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  • Home > C.S.Lewis > Cosmic > That Hideous Strength (Page 4)     
  • That Hideous Strength(Cosmic #3)(4) by C.S.Lewis
  • "They can't win," said Mark.

    "We'll hope not," said Lord Feverstone. "That is why it is of such immense importance to each of us to choose the right side."

    "Oh, I haven't any doubt which is my side," said Mark. "Hang it all-the preservation of the human race-it's a pretty rock-bottom obligation."

    "Well, personally," said Feverstone, "I'm not indulging in any Busbyisms about that. The practical point is that you and I don't like being pawns, and we do rather like fighting-specially on the winning side."

    "And what is the first practical step?"

    "Yes, that's the real question. As I said, the interplanetary problem must be left on one side for the moment. The second problem is our rivals on this planet. I don't mean only insects and bacteria. There's far too much life of every kind about, animal and vegetable. We haven't really cleared the place yet. All that is to be gone into. The third problem is man himself."

    "Go on. This interests me very much."

    "Man has got to take charge of man. That means, remember, that some men have got to take charge of the rest."

    "What sort of thing have you in mind?"

    "Quite simple and obvious things, at first-sterilisation of the unfit, liquidation of backward races, selective breeding. Then real education, including pre-natal education. By real education I mean one that makes the patient what it wants infallibly: whatever he or his parents try to do about it. Of course, it'll have to be mainly psychological at first. But we'll get on to biochemical conditioning in the end and direct manipulation of the brain. A new type of man: and it's people like you who've got to begin to make him."

    "That's my trouble. Don't think it's false modesty: but I haven't yet seen how I can contribute."

    "No, but we have. You are what we need; a trained sociologist with a radically realistic outlook, not afraid of responsibility. Also, a sociologist who can write."

    "You don't mean you want me to write up all this?"

    "No. We want you to write it down-to camouflage it. Only for the present, of course. Once the thing gets going we shan't have to bother about the great heart of the British public. But in the meantime it does make a difference how things are put. For instance, if it were even whispered that the N.I.C.E. wanted powers to experiment on criminals, you'd have all the old women of both sexes up in arms and yapping about humanity: call it re-education of the maladjusted and you have them all slobbering with delight. Odd thing it is-the word ' experiment ' is unpopular, but not the word ' experimental'. You mustn't experiment on children: but offer the dear little kiddies free education in an experimental school attached to the N.I.C.E. and it's all correct!"

    "You don't mean that this-er-journalistic side would be my main job?"

    "It's nothing to do with journalism. Your readers in the first instance would be committees of the House of Commons, not the public. But that would only be a sideline. As for the job itself-why, it's impossible to say how it might develop. Talking to a man like you, I don't stress the financial side."

    "I wasn't thinking about that," said Mark, flushing with pure excitement.

    "Look here," said Feverstone. "Let me run you across to-morrow to see John Wither. You'll meet all the important people there, and it'll give you a chance to make up your mind."

    "How does Wither come into it? I thought Jules was the head of the N.I.C.E." Jules was a distinguished novelist and scientific populariser whose name always appeared before the public in connection with the new Institute.

    "Jules! Hell's bells!" said Feverstone. "He's all right for selling the Institute to the great British public in the Sunday papers and he draws a whacking salary. He's no use for work."

    "Oh quite," said Mark. "I was always rather puzzled at his being in the show. Do you know, since you're so kind, I think I'd better accept your offer and go over to Wither for the week-end. What time would you be starting?"

    "About quarter to eleven. They tell me you live out Sandown way. I could call and pick you up."

    "Thanks very much. Now tell me about Wither."

    "John Wither," began Feverstone, but suddenly broke off. "Damn!" he said. "Here comes Curry."

    Mark walked home. Something happened to him the moment he had let himself into the flat which was very unusual. He found himself, on the door-mat, embracing a frightened, half-sobbing Jane-even a humble Jane, who was saying, "Oh, Mark, I've been so frightened."

