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  • Home > C.S.Lewis > Cosmic > That Hideous Strength (Page 28)     
    That Hideous Strength(Cosmic #3) by C.S.Lewis
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    Today an unusual thing had happened to him-he had got into the garden without being muzzled. He was always muzzled out of doors, not because there was any fear of his becoming dangerous but because of his partiality for fruit and for the sweeter kinds of vegetables. But today the precaution had been forgotten and the bear had passed a very agreeable morning investigating the turnips. Now -in the early afternoon-he had approached the garden wall. There was a chestnut tree within the wall which the bear could easily climb, and from its branches he could drop down on the far side. He was standing looking up at this tree. Mrs. Maggs would have described his state of mind by saying, "He knows perfectly well he's not allowed out of the garden." That was not how it appeared to Mr. Bultitude. He had no morals: but the Director had given him certain inhibitions. A mysterious reluctance arose, a clouding of the emotional weather, when the wall was too close; but mixed with this there was an opposite impulse to get beyond that wall. If the pressure behind this impulse could be translated into human terms at all, it would appear more like a mythology than a thought. One met bees in the garden. The bees all went away, over the wall. And to follow bees was the obvious thing to do. There was a sense in the bear's mind-one could hardly call it a picture-of green lands beyond the wall, and hives, and bees the size of sparrows, and there, walking, trickling, oozing to meet one, something or someone stickier, sweeter, than honey itself.

    Three times Mr. Bultitude turned away from the tree and the wall, but each time he came back. Then, very cautiously and quietly, he began to climb the tree. When he got up into the fork he sat there for a long time. He sat there for nearly half an hour. Sometimes his mind wandered from the point and once he nearly went to sleep. In the end he got down on the outside of the wall. When he found that the thing had really happened he became so frightened that he sat still at the bottom of the grassy bank on the very edge of the road.

    A motor van came into sight. It was driven by a man in the livery of the N.I.C.E., and another man in the same livery sat beside him.

    "Hullo ... I say!" said the second man. "Pull up, Sid. What about that?"

    "What?" said the driver.

    "Haven't you got eyes in your head?" said the other.

    "Gor," said Sid, pulling up. "A bloody great bear. I say-it. couldn't be our own bear, could it?"

    "Get on," said his mate. "She was in her cage all right this morning."

    "You don't think she could have done a bunk? There'd be hell to pay for you and me. . . ."

    "She couldn't have got here if she had done a bunk. Bears don't go forty miles an hour. But hadn't we better pinch this one?"

    "We haven't got no orders," said Sid. "No. And we haven't failed to get that blasted wolf either, have we?"

    "Wasn't our fault."

    "Course it wasn't our fault. But the boss won't take no notice of that. It's get on or get out at Belbury."

    "Get out?" said Sid. "I wish to hell I knew how to."

    Len spat over the side and there was a moment's silence. "Anyway," said Sid presently, " what's the good of taking a bear back?"

    "Well, isn't it better than coming back with nothing?" said Len. "I know they want another one. And here it is free."

    "All right," said Sid ironically, " if you're so keen on it, just hop out and ask him to step in."

    "Dope," said Len.

    "Not on my bit of dinner, you don't," said Sid. "You're a bucking good mate to have," said Len, groping in a greasy parcel. "It's a good thing for you I'm not the sort of chap who'd split on you."

    "You done it already," said the driver. "I know all your little games."

    Len produced a sandwich and dabbed it with some strong-smelling liquid from a bottle. When it was saturated, he opened the door and went a pace forward, about six yards from the bear. He threw the sandwich to it.

    Quarter of an hour later Mr. Bultitude lay on his side, unconscious and breathing heavily. They had no difficulty in tying up his mouth and all four paws, but they had great difficulty in lifting him into the van.

