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  • Home > C.S.Lewis > Cosmic > That Hideous Strength (Page 17)     
  • That Hideous Strength(Cosmic #3)(17) by C.S.Lewis
  • "There's such a thing as loyalty," said Jane.

    MacPhee looked up with a hundred Covenanters in his eyes.

    "There is, ma'am," he said. " As you get older you will learn that it is a virtue too important to be lavished on individual personalities."

    At that moment there was a knock at the door. "Come in," said MacPhee, and Camilla entered.

    "Have you finished with Jane, Mr. MacPhee?" she said. "She promised to come out for a breath of air with me before dinner."

    "Och, breath of air your grandmother!" said MacPhee with a gesture of despair. "Very well, ladies, very well. Away out to the garden. I doubt they're doing something more to the purpose on the enemy's side."

    "He's been telling you?" said Camilla, as the two girls went together down the passage.

    Moved by a kind of impulse which was rare to her experience, Jane seized her friend's hand as she answered "Yes!"Both were filled with some passion, but what passion they did not know. They came to the front door, and as they opened it a sight met their eyes which, though natural, seemed at the moment apocalyptic.

    All day the wind had been rising, and they found themselves looking out on a sky swept almost clean. The air was intensely cold; the stars severe and bright. High above the last rags of scurrying cloud hung the Moon in all her wildness-the huntress, the untameable virgin, the spear-head of madness. The wildness crept into Jane's blood.

    "That Mr. MacPhee . . ." said Jane, as they walked uphill to the summit of the garden, " how does he explain the Director's age?"

    "Yes. That is what people are like who come back from the stars. Or at least from Perelandra. He will never grow a year or a month older again."

    "Will he die?"

    "He will be taken away, I believe. Back into Deep Heaven. It has happened to one or two people, perhaps about six, since the world began."

    "What- what is he?"

    "He's a man, my dear. And he is the Pendragon of Logres. This house, all of us here, are all that's left of Logres: all the rest has become merely Britain. Let's go right to the top. How it's blowing. They might come to him to-night."

    That evening the Director held council in the Blue Room. "Well," said Ransom, as Grace Ironwood concluded reading from her notes. "That is the dream, and everything in it seems to be objective."

    "Objective?" said Dimble. "I don't understand, sir. You don't mean they could really have a thing like that?"

    "What do you think, MacPhee?" asked Ransom. "Oh aye, it's possible," said MacPhee. "They do it often in laboratories. You cut off a cat's head, maybe, and throw the body away. You can keep the head going for a bit if you supply it with blood at the right pressure."

    "Do you mean, keep it alive?" said Dimble. "Alive is ambiguous. It's what would be popularly called alive. But a human head-and consciousness-I don't know what would happen if you tried that."

    "It has been tried," said Miss Ironwood. "A German tried it before the first war. With the head of a criminal. It failed. The head decayed in the ordinary way."

    "Then this abomination," said Dr. Dimble, " is real- not only a dream."

    "We have no evidence of that," said MacPhee. "I'm only stating the facts. What the girl has dreamed is possible."

    "And what about this turban business," said Denniston, " this sort of swelling on top of the head?"

    "Supposing the dream to be veridical," said MacPhee. "You can guess what it would be. Once they'd got it kept alive, the first thing that would occur to boys like them would be to increase its brain. They'd try all sorts of stimulants. And then, maybe, they'd ease open the skullcap and just-well, just let it boil over, as you might say."

    "Is it at all probable," said the Director, " that a hypertrophy like that would increase thinking power?"

    "That seems to me the weak point," said Miss Ironwood. "I should have thought it just as likely to produce lunacy. But it might have the opposite effect."

    "Then what we are up against," said Dimble, " is a criminal's brain swollen to superhuman proportions and experiencing a mode of consciousness which we can't imagine, but which is presumably a consciousness of agony and hatred."

