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  • Home > C.S.Lewis > Cosmic > That Hideous Strength (Page 7)     
  • That Hideous Strength(Cosmic #3)(7) by C.S.Lewis
  • This had brought Mark back to his doubts whether he were really being given a job and, if so, what it was. But she had laughed at his fears. "You're in all right, sonny," she said. "Only don't be too particular about what exactly you've got to do. Wither doesn't like people who try to pin him down. And don't believe everything you're told."

    At dinner Mark found himself next Hingest. "Well," said Hingest, "have they finally roped you in, eh? Because if you thought the better of it I'm motoring back to-night and I could give you a lift."

    "You haven't yet told me why you are leaving us yourself," said Mark.

    "Oh, well, it all depends what a man likes. If you enjoy the society of that Italian eunuch and the mad parson and that Hardcastle girl-her grandmother would have boxed her ears if she were alive-of course there's nothing more to be said."

    "I suppose it's hardly to be judged on purely social grounds - I mean, it's something more than a club."

    "Eh? Judged? Never judged anything in my life, except at a flower show. I came here because I thought it had something to do with science. Now that I find it's something more like a political conspiracy, I shall go home."

    "You mean, I suppose, that the social planning doesn't appeal to you? I can understand that it doesn't fit in with your work as it does with sciences like sociology, but--"

    "There are no sciences like sociology. And if I found chemistry beginning to fit in with a secret police run by a middle-aged virago who doesn't wear corsets and a scheme for taking away his farm and his shop and his children from every Englishman, I'd let chemistry go to the devil and take up gardening again."

    "Bill!" said Fairy Hardcastle suddenly, from the far side of the table.

    Hingest fixed his eyes upon her and his face grew a dark red.

    "Is it true," bawled the Fairy, "that you're off by car after dinner?"

    "Yes, Miss Hardcastle, it is."

    "I was wondering if you could give me a lift."

    "I should be happy to do so," said Hingest in a voice not intended to deceive, "if we are going in the same direction."

    "Will you be passing Brenstock?"

    "No, I go down Potter's Lane."

    "Oh, damn! No good to me. I may as well wait till the morning."

    After this Mark found himself engaged by his left-hand neighbour and did not see Bill the Blizzard again until he met him in the hall after dinner. He was in his overcoat and just ready to step into his car.

    He began talking as he opened the door, and Mark was drawn into accompanying him across the gravel sweep to his car.

    "Take my advice, Studdock," he said. "You'll do yourself no good by getting mixed up with the N.I.C.E.-and, by God, you'll do nobody else any good either."

    "I suppose there are two views about everything," said Mark.

    "Eh? Two views? There are a dozen views about everything until you know the answer. Goodnight."

    He started up the car and drove off.

    Jane came back from St. Anne's very little pleased with her interview, and had no sooner reached the flat than the telephone went. "Is that you, Jane?" came a voice. "It's me, Margaret Dimble. Such a dreadful thing's happened. I'll tell you when I come. I'm too angry to speak at the moment. Have you a spare bed by any chance? What? Mr. Studdock's away? Not a bit, if you don't mind. I've sent Cecil to sleep in College. You're sure it won't be a nuisance ? Thanks most awfully. I'll be round in half an hour."



    ALMOST before Jane had finished putting clean sheets on Mark's bed, Mrs. Dimble arrived. "You're an angel to have me," she said. "We'd tried every hotel in Edgestow I believe. All full up with the hangers-on and camp followers of this detestable N.I.C.E. Secretaries here- typists there-commissioners of works-the thing's outrageous. If Cecil hadn't had a room in College I really believe he'd have had to sleep in the waiting-room at the station. I only hope that man in College has aired the bed."

    "But what on earth's happened?" asked Jane. "Turned out, my dear!"

    "But it isn't possible, Mrs. Dimble. I mean, it can't be legal."

