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  • Home > C.S.Lewis > Cosmic > That Hideous Strength (Page 9)     
    That Hideous Strength(Cosmic #3) by C.S.Lewis
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    "Cut it all out, Studdock," said Miss Hardcastle. "And whatever you do, don't go bothering the D.D."

    "That might be very good advice, Miss Hardcastle," said Mark, "if I were committed to staying here. I've very nearly made up my mind to go home. Only I thought I'd just have a talk with him first, to make everything clear."

    "Making things clear is the one thing the D.D. can't stand," replied Miss Hardcastle. "That's not how he runs the place. And mind you, he knows what he's about. It works, sonny. You needn't bother your head about all the Steeles and Cossers. Not one of them is going to be left when we get going."

    "That's just the line Cosser took about Steele," said Mark, "and it didn't seem to do me much good when it came to the point."

    "Do you know, Studdock," said Miss Hardcastle, "I've taken a fancy to you. Because if I hadn't, I'd be disposed to resent that last remark."

    "I don't mean to be offensive," said Mark. "But- damn it all-look at it from my point of view."

    "No good. You don't know enough yet for your point of view to be worth sixpence. You're being offered a chance. And there are only two alternatives, you know; to be in the N.I.C.E. or to be out of it. And I know which is going to be most fun."

    "I do understand that," said Mark. "Give me a real place in the Sociological Department and I'll . ."

    "Rats ! That whole Department is going to be scrapped. It had to be there at the beginning for propaganda purposes."

    "But what assurance have I that I'm going to be one of their successors?"

    "You aren't. The real work has nothing to do with all these departments. The kind of sociology we're interested in will be done by my people-the police."

    "Then where do I come in?"

    "If you'll trust me I can put you on to a bit of your real work-what you were brought here to do-straight away."

    "What's that?"

    "Alcasan."

    "You mean the radiologist-the man who was guillotined?" asked Mark, who was completely bewildered.

    The Fairy nodded.

    "He's to be rehabilitated," she said. "Gradually. You begin with a quiet little article-not questioning his guilt, but just hinting that of course he was a member of their quisling government, and there was a prejudice against him. Then you follow it up in a day or two with an article of quite a different kind. Popular account of the value of his work. You can mug up the facts-enough for that kind of article-in an afternoon. By that time--"

    "What on earth is the point of all this?"

    "I'm telling you, Studdock. Alcasan is to be rehabilitated. Made into a martyr."

    "But what for?"

    "There you go again! You grumble about being given nothing to do, and as soon as I suggest a bit of real work you expect to have the whole plan of campaign told you before you do it. That's not the way to get on here. The great thing is to do what you're told. You don't seem to realise what we are. We're an army."

    "Anyway," said Mark, "I didn't come here to write newspaper articles. And if I had, I'd want to know. a good deal more about the politics of the N.I.C.E. before I went in for that sort of thing."

    "Haven't you been told that it's strictly non-political?"

    " 've been told so many things that I don't know whether I'm on my head or my heels," said Mark. "But I don't see how one's going to start a newspaper stunt without being political. Is it Left or Right papers that are going to print all this rot about Alcasan?"

    "Both, honey, both," said Miss Hardcastle. "Don't you understand anything? Isn't it absolutely essential to keep a fierce Left and a fierce Right both on their toes and each terrified of the other? That's how we get things done. Of course we're non-political. The real power always is."

    "Well," said Mark, "this is all very interesting, but it has nothing to do with me. I don't want to become a journalist at all: and if I did I should like to be an honest journalist."

    "Very well," said Miss Hardcastle. "All you'll do is to help to ruin this country, and perhaps the human race. Besides dishing your own career."

    The confidential tone in which she had been speaking up till now had disappeared and there was a threatening finality in her voice. The citizen and the honest man which had been awaked in Mark by the conversation, quailed a little: his other and far stronger self, the self that was anxious at all costs not to be placed among the outsiders, leaped up, fully alarmed.

    "I don't mean," he said, " that I don't see your point. I was only wondering ..."

