Aldous Huxley (1894–1963)
OUTSIDE, in the dust and among the garbage (there were four dogs now), Bernard and John were walking slowly up and down.
“So hard for me to realize,” Bernard was saying, “to reconstruct. As though we were living on different planets, in different centuries. A mother, and all this dirt, and gods, and old age, and disease …” He shook his head. “It’s almost inconceivable. I shall never understand, unless you explain.”
“This.” He indicated the pueblo. “That.” And it was the little house outside the village. “Everything. All your life.”
“But what is there to say?”
“From the beginning. As far back as you can remember.”
“As far back as I can remember.” John frowned. There was a long silence.
It was very hot. They had eaten a lot of tortillas and sweet corn. Linda said, “Come and lie down, Baby.” They lay down together in the big bed. “Sing,” and Linda sang. Sang “Streptocock-Gee to Banbury-T” and “Bye Baby Banting, soon you’ll need decanting.” Her voice got fainter and fainter…
There was a loud noise, and he woke with a start. A man was saying something to Linda, and Linda was laughing. She had pulled the blanket up to her chin, but the man pulled it down again. His hair was like two black ropes, and round his arm was a lovely silver bracelet with blue stones in it. He liked the bracelet; but all the same, he was frightened; he hid his face against Linda’s body. Linda put her hand on him and he felt safer. In those other words he did not understand so well, she said to the man, “Not with John here.” The man looked at him, then again at Linda, and said a few words in a soft voice. Linda said, “No.” But the man bent over the bed towards him and his face was huge, terrible; the black ropes of hair touched the blanket. “No,” Linda said again, and he felt her hand squeezing him more tightly. “No, no!” But the man took hold of one of his arms, and it hurt. He screamed. The man put up his other hand and lifted him up. Linda was still holding him, still saying, “No, no.” The man said something short and angry, and suddenly her hands were gone. “Linda, Linda.” He kicked and wriggled; but the man carried him across to the door, opened it, put him down on the floor in the middle of the other room, and went away, shutting the door behind him. He got up, he ran to the door. Standing on tiptoe he could just reach the big wooden latch. He lifted it and pushed; but the door wouldn’t open. “Linda,” he shouted. She didn’t answer.
He remembered a huge room, rather dark; and there were big wooden things with strings fastened to them, and lots of women standing round them—making blankets, Linda said. Linda told him to sit in the corner with the other children, while she went and helped the women. He played with the little boys for a long time. Suddenly people started talking very loud, and there were the women pushing Linda away, and Linda was crying. She went to the door and he ran after her. He asked her why they were angry. “Because I broke something,” she said. And then she got angry too. “How should I know how to do their beastly weaving?” she said. “Beastly savages.” He asked her what savages were. When they got back to their house, Popé was waiting at the door, and he came in with them. He had a big gourd full of stuff that looked like water; only it wasn’t water, but something with a bad smell that burnt your mouth and made you cough. Linda drank some and Popé drank some, and then Linda laughed a lot and talked very loud; and then she and Popé went into the other room. When Popé went away, he went into the room. Linda was in bed and so fast asleep that he couldn’t wake her.
Popé used to come often. He said the stuff in the gourd was called mescal; but Linda said it ought to be called soma; only it made you feel ill afterwards. He hated Popé. He hated them all—all the men who came to see Linda. One afternoon, when he had been playing with the other children—it was cold, he remembered, and there was snow on the mountains—he came back to the house and heard angry voices in the bedroom. They were women’s voices, and they said words he didn’t understand, but he knew they were dreadful words. Then suddenly, crash! something was upset; he heard people moving about quickly, and there was another crash and then a noise like hitting a mule, only not so bony; then Linda screamed. “Oh, don’t, don’t, don’t!” she said. He ran in. There were three women in dark blankets. Linda was on the bed. One of the women was holding her wrists. Another was lying across her legs, so that she couldn’t kick. The third was hitting her with a whip. Once, twice, three times; and each time Linda screamed. Crying, he tugged at the fringe of the woman’s blanket. “Please, please.” With her free hand she held him away. The whip came down again, and again Linda screamed. He caught hold of the woman’s enormous brown hand between his own and bit it with all his might. She cried out, wrenched her hand free, and gave him such a push that he fell down. While he was lying on the ground she hit him three times with the whip. It hurt more than anything he had ever felt—like fire. The whip whistled again, fell. But this time it was Linda who screamed.
