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  • Home > C.S.Lewis > Cosmic > That Hideous Strength (Page 8)     
    That Hideous Strength(Cosmic #3) by C.S.Lewis
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    They were in the hall and Mark noticed Wither pacing thoughtfully towards them. "Wouldn't it be as well to speak to him?" he suggested. But the Deputy Director, after coming within ten feet of them, had turned in another direction. He was humming to himself under his breath and seemed so deep in thought that Mark felt the moment unsuitable for an interview. Cosser apparently thought the same, and Mark followed him up to an office on the third floor.

    "It's about the village of Cure Hardy," said Cosser, when they were seated. "You see, all that land at Bragdon Wood is going to be little better than a swamp once they get to work. Why the hell we wanted to go there I don't know. Anyway, the latest plan is to divert the Wynd: block up the old channel through Edgestow altogether. Look. It's to be diverted and brought down an artificial channel-here, to the east, where the blue line is-and rejoin the old bed down here."

    "The university will hardly agree to that," said Mark.

    "We've got the university by the short hairs," said Cosser. "The point is that the new Wynd must come right through Cure Hardy in this narrow little valley. The idea is to dam the valley at the southern end and-make a big reservoir."

    "But what happens to Cure Hardy?"

    "That's another advantage. We build a new model village four miles away."

    "I say, there'll be the devil of a stink about this. Cure Hardy is famous. It's a beauty spot."

    "That's where you and I come in. We've got to make a report on Cure Hardy. We'll run out and have a look round to-morrow, but we can write most of the report today. It ought to be pretty easy. If it's a beauty spot, you can bet it's insanitary. Then we've got to get out some facts about the population. I think you'll find it consists chiefly of undesirable elements-small rentiers and agricultural labourers."

    "That's easy enough," said Mark, "but before I get down to it I'd like to be a bit clearer about my position. Oughtn't I to go and see Steele?"

    "I wouldn't do that," said Cosser.

    "Why not?"

    "Well, for one thing, Steele can't prevent you if the D.D. backs you up. For another, Steele is rather a dangerous man. There's another thing, too. I don't think things can go on in this department in the way they are at present."

    Mark understood. Cosser was hoping to get Steele out of the department altogether.

    "I got the impression," said Mark, "that you and Steele hit it off together rather well."

    "The great thing here," said Cosser, "is never to quarrel with anyone."

    "Of course," said Mark. "By the way, if-we go to Cure Hardy tomorrow I might as well run in to Edgestow and spend the night at home."

    For Mark a good deal hung on the answer to this. But Cosser merely said, "Oh," leaving Mark in doubt whether no one needed leave of absence or whether Mark was not sufficiently established as a member of the Institute for his absence to be of any consequence. Then they went to work on their report.

    Next day they drove to Cure Hardy, and walked about the village for two hours and saw all the abuses and anachronisms they came to destroy. They saw the backward labourer and heard his views on the weather. They met the wastefully supported pauper shuffling across the courtyard of the alms-houses to fill a kettle, and the elderly rentier in conversation with the postman. It did not quite escape Mark that the face of the labourer was rather more interesting than Cosser's and his voice a great deal more pleasing to the ear. But all this did not influence his sociological convictions, for his education had had the effect of making things that he read and wrote more real to him than things he saw. Statistics about agricultural labourers were the substance: any real ditcher, ploughman, or farmer's boy, was the shadow. In his own way, he believed as firmly as any mystic in the superior reality of the things that are not seen.

    On their way back Cosser dropped him near Edgestow station, and as he walked home Mark began to think of what he would say to Jane about Belbury. You will misunderstand him if you think he was consciously inventing a lie; his misgiving and uneasiness quickened his desire to cut a good figure in the eyes of his wife. Almost without noticing it, he decided not to mention Cure Hardy; Jane cared for old buildings and all that sort of thing. When Jane heard the door opening and looked round and saw Mark, she saw a rather breezy Mark. Yes, he was almost sure he'd got the job. The salary wasn't fixed, but he'd be going into that to-morrow. But he had already got on to the real people there.