    "It's all one to me, Studdock," said Miss Hardcastle. "Go and settle it with the D.D. He doesn't like people resigning, but, of course, you can. He'll have something to say to Feverstone for bringing you here. We'd assumed you understood."

    The mention of Feverstone brought sharply before Mark as a reality the plan, which had up till now been slightly unreal, of going back to Edgestow and satisfying himself with the career of a Fellow of Bracton. On what terms would he go back ? Would he still be a member of the inner circle even at Bracton? And the salary of a mere don looked a poor thing after the dreams he had been dreaming for the last few days. Married life was already turning out more expensive than he had reckoned. Then came a sharp doubt about that two hundred pounds for membership of the N.I.C.E. club. But no-that was absurd.

    "Well, obviously," he said in a vague voice, "the first thing is to see the D.D."

    "You'd better run along now," said Miss Hardcastle. ,"Have a nice talk with the D.D. Be careful not to annoy the old man. He does so hate resignations."

    The rest of that day he passed miserably enough, keeping out of people's way as much as possible lest his lack of occupation should be noticed. He wandered round to the back parts of the house, where the newer and lower buildings joined it. Here he was surprised by a stable-like smell and a medley of growls, grunts, and whimpers-all the signs, in fact, of a considerable zoo. At first he did not understand, but presently he remembered that an immense programme of vivisection, freed at last from Red Tape and from niggling economy, was one of the plans of the N.I.C.E. He had not been particularly interested and had thought vaguely of rats, rabbits, and an occasional dog. The confused noises from within suggested something very different. As he stood there one great yawn-like howl arose, and then, as if it had set the key, all manner of trumpetings, hayings, screams, laughter even, which shuddered and protested for a moment and then died away into mutterings and whines. Mark had no scruples about vivisection. What the noise meant to him was the greatness and grandiosity of this whole undertaking from which, apparently, he was likely to be excluded. He must get the job: he must somehow solve the problem of Steele.

    The first real fog of the autumn had descended on Belbury that morning. Mark ate his breakfast by artificial light, and neither post nor newspaper had arrived. It was a Friday, and a servant handed him his bill for the portion of a week which he had already spent in the Institute. He put it in his pocket after a hasty glance with a resolution that this, at any rate, should never be mentioned to Jane. Neither the total nor the items were of the sort that wives easily understand.

    The odd half-hour which he had to wait before keeping his appointment with the Deputy Director passed slowly. No one spoke to him. He was glad when he was able to go and knock on Wither's door.

    The conversation was not easy to begin because Wither said nothing. Mark, divided between his desire to make it clear that he had fully resolved to be left hanging about no longer and his equally keen desire not to lose the job if there were any real job going, did not perhaps speak very well. At all events the Deputy Director left him to run down-to pass into disjointed repetitions and thence into complete silence.

    "So I think, sir, I'd better go," said Mark at last.

    "You are Mr. Studdock I think?" said Wither tentatively after another prolonged silence.

    "Yes," said Mark impatiently. "I called on you with Lord Feverstone a few days ago. You gave me to understand that you were offering me a position on the---"

    "One moment, Mr. Studdock," interrupted the Deputy Director. "It is so important to be perfectly clear. You are no doubt aware that in certain senses it would be most unfortunate to speak of my offering anyone a post in the Institute. You must not imagine that I hold any kind of autocratic position, nor, on the other hand, that the relation between my own sphere of influence and the powers-their temporary powers, you understand-of the permanent committee are defined by any hard-and-fast system of-er-a constitutional, or even a constitutive, character. For example--"

    "Then, sir, can you tell me whether anyone has offered me a post, and, if so, who?"

    "Oh," said Wither suddenly, changing both his position and his tone as if a new idea had struck him. "It was always understood that your co-operation with the Institute would be entirely acceptable-would be of the greatest value."

    "Well, can I-I mean, oughtn't we to discuss the details? I mean the salary for example and-who should I be working under?"

    "My dear friend," said Wither with a smile, "I do not anticipate that there will be any difficulty about the-er-' the financial side of the matter. As for---"

    "What would the salary be, sir?" said Mark.

