves which others hold.
“That,” said Drake presently, as if exploring Philip’s reflections since his return to India, “is the answer to what I expect you have heard people saying. You’ve been hearing yarns of growing corruption, haven’t you? That the Administration isn’t what it used to be—at any rate, honest?”
“Yes,” admitted Philip reluctantly. “I have. Pretty well everywhere I went. I own, it’s worried me a lot. It doesn’t all seem Congress propaganda; I mean, people seem to believe it now, which they never did before. I know, of course, that there has always been this kind of gup about certain districts—one outrageous case set everyone gleefully generalising about one particular stretch of Western India about ten years ago, for example. But this is a different kind of gup.”
“It is. And it’s no use denying that there was a bad patch just after the War when some of the Services—we needn’t bother to specify them—got in a lot of scallywags, who didn’t see why they shouldn’t collect a bit on the side. And of course we know what the railways have always been like; and they’ll get worse, with all this enforcement of cuts and economy.”
“I don’t mind any of that. But the higher Services’ reputation does worry me, though I’m no longer a Government man myself and I cleared out without any pension. I can’t help worrying about our good name.”
“Then wake up, Phil, and simply admit what everyone outside our Rip Van Winkle circles in India knows—that people are noticing where they never used to notice. I know they are talking of bribery as they never used to talk of it. But it isn’t that they mean, even though they say it. You can take it from me that they’re wrong, if they do; and you can prove it to yourself by argument. You know India well enough to be able to say what is the real sin of official circles out here. It’s notoriously place-hunting—always has been, since Clive’s time. In Kipling’s day, when we never dreamed that anyone would ever have the infernal impudence to criticise us, we treated it as a joke. Now the world is getting too damned poor and too bad-tempered to be able to afford all the jokes it once had. But anyway, it clean knocks out the bribery gup. For where you have a community that’s financially corrupt, you don’t have this incessant intrigue and place-hunting. Now, do you?”
The argument is not quite on the surface. But it can be found and traced with a little trouble. Philip thought he got it; and nodded.
“Some people at home,” he said, “are worrying a lot about what they call the slump in character since the War. I suppose,” he added slowly, “we’ve all lost a certain amount of character. Only, it’s pleasanter to imagine that it’s merely the jazzy young, who make such a row about their wickedness, who have slumped in this fashion. And that we have somehow kept free.”
“Well, we haven’t.”
* * *
A servant announced that the guest’s hot water was ready.
“You’d better have your clean-up,” said Drake. “Then we’ll breakfast a bit early, to get you to the Palace in good time. As to what we’ve been discussing, you may be interested to know that your going to Giansi has been the most fiercely argued gossip in the Club for some weeks. By the way, when was it that Giansi first approached you?”
“Why?” asked Philip, surprised. “I think it was some time last August.”
“Ah! we knew before that! Well, we’ve argued it pro and con, and forth and back—our Resident’s particularly wrathy about it—and the general opinion is that Giansi has asked you because he’s thoroughly seditious at heart and has been playing with Congress. And now he knows that he’s likely to have civil disobedience started in his State; and if H.M. Government drops on him and asks him, What about it? he wants to be able to say, ‘Well, I have done my best. I am employing an Englishman to keep all my schools loyal. And I’ve given him a place in my Executive Council, so that he can advise me and help me against anyone who is unfriendly to the Paramount Power.’”
“I see,” said Philip. “When a sacrifice is demanded by angry Heaven I am to be the ram providentially caught by the horns in a thicket.”
“Quite. The civil disobedience will be in spite of the Maharaja’s excellent intentions, and because of his English Minister’s inefficiency and imbecility.”
“And former bad record!”
* * *
It was at breakfast that Philip ventured to ask, with elaborate casualness, “What sort of a Resident have you? Pretty depressing, by all accounts.”
His friend returned casualness for casualness. “Yes. But he serves, like Milton’s Satan, to illustrate the kindly ways of Providence, which has placed him as a foil. We’ve a herb of grace and healing growing beside our poison-plant. Do you remember Miss Lauretta Graham, who was staying in Ryalgarh the very week you left us? She’s Mrs. Kennedy.”
“I remember her,” said Philip idly. Then, “It’s been as disillusioning, this return, as they say coming to England is to any Indian who’s really anglophile. I don’t care a damn about the changes that most folk are deploring—about what a woman on the boat called the growing cheekiness of the natives—or the way shikar has gone off. It’s the mental change that’s so rotten. There never were so many putrid yarns about.”
“I’ve had to live through it happening.”
“Yarns not told simply as good yarns. We all get a certain imaginative pleasure in thinking that the Great and Good are at heart pretty poor stuff. But these yarns are told with what looks like belief, and I believe is belief!”
Drake agreed. “Everyone, British or Indian, now wants to think the worst of everyone else.”
“Take the Maharana of this place. You know what a charming boy he used to be. I loved that boy when I was here before.”
“You’ll find he’s still a charming fellow.”
“I know that. I met him quite a bit in London. But is he really? I don’t care how decent he seems, if in fact he’s a rotter. He’ll be only one of a score of Princes who are society pets in England. Drake, is he decent?”
“I think so. Of course I don’t know what you’ve been hearing.”
“They say he’s going the way his father and grandfather went.”
“That’s a lie, at any rate! I knew his father, just as you did—”
“Yes. And I thought him rather a fine old boy.”
“So he was. The only trouble was, he suffered, as a fellow once put it in a confidential report, ‘from excessive muliebriety.’ He spent his time thinking about pretty women and where he could get hold of them. But this very fact has saved his son. It’s like what they say about confectioners, that when they take on an assistant they let her run amuck through the sweets, and that one week of it gives her a perfect loathing of sweets for the rest of life. This boy was brought up to look on women as sugared dolls, which you pawed and petted and then ate. And you can take it from me, he detests them, except his own Maharani. Honestly, Phil!”
* * *
Philip in his youth had been lent to Ryalgarh by the Educational Service. There was nothing strange in his return. Yet when Drake introduced Lauretta Graham’s name in that explanatory, glancing fashion, he wondered. Drake could not suppose any journalistic duty reinforced his friend’s obvious reason for revisiting a State where he had once served. What was there that any English paper could possibly care to know about a second-rate kingdom in Central India, unless its Prince became enamoured of a film star or misbehaved in some spectacular manner, thereby leaping into importance for a sex-crazed age?
But the shadow that our own inner thought casts on others’ knowledge of us is less than we imagine. Perhaps Drake did not know, after all. It was close on twenty years ago, a space which, as Arnold observes,
All meaning from a name.
The car set at Philip’s disposal drew up. Looking at his wrist-watch, he saw that it was nearly time for his “audience.”
If you regard the Princes as outside opinion (and, increasingly, Indian opinion) regards them, as merely noblemen who have kept feudal powers and some feudal privileges, the ring of ritual which Philip entered at the Palace seems ludicrous. Yet in reality it is only some twenty years out of date. Ruritania, swept out of Europe by the blast of the World War, has kept its last provinces in India. That is all.
Nor is it so long since noble folk in England, the home of democracy, thought themselves of some material better than human clay. Lady Carlisle of Queen Victoria’s reign could tell her symptoms to the poor physician and receive his respectful suggestions only through the medium of her maid seated midway between them. Of course the War, and especially the last years, have changed all this; and all classes in Great Britain are now on an equality in everything except the success with which they have made use of their chances. But Victoria’s reign is recent enough for old men to remember that privileged orders once existed.
* * *
He was enveloped with a clatter of cavalry on snow-white horses—the Ryalgarh “Household Brigade.” They moved like a forest of scarlet banners; Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane was a less umbrageous affair. Cries of “H–lt!” rang out; a salute of flashing swords followed. Then a band of chaprasis5 in purple frocks and golden sashes encompassed the dazzled Englishman. And fairyland had another captive, inside a hall hung with portraits of former Chawars. Here Philip waited, while His Highness was asked if he found it convenient to keep the appointment he had voluntarily offered.
His Highness did find it convenient. Preceded by five clashing troopers and a shining major-domo, Philip moved to the royal study, a simple room made for work and plenty of it. Here ceremony vanished, with the suddenness of ignited gunpowder. He was to find, as he had found before, that this Prince, like other Princes, inside the fence of his pomp could be, and was, as straightforward and sensible as a man who has no dignity to preserve but that of personal character. The door was opened, Philip was merely directed to go in. A friendly, manly voice said, “Come in, Mr. Rattray!” As he did so, His Highness rose from his desk, precluding all formality with outstretched hand.
“Well?” he said shyly; and smiled.
* * *
Every Indian Prince has three reputations. First, there is his official one, with English Conservative papers and in English political circles. This is somewhat stereotyped: all Princes are patriotic, but in a level-headed useful fashion; all are devoted to the British connection. They represent the real India, which would move slowly, cautiously, wisely. They realise that progress must inevitably, indeed necessarily, be gradual, and of a nature to safeguard the interests of the toiling millions of India as well as of British commerce.
Yet even in excellence there can be varying tints and shades. We may distinguish between the Princes who are charming socially (as well as statesmanlike) and those who are politically active, so that they lead their fellows. The Maharana of Durgeswar would not easily attain to this latter class, for his kingdom was not quite of importance to give him the proper status. He promised well, however; his two speeches at the First Round Table Conference had made some impression. His official reputation, then, was good.
Second, there is a Prince’s reputation with Nationalist India, which also is in some sense an “official reputation,” since it comes ready-made without any thinking, and is one within rigid limits of possible variation. Nationalist India finds, or invents, his own individual turpitude for each Prince; a Prince is solely what the orator Tertullus found St. Paul, “a pestilent fellow.” For Durgeswar, queerly enough, it passed over his real flaws of extravagance, and especially, wasteful expenditure on his “cavalry,” and blackened his name for crimes of which he was almost absurdly innocent.
As for his third reputation, the working inner reputation by which the Paramount Government went, this was of a young man who had run straight so far. Pessimistic experience added that he was bound sooner or later to succumb to the evil blood and evil traditions of the Chawars. And unless he were given a Resident who could influence him before an obstinacy already apparent had set beyond the reach of argument, he would ride his revenues to a fall. But he had to be given high marks for honesty, intelligence and hard work. Rattray had been told in Delhi that His Highness spent ten hours daily at his desk. At the First Round Table Conference his decency of purpose had been obvious. Philip, who had often wondered what had happened to the charming boy he remembered (so many Indian boys are charming), had been delighted when they met again.
His Highness had not attended the Second Conference, and Philip guessed what he thought of the kind of show it had been. It was a pity he had not come to the Third Conference, when the process of weeding out careerists and nonentities resulted in honest business at last, after the waste of nearly two years.
* * *
The Maharana himself pushed forward a chair for his visitor, and resumed his own.”Well?” he repeated. Then, “This is different from London, Mr. Rattray.”
“You are here as a newspaper correspondent, are you not?”
“Yes. That’s my reason for being in India at all—my official reason, that is.”
“But your actual reason, my friend?”
“I fancy, only that I wanted to drift across Central India once more before I die. And I had Your Highness’s invitation to Ryalgarh.”
“Merely ‘drift,’ Mr. Rattray? They say that Giansi has asked you to be his Minister for Education, with a special seat in his Cabinet, so that you may advise in general administration. Then you would be my nearest neighbour! I shall want your help in persuading Giansi to evacuate certain villages which at present he and I and in some cases Indore also are jointly trying to administer. It is not always quite jolly for the people who live in them.”
“I suppose not.” Philip remembered a notorious feud. “May I ask if the old rivalry between Durgeswar and Giansi still exists?”
His Highness hesitated. “Yes,” he admitted. “But now it takes the form of industrial rivalry. You haven’t seen my cotton mills?”
“I’ve heard of them, of course.”
“I keep them at the other end of my capital, where the operatives won’t spoil my polo and parade-grounds. The Nationalist papers make that a great grievance—say that I drive my subjects down into the most malarial parts of the city—that I make them die by thousands, to suit my own selfish pleasure. That’s their imaginative way of putting the fact that these fellows get beastly drunk and drugged and live like brutes, and so once in a while the fevers that their own intemperance brings on carry a few of them off. I want you, as a newspaper correspondent as well as a friend, to know the facts. Mr. Rattray,” he asked argumentatively, “why should I let the mills ruin this end of Ryalgarh?”
“It is the drier and healthier end, isn’t it?”
“Oh, quite. Quite. But that’s largely because it’s inhabited by people who have the sense to keep it healthy. When I succeeded to the gadi6 I tried hard, until I had to give it up as a hopeless job, to get the industrial quarters fairly sanitary. But the people beat me by their habits. And my mill-owners won’t touch the factory regulations you have in British India. They say, if I have them they’ll go back to Ahmadabad.”
“Mahatma Gandhi’s capital,” murmured Philip.
“Quite. Well, I couldn’t afford the loss of revenue. As it is, my Budget is going to be forty lakhs down.”
“Then Ryalgarh’s in the same boat with all the best Governments.” Philip smiled, and the Prince laughed back. “But I don’t for a minute believe they would go out of Ryalgarh,” Philip submitted.
“Perhaps not. But it’s a possibility. Anyway, those regulations are a dead letter in British India. So what is the sense of having them here? And I couldn’t begin to enforce them unless I trebled my police force, which the State revenues can’t afford. And even if I could afford it, my fellows would be bribed by the mill-owners. All I can do is to put my foot down, and say I won’t under any circumstances have workers’ houses slopping on to my parade-ground and jungles. You can imagine what they’d make any decent place look like!”
All Philip said was, “We’ve got the same problem in the West—the difference between what democracy is entitled to and what it deserves. People,” he began, “have a right to enjoy the land they live in—”
“Theoretically, Mr. Rattray. And only by modern theory.”
It was hard to remember that this determined young despot had once been eager to advance his people to modern freedom. Scarcely ten years ago he had talked to Philip for hours, with the wealth of simple affectionate metaphor in which India delights; he would be his subjects’ “father.” their “elder brother,” anything but their ruler and tax-imposer. Now Ryalgarh, after advancing a certain distance, had gone back further into sheer autocracy—however benevolent (and it was notoriously benevolence conditioned by caprice and personal temper) still autocracy—than it had ever moved away from it. Indian Nationalism regarded it with the special detestation that is the lot of apostacy.
But the generation which was adult before the War has learnt at least one adroitness, to adjust thought swiftly to the realisation that a situation has changed completely, even if unaccountably. Philip corrected himself, and proceeded.
* * *
“Theoretically,” he said, “they have the right to live where a healthy decent life is possible, and to wander over the loveliest bits of their own country. But in practice,” he admitted, “they mess up any place that’s any good—as if they were beasts!”
“No, Mr. Rattray! As if they weren’t beasts! The beasts keep my woods and fields tolerably clean.”
“So what’s to be done?”
“God knows. We haven’t found out yet in the West. So how can I advise you—that is, if you wanted advice?”
“I am always glad,” said His Highness with dignity, “to hear a friend’s honest opinion as to what I ought to do. However, I have found out. I have told the mills to stay where they are, and not think they’re going to be allowed, they or their workers, to come where I am. But you were asking,” he continued affably, “about my relations with Giansi. He and I between us own the best cotton-growing belt in all Central India. And my renowned Sipra river, it seems, is the perfect water for washing certain staples. There is degradation for you, Mr. Rattray! The holy Sipra that all my country dreams about! Where they still tell you that you can see Goddesses walking on the banks if you are wise enough to be abroad at dawn in the spring season! What would Kalidasa have said if he had been told that his beloved Sipra would one day be used for any purpose less delicate than washing ladies’ limbs?”
H.H., now in the early thirties, was beginning to show two personalities. At their greeting Philip had seen the one he remembered, of eager boyish friendliness. When this appeared you noticed mobile features, a figure still neat and athletic, the Chawar uplifted nose and burning eyes. There was not a trace of the indulgence which had ruined his family so often; Nationalist India was evidently as astray as it generally is when mere irresponsible malice forms its conclusions, in ascribing this to him. He had carried his decency and self-control past adolescence.
But when this unspoilt self disappeared it seemed as if the body sagged into something already prophetic of the Indian Prince of popular tradition.
“In fact, Mr. Rattray, a big stretch of the Sipra, as it is, in spite of all I could do, has actually been ruined!”
* * *
Philip changed the subject. “Is it true that Your Highness is beginning to get Labour trouble?”
“Beginning! I expelled three scoundrels from the Ahmadabad mills over my frontier yesterday! In fact, Mr. Rattray, I’m very worried over things, and I should appreciate very much a frank talk with you. It’s no joke, after what happened in Kashmir and what’s happening in Alwar at this very moment. Alwar isn’t so far from my borders. I’ve told my police that if they catch any of the Servants of India in Ryalgarh they’re to put them out of the State immediately. But that doesn’t prevent their getting in!”
“If I may say so, I think Your Highness makes a mistake in looking on the Servants of India as your enemies.”
“That’s because you in England can’t know all about them and their activities that we know. I must say, I agree entirely with those Members of My Order who think that H.M. Government might have refrained from inviting to the Round Table Conference men who were known to be antagonistic to it. It wasn’t quite the support we deserved—and were entitled to! After all, Mr. Rattray—I know you hold what I should call subversive views; you should hear My Resident talk about you!—but you are one of the few Englishmen that we respect and care about. And you must know that all these democratic ideas are quite unsuited to India.”
His Highness proceeded to point out that Parliamentary government was breaking up even in its original home, England. Philip, anxious to escape having to listen to a newspaper leader that he knew by heart, said, “Well, we hardly know what is happening, do we? We are too close to it, don’t you think?”
The Maharana, not so easily deflected, said indignantly, “They are agitating for a legislative council and trades unions and for a civil list for My Palace, in place of what they have the cheek to call ‘my unbridled private extravagance.’ And for the whole absurd paraphernalia of what you in the West call democratic government!”
“Then Your Highness’s views are unchanged by what happened at the last Round Table Conference?”
“I did not attend it, thank God! Nor did I attend the Second Conference. Nor shall I attend the Fourth or the Fifth Conferences. Nor the Sixth and Seventh.” He swung himself over his hobby-horse again, and his feet firmly gripped the stirrups. “It is not simply that India does not need representative government. She has it already. We Princes are her real representatives. But she does not in her heart of hearts want representative government, Mr. Rattray. What India wants, and what India understands, is autocratic government.”
This is the conviction, not only of most of India’s Princes, but also of those Englishmen who “know India.” We are not obliged to accept it as soundly based; nor need it be dismissed as mistaken.
Philip was not going to be discourteous: he was not going to argue where argument was hopeless: he knew that here he could get neither the time nor the eager equal fellowship which would help him to disentangle his own puzzled thoughts: and he was not going to be trapped by a guest’s duty of politeness into compliance with opinions that were a negation of all he had striven for. So he said, smiling, “And I suppose, if the British went Your Highness and His Highness of Giansi would settle the question of those jointly occupied villages Your Highness has mentioned? And in some other way than by taking the votes of their inhabitants?”
He had steered discussion into smooth waters; H.H. smiled back. “Yes. I should be able to find out what my cavalry is worth. I fancy, Mr. Rattray, it is worth a good deal. In fact, I sometimes think I shall turn out to have been the Prince who made that remark about there not being a rupee or a virgin left in Bengal—or in Delhi, or Agra, or Lucknow—which you British are so fond of quoting to us!”
* * *
Whenever his mind strayed off his argument, to a watchful observer the Prince was showing signs of restlessness. Philip remembered his reputation for strict devotion to his job. If you intend to be an autocrat over a million subjects you need every hour that there is in the day.
As they both rose, H.H. pointed disdainfully to a book, one of the two best-sellers of the last three years in India (the other is Uncle Sham, that chuckling ribald retort to Mother India). It dealt with a selection of the Princes’ more flagrant misdemeanours.
“Have you seen this?”
“I saw it during the First Round Table Conference. Most of the British Indian Delegates were reading it.”
His Highness laughed joyously. “The rascals! When they were lunching and dining with us at the Ritz and the Savoy! What do you think of it?”
“I think the author lets Your Order off lightly.”
H.H. pondered this. “So do I—on the whole. I find it a very interesting psychological study. A study of the author, I mean, not of My Order. It’s very hard to tell which one of us is popular, and which unpopular. For example, why does he hand Patiala that fine bouquet?”
“Perhaps for his cricket? And support of Indian cricket.”
His Highness considered this, and thought there might be something in it. “I suppose it comes to this, Mr. Rattray, that we want reputation somewhere, we want it everywhere. We admire any Indian who manages to break through the contempt of the outside world. A blue at Oxford or Cambridge, even if he is a Prince, seems a standard-bearer of India. It was almost humiliating to notice it when I was up.”
Philip agreed. “If an Indian could only get a rugger blue, it would be a million times better than having Sastri or Bikaner sent to Geneva, or Sinha to the House of Lords. If he could only be the Oxford full-back, and fetch down the Cambridge captain with a really sickening thud! It would be a first-class political event. India would feel she was arriving at last.”
H.H. was radiant. “It is a pleasure to talk to an Englishman as openly cynical as you, Mr. Rattray. When I meet British officials, they can’t get away from their notion that India is just one vast public school, where they are the housemasters and My Order are the prefects. They speak to me of ‘Your Highness’s Grave Responsibilities’; of ‘The Arduous Duties Attaching to Your Exalted Position.’ It was Lord Curzon who started this idea of My Order as prefects and monitors.”
“Three cheers for Dr. Arnold of Rugby!” said Philip irrelevantly. “I mean, Three cheers for Dr. Curzon of Kedleston! He set the Empire on the right lines!”
* * *
H.H., in high spirits, accompanied his visitor to his Palace door. “Want any shootin’ while you are here, Rattray?”
It was the first time he had dropped the “Mr.”; also, Philip noticed, with elaborate pains he dropped the g in “shooting.”
Philip thanked him, but said he did not.
“Ah! then you don’t look on me as just a glorified squire!”
“Why doesn’t Your Highness refuse to be one?”
“It isn’t easy, Rattray. And H.M. Government hardly helps us. I’ve specially asked to be left out of the honour of a viceregal visit this year. The Ryalgarh revenues have hardly recovered from the big shoot we put up three years ago. The smallest item was having to turn my own Commander-in-Chief on to the job of seeing that a dozen tigers were allowed to live peacefully in the jungles close to Ryalgarh. I know I fed the brutes adequately—they never had to go more than a hundred yards for a cow or a buffalo. But My People were so unreasonable. They said that a stray tiger at long intervals was one thing, but a whole flock encamped at their doors quite another. You see, Rattray, the tigers, once they realised that no one was going to hurt them, rather hung about the villages. And they did a certain amount of what My People considered mischief.”
“I suppose they took to killing cows that hadn’t been specially ear-marked for them?”
H.H., having led his guest up to his joke, grinned. “They are alleged to have killed thirty-seven women,” he said with artistic nonchalance. “I have ascertained that this, however, is exaggeration. Gross exaggeration, Rattray, due to hysteria induced by seeing tigers romping on the village green at all hours.”
* * *
The Prince had resumed his attitude of bored tired amusement towards life. To be brought up in an Indian palace and then to be a young Maharaja at an English public school and at Cambridge does not preserve simplicity or happiness.
“Besides, I had trouble with the Hindu Maha Sabha over the cows I had bought up and earmarked for legitimate food. I pointed out that I had no hand in their killing—that they simply happened to meet my tigers. God made the tigers as well as the cows, and it pleased Him to make them desirous of eating the cows. But the Maha Sabha insisted that cows were being killed, and that my ancestors, like their original leader the great Sivaji, had gone to great trouble to protect cows and Brahmins.”
“Whereas Your Highness went to great trouble to put both in considerable fear of their lives?”
“Quite. I tell you, it kept My Army busy, soothing the popular susceptibilities,” he said grimly. “I am afraid that sport has ceased to be the cementing influence it used to be—take the case of your own country and Australia, for example. So we’re living quietly this year and foregoing the honour of exalted visitors. I am not even inviting His Excellency the Commander-in-Chief until next year. My People say that, much as they appreciate the privilege of providing relaxation for the Governors of British India, they want a year with only just half a dozen really quiet tigers, and those not too close to Ryalgarh. I wanted to tell the Political Department, when they suggested another viceregal visit, that I wasn’t ready for revolution—quite; especially with Alwar practically next door! But I hadn’t the pluck. It is only a senior Prince like Bikaner who is allowed to indulge in gentle sarcasm towards the Paramount Power. But you’ll dine with me this evening, won’t you? I want you to meet my wife. You know we gave up purdah when she came. And purdah was never a real Maratha custom, as a student like you must know.”
* * *
How charming was that boyish smile with which he said, as if to himself, “my wife!” Philip began to be sure Drake was right. The boy had grown up pretty well sick of women, who had been flung at his head. Those responsible for an Indian Prince’s education hold by the views of
Belial, the dissolutest Spirit that fell,
The sensualest, and, after Asmodai,
The fleshliest Incubus.
To build him up into what they consider adequate manhood and tested virility, they
Set women in his eye and in his walk.
The young Maharaja had been averse from what had been almost forced on him. He was not the only Prince who was literally not interested in women, but would rather seek an outlet in some companionship less loquaciously and professionally vivid—in dogs, in horses, in drink, in shooting, even in books. But this marriage, which he had made late, was a love-match, with the daughter of a Maratha lawyer whom he had met when her father visited Cambridge.
* * *
He recurred to his grievance, as his last word—the plaint of almost every Prince; sedition is invading the breasts of India’s best and highest, as well as of so-called educated students and pleaders. “I can tell you, Mr. Rattray, what most of your countrymen might find it hard to believe—that we can get very tired of Englishmen who come cadging hospitality—by which they mean lots and lots of shooting” (he forgot to drop the g). “Now, I have not got much shooting in Ryalgarh. Only a few bears and leopards, which I want myself; and a very few tigers, which I have to keep for a fellow-Prince or a Governor. So long as they and I are part and parcel of the machinery of ruling India, I recognise that I must arrange relaxation for them. But why must I provide for every cold-weather tourist who thinks India a place where he can pick up shooting trophies cheap, and who gets an introduction to me or comes with no introduction at all?”
He paused, and flung an arm out in appeal. Philip reminded him, “No reason at all. Baroda doesn’t do it, does he?”
“But Baroda has the excuse that he has no tigers—they all want tigers!—only a few lions that have slipped over his border, and about which he is keeping quiet. I give these self-invited guests hospitality willingly,” H.H. said, in the manner of a speaker who feels he has a case if he can only get a hearing. “I can let them have some snipe-shooting and some partridge-shooting. But no! that isn’t good enough for them! They all clamour for tigers, tigers, tigers! They seem to think we grow them on the wayside bushes of every Indian State!”
His Highness had let himself go; and now grew apologetic. “It isn’t fair to talk like this to you, Rattray. After all, you are yourself an Englishman.”
“I understand perfectly. I was once in Ryalgarh myself, you remember. I know that everyone finds these globe-trotting butchers an infernal nuisance.”
H.H. was reminded. “Have you called at the Residency yet? By the way, I am afraid Colonel Kennedy isn’t very enthusiastic about your visit.”
“So I had gathered, from Drake. I’m going there now.”
“You will find Mrs. Kennedy delightful.” His face lit up, as it had done when he spoke of “my wife”; he knew something of heroine-worship where Mrs. Kennedy was concerned. “But don’t forget you are dining with me to-night, in case Mrs. Kennedy wants to invite you. Well, good-bye for the present, Rattray! I must get back to my desk. By the way, I hope they are looking after you. I gave orders for a car and chauffeur to be at your disposal.”
“They are here,” said Philip, pointing to them.
“Of course. My orders are that you are to be treated as an honoured State guest. Not” (he smiled) “like those guests I was rude enough to grouse about just now. And, Rattray, you must make a point of seeing My Cavalry Manœuvres this afternoon. I pride myself on having more really beautiful horses than any other Prince in India. You know, we Chawars have always been as crazy about horses as you English are. Gwalior has more elephants, Bikaner more camels, Chandghur more women; but I have more horses! I shall feel really snubbed if a friend does not turn out to watch what gives me what My Resident was once bad-mannered enough to call ‘childish pleasure.’ I shall tell My Commander-in-Chief to send a horse for you. We all ride, and so make ourselves part of the show. It is immense fun! Good-bye, Rattray!”
At the Residency Philip sent in his card, and waited, his heart searching for signs of Lauretta. But reception-rooms are standardised, and this one was typical, an impressive witness to masculine prowess. A tiger’s head gazed up; a mugger ran along the floor, up to his chair. Sporting prints and signed photographs of Maharajas adorned the walls.
The higher civilisation intruded only in a bookcase, on whose flat top a journal which reflected England’s ruling classes lay open, its cover blown up by a breeze from the veranda. Intimate as a mirror should be, it told of toilette secrets by which aristocracy preserves beauty from the ravages of the hunting-field, the ball-room, and (presumably) time. Historic names and lovely faces generously lent themselves, that perfection, filtering far down, might enrich all who could afford to buy the proper soaps and scents.
He saw, too, that the Residency kept in touch with modern thought. Golden Horn, Festival, Black Mischief, Hatter’s Castle, The Life of Henry the Eighth, Pocahontas. Three books by Mr. Middleton Murry. Six books about D. H. Lawrence. Quite a lot of Mr. Priestley.
Even in the act of appearing, Colonel Kennedy managed to arouse a scorn for which his visitor was but too ready. Patronage escaped from him, like ether from a person fresh from the operating table. He indicated the veranda. “We shall find it airier there, Mr. Rattray.” Then, “You are here for a newspaper, are you not?”
(Marching to and fro, a Ryalgarh trooper punctuated talk with the clash of arms presented to invisible superior authority.)
“Partly,” said Philip negligently. “Partly for my own private pleasure.” Few men considered James Kennedy entitled to patronise them. And Philip was a member of the 1917 Club.
“Someone told me you used to be in the Educational Service. But I hear you have turned journalist.”
“You hear aright.” The belligerence smouldering under four syllables conveyed itself adequately.
“For The Northern Watchman, I think someone said?”
The visitor nodded—an economy of courtesy which caused the Resident to boil over. Trying to register perfect temper-control, he said, “Most decent people think it a rather rotten rag, don’t they?”
“I don’t generalise about ‘decent people.’ I find that those who do merely mean people like themselves—which rather begs the question in the word ‘decent.’”
“Rather a bolshy rag, isn’t it?”
“Always crabbing its own country. Always taking the other side.”
Ragingly wondering whether he should flare up at this mannerless fool, and go, Philip was first roused to his own defence. He was not going to let himself, even in a quarter he despised, be put down as a colourless impression of any newspaper in the world.
“I don’t pretend to agree with its tone always,” he said, with what he too meant to be dignity; suspicion grew that he was being merely stilted and pompous, wrangling with a fool and being dragged down to the fool’s level. “It seems to me narrow—and rigidly satisfied with a few premises for every problem it discusses. And beastly self-satisfied, as all these modern intellectuals are. Damn pleased with itself, and damned standardised in all its thinking.” His listener, as he told Drake afterwards, looked “stupidly intelligent”; the stock resource of a pompous man who had been pushed steadily along a course of responsibility and authority, always within hearing of great affairs. Philip, however, saw puzzlement behind pretended apprehension; so he floundered on to a place where for a moment he was completely understood. “In fact, it’s often absolutely bloody.” He added, “But I’m in agreement with its main standpoint as regards India. Anyway, they asked me to act for them, and I said I would.”
“They tell me you’re a bit of a Socialist yourself.”
“You have been inadequately informed.” (Philip cursed himself for a more ponderous ineffective idiot than ever. Yet he could not resist continuing in the vein.) “They evidently neglected to tell you that I have stood as a Labour candidate for Parliament.”
This, as the Resident afterwards told the Club, “put the lid on it.” However—as he was about to say something, yet uncertain what—he had the ill luck to meet Philip’s expression. In that, irritation had been driven down. In its stead was indifference as to what Kennedy said or thought—indifference, and a more troubled mood that strayed elsewhere.
Both men began to stare about the compound. The Resident sat with eyebrows twitching, and hands disturbed into silly trivial movements.
The visitor’s attention was caught by a vast agglomeration of comb in a simul tree. Central India must be the wild bees’ metropolis.
Colonel Kennedy’s gaze followed Philip’s. With relief he found something to say, something he liked saying and said very often. “Awful nuisance those bees are!”
“They don’t bother you in the house, do they!”
The shifty eyes grew foxily pleased. Colonel Kennedy decided to be affable, to adopt the pose of the good fellow. “No. But they make it impossible for my wife and me to sit outside just when we’d like to do, in the evenings.”
“They all come flying back, a regular cloud of them, just about sunset. And you see—I don’t know whether you know, Rattray, but—bees are very clean little beasts, so they all relieve themselves simultaneously just before they reach that tree. And if you’re sitting outside, the table and your clothes all get covered with little tiny specks.”
Philip hardly heard the finish of this interesting bit of natural science. Restlessness and irritation had been for some time rendered intense by his knowledge that another person was in the room behind the veranda. It was this that had overcome the temptation to answer rudeness with rudeness, and made him suddenly silent.
He turned now to the step for which he had been waiting. The picture memory carried took its place in the years that had gone. Another supplanted it.
* * *
“Sir John Chalmers told us you were coming,” said Lauretta.
He was looking at her, finding nothing to say.
“Sir John Chalmers?” he said at last, dully. “Oh, yes. But I hardly know him.”
“You were at Ryalgarh when I visited it in 1914. So much has happened since, I can’t expect you to remember meeting me.”
Could not expect him to remember meeting her! She had left him on this veranda, after their day in ruined Mandu, with promise to ride next dawn! and he had come, to find she had been called by telegram to Lucknow, to her sister mortally hurt in an accident. So much had happened since? At this moment, he felt that nothing had happened since. The years had been a tedious lapse of foolish uselessness.
“I remember it very well”—which was all that could be said now. “You were Miss Lauretta Graham.”
“You were very good to me, and showed me over Mandu and over the Durgeswar Temples. I remember, you were all full of the War—of course we all were—and you could think of nothing but the fact that you were just off to Murree, to train for the Army.”
* * *
To a fish, sensitive to every lift or lessening of the stream which is its atmosphere, the earth over which the water runs must be unconsciously felt in all its variations. To men and women emotionally wakeful, the thought under speech that flows conventionally makes itself guessed at—with this unfortunate difference, that the guessing may deepen the emotional distress. Philip’s mind was darkened by some cloud—or mere shadow of some cloud far out of sight—that had thrown a hint of contempt and resentment into her words.
To Lauretta, as a girl of nineteen, before the unnecessary wreck of her marriage, he was told he had been “very good.” As the only available male person, he had had the luck to show her over Durgeswar Temples. They had looked on the heavenly sweep of Sipra emerging from Central Indian wilderness and flowing by in a full majestic tide. They had explored the lonely broken city of Mandu, wrapt close in Vindhyan forest, guarding memories of magnificence and of a royal love-story such as history hardly records elsewhere, unmatched in beauty and tragedy and pity. And (he was now assured) he had been “full of the War”—that is, of himself and his own heroic future. “Of course,” she had added (the subaqueous floor had known a depression, carrying down the voice and the river of utterance with it) “we all were.” That was what they had been thinking of—a young man and a lively charming girl together in the glorious Indian winter mornings, and for those hours of earthly paradise in unearthly happiness above Sipra and in the ruins hidden by hill and jungle—just of the War, a stormy murmur in distant Europe!
They had wandered beside Kalidasa’s river: had raced their ponies neck to neck along the sands of the Levanudi, a forest brook which drew its scanty waters from the fountain a devi had caused to rise to quench the thirst of her human lover: he had shown her the haunt of the Empress of the Peris, whom the mannerless boy-saint had put to shame. Was it true that he “could think of nothing but the fact that you were just off to Murree”? That even when they had scrambled down the steep black rock of the earliest fortress of the earliest Chawar, he had been thinking only of his brand-new commission and kit, had been worried by the fear Baghdad would be taken before he could get to the Front, and that the Mespot campaign would be over?
He knew it was not true; and in his nervousness he began talking beside the point, awkwardly as if he had never passed beyond the young man whose indifference was now arraigned. “When I first tried for a commission, military headquarters in Bombay were very discouraging. They told me I’d only spend the War in some garrison town in India, learning my job as a subaltern. I saw General MacReady, and he said, ‘That’s all right for the kind of young fellow we’re getting—a bit of discipline will do them a world of good, even if we never use them for actual fighting. But you seem to me more use where you are, Mr. Rattray. There’s a lot of concealed sedition among these Rajas. And you’ve already had five years’ experience and training among them.’”
Colonel Kennedy nodded gravely. “They’re very difficult chaps to keep up to the mark. Personally I don’t give that”—he snapped an imaginary molecule behind thumb and finger—“for their supposed loyalty. I trust an Indian Prince as far as I can see him. MacReady was right about their being full of concealed sedition.”
His wife said nothing. Philip had the naked feeling that comes to a man when he feels he has made a fool of himself by talking too much. But his eyes and Lauretta’s somehow met at the repetition of “concealed sedition.”
The phrase had struck him at the time as particularly happy. The Rajas were pouring out gold and jewels and their subjects’ lives in the Crown’s service. The Resident’s hall-marking it with his approval in 1933 seemed hardly less felicitous.
* * *
Philip had insisted, however, on pressing for a commission. His acceptance was notified to him four days before Christmas 1914, as India was beginning to realise that in Mesopotamia her Army was embarked on one more glorious campaign; he was allowed to stay in Ryalgarh until the 28th. The A.G.G. for Central India had dumped two elderly globe-trotters on Mrs. Grimsdale, the Resident’s wife, explaining that he himself could not break arrangements he had made to be out on tour. And her own niece, Lauretta Graham, was also spending Christmas with her. Philip had helped by looking after her guests for her, as a biddable young man should. Fortunately, the two globe-trotters had been laid aside for the last three days, one by “the heat” (it was Christmas!), the other by a slight but indubitable touch of fever. So he had had Lauretta’s companionship alone, for both Mandu and Durgeswar.
In those three days, he remembered, he must have talked a good deal about his instructions to report at Murree for training. Youth, impressed with its own fineness, is willing that others should be impressed also. The reminder troubled him.
* * *
At the back of thought a doubt thrust up in self-exculpation. “The War was what everyone was talking about,” he annotated his accuser.
Presently, when he was fairer to himself, he would recall that something of his apparent preoccupation with the War was youthful clumsiness; and something, sheer overflowing spirits such as Lauretta herself had brought to their companionship.
“Of course. It seemed selfish to seem interested in anything else.”
“But were you interested in anything else?”
“Horribly interested: though I was too much of a prig to admit it, when everyone around me was so nobly and entirely patriotic.”
“You’ve atoned for the priggishness—which anyway wasn’t a patch on the priggishness of other more foolish people—by your honesty now. And I wasn’t—not really, at heart—as wildly patriotic as one knew one ought to be.”
“Oh, but—By the way, is it Mr. Rattray? Or Major Rattray?”
“Philip Rattray—now that the War’s over and done with.”
“But, Mr. Rattray, the War was the only thing that mattered.”
“I don’t believe it—not now.”
“And this,” said Colonel Kennedy afterwards, “was another bolshy remark the fellow made—that the War was of damned little importance.” He said now, sententiously, “Biggest thing that ever happened, the War.”
They had almost forgotten his presence. Philip turned to him, and said, but courteously, “That isn’t what the new generation believe at home. They think it the biggest bore that ever happened.”
“That’s because the whole of the youngsters have gone bolshy.”
Philip replied (but he was speaking to his own heart), “I intend myself to forget it from now on.” He saw he had shocked one of his auditors, so added, “I’m forty-six and have wasted my life. If my generation is ever going to live at all it hasn’t much time left for beginning.”
“No man who did his job in the War wasted his life.”
“Mr. Rattray isn’t thinking about the War, Jim,” said Lauretta. “He means the years since the War.”
“No, he doesn’t,” said Philip abruptly, and smiled. “What I mean is—”
But it was not going to be easy to say what he meant.
* * *
She rose while he faltered, and held out her hand. “I’ve got some letters I simply must write. But can you dine with us this evening?”
“I’m sorry. I’ve just promised His Highness.”
“I’d love to.”
“Monday evening, then, at eight. Good-bye, Mr. Rattray.”
He detained her a moment, asking, “Shall I see you and the Resident at His Highness’s cavalry manœuvres this afternoon?”
“You mean, at what we call H.H.’s Horse Show? Yes, I’m going. I’m afraid my husband can’t quite get away.”
“I’ve got a whole roomful of uncleared files, Rattray,” said the Resident solemnly. During this protracted dismissal of his unwelcome visitor he was shuffling restlessly by the veranda rails.
A wife in India knows her husband’s “files,” just as he knows her “letters.” There was this difference, however, that Lauretta, given time, cleared her correspondence—except for those few semi-mythical notes which a woman always keeps unwritten as an occasion for withdrawing herself or getting rid of a visitor. Lauretta had ceased to believe that it mattered very much whether her husband’s files were cleared or not.
* * *
Lauretta gone, the interview was not protracted. Both men had risen, and remained standing. As they moved slowly to the veranda steps, the Resident fell back on the gloomy truth that dwells with every member of the Indian Higher Administration continually—the overwhelming ghastly pressure of his work in these days of a parsimonious folly styling itself economy.
“I don’t know where to turn nowadays. I expect you’ve heard how everyone in India has to put in his whole day at his desk, since all this nonsense of pretending that Indians can run their own show was started.”
Yes, Philip had heard this. A man must be deaf or dead, not to have heard it.
“By the way, Rattray, since you are a newspaper fellow and will be seeing His Highness again, I ought to warn you that he’s not going straight.”
Philip was troubled.
“Oh, I don’t mean with women or anything like that—drugs or drink or sodomy. It would be all right if that were all.”
Philip could only await the unguessed revelation in silence.
“He’s playing with fire, like a lot of them now. They made an idiotic fuss about him at the Round Table Conference in London.”
Philip had to believe this; he had heard it from a Member of the Indian Empire Society. Mr. Ramsay MacDonald was alleged to have called the Prince “My dear-r-r coal-league and cumr-r-rade”; the Lord Chancellor was said to have been overheard imparting harmless information about the economic crisis, with the flattering overture “strictly between ourselves” and “I don’t want this to go any further, Maharana.” These fearsome rumours had partly prepared Colonel Kennedy’s visitor for his next disclosures.
“All that sort of thing rather went to his head. He talks a lot of hot air now about being a collaborator in guiding India to her destiny. And he’s hobnobbing with seditionists here, as well as in London. That fellow Jayakar has been to Ryalgarh.”
“Probably he came to advise His Highness on some legal matter,” Philip suggested.
“So the Maharana said, when I talked to him about it.”
“Jayakar’s a man of very temperate views, in any case.”
“That’s what they all are—now!”
“The Viceroy constantly consults him.”
“Quite,” said the Resident patiently, labouring with the journalist’s obtuseness. “Quite. Willingdon has to pretend to consult these fellows. That doesn’t mean I have to have them messing about in Native India! Not in Ryalgarh, while I’m Resident!”
“Hasn’t His Highness the right to invite whom he wishes?”
Silence ensuing, Philip realised he had better call it a visit, and go.
* * *
Lauretta, in the inner room before she had entered, unable to help overhearing, had wearily noted the ways of men trying to be loftily controlled but behaving like children. Seeing her husband’s face as he came in after dismissing his unwelcome visitor, she determined to anticipate and turn aside the pettishness about to stalk her way. From sheer uninterest resolved to avoid entrance to a quarrel which would merely bore her, she said, “Jim, won’t you, too, turn out to H.H.’s show? He’d like it awfully. He said to me, ‘Mrs. Kennedy, Colonel Kennedy represents the Paramount Power here, and I value his presence at my functions more than I can say.’”
“He won’t see me at what he calls his functions again, till he apologises for his impertinence when I told him I wasn’t going to have British-Indian politicians in the State, so long as I was here.”
“Well—he was technically in the right. And that’s all you and he are meant officially to do—both keep technically in the right. Besides” (more tactfully) “don’t you think his saying that to me was his way of trying to tell you through me that he was sorry for that bit of a breeze?”
“He can tell me direct, then. And as for this show to-day—his cavalry manœuvres, as he pleases to call them—they’re dashed expensive to the State.”
This was undeniable.
“Wrenn-Barratt tells me he’s been buying more horses.”