    Jane decided to tell him nothing about the dreams or St. Anne's. Men hated women who had things wrong with them, specially queer, unusual things. Her resolution was easily kept, for Mark full of his own story, asked her no questions. She was not, perhaps, entirely convinced by what he said. Very early in the conversation she said in a sharp, frightened voice (she had no idea how he disliked that voice), "Mark, you haven't given up your Fellowship at Bracton?" He said of course not, and went on.

    That evening the Fellows of Bracton sat in Common Room over their wine and dessert. Feverstone and Curry were sitting together. Until that night for about three hundred years this Common Room had been one of the pleasant quiet places of England, and at this hour and season the windows were, of course, shut and curtained. But from beyond them came such noises as had never been heard in that room before-shouts and curses and the sound of lorries heavily drumming past or harshly changing gear, rattling of chains, drumming of mechanical drills, clanging of iron, whistles, thuddings, and an all-pervasive vibration. Beyond those windows, scarcely thirty yards away on the other side of the Wynd, the conversion of an ancient woodland into an inferno of mud and steel and concrete was already going on. Several members even of the Progressive Element had already been grumbling about it. Curry was doing his best to brazen it out, and though his conversation with Feverstone had to be conducted at the top of their voices, he made no allusion to this inconvenience.

    "It's quite definite, then," he bawled, "that young Studdock is not coming back?"

    "Oh, quite," shouted Feverstone. "When will he send a formal resignation?"

    "Haven't an earthly!"

    "We must begin thinking about the vacancy at once."

    "Does his successor have to be a sociologist? I mean is the Fellowship tied to the subject?"

    "Oh, not in the least. I say, Feverstone, oughtn't we to give this new subject a leg up?"

    "What new subject?"

    "Pragmatometry."

    "Well, now, it's funny you should say that, because the man I was beginning to think of has been going in a good deal for pragmatometry. One could call it a fellowship in social pragmatometry, or something like that."

    "Who is the man?"

    "Laird-from Leicester, Cambridge."It was automatic for Curry, though he had never heard of Laird, to say "Ah, Laird. Just remind me of the details."

    "Well," said Feverstone, "as you remember, he was in bad health at the time of his finals, and came rather a cropper. The Cambridge examining is so bad nowadays that one hardly counts that. He used to edit The Adult."

    "Yes, to be sure. That Laird. But I say, Dick . . ."

    "Yes?"

    "I'm not quite happy about his bad degree. Of course I don't attach a superstitious value to examination results any more than you do. Still . . . we have made one or two unfortunate elections lately."

    "I'm going to be at Cambridge next week," Feverstone said, " in fact I'm giving a dinner. I'd as soon it wasn't mentioned here, because, as a matter of fact, the P.M. may be coming, and one or two big newspaper people and Tony Dew. What? Oh, of course you know Tony. That little dark man from the Bank. Laird is going to be there. He's some kind of cousin of the P.M.'s. I was wondering if you could join us."

    "Well, it would be very difficult. It rather depends on when old Bill's funeral is to be. Was there anything about the inquest on the six-o'clock news?"

    "I can't hear," yelled Feverstone. "Is this noise getting worse? Or am I getting deaf?"

    "I say, Sub-Warden," shouted Ted Raynor from beyond Feverstone, "what the devil are your friends outside doing?"

    "Listen!" said Glossop suddenly, "that's not work. Listen to the feet."

    Next moment nearly everyone in the room was on his feet. "They're murdering someone," said Glossop. "There's only one way of getting a noise like that out of a man's throat."

    "Where are you going?" asked Curry.

    "I'm going to see what's happening," said Glossop. "I shouldn't go out if I were you," said Feverstone, "it sounds as if the police, or something, was there already."

    "What do you mean?"

    "Listen. There!"

    "I thought that was their infernal drill."

    "Listen!"

    "My God . . . you really think it's a machine-gun?"

    "Look out! Look out!" said a dozen voices, as a splintering of glass became audible and a shower of stones fell on to the Common Room floor. A moment later several of the Fellows had made a rush for the windows and put up the shutters. Glossop had a cut on the forehead, and on the floor lay the fragments of that famous east window on which Henrietta Maria had once cut her name with a diamond.

