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  • Home > C.S.Lewis > Cosmic > That Hideous Strength (Page 11)     
    That Hideous Strength(Cosmic #3) by C.S.Lewis
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    Mark reimbursed himself for the humiliation of this interview by reflecting that if he were not a married man he would not have borne it for a moment. When he went to tea he found that the reward for his submission had already begun. The Fairy signed to him to come and sit beside her.

    "You haven't done anything about Alcasan yet?"she asked.

    "No," said Mark, "I could come up and look at your materials this afternoon ... at least as far as I know, for I haven't yet really found out what I'm supposed to be doing."

    "Elasticity, sonny, elasticity," said Miss Hardcastle.

    During the next few days the fog, which covered Edgestow as well as Belbury, continued, and the grip of the N.I.C.E. on Edgestow was tightening. The disturbance in which the Bracton windows had been broken was taken little notice of in the London papers or even in the Edgestow Telegraph. But it was followed by other episodes. There was an indecent assault in one of the mean streets down by the station. There were two "beatings up" in a public-house. There were increasing complaints of threatening and disorderly behaviour on the part of the N.I.C.E. workmen. Wherever one went one was jostled by crowds of strangers. To a little market town like Edgestow even visitors from the next county ranked as aliens: the day-long clamour of Northern, Welsh, and even Irish voices, the shouts, the cat-calls, the songs, the wild faces passing in the fog, were utterly detestable. "There's going to be trouble here " was the comment of many a citizen: and in a few days, "You'd think they wanted trouble." It is not recorded who first said, "We need more police." And then at last the Edgestow Telegraph took notice. A shy little article appeared suggesting that the local police were incapable of dealing with the new population.

    Of all these things Jane took little notice. The dreams continued. There was one recurrent dream in which nothing exactly happened. She seemed indeed to be lying in her own bed. But there was someone who had drawn a chair up to the bedside and sat down to watch. He had a note-book in which he occasionally made an entry. Otherwise he sat still and attentive-like a doctor. She came to know his face infinitely well: the pince-nez, the well-chiselled, rather white features, and the pointed beard. And he must by now know hers equally well: it was certainly herself whom he appeared to be studying. Jane did not write about this to the Dennistons the first time it occurred. Even after the second she delayed until it was too late to post the letter that day. She wanted comfort, but she wanted it, if possible, without going out to St. Anne's and getting drawn into its orbit.

    Mark meanwhile was working at the rehabilitation of Alcasan. "I'll put you on to the Captain," said the Fairy. "He'll show you the ropes." That was how Mark came to spend most of his working hours with her second-in-command, Captain O'Hara, a big white-haired man with a handsome face, talking in a Dublin accent. He claimed to be of ancient family and had a seat at Castlemortle. Mark did not really understand his explanations of the dossier, the Q, Register, the Sliding File system, and what the Captain called "weeding". The whole selection of facts really remained in O'Hara's hands, and Mark found himself working merely as a writer. His journalism was a success. His articles and letters about Alcasan appeared in papers where he would never have had the entree over his own signature: papers read by millions. He could not help feeling a little thrill of pleasurable excitement.

    The pleasantest reward which fell to Mark for his obedience was admission to the library. This room, though nominally public, was in practice reserved for what one had learned, at school, to call "bloods" and, at Bracton, "the Progressive Element", and that was why, when Feverstone one evening sidled up to Mark and said, "What about a drink in the library?" Mark smiled and agreed and harboured no resentment for the last conversation he had had with Feverstone.

    The circle in the library usually consisted of Feverstone, the Fairy, Filostrato, and-more surprising-Straik. It was balm to Mark's wounds to find that Steele never appeared there. One person whose frequent appearance he did not understand was the silent man with the pince-nez and the pointed beard, Professor Frost. The Deputy Director had a habit of drifting in and sauntering about, creaking and humming as usual. Sometimes he came up to the circle by the fire and listened and looked on: but he seldom said anything. He drifted away, and would return about an hour later and once more potter about the empty parts of the room and once more go away.