“I know he’s always doing that,” she admitted. And saw that she was wasting her time.
Having left cards on “the station,” a proceeding facilitated by its smallness and the absence or not-at-home-ness of members of it, Philip returned to tiffin.
Robert Drake, for thirty-three years Principal of the Chawar College, a serio-comic institution, as Philip remembered him had been energetically middle-aged, nearing fifty but still adequate at tennis and tolerable at occasional hockey (as a back), still a supporter of the ragged activity known to equestrian residents of Ryalgarh, British and Indian, as the Sipra Hunt—which, indeed, he had founded shortly after he first came out in 1890 (as tutor to a Prince who had since died). From this prehistoric acquaintance with a State where Government officials (unlike freelances like himself) came and went so swiftly, he had become a treasury of gossip and tradition; also, a power. How far his influence extended no one could be sure, he exerted it with such secrecy.
This secrecy could not be from considerations of safety, for the man suspected of far-reaching underground reefs of knowledge excites distrust more than the man whose position is fixed and his alliances open. Probably Drake was right in claiming that his restless curiosity was quite disinterested, the artist’s pleasure in the silent, hidden stuff of mind. “I have lived so long in this amazing Central India,” he told Philip, “that I merely want to know for the bliss of knowing that I know. The fellow I envy is Narayana7 brooding on his lotus-petals above the flood of action and reaction, with the threads of everything running back into his own indifference.”
The suggestion that his influence (which seemed to reach out everywhere) was due to any liking for him he pushed aside, though inwardly pleased with it. “They’re all afraid of me, Phil. They know that I know the last thing about their variegated scoundrelism. You look as if you were puzzling that out. That’s what Mrs. Resident once said, when your name came up. ‘I remember Mr. Rattray had what I call a questioning face. It’s queer that he so often writes as if he were cocksure!’”
“I’m never cocksure,” said Philip. “And God knows that nowadays I’m less sure than ever about anything, especially in this Indian mess.”
* * *
He found that his friend had not merely grown old, but was content to accept the fact with all its disabilities. Drake drifted and pottered, to use two of his favourite verbs. Physical pain and weakness exerted an ever-growing grip on the body that still appeared so strong.
One remark drove Philip into examination of his own case. “My only recreation now is trying to guess what fellows are really thinking, behind what they hope to fool you into believing that they are thinking.”
Withdrawing into himself to consider this, Philip could not decide how much Drake, friendly to him from old remembrance and particularly because that remembrance came out of a period when life had been so much fuller and more active for them both, gave away now even where he trusted. The reflection brought him to the discovery that he too had become a man with reserves.
There had been nothing outside him to tell him suddenly that youth and more than half of middle age had passed, in fact as well as in time. He had continued to act on the assumption that he was still in essentials a young man, with keenness and eagerness unabated—barring accidents of occasional trivial illness and the inevitable slackening of foot and eye which (of course) made it absurd for him to expect any longer to excel at such young men’s games as he still sometimes played. He had lived alone into a time of life when his compeers had long ago withdrawn into new existences of their own and shared by others with them. He had not been prepared for the utter change in his friend’s appearance and habits; discovery of hardly less change in himself was disquieting.
It was silly that this should be so. But the things on which we reflect with any earnestness are usually obvious facts that have not been obvious to us whom they chiefly concerned.
* * *
He asked about station activities, and especially about the Sipra Hunt. “The women keep it up,” Drake told him. “Mrs. Resident takes an interest in it. And our Army ladies are keen on it, particularly when they have any guests. The men haven’t time. Besides, they get all the riding they want in their ordinary jobs, since H.H. got so crazy about what he calls his cavalry.”
“They told me at Delhi that he was spending a damn sight too much on his cavalry.”
“So Kennedy keeps telling them. I wonder if he has ever said a single friendly word about the boy.”
“Isn’t it true?”
“Quite true. But what Indian Prince doesn’t spend a damn sight too much on some toy or other?”
“But they said the Ryalgarh revenues were dropping towards an abyss.”
“They are practically down it already! If you ever get to Giansi, and amuse yourself routing through the State confidential papers you’ll find that Ryalgarh has just asked Giansi to lend him fifty lakhs. But we’re no worse than the rest of the world. If the whole capitalist scheme is going phut, what’s the sense of one small Central Indian State cutting down expenses to keep its head above water?”
There was probably a fallacy in this reasoning somewhere. But Philip was too peaceful over his post-tiffinal cheroot to search for it.
* * *
Drake returned to the Sipra Hunt. “Kennedy doesn’t go out any longer, because he’s a rotten horseman, as he’s a rotten everything else. But he gives a different reason for not going—or used to, until Mrs. Kennedy let him know she was tired of overhearing him give it. He complains that our favourite kick-off is north of the city, and then for half a mile beside the Sipra.”
Philip, taking a deep puff, looked into the smoke, and drew his eyes together, thinking. He had reasons for remembering the divine half-mile beside the Sipra. “What’s wrong with that?” he asked.
“Nothing—in your day. But since then the bustees8 have managed to reach it, in spite of H.H.’s orders. You can guess what the river bank looks like! The Resident had the misfortune to take a toss there; and he says he now knows what the phrase “to fall between two stools” means, and that it’s damned unpleasant and he isn’t going to risk its happening again.” Drake chuckled mildly. “It’s the one witty thing he’s ever managed to say; and he was bound to manage to say it sooner or later, with his mind always concentrated on the fact that we happen to be animals. That brooding of his on physical processes is the one thoroughly modern thing about him. But it’s hardly a nice remark to have always waiting to be trotted out at anyone who may not have heard it before.”
“No. Not very.”
“As for H.H.’s extravagance, he has got into Government’s good books at last by balancing it with still further extravagance of a sort that they approve. By treaty, Ryalgarh has to keep a Military Adviser, as you know. But the Maharana has gone the second mile of his own accord, and asked to have an extra officer sent. H.M. Government approves of this zeal for efficiency, since it is to be efficiency under supervision and at another fellow’s expense.”
His cheroot finished, Philip took a stroll. The College was away from the houses of Ryalgarh aristocracy, and close to the beginnings of the industrial slums. He went sharply north, avoiding thereby close on half a mile of smells and garbage. This brought him on to clean open country quickly, and to a forking of roads.
Here was a Mussulman tomb; and beside it, an old woman tending a fire. She wore brilliant red jodhpurs; was knit and wiry, only her hair betraying that she was old. As fiercely as the brands she was watching and coaxing, her eyes gleamed.
She turned a hawk-nose in Philip’s direction, and poured out a flood of begging. But obviously, solely from the artist’s desire to keep her hand in. She looked in no need; and, while she had no intention of letting pass any chance of picking up an extra coin, she did not care whether she got it or not. Begging was her job and joy, as making runs is Bradman’s, or being charming a debutante’s or a lily’s. She laboured in her vocation gladly—or rather, she achieved it effortlessly.
Philip understood perfectly: looked back benevolently: and went on.
He encountered the same torrent of appeal when he returned, the same outflung palms of despair. Again he looked benevolently, and did nothing; and could almost imagine that the old woman smiled. As a matter of fact, a search through his pockets had revealed their emptiness; so, even had practical compassion been called for, it was impossible.
But before he reached Drake’s bungalow he met Drake himself, who said, “I need a short turn or two. Do you mind keeping me company? Or are you tired?”
“Not at all.”
When they passed her, the woman kept quiet. Drake asked, “Did you notice that old Muhammadan woman?”
“Rather. She poured out a huge story at me.”
“She would do. It was only her fun.”
“So I thought.”
“She didn’t expect anything from you—though she’d accept it, naturally, if you were fool enough to waste your charity on her. Besides, she knows you’re staying with me. Would you be surprised if I told you that old lady’s the best agent I have? She tells me a sight more than anyone else does.”
Philip was surprised; and looked it. “How does she get to know anything?”
“Easily enough. She sits by that tomb—”
“Whose is it?”
“Oh, just anybody’s! Nobody knows or bothers to ask. Only it gives a pleasant touch of piety to her—an old woman keeping a fire burning by some Muhammadan’s grave! It’s rather moving, don’t you think? And it emphasises her forlornness—a woman warming herself beside a tomb that she never forsakes! However, the fire serves a practical, as well as an artistic, purpose. All the Ryalgarh traffic with the East passes her. People stop to get lights for their bullock-cart lanterns at night, or to rekindle their hookahs. Sometimes they sit down for a bit of a warm. They give the old lady a pice or two. She pretends to sell biris9 and sal-leaf platters. And they chat with her, squatting beside her fire; and she asks them if anything’s happening in Ryalgarh or if there’s any gup where they come from. You’d be amazed if you knew the things she’s found out and told me!”
“Do you have to pay her a lot?”
“Practically nothing. I give her an occasional five rupees, which she takes but doesn’t really want.”
“What on earth does she do it for?”
“Sheer fun. Like myself. Or maybe—again like me—for a queer sentimental sort of semi-affection for the Raj.”
“The Chawar Raj?”
“No, no. The British Raj. I don’t believe she cares a damn about the Chawar Raj. Why should she? She’s a Muhammadan.” Philip looking nonplussed, Drake explained, “I’ve never got at the whole yarn. But it seems that in her youth—when she was worth looking at—”
“I can believe that. She’s a fine old lady now.”
“Isn’t she? And she isn’t a day under eighty. Absolute fact, from things she has told me! She saw the execution of the Ryalgarh mutineers on that maidan which is now the parade-ground. That was in ’59, when the whole show was finishing. And she wasn’t a baby then! I can never quite make out whether she was contemporary with the Sikh Wars or not. But anyway, she heard tell of them from chaps to whom they were the very latest thing that had happened—that mattered. But we’re getting off the point. In her flapper days she had a connection with a British sergeant. She’s got an old set of kilts which she regards with extraordinary reverence. And a set of sergeant’s stripes which she once showed me—all faded and tattered, but obviously kept with care as a very dear relic. He was pretty good to her, and she was desperately fond of him. It was as sound and moral a relationship as any regularised one of our own—in fact, much more so than many, for they were both keen on the other. The poor chap died of cholera, somewhere on the Frontier. And this old woman, though she’s had other connections, some not so respectable, has kept a kindness for the race to which her man belonged. Honestly, so far as I can make out, that’s the real reason why she collects and passes on information she thinks might be of interest to us—and to me in particular, as the sahib who’s been longest in Ryalgarh, and the one she trusts. Besides, she knows that she and I are kindred spirits—that we like to know what’s happening, and don’t care a row of pins whether it’s any use to anyone or not. She’s said as much to me. ‘Sahib, you and I are watchers by the road of this life.’ You tell them that at Delhi—or rather, I’d thank you not to tell them, but if you did—they’d call you a fool! We still look for obvious and solely mercenary or selfish motives behind any service we get from Indians.”
Drake was talking more than Philip had ever known him, though they had been good friends. He was talking out of accumulated loneliness since they were in Ryalgarh together; and with the flooding fulness of the mind crowded with memories and knowledge which it realises it must soon carry with it, where they will be lost for ever.
* * *
They turned to go back. Philip said pausingly, “If I weren’t the most unobservant of mankind—”
“You can’t help that. Writers always are.”
“Why should they be?”
“Well, they are. We had a chap here last cold weather who’d met all you subtle young novelists. And he said that these folk who in their scribbling make such solemn weather—much more than merely heavy weather—over every little half-tone and undertone of thought and feeling are just the blokes who in real life never notice a thing that anyone but themselves is doing. I’m sorry for you, Phil. But you know, you weren’t a writer when I first knew you.”
“I’m afraid it’s true,” said Philip, even more slowly than before. “I can see now that I never notice things which many a fellow whom I should consider crass to the point of being practically gaga would spot at once. I ought to have smelt a rat when that old woman shut up and said nothing when you went past with me.”
“Those are her orders. She knows she has never to say a word to me.”
And as they repassed her she remained silent.
* * *
Yet before they reached his bungalow, Drake said, “Do you mind if I leave you for a few minutes? That old woman wants to say something.”
Philip looked his astonishment. “How do you know that?”
“She told me so.”
“She never made a sound—that I heard.”
“No. But she poked the fire with that long stick she has. That’s her sign when she has anything to say.” Drake returned presently. He said, “Did the Maharana mention the Labour troubles he’s having?”
“He did. He’s very upset about them.”
“He’s got cause to be. These Native States are being used a lot just now by gentry who find them healthier than British India. The riots which led to the Sholapur murders were hatched here. Yes, here in Ryalgarh. You haven’t heard much about those murders in England?”
“I know,” said Rattray, who as having an old interest in India was of the exiguous minority who do not skip practically every item of news from that tiresome land, “that there was a huge row made when ‘the Sholapur Martyrs’ were hanged.”
“Quite. But the Nationalists made no fuss about the Sholapur Murders! I’ve got a friend in the Police who saw the bodies. He says they were the most sickening sight he ever saw; that he never understood before the expression ‘beaten to a jelly.’ I’ve not wasted much sympathy on ‘the Sholapur Martyrs.’ However, my lady friend tells me the Maharana had better watch out, a week from now. That’s all she’ll say—that, and the words, ‘the Lakshmi Mill.’”
“The biggest mill in Ryalgarh. You can see one of its chimneys from my roof. You’d better put H.H. wise when you dine with him. She knows you’re dining with him to-night—she knows everything. She knows we’ll guess that’s the simplest way to pass her warning on.”
Labour in India is desocialised, half of it being Untouchables who have passed out of being mere negligible scum into being far better paid but equally negligible serfs, and the other half being Hindus and Moslems who have lost all the religion they ever had except a capacity to go crazy with hatred. Therefore, when Labour in India becomes murderous the result sets mere ordinary murderousness in the shade. England does not yet know the true story of the Cawnpur ‘communal riots,’ when blood-drunken gangsters raged for days, inside a cordon effective to prevent flight but serving no other purpose.
* * *
Drake’s bearer announced that His Highness had sent a horse for Rattiri Saheb. The information had conveyed itself; but this was official. The manœuvres were timed to start at three o’clock.
Usually a Native State to an Englishman is delightful, for he is surrounded by people not nervously or resentfully aware of him. But the populace which Indian capitalism collects—it may be nasty, but it is no nastier than the truth, to say “spews”—round its temples is a human fever that breeds the distemperature of savagery and misery. Philip’s course to the parade-ground, two miles away, began through a street bordered by a double line of sewers, open and in regular use as privies as well as carrier-streams (of a sluggish, stagnant sort). Undoubtedly “the manners of the extremely early gods” must have been preferable to this one concession to modernity.
When his horse jumped, he turned him angrily, in time to see two brats dive into the cave of a half-fallen house. A brick on the narrow road supplied the rest of the evidence of their guilt. A misshapen oaf on splayed feet and hands, propelling himself like a stranded walrus, was laughing in insane glee. At sight of the Englishman’s face, imbecile terror struck him, and he shook like a paralytic.
Philip went on, resolved to have neither eyes nor ears. He wished he might have dispensed with nostrils too. After a while he was able to escape on to a track he remembered, across a straggling guava-orchard. It was the direct route from Residency to parade-ground, and led on to a succession of dry, low-shrubbed heaths.
He came to a place of mimosas, their dusted puffs of blossom spread like a golden surf. He had hoped for what he saw, Lauretta. Bobbing up by gaps and intervals, she swam into vision; then he lost her in the leafy seas. She was on a tiny arab, who barely touched fourteen hands. Under his light and vigilant rider he was as jaunty as a wren; Philip had glimpses of busy, bustling, quick-stepping quarters, of a body flexing into rippling movements, of a vivid and serviceable energy. The ground-pattern of their progress, a walk, was broken up with lively variations. Their overtaking, without precipitancy too like a headlong chase, proved a process, drawn out to the actual laterite-reddened level surrounding the field of parade.
Lauretta had known that he was following. She had seen him at a swerve of the path, and for a while her mount’s vivacity had not been unduly discouraged. Then another mood let her loiter; and when he drew up, she was smilingly friendly.
His eye was taken by a gorgeous personage, and he asked if he were the Commander-in-Chief.
“Oh no! That’s the Prince’s special private chaprasi, who always has to attend mounted. The Commander-in-Chief has two banners, as well as a much more glorious dress! But wait till you see H.H. himself, Mr. Rattray! He dresses exactly as the bazaar pictures of Sivaji. It’s hard to believe, isn’t it, that Sivaji on active service used to advertise his presence by being a perfect blaze of colours?”
* * *
She led him up, and introduced him to Mrs. Wrenn-Barratt, who was riding next to a child strapped into a “push-chair.” Captain Wrenn-Barratt was in a knot of officers, the Prince’s staff, waiting aloof from the main battle, but on the field. The show had not started; one contingent was just trotting up. Right across the ground were Mrs. Wrenn-Barratt’s niece, Enid Neville, and the Resident’s Assistant, Tom Inglis; their attendance already, even at this distance, was plainly fugitive, the pause on a branch of birds in mid-flight. They disappeared early.
Before a large marquee was a long table loaded with glasses, with under it bottles wrapped in straw and boxes of ice in sawdust. Near it stood the Ryalgarh military band, mostly Goanese, who were to accompany the pomp with warlike noises. Six elephants made a solemn background.
* * *
Ryalgarh State was developing a new arm, in emulation of the Bikaner camelry. This was stationed in a nook so distant as to suggest disgrace—banished because many of the horses refused to take its neighbourhood quietly. To-day, however, it was a camel that took fright, and careered diagonally across the ground. Now, a camel excited is one of the most fearful wildfowl imaginable; and, moreover, a great imparter of excitement to other beasts. Luckily, this made for the marquee. And tripped over a rope, which yanked it neatly on to the table of glasses, a completer somersault than anyone could have seen even in nightmare. Its rider (detached in time by his guardian angel) landed on a tray of soft drinks. By a miracle, man and brute were both uninjured; and two sepoys sat on the latter’s head while it was trussed up, heaved into a cart, and ignominiously drawn away by mules.
Some horses showed alarm. But the elephants stood with exemplary grandeur throughout.
At last the show began.
* * *
The mango rains had officially laid the dust. Not so rigidly, though, that the stir of two thousand horses did not churn up clouds which a breeze fanned towards the English spectators. The Wrenn-Barratt baby was withdrawn, and its mother followed. The others were also retreating, when H.H. galloped up, like a djinn in its cloak of storm, and demanded their admiration. They gave it gladly.
“Ah! but wait! Wait till I get My Troops on the charge!—the real Maratha charge! Then you and Mr. Rattray will see something, Mrs. Kennedy.”
The djinn vanished in another dust-swirl. With responsive abruptness the lady turned her pony’s head and her own, and fled to still untrampled territory. When she could speak, she said, “His Highness is mistaken. If his show goes on for another ten minutes, no one will see anything.”
A loveliness as many-twinkling as that which caught the Athenian’s gaze was trotting past. Innumerable tips of polished steel took the January sun. Perfect limbs were growing warm and shining. Light danced on a silken swiftly changing texture. The Ryalgarh Lancers were going by, every horse a bay ocellated with warmer tints, a beauty sought with generous expense from all India. Not one was under sixteen hands. From every bridle hung a scarlet tassel. The host was a moving grove of banners.
A burst of trumpets followed (music played a big part in these delights). And a company of quick little arabs (“My Auxiliary Forces.” “light skirmishers of the old Maratha kind”) launched into a rush towards Philip’s group. He thrust himself between them and the spectacle of distended nostrils and madly outflung heads and hooves. The menace, however, was deflected—these vivid reversals are the glory of old-fashioned unmechanical war—and sent wildly after the Lancers. Out of its still smoking wake the Prince thundered up again.
“What did you all think of that?”
No one could wish to shatter exultation so superb. He was assured that it was “splendid,” “wonderful,” and “topping.”
* * *
This time he stayed. He said presently, “But you haven’t seen my latest acquisition. It’s a pony I believe my wife will be able to ride.”
The conversation took familiar lines. “She doesn’t care to do it in Ryalgarh—yet,” he continued. “Though why shouldn’t she? We’ve given up purdah, as you know, Mrs. Kennedy. And there was no reason why we should ever have had it, for it isn’t a Maratha custom. Rukmini Bai never observed purdah. She couldn’t have ruled if she had done! Indore has given up purdah. And there’s the Punt of Marda! He writes books on physical culture and publishes them for his subjects to read. And his own daughters are taught to fence and run and jump; he has photos of them doing it. And his eldest son can fly!”
“And there’s Her Highness of Cooch-Behar,” said Mrs. Wrenn-Barratt encouragingly. “She hunts and shoots.”
“And she’s a Maratha princess! I assure you, our ladies in the past were not at all the drooping persecuted flowers that you in the West believe they were. You can see that by the paintings we have, of husband and wife hawking together, or riding by moonlight. Mr. Rattray, you know what your own Sir John Malcolm says—he came to Durgeswar many times and knew My People well. He says of one of my own ancestresses, ‘She rode (an essential quality in a Maratha lady) with grace, and was always when on horseback attended by a large party of the females of the first families in the State.’ An essential quality in a Maratha lady! And in another place he says it was ‘an obligation on a Maratha princess’ to be able to ride. And of Bhima Bai, the daughter of Jeswunt Rao Holkar, he says, ‘She rode with grace, and few excelled her in the management of the spear.’ That is what our ladies used to be! And we have had in our Maratha history many many examples of ladies who have accompanied their husbands when they were fugitives from the Moguls, and who shared all discomforts with them!”
* * *
Take a young Prince and give him an education compounded of East and West, of harem or zenana and public school and ’varsity—send him back to his State where he has powers of life and death and yet is invited to attend Round Table Conferences on the future constitution of a self-governing India—hold yourself as Paramount Power strictly accountable to preserve his ancient privileges unimpaired, and yet expect him to be a reasonable and modern being—and you will produce not one integrated personality but a loose bundle of widely varying selves, all alike in one thing, uncertainty and tremulous instability. Philip (who had talked in the morning to a man middle-aged before his time, Europeanised and disillusioned), when the party adjourned to the refreshment tent overheard a nervous and excited eager boy. H.H. manoeuvred himself into a place on Lauretta’s right, with Philip between her and Mrs. Wrenn-Barratt.
She turned, and his face confronted hers pleadingly. “This horse I have just bought for my wife—if I send it round to you to-morrow morning, Mrs. Kennedy—will you take a look at it? I want my wife to become Honorary Colonel of my Lancers and my Household Brigade—as Royal ladies would have been in ancient Maharashtra.”
This request, which she knew was coming, she heard with sympathy but without enthusiasm. At one time and another she had tried (more often, merely seen) and rejected a score of horses bought for the Maharani by H.H.’s Private Secretary, a Kashmiri Brahmin who was assumed to do better for himself out of a system of successive purchases, the real prize still a dream in the future, than he could ever do out of one achieved satisfaction. She specially recalled an equine virago under the influence of opium: a mare afflicted with incurable lameness disguised for something under twenty minutes by excessive liveliness induced by prolonged rest from every exertion except feeding: “a pocket elephant”: and one most dreadful of all, a ewe-necked horror that had been backed far too young and now had hind-legs nearly meeting in the middle and splaying out in exact parody of the letter X.
“Not to-morrow,” she told him. “I can’t. But Monday, I’d love to.”
All radiance, he thanked her. He went on, “And on Monday, too, you’re seeing Durgeswar again—my own family memorials.”
“We should love to have you with us, Maharana,” said Mrs. Wrenn-Barratt, who caught this.
“Thank you, no,” he said with charming, wistful courtesy. “I know that these farewell parties are a kind of family gathering for you Europeans. I should be out of place. But I comfort myself by thinking that you will be my guests, for every stone of Durgeswar is haunted by the spirits of my ancestors. And it looks like a Prince’s capital! Not like our dusty, dry Ryalgarh!”
“Why ever did Your Highness’s ancestors leave such a perfect place?” cried Lauretta. “Every time I return to Ryalgarh after seeing it, Ryalgarh wears such a suburban look.”
“Why did they leave it? I think I can tell you. We Marathas began as cavalry—all cavalry when we swept India in the eighteenth century, and captured Delhi and held the Emperor as a dependant, and watered our horses in the Indus. You have surely heard that, Mrs. Kennedy?”
“But they were not cavalry like these, Maharana!”
“Oh no. Not at all. They were a kind of—a sort of—”
“Goblin cavalry,” suggested Lauretta.
“Yes! yes! Mrs. Kennedy. That was exactly what we were! A kind of goblin cavalry. And our famous leader Sivaji, you know that we Hindus think him an incarnation of our God Siva, who is the lord of all goblins, which follow him everywhere. And the horses which they had—you have seen the little ponies our farmers ride even now—ride, without stirrups and with only padding for saddles? If you had seen my ancestors on these diminutive chargers, I wonder what you would have said, Mrs. Kennedy? Would you still have called them a goblin cavalry?”
“Why not? Riding on moths! Or beetles, as goblins do!”
“Now you are laughing at us! But you are not far wrong. Only, I assure you, you can get even now ponies of the old Maratha strain, which may not be very big or very fast. You and I would despise them—we should think them not worth riding. These fine Australian horses have spoiled us! But we should be mistaken. They are fast enough for Indian warfare, such as will come again. They can live on a handful of dry grass, on thorns almost, and they can carry a heavy man for long, exhausting marches. Those old Marathas used to rattle in, and then vanish!”
Presently he admitted, however, “Yet I myself despise these wretched tats now. I used to have a whole squadron of them, just to keep the old tradition alive. But I gave it up, because they looked so like a mob of scurrying rats. And I couldn’t bear to have my ideas of the old Marathas turned into that!”
He smiled, and drew their smiles in sympathy. “I like a horse that is something to the eyes, as well as able to carry me for long stretches. Every Chawar has in his blood a perfect madness for horses. That was why the first Chawar was once captured by the Nizam—because he was not willing merely to escape from the Nizam’s cavalry—that he could have done easily, oh, so easily!—but wanted to seize the Nizam’s horses, which were better than his, though he knew perfectly well that they could not serve him half as well as his own tiny ponies. Now, what use,” he asked, recurring to the argument which had led to these rhapsodies, “would my horses be if I had my palace at Durgeswar?”
All agreed that they would be none.
“Only as mere toiling carriers. Up those stiff, broken approaches,” said Lauretta.
“Quite. And I think, Mrs. Kennedy, that a decent horse is too good for a job like that?”
* * *
“But here”—he waved a hand round the horizon—“I have the perfect cavalry ground.”
Then he looked suddenly frightened and yet bored, with a tired amusement towards life, especially this life he had to lead. “The British Government, of which I am loyal supporter, would not like Ryalgarh to have a really efficient Army. Of course, this is only from motives of economy—strictly from motives of economy! The wise Suzerain keeps an eye out for all that concerns the welfare of its wards, the Native Princes of India! Therefore I get sermon after sermon—oh, not merely from your good husband, Mrs. Kennedy, but in my correspondence with the Political Department at Delhi and whenever I go to Simla or Delhi—always preaching the virtues and the necessity of economy, this new God of our rulers! Yes, yes, there is a world depression. So I am told continually! And when I say, Very well; then let me take back that huge territory which you have taken in the middle of my capital and call your Residency area; it will be a great saving, both for British Government and for me—I am told, No; that is all fixed by treaty engagements, which it would be wrong to upset now! And so—to serve this God of yours, Economy—I may not have any adequate fighting troops, any real artillery—only just those three old guns that make a noise on my birthday or the Maharani’s birthday or any old birthday when we feel a noise would be nice! So it seems to me that I might as well have all my Army mounted. It looks better, for one thing. And it makes me feel better, more as if I were a genuine Maharana, not what the Nationalist Press calls ‘a mere gilded puppet.’”
“You’ve certainly got a place here that’s simply made for Maratha evolutions,” said Lauretta gently.
“Yes. But it had to be made, Mrs. Kennedy! It was in the famine year when I had the Racecourse made, that I also had the cracks here filled up. There used to be a huge nulla that ran right across the middle. I offended my people by filling it up, for it ruined the home of the old black cobra that they worshipped. When in the very first show that I ever held we had a fatal accident—one of my troopers’ horses went crazy and dashed into that big mango tree we can see from here, and the poor chap was killed instantaneously, striking a bough with his head—they said it was what was bound to happen. It was all I could do to persuade my cavalry to carry on or to use the same ground. But I paid my Brahmins a lakh of rupees, to say that the cobra was now appeased. And then Government complains that I do not run Ryalgarh with economy! No one could run it with economy!”
He grew ashamed, and said, “I ought not to talk like this to you, Mrs. Kennedy, who are always so kind to me. I know you are not responsible for the ignorance of those people who live in those white elephants the British Government have built at New Delhi.”
* * *
“I have given you my ancestors’ reason for leaving Durgeswar,” he continued. “There is still another reason, I sometimes think. I think Raghuba Rao Chawar must have gone from it for the very reason that I myself keep away from Durgeswar—which is partly the reason why I have not accepted Mrs. Wrenn-Barratt’s kind invitation to go with your party. He was probably sick of being a God.”
His companions looking slightly puzzled, he added, “You must have heard the remark that is ascribed to that distinguished religious leader the Aga Khan: ‘I assure you, it is not all beer and skittles being a Deity.’ Well, you can guess what happens whenever I go to Durgeswar, as for my sins I have to go only too often. I have to attend a special ceremony in the Temple of my esteemed ancestress Rukmini Bai! I have to pay my respects in turn to no less than eleven—think of it, my dear ladies! eleven Gods in one family!—semi-deified Chawars! I myself have to officiate in any number of semi-divine functions! In fact, the whole show is a solemn service, in which I am sometimes Maharana, which is quite bad enough, but more often than not the half-God—or half-demon, if you like—who will presently have his own shrine beside the Sipra! I assure you, being a God is very exhausting. I am quite glad to get back to my polo and My Army here, and to my bridge with my European friends.”
“Mr. Rattray,” he added suddenly, “I know that you British all think I am mad, and you tell the rest of India about my absurd cavalry and the money I waste on it. But let me assure you, there are many ways in which an Indian Prince can go mad; and this is perhaps the least harmful. I know, for I have tried others.”
Excusing himself, he returned to his troops. He had stayed with them, outside and in the tent, a great while.
Cavalry manœuvres were too frequent to be regarded by the Europeans as “parades.” It was understood that they made a watching fringe, and went after accepting refreshment. Lauretta, ten minutes later, deserted the mimicry of glorious war; and Philip, without encouragement and without reproof, accompanied her.
She did not take her shortest way, but a detour which touched the Racecourse. This, which is one of the finest of its kind, was made in the famine of 19— (also one of the finest of its kind). It is a three-mile circuit on a core of orchards, inside a mango-shaded ribbon of road. Notices space it for the ambitious: “Start of furlong”; “Start of quarter-mile”; “End of mile.”
As they reached it, a couple tore round the bend, and away again, the girl waving an exultant hand. Where a burst of speed was automatic, and the rain-dipped turf and January air reinforced habit with quick persuasions, Lauretta’s much-repressed mount grew fidgety. She checked him irresolutely, and followed the fliers with a wistful look.
Philip said, “Won’t you take a turn, now we’re here?” But he asked too haltingly and too eagerly.
“Afraid not. I’m not Miss Neville. And I shouldn’t enjoy a race through a choking fog kicked up by her pony’s heels.”
In hot weather the track exhales roving dust-clouds, very little affected by patches of straw. But there was no wind now, except a slow, cool breeze moving in and on itself. Lauretta knew her objection was captious, for she added, “I was almost asphyxiated at the Maharana’s show.”
“Yes, because you had whole squadrons there, galloping the ground to powder. It’s very different here. Besides, yesterday’s rain”—he hunted for a word, scanning the clods of easily crumbling soil—“has riveted the floor. Your beast knows why this course was made.”
“I know. He’s been damped down so long that he’s positively smouldering! I’ll remove him from temptation.”
* * *
A picture of the past had been flung up as if in frieze, remaining after its newer actors had vanished. Philip had reminded her. And pride and resentment came with the memory, and hardened her heart to turn his pleading down. Yet in exculpation she said, “The fog is a dry, dirty one, Mr. Rattray. I prefer to be without it. I practically never ride on the Racecourse, though there’s nothing I like better than loafing round on a pony, which is almost all there is to do in Ryalgarh.”
If anything of the old Lauretta survived, he thought, “loafing” is a very loose figure of speech.
She recurred to the scene that had passed before their eyes. “You haven’t met Miss Neville?”
“Not yet. But Mrs. Wrenn-Barratt asked me, just now, to join Monday’s picnic in her honour.”
“It ought to be rather fun. I think Durgeswar’s always fun! The Wrenn-Barratts were at Pindi until last November. After Pindi, Ryalgarh must have been a nunnery for Enid. She broke a collar-bone in a toss she gave herself during the puja outdoor festivities, and sustained a bout of fever complicated by nervous exhaustion, as a result of the indoor festivities. So, in the opinion of the Pindi civil surgeon, as well as others, she was due for a spot of rest. However, she has recovered well and quickly, and has been making the most of the limited resources of Ryalgarh, which I am afraid don’t amount to more than my husband’s assistant, Tom Inglis. We’ve just endured a perfectly gruelling week of revelry to speed her home next week.”
“I know. Drake told me.” He was emboldened to try a last appeal. “It’s going to be heavenly from now till sunset!”
“Perfectly divine! Still—I feel I want to take things quietly, till I get rested a bit. Do you very much mind, Mr. Rattray?”
“I mind tremendously. But of course I mustn’t bother you.”
“Thank you. I was telling you about Miss Neville. She gets all the fun that’s going, wherever she is, and whatever she does. And she’s really rather nice-looking, in a sound, healthy, hockey-playing fashion.”
* * *
He began to notice that a large part of her conversation was as if she were talking to herself. She said suddenly, “I think the loveliest thing about that boy is his keenness on his little Maharani. I should hate anything to go wrong between them. Whenever I go into Delhi and they ask me about him, it makes me furious the way they take it for granted that, though he may be decent now, he can’t possibly stay decent. Mr. Rattray, why are people so rotten about Indian Princes?”
“I suppose, because their Order provides some first-rate scandals from time to time.”
“Yes, those are all the public hears about. Do you think we are losing our sense of fairness?”
“I think, perhaps, we’re getting worse informed about things. And less curious. More willing to take them crudely, as the films and the popular Press choose to give them to us.”
“Sir John Chalmers, when I told him it made me perfectly wild to hear him—and everyone else—sneering that His Highness of Ryalgarh was bound to go the way that other Princes whom we won’t name have gone, said, ‘All Indian Princes go mad sooner or later—to put it at the best we can hope for.’ The Maharana’s words to us—to you, rather—reminded me of that. It looks as if the boy were afraid of something; and he often says things, all unexpectedly, that make me feel very unhappy for him. ‘All Indian Princes go mad sooner or later,’” she repeated to herself.
“They’re in luck if they don’t.”
“If they do—why is it?” She stopped, and looked hard at Philip.
“I don’t know.” He hesitated. “I suppose I should work it out this way. What are the things that men reckon make effort worth while?”
“I’m sure I have never thought, Mr. Rattray.”
“There are three main things—love, wealth, power.” The earnestness in her eyes made her younger, and brought back time as vividly as a dream can (which is very vividly indeed). Some interchange of thought and memory suffused her face, and made her pulses quicken. She went forward again.
“Mrs. Kennedy,” Philip asked, with recurrence of the boyish eagerness, “have I got to be Mr. Rattray?”
“You said you preferred not to be Major’d.”
“You know what I mean. When we last met we were Philip and Lauretta.”
“We were mere children.”
“I was twenty-seven.”
“I was only nineteen.”
“All the same—can’t we take up our friendship where it was?”
“Of course. But with a difference.”
“Has there got to be a difference?”
“I’m afraid so, Mr. Rattray. After all, our friendship wasn’t anything very deep or emotional. You were full of the War, you remember.” He remembered—but rebelliously, as a man whose own words and deeds have turned against him, shamelessly misrepresenting him. “And I was keen on having a good time. But I’m frightfully interested in what you were going to say just now. You always were an interesting companion, Mr. Rattray.”
“Even when we were all full of the War?”
“Even when we were all full of the War. But let’s get on—do you mind? I really hadn’t the time to spare for as much of H.H.’s show as I’ve seen.”
“You said this morning that you—when we met before—were interested in other things besides the War. I was a fool not to know what they were. Won’t you tell me?”
She laughed. “Lots of silly little things. Quite unworthy things. I remember I was very interested in a new frock that had just come from my Calcutta dress-maker’s as I was packing my things to come to Ryalgarh. And I remember that Colonel Grimsdale would insist on reading to us articles on how the Germans were losing enormous masses of men, and Colonel Repington’s strategical advice in the Morning Post. And would insist on talking hard about recruiting for the Indian Army among the Marathas. And the only other man present insisted on aiding and abetting him! It was very dull for Mrs. Grimsdale.”
He was amazed. “Old Grimsdale was a fool—” he began.
“No, he wasn’t. He was a very nice man.”
“I mean, I was a fool. But, Lauretta—I can’t call you Mrs. Kennedy when you remind me of things in this way!—when you went with me to Mandu—”
“I don’t want to talk about Mandu.”
“No. But you must have known—I could not have been such an utter fool that you did not know—” He stopped; and, being an old-fashioned idiot, as he told himself often, wondered if, having lost his chance of speaking, he had not better keep his peace for ever now.
But she had told him—even him, this slowest and blindest of men where the impression he was making on others was concerned (such hooded minds have the Gods given to those “who write,” possibly that they may write without disturbance from that irreverent, busy little gamin, the outside world)—that this was not all. He said, “If I told you what I actually was thinking about—yes, every minute of those few days I knew you—you would have a right to think me a cad, saying it now! And now I’ve said too much! But I never dreamed, when I said good-bye after that day at Mandu, that you would be gone next day.”
“I didn’t know, myself. But whatever are we talking about now? Nothing but the most utter foolishness! Those were jolly days—really jolly, Mr. Rattray—and you were a delightful companion, with all your interest in the country and your knowledge of it, and your friendliness with the people. Now, please go on with what you were saying before we got on to this absurd tack.”
He was hurt and disappointed. But he knew now that while he was with her he had no power to resist being drawn to say whatever she desired. And it prolonged the moments she was with him.
He was given his cue again. “You were saying that there were three things that made men keep on striving?”
So he had to speak.
“Well a Raja has his glut of them from the time he begins to know anything at all. Ryalgarh’s ranked as quite an advanced State. But the revenue is still—in theory, and to a great extent in practice—the Maharana’s private pocket-money. He’s always had all the money he wanted. That rules out money as a factor making for sanity and for effort. When he was at Cambridge he squandered, I’m told, three thousand pounds a year on a private house which with luck might otherwise have let at eight quid a week, or ten at most. And he spent another fifteen hundred making improvements to it. As for love and power, he has them both absolutely, so long as he stays in his territory; and even outside it, he can get plenty of both, of sorts. And,” he said, reddening with the intensity of his conviction, “a man whose life is empty is bound to go mad, if he can think at all.”
“Do you think that’s true of only a man?
“No. I’m sure it isn’t. But a man can let some kind of absorbing interest get hold of him and save him from the more dangerous sorts of madness. There are Princes who are saved because they simply can’t think, and don’t want to. I dare say they are the majority. Or because they go all-in for some hobby, as Kestali does for dogs. Or our Prince does for horses. And that was what the poor devil was himself thinking when he burst out like that.”
* * *
A man as lonely as Philip is at a disadvantage always; and most of all when he is with a woman who seems as if she would listen to what lives deep in his mind, and, seeing past the rawness and awkwardness of his exposure of it, perceive it as for him it exists, in clear brightness of eternity.
He said, his words tumbling out, “Our flowing out to the rest of the world, in Elizabeth’s age and later than that, was the most amazing thing the world ever saw! Yet I’m not sure that what’s happening now isn’t more amazing yet—our flowing back again into our own island and our own life, after having enriched the life of the whole earth! We’ve made a building; and now men and women are going to see if that building can stand. Yet all that most of us can see happening is just exasperation for ourselves! When we’ve got in hand the job of welding India into something genuinely and strongly national and modern! And it looks as if Fate thought we were good enough for the job, for it’s given it to us—to the generation that survived and followed the War! You’ve heard, I expect, that Giansi has asked me to go to him?”
She nodded; and after what he had heard from H.H. and Drake, he could not think it a secret from anybody, who was anybody, between Peshawur and Comorin. Her eyes encouraged him, they grew so deeply friendly and eager as he spoke.
“His dewan says he wants me practically to run the State. After all, Minister for Education is eyewash; Giansi has no education to speak of. That means a chance to do something that’ll matter after we’ve all gone. To make that State—and it’s as big as Yorkshire and as populous as Liverpool—a place that’s run for the people, and not for one man with whom the British happened to make a treaty a century ago. You can’t get anything done in England—all you can do is criticise, and expose the discontent in your own mind; and the people who have the power say, “Ah, yes, poor fellow! he’s had his nose tweaked and his toes jumped on by his betters, and he’s got an inferiority complex and envy and jealousy.” And we simply have to go on seeing the whole country falling into a rubbish-heap of poverty and ugliness and growing brainlessness. But there’s still time to get something saved in an Indian State—perhaps it’s the only place in the whole world where you can save things. You can get the Maharaja, because he has absolute power, to plan—now, before misery results in a flare-up, and you get the kind of planning they have in Russia. I’m going to get him to start universal education in a way no Indian Prince has ever thought of doing it yet—by bringing in doctors and oculists and dentists. I mean to pick my men, and make dead sure that they are not just careerists and gold-diggers, but men who know that the only thing worth living for is to lessen human suffering and ignorance. These fellows are to visit all the schools I shall establish, and before the kids start being taught see that they aren’t hampered by rotten sight from having had syphilitic parents, or because they come from homes where they were starved and got their bodies in a mess that a small thing can set right now, before it goes too far! And, if I have any say in it, the State revenues aren’t going to be spent just on providing scores of polo ponies for a Prince who no longer even cares to ride them, and hundreds of cars for any idle rascal hanging round the Palace to use, and in building new palaces, and in raising things for officials and royalty to butcher! I’m going to make Giansi establish National Parks and to remember that the land, as well as the people on it, has a spirit that is worth preserving for after-days. And by what we do in Giansi we can save India—I honestly believe that! And if we can’t, well, so far as I’m concerned it won’t matter, for I shall die before I’ve seen my failure, and the effort will have been worth the living out to the last minute of it.”
It was an absurd, childish outburst. But if what we care for comes out spontaneously and accidentally, a reckless pinning of our heart on the sleeve where any fool can wound it, the act is a tribute worth a whole wilderness of compliments. “Philip!” she exclaimed. Then her eyes, which had opened so widely, closed down abruptly. She said, “After you’ve been a year in Giansi—will you write and let me know how things have gone! I shall be in England, you know.”
* * *
They had reached the huge, monstrous cantle cut out of Ryalgarh for a Residency area, an increasing grievance of Ryalgarh rulers. Within its area was not only the actual Residency; it contained the bungalows of all the Europeans and semi-Europeans, except Drake, who lived at the College. A road forked sharply to the left, and reached the Residency in a quarter of a mile.
She did not choose to be escorted further.
“Good-bye, Mr. Rattray. Thank you for coming with me.”
He watched her figure, youthful, with the almost childlike alertness of the head above it, moving from him.
She was glad she had returned to the Residency alone. James’s gracious moods were not many; and his present was not one of them.
Her own mood also, lifted into gaiety outside the house, darkened when she drew near it. It had changed almost the moment she left Philip. Her husband was not solely responsible for the cloud on their house. There had been times, growingly infrequent, when he had roused himself, so far as a will confirmed in weakness and self-pity can ever rouse itself, to tell her that in her absence admiration and desire had stirred in him. But the impulse had been too sluggish, with too little urgency and control, to meet her settled resistance. Some clumsy word or gesture (or a word or gesture not exceptionable to an attitude less resolute in resentment) was misinterpreted; and he found himself hopelessly seeking to explain away, when he angrily felt there was nothing to explain.
When he married her, a girl of twenty-two, he was a widower twice her age. He had been intermittently sensual before and after both his marriages, but he had given her nothing of passion, having dried up in every quality of mind and self-forsaking before ever they met. Her life was with her two boys at school in England.
