فصل 17

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فصل 17

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Chapter seventeen

John Alone

The door was half open. They entered. ‘John!’ From the bathroom came the unpleasant sound of somebody being violently sick.

‘Is there anything the matter?’ Helmholtz called.

There was no answer. The unpleasant sound was repeated, twice. There was silence. Then the bathroom door opened and, very pale, the Savage came out.

‘I say,’ Helmholtz cried anxiously, ‘you do look ill, John.’

‘Did you eat something that upset you?’ asked Bernard.

The Savage nodded. ‘I ate civilization.’

‘What?’

‘It poisoned me. And then,’ he added in a lower tone, ‘I ate my own evil nature.’

‘Yes, but what exactly… I mean, just now you ‘Now I am pure again,’ said the Savage. ‘I drank some salty water.’

The others stared at him in surprise. ‘Do you mean to say that you were doing it on purpose?’ asked Bernard.

‘That’s how the Indians always make themselves pure.’ He sat down and wiped his forehead. ‘I shall rest for a few minutes,’ he said. ‘I’m rather tired.’

‘Well, I’m not surprised,’ said Helmholtz. After a silence, ‘We’ve come to say goodbye,’ he went on in another tone. ‘We’re off tomorrow morning.’

‘Yes, we’re off tomorrow,’ said Bernard, on whose face the Savage noticed a new expression of determined acceptance.

‘And by the way, John,’ he continued, leaning forward in his chair and laying a hand on the Savage’s knee, ‘I want to say how sorry I am about everything that happened yesterday.’ His face went red. ‘How ashamed,’ he went on, in spite of the trembling in his voice, ‘how really-‘

The Savage cut him short and, taking his hand, pressed it in sympathy.

‘Helmholtz was wonderful to me,’ Bernard went on, after a little pause. ‘If it hadn’t been for him, I should-‘

‘Now, now,’ Helmholtz protested.

There was a silence. In spite of their sadness - because of it even, for their sadness was the sign of their love for one another - the three young men were happy.

‘I went to see the Controller this morning,’ said the Savage at last.

‘What for?’

‘To ask if I could go to the islands with you.’

‘And what did he say?’ asked Helmholtz eagerly.

The Savage shook his head. ‘He wouldn’t let me.’

‘Why not?’

‘He said he wanted to go on with the experiment. But I won’t,’ said the Savage with sudden anger, ‘I won’t go on being experimented with. Not for all the Controllers in the world. I shall go away tomorrow too.’

‘But where?’ the others asked.

The Savage shook his head. ‘I don’t know. Anywhere, I don’t care. So long as I can be alone.’

The helicopter airlane from London to Portsmouth was marked by a line of air-lighthouses which served to guide night-flyers. The line from Portsmouth to London ran roughly parallel to it, similarly marked, some distance to the west. At one point, in the county of Surrey, the old lines had been not more than 6 or 7 kilometres apart. The distance was too small for careless flyers - particularly at night and when they had taken half a gram too much. There had been accidents. Serious ones. It had been decided to move the Portsmouth-London line a few kilometres further to the west. The course of the old line was marked by four deserted air-lighthouses. The skies above them were empty and silent.

The Savage had chosen for his lonely dwelling one of these lighthouses which stood on the top of a hill. The building was well-built and in good condition - almost too comfortable, the Savage had thought when he first looked round the place, almost too civilized. But he accepted it by promising himself that he would make his life all the harder, with the severest self-discipline. His first night there was passed without sleep. He spent the dark hours on his knees, praying to all the gods of whom he had heard in his childhood days in the Reservation. From time to time he stretched out his arms as though he were on the cross, and held them out until they ached. ‘Oh, forgive me,’ he prayed as the tears streamed down his face, ‘Oh, make me pure! Oh, help me to be good!’ again and again, till he was on the point of fainting from the pain.

When morning came, he felt he had earned the right to live in the lighthouse, yes, even though there was still glass in most of the windows, even though the view from the platform was so fine. For the very reason for his choosing the lighthouse had become almost immediately a reason for going somewhere else. He had decided to live there because the view was so beautiful, because from that high place he seemed to be looking out on the loveliness of Heaven itself. But what right had he to be comforted with the daily and hourly sight of loveliness? All he deserved to live in was some blind hole in the ground. Stiff and still aching after his long night of pain, but feeling comforted because of it, he climbed to the platform of his tower, he looked out over the bright, sunlit land. To the north the view ended with the long line of hills known as the Hog’s Back. In the valley which separated these hills from the sandy hill on which the lighthouse stood, there was a little village with a chicken farm, only nine floors high. On the other side of the lighthouse, towards the south, the ground fell away in long slopes of rough grass and low bushes to a chain of small lakes.

