Last but not least in the course of this chapter and this evening, both of which are important primarily as forerunners of the exciting events that will follow fast upon them, we come to Tom. We have seen little of him recently which is not surprising for he has had little to do. This has now begun to irk him. After the stunning successes of his principal ministers on television, with their more and more histrionic accounts of what really happened during the riots, he feels himself superseded, the more so because both the international press and national gossip have not refrained from pointing out the vast discrepancies and disparities between his performance and theirs. Furthermore when he permitted John, partly as a response to all this in an attempt to divert interest to more immediate matters, to unveil a new economic package, he has been overwhelmed by the intensity of the response, which has even begun to take on a dangerous political tone. He realises now that the tremendous respect he inspired for so long, when no one dared to criticize anything he did or said, sprang only from his air of authority; now that that has been once dissipated, blame and resentment and querying and intrigue have begun to fall upon him like a miasma.
Most alarming of all is the fact that Gerry too has taken to behaving extraordinarily, and exercising her in any case erratic independent initiative in areas about which she understands nothing, and in which she could do incalculable damage. It is not that she has not behaved extraordinarily before. This she had always done, in the days before he became President, whenever his party had been voted out of power. It was partly to prevent recurrences of her peculiarities that he had, after finally achieving power himself, turned himself into a President, and an Executive one at that, and one who would prove perpetual to boot. It is, he sighs to himself resignedly, a proof of the vanity of human wishes that, even with all these arrangements, Gerry has begun to behave peculiarly once more. Man disposes and God disposes, he reflects, reverting as he tends to do at times of crisis to the faith of his less distant forefathers; clearly she is once again convinced that he is vulnerable, which is why she slips far more often than she used to do into the secret room where she takes a drop of brandy now and then whenever she feels unusually nervous.
That alone would not have mattered. What is particularly upsetting now is that she has begun to meddle in politics too, thus making it clear for the first time that she does not have enough faith in him to see the crisis through to a successful conclusion. That she sees Dick in secret is bad enough; but when it has to do with politics, when his own younger brother Dick whom he has always had to protect now appears at the head of political interest groups which he has to take seriously, when everyone believes that the force behind these organizations is his own wife, then Tom feels fundamentally threatened, not only in his role as President, but also in his very being as a Man. For once Tom feels that the fact that he is a Perpetual Executive is of less consequence than that he allowed himself, at his wife’s behest, to be sterilized. It profits a man nothing, he ponders bitterly, to gain even the whole world if he has lost that which can never be regained; and it is even worse when it looks as though he might lose the whole world too, or at least when it seems as though his nearest and dearest does not think him capable of retaining it. With his many years of experience in politics, Tom knows that everything is a question of confidence. If it is believed that even one’s own wife has no faith in one, for whatever reason, then one might as well be prepared to give up.
Yet it will not do to leave Tom in such despair on the eve of the great horror that is to befall him. Fortunately, and not entirely surprisingly given the tenor of his thoughts, he thinks at this point of Dulcie and compares her plumpness with Gerry’s tense and nervous continuous activity. For practically the first time in his life he wonders whether he did not after all marry the wrong cousin. Ever since the riots, in a desperate attempt to comprehend them, he had taken to studying the Chinese Lunar Calendar, and he registers now that Gerry is a Rat according to its dictates, a quite unsuitable type of creature for him to have married. Dulcie on the other hand is a Dog, loyal and kind and comforting, precisely the sort of partner he should have selected. It is primarily because of the sudden onrush of sympathy he feels for her, and craves from her, that Tom therefore decides to go and visit Dulcie on this evening.
The additional motive, to find out more about what precisely is going on, is definitely secondary, for Tom is quite convinced that he knows better than anyone else about actual facts and acts since all his ministers tell him exactly what everyone else is up to. Nevertheless in this respect too Tom comes back quite satisfied. Not only does Dulcie express withering contempt for the very conception of Dick indulging in political manipulations or ambitions, she also reveals that there is evidence to suggest that MASH and MADAM have been established mainly to allow Dick further opportunities for unbridled sexual indulgence. Dulcie is of the opinion that Dick has now begun to tire of Mumtaz, and that is why he has launched out upon fresh ventures, to give himself an opportunity of even more experimentation than he used to practise. By the conclusion of their conversation, so contemptuous is Dulcie, Tom has even begun to feel quite kindly once more towards his brother. Dulcie has made it quite clear that frenetic sexual activity is one thing, and that not particularly important, whereas the business of politics is on a far higher plane, the preserve of heroes such as himself who have devoted themselves to the welfare and the development of the nation.
We are therefore able who record that it was a fairly contented Tom who went to bed that night, fairly early as it happened, which is salutary since he is able to have a good night’s rest before the chaos that erupts next morning. Not even an unusual spurt of activity on Gerry’s part could upset him; unusual even in the light of the nervous tension that she has been displaying recently, but not surprisingly so since it is for the morrow that she has planned her piece de resistance.