• Home
  • Books Directory
  • Most Popular
  • Top Authors
  • Series
  • Romance
  • Fantasy
  • Vampire
  • Home > C.S.Lewis > Cosmic > That Hideous Strength (Page 14)     
    That Hideous Strength(Cosmic #3) by C.S.Lewis
    Advertisement

    "I couldn't tell that the bucking car was going to break down, could I?"

    "I do not think," said Wither, " the Head could be induced to regard that as the only miscarriage. Once the slightest resistance on this woman's part developed, it was not, in my opinion, reasonable to expect success by the method you employed. I always deplore anything that is not perfectly humane: but that is quite consistent with the position that if more drastic expedients have to be used then they must be used thoroughly. Moderate pain, such as any ordinary degree of endurance can resist, is always a mistake. I should not be doing my duty if I failed to remind you that complaints from that quarter have already been made, though not, of course, minuted, as to your tendency to allow a certain-er-emotional excitement in the disciplinary;

    side of your work to distract you from the demands of policy."

    "You won't find anyone can do a job like mine well unless they get some kick out of it," said the Fairy sulkily, "Anyway, what does the Head want to see me now for? ;

    I've been on my feet the whole bloody night. I might be allowed a bath and some breakfast."

    "The path of duty Miss Hardcastle," said Wither, " can never be an easy one."

    "Well, I must have something to drink before I go in."

    Wither held out his hands in deprecation. ' Come on. Wither. I must," said Miss Hardcastle. "You don't think he'll smell it?" said Wither. "I'm not going in without it, anyway," said she. The old man unlocked his cupboard and gave her whisky. Then the two left the study and went a long way, right over to the other side of the house where it joined on to the actual Blood Transfusion Offices. At last they came to a place where the lights were on and there was a mixture of animal and chemical smells, and then to a door which was opened to them after they had parleyed through a speaking-tube. Filostrato, wearing a white coat, confronted them in the doorway.

    "Enter," said Filostrato. "He expect you for some time."

    "Is it in a bad temper?" said Miss Hardcastle. "You are to go in at once," said Filostrato, "as soon as you have made yourselves ready."

    "Stop! Half a moment," said Miss Hardcastle suddenly;" What is it? Be quick, please," said Filostrato. "I'm going to be sick."

    "You cannot be sick here. Go back. I will give you some X54 at once."

    "It's all right now," said Miss Hardcastle. "It was only momentary. It'd take more than this to upset me."

    "Silence, please," said the Italian. "Do not attempt to open the second door until my assistant has shut the first one behind you. Do not speak more than you can help. Do not say yes when you are given an order. The Head will assume your obedience. Do not get too close. Now!"

    'Long after sunrise there came into Jane's sleeping mind a sensation which, had she put it into words, would have sung, "Be glad thou sleeper and thy sorrow off cast. I am the gate to all good adventure." Sometime after this Mrs. Maggs came in and lit the fire and brought breakfast.

    "It's ever so nice, us both being here, isn't it, Mrs. Studdock?" she said.

    Shortly after breakfast came Miss Ironwood. She examined and dressed the burns, which were not serious.

    "You can get up in the afternoon, if you like, Mrs. Studdock," she said. "What would you like to read?"

    "I'd like Mansfield Park, please," said Jane, "and Shakespeare's Sonnets."

    Having been provided with reading matter, she comfortably went to sleep again.

    When Mrs. Maggs looked in at about four o'clock Jane said she would like to get up. "

    "All right, Mrs. Studdock," said Mrs. Maggs, "Just as you like. I'll bring you along a nice cup of tea in a minute and then I'll get the bathroom ready for you. There's a bathroom next door almost, only I'll have to get that Mr. Bultitude out of it. He's that lazy, and he will sit there all day when it's cold."

    As soon as Mrs. Maggs had gone, however, Jane decided to get up. She felt that her social abilities were quite equal to dealing with the eccentric Mr. Bultitude. Accordingly, she put on her coat, took her towel, and proceeded to explore; and that was why Mrs. Maggs, coming upstairs with the tea a moment later, saw Jane emerge from the bathroom with a white face and slam the door behind her.

