NEXT morning Mark went back to Belbury by train. This return-just sauntering in and hanging up his hat and ordering a drink-was a pleasant contrast to his first arrival. The servant who brought the drink knew him. Filostrato nodded to him. After the drink he strolled upstairs to Cosser's office.
Steele and Cosser were both there. Neither spoke. "Ah-good morning," said Mark awkwardly. Steele finished making a pencil note. "What is it, Mr. Studdock?" he said without looking up.
"I came to see Cosser," said Mark, and then, addressing Cosser, "I've been thinking over the last section in that report---"
"What report's this?" said Steele to Cosser.
"Oh, I thought," replied Cosser, with a little twisty smile at one corner of his mouth, "that it would be a good thing to put together a report on Cure Hardy. Mr. Studdock helped me."
"Well, never mind about that now," said Steele.
"You can talk to Mr. Cosser about it some other lime, Mr. Studdock."
"Look here," said Mark, "I think we'd better understand one another. Am I to take it that this report was simply a private hobby of Cosser's ? And whose orders am I under?"
Steele, playing with his pencil, looked at Cosser. "I asked you a question about my position, Mr. Steele," said Mark.
"I haven't time for this sort of thing," said Steele. "I know nothing about your position."
Mark turned on his heel and left the room, slamming the door behind him. He was going to see the Deputy Director.
At the door of Wither's room he hesitated for a moment because he heard voices from within. But he was too angry to wait. He knocked and entered without noticing whether the knock had been answered.
"My dear boy," said the Deputy Director, looking up but not quite fixing his eyes on Mark's face,"I am delighted to see you."
Mark noticed that there was a third person in the room, a man called Stone whom he had met the day before yesterday. Stone was standing in front of Wither's table rolling and unrolling a piece of blotting-paper with his fingers.
"Delighted to see you," repeated Wither. "All the more so because you-er-interrupted me in what I am afraid I must call a rather painful interview. As I was just saying to poor Mr. Stone when you came in, nothing is nearer to my heart than the wish that this great Institute should all work together like one family . . . the greatest unity of will and purpose, Mr. Stone, the freest mutual confidence . . . that is what I expect of my colleagues. But then as you may remind me, Mr.-ah-Studdock, even in family life there are occasionally strains and misunderstandings. And that is why, my dear boy, I am not at the moment quite at leisure-don't go, Mr. Stone. I have a great deal more to say to you."
"Perhaps I'd better come back later?" said Mark.
"Well, perhaps in all the circumstances ... it is your feelings that I am considering, Mr. Stone . . . perhaps . . . the usual method of seeing me, Mr. Studdock, is to apply to my secretary and make an appointment. Not, you will understand, that I have the least wish to insist on any formalities. It is the waste of your time that I am anxious to avoid."
"Thank you, sir," said Mark. "I'll go and see your secretary."
The secretary's office was next door. Mark made an appointment for ten o'clock to-morrow, the earliest hour they could offer him. As he came out he ran into Fairy Hardcastle.
"Hullo, Studdock," said the Fairy. "Hanging round the D.D.'s office? That won't do, you know."
"I have decided," said Mark, " that I must either get my position definitely fixed or else leave the Institute."
She looked at him with an ambiguous expression and suddenly slipped her arm through his.
"Look, sonny," she said, " you drop all that, see? Come and have a talk."
"There's really nothing to talk about, Miss Hardcastle," said Mark. "Either I get a real job here, or I go back to Bracton."
To this the Fairy made no answer, and the steady pressure of her arm compelled Mark to go with her along the passage.
She brought him to her own offices on the second floor. The outer office was full of what he had already learned to call Waips, the girls of the Women's Auxiliary Institutional Police. The men of the force, though more numerous, were not often met with indoors, but Waips were constantly seen wherever Miss Hardcastle appeared. Far from sharing the masculine characteristics of their chief they were small and fluffy and full of giggles. Miss Hardcastle behaved to them as if she were a man, and addressed them in tones of half-breezy, half-ferocious gallantry. When they reached the inner office she made Mark sit down but remained standing herself.
"Cut it all out, Studdock," said Miss Hardcastle. "And whatever you do, don't go bothering the D.D."
