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  • Home > C.S.Lewis > Cosmic > That Hideous Strength (Page 21)     
  • That Hideous Strength(Cosmic #3)(21) by C.S.Lewis
  • "Not this side," said Dimble. "It looks as if a sort of path came into it over there to the right."

    Cautiously they began to skirt the lip of the hollow, stealing from tree to tree.

    "Stop!" whispered Jane suddenly.

    "What is it?"

    "There's something moving."


    "In there. Quite close."

    "Wait a moment," said Denniston. "It's just there. Look!-damn it, it's only an old donkey!"

    "That's what I said," said Dimble. _"The man's a gypsy; a tinker or something. This is his donkey. Still, we must go down."

    And in less than a minute all three walked down into the dingle and past the fire. And there was the tent, and a few miserable attempts at bedding inside it, and a tin plate, and some matches on the ground, and the dottle of a pipe, but they could see no man.

    "What I can't understand, Wither," said Fairy Hardcastle, " is why you don't let me try my hand on the young pup. All these ideas of yours are so halfhearted keeping him on his toes about the murder, arresting him, leaving him all night in the cells to think it over. Twenty minutes of my treatment would turn his mind inside out. I know the type."

    Miss Hardcastle was talking, at about ten o'clock that same wet night, to the Deputy Director in his study. There was a third person present-Professor Frost.

    "I assure you, Miss Hardcastle," said Wither, fixing his eyes not on her but on Frost's forehead, " you need not doubt that your views on this, or any other matter, will always receive the fullest consideration. But you must excuse me for reminding you-not, of course, that I assume you are neglecting the point-that we need the woman-I mean, that it would be of the greatest value to welcome Mrs. Studdock among us-chiefly on account of the remarkable psychical faculty she is said to possess. In using the word psychical, I am not, you understand, committing myself to any particular theory."

    "You mean these dreams?"

    "It is very doubtful," said Wither, " what effect it might l have on her if she were brought here under compulsion and then found her husband-ah-in the markedly, though no doubt temporarily, abnormal condition which we should have to anticipate as a result of your scientific methods of examination. One would run the risk of a profound emotional disturbance on her part."

    "We have not yet had Major Hardcastle's report," said Professor Frost quietly.

    "No good," said the Fairy. "He was shadowed into Northumberland. Only three possible people left the College after him-Lancaster, Lyly, and Dimble. I put them in that order of probability. Lancaster is a Christian, and a very influential man. He's in the Lower House of Convocation. He had a lot to do with the Repton "Conference". He has a real stake in their side. Lyly is rather the same type, but less of an organiser. Both are dangerous men. Dimble is quite a different type. Except that he's a Christian, there isn't much against him. He's purely academic. Impractical . . . he'd be too full of scruples to be much use to them."

    "You should tell Major Hardcastle that we have access to most of these facts already," said Professor Frost.

    "Perhaps," said Wither, " in view of the late hour---"

    "Well," said the Fairy, "I had to follow all three. With the resources I had at the moment. You'll realise young Studdock was seen setting off for Edgestow only by good luck. It was a bomb-shell. Half my people were already busy. I had to lay my hands on anyone I could get. I posted a sentry and had six others out of sight of the College, in plain clothes. As soon as Lancaster came out I told off the three best to keep him in sight. We may be on to something there. I sent the next two of my lads to deal with Lyly. Dimble came out last. I would have sent my last man to follow him, but a call came through at that moment from O'Hara, who wanted another car. So I sent my man up with the one he had. Dimble can be got any time. He comes into college pretty regularly; and he's a nonentity."

    "I do not quite understand," said Frost, " why you had no one inside the College to see what staircase Studdock went to."

    "Because. of your damned Emergency Commissioner," said the Fairy. "We're not allowed into colleges now, if you please. I said at the time that Feverstone was the wrong man. He's trying to play on both sides."

