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Title: Burmese Days
Author: George Orwell
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
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Language:   English
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Title:      Burmese Days
Author:     George Orwell





'This desert inaccessible
Under the shade of melancholy boughs'

As you like it.




1


U Po Kyin, Sub-divisional Magistrate of Kyauktada, in Upper Burma,
was sitting in his veranda.  It was only half past eight, but the
month was April, and there was a closeness in the air, a threat of
the long, stifling midday hours.  Occasional faint breaths of wind,
seeming cool by contrast, stirred the newly drenched orchids that
hung from the eaves.  Beyond the orchids one could see the dusty,
curved trunk of a palm tree, and then the blazing ultramarine sky.
Up in the zenith, so high that it dazzled one to look at them, a
few vultures circled without the quiver of a wing.

Unblinking, rather like a great porcelain idol, U Po Kyin gazed out
into the fierce sunlight.  He was a man of fifty, so fat that for
years he had not risen from his chair without help, and yet shapely
and even beautiful in his grossness; for the Burmese do not sag and
bulge like white men, but grow fat symmetrically, like fruits
swelling.  His face was vast, yellow and quite unwrinkled, and his
eyes were tawny.  His feet--squat, high-arched feet with the toes
all the same length--were bare, and so was his cropped head, and he
wore one of those vivid Arakanese longyis with green and magenta
checks which the Burmese wear on informal occasions.  He was
chewing betel from a lacquered box on the table, and thinking about
his past life.

It had been a brilliantly successful life.  U Po Kyin's earliest
memory, back in the eighties, was of standing, a naked pot-bellied
child, watching the British troops march victorious into Mandalay.
He remembered the terror he had felt of those columns of great
beef-fed men, red-faced and red-coated; and the long rifles over
their shoulders, and the heavy, rhythmic tramp of their boots.  He
had taken to his heels after watching them for a few minutes.  In
his childish way he had grasped that his own people were no match
for this race of giants.  To fight on the side of the British, to
become a parasite upon them, had been his ruling ambition, even as
a child.

At seventeen he had tried for a Government appointment, but he had
failed to get it, being poor and friendless, and for three years
he had worked in the stinking labyrinth of the Mandalay bazaars,
clerking for the rice merchants and sometimes stealing.  Then when
he was twenty a lucky stroke of blackmail put him in possession of
four hundred rupees, and he went at once to Rangoon and bought his
way into a Government clerkship.  The job was a lucrative one
though the salary was small.  At that time a ring of clerks were
making a steady income by misappropriating Government stores, and
Po Kyin (he was plain Po Kyin then: the honorific U came years
later) took naturally to this kind of thing.  However, he had too
much talent to spend his life in a clerkship, stealing miserably in
annas and pice.  One day he discovered that the Government, being
short of minor officials, were going to make some appointments from
among the clerks.  The news would have become public in another
week, but it was one of Po Kyin's qualities that his information
was always a week ahead of everyone else's.  He saw his chance and
denounced all his confederates before they could take alarm.  Most
of them were sent to prison, and Po Kyin was made an Assistant
Township Officer as the reward of his honesty.  Since then he had
risen steadily.  Now, at fifty-six, he was a Sub-divisional
Magistrate, and he would probably be promoted still further and
made an acting Deputy Commissioner, with Englishmen as his equals
and even his subordinates.

As a magistrate his methods were simple.  Even for the vastest
bribe he would never sell the decision of a case, because he knew
that a magistrate who gives wrong judgments is caught sooner or
later.  His practice, a much safer one, was to take bribes from
both sides and then decide the case on strictly legal grounds.
This won him a useful reputation for impartiality.  Besides his
revenue from litigants, U Po Kyin levied a ceaseless toll, a sort
of private taxation scheme, from all the villages under his
jurisdiction.  If any village failed in its tribute U Po Kyin took
punitive measures--gangs of dacoits attacked the village, leading
villagers were arrested on false charges, and so forth--and it was
never long before the amount was paid up.  He also shared the
proceeds of all the larger-sized robberies that took place in the
district.  Most of this, of course, was known to everyone except U
Po Kyin's official superiors (no British officer will ever believe
anything against his own men) but the attempts to expose him
invariably failed; his supporters, kept loyal by their share of the
loot, were too numerous.  When any accusation was brought against
him, U Po Kyin simply discredited it with strings of suborned
witnesses, following this up by counter-accusations which left him
in a stronger position than ever.  He was practically invulnerable,
because he was too fine a judge of men ever to choose a wrong
instrument, and also because he was too absorbed in intrigue ever
to fail through carelessness or ignorance.  One could say with
practical certainty that he would never be found out, that he would
go from success to success, and would finally die full of honour,
worth several lakhs of rupees.

And even beyond the grave his success would continue.  According to
Buddhist belief, those who have done evil in their lives will spend
the next incarnation in the shape of a rat, a frog or some other
low animal.  U Po Kyin was a good Buddhist and intended to provide
against this danger.  He would devote his closing years to good
works, which would pile up enough merit to outweigh the rest of his
life.  Probably his good works would take the form of building
pagodas.  Four pagodas, five, six, seven--the priests would tell
him how many--with carved stonework, gilt umbrellas and little
bells that tinkled in the wind, every tinkle a prayer.  And he
would return to the earth in male human shape--for a woman ranks
at about the same level as a rat or a frog--or at best as some
dignified beast such as an elephant.

All these thoughts flowed through U Po Kyin's mind swiftly and for
the most part in pictures.  His brain, though cunning, was quite
barbaric, and it never worked except for some definite end; mere
meditation was beyond him.  He had now reached the point to which
his thoughts had been tending.  Putting his smallish, triangular
hands on the arms of his chair, he turned himself a little way
round and called, rather wheezily:

'Ba Taik!  Hey, Ba Taik!'

Ba Taik, U Po Kyin's servant, appeared through the beaded curtain
of the veranda.  He was an under-sized, pock-marked man with a
timid and rather hungry expression.  U Po Kyin paid him no wages,
for he was a convicted thief whom a word would send to prison.  As
Ba Taik advanced he shikoed, so low as to give the impression that
he was stepping backwards.

'Most holy god?' he said.

'Is anyone waiting to see me, Ba Taik?'

Ba Taik enumerated the visitors upon his fingers:  'There is the
headman of Thitpingyi village, your honour, who has brought
presents, and two villagers who have an assault case that is to be
tried by your honour, and they too have brought presents.  Ko Ba
Sein, the head clerk of the Deputy Commissioner s office, wishes to
see you, and there is Ali Shah, the police constable, and a dacoit
whose name I do not know.  I think they have quarrelled about some
gold bangles they have stolen.  And there is also a young village
girl with a baby.'

'What does she want?' said U Po Kyin.

'She says that the baby is yours, most holy one.'

'Ah.  And how much has the headman brought?'

Ba Taik thought it was only ten rupees and a basket of mangoes.

'Tell the headman,' said U Po Kyin, 'that it should be twenty
rupees, and there will be trouble for him and his village if the
money is not here tomorrow.  I will see the others presently.  Ask
Ko Ba Sein to come to me here.'

Ba Sein appeared in a moment.  He was an erect, narrow-shouldered
man, very tall for a Burman, with a curiously smooth face that
recalled a coffee blancmange.  U Po Kyin found him a useful tool.
Unimaginative and hardworking, he was an excellent clerk, and Mr
Macgregor, the Deputy Commissioner, trusted him with most of his
official secrets.  U Po Kyin, put in a good temper by his thoughts,
greeted Ba Sein with a laugh and waved to the betel box.

'Well, Ko Ba Sein, how does our affair progress?  I hope that, as
dear Mr Macgregor would say'--U Po Kyin broke into English--'"eet
ees making perceptible progress"?'

Ba Sein did not smile at the small joke.  Sitting down stiff and
long-backed in the vacant chair, he answered:

'Excellently, sir.  Our copy of the paper arrived this morning.
Kindly observe.'

He produced a copy of a bilingual paper called the Burmese Patriot.
It was a miserable eight-page rag, villainously printed on paper as
bad as blotting paper, and composed partly of news stolen from the
Rangoon Gazette, partly of weak Nationalist heroics.  On the last
page the type had slipped and left the entire sheet jet black, as
though in mourning for the smallness of the paper's circulation.
The article to which U Po Kyin turned was of a rather different
stamp from the rest.  It ran:


In these happy times, when we poor blacks are being uplifted by the
mighty western civilization, with its manifold blessings such as
the cinematograph, machine-guns, syphilis, etc., what subject
could be more inspiring than the private lives of our European
benefactors?  We think therefore that it may interest our readers
to hear something of events in the up-country district of
Kyauktada.  And especially of Mr Macgregor, honoured Deputy
Commissioner of said district.

Mr Macgregor is of the type of the Fine Old English Gentleman, such
as, in these happy days, we have so many examples before our eyes.
He is 'a family man' as our dear English cousins say.  Very much a
family man is Mr Macgregor.  So much so that he has already three
children in the district of Kyauktada, where he has been a year,
and in his last district of Shwemyo he left six young progenies
behind him.  Perhaps it is an oversight on Mr Macgregor's part that
he has left these young infants quite unprovided for, and that some
of their mothers are in danger of starvation, etc., etc., etc.


There was a column of similar stuff, and wretched as it was, it was
well above the level of the rest of the paper.  U Po Kyin read the
article carefully through, holding it at arm's length--he was long-
sighted--and drawing his lips meditatively back, exposing great
numbers of small, perfect teeth, blood-red from betel juice.

'The editor will get six months' imprisonment for this,' he said
finally.

'He does not mind.  He says that the only time when his creditors
leave him alone is when he is in prison.'

'And you say that your little apprentice clerk Hla Pe wrote this
article all by himself?  That is a very clever boy--a most
promising boy!  Never tell me again that these Government High
Schools are a waste of time.  Hla Pe shall certainly have his
clerkship.'

'You think then, sir, that this article will be enough?'

U Po Kyin did not answer immediately.  A puffing, labouring noise
began to proceed from him; he was trying to rise from his chair.
Ba Taik was familiar with this sound.  He appeared from behind the
beaded curtain, and he and Ba Sein put a hand under each of U Po
Kyin's armpits and hoisted him to his feet.  U Po Kyin stood for a
moment balancing the weight of his belly upon his legs, with the
movement of a fish porter adjusting his load.  Then he waved Ba
Taik away.

'Not enough,' he said, answering Ba Sein's question, 'not enough by
any means.  There is a lot to be done yet.  But this is the right
beginning.  Listen.'

He went to the rail to spit out a scarlet mouthful of betel, and
then began to quarter the veranda with short steps, his hands
behind his back.  The friction of his vast thighs made him waddle
slightly.  As he walked he talked, in the base jargon of the
Government offices--a patchwork of Burmese verbs and English
abstract phrases:

'Now, let us go into this affair from the beginning.  We are going
to make a concerted attack on Dr Veraswami, who is the Civil
Surgeon and Superintendent of the jail.  We are going to slander
him, destroy his reputation and finally ruin him for ever.  It will
be rather a delicate operation.'

'Yes, sir.'

'There will be no risk, but we have got to go slowly.  We are not
proceeding against a miserable clerk or police constable.  We are
proceeding against a high official, and with a high official, even
when he is an Indian, it is not the same as with a clerk.  How does
one ruin a clerk?  Easy; an accusation, two dozen witnesses,
dismissal and imprisonment.  But that will not do here.  Softly,
softly, softly is my way.  No scandal, and above all no official
inquiry.  There must be no accusations that can be answered, and
yet within three months I must fix it in the head of every European
in Kyauktada that the doctor is a villain.  What shall I accuse him
of?  Bribes will not do, a doctor does not get bribes to any
extent.  What then?'

'We could perhaps arrange a mutiny in the jail,' said Ba Sein.
'As superintendent, the doctor would be blamed.'

'No, it is too dangerous.  I do not want the jail warders firing
their rifles in all directions.  Besides, it would be expensive.
Clearly, then, it must be disloyalty--Nationalism, seditious
propaganda.  We must persuade the Europeans that the doctor holds
disloyal, anti-British opinions.  That is far worse than bribery;
they expect a native official to take bribes.  But let them suspect
his loyalty even for a moment, and he is ruined.'

'It would be a hard thing to prove,' objected Ba Sein.  'The doctor
is very loyal to the Europeans.  He grows angry when anything is
said against them.  They will know that, do you not think?'

'Nonsense, nonsense,' said U Po Kyin comfortably.  'No European
cares anything about proofs.  When a man has a black face,
suspicion IS proof.  A few anonymous letters will work wonders.  It
is only a question of persisting; accuse, accuse, go on accusing--
that is the way with Europeans.  One anonymous letter after
another, to every European in turn.  And then, when their
suspicions are thoroughly aroused--'  U Po Kyin brought one short
arm from behind his back and clicked his thumb and finger.  He
added:  'We begin with this article in the Burmese Patriot.  The
Europeans will shout with rage when they see it.  Well, the next
move is to persuade them that it was the doctor who wrote it.'

'It will be difficult while he has friends among the Europeans.
All of them go to him when they are ill.  He cured Mr Macgregor of
his flatulence this cold weather.  They consider him a very clever
doctor, I believe.'

'How little you understand the European mind, Ko Ba Sein!  If the
Europeans go to Veraswami it is only because there is no other
doctor in Kyauktada.  No European has any faith in a man with a
black face.  No, with anonymous letters it is only a question of
sending enough.  I shall soon see to it that he has no friends
left.'

'There is Mr Flory, the timber merchant,' said Ba Sein.  (He
pronounced it 'Mr Porley'.)  'He is a close friend of the doctor.
I see him go to his house every morning when he is in Kyauktada.
Twice he has even invited the doctor to dinner.'

'Ah, now there you are right.  If Flory were a friend of the doctor
it could do us harm.  You cannot hurt an Indian when he has a
European friend.  It gives him--what is that word they are so fond
of?--prestige.  But Flory will desert his friend quickly enough
when the trouble begins.  These people have no feeling of loyalty
towards a native.  Besides, I happen to know that Flory is a
coward.  I can deal with him.  Your part, Ko Ba Sein, is to watch
Mr Macgregor's movements.  Has he written to the Commissioner
lately--written confidentially, I mean?'

'He wrote two days ago, but when we steamed the letter open we
found it was nothing of importance.'

'Ah well, we will give him something to write about.  And as soon
as he suspects the doctor, then is the time for that other affair I
spoke to you of.  Thus we shall--what does Mr Macgregor say?  Ah
yes, "kill two birds with one stone".  A whole flock of birds--ha,
ha!'

U Po Kyin's laugh was a disgusting bubbling sound deep down in his
belly, like the preparation for a cough; yet it was merry, even
childlike.  He did not say any more about the 'other affair', which
was too private to be discussed even upon the veranda.  Ba Sein,
seeing the interview at an end, stood up and bowed, angular as a
jointed ruler.

'Is there anything else your honour wishes done?' he said.

'Make sure that Mr Macgregor has his copy of the Burmese Patriot.
You had better tell Hla Pe to have an attack of dysentery and stay
away from the office.  I shall want him for the writing of the
anonymous letters.  That is all for the present.'

'Then I may go, sir?'

'God go with you,' said U Po Kyin rather abstractedly, and at once
shouted again for Ba Taik.  He never wasted a moment of his day.
It did not take him long to deal with the other visitors and to
send the village girl away unrewarded, having examined her face and
said that he did not recognize her.  It was now his breakfast time.
Violent pangs of hunger, which attacked him punctually at this hour
every morning, began to torment his belly.  He shouted urgently:

'Ba Taik!  Hey, Ba Taik!  Kin Kin!  My breakfast!  Be quick, I am
starving.'

In the living-room behind the curtain a table was already set out
with a huge bowl of rice and a dozen plates containing curries,
dried prawns and sliced green mangoes.  U Po Kyin waddled to the
table, sat down with a grunt and at once threw himself on the food.
Ma Kin, his wife, stood behind him and served him.  She was a thin
woman of five and forty, with a kindly, pale brown, simian face.
U Po Kyin took no notice of her while he was eating.  With the bowl
close to his nose he stuffed the food into himself with swift,
greasy fingers, breathing fast.  All his meals were swift,
passionate and enormous; they were not meals so much as orgies,
debauches of curry and rice.  When he had finished he sat back,
belched several times and told Ma Kin to fetch him a green Burmese
cigar.  He never smoked English tobacco, which he declared had no
taste in it.

Presently, with Ba Taik's help, U Po Kyin dressed in his office
clothes, and stood for a while admiring himself in the long mirror
in the living-room.  It was a wooden-walled room with two pillars,
still recognizable as teak-trunks, supporting the roof-tree, and it
was dark and sluttish as all Burmese rooms are, though U Po Kyin
had furnished it 'Ingaleik fashion' with a veneered sideboard and
chairs, some lithographs of the Royal Family and a fire-
extinguisher.  The floor was covered with bamboo mats, much
splashed by lime and betel juice.

Ma Kin was sitting on a mat in the corner, stitching an ingyi.
U Po Kyin turned slowly before the mirror, trying to get a glimpse
of his back view.  He was dressed in a gaungbaung of pale pink
silk, an ingyi of starched muslin, and a paso of Mandalay silk,
a gorgeous salmon-pink brocaded with yellow.  With an effort he
turned his head round and looked, pleased, at the paso tight and
shining on his enormous buttocks.  He was proud of his fatness,
because he saw the accumulated flesh as the symbol of his
greatness.  He who had once been obscure and hungry was now fat,
rich and feared.  He was swollen with the bodies of his enemies;
a thought from which he extracted something very near poetry.

'My new paso was cheap at twenty-two rupees, hey, Kin Kin?' he
said.

Ma Kin bent her head over her sewing.  She was a simple, old-
fashioned woman, who had learned even less of European habits than
U Po Kyin.  She could not sit on a chair without discomfort.  Every
morning she went to the bazaar with a basket on her head, like a
village woman, and in the evenings she could be seen kneeling in
the garden, praying to the white spire of the pagoda that crowned
the town.  She had been the confidante of U Po Kyin's intrigues for
twenty years and more.

'Ko Po Kyin,' she said, 'you have done very much evil in your
life.'

U Po Kyin waved his hand.  'What does it matter?  My pagodas will
atone for everything.  There is plenty of time.'

Ma Kin bent her head over her sewing again, in an obstinate way she
had when she disapproved of something that U Po Kyin was doing.

'But, Ko Po Kyin, where is the need for all this scheming and
intriguing?  I heard you talking with Ko Ba Sein on the veranda.
You are planning some evil against Dr Veraswami.  Why do you wish
to harm that Indian doctor?  He is a good man.'

'What do you know of these official matters, woman?  The doctor
stands in my way.  In the first place he refuses to take bribes,
which makes it difficult for the rest of us.  And besides--well,
there is something else which you would never have the brains to
understand.'

'Ko Po Kyin, you have grown rich and powerful, and what good has it
ever done you?  We were happier when we were poor.  Ah, I remember
so well when you were only a Township Officer, the first time we
had a house of our own.  How proud we were of our new wicker
furniture, and your fountain-pen with the gold clip!  And when the
young English police-officer came to our house and sat in the best
chair and drank a bottle of beer, how honoured we thought
ourselves!  Happiness is not in money.  What can you want with more
money now?'

'Nonsense, woman, nonsense!  Attend to your cooking and sewing and
leave official matters to those who understand them.'

'Well, I do not know.  I am your wife and have always obeyed you.
But at least it is never too soon to acquire merit.  Strive to
acquire more merit, Ko Po Kyin!  Will you not, for instance, buy
some live fish and set them free in the river?  One can acquire
much merit in that way.  Also, this morning when the priests came
for their rice they told me that there are two new priests at the
monastery, and they are hungry.  Will you not give them something,
Ko Po Kyin?  I did not give them anything myself, so that you might
acquire the merit of doing it.'

U Po Kyin turned away from the mirror.  The appeal touched him a
little.  He never, when it could be done without inconvenience,
missed a chance of acquiring merit.  In his eyes his pile of merit
was a kind of bank deposit, everlastingly growing.  Every fish set
free in the river, every gift to a priest, was a step nearer
Nirvana.  It was a reassuring thought.  He directed that the basket
of mangoes brought by the village headman should be sent down to
the monastery.

Presently he left the house and started down the road, with Ba Taik
behind him carrying a file of papers.  He walked slowly, very
upright to balance his vast belly, and holding a yellow silk
umbrella over his head.  His pink paso glittered in the sun like a
satin praline.  He was going to the court, to try his day's cases.



2


At about the time when U Po Kyin began his morning's business, 'Mr
Porley' the timber merchant and friend of Dr Veraswami, was leaving
his house for the Club.

Flory was a man of about thirty-five, of middle height, not ill
made.  He had very black, stiff hair growing low on his head, and
a cropped black moustache, and his skin, naturally sallow, was
discoloured by the sun.  Not having grown fat or bald he did not
look older than his age, but his face was very haggard in spite of
the sunburn, with lank cheeks and a sunken, withered look round the
eyes.  He had obviously not shaved this morning.  He was dressed in
the usual white shirt, khaki drill shorts and stockings, but
instead of a topi he wore a battered Terai hat, cocked over one
eye.  He carried a bamboo stick with a wrist-thong, and a black
cocker spaniel named Flo was ambling after him.

All these were secondary expressions, however.  The first thing
that one noticed in Flory was a hideous birthmark stretching in a
ragged crescent down his left cheek, from the eye to the corner
of the mouth.  Seen from the left side his face had a battered,
woebegone look, as though the birthmark had been a bruise--for it
was a dark blue in colour.  He was quite aware of its hideousness.
And at all times, when he was not alone, there was a sidelongness
about his movements, as he manoeuvred constantly to keep the
birthmark out of sight.

Flory's house was at the top of the maidan, close to the edge of
the jungle.  From the gate the maidan sloped sharply down, scorched
and khaki-coloured, with half a dozen dazzling white bungalows
scattered round it.  All quaked, shivered in the hot air.  There
was an English cemetery within a white wall half-way down the hill,
and near by a tiny tin-roofed church.  Beyond that was the European
Club, and when one looked at the Club--a dumpy one-storey wooden
building--one looked at the real centre of the town.  In any town
in India the European Club is the spiritual citadel, the real seat
of the British power, the Nirvana for which native officials and
millionaires pine in vain.  It was doubly so in this case, for it
was the proud boast of Kyauktada Club that, almost alone of Clubs
in Burma, it had never admitted an Oriental to membership.  Beyond
the Club, the Irrawaddy flowed huge and ochreous glittering like
diamonds in the patches that caught the sun; and beyond the river
stretched great wastes of paddy fields, ending at the horizon in a
range of blackish hills.

The native town, and the courts and the jail, were over to the
right, mostly hidden in green groves of peepul trees.  The spire of
the pagoda rose from the trees like a slender spear tipped with
gold.  Kyauktada was a fairly typical Upper Burma town, that had
not changed greatly between the days of Marco Polo and 1910, and
might have slept in the Middle Ages for a century more if it had
not proved a convenient spot for a railway terminus.  In 1910 the
Government made it the headquarters of a district and a seat of
Progress--interpretable as a block of law courts, with their army
of fat but ravenous pleaders, a hospital, a school and one of those
huge, durable jails which the English have built everywhere between
Gibraltar and Hong Kong.  The population was about four thousand,
including a couple of hundred Indians, a few score Chinese and
seven Europeans.  There were also two Eurasians named Mr Francis
and Mr Samuel, the sons of an American Baptist missionary and a
Roman Catholic missionary respectively.  The town contained no
curiosities of any kind, except an Indian fakir who had lived for
twenty years in a tree near the bazaar, drawing his food up in a
basket every morning.

Flory yawned as he came out of the gate.  He had been half drunk
the night before, and the glare made him feel liverish.  'Bloody,
bloody hole!' he thought, looking down the hill.  And, no one
except the dog being near, he began to sing aloud, 'Bloody, bloody,
bloody, oh, how thou art bloody' to the tune of 'Holy, holy, holy,
oh how Thou art holy ' as he walked down the hot red road, swishing
at the dried-up grasses with his stick.  It was nearly nine o'clock
and the sun was fiercer every minute.  The heat throbbed down on
one's head with a steady, rhythmic thumping, like blows from an
enormous bolster.  Flory stopped at the Club gate, wondering
whether to go in or to go farther down the road and see Dr
Veraswami.  Then he remembered that it was 'English mail day' and
the newspapers would have arrived.  He went in, past the big tennis
screen, which was overgrown by a creeper with starlike mauve
flowers.

In the borders beside the path swaths of English flowers--phlox and
larkspur, hollyhock and petunia--not yet slain by the sun, rioted
in vast size and richness.  The petunias were huge, like trees
almost.  There was no lawn, but instead a shrubbery of native trees
and bushes--gold mohur trees like vast umbrellas of blood-red
bloom, frangipanis with creamy, stalkless flowers, purple
bougainvillea, scarlet hibiscus and the pink Chinese rose, bilious-
green crotons, feathery fronds of tamarind.  The clash of colours
hurt one's eyes in the glare.  A nearly naked mali, watering-can in
hand, was moving in the jungle of flowers like some large nectar-
sucking bird.

On the Club steps a sandy-haired Englishman, with a prickly
moustache, pale grey eyes too far apart, and abnormally thin calves
to his legs, was standing with his hands in the pockets of his
shorts.  This was Mr Westfield, the District Superintendent of
Police.  With a very bored air he was rocking himself backwards and
forwards on his heels and pouting his upper lip so that his
moustache tickled his nose.  He greeted Flory with a slight
sideways movement of his head.  His way of speaking was clipped and
soldierly, missing out every word that well could be missed out.
Nearly everything he said was intended for a joke, but the tone of
his voice was hollow and melancholy.

'Hullo, Flory me lad.  Bloody awful morning, what?'

'We must expect it at this time of year, I suppose,' Flory said.
He had turned himself a little sideways, so that his birthmarked
cheek was away from Westfield.

'Yes, dammit.  Couple of months of this coming.  Last year we
didn't have a spot of rain till June.  Look at that bloody sky,
not a cloud in it.  Like one of those damned great blue enamel
saucepans.  God!  What'd you give to be in Piccadilly now, eh?'

'Have the English papers come?'

'Yes.  Dear old Punch, Pink'un and Vie Parisienne.  Makes you
homesick to read 'em, what?  Let's come in and have a drink before
the ice all goes.  Old Lackersteen's been fairly bathing in it.
Half pickled already.'

They went in, Westfield remarking in his gloomy voice, 'Lead on,
Macduff.'  Inside, the Club was a teak-walled place smelling of
earth-oil, and consisting of only four rooms, one of which
contained a forlorn 'library' of five hundred mildewed novels, and
another an old and mangy billiard-table--this, however, seldom
used, for during most of the year hordes of flying beetles came
buzzing round the lamps and littered themselves over the cloth.
There were also a card-room and a 'lounge' which looked towards the
river, over a wide veranda; but at this time of day all the
verandas were curtained with green bamboo chicks.  The lounge was
an unhomelike room, with coco-nut matting on the floor, and wicker
chairs and tables which were littered with shiny illustrated
papers.  For ornament there were a number of 'Bonzo' pictures, and
the dusty skulls of sambhur.  A punkah, lazily flapping, shook dust
into the tepid air.

There were three men in the room.  Under the punkah a florid, fine-
looking, slightly bloated man of forty was sprawling across the
table with his head in his hands, groaning in pain.  This was Mr
Lackersteen, the local manager of a timber firm.  He had been badly
drunk the night before, and he was suffering for it.  Ellis, local
manager of yet another company, was standing before the notice-
board studying some notice with a look of bitter concentration.  He
was a tiny wiry-haired fellow with a pale, sharp-featured face and
restless movements.  Maxwell, the acting Divisional Forest Officer,
was lying in one of the long chairs reading the Field, and
invisible except for two large-boned legs and thick downy forearms.

'Look at this naughty old man,' said Westfield, taking Mr
Lackersteen half affectionately by the shoulders and shaking him.
'Example to the young, what?  There but for the grace of God and
all that.  Gives you an idea what you'll be like at forty.'

Mr Lackersteen gave a groan which sounded like 'brandy'.

'Poor old chap,' said Westfield, 'regular martyr to booze, eh?
Look at it oozing out of his pores.  Reminds me of the old colonel
who used to sleep without a mosquito net.  They asked his servant
why and the servant said:  "At night, master too drunk to notice
mosquitoes; in the morning, mosquitoes too drunk to notice master."
Look at him--boozed last night and then asking for more.  Got a
little niece coming to stay with him, too.  Due tonight, isn't she,
Lackersteen?'

'Oh, leave that drunken sot alone,' said Ellis without turning
round.  He had a spiteful Cockney voice.  Mr Lackersteen groaned
again, '---- the niece!  Get me some brandy, for Christ's sake.'

'Good education for the niece, eh?  Seeing uncle under the table
seven times a week.  Hey, butler!  Bringing brandy for Lackersteen
master!'

The butler, a dark, stout Dravidian with liquid, yellow-irised eyes
like those of a dog, brought the brandy on a brass tray.  Flory and
Westfield ordered gin.  Mr Lackersteen swallowed a few spoonfuls of
brandy and sat back in his chair, groaning in a more resigned way.
He had a beefy, ingenuous face, with a toothbrush moustache.  He
was really a very simple-minded man, with no ambitions beyond
having what he called 'a good time'.  His wife governed him by the
only possible method, namely, by never letting him out of her sight
for more than an hour or two.  Only once, a year after they were
married, she had left him for a fortnight, and had returned
unexpectedly a day before her time, to find Mr Lackersteen, drunk,
supported on either side by a naked Burmese girl, while a third up-
ended a whisky bottle into his mouth.  Since then she had watched
him, as he used to complain, 'like a cat over a bloody mousehole'.
However, he managed to enjoy quite a number of 'good times', though
they were usually rather hurried ones.

'My Christ, what a head I've got on me this morning,' he said.
'Call that butler again, Westfield.  I've got to have another
brandy before my missus gets here.  She says she's going to cut my
booze down to four pegs a day when our niece gets here.  God rot
them both!' he added gloomily.

'Stop playing the fool, all of you, and listen to this,' said Ellis
sourly.  He had a queer wounding way of speaking, hardly ever
opening his mouth without insulting somebody.  He deliberately
exaggerated his Cockney accent, because of the sardonic tone it
gave to his words.  'Have you seen this notice of old Macgregor's?
A little nosegay for everyone.  Maxwell, wake up and listen!'

Maxwell lowered the Field.  He was a fresh-coloured blond youth of
not more than twenty-five or six--very young for the post he held.
With his heavy limbs and thick white eyelashes he reminded one of a
cart-horse colt.  Ellis nipped the notice from the board with a
neat, spiteful little movement and began reading it aloud.  It had
been posted by Mr Macgregor, who, besides being Deputy Commissioner,
was secretary of the Club.

'Just listen to this.  "It has been suggested that as there are as
yet no Oriental members of this club, and as it is now usual to
admit officials of gazetted rank, whether native or European, to
membership of most European Clubs, we should consider the question
of following this practice in Kyauktada.  The matter will be open
for discussion at the next general meeting.  On the one hand it may
be pointed out"--oh, well, no need to wade through the rest of it.
He can't even write a notice without an attack of literary
diarrhoea.  Anyway, the point's this.  He's asking us to break all
our rules and take a dear little nigger-boy into this Club. DEAR Dr
Veraswami, for instance.  Dr Very-slimy, I call him.  That WOULD be
a treat, wouldn't it?  Little pot-bellied niggers breathing garlic
in your face over the bridge-table.  Christ, to think of it!  We've
got to hang together and put our foot down on this at once.  What
do you say, Westfield?  Flory?'

Westfield shrugged his thin shoulders philosophically.  He had sat
down at the table and lighted a black, stinking Burma cheroot.

'Got to put up with it, I suppose,' he said.  'B--s of natives are
getting into all the Clubs nowadays.  Even the Pegu Club, I'm told.
Way this country's going, you know.  We're about the last Club in
Burma to hold out against 'em.'

'We are; and what's more, we're damn well going to go on holding
out.  I'll die in the ditch before I'll see a nigger in here.'
Ellis had produced a stump of pencil.  With the curious air of
spite that some men can put into their tiniest action, he re-pinned
the notice on the board and pencilled a tiny, neat 'B. F.' against
Mr Macgregor's signature--'There, that's what I think of his idea.
I'll tell him so when he comes down.  What do YOU say, Flory?'

Flory had not spoken all this time.  Though by nature anything but
a silent man, he seldom found much to say in Club conversations.
He had sat down at the table and was reading G. K. Chesterton's
article in the London News, at the same time caressing Flo's head
with his left hand.  Ellis, however, was one of those people who
constantly nag others to echo their own opinions.  He repeated his
question, and Flory looked up, and their eyes met.  The skin round
Ellis's nose suddenly turned so pale that it was almost grey.  In
him it was a sign of anger.  Without any prelude he burst into a
stream of abuse that would have been startling, if the others had
not been used to hearing something like it every morning.

'My God, I should have thought in a case like this, when it's a
question of keeping those black, stinking swine out of the only
place where we can enjoy ourselves, you'd have the decency to back
me up.  Even if that pot-bellied greasy little sod of a nigger
doctor IS your best pal. _I_ don't care if you choose to pal up
with the scum of the bazaar.  If it pleases you to go to
Veraswami's house and drink whisky with all his nigger pals, that's
your look-out.  Do what you like outside the Club.  But, by God,
it's a different matter when you talk of bringing niggers in here.
I suppose you'd like little Veraswami for a Club member, eh?
Chipping into our conversation and pawing everyone with his sweaty
hands and breathing his filthy garlic breath in our faces.  By god,
he'd go out with my boot behind him if ever I saw his black snout
inside that door.  Greasy, pot-bellied little--!' etc.

This went on for several minutes.  It was curiously impressive,
because it was so completely sincere.  Ellis really did hate
Orientals--hated them with a bitter, restless loathing as of
something evil or unclean.  Living and working, as the assistant of
a timber firm must, in perpetual contact with the Burmese, he had
never grown used to the sight of a black face.  Any hint of
friendly feeling towards an Oriental seemed to him a horrible
perversity.  He was an intelligent man and an able servant of his
firm, but he was one of those Englishmen--common, unfortunately--
who should never be allowed to set foot in the East.

Flory sat nursing Flo's head in his lap, unable to meet Ellis's
eyes.  At the best of times his birthmark made it difficult for him
to look people straight in the face.  And when he made ready to
speak, he could feel his voice trembling--for it had a way of
trembling when it should have been firm; his features, too,
sometimes twitched uncontrollably.

'Steady on,' he said at last, sullenly and rather feebly.  'Steady
on.  There's no need to get so excited. _I_ never suggested having
any native members in here.'

'Oh, didn't you?  We all know bloody well you'd like to, though.
Why else do you go to that oily little babu's house every morning,
then?  Sitting down at table with him as though he was a white man,
and drinking out of glasses his filthy black lips have slobbered
over--it makes me spew to think of it.'

'Sit down, old chap, sit down,' Westfield said.  'Forget it.  Have
a drink on it.  Not worth while quarrelling.  Too hot.'

'My God,' said Ellis a little more calmly, taking a pace or two up
and down, 'my God, I don't understand you chaps.  I simply don't.
Here's that old fool Macgregor wanting to bring a nigger into this
Club for no reason whatever, and you all sit down under it without
a word.  Good God, what are we supposed to be doing in this
country?  If we aren't going to rule, why the devil don't we clear
out?  Here we are, supposed to be governing a set of damn black
swine who've been slaves since the beginning of history, and
instead of ruling them in the only way they understand, we go and
treat them as equals.  And you silly b--s take it for granted.
There's Flory, makes his best pal a black babu who calls himself
a doctor because he's done two years at an Indian so-called
university.  And you, Westfield, proud as Punch of your knock-
kneed, bribe-taking cowards of policemen.  And there's Maxwell,
spends his time running after Eurasian tarts.  Yes, you do,
Maxwell; I heard about your goings-on in Mandalay with some smelly
little bitch called Molly Pereira.  I suppose you'd have gone and
married her if they hadn't transferred you up here?  You all seem
to LIKE the dirty black brutes.  Christ, I don't know what's come
over us all.  I really don't.'

'Come on, have another drink,' said Westfield.  'Hey, butler!  Spot
of beer before the ice goes, eh?  Beer, butler!'

The butler brought some bottles of Munich beer.  Ellis presently
sat down at the table with the others, and he nursed one of the
cool bottles between his small hands.  His forehead was sweating.
He was sulky, but not in a rage any longer.  At all times he was
spiteful and perverse, but his violent fits of rage were soon over,
and were never apologized for.  Quarrels were a regular part of the
routine of Club life.  Mr Lackersteen was feeling better and was
studying the illustrations in La Vie Parisienne.  It was after nine
now, and the room, scented with the acrid smoke of Westfield's
cheroot, was stifling hot.  Everyone's shirt stuck to his back with
the first sweat of the day.  The invisible chokra who pulled the
punkah rope outside was falling asleep in the glare.

'Butler!' yelled Ellis, and as the butler appeared, 'go and wake
that bloody chokra up!'

'Yes, master.'

'And butler!'

'Yes, master?'

'How much ice have we got left?'

''Bout twenty pounds, master.  Will only last today, I think.  I
find it very difficult to keep ice cool now.'

'Don't talk like that, damn you--"I find it very difficult!"  Have
you swallowed a dictionary?  "Please, master, can't keeping ice
cool"--that's how you ought to talk.  We shall have to sack this
fellow if he gets to talk English too well.  I can't stick servants
who talk English.  D'you hear, butler?'

'Yes, master,' said the butler, and retired.

'God!  No ice till Monday,' Westfield said.  'You going back to the
jungle, Flory?'

'Yes.  I ought to be there now.  I only came in because of the
English mail.'

'Go on tour myself, I think.  Knock up a spot of Travelling
Allowance.  I can't stick my bloody office at this time of year.
Sitting there under the damned punkah, signing one chit after
another.  Paper-chewing.  God, how I wish the war was on again!'

'I'm going out the day after tomorrow,' Ellis said.  'Isn't that
damned padre coming to hold his service this Sunday?  I'll take
care not to be in for that, anyway.  Bloody knee-drill.'

'Next Sunday,' said Westfield.  'Promised to be in for it myself.
So's Macgregor.  Bit hard on the poor devil of a padre, I must say.
Only gets here once in six weeks.  Might as well get up a
congregation when he does come.'

'Oh, hell!  I'd snivel psalms to oblige the padre, but I can't
stick the way these damned native Christians come shoving into our
church.  A pack of Madrassi servants and Karen school-teachers.
And then those two yellow-bellies, Francis and Samuel--they call
themselves Christians too.  Last time the padre was here they had
the nerve to come up and sit on the front pews with the white men.
Someone ought to speak to the padre about that.  What bloody fools
we were ever to let those missionaries loose in this country!
Teaching bazaar sweepers they're as good as we are.  "Please, sir,
me Christian same like master."  Damned cheek.'

'How about that for a pair of legs?' said Mr Lackersteen, passing
La Vie Parisienne across.  'You know French, Flory; what's that
mean underneath?  Christ, it reminds me of when I was in Paris, my
first leave, before I married.  Christ, I wish I was there again!'

'Did you hear that one about "There was a young lady of Woking"?'
Maxwell said.  He was rather a silent youth, but, like other
youths, he had an affection for a good smutty rhyme.  He completed
the biography of the young lady of Woking, and there was a laugh.
Westfield replied with the young lady of Ealing who had a peculiar
feeling, and Flory came in with the young curate of Horsham who
always took every precaution.  There was more laughter.  Even Ellis
thawed and produced several rhymes; Ellis's jokes were always
genuinely witty, and yet filthy beyond measure.  Everyone cheered
up and felt more friendly in spite of the heat.  They had finished
the beer and were just going to call for another drink, when shoes
creaked on the steps outside.  A booming voice, which made the
floorboards tingle, was saying jocosely:

'Yes, most distinctly humorous.  I incorporated it in one of those
little articles of mine in Blackwood's, you know.  I remember, too,
when I was stationed at Prome, another quite--ah--diverting
incident which--'

Evidently Mr Macgregor had arrived at the Club.  Mr Lackersteen
exclaimed, 'Hell!  My wife's there,' and pushed his empty glass as
far away from him as it would go.  Mr Macgregor and Mrs Lackersteen
entered the lounge together.

Mr Macgregor was a large, heavy man, rather past forty, with a
kindly, puggy face, wearing gold-rimmed spectacles.  His bulky
shoulders, and a trick he had of thrusting his head forward,
reminded one curiously of a turtle--the Burmans, in fact, nicknamed
him 'the tortoise'.  He was dressed in a clean silk suit, which
already showed patches of sweat beneath the armpits.  He greeted
the others with a humorous mock-salute, and then planted himself
before the notice-board, beaming, in the attitude of a schoolmaster
twiddling a cane behind his back.  The good nature in his face was
quite genuine, and yet there was such a wilful geniality about him,
such a strenuous air of being off duty and forgetting his official
rank, that no one was ever quite at ease in his presence.  His
conversation was evidently modelled on that of some facetious
schoolmaster or clergyman whom he had known in early life.  Any
long word, any quotation, any proverbial expression figured in his
mind as a joke, and was introduced with a bumbling noise like 'er'
or 'ah', to make it clear that there was a joke coming.  Mrs
Lackersteen was a woman of about thirty-five, handsome in a
contourless, elongated way, like a fashion plate.  She had a
sighing, discontented voice.  The others had all stood up when she
entered, and Mrs Lackersteen sank exhaustedly into the best chair
under the punkah, fanning herself with a slender hand like that of
a newt.

'Oh dear, this heat, this heat!  Mr Macgregor came and fetched me
in his car. SO kind of him.  Tom, that wretch of a rickshaw-man is
pretending to be ill again.  Really, I think you ought to give him
a good thrashing and bring him to his senses.  It's too terrible to
have to walk about in this sun every day.'

Mrs Lackersteen, unequal to the quarter-mile walk between her house
and the Club, had imported a rickshaw from Rangoon.  Except for
bullock-carts and Mr Macgregor's car it was the only wheeled
vehicle in Kyauktada, for the whole district did not possess ten
miles of road.  In the jungle, rather than leave her husband alone,
Mrs Lackersteen endured all the horrors of dripping tents,
mosquitoes and tinned food; but she made up for it by complaining
over trifles while in headquarters.

'Really I think the laziness of these servants is getting too
shocking,' she sighed.  'Don't you agree, Mr Macgregor?  We seem
to have no AUTHORITY over the natives nowadays, with all these
dreadful Reforms, and the insolence they learn from the newspapers.
In some ways they are getting almost as bad as the lower classes at
home.'

'Oh, hardly as bad as that, I trust.  Still, I am afraid there is
no doubt that the democratic spirit is creeping in, even here.'

'And such a short time ago, even just before the war, they were so
NICE and respectful!  The way they salaamed when you passed them on
the road--it was really quite charming.  I remember when we paid
our butler only twelve rupees a month, and really that man loved us
like a dog.  And now they are demanding forty and fifty rupees, and
I find that the only way I can even KEEP a servant is to pay their
wages several months in arrears.'

'The old type of servant is disappearing,' agreed Mr Macgregor.
'In my young days, when one's butler was disrespectful, one sent
him along to the jail with a chit saying "Please give the bearer
fifteen lashes".  Ah well, eheu fugaces!  Those days are gone for
ever, I am afraid.'

'Ah, you're about right there,' said Westfield in his gloomy way.
'This country'll never be fit to live in again.  British Raj is
finished if you ask me.  Lost Dominion and all that.  Time we
cleared out of it.'

Whereat there was a murmur of agreement from everyone in the room,
even from Flory, notoriously a Bolshie in his opinions, even from
young Maxwell, who had been barely three years in the country.  No
Anglo-Indian will ever deny that India is going to the dogs, or
ever has denied it--for India, like Punch, never was what it was.

Ellis had meanwhile unpinned the offending notice from behind Mr
Macgregor's back, and he now held it out to him, saying in his sour
way:

'Here, Macgregor, we've read this notice, and we all think this
idea of electing a native to the Club is absolute--' Ellis was
going to have said 'absolute balls', but he remembered Mrs
Lackersteen's presence and checked himself--'is absolutely uncalled
for.  After all, this Club is a place where we come to enjoy
ourselves, and we don't want natives poking about in here.  We like
to think there's still one place where we're free of them.  The
others all agree with me absolutely.'

He looked round at the others.  'Hear, hear!' said Mr Lackersteen
gruffly.  He knew that his wife would guess that he had been
drinking, and he felt that a display of sound sentiment would
excuse him.

Mr Macgregor took the notice with a smile.  He saw the 'B. F.'
pencilled against his name, and privately he thought Ellis's manner
very disrespectful, but he turned the matter off with a joke.  He
took as great pains to be a good fellow at the Club as he did to
keep up his dignity during office hours.  'I gather,' he said,
'that our friend Ellis does not welcome the society of--ah--his
Aryan brother?'

'No, I do not,' said Ellis tartly.  'Nor my Mongolian brother.  I
don't like niggers, to put it in one word.'

Mr Macgregor stiffened at the word 'nigger', which is discountenanced
in India.  He had no prejudice against Orientals; indeed, he was
deeply fond of them.  Provided they were given no freedom he thought
them the most charming people alive.  It always pained him to see
them wantonly insulted.

'Is it quite playing the game,' he said stiffly, 'to call these
people niggers--a term they very naturally resent--when they are
obviously nothing of the kind?  The Burmese are Mongolians, the
Indians are Aryans or Dravidians, and all of them are quite
distinct--'

'Oh, rot that!' said Ellis, who was not at all awed by Mr
Macgregor's official status.  'Call them niggers or Aryans or what
you like.  What I'm saying is that we don't want to see any black
hides in this Club.  If you put it to the vote you'll find we're
against it to a man--unless Flory wants his DEAR pal Veraswami,' he
added.

'Hear, hear!' repeated Mr Lackersteen.  'Count on me to blackball
the lot of 'em.'

Mr Macgregor pursed his lips whimsically.  He was in an awkward
position, for the idea of electing a native member was not his own,
but had been passed on to him by the Commissioner.  However, he
disliked making excuses, so he said in a more conciliatory tone:

'Shall we postpone discussing it till the next general meeting?  In
the meantime we can give it our mature consideration.  And now,' he
added, moving towards the table, 'who will join me in a little--ah--
liquid refreshment?'

The butler was called and the 'liquid refreshment' ordered.  It was
hotter than ever now, and everyone was thirsty.  Mr Lackersteen was
on the point of ordering a drink when he caught his wife's eye,
shrank up and said sulkily 'No.'  He sat with his hands on his
knees, with a rather pathetic expression, watching Mrs Lackersteen
swallow a glass of lemonade with gin in it.  Mr Macgregor, though
he signed the chit for drinks, drank plain lemonade.  Alone of the
Europeans in Kyauktada, he kept the rule of not drinking before
sunset.

'It's all very well,' grumbled Ellis, with his forearms on the
table, fidgeting with his glass.  The dispute with Mr Macgregor had
made him restless again.  'It's all very well, but I stick to what
I said.  No natives in this Club!  It's by constantly giving way
over small things like that that we've ruined the Empire.  The
country's only rotten with sedition because we've been too soft
with them.  The only possible policy is to treat 'em like the dirt
they are.  This is a critical moment, and we want every bit of
prestige we can get.  We've got to hang together and say, "WE ARE
THE MASTERS, and you beggars--"' Ellis pressed his small thumb down
as though flattening a grub--'"you beggars keep your place!"'

'Hopeless, old chap,' said Westfield.  'Quite hopeless.  What can
you do with all this red tape tying your hands?  Beggars of natives
know the law better than we do.  Insult you to your face and then
run you in the moment you hit 'em.  Can't do anything unless you
put your foot down firmly.  And how can you, if they haven't the
guts to show fight?'

'Our burra sahib at Mandalay always said,' put in Mrs Lackersteen,
'that in the end we shall simply LEAVE India.  Young men will not
come out here any longer to work all their lives for insults and
ingratitude.  We shall just GO.  When the natives come to us
begging us to stay, we shall say, "No, you have had your chance,
you wouldn't take it.  Very well, we shall leave you to govern
yourselves."  And then, what a lesson that will teach them!'

'It's all this law and order that's done for us,' said Westfield
gloomily.  The ruin of the Indian Empire through too much legality
was a recurrent theme with Westfield.  According to him, nothing
save a full-sized rebellion, and the consequent reign of martial
law, could save the Empire from decay.  'All this paper-chewing and
chit-passing.  Office babus are the real rulers of this country
now.  Our number's up.  Best thing we can do is to shut up shop and
let 'em stew in their own juice.'

'I don't agree, I simply don't agree,' Ellis said.  'We could put
things right in a month if we chose.  It only needs a pennyworth of
pluck.  Look at Amritsar.  Look how they caved in after that.  Dyer
knew the stuff to give them.  Poor old Dyer!  That was a dirty job.
Those cowards in England have got something to answer for.'

There was a kind of sigh from the others, the same sigh that a
gathering of Roman Catholics will give at the mention of Bloody
Mary.  Even Mr Macgregor, who detested bloodshed and martial law,
shook his head at the name of Dyer.

'Ah, poor man!  Sacrificed to the Paget M.P.s.  Well, perhaps they
will discover their mistake when it is too late.'

'My old governor used to tell a story about that,' said Westfield.
'There was an old havildar in a native regiment--someone asked him
what'd happen if the British left India.  The old chap said--'

Flory pushed back his chair and stood up.  It must not, it could
not--no, it simply should not go on any longer!  He must get out of
this room quickly, before something happened inside his head and he
began to smash the furniture and throw bottles at the pictures.
Dull boozing witless porkers!  Was it possible that they could go
on week after week, year after year, repeating word for word the
same evil-minded drivel, like a parody of a fifth-rate story in
Blackwood's?  Would none of them EVER think of anything new to say?
Oh, what a place, what people!  What a civilization is this of
ours--this godless civilization founded on whisky, Blackwood's and
the 'Bonzo' pictures!  God have mercy on us, for all of us are part
of it.

Flory did not say any of this, and he was at some pains not to show
it in his face.  He was standing by his chair, a little sidelong to
the others, with the half-smile of a man who is never sure of his
popularity.

'I'm afraid I shall have to be off,' he said.  'I've got some
things to see to before breakfast, unfortunately.'

'Stay and have another spot, old man,' said Westfield.  'Morning's
young.  Have a gin.  Give you an appetite.'

'No, thanks, I must be going.  Come on, Flo.  Good-bye, Mrs
Lackersteen.  Good-bye, everybody.'

'Exit Booker Washington, the niggers' pal,' said Ellis as Flory
disappeared.  Ellis could always be counted on to say something
disagreeable about anyone who had just left the room.  'Gone to see
Very-slimy, I suppose.  Or else sloped off to avoid paying a round
of drinks.'

'Oh, he's not a bad chap,' Westfield said.  'Says some Bolshie
things sometimes.  Don't suppose he means half of them.'

'Oh, a very good fellow, of course,' said Mr Macgregor.  Every
European in India is ex-officio, or rather ex-colore, a good
fellow, until he has done something quite outrageous.  It is an
honorary rank.

'He's a bit TOO Bolshie for my taste.  I can't bear a fellow who
pals up with the natives.  I shouldn't wonder if he's got a lick of
the tar-brush himself.  It might explain that black mark on his
face.  Piebald.  And he looks like a yellow-belly, with that black
hair, and skin the colour of a lemon.'

There was some desultory scandal about Flory, but not much, because
Mr Macgregor did not like scandal.  The Europeans stayed in the
Club long enough for one more round of drinks.  Mr Macgregor told
his anecdote about Prome, which could be produced in almost any
context.  And then the conversation veered back to the old, never-
palling subject--the insolence of the natives, the supineness of
the Government, the dear dead days when the British Raj WAS the
British Raj and please give the bearer fifteen lashes.  This topic
was never let alone for long, partly because of Ellis's obsession.
Besides, you could forgive the Europeans a great deal of their
bitterness.  Living and working among Orientals would try the
temper of a saint.  And all of them, the officials particularly,
knew what it was to be baited and insulted.  Almost every day, when
Westfield or Mr Macgregor or even Maxwell went down the street, the
High School boys, with their young, yellow faces--faces smooth as
gold coins, full of that maddening contempt that sits so naturally
on the Mongolian face--sneered at them as they went past, sometimes
hooted after them with hyena-like laughter.  The life of the Anglo-
Indian officials is not all jam.  In comfortless camps, in
sweltering offices, in gloomy dakbungalows smelling of dust and
earth-oil, they earn, perhaps, the right to be a little disagreeable.

It was getting on for ten now, and hot beyond bearing.  Flat, clear
drops of sweat gathered on everyone's face, and on the men's bare
forearms.  A damp patch was growing larger and larger in the back
of Mr Macgregor's silk coat.  The glare outside seemed to soak
somehow through the green-chicked windows, making one's eyes ache
and filling one's head with stuffiness.  Everyone thought with
malaise of his stodgy breakfast, and of the long, deadly hours that
were coming.  Mr Macgregor stood up with a sigh and adjusted his
spectacles, which had slipped down his sweating nose.

'Alas that such a festive gathering should end,' he said.  'I must
get home to breakfast.  The cares of Empire.  Is anybody coming my
way?  My man is waiting with the car.'

'Oh, thank you,' said Mrs Lackersteen; 'if you'd take Tom and me.
What a relief not to have to walk in this heat!'

The others stood up.  Westfield stretched his arms and yawned
through his nose.  'Better get a move on, I suppose.  Go to sleep
if I sit here any longer.  Think of stewing in that office all day!
Baskets of papers.  Oh Lord!'

'Don't forget tennis this evening, everyone,' said Ellis.
'Maxwell, you lazy devil, don't you skulk out of it again.  Down
here with your racquet at four-thirty sharp.'

'Apres vous, madame,' said Mr Macgregor gallantly, at the door.

'Lead on, Macduff,' said Westfield.

They went out into the glaring white sunlight.  The heat rolled
from the earth like the breath of an oven.  The flowers, oppressive
to the eyes, blazed with not a petal stirring, in a debauch of sun.
The glare sent a weariness through one's bones.  There was
something horrible in it--horrible to think of that blue, blinding
sky, stretching on and on over Burma and India, over Siam,
Cambodia, China, cloudless and interminable.  The plates of Mr
Macgregor's waiting car were too hot to touch.  The evil time of
day was beginning, the time, as the Burmese say, 'when feet are
silent'.  Hardly a living creature stirred, except men, and the
black columns of ants, stimulated by the heat, which marched
ribbon-like across the path, and the tail-less vultures which
soared on the currents of the air.



3


Flory turned to the left outside the Club gate and started down the
bazaar road, under the shade of the peepul trees.  A hundred yards
away there was a swirl of music, where a squad of Military
Policemen, lank Indians in greenish khaki, were marching back to
their lines with a Gurkha boy playing the bagpipes ahead of them.
Flory was going to see Dr Veraswami.  The doctor's house was a long
bungalow of earth-oiled wood, standing on piles, with a large
unkempt garden which adjoined that of the Club.  The back of the
house was towards the road, for it faced the hospital, which lay
between it and the river.

As Flory entered the compound there was a frightened squawk of
women and a scurrying within the house.  Evidently he had narrowly
missed seeing the doctor's wife.  He went round to the front of the
house and called up to the veranda:

'Doctor!  Are you busy?  May I come up?'

The doctor, a little black and white figure, popped from within the
house like a jack-in-the-box.  He hurried to the veranda rail,
exclaimed effusively:

'If you may come up!  Of course, of course, come up this instant!
Ah, Mr Flory, how very delightful to see you!  Come up, come up.
What drink will you have?  I have whisky, beer, vermouth and other
European liquors.  Ah, my dear friend, how I have been pining for
some cultured conversation!'

The doctor was a small, black, plump man with fuzzy hair and round,
credulous eyes.  He wore steel-rimmed spectacles, and he was
dressed in a badly fitting white drill suit, with trousers bagging
concertina-like over clumsy black boots.  His voice was eager and
bubbling, with a hissing of the s's.  As Flory came up the steps
the doctor popped back to the end of the veranda and rummaged in a
big tin ice-chest, rapidly pulling out bottles of all descriptions.
The veranda was wide and dark, with low eaves from which baskets of
fern hung, making it seem like a cave behind a waterfall of
sunlight.  It was furnished with long, cane-bottomed chairs made in
the jail, and at one end there was a book-case containing a rather
unappetizing little library, mainly books of essays, of the
Emerson-Carlyle-Stevenson type.  The doctor, a great reader, liked
his books to have what he called a 'moral meaning'.

'Well, doctor,' said Flory--the doctor had meanwhile thrust him
into a long chair, pulled out the leg-rests so that he could lie
down, and put cigarettes and beer within reach.  'Well, doctor, and
how are things?  How's the British Empire?  Sick of the palsy as
usual?'

'Aha, Mr Flory, she iss very low, very low!  Grave complications
setting in.  Septicaemia, peritonitis and paralysis of the ganglia.
We shall have to call in the specialists, I fear.  Aha!'

It was a joke between the two men to pretend that the British
Empire was an aged female patient of the doctor's.  The doctor had
enjoyed this joke for two years without growing tired of it.

'Ah, doctor,' said Flory, supine in the long chair, 'what a joy to
be here after that bloody Club.  When I come to your house I feel
like a Nonconformist minister dodging up to town and going home
with a tart.  Such a glorious holiday from THEM'--he motioned with
one heel in the direction of the Club--'from my beloved fellow
Empire-builders.  British prestige, the white man's burden, the
pukka sahib sans peur et sans reproche--you know.  Such a relief to
be out of the stink of it for a little while.'

'My friend, my friend, now come, come, please!  That iss
outrageous.  You must not say such things of honourable English
gentlemen!'

'You don't have to listen to the honourable gentlemen talking,
doctor.  I stood it as long as I could this morning.  Ellis with
his "dirty nigger", Westfield with his jokes, Macgregor with his
Latin tags and please give the bearer fifteen lashes.  But when
they got on to that story about the old havildar--you know, the
dear old havildar who said that if the British left India there
wouldn't be a rupee or a virgin between--you know; well, I couldn't
stand it any longer.  It's time that old havildar was put on the
retired list.  He's been saying the same thing ever since the
Jubilee in 'eighty-seven.'

The doctor grew agitated, as he always did when Flory criticized
the Club members.  He was standing with his plump white-clad behind
balanced against the veranda rail, and sometimes gesticulating.
When searching for a word he would nip his black thumb and
forefinger together, as though to capture an idea floating in the
air.

'But truly, truly, Mr Flory, you must not speak so!  Why iss it
that always you are abusing the pukka sahibs, ass you call them?
They are the salt of the earth.  Consider the great things they
have done--consider the great administrators who have made British
India what it iss.  Consider Clive, Warren Hastings, Dalhousie,
Curzon.  They were such men--I quote your immortal Shakespeare--
ass, take them for all in all, we shall not look upon their like
again!'

'Well, do you want to look upon their like again?  I don't.'

'And consider how noble a type iss the English gentleman!  Their
glorious loyalty to one another!  The public school spirit!  Even
those of them whose manner iss unfortunate--some Englishmen are
arrogant, I concede--have the great, sterling qualities that we
Orientals lack.  Beneath their rough exterior, their hearts are of
gold.'

'Of gilt, shall we say?  There's a kind of spurious good-fellowship
between the English and this country.  It's a tradition to booze
together and swap meals and pretend to be friends, though we all
hate each other like poison.  Hanging together, we call it.  It's
a political necessity.  Of course drink is what keeps the machine
going.  We should all go mad and kill one another in a week if it
weren't for that.  There's a subject for one of your uplift
essayists, doctor.  Booze as the cement of empire.'

The doctor shook his head.  'Really, Mr Flory, I know not what it
iss that hass made you so cynical.  It iss so most unsuitable!
You--an English gentleman of high gifts and character--to be
uttering seditious opinions that are worthy of the Burmese
Patriot!'

'Seditious?' Flory said.  'I'M not seditious.  I don't want the
Burmans to drive us out of this country.  God forbid!  I'm here to
make money, like everyone else.  All I object to is the slimy white
man's burden humbug.  The pukka sahib pose.  It's so boring.  Even
those bloody fools at the Club might be better company if we
weren't all of us living a lie the whole time.'