    "It's not certain," said Miss Ironwood, " that there would be very much actual pain."

    "It tells us one thing straightaway," said Denniston. "What's that?" asked MacPhee.

    "That the enemy movement is international. To get that head they must have been hand-in-glove with at least one foreign police force."

    "It tells us," said the Director, " that if this technique is really successful, the Belbury people have for all practical purposes discovered a way of making themselves immortal. It is the beginning of what is really a new species-the Chosen Heads who never die. They will call it the next step in evolution. And henceforward all the creatures that you and I call human are mere candidates for admission to the new species or else its slaves-perhaps its food."

    "Mr. Director," said MacPhee. "You'll excuse me for speaking frankly. Your enemies have provided themselves with this Head. They have taken possession of Edgestow, and they're in a fair way to suspend the laws of England. And still you tell us it is not time to move. If you had taken my advice six months ago we would have had an organisation all over this island by now and maybe a party in the House of Commons. I know well what you'll say that those are not the right methods. And maybe no. But if you can neither take our advice nor give us anything to do, what are we all sitting here for? Have you seriously considered sending us away and getting some other colleagues that you can work with?"

    "Dissolve the Company, do you mean?" said Dimble.

    "Aye, I do," said MacPhee.

    The Director looked up with a smile. "But," he said, "I have no power to dissolve it."

    "In that case," said MacPhee, "I must ask what authority you had to bring it together?"

    "I never brought it together," said the Director. Then, after glancing round the company, he added: "There is some strange misunderstanding here! Were you all under the impression I had selected you? Were you?" he repeated, when no one answered.

    MacPhee's stern features relaxed into a broad grin. "I see what you're driving at," he said. "We've all been playing blind-man's buff, I doubt. But I'll take leave to observe, Dr. Ransom, that you carry things a wee bit high. I don't just remember how you came to be called Director."

    "I am the Director," said Ransom, smiling. "Do you think I would claim the authority I do if the relation between us depended either on your choice or mine ? You never chose me. I never chose you. Even the great Oyeresu whom I serve never chose me. I came into their worlds by what seemed, at first, a chance; as you came to me- as the very animals in this house first came to it. You and I have not started or devised this: it has descended on us. It is, no doubt, an organisation: but we are not the organisers. And that is why I have no authority to give any one of you permission to leave my household." MacPhee resumed his chair, and the Director continued. "We have learned to-night," he said, " if not what the real power behind our enemies is doing, at least the form in which it is embodied at Belbury. We therefore know something about one of the two attacks which are about to be made on our race. But I'm thinking of the other."

    "Meaning by that?" asked MacPhee. "Meaning," said Ransom, " whatever is under Bragdon Wood. And I think that what is under it is that old man in a mantle whom Jane found in a dark hole in her dream."

    "You're still thinking about that?" said the Ulster-man. "I am thinking of almost nothing else," said the Director. "It may be the greater danger of the two. But what is certain is that the greatest danger of all is the junction of the enemies' forces. When the new power from Belbury joins up with the old power under Bragdon Wood, Logres-indeed Man-will be almost surrounded. For us everything turns on preventing that junction. That is the point at which we must be ready both to kill and die. But we cannot get into Bragdon and start excavating ourselves. There must be a moment when they find him-it. I have no doubt we shall be told in one way or another. Till then we must wait."

    "I don't believe a word of all that other story," said MacPhee.

    "I thought," said Miss Ironwood, "we weren't to use words like believe. I thought we were only to state facts and exhibit implications."

    "If you two quarrel much more," said the Director, "I think I'll make you marry one another."

    At the beginning the grand mystery for the Company had been why the enemy wanted Bragdon Wood. The land was unsuitable and Edgestow itself was not an obviously convenient place. By intense study in collaboration with Dr. Dimble the Director had at last come to a certain conclusion. They knew that Edgestow lay in what had been the very heart of ancient Logres, and that an historical Merlin had once worked in Bragdon Wood.