    There was a quality in the very muscles of his wife's body which took him by surprise. A certain indefinable defensiveness had momentarily deserted her. He had known such occasions before, but they were rare. And they tended, in his experience, to be followed next day by inexplicable quarrels.

    But the reasons for her unusual behaviour on this particular evening were simple enough. She had got back from the Dimbles at about four, and had had to light up and draw the curtains before she had finished tea. The thought had come into her mind that her fright at the dream, at the mention of a mantle, an old man, an old man buried but not dead, and a language like Spanish, had been as irrational as a child's fear of the dark. This had led her to remember moments when she had feared the dark. She allowed herself to remember them too long. The evening somehow deteriorated. She was restless. From being restless she became nervous. Then came a curious reluctance to go into the kitchen to get herself some supper. And now there was no disguising the fact that she was frightened. In desperation she rang up the Dimbles. "I think I might go and see the person you suggested, after all," she said. Mrs. Dimble's voice came back, after a curious little pause, giving her the address. Ironwood was the name, Miss Ironwood, who lived out at St. Anne's on the Hill. Jane asked if she should make an appointment.

    "No," said Mrs. Dimble, "they'll be-you needn't make an appointment." Jane kept the conversation going as long as she could. Secretly she had had a wild hope that Mother Dimble would recognise her distress and say at once, "I'll come straight up to you by car. "Instead, she got the mere information and a hurried "Good night."It seemed to Jane that by ringing up she had interrupted a conversation about herself: or about something else more important, with which she was somehow connected. And what had Mrs. Dimble meant by "They'll be--"

    "They'll be expecting you"?

    "Damn the Dimbles!" said Jane to herself. And now that the life-line had been used and brought no comfort, the terror, as if insulted by her futile attempt to escape it, rushed back on her and she could never afterwards remember whether the horrible old man and the mantle had actually appeared to her in a dream or whether she had merely sat there hoping that they would not.

    And that is why Mark found such an unexpected Jane on the door-mat. It was a pity, he thought, that this should have happened on a night when he was so late and so tired and, to tell the truth, not perfectly sober.

    "Do you feel quite all right this morning?" said Mark.

    "Yes, thank you," said Jane shortly.

    Mark was lying in bed and drinking a cup of tea. Jane was seated at the dressing-table, partially dressed, and doing her hair.

    Jane thought she was annoyed because her hair was not going up to her liking and because Mark was fussing. She also knew, of course, that she was angry with herself for the collapse which had betrayed her last night into being what she detested-the "little woman" of sentimental fiction running for comfort to male arms. But she thought this anger was only in the back of her mind, and had no suspicion that it was pulsing through every vein and producing the clumsiness in her fingers which made her hair seem intractable.

    "Because," continued Mark, " if you felt the least bit uncomfortable, I could put off going to see this man Wither." Jane said nothing.

    "Supposing I did," said Mark, " you wouldn't think of asking Myrtle over to stay?"

    "No thank you," said Jane emphatically; and then, "I'm quite accustomed to being alone."

    "I know," said Mark in a defensive voice. "That's the devil of the way things are in College at present. That's one of the chief reasons I'm thinking of another job." Jane was still silent.

    "Look here, old thing," said Mark. "There's no good beating about the bush. I don't like going away while you're in your present state-- "

    "What state?" said Jane.

    "Well-I mean-just a bit nervy-as anyone may be temporarily."

    "Because I happened to be having a nightmare when you came home last night-or rather this morning-there's no need to talk as if I was a neurasthenic." This was not in the least what Jane had intended or expected to say.

    "Now there's no good going on like that . . ." began Mark.

    "Like what?" said Jane loudly, and then, before he had time to reply, "If you've decided that I'm going mad you'd better get Brizeacre to come down and certify me. It would be convenient to do it while you're away. I'm going to see about the breakfast now. If you don't dress pretty quickly, you'll not be ready when Lord Feverstone calls."

