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  • Home > C.S.Lewis > Cosmic > That Hideous Strength (Page 37)     
    That Hideous Strength(Cosmic #3) by C.S.Lewis
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    "In the name of Hell, where's all them beasts coming from?" he said.

    "They are the liberated prisoners from Belbury," said the Director. "Perelandra is all about us, and Man is no longer isolated. We are now as we ought to be- between the angels who are our elder brothers and the beasts who are our jesters, servants, and playfellows."

    Whatever MacPhee was attempting to say in reply was drowned by an ear-splitting noise from beyond the window.

    "Elephants! Two of them," said Jane weakly. "Oh, the celery! And the rose beds!"

    "By your leave, Mr. Director," said MacPhee sternly, "I'll just draw these curtains. You seem to forget there are ladies present."

    "No," said Grace Ironwood in a voice as strong as his, " there will be nothing unfit for anyone to see. Draw them wider. How light it is! Brighter than moonlight: almost brighter than day. A great dome of light stands over the whole garden. Look! The elephants are dancing. How high they lift their feet. And they go round and round. How ceremonial they are! It is like a minuet of giants."

    "They are moving away," said Camilla.

    "They will be as private as human lovers," said the Director. "They are not common beasts."

    "I think," said MacPhee, "I'll away down to my office and cast some accounts. There'd better be one man about the place keep his head. Good night, ladies."

    "Good-bye, MacPhee," said Ransom.

    "No, no," said MacPhee, standing well back but extending his hand. "You'll speak none of your blessings over me. If ever I take to religion, it won't be your kind. My uncle was Moderator of the General Assembly. . But there's my hand. What you and I have seen together . . . but no matter for that. You . . . you and I ... but there are the ladies crying. I'm away this minute. Why would a man want to lengthen it? God bless you. Dr. Ransom. Ladies, I'll wish you a good night."

    "Open all the windows," said Ransom. "The vessel in which I must ride is now almost within the air of this World."

    "It is growing brighter every minute," said Denniston.

    "Can we be with you to the very end?" said Jane.

    "Child," said the Director, " you should not stay till then."

    "Why, sir?"

    "You are waited for."

    "Me, sir?"

    "Yes. Your husband is waiting for you in the lodge. It was your own marriage chamber that you prepared. Should you not go to him?"

    "Must I go now?"

    "If you leave the decision with me, it is now that I would send you."

    "Then I will go, sir. But-but--am I a bear or a hedgehog?"

    "More. But not less. Go in obedience and you will find love. You will have no more dreams. Have children instead. Urendi Maleldil."

    Long before he reached St. Anne's, Mark had realised that either he himself or else the world about him was in a strange condition. The journey took longer than he expected, but that was perhaps accounted for by one or two mistakes that he made. Much harder to explain was the horror of light to the west, over Edgestow, and the throbbings and bouncings of the earth. Then came sudden warmth and torrents of melted snow. Everything became a mist: and then, as the lights in the west vanished, this mist grew softly luminous in a different place-above him, as though the light rested on St. Anne's. He had the curious impression that things of very diverse shapes and sizes were slipping past him in the haze-animals, he thought. But in spite of all perplexities, he was conscious of extreme well-being. His mind was ill at ease, but as for his body-health and youth and pleasure seemed to be blowing towards him from the cloudy light upon the hill.

    His mind was not at ease. He knew that he was going to meet Jane, and something was beginning to happen to him which ought to have happened to him far earlier. That same laboratory outlook upon love which had forestalled in Jane the humility of a wife, had forestalled in him, during what passed for courtship, the humility of a lover. Or if there had ever arisen in him at some wiser moment the sense of"Beauty too rich for us, for earth too dear," he had put it away from him. Now, belated, after all favours had been conceded, the unexpected misgiving was coming over him. He tried to shake it off. They were married, weren't they? And they were sensible, modern people? What could be more natural, more ordinary?

    But then certain moments of unforgettable failure in their short married life rose in his imagination. He had thought often enough of what he called Jane's " moods ".

    This time at last he thought of his own clumsy importunity. Inch by inch all the lout and clod-hopper in him was revealed to his own reluctant inspection; the coarse male boor blundering in where great lovers, knights, and poets would have feared to tread. How had he dared? Her driven snow, her sacrosanctity, the very style of all her movements . . . how had he dared? The very thoughts that crossed her face from moment to moment, all of them beyond his reach, made (had he but had the wit to see it) a hedge about her which such as he should never have had the temerity to pass.

    All this, which should have been uneasy joy, was torment to him, for it came too late. He was discovering the hedge after he had plucked the rose. How had he dared? And who that understood could forgive him? He knew now what he must look like in the eyes of her friends and equals. Seeing that picture, he grew hot to the forehead.

    Well, he would release her. She would be glad to be rid of him. It would now almost have shocked him to believe otherwise. Ladies in some noble and spacious room, discoursing in cool ladyhood together, with exquisite gravity or silver laughter-how should they not be glad when the intruder had gone?-the loud-voiced or tongue-tied creature, all boots and hands, whose true place was in the stable. What he had called her coldness seemed now to be her patience. Whereof the memory scalded.

    Suddenly the diffused light brightened and flushed. He looked up and perceived a great lady standing by a doorway in a wall. It was not Jane, not like Jane. It was larger, almost gigantic. It was not human, though it was like a woman divinely tall, part na**d, part wrapped in a flame-coloured robe. Light came from it. It was opening the door for him. He did not dare disobey. ("Surely," he thought, "I must have died ") and he went in: found himself in some place of sweet smells and bright fires, with food and wine and a rich bed.

    And Jane went out of the big house with the Director's kiss upon her lips and his words in her ears, across the wet lawn (birds were everywhere) and down all the time, down to the lodge, descending the ladder of humility. First she thought of the Director, then she thought of Maleldil. And she thought of children, and of pain and death. And she thought of Mark and of all his sufferings. She came to the lodge and was surprised to see it dark and the door shut. As she stood with one hand on the latch, a thought came to her. How if Mark did not want her-not to-night, nor in that way, nor any time, nor in any way? How if Mark were not there, after all ? Then she noticed that the window was open. Clothes were piled on a chair inside the room so carelessly that they lay over the sill; the sleeve of a shirt-Mark's shirt-even hung over down the outside wall. And in all this damp, too. How like Mark! Obviously it was time she went in.

    The End.

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