'But, my dear friend, what lie are you living?'

'Why, of course, the lie that we're here to uplift our poor black
brothers instead of to rob them.  I suppose it's a natural enough
lie.  But it corrupts us, it corrupts us in ways you can't imagine.
There's an everlasting sense of being a sneak and a liar that
torments us and drives us to justify ourselves night and day.  It's
at the bottom of half our beastliness to the natives.  We Anglo-
Indians could be almost bearable if we'd only admit that we're
thieves and go on thieving without any humbug.'

The doctor, very pleased, nipped his thumb and forefinger together.
'The weakness of your argument, my dear friend,' he said, beaming
at his own irony, 'the weakness appears to be, that you are NOT
thieves.'

'Now, my dear doctor--'

Flory sat up in the long chair, partly because his prickly heat
had just stabbed him in the back like a thousand needles, partly
because his favourite argument with the doctor was about to begin.
This argument, vaguely political in nature, took place as often as
the two men met.  It was a topsy-turvy affair, for the Englishman
was bitterly anti-English and the Indian fanatically loyal.  Dr
Veraswami had a passionate admiration for the English, which a
thousand snubs from Englishmen had not shaken.  He would maintain
with positive eagerness that he, as an Indian, belonged to an
inferior and degenerate race.  His faith in British justice was so
great that even when, at the jail, he had to superintend a flogging
or a hanging, and would come home with his black face faded grey
and dose himself with whisky, his zeal did not falter.  Flory's
seditious opinions shocked him, but they also gave him a certain
shuddering pleasure, such as a pious believer will take in hearing
the Lord's Prayer repeated backwards.

'My dear doctor,' said Flory, 'how can you make out that we are in
this country for any purpose except to steal?  It's so simple.  The
official holds the Burman down while the businessman goes through
his pockets.  Do you suppose my firm, for instance, could get its
timber contracts if the country weren't in the hands of the
British?  Or the other timber firms, or the oil companies, or the
miners and planters and traders?  How could the Rice Ring go on
skinning the unfortunate peasant if it hadn't the Government behind
it?  The British Empire is simply a device for giving trade
monopolies to the English--or rather to gangs of Jews and
Scotchmen.'

'My friend, it iss pathetic to me to hear you talk so.  It iss
truly pathetic.  You say you are here to trade?  Of course you are.
Could the Burmese trade for themselves?  Can they make machinery,
ships, railways, roads?  They are helpless without you.  What would
happen to the Burmese forests if the English were not here?  They
would be sold immediately to the Japanese, who would gut them and
ruin them.  Instead of which, in your hands, actually they are
improved.  And while your businessmen develop the resources of our
country, your officials are civilizing us, elevating us to their
level, from pure public spirit.  It is a magnificent record of
self-sacrifice.'

'Bosh, my dear doctor.  We teach the young men to drink whisky and
play football, I admit, but precious little else.  Look at our
schools--factories for cheap clerks.  We've never taught a single
useful manual trade to the Indians.  We daren't; frightened of the
competition in industry.  We've even crushed various industries.
Where are the Indian muslins now?  Back in the forties or
thereabouts they were building sea-going ships in India, and
manning them as well.  Now you couldn't build a seaworthy fishing
boat there.  In the eighteenth century the Indians cast guns that
were at any rate up to the European standard.  Now, after we've
been in India a hundred and fifty years, you can't make so much as
a brass cartridge-case in the whole continent.  The only Eastern
races that have developed at all quickly are the independent ones.
I won't instance Japan, but take the case of Siam--'

The doctor waved his hand excitedly.  He always interrupted the
argument at this point (for as a rule it followed the same course,
almost word for word), finding that the case of Siam hampered him.

'My friend, my friend, you are forgetting the Oriental character.
How iss it possible to have developed us, with our apathy and
superstition?  At least you have brought to us law and order.
The unswerving British Justice and the Pax Britannica.'

'Pox Britannica, doctor, Pox Britannica is its proper name.  And in
any case, whom is it pax for?  The money-lender and the lawyer.  Of
course we keep the peace in India, in our own interest, but what
does all this law and order business boil down to?  More banks and
more prisons--that's all it means.'

'What monstrous misrepresentations!' cried the doctor.  'Are not
prissons necessary?  And have you brought us nothing but prissons?
Consider Burma in the days of Thibaw, with dirt and torture and
ignorance, and then look around you.  Look merely out of this
veranda--look at that hospital, and over to the right at that
school and that police station.  Look at the whole uprush of modern
progress!'

'Of course I don't deny,' Flory said, 'that we modernize this
country in certain ways.  We can't help doing so.  In fact, before
we've finished we'll have wrecked the whole Burmese national
culture.  But we're not civilizing them, we're only rubbing our
dirt on to them.  Where's it going to lead, this uprush of modern
progress, as you call it?  Just to our own dear old swinery of
gramophones and billycock hats.  Sometimes I think that in two
hundred years all this--' he waved a foot towards the horizon--'all
this will be gone--forests, villages, monasteries, pagodas all
vanished.  And instead, pink villas fifty yards apart; all over
those hills, as far as you can see, villa after villa, with all the
gramophones playing the same tune.  And all the forests shaved
flat--chewed into wood-pulp for the News of the World, or sawn up
into gramophone cases.  But the trees avenge themselves, as the old
chap says in The Wild Duck.  You've read Ibsen, of course?'

'Ah, no, Mr Flory, alas!  That mighty master-mind, your inspired
Bernard Shaw hass called him.  It iss a pleasure to come.  But, my
friend, what you do not see iss that your civilization at its very
worst iss for us an advance.  Gramophones, billycock hats, the News
of the World--all iss better than the horrible sloth of the
Oriental.  I see the British, even the least inspired of them,
ass--ass--' the doctor searched for a phrase, and found one that
probably came from Stevenson--'ass torchbearers upon the path of
progress.'

'I don't.  I see them as a kind of up-to-date, hygienic, self-
satisfied louse.  Creeping round the world building prisons.  They
build a prison and call it progress,' he added rather regretfully--
for the doctor would not recognize the allusion.

'My friend, positively you are harping upon the subject of
prissons!  Consider that there are also other achievements of your
countrymen.  They construct roads, they irrigate deserts, they
conquer famines, they build schools, they set up hospitals, they
combat plague, cholera, leprosy, smallpox, venereal disease--'

'Having brought it themselves,' put in Flory.

'No, sir!' returned the doctor, eager to claim this distinction for
his own countrymen.  'No, sir, it wass the Indians who introduced
venereal disease into this country.  The Indians introduce
diseases, and the English cure them.  THERE iss the answer to all
your pessimism and seditiousness.'

'Well, doctor, we shall never agree.  The fact is that you like all
this modern progress business, whereas I'd rather see things a
little bit septic.  Burma in the days of Thibaw would have suited
me better, I think.  And as I said before, if we are a civilizing
influence, it's only to grab on a larger scale.  We should chuck it
quickly enough if it didn't pay.'

'My friend, you do not think that.  If truly you disapprove of the
British Empire, you would not be talking of it privately here.  You
would be proclaiming from the house-tops.  I know your character,
Mr Flory, better than you know it yourself.'

'Sorry, doctor; I don't go in for proclaiming from the housetops.
I haven't the guts.  I "counsel ignoble ease", like old Belial in
Paradise Lost.  It's safer.  You've got to be a pukka sahib or die,
in this country.  In fifteen years I've never talked honestly to
anyone except you.  My talks here are a safety-valve; a little
Black Mass on the sly, if you understand me.'

At this moment there was a desolate wailing noise outside.  Old
Mattu, the Hindu durwan who looked after the European church, was
standing in the sunlight below the veranda.  He was an old fever-
stricken creature, more like a grasshopper than a human being, and
dressed in a few square inches of dingy rag.  He lived near the
church in a hut made of flattened kerosene tins, from which he
would sometimes hurry forth at the appearance of a European, to
salaam deeply and wail something about his 'talab', which was
eighteen rupees a month.  Looking piteously up at the veranda, he
massaged the earth-coloured skin of his belly with one hand, and
with the other made the motion of putting food into his mouth.  The
doctor felt in his pocket and dropped a four-anna piece over the
veranda rail.  He was notorious for his soft-heartedness, and all
the beggars in Kyauktada made him their target.

'Behold there the degeneracy of the East,' said the doctor,
pointing to Mattu, who was doubling himself up like a caterpillar
and uttering grateful whines.  'Look at the wretchedness of hiss
limbs.  The calves of hiss legs are not so thick ass an
Englishman's wrists.  Look at hiss abjectness and servility.  Look
at hiss ignorance--such ignorance ass iss not known in Europe
outside a home for mental defectives.  Once I asked Mattu to tell
me hiss age.  "Sahib," he said, "I believe that I am ten years
old."  How can you pretend, Mr Flory, that you are not the natural
superior of such creatures?'

'Poor old Mattu, the uprush of modern progress seems to have missed
him somehow,' Flory said, throwing another four-anna piece over the
rail.  'Go on, Mattu, spend that on booze.  Be as degenerate as you
can.  It all postpones Utopia.'

'Aha, Mr Flory, sometimes I think that all you say iss but to--what
iss the expression?--pull my leg.  The English sense of humour.  We
Orientals have no humour, ass iss well known.'

'Lucky devils.  It's been the ruin of us, our bloody sense of
humour.'  He yawned with his hands behind his head.  Mattu had
shambled away after further grateful noises.  'I suppose I ought to
be going before this cursed sun gets too high.  The heat's going to
be devilish this year, I feel it in my bones.  Well, doctor, we've
been arguing so much that I haven't asked for your news.  I only
got in from the jungle yesterday.  I ought to go back the day after
tomorrow--don't know whether I shall.  Has anything been happening
in Kyauktada?  Any scandals?'

The doctor looked suddenly serious.  He had taken off his spectacles,
and his face, with dark liquid eyes, recalled that of a black
retriever dog.  He looked away, and spoke in a slightly more
hesitant tone than before.

'That fact iss, my friend, there iss a most unpleasant business
afoot.  You will perhaps laugh--it sounds nothing--but I am in
serious trouble.  Or rather, I am in danger of trouble.  It iss an
underground business.  You Europeans will never hear of it
directly.  In this place'--he waved a hand towards the bazaar--
'there iss perpetual conspiracies and plottings of which you do not
hear.  But to us they mean much.'

'What's been happening, then?'

'It iss this.  An intrigue iss brewing against me.  A most serious
intrigue which iss intended to blacken my character and ruin my
official career.  Ass an Englishman you will not understand these
things.  I have incurred the enmity of a man you probably do not
know, U Po Kyin, the Sub-divisional Magistrate.  He iss a most
dangerous man.  The damage that he can do to me iss incalculable.'

'U Po Kyin?  Which one is that?'

'The great fat man with many teeth.  Hiss house iss down the road
there, a hundred yards away.'

'Oh, that fat scoundrel?  I know him well.'

'No, no, my friend, no, no!' exclaimed the doctor quite eagerly;
'it cannot be that you know him.  Only an Oriental could know him.
You, an English gentleman, cannot sink your mind to the depth of
such ass U Po Kyin.  He iss more than a scoundrel, he iss--what
shall I say?  Words fail me.  He recalls to me a crocodile in human
shape.  He hass the cunning of the crocodile, its cruelty, its
bestiality.  If you knew the record of that man!  The outrages he
hass committed!  The extortions, the briberies!  The girls he hass
ruined, raping them before the very eyes of their mothers!  Ah, an
English gentleman cannot imagine such a character.  And thiss iss
the man who hass taken hiss oath to ruin me.'

'I've heard a good deal about U Po Kyin from various sources,'
Flory said.  'He seems a fair sample of a Burmese magistrate.
A Burman told me that during the war U Po Kyin was at work
recruiting, and he raised a battalion from his own illegitimate
sons.  Is that true?'

'It could hardly be so,' said the doctor, 'for they would not have
been old enough.  But of hiss villainy there iss no doubt.  And now
he iss determined upon ruining me.  In the first place he hates me
because I know too much about him; and besides, he iss the enemy of
any reasonably honest man.  He will proceed--such iss the practice
of such men--by calumny.  He will spread reports about me--reports
of the most appalling and untrue descriptions.  Already he iss
beginning them.'

'But would anyone believe a fellow like that against you?  He's
only a lowdown magistrate.  You're a high official.'

'Ah, Mr Flory, you do not understand Oriental cunning.  U Po Kyin
hass ruined higher officials than I.  He will know ways to make
himself believed.  And therefore--ah, it iss a difficult business!'

The doctor took a step or two up and down the veranda, polishing
his glasses with his handkerchief.  It was clear that there was
something more which delicacy prevented him from saying.  For a
moment his manner was so troubled that Flory would have liked to
ask whether he could not help in some way, but he did not, for he
knew the uselessness of interfering in Oriental quarrels.  No
European ever gets to the bottom of these quarrels; there is always
something impervious to the European mind, a conspiracy behind the
conspiracy, a plot within the plot.  Besides, to keep out of
'native' quarrels is one of the Ten Precepts of the pukka sahib.
He said doubtfully:

'What is a difficult business?'

'It iss, if only--ah, my friend, you will laugh at me, I fear.  But
it iss this: if only I were a member of your European Club!  If
only!  How different would my position be!'

'The Club?  Why?  How would that help you?'

'My friend, in these matters prestige iss everything.  It iss not
that U Po Kyin will attack me openly; he would never dare; it iss
that he will libel me and backbite me.  And whether he iss believed
or not depends entirely upon my standing with the Europeans.  It
iss so that things happen in India.  If our prestige iss good, we
rise; if bad, we fall.  A nod and a wink will accomplish more than
a thousand official reports.  And you do not know what prestige it
gives to an Indian to be a member of the European Club.  In the
Club, practically he ISS a European.  No calumny can touch him.
A Club member iss sacrosanct.'

Flory looked away over the veranda rail.  He had got up as though
to go.  It always made him ashamed and uncomfortable when it had to
be admitted between them that the doctor, because of his black
skin, could not be received in the Club.  It is a disagreeable
thing when one's close friend is not one's social equal; but it is
a thing native to the very air of India.

'They might elect you at the next general meeting,' he said.  'I
don't say they will, but it's not impossible.'

'I trust, Mr Flory, that you do not think I am asking you to
propose me for the Club?  Heaven forbid!  I know that that iss
impossible for you.  Simply I wass remarking that if I were a
member of the Club, I should be forthwith invulnerable--'

Flory cocked his Terai hat loosely on his head and stirred Flo up
with his stick.  She was asleep under the chair.  Flory felt very
uncomfortable.  He knew that in all probability, if he had the
courage to face a few rows with Ellis, he could secure Dr
Veraswami's election to the Club.  And the doctor, after all, was
his friend, indeed, almost the sole friend he had in Burma.  They
had talked and argued together a hundred times, the doctor had
dined at his house, he had even proposed to introduce Flory to his
wife--but she, a pious Hindu, had refused with horror.  They had
made shooting trips together--the doctor, equipped with bandoliers
and hunting knives, panting up hillsides slippery with bamboo
leaves and blazing his gun at nothing.  In common decency it was
his duty to support the doctor.  But he knew also that the doctor
would never ask for any support, and that there would be an ugly
row before an Oriental was got into the Club.  No, he could not
face that row!  It was not worth it.  He said:

'To tell you the truth, there's been talk about this already.  They
were discussing it this morning, and that little beast Ellis was
preaching his usual "dirty nigger" sermon.  Macgregor has suggested
electing one native member.  He's had orders to do so, I imagine.'

'Yes, I heard that.  We hear all these things.  It wass that that
put the idea into my head.'

'It's to come up at the general meeting in June.  I don't know
what'll happen--it depends on Macgregor, I think.  I'll give you my
vote, but I can't do more than that.  I'm sorry, but I simply
can't.  You don't know the row there'll be.  Very likely they will
elect you, but they'll do it as an unpleasant duty, under protest.
They've made a perfect fetish of keeping this Club all-white, as
they call it.'

'Of course, of course, my friend!  I understand perfectly.  Heaven
forbid that you should get into trouble with your European friends
on my behalf.  Please, please, never to embroil yourself!  The mere
fact that you are known to be my friend benefits me more than you
can imagine.  Prestige, Mr Flory, iss like a barometer.  Every time
you are seen to enter my house the mercury rises half a degree.'

'Well, we must try and keep it at "Set Fair".  That's about all I
can do for you, I'm afraid.'

'Even that iss much, my friend.  And for that, there iss another
thing of which I would warn you, though you will laugh, I fear.  It
iss that you yourself should beware of U Po Kyin.  Beware of the
crocodile!  For sure he will strike at you when he knows that you
are befriending me.'

'All right, doctor, I'll beware of the crocodile.  I don't fancy he
can do me much harm, though.'

'At least he will try.  I know him.  It will be hiss policy to
detach my friends from me.  Possibly he would even dare to spread
hiss libels about you also.'

'About me?  Good gracious, no one would believe anything against
ME.  Civis Romanus sum.  I'm an Englishman--quite above suspicion.'

'Nevertheless, beware of hiss calumnies, my friend.  Do not
underrate him.  He will know how to strike at you.  He iss a
crocodile.  And like the crocodile'--the doctor nipped his thumb
and finger impressively; his images became mixed sometimes--'like
the crocodile, he strikes always at the weakest spot!'

'Do crocodiles always strike at the weakest spot, doctor?'

Both men laughed.  They were intimate enough to laugh over the
doctor's queer English occasionally.  Perhaps, at the bottom of his
heart, the doctor was a little disappointed that Flory had not
promised to propose him for the Club, but he would have perished
rather than say so.  And Flory was glad to drop the subject, an
uncomfortable one which he wished had never been raised.

'Well, I really must be going, doctor.  Good-bye in case I don't
see you again.  I hope it'll be all right at the general meeting.
Macgregor's not a bad old stick.  I dare say he'll insist on their
electing you.'

'Let us hope so, my friend.  With that I can defy a hundred U Po
Kyins.  A thousand!  Good-bye, my friend, good-bye.'

Then Flory settled his Terai hat on his head and went home across
the glaring maidan, to his breakfast, for which the long morning of
drinking, smoking and talking had left him no appetite.



4


Flory lay asleep, naked except for black Shan trousers, upon his
sweat-damp bed.  He had been idling all day.  He spent approximately
three weeks of every month in camp, coming into Kyauktada for a few
days at a time, chiefly in order to idle, for he had very little
clerical work to do.

The bedroom was a large square room with white plaster walls, open
doorways and no ceiling, but only rafters in which sparrows nested.
There was no furniture except the big four-poster bed, with its
furled mosquito net like a canopy, and a wicker table and chair and
a small mirror; also some rough bookshelves, containing several
hundred books, all mildewed by many rainy seasons and riddled by
silver fish.  A tuktoo clung to the wall, flat and motionless like
a heraldic dragon.  Beyond the veranda eaves the light rained down
like glistening white oil.  Some doves in a bamboo thicket kept up
a dull droning noise, curiously appropriate to the heat--a sleepy
sound, but with the sleepiness of chloroform rather than a lullaby.

Down at Mr Macgregor's bungalow, two hundred yards away, a durwan,
like a living clock, hammered four strokes on a section of iron
rail.  Ko S'la, Flory's servant, awakened by the sound, went into
the cookhouse, blew up the embers of the woodfire and boiled the
kettle for tea.  Then he put on his pink gaungbaung and muslin
ingyi and brought the tea-tray to his master's bedside.

Ko S'la (his real name was Maung San Hla; Ko S'la was an
abbreviation) was a short, square-shouldered, rustic-looking Burman
with a very dark skin and a harassed expression.  He wore a black
moustache which curved downwards round his mouth, but like most
Burmans he was quite beardless.  He had been Flory's servant since
his first day in Burma.  The two men were within a month of one
another's age.  They had been boys together, had tramped side by
side after snipe and duck, sat together in machans waiting for
tigers that never came, shared the discomforts of a thousand camps
and marches; and Ko S'la had pimped for Flory and borrowed money
for him from the Chinese money-lenders, carried him to bed when he
was drunk, tended him through bouts of fever.  In Ko S'la's eyes
Flory, because a bachelor, was a boy still; whereas Ko S'la had
married, begotten five children, married again and become one of
the obscure martyrs of bigamy.  Like all bachelors' servants, Ko
S'la was lazy and dirty, and yet he was devoted to Flory.  He would
never let anyone else serve Flory at table, or carry his gun or
hold his pony's head while he mounted.  On the march, if they came
to a stream, he would carry Flory across on his back.  He was
inclined to pity Flory, partly because he thought him childish and
easily deceived, and partly because of the birthmark, which he
considered a dreadful thing.

Ko S'la put the tea-tray down on the table very quietly, and then
went round to the end of the bed and tickled Flory's toes.  He knew
by experience that this was the only way of waking Flory without
putting him in a bad temper.  Flory rolled over, swore, and pressed
his forehead into the pillow.

'Four o'clock has struck, most holy god,' Ko S'la said.  'I have
brought two teacups, because THE WOMAN said that she was coming.'

THE WOMAN was Ma Hla May, Flory's mistress.  Ko S'la always called
her THE WOMAN, to show his disapproval--not that he disapproved of
Flory for keeping a mistress, but he was jealous of Ma Hla May's
influence in the house.

'Will the holy one play tinnis this evening?' Ko S'la asked.

'No, it's too hot,' said Flory in English.  'I don't want anything
to eat.  Take this muck away and bring some whisky.'

Ko S'la understood English very well, though he could not speak it.
He brought a bottle of whisky, and also Flory's tennis racquet,
which he laid in a meaning manner against the wall opposite the
bed.  Tennis, according to his notions, was a mysterious ritual
incumbent on all Englishmen, and he did not like to see his master
idling in the evenings.

Flory pushed away in disgust the toast and butter that Ko S'la had
brought, but he mixed some whisky in a cup of tea and felt better
after drinking it.  He had slept since noon, and his head and all
his bones ached, and there was a taste like burnt paper in his
mouth.  It was years since he had enjoyed a meal.  All European
food in Burma is more or less disgusting--the bread is spongy stuff
leavened with palm-toddy and tasting like a penny bun gone wrong,
the butter comes out of a tin, and so does the milk, unless it is
the grey watery catlap of the dudh-wallah.  As Ko S'la left the
room there was a scraping of sandals outside, and a Burmese girl's
high-pitched voice said, 'Is my master awake?'

'Come in,' said Flory rather bad temperedly.

Ma Hla May came in, kicking off red-lacquered sandals in the
doorway.  She was allowed to come to tea, as a special privilege,
but not to other meals, nor to wear her sandals in her master's
presence.

Ma Hla May was a woman of twenty-two or -three, and perhaps five
feet tall.  She was dressed in a longyi of pale blue embroidered
Chinese satin, and a starched white muslin ingyi on which several
gold lockets hung.  Her hair was coiled in a tight black cylinder
like ebony, and decorated with jasmine flowers.  Her tiny,
straight, slender body was a contourless as a bas-relief carved
upon a tree.  She was like a doll, with her oval, still face the
colour of new copper, and her narrow eyes; an outlandish doll and
yet a grotesquely beautiful one.  A scent of sandalwood and coco-
nut oil came into the room with her.

Ma Hla May came across to the bed, sat down on the edge and put her
arms rather abruptly round Flory.  She smelled at his cheek with
her flat nose, in the Burmese fashion.

'Why did my master not send for me this afternoon?' she said.

'I was sleeping.  It is too hot for that kind of thing.'

'So you would rather sleep alone than with Ma Hla May?  How ugly
you must think me, then!  Am I ugly, master?'

'Go away,' he said, pushing her back.  'I don't want you at this
time of day.'

'At least touch me with your lips, then.  (There is no Burmese word
for to kiss.)  All white men do that to their women.'

'There you are, then.  Now leave me alone.  Fetch some cigarettes
and give me one.'

'Why is it that nowadays you never want to make love to me?  Ah,
two years ago it was so different!  You loved me in those days.
You gave me presents of gold bangles and silk longyis from
Mandalay.  And now look'--Ma Hla May held out one tiny muslin-clad
arm--'not a single bangle.  Last month I had thirty, and now all of
them are pawned.  How can I go to the bazaar without my bangles,
and wearing the same longyi over and over again?  I am ashamed
before the other women.'

'Is it my fault if you pawn your bangles?'

'Two years ago you would have redeemed them for me.  Ah, you do not
love Ma Hla May any longer!'

She put her arms round him again and kissed him, a European habit
which he had taught her.  A mingled scent of sandalwood, garlic,
coco-nut oil and the jasmine in her hair floated from her.  It was
a scent that always made his teeth tingle.  Rather abstractedly he
pressed her head back upon the pillow and looked down at her queer,
youthful face, with its high cheekbones, stretched eyelids and
short, shapely lips.  She had rather nice teeth, like the teeth of
a kitten.  He had bought her from her parents two years ago, for
three hundred rupees.  He began to stroke her brown throat, rising
like a smooth, slender stalk from the collarless ingyi.

'You only like me because I am a white man and have money,' he
said.

'Master, I love you, I love you more than anything in the world.
Why do you say that?  Have I not always been faithful to you?'

'You have a Burmese lover.'

'Ugh!'  Ma Hla May affected to shudder at the thought.  'To think
of their horrible brown hands, touching me!  I should die if a
Burman touched me!'

'Liar.'

He put his hand on her breast.  Privately, Ma Hla May did not like
this, for it reminded her that her breasts existed--the ideal of a
Burmese woman being to have no breasts.  She lay and let him do as
he wished with her, quite passive yet pleased and faintly smiling,
like a cat which allows one to stroke it.  Flory's embraces meant
nothing to her (Ba Pe, Ko S'la's younger brother, was secretly her
lover), yet she was bitterly hurt when he neglected them.
Sometimes she had even put love-philtres in his food.  It was the
idle concubine's life that she loved, and the visits to her village
dressed in all her finery, when she could boast of her position as
a 'bo-kadaw'--a white man's wife; for she had persuaded everyone,
herself included, that she was Flory's legal wife.

When Flory had done with her he turned away, jaded and ashamed, and
lay silent with his left hand covering his birthmark.  He always
remembered the birthmark when he had done something to be ashamed
of.  He buried his face disgustedly in the pillow, which was damp
and smelt of coco-nut oil.  It was horribly hot, and the doves
outside were still droning.  Ma Hla May, naked, reclined beside
Flory, fanning him gently with a wicker fan she had taken from the
table.

Presently she got up and dressed herself, and lighted a cigarette.
Then, coming back to the bed, she sat down and began stroking
Flory's bare shoulder.  The whiteness of his skin had a fascination
for her, because of its strangeness and the sense of power it gave
her.  But Flory twitched his shoulder to shake her hand away.  At
these times she was nauseating and dreadful to him.  His sole wish
was to get her out of his sight.

'Get out,' he said.

Ma Hla May took her cigarette from her mouth and tried to offer it
to Flory.  'Why is master always so angry with me when he has made
love to me?' she said.

'Get out,' he repeated.

Ma Hla May continued to stroke Flory's shoulder.  She had never
learned the wisdom of leaving him alone at these times.  She
believed that lechery was a form of witchcraft, giving a woman
magical powers over a man, until in the end she could weaken him to
a half-idiotic slave.  Each successive embrace sapped Flory's will
and made the spell stronger--this was her belief.  She began
tormenting him to begin over again.  She laid down her cigarette
and put her arms round him, trying to turn him towards her and kiss
his averted face, reproaching him for his coldness.

'Go away, go away!' he said angrily.  'Look in the pocket of my
shorts.  There is money there.  Take five rupees and go.'

Ma Hla May found the five-rupee note and stuffed it into the bosom
of her ingyi, but she still would not go.  She hovered about the
bed, worrying Flory until at last he grew angry and jumped up.

'Get out of this room!  I told you to go.  I don't want you in here
after I've done with you.'

'That is a nice way to speak to me!  You treat me as though I were
a prostitute.'

'So you are.  Out you go,' he said, pushing her out of the room by
her shoulders.  He kicked her sandals after her.  Their encounters
often ended in this way.

Flory stood in the middle of the room, yawning.  Should he go down
to the Club for tennis after all?  No, it meant shaving, and he
could not face the effort of shaving until he had a few drinks
inside him.  He felt his scrubby chin and lounged across to the
mirror to examine it, but then turned away.  He did not want to see
the yellow, sunken face that would look back at him.  For several
minutes he stood slack-limbed, watching the tuktoo stalk a moth
above the bookshelves.  The cigarette that Ma Hla May had dropped
burned down with an acrid smell, browning the paper.  Flory took a
book from the shelves, opened it and then threw it away in
distaste.  He had not even the energy to read.  Oh God, God, what
to do with the rest of this bloody evening?

Flo waddled into the room, wagging her tail and asking to be taken
for a walk.  Flory went sulkily into the little stone-floored
bathroom that gave on to the bedroom, splashed himself with
lukewarm water and put on his shirt and shorts.  He must take some
kind of exercise before the sun went down.  In India it is in some
way evil to spend a day without being once in a muck-sweat.  It
gives one a deeper sense of sin than a thousand lecheries.  In the
dark evening, after a quite idle day, one's ennui reaches a pitch
that is frantic, suicidal.  Work, prayer, books, drinking, talking--
they are all powerless against it; it can only be sweated out
through the pores of the skin.

Flory went out and followed the road uphill into the jungle.  It
was scrub jungle at first, with dense stunted bushes, and the only
trees were half-wild mangoes, bearing little turpentiny fruits the
size of plums.  Then the road struck among taller trees.  The
jungle was dried-up and lifeless at this time of year.  The trees
lined the road in close, dusty ranks, with leaves a dull olive-
green.  No birds were visible except some ragged brown creatures
like disreputable thrushes, which hopped clumsily under the bushes;
in the distance some other bird uttered a cry of 'AH ha ha!  AH ha
ha!'--a lonely, hollow sound like the echo of a laugh.  There was a
poisonous, ivy-like smell of crushed leaves.  It was still hot,
though the sun was losing its glare and the slanting light was
yellow.

After two miles the road ended at the ford of a shallow stream.
The jungle grew greener here, because of the water, and the trees
were taller.  At the edge of the stream there was a huge dead
pyinkado tree festooned with spidery orchids, and there were some
wild lime bushes with white waxen flowers.  They had a sharp scent
like bergamot.  Flory had walked fast and the sweat had drenched
his shirt and dribbled, stinging, into his eyes.  He had sweated
himself into a better mood.  Also, the sight of this stream always
heartened him; its water was quite clear, rarest of sights in a
miry country.  He crossed the stream by the stepping stones, Flo
splashing after him, and turned into a narrow track he knew, which
led through the bushes.  It was a track that cattle had made,
coming to the stream to drink, and few human beings ever followed
it.  It led to a pool fifty yards upstream.  Here a peepul tree
grew, a great buttressed thing six feet thick, woven of innumerable
strands of wood, like a wooden cable twisted by a giant.  The roots
of the tree made a natural cavern, under which the clear greenish
water bubbled.  Above and all around dense foliage shut out the
light, turning the place into a green grotto walled with leaves.

Flory threw off his clothes and stepped into the water.  It was a
shade cooler than the air, and it came up to his neck when he sat
down.  Shoals of silvery mahseer, no bigger than sardines, came
nosing and nibbling at his body.  Flo had also flopped into the
water, and she swam round silently, otter-like, with her webbed
feet.  She knew the pool well, for they often came here when Flory
was at Kyauktada.

There was a stirring high up in the peepul tree, and a bubbling
noise like pots boiling.  A flock of green pigeons were up there,
eating the berries.  Flory gazed up into the great green dome of
the tree, trying to distinguish the birds; they were invisible,
they matched the leaves so perfectly, and yet the whole tree was
alive with them, shimmering, as though the ghosts of birds were
shaking it.  Flo rested herself against the roots and growled up at
the invisible creatures.  Then a single green pigeon fluttered down
and perched on a lower branch.  It did not know that it was being
watched.  It was a tender thing, smaller than a tame dove, with
jade-green back as smooth as velvet, and neck and breast of
iridescent colours.  Its legs were like the pink wax that dentists
use.

The pigeon rocked itself backwards and forwards on the bough,
swelling out its breast feathers and laying its coralline beak upon
them.  A pang went through Flory.  Alone, alone, the bitterness of
being alone!  So often like this, in lonely places in the forest,
he would come upon something--bird, flower, tree--beautiful beyond
all words, if there had been a soul with whom to share it.  Beauty
is meaningless until it is shared.  If he had one person, just one,
to halve his loneliness!  Suddenly the pigeon saw the man and dog
below, sprang into the air and dashed away swift as a bullet, with
a rattle of wings.  One does not often see green pigeons so closely
when they are alive.  They are high-flying birds, living in the
treetops, and they do not come to the ground, or only to drink.
When one shoots them, if they are not killed outright, they cling
to the branch until they die, and drop long after one has given up
waiting and gone away.

Flory got out of the water, put on his clothes and recrossed the
stream.  He did not go home by the road, but followed a foot-track
southward into the jungle, intending to make a detour and pass
through a village that lay in the fringe of the jungle not far from
his house.  Flo frisked in and out of the undergrowth, yelping
sometimes when her long ears caught in the thorns.  She had once
turned up a hare near here.  Flory walked slowly.  The smoke of his
pipe floated straight upwards in still plumes.  He was happy and at
peace after the walk and the clear water.  It was cooler now,
except for patches of heat lingering under the thicker trees, and
the light was gentle.  Bullock-cart wheels were screaming
peacefully in the distance.

Soon they had lost their way in the jungle, and were wandering in a
maze of dead trees and tangled bushes.  They came to an impasse
where the path was blocked by large ugly plants like magnified
aspidistras, whose leaves terminated in long lashes armed with
thorns.  A firefly glowed greenish at the bottom of a bush; it was
getting twilight in the thicker places.  Presently the bullock-cart
wheels screamed nearer, taking a parallel course.

'Hey, saya gyi, saya gyi!' Flory shouted, taking Flo by the collar
to prevent her running away.

'Ba le-de?' the Burman shouted back.  There was the sound of
plunging hooves and of yells to the bullocks.

'Come here, if you please, O venerable and learned sir!  We have
lost our way.  Stop a moment, O great builder of pagodas!'

The Burman left his cart and pushed through the jungle, slicing the
creepers with his dah.  He was a squat middle-aged man with one
eye.  He led the way back to the track, and Flory climbed on to the
flat, uncomfortable bullock cart.  The Burman took up the string
reins, yelled to the bullocks, prodded the roots of their tails
with his short stick, and the cart jolted on with a shriek of
wheels.  The Burmese bullock-cart drivers seldom grease their
axles, probably because they believe that the screaming keeps away
evil spirits, though when questioned they will say that it is
because they are too poor to buy grease.

They passed a whitewashed wooden pagoda, no taller than a man and
half hidden by the tendrils of creeping plants.  Then the track
wound into the village, which consisted of twenty ruinous, wooden
huts roofed with thatch, and a well beneath some barren date-palms.
The egrets that roosted in the palms were streaming homewards over
the treetops like white flights of arrows.  A fat yellow woman with
her longyi hitched under her armpits was chasing a dog round a hut,
smacking at it with a bamboo and laughing, and the dog was also
laughing in its fashion.  The village was called Nyaunglebin--'the
four peepul trees'; there were no peepul trees there now, probably
they had been cut down and forgotten a century ago.  The villagers
cultivated a narrow strip of fields that lay between the town and
the jungle, and they also made bullock carts which they sold in
Kyauktada.  Bullock-cart wheels were littered everywhere under the
houses; massive things five feet across, with spokes roughly but
strongly carved.

Flory got off the cart and gave the driver a present of four annas.
Some brindled curs hurried from beneath the houses to sniff at Flo,
and a flock of pot-bellied, naked children, with their hair tied in
top-knots, also appeared, curious about the white man but keeping
their distance.  The village headman, a wizened, leaf-brown old
man, came out of his house, and there were shikoings.  Flory sat
down on the steps of the headman's house and relighted his pipe.
He was thirsty.

'Is the water in your well good to drink, thugyi-min?'

The headman reflected, scratching the calf of his left leg with his
right big toenail.  'Those who drink it, drink it, thakin.  And
those who do not drink it, do not drink it.'

'Ah.  That is wisdom.'

The fat woman who had chased the pariah brought a blackened
earthenware teapot and a handleless bowl, and gave Flory some pale
green tea, tasting of wood-smoke.

'I must be going, thugyi-min.  Thank you for the tea.'

'God go with you, thakin.'

Flory went home by a path that led out on to the maidan.  It was
dark now.  Ko S'la had put on a clean ingyi and was waiting in the
bedroom.  He had heated two kerosene tins of bath-water, lighted
the petrol lamps and laid out a clean suit and shirt for Flory.
The clean clothes were intended as a hint that Flory should shave,
dress himself and go down to the Club after dinner.  Occasionally
he spent the evening in Shan trousers, loafing in a chair with a
book, and Ko S'la disapproved of this habit.  He hated to see his
master behaving differently from other white men.  The fact that
Flory often came back from the Club drunk, whereas he remained
sober when he stayed at home, did not alter Ko S'la's opinion,
because getting drunk was normal and pardonable in a white man.

'The woman has gone down to the bazaar,' he announced, pleased, as
he always was when Ma Hla May left the house.  'Ba Pe has gone with
a lantern, to look after her when she comes back.'

'Good,' Flory said.

She had gone to spend her five rupees--gambling, no doubt.  'The
holy one's bath-water is ready.'

'Wait, we must attend to the dog first.  Bring the comb,' Flory
said.

The two men squatted on the floor together and combed Flo's silky
coat and felt between her toes, picking out the ticks.  It had to
be done every evening.  She picked up vast numbers of ticks during
the day, horrible grey things that were the size of pin-heads when
they got on to her, and gorged themselves till they were as large
as peas.  As each tick was detached Ko S'la put it on the floor and
carefully crushed it with his big toe.

Then Flory shaved, bathed, dressed, and sat down to dinner.  Ko
S'la stood behind his chair, handing him the dishes and fanning him
with the wicker fan.  He had arranged a bowl of scarlet hibiscus
flowers in the middle of the little table.  The meal was pretentious
and filthy.  The clever 'Mug' cooks, descendants of servants trained
by Frenchmen in India centuries ago, can do anything with food
except make it eatable.  After dinner Flory walked down to the Club,
to play bridge and get three parts drunk, as he did most evenings
when he was in Kyauktada.



5


In spite of the whisky he had drunk at the Club, Flory had little
sleep that night.  The pariah curs were baying the moon--it was
only a quarter full and nearly down by midnight, but the dogs slept
all day in the heat, and they had begun their moon-choruses
already.  One dog had taken a dislike to Flory's house, and had
settled down to bay at it systematically.  Sitting on its bottom
fifty yards from the gate, it let out sharp, angry yelps, one to
half a minute, as regularly as a clock.  It would keep this up for
two or three hours, until the cocks began crowing.

Flory lay turning from side to side, his head aching.  Some fool
has said that one cannot hate an animal; he should try a few nights
in India, when the dogs are baying the moon.  In the end Flory
could stand it no longer.  He got up, rummaged in the tin uniform
case under his bed for a rifle and a couple of cartridges, and went
out on to the veranda.

It was fairly light in the quarter moon.  He could see the dog, and
he could see his foresight.  He rested himself against the wooden
pillar of the veranda and took aim carefully; then, as he felt the
hard vulcanite butt against his bare shoulder, he flinched.  The
rifle had a heavy kick, and it left a bruise when one fired it.
The soft flesh of his shoulder quailed.  He lowered the rifle.
He had not the nerve to fire it in cold blood.

It was no use trying to sleep.  Flory got his jacket and some
cigarettes, and began to stroll up and down the garden path,
between the ghostly flowers.  It was hot, and the mosquitoes found
him out and came droning after him.  Phantoms of dogs were chasing
one another on the maidan.  Over to the left the gravestones of the
English cemetery glittered whitish, rather sinister, and one could
see the mounds near by, that were the remains of old Chinese tombs.
The hillside was said to be haunted, and the Club chokras cried
when they were sent up the road at night.

'Cur, spineless cur,' Flory was thinking to himself; without heat,
however, for he was too accustomed to the thought.  'Sneaking,
idling, boozing, fornicating, soul-examining, self-pitying cur.
All those fools at the Club, those dull louts to whom you are so
pleased to think yourself superior--they are all better than you,
every man of them.  At least they are men in their oafish way.  Not
cowards, not liars.  Not half-dead and rotting.  But you--'

He had reason to call himself names.  There had been a nasty, dirty
affair at the Club that evening.  Something quite ordinary, quite
according to precedent; but still dingy, cowardly, dishonouring.

When Flory had arrived at the Club only Ellis and Maxwell were
there.  The Lackersteens had gone to the station with the loan of
Mr Macgregor's car, to meet their niece, who was to arrive by the
night train.  The three men were playing three-handed bridge fairly
amicably when Westfield came in, his sandy face quite pink with
rage, bringing a copy of a Burmese paper called the Burmese
Patriot.  There was a libellous article in it, attacking Mr
Macgregor.  The rage of Ellis and Westfield was devilish.  They
were so angry that Flory had the greatest difficulty in pretending
to be angry enough to satisfy them.  Ellis spent five minutes in
cursing and then, by some extraordinary process, made up his mind
that Dr Veraswami was responsible for the article.  And he had
thought of a counterstroke already.  They would put a notice on the
board--a notice answering and contradicting the one Mr Macgregor
had posted the day before.  Ellis wrote it out immediately, in his
tiny, clear handwriting:

'In view of the cowardly insult recently offered to our Deputy
commissioner, we the undersigned wish to give it as our opinion
that this is the worst possible moment to consider the election of
niggers to this Club,' etc ,etc.

Westfield demurred to 'niggers'.  It was crossed out by a single
thin line and 'natives' substituted.  The notice was signed
'R. Westfield, P. W. Ellis, C. W. Maxwell, J. Flory.'

Ellis was so pleased with his idea that quite half of his anger
evaporated.  The notice would accomplish nothing in itself, but the
news of it would travel swiftly round the town, and would reach Dr
Veraswami tomorrow.  In effect, the doctor would have been publicly
called a nigger by the European community.  This delighted Ellis.
For the rest of the evening he could hardly keep his eyes from the
notice-board, and every few minutes he exclaimed in glee, 'That'll
give little fat-belly something to think about, eh?  Teach the
little sod what we think of him.  That's the way to put 'em in
their place, eh?' etc.

Meanwhile, Flory had signed a public insult to his friend.  He had
done it for the same reason as he had done a thousand such things
in his life; because he lacked the small spark of courage that was
needed to refuse.  For, of course, he could have refused if he had
chosen; and, equally of course, refusal would have meant a row with
Ellis and Westfield.  And oh, how he loathed a row!  The nagging,
the jeers!  At the very thought of it he flinched; he could feel
his birthmark palpable on his cheek, and something happening in his
throat that made his voice go flat and guilty.  Not that!  It was
easier to insult his friend, knowing that his friend must hear of
it.

Flory had been fifteen years in Burma, and in Burma one learns not
to set oneself up against public opinion.  But his trouble was
older than that.  It had begun in his mother's womb, when chance
put the blue birthmark on his cheek.  He thought of some of the
early effects of his birthmark.  His first arrival at school, aged
nine; the stares and, after a few days, shouts of the other boys;
the nickname Blueface, which lasted until the school poet (now,
Flory remembered, a critic who wrote rather good articles in the
Nation) came out with the couplet:


New-tick Flory does look rum,
Got a face like a monkey's bum,


whereupon the nickname was changed to Monkey-bum.  And the
subsequent years.  On Saturday nights the older boys used to have
what they called a Spanish Inquisition.  The favourite torture was
for someone to hold you in a very painful grip known only to a few
illuminati and called Special Togo, while someone else beat you
with a conker on a piece of string.  But Flory had lived down
'Monkey-bum' in time.  He was a liar, and a good footballer, the
two things absolutely necessary for success at school.  In his last
term he and another boy held the school poet in Special Togo while
the captain of the eleven gave him six with a spiked running shoe
for being caught writing a sonnet.  It was a formative period.

From that school he went to a cheap, third-rate public school.  It
was a poor, spurious place.  It aped the great public schools with
their traditions of High Anglicanism, cricket and Latin verses, and
it had a school song called 'The Scrum of Life' in which God
figured as the Great Referee.  But it lacked the chief virtue of
the great public schools, their atmosphere of literary scholarship.
The boys learned as nearly as possible nothing.  There was not
enough caning to make them swallow the dreary rubbish of the
curriculum, and the wretched, underpaid masters were not the kind
from whom one absorbs wisdom unawares.  Flory left school a
barbarous young lout.  And yet even then there were, and he knew
it, certain possibilities in him; possibilities that would lead to
trouble as likely as not.  But, of course, he had suppressed them.
A boy does not start his career nicknamed Monkey-bum without
learning his lesson.

He was not quite twenty when he came to Burma.  His parents, good
people and devoted to him, had found him a place in a timber firm.
They had had great difficulty in getting him the job, had paid a
premium they could not afford; later, he had rewarded them by
answering their letters with careless scrawls at intervals of
months.  His first six months in Burma he had spent in Rangoon,
where he was supposed to be learning the office side of his
business.  He had lived in a 'chummery' with four other youths who
devoted their entire energies to debauchery.  And what debauchery!
They swilled whisky which they privately hated, they stood round
the piano bawling songs of insane filthiness and silliness, they
squandered rupees by the hundred on aged Jewish whores with the
faces of crocodiles.  That too had been a formative period.

From Rangoon he had gone to a camp in the jungle, north of
Mandalay, extracting teak.  The jungle life was not a bad one, in
spite of the discomfort, the loneliness, and what is almost the
worst thing in Burma, the filthy, monotonous food.  He was very
young then, young enough for hero-worship, and he had friends among
the men in his firm.  There were also shooting, fishing, and
perhaps once in a year a hurried trip to Rangoon--pretext, a visit
to the dentist.  Oh, the joy of those Rangoon trips!  The rush to
Smart and Mookerdum's bookshop for the new novels out from England,
the dinner at Anderson's with beefsteaks and butter that had
travelled eight thousand miles on ice, the glorious drinking-bout!
He was too young to realize what this life was preparing for him.
He did not see the years stretching out ahead, lonely, eventless,
corrupting.

He acclimatized himself to Burma.  His body grew attuned to the
strange rhythms of the tropical seasons.  Every year from February
to May the sun glared in the sky like an angry god, then suddenly
the monsoon blew westward, first in sharp squalls, then in a heavy
ceaseless downpour that drenched everything until neither one's
clothes, one's bed nor even one's food ever seemed to be dry.  It
was still hot, with a stuffy, vaporous heat.  The lower jungle
paths turned into morasses, and the paddy-fields were wastes of
stagnant water with a stale, mousy smell.  Books and boots were
mildewed.  Naked Burmans in yard-wide hats of palm-leaf ploughed
the paddy-fields, driving their buffaloes through knee-deep water.
Later, the women and children planted the green seedlings of paddy,
dabbing each plant into the mud with little three-pronged forks.
Through July and August there was hardly a pause in the rain.  Then
one night, high overhead, one heard a squawking of invisible birds.
The snipe were flying southward from Central Asia.  The rains
tailed off, ending in October.  The fields dried up, the paddy
ripened, the Burmese children played hop-scotch with gonyin seeds
and flew kites in the cool winds.  It was the beginning of the
short winter, when Upper Burma seemed haunted by the ghost of
England.  Wild flowers sprang into bloom everywhere, not quite the
same as the English ones, but very like them--honeysuckle in thick
bushes, field roses smelling of pear-drops, even violets in dark
places of the forest.  The sun circled low in the sky, and the
nights and early mornings were bitterly cold, with white mists that
poured through the valleys like the steam of enormous kettles.  One
went shooting after duck and snipe.  There were snipe in countless
myriads, and wild geese in flocks that rose from the jeel with a
roar like a goods train crossing an iron bridge.  The ripening
paddy, breast-high and yellow, looked like wheat.  The Burmans went
to their work with muffled heads and their arms clasped across
their breasts, their faces yellow and pinched with the cold.  In
the morning one marched through misty, incongruous wilderness,
clearings of drenched, almost English grass and naked trees where
monkeys squatted in the upper branches, waiting for the sun.  At
night, coming back to camp through the cold lanes, one met herds of
buffaloes which the boys were driving home, with their huge horns
looming through the mist like crescents.  One had three blankets on
one's bed, and game pies instead of the eternal chicken.  After
dinner one sat on a log by the vast camp-fire, drinking beer and
talking about shooting.  The flames danced like red holly, casting
a circle of light at the edge of which servants and coolies
squatted, too shy to intrude on the white men and yet edging up to
the fire like dogs.  As one lay in bed one could hear the dew
dripping from the trees like large but gentle rain.  It was a good
life while one was young and need not think about the future or the
past.

Flory was twenty-four, and due for home leave, when the War broke
out.  He had dodged military service, which was easy to do and
seemed natural at the time.  The civilians in Burma had a
comforting theory that 'sticking by one's job' (wonderful language,
English!  'Sticking BY'--how different from 'sticking TO') was the
truest patriotism; there was even a covert hostility towards the
men who threw up their jobs in order to join the Army.  In reality,
Flory had dodged the War because the East already corrupted him,
and he did not want to exchange his whisky, his servants and his
Burmese girls for the boredom of the parade ground and the strain
of cruel marches.  The War rolled on, like a storm beyond the
horizon.  The hot, blowsy country, remote from danger, had a
lonely, forgotten feeling.  Flory took to reading voraciously, and
learned to live in books when life was tiresome.  He was growing
adult, tiring of boyish pleasures, learning to think for himself,
almost willy-nilly.

He celebrated his twenty-seventh birthday in hospital, covered from
head to foot with hideous sores which were called mud-sores, but
were probably caused by whisky and bad food.  They left little pits
in his skin which did not disappear for two years.  Quite suddenly
he had begun to look and feel very much older.  His youth was
finished.  Eight years of Eastern life, fever, loneliness and
intermittent drinking, had set their mark on him.

Since then, each year had been lonelier and more bitter than the
last.  What was at the centre of all his thoughts now, and what
poisoned everything, was the ever bitterer hatred of the atmosphere
of imperialism in which he lived.  For as his brain developed--you
cannot stop your brain developing, and it is one of the tragedies
of the half-educated that they develop late, when they are already
committed to some wrong way of life--he had grasped the truth about
the English and their Empire.  The Indian Empire is a despotism--
benevolent, no doubt, but still a despotism with theft as its final
object.  And as to the English of the East, the sahiblog, Flory had
come so to hate them from living in their society, that he was
quite incapable of being fair to them.  For after all, the poor
devils are no worse than anybody else.  They lead unenviable lives;
it is a poor bargain to spend thirty years, ill-paid, in an alien
country, and then come home with a wrecked liver and a pine-apple
backside from sitting in cane chairs, to settle down as the bore of
some second-rate Club.  On the other hand, the sahiblog are not to
be idealized.  There is a prevalent idea that the men at the
'outposts of Empire' are at least able and hardworking.  It is a
delusion.  Outside the scientific services--the Forest Department,
the Public Works Department and the like--there is no particular
need for a British official in India to do his job competently.
Few of them work as hard or as intelligently as the postmaster of a
provincial town in England.  The real work of administration is
done mainly by native subordinates; and the real backbone of the
despotism is not the officials but the Army.  Given the Army, the
officials and the businessmen can rub along safely enough even if
they are fools.  And most of them ARE fools.  A dull, decent
people, cherishing and fortifying their dullness behind a quarter
of a million bayonets.

It is a stifling, stultifying world in which to live.  It is a
world in which every word and every thought is censored.  In
England it is hard even to imagine such an atmosphere.  Everyone is
free in England; we sell our souls in public and buy them back in
private, among our friends.  But even friendship can hardly exist
when every white man is a cog in the wheels of despotism.  Free
speech is unthinkable.  All other kinds of freedom are permitted.
You are free to be a drunkard, an idler, a coward, a backbiter, a
fornicator; but you are not free to think for yourself.  Your
opinion on every subject of any conceivable importance is dictated
for you by the pukka sahibs' code.

In the end the secrecy of your revolt poisons you like a secret
disease.  Your whole life is a life of lies.  Year after year you
sit in Kipling-haunted little Clubs, whisky to right of you,
Pink'un to left of you, listening and eagerly agreeing while
Colonel Bodger develops his theory that these bloody Nationalists
should be boiled in oil.  You hear your Oriental friends called
'greasy little babus', and you admit, dutifully, that they ARE
greasy little babus.  You see louts fresh from school kicking grey-
haired servants.  The time comes when you burn with hatred of your
own countrymen, when you long for a native rising to drown their
Empire in blood.  And in this there is nothing honourable, hardly
even any sincerity.  For, au fond, what do you care if the Indian
Empire is a despotism, if Indians are bullied and exploited?  You
only care because the right of free speech is denied you.  You are
a creature of the despotism, a pukka sahib, tied tighter than a
monk or a savage by an unbreakable system of tabus.

Time passed and each year Flory found himself less at home in the
world of the sahibs, more liable to get into trouble when he talked
seriously on any subject whatever.  So he had learned to live
inwardly, secretly, in books and secret thoughts that could not be
uttered.  Even his talks with the doctor were a kind of talking to
himself; for the doctor, good man, understood little of what was
said to him.  But it is a corrupting thing to live one's real life
in secret.  One should live with the stream of life, not against
it.  It would be better to be the thickest-skulled pukka sahib who
ever hiccuped over 'Forty years on', than to live silent, alone,
consoling oneself in secret, sterile worlds.

Flory had never been home to England.  Why, he could not have
explained, though he knew well enough.  In the beginning accidents
had prevented him.  First there was the War, and after the War his
firm were so short of trained assistants that they would not let
him go for two years more.  Then at last he had set out.  He was
pining for England, though he dreaded facing it, as one dreads
facing a pretty girl when one is collarless and unshaven.  When he
left home he had been a boy, a promising boy and handsome in spite
of his birthmark; now, only ten years later, he was yellow, thin,
drunken, almost middle-aged in habits and appearance.  Still, he
was pining for England.  The ship rolled westward over wastes of
sea like rough-beaten silver, with the winter trade wind behind
her.  Flory's thin blood quickened with the good food and the smell
of the sea.  And it occurred to him--a thing he had actually
forgotten in the stagnant air of Burma--that he was still young
enough to begin over again.  He would live a year in a civilized
society, he would find some girl who did not mind his birthmark--
a civilized girl, not a pukka memsahib--and he would marry her and
endure ten, fifteen more years of Burma.  Then they would retire--
he would be worth twelve or fifteen thousand pounds on retirement,
perhaps.  They would buy a cottage in the country, surround
themselves with friends, books, their children, animals.  They
would be free for ever of the smell of pukka sahibdom.  He would
forget Burma, the horrible country that had come near ruining him.

When he reached Colombo he found a cable waiting for him.  Three
men in his firm had died suddenly of black-water fever.  The firm
were sorry, but would he please return to Rangoon at once?  He
should have his leave at the earliest possible opportunity.

Flory boarded the next boat for Rangoon, cursing his luck, and took
the train back to his headquarters.  He was not at Kyauktada then,
but at another Upper Burma town.  All the servants were waiting for
him on the platform.  He had handed them over en bloc to his
successor, who had died.  It was so queer to see their familiar
faces again!  Only ten days ago he had been speeding for England,
almost thinking himself in England already; and now back in the old
stale scene, with the naked black coolies squabbling over the
luggage and a Burman shouting at his bullocks down the road.

The servants came crowding round him, a ring of kindly brown faces,
offering presents.  Ko S'la had brought a sambhur skin, the Indians
some sweetmeats and a garland of marigolds, Ba Pe, a young boy
then, a squirrel in a wicker cage.  There were bullock carts
waiting for the luggage.  Flory walked up to the house, looking
ridiculous with the big garland dangling from his neck.  The light
of the cold-weather evening was yellow and kind.  At the gate an
old Indian, the colour of earth, was cropping grass with a tiny
sickle.  The wives of the cook and the mali were kneeling in front
of the servants' quarters, grinding curry paste on the stone slab.

Something turned over in Flory's heart.  It was one of those moments
when one becomes conscious of a vast change and deterioration in
one's life.  For he had realized, suddenly, that in his heart he was
glad to be coming back.  This country which he hated was now his
native country, his home.  He had lived here ten years, and every
particle of his body was compounded of Burmese soil.  Scenes like
these--the sallow evening light, the old Indian cropping grass, the
creak of the cartwheels, the streaming egrets--were more native to
him than England.  He had sent deep roots, perhaps his deepest, into
a foreign country.

Since then he had not even applied for home leave.  His father had
died, then his mother, and his sisters, disagreeable horse-faced
women whom he had never liked, had married and he had almost lost
touch with them.  He had no tie with Europe now, except the tie of
books.  For he had realized that merely to go back to England was
no remedy for loneliness; he had grasped the special nature of the
hell that is reserved for Anglo-Indians.  Ah, those poor prosing
old wrecks in Bath and Cheltenham!  Those tomb-like boarding-houses
with Anglo-Indians littered about in all stages of decomposition,
all talking and talking about what happened in Boggleywalah in '88!
Poor devils, they know what it means to have left one's heart in an
alien and hated country.  There was, he saw clearly, only one way
out.  To find someone who would share his life in Burma--but really
share it, share his inner, secret life, carry away from Burma the
same memories as he carried.  Someone who would love Burma as he
loved it and hate it as he hated it.  Who would help him to live
with nothing hidden, nothing unexpressed.  Someone who understood
him: a friend, that was what it came down to.

A friend.  Or a wife?  That quite impossible she.  Someone like Mrs
Lackersteen, for instance?  Some damned memsahib, yellow and thin,
scandalmongering over cocktails, making kit-kit with the servants,
living twenty years in the country without learning a word of the
language.  Not one of those, please God.

Flory leaned over the gate.  The moon was vanishing behind the dark
wall of the jungle, but the dogs were still howling.  Some lines
from Gilbert came into his mind, a vulgar silly jingle but
appropriate--something about 'discoursing on your complicated state
of mind'.  Gilbert was a gifted little skunk.  Did all his trouble,
then, simply boil down to that?  Just complicated, unmanly
whinings; poor-little-rich-girl stuff?  Was he no more than a
loafer using his idleness to invent imaginary woes?  A spiritual
Mrs Wititterly?  A Hamlet without poetry?  Perhaps.  And if so, did
that make it any more bearable?  It is not the less bitter because
it is perhaps one's own fault, to see oneself drifting, rotting, in
dishonour and horrible futility, and all the while knowing that
somewhere within one there is the possibility of a decent human
being.

Oh well, God save us from self-pity!  Flory went back to the
veranda, took up the rifle, and wincing slightly, let drive at the
pariah dog.  There was an echoing roar, and the bullet buried
itself in the maidan, wide of the mark.  A mulberry-coloured bruise
sprang out on Flory's shoulder.  The dog gave a yell of fright,
took to its heels, and then, sitting down fifty yards farther away,
once more began rhythmically baying.



6


The morning sunlight slanted up the maidan and struck, yellow as
goldleaf, against the white face of the bungalow.  Four black-
purple crows swooped down and perched on the veranda rail, waiting
their chance to dart in and steal the bread and butter that Ko S'la
had set down beside Flory's bed.  Flory crawled through the
mosquito net, shouted to Ko S'la to bring him some gin, and then
went into the bathroom and sat for a while in a zinc tub of water
that was supposed to be cold.  Feeling better after the gin, he
shaved himself.  As a rule he put off shaving until the evening,
for his beard was black and grew quickly.

While Flory was sitting morosely in his bath, Mr Macgregor, in
shorts and singlet on the bamboo mat laid for the purpose in his
bedroom, was struggling with Numbers 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 of
Nordenflycht's 'Physical Jerks for the Sedentary'.  Mr Macgregor
never, or hardly ever, missed his morning exercises.  Number 8
(flat on the back, raise legs to the perpendicular without bending
knees) was downright painful for a man of forty-three; Number 9
(flat on the back, rise to a sitting posture and touch toes with
tips of fingers) was even worse.  No matter, one must keep fit!  As
Mr Macgregor lunged painfully in the direction of his toes, a
brick-red shade flowed upwards from his neck and congested his face
with a threat of apoplexy.  The sweat gleamed on his large, tallowy
breasts.  Stick it out, stick it out!  At all costs one must keep
fit.  Mohammed Ali, the bearer, with Mr Macgregor's clean clothes
across his arm, watched through the half-open door.  His narrow,
yellow, Arabian face expressed neither comprehension nor curiosity.
He had watched these contortions--a sacrifice, he dimly imagined,
to some mysterious and exacting god--every morning for five years.