    "That's what Cecil said. . Just think of it, Jane. The first thing we saw when we poked our heads out of the window this morning was a lorry on the drive and a small army of what looked like criminals with picks and spades. There was an odious little man in a peaked cap who said they'd have no objection to our remaining in possession (of the house, mind you, not the garden) till eight o'clock tomorrow morning. No objection!"

    "But surely-surely-it must be some mistake."

    "Of course Cecil rang up your Bursar. And of course your Bursar was out, and by that time the big beech had been cut down. At last Cecil did get Mr. Busby, who said there must be some misunderstanding, but it was out of his hands now, and we'd better get on to the N.I.C.E. at Belbury. Of course it turned out to be quite impossible to get them. But by lunchtime we saw that one simply couldn't stay there."

    "Why not?"

    "My dear, you've no conception what it was like. Great lorries and traction engines roaring past all the time. Why, our own tradesmen couldn't get through it. The milk didn't arrive till eleven o'clock. We'd the greatest difficulty in getting into town ourselves. Flares and noise everywhere and the road practically ruined. And the people! Such horrid men. I didn't know we had workpeople like that in England."

    "And what are you going to do?" asked Jane.

    "Heaven knows!" said Mrs. Dimble."Cecil has been at Rumbold the solicitor's. Rumbold doesn't seem to know where he is. He keeps on saying the N.I.C.E. are in a very peculiar position legally. There's no question of trying to live on the far side of the river any longer, even if they'd let us. All the poplars are going down. All those nice little cottages by the church are going down. I found poor Ivy-that's your Mrs. Maggs, you know-in tears. Poor things! They do look dreadful when they cry on top of powder. She's being turned out too; she's had enough troubles in her life without this. I was glad to get away. The men were so horrible. Three big brutes came to the back door asking for hot water and went on so that they frightened Martha out of her wits. A sort of special constable sent them away. What? Oh yes, there are dozens of what look like policemen all over the place, and I didn't like the look of them either. Cecil and I both thought the same thing: we thought it's almost as if we'd lost the war. Oh, good girl, tea! That's just what I wanted."

    "You must stay here as long as you like, Mrs. Dimble," said Jane. "Mark'll just have to sleep in College."

    "Well, really," said Mother Dimble, "I feel at the moment that no Fellow of Bracton ought to be allowed to sleep anywhere! As a matter of fact, I shan't have to. Cecil and I are to go out to the Manor at St. Anne's. We have to be there so much at present, you see."

    "Oh," said Jane involuntarily, as her own story flowed back on her mind.

    "Why, what a selfish pig I've been," said Mother Dimble. "Here have I been quite forgetting that you've been out there and are full of things to tell me. Did you see Grace? And did you like her?"

    "Is 'Grace' Miss Ironwood?" asked Jane.


    "I saw her. I don't know if I liked her or not. But I don't want to talk about all that. I can't think about anything except this outrageous business of yours. It's you who are the real martyr, not me."

    "No, my dear," said Mrs. Dimble, "I'm not a martyr. I'm only an angry old woman with sore feet and a splitting head (but that's beginning to be better). After all, Cecil and I haven't lost our livelihood as poor Ivy Maggs has. It doesn't really matter leaving the old house, all those big rooms which we thought we should want because we were going to have lots of children, and then we never had. Jane, that's the third time you've yawned. You're dropping asleep and I've talked your head off. It comes of being married for thirty years. Husbands were made to be talked to. It helps them to concentrate on what they're reading."

    Jane found Mother Dimble an embarrassing person to share a room with because she said prayers. One didn't know where to look.

    "Are you awake now?" said Mrs. Dimble's voice, quietly, in the middle of the night.

    "Yes," said Jane. "I'm so sorry. Did I wake you up? Was I shouting?"

    "Yes. You were shouting out about someone being hit on the head."

