BRAVE NEW WORLD
HENRY FOSTER loomed up through the twilight of the Embryo Store.
"Like to come to a feely this evening?"
Lenina shook her head without speaking.
"Going out with some one else?" It interested him to know which of his friends was being had by which other. "Is it Benito?" he questioned.
She shook her head again.
Henry detected the weariness in those purple eyes, the pallor beneath that glaze of lupus, the sadness at the corners of the unsmiling crimson mouth. "You're not feeling ill, are you?" he asked, a trifle anxiously, afraid that she might be suffering from one of the few remaining infectious diseases.
Yet once more Lenina shook her head.
"Anyhow, you ought to go and see the doctor," said Henry. "A doctor a day keeps the jim-jams away," he added heartily, driving home his hypnopædic adage with a clap on the shoulder. "Perhaps you need a Pregnancy Substitute," he suggested. "Or else an extra-strong V.P.S. treatment. Sometimes, you know, the standard passion surrogate isn't quite …"
"Oh, for Ford's sake," said Lenina, breaking her stubborn silence, "shut up!" And she turned back to her neglected embryos.
A V.P.S. treatment indeed! She would have laughed, if she hadn't been on the point of crying. As though she hadn't got enough V. P. of her own! She sighed profoundly as she refilled her syringe. "John," she murmured to herself, "John …" Then "My Ford," she wondered, "have I given this one its sleeping sickness injection, or haven't I?" She simply couldn't remember. In the end, she decided not to run the risk of letting it have a second dose, and moved down the line to the next bottle.
Twenty-two years, eight months, and four days from that moment, a promising young Alpha-Minus administrator at Mwanza-Mwanza was to die of trypanosomiasis–the first case for over half a century. Sighing, Lenina went on with her work.
An hour later, in the Changing Room, Fanny was energetically protesting. "But it's absurd to let yourself get into a state like this. Simply absurd," she repeated. "And what about? A man–one man."
"But he's the one I want."
"As though there weren't millions of other men in the world."
"But I don't want them."
"How can you know till you've tried?"
"I have tried."
"But how many?" asked Fanny, shrugging her shoulders contemptuously. "One, two?"
"Dozens. But," shaking her head, "it wasn't any good," she added.
"Well, you must persevere," said Fanny sententiously. But it was obvious that her confidence in her own prescriptions had been shaken. "Nothing can be achieved without perseverance."
"But meanwhile …"
"Don't think of him."
"I can't help it."
"Take soma, then."
"Well, go on."
"But in the intervals I still like him. I shall always like him."
"Well, if that's the case," said Fanny, with decision, "why don't you just go and take him. Whether he wants it or no."
"But if you knew how terribly queer he was!"
"All the more reason for taking a firm line."
"It's all very well to say that."
"Don't stand any nonsense. Act." Fanny's voice was a trumpet; she might have been a Y.W.F.A. lecturer giving an evening talk to adolescent Beta-Minuses. "Yes, act–at once. Do it now."
"I'd be scared," said Lenina
"Well, you've only got to take half a gramme of soma first. And now I'm going to have my bath." She marched off, trailing her towel.
The bell rang, and the Savage, who was impatiently hoping that Helmholtz would come that afternoon (for having at last made up his mind to talk to Helmholtz about Lenina, he could not bear to postpone his confidences a moment longer), jumped up and ran to the door.
"I had a premonition it was you, Helmholtz," he shouted as he opened.
On the threshold, in a white acetate-satin sailor suit, and with a round white cap rakishly tilted over her left ear, stood Lenina.
"Oh!" said the Savage, as though some one had struck him a heavy blow.
Half a gramme had been enough to make Lenina forget her fears and her embarrassments. "Hullo, John," she said, smiling, and walked past him into the room. Automatically he closed the door and followed her. Lenina sat down. There was a long silence.
"You don't seem very glad to see me, John," she said at last.
