The Complete Works of



George Orwell > Burmese Days > Chapter 21

Burmese Days

Chapter 21

O western wind, when wilt thou blow, that the small rain down can
rain? It was the first of June, the day of the general meeting,
and there had not been a drop of rain yet. As Flory came up the
Club path the sun of afternoon, slanting beneath his hat-brim, was
still savage enough to scorch his neck uncomfortably. The mali
staggered along the path, his breast-muscles slippery with sweat,
carrying two kerosene-tins of water on a yoke. He dumped them
down, slopping a little water over his lank brown feet, and
salaamed to Flory.

'Well, mali, is the rain coming?'

The man gestured vaguely towards the west. 'The hills have
captured it, sahib.'

Kyauktada was ringed almost round by hills, and these caught the
earlier showers, so that sometimes no rain fell till almost the end
of June. The earth of the flower-beds, hoed into large untidy
lumps, looked grey and hard as concrete. Flory went into the
lounge and found Westfield loafing by the veranda, looking out over
the river, for the chicks had been rolled up. At the foot of the
veranda a chokra lay on his back in the sun, pulling the punkah
rope with his heel and shading his face with a broad strip of
banana leaf.

'Hullo, Flory! You've got thin as a rake.'

'So've you.'

'H'm, yes. Bloody weather. No appetite except for booze. Christ,
won't I be glad when I hear the frogs start croaking. Let's have a
spot before the others come. Butler!'

'Do you know who's coming to the meeting?' Flory said, when the
butler had brought whisky and tepid soda.

'Whole crowd, I believe. Lackersteen got back from camp three days
ago. By God, that man's been having the time of his life away from
his missus! My inspector was telling me about the goings-on at his
camp. Tarts by the score. Must have imported 'em specially from
Kyauktada. He'll catch it all right when the old woman sees his
Club bill. Eleven bottles of whisky sent out to his camp in a

'Is young Verrall coming?'

'No, he's only a temporary member. Not that he'd trouble to come
anyway, young tick. Maxwell won't be here either. Can't leave
camp just yet, he says. He sent word Ellis was to speak for him if
there's any voting to be done. Don't suppose there'll be anything
to vote about, though eh?' he added, looking at Flory obliquely,
for both of them remembered their previous quarrel on this subject.

'I suppose it lies with Macgregor.'

'What I mean is, Macgregor'll have dropped that bloody rot about
electing a native member, eh? Not the moment for it just now.
After the rebellion and all that.'

'What about the rebellion, by the way?' said Flory. He did not
want to start wrangling about the doctor's election yet. There was
going to be trouble and to spare in a few minutes. 'Any more news--
are they going to have another try, do you think?'

'No. All over, I'm afraid. They caved in like the funks they are.
The whole district's as quiet as a bloody girls' school. Most

Flory's heart missed a beat. He had heard Elizabeth's voice in the
next room. Mr Macgregor came in at this moment, Ellis and Mr
Lackersteen following. This made up the full quota, for the women
members of the Club had no votes. Mr Macgregor was already dressed
in a silk suit, and was carrying the Club account books under his
arm. He managed to bring a sub-official air even into such petty
business as a Club meeting.

'As we seem to be all here,' he said after the usual greetings,
'shall we--ah--proceed with our labours?'

'Lead on, Macduff,' said Westfield, sitting down.

'Call the butler, someone, for Christ's sake,' said Mr Lackersteen.
'I daren't let my missus hear me calling him.'

'Before we apply ourselves to the agenda,' said Mr Macgregor when
he had refused a drink and the others had taken one, 'I expect you
will want me to run through the accounts for the half-year?'

They did not want it particularly, but Mr Macgregor, who enjoyed
this kind of thing, ran through the accounts with great thoroughness.
Flory's thoughts were wandering. There was going to be such a row
in a moment--oh, such a devil of a row! They would be furious when
they found that he was proposing the doctor after all. And
Elizabeth was in the next room. God send she didn't hear the noise
of the row when it came. It would make her despise him all the more
to see the others baiting him. Would he see her this evening?
Would she speak to him? He gazed across the quarter-mile of
gleaming river. By the far bank a knot of men, one of them wearing
a green gaungbaung, were waiting beside a sampan. In the channel,
by the nearer bank, a huge, clumsy Indian barge struggled with
desperate slowness against the racing current. At each stroke the
ten rowers, Dravidian starvelings, ran forward and plunged their
long primitive oars, with heart-shaped blades, into the water. They
braced their meagre bodies, then tugged, writhed, strained backwards
like agonized creatures of black rubber, and the ponderous hull
crept onwards a yard or two. Then the rowers sprang forward,
panting, to plunge their oars again before the current should check

'And now,' said Mr Macgregor more gravely, 'we come to the main
point of the agenda. That, of course, is this--ah--distasteful
question, which I am afraid must be faced, of electing a native
member to this Club. When we discussed the matter before--'

'What the hell!'

