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  • Home > C.S.Lewis > Cosmic > That Hideous Strength (Page 36)     
  • That Hideous Strength(Cosmic #3)(36) by C.S.Lewis
  • "Dimble!" said Ransom. Dimble, whose tone had become a little impassioned, stopped and looked towards him. He hesitated and (as Jane thought) almost blushed before he began again.

    "You're right, sir," he said with a smile. "I was forgetting what you have warned me always to remember. This haunting is no peculiarity of ours. Every people has its own haunter. There's no nonsense about a chosen nation. We speak about Logres because it is our haunting, the one we know about."

    "All this," said MacPhee " seems a very roundabout way of saying that there's good and bad men everywhere."

    "It's not a way of saying that at all," answered Dimble. "You see, MacPhee, if one is thinking simply of goodness in the abstract, one soon reaches the fatal idea of something standardised-some common kind of life to which all nations ought to progress. Of course there are universal rules to which all goodness must conform. But that's only the grammar of virtue. It's not there that the sap is. He doesn't make two blades of grass the same: how much less two saints, two nations, two angels. The whole work of healing Tellus depends on nursing that little spark, on incarnating that ghost, which is still alive in every real people, and different in each. When Logres really dominates Britain, when the goddess Reason, the divine clearness, is really enthroned in France, when the order of Heaven is really followed in China-why, then it will be spring. But meantime, our concern is with Logres. We've got Britain down, but who knows how long we can hold her down? Edgestow will not recover from what is happening to her to-night. But there will be other Edgestows."

    "I wanted to ask about Edgestow," said Mother Dimble. "Aren't Merlin and the eldils a trifle . . . well, wholesale. Did all Edgestow deserve to be wiped out?"

    "Who are you lamenting?' said MacPhee. "The jobbing town council that'd have sold their own wives and daughters to bring the N.I.C.E. to Edgestow?"

    "Well, I don't know much about them," said she. "But in the university. Even Bracton itself. We all knew it was a horrible College, of course. But did they really mean any great harm with all their fussy little intrigues? Wasn't it more silly than anything else?"

    "Och aye," said MacPhee. "They were only playing themselves. Kittens letting on to be tigers. But there was a real tiger about, and their play ended by letting her in. It'll learn them not to keep bad company."

    "Well, then, the fellows of other colleges. What about Northumberland and Duke's?"

    "I know," said Denniston. "One's sorry for a man like Churchwood. I knew him well; he was an old dear. All his lectures were devoted to proving the impossibility of ethics, though in private life he'd have walked ten miles rather than leave a penny debt unpaid. But all the same . . . was there a single doctrine practised at Belbury which hadn't been preached by some lecturer at Edgestow? Oh, of course, they never thought anyone would act on their theories! But it was their own child coming back to them: grown up and unrecognisable, but their own."

    "I'm afraid it's all true, my dear," said Dimble. "Trahison des clercs. None of us are quite innocent."

    "You are all forgetting," said Grace, " that nearly everyone, except the very good (who were ripe for fair dismissal) and the very bad, had already left Edgestow. But I agree with Arthur. Those who have forgotten Logres sink into Britain. Those who call for Nonsense will find that it comes."

    At that moment she was interrupted. A clawing and whining noise at the door had become audible.

    "Open the door, Arthur," said Ransom. A moment later the whole party rose to its feet with cries of welcome, for the new arrival was Mr. Bultitude.

    "Oh, I never did" said Ivy. "The pore thing! I'll just take him down to the kitchen and get him something to eat. Wherever have you been, you bad thing? Eh? Just look at the state you're in."

    For the third time in ten minutes the train gave a violent lurch and came to a standstill. This time the shock put all the lights out.

    "This is really getting a bit too bad," said a voice in the darkness. The four other passengers in the compartment recognised it as belonging to the well-informed man who had told everyone where they ought to change and why one now reached Sterk without going through Stratford.

    Still the train did not move. The noise of two men quarrelling in a neighbouring compartment became audible.

