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  • Home > C.S.Lewis > Cosmic > That Hideous Strength (Page 27)     
  • That Hideous Strength(Cosmic #3)(27) by C.S.Lewis
  • "The question," said Frost, "is meaningless. It presupposes a means-and-end pattern of thought which descends from Aristotle, who was merely hypostatising elements in the experience of an iron-age, agricultural community. Motives are not the causes of action but its by-products. When you have attained real objectivity you will recognise all motives as subjective epiphenomena. You will then have no motives and you will find that you do not need them."

    "I see," said Mark. The philosophy which Frost was expounding was by no means unfamiliar to him. He recognised it as the logical conclusion of thoughts which he had always hitherto accepted and which at this moment he found himself irrevocably rejecting. The knowledge that his own assumptions led to Frost's position combined with what he saw in Frost's face and had experienced in this cell, effected a complete conversion. All the philosophers and evangelists in the world might not have done the job so neatly.

    "And that," continued Frost, " is why a systematic training in objectivity must be given to you. It is like killing a nerve. That whole system of instinctive preferences, whatever ethical, aesthetic, or logical disguise they wear, is to be simply destroyed."

    After that Frost took Mark from the cell and gave him a meal in some neighbouring room. When the meal was over Frost led him to the ante-room of the Head and he was stripped and re-clothed in surgeon's overalls and a mask. Then he was brought into the presence of the gaping and dribbling Head. Frost took not the slightest notice of it. He led him across the room to an arched door in the far wall.

    Here he paused and said, "Go in. You will speak to no one of what you find here. I will return presently."

    The room, at first, was an anti-climax. It appeared to be an empty committee room with a long table, eight or nine chairs, some pictures, and (oddly enough) a large step-ladder in one corner. There were no windows; it was lit by an electric light which produced, better than Mark had ever seen it produced before, the illusion of a cold, grey place out of doors.

    A man of trained sensibility would have seen at once that the room was ill proportioned, not grotesquely but sufficiently to produce dislike. Mark felt the effect without analysing the cause, and the effect grew as time passed. Sitting staring about him, he next noticed the door. The point of the arch was not in the centre; the thing was lopsided. Once again, the error was not gross. The thing was near enough to the true to deceive you for a moment and to go on teasing the mind after the deception had been unmasked. He turned and sat with his back to it ... one mustn't let it become an obsession.

    Then he noticed the spots on the ceiling; little round black spots at irregular intervals on the pale mustard-coloured surface. He determined that he would not fall into the trap of trying to count them. They would be hard to count, they were so irregularly placed. Or weren't they? They suggested some kind of pattern. Their peculiar ugliness consisted in the fact that they kept on suggesting it and then frustrating expectation. He realised that this was another trap. He fixed his eyes on the table. He got up and began to walk about. He had a look at the pictures.

    Some belonged to a school with which he was familiar. There was a portrait of a young woman who held her mouth wide open to reveal the fact that the inside of it was thickly overgrown with hair. It was very skilfully painted in the photographic manner so that you could feel that hair. There was a giant mantis playing a fiddle while being eaten by another mantis, and a man with corkscrews instead of arms bathing in a flat, sadly coloured sea beneath a summer sunset. But most of the pictures were not of this kind. Mark was a little surprised at the predominance of scriptural themes. It was only at the second or third glance that one discovered certain unaccountable details. Who was the person standing between the Christ and the Lazarus ? And why were there so many beetles under the table in the Last Supper? What was the curious trick of lighting that made each picture look like something seen in delirium? When once these questions had been raised the apparent ordinariness of the pictures became like the ominous surface innocence at the beginning of certain dreams. Every fold of drapery, every piece of architecture, had a meaning one could not grasp but which withered the mind.

    He understood the whole business now. Frost was not trying to make him insane; at least not in the sense Mark had hitherto given to the word " insanity ". To sit in the room was the first step towards what Frost called objectivity-the process whereby all specifically human reactions were killed in a man so that he might become fit for the fastidious society of the Macrobes. Higher degrees in the asceticism of anti-nature would doubtless follow: the eating of abominable food, the dabbling in dirt and blood, the ritual performances of calculated obscenities. They were playing quite fair with him-offering him the same initiation through which they themselves had passed.

