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  • Home > C.S.Lewis > Cosmic > That Hideous Strength (Page 35)     
    That Hideous Strength(Cosmic #3) by C.S.Lewis
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    "Something quiet," she said. "I'm an old woman, and I don't want to be ridiculous."

    "This wouldn't do at all," said Camilla, walking down the long row of hanging splendours, herself like a meteor as she passed. "That's lovely," she said, "but not for you. And oh!-look at that."

    "Here! Oh, do come and look! Come here," cried Ivy.

    "Oh! Yes, yes, indeed," said Jane.

    "Certainly," said Camilla. "Put it on. Mother Dimble," said Ivy. "You know you got to."It was of that almost tyrannous flame colour which Jane had seen in her vision down in the lodge, but differently cut, with fur about the great copper brooch that clasped the throat, with long sleeves and hangings from them. And there went with it a many-cornered cap. And they had no sooner clasped the robe than all were astonished. For now this provincial wife, this respectable and barren woman with grey hair and double chin, stood before them, not to be mistaken, as a kind of priestess or sybil, the servant of some prehistoric goddess of fertility- an old tribal matriarch, mother of mothers, grave, formidable, and august. A long staff, curiously carved as if a snake twined up it, was apparently part of the costume: they put it in her hand.

    "Am I awful?" said Mother Dimble, looking in turn at the three silent faces.

    Jane took up the old lady's hand and kissed it. "Darling," she said, "aweful, in the old sense, is just what you do look."

    "What are the men going to wear?" asked Camilla suddenly.

    "They can't very well go in fancy dress, can they?" said Ivy. "Not if they're cooking and bringing things in and out all the time. And I must say if this is to be the last night and all I do think we ought to have done the dinner, anyway. Let them do as they like about the wine. And I don't believe Mr. MacPhee ever roasted a bird in his life, whatever he says."

    "You needn't be in the least worried about the dinner, girls," said Mother Dimble. "He will do it very well. Let's go and enjoy ourselves. How very warm it is in here."

    " 's lovely," said Ivy.

    At that moment the whole room shook from end to end.

    "What on earth's that?" said Jane.

    "If the war was still on I'd have said it was a bomb," said Ivy.

    "Come and look," said Camilla, who had regained her composure sooner than any of the others and was now at the window which looked west towards the valley of the Wynd. "Oh, look!" she said again. "No. It's not fire. And it's not searchlights. And it's not forked lightning. Ugh! . . . there's another shock. And there . . . Look at that. It's as bright as day there beyond the church. What am I talking about, it's only three o'clock. It's brighter than day. And the heat!"

    "It has begun," said Mother Dimble.

    At about the same time that morning when Mark had climbed into the lorry, Feverstone, not much hurt but a good deal shaken, climbed out of the stolen car. That car had ended its course upside down in a deep ditch, and Feverstone reflected that things might have been worse- it might have been his own car. The snow was deep in the ditch, and he was very wet. As he stood up and looked about him he saw that he was not alone. A tall and massive figure in a black cassock was before him, about five yards distant. Its back was towards him, and it was already walking steadily away. "Hi!" shouted Feverstone. The other turned and looked at him in silence for a second or two; then it resumed its walk. Feverstone felt he had never liked the look of anyone less. Nor could he, in his broken and soaking pumps, follow the four-mile-an-hour stride of those booted feet. The black figure came to a gate, there stopped and made a whinnying noise. He was apparently talking to a horse across the gate. Next moment (Feverstone did not quite see how it happened) the man was over the gate and on the horse's back and off at a canter across a wide field that rose milk-white to the skyline.

    Feverstone had no idea where he was, but clearly the first thing to do was to reach a road. It took him much longer than he expected. It was not freezing now, and deep puddles lay hidden beneath the snow in many places. At the bottom of the first hill he came to such a morass that he was driven to abandon the track and try striking across the fields. The decision was fatal. It kept him for two hours looking for gaps in hedges and trying to reach things that looked like roads from a distance but turned out to be nothing of the sort. He had always hated the country and always hated weather, and he was not at any time fond of walking.

