فصل 07

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فصل 07

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Chapter seven

Among the Savages

The flat-topped rock rose up from the yellow, dusty plain of a valley through which ran a river between high, steep banks. On the top of this rock was the Indian village of Malpais. Block above block, each storey smaller than the one below, the tall houses rose in great stone steps into the blue sky. At their feet lay an untidy group of low buildings, and on three sides the tall rocks fell straight down into the plain. A few columns of smoke rose into the still air and were lost.

‘Strange,’ said Lenina. ‘Very strange.’ That was what she called anything that did not please her. ‘I don’t like it. And I don’t like that man.’ She pointed to the Indian guide who had been appointed to take them up to the village. He clearly did not like them either; even the back of the man, as he walked along, seemed to express his hatred of them.

‘Besides,’ she lowered her voice, ‘he smells.’

Bernard did not attempt to deny it. They walked on.

Suddenly it seemed as though the whole air had come alive and was beating, beating with the tireless movement of blood. Up there, in Malpais, the drums were being beaten. Their feet began to obey the beat of that mysterious heart. They walked more quickly. Their path led them to the foot of the rock. Its sides rose above them like a great tower, 90 metres to the top.

‘I wish we could have brought the plane,’ said Lenina, looking up with dislike at the blank rock face. ‘I hate walking. And you feel so small when you’re on the ground at the bottom of a hill.’

They walked along for a time in the shadow of the rock, turned a corner and there, in a dry channel worn away by the water in former times, was the way up. They climbed. It was a very steep path that went from side to side of the channel. Sometimes the drums were almost silent, at others they seemed to be beating only just round the corner.

When they were halfway up, a large bird flew past so close to them that they felt the cold wind from his wings on their faces. In a crack in the rock lay a pile of bones. It was all frighteningly strange, and the Indian smelt stronger and stronger. They emerged at last from the channel into the full sunlight. The top of the rock was a flat platform of stone.

‘Like the Charing-T Tower,’ said Lenina, comforting herself with the memory of something familiar and safe. But she was not allowed to enjoy this comforting comparison for long. The sound of soft footsteps made them turn round. Naked from throat to waist, their dark brown bodies painted with white lines (‘like clay tennis courts’ Lenina was later to explain), their faces wild, not human, painted red, black and yellow, two Indians came running along the path. Fox fur and pieces of red cloth and birds’ feathers were twisted into their black hair. Great brightly coloured headdresses rose above their faces. With every step they took their silver jewellery shook and the bones and coloured stones in their necklaces knocked against each other. They came on without a word, running quietly in their animal-skin shoes. One of them was holding a feather brush. The other carried, in each hand, what looked at a distance like three or four pieces of thick rope. One of the ropes moved and twisted, and suddenly Lenina saw that they were snakes.

The men came nearer and nearer. Their dark eyes looked at her, but without the smallest sign that they had seen her or were aware of her existence. The twisting snake hung still again with the rest. The men passed.

‘I don’t like it,’ Lenina said. ‘I don’t like it.’

She liked even less what she found at the entrance to the village, where their guide had left them while he went inside for instructions. The dirt, to start with - the piles of rubbish, the dust, the dogs, the flies. Her face showed how disgusting she found it. She held her hand to her nose.

‘But how can they live like this?’ she cried, hardly able to believe her own eyes.

‘They’ve been doing it for the last five or six thousand years,’ said Bernard, ‘so I suppose they must be used to it by now.’

‘But cleanliness is next to fordliness,’ she insisted.

‘Yes, and civilization is sterilization,’ Bernard went on with a little smile. ‘But these people have never heard of Our Ford, and they aren’t civilized. So there’s no point in-‘

‘Oh!’ She held his arm. ‘Look.’

An almost naked Indian was very slowly climbing down the ladder from the first floor of one of the houses, with the trembling carefulness of extreme old age. His face was deeply lined and black. The toothless mouth had fallen in. At the corners of the lips and on each side of the chin a few long hairs shone almost white against the dark skin. The long untidy hair hung down in grey threads around his face. His body was bent, nothing but skin and bone. Very slowly he came down, pausing at each step before he placed a foot carefully on the one below.

‘What’s the matter with him?’ whispered Lenina. Her eyes were wide with horror and shock.

‘He’s old, that’s all,’ Bernard answered as carelessly as he could. He too was shocked, but he made an effort to seem unmoved.

‘Old?’ she repeated. But the Director’s old. Lots of people are old. They’re not like that.’

