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  • Home > C.S.Lewis > Cosmic > Perelandra (Page 18)     
    Perelandra(Cosmic #2) by C.S.Lewis
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    Ransom gained ground over that; but on the following day he lost it all by losing his temper. The enemy had been pressing on her with more than usual ardour the nobility of self sacrifice and self-dedication, and the enchantment seemed to be deepening in her mind every moment, when Ransom, goaded beyond all patience, had leaped to his feet and really turned upon her, talking far too quickly and almost shouting, and even forgetting his Old Solar and intermixing English words. He tried to tell her that he'd seen this kind of 'unselfishness' in action: to tell her of women making themselves sick with hunger rather than begin the meal before the man of the house returned, though they knew perfectly well that there was nothing he disliked more; of mothers wearing themselves to a ravelling to marry some daughter to a man whom she detested; of Agrippina and of Lady Macbeth. "Can you not see," he shouted, "that he is making you say words that mean nothing? What is the good of saying you would do this for the King's sake when you know it is what the King would hate most? Are you Maleldil that you should determine what is good for the King?" But she understood only a very small part of what he said and was bewildered by his manner. The Un-man made capital out of this speech.

    But through all these ups and downs, all changes of the front line, all counter-attacks and stands and withdrawals, Ransom came to see more and more clearly the strategy of the whole affair. The Lady's response to the suggestion of becoming a risk-bearer, a tragic pioneer, was still a response made chiefly out of her love for the King and for her unborn children, and even, in a sense, of Maleldil Himself. The idea that He might not really wish to be obeyed to the letter was the sluice through which the whole flood of suggestion had been admitted to her mind. But mixed with this response, from the moment when the Un-man began its tragic stories, there was the faintest touch of theatricality, the first hint of a self admiring inclination to seize a grand role in the drama of her world. It was clear that the Un-man's whole effort was to increase this element. As long as this was but one drop, so to speak, in the sea of her mind, he would not really succeed. Perhaps, while it remained so, she was protected from actual disobedience: perhaps no rational creature, until such a motive became dominant, could really throw away happiness for anything quite so vague as the Tempter's chatter about Deeper Life and the Upward Path. The veiled egoism in the conception of noble revolt must be increased. And Ransom thought, despite many rallies on her part and many set-backs suffered by the enemy, that it was, very slowly and yet perceptibly, increasing. The matter was, of course, cruelly complicated. What the Un-man said was always very nearly true.

    Certainly it must be part o£ the Divine plan that this happy creature should mature, should become more and more a creature of free choice, should become, in a sense, more distinct from God and from her husband in order thereby to be at one with them in a richer fashion. In fact, he had seen this very process going on from the moment at which he met her, and had, unconsciously, assisted it. This present temptation, if conquered, would itself be the next, and greatest, step m the same direction: an obedience freer, more reasoned, more conscious than any she had known before, was being put in her power. But for that very reason the fatal false step which, once taken, would thrust her down into the terrible slavery of appetite and hate and economics and government which our race knows so well, could be made to sound so like the true one. What made him feel sure that. the dangerous element in her interest was growing was her progressive disregard of the plain intellectual bones of the problem. It became harder to recall her mind to the data - a command from Maleldil, a complete uncertainty about the results of breaking it, and a present happiness so great that hardly any change could be far the better. The turgid swell of indistinctly splendid images which the Un-man aroused, and the transcendent importance of the central image, carried all this away. She was still in her innocence. No evil intention had been formed in her mind. But if her will was uncorrupted, half her imagination was already filled with bright, poisonous shapes. 'This can't go on,' thought Ransom for the second time. But all his arguments proved in the long run unavailing, and it did go on.

