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George Orwell > Burmese Days > Chapter 25

Burmese Days

Chapter 25

It was lucky that the padre should have been at Kyauktada, for he
was able, before catching the train on the following evening, to
read the burial service in due form and even to deliver a short
address on the virtues of the dead man. All Englishmen are
virtuous when they are dead. 'Accidental death' was the official
verdict (Dr Veraswami had proved with all his medico-legal skill
that the circumstances pointed to accident) and it was duly
inscribed upon the tombstone. Not that anyone believed it, of
course. Flory's real epitaph was the remark, very occasionally
uttered--for an Englishman who dies in Burma is so soon forgotten--
'Flory? Oh yes, he was a dark chap, with a birthmark. He shot
himself in Kyauktada in 1926. Over a girl, people said. Bloody
fool.' Probably no one, except Elizabeth, was much surprised at
what had happened. There is a rather large number of suicides
among the Europeans in Burma, and they occasion very little

Flory's death had several results. The first and most important of
them was that Dr Veraswami was ruined, even as he had foreseen.
The glory of being a white man's friend--the one thing that had
saved him before--had vanished. Flory's standing with the other
Europeans had never been good, it is true; but he was after all a
white man, and his friendship conferred a certain prestige. Once
he was dead, the doctor's ruin was assured. U Po Kyin waited the
necessary time, and then struck again, harder than ever. It was
barely three months before he had fixed it in the head of every
European in Kyauktada that the doctor was an unmitigated scoundrel.
No public accusation was ever made against him--U Po Kyin was most
careful of that. Even Ellis would have been puzzled to say just
what scoundrelism the doctor had been guilty of; but still, it was
agreed that he was a scoundrel. By degrees, the general suspicion
of him crystallized in a single Burmese phrase--'shok de'.
Veraswami, it was said, was quite a clever little chap in his way--
quite a good doctor for a native--but he was THOROUGHLY shok de.
Shok de means, approximately, untrustworthy, and when a 'native'
official comes to be known as shok de, there is an end of him.

The dreaded nod and wink passed somewhere in high places, and
the doctor was reverted to the rank of Assistant Surgeon and
transferred to Mandalay General Hospital. He is still there, and
is likely to remain. Mandalay is rather a disagreeable town--it
is dusty and intolerably hot, and it is said to have five main
products all beginning with P, namely, pagodas, pariahs, pigs,
priests and prostitutes--and the routine-work of the hospital is a
dreary business. The doctor lives just outside the hospital
grounds in a little bake-house of a bungalow with a corrugated iron
fence round its tiny compound, and in the evenings he runs a
private clinic to supplement his reduced pay. He has joined a
second-rate club frequented by Indian pleaders. Its chief glory is
a single European member--a Glasgow electrician named Macdougall,
sacked from the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company for drunkenness, and now
making a precarious living out of a garage. Macdougall is a dull
lout, only interested in whisky and magnetos. The doctor, who will
never believe that a white man can be a fool, tries almost every
night to engage him in what he still calls 'cultured conversation';
but the results are very unsatisfying.

Ko S'la inherited four hundred rupees under Flory's will, and with
his family he set up a tea-shop in the bazaar. But the shop
failed, as it was bound to do with the two women fighting in it at
all hours, and Ko S'la and Ba Pe were obliged to go back to
service. Ko S'la was an accomplished servant. Besides the useful
arts of pimping, dealing with money-lenders, carrying master to bed
when drunk and making pick-me-ups known as prairie oysters on the
following morning, he could sew, darn, refill cartridges, attend to
a horse, press a suit, and decorate a dinner-table with wonderful,
intricate patterns of chopped leaves and dyed rice-grains. He was
worth fifty rupees a month. But he and Ba Pe had fallen into lazy
ways in Flory's service, and, they were sacked from one job after
another. They had a bad year of poverty, and little Ba Shin
developed a cough, and finally coughed himself to death one
stifling hot-weather night. Ko S'la is now a second boy to a
Rangoon rice-broker with a neurotic wife who makes unending kit-
kit, and Ba Pe is pani-wallah in the same house at sixteen rupees a
month. Ma Hla May is in a brothel in Mandalay. Her good looks are
all but gone, and her clients pay her only four annas and sometimes
kick her and beat her. Perhaps more bitterly than any of the
others, she regrets the good time when Flory was alive, and when
she had not the wisdom to put aside any of the money she extracted
from him.