"Not glad?" The Savage looked at her reproachfully; then suddenly fell on his knees before her and, taking Lenina's hand, reverently kissed it. "Not glad? Oh, if you only knew," he whispered and, venturing to raise his eyes to her face, "Admired Lenina," he went on, "indeed the top of admiration, worth what's dearest in the world." She smiled at him with a luscious tenderness. "Oh, you so perfect" (she was leaning towards him with parted lips), "so perfect and so peerless are created" (nearer and nearer) "of every creature's best." Still nearer. The Savage suddenly scrambled to his feet. "That's why," he said speaking with averted face, "I wanted to do something first … I mean, to show I was worthy of you. Not that I could ever really be that. But at any rate to show I wasn't absolutely un-worthy. I wanted to do something."
"Why should you think it necessary …" Lenina began, but left the sentence unfinished. There was a note of irritation in her voice. When one has leant forward, nearer and nearer, with parted lips–only to find oneself, quite suddenly, as a clumsy oaf scrambles to his feet, leaning towards nothing at all–well, there is a reason, even with half a gramme of soma circulating in one's blood-stream, a genuine reason for annoyance.
"At Malpais," the Savage was incoherently mumbling, "you had to bring her the skin of a mountain lion–I mean, when you wanted to marry some one. Or else a wolf."
"There aren't any lions in England," Lenina almost snapped.
"And even if there were," the Savage added, with sudden contemptuous resentment, "people would kill them out of helicopters, I suppose, with poison gas or something. I wouldn't do that, Lenina." He squared his shoulders, he ventured to look at her and was met with a stare of annoyed incomprehension. Confused, "I'll do anything," he went on, more and more incoherently. "Anything you tell me. There be some sports are painful–you know. But their labour delight in them sets off. That's what I feel. I mean I'd sweep the floor if you wanted."
"But we've got vacuum cleaners here," said Lenina in bewilderment. "It isn't necessary."
"No, of course it isn't necessary. But some kinds of baseness are nobly undergone. I'd like to undergo something nobly. Don't you see?"
"But if there are vacuum cleaners …"
"That's not the point."
"And Epsilon Semi-Morons to work them," she went on, "well, really, why?"
"Why? But for you, for you. Just to show that I …"
"And what on earth vacuum cleaners have got to do with lions …"
"To show how much …"
"Or lions with being glad to see me …" She was getting more and more exasperated.
"How much I love you, Lenina," he brought out almost desperately.
An emblem of the inner tide of startled elation, the blood rushed up into Lenina's cheeks. "Do you mean it, John?"
"But I hadn't meant to say so," cried the Savage, clasping his hands in a kind of agony. "Not until … Listen, Lenina; in Malpais people get married."
"Get what?" The irritation had begun to creep back into her voice. What was he talking about now?
"For always. They make a promise to live together for always."
"What a horrible idea!" Lenina was genuinely shocked.
"Outliving beauty's outward with a mind that cloth renew swifter than blood decays."
"It's like that in Shakespeare too. 'If thou cost break her virgin knot before all sanctimonious ceremonies may with full and holy rite …'"
"For Ford's sake, John, talk sense. I can't understand a word you say. First it's vacuum cleaners; then it's knots. You're driving me crazy." She jumped up and, as though afraid that he might run away from her physically, as well as with his mind, caught him by the wrist. "Answer me this question: do you really like me, or don't you?"
There was a moment's silence; then, in a very low voice, "I love you more than anything in the world," he said.
"Then why on earth didn't you say so?" she cried, and so intense was her exasperation that she drove her sharp nails into the skin of his wrist. "Instead of drivelling away about knots and vacuum cleaners and lions, and making me miserable for weeks and weeks."
She released his hand and flung it angrily away from her.
"If I didn't like you so much," she said, "I'd be furious with you."
And suddenly her arms were round his neck; he felt her lips soft against his own. So deliciously soft, so warm and electric that inevitably he found himself thinking of the embraces in Three Weeks in a Helicopter. Ooh! ooh! the stereoscopic blonde and anh! the more than real blackamoor. Horror, horror, horror … he fired to disengage himself; but Lenina tightened her embrace.
"Why didn't you say so?" she whispered, drawing back her face to look at him. Her eyes were tenderly reproachful.
