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1977

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STAYING ON

by Paul Scott

a novel

THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS

To my old colleague and friend

Roland Gant

whom I regard and thank

Grateful acknowledgment is made to Bourne Company for permission to quote from the

lyrics of “These Foolish Things,” © Copyright 1935 by Boosey and Co. Ltd., Copyright

renewed, rights for the United States of America and Canada assigned to Bourne Co. New

York, New York 10036; and to Mrs. Sally Simpson for permission to quote from the lyrics

of “Chloe,” Copyright-Villa Moret, Inc.

The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 60637 Copyright © 1977 by Paul Scott

All rights reserved. Originally published 1977 University of Chicago Press Edition 1998

Printed in the United States of America.

04 03 02 01 00 99 98 654321

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Scott, Paul, 1920-78

Staying on : a novel / Paul Scott. — University of Chicago Press ed.

p. cm.

ISBN 0-226-74349-7 (acid-free paper) 1. British—India—History—20th century—Fiction.

2. India—History—1947- Fiction. I. Title. PR6069.C596S73 1998

823’.914—dc21 98-8059

CIP

The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of the American

National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library

Materials, ANSI Z39.48-1992.

STAYING ON

Chapter One

WHEN TUSKER SMALLEY died of a massive coronary at approximately 9.30 a.m. on

the last Monday in April, 1972, his wife Lucy was out, having her white hair blue-rinsed and

set in the Seraglio Room on the ground floor of Pankot’s new five-storey glass and concrete

hotel, The Shiraz.

The Shiraz was only a step or two away from the little hill station’s older hotel, Smith’s,

whose annexe had been occupied by Tusker and Lucy for ten years. The annexe, known as

The Lodge, was a small bungalow in what had once been an adjacent but separate

compound, a section of whose dividing wall had been knocked down and a path trodden to

create an illusion of connexion between hotel and annexe. The old gateway into The Lodge’s

compound, now known as the side-entrance, gave on to a lane. Immediately opposite was

The Shiraz.

If Tusker had been found at once, then, and a message sent across, Lucy would have had

the news at just the moment any woman would subsequently have to think of as the most

inconvenient at which to hear she had become a widow. At 9.30 she was going under the

dryer.

But Tusker lay dead for half-an-hour and might have lain longer if Mrs Bhoolabhoy, who

owned Smith’s and lived in one of its principal rooms, hadn’t become unnerved by the

howling of Colonel and Mrs Smalley’s dog, Bloxsaw. The howling was not very loud because

the dog was locked in Colonel Smalley’s garage, but it was persistent so Mr Bhoolabhoy was

ordered over to complain on Mrs Bhoolabhoy’s behalf.

Mrs Bhoolabhoy, who had jowls and favoured sarees in pastel colours such as salmon pink

which emphasized the fairness of her skin, was a martyr to several things, among them,

migraine. On mornings when she kept to her room, work at Smith’s Hotel came virtually to

a standstill. The slightest percussive sound was more than she was prepared to bear. The

hotel was hers, Mr Bhoolabhoy merely its manager, whom she had married. Mrs Bhoolabhoy

weighed sixteen stone. Her husband was constructed on more meagre lines.

Mr Bhoolabhoy had managed Smith’s for years before the woman he married turned up as

its new proprietor. He was her third and youngest husband; according to Tusker Smalley

probably the lucky one because she was unlikely to enjoy a fourth, being now almost as

richly endowed with killing flesh as with life-enhancing rupees. Tusker, who called Mr

Bhoolabhoy Billy-Boy, except when they had quarrelled, which sometimes they had to, said

Billy-Boy looked like a man who, inured to disappointment, had suddenly glimpsed an

immense possibility and begun to organize himself so as not to make the mistake that would

block his way to it. Mrs Bhoolabhoy had had no children by any of her husbands. “He

stands to gain,” Tusker had often pointed out to Lucy. “And he feeds her up a treat. One

day she’ll drop.”

Actually, Mrs Bhoolabhoy fed herself without either Mr Bhoolabhoy’s help or hindrance.

His policy was to minimize every risk of incurring her displeasure. These risks were many.

On her good days when she waddled about looking into this and that and finding fault he

followed in her galleon-wake in his neat well-pressed suit making sure her orders were

carried out and the sources of her irritation at once put a stop to. On her bad days he walked

on tiptoe and had the entire staff doing the same so that even the guests (when there were

any) felt themselves under a cloud and got out of the place as soon as possible after

breakfast.

The last Monday morning in this April (April 24) was such a morning; if anything heavier

than usual with the pressure of Mrs Bhoolabhoy’s martyrdom which throbbed like a silent

fog-warning through the hotel from the shuttered bedroom (the old Number One) where

she lay on a massive double bed which she took up most of. Occasionally Mr Bhoolabhoy

was detailed to share this bed but had not been the previous night when he had slept in his

own room (the old Number Two). The two rooms were en-suite with a communicating door

which Mr Bhoolabhoy never bolted his side of but which frequently did not give to his

gentle midnight nudge. He had not nudged it the night before. Sunday had been a shattering

day.

At 7.30 a.m. he was summoned from No. 2 to No. 1 by his wife’s personal maid, a local

Pankot woman whom they called by the name she had been given long ago by the British

military family who employed her as a little ayah until they went home in 1947: Minnie.

Minnie was now plump, middle-aged and grumpy. Mr Bhoolabhoy got no change out of her.

