A Passage to India CHAPTER XXII

Adela lay for several days in the McBrydes’ bungalow. She had been touched by the sun, also hundreds of cactus spines had to be picked out of her flesh. Hour after hour Miss Derek and Mrs. McBryde examined her through magnifying glasses, always coming on fresh colonies, tiny hairs that might snap off and be drawn into the blood if they were neglected. She lay passive beneath their fingers, which developed the shock that had begun in the cave. Hitherto she had not much minded whether she was touched or not: her senses were abnormally inert and the only contact she anticipated was that of mind. Everything now was transferred to the surface of her body, which began to avenge itself, and feed unhealthily. People seemed very much alike, except that some would come close while others kept away. “In space things touch, in time things part,” she repeated to herself while the thorns were being extracted—her brain so weak that she could not decide whether the phrase was a philosophy or a pun.

They were kind to her, indeed over-kind, the men too respectful, the women too sympathetic; whereas Mrs. Moore, the only visitor she wanted, kept away. No one understood her trouble, or knew why she vibrated between hard commonsense and hysteria. She would begin a speech as if nothing particular had happened. “I went into this detestable cave,” she would say dryly, “and I remember scratching the wall with my finger-nail, to start the usual echo, and then as I was saying there was this shadow, or sort of shadow, down the entrance tunnel, bottling me up. It seemed like an age, but I suppose the whole thing can’t have lasted thirty seconds really. I hit at him with the glasses, he pulled me round the cave by the strap, it broke, I escaped, that’s all. He never actually touched me once. It all seems such nonsense.” Then her eyes would fill with tears. “Naturally I’m upset, but I shall get over it.” And then she would break down entirely, and the women would feel she was one of themselves and cry too, and men in the next room murmur: “Good God, good God!” No one realized that she thought tears vile, a degradation more subtle than anything endured in the Marabar, a negation of her advanced outlook and the natural honesty of her mind. Adela was always trying to “think the incident out,” always reminding herself that no harm had been done. There was “the shock,” but what is that? For a time her own logic would convince her, then she would hear the echo again, weep, declare she was unworthy of Ronny, and hope her assailant would get the maximum penalty. After one of these bouts, she longed to go out into the bazaars and ask pardon from everyone she met, for she felt in some vague way that she was leaving the world worse than she found it. She felt that it was her crime, until the intellect, reawakening, pointed out to her that she was inaccurate here, and set her again upon her sterile round.

If only she could have seen Mrs. Moore! The old lady had not been well either, and was disinclined to come out, Ronny reported. And consequently the echo flourished, raging up and down like a nerve in the faculty of her hearing, and the noise in the cave, so unimportant intellectually, was prolonged over the surface of her life. She had struck the polished wall—for no reason—and before the comment had died away, he followed her, and the climax was the falling of her field-glasses. The sound had spouted after her when she escaped, and was going on still like a river that gradually floods the plain. Only Mrs. Moore could drive it back to its source and seal the broken reservoir. Evil was loose . . . she could even hear it entering the lives of others. . . . And Adela spent days in this atmosphere of grief and depression. Her friends kept up their spirits by demanding holocausts of natives, but she was too worried and weak to do that.

When the cactus thorns had all been extracted, and her temperature fallen to normal, Ronny came to fetch her away. He was worn with indignation and suffering, and she wished she could comfort him; but intimacy seemed to caricature itself, and the more they spoke the more wretched and self-conscious they became. Practical talk was the least painful, and he and McBryde now told her one or two things which they had concealed from her during the crisis, by the doctor’s orders. She learnt for the first time of the Mohurram troubles. There had nearly been a riot. The last day of the festival, the great procession left its official route, and tried to enter the civil station, and a telephone had been cut because it interrupted the advance of one of the larger paper towers. McBryde and his police had pulled the thing straight—a fine piece of work. They passed on to another and very painful subject: the trial. She would have to appear in court, identify the prisoner, and submit to cross-examination by an Indian lawyer.

“Can Mrs. Moore be with me?” was all she said.

“Certainly, and I shall be there myself,” Ronny replied. “The case won’t come before me; they’ve objected to me on personal grounds. It will be at Chandrapore—we thought at one time it would be transferred elsewhere.”

“Miss Quested realizes what all that means, though,” said McBryde sadly. “The case will come before Das.”