"That might be very good advice, Miss Hardcastle," said Mark, "if I were committed to staying here. I've very nearly made up my mind to go home. Only I thought I'd just have a talk with him first, to make everything clear."
"Making things clear is the one thing the D.D. can't stand," replied Miss Hardcastle. "That's not how he runs the place. And mind you, he knows what he's about. It works, sonny. You needn't bother your head about all the Steeles and Cossers. Not one of them is going to be left when we get going."
"That's just the line Cosser took about Steele," said Mark, "and it didn't seem to do me much good when it came to the point."
"Do you know, Studdock," said Miss Hardcastle, "I've taken a fancy to you. Because if I hadn't, I'd be disposed to resent that last remark."
"I don't mean to be offensive," said Mark. "But- damn it all-look at it from my point of view."
"No good. You don't know enough yet for your point of view to be worth sixpence. You're being offered a chance. And there are only two alternatives, you know; to be in the N.I.C.E. or to be out of it. And I know which is going to be most fun."
"I do understand that," said Mark. "Give me a real place in the Sociological Department and I'll . ."
"Rats ! That whole Department is going to be scrapped. It had to be there at the beginning for propaganda purposes."
"But what assurance have I that I'm going to be one of their successors?"
"You aren't. The real work has nothing to do with all these departments. The kind of sociology we're interested in will be done by my people-the police."
"Then where do I come in?"
"If you'll trust me I can put you on to a bit of your real work-what you were brought here to do-straight away."
"You mean the radiologist-the man who was guillotined?" asked Mark, who was completely bewildered.
The Fairy nodded.
"He's to be rehabilitated," she said. "Gradually. You begin with a quiet little article-not questioning his guilt, but just hinting that of course he was a member of their quisling government, and there was a prejudice against him. Then you follow it up in a day or two with an article of quite a different kind. Popular account of the value of his work. You can mug up the facts-enough for that kind of article-in an afternoon. By that time--"
"What on earth is the point of all this?"
"I'm telling you, Studdock. Alcasan is to be rehabilitated. Made into a martyr."
"But what for?"
"There you go again! You grumble about being given nothing to do, and as soon as I suggest a bit of real work you expect to have the whole plan of campaign told you before you do it. That's not the way to get on here. The great thing is to do what you're told. You don't seem to realise what we are. We're an army."
"Anyway," said Mark, "I didn't come here to write newspaper articles. And if I had, I'd want to know. a good deal more about the politics of the N.I.C.E. before I went in for that sort of thing."
"Haven't you been told that it's strictly non-political?"
" 've been told so many things that I don't know whether I'm on my head or my heels," said Mark. "But I don't see how one's going to start a newspaper stunt without being political. Is it Left or Right papers that are going to print all this rot about Alcasan?"
"Both, honey, both," said Miss Hardcastle. "Don't you understand anything? Isn't it absolutely essential to keep a fierce Left and a fierce Right both on their toes and each terrified of the other? That's how we get things done. Of course we're non-political. The real power always is."
"Well," said Mark, "this is all very interesting, but it has nothing to do with me. I don't want to become a journalist at all: and if I did I should like to be an honest journalist."
"Very well," said Miss Hardcastle. "All you'll do is to help to ruin this country, and perhaps the human race. Besides dishing your own career."
The confidential tone in which she had been speaking up till now had disappeared and there was a threatening finality in her voice. The citizen and the honest man which had been awaked in Mark by the conversation, quailed a little: his other and far stronger self, the self that was anxious at all costs not to be placed among the outsiders, leaped up, fully alarmed.
"I don't mean," he said, " that I don't see your point. I was only wondering ..."
"It's all one to me, Studdock," said Miss Hardcastle. "Go and settle it with the D.D. He doesn't like people resigning, but, of course, you can. He'll have something to say to Feverstone for bringing you here. We'd assumed you understood."
The mention of Feverstone brought sharply before Mark as a reality the plan, which had up till now been slightly unreal, of going back to Edgestow and satisfying himself with the career of a Fellow of Bracton. On what terms would he go back ? Would he still be a member of the inner circle even at Bracton? And the salary of a mere don looked a poor thing after the dreams he had been dreaming for the last few days. Married life was already turning out more expensive than he had reckoned. Then came a sharp doubt about that two hundred pounds for membership of the N.I.C.E. club. But no-that was absurd.