"The murkiest den, the most opportune place" (the voice of conscience thundered poetically), "the strongest suggestion our worser genius can, shall never melt mine honour into lust. Never, never!" he resolved.
"You silly boy!" she was saying. "I wanted you so much. And if you wanted me too, why didn't you? …"
"But, Lenina …" he began protesting; and as she immediately untwined her arms, as she stepped away from him, he thought, for a moment, that she had taken his unspoken hint. But when she unbuckled her white patent cartridge belt and hung it carefully over the back of a chair, he began to suspect that he had been mistaken.
"Lenina!" he repeated apprehensively.
She put her hand to her neck and gave a long vertical pull; her white sailor's blouse was ripped to the hem; suspicion condensed into a too, too solid certainty. "Lenina, what are you doing?"
Zip, zip! Her answer was wordless. She stepped out of her bell-bottomed trousers. Her zippicamiknicks were a pale shell pink. The Arch-Community-Songster's golden T dangled at her breast.
"For those milk paps that through the window bars bore at men's eyes...." The singing, thundering, magical words made her seem doubly dangerous, doubly alluring. Soft, soft, but how piercing! boring and drilling into reason, tunnelling through resolution. "The strongest oaths are straw to the fire i' the blood. Be more abstemious, or else …"
Zip! The rounded pinkness fell apart like a neatly divided apple. A wriggle of the arms, a lifting first of the right foot, then the left: the zippicamiknicks were lying lifeless and as though deflated on the floor.
Still wearing her shoes and socks, and her rakishly tilted round white cap, she advanced towards him. "Darling. Darling! If only you'd said so before!" She held out her arms.
But instead of also saying "Darling!" and holding out his arms, the Savage retreated in terror, flapping his hands at her as though he were trying to scare away some intruding and dangerous animal. Four backwards steps, and he was brought to bay against the wall.
"Sweet!" said Lenina and, laying her hands on his shoulders, pressed herself against him. "Put your arms round me," she commanded. "Hug me till you drug me, honey." She too had poetry at her command, knew words that sang and were spells and beat drums. "Kiss me"; she closed her eyes, she let her voice sink to a sleepy murmur, "Kiss me till I'm in a coma. Hug me, honey, snuggly …"
The Savage caught her by the wrists, tore her hands from his shoulders, thrust her roughly away at arm's length.
"Ow, you're hurting me, you're … oh!" She was suddenly silent. Terror had made her forget the pain. Opening her eyes, she had seen his face–no, not his face, a ferocious stranger's, pale, distorted, twitching with some insane, inexplicable fury. Aghast, "But what is it, John?" she whispered. He did not answer, but only stared into her face with those mad eyes. The hands that held her wrists were trembling. He breathed deeply and irregularly. Faint almost to imperceptibility, but appalling, she suddenly heard the grinding of his teeth. "What is it?" she almost screamed.
And as though awakened by her cry he caught her by the shoulders and shook her. "Whore!" he shouted "Whore! Impudent strumpet!"
"Oh, don't, do-on't," she protested in a voice made grotesquely tremulous by his shaking.
"A gra-amme is be-etter …" she began.
The Savage pushed her away with such force that she staggered and fell. "Go," he shouted, standing over her menacingly, "get out of my sight or I'll kill you." He clenched his fists.
Lenina raised her arm to cover her face. "No, please don't, John …"
"Hurry up. Quick!"
One arm still raised, and following his every movement with a terrified eye, she scrambled to her feet and still crouching, still covering her head, made a dash for the bathroom.
The noise of that prodigious slap by which her departure was accelerated was like a pistol shot.
"Ow!" Lenina bounded forward.
Safely locked into the bathroom, she had leisure to take stock of her injuries. Standing with her back to the mirror, she twisted her head. Looking over her left shoulder she could see the imprint of an open hand standing out distinct and crimson on the pearly flesh. Gingerly she rubbed the wounded spot.
