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  • Home > C.S.Lewis > Cosmic > That Hideous Strength (Page 3)     
    That Hideous Strength(Cosmic #3) by C.S.Lewis
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    "Merlin's mantle indeed!" said Mrs. Dimble.

    "Yes," said the Doctor. "It's a rum idea. I dare say some of his set would like to recover the mantle well enough. I don't think they'd like it if the old man himself came back to life along with it."

    "That child's going to faint," said Mrs. Dimble suddenly.

    "Hullo! What's the matter?" said Dr. Dimble, looking with amazement at Jane's face. "Is the room too hot for you?"

    "Oh, it's too ridiculous," said Jane. "Let's come into the drawing-room," said Dr. Dimble. "Here, iean on my arm."

    In the drawing-room Jane attempted to excuse her behaviour by telling the story of her dream. "I suppose I've given myself away dreadfully," she said. "You can both start psycho-analysing me now."

    From Dr. Dimble's face Jane might have indeed conjectured that her dream had shocked him exceedingly. "Extraordinary thing . . ." he kept muttering. "Two heads. And one of them Alcasan's. Now is that a false scent?"

    "Don't, Cecil," said Mrs. Dimble.

    "Do you think I ought to be analysed?" said Jane.

    "Analysed?" said Dr. Dimble, as if he had not quite understood. "Oh, I see. You mean going to Brizeacre or someone?"

    Jane realised that her question had recalled him from some quite different train of thought. The telling of her dream had raised some other problem, though what this was she could not even imagine.

    Dr. Dimble looked out of the window. "There is my dullest pupil just ringing the bell," he said. "I must go to the study." He stood for a moment with his hand on Jane's shoulder. "Look here," he said, "I'm not going to give any advice. But if you do decide to go to anyone about that dream, I wish you would first consider going to someone whose address Margery or I will give you."

    "You don't believe in Mr. Brizeacre?" said Jane. "I can't explain," said Dr. Dimble. "Not now. Try not to bother about it. But if you do, just let us know first. Good-bye."

    Almost immediately after his departure some other visitors arrived, so that there was no opportunity of further private conversation between Jane and her hostess. She left the Dimbles about half an hour later and walked home.

    CHAPTER TWO

    DINNER WITH THE SUB-WARDEN

    "THIS is a blow!" said Curry.

    "Something from N.O.?" said Busby. He and Lord Feverstone and Mark were all drinking sherry before dining with Curry. N.O., which stood for Non Olet, was the nickname of Charles Place, the Warden of Bracton.

    "Yes, blast him," said Curry. "Wishes to see me on a most important matter after dinner."

    "That means," said the Bursar, "that Jewel and Co. have been getting at him and want to find some way of going back on the whole business."

    "Jewel! Good God!" said Busby, burying his left hand in his beard.

    "I was rather sorry for old Jewel," said Mark.

    "Sorry for Jewel?" said Curry, wheeling round. "You wouldn't say that if you knew what he was like in his prime."

    "I agree with you," said Feverstone to Mark, " but then I take the Clausewitz view. Total war is the most humane in the long run. I shut him up instantaneously. He'll be enjoying himself, because I've confirmed everything he's been saying about the younger generation for forty years. What was the alternative ? To let him drivel on until he'd worked himself into a coughing fit or a heart attack, and give him in addition the disappointment of finding that he was treated civilly."

    "That's a point of view, certainly," said Mark.

    "Damn it all," continued Feverstone, " no man likes to have his stock-in-trade taken away. What would poor Curry do if the Die-hards one day all refused to do any die-harding?"

    "Dinner is served, sir," said Curry's "Shooter "-for that is what they call a college servant at Bracton.

    "That's all rot, Dick," said Curry as they sat down. "There's nothing I should like better than to see the end of all these Die-hards and be able to get on with the job. You don't suppose I like having to spend all my time merely getting the road clear?" Mark noticed that his host was a little nettled at Lord Feverstone's banter. The latter had an extremely virile and infectious laugh. Mark was beginning to like him.