    "I am far from denying," said Wither, " though without at all closing my mind to other possible explanations, that some of Lord Feverstone's measures may have been injudicious. It would be inexpressibly painful to me to suppose that--"

    "Need we keep Major Hardcastle?" said Frost.

    "Bless my soul!" said Wither. "How very right of you! I had almost forgotten, my dear lady, how tired you must be, and how very valuable your time is." He got up and held the door open for her.

    "You don't think," said she, " that I ought to let the boys have just a little go at Studdock?"

    And suddenly, as Wither stood with his hand on the door handle, the whole expression faded out of his face. Miss Hardcastle had the feeling that a mere mask of skin and flesh was staring at her. A moment later she was gone.

    "I wonder," said Wither as he came back to his chair, " whether we are attaching too much importance to this Studdock woman."

    "Allow me to remind you of the facts," said Frost. "The authorities had access to the woman's mind for only a very short time. They inspected only one important dream-which revealed, though with some irrelevancies, an essential element in our programme. That warned us that if the woman fell into the hands of any ill-affected persons who knew how to exploit her faculty, she would constitute a grave danger."

    "Oh, to be sure, to be sure. I never intended to deny--"

    "That was the first point," said Frost. "The second is that her mind became opaque to our authorities immediately afterwards. We know only one cause for such occultations. They occur when the mind in question has placed itself, by some voluntary choice, however vague, under the control of some hostile organism. The occultation, therefore, while cutting off our access to the dreams, also tells us that she has come under enemy influence. It also means that to find her would probably mean discovering the enemy's headquarters. Miss Hardcastle is probably right in maintaining that torture would soon induce Studdock to give up his wife's address. But as you pointed out, a round-up at their headquarters, an arrest, and the discovery of her husband here in the condition in which the torture would leave him, would produce psychological conditions in the woman which might destroy her faculty. That is the first objection. The second is, that an attack on enemy headquarters is very risky. They almost certainly have protection of a kind we are not prepared to cope with. And, finally, the man may not know his wife's address. In that case . . ."

    "Oh," said Wither, " there is nothing I should more deeply deplore. Scientific examination (I cannot allow the word Torture in this context) in cases where the patient doesn't know the answer is always a mistake. As men of humanity we should neither of us ... and then, if you go on, the patient naturally does not recover. . . ."

    "There is, in fact, no way of implementing our instructions except by inducing Studdock to bring his wife here himself."

    "Or else," said Wither, a little more dreamily than usual, "if it were possible, by inducing in him a much more radical allegiance to our side than he has yet shown. I am speaking, my dear friend, of a real change of heart."

    "I was saying that he must be induced to send for the woman himself. That can be done in two ways. Either by supplying him with some motive on the instinctive level, such as fear of us or desire for her; or else by conditioning him to identify himself so completely with the Cause that he will understand the real motive for securing her person and act on it."

    "Exactly . . . exactly," said Wither. "Where is Studdock at present?" said Frost. "In one of the cells."

    "Under the impression he has been arrested by the ordinary police?"

    "I presume he would be."

    "And how are you proposing to act?"

    "We had proposed to allow the psychological results of the arrest to mature. I have ventured . . . of course, with every regard for humanity ... to reckon on the value of some slight discomforts- he will not have dined, you understand. They have instructions to empty his pockets. One would not wish the young man to relieve any nervous tension by smoking."

    "Of course. And what next?"

    "Well, I suppose some sort of examination. I am inclined to think that the appearance of examination by the ordinary police should be maintained a little longer. Then at a later stage will come the discovery that he is still in our hands. It would be well to let him realise only gradually that this by no means frees him from the-er-embarrassments arising out of Hingest's death. I take it that some fuller realisation of his inevitable solidarity with the Institute would then follow. . . ."

    "The weakness is that you are relying wholly on fear."

    "Fear," repeated Wither as if he had not heard the word before. "I do not quite follow the connection of thought. I can hardly suppose you are following the opposite suggestion, once made, if I remember, by Miss Hardcastle."