Outside, in the other room, the Savage was striding up and down, marching, marching to the drums and music of magical words. "The wren goes to't and the small gilded fly does lecher in my sight." Maddeningly they rumbled in his ears. "The fitchew nor the soiled horse goes to't with a more riotous appetite. Down from the waist they are Centaurs, though women all above. But to the girdle do the gods inherit. Beneath is all the fiend's. There's hell, there's darkness, there is the sulphurous pit, burning scalding, stench, consumption; fie, fie, fie, pain, pain! Give me an ounce of civet, good apothecary, to sweeten my imagination."
"John!" ventured a small ingratiating voice from the bathroom. "John!"
"O thou weed, who are so lovely fair and smell'st so sweet that the sense aches at thee. Was this most goodly book made to write 'whore' upon? Heaven stops the nose at it …"
But her perfume still hung about him, his jacket was white with the powder that had scented her velvety body. "Impudent strumpet, impudent strumpet, impudent strumpet." The inexorable rhythm beat itself out. "Impudent …"
"John, do you think I might have my clothes?"
He picked up the bell-bottomed trousers, the blouse, the zippicamiknicks.
"Open!" he ordered, kicking the door.
"No, I won't." The voice was frightened and defiant.
"Well, how do you expect me to give them to you?"
"Push them through the ventilator over the door."
He did what she suggested and returned to his uneasy pacing of the room. "Impudent strumpet, impudent strumpet. The devil Luxury with his fat rump and potato finger …"
He would not answer. "Fat rump and potato finger."
"What is it?" he asked gruffly.
"I wonder if you'd mind giving me my Malthusian belt."
Lenina sat, listening to the footsteps in the other room, wondering, as she listened, how long he was likely to go tramping up and down like that; whether she would have to wait until he left the flat; or if it would be safe, after allowing his madness a reasonable time to subside, to open the bathroom door and make a dash for it.
She was interrupted in the midst of these uneasy speculations by the sound of the telephone bell ringing in the other room. Abruptly the tramping ceased. She heard the voice of the Savage parleying with silence.
. . . . .
. . . . .
"If I do not usurp myself, I am."
. . . . .
"Yes, didn't you hear me say so? Mr. Savage speaking."
. . . . .
"What? Who's ill? Of course it interests me."
. . . . .
"But is it serious? Is she really bad? I'll go at once …"
. . . . .
"Not in her rooms any more? Where has she been taken?"
. . . . .
"Oh, my God! What's the address?"
. . . . .
"Three Park Lane–is that it? Three? Thanks."
Lenina heard the click of the replaced receiver, then hurrying steps. A door slammed. There was silence. Was he really gone?
With an infinity of precautions she opened the door a quarter of an inch; peeped through the crack; was encouraged by the view of emptiness; opened a little further, and put her whole head out; finally tiptoed into the room; stood for a few seconds with strongly beating heart, listening, listening; then darted to the front door, opened, slipped through, slammed, ran. It was not till she was in the lift and actually dropping down the well that she began to feel herself secure.
THE Park Lane Hospital for the Dying was a sixty-story tower of primrose tiles. As the Savage stepped out of his taxicopter a convoy of gaily-coloured aerial hearses rose whirring from the roof and darted away across the Park, westwards, bound for the Slough Crematorium. At the lift gates the presiding porter gave him the information he required, and he dropped down to Ward 81 (a Galloping Senility ward, the porter explained) on the seventeenth floor.
It was a large room bright with sunshine and yellow paint, and containing twenty beds, all occupied. Linda was dying in company–in company and with all the modern conveniences. The air was continuously alive with gay synthetic melodies. At the foot of every bed, confronting its moribund occupant, was a television box. Television was left on, a running tap, from morning till night. Every quarter of an hour the prevailing perfume of the room was automatically changed. "We try," explained the nurse, who had taken charge of the Savage at the door, "we try to create a thoroughly pleasant atmosphere here–something between a first-class hotel and a feely-palace, if you take my meaning."
"Where is she?" asked the Savage, ignoring these polite explanations.
The nurse was offended. "You are in a hurry," she said.
"Is there any hope?" he asked.
