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  • Home > C.S.Lewis > Cosmic > That Hideous Strength (Page 26)     
    That Hideous Strength(Cosmic #3) by C.S.Lewis
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    I'd promised Ivy to be in the kitchen at quarter to. There's no need for you to move, Cecil."

    Merlin and the Director were meanwhile talking in the Blue Room. The Druid was still robed, and beneath the robe had surprisingly little clothing, for the warmth of the house was to him excessive and he found trousers uncomfortable. His loud demands for oil after his bath had involved some shopping in the village, which had produced, by Denniston's exertions, a tin of brilliantine. Merlinus had used it freely so that the sweet, sticky smell filled the room. That was why Mr. Bultitude had pawed so insistently at the door that he was finally admitted and now sat as near the magician as he could get. He had never smelled such an interesting man before.

    "Sir," said Merlin, in answer to the question which the Director had just asked him, "I give you great thanks. I cannot, indeed, understand the way you live, and your house is strange. You give me a bath such as the Emperor himself might envy, but no one attends me to it: a bed softer than sleep, but when I rise from it I find I must put on my own clothes as if I were a peasant. I lie in a room with windows of pure crystal, but I lie in it alone, with no more honour than a prisoner in a dungeon. In all the house there is warmth and softness and silence that might put a man in mind of paradise terrestrial; but no musicians, no perfumes, no high seats, not a hawk, not a hound. You live neither like a lord nor a hermit. Sir, I tell you these things because you have asked me. They are of no importance. Now that none hears us save the last of the seven bears of Logres, it is time we open counsels."

    He glanced at the Director's face as he spoke.

    "Does your wound pain you?" he asked.

    Ransom shook his head.

    "Sir," said Merlinus in a softer voice, "I could take all the anguish from your heel as though I were wiping it out with a sponge. Give me but seven days to go in and out and up and down and to and fro, to renew old acquaintance. These fields and I, this wood and I, have much to say to one another."

    He was leaning forward so that his face and the bear's were almost side by side. The druid's face had a strangely animal appearance: not sensual nor fierce, but full of the patient, unarguing sagacity of a beast.

    "You might find the country much changed," said Ransom.

    "No," said Merlin. "Not much changed." Merlin was like something that ought not to be indoors. Bathed and anointed though he was, a sense of mould, gravel, wet leaves, weedy water hung about him. One might have believed that he listened continually to a murmur of evasive sounds; rustling of mice and stoats, the small shock of falling nuts, creaking of branches, the very growing of grass. The bear had closed its eyes. The room was heavy with a sort of floating anesthesia. "Through me," said Merlin, " you can suck up from the Earth oblivion of all pains."

    "Silence," said the Director sharply. The magician started and straightened himself. Even the bear opened its eyes again.

    "No," said the Director. "God's glory, do you think you were dug out of the earth to give me a plaster for my heel ? We have drugs that could cheat the pain as well as your magic, if it were not my business to bear it to the end. I will hear no more of that."

    "I hear and obey," said the magician. "But I meant no harm. If not to heal your wound, yet for the healing of Logres, you will need my commerce with field and water."

    Again that sweet heaviness, like the smell of hawthorn. ;

    "No," said the Director, " that cannot be done any longer. The soul has gone out of the wood and water. Oh, I dare say you could awake them-a little. But it would not be enough. Your weapon would break in your hands. For the Hideous Strength confronts us, and it is as in the days when Nimrod built a tower to reach heaven."

    "Hidden it may be," said Merlinus, " but not changed. Leave me to work, Lord. I will wake it."

    "No," said the Director, "I forbid it. Whatever of spirit may still linger in the earth has withdrawn fifteen-hundred years farther away from us since your time. You shall not lift your little finger to call it up. It is in this age utterly unlawful." He leaned forward and said in a different voice, "It never was very lawful, even in your day. Remember, when we first knew that you would be awaked, we thought you would be on the side of the enemy. And because Our Lord does all things for each, one of the purposes of your reawakening was that your own soul should be saved."

