That Hideous Strength CHAPTER FOURTEEN


MARK did not know whether it was minutes or hours later that he found himself once more awake, once more confronting Frost, and still fasting. The Professor came to ask if he had thought over their recent conversation. Mark, who judged that some show of reluctance would make his final surrender more convincing, replied that he did not quite understand what one stood to gain by co-operation with the Macrobes. He saw that the motives on which most men act were mere products of the animal organism. But he did not yet see what was to be substituted for these irrational motives. On what ground henceforward were actions to be justified or condemned ?

"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 breasts. 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.

Today an unusual thing had happened to him-he had got into the garden without being muzzled. He was always muzzled out of doors, not because there was any fear of his becoming dangerous but because of his partiality for fruit and for the sweeter kinds of vegetables. But today the precaution had been forgotten and the bear had passed a very agreeable morning investigating the turnips. Now -in the early afternoon-he had approached the garden wall. There was a chestnut tree within the wall which the bear could easily climb, and from its branches he could drop down on the far side. He was standing looking up at this tree. Mrs. Maggs would have described his state of mind by saying, "He knows perfectly well he's not allowed out of the garden." That was not how it appeared to Mr. Bultitude. He had no morals: but the Director had given him certain inhibitions. A mysterious reluctance arose, a clouding of the emotional weather, when the wall was too close; but mixed with this there was an opposite impulse to get beyond that wall. If the pressure behind this impulse could be translated into human terms at all, it would appear more like a mythology than a thought. One met bees in the garden. The bees all went away, over the wall. And to follow bees was the obvious thing to do. There was a sense in the bear's mind-one could hardly call it a picture-of green lands beyond the wall, and hives, and bees the size of sparrows, and there, walking, trickling, oozing to meet one, something or someone stickier, sweeter, than honey itself.

Three times Mr. Bultitude turned away from the tree and the wall, but each time he came back. Then, very cautiously and quietly, he began to climb the tree. When he got up into the fork he sat there for a long time. He sat there for nearly half an hour. Sometimes his mind wandered from the point and once he nearly went to sleep. In the end he got down on the outside of the wall. When he found that the thing had really happened he became so frightened that he sat still at the bottom of the grassy bank on the very edge of the road.

A motor van came into sight. It was driven by a man in the livery of the N.I.C.E., and another man in the same livery sat beside him.

"Hullo ... I say!" said the second man. "Pull up, Sid. What about that?"

"What?" said the driver.

"Haven't you got eyes in your head?" said the other.

"Gor," said Sid, pulling up. "A bloody great bear. I say-it. couldn't be our own bear, could it?"

"Get on," said his mate. "She was in her cage all right this morning."

"You don't think she could have done a bunk? There'd be hell to pay for you and me. . . ."

"She couldn't have got here if she had done a bunk. Bears don't go forty miles an hour. But hadn't we better pinch this one?"

"We haven't got no orders," said Sid. "No. And we haven't failed to get that blasted wolf either, have we?"

"Wasn't our fault."

"Course it wasn't our fault. But the boss won't take no notice of that. It's get on or get out at Belbury."

"Get out?" said Sid. "I wish to hell I knew how to."

Len spat over the side and there was a moment's silence. "Anyway," said Sid presently, " what's the good of taking a bear back?"

"Well, isn't it better than coming back with nothing?" said Len. "I know they want another one. And here it is free."

"All right," said Sid ironically, " if you're so keen on it, just hop out and ask him to step in."

"Dope," said Len.

"Not on my bit of dinner, you don't," said Sid. "You're a bucking good mate to have," said Len, groping in a greasy parcel. "It's a good thing for you I'm not the sort of chap who'd split on you."

"You done it already," said the driver. "I know all your little games."

Len produced a sandwich and dabbed it with some strong-smelling liquid from a bottle. When it was saturated, he opened the door and went a pace forward, about six yards from the bear. He threw the sandwich to it.

Quarter of an hour later Mr. Bultitude lay on his side, unconscious and breathing heavily. They had no difficulty in tying up his mouth and all four paws, but they had great difficulty in lifting him into the van.