The hopelessly weak man who is also almost absurdly handsome is sent down the tides of destiny bound and gagged. He has not bothered to learn anything outside himself, and is easily content with the effect he makes. Sometimes vaguely arguing the matter with himself, Kennedy told himself, “She won’t give me a chance.” And, “When I married her, how was I to know the kind of girl she was? I’d never met her sort of woman.” She, on her part also, stressed the differences in their experience, and despised him because he had not the wit or the energy to force his way into her life. She did not care to imagine why he had ever decided to do her the wrong of marrying her, a girl so green beside his own unsavoury knowledge. She thought that the motives with which old and ageing men (she exaggerated their disparity, which indeed was wider than the actual years) marry children in India, so loathsome to any imagination that lives in the open, were not unknown in men of her own race. Perhaps she unduly idealised her own youthfulness at twenty-two. He himself sometimes felt she had had no business to have been so exceptionally young and naively enthusiastic.
However, if it was ever allowed by friends that discussed them, that anything could be said for him, it was held to amount to very little. Sympathies were all with Lauretta. General Wilson had once summed up, “He’s damned little use. It’s as King Charles the Second said about that fellow: ‘I’ve known him drunk and I’ve known him sober. And either way there’s nothing to him.’”
* * *
“I suppose H.H.was as usual!”
“He was very happy, certainly.”
“A kid with a new Christmas toy—watching God knows how many lakhs of rupees rushing madly about while he clapped!”
This struck her as slightly funny—the picture, that is, of units of hard-wrung revenue racing round. James had occasional flashes of wit from his less lethargic days. These came when he was grousing; and he had plenty of practice.
Since he was having tea, she said, “I’m just about ready for a cup too.”
Grumbling was resumed as she sat down. “I suppose that fellow Rattray was there?”
“These fellows who do nothing but tell other fellows how they are doing every last thing wrong, and how much better their own wonderful selves would do them—”
“Mr. Rattray isn’t that sort.”
“You know nothing about him.”
“You forget. I met Mr. Rattray here, nearly twenty years ago.”
“And found him,” he said savagely, “charming and most intelligent and in every way delightful.”
She rose, setting her cup down. Looking across the grassed expanse, she asked herself aloud, “I wonder how much longer I can stand having to live inside a Russian novel!” She reminded him, “I’ve just done a job you should have done, attending a show that gave me no particular pleasure ”
“It was your own choice. You need not have gone.”
“Don’t be ridiculous! What on earth would it look like if the Resident’s wife, as well as the Resident, cut all the ceremonies that mean so much to an Indian Prince—that help to keep alive the illusion that he’s a real ruler—which is our particular job in keeping India going? You say I need not have gone! I need not have gone,” she corrected him, “if the Ryalgarh Resident had gone himself!”
“Do you think I can afford to let my files get all on top of me—just to pander to a boy’s extravagance and conceit?”
“Have you touched your files?”
“That’s my own business. This fellow Rattray—” he began.
She made a gesture that she would hear no more.
He called after her, as she was descending the steps. “Lauretta!”
He heard her tones, in the sharpness of intense irritation. And she was back suddenly, but not for him. Her glance had fallen on her groom, walking the still-harnessed pony about. She had summoned him, and commanded substitution of a cross-saddle for the other used in ceremonial attendance on the Prince’s pageant. Then returned to change. She had seen there was no help in pacing through her garden, with a clogged and nagging mood for company. The anchorite found the desert the home of demons. She called in the physical to redress the balance of the mental.
In her mind was no feeling friendly, except pity for futility. Nor can pity so clear-eyed from any mists of emotion be named friendly.
It would have been said grudgingly and therefore uselessly. But he had meant to say something about being sorry. Seeing her face, he grew fumingly helpless; all he attained was anticlimax. “Don’t forget” (absurdly solemn) “that we have to play bridge at the Club!”
Even pity was now submerged. Only memory of this last idiocy persisted. The house had been made impossible.
* * *
She knew a man more experienced with women would not have let himself go as Philip had done. The implied flattery to her sex moved her. Memory of his face, touched with so long knowledge of the way Fate betrays a man, opportunity falls from him, friends take different paths—yet alive with a noble excitement in prospect of work worth doing, while apologetic for betraying its inner hope—darkened that other picture, of men heavily stressing their own indispensability, while wasting away in self-esteem. Her strands were woven into a sordid pattern. As she changed with a haste that was fury, so deeply inward did resentment burn, she saw a life tormenting like a dream which comes when life is ending.
She heard the pony stepping up, and was ready; the mirror held a boyish apparition whose nervous beauty was heightened by flushed cheeks and angry eyes. Approval was the first mitigation of unhappiness, a momentary one.
Then it flickered outward, with no more dignity or satisfaction. The syce was scolded, for a strap untidily hanging; and correcting it, was flustered and clumsy. Ordering him aside, she adjusted it herself. And swung into the saddle, softening at the feel of that generous temper willing to pour out all it had; even before she mounted, aware of its rider’s restless urgency of spirit.
At the Racecourse, she drew tight the pressure of her knees.
Action was her one escape from frustrate mind and body. For the former’s lesser troubles, whose solution we postpone or dread to find, it can serve as some release.
It served poorly and draggingly now, until the brute’s unselfish fire and patience won her back to some coherence. She was about to check him, knowing she should have checked him sooner—when a hoof clanged: a spade-handle flew up out of straw: her wits ran together in a huddle, stiffening on the reins with jerky rigour. Wildly reassembled, the pony all but blundered. Her eyes opening on her madness saw: yokes and earthen pots and babies and bundles and cooking preparations were strewn along the track. Peasants halting short of Ryalgarh had drawn up bullock-carts for the night.
There is no sense in being reckless, even on the best racecourse in India. She walked her pony, collected and in hand again, into quietness; then went back soberly at a canter.
Philip, approaching the unauthorised bivouac from the other end, saw and misinterpreted the arrest and reversal. He was not himself seen, or humiliation might have been shared.
Common sense told him presently that there might be another explanation; loyalty and ancient knowledge told him there must be. They would all get a hearing. But not yet. Her expression, even in that fleeting glimpse flung up and gone again, was not that of a person riding out for pleasure. “She had a right to snub me! But I never thought she would think it necessary to tell me the exact opposite of the truth! Especially after I’d made such a fool of myself before her!”
Humiliation found reasons that were far astray, yet deepened it. She was one of an official caste, to which he had ceased to belong, becoming a mere newspaper man. He told her in imagination fiercely that he wasn’t—that in England, at any rate, there was a growing handful of decent intellects who thought far otherwise. She would herself think differently, when he was her neighbour, as Giansi’s Minister.
But would she? He knew well how the adventurer-Englishman is regarded by the governing classes of India. Knew, too, how much reason there is for the way the adventurer returns contempt for contempt. It is the old interloper versus covenanted servant war over again. The governing oligarchy is despised as job-hunting to a pitch of indecency hardly known elsewhere (in the British Empire, at any rate), as tenacious of petty honours and precedence, as exalting its horn for paltry cause. The adventurer is loathed as a hireling. His masters, the Princes, are capricious and selfish; he has to eat a ton of dirt to keep their uncertain favour. He is often chosen because he is believed to be able “to write a bit.” And by God! he has to write! Fulsome lives of petty chieftains, glossing over what is matter of universal knowledge to India: speeches and pamphlets which his pompous employer signs as his own: propaganda so twisted and disingenuous that the very print seems to wriggle when you read it!
It is reported of an English poet-laureate that when appointed he returned a message that he wanted “no damned nonsense of knighthoods” (his wish was respected). Philip, aware that the adventurer-Englishman’s jobs were frequently dirty ones, had sent Giansi’s dewan, before ever he consented to look at the idea of entering the State’s service, a notification that he was “not going to write any biographies. Nor any propaganda to be swallowed in England.” The reply, flattering, suave, had soothed his fears; and he had permitted himself to imagine that as a former member of the Services he would be restored to their advantages as well as left the ones attaching to his present freelance position. And certainly he had not the slightest intention of putting up with patronage or scorn from any British officials he might have to deal with, as Minister of an important State which he meant to revolutionise into leadership of princely India!
Then he remembered that the Kennedys were going home this year. So his resolutions and anticipations did not matter. Being old-fashioned and incorrigibly hopeful, he had imagined himself, a power in the next-door State, giving friendship, pure friendship—which, as they knew in Malory’s time, is the silliest and most impossible (yet just possible), the sweetest and most paining thing in the world, to serve and worship where you may not love. But Lauretta was going home, because she had married a fool. And there had been another fool in this business, at the very start.
* * *
That row with which he had precipitated his departure from the Service, a fireworks’ affair!—at the time, it had left him with a glow at sense of duty excellently done. But the bright edges in memory were beginning to dim and fray. In an earlier estrangement, no less heroic on his part, he had been (he had it on good authority) full of the War. “The War,” he suspected, might have been the temporary form assumed by some abiding stuff that was less praiseworthy. As for his second going from his job, when he returned after the War, he could not blame the War, really, for that! At least, he was too honest to go on employing that episode to the end of time, as the excuse for everything jerky that broke up his life. Like many of his generation, Philip felt strongly that “the War” as an explanation was due for a close season. He must have been full of something else when he resigned—had it been, after all, sense of righteousness and justice?
Whatever it was, it seemed to have done him little good in the deeper places of the spirit. He liked writers (some of them), and liked mixing with them (some of them). But he did not relish thinking of himself as merely a writer—which was part reason why he intermittently meddled in politics, to the wrath of the Indian official world, which holds that all who are not actually drawing pay for governing India should leave India alone. It was part reason, too, why he was now a newspaper correspondent, in a brief tour of wandering before he joined Giansi’s service and was an administrator again in good earnest.
This recalled him to another vexation of spirit, which in most moods he had self-respect enough to dismiss with laughter. The days of the lordly Correspondents, the Russells and Nevinsons, are long over; those of to-day skulk about apologetically and nervously, unless they are there fulfilling soundly British orders from home. In that case, thought Philip, stumbling head forward into a barbed-wire entanglement of metaphors, they are valuable living buckets, ready to receive the pure milk of official doctrine. As such, they are petted in it.
How disingenuously Lauretta had turned down his offer of his company he now knew. No wonder that on seeing him—supposing him back at Drake’s bungalow—she had discontinued with suicidal abruptness her precipitate “loafing round on a pony!”
He left the Racecourse, and wandered in desultory fashion. It was already threatening to grow dark when he found himself on a height from which he could look down on Sipra, and Durgeswar’s towers to his right. That crystal twinkle leftward, apparently beyond the river yet actually Sipra’s earlier stream (severed into brooks, sluices under arches of wonderful swimming- and bathing-places), was Parikanda, the Maharana’s “Water-Palace,” never inhabited but kept in all its lovely splendour. A stanza dear to this countryside (though rejected by Pundit Sthulamatha of Benares) recurred to memory:
Go! and where Sipra’s scattered waters run— > A flight of arrows silvered with the sun! > Like youths and maidens who in love’s sweet play > Together come, then wildly, madly stray > Even for love’s sweet sake! Go! go! and there > Pause in thy heaven, and bless a sight so fair!
Surely Kalidasa exhorts his Cloud to honour what cannot be any spot but Parikanda!
* * *
It sometimes happens that a landscape dear when hope shone before us, “the cloudy pillar not yet turned,” seen in later life fades out from its self of grey reality, into what it was and ever will be in our dreams. Ryalgarh lay scarcely a league behind him; northward and southward lay Parikanda and Durgeswar, with the river sweeping deeply inward between them. Fate had set him again in the heart of this triangle which was so small, yet not too small to have held happiness brimming over, and imagination moving quickly into action. Philip was one of that not small company of Englishmen to whom India has been more than “a land of exile” or a storehouse of easily won shooting trophies. Even while he was working in them, his youthful frame and mind unaware of the unseen life they were building up (for the seen was so sufficing!), these plains and rivers, and most of all their wooded bluffs and tumbled craggy hills, had been imposing their own mystic quality. The life that had been lived here for millenniums was not his life, and he was not destined to remain in it. Yet—for some unworldly strain that had mingled in his thoughts and expressed itself in gentleness in his deeds—it had accepted him, and yielded up at least a part of its secret.
Sipra, suddenly increased to a full seeming-sluggish tide (this was the deepening of its bed, delaying the waters that ran so swiftly before), flowed in a majestic stream to the Durgeswar temples. Philip grew detached from his present questionings; he was looking down, not on Sipra, but on his own dead life of before the War—that life which, so violently taken hence for his generation, had now become a blessed ghost, an eternal existence which he should carry into death—the man behind the eyes, who sees the last visions that come when the mind is about to fade out for ever.
There was once a king in India who in arrogance of youthful strength overcame a people and made them subject to him. But war works in the noble heart its own revenge; and in after-years King Piyadasi, no longer enslaver of men but “beloved of the Gods,” studded India with pillars that eternised his shame and changed ambitions. “Of all the people who were then slain, done to death, or carried captive, if the hundredth or thousandth part were to suffer the same fate, it would now be matter of grief to His Sacred Majesty. Moreover, should anyone do him wrong, that, too, must be borne with by His Sacred Majesty, if it can be possibly borne with. His Sacred Majesty desires that all animate beings should have security, self-control, peace of mind and joyousness. Even upon the forest peoples in his dominions His Sacred Majesty looks with love.”
Philip remembered back to his schooldays, and his pleasure at seeing so much of the world’s map red-tinted. The wars by which this consummation had been achieved had never been matter of equal pride, for even a boy’s mind could see that they had been triumphs over peoples almost unarmed, and untrained to serious war. Beside the test that had come to his own generation they had shrunk into affairs still more trivial, and perils of no great moment. But even that test had begun to take on, even for those who had engaged in it, the shadowy outline and unimportance of history. Moreover, his own heart had changed. Not twenty years before, it had rejoiced at word of slaughter of England’s foes; whatever laid waste their power was a thing to thank God for, even as they too thanked Him for the sorrows which came to the English. But now it all looked in new perspective, as though it belonged to a dead age in which not this present self, but perhaps some former self that was its ancestor had lived. If one-thousandth part of the deaths that had come to Britain’s foes on any one day between 1914 and 1919 were now to come to any people on the face of the earth, it would distress him and the men who had endured the torment with him.
The old folly, of course, would be repeated. Yet his heart persisted, it was a thing beyond belief that any man who had endured the World War could ever find himself again an accomplice in the crimes of patriotism and nationalism. Returning to India, not as part of an oligarchy sheltered from winds of change and hedged in with traditional codes of action and reaction, but as Minister of a Native State, he would give every drop of blood, every minute of time—alone on this height above Kalidasa’s river, he vowed that every nerve and every thrust of effort should be dedicated to bring about a reconciliation of peoples, of East and West, of Moslem and Hindu, of Brahmin and Untouchable, of Prince and Nationalist. Giansi should count among the States of Federated India! He himself would become a power in all the States, in time of their meetings at Delhi and in all the infinite busyness of plot and cabal and propaganda by which the Maharajas and Nawabs confront this new India which threatens their privilege. He knew the Princes’ weakness, their habit of choosing crooks to do their work for them. But he did not underrate his own strength, proved in so many ways; and he knew well the added strength that comes to the man who seeks no end of his own and will tell no lies.
* * *
The deep-toned booming from the shrine of Rukmini Devi spread waves of sound across the plains. A bend of the river between him and the Temple caught and delayed them, and sent them on with renewed clarity and a low, thundrous-hanging resonance. Other sounds came up to him, of human life and birds in the forest. The world was gathering together for the evening peace. The deified Queen was moving abroad to watch over her people, these friendly simple folk of Central India. You could imagine that benediction bringing rest not to mortals only, but to the jungle tribes with whom King Piyadasi the ever-blessed desired to be at one; to devis also, and country guardians, elf and daemon and peri and fountain-prince and tree-nymph, each that in some trivial rule of rock or bushy patch or stealing waters exercised a mode of being hid from the children of men. Rumour insisted that it had not always remained hidden in this holy region! It was not hard to think of eyes brighter than mortal glancing up from their lurking-places, in obeisance and adoration as the divine Lady went by.
Some faery quality in the January air and dimming hour touched Philip with its own emancipating unreality. He turned back to Ryalgarh in a calmer, gentler mood, which he explained to himself as tiredness from his journey of the night before. And away from Lauretta’s presence his heart, torn by so much emotional misery, was able to sink back upon itself and be at some peace.
AT Drake’s bungalow he found a note from the Prince, asking him to postpone dining until the next night. “Evidently H.H. has fixed up a bridge evening with Mrs. Kennedy and the Wrenn-Barratts,” Drake explained. “Bridge is the main industry of half the Upper Ten Thousand of India, especially since Contract came in.”
Philip, who was not a bridge enthusiast himself, underrated the game’s importance; he was unreasonably (ever so slightly, but nevertheless) piqued by discovery that the Prince, whom he had been placing as his own old pupil who had so joyously rediscovered him at the Round Table Conference, regarded him as merely someone to be officially “dined,” it did not matter when. Philip had so many things he longed to say to the young man, and H.H. had been so unaffectedly cordial! But H.H., it appeared, could easily postpone the pleasure of talking to Philip again, if he saw a chance of a bridge party after dinner at the Palace, with Lauretta and his soldier-adviser and his pretty wife.
However, they drove to the Club themselves, for that slack hour before dinner which you can never make out whether you enjoy or use merely as a means of killing the part of the Indian day that is unemployed in eating or working.
Drake said, “You’ll meet Wrenn-Barratt, if you didn’t meet him at the show this afternoon.”
“No. He was too busy. I met Mrs. Wrenn-Barratt, and she kindly asked me to her picnic on Monday.”
“Well, he’s a good chap—the best type of young professional soldier. Keen on his job of special cavalry instructor here. He gets on well with H.H. He told me he was bringing a guest this evening, by the way—so you’d better be prepared! No less a person than General Fawcett-Fawcett!”
When “the Reforms” came in after the War, there was much grumbling, and more than grumbling, in official India. There was also a resignation, spectacular within a limited circle, and in that limited circle still remembered. General Fawcett-Fawcett, commanding the Kalahar brigade and area, resigned, “because this nonsense has gone a damned sight too far.” So Philip asked now, naturally enough, “What’s he doing back here?”
“Old Forceps-Forceps? He comes every year for big game shooting. Norah Wrenn-Barratt’s a cousin of his; and he’s taking Enid Neville home next week.”
“Do you know the old boy?”
“I’ve met him. He used to come big game shooting here; no doubt H.H. and his Cabinet are in conclave now, as to whether they can spare him a tiger. The odds are that they won’t. Tigers are getting scarce in Ryalgarh. I believe he’ll have to take it out in bears and leopards. I fear so—I very greatly fear so.”
“What’s he like?” asked Philip forebodingly.
“Oh, decent old boy. Frightfully decent. Prehistoric in his mental habits, but awfully splendid and all that. The kind of general,” said Drake illuminatingly, “who says ‘What! what!’ a great deal.”
“I thought that kind of general was a myth now.”
“Don’t you believe it! We say he is, because we are all dead afraid of seeming unoriginal. We simply daren’t put Nature on to paper or into speech any longer. The ‘What! what!’ general is still with us—and not only in the London clubs.”
Though they may not know it, the Europeans in Ryalgarh are a lucky crowd. It is a serene, good-tempered little corner, with more than its share of amenities. Its forests have a sweet open loveliness, especially where they run up into the Vindhya. A Governor has said that the Sipra is a fine river. And we know what Kalidasa thought; and Kalidasa was a judge of landscape.
The Club is in keeping with the other excellences of this happy region. Away from the main roads, it is never dusty. While you play tennis or badminton, gardeners move round the quisqualis clumps that are throwing out a fountain of fragrance from their honey-clogged trumpets, and the borders of balsam and petunia and zinnia and heliotrope; and accompany the pat of balls and ping of shuttlecocks with the jug-jug-jug tumble of water freshening the air.
The veranda has sometimes proved an anxiety, for its pillars are overhung with morning glory and other creepers, which bring in an occasional viper and a good many scorpions, the truth being that the plinth is not quite high enough. (Of course, the creepers help the reptiles, and harbour them; perhaps they should be cut away, but they are too beautiful when flowering.) Still, you do not often find vipers crawling over bare floors beneath a flood of lights.
The Club has splendid servants, who have been there a great while, and thoroughly understand British ways.
It will be a thousand pities if the rising flood of discontent and democratic stupidity ever submerges Ryalgarh. When civilisation has been driven out of the world elsewhere, it may still find a refuge here, in the breasts of this balanced, favoured few.
No hungry generation treads them down.
Drake and Philip passed right into this demi-paradise, to see if there were any chits for the former, who was Mess President. The Wrenn-Barratts were seated in an alcove of a veranda, and with them a severe-looking, white-moustached gentleman easily identified as the General. He had that alertness of the active bachelor whose energies have not been dissipated in the worries of family life but kept intact to face and study the world.
The alertness took quick disapproving stock of Philip. Cause and effect were linked (of course); Philip had foolishly felt self-conscious on entering his old haunts as a suspected stranger. Guilt had escaped into his manner.
“Who’s that fellow? I mean, the younger one.”
“Fellow called Rattray,” said Wrenn-Barratt, jerking forward his easy-chair, and getting rid of a long accumulation of ash on his cigarette.
“Anything to do with the Sikhs?” asked the General, preparing against his instincts to be mollified. “When you find a fellow called Rattray—or Barratt, like yourself—you expect him to be in the Sikhs.”
“Oh no. Though, curiously enough, he did serve with the Sikhs in the War, and did rather well. Mrs. Kennedy was telling me he rose to be Major.”
“She know him?”
“Used to. He was stationed once in Ryalgarh, curiously enough.”
“I don’t like his looks,” the General summed up. “Looks to me like a writing fellow.”
Mrs. Wrenn-Barratt exploded. “Why, Uncle Reggie, that’s exactly what he is! He is a writing fellow. He’s visiting India now as special correspondent for some rag or other.”
“Thought I knew the type,” said the General, pleased with himself.
Instinct—and General Fawcett-Fawcett often remarked on the soundness of his instinct: “I can spot a bolshy a mile off. He gets me in my bones”—had begun the illumination. Memory completed it. “What! what! not that fellow! The Rattray—the fellow who cut up in that shocking shameful bolshy fashion just after the War!”
“The very man, Uncle Reggie,” said Mrs. Wrenn-Barratt. It was her turn to lean forward and shake off cigarette-ash; and the action enabled her to make with her hand at the same time a gesture of dramatic amazement.
“Good Lord! the thing’s a scandal! an outrage! If we had any sort of a Government—that had the right to call itself a Government—in this rottenly run country, the fellow would never be allowed to show his face in India again! I wonder they didn’t turn him back at Bombay!”
* * *
Meanwhile Drake, having found there was nothing for him, was bracing his companion to go over the top. “Come along, Phil, we’ll get the low-down on the Universe in general, and on India in particular, from old Forceps-Forceps! Don’t look so shaken! You’ll like the Wrenn-Barratts. She’s pretty and jolly; and he’s got his head soundly screwed on.”
“It isn’t that,” said Philip, grinning. “I caught the General’s eye just now.”
“Ah! that can be a nasty experience—as many now highly distinguished soldiers can tell you. Johnny Carstairs told me he still sweats blood when he remembers the time he was Forceps-Forceps’ staff-captain at Kalahar. But pull yourself together, and play the man! Who knows—this day you and I may light such a candle as shall never be put out in Forceps-Forceps’ mind! I tell you what! I’ll talk to him and give him time to get accustomed to the idea of your proximity. And you can chat to Norah Wrenn-Barratt. That’s a generous offer!”
“It is. And I’ll accept it almost cringingly.”
We have to admit that Philip came to judgment of the General as prejudiced as the General came to judgment of him.
* * *
Drake proved as good as his word. He took on the General, who in any case showed no disposition to exchange more words than necessary with the journalist; and Philip talked to Mrs. Wrenn-Barratt, who was good-natured and pretty, and had the Irish graces. The brogue, if not too heavy, is a fine sheen on conversation; it can impart the glitter of wit and spirit to ordinary observations. The Saxon is not only a dull dog; Providence has seen to it that he looks like a dull dog, and talks and behaves like one. This is his punishment for centuries of injustice to Celts.
Mrs. Wrenn-Barratt recalled the fact that she had seen Philip at the cavalry show. They both agreed that the show was a good show. But not really of any military value. “H.H. is just a playboy,” she said. Both agreed that the show must be jolly expensive.
This drew in the General. “They tell me this hobby costs your fellow the deuce of a lot. I understand that Willingdon’s tired of dropping him hints that, with his revenues in the mess they are, he might rest content with the stables he’s got already.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Mrs. Wrenn-Barratt. “Isn’t it better than the hobby of the Raja in that book we read last year—that Hindoo Holiday chap? Horses are a clean craze, at any rate!”
The General did not reply to this. He was old-fashioned enough to think that there were certain aspects of Eastern (or, for that matter, Western) existence better ignored by women, particularly by women as young and attractive as his cousin. And there was that child Enid, who might have been present. He was glad she was not.
* * *
Drake had done injustice, saying that the General visited India as a big game hunter. He explored the political and military situation as well as the jungles. And found enough, the reader will believe, to disquiet and disturb. If you knew India in the good old days, it is horrible to contemplate it now.
“Is there much polo nowadays?” he asked Wrenn-Barratt.
“Only in the Cavalry. It’s become too damned expensive.”
“I know. With all this false economy everywhere! What’s it cost a young fellow now?”
Wrenn-Barratt considered carefully. “Well, to do it decently—”
“You must do it decently—if you do it at all,” said his wife.
The General nodded.
“Well, to do it properly he must have four polo ponies, to start with.”
“I see that. Quite that,” said the General.
“And then he’s got to have his line ponies as well.”
“So you can’t do it on under five hundred a year extra, besides your pay.”
“At least that.”
(After a pause) “It must be very difficult to get the right type of man nowadays.”
“Damned difficult. In fact, the Seonees’ Adjutant was telling me their Colonel has issued a battalion order, ‘No cars before ponies.’”
“What’s that mean?”
“Why, no fellow’s to have a car until he’s got his four polo ponies plus his line ponies.”
“That’s good, isn’t it?”
“When he’s able to turn out for a B or C team, then he can get a car.”
“So that he won’t let the battalion down?”
“But what about the infantry? Do they get much polo?”
“Hardly any. Take the case of a company commander. His company’s entitled to eight horses fed at Government expense. But the fellows have to buy the horses themselves. That comes jolly heavy, as you can guess.”
“You can get a raw pony for about nine hundred rupees. And with luck you can sell him in two years, when you’ve finished training him. Some fellows do it for a speculation. After all, you don’t stand to lose so much. If he isn’t good enough for first-class polo, you can sell him as a cavalry charger. You’ll get seven hundred for him that way.”
“So you only drop two hundred?” observed the General, after a silence during which, Philip supposed, he had been making this mathematical calculation.
“And of course you’ve had your polo.”
Wrenn-Barratt assented. “You’ve had your polo.” So did his wife, leaning forward again to knock off cigarette-ash. “You’ve had your polo.”
* * *
The company watched with disinterested eyes the advent of other strayed revellers. A girl in riding kit came in: Miss Enid Neville, with her attendant, Mr. Thomas Inglis. Rattray and they were made acquainted, and Inglis was introduced to the General.
“See you presently, Norah,” said Enid; and proceeded with the graceful hauteur of leisurely weariness to climb the stairs. She was petite, and cultivated a dashing air; and in periods of deliberation such as the present moved with an aloof arrogance distinctly becoming. Inglis followed her. Presently from above came the sound of a dance tune on a gramophone. Not that Enid and her swain were dancing—yet. But she belonged to a generation that prefers to “do it with music,” whether “it” is eating in a hotel or punting upstream. At present she was enjoying a long drink to jazz accompaniment, beating time dreamily with her whip on jodhpurs and puttees.
“Yes, I will take another, Tom,” she said. “Without gin this time. That drink’s just about saved my life! I was ready to melt into the ground!”
* * *
The bearer brought another drink; and Tom changed the record, this time putting on a Hawaiian air with an excruciating wail. It touched Enid to pleasant sadness. Her squire, who was wanting to kiss her, guessed that her mood was one of soft reverie with no particular content—at least, he felt that she was ready to play again, and in response to his look she rose and said, “Yes, it would be a shame to miss this.”
As they danced he said, “I can’t bear the thought of having to lose you next week!”
“You’ve been sweet to me, Tom. We won’t think of it now.”
“This place was a dull show before you came. I can’t believe you’ve been here only a couple of months.”
“You’ve given me a topping time. I shall always remember it.”
“Enid! why won’t you marry me?” he urged.
“Because—Tom, because—oh, because of heaps of things.”
“You say I’ve managed to give you a topping time. And I know you’ve given me one! Absolutely top-hole!”
“You’re a dear, Tom, and I should have been lost without you. Mrs. Resident, just because Colonel Resident happens to be the limit, freezes the station up.”
“She didn’t freeze me up, Enid—not where you were concerned. Why won’t you marry me? I’m simply not willing to let you go—after the topping month we’ve had together.”
“Oh, well—perhaps I will, Tom darling. Only don’t bother me now about it. We’ve got all to-morrow together, and the day after. It would be rather a scream,” she added thoughtfully, “to announce our engagement my very last night! It would give a tony finish to this absolutely impossible hole.”
“It would be absolutely top-hole!”
“Absolutely—divine! Dashing! I can see that. But don’t worry me any more about it now, Tom, that’s a dear. I want to get back to my drink.”
* * *
The Hawaiian melancholy struck on the ears of those downstairs less delightsomely. General Fawcett-Fawcett voiced a vague dissatisfaction.
“Queer noises these youngsters like nowadays.”
“You get used to them, and then you rather like them,” said Mrs. Wrenn-Barratt. “But Enid’s simply bursting with life. The child wants to be doing something—dancing or golfing or tennis or rushing about all the time. It’s her brain,” her sister explained. “It’s too much alive to let her be still. I was the same myself before we came here.”
This interpretation was so plainly satisfactory that it called out no comment. The party all had another drink, which was on Drake.
“What were they doing at home, sir, when you left?” asked Wrenn-Barratt.
“Oh, foolin’ about as usual. Lot of rot about the Test matches in Australia. Messin’ about with Socialism. Tryinn’ w to lose India, among other things.”
“If you ask me, we shall lose it,” said Mrs. Wrenn-Barratt. “And when you know India the very idea of these people being ever able to run their own show—why, it’s merely—merely—” She was looking about for her ash-tray into which to drop another cigarette-end, and could not find it, having swept it on to the floor a few moments earlier. Her husband passed one across the table. “It’s merely absurd!” Her voice rose to a little scream. “They just can’t do it!”
“Of course they can’t.”
“Rather not!” said Wrenn-Barratt.
“Democracy’s useless for this country,” said Mrs. Wrenn-Barratt.
“Of course it is.”
“It would be all right if you could guarantee that the right people would get on top. But you can’t—out here.”
“Quite. It’s not like England.”
“Not a bit. In fact, if you ask me, it’s quite unlike it. With all the so-called educated classes, the babus and students and lawyers! And.” she concluded, drawing to a point, as Bully Bottom recommended Quince to do, “if you get the wrong people on top, what’s the good of having democracy at all?”
“I quite agree,” said General Fawcett-Fawcett, with the solemnity that sat so well upon his judgments.
Wrenn-Barratt seemed slightly restive under this philosophical disquisition. As for Drake and Philip, it was noticeable how completely their presence was ignored.
* * *
But the conversation rose to cheerfulness again. The General asked, “Suppose a fellow can’t make the grade for a pony as a polo pony, quite, but wants to sell it not too badly. What’s he do then?”
“The big market is the States. Fellows like our man here. The States take a lot of polo ponies; and other ponies. When a fellow buys his ponies he pays off two hundred rupees a year to the regimental polo fund, so that it doesn’t come too heavily on him all at once.”
“And he stands to lose about two hundred in the end, as I say.”
“And to make anything from a thousand upwards.”
“Anything from a thousand upwards,” said Mrs. Wrenn-Barratt.
“All the same,” said the General, after long consideration, “it’s pretty hard on a young fellow in these days. I wonder if our bolshies at home and here ever stop to consider what they’re doin’! It’s the Empire they’re playin’ ducks and drakes with.”
“Quite. But they don’t think of that.”
“You can bet your life they never stop to think of that,” said Mrs. Wrenn-Barratt.
“Then what does an infantry battalion do for sport?”
“Hockey’s the great game. Best game for the men, too. I’m speaking of the Indian Army, mind.”
“They’ve hockey three times a week. And it’s treated as a parade, practically.”
“In fact, it is a parade,” said Mrs. Wrenn-Barratt.
“Quite. I understand.”
“Every fellow has to turn up. Or else beg off in advance.”
“He has to beg off in advance, if he wants to cut it,” explained Mrs. Wrenn-Barratt.
“And have a jolly good reason for begging off.”
“Jolly good reason,” said Mrs. Wrenn-Barratt.
“And if it’s a match and he’s not watching—”
“What happens then?”
“Why, he gets it where the chicken got the axe—fairly and squarely in the neck!”
“Fairly and squarely in the neck!” corroborated Mrs. Wrenn-Barratt.
“Wonderful, isn’t it!” said the General.
“Mind you, I’ve never been sorry I went into the Cavalry. I used to think I’d have done better in the Pioneers. But I don’t now, even if I hadn’t got this billet.”
“The Pioneers get good pay,” said the General.
“Quite. But you see, they advance slowly, while the Cavalry shoot up.”
The Kennedys arrived.
* * *
Philip had scarcely listened to the foregoing conversation, not merely because it had been entirely off his beat. If it be true that the doctrine of a soul in man (which we are now rejecting) was the invention of an Athenian sophist, nevertheless we have moods which give it plausible support. The mind has its worlds of being, apart from the rigidly bound one of present action; and can live in these with an intensity of pain and pleasure that almost ignores the body. He had been dreaming and thinking and acting again in the vivid past; and also, in a past which had never been, yet might have been, had he himself been less foolish. The experience had points of such acute feeling that it was hard to realise it was solely imaginary.
Lauretta betrayed no embarrassment at meeting him. Men have long ago noted this deceitfulness of women, who can be guilty of evasion and the gravest social wrong-doing, yet expect a smile to sweep it into oblivion! So he told himself, and meant to be frigid and dignified. He succeeded only (so unfairly has the capacity for the amenities of civilised intercourse been allotted) in appearing awkward. Even this she did not see; her conscience was at perfect rest!
* * *
That the four who had arranged to play bridge were now five, by the General’s coming to the station, made it difficult, if not impossible, for Drake and Philip to go immediately. Wrenn-Barratt stood down for the first rubber; and began to draw them into friendly talk. And while the preliminaries of cutting for deal and taking places and shuffling and giving out the hands were being transacted, Lauretta asked the General about his travels.
Trimulgherry, whom he had just left, was a Prince of far higher caste than Ryalgarh’s. He was a man much in Europe; and had settled down long ago into cynical acceptance of the system of make-believe in which God and the British had allotted him so pleasant a niche.
“He told me he had had a visit from some fellow Government’s been sendin’ round to wake these fellows up to the advisability of doin’ something for their fellows in an agricultural way.” The General did not consistently drop his g’s, but he did when moods of nonchalance and negligence came upon him. “He seems to have got wrought up quite a bit—was rather surprised at findin’ himself wrought up about anything—”
“And anyone else who knows Trimulgherry would be surprised,” said the Resident, reaching for his cards and beginning to sort them.
“He’s ordered half a dozen Jersey bulls from England. I said to him, ‘Maharaja, you’ll have to warn your people to be jolly careful!’ You see, Trimulgherry’s idea is just to turn them loose like Brahminy bulls. ‘Those animals,’ I told him, ‘aren’t like the meek little beasts you call bulls in India. Unless you look out they’ll he apt to run amuck and kill some of your fellows!’ And he gave me a profound bow, and he said, ‘Sir, if that should happen, my people would esteem it an honour!’ Perfectly sweepin’ bow he gave me!”
“I think this vivacious courtliness of some of the Princes is simply too sweet,” said Lauretta, looking through her hand.
“I was askin’ him what good all these ceremonials do—you know, he’s a Brahmin—and he said—You know that absolutely roguish look he can put on?”
“Wicked old devil, Trimulgherry,” said Mrs. Wrenn-Barratt. “A real naughty naughty old man! One heart!”
“He put that on. And he said, ‘General Fawcett-Fawcett, whenever I hold a durbar my subjects have to wash their hands seven times before they are allowed to touch mine. That, at least, I think you will admit, does some good!’”
“Four no trumps!” said Lauretta startlingly, through the subsiding laughter. And proceeded to make them with impressive confidence.
Philip and Drake excused themselves. As they went, Philip caught Lauretta looking at him intently. “Seems rather a sulky fellow, your bolshy,” the General observed, a minute later.
Outside, Philip said, “I feel absolutely bloody in these places—as out of place as an Aberdonian in the Savoy grill-room!”
“You wouldn’t, if you came back and settled down again. They’re all right, really—if you have the sense to stick to India, and not go wandering about.”
Sunday went in renewing acquaintance with Ryalgarh. Drake showed him the funeral monument of the Maharani of his time. Everyone who has visited India knows these little platforms, with roofs on pillars. A statue of Her Highness stood inside: Drake cautiously drew attention to an electric fan.
“About the end of March the priest tells H.H. that his mother is beginning to feel the heat. So the current is switched on, and goes all through the hot weather.”
“It seems a needlessly pessimistic view of where she spends the summer.” commented Philip. “She wasn’t a bad sort, as I remember her. In fact, she was most frightfully kind-hearted.”
“You were merely invited to note the march of science,” said Drake severely, “and the way we’re harnessing it to the service of religion. And then they say Indian States are backward!” As they went away, he added, “There’s one thing the people grouse about, though. H.H. has imposed a special cess on everyone who lives within a mile radius of his mother, to support her shrine and the priest who regulates her temperature.”
In the afternoon they drove out to see the zemindar of Khandghur, an old friend of Philip’s, and the latter learnt more about cesses. He inquired, as a journalist should, about the incidence of taxation, and about economic conditions generally. The zemindar had his books fetched, and showed one or two pages. He was very proud of these, which were specially kept by his son, a graduate of Bombay University.
Philip saw some items that were new to him. “Latiana?” he queried.
Drake explained, the old man nodding and grunting when he followed the gist in places, that “the Lat Sahib”10 had done Ryalgarh the honour of shooting in it, last cold weather. His Highness had passed on the expense to his landlords, who had raised it by a cess.
“Tell you afterwards,” Drake whispered; and began to chat about the mischief black buck do in crops. He explained, when they went away, “The zemindar bought himself a new car as a puja-present, and raised its price by another special cess on his tenants. That’s motorana—a recognised institution since your day.”
* * *
Then in the evening, Philip dined at the Palace, where he met with an even more startling contrast of ceremony and its absence than when he had called the morning of his arrival. After the blare and clatter outside, the Prince himself appeared on the steps, and took him in. His Highness had been playing tennis, and was still in his flannels. Only his guest had dressed for dinner.
This might be taken either way—as easy-going affection for a friend, or negligence of that friend’s official unimportance. As a matter of fact, it was forgetfulness. H.H. had not remembered that it was for to-night that he had invited Philip; and he had accidentally seen Philip getting out of his car.
The little Maharani was every bit as charming as report called her. But she said little, and that little only when addressed directly. Her face lit up like her husband’s when Mrs. Kennedy was mentioned. “We call Mrs. Kennedy the Buffer State,” said the Prince. “She keeps me from open war with the Paramount Power! But we won’t talk about Politicals or what I feel about them! It’s pretty much what every member of My Order feels about them.”
Philip had come friendlily inclined to help the Maharana with advice and encouragement. It was a setback to discover that the Maharana had been thinking about his case and had seen difficulties in it.
“You know, Rattray, you weren’t meant to be simply a writer. That’s what Drake says. ‘Rattray has a restless body, not simply a restless mind. He was intended to do things and to run other people doing them. He was in his element here, before he found out that the whole Indian system was one big sham. If he’d only had a political training first in England, or had come from the English political classes, he’d have realised that things here are no worse sham than in any other Government, in Europe or America, and he wouldn’t have been so sensitive and highly moral. If I know anything about Philip, he’s been leading a pretty frustrate life since he blew up and left us.’ That’s what Drake is always saying about you. Is he so far wrong?”
“No,” said Philip shortly. “I’m afraid he isn’t.”
“I see,” said the Prince; and looked at him keenly. He changed a subject that was evidently disquieting his guest.
* * *
The Maharani excused herself early, and her husband took Philip off to his study for a talk.
He started with the obvious topic. “You’ve decided to go to my neighbour Giansi, then?”
“Yes. I wrote definitely that I would, a fortnight ago. I signed my contract for three years.”
The Prince was disconcertingly blunt. “I should never advise any Englishman—that I cared about—to accept any job with one of My Order except that of just general adviser, with no definite duties. Even that might turn out embarrassing. We’ve all been rather wondering what Giansi’s up to in inviting you.”
The Maharaja of Giansi has a well-earned reputation for craftiness and far-sighted scheming.
Philip said, “The gup at the Club here has been that he’s afraid of civil disobedience starting in his State, and he wants to be able to tell H.M. Government, ‘I can’t help it. I’ve done my best. I’ve even put in an Englishman to keep my schools in order.’” He grinned.
The Prince laughed like a boy. “If that’s so, it would be a motive worthy of Giansi. But I heard another yarn—that you are wanted to write his Life. It’s all Sir John Chalmers’s fault. He was looking grimly at one of your articles in—” (he named an English weekly of austere irritating nobility) “that had been reproduced by one of our worst rags out here. And Giansi, who’s always looking for an Englishman who can write, happened to be with him when he said, ‘This fellow ought to be caned! But I have to own he can write. I wish there was something we could get him that would keep him quiet! I wonder if an O.B.E. would do it?’”
“No,” said Philip with decision. “An O.B.E. would not do it. But—I’ve been reasonably frank at times—but I don’t remember anything I’ve written that any Congress paper would think worth reproducing. Have you any idea what it was?”
“Yes. I was there also. It was during Princes’ Week. It was your article on ‘Impudence in High Places.’”
“Oh, but—” Philip said, reddening, I remember that! It wasn’t mine. I would never have written it, for one thing. It wasn’t decently fair at all. The fellow had got hold of a certain amount of truth; but for the rest, he’d been listening without the least suspicion to rabid chatter. There were things in it that distinctly hit below the belt.”
“There were. And I fancy you’ll find,” His Highness chuckled, “that the Indian Government will have no hesitation in hitting you back below the belt in reprisal—when it gets a chance. The Indian Government is strictly realist, my friend. It can never see why this objection to hitting below the belt has ever arisen. Nor can I. After all—it’s easily the most effective place to hit!”
“Maybe. But what interests me is that they should think I wrote that beastly article.”
“It was signed with your initial. Just ‘R.’”
“Yes, but that,” said Philip, distressed, “was Reynier. He signs just ‘R.’ If I sign at all, I sign ‘P. R.’”
“Well—you may be interested to know that they’ve got a pile of stuff signed ‘R.’ up at Delhi, all carefully docketed as by you. Sir John has seen to that. He’s not a great reader, as a rule—he’d never have got where he has if he had been! Reading,” His Highness explained, “takes too much time. But he’s been giving considerable attention to your works.”
Philip had found enough that needed probing. He recurred, however, to Giansi. “You say Giansi expects me to write his Life!”
“That’s what we all believe.”
“But his Life has been written already. The fulsome trash which Sir Harold Bemerton produced.”
“Giansi’s gravely dissatisfied with it. He doesn’t think it good enough.”
“Doesn’t think it good enough?”
“Doesn’t think it good enough,” the Prince repeated.
“Do you mean,” asked Philip, incredulous, “that he doesn’t think it fulsome enough? Flattering enough?”
“No. He doesn’t.”
“But Bemerton absolutely raved! he drooled! he dithered!”
“He did. But not about His Highness’s literary efforts. His Highness counts on you—as a literary man of some distinction yourself—to do that adequately. Besides, he’s having an economy fit—like your own Government. Bemerton was retiring from service, and demanded fifty thousand rupees. Your whole three years—even if you finish them, which is very doubtful—won’t cost more than about half as much again as that; and you’ll be able to put in a lot of other propaganda as well, since you’ll be on the premises and have secretaries.”