    Merlin sank back into his chair. The bear licked his hand.

    "Sir," he said, " if I am not to work in that fashion, then you have taken into your house a silly bulk of flesh, for I am no longer much of a man of war."

    "Not that way either," said Ransom. "No power that is merely earthly will serve against the Hideous Strength."

    "Then let us all to prayers," said Merlinus. "Certainly, to prayers," said Ransom, " now and always. But that was not what I meant. There are celestial powers: created powers, not in this Earth, but in the Heavens." Merlinus looked at him in silence.

    "You know well what I am speaking of," said Ransom. "Did not I tell you when we first met that the Oyeresu were my masters?"

    "Of course," said Merlin. "And that was how I knew you were of the college. Is it not our password?"

    "A password?" exclaimed Ransom, with a look of surprise. "I did not know that."

    "But . . . but," said Merlinus, " if you knew not the password, how did you come to say it?"

    "I said it because it was true."

    The magician licked his lips which had become very pale.

    "True as the plainest things are true," repeated Ransom;" true as it is true that you sit here with my bear beside you."

    Merlin spread out his hands.

    "Suffer me to speak," he said at last, " for I am in the hollow of your hand. I had heard of it in my own days- that some had spoken with the gods. Blaise, my Master, knew a few words of that speech. Yet these were, after all, powers of Earth. For-I need not teach you, you know more than I-it is not the very Oyeresu, the true powers of heaven, whom the greatest of our craft meet, but only their earthly wraiths. Only the earth-Venus, the earth-Mercurius: not Perelandra herself, not Viritrilbia ---"

    "I am not speaking of the wraiths," said Ransom. "I have stood before Mars himself in the sphere of Mars and before Venus herself in the sphere of Venus."

    "But, Lord," said Merlin, " how can this be? Is it not against the Seventh Law?"

    "What law is that?" asked Ransom. "Has not our Fair Lord made it a law for Himself that He will not send down the Powers to mend or mar in this earth until the end of all things? Or is this the end?"

    "It may be the beginning of the end," said Ransom, "I know nothing of that. Maleldil may have made it a law not to send down the Powers. But if men by enginery and natural philosophy learn to fly into the Heavens, and come, in the flesh, among the heavenly powers and trouble them. He has not forbidden the Powers to react. For all this is within the natural order. A wicked man came flying, by a subtle engine, to where Mars dwells in Heaven and to where Venus dwells, and took me with him captive. And there I spoke with the true Oyeresu face to face." Merlin inclined his head.

    "And so the wicked man brought about the thing he least intended. For now there was one man in the world-even myself-who was known to the Oyeresu and spoke their tongue, neither by God's miracle nor by magic from Numinor, but naturally, as when two men meet in a road. Our enemies had taken away from themselves the protection of the Seventh Law. That is why Powers have come down, and in this chamber where we are now discoursing Malacandra and Perelandra have spoken to me." Merlin's face became paler. "I have become a bridge," said Ransom. "Sir," said Merlin, " if they put forth their power, they will unmake middle earth."

    "Their na**d power, yes," said Ransom. "That is why they will work only through a man." The magician drew one large hand across his forehead. "Through a man whose mind is opened to be so invaded," said Ransom; " one who by his own will once opened it. I take Our Fair Lord to witness that if it were my task I would not refuse it. But he will not suffer a mind that still has its virginity to be so violated. And through a black magician's mind their purity neither can -nor will operate. One who has dabbled ... in the days when dabbling had not begun to be evil, or was only just beginning . . . also a Christian and a penitent. A tool (I must speak plainly) good enough to be so used and not too good. In all these western parts of the world there was only one man who had lived in those days and could still be recalled. You . . ."

    He stopped, shocked at what was happening. The huge man had risen from his chair. From his horribly opened mouth there came a yell that seemed to Ransom utterly bestial, though it was only the yell of Celtic lamentation.' All the Roman surface in Merlinus had been scraped off.

    "Silence!" shouted Ransom. "Sit down. You put us both to shame."