At the same time, too, Westfield, who had gone out early, was
leaning against the notched and ink-stained table of the police
station, while the fat Sub-inspector interrogated a suspect whom
two constables were guarding.  The suspect was a man of forty, with
a grey, timorous face, dressed only in a ragged longyi kilted to
the knee, beneath which his lank, curved shins were speckled with
tick-bites.

'Who is this fellow?' said Westfield.

'Thief, sir.  We catch him in possession of this ring with two
emeralds very-dear.  No explanation.  How could he--poor coolie--
own a emerald ring?  He have stole it.'

He turned ferociously upon the suspect, advanced his face tomcat-
fashion till it was almost touching the other's, and roared in an
enormous voice:

'You stole the ring!'

'No.'

'You are an old offender!'

'No.'

'You have been in prison!'

'No.'

'Turn round!' bellowed the Sub-inspector on an inspiration.  'Bend
over!'

The suspect turned his grey face in agony towards Westfield, who
looked away.  The two constables seized him, twisted him round and
bent him over; the Sub-inspector tore off his longyi, exposing his
buttocks.

'Look at this, sir!'  He pointed to some scars.  'He have been
flogged with bamboos.  He is an old offender.  THEREFORE he stole
the ring!'

'All right, put him in the clink,' said Westfield moodily, as he
lounged away from the table with his hands in his pockets.  At the
bottom of his heart he loathed running in these poor devils of
common thieves.  Dacoits, rebels--yes; but not these poor cringing
rats!  'How many have you got in the clink now, Maung Ba?' he said.

'Three, sir.'

The lock-up was upstairs, a cage surrounded by six-inch wooden
bars, guarded by a constable armed with a carbine.  It was very
dark, stifling hot, and quite unfurnished, except for an earth
latrine that stank to heaven.  Two prisoners were squatting at the
bars, keeping their distance from a third, an Indian coolie, who
was covered from head to foot with ringworm like a coat of mail.  A
stout Burmese woman, wife of a constable, was kneeling outside the
cage ladling rice and watery dahl into tin pannikins.

'Is the food good?' said Westfield.

'It is good, most holy one,' chorused the prisoners.

The Government provided for the prisoners' food at the rate of two
annas and a half per meal per man, out of which the constable's
wife looked to make a profit of one anna.

Flory went outside and loitered down the compound, poking weeds
into the ground with his stick.  At that hour there were beautiful
faint colours in everything--tender green of leaves, pinkish brown
of earth and tree-trunks--like aquarelle washes that would vanish
in the later glare.  Down on the maidan flights of small, low-
flying brown doves chased one another to and fro, and bee-eaters,
emerald-green, curvetted like slow swallows.  A file of sweepers,
each with his load half hidden beneath his garment, were marching
to some dreadful dumping-hole that existed on the edge of the
jungle.  Starveling wretches, with stick-like limbs and knees too
feeble to be straightened, draped in earth-coloured rags, they were
like a procession of shrouded skeletons walking.

The mali was breaking ground for a new flower-bed, down by the
pigeon-cote that stood near the gate.  He was a lymphatic, half-
witted Hindu youth, who lived his life in almost complete silence,
because he spoke some Manipur dialect which nobody else understood,
not even his Zerbadi wife.  His tongue was also a size too large
for his mouth.  He salaamed low to Flory, covering his face with
his hand, then swung his mamootie aloft again and hacked at the dry
ground with heavy, clumsy strokes, his tender back-muscles quivering.

A sharp grating scream that sounded like 'Kwaaa!' came from the
servants quarters.  Ko S'la's wives had begun their morning
quarrel.  The tame fighting cock, called Nero, strutted zigzag down
the path, nervous of Flo, and Ba Pe came out with a bowl of paddy
and they fed Nero and the pigeons.  There were more yells from the
servants' quarters, and the gruffer voices of men trying to stop
the quarrel.  Ko S'la suffered a great deal from his wives.  Ma Pu,
the first wife, was a gaunt hard-faced woman, stringy from much
child-bearing, and Ma Yi, the 'little wife', was a fat, lazy cat
some years younger.  The two women fought incessantly when Flory
was in headquarters and they were together.  Once when Ma Pu was
chasing Ko S'la with a bamboo, he had dodged behind Flory for
protection, and Flory had received a nasty blow on the leg.

Mr Macgregor was coming up the road, striding briskly and swinging
a thick walking-stick.  He was dressed in khaki pagri-cloth shirt,
drill shorts and a pigsticker topi.  Besides his exercises, he took
a brisk two-mile walk every morning when he could spare the time.

'Top o' the mornin' to ye!' he called to Flory in a hearty
matutinal voice, putting on an Irish accent.  He cultivated a
brisk, invigorating, cold-bath demeanour at this hour of the
morning.  Moreover, the libellous article in the Burmese Patriot,
which he had read overnight, had hurt him, and he was affecting a
special cheeriness to conceal this.

'Morning!' Flory called back as heartily as he could manage.

Nasty old bladder of lard! he thought, watching Mr Macgregor up the
road.  How his bottom did stick out in those tight khaki shorts.
Like one of those beastly middle-aged scoutmasters, homosexuals
almost to a man, that you see photographs of in the illustrated
papers.  Dressing himself up in those ridiculous clothes and
exposing his pudgy, dimpled knees, because it is the pukka sahib
thing to take exercise before breakfast--disgusting!

A Burman came up the hill, a splash of white and magenta.  It was
Flory's clerk, coming from the tiny office, which was not far from
the church.  Reaching the gate, he shikoed and presented a grimy
envelope, stamped Burmese-fashion on the point of the flap.

'Good morning, sir.'

'Good morning.  What's this thing?'

'Local letter, your honour.  Come this morning's post.  Anonymous
letter, I think, sir.'

'Oh bother.  All right, I'll be down to the office about eleven.'

Flory opened the letter.  It was written on a sheet of foolscap,
and it ran:


MR JOHN FLORY,

SIR,--I the undersigned beg to suggest and WARN to your honour
certain useful pieces of information whereby your honour will be
much profited, sir.

Sir, it has been remarked in Kyauktada your honour's great
friendship and intimacy with Dr Veraswami, the Civil Surgeon,
frequenting with him, inviting him to your house, etc.  Sir, we beg
to inform you that the said Dr Veraswami is NOT A GOOD MAN and in
no ways a worthy friend of European gentlemen.  The doctor is
eminently dishonest, disloyal and corrupt public servant.  Coloured
water is he providing to patients at the hospital and selling drugs
for own profit, besides many bribes, extortions, etc.  Two
prisoners has he flogged with bamboos, afterwards rubbing chilis
into the place if relatives do not send money.  Besides this he is
implicated with the Nationalist Party and lately provided material
for a very evil article which appeared in the Burmese Patriot
attacking Mr Macgregor, the honoured Deputy Commissioner.

He is also sleeping by force with female patients at the hospital.

Wherefore we are much hoping that your honour will ESCHEW same Dr
Veraswami and not consort with persons who can bring nothing but
evil upon your honour.

And shall ever pray for your honour's long health and prosperity.

(Signed)  A FRIEND.


The letter was written in the shaky round hand of the bazaar
letter-writer, which resembled a copybook exercise written by a
drunkard.  The letter-writer, however, would never have risen to
such a word as 'eschew'.  The letter must have been dictated by a
clerk, and no doubt it came ultimately from U Po Kyin.  From 'the
crocodile', Flory reflected.

He did not like the tone of the letter.  Under its appearance of
servility it was obviously a covert threat.  'Drop the doctor or we
will make it hot for you', was what it said in effect.  Not that
that mattered greatly; no Englishman ever feels himself in real
danger from an Oriental.

Flory hesitated with the letter in his hands.  There are two things
one can do with an anonymous letter.  One can say nothing about it,
or one can show it to the person whom it concerns.  The obvious,
the decent course was to give the letter to Dr Veraswami and let
him take what action he chose.

And yet--it was safer to keep out of this business altogether.  It
is so important (perhaps the most important of all the Ten Precepts
of the pukka sahib) not to entangle oneself in 'native' quarrels.
With Indians there must be no loyalty, no real friendship.
Affection, even love--yes.  Englishmen do often love Indians--
native officers, forest rangers, hunters, clerks, servants.  Sepoys
will weep like children when their colonel retires.  Even intimacy
is allowable, at the right moments.  But alliance, partisanship,
never!  Even to know the rights and wrongs of a 'native' quarrel is
a loss of prestige.

If he published the letter there would be a row and an official
inquiry, and, in effect, he would have thrown in his lot with the
doctor against U Po Kyin.  U Po Kyin did not matter, but there were
the Europeans; if he, Flory, were too conspicuously the doctor's
partisan, there might be hell to pay.  Much better to pretend that
the letter had never reached him.  The doctor was a good fellow,
but as to championing him against the full fury of pukka sahibdom--
ah, no, no!  What shall it profit a man if he save his own soul and
lose the whole world?  Flory began to tear the letter across.  The
danger of making it public was very slight, very nebulous.  But one
must beware of the nebulous dangers in India.  Prestige, the breath
of life, is itself nebulous.  He carefully tore the letter into
small pieces and threw them over the gate.

At this moment there was a terrified scream, quite different from
the voices of Ko S'la's wives.  The mali lowered his mamootie and
gaped in the direction of the sound, and Ko S'la, who had also
heard it, came running bareheaded from the servants' quarters,
while Flo sprang to her feet and yapped sharply.  The scream was
repeated.  It came from the jungle behind the house, and it was an
English voice, a woman's, crying out in terror.

There was no way out of the compound by the back.  Flory scrambled
over the gate and came down with his knee bleeding from a splinter.
He ran round the compound fence and into the jungle, Flo following.
Just behind the house, beyond the first fringe of bushes, there was
a small hollow, which, as there was a pool of stagnant water in it,
was frequented by buffaloes from Nyaunglebin.  Flory pushed his way
through the bushes.  In the hollow an English girl, chalk-faced,
was cowering against a bush, while a huge buffalo menaced her with
its crescent-shaped horns.  A hairy calf, no doubt the cause of the
trouble, stood behind.  Another buffalo, neck-deep in the slime of
the pool, looked on with mild prehistoric face, wondering what was
the matter.

The girl turned an agonized face to Flory as he appeared.  'Oh, do
be quick!' she cried, in the angry, urgent tone of people who are
frightened.  'Please!  Help me!  Help me!'

Flory was too astonished to ask any questions.  He hastened towards
her, and, in default of a stick, smacked the buffalo sharply on the
nose.  With a timid, loutish movement the great beast turned aside,
then lumbered off followed by the calf.  The other buffalo also
extricated itself from the slime and lolloped away.  The girl threw
herself against Flory, almost into his arms, quite overcome by her
fright.

'Oh, thank you, thank you!  Oh, those dreadful things!  What ARE
they?  I thought they were going to kill me.  What horrible
creatures!  What ARE they?'

They're only water-buffaloes.  They come from the village up
there.'

'Buffaloes?'

'Not wild buffaloes--bison, we call those.  They're just a kind of
cattle the Burmans keep.  I say, they've given you a nasty shock.
I'm sorry.'

She was still clinging closely to his arm, and he could feel her
shaking.  He looked down, but he could not see her face, only the
top of her head, hatless, with yellow hair as short as a boy's.
And he could see one of the hands on his arm.  It was long,
slender, youthful, with the mottled wrist of a schoolgirl.  It was
several years since he had seen such a hand.  He became conscious
of the soft, youthful body pressed against his own, and the warmth
breathing out of it; whereat something seemed to thaw and grow warm
within him.

'It's all right, they're gone,' he said.  'There's nothing to be
frightened of.'

The girl was recovering from her fright, and she stood a little
away from him, with one hand still on his arm.  'I'm all right,'
she said.  'It's nothing.  I'm not hurt.  They didn't touch me.  It
was only their looking so awful.'

'They're quite harmless really.  Their horns are set so far back
that they can't gore you.  They're very stupid brutes.  They only
pretend to show fight when they've got calves.'

They had stood apart now, and a slight embarrassment came over them
both immediately.  Flory had already turned himself sidelong to
keep his birthmarked cheek away from her.  He said:

'I say, this is a queer sort of introduction!  I haven't asked yet
how you got here.  Wherever did you come from--if it's not rude to
ask?'

'I just came out of my uncle's garden.  It seemed such a nice
morning, I thought I'd go for a walk.  And then those dreadful
things came after me.  I'm quite new to this country, you see.'

'Your uncle?  Oh, of course! You're Mr Lackersteen's niece.  We
heard you were coming.  I say, shall we get out on to the maidan?
There'll be a path somewhere.  What a start for your first morning
in Kyauktada!  This'll give you rather a bad impression of Burma,
I'm afraid.'

'Oh no; only it's all rather strange.  How thick these bushes grow!
All kind of twisted together and foreign-looking.  You could get
lost here in a moment.  Is that what they call jungle?'

'Scrub jungle.  Burma's mostly jungle--a green, unpleasant land, I
call it.  I wouldn't walk through that grass if I were you.  The
seeds get into your stockings and work their way into your skin.'

He let the girl walk ahead of him, feeling easier when she could
not see his face.  She was tallish for a girl, slender, and wearing
a lilac-coloured cotton frock.  From the way she moved her limbs he
did not think she could be much past twenty.  He had not noticed
her face yet, except to see that she wore round tortoise-shell
spectacles, and that her hair was as short as his own.  He had
never seen a woman with cropped hair before, except in the
illustrated papers.

As they emerged on to the maidan he stepped level with her, and she
turned to face him.  Her face was oval, with delicate, regular
features; not beautiful, perhaps, but it seemed so there, in Burma,
where all Englishwomen are yellow and thin.  He turned his head
sharply aside, though the birthmark was away from her.  He could
not bear her to see his worn face too closely.  He seemed to feel
the withered skin round his eyes as though it had been a wound.
But he remembered that he had shaved that morning, and it gave him
courage.  He said:

'I say, you must be a bit shaken up after this business.  Would you
like to come into my place and rest a few minutes before you go
home?  It's rather late to be out of doors without a hat, too.'

'Oh, thank you, I would,' the girl said.  She could not, he
thought, know anything about Indian notions of propriety.  'Is this
your house here?'

'Yes.  We must go round the front way.  I'll have the servants get
a sunshade for you.  This sun's dangerous for you, with your short
hair.'

They walked up the garden path.  Flo was frisking round them and
trying to draw attention to herself.  She always barked at strange
Orientals, but she liked the smell of a European.  The sun was
growing stronger.  A wave of blackcurrant scent flowed from the
petunias beside the path, and one of the pigeons fluttered to the
earth, to spring immediately into the air again as Flo made a grab
at it.  Flory and the girl stopped with one consent, to look at the
flowers.  A pang of unreasonable happiness had gone through them
both.

'You really mustn't go out in this sun without a hat on,' he
repeated, and somehow there was an intimacy in saying it.  He could
not help referring to her short hair somehow, it seemed to him so
beautiful.  To speak of it was like touching it with his hand.

'Look, your knee's bleeding,' the girl said.  'Did you do that when
you were coming to help me?'

There was a slight trickle of blood, which was drying, purple, on
his khaki stocking.  'It's nothing,' he said, but neither of them
felt at that moment that it was nothing.  They began chattering
with extraordinary eagerness about the flowers.  The girl 'adored'
flowers, she said.  And Flory led her up the path, talking
garrulously about one plant and another.

'Look how these phloxes grow.  They go on blooming for six months
in this country.  They can't get too much sun.  I think those
yellow ones must be almost the colour of primroses.  I haven't seen
a primrose for fifteen years, nor a wallflower, either.  Those
zinnias are fine, aren't they?--like painted flowers, with those
wonderful dead colours.  These are African marigolds.  They're
coarse things, weeds almost, but you can't help liking them,
they're so vivid and strong.  Indians have an extraordinary
affection for them; wherever Indians have been you find marigolds
growing, even years afterwards when the jungle has buried every
other trace of them.  But I wish you'd come into the veranda and
see the orchids.  I've some I must show that are just like bells of
gold--but literally like gold.  And they smell of honey, almost
overpoweringly.  That's about the only merit of this beastly
country, it's good for flowers.  I hope you're fond of gardening?
It's our greatest consolation, in this country.'

'Oh, I simply adore gardening,' the girl said.

They went into the veranda.  Ko S'la had hurriedly put on his ingyi
and his best pink silk gaungbaung, and he appeared from within the
house with a tray on which were a decanter of gin, glasses and a
box of cigarettes.  He laid them on the table, and, eyeing the girl
half apprehensively, put his hands flat together and shikoed.

'I expect it's no use offering you a drink at this hour of the
morning?' Flory said.  'I can never get it into my servant's head
that SOME people can exist without gin before breakfast.'

He added himself to the number by waving away the drink Ko S'la
offered him.  The girl had sat down in the wicker chair that Ko
S'la had set out for her at the end of the veranda.  The dark-
leaved orchids hung behind her head, with gold trusses of blossom,
breathing out warm honey-scent.  Flory was standing against the
veranda rail, half facing the girl, but keeping his birthmarked
cheek hidden.

'What a perfectly divine view you have from here,' she said as she
looked down the hillside.

'Yes, isn't it?  Splendid, in this yellow light, before the sun
gets going.  I love that sombre yellow colour the maidan has, and
those gold mohur trees, like blobs of crimson.  And those hills at
the horizon, almost black.  My camp is on the other side of those
hills,' he added.

The girl, who was long-sighted, took off her spectacles to look
into the distance.  He noticed that her eyes were very clear pale
blue, paler than a harebell.  And he noticed the smoothness of the
skin round her eyes, like a petal, almost.  It reminded him of his
age and his haggard face again, so that he turned a little more
away from her.  But he said on impulse:

'I say, what a bit of luck you coming to Kyauktada!  You can't
imagine the difference it makes to us to see a new face in these
places.  After months of our own miserable society, and an
occasional official on his rounds and American globe-trotters
skipping up the Irrawaddy with cameras.  I suppose you've come
straight from England?'

'Well, not England exactly.  I was living in Paris before I came
out here.  My mother was an artist, you see.'

'Paris!  Have you really lived in Paris?  By Jove, just fancy
coming from Paris to Kyauktada!  Do you know, it's positively
difficult, in a hole like this, to believe that there ARE such
places as Paris.'

'Do you like Paris?' she said.

'I've never even seen it.  But, good Lord, how I've imagined it!
Paris--it's all a kind of jumble of pictures in my mind; cafes and
boulevards and artists' studios and Villon and Baudelaire and
Maupassant all mixed up together.  You don't know how the names of
those European towns sound to us, out here.  And did you really
live in Paris?  Sitting in cafes with foreign art students,
drinking white wine and talking about Marcel Proust?'

'Oh, that kind of thing, I suppose,' said the girl, laughing.

'What differences you'll find here!  It's not white wine and Marcel
Proust here.  Whisky and Edgar Wallace more likely.  But if you
ever want books, you might find something you liked among mine.
There's nothing but tripe in the Club library.  But of course I'm
hopelessly behind the times with my books.  I expect you'll have
read everything under the sun.'

'Oh no.  But of course I simply adore reading,' the girl said.

'What it means to meet somebody who cares for books!  I mean books
worth reading, not that garbage in the Club libraries.  I do hope
you'll forgive me if I overwhelm you with talk.  When I meet
somebody who's heard that books exist, I'm afraid I go off like a
bottle of warm beer.  It's a fault you have to pardon in these
countries.'

'Oh, but I love talking about books.  I think reading is so
wonderful.  I mean, what would life be without it?  It's such a--
such a--'

'Such a private Alsatia.  Yes--'

They plunged into an enormous and eager conversation, first about
books, then about shooting, in which the girl seemed to have an
interest and about which she persuaded Flory to talk.  She was
quite thrilled when he described the murder of an elephant which he
had perpetrated some years earlier.  Flory scarcely noticed, and
perhaps the girl did not either, that it was he who did all the
talking.  He could not stop himself, the joy of chattering was so
great.  And the girl was in a mood to listen.  After all, he had
saved her from the buffalo, and she did not yet believe that those
monstrous brutes could be harmless; for the moment he was almost a
hero in her eyes.  When one does get any credit in this life, it is
usually for something that one has not done.  It was one of those
times when the conversation flows so easily, so naturally, that one
could go on talking forever.  But suddenly, their pleasure
evaporated, they started and fell silent.  They had noticed that
they were no longer alone.

At the other end of the veranda, between the rails, a coal-black
moustachioed face was peeping with enormous curiosity.  It belonged
to old Sammy, the 'Mug' cook.  Behind him stood Ma Pu, Ma Yi, Ko
S'la's four eldest children, an unclaimed naked child, and two old
women who had come down from the village upon the news that an
'Ingaleikma' was on view.  Like carved teak statues with footlong
cigars stuck in their wooden faces, the two old creatures gazed at
the 'Ingaleikma' as English yokels might gaze at a Zulu warrior in
full regalia.

'Those people . . .' the girl said uncomfortably, looking towards
them.

Sammy, seeing himself detected, looked very guilty and pretended to
be rearranging his pagri.  The rest of the audience were a little
abashed, except for the two wooden-faced old women.

'Dash their cheek!' Flory said.  A cold pang of disappointment went
through him.  After all, it would not do for the girl to stay on
his veranda any longer.  Simultaneously both he and she had
remembered that they were total strangers.  Her face had turned a
little pink.  She began putting on her spectacles.

'I'm afraid an English girl is rather a novelty to these people,'
he said.  'They don't mean any harm.  Go away!' he added angrily,
waving his hand at the audience, whereupon they vanished.

'Do you know, if you don't mind, I think I ought to be going,' the
girl said.  She had stood up.  'I've been out quite a long time.
They may be wondering where I've got to.'

'Must you really?  It's quite early.  I'll see that you don't have
to go home bareheaded in the sun.'

'I ought really--' she began again.

She stopped, looking at the doorway.  Ma Hla May was emerging on to
the veranda.

Ma Hla May came forward with her hand on her hip.  She had come
from within the house, with a calm air that asserted her right to
be there.  The two girls stood face to face, less than six feet
apart.

No contrast could have been stranger; the one faintly coloured as
an apple-blossom, the other dark and garish, with a gleam almost
metallic on her cylinder of ebony hair and the salmon-pink silk of
her longyi.  Flory thought he had never noticed before how dark Ma
Hla May's face was, and how outlandish her tiny, stiff body,
straight as a soldier's, with not a curve in it except the vase-
like curve of her hips.  He stood against the veranda rail and
watched the two girls, quite disregarded.  For the best part of a
minute neither of them could take her eyes from the other; but
which found the spectacle more grotesque, more incredible, there is
no saying.

Ma Hla May turned her face round to Flory, with her black brows,
thin as pencil lines, drawn together.  'Who is this woman?' she
demanded sullenly.

He answered casually, as though giving an order to a servant:

'Go away this instant.  If you make any trouble I will afterwards
take a bamboo and beat you till not one of your ribs is whole.'

Ma Hla May hesitated, shrugged her small shoulders and disappeared.
And the other, gazing after her, said curiously:

'Was that a man or a woman?'

'A woman,' he said.  'One of the servants' wives, I believe.  She
came to ask about the laundry, that was all.'

'Oh, is THAT what Burmese women are like?  They ARE queer little
creatures!  I saw a lot of them on my way up here in the train, but
do you know, I thought they were all boys.  They're just like a
kind of Dutch doll, aren't they?'

She had begun to move towards the veranda steps, having lost
interest in Ma Hla May now that she had disappeared.  He did not
stop her, for he thought Ma Hla May quite capable of coming back
and making a scene.  Not that it mattered much, for neither girl
knew a word of the other's language.  He called to Ko S'la, and Ko
S'la came running with a big oiled-silk umbrella with bamboo ribs.
He opened it respectfully at the foot of the steps and held it over
the girl's head as she came down.  Flory went with them as far as
the gate.  They stopped to shake hands, he turning a little
sideways in the strong sunlight, hiding his birthmark.

'My fellow here will see you home.  It was ever so kind of you to
come in.  I can't tell you how glad I am to have met you.  You'll
make such a difference to us here in Kyauktada.'

'Good-bye, Mr--oh, how funny!  I don't even know your name.'

'Flory, John Flory.  And yours--Miss Lackersteen, is it?'

'Yes.  Elizabeth.  Good-bye, Mr Flory.  And thank you EVER so much.
That awful buffalo.  You quite saved my life.'

'It was nothing.  I hope I shall see you at the Club this evening?
I expect your uncle and aunt will be coming down.  Good-bye for the
time being, then.'

He stood at the gate, watching them as they went.  Elizabeth--
lovely name, too rare nowadays.  He hoped she spelt it with a Z.
Ko S'la trotted after her at a queer uncomfortable gait, reaching
the umbrella over her head and keeping his body as far away from
her as possible.  A cool breath of wind blew up the hill.  It was
one of those momentary winds that blow sometimes in the cold
weather in Burma, coming from nowhere, filling one with thirst and
with nostalgia for cold sea-pools, embraces of mermaids, waterfalls,
caves of ice.  It rustled through the wide domes of the gold mohur
trees, and fluttered the fragments of the anonymous letter that
Flory had thrown over the gate half an hour earlier.



7


Elizabeth lay on the sofa in the Lackersteen's drawing-room, with
her feet up and a cushion behind her head, reading Michael Arlen's
These Charming People.  In a general way Michael Arlen was her
favourite author, but she was inclined to prefer William J. Locke
when she wanted something serious.

The drawing-room was a cool, light-coloured room with lime-washed
walls a yard thick; it was large, but seemed smaller than it was,
because of a litter of occasional tables and Benares brassware
ornaments.  It smelt of chintz and dying flowers.  Mrs Lackersteen
was upstairs, sleeping.  Outside, the servants lay silent in their
quarters, their heads tethered to their wooden pillows by the
death-like sleep of midday.  Mr Lackersteen, in his small wooden
office down the road, was probably sleeping too.  No one stirred
except Elizabeth, and the chokra who pulled the punkah outside Mrs
Lackersteen's bedroom, lying on his back with one heel in the loop
of the rope.

Elizabeth was just turned twenty-two, and was an orphan.  Her
father had been less of a drunkard than his brother Tom, but he was
a man of similar stamp.  He was a tea-broker, and his fortunes
fluctuated greatly, but he was by nature too optimistic to put
money aside in prosperous phases.  Elizabeth's mother had been an
incapable, half-baked, vapouring, self-pitying woman who shirked
all the normal duties of life on the strength of sensibilities
which she did not possess.  After messing about for years with such
things as Women's Suffrage and Higher Thought, and making many
abortive attempts at literature, she had finally taken up with
painting.  Painting is the only art that can be practised without
either talent or hard work.  Mrs Lackersteen's pose was that of an
artist exiled among 'the Philistines'--these, needless to say,
included her husband--and it was a pose that gave her almost
unlimited scope for making a nuisance of herself.

In the last year of the War Mr Lackersteen, who had managed to
avoid service, made a great deal of money, and just after the
Armistice they moved into a huge, new, rather bleak house in
Highgate, with quantities of greenhouses, shrubberies, stables and
tennis courts.  Mr Lackersteen had engaged a horde of servants,
even, so great was his optimism, a butler.  Elizabeth was sent for
two terms to a very expensive boarding-school.  Oh, the joy, the
joy, the unforgettable joy of those two terms!  Four of the girls
at the school were 'the Honourable'; nearly all of them had ponies
of their own, on which they were allowed to go riding on Saturday
afternoons.  There is a short period in everyone's life when his
character is fixed forever; with Elizabeth, it was those two terms
during which she rubbed shoulders with the rich.  Thereafter her
whole code of living was summed up in one belief, and that a simple
one.  It was that the Good ('lovely' was her name for it) is
synonymous with the expensive, the elegant, the aristocratic; and
the Bad ('beastly') is the cheap, the low, the shabby, the
laborious.  Perhaps it is in order to teach this creed that
expensive girls' schools exist.  The feeling subtilized itself as
Elizabeth grew older, diffused itself through all her thoughts.
Everything from a pair of stockings to a human soul was
classifiable as 'lovely' or 'beastly'.  And unfortunately--for Mr
Lackersteen's prosperity did not last--it was the 'beastly' that
had predominated in her life.

The inevitable crash came late in 1919.  Elizabeth was taken away
from school, to continue her education at a succession of cheap,
beastly schools, with gaps of a term or two when her father could
not pay the fees.  He died when she was twenty, of influenza.  Mrs
Lackersteen was left with an income of L150 a year, which was to
die with her.  The two women could not, under Mrs Lackersteen's
management, live on three pounds a week in England.  They moved to
Paris, where life was cheaper and where Mrs Lackersteen intended to
dedicate herself wholly to Art.

Paris!  Living in Paris!  Flory had been a little wide of the mark
when he pictured those interminable conversations with bearded
artists under the green plane trees.  Elizabeth's life in Paris had
not been quite like that.

Her mother had taken a studio in the Montparnasse quarter, and
relapsed at once into a state of squalid, muddling idleness.  She
was so foolish with money that her income would not come near
covering expenses, and for several months Elizabeth did not even
have enough to eat.  Then she found a job as visiting teacher of
English to the family of a French bank manager.  They called her
'notre mees Anglaise'.  The banker lived in the twelfth
arrondissement, a long way from Montparnasse, and Elizabeth had
taken a room in a pension near by.  It was a narrow, yellow-faced
house in a side street, looking out on to a poulterer's shop,
generally decorated with reeking carcasses of wild boars, which old
gentlemen like decrepit satyrs would visit every morning and sniff
long and lovingly.  Next door to the poulterer's was a fly-blown
cafe with the sign 'Cafe de l'Amitie.  Bock Formidable'.  How
Elizabeth had loathed that pension!  The patroness was an old
black-clad sneak who spent her life in tiptoeing up and down stairs
in hopes of catching the boarders washing stockings in their hand-
basins.  The boarders, sharp-tongued bilious widows, pursued the
only man in the establishment, a mild, bald creature who worked in
La Samaritaine, like sparrows worrying a bread-crust.  At meals all
of them watched each others' plates to see who was given the
biggest helping.  The bathroom was a dark den with leprous walls
and a rickety verdigrised geyser which would spit two inches of
tepid water into the bath and then mulishly stop working.  The bank
manager whose children Elizabeth taught was a man of fifty, with a
fat, worn face and a bald, dark yellow crown resembling an
ostrich's egg.  The second day after her arrival he came into the
room where the children were at their lessons, sat down beside
Elizabeth and immediately pinched her elbow.  The third day he
pinched her on the calf, the fourth day behind the knee, the fifth
day above the knee.  Thereafter, every evening, it was a silent
battle between the two of them, her hand under the table, struggling
and struggling to keep that ferret-like hand away from her.

It was a mean, beastly existence.  In fact, it reached levels of
'beastliness' which Elizabeth had not previously known to exist.
But the thing that most depressed her, most filled her with the
sense of sinking into some horrible lower world, was her mother's
studio.  Mrs Lackersteen was one of those people who go utterly to
pieces when they are deprived of servants.  She lived in a restless
nightmare between painting and housekeeping, and never worked at
either.  At irregular intervals she went to a 'school' where she
produced greyish still-lifes under the guidance of a master whose
technique was founded on dirty brushes; for the rest, she messed
about miserably at home with teapots and frying-pans.  The state of
her studio was more than depressing to Elizabeth; it was evil,
Satanic.  It was a cold, dusty pigsty, with piles of books and
papers littered all over the floor, generations of saucepans
slumbering in their grease on the rusty gas-stove, the bed never
made till afternoon, and everywhere--in every possible place where
they could be stepped on or knocked over--tins of paint-fouled
turpentine and pots half full of cold black tea.  You would lift a
cushion from a chair and find a plate holding the remains of a
poached egg underneath it.  As soon as Elizabeth entered the door
she would burst out:

'Oh, Mother, Mother dearest, how CAN you?  Look at the state of
this room!  It is so terrible to live like this!'

'The room, dearest?  What's the matter?  Is it untidy?'

'Untidy!  Mother, NEED you leave that plate of porridge in the
middle of your bed?  And those saucepans!  It does look so
dreadful.  Suppose anyone came in!'

The rapt, other-wordly look which Mrs Lackersteen assumed when
anything like work presented itself, would come into her eyes.

'None of MY friends would mind, dear.  We are such Bohemians, we
artists.  You don't understand how utterly wrapped up we all are in
our painting.  You haven't the artistic temperament, you see,
dear.'

'I must try and clean some of those saucepans.  I just can't bear
to think of you living like this.  What have you done with the
scrubbing-brush?'

'The scrubbing-brush?  Now, let me think, I know I saw it somewhere.
Ah yes!  I used it yesterday to clean my palette.  But it'll be
all right if you give it a good wash in turpentine.'

Mrs Lackersteen would sit down and continue smudging a sheet of
sketching paper with a Conte crayon while Elizabeth worked.

'How wonderful you are, dear.  So practical!  I can't think whom
you inherit it from.  Now with me, Art is simply EVERYTHING.  I
seem to feel it like a great sea surging up inside me.  It swamps
everything mean and petty out of existence.  Yesterday I ate my
lunch off Nash's Magazine to save wasting time washing plates.
Such a good idea!  When you want a clean plate you just tear off a
sheet,' etc., etc., etc.

Elizabeth had no friends in Paris.  Her mother's friends were women
of the same stamp as herself, or elderly ineffectual bachelors
living on small incomes and practising contemptible half-arts such
as wood-engraving or painting on porcelain.  For the rest,
Elizabeth saw only foreigners, and she disliked all foreigners en
bloc; or at least all foreign men, with their cheap-looking clothes
and their revolting table manners.  She had one great solace at
this time.  It was to go to the American library in the rue de
l'Elysee and look at the illustrated papers.  Sometimes on a Sunday
or her free afternoon she would sit there for hours at the big
shiny table, dreaming, over the Sketch, the Tatter, the Graphic,
the Sporting and Dramatic.

Ah, what joys were pictured there!  'Hounds meeting on the lawn of
Charlton Hall, the lovely Warwickshire seat of Lord Burrowdean.'
'The Hon. Mrs Tyke-Bowlby in the Park with her splendid Alsatian,
Kublai Khan, which took second prize at Cruft's this summer.'
'Sunbathing at Cannes.  Left to right:  Miss Barbara Pilbrick, Sir
Edward Tuke, Lady Pamela Westrope, Captain "Tuppy" Benacre.'

Lovely, lovely, golden world!  On two occasions the face of an old
schoolfellow looked at Elizabeth from the page.  It hurt her in her
breast to see it.  There they all were, her old schoolfellows, with
their horses and their cars and their husbands in the cavalry; and
here she, tied to that dreadful job, that dreadful pension, her
dreadful mother!  Was it possible that there was no escape?  Could
she be doomed forever to this sordid meanness, with no hope of ever
getting back to the decent world again?

It was not unnatural, with the example of her mother before her
eyes, that Elizabeth should have a healthy loathing of Art.  In
fact, any excess of intellect--'braininess' was her word for it--
tended to belong, in her eyes, to the 'beastly'.  Real people, she
felt, decent people--people who shot grouse, went to Ascot, yachted
at Cowes--were not brainy.  They didn't go in for this nonsense of
writing books and fooling with paintbrushes; and all these Highbrow
ideas--Socialism and all that.  'Highbrow' was a bitter word in her
vocabulary.  And when it happened, as it did once or twice, that
she met a veritable artist who was willing to work penniless all
his life, rather than sell himself to a bank or an insurance
company, she despised him far more than she despised the dabblers
of her mother's circle.  That a man should turn deliberately away
from all that was good and decent, sacrifice himself for a futility
that led nowhere, was shameful, degrading, evil.  She dreaded
spinsterhood, but she would have endured it a thousand lifetimes
through rather than marry such a man.

When Elizabeth had been nearly two years in Paris her mother died
abruptly of ptomaine poisoning.  The wonder was that she had not
died of it sooner.  Elizabeth was left with rather less than a
hundred pounds in the world.  Her uncle and aunt cabled at once
from Burma, asking her to come out and stay with them, and saying
that a letter would follow.

Mrs Lackersteen had reflected for some time over the letter, her
pen between her lips, looking down at the page with her delicate
triangular face like a meditative snake.

'I suppose we must have her out here, at any rate for a year.  WHAT
a bore!  However, they generally marry within a year if they've any
looks at all.  What am I to say to the girl, Tom?'

'Say?  Oh, just say she'll pick up a husband out here a damn sight
easier than at home.  Something of that sort, y'know.'

'My DEAR Tom!  What impossible things you say!'

Mrs Lackersteen wrote:


Of course, this is a very small station and we are in the jungle a
great deal of the time.  I'm afraid you will find it dreadfully
dull after the DELIGHTS of Paris.  But really in some ways these
small stations have their advantages for a young girl.  She finds
herself quite a QUEEN in the local society.  The unmarried men are
so lonely that they appreciate a girl's society in a quite
wonderful way, etc., etc.


Elizabeth spent thirty pounds on summer frocks and set sail
immediately.  The ship, heralded by rolling porpoises, ploughed
across the Mediterranean and down the Canal into a sea of staring,
enamel-like blue, then out into the green wastes of the Indian
Ocean, where flocks of flying fish skimmed in terror from the
approaching hull.  At night the waters were phosphorescent, and
the wash of the bow was like a moving arrowhead of green fire.
Elizabeth 'loved' the life on board ship.  She loved the dancing on
deck at nights, the cocktails which every man on board seemed
anxious to buy for her, the deck games, of which, however, she grew
tired at about the same time as the other members of the younger
set.  It was nothing to her that her mother's death was only two
months past.  She had never cared greatly for her mother, and
besides, the people here knew nothing of her affairs.  It was so
lovely after those two graceless years to breathe the air of wealth
again.  Not that most of the people here were rich; but on board
ship everyone behaves as though he were rich.  She was going to
love India, she knew.  She had formed quite a picture of India,
from the other passengers' conversation; she had even learned some
of the more necessary Hindustani phrases, such as 'idher ao',
'jaldi', 'sahiblog', etc.  In anticipation she tasted the agreeable
atmosphere of Clubs, with punkahs flapping and barefooted white-
turbaned boys reverently salaaming; and maidans where bronzed
Englishmen with little clipped moustaches galloped to and fro,
whacking polo balls.  It was almost as nice as being really rich,
the way people lived in India.

They sailed into Colombo through green glassy waters, where turtles
and black snakes floated basking.  A fleet of sampans came racing
out to meet the ship, propelled by coal-black men with lips stained
redder than blood by betel juice.  They yelled and struggled round
the gangway while the passengers descended.  As Elizabeth and her
friends came down, two sampan-wallahs, their prows nosing against
the gangway, besought them with yells.

'Don't you go with him, missie!  Not with him!  Bad wicked man he,
not fit taking missie!'

'Don't you listen him lies, missie!  Nasty low fellow!  Nasty low
tricks him playing.  Nasty NATIVE tricks!'

'Ha, ha!  He is not native himself!  Oh no!  Him European man,
white skin all same, missie!  Ha ha!'

'Stop your bat, you two, or I'll fetch one of you a kick,' said the
husband of Elizabeth's friend--he was a planter.  They stepped into
one of the sampans and were rowed towards the sun-bright quays.
And the successful sampan-wallah turned and discharged at his rival
a mouthful of spittle which he must have been saving up for a very
long time.

This was the Orient.  Scents of coco-nut oil and sandalwood,
cinnamon and turmeric, floated across the water on the hot,
swimming air.  Elizabeth's friends drove her out to Mount Lavinia,
where they bathed in a lukewarm sea that foamed like Coca-Cola.
She came back to the ship in the evening, and they reached Rangoon
a week later.

North of Mandalay the train, fuelled with wood, crawled at twelve
miles an hour across a vast, parched plain, bounded at its remote
edges by blue rings of hills.  White egrets stood poised,
motionless, like herons, and piles of drying chilis gleamed crimson
in the sun.  Sometimes a white pagoda rose from the plain like the
breast of a supine giantess.  The early tropic night settled down,
and the train jolted on, slowly, stopping at little stations where
barbaric yells sounded from the darkness.  Half-naked men with
their long hair knotted behind their heads moved to and fro in
torchlight, hideous as demons in Elizabeth's eyes.  The train
plunged into forest, and unseen branches brushed against the
windows.  It was about nine o'clock when they reached Kyauktada,
where Elizabeth's uncle and aunt were waiting with Mr Macgregor's
car, and with some servants carrying torches.  Her aunt came
forward and took Elizabeth's shoulders in her delicate, saurian
hands.

'I suppose you are our niece Elizabeth?  We are SO pleased to see
you,' she said, and kissed her.

Mr Lackersteen peered over his wife's shoulder in the torchlight.
He gave a half-whistle, exclaimed, 'Well, I'll be damned!' and then
seized Elizabeth and kissed her, more warmly than he need have
done, she thought.  She had never seen either of them before.

After dinner, under the punkah in the drawing-room, Elizabeth and
her aunt had a talk together.  Mr Lackersteen was strolling in the
garden, ostensibly to smell the frangipani, actually to have a
surreptitious drink that one of the servants smuggled to him from
the back of the house.

'My dear, how really lovely you are!  Let me look at you again.'
She took her by the shoulders.  'I DO think that Eton crop suits
you.  Did you have it done in Paris?'

'Yes.  Everyone was getting Eton-cropped.  It suits you if you've
got a fairly small head.'

'Lovely!  And those tortoise-shell spectacles--such a becoming
fashion!  I'm told that all the--er--demi-mondaines in South
America have taken to wearing them.  I'd no idea I had such a
RAVISHING beauty for a niece.  How old did you say you were, dear?'

'Twenty-two.'

'Twenty-two!  How delighted all the men will be when we take you to
the Club tomorrow!  They get so lonely, poor things, never seeing a
new face.  And you were two whole years in Paris?  I can't think
what the men there can have been about to let you leave unmarried.'

'I'm afraid I didn't meet many men, Aunt.  Only foreigners.  We had
to live so quietly.  And I was working,' she added, thinking this
rather a disgraceful admission.

'Of course, of course,' sighed Mrs Lackersteen.  'One hears the
same thing on every side.  Lovely girls having to work for their
living.  It is such a shame!  I think it's so terribly selfish,
don't you, the way these men remain unmarried while there are so
MANY poor girls looking for husbands?'  Elizabeth not answering
this, Mrs Lackersteen added with another sigh, 'I'm sure if I were
a young girl I'd marry anybody, literally ANYBODY!'

The two women's eyes met.  There was a great deal that Mrs
Lackersteen wanted to say, but she had no intention of doing more
than hint at it obliquely.  A great deal of her conversation was
carried on by hints; she generally contrived, however, to make her
meaning reasonably clear.  She said in a tenderly impersonal tone,
as though discussing a subject of general interest:

'Of course, I must say this.  There ARE cases when, if girls fail
to get married it's THEIR OWN FAULT.  It happens even out here
sometimes.  Only a short time ago I remember a case--a girl came
out and stayed a whole year with her brother, and she had offers
from all kinds of men--policemen, forest officers, men in timber
firms with QUITE good prospects.  And she refused them all; she
wanted to marry into the I.C.S., I heard.  Well, what do you
expect?  Of course her brother couldn't go on keeping her forever.
And now I hear she's at home, poor thing, working as a kind of lady
help, practically a SERVANT.  And getting only fifteen shillings a
week!  Isn't it dreadful to think of such things?'

'Dreadful!' Elizabeth echoed.

No more was said on this subject.  In the morning, after she came
back from Flory's house, Elizabeth was describing her adventure to
her aunt and uncle.  They were at breakfast, at the flower-laden
table, with the punkah flapping overhead and the tall stork-like
Mohammedan butler in his white suit and pagri standing behind Mrs
Lackersteen's chair, tray in hand.

'And oh, Aunt, such an interesting thing!  A Burmese girl came on
to the veranda.  I'd never seen one before, at least, not knowing
they were girls.  Such a queer little thing--she was almost like a
doll with her round yellow face and her black hair screwed up on
top.  She only looked about seventeen.  Mr Flory said she was his
laundress.'

The Indian butler's long body stiffened.  He squinted down at the
girl with his white eyeballs large in his black face.  He spoke
English well.  Mr Lackersteen paused with a forkful of fish half-
way from his plate and his crass mouth open.

'Laundress?' he said.  'Laundress!  I say, dammit, some mistake
there!  No such thing as a laundress in this country, y'know.
Laundering work's all done by men.  If you ask me--'

And then he stopped very suddenly, almost as though someone had
trodden on his toe under the table.



8


That evening Flory told Ko S'la to send for the barber--he was the
only barber in the town, an Indian, and he made a living by shaving
the Indian coolies at the rate of eight annas a month for a dry
shave every other day.  The Europeans patronized him for lack of
any other.  The barber was waiting on the veranda when Flory came
back from tennis, and Flory sterilized the scissors with boiling
water and Condy's fluid and had his hair cut.

'Lay out my best Palm Beach suit,' he told Ko S'la, 'and a silk
shirt and my sambhur-skin shoes.  Also that new tie that came from
Rangoon last week.'

'I have done so, thakin,' said Ko S'la, meaning that he would do
so.  When Flory came into the bedroom he found Ko S'la waiting
beside the clothes he had laid out, with a faintly sulky air.  It
was immediately apparent that Ko S'la knew why Flory was dressing
himself up (that is, in hopes of meeting Elizabeth) and that he
disapproved of it.

'What are you waiting for?' Flory said.

'To help you dress, thakin.'

'I shall dress myself this evening.  You can go.'

He was going to shave--the second time that day--and he did not
want Ko S'la to see him take shaving things into the bathroom.
It was several years since he had shaved twice in one day.  What
providential luck that he had sent for that new tie only last week,
he thought.  He dressed himself very carefully, and spent nearly a
quarter of an hour in brushing his hair, which was stiff and would
never lie down after it had been cut.

Almost the next moment, as it seemed, he was walking with Elizabeth
down the bazaar road.  He had found her alone in the Club 'library',
and with a sudden burst of courage asked her to come out with him;
and she had come with a readiness that surprised him; not even
stopping to say anything to her uncle and aunt.  He had lived so
long in Burma, he had forgotten English ways.  It was very dark
under the peepul trees of the bazaar road, the foliage hiding the
quarter moon, but the stars here and there in a gap blazed white and
low, like lamps hanging on invisible threads.  Successive waves of
scent came rolling, first the cloying sweetness of frangipani, then
a cold putrid stench of dung or decay from the huts opposite Dr
Veraswami's bungalow.  Drums were throbbing a little distance away.

As he heard the drums Flory remembered that a pwe was being acted a
little farther down the road, opposite U Po Kyin's house; in fact,
it was U Po Kyin who had made arrangements for the pwe, though
someone else had paid for it.  A daring thought occurred to Flory.
He would take Elizabeth to the pwe!  She would love it--she must;
no one with eyes in his head could resist a pwe-dance.  Probably
there would be a scandal when they came back to the Club together
after a long absence; but damn it! what did it matter?  She was
different from that herd of fools at the Club.  And it would be
such fun to go to the pwe together!  At this moment the music burst
out with a fearful pandemonium--a strident squeal of pipes, a
rattle like castanets and the hoarse thump of drums, above which a
man's voice was brassily squalling.

'Whatever is that noise?' said Elizabeth, stopping.  'It sounds
just like a jazz band!'

'Native music.  They're having a pwe--that's a kind of Burmese
play; a cross between a historical drama and a revue, if you can
imagine that.  It'll interest you, I think.  Just round the bend of
the road here.'

'Oh,' she said rather doubtfully.

They came round the bend into a glare of light.  The whole road for
thirty yards was blocked by the audience watching the pwe.  At the
back there was a raised stage, under humming petrol lamps, with the
orchestra squalling and banging in front of it; on the stage two
men dressed in clothes that reminded Elizabeth of Chinese pagodas
were posturing with curved swords in their hands.  All down the
roadway it was a sea of white muslin backs of women, pink scarves
flung round their shoulders and black hair-cylinders.  A few
sprawled on their mats, fast asleep.  An old Chinese with a tray of
peanuts was threading his way through the crowd, intoning
mournfully, 'Myaype!  Myaype!'

'We'll stop and watch a few minutes if you like,' Flory said.

The blaze of lights and the appalling din of the orchestra had
almost dazed Elizabeth, but what startled her most of all was the
sight of this crowd of people sitting in the road as though it had
been the pit of a theatre.

'Do they always have their plays in the middle of the road?' she
said.

'As a rule.  They put up a rough stage and take it down in the
morning.  The show lasts all night.'

'But are they ALLOWED to--blocking up the whole roadway?'

'Oh yes.  There are no traffic regulations here.  No traffic to
regulate, you see.'

It struck her as very queer.  By this time almost the entire
audience had turned round on their mats to stare at the 'Ingaleikma'.
There were half a dozen chairs in the middle of the crowd, where
some clerks and officials were sitting.  U Po Kyin was among them,
and he was making efforts to twist his elephantine body round and
greet the Europeans.  As the music stopped the pock-marked Ba Taik
came hastening through the crowd and shikoed low to Flory, with his
timorous air.

'Most holy one, my master U Po Kyin asks whether you and the young
white lady will not come and watch our pwe for a few minutes.  He
has chairs ready for you.'

'They're asking us to come and sit down,' Flory said to Elizabeth.
'Would you like to?  It's rather fun.  Those two fellows will clear
off in a moment and there'll be some dancing.  If it wouldn't bore
you for a few minutes?'

Elizabeth felt very doubtful.  Somehow it did not seem right or
even safe to go in among that smelly native crowd.  However, she
trusted Flory, who presumably knew what was proper, and allowed him
to lead her to the chairs.  The Burmans made way on their mats,
gazing after her and chattering; her shins brushed against warm,
muslin-clad bodies, there was a feral reek of sweat.  U Po Kyin
leaned over towards her, bowing as well as he could and saying
nasally:

'Kindly to sit down, madam!  I am most honoured to make your
acquaintance.  Good evening.  Good morning, Mr Flory, sir!  A most
unexpected pleasure.  Had we known that you were to honour us with
your company, we would have provided whiskies and other European
refreshments.  Ha ha!'

He laughed, and his betel-reddened teeth gleamed in the lamplight
like red tinfoil.  He was so vast and so hideous that Elizabeth
could not help shrinking from him.  A slender youth in a purple
longyi was bowing to her and holding out a tray with two glasses of
yellow sherbet, iced.  U Po Kyin clapped his hands sharply, 'Hey
haung galay!' he called to a boy beside him.  He gave some
instructions in Burmese, and the boy pushed his way to the edge of
the stage.

'He's telling them to bring on their best dancer in our honour,'
Flory said.  'Look, here she comes.'

A girl who had been squatting at the back of the stage, smoking,
stepped forward into the lamplight.  She was very young, slim-
shouldered, breastless, dressed in a pale blue satin longyi that
hid her feet.  The skirts of her ingyi curved outwards above her
hips in little panniers, according to the ancient Burmese fashion.
They were like the petals of a downward-pointing flower.  She threw
her cigar languidly to one of the men in the orchestra, and then,
holding out one slender arm, writhed it as though to shake the
muscles loose.

The orchestra burst into a sudden loud squalling.  There were pipes
like bagpipes, a strange instrument consisting of plaques of bamboo
which a man struck with a little hammer, and in the middle there
was a man surrounded by twelve tall drums of different sizes.  He
reached rapidly from one to another, thumping them with the heel of
his hand.  In a moment the girl began to dance.  But at first it
was not a dance, it was a rhythmic nodding, posturing and twisting
of the elbows, like the movements of one of those jointed wooden
figures on an old-fashioned roundabout.  The way her neck and
elbows rotated was precisely like a jointed doll, and yet
incredibly sinuous.  Her hands, twisting like snakeheads with the
fingers close together, could lie back until they were almost along
her forearms.  By degrees her movements quickened.  She began to
leap from side to side, flinging herself down in a kind of curtsy
and springing up again with extraordinary agility, in spite of the
long longyi that imprisoned her feet.  Then she danced in a
grotesque posture as though sitting down, knees bent, body leaned
forward, with her arms extended and writhing, her head also moving
to the beat of the drums.  The music quickened to a climax.  The
girl rose upright and whirled round as swiftly as a top, the
pannier of her ingyi flying out about her like the petals of a
snowdrop.  Then the music stopped as abruptly as it had begun, and
the girl sank again into a curtsy, amid raucous shouting from the
audience.

Elizabeth watched the dance with a mixture of amazement, boredom
and something approaching horror.  She had sipped her drink and
found that it tasted like hair oil.  On a mat by her feet three
Burmese girls lay fast asleep with their heads on the same pillow,
their small oval faces side by side like the faces of kittens.
Under cover of the music Flory was speaking in a low voice into
Elizabeth's ear commenting on the dance.

'I knew this would interest you; that's why I brought you here.
You've read books and been in civilized places, you're not like the
rest of us miserable savages here.  Don't you think this is worth
watching, in its queer way?  Just look at that girl's movements--
look at that strange, bent-forward pose like a marionette, and the
way her arms twist from the elbow like a cobra rising to strike.
It's grotesque, it's even ugly, with a sort of wilful ugliness.
And there's something sinister in it too.  There's a touch of the
diabolical in all Mongols.  And yet when you look closely, what
art, what centuries of culture you can see behind it!  Every
movement that girl makes has been studied and handed down through
innumerable generations.  Whenever you look closely at the art of
these Eastern peoples you can see that--a civilization stretching
back and back, practically the same, into times when we were
dressed in woad.  In some way that I can't define to you, the whole
life and spirit of Burma is summed up in the way that girl twists
her arms.  When you see her you can see the rice fields, the
villages under the teak trees, the pagodas, the priests in their
yellow robes, the buffaloes swimming the rivers in the early
morning, Thibaw's palace--'

His voice stopped abruptly as the music stopped.  There were
certain things, and a pwe-dance was one of them, that pricked him
to talk discursively and incautiously; but now he realized that he
had only been talking like a character in a novel, and not a very
good novel.  He looked away.  Elizabeth had listened to him with a
chill of discomfort.  What WAS the man talking about? was her first
thought.  Moreover, she had caught the hated word Art more than
once.  For the first time she remembered that Flory was a total
stranger and that it had been unwise to come out with him alone.
She looked round her, at the sea of dark faces and the lurid glare
of the lamps; the strangeness of the scene almost frightened her.
What was she doing in this place?  Surely it was not right to be
sitting among the black people like this, almost touching them, in
the scent of their garlic and their sweat?  Why was she not back at
the Club with the other white people?  Why had he brought her here,
among this horde of natives, to watch this hideous and savage
spectacle?

The music struck up, and the pwe girl began dancing again.  Her
face was powdered so thickly that it gleamed in the lamplight like
a chalk mask with live eyes behind it.  With that dead-white oval
face and those wooden gestures she was monstrous, like a demon.
The music changed its tempo, and the girl began to sing in a brassy
voice.  It was a song with a swift trochaic rhythm, gay yet fierce.
The crowd took it up, a hundred voices chanting the harsh syllables
in unison.  Still in that strange bent posture the girl turned
round and danced with her buttocks protruded towards the audience.
Her silk longyi gleamed like metal.  With hands and elbows still
rotating she wagged her posterior from side to side.  Then--
astonishing feat, quite visible through the longyi--she began to
wriggle her two buttocks independently in time with the music.

There was a shout of applause from the audience.  The three girls
asleep on the mat woke up at the same moment and began clapping
their hands wildly.  A clerk shouted nasally 'Bravo! Bravo!' in
English for the Europeans' benefit.  But U Po Kyin frowned and
waved his hand.  He knew all about European women.  Elizabeth,
however, had already stood up.

'I'm going.  It's time we were back,' she said abruptly.  She was
looking away, but Flory could see that her face was pink.

He stood up beside her, dismayed.  'But, I say!  Couldn't you stay
a few minutes longer?  I know it's late, but--they brought this
girl on two hours before she was due, in our honour.  Just a few
minutes?'

'I can't help it, I ought to have been back ages ago.  I don't know
WHAT my uncle and aunt will be thinking.'

She began at once to pick her way through the crowd, and he
followed her, with not even time to thank the pwe people for their
trouble.  The Burmans made way with a sulky air.  How like these
English people, to upset everything by sending for the best dancer
and then go away almost before she had started!  There was a
fearful row as soon as Flory and Elizabeth had gone, the pwe girl
refusing to go on with her dance and the audience demanding that
she should continue.  However, peace was restored when two clowns
hurried on to the stage and began letting off crackers and making
obscene jokes.

Flory followed the girl abjectly up the road.  She was walking
quickly, her head turned away, and for some moments she would not
speak.  What a thing to happen, when they had been getting on so
well together!  He kept trying to apologize.

'I'm so sorry!  I'd no idea you'd mind--'

'It's nothing.  What is there to be sorry about?  I only said it
was time to go back, that's all.'

'I ought to have thought.  One gets not to notice that kind of
thing in this country.  These people's sense of decency isn't the
same as ours--it's stricter in some ways--but--'

'It's not that!  It's not that!' she exclaimed quite angrily.

He saw that he was only making it worse.  They walked on in
silence, he behind.  He was miserable.  What a bloody fool he had
been!  And yet all the while he had no inkling of the real reason
why she was angry with him.  It was not the pwe girl's behaviour,
in itself, that had offended her; it had only brought things to a
head.  But the whole expedition--the very notion of WANTING to rub
shoulders with all those smelly natives--had impressed her badly.
She was perfectly certain that that was not how white men ought to
behave.  And that extraordinary rambling speech that he had begun,
with all those long words--almost, she thought bitterly, as though
he were quoting poetry!  It was how those beastly artists that you
met sometimes in Paris used to talk.  She had thought him a manly
man till this evening.  Then her mind went back to the morning's
adventure, and how he had faced the buffalo barehanded, and some of
her anger evaporated.  By the time they reached the Club gate she
felt inclined to forgive him.  Flory had by now plucked up courage
to speak again.  He stopped, and she stopped too, in a patch where
the boughs let through some starlight and he could see her face
dimly.

'I say.  I say, I do hope you're not really angry about this?'

'No, of course I'm not.  I told you I wasn't.'

'I oughtn't to have taken you there.  Please forgive me.  Do you
know, I don't think I'd tell the others where you've been.  Perhaps
it would be better to say you've just been out for a stroll, out in
the garden--something like that.  They might think it queer, a
white girl going to a pwe.  I don't think I'd tell them.'

'Oh, of course I won't!' she agreed with a warmness that surprised
him.  After that he knew that he was forgiven.  But what it was
that he was forgiven, he had not yet grasped.

They went into the Club separately, by tacit consent.  The expedition
had been a failure, decidedly.  There was a gala air about the Club
lounge tonight.  The entire European community were waiting to greet
Elizabeth, and the butler and the six chokras, in their best
starched white suits, were drawn up on either side of the door,
smiling and salaaming.  When the Europeans had finished their
greetings the butler came forward with a vast garland of flowers
that the servants had prepared for the 'missiesahib'.  Mr Macgregor
made a very humorous speech of welcome, introducing everybody.  He
introduced Maxwell as 'our local arboreal specialist', Westfield as
'the guardian of law and order and--ah--terror of the local
banditti', and so on and so forth.  There was much laughter.  The
sight of a pretty girl's face had put everyone in such a good humour
that they could even enjoy Mr Macgregor's speech--which, to tell the
truth, he had spent most of the evening in preparing.

At the first possible moment Ellis, with a sly air, took Flory and
Westfield by the arm and drew them away into the card-room.  He was
in a much better mood than usual.  He pinched Flory's arm with his
small, hard fingers, painfully but quite amiably.

'Well, my lad, everyone's been looking for you.  Where have you
been all this time?'

'Oh, only for a stroll.'

'For a stroll!  And who with?'

'With Miss Lackersteen.'