Mark's waking life was now divided between periods by the Sleeper's bedside and periods in the room with the spotted ceiling. The training in objectivity which took place in the latter cannot be described; the details would be unprintable and had, indeed, a "kind of nursery fatuity about them which is best ignored. There indeed lay the horror-to perform petty obscenities which a silly child might have thought funny under the unchangingly serious inspection of Frost, with a stop watch and a note-book and all the ritual of experiment. And day by day, as the process went on, that idea of the Straight or the Normal which had occurred to him during his first visit to this room, grew stronger and more solid in his mind till it became a kind of mountain. He had never before known what an Idea meant.

The other thing that helped to save him was the Man in the Bed. Mark's discovery that he really could speak English had led to a curious acquaintance with him. It can hardly be said that they conversed. The man was so very allusive and used gesture so extensively that Mark's less sophisticated modes of communication were almost useless. Thus when Mark explained that he had no tobacco, the man had slapped an imaginary tobacco pouch on his knees at least six times and struck an imaginary match about as often, each time jerking his head sideways with a look of such relish as Mark had seldom seen on a human face. Then Mark went on to explain that though " they " were not foreigners, they were extremely dangerous people and that probably the Stranger's best plan would be to preserve his silence.

"Ah," said the Stranger, jerking his head again, " don't get nothing out of me. I tell 'ee. Don't get nothing out of me. Eh? I tell 'ee. You and me knows. Ah?" and his look embraced Mark in such an apparently gleeful conspiracy that it warmed the heart.

Believing this matter to be now sufficiently clear. Mark began, "But, as regards the future--"

"Ah," said the man. "Foreigners. Eh?"

"No, no," said Mark. "I told you they weren't. They seem to think you are, though. And that's why-

"That's right," interrupted the man. ' Foreigners, I call them. I know."

"I've been trying to think out some sort of plan," said Mark.

"Ah," said the man approvingly, "I got a plan."

"What is it?"

"Ah," said the man, winking at Mark with infinite knowingness and rubbing his belly.

"Go on. What is it?" said Mark.

"How'd it be," said the man. "How'd it be if you and I made ourselves a nice bit of toasted cheese?"

"I mean a plan for escape," said Mark. I know.

"Ah," replied the man. "My old Dad, now. He never had a day's illness in his life."

"It's a remarkable record," said Mark. "Ah. You may say so," replied the other. "On the road all his life. Never had a stomach-ache. And what did he attribute his health to?" He pronounced the word attribute with great relish, laying the accent on the first syllable.

Mark was about to reply when the man indicated by a gesture that the question was purely rhetorical.

"He attributed his health, continued the speaker, "to eating toasted cheese. Keeps the water out of the stomach, that's what it does. Makes a lining."

In several interviews Mark endeavoured to discover something of the Stranger's own history and particularly how he had been brought to Belbury. This was not easy, for though the tramp's conversation was very autobiographical, it was filled almost entirely with accounts of conversations in which he had made stunning repartees whose points remained wholly obscure. But by repeated and cautious questioning, he couldn't help getting the idea that the tramp had been made to give up his clothes to a total stranger and then put to sleep. He never got the story in so many words. As for the identity or appearance of the person who had taken his clothes, nothing whatever could be made out. The nearest Mark ever got to it, after hours of talk and deep potations, was some such statement as "Ah. He was a one!" or "He was a kind of-eh? You know?" or "That was a customer, that was."

Throughout the man's conversation, gusto was the most striking characteristic. He never passed any kind of moral judgement on the various things that had been done to him in the course of his career, nor did he ever try to explain them. Much that was unjust and more that was simply unintelligible seemed to be accepted not only without resentment but with a certain satisfaction provided only that it was striking. Even about his present situation he showed very much less curiosity than Mark would have thought possible. It did not make sense, but then the man did not expect things to make sense. He deplored the absence of tobacco and regarded the "Foreigners " as very dangerous people: but the main thing, obviously, was to eat and drink as much as possible while the present conditions lasted.

