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  • Home > C.S.Lewis > Cosmic > That Hideous Strength (Page 13)     
  • That Hideous Strength(Cosmic #3)(13) by C.S.Lewis
  • "Quick," he said gently, " these are my Masters. You must leave me now. This is no place for us small ones, but I am inured. Go!"

    During her homeward journey Jane was so divided that one might say there were three, if not four, Janes in the compartment. The first was a Jane simply receptive of the Director, recalling every word and every look, and delighting in them-a Jane taken utterly off her guard and swept away on the flood-tide of an experience which she could not control. For she was trying to control it; that was the function of the second Jane. This second Jane regarded the first with disgust, as the kind of woman whom she had always particularly despised. To have surrendered without terms at the mere voice and look of this stranger, to have abandoned that prim little grasp on her own destiny, that perpetual reservation . . . the thing was degrading, uncivilised.

    The third Jane was a new and unexpected visitant. Risen from some unknown region of grace or heredity, it uttered things which Jane had often heard before but which had never seemed to be connected with real life. If it had told her that her feelings about the Director were wrong, she would not have been very surprised. But it did not. It blamed her for not having similar feelings about Mark. It was Mark who had made the fatal mistake; she must be " nice " to Mark. The Director insisted on it. At the moment when her mind was most filled with another man there arose a resolution to give Mark much more than she had ever given him before, and a feeling that in so doing she would be really giving it to the Director. And this produced such a confusion of sensations that the whole inner debate became indistinct and flowed over into the larger experience of the fourth Jane, who was Jane herself.

    This fourth and supreme Jane was simply in the state of joy. The other three had no power upon her, for she was in the sphere of Jove, amid light and music and festal pomp, brimmed with life and radiant in health, jocund and clothed in shining garments. She reflected with surprise how long it was since music had played any part in her life, and resolved to listen to many chorales by Bach on the gramophone that evening. She rejoiced also in her hunger and thirst and decided that she would make herself buttered toast for tea-a great deal of buttered toast. And she rejoiced also in the consciousness of her own beauty; for she had the sensation-it may have been false in fact, but it had nothing to do with vanity-that it was growing and expanding like a magic flower with every minute that passed. Her beauty belonged to the Director. It belonged to him so completely that he could order it to be given to another.

    As the train came into Edgestow Station Jane was just deciding that she would not try to get a bus. She would enjoy the walk. And then-what on earth was all this? The platform, usually almost deserted at this hour, was like a London platform on a bank holiday. "Here you are, mate!" cried a voice as she opened the door, and half a dozen men crowded into her carriage so roughly that for a moment she could not get out. She found difficulty in crossing the platform. People seemed to be going in all directions at once-angry, rough, and excited people. "Get back into the train, quick!" shouted someone. "Get out of the station, if you're not travelling," bawled another voice. And from outside, beyond the station, came a great roaring noise like the noise of a football crowd.

    Hours later, bruised, frightened, and tired, Jane found herself in a street she did not even know, surrounded by N.I.C.E. policemen and a few of their females, the Waips. A couple of the men-one seemed to meet them everywhere except where the rioting was most violent-had shouted out, "You can't go down there, miss."But as they then turned their backs, Jane had made a bolt for it. They caught her. And that was how she found herself being taken into a lighted room and questioned by a uniformed woman with short grey hair, a square face, and an unlighted cheroot. The woman with the cheroot took no particular interest until Jane had given her name. Then Miss Hardcastle looked her in the face for the first time, and Jane felt quite a new sensation. She was already tired and frightened, but this was different. The face of the other woman affected her as the face of some men-fat men with small, greedy eyes and strange, disquieting smiles-had affected her when she was in her 'teens.

    "Jane Studdock," said the Fairy. "You'll be the wife of my friend Mark." While, she spoke she was writing something on a green form. "That's all right. Now, just one question, dear. What were you doing down here at this time of night?"

    "I had just come off a train."

    "And where had you been, honey?" Jane said nothing.

    "You hadn't been getting up to mischief while Hubby was away, had you?"

