A Passage to India CHAPTER XVI

He waited in his cave a minute, and lit a cigarette, so that he could remark on rejoining her, “I bolted in to get out of the draught,” or something of the sort. When he returned, he found the guide, alone, with his head on one side. He had heard a noise, he said, and then Aziz heard it too: the noise of a motor-car. They were now on the outer shoulder of the Kawa Dol, and by scrambling twenty yards they got a glimpse of the plain. A car was coming towards the hills down the Chandrapore road. But they could not get a good view of it, because the precipitous bastion curved at the top, so that the base was not easily seen and the car disappeared as it came nearer. No doubt it would stop almost exactly beneath them, at the place where the pukka road degenerated into a path, and the elephant had turned to sidle into the hills.

He ran back, to tell the strange news to his guest. The guide explained that she had gone into a cave. “Which cave?”

He indicated the group vaguely.

“You should have kept her in sight, it was your duty,” said Aziz severely. “Here are twelve caves at least. How am I to know which contains my guest? Which is the cave I was in myself?”

The same vague gesture. And Aziz, looking again, could not even be sure he had returned to the same group. Caves appeared in every direction—it seemed their original spawning place—and the orifices were always the same size. He thought, “Merciful Heavens, Miss Quested is lost,” then pulled himself together, and began to look for her calmly.

“Shout!” he commanded.

When they had done this for awhile, the guide explained that to shout is useless, because a Marabar cave can hear no sound but its own. Aziz wiped his head, and sweat began to stream inside his clothes. The place was so confusing; it was partly a terrace, partly a zigzag, and full of grooves that led this way and that like snake-tracks. He tried to go into every one, but he never knew where he had started. Caves got behind caves or confabulated in pairs, and some were at the entrance of a gully.

“Come here!” he called gently, and when the guide was in reach, he struck him in the face for a punishment. The man fled, and he was left alone. He thought, “This is the end of my career, my guest is lost.” And then he discovered the simple and sufficient explanation of the mystery.

Miss Quested wasn’t lost. She had joined the people in the car—friends of hers, no doubt, Mr. Heaslop perhaps. He had a sudden glimpse of her, far down the gully—only a glimpse, but there she was quite plain, framed between rocks, and speaking to another lady. He was so relieved that he did not think her conduct odd. Accustomed to sudden changes of plan, he supposed that she had run down the Kawa Dol impulsively, in the hope of a little drive. He started back alone towards his camp, and almost at once caught sight of something which would have disquieted him very much a moment before: Miss Quested’s field-glasses. They were lying at the verge of a cave, half-way down an entrance tunnel. He tried to hang them over his shoulder, but the leather strap had broken, so he put them into his pocket instead. When he had gone a few steps, he thought she might have dropped something else, so he went back to look.

But the previous difficulty recurred: he couldn’t identify the cave. Down in the plain he heard the car starting; however, he couldn’t catch a second glimpse of that. So he scrambled down the valley-face of the hill towards Mrs. Moore, and here he was more successful: the colour and confusion of his little camp soon appeared, and in the midst of it he saw an Englishman’s topi, and beneath it—oh joy!—smiled not Mr. Heaslop, but Fielding.

“Fielding! Oh, I have so wanted you!” he cried, dropping the “Mr.” for the first time.

And his friend ran to meet him, all so pleasant and jolly, no dignity, shouting explanations and apologies about the train. Fielding had come in the newly arrived car—Miss Derek’s car—that other lady was Miss Derek. Chatter, chatter, all the servants leaving their cooking to listen. Excellent Miss Derek! She had met Fielding by chance at the post office, said, “Why haven’t you gone to the Marabar?” heard how he missed the train, offered to run him there and then. Another nice English lady. Where was she? Left with car and chauffeur while Fielding found camp. Car couldn’t get up—no, of course not—hundreds of people must go down to escort Miss Derek and show her the way. The elephant in person. . . .

“Aziz, can I have a drink?”

“Certainly not.” He flew to get one.

“Mr. Fielding!” called Mrs. Moore, from her patch of shade; they had not spoken yet, because his arrival had coincided with the torrent from the hill.

“Good morning again!” he cried, relieved to find all well.

“Mr. Fielding, have you seen Miss Quested?”

“But I’ve only just arrived. Where is she?”

“I do not know.”

“Aziz! Where have you put Miss Quested to?” Aziz, who was returning with a drink in his hand, had to think for a moment. His heart was full of new happiness. The picnic, after a nasty shock or two, had developed into something beyond his dreams, for Fielding had not only come, but brought an uninvited guest. “Oh, she’s all right,” he said; “she went down to see Miss Derek. Well, here’s luck! Chin-chin!”