Every now and then their tte--tte was interrupted. Frost or Wither or both would come in introducing some stranger who addressed the tramp in an unknown language, failed completely to get any response, and was ushered out again. The tramp's habit of submission to the unintelligible, mixed with a kind of animal cunning, stood him in good stead during these interviews. It would never have occurred to him to undeceive his captors by replying in English. Undeceiving was an activity wholly foreign to his mind. For the rest, his expression of tranquil indifference, varied occasionally by extremely sharp looks but never by the least sign of anxiety or bewilderment, left his interrogators mystified.

And then, one day, there came an interview that was different.

"It sounds like a mythological picture by Titian come to life," said the Director, when Jane had described her experience in the lodge.

"Yes, but . . ." said Jane, and stopped. "I see," she began again, " it was very like that. As if the air were on fire. But I always thought I liked Titian. I suppose I wasn't really taking the pictures seriously enough."

"You didn't like it when it came out into real life?"

Jane shook her head.

"Was it real, sir?" she asked presently. "Are there such things?"

"Yes," said the Director, " it was real enough. Oh, there are thousands of things within this square mile that I don't know about yet. And I dare say that the presence of Merlinus brings out certain things. And you yourself . . . you are a seer. You were perhaps bound to meet her. She's what you'll get if you won't have the other."

"How do you mean, sir?" said Jane.

"You said she was a little like Mother Dimble. So she is. But Mother Dimble with something left out. Mother Dimble is friends with all that world as Merlinus is friends with the woods and rivers. But he isn't a wood or a river himself. She has not rejected it, but she has baptized it. You are not a Christian wife; neither are you a virgin. You have put yourself where you must meet that Old Woman and you have rejected all that has happened to her since Maleldil came to Earth. So you get her raw untransformed, demoniac. And you don't like it."

"You mean," said Jane slowly, "I've been repressing something."

The Director laughed; just that loud, assured, bachelor laughter which had often infuriated her on other lips.

"Yes," he said. "But don't think I'm talking of Freudian repressions. He knew only half the facts. I'm afraid there s no niche in the world for people that won't be either Pagan or Christian. Just imagine a man who was too dainty to eat with his fingers and yet wouldn't use forks!"

His laughter rather than his words had reddened Jane's cheeks. Her female dream of finding a man who " really understood " was being insulted. Some knowledge of a world beyond nature she had already gained from living in his house, but she had been conceiving this world as " spiritual " in the negative sense-as some neutral, or democratic, vacuum where differences disappeared, where sex and sense were not transcended but simply taken away.

"No," said the Director, " there is no escape. If it were a virginal rejection of the male. He would allow it. Such souls can by-pass the male and go on to meet something far more masculine, higher up, to which they must make a yet deeper surrender. But your trouble has been what old poets called Daungier. We call it Pride. You are offended by the masculine itself: the loud, irruptive, possessive thing-the gold lion, the bearded bull-which breaks through hedges and scatters the little kingdom of your primness as the dwarfs scattered the carefully made bed. The male you could have escaped, for it exists only on the biological level. But the masculine none of us can escape. What is above and beyond all things is so masculine that we are all feminine in relation to it. You had better agree with your adversary quickly."

"You mean I shall have to become a Christian?" said Jane.

"It looks like it," said the Director. Playing for time, she asked. "Who was that Huge Woman?"

"I'm not sure," said the Director. "But I think I can make a guess. Did you know that all the planets are represented in each?"

"No, sir. I didn't."

"Apparently they are. There is no Oyarsa in Heaven who has not got his representative on Earth. And there is no world where you could not meet a little unfallen partner of our own black Archon, a kind of other self. That is why there was an Italian Saturn as well as a heavenly one, and a Cretan Jove as well as an Olympian. What concerns you more, there is a terrestrial as well as a celestial Venus-Perelandra's wraith as well as Perelandra."

"And you think . . .?"

"I do: I have long known that this house is deeply under her influence. There is even copper in the soil. Also-the earth-Venus will be specially active here at present. For it is to-night that her heavenly archetype will really descend."