    As suddenly as it had begun the frenzy ended. Merlin resumed his chair. To a modern it seemed strange that, having recovered his self-control, he did not show the slightest embarrassment at his temporary loss of it.

    "Do not think," said Ransom, " that for me either it is child's play to meet those who will come down for your empowering."

    "Sir," faltered Merlin, " you have been in Heaven. You have looked upon their faces before."

    "Not on all of them," said Ransom. "Greater spirits will descend this time. We are in God's hands. It may unmake us both. There is no promise that either you or I will save our lives or our reason."

    Suddenly the magician smote his hand upon his knee.

    "Mehercule !" he cried. "Are we not going too fast? If the Powers must tear me in pieces to break our enemies, God's will be done. But is it yet come to that? This Saxon king of yours who sits at Windsor, now-is there no help in him?"

    "He has no power in this matter."

    "Then is he not weak enough to be overthrown?"

    "I have no wish to overthrow him. In the order of Logres I may be Pendragon, but in the order of Britain I am the King's man."

    "Is it, then, his great men-the counts and legates and bishops-who do the evil and he does not know of it?."

    "It is-though they are not exactly the sort of great men you have in mind."

    "But what of the true clerks? Is there no help in them? It cannot be that all your priests and bishops are corrupted."

    "The Faith itself is torn in pieces since your day and speaks with a divided voice. Even if it were made whole, the Christians are but a tenth part of the people. There is no help there."

    "Then let us seek help from over sea. Is there no Christian prince in Neustria or Ireland who would come in and cleanse Britain if he were called?"

    "There is no Christian prince left."

    "Then we must go to him whose office is to put down tyrants and give life to dying kingdoms. We must call on the Emperor."

    "There is no Emperor."

    _"No Emperor ..." began Merlin, and then his voice died away. Presently he said, "This is a cold age in which I have awaked. If all this west part of the world is apostate, might it be lawful, in our great need, to look farther . . . beyond Christendom? Should we not find some even among the heathen who are not wholly corrupt? There were tales in my day of some such: men who knew not the articles of our most holy Faith but who worshipped God as they could and acknowledged the Law of Nature. Sir, I believe it would be lawful to seek help even there-beyond Byzantium. I know not where .. Babylon, Arabia, or Cathay."

    Ransom shook his head. "The poison was brewed in these West lands, but it has spat itself everywhere by now. However far you went you would find the machines, the crowded cities, the empty thrones, the false writings: men maddened with false promises and soured with true miseries, cut off from Earth their mother and from the Father in Heaven. The shadow of one dark wing is over all Tellus."

    "Is it, then, the end?" asked Merlin. "And this," said Ransom, ignoring the question, "is why we have no way left save the one I have told you. The Hideous Strength holds all this Earth in its fist. If of their own evil will they had not broken the frontier and let in the celestial Powers, this would be their moment of victory. Their own strength has betrayed them. They have gone to the gods who would not have come to them, and pulled down Deep Heaven on their heads. Therefore they will die. For though you search every cranny to escape, now that you see all crannies closed, you will not disobey me."

    Slowly there crept back into Merlin's white face that almost animal expression, earthy and healthy with a glint of half-humorous cunning.

    "Well," he said, " if the earths are stopped the fox faces the hounds. But had I known who you were at our first meeting I think I would have put the sleep on you as I did on your Fool."

    "I am a very light sleeper since I have travelled in the Heavens," said Ransom.

    CHAPTER FOURTEEN

    "REAL LIFE IS MEETING"

    MARK did not know whether it was minutes or hours later that he found himself once more awake, once more confronting Frost, and still fasting. The Professor came to ask if he had thought over their recent conversation. Mark, who judged that some show of reluctance would make his final surrender more convincing, replied that he did not quite understand what one stood to gain by co-operation with the Macrobes. He saw that the motives on which most men act were mere products of the animal organism. But he did not yet see what was to be substituted for these irrational motives. On what ground henceforward were actions to be justified or condemned ?

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