“But I told Giansi through his dewan that I’d be shot before I’d touch the kind of dirty work most Princes expect from Englishmen.”
“That doesn’t matter in the least. Giansi believes you can be cajoled—or bullied—starved, if necessary—into doing what he wants.”
H.H. was thoroughly enjoying himself. Lauretta’s name of goblin for his ancestors was not uninspired. Puck was undoubtedly a Maratha spirit. And Puck was now looking at his English guest.
Then the Prince grew serious on his own affairs. “These Congress fellows are meddling in Our Business again. The Paramount Power should stand to its side of the bargain with us, and stop it. Frankly, Rattray, We Princes do not know where the British Government is going and where we shall find ourselves when it has finished.”
Philip said the obvious thing. “It doesn’t know itself.” He added, after silence, “Your Highness cannot altogether wonder if the Nationalists are openly meddling in your business. The States aren’t any longer leaving British India alone. They and their employees are continually writing pamphlets on the Indian situation, especially whenever there’s been a flare-up of the Hindu-Muslim trouble. I have a considerable collection of these interesting documents.”
The Prince thought over this. Then he proceeded to set out his perplexities in the rapid industrialisation of his city. Currents of agitation other than solely political, and often contemptuous of the solely political, were busy in Ryalgarh.
“This trouble in Alwar is very worrying for My Order. I suppose your papers have been told it’s just another Hindu-Muslim quarrel?”
“Naturally,” said Philip cheerfully. “It takes six years to get a fresh idea about India into the British mind. You hammer hammer hammer; and at last it gets there. But there’s never room for more than one, or at most two ideas, at a time. Thanks to the Round Table Conferences we’ve grasped the notions of Hindu-Muslim trouble and untouchability, and we’re going on with these for the present. The building of Rome, which impressed Virgil as such a slow, tough job, was tossing off a drink, compared with this one of teaching the West anything about India. A pal of mine, who had a lot to do with advising the Labour Party leaders during the Round Table Conferences, told me he thought he had just managed to achieve two things—he had, after infinite patience, taught some of them that lathis weren’t the same thing as lathes, and had got exactly three of them not to pronounce Pathans as Pay-thans.”
Lathis reminded him, at last, of Drake’s message. “Your Highness must please not ask me how I know. But I’ve been asked to warn you of the likelihood of trouble at the Lakshmi mill a week from yesterday.”
The Prince looked troubled. “May I ask one thing? Was it Drake told you?”
“Then I know I must take it seriously. I’ve been watching that mill for some weeks.” The Prince became silent.
* * *
Then he said, “Do you mind excusing me a moment while I telephone to My Commander-in-Chief, after what you have just told me?”
His private telephone, part of a limited service which went to a score of houses, Indian and European, was in the same room. Before he actually took it up, he said, “You know, Rattray, what India needs is autocracy. Nothing else can settle our troubles. Why don’t men like you, who must know the truth, tell your people to support My Order?”
“We can’t, unless your Order supports itself better. It’s beginning to look monstrous that nearly half of India must be told it cannot have any sort of change in political status, no matter what happens in the larger and more populous half, no matter what happens in England, America, Russia, Spain, Germany, Turkey, Persia, anywhere, in fact!—just because a lot of men made treaties with a foreign Power in the old earliest Victorian days, and even before that! And that a few hundred men must be safeguarded in their positions and privileges for all time, and left free to do absolutely what they like with their half of India—live outside it if they wish, and not care a damn what happens inside it! waste money in European capitals and on worthless people and on crooks everywhere but in India! Your Highness knows I am not speaking of your own case, of course.”
“I agree entirely,” said His Highness, in no way offended. “The only point where you and I differ, Mr. Rattray, is that you are a journalist of—forgive me for speaking frankly, you have been exceedingly frank with me—”
“Of course, please speak frankly!”
“Well, you are not a practical man, are you? After all, you left India for mere whims and scruples! But a journalist of somewhat doctrinaire turn of mind. You are an advanced Liberal in your own country, where a wide latitude of opinion is allowed, such as would never be allowed in other countries, in Russia, for example, or in Italy or Turkey or America or Japan. And you think, quite naturally, that Liberalism is a panacea for the whole world. But people who have the job of ruling and administering know that it is not.”
Philip accepted this somewhat sweeping exposition of his mind and heart. He was too eager to make his conviction accepted, to care about misunderstanding of himself. H.H., meanwhile, was wondering if, after all, he wanted his friend so near to him as the neighbouring State of Giansi. It will be a shattering day for the Princes if the modern world ever really gets a footing in their territories.
“I’ll agree with Your Highness all the way,” said Philip, “if your conception of autocracy—of the autocracy that India needs—is the same as mine, as I feel sure it is. If the people of an Indian State are to have no sort of an assembly which has any real power—and in many cases, are not even to be allowed alleged representatives who are all nominated by the Prince or his dewan—then their Ruler himself has got to be almost superhuman. He has to be their safety-valve! He has to be their bulwark! He’s got to stand between them and his own servants, as well as behind his servants—to be an autocrat not merely where his own pleasures are concerned, but where their pains are concerned!”
“So I am,” said the Prince proudly. “My People know that anyone, no matter how poor, has the right, if he has a grievance, to stop my motor-car.”
“Ye-es,” said Philip doubtfully. “The Mogul Emperors had a bell attached to their palaces, which in theory any subject could ring if he wanted an audience. We need not suppose that the privilege was abused by excessive use. The bill for new bell-ropes was probably not a heavy one!”
“No. Probably not. They were Muslims, and foreigners. I am a Hindu Prince ruling over My Own People.”
“Has anyone stopped your car yet?”
He hesitated. “Not yet. But they know they can do it, any time they want. My royal flag flies on the car, so that everyone can see I am there. Oh yes,” he said, brightening, “there was one person who stopped it once, two years ago, when I was in London, and my wife was driving out. It was a small boy who had an old tennis-ball and had accidentally sent it over into our Palace garden, and wanted to be allowed to look for it.”
“That’s not so bad,” said Philip, “if that could happen.”
“It’s more than could happen in Giansi, where you yourself are going!”
“No. But it’s got to happen in Giansi.”
“It won’t happen with the present Prince!”
“Then I must be the Buffer State myself, however unpopular it makes me. He can’t sack me till my three years’ contract is up.”
“If you are half as good a Buffer State as the one we have in Ryalgarh, Giansi will be in luck! But I have been forgetting to telephone to My Commander-in-Chief.”
* * *
Before he could lift the mouth-piece, the telephone bell rang furiously. “Don’t think of going yet,” he entreated his guest. “Eleven o’clock is nothing”—he smiled radiantly—“when I have an old friend like you here, Rattray.” He listened to the telephone.
Philip, startled not by word but by tone, looked up. Across H.H.’s face emotions of anger and dismay were passing. He issued rapid, imperious orders in Marathi—the ruling class in Ryalgarh, though its population was ninety per cent non-Maratha, were all Marathas. Then set the phone back. “I’m afraid I must ask you to go, after all!”
“I hope nothing serious has happened?”
“Only that they’ve fired the Lakshmi Mill. If it weren’t for the Paramount Power, Mr. Rattray,” he said savagely, “which in its own fashion, God knows, is overbearing and autocratic enough, I could settle these fellows in a way that would prevent my ever having any more trouble!”
His guest made no reply to this. He asked, “What is Your Highness going to do now?”
The Prince said, stiffly even in his vexation, “I have ordered My Cavalry out immediately. They are coming here—at once! I Myself shall lead them.”
Philip thought, “A whole heap of use they’ll be in the appallingly narrow and winding—and congested—streets of Ryalgarh’s industrial quarters!”
“As for the fellows who’ve started this business,” said H.H., “unfortunately they are subjects of British India. But I know I can trust the British Government not to make any great fuss if they get killed accidentally—strictly accidentally! It will be a valuable warning to their friends in British India. Now, Rattray, if you’ll excuse me, I must get ready to go out with My Army. We’re not going to have any repetition of the Alwar affair here! Or have the British brought in to clear up a mess for the State’s ruler!”
Philip was a man betwixt two miseries. However, he said, “Your Highness must let me come, too. I have seen active warfare, so I may be of some use.”
“Thank you. But it will be very unwise of you to get mixed up with this trouble. It will finish your going to Giansi. I warn you as a friend, if H.M. Government can find any shadow of a valid excuse it means to keep you out of Giansi!”
“I know. But it’s too late. I have my contract.”
H.H. and his guest were out in the hall now. The former, bounding up the wide stairs with unprincely speed, called back, “You’ll find it’s never too late for the Paramount Power to do down a fellow it dislikes! However, please yourself, Rattray!”
There was the whirr of an arriving car. Then Lauretta came quickly in.
* * *
“Is His Highness here?” she asked.
“He has just gone to change.”
“Oh! Then of course—he has heard, of course! But does he know the full extent of the trouble? They have not merely set fire to the Lakshmi Mill. They have shut the police up in a house in the bazaar, and are going to fire that as well. Someone has cut our telephone wire; and I had to come, because my husband is ill.”
“Have you got guards on the Residency?”
“Oh, don’t waste time thinking about that!” she cried. “It’s the rebellion in the town—in those awful industrial slums—that matters! I should like to tell the Maharana—and tell him in a way that would make him listen, if there is such a way—that he ought to stop bothering about his troops, as he calls them, and studying manuals of warfare and histories of great European soldiers. And to get rid of these cesspools where nearly a lakh of people have to live.”
They heard sounds of a body of horse coming up at a trot: voices shouting “H-lt!”, stamping of hooves, snorting of beasts, jingle and clash of bits: all the miscellaneous noises of cavalry standing to. The mobilisation orders had been issued even before word was sent to H.H.
It might be questioned if it were sound tactics, with battle already raging elsewhere, to assemble in the Palace grounds for the Ruler’s commands. However, if you have centralisation you must take its results.
Philip left Lauretta a moment, and went out. He knew the Commander-in-Chief, and told him he was coming and needed a mount. This requirement, from one actually present in the Palace, was fulfilled without inquiry; a trooper was displaced, and his horse reserved for Philip, who next directed that a guard for the Residency should be instructed to accompany Mrs. Kennedy back. Even with his imagination at stretch, he could not see the corkscrew lanes of Ryalgarh absorbing this amplitude of men and horses, far less providing room for them to deploy or be of any use. They could spare a maniple, and be not a whit worse off for any emergency. Again, what he asked was done unhesitatingly.
He came back, and told Lauretta, “They are sending some of these fellows with you. You can drive slowly, so that they can keep up with the car. We don’t need this huge Army! Your escort are to stay outside the Residency all night, and to scout round and see that no trouble gets anywhere near it. You’d better go now, Mrs. Kennedy. I’ll give H.H. your message.”
She asked, “But what are you doing?”
“Lending a hand in whatever’s going to happen.” He did not know why he said, “But because I’m doing this, please don’t think my mind’s just full of the War.” There seemed—and may have been—a shadow of reproach, almost pique, on his words. He went on quickly, “I honestly don’t know why I’m going! Only there seems nothing else that’s the right thing to do. That’s all I mean by saying,” he added awkwardly, and smiled, “that you mustn’t think my mind’s recurring to bad habits, and being full of the War again.”
She said nothing; nor did she smile back.
A Pacifist and Liberal journalist, riding out in evening dress on a cavalry raid, ought to feel self-conscious. But the dim light quenched Philip’s sense of absurdity; presently, incongruity was drowned in recklessness and excitement. He was living back in long, stealthy, night-covered marches; and could all but recover the mood of certainty that no enemy, however bemused with sleep and security, could fail to catch this clatter-clatter over desert miles (to say nothing of the occasional, yet when it came, repeated, neighing)—that some thunderbolt must soon cleave their ranks asunder! Even that flare, far up, he had surely seen before! In the cavalry attempt to rush Tekrit, in the World War, Philip and his comrades had found they could carry it only by full-dress daylight battle, with artillery support and infantry advance. Before this was achieved, the Turk fired his dumps, and made the night sky a raging flame-flower, blossoming to grandeur of deep-toned detonations.
The Maharana’s dreams had wandered even further. He carried himself proudly down the stairs, a human dragon-fly in menacing, glittering mail. Then he passed into a long-finished incarnation. At the head of his own splendid men on their splendid horses, he was the First Chawar riding out against the Muslim Nizam.
Philip bore away afterwards a confused sub-recollection of half-lights and clamour, in streets narrow to the point of ceasing to be streets at all, mere gutters dividing hovels. Even this little interspace was lumbered up with an infinitude of trash and filth.
* * *
The enemy fought as might have been anticipated; without dignity and without plan; in a word, unsportingly. It was stones and darts; the beast-ages before the gift of gunpowder, when man conducted his quarrels with hardly more science and effectiveness than horned and taloned creatures. The missiles came out of hiding and darkness. The stones were often boulders wrenched from the cornice of some solidly built house; merely dislodged and let fall, since too huge to fling.
Fire, too, was a weapon, the worst by far. It was a courageous hand that thrust a torch under a charger’s belly, making the great body fling up in unbearable agony and kindling a terror that threw a dozen riders and caused a score of hurts. At a forking of ways came a rush of men with lathis; one took the leading trooper, the others smote his horse’s head, whack, whack, whack, battering both down, and disappearing again. Philip was thunderstruck at the passion of hate in this smouldering under-world, bursting up in flame-like spurts. It was sadly unlike the gentlemanly discontent of his fellow revolutionaries in London.
There were pauses and checks, incredibly noisy and full of fright, when horses had become maddened with tumult and congestion and the sudden panic of their riders.
* * *
He met Wrenn-Barratt early, and found he had already detached a dozen troopers to see what had happened to Drake. They had returned, and reported that the trouble had not seeped beyond the town, but was amazingly concentrated in its streets and by the mills.
Wrenn-Barratt cursed the showy incompetence of the whole affair. However, H.H. was his own Commander-in-Chief now, and his own staff; that brain had not brooded on warlike legend and pondered books of strategy for nothing. It was all one concentrated glow of Maratha raids and Marengo dashes: Lannes, Murat, Ranjit Singh, Sivaji, the First Chawar, were drawn into one person, to one towering perfection of prowess. Canaille cannot stand against cavalry, or disorganised misery against generalship aware of the great classics of warfare. Victory must be regarded as certain. And why should it not come with a flourish?
* * *
As induced youthfulness wore off and sober age came back, Philip saw with a shock that the heavy, unnecessary price their leadership might exact from themselves would mean also a correspondingly heavier reckoning for their foes. As we have all learnt (it is to be hoped, sufficiently to remember), not even strategy outworn and complacently casual can stop adequate battalions from winning through at last, if they are put to it again and again, so long as fresh drafts keep pressing in. Another section of the State Army would be here in a few minutes, from Durgeswar. It would have arrived already, except that it had to be summoned by motor messenger, Durgeswar having no share in the limited telephone service.
Wrenn-Barratt thanked him almost effusively when he offered, the folly of the street charging having barely begun, to take on the relief of the besieged police. “You can do what you bloody well like, Rattray, since you’re a volunteer. And if you do that it’ll be damned useful! Take a score of these chaps and dismount them, and let them shoot. It’s the quickest way, and the only sane way. God! what a bloody show it all is!”
So Philip dispensed with the sweep and majesty of war, which would have been singularly ineffective against the besiegers of the police, since they had had the forethought to protect themselves with barricades to which sentinels vociferously called them. They had, further, accumulated road metal, to maim their Ruler’s main arm. There was obviously the working of some sort of mind in them somewhere.
The chivalrous Bayard did well, hanging every musketeer he caught. Gunpowder was the wretched fellow who introduced leg-theory bowling into the beautifully ordered Test Match fighting of the Middle Ages. Yet gunpowder was the only fellow who could beat down this baseness which (almost like pad-play) obstructed with barricades the lovely dash of mounted men. Lancelot and Percival and Galahad—how could these gracious and goodly knights have shone, if opposed to such cowardice and poltroonery? Philip, conquering crime by crime more scientific, did the only thing. The result was, not a great many casualties in the enemy, but a swift and remarkable unanimity for flight. The siege had been raised, not a moment too soon.
* * *
If he could have thought of all that was happening impersonally, there was in it at first more of sheer animal delight than he would have cared to admit, even to himself.
The English man of action is of two kinds. There is the one whose work or spirit have taken him a hundred times into real peril of the truest kind. There is also the one who gains and carries into the public gaze a reputation for adventurous courage of the cheapest, meanest kind; the man who seems to be continually riding a whirlwind, but in fact has it securely fastened under him; who has always had the biggest of the world’s big battalions at his back, whether his “daring” has been shown in speech or books or occasional dashes into action. This man could do the whole of his valour with a cigar in his mouth; and we can see already that posterity is going to get a confused impression that he did so do it.
Fortune had chucked Philip into this second class, which he had always despised. But it was all very jolly for the time being, to be on top of this sea of plunging and shouting energy—oh, yes, with a spice of risk, yet knowing that the balance of peril was on the side of their ignoble foes and not of these strong, well-mounted, well-fed bodies of which he was one! to see the sky lit up with gorgeousness of bonfire flickering and bounding far up, its fingers clutching, clutching, and then closing for a further leap and grasp! to hear cries and exhortations and warnings that came as if out of the very stuff of spirit disembodied and cloaked in air and space! It was exhilaration! Yet—
He could not continue long to regard it all impersonally. He saw a charger disembowelled by a sickle and sprawled out dying. Two disabled troopers were drawn a little aside; he caught a glimpse of them stirring worm-like in the lantern-shadowy cave of a bazaar shop.
* * *
The mill hands lived in bee-like clusters of hovels. Among them was a sprinkling of women hands who inevitably, like Goldsmith’s chest (which was a bed by night), did a double job. Much of this swarm of sub-human life had risen from the ranks labelled “untouchable”; and this night had proved that part was from the untouchable section which roamed the forests with spear and bow, from time out of knowledge sitting squatly close to animal needs and desires. None were “untouchable” any longer, or any longer “forest tribe.” The indiscriminate democracy of industrialism, most levelling and successful in the world, had merged together caste and outcaste workers. All were now Labour; and Labour beginning to believe that its fellows elsewhere were coming into their stolen heritage of freedom, food, luxury, drink, women. They thought that this Maharana of Ryalgarh, whom their fathers had imagined a deity, was a puppet kept in idleness and fulness of meat and sleep and laziness and lust by a strength outside the State. This, at least, was what their leaders told them.
But their first thoughts had been merely conviction of misery and hunger. They had reached out to wreak this on the prisons where they toiled; had fired a mill, and turned to loot.
* * *
In the flaring torches—or a deeper flash in the heart of darkness itself—Philip saw sometimes the faces they were riding down. After saving the police, he had gone back to the main effort in the city streets, and had wasted more than an hour vaguely surging to and fro. It was now, among his splendid companions, muscular young men borne on disciplined power and beauty, that he could not help seeing troll-faces behind jagged stone and fiery brand out of ambush. Bodies, when visible at all, showed as stunted and twisted, or else a vigour all sheer brute and whipcord. When eyes lit on him he thought a deeper hatred shone; he could see himself torn alive in the flames of their detestation. Fright was taking hold; seeing white leaders against them, the rioters started to knowledge they had forgotten, of the terrible prowess which was their Prince’s background. Him they might—given luck and initial fury of assault—succeed in warring down. But what would that avail, when the alien Raj was ready to come in when all was over and restore him? Then would follow depression of those who had dared to rise. His Highness had his “treaty rights”; and in their forefront was the British Government’s guarantee to support him against “elimination.” As for his subjects’ rights, there is nothing in the Indian Constitution that is explicit, or even implicit, about them. Of course, if a Prince went too far (which has to be very far indeed), the Paramount Power might make remarks to him, as neighbours make remarks to a man whose dog does too much whining or barking. If he were very excessively scandalous, it might push him out for a successor. But there could be no revolution in an Indian State, any more than there can be one in a Central American State. It must be kept safe for outside democracy.
He found himself humiliated at the work he had in hand.
* * *
The rescued police turned to venting of their feelings and to restoration of order. The subsequent accusations of the Nationalist Press were expected and inevitable, as H.M. Government has pointed out in its Report on the Ryalgarh Hindu-Muslim Riots. The Report, of course, speaks truth. But there may have been—when there was so much excitement and had been so much provocation, probably had been (this, too, is pointed out in the Report)—isolated instances of roughness beyond what strict military necessity required. For example the blind beggar who used to sit before a little temple nearly a mile away from the disturbances was found with his skull cracked across. This may have been the work of a Muslim rioter.
An old Muhammadan woman also, who was not quite sound in her wits and therefore spent her life tending a fire beside a tomb, was killed by some miscreant. This was a further proof that the Riots were undoubtedly communal. Some Hindu ruffian had found an outlet for his anti-Muslim fury.
* * *
Philip, at length abandoning his useless occupation in Ryalgarh bazaars, found rest for his soul in supervising the pulling down of huts as yet untouched, and in directing a watch on fires started by falling sparks. From time to time there were a number of these. Towards morning the Lakshmi Mill crashed inward, and smothered a great part of its own furnace. By four o’clock it was certain that the outbreak was well under; and its originators dispersed or slain.
He now felt only anxious to establish an alibi in what he had seen and helped to do; most of all, an alibi in himself. He realised what a fool he had been, to get caught up into this row in the State next to the one in which he was going to serve. More than once after their first meeting, he ran across Wrenn-Barratt, and had noted an admixture of query with the approval in his glance. Yet he did not attempt to contradict his awareness that he would never, under any circumstances, have done anything different from what he had done.
Going, his mind, like a beggar filling up a rag-bag, gathered other impressions and pictures.
* * *
He met a long file of manacled and fettered prisoners, being beaten and terrified along. And he came face to face with General Fawcett-Fawcett.
Arriving late, but exceedingly vigorous on arrival—attaching himself to H.H.’s staff, a figure more soldierly still—the General had roared instructions and charged about on a stocky cob. A grand old unsubduable Roman! He was still impressively purposeful, when Philip in the very decision to turn homeward met him with Wrenn-Barratt. Philip was greeted with immense friendliness, and stopped to exchange experiences and opinions.
“Well, we’ve managed to put H.H. on top again,” said the General, “which was the main thing. Now let’s hope he’ll keep on top, and teach some of his bolshies a lesson they won’t forget in a hurry! Damn good work I hear you did, Rattray! You found your War experiences come in useful to-day! Every fellow ought to put in some time as a soldier; it shoves guts into him and gives him stuffing.”
“He looked every inch a trooper, didn’t he, sir?” said Wrenn-Barratt.
The General agreed enthusiastically. “Though I must own,” he chuckled, “that I never saw a trooper wearing a boiled shirt before! But it shows the right spirit, to turn out just as you are and wherever you are. I feel just about ready for breakfast, don’t you, Rattray?”
“Rather,” Philip said feebly.
As they went along, the General asked gravely, “Do you think, Rattray, that Russia’s behind this business?”
“In what way behind it, sir?”
“Oh, the usual way; money and emissaries and all that. Letters from Moscow to these fellows here, just as with our beauties in England. And the common people hearin’ about Russia.”
“They’ve probably heard about Russia—something.”
“Heard what, do you think?”
“God knows!” said Philip dispiritedly. “We don’t, and never shall. But whatever it is, we may depend on it that it isn’t any particular buttress to the Powers that be, including ourselves. They’ve got a notion that the day of the bosses is passing in other countries, and are asking why it shouldn’t pass here also.”
Wrenn-Barratt noted a drooping in voice and manner, as of a person whose argument is turning inward. He looked at him keenly and sympathetically. “You’d better come along and have a spot of something at my place, Rattray. We shall all of us presently find this night has been something that has taken a lot out of us.”
“Yes, you come, my boy,” said the General.
And Philip would have gone, except that he wanted to leave word for Lauretta of the safe conclusion of the troubles. He excused himself, therefore; but gratefully and acceptably. He went apparently towards Drake’s bungalow, but turned off on a road to the Residency. “I don’t altogether dislike that fellow,” said the General.
On the Residency roof Lauretta, awake and watchful all night, could hear from time to time a horse’s tired stamp; the click of steel: a trooper yawning gustily or talking in sleepy gutturals to his companions. But this happy region was a place of spreading meadow, an enclosure of quietness hedged with umbrageous trees. She could not see even the bonfire flush in heaven.
A building looming up at distance set her back in a wilderness of grey outline, forest-shadowed, seen with Philip long ago. She recalled the eagerness with which he had pressed Mrs. Grimsdale’s guests to let him show them Mandu: the shy nervousness of appeal with which he had suggested that perhaps Miss Graham would care to see it, since the Fosters did not feel up to it. If she thought she could stand the strain of seeing so much, Mandu really was rather wonderful.
It was all absurd, a part of that ridiculous courtly age of make-believe which we have wisely smashed and banished. That pre-War world was still close to generations of sham; Scott’s preposterous medievalism, Burne-Jones’s daisy-chain of anaemic damsels on ridiculous stairs, Rossetti’s fee-fo-fum ballads and girl-in-spring-landscape pieces, his Fiammetta standing in shade of apple-blossom:
Along her arm the sundered bloom falls sheer,
In separate petals shed, each like a tear.
No petal ever looked, or could look, like a tear. This was the stuff poets produced, when they were bound to tinkle every line off with a rhyme, and to strait-jacket their wispy ideas with shape and form. Life took circuitous ways, instead of a flaring dash from point to point. There was that terrible writing of William Morris, too, a world only fit for tapestry maidens and chinaware knights.
* * *
Miss Graham had consented; and gone prepared to hold out camaraderie free from what even then advanced thinkers were beginning to style nonsense. That is, Philip must understand that he was forbidden to admire, but was accepted for serious discussion. From the highest ruin, with luncheon basket between them, they had looked on the thirty-mile circuit of broken mosque and mansion now plunged deep in Vindhyan jungle, and had had serious discussion in abundance. For the times were serious, the state of India (even then!) was serious; and Philip was a serious young educator, now about to be an even more serious soldier.
He talked of days which Indian poets have lifted into legend: of Baz Bahadur and Rupmati, those lovers who for a sub-continent are as shining names as Tristram and Iseult in the West. He was beginning a picture gallery in Ryalgarh, part of the overflowing eager busyness which of course would have to lapse, now that he was going to the War. He would send Miss Graham the famous picture of the lovers riding by torchlight, stately in shadow of just such wooded hills as they could see all about them here. From this point (if Miss Graham would move ever so slightly to her right, to avoid that enormous simul, and would look along his outstretched hand) she could pick it out; yes, yes, that was the place, just behind that glitter of water! they could see the palace where Rupmati had awaited her captor Adham Khan. He had come all decked out to accept his prey. She had waited, jewelled, adorned. But dead.
* * *
Two jungle boys, Bheels, had appeared, dark-complexioned rovers bearing bows and arrows. Philip asked them about shikar. No, there was nothing here now. When he suggested that they and their tribe were largely responsible for this, they grinned and scratched their heads; and Philip told Lauretta of the far different days when in this very Mandu, no desolation but a flourishing capital, King James’s Ambassador, Sir Thomas Roe, after wasting tedious months trekking over Central India in the Emperor’s train, had hung about disconsolately, much plagued by lions which jumped his stockades nightly. He would show her Roe’s Journal when they got back; how delightfully Roe had put it! “A lion and a woolfe used my house and nightly put us in alarume, fetching away sheep and goats out of my court, and leaping a high wall with them!” He would show her, too, the account of Terry, Roe’s chaplain, of how the lion carried off “a little white neat shock, that ran out barking at him.” This young man so absorbed in his work and in the story of the men who had lived here before him was an interesting comrade. “I’ll show you where Roe is supposed to have lodged, when we go down from here.”
* * *
When they entered their car to return, in the curious friendly crowd watching them (this was not in ruined Mandu, but by the vast reedy lake before the still used musjid) was a man whose arms were full of lilies; not lotuses, but the smaller white lily that has an accompanying leaf like an opened palm resting on the water.
Lauretta cried out in admiration; then, “Ask him what they are for, Philip!” (They had become Philip and Lauretta, and Mr. Rattray and Miss Graham had been lost in the forest.) He asked; and received the natural answer, “For worship.” “Of what god?” “No god. A devi.” He supposed this would be Kali, Chandi, Durga, whatever they called her here. The crowd seemed uncertain. “No doubt it was Jagaddhatri” (World-Mother). However, she was to receive the flowers under her local name and importance, it was explained vociferously and co-operatively by the whole crowd of listeners. They were going to the Jungle-Goddess, whose shrine was in the hills above—in fact, in Mandu ruins.
But they went to Lauretta; Philip robbed the wood-queen of what she might have supposed already hers. No difficulty was made about the transaction. These hills were the home of an easy-going folk, who had found for themselves easy-going Gods and Goddesses.
* * *
This day of comradeship exploring mountain and jungle and mansions of the antique world had never existed in the context of days on which one had risen from sleep and worked and played and grown weary. Lauretta had known, as certainly as she knew the thought in her own mind, that Philip loved her. Yet he had let her go out of his life next day, and had said no further word until this return which was so rotten and selfish. Or, if not selfish, aimless and wanderingly futile.
In lonely passage through Indian lanes at night, you are prepared for scuttlings of beasts to cover; of cat or pariah dog or hurriedly shuffling snake. But Philip was conscious that the human world was from home, even more than the animal world. Minds were intent on the fierceness ravaging the city; he heard the clumsier scuttling of men and women and children into hedges and bushes.
Lauretta caught the sound of his horse stepping nearer. She came down, dressed as he had seen her at the Palace, except for a cloak over her evening frock.
“The show’s over,” he told her. “The Lakshmi Mill and the houses each side of it, and some others, are completely gutted. But everything’s now in hand.”
“Have many people been killed?”
“No; not so many as you might have expected, I think. They pelted us with bricks, and developed a nasty technique of pushing blazing sticks under our horses. H.H. insisted on making it a cavalry show. I believe I was about the only fellow who used fire-arms.”
He described, briefly, his relief of the police station. “It was you who told me of it, and I went straight there. There was nothing for it but to shoot.”
“Yes. It was rotten. A real dirty undignified show, from start to finish. What we’ve got to do, some time to-day, is to calm down H.H. The only time I got a few words with him, which was on the way there, he was talking big of hanging a lot of fellows for what he called rebellion.”
“It wasn’t rebellion!” she cried. “It was just starvation! If there’s any hanging at all, H.H. and I and the whole lot of us who are on top here ought to be hanged! And most of all, the people who tolerate this kind of thing for ever and ever, and do nothing except talk about the necessity of preserving the Princes’ treaty-rights—in 1933!—ought to be hanged!”
“Yes,” he agreed listlessly. Then, “You’ve been up all night!”
“Of course. But I’ll go and rest now, if you are sure it’s all over.”
“Quite sure. Please go and lie down! Tell the Resident the whole affair’s finished. Except that we shall want him to do all he can to have it smoothed out without any of the nonsense that people call ensuring respect for law and order. If you’ve seen those poor devils you know they’re famished.”
She corrected this. “They’re better off than the wretched people in the villages. That’s why the mills have no difficulty in getting all the labour they want.”
“Yes. But the labour doesn’t stay long, does it? It goes back to the villages, and takes a demon with it. But I wasn’t thinking of food starvation. It isn’t the only kind. There are others, and some of them almost worse.”
She told him, “My husband will be very grateful to you. Thank you for all you have done!”
He went off into the darkness; and she went indoors.
* * *
Philip found Drake reading The Oxford History of India, getting a tonic in the dryness and brevity of statement to which all exultation and suffering must come at last. He had wisely used his time of waiting. The philosophic mind knows that the possibility of extinction lies close at all hours of living.
His eternal spirit-lamp was burning, and water simmering over it. When Philip arrived he proceeded to make fresh tea.
At the end of Philip’s narration he said, “Now you’d better turn in for a bit.”
“I should, if I were you, no matter how jazzed up you feel.”
“I honestly can’t. Besides, it’ll be dawn soon. I saw the beginnings of a grey streak when I was coming here.”
Drake shook his head. “Imagination, Phil. It’ll stay dark for at least another half-hour.”
“No. It isn’t dark now, with these stars. I’m going to shed these incredibly filthy things, and make a quick change. Then I’ll wander out. I want to forget this night, which has flooded my brain with bad dreams. And I want a morning glimpse of Sipra, if only for Kalidasa’s sake. I can’t claim to have done more than just potter at Indian matters since I went home, but I’ve kept up a little with Kalidasa. He’s a taste that grows on one.”
“I know. Like Virgil and Milton. You begin to grow old, and you tire of the ardours and agonies, and find yourself turning to the urbanities. And the wide park-like spaces of the spirit.”
Philip accepted this as an accurate statement. Sipping his tea, he said at last, “I mean to take the shortest cut to the river.”
Drake warned him, “It’ll take you across the beginnings of H.H.’s big preserves, where he’s keeping some tigers. I’d wait an hour, if I were you.”
“Don’t worry, old man! I’ve got to get off these ruined glad rags before I start, even. I shan’t be anywhere near the jungles till it’s broad daylight.”
* * *
Presently Drake said, “By the way, I’ve a message for you from my Muhammadan lady friend. She came here last night, just after you’d gone to the Palace—the first time she has ever come to deliver a message or done anything to give away the fact that she particularly knows me. She seems to be taking a deep interest in you, Phil. And apparently she isn’t the only person taking an interest in you!”
Philip reddened. But he and Drake were not thinking of the same person.
“She says: Tell Rattiri Saheb a ghost is looking for him.”
“Good Lord! What’s she mean?”
“How should I know? But it’s worth bearing in mind—whatever it means.”
“I’ll bear it in mind. It begins to strike me,” said Philip, “that a good many ghosts are looking for me! This visit isn’t going to be the picnic I had imagined!”
“No,” said Drake, looking keenly at him. “I was afraid it mightn’t be. This time I’m more in the dark than I usually am. But I half guess that I know something of what she is driving at. Do you remember your midnight trip to Khelara? It was twelve years ago, last December.”
Philip said nothing. But Drake knew that he remembered.
“I’m sorry you made it.”
“I’m not,” said Philip shortly. “It was time something was done to kill the damnable Past.”
“Yes. I agreed—at the time. But you can’t kill it. You haven’t killed it—as even this night’s business has shown in some fashion.”
They were both silent. Then Philip said, “I wonder if the thing’s still where I put it.”
“I don’t know. As you know, I said I didn’t want to know where you put it. When a queer little chap,” Drake went on, “came in from the jungles and told me that the ghost was restless and wanted his stone back, I offered to write and ask you where it was, so that I could put it back. And he said, ‘No. Rattiri Saheb with his own hand must put stone back.’”
“What did you say?”
“I said that Rattiri Saheb was in England. He said, “Yes. But ghost say, Rattiri Saheb coming back soon. Then Rattiri Saheb set all right.” That was last June, before any of us had an earthly that you were even thinking of coming back. I pride myself on my own Intelligence Department. The Unseen has one that beats mine hollow!”
“That’s all rot!”
“No doubt. All the same, queer things have been happening round and in Durgeswar for some time. I suppose you know that since last Thursday not a single boat has dared to cross the Sipra?”
“How should I know it?”
“No, I suppose not. But everyone in the station has heard it. I thought H.H. might have mentioned it.”
“He didn’t. Why won’t the boats cross?”
“Because they want to keep the ghost the other side. A ghost can’t cross running water, except on something dry. The Gond priest who warned me has warned everyone else that there’s a ghost keen to come over, and to Ryalgarh.”
“So there’s a ghost patrolling the other bank of Kalidasa’s Sipra, watching his chance to jump a country boat!”
“So it appears. But he’s not getting much chance. Ryalgarh traffic has been held up for days. As you know, the Sipra cuts our territory in two. We’ve been made by the Unseen into two separate States.”
“The ghost,” said Philip to himself, “is one to whom the sacrifice of an Englishman is long overdue.”
“If you decide to put it back,” Drake concluded, “I’ll go with you, Phil.”
“I didn’t take it for just a lark, Drake Saheb.”
“I know you didn’t. But it so happens that, with the best intentions in the world, you violated these people’s sense of religion—sense of justice, if it comes to that.”
“I prefer to call it superstition.”
“Of course! But they cared about it. I didn’t think they did, particularly. But I know better now.”
“I don’t think you ever realised why I took it,” said Philip, weakening and doubtful.
“I think I did,” his friend persisted patiently. “But I think you should put it back.”
“It wasn’t from any highly moral motive. But from something I hoped was more decent. It made an impression that hasn’t worn off yet, the way India rallied to us in 1914. Then when I returned there was that wretched famine, and my row when I went. And I suppose I was worked up, and saw everything melodramatically. And I said: at any rate, when I go this stone of memories shall go also! It was a symbol. Not merely a stone, Drake.”
“Exactly. And in 1921 we thought we could clear the symbols out of our world. Now they’re coming back!”
“Afraid so,” Philip admitted. “Coming back in shoals. And I’m not sure that I’m sorry. I’ll think over what you say.”
* * *
Drake followed him into his room, to add a few words while he was changing. “If by any chance you should find yourself on the road to Parikanda, there’s one yarn worth mentioning. Part of the general lunacy filling people’s minds all these weeks! For the last three months we’ve had men walking all night long with torches, on the jungle path between here and Parikanda.”
“A pilgrimage. Ordered by the ghost world.”
“Has the State gone gaga?”
“Pretty well. We’ve an unseen Cabinet, apparently, which overrules H.H. and his dewan and Commander-in-Chief.”
“But why a pilgrimage at night?”
“Ah! That’s what I wish I could explain! A day pilgrimage might be mere superstition. Pilgrimage by night has a brain behind it, choosing darkness as a cloak for something that isn’t superstition. Besides, except under strong compulsion no one would dare to walk that particular path at night. These fellows have been tramping it in bands; and, as I told you, with flaring torches.”
“That would be because of the wild beasts.”
Drake drifted out again. He went to bed.
* * *
Yet he reappeared. “Look here, Phil. As I told you, I pride myself on knowing more than the next fellow; it’s about the only luxury I have left, to imagine that I’m a knowledgeable chap in my small Central Indian corner. But I know now, after last night, that I’ve been pretty blind to the obvious. Will you listen, and not think me utterly crazy, while I tell you some of the recent goings-on? If it’s nothing else, Indian Nationalism is fertile in copying anything useful that’s happening anywhere, and in applying it here. The Pope announced that 1933 was going to be a Holy Year, didn’t he? Well, I didn’t pay much attention to that, until I heard—here in Ryalgarh, of all places—that His Holiness the Mahant of Parikanda had proclaimed that he and his shrine were going to have a Holy Year! So he started off with pilgrimages three full moons ago, which got whipped up into a frenzy and continued when the dark nights had come. Towards the end they enlisted the women who haven’t children and want them. They’ve been tramping those jungly miles by night, singing and shouting to keep their spirits up and not get scared. I’m told it’s been a perfect bedlam latterly. You know, of course, that Parikanda has an unsavoury reputation even for India—a centre of phallic worship that isn’t merely academic, by any means! But there’s been more to it all than even that! These pilgrimages have had frequent halts, when they have been harangued on a good many matters other than the phallic one in which Siva of Parikanda is supposed to be mainly interested. Indian Labour has long been ready to run amuck here; and Indian Nationalism has been meaning to make a set at H.H., because they regard him as one of the weak links in the Prince business, now that the Paramount Power begins to look on him as a fool (which he isn’t, altogether) on account of his ‘cavalry’ idiocy and his wastefulness. Besides, he has the feeblest and most utterly useless Resident in all Native India. There’s another matter, too. As you know, the people don’t really regard him as the lawful Maharana at all, but merely as someone whose father was foisted on to them by the Paramount Power. The direct line which we deposed in the Mutiny have been lurking round Ryalgarh ever since. It has died out at last, except for a girl. But by rumours which I trust, she has all the fire and ambition of the old-time Chawars, and a heavenly beauty besides. Queer notions we get and keep of Indian women in the West.” Drake observed. “Of them necessarily being shrinking, timid, unsophisticated little things! Whereas Miss Bombay of 1933 in many cases dances better, rides better, plays tennis and bridge better, than her European sister, and is better educated into the bargain! And this girl isn’t by any means Miss Bombay, but one of the passionate creatures that her race has produced time and again—we needn’t go back any further than the Rani of Jhansi in the Mutiny! Well, she’s been in these pilgrimages; in some of them, at any rate. I saw her in Ryalgarh myself, not three months since. And she wasn’t slinking through it, either, but riding as if she were the obvious and acknowledged Rani. The people made it clear they thought so, too!”
“Didn’t H.H. do anything?”
“Nothing. He’s too dead afraid of her. When she was a child someone tried to bring about a reconciliation—there was some idea of even a marriage, to set old troubles to rest. But she treated him, though he was a grown man, as if he were so much dirt. She was being brought up by Giansi, who thought that kindness to her would be a useful annoyance of Ryalgarh later on. She didn’t even vouchsafe to see H.H., though he went specially for an interview, but sent him word that she would visit Ryalgarh in her own time and when it happened to suit her. That time, apparently, was last year. Everyone knows that Princess Chitralika’s party have patronised this pilgrimage business, which is probably one of the reasons why it has gone wrong from its sponsors’ point of view. You can no more get Nationalism and fanatical support of ancient privileges to mix than oil and water; and still less will either mix with revolutionary Labour. But they poured them all in to seethe together, and would have managed an infinitely bigger show than last night’s if it hadn’t boiled over prematurely, and when a lot of the fellows who should have helped here were busy in Alwar. What’s humiliating to me is that I should have heard so many yarns about what was going on, and I no longer had the energy or keenness to think out what was underneath it all! I feel a fool, and wretchedly, incompetently old!”
“Didn’t what was happening worry anyone else?”
“Not the Europeans. We looked on it as a joke, as we look on anything we don’t understand at a glance. Besides, the Wrenn-Barratts are new to the place; and you know what our Resident is. As for H.H., he must have been worried, especially when he knew Chitralika’s people were lending a hand. But he couldn’t interfere in anything so unutterably sacred as a phallic orgy which the Divine King of Parikanda was working up. He was probably superstitious about it, too; thought there was something in it. Apart from anything else, Parikanda’s the one place he daren’t touch or go near. That choice of centre, and the proclamation of ‘a Holy Year’ were inspirations of sheer genius! If they were Princess Chitralika’s, I throw up my cap for the emancipation of Indian women! Only, their mistake was in mixing up mere academic make-believe with genuine misery; and in exploiting our coolies here, and then thinking they could control them just to whatever minute they chose. I suppose academic revolutionaries will never understand what explosive material sheer starvation is!”
Philip said nothing. But Drake was wrought up, in the intellectual absorption of tracing out the ramifications of an episode when it was history. “They choose their rebellions well. They don’t rebel against a fellow like Bikaner, who’s got brains and is well in with the Paramount Power besides. But they do it in Kashmir; and then in Alwar, where they know that even the outside world is getting ready to say it won’t stand for keeping the present state of things unchanged for ever. Then in Ryalgarh, with its dark, satanic mills where a whole populace of Blakes could never build Jerusalem, even if angels filled their hods for them! with its Ruler’s pretty notorious play-acting and sheer insanity of wastefulness! Ghosts and night-pilgrimages have been merely part of a scheme for working up an atmosphere in which everyone, when the right minute struck, might be driven mad!”
“Well, it’s all over, thank God! Temporarily, at any rate.”
“Yes. Temporarily,” Drake agreed. “You and your colleagues have shot it down. Frankly, if you and Wrenn-Barratt hadn’t been there, and showed yourselves in decided efficient person, I doubt if even H.H.’s cavalry could have been relied on to stay loyal. He’s had the sense to make the senior officers all fellows attached to his party. And of course, if it’s just a sheer Labour rising, as apparently it was, the cavalry have enough realist sense to be not keen on putting that poverty-stricken rabble on top. Even so—” He broke off, then added, “All the same, I wouldn’t go out now unless you have your brain thoroughly awake. You’ll see signs of the afterwash of the tidal wave that has just gone past us, or I’m very mistaken!”
“I’ll take a broom to my brain,” Philip promised, “and clean out the last of its dreams and cobwebs, before I stir a single step from this house.”
And when he went out, he believed he had done so; and that he might walk securely into faery, carrying the talisman of a disillusioned mind.
It was the hour before dawn, when vitality was low. Yet not every sort of vitality, especially if tenseness has kept you waking.