    "Will you please let me go?" said Jane. "I want to get home. I am very tired and it's very late."

    "But you're not going home," said Miss Hardcastle. "You're coming out to Belbury."

    "My husband has said nothing about my joining him there."

    Miss Hardcastle nodded. "That was One of his mistakes. But you're coming with us."

    "What do you mean?"

    "It's an arrest, honey," said Miss Hardcastle, holding out the piece of green paper on which she had been writing.

    "O-oh!" screamed Jane suddenly, overcome with a sensation of nightmare, and made a dash for the door. A moment later she came to her senses and found herself held by the two policewomen.

    "What a naughty temper!" said Miss Hardcastle playfully. "But we'll put the nasty men outside, shall we?" She said something and the policemen removed themselves.

    Jane felt that a protection had been withdrawn from her. "Well," said Miss Hardcastle, addressing the two uniformed girls. "Let's see. Quarter to one . . . and all going nicely. I think, Daisy, we can afford a little stand-easy. Be careful, Kitty, make your grip under her shoulder a little tighter." While she was speaking Miss Hardcastle was undoing her belt. She removed the cheroot from her mouth, lit it, blew a cloud of smoke in Jane's direction, and addressed her. "Where had you been by that train?" she said.

    And Jane said nothing; partly because she could not speak, and partly because she now knew beyond all doubt that these were the enemies whom the Director was fighting against, and one must tell them nothing. She heard Miss Hardcastle say, "I think, Kitty dear, you and Daisy had better bring her round here." The two women forced her round to the other side of the table, and she saw Miss Hardcastle sitting with her legs wide apart; long leather-clad legs projecting from beneath her short skirt. The women forced her on, with a skilled, quiet increase of pressure, until she stood between Miss Hardcastle's feet: whereupon Miss Hardcastle brought her feet together so that she had Jane's ankles pinioned between her own. And Miss Hardcastle stared at her, smiling and blowing smoke in her face.

    "Do you know," said Miss Hardcastle at last, "you're rather a pretty little thing in your way." There was another silence.

    "Where had you been by that train?" said Miss Hardcastle.

    Suddenly she leant forward and, after-very carefully turning down the edge of Jane's dress, thrust the lighted end of the cheroot against her shoulder. After that there was another pause and another silence.

    "Where had you been by that train?" said Miss Hardcastle.

    How many times this happened Jane could never remember. But there came a time when Miss Hardcastle was talking not to her but to one of the women.

    "What are you fussing about, Daisy?" she was saying. "I was only saying, ma'am, it was five past one."

    "How time flies, doesn't it. Daisy? Aren't you comfortable, Daisy? You're not getting tired, holding a little bit of a thing like her?"

    "No, ma'am, thank you. But you did say, ma'am, you'd meet Captain O'Hara at one sharp."

    "Captain O'Hara?" said Miss Hardcastle dreamily at first, and then louder, like one waking from a dream. Next moment she had jumped up and was putting on her belt. "Bless the girl!" she said. "Why didn't you remind me before?"

    "You don't like us to interrupt, ma'am, sometimes, when you're examining," said the girl sulkily.

    "Don't argue!" shouted Miss Hardcastle, wheeling round and hitting her cheek a resounding blow with the palm other hand. "Get the prisoner into the car."

    A few seconds later (there seemed to be room for five in the car) Jane found herself gliding through the darkness. "Better go through the town as little as possible, Joe," said Miss Hardcastle's voice. "It'll be pretty lively by now." There seemed to be all sorts of strange noises and lights about. At places, too, there seemed to be a great many people. Then there came a moment when Jane found that the car had drawn up. "What the hell are you stopping for?" said Miss Hardcastle. For a second or two there was no answer from the driver except grunts and the noise of unsuccessful attempts to start up the engine. The street was empty but, to judge by the noise, it was near some other street which was very full and very angry. The man got out, swearing under his breath, and opened the bonnet of the car. Miss Hardcastle continued pouring abuse on him. The noise grew louder. Suddenly the driver straightened himself and turned his face towards Miss Hardcastle.

