Burmese Days, by George Orwell

Chapter 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.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 20:48