Das was Ronny’s assistant—own brother to the Mrs. Bhattacharya whose carriage had played them false last month. He was courteous and intelligent, and with the evidence before him could only come to one conclusion; but that he should be judge over an English girl had convulsed the station with wrath, and some of the women had sent a telegram about it to Lady Mellanby, the wife of the Lieutenant-Governor.

“I must come before someone.”

“That’s—that’s the way to face it. You have the pluck, Miss Quested.” He grew very bitter over the arrangements, and called them “the fruits of democracy.” In the old days an Englishwoman would not have had to appear, nor would any Indian have dared to discuss her private affairs. She would have made her deposition, and judgment would have followed. He apologized to her for the condition of the country, with the result that she gave one of her sudden little shoots of tears. Ronny wandered miserably about the room while she cried, treading upon the flowers of the Kashmir carpet that so inevitably covered it or drumming on the brass Benares bowls. “I do this less every day, I shall soon be quite well,” she said, blowing her nose and feeling hideous.

“What I need is something to do. That is why I keep on with this ridiculous crying.”

“It’s not ridiculous, we think you wonderful,” said the policeman very sincerely. “It only bothers us that we can’t help you more. Your stopping here—at such a time—is the greatest honour this house——” He too was overcome with emotion. “By the way, a letter came here for you while you were ill,” he continued. “I opened it, which is a strange confession to make. Will you forgive me? The circumstances are peculiar. It is from Fielding.”

“Why should he write to me?”

“A most lamentable thing has happened. The defence got hold of him.”

“He’s a crank, a crank,” said Ronny lightly.

“That’s your way of putting it, but a man can be a crank without being a cad. Miss Quested had better know how he behaved to you. If you don’t tell her, somebody else will.” He told her. “He is now the mainstay of the defence, I needn’t add. He is the one righteous Englishman in a horde of tyrants. He receives deputations from the bazaar, and they all chew betel nut and smear one another’s hands with scent. It is not easy to enter into the mind of such a man. His students are on strike—out of enthusiasm for him they won’t learn their lessons. If it weren’t for Fielding one would never have had the Mohurram trouble. He has done a very grave disservice to the whole community. The letter lay here a day or two, waiting till you were well enough, then the situation got so grave that I decided to open it in case it was useful to us.”

“Is it?” she said feebly.

“Not at all. He only has the impertinence to suggest you have made a mistake.”

“Would that I had!” She glanced through the letter, which was careful and formal in its wording. “Dr. Aziz is innocent,” she read. Then her voice began to tremble again. “But think of his behaviour to you, Ronny. When you had already to bear so much for my sake! It was shocking of him. My dear, how can I repay you? How can one repay when one has nothing to give? What is the use of personal relationships when everyone brings less and less to them? I feel we ought all to go back into the desert for centuries and try and get good. I want to begin at the beginning. All the things I thought I’d learnt are just a hindrance, they’re not knowledge at all. I’m not fit for personal relationships. Well, let’s go, let’s go. Of course Mr. Fielding’s letter doesn’t count; he can think and write what he likes, only he shouldn’t have been rude to you when you had so much to bear. That’s what matters. . . . I don’t want your arm, I’m a magnificent walker, so don’t touch me, please.”

Mrs. McBryde wished her an affectionate good-bye—a woman with whom she had nothing in common and whose intimacy oppressed her. They would have to meet now, year after year, until one of their husbands was superannuated. Truly Anglo-India had caught her with a vengeance, and perhaps it served her right for having tried to take up a line of her own. Humbled yet repelled, she gave thanks. “Oh, we must help one another, we must take the rough with the smooth,” said Mrs. McBryde. Miss Derek was there too, still making jokes about her comic Maharajah and Rani. Required as a witness at the trial, she had refused to send back the Mudkul car; they would be frightfully sick. Both Mrs. McBryde and Miss Derek kissed her, and called her by her Christian name. Then Ronny drove her back. It was early in the morning, for the day, as the hot weather advanced, swelled like a monster at both ends, and left less and less room for the movements of mortals.

As they neared his bungalow, he said: “Mother’s looking forward to seeing you, but of course she’s old, one mustn’t forget that. Old people never take things as one expects, in my opinion.” He seemed warning her against approaching disappointment, but she took no notice. Her friendship with Mrs. Moore was so deep and real that she felt sure it would last, whatever else happened. “What can I do to make things easier for you? it’s you who matter,” she sighed.

