In spite of the optimism expressed by his Cabinet, Tom’s address to the nation did not have the effect of making the violence subside. Far from it. Indeed on the next day things seemed to get very much worse. Roused to a consciousness of their economic deprivation, hordes of Sinhalese rushed through the streets looking for Tamils who might illicitly or otherwise be engaged in plumbago mining and suchlike and thereby making the money that was the birthright of the majority race. Anyone who was found with more than fifty rupees on his person who could not explain his occupation in Sinhalese was promptly put to death, or at the very least had his money confiscated. The police participated actively in this latter exercise, being perturbed by the confusion caused amongst arrack renters by the new regulations and therefore requiring alternative sources of income to those that had kept them in food and drink in recent times. To complicate matters further the navy misunderstood Tom and thought that he had declared that ship chandling was a Tamil monopoly that ought to be abolished; they promptly went out and burned down all the godowns they could get at, so that rumours of food shortages began to proliferate.
It is a matter of historical record that the credit for the swift restoration of order goes to Mark. We, however, who are privileged enough to comprehend the underlying causes of great public achievements must note also the significant intellectual contribution of Dulcie, the emotive consequences of Shiva’s death, and above all, the personal magnetism of Tom himself. It is after all because of Mark’s overweening ambition to have an affair with at least one of the women attached to Tom’s family that on that fateful day he visited Dulcie and had with her the inspiring conversation that we are about to record. For the sake of propriety, it is worth recording however, that, frequently though he visited her, she had never succumbed to his blandishments, not even in the distant days when he had possessed all his teeth and indeed several other faculties.
‘Tom’s retired to bed again,’ he announced gloomily, and downed his glass of Bristol Cream in one hasty gulp. He much preferred whiskey, but Dulcie never served anything but sherry before dinner. ‘Everything’s in a hopeless mess.’
‘It’s all due to the communists,’ said Dulcie firmly. This had been her father’s explanation for all problems during his days of prosperity, and she had never seen any reason to doubt his wisdom.
‘Reds under the bed,’ Devika piped in helpfully. When her sons had married she had been taken in by her stepdaughter.
‘Reds in the bed more likely,’ Dulcie snorted. ‘It’s all your fault.’ Mark was embarrassed for a moment, but it turned out Dulcie was not referring to his private life at all. ‘Look at that communist diplomat you’re allowing to corrupt all those boys in Negombo. Too much red meat, that’s what it is.’ She paused dramatically, as she often did, and Devika giggled obligingly, under the impression that a joke had been made. Dulcie withered her with a look. ‘They’re Catholics, that’s what it is,’ she went on. ‘The Buddhist peasantry that is the backbone of this country doesn’t eat meat. Just a little dried fish, and that also not always. But you people are encouraging the poor to want more than they can have, and the communists are inciting them to go about killing people and setting fire to things, and to do all sorts of filthy things instead of being satisfied with their lot and going fishing. No sense of values, that’s what it is.’
‘You’re certainly right about that awful man.’ Mark was still very bitter about the Red Shadow’s involvement with one of his own mistresses. This was why he had described in graphic and derogatory detail to Dulcie what he had since heard about the Shadow’s subsequent deviations. ‘I gather he was right in the thick of things near the airport, where they burned all those factories.’ Continue reading