"Well, obviously," he said in a vague voice, "the first thing is to see the D.D."
"You'd better run along now," said Miss Hardcastle. ,"Have a nice talk with the D.D. Be careful not to annoy the old man. He does so hate resignations."
The rest of that day he passed miserably enough, keeping out of people's way as much as possible lest his lack of occupation should be noticed. He wandered round to the back parts of the house, where the newer and lower buildings joined it. Here he was surprised by a stable-like smell and a medley of growls, grunts, and whimpers-all the signs, in fact, of a considerable zoo. At first he did not understand, but presently he remembered that an immense programme of vivisection, freed at last from Red Tape and from niggling economy, was one of the plans of the N.I.C.E. He had not been particularly interested and had thought vaguely of rats, rabbits, and an occasional dog. The confused noises from within suggested something very different. As he stood there one great yawn-like howl arose, and then, as if it had set the key, all manner of trumpetings, hayings, screams, laughter even, which shuddered and protested for a moment and then died away into mutterings and whines. Mark had no scruples about vivisection. What the noise meant to him was the greatness and grandiosity of this whole undertaking from which, apparently, he was likely to be excluded. He must get the job: he must somehow solve the problem of Steele.
The first real fog of the autumn had descended on Belbury that morning. Mark ate his breakfast by artificial light, and neither post nor newspaper had arrived. It was a Friday, and a servant handed him his bill for the portion of a week which he had already spent in the Institute. He put it in his pocket after a hasty glance with a resolution that this, at any rate, should never be mentioned to Jane. Neither the total nor the items were of the sort that wives easily understand.
The odd half-hour which he had to wait before keeping his appointment with the Deputy Director passed slowly. No one spoke to him. He was glad when he was able to go and knock on Wither's door.
The conversation was not easy to begin because Wither said nothing. Mark, divided between his desire to make it clear that he had fully resolved to be left hanging about no longer and his equally keen desire not to lose the job if there were any real job going, did not perhaps speak very well. At all events the Deputy Director left him to run down-to pass into disjointed repetitions and thence into complete silence.
"So I think, sir, I'd better go," said Mark at last.
"You are Mr. Studdock I think?" said Wither tentatively after another prolonged silence.
"Yes," said Mark impatiently. "I called on you with Lord Feverstone a few days ago. You gave me to understand that you were offering me a position on the---"
"One moment, Mr. Studdock," interrupted the Deputy Director. "It is so important to be perfectly clear. You are no doubt aware that in certain senses it would be most unfortunate to speak of my offering anyone a post in the Institute. You must not imagine that I hold any kind of autocratic position, nor, on the other hand, that the relation between my own sphere of influence and the powers-their temporary powers, you understand-of the permanent committee are defined by any hard-and-fast system of-er-a constitutional, or even a constitutive, character. For example--"
"Then, sir, can you tell me whether anyone has offered me a post, and, if so, who?"
"Oh," said Wither suddenly, changing both his position and his tone as if a new idea had struck him. "It was always understood that your co-operation with the Institute would be entirely acceptable-would be of the greatest value."
"Well, can I-I mean, oughtn't we to discuss the details? I mean the salary for example and-who should I be working under?"
"My dear friend," said Wither with a smile, "I do not anticipate that there will be any difficulty about the-er-' the financial side of the matter. As for---"
"What would the salary be, sir?" said Mark.
"Well, there you touch on a point which it is hardly for me to decide. I believe that members in the position which we had envisaged you as occupying usually draw some sum like fifteen hundred a year, allowing for fluctuations calculated on a very liberal basis. All questions of that sort will adjust themselves with the greatest ease."
"But when should I know, sir?"
"You mustn't suppose, Mr. Studdock, that when I mention fifteen hundred I am at all excluding the possibility of some higher figure. I don't think any of us would ..."
"I should be perfectly satisfied with fifteen hundred," said Mark.
"I wasn't thinking of that. But-but--" The Deputy Director's expression became more and more courtly and confidential, so that when Mark finally blurted out, "I suppose there'd be a contract or something of the kind," he felt he had committed an unutterable vulgarity.
"Well," said the Deputy Director, fixing his eyes on the ceiling and sinking his voice to a whisper, " that is not exactly ... it would, no doubt, be possible . . ."