‘That’s because we don’t allow them to be like that. We preserve them from diseases. We keep their bodies in good condition by scientific treatment. We give them young blood at regular intervals. We keep their body systems working perfectly. So of course they don’t look like that. Partly,’ he added, ‘because most of them die long before they reach this old creature’s age. Youth almost perfectly preserved till sixty, and then, crack! the end.’

But Lenina was not listening. She was watching the old man. Slowly, slowly he came down. His feet touched the ground. He turned. His deep-sunken eyes were still extraordinarily bright. They looked at her for a long moment without expression, without surprise, as though she had not been there at all. Then, slowly, with bent back, the old man walked painfully past them and was gone.

‘But it’s terrible,’ Lenina whispered. ‘It’s awful. We ought not to have come here.’ She felt in her pocket for her soma only to discover that by some mistake she had left the bottle down at the rest house. Bernard’s pockets were also empty.

Lenina was left to face the horrors of Malpais unaided. They came crowding in on her. The sight of two young women giving their breasts to their babies made her redden and turn away her face. She had never seen anything so shocking in all her life. And what made it worse was that, instead of pretending to take no notice of it, Bernard kept on making open remarks about this disgustingly animal scene. He went out of his way to show how strong and individual he was.

At this moment their guide came back and, making a sign to them to follow, led the way down a narrow street between the houses. A dead dog was lying on a rubbish pile; a woman with a badly swollen neck was combing the dirt from the hair of a small girl. Their guide stopped at the foot of a ladder, then pointed upwards and forwards. They obeyed the sign - climbed the ladder and walked through a doorway at the top into a long, narrow room, rather dark and smelling of cooked fat and dirty clothes. At the further end of the room was another doorway, through which came a beam of sunlight and the noise, very loud and close, of the drums.

They went through the door and found themselves outside again. Below them, shut in by the tall houses, was the village square, crowded with Indians. Bright cloths, and feathers in black hair, and jewels and dark skins shining in the sun. Lenina put her hand to her nose. In the open space in the centre of the square were two circular platforms of bricks and beaten clay - the roofs, it was clear, of underground chambers; for in the centre of each platform was an open lid, with a ladder coming up from the lower darkness. A sound of pipe-playing came up from below and was almost lost in the steady beat of the drums.

Lenina liked the drums. Shutting her eyes, she listened to their soft repeated thunder; but she opened them again at a sudden burst of singing - hundreds of male voices crying out loudly together. A few long notes and silence, then the women’s answer, thin and high. Then again the drums; and once more the deep, savage cries of the men.

Suddenly there came up from those round underground chambers a frightening band of strange beings. Wearing ugly masks or with faces painted so that they looked like nothing human, they circled in a strange dance round the square. Round and round again, singing as they went, round and round - each time a little faster; and the beat of the drums grew quicker, so that it was like fevered blood in the ears, and the crowd began to sing with the dancers, louder and louder; and first one woman screamed, and then another and another, as though they were being killed; and then suddenly the leader of the dancers left the circle, ran to a big wooden chest which was standing at one end of the square, raised the lid and pulled out a pair of black snakes. A great cry went up from the crowd, and all the other dancers ran towards him with their hands stretched out. He threw the snakes to those who arrived first, then put his hands into the chest and drew out more. And then the dance began again, to a different beat. Round they went with their snakes, twisting and turning their bodies as if they were snakes themselves. Round and round. Then the leader gave a signal and, one after the other, all the snakes were thrown down in the middle of the square. An old man came up from underground and scattered seeds over them, and from the other chamber came a woman and threw water over them from a black bottle. Then the old man lifted his hand and, suddenly, there was absolute silence. The drums stopped beating, life seemed to have come to an end. The old man pointed to the two entrances to the lower world. And slowly, raised by hands from below, there came up from the one a painted image of a large bird, from the other that of a man, naked and nailed to a cross. The old man struck his left hand with his right. Naked except for a white cotton cloth round his waist, a boy of about eighteen stepped out of the crowd and stood before him, his hands crossed over his chest, his head bent forward. The old man made the sign of the cross over him and turned away. Slowly the boy began to walk round the twisting pile of snakes. From among the dancers a tall man, wearing the mask of a mountain lion and holding in his hand a leather whip, advanced towards him. The boy moved on as though he had not noticed the other’s existence. The lion-man raised his whip; there was a long pause, then a quick movement, then the whistle of the whip through the air and the loud, flat sound of the blow falling on flesh. The boy’s body trembled, but he made no sound; he walked on at the same slow, steady pace. The whip struck again, again; and at every blow at first a low cry and then a deep shout went up from the crowd. The boy walked on. Twice, three times, four times he went round the pile of snakes. The blood was streaming. Five times round, six times round. Suddenly Lenina covered her face with her hands and began to cry. ‘Oh, stop them, stop them,’ she begged. But the whip fell and fell without pity. Seven times round. Then suddenly the boy fell forward on to his face, still without a sound. Bending over him, the old man touched his back with a long white feather, held it up for a moment, red with blood, for the people to see, then shook it three times over the snakes. A few drops fell, and suddenly the drums broke out again in a river of hurrying notes. There was a great shout. The dancers rushed forward, picked up the snakes and ran out of the square. Men, women, children, all the crowd ran after them. A minute later the square was empty, only the boy remained, flat on his face where he had fallen, quite still. Three old women came out of one of the houses, and with some difficulty lifted him and carried him in. The bird and the man on the cross kept guard for a little while over the empty square. Then, as though they had seen enough, sank slowly down below the ground, out of sight, into the lower world.

