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  • Home > C.S.Lewis > Cosmic > That Hideous Strength (Page 20)     
    That Hideous Strength(Cosmic #3) by C.S.Lewis
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    "Here he is. Here's Dr. Dimble," shouted Ivy Maggs as he drove up to the front door of the Manor.

    "Don't put the car away, Dimble," said Denniston.

    "Oh Cecil!" said his wife; and he saw fear in her face.

    A few moments later, blinking in the lighted kitchen, he saw that this was not to be a normal evening. The Director himself was there, seated by the fire. There were signs that everyone else had had an early supper, and Dimble found himself almost at once seated at the end of the table and being rather excitedly urged to eat and drink by his wife and Mrs. Maggs.

    "Don't stop to ask questions, dear," said Mrs. Dimble. "Go on eating while they tell you. Make a good meal."

    "You have to go out again," said Ivy Maggs.

    "Yes," said the Director. "We're going into action at last. I'm sorry to send you out the moment you come in: but the battle has started."

    "I have already repeatedly urged," said MacPhee, " the absurdity of sending out an older man like yourself, when here am I, a great strapping fellow sitting doing nothing."

    "It's no good, MacPhee," said the Director, " you can't go. Put the other map on the table where Dimble can see it while he goes on with his meal. And now, Dimble. What was under Bragdon was a living Merlin. Yes, asleep, if you like to call it sleep. And nothing has yet happened to show that the enemy have found him. Last night Jane had the most important dream she's had. You remember that in an earlier dream she saw (or so I thought) the very place where he lay under Bragdon. But- and this is the important thing- it's not reached by a shaft and a stair. She dreamed of going through a long tunnel with a very gradual descent. Jane thinks she can recognise the entrance to that tunnel under a heap of stones at the end of a copse with.. what was it, Jane?"

    "A white gate, sir. An ordinary five-barred gate with a cross-piece. But the cross-piece was broken off about a foot from the top. I'd know it again."

    "You see, Dimble? There's a very good chance that this tunnel comes up outside the area held by the N.I.C.E."

    "You mean," said Dimble, " that we can now get under Bragdon without going into Bragdon."

    "Exactly. But that's not all. Apparently we are almost too late. He has waked already."

    Dimble stopped eating.

    "Jane found the place empty," said Ransom. "You mean the enemy have already found him?"

    "No. Not quite as bad as that. The place had not been broken into. He seems to have waked of his own accord."

    "But what does it mean?"

    "I think it means that the thing has been planned long, long ago," said the Director. "That he went into the para-chronic state for the very purpose of returning at this moment."

    "Is he out?" asked Dimble.

    "He probably is by now," said the Director. "Tell him what it was like, Jane."

    "It was the same place," said Jane. "The slab of stone was there, but no one lying on it; this time it wasn't quite cold. Then I dreamed about this tunnel . . . sloping up from the souterrain. And there was a man in the tunnel. A big man. Breathing heavily. At first I thought it was an animal. It got colder as we went up the tunnel. It seemed to end in a pile of loose stones. He was pulling them about just before the dream changed. Then I was outside, in the rain, at the white gate."

    "It looks, you see," said Ransom, "as if they had not yet-or not then-established contact with him. Our only chance now is to meet this creature before they do."

    "Bragdon is very nearly water-logged," put in MacPhee. "Where you'll find a dry cavity is a question."

    "That's the point," said the Director. "The chamber must be under the high ground-the gravelly ridge on the south, where it slopes up to the Eaton Road. That's where you'll have to look for Jane's white gate. I suspect it opens on the Eaton Road. Or else that other road-the yellow one that runs up into the Y of Cure Hardy."

    "We can be there in half an hour," said Dimble. "I suppose it must be to-night?" said Mrs. Dimble shamefacedly.

    "I am afraid it must, Margaret," said the Director. "Every minute counts."

    "Of course. I see. I'm sorry," said Mrs. Dimble. "And what is our procedure, sir?" said Dimble. "The first question is whether he's out," said the Director. "He may take hours getting out."