    Near twelve o'clock he found a road. Here, thank heavens, there was a fair amount of traffic, both cars and pedestrians, all going one way. The first three cars took no notice of his signals. The fourth stopped. "Quick, in you get," said the driver.

    "Going to Edgestow?" asked Feverstone, his hand on the door.

    "Good Lord, no!" said the other. "There's Edgestow!" -and he pointed behind him-"if you want to go there." The man seemed surprised and excited.

    There was nothing for it but walking. Every vehicle was going away from Edgestow, none going towards it. We have, naturally, hardly any first-hand evidence for what happened in Edgestow that afternoon and evening. But we have plenty of stories as to how so many people came to leave it at the last moment. Behind all the exaggerations there remains the undoubted truth that a quite astonishing number of citizens did. One had had a message from a dying father; another had decided quite suddenly, and he couldn't just say why, to go and take a little holiday; another went because the pipes in his house had been burst by the frost and he thought he might as well go away till they were put right. Not a few had gone because of some trivial event which seemed to them an omen-a dream, a broken looking-glass, tea-leaves in a cup. Omens of a more ancient kind had also revived during this crisis. One had heard his donkey, another her cat, say "as clear as clear ", "Go away." And hundreds were still leaving for the old reason-because their houses had been taken from them, their livelihood destroyed, and their liberties threatened by the Institutional Police.

    It was at about four o'clock that Feverstone found himself flung on his face. That was the first shock. They continued, increasing in frequency, during the hours that followed-horrible shudderings, and soon heavings, of the earth, and a growing murmur of widespread subterranean noise. The temperature began to rise. Snow was disappearing in every direction, and at times he was knee-deep in water. Haze from the melting snow filled the air. When he reached the brow of the last steep descent into Edgestow he could see nothing of the city: only fog through which extraordinary coruscations of light came up to him. Another shock sent him sprawling. He now decided not to go down: he would turn and follow the traffic.. work over to the railway line and try to get to London.

    He was already a few paces down the hill when he made this decision, and he turned at once. But instead of going up he found he was still descending. As if he were in shale on a mountain slope, the ground slipped away backwards where he trod on it. When he arrested his descent he was thirty yards lower. He began again. This time he was flung off his feet, rolled head over heels, stones, earth, grass, and water pouring over him and round him in riotous confusion. It was as when a great wave overtakes you while you are bathing, but this time it was an earth wave. He got to his feet once again; set his face to the hill. Behind him the valley seemed to have turned into Hell. The pit of fog had been ignited and burned with blinding violet flame, water was roaring somewhere, buildings crashing, mobs shouting. The hill in front of him was in ruins- no trace of road, hedge, or field, only a cataract of loose raw earth. It was also far steeper than it had been. His mouth and hair and nostrils were full of earth. The slope was growing steeper as he looked at it. The ridge heaved up and up. Then the whole wave of earth rose, arched, trembled, and with all its weight and noise poured down on him.

    "Why Logres, sir?" said Camilla.

    Dinner was over at St. Anne's and they sat at their wine in a circle about the dining room fire, all diversely splendid: Ransom crowned, at the right of the hearth, Grace Ironwood in black and silver opposite him. It was so warm that they had let the fire burn low, and in the candlelight the court dresses seemed to glow of themselves.

    "Tell them, Dimble," said Ransom. "I will not talk much from now on."

    "Are you tired, sir?" said Grace. "Is the pain bad?"

    "No, Grace," he replied, " it isn't that. But now that it's so very nearly time for me to go, all this begins to feel like a dream. A happy dream, you understand: all of it, even the pain. I want to taste every drop. I feel as though it would be dissolved if I talked much."

    "I suppose you got to go, sir?" said Ivy.

    "My dear," said he, " what else is there to do? I have not grown a day or an hour older since I came back from Perelandra. There is no natural death to look forward to. The wound will only be healed in the world where it was got."

    "All this has the. disadvantage of being clean contrary to the observed laws of Nature," observed MacPhee.