    "I saw them killing a man . . .a man in a big car driving along a country road. Then he came to a crossroads and there was someone standing in the middle of the road waving a light to stop him. I couldn't hear what they said; I was too far away. They must have persuaded him to get out of the car somehow, and there he was talking to one of them. The light fell full on his face. He wasn't the same old man I saw in my other dream. He hadn't a beard, only a moustache. And he had a very quick, kind of proud, way. He didn't like what the man said to him and presently he put up his fists and knocked him down. Another man behind him tried to hit him on the head with something, but the old man was too quick and turned round in time. Then it was rather horrible, but rather fine. There were three of them at him and he was fighting them all. I've read about that kind of thing in books, but I never realised how one would feel about it. Of course they got him in the end."

    "Without a doubt," thought Mark, "this must be the Mad Parson that Bill the Blizzard was talking of." The committee at Belbury did not meet till 10.30, and ever since breakfast he had been walking with the Reverend Straik in the garden, despite the raw and misty weather of the morning. At the very moment when the man had first buttonholed him, the threadbare clothes and clumsy boots, the frayed clerical collar, the dark, lean, tragic face, gashed and ill-shaved and seamed, and the bitter sincerity of his manner, had struck a discordant note. It was not a type Mark had expected to meet in the N.I.C.E.

    "Do not imagine," said Mr. Straik, "that I indulge in any dreams of carrying out our programme without violence. There will be resistance. They will gnaw their tongues and not repent. We face these disorders with a firmness which will lead traducers to say that we have desired them. In a sense we have. It is no part of our witness to preserve that organisation of ordered sin which is called Society."

    "Now that is what I meant," said Mark, " when I said that your point of view and mine must, in the long run, be incompatible. The preservation, which involves the thorough planning, of society is just precisely the end I have in view. I do not think there is or can be any other end. The problem is quite different for you because you look forward to something better than human society, in some other world."

    "With every thought and vibration of my heart," said Mr. Straik, "I repudiate that damnable doctrine. The Kingdom of God is to be realised here-in this world. And it will be. At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow.

    "Bother!" said Jane: and added, without much interest in the reply, "What is she doing, do you know?"

    "She's gone out to St. Anne's."

    "Has she got friends there?"

    "She's gone to the Manor, along with Cecil."

    "Do you mean she's got a job there?"

    "Well, yes. I suppose it is a job."

    Mrs. Dimble left at about eleven. She also, it appeared, was going to St. Anne's, but was first to meet her husband and lunch with him at Northumberland. Jane walked down to the town with her and they parted at the bottom of Market Street. It was just after this that Jane met Mr. Curry.

    "Have you heard the news, Mrs. Studdock?" said Curry.

    "No. What's wrong?" said Jane. She thought Mr. Curry a pompous fool and Mark a fool for being impressed by him. But as soon as Curry began speaking her face showed all the wonder and consternation he could have wished. The murder of Hingest had already become Curry's property. The "matter" was, in some indefinable sense, "in his hands", and he was heavy with responsibility. At another time Jane would have found this amusing. She escaped from him as soon as possible and went into Blackie's for a cup of coffee. She felt she must sit down.

    The death of Hingest in itself meant nothing to her. But the certainty that she herself in her dream had witnessed a real murder shattered the consoling pretences with which she had begun the morning. It came over her with sickening clarity that the affair of her dreams, far from being ended, was only beginning. It would drive her mad, she thought, to face it alone. The other alternative was to go back to Miss Ironwood. But that seemed to be only a way of going deeper into all this darkness. She didn't want to get drawn in. It was unfair. It wasn't as if she had asked much of life. All she wanted was to be left alone.

    Cosser-the freckle-faced man with the little wisp of black moustache-approached Mark as he was coming away from the committee.

    "You and I have a job to do," he said. "Got to get out a report about Cure Hardy."

    Mark was very relieved to hear of a job. But he was a little on his dignity.

    "Does that mean I am to be in Steele's department after all?"

    "That's right," said Cosser.

    "The reason I ask," said Mark, "is that neither he nor you seemed particularly keen on having me. I don't want to push myself in, you know. I don't need to stay at the N.I.C.E. at all if it comes to that."

    "Well, don't start talking about it here," said Cosser. "Come upstairs."

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