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  • Perelandra(Cosmic #2)(4) by C.S.Lewis
  • Then the months went past and grew to a year and a little more than a year, and we had raids and bad news and hopes deferred and all the earth became full of darkness and cruel habitations, till the night when Oyarsa came to me again. After that there was a journey in haste for Humphrey and me, standings in crowded corridors and waitings at small hours on windy platforms, and finally the moment when we stood in clear early sunlight in the little wilderness of deep weeds which Ransom's garden had now become and saw a black speck against the sunrise and then, almost silently, the casket had glided down between us. We flung ourselves upon it and had the lid off in about a minute and a half.

    "Good God! All smashed to bits," I cried at my first glance of the interior.

    "Wait a moment," said Humphrey. And as he spoke the figure in the coffin began to stir and then sat up, shaking off as it did so a mass of red things which had covered its head and shoulders and which I had momentarily mistaken for ruin and blood. As they streamed off him and were caught in the wind, I perceived them to be flowers. He blinked for a second or so, then called us by our names, gave each of us a hand, and stepped out on the grass.

    "How are you both?" he said. "You're looking rather knocked up."

    I was silent for a moment, astonished at the form which had risen from that narrow house - almost a new Ransom, glowing with health and rounded with muscle and seemingly ten years younger. In the old days he had been beginning to show a few grey hairs; but now the beard which swept his chest was pure gold.

    "Hullo, you've cut your foot," said Humphrey: and I saw now that Ransom was bleeding from the heel.

    "Ugh, it's cold down here," said Ransom. "I hope you've got the boiler going and some hot water - and some clothes."

    "Yes," said I, as we followed him into the house. "Humphrey thought of all that. I'm afraid I shouldn't have."

    Ransom was now in the bathroom, with the door open, veiled in clouds of steam, and Humphrey and I were talking to him from the landing. Our questions were more numerous than he could answer.

    "That idea of Schiaparelli's is all wrong," he shouted. "They have an ordinary day and right there," and "No, my heel doesn't hurt - or, at least, it's only just begun to," and "Thanks, any old clothes. Leave them on the chair," and "No, thanks. I don't somehow feel like bacon or eggs or anything of that kind. No fruit, you say? Oh well, no matter. Bread or porridge or something," and "I'll be down in five minutes now."

    He kept on asking if we were really all right and seemed to think we looked ill. I went down to get the breakfast, and Humphrey said he would stay and examine and dress the cut on Ransom's heel. When he rejoined me I was looking at one of the red petals which had come in the casket.

    "That's rather a beautiful flower," said I, handing it to him.

    "Yes," said Humphrey, studying it with the hands and eyes of a scientist. "What extraordinary delicacy! It makes an English violet seem like a coarse weed."

    "Let's put some of them in water."

    "Not much good. Look - it's withered already."

    "How do you think he is?"

    "Tip-top in general. But I don't quite like that heel. He says the haemorrhage has been going on for a long time."

    Ransom, joined us, fully dressed, and I poured out the tea. And all that day and far into the night he told us the story that follows.

    Chapter Three

    WHAT it is like to travel in a celestial coffin was a thing that Ransom never described. He said he couldn't. But odd hints about that journey have come out at one time or another when he was talking of quite different matters.

