Indigo: A Novel of India
SYNOPSIS: A novel of life in an Indian garrison town, Amritpore, this story tells of the attraction and repulsion among the English, French, and natives who live there in uneasy proximity. Representative of the ruling English are John Macbeth and his attractive cousin, Bertie Wood, old Mrs. Lyttleton, and Aubrey Wall, the Civil Engineer. Wall detests natives and in a fit of violence kicks to death an opium-drugged Moslem servant.
by CHRISTINE WESTON
A FEW days before the opening of Amritpore’s Agricultural Fair, Mrs. Lyttleton suddenly commanded her servants to set to and clean up her garden. It was a jungle, no less, but it. had been one for more than forty years, and the fact had never weighed very heavily on her spirits.
“Truly, she has lost her mind,” declared the old mali to his colleagues in the servants’ quarters. “For a month now, one can hardly cross her path without being spat on, hectored, lectured, cursed.”
“It all dates from the death of Jalal,” observed the syce. “She grieves for him. That, I believe, is at the bottom of it, for she has a heart of sugar.”
“And a tongue steeped in acid,” mumbled the gardener.
A platoon of coolies descended on the garden, and with their arrival a stealthy exodus took place from the heart of the wilderness as multitudes of rats, snakes, lizards, and toads debouched into the
road and the adjacent compounds. The crested hoopoes, used to strutting unmolested among the graves under the loquat trees, suddenly fled. Bluejays, chattering angrily, flew with the parrots and the seven-sisters; and the aromatic breath of the garden dispersed strangely on the winter air as Mrs. Lyttleton, smoking her Egyptian cigarettes, supervised the exhumation from her chair on the veranda.
A bicycle bell chimed in the road and she saw Hardyal pedal between the gates, saw him swerve wildly to avoid the rubbish which littered the driveway. He dismounted and propped his machine against the steps, running up, breathless, to greet her.
“Heavens! What have you been doing?”
Mrs. Lyttleton replied: “You won’t believe me when I tell you that I’ve been practicing how to be a snob.”
He dropped into a chair and once more surveyed the ruins. There was something old in his face at that moment, a look of stone emerging from under the radiant flesh. He said at last: “ I feel that I have never been here before.”
“I only meant to restore it.”
Hardyal shook his head. “I loved it. Jacques and I played in it. It seemed like our own, and now it’s gone.”
“It will come back,” she insisted. “Give it one monsoon and it will come back.”
But he was inconsolable. “No, it won’t come back.”
After a brief pause she remarked with a false air of gayety: “You came in time to cheer me, for I was just beginning to feel old and forgotten.” Inwardly she thought, bitterly: There I go, talking like Job, making a play for pity! She pulled herself together and waved her cigarette. “You must remind me to give you a box of these for Mirana Bhai.”
Hardyal’s face cleared. “And that reminds me — Mirana Bhai has sent you a present, also.” He reached in a pocket and fished out a little heartshaped box of brass and enamel, intricately chased.
Mrs. Lyttleton took it, exclaiming: “But I know this box! It is one in which Mirana keeps her betelnut. Surely she cannot intend it for me?”
He nodded, smiling. “Mirana Bhai thinks that you have neglected her lately.”
“It was unintentional. I’ve not been very well. Will you tell her that I shall see her soon, and that I reserve my gratitude until I can thank her myself?”
“Father, too, has missed you. You know he has a conspiracy in mind. He believes that if we can only persuade enough English ladies to visit our house they will fire his sisters and aunts with ambition to come out from purdah. Already they ask Father to buy them stockings like Bertie’s, and a piano like mine. But while Father plots from outside, Mirana Bhai plots from within!”
Mrs. Lyttleton laughed. “Which do you think will win?”
“I don’t know. Abdul Salim insists that persuasion is a waste of time. He believes that such matters should not be left to individuals but should he decided politically.” The last word was brought out with a hesitant, conscious pride, and Mrs. Lyttleton looked at him keenly.
“Abdul Salim said that? He is a friend of yours, then?”
“Salim has always been our friend.”
“Yet I know that Gan pat Rui has not always approved of him.”
“Oh, Father does not share many of Salim’s views, but he admires him, as I do also.”
She glanced away from his serious young face. “Well, I know him only slightly. Was there not some talk of a police raid on his house a few months ago?”
Hardyal rose eagerly to his friend’s defense. And while he talked Mrs. Lyttleton watched his face and reflected on all that she knew about him, on all that she had thought and felt about him, remembering him when Ganpat Rai had brought him to her as a baby, a brown seraph with silver kurras on his wrists.
“Salim is a very honest man. He knows that, like others, he is hound by silly customs and prejudices against which he can do little. That is why he insists that great changes must be enforced by law rather than by personal whims.”
Mrs. Lyttleton laughed with an air of infinite amusement. “Oh, he does, does he? And he’d enforce his own idea of change by disemboweling his enemies or casting them to the elephants. Now come, Hardyal!”
The boy smiled unwillingly. “That is just Salim’s way of talking. Father says his bark is much worse than his bite.”
“Well, personally, I can’t say that I fancy either.”
Hardyal was filled with a desire to have everything straight between his friends. He repeated, gently, the thought that was biggest in his mind: “You would like Abdul Salim, and he would like you. I know.”
“I will take your word for Salim, my dear boy. Perhaps you will bring him to call on me one of these days?”
“Oh, I say! Do you mean that, honestly?”
“Of course I mean it. And now, since we are on the subject of your friends, tell me what you have heard from Aubrey Wall.”
Hardyal’s radiance faded somewhat.
“I’ve had only one letter from Miss Bella, nothing at all from him.”
She rose, clinking her jewels. “I’ve heard from him, and there is one letter, particularly, that I should like to read you.”
When she had disappeared into the house, Hardyal turned with a deliberat e exercise of will to confront the desolate garden. All through the conversation he had kept his back towards it, but now it emerged under his gaze as an unhappy dream recurs in one’s memory. He experienced a revival of horror at sight of the raw soil, for whatever was creative in him sprang from submerged religious sources, from an almost superstitious dread of destruction. So it was with a sigh of relief that he greeted Mrs. Lyttleton when she reappeared carrying a bundle of letters. She paused, staring at him in surprise.
“Hardyal, what is it?”
“Just that I’m glad to see you!” He laughed, turning away his head. “I was afraid that there might be bhuts in the garden.”
She laughed, too. “You’re too old, now, to see bhuts. Sit. down, and let me read you Aubrey’s letter.”
He sat a little distance from her, gazing eagerly at the bundle of letters which she untied and spread before her on the wicker table. She skimmed through one and then another, “Ah,” she said at last. “Here it is.”
She did not, however, begin to read it aloud at once. Instead, she read the first page to herself. When she was halfway down the second she glanced up and said with a smile, “Here it is.”And she began to read in a clear, almost a ringing voice: “ When you see Hardyal give him my love and tell him I think of him often, and look forward to the day when we shall meet again. I’ve heard nothing but good reports of him from my sisters, who miss him badly. And by the way, he seems to have a genius for making friends. Everyone has been charmed by his manners and his spirit. I’ve always believed that he was one of our best, like his father. We need more like them.”
