احمق و ضعیف

کتاب: چروکی در زمان / فصل 12

احمق و ضعیف

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12 - The Foolish and the Weak

MEG could see nothing, but she felt her heart pounding with hope. With one accord all the beasts rose to their feet, turned toward one of the arched openings, and bowed their heads and tentacles in greeting. Mrs. Whatsit appeared, standing between two columns. Beside her came Mrs. Who, behind them a quivering of light. The three of them were somehow not quite the same as they had been when Meg had first seen them. Their outlines seemed blurred; colors ran together as in a wet water color painting. But they were there; they were recognizable; they were themselves.

Meg pulled herself away from Aunt Beast, jumped to the floor, and rushed at Mrs. Whatsit. But Mrs. Whatsit held up a warning hand and Meg realized that she was not completely materialized, that she was light and not substance, and embracing her now would have been like trying to hug a sunbeam.

“We had to hurry so there wasn’t quite time. . . . You wanted us?” Mrs. Whatsit asked.

The tallest of the beasts bowed again and took a step away from the table and towards Mrs. Whatsit. “It is a question of the little boy.”

“Father left him!” Meg cried. “He left him on Camazotz!”

Appallingly, Mrs. Whatsit voice was cold. “And what do you expect us to do?”

Meg pressed her knuckles against her teeth so that her braces cut her skin. Then she flung out her arms pleadingly. “But it’s Charles Wallace! IT has him, Mrs. Whatsit! Save him, please save him!”

“You know that we can do nothing on Camazotz,” Mrs. Whatsit said, her voice still cold.

“You mean you’ll let Charles be caught by IT forever?” Meg’s voice rose shrilly.

“Did I say that?”

“But we can’t do anything! You know we can’t! We tried! Mrs. Whatsit, you have to save him!”

“Meg, this is not our way,” Mrs. Whatsit said sadly. “I thought you would know that this is not our way.”

Mr. Murry took a step forward and bowed, and to Meg’s amazement the three ladies bowed back to him. “I don’t believe we’ve been introduced,” Mrs. Whatsit said.

“It’s Father, you know It’s Father,” Meg’s angry impatience grew. “Father—Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which.”

“I’m very glad to—” Mr. Murry mumbled, then went on, “I’m sorry, my glasses are broken, and I can’t see you very well.”

“It’s not necessary to see us,” Mrs. Whatsit said.

“If you could teach me enough more about the tesseract so that I could get back to Camazotz—”

“Wwhatt tthenn?” came Mrs. Which’s surprising voice.

“I will try to take my child away from IT.”

“Annd yyou kknoww tthatt yyou wwill nnott ssucceeedd?”

“There’s nothing left except to try.”

Mrs. Whatsit spoke gently. “I’m sorry. We cannot allow you to go.”

“Then let me,” Calvin suggested. “I almost got him away before.”

Mrs. Whatsit shook her head. “No, Calvin. Charles has gone even deeper into IT. You will not be permitted to throw yourself in with him, for that, you must realize, is what would happen.”

There was a long silence. All the soft rays filtering into the great hall seemed to concentrate on Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and the faint light that must be Mrs. Which. No one spoke. One of the beasts moved a tendril slowly back and forth across the stone table top. At last Meg could stand it no longer and she cried out despairingly, “Then what are you going to do? Are you just going to throw Charles away?”

Mrs. Which’s voice rolled formidably across the hall. “Ssilencce, cchilidd!”

But Meg could not be silent. She pressed closely against Aunt Beast, but Aunt Beast did not put the protecting tentacles around her. “I can’t go!” Meg cried. “I can’t! You know I can’t!”

“Ddidd annybbodyy asskk yyou ttoo?” The grim voice made Meg’s skin prickle into gooseflesh.

She burst into tears. She started beating at Aunt Beast like a small child having a tantrum. Her tears rained down her face and spattered Aunt Beast’s fur. Aunt Beast stood quietly against the assault.