    According to his own account he was not what we call conscious, and yet at the same time the experience was a very positive one with a quality of its own. On one occasion, someone had been talking about 'seeing life' in the popular sense of knocking about the world and getting to know people, and B., who was present (and who is an Anthroposophist), said something I can't quite remember about 'seeing life' in a very different sense. I think he was referring to some system of meditation which claimed to make 'the form of Life itself' visible to the inner eye. At any rate Ransom let himself in for a long cross-examination by failing to conceal the fact that he attached some very definite idea to this. He even went so far under extreme pressure - as to say that life appeared to him, in that condition, as a 'coloured shape. Asked 'What colours?', he gave a curious look and could only say 'What colours! Yes, what colours!' But then he spoiled it all by adding, 'of course it wasn't colour at all really. I mean, not what we'd call colour,' and shutting up completely for the rest of the evening. Another hint came out when a sceptical friend of ours called McPhee was arguing against the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the human body. I was his victim at the moment, and he was pressing on me in his Scots way with such questions its "So you think you're going to have guts and palate for ever in a world where there'll be no eating, and genital organs in a world without copulation? Man, ye'll have a grand time of it!" when Ransom suddenly burst out with great excitement, "Oh, don't you see, you ass, that there's a difference between a transensuous life and a non-sensuous life?" That, of course, directed McPhee's fire to him. What emerged was that in Ransom's opinion the present functions and appetites of the body would disappear, not because they were atrophied but because they were, as he said 'engulfed'. He used the word 'Transexual', I remember, and began to hunt about for some similar words to apply to eating (after rejecting 'trans-gastronomic'), and since he was not the only philologist present, that diverted the conversation into different channels. But I am pretty sure he was thinking of something he had experienced on his voyage to Venus. But perhaps the most mysterious thing he ever said about it was this. I was, questioning him on the subject - which he doesn't often allow - and had incautiously said, "Of course I realise it's all rather too vague for you to put into words," when he took me up rather sharply, for such a patient man, by saying, "On the contrary, it is words that are vague. The reason why the thing can't be expressed is that it's too definite for language." And that is about all I can tell you of his journey. One thing is certain, that he came back from Venus even more changed than he had come back from Mars. But of course that may have been because of what happened to him after his landing.

    To that landing, as Ransom narrated it to me, I will now proceed. He seems to have been awakened (if that is the right word) from his indescribable celestial state by the sensation of falling - in other words, when he was near enough to Venus to feel Venus as something in the downward direction. The next thing he noticed was that he was very warm on one side and very cold on the other, though neither sensation was so extreme as to be really painful. Anyway, both were soon swallowed up in the prodigious white light from below which began to penetrate through the semi-opaque walls of the casket. This steadily increased and became distressing in spite of the fact that his eyes were protected. There is no doubt this was the albedo, the outer veil of very dense atmosphere with which Venus is surrounded and which reflects the sun's rays with intense power. For some obscure reason he was not conscious, as he had been on his approach to Mars, of his own rapidly increasing weight. When the white light was just about to become unbearable, it disappeared altogether, and very soon after the cold on his left side and the heat on his right began to decrease and to be replaced by an equable warmth. I take it he was now in the outer layer of the Perelandrian atmosphere at first in a pale, and later in a tinted, twilight. The prevailing colour, as far as he could see through the sides of the casket, was golden or coppery. By this time he must have been very near the surface of the planet, with the length of the casket at right angles to that surface - falling feet downwards like a man in a lift. The sensation of falling - helpless as he was and unable to move his arms - became frightening. Then suddenly there came a great green darkness, an unidentifiable noise - the first message from the new world - and a marked drop in temperature. He seemed now to have assumed a horizontal position and also, to his great surprise, to be moving not downwards but upwards; though, at the moment, he judged this to" be an illusion. All this time he must have been making faint, unconscious efforts to move his limbs, for now he suddenly found that the sides of his prison-house yielded to pressure. He was moving his limbs, encumbered with some viscous substance. Where was the casket? His sensations were very confused. Sometimes he seemed to be falling, sometimes to be soaring upwards, and then again to be moving in the horizontal plane. The viscous substance was white. There seemed to be less of it every moment „ .. white, cloudy stuff just like the casket, only not solid. With a horrible shock he realised that it was the casket, the casket melting, dissolving away, giving place to an indescribable confusion of colour - a rich, varied world in which nothing, for the moment, seemed palpable. There was no casket now. He was turned out - deposited solitary. He was in Perelandra.