“Dear old girl to say so.”

“Dear old boy.” Then she cried: “Ronny, she isn’t ill too?”

He reassured her; Major Callendar was not dissatisfied.

“But you’ll find her—irritable. We are an irritable family. Well, you’ll see for yourself. No doubt my own nerves are out of order, and I expected more from mother when I came in from the office than she felt able to give. She is sure to make a special effort for you; still, I don’t want your home-coming to be a disappointing one. Don’t expect too much.”

The house came in sight. It was a replica of the bungalow she had left. Puffy, red, and curiously severe, Mrs. Moore was revealed upon a sofa. She didn’t get up when they entered, and the surprise of this roused Adela from her own troubles.

“Here you are both back,” was the only greeting.

Adela sat down and took her hand. It withdrew, and she felt that just as others repelled her, so did she repel Mrs. Moore.

“Are you all right? You appeared all right when I left,” said Ronny, trying not to speak crossly, but he had instructed her to give the girl a pleasant welcome, and he could not but feel annoyed.

“I am all right,” she said heavily. “As a matter of fact I have been looking at my return ticket. It is interchangeable, so I have a much larger choice of boats home than I thought.”

“We can go into that later, can’t we?”

“Ralph and Stella may be wanting to know when I arrive.”

“There is plenty of time for all such plans. How do you think our Adela looks?”

“I am counting on you to help me through; it is such a blessing to be with you again, everyone else is a stranger,” said the girl rapidly.

But Mrs. Moore showed no inclination to be helpful. A sort of resentment emanated from her. She seemed to say: “Am I to be bothered for ever?” Her Christian tenderness had gone, or had developed into a hardness, a just irritation against the human race; she had taken no interest at the arrest, asked scarcely any questions, and had refused to leave her bed on the awful last night of Mohurram, when an attack was expected on the bungalow.

“I know it’s all nothing; I must be sensible, I do try——” Adela continued, working again towards tears.

“I shouldn’t mind if it had happened anywhere else; at least I really don’t know where it did happen.”

Ronny supposed that he understood what she meant: she could not identify or describe the particular cave, indeed almost refused to have her mind cleared up about it, and it was recognized that the defence would try to make capital out of this during the trial. He reassured her: the Marabar caves were notoriously like one another; indeed, in the future they were to be numbered in sequence with white paint.

“Yes, I mean that, at least not exactly; but there is this echo that I keep on hearing.”

“Oh, what of the echo?” asked Mrs. Moore, paying attention to her for the first time.

“I can’t get rid of it.”

“I don’t suppose you ever will.”

Ronny had emphasized to his mother that Adela would arrive in a morbid state, yet she was being positively malicious.

“Mrs. Moore, what is this echo?”

“Don’t you know?”

“No—what is it? oh, do say! I felt you would be able to explain it . . . this will comfort me so. . . .”

“If you don’t know, you don’t know; I can’t tell you.”

“I think you’re rather unkind not to say.”

“Say, say, say,” said the old lady bitterly. “As if anything can be said! I have spent my life in saying or in listening to sayings; I have listened too much. It is time I was left in peace. Not to die,” she added sourly. “No doubt you expect me to die, but when I have seen you and Ronny married, and seen the other two and whether they want to be married—I’ll retire then into a cave of my own.” She smiled, to bring down her remark into ordinary life and thus add to its bitterness. “Somewhere where no young people will come asking questions and expecting answers. Some shelf.”

“Quite so, but meantime a trial is coming on,” said her son hotly, “and the notion of most of us is that we’d better pull together and help one another through, instead of being disagreeable. Are you going to talk like that in the witness-box?”

“Why should I be in the witness-box?”

“To confirm certain points in our evidence.”

“I have nothing to do with your ludicrous law courts,” she said, angry. “I will not be dragged in at all.”

“I won’t have her dragged in, either; I won’t have any more trouble on my account,” cried Adela, and again took the hand, which was again withdrawn. “Her evidence is not the least essential.”

“I thought she would want to give it. No one blames you, mother, but the fact remains that you dropped off at the first cave, and encouraged Adela to go on with him alone, whereas if you’d been well enough to keep on too nothing would have happened. He planned it, I know. Still, you fell into his trap just like Fielding and Antony before you. . . . Forgive me for speaking so plainly, but you’ve no right to take up this high and mighty attitude about law courts. If you’re ill, that’s different; but you say you’re all right and you seem so, in which case I thought you’ld want to take your part, I did really.”