    After an hour, this long high coffin of a room began to produce on Mark an effect which his instructor had probably not anticipated. As the desert first teaches men to love water, or as absence first reveals affection, there rose. up against this background of the sour and the crooked some kind of vision of the sweet and the straight. Something else-something he vaguely called the "Normal "- apparently existed. He had never thought about it before. But there it was-solid, massive, like something you could touch, or eat, or fall in love with. It was all mixed up with Jane and fried eggs and soap and sunlight and the rooks cawing at Cure Hardy. He was not thinking in moral terms at all; or else (what is much the same thing) he was having his first deeply moral experience.

    While it was still at its height Frost returned. He led Mark to a bedroom where a fire blazed and an old man lay in bed. The light gleamed on glasses and silver, and Frost told him that he must remain here till relieved and must ring up the Deputy Director if the patient spoke or stirred. He himself was to say nothing; indeed, it would be useless, for the patient did not understand English.

    Frost retired. Mark glanced round the room. He was reckless now. Do or die for it, he was going to have a meal. Perhaps a smoke first.

    "Damn!" he said as he put his hand into his pocket and found it empty. At the same moment he noticed that the man in the bed had opened his eyes and was looking at him. "I'm sorry," said Mark, "I didn't mean--" and then stopped.

    The man sat up in bed and Jerked his head towards the door.

    "Ah?" he said enquiringly. "I beg your pardon," said Mark. "Ah?" said the man again. "Foreigners, eh?"

    "You do speak English, then?" said Mark. "Ah!" said the man. After a pause of several seconds he said, "Guv'ner!" Mark looked at him. "Guv'ner," repeated the patient with great energy, " you ha'nt got such a thing as a bit of baccy about you ? Ah?"

    "I think that's all we can do for the present," said Mother Dimble. "We'll do the flowers this afternoon." She was speaking to Jane, and both were in what was called the Lodge-a little stone house beside the garden door at which Jane had been first admitted to the Manor. Mrs. Dimble and Jane had been preparing it for the Maggs family. For Mr. Maggs's sentence expired to-day, and Ivy had gone off by train on the previous afternoon to spend the night with an aunt in the town where he was imprisoned and to meet him at the prison gates.

    In Mrs. Dimble's hands the task became something between a game and a ritual. It woke in Jane memories of sixteenth century epithalamions-old superstitions, jokes, and sentimentalities about bridal beds and bowers. Mother Dimble, for all her nineteenth-century propriety, struck her this afternoon as being herself an archaic person.

    Ivy had discussed her own story with Jane only the day before. Mr. Maggs had stolen some money from the laundry that he worked for. He had done this before he met Ivy and at a time when he had got into bad company. Since he and Ivy had started going out together he had gone "as straight as straight"; but the little crime had been unearthed and come out of the past to catch him. Jane had said very little during the telling of this story. Ivy had not seemed conscious of the purely social stigma attaching to petty theft and a term of imprisonment, so that Jane would have had no opportunity to practise, even if she had wished, that almost technical " kindness " which some , people reserve for the sorrows of the poor. On the other hand, she was given no chance to be revolutionary or speculative-to suggest that theft was no more criminal than all wealth was criminal. Ivy seemed to take traditional morality for granted. She had been " ever so upset " about it. It seemed to matter a great deal in one way, and not to matter at all in another. It had never occurred to her that it should alter her relations with her husband-as though theft, like ill health, were one of the normal risks one took in getting married.

    Mrs. Dimble went back to the house presently to fetch some little nicety which would put the finishing touch to the bedroom in the Lodge. Jane, feeling a little tired, knelt on the window-seat and put her elbows on the sill and her chin in her hands. The sun was almost hot. The thought of going back to Mark if Mark were ever rescued from Belbury was one which her mind had long accepted; it was not horrifying, but flat and insipid. She must, of course, be very different with him when they met again. But it was that " again " which so took the savour out of the good resolution-like going back to a sum one had already got wrong. "If they met again . . ." she felt guilty at her lack of anxiety. Almost at the same moment she found that she was a little anxious. Hitherto she had always somehow assumed that Mark would come back. The possibility of his death now presented itself. She had no direct emotions about herself living afterwards; she just saw the image of Mark dead, that face dead, in the middle of a pillow, that whole body rigid, those hands and arms (for good and ill so different from all other hands and arms) stretched out straight and useless like a doll's. She felt very cold. Yet the sun was hotter than ever, almost impossibly hot for the time of year. It was very still, too, so still that she could hear the movements of a bird hopping along the path outside the window. This path led to the door in the garden wall. The bird hopped on to the threshold of that door, and on to someone's foot. For now Jane saw that someone was sitting just inside the door. This person was only a few yards away, and she must have been very quiet for Jane not to have noticed her.

