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  • Home > C.S.Lewis > Cosmic > That Hideous Strength (Page 31)     
    That Hideous Strength(Cosmic #3) by C.S.Lewis
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    "Where are you taking us at the moment?"

    "To my own apartments. The request was that we should provide our guest with some clothes."

    "There was no request. We were ordered." The Deputy Director made no reply. When both men were in his bedroom and the door was shut, Frost said, -"You do not seem to realise the dangers. We must take into account the possibility that the man is not Merlinus. And if he is not, then the priest knows things he ought not to know. And where did you get the priest from?"

    "I think that is the kind of shirt which would be most suitable," said Wither, laying it on the bed. "The suits are in here. The . . . ah . . . clerical personage said he had come in answer to our advertisement."

    "What do you propose to do?"

    "We will, of course, consult the Head at once. I use that term, you understand, purely for convenience."

    "But how can you? Have you forgotten that this is the night of the inaugural banquet, and that Jules is coming down? He may be here in an hour. You will be dancing attendance on him till midnight."

    Wither had indeed forgotten. But the realisation of this troubled him more than it would have troubled another. It was like the first breath of winter-the first crack in that great secondary self which he had built up to carry on the business of living while he floated far away on the frontiers of ghosthood.

    "You have to consider at once," said Frost, " what to do with these two men this very evening."

    "Which reminds me that we have already left them alone-and with Studdock, too-for over ten minutes. We must go back."

    "And without a plan?" enquired Frost.

    "We must be guided by circumstances," said Wither.

    They were greeted on their return by a babble of imploring Latin from the man in the cassock. "Let me go," he said; "I entreat you do not do violence to a harmless old man. I will tell nothing-God forgive me-but I cannot stay here. This man who says he is Merlinus come back from the dead-he is a diabolist, a worker of infernal miracles. Look! Look what he did to the poor young man." He pointed to where Mark lay unconscious in his chair.

    "Silence!" said Frost in the same language, "and listen. If you do what you are told, no harm will come to you. If you do not, you will be destroyed."

    The man whimpered.

    Suddenly, not as if he wished to but as if he were a machine that had been worked, Frost kicked him. "Get on," he said.

    The end of it was that the tramp was washed and dressed. When this had been done, the man in the cassock said, "He is saying that he must now be taken through your house and shown the secrets."

    "Tell him," said Wither, " that it will be a very great pleasure and privilege--"

    But here the tramp spoke again. "He says," translated the big man, " first that he must see the Head and the beasts and the criminals who are being tormented. Secondly, that he will go with one of you alone. With you, sir," and here he turned to Wither. "I will allow no such arrangement," said Frost in English.

    "My dear Frost," said Wither, " this is hardly the moment . . . and one of us must be free to meet Jules."

    Wither thought that Frost had intended to say something but had grown afraid. In reality, Frost found it impossible to remember any words. Perhaps it was due to the shifts from Latin to English which had been going on. Nothing but nonsense syllables would occur to his mind. He had long known that his intercourse with the beings he called macrobes might have effects on his psychology which he could not predict. In a dim way the possibility of complete destruction was never out of his thoughts. Now, it seemed to be descending on him. He reminded himself that fear was only a chemical phenomenon. For the moment, clearly, he must step out of the struggle, come to himself, and make a new start later in the evening. For, of course, this could not be final. At worst it could only be the first hint of the end. Probably he had years of work before him. He would outlast Wither. He stood aside, and the tramp, accompanied by the real Merlin and the Deputy Director, left the room.

    Frost had been right in thinking that the aphasia would be only temporary. As soon as they were alone he found no difficulty in saying, as he shook Mark by the shoulder, "Get up. What do you mean by sleeping here? Come with me to the Objective Room."

    Before proceeding to their tour of inspection Merlin demanded robes for the tramp, and Wither dressed him as a Doctor of Philosophy of the University of Edgestow. Thus arrayed, walking with eyes half shut, the bewildered tinker was led upstairs and downstairs and through the zoo and into the cells. Now and then his face underwent a spasm as if he were trying to say something; but he never succeeded in producing any words except when the real Merlin asked him a question and fixed him with his.