Lauretta watched the blackness swallow Philip, and listened to the sound of hooves dying away. Then she went in; undressed slowly, put on a wrap; looked to see if James were at last stirring. He was. He complained of a headache, and was deeply self-pitying.
She let this pass without comment even of sympathy; and told the story of the night’s events. His first remarks were not too intelligent.
“I warned him not to let those Congress fellows enter the State!”
“I don’t believe Congress had a thing to do with it. Those mills—and the whole of Ryalgarh State and this Prince business—are a broth of rottenness that is bound to boil over!”
He pondered this. “Then, I suppose H.H. would like to get rid of a few fellows.”
“I understand he does.”
“I’d advise him to go steady there. If he wants to do anyone in—except for murder—he’d better have it done in a way that’ll cause no fuss. See that all his tracks are covered up!”
“That’s just what I’m afraid of. Jim, you must stop him!”
He growled, “I don’t see why I should. And you said a trooper’d been killed. That’s murder, anyway; and he can easily get it proved to have been done by someone who would be better out of the way. We don’t let Princes execute now, except for murder. But he can easily arrange to have whom he wants proved guilty.”
She was too angry at his cold-bloodedness to reply. He saw this, and blazed out, “Oh, damn this head of mine! It’ll do no harm to have the fear of God put into our bolshy agitators!”
“By ‘the fear of God’ I suppose you mean ‘the fear of the Devil.’ Of our Maharana turned into a Devil, and allowed to express all the devilishness which has come down to him as a rich heritage from his ancestors.”
* * *
Even to a blurred virility her body, knit from the night’s tremors and watchfulness and its own excitements, was maddeningly desirable. From his hand that suddenly gripped hers she freed herself; and rose from the chair where she had been sitting beside his bed.
He turned to sullen suspicion. “How do you happen to know what H.H. wants to do?”
“Mr. Rattray told me.”
“That fellow’s been here!”
“Yes. I’ve been up all night, waiting and wondering how it was going to end ”
“With that fellow with you!” he persisted.
“How could he be here?” she cried, losing self-control in her contempt. “He was out with the other men—with everyone but my husband—stiffening H.H.’s people!” She recovered, and went on quickly. “He was dining at the Palace, and I saw him last night, when I went there because you—could not go! And he called here on his way home this morning, to leave a message for you—for the Resident—as to how things had gone. No man could have done less, Jim! Can’t you see that it was the decent thing for him to do—to let me know what you”—she spoke with pauses and emphases that were meant to hammer sense and sanity into his dulled thought—“what you—you—ought to know before you see H.H. this morning!”
“I shan’t see H.H. Not with this headache!”
“You—aren’t—going—to see H.H.?” she said incredulously. “When to-day is the day when we have to stop him before he does something that will be vile in itself and also something Government will never overlook your not having stopped!”
He excused himself as ill.
Her look stung him to fury. “Let me tell you your friend Philip Rattray isn’t going to get his Giansi job. We’ve managed, I and a few others, to put a spoke in his wheel. Chalmers has written that they’ve made Giansi turn him down. This damned country can raise all the sedition it wants, without outside assistance!”
* * *
At the purdahs between her room and his she stood amazed, as at some unsuspected meanness in him. Her beauty quickened urgency that was stirring under the slowness of his mind; driving down vexation and suspicion, he said, “Let’s not argue, my dear! You and I can decide together what to say to H.H.”
She escaped, with evasion. “You’d better lie quietly, and get over your headache, Jim. I’ll come later on; and we’ll talk things over before breakfast, if you really feel up to it.”
She went out too hurriedly for any reply; not to her own room, but the front veranda, where, leaning on the rails, she stared into the world beneath its blanket of grey.
* * *
Dark was passing, a tide that shallows rather than withdraws. This stunted date, that rounded jack—objects were collecting shape and consistency—outlines were rising from the waves that overwashed the world.
There were other signs, too, of day approaching. Dawn, according to Indian poets heralded by songs of birds, is in fact preceded by less delightsome noises, the hawking and clearing of human throats. These were beginning; Lauretta’s defenders were cleaning their teeth by the Residency tank.
All night long she had been hearing clatter or clang of hooves. Now she saw a trooper loom gigantic, a monstrous elongation in the dimness, steadily drawing nearer. As he came up, she saw that he led a second horse, that peered about with the patience and dread of a horse brought through obscurity, on a road he does not know. A cloth-draped hump on his back covered the royal stables’ only side-saddle.
It needed but this, to close the night’s events with triviality. She had forgotten her promise to the Maharana.
Lauretta vanished, before she had been officially seen.
Her promise, the Prince’s order, had been given when no one dreamed of riot and death. The trooper had borne his part in the clashes; and turned to his day’s routine, as she was turning to hers. He preferred now to wait an hour in darkness, rather than go home for so brief a space as remained before his duty here. She blessed his unimpassioned obedience, an angel offering matter-of-fact employment for brain and limbs. Our perils and vexations matter only to ourselves.
This trouble in Ryalgarh lanes would be stuff for a few letters between her husband, the British Government, the Maharana—for a few paragraphs in newspapers of British India, and perhaps a line of Reuter in London ones—for a few evenings’ chatter in their Club, at first excited but dying down into boredom and theme’s exhaustion—for a burst of bullying rule by the Prince, tempered by such influence as she and Philip (she counted him now an ally) could bring to bear—for some misery in hovels they would never see, and some underground exchange of baffled hatred between people who would never come close to them in this sheltered nook so retired from the passions and explosions of Bombay and Bengal and the packed industrial towns. But Ryalgarh State would go on, arranging shoots, holding manœuvres; the Europeans would play bridge and tennis and polo, and move on from station to station, as the Paramount Power shuffled its human cards, retiring some, replacing others. Already in this city the scavengers were at their hereditary tasks, repairing ravage of night that was about to go, removing corpses of dogs and horses; under cover of dark, men and women were sneaking back with their dead. The death-keening would have begun.
Dawn was speeding nearer. In the conscious air you caught exhilaration.
Lauretta was ready: discarded a crupper, always sent on these occasions: fetched a balance-strap, and explained its place and purpose: rejected a golden cloth under the numdah: tested girths and stirrups. Over a sash of crimson dangling from the bridle she hesitated.
Logic had argued: this horse always, his rider temporarily, are in State service; whoever occupies his saddle deputises for royalty, and must go abroad with pennon and tassel. His attendant had a flag blazoning the Chawar totem, the Monkey-God flying through airy leagues, burdened by a Himalayan mountain gripped to his shoulder with one paw. If you live in a Native principality, your mind grows feudal; and Lauretta appreciated the reasoning. Her own custom, however, dispensed with apanages of regality.
But now she recalled that when Philip, long ago, had borrowed a State pony for her, it had arrived with a flare of broad ribbon, which he had removed but justified. “You see, with this flamboyancy swaying under her nose, her nerves are focussed, they can’t scatter! She’d canter over those white boundary marks even, and not drop her head to look at them. There’s sense in a heap of these things they do here, which we think merely stupid! You’ve always got to remember a horse is a charming fool! Charming! it’s the only word! but a perfect fool! For instance, I can never take my own beast along the Gwalior road, because once a porcupine rushed out under her forelegs. She’s been certain, ever since, that porcupines grow along that road!”
About to ride out into a half-light now, she was willing to try his theory, and left the adornment in place. The trooper, who assumed his duty was to follow, she told to wait till she returned.
Dayspring has been thought the hour of spirits fleeting to lair or prison. Round Lauretta flowed the air’s substantiality, a stream of hasting existences ignoring her, for their goal was elsewhere than in her world, and they had no time to lose in gaining it. She saw less ghostly fliers also: shadows flattened on the earth, or subsiding into hollows.
Night was still a prisoner in the streets. But the arrows of Dawn the Emancipator were piercing the lower foliage, and in gaps the East showed cheeks of flame. A race and hurry of light and freshness were coming, to swing Ryalgarh far from its wrath and sorrows, already dreamlike to their happier participants.
The Vedic Goddesses, presences swift, cold, bright, blood-intoxicating, were prepared to dance into the horizon:
This familiar, most constant light in the east has stood forth glowingly from darkness. May the Dawns, the sky-daughters, the far-shining ones, now make a path for men!
The flashing Dawns have towered in the east, like posts set up at sacrifice! Glittering and bright and making pure, they have swung wide the two doors of the stable of darkness!
Shining to-day, may the generous Dawns stir up the bounteous to scatter wealth! Let the low-spirited sleep on in darkness, unawakened in the heart of night!
O Goddesses! your steeds in due hour harnessed, proceed on your way about the world, arousing him who is in slumber! arousing, O Dawns! the two-footed and the four-footed world of life to action!
She liked the flaunt and toss of the sash at her bridle: it made her a part of the pageant. Kalidasa would have bidden his Cloud pause over horse and rider.
A phantom earth leapt and quivered from appearance to appearance, changing with the speed of thought, drawing within its net of illusion even the human mind that thought it saw. The air was filled with little chilling fingers, ravishingly cold and sweet. Red fires were flickering; above them women crouched and warmed frozen hands. The horse’s skin, that had been a satin uncertainty for colour, imperceptibly changed to a bay with deep warm rings.
Only gradually did she realise that her way was being chosen, and increasingly imposed upon her will.
* * *
Man in the world’s eastern half believes in two streams of sentient existence, intermingling yet disparate. The unseen wages war on the seen, ever malignant though only intermittently effective. The brutes in the middle have in their own sort minds, on which both bordering armies can impose their desires; but in this war, for the most part they have the luck to be left in neutrality. Nevertheless, there are times when the disembodied makes pawns of those that are in servitude to the human.
Lauretta meant to use another body and will as subservient and subsidiary to her own. She came to imagine a second power had the same intention, and possessed the animal she believed she was ruling, struggling to direct the rider through the ridden.
Yet it began with nothing, save trivial incidents explicable as her own infirmity of purpose and the influence of still lingering darkness. This track under rafters of a banyan, she did not take—lest her mount funk the ascetic stirring ashen-grey in its shadows. Then, uncertain that she wanted its straightforward simplicity so soon, she abandoned thought of the Racecourse—because of the wayside Maruti where the road forked; Maruti the Ape-God, whose father is the King of all Winds; a spreading blur upon stone shining-black from innumerable oil-smearings, vermilion-rubbed on a roughness offered as head and eyes. She reassured the horse, who looked hard at this: “It’s quite all right. We have these side-shows all over the Maratha country.” But used the doubtful light to excuse herself for going on undeviatingly; and hoped prestige was unimpaired.
In a forest space Maruti’s mortal children, sprawling off on spider-limbs or cantering over an open patch as if hurling themselves on to a long succession of boughs, cast back hostile glances. Unlike their deified ancestor, they are credited with nothing of chivalry; the peasant avers that they will attack women loaded with wood or water, while carefully leaving alone men with sticks. On both sides of Lauretta’s way they sat in conclave. Evasion of them brought her on to broken ground about a marsh, which her horse discovered to be a burning-place, a litter of skulls and skeletons. From his strong disapproval she guessed that hyenas must have only recently finished here.
An accumulation of trivial lets and momentary pausings, as with an invisible rein quickeningly drawn athwart her mind tugged her purpose into unexpected paths.
* * *
From the burning-ground she thrust him up an embankment; and from the crest picked out a way. And began to dream of a conflict of wills—and the beast’s but a tool, gripped by a stronger than his or his rider’s! A flowing muscular wave, swift, delightful, carried her onward; but constraint ran along with it, a rock-ledge that imposed vibrations and jerky closures, in sudden maddening huddles back. And all for petty checks that would hardly have bothered her own pony to a glance. A water-slit across a lane: a fallen tree cumbered with snapping boughs: sugar-cane fields falling to invisible reapers: a splashy mess where cattle had charged an irrigation cut that sliced a clayey slope: a bridge on a tiny canyon, curving outrageously up and lacking a slab in its floor! Her arab would have jumped the canyon; or have crossed the bridge, gingerly and cautiously to her leading, but without refusal.
Had she fought for her will and way at the beginning, she was skilful enough, plucky enough, to have probably won. But she had no will or way when she set out. Knowledge of a land filled with hatred had oppressed her. Night had loomed about her. Her spirit subdued to its own mistrusts and wretchedness, she had given too little heed to the horse, moving superbly finicking through a world of couching shadows—that startled by near abruptness, springing out of fog and squatness, living and lifeless both, like the shapes our ancestors imagined and named as Beings of Elsewhere. When at last will tried to draw itself erect, frailty had been betrayed. It awakened, but hesitant and apprehensive; uncertain still; alone in solitude and sense of utter strangeness.
She was ready, almost, to take him back, a bundle of nerves, added to those others she had “ploughed.” She did not, because he was obviously not a bundle of nerves, but merely disliked his country. She was to find that she could not take him back.
* * *
At the Levanudi sands pride made a final bid for mastery. She turned him off the causey which guides the bullock-carts in the floods: shook out the reins, and urged him to a canter. On firm and open going was no excuse for disaffection. But a peacock soared screeching from a driftwood pile—dropped, and ran, and flashed up between his feet. In one tempestuous minute he had plunged through the river, and was on the track again. She called him a fool, which struck her as a judgment unreasonable in its context of a bird all noise and fluttering rainbow.
And accident, or inexorable fate, had set her on the one way she never took, since she had taken it once with Philip, eighteen years ago, and some fastidiousness of horror had set it out of bounds for ever after. She was on the path to the Maharana’s Water-Palace at Parikanda; and accepted it with the reservation that she would keep it for a mile only, and certainly not to the end. And her troubles disappeared as if by magic—a phrase that she decided was no cliché, in this case, but an explanation enforcing itself for a change so swift and satisfactory.
For there was now more to upset a logical beast than in any of the turnings he had made her reject. They were in the State forests; underhoof sprang a rattle and crackle from leagues of teak-leaves spread like rubbish of some enormous and enormously untidy Bank Holiday of the Wood-Gods. But he went with brisk lovely carriage, a horse in perfect accord with his rider, happy to go her way and at her pace. The illusion flowed back that she could shake free at will the strength and swiftness that she held ribboned in her fist: the earth, pleasantly sodden, invited to speed. It did not vex her that boulders from the subterranean reef which lifts the Vindhyas from the Malwa plateau jarred and shattered any spurt as soon as begun; the will and power were hers, and the place would be forthcoming! She was in airy confidence again; and the glowing streamer was a flag that fittingly blazoned her jaunty purpose.
It was now, too, that she noted the horse’s colour as that which the Prince sought from all India, for his Ryalgarh Lancers. Pleasure quickened at the discovery. She knew the dream of his lovable childishness was to see his Maharani ride as their Colonel-in-Chief.
* * *
It was early morning still, with reddened strips in crystal sky-pools that were widening. The wilderness lay in a shower of spangling points. Over the bushes came curving and frisking a pair of black buck, a tossed-up beauty and agility. Lauretta turned to watch them out of sight.
And round her swept the breath of wild mango groves, engulfingly, intoxicatingly! She had topped the Sipra bluffs (which are like the Hudson River Palisades); and was set in the heart of their flowertide, yet above it. The saddle’s height held her where sweetness, in waves gossamer-textured, flowed about and under her, flying up in filmy, ghostly nebulae. The ground before her was scooped into a shallow bowl, and filled with an immense natural orchard. If she descended from this place and left the Parikanda track which she had meant to forsake even before this, fragrance would accompany her for as far as she cared to go.
Descent proved invisibly barred. “Oh, do your devoirs decently, and stop being an idiot!” But she was not on the light and handy little creature of her desultory hacking in and round Ryalgarh. Behind his vehemence of trembling was an obstinacy she dreaded to prove. She resolved to return.
This also she could not do.
We know there cannot be daylight haunting. Yet Lauretta entered an indubitably haunted region, and lived the life of a woman forbid. She became only too glad when her mount went straightforwardly, and did not add the complication of a terror as shaking as her own. And going onward he gathered quietness, for he was near the end of his journey. His rider was in a vast helplessness, and vaster loneliness.
* * *
This lovely Central Indian land is opened up with rivers, as if with eyes giving light to the region that looks with them. From a high place devoid of trees Lauretta looked down on Sipra, a many-twinkling strip of metallic brightness just becoming lit by the morning sun. He ran by his forests and ghats and villages, in a river-god’s reverie on the ages he had passed in this country. She paused, glad to be able to pause, and looked round her—on Durgeswar’s temples—the grove of the Ascetic’s Victory—the Vindhya Mountains northward, a blackness of glorious woods!
And saw, also, the Water-Palace which she had sought to avoid. And knew that she had no choice but to go thither. At any rate, the way lay open, and not beset with jungle that she could not traverse on foot and was now terrified to traverse on a brute who had fuller senses than hers and testified that it harboured peril everywhere.
In full daylight, perhaps he would consent to return the road he came. Or she could find a way to send him back, and herself use the police-car from the Parikanda thana.11 But she remembered, that thana was no longer in use; and no village existed any longer within two miles of the Water-Palace.
However, she had to go on, the one way that was free.
Ryalgarh State is medium in size and importance. Its ruler has a fifteen-gun salute.
But it ranks as more than medium in the number of its palaces.
Every self-respecting Prince builds a new palace, that posterity may remember his reign. Now that the British have been building New Delhi, seeking to establish remembrance of themselves also, a Prince must build a second palace there, one if possible finer, more imposing, than that which his neighbour (the Prince whose salute is two guns noisier) built last year. This generous rivalry is sometimes hard on the Princes’ subjects, and leads to much dislocation of what passes in Native India for budgets.
Parikanda was built by the last Chawar but two, the one who governed Ryalgarh throughout the Mutiny. It is so beautiful that the ignorant sightseer has been known to ask the foolish question sometimes induced by sight of derelict aerodromes in an English country-side—why what has cost so much is not used, instead of being deserted while repetitions are made elsewhere. However, for the Parikanda desertion there happens to be a reason.
* * *
The Water-Palace had just been finished when the Mutiny broke. Its existence was fortunate, for its swiftly flowing moats and arms of the Sipra protected the English ladies whom the Maharana sent here for safety, his own troops being restive. Indeed, a section of the Ryalgarh Army joined the deposed King of the Gond forest tribes (who claimed this very soil on which the Palace stands). With the mutineers went the Heir-Apparent of the Maharana (who had remained loyal); and after sharing in the long-drawn-out guerilla warfare when Tantia Tupi, his commander, slipped in and out of this Central Indian terrain and eluded a world of snares and meshes, he disappeared. Rumour said that he escaped with the remnant which reached Nepal; and died there in the year of the Glorious Jubilee. The Paramount Power excised him from royalty, and made his father adopt as successor a child in distant connection with the Chawar line.
The Gond King and his son, in the closing days of the Mutiny less fortunate, were captured in this very Water-Palace which they claimed, when the flame was dying embers and the English ladies had been taken to Calcutta; and they were blown from guns at Khelara, almost opposite Durgeswar. The Maharana for his services, which had included the capture of the Gond King and the repudiation of his son, received the Thanks of the Paramount Power, an increase of his salute from thirteen guns to fifteen, and a grant of all the territory that had belonged to the executed chieftains. And if you are ever in Ryalgarh, the present Maharana, who has in full the Indian Prince’s hospitable spirit (notwithstanding a conversation related earlier in this book), will want you to see his Water-Palace and will lend you one of the State cars. You should go. It is a beautiful place. It is the Sipra at Parikanda also, though how unlike the Sipra at Durgeswar! There the river is full and broad; here it strains through a marshy plat, and then, held up by stone embankments, is allowed to seep between pillars, down into a vast cool place of bathing surrounded by shelters on arches. It encircles this jewel of a mansion with shining rivulets; then scatters into brooks and freshets.
* * *
We must not think of Parikanda as altogether deserted always. It is true that no Chawar has been in residence, even for a single day, since the service which the place saw in 1859. True, also, that though the jungles round it are crowded with game, and the glitter and coolness of water and trees make it an ideal place for a picnic, party after party of Europeans have abandoned the idea of a shoot in the vicinity. It is not merely that the Maharana’s dislike of the suggestion of shikar here has proved a damper. You cannot get beaters by any largesse. But Parikanda has its mela, one day a year, in the month sacred to Rudra the Storm-God, Siva of the angry firmament; in mid-April, when the hot weather, that has been slowly labouring up since spring’s culmination in Phalgun—
Phalgun bursts, a scattered and finished flower!
And the Sun grows fiercer, hour after hour!—
discharges itself in a week of wrath and thunders. Then on Sipra’s bank, not actually in Parikanda (no Maratha would venture within grounds so haunted and therefore hallowed; and still less, any Gond), but about the infinitely ancient tiny Siva-shrine, thousands gather—to worship, to bathe in the river, to shout in procession.
So the God, whose home antedated the deserted Palace by millenniums, keeps his never-remitted observance. He has his priest; he has his stone chariot and his more useful chariot of gilded and vermilioned wood; he has his humped cattle and his stables. The Ryalgarh Treasury makes an annual grant for purchase and feeding of an elephant and horses to draw the chariot. What does it matter that the whole local world knows that there are no elephants and no horses in the priest’s stables? When the mela comes, the zemindar of Khelara acquires merit, as well as makes atonement for a sin once committed on his fields, by lending his own elephant, which from dawn to sunset of one day has great honour, being the property of the Great God. There are loans of tats also, from others of the zealously pious, though of these there is little need, since the God’s own worshippers draw his chariot, on the flat level beside Sipra, which might have been made for this one purpose.
The shrine, though small and unadorned, is famous in Chawar story. In Epic India it was right that war should be launched by a Queen, from a temple’s sanctity. Ever since the Chawars first possessed Ryalgarh, it is from this shrine that their wars have been proclaimed to the world. It was here that Raghuba Rao Chawar’s Rani sent her lord to join in Holkar’s triumphant campaign against Monson; here, too, that the wife of the luckless Chawar who backed the weaker side in the dread upheaval which shattered the ancient dreaming India for ever, blew the war-conch in 1857. There has never been a war, of the countless wars which this restless little clan has waged, which has not had its solemn beginnings in this forest-encompassed plot.
* * *
And not the Siva-shrine alone, the riverbank itself is a place of pilgrimage yet, though to a diminishing company. In the heroic ages King Pururavas here heard cries of distress, and saw the heavenly dancer Urvasi in a demon’s grip. This is the Urvasi who gives delight in the Gods’ assemblies, the mazes of whose dance set in motion the cosmic ecstasy:
O swaying Wave, Urvasi!
The billows in mid-ocean rise in rhythm, beat on beat;
In the crested rice the skirts of Earth tremble into movement;
Stars are flung from thy necklace, and fire is in the midnight heavens;
And in the breast of man the heart forgets itself,
The blood leaps up!12
On this very shore Pururavas gave the ravisher battle, and saved for himself the loveliest flower in the divine garland. The bones of the slaughtered fiend are those black rocks grinning in mid-stream, flung there by the victor in contempt.
* * *
Of the sorrows and faith of the mortal lover and immortal beloved you may read in Kalidasa. The Gods were loth to let go Urvasi, the eternally youthful, the unsurpassed in brightness, the Intoxicatrix; it was as if the spring should be banished from regions where no other season has right of rule. Nor was King Pururavas’s human queen willing to receive so dazzling a co-wife. There fell a curse, therefore, a metamorphosis of the nymph into a plant, with unhappiness of heroine and madness of hero, before Indra, King of the Gods, relented and sanctioned the union which had, as a matter of natural fact, already taken place.
The learned have made endless discussion, about and about, as to the plant which sheltered the nymph’s spirit during the period of her unfulfilled curse. But there is no discussion—there can be no discussion—for the fortunate dwellers on Sipra’s banks. Manifestly it was none other than the glorious simul, the giant silk-cotton tree that spreads aloft vast armfuls of scarlet immense flowers. On this bank of the river it seems to have summoned its hosts together from many leagues; as a Central Indian poet has sung,
Here is no noon! night hurries shamefast by! > All Spring red dawn, red sunset, crowd the sky!
Beyond question this was the Heavenly Courtesan’s cage.
* * *
Though so many ages have passed, Urvasi has not forgotten or forsaken the spot where she, a celestial, learnt our fiercer passion, love that is a devouring fire, severance that is an agony which slays. For her the unhurrying tranquil glamour that passes for delight in the homes of the Gods was shattered here for ever, and the Swaying Wave grew wise through sorrow. Perhaps that is why the rhythm of the world has deadened since, and even the Seasons and the Joy of Life move us not as they moved our fathers long ago? An ecstasy has vanished from the dance of the unpausing Dreamer whose thoughts are elsewhere than with those coldly applauding Essences; age by age her movements have been dying down. Even poets are happy no longer—small wonder, in a time that hates them! But there are witnesses—three in three millenniums whose word cannot be shaken or belittled, says Pundit Sthulamatha—who have seen the Lady of the Legend, wandering in these forests by Sipra and gazing on that hallowed stream.
Here, too, is a haunt of the Love-God, the Five-Arrowed whose bow is strung with bees. In the bluffs above this spot the wild bees festoon a network of caves and fissures; and the shrine’s vicinity is scattered with the flower-bearing trees that furnish the tips of flame for his darts. There are mango and bel and pomegranate and nagkesara and yellow champak, sown wild by the favour of Siva from the garden that was once about his shrine. The little red-collared parakeet, the Love-God’s vahan or steed, abounds, and in a never-checking sequence flings itself against the roof and walls of the shrine, clings screaming for a moment, and tosses away again. On moonlit nights of spring the Love-God holds his revels here, with Reti his queen and Vasanta his comrade. You may tell him by the murmur that accompanies him in the hum of his bees, and by the swift arrowy flight of the bird that bears him; Urvasi you may tell by her fan of peacock feathers, and by a beauty that is its own announcer.
Philip had set off thoughtfully, rather than thinking; there is a distinction. There cannot be thought until the jangle of confused emotions and memories dies down, and the ground-stuff of the mind disentangles into outline and definite experience. But the mood that makes for thought exists, a raincloud before the sky is ready for rain.
It was already light enough for practical purposes, so long as he kept to tracks; and he had no intention of aimless wandering. He had a stick, to guard against the occasional viper which might be stirring even in the chill January night that deepens the snakes’ winter sluggishness.
He had persuaded himself he was not going to fuss about the chances of meeting a leopard or one of the royal tigers; even if he met one, the ensuing risk was negligible for a man as proud of cold control of himself and of proven presence of mind. And it is true, he would not have bothered, but for Drake’s untimely reminder. As it was, the reminder recurred unpleasantly, and was the first clear outline in the blurred background of consciousness.
That this first notion called out argument hastened on the cleansing of the thought-process. He had to assure himself that all was chance: that no age that has ever lived has had so tenuous and tenebrous an existence as ours, so that none of us who share it is wise to take its premature finish for ourselves seriously: that for a man whom Death had struck at vainly so often, this was a paltry danger, not worth a moment’s tremor. But he found himself glancing back; and looking for ways that had around them openness, and not the trammel and ambush of jungle!
Consequently, when the Parikanda road cut athwart his direction he took it and kept it for almost an hour. By then there was no longer a cloud on the world’s face. So he struck again into the woods, which he preferred; and was in dry, thorn-cluttered slopes which he remembered as bordering on the Royal Preserves.
Presently he reached these: wide pastures serving a crude and ugly end, never acknowledged but perfectly understood. They are the larder of H.H.’s tigers, a grazing-ground (beneath their tamarinds and mimosas) of worn-out cattle purchased for a rupee a head. The tigers, lazy and well fed, sleep the hours of light away in nullas deep withdrawn in dense coverts. They rarely trouble, even at night, to walk so far as this, for their food is punctually driven to them. But when a shoot is arranged in the pastures, which are studded with platforms, then they are driven to their food in the place where it lives.
* * *
The Head of Ryalgarh Shikar Department, who is a member of H.H.’s small Cabinet, has to know the number and movements of every shootable creature in the State; he can tell you offhand that it possesses a dozen caracal lynxes and fifteen hunting leopards. He had assured Lauretta that there were no tigers nearer than seven miles away, the other end of these pastures; and in a way, and as a general rule, he was right, of course. Under pressure he had admitted a possible and very occasional straying in search of new experiences or scenery, but had stressed the good nature and exemplary behaviour of all his charges. In this, too, he was right. Ryalgarh tigers are neither hungry nor mischievous. They are good tigers, as tigers go; and they come to good ends.
Lauretta had nevertheless distrusted Mahmud Khan’s comfortingly circumstantial story, with qualms that reinforced her strong dislike of being on the Parikanda track at all. She had long ago marked on her mental map of Ryalgarh the whole of these pastures and adjacencies as unadministered territory best abandoned to its aborigines. Like Philip, she had looked about her with straining eyes.
Nevertheless, nervousness had been, if not unnecessary, unnecessarily exaggerated, as an instance will persuade the reader. Rani, the ten-foot tigress, was temporarily living in the cave once inhabited by Narad the semi-Divine Ascetic. She had been much interested, and considerably puzzled, by mankind’s noisy doings in her jungles for weeks past, which she had trailed and studied with a persistency and skill no Boy Scout could surpass; once, early on, when a group had come mounted to the pilgrimages, the terrified horses brought into the enterprise a panic which nearly ended the whole. But only twice had she been actually seen by humans, and then by accident. Her perplexity was increased this morning, when she saw Philip stumbling up the heavy tussocks; and a little later, by Lauretta’s invasion. She was uncertain of Philip’s purpose, and of where he was now lurking; and this was part reason why she merely watched this second comer. But good nature was more reason; and, yawning upon her paws, she had sat on, with a mind open for whatever might follow.
* * *
Philip meanwhile was bathing in memory flowing back upon his brain in delight as well as regret. It was in those earliest days of his work here that his life had been packed with the beauty of this Central India. The War had broken off a process whose results, in depth and tenacity, he now understood. In his brief span of service after the War he had been hardly normal, coming to the stolidity of men for whom the fury had been but a tale. He was told excitedly how So-and-so had been knighted; how another had been sent to administer the State of a Raja who had gone off the lines (the job certainly justified some excitement, for it meant a princely stipend with the whole resources of a fair-sized kingdom bearing your expenses, and at the end of fun and power an inevitable title). And most of all, they—I.C.S. and Politicals, soldiers who had stayed in India, heads of departments—assured him that things had been very trying and very bad during the War, that he (who had been so far away from the heart of restlessness) could have no conception of how India had changed: that these fellows were growing grievously seditious: that he must mark their words, there would have to be a lesson.
The lesson had come in due season. But, looking back over a sequence of increasing angers, Philip was not sure that it had not been a lesson to a double class, to teacher more than to taught.
Tossed back with (as he believed then) new eyes upon what appeared the folly he had once helped to perpetrate, he had come (he recognised now) with new arrogance also, with impatience for what he too readily took to be fatuity all round him. The vision of money being wasted at a time when (if ever!) armament and pageantry might have been allowed to sleep, since no peril demanded the one and no eyes wanted the other, had been the match that lit the explosion. That, and his experience of a district dying from sheer starvation. The Administration was so complacent over the poverty and misery of India’s multitudinous hovels; let itself off so lightly, on account of the admitted difficulties that had beset its predecessors; above all, most maddening of everything, its members spent far too much time and enthusiasm offering garlands to themselves. Even now, he was prepared to justify to himself his disgust at this. He had been unfair often—but not in this respect! You could not be unfair here!
Nemesis had laid Philip by the heels. Perhaps, if he had been a writer in a creative age—when Marathon was an emancipating recollection—when Keats and Shelley were flaming to their sunset—and not a hack outside the ramp of a cocktail-and-boudoir scribbling—it might have been different. But putting speculation aside (especially speculation so trite and banal as this), a firm certitude emerged: this life he was leading had little self-respect in it, and less respect for his age, while the life he had forsaken was every inch a man’s life if you chose to make it one. It was true that you saw at the latter’s apex a John Chalmers. You also saw some very different figures. A John Chalmers, contemptible to all outside an official world, is himself a parody on a noble service. Besides, Philip had bothered too much about the centres of intrigue and government, and had forgotten the hundreds of district officers whose days were life-giving to millions. British lives have been spent for India, with the passionless magnanimity of divine pity moving upon a world that knows it not, understands it not, thanks it not. And let no one think that this is unknown to even the bitterest critics of the present régime!
* * *
The night’s glimpses of what misery of hate can burn in human minds were something to kill all ease and quiet for ever! It is worse than physical suffering even, that spirits should be tortured so, and twisted from their natural forms of love and happiness! And by the accident of his presence—of his race—of his bodily well-being and his ease of life—Philip had been set where he had had no choice but to side with those who punished wretchedness by commanding it to abide in itself, without hope or chance of escape.
He knit his resolution to make this Giansi job a reality of service. He need never chuck another book into the seethe of cleverness where he knew his work was bound to drown. His writing joints moved too stiffly, construction irked him, he could not get really going. As he strode along, he swung his arms restlessly, to reinforce his imagery by at least working his body’s tightness free. He did want a job worth doing, before his chance finished. And at forty-six it had finished long ago already, but for his luck in meeting Giansi’s dewan in London.
His mind, he saw, had always been full of the War—“whatever particular damned War was on”—a lethal war in Flanders and Mespot and on the high seas—a political war which had done some astounding things, the most recent being the displacement (practically overnight) of Mr. Ramsay MacDonald the unsatisfactory Socialist Premier by Mr. Ramsay MacDonald the thoroughly satisfactory National Premier—a literary war equally surprising in its turns of fortune. He had been a pawn in each and all of these wars. And very proud and sure of the mind that was full of the particular war in present hand.
He was being stared at by innumerable eyes, the golden globes of the wild cassia. It is a mistake to think that only in human faces can pain or delight come to us; our springs of feeling are stored in wayside cups, hardly noted when we first went by them. They were awakening for Philip who had come this path again; not that earlier Philip, but a Philip who remembered him, and brought his mind within his own.
Thought had run its devious course, and found a straight way—full of self-reproach and sweetness and sorrow.
He had seen no living thing except jackals, when a snake wound slowly across his path. Instinct, which was also habit from his Indian years, was to let no deadly reptile live. This glided into a squat circlet of thorns, and displayed a hood to the menace of his following it. Then it sank back on coils, watchful.
Wondering how most safely to attack a cobra, Philip was arrested by a voice seeming to come out of emptiness. “Do not kill that!”
He started, to see what in its unexpectedness dazzled like the apparition of Urvasi herself. There was no peacock fan, it is true; but an effect he had never seen, of wildly silvan regality, was given by a head-dress of high golden comb inwrought with the gloriously eyed plumes. Her sari was of a quieter gold rippled down and gathered into shining knots and dimples. Her features, too, were of the light golden complexion traditionally associated with deities and heroes.
He obeyed; and forgot the cobra from that moment.
She seemed to hesitate. Then said, in Marathi, “Come.” Seeing he understood, she continued in the same tongue, “You have been waited for, Rattiri Saheb.” She took the path to the right, and he followed.
The cobra, deciding that peril had taken another way, subsided into a dully metallic heap.
Philip remembered now, a ghost was looking for him. He presumed that he was going to séance with the grisly unseen. Even in a man of our advanced epoch, from some precivilised level disquiet rose, a smoke climbed from the rifted floor of Endor’s cave.
Curiosity mastered the tiny qualms of fear and superstition. He now guessed that an action he had hoped was unknown was very well known indeed in a restricted circle, and had been construed as unfriendly; perhaps as the more unfriendly, coming from him. However, there was nothing to do but await the event, and meanwhile, to follow Urvasi. If they meant his harm, the Powers of Darkness (he hoped) would hardly have been able to find so bright a messenger.
He still could not understand why a Maratha girl should be vexing her head about a Gond chieftain. But he was to find that the latter was not a principal in the immediate work, or interview, to which he was moving.
There is a lot to be said for setting women to carry water-pitchers; it gives an erect yet flowing loveliness to the body, such as is visible only at wide infrequent intervals in Europe and America. Philip’s companion had been gently nurtured. But what daily custom gave to her lowlier sisters pride gave her. Her people, moreover, have kept the spare hardy frame of their ancestors—I speak of those Marathas who still live in at least a spiritual neighbourhood to their Deccan home, in Vindhya and Satpura and all this austere Central India; and have not merged into the softness and grossness of the saccharine-sweetmeat-gorged higher classes of the cities. She walked as the daughter of an Ascetic, as in clear spaces of crisp wilderness air: amid wintry breezes moving on sal-forests whose red new leaves witness to the chilly power invigorating their world: under dawns when the frugal children of men who had renounced all of life but its natural ecstasies descended to bathe in swiftly flowing Sipra, and without astonishment saw the wood-nymphs beside them and arms that added lustre to the Gathering of Deities cleaving the delicious water with their own!
Philip in fairness to make comparison thought back to the Lauretta he had known when she was this girl’s age, nearly a score of years ago. Lauretta’s figure, boyishly slender still, though taller was of a knit and muscular power, giving it an aspect of young delightful bravado which you knew was merely illusion, the happiness of athletic habit drawing itself into a pretence of strength. His heart filled with tenderness, recalling a grace and sweetness lovelier than the bloom which had gone yet hardly gone while the body retained such fineness and fire! This girl was more fragile, which perhaps was why she could live amid these silvan austerities, surviving by aery lightness, as the gazelles and lilies do! If Lauretta seemed Athena leaning on her spear, she was of an elder type of perfection yet, the Egyptian Queen whose aloofly conquering calm and deathless eyes assure us that anything we can recreate of her age’s life from what her country now possesses is grotesquely astray. There must have been an Atlantis, whither all who survived of Nefertiti’s race carried a glory which has left for us one dreamlike fragment!
* * *
They halted at last on a perfect elevation for the eye to take in the whole of beauty, surveying the Water-Palace, half a mile to the east. Fifty yards away was the Siva shrine, deep embosomed in white-flowering shrubs; below it, beside the river, stretching almost up to the Palace, was the tiny plain where the God’s springtide processions take place. Northward spread the wilderness of the Five-Arrowed God. The wind hovering over Sipra, shaking down the forest scents, was as Kalidasa saw it—a lover adorned and excited for the body of his beloved. The congregation of simuls were at the start of their radiance, the wild mangoes in the fulness of their sweetness. A pomegranate, stuck like a flaming candle in the socket of the cliff, projected above it. Philip remembered how this tree seems to blossom at all seasons; it was in crimson abundance now.
Its head, swept backward by the winds from Sipra, flowered in a fiery bush before two muzzle-loading guns, relics from some artillery train of long ago. Between it and them stood a forked stick, such as goats are beheaded over to Kali. A deep thick pool of dried and stagnant blood discoloured the earth. Garlands of marigolds sat faded on the linstocks, propitiating the demon who had drunk blood at their mouths. Philip knew them to be two out of four guns of little further use except to fire salutes, which the Maharana had received after the Mutiny, along with the Thanks of the Paramount Power. They were accepted (the time not being one when the Paramount Power’s favours might be declined), but without enthusiasm; and superstition had flung them away here. They were known to have executed the Gond chieftains, father and son, at Khelara, on the river’s opposite side. Therefore let the God Siva, whose shrine was at Parikanda, have a care to them, since he is the King of unquiet Ghosts and Goblins! These ghosts in life had been allied with the revolting army of the Chawar (himself loyal); and their people, the Gonds, were still numerous in the woods fringing Sipra.
* * *
Philip knew the Gond King was held to haunt the place of his destruction; he had entertained no more doubt than Drake, as to what ghost was seeking him. Somewhere on Sipra’s confronting shore, a dark dwarfish attenuation of what in the earth-days had been a forest-ranger, an imp with deer-sinew-stringed bow and fire-hardened bamboo spear, peacock plumes in its coal-black shag of hair, was watching him, the shield of the swiftly running river between. The countryside was in terror of the disembodied hate seeking ferry over the waters.
He gave no thought to the Gond King’s son, whom he knew popular opinion had long ago dismissed. The boy had been known as pagal (crazy); a weak-witted creature whom no one bothered about, dead or alive. He had been dispersed into nothingness, and forgotten. Nevertheless, one person had cared about him. And Philip was to discover it was not the ghost he knew was looking for him, but another, that had brought him to this bank and shrine beside Sipra.
* * *
The guns lay on a patch bare except for tussocky grass—the funeral-plot of the widow of the Gond Prince, the half-witted being whom his own world had forgotten as soon as dead. Her, however, it had not forgotten.
It was 1859, long after the Paramount Power had made it illegal for the living widow to burn with her dead lord. But in that Mutiny outflare the Past had arisen; and this practice, among others the West had swept away, revived. The wife of a man who had been no man at all had been faithful in death to the foolishness of her trust and sense of duty. It was no custom of Gond wives to burn with their husbands. But hers she held for a chieftain, of princely rank though deposed; and in high-hearted courage she had burnt herself here, along with a head-dress of peacock feathers that had belonged to the poor idiot. Therefore these guns were cast away as hers, and left to her eternal remembrance. Raising herself (though an outcast, nurtured in forest ways and manners, and outside the fold and customs of the Aryas) to Kshattriya13 rank, by showing forth the death of a Kshattriya queen, she had dedicated this tiny plot of soil to her memory while the world should last. Philip had heard how the Paramount Power (this was sheer myth) had tried to destroy her legend, by ploughing up the earth and sowing seed: how a sacrilegious Muslim had sworn to grow a crop here, and had been cut off by the ghost herself, who had caused him to fling himself into the deep pool where Sipra gathers before turning on that western bend. All contention had failed; this was an earth mindful of sorrow and fealty. It was not for tillage, but existed merely for remembrance.
* * *
The girl used the vernacular throughout, helping herself with occasional words of English when Philip stumbled at her meaning.
“Rattiri Saheb, is it any deed of a man to rob the Dead?”
He replied in Marathi. “I took nothing from the Dead. Except a memory of hatred that lived between them and my people.”
“To the Dead honour is the only robe that they bear, to cover their nakedness in the country of ghosts. For these Dead, by your people’s deed, there were no rites or funeral ceremonial; they would have lingered restless for ever, but for the faithfulness of this woman who died here. It is her spirit that has brought you here, against your will. She was a thorn in your mind when that night’s work finished. She was the will you thought was yours, that drove you forth to-day and chose your path.”
Her words recalled the imp of superstition that he had exorcised. He turned, as if to see what shadow dogged his heels.
“Yes,” she said, her voice rising to a chant, “you thought, I, Rattiri Saheb, who was once a great one in this land which we grant of our favour the semblance of honour, calling it the Kingdom of Ryalgarh and its chieftain a Prince, will walk abroad to see its forests again! But it was in the mind of the world of ghosts that you should walk the path that they willed, to bring you to knowledge that a deed you thought unknown was remembered all these years! When you crossed Sipra river under cover of night, bringing the honour of which you had despoiled the Dead, you thought your act unseen! But the Dead were watching, and they saw; the Gods saw, our Lord Mahadeva of this shrine saw, our Lady Rukmini of Durgeswar saw; devis of the stream and forest saw. It was published to the Three Worlds, so that you have lived a man haunted and frustrate in all you seek to do! If the Dead did not see and tell, how think you that I know—and not I alone? Drake Saheb has long known that we know. The Gods have smitten him with death in his limbs!”
It had not been the wise idealism he thought, when he had cut away the root of superstition from this people, in the fever of a young man’s mind. Seeing our dreams in the chill light of middle age, we are ashamed that we were once so sentimental, so weakly and brainlessly-enthusiastic. The Waste Land is wonderfully clearing to the vision!
He was thinking hard, with pity and admiration.
He saw a picture framed by a parting of boughs, Lauretta’s head. It dipped, as her hand was raised to ward a branch off; then moved along and above a line of lantana copse. She appeared in an opening. And came their way, a Lauretta dazed and dream-encompassed, without will or decision. Automatically she let him help her dismount.
The girl drew a conch from her sari, and blew. Urvasi had hobgoblin service! From the shrubs that hid the Siva shrine came a Gond boy, a dwarf squat emergence wearing peacock feathers like a rainbow on a shag of cloud. As he took the horse, his mistress assured Lauretta, “It will bring back. It is our horse—Lord Mahadeva’s. But it shall take you to home. This is favour of our Lord.” Annoyed at her faltering English, she turned to Philip, and said impetuously, in Marathi, “It is as I say. He is the horse of Parikandeswara.” (“The God of Parikanda.”)
