The Towers Of Silence (The Raj quartet)

The Towers Of Silence (The Raj quartet) by Paul Scott

Book: The Towers Of Silence (The Raj quartet) by Paul Scott Read Free Book Online
Authors: Paul Scott
momentarily which of the two victims it was Miss Batchelor knew until a few seconds’ thought made the missionary connection; and then a different kind of confusion arose because there being nothing to identify Miss Crane the shortest way to her was through the familiar face and figure of her friend Miss Batchelor. At any given second a fleeting glimpse might therefore be had, as Barbie strode downhill to the bazaar, of the Crane woman doing that very thing for no particular reason unless it were to snatch the observer’s thoughts and concentrate them upon a special issue: the safety of women.
    There would now enter into the pine-scented and gun-metal air a stiff breeze of the kind that cooled without actually being felt to blow and in Miss Batchelor’s, Miss Crane’s, wake all kinds of horrors coupled and multiplied and gave her the look of a woman in danger who did not know it, walking in broad daylight, inviting attack, creating conditions in which an attack could take place.
    Met face on she had the surprised happy appearance of someone who a few minutes ago had survived assault. It was irritating to find that she had no information; none, that was, that stood the test of sifting from the mine-tip of her inconsequential chatter.
    ‘I am reminded,’ she said, ‘of Miss Sherwood. Amritsar, 1919. She was a school superintendent too. I never met her, she wasn’t Bishop Barnard, but Edwina met her I’m almost certain. She had such a pretty Christian name. Marcella. Perhaps we missionaries are singled out because they see us as agents of the dark, although actually of light. She narrowly escaped with her life. A Hindu woman rescued her, in that awful place, that little lane we sealed off afterwards and made people crawl down, on their bellies, in the dust and dirt, to punish them. I sometimes think none of that has been forgiven.’
    The word forgiven seemed wrong in present circumstances and the introduction of yet another name, Miss Sherwood, an unnecessary complication. Miss Sherwood was not Miss Crane, neither was Miss Batchelor who after all was merely herself and in no danger except from passing traffic. What she had survived was being in wartime Pankot but not quite of it, three years of comparative obscurity now interrupted by her brief prominence as a friend of the less interesting of the two Mayapore victims.
    She was a familiar enough figure though, recognizable from a distance, the length of the bazaar say, whose busy road she had a habit of crossing and recrossing or walking down the middle of at full tilt, narrowly avoiding tongas, bicycles and military trucks; intent on performing innumerable and apparently urgent tasks at bank, post office and shops, in the shortest possible time; shortest in her judgment. The actual economy of method was open to doubt, but presumably old Mabel Layton was satisfied with it. Bit by bit Miss Batchelor had taken over the running of Mabel’s household. If Mabel had been looking for someone who would make her withdrawal easier she could not have done better than choose this retired missionary; obviously the kind of person who cried out to be used, like a cow with a full udder moaning for the herdsman to lead her to the pail.
    But her yield in information was low and the suspicion arose that she knew Miss Crane less well than had at first been generally assumed from her manner. If the affair of the attacked missionary had not been so serious Miss Batchelor’s association with it might have introduced a note of comedy; but it was undoubtedly serious and there were questions it would have been nice to have answers to. For instance was there any significance in the fact that the burnt-out motor-car was one hundred yards away from the dead teacher’s body? Had he jumped clear and run back along the road to Dibrapur, attempted to save his own skin, before being caught by the mob? And why after he was dead did she stay with the body and not attempt to seek refuge in the next

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