"I had forgotten," said Jane.

"You will not forget it once it has happened. All of you had better stay together. Do not come upstairs. To-night I will bring Merlin before my masters, all five of them-Viritrilbia, Perelandra, Malacandra, Glund, and Lurga. He will be opened. Powers will pass into him."

"What will he do, sir?"

The Director laughed. "The first step is easy. The enemies at Belbury are already looking for experts in archaic western dialects, preferably Celtic. We shall send them an interpreter! Yes, by the splendour of Christ, we will send them one."

There was a sudden knock on the door and Grace Ironwood entered.

"Ivy is back, sir," she said. "I think you'd better see her. She never saw her husband. The sentence is over, but they haven't released him. He's been sent on to Belbury for remedial treatment. Apparently it does not require a sentence from a court. . . . She is in great distress."

Jane had gone into the garden to think. She accepted what the Director had said, yet it seemed to her nonsensical. "Religion " ought to mean a realm in which her haunting female fear of being treated as a thing, an object of barter and desire and possession, would be set permanently at rest, and what she called her " true self" would soar upwards and expand in some freer and purer world. For still she thought that "Religion " was a kind of exhalation or a cloud of incense, something steaming up from specially gifted souls towards a receptive heaven. Then, quite sharply, it occurred to her that the Director never talked about Religion, nor did the Dimbles nor Camilla. They talked about God. They had no picture in their minds of some mist steaming upward: rather of strong, skilful hands thrust down to make and mend, perhaps even to destroy. Supposing one were a thing after all-a thing designed and invented by Someone Else and valued for qualities quite different from what one had decided to regard as one's true self? Supposing all those people who, from the bachelor uncles down to Mark and Mother Dimble, had infuriatingly found her sweet and fresh when she wanted them to find her also interesting and important, had all along been simply right and perceived the sort of thing she was ? Supposing Maleldil on this subject agreed with them and not with her? For one moment she had a ridiculous and scorching vision of a world in which God Himself would never understand, never take her with full seriousness. Then, at one particular corner of the gooseberry patch, the change came.

What awaited her there was serious to the degree of sorrow and beyond. There was no form nor sound. The mould under the bushes, the moss on the path, and the little brick border were not visibly changed. But they were changed. A boundary had been crossed. She had come into a world, or into a Person, or into the presence of a Person. Something expectant, patient, inexorable, met her with no veil or protection between. In the closeness of that contact she perceived at once that the Director's words had been entirely misleading. This demand which now pressed upon her was not, even by analogy, like any other demand. It was the origin of all right demands and contained them. In its light you could understand them:

but from them you could know nothing of it. There was nothing, and never had been anything, like this. And now there was nothing except this. Yet also, everything had been like this: only by being like this had anything existed. In this height and depth and breadth the little idea of herself which she had hitherto called me dropped down and vanished, unfluttering, into bottomless distance, like a bird in space without air. The name me was the name of a being whose existence she had never suspected, a being that did not yet fully exist but which was demanded. . It was a person (not the person she had thought) yet also a thing-a made thing, made to please Another and in Him to please all others-a thing being made at this very moment, without its choice, in a shape it had never dreamed of. And the making went on amidst a kind of splendour or sorrow or both, whereof she could not tell whether it was in the moulding hands or in the kneaded lump.

Words take too long. To be aware of all this and to know that it had already gone made one single experience. It was revealed only in its departure. The largest thing that had ever happened to her had, apparently, found room for itself in a moment of time too short to be called time at all. Her hand closed on nothing but a memory, and as it closed, without an instant's pause, the voices of those who have not joy rose howling and chattering from every corner of her being.

"Take care. Draw back. Keep your head. Don't commit yourself," they said. And then more subtly, from another quarter, "You have had a religious experience. This is very interesting. Not everyone does. How much better you will now understand the seventeenth-century poets!" Or from a third direction, more sweetly, "Go on. Try to get it again. It will please the Director."

But her defences had been captured, and these counterattacks were unsuccessful.

Prev Next