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کتاب: چروکی در زمان / فصل 5

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5 - The Tesseract

“Cchilldrenn, I appolloggize,” came Mrs. Which’s voice.

“Now, Charles, calm down,” Mrs. Whatsit said, appearing not as the great and beautiful beast she had been when they last saw her, but in her familiar wild garb of shawls and scarves and the old tramp’s coat and hat. “You know how difficult it is for her to materialize. If you are not substantial yourself it’s very difficult to realize how limiting protoplasm is.”

“I ammm ssorry,” Mrs. Which’s voice came again; but there was more than a hint of amusement in it.

“It is not funny.” Charles Wallace gave a childish stamp of his foot.

Mrs. Who’s glasses shone out, and the rest of her appeared more slowly behind them. “We are such stuff as dreams are made on.” She smiled broadly. “Prospero in The Tempest. I do like that play.”

“You didn’t do it on purpose?’ Charles demanded,

“Oh, my darling, of course not,” Mrs. Whatsit said quickly. “It was just a very understandable mistake. It’s very difficult for Mrs. Which to think in a corporeal way. She wouldn’t hurt you deliberately; you know that. And it’s really a very pleasant little planet, and rather amusing to be flat. We always enjoy our visits there.”

“Where are we now, then?” Charles Wallace demanded. “And why?”

“In Orion’s belt. We have a friend here, and we want you to have a look at your own planet.”

“When are we going home?” Meg asked anxiously. “What about Mother? What about the twins? They will be terribly worried about us. When we didn’t come in at bedtime—well, Mother must be frantic by now. She and the twins and Fort will have been looking and looking for us, and of course we aren’t there to be found!”

“Now, don’t worry, my pet,” Mrs. Whatsit said cheerfully. “We took care of that before we left. Your mother has had enough to worry her with you and Charles to cope with, and not knowing about your father, without our adding to her anxieties. We took a time wrinkle as well as a space wrinkle. It’s very easy to do if you just know how.”

“What do you mean?” Meg asked plaintively. “Please, Mrs. Whatsit, it’s all so confusing.”

“Just relax and don’t worry over things that needn’t trouble you,” Mrs. Whatsit said. “We made a nice, tidy little time tesser, and unless something goes terribly wrong well have you back about five minutes before you left, so there’ll be time to spare and nobody’ll ever need to know you were gone at all, though of course you’ll be telling your mother, dear lamb that she is. And if something goes terribly wrong it won’t matter whether we ever get back at all.”

“Ddon’tt ffrrightenn themm,” Mrs. Which’s voice came. “Aare yyou llosingg ffaith?”

“Oh, no. No, I’m not.”

But Meg thought her voice sounded a little faint.

“I hope this is a nice planet,” Calvin said. “We can’t see much of it. Does it ever clear up?”

Meg looked around her, realizing that she had been so breathless from the journey and the stop on the two-dimensional planet that she had not noticed her surroundings. And perhaps this was not very surprising, for the main thing about the surroundings was exactly that they were unnoticeable. They seemed to be standing on some kind of nondescript, flat surface. The air around them was gray. It was not exactly fog, but she could see nothing through it. Visibility was limited to the nicely definite bodies of Charles Wallace and Calvin, the rather unbelievable bodies of Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Who, and a faint occasional glimmer that was Mrs. Which.

“Come, children,” Mrs. Whatsit said. “We don’t have far to go, and we might as well walk. It will do you good to stretch your legs a little.”

As they moved through the grayness Meg caught an occasional glimpse of slaglike rocks, but there were no traces of trees or bushes, nothing but flat ground under their feet, no sign of any vegetation at all.

Finally, ahead of them there loomed what seemed to be a hill of stone. As they approached it Meg could see that there was an entrance that led into a deep, dark cavern. “Are we going in there?” she asked nervously.

“Don’t be afraid,” Mrs. Whatsit said. “It’s easier for the Happy Medium to work within. Oh, you’ll like her, children. She’s very jolly. If ever I saw her looking unhappy I would be very depressed myself. As long as she can laugh I’m sure everything is going to come out right in the end.”

