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  • Home > C.S.Lewis > Cosmic > That Hideous Strength (Page 34)     
  • That Hideous Strength(Cosmic #3)(34) by C.S.Lewis
  • The two initiates, red from top to toe, gazed at each other, breathing heavily. Almost before the fat dead legs and buttocks of the Italian had ceased quivering, they were driven to begin the ritual again-

    "Ouroborindra! Ouroborindra! Ouroborindra ba-ba-hee!"

    The same thought struck both of them at one moment- "It will ask for another." And Straik remembered that Wither had that knife. He wrenched himself free from the rhythm with a frightful effort; claws seemed to be tearing his chest from inside. As Straik bolted. Wither was already after him. Straik reached the ante-room, slipped in Filostrato's blood. Wither slashed repeatedly with his knife. He had not strength to cut through the neck, but he had killed the man. He stood up, pains gnawing at his old man's heart. Then he saw the Italian's head lying on the floor. It seemed to him good to pick it up and carry it into the inner room: show it to the original Head. He did so. Then he realised that something was moving in the ante-room. Could it be that they had not shut the outer door? He could not remember. He put down his burden and stepped towards the door between the rooms. A great bear, rising to its hind legs as he came in sight of it, met him in the doorway-its mouth open, its eyes flaming, its forepaws spread out as if for an embrace. Was this what Straik had become? He knew (though even now he could not attend to it) that he was on the very frontier of a world where such things could happen.

    No one that night had been cooler than Feverstone. He was neither an initiate like Wither nor a dupe like Filostrato. He knew about the macrobes, but it wasn't the sort of thing he was interested in. He saw at a very early stage that something was going wrong. One had to guess how far wrong. Was this the end of Belbury? If so, he must get back to Edgestow and work up the position he had already prepared for himself as the protector of the University against the N.I.C.E. On the other hand, if there were any chance of figuring as the man who had saved Belbury at a moment of crisis, that would be definitely the better line. He would wait as long as it was safe. He found a hatch through which hot dishes were passed from the kitchen passage into the dining-room. He got through it and watched the scene. He thought he could pull and bolt the shutter in time if any dangerous animal made for the hatch. He stood there during the whole massacre, something like a smile on his face, smoking endless cigarettes and drumming with his hard fingers on the sill of the hatch. When it was all over he said to himself, "Well, I'm damned!" It had certainly been a most extraordinary show.

    The beasts had all streaked away somewhere. He worked his way to the back of the house and into the garage; there were far fewer cars there than he had expected. Apparently other people had had the idea of getting away while the going was good, and his own car had been stolen. He felt no resentment, and set about finding another of the same make. It took him a longish time, and when he had found one he had considerable difficulty in starting her up. It was after two o'clock when he got going.

    Just before he started he had the odd impression that someone had got into the back of the car behind him. "Who's that?" he asked sharply. He decided to get out and see. But to his surprise his body did not obey this decision: instead it drove the car out of the garage into the road. Snow was falling. He found he could not turn his head and could not stop driving. He was going ridiculously fast, too, in this damned snow. He had no choice. He'd often heard of cars being driven from the back seat, but now it seemed to be really happening. Then he found he had left the road. The car, still at a reckless speed, was bumping and leaping along what was called Gipsy Lane or (by the educated) Wayland Street-the old Roman Road from Belbury to Edgestow, all grass and ruts. "Here! What the devil am I doing?" thought Feverstone. "Am I tight? I'll break my neck at this game if I don't look out!"But on the car went as if driven by one who thought this track an excellent road and the obvious route to Edgestow.

    Frost had left the dining-room a few minutes after Wither. He did not know where he was going or what he was about to do. For many years he had theoretically believed that all which appears in the mind as motive or intention is merely a by-product of what the body is doing. But for the last year or so-since he had been initiated- he had begun to taste as fact what he had long held as theory. Increasingly, his actions had been without motive. He did this and that, he said thus and thus, and did not know why. His mind was a mere spectator. He could not understand why that spectator should exist at all. He resented its existence, even while assuring himself that resentment also was merely a chemical phenomenon. The nearest thing to a human passion which still existed in him was a sort of cold fury against all who believed in the mind. There were not, and must not be, such things as men.