She read a few more sentences, picking them out from the body of the page, then folded the letter and replaced it in its envelope, which she laid on the table among the others. “I thought you would like to hear that.”
He was glad to have heard it; affection and remembrance flooded him, all the details of an existence which had become part of his expanding experience. He was too shy and perhaps too modest to suggest that Mrs. Lyttlcton read it again, yet while he hesitated he became obsessed by a longing to possess the letter, to make a talisman of it.
The request trembled on his lips, but with every second the words became more difficult to utter. He rose suddenly. “I must go now. I shall tell Mirana Bhai that you will come soon to see her.”
Mrs. Lyttleton rose too, and put her hand on his shoulder. He felt her slight weight lean on him, felt her strange tiredness when she said: “ Yes, soon, very soon.”
He went down the steps and picked up his bicycle, and as he threaded his way down the littered driveway he kept thinking of Wall’s letter. At the gates he swung the handle bars around and once more faced the garden and the tall, dark arches of the veranda. He would go back, he would ask Mrs. Lyttlcton for the letter, and she would give it to him — of this he had no doubt. She would understand. He dismounted by the steps, but the veranda was empty.
He hesitated, while from their places on the wall the stuffed nilgai and the cheetah, the panther, and the black buck brooded on the garden, where rain had ended in a final burst of saffron light. Then Hardyal turned to the wicker table where the bundle of letters st ill lay ; he had no difficulty in picking out the one which she had read to him, and he trembled slightly, not from doubt or fear, but from the peculiar excitement of doing somet hing he had never done in his life.
Hardyal tucked the letter into his breast pocket and went down the steps to his bicycle. No one had seen him come back; no one, now, saw him go.
Hardyal did not read the letter at once; he did not, in fact, read it for several days. He could not have explained the instinct — for it was obscure enough to be called instinct — which prevented his reading the letter and satisfying himself of its contents once and for all. Perhaps, under this curious ratiocination, ho realized that to do so would be to disrupt the charm and break the spell, and he was still of an age and of a kind which more than half believe in spells.
JACQUES DE ST. REMV sat in his mother’s whitewashed office at the indigo factory, laboriously copying columns of figures from one ledger to another. He was not deceived; lie realized that the hours spent in this cool, high-ceilinged duftcr were wholly unnecessary, for the accounts dated back almost ten years: they had long since been audited and put away for future reference, He was not permitted to examine the later accounts, which were kept under lock and key in Madame’s safe.
Madame had explained that when he mastered the intricacies of bookkeeping and management, it would be his privilege to preside over the destiny of the indigo factory, but that time was not yet, for he had not, up till now, displayed a notable talent for such responsibility. He had not, in fact, displayed a talent for much of anything in the factory. The truth was that coming home to Amritpore and going to work at the factory under the dingy aegis of the Eurasian foreman, Boodrie, was only a few degrees more interesting than life at St. Matthew’s.
Jacques became aware of small, dark eyes watching him from across the room, where Boodrie sat at his own desk, beside a large tin clock which was ticking away like some ferocious immobile insect.
“I have been observing,” said Boodrie, severely. “I would bet that you have not performed one stroke of work for the past five minutes.”
“I finished what you gave me to do, twenty minutes ago.”
“That is so? You will have to learn initiative. There is always something more to do, in this life.”
“How too true,” murmured Jacques, yawning.
Boodrie ignored Jacques’s little sarcasm. “It will shortly be time up, and you may proceed to join your friends. Where, exactly, do you propose to conduct your amusements, if l might presume to ask?”
“Ask and be done with it,” retorted Jacques. He leaned back in his chair, staring at the ledger which lay open before him, its ruled pages covered with his own neat handwriting.
Boodrie lighted a cigar which Father Sebastien had given him that morning; the first puff filled the little office with a fragrance that had been familiar to Jacques all his life.
“You are occasionally bad-tempered. And that reminds me, we have not had the honor of your assistance at Mass or at Benediction for I don’t know how long.”
Jacques was drawing a caricat ure of the foreman’s profile on a corner of the ledger. He replied, idly: “I have decided to become a freethinker,”
“That is purest heresy. What if Father Sebastien should hear you, or Madame?”
“ Why don’t you tell them? It’s part of your job, isn’t it?”
“That is most unkind of you, Jacques.”
Jacques whirled angrily on his office chair, glaring at the floor, secretly ashamed of himself.
Boodrie said in a muffled voice: ”I do only my duty, as I am bound to do. Madame has told me that I must make you attend to your work.”He driveled off into murmurs, and Jacques rose, slamming the ledgers. Words crowded to his lips, but he did not utter them. I am on trial, lie thought. I am being watched, tested. And for a price, no doubt. “Eleven o’clock.” He rose and found his hat. And as he passed the Eurasian’s chair, he paused and said in Hindustani: “Brother, your cigar has gone out.”
Outside, the air was clear, with a sparkle of dust and a noise of crows rising from the trees that bordered the factory compound. A water carrier sprinkled the ground near-by, and his waterskin made a pleasant gurgling as he hitched it on his shoulder; tendrils of water sprayed from the pale are of his hand.
The big Sikh policemen who squatted in the shade, smoking and throwing dice, rose lazily as Jacques emerged from the doorway. They greeted him with half-jocular salutes and he read the liking in their eyes. “Thy friend waits,” said one, and nodded towards the gate where Hardyal sat on his bay mare, holding Jacques’s horse by its bridle.
As Jacques strolled across the yard towards his friend, Hardyal walked the two horses to meet him. “I brought Robin because I thought it would save time. Bertie and Macbeth are to meet us at the Fort.”
“Oh, thanks,” said Jacques. He took the bridle, wondering whether he could mount without help, for Robin, overfed and underexercised, seemed more than half inclined to be bobbery. Hardyal glanced away, knowing how Jacques hated to muff something, knowing how he felt about that useless left hand — his bridle hand. But Jacques thrust his foot into the stirrup, grilling his teeth as Robin, cars set flat and pink nostril glowing like a coal, jibbed and shivered. A second’s hesitation; then he sprang firmly into the saddle.
They trotted through the gates, the horses sidling and prancing as the white road opened before them. Jacques rode with his left hand concealed in his breeches pocket. Hardyal, in high spirits, talked of plans for tomorrow when they would all attend the opening of the Fair. Afterwards they would return to his father’s house for a great repast. “All manner of people have been invited, Hindus and Moslems, and the Collector and his wife have promised to come, and Mr. Crichton and his guests. My aunts have been cooking, cooking, cooking for days.”
Jacques thought of those mounds of food—of platters of rice cooked with raisins and saffron, ol vegetable curries, of chutneys and sauces, sweets, pastries, syrups, spices; of all t he gorging, the belching, the happy surfeit.
“Do you think Bertie will enjoy it?” asked Hardyal anxiously.
“Of course — why not?”
“Oh, I don’t know.”
“ Don’t be silly.”
Parrots flew down the white channel of road, and an old crone shepherding her flock of goats rushed wildly about, trying to drive them from the horses’ path. “Never fear, mother! " cried Hardyal. “We shall not trample thy little ones.”