'I knew it!  So YOU'RE the bloody fool who's fallen into the trap,
are you?  YOU swallowed the bait before anyone else had time to
look at it.  I thought you were too old a bird for that, by God I
did!'

'What do you mean?'

'Mean!  Look at him pretending he doesn't know what I mean!  Why, I
mean that Ma Lackersteen's marked you down for her beloved nephew-
in-law, of course.  That is, if you aren't bloody careful.  Eh,
Westfield?'

'Quite right, ol' boy.  Eligible young bachelor.  Marriage halter
and all that.  They've got their eye on him.'

'I don't know where you're getting this idea from.  The girl's
hardly been here twenty-four hours.'

'Long enough for you to take her up the garden path, anyway.  You
watch your step.  Tom Lackersteen may be a drunken sot, but he's
not such a bloody fool that he wants a niece hanging round his neck
for the rest of his life.  And of course SHE knows which side her
bread's buttered.  So you take care and don't go putting your head
into the noose.'

'Damn it, you've no right to talk about people like that.  After
all, the girl's only a kid--'

'My dear old ass'--Ellis, almost affectionate now that he had a new
subject for scandal, took Flory by the coat lapel--'my dear, dear
old ass, don't you go filling yourself up with moonshine.  You
think that girl's easy fruit: she's not.  These girls out from home
are all the same.  "Anything in trousers but nothing this side the
altar"--that's their motto, every one of them.  Why do you think
the girl's come out here?'

'Why?  I don't know.  Because she wanted to, I suppose.'

'My good fool!  She come out to lay her claws into a husband,
of course.  As if it wasn't well known!  When a girl's failed
everywhere else she tries India, where every man's pining for the
sight of a white woman.  The Indian marriage-market, they call it.
Meat market it ought to be.  Shiploads of 'em coming out every year
like carcasses of frozen mutton, to be pawed over by nasty old
bachelors like you.  Cold storage.  Juicy joints straight from the
ice.'

'You do say some repulsive things.'

'Best pasture-fed English meat,' said Ellis with a pleased air.
'Fresh consignments.  Warranted prime condition.'

He went through a pantomime of examining a joint of meat, with
goatish sniffs.  This joke was likely to last Ellis a long time;
his jokes usually did; and there was nothing that gave him quite so
keen a pleasure as dragging a woman's name through mud.

Flory did not see much more of Elizabeth that evening.  Everyone
was in the lounge together, and there was the silly clattering
chatter about nothing that there is on these occasions.  Flory
could never keep up that kind of conversation for long.  But as for
Elizabeth, the civilized atmosphere of the Club, with the white
faces all round her and the friendly look of the illustrated papers
and the 'Bonzo' pictures, reassured her after that doubtful
interlude at the pwe.

When the Lackersteens left the Club at nine, it was not Flory but
Mr Macgregor who walked home with them, ambling beside Elizabeth
like some friendly saurian monster, among the faint crooked shadows
of the gold mohur stems.  The Prome anecdote, and many another,
found a new home.  Any newcomer to Kyauktada was apt to come in for
rather a large share of Mr Macgregor's conversation, for the others
looked on him as an unparalleled bore, and it was a tradition at
the Club to interrupt his stories.  But Elizabeth was by nature a
good listener.  Mr Macgregor thought he had seldom met so
intelligent a girl.

Flory stayed a little longer at the Club, drinking with the others.
There was much smutty talk about Elizabeth.  The quarrel about Dr
Veraswami's election had been shelved for the time being.  Also,
the notice that Ellis had put up on the previous evening had been
taken down.  Mr Macgregor had seen it during his morning visit to
the Club, and in his fair-minded way he had at once insisted on its
removal.  So the notice had been suppressed; not, however, before
it had achieved its object.



9


During the next fortnight a great deal happened.

The feud between U Po Kyin and Dr Veraswami was now in full swing.
The whole town was divided into two factions, with every native
soul from the magistrates down to the bazaar sweepers enrolled on
one side or the other, and all ready for perjury when the time
came.  But of the two parties, the doctor's was much the smaller
and less efficiently libellous.  The editor of the Burmese Patriot
had been put on trial for sedition and libel, bail being refused.
His arrest had provoked a small riot in Rangoon, which was
suppressed by the police with the death of only two rioters.  In
prison the editor went on hunger strike, but broke down after six
hours.

In Kyauktada, too, things had been happening.  A dacoit named Nga
Shwe O had escaped from the jail in mysterious circumstances.  And
there had been a whole crop of rumours about a projected native
rising in the district.  The rumours--they were very vague ones as
yet--centred round a village named Thongwa, not far from the camp
where Maxwell was girdling teak.  A weiksa, or magician, was said
to have appeared from nowhere and to be prophesying the doom of the
English power and distributing magic bullet-proof jackets.  Mr
Macgregor did not take the rumours very seriously, but he had asked
for an extra force of Military Police.  It was said that a company
of Indian infantry with a British officer in command would be sent
to Kyauktada shortly.  Westfield, of course, had hurried to Thongwa
at the first threat, or rather hope, of trouble.

'God, if they'd only break out and rebel properly for once!' he
said to Ellis before starting.  'But it'll be a bloody washout as
usual.  Always the same story with these rebellions--peter out
almost before they've begun.  Would you believe it, I've never
fired my gun at a fellow yet, not even a dacoit.  Eleven years of
it, not counting the War, and never killed a man.  Depressing.'

'Oh, well,' said Ellis, 'if they won't come up to the scratch you
can always get hold of the ringleaders and give them a good
bambooing on the Q.T.  That's better than coddling them up in our
damned nursing homes of prisons.'

'H'm, probably.  Can't do it though, nowadays.  All these kid-glove
laws--got to keep them, I suppose, if we're fools enough to make
'em.'

'Oh, rot the laws.  Bambooing's the only thing that makes any
impression on the Burman.  Have you seen them after they've been
flogged?  I have.  Brought out of the jail on bullock carts,
yelling, with the women plastering mashed bananas on their
backsides.  That's something they do understand.  If I had my way
I'd give it 'em on the soles of the feet the same as the Turks do.'

'Ah well.  Let's hope they'll have the guts to show a bit of fight
for once.  Then we'll call out the Military Police, rifles and all.
Plug a few dozen of 'em--that'll clear the air.'

However, the hoped-for opportunity did not come.  Westfield and the
dozen constables he had taken with him to Thongwa--jolly round-
faced Gurkha boys, pining to use their kukris on somebody--found
the district depressingly peaceful.  There seemed not the ghost of
a rebellion anywhere; only the annual attempt, as regular as the
monsoon, of the villagers to avoid paying the capitation tax.

The weather was growing hotter and hotter.  Elizabeth had had her
first attack of prickly heat.  Tennis at the Club had practically
ceased; people would play one languid set and then fall into chairs
and swallow pints of tepid lime-juice--tepid, because the ice came
only twice weekly from Mandalay and melted within twenty-four hours
of arriving.  The Flame of the Forest was in full bloom.  The
Burmese women, to protect their children from the sun, streaked
their faces with yellow cosmetic until they looked like little
African witch-doctors.  Flocks of green pigeons, and imperial
pigeons as large as ducks, came to eat the berries of the big
peepul trees along the bazaar road.

Meanwhile, Flory had turned Ma Hla May out of his house.

A nasty, dirty job!  There was a sufficient pretext--she had stolen
his gold cigarette-case and pawned it at the house of Li Yeik, the
Chinese grocer and illicit pawnbroker in the bazaar--but still, it
was only a pretext.  Flory knew perfectly well, and Ma Hla May
knew, and all the servants knew, that he was getting rid of her
because of Elizabeth.  Because of 'the Ingaleikma with dyed hair',
as Ma Hla May called her.

Ma Hla May made no violent scene at first.  She stood sullenly
listening while he wrote her a cheque for a hundred rupees--Li Yeik
or the Indian chetty in the bazaar would cash cheques--and told her
that she was dismissed.  He was more ashamed than she; he could not
look her in the face, and his voice went flat and guilty.  When the
bullock cart came for her belongings, he shut himself in the
bedroom skulking till the scene should be over.

Cartwheels grated on the drive, there was the sound of men
shouting; then suddenly there was a fearful uproar of screams.
Flory went outside.  They were all struggling round the gate in the
sunlight.  Ma Hla May was clinging to the gatepost and Ko S'la was
trying to bundle her out.  She turned a face full of fury and
despair towards Flory, screaming over and over, 'Thakin!  Thakin!
Thakin!  Thakin!  Thakin!'  It hurt him to the heart that she
should still call him thakin after he had dismissed her.

'What is it?' he said.

It appeared that there was a switch of false hair that Ma Hla May
and Ma Yi both claimed.  Flory gave the switch to Ma Yi and gave Ma
Hla May two rupees to compensate her.  Then the cart jolted away,
with Ma Hla May sitting beside her two wicker baskets, straight-
backed and sullen, and nursing a kitten on her knees.  It was only
two months since he had given her the kitten as a present.

Ko S'la, who had long wished for Ma Hla May's removal, was not
altogether pleased now that it had happened.  He was even less
pleased when he saw his master going to church--or as he called it,
to the 'English pagoda'--for Flory was still in Kyauktada on the
Sunday of the padre's arrival, and he went to church with the
others.  There was a congregation of twelve, including Mr Francis,
Mr Samuel and six native Christians, with Mrs Lackersteen playing
'Abide with Me' on the tiny harmonium with one game pedal.  It was
the first time in ten years that Flory had been to church, except
to funerals.  Ko S'la's notions of what went on in the 'English
pagoda' were vague in the extreme; but he did know that church-
going signified respectability--a quality which, like all
bachelors' servants, he hated in his bones.

'There is trouble coming,' he said despondently to the other
servants.  'I have been watching him (he meant Flory) these ten
days past.  He has cut down his cigarettes to fifteen a day, he has
stopped drinking gin before breakfast, he shaves himself every
evening--though he thinks I do not know it, the fool.  And he has
ordered half a dozen new silk shirts!  I had to stand over the
dirzi calling him bahinchut to get them finished in time.  Evil
omens!  I give him three months longer, and then good-bye to the
peace in this house!'

'What, is he going to get married?' said Ba Pe.

'I am certain of it.  When a white man begins going to the English
pagoda, it is, as you might say, the beginning of the end.'

'I have had many masters in my life,' old Sammy said.  'The worst
was Colonel Wimpole sahib, who used to make his orderly hold me
down over the table while he came running from behind and kicked me
with very thick boots for serving banana fritters too frequently.
At other times, when he was drunk, he would fire his revolver
through the roof of the servants' quarters, just above our heads.
But I would sooner serve ten years under Colonel Wimpole sahib than
a week under a memsahib with her kit-kit.  If our master marries I
shall leave the same day.'

'I shall not leave, for I have been his servant fifteen years.  But
I know what is in store for us when that woman comes.  She will
shout at us because of spots of dust on the furniture, and wake us
up to bring cups of tea in the afternoon when we are asleep, and
come poking into the cookhouse at all hours and complain over dirty
saucepans and cockroaches in the flour bin.  It is my belief that
these women lie awake at nights thinking of new ways to torment
their servants.'

'They keep a little red book,' said Sammy, 'in which they enter the
bazaar-money, two annas for this, four annas for that, so that a
man cannot earn a pice.  They make more kit-kit over the price of
an onion than a sahib over five rupees.'

'Ah, do I not know it!  She will be worse than Ma Hla May.  Women!'
he added comprehensively, with a kind of sigh.

The sigh was echoed by the others, even by Ma Pu and Ma Yi.
Neither took Ko S'la's remarks as a stricture upon her own sex,
Englishwomen being considered a race apart, possibly not even
human, and so dreadful that an Englishman's marriage is usually the
signal for the flight of every servant in his house, even those who
have been with him for years.



10


But as a matter of fact, Ko S'la's alarm was premature.  After
knowing Elizabeth for ten days, Flory was scarcely more intimate
with her than on the day when he had first met her.

As it happened, he had her almost to himself during these ten days,
most of the Europeans being in the jungle.  Flory himself had no
right to be loitering in headquarters, for at this time of year the
work of timber-extraction was in full swing, and in his absence
everything went to pieces under the incompetent Eurasian overseer.
But he had stayed--pretext, a touch of fever--while despairing
letters came almost every day from the overseer, telling of
disasters.  One of the elephants was ill, the engine of the light
railway that was used for carrying teak logs to the river had
broken down, fifteen of the coolies had deserted.  But Flory still
lingered, unable to tear himself away from Kyauktada while
Elizabeth was there, and continually seeking--never, as yet, to
much purpose--to recapture that easy and delightful friendship of
their first meeting.

They met every day, morning and evening, it was true.  Each evening
they played a single of tennis at the Club--Mrs Lackersteen was too
limp and Mr Lackersteen too liverish for tennis at this time of
year--and afterwards they would sit in the lounge, all four
together, playing bridge and talking.  But though Flory spent hours
in Elizabeth's company, and often they were alone together, he was
never for an instant at his ease with her.  They talked--so long as
they talked of trivialities--with the utmost freedom, yet they were
distant, like strangers.  He felt stiff in her presence, he could
not forget his birthmark; his twice-scraped chin smarted, his body
tortured him for whisky and tobacco--for he tried to cut down his
drinking and smoking when he was with her.  After ten days they
seemed no nearer the relationship he wanted.

For somehow, he had never been able to talk to her as he longed to
talk.  To talk, simply to talk!  It sounds so little, and how much
it is!  When you have existed to the brink of middle age in bitter
loneliness, among people to whom your true opinion on every subject
on earth is blasphemy, the need to talk is the greatest of all
needs.  Yet with Elizabeth serious talk seemed impossible.  It was
as though there had been a spell upon them that made all their
conversation lapse into banality; gramophone records, dogs, tennis
racquets--all that desolating Club-chatter.  She seemed not to WANT
to talk of anything but that.  He had only to touch upon a subject
of any conceivable interest to hear the evasion, the 'I shan't
play', coming into her voice.  Her taste in books appalled him when
he discovered it.  Yet she was young, he reminded himself, and had
she not drunk white wine and talked of Marcel Proust under the
Paris plane trees?  Later, no doubt, she would understand him and
give him the companionship he needed.  Perhaps it was only that he
had not won her confidence yet.

He was anything but tactful with her.  Like all men who have lived
much alone, he adjusted himself better to ideas than to people.
And so, though all their talk was superficial, he began to irritate
her sometimes; not by what he said but by what he implied.  There
was an uneasiness between them, ill-defined and yet often verging
upon quarrels.  When two people, one of whom has lived long in the
country while the other is a newcomer, are thrown together, it is
inevitable that the first should act as cicerone to the second.
Elizabeth, during these days, was making her first acquaintance
with Burma; it was Flory, naturally, who acted as her interpreter,
explaining this, commenting upon that.  And the things he said, or
the way he said them, provoked in her a vague yet deep disagreement.
For she perceived that Flory, when he spoke of the 'natives', spoke
nearly always IN FAVOUR of them.  He was forever praising Burmese
customs and the Burmese character; he even went so far as to
contrast them favourably with the English.  It disquieted her.
After all, natives were natives--interesting, no doubt, but finally
only a 'subject' people, an inferior people with black faces.  His
attitude was a little TOO tolerant.  Nor had he grasped, yet, in
what way he was antagonizing her.  He so wanted her to love Burma as
he loved it, not to look at it with the dull, incurious eyes of a
memsahib!  He had forgotten that most people can be at ease in a
foreign country only when they are disparaging the inhabitants.

He was too eager in his attempts to interest her in things
Oriental.  He tried to induce her, for instance, to learn Burmese,
but it came to nothing.  (Her aunt had explained to her that only
missionary-women spoke Burmese; nice women found kitchen Urdu quite
as much as they needed.)  There were countless small disagreements
like that.  She was grasping, dimly, that his views were not the
views an Englishman should hold.  Much more clearly she grasped
that he was asking her to be fond of the Burmese, even to admire
them; to admire people with black faces, almost savages, whose
appearance still made her shudder!

The subject cropped up in a hundred ways.  A knot of Burmans would
pass them on the road.  She, with her still fresh eyes, would gaze
after them, half curious and half repelled; and she would say to
Flory, as she would have said to anybody:

'How REVOLTINGLY ugly these people are, aren't they?'

'ARE they?  I always think they're rather charming-looking, the
Burmese.  They have such splendid bodies!  Look at that fellow's
shoulders--like a bronze statue.  Just think what sights you'd see
in England if people went about half naked as they do here!'

'But they have such hideous-shaped heads!  Their skulls kind of
slope up behind like a tom-cat's.  And then the way their foreheads
slant back--it makes them look so WICKED.  I remember reading
something in a magazine about the shape of people's heads; it said
that a person with a sloping forehead is a CRIMINAL TYPE.'

'Oh, come, that's a bit sweeping!  Round about half the people in
the world have that kind of forehead.'

'Oh, well, if you count COLOURED people, of course--!'

Or perhaps a string of women would pass, going to the well: heavy-
set peasant-girls, copper-brown, erect under their water-pots with
strong marelike buttocks protruded.  The Burmese women repelled
Elizabeth more than the men; she felt her kinship with them, and
the hatefulness of being kin to creatures with black faces.

'Aren't they too simply dreadful?  So COARSE-LOOKING; like some
kind of animal.  Do you think ANYONE could think those women
attractive?'

'Their own men do, I believe.'

'I suppose they would.  But that black skin--I don't know how
anyone could bear it!'

'But, you know, one gets used to the brown skin in time.  In fact
they say--I believe it's true--that after a few years in these
countries a brown skin seems more natural than a white one.  And
after all, it IS more natural.  Take the world as a whole, it's an
eccentricity to be white.'

'You DO have some funny ideas!'

And so on and so on.  She felt all the while an unsatisfactoriness,
an unsoundness in the things he said.  It was particularly so on
the evening when Flory allowed Mr Francis and Mr Samuel, the two
derelict Eurasians, to entrap him in conversation at the Club gate.

Elizabeth, as it happened, had reached the Club a few minutes
before Flory, and when she heard his voice at the gate she came
round the tennis-screen to meet him.  The two Eurasians had sidled
up to Flory and cornered him like a pair of dogs asking for a game.
Francis was doing most of the talking.  He was a meagre, excitable
man, and as brown as a cigar-leaf, being the son of a South Indian
woman; Samuel, whose mother had been a Karen, was pale yellow with
dull red hair.  Both were dressed in shabby drill suits, with vast
topis beneath which their slender bodies looked like the stalks of
toadstools.

Elizabeth came down the path in time to hear fragments of an
enormous and complicated autobiography.  Talking to white men--
talking, for choice, about himself--was the great joy of Francis's
life.  When, at intervals of months, he found a European to listen
to him, his life-history would pour out of him in unquenchable
torrents.  He was talking in a nasal, sing-song voice of incredible
rapidity:

'Of my father, sir, I remember little, but he was very choleric man
and many whackings with big bamboo stick all knobs on both for
self, little half-brother and two mothers.  Also how on occasion of
bishop's visit little half-brother and I dress in longyis and sent
among the Burmese children to preserve incognito.  My father never
rose to be bishop, sir.  Four converts only in twenty-eight years,
and also too great fondness for Chinese rice-spirit very fiery
noised abroad and spoil sales of my father's booklet entitled The
Scourge of Alcohol, published with the Rangoon Baptist Press, one
rupee eight annas.  My little half-brother die one hot weather,
always coughing, coughing,' etc., etc.

The two Eurasians perceived the presence of Elizabeth.  Both doffed
their topis with bows and brilliant displays of teeth.  It was
probably several years since either of them had had a chance of
talking to an Englishwoman.  Francis burst out more effusively than
ever.  He was chattering in evident dread that he would be
interrupted and the conversation cut short.

'Good evening to you, madam, good evening, good evening!  Most
honoured to make your acquaintance, madam!  Very sweltering is the
weather these days, is not?  But seasonable for April.  Not too
much you are suffering from prickly heat, I trust?  Pounded
tamarind applied to the afflicted spot is infallible.  Myself I
suffer torments each night.  Very prevalent disease among we
Europeans.'

He pronounced it Europian, like Mr Chollop in Martin Chuzzlewit.
Elizabeth did not answer.  She was looking at the Eurasians
somewhat coldly.  She had only a dim idea as to who or what they
were, and it struck her as impertinent that they should speak to
her.

'Thanks, I'll remember about the tamarind,' Flory said.

'Specific of renowned Chinese doctor, sir.  Also, sir-madam, may I
advise to you, wearing only Terai hat is not judicious in April,
sir.  For the natives all well, their skulls are adamant.  But for
us sunstroke ever menaces.  Very deadly is the sun upon European
skull.  But is it that I detain you, madam?'

This was said in a disappointed tone.  Elizabeth had, in fact,
decided to snub the Eurasians.  She did not know why Flory was
allowing them to hold him in conversation.  As she turned away to
stroll back to the tennis court, she made a practice stroke in the
air with her racquet, to remind Flory that the game was overdue.
He saw it and followed her, rather reluctantly, for he did not like
snubbing the wretched Francis, bore though he was.

'I must be off,' he said.  'Good evening, Francis.  Good evening,
Samuel.'

'Good evening, sir!  Good evening, madam!  Good evening, good
evening!'  They receded with more hat flourishes.

'Who ARE those two?' said Elizabeth as Flory came up with her.
'Such extraordinary creatures!  They were in church on Sunday.  One
of them looks almost white.  Surely he isn't an Englishman?'

'No, they're Eurasians--sons of white fathers and native mothers.
Yellow-bellies is our friendly nickname for them.'

'But what are they doing here?  Where do they live?  Do they do any
work?'

'They exist somehow or other in the bazaar.  I believe Francis acts
as clerk to an Indian money-lender, and Samuel to some of the
pleaders.  But they'd probably starve now and then if it weren't
for the charity of the natives.'

'The natives!  Do you mean to say--sort of CADGE from the natives?'

'I fancy so.  It would be a very easy thing to do, if one cared to.
The Burmese won't let anyone starve.'

Elizabeth had never heard of anything of this kind before.  The
notion of men who were at least partly white living in poverty
among 'natives' so shocked her that she stopped short on the path,
and the game of tennis was postponed for a few minutes.

'But how awful!  I mean, it's such a bad example!  It's almost as
bad as if one of US was like that.  Couldn't something be done for
those two?  Get up a subscription and send them away from here, or
something?'

'I'm afraid it wouldn't help much.  Wherever they went they'd be in
the same position.'

'But couldn't they get some proper work to do?'

'I doubt it.  You see, Eurasians of that type--men who've been
brought up in the bazaar and had no education--are done for from
the start.  The Europeans won't touch them with a stick, and
they're cut off from entering the lower-grade Government services.
There's nothing they can do except cadge, unless they chuck all
pretension to being Europeans.  And really you can't expect the
poor devils to do that.  Their drop of white blood is the sole
asset they've got.  Poor Francis, I never meet him but he begins
telling me about his prickly heat.  Natives, you see, are supposed
not to suffer from prickly heat--bosh, of course, but people
believe it.  It's the same with sunstroke.  They wear those huge
topis to remind you that they've got European skulls.  A kind of
coat of arms.  The bend sinister, you might say.'

This did not satisfy Elizabeth.  She perceived that Flory, as
usual, had a sneaking sympathy with the Eurasians.  And the
appearance of the two men had excited a peculiar dislike in her.
She had placed their type now.  They looked like dagoes.  Like
those Mexicans and Italians and other dago people who play the
mauvais role in so many a film.

'They looked awfully degenerate types, didn't they?  So thin and
weedy and cringing; and they haven't got at all HONEST faces.  I
suppose these Eurasians ARE very degenerate?  I've heard that half-
castes always inherit what's worst in both races.  Is that true?'

'I don't know that it's true.  Most Eurasians aren't very good
specimens, and it's hard to see how they could be, with their
upbringing.  But our attitude towards them is rather beastly.  We
always talk of them as though they'd sprung up from the ground like
mushrooms, with all their faults ready-made.  But when all's said
and done, we're responsible for their existence.'

'Responsible for their existence?'

'Well, they've all got fathers, you see.'

'Oh . . . Of course there's that. . . .  But after all, YOU aren't
responsible.  I mean, only a very low kind of man would--er--have
anything to do with native women, wouldn't he?'

'Oh, quite.  But the fathers of both those two were clergymen in
holy orders, I believe.'

He thought of Rosa McFee, the Eurasian girl he had seduced in
Mandalay in 1913.  The way he used to sneak down to the house in a
gharry with the shutters down; Rosa's corkscrew curls; her withered
old Burmese mother, giving him tea in the dark living-room with the
fern pots and the wicker divan.  And afterwards, when he had
chucked Rosa, those dreadful, imploring letters on scented note-
paper, which, in the end, he had ceased opening.

Elizabeth reverted to the subject of Francis and Samuel after
tennis.

'Those two Eurasians--does anyone here have anything to do with
them?  Invite them to their houses or anything?'

'Good gracious, no.  They're complete outcasts.  It's not
considered quite the thing to talk to them, in fact.  Most of us
say good morning to them--Ellis won't even do that.'

'But YOU talked to them.'

'Oh well, I break the rules occasionally.  I meant that a pukka
sahib probably wouldn't be seen talking to them.  But you see, I
try--just sometimes, when I have the pluck--NOT to be a pukka
sahib.'

It was an unwise remark.  She knew very well by this time the
meaning of the phrase 'pukka sahib' and all it stood for.  His
remark had made the difference in their viewpoint a little clearer.
The glance she gave him was almost hostile, and curiously hard; for
her face could look hard sometimes, in spite of its youth and its
flower-like skin.  Those modish tortoise-shell spectacles gave her
a very self-possessed look.  Spectacles are queerly expressive
things--almost more expressive, indeed, than eyes.

As yet he had neither understood her nor quite won her trust.  Yet
on the surface, at least, things had not gone ill between them.  He
had fretted her sometimes, but the good impression that he had made
that first morning was not yet effaced.  It was a curious fact that
she scarcely noticed his birthmark at this time.  And there were
some subjects on which she was glad to hear him talk.  Shooting,
for example--she seemed to have an enthusiasm for shooting that was
remarkable in a girl.  Horses, also; but he was less knowledgeable
about horses.  He had arranged to take her out for a day's
shooting, later, when he could make preparations.  Both of them
were looking forward to the expedition with some eagerness, though
not entirely for the same reason.



11


Flory and Elizabeth walked down the bazaar road.  It was morning,
but the air was so hot that to walk in it was like wading through a
torrid sea.  Strings of Burmans passed, coming from the bazaar, on
scraping sandals, and knots of girls who hurried by four and five
abreast, with short quick steps, chattering, their burnished hair
gleaming.  By the roadside, just before you got to the jail, the
fragments of a stone pagoda were littered, cracked and overthrown
by the strong roots of a peepul tree.  The angry carved faces of
demons looked up from the grass where they had fallen.  Near by
another peepul tree had twined itself round a palm, uprooting it
and bending it backwards in a wrestle that had lasted a decade.

They walked on and came to the jail, a vast square block, two
hundred yards each way, with shiny concrete walls twenty feet high.
A peacock, pet of the jail, was mincing pigeon-toed along the
parapet.  Six convicts came by, head down, dragging two heavy
handcarts piled with earth, under the guard of Indian warders.
They were long-sentence men, with heavy limbs, dressed in uniforms
of coarse white cloth with small dunces' caps perched on their
shaven crowns.  Their faces were greyish, cowed and curiously
flattened.  Their leg-irons jingled with a clear ring.  A woman
came past carrying a basket of fish on her head.  Two crows were
circling round it and making darts at it, and the woman was
flapping one hand negligently to keep them away.

There was a din of voices a little distance away.  'The bazaar's
just round the corner,' Flory said.  'I think this is a market
morning.  It's rather fun to watch.'

He had asked her to come down to the bazaar with him, telling her
it would amuse her to see it.  They rounded the bend.  The bazaar
was an enclosure like a very large cattle pen, with low stalls,
mostly palm-thatched, round its edge.  In the enclosure, a mob of
people seethed, shouting and jostling; the confusion of their
multi-coloured clothes was like a cascade of hundreds-and-thousands
poured out of a jar.  Beyond the bazaar one could see the huge,
miry river.  Tree branches and long streaks of scum raced down it
at seven miles an hour.  By the bank a fleet of sampans, with sharp
beak-like bows on which eyes were painted, rocked at their mooring-
poles.

Flory and Elizabeth stood watching for a moment.  Files of women
passed balancing vegetable baskets on their heads, and pop-eyed
children who stared at the Europeans.  An old Chinese in dungarees
faded to sky-blue hurried by, nursing some unrecognizable, bloody
fragment of a pig's intestines.

'Let's go and poke around the stalls a bit, shall we?' Flory said.

'Is it all right going in among the crowd?  Everything's so
horribly dirty.'

'Oh, it's all right, they'll make way for us.  It'll interest you.'

Elizabeth followed him doubtfully and even unwillingly.  Why was it
that he always brought her to these places?  Why was he forever
dragging her in among the 'natives', trying to get her to take an
interest in them and watch their filthy, disgusting habits?  It was
all wrong, somehow.  However, she followed, not feeling able to
explain her reluctance.  A wave of stifling air met them; there was
a reek of garlic, dried fish, sweat, dust, anise, cloves and
turmeric.  The crowd surged round them, swarms of stocky peasants
with cigar-brown faces, withered elders with their grey hair tied
in a bun behind, young mothers carrying naked babies astride the
hip.  Flo was trodden on and yelped.  Low, strong shoulders bumped
against Elizabeth, as the peasants, too busy bargaining even to
stare at a white woman, struggled round the stalls.

'Look!'  Flory was pointing with his stick to a stall, and saying
something, but it was drowned by the yells of two women who were
shaking their fists at each other over a basket of pineapples.
Elizabeth had recoiled from the stench and din, but he did not
notice it, and led her deeper into the crowd, pointing to this
stall and that.  The merchandise was foreign-looking, queer and
poor.  There were vast pomelos hanging on strings like green moons,
red bananas, baskets of heliotrope-coloured prawns the size of
lobsters, brittle dried fish tied in bundles, crimson chilis, ducks
split open and cured like hams, green coco-nuts, the larvae of the
rhinoceros beetle, sections of sugar-cane, dahs, lacquered sandals,
check silk longyis, aphrodisiacs in the form of large, soap-like
pills, glazed earthenware jars four feet high, Chinese sweetmeats
made of garlic and sugar, green and white cigars, purple prinjals,
persimmon-seed necklaces, chickens cheeping in wicker cages, brass
Buddhas, heart-shaped betel leaves, bottles of Kruschen salts,
switches of false hair, red clay cooking-pots, steel shoes for
bullocks, papier-mache marionettes, strips of alligator hide with
magical properties.  Elizabeth's head was beginning to swim.  At
the other end of the bazaar the sun gleamed through a priest's
umbrella, blood-red, as though through the ear of a giant.  In
front of a stall four Dravidian women were pounding turmeric with
heavy stakes in a large wooden mortar.  The hot-scented yellow
powder flew up and tickled Elizabeth's nostrils, making her sneeze.
She felt that she could not endure this place a moment longer.  She
touched Flory's arm.

'This crowd--the heat is so dreadful.  Do you think we could get
into the shade?'

He turned round.  To tell the truth, he had been too busy talking--
mostly inaudibly, because of the din--to notice how the heat and
stench were affecting her.

'Oh, I say, I am sorry.  Let's get out of it at once.  I tell you
what, we'll go along to old Li Yeik's shop--he's the Chinese
grocer--and he'll get us a drink of something.  It is rather
stifling here.'

'All these spices--they kind of take your breath away.  And what is
that dreadful smell like fish?'

'Oh, only a kind of sauce they make out of prawns.  They bury them
and then dig them up several weeks afterwards.'

'How absolutely horrible!'

'Quite wholesome, I believe.  Come away from that!' he added to
Flo, who was nosing at a basket of small gudgeon-like fish with
spines on their gills.

Li Yeik's shop faced the farther end of the bazaar.  What Elizabeth
had really wanted was to go straight back to the Club, but the
European look of Li Yeik's shop-front--it was piled with
Lancashire-made cotton shirts and almost incredibly cheap German
clocks--comforted her somewhat after the barbarity of the bazaar.
They were about to climb the steps when a slim youth of twenty,
damnably dressed in a longyi, blue cricket blazer and bright yellow
shoes, with his hair parted and greased 'Ingaleik fashion',
detached himself from the crowd and came after them.  He greeted
Flory with a small awkward movement as though restraining himself
from shikoing.

'What is it?' Flory said.

'Letter, sir.'  He produced a grubby envelope.

'Would you excuse me?' Flory said to Elizabeth, opening the letter.
It was from Ma Hla May--or rather, it had been written for her and
she had signed it with a cross--and it demanded fifty rupees, in a
vaguely menacing manner.

Flory pulled the youth aside.  'You speak English?  Tell Ma Hla May
I'll see about this later.  And tell her that if she tries
blackmailing me she won't get another pice.  Do you understand?'

'Yes, sir.'

'And now go away.  Don't follow me about, or there'll be trouble.'

'Yes, sir.'

'A clerk wanting a job,' Flory explained to Elizabeth as they went
up the steps.  'They come bothering one at all hours.'  And he
reflected that the tone of the letter was curious, for he had not
expected Ma Hla May to begin blackmailing him so soon; however, he
had not time at the moment to wonder what it might mean.

They went into the shop, which seemed dark after the outer air.  Li
Yeik, who was sitting smoking among his baskets of merchandise--
there was no counter--hobbled eagerly forward when he saw who had
come in.  Flory was a friend of his.  He was an old bent-kneed man
dressed in blue, wearing a pigtail, with a chinless yellow face,
all cheekbones, like a benevolent skull.  He greeted Flory with
nasal honking noises which he intended for Burmese, and at once
hobbled to the back of the shop to call for refreshments.  There
was a cool sweetish smell of opium.  Long strips of red paper with
black lettering were pasted on the walls, and at one side there was
a little altar with a portrait of two large, serene-looking people
in embroidered robes, and two sticks of incense smouldering in
front of it.  Two Chinese women, one old, and a girl were sitting
on a mat rolling cigarettes with maize straw and tobacco like
chopped horsehair.  They wore black silk trousers, and their feet,
with bulging, swollen insteps, were crammed into red-heeled wooden
slippers no bigger than a doll's.  A naked child was crawling
slowly about the floor like a large yellow frog.

'Do look at those women's feet!' Elizabeth whispered as soon as Li
Yeik's back was turned.  'Isn't it simply dreadful!  How do they
get them like that?  Surely it isn't natural?'

'No, they deform them artificially.  It's going out in China, I
believe, but the people here are behind the times.  Old Li Yeik's
pigtail is another anachronism.  Those small feet are beautiful
according to Chinese ideas.'

'Beautiful!  They're so horrible I can hardly look at them.  These
people must be absolute savages!'

'Oh no!  They're highly civilized; more civilized than we are, in
my opinion.  Beauty's all a matter of taste.  There are a people in
this country called the Palaungs who admire long necks in women.
The girls wear broad brass rings to stretch their necks, and they
put on more and more of them until in the end they have necks like
giraffes.  It's no queerer than bustles or crinolines.'

At this moment Li Yeik came back with two fat, round-faced Burmese
girls, evidently sisters, giggling and carrying between them two
chairs and a blue Chinese teapot holding half a gallon.  The two
girls were or had been Li Yeik's concubines.  The old man had
produced a tin of chocolates and was prising off the lid and
smiling in a fatherly way, exposing three long, tobacco-blackened
teeth.  Elizabeth sat down in a very uncomfortable frame of mind.
She was perfectly certain that it could not be right to accept
these people's hospitality.  One of the Burmese girls had at once
gone behind the chairs and begun fanning Flory and Elizabeth, while
the other knelt at their feet and poured out cups of tea.  Elizabeth
felt very foolish with the girl fanning the back of her neck and the
Chinaman grinning in front of her.  Flory always seemed to get her
into these uncomfortable situations.  She took a chocolate from the
tin Li Yeik offered her, but she could not bring herself to say
'thank you'.

'Is this ALL RIGHT?' she whispered to Flory.

'All right?'

'I mean, ought we to be sitting down in these people's house?
Isn't it sort of--sort of infra dig?'

'It's all right with a Chinaman.  They're a favoured race in this
country.  And they're very democratic in their ideas.  It's best to
treat them more or less as equals.'

'This tea looks absolutely beastly.  It's quite green.  You'd think
they'd have the sense to put milk in it, wouldn't you?'

'It's not bad.  It's a special kind of tea old Li Yeik gets from
China.  It has orange blossoms in it, I believe.'

'Ugh!  It tastes exactly like earth,' she said, having tasted it.

Li Yeik stood holding his pipe, which was two feet long with a
metal bowl the size of an acorn, and watching the Europeans to see
whether they enjoyed his tea.  The girl behind the chair said
something in Burmese, at which both of them burst out giggling
again.  The one kneeling on the floor looked up and gazed in a
naive admiring way at Elizabeth.  Then she turned to Flory and
asked him whether the English lady wore stays.  She pronounced it
s'tays.

'Ch!' said Li Yeik in a scandalized manner, stirring the girl with
his toe to silence her.

'I should hardly care to ask her,' Flory said.

'Oh, thakin, please do ask her!  We are so anxious to know!'

There was an argument, and the girl behind the chair forgot fanning
and joined in.  Both of them, it appeared, had been pining all
their lives to see a veritable pair of s'tays.  They had heard so
many tales about them; they were made of steel on the principle of
a strait waistcoat, and they compressed a woman so tightly that she
had no breasts, absolutely no breasts at all!  The girls pressed
their hands against their fat ribs in illustration.  Would not
Flory be so kind as to ask the English lady?  There was a room
behind the shop where she could come with them and undress.  They
had been so hoping to see a pair of s'tays.

Then the conversation lapsed suddenly.  Elizabeth was sitting
stiffly, holding her tiny cup of tea, which she could not bring
herself to taste again, and wearing a rather hard smile.  A chill
fell upon the Orientals; they realized that the English girl, who
could not join in their conversation, was not at her ease.  Her
elegance and her foreign beauty, which had charmed them a moment
earlier, began to awe them a little.  Even Flory was conscious of
the same feeling.  There came one of those dreadful moments that
one has with Orientals, when everyone avoids everyone else's eyes,
trying vainly to think of something to say.  Then the naked child,
which had been exploring some baskets at the back of the shop,
crawled across to where the European sat.  It examined their shoes
and stockings with great curiosity, and then, looking up, saw their
white faces and was seized with terror.  It let out a desolate
wail, and began making water on the floor.

The old Chinese woman looked up, clicked her tongue and went on
rolling cigarettes.  No one else took the smallest notice.  A pool
began to form on the floor.  Elizabeth was so horrified that she
set her cup down hastily, and spilled the tea.  She plucked at
Flory's arm.

'That child!  Do look what it's doing!  Really, can't someone--it's
too awful!'  For a moment everyone gazed in astonishment, and then
they all grasped what was the matter.  There was a flurry and a
general clicking of tongues.  No one had paid any attention to the
child--the incident was too normal to be noticed--and now they all
felt horribly ashamed.  Everyone began putting the blame on the
child.  There were exclamations of 'What a disgraceful child!  What
a disgusting child!'  The old Chinese woman carried the child,
still howling, to the door, and held it out over the step as though
wringing out a bath sponge.  And in the same moment, as it seemed,
Flory and Elizabeth were outside the shop, and he was following her
back to the road with Li Yeik and the others looking after them in
dismay.

'If THAT'S what you call civilized people--!' she was exclaiming.

'I'm sorry,' he said feebly.  'I never expected--'

'What absolutely DISGUSTING people!'

She was bitterly angry.  Her face had flushed a wonderful delicate
pink, like a poppy bud opened a day too soon.  It was the deepest
colour of which it was capable.  He followed her past the bazaar
and back to the main road, and they had gone fifty yards before he
ventured to speak again.

'I'm so sorry that this should have happened!  Li Yeik is such a
decent old chap.  He'd hate to think that he'd offended you.
Really it would have been better to stay a few minutes.  Just to
thank him for the tea.'

'Thank him!  After THAT!'

'But honestly, you oughtn't to mind that sort of thing.  Not in
this country.  These people's whole outlook is so different from
ours.  One has to adjust oneself.  Suppose, for instance, you were
back in the Middle Ages--'

'I think I'd rather not discuss it any longer.'

It was the first time they had definitely quarrelled.  He was too
miserable even to ask himself how it was that he offended her.
He did not realize that this constant striving to interest her in
Oriental things struck her only as perverse, ungentlemanly, a
deliberate seeking after the squalid and the 'beastly'.  He had not
grasped even now with what eyes she saw the 'natives'.  He only
knew that at each attempt to make her share his life, his thoughts,
his sense of beauty, she shied away from him like a frightened
horse.

They walked up the road, he to the left of her and a little behind.
He watched her averted cheek and the tiny gold hairs on her nape
beneath the brim of her Terai hat.  How he loved her, how he loved
her!  It was as though he had never truly loved her till this
moment, when he walked behind her in disgrace, not even daring to
show his disfigured face.  He made to speak several times, and
stopped himself.  His voice was not quite ready, and he did not
know what he could say that did not risk offending her somehow.  At
last he said, flatly, with a feeble pretence that nothing was the
matter:

'It's getting beastly hot, isn't it?'

With the temperature at 90 degrees in the shade it was not a
brilliant remark.  To his surprise she seized on it with a kind of
eagerness.  She turned to face him, and she was smiling again.

'Isn't it simply BAKING!'

With that they were at peace.  The silly, banal remark, bringing
with it the reassuring atmosphere of Club-chatter, had soothed her
like a charm.  Flo, who had lagged behind, came puffing up to them
dribbling saliva; in an instant they were talking, quite as usual,
about dogs.  They talked about dogs for the rest of the way home,
almost without a pause.  Dogs are an inexhaustible subject.  Dogs,
dogs! thought Flory as they climbed the hot hillside, with the
mounting sun scorching their shoulders through their thin clothes,
like the breath of fire--were they never to talk of anything except
dogs?  Or failing dogs, gramophone records and tennis racquets?
And yet, when they kept to trash like this, how easily, how
amicably they could talk!

They passed the glittering white wall of the cemetery and came to
the Lackersteens' gate.  Old mohur trees grew round it, and a clump
of hollyhocks eight feet high, with round red flowers like blowsy
girls' faces.  Flory took off his hat in the shade and fanned his
face.

'Well, we're back before the worst of the heat comes.  I'm afraid
our trip to the bazaar wasn't altogether a success.'

'Oh, not at all!  I enjoyed it, really I did.'

'No--I don't know, something unfortunate always seems to happen.--
Oh, by the way!  You haven't forgotten that we're going out
shooting the day after tomorrow?  I hope that day will be all right
for you?'

'Yes, and my uncle's going to lend me his gun.  Such awful fun!
You'll have to teach me all about shooting.  I AM so looking
forward to it.'

'So am I.  It's a rotten time of year for shooting, but we'll do
our best.  Goodbye for the present, then.'

'Good-bye, Mr Flory.'

She still called him Mr Flory though he called her Elizabeth.  They
parted and went their ways, each thinking of the shooting trip,
which, both of them felt, would in some way put things right
between them.



12


In the sticky, sleepy heat of the living-room, almost dark because
of the beaded curtain, U Po Kyin was marching slowly up and down,
boasting.  From time to time he would put a hand under his singlet
and scratch his sweating breasts, huge as a woman's with fat.  Ma
Kin was sitting on her mat, smoking slender white cigars.  Through
the open door of the bedroom one could see the corner of U Po
Kyin's huge square bed, with carved teak posts, like a catafalque,
on which he had committed many and many a rape.

Ma Kin was now hearing for the first time of the 'other affair'
which underlay U Po Kyin's attack on Dr Veraswami.  Much as he
despised her intelligence, U Po Kyin usually let Ma Kin into his
secrets sooner or later.  She was the only person in his immediate
circle who was not afraid of him, and there was therefore a
pleasure in impressing her.

'Well, Kin Kin,' he said, 'you see how it has all gone according to
plan!  Eighteen anonymous letters already, and every one of them a
masterpiece.  I would repeat some of them to you if I thought you
were capable of appreciating them.'

'But supposing the Europeans take no notice of your anonymous
letters?  What then?'

'Take no notice?  Aha, no fear of that!  I think I know something
about the European mentality.  Let me tell you, Kin Kin, that if
there is one thing I CAN do, it is to write an anonymous letter.'

This was true.  U Po Kyin's letters had already taken effect, and
especially on their chief target, Mr Macgregor.

Only two days earlier than this, Mr Macgregor had spent a very
troubled evening in trying to make up his mind whether Dr Veraswami
was or was not guilty of disloyalty to the Government.  Of course,
it was not a question of any overt act of disloyalty--that was
quite irrelevant.  The point was, was the doctor the KIND of man
who would hold seditious opinions?  In India you are not judged for
what you do, but for what you ARE.  The merest breath of suspicion
against his loyalty can ruin an Oriental official.  Mr Macgregor
had too just a nature to condemn even an Oriental out of hand.  He
had puzzled as late as midnight over a whole pile of confidential
papers, including the five anonymous letters he had received,
besides two others that had been forwarded to him by Westfield,
pinned together with a cactus thorn.

It was not only the letters.  Rumours about the doctor had been
pouring in from every side.  U Po Kyin fully grasped that to call
the doctor a traitor was not enough in itself; it was necessary to
attack his reputation from every possible angle.  The doctor was
charged not only with sedition, but also with extortion, rape,
torture, performing illegal operations, performing operations while
blind drunk, murder by poison, murder by sympathetic magic, eating
beef, selling death certificates to murderers, wearing his shoes in
the precincts of the pagoda and making homosexual attempts on the
Military Police drummer boy.  To hear what was said of him, anyone
would have imagined the doctor a compound of Machiavelli, Sweeny
Todd and the Marquis de Sade.  Mr Macgregor had not paid much
attention at first.  He was too accustomed to this kind of thing.
But with the last of the anonymous letters U Po Kyin had brought
off a stroke that was brilliant even for him.

It concerned the escape of Nga Shwe O, the dacoit, from Kyauktada
jail.  Nga Shwe O, who was in the middle of a well-earned seven
years, had been preparing his escape for several months past, and
as a start his friends outside had bribed one of the Indian
warders.  The warder received his hundred rupees in advance,
applied for leave to visit the death-bed of a relative and spent
several busy days in the Mandalay brothels.  Time passed, and the
day of the escape was postponed several times--the warder,
meanwhile, growing more and more homesick for the brothels.
Finally he decided to earn a further reward by betraying the plot
to U Po Kyin.  But U Po Kyin, as usual, saw his chance.  He told
the warder on dire penalties to hold his tongue, and then, on the
very night of the escape, when it was too late to do anything, sent
another anonymous letter to Mr Macgregor, warning him that an
escape was being attempted.  The letter added, needless to say,
that Dr Veraswami, the superintendent of the jail, had been bribed
for his connivance.

In the morning there was a hullabaloo and a rushing to and fro of
warders and, policemen at the jail, for Nga Shwe O had escaped.
(He was a long way down the river, in a sampan provided by U Po
Kyin.)  This time Mr Macgregor was taken aback.  Whoever had
written the letter must have been privy to the plot, and was
probably telling the truth about the doctor's connivance.  It was a
very serious matter.  A jail superintendent who will take bribes to
let a prisoner escape is capable of anything.  And therefore--
perhaps the logical sequence was not quite clear, but it was clear
enough to Mr Macgregor--therefore the charge of sedition, which was
the main charge against the doctor, became much more credible.

U Po Kyin had attacked the other Europeans at the same time.
Flory, who was the doctor's friend and his chief source of
prestige, had been scared easily enough into deserting him.  With
Westfield it was a little harder.  Westfield, as a policeman, knew
a great deal about U Po Kyin and might conceivably upset his plans.
Policemen and magistrates are natural enemies.  But U Po Kyin had
known how to turn even this fact to advantage.  He had accused the
doctor, anonymously of course, of being in league with the
notorious scoundrel and bribe-taker U Po Kyin.  That settled
Westfield.  As for Ellis, no anonymous letters were needed in his
case; nothing could possibly make him think worse of the doctor
than he did already.

U Po Kyin had even sent one of his anonymous letters to Mrs
Lackersteen, for he knew the power of European women.  Dr
Veraswami, the letter said, was inciting the natives to abduct and
rape the European women--no details were given, nor were they
needed.  U Po Kyin had touched Mrs Lackersteen's weak spot.  To her
mind the words 'sedition', 'Nationalism,', 'rebellion', 'Home
Rule', conveyed one thing and one only, and that was a picture of
herself being raped by a procession of jet-black coolies with
rolling white eyeballs.  It was a thought that kept her awake at
night sometimes.  Whatever good regard the Europeans might once
have had for the doctor was crumbling rapidly.

'So you see,' said U Po Kyin with a pleased air, 'you see how I
have undermined him.  He is like a tree sawn through at the base.
One tap and down he comes.  In three weeks or less I shall deliver
that tap.'

'How?'

'I am just coming to that.  I think it is time for you to hear
about it.  You have no sense in these matters, but you know how to
hold your tongue.  You have heard talk of this rebellion that is
brewing near Thongwa village?'

'Yes.  They are very foolish, those villagers.  What can they do
with their dahs and spears against the Indian soldiers?  They will
be shot down like wild animals.'

'Of course.  If there is any fighting it will be a massacre.  But
they are only a pack of superstitious peasants.  They have put
their faith in these absurd bullet-proof jackets that are being
distributed to them.  I despise such ignorance.'

'Poor men!  Why do you not stop them, Ko Po Kyin?  There is no need
to arrest anybody.  You have only to go to the village and tell
them that you know their plans, and they will never dare to go on.'

'Ah well, I could stop them if I chose, of course.  But then I do
not choose.  I have my reasons.  You see, Kin Kin--you will please
keep silent about this--this is, so to speak, my own rebellion.  I
arranged it myself.'

'What!'

Ma Kin dropped her cigar.  Her eyes had opened so wide that the
pale blue white showed all round the pupil.  She was horrified.
She burst out:

'Ko Po Kyin, what are you saying?  You do not mean it!  You,
raising a rebellion--it cannot be true!'

'Certainly it is true.  And a very good job we are making of it.
That magician whom I brought from Rangoon is a clever fellow.  He
has toured all over India as a circus conjurer.  The bullet-proof
jackets were bought at Whiteaway & Laidlaw's stores, one rupee
eight annas each.  They are costing me a pretty penny, I can tell
you.'

'But, Ko Po Kyin!  A rebellion!  The terrible fighting and shooting,
and all the poor men who will be killed!  Surely you have not
gone mad?  Are you not afraid of being shot yourself?'

U Po Kyin halted in his stride.  He was astonished.  'Good gracious,
woman, what idea have you got hold of now?  You do not suppose that
_I_ am rebelling against the Government?  I--a Government servant
of thirty years' standing!  Good heavens, no!  I said that I had
STARTED the rebellion, not that I was taking part in it.  It is
these fools of villagers who are going to risk their skins, not I.
No one dreams that I have anything to do with it, or ever will,
except Ba Sein and one or two others.'

'But you said it was you who were persuading them to rebel?'

'Of course.  I have accused Veraswami of raising a rebellion
against the Government.  Well, I must have a rebellion to show,
must I not?'

'Ah, I see.  And when the rebellion breaks out, you are going to
say that Dr Veraswami is to blame for it.  Is that it?'

'How slow you are!  I should have thought even a fool would have
seen that I am raising the rebellion merely in order to crush it.
I am--what is that expression Mr Macgregor uses?  Agent provocateur--
Latin, you would not understand.  I am agent provocateur.  First I
persuade these fools at Thongwa to rebel, and then I arrest them as
rebels.  At the very moment when it is due to start, I shall pounce
on the ringleaders and clap every one of them in jail.  After that,
I dare say there may possibly be some fighting.  A few men may be
killed and a few more sent to the Andamans.  But, meanwhile, I shall
be first in the field.  U Po Kyin, the man who quelled a most
dangerous rising in the nick of time!  I shall be the hero of the
district.'

U Po Kyin, justly proud of his plan, began to pace up and down the
room again with his hands behind his back, smiling.  Ma Kin
considered the plan in silence for some time.  Finally she said:

'I still do not see why you are doing this, Ko Po Kyin.  Where is
it all leading?  And what has it got to do with Dr Veraswami?'

'I shall never teach you wisdom, Kin Kin!  Did I not tell you at
the beginning that Veraswami stands in my way?  This rebellion is
the very thing to get rid of him.  Of course we shall never prove
that he is responsible for it; but what does that matter?  All the
Europeans will take it for granted that he is mixed up in it
somehow.  That is how their minds work.  He will be ruined for
life.  And his fall is my rise.  The blacker I can paint him, the
more glorious my own conduct will appear.  Now do you understand?'

'Yes, I do understand.  And I think it is a base, evil plan.  I
wonder you are not ashamed to tell it me.'

'Now, Kin Kin!  Surely you are not going to start that nonsense
over again?'

'Ko Po Kyin, why is it that you are only happy when you are being
wicked?  Why is it that everything you do must bring evil to
others?  Think of that poor doctor who will be dismissed from his
post, and those villagers who will be shot or flogged with bamboos
or imprisoned for life.  Is it necessary to do such things?  What
can you want with more money when you are rich already?'

'Money!  Who is talking about money?  Some day, woman, you will
realize that there are other things in the world besides money.
Fame, for example.  Greatness.  Do you realize that the Governor of
Burma will very probably pin an Order on my breast for my loyal
action in this affair?  Would not even you be proud of such an
honour as that?'

Ma Kin shook her head, unimpressed.  'When will you remember, Ko Po
Kyin, that you are not going to live a thousand years?  Consider
what happens to those who have lived wickedly.  There is such a
thing, for instance, as being turned into a rat or a frog.  There
is even hell.  I remember what a priest said to me once about hell,
something that he had translated from the Pali scriptures, and it
was very terrible.  He said, "Once in a thousand centuries two red-
hot spears will meet in your heart, and you will say to yourself,
'Another thousand centuries of my torment are ended, and there is
as much to come as there has been before.'"  Is it not very
dreadful to think of such things, Ko Po Kyin?'

U Po Kyin laughed and gave a careless wave of his hand that meant
'pagodas'.

'Well, I hope you may still laugh when it comes to the end.  But
for myself, I should not care to look back upon such a life.'

She relighted her cigar with her thin shoulder turned disapprovingly
on U Po Kyin while he took several more turns up and down the room.
When he spoke, it was more seriously than before, and even with a
touch of diffidence.

'You know, Kin Kin, there is another matter behind all this.
Something that I have not told to you or to anyone else.  Even Ba
Sein does not know.  But I believe I will tell it you now.'

'I do not want to hear it, if it is more wickedness.'

'No, no.  You were asking just now what is my real object in this
affair.  You think, I suppose, that I am ruining Veraswami merely
because I dislike him and his ideas about bribes as a nuisance.
It is not only that.  There is something else that is far more
important, and it concerns you as well as me.'

'What is it?'

'Have you never felt in you, Kin Kin, a desire for higher things?
Has it never struck you that after all our successes--all my
successes, I should say--we are almost in the same position as when
we started?  I am worth, I dare say, two lakhs of rupees, and yet
look at the style in which we live!  Look at this room!  Positively
it is no better than that of a peasant.  I am tired of eating with
my fingers and associating only with Burmans--poor, inferior
people--and living, as you might say, like a miserable Township
Officer.  Money is not enough; I should like to feel that I have
risen in the world as well.  Do you not wish sometimes for a way of
life that is a little more--how shall I say--elevated?'

'I do not know how we could want more than what we have already.
When I was a girl in my village I never thought that I should live
in such a house as this.  Look at those English chairs--I have
never sat in one of them in my life.  But I am very proud to look
at them and think that I own them.'

'Ch!  Why did you ever leave that village of yours, Kin Kin?  You
are only fit to stand gossiping by the well with a stone water-pot
on your head.  But I am more ambitious, God be praised.  And now I
will tell you the real reason why I am intriguing against Veraswami.
It is in my mind to do something that is really magnificent.
Something noble, glorious!  Something that is the very highest
honour an Oriental can attain to.  You know what I mean, of course?'

'No.  What do you mean?'

'Come, now!  The greatest achievement of my life!  Surely you can
guess?'

'Ah, I know!  You are going to buy a motor-car.  But oh, Ko Po
Kyin, please do not expect me to ride in it!'

U Po Kyin threw up his hands in disgust.  'A motor-car!  You have
the mind of a bazaar peanut-seller!  I could buy twenty motor-cars
if I wanted them.  And what use would a motor-car be in this place?
No, it is something far grander than that.'

'What, then?'

'It is this.  I happen to know that in a month's time the Europeans
are going to elect one native member to their Club.  They do not
want to do it, but they will have orders from the Commissioner, and
they will obey.  Naturally, they would elect Veraswami, who is the
highest native official in the district.  But I have disgraced
Veraswami.  And so--'

'What?'

U Po Kyin did not answer for a moment.  He looked at Ma Kin, and
his vast yellow face, with its broad jaw and numberless teeth, was
so softened that it was almost child-like.  There might even have
been tears in his tawny eyes.  He said in a small, almost awed
voice, as though the greatness of what he was saying overcame him:

'Do you not see, woman?  Do you not see that if Veraswami is
disgraced I shall be elected to the Club myself?'

The effect of it was crushing.  There was not another word of
argument on Ma Kin's part.  The magnificence of U Po Kyin's project
had struck her dumb.

And not without reason, for all the achievements of U Po Kyin's
life were as nothing beside this.  It is a real triumph--it would
be doubly so in Kyauktada--for an official of the lower ranks to
worm his way into the European Club.  The European Club, that
remote, mysterious temple, that holy of holies far harder of entry
than Nirvana!  Po Kyin, the naked gutter-boy of Mandalay, the
thieving clerk and obscure official, would enter that sacred place,
call Europeans 'old chap', drink whisky and soda and knock white
balls to and fro on the green table!  Ma Kin, the village woman,
who had first seen the light through the chinks of a bamboo hut
thatched with palm-leaves, would sit on a high chair with her feet
imprisoned in silk stockings and high-heeled shoes (yes, she would
actually wear shoes in that place!) talking to English ladies in
Hindustani about baby-linen!  It was a prospect that would have
dazzled anybody.

For a long time Ma Kin remained silent, her lips parted, thinking
of the European Club and the splendours that it might contain.
For the first time in her life she surveyed U Po Kyin's intrigues
without disapproval.  Perhaps it was a feat greater even than the
storming of the Club to have planted a grain of ambition in Ma
Kin's gentle heart.



13


As Flory came through the gate of the hospital compound four
ragged sweepers passed him, carrying some dead coolie, wrapped in
sackcloth, to a foot-deep grave in the jungle.  Flory crossed the
brick-like earth of the yard between the hospital sheds.  All down
the wide verandas, on sheetless charpoys, rows of grey-faced men
lay silent and moveless.  Some filthy-looking curs, which were said
to devour amputated limbs, dozed or snapped at their fleas among
the piles of the buildings.  The whole place wore a sluttish and
decaying air.  Dr Veraswami struggled hard to keep it clean, but
there was no coping with the dust and the bad water-supply, and the
inertia of sweepers and half-trained Assistant Surgeons.

Flory was told that the doctor was in the out-patients' department.
It was a plaster-walled room furnished only with a table and two
chairs, and a dusty portrait of Queen Victoria, much awry.  A
procession of Burmans, peasants with gnarled muscles beneath their
faded rags, were filing into the room and queueing up at the table.
The doctor was in shirt-sleeves and sweating profusely.  He sprang
to his feet with an exclamation of pleasure, and in his usual fussy
haste thrust Flory into the vacant chair and produced a tin of
cigarettes from the drawer of the table.

'What a delightful visit, Mr Flory!  Please to make yourself
comfortable--that iss, if one can possibly be comfortable in such a
place ass this, ha, ha!  Afterwards, at my house, we will talk with
beer and amenities.  Kindly excuse me while I attend to the
populace.'