    Meanwhile, in the Objective Room, something like a crisis had developed. As soon as they arrived there Mark saw that the table had been drawn back. On the floor lay a crucifix, almost life-size, a work in the Spanish tradition, ghastly and realistic. "We have half an hour to pursue our exercises," said Frost. Then he instructed Mark to trample on it and insult it in other ways.

    Now, whereas Jane had abandoned Christianity in early childhood, along with fairies and Santa Claus, Mark had never believed it at all. At this moment, therefore, it crossed his mind for the first time that there might conceivably be something in it. Frost, who was watching him carefully, knew perfectly well that this might be the result of the present experiment. But he had no choice. Whether he wished it or not, this sort of thing was part of the initiation.

    "But, look here," said Mark.

    "What is it?" said Frost. "Pray be quick."

    "This," said Mark, " this is all surely a pure superstition."

    "Well?"

    "Well, if so, what is there objective about stamping on the face? Isn't it just as subjective to spit on a thing like this as to worship it?"

    "That is superficial. If you had been brought up in a non-Christian society, you would not be asked to do this. Of course it is a superstition: but it is that particular superstition which has pressed upon our society for many centuries. It can be experimentally shown that it still forms a dominant system in the subconscious of many whose conscious thought appears to be wholly liberated. An explicit action in the reverse direction is therefore a necessary step towards complete objectivity. We find in practice that it cannot be dispensed with."

    Mark was surprised at the emotions he was undergoing. He did not regard the image with anything like a religious feeling. Most emphatically it did not belong to that idea of the Straight or Normal which had, for the last few days, been his support. The horrible vigour of its realism was, indeed, as remote from that Idea as anything else in the room. That was one source of his reluctance. To insult even a carved image of such agony seemed abominable. But it was not the only source. With the introduction of this Christian symbol the whole situation had altered, and become incalculable. His simple antithesis of the Normal and the Diseased had obviously failed to take something into account. Why was the crucifix there? Why were more than half the poison-pictures religious?"Pray make haste," said Frost. He was on the verge of obeying and getting the whole silly business over, when the defencelessness of the figure deterred him. Not because its hands were nailed and helpless, but because they were only made of wood and therefore even more helpless, because the thing, for all its realism, was inanimate and could not in any way hit back, he paused. The unretaliating face of a doll-one of Myrtle's dolls-which he had pulled to pieces in boyhood had affected him in the same way.

    "What are you waiting for, Mr. Studdock?" said Frost. Mark was aware of rising danger. Obviously, if he disobeyed, his last chance of getting out of Belbury alive might be gone. Even of getting out of this room. He was himself, he felt, as helpless as the wooden Christ. As he thought this, he found himself looking at the crucifix in a new way -neither as a piece of wood nor a monument of superstition but as a bit of history. Christianity was nonsense, but one did not doubt that the man had lived and had been executed thus by the Belbury of those days. And that, as he suddenly saw, explained why this image, though not itself an image of the Straight or Normal, was yet in opposition to crooked Belbury. It was a picture of what happened when the Crooked met the Straight-what would happen to him if he remained straight. It was, in a more emphatic sense than he had understood, a cross.

    "Do you intend to go on with the training or not?" said Frost. His eye was on the time. He knew that Jules must have very nearly reached Belbury, and that he might be interrupted at any moment. He had chosen this time for this stage in Mark's initiation partly in obedience to an unexplained impulse (such impulses grew more frequent with him every day), but partly because he wished, in the uncertain situation which had now arisen, to secure Mark at once. He and Wither and possibly (by now) Straik were the only full initiates in the N.I.C.E. On them lay the danger of making any false step in dealing with the man who claimed to be Merlin and with his mysterious interpreter. For him who took the right steps there was a chance of ousting all the others. He knew that Wither was waiting eagerly for any slip on his own part. Hence it seemed to him of the utmost importance to bring Mark as soon as possible beyond that point after which there is no return, and the disciple's allegiance both to the macrobes and to the teacher who has initiated him becomes a matter of psychological necessity.