    CHAPTER FIVE

    ELASTICITY

    NEXT morning Mark went back to Belbury by train. This return-just sauntering in and hanging up his hat and ordering a drink-was a pleasant contrast to his first arrival. The servant who brought the drink knew him. Filostrato nodded to him. After the drink he strolled upstairs to Cosser's office.

    Steele and Cosser were both there. Neither spoke. "Ah-good morning," said Mark awkwardly. Steele finished making a pencil note. "What is it, Mr. Studdock?" he said without looking up.

    "I came to see Cosser," said Mark, and then, addressing Cosser, "I've been thinking over the last section in that report---"

    "What report's this?" said Steele to Cosser.

    "Oh, I thought," replied Cosser, with a little twisty smile at one corner of his mouth, "that it would be a good thing to put together a report on Cure Hardy. Mr. Studdock helped me."

    "Well, never mind about that now," said Steele.

    "You can talk to Mr. Cosser about it some other lime, Mr. Studdock."

    "Look here," said Mark, "I think we'd better understand one another. Am I to take it that this report was simply a private hobby of Cosser's ? And whose orders am I under?"

    Steele, playing with his pencil, looked at Cosser. "I asked you a question about my position, Mr. Steele," said Mark.

    "I haven't time for this sort of thing," said Steele. "I know nothing about your position."

    Mark turned on his heel and left the room, slamming the door behind him. He was going to see the Deputy Director.

    At the door of Wither's room he hesitated for a moment because he heard voices from within. But he was too angry to wait. He knocked and entered without noticing whether the knock had been answered.

    "My dear boy," said the Deputy Director, looking up but not quite fixing his eyes on Mark's face,"I am delighted to see you."

    Mark noticed that there was a third person in the room, a man called Stone whom he had met the day before yesterday. Stone was standing in front of Wither's table rolling and unrolling a piece of blotting-paper with his fingers.

    "Delighted to see you," repeated Wither. "All the more so because you-er-interrupted me in what I am afraid I must call a rather painful interview. As I was just saying to poor Mr. Stone when you came in, nothing is nearer to my heart than the wish that this great Institute should all work together like one family . . . the greatest unity of will and purpose, Mr. Stone, the freest mutual confidence . . . that is what I expect of my colleagues. But then as you may remind me, Mr.-ah-Studdock, even in family life there are occasionally strains and misunderstandings. And that is why, my dear boy, I am not at the moment quite at leisure-don't go, Mr. Stone. I have a great deal more to say to you."

    "Perhaps I'd better come back later?" said Mark.

    "Well, perhaps in all the circumstances ... it is your feelings that I am considering, Mr. Stone . . . perhaps . . . the usual method of seeing me, Mr. Studdock, is to apply to my secretary and make an appointment. Not, you will understand, that I have the least wish to insist on any formalities. It is the waste of your time that I am anxious to avoid."

    "Thank you, sir," said Mark. "I'll go and see your secretary."

    The secretary's office was next door. Mark made an appointment for ten o'clock to-morrow, the earliest hour they could offer him. As he came out he ran into Fairy Hardcastle.

    "Hullo, Studdock," said the Fairy. "Hanging round the D.D.'s office? That won't do, you know."

    "I have decided," said Mark, " that I must either get my position definitely fixed or else leave the Institute."

    She looked at him with an ambiguous expression and suddenly slipped her arm through his.

    "Look, sonny," she said, " you drop all that, see? Come and have a talk."

    "There's really nothing to talk about, Miss Hardcastle," said Mark. "Either I get a real job here, or I go back to Bracton."

    To this the Fairy made no answer, and the steady pressure of her arm compelled Mark to go with her along the passage.

    She brought him to her own offices on the second floor. The outer office was full of what he had already learned to call Waips, the girls of the Women's Auxiliary Institutional Police. The men of the force, though more numerous, were not often met with indoors, but Waips were constantly seen wherever Miss Hardcastle appeared. Far from sharing the masculine characteristics of their chief they were small and fluffy and full of giggles. Miss Hardcastle behaved to them as if she were a man, and addressed them in tones of half-breezy, half-ferocious gallantry. When they reached the inner office she made Mark sit down but remained standing herself.

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