It was this slope that had attracted the Savage to the lighthouse. The woods, the open stretches of yellow-flowering bushes, the tall trees, the shining lakes - these were beautiful and, to an eye used to the dry wastes of the American desert, amazing. And then the quietness! Whole days passed during which he never saw a human being. The lighthouse was only a quarter of an hour’s flight from the Charing-T Tower, but the hills of Malpais were hardly more empty than this little spot. The crowds that left London daily left it only to play Obstacle Golf or Tennis. There were no golf clubs in the area. The nearest artificial tennis courts were several miles away. Flowers and scenery were the only attractions here. And so, as there was no good reason for coming, nobody came. During the first few days the Savage lived alone and in peace.

Of the money which, on his first arrival, John had received for his personal expenses, most had been spent on equipment that he needed for his new life. He counted his money. The little that remained, he hoped, would be enough to last him through the winter. By next spring, his garden would be producing enough to make him independent of the outside world. Meanwhile, there would always be wild animals. He had seen plenty of rabbits, and there were wild duck on the lakes. He set to work at once to make a bow and arrows.

There were young trees, beautifully straight, in a little wood near the lighthouse. He began by cutting down one which gave him 2 metres of straight stem without branches. He took off the outer covering of the tree and then gradually and very carefully cut away the white wood, as old Mitsima had taught him, until he had a strong stick, of his own height, stiff at the centre where it was thickest, lively as a steel spring at the tips. After those weeks in London, with nothing to do, whenever he wanted anything, but to press a switch or turn a handle, it was pure joy to be doing something that demanded skill and patience.

He had almost finished shaping the staff when he realized with a shock that he was singing - singing! He stopped, feeling very guilty. After all, it was not to sing and enjoy himself that he had come here. It was to escape from the disgusting contact with civilized life. It was to be made pure and good. He realized that he had forgotten what he had promised to himself that he would remember - poor Linda and his own murderous unkindness to her in her last moments. He had come here to show how deep was his sorrow. And here he was, sitting happily making his bow, singing, actually singing…

He went inside, opened the box of salt, and put some water on to boil.

Half an hour later, three Delta-Minus land workers who happened to be driving past were shocked to see a young man standing beside the abandoned lighthouse naked to the waist and hitting himself with a knotted whip. His back was marked with thin red lines, and between them ran drops of blood. The driver of the lorry stopped at the side of the road and, with his two friends, stared open-mouthed at the extraordinary sight. One, two, three - they counted the strokes. After the eighth, the young man interrupted his self-punishment to run to the woods edge and there be violently sick. When he had finished, he picked up the whip and began hitting himself again - nine, ten, eleven, twelve…

‘Ford!’ whispered the driver. And his twins were of the same opinion.

‘Fordey!’ they said.

Three days later, like birds settling on a dead body, the reporters came.

Dried and hardened over a slow fire of green wood, the bow was ready. The Savage was busy on his arrows. Thirty straight sticks had been dried, tipped with sharp nails, and a V-shaped cut carefully made at the other end of each one, where the string would fit. He had secretly visited the chicken farm one night, and now had enough feathers for all his needs. He was putting feathers on one of his arrows when the first of the reporters arrived. Noiseless on rubber shoes, the man came up behind him.

‘Good morning, Mr Savage,’ he said. ‘I am the representative of The Hourly Radio.’

Taken by surprise, the Savage sprang to his feet as if a snake had bitten him, scattering arrows and feathers in all directions.

‘I beg your pardon,’ said the reporter. ‘I’m sorry.’

He touched his hat - a tall hat of light metal in which he carried his radio equipment. ‘Excuse my not taking it off,’ he said. ‘It’s a bit heavy. Well, as I was saying. I am the representative of The Hourly-‘

‘What do you want?’ asked the Savage angrily.

The reporter smiled his most friendly smile.

‘Well, of course, our readers would be very interested in a few words from you, Mr Savage.’ He smiled more pleasantly than ever, ‘Just a few words from you, Mr Savage.’ And in a very few moments he had taken wires from his pocket, connected them to his radio set and turned it on. ‘Hullo,’ he said into a microphone which the touch of a spring had caused to hang down from his hat and in front of his mouth. A bell suddenly rang inside his hat. ‘Is that you, Edzel? Primo Mellon speaking. Yes, I’ve managed to find him. He’s here. Mr Savage will now take the microphone and say a few words. Won’t you, Mr Savage?’ He looked up at the Savage with another of those winning smiles. Just tell our readers why you came here. What made you leave London (hold on, Edzel) so suddenly. And, of course, that whip. (The Savage jumped. How did they know about the whip?) And then something about Civilization. You know the sort of stuff, ‘What I think of the Civilized Girl. ‘Just a few words, a very few…’

The Savage obeyed, but not in the way Mr Mellon expected. Two words he spoke, no more, and then repeated them. ‘Get out!’ he shouted, ‘Get out!’ And seizing the reporter by the shoulder he spun him round and, with all the force and skill of a champion football player, kicked him violently on his well-covered bottom.