“All right. I’ll go!” Meg sobbed. “I know you want me to go!”

“We want nothing from you that you do without grace,” Mrs. Whatsit said, “or that you do without understanding.”

Meg’s tears stopped as abruptly as they had started. “But I do understand.” She felt tired and unexpectedly peaceful. Now the coldness that, under Aunt Beast’s ministrations, had left her body had also left her mind. She looked toward her father and her confused anger was gone and she felt only love and pride. She smiled at him, asking forgiveness, and then pressed up against Aunt Beast. This time Aunt Beast’s arm went around her.

Mrs. Which’s voice was grave. “Wwhatt ddoo yyou unndderrsstanndd?”

“That it has to be me. It can’t be anyone else. I don’t understand Charles, but he understands me. I’m the one who’s closest to him. Father’s been away for so long, since Charles Wallace was a baby. They don’t know each other.

And Calvin’s only known Charles for such a little time. It had been longer then he would have been the one, but— oh, I see, I see, I understand, it has to be me. There isn’t anyone else.”

Mr. Murry, who had been sitting, his elbows on his knees, his chin on his fists, rose. “I will not allow it!”

“Wwhyy?” Mrs. Which demanded.

“Look, I don’t know what or who you are, and at this point I don’t care. I will not allow my daughter to go alone into this danger.”

“Wwhyy?”

“You know what the outcome will probably be! And she’s weak, now, weaker than she was before. She was almost killed by the Black Thing. I fail to understand how you can even consider such a thing.”

Calvin jumped down. “Maybe IT’S right about you! Or maybe you’re in league with IT. I’m the one to go if anybody goes! Why did you bring me along at all? To take care of Meg! You said so yourself!”

“But you have done that,” Mrs. Whatsit assured him.

“I haven’t done anything!” Calvin shouted. “You can’t send Meg! I won’t allow it! I’ll put my foot down! I won’t permit it!”

“Don’t you see that you’re making something that is already hard tor Meg even harder?” Mrs. Whatsit asked him.

Aunt Beast turned tentacles toward Mrs. Whatsit. “Is she strong enough to tesser again? You know what she has been through.”

“If Which takes her she can manage,” Mrs. Whatsit said.

“If it will help I could go too, and hold her.” Aunt Beast’s arm around Meg tightened.

“Oh, Aunt Beast—” Meg started.

But Mrs. Whatsit cut her off. “No.”

“I was afraid not,” Aunt Beast said humbly. “I just wanted you to know that I would.”

“Mrs.—uh—Whatsit.” Mr. Murry frowned and pushed his hair back from his face. Then he shoved with his middle finger at his nose as though he were trying to get spectacles closer to his eyes. “Are you remembering that she is only a child?”

“And she’s backward,” Calvin bellowed.

“I resent that,” Meg said hotly, hoping that indignation would control her trembling. “I’m better than you at math and you know it.”

“Do you have the courage to go alone?” Mrs. Whatsit asked her.

Meg’s voice was flat. “No. But it doesn’t matter.” She turned to her father and Calvin. “You know it’s the only thing to do. You know they’d never send me alone if—”

“How do we know they’re not in league with IT?” Mr. Murry demanded.

“Father!”

“No, Meg,” Mrs. Whatsit said. “I do not blame your father for being angry and suspicious and frightened. And I cannot pretend that we are doing anything but sending you into the gravest kind of danger. I have to acknowledge quite openly that it may be a fatal danger, I know this. But I do not believe it. And the Happy Medium doesn’t believe it, either.”

“Can’t she see what’s going to happen?” Calvin asked.

“Oh, not in this kind of thing.” Mrs. Whatsit sounded surprised at his question. “If we knew ahead of time what was going to happen we’d be—we’d be like the people on Camazotz, with no lives of our own, with everything all planned and done for us. How can I explain it to you? Oh, I know. In your language you have a form of poetry called the sonnet.”

“Yes, yes,” Calvin said impatiently. “What’s that got to do with the Happy Medium?”