She took orders only from Mrs Bhoolabhoy, and not always from her. Mr Bhoolabhoy

maintained a cautious attitude to Minnie. Sometimes Minnie complained about him to Mrs

Bhoolabhoy, or about what she called Management which came to the same thing. This led

to Mrs Bhoolabhoy shouting at him. At other times when Minnie was being uncooperative

even with Mrs Bhoolabhoy he got shouted at again.

“You can’t win, old man,” Tusker had told him. “Not with women. Minnie probably

fancies you. It gives her a kick to get you into trouble. Obviously you’ve never made a pass

at her. Try it.”

“No, no. It must be menopause.”

“In that case she ought to go into the next Guinness Book of Records. You’ve been saying

that for years. Have another peg.”

So they had had another peg. That was a week ago. Monday evenings were evenings Mr

Bhoolabhoy usually looked forward to. However badly Monday started, however badly

indisposed Mrs Bhoolabhoy was at breakfast-time, by lunch she had usually recovered

sufficiently to take some nourishment and so fortify herself to spend the rest of the gruelling

day playing bridge at the Pankot Gymkhana Club. Mondays were not her only bridge days:

there could be sessions on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday; but never

Sunday because Sunday was Mr Bhoolabhoy’s day off and her day for checking his records

of the hotel’s income and expenditure which often contributed to the fact that there could

easily be a difference of opinion between them on Sunday evening, a celibate night for Mr

Bhoolabhoy and a Monday morning migraine for his wife.

What gave Monday evenings their attraction was not just that Mrs Bhoolabhoy could be

counted on to stay late at the club but also that on these evenings Mrs Smalley took herself

to the pictures at the New Electric. Once Mr Bhoolabhoy had seen the last evening guest

out of Smith’s dining-room and ensured that the servants were beginning to clear up and the

kitchen-staff to wash up, that cook had remembered to prepare Mrs Bhoolabhoy’s midnight

snack, that Minnie had properly arranged her mistress’s bed and was somewhere within her

mistress’s immediate call, then he and Tusker could meet over a bottle either at The Lodge

or on the verandah of the hotel (where the sound of Mrs Bhoolabhoy returning could be

better heard).

Neither man got drunk. Tusker drank more than Mr Bhoolabhoy, but then Tusker was a

member—the last surviving member in Pankot, with his wife—of the old school of British

and needed his liquor. Mr Bhoolabhoy drank less not only because he had principles (frail at

times) but because he loved listening to Tusker who seemed to know so much about such a

lot (old scandal, new scandal, local scandal, international scandal; the Profumo affair, the

Kennedy assassination, why President Johnson pulled dogs by their ears, why Prime Minister

Heath was married to a boat, why it was that the British were pro-Pakistan in the first Indo-

Pak war and pro-India in the one just finished, and what Henry Kissinger had said to the

dumbest blonde in Connecticut who only wanted to send a message to her momma in

Warsaw).

Over the years of their convivial Mondays Mr Bhoolabhoy had gathered a great deal of

esoteric information about Presidents, Palaces and Peoples’ Democracies. The range of

Tusker’s knowledge of the world had astonished him, fascinated him. He often wished he

could remember one-tenth of what he had learned, been told; and sometimes thought he

might have done so if he had got as well-oiled as Tusker. But apart from his principles, his

preference for hearing clearly what Tusker was saying, his relative abstemiousness was

imposed upon him by awareness of the necessity to aim off for the wind of Mrs

Bhoolabhoy’s unpredictable Monday night desire.

This tended to depend on how much she had won. More often than not she came home up

on the evening in which case Mr Bhoolabhoy had to be prepared to be up to things too. He

had to be similarly prepared if she had lost so much in the day-long bridge session that she

was feeling unloved and unwanted in an unkind and swindling world. He found this rather

touching and on such occasions, after their combined and gigantic climax, they often had a

little weep together and exchanged protestations of their beholdeness one to the other and

of their resolve to be beholden forever. (Her break-even nights could be very dull.) Too

often, though, the combination of money lost, midnight snack, violent intercourse and tears

of relief and love, led next day to Mrs Bhoolabhoy’s further prostration.

But this Monday was unlikely to draw to a close for Mr Bhoolabhoy with a convivial

meeting with Colonel Smalley (Indian Army, Rtd). Today, unless he could wriggle out of it

again he was going to have to write the Letter. Obeying the summons delivered by Minnie

he entered Room No. i and stood nervously at the foot of his wife’s bed. The summons had

not surprised him because a quarter of an hour before he had heard Mrs Bhoolabhoy moan.

He had already warned the servants not to clatter.

“Shall I send for Dr Rajendra, Lila?” he asked in a whisper, and in the English they spoke

to one another in because he could not understand her when she rattled away in her native

Punjabi.

She mouthed the word no. Her mouth and her moustache were all he could see of her face.

She was on her back, both hands pressed to her head.

“Dr Taporewala, perhaps?” Then he moistened his lips in anticipation. “What about Dr

Battacharya?”

Dr Rajendra practised western medicine; Taporewala, the ayurvedic. Dr Battacharya went

in for acupuncture, and had once cured Mrs Bhoolabhoy of migraine for a whole week by

sticking her ample body all over with little pins; which had been a sight to see.

“No doctor,” she said. “Have you written the Letter?”

“I am about to.”

“Do it. Then bring it. I will sign it.”

BOOK: 1977
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