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  • Home > C.S.Lewis > Cosmic > That Hideous Strength (Page 6)     
    That Hideous Strength(Cosmic #3) by C.S.Lewis
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    "Bah! Steele!" said the Professor. "That is all a bagatelle. He gets too big for his boots. He will be put in his place one of these days. It may be you who will put him."

    "I have a strong objection to being put in a false position---" began Mark.

    "Listen, my friend," interrupted Filostrato. "The first thing to realise is that the N.I.C.E. is serious. It is nothing less than the existence of the human race that depends on our work: our real work, you comprehend? You will find frictions and impertinences among this canaglia, this rabble. They are no more to be regarded than your dislike of a brother officer when the battle is at his crisis."

    "As long as I'm given something to do that is worth doing," said Mark, "I shouldn't allow anything of that sort to interfere with it."

    "Yes, yes, that is right. These Steeles and Feverstones- they are of no consequence. As long as you have the good will of the Deputy Director you snap your fingers at them. You need listen to no one but him, you comprehend ? Ah-and there is one other. Do not have the Fairy for your enemy."

    "The Fairy?"

    "Yes. Her they call the Fairy. Oh, my God, a terrible Inglesaccia! She is the head of our police, the Institutional Police. Ecco, she come. I will present you. Miss Hardcastle, permit that I present to you Mr. Studdock."

    Mark found himself writhing from the stoker's or carter's hand-grip of a big woman in a black, short-skirted uniform. Despite a bust that would have done credit to a Victorian barmaid, she was rather thickly built than fat and her iron-grey hair was cropped short. Her face was square, stern, and pale, and her voice deep. A smudge of lipstick laid on with violent inattention to the real shape of her mouth was her only concession to fashion, and she rolled or chewed a long black cheroot, unlit, between her teeth. As she talked she had a habit of removing this, staring intently at the mixture of lipstick and saliva on its mangled end, and then replacing it more firmly than before. She sat down immediately in a chair close to where Mark was standing, flung her right leg over one of the arms, and fixed him with a gaze of cold intimacy.

    Click-clack, distinct in the silence, where Jane stood waiting, came the tread of the person on the other side of the wall. Then the door opened and Jane found herself facing a tall woman of about her own age.

    "Does a Miss Ironwood live here?" said Jane.

    "Yes," said the other girl, neither opening the door any farther nor standing aside.

    "I want to see her, please," said Jane.

    "Have you an appointment?" said the tall woman.

    "Well, not exactly," said Jane. "Dr. Dimble said I shouldn't need an appointment."

    "Oh, if you're from Dr. Dimble," said the woman, "come in. There's not room for two on this path, so you must excuse me if I go first." The woman led her along a brick path beside a wall on which fruit trees were growing, and then to the left along a mossy path with gooseberry bushes on each side.

    Presently they found themselves at a small side door, flanked by a water butt, in the long wall of a large house. Just as they did so a window clapped shut upstairs.

    A minute or two later Jane was sitting waiting in a large sparely furnished room with a shut stove to warm it. The tall woman's tread died away in the passages and the room became very quiet when it had done so. Occasionally the cawing of rooks could be heard. A long time passed.

    When at length the other girl returned Jane now conceived for her that admiration which women, more often than is supposed, feel for other women. It would be nice, Jane thought, to be like that-so straight, so fit to be mounted on a horse, and so tall.

    "Is . . . is Miss Ironwood in?" said Jane.

    "Are you Mrs. Studdock?" said the girl.

    "Yes," said Jane.

    "I will bring you to her at once," said the other. "We have been expecting you. My name is Camilla Denniston."

    Jane followed her. They went a long way before Camilla knocked at a door and stood aside for Jane to enter, saying "She has come." And Jane went in; and there was Miss Ironwood dressed all in black and sitting with her hands folded on her knees.

    The hands were big and boney, though they did not suggest coarseness. She was perhaps nearer sixty than fifty.

    "What is your name, young lady?" said Miss Ironwood, taking up a pencil and a note-book.

    "Jane Studdock."