    "You'll need at least two strong men with picks--" began MacPhee.

    "It's no good, MacPhee," said the Director. "I'm not sending you. But he may have powers we don't know. If he's out, you must look for tracks. Thank God it's a muddy night."

    "If Jane is going, sir," said Camilla, " couldn't I go too?"

    "Jane has to go because she is the guide," said Ransom. "You must stay at home. We in this house are all that is left of Logres. You carry its future in your body. As I was saying, Dimble, you must hunt. I do not think he can get far. The country will be quite unrecognisable to him, even by daylight."

    "And . . . if we do find him, sir?"

    "That is why it must be you, Dimble. Only you know the Great Tongue. Even if he does not understand it he will, I think, recognise it. That will teach him he is dealing with Masters. There is a chance that he will think you are the Belbury people. In that case you will bring him here at once."

    "And if not?"

    "That is the moment when the danger comes. We do not know what the powers of the old Atlantean circle were: some kind of hypnotism probably covered most of it. Don't be afraid: but don't let him try any tricks. Keep your hand on your revolver. You too, Denniston."

    "I'm a good hand with a revolver myself," said MacPhee. "And why--?"

    "You can't go, MacPhee," said the Director. "He'd put you to sleep in ten seconds. The others are heavily protected and you are not. You understand, Dimble ? Your revolver in your hand, a prayer on your lips. Then, if he stands, conjure him."

    "What shall I say in the Great Tongue?"

    "Say that you come in the name of God and all angels and in the power of the planets from one who sits today in the seat of the Pendragon, and command him to come with you. Say it now."

    And Dimble raised his head, and great syllables of words came out of his mouth. Jane felt her heart leap and quiver; it was as if the words spoke themselves through him from some strong place at a distance-or as if they were not words at all but present operations of God, the planets, and the Pendragon. For this was the language spoken before the Fall and beyond the Moon. Language herself, as she first sprang at Maleldil's bidding out of the molten quicksilver of the star called Mercury on Earth, but Viritrilbia in Deep Heaven.

    "Thank you," said the Director. "And if he comes with you, all is well. If he does not-why then, Dimble, say your prayers and keep your will fixed in the will of Maleldil. I don't know what he will do. You can't lose your soul, whatever happens; at least, not by any action of his."

    "Yes," said Dimble. "I understand."

    "You are all right, Jane?"

    "I think so, sir," said Jane.

    "Do you place yourself in the obedience," said the Director, " in obedience to Maleldil?"

    "Sir," said Jane, "I know nothing of Maleldil. But I place myself in obedience to you."

    "It is enough for the present," said the Director. "This is the courtesy of Deep Heaven: that when you mean well, He always takes you to have meant better than you knew. It will not be enough for always. He is very jealous. He will have you for no one but Himself in the end. But for to-night, it is enough."

    "This is the craziest business ever I heard of," said MacPhee.

    CHAPTER ELEVEN

    BATTLE BEGUN

    "I CAN'T see a thing," said Jane.

    "This rain is spoiling the whole plan," said Dimble from the back seat. "Is this still Eaton Road, Arthur?"

    "I think . . . yes, there's the toll-house," said Denniston, who was driving.

    "I say!" said Jane suddenly. "Look! Look! What's that? Stop."

    "I can't see a white gate," said Denniston.

    "Oh, it's not that," said Jane. "Look over there."

    "Do you mean that light?" said Denniston.

    "Yes, of course, that's the fire."

    "What fire?"

    "It's the light," she said, " the fire in the hollow. Yes, I know: I never told Grace, or the Director. I'd forgotten that part of the dream till this moment. That was how it ended. It was the most important part. That was where I found him-Merlin, you know. Sitting by a fire in a little wood. After I came out of the place underground. Oh, come quickly!"

    "What do you think, Arthur?" said Dimble.

    "I think we must go wherever Jane leads," answered Denniston.

    "Oh, do hurry," said Jane. "There's a gate here. It's only one field away."