Eight minutes later, a new edition of The Hourly Radio was on sale in the streets of London. ‘HOURLY RADIO REPORTER KICKED BY MYSTERY SAVAGE’ said the headline on the front page.

In spite of what Mellon had suffered, four other reporters called that afternoon at the lighthouse. Each one was received more violently than the one before.

From a safe distance and still rubbing the sore place where the kick had landed, one of them shouted, ‘You madman, why don’t you take soma? That would make you feel better.’

‘Oh, would it?’ said the Savage, picking up a large stick and moving towards him. The reporter made a rush for his helicopter. The Savage was left for a time in peace. A few helicopters came and circled the tower. He shot an arrow into the nearest of them. It went through the light metal floor of the helicopter. There was a cry of pain, and the machine shot up into the air with all the speed and power that its engines could give it. After that the others kept their distance respectfully. Taking no further notice of them, the Savage dug at what was to be his garden. After a time they grew tired of waiting, since nothing seemed to be happening, and flew away.

The weather was very hot, there was thunder in the air. He had dug all the morning and was resting, stretched out along the floor. And suddenly Lenina came into his thoughts, as real as if she were there in the lighthouse with him, naked, saying ‘Darling!’ and ‘Put your arms round me!’ - in shoes and socks and smelling sweet. Shameless woman! But oh, oh, her arms round his neck, her soft red lips, her smooth white skin! Lenina… No, no, no, no! He sprang to his feet and ran out of the house. At the edge of the wood there stood an old bush with needle-like leaves. He threw himself against it, he held closely not the smooth body of his desires, but an armful of sharp green points. They gave him great pain. He tried to think of poor Linda, breathless, silent, with terror in her eyes. Poor Linda, whom he had promised to remember. But it was still the presence of Lenina that filled his mind. Lenina, whom he had promised to forget. Even through the sting of the bush he could feel her, unavoidably real. ‘Sweet, sweet… And if you wanted me too, why didn’t you…’

The whip was hanging on a nail by the door, ready for use should any more reporters arrive. In anger the Savage ran back to the house, seized it, swung it in the air. The knots bit into his flesh.

‘Whore, whore!’ he shouted at every blow as though it were Lenina (and how greatly, without knowing it, he wished it were!), white, warm, sweet-smelling, shameless Lenina that he was whipping thus. ‘Shameless!’ And then, desperately, ‘Oh, Linda, forgive me. Forgive me, God! I’m bad! I’m evil! I’m… No, no, you whore, you whore!’

From his carefully built hiding place in the wood 300 metres away, Darwin Bonaparte, the Television Corporation’s most expert big-game photographer, had watched the whole scene. Patience and skill had been rewarded. He had spent three days sitting inside the trunk of an artificial tree, three nights moving around on his stomach through the long grass, hiding equipment in bushes, burying wires in the soft grey sand. Seventy-two hours of the greatest discomfort. But now the great moment had come - the greatest, thought Darwin Bonaparte, as he moved among his equipment, the greatest since his exciting film of the monkeys’ wedding. ‘Wonderful,’ he said to himself, as the Savage began his amazing performance, ‘Wonderful!’ He kept his longdistance cameras carefully aimed at the Savage; (adjusted the settings) to get a close-up of the face, twisted with anger and pain (admirable!); changed for half a minute to slow motion (a really amusing effect, he promised himself); listened meanwhile to the blows, the cries, the wild and mad words that were being recorded on the soundtrack at the edge of his film; was very happy to hear, in a quiet moment, the singing of a wild bird; wished the Savage would turn round so that he could get a good close-up of the blood on his back - and almost immediately (what amazing luck!) the Savage did turn round, and he was able to take a perfect close-up.

‘Well, that was great,’ he said to himself when it was all over. ‘Really great!’ He wiped his face with a cloth. When they had finished with it at the studio, it would be a wonderful film.

Twelve days later The Savage of Surrey was being shown in every first-class cinema in Western Europe.

The effect of Darwin Bonaparte’s film was immediate and enormous. On the afternoon which followed the evening of its first performance, the peace of John’s lonely home was suddenly broken by the arrival overhead of a great cloud of helicopters. He was digging in his garden - digging too in his own mind, thinking of Death. Death. And he drove in his spade once, and again, and yet again. ‘And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.’ He lifted another spadeful of earth. Why had Linda died? Why had she been allowed to become gradually less than human and at last… he trembled.