    The least satisfactory member of the circle in Mark's eyes was Straik. Straik made no effort to adapt himself to the ribald and realistic tone in which his colleagues spoke. He never drank nor smoked. He would sit silent, nursing a threadbare knee. Then-perhaps once in the whole evening-something said would start him off; he would burst into loud and prolonged speech, threatening, denouncing, prophesying, talking, to Mark's great discomfort and bewilderment, about resurrection. "Neither an historical fact nor a fable, but a prophecy. All the miracles . . . shadows of things to come."

    After a few evenings Mark ventured to walk into the library on his own; a little uncertain of his reception, yet afraid that if he did not soon assert his right to the entree this modesty might damage him. He knew that the error in either direction is equally fatal.

    It was a success. Before he had closed the door behind him all had turned with welcoming faces and Filostrato had said "Ecco " and the Fairy, "Here's the very man." A glow of pleasure passed over Mark's whole body.

    "How quick can you write two leading articles, Mark?" said Feverstone.

    "Can you work all night?" asked Miss Hardcastle. "I have done," said Mark. "What's it all about?"

    "All are satisfied?" asked Filostrato. "That it-the disturbance-go forward at once, yes?"

    "That's the joke of it," said Feverstone. "She's done her work too well."

    "We cannot delay it if we wished," said Straik. "What are we talking about?" said Mark. "The disturbances at Edgestow," answered Feverstone. "Oh. . . . Are they becoming serious?"

    "They're going to become serious, sonny," said the Fairy. "And that's the point. The real riot was timed for next week. All this little stuff was only meant to prepare the ground. But it's been going on too well, damn it. The balloon will have to go up to-morrow, or the day after at latest."

    "You mean you've engineered the disturbances?" said Mark.

    "That's a crude way of putting it," said Feverstone. "It makes no difference," said Filostrato. "This is how things have to be managed."

    "Quite," said Miss Hardcastle. "It's always done. Anyone who knows police work will tell you. And as I say, the real thing-the big riot-must take place within the next forty-eight hours. In the meantime, you and I have to get busy about the account of the riot."

    "But-what's it all for?"

    "Emergency regulations," said Feverstone. "You'll never get the powers we want at Edgestow until the Government declares that a state of emergency exists there."

    "Exactly," said Filostrato. "It is folly to talk of peaceful revolutions. Not that the canaglia would always resist- often they have to be prodded into it-but until there is the disturbance, the firing, the barricades-no one gets powers to act effectively."

    "And the stuff must be all ready to appear in the papers the very day after the riot," said Miss Hardcastle. "That means it must be handed in to the D.D. by six to-morrow morning."

    "But how are we to write it to-night if the thing doesn't happen till to-morrow?"

    Everyone burst out laughing.

    "You'll never manage publicity that way. Mark," said Feverstone.

    "No good, sonny," said Miss Hardcastle. "We've got to get on with it at once. Time for one more drink, and you and I'd better go upstairs and begin. We'll get them to give us devilled bones and coffee at two."

    This was the first thing Mark had been asked to do which he himself, before he did it, clearly knew to be criminal. But the moment of his consent almost escaped his notice; certainly, there was no struggle, no sense of turning a corner. A few moments later he was trotting upstairs with the Fairy. They passed Cosser on the way. To think that he had once been afraid of Cosser!

    At four o'clock Mark sat in the Fairy's office re-reading the last two articles he had written-one for the most respectable of our papers, the other for a more popular organ. The first was as follows:

    "While it would be premature to make any final comment on last night's riot at Edgestow, two conclusions seem to emerge from the first accounts with a clarity not likely to be shaken by subsequent developments. In the first place, the whole episode will administer a rude shock to any complacency which may still lurk among us as to the enlightenment of our own civilisation. It must, of course, be admitted that the transformation of a university town into a centre of national research cannot be carried out without some friction and some cases of hardship. But the Englishman has always had his own quiet and humorous way of dealing with frictions and has never showed himself unwilling, when the issue is properly put before him, to make sacrifices much greater than those small alterations of habit and sentiment which progress demands of the people of Edgestow. There is no suggestion that the N.I.C.E. has in any way exceeded its powers or failed in consideration and courtesy; and there is little doubt that the starting-point of the disturbances was some quarrel, probably in a public-house, between one of the N.I.C.E. workmen and some local Sir Oracle, and that this petty fracas was inflamed, if not exploited, by sectional interests or widespread prejudice.