    Suddenly a shock flung them all together in the darkness. It was as if the train, going at full speed, had been unskillfully pulled up.

    "It's all right," said the well-informed man in a loud, calm voice. "Putting on another engine."

    "Hullo!" said someone. "We're moving." Slow and grunting, the train began to go. Once more a violent shock hit them. It was worse than the last one. For nearly a minute everything seemed to be rocking and rattling.

    "This is outrageous!" exclaimed the well-informed man, opening the window. "There's some sort of light ahead," said he.

    "Signal against us?" asked another. "No. Not a bit like that. The whole sky's lit up. Like a fire, or like searchlights."

    Another shock. And then, far away in the darkness, vague disastrous noise. The train began to move again, still slowly, as if it were groping its way.

    About half an hour later the lighted platform of Sterk slowly loomed alongside.

    "Station Announcer calling," said a voice. "Please keep your seats for an important announcement. Slight earthquake shock and floods have rendered the line to Edgestow impassable. No details available. Passengers for Edgestow are advised...

    The well-informed man, who was Curry, got out. Such a man always knows all officials, and in a few minutes he was standing by the fire in the ticket collector's office.

    "Well, we don't exactly know yet, Mr. Curry," said the man. "There's been nothing coming through for about an hour. It's very bad, you know. They're putting the best face on it they can. There's never been an earthquake like it in England from what I can hear. And there's the floods, too. No, sir, I'm afraid you'll find nothing of Bracton College. All that part of the town went almost at once. I don't know what the casualties'll be. I'm glad I got my old Dad out last week."

    Curry always in later years regarded this as one of the turning-points of his life. He had not up till then been a religious man. But the word that now instantly came into his mind was "Providential ". He'd been within an ace of taking the earlier train : and if he had . . . The whole College wiped out! It would have to be rebuilt. There'd be a complete new set of Fellows, a new Warden. It was Providential again that some responsible person should have been spared. The more he thought of it, the more fully Curry realised that the whole shaping of the future college rested with the sole survivor. It was almost like being a second founder. Providential-providential.

    Ivy Maggs, it will be remembered, had left the dining-room for the purpose of attending to Mr. Bultitude's comfort. It therefore surprised everyone when she returned in less than a minute with a wild expression on her face.

    "Oh, come quick, someone. Come quick!" she gasped. "There's a bear in the kitchen."

    "A bear, Ivy?" said the Director. "But of course--"

    "Oh, I don't mean Mr. Bultitude, sir. There's a strange bear; another one."


    "And it's eaten up all what was left of the goose, and now it's lying along the table eating everything as it goes along and wriggling from one dish to another and a-breaking all the crockery. Oh, do come quick!"

    "And what is Mr. Bultitude doing?"

    "Well, that's what I want someone to come and see. He's carrying on something dreadful sir. I never see anything like it. First of all he stood lifting up his legs in a funny way as if he thought he could dance. But now he's got up on the dresser on his hind legs making the most awful noise-squeaking like-and he's put one foot into the plum pudding and he's got his head mixed up in the string of onions, and I can't do nothing with him, really I can't."

    "This is very odd of Mr. Bultitude. You don't think, my dear, that the stranger might be a she bear?"

    "Oh, don't say that, sir!" exclaimed Ivy with extreme dismay.

    "I think that's the truth. Ivy. I strongly suspect that this is the future Mrs. Bultitude. "Oh dear, what shall we do?" said Ivy. "I am sure Mr. Bultitude is quite equal to the situation," replied the Director.

    "No doubt, no doubt," said MacPhee. "But not in our kitchen."

    "Ivy, my dear," said Ransom, " you must be firm. Go into the kitchen and tell the strange bear I want to see her. You wouldn't be afraid, would you?"

    "Afraid? I'll show her who's the Director here."

    "What's the matter with that jackdaw?" said Dr. Dimble. The bird had hitherto been asleep on Ransom's shoulder.

    "I think it's trying to get out," said Denniston. "Shall I open the window?"