Philip translated to Lauretta. “But how on earth did you ride here on the Storm-God’s charger?”
Urvasi, following look and word intently, understood that he was expressing doubt. She broke in, vivacious and eager with gesture. “It is true. He is in service of Parikandeswara.”
“But who are you?” asked Lauretta slowly. “Philip, I don’t understand about Parikandeswara, or her, or you, or anything or anyone.”
“I am Rani Chitralika,” said the girl, before he could ask Lauretta’s question.
“You must explain, Philip,” said Lauretta. “I have been in a bad dream, carried by an enchanted horse whom I could not manage in the least.”
Chitralika followed this. “He was servant of Parikandeswara,” she said, as if this made all clear. “He had orders bring you where Rattiri Saheb. Ghost ordered Rattiri Saheb bring to Ryalgarh. Yes, here, to own Parikanda. Ghost knew of Round Table and Rattiri Saheb.”
“But—” began Lauretta, flushing into a little spirt of anger. Then she laughed at herself. “I was beginning to imagine I was waking up from the perfectly atrocious dream I have been passing through. But I am not sure now. I thought I was trying a horse for Her Highness. But it seems I was just so much dead weight that he was conveying, under orders, to this wild place where you and a ghost, it appears, are in some kind of acquaintance which is just madness to me!”
“I think I’m beginning to see,” said Philip.
“Then will you explain?”
“We may take it she speaks the truth,” he said, in his slow manner of reverie aloud, “when she says that you were brought here—”
“Oh, quite,” she broke in impatiently. “I thoroughly realise that! But why, Philip? Why?”
Their eyes met, this question was tacitly dropped. Then she looked at him again. And knew that exultation had driven out regret, except for the distress that had overborne her spirit. And gave herself willingly up to this adventure which some will above her own had planned with the man she had remembered all these years.
Nevertheless, she asked, “But, Philip, what have you had to do with all this? Why are you in this place?”
* * *
For the sake of the girl beside them, he told the plot’s story without obtrusive attention to the grim relics, a propitiation not lost on Chitralika, following all with quick watchful eyes.
“Tell him,” she said to Lauretta when he ended, as one Queen might instruct another, “now do right!”
“But how can you, Philip, set right what was done before you were born?”
“Oh, she doesn’t mean that. But twelve years ago, my last night in Ryalgarh, I did a thing I thought very wise and noble. I thought no one saw it.”
“Ghost saw,” said Chitralika.
“Oh, quite! And no doubt,” said Philip with mild irony, “someone more substantial must have seen also. Or must have guessed when he found the stone gone. Unless a ghost can be talkative! There was a stone where tradition says the fellows were put to death. Drake discovered it was being worshipped; marigolds and all that. The Gonds were sacrificing goats to it: our Marathas were doing it as well. It was doing no good, from any point of view that we had. So I brought it across the river under cover of darkness, and buried it. Now the ghost insists I must put it back, in person. And the ghost knew—so they allege; so Drake was told—that I was coming here, weeks before I even dreamt of it! Oh, it isn’t all mystery, or as spooky as it sounds or she wants us to believe, maybe believes herself! I now begin to suspect the insistence with which H.H.’s people when they met me in London made me promise to revisit Ryalgarh. But what do you think, Lauretta?”
“I think you should put it back.” She went on, “You were wrong, Philip; just as wrong as anyone whom you might consider stupid and afraid of truth and frankness might have been.” She spoke without rebuke, and as one mind working with another in perfect understanding may speak to it. She had been listening again to the man who had poured out his hopes for his new life in Giansi, in the pity and sympathy with which he had related the history of this spot; a whole period had dropped away from time, and placed them again where the future seemed to await their shaping action.
“And now, Miss Chitralika,” she asked, “how am I to get back?”
Chitralika spoke to Philip, who translated. “She says, As you came. The God will lend you his horse. He is the God’s servant, and will do whatever the God commands.”
“Quite. I begin to appreciate that. But will the God be so kind as to command what I command?”
Again Chitralika addressed Philip. He said, “She says the beast will do whatever you order.”
“I wonder!” Lauretta was thoughtful and troubled. “He went perfectly charmingly when I gave in and resigned myself to coming here. And if he was frightened, so was I—expecting every minute to see Apollyon in the shape of one of H.H.’s tigers straddling across my path and swearing by his infernal den that I should go not one step further, but that here he would spill my soul! I’m afraid I don’t believe one word of what Mahmud Khan says, that the tigers all keep to the other end of the pastures! Why should they?”
“Tiger walks wood all night,” said Chitralika.
“I’m quite sure he does! And how do I know that he doesn’t walk all day as well?”
Philip put her question in Marathi. “She seems to think the tiger’s habits immaterial, whatever they are. Says the horse has gone this one track, between here and Ryalgarh, every morning and evening of the last year.”
He urged her to remain while he rode back and fetched a car. But, hesitating, she imagined a gleam in the depths of Chitralika’s eyes; her mind was made up from that moment, though it was to know waverings of remorse.
“No. There are reasons why that would be inconvenient. Besides, I begin to do him justice, and to realise that he had special reasons for preferring the one track he was set on keeping. But all the same—am I to understand that H.H.’s tigers prowl the whole forest, yet stay scrupulously off one path—because the God Siva has told them that just here they are not to walk on the grass!”
Chitralika affirmed that this was so.
Philip had been pondering. He glanced at Chitralika, and then said, “Drake told me men were walking all night long, in bands with torches, between Ryalgarh and Parikanda.” Lauretta nodded; she had heard this. “Some sort of pilgrimage commanded by the God, to propitiate the ghost he has taken under his protection. It’s all part of the general scare overhanging the countryside. And,” he added, brightening, “isn’t it all in order that Siva, who is the King of all Ghosts and Goblins—a kind of Commander of the Unfaithful!—should make the cause of three wretched dwarfish Gond wraiths his own! I swear I shall think the more nobly of his godship for the rest of my life!”
Lauretta persisted, “Ask her how she knows (apart from the interesting but to our minds unconvincing assurance about Parikandeswara’s instructions) that he’ll really consent to do what he refused before—return to Ryalgarh? The man who bought him for our tiny Maharani was a bigger fool than usual—or bigger scoundrel!”
Contempt overspread the girl’s features, and she spoke in quick cutting tones. Philip translated. “The yarn gets crazier and crazier. She says she knows, because she herself has ridden him thither repeatedly: that the servant of Parikandeswara is not for her they call Maharani: that the true Maharani will ride him hither with her army, when she comes to Siva’s temple to blow the war-conch.”
Chitralika had left them, and gone towards the shrine.
* * *
“I like the business less and less,” said Philip. “She means, when her plans are ready, to lead all your Prince’s paraphernalia of Lancers, Household Brigade, and the rest, to this temple where every Chawar war has started, with a Queen launching it. This horse has come originally from H.H.’s own stables, whether he knows it or not. After all, out of the thousands of perfectly splendid beasts H.H. possesses it’s easy to pick out one to advertise and then produce in answer to a letter to the advertiser! Meanwhile, he has been serving Princess Chitralika’s purposes, which are not peaceful!”
“I suppose not. But her nerve still beats me!”
“No. Her lack of nerve.”
“How do you make that out?”
(The absorbed mind casts out fear. And without fear, man is a god and above Nature and her perils. They say that no wild beast will harm an Ascetic.)
He explained, “I’m not sure, but I’m willing to believe that even if that horse met a tiger the odds are that he might hold his ground, with that exalted fanaticism in the saddle, always worshipping herself as half divine, always driving thought to one end! that it would be the wild creature, and not the tame, that fled away! And that,” he concluded, “disposes of the one really miraculous element in the whole affair, which would have been if the priest of Parikanda had been at last persuaded to expend his State grant on a beginning of the God’s cavalry establishment—and a really respectable beginning, at that! But you see, he didn’t!”
She smiled. “You are a shameless sceptic, Philip.”
“No. I’m the man of the West again. And I’m picking up the outlines of a yarn that strangely interests me. That girl’s been all her life plotting, and this last year she’s stationed herself here, in contemptuous defiance of our poor Ryalgarh puppet. She’s been riding to and from Ryalgarh and Parikanda on these night marches, showing herself to devotees half mad with fright and religion, as their Rani who is Parikandeswara’s ward. The Prince has been feverishly building up what he calls his cavalry, because it’s the only arm the Paramount Power, which knows it would be useless against modern arms, would allow him. It passed with us for idiocy, but to him it was a confused kind of raising of a wall to save him from being swept away by sudden rebellion. We know now why he was so anxious for his little Maharani to fit herself to become Colonel-in-Chief to his Lancers! In fact, Lauretta, though I’ll put it back, I think the ghosts’ stone is wanted for more than solely superstitious purposes. It is wanted for gatherings where they can glorify rebellion, against us and these Princes whom the Nationalists call John Bull’s sweetheart. Patriotism and religion and labour riots together would have made a State-wide upheaval, when Parikandeswara—and Chitralika—decided to call the hour! Instead, we had only that sorry show last night. But she’s taken the disappointment in her stride, and means to go forward as if it hadn’t happened.”
“All the same, you should put the stone back, Philip. The Dead have a right to their funeral honours.”
His gaze followed hers, and was held by Chitralika, a gold-clad rider. Before her marched the Gond boy, with pennon such as Lauretta had rejected—the Chawar royal symbol, Maruti poised over leagues of foamy ocean, clutching his Himalayan hill. When she flung over the cannons a rope of pomegranate buds, their demon was shown as already in process of identification with Kali, Parikandeswara’s Queen, who will accept sanguine flowers in default of living victims. Disdainful and dextrous, even for the mess of blood and the sudden showering brightness permitting no pause or swerve, Chitralika peacocked it in spirit as in attire, till she reached Lauretta and jumped down.
Philip, watching, said with conviction, “There hasn’t been a thing supernatural in this, from start to finish!”
“No?” said Lauretta. “But I’m sure of this, that this horse”—she patted him, preparatory to getting up to return—“this morning was haunted, and was ridden by a woman haunted even worse than he was! I propose to get away from this place, as quickly as you and he will let me!”
* * *
By Lauretta’s carriage Philip knew that Chitralika was still watching them. Then they both banished her from their minds, suddenly and completely. A vague discomfort kept them silent for a while longer.
Lauretta spoke at last. “Philip, why ever did you chuck your work out here? You don’t mind my saying—there are things about you, that set your friends wondering.”
From reverie deep down, on the obscure phases with which his own folly had overlaid his life, he thought aloud—in such a mood as makes thinking aloud unwise. “Because my mind was full of the War, I suppose.”
Her eyes expanded. “I’m afraid I don’t understand that rather cryptic reply! Perhaps I’d better not try to understand it! I’m getting rather tired of hearing it. If it means that you are trying to get back at me for something you’ve chosen to take offence at, I think I’ll get on. Do you mind?”
“I mustn’t mind,” he said stiffly. “I’ve learnt that my presence is something you’ll do everything to avoid. When we left the Prince’s show you had to go home because you needed rest above all things! But not so urgently that you could not return alone later!”
She was amazed, remembering. “Then do you think—actually think—that I lied to you, to get rid of you?”
He had thought this; yet, however deep the wound to pride that it brings, in such cases men do not take the offence in itself hardly, but dismiss it as something not liable to their own code. And for her part Lauretta, even in her anger, noted that Philip was in the inexplicably childish resentment which women also can judge lightly, and if the man is worth forgiveness can forgive. So queerly are the ethics of the sexes mixed, after centuries of civilisation! But angry she was, nevertheless.
Confusedly he told her what he had seen. Her humiliation that he should have known even this—the abrupt, unhappy shadow flung outward by her life that he could not see—made him ashamed and wretched. He was broken and abject in regret for having mentioned his misunderstanding.
“No,” she said. “I can see how it must have seemed, and what you must have thought. But will you please believe that I do not do the kind of thing that you imagined—that I told you simple truth, whatever you saw afterwards? I’m afraid you must take it at that, Mr. Rattray. But I’m sorry for the pain I gave you—and the reasons for thinking what you have thought.”
He assured her that he did not think it. And had the sense to drop the matter. An awkwardness was left, which she chose to end.
“This arrangement isn’t particularly convenient for either of us, with you having to keep level while I have to be reining in all the time! I’m only sorry for you, who have to foot it. But thank you for coming with me so far!”
He put a hand on her bridle, pleadingly. “No, don’t, Lauretta! Not yet. I was savage with myself, and certainly not with you! You asked why I left my work out here. I left because I was a fool!”
Her petulance was unappeased. “I don’t see that! After all, you’ve led a very interesting life since you left.”
“I’ve led a very aimless, scrappy, rotten life.”
“I don’t know. You must have had great fun!”
“A man who’s in sight of fifty, with nothing but fun behind him, knows he has been a fool!”
“And then there have been your books,” continued Lauretta remorselessly. “And all those interesting articles you have written in the weeklies!”
“Lauretta!” He made her face him. “Don’t mock me! You wouldn’t if you understood! Have you read anything of the works of us brilliant moderns? Do you know us?”
“Oh yes. I’ve an arrangement by which I see all the best literature. And I take in the most devastating of the weeklies.”
“And how do we strike you?”
She considered. “You are a very satirical age, aren’t you? Very devoted to truth and severe.”
“We think so,” he said, as they went on again.
Something released a fury in her spirit, of shame and disappointment. “Your anger is wasted on mean objects. It’s mean in itself. You think it’s very emancipated and daring to make fun of people for being old, or physically uncomely, or poor and having to put up with makeshifts to keep up their self-respect. But not one of you ever dares to attack anything that really is a filthy, damnable rottenness or can give you a kick back! I sometimes think we’re the meanest and cheapest set that ever lived! Would you think me unfair if I called you a bit caddish?”
“Not in the least.”
“Yes, caddish is probably the word. But of course enormously clever. Don’t you think so?”
“I suppose so.”
“I sicken at the endless froth and idiocy! Books that are stunts! fuss about women fliers! all the nonsense that can be vamped up about the silliest of my sex! Now, Philip, will you let me get on? I’m not angry with you any more.”
“Let me see you first to the Levanudi!”
“All right. But then, I must get on. I shall be practically in sight of home.”
* * *
He said presently, “I suppose posterity will find it hard to believe that we were kept in a state of twittering admiration all the while we were, over the stuff we read and the people we lived with or read about in our papers or saw on our films. That we shall look every bit as funny to those who follow us as the Victorians look to us!”
“Yes,” she said. “We’re beginning to look it already.”
“I’m going to ask you now about my own old job, and the whole of our great way of running this country. What strikes you as wrong there? That is, if anything strikes you as possibly not quite of the highest quality!”
“Don’t you be bitter, Philip! You left us voluntarily. No one said you must go.”
“No. But I told myself I couldn’t go on growing old in hell a single year longer.”
“So you skipped off to another hell somewhere else.”
“You haven’t answered my question.”
“Well—I get sick of our trades union mentality. We’re the most perfect trade union the world has ever seen. And now, when everyone can see that the Services are dying—and have got to die—”
“Naturally! You can’t stereotype one bit of the earth for ever and ever, however top-hole you think your arrangements for it have been.”
“Of course not. But the dying is being done with so little dignity, so little generosity, in such an angry, squabbling, blind, petty little fashion! My whole life seems to have gone to waste in one round of intrigue and fussing about jobs and titles and precedence!” she concluded.
“Then do you wonder at the Three Worlds in revolt at last—not merely here, but everywhere outside our own narrow circle? Gods and demons and even the stupid man in the street and the Indian bazaar beginning to shout whatever’s his equivalent for “Assez de Bonaparte!” I saw so much of this thing in the War that, never dreaming that fifteen years of Peace were going to be chockful of it as well, I made up my mind I wouldn’t be in it any longer. Having just finished with the War made me feel a false sense of youth, just as thousands who’ve since gone under felt. I didn’t know it was going to take ages to shake off the Old Gang, and that the Young Gang when they came along would prove to have all the Old Gang’s tricks, as well as new silly tricks of their own! And that My Gang were never going to get any sort of show at all, but be simply chucked away as a sort of episode between acts!”
He was amazed at her answering outburst; and began to see how close to hysteria she had been brought. “I’ll tell you what’s wrong with you, Philip, and what’s wrong with me too. Every now and then it just happens to a set of men and women to belong to an age that’s slipped in to pass away while God slowly overhauls His thinking, and does nothing! and lets humanity do nothing—except blunder and suffer! It isn’t that there’s anything outrageously wrong with us, as compared with luckier ages. It’s simply that something far bigger than ourselves is flummoxed and footling. God Himself is lost in a fog and doesn’t know His way out! We’re the battalions He chucks away—for the sake of His general scheme!—if anything so crazingly incompetent has a general scheme! We’re in the hands of a fool who’s fussing things out! He’s letting us die off, and will be glad to be done with us!”
“We’re billed to be wasted because of our sterile, brainless cleverness—which wasn’t our fault originally, but a curse put on us by seeing everything going wrong while we couldn’t lift a hand to help it! So the only gift we could develop was that of seeing what was absurd in ourselves, and, more often and easily, absurd in others!”
“Lauretta! why didn’t you face this time with me? We could have made a difference to each other! You would have saved me.”
“I could have done it!” she cried. “I liked you for your questioning face and questioning attitude. I wanted to go through life beside a man who looked like that—instead of with men who took everything for granted as top-hole if only they could continue to have the world their way! Philip, when you had the chance why didn’t you just kiss me like a man and make me come with you? It wouldn’t have taken much doing. Instead of coming back now!” Her head was turned from him; and he knew she was crying. “Philip, let me get on! And say good-bye here! No, it’s too late for you to do anything now—or for me to do anything. And you’re the man I never want to see after this!”
“Lauretta! you must listen.”
“I’ve listened long enough. You were full of the War when you had your chance. And you couldn’t think of anything but yourself! And of the fine heroic figure you were making! You’ve been making it ever since! I was only a girl you amused yourself with for a few days—an adjunct to your new finery! Farewell to Lucasta on Going to the Wars! A man must have some woman by him to set off his attitudes! He can’t strut without a spectator!”
“And that’s true! But I’ve learnt my folly long since.”
“After you’ve let me in for a folly in which I must die!”
“Yet, Lauretta, it isn’t true—not all that you have said. And for your peace, because I’ve let you down like this, let me tell you it isn’t true. I was not full of the War. I knew I ought to be. I fooled myself, and apparently you, that I was. But I was full of dreams which have speak been a wretchedness every since. When I was going to you I found you had gone.”
She stopped in her astonishment. “But you must have heard! I had that telegram about my sister’s accident. You know she died!”
“I know. And I had to leave Ryalgarh, the day after you had gone. The War, I swear it, never occupied a minute of my thought all the way up to Pindi, or for months afterwards, except when I slaved at it to forget you.”
“But why? Why, Philip? You could have written. You did write to me after Alison died—a letter which I thought meant something!”
“It meant everything—except that I couldn’t tell you then that I loved you! And I would have written, afterwards, Lauretta. But I heard from a man who knew you—a fellow called Mason—”
“I knew that. That’s why I thought he must know. He said you were engaged to Major Raymond of the Sappers.”
“I never was! I turned him down—for you, Philip! And then he was killed in Palestine.”
“And when I came back after the War you were married. Now you know why I left the Service! I persuaded myself that it was something else. But I knew I could not face having you in Central India, where some time we must meet and pretend to be just friends, and that you were nothing more to me!”
“Philip, why need you have come back now?”
“I’m glad I came. I hated coming, but I’ve heard what makes my life worth while, even if I never see you again. And you know now that I never was the utter fool and prig you have thought me. No man could have been, with Lauretta Graham! And even at the time you knew I wasn’t. You did know, didn’t you, Lauretta?”
She made no answer. “Lauretta! you knew I cared?”
“And you’ve heard it from my lips now. I shall be glad as long as I live!”
She said presently, “We’ve both been betrayed into hysteria and self-pity, which shows that we are a bad influence for one another.” She smiled, and added gently, “Phil dear, we’re neither of us as childishly bad and sad as we’ve been fooled into imagining. Now tell me about yourself as the man you actually are. And why you left us?”
“I think I left because it seemed to me then that men and women mattered more than keeping empires. I’d been seeing flesh and blood devoted to ruin and wretchedness for the sake of that general scheme you spoke of—an army deserted here, a battalion flung away there, a platoon sent out to certain death somewhere else. You can’t make an omelette without smashing eggs, you know! But it isn’t the eggs that are going to be smashed that make or quote these cold-blooded maxims! And then I came back here, and offered myself for work in that famine area. I expect you know what followed.”
“Vaguely. But I want to know it clearly.”
“Well, you know that I got worried because there was so little money to save men and women from dying of starvation, while there seemed so much for what we call statesmanship. I wrote a protest which I know that technically I had no right to make; and it wasn’t correctly tactful and impersonal, either! His Excellency asked to see me, which again was more than perhaps he was technically entitled to do, since I was not in his province normally. He should just have fired me, and sent me back to my college, and left it at that. However, he asked me to see him, and I thought that meant we could get something done. But it didn’t. There was that other trouble hanging over, about my alleged influence on H.H. here—you can see now how deep it went!” he said, a little bitterly.
“Never mind that, Philip.”
“No, I don’t mind. Oh yes, I do, though! It’s a rotten finish to what I once cared for so much! Well, anyway, I found H.E. what seemed to me maddeningly departmental. He talked about the necessity of keeping up a show and pomp out here—that the East liked it—the East!” Philip cried. “That hoary whiskered abstraction! as out of date as werewolves and vampires! Which has become China with her endless civil wars and her sordid masses of opium cultivation to pay for her endless armaments! and Japan with her realism and remorseless thrust of sheer conscienceless force! and India with her worship of an almost naked ascetic and her demand for economic power! He said that India looked for display and wastefulness, that a Government had to impress by lavishness on itself. And he told me that each one of us had to stick to his little niche, mine being a far from important one, and that only the Heaven-born, and not too many of those, understood what he kept on calling the Eastern mind and the ways of ruling it. He hadn’t seen the shrunken forms of the dying and desperate, and I had been haunted by them! I don’t know what I said; at least I prefer to forget it! But I don’t think a Governor has been spoken to so by a trivial subordinate since we started to rule in India! That’s all. But I knew then, as I have known ever since, that it wasn’t H.E.’s pompous, irritating, strutting complacency and patronage that made a mere ex-cog in the military wheel imagine it had a right to speak to the driver. It was you, Lauretta! I saw you once after I returned, in a crowd in a room, though you did not see me! and I knew what torment can be to a fool who has lost eternity! I had to get away, to have a chance of life, without knowing I must meet you and be less to you than I had been when you gave me friendship and I made my mistake—as I began to suspect I had made it, when you did not marry Raymond after all!”
* * *
They were in sight of the Levanudi’s fringe of trees.
“Now will you mind if I go on, Philip? I’m afraid I must.”
“If the God meant to take vengeance for what I did to his poor ghosts, he has done it!”
“No! He brought you here to bring happiness to a girl you had forgotten!”
“You shall never say that!” he cried. “Never! not even to yourself! least of all to yourself, Lauretta! You are the only thing that has ever happened to me, that I have remembered! Now, will you go from me?”
“Yes. There’s nothing else to do. But I’m glad, Philip. I shall always be glad. Good-bye, Philip!”
“At the river’s bank,” he said. “You don’t rob a lost spirit of one moment of his hour in Paradise!”
Arrived on Levanudi’s rim, she pressed his hand quickly, momentarily. Then pushed down its steepness and onto its sands. The horse took the stream at the nearest point, arrow-straight, needing no impulsion. He passed through it plungingly and swiftly, dashing up a column of spray.
Drake asked no questions, but at breakfast gave Philip a letter with the Giansi crest.
“It was sent to you care of the Residency, and Kennedy has just forwarded it.”
It was a straightforward notification that the Maharaja, after bringing Philip out from England, had broken the contract. Giansi State was overhauling its finances, and could not afford his services. Since it had approached him first, without the least of preliminary cadging or hinting by himself, this struck him as cool.
But he did not believe the reason alleged.
He had not known that he could feel such anger and sense of outrage. With it was humiliation, the deeper because he now knew that his appointment, which he had been exhorted to keep a dead secret, was known throughout official India, and that wherever word came that Giansi had turned the presumptuous journalist down it would bring rejoicing. As he thought of Simla—it is a queer fact in psychology, but whenever men have felt themselves in revolt against what they have taken as the cool impertinence of the Indian Central Government they have visualised it as aloof on Himalayan heights—he imagined a variant of the ancient question, “O Nature and Menander, which of you invented the other?” Which was fact and which was fancy—Ibsen’s trolls obscene in their snowy Dovrefjeld or the Secretariat sending watchful eyes after any hint of independence or vigour that rose in India, and chuckling at its defeat? There has been dignity in some of the autocracies of the Past. Is there any in this white-helmeted, warily ungenerous aloofness?
Until it struck him down, he had never realised the depth and tenacity of a resentment which remembers for ever a moment of criticism; still more an action that was overt contempt and condemnation.
Of course he was unjust. Wherever in our shaking modern world you have the fury of the sentimentalist—who sees only individual wrong and individual wretchedness, and grossly overestimates their importance when set in the scale against the abundant instances of over-flowing good fortune—you have also injustice, want of logic, utter lack of balance and proportion. And yet Philip was not that evil thing, a Communist; not even a real Socialist (only a member of the 1917 Club; no more a Socialist than Mr. Bernard Shaw is).
* * *
He relived an earlier experience. In the War, men in the line, with a fervour even now sleeping in thousands of orderly minds, hated the Staff’s gold-and-scarlet equanimity-immunity, so prompt to “strafe” this or that untidiness in those who died daily, and to recommend with frosty imperativeness soldierly perfection like their own. Yet they did not hate the commanders close to themselves; for the brigadier there was only understanding forgiveness, as for one who endured with them, and knew from experience that war was a bloodier matter than the mere issuing of orders and playing with files. Though he lost his temper and was unjust, he did it as a being inhabiting their sphere, and with every excuse for lapses from absolute fairness.
It is wrong, and unfair, that prejudice should have concentrated so on the Central Government, and that it should be thought of as exasperatingly complacent and at ease above suffering. But it has come to pass, with a mischief perhaps gone too far for any undoing. We shall be fools if we think this misjudgment imaginary or unimportant.
He told Drake, “I’m going to fight this.”
“The Indian Government. It isn’t Giansi who’s done this: he’s only a tool. It’s Delhi.”
“Of course it’s Delhi. But where’ll you get your proof? Do you think they’ve left a line on paper anywhere where you can get hold of it, that will give you a leg to stand on? Drop it, Phil, that’s a good chap. I was damned sorry when I heard what you were hoping to do, for everyone but you knew there wasn’t an earthly chance of the Government letting any Prince turn loose a fellow who had proved he could think for himself and wasn’t afraid of following out the consequences of his thinking.”
“I don’t care! I won’t take it lying down.”
“You’ll not get a pice of change out of H.M. Government.”
“All the same, I’ll fight them if it means my being broken.”
“All right. Then it means you’re being broken,” Drake said coolly.
Philip received this in silence. Then he said, “I don’t know what I can do about it. But I’ll get it into the open somehow or other.”
“Have you got the money?”
“No-o. I don’t suppose I have.”
“Then what’s the use? Haven’t you learnt that the Law is no use to the ordinary middle-class person? They’ll beat you by length of purse and length of lying—by technicalities that H.M. Government will put up—by the plea that Giansi’s an Independent Prince—”
“Which he damn well isn’t!”
“Oh, quite. But he can be made one for one day, to help a righteous cause. That he’s an Independent Prince, and can’t be proceeded against—on the ground that his arrangements are all subject to H.M. Government’s veto or approval—yes, Philip, if necessary they’ll even let you drive them out into the open so far! There’s no court that can entertain your case. It’s outside all jurisdiction. And against H.M. Government, which never made any overtures to you, never concluded any shadow of an agreement, you have no case. You’ll be put up against some brilliant swine who’ll make a figure of fun out of you: ‘Let me see, Mr. Rattray, you were once in one of the Indian Services yourself, I think?’ Then, ‘And you left it?’ Then, ‘Quite so, Mr. Rattray. Now would you mind telling the Court why you left it?’”
“And I will tell them,” exploded Philip. “I’ll tell them because, after four years with decent men, who broke nothing but the Jewish God’s commandments and kept the Christian God’s at the cost of their own blood and lives, I wasn’t going to be part of an organised system of complacency and chicanery!”
“And then the cat will have you and toss you gleefully! ‘Quite, quite, Mr. Rattray. For the very highest and noblest motives you left a most unsatisfactory system. But let me see, the Native States are in this system, aren’t they? Now would you say—take time to consider, Mr. Rattray; this Court is in no hurry—that their administrations were entirely free from the blots that you have so eloquently deplored?’ And then, while you are still fuming and fussing away, too incoherent to save yourself, yet seeing the trap into which you are being driven, ‘Now, Mr. Rattray, would you mind telling this Court exactly what was the figure for which you were prepared to enter this iniquitous system again? What was the stipend that His Highness offered you? I understand that you think yourself entitled to substantial damages from somebody, so we may take it that even to an idealist the pecuniary aspect of this affair is not—may I say, not altogether negligible?’ Oh, damn it, Phil! Can’t you see the whole thing as it will be—only far worse than either of us can imagine it? It will be a story in the learned counsel’s Reminiscences and the fulsome biography by his son—of how he made mince-meat of a radical journalist! When did any ordinary man stand a chance against the licensed insolence of our legal methods? Is there any other contest in which the dice are so heavily weighted from the start? ‘Let me see once more, Mr. Rattray? Your business is that of a writer, for what are known as advanced papers? Is that your only business, Mr. Rattray? For it seems that during the course of your vocation—nothing wrong in that, gentlemen: we have it on the highest authority, my Lord, that it is no sin for a man to labour in his vocation, and I am sure that it is no sin when the vocation is not a very remunerative one and the labourer is getting on in years and is perhaps losing his market value—but during the course of your vocation, Mr. Rattray, you set up relations with an Indian Prince who was in London for the first time and was inexperienced in our literary world and its methods, and inexperienced, I may add, in the reputation of journalists who met him? These relations, I put it to you, Mr. Rattray, you hoped would prove highly profitable? More profitable than you have hitherto found your particular branch of literary effort?’”
“You’re right,” admitted Philip sullenly. “I couldn’t face it.”
“Of course you couldn’t face it. Why, even to read the newspaper reports of how Sir Bluffley Smartjaw had shown you up, and the neat little leader in the right-thinking papers, would give you fever all your days, whenever you remembered it. Besides, we all know what Giansi is. You are well out of his service, Phil. How many Englishmen have served an Indian Prince and kept self-respect or the respect of anyone else?”
“Pretty well damn all!”
“And Giansi’s only a tool in this business. And a tool that won’t give away the hand that uses him.”
But a whole new fair world that he had been building had collapsed about Philip’s head. It was now back to his gallipots; and to the inevitability of growing old in fretful impotence, after youth and manhood that had been alive.
* * *
He had, however, an immediate job in hand, which must take precedence of his own affairs. “I’m going to the Palace,” he announced.
“You may find H.H. in bed. He’ll have every right to be.”
“I don’t think he will be. I don’t think anyone who was in last night’s show will feel like sleeping yet.”
“No,” Drake agreed on reflection. I don’t think you’ll find him in bed. But he’ll be damned busy.”
“All the more reason for seeing him. I want to save him some of his busyness—if I can get to him soon enough! He was talking of the necessity of stringing up a few fellows, as a measure to restore order and the impaired authority of the State—that is, of himself! I thought you couldn’t do that now, even in a Native State. Good God!” cried Philip. “Fancy the idea—the very idea!—of putting men to death for rebellion against an Indian Prince! Against a fellow who’s only a glorified squire” (he used H.H.’s own phrase to him) “whom we keep in power whether his subjects wish it or not!”
“He’s considerably more than that, Phil.”
“Yes, I know he is. But how far can he really take matters into his own hands?”
“That’s more than anyone can say just now, until a test case arises. But we both remember what happened in Kestangarh.”
Philip did not immediately, and had to be reminded of a once notorious episode in a great Central Indian State. Dacoity had grown to such proportions that its Prince was told he must set it right. Judging accurately that his own zemindars were in collusion with the robbers, he notified them to deliver up a specified number, on pain of forfeiture of their lands if they failed or refused. Probably neither they nor their free-booting relations had any notion of the extremities to which their exasperated Prince was prepared to go; at the place and on the date named for delivery, the dacoits were produced, many being nephews or cousins of big landowners. The law’s delays and lies were dispensed with. Some of the prisoners were identified as murderers and immediately hanged on trees. Others, who had held fingers over flames or had twisted strings round brows, had their own torture returned on them. The villagers themselves were judges, and decreed the penalties. I know fellows who saw what was done. It was an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth! Some of the dacoits had weights hung on their private parts.”
Philip said, “I don’t worry about what’s done to dacoits. They themselves have no more pity than a tigress. But this isn’t dacoity. It’s just a Labour flare-up such as we sometimes get even in the West, and it’s the factory hands who’ve had the casualties. I shall go mad if H.H. is allowed to call it high treason, and to hang for it.”
“I don’t for one minute believe he will be allowed. What Kestangarh did was exceptional, and he was jolly well told afterwards that it was to remain an exception! You’ll find there are wiser heads than H.H. in this business, Phil. Wrenn-Barratt, who has quite a lot of influence with him, will be all for moderation and a quick clean ending. All the decent younger soldiers are for moderation now, as well as the older saner ones. I reckon Forceps-Forceps among these, in spite of his barking against bolshies. And there’s Mrs. Resident, who’ll have more say than the lot of us put together. And there’s no question as to what her say will be. I’ll come with you,” he concluded. “And anyway there’ll be Hell to pay if he hangs anyone except under the head of murder. He knows that, however much he may bluster just now.”
Philip had no appointment; and at the Palace the guard would have stopped him, though doubtfully after yesterday, but for Drake, a privileged person who went where he would and when he would. Drake unhesitatingly took him in; then said, “Wait here a few secs. I’m going to see H.H.’s grandmother, the Rani I knew when I first came to Ryalgarh. She’s purdah to you, but not to me. She’ll make H.H. see us, if he should be disinclined.”
So, as in some Tartar Mound of the Dead, of chieftains attended by slain serfs and animals, Philip waited in the wide hall decorated with the Chawar countenance and trophies of the chase, a vast den dark with curtains and long-accumulated dust.
Drake reappeared, hobbling down the wide stairs. “Come along! It’s all right. Her Highness the young Maharani was there, and she telephoned for me to His Highness. She was quite distressed on her own account, and said, “Oh, he must not hang anyone at all!” Since she’s on our side, the trick’s done. But we’ll do our bit to reinforce her. H.H. says we are to go straight in to him without ceremony. By the way, Mrs. Kennedy is with him. She came here earlier, and has been at him over this business for close on an hour.”
The Prince, in high boyish good-humour, received them with outstretched hand as they entered. The excitement of victorious activity was still with him and was making it easier to swim happily over less enheartening reflections.
“It is all right, my friends. She has made me promise what you also wish. Though I must say, Mrs. Kennedy, it is a poor kind of king that you would leave me! Our Shastras say that a King must punish, or the wicked will not be overawed. Mrs. Kennedy says, Only for murder must you kill men. What do you say, Rattray?”
“I say that Mrs. Kennedy is right. All this about putting to death for high treason against a man is anachronistic beastliness, whether in Europe or here; and it’s only in savage countries that it would be tolerated in 1933!”
H.H. opened his eyes wide. “Ah, I see how little a Radical journalist knows after all, Rattray! You should go to Persia! or to Afghanistan! If you go up to Peshawur, my friend, you will be able to buy in the ordinary shops picture postcards that are photographs of what happens to men who are guilty of high treason there! It is not simple hanging, I can assure you! Some time I should like to tell you what good King Amanullah, whom your English University of Oxford gave a degree to, he was such a noble fellow and so—so cultured, used to do to people who disobeyed him! And We Chawars have ruled in Ryalgarh longer than his dynasty had ruled in Kabul!”
“Yes,” admitted Philip. “But I’ll answer you, Maharana, as frankly as if we were just friends, and it were not a matter of a mere writer talking to a ruling Prince. May I?”
“Of course! You are no mere writer, Rattray. You are one of the few Englishmen that we say are honest. Of course you must speak as a friend!”
“Then—I agree with Mrs. Kennedy that we ought to kill men only for murder.”
He paused; and the Prince nodded, not in agreement but in spiritual sympathy, for he had undergone an hour of Lauretta’s most persuasive coaxing. Unfortunately, this age has got its issues tangled, its philosophy and codes of action twisted; to Philip it seemed old-fashioned and heavily bourgeois, Victorian (or whatever adjective best indicates that we consider ourselves emancipated from our fathers’ state of semi-savagery), to say crudely, “If a man kills another man you should kill him.” So he said, “And I wouldn’t do it even for murder that was just done from poverty or in a sudden uncontrollable flare-up of rage! But I might be tempted to do it on a generous scale, if I had the power (which, thank God, I haven’t!), for a whole lot of things that are not obviously what people choose to call murder. There are crimes that involve the poisoning of minds and that end in actual murder, sooner or later, for which I’d hang men now sitting safe in honour and luxury!”
“In other words, Mr. Rattray,” said Lauretta, “murder would be apt to be anything that Mr. Rattray disliked strongly enough!”
He saw he had lapsed into melodrama, the fault of a decade spent among men and women whose passions and excitements are imaginary, are literary. “I’m afraid it might,” he admitted.
“I’ve been telling the Prince to keep strictly to murder, simply murder. It’s a crude test, but an easy one, and free from obvious unfairness. If a life has been violently taken, the taker can’t complain if his goes as well!”
“No Member of My Order,” said His Highness decisively, “is prepared to give up his conviction that he has the right to punish with death offences against His Person or His Dynasty.”
Philip had recovered firm ground. “And if Your Order, sir,” he said, “were everywhere ruling by the will of the people—or by the result of battle, as King Nadir does in Afghanistan, and as King Amanullah did before him—then I should say nothing, whatever I thought. But that is not the case in India.”
The Prince coloured up. But he replied, good-humouredly enough, “I think you may be right, Rattray. At any rate, I am prepared to admit that most of the risings we have seen in Native States recently were against fellows who but for the protection of the Paramount Power would be chased out of their territories. But in Ryalgarh we have been put to trouble by scoundrels from outside. My People have no grievances against my rule. However,” he concluded, “it is written in our Shastras, ‘To the commands of a Rani or a priestess or a wise woman immediate obedience must be given.’ I have proved myself pious to-day by promising Mrs. Kennedy that all offenders shall pass through my courts.”
Their point was gained; and they were satisfied that he meant to keep his word. The danger had been that men might be put out of the way in private, irregular fashion (while all knew why they had died). If his courts handled every case, there could be no capital sentence except for murder, and his Resident must sanction its carrying out. It is true that a trial in a Native State can be bent to any end the Prince desires. But this Prince had promised to stand aside. There would be as much justice as most places provide.
Lauretta voiced the commendation of all.
“Your Highness, if I may say so, has done justly.”
All talked on ordinary topics for a few minutes, to close the interview colourlessly; and then took their leave.
* * *
Passing through the hall, Philip was able to tell Lauretta, “I’ve just heard from Giansi. He has broken his contract with me.”
Without thinking, she replied, “I know. I mean, I had heard. I’m awfully sorry for your disappointment.”
Resentment reawakened. “You—had—heard?”
She saw her mistake. “My husband told me this morning. I think he only heard last night.”
His mind flamed into a hot mist of suspicion. His mail had been tampered with while lying at the Residency before being forwarded?
She covered up her confusion and his, hastily. “I understand that H.M. Government told Giansi he was not to have you, because you have sometimes criticised the Administration. And because you were once in the Service yourself.”
* * *
So long as this was mere surmise of Drake and himself, albeit surmise that they knew was practical certainty, self-respect had enabled Philip to resolve to say nothing about it, to keep a stiff upper lip and pretend he did not know what everyone knew and did not guess what everyone was saying. But with confirmation from a source he could not doubt, fury returned, and determination to try a fall with H.M. Government, though knowing well how helpless he was for such a temerarious escapade.
Lauretta read his mind. “Please, Philip! I ought not to have told you. I can’t understand how I ever made such a slip—except that I can’t help regarding you as a friend! Please forget what I said; and don’t let it push you into doing anything rash! Men of your character, simply because they are more decent and noble than other men, waste more time than any other class do. It isn’t worth it, Philip. Not with life going by so fast in any case.”
He was too mortified to promise yet. But the appeal was a long way towards restoration of self-respect. It would have its effect later.
He said only, “Lauretta, I was wondering—after this from Giansi, which means of course that I must just go home and forget India for ever—will you still be expecting me to dinner to-night?”
“But naturally! Anything else would be too—well, uncivilised! Besides, I’m making it a station affair, for us all to foregather after last night, so there need be no embarrassment.” They were walking slowly forward, to where Drake was waiting at the end of the long passage to the hall. “General Fawcett-Fawcett was in for a few minutes before I came here, and was telling us how useful you were last night.” At the steps, and by their cars, she drew Drake into the conversation, saying, “Mr. Drake, I haven’t had time to send my chits all round the station, with the disturbances last night and having to see H.H. this morning. Will you please excuse my casualness, and let me ask you to dinner to-night? we’re having the whole station. I was telling Mr. Rattray that you must both be sure to come.”
Drake thanked her, and accepted.
Jollity was the note of the Durgeswar expedition, from which Drake (on grounds of health) and the Resident (on grounds of work) were the only absentees.
His Highness sent ahead Mr. Kelkar, “to ensure that there shall be no nonsense about letting you enter my Durbar-room.” He insisted on providing lunch, “so that, though I did not feel free to accept Mrs. Wrenn-Barratt’s very kind invitation, I shall feel I am with you in spirit and that my English friends are my guests, particularly Miss Neville, whom we are all so sorry to be losing so soon.” The party was whirled out by State cars and State chauffeurs; His Highness insisted they must be put to no expense of any sort. “Miss Neville’s departure from our midst must be made as auspicious as such an entirely sorrowful event can be.”
* * *
Inside the Durbar-room a lamp burned above the Prince’s glittering cushion; they were bidden to remove their shoes before entering a place half shrine. But the Castle’s Governor, after a whispered exchange with Mr. Kelkar, overruled this extreme. “You need not take off shoe. But you must not go except here.” He indicated the limits of approach.
So they stood in the darkened doorway and peered within.
“Hang it, I like it!” said the General. “If we’d taken all this trouble to keep up our izzat,14 insistin’ that any native who wanted to see an official, let alone a Governor, took off his shoes, we’d never have got India in the mess it is! I wouldn’t have minded takin’ off my own shoes, just to show that I think His Highness is doin’ right!”
Philip had recently spent a week in New Delhi, when Ruling Princes were in spate, having come up, the more leisured of them, for the Christmas festivities. There is a magnanimous regard for majesty even when strewn so plentifully about. The chief quality of a Viceroy will soon be utter contempt for time and ways of occupying it. But Philip was getting to like and admire the General, so he looked for sense in what he said, and usually found it. He said nothing, therefore.
The General was liking him also. And when they looked abroad from the battlements—and in all India there is no nobler view than this over Kalidasa’s Sipra and Central India’s expanse; it will make you linger, even if you are a globe-trotter (except that no mere globe-trotter has ever seen Durgeswar)—it was to Philip that he addressed himself. “You’ve been to Gwalior, of course, Rattray?”
“Rather! Topping place!” said Philip with enthusiasm. “Used to be splendid shootin’ at Gwalior when I was a sub in India. Snipe, wild duck, bear, panther, tiger, black buck, nilgai; we even had bison.”
“None now,” said Wrenn-Barratt.
“Ever been to Coimbatore, Rattray?”
“No, I never have, General.”
“Toppin’ shootin’ there, when I was a sub in India. Ever been much in Mysore?”
“Not much. Just visited the capital.”
