At this, when the speech was finally broadcast on television later that evening, there was a sudden cut to a brief glimpse of the blazing interior of Gerry’s little room, with her long cherished piles of money going up in flames. ‘That was what my wife had done,’ Tom resumed when he came back to the screen, and then the camera moved down to a pile of papers beneath his hands, one of which he held up and flourished, ‘and I have proof of this, in that the document I now hold before you is a letter in which even before she set fire to the money she had written to the insurance company demanding compensation.’
‘You are perhaps all of you now wondering why she did this. It is because under the rule of law that my government has established, all people even the wife of the President are equal before the law. You will recall that very recently the cabinet of ministers and I introduced a Bill which so many special interest groups that have now been shown to have been manipulated by traitors protested against. As you all know, we stood firm, regardless of those inconsiderate few who might have been inconvenienced, because we were confident that what we were doing was in the best interests of the nation. We thought that it was against the interests of all of you for people to hoard money, regardless of how it had been obtained.’
‘For this reason, amongst those who resented our just and fair enterprise was the lady who was my wife. It does not matter now from where she got the money. I have evidence here to suggest that some of it was obtained from persons who did not have the best interests of the nation at heart. Had it not been for our vigilance that money might have been used to the detriment of all of you. But I do not intend to discuss that issue now. Let me merely assure you, as your President, that I had no inkling before this of what was going on. And I can further assure you that, despite my position, I have no intention of deriving any benefit myself from these activities and arrangements. I will state categorically now that, when the insurance claim is met, after the essential repairs in this household have been made, I will use whatever money remains to establish a Special Presidential Trust for the relief of all those who have suffered irreparable loss in the recent tragic events. Indeed I will try to ensure, though I cannot guarantee that this is medically possible, that the most sophisticated research will be undertaken to attempt to restore their manhood to those who have sacrificed it in the interests of the nation.’
‘And in further mitigation of the lady who was my wife, I must also say this: she would not have gone as far as she did had she not been manipulated by certain individuals far cleverer than she was, who by virtue of their greater experience in the fields of business and of politics were able to manipulate her for their own devious ends. I referred earlier to some lines of verse with which all of you must be familiar, even those amongst you who were not fortunate enough to go to the sort of school I did, or for as long.’ The camera moved slowly here to the features of Lord Byron, ‘You will remember what those lines go on to describe. The queen was in the parlour, eating bread and honey. That, most significantly, is what the gentleman who was my brother, the erstwhile leader of those anti-national organisations known as MASH and MADAM, a man who had put aside the most honourable wife a human being could have had for the sake of his political ambitions—that, I must now reveal to you, eating bread and honey, is precisely what he was doing at the time of the incident that might so nearly have been a disaster. Indeed there is irrefutable evidence of this, for there was discovered on the floor, flung in the explosion to a safe distance where it came to light much later, what remained of the refreshment I had offered him, and of which he was partaking at that very moment.’ There was a quick glimpse at this point of Dick’s dentures lying on the desk in front of Tom’s hands, gripped around a slice of bread folded in two. Tom’s forefinger pointed at it accusingly before the camera returned to his face. ‘I will not dwell upon the enormity of his action, at a time when as the evidence before you shows he was freely enjoying my hospitality. Whatever was mine was given to him without demur. He had only to ask, for he knew I grudged him nothing, not bread, not honey, provided only that it did not go against the interests of the nation. I need not explain to you therefore how I am more than cut to the quick by his devious and underhand attempt to grasp what clearly exceeded his reach.’
The camera moved slowly down to Tom’s hands, and the object before it, and then as he continued returned rapidly across his features to the bust of Lord Byron. ‘And there was more, that our school days should have led us to anticipate. The verse goes on to talk about the maid who was out in the garden hanging out the clothes. We were not out in the garden at the time, and I would not have described the gentleman who was once a member of my cabinet as a maid, but it is undeniably true that we were out of the room at the time, indeed outside the confines of the house itself and very nearly in the garden. Even more significant in the light of all that you saw and heard yesterday, is the final line of the verse about the blackbird that came down and pecked off her, that is his, nose. I need hardly explain to all of you the mythological and symbolic significance of the nose. I will simply leave it to all of you to consider how appropriate the verse is, in view of the attempt this once trusted member of my cabinet was making to build up for himself an independent organ of support, with the assistance of these institutions that flaunted themselves as MADAM and MASH. I have no doubt myself that he was the moving spirit behind everything that occurred. It was predominantly his perverse ambition that communicated itself to the gentleman who was my brother and the lady who was my wife, to whom I had given everything that a man or indeed a woman could want, and who nevertheless basely betrayed me.’