    "It's warm enough, anyway," said the Director. And as the window was opened the daw hopped out and there was a scuffle and a chattering just outside.

    "Another love affair," said Mrs. Dimble. "It sounds as if Jack had found a Jill. . . . What a delicious night!" she added. For as the curtain swelled and lifted over the open window, all the freshness of a midsummer night seemed to be blowing into the room. At that moment, a little farther off, came a sound of whinnying.

    "Hullo!" said Denniston, " the old mare is excited, too."

    "That's a different horse," said Denniston.

    "It's a stallion," said Camilla.

    "This," said MacPhee with great emphasis," is becoming indecent!"

    "On the contrary," said Ransom, " decent, in the old sense, decent, fitting, is just what she is. Venus herself is over St. Anne's."

    "She comes more near the Earth than she was wont," quoted Dimble, " to make men mad."

    "She is nearer than any astronomer knows," said Ransom. "The work is done, the other gods have withdrawn. She waits, and when she returns to her sphere I will ride with her."

    Suddenly in the semi-darkness Mrs. Dimble's voice cried sharply, "Look out! Look out! Cecil! I'm sorry. I can't stand bats." Cheep cheep went the voices of the two bats as they flickered to and fro above the candles.

    "You'd better go, Margaret," said the Director. "You and Cecil had better both go. I shall be gone very soon now. There is no need of long good-byes."

    "I really think I must go," said Mother Dimble. "I can't stand bats."

    "Comfort Margaret, Cecil," said Ransom. "No. Do not stay. Seeing people off is always folly."

    "You mean us to go, sir?" said Dimble.

    "Go, my dear friends. Urendi Maleldil."

    He laid his hands on their heads: Cecil gave his arm to his wife and they went.

    "Here she is, sir," said Ivy Maggs, re-entering the room a moment later, flushed and radiant. A bear waddled at her side, its cheeks sticky with gooseberry jam. "And- oh, sir?" she added.

    "What is it. Ivy?" said the Director.

    "Please, sir, it's poor Tom. It's my husband. And if you don't mind---"

    "You've given him something to eat and drink, I hope?"

    "Well, yes, I have. I give him the cold pie and the pickles (he always was a great one for pickles) and the cheese and a bottle of stout, and I've put the kettle on so as we can make ourselves-so as he can make himself a nice cup of tea. And he's enjoying it ever so, sir, and he said would you mind him not coming up to say how d'you do because he never was much of a one for company if you take my meaning."

    The strange bear had been standing with its eyes fixed on the Director. He laid his hand on its flat head. "Urendi Maleldil," he said. "You are a good bear. Go to your mate-but here he is," for at that moment the door, which was already ajar, was pushed farther open to admit the face of Mr. Bultitude. "Take her, Bultitude. But not in the house. Jane, open the other window, the French window. It is like a night in July." The window swung open and the two bears went out into the warmth and the wetness. Everyone noticed how light it had become.

    "Are those birds all daft that they're singing at quarter to twelve?" asked MacPhee.

    "No," said Ransom. "They are sane. Now, Ivy, you want to go and talk to Tom. Mother Dimble has put you both in the little room halfway up the stairs, not in the lodge after all."

    "Oh, sir," said Ivy, and stopped.

    "Of course you want to go," he said. "Why, he's hardly had time to see you in your new dress yet. Don't cry. Go and heal this man. Urendi Maleldil-we shall meet again."

    "What's all yon squealing?" said MacPhee. "I hope it's not the pigs. There's already as much carrying on about this house and garden as I can stand."

    "I think it's hedgehogs," said Grace Ironwood. "That last sound was somewhere in the house," said Jane.

    "Listen!" said the Director, and for a short time all were still. Then his face relaxed into a smile. "It's the mice behind the wainscot," he said. "There are revels there, too."

    "I suppose," said MacPhee dryly, "I suppose we may think ourselves lucky that no giraffes, hippopotami, elephants, or the like have seen fit to-God almighty, what's that?" For as he spoke, a long grey flexible tube came in between the swaying curtains and helped itself to a bunch of bananas.

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