    Thus the Frost whose existence Frost denied watched his body go into the anteroom, watched it pull up sharply at the sight of a na**d and bloodied corpse. The chemical reaction called shock occurred. Frost stooped, turned the body over, and recognised Straik. A moment later his flashing pince-nez and pointed beard looked into the room of the Head itself. He hardly noticed that Wither and Filostrato lay there dead. His attention was fixed by something more serious. The bracket where the Head ought to have been was empty: the metal ring twisted, the rubber tubes tangled and broken. Then he noticed a head on the floor: stooped and examined it. It was Filostrato's. Of Alcasan's head he found no trace, unless some mess of broken bones beside Filostrato's were it.

    Still not asking what he would do, or why, Frost went to the garage. He came up with as many petrol tins as he could carry. He piled all the inflammables he could think of together in the Objective Room. Then he locked the outer door of the ante-room. Something compelled him to push the key into the speaking-tube which communicated with the passage. When he had pushed it as far in as his fingers could reach, he took a pencil from his pocket and pushed with that. He heard the clink of the key falling on the floor outside. That tiresome illusion, his consciousness, was screaming in protest: his body had no power to attend to those screams. Like the clockwork figure he had chosen to be, his stiff body, now terribly cold, walked back into the Objective Room, poured out the petrol and threw a lighted match into the pile. Not till then did his controllers allow him to suspect that death itself might not cure the illusion of being a soul-nay, might prove the entry into a world where that illusion raged infinite and unchecked. Escape for the soul, if not for the body, was offered him. He became able to know (and simultaneously refused the knowledge) that he had been wrong from the beginning, that souls and personal responsibility existed. He half saw: he wholly hated. The torture of the burning was hardly fiercer than his hatred of that. With one supreme effort he flung himself back into his illusion. In that attitude eternity overtook him.



    DAYLIGHT came with no visible sunrise as Mark was climbing to the highest ground in his journey. The snow-shower was just then coming to its end in a flurry of larger and slower flakes. A big lorry, looking black and warm in that landscape, overtook him. The man put out his head. "Going Birmingham way, mate?" he asked.

    "Roughly," said Mark. "At least I'm going to St. Anne's."

    "Where's that, then?" said the driver.

    "Up on the hill behind Pennington," said Mark.

    "Ah," said the man, "I could take you to the corner. Save you a bit." Mark got in beside him.

    It was mid-morning when the man dropped him at a corner beside a little country hotel. The snow had all lain, and there was more in the sky, and the day was extremely silent. Mark went into the little hotel and found a kind elderly landlady. He had a hot bath and a capital breakfast, and then went to sleep in a chair before a roaring fire. He did not wake till about four. "I suppose I must get on soon," he said to himself.

    His slight reluctance to do so did not proceed from weariness-he felt, indeed, perfectly rested and better than he had felt for several weeks-but from a sort of shyness. He was going to see Jane: and Denniston: and (probably) the Dimbles as well. In fact, he was going to see Jane in what he now felt to be her proper world. But not his. Everything about them was different. They could not even fling themselves into chairs without suggesting by the very posture of their limbs a certain lordliness, a leonine indolence. There was elbow-room in their lives, as there had never been in his. They were Hearts: he was only a Spade. Still, he must be getting on. ... Of course, Jane was a Heart. He must give her her freedom. It would be quite unjust to think that his love for her had been basely sensual. Love, Plato says, is the son of Want. Mark's body knew better than his mind had known till recently, and even his sensual desires were the true index of something which he lacked and Jane had to give. When she had first crossed the dry and dusty world which his mind inhabited she had been like a spring shower; in opening himself to it he had not been mistaken. He had gone wrong only in assuming that marriage, by itself, gave him either power or title to appropriate that freshness. As he now saw, one might as well have thought one could buy a sunset by buying the field from which one had seen it. He rang the bell and asked for his bill.