‘However dangerous the plot, however massive the organizations involved in it, in the final analysis it is this sense of betrayal by one who should have been the nearest and dearest to me that grieves me most of all. It was for this reason that, though I could not at the time reveal everything despite my suspicions, I could not refrain from making the melancholy statement you witnessed so frequently yesterday.’ The clip of Tom’s valediction at the door of the breakfast room was shown, in slow motion only on this occasion. When Tom’s voice resumed, his picture did not return at once, but the camera moved slowly instead from the bust of Byron, across Carlyle, to Shakespeare. It lingered there, and returned to Tom’s face only as he once more uttered the fateful words he had expressed so movingly the day before. ‘Of course the other loyal members of my cabinet who addressed you yesterday did not, perhaps because of concern for my feelings, perhaps because even then they did not fully realise the enormity of what I had suffered, reveal the true significance of those words. Yet it should have been obvious to anyone who had studied his Shakespeare at school as thoroughly as I did. Julius Caesar did not use those touching words of anguished farewell because Brutus was a political supporter, or even a friend or a relation. He used them because Brutus was the person to whom, precisely because of the indulgence he had shown him previously, he was in the whole world most attached.’
‘Of course such emotional ties to another member of the same sex are not generally considered proper in the present day, but they were common in the past and we should not necessarily condemn them because they are alien to our most sacred traditions, except of course under exceptional circumstances. That however is not relevant to us now. Let me simply reiterate that it was because of the acute sense of betrayal under which I laboured that I could not refrain at that moment from saying with Julius Caesar, “Et tu, Brute.”‘
There was long pause, during which the camera remained fixed firmly on Tom, before he resumed. ‘You will all doubtless think me sentimental. I will not attempt to deny it. I can be sentimental at times. However, I can also assure you that that will never prevent me from always doing my duty, without favour, on behalf of all the people all the time. Yet in asking you now peaceably to let the dead bury their dead, to permit the past to be forgotten, to allow the nation to return to quiet and calm without any more thoughts of vengeance or of violence, I ask you also to remember that I have suffered in this more than all of you. As your president, and an Executive one too, I bear the weight of my own and of all my people’ sorrows. And if I have taken up much of your time today to reveal the anguish that lacerates my heart, it is because I think it in your interest for all of you to understand and partake of the emotions that have nearly overwhelmed me. After all, in praying that you will all now with a fuller appreciation of the situation join together with me to construct a better future for all of us, it is not with shame but with sadness that I remind you of the words of yet another great poet I studied when I was young, who urges us that some tribute of regret should yet be paid even in circumstance like the present—
‘Men are we, and must grieve when even the Shade of that which once was great, is passed away.’
As the poetry was declaimed, the camera focused on Tom’s hands now once more clasped tightly together, and then it drew slowly away in the ensuing silence until suddenly, to the strains of the national anthem, it was possible to make out Tom rising stiffly to his feet behind the table. As the music flowed on, the picture faded gradually into one of the Ceylon and the Presidential flags fluttering side by side against a wall lined with books.
Indra too is passing through very difficult period. It is true that he is not the only one whose feelings the past permeates, but as we consider the events of these few days it is worth noting that in his case more than in most guilt is mixed in with regret and sorrow. He is conscious of obligations where others might see none; he discerns patterns in the interactions of individuals whom it would be less upsetting to leave well alone. Constantly now, and more and more as Monday gives way to Tuesday and Tuesday Wednesday, he has a vision of himself standing on the shore of a reverberating sea, the shadows around him indeterminately shifting.