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  • Home > C.S.Lewis > Cosmic > That Hideous Strength (Page 19)     
    That Hideous Strength(Cosmic #3) by C.S.Lewis
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    "Don't know where they'll all get in, I'm sure." Little by little the whole thing came out. These were the refugees from Edgestow. Some had been turned out of their houses, some scared by the riots, and still more by the restoration of order. Something like a terror appeared to have been established in the town.

    "They tell me there were two hundred arrests yesterday," said the landlord.

    "Ah," said the young man. "They're hard cases those N.I.C.E. police, every one of them. They put the wind up my old Dad proper, I tell 'ee." He ended with a laugh.

    " 'Taint the police so much as the workmen by what I hear," said another. "They never ought to have brought those Welsh and Irish."

    When the time came he had no difficulty in getting on to the bus, for all the traffic was going in the opposite direction. It put him down at the top of Market Street and he set out to walk up to the flat. The town wore a new expression. One house out of three was empty. About half the shops had their windows boarded up. As he gained height and came into the region of large villas with gardens he noticed that many of these had been requisitioned and bore white placards with the N.I.C.E. symbol-a muscular male nude grasping a thunderbolt. At every corner lounged or sauntered the N.I.C.E. police, helmeted, swinging their clubs, with revolvers in holsters on their black shiny belts.

    Would Jane be in? He felt he could not bear it if Jane should not be in. It seemed cold and damp on the staircase : cold and damp and dark on the landing. "Ja-ane," he shouted as he unlocked the door of the flat: but he had already lost hope. As soon as he was inside the door he knew the place was uninhabited. A pile of unopened letters lay on the inside doormat. There was not a tick of a clock. The bread in the cupboard was stale. There was a jug half full of milk, but the milk had thickened and would not pour. A splutter of unreasonable anger arose. Why the hell hadn't Jane told him she was going away? Or had someone taken her away? Perhaps there was a note for him. He took a pile of letters off the mantelpiece, but they were only letters he had put there himself to be answered. Then on the table he noticed an envelope addressed to Mrs. Dimble at her own house over beyond the Wynd. So that damned woman had been here! Those Dimbles had always, he felt, disliked him. They'd probably asked Jane to stay with them. Been interfering somehow, no doubt. He must go down to Northumberland and see Dimble.

    The idea of being annoyed with the Dimbles occurred to Mark almost as an inspiration. To bluster a little as an injured husband in search of his wife would be a pleasant change from the attitudes he had recently been compelled to adopt.

    "Come in," said Dimble in his rooms at Northumberland. "Oh, it's you, Studdock," he added as the door opened. "Come in."

    "I've come to ask about Jane," said Mark. "Do you know where she is?"

    "I can't give you her address, I'm afraid," said Dimble.

    "Do you mean you don't know it?"

    "I can't give it," said Dimble.

    According to Mark's programme this was the point at which he should have begun to take a strong line. But he did not feel the same now that he was in the room. Dimble had always treated him with scrupulous politeness, and Mark had always felt that Dimble disliked him. This had not made him dislike Dimble. It had only made him uneasily talkative in Dimble's presence and anxious to please. Vindictiveness was by no means one of Mark's vices. For Mark liked to be liked. There was a good deal of the spaniel in him.

    "What do you mean?" he asked. "I don't understand."

    "If you have any regard for your wife's safety you will not ask me to tell you where she has gone," said Dimble. "Safety from what?"

    "Don't you know what has happened?"

    "What's happened?"

    "On the night of the riot the Institutional Police attempted to arrest her. She escaped, but not before they had tortured her."

    "Tortured her? What do you mean?"

    "Burned her with cigars."

    "That's what I've come about," said Mark. "Jane- I'm afraid she is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. That didn't really happen, you know."

    "The doctor who dressed the burns thinks otherwise."

    "Great Scott!" said Mark. "So they really did ? But, look here ..."

    Under the quiet stare of Dimble he found it difficult to speak.