    Mark gave himself a bad cut while shaving (and saw, at once, a picture of himself talking to the all-important Wither with a great blob of cotton-wool on his lip), while Jane decided, from a mixture of motives, to cook Mark an unusually elaborate breakfast, and upset it all over the new stove at the last moment. They were still at the table and both pretending to read newspapers when Lord Feverstone arrived. Unfortunately Mrs. Maggs arrived at the same moment. Mrs. Maggs was that element in Jane's economy represented by the phrase "I have a woman who comes in twice a week." They were about the same age and to a bachelor's eye there was no very noticeable difference in their clothes. It was therefore perhaps excusable that when Mark attempted to introduce Feverstone to his wife Feverstone should have shaken Mrs. Maggs by the hand: it did not sweeten the last few minutes before the two men departed.

    Jane left the flat under pretence of shopping almost at once. "I really couldn't stand Mrs. Maggs to-day," she said to herself. "She's a terrible talker." So that was Lord Feverstone-that man with the loud, unnatural laugh and the mouth like a shark. Apparently a fool, too ! Jane had distrusted his face. Probably he was making a fool of Mark. Mark was so easily taken in. If only he wasn't at Bracton ! It was a horrible college. And meanwhile, what of the day that awaited her, and the night, and the next night?

    She must do something. She even thought of following Mark's advice and getting Myrtle to come and stay. But Myrtle was Mark's twin sister, with much too much of the adoring sister's attitude to the brilliant brother. Then she thought of going to see Dr. Brizeacre as a patient. But when she came to think of answering the sort of questions which Brizeacre would ask, this turned out to be impossible. In the end, somewhat to her own surprise, she found that she had decided to go out to St. Anne's and see Miss Ironwood. She thought herself a fool for doing so.

    Mark Studdock was being driven to the Blood Transfusion Office at Belbury, where the nucleus of the N.I.C.E. had taken up its temporary abode. The very size and style of Feverstone's car had made a favourable impression on him the moment he saw it. And what fine, male energy (Mark felt sick of women at the moment) revealed itself in the very gestures with which Feverstone settled himself at the wheel and clasped his pipe firmly between his teeth! The speed of the car, even in the narrow streets of Edgestow, was impressive, and so were the laconic criticisms of Feverstone on other drivers and pedestrians. Once over the level crossing and beyond Jane's old college (St. Elizabeth's), he began to show what his car could do. Telegraph posts raced by, bridges rushed overhead with a roar, villages streamed backward to join the country already devoured, and Mark, at once fascinated and repelled by the insolence of Feverstone's driving, sat saying "Yes" and Quite" and "It was their fault", and stealing sidelong glances at his companion. The long, straight nose and the clenched teeth, the hard, bony outlines beneath the face, the very clothes, all spoke of a big man driving a big car to somewhere where they would find big stuff going on. And he, Mark, was to be in it all.

    Jane Studdock meanwhile was progressing slowly towards the village of St. Anne's. The train, which started at half-past one, jerked and rattled along an embankment whence she looked down through bare branches and branches freckled with yellow leaves into Bragdon Wood itself and thence along the edge of Brawl Park and so to the first stop at Duke's Eaton. Here, as at Woolham and Cure Hardy and Fourstones, the train settled back, when it stopped, with a little jerk and something like a sigh. And then there would be a noise of milk cans rolling and coarse boots treading on the platform and after that a pause while the autumn sunlight grew warm on the window-pane and smells of wood and field from beyond the tiny station floated in. At quarter-past two she came to St. Anne's, which was the terminus of the branch, and the end of everything. The air struck her as cold and tonic when she left the station.

    There was still a climb to be done on foot, for St. Anne's is perched on a hilltop. A winding road between high banks lead her up to it. As soon as she had passed the church she turned left, as she had been instructed, at the Saxon Cross. Presently she came to a high wall on her right that seemed to run on for a great way. There was a door in it and beside the door an old iron bell-pull. She felt sure she had come on a fool's errand: nevertheless she rang. When the jangling noise had ceased there followed a silence so long, and so chilly, that Jane began to wonder whether the house were inhabited. Then, just as she was debating whether to ring again or to turn away, she heard the noise of someone's feet approaching on the inside of the wall.

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