“Jolly good shootin’ there too—used to be, that is. I don’t suppose it’s as good still. I remember once wantin’ to shoot a tusker elephant, and we had to get leave—I and another couple of fellows—from the Superintendent of the Jungles. Fellow called Sanderson; wrote a book about shootin’ in India. We couldn’t shoot without his permission. He was as mean about it as if they were his tigers and elephants we wanted to shoot. However, we got past him after a visit to the Maharaja to protest. But what I shall never forget is an evenin’ when we were goin’ through a forest half-way up the hills. There were literally just hundreds of wild dog lyin’ about under the trees. I never saw anything so fine in my life. It was wonderful! The sun was comin’ through between the trees, and shinin’ on their red coats, and they looked like hundreds of beasts of solid gold restin’ there.”
“That’s something no one will ever see again, sir,” said Philip. “You were lucky.”
“Yes, I was lucky,” said the General dreamily. “I can see that now. I was damn lucky”—he corrected himself, being of the old school—“sorry! I mean I was jolly lucky, livin’ when I did. There was still some sort of a natural and decent life out here, as well as in England. And now—take either country, and what do you find? Funny thing! but after abusin’ the Indian Government all these years for lettin’ itself be run by babus we’re gettin’ our own Government at home stiff with what you may call English babus! And the result is, we try to settle everythin’ by lawyers! Send a lawyer out to make a Constitution for India; and before that we made another lawyer Secretary of State for India! There’s never any place in what we call democracy where you can talk straight to fellows. I don’t see any harm in takin’ off your shoes to go into the Maharana’s Durbar-room,” he said, going back at a tangent. “Do you, Rattray?”
“Not a bit,” said Philip vigorously; yet said it to his own surprise.
“We’ve made life into a pretty rotten show, what with our lawyers and our writer fellows. Sorry, Rattray! I forgot you were a writer fellow. But you did a man’s job last night—turnin’ out in your boiled shirt like that!”
“Absolutely,” said Mrs. Wrenn-Barratt.
* * *
A peal of laughter below drew their attention. Enid and Tom were clambering down the defence-wall by unorthodox ways. There was a path, but a precarious one. Their laughter had been evoked by a hanuman monkey, who thrust an inquiring face over a boulder, and fled with all but human expressions of disgust and vexation.
“That child will get hurt!” exclaimed Lauretta, conveniently forgetting that it was the same way by which she and Philip had once scrambled without mishap.
“Enid! you idiot!” screamed her sister.
“She would come,” called back Inglis apologetically. “She said she wanted to win the luck these fellows say you get if you go down this way.”
Presently they were hidden behind rocks. The rest of the party decided to descend to the river by the orthodox road.
* * *
They were almost midway down broad stone steps, beside the Temple of Rukmini Bai, when Mr. Kelkar commanded—in the voice with which in the Navy the man who sees ruin about to crash calls “Still!”—“Do not move! Do not, O do not move even an arm, or we shall all be killed!”
The party halted, frozen into immobility.
Overhead was darkened with an immense humming savage cloud. Something had disturbed the bees that inhabit the ten-foot hanging combs on the Devi’s shrine. The cloud was passing less than a yard above them. A movement, especially of an arm, would have resulted in the stinging to death of everyone on the stairs.
The danger finished; and the bees settled elsewhere.
Naturally, they were not allowed into even the courtyard of Rukmini’s Temple. But they paused in its front, opposite a picture of the Goddess; a severe fanatical face, full of strength and decision—a narrow decision perhaps, yet with wisdom lurking at its edges.
“Do you know anything special about the old lady, Rattray?” the General asked, as they turned away.
Philip quoted the enthusiastic praise she had won from English contemporaries. “Yet she could be ruthless when she thought it right.” he mused.
* * *
What we call “humanity” (why? since “inhumanity” is practised only by man) has played a small enough part in the make-up of many human creatures whose fame has come down to us as strong and nobly helpful. The ordinary man of to-day (one hopes) is too imaginative, too merciful and humble, even to see himself in thought as condemning another body endowed with nerves and frailty to death or pain. Yet the evidence against this comfortable belief is overwhelming as a flood, if we could write frankly, as men talk, of the last twenty years (not to venture a day further back). But the time has not yet come to let loose the cat among the pigeons of reputation; no writer who dared to be honest about national heroes—in any country—could continue to write. The popular Press would “sick” its public on to him; the high-brow Press would start a misrepresentation that a century would hardly begin to undo.
If capital punishment were abolished, it would bring about a vast simultaneous change in reading habits. Therefore let all who write detective novels keep a watchful eye on all sentimentalists, for these threaten the livelihood of the silversmiths of Diana!
But all this has nothing to do with our story, except that we idealise in all who have led nations in their times of crisis an amount of rigour which in visualisation would be horrible.
* * *
Philip’s half-to-himself observation met with approbation. “I’m sure she could,” said the General. I shouldn’t have liked to have been a fellow that face disapproved of!”
“Absolutely not,” said Mrs. Wrenn-Barratt. “You’d have got it where the chicken got the axe!”
“The old lady certainly had a stiff upper lip,” said her husband. “Pretty stiff lower lip, too!”
“Yet you can see the people liked her for it,” the General mused. “That’s what the people of India want and understand—someone who’ll stand no nonsense. Look at the way the Sikhs made Dyer a Sikh, after his own people had thrown him to the wolves!”
“That’s why they’ve made this old girl a Goddess,” said Mrs. Wrenn-Barratt. “Because what they want and understand is someone who’ll stand no nonsense!”
Discussion had been busily tactful, in its concentration on the Devi’s strength of will. For it had escaped no one’s notice—it could not have escaped anyone’s notice—that she was portrayed clasping to her breast a Ungarn, her constant talisman.
Even in the Durbar-room there had been an awkward moment, when Miss Neville, prowling rather beyond the authorised limits of entrance, had drawn attention to a dim reproduction of the Devi there. “What’s this queer-looking mascot she’s hugging so tightly?” Her sister had muffled a giggle; the General had loudly exclaimed that it was too stuffy in here, “though very interestin’—very interestin’ indeed” (the courteous gentleman within him had made him add this, lest the shrine’s warder and Mr. Kelkar should feel hurt by what he felt had been his companions’ discourteously free “reactions”), and he had led a retreat to the outer air.
We need not assume that the lingam’s original shape and significance are always, or even often, in its adorers’ minds. Besides, the shape has been generalised, and thereby sufficiently altered to preclude certain recognition. But there need be no doubt that the Devi, at any rate, understood perfectly what called out her devotion. There was starvation, as well as rapture, in the fine severe aged face. A child-wife, she had been left a widow early, spared the funeral pyre by the toleration of her race (who in this matter ordinarily exercised a wide if casual and capricious humanity). Her own son had died young; and she had lived a lonely life unsolaced by any of the functions of femininity on which the whole tradition of her people lays such over-whelming emphasis. She had been only a ruler, isolated by her greatness of position and character, noble in an ignoble age, strong amid venal and faithless self-servers. And the Ungarn, as drawn by the artist, was uncomfortably like the emblem which Catherine of Russia cherished equally with the Devi, with even more literalness of homage.
Had any possibility of question arisen, it would have been dispelled by an unexpected courtyard the party had to traverse at once. This was a space under zizyph trees; the floor was thick with stone Ungarns and yonis, heavily bemarigolded, richly vermilioned.
Going over Hindu temples, it is wise not to be either squeamish or too understanding. You pass quickly through, talking all the while of other matters, as brightly as you can.
* * *
When Philip last came here, before the War, he had been offended. Now he was simply perplexed—and his perplexity took a wider range than the mere question of the Devi’s thoughts. Of the Devi herself, the tutelary Goddess of these fields, he found a new vision. That brave austere face, wrinkled and withdrawn with an old woman’s reserves and isolation, would have looked contemptuously on three parts of what the West considers civilisation; and perhaps she would have been right. Right as regards her own people, at any rate. She had deified herself, not by power and righteous governance only, but by complete identification of her mind with the universe’s phallic will. Sic itur ad astra—in India, at least. She would have had no use for any civilisation which encouraged women to hold fast to youth and grace after these endowments had served their purpose of drawing the male into physical union. Her children, these animal simplicities of Central India, were meant to mate and breed, as often and as vigorously as the body’s waning strength permitted—and if possible, with masculine results, in new virile frames that could carry on and extend the impregnation process. When, evening by evening, her gong sent abroad the resonant tones of her benediction, these travelled over the rich Sipra lands as if the Devi herself were slowly flying out in person, watchful-eyed over fruitful night about to fall. Her peasants and their oxen toiled, uncontrolled and uncastrated, that after them another race of peasants and oxen, increased in numbers, might do the same. Diana of the Ephesians (you cannot help thinking of her here), queerly enough held to have fallen from heaven, in reality arose from the teeming, rain-fed, seed-crowded earth! She had attained an Indian temple, through a Maratha lady of severe eyes who looked on life with but one thought—who clasped to her breasts an emblem which even after death proclaimed her dreams for her people!
* * *
East and West, in Philip’s own day and before his eyes, seemed to be reaching the same conclusion as to life and its purpose—the one by the immemorial argument of all Indian custom and religion (everything India does is religious; the whole world has been told this so often and so authoritatively, that we may now regard it as beyond controversy), the other by rejection of custom and religion and by the Hollywood route of complete emancipation. Of course, there remained a difference; the East thought the phallic aim should be fulfilled, whatever misery descended on a congested land, the West thought it might be thwarted. Kalidasa would have reconciled them, by being if anything on the side of Hollywood. Kalidasa saw in everything alma Venus at play (rarely at work); alma Venta frustrated by methods that are not so modern, after all. His ladies who crowded the Ujjain balconies, their eyes a rival lightning to the lightning of the Cloud he bid admire and gaze, were in self-possessed enjoyment of “this freedom,” the co-eds and cocktail hostesses of antiquity. All life and all Nature were so many symbols and practices of amorous sportiveness. There has been at least one Ancient (and he an Indian!) who would have found himself at home with our illustrated papers and our really important news and literature; who would have been a mighty voice in our enormous paean to feminine loveliness at last triumphant . . . untrammelled . . . exalted! The intellectual flower of the world’s most spiritual race was the most completely “unspiritual” poet that ever lived!
There are great men who have lived too soon, or in the wrong country. This one should have been twenty-odd years old in 1933, and a native of England or the United States. If civilisation is destined to take a solely material course for the next generation, Kalidasa (Philip reflected, looking down on Sipra flowing before his feet; and up to Kalidasa’s groves above, hiding their “Place of Surrender” and its tumbling waters precipitated against the rock that held them) should be “in for a break.” He may succeed to Donne and D. H. Lawrence as an enthusiasm.
A man came running up, and spoke to Lauretta in English. “Lady has hurt foot.”
“Isn’t it an awful bore?” asked Enid. “We had got practically the whole way down, when I twisted my ankle in a hole, a perfectly beastly hole! And now I’ve spoiled the picnic for Tom, who insists that he must take me back!” She was flushed with amusement, vexation and the effort to control pain.
“Oh, isn’t it rotten!” she cried, lifting her hands appealingly to her sister. “My idiocy spoiling the show like this! Just when everything was so top-hole for everyone!”
“Nonsense, my dear girl!” said the General. “It’s just wretched luck for you.”
“I’m not so sure about Tom! You were lucky it wasn’t anythin’ worse—goin’ down that goat-track.”
He had been the first, even quicker than her sister or Lauretta, to drop on his knees and feel the ankle for broken bones. His grimly friendly smile was reassuring.
Inglis stood by, too apologetic to speak. Enid exculpated him. “I know what you are all thinking! that Tom ought to have stopped me being such a little idiot! Well—Tom couldn’t! It was my doing, and my fault, from start to finish. When I’d heard that the priests say you get good luck for the rest of your life, if you can get down that way—”
“We understand,” said the General.
“That’s where I slipped,” she said, pointing to a boulder that looked as if a push would send it toppling into the stream.
Philip knew the place. “That’s where the First Chawar lost an eye. He was sitting there during the Rains, potting at the lamps drifting by in the Dipavali festival. He lost his balance, and his matchlock went off just as its muzzle struck the rock; and it exploded, and burst in his hands.”
“So there was a hoodoo on it! and no one told us!” exclaimed Enid.
“Because you told no one you were going to do such a silly thing, you goose!” said her sister.
“But you lose the luck if you tell anyone in advance! That’s what a priest told Tom. And I’d made a vow to do it before I left Ryalgarh, just for the fun of the thing! And,” she concluded, “I’m not sorry now that we did it! So you are to stop looking at Tom like that, Norah!” She went into a peal of mirth. Tom did what a man had to do, blushed hard and furiously.
“I’d like to shake you for a little idiot,” said Norah.
“Don’t!” said Enid composedly. “The shaking’s been done pretty efficiently already. And Tom’s going to be punished enough for being my accomplice, by having to miss the rest of this jolly party. And I’ve been punished—ouch!” she said, making an effort to sit straighter. “So what’s wrong with a very nice and well-run world?”
* * *
You do not need crises of profound emotion to call out human beauty. The picture of the girl lying there, seeming even tinier and more fragile than in fact, her features screwed up in defiant amusement at herself and her suffering; her sister and Lauretta bent over her in the absorption of practical sympathy, saying nothing until to their relief they had found that nothing was seriously amiss; the young man, remorseful, anxious—this group lost nothing of its perfection for those who had to stand aside, though its effect came without conscious taking of it.
While Enid had been justifying the hapless partner of her adventure, the General had been binding a handkerchief round her ankle. “Now,” he said, “I don’t think there’s much wrong with Enid. But we must get her back. I suppose Ryalgarh has some sort of State dispensary?”
“There’s a civil surgeon, sir,” said Inglis. “Fellow called Derozio. Not a bad doctor in his way.”
“He fixed a couple of broken ribs for one of my men the other day,” said Wrenn-Barratt. “Fellow’s getting on nicely, too.”
“He’s getting on nicely,” his wife corroborated. The General rose to his feet.
* * *
“That’s all we can do for Miss Enid. Now we’ll make a cradle to carry her up to the cars. Rattray and I’ll do it, as the oldest and most responsible men present. Besides, age ought to have its privileges,” he chuckled, “to make up for its sense of lost years. Don’t you think so, Rattray?”
“I do, sir.”
The other two men, as younger and stronger, pressed to be allowed to undertake this duty. “It’s a pretty stiff climb, you’ll find, sir,” said Inglis.
“I prefer to trust myself to the General and Mr. Rattray,” Enid announced.
“Of course you do! These young fellows are quite unreliable in a real crisis! Eh, Rattray?” said the General, irrepressibly joyful at finding himself useful again.
“I think you are two sweet men,” said Enid; and arranged herself in their arms with a grace and languid ease that Cleopatra might have envied.
“Will can come along, to help in an emergency,” the General decided. “No, not you, Tom—you’re havin’ luck enough! But you can run ahead, and get hold of a chauffeur. They’ve probably strayed off for a smoke somewhere, in which case they’ll take a bit of findin’.”
“I’ll drive myself, sir.”
“All right. In that case, you can bring a car up to the nearest point it will come.”
So the procession set off up the winding flagged stairway, Inglis scurrying in advance. The car was brought, and the invalid placed in comfort. Then, waving a cheerful hand, Enid was taken to Ryalgarh.
“I feel as if I’d got into the open air again,” said the General, looking after them, “after bein’ stifled by the thought of that filthy temple and that old woman’s horrible picture!”
* * *
“They’re a decent lot, these youngsters,” he added, as they proceeded to descend the steps. “I mean both of them, Tom as well as the girl. They’re a damn sight less self-conscious than my lot were at their age. And they’ve got a whole world more sense and straight-forwardness.”
Philip was unnecessarily surprised. He had never, somehow, visualised “Forceps-Forceps” as casting critical eyes back upon his own youth, or indeed, on anything that was his. Neither had he been prepared to catch a note of wistfulness in his speech.
He said. “Don’t you think, sir, that we’ve had to go through a rotten queer time? I don’t mean just a rotten time,” he explained, “but a rotten queer one. I find I’m losing the power to take seriously any of the stuff that was written before the War. It isn’t simply that it seems old-fashioned; it seems flat, it reads as if the fellows who wrote it never entered our world, never entered any sort of world that had real difficulties. Yet I feel hampered in this new age. I don’t know why,” he broke off, “I’m talking in this gaga fashion to you fellows!”
“Go on, my boy. You’re not being gaga a bit.”
“I suppose it’s because I was brought up in that old-fashioned age. And now, every last thing we do or say or think is governed by ideas no one dreamed of when our minds were being formed. Who ever heard of complexes, for example, or inhibitions and tendencies, or was so self-conscious as we are now, until a dozen years ago? You can’t take anything naturally and straight-forwardly any longer. You’ve got to be a conscious and deliberate rebel all the time!”
“And be damned frightened lest anyone should call you an old buffer.” said the General, smiling, “or say you haven’t a sense of humour. We’d a girl on the Moldavia comin’ out, who made a perfect fool of herself because another woman—who’d called her a whole heap of names that I should have seen red for, if I’d been a woman, and not made her turn a hair—said Laetitia had no sense of humour. But, Rattray, aren’t you fussin’ yourself over somethin’ that isn’t half as bad as you make out? Those kids who’ve just left us aren’t self-conscious. Not a bit of it! Oh, I know that Enid—she’s a silly child, as she has a right to be at her age—talks the current lingo. I heard her tellin’ Tom in the car, comin’ here, that she had a perfect complex about bettin’—”
“All she meant,” explained Enid’s brother-in-law, “was that she doesn’t like losing money in betting.”
“I know. That was about all! Don’t you see, Rattray, they use this awful clatter of words, but it doesn’t worry them in the least! They use it, because they grew up when there was no other kind of rot bein’ talked. But it’s only the middle-aged whose minds are really bein’ clouded by what they think is the latest thing, and therefore must be the thing they’re to go in for! But you two will be sayin’ I’m an old buffer and in my dotage!”
Both Philip and Wrenn-Barratt denied this, with heat and promptitude that convinced.
“You can take it from me, Rattray—why, you saw it with your own eyes!—that those children are havin’ a damn good time, and mean to have a damn good time! They’re wise, too! They aren’t seein’ any goblins. Only it’s fun to pretend they’re seein’ them. And I can assure you” (smiling) “that goblins aren’t worryin’ my generation overmuch. It’s just the generation between,” he commented sadly, “that doesn’t seem quite healthy or quite sound. And that’s why we’re havin’ such a mess made of everythin’ we do. Because we’ve got a gaga—isn’t that the word you’ve got to use just now?—middle-aged lot of men and women, and they’re runnin’ the show. They’re tryin’ to bring in the ideas they think we fought for in the War—democracy and equality and socialism and all that—not realisin’ that the War showed that all these ideas were rubbish! Italy’s the first country to have the sense to see it; they’ve got a dictator, and they never have any nonsense of strikes or Labour Governments, as we do. You never read about Italy botherin’ about givin’ Dominion Status to any of her African colonies. If she were tryin’ to do that sort of rubbish, would she be all the time plottin’ and plannin’ to get hold of new and better colonies? People don’t do that just to extend the so-called blessin’s of self-government to them! There isn’t another country, Rattray, that would go on makin’ the asses we’re makin’ of ourselves in India!”
“I shouldn’t like to see a Mussolini in England, though,” said Wrenn-Barratt.
“Nor would I,” said the General earnestly. “It wouldn’t suit our national genius, which has always been for government by an aristocracy. That’s the kind of government we understand—one by our own natural leaders. Can’t you see, Rattray, that we’ve been goin’ steadily wrong ever since we made this fetish of democracy? What’s a word, Rattray—a word, a mere word—that a great nation should let itself be ruined by it?”
“I can see that we’ve been going wrong for some time,” said Philip, taking refuge, as a Liberal journalist must do in Anglo-Indian circles, in a base economy of belief.
“Exactly! As you say, we’ve been goin’ wrong ever since we started tryin’ to let the people govern. All they’ve done is to let us in for endless strikes and unemployment and the dole and the American debt and all this trouble in India. And it’s your generation, Rattray, not Enid’s or mine, that has its brain swarmin’ with goblins. The youngsters mean to have a good time, and not let the antics of your generation who are runnin’ things, Rattray, wreck the whole of life!” He paused, and smiled good-humouredly.
“Oh, do you really think we are running things, sir?” protested Philip. “I don’t know a single fellow of my generation who really matters, as Shaw and Ibsen and Kipling used to matter. What we write doesn’t make a ha’porth of difference to anybody who isn’t gaga. There may be a few women scribblers—” he began; but the General cut him short.
“Writin’ isn’t everythin’, Rattray. It’s not the main thing, or anythin’ like the main thing. It provides a bit of amusement when people are travellin’ and want a rest from doin’ somethin’ more strenuous—so they just read! My main charge against your generation is that it’s managed to shove its defeatism into the real things of life—I dare say,” he added generously, “into writin’ as well. It’s a thing I don’t understand, this defeatism, after what we did in the War! You’d have thought everybody’d have their tails up, especially the fellows who’d had the luck to be in the show! But what I was sayin’ was, that Enid and Tom’s generation have no intention of lettin’ themselves be beaten. Nor have my generation, Rattray. After all, we were the fellows who trained the fellows who did the fightin’! Why the deuce should we be depressed, with a thing like that to our credit? But we know what’s wrong. It’s this, that there’s a whole generation of fellows in between us and the youngsters, who can’t do anythin’ but think. And thinkin’ never saved the Empire yet. What saved it, whenever it was in a corner, was sittin’ tight and not thinkin’; and then actin’—actin’, Rattray—when action was wanted. You can take my word for it, Rattray, the only thing the world needs is to go back to the old state of things.”
“I wouldn’t perhaps go so far as that, General,” said Wrenn-Barratt. “But there’s a lot in what he says, Rattray.”
And Philip weakly conceded this.
They were met by the ladies almost midway from Sipra beach; and told that they were all going on to the Water-Palace for tiffin, which would fall close to tea-time of a normal day, so late had the picnic been thrown by the night’s events and the morning’s delay. It was Mr. Kelkar who was responsible for this change of plan; he had casually spoken of Parikanda’s charm of running water and cool rooms. Mrs. Wrenn-Barratt was eager to see it, and Lauretta had given way.
The party thanked the local authorities, who stood in a polite row, for kind ciceronage; and piled into cars, which would take them to the Water-Palace in half an hour.
Lunch, which proved worthy of a Prince’s provenance, was taken in shade of trees. “Jolly decent of H.H. to invite us to lunch ‘in my family ruins,’ as he put it in his letter to me!” said their hostess.
* * *
The General was looking with interest at a shapeless block of stone, red ochred and strung with marigolds. It had protuberances which, seen through a mist or in a nightmare, might be taken for eyes. “What’s that fellow, Rattray?”
Philip told him it was Maruti, the Monkey-God.
Presently the General asked of Parikanda, “Does His Highness often live here?”
“He never comes near it,” said Lauretta.
“Why ever not? It’s about the toppingest place I’ve seen in all India—bar none!”
She glanced at Philip, and let him explain. At the end of the story he said, “The ghosts are still supposed to haunt that further bank. That’s why H.H. refuses to have a bridge made even opposite this place, where you have embankments going all but right across, in those bathing-places there. If you go and look close at them, sir, you’ll find deliberate gaps left for running water, so that nothing discarnate can cross. The two fellows were caught by H.H.’s own troops, the handful who had not gone off with Tantia Tupi. They thought that perhaps Maratha troops wouldn’t arrest them, if they fled to Maruti’s protection, and they were arrested while actually hanging on to that fellow there.”
Everyone turned, feeling the idol deserved a closer scrutiny. To-day, as we know, in our popular Press “drama” means the definite fact of someone having been killed: “Drama in London Lodging-house. Woman Found Dead.” But behind the fog of twisted besmuttered speech which enwraps this generation we keep still a memory as of another and cleaner incarnation, when passions were not solely linked to violence and feminism and snobbery. There was “drama” once; the heart beating high with hope and suffering, human beings wrought to a pitch of reality above that of common life. Once two terrified men had clung to that shapeless grim rock, which almost cast a shadow on these happy powerful aliens picnicking in the lovely light and coolness of an Indian January afternoon!
How long does it take for pity to stir in a conquering race, towards those its prowess has beaten down? When Virgil wrote of the African Queen, did any sorrow move in the dim rich pathways of a poet’s mind, for Imperial Carthage, wrecked and savaged at the dictates of a boor with but one thought? Horace, with the searchlight of a word bringing back the mightiest horror his people had ever endured, recalling “dirus Hannibal”—behind the tribute wrung by remembrance of Trasimene’s throat clotted with Roman dead, of Cannae piled with fallen valour, did there awake some touch of remorse for a spirit so lonely and so sublime in courage, yet so utterly broken in the end?
A silence fell on the group as they gazed. There was not one who did not in some degree recreate a picture. When Philip, at a glance from the General, continued, he felt queerly self-conscious listening to his own voice, as if it came to him out of the disembodied world in which thought was wandering, and spoke out of the air. “They were dragged off, just like that Old Testament fellow who seized hold of the horns of the altar when Solomon was after him. They say Maruti has been angry ever since, that his sanctuary was violated.”
Lauretta found her own voice speaking, and with indignation that amazed her. “Maruti seems to have had a higher feeling of what was due to a suppliant than Jehovah had! For no harm came to Solomon!” Seeing all eyes upon her, she said, in lame explanation of her outburst, “H.H. never loses a chance of sending European guests here. I think he half hopes that the God will sooner or later work out his wrath on the people really responsible, and forget to be angry with his own Marathas any longer.”
“Maruti is believed to have sworn,” said Philip, “that if any Chawar ever dares to come here he shall not go away alive.”
The General nodded understandingly. He said, with exceeding kindness of manner, “I believe I’m gettin’ to know you, Rattray, and how you feel. I thought, from what I’d heard, that you’d come back to India because you were a bolshy and wanted to make trouble. But I know now that you and I are kindred spirits. We have to have an excuse for comin’ back, so I say I come for shootin’, and you say you come as a writin’ fellow. But we really come because we’ve got at home in this country, and we shall never feel at home—not really, absolutely at home—anywhere else.” He shifted his seat slightly, for a closer view at Maruti. He said, after silence and study of the rock, “I don’t suppose these fellows ever see things just as we do. I dare say you couldn’t expect them to!”
“You can bet they don’t,” said Mrs. Wrenn-Barratt. “You simply can’t get at the Oriental mind! It simply—well, it simply can’t be done, that’s all you can say about it. No one has ever managed to do it, not even Kipling. And no one ever will manage to do it! ‘East is East and West is West, and the two shall never meet,’” she concluded. She reached for a cigarette, and Philip lit it for her.
* * *
“I had the most amazin’ bit of luck once,” said the General. “I was a new sub, just out that cold weather, and my crowd were stationed in Delhi. And Bobs, who was C.-in-C, came and stayed with us. Naturally we were all tremendously excited. And he was frightfully decent, as he always was—the little man never had a bit of side—and we got him talkin’ about the Mutiny one night, and we kept him up yarnin’ till after midnight, when he suddenly said, “Tell you what I’ll do, if you fellows’d care for it.” And we all shouted, “What’s that, sir? You bet we’d care for it!” We could see that the old boy was frightfully pleased with our keenness. So he said, “Jump on your ponies to-morrow early, and I’ll take you over Delhi and show you the whole story of the siege.” And by Jove! he did. It was most amazin’—the place by the wall where he saw Nikal Seyn lyin’ in a doolie, dyin’—the exact spot where Bugler Hawthorne and the others fired the train. I’ll never forget it,” he said, his face kindling at the memory, as well it might. “To be taken over the ground of the most glorious thing, bar none, that the British ever did, and by the finest little chap we ever produced! But there,” he admitted, glancing away again at the Maruti, “I dare say there may be differences of view, if you got amongst people outside us.”
He had been launched on a flood of reminiscence, to the great advantage of his companions. They wandered round the Palace, through its splendid spacious rooms and magnificent grounds; and he talked in the way only one who had lived in the antique, untroubled age as one of its luckier denizens could.
Presently the party wandered round the grounds. They were looking upstream at Sipra straining through marsh stiffened and augmented by flung-up driftwood; a row of shags occupied a swampy isle, heads of muggers half in water protruded up the mud. In the artificial pools of the Palace, less than a quarter of a mile lower down, women were bathing, confident that the reptiles never ventured through those sluices—a faith which is justified, since no crocodile has even been seen here, though it is certain that at night and when humans are absent they must use these channels.
A joyous shout reached them. “Hallo, hallo, people!”
Enid, an interesting-looking invalid, was proceeding towards them on crutches, much assisted by Tom.
“Hallo! hallo!” said her sister.
“Hallo, hallo!” said everyone.
“The surgeon fixed me up, and said I was to rest. But I saw a pair of crutches in his office, and I said, “What are those pretty things?” I bagged them, and made Tom fetch me along. When we reached Durgeswar they said you had all gone on here, so Tom caught a boy who spoke some English and we made him show us the way until he wasn’t needed any longer. Then we dropped him by the wayside.”
* * *
She had chattered on gaily, when she happened to look in front, and saw the full beauty of this divine place outspread before her.
“But, Norah, you mean to say you were going to let me leave Ryalgarh without showing me this!”
“I never saw it myself, until to-day.”
“Why, it’s simply divine. Absolutely devastating! Crashing!”
“It is pretty,” her sister assented.
“I call it tophole! Why ever didn’t we arrange one of our shoots here, earlier on?”
“H.H. doesn’t like people shooting here,” said Lauretta.
Enid confronted her, astonished. “But, Mrs. Kennedy, why ever not? We came through a topping bit of jungle just now—absolutely topping. In fact, topping’s the only word. And Tom was saying, “By Jove, but that’s simply topping, over there!” And all those bits over there,” said Enid, waving excited hands as if in sibylline benediction of the wide panorama, “and there! they look to me absolutely-lutely topping! And this place here is just too sweet, just too-too perfect for a shoot, and afterwards,” she said dreamily, “lunch, which you lucky people have had! And beside the water, where those women are bathing—it would have been heavenly! I don’t see how H.H. could have stopped us from shooting where we wanted! And even if he were such a pig as to refuse to let us have his Palace for lunch afterwards, we could have managed to find some place under the trees.”
“Personally,” said the General, “I shouldn’t want to do anything His Highness didn’t like. He strikes me as a pretty decent chap, as Rajas go. And it’s our job to uphold these fellows.” But he smiled on her benevolently. “I must say I’m jolly glad—jolly glad, Enid—that you’ve seen this place! Though, if you were a daughter of mine, I’d have somethin’ to say to you for disobeyin’ the doctor and comin’ on here like this!”
“And if I were a daughter of yours, Cousin Reggie, it would be delicious to let you scold me,” said Enid complacently. “Tom’s been scolding me all the way here. And I tell him he’s taking a lot too much on himself, for one so young! However, I’m as right as rain, really. And I’m ever so glad that I didn’t go away from Ryalgarh without seeing this place—or even dreaming that such a place existed! Oh, Tom!” she exclaimed ecstatically, “isn’t it just too topping for words to be able to tell them here!” She turned to the company. “The real reason why we decided to come along was that we wanted to let you all know that Tom and I have fixed it up! And I’m coming back in October.”
They were overwhelmed with congratulations.
Philip’s dream had broken up into the dingiest of daylight. Put not your trust in Princes, least of all in Indian Princes. Giansi had made a fool of him; and a fool (as he realised) on a fairly public stage, in this India where nothing is private. The chance of doing a man’s job again, so unexpectedly offered in late middle life, had been snatched away.
The train that arrived unseasonably at 4 A.M. loafed in the little terminus for no less than three hours, and then dragged back to Jhansi, Gwalior, Bharatpur, ultimately Delhi and beyond. He told Drake he would go by it next morning.
“Afraid you can’t, Phil. I’ve had a deputation from the College, soliciting a whole holiday in honour of the presence of a great writer in Ryalgarh; and the great writer’s attendance at a play to-morrow. They wanted a lecture from the great writer as well.”
“Good Lord! what the devil about?”
“They suggested, ‘The Ideals of Womanhood in East and West.’”
“Oh, they did, did they?”
“They did. Woman is the most discussed and rediscussed phenomenon of the day. East and West have managed to meet pretty effectively on this plane, at any rate! Kipling never foresaw the movies. We live in a most emancipated age, Phil.”
Phil gloomily agreed. Then he said, still more gloomily, “And since it is India, I suppose they had to drag in the word ‘Ideals’!”
“Of course. Rawlinson told me that when he was going to have P. G. Wodehouse staying with him in Poona, a couple of years ago, his students sent across an earnest appeal for a lecture by his visitor on ‘The Ideals of the Great Living Novelists of the West.’ Rawly told them to go and chase themselves.”
“I hope you did the same.”
“I did. But you’ve got to attend the play, at any rate. Besides, in common decency you must give up one day to a kind of long, informal durbar. A scandal has been set up already by my having to turn away old acquaintances, who’ve been flocking to pay their respects to you. If you must,” Drake firmly told him, “you can go the day after to-morrow. But not to-morrow.”
* * *
“After you’ve reached England again, what’ll you do?” Drake asked presently.
This was exactly what Philip had been asking himself. He knew pretty well what he would do. What were most of his generation doing?
“Oh, I suppose, scrounge round. Try to get an article or two placed in one of the two or three papers that will take anything but rubber-stamp opinions on India. Then—well, what is there to do?”
“Take thought and die,” said Drake, thoroughly enjoying himself, a warrior laid apart from the battle, solacing his helplessness with tobacco smoke. The spectacle of action had become merely cinema, and philosophy. “We are mirage—illusion—a vision—a dream. Sometimes a bad dream, sometimes an awfully jolly one, full of colour and elephants and horses and rajas, half-circus, half-zoo, and altogether beanfeast. A beanfeast in Paradise! But not in the least bit real. Take that show you were in last night, for example.”
“Yes,” said Philip, bending forward, his head lowered, both elbows on his knees. He was smoking furiously, as if he had to expel a fog out of his brain and body. “Did it ever happen?”
“Oh yes. I was up here, chained by my wretched leg, expecting to end the night with my head battered in. You were in a boiled shirt, superintending the shooting down of starving brutes in narrow slits between houses that had grown up through millenniums, an extra brick piled on here, and a hod of mud shoved in there. H.H. was very gallant and excited. Forceps-Forceps was back in the Mutiny times and the spacious days of good Queen Victoria, when the heathen were taught the penalty of being heathen and jolly well larned to be twoads! And to-day—everyone has cheerfully gone off to a picnic! And to-night Mrs. Resident is giving a big station dinner. And Miss Enid and Master Tom, God bless them! have exchanged troths.”
“No,” said Philip judicially, “I am dead sure that last night never happened at all.”
Drake suggested laughingly, “Make a yarn out of it.”
“God, no! I’ve done with that,” he answered. “I’m going to sit quiet, from now on.”
“Then you’ll merely do what all your generation are doing—anticipate the work of Time in dimming out your candles. That’s what’s wrong with your generation, Philip.” (It seemed to Philip that a large company of people were busy telling his generation what was wrong with it.) “You are becoming ghosts before your period. Twenty years ago you were all doing things. You were wrestling mightily with problems, and then with flesh and blood and your own fears and with diabolical machinery of death. But something has been sucking away your substantiality, and you are growing into mere voices, perplexed, querulous, complaining, reminiscent. Don’t be that kind of fool, Phil! Keep on doing something, even if it’s only scribbling!”
Philip promised he would, and felt more cheerful. It was time to get ready for Mrs. Kennedy’s burra khana.
This in its preliminaries proved enjoyable. Hell, it is well known, is one eternal Anglo-Indian burra khana; but here they had Miss Neville, radiantly pleased with her company and pleasing it in turn. And there had been other events, besides her engagement, drawing all together.
“Queer to realise,” said the General, as the preprandial cocktail was brought to him by an impassive-faced servant, “that it was just at this time yesterday that those bolshies were getting warmed up for their devilry!”
Talk, after its wearying concentration of the previous night and the long morning following on sleeplessness, all through the picnic had kept off the riots, with a self-conscious and equally wearying rigorousness. It was now able to return to them, in an excited buzz.
“I saw H.H. again this evening,” said Wrenn-Barratt. “He’d already heard from Delhi about last night’s show—telegram commending him for promptitude in getting it under, and congratulating him on successful action against this outrage organised by unscrupulous forces of disorder and revolutionary communism against Your Dynasty. The triumph’s going to be officially put down to his personal popularity. Which pleases him very much.”
General Fawcett-Fawcett nodded, gravely and repeatedly.
“I don’t wonder at H.M. Government being bucked,” Wrenn-Barratt added. “They’ve been getting distinctly peeved of late, over having to keep sending British troops into Native States, to hold Princes on to distinctly shaky gadis.”
“Not to say actually tottering, in some cases,” said Drake.
“Still,” the General pointed out, “we’re bound to back up fellows who’ve always backed us up.”
“Absolutely,” Mrs. Wrenn-Barratt agreed. “The Princes have always stood by us, so we have to stand by them.”
“We’re all with you there, Cousin Reggie,” said Enid, who knew nothing about it, but was staunch in cheerfulness.
“Of course,” he said. “My dear, you are quite right.”
“Besides, the Princes,” she said earnestly, “are the one real bulwark in India against Communism—against the Have-nots making common cause against the Haves.” Which was rather sweet of Enid, who again was far from clear as to what the pother that India (certain negligible sections of India, that is) was making was all about. But she had heard it put this way by an epigrammatic and very level-headed Major in Pindi; and she had said, “Quite,” and had felt very enlightened. And of course this is exactly what the world-wide pother is all about. Queer that in 1933 the Have-nots, after being Have-nots through contented millenniums, should suddenly have begun to kick up a dust about it!
* * *
Wrenn-Barratt quietly evaded this turn of the discussion. There are men in India who give the impression of going round, rather than along—and of going round as furtively and unobtrusively as possible—the outskirts of considerable sections of their society’s opinions. They rejoin the main body of pilgrims further on the road, with heartiness and camaraderie. And some of these men are soldiers.
With the air of one amicably continuing a discussion, he observed, “I found H.H. wasn’t so enthusiastic about the explanation that’s apparently been already sent to London. Delhi are broadcasting it that this has been another communal row between Hindus and Muslims. And that hurts his pride. He maintains that he’s frightfully popular with his Muslims, and that no one but an utter bolshy would ever want to start a row against an Indian Prince.”
The General nodded. Mrs. Wrenn-Barratt explained to everyone that, after all, the Princes were the people’s leaders.
“Oh, quite. H.H. sees that,” said Wrenn-Barratt, with what Philip, no doubt mistakenly, thought half-irony, subconscious, sub-audible, not reaching to any plane of audition except in some other “inner ear” (and that ear had to be one rootedly seditious, to catch it); Wrenn-Barratt, he began to suspect, for those who listened sometimes “piped to the spirit ditties of no tone.” “He pointed out to me that only about five per cent of his people are Muslims. So how could they make a really effective row? Besides, they’ve been most wonderfully satisfied with his rule, as he proved to me by telling me what a deputation of their chief men had just been saying to him. He’s recently started giving them grants for their mosques, on a semi-quota basis and almost as generously proportionately as he used to give to Hindu temples. He’s been talking about helping them to found a madrassah in Ryalgarh, and about grants for more muktubs.”
“What is a madrassah? And what are muktubs”? asked Miss Neville.
“Muktubs and madrassahs are places where Muslims are educated,” her brother-in-law explained. He summed up, “I found H.H. very peeved to think his Round Table pals are now reading in The Times that he’s had a Hindu-Muslim riot. His self-esteem is badly hurt. He thinks it puts Ryalgarh with Kashmir and Alwar.”
General Fawcett-Fawcett was sympathetic. “I will see Sam Hoare myself as soon as I get back,” he said, “and explain that it was all a bolshy conspiracy.”
Still their host had not appeared. Lauretta excused herself.
* * *
After a long absence she returned, to announce briefly that her husband was unwell and sent his apologies for enforced absence. The company’s perfect tact, as they went in to dinner, was shown in their murmured sympathy, and in Miss Neville’s warm-hearted exclamation, “Well, I do call that just too septic! Bad luck, Mrs. Kennedy!”—without undue inquiry as to the invalid.
A festivity had turned into a funeral wake. Fortunately, it had been delayed in beginning; the servants, fussed and confused, further protracted it. The Resident’s personal servant, and another, who should both have helped, were occupied elsewhere. When the gentlemen, after a very brief stay over their cigars, joined the ladies, they found these already preparing to say their good-byes.
Tuesday was draggingly slack for everyone. The riots were growing stale. Emotional storms, too, had subsided, their waves plucked down by the body’s weariness to its own exhausted level.
Philip started the morning late, and gave up its lees, as Drake predicted, to informal durbar with former acquaintances. Some came on exceedingly slight remembrance, to preen their importance (an occupation of idleness in India, and, indeed, everywhere) by chatting with a man just more prominent than themselves. Some came to solicit, after lagging, exasperatingly tortuous preambles, his influence to get them this or that job.
But a few came out of genuine kindness; naturally, not deep. But vivid, still springing green after a dozen years. There were enough of these to deepen disgust at having slipped out of a life of personal relations and responsibilities, the only satisfactory life, into one where he lived with his own mind and its creation.
His enthusiasms had come to signify nothing. Socialism was as outmoded as the Radicalism of an earlier age; its exponents in his circle were obsolete rebels, diners at Authors’ Club and Savage Club, pluralist reviewers with kind words for every new scribbler and excited words for at least fifty novelists a year, spinners of their own novels. The really depressing thing about living is that the things which matter to us matter to nobody else; and in a short time cease to matter even to us.
He thought of Lauretta, to whom he had nothing to offer. He had only himself; and he was no longer illusioned enough to imagine this a pearl of price.
* * *
Drake took him in the afternoon to the Indian Club. The few members present looked up eagerly, but Drake, while returning recognition, did not waste his friend’s time by making introductions. There was no one here he took seriously.
In the bar, however, was Mr. Shinde, the Maratha millionaire. Mr. Shinde was a little fellow, whose face had become wizened in the constant battle of amusement and suspicion. He was thoughtfully sipping a whisky-and-soda; Drake and Philip accepted gin-and-gingers from him.
There were evidently old bonds of esteem between him and Drake, strengthened by cords of secret knowledge. Whenever he was puzzled by Philip, he glanced at his friend, to make sure nothing was amiss. His main fear seemed to be one lest his leg were being pulled, and his dignity, as an Indian rather than as an individual, compromised.
* * *
An instance came early. Drake said, “Mr. Rattray wants to know about the monkey-gland case. I told him you could give him the”—there came his slight occasional stutter—“the absolute fa-acts.”
Philip smiled faintly.
“Now, Mr. Rattray, you are laughing at us!” Mr. Shinde protested. His voice had a pleasant metallic break, suggesting appeal.
Philip, in counter-protest, denied the charge.
“But you are! You think Indians are funny!”
It was no use denying this. “Well, everyone is coming to see that everyone is funny!”
“But Indians, Mr. Rattray! You are laughing at us, I think!”
Philip soothed him, for he wanted to hear the story which had given delight over such a wide area. “Why, Mr. Shinde, I believe that Providence intended that each one of us should give a certain amount of amusement to others. If you look on nations as individuals, you can see that the world is occupied by a family of richly comic characters.”
“Tell us about the monkey gland, Shinde, and we promise not to laugh.” urged Drake.
“Oh, I do not say that you must not laugh at all! But you are not to laugh at us as Indians!”
“Quite. We see that; and we promise that, don’t we, Phil?”
“Well, you see, Mr. Rattray, we Indians are very gentle and merciful to—to everything—” said Mr. Shinde, waving his hand so expansively that he swept over his drink.
The damage was easily repaired. Drake ordered fresh drinks all round. “It was time we had another drink. The same for you, Philip?” (Philip assented.) “What’s yours, Shinde?”
“A whisky,” said Mr. Shinde promptly. “You see, Mr. Rattray, we do not think it right to take the lives of any living creature for sport, as you Englishmen do. Or for food even. We are by nature and by custom during many many thousand years more civilised and humane than you Europeans.”
“Quite,” said Philip.
“Mr. Rattray understands and respects your customs,” said Drake.