“Here’s luck, but chin-chin I do refuse,” laughed Fielding, who detested the phrase. “Here’s to India!”

“Here’s luck, and here’s to England!”

Miss Derek’s chauffeur stopped the cavalcade which was starting to escort his mistress up, and informed it that she had gone back with the other young lady to Chandrapore; she had sent him to say so. She was driving herself.

“Oh yes, that’s quite likely,” said Aziz. “I knew they’d gone for a spin.”

“Chandrapore? The man’s made a mistake,” Fielding exclaimed.

“Oh no, why?” He was disappointed, but made light of it; no doubt the two young ladies were great friends. He would prefer to give breakfast to all four; still, guests must do as they wish, or they become prisoners. He went away cheerfully to inspect the porridge and the ice.

“What’s happened?” asked Fielding, who felt at once that something had gone queer. All the way out Miss Derek had chattered about the picnic, called it an unexpected treat, and said that she preferred Indians who didn’t invite her to their entertainments to those who did it. Mrs. Moore sat swinging her foot, and appeared sulky and stupid. She said: “Miss Derek is most unsatisfactory and restless, always in a hurry, always wanting something new; she will do anything in the world except go back to the Indian lady who pays her.”

Fielding, who didn’t dislike Miss Derek, replied: “She wasn’t in a hurry when I left her. There was no question of returning to Chandrapore. It looks to me as if Miss Quested’s in the hurry.”

“Adela?—she’s never been in a hurry in her life,” said the old lady sharply.

“I say it’ll prove to be Miss Quested’s wish, in fact I know it is,” persisted the schoolmaster. He was annoyed—chiefly with himself. He had begun by missing a train—a sin he was never guilty of—and now that he did arrive it was to upset Aziz’ arrangements for the second time. He wanted someone to share the blame, and frowned at Mrs. Moore rather magisterially. “Aziz is a charming fellow,” he announced.

“I know,” she answered, with a yawn.

“He has taken endless trouble to make a success of our picnic.”

They knew one another very little, and felt rather awkward at being drawn together by an Indian. The racial problem can take subtle forms. In their case it had induced a sort of jealousy, a mutual suspicion. He tried to goad her enthusiasm; she scarcely spoke. Aziz fetched them to breakfast.

“It is quite natural about Miss Quested,” he remarked, for he had been working the incident a little in his mind, to get rid of its roughnesses. “We were having an interesting talk with our guide, then the car was seen, so she decided to go down to her friend.” Incurably inaccurate, he already thought that this was what had occurred. He was inaccurate because he was sensitive. He did not like to remember Miss Quested’s remark about polygamy, because it was unworthy of a guest, so he put it from his mind, and with it the knowledge that he had bolted into a cave to get away from her. He was inaccurate because he desired to honour her, and—facts being entangled—he had to arrange them in her vicinity, as one tidies the ground after extracting a weed. Before breakfast was over, he had told a good many lies. “She ran to her friend, I to mine,” he went on, smiling. “And now I am with my friends and they are with me and each other, which is happiness.”

Loving them both, he expected them to love each other. They didn’t want to. Fielding thought with hostility, “I knew these women would make trouble,” and Mrs. Moore thought, “This man, having missed the train, tries to blame us”; but her thoughts were feeble; since her faintness in the cave she was sunk in apathy and cynicism. The wonderful India of her opening weeks, with its cool nights and acceptable hints of infinity, had vanished.

Fielding ran up to see one cave. He wasn’t impressed. Then they got on the elephant and the picnic began to unwind out of the corridor and escaped under the precipice towards the railway station, pursued by stabs of hot air. They came to the place where he had quitted the car. A disagreeable thought now struck him, and he said: “Aziz, exactly where and how did you leave Miss Quested?”

“Up there.” He indicated the Kawa Dol cheerfully.

“But how——” A gully, or rather a crease, showed among the rocks at this place; it was scurfy with cactuses. “I suppose the guide helped her.”

“Oh, rather, most helpful.”

“Is there a path off the top?”

“Millions of paths, my dear fellow.”

Fielding could see nothing but the crease. Everywhere else the glaring granite plunged into the earth.

“But you saw them get down safe?”

“Yes, yes, she and Miss Derek, and go off in the car.”

“Then the guide came back to you?”

“Exactly. Got a cigarette?”

“I hope she wasn’t ill,” pursued the Englishman. The crease continued as a nullah across the plain, the water draining off this way towards the Ganges.

“She would have wanted me, if she was ill, to attend her.”

“Yes, that sounds sense.”

“I see you’re worrying, let’s talk of other things,” he said kindly. “Miss Quested was always to do what she wished, it was our arrangement. I see you are worrying on my account, but really I don’t mind, I never notice trifles.”