"You mean, of her not dying?" (He nodded.) "No, of course there isn't. When somebody's sent here, there's no …" Startled by the expression of distress on his pale face, she suddenly broke off. "Why, whatever is the matter?" she asked. She was not accustomed to this kind of thing in visitors. (Not that there were many visitors anyhow: or any reason why there should be many visitors.) "You're not feeling ill, are you?"
He shook his head. "She's my mother," he said in a scarcely audible voice.
The nurse glanced at him with startled, horrified eyes; then quickly looked away. From throat to temple she was all one hot blush.
"Take me to her," said the Savage, making an effort to speak in an ordinary tone.
Still blushing, she led the way down the ward. Faces still fresh and unwithered (for senility galloped so hard that it had no time to age the cheeks–only the heart and brain) turned as they passed. Their progress was followed by the blank, incurious eyes of second infancy. The Savage shuddered as he looked.
Linda was lying in the last of the long row of beds, next to the wall. Propped up on pillows, she was watching the Semi-finals of the South American Riemann-Surface Tennis Championship, which were being played in silent and diminished reproduction on the screen of the television box at the foot of the bed. Hither and thither across their square of illuminated glass the little figures noiselessly darted, like fish in an aquarium–the silent but agitated inhabitants of another world.
Linda looked on, vaguely and uncomprehendingly smiling. Her pale, bloated face wore an expression of imbecile happiness. Every now and then her eyelids closed, and for a few seconds she seemed to be dozing. Then with a little start she would wake up again–wake up to the aquarium antics of the Tennis Champions, to the Super-Vox-Wurlitzeriana rendering of "Hug me till you drug me, honey," to the warm draught of verbena that came blowing through the ventilator above her head–would wake to these things, or rather to a dream of which these things, transformed and embellished by the soma in her blood, were the marvellous constituents, and smile once more her broken and discoloured smile of infantile contentment.
"Well, I must go," said the nurse. "I've got my batch of children coming. Besides, there's Number 3." She pointed up the ward. "Might go off any minute now. Well, make yourself comfortable." She walked briskly away.
The Savage sat down beside the bed.
"Linda," he whispered, taking her hand.
At the sound of her name, she turned. Her vague eyes brightened with recognition. She squeezed his hand, she smiled, her lips moved; then quite suddenly her head fell forward. She was asleep. He sat watching her–seeking through the tired flesh, seeking and finding that young, bright face which had stooped over his childhood in Malpais, remembering (and he closed his eyes) her voice, her movements, all the events of their life together. "Streptocock-Gee to Banbury T …" How beautiful her singing had been! And those childish rhymes, how magically strange and mysterious!
A, B, C, vitamin D:
The fat's in the liver, the cod's in the sea.
He felt the hot tears welling up behind his eyelids as he recalled the words and Linda's voice as she repeated them. And then the reading lessons: The tot is in the pot, the cat is on the mat; and the Elementary Instructions for Beta Workers in the Embryo Store. And long evenings by the fire or, in summertime, on the roof of the little house, when she told him those stories about the Other Place, outside the Reservation: that beautiful, beautiful Other Place, whose memory, as of a heaven, a paradise of goodness and loveliness, he still kept whole and intact, undefiled by contact with the reality of this real London, these actual civilized men and women.
A sudden noise of shrill voices made him open his eyes and, after hastily brushing away the tears, look round. What seemed an interminable stream of identical eight-year-old male twins was pouring into the room. Twin after twin, twin after twin, they came–a nightmare. Their faces, their repeated face–for there was only one between the lot of them–puggishly stared, all nostrils and pale goggling eyes. Their uniform was khaki. All their mouths hung open. Squealing and chattering they entered. In a moment, it seemed, the ward was maggoty with them. They swarmed between the beds, clambered over, crawled under, peeped into the television boxes, made faces at the patients.
Linda astonished and rather alarmed them. A group stood clustered at the foot of her bed, staring with the frightened and stupid curiosity of animals suddenly confronted by the unknown.
