Chapter 18

The door was ajar; they entered.


From the bathroom came an unpleasant and characteristic sound.

‘Is there anything the matter?’ Helmholtz called.

There was no answer. The unpleasant sound was repeated, twice; there was silence. Then, with a click, the bathroom door opened and, very pale, the Savage emerged.

‘I say,’ Helmholtz exclaimed solicitously, ‘you do look ill, John!’

‘Did you eat something that didn’t agree with you?’ asked Bernard.

The Savage nodded. ‘I ate civilization.’


‘It poisoned me; I was defiled. And then,’ he added, in a lower tone, ‘I ate my own wickedness.’

‘Yes, but what exactly? … I mean, just now you were …’

‘Now I am purified,’ said the Savage. ‘I drank some mustard and warm water.’

The others stared at him in astonishment.

‘Do you mean to say that you were doing it on purpose?’ asked Bernard.

‘That’s how the Indians always purify themselves.’ He sat down and, sighing, passed his hand across 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 good-bye,’ he went on in another tone. ‘We’re off to-morrow morning.’

‘Yes, we’re off to-morrow,’ said Bernard, on whose face the Savage remarked a new expression of determined resignation. ‘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.’ He blushed. ‘How ashamed,’ he went on, in spite of the unsteadiness of his voice, ‘how really …’

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

‘Helmholtz was wonderful to me,’ Bernard resumed, 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 symptom 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 mightn’t go to the islands with you.’

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

  By PanEris using Melati.

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