The boys rode among the bleating, frisking creatures, and a buck the size of a small pony, with daemonic eyes and a smell like nothing else on earth, suddenly lowered its head and charged Jacques’s horse.
“Aie!” squealed the old woman as Hardyal brought his quirt down on the goat’s head. “Aie! Aie!”
But Robin was off, streaking down the road like a bullet. Their path was empty and the stretch as level as a board. Both horses settled into a desperate gallop. At last Hardyal caught up with his friend and they exchanged a glance fired by excitement.
The Fort lay in a medium of light, which here possessed the patina of antiquity. Even the birds which flew from the stunted acacias flew without sound, like ghosts. A few stones lying in the courtyard gave back the light in long glances which lessened only when their shadows moved imperceptibly towards the west.
The boys rode into the great courtyard and dismounted, hitching their beasts to a gnarled acacia. Bertie and Macbeth were nowhere to be seen. There was hardly a sound save the distant plaintive crying of doves. Then Jacques caught sight of their wicker lunch basket perched on a rampart beside a sentry box. Beside it, like a flag, waved Bertie’s long blue veil which she had unpinned from her hat, as a signal.
“They’ve gone down to the river,” said Jacques.
“There they are!” Hardyal exclaimed, pointing. Jacques saw the riders, small and active in the distance, Bertie’s white helmet bright as a diamond between the pale sky and the green plain.
“Let’s ride out and meet them,” he suggested, but Hardyal shook his head. “You go. I’ll wait for you here.”
He watched Jacques ride under the portcullis and disappear, and as the silence rose about him once more he was half tempted to follow. Instead he seated himself resolutely beside the sentry box to wait Jacques’s appearance beyond the farther reaches of the moat. Macbeth and Bertie had vanished in some unseen fold of the land. The sun, signaling the river, drew a single answering flash, and a multitude of crows clamored over a dead something half a mile away; above the crows wheeled the kites, their shrill whistles falling like splinters through the void. Jacques appeared, galloping, but it seemed no more than a second before he, too, became a minuscular detail in the intricate pattern of the plain.
AN UNACCOUNTABLE, unbearable loneliness descended on Hardyal. The scene, as familiar to him as a room at home, stretched now in an alien light. He turned from it to the courtyard below, where his mare stood quietly in the shade of the acacia, but beyond her rose a series of broken doorways and the arches of what used once to be officers’ quarters and shelters for horses and men. In the piercing light these dim interiors grew shadows, and as he gazed other shadows seemed to stir and to move beyond the penumbra, to press against it. like figures that pass in secret behind a heavy curtain.
Hardyal’s nerves trembled in a sudden arterial protest against the developing magic. He rose, crossing his arms on his breast in the unconsciously pathetic attitude of a man about to be shot, and felt under his fingers the firm edges of Aubrey Wall’s letter in his pocket. A swift and responsive current restored, in a flash, the known and ordinary world.
He sat down and took out t he letter, surprised by its thickness until he remembered that when Mrs. Lyttleton read it she had skipped much. Now he could read it all. The letter was a month old, postmarked from Bognor in Sussex. It began:—
“MY DEAR LAURA. Your letter had reached me, and if I did not answer at onceit is because I wanted to give myself a little time to understand, to reconstruct, to grasp the situation which you — so unequivocally have put before me. But perhaps you yourself have not waited, perhaps you’ve already taken the course which indignation would prompt you to take, in which case this letter is totally irrelevant. But I have a feeling that you will wait for my answer, for — shall I call it my confession? — which is likewise my defense —if, in accord with your rather incoherently expressed opinion, I am still entitled to a defense.
“How fantastic all this sounds in these surroundings where, although doubt and horror exist, they wear a recognizable face and promise a mercy which one does not look for elsewhere. Perhaps I am mistaken, but can you blame me for putting my own fate on a level somewhat higher than Jalal’s? And if I choose — as I do choose — to put that fate in your hands, I do so with a conscious pride in enhancing it s value, for I believe that your judgment is as valid as any. Of your mercy I know nothing, as yet.”
Hardyal came to the end of the page and looked up. Far across the plain he could see his friends converging upon each other; in a few minutes they would meet and turn to ride back towards the Fort.
He returned with a growing heaviness to Wall’s letter. “I have been trying to remember. You tell me that your servant Jalal is dead and that I killed him. You make the picture very clear, for you write with such bitterness and anger that I wonder you kept your knowledge to yourself, that you did not immediately carry it to the authorities.”
Hardyal stopped. “No!” he gasped. A butterfly hovering near him was not alarmed; it settled on a stone and spread wings the color of buttercups.
“No, oh no, no!” cried Hardyal wildly. But it was impossible, now, to leave it at that; he felt compelled towards a final, frightful discovery.
The letter continued: “Has it occurred to you to question your own reasons for such delay? You must know that you have not strengthened your position, for by hesitation, by waiting, you — in a sense — condone, if you do not connive at, the whole predicament. I know you are a fearless woman. I know that once you have made up your mind you will act, heedless of consequences.
“You have asked for an explanation of what you describe as my unspeakable action on that last evening with you. You remind me that when I returned to the veranda, after having gone in search of Jalal, I callously remarked that I had twice kicked him while he slept. Well, my answer, if not my explanation, is that what I did was neither cowardly nor brutal; and with no desire to extenuate the act, I must make it clear to you as it is, at this moment, clear to me.
“If you remember, it was raining that afternoon.
I had come from Father Sebastien’s, and you greeted me, as usual, on your veranda. Bit by bit, I have recaptured the whole strange and dreamlike event. Much of what happened to me in India has this character of a dream, a state in which I moved and acted in spite of myself, with moments of realization— of wakening, rather, into the knowledge that I was not wholly myself. I was contained in a dream; that is the extent of my feeling towards it, the total of — what shall I call it? — my eommittedness.
“ I remember that I drank a good deal of brandy.
I was unhappy. Brandy helped me as it has helped many men. It helped to make exile a bit more bearable. Well, on that evening you called for your servant and he did not come. I went in search of him and found him asleep in the darkness of the back veranda. As a matter of fact I stumbled over him, and in stumbling struck the point of my elbow on the sharp corner of some object — a cupboard I think.
“The pain released an electric shock, a violence of revolt against—what? I lashed out with the instinct to destroy whatever it was I thought I’d discovered — something unclean, subhuman, parasitical. I know how others would laugh at this explanation— but I know that you will not laugh.
“You see, there is in me something which makes it impossible to ’believe’ in Indians. You assure me fiercely that they are human beings — but I have known horses and dogs almost as human, and I have loved them better.
“You will resent this, but let me say it, for I must. I do not believe in Indians, I do not believe in the sentimentality of treating dark people as one treats even the lowest, the humblest white.
“In the end, they will turn against us. Yes, even our charming Hardyals, our enlightened Ganpat Rais—all of them will turn against us. They will use our ideas, our ideals, our experience, our justice, our logic — if we let them. When one lives among them one makes the best of them. But between ourselves and the dark people there can be only one relationship— our mastery over them.”