“Kindly pay me the courtesy of listening to me.” Mrs. Whatsit’s voice was stern, and for a moment Calvin stopped pawing the ground like a nervous colt. “It is a very strict form of poetry, is it not?”

“Yes.”

“There are fourteen lines, I believe, all in iambic pentameter. That’s a very strict rhythm or meter, yes?”

“Yes.” Calvin nodded.

“And each line has to end with a rigid rhyme pattern. And if the poet does not do it exactly this way, it is not a sonnet, is it?”

“No.”

“But within this strict form the poet has complete freedom to say whatever he wants, doesn’t he?”

“Yes.” Calvin nodded again.

“So,” Mrs. Whatsit said.

“So what?”

“Oh, do not be stupid, boy!” Mrs. Whatsit scolded. “You know perfectly well what I am driving at!”

“You mean you’re comparing our haves to a sonnet? A strict form, but freedom within it?”

“Yes.” Mrs. Whatsit said. “You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. What you say is completely up to you.”

“Please,” Meg said. “Please. If I’ve got to go I want to go and get it over with. Each minute you put it off makes it harder.”  “Sshee iss rrightt,”

boomed Mrs. Which’s voice, “Itt iss ttime.”

“You may say good-by.” Mrs. Whatsit was giving her not permission, but a command.

Meg curtsied clumsily to the beasts. “Thank you all. Very much. I know you saved my life.” She did not add what she could not help thinking: Saved it for what? So that IT could get me?

She put her arms about Aunt Beast, pressed up against the soft, fragrant fur. “Thank you,” she whispered. “I love you.”

“And I, you, little one.” Aunt Beast pressed gentle tendrils against Meg’s face.

“Cal—” Meg said, holding out her hand.

Calvin came to her and took her hand, then drew her roughly to him and kissed her. He didn’t say anything, and he turned away before he had a chance to see the surprised happiness that brightened Meg’s eyes.

At last she turned to her father. “I’m—I’m sorry, Father.”

He took both her hands in his, bent down to her with his short-sighted eyes. “Sorry for what, Megatron?”

Tears almost came to her eyes at the gentle use of the old nickname. “I wanted you to do it all for me. I wanted everything to be all easy and simple…. So I tried to pretend that it was all your fault… because I was scared, and I didn’t want to have to do anything myself—”

“But I wanted to do it for you,” Mr. Murry said. “That’s what every parent wants.” He looked into her dark, frightened eyes. “I won’t let you go, Meg. I am going.”

 ”No.” Mrs. Whatsit’s voice was sterner than Meg had ever heard it. “You are going to allow Meg the privilege of accepting this danger. You are a wise man, Mr. Murry. You are going to let her go.”

Mr. Murry sighed. He drew Meg close to him. “Little Megaparsec. Don’t be afraid to be afraid. We will try to have courage for you. That is all we can do. Your mother—”

“Mother was always shoving me out in the world,” Meg said. “She’d want me to do this. You know she would. Tell her—” she started, choked, then held up her head and said, “No. Never mind. I’ll tell her myself.”

“Good girl. Of course you will.”

Now Meg walked slowly around the great table to where Mrs. Whatsit was still poised between the columns. “Are you going with me?”

“No. Only Mrs. Which.”

“The Black Thing—” Fear made her voice tremble.

“When Father tessered me through it, it almost got me.”

“Your father is singularly inexperienced,” Mrs. Whatsit said, “though a fine man, and worth teaching. At the moment he still treats tessering as though he were working with a machine. We will not let the Black Thing get you. I don’t think.”

This was not exactly comforting.

The momentary vision and faith that had come to Meg dwindled. “But suppose I can’t get Charles Wallace away from IT—”

“Stop.” Mrs. Whatsit held up her hand. “We gave you gifts the last time we took you to Camazotz. We will not let you go empty handed this time. But what we can give you now is nothing you can touch with your hands. I give you my love, Meg. Never forget that. My love always.”