    There came a right when he was so tired that towards morning he fell into a leaden sleep and slept far into the following day. He woke to find himself alone. A great horror came over him. "What could I have done? What could I have done?" he cried out, for he thought that all was lost. With sick heart and sore head he staggered to the edge of the island: his idea was to find a fish and to pursue the truants to the Fixed Land where he felt little doubt that they had gone. In the bitterness and confusion of his mind he forgot that he had no notion in which direction that land now lay nor how far it was distant. Hurrying through the woods, he emerged into an open place and suddenly found that he was not alone. Two human figures, robed to their feet, stood before him, silent under the yellow sky. Their clothes were of purple and blue, their heads wore chaplets of silver leaves, and their feet were bare. They seemed to him to be, the one the ugliest, and the other the most beautiful, of the children of man. Then one of them spoke and he realised that they were none other than the Green Lady herself and the haunted body of Weston. The robes were of feathers, and he knew well the Perelandrian birds from which they had been derived; the art of the weaving, if weaving it could be called, was beyond his comprehension.

    "Welcome, Piebald," said the Lady. "You have slept long. What do you think of us in our leaves?"

    "The birds," said Ransom. "The poor birds! What has he done to them?"

    "He has found the feathers somewhere," said the Lady carelessly. "They drop them."

    "Why have you done this, Lady?"

    "He has been making me older again. Why did you never tell me, Piebald?"

    "Tell you what?"

    "We never knew. This one showed me that the trees have leaves and the beasts have fur, and said that in your world the men and women also hung beautiful things about them. Why do you not tell us how we look? Oh, Piebald, Piebald, I hope this is not going to be another of the new goods from which you draw back your hand. It cannot be new to you if they all do it in your world."

    "Ah," said Ransom, "but it is different there. It is cold."

    "So the Stranger said," she answered. "But not in all of your world. He says they do it even where it is warm. "Has he said why they do it?"

    "To be beautiful. Why else?" said the Lady, with some wonder in her face.

    'Thank Heaven,' thought Ransom, 'he is only teaching he vanity'; for he had feared something worse. Yet could it t possible, in the long run, to wear clothes without learning modesty, and through modesty lasciviousness?

    "Do you think we are more beautiful?" said the Lad interrupting his thoughts.

    "No," said Ransom; and then, correcting himself, "I do know." It was, indeed, not easy to reply. The Un-man, m that Weston's prosaic shirt and shorts were concealed, looked more exotic and therefore a more imaginatively, less squab( hideous figure. As for the Lady - that she looked in some worse was not doubtful. Yet there is a plainness in nudity - as we speak of 'plain' bread. A sort of richness, a flamboyancy, a concession, as it were, to lower conceptions of the beautiful, had come with the purple robe. For the first (and last) time she appeared to him at that moment as a woman whom an earthborn man might conceivably love. And this was intolerable. The ghastly inappropriateness of the idea had, all in one moment, stolen something from the colours of the landscape and the scent of the flowers.

    "Do you think we are more beautiful?" repeated the Lady. "What does it matter?" said Ransom dully.

    "Everyone should wish to be as beautiful as they can," she answered. "And we cannot see ourselves."

    "We can," said Weston's body.

    "How can this be?" said the Lady, turning to it. "Even if you could roll your eyes right round to look inside they would see only blackness."

    "Not that way," it answered. "I will show you." It walked a few paces away to where Weston's pack lay in the yellow turf. With that curious distinctness which often falls upon us when we are anxious and preoccupied Ransom noticed the exact make and pattern of the pack. It must have been from the same shop in London where he had bought his own: and that little fact, suddenly reminding him that Weston had once been a man, that he too had once had pleasures and pains and a human mind, almost brought the tears into his eyes. The horrible fingers which Weston would never use again worked at the buckles and brought out a small bright object - an English pocket mirror that might have cost three-and-six. He handed it to the Green Lady. She turned it over in her hands.

    "What is it? What am I to do with it?" she said.

    "Look in it," said the Un-man.

    "How?"

    "Look!" he said. Then taking it from her he held it up to her face. She stared for quite an appreciable time without apparently making anything of it. Then she started back with a cry and covered her face. Ransom started too. It was the first time he had seen her the mere passive recipient of any emotion. The world about him was big with change.

    "Oh - oh," she cried. "What is it? I saw a face."

