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acts-of-faithThe slaughter of the Muslims, which had begun after Matthew’s speech, continued apace despite Mark’s performance. It was in any case sporadic, for there was a curfew in operation and the armed forced were in general more disposed to maintain law and order than they had been before. Nevertheless, even by noon the next day there was still enough bloodshed going on to warrant concern, particularly in areas where gemming and tourism and the spice trade were the chief means of livelihood. Even in Colombo there was come confusion, though this was primarily due to groups which had previously owed allegiance to Luke going on the rampage to prove their bona fides. Occasionally this led to supporters of those associated with Matthew fighting side by side with the armed forces against them, though in none of these instances was much saved for the original victims of the violence.

Yet it was not primarily the state of the nation that determined Tom to make a public statement on television that evening. All his counsellors were against it, and they adduced in support the violence of the shock he had undergone on the previous day. Yet he felt that he simply had to appear. It seemed to him in some dim way that this was the best way of expiating the curse that had fallen upon him. He grasped in the emptiness that possessed him at the notion that, if he were to share with the nation his anguish at what had really occurred on the previous day, its importance would somehow be reduced.

The fact was that the shocks he was being given on this day far exceeded in gravity those that had assailed him before. In the first place he was told by several people connected with the media that it was Gerry who had rung them up on the previous morning and asked them to be in attendance for some momentous event. The television network went further, and brought him rushes of the burning interior of the room under the stairs, and asked him hesitantly whether he would like these destroyed inasmuch as the vast piles of money scattered about were clearly visible in the flames. Then, in going through Gerry’s papers, he had found an envelope addressed to her in Luke’s handwriting, with MADAM- MASH inscribed prominently on the top left hand corner, and written with a flourish underneath, ‘For your eyes only, Luke’.

What the envelope had actually contained could not be deduced with certainty, but there were also on her desk lists of recent donations to MADAM and MASH, as well as what seemed to be a proof copy of the poster that had sprung up, the true significance of which Matthew had so mortifyingly described. The final crushing blow was the confidential account given him by the most senior retainer in the household of the enormous quantity of brandy that had been consumed during the past few days. Tom did not for a moment believe that Gerry drank more than the most minute amount, and the old retainer confirmed his worst fears by telling him that most of the brandy had been expended during the entertainment of Dick and Luke, never together it was almost delicately added, in Gerry’s most private sanctum.

As the shocks blasted him one after the other, Tom opened his poor bleeding heart out to Dulcie. She was certainly a tower of strength, with her scathing analysis of the appalling psychological effect Gerry’s father’s failure relative to the achievements of the rest of the family must have had on her. Nevertheless Tom still felt a need to exorcise the horror completely. It was primarily for this reason that he overruled all his advisers, and got the television cameras in that afternoon, to his private study just a few yards away from where the tragedy had occurred.

‘It is with great sorrow,’ he began, sitting straight as a ramrod at his desk, his hands clasped together on the table before him, ‘that I address you tonight. You all know of the unfortunate acts of violence that took place yesterday in this very house, just a short distance away from where I now sit. You all know too of the even more unfortunate events that have taken place in the country since, some events in which traitors to their own dear motherland have been unmasked and punished, some events in which innocent people have died. For my own part I do not think, when we consider this last fact, that there is much reason to regret what took place here yesterday, just as there is no reason at all to regret that the traitors have been dealt with so firmly. What there is to regret is what took place before the events and the attitudes that led up to yesterday’s unfortunate incidents. For this I feel that I must take a large share of the responsibility myself, in that I did not suspect what was going on right inside my very own household.’

‘Yet I do not think any reasonable man could blame me for this. How could I suspect? As your President, and an Executive one too, I am, as you all know very busy throughout the day looking after the problems of the nation and the affairs of all of you. There is little time for me to attend to domestic cares, unlike other men who do not bear a heavy yoke of responsibility for the whole nation, twenty four hours a day and often even more. For many years the lady who was my wife had been faithful to the ideals of public service to which I had dedicated myself. I saw no reason at all during these many years through which I have toiled faithfully at my post to think that things might suddenly change. ‘

‘Yet as that great authority on human nature, William Shakespeare, has made clear to us,’ At this point the cameras moved from Tom to the bust of Shakespeare that stood on a shelf against the wall behind him on his right. ‘Caesar’s wife should be above suspicion, just as much as Caesar himself. Like so many of you, I studied my Shakespeare thoroughly at school. Yet so heavy are the cares of state that have pressed upon me of late, that I forgot to follow his advice, and for this I apologise to all of you. Yet how could I have realised that the old adage, made famous by another great writer whom I was also fortunate enough to study when I was young.’ And at this the camera shifted to the bust that perched directly above Tom’s head, that of Thomas Carlyle, ‘the adage that power corrupts but absolute power corrupts absolutely, should be confirmed in the case of the lady who was my own wife? I had given her all that a man could give his wife, and in abundant measure at that. Yet such in human nature that, like Oliver Twist whom some of you may have heard of also, she wanted yet more.’

The camera had returned to Tom at this stage, but as he went on it shifted to the third bust in his study, one of Lord Byron that stood on a shelf above him on his left. ‘Once again, when I think of what happened yesterday, I am reminded of another famous line of English poetry, and this time one that even those amongst you who did not have the good fortune to go to school for very long must surely remember. It is that old and very memorable line about the king being in his counting house, counting out his money. In this case however, it was not the king. As you all know, I have very little money in comparison with the vast amounts most Presidents and most Executives amass, to say nothing of those in the distinguished position of being both. In any case money does not interest me as much as what I can achieve for my people. No, it was the queen, or rather the lady who because of what I had accomplished fancied herself a queen, and perhaps even aspired to being a king. And, what is most significant of all, she was not counting her money, she was burning it.’

Ceylon Today 11 Jan 2015 – https://www.ceylontoday.lk/96-81969-news-detail-home-truths.html

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