There were a few additional sentences, but Hardyal did not read them. Before him the plain reeled in a glare devoid of boundary or shade, a flat abyss of light. From it rose three figures which cantered towards him, waving, but he made no move to respond. He rose, staggering a little, and stumbled down the steps to his horse, clambering into the saddle like a wounded man. ’Fin; mare bore him under the portcullis and her hoofs struck a hollow note from the bridge above the moat, where the little doves were crying ceaselessly. When, a few minutes later, Jacques and Macbeth with Bertie rode into the Fort, there was no sign of him.
A CLOUD of dust hung in the air above Amritpore. For two days people had been streaming towards the Fairgrounds which lay outside the cantonment. They came in ekkas, in bullock carts, in ramshackle carriages, in fine, fast dogcarts. A few rode bicycles, but most of them trudged on foot. They carried bundles on their heads and babies on their hips, and led tottering infants by the hand. They brought their dogs and their grandmothers, even their great-grandmothers, and invalids who refused point-blank to be left behind. All were dressed in their best, all wore the smiles of incorrigible celebrants in this land of festival, for there was not one who did not intend to buy something, there was not one who did not come with a wholehearted intention of enjoying himself to the utmost.
The women’s kirt.les swayed above heavy-ankleted feet, and a touch of gold or silver on a humble sari added its pennyworth to the tinkle and glitter. Bare feet trod the white dust as I heir owners carried new shoes strung on sticks over their shoulders to save wood or leather for the proper moment of ceremony.
The purse-proud swept by amid a flurry of bells and swaying embroidered curtains, drawn by ponies with beads round their necks, driven by conceited servants. Ramdatta the Marwari rode in his own ekka, a new one glittering with paint and with a black and gold canopy, under which the moneylender sat in splendor, his stout legs gleaming with oil, his passage leaving a powerful aura of attar of roses and uncurried horse. Many saw him pass and many bowed; others walked on doggedly in the dust, their happy eyes narrowing for a moment.
It was afternoon, the dust, noise, heat, and smell at their peak when Jacques drove to the bairgrounds with Bertie and Macbeth, Hanif riding on the box beside the driver. Madame de St. Remy had said that she might join them later when the air cooled a little. Crowds troubled her, and noise always gave her a headache.
Hanif, resplendent in brand-new finery, from the crown of a velvet cap to the fantastically curled toes of his new shoes, twisted in his seat. “ Does my appearance reflect credit upon Your Highnesses?”
“You are divine,” Jacques assured him solemnly. “Simply divine!”
They drove smartly along the road towards the Fairgrounds, passing small companies of latecomers, when Hanif exchanged taunts with the men and brilliant glances with the girls. He produced a large pink rose from somewhere in the folds of his clothing and tucked it behind one ear.
They drove between the tall plaster gateposts that marked the main ent ranee to the grounds, and were immediately engulfed in the crowd. The driver applied his whip slyly and expertly and the crowd made way for the handsome carriage with its freight of white folk and supercilious servants.
Jacques looked everywhere for llardyal. Ever since yesterday when he had ridden into the Fort and not found him, Jacques had been troubled. There seemed no explanation for that disappearance, for it was not in Hardyal’s nature to indulge in moods or in silly jokes.
Jacques had ridden over to Ganpat Rai’s house to see his friend, but lie was not at home, nor was Ganpat Rai. A servant assured him that Hardyal was well and that there was nothing amiss in the household. Jacques left a message and rode away, more puzzled now than anxious. He must wait for an explanation. Hardyal would be at the Fair, surely — for had they not talked of it and looked forward to it, together?
Inside the Fairgrounds they dismissed their carriage and, accompanied Gy Hanif, plunged into the crowd. Bertie clung to Jacques’s arm; once, finding her crushed against him in an amalgam of hot and happy strangers, he turned his face and kissed her. Macbeth was beside them, but if he saw the caress he made no sign. It was always difficult to know just what he was thinking. Not once, even in jest, had he alluded to the relationship between bis cousin and Jacques — a, relationship which was apparent to almost everyone, including Jacques’s mother. But she read a calf love into it — the first perishable effervescence of youth, which would pass of itself.
Presently they were beside the gayest and richest stalls, surrounded by eager people who pushed and shoved in their desire to see everything, including their white lordships. The box-wallah who squatted among his wares waved invitingly. “What will Your Magnificence have? Name it. Name your wish! Behold, ten yards of gold tissue with birds of paradise flying upon it. Two rupees per yard. For others, three rupees — but because you are young I make it two! Nay, reflect: two rupees only, for thread which is pure gold, and birds —”
“Which are not birds of paradise,’ Macbeth interrupted in the chill accents of the naturalist, “Who ever saw a bird of paradise wit h a short tail? ”
The merchant glanced at Bertie and smiled.
“How much?” she asked, breathless.
He stared at the material draped on his arm as a man might stare at his beloved, and for a moment he did not answer; when he did, it was softly, almost indifferently: “How much? How should I say? This is not for ordinary folk. It is for those who never need to ask how much.” He let the silk fall from his hand and it showered round his feet like fragments of sunset.
“Cheek!” exclaimed Macbeth. “We don’t want your old cloth. Besides, I don’t believe that is real gold and silver, any more than that those birds are birds of paradise. Come on, Bertie.”
They strolled away, Hanif following them.
Jacques was looking everywhere for Hardyal. “ Where on earth can he be? We were to meet at t he gate.”
“lie’ll turn up,” said Macbeth. “Perhaps he’s here now and we just haven’t seen him.”
Bertie felt for the first time the cramping pain of jealousy. “Why worry about him ? Perhaps he doesn’t want to come, after all. Perhaps he’s gone off somewhere with that Mohammedan — what’s his name?”
“Well, I do think it was jolly rude of Hardyal to run away yesterday.”
“He didn’t mean to be rude.”
“How do you know? He’s only a native, after all.”
Jacques stopped dead and stared at her. “What did you say?”
“Oh, Jacques! I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to say it.”
Hanif and Macbeth had fallen behind, but now they came up and Macbeth said: “I just saw that barrister chap, Salim. He’s over there with his friends.”
“Is Hardyal with them?”
“I didn’t see Hardyal.” Then he added impatiently: “Look here, I’m not going to hang about waiting for Hardyal. Let him hunt for us. I want to see the side shows.”
Hanif attempted to make a firm stand. “No side shows! I was given express orders by the Memsahib.”
They ignored him, and with a sigh that was one part despair and three parts relief he followed them down a noisome alley where drums rattled and barkers chanted inducements through their noses. Hanif managed to steer them past the Two-headed Baby, the Siamese Twins, a group of hermaphrodites, and several five-legged sheep. They finally selected a tent devoted to the antics of trained animals. The owner of the monkey circus greeted them with a burst of nasal chanting while his assistant beat a feverish tattoo on the drum. Hanif spoke swiftly in Urdu to the master ol ceremonies: “These are exalted persons. No indecencies, please.”
They stood near the entrance, where the air was somewhat less fetid, and stared in fascination at the little group of monkeys dressed in kirtles and trousers and little quilled jackets. There was also a parrot. The master of ceremonies addressed the parrot in loud, encouraging tones and gave it a poke with his wand. There was something inexpressibly lewd in the bird’s round eye as it tilted its head and sidled forth. It walked up to a tiny cannon, seized the lanyard in its beak, braced its little gray feet,and pulled. The cannon went off with quite a sizable pop and a stink of gunpowder, while the crowd clapped and exclaimed: “Wah, wah!”
