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  • Home > C.S.Lewis > Cosmic > That Hideous Strength (Page 29)     
    That Hideous Strength(Cosmic #3) by C.S.Lewis
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    "And you think . . .?"

    "I do: I have long known that this house is deeply under her influence. There is even copper in the soil. Also-the earth-Venus will be specially active here at present. For it is to-night that her heavenly archetype will really descend."

    "I had forgotten," said Jane.

    "You will not forget it once it has happened. All of you had better stay together. Do not come upstairs. To-night I will bring Merlin before my masters, all five of them-Viritrilbia, Perelandra, Malacandra, Glund, and Lurga. He will be opened. Powers will pass into him."

    "What will he do, sir?"

    The Director laughed. "The first step is easy. The enemies at Belbury are already looking for experts in archaic western dialects, preferably Celtic. We shall send them an interpreter! Yes, by the splendour of Christ, we will send them one."

    There was a sudden knock on the door and Grace Ironwood entered.

    "Ivy is back, sir," she said. "I think you'd better see her. She never saw her husband. The sentence is over, but they haven't released him. He's been sent on to Belbury for remedial treatment. Apparently it does not require a sentence from a court. . . . She is in great distress."

    Jane had gone into the garden to think. She accepted what the Director had said, yet it seemed to her nonsensical. "Religion " ought to mean a realm in which her haunting female fear of being treated as a thing, an object of barter and desire and possession, would be set permanently at rest, and what she called her " true self" would soar upwards and expand in some freer and purer world. For still she thought that "Religion " was a kind of exhalation or a cloud of incense, something steaming up from specially gifted souls towards a receptive heaven. Then, quite sharply, it occurred to her that the Director never talked about Religion, nor did the Dimbles nor Camilla. They talked about God. They had no picture in their minds of some mist steaming upward: rather of strong, skilful hands thrust down to make and mend, perhaps even to destroy. Supposing one were a thing after all-a thing designed and invented by Someone Else and valued for qualities quite different from what one had decided to regard as one's true self? Supposing all those people who, from the bachelor uncles down to Mark and Mother Dimble, had infuriatingly found her sweet and fresh when she wanted them to find her also interesting and important, had all along been simply right and perceived the sort of thing she was ? Supposing Maleldil on this subject agreed with them and not with her? For one moment she had a ridiculous and scorching vision of a world in which God Himself would never understand, never take her with full seriousness. Then, at one particular corner of the gooseberry patch, the change came.

    What awaited her there was serious to the degree of sorrow and beyond. There was no form nor sound. The mould under the bushes, the moss on the path, and the little brick border were not visibly changed. But they were changed. A boundary had been crossed. She had come into a world, or into a Person, or into the presence of a Person. Something expectant, patient, inexorable, met her with no veil or protection between. In the closeness of that contact she perceived at once that the Director's words had been entirely misleading. This demand which now pressed upon her was not, even by analogy, like any other demand. It was the origin of all right demands and contained them. In its light you could understand them:

    but from them you could know nothing of it. There was nothing, and never had been anything, like this. And now there was nothing except this. Yet also, everything had been like this: only by being like this had anything existed. In this height and depth and breadth the little idea of herself which she had hitherto called me dropped down and vanished, unfluttering, into bottomless distance, like a bird in space without air. The name me was the name of a being whose existence she had never suspected, a being that did not yet fully exist but which was demanded. . It was a person (not the person she had thought) yet also a thing-a made thing, made to please Another and in Him to please all others-a thing being made at this very moment, without its choice, in a shape it had never dreamed of. And the making went on amidst a kind of splendour or sorrow or both, whereof she could not tell whether it was in the moulding hands or in the kneaded lump.

    Words take too long. To be aware of all this and to know that it had already gone made one single experience. It was revealed only in its departure. The largest thing that had ever happened to her had, apparently, found room for itself in a moment of time too short to be called time at all. Her hand closed on nothing but a memory, and as it closed, without an instant's pause, the voices of those who have not joy rose howling and chattering from every corner of her being.

