MADAM and MASH and Dick and Luke all figured in another conversation we ought to record, one between Matthew and the Black Shadow which took place on the evening of that same day. What led up to these subjects is, however, of equal interest, so we shall first glance at Radha and Krishna whose own conversation at this very time reflects the more significant one taking place elsewhere. We shall not record in detail the conversation of Radha and Krishna, for they are not of any great importance to our story, at the present time at any rate. Suffice it to say that they are both worried, content though they otherwise are with their situation in the household of Indra and Diana, by what they consider to be the excessive attention paid to them by both Matthew and the Black Shadow. Matthew comes in at least every other day and, when he does so, he shoots at both of them a piercing glance. The Black Shadow slips in even more often, ostensibly to see how the household is or to bring them things that are not readily available, but in reality Radha feels primarily to fix upon her his baleful stare. When Matthew spends any length of time with his sister and his brother- in-law, it seems to Radha that the Black Shadow lies in wait for her in the nether regions of the house, almost as though he were waiting to pounce.
The pair might have felt even more reason to be worried, had they known that they too were one of the subjects of the conversation taking place at this time between Matthew and the Shadow. What was actually said, on the other hand, may not have caused them too much concern. It is a conversation not particularly easy to interpret, even for those who have known each other for as long as Matthew and the Black Shadow have. It proceeds obliquely, which might, to the detached observer, seem peculiarly congruent with the circumstances under which it takes place.
‘There is something about that girl’s face that reminds me of yours,’ Matthew muses. He is lying on his stomach on the round bed made of wooden planks that has been specially designed for him. He uses no mattress. Once, long ago, he had had some trouble with his spine; in any case, he prefers as hard a surface as possible.
The Black Shadow is rubbing down his back with a very special ointment that has been distilled by moonlight in an ancient monastery. He knows immediately whom Matthew means, although no name has been mentioned. ‘I think so too,’ he replies. His tone is always quiet and respectful on these occasions, and his hands go on moving ceaselessly.
‘Not the boy, though. He seems to be quite different.’
‘I think so too. But of course I haven’t had as good a chance of looking at him closely.’
‘If I remember the old gardener correctly, I think he looks rather like him. I suppose there’s nothing very surprising about him resembling his father. Most people do, if the genes are strong.’ Matthew pauses but the Black Shadow says nothing. The hands continue to move smoothly down from the shoulder blades to the small of the back, and Matthew continues, ‘Do you think the same might be said of her?’
She’s certainly very beautiful.’ The Black Shadow’s tone has not changed at all.
Matthew turns over onto his back. The Black Shadow continues with his task, his eyes never holding Matthew’s although they flicker past at intervals. ‘I suppose there can’t be any doubt that she’s a virgin?’ Matthew’s voice is casual, though the note of interrogation in it is clear.
‘I should certainly have thought so. There is not very much chance for them not to be, at that age, in those places. If anything had happened, it would have been common knowledge.’ The Black Shadow pauses for an instant, though his hands do not, before he goes on, ‘I don’t know about her brother, though.’
Matthew’s expression does not change. But there is a distinct pause before he replies. ‘I don’t suppose that’s the sort of thing that can readily be found out. Not unless you were to ask him, which I don’t think you should. Not yet. But tell me, what else should we know about this man Paul?’
‘He hasn’t been to his beach house since the riots. I think he’s trying to keep a low profile. But the whole business has made him very irritable. I don’t think it’s safe having him as a neighbour any more. He’s trying to infiltrate the household here.’
‘Will he succeed?’
The Shadow shrugs his shoulders. ‘Eventually. No one can be trusted absolutely. But I think we have more to offer for the moment.’
‘It might be a good idea still to make ourselves felt more forcefully. Have you traced the boy he was with on that particular night?’
‘Yes. He’s very small.’
‘The size is immaterial.’ Matthew allows the flicker of what might be a smile to cross his lips. ‘But we’ll need one or two more as well.’
‘There were two others in the house that morning. I think they’d been there overnight. One of them is quite big really.’
‘Very good. Have them ready. You never know when we might need them. It could prove quite useful in a number of ways, as well as being entirely fitting.’
There is a long pause, so that the previous conversation might almost have been forgotten by the time the Shadow speaks again. ‘Do you really suppose feelings are running high about this Muslim revival business?’
‘One never knows. Everyone takes advantage of whatever opportunities present themselves. This is not a game that can be abandoned half way.’
The Black Shadow allows himself now the ghost of a smile. ‘You’ve never really liked Indra’s father, have you?’
Matthew does not smile at all. He says laconically, ‘There’s nothing especially wrong with him. But he can be a nuisance at times, Always was. Not someone one should worry oneself about too much, though, or take particularly seriously.’
‘He seems to have been very efficient about MASH and MADAM.’
‘Simply luck, more than anything else. That, and a little help from his friends. But he can’t keep it up for very long.’
‘Do you think Luke might actually become a Muslim?’
‘I would assume he’s well on the way towards it already. No judgment at all, that man.’ Once more a hint of a smile momentarily crosses Matthew’s features. ‘But I don’t suppose even he thinks yet that there’s enough of an incentive to take the plunge conclusively.’
‘It would be quite entertaining to see the two of them struggling for control of the whole business.’
‘It would certainly be most entertaining. But I hope it doesn’t come to that. After all, that’s not the sort of entertainment we want in this country, is it?’
The Black Shadow does not reply. Matthew has a very definite way of indicating the point at which a conversation should cease.
On that same evening Mark went to see Mumtaz. In an any case complicated situation, Dick’s establishment of MASH and MADAM was positively the last straw. Mark felt that he needed some sort of guidance as to what was going on, and Mumtaz he thought was one of the few people he could be sure was still uncorrupted and therefore capable of being open about things. Besides, he had always thought her rather attractive, and not only because she was Dick’s wife and could therefore be thought to possess something of a Presidential aura herself.
It was a mark of how upset Mumtaz herself was that she received Mark’s visit eagerly. Earlier, when he had laid siege to her soon after her marriage, even though he had possessed a few teeth then and had brought her incontrovertible evidence of Dick’s infidelities, she had spurned him resolutely. Now however as soon as he was announced she had him conducted upstairs to her own private sitting room. She was indeed thoroughly pleased to be able to think herself of consequence once more. In the past she had been able to make light of Dick’s other escapades because he had always come back to her, and whomsoever else he was involved with he had never neglected her. Now however, though the adrenalin was clearly flowing even faster in his veins, and though it was constantly being conveyed to her that he was making passes in all directions, as was usually the case, for he was the sort of man in whom excitement of whatever sort set up an irresistible chain reaction, no attentions came her way at all. It was now as though she were merely a formality in his life, to be treated perfunctorily as he did all formalities, while everything else, business and pleasure and politics, were all blended together in a vast phantasmagoria of which he fancied himself the pulsating centre.
As such she was delighted to see Mark. Of course she could not enlighten him. Dick had never discussed anything serious with her, for it was not for that purpose that he had married her anyway, having had quite enough of that sort of thing with Dulcie. In any case, he had not really had anything serious to discuss before. Now therefore, when affairs of state occupied him, it never occurred to him to bring Mumtaz into the picture. Mark therefore was disappointed as to his primary aim. But Mumtaz was so gracious to him and, even though she expressed only worry about Dick, was so appreciative of his sympathy, that as he left the house he felt once more on top of the world. Rarely if ever had he felt so positive about himself before. For once he began to wonder whether he might in time even aspire to at least Dick’s shoes.
Ceylon Today 12 Oct 2014 – http://www.ceylontoday.lk/96-75203-news-detail-confidential.html