"And that isn't the main point, sir," said Mark reddening. "Am I to work under Mr. Steele?"
"I have here a form," said Wither, "which has not, I believe, been ever actually used but which was designed for such agreements. You might care to study it at your leisure."
"But about Mr. Steele?"
At that moment a secretary entered and placed some letters on the table.
"Ah! The post at last!" said Wither. "Perhaps, Mr. Studdock, er-you will have letters of your own to attend to. You are, I believe, married?" A smile of fatherly indulgence overspread his face as he said these words.
"I'm sorry, sir," said Mark, "but about Mr. Steele? I should feel compelled to refuse any position which involved working under Mr. Steele."
"That opens up a very interesting question about which I should like to have a quite informal and confidential chat with you on some future occasion," said Wither. "For the moment, Mr. Studdock, I shall not regard anything you have said as final . . ." He became absorbed in the letter he had opened, and Mark, feeling that he had achieved enough for one interview, left the room. Apparently they did want him at the N.I.C.E. and were prepared to pay for him. He would fight it out about Steele later.
He came downstairs and found the following letter waiting for him.
BRACTON COLLEGE, EDGESTOW,
"MY DEAR MARK, - We were all sorry to hear that you are resigning your Fellowship, but feel certain you've made the right decision as far as your own career is concerned. If you have not yet sent a formal resignation to N.O., I shouldn't be in any hurry to do so. If you wrote next term the vacancy would come up at the February meeting and we should have time to get ready a suitable candidate as your successor. Have you any ideas on the subject yourself? I was talking to James and Dick the other night about David Laird. No doubt you know his work: could you let me have a line about it, and about his more general qualifications ? I may see him next week when I'm running over to Cambridge to dine with the Prime Minister and one or two others, and Dick might ask Laird. You'll have heard that we had rather a shindy here the other night. There was some sort of fracas between the new workmen and the local inhabitants. The N.I.C.E. police made the mistake of firing a few rounds over the heads of the crowd. We had the Henrietta Maria window smashed and stones came into Common Room. Glossop lost his head and wanted to go out and harangue the mob, but I managed to quiet him down.- Yours, G. C. CURRY."
At the first words of this letter a stab of fear ran through Mark. He tried to reassure himself. An explanation would be bound to put everything right. They couldn't shove a man out of his Fellowship simply on a chance word spoken by Lord Feverstone in Common Room. It came back to him with miserable insight that what he was now calling " a chance word " was exactly what he had learned, in the Progressive Element, to describe as " settling real business in private " or " cutting out the Red Tape ", but he tried to thrust this out of his mind. Then another thought struck him. A letter to Curry, saying plainly that he meant to stay at Bracton, would be shown to Feverstone. Feverstone would tell Wither. Such a letter could be regarded as a refusal of any post at Belbury. Well-let it be! He would give up this short-lived dream and fall back on his Fellowship. But how if that were impossible ? The whole thing might have been arranged simply to let him fall between the two stools . . . then he and Jane left to sink or swim with not a sou between them. . . .
He rang the bell and ordered a large whisky. He must write a very careful and rather elusive letter. His first draft was, he thought, not vague enough: it could be used as a proof that he had abandoned all idea of a job at Belbury. But then, if it were too vague, it would do no good. Oh damn, damn, damn the whole thing. In the end, with the aid of the whisky and of a great many cigarettes, he produced the following:
THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE
FOR CO-ORDINATED EXPERIMENTS,
Oct. 21st, 19-.
"MY DEAR CURRY,- Feverstone must have got me wrong. I never made the slightest suggestion of resigning my Fellowship and don't in the least wish to do so. As a matter of fact, I have almost made up my mind not to take a fulltime job with the N.I.C.E. and hope to be back in College in a day or two. So be sure and contradict it if you hear anyone saying I am thinking of leaving Edgestow. I hope you'll enjoy your jaunt to Cambridge: what circles you do move in! - Yours, MARK G. STUDDOCK.
"P.S.-Laird wouldn't have done in any case. He got a third; and his only published work has been treated as a joke."