“But why did they want to hurt you, Linda?” he asked that night. He was crying, because the red marks of the whip on his back still hurt so terribly. But he was also crying because people were so beastly and unfair, and because he was only a little boy and couldn’t do anything against them. Linda was crying too. She was grown up, but she wasn’t big enough to fight against three of them. It wasn’t fair for her either. “Why did they want to hurt you, Linda?”
“I don’t know. How should I know?” It was difficult to hear what she said, because she was lying on her stomach and her face was in the pillow. “They say those men are their men,” she went on; and she did not seem to be talking to him at all; she seemed to be talking with some one inside herself. A long talk which she didn’t understand; and in the end she started crying louder than ever.
“Oh, don’t cry, Linda. Don’t cry.”
He pressed himself against her. He put his arm round her neck. Linda cried out. “Oh, be careful. My shoulder! Oh!” and she pushed him away, hard. His head banged against the wall. “Little idiot!” she shouted; and then, suddenly, she began to slap him. Slap, slap …
“Linda,” he cried out. “Oh, mother, don’t!”
“I’m not your mother. I won’t be your mother.”
“But, Linda … Oh!” She slapped him on the cheek.
“Turned into a savage,” she shouted. “Having young ones like an animal … If it hadn’t been for you, I might have gone to the Inspector, I might have got away. But not with a baby. That would have been too shameful.”
He saw that she was going to hit him again, and lifted his arm to guard his face. “Oh, don’t, Linda, please don’t.”
“Little beast!” She pulled down his arm; his face was uncovered.
“Don’t, Linda.” He shut his eyes, expecting the blow.
But she didn’t hit him. After a little time, he opened his eyes again and saw that she was looking at him. He tried to smile at her. Suddenly she put her arms round him and kissed him again and again.
Sometimes, for several days, Linda didn’t get up at all. She lay in bed and was sad. Or else she drank the stuff that Popé brought and laughed a great deal and went to sleep. Sometimes she was sick. Often she forgot to wash him, and there was nothing to eat except cold tortillas. He remembered the first time she found those little animals in his hair, how she screamed and screamed.
The happiest times were when she told him about the Other Place. “And you really can go flying, whenever you like?”
“Whenever you like.” And she would tell him about the lovely music that came out of a box, and all the nice games you could play, and the delicious things to eat and drink, and the light that came when you pressed a little thing in the wall, and the pictures that you could hear and feel and smell, as well as see, and another box for making nice smells, and the pink and green and blue and silver houses as high as mountains, and everybody happy and no one ever sad or angry, and every one belonging to every one else, and the boxes where you could see and hear what was happening at the other side of the world, and babies in lovely clean bottles—everything so clean, and no nasty smells, no dirt at all—and people never lonely, but living together and being so jolly and happy, like the summer dances here in Malpais, but much happier, and the happiness being there every day, every day. … He listened by the hour. And sometimes, when he and the other children were tired with too much playing, one of the old men of the pueblo would talk to them, in those other words, of the great Transformer of the World, and of the long fight between Right Hand and Left Hand, between Wet and Dry; of Awonawilona, who made a great fog by thinking in the night, and then made the whole world out of the fog; of Earth Mother and Sky Father; of Ahaiyuta and Marsailema, the twins of War and Chance; of Jesus and Pookong; of Mary and Etsanatlehi, the woman who makes herself young again; of the Black Stone at Laguna and the Great Eagle and Our Lady of Acoma. Strange stories, all the more wonderful to him for being told in the other words and so not fully understood. Lying in bed, he would think of Heaven and London and Our Lady of Acoma and the rows and rows of babies in clean bottles and Jesus flying up and Linda flying up and the great Director of World Hatcheries and Awonawilona.