“I’ll not have you worry her whether she’s well or ill,” said Adela, leaving the sofa and taking his arm; then dropped it with a sigh and sat down again. But he was pleased she had rallied to him and surveyed his mother patronizingly. He had never felt easy with her. She was by no means the dear old lady outsiders supposed, and India had brought her into the open.

“I shall attend your marriage, but not your trial,” she informed them, tapping her knee; she had become very restless, and rather ungraceful. “Then I shall go to England.”

“You can’t go to England in May, as you agreed.”

“I have changed my mind.”

“Well, we’d better end this unexpected wrangle,” said the young man, striding about. “You appear to want to be left out of everything, and that’s enough.”

“My body, my miserable body,” she sighed. “Why isn’t it strong? Oh, why can’t I walk away and be gone? Why can’t I finish my duties and be gone? Why do I get headaches and puff when I walk? And all the time this to do and that to do and this to do in your way and that to do in her way, and everything sympathy and confusion and bearing one another’s burdens. Why can’t this be done and that be done in my way and they be done and I at peace? Why has anything to be done, I cannot see. Why all this marriage, marriage? . . . The human race would have become a single person centuries ago if marriage was any use. And all this rubbish about love, love in a church, love in a cave, as if there is the least difference, and I held up from my business over such trifles!”

“What do you want?” he said, exasperated. “Can you state it in simple language? If so, do.”

“I want my pack of patience cards.”

“Very well, get them.”

He found, as he expected, that the poor girl was crying. And, as always, an Indian close outside the window, a mali in this case, picking up sounds. Much upset, he sat silent for a moment, thinking over his mother and her senile intrusions. He wished he had never asked her to visit India, or become under any obligation to her.

“Well, my dear girl, this isn’t much of a home-coming,” he said at last. “I had no idea she had this up her sleeve.”

Adela had stopped crying. An extraordinary expression was on her face, half relief, half horror. She repeated, “Aziz, Aziz.”

They all avoided mentioning that name. It had become synonymous with the power of evil. He was “the prisoner,” “the person in question,” “the defence,” and the sound of it now rang out like the first note of new symphony.

“Aziz . . . have I made a mistake?”

“You’re over-tired,” he cried, not much surprised.

“Ronny, he’s innocent; I made an awful mistake.”

“Well, sit down anyhow.” He looked round the room, but only two sparrows were chasing one another. She obeyed and took hold of his hand. He stroked it and she smiled, and gasped as if she had risen to the surface of the water, then touched her ear.

“My echo’s better.”

“That’s good. You’ll be perfectly well in a few days, but you must save yourself up for the trial. Das is a very good fellow, we shall all be with you.”

“But Ronny, dear Ronny, perhaps there oughtn’t to be any trial.”

“I don’t quite know what you’re saying, and I don’t think you do.”

“If Dr. Aziz never did it he ought to be let out.”

A shiver like impending death passed over Ronny. He said hurriedly, “He was let out—until the Mohurram riot, when he had to be put in again.” To divert her, he told her the story, which was held to be amusing. Nureddin had stolen the Nawab Bahadur’s car and driven Aziz into a ditch in the dark. Both of them had fallen out, and Nureddin had cut his face open. Their wailing had been drowned by the cries of the faithful, and it was quite a time before they were rescued by the police. Nureddin was taken to the Minto Hospital, Aziz restored to prison, with an additional charge against him of disturbing the public peace. “Half a minute,” he remarked when the anecdote was over, and went to the telephone to ask Callendar to look in as soon as he found it convenient, because she hadn’t borne the journey well.

When he returned, she was in a nervous crisis, but it took a different form—she clung to him, and sobbed, “Help me to do what I ought. Aziz is good. You heard your mother say so.”

“Heard what?”

“He’s good; I’ve been so wrong to accuse him.”

“Mother never said so.”

“Didn’t she?” she asked, quite reasonable, open to every suggestion anyway.

“She never mentioned that name once.”

“But, Ronny, I heard her.”

“Pure illusion. You can’t be quite well, can you, to make up a thing like that.”

“I suppose I can’t. How amazing of me!”

“I was listening to all she said, as far as it could be listened to; she gets very incoherent.”

“When her voice dropped she said it—towards the end, when she talked about love—love—I couldn’t follow, but just then she said: ‘Doctor Aziz never did it.’”

“Those words?”

“The idea more than the words.”

“Never, never, my dear girl. Complete illusion. His name was not mentioned by anyone. Look here—you are confusing this with Fielding’s letter.”

“That’s it, that’s it,” she cried, greatly relieved. “I knew I’d heard his name somewhere. I am so grateful to you for clearing this up—it’s the sort of mistake that worries me, and proves I’m neurotic.”

“So you won’t go saying he’s innocent again, will you? for every servant I’ve got is a spy.” He went to the window. The mali had gone, or rather had turned into two small children—impossible they should know English, but he sent them packing. “They all hate us,” he explained. “It’ll be all right after the verdict, for I will say this for them, they do accept the accomplished fact; but at present they’re pouring out money like water to catch us tripping, and a remark like yours is the very thing they look out for. It would enable them to say it was a put-up job on the part of us officials. You see what I mean.”

Mrs. Moore came back, with the same air of ill-temper, and sat down with a flump by the card-table. To clear the confusion up, Ronny asked her point-blank whether she had mentioned the prisoner. She could not understand the question and the reason of it had to be explained. She replied: “I never said his name,” and began to play patience.

“I thought you said, ‘Aziz is an innocent man,’ but it was in Mr. Fielding’s letter.”

“Of course he is innocent,” she answered indifferently: it was the first time she had expressed an opinion on the point.

“You see, Ronny, I was right,” said the girl.

“You were not right, she never said it.”

“But she thinks it.”

“Who cares what she thinks?”

“Red nine on black ten——” from the card-table.

“She can think, and Fielding too, but there’s such a thing as evidence, I suppose.”

“I know, but——”

“Is it again my duty to talk?” asked Mrs. Moore, looking up. “Apparently, as you keep interrupting me.”

“Only if you have anything sensible to say.”

“Oh, how tedious . . . trivial . . .” and as when she had scoffed at love, love, love, her mind seemed to move towards them from a great distance and out of darkness. “Oh, why is everything still my duty? when shall I be free from your fuss? Was he in the cave and were you in the cave and on and on . . . and Unto us a Son is born, unto us a Child is given . . . and am I good and is he bad and are we saved? . . . and ending everything the echo.”

“I don’t hear it so much,” said Adela, moving towards her. “You send it away, you do nothing but good, you are so good.”

“I am not good, no, bad.” She spoke more calmly and resumed her cards, saying as she turned them up, “A bad old woman, bad, bad, detestable. I used to be good with the children growing up, also I meet this young man in his mosque, I wanted him to be happy. Good, happy, small people. They do not exist, they were a dream. . . . But I will not help you to torture him for what he never did. There are different ways of evil and I prefer mine to yours.”

“Have you any evidence in the prisoner’s favour?” said Ronny in the tones of the just official. “If so, it is your bounden duty to go into the witness-box for him instead of for us. No one will stop you.”

“One knows people’s characters, as you call them,” she retorted disdainfully, as if she really knew more than character but could not impart it. “I have heard both English and Indians speak well of him, and I felt it isn’t the sort of thing he would do.”

“Feeble, mother, feeble.”

“Most feeble.”

“And most inconsiderate to Adela.”

Adela said: “It would be so appalling if I was wrong. I should take my own life.”

He turned on her with: “What was I warning you just now? You know you’re right, and the whole station knows it.”

“Yes, he . . . This is very, very awful. I’m as certain as ever he followed me . . . only, wouldn’t it be possible to withdraw the case? I dread the idea of giving evidence more and more, and you are all so good to women here and you have so much more power than in England—look at Miss Derek’s motor-car. Oh, of course it’s out of the question, I’m ashamed to have mentioned it; please forgive me.”

“That’s all right,” he said inadequately. “Of course I forgive you, as you call it. But the case has to come before a magistrate now; it really must, the machinery has started.”

“She has started the machinery; it will work to its end.”

Adela inclined towards tears in consequence of this unkind remark, and Ronny picked up the list of steamship sailings with an excellent notion in his head. His mother ought to leave India at once: she was doing no good to herself or to anyone else there.