    "Oh dear!" said Mrs. Maggs, bursting into laughter. "I ought to have told you. Never mind. I'll soon have him out of that." She set the tea-tray down on the passage floor and turned to the bathroom.

    "Is it safe?" asked Jane.

    "Oh yes, he's safe alright," said Mrs. Maggs. With that she opened the bathroom door. Inside, sitting up on its hunkers beside the bath, was a great, snuffly, wheezy, beady-eyed, loose-skinned, gor-bellied brown bear, which, after a great many reproaches, exhortations, pushes, and blows from Mrs. Maggs, heaved up its enormous bulk and came slowly out into the passage. "Why don't you go out' ' and take some exercise this lovely afternoon, you great lazy

    thing?" said Mrs. Maggs. "Don't be frightened, Mrs. Studdock. He'll let you stroke him." Jane extended a hesitant and unconvincing hand to touch the animal's back, but Mr. Bultitude was sulking, and without a glance at Jane continued his slow walk along the passage to a point about ten yards away, where he quite suddenly sat down. Everyone on the flour below must have known that Mr. Bultitude had sat down.

    "Is it really safe to have a creature like that loose about the house?" said Jane.

    "Mrs. Studdock," said Ivy Maggs with solemnity, " if the Director wanted to have a tiger about the house it would be safe. There isn't a creature in the place that would go for another or for us once he's had his little talk with them. Just the same as he does with us. You'll see."

    "If you would put the tea in my room . . ."said Jane rather coldly, and went towards the bathroom. ...

    "Well," said Mrs. Maggs, " you'll find us in the kitchen, I expect, Mother Dimble and me and the rest."

    "Is Mrs. Dimble staying in the house?" asked Jane with a slight emphasis on the Mrs.

    "Mother Dimble we all call her here," said Mrs. Maggs. "And I'm sure she won't mind you doing the same."

    When Jane had washed and dressed herself she set out to look for the inhabited rooms. When she reached the hall she saw at once where the back premises of the house must lie - down two steps and along a paved passage, and then, guided by voices and other sounds, to the kitchen itself.

    A wide, open hearth glowing with burning wood lit up the comfortable form of Mrs. Dimble, who was seated at one side of it, apparently engaged in preparing vegetables. -

    Mrs. Maggs and Camilla were doing something at a stove and in a doorway, which led to the scullery, a tall, grizzly headed man, who wore gum-boots and seemed to have just come from the garden, was drying his hands.

    "Come in, Jane," said Mother Dimble. "We're not expecting you to do any work to-day. This is Mr. Mac-Phee-who has no right to be here, but he'd better be introduced to you."

    Mr. MacPhee, having finished the drying process and carefully hung the towel behind the door, advanced rather ceremoniously and shook hands with Jane. His own hand was very large and coarse in texture, and he had a shrewd, hard-featured face.

    "I am very glad to see you, Mrs. Studdock," he said, in what Jane took to be a Scotch accent, though it was

    really that of an Ulsterman.

    "Don't believe a word he says, Jane," said Mother Dimble. "He's your prime enemy. He doesn't believe in your dreams."

    "Mrs. Dimble," said MacPhee, "I have repeatedly explained to you the distinction between a personal feeling of confidence and a logical satisfaction of the claims of evidence."

    "Of course," said Jane vaguely, and a little confused.

    I'm sure you have a right to your own opinions."

    All the women laughed as MacPhee in a somewhat louder tone replied, "Mrs. Studdock, I have no opinions- on any subject in the world. I state the facts and exhibit the implications. If everyone indulged in fewer opinions" (he pronounced the word with emphatic disgust) " there'd be less silly talking and printing in the world."

    "I know who talks most in this house," said Mrs. Maggs, somewhat to Jane's surprise.

    The Ulsterman eyed the last speaker with an unaltered face while producing a small pewter box from his pocket and helping himself to a pinch of snuff.

    "What are you waiting for anyway?" said Mrs. Maggs. "Women's day in the kitchen to-day."

    "I was wondering," said MacPhee, " whether you had a cup of tea saved for me."

    "And why didn't you come in at the right time, then?" said Mrs. Maggs. Jane noticed that she talked to him much as she had talked to the bear. "I was busy," said the other, seating himself at one end of the table; and added after a pause, " trenching celery."