Lots of men came to see Linda. The boys began to point their fingers at him. In the strange other words they said that Linda was bad; they called her names he did not understand, but that he knew were bad names. One day they sang a song about her, again and again. He threw stones at them. They threw back; a sharp stone cut his cheek. The blood wouldn’t stop; he was covered with blood.
Linda taught him to read. With a piece of charcoal she drew pictures on the wall—an animal sitting down, a baby inside a bottle; then she wrote letters. THE CAT IS ON THE MAT. THE TOT IS IN THE POT. He learned quickly and easily. When he knew how to read all the words she wrote on the wall, Linda opened her big wooden box and pulled out from under those funny little red trousers she never wore a thin little book. He had often seen it before. “When you’re bigger,” she had said, “you can read it.” Well, now he was big enough. He was proud. “I’m afraid you won’t find it very exciting,” she said. “But it’s the only thing I have.” She sighed. “If only you could see the lovely reading machines we used to have in London!” He began reading. The Chemical and Bacteriological Conditioning of the Embryo. Practical Instructions for Beta Embryo-Store Workers. It took him a quarter of an hour to read the title alone. He threw the book on the floor. “Beastly, beastly book!” he said, and began to cry.
The boys still sang their horrible song about Linda. Sometimes, too, they laughed at him for being so ragged. When he tore his clothes, Linda did not know how to mend them. In the Other Place, she told him, people threw away clothes with holes in them and got new ones. “Rags, rags!” the boys used to shout at him. “But I can read,” he said to himself, “and they can’t. They don’t even know what reading is.” It was fairly easy, if he thought hard enough about the reading, to pretend that he didn’t mind when they made fun of him. He asked Linda to give him the book again.
The more the boys pointed and sang, the harder he read. Soon he could read all the words quite well. Even the longest. But what did they mean? He asked Linda; but even when she could answer it didn’t seem to make it very clear, And generally she couldn’t answer at all.
“What are chemicals?” he would ask.
“Oh, stuff like magnesium salts, and alcohol for keeping the Deltas and Epsilons small and backward, and calcium carbonate for bones, and all that sort of thing.”
“But how do you make chemicals, Linda? Where do they come from?”
“Well, I don’t know. You get them out of bottles. And when the bottles are empty, you send up to the Chemical Store for more. It’s the Chemical Store people who make them, I suppose. Or else they send to the factory for them. I don’t know. I never did any chemistry. My job was always with the embryos. It was the same with everything else he asked about. Linda never seemed to know. The old men of the pueblo had much more definite answers.
“The seed of men and all creatures, the seed of the sun and the seed of earth and the seed of the sky—Awonawilona made them all out of the Fog of Increase. Now the world has four wombs; and he laid the seeds in the lowest of the four wombs. And gradually the seeds began to grow …”
One day (John calculated later that it must have been soon after his twelfth birthday) he came home and found a book that he had never seen before lying on the floor in the bedroom. It was a thick book and looked very old. The binding had been eaten by mice; some of its pages were loose and crumpled. He picked it up, looked at the title-page: the book was called The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.
Linda was lying on the bed, sipping that horrible stinking mescal out of a cup. “Popé brought it,” she said. Her voice was thick and hoarse like somebody else’s voice. “It was lying in one of the chests of the Antelope Kiva. It’s supposed to have been there for hundreds of years. I expect it’s true, because I looked at it, and it seemed to be full of nonsense. Uncivilized. Still, it’ll be good enough for you to practice your reading on.” She took a last sip, set the cup down on the floor beside the bed, turned over on her side, hiccoughed once or twice and went to sleep.
He opened the book at random.