    "Are you married?"

    "Yes."

    "Does your husband know you have come to us?"

    "No."

    "And your age, if you please?"

    "Twenty-three."

    "And now," said Miss Ironwood, "what have you to tell me?"

    Jane took a deep breath. "I've been having bad dreams and-and feeling depressed lately."

    Jane's narrative-she did not do it very well-took some time. While she was speaking she kept her eyes fixed on Miss Ironwood's large hands and her black skirt and the pencil and the note-book. As she proceeded she saw Miss Ironwood's hand cease to write and the fingers wrap themselves round the pencil: immensely strong fingers they seemed. And they tightened, as if under the influence of some stifled emotion, and broke the pencil in two. Jane stopped and looked up at Miss Ironwood's face. The grey eyes were still looking at her with no change of expression.

    "Pray continue, young lady," said Miss Ironwood. Jane resumed her story. When she had finished, Miss

    Ironwood put a number of questions. After that she became silent for so long that Jane said: "Is there, do you think, anything very serious wrong with me?"

    "There is nothing wrong with you," said Miss Ironwood. "You mean it will go away?"

    "I should say probably not."

    "Is it something that can't be cured?"

    "The reason you cannot be cured is that you are not ill."

    "But there must be something wrong. It's surely not natural to have dreams like that.

    There was a pause. "I think," said Miss Ironwood, "I had better tell you the whole truth."

    "Yes, do," said Jane in a strained voice. "And I will begin by saying this," continued Miss Ironwood. "You are a more important person than you imagine."

    Jane said nothing, but thought inwardly, "She is humoring me. She thinks I am mad."

    "What was your maiden name?" asked Miss Ironwood. "Tudor," said Jane.

    "The Warwickshire branch of the family?"

    "Yes."

    "Did you ever read a little book by an ancestor of yours about the Battle of Worcester?"

    "No. Father had a copy-the only copy, I think."

    "There are at least two others: one is in this house. Your ancestor gave a full and, on the whole, correct account of the battle, which he says he completed on the same day on which it was fought. But he was not at it."

    Jane, who had not really been following this, looked at Miss Ironwood.

    "If he was speaking the truth," said Miss Ironwood, "and we believe that he was, he dreamed it. Do you understand?"

    "Dreamed about the battle?"

    "Yes. But dreamed it right. He saw the real battle in his dream."

    "I don't see the connection."

    "Vision-the power of dreaming realities-is sometimes hereditary," said Miss Ironwood.

    Something seemed to be interfering with Jane's breathing. She felt a sense of injury-this was just the sort of thing she hated.

    "Can it be proved?" she asked. "I mean; we have only his word for it."

    "We have your dreams."

    "What do you mean?"

    "My opinion is that you have seen real things in your dreams. You have seen Alcasan as he really sat in the condemned cell: and you have seen a visitor whom he really had."

    "But-but-oh, this is ridiculous," said Jane. "That part was a mere coincidence. The rest was just nightmare. It was all impossible. He screwed off his head, I tell you. And they . . . dug up the horrible old man. They made him come to life."

    "There are some confusions there, no doubt. But in my opinion there are realities behind even those episodes."

    "I am afraid I don't believe in that sort of thing," said Jane coldly.

    "Your upbringing makes it natural that you should not," replied Miss Ironwood.

    "Can you, then, do nothing for me? I mean, can you not stop it-cure it?"

    "Vision is not a disease."

    "But I don't want it," said Jane passionately.

    "If you go to a psychotherapist," said Miss Ironwood, "he will proceed on the assumption that the dreams reflect your own subconscious. He would try to treat you. It would certainly not remove the dreams."

    "But what is this all about?" said Jane. "I want to lead an ordinary life. I want to do my own work. Why should I be selected for this horrible thing?"

    There was a short silence. Jane made a vague movement and said, rather sulkily, "Well perhaps I'd better be going . . ." Then suddenly, "But how can you know all this?"

    "We know your dreams to be partly true because they fit in with information we already possess. It was because he saw their importance that Dr. Dimble sent you to us."