    "The job being . . .?" said Feverstone. "Well, some of us have got work of our own to do," replied Curry.

    "I never knew you were that sort of person," said Feverstone.

    "That's the worst of the whole system," said Curry. "In a place like this you've either got to be content to see everything go to pieces or else to sacrifice your own career as a scholar to all these infernal college politics. One of these days I shall chuck that side of it and get down to my book."

    "I see," said Feverstone. "In order to keep the place going as a learned society, all the best brains in it have to give up doing anything about learning."

    "Exactly!" said Curry. "That's just-- " and then stopped, uncertain whether he was being taken quite seriously.

    "All that's very well in theory," said Busby, "but I think Curry's quite right. Supposing he resigned his office as sub-warden and retired into his cave. He might give us a thundering good book on economics-- "

    "Economics?" said Feverstone, lifting his eyebrows. "I happen to be a military historian, James," said Curry. He was often annoyed at the difficulty which his colleagues seemed to find in remembering what particular branch of learning he had been elected to pursue.

    "Military history, of course," said Busby. "As I say, he might give us a thundering good book on military history. But it would be superseded in twenty years. Whereas the work he is actually doing for the College will benefit it for centuries. This whole business, now, of bringing the N.I.C.E. to Edgestow. Think of the new life, The stirring of dormant impulses. What would any book on economics--?"

    "Military history," said Feverstone gently, but Busby did not hear.

    "What would any book on economics be, compared with a thing like that?" he continued. "I look upon it as the greatest triumph of practical idealism that this century has yet seen."

    The good wine was beginning to do its good office. We have all known the kind of clergyman who tends to forget his clerical collar after the third glass: but Busby's habit was the reverse. As wine loosened his tongue, the parson, still latent within him after thirty years' apostasy, began to wake into a strange galvanic life.

    "I make no claim to orthodoxy," he said. "But if religion is understood in the deepest sense, I say that Curry, by bringing the N.I.C.E. to Edgestow, has done more for it in one year than Jewel has done in his whole life."

    "Has anyone discovered," asked Feverstone,. "what, precisely, the N.I.C.E. is, or what it intends to do?"

    "That comes oddly from you, Dick," said Curry. "I thought you were in on it yourself."

    "Isn't it a little naive," said Feverstone, "to suppose that being in on a thing involves any distinct knowledge of its official programme?"

    "Oh well, if you mean details," said Curry, and then stopped.

    "Surely, Feverstone," said Busby, "you're making a great mystery about nothing. I should have thought the objects of the N.I.C.E. were pretty clear. It's the first attempt to take applied science seriously from the national point of view. Think how it is going to mobilise all the talent of the country: and not only scientific talent in the narrower sense. Fifteen departmental directors at fifteen thousand a year each! Its own legal staff! Its own police, I'm told!"

    "I agree with James," said Curry. "The N.I.C.E. marks the beginning of a new era-the really scientific era. There are to be forty interlocking committees sitting every day, and they've got a wonderful gadget by which the findings of each committee print themselves off in their own little compartment on the Analytical Notice-Board every half-hour. Then that report slides itself into the right position where it's connected up by little arrows with all the relevant parts of the other reports. It's a marvellous gadget. The different kinds of business come out in different coloured lights. They call it a Pragmatometer."

    "And there," said Busby, "you see again what the Institute is already doing for the country. Pragmatometry is going to be a big thing. Hundreds of people are going in for it."

    "And what do you think about it, Studdock?" said Feverstone.

    "I think," said Mark, "that James touched the important point when he said that it would have its own legal staff and its own police. I don't give a fig for Pragmatometers. The real thing is that this time we're going to get science applied to social problems and backed by the whole force of the state, just as war has been backed by the whole force of the state in the past."