Nay, but to live
In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed,
Stew’d in corruption, honeying and making love
Over the nasty sty…
The strange words rolled through his mind; rumbled, like talking thunder; like the drums at the summer dances, if the drums could have spoken; like the men singing the Corn Song, beautiful, beautiful, so that you cried; like old Mitsima saying magic over his feathers and his carved sticks and his bits of bone and stone—kiathla tsilu silokwe silokwe silokwe. Kiai silu silu, tsithl--but better than Mitsima’s magic, because it meant more, because it talked to him, talked wonderfully and only half-understandably, a terrible beautiful magic, about Linda; about Linda lying there snoring, with the empty cup on the floor beside the bed; about Linda and Popé, Linda and Popé.
He hated Popé more and more. A man can smile and smile and be a villain. Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain. What did the words exactly mean? He only half knew. But their magic was strong and went on rumbling in his head, and somehow it was as though he had never really hated Popé before; never really hated him because he had never been able to say how much he hated him. But now he had these words, these words like drums and singing and magic. These words and the strange, strange story out of which they were taken (he couldn’t make head or tail of it, but it was wonderful, wonderful all the same)—they gave him a reason for hating Popé; and they made his hatred more real; they even made Popé himself more real.
One day, when he came in from playing, the door of the inner room was open, and he saw them lying together on the bed, asleep—white Linda and Popé almost black beside her, with one arm under her shoulders and the other dark hand on her breast, and one of the plaits of his long hair lying across her throat, like a black snake trying to strangle her. Popé’s gourd and a cup were standing on the floor near the bed. Linda was snoring.
His heart seemed to have disappeared and left a hole. He was empty. Empty, and cold, and rather sick, and giddy. He leaned against the wall to steady himself. Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous … Like drums, like the men singing for the corn, like magic, the words repeated and repeated themselves in his head. From being cold he was suddenly hot. His cheeks burnt with the rush of blood, the room swam and darkened before his eyes. He ground his teeth. “I’ll kill him, I’ll kill him, I’ll kill him,” he kept saying. And suddenly there were more words.
When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage
Or in the incestuous pleasure of his bed…
The magic was on his side, the magic explained and gave orders. He stepped back in the outer room. “When he is drunk asleep …” The knife for the meat was lying on the floor near the fireplace. He picked it up and tiptoed to the door again. “When he is drunk asleep, drunk asleep …” He ran across the room and stabbed—oh, the blood!—stabbed again, as Popé heaved out of his sleep, lifted his hand to stab once more, but found his wrist caught, held and—oh, oh!—twisted. He couldn’t move, he was trapped, and there were Popé’s small black eyes, very close, staring into his own. He looked away. There were two cuts on Popé’s left shoulder. “Oh, look at the blood!” Linda was crying. “Look at the blood!” She had never been able to bear the sight of blood. Popé lifted his other hand—to strike him, he thought. He stiffened to receive the blow. But the hand only took him under the chin and turned his face, so that he had to look again into Popé’s eyes. For a long time, for hours and hours. And suddenly—he couldn’t help it—he began to cry. Popé burst out laughing. “Go,” he said, in the other Indian words. “Go, my brave Ahaiyuta.” He ran out into the other room to hide his tears.
“You are fifteen,” said old Mitsima, in the Indian words. “Now I may teach you to work the clay.” Squatting by the river, they worked together.
“First of all,” said Mitsima, taking a lump of the wetted clay between his hands, “we make a little moon.” The old man squeezed the lump into a disk, then bent up the edges, the moon became a shallow cup.
Slowly and unskilfully he imitated the old man’s delicate gestures.
“A moon, a cup, and now a snake.” Mitsima rolled out another piece of clay into a long flexible cylinder, trooped it into a circle and pressed it on to the rim of the cup. “Then another snake. And another. And another.” Round by round, Mitsima built up the sides of the pot; it was narrow, it bulged, it narrowed again towards the neck. Mitsima squeezed and patted, stroked and scraped; and there at last it stood, in shape the familiar water pot of Malpais, but creamy white instead of black, and still soft to the touch. The crooked parody of Mitsima’s, his own stood beside it. Looking at the two pots, he had to laugh.