    "Look here, miss," he said, " that's about enough, see?"

    "Don't you try taking that line with me, Joe," said Miss Hardcastle, "or you'll find me saying a little word about you to the ordinary police."

    "For the lord's sake speak to him nicely, ma'am," wailed Kitty. "They're coming. We'll catch it proper." And in fact men running, by twos and threes, had begun to trickle into the street.

    "Foot it, girls," said Miss Hardcastle. "Sharp's the word. This way."

    Jane found herself hustled out of the car and hurried along between Daisy and Kitty. Miss Hardcastle walked in front. The party darted across the street and up an alley on the far side.

    The alley turned out to be a dead end. Miss Hardcastle stood still for a moment. Unlike her subordinates, she did not seem to be frightened, but only pleasantly excited.

    The shouting in the street they had left had grown louder. Suddenly it became much louder still and angrier.

    "They've caught Joe," said Miss Hardcastle. "If he can make himself heard he'll send them up here. Blast! This means losing the prisoner. Quick. We must go down into the crowd separately. Keep your heads. Try to get to Billingham at the cross-roads. Ta-ta, Babs! The quieter you keep, the less likely we are to meet again."

    Miss Hardcastle set off at once. Jane saw her stand for a few seconds on the fringes of the crowd and then disappear into it. The two girls hesitated and then followed. Jane sat down on a doorstep. She was deadly cold and a little sick. But, above all, tired; so tired she could drop asleep almost. . . .

    She shook herself. There was complete silence all about her: she was colder than she had ever been before, and her limbs ached. "I believe I have been asleep," she thought. She put her hand in the pocket of the coat which Daisy and Kitty had flung round her and found a slab of chocolate. She was ravenous and began munching. Just as she finished a car drew up.

    "Are you all right?" said a man, poking his head out. "Were you hurt in the riot?" said a woman's voice from within.

    The man stared at her and then got out. "I say," he said, " you don't look too good." Then he turned and spoke to the woman inside. The unknown couple made her sit in the car and gave her brandy. Where was her home?

    And Jane, somewhat to her surprise, heard her own voice very sleepily answering, "The Manor, at St. Anne's."

    "That's fine," said the man. "We have to pass it." Then Jane fell asleep at once again, and awoke only to find herself entering a lighted doorway and being received by a woman in pyjamas and an overcoat who turned out to be Mrs. Maggs. But she was too tired to remember how she got to bed.



    "I AM the last person. Miss Hardcastle," said the Deputy Director, " to wish to interfere with your-er-private pleasures. But, really! . . ."It was some hours before breakfasttime and he and the Fairy were standing in his study.

    "She can't be far away," said Fairy Hardcastle. "We'll pick her up some other time. It was well worth trying. If I'd got out of her where she'd been-and I should have if I'd had a few minutes longer-why, it might have turned out to be enemy headquarters."

    "It was hardly a suitable occasion-- " began Wither, but she interrupted him.

    "We haven't so much time to waste, you know. You tell me Frost is already complaining that the woman's mind is less accessible. That means she's falling under the influence of the other side. Where'll we be if you lose touch with her mind before I've got her body locked up here?"

    "I am always, of course," said Wither, " most ready and -er-interested to hear expressions of your own opinions and would not for a moment deny that they are, in certain respects, of course, if not in all, of a very real value. On the other hand, there are matters . . . The Head will, I fear, take the view that you have exceeded your authority, I do not say that I necessarily agree with him. But we must all agree---"

    "Oh, cut it out, Wither!" said the Fairy, seating herself on the side of the table. "Try that game on the Steeles and Stones. It's no bloody good trying the elasticity stunt on me. It was a golden opportunity, running into that girl. If I hadn't taken it you'd have talked about lack of initiative. We've got to get the girl, haven't we?"

    "But not by an arrest. If a mere arrest could have secured the-er-goodwill and collaboration of Mrs. Studdock, we should hardly have embarrassed ourselves with the presence of her husband."

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