Flory sat down, and the hot sweat immediately burst out and
drenched his shirt.  The heat of the room was stifling.  The
peasants steamed garlic from all their pores.  As each man came to
the table the doctor would bounce from his chair, prod the patient
in the back, lay a black ear to his chest, fire off several
questions in villainous Burmese, then bounce back to the table and
scribble a prescription.  The patients took the prescriptions
across the yard to the Compounder, who gave them bottles filled
with water and various vegetable dyes.  The Compounder supported
himself largely by the sale of drugs, for the Government paid him
only twenty-five rupees a month.  However, the doctor knew nothing
of this.

On most mornings the doctor had not time to attend to the out-
patients himself, and left them to one of the Assistant Surgeons.
The Assistant Surgeon's methods of diagnosis were brief.  He would
simply ask each patient, 'Where is your pain?  Head, back or
belly?' and at the reply hand out a prescription from one of three
piles that he had prepared beforehand.  The patients much preferred
this method to the doctor's.  The doctor had a way of asking them
whether they had suffered from venereal diseases--an ungentlemanly,
pointless question--and sometimes he horrified them still more by
suggesting operations.  'Belly-cutting' was their phrase for it.
The majority of them would have died a dozen times over rather than
submit to 'belly-cutting'.

As the last patient disappeared the doctor sank into his chair,
fanning his face with the prescription-pad.

'Ach, this heat!  Some mornings I think that never will I get the
smell of garlic out of my nose!  It iss amazing to me how their
very blood becomes impregnated with it.  Are you not suffocated,
Mr Flory?  You English have the sense of smell almost too highly
developed.  What torments you must all suffer in our filthy East!'

'Abandon your noses, all ye who enter here, what?  They might write
that up over the Suez Canal.  You seem busy this morning?'

'Ass ever.  Ah but, my friend, how discouraging iss the work of a
doctor in this country!  These villagers--dirty, ignorant savages!
Even to get them to come to hospital iss all we can do, and they
will die of gangrene or carry a tumour ass large ass a melon for
ten years rather than face the knife.  And such medicines ass their
own so-called doctors give to them!  Herbs gathered under the new
moon, tigers' whiskers, rhinoceros horn, urine, menstrual blood!
How men can drink such compounds iss disgusting.'

'Rather picturesque, all the same.  You ought to compile a Burmese
pharmacopoeia, doctor.  It would be almost as good as Culpeper.'

'Barbarous cattle, barbarous cattle,' said the doctor, beginning to
struggle into his white coat.  'Shall we go back to my house?
There iss beer and I trust a few fragments of ice left.  I have an
operation at ten, strangulated hernia, very urgent.  Till then I am
free.'

'Yes.  As a matter of fact there's something I rather wanted to
talk to you about.'

They recrossed the yard and climbed the steps of the doctor's
veranda.  The doctor, having felt in the ice-chest and found that
the ice was all melted to tepid water, opened a bottle of beer and
called fussily to the servants to set some more bottles swinging in
a cradle of wet straw.  Flory was standing looking over the veranda
rail, with his hat still on.  The fact was that he had come here to
utter an apology.  He had been avoiding the doctor for nearly a
fortnight--since the day, in fact, when he had set his name to the
insulting notice at the Club.  But the apology had got to be
uttered.  U Po Kyin was a very good judge of men, but he had erred
in supposing that two anonymous letters were enough to scare Flory
permanently away from his friend.

'Look here, doctor, you know what I wanted to say?'

'I?  No.'

'Yes, you do.  It's about that beastly trick I played on you the
other week.  When Ellis put that notice on the Club board and I
signed my name to it.  You must have heard about it.  I want to try
and explain--'

'No, no, my friend, no, no!' The doctor was so distressed that he
sprang across the veranda and seized Flory by the arm.  'You shall
NOT explain!  Please never mention it!  I understand perfectly--but
most perfectly.'

'No, you don't understand.  You couldn't.  You don't realize just
what KIND of pressure is put on one to make one do things like
that.  There was nothing to make me sign the notice.  Nothing could
have happened if I'd refused.  There's no law telling us to be
beastly to Orientals--quite the contrary.  But--it's just that one
daren't be loyal to an Oriental when it means going against the
others.  It doesn't DO.  If I'd stuck out against signing the
notice I'd have been in disgrace at the Club for a week or two.
So I funked it, as usual.'

'Please, Mr Flory, please!  Possitively you will make me
uncomfortable if you continue.  Ass though I could not make all
allowances for your position!'

'Our motto, you know is, "In India, do as the English do".'

'Of course, of course.  And a most noble motto.  "Hanging
together", ass you call it.  It iss the secret of your superiority
to we Orientals.'

'Well, it's never much use saying one's sorry.  But what I did come
here to say was that it shan't happen again.  In fact--'

'Now, now, Mr Flory, you will oblige me by saying no more upon this
subject.  It iss all over and forgotten.  Please to drink up your
beer before it becomes ass hot ass tea.  Also, I have a thing to
tell you.  You have not asked for my news yet.'

'Ah, your news.  What is your news, by the way?  How's everything
been going all this time?  How's Ma Britannia?  Still moribund?'

'Aha, very low, very low!  But not so low ass I.  I am in deep
waters, my friend.'

'What?  U Po Kyin again?  Is he still libelling you?'

'If he iss libelling me!  This time it iss--well, it iss something
diabolical.  My friend, you have heard of this rebellion that is
supposed to be on the point of breaking out in the district?'

'I've heard a lot of talk.  Westfield's been out bent on slaughter,
but I hear he can't find any rebels.  Only the usual village
Hampdens who won't pay their taxes.'

'Ah yes.  Wretched fools!  Do you know how much iss the tax that
most of them have refused to pay?  Five rupees!  They will get
tired of it and pay up presently.  We have this trouble every year.
But ass for the rebellion--the SO-CALLED rebellion, Mr Flory--I
wish you to know that there iss more in it than meets the eye.'

'Oh?  What?'

To Flory's surprise the doctor made such a violent gesture of anger
that he spilled most of his beer.  He put his glass down on the
veranda rail and burst out:

'It iss U Po Kyin again!  That unutterable scoundrel!  That
crocodile deprived of natural feeling!  That--that--'

'Go on.  "That obscene trunk of humors, that swol'n parcel of
dropsies, that bolting-hutch of beastliness"--go on.  What's he
been up to now?'

'A villainy unparalleled'--and here the doctor outlined the plot
for a sham rebellion, very much as U Po Kyin had explained it to Ma
Kin.  The only detail not known to him was U Po Kyin's intention of
getting himself elected to the European Club.  The doctor's face
could not accurately be said to flush, but it grew several shades
blacker in his anger.  Flory was so astonished that he remained
standing up.

'The cunning old devil!  Who'd have thought he had it in him?  But
how did you manage to find all this out?'

'Ah, I have a few friends left.  But now do you see, my friend,
what ruin he iss preparing for me?  Already he hass calumniated me
right and left.  When this absurd rebellion breaks out, he will do
everything in his power to connect my name with it.  And I tell you
that the slightest suspicion of my loyalty could be ruin for me,
ruin!  If it were ever breathed that I were even a sympathizer with
this rebellion, there iss an end of me.'

'But, damn it, this is ridiculous!  Surely you can defend yourself
somehow?'

'How can I defend myself when I can prove nothing?  I know that all
this iss true, but what use iss that?  If I demand a public
inquiry, for every witness I produce U Po Kyin would produce fifty.
You do not realize the influence of that man in the district.  No
one dare speak against him.'

'But why need you prove anything?  Why not go to old Macgregor and
tell him about it?  He's a very fair-minded old chap in his way.
He'd hear you out.'

'Useless, useless.  You have not the mind of an intriguer, Mr
Flory.  Qui s'excuse, s'accuse, iss it not?  It does not pay to cry
that there iss a conspiracy against one.'

'Well, what are you going to do, then?'

'There iss nothing I can do.  Simply I must wait and hope that my
prestige will carry me through.  In affairs like this, where a
native official's reputation iss at stake, there iss no question
of proof, of evidence.  All depends upon one's standing with the
Europeans.  If my standing iss good, they will not believe it of
me; if bad, they will believe it.  Prestige iss all.'

They were silent for a moment.  Flory understood well enough that
'prestige iss all'.  He was used to these nebulous conflicts, in
which suspicion counts for more than proof, and reputation for more
than a thousand witnesses.  A thought came into his head, an
uncomfortable, chilling thought which would never have occurred to
him three weeks earlier.  It was one of those moments when one sees
quite clearly what is one's duty, and, with all the will in the
world to shirk it, feels certain that one must carry it out.  He
said:

'Suppose, for instance, you were elected to the Club?  Would that
do your prestige any good?'

'If I were elected to the Club!  Ah, indeed, yes!  The Club!  It
iss a fortress impregnable.  Once there, and no one would listen to
these tales about me any more than if it were about you, or Mr
Macgregor, or any other European gentleman.  But what hope have I
that they will elect me after their minds have been poisoned
against me?'

'Well now, look here, doctor, I tell you what.  I'll propose your
name at the next general meeting.  I know the question's got to
come up then, and if someone comes forward with the name of a
candidate, I dare say no one except Ellis will blackball him.
And in the meantime--'

'Ah, my friend, my dear friend!'  The doctor's emotion caused him
almost to choke.  He seized Flory by the hand.  'Ah, my friend,
that iss noble!  Truly it iss noble!  But it iss too much.  I fear
that you will be in trouble with your European friends again.  Mr
Ellis, for example--would he tolerate it that you propose my name?'

'Oh, bother Ellis.  But you must understand that I can't promise to
get you elected.  It depends on what Macgregor says and what mood
the others are in.  It may all come to nothing.'

The doctor was still holding Flory's hand between his own, which
were plump and damp.  The tears had actually started into his eyes,
and these, magnified by his spectacles, beamed upon Flory like the
liquid eyes of a dog.

'Ah, my friend!  If I should but be elected!  What an end to all my
troubles!  But, my friend, ass I said before, do not be too rash in
this matter.  Beware of U Po Kyin!  By now he will have numbered
you among hiss enemies.  And even for you hiss enmity can be a
danger.'

'Oh, good Lord, he can't touch me.  He's done nothing so far--only
a few silly anonymous letters.'

'I would not be too sure.  He hass subtle ways to strike.  And for
sure he will raise heaven and earth to keep me from being elected
to the Club.  If you have a weak spot, guard it, my friend.  He
will find it out.  He strikes always at the weakest spot.'

'Like the crocodile,' Flory suggested.

'Like the crocodile,' agreed the doctor gravely.  'Ah but, my
friend, how gratifying to me if I should become a member of your
European Club!  What an honour, to be the associate of European
gentlemen!  But there iss one other matter, Mr Flory, that I did
not care to mention before.  It iss--I hope this iss clearly
understood--that I have no intention of USING the Club in any way.
Membership is all I desire.  Even if I were elected, I should not,
of course, ever presume to COME to the Club.'

'Not come to the Club?'

'No, no!  Heaven forbid that I should force my society upon the
European gentlemen!  Simply I should pay my subscriptions.  That,
for me, iss a privilege high enough.  You understand that, I
trust?'

'Perfectly, doctor, perfectly.'

Flory could not help laughing as he walked up the hill.  He was
definitely committed now to proposing the doctor's election.  And
there would be such a row when the others heard of it--oh, such a
devil of a row!  But the astonishing thing was that it only made
him laugh.  The prospect that would have appalled him a month back
now almost exhilarated him.

Why?  And why had he given his promise at all?  It was a small
thing, a small risk to take--nothing heroic about it--and yet it
was unlike him.  Why, after all these years--the circumspect, pukka
sahib-like years--break all the rules so suddenly?

He knew why.  It was because Elizabeth, by coming into his life,
had so changed it and renewed it that all the dirty, miserable
years might never have passed.  Her presence had changed the whole
orbit of his mind.  She had brought back to him the air of England--
dear England, where thought is free and one is not condemned
forever to dance the danse du pukka sahib for the edification of
the lower races.  Where is the life that late I led? he thought.
Just by existing she had made it possible for him, she had even
made it natural to him, to act decently.

Where is the life that late I led? he thought again as he came
through the garden gate.  He was happy, happy.  For he had
perceived that the pious ones are right when they say that there is
salvation and life can begin anew.  He came up the path, and it
seemed to him that his house, his flowers, his servants, all the
life that so short a time ago had been drenched in ennui and
homesickness, were somehow made new, significant, beautiful
inexhaustibly.  What fun it could all be, if only you had someone
to share it with you!  How you could love this country, if only you
were not alone!  Nero was out on the path, braving the sun for some
grains of paddy that the mali had dropped, taking food to his
goats.  Flo made a dash at him, panting, and Nero sprang into the
air with a flurry and lighted on Flory's shoulder.  Flory walked
into the house with the little red cock in his arms, stroking his
silky ruff and the smooth, diamond-shaped feathers of his back.

He had not set foot on the veranda before he knew that Ma Hla May
was in the house.  It did not need Ko S'la to come hurrying from
within with a face of evil tidings.  Flory had smelled her scent of
sandalwood, garlic, coco-nut oil and the jasmine in her hair.  He
dropped Nero over the veranda rail.

'THE WOMAN has come back,' said Ko S'la.

Flory had turned very pale.  When he turned pale the birthmark made
him hideously ugly.  A pang like a blade of ice had gone through
his entrails.  Ma Hla May had appeared in the doorway of the
bedroom.  She stood with her face downcast, looking at him from
beneath lowered brows.

'Thakin,' she said in a low voice, half sullen, half urgent.

'Go away!' said Flory angrily to Ko S'la, venting his fear and
anger upon him.

'Thakin,' she said, 'come into the bedroom here.  I have a thing to
say to you.'

He followed her into the bedroom.  In a week--it was only a week--
her appearance had degenerated extraordinarily.  Her hair looked
greasy.  All her lockets were gone, and she was wearing a
Manchester longyi of flowered cotton, costing two rupees eight
annas.  She had coated her face so thick with powder that it was
like a clown's mask, and at the roots of her hair, where the powder
ended, there was a ribbon of natural-coloured brown skin.  She
looked a drab.  Flory would not face her, but stood looking
sullenly through the open doorway to the veranda.

'What do you mean by coming back like this?  Why did you not go
home to your village?'

'I am staying in Kyauktada, at my cousin's house.  How can I go
back to my village after what has happened?'

'And what do you mean by sending men to demand money from me?  How
can you want more money already, when I gave you a hundred rupees
only a week ago?'

'How can I go back?' she repeated, ignoring what he had said.  Her
voice rose so sharply that he turned round.  She was standing very
upright, sullen, with her black brows drawn together and her lips
pouted.

'Why cannot you go back?'

'After that!  After what you have done to me!'

Suddenly she burst into a furious tirade.  Her voice had risen to
the hysterical graceless scream of the bazaar women when they
quarrel.

'How can I go back, to be jeered at and pointed at by those low,
stupid peasants whom I despise?  I who have been a bo-kadaw, a
white man's wife, to go home to my father's house, and shake the
paddy basket with old hags and women who are too ugly to find
husbands!  Ah, what shame, what shame!  Two years I was your wife,
you loved me and cared for me, and then without warning, without
reason, you drove me from your door like a dog.  And I must go back
to my village, with no money, with all my jewels and silk longyis
gone, and the people will point and say, "There is Ma Hla May who
thought herself cleverer than the rest of us.  And behold! her
white man has treated her as they always do."  I am ruined, ruined!
What man will marry me after I have lived two years in your house?
You have taken my youth from me.  Ah, what shame, what shame!'

He could not look at her; he stood helpless, pale, hang-dog.  Every
word she said was justified, and how tell her that he could do no
other than he had done?  How tell her that it would have been an
outrage, a sin, to continue as her lover?  He almost cringed from
her, and the birthmark stood on his yellow face like a splash of
ink.  He said flatly, turning instinctively to money--for money had
never failed with Ma Hla May:

'I will give you money.  You shall have the fifty rupees you asked
me for--more later.  I have no more till next month.'

This was true.  The hundred rupees he had given her, and what he
had spent on clothes, had taken most of his ready money.  To his
dismay she burst into a loud wail.  Her white mask puckered up and
the tears sprang quickly out and coursed down her cheeks.  Before
he could stop her she had fallen on her knees in front of him, and
she was bowing, touching the floor with her forehead in the 'full'
shiko of utter abasement.

'Get up, get up!' he exclaimed.  The shameful, abject shiko, neck
bent, body doubled up as though inviting a blow, always horrified
him.  'I can't bear that.  Get up this instant.'

She wailed again, and made an attempt to clasp his ankles.  He
stepped backwards hurriedly.

'Get up, now, and stop that dreadful noise.  I don't know what you
are crying about.'

She did not get up, but only rose to her knees and wailed at him
anew.  'Why do you offer me money?  Do you think it is only for
money that I have come back?  Do you think that when you have
driven me from your door like a dog it is only because of money
that I care?'

'Get up,' he repeated.  He had moved several paces away, lest she
should seize him.  'What do you want if it is not money?'

'Why do you hate me?' she wailed.  'What harm have I done you?  I
stole your cigarette-case, but you were not angry at that.  You are
going to marry this white woman, I know it, everyone knows it.  But
what does it matter, why must you turn me away?  Why do you hate
me?'

'I don't hate you.  I can't explain.  Get up, please get up.'

She was weeping quite shamelessly now.  After all, she was hardly
more than a child.  She looked at him through her tears, anxiously,
studying him for a sign of mercy.  Then, a dreadful thing, she
stretched herself at full length, flat on her face.

'Get up, get up!' he cried out in English.  'I can't bear that--
it's too abominable!'

She did not get up, but crept, wormlike, right across the floor to
his feet.  Her body made a broad ribbon on the dusty floor.  She
lay prostrate in front of him, face hidden, arms extended, as
though before a god's altar.

'Master, master,' she whimpered, 'will you not forgive me?  This
once, only this once!  Take Ma Hla May back.  I will be your slave,
lower than your slave.  Anything sooner than turn me away.'

She had wound her arms round his ankles, actually was kissing his
toes.  He stood looking down at her with his hands in his pockets,
helpless.  Flo came ambling into the room, walked to where Ma Hla
May lay and sniffed at her longyi.  She wagged her tail vaguely,
recognizing the smell.  Flory could not endure it.  He bent down
and took Ma Hla May by the shoulders, lifting her to her knees.

'Stand up, now,' he said.  'It hurts me to see you like this.  I
will do what I can for you.  What is the use of crying?'

Instantly she cried out in renewed hope:  'Then you will take me
back?  Oh, master, take Ma Hla May back!  No one need ever know.  I
will stay here when that white woman comes, she will think I am one
of the servants' wives.  Will you not take me back?'

'I cannot.  It's impossible,' he said, turning away again.

She heard finality in his tone, and uttered a harsh, ugly cry.  She
bent forward again in a shiko, beating her forehead against the
floor.  It was dreadful.  And what was more dreadful than all, what
hurt in his breast, was the utter gracelessness, the lowness of the
emotion beneath those entreaties.  For in all this there was not a
spark of love for him.  If she wept and grovelled it was only for
the position she had once had as his mistress, the idle life, the
rich clothes and dominion over servants.  There was something
pitiful beyond words in that.  Had she loved him he could have
driven her from his door with far less compunction.  No sorrows are
so bitter as those that are without a trace of nobility.  He bent
down and picked her up in his arms.

'Listen, Ma Hla May,' he said; 'I do not hate you, you have done me
no evil.  It is I who have wronged you.  But there is no help for
it now.  You must go home, and later I will send you money.  If you
like you shall start a shop in the bazaar.  You are young.  This
will not matter to you when you have money and can find yourself a
husband.'

'I am ruined!' she wailed again.  'I shall kill myself.  I shall
jump off the jetty into the river.  How can I live after this
disgrace?'

He was holding her in his arms, almost caressing her.  She was
clinging close to him, her face hidden against his shirt, her body
shaking with sobs.  The scent of sandalwood floated into his
nostrils.  Perhaps even now she thought that with her arms around
him and her body against his she could renew her power over him.
He disentangled himself gently, and then, seeing that she did not
fall on her knees again, stood apart from her.

'That is enough.  You must go now.  And look, I will give you the
fifty rupees I promised you.'

He dragged his tin uniform case from under the bed and took out
five ten-rupee notes.  She stowed them silently in the bosom of her
ingyi.  Her tears had ceased flowing quite suddenly.  Without
speaking she went into the bathroom for a moment, and came out with
her face washed to its natural brown, and her hair and dress
rearranged.  She looked sullen, but not hysterical any longer.

'For the last time, thakin: you will not take me back?  That is
your last word?'

'Yes.  I cannot help it.'

'Then I am going, thakin.'

'Very well.  God go with you.'

Leaning against the wooden pillar of the veranda, he watched her
walk down the path in the strong sunlight.  She walked very
upright, with bitter offence in the carriage of her back and head.
It was true what she had said, he had robbed her of her youth.  His
knees were trembling uncontrollably.  Ko S'la came behind him,
silent-footed.  He gave a little deprecating cough to attract
Flory's attention.

'What's the matter now?'

'The holy one's breakfast is getting cold.'

'I don't want any breakfast.  Get me something to drink--gin.'

Where is the life that late I led?



14


Like long curved needles threading through embroidery, the two
canoes that carried Flory and Elizabeth threaded their way up the
creek that led inland from the eastern bank of the Irrawaddy.  It
was the day of the shooting trip--a short afternoon trip, for they
could not stay a night in the jungle together.  They were to shoot
for a couple of hours in the comparative cool of the evening, and
be back at Kyauktada in time for dinner.

The canoes, each hollowed out of a single tree-trunk, glided
swiftly, hardly rippling the dark brown water.  Water hyacinth with
profuse spongy foliage and blue flowers had choked the stream so
that the channel was only a winding ribbon four feet wide.  The
light filtered, greenish, through interlacing boughs.  Sometimes
one could hear parrots scream overhead, but no wild creatures
showed themselves, except once a snake that swam hurriedly away and
disappeared among the water hyacinth.

'How long before we get to the village?' Elizabeth called back to
Flory.  He was in a larger canoe behind, together with Flo and Ko
S'la, paddled by a wrinkly old woman dressed in rags.

'How far, grandmama?' Flory asked the canoe-woman.

The old woman took her cigar out of her mouth and rested her paddle
on her knees to think.  'The distance a man can shout,' she said
after reflection.

'About half a mile,' Flory translated.

They had come two miles.  Elizabeth's back was aching.  The canoes
were liable to upset at a careless moment, and you had to sit bolt
upright on the narrow backless seat, keeping your feet as well as
possible out of the bilge, with dead prawns in it, that sagged to
and fro at the bottom.  The Burman who paddled Elizabeth was sixty
years old, half naked, leaf-brown, with a body as perfect as that
of a young man.  His face was battered, gentle and humorous.  His
black cloud of hair, finer than that of most Burmans, was knotted
loosely over one ear, with a wisp or two tumbling across his cheek.
Elizabeth was nursing her uncle's gun across her knees.  Flory had
offered to take it, but she had refused; in reality, the feel of it
delighted her so much that she could not bring herself to give it
up.  She had never had a gun in her hand until today.  She was
wearing a rough skirt with brogue shoes and a silk shirt like a
man's, and she knew that with her Terai hat they looked well on
her.  She was very happy, in spite of her aching back and the hot
sweat that tickled her face, and the large, speckled mosquitoes
that hummed round her ankles.

The stream narrowed and the beds of water hyacinth gave place to
steep banks of glistening mud, like chocolate.  Rickety thatched
huts leaned far out over the stream, their piles driven into its
bed.  A naked boy was standing between two of the huts, flying a
green beetle on a piece of thread like a kite.  He yelled at the
sight of the Europeans, whereat more children appeared from
nowhere.  The old Burman guided the canoe to a jetty made of a
single palm-trunk laid in the mud--it was covered with barnacles
and so gave foothold--and sprang out and helped Elizabeth ashore.
The others followed with the bags and cartridges, and Flo, as she
always did on these occasions, fell into the mud and sank as deep
as the shoulder.  A skinny old gentleman wearing a magenta paso,
with a mole on his cheek from which four yard-long grey hairs
sprouted, came forward shikoing and cuffing the heads of the
children who had gathered round the jetty.

'The village headman,' Flory said.

The old man led the way to his house, walking ahead with an
extraordinary crouching gait, like a letter L upside down--the
result of rheumatism combined with the constant shikoing needed in
a minor Government official.  A mob of children marched rapidly
after the Europeans, and more and more dogs, all yapping and
causing Flo to shrink against Flory's heels.  In the doorway of
every hut clusters of moonlike, rustic faces gaped at the
'Ingaleikma'.  The village was darkish under the shade of broad
leaves.  In the rains the creek would flood, turning the lower
parts of the village into a squalid wooden Venice where the
villagers stepped from their front doors into their canoes.

The headman's house was a little bigger than the others, and it had
a corrugated iron roof, which, in spite of the intolerable din it
made during the rains, was the pride of the headman's life.  He had
foregone the building of a pagoda, and appreciably lessened his
chances of Nirvana, to pay for it.  He hastened up the steps and
gently kicked in the ribs a youth who was lying asleep on the
veranda.  Then he turned and shikoed again to the Europeans, asking
them to come inside.

'Shall we go in?' Flory said.  'I expect we shall have to wait half
an hour.'

'Couldn't you tell him to bring some chairs out on the veranda?'
Elizabeth said.  After her experience in Li Yeik's house she had
privately decided that she would never go inside a native house
again, if she could help it.

There was a fuss inside the house, and the headman, the youth and
some women dragged forth two chairs decorated in an extraordinary
manner with red hibiscus flowers, and also some begonias growing in
kerosene tins.  It was evident that a sort of double throne had
been prepared within for the Europeans.  When Elizabeth had sat
down the headman reappeared with a teapot, a bunch of very long,
bright green bananas, and six coal-black cheroots.  But when he had
poured her out a cup of tea Elizabeth shook her head, for the tea
looked, if possible, worse even than Li Yeik's.

The headman looked abashed and rubbed his nose.  He turned to Flory
and asked him whether the young thakin-ma would like some milk in
her tea.  He had heard that Europeans drank milk in their tea.  The
villages should, if it were desired, catch a cow and milk it.
However, Elizabeth still refused the tea; but she was thirsty, and
she asked Flory to send for one of the bottles of soda-water that
Ko S'la had brought in his bag.  Seeing this, the headman retired,
feeling guiltily that his preparations had been insufficient, and
left the veranda to the Europeans.

Elizabeth was still nursing her gun on her knees, while Flory
leaned against the veranda rail pretending to smoke one of the
headman's cheroots.  Elizabeth was pining for the shooting to
begin.  She plied Flory with innumerable questions.

'How soon can we start out?  Do you think we've got enough
cartridges?  How many beaters shall we take?  Oh, I do so hope we
have some luck!  You do think we'll get something, don't you?'

'Nothing wonderful, probably.  We're bound to get a few pigeons,
and perhaps jungle fowl.  They're out of season, but it doesn't
matter shooting the cocks.  They say there's a leopard round here,
that killed a bullock almost in the village last week.'

'Oh, a leopard!  How lovely if we could shoot it!'

'It's very unlikely, I'm afraid.  The only rule with this shooting
in Burma is to hope for nothing.  It's invariably disappointing.
The jungles teem with game, but as often as not you don't even get
a chance to fire your gun.'

'Why is that?'

'The jungle is so thick.  An animal may be five yards away and
quite invisible, and half the time they manage to dodge back past
the beaters.  Even when you see them it's only for a flash of a
second.  And again, there's water everywhere, so that no animal is
tied down to one particular spot.  A tiger, for instance, will roam
hundreds of miles if it suits him.  And with all the game there is,
they need never come back to a kill if there's anything suspicious
about it.  Night after night, when I was a boy, I've sat up over
horrible stinking dead cows, waiting for tigers that never came.'

Elizabeth wriggled her shoulder-blades against the chair.  It was a
movement that she made sometimes when she was deeply pleased.  She
loved Flory, really loved him, when he talked like this.  The most
trivial scrap of information about shooting thrilled her.  If only
he would always talk about shooting, instead of about books and Art
and that mucky poetry!  In a sudden burst of admiration she decided
that Flory was really quite a handsome man, in his way.  He looked
so splendidly manly, with his pagri-cloth shirt open at the throat,
and his shorts and puttees and shooting boots!  And his face,
lined, sunburned, like a soldier's face.  He was standing with his
birthmarked cheek away from her.  She pressed him to go on talking.

'DO tell me some more about tiger-shooting.  It's so awfully
interesting!'

He described the shooting, years ago, of a mangy old man-eater who
had killed one of his coolies.  The wait in the mosquito-ridden
machan; the tiger's eyes approaching through the dark jungle, like
great green lanterns; the panting, slobbering noise as he devoured
the coolie's body, tied to a stake below.  Flory told it all
perfunctorily enough--did not the proverbial Anglo Indian bore
always talk about tiger-shooting?--but Elizabeth wriggled her
shoulders delightedly once more.  He did not realize how such talk
as this reassured her and made up for all the times when he had
bored her and disquieted her.  Six shock-headed youths came down
the path, carrying dahs over their shoulders, and headed by a
stringy but active old man with grey hair.  They halted in front of
the headman's house, and one of them uttered a hoarse whoop,
whereat the headman appeared and explained that these were the
beaters.  They were ready to start now, if the young thakin-ma did
not find it too hot.

They set out.  The side of the village away from the creek was
protected by a hedge of cactus six feet high and twelve thick.
One went up a narrow lane of cactus, then along a rutted, dusty
bullock-cart track, with bamboos as tall as flagstaffs growing
densely on either side.  The beaters marched rapidly ahead in
single file, each with his broad dah laid along his forearm.  The
old hunter was marching just in front of Elizabeth.  His longyi was
hitched up like a loin-cloth, and his meagre thighs were tattooed
with dark blue patterns, so intricate that he might have been
wearing drawers of blue lace.  A bamboo the thickness of a man's
wrist had fallen and hung across the path.  The leading beater
severed it with an upward flick of his dah; the prisoned water
gushed out of it with a diamond-flash.  After half a mile they
reached the open fields, and everyone was sweating, for they had
walked fast and the sun was savage.

'That's where we're going to shoot, over there,' Flory said.

He pointed across the stubble, a wide dust-coloured plain, cut up
into patches of an acre or two by mud boundaries.  It was horribly
flat, and lifeless save for the snowy egrets.  At the far edge a
jungle of great trees rose abruptly, like a dark green cliff.  The
beaters had gone across to a small tree like a hawthorn twenty
yards away.  One of them was on his knees, shikoing to the tree and
gabbling, while the old hunter poured a bottle of some cloudy
liquid on to the ground.  The others stood looking on with serious,
bored faces, like men in church.

'What ARE those men doing?' Elizabeth said.

'Only sacrificing to the local gods.  Nats, they call them--a kind
of dryad.  They're praying to him to bring us good luck.'

The hunter came back and in a cracked voice explained that they
were to beat a small patch of scrub over to the right before
proceeding to the main jungle.  Apparently the Nat had counselled
this.  The hunter directed Flory and Elizabeth where to stand,
pointing with his dah.  The six beaters, plunged into the scrub;
they would make a detour and beat back towards the paddy-fields.
There were some bushes of the wild rose thirty yards from the
jungle's edge, and Flory and Elizabeth took cover behind one of
these, while Ko S'la squatted down behind another bush a little
distance away, holding Flo's collar and stroking her to keep her
quiet.  Flory always sent Ko S'la to a distance when he was
shooting, for he had an irritating trick of clicking his tongue if
a shot was missed.  Presently there was a far-off echoing sound--a
sound of tapping and strange hollow cries; the beat had started.
Elizabeth at once began trembling so uncontrollably that she could
not keep her gun-barrel still.  A wonderful bird, a little bigger
than a thrush, with grey wings and body of blazing scarlet, broke
from the trees and came towards them with a dipping flight.  The
tapping and the cries came nearer.  One of the bushes at the
jungle's edge waved violently--some large animal was emerging.
Elizabeth raised her gun and tried to steady it.  But it was only a
naked yellow beater, dah in hand.  He saw that he had emerged and
shouted to the others to join him.

Elizabeth lowered her gun.  'What's happened?'

'Nothing.  The beat's over.'

'So there was nothing there!' she cried in bitter disappointment.

'Never mind, one never gets anything the first beat.  We'll have
better luck next time.'

They crossed the lumpy stubble, climbing over the mud boundaries
that divided the fields, and took up their position opposite the
high green wall of the jungle.  Elizabeth had already learned how
to load her gun.  This time the beat had hardly started when Ko
S'la whistled sharply.

'Look out!' Flory cried.  'Quick, here they come!'

A flight of green pigeons were dashing towards them at incredible
speed, forty yards up.  They were like a handful of catapulted
stones whirling through the sky.  Elizabeth was helpless with
excitement.  For a moment she could not move, then she flung her
barrel into the air, somewhere in the direction of the birds, and
tugged violently at the trigger.  Nothing happened--she was pulling
at the trigger-guard.  Just as the birds passed overhead she found
the triggers and pulled both of them simultaneously.  There was a
deafening roar and she was thrown backwards a pace with her collar-
bone almost broken.  She had fired thirty yards behind the birds.
At the same moment she saw Flory turn and level his gun.  Two of
the pigeons, suddenly checked in their flight, swirled over and
dropped to the ground like arrows.  Ko S'la yelled, and he and Flo
raced after them.

'Look out!' said Flory, 'here's an imperial pigeon.  Let's have
him!'

A large heavy bird, with flight much slower than the others, was
flapping overhead.  Elizabeth did not care to fire after her
previous failure.  She watched Flory thrust a cartridge into the
breech and raise his gun, and the white plume of smoke leapt up
from the muzzle.  The bird planed heavily down, his wing broken.
Flo and Ko S'la came running excitedly up, Flo with the big
imperial pigeon in her mouth, and Ko S'la grinning and producing
two green pigeons from his Kachin bag.

Flory took one of the little green corpses to show to Elizabeth.
'Look at it.  Aren't they lovely things?  The most beautiful bird
in Asia.'

Elizabeth touched its smooth feathers with her finger-tip.  It
filled her with bitter envy, because she had not shot it.  And yet
it was curious, but she felt almost an adoration for Flory now that
she had seen how he could shoot.

'Just look at its breast-feathers; like a jewel.  It's murder to
shoot them.  The Burmese say that when you kill one of these birds
they vomit, meaning to say, "Look, here is all I possess, and I've
taken nothing of yours.  Why do you kill me?"  I've never seen one
do it, I must admit.'

'Are they good to eat?'

'Very.  Even so, I always feel it's a shame to kill them.'

'I wish I could do it like you do!' she said enviously.

'It's only a knack, you'll soon pick it up.  You know how to hold
your gun, and that's more than most people do when they start.'

However, at the next two beats, Elizabeth could hit nothing.  She
had learned not to fire both barrels at once, but she was too
paralysed with excitement ever to take aim.  Flory shot several
more pigeons, and a small bronze-wing dove with back as green as
verdigris.  The jungle fowl were too cunning to show themselves,
though one could hear them cluck-clucking all round, and once or
twice the sharp trumpet-call of a cock.  They were getting deeper
into the jungle now.  The light was greyish, with dazzling patches
of sunlight.  Whichever way one looked one's view was shut in by
the multitudinous ranks of trees, and the tangled bushes and
creepers that struggled round their bases like the sea round the
piles of a pier.  It was so dense, like a bramble bush extending
mile after mile, that one's eyes were oppressed by it.  Some of the
creepers were huge, like serpents.  Flory and Elizabeth struggled
along narrow game-tracks, up slippery banks, thorns tearing at
their clothes.  Both their shirts were drenched with sweat.  It was
stifling hot, with a scent of crushed leaves.  Sometimes for
minutes together invisible cidadas would keep up a shrill, metallic
pinging like the twanging of a steel guitar, and then, by stopping,
make a silence that startled one.

As they were walking to the fifth beat they came to a great peepul
tree in which, high up, one could hear imperial pigeons cooing.  It
was a sound like the far-off lowing of cows.  One bird fluttered
out and perched alone on the topmost bough, a small greyish shape.

'Try a sitting shot,' Flory said to Elizabeth.  'Get your sight on
him and pull off without waiting.  Don't shut your left eye.'

Elizabeth raised her gun, which had begun trembling as usual.  The
beaters halted in a group to watch, and some of them could not
refrain from clicking their tongues; they thought it queer and
rather shocking to see a woman handle a gun.  With a violent effort
of will Elizabeth kept her gun still for a second, and pulled the
trigger.  She did not hear the shot; one never does when it has
gone home.  The bird seemed to jump upwards from the bough, then
down it came, tumbling over and over, and stuck in a fork ten yards
up.  One of the beaters laid down his dah and glanced appraisingly
at the tree; then he walked to a great creeper, thick as a man's
thigh and twisted like a stick of barley sugar, that hung far out
from a bough.  He ran up the creeper as easily as though it had
been a ladder, walked upright along the broad bough, and brought
the pigeon to the ground.  He put it limp and warm into Elizabeth's
hand.

She could hardly give it up, the feel of it so ravished her.  She
could have kissed it, hugged it to her breast.  All the men, Flory
and Ko S'la and the beaters, smiled at one another to see her
fondling the dead bird.  Reluctantly, she gave it to Ko S'la to put
in the bag.  She was conscious of an extraordinary desire to fling
her arms round Flory's neck and kiss him; and in some way it was
the killing of the pigeon that made her feel this.

After the fifth beat the hunter explained to Flory that they must
cross a clearing that was used for growing pineapples, and would
beat another patch of jungle beyond.  They came out into sunlight,
dazzling after the jungle gloom.  The clearing was an oblong of an
acre or two hacked out of the jungle like a patch mown in long
grass, with the pineapples, prickly cactus-like plants, growing in
rows, almost smothered by weeds.  A low hedge of thorns divided the
field in the middle.  They had nearly crossed the field when there
was a sharp cock-a-doodle-doo from beyond the hedge.

'Oh, listen!' said Elizabeth, stopping.  'Was that a jungle cock?'

'Yes.  They come out to feed about this time.'

'Couldn't we go and shoot him?'

'We'll have a try if you like.  They're cunning beggars.  Look,
we'll stalk up the hedge until we get opposite where he is.  We'll
have to go without making a sound.'

He sent Ko S'la and the beaters on, and the two of them skirted the
field and crept along the hedge.  They had to bend double to keep
themselves out of sight.  Elizabeth was in front.  The hot sweat
trickled down her face, tickling her upper lip, and her heart was
knocking violently.  She felt Flory touch her heel from behind.
Both of them stood upright and looked over the hedge together.

Ten yards away a little cock the size of a bantam, was pecking
vigorously at the ground.  He was beautiful, with his long silky
neck-feathers, bunched comb and arching, laurel-green tail.  There
were six hens with him, smaller brown birds, with diamond-shaped
feathers like snake-scales on their backs.  All this Elizabeth and
Flory saw in the space of a second, then with a squawk and a whirr
the birds were up and flying like bullets for the jungle.  Instantly,
automatically as it seemed, Elizabeth raised her gun and fired.  It
was one of those shots where there is no aiming, no consciousness of
the gun in one's hand, when one's mind seems to fly behind the
charge and drive it to the mark.  She knew the bird was doomed even
before she pulled the trigger.  He tumbled, showered feathers thirty
yards away.  'Good shot, good shot!' cried Flory.  In their
excitement both of them dropped their guns, broke through the thorn
hedge and raced side by side to where the bird lay.

'Good shot!' Flory repeated, as excited as she.  'By Jove, I've
never seen anyone kill a flying bird their first day, never!  You
got your gun off like lightning.  It's marvellous!'

They were kneeling face to face with the dead bird between them.
With a shock they discovered that their hands, his right and her
left, were clasped tightly together.  They had run to the place
hand-in-hand without noticing it.

A sudden stillness came on them both, a sense of something
momentous that must happen.  Flory reached across and took her
other hand.  It came yieldingly, willingly.  For a moment they
knelt with their hands clasped together.  The sun blazed upon them
and the warmth breathed out of their bodies; they seemed to be
floating upon clouds of heat and joy.  He took her by the upper
arms to draw her towards him.

Then suddenly he turned his head away and stood up, pulling
Elizabeth to her feet.  He let go of her arms.  He had remembered
his birthmark.  He dared not do it.  Not here, not in daylight!
The snub it invited was too terrible.  To cover the awkwardness of
the moment he bent down and picked up the jungle cock.

'It was splendid,' he said.  'You don't need any teaching.  You can
shoot already.  We'd better get on to the next beat.'

They had just crossed the hedge and picked up their guns when there
was a series of shouts from the edge of the jungle.  Two of the
beaters were running towards them with enormous leaps, waving their
arms wildly in the air.

'What is it?' Elizabeth said.

'I don't know.  They've seen some animal or other.  Something good,
by the look of them.'

'Oh, hurrah!  Come on!'

They broke into a run and hurried across the field, breaking
through the pineapples and the stiff prickly weeds.  Ko S'la and
five of the beaters were standing in a knot all talking at once,
and the other two were beckoning excitedly to Flory and Elizabeth.
As they came up they saw in the middle of the group an old woman
who was holding up her ragged longyi with one hand and gesticulating
with a big cigar in the other.  Elizabeth could hear some word
that sounded like 'Char' repeated over and over again.

'What is it they're saying?' she said.

The beaters came crowding round Flory, all talking eagerly and
pointing into the jungle.  After a few questions he waved his hand
to silence them and turned to Elizabeth:

'I say, here's a bit of luck!  This old girl was coming through the
jungle, and she says that at the sound of the shot you fired just
now, she saw a leopard run across the path.  These fellows know
where he's likely to hide.  If we're quick they may be able to
surround him before he sneaks away, and drive him out.  Shall we
try it?'

'Oh, do let's!  Oh, what awful fun!  How lovely, how lovely if we
could get that leopard!'

'You understand it's dangerous?  We'll keep close together and
it'll probably be all right, but it's never absolutely safe on
foot.  Are you ready for that?'

'Oh, of course, of course!  I'm not frightened.  Oh, do let's be
quick and start!'

'One of you come with us, and show us the way,' he said to the
beaters.  'Ko S'la, put Flo on the leash and go with the others.
She'll never keep quiet with us.  We'll have to hurry,' he added to
Elizabeth.

Ko S'la and the beaters hurried off along the edge of the jungle.
They would strike in and begin beating farther up.  The other
beater, the same youth who had climbed the tree after the pigeon,
dived into the jungle, Flory and Elizabeth following.  With short
rapid steps, almost running, he led them through a labyrinth of
game-tracks.  The bushes trailed so low that sometimes one had
almost to crawl, and creepers hung across the path like trip-wires.
The ground was dusty and silent underfoot.  At some landmark in the
jungle the beater halted, pointed to the ground as a sign that this
spot would do, and put his finger on his lips to enjoin silence.
Flory took four SG cartridges from his pockets and took Elizabeth's
gun to load it silently.

There was a faint rustling behind them, and they all started.  A
nearly naked youth with a pellet-bow, come goodness knows whence,
had parted the bushes.  He looked at the beater, shook his head and
pointed up the path.  There was a dialogue of signs between the two
youths, then the beater seemed to agree.  Without speaking all four
stole forty yards along the path, round a bend, and halted again.
At the same moment a frightful pandemonium of yells, punctuated by
barks from Flo, broke out a few hundred yards away.

Elizabeth felt the beater's hand on her shoulder, pushing her
downwards.  They all four squatted down under cover of a prickly
bush, the Europeans in front, the Burmans behind.  In the distance
there was such a tumult of yells and the rattle of dahs against
tree-trunks that one could hardly believe six men could make so
much noise.  The beaters were taking good care that the leopard
should not turn back upon them.  Elizabeth watched some large, pale
yellow ants marching like soldiers over the thorns of the bush.
One fell on to her hand and crawled up her forearm.  She dared not
move to brush it away.  She was praying silently, 'Please God, let
the leopard come!  Oh please, God, let the leopard come!'

There was a sudden loud pattering on the leaves.  Elizabeth raised
her gun, but Flory shook his head sharply and pushed the barrel
down again.  A jungle fowl scuttled across the path with long noisy
strides.

The yells of the beaters seemed hardly to come any closer, and
this end of the jungle the silence was like a pall.  The ant on
Elizabeth's arm bit her painfully and dropped to the ground.  A
dreadful despair had begun to form in her heart; the leopard was
not coming, he had slipped away somewhere, they had lost him.  She
almost wished they had never heard of the leopard, the disappointment
was so agonizing.  Then she felt the beater pinch her elbow.  He was
craning his face forward, his smooth, dull yellow cheek only a few
inches from her own; she could smell the coco-nut oil in his hair.
His coarse lips were puckered as in a whistle; he had heard
something.  Then Flory and Elizabeth heard it too, the faintest
whisper, as though some creature of air were gliding through the
jungle, just brushing the ground with its foot.  At the same moment
the leopard's head and shoulders emerged from the undergrowth,
fifteen yards down the path.

He stopped with his forepaws on the path.  They could see his low,
flat-eared head, his bare eye-tooth and his thick, terrible
forearm.  In the shadow he did not look yellow but grey.  He was
listening intently.  Elizabeth saw Flory spring to his feet, raise
his gun and pull the trigger instantly.  The shot roared, and
almost simultaneously there was a heavy crash as the brute dropped
flat in the weeds.  'Look out!' Flory cried, 'he's not done for!'
He fired again, and there was a fresh thump as the shot went home.
The leopard gasped.  Flory threw open his gun and felt in his
pocket for a cartridge, then flung all his cartridges on to the
path and fell on his knees, searching rapidly among them.

'Damn and blast it!' he cried.  'There isn't a single SG among
them.  Where in hell did I put them?'

The leopard had disappeared as he fell.  He was thrashing about in
the undergrowth like a great, wounded snake, and crying out with a
snarling, sobbing noise, savage and pitiful.  The noise seemed to
be coming nearer.  Every cartridge Flory turned up had 6 or 8
marked on the end.  The rest of the large-shot cartridges had, in
fact, been left with Ko S'la.  The crashing and snarling were now
hardly five yards away, but they could see nothing, the jungle was
so thick.

The two Burmans were crying out 'Shoot!  Shoot!  Shoot!'  The sound
of 'Shoot!  Shoot!' got farther away--they were skipping for the
nearest climbable trees.  There was a crash in the undergrowth so
close that it shook the bush by which Elizabeth was standing.

'By God, he's almost on us!' Flory said.  'We must turn him
somehow.  Let fly at the sound.'

Elizabeth raised her gun.  Her knees were knocking like castanets,
but her hand was as steady as stone.  She fired rapidly, once,
twice.  The crashing noise receded.  The leopard was crawling away,
crippled but swift, and still invisible.

'Well done!  You've scared him,' Flory said.

'But he's getting away!  He's getting away!' Elizabeth cried,
dancing about in agitation.  She made to follow him.  Flory jumped
to his feet and pulled her back.

'No fear!  You stay here.  Wait!'

He slipped two of the small-shot cartridges into his gun and ran
after the sound of the leopard.  For a moment Elizabeth could not
see either beast or man, then they reappeared in a bare patch
thirty yards away.  The leopard was writhing along on his belly,
sobbing as he went.  Flory levelled his gun and fired at four
yards' distance.  The leopard jumped like a cushion when one hits
it, then rolled over, curled up and lay still.  Flory poked the
body with his gun-barrel.  It did not stir.

'It's all right, he's done for,' he called.  'Come and have a look
at him.'

The two Burmans jumped down from their tree, and they and Elizabeth
went across to where Flory was standing.  The leopard--it was a
male--was lying curled up with his head between his forepaws.  He
looked much smaller than he had looked alive; he looked rather
pathetic, like a dead kitten.  Elizabeth's knees were still
quivering.  She and Flory stood looking down at the leopard, close
together, but not clasping hands this time.

It was only a moment before Ko S'la and the others came up,
shouting with glee.  Flo gave one sniff at the dead leopard, then
down went her tail and she bolted fifty yards, whimpering.  She
could not be induced to come near him again.  Everyone squatted
down round the leopard and gazed at him.  They stroked his
beautiful white belly, soft as a hare's, and squeezed his broad
pugs to bring out the claws, and pulled back his black lips to
examine the fangs.  Presently two of the beaters cut down a tall
bamboo and slung the leopard upon it by his paws, with his long
tail trailing down, and then they marched back to the village in
triumph.  There was no talk of further shooting, though the light
still held.  They were all, including the Europeans, too anxious to
get home and boast of what they had done.

Flory and Elizabeth walked side by side across the stubble field.
The others were thirty yards ahead with the guns and the leopard,
and Flo was slinking after them a long way in the rear.  The sun
was going down beyond the Irrawaddy.  The light shone level across
the field, gilding the stubble stalks, and striking into their
faces with a yellow, gentle beam.  Elizabeth's shoulder was almost
touching Flory's as they walked.  The sweat that had drenched their
shirts had dried again.  They did not talk much.  They were happy
with that inordinate happiness that comes of exhaustion and
achievement, and with which nothing else in life--no joy of either
the body or the mind--is even able to be compared.

'The leopard skin is yours,' Flory said as they approached the
village.

'Oh, but you shot him!'

'Never mind, you stick to the skin.  By Jove, I wonder how many of
the women in this country would have kept their heads like you did!
I can just see them screaming and fainting.  I'll get the skin
cured for you in Kyauktada jail.  There's a convict there who can
cure skins as soft as velvet.  He's doing a seven-year sentence, so
he's had time to learn the job.'

'Oh well, thanks awfully.'

No more was said for the present.  Later, when they had washed off
the sweat and dirt, and were fed and rested, they would meet again
at the Club.  They made no rendezvous, but it was understood
between them that they would meet.  Also, it was understood that
Flory would ask Elizabeth to marry him, though nothing was said
about this either.

At the village Flory paid the beaters eight annas each, superintended
the skinning of the leopard, and gave the headman a bottle of beer
and two of the imperial pigeons.  The skin and skull were packed
into one of the canoes.  All the whiskers had been stolen, in spite
of Ko S'la's efforts to guard them.  Some young men of the village
carried off the carcass in order to eat the heart and various other
organs, the eating of which they believed would make them strong and
swift like the leopard.



15


When Flory arrived at the Club he found the Lackersteens in an
unusually morose mood.  Mrs Lackersteen was sitting, as usual, in
the best place under the punkah, and was reading the Civil List,
the Debrett of Burma.  She was in a bad temper with her husband,
who had defied her by ordering a 'large peg' as soon as he reached
the Club, and was further defying her by reading the Pink'un.
Elizabeth was alone in the stuffy little library, turning over the
pages of an old copy of Blackwood's.

Since parting with Flory, Elizabeth had had a very disagreeable
adventure.  She had come out of her bath and was half-way through
dressing for dinner when her uncle had suddenly appeared in her
room--pretext, to hear some more about the day's shooting--and
begun pinching her leg in a way that simply could not be
misunderstood.  Elizabeth was horrified.  This was her first
introduction to the fact that some men are capable of making love
to their nieces.  We live and learn.  Mr Lackersteen had tried to
carry the thing off as a joke, but he was too clumsy and too nearly
drunk to succeed.  It was fortunate that his wife was out of
hearing, or there might have been a first-rate scandal.

After this, dinner was an uncomfortable meal.  Mr Lackersteen was
sulking.  What rot it was, the way these women put on airs and
prevented you from having a good time!  The girl was pretty enough
to remind him of the Illustrations in La Vie Parisienne, and damn
it! wasn't he paying for her keep?  It was a shame.  But for
Elizabeth the position was very serious.  She was penniless and had
no home except her uncle's house.  She had come eight thousand
miles to stay here.  It would be terrible if after only a fortnight
her uncle's house were to be made uninhabitable for her.

Consequently, one thing was much surer in her mind than it had
been: that if Flory asked her to marry him (and he would, there was
little doubt of it), she would say yes.  At another time it was
just possible that she would have decided differently.  This
afternoon, under the spell of that glorious, exciting, altogether
'lovely' adventure, she had come near to loving Flory; as near as,
in his particular case, she was able to come.  Yet even after that,
perhaps, her doubts would have returned.  For there had always been
something dubious about Flory; his age, his birthmark, his queer,
perverse way of talking--that 'highbrow' talk that was at once
unintelligible and disquieting.  There had been days when she had
even disliked him.  But now her uncle's behaviour had turned the
scale.  Whatever happened she had got to escape from her uncle's
house, and that soon.  Yes, undoubtedly she would marry Flory when
he asked her!

He could see her answer in her face as he came into the library.
Her air was gentler, more yielding than he had known it.  She was
wearing the same lilac-coloured frock that she had worn that first
morning when he met her, and the sight of the familiar frock gave
him courage.  It seemed to bring her nearer to him, taking away the
strangeness and the elegance that had sometimes unnerved him.

He picked up the magazine she had been reading and made some
remark; for a moment they chattered in the banal way they so seldom
managed to avoid.  It is strange how the drivelling habits of
conversation will persist into almost all moments.  Yet even as
they chattered they found themselves drifting to the door and then
outside, and presently to the big frangipani tree by the tennis
court.  It was the night of the full moon.  Flaring like a white-
hot coin, so brilliant that it hurt one's eyes, the moon swam
rapidly upwards in a sky of smoky blue, across which drifted a few
wisps of yellowish cloud.  The stars were all invisible.  The
croton bushes, by day hideous things like jaundiced laurels, were
changed by the moon into jagged black and white designs like
fantastic wood-cuts.  By the compound fence two Dravidian coolies
were walking down the road, transfigured, their white rags
gleaming.  Through the tepid air the scent streamed from the
frangipani trees like some intolerable compound out of a penny-in-
the-slot machine.

'Look at the moon, just look at it!' Flory said.  'It's like a
white sun.  It's brighter than an English winter day.'

Elizabeth looked up into the branches of the frangipani tree, which
the moon seemed to have changed into rods of silver.  The light lay
thick, as though palpable, on everything, crusting the earth and
the rough bark of trees like some dazzling salt, and every leaf
seemed to bear a freight of solid light, like snow.  Even
Elizabeth, indifferent to such things, was astonished.

'It's wonderful!  You never see moonlight like that at Home.  It's
so--so--'  No adjective except 'bright' presenting itself, she was
silent.  She had a habit of leaving her sentences unfinished, like
Rosa Dartle, though for a different reason.

'Yes, the old moon does her best in this country.  How that tree
does stink, doesn't it?  Beastly, tropical thing!  I hate a tree
that blooms all the year round, don't you?'

He was talking half abstractedly, to cover the time till the
coolies should be out of sight.  As they disappeared he put his arm
round Elizabeth's shoulder, and then, when she did not start or
speak, turned her round and drew her against him.  Her head came
against his breast, and her short hair grazed his lips.  He put his
hand under her chin and lifted her face up to meet his.  She was
not wearing her spectacles.

'You don't mind?'

'No.'

'I mean, you don't mind my--this thing of mine?' he shook his head
slightly to indicate the birthmark.  He could not kiss her without
first asking this question.

'No, no.  Of course not.'

A moment after their mouths met he felt her bare arms settle
lightly round his neck.  They stood pressed together, against the
smooth trunk of the frangipani tree, body to body, mouth to mouth,
for a minute or more.  The sickly scent of the tree came mingling
with the scent of Elizabeth's hair.  And the scent gave him a
feeling of stultification, of remoteness from Elizabeth, even
though she was in his arms.  All that that alien tree symbolized
for him, his exile, the secret, wasted years--it was like an
unbridgeable gulf between them.  How should he ever make her
understand what it was that he wanted of her?  He disengaged
himself and pressed her shoulders gently against the tree, looking
down at her face, which he could see very clearly though the moon
was behind her.

'It's useless trying to tell you what you mean to me,' he said.
'"What you mean to me!"  These blunted phrases!  You don't know,
you can't know, how much I love you.  But I've got to try and tell
you.  There's so much I must tell you.  Had we better go back to
the Club?  They may come looking for us.  We can talk on the
veranda.'

'Is my hair very untidy?' she said.

'It's beautiful.'

'But has it got untidy?  Smooth it for me, would you, please?'

She bent her head towards him, and he smoothed the short, cool
locks with his hand.  The way she bent her head to him gave him a
curious feeling of intimacy, far more intimate than the kiss, as
though he had already been her husband.  Ah, he must have her, that
was certain!  Only by marrying her could his life be salvaged.  In
a moment he would ask her.  They walked slowly through the cotton
bushes and back to the Club, his arm still round her shoulder.

'We can talk on the veranda,' he repeated.  'Somehow, we've never
really talked, you and I.  My God, how I've longed all these years
for somebody to talk to!  How I could talk to you, interminably,
interminably!  That sounds boring.  I'm afraid it will be boring.
I must ask you to put up with it for a little while.'

She made a sound of remonstrance at the word 'boring'.

'No, it is boring, I know that.  We Anglo-Indians are always looked
on as bores.  And we ARE bores.  But we can't help it.  You see,
there's--how shall I say?--a demon inside us driving us to talk.
We walk about under a load of memories which we long to share and
somehow never can.  It's the price we pay for coming to this
country.'

They were fairly safe from interruption on the side veranda, for
there was no door opening directly upon it.  Elizabeth had sat down
with her arms on the little wicker table, but Flory remained
strolling back and forth, with his hands in his coatpockets,
stepping into the moonlight that streamed beneath the eastern eaves
of the veranda, and back into the shadows.

'I said just now that I loved you.  Love!  The word's been used
till it's meaningless.  But let me try to explain.  This afternoon
when you were there shooting with me, I thought, my God! here at
last is somebody who can share my life with me, but really share
it, really LIVE it with me--do you see--'

He was going to ask her to marry him--indeed, he had intended to
ask her without more delay.  But the words were not spoken yet;
instead, he found himself talking egoistically on and on.  He could
not help it.  It was so important that she should understand
something of what his life in this country had been; that she
should grasp the nature of the loneliness that he wanted her to
nullify.  And it was so devilishly difficult to explain.  It is
devilish to suffer from a pain that is all but nameless.  Blessed
are they who are stricken only with classifiable diseases!  Blessed
are the poor, the sick, the crossed in love, for at least other
people know what is the matter with them and will listen to their
belly-achings with sympathy.  But who that has not suffered it
understands the pain of exile?  Elizabeth watched him as he moved
to and fro, in and out of the pool of moonlight that turned his
silk coat to silver.  Her heart was still knocking from the kiss,
and yet her thoughts wandered as he talked.  Was he going to ask
her to marry him?  He was being so slow about it!  She was dimly
aware that he was saying something about loneliness.  Ah, of
course!  He was telling her about the loneliness she would have to
put up with in the jungle, when they were married.  He needn't have
troubled.  Perhaps you did get rather lonely in the jungle
sometimes?  Miles from anywhere, no cinemas, no dances, no one but
each other to talk to, nothing to do in the evenings except read--
rather a bore, that.  Still, you could have a gramophone.  What a
difference it would make when those new portable radio sets got out
to Burma!  She was about to say this when he added:

'Have I made myself at all clear to you?  Have you got some picture
of the life we live here?  The foreignness, the solitude, the
melancholy!  Foreign trees, foreign flowers, foreign landscapes,
foreign faces.  It's all as alien as a different planet.  But do
you see--and it's this that I so want you to understand--do you
see, it mightn't be so bad living on a different planet, it might
even be the most interesting thing imaginable, if you had even one
person to share it with.  One person who could see it with eyes
something like your own.  This country's been a kind of solitary
hell to me--it's so to most of us--and yet I tell you it could
be a paradise if one weren't alone.  Does all this seem quite
meaningless?'

He had stopped beside the table, and he picked up her hand.  In the
half-darkness he could see her face only as a pale oval, like a
flower, but by the feeling of her hand he knew instantly that she
had not understood a word of what he was saying.  How should she,
indeed?  It was so futile, this meandering talk!  He would say to
her at once, Will you marry me?  Was there not a lifetime to talk
in?  He took her other hand and drew her gently to her feet.

'Forgive me all this rot I've been talking.'

'It's all right,' she murmured indistinctly, expecting that he was
about to kiss her.

'No, it's rot talking like that.  Some things will go into words,
some won't.  Besides, it was an impertinence to go belly-aching on
and on about myself.  But I was trying to lead up to something.
Look, this is what I wanted to say.  Will--'

'Eliz-a-beth!'