“Mmrs. Whattsitt,” came Mrs. Which’s voice severely, “jusstt beccause yyou arre verry youngg iss imo exxcuse forr tallkmgg tooo muchh.”

Mrs. Whatsit looked hurt, but she subsided.

“Just how old are you?” Calvin asked her.

“Just a moment,” Mrs. Whatsit murmured, and appeared to calculate rapidly upon her fingers. She nodded triumphantly. “Exactly 2,379,152,497 years, 8 months, and 3 days. That is according to your calendar, of course, which even you know isn’t very accurate.” She leaned closer to Meg and Calvin and whispered, “It was really a very great honor for me to be chosen for this mission. It’s just because of my verbalizing and materializing so well, you know. But of course we can’t take any credit for our talents. It’s how we use them that counts. And I make far too many mistakes. That’s why Mrs. Who and I enjoyed seeing Mrs. Which make a mistake when she tried to land you on a two-dimensional planet. It was that we were laughing at, not at you. She was laughing at herself, you see. She’s really terribly nice to us younger ones.”

 

Meg was listening with such interest to what Mrs. Whatsit was saying that she hardly noticed when they went into the cave; the transition from the grayness of outside to the grayness of inside was almost unnoticeable. She saw a flickering light ahead of them, ahead and down, and it was toward this that they went. As they drew closer she realized that it was a fire.

“It gets very cold in here,” Mrs. Whatsit said, “so we asked her to have a good bonfire going for you.”

As they approached the fire they could see a dark shadow against it, and as they went closer still they could see that the shadow was a woman. She wore a turban of beautiful pale mauve silk, and a long, flowing, purple satin gown. In her hands was a crystal ball into which she was gazing raptly. She did not appear to see the children, Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which, but continued to stare into the crystal ball; and as she stared she began to laugh; and she laughed and laughed at whatever it was that she was seeing.

Mrs. Which’s voice rang out clear and strong, echoing against the walls of the cavern, and the words fell with a sonorous clang.

“WWEE ARRE HHERRE!”

The woman looked up from the ball, and when she saw them she got up and curtsied deeply. Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Who dropped small curtsies in return, and the shimmer seemed to bow slightly.

“Oh, Medium, dear,” Mrs. Whatsit said, “these are the children. Charles Wallace Murry.” Charles Wallace bowed. “Margaret Murry.” Meg felt that if Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Who had curtsied, she ought to, also; so she did, rather awkwardly. “And Calvin O’Keefe.” Calvin bobbed his head. “We want them to see their home planet,” Mrs. Whatsit said.

The Medium lost the delighted smile she had worn till then. “Oh, why must you make me look at unpleasant things when there are so many delightful ones to see?”

Again Mrs. Which’s voice reverberated through the cave. “Therre willl nno llonggerr bee sso manyy pplleasanntt thinggss too llookk att iff rressponssible ppeoplle ddo nnott ddoo ssomethingg abboutt thee unnppleassanntt oness.”

The Medium sighed and held the ball high.

“Look, children,” Mrs. Whatsit said. “Look into it well.”

    ”Que la terre est petite a qui la voit des deux! Delille. How small is the earth to him who looks from heaven,” Mrs. Who intoned musically.

Meg looked into the crystal ball, at first with caution, then with increasing eagerness, as she seemed to see an enormous sweep of dark and empty space, and then galaxies swinging across it. Finally they seemed to move in closer on one of the galaxies.

“Your own Milky Way,” Mrs. Whatsit whispered to Meg.

They were headed directly toward the center of the galaxy; then they moved off to one side; stars seemed to be rushing at them. Meg flung her arm up over her face as though to ward off the blow.

“Llookk!” Mrs. Which commanded.

Meg dropped her arm. They seemed to be moving in toward a planet. She thought she could make out polar ice caps. Everything seemed sparkling clear.

“No, no. Medium dear, that’s Mars,” Mrs. Whatsit reproved gently.

“Do I have to?” the Medium asked.

“NNOWW!” Mrs. Which commanded.

The bright planet moved out of their vision. For a moment there was the darkness of space; then another planet. The outlines of this planet were not clean and clear. It seemed to be covered with a smoky haze. Through the haze Meg thought she could make out the familiar outlines of continents like pictures in her Social Studies books.