“The monkeys! cried Macbeth. “Let’s have the monkeys.”
Hanif gazed in some anxiety at the monkeys, but their owner seemed to have them under control. He dismissed the parrot and picked up the leadingstrings of his monkey troupe. The drum rattled and an indescribable little dog dashed into the arena. One of the monkeys sprang onto his back, another clambered up behind his fellow, and they raced in circles while the others looked on, their depraved little faces and listless gestures reminiscent, for all the world, of a troupe of passee primadonnas. The dog act came to an end and was followed by a dance, by handsprings and tumblings, amid the plaudits of the crowd. In a little while it was the parrot’s turn again, and the monkeys retired to their corner, to misbehave in a bored fashion among themselves.
“Come,” said Hanif in a sudden access of authority. “It is finished. Let us go.” They flung a few coins to the master of ceremonies and made their way out into the wider, if not fresher, air of the alley.
In the crowd Macbeth slipped away from his friends and singled out a jeweler from Agra — a little pale man with a cast in one eye and the still, sweet smile of a child. He sat alone behind his showcases of jewels, necklaces, bracelets, nose rings, earrings, anklets, brooches, and heaven knows what. Catching sight of the English boy, he saluted him with a respectful air.
“I don’t want anything,” said Macbeth, flushing. “That is, I don’t know if I do. What’ve you got?”
The man’s good eve appraised his client in a glance of extraordinary sophistication. “What does the Sahib desire? What I have not I can get, no matter the price, no matter the object.”
He leaned forward and unlatched a flat case, felt among the contents, and picked out a single fat, uncut stone. “Take this in your hand. No, don t be shy — take it.”
Macbeth took the strange stone which in his unaccustomed fingers felt like a piece of butter; but it did not melt under the warmth of his flesh; instead it seemed to thicken and increase.
“That’s funny stuff. What is it?”
“White jade. Now fry this.”
It was an amber necklace smoot h and slippery as a serpent, but the weight and color did not appeal to Macbeth. He shook his head. “No. Something small — something bright.” He glanced restlessly at the assortment under his eyes, helplessly aware that they were for the most part quite beyond his resources.
“Something for thy sister, perhaps?”
Macbeth shook his head, lie was intent on a little amet hyst brooch shaped like a butterfly.
“Let me see that one, that purple thing.”
The jeweler handed it over. “ Seventy-five rupees. It has seed pearls for its eyes, and it is cunningly mounted in gold, as you can see.”
“Seventy-five rupees! He handed it back almost precipitately and stared with increasing indecision at the glittering wealth before him. He had no idea of the value of precious stones, no idea what he should pay for the smallest piece of silver or the smallest garnet.
He met the jeweler’s single eye fixed upon him, and asked slowly: “Have you any emeralds?”
The man’s expression did not alter. “Emeralds? Assuredly, I have emeralds.” He plunged his hand among the confusion of treasures and found one — a ring with a square-cut stone set in silver.
Macbeth was not aware that he was under the steady scrutiny of one besides the jeweler. A little distance off at the next booth, Ramdatta the Marwari waited for one of his relatives to conclude some transaction. He had seen Macbeth approach the jeweler, and he had not missed a word or a movement in the little scene. Nor did he, now, miss the finish.
Macbeth, drawing his breath sharply, held up the ring. “How much will you take for this?”
The man stared at him with a sort of tenderness. “You like that?”
“How much do you want for it?”
“You are young to be buying emeralds, and that fact makes me hesitate.”
“I’ll give you fifty rupees,” said Macbeth at once. He had been saving his pocket money for months in anticipation of his mother’s birthday.
The man leaned back with an air of profound deliberation. “Fifty rupees — fifty —”
Macbeth turned the ring in his hand, making it catch the light. Then a shadow fell across the emerald and he looked up to find Ramdatta standing beside him. The moneylender smiled. “You remember me, Sahib? ”
Macbeth remembered him. Gently, with an exquisite gesture of respect, Ramdatta took the ring from him and held it up to the light, turning it in his plump lingers in a way which even Macbeth realized must be the way of a true connoisseur. Ramdatta’s hand was full of knowledge; one felt that his flesh, like a tuning fork, rang truth from the precious thing it, touched. The jeweler sat motionless; his smile vanished behind the pale mask of his face.
“Fifty rupees for an emerald, an emerald the size of this, an emerald of the first water!”
Macbeth looked at Ramdatta eagerly. “What do you think it is worth?”
“That is difficult to say, at first glance,” returned Ramdatta. He had not so much as glanced at the jeweler, who might have been nonexistent. Suddenly Ramdatta fumbled at his breast, and from a silver chain round his neck he disentangled a tiny silver toothpick. So swiftly that Macbeth hardly followed the process, he had bent back the little silver claws which held the stone, picked the emerald out. with his nail, and scratched away the square of green paper which was pasted on it. The “emerald,” a piece of ordinary glass, lay wanly on his palm.
The jeweler burst into violent explanations, but Ramdatta smiled, stilling him with a look. “Do you wish to attract the attention of the police?”
The man relapsed into a growling mutter, his one good eye burning like a spent, match. The moneylender turned to Macbeth. “Let us select a stone for you. What do you say to a pearl?”
The owner of the pearl craned forward with an anguished gesture, but Ramdatta waved him aside. “Or, failing pearls, here are some rubies. Like little drops of blood pricked from a woman’s finger! Do you like rubies?”
Macbeth peered into the nearest case and his glance fell on the little amethyst butterfly. “There, that. I like that. Are they real stones?”
Ramdatta signaled the jeweler. “The amethyst butterfly,” he commanded, sonorously. “That with the seed pearls. What is the matter with thee? Hast thou a stroke?”
”I will not sell,” returned the other sullenly. “I am not obliged to sell. Go elsewhere for thy jewels.”
“And send the police for thine?”
The man turned putty color. Speechless, he lifted the cover of the jewel case and extracted the amethyst. butterfly. Macbeth took it with sudden, intense amusement. “Yes, I like this. Is it real?”
“It is real,” said Ramdatta, who had not given the thing more than a cursory glance. “Men do not waste such workmanship on an unreal stone. But amethyst! Is there not something else you would prefer? What, of that, sapphire there in the corner, next the gold earrings?”
“Nay!” wailed the jeweler. “That is a true sapphire! I have but. three!”
The moneylender smiled. “What, only three? But these others—” He shrugged and turned to Macbeth. “Take the amethyst, if it pleases you. Pay this blackguard five rupees.”
Another cry burst from the owner of the amethyst. “Five rupees! My God! Five! It is worth ten times five.”
“Since when have amethysts and emeralds been the same price?” Ramdatta’s big face glistened with a gentle sweat. “Before the city magistrate your fine would be ten times ten, with ten years in jail. Come, be sensible. The amethyst goes to the Sahib for five rupees, cash. Give him the money, Sahib, and take your jewel.”