The relief of having finished the letter was only momentary, for almost as soon as he had sealed it the problem of how to pass the rest of this day returned to him. He decided to go and sit in his own room: but when he went up there he found the bed stripped and a vacuum cleaner in the middle of the floor. He came down and tried the lounge; the servants were tidying it. He looked into the library. It was empty but for two men who were talking with their heads close together. They stopped and looked up as soon as he entered, obviously waiting for him to go. In the hall he saw Steele himself standing by the notice-board and talking to a man with a pointed beard. Neither looked at Mark, but as he passed them they became silent. He opened the front door and looked out: the fog was thick, wet, and cold.
This day was so long to Mark that a faithful account of it would be unreadable.
Some time after lunch he met Stone. He knew by experience how dangerous it is to be friends with a sinking man or even to be seen with him: you cannot keep him afloat and he may pull you under. But his craving for companionship was now acute; against his better judgement he said, "Hullo!"
Stone gave a start as if to be spoken to were almost a frightening experience. "Good afternoon," he said nervously and made to pass on.
And Mark did not answer because at that moment he saw the Deputy Director approaching. He was to discover during the next few weeks that no passage and no room at Belbury was safe from the prolonged indoor walks of the Deputy Director. They could not be regarded as a form of espionage, for the creak of Wither's boots and the dreary little tune which he was nearly always humming would have defeated any such purpose. One heard him quite a long way off. Often one saw him a long way off as well, staring vaguely towards one. Very slowly he came towards them, looked in their direction though it was not plain from his face whether he recognised them or not, and passed on. Neither of the young men attempted to resume their conversation.
At tea Mark saw Feverstone and went at once to sit beside him. He knew that the worst thing a man in his position could do was to try to force himself on anyone, but he was now feeling desperate.
"I say, Feverstone," he began gaily, "I haven't had exactly what you'd call a glowing reception from Steele. But the D.D. won't hear of my leaving. And the Fairy seems to want me to write newspaper articles. What the hell am I supposed to be doing?" Feverstone laughed long and loud.
"Because," concluded Mark, "I'm damned if I can find out. I've tried to tackle the old boy direct..."
"God !" said Feverstone, laughing even louder. "Well, how the devil is one to find out what's wanted if nobody offers any information?"
"Oh, and how on earth did Curry get the idea that I'm resigning my Fellowship?"
"I never had the faintest notion of resigning it." Feverstone's smile brightened and widened. "It doesn't make any odds, you know," he said. "If the N.I.C.E. want you to have a nominal job somewhere outside Belbury, you'll have one: and if they don't, you won't. Just like that."
"I'm merely trying to retain the Fellowship I already had. One doesn't want to fall between two stools."
"One doesn't want to."
"Take my advice and get into Wither's good books again as soon as you can. I gave you a good start, but you seem to have rubbed him up the wrong way. And just between ourselves, I wouldn't be too thick with the Fairy: it won't do you any good higher up."
"In the meantime," said Mark, "I've written to Curry to explain that it's all rot about my resignation."
"No harm if it amuses you," said Feverstone, still smiling.
"Well, I don't suppose College wants to kick me out simply because Curry misunderstood something said by you."
"You can't be deprived of a Fellowship under any statute I know, except for gross immorality."
"Of course not. I didn't mean that. I meant not being re-elected when I come up for re-election next term."
"Oh. I see."
"And that's why I must rely on you to get that idea out of Curry's head."
"Well-damn it all, Feverstone, you know perfectly well that there was no doubt about my re-election until you spoke a word in Curry's ear."
Feverstone eyed the muffin critically. "You make me rather tired," he said. "And I would advise you in talking to people here to adopt a more agreeable manner. Otherwise your life may be ' nasty, poor, brutish, and short!"
"Short?" said Mark. "Is that a threat? Do you mean my life at Bracton or at the N.I.C.E.?"
"I shouldn't stress the distinction too much if I were you," said Feverstone.
And so Mark knew that if he lost the Belbury job he would lose his Fellowship at Bracton as well.
During these days Jane kept on going into Edgestow to find another " woman " instead of Mrs. Maggs. On one of these occasions she was delighted to find herself suddenly addressed by Camilla Denniston. Camilla had just stepped out of a car and next moment she introduced a tall, dark man as her husband. Jane saw that both the Dennistons were the sort of people she liked. She knew that Mr. Denniston had once been a friend of Mark's; and her first thought was to wonder why Mark's present friends were so inferior to those he once had.