    "Well, there you touch on a point which it is hardly for me to decide. I believe that members in the position which we had envisaged you as occupying usually draw some sum like fifteen hundred a year, allowing for fluctuations calculated on a very liberal basis. All questions of that sort will adjust themselves with the greatest ease."

    "But when should I know, sir?"

    "You mustn't suppose, Mr. Studdock, that when I mention fifteen hundred I am at all excluding the possibility of some higher figure. I don't think any of us would ..."

    "I should be perfectly satisfied with fifteen hundred," said Mark.

    "I wasn't thinking of that. But-but--" The Deputy Director's expression became more and more courtly and confidential, so that when Mark finally blurted out, "I suppose there'd be a contract or something of the kind," he felt he had committed an unutterable vulgarity.

    "Well," said the Deputy Director, fixing his eyes on the ceiling and sinking his voice to a whisper, " that is not exactly ... it would, no doubt, be possible . . ."

    "And that isn't the main point, sir," said Mark reddening. "Am I to work under Mr. Steele?"

    "I have here a form," said Wither, "which has not, I believe, been ever actually used but which was designed for such agreements. You might care to study it at your leisure."

    "But about Mr. Steele?"

    At that moment a secretary entered and placed some letters on the table.

    "Ah! The post at last!" said Wither. "Perhaps, Mr. Studdock, er-you will have letters of your own to attend to. You are, I believe, married?" A smile of fatherly indulgence overspread his face as he said these words.

    "I'm sorry, sir," said Mark, "but about Mr. Steele? I should feel compelled to refuse any position which involved working under Mr. Steele."

    "That opens up a very interesting question about which I should like to have a quite informal and confidential chat with you on some future occasion," said Wither. "For the moment, Mr. Studdock, I shall not regard anything you have said as final . . ." He became absorbed in the letter he had opened, and Mark, feeling that he had achieved enough for one interview, left the room. Apparently they did want him at the N.I.C.E. and were prepared to pay for him. He would fight it out about Steele later.

    He came downstairs and found the following letter waiting for him.

    BRACTON COLLEGE, EDGESTOW,

    "MY DEAR MARK, - We were all sorry to hear that you are resigning your Fellowship, but feel certain you've made the right decision as far as your own career is concerned. If you have not yet sent a formal resignation to N.O., I shouldn't be in any hurry to do so. If you wrote next term the vacancy would come up at the February meeting and we should have time to get ready a suitable candidate as your successor. Have you any ideas on the subject yourself? I was talking to James and Dick the other night about David Laird. No doubt you know his work: could you let me have a line about it, and about his more general qualifications ? I may see him next week when I'm running over to Cambridge to dine with the Prime Minister and one or two others, and Dick might ask Laird. You'll have heard that we had rather a shindy here the other night. There was some sort of fracas between the new workmen and the local inhabitants. The N.I.C.E. police made the mistake of firing a few rounds over the heads of the crowd. We had the Henrietta Maria window smashed and stones came into Common Room. Glossop lost his head and wanted to go out and harangue the mob, but I managed to quiet him down.- Yours, G. C. CURRY."

    At the first words of this letter a stab of fear ran through Mark. He tried to reassure himself. An explanation would be bound to put everything right. They couldn't shove a man out of his Fellowship simply on a chance word spoken by Lord Feverstone in Common Room. It came back to him with miserable insight that what he was now calling " a chance word " was exactly what he had learned, in the Progressive Element, to describe as " settling real business in private " or " cutting out the Red Tape ", but he tried to thrust this out of his mind. Then another thought struck him. A letter to Curry, saying plainly that he meant to stay at Bracton, would be shown to Feverstone. Feverstone would tell Wither. Such a letter could be regarded as a refusal of any post at Belbury. Well-let it be! He would give up this short-lived dream and fall back on his Fellowship. But how if that were impossible ? The whole thing might have been arranged simply to let him fall between the two stools . . . then he and Jane left to sink or swim with not a sou between them. . . .

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