    "Take care. Draw back. Keep your head. Don't commit yourself," they said. And then more subtly, from another quarter, "You have had a religious experience. This is very interesting. Not everyone does. How much better you will now understand the seventeenth-century poets!" Or from a third direction, more sweetly, "Go on. Try to get it again. It will please the Director."

    But her defences had been captured, and these counterattacks were unsuccessful.

    CHAPTER FIFTEEN

    THE DESCENT OF THE GODS

    ALL the house at St. Anne's was empty, but for two rooms. In the kitchen, drawn a little closer than usual about the fire and with the shutters closed, sat Dimble and MacPhee and Denniston and the women. Removed from them by many a long vacancy of stair and passage, the Pendragon and Merlin were together in the Blue Room.

    If anyone had gone up to the lobby outside the Blue Room, he would have found something other than fear that barred his way-an almost physical resistance. If he had succeeded in forcing his way forward against it, he would have come into a region of tingling sounds that were clearly not voices though they had articulation: and if the passage were quite dark he would probably have seen a faint light, not like fire or moon, under the Director's door. I do not think he could have reached the door itself unbidden. Already the whole house would have seemed to him to be tilting and plunging like a ship in a Bay of Biscay gale. He would have been horribly compelled to feel this earth not as the base of the universe but as a ball spinning and rolling onwards, both at delirious speed, and not through emptiness but through some densely inhabited and intricately structured medium. He would have known sensuously, until his outraged senses forsook him, that the visitants in that room were in it not because they were at rest but because they glanced and wheeled through the packed reality of heaven (which men call empty space) to keep their beams upon this spot of the moving earth's hide.

    The Druid and Ransom had begun to wait for these visitors soon after sundown. Ransom was on his sofa. Merlin sat beside him, his hands clasped, his body a little bent forward. Sometimes a drop of sweat trickled coldly down his grey cheek. He had at first addressed himself to kneel, but Ransom forbade him. "See thou do it not!" he had said. "Have you forgotten that they are our fellow-servants?" The windows were uncurtained, and all the light that there was in the room came thence: frosty red when they began their waiting, but later star-lit.

    Long before anything happened in the Blue Room the party in the kitchen had made their ten-o'clock tea. It was while they sat drinking it that the change occurred. Up till now they had instinctively been talking in subdued voices, as children talk in a room where their elders are busied about some august incomprehensible matter, a funeral, or the reading of a will. Now of a sudden they all began talking loudly at once, each, not contentiously but delightedly, interrupting the others. A stranger coming into the kitchen would have thought they were drunk, not soddenly but gaily drunk: would have seen heads bent close together, eyes dancing, an excited wealth of gesture. What they said, none of the party could afterwards remember. Dimble maintained that they had been chiefly engaged in making puns. MacPhee denied that he had ever, even that night, made a pun, but all agreed that they had been extraordinarily witty. If not plays upon words, yet certainly plays upon thoughts, paradoxes, fancies, anecdotes, theories laughingly advanced, yet, on consideration, well worth taking seriously, had flowed from them and over them with dazzling prodigality. Even Ivy forgot her great sorrow. Mother Dimble always remembered Denniston and her husband as they had stood, one on each side of the fireplace, in a g*y intellectual duel, each capping the other, each rising above the other, up and up, like birds or aeroplanes in combat. Never in her life had she heard such talk-such eloquence, such toppling structures of double meaning, such sky-rockets of metaphor and allusion.

    A moment after that and they were all silent. Calm fell, as suddenly as when one goes out of the wind behind a wall. They sat staring upon one another, tired and a little self-conscious.

    Upstairs this first change had had a different operation. There came an instant at which both men braced themselves. Ransom gripped the side of his sofa: Merlin set his teeth. A rod of coloured light, whose colour no man can name or picture, darted between them: no more to see than that, but seeing was the least part of their experience. Quick agitation seized them: a kind of boiling and bubbling in mind and heart which shook their bodies also. It went to a rhythm of such fierce speed that they feared their sanity must be shaken into a thousand fragments. And then it seemed that this had actually happened. But it did not matter: for all the fragments -needle-pointed desires, brisk merriments, lynx-eyed thoughts-went rolling to and fro like glittering drops and reunited themselves. It was well that both men had some knowledge of poetry. The doubling, splitting, and recombining of thoughts which now went on in them would have been unendurable for one whom that art had not already instructed in the counterpoint of the mind, the mastery of doubled and trebled vision. For Ransom, whose study had been for many years in the realm of words, it was heavenly pleasure. He found himself sitting within the very heart of language, in the white-hot furnace of essential speech. All fact was broken, splashed into cataracts, caught, turned inside out, kneaded, and reborn as meaning. For the lord of Meaning himself, the herald, the messenger, the slayer of Argus, was with them: the angel that spins nearest the sun, Viritrilbia, whom men call Mercury and Thoth.