    "Damn," said Curry, looking at his watch. "I'll have to go and talk to N.O. now. If you people would like any brandy when you've finished your wine, it's in that cupboard. You're not going, James, are you?"

    "Yes," said the Bursar. "I'm going to bed early. Don't let me break up the party for you two. I've been on my legs nearly all day, you know. A man's a fool to hold any office in this College. Continual anxiety. Crushing responsibility."

    As soon as the two men had got out of the room Lord Feverstone looked steadily at Mark for some seconds. Then he chuckled. Then he threw his lean, muscular body well back into his chair and laughed louder and louder. He was very infectious in his laughter, and Mark found himself laughing too. "Pragmatometers-practical idealism," gasped Feverstone. It was a moment of extraordinary liberation for Mark. All sorts of things about Curry and Busby which he had not previously noticed came to his mind. He wondered how he could have been so blind to the funny side of them.

    "It really is rather devastating," said Feverstone when he had partially recovered, "that the people one has to use for getting things done should talk such drivel about the things themselves."

    "And yet they are, in a sense, the brains of Bracton," said Mark.

    "Good Lord, no! Glossop and Bill the Blizzard and even old Jewel have ten times their intelligence."

    "I didn't know you took that view."

    "I think Glossop etc. are quite mistaken. I think their idea of culture and knowledge and what not is unrealistic. But it is quite a clear idea and they follow it out consistently. They know what they want. But our two poor friends haven't a ghost of a notion where they're going. They'll sweat blood to bring the N.I.C.E. to Edgestow: that's why they're indispensable. But what the point of the N.I.C.E. is, what the point of anything is - ask them another. Pragmatometry! Fifteen sub-directors!"

    "Well, perhaps I'm in the same boat myself."

    "Not at all. You saw the point at once."

    Mark was silent. The giddy sensation of being suddenly whirled up from one plane of secrecy to another prevented him from speaking.

    "I want you to come into the Institute," said Feverstone.

    "You mean-to leave Bracton?"

    "That makes no odds. Anyway, I don't suppose there's anything you want here. We'd make Curry warden when N.O. retires and---"

    "They were talking of making you warden."

    "God!" said Feverstone, and stared.

    Mark realised that from Feverstone's point of view this was like the suggestion that he should become Headmaster of a small idiots' school.

    "You," said Feverstone, "would be absolutely wasted as warden. That's the job for Curry. You want a man who loves business and wire-pulling for their own sake and doesn't really ask what it's all about. We've only got to tell him that he thinks so-and-so is a man the College wants, and then he'll never rest till so-and-so gets a Fellowship. That's what we want the College for: a drag net, a recruiting office."

    "A recruiting office for the N.I.C.E., you mean?"

    "Yes, in the first instance. But it's only one part of the general show."

    "I'm not sure that I know what you mean."

    "You soon will. It sounds rather in Busby's style to say that humanity is at the cross-roads. But it is the main question at the moment: which side one's on-obscurantism or order. If Science is really given a free hand it can now take over the human race and recondition it: make man a really efficient animal. If it doesn't-well, we're done."

    "Go on."

    "There are three main problems. First, the interplanetary problem."

    "What on earth do you mean?"

    "We can't do anything about that at present. The only man who could help was Weston."

    "He was killed in a blitz, wasn't he?"

    "He was murdered, and I've a shrewd idea who the murderer was."

    "Good God! Can nothing be done?"

    "There's no evidence. The murderer is a respectable Cambridge don with a game leg and a fair beard. He's dined in this College."

    "What was Weston murdered for?"

    "For being on our side. The murderer is one of the enemy."

    "You don't mean to say he murdered him for that?"

    "Yes," said Feverstone, bringing his hand down smartly on the table. "That's just the point. People like Curry or James think the violent resistance of the other side ended with the persecution of Galileo and all that. But don't believe it. It is just beginning. They know now that we have at last got real powers. They're going to fight every inch. They'll stop at nothing."

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