    What exactly he had done there they did not know; but they had all, by various routes, come too far either to consider his art mere legend and imposture, or to equate it exactly with what the Renaissance called Magic. They thought that Merlin's art was the last survival of something older and different-something brought to Western Europe after the fall of Atlantis and going back to an era in which the general relations of mind and matter on this planet had been other than those we know. It had probably differed from Renaissance Magic profoundly. It had possibly (though this was doubtful) been less guilty: it had certainly been more effective.

    But if the only possible attraction of Bragdon lay in its association with the last vestiges of Atlantean magic, this told the Company something else. It told them that the N.I.C.E., at its core, was not concerned solely with modern or materialistic forms of power. It told the Director, in fact, that there was Eldilic energy and Eldilic knowledge behind it.

    Up to a certain point the Director had supposed that the powers for which the enemy hankered were resident in the mere site at Bragdon-for there is an old belief that locality itself is of importance in such matters. But from Jane's dream of the cold sleeper he had learned better. There was something under the soil of Bragdon, something to be discovered by digging. It was, in fact, the body of Merlin. What the eldils had told him about the possibility of such discovery was no wonder to them. In their eyes the normal Tellurian modes of engendering and birth and death and decay were no less wonderful than the countless other patterns of being which were continually present to their unsleeping minds. That a body should lie uncorrupted for fifteen hundred years did not seem strange to them; they knew worlds where there was no corruption at all. That its life should remain latent in it all that time was to them no more strange: they had seen innumerable different modes in which soul and matter could be combined and separated, separated without loss of reciprocal influence, combined without true incarnation, or brought together in a union as short, and as momentous, as the nuptial embrace. It was not as a marvel in natural philosophy, but as an information in time of war that they brought the Director their tidings. Merlin had not died. His life had been side-tracked, moved out of our one-dimensioned time for fifteen centuries. But under certain conditions it would return to his body.

    It was this that kept the Director wakeful in the cold hours when the others had left him. There was no doubt now that the enemy had bought Bragdon to find Merlin: and if they found him they would re-awake him. The old Druid would inevitably cast in his lot with the new planners. A junction would be effected between two kinds of power which between them would determine the fate of our planet. Doubtless that had been the will of the Dark-Eldils for centuries. The sciences, good and innocent in themselves, had even in Ransom's own time begun to be subtly manoeuvred in a certain direction. Despair of objective truth had been increasingly insinuated into the scientists indifference to it, and a concentration upon power had been the result. Babble about the elan vital and flirtations with pan-psychism were bidding fair to restore the Anima Mundi of the magicians. Dreams of the far future destiny of man were dragging up from its shallow and unquiet grave the old dream of Man as God. The very experiences of the pathological laboratory were breeding a conviction that the stifling of deep set repugnances was the first essential for progress. And now all this had reached the stage at which its dark contrivers thought they could safely begin to bend it back so that it would meet that other and earlier kind of power. Indeed, they were choosing the first moment at which this could have been done. You could not have done it with nineteenth-century scientists. Their firm objective materialism would have excluded it from their minds; and their inherited morality would have kept them from touching dirt. MacPhee was a survivor from that tradition. It was different now. Perhaps few or none at Belbury knew what was happening: but once it happened, they would be like straw in fire. What should they find incredible, since they believed no longer in a rational universe? What should they regard as too obscene, since they held that all morality was a mere subjective by-product of the physical and economic situations of men? From the point of view which is accepted in hell, the whole history of our Earth had led to this moment. There was now at last a real chance for fallen Man to shake off that limitation of his powers which mercy had imposed upon him as a protection from the full results of his fall. If this succeeded, hell would be at last incarnate.



    MARK was called earlier than usual, and with his tea came a note. The Deputy Director sent his compliments and must ask Mr. Studdock to call on him instantly about a most urgent and distressing matter. Mark dressed and obeyed.

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