“I do worry on your account. I consider they have been impolite!” said Fielding, lowering his voice. “She had no right to dash away from your party, and Miss Derek had no right to abet her.”

So touchy as a rule, Aziz was unassailable. The wings that uplifted him did not falter, because he was a Mogul emperor who had done his duty. Perched on his elephant, he watched the Marabar Hills recede, and saw again, as provinces of his kingdom, the grim untidy plain, the frantic and feeble movements of the buckets, the white shrines, the shallow graves, the suave sky, the snake that looked like a tree. He had given his guests as good a time as he could, and if they came late or left early that was not his affair. Mrs. Moore slept, swaying against the rods of the howdah, Mohammed Latif embraced her with efficiency and respect, and by his own side sat Fielding, whom he began to think of as “Cyril.”

“Aziz, have you figured out what this picnic will cost you?”

“Sh! my dear chap, don’t mention that part. Hundreds and hundreds of rupees. The completed account will be too awful; my friends’ servants have robbed me right and left, and as for an elephant, she apparently eats gold. I can trust you not to repeat this. And M.L.—please employ initials, he listens—is far the worst of all.”

“I told you he’s no good.”

“He is plenty of good for himself; his dishonesty will ruin me.”

“Aziz, how monstrous!”

“I am delighted with him really, he has made my guests comfortable; besides, it is my duty to employ him, he is my cousin. If money goes, money comes. If money stays, death comes. Did you ever hear that useful Urdu proverb? Probably not, for I have just invented it.”

“My proverbs are: A penny saved is a penny earned; A stitch in time saves nine; Look before you leap; and the British Empire rests on them. You will never kick us out, you know, until you cease employing M.L.’s and such.”

“Oh, kick you out? Why should I trouble over that dirty job? Leave it to the politicians. . . . No, when I was a student I got excited over your damned countrymen, certainly; but if they’ll let me get on with my profession and not be too rude to me officially, I really don’t ask for more.”

“But you do; you take them to a picnic.”

“This picnic is nothing to do with English or Indian; it is an expedition of friends.”

So the cavalcade ended, partly pleasant, partly not; the Brahman cook was picked up, the train arrived, pushing its burning throat over the plain, and the twentieth century took over from the sixteenth. Mrs. Moore entered her carriage, the three men went to theirs, adjusted the shutters, turned on the electric fan and tried to get some sleep. In the twilight, all resembled corpses, and the train itself seemed dead though it moved—a coffin from the scientific north which troubled the scenery four times a day. As it left the Marabars, their nasty little cosmos disappeared, and gave place to the Marabars seen from a distance, finite and rather romantic. The train halted once under a pump, to drench the stock of coal in its tender. Then it caught sight of the main line in the distance, took courage, and bumped forward, rounded the civil station, surmounted the level-crossing (the rails were scorching now), and clanked to a stand-still. Chandrapore, Chandrapore! The expedition was over.

And as it ended, as they sat up in the gloom and prepared to enter ordinary life, suddenly the long drawn strangeness of the morning snapped. Mr. Haq, the Inspector of Police, flung open the door of their carriage and said in shrill tones: “Dr. Aziz, it is my highly painful duty to arrest you.”

“Hullo, some mistake,” said Fielding, at once taking charge of the situation.

“Sir, they are my instructions. I know nothing.”

“On what charge do you arrest him?”

“I am under instructions not to say.”

“Don’t answer me like that. Produce your warrant.”

“Sir, excuse me, no warrant is required under these particular circumstances. Refer to Mr. McBryde.”

“Very well, so we will. Come along, Aziz, old man; nothing to fuss about, some blunder.”

“Dr. Aziz, will you kindly come?—a closed conveyance stands in readiness.”

The young man sobbed—his first sound—and tried to escape out of the opposite door on to the line.

“That will compel me to use force,” Mr. Haq wailed.

“Oh, for God’s sake——” cried Fielding, his own nerves breaking under the contagion, and pulled him back before a scandal started, and shook him like a baby. A second later, and he would have been out, whistles blowing, a man-hunt. . . . “Dear fellow, we’re coming to McBryde together, and enquire what’s gone wrong—he’s a decent fellow, it’s all unintentional . . . he’ll apologize. Never, never act the criminal.”

“My children and my name!” he gasped, his wings broken.

“Nothing of the sort. Put your hat straight and take my arm. I’ll see you through.”

“Ah, thank God, he comes,” the Inspector exclaimed. They emerged into the midday heat, arm in arm. The station was seething. Passengers and porters rushed out of every recess, many Government servants, more police. Ronny escorted Mrs. Moore. Mohammed Latif began wailing. And before they could make their way through the chaos, Fielding was called off by the authoritative tones of Mr. Turton, and Aziz went on to prison alone.