    "Why have I not been told about this outrage?" he ;

    shouted.

    "By your colleagues?" asked Dimble dryly. "It is an odd- question to ask me. You ought to understand the workings of the N.I.C.E. better than I do."

    "Why didn't you tell me? Why has nothing been done about it? Have you been to the police?"

    "The Institutional Police?"

    "No, the ordinary police."

    "Do you really not know that there are no-ordinary police left in Edgestow?"

    "I suppose there are some magistrates."

    "There is the Emergency Commissioner, Lord Feverstone. You seem to misunderstand. This is a conquered and occupied city."

    "Then why, in Heaven's name, didn't you get on to me?

    "You?" said Dimble.

    For one moment Mark saw himself exactly as a man like Dimble saw him. It almost took his breath away.

    "Look here," he said. "You don't . . . it's too fantastic! You don't imagine I knew about it! You don't really believe I send policemen about to man-handle my own wife!"

    Dimble said nothing and his face did not relax.

    "I know you've always disliked me," said Mark. "But I didn't know it was quite as bad as that." And again Dimble was silent.

    "Well," said Studdock, " there doesn't seem to be much more to say. I insist on being told where Jane is."

    "Do you want her to be taken to Belbury?"

    "I don't see why I should be cross-questioned in this way. Where is my wife?"

    "I have no permission to tell you. She is not in my house nor under my care. If you still have the slightest regard for her happiness you will make no attempt to get into touch with her."

    "Am I some sort of leper or criminal that I can't even be trusted to know her address?"

    "Excuse me. You are a member of the N.I.C.E. who have already insulted, tortured, and arrested her. Since her escape she has been left alone only because your colleagues do not know where she is."

    "And if it really was the N.I.C.E. police, do you suppose I'm not going to have a very full explanation out of them ? Damn it, what do you take me for?"

    "I can only hope that you have no power in the N.I.C.E. at all. If you have no power, then you cannot protect her. If you have, then you are identified with its policy. In neither case will I help you to discover where Jane is."

    "This is fantastic," said Mark. "Even if I do happen to hold a job in the N.I.C.E. for the moment, you know me."

    "I do not know you," said Dimble. "I have no conception of your aims or motives."

    He seemed to Mark to be looking at him not with anger or contempt but with that degree of loathing which produces in those who feel it a kind of embarrassment. In reality Dimble was simply trying very hard not to hate, not to despise, and he had no idea of the fixed severity which this effort gave to his face.

    "There has been some ridiculous mistake," said Mark.

    "I'll make a row. I suppose some newly enrolled policeman got drunk or something. Well, he'll be broken. I--"

    "It was the chief of your police. Miss Hardcastle herself, who did it."

    "Very well. I'll break her then."

    "Do you know Miss Hardcastle well?" asked Dimble. Mark thought that Dimble was reading his mind and seeing there his certainty that he had no more power of calling Miss Hardcastle to account than of stopping the revolution of the Earth.

    Suddenly Dimble's face changed, and he spoke in a new voice. "Have you the means to bring her to book?" he said. "Are you already as near the centre of Belbury as that? If so, then you have consented to the murder of Hingest, the murder of Compton. It is with your approval that criminals-honest criminals whose hands you are unfit to touch-are being taken from the jails to which British judges sent them and packed off to Belbury to undergo for an indefinite period, out of reach of the law, whatever tortures and assaults on personal identity you call Remedial Treatment. It is you who have driven two thousand families from their homes. It is you who can tell us why Place and Rowley have been arrested. And if you are as deeply in it as that, not only will I not deliver Jane into your hands, but I would not deliver my dog."

    "Really-really," said Mark. "This is absurd. What have I ever done that you should make me responsible for every action that any N.I.C.E. official has taken- or is said to have taken in the gutter Press?"

    "Gutter Press! What nonsense is this ? Do you suppose I don't know that you have control of every paper in the country except one? And that one has not appeared this, morning."