U Po Kyin realized all his dreams except one. After the doctor's
disgrace, it was inevitable that U Po Kyin should be elected to the
Club, and elected he was, in spite of bitter protests from Ellis.
In the end the other Europeans came to be rather glad that they had
elected him, for he was a bearable addition to the Club. He did
not come too often, was ingratiating in his manner, stood drinks
freely, and developed almost at once into a brilliant bridge-
player. A few months later he was transferred from Kyauktada and
promoted. For a whole year, before his retirement, he officiated
as Deputy Commissioner, and during that year alone he made twenty
thousand rupees in bribes. A month after his retirement he was
summoned to a durbar in Rangoon, to receive the decoration that had
been awarded to him by the Indian Government.

It was an impressive scene, that durbar. On the platform, hung
with flags and flowers, sat the Governor, frock-coated, upon a
species of throne, with a bevy of aides-de-camp and secretaries
behind him. All round the hall, like glittering waxworks, stood
the tall, bearded sowars of the Governor's bodyguard, with pennoned
lances in their hands. Outside, a band was blaring at intervals.
The gallery was gay with the white ingyis and pink scarves of
Burmese ladies, and in the body of the hall a hundred men or more
were waiting to receive their decorations. There were Burmese
officials in blazing Mandalay pasos, and Indians in cloth-of-gold
pagris, and British officers in full-dress uniform with clanking
sword-scabbards, and old thugyis with their grey hair knotted
behind their heads and silver-hilted dahs slung from their
shoulders. In a high, clear voice a secretary was reading out the
list of awards, which varied from the C.I.E. to certificates of
honour in embossed silver cases. Presently U Po Kyin's turn came
and the secretary read from his scroll:

'To U Po Kyin, Deputy Assistant Commissioner, retired, for long and
loyal service and especially for his timely aid in crushing a most
dangerous rebellion in Kyauktada district'--and so on and so on.

Then two henchmen, placed there for the purpose hoisted U Po Kyin
upright, and he waddled to the platform, bowed as low as his belly
would permit, and was duly decorated and felicitated, while Ma Kin
and other supporters clapped wildly and fluttered their scarves
from the gallery.

U Po Kyin had done all that mortal man could do. It was time now
to be making ready for the next world--in short, to begin building
pagodas. But unfortunately, this was the very point at which his
plans went wrong. Only three days after the Governor's durbar,
before so much as a brick of those atoning pagodas had been laid, U
Po Kyin was stricken with apoplexy and died without speaking again.
There is no armour against fate. Ma Kin was heartbroken at the
disaster. Even if she had built the pagodas herself, it would have
availed U Po Kyin nothing; no merit can be acquired save by one's
own act. She suffers greatly to think of U Po Kyin where he must
be now--wandering in God knows what dreadful subterranean hell of
fire, and darkness, and serpents, and genii. Or even if he has
escaped the worst, his other fear has been realized, and he has
returned to the earth in the shape of a rat or a frog. Perhaps at
this very moment a snake is devouring him.

As to Elizabeth, things fell out better than she had expected.
After Flory's death Mrs Lackersteen, dropping all pretences for
once, said openly that there were no men in this dreadful place and
the only hope was to go and stay several months in Rangoon or
Maymyo. But she could not very well send Elizabeth to Rangoon or
Maymyo alone, and to go with her practically meant condemning Mr
Lackersteen to death from delirium tremens. Months passed, and the
rains reached their climax, and Elizabeth had just made up her mind
that she must go home after all, penniless and unmarried, when--Mr
Macgregor proposed to her. He had had it in his mind for a long
time; indeed, he had only been waiting for a decent interval to
elapse after Flory's death.

Elizabeth accepted him gladly. He was rather old, perhaps, but a
Deputy Commissioner is not to be despised--certainly he was a far
better match than Flory. They are very happy. Mr Macgregor was
always a good-hearted man, but he has grown more human and likeable
since his marriage. His voice booms less, and he has given up his
morning exercises. Elizabeth has grown mature surprisingly
quickly, and a certain hardness of manner that always belonged to
her has become accentuated. Her servants live in terror of her,
though she speaks no Burmese. She has an exhaustive knowledge of
the Civil List, gives charming little dinner-parties and knows how
to put the wives of subordinate officials in their places--in
short, she fills with complete success the position for which
Nature had designed her from the first, that of a burra memsahib.

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