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  • Home > C.S.Lewis > Cosmic > That Hideous Strength (Page 25)     
    That Hideous Strength(Cosmic #3) by C.S.Lewis
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    "You think Mr.-ah-Studdock is far enough on?"

    "It doesn't matter," said Frost. "What harm can he do? He can't get out. We only want someone to watch."

    MacPhee found himself violently waked by someone shaking his shoulder. He suddenly perceived that he was cold and his left foot was numb. Then he saw Denniston's face looking into his own. The scullery seemed full of people-Denniston and Dimble and Jane. They appeared extremely bedraggled, torn, and muddy and wet.

    "Are you all right?"Denniston was saying. "I've been trying to wake you for several minutes."

    "All right?" said MacPhee, swallowing once or twice and licking his lips. "Aye, I'm all right." Then he sat upright. "There's been a-a man here," he said.

    "What sort of a man?" asked Dimble.

    "Well," said MacPhee, "as to that . . . it's not just so easy . . ."

    The others exchanged glances. Next moment MacPhee jumped to his feet.

    "Lord save us!" he exclaimed. "He had the Director here. Quick! It was some kind of impostor or spy. I know now what's wrong with me. I've been hypnotised, There was a horse, too."

    This last detail had an immediate effect on his hearers. Denniston flung open the kitchen door and the whole party surged in after him. The four women sat fast asleep. Mr. Bultitude, stretched out on his side across the hearth, slept also.

    "They're all right," said MacPhee from behind. "It's just the same as he did to me. We've no time to wake them. Get on."

    They passed from the kitchen into the nagged passage. To all of them except MacPhee the silence of the house seemed intense after their buffeting in the wind and rain. The lights as they switched them on successively revealed empty rooms and empty passages which wore the abandoned look of indoor midnight.

    "Now for upstairs," said Dimble.

    "The lights are on upstairs," said Jane, as they all came to the foot of the staircase.

    "Excuse me," said Dimble to MacPhee, "I think perhaps I'd better go first."

    Up to the first landing they were in darkness; on the second and last the light from the first floor fell. Looking down on them from the balustrade were two men, one clothed in sweepy garments of red and the other in blue. It was the Director who wore blue, and for one instant a thought that was pure nightmare crossed Jane's mind. The two robed figures looked to be two of the same sort. . . and what, after all, did she know of this Director? And there they were, the pair of them, talking their secrets, the man who had been dug up out of the earth and the man who had been in outer space. . . . All this time she had hardly looked at the Stranger. Next moment she noticed his size. The man was monstrous. And the two men were allies. And the Stranger was speaking and pointing at her as he spoke.

    She did not understand the words: but Dimble did, and heard Merlin saying in what seemed to him a rather strange kind of Latin:

    "Sir, you have in your house the falsest lady of any at this time alive."

    And Dimble heard the Director answer, "Sir, you are mistaken. She is doubtless like all of us a sinner: but the woman is chaste."

    "Sir," said Merlin, " know well that she has done in Logres a thing of which no less sorrow shall come than came of the stroke that Balinus struck. For, sir, it was the purpose of God that she and her lord should between them have begotten a child by whom the enemies should have been put out of Logres for a thousand years."

    "She is but lately married," said Ransom. "The child may yet be born."

    "Sir," said Merlin, " be assured that the child will never be born, for the hour of its begetting is passed. Of their own will they are barren: I did not know till now that the usages of Sulva were so common among you. For a hundred generations in two lines the begetting of this child was prepared; and unless God should rip up the work of time, such seed, and such an hour, in such a land, shall never be again."

    "Enough said," answered Ransom. "The woman perceives that we are speaking of her."

    "It would be great charity," said Merlin, " if you gave order that her head should be cut from her shoulders; for it is a weariness to look at her."

    Dimble thrust Jane behind him and called out, "Ransom ! What in heaven's name is the meaning of this?"