    Mark's waking life was now divided between periods by the Sleeper's bedside and periods in the room with the spotted ceiling. The training in objectivity which took place in the latter cannot be described; the details would be unprintable and had, indeed, a "kind of nursery fatuity about them which is best ignored. There indeed lay the horror-to perform petty obscenities which a silly child might have thought funny under the unchangingly serious inspection of Frost, with a stop watch and a note-book and all the ritual of experiment. And day by day, as the process went on, that idea of the Straight or the Normal which had occurred to him during his first visit to this room, grew stronger and more solid in his mind till it became a kind of mountain. He had never before known what an Idea meant.

    The other thing that helped to save him was the Man in the Bed. Mark's discovery that he really could speak English had led to a curious acquaintance with him. It can hardly be said that they conversed. The man was so very allusive and used gesture so extensively that Mark's less sophisticated modes of communication were almost useless. Thus when Mark explained that he had no tobacco, the man had slapped an imaginary tobacco pouch on his knees at least six times and struck an imaginary match about as often, each time jerking his head sideways with a look of such relish as Mark had seldom seen on a human face. Then Mark went on to explain that though " they " were not foreigners, they were extremely dangerous people and that probably the Stranger's best plan would be to preserve his silence.

    "Ah," said the Stranger, jerking his head again, " don't get nothing out of me. I tell 'ee. Don't get nothing out of me. Eh? I tell 'ee. You and me knows. Ah?" and his look embraced Mark in such an apparently gleeful conspiracy that it warmed the heart.

    Believing this matter to be now sufficiently clear. Mark began, "But, as regards the future--"

    "Ah," said the man. "Foreigners. Eh?"

    "No, no," said Mark. "I told you they weren't. They seem to think you are, though. And that's why-

    "That's right," interrupted the man. ' Foreigners, I call them. I know."

    "I've been trying to think out some sort of plan," said Mark.

    "Ah," said the man approvingly, "I got a plan."

    "What is it?"

    "Ah," said the man, winking at Mark with infinite knowingness and rubbing his belly.

    "Go on. What is it?" said Mark.

    "How'd it be," said the man. "How'd it be if you and I made ourselves a nice bit of toasted cheese?"

    "I mean a plan for escape," said Mark. I know.

    "Ah," replied the man. "My old Dad, now. He never had a day's illness in his life."

    "It's a remarkable record," said Mark. "Ah. You may say so," replied the other. "On the road all his life. Never had a stomach-ache. And what did he attribute his health to?" He pronounced the word attribute with great relish, laying the accent on the first syllable.

    Mark was about to reply when the man indicated by a gesture that the question was purely rhetorical.

    "He attributed his health, continued the speaker, "to eating toasted cheese. Keeps the water out of the stomach, that's what it does. Makes a lining."

    In several interviews Mark endeavoured to discover something of the Stranger's own history and particularly how he had been brought to Belbury. This was not easy, for though the tramp's conversation was very autobiographical, it was filled almost entirely with accounts of conversations in which he had made stunning repartees whose points remained wholly obscure. But by repeated and cautious questioning, he couldn't help getting the idea that the tramp had been made to give up his clothes to a total stranger and then put to sleep. He never got the story in so many words. As for the identity or appearance of the person who had taken his clothes, nothing whatever could be made out. The nearest Mark ever got to it, after hours of talk and deep potations, was some such statement as "Ah. He was a one!" or "He was a kind of-eh? You know?" or "That was a customer, that was."

    Throughout the man's conversation, gusto was the most striking characteristic. He never passed any kind of moral judgement on the various things that had been done to him in the course of his career, nor did he ever try to explain them. Much that was unjust and more that was simply unintelligible seemed to be accepted not only without resentment but with a certain satisfaction provided only that it was striking. Even about his present situation he showed very much less curiosity than Mark would have thought possible. It did not make sense, but then the man did not expect things to make sense. He deplored the absence of tobacco and regarded the "Foreigners " as very dangerous people: but the main thing, obviously, was to eat and drink as much as possible while the present conditions lasted.