Mrs. Who. eyes shining behind spectacles, beamed at Meg. Meg felt in her blazer pocket and handed back the spectacles she had used on Camazotz.

“Your father is right,” Mrs. Who took the spectacles and hid them somewhere in the folds of her robes. “The virtue is gone from them. And what I have to give you this time you must try to understand not word by word, but in a flash, as you understand the tesseract. Listen, Meg. Listen well. The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called, but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty. And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are.” She paused, and then she said, “May the right prevail.” Her spectacles seemed to flicker. Behind her, through her, one of the columns became visible. There was a final gleam from the glasses, and she was gone. Meg looked nervously to where Mrs. Whatsit had been standing before Mrs. Who spoke. But Mrs. Whatsit was no longer there.

“No!” Mr. Murry cried, and stepped toward Meg.

Mrs. Which’s voice came through her shimmer. “I ccannnott hholidd yyourr hanndd, chilldd.”

Immediately Meg was swept into darkness, into nothingness, and then into the icy devouring cold of the Black. Thing. Mrs. Which won’t let it get me, she thought over and over while the cold of the Black Thing seemed to crunch at her bones.

Then they were through it, and she was standing breathlessly on her feet on the same hill on which they had first landed on Camazotz. She was cold and a little numb, but no worse than she had often been in the winter in the country when she had spent an afternoon skating on the pond. She looked around. She was completely alone. Her heart began to pound.

Then, seeming to echo from all around her, came Mrs. Which’s unforgettable voice. “I hhave nnott ggivenn yyou mmyy ggifftt. Yyou hhave ssomethinngg thatt ITT hhass nnott. Thiss ssomethinngg iss yyourr onlly wweapponn. Bbutt yyou mmusstt ffinndd itt fforr yyourrssellff.” Then the voice ceased, and Meg knew that she was alone.

She walked slowly down the hill, her heart thumping painfully against her ribs. There below her was the same row of identical houses they had seen before, and beyond these die linear buildings of the city. She walked along the quiet street. It was dark and the street was deserted. No children playing ball or skipping rope. No mother figures at the doors. No father figures returning from work. In the same window of each house was a light, and as Meg walked down the street all the lights were extinguished simultaneously. Was it because of her presence, or was it simply that it was time for lights out?

She felt numb, beyond rage or disappointment or even fear. She put one foot ahead of the other with precise regularity, not allowing her pace to lag. She was not thinking; she was not planning; she was simply walking slowly but steadily toward the city and the domed building where IT lay.

Now she approached the outlying buildings of the city. In each of them was a vertical line of light, but it was a dim, eerie light, not the warm light of stairways in cities at home. And there were no isolated brightly lit windows where someone was working late, or an office was being cleaned. Out of each building came one man, perhaps a watchman, and each man started walking the width of the building.

They appeared not to see her. At any rate they paid no attention to her whatsoever, and she went on past them.

What have I got that IT hasn’t got? she thought suddenly. What have I possibly got?

Now she was walking by the tallest of the business buildings. More dim vertical lines of light. The walls glowed slightly to give a faint illumination to the streets. CENTRAL Central Intelligence was ahead of her. Was the man with red eyes still sitting there? Or was he allowed to go to bed? But this was not where she must go, though the man with red eyes seemed the kind old gentleman he claimed to be when compared with IT. But he was no longer of any consequence in the search for Charles Wallace. She must go directly to IT.

IT isn’t used to being resisted. Father said that’s how he managed, and how Calvin and I managed as long as we did. Father saved me then. There’s nobody here to save me now. I have to do it myself. I have to resist IT by myself. Is that what I have that IT hasn’t got? No, I’m sure IT can resist. IT just isn’t used to having other people resist.

CENTRAL Central Intelligence blocked with its huge rectangle the end of the square. She turned to walk around it, and almost imperceptibly her steps slowed.

It was not far to the great dome which housed IT.

I’m going to Charles Wallace. That’s what’s important. “That’s what I have to think of. I wish I could feel numb again the way I did at first. Suppose IT has him somewhere else? Suppose he isn’t there?