It was Ellis who had interrupted. He was so excited that he had
sprung to his feet.

'What the hell! Surely we aren't starting THAT over again? Talk
about electing a damned nigger so this Club, after everything
that's happened! Good God, I thought even Flory had dropped it by
this time!'

'Our friend Ellis appears surprised. The matter has been discussed
before, I believe.'

'I should think it damned well was discussed before! And we all
said what we thought of it. By God--'

'If our friend Ellis will sit down for a few moments--' said Mr
Macgregor tolerantly.

Ellis threw himself into his chair again, exclaiming, 'Bloody
rubbish!' Beyond the river Flory could see the group of Burmans
embarking. They were lifting a long, awkward-shaped bundle into
the sampan. Mr Macregor had produced a letter from his file of

'Perhaps I had better explain how this question arose in the first
place. The Commissioner tells me that a circular has been sent
round by the Government, suggesting that in those Clubs where there
are no native members, one at least shall be co-opted; that is,
admitted automatically. The circular says--ah yes! here it is:
"It is mistaken policy to offer social affronts to native officials
of high standing." I may say that I disagree most emphatically.
No doubt we all do. We who have to do the actual work of
government see things very differently from these--ah--Paget M.P.s
who interfere with us from above. The Commissioner quite agrees
with me. However--'

'But it's all bloody rot!' broke in Ellis. 'What's it got to do
with the Commissioner or anyone else? Surely we can do as we like
in our own bloody Club? They've no right to dictate to us when
we're off duty.'

'Quite,' said Westfield.

'You anticipate me. I told the Commissioner that I should have to
put the matter before the other members. And the course he
suggests is this. If the idea finds any support in the Club, he
thinks it would be better if we co-opted our native member. On the
other hand, if the entire Club is against it, it can be dropped.
That is, if opinion is quite unanimous.'

'Well, it damned well is unanimous,' said Ellis.

'D'you mean,' said Westfield, 'that it depends on ourselves whether
we have 'em in here or no?'

'I fancy we can take it as meaning that.'

'Well, then, let's say we're against it to a man.'

'And say it bloody firmly, by God. We want to put our foot down on
this idea once and for all.'

'Hear, hear!' said Mr Lackersteen gruffly. 'Keep the black swabs
out of it. Esprit de corps and all that.'

Mr Lackersteen could always be relied upon for sound sentiments in
a case like this. In his heart he did not care and never had cared
a damn for the British Raj, and he was as happy drinking with an
Oriental as with a white man; but he was always ready with a loud
'Hear, hear!' when anyone suggested the bamboo for disrespectful
servants or boiling oil for Nationalists. He prided himself that
though he might booze a bit and all that, dammit, he WAS loyal. It
was his form of respectability. Mr Macgregor was secretly rather
relieved by the general agreement. If any Oriental member were co-
opted, that member would have to be Dr Veraswami, and he had had
the deepest distrust of the doctor ever since Nga Shwe O's
suspicious escape from the jail.

'Then I take it that you are all agreed?' he said. 'If so, I will
inform the Commissioner. Otherwise, we must begin discussing the
candidate for election.'

Flory stood up. He had got to say his say. His heart seemed to
have risen into his throat and to be choking him. From what Mr
Macgregor had said, it was clear that it was in his power to secure
the doctor's election by speaking the word. But oh, what a bore,
what a nuisance it was! What an infernal uproar there would be!
How he wished he had never given the doctor that promise! No
matter, he had given it, and he could not break it. So short a
time ago he would have broken it, en bon pukka sahib, how easily!
But not now. He had got to see this thing through. He turned
himself sidelong so that his birthmark was away from the others.
Already he could feel his voice going flat and guilty.

'Our friend Flory has something to suggest?'

'Yes. I propose Dr Veraswami as a member of this Club.'

There was such a yell of dismay from three of the others that Mr
Macgregor had to rap sharply on the table and remind them that the
ladies were in the next room. Ellis took not the smallest notice.
He had sprung to his feet again, and the skin round his nose had
gone quite grey. He and Flory remained facing one another, as
though on the point of blows.