    Every now and then their tête-à-tête was interrupted. Frost or Wither or both would come in introducing some stranger who addressed the tramp in an unknown language, failed completely to get any response, and was ushered out again. The tramp's habit of submission to the unintelligible, mixed with a kind of animal cunning, stood him in good stead during these interviews. It would never have occurred to him to undeceive his captors by replying in English. Undeceiving was an activity wholly foreign to his mind. For the rest, his expression of tranquil indifference, varied occasionally by extremely sharp looks but never by the least sign of anxiety or bewilderment, left his interrogators mystified.

    And then, one day, there came an interview that was different.

    "It sounds like a mythological picture by Titian come to life," said the Director, when Jane had described her experience in the lodge.

    "Yes, but . . ." said Jane, and stopped. "I see," she began again, " it was very like that. As if the air were on fire. But I always thought I liked Titian. I suppose I wasn't really taking the pictures seriously enough."

    "You didn't like it when it came out into real life?"

    Jane shook her head.

    "Was it real, sir?" she asked presently. "Are there such things?"

    "Yes," said the Director, " it was real enough. Oh, there are thousands of things within this square mile that I don't know about yet. And I dare say that the presence of Merlinus brings out certain things. And you yourself . . . you are a seer. You were perhaps bound to meet her. She's what you'll get if you won't have the other."

    "How do you mean, sir?" said Jane.

    "You said she was a little like Mother Dimble. So she is. But Mother Dimble with something left out. Mother Dimble is friends with all that world as Merlinus is friends with the woods and rivers. But he isn't a wood or a river himself. She has not rejected it, but she has baptized it. You are not a Christian wife; neither are you a virgin. You have put yourself where you must meet that Old Woman and you have rejected all that has happened to her since Maleldil came to Earth. So you get her raw untransformed, demoniac. And you don't like it."

    "You mean," said Jane slowly, "I've been repressing something."

    The Director laughed; just that loud, assured, bachelor laughter which had often infuriated her on other lips.

    "Yes," he said. "But don't think I'm talking of Freudian repressions. He knew only half the facts. I'm afraid there s no niche in the world for people that won't be either Pagan or Christian. Just imagine a man who was too dainty to eat with his fingers and yet wouldn't use forks!"

    His laughter rather than his words had reddened Jane's cheeks. Her female dream of finding a man who " really understood " was being insulted. Some knowledge of a world beyond nature she had already gained from living in his house, but she had been conceiving this world as " spiritual " in the negative sense-as some neutral, or democratic, vacuum where differences disappeared, where sex and sense were not transcended but simply taken away.

    "No," said the Director, " there is no escape. If it were a virginal rejection of the male. He would allow it. Such souls can by-pass the male and go on to meet something far more masculine, higher up, to which they must make a yet deeper surrender. But your trouble has been what old poets called Daungier. We call it Pride. You are offended by the masculine itself: the loud, irruptive, possessive thing-the gold lion, the bearded bull-which breaks through hedges and scatters the little kingdom of your primness as the dwarfs scattered the carefully made bed. The male you could have escaped, for it exists only on the biological level. But the masculine none of us can escape. What is above and beyond all things is so masculine that we are all feminine in relation to it. You had better agree with your adversary quickly."

    "You mean I shall have to become a Christian?" said Jane.

    "It looks like it," said the Director. Playing for time, she asked. "Who was that Huge Woman?"

    "I'm not sure," said the Director. "But I think I can make a guess. Did you know that all the planets are represented in each?"

    "No, sir. I didn't."

    "Apparently they are. There is no Oyarsa in Heaven who has not got his representative on Earth. And there is no world where you could not meet a little unfallen partner of our own black Archon, a kind of other self. That is why there was an Italian Saturn as well as a heavenly one, and a Cretan Jove as well as an Olympian. What concerns you more, there is a terrestrial as well as a celestial Venus-Perelandra's wraith as well as Perelandra."

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