"We were just coming to see you," said Camilla. "Look here, we have lunch with us. Let's drive you up to the woods beyond Sandown and all feed together in the car."
Jane thought this foggy day an odd choice for a picnic, but agreed.
They left the unfenced road beyond Sandown and went across grass and finally came to rest in a sort of little grassy bay with a fir thicket on one side and a group of beeches on the other. Then there was some unstrapping of baskets, and then sandwiches and sherry and hot coffee and cigarettes.
"Now," said Denniston at last, "I must tell you. Our little household, or whatever you like to call it, is run by a Mr. Fisher-King. At least that is the name he has recently taken. He had a sister in India, Mrs. Fisher-King. She has died and left him a large fortune on condition that he took the name. She was a friend of the great native Christian mystic whom you may have heard of-the Sura. And that's the point. The Sura had reason to believe that a great danger was hanging over the human race. And just before the end he became convinced that it would actually come to a head in this island. Mrs. Fisher-King handed over the problem to her brother. He was to collect a company to watch for this danger, and strike when it came." Jane waited.
"The Sura said that when the time came we should find a seer: a person with second sight."
"Not that we'd get a seer, Arthur," said Camilla, "that a seer would turn up. Either we or the other side would get her."
"And it looks," said Denniston to Jane, "as if you were the seer."
"But please," said Jane, smiling, "I don't want to be - anything so exciting."
Camilla turned to Jane and said, "I gathered from Grace Ironwood that you weren't quite convinced you were a seer. I mean you thought it might be ordinary dreams. Do you still think that?"
"It's all so strange and-beastly!" said Jane. Her habitual inner prompter was whispering, "Take care. Don't get drawn in. Don't commit yourself to anything." Then an impulse of honesty forced her to add: "As a matter of fact I've had another dream since then. And it turns out to have been true. I saw the murder-Mr. Hingest's murder."
"There you are," said Camilla. "Oh, you must come in. You must, you must. We've been wondering all this time exactly where the trouble is going to begin: and now you've seen something within a few miles of Edgestow. In fact, we are apparently in the thick of it already-whatever it is."
"No, Cam, don't," said Denniston. "The Pendragon wouldn't like that. Mrs. Studdock must come in freely. You forget she knows practically nothing at all about us. And we can't tell her much until she has joined. We are, in fact, asking her to take a leap in the dark." He turned to Jane. "It is like that," he said, " like getting married, or becoming a monk. You can't know what it's like until you take the plunge." He did not perhaps know the complicated resentments and resistances which his choice of illustrations awoke in Jane.
"What exactly are you asking me to do?" she said.
"To come and see our chief, first of all. And then-well, to join. It would involve making certain promises to him. By the way, what view would Mark take about it?"
"Mark?" said Jane. "How does he come into it?"
"Would he object to your joining-putting yourself under the Head's orders and making the promises and all that?"
"Would he object?" asked Jane. "What on earth would it have to do with him?"
"Well," said Denniston, hesitating a little, " the Head- or the authorities he obeys-have rather old-fashioned notions. He wouldn't like a married woman to come in, if it could be avoided, without her husband's-without consulting---"
"Do you mean I'm to ask Mark's permission?" said Jane. The resentment which had been rising and ebbing for several minutes had now overflowed. All this talk of promises and obedience to an unknown Mr. Fisher-King had already repelled her. But the idea of this same person sending her back to get Mark's permission was the climax. For a moment she looked on Mr. Denniston with dislike. She saw him, and Mark, and the Fisher-King man simply as men-complacent, patriarchal figures making arrangements for women as if women were children or bartering them like cattle. ("And so the king promised that if anyone killed the dragon he would give him his daughter in marriage.") She was very angry.
"Arthur," said Camilla, "I see a light over there. Do you think it's a bonfire. Let's go for a little walk and look at the fire."
"Oh, do let's," said Jane.
They got out. It was warmer in the open than it had by now become in the car. The fire was big and in its middle life. They stood round it and chatted of indifferent matters for a time.
"I'll tell you what I'll do," said Jane presently. "I won't join your-your-whatever it is. But I'll promise to let you know if I have any more dreams of that sort."
"That is splendid," said Denniston. "And I think it is as much as we had a right to expect."