'Now, you damned swab, will you take that back?'

'No, I will not.'

'You oily swine! You nigger's Nancy Boy! You crawling, sneaking,--
bloody bastard!'

'Order!' exclaimed Mr Macgregor.

'But look at him, look at him!' cried Ellis almost tearfully.
'Letting us all down for the sake of a pot-bellied nigger! After
all we've said to him! When we've only got to hang together and we
can keep the stink of garlic out of this Club for ever. My God,
wouldn't it make you spew your guts up to see anyone behaving like
such a--?'

'Take it back, Flory, old man!' said Westfield. 'Don't be a bloody

'Downright Bolshevism, dammit!' said Mr Lackersteen.

'Do you think I care what you say? What business is it of yours?
It's for Macgregor to decide.'

'Then do you--ah--adhere to your decision?' said Mr Macgregor


Mr Macgregor sighed. 'A pity! Well, in that case I suppose I have
no choice--'

'No, no, no!' cried Ellis, dancing about in his rage. 'Don't give
in to him! Put it to the vote. And if that son of a bitch doesn't
put in a black ball like the rest of us, we'll first turf him out
of the Club himself, and then--well! Butler!'

'Sahib!' said the butler, appearing.

'Bring the ballot box and the balls. Now clear out!' he added
roughly when the butler had obeyed.

The air had gone very stagnant; for some reason the punkah had
stopped working. Mr Macgregor stood up with a disapproving but
judicial mien, taking the two drawers of black and white balls out
of the ballot box.

'We must proceed in order. Mr Flory proposes Dr Veraswami, the
Civil Surgeon, as a member of this Club. Mistaken, in my opinion,
greatly mistaken; however--! Before putting the matter to the

'Oh, why make a song and dance about it?' said Ellis. 'Here's my
contribution! And another for Maxwell.' He plumped two black
balls into the box. Then one of his sudden spasms of rage seized
him, and he took the drawer of white balls and pitched them across
the floor. They went flying in all directions. 'There! Now pick
one up if you want to use it!'

'You damned fool! What good do you think that does?'


They all started and looked round. The chokra was goggling at them
over the veranda rail, having climbed up from below. With one
skinny arm he clung to the rail and with the other gesticulated
towards the river.

'Sahib! Sahib!'

'What's up?' said Westfield.

They all moved for the window. The sampan that Flory had seen
across the river was lying under the bank at the foot of the lawn,
one of the men clinging to a bush to steady it. The Burman in the
green gaungbaung was climbing out.

'That's one of Maxwell's Forest Rangers!' said Ellis in quite a
different voice. 'By God! something's happened!'

The Forest Ranger saw Mr Macgregor, shikoed in a hurried,
preoccupied way and turned back to the sampan. Four other men,
peasants, climbed out after him, and with difficulty lifted ashore
the strange bundle that Flory had seen in the distance. It was six
feet long, swathed in cloths, like a mummy. Something happened in
everybody's entrails. The Forest Ranger glanced at the veranda,
saw that there was no way up, and led the peasants round the path
to the front of the Club. They had hoisted the bundle on to their
shoulders as funeral bearers hoist a coffin. The butler had
flitted into the lounge again, and even his face was pale after its
fashion--that is, grey.

'Butler!' said Mr Macgregor sharply.


'Go quickly and shut the door of the card-room. Keep it shut.
Don't let the memsahibs see.'

'Yes, sir!'

The Burmans, with their burden, came heavily down the passage. As
they entered the leading man staggered and almost fell; he had
trodden on one of the white balls that were scattered about the
floor. The Burmans knelt down, lowered their burden to the floor
and stood over it with a strange reverent air, slightly bowing,
their hands together in a shiko. Westfield had fallen on his
knees, and he pulled back the cloth.

'Christ! Just look at him!' he said, but without much surprise.
'Just look at the poor little b--!'

Mr Lackersteen had retreated to the other end of the room, with a
bleating noise. From the moment when the bundle was lifted ashore
they had all known what it contained. It was the body of Maxwell,
cut almost to pieces with dahs by two relatives of the man whom he
had shot.

< Back
Forward >

Index Index

  • Other Authors:    
> Charles Darwin
> Charles Dickens
> Mark Twain
> William Shakespeare

George Orwell. Copyright 2003,
Contact the webmaster
Disclaimer here. Privacy Policy here.