    MacPhee, who had followed the Latin even less than Jane, broke into the conversation.

    "Dr. Ransom," he said. "I don't know who the big man is and I'm no Latinist. But I know well that you've kept me under your eye all this night against my own will, and allowed me to be hypnotised. It gives me little pleasure, to see yourself dressed up like something out of a pantomime and standing there hand-in-glove with that shaman, or priest, or whatever he is. He need not look at me the way he's doing. I'm not afraid of him. And as for my own life and limb-if you have changed sides after all that's come and gone, I don't know that I've much more use for either. But I'm not going to be made a fool of. We're waiting for an explanation.

    The Director looked down on them in silence for a few seconds.

    "Has it really come to this?" he said. "Does not one of you trust me?"

    "I do, sir," said Jane suddenly.

    "Well," said the Director, after a pause, " we have all been mistaken. So has the enemy. This man is Merlinus Ambrosius. They thought that if he came back he would be on their side. I find he is on ours. You, Dimble, ought to realise that this was always a possibility."

    "That is true," said Dimble. "I suppose it was- well, the look of the thing. And his appalling blood-thirstiness."

    "I have been startled by it myself," said Ransom. "But after all we had no right to expect that his penal code would be that of the nineteenth century. I find it difficult, too, to make him understand that I am not an absolute monarch."

    "Is-is he a Christian?" asked Dimble.

    "Yes," said Ransom. "As for my clothes, I have for once put on the dress of my office to do him honour. In his days men did not, except for necessity, go about in shapeless sacks of drab."

    "Do I understand, Dr. Ransom," said MacPhee, " that you are asking us to accept this person as a member of our organisation?"

    "I am afraid," said the Director, "I cannot put it that way. He is a member."

    "What enquiries have been made into his credentials?"

    "It would be hard," said the Director, " to explain to you my reasons for trusting Merlinus: but no harder than to explain to him why, despite appearances which might be misunderstood, I trust you." There was just the ghost of a smile about his mouth as he said this. Then Merlin spoke to him again in Latin and he replied. After that Merlin addressed Dimble.

    "The Pendragon tells me," he said, " that you accuse me for a fierce and cruel man. It is a charge I never heard before. A third part of my substance I gave to widows and poor men. I never sought the death of any but felons and heathen Saxons. As for the woman, she may live, for me. I am not master in this house. Even that gallows bird {cruciarius) beside you-I mean you, fellow; you with the face like sour milk and the voice like a saw in a hard log and the legs like a crane's-even that cut-purse (sector zonariw), though I would have him to the gatehouse, yet the rope should be used on his back, not his throat."

    "Mr. Director," said MacPhee, when Merlin had finished, "I would be obliged if--"

    "Come," said the Director suddenly, " we have none of us slept tonight. Arthur, will you come and light a fire for our guest in the big room at the north end? And would someone wake the women ? Ask them to bring him up refreshments. A bottle of Burgundy and whatever you have cold. And then, all to bed.

    "We're going to have difficulties with that new colleague of ours," said Dimble. He was alone with his wife in their room at St. Anne's late on the following day.

    "I felt that at lunch, you know," said his wife. "It was silly not to have realised that he wouldn't know about forks. But what surprised me even more (after the first shock) was how-well, how elegant he was without them."

    "Oh, the old boy's a gentleman in his own way-anyone can see that. But . . . well, I don't know. I suppose it's all right."

    "What happened at the meeting?"

    "Well, everything had to be explained. We'd a job to make him understand that Ransom isn't the king of this country. And then we had to break it that we weren't the British, but the English-what he'd call Saxons."

    "I see."

    "And then MacPhee had to choose that moment for embarking on an explanation of the relations between Scotland and Ireland and England. MacPhee imagines he's a Celt when, apart from his name, there's nothing Celtic about him any more than about Mr. Bultitude. By the way Merlinus made a prophecy about Mr. Bultitude."