I have to go there first, anyhow. That’s the only way I can find out.

Her steps got slower and slower as she passed the great bronzed doors, the huge slabs of the CENTRAL Central Intelligence building, as she finally saw ahead of her the strange, light, pulsing dome of IT.

Father said it was all right for me to be afraid. He said to go ahead and be afraid. And Mrs. Who said—I don’t understand what she said but I think it was meant to make me not hate being only me, and me being the way I am. And Mrs. Whatsit said to remember that she loves me. That’s what I have to think about. Not about being afraid. Or not as smart as IT. Mrs. Whatsit loves me. That’s quite something, to be loved by someone like Mrs. Whatsit.

She was there.

No matter how slowly her feet had taken her at the end, they had taken her there.

Directly ahead of her was the circular building, its walls glowing with violet flame, its silvery roof pulsing with a light that seemed to Meg to be insane. Again she could feel the light, neither warm nor cold, but reaching out to touch her, pulling her toward IT.

There was a sudden sucking, and she was within.

It was as though the wind had been knocked out of her. She gasped for breath, tor breath in her own rhythm, not the permeating pulsing of IT. She could feel the inexorable beat within her body, controlling her heart, her lungs.

But not herself. Not Meg. It did not quite have her.

She blinked her eyes rapidly and against the rhythm until the redness before them cleared and she could see. There was the brain, there was IT, lying pulsing and quivering on the dais, soft and exposed and nauseating. Charles Wallace was crouched beside IT, his eyes still slowly twirling, his jaw still slack, as she had seen him before, with a tic in his forehead reiterating the revolting rhythm of IT.

As she saw him it was again as though she had been punched in the stomach, for she had to realize afresh that she was seeing Charles, and yet it was not Charles at all. Where was Charles Wallace, her own beloved Charles Wallace?

What is it I have got that IT hasn’t got?

“You have nothing that IT hasn’t got,” Charles Wallace said coldly. “How nice to have you back, dear sister. We have been waiting for you. We knew that Mrs. Whatsit would send you. She is our friend, you know.”

For an appalling moment Meg believed, and in that moment she felt her brain being gathered up into IT.

“No!” she screamed at the top of her lungs. “No! You-lie!”

For a moment she was free from IT’s clutches again.

As long as I can stay angry enough IT can’t get me.

Is that what I have that IT doesn’t have?

“Nonsense,” Charles Wallace said. “You have nothing that it doesn’t have.”

“You’re lying,” she replied, and she felt only anger toward this boy who was not Charles Wallace at all. No, it was not anger, it was loathing; it was hatred, sheer and unadulterated, and as she became lost in hatred she also began to be lost in IT. The red miasma swam before her eyes; her stomach churned in IT’s rhythm. Her body trembled with the strength of her hatred and the strength of IT.

With the last vestige of consciousness she jerked her mind and body. Hate was nothing that IT didn’t have. IT knew all about hate.

“You are lying about that, and you were lying about Mrs. Whatsit!” she screamed.

“Mrs. Whatsit hates you,” Charles Wallace said.

And that was where IT made IT’s fatal mistake, for as Meg said, automatically, “Mrs. Whatsit loves me; that’s what she told me, that she loves me,” suddenly she knew.

She knew!

Love.

That was what she had that IT did not have.

She had Mrs. Whatsit’s love, and her father’s, and her mother’s, and the real Charles Wallace’s love, and the twins’, and Aunt Beast’s.

And she had her love for them.

But how could she use it? What was she meant to do?

If she could give love to IT perhaps it would shrivel up and die, for she was sure that IT could not withstand love. But she, in all her weakness and foolishness and baseness and nothingness, was incapable of loving IT. Perhaps it was not too much to ask of her, but she could not do it.

But she could love Charles Wallace.

She could stand there and she could love Charles Wallace.