Thus reassured, Mr. Shinde told the tale of a rigidly orthodox Ahmadabad Brahmin whom the Gods were persecuting. He had been a great user of aphrodisiacs and youth-restorers, those main advertisements of Indian papers (where they take the place of our cosmetics; and of remedies for such ills as halitosis and athlete’s foot). As Mr. Shinde explained this, Drake, who seemed on very intimate terms with him, broke in with the remark ascribed to a Governor, that you are not really friendly with a Prince until he has asked you what is your favourite aphrodisiac. “Oh, quite,” said Mr. Shinde, beaming. Now he was sure that they were not laughing at him! Well, this Brahmin, despite all that Indian medical and quasi-medical science could do for him at last feeling old age in his bones, and uncertain as to his next incarnation, had determined to stay in this one as long as possible, and had looked beyond India’s borders, to what European and American savants could do for him. A travelling magician of doubtful (but mixed) nationality visited the East in 1932, peddling an improved monkey-gland rejuvenation method of his own patenting. The Brahmin arranged a double operation, first on his wife and then (after a period in which to study the effects) on himself. Both Mr. Shinde’s auditors noted the ring of entirely patriotic indignation in his complaint that each operation had cost a lakh of rupees, whereas in his own land the surgeon performed it for a tenth of that sum. It was “another injustice to Ould Oireland”—manifestly, like everything which discriminates against any child of India, based on colour prejudice and contempt for a race deemed inferior. Whenever the Gods permitted the long-delayed account against Great Britain to be at last presented for settlement, it would be slipped in somewhere, as Mr. de Valera has slipped in his complaints about Poyning’s Law. Mr. Shinde’s voice lingered for quite a perceptible pause in narrative, and with a richer resonance of appealing note, on this iniquitous detail of expense. However (he got on at length) all this had happened last September. And now, he chuckled, the Brahmin had tumbled down into a figure precipitately senile, and what was worse, not one of a man, but “a perfect Maruti. The monkey gland has been too good, too efficient!” He sipped his whisky appreciatively, then turned to them again. The Brahmin’s wife, on the other hand, had been wonderfully made younger—more vigorous, more scolding, more impatient.
He had earned another peg, and had one.
The main joke, Mr. Shinde considered, was not even this unequal working of wizardry. The Brahmin’s community had been outraged by the demise of two monkeys, and had fined him a lakh of rupees for each. That made four lakhs in all; Mr. Shinde counted them on his fingers, held up in derisory emphasis. He had appeased the rank and file of his co-religionists (those not Brahmins, and having no share in his conscience-money) by proving his detractors liars. How had he done this? For a whole month two very indignant monkeys had been on view in the nearest public pound to his home, where a notice announced that these chained creatures were the two—living, as any fool could see for himself—which enemies said he had had killed. They were said to have cost another five thousand rupees apiece, which is rather higher than the market price of hanuman monkeys. The Municipality had inflicted a further fine, a charge for putting up the notice.
The story halted. Mr. Shinde, cynical, Westernised, agnostic, was nevertheless troubled by some worm of superstition in his brain. He observed, divided between sniggering, awe and watchfulness for the first sign of disrespectful amusement in his companions, “The Gods are not pleased with our friend. He is very—wretched! and so—so unhappy! And they wish to make him poorer. Last November his chauffeur ran over a dog, so he was fined another lakh of rupees for taking life; and another half-lakh, because the life was that of an unclean animal. We Hindus are very religious and gentle,” Mr. Shinde concluded, in deep seriousness and approval. He took a long sip at his whisky.
“Go on, Shinde,” said Drake.
“Oh yes. Well—Mr. Rattray—he was very—what you say seek. Ye-es. And fed up. Fed up. That is the word. Dees-gusted” (with enormous energy). “That also is the word.”
“I should think it might be.”
“So fed up that when he dismissed his chauffeur, and the man, who is a Eurasian, brought a case against him for breach of contract, and alternatively, for wrongful dismissal—you see, Mr. Rattray, it was not the chauffeur’s fault, for we think that it was the Gods—the holy and blessed Gods,” said Mr. Shinde to himself, in hushed tones. “It was the Gods—yes, it was undoubtedly the Gods; because they were very cross, you see, Mr. Rattray—”
“It was the Gods who sent the dog under the wheel of the car.” Mr. Shinde went off into theological speculation. “Most probably it was Maruti himself, angry because his two monkeys had been murdered! ‘Butchered’,” he added bitterly, “‘to make a Roman holiday.’”
“Maruti seems a very active gentleman,” said Philip. Luckily, he said it under his breath.
“Eh?” asked Mr. Shinde.
“I was thinking that Maruti was not a God who goes to sleep.”
“Oh, quite. He is very energetic and important. You cannot neglect him if you are Indian. But this man”—Mr. Shinde scrupulously avoided mentioning his name throughout—“did not fight the case, but immediately paid all costs of having the prosecution stopped, and very heavy damages to his ex-chauffeur. I do not care to say how much he is believed to have paid, for the sum is so immense. But of course his chauffeur was an awful scoundrel, and he knew that his master could not possibly go into court, to have some Muslim pleader asking him about what he had paid for the two operations. But he was so fed up that he did not use the car again for two whole months. And then, as luck would have it, when he went out again—the very first time! he killed a man. A beggar in Ahmadabad. It was very bad luck for him, and shows how very very angry Maruti still was with him.”
“Looks as if Maruti might have been angry with the beggar also,” said Drake.
Mr. Shinde dismissed this surmise. “Oh, the beggar was merely an instrument.” He thought a minute, to get the right words. “An instrument of the Divine Providence.” He looked shocked and reverent as he leant his mouth down again to his whisky, resting on the bar. “Yes, that was it. He was sent by the Gods.”
“And what did the beggar cost your friend?” asked Rattray.
Mr. Shinde roused himself from his reverie. “Oh, the beggar? Oh, he refused to pay anything for him! That will show you how fed up he was. He paid nothing.” Mr. Shinde allowed himself to chuckle again; and very engagingly he did it. “A lakh and a half for killing a dog, and nothing at all for killing a man! Luckily, the beggar was a low-caste Hindu, and not a Muslim. So he did not matter! But you will understand why we say that the Gods are displeased with my friend.”
They assured him that they understood.
Mr. Shinde’s eyes again looked up at Philip from his glass, beadily suspicious, drawn to glimmers of watchful concentration. “I suppose, if Miss Mayo were to hear this story, Mr. Rattray—”
“I promise never to tell her,” said Philip promptly.
“Or your missionaries,” began Mr. Shinde.
“They shall not hear, either.”
Mr. Shinde looked relieved. “You see, Mr. Rattray, we Hindus are very spiritual. We care for nothing—nothing at all in the whole world”—again he made that all-embracing sweep of his arm, fortunately without encountering anything solid—“except God. God is our all-in-all.” A far-away unworldly look was displacing the twinkling shrewdness in Mr. Shinde’s eyes. “Yes,” he said profoundly and with mournful satisfaction, “it is God—God—who is all-in-all to the Hindu. Mr. Gandhi is the world’s greatest spiritual leader. He trusts—in God. That is why he has now gone to the jail. Because he trusts—he trusts—in God,” he jerked out.
Drake suggested that they should all sit down; gently, affectionately, he put his hand under Mr. Shinde’s elbow as he guided the little man to a chair. Mr. Shinde continued his religious musings.
“God is very wonderful, Mr. Rattray. But it is true—it is sadly true—His ways are mysterious. Mysterious, Mr. Rattray.” He shook his head.
Then acuteness returned. “You think—listening to me—that we are superstitious. But the story which I have told you, Mr. Rattray” (very gravely) “shows that our Gods are angry with the man who does cruel things. Now—is your European God angry with you when you do cruel things? You know that He is not. He is angry when you do unwise things in business or in politics. But He is not angry when you do cruel things. So our Gods are better. And that is why God—God—to the Hindu is our all-in-all. That is why—we are so deeply—so deeply and truly—spiritual.”
He sat preternaturally upright, and looked rebukingly and disapprovingly at them.
“Besides,” he continued, “we are not ignorant—of Europe—and of America. Judge Lindsay has told us of the way—American girls behave. We have read of it in Uncle Sham also. In our Club here we take your English illus—” (he felt for the word, and decided on a near relation of it) “illustrious papers. Yes! that is the word! Your illustrious papers. We get also one English daily paper. So that we may know—of your politics. We Indians are very political. And religious,” he added, frowning.
Then alertness was recovered with an effort. “What do we learn?” he asked Philip, in whom he seemed to see the West intrusive, questioning, critical. “What is it that your people are really interested in? They are not—like us in India—deeply and truly—religious. No. They are not even politic—political. What they wish to know—and what their papers tell them—is what gentleman each famous film star—famous beauty—is going to sleep with next.” He made an end, smiling to himself; and appeared very pleased with his conclusions.
His eyes opened again suddenly. “That is what we say interests your Western public. That is what makes it highly necessary that we also should have self-government—responsibility at the Centre,” he assured them. “Yes. And universal education. That we may all learn how to read—about whom we shall sleep with next.” His eyes closed once more; he smiled to himself for a long while.
* * *
Sleep was evidently occupying his thought considerably, and laying strong hands on his limbs and powers. Anticipating Drake’s action, Philip assisted Mr. Shinde to a couch, where he lay down at three-quarter length, still smiling with glazed eyes. They propped him with chairs. While they were seeing to his safety, he opened his eyes wide, looked gratefully at them, and shook his head. “We are deeply and truly religious,” he told them.
This reflection was his final comfort. He turned his head over, murmuring, “religious. Deeply—and truly—religious. We—Hindus—very deeply—deeply—truly—religious. Deeply—truly—relig—.” His voice trailed off into silence.
Happy is the man who carries into his dreams a train of thought so calming, so consoling. He will awake refreshed for his work in the world.
* * *
“Was Shinde’s deduction a fair one?” asked Drake, as they made their way home. “I mean, his deduction from our Press, as to what our people really care about. For it’s one the whole of this bloody country is making.”
“Absolutely fair—if you can trust the Press.”
“Shinde thinks a lot about these matters. He is engaged on a comparative study of Eastern and Western social ideals. Funny, the unexpected places people break out in! He’s a cotton millionaire, a jute millionaire, a shipping millionaire, and goodness knows what else; he has the reputation of being about the cunningest brain on this side of India. Yet his secret passion is to do a book proving how infinitely superior are Indian methods of dealing with the sex problem, a final and conclusive refutation of Mother India. He highly approves of the cinema, by the way—says it is the soundest sociological institution the West has—almost equal to the Hindu marriage system. ‘You see, Mr. Drake, what is it that every woman needs and wants above everything? It is this; to be loved. Yes; and to be a mother. Now we know that; and so with us every woman is given to some man. But with you that is not so; therefore many women in Europe and in America are wasted. That is why the cinema has become the most important thing in the whole world! Because it is the most useful and the most necessary thing that you have! Because every woman, it does not matter if she is ugly, oh, so ugly, can go to the cinema, and can see herself in imagination being vicariously—raped. Yes, that is the word! Being raped in those pictures of men with strong eyes and oh, so rough and so energetic ways with women. It is this, Mr. Drake, that keeps England and America safe, so that, whatever happens to any other country, they can never have revolutions. Because they have such wise institutions, to keep their people quiet. That is why I am strong supporter—yes, of Mr. Gandhi; of course, for he is our leader and he is deeply and truly spiritual man—but also of British connection. Because I am rich man, and do not want revolution.’”
“Oh yes,” said Philip pessimistically. “He’s bound to see it that way, from this distance, and with the wash that we have let Hollywood flood this damned age and this damned country with. And the amazing, unexaggeratable snobbishness of our whole middle class, if he knew it, is the soundest reason of all why we shall never have any revolution in our right little, tight little island. God make her more right and less tight!” said Philip blasphemously. “We are—beyond question—the silliest and most snobbish generation that ever lived! The Victorians whom we despise were giants of sense and self-respect beside us.”
Drake said nothing. His look became withdrawn, that of a man who has finished with the whole game of existence, but has to wait a while longer till actual word of dismissal comes.
Just as Philip had had thoughts, entirely gracious and kindly, of helping the young Maharana with his problems, and had found the Maharana, very wrongly, interested in his, Philip’s, problems, and with ideas about them, so now he had begun by accepting Mr. Shinde’s narrative as a grim joke, an amusing instance of the absurd basis on which Eastern life still persists—and then, suddenly, without warning and without encouragement, Mr. Shinde (only half sober, too) had revealed the East as watching the West with cynicism and without respect. Things have gone wrong somehow and somewhere. Do not these effete and ridiculously inferior peoples realise that the fine flower of the world’s noblest ethic and education (all the splendid traditions which run out from Arnold of Rugby, and from further back still) have been put to their service? They have seen all these years the inspiring spectacle of the white man taking up his burden—for their sakes! And they respond with criticism and crass and hasty generalisations from what are mere unimportant surface and occasional (very, very occasional) mismanifestations!
When in the evening Philip said farewells at the English Club, Lauretta managed a word with him alone. “Then it’s good-bye for good!”
“I suppose so.”
“Of course. Better say it now; there’ll be no chance when we merely meet at the students’ show to-night. Good-bye, Philip! And if there’s anything in the Hindu theory of reincarnation, let’s pray that we shan’t both miss the boat in our next show.” They both laughed at the incongruous homeliness of her metaphor.
“Speaking of missing the boat,” he said, “I must be careful not to do that myself, to-night. I couldn’t get hold of any sort of boat, to return that stone, for any money. They’re all chained up by day, and idle; and at night lugged high and dry, lest some evil spirit send them adrift to the other shore, for the ghost to whisk across. But Drake managed to get hold of one of those reed-rafts, on which I can shove myself over. Even so, he had to promise faithfully that it would not be brought back from the farther bank of Sipra.”
“But how’ll you get back?”
“By a twenty-mile-round drive, via Khelara and Rangiagram. I take Drake’s car out to Durgeswar, and leave it for someone to fetch back later in the day. I oar myself across the river, and do my job; and on the other side there’ll be a State car, which Drake has borrowed, waiting for me. The idea is, the ghost will be all greedy eyes on the raft, which I am to leave tied up in bulrushes. He’ll simply leap on to it as I get off! No one would be in my shoes for a lakh of rupees, and they’ve had to get a godless Eurasian to drive the car I shall come back in. The rocking of the raft under the sudden impact of descending ghost will be awful!” He smiled, and they both laughed again. “Then he’ll hopefully squat there for a week or so, in the belief that I’m going to take it back. They don’t rank the intelligence of the Unseen highly in these parts.”
“No,” she said. “But they rate its malignancy highly. And I think they are right.”
* * *
Hamlet was the play, in compliment to the students’ English guests. It was preceded by much time-wasting excitement, pushing to and fro, directing of where to sit, fussing and shouting and squabbling; and started, as all Indian performances do, exceedingly late. This was as well, since the Western audience also were late. Meanwhile, an hour of monotonous crooning and drumming, suitable as overture to some drama of Rajput derring-do, pacified and delighted the spectators.
Hamlet is a very remarkable play, depending almost more than any other on its interpreters, as to whether it shall be tragedy or comedy. To-night it turned out to be comedy; very fine comedy indeed. The Ghost was terrifying, for he was dressed up in true bhut fashion, with the face of a tiger superimposed upon a flowing long white night-shirt. Hamlet himself, startlingly enough, appeared in kilts—old and dirty and ragged, but unmistakably kilts. Drake’s Muhammadan friend had been looted as well as murdered, and in some way that would not bear investigation her treasures had become “properties.”
Hamlet in kilts aroused immense enthusiasm, in which the most cynical could detect no note of derision. Kilts were a recognisable “English” dress, and worn by all the best people in the West whenever they wished to be impressive. The Scots soldier has made his mark on the Eastern mind; his garb is held to be picturesquely becoming to a warrior.
Wrenn-Barratt told the (alleged) episode of Hamlet played to an Orissa audience, with the hero in a top-hat. “And when it tumbled off the fellow picked it up with his toes.”
Drake had felt too seedy to attend; and of course the Resident did not come.
* * *
It was all very jolly until close on midnight, when it began to pall.
Hamlet himself furnished a much-appreciated episode early on, when his kilts suddenly flopped to the floor, and revealed a loin-cloth under his upper magnificence. This so upset him that on reappearance he held it tightly with one hand, and sometimes both. He started to fluff his lines; he said that ghosts began
To jeek and squibber in the Roman streets.
There were long pauses broken by the prompter’s deep voice; and once by a statement delivered with clear, exasperated conviction, “You are a fool, I tell you, Hamlet, my dear fellow!” Hamlet retorted on his unseen accuser, with dramatic (this is the proper use of that misused word) effect; and the audience were entertained with a savage exchange of Marathi abuse, until a College professor stalked on to the stage and called hero and prompter to order. He gave Hamlet a bat over the head, thoroughly earned and clapped by the beholders.
* * *
At eleven, Norah Wrenn-Barratt announced that she had had all she could stand. She therefore marched her party off, including Inglis.
The actors, from politeness to the Ryalgarh Upper Ten, held up the play during their protracted escape. They did wisely, since out of curiosity the audience’s eyes deserted the stage, and everyone watched the Europeans. The whole interlude was so embarrassing that Lauretta told Philip she would slip away also, to avoid making a similar diversion half an hour later.
It seemed poor courtesy for Philip to go as well, since the show was ostensibly partly in his honour. It was not in his honour in reality, though; Indian students jump at every fair excuse to give a play. Without injustice, he regarded the tamasha15 as six for him and half a dozen for them; a truer proportion would be one for him and eleven for them.
Lauretta settled his hesitation by a command. “I want you to stay, Philip,” she whispered. “It’s good-bye here and now.” She turned and went out from him; and he saw it was better so, with no more place for speech or thought face to face.
But there was a sudden tremendous heightening and concentration of interest. Every head swung in one direction; Philip saw excitement, heard laughter, noted interchange of quick comment and question. At the door was Lauretta; her husband was with her. He had come after all, at this late hour of the proceedings; and she was obviously, her face red and desperate, pleading with him, arguing with him. She seemed to succeed, less by persuasion than by a very plain use of gently imperious force, taking his arm and almost pushing him out with her. The audience broke into unrestrained laughter. Philip felt he could endure no more; and went out, aware that his going was accompanied by contemptuous hilarity, the more joyously wild because after generations of control it could have its fling at Europeans at last.
As he expected, he found Drake sitting up, reading, waiting. His eternal spirit-lamp was burning; he was sipping his eternal tea, at intervals nibbling his eternal toast. He listened to Philip’s almost incoherently furious tale, saying little. There was little left to say; Ryalgarh had exhausted certain topics.
When Philip at last sank into some semblance of self-possession he drove to Durgeswar. Half a mile short of the city, he halted. He felt with a spade in several places under an immense tamarind, and presently the iron rang on stone. He turned up the black squarish block he had buried, and placed it in his car.
At Durgeswar, he made his way down to the river. The bees were at rest; their combs hung palely yellow in the dim light. The Devi—but only the Devi—was presumably awake and watching, so deep a peace flowered over this heavenly Central Indian land. The Sipra rippled past, a “majestic river” floating on “out of the mist and hum” of his enchanted forests to consummate his union with a yet mightier stream than himself. At intervals Philip could see fires or lanterns twinkling, along the shore or scattered throughout the mass of fortress and cathedral which is Durgeswar. Across the water burned two unwinking flames, like the eyes of the waiting ghost. You can tell the Immortals by these signs, that their garlands are unfading and unsmirched by dust, that their forms cast no shadows, that their eyes are fixed in one unwavering brilliance. And a ghost, even a Gond ghost, is in some sense an Immortal.
He found his raft of reeds, tethered by the highest ghat, as Drake had arranged; on it was a long paddle, to serve also as a punting pole when the river shallowed. It sank under his weight, so that Sipra overflowed it, wetting his shoes. He had set the stone in the very centre, for on so tipsy a vessel the least overbalancing would lurch it to the depths. The raft was of the sort the peasant uses in the Rains, when his dry and thirsty land suddenly fills with sluices, too strong to be overpassed except by some manner of boat.
The reeds had been long laid up, and had grown brittle. He was aware that his adventure held more than a fair prospect of a sousing in Sipra’s holy stream.
* * *
However, in youth he had swung more than one of these swirling things over rivers fuller by far than Sipra; the old skill returned. He launched, with one swift, beautifully timed thrust against the ghat and up-stream, following with a powerful push back of his paddle.
Now he was on the softly flowing, glimmering water; gliding over an unreal floor set with stars. They rippled up, danced and disappeared, as others took their places. He found he had to work hard, as well as watchfully; he had not realised—who could realise, merely looking down from Durgeswar battlements on what seemed so strong, so calmly moving?—how capricious as well as masterful a river Sipra was. This surface, which from the shore looked so level and unwrinkled, had in it muscular urgencies. It was like a horse’s body blown out and lifted to resist the saddle’s tightening, then subsiding again. It was a swarm of innumerable little hands that tugged and pulled the raft askew, tilting it here, depressing it there, into this deep trough.
Beginning to make out the details of the further shore’s outline, he peered to select a spot where he might land.
* * *
Living and moving within himself with such intensity of concentration, with every sense deliberately contracted and strung to defeat the dimness and the shifting circumfluent floor, Philip was in no fettle to confront any irruption from any activity other than his own, when the crazy barque he was intent on steering hit a substance hard and scaly-rinded. The water sopped tumultuously over a back rising above the waves. It swung floodingly over the raft. The stars shivered and skipped together; broke into little frightened fragments. And Philip, as from another world, the helpless one of sleep (so firmly was he gripped by the purpose in hand, and by the night which had closed down upon his senses, deepening and darkening all within a cloud of encompassing), saw two eyes, leaden as the stream’s unlighted flow, but with a centre of consciousness, fixed upon him.
It was no mugger, but a turtle, one of those bloated platters that slowly paddle up and down; feast on the dead bodies which defile Sipra; and at night sleep in mid-stream. He knew this later, when his shocked mind had had time to return upon its vision. But in the first moment of violent awareness he leapt to the farther side of the raft. It shot up and sideways; by a miracle he flung himself (was flung, rather) to his knees, and amid a rush of water that swept up to his middle, drenching him, managed to restore its balance and his own.
Meanwhile, a splash covered the sinking of the stone to Sipra’s depths.
* * *
When he had recovered self-control, he let the raft drift while he thought. His deed had been ravished from him irrevocably. There was nothing to do but return. By hard and cautious paddling, his eyes straining for a ghat, he managed to make again the Durgeswar bank, half a mile from where he had set out, almost where the fringe of ghats and chattris ended. He jumped ashore, and walked slowly along the beach till he reached the stairway.
* * *
He was near the crest of the battlements, when the gong of Rukmini Devi’s temple clashed out. This in itself, in the depth of night, was a portent; within two hours of dawn, still more so. Simultaneously the air began to fill with avast humming; someone or something had aroused the wild bees from their slumber. In the drowsiness of darkness their arousal is slower than by day; and Philip, aware of the menace about to spread wings of poison and death and sally forth, looked for a refuge.
A figure raced madly by him. It flung open, and dived through, a small door.
Philip was on its heels too soon for the door to be shut; and he found himself in a tiny room, lit with two earthern saucer lamps. His companion was His Highness of Ryalgarh, who faced him with an expression of anger and terror.
* * *
Neither spoke. They listened to the grim music that overflowed into every corner of the night outside. The room had been made for such an emergency as this; a tight-fitting door left no crack or aperture, however slight.
“Well, Mr. Rattray!” said the Prince at last. “So you have cheated our Gods again! And you will go, leaving them angry with us!”
It was then Philip’s experience to listen to the fury of a “man forbid” emptying his heart of misery and fear.
“You English are what our Nationalists call you—you are demons—you are a Satanic Government, as Mr. Gandhi has said! You make a world to suit yourselves! and you say that God has made it! You keep it unchanged by your power, which you call righteousness! You do the deeds of demons, and then, when the fit has passed, you say to those you have humbled, Come! It is all over and can be forgotten! Let us settle down to this wonderful British Raj of peace and security, where we guard you and set you an example of sportsmanship and good humour! And we will all keep the laws which we have made for you, that are so good for you and so much better than your own superstitions! I tell you, we hate you! I whom you praise as your faithful ally—what you mean is faithful slave!—hate you, and despise myself because I dare not be what even savages in our forests have dared to be!”
“I know,” said Philip. “But,” he added fatuously, “there are many of us who know, and we are going to change all that.”
“Who are going to change it? You?” the Prince asked, with immense scorn in the scream of his tones. “You are merely a Socialist journalist, you are only one of the fellows who write! You have no power, not an atom of power, I tell you! It is not you who are England, it is not you who matter—you are simply like the monkeys that chatter in our temples and say, We are the divinities that the people come to worship! And when they dare to come near our crops, these self-styled divinities, we set boys to stone them away! It is an England that is independent of any world that thinks or scribbles that settles what is to be done or not done. What difference did your Shakespeare ever make, or your Shelley? None at all! You are not India, where what a poet says matters! You are ruled by greed and money and lawyers—and the whole world knows it except yourselves! That is why you are allowed free speech and to have a Parliament—because your rulers settle behind your backs what is to happen, and they can afford to let you talk and write and think yourselves important! You say—Radical journalists like you, Mr. Rattray—that I am an Indian Prince and an autocrat and therefore something wrong in this wonderful modern democratic world that you British have given the Empire—have given India!” he sneered—“h—“have given the blacks in Africa! Oh no! you cannot let the Indians overrun your Kenya—that would be very wrong!—spoiling it with their inferior civilisation and their base ideas of some men being below other men! You must keep it free for a noble white democracy! The whole world must be kept from the danger of bolshevism and communism and all these other bad thoughts and bad plans of people who have not been trained in the English public schools and do not understand how “to play the game!” To play the game! To Play the Game!” he repeated, as if beside himself with passion. “That is what we all have to do—to play the game! So it is important to send us for rulers men who have never progressed—no, not one step—beyond the ideas that they had in their schooldays! ‘You and I are colleagues in a great game,’ says His Excellency This. ‘You and I, Maharana, have to bat on a very sticky wicket,’ says His Excellency That. ‘I do not care tuppence who makes the runs, so long as we all manage to make plenty,’ says another Excellency. ‘You and I are guardians of a very solemn trust, Your Highness,’ says my Resident. ‘We have to watch these dangerous fellows in British India very carefully, or they’ll down us and the poor Indian peasant will suffer. And we must watch these dangerous chaps who come from Europe, pretending that they are here just to get news—especially fellows like that fellow Rattray. They’ll do you down any way they can—they are not like the fine scrupulous Indian Government!’ Well!” he asked sharply.”We Princes know enough about your fine scrupulous Indian Government! Do you think, Mr. Rattray—does even a Socialist journalist think—that if the Paramount Power were not here and poor helpless India were left to hundreds of autocrats such as me, it would have any less self-government than now? Less government by rogues and lawyers—yes. But less self-government? I tell you, I should stay, for the Chawars have been loved by their subjects, and my people know that they can come to me at any time they like. But no Prince could stay against his people’s wishes—no, not a single day! Why, the last year you have kept on their gadis two Princes by force of your armies, who without you would have been chased away as King Amanullah was chased away from his kingdom!”
“Your Highness has just experienced a dangerous riot,” Philip reminded him.
“And if I have, then why? Why? That was not a Hindu-Muslim riot, as Delhi is going to tell the world. Nor was it in reality a fight of labour against oppression. There is no oppression in my kingdom.”
Philip was to hear how deeply an unhappy mind can deceive itself, finding causes for the things that disquiet it. “I will tell you, I will tell you, Mr. Rattray, what brought it on. It was you! Or rather, it was your Government, eighty years ago! Ever since it was known that you were back in India—ever since you landed at Bombay, three weeks before—our people have been starving, for no boats have dared to cross the Sipra, they have been unable to sell their fruit and vegetables or to buy from outside. And when you have a big industrial city like mine, with rascals from the Bombay and Ahmadabad trade unions and from the Servants of India stirring up the people to look at their misery, instead of forgetting it and believing that God will send something better soon, then we have what you call a Labour uprising. But it was because the boatmen beside the Sipra had lost their work and took the story into the city of how something—they did not know what, but I the King knew!—had made the Ghost angry and he was watching to bring his hatred into Ryalgarh! and because we were not able to send our produce the direct way to Nagpur, and so Giansi got there before us and our people had to bring back their goods unsold! And it was all because my ancestor was so afraid of the Paramount Power, eighty years ago, that he stayed ‘loyal,’ as you call it, when the heart of his people was all for freedom! All because he was a weak, sinful man who accepted, as a dog accepts a bone from his master, the reward that was given, having first been stolen, to those who had remained loyal! And then it was a bone he dared not eat! And you, in your light-hearted sporting English way, like the fine big lovable schoolboy that an English gentleman always is! stole the Ghost’s stone, which was all he had to keep his name alive and to give him in death something of that sovereignty which the English had taken from him with his life! We have had no luck since you went away! It was you who, when I was a young man and worshipped you, because you seemed so strong and wise and kind, encouraged me in the foolish ideas I then had, of giving these people self-government! They are not fit for self-government!” he cried savagely. “They are my slaves and donkeys, fit only to carry burdens and to do what they are told! And now, all these years we have had attack after attack by these wretched papers of your Nationalists in British India, all because after I had started a Legislative Council and elections and a whole lot of mad things I saw how foolish it was and stopped doing such craziness! And it has finished in this rebellion which has disgraced my name and set it with those of Princes whose names no one respects. If you had never come here we should never have suffered so, and I should still be honoured! Yes, and there have been times when I have hated you more than any other Englishman—more than even my Resident!”
“My God!” said Philip.
“Yes. It is true. No, I do not hate you now. I saw that you tried to restore the stone, as Mr. Drake promised you would. But the Gods hate you! Rukmini Devi has commanded her bees to sting you to death. You heard them!”
“Yes, I heard them,” said Philip, recovering. “But I don’t blame the Devi for them. There has been some monkey-work” (he corrected the tactless phrase), “some mischief, I can’t guess what or how, of someone quite human and mortal. Oh yes, I know the priests have their ways of setting the bees on to people, even in the middle of the night!”
“It may be,” said the Prince, suddenly tired and sullen after rage.
“I don’t know how I can ever set things right,” Philip mused.
“Get away! As soon as you can!” the Prince interrupted.
“I know. I must. I’m going by the morning train.”
“Oh, but, Rattray, you should not!” His Highness’s mood had passed, and he had become the normal Indian Prince, gracious, hospitable, at ease with Englishmen whom he liked. “You must not believe all that I said just now. It is not true that I hated you. I did not. Yes, I did—but only sometimes! That is true—on my honour, Rattray! I liked you when you were here and I was a boy, and you were so kind to me, so unlike Colonel Grimsdale the Resident, of whom I was afraid. I liked it when you taught me to play cricket and tennis, and I have always told everyone, Mr. Rattray the great English writer was my teacher. When I first learnt what you had done I could not believe it. It did not seem true that Philip Rattray whom we loved so could have played such a joke on us, even if we are silly and superstitious! But it is not all superstition really, my friend! There has been a real haunting. Ghosts,” he said earnestly, “have been busy in Ryalgarh and have been seeking to bring about the downfall of My Dynasty. My People do not fear tigers; we know that it is only at night that they prowl, and we can keep indoors. But these have been ghosts that are active by day. It is true, Mr. Rattray.”
“I have found out that it is true.”
“Yes; and when I met you in London, and you were so friendly and so understanding—when you did not talk with the patronage of the old Governors who had known me and who could not get away from their idea that India was the school which was now getting out of hand because the new prefects were not so good as the old ones had been—when you were not sycophantic like your other journalists, and you did not expect me to invite you to India and to promise to provide you with tigers, but you just talked as if you realised that my country is alive like the rest of the world and has a right to move if every other country is moving—why, I swear it, Mr. Rattray, I liked you again! In fact, you seemed nicer than I had even thought. And I was glad when you came into my office two days ago. And I talked to you as I do not talk to any other Englishman. So you must stay—really, you must stay, if only that I can be given the chance to persuade you that all my angry words were not what I think, truly and deep down.”
Philip did not answer. Instead, he thought in silence. Then it seemed time to clear up more of the mystery, so he asked, “But what was Your Highness doing here? Do you mind telling me?”
Again those mobile features darkened. “I came to see the danger that has been making my people almost mad with fear pass away. I have been watching those two lamps of the car that I sent for you to the other side; and I have been saying to myself, Those are the two eyes of the demon that is watching for Rattray. And when Rattray has put the stone back and I see those two lights vanish up the Rutlam road, then it is the two fiery eyes of the Ghost that are vanishing—for ever! Yes,” he said with a sadness and kindness that touched his companion, “I wanted also to see for myself that you had undone the joke that you played on us long ago, and to feel that I could think again that there was an Englishman who could be a friend and not simply someone who thought he was playing with me and that I was trying to play with him.”
“You must think that in any case, Maharana. But please don’t think that anything—anything from first to last of this business—was done by me in contempt of your people or for a jest! I looked on that stone as a symbol of something that as an Englishman who loved your people I wanted them to forget. So I buried it. And Drake, who loves your people too, helped me to bury it. And, Maharana, I believe the Gods—that is, God, if there is any God—wants it forgotten also! For it was not my fault that it never reached the other side. Sipra has taken it and plunged it deeper than anyone can ever find it again.”
* * *
Philip related what had happened, in the outline which His Highness could not know. His hearer remained rapt while he listened, and when Philip ended his face was radiant.
“I am sure that you are right,” he said. “It was better that that stone should be lost and forgotten. Only, that could not be done by any Englishman’s hands. It is we ourselves who must set things right, as Mr. Gandhi has said, by learning to cleanse our minds of all anger and hate and fear, so that we shall be free men again! And the Gods know that they must help us! When you hid the stone it was not lost, for there were those who knew where it was, and the ghosts were seeking it. But now that holy Sipra himself has buried the stone, I know that God wishes that it should be forgotten until the Judgment Day which you Christians say is coming for all of us who have lived in this land of India, and for all that we have done. And the ghosts will have seen what has happened, and they will know that it is the decision of the Gods, who are above the ghost-world, that they and their sufferings should die out of men’s memory. Mr. Rattray, I have been very wretched because of these ghosts! You know that their friend was the man who should have been King in Ryalgarh. And they have friends now who say of me, He is no Prince but merely the slave of the foreign Power. They would make another ruler in my place.”
“They will find it harder, now that there is no stone round which they can preach rebellion.”
“You are right!” the Prince cried. “And I see that you have done me service! No, it is the Gods who have done it by your hands, and you are more than my friend, you are someone holy whom they have used, to make me happy again as you often made me happy long ago. They have shown that they do not wish that another should steal my people’s love from me! And they have defeated her, by means of this river which is their servant! Mr. Rattray, now will you not let me have you in Ryalgarh for a few days more, as my guest?” he pleaded. “You are really very very popular. All remember you. And we say, ‘Ah, if only Rattiri Saheb were here as Resident!’”
“I wish I could! But Maharana, you must let me go. And trust me when I say that I cannot help going.”
“Then”—he thrust out his hand and his face was all friendship—“let us say good-bye as friends. You were my unofficial tutor in the things that mattered most—and believe me, Mr. Rattray, what you taught me made a difference, and it made me happy, often when I was wretched, as every Prince has to be, yes, often and often! Our life is the absurdest and silliest that the world has ever seen!” he cried. “But I must not say that to my friend when we are parting! But good-bye! Or will you not come with me back to Ryalgarh in my car? It is waiting. And the bees have long been quiet outside.”
Philip took his outstretched hand. But he said, “I can’t, Maharana. I may as well now get Drake’s car back for him. It’s here; and I didn’t bring a chauffeur.”
They emerged into the night, and finished the climb to the main road unspeaking. At their cars, once more the Prince held out his hand, and said, “Good-bye, my friend! You must not forget me! You know that we Hindus believe in gurubhakti, reverence for our teachers. And you were my teacher, long ago, when you thought that I was only a boy you were showing how to play games! When I am in England you must let us meet. And when you come to India you must always come to Ryalgarh. You will find that without ghosts it is a very different place!”
Philip smiled. “Better let me keep away, Maharana. I’ve found out that I’m the sort of man who brings his own ghosts with him. My generation is dogged by them. No, I shall never come back to India—not in this incarnation. But I shall not forget Ryalgarh. Nor you, Maharana.”
“No! call me friend!” said the Prince impulsively. “Or I shall think your mind is still full of the angry words that I said when I was beside myself with fear!”
Philip did so; and they parted. He watched the Prince’s car drive whirringly away, leaving him standing there.
He was himself driving away, when a swerve to his left, to avoid some creature, a cat or mongoose, that appeared in front of him, dazzled and motionless, flung his lights on to a metallic glint. Another car was standing, a little aside from the main road into the fortress area. He stopped and sprang out. He looked up the hill behind Durgeswar, and saw a figure, in the starlight silhouetted dimly—a person, for it stirred—before the ruined Kalidasa Temple.
There are processes of reasoning which march swiftly, without obvious logic, to true conclusions. There was every argument against what he at once knew was the fact. He strode up the steepness to the shrine. “Lauretta!” he called. “Lauretta!”
The Temple stood pinnacled on a wing of the mountain, fenced with its trees, yet with a clear gap where it looked southward over Sipra. It was here that he had seen her—no devi of the moonlit forest, but a restlessness solely mortal.
* * *
She had surrendered to his arms, and his passion and tenderness. But then she thrust him from her, and said, “No, my dear! It’s too late.”
“But why? Because you are married—to him, Lauretta! to a man who—”
She stopped him. “We can leave him out, Philip.”
“No. We can’t leave him out. He is such a fool that he doesn’t see what every other man and woman sees. Lauretta, if you come with me there isn’t anyone who will think you have done anything wrong.”
“It’s too late,” she repeated. “If you had met me two hours since, when I was out of my mind, I should have done anything you asked me, for I was not fit to judge or think. Listen to me, Philip. Please don’t think that I’m fussing about what the world will fuss about. It can see only one thing—that a woman has left her husband. I’ve thought that out ages ago—ever since I first knew that mine was no marriage but just one of those War excitements. I’ve argued it out that those were part of the general madness and that all who want to wipe them out, when the scales have fallen from their eyes, in ordinary decent morality should do it—and as quickly as possible and with as little calling of others to look at them or agree with them or criticise them—or—or—bother about them at all.”
She was talking so coolly and quietly that he knew his chance, if it had ever recurred, was gone. The same thought struck her, for she said, “You see, Philip, you are not dealing with a passion-wrought woman, any more than I am dealing with a passion-wrought man.”
He denied this.
“Please, Philip, listen! When a marriage has gone on as long as mine, something else has happened. I’ve grown up, for one thing. Yes, and other things too have happened. I’m not going to throw over my two boys in England the shadow of all this trouble which they cannot understand, but can only suffer from. If this were a novel, it would be all right. You and I could walk out of this life of mine, and we should be happy ever afterwards! All my troubles would be supposed to have ended, once I had been what they used to call unfaithful to my husband!” She laughed, a little bitterly. “But afterwards, Philip? For there will be an afterwards.”
He said, “Yes. But I love you, Lauretta!”
“Yes. I know that. And, Philip, it means happiness for me whenever I remember it—all the happiness I am going to get, except from my boys! But, my dear, it means happiness for me, only if you go away now, and leave me your memory—the memory of what you have told me now. Civilisation isn’t built on great eternal truths, as we try to fool ourselves into believing. It’s built on conventions. You are a writer, so naturally you like to think that literature rises out of something deeper than man’s arrangements. But it doesn’t. It rises out of convention and arrangement; it depends on convention and arrangement.”
He could have answered her, but he did not; and she liked and respected him the more, because he did not thrust forward what he knew was a gift which demanded that her own life, if she accepted it, must be one at odds with all her world. “Philip,” she said, “please don’t think I am sending you away for any reason except that I mean to keep what matters to me—which is what I now know of you! But since I have to return to England, let me at least return without my old unhappiness. You’ve laid more ghosts than anyone dreamed of, coming here where so many unquiet spirits were crying for you; and you’ve made reparation to more than those poor Gonds. But if we went together, Philip, there would come times when we should remember—oh yes, the excitement would wear off, and more quickly than with youngsters like Tom and Enid; and then we should both begin to argue with ourselves, and to remind ourselves of things better forgotten—I should remember how there was some failing of nerve or decision or unselfishness—it doesn’t matter what we call it, but it let us in for all these wasted years.”
“But I told you what happened,” he protested.
“You did, Philip. But there was something else too. You did not take your chance, when I knew that you loved me. You surely don’t think that what has happened since can be clean forgotten as if it had not been! Besides—oh, Philip my darling! if you and I were really a man and woman big enough, I won’t say that we couldn’t do even what you asked me, and have a love that would carry us over all the drabness and horridness that would come afterwards. There may be such men and such women! But I’m sure they don’t come often. And I’m sure that you and I are not such. I know myself. And I know you—now. You were the man with the questioning face when I first saw you; and I loved you for that face, because I wanted life to be an adventure, and not simply an endless process of comparing salaries and expenses and precedence and jobs. But you were more than that then! or at least I saw you as more than that! And now? It isn’t your fault, Philip! But we’ve got to face things as they are; and you’ve had to go through the things you have gone through, just as I have, and they’ve left their mark. Philip! you’ve been getting kinder and wiser and more unselfish—I shan’t forget, ever, what has passed between us here! But you’ve been dimming as well. I think all our generation has been losing substance and courage and strength. We are half ghosts already, though we are not much more than half-way to the grave. I won’t fool myself and you—for your sake! And because I’ve got to plough my own furrow; though it’s a rotten one, I chose it, and I’ve kept it too long to change it.”
He heard her in silence, and he did not contradict her.
After a long pause she said, “It’s only in fiction, Philip, and not in fact, that men and women can do so easily what you asked me to do, and what I had nearly fooled myself into being willing to do. My refusal isn’t morality, Philip—it has nothing to do with what people call morality, except that morality which makes it a shabby thing to do wrong to another person, or even to your own soul. It’s merely common sense, which is all our generation seems able to learn. I like you, Philip. I’ve more than liked you all these years, even when I was bitterest against you. And you were sent, my dear—I don’t care who sent you, whether it was what we used to call God, or these ridiculous little waifs they call ghosts here and say have been haunting us—but you were sent, of that I’m sure, to give me back my self-respect and my thoughts of you. What that means you will never know. But if you are still my lover you will guess; and it will make you happy.”
* * *
She had put him back into that courtly forgotten world where a man asked only the right to serve and worship. He took her hand; she gave it to him, he raised it to his lips, and kissed it. She left it in his, and said, “Now, Philip, see me down to my car and say good-bye for good. You have been a saint. You never asked me what happened after you saw me at that show, or why I came here. You have shown always that you wanted to leave me with my self-respect, which is all I have to live for until I get back to my sons. Will it make you happier also, Philip—all your life, Philip?—to know that I was here, watching you on that glimmering river, pushing that raft across? And I know what happened, for I saw the silvery splash upwards of the water suddenly. And my heart was in my mouth for a moment, for I imagined that it had been some creature attacking you; and I cried out, before I knew, “Philip!”, so that I was shocked at myself and frightened, and felt sure you must—almost—have heard me! But then I saw you come back; and I guessed what had happened. But it is all right. I am sure it is all right, and that the ghosts which have been vexing us, you and me, are now at rest. We shall get peace of mind, at any rate, even though we shall never get anything better.”
She smiled at him, and raised her lips to his, and let him kiss her; then, quietly, naturally, they went down together.
And he told her swiftly, and with an ease that was meant to give her peace and to take her spirit away from what was vexing her, of why he was delayed after he had come to shore again. And with ordinary eager inter-change of amazement and comment they moved together as friends. And they reached her car, and he helped her into it, and saw her drive away into the dim beginnings of morning.
Then Philip climbed back to the battlements, and looked abroad, straining his eyes to catch the first disentangling of the world from this grey mist of dark and half-lights. This was the Central India on which he had looked when his limbs and brain were filled with fire, when hope was all unclouded and achievement unstained.
And slowly the face of the shores and the water cleared; and grew into outlines and the play of colour beginning. Last of all, a red streak lifted to eastward, above the shoulder of the Vindhyas, a brightness which struggled and expanded and thrust ever upward, opening into the full sun.
Then he said to himself that he must go down, and return to Ryalgarh; and back to his place in England.
He took one last glance downward at the sleek and flowing Sipra. Something had happened that had made life leap forward again. Boys were splashing and springing in the water; and men’s hearts, he saw, were brimming with release and lightness, and joy of dread removed. A line of boats and rafts, with shouts as of some impromptu regatta, was setting out for the further shore!