    "It is not contrary to the laws of Nature," said Grace Ironwood. "The laws of the universe are never broken. Your mistake is to think that the little regularities we have observed on one planet for a few hundred years are the real unbreakable laws; whereas they are only the remote results which the true laws bring about more often than not."

    "And that," said Denniston, " is why nothing in Nature is quite regular. There are always exceptions."

    "Not many exceptions to the law of death have come my way," observed MacPhee.

    "And how," said Grace with much emphasis, " how should you expect to be there on more than one such occasion ? Were you a friend of Arthur's or Barbarossa's ? Did you know Enoch or Elijah?"

    "Do you mean," said Jane, " that the Director . . . the Pendragon ... is going where they went?"

    "He will be with Arthur, certainly," said Dimble. "I can't answer for the rest. There are people who have never died. We do not yet know why. We know a little more than we did about the How. There are many places in the universe where an organism can last practically for ever. Where Arthur is, we know."

    "Where?"said Camilla.

    "In the Third Heaven, in Perelandra. In Aphallin, the distant island. Perhaps alone . . .?" He hesitated and looked at Ransom, who shook his head.

    "And that is where Logres comes in, is it?" said Camilla. "Because he will be with Arthur?"

    "It all began," said Dimble, " when we discovered that the Arthurian story is mostly true history. There was a moment in the sixth century when something that is always trying to break through into this country nearly succeeded. Logres was our name for it-it will do as well as another. And then . . . gradually we began to see all English history in a new way. We discovered the haunting."

    "What haunting?" asked Camilla.

    "How something we may call Britain is always haunted by something we may call Logres. Haven't you noticed that we are two countries ? After every Arthur, a Mordred; behind every Milton, a Cromwell: a nation of poets, a nation of shopkeepers; the home of Sidney-and of Cecil Rhodes. Is it any wonder they call us hypocrites? But what they mistake for hypocrisy is really the struggle between Logres and Britain."

    He paused and took a sip of wine before proceeding. "It was long afterwards," he said, "after the Director had returned from the Third Heaven, that we were told a little more.. Ransom was summoned to the bedside of an old man then dying in Cumberland. His name would mean nothing to you if I told it. That man was the Pendragon, the successor of Arthur and Uther and Cassibelaun. Then we learned the truth. There has been a secret Logres in the very heart of Britain all these years; an unbroken succession of Pendragons. That old man was the seventy-eighth from Arthur: our Director received from him the office and the blessing; to-morrow we shall know, or to-night, who is to be the eightieth. Some of the Pen-dragons are well known to history, though not under that name. Others you have never heard of. But in every age they and the little Logres which gathered round them have been the fingers which gave the tiny shove or the almost imperceptible pull, to prod England out of the drunken sleep or to draw her back from the final outrage into which Britain tempted her."

    "This new history of yours," said MacPhee, bit lacking in documents."

    "It has plenty," said Dimble with a smile. But you do not know the language they're written in. When the history of these last few months comes to be written in your language, and printed, and taught in schools, there will be no mention in it of you and me, nor of Merlin and the Pendragon and the Planets. And yet in these months Britain rebelled most dangerously against Logres and was defeated only just in time."

    "Aye," said MacPhee, "and it could be right good history without mentioning you and me or most of those present. I'd be greatly obliged if anyone would tell me what we have done-always apart from feeding the pigs and raising some very decent vegetables."

    "You have done what was required of you," said the Director. "You have obeyed and waited. It will often happen like that. But don't jump to conclusions. You may have plenty of work to do before a month is passed. Britain has lost a battle, but she will rise again."

    "So that, meanwhile, is England," said Mother Dimble. "Just this swaying to and fro between Logres and Britain?"

    "Yes," said her husband. "Don't you feel it? The very quality of England. If we've got an ass's head it is by walking in a fairy wood. We've heard something better than we can do, but can't quite forget it ... can't you see it in everything English-a kind of awkward grace, a humble, humorous incompleteness? How right Sam Weller was when he called Mr. Pickwick an angel in gaiters ! Everything here is either better or worse than---"

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