    "Do you not hear what I am saying?" he asked. Mark was thinking, and thinking hard. Christianity was a fable. It would be ridiculous to die for a religion one did not believe. This Man himself, on that very cross, had discovered it to be a fable, and had died complaining that the God in whom he trusted had forsaken him-had, in fact, found the universe a cheat. But this raised a question that Mark had never thought of before. Was that the moment at which to turn against the Man? If the universe was a cheat, was that a good reason for joining its side? Supposing the Straight was utterly powerless, always and everywhere certain to be mocked, tortured, and finally killed by the Crooked, what then? Why not go down with the ship? He began to be frightened by the very fact that his fears seemed to have vanished. They had been a safeguard . . . they had prevented him, all his life, from making mad decisions like that which he was now making as he turned to Frost and said, "It's all bloody nonsense, and I'm damned if I do any such thing."

    When he said this he had no idea what might happen next. Then he saw that Frost was listening, and he began to listen himself. A moment later the door opened. The room seemed suddenly full of people-a man in a red gown (Mark did not recognise the tramp) and the huge man in the black gown and Wither.

    In the great drawing-room at Belbury a singularly uncomfortable party was by now assembled. Horace Jules, Director of the N.I.C.E., had arrived about half an hour before. Conversation was hanging fire.

    Conversation with Mr. Jules was always difficult, because he insisted on regarding himself not as a figure-head but as the real Director of the Institute, and even as the source of most of its ideas. And since, in fact, any science he knew was that taught him at the University of London over fifty years ago, it was not, in fact, possible to talk to him about most of the things the Institute was really doing. That was why the absence of the Deputy Director was so disastrous; Wither alone was master of a conversational style that exactly suited Jules.

    Jules was a cockney, a very little man, whose legs were so short that he had unkindly been compared to a duck. He had a turned-up nose and a face in which some original bonhomie had been much interfered with by years of good living and conceit. His novels had first raised him to fame and affluence; later, as editor of the weekly called We Want to Know, he had become such a power in the country that his name was really necessary to the N.I.C.E.

    "And as I said to the Archbishop," observed Jules, " you may not know, my lord, said I, that modern research shows the temple at Jerusalem to have been about the size of an English village church."

    "God!" said Feverstone to himself, where he stood silent on the fringes of the group.

    "Have a little more sherry. Director," said Miss Hard-castle.

    "Well, I don't mind if I do," said Jules. "It's not at all bad sherry, though I think I could tell you of a place where we could get something better. And how are you getting on. Miss Hardcastle, with your reforms of our penal system?"

    "Making real headway," she replied. "I think--"

    "What I always say," remarked Jules, interrupting her, " is, why not treat crime like any other disease ? What you want to do is to put the man on the right lines-give him a fresh start-give him an interest in life. I dare say you've been reading a little address I gave at Northampton."

    "I agreed with you," said Miss Hardcastle. "That's right," said Jules. "I tell you who didn't, though. Old Hingest-and by the by, that was a queer business. You never caught the murderer, did you ? Very last time I met him one or two of us were talking about juvenile offenders, and do you know what he said? He said, ' The trouble with these courts for young criminals nowadays is that they're always binding them over when they ought to be bending them over.' Not bad, was it? Still, as Wither said-and, by the way, where is Wither?"

    "I think he should be here any moment now," said Miss Hardcastle.

    "I think," said Filostrato, " he have a breakdown with his car. He will be desolated, Mr. Director, not to have given you the welcome."

    "Oh, he needn't bother about that," said Jules, " though I did think he'd be here when I arrived. You're looking very well Filostrato. I'm following your work. I look upon you as one of the makers of mankind."

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