Lenina was still crying. ‘Too awful,’ she kept repeating. ‘Too awful! That blood.’ She trembled violently. ‘Oh, I wish I had my soma!’

There was the sound of feet in the inner room.

Lenina sat without moving, her face buried in her hands. Only Bernard turned round.

The dress of the young man who now came towards them was Indian; but his hair was yellow, his eyes a pale blue, and his skin a white skin, although sunburnt.

‘Hullo. Good day,’ said the stranger, in correct but odd English. ‘You’re civilized, aren’t you? You come from the Other Place, outside the Reservation?’

‘Who on earth…?’ Bernard began in surprise.

The young man shook his head. ‘A most unhappy gentleman.’ And pointing to the blood in the centre of the square, ‘Do you see that?’ he asked in a voice that trembled with emotion.

‘Oh, I wish I had my soma,’ cried Lenina from behind her hands.

‘I ought to have been there,’ the young man went on. ‘Why wouldn’t they let me be the sacrifice? I’d have gone round ten times, twelve, fifteen. Palowhtiwa only got as far as seven. They could have had twice as much blood from me. Enough to turn the seas red.’ He threw his arms out wide, then let them fall again in hopelessness. ‘But they won’t let me. They dislike me for the colour of my skin. It’s always been like that. Always.’ Tears stood in the young man’s eyes. He was ashamed and turned away.

The shock made Lenina forget all about her soma. She took her hands away from her face and, for the first time, looked at the stranger. ‘Do you mean to say that you wanted to be hit with that whip?’

The young man nodded. ‘For the sake of the village - to make the rain come and the corn grow. And to please Pookong and Jesus. And then to show that I can bear pain without crying out. Yes,’ and his voice suddenly grew firmer, he turned to her lifting his head proudly, ‘to show that I’m a man. Oh!’ he drew in his breath sharply and was silent, staring. He had seen, for the first time in his life, the face of a girl whose cheeks were not the colour of chocolate or dog-skin, whose hair was golden and beautiful, and who looked at him kindly (something he was not used to). Lenina was smiling at him; such a nice-looking boy, she was thinking, and a really beautiful body. The blood rushed up into the young man’s face. He dropped his eyes, raised them again for a moment only to find her still smiling at him, and was so full of new, strange feelings that he had to turn away and pretend to be looking very hard at something on the other side of the square.

Bernard broke in with a number of questions. Who? How? When? Keeping his eyes fixed on Bernards face (for his desire to see Lenina smiling was so strong that he simply dared not look at her) the young man tried to explain himself. Linda and he - Linda was his mother (the word made Lenina look uncomfortable) - were strangers in the Reservation. Linda had come from the Other Place long ago, before he was born, with a man who was his father. (Bernard listened eagerly.) She had gone walking alone in those mountains over there to the north, had fallen down a steep place and hurt her head. (‘Go on, go on,’ said Bernard excitedly.) Some hunters from Malpais had found her and brought her to the village. As for the man who was his father, Linda had never seen him again. His name was Tomakin. (Yes, ‘Thomas’ was the DHC’s first name.) He must have flown away, back to the Other Place, away without her - a bad, unkind, unnatural man.

‘And so I was born in Malpais,’ he ended. ‘In Malpais.’ And he shook his head.

The ugliness of that little house on the edge of the village!

A space of dust and rubbish separated it from the village. Two hungry dogs were pushing their noses hungrily into the rubbish at its door. Inside, when they entered, the air smelt strongly and it was loud with flies.

‘Linda!’ the young man called.