“But the next one will be better,” he said, and began to moisten another piece of clay.
To fashion, to give form, to feel his fingers gaining in skill and power—this gave him an extraordinary pleasure. “A, B, C, Vitamin D,” he sang to himself as he worked. “The fat’s in the liver, the cod’s in the sea.” And Mitsima also sang—a song about killing a bear. They worked all day, and all day he was filled with an intense, absorbing happiness.
“Next winter,” said old Mitsima, “I will teach you to make the bow.”
He stood for a long time outside the house, and at last the ceremonies within were finished. The door opened; they came out. Kothlu came first, his right hand out-stretched and tightly closed, as though over some precious jewel. Her clenched hand similarly outstretched, Kiakimé followed. They walked in silence, and in silence, behind them, came the brothers and sisters and cousins and all the troop of old people.
They walked out of the pueblo, across the mesa. At the edge of the cliff they halted, facing the early morning sun. Kothlu opened his hand. A pinch of corn meal lay white on the palm; he breathed on it, murmured a few words, then threw it, a handful of white dust, towards the sun. Kiakimé did the same. Then Kiakime’s father stepped forward, and holding up a feathered prayer stick, made a long prayer, then threw the stick after the corn meal.
“It is finished,” said old Mitsima in a loud voice. “They are married.”
“Well,” said Linda, as they turned away, “all I can say is, it does seem a lot of fuss to make about so little. In civilized countries, when a boy wants to have a girl, he just … But where are you going, John?”
He paid no attention to her calling, but ran on, away, away, anywhere to be by himself.
It is finished Old Mitsima’s words repeated themselves in his mind. Finished, finished … In silence and from a long way off, but violently, desperately, hopelessly, he had loved Kiakimé. And now it was finished. He was sixteen.
At the full moon, in the Antelope Kiva, secrets would be told, secrets would be done and borne. They would go down, boys, into the kiva and come out again, men. The boys were all afraid and at the same time impatient. And at last it was the day. The sun went down, the moon rose. He went with the others. Men were standing, dark, at the entrance to the kiva; the ladder went down into the red lighted depths. Already the leading boys had begun to climb down. Suddenly, one of the men stepped forward, caught him by the arm, and pulled him out of the ranks. He broke free and dodged back into his place among the others. This time the man struck him, pulled his hair. “Not for you, white-hair!” “Not for the son of the she-dog,” said one of the other men. The boys laughed. “Go!” And as he still hovered on the fringes of the group, “Go!” the men shouted again. One of them bent down, took a stone, threw it. “Go, go, go!” There was a shower of stones. Bleeding, he ran away into the darkness. From the red-lit kiva came the noise of singing. The last of the boys had climbed down the ladder. He was all alone.
All alone, outside the pueblo, on the bare plain of the mesa. The rock was like bleached bones in the moonlight. Down in the valley, the coyotes were howling at the moon. The bruises hurt him, the cuts were still bleeding; but it was not for pain that he sobbed; it was because he was all alone, because he had been driven out, alone, into this skeleton world of rocks and moonlight. At the edge of the precipice he sat down. The moon was behind him; he looked down into the black shadow of the mesa, into the black shadow of death. He had only to take one step, one little jump. … He held out his right hand in the moonlight. From the cut on his wrist the blood was still oozing. Every few seconds a drop fell, dark, almost colourless in the dead light. Drop, drop, drop. To-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow … He had discovered Time and Death and God.
“Alone, always alone,” the young man was saying.
The words awoke a plaintive echo in Bernard’s mind. Alone, alone … “So am I,” he said, on a gush of confidingness. “Terribly alone.”
“Are you?” John looked surprised. “I thought that in the Other Place … I mean, Linda always said that nobody was ever alone there.”