“Is it because of our atmosphere that we can’t see properly?” she asked anxiously.

“Nno, Mmegg, yyou knnoww thatt itt iss nnott tthee attmosspheeere,” Mrs. Which said. “Yyou mmusstt bee brrave.”

“It’s the Thing!” Charles Wallace cried. “It’s the Dark Thing we saw from the mountain peak on Uriel when we were riding on Mrs. Whatsit’s back!”

“Did it just come?” Meg asked in agony, unable to take her eyes from the sickness of the shadow which darkened the beauty of the earth. “Did it just come while we’ve been gone?”

Mrs. Which’s voice seemed very tired. “Ttell herr,” she said to Mrs. Whatsit.

Mrs. Whatsit sighed. “No, Meg. It hasn’t just come. It has been there for a great many years. That is why your planet is such a troubled one.”

“But why—” Calvin started to ask, his voice croaking hoarsely.

Mrs. Whatsit raised her hand to silence him. “We showed you the Dark Thing on Uriel first—oh, for many reasons. First, because the atmosphere on the mountain peaks there is so clear and thin you could see it for what it is. And we thought it would be easier for you to understand it if you saw it—well, someplace else first, not your own earth.” “I hate it!” Charles Wallace cried passionately. “I hate the Dark Thing!”

Mrs. Whatsit nodded. “Yes, Charles dear. We all do. That’s another reason we wanted to prepare you on Uriel. We thought it would be too frightening for you to see it first of all about your own, beloved world.”

“But what is it?” Calvin demanded. “We know that it’s evil, but what is it?”

“Yyouu hhave ssaidd itt!” Mrs. Which’s voice rang out. “Itt iss Eevill. Itt iss thee Ppowers of Ddarrkknesss!”

“But what’s going to happen?” Meg’s voice trembled. “Oh, please, Mrs. Which, tell us what’s going to happen!”

“Wee wwill cconnttinnue ttoffightt!”

Something in Mrs. Which’s voice made all three of the children stand straighter, throwing back their shoulders with determination, looking at the glimmer that was Mrs. Which with pride and confidence.

“And we’re not alone, you know, children,” came Mrs. Whatsit, the comforter. “All through the universe it’s being fought, all through the cosmos, and my, but it’s a grand and exciting battle. I know it’s hard for you to understand about size, how there’s very little difference in the size of the tiniest microbe and the greatest galaxy. You think about that, and maybe it won’t seem strange to you that some of our very best fighters have come right from your own planet, and its a little planet, dears, out on the edge of a little galaxy. You can be proud that it’s done so well.”

“Who have our fighters been?” Calvin asked.

“Oh, you must know them, dear,” Mrs. Whatsit said.

Mrs. Who’s spectacles shone out at them triumphantly, “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”

“Jesus!” Charles Wallace said. “Why of course, Jesus!”

“Of course!” Mrs. Whatsit said. “Co on, Charles, love. There were others. All your great artists. They’ve been lights for us to see by.”

“Leonardo da Vinci?” Calvin suggested tentatively. “And Michelangelo?”

“And Shakespeare,” Charles Wallace called out, “and Bach! And Pasteur and Madame Curie and Einstein!”

Now Calvin’s voice rang with confidence. “And Schweitzer and Gandhi and Buddha and Beethoven and Rembrandt and St. Francis!”

“Now you, Meg,” Mrs. Whatsit ordered.

“Oh, Euclid, I suppose.” Meg was in such an agony of impatience that her voice grated irritably. “And Copernicus. But what about Father? Please, what about Father?”

“Wee aarre ggoingg tto yourr ffatherr,” Mrs. Which said.

“But where is he?” Meg went over to Mrs. Which and stamped as though she were as young as Charles Wallace.

Mrs. Whatsit answered in a voice that was low but quite firm. “On a planet that has given in. So you must prepare to be very strong.”

All traces of cheer had left the Happy Medium’s face.

She sat holding the great ball, looking down at the shadowed earth, and a slow tear coursed down her cheek. “I can’t stand it any longer,” she sobbed. “Watch now, children, watch!”

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