DUSK was falling when Ganpat Rai’s guests assembled in his garden. The light had not entirely faded; it lingered in the sky and on the river, surrendering the brilliance of sunset to a pale citron above the blue winter haze. Great cranes were flying homeward two by two, their twin voices falling harshly towards the submerging plain, and regiments of flying foxes sped noiselessly away to feed.
The Collector and his wife had already arrived, and it was in honor of this official presence that Ganpat Rai wore European clothes, a jasmine in his buttonhole. It surprised him when, at the last minute, his son appeared in native dress.
“I feel more comfortable in these,” explained Hardyal.
“You are not ill, my son?”
“Ill?” He stood gazing at his sandaled feet.
“All yesterday you hardly spoke, and today you did not want to go to the Fair. Naturally, I wondered.”
Neither was given to prying, and when Hardval replied, “It is nothing,” his father let him go, deciding to postpone inquiries until later.
Hardyal went down the steps, making his way between groups of Iriends towards the St. Remy phaeton which had just swung between the gates.
Jacques exclaimed, “We missed you at the Fair, Hardyal!”
“ I am sorry, I was detained.”
“What on earth! Detained!”
Macbeth commented: “First you run away from the Fort, then you don’t turn up at the Fair!”
For a moment Hardyal said nothing, his expression that of a deaf man to whom meaning comes one beat after the sound of words; then he repeated, in a detached voice, “ 1 was detained.”
He stood before them, tall, slender, white-clad, and it was Jacques who felt the difference in him. It was more than a difference of dress and manner — those had never troubled him before. He felt now a creeping sense of apprehension. When at last Hardyal lifted his black gaze and their eyes met, Jacques knew that something had happened.
Hardyal lifted his hand in a restraining gesture and said softly in Hindustani: “Do not let us talk now. Perhaps — later.”
More guests were arriving; and hearing his name called, Hardyal went away to join Abdul Salim and a group of young Mohammedans. Jacques did not move. He felt vaguely sick, :is he used to when he was a child and something frightened him in the night. The sensation was cumulative and he realized that it had been gathering weight, ever since yesterday, when the morning’s pleasure had been marred by Hardyal’s disappearance from the Fort.
Jacques kicked the gravel and ielt a hand on his arm. He turned to find Mrs. Lyttleton standing beside him.
“ More than ever, you remind me of your father!”
He stood rooted. It was a long time since they had spoken, and the years had crowded out his old affection and cast il into a half-shamed memory. He gave her a troubled smile. “Do I?”
“I won’t keep you. I know your mother is here and that she would object to my speaking with you — that is, beyond the bounds of common politeness. Or would she object even to so much?”
Her irony had a stab to it, and he winced. She released him with a harsh little laugh. “I am glad you look like your father. I hope you have a sterner spirit than he, poor dear. I am convinced that you will have need of it.”
Jacques felt completely miserable. He had never thought of her as being old. Now he saw that her head trembled in the pathetic vertigo of age, her eyes had lost their humor, her movements had the groping hesitancy of blind people. He was shocked.
They stood together, the boy and the old woman, watching a crowd of figures move singly, in pairs, or in groups, listening to civilized accents under the Chinese lanterns which glowed with a fervor one lost when one looked up into the deepening sky.
Mrs. Lyttleton said querulously, “I must see Hardyal.”
Her voice cracked, and Jacques winced; then he forced himself to look at her directly. Was he seeing her for the first time, this wrinkled, yellow, trembling old woman w ho was perhaps slightly mad?
He asked gently: “Shall I find Hardyal for you?”
“Oh, don’t pul yourself out.”
Jacques felt a thrill of aversion. “Please! Take my arm. Let me fetch you a chair, or some ginger beer.”
She gave a cackle of laughter. “Ginger beer! Yes, do. Find me some ginger beer! It is exactly what I need, exactly!”
Horrified, he slipped away in search of a servant. Everywhere people were sitt ing at tables, eating and drinking and coin ersing. Individual had gravitated to individual, group to group; propinquity, sympathy drew them together. Macbeth and Bertie were laughing with a young Englishman, the guest of one of Amritpore’s officials. Madame de St. Remy sipped tea with Father Sebastian and the English doctor and his wife. The Collector had removed his white helmet and his tinsel har and was smoking a cigarette, surrounded by barristers and lesser fry.
Many of the ladies had already disappeared into the arbor; from its discreetly drawn curtains there escaped tiny peals of laughter and an abrupt, clear English voice. Jacques watched Ganpat Rai move urbanely from one group to another; he had the look of a proud, wise, and happy man. Everyone seems happy, Jacques reflected — everyone except Mrs. Lyttleton and Hardyal and me. Once or twice as he passed Bertie he had a feeling that she deliberately averted her glance. He had a glimpse of Hardyal in the distance — always in the distance!
Passing Abdul Salim, Jacques could not help overhearing the Mohammedan’s emphatic speech; “Crichton Sahib — the policeman? I doubt whether we see him this evening. There was some sort of row at the Fairgrounds. I didn’t see it, but Feroze told me. I met Feroze on his way to the hospital. It seems there has been a beating or something. Our dear friend Ramdatta was involved. The story is, Ramdatta tried to do some poor devil of a jeweler out of a stone. There was an argument, and as Ramdatta was leaving the grounds sticks and kunkur flew, and several were hurt. Oh, no, Ramdatta wasn’t hurt. He never is, you know. Of course Crichton couldn’t very well leave in the middle of a riot! ”
A group of musicians appeared and spread their mats a little distance from the guests. The ripple of a sitar and the soft growl of rice-bowl drums brushed against his troubled spirit. A young man sitting cross-legged between the sitar player and the drums sang in a high minor key and his voice, soaring above all the other voices, had a special wistful sweetness like an awakened bird’s.
A man standing near Jacques spoke to another in a low tone: —
“You heard Salim? It’s true. I was near the south gate and I saw it happen. Ramdatta drove past in his ekka and a man tried to jump on the wheel and drag him out. Others closed in, and I saw one — a Mohammedan throw a large stone. It was the signal you know how these things happen. I removed myself. It seemed unwise to linger.”
Afraid that they might think he was listening, Jacques moved away. Now he noticed that a sort of segregation was slowly taking place. Hindus had gathered in a loosely knit group under the trees, while the red fezzes and astrakhan caps of the Mohammedan contingent gravitated towards a summerhouse beyond the tennis courts, Between these recognizable islands flowed the other guests, a few whites and Eurasians, servants preoccupied with their duties, and those perennially unattached characters who seem always to be deciding where they belong, if they belong anywhere.
Hardyal had seen Mrs. Lyttleton he had, as a matter of fact, waited intently for her arrival. He saw her approach Jacques, and watched them as they talked together; then Jacques went away and for several minutes she stood there alone, staring at the crowd. A servant brought her something on a tray, but she waved him away and walked slowly across the lawn towards the tables, and he lost sight of her.
“Down by the river When at night on the pyre of sleep You burn with decreasing fire And the very sky melts towards you With longing, with longing,
Love with His hand shall part, the sacred water And revive you with showers from His hair!”