    "Oh! What was that?"

    "He said that before Christmas this bear would do the best deed that any bear had done in Britain except some other bear that none of us had heard of. He keeps on saying things like that. As if something like a camera shutter opened at the back of his mind and closed again immediately."

    "He and MacPhee didn't quarrel again?"

    "Not exactly. I think Merlinus has concluded that he is the Director's fool."

    "Did you get down to actual business?"

    "Well, in a way," said Dimble. "We were all at cross purposes, you see. The business about Ivy's husband being in prison came up, and he seemed to imagine us just riding off and taking the County Jail by storm. That's the sort of thing one was up against."

    "Cecil," said Mrs. Dimble suddenly. "Is he going to be any use?"

    "He's going to be able to do things, if that's what you mean."

    "What sort of things?" asked his wife.

    "The universe is so very complicated," said Dr. Dimble.

    His wife waited as those wait who know by long experience the mental processes of the person who is talking to them.

    "I mean," said Dimble, in answer to the question she had not asked, " if you dip into any college, or school, or parish- anything you like- at a given point in its history, you always find that there was a time before that point when there was more elbow-room and contrasts weren't so sharp; and that there's going to be a time after that point when there is even less room for indecision and choices are more momentous. Good is always getting better and bad getting worse: the possibilities of neutrality are always diminishing. The whole thing is sorting itself out all the time, coming to a point, getting sharper and harder."

    "Like Browning's line: ' Life's business being just the terrible choice.' "

    "Exactly! But not only in questions of moral choice. Everything is getting more different from everything else. Evolution means species getting less and less like one another. Minds get more spiritual, matter more material. Poetry and prose draw farther apart."

    "Yes?"

    "Well, about Merlin. Were there possibilities for a man of that age which there aren't for a man of ours? The earth itself was more like an animal. Mental processes were more like physical actions. And there were--well, Neutrals, knocking about."

    "Neutrals?"

    "I don't mean, of course, that anything can be a real neutral. There might be things neutral in relation to us."

    "You mean eldils-angels?

    "Well, the word angel rather begs the question. Even the Oyeresu aren't exactly angels in the same sense as our guardian angels. There used to be things on this earth pursuing their own business. They weren't ministering spirits sent to help humanity, but neither were they enemies preying upon us ... all the gods, elves, dwarfs, water-people, ya, longaevi."

    "You think there are things like that?"

    "I think there were. I think there was room for them then, but the universe has come more to a point. Not all rational things perhaps. Some would be mere wills inherent in matter, hardly conscious. More like animals. Others-but I don't really know. At any rate, that is the sort of situation in which one got a man like Merlin."

    "It sounds rather horrible."

    "It was rather horrible. I mean even in Merlin's time, though you could still use that sort of life in the universe innocently, you couldn't do it safely. The things weren't bad in themselves, but they were already bad for us. They withered the man who dealt with them. Not on purpose. They couldn't help doing it. Merlinus is withered. That quietness of his is just a little deadly, like the quiet of a gutted building."

    "Cecil, do you feel quite comfortable about the Director's using a man like this ? Doesn't it look a little bit like fighting Belbury with its own weapons?"

    "No. I had thought of that. Merlin is the reverse of Belbury. He is the last vestige of an old order in which matter and spirit were, from our point of view, confused. For him every operation on Nature is a kind of personal contact. After him came the modern man to whom Nature is a machine to be worked, and taken to bits if it won't work as he pleases. Finally come the Belbury people, who take over that view unaltered and simply want to increase power by tacking on to it the aid of spirits-extra-natural, anti-natural spirits. They thought the old magia of Merlin, which worked in with the spiritual qualities of Nature, loving and reverencing them and knowing them from within, could be combined with the new goeteia-the brutal surgery from without. No. In a sense, Merlin represents what we've got to get back to in some different way."

    "Good gracious!" said Mrs. Dimble, " there's six o'clock.

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