    "What is ' women's day ' in the kitchen?" asked Jane of Mother Dimble.

    "There are no servants here," said Mother Dimble,"and we all do the work. The women do it one day and the men the next. . . . What? . . . No, it's a very sensible arrangement. The Director's idea is that men and women can't do housework together without quarrelling."

    "The cardinal difficulty," said MacPhee, " in collaboration between the sexes is that women speak a language without nouns. If two men are doing a bit of work one will say to the other, ' Put this bowl inside the bigger bowl which you'll find on the top shelf of the green cupboard.' The female for this is, ' Put that in the other one in there.' There is consequently a phatic hiatus."

    "There's your tea now, and I'll go and get you a piece of cake," said Ivy Maggs, and left the room.

    Jane took advantage of this to say to Mother Dimble in a lower voice, "Mrs. Maggs seems to make herself very much at home here."

    "My dear, she is at home here."

    "As a maid, you mean?"

    "Well, no more than anyone else. She's here chiefly because her house has been taken from her. She had nowhere else to go."

    "You mean she is ... one of the Director's charities."

    "Certainly that. Why do you ask?" At that moment the door opened and a voice from behind it said, "Well, go in then, if you're going." Thus admonished, a very fine jackdaw hopped into the room, followed, firstly, by Mr. Bultitude and, secondly, by Arthur Denniston.

    "Dr. Dimble's just come back, Mother Dimble," said Denniston. "But he's had to go straight to the Blue Room. And the Director wants you to go to him, too. MacPhee."

    Mark sat down to lunch that day in good spirits. Everyone reported that the riot had gone off most satisfactorily, and he had enjoyed reading his own accounts of it in the morning papers. His morning, too, had involved a conversation with Frost, the Fairy, and Wither himself, about the future of Edgestow. All agreed that the Government would follow the almost unanimous opinion of the Nation (as expressed in the newspapers) and put it temporarily under the control of the Institutional Police. An emergency governor of Edgestow must be appointed. Feverstone was the obvious man. As a Member of Parliament he represented the Nation, as a Fellow of Bracton he represented the University, as a member of the Institute he represented the Institute; the articles on this subject which Mark was to write that afternoon would almost write themselves. And Mark had (as he would have put it) " got to know " Frost. He knew that there is in almost every organisation some quiet, inconspicuous person whom the small fry suppose to be of no importance but who is really one of the mainsprings. Even to recognise such people shows that one has made progress. There was, to be sure, a cold, fish-like quality about Frost which Mark did not like and something even repulsive about the regularity of his features. But the pleasures of conversation were coming, for Mark, to have less and less connection with his spontaneous liking of the people he talked to. He was aware of this change, and welcomed it as a sign of maturity.

    Wither had thawed in a most encouraging manner. At the end of the conversation he had taken Mark aside, spoken vaguely but paternally of the great work he was doing, and finally asked after his wife. The D.D. hoped there was no truth in the rumour which had reached him that she was suffering from-er-some nervous disorder. "Who the devil has been telling him that?" thought Mark. "Because," said Wither, " it had occurred to me, in view of the great pressure of work which rests on you at present and the difficulty, therefore, of your being at home as much as we should all (for your sake) wish, that in your case the Institute might be induced ... I am speaking in a quite informal way . . . that we should all be delighted to welcome Mrs. Studdock here."

    Until the D.D. said this Mark had not realised that there was nothing he would dislike so much as having Jane at Belbury. Her mere presence would have made all the laughter of the Inner Ring sound metallic, unreal; and what he now regarded as common prudence would seem to her, and through her to himself, mere flattery, back-biting, and toad eating. His mind sickened at the thought of trying to teach Jane that she must help to keep Wither in a good temper. He excused himself vaguely to the D.D., with profuse thanks, and got away as quickly as he could.

    That afternoon, while he was having tea, Fairy Hardcastle came and leaned over the back of his chair and said:

    "You've torn it, Studdock."

    "What's the matter now. Fairy?" said he.

    "I can't make out what's the matter with JOB. Have you made up your mind to annoy the Old Man? Because it's a dangerous game, you know."

    Advertisement