    "Do you mean he sent me here not to be cured but to give information?" said Jane.

    "Exactly."

    "I wish I had known that a little earlier," said Jane coldly, getting up to go. "I had imagined Dr. Dimble was trying to help me."

    "He was. But he was also trying to do something more important at the same time."

    "I suppose I should be grateful for being considered at all," said Jane dryly.

    "Young lady," said Miss Ironwood. "You do not at all realise the seriousness of this matter. The things you have seen concern something compared with which the happiness, or even the life, of you and me is of no importance. You cannot get rid of your gift. You can try to suppress it, but you will fail, and you will be badly frightened. On the other hand, you can put it at our disposal. If you do, you will be less frightened in the long run and you will be helping to save the human race from a very great disaster. Or thirdly, you may tell someone else about it. If you do that, you will almost certainly fall into the hands of other people who are at least as anxious as we to make use of your faculty and who will care no more about your life and happiness than about those of a fly. The people you have seen in your dreams are real people. It is not at all unlikely that they know you have, involuntarily, been spying on them. I would advise you, even for your own sake, to join our side."

    "You keep on talking of we and us. Are you some kind of company?"

    "Yes. You may call it a company." Jane had been standing for the last few minutes: and she had almost been believing what she heard. Then suddenly all her repugnance came over her again-all her wounded vanity, and her general dislike of the mysterious and the unfamiliar. "She's made me worse already," thought Jane, still regarding herself as a patient. Aloud, she said: "I must go. I don't know what you are talking about. I don't want to have anything to do with it."

    Mark discovered in the end that he was expected to stay, at least for the night, and when he went up to dress for dinner he was feeling more cheerful. This was partly due to a whisky-and-soda taken with "Fairy " Hardcastle immediately before. The bedroom with its bright fire and. its private bathroom attached had also something to do with it. Thank goodness he had allowed Jane to talk him into buying that new dress-suit! But what had reassured him most of all was his conversation with the Fairy.

    It would be misleading to say that he liked her. She had indeed excited in him all the distaste which a young man feels at the proximity of something rankly, even insolently, sexed and at the same time wholly unattractive. And something in her cold eye had told him that she was well aware of this reaction and found it amusing. She had drifted into police reminiscences. In spite of some initial scepticism. Mark was gradually horrified by her assumption that about thirty per cent of our murder trials ended by the hanging of an innocent man. There were details, too, about the execution shed which had not occurred to him before.

    All this was disagreeable. But it was made up for by the deliciously esoteric character of the conversation. Several times that day he had been made to feel himself an outsider: that feeling completely disappeared while Miss Hardcastle was talking to him. She had apparently lived an exciting life. She had been, at different times, a suffragette, a pacifist, and a British Fascist. She had been manhandled by the police and imprisoned. On the other hand, she had met Prime Ministers and Dictators, and all her history was secret history. She knew from both ends what a police force could do and what it could not, and there were in her opinion very few things it could not do.

    For the Fairy, the police side of the Institute was the really important side. It existed to relieve the ordinary executive of what might be called all sanitary cases-a category which ranged from vaccination to charges of unnatural vice-from which it was only a step to bringing in all cases of blackmail. As regards crime in general, they had already popularised in the Press the idea that the Institute should be allowed to experiment largely in the hope of discovering how far humane, remedial treatment could be substituted for the old notion of " retributive " punishment. That was where legal Red Tape stood in their way. "But there are only two papers we don't control," said the Fairy. "And we'll smash them." And then one would have carte blanche. Mark did not immediately follow this. But the Fairy pointed out that what had hampered every English police force up to date was precisely the idea of deserved punishment. For deserved was finite: you could do so much to the criminal and no more. Remedial treatment, on the other hand, need have no limit; it could go on till it had effected a cure, and those who were carrying it out would decide when that was. And if cure were humane and desirable, how much more prevention? Soon anyone who had ever been in the hands of the police at all would come under the control of the N.I.C.E.; in the end, every citizen. "And that's where you and I come in," added the Fairy.

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