It was Mrs Lackersteen's high-pitched, plaintive voice, calling
from within the Club.

'Elizabeth?  Where are you, Elizabeth?'

Evidently she was near the front door--would be on the veranda in a
moment.  Flory pulled Elizabeth against him.  They kissed hurriedly.
He released her, only holding her hands.

'Quickly, there's just time.  Answer me this.  Will you--'

But that sentence never got any further.  At the same moment
something extraordinary happened under his feet--the floor was
surging and rolling like a sea--he was staggering, then dizzily
falling, hitting his upper arm a thump as the floor rushed towards
him.  As he lay there he found himself jerked violently backwards
and forwards as though some enormous beast below were rocking the
whole building on its back.

The drunken floor righted itself very suddenly, and Flory sat up,
dazed but not much hurt.  He dimly noticed Elizabeth sprawling
beside him, and screams coming from within the Club.  Beyond the
gate two Burmans were racing through the moonlight with their long
hair streaming behind them.  They were yelling at the top of their
voices:

'Nga Yin is shaking himself!  Nga Yin is shaking himself!'

Flory watched them unintelligently.  Who was Nga Yin?  Nga is the
prefix given to criminals.  Nga Yin must be a dacoit.  Why was he
shaking himself?  Then he remembered.  Nga Yin was a giant supposed
by the Burmese to be buried, like Typhaeus, beneath the crust of
the earth.  Of course!  It was an earthquake.

'An earthquake!' he exclaimed, and he remembered Elizabeth and
moved to pick her up.  But she was already sitting up, unhurt, and
rubbing the back of her head.

'Was that an earthquake?' she said in a rather awed voice.

Mrs Lackersteen's tall form came creeping round the corner of the
veranda, clinging to the wall like some elongated lizard.  She was
exclaiming hysterically:

'Oh dear, an earthquake!  Oh, what a dreadful shock!  I can't bear
it--my heart won't stand it!  Oh dear, oh dear!  An earthquake!'

Mr Lackersteen tottered after her, with a strange ataxic step
caused partly by earth-tremors and partly by gin.

'An earthquake, dammit!' he said.

Flory and Elizabeth slowly picked themselves up.  They all went
inside, with that queer feeling in the soles of the feet that one
has when one steps from a rocking boat on to the shore.  The old
butler was hurrying from the servants' quarters, thrusting his
pagri on his head as he came, and a troop of twittering chokras
after him.

'Earthquake, sir, earthquake!' he bubbled eagerly.

'I should damn well think it was an earthquake,' said Mr Lackersteen
as he lowered himself cautiously into a chair.  'Here, get some
drinks, butler.  By God, I could do with a nip of something after
that.'

They all had a nip of something.  The butler, shy yet beaming,
stood on one leg beside the table, with the tray in his hand.
'Earthquake, sir, BIG earthquake!' he repeated enthusiastically.
He was bursting with eagerness to talk; so, for that matter, was
everyone else.  An extraordinary joie de vivre had come over them
all as soon as the shaky feeling departed from their legs.  An
earthquake is such fun when it is over.  It is so exhilarating to
reflect that you are not, as you well might be, lying dead under a
heap of ruins.  With one accord they all burst out talking:  'My
dear, I've never HAD such a shock--I fell absolutely FLAT on my
back--I thought it was a dam' pariah dog scratching itself under
the floor--I thought it must be an explosion somewhere--' and so on
and so forth; the usual earthquake-chatter.  Even the butler was
included in the conversation.

'I expect you can remember ever so many earthquakes can't you
butler?' said Mrs Lackersteen, quite graciously, for her.

'Oh yes, madam, many earthquakes!  1887, 1899, 1906, 1912--many,
many I can remember, madam!'

'The 1912 one was a biggish one,' Flory said.

'Oh, sir, but 1906 was bigger!  Very bad shock, sir!  And big
heathen idol in the temple fall down on top of the thathanabaing,
that is Buddhist bishop, madam, which the Burmese say mean bad omen
for failure of paddy crop and foot-and-mouth disease.  Also in 1887
my first earthquake I remember, when I was a little chokra, and
Major Maclagan sahib was lying under the table and promising he
sign the teetotal pledge tomorrow morning.  He not know it was an
earthquake.  Also two cows was killed by falling roofs,' etc., etc.

The Europeans stayed in the Club till midnight, and the butler
popped into the room as many as half a dozen times, to relate a new
anecdote.  So far from snubbing him, the Europeans even encouraged
him to talk.  There is nothing like an earthquake for drawing
people together.  One more tremor, or perhaps two, and they would
have asked the butler to sit down at table with them.

Meanwhile, Flory's proposal went no further.  One cannot propose
marriage immediately after an earthquake.  In any case, he did not
see Elizabeth alone for the rest of that evening.  But it did not
matter, he knew that she was his now.  In the morning there would
be time enough.  On this thought, at peace in his mind, and dog-
tired after the long day, he went to bed.



16


The vultures in the big pyinkado trees by the cemetery flapped from
their dung-whitened branches, steadied themselves on the wing, and
climbed by vast spirals into the upper air.  It was early, but
Flory was out already.  He was going down to the Club, to wait
until Elizabeth came and then ask her formally to marry him.  Some
instinct, which he did not understand, prompted him to do it before
the other Europeans returned from the jungle.

As he came out of the compound gate he saw that there was a new
arrival at Kyauktada.  A youth with a long spear like a needle in
his hand was cantering across the maidan on a white pony.  Some
Sikhs, looking like sepoys, ran after him, leading two other
ponies, a bay and a chestnut, by the bridle.  When he came level
with him Flory halted on the road and shouted good morning.  He had
not recognized the youth, but it is usual in small stations to make
strangers welcome.  The other saw that he was hailed, wheeled his
pony negligently round and brought it to the side of the road.  He
was a youth of about twenty-live, lank but very straight, and
manifestly a cavalry officer.  He had one of those rabbit-like
faces common among English soldiers, with pale blue eyes and a
little triangle of fore-teeth visible between the lips; yet hard,
fearless and even brutal in a careless fashion--a rabbit, perhaps,
but a tough and martial rabbit.  He sat his horse as though he were
part of it, and he looked offensively young and fit.  His fresh
face was tanned to the exact shade that went with his light-
coloured eyes, and he was as elegant as a picture with his white
buckskin topi and his polo-boots that gleamed like an old
meerschaum pipe.  Flory felt uncomfortable in his presence from
the start.

'How d'you do?' said Flory.  'Have you just arrived?'

'Last night, got in by the late train.'  He had a surly, boyish
voice.  'I've been sent up here with a company of men to stand by
in case your local bad-mashes start any trouble.  My name's
Verrall--Military Police,' he added, not, however, inquiring
Flory's name in return.

'Oh yes.  We heard they were sending somebody.  Where are you
putting up?'

'Dak bungalow, for the time being.  There was some black beggar
staying there when I got in last night--Excise Officer or
something.  I booted him out.  This is a filthy hole, isn't it?' he
said with a backward movement of his head, indicating the whole of
Kyauktada.

'I suppose it's like the rest of these small stations.  Are you
staying long?'

'Only a month or so, thank God.  Till the rains break.  What a
rotten maidan you've got here, haven't you?  Pity they can't keep
this stuff cut,' he added, swishing the dried-up grass with the
point of his spear.  'Makes it so hopeless for polo or anything.'

'I'm afraid you won't get any polo here,' Flory said.  'Tennis is
the best we can manage.  There are only eight of us all told, and
most of us spend three-quarters of our time in the jungle.'

'Christ!  What a hole!'

After this there was a silence.  The tall, bearded Sikhs stood in a
group round their horses' heads, eyeing Flory without much favour.
It was perfectly clear that Verral was bored with the conversation
and wanted to escape.  Flory had never in his life felt so
completely de trop, or so old and shabby.  He noticed that
Verrall's pony was a beautiful Arab, a mare, with proud neck and
arching, plume-like tail; a lovely milk-white thing, worth several
thousands of rupees.  Verrall had already twitched the bridle to
turn away, evidently feeling that he had talked enough for one
morning.

'That's a wonderful pony of yours,' Flory said.

'She's not bad, better than these Burma scrubs.  I've come out to
do a bit of tent-pegging.  It's hopeless trying to knock a polo
ball about in this muck.  Hey, Hira Singh!' he called, and turned
his pony away.

The sepoy holding the bay pony handed his bridle to a companion,
ran to a spot forty yards away, and fixed a narrow boxwood peg in
the ground.  Verral took no further notice of Flory.  He raised his
spear and poised himself as though taking aim at the peg, while the
Indians backed their horses out of the way and stood watching
critically.  With a just perceptible movement Verrall dug his knees
into the pony's sides.  She bounded forward like a bullet from a
catapult.  As easily as a centaur the lank, straight youth leaned
over in the saddle, lowered his spear and plunged it clean through
the peg.  One of the Indians muttered gruffly 'Shabash!'  Verrall
raised his spear behind him in the orthodox fashion, and then,
pulling his horse to a canter, wheeled round and handed the
transfixed peg to the sepoy.

Verrall rode twice more at the peg, and hit it each time.  It was
done with matchless grace and with extraordinary solemnity.  The
whole group of men, Englishman and Indians, were concentrated upon
the business of hitting the peg as though it had been a religious
ritual.  Flory still stood watching, disregarded--Verrall's face
was one of those that are specially constructed for ignoring
unwelcome strangers--but from the very fact that he had been
snubbed unable to tear himself away.  Somehow, Verrall had filled
him with a horrible sense of inferiority.  He was trying to think
of some pretext for renewing the conversation, when he looked up
the hillside and saw Elizabeth, in pale blue, coming out of her
uncle's gate.  She must have seen the third transfixing of the peg.
His heart stirred painfully.  A thought occurred to him, one of
those rash thoughts that usually lead to trouble.  He called to
Verrall, who was a few yards away from him, and pointed with his
stick.

'Do these other two know how to do it?'

Verrall looked over his shoulder with a surly air.  He had expected
Flory to go away after being ignored.

'What?'

'Can these other two do it?' Flory repeated.

'The chestnut's not bad.  Bolts if you let him, though.'

'Let me have a shot at the peg, would you?'

'All right,' said Verrall ungraciously.  'Don't go and cut his
mouth to bits.'

A sepoy brought the pony, and Flory pretended to examine the curb-
chain.  In reality he was temporizing until Elizabeth should be
thirty or forty yards away.  He made up his mind that he would
stick the peg exactly at the moment when she passed (it is easy
enough on the small Burma ponies, provided that they will gallop
straight), and then ride up to her with it on his point.  That was
obviously the right move.  He did not want her to think that that
pink-faced young whelp was the only person who could ride.  He was
wearing shorts, which are uncomfortable to ride in, but he knew
that, like nearly everyone, he looked his best on horseback.

Elizabeth was approaching.  Flory stepped into the saddle, took the
spear from the Indian and waved it in greeting to Elizabeth.  She
made no response, however.  Probably she was shy in front of
Verrall.  She was looking away, towards the cemetery, and her
cheeks were pink.

'Chalo,' said Flory to the Indian, and then dug his knees into the
horse's sides.

The very next instant, before the horse had taken to bounds, Flory
found himself hurtling through the air, hitting the ground with a
crack that wrenched his shoulder almost out of joint, and rolling
over and over.  Mercifully the spear fell clear of him.  He lay
supine, with a blurred vision of blue sky and floating vultures.
Then his eyes focused on the khaki pagri and dark face of a Sikh,
bearded to the eyes, bending over him.

'What's happened?' he said in English, and he raised himself
painfully on his elbow.  The Sikh made some gruff answer and
pointed.  Flory saw the chestnut pony careering away over the
maidan, with the saddle under its belly.  The girth had not been
tightened, and had slipped round; hence his fall.

When Flory sat up he found that he was in extreme pain.  The right
shoulder of his shirt was torn open and already soaking with blood,
and he could feel more blood oozing from his cheek.  The hard earth
had grazed him.  His hat, too, was gone.  With a deadly pang he
remembered Elizabeth, and he saw her coming towards him, barely ten
yards away, looking straight at him as he sprawled there so
ignominiously.  My God, my God! he thought, O my God, what a fool I
must look!  The thought of it even drove away the pain of the fall.
He clapped a hand over his birth-mark, though the other cheek was
the damaged one.

'Elizabeth!  Hullo, Elizabeth!  Good morning!'

He had called out eagerly, appealingly, as one does when one is
conscious of looking a fool.  She did not answer, and what was
almost incredible, she walked on without pausing even for an
instant, as though she had neither seen nor heard him.

'Elizabeth!' he called again, taken aback; 'did you see my fall?
The saddle slipped.  The fool of a sepoy hadn't--'

There was no question that she had heard him now.  She turned her
face full upon him for a moment, and looked at him and through him
as though he had not existed.  Then she gazed away into the
distance beyond the cemetery.  It was terrible.  He called after
her in dismay--

'Elizabeth!  I say, Elizabeth!'

She passed on without a word, without a sign, without a look.  She
was walking sharply down the road, with a click of heels, her back
turned upon him.

The sepoys had come round him now, and Verrall, too, had ridden
across to where Flory lay.  Some of the sepoys had saluted
Elizabeth; Verrall had ignored her, perhaps not seeing her.  Flory
rose stiffly to his feet.  He was badly bruised, but no bones were
broken.  The Indians brought him his hat and stick, but they did
not apologize for their carelessness.  They looked faintly
contemptuous, as though thinking that he had only got what he
deserved.  It was conceivable that they had loosened the girth on
purpose.

'The saddle slipped,' said Flory in the weak, stupid way that one
does at such moments.

'Why the devil couldn't you look at it before you got up?' said
Verrall briefly.  'You ought to know these beggars aren't to be
trusted.'

Having said which he twitched his bridle and rode away, feeling the
incident closed.  The sepoys followed him without saluting Flory.
When Flory reached his gate he looked back and saw that the
chestnut pony had already been caught and re-saddled, and Verrall
was tent-pegging upon it.

The fall had so shaken him that even now he could hardly collect
his thoughts.  What could have made her behave like that?  She had
seen him lying bloody and in pain, and she had walked past him as
though he had been a dead dog.  How could it have happened?  HAD it
happened?  It was incredible.  Could she be angry with him?  Could
he have offended her in any way?  All the servants were waiting at
the compound fence.  They had come out to watch the tent-pegging,
and every one of them had seen his bitter humiliation.  Ko S'la ran
part of the way down the hill to meet him, with concerned face.

'The god has hurt himself?  Shall I carry the god back to the
house?'

'No,' said the god.  'Go and get me some whisky and a clean shirt.'

When they got back to the house Ko S'la made Flory sit down on the
bed and peeled off his torn shirt which the blood had stuck to his
body.  Ko S'la clicked his tongue.

'Ah ma lay?  These cuts are full of dirt.  You ought not to play
these children's games on strange ponies, thakin.  Not at your age.
It is too dangerous.'

'The saddle slipped,' Flory said.

'Such games,' pursued Ko S'la, 'are all very well for the young
police officer.  But you are no longer young, thakin.  A fall hurts
at your age.  You should take more care of yourself.'

'Do you take me for an old man?' said Flory angrily.  His shoulder
was smarting abominably.

'You are thirty-five, thakin,' said Ko S'la politely but firmly.

It was all very humiliating.  Ma Pu and Ma Yi, temporarily at
peace, had brought a pot of some dreadful mess which they declared
was good for cuts.  Flory told Ko S'la privately to throw it out of
the window and substitute boracic ointment.  Then, while he sat in
a tepid bath and Ko S'la sponged the dirt out of his grazes, he
puzzled helplessly, and, as his head grew clearer, with a deeper
and deeper dismay, over what had happened.  He had offended her
bitterly, that was clear.  But, when he had not even seen her since
last night, how COULD he have offended her?  And there was no even
plausible answer.

He explained to Ko S'la several times over that his fall was due to
the saddle slipping.  But Ko S'la, though sympathetic, clearly did
not believe him.  To the end of his days, Flory perceived, the fall
would be attributed to his own bad horsemanship.  On the other
hand, a fortnight ago, he had won undeserved renown by putting to
flight the harmless buffalo.  Fate is even-handed, after a fashion.



17


Flory did not see Elizabeth again until he went down to the Club
after dinner.  He had not, as he might have done, sought her out
and demanded an explanation.  His face unnerved him when he looked
at it in the glass.  With the birthmark on one side and the graze
on the other it was so woebegone, so hideous, that he dared not
show himself by daylight.  As he entered the Club lounge he put his
hand over his birthmark--pretext, a mosquito bite on the forehead.
It would have been more than his nerve was equal to, not to cover
his birthmark at such a moment.  However, Elizabeth was not there.

Instead, he tumbled into an unexpected quarrel.  Ellis and
Westfield had just got back from the jungle, and they were sitting
drinking, in a sour mood.  News had come from Rangoon that the
editor of the Burmese Patriot had been given only four months'
imprisonment for his libel against Mr Macregor, and Ellis was
working himself up into a rage over this light sentence.  As soon
as Flory came in Ellis began baiting him with remarks about 'that
little nigger Very-slimy'.  At the moment the very thought of
quarrelling made Flory yawn, but he answered incautiously, and
there was an argument.  It grew heated, and after Ellis had called
Flory a nigger's Nancy Boy and Flory had replied in kind, Westfield
too lost his temper.  He was a good-natured man, but Flory's
Bolshie ideas sometimes annoyed him.  He could never understand
why, when there was so clearly a right and a wrong opinion about
everything, Flory always seemed to delight in choosing the wrong
one.  He told Flory 'not to start talking like a damned Hyde Park
agitator', and then read him a snappish little sermon, taking as
his text the five chief beatitudes of the pukka sahib, namely:


Keeping up our prestige,
The firm hand (without the velvet glove),
We white men must hang together,
Give them an inch and they'll take an ell, and
Esprit de Corps.


All the while his anxiety to see Elizabeth was so gnawing at
Flory's heart that he could hardly hear what was said to him.
Besides, he had heard it all so often, so very often--a hundred
times, a thousand times it might be, since his first week in
Rangoon, when his burra sahib (an old Scotch gin-soaker and great
breeder of racing ponies, afterwards warned off the turf for some
dirty business of running the same horse under two different names)
saw him take off his topi to pass a native funeral and said to him
reprovingly:  'Remember laddie, always remember, we are sahiblog
and they are dirrt!'  It sickened him, now, to have to listen to
such trash.  So he cut Westfield short by saying blasphemously:

'Oh, shut up!  I'm sick of the subject.  Veraswami's a damned good
fellow--a damned sight better than some white men I can think of.
Anyway, I'm going to propose his name for the Club when the general
meeting comes.  Perhaps he'll liven this bloody place up a bit.'

Whereat the row would have become serious if it had not ended as
most rows ended at the Club--with the appearance of the butler, who
had heard the raised voices.

'Did master call, sir?'

'No.  Go to hell,' said Ellis morosely.

The butler retired, but that was the end of the dispute for the
time being.  At this moment there were footsteps and voices
outside; the Lackersteens were arriving at the Club.

When they entered the lounge, Flory could not even nerve himself to
look directly at Elizabeth; but he noticed that all three of them
were much more smartly dressed than usual.  Mr Lackersteen was even
wearing a dinner-jacket--white, because of the season--and was
completely sober.  The boiled shirt and pique waistcoat seemed to
hold him upright and stiffen his moral fibre like a breastplate.
Mrs Lackersteen looked handsome and serpentine in a red dress.  In
some indefinable way all three gave the impression that they were
waiting to receive some distinguished guest.

When drinks had been called for, and Mrs Lackersteen had usurped
the place under the punkah, Flory took a chair on the outside of
the group.  He dared not accost Elizabeth yet.  Mrs Lackersteen had
begun talking in an extraordinary, silly manner about the dear
Prince of Wales, and putting on an accent like a temporarily
promoted chorus-girl playing the part of a duchess in a musical
comedy.  The others wondered privately what the devil was the
matter with her.  Flory had stationed himself almost behind
Elizabeth.  She was wearing a yellow frock, cut very short as the
fashion then was, with champagne-coloured stockings and slippers to
match, and she carried a big ostrich-feather fan.  She looked so
modish, so adult, that he feared her more than he had ever done.
It was unbelievable that he had ever kissed her.  She was talking
easily to all the others at once, and now and again he dared to put
a word into the general conversation; but she never answered him
directly, and whether or not she meant to ignore him, he could not
tell.

'Well,' said Mrs Lackersteen presently, 'and who's for a rubbah?'

She said quite distinctly a 'rubbah'.  Her accent was growing more
aristocratic with every word she uttered.  It was unaccountable.
It appeared that Ellis, Westfield and Mr Lackersteen were for a
'rubbah'.  Flory refused as soon as he saw that Elizabeth was not
playing.  Now or never was his chance to get her alone.  When they
all moved for the card-room, he saw with a mixture of fear and
relief that Elizabeth came last.  He stopped in the doorway,
barring her path.  He had turned dreadly pale.  She shrank from him
a little.

'Excuse me,' they both said simultaneously.

'One moment,' he said, and do what he would his voice trembled.
'May I speak to you?  You don't mind--there's something I must
say.'

'Will you please let me pass, Mr Flory?'

'Please!  Please!  We're alone now.  You won't refuse just to let
me speak?'

'What is it, then?'

'It's only this.  Whatever I've done to offend you--please tell me
what it is.  Tell me and let me put it right.  I'd sooner cut my
hand off than offend you.  Just tell me, don't let me go on not
even knowing what it is.'

'I really don't know what you're talking about.  "Tell you how
you've offended me?"  Why should you have OFFENDED me?'

'But I must have!  After the way you behaved!'

'"After the way I behaved?"  I don't know what you mean.  I don't
know why you're talking in this extraordinary way at all.'

'But you won't even speak to me!  This morning you cut me
absolutely dead.'

'Surely I can do as I like without being questioned?'

'But please, please!  Don't you see, you must see, what it's like
for me to be snubbed all of a sudden.  After all, only last night
you--'

She turned pink.  'I think it's absolutely--absolutely caddish of
you to mention such things!'

'I know, I know.  I know all that.  But what else can I do?  You
walked past me this morning as though I'd been a stone.  I know
that I've offended you in some way.  Can you blame me if I want to
know what it is that I've done?'

He was, as usual, making it worse with every word he said.  He
perceived that whatever he had done, to be made to speak of it
seemed to her worse than the thing itself.  She was not going to
explain.  She was going to leave him in the dark--snub him and then
pretend that nothing had happened; the natural feminine move.
Nevertheless he urged her again:

'Please tell me.  I can't let everything end between us like this.'

'"End between us"?  There was nothing to end,' she said coldly.

The vulgarity of this remark wounded him, and he said quickly:

'That wasn't like you, Elizabeth!  It's not generous to cut a man
dead after you've been kind to him, and then refuse even to tell
him the reason.  You might be straightforward with me.  Please tell
me what it is that I've done.'

She gave him an oblique, bitter look, bitter not because of what he
had done, but because he had made her speak of it.  But perhaps she
was anxious to end the scene, and she said:

'Well then, if you absolutely force me to speak of it--'

'Yes?'

'I'm told that at the very same time as you were pretending to--
well, when you were . . . with me--oh, it's too beastly!  I can't
speak of it.'

'Go on.'

'I'm told that you're keeping a Burmese woman.  And now, will you
please let me pass?'

With that she sailed--there was no other possible word for it--she
sailed past him with a swish of her short skirts, and vanished into
the card-room.  And he remained looking after her, too appalled to
speak, and looking unutterably ridiculous.

It was dreadful.  He could not face her after that.  He turned to
hurry out of the Club, and then dared not even pass the door of the
card-room, lest she should see him.  He went into the lounge,
wondering how to escape, and finally climbed over the veranda rail
and dropped on to the small square of lawn that ran down to the
Irrawaddy.  The sweat was running from his forehead.  He could have
shouted with anger and distress.  The accursed luck of it!  To be
caught out over a thing like that.  'Keeping a Burmese woman'--and
it was not even true!  But much use it would ever be to deny it.
Ah, what damned, evil chance could have brought it to her ears?

But as a matter of fact, it was no chance.  It had a perfectly
sound cause, which was also the cause of Mrs Lackersteen's curious
behaviour at the Club this evening.  On the previous night, just
before the earthquake, Mrs Lackersteen had been reading the Civil
List.  The Civil List (which tells you the exact income of every
official in Burma) was a source of inexhaustible interest to her.
She was in the middle of adding up the pay and allowances of a
Conservator of Forests whom she had once met in Mandalay, when it
occurred to her to look up the name of Lieutenant Verrall, who, she
had heard from Mr Macregor, was arriving at Kyauktada tomorrow with
a hundred Military Policemen.  When she found the name, she saw in
front of it two words that startled her almost out of her wits.

The words were 'The Honourable'!

The HONOURABLE!  Lieutenants the Honourable are rare anywhere, rare
as diamonds in the Indian Army, rare as dodos in Burma.  And when
you are the aunt of the only marriageable young woman within fifty
miles, and you hear that a lieutenant the Honourable is arriving no
later than tomorrow--well!  With dismay Mrs Lackersteen remembered
that Elizabeth was out in the garden with Flory--that drunken
wretch Flory, whose pay was barely seven hundred rupees a month,
and who, it was only too probable, was already proposing to her!
She hastened immediately to call Elizabeth inside, but at this
moment the earthquake intervened.  However, on the way home there
was an opportunity to speak.  Mrs Lackersteen laid her hand
affectionately on Elizabeth's arm and said in the tenderest voice
she had ever succeeded in producing:

'Of course you know, Elizabeth dear, that Flory is keeping a
Burmese woman?'

For a moment this deadly charge actually failed to explode.
Elizabeth was so new to the ways of the country that the remark
made no impression on her.  It sounded hardly more significant than
'keeping a parrot'.

'Keeping a Burmese woman?  What for?'

'What FOR?  My dear! what DOES a man keep a woman for?'

And, of course, that was that.

For a long time Flory remained standing by the river bank.  The
moon was up, mirrored in the water like a broad shield of electron.
The coolness of the outer air had changed Flory's mood.  He had not
even the heart to be angry any longer.  For he had perceived, with
the deadly self-knowledge and self-loathing that come to one at
such a time, that what had happened served him perfectly right.
For a moment it seemed to him that an endless procession of Burmese
women, a regiment of ghosts, were marching past him in the
moonlight.  Heavens, what numbers of them!  A thousand--no, but a
full hundred at the least.  'Eyes right!' he thought despondently.
Their heads turned towards him, but they had no faces, only
featureless discs.  He remembered a blue longyi here, a pair of
ruby ear-rings there, but hardly a face or a name.  The gods are
just and of our pleasant vices (pleasant, indeed!) make instruments
to plague us.  He had dirtied himself beyond redemption, and this
was his just punishment.

He made his way slowly through the croton bushes and round the
clubhouse.  He was too saddened to feel the full pain of the
disaster yet.  It would begin hurting, as all deep wounds do, long
afterwards.  As he passed through the gate something stirred the
leaves behind him.  He started.  There was a whisper of harsh
Burmese syllables.

'Pike-san pay-like!  Pike-san pay-like!'

He turned sharply.  The 'pike-san pay-like' ('Give me the money')
was repeated.  He saw a woman standing under the shadow of the gold
mohur tree.  It was Ma Hla May.  She stepped out into the moonlight
warily, with a hostile air, keeping her distance as though afraid
that he would strike her.  Her face was coated with powder, sickly
white in the moon, and it looked as ugly as a skull, and defiant.

She had given him a shock.  'What the devil are you doing here?' he
said angrily in English.

'Pike-san pay-like!'

'What money?  What do you mean?  Why are you following me about
like this?'

'Pike-san pay-like!' she repeated almost in a scream.  'The money
you promised me, thakin.  You said you would give me more money.  I
want it now, this instant!'

'How can I give it you now?  You shall have it next month.  I have
given you a hundred and fifty rupees already.'

To his alarm she began shrieking 'Pike-san pay-like!' and a number
of similar phrases almost at the top of her voice.  She seemed on
the verge of hysterics.  The volume of noise that she produced was
startling.

'Be quiet!  They'll hear you in the Club!' he exclaimed, and was
instantly sorry for putting the idea into her head.

'Aha!  NOW I know what will frighten you!  Give me the money this
instant, or I will scream for help and bring them all out here.
Quick, now, or I begin screaming!'

'You bitch!' he said, and took a step towards her.  She sprang
nimbly out of reach, whipped off her slipper, and stood defying
him.

'Be quick!  Fifty rupees now and the rest tomorrow.  Out with it!
Or I give a scream they can hear as far as the bazaar!'

Flory swore.  This was not the time for such a scene.  Finally he
took out his pocket-book, found twenty-five rupees in it, and threw
them on to the ground.  Ma Hla May pounced on the notes and counted
them.

'I said fifty rupees, thakin!'

'How can I give it you if I haven't got it?  Do you think I carry
hundreds of rupees about with me?'

'I said fifty rupees!'

'Oh, get out of my way!' he said in English, and pushed past her.

But the wretched woman would not leave him alone.  She began to
follow him up the road like a disobedient dog, screaming out 'Pike-
san pay-like!  Pike-san pay-like!' as though mere noise could bring
the money into existence.  He hurried, partly to draw her away from
the Club, partly in hopes of shaking her off, but she seemed ready
to follow him as far as the house if necessary.  After a while he
could not stand it any longer, and he turned to drive her back.

'Go away this instant!  If you follow me any farther you shall
never have another anna.'

'Pike-san pay-like!'

'You fool,' he said, 'what good is this doing?  How can I give you
the money when I have not another pice on me?'

'That is a likely story!'

He felt helplessly in his pockets.  He was so wearied that he would
have given her anything to be rid of her.  His fingers encountered
his cigarette-case, which was of gold.  He took it out.

'Here, if I give you this will you go away?  You can pawn it for
thirty rupees.'

Ma Hla May seemed to consider, then said sulkily, 'Give it me.'

He threw the cigarette-case on to the grass beside the road.  She
grabbed it and immediately sprang back clutching it to her ingyi,
as though afraid that he would take it away again.  He turned and
made for the house, thanking God to be out of the sound of her
voice.  The cigarette-case was the same one that she had stolen ten
days ago.

At the gate he looked back.  Ma Hla May was still standing at the
bottom of the hill, a greyish figurine in the moonlight.  She must
have watched him up the hill like a dog watching a suspicious
stranger out of sight.  It was queer.  The thought crossed his mind,
as it had a few days earlier when she sent him the blackmailing
letter, that her behaviour had been curious and unlike herself.  She
was showing a tenacity of which he would never have thought her
capable--almost, indeed, as though someone else were egging her on.



18


After the row overnight Ellis was looking forward to a week of
baiting Flory.  He had nicknamed him Nancy--short for nigger's
Nancy Boy, but the women did not know that--and was already
inventing wild scandals about him.  Ellis always invented scandals
about anyone with whom he had quarrelled--scandals which grew, by
repeated embroideries, into a species of saga.  Flory's incautious
remark that Dr Veraswami was a 'damned good fellow' had swelled
before long into a whole Daily Worker-ful of blasphemy and
sedition.

'On my honour, Mrs Lackersteen,' said Ellis--Mrs Lackersteen had
taken a sudden dislike to Flory after discovering the great secret
about Verrall, and she was quite ready to listen to Ellis's tales--
'on my honour, if you'd been there last night and heard the things
that man Flory was saying--well, it'd have made you shiver in your
shoes!'

'Really!  You know, I always thought he had such CURIOUS ideas.
What has he been talking about now?  Not SOCIALISM,  I hope?'

'Worse.'

There were long recitals.  However, to Ellis's disappointment,
Flory had not stayed in Kyauktada to be baited.  He had gone back
to camp the day after his dismissal by Elizabeth.  Elizabeth heard
most of the scandalous tales about him.  She understood his
character perfectly now.  She understood why it was that he had so
often bored her and irritated her.  He was a highbrow--her
deadliest word--a highbrow, to be classed with Lenin, A. J. Cook
and the dirty little poets in the Montparnasse cafes.  She could
have forgiven him even his Burmese mistress more easily than that.
Flory wrote to her three days later; a weak, stilted letter, which
he sent by hand--his camp was a day's march from Kyauktada.
Elizabeth did not answer.

It was lucky for Flory that at present he was too busy to have time
to think.  The whole camp was at sixes and sevens since his long
absence.  Nearly thirty coolies were missing, the sick elephant was
worse than ever, and a vast pile of teak logs which should have
been sent off ten days earlier were still waiting because the
engine would not work.  Flory, a fool about machinery, struggled
with the bowels of the engine until he was black with grease and Ko
S'la told him sharply that white men ought not to do 'coolie-work'.
The engine was finally persuaded to run, or at least to totter.
The sick elephant was discovered to be suffering from tapeworms.
As for the coolies, they had deserted because their supply of opium
had been cut off--they would not stay in the jungle without opium,
which they took as a prophylactic against fever.  U Po Kyin,
willing to do Flory a bad turn, had caused the Excise Officers to
make a raid and seize the opium.  Flory wrote to Dr Veraswami,
asking for his help.  The doctor sent back a quantity of opium,
illegally procured, medicine for the elephant and a careful letter
of instructions.  A tapeworm measuring twenty-one feet was
extracted.  Flory was busy twelve hours a day.  In the evening if
there was no more to do he would plunge into the jungle and walk
and walk until the sweat stung his eyes and his knees were bleeding
from the briers.  The nights were his bad time.  The bitterness of
what had happened was sinking into him, as it usually does, by slow
degrees.

Meanwhile, several days had passed and Elizabeth had not yet seen
Verrall at less than a hundred yards' distance.  It had been a
great disappointment when he had not appeared at the Club on the
evening of his arrival.  Mr Lackersteen was really quite angry when
he discovered that he had been hounded into his dinner-jacket for
nothing.  Next morning Mrs Lackersteen made her husband send an
officious note to the dakbungalow, inviting Verrall to the Club;
there was no answer, however.  More days passed, and Verrall made
no move to join in the local society.  He had even neglected his
official calls, not even bothering to present himself at Mr
Macgregor's office.  The dakbungalow was at the other end of the
town, near the station, and he had made himself quite comfortable
there.  There is a rule that one must vacate a dakbungalow after a
stated number of days, but Verrall peaceably ignored it.  The
Europeans only saw him at morning and evening on the maidan.  On
the second day after his arrival fifty of his men turned out with
sickles and cleared a large patch of the maidan, after which
Verrall was to be seen galloping to and fro, practising polo
strokes.  He took not the smallest notice of any Europeans who
passed down the road.  Westfield and Ellis were furious, and even
Mr Macgregor said that Verrall's behaviour was 'ungracious'.  They
would all have fallen at the feet of a lieutenant the Honourable if
he had shown the smallest courtesy; as it was, everyone except the
two women detested him from the start.  It is always so with titled
people, they are either adored or hated.  If they accept one it is
charming simplicity, if they ignore one it is loathsome
snobbishness; there are no half-measures.

Verrall was the youngest son of a peer, and not at all rich, but by
the method of seldom paying a bill until a writ was issued against
him, he managed to keep himself in the only things he seriously
cared about: clothes and horses.  He had come out to India in a
British cavalry regiment, and exchanged into the Indian Army
because it was cheaper and left him greater freedom for polo.
After two years his debts were so enormous that he entered the
Burma Military Police, in which it was notoriously possible to save
money; however, he detested Burma--it is no country for a horseman--
and he had already applied to go back to his regiment.  He was the
kind of soldier who can get exchanges when he wants them.  Meanwhile,
he was only to be in Kyauktada for a month, and he had no intention
of mixing himself up with all the petty sahiblog of the district.
He knew the society of those small Burma stations--a nasty,
poodle-faking, horseless riffraff.  He despised them.

They were not the only people whom Verrall despised, however.  His
various contempts would take a long time to catalogue in detail.
He despised the entire non-military population of India, a few
famous polo players excepted.  He despised the entire Army as well,
except the cavalry.  He despised all Indian regiments, infantry and
cavalry alike.  It was true that he himself belonged to a native
regiment, but that was only for his own convenience.  He took no
interest in Indians, and his Urdu consisted mainly of swear-words,
with all the verbs in the third person singular.  His Military
Policemen he looked on as no better than coolies.  'Christ, what
God-forsaken swine!' he was often heard to mutter as he moved down
the ranks inspecting, with the old subahdar carrying his sword
behind him.  Verrall had even been in trouble once for his
outspoken opinions on native troops.  It was at a review, and
Verrall was among the group of officers standing behind the
general.  An Indian infantry regiment approached for the march-
past.

'The ---- Rifles,' somebody said.

'AND look at it,' said Verrall in his surly boy's voice.

The white-haired colonel of the ---- Rifles was standing near.  He
flushed to the neck, and reported Verrall to the general.  Verrall
was reprimanded, but the general, a British Army officer himself,
did not rub it in very hard.  Somehow, nothing very serious ever
did happen to Verrall, however offensive he made himself.  Up and
down India, wherever he was stationed, he left behind him a trail
of insulted people, neglected duties and unpaid bills.  Yet the
disgraces that ought to have fallen on him never did.  He bore a
charmed life, and it was not only the handle to his name that saved
him.  There was something in his eye before which duns, burra
memsahibs and even colonels quailed.

It was a disconcerting eye, pale blue and a little protuberant, but
exceedingly clear.  It looked you over, weighed you in the balance
and found you wanting, in a single cold scrutiny of perhaps five
seconds.  If you were the right kind of man--that is, if you were a
cavalry officer and a polo player--Verrall took you for granted and
even treated you with a surly respect; if you were any other type
of man whatever, he despised you so utterly that he could not have
hidden it even if he would.  It did not even make any difference
whether you were rich or poor, for in the social sense he was not
more than normally a snob.  Of course, like all sons of rich
families, he thought poverty disgusting and that poor people are
poor because they prefer disgusting habits.  But he despised soft
living.  Spending, or rather owing, fabulous sums on clothes, he
yet lived almost as ascetically as a monk.  He exercised himself
ceaselessly and brutally, rationed his drink and his cigarettes,
slept on a camp bed (in silk pyjamas) and bathed in cold water in
the bitterest winter.  Horsemanship and physical fitness were the
only gods he knew.  The stamp of hoofs on the maidan, the strong,
poised feeling of his body, wedded centaurlike to the saddle, the
polo-stick springy in his hand--these were his religion, the breath
of his life.  The Europeans in Burma--boozing, womanizing, yellow-
faced loafers--made him physically sick when he thought of their
habits.  As for social duties of all descriptions, he called them
poodle-faking and ignored them.  Women he abhorred.  In his view
they were a kind of siren whose one aim was to lure men away from
polo and enmesh them in tea-fights and tennis-parties.  He was not,
however, quite proof against women.  He was young, and women of
nearly all kinds threw themselves at his head; now and again he
succumbed.  But his lapses soon disgusted him, and he was too
callous when the pinch came to have any difficulty about escaping.
He had had perhaps a dozen such escapes during his two years in
India.

A whole week went by.  Elizabeth had not even succeeded in making
Verrall's acquaintance.  It was so tantalizing!  Every day, morning
and evening, she and her aunt walked down to the Club and back
again, past the maidan; and there was Verrall, hitting the polo-
balls the sepoys threw for him, ignoring the two women utterly.
So near and yet so far!  What made it even worse was that neither
woman would have considered it decent to speak of the matter
directly.  One evening the polo-ball, struck too hard, came
swishing through the grass and rolled across the road in front of
them.  Elizabeth and her aunt stopped involuntarily.  But it was
only a sepoy who ran to fetch the ball.  Verrall had seen the women
and kept his distance.

Next morning Mrs Lackersteen paused as they came out of the gate.
She had given up riding in her rickshaw lately.  At the bottom of
the maidan the Military Policemen were drawn up, a dust-coloured
rank with bayonets glittering.  Verrall was facing them, but not in
uniform--he seldom put on his uniform for morning parade, not
thinking it necessary with mere Military Policemen.  The two women
were looking at everything except Verrall, and at the same time, in
some manner, were contriving to look at him.

'The wretched thing is,' said Mrs Lackersteen--this was a propos de
bottes, but the subject needed no introduction--'the wretched thing
is that I'm afraid your uncle simply MUST go back to camp before
long.'

'Must he really?'

'I'm afraid so.  It is so HATEFUL in camp at this time of year!
Oh, those mosquitoes!'

'Couldn't he stay a bit longer?  A week, perhaps?'

'I don't see how he can.  He's been nearly a month in headquarters
now.  The firm would be furious if they heard of it.  And of course
both of us will have to go with him. SUCH a bore!  The mosquitoes--
simply terrible!'

Terrible indeed!  To have to go away before Elizabeth had so much
as said how-do-you-do to Verrall!  But they would certainly have to
go if Mr Lackersteen went.  It would never do to leave him to
himself.  Satan finds some mischief still, even in the jungle.  A
ripple like fire ran down the line of sepoys; they were unfixing
bayonets before marching away.  The dusty rank turned left,
saluted, and marched off in columns of fours.  The orderlies were
coming from the police lines with the ponies and polo-sticks.  Mrs
Lackersteen took a heroic decision.

'I think,' she said, 'we'll take a short-cut across the maidan.
It's SO much quicker than going right round by the road.'

It WAS quicker by about fifty yards, but no one ever went that way
on foot, because of the grass-seeds that got into one's stockings.
Mrs Lackersteen plunged boldly into the grass, and then, dropping
even the pretence of making for the Club, took a bee-line for
Verrall, Elizabeth following.  Either woman would have died on the
rack rather than admit that she was doing anything but take a
short-cut.  Verrall saw them coming, swore, and reined in his pony.
He could not very well cut them dead now that they were coming
openly to accost him.  The damned cheek of these women!  He rode
slowly towards them with a sulky expression on his face, chivvying
the polo-ball with small strokes.

'Good morning, Mr Verrall!' Mrs Lackersteen called out in a voice
of saccharine, twenty yards away.

'Morning!' he returned surlily, having seen her face and set her
down as one of the usual scraggy old boiling-fowls of an Indian
station.

The next moment Elizabeth came level with her aunt.  She had taken
off her spectacles and was swinging her Terai hat on her hand.
What did she care for sunstroke?  She was perfectly aware of the
prettiness of her cropped hair.  A puff of wind--oh, those blessed
breaths of wind, coming from nowhere in the stifling hot-weather
days!--had caught her cotton frock and blown it against her,
showing the outline of her body, slender and strong like a tree.
Her sudden appearance beside the older, sun-scorched woman was a
revelation to Verrall.  He started so that the Arab mare felt it
and would have reared on her hind legs, and he had to tighten the
rein.  He had not known until this moment, not having bothered to
inquire, that there were any YOUNG women in Kyauktada.

'My niece,' Mrs Lackersteen said.

He did not answer, but he had thrown away the polo-stick, and he
took off his topi.  For a moment he and Elizabeth remained gazing
at one another.  Their fresh faces were unmarred in the pitiless
light.  The grass-seeds were tickling Elizabeth's shins so that it
was agony, and without her spectacles she could only see Verrall
and his horse as a whitish blur.  But she was happy, happy!  Her
heart bounded and the blood flowed into her face, dyeing it like a
thin wash of aquarelle.  The thought, 'A peach, by Christ!' moved
almost fiercely through Verrall's mind.  The sullen Indians,
holding the ponies' heads, gazed curiously at the scene, as though
the beauty of the two young people had made its impression even on
them.

Mrs Lackersteen broke the silence, which had lasted half a minute.

'You know, Mr Verrall,' she said somewhat archly, 'we think it
RATHER unkind of you to have neglected us poor people all this
time.  When we're so PINING for a new face at the Club.'

He was still looking at Elizabeth when he answered, but the change
in his voice was remarkable.

'I've been meaning to come for some days.  Been so fearfully busy--
getting my men into their quarters and all that.  I'm sorry,' he
added--he was not in the habit of apologizing, but really, he had
decided, this girl was rather an exceptional bit of stuff--'I'm
sorry about not answering your note.'

'Oh, not at all!  We QUITE understood.  But we do hope we shall see
you at the Club this evening!  Because, you know,' she concluded
even more archly, 'if you disappoint us any longer, we shall begin
to think you rather a NAUGHTY young man!'

'I'm sorry,' he repeated.  'I'll be there this evening.'

There was not much more to be said, and the two women walked on to
the Club.  But they stayed barely five minutes.  The grass-seeds
were causing their shins such torment that they were obliged to
hurry home and change their stockings at once.

Verrall kept his promise and was at the Club that evening.  He
arrived a little earlier than the others, and he had made his
presence thoroughly felt before being in the place five minutes.
As Ellis entered the Club the old butler darted out of the card-
room and waylaid him.  He was in great distress, the tears rolling
down his cheeks.

'Sir!  Sir!'

'What the devil's the matter now!' said Ellis.

'Sir!  Sir!  New master been beating me, sir!'

'What?'

'BEATING me sir!'  His voice rose on the 'beating' with a long
tearful wail--'be-e-e-eating!'

'Beating you?  Do you good.  Who's been beating you?'

'New master, sir.  Military Police sahib.  Beating me with his
foot, sir--HERE!'  He rubbed himself behind.

'Hell!' said Ellis.

He went into the lounge.  Verrall was reading the Field, and
invisible except for Palm Beach trouser-ends and two lustrous
sooty-brown shoes.  He did not trouble to stir at hearing someone
else come into the room.  Ellis halted.

'Here, you--what's your name--Verrall!'

'What?'

'Have you been kicking our butler?'

Verrall's sulky blue eye appeared round the corner of the Field,
like the eye of a crustacean peering round a rock.

'What?' he repeated shortly.

'I said, have you been kicking our bloody butler?'

'Yes.'

'Then what the hell do you mean by it?'

'Beggar gave me his lip.  I sent him for a whisky and soda, and he
brought it warm.  I told him to put ice in it, and he wouldn't--
talked some bloody rot about saving the last pieces of ice.  So I
kicked his bottom.  Serve him right.'

Ellis turned quite grey.  He was furious.  The butler was a piece
of Club property and not to be kicked by strangers.  But what most
angered Ellis was the thought that Verrall quite possibly suspected
him of being SORRY for the butler--in fact, of disapproving of
kicking AS SUCH.

'Serve him right?  I dare say it bloody well did serve him right.
But what in hell's that got to do with it?  Who are YOU to come
kicking our servants?'

'Bosh, my good chap.  Needed kicking.  You've let your servants get
out of hand here.'

'You damned, insolent young tick, what's it got to do with YOU if
he needed kicking?  You're not even a member of this Club.  It's
our job to kick the servants, not yours.'

Verrall lowered the Field and brought his other eye into play.  His
surly voice did not change its tone.  He never lost his temper with
a European; it was never necessary.

'My good chap, if anyone gives me lip I kick his bottom.  Do you
want me to kick yours?'

All the fire went out of Ellis suddenly.  He was not afraid, he had
never been afraid in his life; only, Verrall's eye was too much for
him.  That eye could make you feel as though you were under
Niagara!  The oaths wilted on Ellis's lips; his voice almost
deserted him.  He said querulously and even plaintively:

'But damn it, he was quite right not to give you the last bit of
ice.  Do you think we only buy ice for you?  We can only get the
stuff twice a week in this place.'

'Rotten bad management on your part, then,' said Verrall, and
retired behind the Field, content to let the matter drop.

Ellis was helpless.  The calm way in which Verrall went back to his
paper, quite genuinely forgetting Ellis's existence, was maddening.
Should he not give the young swab a good, rousing kick?

But somehow, the kick was never given.  Verrall had earned many
kicks in his life, but he had never received one and probably never
would.  Ellis seeped helplessly back to the card-room, to work off
his feelings on the butler, leaving Verrall in possession of the
lounge.

As Mr Macgregor entered the Club gate he heard the sound of music.
Yellow chinks of lantern-light showed through the creeper that
covered the tennis-screen.  Mr Macgregor was in a happy mood this
evening.  He had promised himself a good, long talk with Miss
Lackersteen--such an exceptionally intelligent girl, that!--and he
had a most interesting anecdote to tell her (as a matter of fact,
it had already seen the light in one of those little articles of
his in Blackwood's) about a dacoity that had happened in Sagaing in
1913.  She would love to hear it, he knew.  He rounded the tennis-
screen expectantly.  On the court, in the mingled light of the
waning moon and of lanterns slung among the trees, Verrall and
Elizabeth were dancing.  The chokras had brought out chairs and a
table for the gramophone, and round these the other Europeans were
sitting or standing.  As Mr Macgregor halted at the corner of the
court, Verrall and Elizabeth circled round and glided past him,
barely a yard away.  They were dancing very close together, her
body bent backwards under his.  Neither noticed Mr Macgregor.

Mr Macgregor made his way round the court.  A chilly, desolate
feeling had taken possession of his entrails.  Good-bye, then, to
his talk with Miss Lackersteen!  It was an effort to screw his face
into its usual facetious good-humour as he came up to the table.

'A Terpsichorean evening!' he remarked in a voice that was doleful
in spite of himself.

No one answered.  They were all watching the pair on the tennis
court.  Utterly oblivious of the others, Elizabeth and Verrall
glided round and round, round and round, their shoes sliding easily
on the slippery concrete.  Verrall danced as he rode, with
matchless grace.  The gramophone was playing 'Show Me the Way to Go
Home,' which was then going round the world like a pestilence and
had got as far as Burma:


'Show me the way to go home,
I'm tired an' I wanna go to bed;
I had a little drink 'bout an hour ago,
An' it's gone right TO my head!' etc.


The dreary, depressing trash floated out among the shadowy trees
and the streaming scents of flowers, over and over again, for Mrs
Lackersteen was putting the gramophone needle back to the start
when it neared the centre.  The moon climbed higher, very yellow,
looking, as she rose from the murk of dark clouds at the horizon,
like a sick woman creeping out of bed.  Verrall and Elizabeth
danced on and on, indefatigably, a pale voluptuous shape in the
gloom.  They moved in perfect unison like some single animal.  Mr
Macgregor, Ellis, Westfield and Mr Lackersteen stood watching them,
their hands in their pockets, finding nothing to say.  The
mosquitoes came nibbling at their ankles.  Someone called for
drinks, but the whisky was like ashes in their mouths.  The bowels
of all four older men were twisted with bitter envy.

Verrall did not ask Mrs Lackersteen for a dance, nor, when he and
Elizabeth finally sat down, did he take any notice of the other
Europeans.  He merely monopolized Elizabeth for half an hour more,
and then, with a brief good night to the Lackersteens and not a
word to anyone else, left the Club.  The long dance with Verrall
had left Elizabeth in a kind of dream.  He had asked her to come
out riding with him!  He was going to lend her one of his ponies!
She never even noticed that Ellis, angered by her behaviour, was
doing his best to be openly rude.  It was late when the Lackersteens
got home, but there was no sleep yet for Elizabeth or her aunt.
They were feverishly at work till midnight, shortening a pair of Mrs
Lackersteen's jodhpurs, and letting out the calves, to fit
Elizabeth.

'I hope, dear, you CAN ride a horse?' said Mrs Lackersteen.

'Oh, of course!  I've ridden ever such a lot, at home.'

She had ridden perhaps a dozen times in all, when she was sixteen.
No matter, she would manage somehow!  She would have ridden a
tiger, if Verrall were to accompany her.

When at last the jodhpurs were finished and Elizabeth had tried
them on, Mrs Lackersteen sighed to see her.  She looked ravishing
in jodhpurs, simply ravishing!  And to think that in only a day or
two they had got to go back to camp, for weeks, months perhaps,
leaving Kyauktada and this most DESIRABLE young man!  The pity of
it!  As they moved to go upstairs Mrs Lackersteen paused at the
door.  It had come into her head to make a great and painful
sacrifice.  She took Elizabeth by the shoulders and kissed her with
a more real affection than she had ever shown.

'My dear, it would be such a SHAME for you to go away from
Kyauktada just now!'

'It would, rather.'

'Then I'll tell you what, dear.  We WON'T go back to that horrid
jungle!  Your uncle shall go alone.  You and I shall stay in
Kyauktada.'



19


The heat was growing worse and worse.  April was nearly over, but
there was no hope of rain for another three weeks, five weeks it
might be.  Even the lovely transient dawns were spoiled by the
thought of the long, blinding hours to come, when one's head would
ache and the glare would penetrate through every covering and glue
up one's eyelids with restless sleep.  No one, Oriental or
European, could keep awake in the heat of the day without a
struggle; at night, on the other hand, with the howling dogs and
the pools of sweat that collected and tormented one's prickly heat,
no one could sleep.  The mosquitoes at the Club were so bad that
sticks of incense had to be kept burning in all the corners, and
the women sat with their legs in pillowslips.  Only Verrall and
Elizabeth were indifferent to the heat.  They were young and their
blood was fresh, and Verrall was too stoical and Elizabeth too
happy to pay any attention to the climate.

There was much bickering and scandal-mongering at the Club these
days.  Verrall had put everyone's nose out of joint.  He had taken
to coming to the Club for an hour or two in the evenings, but he
ignored the other members, refused the drinks they offered him, and
answered attempts at conversation with surly monosyllables.  He
would sit under the punkah in the chair that had once been sacred
to Mrs Lackersteen, reading such of the papers as interested him,
until Elizabeth came, when he would dance and talk with her for an
hour or two and then make off without so much as a good-night to
anybody.  Meanwhile Mr Lackersteen was alone in his camp, and,
according to the rumours which drifted back to Kyauktada, consoling
loneliness with quite a miscellany of Burmese women.

Elizabeth and Verrall went out riding together almost every evening
now.  Verrall's mornings, after parade, were sacred to polo
practice, but he had decided that it was worth while giving up the
evenings to Elizabeth.  She took naturally to riding, just as she
had to shooting; she even had the assurance to tell Verrall that
she had 'hunted quite a lot' at home.  He saw at a glance that she
was lying, but at least she did not ride so badly as to be a
nuisance to him.

They used to ride up the red road into the jungle, ford the stream
by the big pyinkado tree covered with orchids, and then follow the
narrow cart-track, where the dust was soft and the horses could
gallop.  It was stifling hot in the dusty jungle, and there were
always mutterings of faraway, rainless thunder.  Small martins
flitted round the horses, keeping pace with them, to hawk for the
flies their hooves turned up.  Elizabeth rode the bay pony, Verrall
the white.  On the way home they would walk their sweat-dark horses
abreast, so close sometimes his knee brushed against hers, and
talk.  Verrall could drop his offensive manner and talk amicably
enough when he chose, and he did choose with Elizabeth.

Ah, the joy of those rides together!  The joy of being on horseback
and in the world of horses--the world of hunting and racing, polo
and pigsticking!  If Elizabeth had loved Verrall for nothing else,
she would have loved him for bringing horses into her life.  She
tormented him to talk about horses as once she had tormented Flory
to talk about shooting.  Verrall was no talker, it was true.  A few
gruff, jerky sentences about polo and pigsticking, and a catalogue
of Indian stations and the names of regiments, were the best he
could do.  And yet somehow the little he said could thrill
Elizabeth as all Flory's talk had never done.  The mere sight of
him on horseback was more evocative than any words.  An aura of
horsemanship and soldiering surrounded him.  In his tanned face and
his hard, straight body Elizabeth saw all the romance, the splendid
panache of a cavalryman's life.  She saw the North-West Frontier
and the Cavalry Club--she saw the polo grounds and the parched
barrack yards, and the brown squadrons of horsemen galloping with
their long lances poised and the trains of their pagris streaming;
she heard the bugle-calls and the jingle of spurs, and the
regimental bands playing outside the messrooms while the officers
sat at dinner in their stiff, gorgeous uniforms.  How splendid it
was, that equestrian world, how splendid!  And it was HER world,
she belonged to it, she had been born of it.  These days, she
lived, thought, dreamed horses, almost like Verrall himself.  The
time came when she not only TOLD her taradiddle about having
'hunted quite a lot', she even came near believing it.

In every possible way they got on so well together.  He never bored
her and fretted her as Flory had done.  (As a matter of fact, she
had almost forgotten Flory, these days; when she thought of him, it
was for some reason always his birthmark that she remembered.)  It
was a bond between them that Verrall detested anything 'highbrow'
even more than she did.  He told her once that he had not read a
book since he was eighteen, and that indeed he 'loathed' books;
'except, of course, Jorrocks and all that'.  On the evening of
their third or fourth ride they were parting at the Lackersteens'
gate.  Verrall had successfully resisted all Mrs Lackersteen's
invitations to meals; he had not yet set foot inside the
Lackersteens' house, and he did not intend to do so.  As the syce
was taking Elizabeth's pony, Verrall said:

'I tell you what.  Next time we come out you shall ride Belinda.
I'll ride the chestnut.  I think you've got on well enough not to
go and cut Belinda's mouth up.'

Belinda was the Arab mare.  Verrall had owned her two years, and
till this moment he had never once allowed anyone else to mount
her, not even the syce.  It was the greatest favour that he could
imagine.  And so perfectly did Elizabeth appreciate Verrall's point
of view that she understood the greatness of the favour, and was
thankful.

The next evening, as they rode home side by side, Verrall put his
arm round Elizabeth's shoulder, lifted her out of the saddle and
pulled her against him.  He was very strong.  He dropped the
bridle, and with his free hand, lifted her face up to meet his;
their mouths met.  For a moment he held her so, then lowered her to
the ground and slipped from his horse.  They stood embraced, their
thin, drenched shirts pressed together, the two bridles held in the
crook of his arm.

It was about the same time that Flory, twenty miles away, decided
to come back to Kyauktada.  He was standing at the jungle's edge by
the bank of a dried-up stream, where he had walked to tire himself,
watching some tiny, nameless finches eating the seeds of the tall
grasses.  The cocks were chrome-yellow, the hens like hen sparrows.
Too tiny to bend the stalks, they came whirring towards them,
seized them in midflight and bore them to the ground by their own
weight.  Flory watched the birds incuriously, and almost hated them
because they could light no spark of interest in him.  In his
idleness he flung his dah at them, scaring them away.  If she were
here, if she were here!  Everything--birds, trees, flowers,
everything--was deadly and meaningless because she was not here.
As the days passed the knowledge that he had lost her had grown
surer and more actual until it poisoned every moment.

He loitered a little way into the jungle, flicking at creepers with
his dah.  His limbs felt slack and leaden.  He noticed a wild
vanilla plant trailing over a bush, and bent down to sniff at its
slender, fragrant pods.  The scent brought him a feeling of
staleness and deadly ennui.  Alone, alone, in the sea of life
enisled!  The pain was so great that he struck his fist against a
tree, jarring his arm and splitting two knuckles.  He must go back
to Kyauktada.  It was folly, for barely a fortnight had passed
since the scene between them, and his only chance was to give her
time to forget it.  Still, he must go back.  He could not stay any
longer in this deadly place, alone with his thoughts among the
endless, mindless leaves.

A happy thought occurred to him.  He could take Elizabeth the
leopard-skin that was being cured for her in the jail.  It would be
a pretext for seeing her, and when one comes bearing gifts one is
generally listened to.  This time he would not let her cut him
short without a word.  He would explain, extenuate--make her
realize that she had been unjust to him.  It was not right that she
should condemn him because of Ma Hla May, whom he had turned out of
doors for Elizabeth's own sake.  Surely she must forgive him when
she heard the truth of the story?  And this time she SHOULD hear
it; he would force her to listen to him if he had to hold her by
the arms while he did it.

He went back the same evening.  It was a twenty-mile journey, by
rutted cart-tracks, but Flory decided to march by night, giving the
reason that it was cooler.  The servants almost mutinied at the
idea of a night-march, and at the very last moment old Sammy
collapsed in a semi-genuine fit and had to be plied with gin before
he could start.  It was a moonless night.  They made their way by
the light of lanterns, in which Flo's eyes gleamed like emeralds
and the bullocks' eyes like moonstones.  When the sun was up the
servants halted to gather sticks and cook breakfast, but Flory was
in a fever to be at Kyauktada, and he hurried ahead.  He had no
feeling of tiredness.  The thought of the leopard-skin had filled
him with extravagant hopes.  He crossed the glittering river by
sampan and went straight to Dr Veraswami's bungalow, getting there
about ten.