From the inner room a woman’s voice said thickly, ‘Coming.’ They waited. In bowls on the floor were the remains of a meal, perhaps of several meals.

The door opened. A very large yellow-haired woman came in and stood staring at the strangers, her mouth wide open in surprise. Lenina noticed with horror that two of the front teeth were missing. And the colour of the ones that remained… She could hardly look. So fat. And the loose, hanging cheeks, all rough and purple. And all the lines in her face and the blood marks on her nose and in her eyes. And that neck - that neck! And the cloth she wore over her head - torn and dirty. And under the brown cloth that she wore over her body, those enormous breasts, the great round stomach. Oh, much worse than the old man, much worse! And suddenly the creature burst into a flood of speech, rushed at her with her arms stretched out and - Ford! Ford! It was too horrible, in another moment she’d be sick - held Lenina tightly to her fat body and began to kiss her. Ford! Such wet kisses, and she smelt too horrible, obviously never had a bath. And she had been drinking some very strong alcohol. Lenina broke free as quickly as she could.

A twisted face stared at her. The creature was crying. ‘Oh, my dear, my dear, if you only knew how glad - after all these years! A civilized face. Yes, and civilized clothes. Because I thought I should never see a piece of real artificial silk again. And those lovely shorts! Do you know, dear, I’ve still got my old clothes, the ones I came in, put away in a box. I’ll show them to you afterwards. Though, of course, the cloth has all gone into holes. I suppose John has told you what I had to suffer - and not a gram of soma to be had. Only a drink of mescal every now and then, when Pope used to bring it. Pope is a boy I used to know. But it makes you feel so bad afterwards, the mescal does, and sick; besides, it always made that awful feeling of being ashamed much worse the next day. And I was so ashamed. Just think of it, me - a Beta - having a baby; put yourself in my place!’ (The mere suggestion made Lenina tremble.) ‘Though it wasn’t my fault, I swear. I still don’t know how it happened. Because I did all that I was supposed to. But all the same it happened.’

She drew a deep breath, shook her head, opened her eyes again, then blew her nose on her fingers and wiped them on her skirt. ‘Oh, I’m so sorry,’ she said, seeing Lenina’s look of disgust, ‘I oughtn’t to have done that. But what are you to do here?’ Linda shook her head. ‘I tried to tell them about disease and about keeping things clean when I first came here, but they didn’t understand. And in the end I suppose I got used to it. And anyhow, how can you keep things clean when there isn’t any running hot water. And look at these clothes. This horrible wool isn’t like artificial material. It never wears out. It lasts and lasts, and you’re supposed to mend it if it gets torn. But I’m a Beta. I worked in the Fertilizing Room. Nobody ever taught me to do anything like that. It wasn’t my business. Besides, it never used to be right to mend clothes. Throw them away when they’ve got holes in them and buy new. “The more stitches, the less riches.’’ But it’s all different here. It’s like living with mad people. Everything they do is mad.’

She lowered her voice, ‘Take the way they have one another here. Mad, I tell you, absolutely mad. Everyone belongs to everyone else, don’t they,’ she whispered, pulling at Lenina’s arm. Lenina nodded and turned her head away from the smell of Linda’s breath. ‘Well, here,’ the other went on, ‘nobody’s supposed to belong to more than one person. If you have people in the ordinary way, the others think you’re bad. Once a lot of women came and shouted at me because their men came to see me. Well, why not? And then they rushed at me… No, it was too awful. I can’t tell you about it.’ Linda covered her face with her hands and cried. ‘They’re so hateful here, the women. Mad, mad and cruel. And of course they don’t know anything about bottles or contraceptives. So they’re having children all the time - like dogs. It’s too disgusting. And to think that I… oh, Ford, Ford, Ford! And yet John was a great comfort to me. I don’t know what I should have done without him. Even though he did get so upset whenever a man… Quite as a tiny boy, even. Once (but that was when he was bigger) he tried to kill poor Waihusiwa - or was it Pope? - just because I used to have them sometimes. Because I never could make him understand that that’s what civilized people ought to do. Being mad’s catching, I believe. Anyhow, John seems to have caught it from the Indians. Because, of course, he was with them a lot. Even though they were so unkind to him and wouldn’t let him do all the things the other boys did. Which was a good thing in a way, because it made it easier for me to condition him a little. Though you’ve no idea how difficult that is. There’s so much one doesn’t know. It wasn’t my business to know I mean, when a child asks you how a helicopter works or who made the world - well, what are you to answer if you’re a Beta and have always worked in the Fertilizing Room? What are you to answer?’

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