    Down in the kitchen drowsiness stole over them after the orgy of speaking had come to an end. Jane, having nearly fallen asleep, was startled by her book falling from her hand, and looked about her. How warm it was . . . how comfortable and familiar. She had always liked wood fires, but to-night the smell of the logs seemed more than ordinarily sweet. She began to think it was sweeter than it could possibly be, that a smell of burning cedar or of incense pervaded the room. It thickened. Fragrant names hovered in her mind- nard and cassia's balmy smells and all Arabia breathing from a box: even something more subtly sweet, perhaps maddening-why not forbidden?-but she knew it was commanded. She was too drowsy to think deeply how this could be. The Dimbles were talking together, but in so low a voice that the rest could not hear. Their faces appeared to her transfigured. She could no longer see that they were old-only mature, like ripe fields in August, serene and golden with the tranquillity of fulfilled desire. On her other side, Arthur said something in Camilla's ear. There too . . . but as the warmth and sweetness of that rich air now fully mastered her brain, she could hardly bear to look on them: not through envy (that thought was far away) but because a sort of brightness flowed from them that dazzled her, as if the god and goddess in them burned through their bodies and through their clothes and shone before her in a young double-natured na**dness of rose-red spirit that overcame her. And all about them danced (as she half saw) not the gross and ridiculous dwarfs which she had seen that afternoon but grave and ardent spirits, bright winged, their boyish shapes smooth and slender like ivory rods.

    In the Blue Room also Ransom and Merlin felt about this time that the temperature had risen. The windows, they did not see how or when, had swung open; but the temperature did not drop, for it was from without that the warmth came. Through the bare branches, across the ground which was once more stiffening with frost, a summer breeze was blowing into the room, but the breeze of such a summer as England never has. Laden like heavy barges that glide nearly gunwale under, laden so heavily you would have thought it could not move, laden with ponderous fragrance of night-scented flowers, sticky gums, groves that drop odours, and with cool savour of midnight fruit, it stirred the curtains, it lifted a letter that lay on the table, it lifted the hair which had a moment before been plastered on Merlin's forehead. The room was rocking. They were afloat. A tingling and shivering as of foam and breaking bubbles ran over their flesh. Tears ran down Ransom's cheeks. He alone knew from what seas and what islands that breeze blew. Merlin did not: but in him also the inconsolable wound with which man is born waked and ached at this touching. Low syllables of prehistoric Celtic self-pity murmured from his lips. These yearnings and fondlings were, however, only the forerunners of the goddess. As the whole of her virtue seized, focused, and held that spot of the rolling earth in her long beam, something harder, shriller, more perilously ecstatic, came out of the centre of all the softness. Both the humans trembled -Merlin because he did not know what was coming, Ransom because he knew. And now it came. It was fiery, sharp, bright, and ruthless, ready to kill, ready to die, outspeeding light: it was Charity, not as mortals imagine it, not even as it has been humanised for them since the Incarnation of the Word, but the trans-lunary virtue, fallen upon them direct from the Third Heaven, unmitigated. They were blinded, scorched. They thought it would burn their bones. They could not bear that it should continue. They could not bear that it should cease. So Perelandra, triumphant among planets, whom men call Venus, came and was with them in the room.

    Down in the kitchen MacPhee sharply drew back his chair so that it grated on the tiled floor like a pencil squeaking on a slate. "Man!" he exclaimed, " it's a shame for us to be sitting here looking at the fire. If the Director hadn't got a game leg himself, I'll bet you he'd have found some other way for us to go to work."

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