"Oh, look, look!" They spoke in low, scared voices. "Whatever is the matter with her? Why is she so fat?"
They had never seen a face like hers before–had never seen a face that was not youthful and taut-skinned, a body that had ceased to be slim and upright. All these moribund sexagenarians had the appearance of childish girls. At forty-four, Linda seemed, by contrast, a monster of flaccid and distorted senility.
"Isn't she awful?" came the whispered comments. "Look at her teeth!"
Suddenly from under the bed a pug-faced twin popped up between John's chair and the wall, and began peering into Linda's sleeping face.
"I say …" he began; but the sentence ended prematurely in a squeal. The Savage had seized him by the collar, lifted him clear over the chair and, with a smart box on the ears, sent him howling away.
His yells brought the Head Nurse hurrying to the rescue.
"What have you been doing to him?" she demanded fiercely. "I won't have you striking the children."
"Well then, keep them away from this bed." The Savage's voice was trembling with indignation. "What are these filthy little brats doing here at all? It's disgraceful!"
"Disgraceful? But what do you mean? They're being death-conditioned. And I tell you," she warned him truculently, "if I have any more of your interference with their conditioning, I'll send for the porters and have you thrown out."
The Savage rose to his feet and took a couple of steps towards her. His movements and the expression on his face were so menacing that the nurse fell back in terror. With a great effort he checked himself and, without speaking, turned away and sat down again by the bed.
Reassured, but with a dignity that was a trifle shrill and uncertain, "I've warned you," said the nurse, "I've warned you," said the nurse, "so mind." Still, she led the too inquisitive twins away and made them join in the game of hunt-the-zipper, which had been organized by one of her colleagues at the other end of the room.
"Run along now and have your cup of caffeine solution, dear," she said to the other nurse. The exercise of authority restored her confidence, made her feel better. "Now children!" she called.
Linda had stirred uneasily, had opened her eyes for a moment, looked vaguely around, and then once more dropped off to sleep. Sitting beside her, the Savage tried hard to recapture his mood of a few minutes before. "A, B, C, vitamin D," he repeated to himself, as though the words were a spell that would restore the dead past to life. But the spell was ineffective. Obstinately the beautiful memories refused to rise; there was only a hateful resurrection of jealousies and uglinesses and miseries. Popé with the blood trickling down from his cut shoulder; and Linda hideously asleep, and the flies buzzing round the spilt mescal on the floor beside the bed; and the boys calling those names as she passed. … Ah, no, no! He shut his eyes, he shook his head in strenuous denial of these memories. "A, B, C, vitamin D …" He tried to think of those times when he sat on her knees and she put her arms about him and sang, over and over again, rocking him, rocking him to sleep. "A, B, C, vitamin D, vitamin D, vitamin D …"
The Super-Vox-Wurlitzeriana had risen to a sobbing crescendo; and suddenly the verbena gave place, in the scent-circulating system, to an intense patchouli. Linda stirred, woke up, stared for a few seconds bewilderly at the Semi-finalists, then, lifting her face, sniffed once or twice at the newly perfumed air and suddenly smiled–a smile of childish ecstasy.
"Popé!" she murmured, and closed her eyes. "Oh, I do so like it, I do …" She sighed and let herself sink back into the pillows.
"But, Linda!" The Savage spoke imploringly, "Don't you know me?" He had tried so hard, had done his very best; why wouldn't she allow him to forget? He squeezed her limp hand almost with violence, as though he would force her to come back from this dream of ignoble pleasures, from these base and hateful memories–back into the present, back into reality: the appalling present, the awful reality–but sublime, but significant, but desperately important precisely because of the imminence of that which made them so fearful. "Don't you know me, Linda?"
He felt the faint answering pressure of her hand. The tears started into his eyes. He bent over her and kissed her.
Her lips moved. "Popé!" she whispered again, and it was as though he had had a pailful of ordure thrown in his face.
Anger suddenly boiled up in him. Balked for the second time, the passion of his grief had found another outlet, was transformed into a passion of agonized rage.
"But I'm John!" he shouted. "I'm John!" And in his furious misery he actually caught her by the shoulder and shook her.