At that point the sky grew dark. He was suddenly in shadow. There was something between the sun and him. He looked up in surprise from his digging, from his thoughts, and saw, close above him, the cloud of machines, hanging in the air. They came like harmful insects, stopped in the air over his head for a moment, then dropped all around him in the long grass and among the bushes. And from the bodies of these huge insects stepped men in white artificial woollen trousers, women in artificial cotton shorts and artificial silk shirts, one couple from each. In a few minutes there were dozens of them, standing in a wide circle round the lighthouse, staring, taking photographs, throwing nuts and sweets as if at an animal in a zoo. And every moment, coming in from all sides in a never-ending stream, their numbers grew and grew.

The Savage had gone back into his house and now, like an animal trapped by the hunters, stood with his back to the wall of the lighthouse, staring from face to face in speechless horror, like a man out of his senses.

‘Go away!’ he shouted.

The animal had spoken. The crowd laughed and waved their hands. ‘Good old Savage! Hurrah, hurrah!’ And through the noise he heard cries of ‘Whip, whip, the whip!’

The word stung him to action. He seized the knotted whip from its nail behind the door and shook it at them.

They shook with laughter.

He advanced towards them, a terrible figure. A woman cried out in fear. The line of people moved back a little, then stood firm. The thought that they were there in great numbers gave them a courage which the Savage had not expected.

‘Why don’t you leave me alone?’ There was a suggestion of tears in his anger. ‘What do you want with me?’ he asked, turning from one stupid, smiling face to another.

‘The whip,’ answered a hundred voices in one shout. ‘Let’s see you do the whipping act.’

Then altogether, slowly and heavily, ‘We - want - the whip,’ shouted a group at the end of the line. ‘We - want - the whip.’

Others at once took up the cry, and the phrase was repeated again and again, more and more loudly, until no other word was being spoken.’ We - want - the whip.’

At this moment yet another helicopter arrived. When it landed, the door opened and out stepped, first a red-faced young man, then, in green artificial cotton shorts, white shirt and smart cap, a young woman.

At the sight of the young woman the Savage turned pale and fell back.

The young woman stood, smiling at him, an uncertain smile, a smile intended to calm him. The seconds passed. Her lips moved. She was saying something; but the sound of her voice was drowned by the shouts of the crowd.

‘We - want - the whip! We - want - the whip!’

The young woman pressed both hands to her left side, and on that face of hers with its childlike prettiness appeared an unusual expression of sadness. Her blue eyes seemed to grow larger, brighter; and suddenly two tears rolled down her cheeks. Her mouth moved again, though her words could not be heard. Then, with a quick movement of passion, she stretched out her arms towards the Savage and stepped forward.

‘We - want - the whip! We want -‘

And all of a sudden they had what they wanted.

‘Shameless!’ The Savage had rushed at her like a madman, striking her violently with his whip.

She had turned to run from him in terror, had caught her foot in the roots of the bushes and had fallen on her face in the long grass. ‘Henry, Henry!’ she shouted. But her red-faced friend had run away and hidden behind the helicopter.

The crowd rushed towards the spot where the Savage stood, striking at that soft body lying in the grass.

‘Oh, the flesh, the flesh!’ This time it was on the Savage’s own shoulders that the whip came down.

Drawn by the strange attraction of the horror of pain, and driven on by that desire to act as all others acted, that their conditioning had rooted in them, they began to imitate his violent action, striking at one another as the Savage struck at his own flesh or at that shapely, shameless body twisting and turning in pain in the grass at his feet.

‘Kill it, kill it, kill it. ..’ the Savage went on shouting.

Then suddenly somebody started ‘Orgy-porgy’, and in a moment they had all caught up the tune and, singing, had begun to dance. Orgy-porgy, round and round and round, beating one another in time to the song. Orgy-porgy…

It was after midnight when the last of the helicopters took its flight. Stupid with soma, and tired out from endless uncontrolled hours of passion, the Savage lay sleeping in the rough grass. The sun was already high when he woke. He lay for a moment, then suddenly remembered everything.

‘Oh, my God, my God!’ He covered his eyes with his hand.

That evening the sky was black with helicopters making their way across the sky to the lighthouse in an endless stream. The description of last night’s events had been in all the papers.

‘Savage!’ called the first arrivals, as they stepped down from their machine. ‘Mr Savage!’

There was no answer.

The door of the lighthouse stood half open. They pushed it wide open and walked into the low light inside. Through a doorway on the other side of the room they could see the bottom of the stairs that led up to the higher floors. Just under the top of the doorway hung a pair of feet. ‘Mr Savage!’

Slowly, very slowly, like two unhurried compass needles, the feet turned towards the right; north, north-east, east, south-east, south, south-south-west; then paused, and, after a few seconds, turned as unhurriedly back towards the left. South-south-west, south, south-east, east…

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