Her own Charles Wallace, the real Charles Wallace, the child for whom she had come back to Camazotz, to IT, the baby who was so much more than she was, and who was yet so utterly vulnerable.

She could love Charles Wallace.

Charles, Charles, I love you. My baby brother who always takes care of me. Come back to me, Charles Wallace, come away from IT, come back, come home. I love you, Charles. Oh, Charles Wallace, I love you.

Tears were streaming down her cheeks, but she was unaware of them.

 Now she was even able to look at him, at this animated thing that was not her own Charles Wallace at all. She was able to look and love.

I love you. Charles Wallace, you are my darling and my dear and the light of my life and the treasure of my heart. I love you. I love you. I love you.

Slowly his mouth closed. Slowly his eyes stopped their twirling. The tic in the forehead ceased its revolting twitch. Slowly he advanced toward her.

“I love you!” she cried. “I love you, Charles! I love you!”

Then suddenly he was running, pelting, he was in her arms, he was shrieking with sobs. “Meg! Meg! Meg!”

“I love you, Charles!” she cried again, her sobs almost as loud as his, her tears mingling with his. “I love you! I love you! I love you!”

A whirl of darkness. An icy cold blast. An angry, resentful howl that seemed to tear through her. Darkness again. Through the darkness to save her came a sense of Mrs. Whatsit’s presence, so that she knew it could not be IT who now had her in its clutches.

And then the feel of earth beneath her, of something in her arms, and she was rolling over on the sweet smelling autumnal earth, and Charles Wallace was crying out, “Meg! Oh, Meg!”

Now she was hugging him close to her, and his little arms were grasped tightly about her neck. “Meg, you saved me! You saved me!” he said over and over.

“Meg!” came a call, and there were her father and Calvin hurrying through the darkness toward them.

Still holding Charles she struggled to stand up and look around. “Father! Call Where are we?”

Charles Wallace, holding her hand tightly, was looking around, too, and suddenly he laughed, his own, sweet, contagious laugh. “In the twins’ vegetable garden! And we landed in the broccoli!”

Meg began to laugh, too, at the same time that she was trying to hug her father, to hug Calvin, and not to let go of Charles Wallace for one second.

“Meg, you did it!” Calvin shouted. “You saved Charles!”

“I’m very proud of you, my daughter.” Mr. Murry kissed her gravely, then turned toward the house. “Now I must go in to Mother.” Meg could tell that he was trying to control his anxiety and eagerness.

“Look!” she pointed to the house, and there were the twins and Mrs. Murry walking toward them through the long, wet grass.

“First thing tomorrow I must get some new glasses,” Mr. Murry said, squinting in the moonlight, and then starting to run toward his wife.

Dennys’ voice came crossly over the lawn. “Hey, Meg, it’s bedtime.”

Sandy suddenly yelled, “Father!”

Mr. Murry was running across the lawn, Mrs. Murry running toward him, and they were in each other’s arms, and then there was a tremendous happy jumble of arms and legs and hugging, the older Murrys and Meg and Charles Wallace and the twins, and Calvin grinning by them until Meg reached out and pulled him in and Mrs. Murry gave him a special hug all of his own. They were talking and laughing all at once, when they were startled by a crash, and Fortinbras, who could bear being left out of the happiness not one second longer, catapulted his sleek black body right through the screened door to the kitchen. He dashed across the lawn to join in the joy, and almost knocked them all over with the exuberance of his greeting.

Meg knew all at once that Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which must be near, because all through her she felt a flooding of joy and of love that was even greater and deeper than the joy and love which were already there.

She stopped laughing and listened, and Charles listened, too. “Hush.”

Then there was a whirring, and Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which were standing in front of them, and the joy and love were so tangible that Meg felt that if she only knew where to reach she could touch it with her bare hands.

Mrs. Whatsit said breathlessly, “Oh, my darlings, I’m sorry we don’t have time to say good-by to you properly. You see, we have too—”

But they never learned what it was that Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which had to do, for there was a gust of wind, and they were gone.

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