Bernard blushed uncomfortably. “You see,” he said, mumbling and with averted eyes, “I’m rather different from most people, I suppose. If one happens to be decanted different …”
“Yes, that’s just it.” The young man nodded. “If one’s different, one’s bound to be lonely. They’re beastly to one. Do you know, they shut me out of absolutely everything? When the other boys were sent out to spend the night on the mountains—you know, when you have to dream which your sacred animal is—they wouldn’t let me go with the others; they wouldn’t tell me any of the secrets. I did it by myself, though,” he added. “Didn’t eat anything for five days and then went out one night alone into those mountains there.” He pointed.
Patronizingly, Bernard smiled. “And did you dream of anything?” he asked.
The other nodded. “But I mustn’t tell you what.” He was silent for a little; then, in a low voice, “Once,” he went on, “I did something that none of the others did: I stood against a rock in the middle of the day, in summer, with my arms out, like Jesus on the Cross.”
“What on earth for?”
“I wanted to know what it was like being crucified. Hanging there in the sun …”
“Why? Well …” He hesitated. “Because I felt I ought to. If Jesus could stand it. And then, if one has done something wrong … Besides, I was unhappy; that was another reason.”
“It seems a funny way of curing your unhappiness,” said Bernard. But on second thoughts he decided that there was, after all, some sense in it. Better than taking soma …
“I fainted after a time,” said the young man. “Fell down on my face. Do you see the mark where I cut myself?” He lifted the thick yellow hair from his forehead. The scar showed, pale and puckered, on his right temple.
Bernard looked, and then quickly, with a little shudder, averted his eyes. His conditioning had made him not so much pitiful as profoundly squeamish. The mere suggestion of illness or wounds was to him not only horrifying, but even repulsive and rather disgusting. Like dirt, or deformity, or old age. Hastily he changed the subject.
“I wonder if you’d like to come back to London with us?” he asked, making the first move in a campaign whose strategy he had been secretly elaborating ever since, in the little house, he had realized who the “father” of this young savage must be. “Would you like that?”
The young man’s face lit up. “Do you really mean it?”
“Of course; if I can get permission, that is.”
“Well …” He hesitated doubtfully. That revolting creature! No, it was impossible. Unless, unless … It suddenly occurred to Bernard that her very revoltingness might prove an enormous asset. “But of course!” he cried, making up for his first hesitations with an excess of noisy cordiality.
The young man drew a deep breath. “To think it should be coming true—what I’ve dreamt of all my life. Do you remember what Miranda says?”
But the young man had evidently not heard the question. “O wonder!” he was saying; and his eyes shone, his face was brightly flushed. “How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is!” The flush suddenly deepened; he was thinking of Lenina, of an angel in bottle-green viscose, lustrous with youth and skin food, plump, benevolently smiling. His voice faltered. “O brave new world,” he began, then-suddenly interrupted himself; the blood had left his cheeks; he was as pale as paper. “Are you married to her?” he asked.
“Am I what?”
“Married. You know—for ever. They say ‘for ever’ in the Indian words; it can’t be broken.”
“Ford, no!” Bernard couldn’t help laughing.
John also laughed, but for another reason—laughed for pure joy.
“O brave new world,” he repeated. “O brave new world that has such people in it. Let’s start at once.”
“You have a most peculiar way of talking sometimes,” said Bernard, staring at the young man in perplexed astonishment. “And, anyhow, hadn’t you better wait till you actually see the new world?”
- Compare the nursery rhymes “Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross” and “Bye, baby bunting,/Daddy’s gone a-hunting.” Sir Frederick Banting (1891-1941), was a Canadian physiologist who received the Nobel Prize for Physiology/Medicine for his co-discovery of insulin. ↵
- Hamlet, 3.4.82 ff. ↵
- Here Huxley recalls Cushing’s chapter, “The Hermit Mitsina” from Zuñi Folk Tales. ↵
- Hamlet 2.2. 558. ↵
- Hamlet 3.3. 89ff. ↵
- Cushing refers to the city of Kiakimé in his “Outlines of Zuñi Creation Myths.” ↵
- The Tempest 5.1.184 ff. ↵