    All three of them crossed the road and opened the gate and went into the field. Dimble said nothing. He had, perhaps, a clearer idea than the others of what sort of things might happen when they reached the place.

    Jane, as guide, went first, and Denniston beside her, giving her his arm and showing an occasional gleam of his torch on the rough ground. Dimble brought up the rear.

    The change from the road to the field was as if one had passed from a waking into a phantasmal world. They realised that they had not really believed in Merlin till now. They had thought they were believing the Director in the kitchen; but they had been mistaken. Out here, with only the changing red light ahead and the black all round, one began to accept as fact this tryst with something dead and yet not dead, something exhumed from that dark pit of history which lies between the ancient Romans and the beginning of the English. "The Dark Ages," thought Dimble; how lightly one had read and written those words.

    Suddenly all that Britain which had been so long familiar to him as a scholar rose up like a solid thing. He could see it all. Little dwindling cities where the light of Rome still rested-little Christian sites, Gamalodunum, Kaerleon, Glastonbury-a church, a villa or two, a huddle of houses, an earthwork. And then, beginning a stone's-throw beyond the gates, the wet, tangled, endless woods; wolves slinking, beavers building, wide shallow marshes, dim horns and drummings, eyes in the thickets, eyes of men not only Pre-Roman but Pre-British, ancient creatures, unhappy and dispossessed, who became the elves and ogres and wood-wooses of the later tradition. But worse than the forests, the clearings. Little strongholds with unheard-of kings. Little colleges and covines of Druids. Houses whose mortar had been ritually mixed with babies' blood.

    Then came a check. They had walked right into a hedge. They had come to the end of a field. They went a long way out of their course before they found a gate. It would not open, and as they came down on the far side, after climbing it, they went ankle-deep into water.

    Hitherto Jane had scarcely attempted to think of what might lie before them. As they went on, the real meaning of that scene in the kitchen began to dawn on her. He had told the men to bid goodbye to their wives. He had blessed them all. It was likely, then, that this-this stumbling walk on a wet night across a ploughed field- meant death. Jane was trying to see death in the new light of all she had heard since she left Edgestow. She had long ceased to feel any resentment at the Director's tendency, as it were, to dispose other-to give her, at one time or in one sense, to Mark, and in another to Maleldil; never in any sense to keep her for himself. But Maleldil. Up to now she had not thought of Maleldil either. She did not doubt that the eldils existed; nor did she doubt the existence of this stronger and more obscure being whom they obeyed . . . whom the Director obeyed, and through him the whole household, even MacPhee. If it had ever occurred to her to question whether all these things might be the reality behind what she had been taught at school as " religion ", she had put the thought aside. But this time, if it was really to be death, the thought would not be put aside. Because it now appeared that almost anything might be true. One might be in for anything. Maleldil might be, quite simply and crudely, God. There might be a life after death: a Heaven: a Hell. "But . . . this is unbearable," she thought, "I should have been told."

    "Look out, Jane," said Denniston. "That's a tree."

    "I-I think it's a cow," said Jane.

    "No. It's a tree. Look. There's, another."

    "Hush," said Dimble. "This is Jane's little wood. We are very close now."

    The ground rose in front of them for about twenty yards and there made an edge against the firelight. They walked slowly and quietly up to the edge and stopped. Below them a big fire of wood was burning at the bottom of a little dingle. There were bushes all about, whose changing shadows, as the flames rose and fell, made it difficult to see clearly. Beyond the fire there seemed to be some rude kind of tent made out of sacking and an upturned cart. In the foreground there was a kettle.

    "Is there anyone here?" whispered Dimble to Denniston.

    "Look!" said Jane suddenly. "There! When the flame blew aside."

    "What?" said Dimble.

    "Didn't you see him?"

    "I thought I saw a man," said Denniston.

    "I saw an ordinary tramp," said Dimble. "A man in modern clothes."

    "What did he look like?"

    "I don't know."

    "We must go down," said Dimble.

    "Can one get down?" said Denniston.

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