    "Only your own face, beautiful one," said the Un-man. "I know," said the Lady, still averting her eyes from the mirror. "My face - out there - looking at me. Am I growing older or is it something else? I feel ... I feel ... my heart is beating too hard. I am not warm. What is it?" She glanced from one of them to the other. The mysteries had all vanished from her face. It was as easy to read as that of a man in a shelter when a bomb is coming.

    "What is it?" she repeated.

    "It is called Fear," said Weston's mouth. Then the creature turned its face full on Ransom and grinned.

    "Fear," she said. "This is Fear," pondering the discovery; then, with abrupt finality, "I do not like it."

    "It will go away," said the Un-man, when Ransom interrupted.

    "It will never go away if you do what he wishes. It is into more and more fear that he is leading you."

    "It is," said the Un-man, "into the great waves and through them and beyond. Now that you know Fear, you see that it must be you who shall taste it on behalf of your race. You know the King will not. You do not wish him to. But there is no cause for fear in this little thing: rather for joy. What is fearful in it?"

    "Things being two when they are one," replied the Lady decisively. "That thing" (she pointed at the mirror) "is me and not me."

    "But if you do not look you will never know how beautiful you are."

    "It comes into my mind, Stranger," she answered, "that a fruit does not eat itself, and a man cannot be together with himself."

    "A fruit cannot do that because it is only a fruit," said the Un-man. "But we can do it. We call this thing a mirror. A man can love himself, and be together with himself. That is what it means to be a man or a woman - to walk alongside oneself as if one were a second person and to delight in one's own beauty. Mirrors were made to teach this art."

    "Is it a good?" said the Lady. "No," said Ransom.

    "How can you find out without trying?" said the Un-man. "If you try it and it is not good," said Ransom, "how do you know whether you will be able to stop doing it?"

    "I am walking alongside myself already," said the Lady. "But I do not yet know what I look like. If I have become two I had better know what the other is. As for you, Piebald, one look will show me this woman's face and why should I look more than once?"

    She took the mirror, timidly but firmly, from the Un-man and looked into it in silence for the better part of a minute. Then she let it sink and stood holding it at her side.

    "It is very strange," she said at last.

    "It is very beautiful," said the Un-man. "Do you not think so?"

    "Yes. "

    "But you have not ,yet found what you set out to find."

    "What was that? I have forgotten."

    "Whether the robe of feathers made you more beautiful or less."

    "I saw only a face."

    "Hold it further away and you will see the whole of the alongside woman - the other who is yourself. Or no - I will hold it."

    The commonplace suggestions of the scene became grotesque at this stage. She looked at herself first with the robe, then without it, then with it again; finally she decided against it and threw it away. The Un-man picked it up.

    "Will you not keep it?" he said; "you might wish to carry it on some days even if you do not wish for it on all days."

    "Keep it?" she asked, not clearly understanding.

    "I had forgotten," said the Un-man. "I had forgotten that you would not live on the Fixed Land nor build a house nor in any way become mistress of your own days. Keeping means putting a thing where you know you can always find it again, and where rain, and beasts, and other people cannot reach it. I would give you this mirror to keep. It would be the Queen's mirror, a gift brought into the world from Deep Heaven: the other women would not have it. But you have reminded me. There can be no gifts, no keeping, no foresight while you live as you do - from day to day, like the beasts."

    But the Lady did not appear to be listening to him. She stood like one almost dazed with the richness of a day-dream. She did not look in the least like a woman who is thinking about a new dress. The expression of her face was noble. It was a great deal too noble. Greatness, tragedy, high sentiment these were obviously what occupied her thoughts. Ransom perceived that the affair of the robes and the mirror had been only superficially concerned with what is commonly called female vanity. The image of her beautiful body had been offered to her only as a means to awake the far more perilous image of her great soul. The external and, as it were, dramatic conception of the self was the enemy's true aim. He was making her mind a theatre in which that phantom self should hold the stage. He had already written the play.

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