The doctor invited him to breakfast, and--having shooed the women
into some suitable hiding-place--took him into his own bath-room so
that he could wash and shave.  At breakfast the doctor was very
excited and full of denunciations of 'the crocodile'; for it
appeared that the pseudo-rebellion was now on the point of breaking
out.  It was not till after breakfast that Flory had an opportunity
to mention the leopard-skin.

'Oh, by the way, doctor.  What about that skin I sent to the jail
to be cured?  Is it done yet?'

'Ah--' said the doctor in a slightly disconcerted manner, rubbing
his nose.  He went inside the house--they were breakfasting on the
veranda, for the doctor's wife had protested violently against
Flory being brought indoors--and came back in a moment with the
skin rolled up in a bundle.

'Ass a matter of fact--' he began, unrolling it.

'Oh, doctor!'

The skin had been utterly ruined.  It was as stiff as cardboard,
with the leather cracked and the fur discoloured and even rubbed
off in patches.  It also stank abominably.  Instead of being cured,
it had been converted into a piece of rubbish.

'Oh, doctor!  What a mess they've made of it!  How the devil did it
happen?'

'I am so sorry, my friend!  I wass about to apologize.  It wass the
best we could do.  There iss no one at the jail who knows how to
cure skins now.'

'But, damn it, that convict used to cure them so beautifully!'

'Ah, yes.  But he iss gone from us these three weeks, alas.'

'Gone?  I thought he was doing seven years?'

'What?  Did you not hear, my friend?  I thought you knew who it
wass that used to cure the skins.  It was Nga Shwe O.'

'Nga Shwe O?'

'The dacoit who escaped with U Po Kyin's assistance.'

'Oh, hell!'

The mishap had daunted him dreadfully.  Nevertheless, in the
afternoon, having bathed and put on a clean suit, he went up to the
Lackersteens' house, at about four.  It was very early to call, but
he wanted to make sure of catching Elizabeth before she went down
to the Club.  Mrs Lackersteen, who had been asleep and was not
prepared for visitors, received him with an ill grace, not even
asking him to sit down.

'I'm afraid Elizabeth isn't down yet.  She's dressing to go out
riding.  Wouldn't it be better if you left a message?'

'I'd like to see her, if you don't mind.  I've brought her the skin
of that leopard we shot together.'

Mrs Lackersteen left him standing up in the drawing-room, feeling
lumpish and abnormally large as one does at such times.  However,
she fetched Elizabeth, taking the opportunity of whispering to her
outside the door:  'Get rid of that dreadful man as soon as you
can, dear.  I can't bear him about the house at this time of day.'

As Elizabeth entered the room Flory's heart pounded so violently
that a reddish mist passed behind his eyes.  She was wearing a silk
shirt and jodhpurs, and she was a little sunburned.  Even in his
memory she had never been so beautiful.  He quailed; on the instant
he was lost--every scrap of his screwed-up courage had fled.
Instead of stepping forward to meet her he actually backed away.
There was a fearful crash behind him; he had upset an occasional
table and sent a bowl of zinnias hurtling across the floor.

'I'm so sorry!' he exclaimed in horror.

'Oh, not at ALL!  PLEASE don't worry about it!'

She helped him to pick up the table, chattering all the while as
gaily and easily as though nothing had happened:  'You HAVE been
away a long time, Mr Flory!  You're quite a STRANGER!  We've SO
missed you at the Club!' etc., etc.  She was italicizing every
other word, with that deadly, glittering brightness that a woman
puts on when she is dodging a moral obligation.  He was terrified
of her.  He could not even look her in the face.  She took up a box
of cigarettes and offered him one, but he refused it.  His hand was
shaking too much to take it.

'I've brought you that skin,' he said flatly.

He unrolled it on the table they had just picked up.  It looked so
shabby and miserable that he wished he had never brought it.  She
came close to him to examine the skin, so close that her flower-
like cheek was not a foot from his own, and he could feel the
warmth of her body.  So great was his fear of her that he stepped
hurriedly away.  And in the same moment she too stepped back with a
wince of disgust, having caught the foul odour of the skin.  It
shamed him terribly.  It was almost as though it had been himself
and not the skin that stank.

'Thank you EVER so much, Mr Flory!'  She had put another yard
between herself and the skin.  'Such a LOVELY big skin, isn't it?'

'It was, but they've spoiled it, I'm afraid.'

'Oh no!  I shall love having it!--Are you back in Kyauktada for
long?  How dreadfully hot it must have been in camp!'

'Yes, it's been very hot.'

For three minutes they actually talked of the weather.  He was
helpless.  All that he had promised himself to say, all his
arguments and pleadings, had withered in his throat.  'You fool,
you fool,' he thought, 'what are you doing?  Did you come twenty
miles for this?  Go on, say what you came to say!  Seize her in
your arms; make her listen, kick her, beat her--anything sooner
than let her choke you with this drivel!'  But it was hopeless,
hopeless.  Not a word could his tongue utter except futile
trivialities.  How could he plead or argue, when that bright easy
air of hers, that dragged every word to the level of Club-chatter
silenced him before he spoke?  Where do they learn it, that
dreadful tee-heeing brightness?  In these brisk modern girls'
schools, no doubt.  The piece of carrion on the table made him more
ashamed every moment.  He stood there almost voiceless, lumpishly
ugly with his face yellow and creased after the sleepless night,
and his birthmark like a smear of dirt.

She got rid of him after a very few minutes.  'And now, Mr Flory,
if you DON'T mind, I ought really--'

He mumbled rather than said, 'Won't you come out with me again some
time?  Walking, shooting--something?'

'I have so LITTLE time nowadays!  ALL my evenings seem to be full.
This evening I'm going out riding.  With Mr Verrall,' she added.

It was possible that she added that in order to wound him.  This
was the first that he had heard of her friendship with Verrall.  He
could not keep the dread, flat tone of envy out of his voice as he
said:

'Do you go out riding much with Verrall?'

'Almost every evening.  He's such a wonderful horseman!  And he has
absolute STRINGS of polo ponies!'

'Ah.  And of course I have no polo ponies.'

It was the first thing he had said that even approached seriousness,
and it did no more than offend her.  However, she answered him with
the same gay easy air as before, and then showed him out.  Mrs
Lackersteen came back to the drawing-room, sniffed the air, and
immediately ordered the servants to take the reeking leopard-skin
outside and burn it.

Flory lounged at his garden gate, pretending to feed the pigeons.
He could not deny himself the pain of seeing Elizabeth and Verrall
start on their ride.  How vulgarly, how cruelly she had behaved to
him!  It is dreadful when people will not even have the decency to
quarrel.  Presently Verrall rode up to the Lackersteens' house on
the white pony, with a syce riding the chestnut, then there was a
pause, then they emerged together, Verrall on the chestnut pony,
Elizabeth on the white, and trotted quickly up the hill.  They were
chattering and laughing, her silk-shirted shoulder very close to
his.  Neither looked towards Flory.

When they had disappeared into the jungle, Flory still loafed in
the garden.  The glare was waning to yellow.  The mali was at work
grubbing up the English flowers, most of which had died, slain by
too much sunshine, and planting balsams, cockscombs, and more
zinnias.  An hour passed, and a melancholy, earth-coloured Indian
loitered up the drive, dressed in a loin-cloth and a salmon-pink
pagri on which a washing-basket was balanced.  He laid down his
basket and salaamed to Flory.

'Who are you?'

'Book-wallah, sahib.'

The book-wallah was an itinerant peddler of books who wandered from
station to station throughout Upper Burma.  His system of exchange
was that for any book in his bundle you gave him four annas, and
any other book.  Not quite ANY book, however, for the book-wallah,
though analphabetic, had learned to recognize and refuse a Bible.

'No, sahib,' he would say plaintively, 'no.  This book (he would
turn it over disapprovingly in his flat brown hands) this book with
a black cover and gold letters--this one I cannot take.  I know not
how it is, but all sahibs are offering me this book, and none are
taking it.  What can it be that is in this black book?  Some evil,
undoubtedly.'

'Turn out your trash,' Flory said.

He hunted among them for a good thriller--Edgar Wallace or Agatha
Christie or something; anything to still the deadly restlessness
that was at his heart.  As he bent over the books he saw that both
Indians were exclaiming and pointing towards the edge of the
jungle.

'Dekko!' said the mali in his plum-in-the-mouth voice.

The two ponies were emerging from the jungle.  But they were
riderless.  They came trotting down the hill with the silly guilty
air of a horse that has escaped from its master, with the stirrups
swinging and clashing under their bellies.

Flory remained unconsciously clasping one of the books against his
chest.  Verrall and Elizabeth had dismounted.  It was not an
accident; by no effort of the mind could one imagine Verrall
falling off his horse.  They had dismounted, and the ponies had
escaped.

They had dismounted--for what?  Ah, but he knew for what!  It was
not a question of suspecting; he KNEW.  He could see the whole
thing happening, in one of those hallucinations that are so perfect
in detail, so vilely obscene, that they are past bearing.  He threw
the book violently down and made for the house, leaving the book-
wallah disappointed.  The servants heard him moving about indoors,
and presently he called for a bottle of whisky.  He had a drink and
it did him no good.  Then he filled a tumbler two-thirds full,
added enough water to make it drinkable, and swallowed it.  The
filthy, nauseous dose was no sooner down his throat than he
repeated it.  He had done the same thing in camp once, years ago,
when he was tortured by toothache and three hundred miles from a
dentist.  At seven Ko S'la came in as usual to say that the bath-
water was hot.  Flory was lying in one of the long chairs, with his
coat off and his shirt torn open at the throat.

'Your bath, thakin,' said Ko S'la.

Flory did not answer, and Ko S'la touched his arm, thinking him
asleep.  Flory was much too drunk to move.  The empty bottle had
rolled across the floor, leaving a trail of whisky-drops behind it.
Ko S'la called for Ba Pe and picked up the bottle, clicking his
tongue.

'Just look at this!  He has drunk more than three-quarters of a
bottle!'

'What, again?  I thought he had given up drinking?'

'It is that accursed woman, I suppose.  Now we must carry him
carefully.  You take his heels, I'll take his head.  That's right.
Hoist him up!'

They carried Flory into the other room and laid him gently on the
bed.

'Is he really going to marry this "Ingaleikma"?' said Ba Pe.

'Heaven knows.  She is the mistress of the young police officer at
present, so I was told.  Their ways are not our ways.  I think I
know what he will be wanting tonight,' he added as he undid Flory's
braces--for Ko S'la had the art, so necessary in a bachelor's
servant, of undressing his master without waking him.

The servants were rather more pleased than not to see this return
to bachelor habits.  Flory woke about midnight, naked in a pool of
sweat.  His head felt as though some large, sharp-cornered metal
object were bumping about inside it.  The mosquito net was up, and
a young woman was sitting beside the bed fanning him with a wicker
fan.  She had an agreeable negroid face, bronze-gold in the
candlelight.  She explained that she was a prostitute, and that Ko
S'la had engaged her on his own responsibility for a fee of ten
rupees.

Flory's head was splitting.  'For God's sake get me something to
drink,' he said feebly to the woman.  She brought him some soda-
water which Ko S'la had cooled in readiness and soaked a towel and
put a wet compress round his forehead.  She was a fat, good-
tempered creature.  She told him that her name was Ma Sein Galay,
and that besides plying her other trade she sold paddy baskets in
the bazaar near Li Yeik's shop.  Flory's head felt better
presently, and he asked for a cigarette; whereupon Ma Sein Galay,
having fetched the cigarette, said naively, 'Shall I take my
clothes off now, thakin?'

Why not? he thought dimly.  He made room for her in the bed.  But
when he smelled the familiar scent of garlic and coco-nut oil,
something painful happened within him, and with his head pillowed
on Ma Sein Galay's fat shoulder he actually wept, a thing he had
not done since he was fifteen years old.



20


Next morning there was great excitement in Kyauktada, for the long-
rumoured rebellion had at last broken out.  Flory heard only a
vague report of it at the time.  He had gone back to camp as soon
as he felt fit to march after the drunken night, and it was not
until several days later that he learned the true history of the
rebellion, in a long, indignant letter from Dr Veraswami.

The doctor's epistolary style was queer.  His syntax was shaky and
he was as free with capital letters as a seventeenth-century
divine, while in the use of italics he rivalled Queen Victoria.
There were eight pages of his small but sprawling handwriting.


MY DEAR FRIEND [the letter ran],--You will much regret to hear that
the WILES OF THE CROCODILE have matured.  The rebellion--the SO-
CALLED rebellion--is all over and finished.  And it has been, alas!
a more Bloody affair than I had hoped should have been the case.

All has fallen out as I have prophesied to you it would be.  On the
day when you came back to Kyauktada U Po Kyin's SPIES have informed
him that the poor unfortunate men whom he have Deluded are
assembling in the jungle near Thongwa.  The same night he sets out
secretly with U Lugale, the Police Inspector, who is as great a
Rogue as he, if that could be, and twelve constables.  They make a
swift raid upon Thongwa and surprise the rebels, of whom they are
only Seven!! in a ruined field hut in the jungle.  Also Mr Maxwell,
who have heard rumours of the rebellion, came across from his camp
bringing his Rifle and was in time to join U Po Kyin and the police
in their attack on the hut.  The next morning the clerk Ba Sein,
who is U Po Kyin's JACKALL and DIRTY WORKER, have orders to raise
the cry of rebellion as Sensationally as possible, which was done,
and Mr Macgregor, Mr Westfield and Lieutenant Verrall all rush out
to Thongwa carrying fifty sepoys armed with rifles besides Civil
Police.  But they arrive to find it is all over and U Po Kyin was
sitting under a big teak tree in the middle of the village and
PUTTING ON AIRS and lecturing the villages, whereat they are all
bowing very frightened and touching the ground with their foreheads
and swearing they will be forever loyal to the Government, and the
rebellion is already at an end.  The SO-CALLED weiksa, who is no
other than a circus conjurer and the MINION of U Po Kyin, have
vanished for parts unknown, but six rebels have been Caught.  So
there is an end.

Also I should inform you that there was most regrettably a Death.
Mr Maxwell was I think TOO ANXIOUS to use his Rifle and when one of
the rebels try to run away he fired and shoot him in the abdomen,
at which he died.  I think the villagers have some BAD FEELING
towards Mr Maxwell because of it.  But from the point of view legal
all is well for Mr Maxwell, because the men were undoubtedly
conspiring against the Government.

Ah, but, my Friend, I trust that you understand how disastrous may
all this be for me!  You will realise, I think, what is its bearing
upon the Contest between U Po Kyin and myself, and the supreme LEG-
UP it must give to him.  It is the TRIUMPH OF THE CROCODILE.  U Po
Kyin is now the Hero of the district.  He is the PET of the
Europeans.  I am told that even Mr Ellis has praised his conduct.
If you could witness the abominable Conceitedness and the LIES he
is now telling as to how there were not seven rebels but Two
Hundred!! and how he crushed upon them revolver in hand--he who
only directing operations from a SAFE DISTANCE while the police and
Mr Maxwell creep up upon the hut--you would find is veritably
Nauseous I assure you.  He has had the effrontery to send in an
official report of the matter which started, 'By my loyal
promptitude and reckless daring', and I hear that positively he had
had this Conglomeration of lies written out in readiness days
BEFORE THE OCCURRENCE.  It is Disgusting.  And to think that now
when he is at the Height of his triumph he will again begin to
calumniate me with all the venom at his disposal etc. etc.


The rebels' entire stock of weapons had been captured.  The armoury
with which, when their followers were assembled, they had proposed
to march upon Kyauktada, consisted of the following:

Item, one shotgun with a damaged left barrel, stolen from a Forest
Officer three years earlier.

Item, six home-made guns with barrels of zinc piping stolen from
the railway.  These could be fired, after a fashion, by thrusting a
nail through the touch-hole and striking it with a stone.

Item, thirty-nine twelve-bore cartridges.

Item, eleven dummy guns carved out of teakwood.

Item, some large Chinese crackers which were to have been fired in
terrorem.

Later, two of the rebels were sentenced to fifteen years'
transportation, three to three years' imprisonment and twenty-five
lashes, and one to two years' imprisonment.

The whole miserable rebellion was so obviously at an end that the
Europeans were not considered to be in any danger, and Maxwell had
gone back to his camp unguarded.  Flory intended to stay in camp
until the rains broke, or at least until the general meeting at the
Club.  He had promised to be in for that, to propose the doctor's
election; though now, with his own trouble to think of, the whole
business of the intrigue between U Po Kyin and the doctor sickened
him.

More weeks crawled by.  The heat was dreadful now.  The overdue
rain seemed to have bred a fever in the air.  Flory was out of
health, and worked incessantly, worrying over petty jobs that
should have been left to the overseer, and making the coolies and
even the servants hate him.  He drank gin at all hours, but not
even drinking could distract him now.  The vision of Elizabeth in
Verrall's arms haunted him like a neuralgia or an earache.  At any
moment it would come upon him, vivid and disgusting, scattering his
thoughts, wrenching him back from the brink of sleep, turning his
food to dust in his mouth.  At times he flew into savage rages, and
once even struck Ko S'la.  What was worse than all was the DETAIL--
the always filthy detail--in which the imagined scene appeared.
The very perfection of the detail seemed to prove that it was true.

Is there anything in the world more graceless, more dishonouring,
than to desire a woman whom you will never have?  Throughout all
these weeks Flory's mind held hardly a thought which was not
murderous or obscene.  It is the common effect of jealousy.  Once
he had loved Elizabeth spiritually, sentimentally indeed, desiring
her sympathy more than her caresses; now, when he had lost her, he
was tormented by the basest physical longing.  He did not even
idealize her any longer.  He saw her now almost as she was--silly,
snobbish, heartless--and it made no difference to his longing for
her.  Does it ever make any difference?  At nights when he lay
awake, his bed dragged outside the tent for coolness, looking at
the velvet dark from which the barking of a gyi sometimes sounded,
he hated himself for the images that inhabited his mind.  It was so
base, this envying of the better man who had beaten him.  For it
was only envy--even jealousy was too good a name for it.  What
right had he to be jealous?  He had offered himself to a girl who
was too young and pretty for him, and she had turned him down--
rightly.  He had got the snub he deserved.  Nor was there any
appeal from that decision; nothing would ever make him young again,
or take away his birthmark and his decade of lonely debaucheries.
He could only stand and look on while the better man took her, and
envy him, like--but the simile was not even mentionable.  Envy is a
horrible thing.  It is unlike all other kinds of suffering in that
there is no disguising it, no elevating it into tragedy.  It is
more than merely painful, it is disgusting.

But meanwhile, was it true, what he suspected?  Had Verrall really
become Elizabeth's lover?  There is no knowing, but on the whole
the chances were against it, for, had it been so, there would have
been no concealing it in such a place as Kyauktada.  Mrs Lackersteen
would probably have guessed it, even if the others had not.  One
thing was certain, however, and that was that Verrall had as yet
made no proposal of marriage.  A week went by, two weeks, three
weeks; three weeks is a very long time in a small Indian station.
Verrall and Elizabeth rode together every evening, danced together
every night; yet Verrall had never so much as entered the
Lackersteens' house.  There was endless scandal about Elizabeth, of
course.  All the Orientals of the town had taken it for granted that
she was Verrall's mistress.  U Po Kyin's version (he had a way of
being essentially right even when he was wrong in detail) was that
Elizabeth had been Flory's concubine and had deserted him for
Verrall because Verrall paid her more.  Ellis, too, was inventing
tales about Elizabeth that made Mr Macgregor squirm.  Mrs
Lackersteen, as a relative, did not hear these scandals, but she was
growing nervous.  Every evening when Elizabeth came home from her
ride she would meet her hopefully, expecting the 'Oh, aunt!  What DO
you think!'--and then the glorious news.  But the news never came,
and however carefully she studied Elizabeth's face, she could divine
nothing.

When three weeks had passed Mrs Lackersteen became fretful and
finally half angry.  The thought of her husband, alone--or rather,
not alone--in his camp, was troubling her.  After all, she had sent
him back to camp in order to give Elizabeth her chance with Verrall
(not that Mrs Lackersteen would have put it so vulgarly as that).
One evening she began lecturing and threatening Elizabeth in her
oblique way.  The conversation consisted of a sighing monologue
with very long pauses--for Elizabeth made no answer whatever.

Mrs Lackersteen began with some general remarks, apropos of a
photograph in the Tatler, about these fast MODERN girls who went
about in beach pyjamas and all that and made themselves so
dreadfully CHEAP with men.  A girl, Mrs Lackersteen said, should
NEVER make herself too cheap with a man; she should make herself--
but the opposite of 'cheap' seemed to be 'expensive', and that did
not sound at all right, so Mrs Lackersteen changed her tack.  She
went on to tell Elizabeth about a letter she had had from home with
further news of that poor, POOR dear girl who was out in Burma for
a while and had so foolishly neglected to get married.  Her
sufferings had been quite heartrending, and it just showed how glad
a girl ought to be to marry anyone, literally ANYONE.  It appeared
that the poor, poor dear girl had lost her job and been practically
STARVING for a long time, and now she had actually had to take a
job as a common kitchen maid under a horrid, vulgar cook who
bullied her most shockingly.  And it seemed that the black beetles
in the kitchen were simply beyond belief!  Didn't Elizabeth think
it too absolutely dreadful?  BLACK BEETLES!

Mrs Lackersteen remained silent for some time, to allow the black
beetles to sink in, before adding:

'SUCH a pity that Mr Verrall will be leaving us when the rains
break.  Kyauktada will seem quite EMPTY without him!'

'When do the rains break, usually?' said Elizabeth as indifferently
as she could manage.

'About the beginning of June, up here.  Only a week or two now. . . .
My dear, it seems absurd to mention it again, but I cannot get out
of my head the thought of that poor, poor dear girl in the kitchen
among the BLACK BEETLES!'

Black beetles recurred more than once in Mrs Lackersteen's
conversation during the rest of the evening.  It was not until the
following day that she remarked in the tone of someone dropping an
unimportant piece of gossip:

'By the way, I believe Flory is coming back to Kyauktada at the
beginning of June.  He said he was going to be in for the general
meeting at the Club.  Perhaps we might invite him to dinner some
time.'

It was the first time that either of them had mentioned Flory since
the day when he had brought Elizabeth the leopard-skin.  After
being virtually forgotten for several weeks, he had returned to
each woman's mind, a depressing pis aller.

Three days later Mrs Lackersteen sent word to her husband to come
back to Kyauktada.  He had been in camp long enough to earn a short
spell in headquarters.  He came back, more florid than ever--
sunburn, he explained--and having acquired such a trembling of the
hands that he could barely light a cigarette.  Nevertheless, that
evening he celebrated his return by manoeuvring Mrs Lackersteen out
of the house, coming into Elizabeth's bedroom and making a spirited
attempt to rape her.

During all this time, unknown to anyone of importance, further
sedition was afoot.  The 'weiksa' (now far away, peddling the
philosopher's stone to innocent villagers in Martaban) had perhaps
done his job a little better than he intended.  At any rate, there
was a possibility of fresh trouble--some isolated, futile outrage,
probably.  Even U Po Kyin knew nothing of this yet.  But as usual
the gods were fighting on his side, for any further rebellion would
make the first seem more serious than it had been, and so add to
his glory.



21


O western wind, when wilt thou blow, that the small rain down can
rain?  It was the first of June, the day of the general meeting,
and there had not been a drop of rain yet.  As Flory came up the
Club path the sun of afternoon, slanting beneath his hat-brim, was
still savage enough to scorch his neck uncomfortably.  The mali
staggered along the path, his breast-muscles slippery with sweat,
carrying two kerosene-tins of water on a yoke.  He dumped them
down, slopping a little water over his lank brown feet, and
salaamed to Flory.

'Well, mali, is the rain coming?'

The man gestured vaguely towards the west.  'The hills have
captured it, sahib.'

Kyauktada was ringed almost round by hills, and these caught the
earlier showers, so that sometimes no rain fell till almost the end
of June.  The earth of the flower-beds, hoed into large untidy
lumps, looked grey and hard as concrete.  Flory went into the
lounge and found Westfield loafing by the veranda, looking out over
the river, for the chicks had been rolled up.  At the foot of the
veranda a chokra lay on his back in the sun, pulling the punkah
rope with his heel and shading his face with a broad strip of
banana leaf.

'Hullo, Flory!  You've got thin as a rake.'

'So've you.'

'H'm, yes.  Bloody weather.  No appetite except for booze.  Christ,
won't I be glad when I hear the frogs start croaking.  Let's have a
spot before the others come.  Butler!'

'Do you know who's coming to the meeting?' Flory said, when the
butler had brought whisky and tepid soda.

'Whole crowd, I believe.  Lackersteen got back from camp three days
ago.  By God, that man's been having the time of his life away from
his missus!  My inspector was telling me about the goings-on at his
camp.  Tarts by the score.  Must have imported 'em specially from
Kyauktada.  He'll catch it all right when the old woman sees his
Club bill.  Eleven bottles of whisky sent out to his camp in a
fortnight.'

'Is young Verrall coming?'

'No, he's only a temporary member.  Not that he'd trouble to come
anyway, young tick.  Maxwell won't be here either.  Can't leave
camp just yet, he says.  He sent word Ellis was to speak for him if
there's any voting to be done.  Don't suppose there'll be anything
to vote about, though eh?' he added, looking at Flory obliquely,
for both of them remembered their previous quarrel on this subject.

'I suppose it lies with Macgregor.'

'What I mean is, Macgregor'll have dropped that bloody rot about
electing a native member, eh?  Not the moment for it just now.
After the rebellion and all that.'

'What about the rebellion, by the way?' said Flory.  He did not
want to start wrangling about the doctor's election yet.  There was
going to be trouble and to spare in a few minutes.  'Any more news--
are they going to have another try, do you think?'

'No.  All over, I'm afraid.  They caved in like the funks they are.
The whole district's as quiet as a bloody girls' school.  Most
disappointing.'

Flory's heart missed a beat.  He had heard Elizabeth's voice in the
next room.  Mr Macgregor came in at this moment, Ellis and Mr
Lackersteen following.  This made up the full quota, for the women
members of the Club had no votes.  Mr Macgregor was already dressed
in a silk suit, and was carrying the Club account books under his
arm.  He managed to bring a sub-official air even into such petty
business as a Club meeting.

'As we seem to be all here,' he said after the usual greetings,
'shall we--ah--proceed with our labours?'

'Lead on, Macduff,' said Westfield, sitting down.

'Call the butler, someone, for Christ's sake,' said Mr Lackersteen.
'I daren't let my missus hear me calling him.'

'Before we apply ourselves to the agenda,' said Mr Macgregor when
he had refused a drink and the others had taken one, 'I expect you
will want me to run through the accounts for the half-year?'

They did not want it particularly, but Mr Macgregor, who enjoyed
this kind of thing, ran through the accounts with great thoroughness.
Flory's thoughts were wandering.  There was going to be such a row
in a moment--oh, such a devil of a row!  They would be furious when
they found that he was proposing the doctor after all.  And
Elizabeth was in the next room.  God send she didn't hear the noise
of the row when it came.  It would make her despise him all the more
to see the others baiting him.  Would he see her this evening?
Would she speak to him?  He gazed across the quarter-mile of
gleaming river.  By the far bank a knot of men, one of them wearing
a green gaungbaung, were waiting beside a sampan.  In the channel,
by the nearer bank, a huge, clumsy Indian barge struggled with
desperate slowness against the racing current.  At each stroke the
ten rowers, Dravidian starvelings, ran forward and plunged their
long primitive oars, with heart-shaped blades, into the water.  They
braced their meagre bodies, then tugged, writhed, strained backwards
like agonized creatures of black rubber, and the ponderous hull
crept onwards a yard or two.  Then the rowers sprang forward,
panting, to plunge their oars again before the current should check
her.

'And now,' said Mr Macgregor more gravely, 'we come to the main
point of the agenda.  That, of course, is this--ah--distasteful
question, which I am afraid must be faced, of electing a native
member to this Club.  When we discussed the matter before--'

'What the hell!'

It was Ellis who had interrupted.  He was so excited that he had
sprung to his feet.

'What the hell!  Surely we aren't starting THAT over again?  Talk
about electing a damned nigger so this Club, after everything
that's happened!  Good God, I thought even Flory had dropped it by
this time!'

'Our friend Ellis appears surprised.  The matter has been discussed
before, I believe.'

'I should think it damned well was discussed before!  And we all
said what we thought of it.  By God--'

'If our friend Ellis will sit down for a few moments--' said Mr
Macgregor tolerantly.

Ellis threw himself into his chair again, exclaiming, 'Bloody
rubbish!'  Beyond the river Flory could see the group of Burmans
embarking.  They were lifting a long, awkward-shaped bundle into
the sampan.  Mr Macregor had produced a letter from his file of
papers.

'Perhaps I had better explain how this question arose in the first
place.  The Commissioner tells me that a circular has been sent
round by the Government, suggesting that in those Clubs where there
are no native members, one at least shall be co-opted; that is,
admitted automatically.  The circular says--ah yes! here it is:
"It is mistaken policy to offer social affronts to native officials
of high standing."  I may say that I disagree most emphatically.
No doubt we all do.  We who have to do the actual work of
government see things very differently from these--ah--Paget M.P.s
who interfere with us from above.  The Commissioner quite agrees
with me.  However--'

'But it's all bloody rot!' broke in Ellis.  'What's it got to do
with the Commissioner or anyone else?  Surely we can do as we like
in our own bloody Club?  They've no right to dictate to us when
we're off duty.'

'Quite,' said Westfield.

'You anticipate me.  I told the Commissioner that I should have to
put the matter before the other members.  And the course he
suggests is this.  If the idea finds any support in the Club, he
thinks it would be better if we co-opted our native member.  On the
other hand, if the entire Club is against it, it can be dropped.
That is, if opinion is quite unanimous.'

'Well, it damned well is unanimous,' said Ellis.

'D'you mean,' said Westfield, 'that it depends on ourselves whether
we have 'em in here or no?'

'I fancy we can take it as meaning that.'

'Well, then, let's say we're against it to a man.'

'And say it bloody firmly, by God.  We want to put our foot down on
this idea once and for all.'

'Hear, hear!' said Mr Lackersteen gruffly.  'Keep the black swabs
out of it.  Esprit de corps and all that.'

Mr Lackersteen could always be relied upon for sound sentiments in
a case like this.  In his heart he did not care and never had cared
a damn for the British Raj, and he was as happy drinking with an
Oriental as with a white man; but he was always ready with a loud
'Hear, hear!' when anyone suggested the bamboo for disrespectful
servants or boiling oil for Nationalists.  He prided himself that
though he might booze a bit and all that, dammit, he WAS loyal.  It
was his form of respectability.  Mr Macgregor was secretly rather
relieved by the general agreement.  If any Oriental member were co-
opted, that member would have to be Dr Veraswami, and he had had
the deepest distrust of the doctor ever since Nga Shwe O's
suspicious escape from the jail.

'Then I take it that you are all agreed?' he said.  'If so, I will
inform the Commissioner.  Otherwise, we must begin discussing the
candidate for election.'

Flory stood up.  He had got to say his say.  His heart seemed to
have risen into his throat and to be choking him.  From what Mr
Macgregor had said, it was clear that it was in his power to secure
the doctor's election by speaking the word.  But oh, what a bore,
what a nuisance it was!  What an infernal uproar there would be!
How he wished he had never given the doctor that promise!  No
matter, he had given it, and he could not break it.  So short a
time ago he would have broken it, en bon pukka sahib, how easily!
But not now.  He had got to see this thing through.  He turned
himself sidelong so that his birthmark was away from the others.
Already he could feel his voice going flat and guilty.

'Our friend Flory has something to suggest?'

'Yes.  I propose Dr Veraswami as a member of this Club.'

There was such a yell of dismay from three of the others that Mr
Macgregor had to rap sharply on the table and remind them that the
ladies were in the next room.  Ellis took not the smallest notice.
He had sprung to his feet again, and the skin round his nose had
gone quite grey.  He and Flory remained facing one another, as
though on the point of blows.

'Now, you damned swab, will you take that back?'

'No, I will not.'

'You oily swine!  You nigger's Nancy Boy!  You crawling, sneaking,--
bloody bastard!'

'Order!' exclaimed Mr Macgregor.

'But look at him, look at him!' cried Ellis almost tearfully.
'Letting us all down for the sake of a pot-bellied nigger!  After
all we've said to him!  When we've only got to hang together and we
can keep the stink of garlic out of this Club for ever.  My God,
wouldn't it make you spew your guts up to see anyone behaving like
such a--?'

'Take it back, Flory, old man!' said Westfield.  'Don't be a bloody
fool!'

'Downright Bolshevism, dammit!' said Mr Lackersteen.

'Do you think I care what you say?  What business is it of yours?
It's for Macgregor to decide.'

'Then do you--ah--adhere to your decision?' said Mr Macgregor
gloomily.

'Yes.'

Mr Macgregor sighed.  'A pity!  Well, in that case I suppose I have
no choice--'

'No, no, no!' cried Ellis, dancing about in his rage.  'Don't give
in to him!  Put it to the vote.  And if that son of a bitch doesn't
put in a black ball like the rest of us, we'll first turf him out
of the Club himself, and then--well!  Butler!'

'Sahib!' said the butler, appearing.

'Bring the ballot box and the balls.  Now clear out!' he added
roughly when the butler had obeyed.

The air had gone very stagnant; for some reason the punkah had
stopped working.  Mr Macgregor stood up with a disapproving but
judicial mien, taking the two drawers of black and white balls out
of the ballot box.

'We must proceed in order.  Mr Flory proposes Dr Veraswami, the
Civil Surgeon, as a member of this Club.  Mistaken, in my opinion,
greatly mistaken; however--!  Before putting the matter to the
vote--'

'Oh, why make a song and dance about it?' said Ellis.  'Here's my
contribution!  And another for Maxwell.'  He plumped two black
balls into the box.  Then one of his sudden spasms of rage seized
him, and he took the drawer of white balls and pitched them across
the floor.  They went flying in all directions.  'There!  Now pick
one up if you want to use it!'

'You damned fool!  What good do you think that does?'

'Sahib!'

They all started and looked round.  The chokra was goggling at them
over the veranda rail, having climbed up from below.  With one
skinny arm he clung to the rail and with the other gesticulated
towards the river.

'Sahib!  Sahib!'

'What's up?' said Westfield.

They all moved for the window.  The sampan that Flory had seen
across the river was lying under the bank at the foot of the lawn,
one of the men clinging to a bush to steady it.  The Burman in the
green gaungbaung was climbing out.

'That's one of Maxwell's Forest Rangers!' said Ellis in quite a
different voice.  'By God! something's happened!'

The Forest Ranger saw Mr Macgregor, shikoed in a hurried,
preoccupied way and turned back to the sampan.  Four other men,
peasants, climbed out after him, and with difficulty lifted ashore
the strange bundle that Flory had seen in the distance.  It was six
feet long, swathed in cloths, like a mummy.  Something happened in
everybody's entrails.  The Forest Ranger glanced at the veranda,
saw that there was no way up, and led the peasants round the path
to the front of the Club.  They had hoisted the bundle on to their
shoulders as funeral bearers hoist a coffin.  The butler had
flitted into the lounge again, and even his face was pale after its
fashion--that is, grey.

'Butler!' said Mr Macgregor sharply.

'Sir!'

'Go quickly and shut the door of the card-room.  Keep it shut.
Don't let the memsahibs see.'

'Yes, sir!'

The Burmans, with their burden, came heavily down the passage.  As
they entered the leading man staggered and almost fell; he had
trodden on one of the white balls that were scattered about the
floor.  The Burmans knelt down, lowered their burden to the floor
and stood over it with a strange reverent air, slightly bowing,
their hands together in a shiko.  Westfield had fallen on his
knees, and he pulled back the cloth.

'Christ!  Just look at him!' he said, but without much surprise.
'Just look at the poor little b--!'

Mr Lackersteen had retreated to the other end of the room, with a
bleating noise.  From the moment when the bundle was lifted ashore
they had all known what it contained.  It was the body of Maxwell,
cut almost to pieces with dahs by two relatives of the man whom he
had shot.



22


Maxwell's death had caused a profound shock in Kyauktada.  It would
cause a shock throughout the whole of Burma, and the case--'the
Kyauktada case, do you remember?'--would still be talked of years
after the wretched youth's name was forgotten.  But in a purely
personal way no one was much distressed.  Maxwell had been almost a
nonentity--just a 'good fellow' like any other of the ten thousand
ex colore good fellows of Burma--and with no close friends.  No one
among the Europeans genuinely mourned for him.  But that is not to
say that they were not angry.  On the contrary, for the moment they
were almost mad with rage.  For the unforgivable had happened--A
WHITE MAN had been killed.  When that happens, a sort of shudder
runs through the English of the East.  Eight hundred people,
possibly, are murdered every year in Burma; they matter nothing;
but the murder of A WHITE MAN is a monstrosity, a sacrilege.  Poor
Maxwell would be avenged, that was certain.  But only a servant or
two, and the Forest Ranger who had brought in his body and who had
been fond of him, shed any tears for his death.

On the other hand, no one was actually pleased, except U Po Kyin.

'This is a positive gift from heaven!' he told Ma Kin.  'I could
not have arranged it better myself.  The one thing I needed to make
them take my rebellion seriously was a little bloodshed.  And here
it is!  I tell you, Ma Kin, every day I grow more certain that some
higher power is working on my behalf.'

'Ko Po Kyin, truly you are without shame!  I do not know how you
dare to say such things.  Do you not shudder to have murder upon
your soul?'

'What! I?  Murder upon my soul?  What are you talking about?  I
have never killed so much as a chicken in my life.'

'But you are profiting by this poor boy's death.'

'Profiting by it!  Of course I am profiting by it!  And why not,
indeed?  Am I to blame if somebody else choose to commit murder?
The fisherman catches fish, and he is damned for it.  But are we
damned for eating the fish?  Certainly not.  Why NOT eat the fish,
once it is dead?  You should study the Scriptures more carefully,
my dear Kin Kin.'

The funeral took place next morning, before breakfast.  All the
Europeans were present, except Verrall, who was careering about the
maidan quite as usual, almost opposite the cemetery.  Mr Macgregor
read the burial service.  The little group of Englishmen stood
round the grave, their topis in their hands, sweating into the dark
suits that they had dug out from the bottom of their boxes.  The
harsh morning light beat without mercy upon their faces, yellower
than ever against the ugly, shabby clothes.  Every face except
Elizabeth's looked lined and old.  Dr Veraswami and half a dozen
other Orientals were present, but they kept themselves decently in
the background.  There were sixteen gravestones in the little
cemetery; assistants of timber firms, officials, soldiers killed in
forgotten skirmishes.

'Sacred to the memory of John Henry Spagnall, late of the Indian
Imperial Police, who was cut down by cholera while in the unremitting
exercise of' etc., etc., etc.

Flory remembered Spagnall dimly.  He had died very suddenly in camp
after his second go of delirium tremens.  In a corner there were
some graves of Eurasians, with wooden crosses.  The creeping
jasmine, with tiny orange-hearted flowers, had overgrown
everything.  Among the jasmine, large rat-holes led down into the
graves.

Mr Macgregor concluded the burial service in a ripe, reverent
voice, and led the way out of the cemetery, holding his grey topi--
the Eastern equivalent of a top hat--against his stomach.  Flory
lingered by the gate, hoping that Elizabeth would speak to him, but
she passed him without a glance.  Everyone had shunned him this
morning.  He was in disgrace; the murder had made his disloyalty of
last night seem somehow horrible.  Ellis had caught Westfield by
the arm, and they halted at the grave-side, taking out their
cigarette-cases.  Flory could hear their slangy voices coming
across the open grave.

'My God, Westfield, my God, when I think of that poor little b--
lying down there--oh, my God, how my blood does boil!  I couldn't
sleep all night, I was so furious.'

'Pretty bloody, I grant.  Never mind, promise you a couple of chaps
shall swing for it.  Two corpses against their one--best we can
do.'

'Two!  It ought to be fifty!  We've got to raise heaven and hell to
get these fellows hanged.  Have you got their names yet?'

'Yes, rather!!  Whole blooming district knows who did it.  We
always do know who's done it in these cases.  Getting the bloody
villagers to talk--that's the only trouble.'

'Well, for God's sake get them to talk this time.  Never mind the
bloody law.  Whack it out of them.  Torture them--anything.  If you
want to bribe any witnesses, I'm good for a couple of hundred
chips.'

Westfield sighed.  'Can't do that sort of thing, I'm afraid.  Wish
we could.  My chaps'd know how to put the screw on a witness if you
gave 'em the word.  Tie 'em down on an ant-hill.  Red peppers.  But
that won't do nowadays.  Got to keep our own bloody silly laws.
But never mind, those fellows'll swing all right.  We've got all
the evidence we want.'

'Good!  And when you've arrested them, if you aren't sure of
getting a conviction, shoot them, jolly well shoot them!  Fake up
an escape or something.  Anything sooner than let those b--s go
free.'

'They won't go free, don't you fear.  We'll get 'em.  Get SOMEBODY,
anyhow.  Much better hang wrong fellow than no fellow,' he added,
unconsciously quoting.

'That's the stuff!  I'll never sleep easy again till I've seen them
swinging,' said Ellis as they moved away from the grave.  'Christ!
Let's get out of this sun!  I'm about perishing with thirst.'

Everyone was perishing, more or less, but it seemed hardly decent
to go down to the Club for drinks immediately after the funeral.
The Europeans scattered for their houses, while four sweepers with
mamooties flung the grey, cement-like earth back into the grave,
and shaped it into a rough mound.

After breakfast, Ellis was walking down to his office, cane in
hand.  It was blinding hot.  Ellis had bathed and changed back into
shirt and shorts, but wearing a thick suit even for an hour had
brought on his prickly heat abominably.  Westfield had gone out
already, in his motor launch, with an inspector and half a dozen
men, to arrest the murderers.  He had ordered Verrall to accompany
him--not that Verrall was needed, but, as Westfield said, it would
do the young swab good to have a spot of work.

Ellis wriggled his shoulders--his prickly heat was almost beyond
bearing.  The rage was stewing in his body like a bitter juice.  He
had brooded all night over what had happened.  They had killed a
white man, killed A WHITE MAN, the bloody sods, the sneaking,
cowardly hounds!  Oh, the swine, the swine, how they ought to be
made to suffer for it!  Why did we make these cursed kid-glove laws?
Why did we take everything lying down?  Just suppose this had
happened in a German colony, before the War!  The good old Germans!
They knew how to treat the niggers.  Reprisals!  Rhinoceros hide
whips!  Raid their villages, kill their cattle, burn their crops,
decimate them, blow them from the guns.

Ellis gazed into the horrible cascades of light that poured through
the gaps in the trees.  His greenish eyes were large and mournful.
A mild, middle-aged Burman came by, balancing a huge bamboo, which
he shifted from one shoulder to the other with a grunt as he passed
Ellis.  Ellis's grip tightened on his stick.  If that swine, now,
would only attack you!  Or even insult you--anything, so that you
had the right to smash him!  If only these gutless curs would ever
show fight in any conceivable way!  Instead of just sneaking past
you, keeping within the law so that you never had a chance to get
back at them.  Ah, for a real rebellion--martial law proclaimed and
no quarter given!  Lovely, sanguinary images moved through his
mind.  Shrieking mounds of natives, soldiers slaughtering them.
Shoot them, ride them down, horses' hooves trample their guts out,
whips cut their faces in slices!

Five High School boys came down the road abreast.  Ellis saw them
coming, a row of yellow, malicious faces--epicene faces, horribly
smooth and young, grinning at him with deliberate insolence.  It
was in their minds to bait him, as a white man.  Probably they had
heard of the murder, and--being Nationalists, like all schoolboys--
regarded it as a victory.  They grinned full in Ellis's face as
they passed him.  They were trying openly to provoke him, and they
knew that the law was on their side.  Ellis felt his breast swell.
The look of their faces, jeering at him like a row of yellow
images, was maddening.  He stopped short.

'Here!  What are you laughing at, you young ticks?'

The boys turned.

'I said what the bloody hell are you laughing at?'

One of the boys answered, insolently--but perhaps his bad English
made him seem more insolent than he intended.

'Not your business.'

There was about a second during which Ellis did not know what he
was doing.  In that second he had hit out with all his strength,
and the cane landed, crack! right across the boy's eyes.  The boy
recoiled with a shriek, and in the same instant the other four had
thrown themselves upon Ellis.  But he was too strong for them.  He
flung them aside and sprang back, lashing out with his stick so
furiously that none of them dared come near.

'Keep your distance, you --s!  Keep off, or by God I'll smash
another of you!'  Though they were four to one he was so formidable
that they surged back in fright.  The boy who was hurt had fallen
on his knees with his arms across his face, and was screaming 'I am
blinded!  I am blinded!'  Suddenly the other four turned and darted
for a pile of laterite, used for road-mending, which was twenty
yards away.  One of Ellis's clerks had appeared on the veranda of
the office and was leaping up and down in agitation.

'Come up, sir come up at once.  They will murder you!'

Ellis disdained to run, but he moved for the veranda steps.  A lump
of laterite came sailing through the air and shattered itself
against a pillar, whereat the clerk scooted indoors.  But Ellis
turned on the veranda to face the boys, who were below, each
carrying an armful of laterite.  He was cackling with delight.

'You damned, dirty little niggers!' he shouted down at them.  'You
got a surprise that time, didn't you?  Come up on this veranda and
fight me, all four of you!  You daren't.  Four to one and you
daren't face me!  Do you call yourselves men?  You sneaking, mangy
little rats!'

He broke into Burmese, calling them the incestuous children of
pigs.  All the while they were pelting him with lumps of laterite,
but their arms were feeble and they threw ineptly.  He dodged the
stones, and as each one missed him he cackled in triumph.
Presently there was a sound of shouts up the road, for the noise
had been heard at the police station, and some constables were
emerging to see what was the matter.  The boys took fright and
bolted, leaving Ellis a complete victor.

Ellis had heartily enjoyed the affray, but he was furiously angry
as soon as it was over.  He wrote a violent note to Mr Macgregor,
telling him that he had been wantonly assaulted and demanding
vengeance.  Two clerks who had witnessed the scene, and a chaprassi,
were sent along to Mr Macgregor's office to corroborate the story.
They lied in perfect unison.  'The boys had attacked Mr Ellis
without any provocation whatever, he had defended himself,' etc.,
etc.  Ellis, to do him justice, probably believed this to be a
truthful version of the story.  Mr Macgregor was somewhat disturbed,
and ordered the police to find the four schoolboys and interrogate
them.  The boys, however, had been expecting something of the kind,
and were lying very low; the police searched the bazaar all day
without finding them.  In the evening the wounded boy was taken to
a Burmese doctor, who, by applying some poisonous concoction of
crushed leaves to his left eye, succeeded in blinding him.

The Europeans met at the Club as usual that evening, except for
Westfield and Verrall, who had not yet returned.  Everyone was in a
bad mood.  Coming on top of the murder, the unprovoked attack on
Ellis (for that was the accepted description of it) had scared them
as well as angered them.  Mrs Lackersteen was twittering to the
tune of 'We shall all be murdered in our beds'.  Mr Macgregor, to
reassure her, told her in cases of riot the European ladies were
always locked inside the jail until everything was over; but she
did not seem much comforted.  Ellis was offensive to Flory, and
Elizabeth cut him almost dead.  He had come down to the Club in the
insane hope of making up their quarrel, and her demeanour made him
so miserable that for the greater part of the evening he skulked in
the library.  It was not till eight o'clock when everyone had
swallowed a number of drinks, that the atmosphere grew a little
more friendly, and Ellis said:

'What about sending a couple of chokras up to our houses and
getting our dinners sent down here?  We might as well have a few
rubbers of bridge.  Better than mooning about at home.'

Mrs Lackersteen, who was in dread of going home, jumped at the
suggestion.  The Europeans occasionally dined at the Club when they
wanted to stay late.  Two of the chokras were sent for, and on
being told what was wanted of them, immediately burst into tears.
It appeared that if they went up the hill they were certain of
encountering Maxwell's ghost.  The mali was sent instead.  As the
man set out Flory noticed that it was again the night of the full
moon--four weeks to a day since that evening, now unutterably
remote, when he had kissed Elizabeth under the frangipani tree.

They had just sat down at the bridge table, and Mrs Lackersteen had
just revoked out of pure nervousness, when there was a heavy thump
on the roof.  Everyone started and look up.

'A coco-nut falling!' said Mr Macgregor.

'There aren't any coco-nut trees here,' said Ellis.

The next moment a number of things happened all together.  There
was another and much louder bang, one of the petrol lamps broke
from its hook and crashed to the ground, narrowly missing Mr
Lackersteen, who jumped aside with a yelp, Mrs Lackersteen began
screaming, and the butler rushed into the room, bareheaded, his
face the colour of bad coffee.

'Sir, sir!  Bad men come!  Going to murder us all, sir!'

'What?  Bad men?  What do you mean?'

'Sir, all the villagers are outside!  Big stick and dah in their
hands, and all dancing about!  Going to cut master's throat, sir!'

Mrs Lackersteen threw herself backwards in her chair.  She was
setting up such a din of screams as to drown the butler's voice.

'Oh, be quiet!' said Ellis sharply, turning on her.  'Listen, all
of you!  Listen to that!'

There was a deep, murmurous, dangerous sound outside, like the
humming of an angry giant.  Mr Macgregor, who had stood up,
stiffened as he heard it, and settled his spectacles pugnaciously
on his nose.

'This is some kind of disturbance!  Butler, pick that lamp up.
Miss Lackersteen, look to your aunt.  See if she is hurt.  The rest
of you come with me!'

They all made for the front door, which someone, presumably the
butler, had closed.  A fusillade of small pebbles was rattling
against it like hail.  Mr Lackersteen wavered at the sound and
retreated behind the others.

'I say, dammit, bolt that bloody door, someone!' he said.

'No, no!' said Mr Macgregor.  'We must go outside.  It's fatal not
to face them!'

He opened the door and presented himself boldly at the top of the
steps.  There were about twenty Burmans on the path, with dahs or
sticks in their hands.  Outside the fence, stretching up the road
in either direction and far out on to the maidan, was an enormous
crowd of people.  It was like a sea of people, two thousand at the
least, black and white in the moon, with here and there a curved
dah glittering.  Ellis had coolly placed himself beside Mr
Macgregor, with his hands in his pockets.  Mr Lackersteen had
disappeared.

Mr Macgregor raised his hand for silence.  'What is the meaning of
this?' he shouted sternly.

There were yells, and some lumps of laterite the size of cricket
balls came sailing from the road, but fortunately hit no one.  One
of the men on the path turned and waved his arms to the others,
shouting that they were not to begin throwing yet.  Then he stepped
forward to address the Europeans.  He was a strong debonair fellow
of about thirty, with down-curving moustaches, wearing a singlet,
with his longyi kilted to the knee.

'What is the meaning of this?' Mr Macgregor repeated.

The man spoke up with a cheerful grin, and not very insolently.

'We have no quarrel with you, min gyi.  We have come for the timber
merchant, Ellis.'  (He pronounced it Ellit.)  'The boy whom he
struck this morning has gone blind.  You must send Ellit out to us
here, so that we can punish him.  The rest of you will not be
hurt.'

'Just remember that fellow's face,' said Ellis over his shoulder to
Flory.  'We'll get him seven years for this afterwards.'

Mr Macgregor had turned temporarily quite purple.  His rage was so
great that it almost choked him.  For several moments he could not
speak, and when he did so it was in English.

'Whom do you think you are speaking to?  In twenty years I have
never heard such insolence!  Go away this instant, or I shall call
out the Military Police!'

'You'd better be quick, min gyi.  We know that there is no justice
for us in your courts, so we must punish Ellit ourselves.  Send him
out to us here.  Otherwise, all of you will weep for it.'

Mr Macgregor made a furious motion with his fist, as though
hammering in a nail, 'Go away, son of a dog!' he cried, using his
first oath in many years.

There was a thunderous roar from the road, and such a shower of
stones, that everyone was hit, including the Burmans on the path.
One stone took Mr Macgregor full in the face, almost knocking him
down.  The Europeans bolted hastily inside and barred the door.  Mr
Macgregor's spectacles were smashed and his nose streaming blood.
They got back to the lounge to find Mrs Lackersteen looping about
in one of the long chairs like a hysterical snake, Mr Lackersteen
standing irresolutely in the middle of the room, holding an empty
bottle, the butler on his knees in the corner, crossing himself (he
was a Roman Catholic), the chokras crying, and only Elizabeth calm,
though she was very pale.

'What's happened?' she exclaimed.

'We're in the soup, that's what's happened!' said Ellis angrily,
feeling at the back of his neck where a stone had hit him.  'The
Burmans are all round, shying rocks.  But keep calm!  They haven't
the guts to break the doors in.'

'Call out the police at once!' said Mr Macgregor indistinctly, for
he was stanching his nose with his handkerchief.

'Can't!' said Ellis.  'I was looking round while you were talking
to them.  They've cut us off, rot their damned souls!  No one could
possibly get to the police lines.  Veraswami's compound is full of
men.'

'Then we must wait.  We can trust them to turn out of their own
accord.  Calm yourself, my dear Mrs Lackersteen, PLEASE calm
yourself!  The danger is very small.'

It did not sound small.  There were no gaps in the noise now, and
the Burmans seemed to be pouring into the compounds by hundreds.
The din swelled suddenly to such a volume that no one could make
himself heard except by shouting.  All the windows in the lounge
had been shut, and some perforated zinc shutters within, which were
sometimes used for keeping out insects, pulled to and bolted.
There was a series of crashes as the windows were broken, and then
a ceaseless thudding of stones from all sides, that shook the thin
wooden walls and seemed likely to split them.  Ellis opened a
shutter and flung a bottle viciously among the crowd, but a dozen
stones came hurtling in and he had to close the shutter hurriedly.
The Burmans seemed to have no plan beyond flinging stones, yelling
and hammering at the walls, but the mere volume of noise was
unnerving.  The Europeans were half dazed by it at first.  None of
them thought to blame Ellis, the sole cause of this affair; their
common peril seemed, indeed, to draw them closer together for the
while.  Mr Macgregor, half-blind without his spectacles, stood
distractedly in the middle of the room, yielding his right hand to
Mrs Lackersteen, who was caressing it, while a weeping chokra clung
to his left leg.  Mr Lackersteen had vanished again.  Ellis was
stamping furiously up and down, shaking his fist in the direction
of the police lines.

'Where are the police, the f-- cowardly sods?' he yelled, heedless
of the women.  'Why don't they turn out?  My God, we won't get
another chance like this in a hundred years!  If we'd only ten
rifles here, how we could slosh these b--s!'

'They'll be here presently!' Mr Macgregor shouted back.  'It will
take them some minutes to penetrate that crowd.'

'But why don't they use their rifles, the miserable sons of
bitches?  They could slaughter them in bloody heaps if they'd only
open fire.  Oh, God, to think of missing a chance like this!'

A lump of rock burst one of the zinc shutters.  Another followed
through the hole it had made, stove in a 'Bonzo' picture, bounced
off, cut Elizabeth's elbow, and finally landed on the table.  There
was a roar of triumph from outside, and then a succession of
tremendous thumps on the roof.  Some children had climbed into the
trees and were having the time of their lives sliding down the roof
on their bottoms.  Mrs Lackersteen outdid all previous efforts with
a shriek that rose easily above the din outside.

'Choke that bloody hag, somebody!' cried Ellis.  'Anyone'd think a
pig was being killed.  We've got to do something.  Flory, Macgregor,
come here!  Think of a way out of this mess, someone!'

Elizabeth had suddenly lost her nerve and begun crying.  The blow
from the stone had hurt her.  To Flory's astonishment, he found her
clinging tightly to his arm.  Even in that moment it made his heart
turn over.  He had been watching the scene almost with detachment--
dazed by the noise, indeed, but not much frightened.  He always
found it difficult to believe Orientals could be really dangerous.
Only when he felt Elizabeth's hand on his arm did he grasp the
seriousness of the situation.

'Oh, Mr Flory, please, please think of something!  You can, you
can!  Anything sooner than let those dreadful men get in here!'

'If only one of us could get to the police lines!' groaned Mr
Macgregor.  'A British officer to lead them!  At the worst I must
try and go myself.'

'Don't be a fool!  Only get your throat cut!' yelled Ellis. '_I_'ll
go if they really look like breaking in.  But, oh, to be killed by
swine like that!  How furious it'd make me!  And to think we could
murder the whole bloody crowd if only we could get the police
here!'

'Couldn't someone get along the river bank?' Flory shouted
despairingly.

'Hopeless!  Hundreds of them prowling up and down.  We're cut off--
Burmans on three sides and the river on the other!'

'The river!'

One of those startling ideas that are overlooked simply because
they are so obvious had sprung into Flory's mind.

'The river!  Of course!  We can get to the police lines as easy as
winking.  Don't you see?'

'How?'

'Why, down the river--in the water!  Swim!'

'Oh, good man!' cried Ellis, and smacked Flory on the shoulder.
Elizabeth squeezed his arm and actually danced a step or two in
glee.  'I'll go if you like!' Ellis shouted, but Flory shook his
head.  He had already begun slipping his shoes off.  There was
obviously no time to be lost.  The Burmans had behaved like fools
hitherto, but there was no saying what might happen if they
succeeded in breaking in.  The butler, who had got over his first
fright, prepared to open the window that gave on the lawn, and
glanced obliquely out.  There were barely a score of Burmans on the
lawn.  They had left the back of the Club unguarded, supposing that
the river cut off retreat.

'Rush down the lawn like hell!' Ellis shouted in Flory's ear.
'They'll scatter all right when they see you.'

'Order the police to open fire at once!' shouted Mr Macgregor from
the other side.  'You have my authority.'

'And tell them to aim low!  No firing over their heads.  Shoot to
kill.  In the guts for choice!'

Flory leapt down from the veranda, hurting his feet on the hard
earth, and was at the river bank in six paces.  As Ellis had said,
the Burmans recoiled for a moment when they saw him leaping down.
A few stones followed him, but no one pursued--they thought, no
doubt, that he was only attempting to escape, and in the clear
moonlight they could see that it was not Ellis.  In another moment
he had pushed his way through the bushes and was in the water.

He sank deep down, and the horrible river ooze received him,
sucking him knee-deep so that it was several seconds before he
could free himself.  When he came to the surface a tepid froth,
like the froth on stout, was lapping round his lips, and some
spongy thing had floated into his throat and was choking him.  It
was a sprig of water hyacinth.  He managed to spit it out, and
found that the swift current had floated him twenty yards already.
Burmans were rushing rather aimlessly up and down the bank,
yelling.  With his eye at the level of the water, Flory could not
see the crowd besieging the Club; but he could hear their deep,
devilish roaring, which sounded even louder than it had sounded on
shore.  By the time he was opposite the Military Police lines the
bank seemed almost bare of men.  He managed to struggle out of the
current and flounder through the mud, which sucked off his left
sock.  A little way down the bank two old men were sitting beside a
fence, sharpening fence-posts, as though there had not been a riot
within a hundred miles of them.  Flory crawled ashore, clambered
over the fence and ran heavily across the moonwhite parade-ground,
his wet trousers sagging.  As far as he could tell in the noise,
the lines were quite empty.  In some stalls over to the right
Verrall's horses were plunging about in a panic.  Flory ran out on
to the road, and saw what had happened.