    That same afternoon Mother Dimble and the three girls were upstairs in the big room which occupied nearly the whole top floor of one wing at the Manor, and which the Director called the Wardrobe. If you had glanced in you would have thought for one moment that they were not in a room at all but in some kind of forest-a tropical forest glowing with bright colours. In fact, they were standing amidst a collection of robes of state-dozens of robes which hung, each separate, from its little pillar of wood.

    "That would do beautifully for you, Ivy," said Mother Dimble, lifting with one hand the folds of a vividly green mantle over which thin twists and spirals of gold played in a festive pattern. "Come, Ivy," she continued, " don't you like it? You're not still fretting about Tom, are you? Hasn't the Director told you he'll be here to-night or tomorrow midday at the latest?"

    Ivy looked at her with troubled eyes. "Tisn't that," she said. "Where'll the Director himself be?"

    "But you can't want him to stay, Ivy," said Camilla, " not in continual pain. And his work will be done - if all goes well at Edgestow."

    "He has longed to go back to Perelandra," said Mother Dimble. "He's-sort of home-sick. Always, always . . . I could see it in his eyes."

    "Will that Merlin man come back here?" asked Ivy. "I don't think so," said Jane. "I don't think either he or the Director expected him to. And then my dream last night. It looked as if he was on fire ... I don't mean burning, you know, but light-all sorts of lights in the most curious colours shooting out of him and running up and down him. That was the last thing I saw: Merlin standing there like a kind of pillar and all those dreadful things happening all round him. And you could see in his face that he was a man used up to the last drop-that he'd fall to pieces the moment the powers let him go."

    "We're not getting on with choosing our dresses for to-night."

    "What is it made of?" said Camilla, fingering and then smelling the green mantle. It was a question worth asking. It was not in the least transparent, yet all sorts of lights and shades dwelled in its rippling folds, and it flowed through Camilla's hands like a waterfall. Ivy became interested.

    "Gor!" she said, "however much a yard would it be?"

    "There," said Mother Dimble as she draped it skilfully round Ivy. Then she said, "Oh!" in genuine amazement. All three stood back from Ivy, staring at her with delight. The commonplace had not exactly gone from her form and face: the robes had taken it up, as a great composer takes up a folk-tune and tosses it like a ball through his symphony and makes of it a marvel, yet leaves it still itself. A "pert fairy" or "dapper elf", a small though perfect sprightliness, stood before them: but still recognisably Ivy Maggs.

    "Isn't that like a man!" exclaimed Mrs. Dimble. "There's not a mirror in the room."

    "I don't believe we were meant to see ourselves," said Jane. "He said something about being mirrors enough to one another."

    "I would just like to see what I'm like at the back," said Ivy.

    "Now, Camilla," said Mother Dimble, " there's no puzzle about you. This is obviously your one."

    "Oh, do you think that one?" said Camilla.

    "Yes, of course," said Jane.

    "You'll look ever so nice in that," said Ivy.

    It was a long slender thing which looked like steel in colour, though it was soft as foam to the touch. It wrapped itself close about her loins and flowed out in a glancing train at her heels. "Like a mermaid," thought Jane: and then "Like a Valkyrie."

    "I'm afraid," said Mother Dimble, " you must wear a coronet with that one."

    "Wouldn't that be rather . . .?"

    But Mother Dimble was already setting it on her head. That reverence (it need have nothing to do with money value) which nearly all women feel for jewellery hushed three of them for a moment. There were, perhaps, no such diamonds in England. The splendour was fabulous, preposterous.

    "What are you all staring at?" asked Camilla, who had seen but one flash as the crown was raised in Mrs. Dimble's hands and did not know that she stood " like starlight, in the spoils of provinces ".

    "Treasure of Logres, dears, treasure of Logres," said Mrs. Dimble. "Perhaps from beyond the Moon or before the flood. Now, Jane."

    Jane could see nothing specially appropriate in the robe which the others agreed in putting on her. But when she saw the others all clap their hands, she submitted. Indeed, it did not now occur to her to do otherwise, and the whole matter was forgotten a moment later in the excitement of choosing a robe for Mother Dimble.

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