Linda's eyes fluttered open; she saw him, knew him–"John!"–but situated the real face, the real and violent hands, in an imaginary world–among the inward and private equivalents of patchouli and the Super-Wurlitzer, among the transfigured memories and the strangely transposed sensations that constituted the universe of her dream. She knew him for John, her son, but fancied him an intruder into that paradisal Malpais where she had been spending her soma-holiday with Popé. He was angry because she liked Popé, he was shaking her because Popé was there in the bed–as though there were something wrong, as though all civilized people didn't do the same. "Every one belongs to every …" Her voice suddenly died into an almost inaudible breathless croaking. Her mouth fell open: she made a desperate effort to fill her lungs with air. But it was as though she had forgotten how to breathe. She tried to cry out–but no sound came; only the terror of her staring eyes revealed what she was suffering. Her hands went to her throat, then clawed at the air–the air she could no longer breathe, the air that, for her, had ceased to exist.
The Savage was on his feet, bent over her. "What is it, Linda? What is it?" His voice was imploring; it was as though he were begging to be reassured.
The look she gave him was charged with an unspeakable terror–with terror and, it seemed to him, reproach.
She tried to raise herself in bed, but fell back on to the pillows. Her face was horribly distorted, her lips blue.
The Savage turned and ran up the ward.
"Quick, quick!" he shouted. "Quick!"
Standing in the centre of a ring of zipper-hunting twins, the Head Nurse looked round. The first moment's astonishment gave place almost instantly to disapproval. "Don't shout! Think of the little ones," she said, frowning. "You might decondition … But what are you doing?" He had broken through the ring. "Be careful!" A child was yelling.
"Quick, quick!" He caught her by the sleeve, dragged her after him. "Quick! Something's happened. I've killed her."
By the time they were back at the end of the ward Linda was dead.
The Savage stood for a moment in frozen silence, then fell on his knees beside the bed and, covering his face with his hands, sobbed uncontrollably.
The nurse stood irresolute, looking now at the kneeling figure by the bed (the scandalous exhibition!) and now (poor children!) at the twins who had stopped their hunting of the zipper and were staring from the other end of the ward, staring with all their eyes and nostrils at the shocking scene that was being enacted round Bed 20. Should she speak to him? try to bring him back to a sense of decency? remind him of where he was? of what fatal mischief he might do to these poor innocents? Undoing all their wholesome death-conditioning with this disgusting outcry–as though death were something terrible, as though any one mattered as much as all that! It might give them the most disastrous ideas about the subject, might upset them into reacting in the entirely wrong, the utterly anti-social way.
She stepped forward, she touched him on the shoulder. "Can't you behave?" she said in a low, angry voice. But, looking around, she saw that half a dozen twins were already on their feet and advancing down the ward. The circle was disintegrating. In another moment … No, the risk was too great; the whole Group might be put back six or seven months in its conditioning. She hurried back towards her menaced charges.
"Now, who wants a chocolate éclair?" she asked in a loud, cheerful tone.
"Me!" yelled the entire Bokanovsky Group in chorus. Bed 20 was completely forgotten.
"Oh, God, God, God …" the Savage kept repeating to himself. In the chaos of grief and remorse that filled his mind it was the one articulate word. "God!" he whispered it aloud. "God …"
"Whatever is he saying?" said a voice, very near, distinct and shrill through the warblings of the Super-Wurlitzer.
The Savage violently started and, uncovering his face, looked round. Five khaki twins, each with the stump of a long éclair in his right hand, and their identical faces variously smeared with liquid chocolate, were standing in a row, puggily goggling at him.
They met his eyes and simultaneously grinned. One of them pointed with his éclair butt.
"Is she dead?" he asked.
The Savage stared at them for a moment in silence. Then in silence he rose to his feet, in silence slowly walked towards the door.
"Is she dead?" repeated the inquisitive twin trotting at his side.
The Savage looked down at him and still without speaking pushed him away. The twin fell on the floor and at once began to howl. The Savage did not even look round.