    It may seem strange to say that Mark, having long lived in a world without charity, had nevertheless seldom met anger. Malice in plenty he had encountered, but it all operated by snubs and sneers and stabbing in the back. The eyes and voice of this elderly man had an effect on him which was unnerving. (At Belbury one used the words " whining " and " yapping " to describe any opposition which Belbury aroused in the outer world.)

    "I tell you I knew nothing about it," he shouted. "I'll raise hell about it. I'll break the infernal bitch who did it, if it means breaking the whole N.I.C.E."

    He knew that Dimble knew that he was now talking nonsense. Yet Mark could not stop.

    "Sooner than put up with this," he shouted, "I'll leave the N.I.C.E."

    "Do you mean that?" asked Dimble with a sharp glance. To Mark this glance appeared accusing and intolerable. In reality it had been a glance of awakened hope.

    "I see you don't trust me," said Mark.

    Dimble was a truthful man. "No," he said after a longish pause. "I don't quite."

    Mark shrugged his shoulders and turned away.

    "Studdock," said Dimble, " this is not a time for foolery, or compliments. It may be that both of us are within a few minutes of death. You have probably been shadowed into the college. And I, at any rate, don't propose to die with polite insincerities in my mouth. I don't trust you. Why should I ? You are (at least in some degree) the accomplice of the worst men in the world. Your very coming to me this afternoon may be a trap."

    "Don't you know me better than that?" said Mark.

    "Stop talking nonsense!" said Dimble. "Stop posturing and acting, if only for a minute. They have corrupted better men than you or me before now. Straik was a good man once. Filostrato was at least a genius. Even Alcasan - yes, yes, I know who your Head is-was a plain murderer: something better than they have now made of him. Who are you to be exempt?"

    Mark gaped.

    "Nevertheless," continued Dimble, " knowing this- knowing that you may be only bait in the trap-I will take a risk. I will risk things compared with which both our lives are a triviality. If you seriously wish to leave the N.I.C.E., I will help you."'

    One moment it was like the gates of Paradise opening--then, at once, caution and the incurable wish to temporise rushed back. The chink had closed.

    "I-I'd need to think that over," he mumbled. "It's a question affecting my whole future career."

    "Your career!" said Dimble. "It's a question of damnation or-a last chance. But you must come at once."

    "I don't think I understand," said Mark. "You keep on suggesting some kind of danger. What is it? And what powers have you to protect me-or Jane-if I do bolt?"

    "I can offer you no security. There is no security for anyone now. I'm offering you a place on the right side. I don't know which will win."

    "As a matter of fact," said Mark, "I had been thinking of leaving. But I must think it over. Supposing I look you up again to-morrow?" ,

    "Do you know that you'll be able?"

    "Or in an hour? Come, that's only sensible. Will you be here in an hour's time?"

    "What can an hour do for you ? You are only waiting in the hope that your mind will be less clear."

    "But will you be here?"

    "If you insist. But no good can come of it."

    "I want to think. I want to think," said Mark, and left the room without waiting for a reply.

    Mark had said he wanted to think: in reality he wanted alcohol and tobacco. And he wanted Jane, and he wanted to punish Jane for being a friend of Dimble, and he wanted never to see Wither again, and he wanted to creep back and patch things up with Wither somehow. He wanted to be admired for manly honesty among the Dimbles and also for realism and knowingness at Belbury. Damn the whole thing! Why had he such a rotten heredity ? Why had his education been so ineffective? Why was the system of society so irrational ? Why was his luck so bad ?

    It was raining as he reached the College lodge. Some sort of van seemed to be standing in the street outside, and there were three or four uniformed men in capes.

    "Excuse me, sir," said one of the men. "I must ask for your name."

    "Studdock," said Mark.

    "Mark Gainsby Studdock," said the man, " it is my duty to arrest you for the murder of William Hingest."

    Dr. Dimble drove out to St. Anne's dissatisfied with himself, haunted with the suspicion that if he had been wiser, or more perfectly in charity with this very miserable young man, he might have done something for him.

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