    "It is disquieting to be forced to suspect that the old distrust of planned efficiency and the old jealousy of what is called ' Bureaucracy ' can be so easily revived; but the will of the nation is behind this magnificent ' peace-effort ', as Mr. Jules so happily described the Institute, and any ill-informed opposition which ventures to try conclusions with it will be, we hope gently, but certainly firmly, resisted.

    "The second moral to be drawn from last night's events is a more cheering one. The original proposal to provide the N.I.C.E. with what is misleadingly called its own ' police force ' was viewed with distrust in many quarters. Our readers will remember that while not sharing that distrust, we extended to it a certain sympathy, but also insisted that the complexity of modern society rendered it an anachronism to confine the actual execution of the will of society to a body of men whose real function was the prevention and detection of crime: that the police, in fact, must be relieved sooner or later of that growing body of coercive functions which do not properly fall within their sphere. The so-called ' Police ' of the N.I.C.E.-who should rather be called its ' Sanitary Executive '-is the characteristically English solution. If any doubt as to the value of such a force existed, it has been amply set at rest by the episodes at Edgestow. The happiest relations seem to have been maintained throughout between the officers of the Institute and the National Police. As an eminent police officer observed to one of our representatives this morning, ' But for the N.I.C.E. Police, things would have taken quite a different turn.' If in the light of these events it is found convenient to place the whole Edgestow area under the exclusive control of the Institutional ' police ' for some limited period, we do not believe that the British people will have the slightest objection."

    The second said much the same with shorter words, more exclamation marks, and in a more truculent manner.

    The more often he re-read the articles the better he liked them. It wasn't as if he were taken in by them himself. He was writing with his tongue in his cheek-a phrase that somehow comforted him by making the whole thing appear like a practical joke. And anyway, if he didn't do it, someone else would. And all the while the child inside him whispered how splendid and how triumphantly grown up it was to be writing, with his tongue in his cheek, articles for great newspapers, against time, "with the printer's devil at the door" and all the inner ring of the N.I.C.E. depending on him, and nobody ever again having the least right to consider him a nonentity or cipher.

    Jane stretched out her hand in the darkness but did not feel the table which ought to have been there at her bed's head. She discovered that she was not in bed, but standing. There was darkness all about her and intense cold. Groping, she touched uneven surfaces of stone. The place, whatever it was, did not seem large. She groped along one of the walls and struck her foot against something hard. She stooped down and felt. There was a platform or table of stone, about three feet high. And on it ? Did she dare to explore? But it would be worse not to. Next moment she bit her lip to save herself from screaming, for she had touched a human foot; a na**d foot, dead to judge by its coldness. To go on groping seemed the hardest thing she had ever done, but she was impelled to do it. The corpse was clothed in some very coarse stuff which was also uneven, as though it were heavily embroidered. It must be a very large man. On his chest the texture suddenly changed-as if the skin of some hairy animal had been laid over the coarse robe; then she realised that the hair really belonged to a beard. It was only a dream; she could bear it: but it was so dreary, as if she had slipped through a cleft in the present, down into some cold pit of the remote past. If only someone would come quickly and let her out. And immediately she had a picture of someone, someone bearded but also divinely young, someone golden and strong and warm coming with a mighty earth-shaking tread into that black place. At this point she woke.

    She went into Edgestow immediately after breakfast to hunt for someone who would replace Mrs. Maggs. At the top of Market Street something happened which finally determined her to go to St. Anne's that very day. She came to a place where a big car was standing beside the pavement, an N.I.C.E. car. Just as she reached it a man came out of a shop, cut across her path to the car, and got in. He was so close to her that, despite the fog, she saw him very clearly. She would have known him, anywhere: not Mark's face, not her own face in a mirror, was by now more familiar. She saw the pointed beard, the pince-nez, the face which somehow reminded her of a waxworks face. She had no need to think what she would do. Her body, walking quickly past, seemed of itself to have decided that it was heading for the station and thence for St. Anne's. It was something different from fear that drove her. It was a total revulsion from this man on all levels of her being.

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