The whole body of policemen, military and civil, about a hundred
and fifty men in all, had attacked the crowd from the rear, armed
only with sticks.  They had been utterly engulfed.  The crowd was
so dense that it was like an enormous swarm of bees seething and
rotating.  Everywhere one could see policemen wedged helplessly
among the hordes of Burmans, struggling furiously but uselessly,
and too cramped even to use their sticks.  Whole knots of men were
tangled Laocoon-like in the folds of unrolled pagris.  There was a
terrific bellowing of oaths in three or four languages, clouds of
dust, and a suffocating stench of sweat and marigolds--but no one
seemed to have been seriously hurt.  Probably the Burmans had not
used their daks for fear of provoking rifle-fire.  Flory pushed his
way into the crowd and was immediately swallowed up like the
others.  A sea of bodies closed in upon him and flung him from side
to side, bumping his ribs and choking him with their animal heat.
He struggled onwards with an almost dreamlike feeling, so absurd
and unreal was the situation.  The whole riot had been ludicrous
from the start, and what was most ludicrous of all was that the
Burmans, who might have killed him, did not know what to do with
him now he was among them.  Some yelled insults in his face, some
jostled him and stamped on his feet, some even tried to make way
for him, as a white man.  He was not certain whether he was
fighting for his life, or merely pushing his way through the crowd.
For quite a long time he was jammed, helpless, with his arms pinned
against his sides, then he found himself wrestling with a stumpy
Burman much stronger than himself, then a dozen men rolled against
him like a wave and drove him deeper into the heart of the crowd.
Suddenly he felt an agonizing pain in his right big toe--someone in
boots had trodden on it.  It was the Military Police subahdar, a
Rajput, very fat, moustachioed, with his pagri gone.  He was
grasping a Burman by the throat and trying to hammer his face,
while the sweat rolled off his bare, bald crown.  Flory threw his
arm round the subahdar's neck and managed to tear him away from his
adversary and shout in his ear.  His Urdu deserted him, and he
bellowed in Burmese:

'Why did you not open fire?'

For a long time he could not hear the man's answer.  Then he caught
it:

'Hukm ne aya'--'I have had no order!'

'Idiot!'

At this moment another bunch of men drove against them, and for a
minute or two they were pinned and quite unable to move.  Flory
realized that the subabdar had a whistle in his pocket and was
trying to get at it.  Finally he got it loose and blew piercing
blasts, but there was no hope of rallying any men until they could
get into a clear space.  It was a fearful labour to struggle our of
the crowd--it was like wading neck-deep through a viscous sea.  At
times the exhaustion of Flory's limbs was so complete that he stood
passive, letting the crowd hold him and even drive him backwards.
At last, more from the natural eddying of the crowd than by his own
effort, he found himself flung out into the open.  The subahdar had
also emerged, ten or fifteen sepoys, and a Burmese Inspector of
Police.  Most of the sepoys collapsed on their haunches almost
falling with fatigue, and limping, their feet having been trampled
on.

'Come on, get up!  Run like hell for the lines!  Get some rifles
and a clip of ammunition each.'

He was too overcome even to speak in Burmese, but the men understood
him and lopped heavily towards the police lines.  Flory followed
them, to get away from the crowd before they turned on him again.
When he reached the gate the sepoys were returning with their rifles
and already preparing to fire.

'The sahib will give the order!' the subahdar panted.

'Here you!' cried Flory to the Inspector.  'Can you speak
Hindustani?'

'Yes, sir.'

'Then tell them to fire high, right over the people's heads.  And
above all, to fire all together.  Make them understand that.'

The fat Inspector, whose Hindustani was even worse than Flory's,
explained what was wanted, chiefly by leaping up and down and
gesticulating.  The sepoys raised their rifles, there was a roar,
and a rolling echo from the hillside.  For a moment Flory thought
that his order had been disregarded, for almost the entire section
of the crowd nearest them had fallen like a swath of hay.  However,
they had only flung themselves down in panic.  The sepoys fired a
second volley, but it was not needed.  The crowd had immediately
begun to surge outwards from the Club like a river changing its
course.  They came pouring down the road, saw the armed men barring
their way, and tried to recoil, whereupon there was a fresh battle
between those in front and those behind; finally the whole crowd
bulged outwards and began to roll slowly up the maidan.  Flory and
the sepoys moved slowly towards the Club on the heels of the
retreating crowd.  The policemen who had been engulfed were
straggling back by ones and twos.  Their pagris were gone and their
puttees trailing yards behind them, but they had no damage worse
than bruises.  The Civil Policemen were dragging a very few
prisoners among them.  When they reached the Club compound the
Burmans were still pouring out, an endless line of young men
leaping gracefully through a gap in the hedge like a procession of
gazelles.  It seemed to Flory that it was getting very dark.  A
small white-clad figure extricated itself from the last of the
crowd and tumbled limply into Flory's arms.  It was Dr Veraswami,
with his tie torn off but his spectacles miraculously unbroken.

'Doctor!'

'Ach, my friend!  Ach, how I am exhausted!'

'What are you doing here?  Were you right in the middle of that
crowd?'

'I was trying to restrain them, my friend.  It was hopeless until
you came.  But there is at least one man who bears the mark of
this, I think!'

He held out a small fist for Flory to see the damaged knuckles.
But it was certainly quite dark now.  At the same moment Flory
heard a nasal voice behind him.

'Well, Mr Flory, so it's all over already!  A mere flash in the pan
as usual.  You and I together were a little too much for them--
ha, ha!'

It was U Po Kyin.  He came towards them with a martial air,
carrying a huge stick, and with a revolver thrust into his belt.
His dress was a studious negligee--singlet and Shan trousers--to
give the impression that he had rushed out of his house post-haste.
He had been lying low until the danger should be over, and was now
hurrying forth to grab a share of any credit that might be going.

'A smart piece of work, sir!' he said enthusiastically.  'Look how
they are flying up the hillside!  We have routed them most
satisfactory.'

'WE!' panted the doctor indignantly.

'Ah, my dear doctor!  I did not perceive that you were there.  It
is possible that YOU also have been in the fighting?  YOU--risking
your most valuable life!  Who would have believed such a thing?'

'You've taken your time getting here yourself!' said Flory angrily.

'Well, well sir, it is enough that we have dispersed them.
Although,' he added with a touch of satisfaction, for he had
noticed Flory's tone, 'they are going in the direction of the
European houses, you will observe.  I fancy that it will occur to
them to do a little plundering on their way.'

One had to admire the man's impudence.  He tucked his great stick
under his arm and strolled beside Flory in an almost patronizing
manner, while the doctor dropped behind, abashed in spite of
himself.  At the Club gate all three men halted.  It was now
extraordinarily dark, and the moon had vanished.  Low overhead,
just visible, black clouds were streaming eastward like a pack of
hounds.  A wind, almost cold, blew down the hillside and swept a
cloud of dust and fine water-vapour before it.  There was a sudden
intensely rich scent of damp.  The wind quickened, the trees
rustled, then began beating themselves furiously together, the big
frangipani tree by the tennis court flinging out a nebula of dimly
seen blossom.  All three men turned and hurried for shelter, the
Orientals to their houses, Flory to the Club.  It had begun
raining.



23


Next day the town was quieter than a cathedral city on Monday
morning.  It is usually the case after a riot.  Except for the
handful of prisoners, everyone who could possibly have been
concerned in the attack on the Club had a watertight alibi.  The
Club garden looked as though a herd of bison had stampeded across
it, but the houses had not been plundered, and there were no new
casualties among the Europeans, except that after everything was
over Mr Lackersteen had been found very drunk under the billiard-
table, where he had retired with a bottle of whisky.  Westfield and
Verrall came back early in the morning, bringing Maxwell's
murderers under arrest; or at any rate, bringing two people who
would presently be hanged for Maxwell's murder.  Westfield, when he
heard the news of the riot, was gloomy but resigned.  AGAIN it
happened--a veritable riot, and he not there to quell it!  It
seemed fated that he should never kill a man.  Depressing,
depressing.  Verrall's only comment was that it had been 'damned
lip' on the part of Flory (a civilian) to give orders to the
Military Police.

Meanwhile, it was raining almost without cease.  As soon as he woke
up and heard the rain hammering on the roof Flory dressed and
hurried out, Flo following.  Out of sight of the houses he took off
his clothes and let the rain sluice down on his bare body.  To his
surprise, he found that he was covered with bruises from last
night; but the rain had washed away every trace of his prickly heat
within three minutes.  It is wonderful, the healing power of
rainwater.  Flory walked down to Dr Veraswami's house, with his
shoes squelching and periodical jets of water flowing down his neck
from the brim of his Terai hat.  The sky was leaden, and
innumerable whirling storms chased one another across the maidan
like squadrons of cavalry.  Burmans passed, under vast wooden hats
in spite of which their bodies streamed water like the bronze gods
in the fountains.  A network of rivulets was already washing the
stones of the road bare.  The doctor had just got home when Flory
arrived, and was shaking a wet umbrella over the veranda rail.  He
hailed Flory excitedly.

'Come up, Mr Flory, come up at once!  You are just apropos.  I was
on the point of opening a bottle of Old Tommy Gin.  Come up and let
me drink to your health, ass the saviour of Kyauktada!'

They had a long talk together.  The doctor was in a triumphant
mood.  It appeared that what had happened last night had righted
his troubles almost miraculously.  U Po Kyin's schemes were undone.
The doctor was no longer at his mercy--in fact, it was the other
way about.  The doctor explained to Flory:

'You see, my friend, this riot--or rather, your most noble
behaviour in it--wass quite outside U Po Kyin's programme.  He had
started the SO-CALLED rebellion and had the glory of crushing it,
and he calculated that any further outbreak would simply mean more
glory still.  I am told that when he heard of Mr Maxwell's death,
hiss joy was positively'--the doctor nipped his thumb and forefinger
together--'what iss the word I want?'

'Obscene?'

'Ah yes.  Obscene.  It iss said that actually he attempted to
dance--can you imagine such a disgusting spectacle?--and exclaimed,
"Now at least they will take my rebellion seriously!"  Such iss his
regard for human life.  But now hiss triumph iss at an end.  The
riot hass tripped up in mid-career.'

'How?'

'Because, do you not see, the honours of the riot are not hiss, but
yours!  And I am known to be your friend.  I stand, so to speak, in
the reflection of your glory.  Are you not the hero of the hour?
Did not your European friends receive you with open arms when you
returned to the Club last night?'

'They did, I must admit.  It was quite a new experience for me.
Mrs Lackersteen was all over me. "DEAR Mr Flory", she calls me now.
And she's got her knife properly in Ellis.  She hasn't forgotten
that he called her a bloody hag and told her to stop squealing like
a pig.'

'Ah, Mr Ellis iss sometimes over-emphatic in hiss expressions.  I
have noticed it.'

'The only fly in the ointment is that I told the police to fire
over the crowd's heads instead of straight at them.  It seems
that's against all the Government regulations.  Ellis was a little
vexed about it.  "Why didn't you plug some of the b--s when you had
the chance?" he said.  I pointed out that it would have meant
hitting the police who were in the middle of the crowd; but as he
said, they were only niggers anyway.  However, all my sins are
forgiven me.  And Macgregor quoted something in Latin--Horace, I
believe.'

It was half an hour later when Flory walked along to the Club.  He
had promised to see Mr Macgregor and settle the business of the
doctor's election.  But there would be no difficulty about it now.
The others would eat out of his hand until the absurd riot was
forgotten; he could have gone into the Club and made a speech in
favour of Lenin, and they would have put up with it.  The lovely
rain streamed down, drenching him from head to foot, and filling
his nostrils with the scent of earth, forgotten during the bitter
months of drought.  He walked up the wrecked garden, where the
mali, bending down with the rain splashing on his bare back, was
trowelling holes for zinnias.  Nearly all the flowers had been
trampled out of existence.  Elizabeth was there, on the side
veranda, almost as though she were waiting for him.  He took off
his hat, spilling a pool of water from the brim, and went round to
join her.

'Good morning!' he said, raising his voice because of the rain that
beat noisily on the low roof.

'Good morning!  ISN'T it coming down?  Simply PELTING!'

'Oh, this isn't real rain.  You wait till July.  The whole Bay of
Bengal is going to pour itself on us, by instalments.'

It seemed that they must never meet without talking of the weather.
Nevertheless, her face said something very different from the banal
words.  Her demeanour had changed utterly since last night.  He
took courage.

'How is the place where that stone hit you?'

She held her arm out to him and let him take it.  Her air was
gentle, even submissive.  He realized that his exploit of last
night had made him almost a hero in her eyes.  She could not know
how small the danger had really been, and she forgave him
everything, even Ma Hla May, because he had shown courage at the
right moment.  It was the buffalo and the leopard over again.  His
heart thumped in his breast.  He slipped his hand down her arm and
clasped her fingers in his own.

'Elizabeth--'

'Someone will see us!' she said, and she withdrew her hand, but not
angrily.

'Elizabeth, I've something I want to say to you.  Do you remember a
letter I wrote you from the jungle, after our--some weeks ago?'

'Yes.'

'You remember what I said in it?'

'Yes.  I'm sorry I didn't answer it.  Only--'

'I couldn't expect you to answer it, then.  But I just wanted to
remind you of what I said.'

In the letter, of course, he had only said, and feebly enough, that
he loved her--would always love her, no matter what happened.  They
were standing face to face, very close together.  On an impulse--
and it was so swiftly done that afterwards he had difficulty in
believing that it had ever happened--he took her in his arms and
drew her towards him.  For a moment she yielded and let him lift up
her face and kiss her; then suddenly she recoiled and shook her
head.  Perhaps she was frightened that someone would see them,
perhaps it was only because his moustache was so wet from the rain.
Without saying anything more she broke from him and hurried away
into the Club.  There was a look of distress or compunction in her
face; but she did not seem angry.

He followed her more slowly into the Club, and ran into Mr
Macgregor, who was in a very good humour.  As soon as he saw Flory
he boomed genially, 'Aha!  The conquering hero comes!' and then, in
a more serious vein, offered him fresh congratulations.  Flory
improved the occasion by saying a few words on behalf of the
doctor.  He painted quite a lively picture of the doctor's heroism
in the riot.  'He was right in the middle of the crowd, fighting
like a tiger,' etc., etc.  It was not too much exaggerated--for the
doctor had certainly risked his life.  Mr Macgregor was impressed,
and so were the others when they heard of it.  At all times the
testimony of one European can do an Oriental more good than that of
a thousand of his fellow countrymen; and at this moment Flory's
opinion carried weight.  Practically, the doctor's good name was
restored.  His election to the Club could be taken as assured.

However, it was not finally agreed upon yet, because Flory was
returning to camp.  He set out the same evening, marching by night,
and he did not see Elizabeth again before leaving.  It was quite
safe to travel in the jungle now, for the futile rebellion was
obviously finished.  There is seldom any talk of rebellion after
the rains have started--the Burmans are too busy ploughing, and in
any case the waterlogged fields are impassable for large bodies of
men.  Flory was to return to Kyauktada in ten days, when the
padre's six-weekly visit fell due.  The truth was that he did not
care to be in Kyauktada while both Elizabeth and Verrall were
there.  And yet, it was strange, but all the bitterness--all the
obscene, crawling envy that had tormented him before--was gone now
that he knew she had forgiven him.  It was only Verrall who stood
between them now.  And even the thought of her in Verrall's arms
could hardly move him, because he knew that at the worst the affair
must have an end.  Verrall, it was quite certain, would never marry
Elizabeth; young men of Verrall's stamp do not marry penniless
girls met casually at obscure Indian stations.  He was only amusing
himself with Elizabeth.  Presently he would desert her, and she
would return to him--to Flory.  It was enough--it was far better
than he had hoped.  There is a humility about genuine love that is
rather horrible in some ways.

U Po Kyin was furiously angry.  The miserable riot had taken him
unawares, so far as anything ever took him unawares, and it was
like a handful of grit thrown into the machinery of his plans.  The
business of disgracing the doctor had got to be begun all over
again.  Begun it was, sure enough, with such a spate of anonymous
letters that Hla Pe had to absent himself from office for two whole
days--it was bronchitis this time--to get them written.  The doctor
was accused of every crime from pederasty to stealing Government
postage stamps.  The prison warder who had let Nga Shwe O escape
had now come up for trial.  He was triumphantly acquitted, U Po
Kyin having spent as much as two hundred rupees in bribing the
witnesses.  More letters showered up on Mr Macgregor, proving in
detail that Dr Veraswami, the real author of the escape, had tried
to shift the blame on to a helpless subordinate.  Nevertheless, the
results were disappointing.  The confidential letter which Mr
Macgregor wrote to the Commissioner, reporting on the riot, was
steamed open, and its tone was so alarming--Mr Macgregor had spoken
of the doctor as 'behaving most creditably' on the night of the
riot--that U Po Kyin called a council of war.

'The time has come for a vigorous move,' he said to the others--
they were in conclave on the front veranda, before breakfast.  Ma
Kin was there, and Ba Sein and Hla Pe--the latter a bright-faced,
promising boy of eighteen, with the manner of one who will
certainly succeed in life.

'We are hammering against a brick wall,' U Po Kyin continued; 'and
that wall is Flory.  Who could have foreseen that that miserable
coward would stand by his friend?  However, there it is.  So long
as Veraswami has his backing, we are helpless.'

'I have been talking to the Club butler, sir,' said Ba Sein.  'He
tells me that Mr Ellis and Mr Westfield still do not want the
doctor to be elected to the Club.  Do you not think they will
quarrel with Flory again as soon as this business of the riot is
forgotten?'

'Of course they will quarrel, they always quarrel.  But in the
meantime the harm is done.  Just suppose that man WERE elected!  I
believe I should die of rage if it happened.  No, there is only one
move left.  We must strike at Flory himself!'

'At Flory, sir!  But he is a white man!'

'What do I care?  I have ruined white men before now.  Once let
Flory be disgraced, and there is an end of the doctor.  And he
shall be disgraced!  I will shame him so that he will never dare
show his face in that Club again!'

'But, sir!  A white man!  What are we to accuse him of?  Who would
believe anything against a white man?'

'You have no strategy, Ko Ba Sein.  One does not ACCUSE a white
man; one has got to catch him in the act.  Public disgrace, in
flagrante delicto.  I shall know how to set about it.  Now be
silent while I think.'

There was a pause.  U Po Kyin stood gazing out into the rain with
his small hands clasped behind him and resting on the natural
plateau of his posterior.  The other three watched him from the end
of the veranda, almost frightened by this talk of attacking a white
man, and waiting for some masterstroke to cope with a situation
that was beyond them.  It was a little like the familiar picture
(is it Meissonier's?) of Napoleon at Moscow, poring over his maps
while his marshals wait in silence, with their cocked hats in their
hands.  But of course U Po Kyin was more equal to the situation
than Napoleon.  His plan was ready within two minutes.  When he
turned round his vast face was suffused with excessive joy.  The
doctor had been mistaken when he described U Po Kyin as attempting
to dance; U Po Kyin's figure was not designed for dancing; but, had
it been so designed, he would have danced at this moment.  He
beckoned to Ba Sein and whispered in his ear for a few seconds.

'That is the correct move, I think?' he concluded.

A broad, unwilling, incredulous grin stole slowly across Ba Sein's
face.

'Fifty rupees ought to cover all the expenses,' added U Po Kyin,
beaming.

The plan was unfolded in detail.  And when the others had taken it
in, all of them, even Ba Sein, who seldom laughed, even Ma Kin, who
disapproved from the bottom of her soul, burst into irrepressible
peals of laughter.  The plan was really too good to be resisted.
It was genius.

All the while it was raining, raining.  The day after Flory went
back to camp it rained for thirty-eight hours at a stretch,
sometimes slowing to the pace of English rain, sometimes pouring
down in such cataracts that one thought the whole ocean must by now
have been sucked up into the clouds.  The rattling on the roof
became maddening after a few hours.  In the intervals between the
rain the sun glared as fiercely as ever, the mud began to crack and
steam, and patches of prickly heat sprang out all over one's body.
Hordes of flying beetles had emerged from their cocoons as soon as
the rain started; there was a plague of loathly creatures known as
stink-bugs, which invaded the houses in incredible numbers,
littered themselves over the dining-table and made one's food
uneatable.  Verrall and Elizabeth still went out riding in the
evenings, when the rain was not too fierce.  To Verrall, all
climates were alike, but he did not like to see his ponies
plastered with mud.  Nearly a week went by.  Nothing was changed
between them--they were neither less nor more intimate than they
had been before.  The proposal of marriage, still confidently
expected, was still unuttered.  Then an alarming thing happened.
The news filtered to the Club, through Mr Macgregor, that Verrall
was leaving Kyauktada; the Military Police were to be kept at
Kyauktada, but another officer was coming in Verrall's place, no
one was certain when.  Elizabeth was in horrible suspense.  Surely,
if he was going away, he must say something definite soon?  She
could not question him--dared not even ask him whether he was
really going; she could only wait for him to speak.  He said
nothing.  Then one evening, without warning, he failed to turn up
at the Club.  And two whole days passed during which Elizabeth did
not see him at all.

It was dreadful, but there was nothing that could be done.  Verrall
and Elizabeth had been inseparable for weeks, and yet in a way they
were almost strangers.  He had kept himself so aloof from them all--
had never even seen the inside of the Lackersteens' house.  They
did not know him well enough to seek him out at the dakbungalow, or
write to him; nor did he reappear at morning parade on the maidan.
There was nothing to do except wait until he chose to present
himself again.  And when he did, would he ask her to marry him?
Surely, surely he must!  Both Elizabeth and her aunt (but neither
of them had even spoken of it openly) held it as an article of
faith that he must ask her.  Elizabeth looked forward to their next
meeting with a hope that was almost painful.  Please God it would
be a week at least before he went!  If she rode with him four times
more, or three times--even if it were only twice, all might yet be
well.  Please God he would come back to her soon!  It was
unthinkable that when he came, it would only be to say good-bye!
The two women went down to the Club each evening and sat there
until quite late, listening for Verrall's footsteps outside while
seeming not to listen; but he never appeared.  Ellis, who
understood the situation perfectly, watched Elizabeth with spiteful
amusement.  What made it worst of all was that Mr Lackersteen was
now pestering Elizabeth unceasingly.  He had become quite reckless.
Almost under the eyes of the servants he would waylay her, catch
hold of her and begin pinching and fondling her in the most
revolting way.  Her sole defence was to threaten that she would
tell her aunt; happily he was too stupid to realize that she would
never dare do it.

On the third morning Elizabeth and her aunt arrived at the Club
just in time to escape a violent storm of rain.  They had been
sitting in the lounge for a few minutes when they heard the sound
of someone stamping the water off his shoes in the passage.  Each
woman's heart stirred, for this might be Verrall.  Then a young man
entered the lounge, unbuttoning a long raincoat as he came.  He was
a stout, rollicking, chuckle-headed youth of about twenty-five,
with fat fresh cheeks, butter-coloured hair, no forehead, and, as
it turned out afterwards, a deafening laugh.

Mrs Lackersteen made some inarticulate sound--it was jerked out of
her by her disappointment.  The youth, however, hailed them with
immediate bonhomie, being one of those who are on terms of slangy
intimacy with everyone from the moment of meeting them.

'Hullo, hullo!' he said 'Enter the fairy prince!  Hope I don't sort
of intrude and all that?  Not shoving in on any family gatherings
or anything?'

'Not at all!' said Mrs Lackersteen in surprise.

'What I mean to say--thought I'd just pop in at the Club and have
a glance round, don't you know.  Just to get acclimatized to the
local brand of whisky.  I only got here last night.'

'Are you STATIONED here?' said Mrs Lackersteen, mystified--for they
had not been expecting any newcomers.

'Yes, rather.  Pleasure's mine, entirely.'

'But we hadn't heard. . . .  Oh, of course!  I suppose you're from
the Forest Department?  In place of poor Mr Maxwell?'

'What?  Forest Department?  No fear!  I'm the new Military Police
bloke, you know.'

'The--what?'

'New Military Police bloke.  Taking over from dear ole Verrall.
The dear ole chap got orders to go back to his regiment.  Going off
in a fearful hurry.  And a nice mess he's left everything in for
yours truly, too.'

The Military Policeman was a crass youth, but even he noticed that
Elizabeth's face turned suddenly sickly.  She found herself quite
unable to speak.  It was several seconds before Mrs Lackersteen
managed to exclaim:

'Mr Verrall--going?  Surely he isn't going away YET?'

'Going?  He's gone!'

'GONE?'

'Well, what I mean to say--train's due to start in about half an
hour.  He'll be along at the station now.  I sent a fatigue party
to look after him.  Got to get his ponies aboard and all that.'

There were probably further explanations, but neither Elizabeth nor
her aunt heard a word of them.  In any case, without even a good-
bye to the Military Policeman, they were out on the front steps
within fifteen seconds.  Mrs Lackersteen called sharply for the
butler.

'Butler!  Send my rickshaw round to the front at once!  To the
station, jaldi!' she added as the rickshaw-man appeared, and,
having settled herself in the rickshaw, poked him in the back with
the ferrule of her umbrella to start him.

Elizabeth had put on her raincoat and Mrs Lackersteen was cowering
in the rickshaw behind her umbrella, but neither was much use
against the rain.  It came driving towards them in such sheets that
Elizabeth's frock was soaked before they had reached the gate, and
the rickshaw almost overturned in the wind.  The rickshaw-wallah
put his head down and struggled into it, groaning.  Elizabeth was
in agony.  It was a mistake, SURELY it was a mistake.  He had
written to her and the letter had gone astray.  That was it, that
MUST be it!  It could not be that he had meant to leave her without
even saying good-bye!  And if it were so--no, not even then would
she give up hope!  When he saw her on the platform, for the last
time, he could not be so brutal as to forsake her!  As they neared
the station she fell behind the rickshaw and pinched her cheeks to
bring the blood into them.  A squad of Military Police sepoys
shuffled hurriedly by, their thin uniforms sodden into rags,
pushing a handcart among them.  Those would be Verrall's fatigue
party.  Thank God, there was a quarter of an hour yet.  The train
was not due to leave for another quarter of an hour.  Thank God, at
least, for this last chance of seeing him!

They arrived on the platform just in time to see the train draw out
of the station and gather speed with a series of deafening snorts.
The stationmaster, a little round, black man, was standing on the
line looking ruefully after the train, and holding his waterproof-
covered topi on to his head with one hand, while with the other he
fended off two clamorous Indians who were bobbing at him and trying
to thrust something upon his attention.  Mrs Lackersteen leaned out
of the rickshaw and called agitatedly through the rain.

'Stationmaster!'

'Madam!'

'What train is that?'

'That is the Mandalay train, madam.'

'The Mandalay train!  It can't be!'

'But I assure you, madam!  It is precisely the Mandalay train.'  He
came towards them, removing his topi.

'But Mr Verrall--the Police officer?  Surely he's not on it?'

'Yes, madam, he have departed.'  He waved his hand towards the
train, now receding rapidly in a cloud of rain and steam.

'But the train wasn't due to start yet!'

'No, madam.  Not due to start for another ten minutes.'

'Then why has it gone?'

The stationmaster waved his topi apologetically from side to side.
His dark, squabby face looked quite distressed.

'I know, madam, I know!  MOST unprecedented!  But the young Military
Police officer have positively COMMANDED me to start the train!  He
declare that all is ready and he do not wish to be kept waiting.
I point out the irregularity.  He say he do not care about
irregularity.  I expostulate.  He insist.  And in short--'

He made another gesture.  It meant that Verrall was the kind of man
who would have his way, even when it came to starting a train ten
minutes early.  There was a pause.  The two Indians, imagining that
they saw their chance, suddenly rushed forward, wailing, and
offered some grubby notebooks for Mrs Lackersteen's inspection.

'What DO these men want?' cried Mrs Lackersteen distractedly.

'They are grass-wallahs, madam.  They say that Lieutenant Verrall
have departed owing them large sums of money.  One for hay, the
other for corn.  Of mine it is no affair.'

There was a hoot from the distant train.  It rolled round the bend,
like a black-behinded caterpillar that looks over its shoulder as
it goes, and vanished.  The stationmaster's wet white trousers
flapped forlornly about his legs.  Whether Verrall had started the
train early to escape Elizabeth, or to escape the grass-wallahs,
was an interesting question that was never cleared up.

They made their way back along the road, and then struggled up the
hill in such a wind that sometimes they were driven several paces
backwards.  When they gained the veranda they were quite out of
breath.  The servants took their streaming raincoats, and Elizabeth
shook some of the water from her hair.  Mrs Lackersteen broke her
silence for the first time since they had left the station:

'WELL!  Of all the unmannerly--of the simply ABOMINABLE. . . !'

Elizabeth looked pale and sickly, in spite of the rain and wind
that had beaten into her face.  But she would betray nothing.

'I think he might have waited to say good-bye to us,' she said
coldly.

'Take my word for it, dear, you are thoroughly well rid of him! . . .
As I said from the start, a most ODIOUS young man!'

Some time later, when they were sitting down to breakfast, having
bathed and got into dry clothes, and feeling better, she remarked:

'Let me see, what day is this?'

'Saturday, Aunt.'

'Ah, Saturday.  Then the dear padre will be arriving this evening.
How many shall we be for the service tomorrow?  Why, I think we
shall ALL be here!  How very nice!  Mr Flory will be here too.  I
think he said he was coming back from the jungle tomorrow.'  She
added almost lovingly, 'DEAR Mr Flory!'



24


It was nearly six o'clock in the evening, and the absurd bell in
the six-foot tin steeple of the church went clank-clank, clank-
clank! as old Mattu pulled the rope within.  The rays of the
setting sun, refracted by distant rainstorms, flooded the maidan
with a beautiful, lurid light.  It had been raining earlier in the
day, and would rain again.  The Christian community of Kyauktada,
fifteen in number, were gathering at the church door for the
evening service.

Flory was already there, and Mr Macgregor, grey topi and all, and
Mr Francis and Mr Samuel, frisking about in freshly laundered drill
suits--for the six-weekly church service was the great social event
of their lives.  The padre, a tall man with grey hair and a
refined, discoloured face, wearing pince-nez, was standing on the
church steps in his cassock and surplice, which he had put on in Mr
Macgregor's house.  He was smiling in an amiable but rather
helpless way at four pink-cheeked Karen Christians who had come to
make their bows to him; for he did not speak a word of their
language nor they of his.  There was one other Oriental Christian,
a mournful, dark Indian of uncertain race, who stood humbly in the
background.  He was always present at the church services, but no
one knew who he was or why he was a Christian.  Doubtless he had
been captured and baptized in infancy by the missionaries, for
Indians who are converted when adults almost invariably lapse.

Flory could see Elizabeth coming down the hill, dressed in lilac-
colour, with her aunt and uncle.  He had seen her that morning at
the Club--they had had just a minute alone together before the
others came in.  He had only asked her one question.

'Has Verrall gone--for good?'

'Yes.'

There had been no need to say any more.  He had simply taken her by
the arms and drawn her towards him.  She came willingly, even
gladly--there in the clear daylight, merciless to his disfigured
face.  For a moment she had clung to him almost like a child.  It
was a though he had saved her or protected her from something.  He
raised her face to kiss her, and found with surprise that she was
crying.  There had been no time to talk then, not even to say,
'Will you marry me?'  No matter, after the service there would be
time enough.  Perhaps at his next visit, only six weeks hence, the
padre would marry them.

Ellis and Westfield and the new Military Policeman were approaching
from the Club, where they had been having a couple of quick ones to
last them through the service.  The Forest Officer who had been
sent to take Maxwell's place, a sallow, tall man, completely bald
except for two whisker-like tufts in front of his ears, was
following them.  Flory had not time to say more than 'Good evening'
to Elizabeth when she arrived.  Mattu, seeing that everyone was
present, stopped ringing the bell, and the clergyman led the way
inside, followed by Mr Macgregor, with his topi against his
stomach, and the Lackersteens and the native Christians.  Ellis
pinched Flory's elbow and whispered boozily in his ear:

'Come on, line up.  Time for the snivel-parade.  Quick march!'

He and the Military Policeman went in behind the others, arm-in-
arm, with a dancing step--the policeman, till they got inside,
wagging his fat behind in imitation of a pwe-dancer.  Flory sat
down in the same pew as these two, opposite Elizabeth, on her
right.  It was the first time that he had ever risked sitting with
his birthmark towards her.  'Shut your eyes and count twenty-five',
whispered Ellis as they sat down, drawing a snigger from the
policeman.  Mrs Lackersteen had already taken her place at the
harmonium, which was no bigger than a writing-desk.  Mattu
stationed himself by the door and began to pull the punkah--it was
so arranged that it only flapped over the front pews, where the
Europeans sat.  Flo came nosing up the aisle, found Flory's pew and
settled down underneath it.  The service began.

Flory was only attending intermittently.  He was dimly aware of
standing and kneeling and muttering 'Amen' to interminable prayers,
and of Ellis nudging him and whispering blasphemies behind his hymn
book.  But he was too happy to collect his thoughts.  Hell was
yielding up Eurydice.  The yellow light flooded in through the open
door, gilding the broad back of Mr Macgregor's silk coat like
cloth-of-gold.  Elizabeth, across the narrow aisle, was so close to
Flory that he could hear every rustle of her dress and feel, as it
seemed to him, the warmth of her body; yet he would not look at her
even once, lest the others should notice it.  The harmonium
quavered bronchitically as Mrs Lackersteen struggled to pump
sufficient air into it with the sole pedal that worked.  The
singing was a queer, ragged noise--an earnest booming from Mr
Macgregor, a kind of shamefaced muttering from the other Europeans,
and from the back a loud, wordless lowing, for the Karen Christians
knew the tunes of the hymns but not the words.

They were kneeling down again.  'More bloody knee-drill,' Ellis
whispered.  The air darkened, and there was a light patter of rain
on the roof; the trees outside rustled, and a cloud of yellow
leaves whirled past the window.  Flory watched them through the
chinks of his fingers.  Twenty years ago, on winter Sundays in his
pew in the parish church at home, he used to watch the yellow
leaves, as at this moment, drifting and fluttering against leaden
skies.  Was it not possible, now, to begin over again as though
those grimy years had never touched him?  Through his fingers he
glanced sidelong at Elizabeth, kneeling with her head bent and her
face hidden in her youthful, mottled hands.  When they were
married, when they were married!  What fun they would have together
in this alien yet kindly land!  He saw Elizabeth in his camp,
greeting him as he came home tired from work and Ko S'la hurried
from the tent with a bottle of beer; he saw her walking in the
forest with him, watching the hornbills in the peepul trees and
picking nameless flowers, and in the marshy grazing-grounds,
tramping through the cold-weather mist after snipe and teal.  He
saw his home as she would remake it.  He saw his drawing-room,
sluttish and bachelor-like no longer, with new furniture from
Rangoon, and a bowl of pink balsams like rosebuds on the table, and
books and water-colours and a black piano.  Above all the piano!
His mind lingered upon the piano--symbol, perhaps because he was
unmusical, of civilized and settled life.  He was delivered for
ever from the sub-life of the past decade--the debaucheries, the
lies, the pain of exile and solitude, the dealings with whores and
moneylenders and pukka sahibs.

The clergyman stepped to the small wooden lectern that also served
as a pulpit, slipped the band from a roll of sermon paper, coughed,
and announced a text.  'In the name of the Father, the Son and the
Holy Ghost.  Amen.'

'Cut it short, for Christ's sake,' murmured Ellis.

Flory did not notice how many minutes passed.  The words of the
sermon flowed peacefully through his head, an indistinct burbling
sound, almost unheard.  When they were married, he was still
thinking, when they were married--

Hullo!  What was happening?

The clergyman had stopped short in the middle of a word.  He had
taken off his pince-nez and was shaking them with a distressed air
at someone in the doorway.  There was a fearful, raucous scream.

'Pike-san pay-like!  Pike-san pay-like!'

Everyone jumped in their seats and turned round.  It was Ma Hla
May.  As they turned she stepped inside the church and shoved old
Mattu violently aside.  She shook her fist at Flory.

'Pike-san pay-like!  Pike-san pay-like!  Yes, THAT'S the one I
mean--Flory, Flory!  (She pronounced it Porley.)  That one sitting
in front there, with the black hair!  Turn round and face me, you
coward!  Where is the money you promised me?'

She was shrieking like a maniac.  The people gaped at her, too
astounded to move or speak.  Her face was grey with powder, her
greasy hair was tumbling down, her longyi was ragged at the bottom.
She looked like a screaming hag of the bazaar.  Flory's bowels
seemed to have turned to ice.  Oh God, God!  Must they know--must
Elizabeth know--that THAT was the woman who had been his mistress?
But there was not a hope, not the vestige of a hope, of any
mistake.  She had screamed his name over and over again.  Flo,
hearing the familiar voice, wriggled from under the pew, walked
down the aisle and wagged her tail at Ma Hla May.  The wretched
woman was yelling out a detailed account of what Flory had done to
her.

'Look at me, you white men, and you women, too, look at me!  Look
how he has ruined me!  Look at these rags I am wearing!  And he is
sitting there, the liar, the coward, pretending not to see me!  He
would let me starve at his gate like a pariah dog.  Ah, but I will
shame you!  Turn round and look at me!  Look at this body that you
have kissed a thousand times--look--look--'

She began actually to tear her clothes open--the last insult of a
base-born Burmese woman.  The harmonium squeaked as Mrs Lackersteen
made a convulsive movement.  People had at last found their wits
and began to stir.  The clergyman, who had been bleating
ineffectually, recovered his voice, 'Take that woman outside!' he
said sharply.

Flory's face was ghastly.  After the first moment he had turned his
head away from the door and set his teeth in a desperate effort to
look unconcerned.  But it was useless, quite useless.  His face was
as yellow as bone, and the sweat glistened on his forehead.
Francis and Samuel, doing perhaps the first useful deed of their
lives, suddenly sprang from their pew, grabbed Ma Hla May by the
arms and hauled her outside, still screaming.

It seemed very silent in the church when they had finally dragged
her out of hearing.  The scene had been so violent, so squalid,
that everyone was upset by it.  Even Ellis looked disgusted.  Flory
could neither speak nor stir.  He sat staring fixedly at the altar,
his face rigid and so bloodless that the birth-mark seemed to glow
upon it like a streak of blue paint.  Elizabeth glanced across the
aisle at him, and her revulsion made her almost physically sick.
She had not understood a word of what Ma Hla May was saying, but
the meaning of the scene was perfectly clear.  The thought that he
had been the lover of that grey-faced, maniacal creature made her
shudder in her bones.  But worse than that, worse than anything,
was his ugliness at this moment.  His face appalled her, it was so
ghastly, rigid and old.  It was like a skull.  Only the birthmark
seemed alive in it.  She hated him now for his birthmark.  She had
never known till this moment how dishonouring, how unforgivable a
thing it was.

Like the crocodile, U Po Kyin had struck at the weakest spot.  For,
needless to say, this scene was U Po Kyin's doing.  He had seen his
chance, as usual, and tutored Ma Hla May for her part with
considerable care.  The clergyman brought his sermon to an end
almost at once.  As soon as it was over Flory hurried outside, not
looking at any of the others.  It was getting dark, thank God.  At
fifty yards from the church he halted, and watched the others
making in couples for the Club.  It seemed to him that they were
hurrying.  Ah, they would, of course!  There would be something to
talk about at the Club tonight!  Flo rolled belly-upwards against
his ankles, asking for a game.  'Get out, you bloody brute!' he
said, and kicked her.  Elizabeth had stopped at the church door.
Mr Macgregor, happy chance, seemed to be introducing her to the
clergyman.  In a moment the two men went on in the direction of Mr
Macgregor's house, where the clergyman was to stay for the night,
and Elizabeth followed the others, thirty yards behind them.  Flory
ran after her and caught up with her almost at the Club gate.

'Elizabeth!'

She looked round, saw him, turned white, and would have hurried on
without a word.  But his anxiety was too great, and he caught her
by the wrist.

'Elizabeth!  I must--I've got to speak to you!'

'Let me go, will you!'

They began to struggle, and then stopped abruptly.  Two of the
Karens who had come out of the church were standing fifty yards
away, gazing at them through the half-darkness with deep interest.
Flory began again in a lower tone:

'Elizabeth, I know I've no right to stop you like this.  But I must
speak to you, I must!  Please hear what I've got to say.  Please
don't run away from me!'

'What are you doing?  Why are you holding on to my arm?  Let me go
this instant!'

'I'll let you go--there, look!  But do listen to me, please!
Answer me this one thing.  After what's happened, can you ever
forgive me?'

'Forgive you?  What do you mean, FORGIVE you?'

'I know I'm disgraced.  It was the vilest thing to happen!  Only,
in a sense it wasn't my fault.  You'll see that when you're calmer.
Do you think--not now, it was too bad, but later--do you think you
can forget it?'

'I really don't know what you're talking about.  Forget it?  What
has it got to do with ME?   I thought it was very disgusting, but
it's not MY business.  I can't think why you're questioning me like
this at all.'

He almost despaired at that.  Her tone and even her words were the
very ones she had used in that earlier quarrel of theirs.  It was
the same move over again.  Instead of hearing him out she was going
to evade him and put him off--snub him by pretending that he had no
claim upon her.

'Elizabeth!  Please answer me.  Please be fair to me!  It's serious
this time.  I don't expect you to take me back all at once.  You
couldn't, when I'm publicly disgraced like this.  But, after all,
you virtually promised to marry me--'

'What!  Promised to marry you?  WHEN did I promise to marry you?'

'Not in words, I know.  But it was understood between us.'

'Nothing of the kind was understood between us!  I think you are
behaving in the most horrible way.  I'm going along to the Club at
once.  Good evening!'

'Elizabeth!  Elizabeth!  Listen.  It's not fair to condemn me
unheard.  You knew before what I'd done, and you knew that I'd
lived a different life since I met you.  What happened this evening
was only an accident.  That wretched woman, who, I admit, was once
my--well--'

'I won't listen, I won't listen to such things!  I'm going!'

He caught her by the wrists again, and this time held her.  The
Karens had disappeared, fortunately.

'No, no, you shall hear me!  I'd rather offend you to the heart
than have this uncertainty.  It's gone on week after week, month
after month, and I've never once been able to speak straight out to
you.  You don't seem to know or care how much you make me suffer.
But this time you've got to answer me.'

She struggled in his grip, and she was surprisingly strong.  Her
face was more bitterly angry than he had ever seen or imagined it.
She hated him so that she would have struck him if her hands were
free.

'Let me go!  Oh, you beast, you beast, let me go!'

'My God, my God, that we should fight like this!  But what else can
I do?  I can't let you go without even hearing me.  Elizabeth, you
MUST listen to me!'

'I will not!  I will not discuss it!  What right have you to
question me?  Let me go!'

'Forgive me, forgive me!  This one question.  Will you--not now,
but later, when this vile business is forgotten--will you marry
me?'

'No, never, never!'

'Don't say it like that!  Don't make it final.  Say no for the
present if you like--but in a month, a year, five years--'

'Haven't I said no?  Why must you keep on and on?'

'Elizabeth, listen to me.  I've tried again and again to tell you
what you mean to me--oh, it's so useless talking about it!  But do
try and understand.  Haven't I told you something of the life we
live here?  The sort of horrible death-in-life!  The decay, the
loneliness, the self-pity?  Try and realize what it means, and that
you're the sole person on earth who could save me from it.'

'Will you let me go?  Why do you have to make this dreadful scene?'

'Does it mean nothing to you when I say that I love you?  I don't
believe you've ever realized what it is that I want from you.  If
you like, I'd marry you and promise never even touch you with my
finger.  I wouldn't mind even that, so long as you were with me.
But I can't go on with my life alone, always alone.  Can't you
bring yourself ever to forgive me?'

'Never, never!  I wouldn't marry you if you were the last man on
earth.  I'd as soon marry the--the sweeper!'

She had begun crying now.  He saw that she meant what she said.
The tears came into his own eyes.  He said again:

'For the last time.  Remember that it's something to have one
person in the world who loves you.  Remember that though you'll
find men who are richer, and younger, and better in every way than
I, you'll never find one who cares for you so much.  And though I'm
not rich, at least I could make you a home.  There's a way of
living--civilized, decent--'

'Haven't we said enough?' she said more calmly.  'Will you let me
go before somebody comes?'

He relaxed his grip on her wrists.  He had lost her, that was
certain.  Like a hallucination, painfully clear, he saw again their
home as he had imagined it; he saw their garden, and Elizabeth
feeding Nero and the pigeons on the drive by the sulphur-yellow
phloxes that grew as high as her shoulder; and the drawing-room,
with the water-colours on the walls, and the balsams in the china
bowl mirrored by the table, and the book-shelves, and the black
piano.  The impossible, mythical piano--symbol of everything that
that futile accident had wrecked!

'You should have a piano,' he said despairingly.

'I don't play the piano.'

He let her go.  It was no use continuing.  She was no sooner free
of him than she took to her heels and actually ran into the Club
garden, so hateful was his presence to her.  Among the trees she
stopped to take off her spectacles and remove the signs of tears
from her face.  Oh, the beast, the beast!  He had hurt her wrists
abominably.  Oh, what an unspeakable beast he was!  When she
thought of his face as it had looked in church, yellow and
glistening with the hideous birthmark upon it, she could have
wished him dead.  It was not what he had done that horrified her.
He might have committed a thousand abominations and she could have
forgiven him.  But not after that shameful, squalid scene, and the
devilish ugliness of his disfigured face in that moment.  It was,
finally, the birthmark that had damned him.

Her aunt would be furious when she heard that she had refused
Flory.  And there was her uncle and his leg-pinching--between the
two of them, life here would become impossible.  Perhaps she would
have to go Home unmarried after all.  Black beetles!  No matter.
Anything--spinsterhood, drudgery, anything--sooner than the
alternative.  Never, never, would she yield to a man who had been
so disgraced!  Death sooner, far sooner.  If there had been
mercenary thoughts in her mind an hour ago, she had forgotten them.
She did not even remember that Verrall had jilted her and that to
have married Flory would have saved her face.  She knew only that
he was dishonoured and less than a man, and that she hated him as
she would have hated a leper or a lunatic.  The instinct was deeper
than reason or even self-interest, and she could no more have
disobeyed it than she could have stopped breathing.

Flory, as he turned up the hill, did not run, but he walked as fast
as he could.  What he had to do must be done quickly.  It was
getting very dark.  The wretched Flo, who even now had not grasped
that anything serious was the matter, trotted close to his heels,
whimpering in a self-pitying manner to reproach him for the kick he
had given her.  As he came up the path a wind blew through the
plaintain trees, rattling the tattered leaves and bringing a scent
of damp.  It was going to rain again.  Ko S'la had laid the dinner-
table and was removing some flying beetles that had committed
suicide against the petrol-lamp.  Evidently he had not heard about
the scene in church yet.

'The holy one's dinner is ready.  Will the holy one dine now?'

'No, not yet.  Give me that lamp.'

He took the lamp, went into the bedroom and shut the door, The
stale scent of dust and cigarette-smoke met him, and in the white,
unsteady glare of the lamp he could see the mildewed books and the
lizards on the wall.  So he was back again to this--to the old,
secret life--after everything, back where he had been before.

Was it not possible to endure it!  He had endured it before.  There
were palliatives--books, his garden, drink, work, whoring, shooting,
conversations with the doctor.

No, it was not endurable any longer.  Since Elizabeth's coming the
power to suffer and above all to hope, which he had thought dead in
him, had sprung to new life.  The half-comfortable lethargy in
which he had lived was broken.  And if he suffered now, there was
far worse to come.  In a little while someone else would marry her.
How he could picture it--the moment when he heard the news!--'Did
you hear the Lackersteen kid's got off at last?  Poor old So-and-
so--booked for the altar, God help him,' etc., etc.  And the casual
question--'Oh, really?  When is it to be?'--stiffening one's face,
pretending to be uninterested.  And then her wedding day approaching,
her bridal night--ah, not that!  Obscene, obscene.  Keep your eyes
fixed on that.  Obscene.  He dragged his tin uniform-case from under
the bed, took out his automatic pistol, slid a clip of cartridges
into the magazine, and pulled one into the breech.

Ko S'la was remembered in his will.  There remained Flo.  He laid
his pistol on the table and went outside.  Flo was playing with Ba
Shin, Ko S'la's youngest son, under the lee of the cookhouse, where
the servants had left the remains of a woodfire.  She was dancing
round him with her small teeth bared, pretending to bite him, while
the tiny boy, his belly red in the glow of the embers, smacked
weakly at her, laughing, and yet half frightened.

'Flo!  Come here, Flo!'

She heard him and came obediently, and then stopped short at the
bedroom door.  She seemed to have grasped now that there was
something wrong.  She backed a little and stood looking timorously
up at him, unwilling to enter the bedroom.

'Come in here!'

She wagged her tail, but did not move.

'Come on, Flo!  Good old Flo!  Come on!'

Flo was suddenly stricken with terror.  She whined, her tail went
down, and she shrank back.  'Come here, blast you!' he cried, and
he took her by the collar and flung her into the room, shutting the
door behind her.  He went to the table for the pistol.

'No come here!  Do as you're told!'

She crouched down and whined for forgiveness.  It hurt him to hear
it.  'Come on, old girl!  Dear old Flo!  Master wouldn't hurt you.
Come here!'  She crawled very slowly towards his feet, flat on her
belly, whining, her head down as though afraid to look at him.
When she was a yard away he fired, blowing her skull to fragments.

Her shattered brain looked like red velvet.  Was that what he would
look like?  The heart, then, not the head.  He could hear the
servants running out of their quarters and shouting--they must have
heard the sound of the shot.  He hurriedly tore open his coat and
pressed the muzzle of the pistol against his shirt.  A tiny lizard,
translucent like a creature of gelatine, was stalking a white moth
along the edge of the table.  Flory pulled the trigger with his
thumb.

As Ko S'la burst into the room, for a moment he saw nothing but the
dead body of the dog.  Then he saw his master's feet, heels
upwards, projecting from beyond the bed.  He yelled to the others
to keep the children out of the room, and all of them surged back
from the doorway with screams.  Ko S'la fell on his knees behind
Flory's body, at the same moment as Ba Pe came running through the
veranda.

'Has he shot himself?'

'I think so.  Turn him over on his back.  Ah, look at that!  Run
for the Indian doctor!  Run for your life!'

There was a neat hole, no bigger than that made by a pencil passing
through a sheet of blotting-paper, in Flory's shirt.  He was
obviously quite dead.  With great difficulty Ko S'la managed to
drag him on to the bed, for the other servants refused to touch the
body.  It was only twenty minutes before the doctor arrived.  He
had heard only a vague report that Flory was hurt, and had bicycled
up the hill at top speed through a storm of rain.  He threw his
bicycle down in the flower-bed and hurried in through the veranda.
He was out of breath, and could not see through his spectacles.  He
took them off, peering myopically at the bed.  'What iss it, my
friend?' he said anxiously.  'Where are you hurt?'  Then, coming
closer, he saw what was on the bed, and uttered a harsh sound.

'Ach, what is this?  What has happened to him?'

The doctor fell on his knees, tore Flory's shirt open and put his
ear to his chest.  An expression of agony came into his face, and
he seized the dead man by the shoulders and shook him as though
mere violence could bring him to life.  One arm fell limply over
the edge of the bed.  The doctor lifted it back again, and then,
with the dead hand between his own, suddenly burst into tears.  Ko
S'la was standing at the foot of the bed, his brown face full of
lines.  The doctor stood up, and then losing control of himself for
a moment, leaned against the bedpost and wept noisily and
grotesquely his back turned on Ko S'la.  His fat shoulders were
quivering.  Presently he recovered himself and turned round again.

'How did this happen?'

'We heard two shots.  He did it himself, that is certain.  I do not
know why.'

'How did you know that he did it on purpose?  How do you know that
it was not an accident?'

For answer, Ko S'la pointed silently to Flo's corpse.  The doctor
thought for a moment, and then, with gentle, practised hands,
swathed the dead man in the sheet and knotted it at foot and head.
With death, the birthmark had faded immediately, so that it was no
more than a faint grey stain.

'Bury the dog at once.  I will tell Mr Macgregor that this happened
accidentally while he was cleaning his revolver.  Be sure that you
bury the dog.  Your master was my friend.  It shall not be written
on his tombstone that he committed suicide.'



25


It was lucky that the padre should have been at Kyauktada, for he
was able, before catching the train on the following evening, to
read the burial service in due form and even to deliver a short
address on the virtues of the dead man.  All Englishmen are
virtuous when they are dead.  'Accidental death' was the official
verdict (Dr Veraswami had proved with all his medico-legal skill
that the circumstances pointed to accident) and it was duly
inscribed upon the tombstone.  Not that anyone believed it, of
course.  Flory's real epitaph was the remark, very occasionally
uttered--for an Englishman who dies in Burma is so soon forgotten--
'Flory?  Oh yes, he was a dark chap, with a birthmark.  He shot
himself in Kyauktada in 1926.  Over a girl, people said.  Bloody
fool.'  Probably no one, except Elizabeth, was much surprised at
what had happened.  There is a rather large number of suicides
among the Europeans in Burma, and they occasion very little
surprise.

Flory's death had several results.  The first and most important of
them was that Dr Veraswami was ruined, even as he had foreseen.
The glory of being a white man's friend--the one thing that had
saved him before--had vanished.  Flory's standing with the other
Europeans had never been good, it is true; but he was after all a
white man, and his friendship conferred a certain prestige.  Once
he was dead, the doctor's ruin was assured.  U Po Kyin waited the
necessary time, and then struck again, harder than ever.  It was
barely three months before he had fixed it in the head of every
European in Kyauktada that the doctor was an unmitigated scoundrel.
No public accusation was ever made against him--U Po Kyin was most
careful of that.  Even Ellis would have been puzzled to say just
what scoundrelism the doctor had been guilty of; but still, it was
agreed that he was a scoundrel.  By degrees, the general suspicion
of him crystallized in a single Burmese phrase--'shok de'.
Veraswami, it was said, was quite a clever little chap in his way--
quite a good doctor for a native--but he was THOROUGHLY shok de.
Shok de means, approximately, untrustworthy, and when a 'native'
official comes to be known as shok de, there is an end of him.

The dreaded nod and wink passed somewhere in high places, and
the doctor was reverted to the rank of Assistant Surgeon and
transferred to Mandalay General Hospital.  He is still there, and
is likely to remain.  Mandalay is rather a disagreeable town--it
is dusty and intolerably hot, and it is said to have five main
products all beginning with P, namely, pagodas, pariahs, pigs,
priests and prostitutes--and the routine-work of the hospital is a
dreary business.  The doctor lives just outside the hospital
grounds in a little bake-house of a bungalow with a corrugated iron
fence round its tiny compound, and in the evenings he runs a
private clinic to supplement his reduced pay.  He has joined a
second-rate club frequented by Indian pleaders.  Its chief glory is
a single European member--a Glasgow electrician named Macdougall,
sacked from the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company for drunkenness, and now
making a precarious living out of a garage.  Macdougall is a dull
lout, only interested in whisky and magnetos.  The doctor, who will
never believe that a white man can be a fool, tries almost every
night to engage him in what he still calls 'cultured conversation';
but the results are very unsatisfying.

Ko S'la inherited four hundred rupees under Flory's will, and with
his family he set up a tea-shop in the bazaar.  But the shop
failed, as it was bound to do with the two women fighting in it at
all hours, and Ko S'la and Ba Pe were obliged to go back to
service.  Ko S'la was an accomplished servant.  Besides the useful
arts of pimping, dealing with money-lenders, carrying master to bed
when drunk and making pick-me-ups known as prairie oysters on the
following morning, he could sew, darn, refill cartridges, attend to
a horse, press a suit, and decorate a dinner-table with wonderful,
intricate patterns of chopped leaves and dyed rice-grains.  He was
worth fifty rupees a month.  But he and Ba Pe had fallen into lazy
ways in Flory's service, and, they were sacked from one job after
another.  They had a bad year of poverty, and little Ba Shin
developed a cough, and finally coughed himself to death one
stifling hot-weather night.  Ko S'la is now a second boy to a
Rangoon rice-broker with a neurotic wife who makes unending kit-
kit, and Ba Pe is pani-wallah in the same house at sixteen rupees a
month.  Ma Hla May is in a brothel in Mandalay.  Her good looks are
all but gone, and her clients pay her only four annas and sometimes
kick her and beat her.  Perhaps more bitterly than any of the
others, she regrets the good time when Flory was alive, and when
she had not the wisdom to put aside any of the money she extracted
from him.

U Po Kyin realized all his dreams except one.  After the doctor's
disgrace, it was inevitable that U Po Kyin should be elected to the
Club, and elected he was, in spite of bitter protests from Ellis.
In the end the other Europeans came to be rather glad that they had
elected him, for he was a bearable addition to the Club.  He did
not come too often, was ingratiating in his manner, stood drinks
freely, and developed almost at once into a brilliant bridge-
player.  A few months later he was transferred from Kyauktada and
promoted.  For a whole year, before his retirement, he officiated
as Deputy Commissioner, and during that year alone he made twenty
thousand rupees in bribes.  A month after his retirement he was
summoned to a durbar in Rangoon, to receive the decoration that had
been awarded to him by the Indian Government.

It was an impressive scene, that durbar.  On the platform, hung
with flags and flowers, sat the Governor, frock-coated, upon a
species of throne, with a bevy of aides-de-camp and secretaries
behind him.  All round the hall, like glittering waxworks, stood
the tall, bearded sowars of the Governor's bodyguard, with pennoned
lances in their hands.  Outside, a band was blaring at intervals.
The gallery was gay with the white ingyis and pink scarves of
Burmese ladies, and in the body of the hall a hundred men or more
were waiting to receive their decorations.  There were Burmese
officials in blazing Mandalay pasos, and Indians in cloth-of-gold
pagris, and British officers in full-dress uniform with clanking
sword-scabbards, and old thugyis with their grey hair knotted
behind their heads and silver-hilted dahs slung from their
shoulders.  In a high, clear voice a secretary was reading out the
list of awards, which varied from the C.I.E. to certificates of
honour in embossed silver cases.  Presently U Po Kyin's turn came
and the secretary read from his scroll:

'To U Po Kyin, Deputy Assistant Commissioner, retired, for long and
loyal service and especially for his timely aid in crushing a most
dangerous rebellion in Kyauktada district'--and so on and so on.

Then two henchmen, placed there for the purpose hoisted U Po Kyin
upright, and he waddled to the platform, bowed as low as his belly
would permit, and was duly decorated and felicitated, while Ma Kin
and other supporters clapped wildly and fluttered their scarves
from the gallery.

U Po Kyin had done all that mortal man could do.  It was time now
to be making ready for the next world--in short, to begin building
pagodas.  But unfortunately, this was the very point at which his
plans went wrong.  Only three days after the Governor's durbar,
before so much as a brick of those atoning pagodas had been laid, U
Po Kyin was stricken with apoplexy and died without speaking again.
There is no armour against fate.  Ma Kin was heartbroken at the
disaster.  Even if she had built the pagodas herself, it would have
availed U Po Kyin nothing; no merit can be acquired save by one's
own act.  She suffers greatly to think of U Po Kyin where he must
be now--wandering in God knows what dreadful subterranean hell of
fire, and darkness, and serpents, and genii.  Or even if he has
escaped the worst, his other fear has been realized, and he has
returned to the earth in the shape of a rat or a frog.  Perhaps at
this very moment a snake is devouring him.

As to Elizabeth, things fell out better than she had expected.
After Flory's death Mrs Lackersteen, dropping all pretences for
once, said openly that there were no men in this dreadful place and
the only hope was to go and stay several months in Rangoon or
Maymyo.  But she could not very well send Elizabeth to Rangoon or
Maymyo alone, and to go with her practically meant condemning Mr
Lackersteen to death from delirium tremens.  Months passed, and the
rains reached their climax, and Elizabeth had just made up her mind
that she must go home after all, penniless and unmarried, when--Mr
Macgregor proposed to her.  He had had it in his mind for a long
time; indeed, he had only been waiting for a decent interval to
elapse after Flory's death.

Elizabeth accepted him gladly.  He was rather old, perhaps, but a
Deputy Commissioner is not to be despised--certainly he was a far
better match than Flory.  They are very happy.  Mr Macgregor was
always a good-hearted man, but he has grown more human and likeable
since his marriage.  His voice booms less, and he has given up his
morning exercises.  Elizabeth has grown mature surprisingly
quickly, and a certain hardness of manner that always belonged to
her has become accentuated.  Her servants live in terror of her,
though she speaks no Burmese.  She has an exhaustive knowledge of
the Civil List, gives charming little dinner-parties and knows how
to put the wives of subordinate officials in their places--in
short, she fills with complete success the position for which
Nature had designed her from the first, that of a burra memsahib.



THE END





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