    A flame-coloured robe, in which her hands were hidden, covered this person from the feet to where it rose behind , her neck in a kind of high ruff-like collar, but in front it was so low or open that it exposed her large br**sts. Her skin was darkish and Southern and glowing, almost the colour of honey. Some such dress Jane had seen worn by a Minoan priestess on a vase from Cnossus. The head, poised motionless on the muscular pillar of her neck, stared straight at Jane. It was a red-cheeked, wet-lipped face, with black eyes-almost the eyes of a cow-and an enigmatic expression. It was not by ordinary standards at all like the face of Mother Dimble; but Jane recognised it. It was Mother Dimble's face with something left out, and the omission shocked Jane. "It is brutal," she thought, for its energy crushed her; but then she half changed her mind and thought, "It is I who am weak, trumpery."

    "It is mocking me," she thought, but then once more changed her mind and thought, "It is ignoring me. It doesn't see me." She tried to look aside from the face-succeeded-and saw for the first time that there were other creatures present-a whole crowd of ridiculous little men: fat dwarfs in red caps with tassels on them, gnome-like little men, insufferably familiar, frivolous, and irrepressible. There was no doubt that they, at any rate, were mocking her; nodding, mimicking, standing on their heads, turning somersaults. Jane was not yet frightened; partly because the warmth of the air made her feel drowsy. Her main feeling was indignation. A suspicion which had crossed her mind before now returned with irresistible force; the suspicion that the real universe might be simply silly. It was closely mixed up with the memories of that grown-up laughter-loud, careless, masculine laughter on the lips of bachelor uncles-which had often infuriated her in childhood.

    The giantess rose. They were all coming at her. With a great glow and a noise like fire the flame-robed woman and the dwarfs were in the room with her. The strange woman had a torch in her hand. It burned with terrible, blinding brightness, crackling, and sent up a cloud of dense black smoke, and a sticky, resinous smell. "If they're not careful," thought Jane, " they'll set the house on fire." The outrageous little men began making hay of the room. In a few seconds the bed was a mere chaos, the sheets on the floor, the pillows hurtling through the air, feathers flying everywhere. "Look out! Look out, can't you?" shouted Jane, for the giantess was beginning to touch various parts of the room with her torch. She touched a vase on the mantelpiece. Instantly there rose from it a streak of colour which Jane took for fire. She was just moving to try to put it out when she saw that the same thing had happened to a picture on the wall. It happened faster and faster all round her. The very top-knots of the dwarfs were now on fire. But just as the terror of this became unbearable, Jane noticed that what was curling up from everything the torch had touched was not flame after all, but vegetation. Ivy and honeysuckle were growing up the legs of the bed, red roses were sprouting from the caps of the little men, and from every direction huge lilies rose to her knees and waist, shooting out their yellow tongues at her.

    "Jane! Jane!" said the voice of Mrs. Dimble suddenly. "What on earth is the matter?"

    Jane sat up. The room was empty, but the bed had all been pulled to pieces.

    "Are you ill, child?" asked Mother Dimble.

    "I must see the Director at once," said Jane. "It's all right. Don't bother. I can get up by myself . . . really."

    Mr. Bultitude's mind was as furry and as unhuman as his body. He did not remember the provincial zoo from which he had escaped during a fire, nor his first snarling and terrified arrival at the Manor, nor the stages whereby he had learned to love and trust its inhabitants. He did not know that he loved and trusted them now. He did not know that they were people, nor that he was a bear. Everything that is represented by the words I and Me and Thou was absent from his mind. When Mrs. Maggs gave him a tin of golden syrup, he did not recognise either a giver or a recipient. His loves might, if you wished, be all described as cupboard loves. But if by a cupboard love you meant something cold or calculating you would be quite misunderstanding the beast's sensations. He was no more like a human egoist than he was like a human altruist. There was no prose in his life. The appetencies which a human might disdain as cupboard loves were for him quivering aspirations which absorbed his whole being, infinite yearnings, stabbed with the threat of tragedy and shot through with the colours of Paradise. One of our race, if plunged for a moment in the warm, trembling, iridescent pool of that pre-Adamite consciousness, would have emerged believing that he had grasped the absolute: for states below reason and states above it have a superficial resemblance. But fathoms deeper than any memory can take us, right down in the central warmth and dimness, the bear lived all its life.

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