Hardyal listened to the song thread its nasal syllables between drum and sitar. He did not remain more than a few minutes with any group or friend, but moved quietly among them, keeping a little space round himself. The weight he carried set him consciously apart from all these people, even from his father. His mind ached from a recurring, feverish dream in which the sentences from Wall’s letter alternately blazed and faded.
“ Love with His hand shall part the sacred water And revive you with showers from His hair!”
promised the singer, with impassioned hope. From far away across the further stretches of silence a volley of sound rose, then fell on a few attentive ears. The Collector cocked his head. “What was that?”
“Fireworks,” said Ganpat Rai.
The succession of sounds came again, a dry rattle muted by the distance.
“Sounds like blank cartridges to me, sir,” observed the young Englishman who had been talking to Bertie and Macbeth.
“I thought so too,” murmured the Collector. He rose unhurriedly.
“We are dining out. Do you think you will ever get my mem-sahib away from your ladies, Ganpat Rai, my friend?”
Hardyal saw Mrs. Lyttleton coming towards him where he stood apart under the trees. He waited till he was sure that she had seen him, then stepped forward to meet her.
“Ah, Hardyal! I have looked everywhere for you.”
“ I have been here.”
She stood in the frail light of a paper lantern, peering intently at him. “If I did not know you so well, I should suspect that you were being rude.”
“Why should I be rude?”
She shuddered. “Don’t talk like that! I can’t boar it! ”
He waited, trying to calm his racing blood. She went on in a harsh voice: “ You’ve been avoiding me and now you are being rude. Why? That is what I should like to know — why?”
Hardyal turned aside and found a chair, which he carried forward and set down for her. She sank rather than sat, and he saw her hands move tremblingly over the knob of her old silk parasol. “ Why, Hardyal — why?”
They were alone except for the musicians who sat a few yards away; the song had ended but the sitar sent an occasional note quivering into the darkness as the drummer’s pliant hands murmured above his drums.
“Do you hear me, Hardyal? Why don’t you answer? ”
“ I do not yet know what it is you wish me to say.”
She cried brokenly; “Tell me the truth!”
He bowed his head slightly, his brown hands clasped before him.
“I have lost Aubrey Wall’s letter. Hardyal, did you take it?”
The sigh which escaped her was half a groan and she lifted one hand shakily to her eyes. “You took it — you dared — You, of all people!”
“You read it to me, do you remember? You read me things from it, tilings about myself, about my father. Do you remember?” He had himself in hand now, and the words came readily, though his heart still beat in long, painful strokes. “ It pleased me to hear them. It made me feel proud — happy.”
She dropped her hand from her eyes and her frail old body seemed to gather itself together in a frenzy of protest. “But the letter, the letter! Don’t you know you should never read people’s letters? It’s most dishonorable. You didn’t read it — did you
“Yes, I read it. I read it all.”
Silence fell heavily and at that instant it touched, or seemed to touch, the entire garden and all the preoccupied people in it. Hardyal heard the moths whispering round the nearest Chinese lantern and he saw their eyes glow like tiny rubies in the dark.
When Mrs. Lyttleton spoke at last, her voice had recaptured something of its old acerbity. “I might have believed it of anyone else, Hardyal, but not of you.”
“I — meant only to keep the letter for a little while becauseof the things that were in it. Like a — like a tikka.”
“A tikka? What do you mean?”
“A charm, a talisman. And I wanted to read it for myself. I was quite sure that he would want me to, and that you would not mind.”
“So you read it. How many people have you told? ”
He was silent, listening to his father’s voice in the distance, near the house. Ganpat Rai was bidding the Collector and his lady good night.
“I suppose you told your father and all your friends and that aggressive Salim. I suppose that by this time it is all over the bazaar.”
He put his hand inside his shirt and brought out the letter, which he laid in her lap. “I have told no one. I have said nothing. There is the letter.”
Her fingers closed over it. “What good is it to me now? What good was it anyhow, to anyone ? You know what happened, and by now everyone else must know.”
“I have told you no one knows anything, except you and me. No one has seen the letter — no one, not even Father.”
A carriage bell twanged, a pair of yellow lamps disappeared between t he gat eposts, and anot her pair appeared.
“I can’t understand why you wanted to read it!”
“You read it to me yourself. But the things you read were not there when I rend it. I did not find them anywhere in the letter.”
She made a small, frantic gesture. “Oh, never mind, never mind! How am I to believe anything, ever, again!”
“When you read those things to me — those things which made me feel proud and happy— Tell me, where were theyi Did you make them up?”
“Yes,” she replied cruelly. “I made them up. I was a fool.”
“ But why did you?” His voice was suddenly imploring, and the sound of it went to her heart.
She lifted her hand and took his, drawing him down on the grass beside her. “Hardyal, Hardyal, what have we done, between us! I was a fool. I — I was worried about you, I forget just why. I wanted to persuade you, to impress you. I wanted you to feel — that our eyes were on you. That we had hope and pride in you. So I pretended to read that pride and that hope in Aubrey’s letter. I wanted to kill the things in that, letter. Oh, what a fool —”
She broke off, and laid her hand on his rich, dark hair. “Because I hated Aubrey I wanted to do something especially good for — for you. I was confused. I felt lost.”
She leaned towards him, the old woman towards the young boy. “What am I to do?”
“I don’t know,” he said.
“What would you do, Hardyal?”
“He didn’t like me. He said I was — not to be trusted.”
She began to tremble violently, clenching and unclenching her hands.
“Oh, that letter, that letter! I could kill him.”
“He did not believe in Indians, he said. He said that we would turn against him in the end. He liked horses and dogs better. They were almost as human, he said.”
“Oh, don’t, don’t! ”
“ I wish I understood. You see, I really don’t understand at all.”
“Hardyal, you must not think of it. There are others who are not like Aubrey Wall. There is Jacques, and Macbeth, and Bertie — these are your friends. We love you. YYs, yes, don’t turn away from me! I love you as I should my son. Now I shall destroy this letler and that will end it. Hardyal—She broke off, racked by apprehension. “ It could do no good to make this thing public. It could bring only harm, more injury, more confusion.”
“ You need not fear that I shall ever speak of it. Do you think that I should dream of hurting my father, and others, by revealing such a thing to them ? ”
Her shame was complete, and for a moment she said nothing, feeling age sweep upon her in a deafening wave. Then Abdul Salim’s voice boomed through the darkness: —
“Hardyal, where are you, my child? Do we deserve nothing at your hands?”
“Help me,” murmured Mrs. Lyttleton, and put out her hand in a blind gesture. He rose, drawing her gently to her feet. She felt light and dry, like last year’s leaf, as he led her back to the other guests.
A CANOPY of lirelit dusk hung above the Fairgrounds as night brought, an accentuation of gayety and excitement. Booths twinkled in the glow of their own charags and lanterns; a throbbing of drums and shrilling of pipes filled every pause in the undulations of sound. Color melted into color or flared in a stroke of crimson or a splash of gold as the darkness beat, towards the edges of light, spilled upon it, then thinned and receded once more.
A file of red-turbaned police arrived to relieve their fellows; their heavy shoes clumped noisily and the brass knobs on their laths gleamed like wands of ceremony. The afternoon’s disturbance had hardly affected the pervading turmoil of gayety and good nature. Fewer than fifty people had seen the scuffle, the volley of stones, the broken head and bleeding mouth of one of the participants. Crichton congratulated himself and his men on averting a row of far greater proportions; after posting extra guards at the gates and augmenting his normal contingent, he went home to bathe and dine.
The cause of that minor outbreak this afternoon was still more or less a mystery. Crichton had listened to conflicting accounts: one had it that Ramdatta the Marwari used his whip on a group which tried to bar his passage through the south gate. A one-eyed vender of jewels was seen egging on the stone-throwers. The police arrived in time to break up the party. But the man with the cracked skull would probably die—Feroze, the assistant surgeon, held out little hope. Should he die, the news must somehow be kept quiet until the Fair was over and the visiting crowds safely dispersed. Crichton had no intention of permitting communal violence to mar the success of Amrit pore’s annual fair.
Hanif had missed the fight, but as he moved among the crowd news of it filtered through to him a word here, a whisper there. He decked his ear with a fresher rose and made his way past the booths and the food stalls, past, the humid byways and the strong-smelling purlieus given over to prize goats. The young man’s expensive elegance excited an occasional smile or a suggestive quip, and he retaliated in kind. The night was his—he breathed its exhilaration and felt its invitation in his warm and gentle blood. The pearls in his new cap and the intricate pattern of his new shoes filled him with content. His own beauty, his own youth, went to his head: he lifted his face to the smoky sky and flung his song towards the invisible stars.
“Wah!” exclaimed a fellow Muslim at his elbow. “Congratulations — but must you tell the world?”
They laughed together; then Hanif glided unobtrusively down an alley which branched away from the main body of the grounds. Here were the sellers of birds, the little arena where gray partridge fought gray partridge, and a hundred caged canaries added their voices to the general din.
Hanif headed towards a chhatri at the end of the lane, pushed aside the heavy plaited screen, and went in.
“You are late,” came the inevitable tender reproach, and he felt the cold caress of all her glass bracelets against his neck.
“I had duties, but they are finished.”
Inside the chhatri the floor was freshly leeped and immaculate; there were no windows, and charags burned at the corners, little earthen saucers with a cotton wick, from which spirals of oily smoke rose taut into the motionless air. Noises beat against the frail walls of this impermanent abode which housed everything that is permanent in human life. She was a girl of perhaps thirteen, still fresh and firm, her hair threaded with jasmine, her round arms laden with glass. Hanif carried her to a heap of colored quilts in a corner of the room, then came back, and, stooping, blew out the charags. He was quite sure that he was in love, and the knowledge made his knees tremble slightly. He was always quite sure that he was in love, and the knowledge always made his knees tremble.
More than an hour later he stepped forth into the pulsing air, and the tireless voices of the birds rose about him. He bought a cigarette made with black, sticky native tobacco, set. his cap straight on his head, and sauntered towards the nearest gate and a short cut across the plain towards the road. Once or twice he stopped to smile and to lift his left wrist, upon which he had managed to squeeze a single glass bangle. Remembering her little hands, he laughed huskily, his brain and blood filled with drowsy sweetness. Well, there was tomorrow. He must invent a sick friend.
As Hanif reached the road he met the little orchestra which had played for Ganpat Rai’s guests. The singer strolled happily in the dust and his song caught Hanif’s ear as they passed each other: — “The very sky melts toward you With longing, with longing . ,
The voice dimmed and died, but Hanif hummed the verse as he walked, smoking his cigarette, alone now on the white road. It was halt an hour’s walk from here to I lie cantonment and the gates and gardens of Modame’s neighbors. He was in no hurry, for the night smelled delicious in his nostrils and the cigarette had a special savor.
A tiny eve of light flickered in the darkness ahead and as he approached he saw that it was a cart drawn by two bullocks. From behind this stepped a littlegroup of men. They hailed him. “Where goest thou?” He answered them gayly, but as he prepared to pass they strung out across the road, barring his path. He saw now that they were Hindus: he saw also that something was amiss, and his mind moved fast.
“Do you spend the night beside the road, my brothers?” he inquired in friendly tones. No one replied, and for a moment they confronted him in a silence whose menace was unmistakable. He loosened his feet in his shoes, preparing to kick them off at a second’s notice and to make a run for it.
“ What business is it of yours where we spend the night?” demanded one of the men at last. “Who are you, a police spy?”
Hanif glanced round him out of the corners of his eyes. On either side of the road were a few trees and beyond them the open fields. Once in the fields the darkness might hide him: Silently, he cursed the glittering whiteness of his new pantaloons.
A voice burst out of the gloom: “I would swear that this one was among them!”
“ You are mistaken. I know nothing. I have been at. the Fair, with my friends and masters.
“ Know thou that my brother is dead? He died an hour ago at the dispensary. that dog of a Mohammedan doctor let him die!”
“You threw the stone!”
“I know nothing, I tell you. I have never seen your brother, nor you. Now let me pass.
But they were keyed up, half frantic with passion, and they had waited some lime for a victim. What did it matter whether this lad had been present at the beating, or whether he had not ? A Mohammedan had thrown the stone — and here was a Moham-
modan defying them, alone! They moved nearer and Hanif began to back, but he kept his head, sure that if he could get a good start he would outwit them.
“You’re mad,” he cried. “I have never set eyes on you, your brother or your uncles or your aunts! Lay a hand on me and you’ll regret it.”
His firm voice stayed them for a moment. Then one spoke on a changed note. ” Perhaps he is right. We don’t punish innocent men.” There was a slight, enigmatic pause; then the same voice addressed Hanif: “Go then. Go your way — and hurry, before we change our minds.”
Hanif threw away his cigarette and stepped forward. His heart was beating faster than he liked, but he was no coward. The company of men parted as he strode forward, and he saw that they all carried sticks, and one of them a heavy brass lota, bought, no doubt, that very day at the Fair. He walked past them with a resolute, unhurried tread.
Then they closed in behind him, and he who carried the lota whirled it suddenly and sent it flying through the air. It caught Hanif between the shoulders, making him stumble. Then a short, heavy stick flew between his logs and he fell face down in the road. They were upon him in a minute, and he gathered himself together with his head in his arms and his knees drawn against his stomach, bracing his muscles against the rain of kicks and blows. They tore his shirt from him, and his trousers, and beat him until his breath sagged in his chest and his head lolled helplessly in the dust of the road. They threw stones — every sort and weight of stone which they could lay hands on and while they worked they made short grunting sounds, spittle running from their mouths.
No one spoke — the only noise was the grunting and the soft thud of stones striking flesh. Then one man, the tallest, moved away to the edge of the road and returned with a boulder. He straddled Hanif’s body, lifted the boulder, and let. it fall squarely on the glossy head. An hour passed before they were finished with him, and when at last they moved away, staggering a little from t heir orgy, all that was visible of Hanif under his coverlet of stones and rubble was one hand, darkly outlined against the white dust.
(To be concluded)
With each twelve months of the Atlantic
THREE GREAT BOOKS OF THE YEAR