    His first impression was of nothing more definite than of something slanted - as though he were looking at a photograph which had been taken when the camera was not held level. And even this lasted only for an instant. The slant was replaced by a different slant; then two slants rushed together and made a peak, and the peak flattened suddenly into a horizontal line, and the horizontal line tilted and became the edge of a vast gleaming slope which rushed furiously towards him. At the same moment he felt that he was being lifted. Up and up he soared till it seemed as if he must reach the burning dome of gold that hung above him instead of a sky. Then he was at a summit but almost before his glance had taken in a huge valley that yawned beneath him - shining green like glass and marbled with streaks of scummy white - he was rushing down into that valley at perhaps thirty miles an hour. And now he realised that there was a delicious coolness over every part of him except his head, that his feet rested on nothing,, and that I„ had for some time been performing unconsciously the ac Of a swimmer. He was riding the foamless swell of a fresh and cool after the fierce temperatures of Heaven, but warm by earthly standards - as warm as a shallow bay with sandy bottom in a sub-tropical climate. As he rushed smoothly up the great convex hillside of the next wave he got a mouthful of the water. It was hardly at all flavoured with salt; it was drinkable - like fresh water and only, by an infinitesimal degree, less insipid. Though he had not been aware of thirst till now, his drink gave him a quite astonishing pleasure. It was almost like meeting Pleasure itself for the first time. He buried his flushed face in the green translucence, and when he withdrew it, found himself once more on the top of a wave.

    There was no land in sight. The sky was pure, flat gold like the background of a medieval picture. It looked very distant as far off as a cirrus cloud looks from earth. The ocean was fold too, in the offing, flecked with innumerable shadows. The nearer waves, though golden where their summits caught the light, were green on their slopes: first emerald, and lower down a lustrous bottle green, deepening to blue where they passed beneath the shadow of other waves.

    All this he saw in a flash; then he was speeding down once more into the trough. He had somehow turned on his back. die saw the golden roof of that world quivering with a rapid variation of paler lights as a ceiling quivers at the reflected sunlight from the bath-water when you step into your bath on a summer morning. He guessed that this was the reflection of the waves wherein he swam. It is a phenomenon observable three out of five in the planet of love. The queen of those seas views herself continually in a celestial mirror.

    Up again to the crest, and still no sight of land. Something t looked like clouds - or could it be ships? - far away on his ft. Then, down, down, down - he thought he would never, reach the end of it ... this time he noticed how dim the light was. Such tepid revelry in water - such glorious bathing, as one would have called it on earth, suggested as its natural accompaniment a blazing sun. But here there was no such thing. The water gleamed, the sky burned with gold, but all was rich and dim, and his eyes fed upon it undazzled and unaching. The very names of green and gold, which he used perforce in describing the scene, are too harsh for the tenderness, the muted iridescence, of that warm, maternal, delicately gorgeous world. It was mild to look upon as evening, warm like summer noon, gentle and winning like early dawn. It was altogether pleasurable, He sighed.

    There was a wave ahead of him now so high that it was dreadful. We speak idly in our own world of seas mountain high when they are not much more than mast high. But this was the real thing. If the huge shape had been a hill of land and not of water he might have spent a whole forenoon or longer walking the slope before he reached the summit. It gathered him into itself and hurled him up to that elevation in a matter of seconds. But before he reached the top, he almost cried out in terror. For this wave had not a smooth top like the others. A horrible crest appeared; jagged and billowy and fantastic shapes, unnatural, even unliquid, in appearance, sprouted from the ridge. Rocks? Foam? Beasts? The question hardly had time to flash through his mind before the thing was upon him. Involuntarily he shut his eyes. Then he found himself once more rushing downhill. Whatever it was, it had gone past him. But it had been something. He had been struck in the face. Dabbing with his hands he found no blood. He had been struck by something soft which did him no harm but merely stung like a lash because of the speed at which he met it. He turned round on his back again - already, as he did so, soaring thousands of feet aloft to the high water of the next ridge. Far below him in a vast, momentary valley he saw the thing that had missed him. It was an irregularly shaped object with many curves and re-entrants. It was variegated in colour like a patch-work quilt - flame-colour, ultramarine, crimson, orange, gamboge, and violet. He could not say more about it for the whole glimpse lasted so short a time. Whatever the thing was, it was floating, for it rushed up the slope of the opposite wave and over the summit and out of sight. It sat to the water like a skin, curving as the water curved. It took the wave's shape at the top, so that for a moment half of it was already out of sight beyond the ridge and the other half still lying on the higher slope. It behaved rather like a mat of weeds on a river - a mat of weeds that takes on every contour of the little ripples you make by rowing past it but on a very different scale. This thing might have been thirty acres or more in area.

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