    "What was that?"

    "Why," said Wither, " if I understand her right she thought of taking scientific measures to render the society of his wife more desirable to him. Some of the chemical resources ..."

    "You mean an aphrodisiac?" Wither sighed gently and said nothing. "That is nonsense," said Frost. "It isn't to his wife that a man turns under the influence of aphrodisiacs. But as I was saying, I think it is a mistake to rely wholly on fear. But there are other alternatives. There is desire."

    "I am not sure that I am following you. You have rejected the idea of any medical or chemical approach."

    "I was thinking of stronger desires." Neither at this stage of the conversation nor at any other did the Deputy Director look much at the face of Frost. But either Frost or Wither-it was difficult to say which- had been gradually moving his chair, so that by this time the two sat with their knees almost touching.

    "I had my conversation with Filostrato," said Frost. "I used expressions which must have made my meaning clear if he had any notion of the truth. His assistant, Wilkins, was present. The truth is, neither is really interested. What interests them is the fact that they have succeeded-as they think-in keeping the Head alive and getting it to talk. What it says does not really interest them. As to any question about what is really speaking, they have no curiosity."

    "You are suggesting, if I understand," said Wither, "a movement towards Mr. Studdock along those lines. I need hardly say that I fully realise a certain disappointment which serious minded people must feel with such colleagues as Filostrato."

    "That is the point," said Frost. "One must guard against supposing that the political and economic dominance of England by the N.I.C.E. is more than a subordinate object: it is individuals we are really concerned with. A hard core of individuals really devoted to the cause- that is what we need and are under orders to supply. We have not succeeded so far in bringing many people in- really in."

    "There is still no news from Bragdon Wood?"


    "And you believe that Studdock might really be a suitable person?"

    "You must not forget," said Frost, " that his value does not rest solely on his wife's clairvoyance. The couple are eugenically interesting. And I think he can offer no resistance. The hours of fear in the cell, and then an appeal to desires that undercut the fear, will have an almost certain effect on a character of that sort."

    "Of course," said Wither, " nothing is so much to be desired as the greatest possible unity. Any fresh individual brought into that unity would be a source of the most intense satisfaction-to-ah-all concerned. You need not doubt that I would open my arms to receive-to absorb- ; to assimilate this young man."

    They were now sitting so close together that their faces ; almost touched, as if they had been lovers about to kiss. Suddenly there was a crash. Who's Who had fallen off the table, swept on to the floor as, with sudden, swift convulsive movement, the two old men lurched forward towards each other and sat swaying to and fro, locked in an embrace from which each seemed to be struggling to escape. And as they swayed and scrabbled with hand and nail, there arose, shrill and faint at first, a cackling noise that seemed in the end rather an animal than a senile parody of laughter.

    When Mark was bundled out of the police wagon and left at length alone in a little lighted room, he had no idea that he was at Belbury. Nor would he have cared greatly if he had known, for the moment he was arrested he had despaired of his life. He was going to be hanged.

    There came a sudden uprush of grisly details about execution, supplied long since by Miss Hardcastle.

    Because he felt that he was choking, he looked round the cell for any sign of ventilation. There was, in fact, some sort of grating above the door. All else was white floor, white ceiling, white wall, without a chair or table or peg, and one hard white light in the centre of the ceiling.

    Something in the look of the place now suggested to him for the first time the idea that he might be at Belbury and not in an ordinary police station. But the flash of hope aroused by this idea was so brief as to be instantaneous. What difference did it make whether Wither and Miss Hardcastle and the rest decided to get rid of him by handing him over to the ordinary police or by making away with him in private? They were all his enemies, playing upon his hopes and fears to reduce him to servility, certain to kill him if he broke away, and certain to kill him in the long run when he had served the purpose for which they wanted him. It appeared to him astonishing that he could ever have thought otherwise.

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire