The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth
Part 2 out of 5
"Skinner?" Bensington was saying, regardless of his approach.
"Nothing about him," said Redwood. "Bound to be eaten. Both of them.
It's too terrible.... Hullo! Cossar!"
"This your stuff?" asked Cossar, waving the paper.
"Well, why don't you stop it?" he demanded.
"_Can't_ be jiggered!" said Cossar.
"_Buy the place_?" he cried. "What nonsense! Burn it! I knew you chaps
would fumble this. _What are you to do_? Why--what I tell you.
"_You_? Do? Why! Go up the street to the gunsmith's, of course. _Why_?
For guns. Yes--there's only one shop. Get eight guns! Rifles. Not
elephant guns--no! Too big. Not army rifles--too small. Say it's to
kill--kill a bull. Say it's to shoot buffalo! See? Eh? Rats? No! How the
deuce are they to understand that? Because we _want_ eight. Get a lot of
ammunition. Don't get guns without ammunition--No! Take the lot in a cab
to--where's the place? _Urshot_? Charing Cross, then. There's a
train---Well, the first train that starts after two. Think you can do
it? All right. License? Get eight at a post-office, of course. Gun
licenses, you know. Not game. Why? It's rats, man.
"You--Bensington. Got a telephone? Yes. I'll ring up five of my chaps
from Ealing. _Why_ five? Because it's the right number!
"Where you going, Redwood? Get a hat! _Nonsense_. Have mine. You want
guns, man--not hats. Got money? Enough? All right. So long.
"Where's the telephone, Bensington?"
Bensington wheeled about obediently and led the way.
Cossar used and replaced the instrument. "Then there's the wasps," he
said. "Sulphur and nitre'll do that. Obviously. Plaster of Paris. You're
a chemist. Where can I get sulphur by the ton in portable sacks? _What_
for? Why, Lord _bless_ my heart and soul!--to smoke out the nest, of
course! I suppose it must be sulphur, eh? You're a chemist. Sulphur
"Yes, I should _think_ sulphur."
"Right. That's your job. That's all right. Get as much sulphur as you
can--saltpetre to make it burn. Sent? Charing Cross. Right away. See
they do it. Follow it up. Anything?"
He thought a moment.
"Plaster of Paris--any sort of plaster--bung up nest--holes--you know.
That _I'd_ better get."
"How much what?"
Bensington tightened his glasses with a hand tremulous with
determination. "Right," he said, very curtly.
"Money in your pocket?" asked Cossar.
"Hang cheques. They may not know you. Pay cash. Obviously. Where's your
bank? All right. Stop on the way and get forty pounds--notes and gold."
Another meditation. "If we leave this job for public officials we shall
have all Kent in tatters," said Cossar. "Now is there--anything? _No!
He stretched a vast hand towards a cab that became convulsively eager to
serve him ("Cab, Sir?" said the cabman. "Obviously," said Cossar); and
Bensington, still hatless, paddled down the steps and prepared to mount.
"I _think_," he said, with his hand on the cab apron, and a sudden
glance up at the windows of his flat, "I _ought_ to tell my cousin
"More time to tell her when you come back," said Cossar, thrusting him
in with a vast hand expanded over his back....
"Clever chaps," remarked Cossar, "but no initiative whatever. Cousin
Jane indeed! I know her. Rot, these Cousin Janes! Country infested with
'em. I suppose I shall have to spend the whole blessed night, seeing
they do what they know perfectly well they ought to do all along. I
wonder if it's Research makes 'em like that or Cousin Jane or what?"
He dismissed this obscure problem, meditated for a space upon his watch,
and decided there would be just time to drop into a restaurant and get
some lunch before he hunted up the plaster of Paris and took it to
The train started at five minutes past three, and he arrived at Charing
Cross at a quarter to three, to find Bensington in heated argument
between two policemen and his van-driver outside, and Redwood in the
luggage office involved in some technical obscurity about this
ammunition. Everybody was pretending not to know anything or to have any
authority, in the way dear to South-Eastern officials when they catch
you in a hurry.
"Pity they can't shoot all these officials and get a new lot," remarked
Cossar with a sigh. But the time was too limited for anything
fundamental, and so he swept through these minor controversies,
disinterred what may or may not have been the station-master from some
obscure hiding-place, walked about the premises holding him and giving
orders in his name, and was out of the station with everybody and
everything aboard before that official was fully awake to the breaches
in the most sacred routines and regulations that were being committed.
"Who _was_ he?" said the high official, caressing the arm Cossar had
gripped, and smiling with knit brows.
"'E was a gentleman, Sir," said a porter, "anyhow. 'Im and all 'is party
travelled first class."
"Well, we got him and his stuff off pretty sharp--whoever he was," said
the high official, rubbing his arm with something approaching
And as he walked slowly back, blinking in the unaccustomed daylight,
towards that dignified retirement in which the higher officials at
Charing Cross shelter from the importunity of the vulgar, he smiled
still at his unaccustomed energy. It was a very gratifying revelation of
his own possibilities, in spite of the stiffness of his arm. He wished
some of those confounded armchair critics of railway management could
have seen it.
By five o'clock that evening this amazing Cossar, with no appearance of
hurry at all, had got all the stuff for his fight with insurgent Bigness
out of Urshot and on the road to Hickleybrow. Two barrels of paraffin
and a load of dry brushwood he had bought in Urshot; plentiful sacks of
sulphur, eight big game guns and ammunition, three light breechloaders,
with small-shot ammunition for the wasps, a hatchet, two billhooks, a
pick and three spades, two coils of rope, some bottled beer, soda and
whisky, one gross of packets of rat poison, and cold provisions for
three days, had come down from London. All these things he had sent on
in a coal trolley and a hay waggon in the most business-like way, except
the guns and ammunition, which were stuck under the seat of the Red Lion
waggonette appointed to bring on Redwood and the five picked men who had
come up from Ealing at Cossar's summons.
Cossar conducted all these transactions with an invincible air of
commonplace, in spite of the fact that Urshot was in a panic about the
rats, and all the drivers had to be specially paid. All the shops were
shut in the place, and scarcely a soul abroad in the street, and when he
banged at a door a window was apt to open. He seemed to consider that
the conduct of business from open windows was an entirely legitimate and
obvious method. Finally he and Bensington got the Red Lion dogcart and
set off with the waggonette, to overtake the baggage. They did this a
little beyond the cross-roads, and so reached Hickleybrow first.
Bensington, with a gun between his knees, sitting beside Cossar in the
dog-cart, developed a long germinated amazement. All they were doing
was, no doubt, as Cossar insisted, quite the obvious thing to do,
only--! In England one so rarely does the obvious thing. He glanced from
his neighbour's feet to the boldly sketched hands upon the reins. Cossar
had apparently never driven before, and he was keeping the line of least
resistance down the middle of the road by some no doubt quite obvious
but certainly unusual light of his own.
"Why don't we all do the obvious?" thought Bensington. "How the world
would travel if one did! I wonder for instance why I don't do such a
lot of things I know would be all right to do--things I _want_ to do. Is
everybody like that, or is it peculiar to me!" He plunged into obscure
speculation about the Will. He thought of the complex organised
futilities of the daily life, and in contrast with them the plain and
manifest things to do, the sweet and splendid things to do, that some
incredible influences will never permit us to do. Cousin Jane? Cousin
Jane he perceived was important in the question, in some subtle and
difficult way. Why should we after all eat, drink, and sleep, remain
unmarried, go here, abstain from going there, all out of deference to
Cousin Jane? She became symbolical without ceasing to be
A stile and a path across the fields caught his eye and reminded him of
that other bright day, so recent in time, so remote in its emotions,
when he had walked from Urshot to the Experimental Farm to see the giant
Fate plays with us.
"Tcheck, tcheck," said Cossar. "Get up."
It was a hot midday afternoon, not a breath of wind, and the dust was
thick in the roads. Few people were about, but the deer beyond the park
palings browsed in profound tranquillity. They saw a couple of big wasps
stripping a gooseberry bush just outside Hickleybrow, and another was
crawling up and down the front of the little grocer's shop in the
village street trying to find an entry. The grocer was dimly visible
within, with an ancient fowling-piece in hand, watching its endeavours.
The driver of the waggonette pulled up outside the Jolly Drovers and
informed Redwood that his part of the bargain was done. In this
contention he was presently joined by the drivers of the waggon and the
trolley. Not only did they maintain this, but they refused to let the
horses be taken further.
"Them big rats is nuts on 'orses," the trolley driver kept on repeating.
Cossar surveyed the controversy for a moment.
"Get the things out of that waggonette," he said, and one of his men, a
tall, fair, dirty engineer, obeyed.
"Gimme that shot gun," said Cossar.
He placed himself between the drivers. "We don't want _you_ to drive,"
"You can say what you like," he conceded, "but we want these horses."
They began to argue, but he continued speaking.
"If you try and assault us I shall, in self-defence, let fly at your
legs. The horses are going on."
He treated the incident as closed. "Get up on that waggon, Flack," he
said to a thickset, wiry little man. "Boon, take the trolley."
The two drivers blustered to Redwood.
"You've done your duty to your employers," said Redwood. "You stop in
this village until we come back. No one will blame you, seeing we've got
guns. We've no wish to do anything unjust or violent, but this occasion
is pressing. I'll pay if anything happens to the horses, never fear."
"_That's_ all right," said Cossar, who rarely promised.
They left the waggonette behind, and the men who were not driving went
afoot. Over each shoulder sloped a gun. It was the oddest little
expedition for an English country road, more like a Yankee party,
trekking west in the good old Indian days.
They went up the road, until at the crest by the stile they came into
sight of the Experimental Farm. They found a little group of men there
with a gun or so--the two Fulchers were among them--and one man, a
stranger from Maidstone, stood out before the others and watched the
place through an opera-glass.
These men turned about and stared at Redwood's party.
"Anything fresh?" said Cossar.
"The waspses keeps a comin' and a goin'," said old Fulcher. "Can't see
as they bring anything."
"The canary creeper's got in among the pine trees now," said the man
with the lorgnette. "It wasn't there this morning. You can see it grow
while you watch it."
He took out a handkerchief and wiped his object-glasses with careful
"I reckon you're going down there," ventured Skelmersdale.
"Will you come?" said Cossar.
Skelmersdale seemed to hesitate.
"It's an all-night job."
Skelmersdale decided that he wouldn't.
"Rats about?" asked Cossar.
"One was up in the pines this morning--rabbiting, we reckon."
Cossar slouched on to overtake his party.
Bensington, regarding the Experimental Farm under his hand, was able to
gauge now the vigour of the Food. His first impression was that the
house was smaller than he had thought--very much smaller; his second was
to perceive that all the vegetation between the house and the pine-wood
had become extremely large. The roof over the well peeped amidst
tussocks of grass a good eight feet high, and the canary creeper
wrapped about the chimney stack and gesticulated with stiff tendrils
towards the heavens. Its flowers were vivid yellow splashes, distinctly
visible as separate specks this mile away. A great green cable had
writhed across the big wire inclosures of the giant hens' run, and flung
twining leaf stems about two outstanding pines. Fully half as tall as
these was the grove of nettles running round behind the cart-shed. The
whole prospect, as they drew nearer, became more and more suggestive of
a raid of pigmies upon a dolls' house that has been left in a neglected
corner of some great garden.
There was a busy coming and going from the wasps' nest, they saw. A
swarm of black shapes interlaced in the air, above the rusty hill-front
beyond the pine cluster, and ever and again one of these would dart up
into the sky with incredible swiftness and soar off upon some distant
quest. Their humming became audible at more than half a mile's distance
from the Experimental Farm. Once a yellow-striped monster dropped
towards them and hung for a space watching them with its great compound
eyes, but at an ineffectual shot from Cossar it darted off again. Down
in a corner of the field, away to the right, several were crawling about
over some ragged bones that were probably the remains of the lamb the
rats had brought from Huxter's Farm. The horses became very restless as
they drew near these creatures. None of the party was an expert driver,
and they had to put a man to lead each horse and encourage it with the
They could see nothing of the rats as they came up to the house, and
everything seemed perfectly still except for the rising and falling
"whoozzzzzzZZZ, whoooo-zoo-oo" of the wasps' nest.
They led the horses into the yard, and one of Cossar's men, seeing the
door open--the whole of the middle portion of the door had been gnawed
out--walked into the house. Nobody missed him for the time, the rest
being occupied with the barrels of paraffin, and the first intimation
they had of his separation from them was the report of his gun and the
whizz of his bullet. "Bang, bang," both barrels, and his first bullet it
seems went through the cask of sulphur, smashed out a stave from the
further side, and filled the air with yellow dust. Redwood had kept his
gun in hand and let fly at something grey that leapt past him. He had a
vision of the broad hind-quarters, the long scaly tail and long soles of
the hind-feet of a rat, and fired his second barrel. He saw Bensington
drop as the beast vanished round the corner.
Then for a time everybody was busy with a gun. For three minutes lives
were cheap at the Experimental Farm, and the banging of guns filled the
air. Redwood, careless of Bensington in his excitement, rushed in
pursuit, and was knocked headlong by a mass of brick fragments, mortar,
plaster, and rotten lath splinters that came flying out at him as a
bullet whacked through the wall.
He found himself sitting on the ground with blood on his hands and lips,
and a great stillness brooded over all about him.
Then a flattish voice from within the house remarked: "Gee-whizz!"
"Hullo!" said Redwood.
"Hullo there!" answered the voice.
And then: "Did you chaps get 'im?"
A sense of the duties of friendship returned to Redwood. "Is Mr.
Bensington hurt?" he said.
The man inside heard imperfectly. "No one ain't to blame if I ain't,"
said the voice inside.
It became clearer to Redwood that he must have shot Bensington. He
forgot the cuts upon his face, arose and came back to find Bensington
seated on the ground and rubbing his shoulder. Bensington looked over
his glasses. "We peppered him, Redwood," he said, and then: "He tried to
jump over me, and knocked me down. But I let him have it with both
barrels, and my! how it has hurt my shoulder, to be sure."
A man appeared in the doorway. "I got him once in the chest and once in
the side," he said.
"Where's the waggons?" said Cossar, appearing amidst a thicket of
gigantic canary-creeper leaves.
It became evident, to Redwood's amazement, first, that no one had been
shot, and, secondly, that the trolley and waggon had shifted fifty
yards, and were now standing with interlocked wheels amidst the tangled
distortions of Skinner's kitchen garden. The horses had stopped their
plunging. Half-way towards them, the burst barrel of sulphur lay in the
path with a cloud of sulphur dust above it. He indicated this to Cossar
and walked towards it. "Has any one seen that rat?" shouted Cossar,
following. "I got him in between the ribs once, and once in the face as
he turned on me."
They were joined by two men, as they worried at the locked wheels.
"I killed that rat," said one of the men.
"Have they got him?" asked Cossar.
"Jim Bates has found him, beyond the hedge. I got him jest as he came
round the corner.... Whack behind the shoulder...."
When things were a little ship-shape again Redwood went and stared at
the huge misshapen corpse. The brute lay on its side, with its body
slightly bent. Its rodent teeth overhanging its receding lower jaw gave
its face a look of colossal feebleness, of weak avidity. It seemed not
in the least ferocious or terrible. Its fore-paws reminded him of lank
emaciated hands. Except for one neat round hole with a scorched rim on
either side of its neck, the creature was absolutely intact. He
meditated over this fact for some time. "There must have been two rats,"
he said at last, turning away.
"Yes. And the one that everybody hit--got away."
"I am certain that my own shot--"
A canary-creeper leaf tendril, engaged in that mysterious search for a
holdfast which constitutes a tendril's career, bent itself engagingly
towards his neck and made him step aside hastily.
"Whoo-z-z z-z-z-z-Z-Z-Z," from the distant wasps' nest, "whoo oo
This incident left the party alert but not unstrung.
They got their stores into the house, which had evidently been ransacked
by the rats after the flight of Mrs. Skinner, and four of the men took
the two horses back to Hickleybrow. They dragged the dead rat through
the hedge and into a position commanded by the windows of the house, and
incidentally came upon a cluster of giant earwigs in the ditch. These
creatures dispersed hastily, but Cossar reached out incalculable limbs
and managed to kill several with his boots and gun-butt. Then two of the
men hacked through several of the main stems of the canary creeper--huge
cylinders they were, a couple of feet in diameter, that came out by the
sink at the back; and while Cossar set the house in order for the night,
Bensington, Redwood, and one of the assistant electricians went
cautiously round by the fowl runs in search of the rat-holes.
They skirted the giant nettles widely, for these huge weeds threatened
them with poison-thorns a good inch long. Then round beyond the gnawed,
dismantled stile they came abruptly on the huge cavernous throat of the
most westerly of the giant rat-holes, an evil-smelling profundity, that
drew them up into a line together.
"I _hope_ they'll come out," said Redwood, with a glance at the
pent-house of the well.
"If they don't--" reflected Bensington.
"They will," said Redwood.
"We shall have to rig up some sort of flare if we _do_ go in," said
They went up a little path of white sand through the pine-wood and
halted presently within sight of the wasp-holes.
The sun was setting now, and the wasps were coming home for good; their
wings in the golden light made twirling haloes about them. The three men
peered out from under the trees--they did not care to go right to the
edge of the wood--and watched these tremendous insects drop and crawl
for a little and enter and disappear. "They will be still in a couple of
hours from now," said Redwood.... "This is like being a boy again."
"We can't miss those holes," said Bensington, "even if the night is
dark. By-the-bye--about the light--"
"Full moon," said the electrician. "I looked it up."
They went back and consulted with Cossar.
He said that "obviously" they must get the sulphur, nitre, and plaster
of Paris through the wood before twilight, and for that they broke bulk
and carried the sacks. After the necessary shouting of the preliminary
directions, never a word was spoken, and as the buzzing of the wasps'
nest died away there was scarcely a sound in the world but the noise of
footsteps, the heavy breathing of burthened men, and the thud of the
sacks. They all took turns at that labour except Mr. Bensington, who was
manifestly unfit. He took post in the Skinners' bedroom with a rifle, to
watch the carcase of the dead rat, and of the others, they took turns to
rest from sack-carrying and to keep watch two at a time upon the
rat-holes behind the nettle grove. The pollen sacs of the nettles were
ripe, and every now and then the vigil would be enlivened by the
dehiscence of these, the bursting of the sacs sounding exactly like the
crack of a pistol, and the pollen grains as big as buckshot pattered all
Mr. Bensington sat at his window on a hard horse-hair-stuffed arm-chair,
covered by a grubby antimacassar that had given a touch of social
distinction to the Skinners' sitting-room for many years. His
unaccustomed rifle rested on the sill, and his spectacles anon watched
the dark bulk of the dead rat in the thickening twilight, anon wandered
about him in curious meditation. There was a faint smell of paraffin
without, for one of the casks leaked, and it mingled with a less
unpleasant odour arising from the hacked and crushed creeper.
Within, when he turned his head, a blend of faint domestic scents, beer,
cheese, rotten apples, and old boots as the leading _motifs_, was full
of reminiscences of the vanished Skinners. He regarded the dim room for
a space. The furniture had been greatly disordered--perhaps by some
inquisitive rat--but a coat upon a clothes-peg on the door, a razor and
some dirty scraps of paper, and a piece of soap that had hardened
through years of disuse into a horny cube, were redolent of Skinner's
distinctive personality. It came to Bensington's mind with a complete
novelty of realisation that in all probability the man had been killed
and eaten, at least in part, by the monster that now lay dead there in
To think of all that a harmless-looking discovery in chemistry may lead
Here he was in homely England and yet in infinite danger, sitting out
alone with a gun in a twilit, ruined house, remote from every comfort,
his shoulder dreadfully bruised from a gun-kick, and--by Jove!
He grasped now how profoundly the order of the universe had changed for
him. He had come right away to this amazing experience, _without even
saying a word to his cousin Jane_!
What must she be thinking of him?
He tried to imagine it and he could not. He had an extraordinary feeling
that she and he were parted for ever and would never meet again. He felt
he had taken a step and come into a world of new immensities. What other
monsters might not those deepening shadows hide? The tips of the giant
nettles came out sharp and black against the pale green and amber of the
western sky. Everything was very still--very still indeed. He wondered
why he could not hear the others away there round the corner of the
house. The shadow in the cart-shed was now an abysmal black.
* * * * *
_Bang ... Bang ... Bang_.
A sequence of echoes and a shout.
A long silence.
_Bang_ and a _diminuendo_ of echoes.
Then, thank goodness! Redwood and Cossar were coming out of the
inaudible darknesses, and Redwood was calling "Bensington!"
"Bensington! We've bagged another of the rats!"
"Cossar's bagged another of the rats!"
When the Expedition had finished refreshment, the night had fully come.
The stars were at their brightest, and a growing pallor towards Hankey
heralded the moon. The watch on the rat-holes had been maintained, but
the watchers had shifted to the hill slope above the holes, feeling this
a safer firing-point. They squatted there in a rather abundant dew,
fighting the damp with whisky. The others rested in the house, and the
three leaders discussed the night's work with the men. The moon rose
towards midnight, and as soon as it was clear of the downs, every one
except the rat-hole sentinels started off in single file, led by Cossar,
towards the wasps' nest.
So far as the wasps' nest went, they found their task exceptionally
easy--astonishingly easy. Except that it was a longer labour, it was no
graver affair than any common wasps' nest might have been. Danger there
was, no doubt, danger to life, but it never so much as thrust its head
out of that portentous hillside. They stuffed in the sulphur and nitre,
they bunged the holes soundly, and fired their trains. Then with a
common impulse all the party but Cossar turned and ran athwart the long
shadows of the pines, and, finding Cossar had stayed behind, came to a
halt together in a knot, a hundred yards away, convenient to a ditch
that offered cover. Just for a minute or two the moonlit night, all
black and white, was heavy with a suffocated buzz, that rose and mingled
to a roar, a deep abundant note, and culminated and died, and then
almost incredibly the night was still.
"By Jove!" said Bensington, almost in a whisper, "_it's done!_"
All stood intent. The hillside above the black point-lace of the pine
shadows seemed as bright as day and as colourless as snow. The setting
plaster in the holes positively shone. Cossar's loose framework moved
"So far--" said Cossar.
A shot from near the house and then--stillness.
"What's _that_?" said Bensington.
"One of the rats put its head out," suggested one of the men.
"By-the-bye, we left our guns up there," said Redwood.
"By the sacks."
Every one began to walk towards the hill again.
"That must be the rats," said Bensington.
"Obviously," said Cossar, gnawing his finger nails.
"Hullo?" said one of the men.
Then abruptly came a shout, two shots, a loud shout that was almost a
scream, three shots in rapid succession and a splintering of wood. All
these sounds were very clear and very small in the immense stillness of
the night. Then for some moments nothing but a minute muffled confusion
from the direction of the rat-holes, and then again a wild yell ... Each
man found himself running hard for the guns.
Bensington found himself, gun in hand, going hard through the pine trees
after a number of receding backs. It is curious that the thought
uppermost in his mind at that moment was the wish that his cousin Jane
could see him. His bulbous slashed boots flew out in wild strides, and
his face was distorted into a permanent grin, because that wrinkled his
nose and kept his glasses in place. Also he held the muzzle of his gun
projecting straight before him as he flew through the chequered
moonlight. The man who had run away met them full tilt--he had dropped
"Hullo," said Cossar, and caught him in his arms. "What's this?"
"They came out together," said the man.
"Yes, six of them."
"What's he say?" panted Bensington, coming up, unheeded.
"He fell down."
"They came out one after the other."
"Made a rush. I fired both barrels first."
"You left Flack?"
"They were on to us." "Come on," said Cossar. "You come with us.
Where's Flack? Show us."
The whole party moved forward. Further details of the engagement dropped
from the man who had run away. The others clustered about him, except
Cossar, who led.
"Where are they?"
"Back in their holes, perhaps. I cleared. They made a rush for their
"What do you mean? Did you get behind them?"
"We got down by their holes. Saw 'em come out, you know, and tried to
cut 'em off. They lolloped out--like rabbits. We ran down and let fly.
They ran about wild after our first shot and suddenly came at us. _Went_
"Six or seven."
Cossar led the way to the edge of the pine-wood and halted.
"D'yer mean they _got_ Flack?" asked some one.
"One of 'em was on to him."
"Didn't you shoot?"
"Now _could_ I?"
"Every one loaded?" said Cossar over his shoulder.
There was a confirmatory movement.
"But Flack--" said one.
"D'yer mean--Flack--" said another.
"There's no time to lose," said Cossar, and shouted "Flack!" as he led
the way. The whole force advanced towards the rat-holes, the man who had
run away a little to the rear. They went forward through the rank
exaggerated weeds and skirted the body of the second dead rat. They were
extended in a bunchy line, each man with his gun pointing forward, and
they peered about them in the clear moonlight for some crumpled,
ominous shape, some crouching form. They found the gun of the man who
had run away very speedily.
"Flack!" cried Cossar. "Flack!"
"He ran past the nettles and fell down," volunteered the man who ran
"Round about there."
"Where did he fall?"
He hesitated and led them athwart the long black shadows for a space and
turned judicially. "About here, I think."
"Well, he's not here now."
"But his gun---?"
"Confound it!" swore Cossar, "where's everything got to?" He strode a
step towards the black shadows on the hillside that masked the holes and
stood staring. Then he swore again. "If they _have_ dragged him in---!"
So they hung for a space tossing each other the fragments of thoughts.
Bensington's glasses flashed like diamonds as he looked from one to the
other. The men's faces changed from cold clearness to mysterious
obscurity as they turned them to or from the moon. Every one spoke, no
one completed a sentence. Then abruptly Cossar chose his line. He
flapped limbs this way and that and expelled orders in pellets. It was
obvious he wanted lamps. Every one except Cossar was moving towards the
"You're going into the holes?" asked Redwood.
"Obviously," said Cossar.
He made it clear once more that the lamps of the cart and trolley were
to be got and brought to him.
Bensington, grasping this, started off along the path by the well. He
glanced over his shoulder, and saw Cossar's gigantic figure standing out
as if he were regarding the holes pensively. At the sight Bensington
halted for a moment and half turned. They were all leaving Cossar---!
Cossar was able to take care of himself, of course!
Suddenly Bensington saw something that made him shout a windless "HI!"
In a second three rats had projected themselves from the dark tangle of
the creeper towards Cossar. For three seconds Cossar stood unaware of
them, and then he had become the most active thing in the world. He
didn't fire his gun. Apparently he had no time to aim, or to think of
aiming; he ducked a leaping rat, Bensington saw, and then smashed at the
back of its head with the butt of his gun. The monster gave one leap and
fell over itself.
Cossar's form went right down out of sight among the reedy grass, and
then he rose again, running towards another of the rats and whirling his
gun overhead. A faint shout came to Bensington's ears, and then he
perceived the remaining two rats bolting divergently, and Cossar in
pursuit towards the holes.
The whole thing was an affair of misty shadows; all three fighting
monsters were exaggerated and made unreal by the delusive clearness of
the light. At moments Cossar was colossal, at moments invisible. The
rats flashed athwart the eye in sudden unexpected leaps, or ran with a
movement of the feet so swift, they seemed to run on wheels. It was all
over in half a minute. No one saw it but Bensington. He could hear the
others behind him still receding towards the house. He shouted something
inarticulate and then ran back towards Cossar, while the rats vanished.
He came up to him outside the holes. In the moonlight the distribution
of shadows that constituted Cossar's visage intimated calm. "Hullo,"
said Cossar, "back already? Where's the lamps? They're all back now in
their holes. One I broke the neck of as it ran past me ... See? There!"
And he pointed a gaunt finger.
Bensington was too astonished for conversation ...
The lamps seemed an interminable time in coming. At last they appeared,
first one unwinking luminous eye, preceded by a swaying yellow glare,
and then, winking now and then, and then shining out again, two others.
About them came little figures with little voices, and then enormous
shadows. This group made as it were a spot of inflammation upon the
gigantic dreamland of moonshine.
"Flack," said the voices. "Flack."
An illuminating sentence floated up. "Locked himself in the attic."
Cossar was continually more wonderful. He produced great handfuls of
cotton wool and stuffed them in his ears--Bensington wondered why. Then
he loaded his gun with a quarter charge of powder. Who else could have
thought of that? Wonderland culminated with the disappearance of
Cossar's twin realms of boot sole up the central hole.
Cossar was on all fours with two guns, one trailing on each side from a
string under his chin, and his most trusted assistant, a little dark man
with a grave face, was to go in stooping behind him, holding a lantern
over his head. Everything had been made as sane and obvious and proper
as a lunatic's dream. The wool, it seems, was on account of the
concussion of the rifle; the man had some too. Obviously! So long as
the rats turned tail on Cossar no harm could come to him, and directly
they headed for him he would see their eyes and fire between them. Since
they would have to come down the cylinder of the hole, Cossar could
hardly fail to hit them. It was, Cossar insisted, the obvious method, a
little tedious perhaps, but absolutely certain. As the assistant stooped
to enter, Bensington saw that the end of a ball of twine had been tied
to the tail of his coat. By this he was to draw in the rope if it should
be needed to drag out the bodies of the rats.
Bensington perceived that the object he held in his hand was Cossar's
How had it got there?
It would be something to remember him by, anyhow.
At each of the adjacent holes stood a little group with a lantern on the
ground shining up the hole, and with one man kneeling and aiming at the
round void before him, waiting for anything that might emerge.
There was an interminable suspense.
Then they heard Cossar's first shot, like an explosion in a mine....
Every one's nerves and muscles tightened at that, and bang! bang! bang!
the rats had tried a bolt, and two more were dead. Then the man who held
the ball of twine reported a twitching. "He's killed one in there," said
Bensington, "and he wants the rope."
He watched the rope creep into the hole, and it seemed as though it had
become animated by a serpentine intelligence--for the darkness made the
twine invisible. At last it stopped crawling, and there was a long
pause. Then what seemed to Bensington the queerest monster of all crept
slowly from the hole, and resolved itself into the little engineer
emerging backwards. After him, and ploughing deep furrows, Cossar's
boots thrust out, and then came his lantern-illuminated back....
Only one rat was left alive now, and this poor, doomed wretch cowered in
the inmost recesses until Cossar and the lantern went in again and slew
it, and finally Cossar, that human ferret, went through all the runs to
"We got 'em," he said to his nearly awe-stricken company at last. "And
if I hadn't been a mud-headed mucker I should have stripped to the
waist. Obviously. Feel my sleeves, Bensington! I'm wet through with
perspiration. Jolly hard to think of everything. Only a half way-up of
whisky can save me from a cold."
There were moments during that wonderful night when it seemed to
Bensington that he was planned by nature for a life of fantastic
adventure. This was particularly the case for an hour or so after he had
taken a stiff whisky. "Shan't go back to Sloane Street," he confided to
the tall, fair, dirty engineer.
"You won't, eh?"
"No fear," said Bensington, nodding darkly.
The exertion of dragging the seven dead rats to the funeral pyre by the
nettle grove left him bathed in perspiration, and Cossar pointed out the
obvious physical reaction of whisky to save him from the otherwise
inevitable chill. There was a sort of brigand's supper in the old
bricked kitchen, with the row of dead rats lying in the moonlight
against the hen-runs outside, and after thirty minutes or so of rest,
Cossar roused them all to the labours that were still to do.
"Obviously," as he said, they had to "wipe the place out. No litter--no
scandal. See?" He stirred them up to the idea of making destruction
complete. They smashed and splintered every fragment of wood in the
house; they built trails of chopped wood wherever big vegetation was
springing; they made a pyre for the rat bodies and soaked them in
Bensington worked like a conscientious navvy. He had a sort of climax of
exhilaration and energy towards two o'clock. When in the work of
destruction he wielded an axe the bravest fled his neighbourhood.
Afterwards he was a little sobered by the temporary loss of his
spectacles, which were found for him at last in his side coat-pocket.
Men went to and fro about him--grimy, energetic men. Cossar moved
amongst them like a god.
Bensington drank that delight of human fellowship that comes to happy
armies, to sturdy expeditions--never to those who live the life of the
sober citizen in cities. After Cossar had taken his axe away and set him
to carry wood he went to and fro, saying they were all "good fellows."
He kept on--long after he was aware of fatigue.
At last all was ready, and the broaching of the paraffin began. The
moon, robbed now of all its meagre night retinue of stars, shone high
above the dawn.
"Burn everything," said Cossar, going to and fro--"burn the ground and
make a clean sweep of it. See?"
Bensington became aware of him, looking now very gaunt and horrible in
the pale beginnings of the daylight, hurrying past with his lower jaw
projected and a flaring torch of touchwood in his hand.
"Come away!" said some one, pulling Bensington's arm.
The still dawn--no birds were singing there--was suddenly full of a
tumultuous crackling; a little dull red flame ran about the base of the
pyre, changed to blue upon the ground, and set out to clamber, leaf by
leaf, up the stem of a giant nettle. A singing sound mingled with the
They snatched their guns from the corner of the Skinners' living-room,
and then every one was running. Cossar came after them with heavy
Then they were standing looking back at the Experimental Farm. It was
boiling up; the smoke and flames poured out like a crowd in a panic,
from doors and windows and from a thousand cracks and crevices in the
roof. Trust Cossar to build a fire! A great column of smoke, shot with
blood-red tongues and darting flashes, rushed up into the sky. It was
like some huge giant suddenly standing up, straining upward and abruptly
spreading his great arms out across the sky. It cast the night back upon
them, utterly hiding and obliterating the incandescence of the sun that
rose behind it. All Hickleybrow was soon aware of that stupendous pillar
of smoke, and came out upon the crest, in various _deshabille_, to watch
Behind, like some fantastic fungus, this smoke pillar swayed and
fluctuated, up, up, into the sky--making the Downs seem low and all
other objects petty, and in the foreground, led by Cossar, the makers of
this mischief followed the path, eight little black figures coming
wearily, guns shouldered, across the meadow.
As Bensington looked back there came into his jaded brain, and echoed
there, a familiar formula. What was it? "You have lit to-day--? You have
lit today--?" Then he remembered Latimer's words: "We have lit this day
such a candle in England as no man may ever put out again--"
What a man Cossar was, to be sure! He admired his back view for a space,
and was proud to have held that hat. Proud! Although he was an eminent
investigator and Cossar only engaged in applied science.
Suddenly he fell shivering and yawning enormously and wishing he was
warmly tucked away in bed in his little flat that looked out upon Sloane
Street. (It didn't do even to think of Cousin Jane.) His legs became
cotton strands, his feet lead. He wondered if any one would get them
coffee in Hickleybrow. He had never been up all night for
And while these eight adventurers fought with rats about the
Experimental Farm, nine miles away, in the village of Cheasing
Eyebright, an old lady with an excessive nose struggled with great
difficulties by the light of a flickering candle. She gripped a sardine
tin opener in one gnarled hand, and in the other she held a tin of
Herakleophorbia, which she had resolved to open or die. She struggled
indefatigably, grunting at each fresh effort, while through the flimsy
partition the voice of the Caddles infant wailed.
"Bless 'is poor 'art," said Mrs. Skinner; and then, with her solitary
tooth biting her lip in an ecstasy of determination, "Come _up_!"
And presently, "_Jab_!" a fresh supply of the Food of the Gods was let
loose to wreak its powers of giantry upon the world.
CHAPTER THE FOURTH.
THE GIANT CHILDREN.
For a time at least the spreading circle of residual consequences about
the Experimental Farm must pass out of the focus of our narrative--how
for a long time a power of bigness, in fungus and toadstool, in grass
and weed, radiated from that charred but not absolutely obliterated
centre. Nor can we tell here at any length how these mournful spinsters,
the two surviving hens, made a wonder of and a show, spent their
remaining years in eggless celebrity. The reader who is hungry for
fuller details in these matters is referred to the newspapers of the
period--to the voluminous, indiscriminate files of the modern Recording
Angel. Our business lies with Mr. Bensington at the focus of the
He had come back to London to find himself a quite terribly famous man.
In a night the whole world had changed with respect to him. Everybody
understood. Cousin Jane, it seemed, knew all about it; the people in the
streets knew all about it; the newspapers all and more. To meet Cousin
Jane was terrible, of course, but when it was over not so terrible after
all. The good woman had limits even to her power over facts; it was
clear that she had communed with herself and accepted the Food as
something in the nature of things.
She took the line of huffy dutifulness. She disapproved highly, it was
evident, but she did not prohibit. The flight of Bensington, as she must
have considered it, may have shaken her, and her worst was to treat him
with bitter persistence for a cold he had not caught and fatigue he had
long since forgotten, and to buy him a new sort of hygienic all-wool
combination underwear that was apt to get involved and turned partially
inside out and partially not, and as difficult to get into for an
absent-minded man, as--Society. And so for a space, and as far as this
convenience left him leisure, he still continued to participate in the
development of this new element in human history, the Food of the Gods.
The public mind, following its own mysterious laws of selection, had
chosen him as the one and only responsible Inventor and Promoter of this
new wonder; it would hear nothing of Redwood, and without a protest it
allowed Cossar to follow his natural impulse into a terribly prolific
obscurity. Before he was aware of the drift of these things, Mr.
Bensington was, so to speak, stark and dissected upon the hoardings. His
baldness, his curious general pinkness, and his golden spectacles had
become a national possession. Resolute young men with large
expensive-looking cameras and a general air of complete authorisation
took possession of the flat for brief but fruitful periods, let off
flash lights in it that filled it for days with dense, intolerable
vapour, and retired to fill the pages of the syndicated magazines with
their admirable photographs of Mr. Bensington complete and at home in
his second-best jacket and his slashed shoes. Other resolute-mannered
persons of various ages and sexes dropped in and told him things about
Boomfood--it was _Punch_ first called the stuff "Boomfood"--and
afterwards reproduced what they had said as his own original
contribution to the Interview. The thing became quite an obsession with
Broadbeam, the Popular Humourist. He scented another confounded thing he
could not understand, and he fretted dreadfully in his efforts to "laugh
the thing down." One saw him in clubs, a great clumsy presence with the
evidences of his midnight oil burning manifest upon his large
unwholesome face, explaining to every one he could buttonhole: "These
Scientific chaps, you know, haven't a Sense of Humour, you know. That's
what it is. This Science--kills it." His jests at Bensington became
An enterprising press-cutting agency sent Bensington a long article
about himself from a sixpenny weekly, entitled "A New Terror," and
offered to supply one hundred such disturbances for a guinea, and two
extremely charming young ladies, totally unknown to him, called, and, to
the speechless indignation of Cousin Jane, had tea with him and
afterwards sent him their birthday books for his signature. He was
speedily quite hardened to seeing his name associated with the most
incongruous ideas in the public press, and to discover in the reviews
articles written about Boomfood and himself in a tone of the utmost
intimacy by people he had never heard of. And whatever delusions he may
have cherished in the days of his obscurity about the pleasantness of
Fame were dispelled utterly and for ever.
At first--except for Broadbeam--the tone of the public mind was quite
free from any touch of hostility. It did not seem to occur to the public
mind as anything but a mere playful supposition that any more
Herakleophorbia was going to escape again. And it did not seem to occur
to the public mind that the growing little band of babies now being fed
on the food would presently be growing more "up" than most of us ever
grow. The sort of thing that pleased the public mind was caricatures of
eminent politicians after a course of Boom-feeding, uses of the idea on
hoardings, and such edifying exhibitions as the dead wasps that had
escaped the fire and the remaining hens.
Beyond that the public did not care to look, until very strenuous
efforts were made to turn its eyes to the remoter consequences, and even
then for a while its enthusiasm for action was partial. "There's always
somethin' New," said the public--a public so glutted with novelty that
it would hear of the earth being split as one splits an apple without
surprise, and, "I wonder what they'll do next."
But there were one or two people outside the public, as it were, who did
already take that further glance, and some it seems were frightened by
what they saw there. There was young Caterham, for example, cousin of
the Earl of Pewterstone, and one of the most promising of English
politicians, who, taking the risk of being thought a faddist, wrote a
long article in the _Nineteenth Century and After_ to suggest its total
suppression. And--in certain of his moods, there was Bensington.
"They don't seem to realise--" he said to Cossar.
"No, they don't."
"And do we? Sometimes, when I think of what it means--This poor child of
Redwood's--And, of course, your three... Forty feet high, perhaps!
After all, _ought_ we to go on with it?"
"Go on with it!" cried Cossar, convulsed with inelegant astonishment and
pitching his note higher than ever. "Of _course_ you'll go on with it!
What d'you think you were made for? Just to loaf about between
"Serious consequences," he screamed, "of course! Enormous. Obviously.
Ob-viously. Why, man, it's the only chance you'll ever get of a serious
consequence! And you want to shirk it!" For a moment his indignation was
speechless, "It's downright Wicked!" he said at last, and repeated
But Bensington worked in his laboratory now with more emotion than zest.
He couldn't, tell whether he wanted serious consequences to his life or
not; he was a man of quiet tastes. It was a marvellous discovery, of
course, quite marvellous--but--He had already become the proprietor of
several acres of scorched, discredited property near Hickleybrow, at a
price of nearly £90 an acre, and at times he was disposed to think this
as serious a consequence of speculative chemistry as any unambitious
man, could wish. Of course he was Famous--terribly Famous. More than
satisfying, altogether more than satisfying, was the Fame he had
But the habit of Research was strong in him....
And at moments, rare moments in the laboratory chiefly, he would find
something else than habit and Cossar's arguments to urge him to his
work. This little spectacled man, poised perhaps with his slashed shoes
wrapped about the legs of his high stool and his hand upon the tweezer
of his balance weights, would have again a flash of that adolescent
vision, would have a momentary perception of the eternal unfolding of
the seed that had been sown in his brain, would see as it were in the
sky, behind the grotesque shapes and accidents of the present, the
coming world of giants and all the mighty things the future has in
store--vague and splendid, like some glittering palace seen suddenly in
the passing of a sunbeam far away.... And presently it would be with him
as though that distant splendour had never shone upon his brain, and he
would perceive nothing ahead but sinister shadows, vast declivities and
darknesses, inhospitable immensities, cold, wild, and terrible things.
Amidst the complex and confused happenings, the impacts from the great
outer world that constituted Mr. Bensington's fame, a shining and active
figure presently became conspicuous--became almost, as it were, a leader
and marshal of these externalities in Mr. Bensington's eyes. This was
Dr. Winkles, that convincing young practitioner, who has already
appeared in this story as the means whereby Redwood was able to convey
the Food to his son. Even before the great outbreak, it was evident that
the mysterious powders Redwood had given him had awakened this
gentleman's interest immensely, and so soon as the first wasps came he
was putting two and two together.
He was the sort of doctor that is in manners, in morals, in methods and
appearance, most succinctly and finally expressed by the word "rising."
He was large and fair, with a hard, alert, superficial,
aluminium-coloured eye, and hair like chalk mud, even-featured and
muscular about the clean-shaven mouth, erect in figure and energetic in
movement, quick and spinning on the heel, and he wore long frock coats,
black silk ties and plain gold studs and chains and his silk hats had a
special shape and brim that made him look wiser and better than anybody.
He looked as young or old as anybody grown up. And after that first
wonderful outbreak he took to Bensington and Redwood and the Food of the
Gods with such a convincing air of proprietorship, that at times, in
spite of the testimony of the Press to the contrary, Bensington was
disposed to regard him as the original inventor of the whole affair.
"These accidents," said Winkles, when Bensington hinted at the dangers
of further escapes, "are nothing. Nothing. The discovery is everything.
Properly developed, suitably handled, sanely controlled, we have--we
have something very portentous indeed in this food of ours.... We must
keep our eye on it ... We mustn't let it out of control again, and--we
mustn't let it rest."
He certainly did not mean to do that. He was at Bensington's now almost
every day. Bensington, glancing from the window, would see the faultless
equipage come spanking up Sloane Street and after an incredibly brief
interval Winkles would enter the room with a light, strong motion, and
pervade it, and protrude some newspaper and supply information and make
"Well," he would say, rubbing his hands, "how are we getting on?" and so
pass to the current discussion about it.
"Do you see," he would say, for example, "that Caterham has been talking
about our stuff at the Church Association?"
"Dear me!" said Bensington, "that's a cousin of the Prime Minister,
"Yes," said Winkles, "a very able young man--very able. Quite
wrong-headed; you know, violently reactionary--but thoroughly able. And
he's evidently disposed to make capital out of this stuff of ours. Takes
a very emphatic line. Talks of our proposal to use it in the elementary
"Our proposal to use it in the elementary schools!"
"_I_ said something about that the other day--quite in passing--little
affair at a Polytechnic. Trying to make it clear the stuff was really
highly beneficial. Not in the slightest degree dangerous, in spite of
those first little accidents. Which cannot possibly occur again.... You
know it _would_ be rather good stuff--But he's taken it up."
"What did you say?"
"Mere obvious nothings. But as you see---! Takes it up with perfect
gravity. Treats the thing as an attack. Says there is already a
sufficient waste of public money in elementary schools without this.
Tells the old stories about piano lessons again--_you_ know. No one; he
says, wishes to prevent the children of the lower classes obtaining an
education suited to their condition, but to give them a food of this
sort will be to destroy their sense of proportion utterly. Expands the
topic. What Good will it do, he asks, to make poor people six-and-thirty
feet high? He really believes, you know, that they _will_ be thirty-six
"So they would _be_," said Bensington, "if you gave them our food at all
regularly. But nobody said anything---"
"_I_ said something." "But, my dear Winkles--!"
"They'll be Bigger, of course," interrupted Winkles, with an air of
knowing all about it, and discouraging the crude ideas of Bensington.
"Bigger indisputably. But listen to what he says! Will it make them
happier? That's his point. Curious, isn't it? Will it make them better?
Will they be more respectful to properly constituted authority? Is it
fair to the children themselves?? Curious how anxious his sort are for
justice--so far as any future arrangements go. Even nowadays, he says,
the cost, of feeding and clothing children is more than many of their
parents can contrive, and if this sort of thing is to be permitted--!
"You see he makes my mere passing suggestion into a positive proposal.
And then he calculates how much a pair of breeches for a growing lad of
twenty feet high or so will cost. Just as though he really believed--Ten
pounds, he reckons, for the merest decency. Curious this Caterham! So
concrete! The honest, and struggling ratepayer will have to contribute
to that, he says. He says we have to consider the Rights of the Parent.
It's all here. Two columns. Every Parent has a right to have, his
children brought up in his own Size....
"Then comes the question of school accommodation, cost of enlarged desks
and forms for our already too greatly burthened National Schools. And to
get what?--a proletariat of hungry giants. Winds up with a very serious
passage, says even if this wild suggestion--mere passing fancy of mine,
you know, and misinterpreted at that--this wild suggestion about the
schools comes to nothing, that doesn't end the matter. This is a strange
food, so strange as to seem to him almost wicked. It has been scattered
recklessly--so he says--and it may be scattered again. Once you've taken
it, it's poison unless you go on with it. 'So it is,' said Bensington.
And in short he proposes the formation of a National Society for the
Preservation of the Proper Proportions of Things. Odd? Eh? People are
hanging on to the idea like anything."
"But what do they propose to do?"
Winkles shrugged his shoulders and threw out his hands. "Form a
Society," he said, "and fuss. They want to make it illegal to
manufacture this Herakleophorbia--or at any rate to circulate the
knowledge of it. I've written about a bit to show that Caterham's idea
of the stuff is very much exaggerated--very much exaggerated indeed, but
that doesn't seem to check it. Curious how people are turning against
it. And the National Temperance Association, by-the-bye, has founded a
branch for Temperance in Growth."
"Mm," said Bensington and stroked his nose.
"After all that has happened there's bound to be this uproar. On the
face of it the thing's--_startling_."
Winkles walked about the room for a time, hesitated, and departed.
It became evident there was something at the back of his mind, some
aspect of crucial importance to him, that he waited to display. One days
when Redwood and Bensington were at the flat together he gave them a
glimpse of this something in reserve.
"How's it all going?" he said; rubbing his hands together.
"We're getting together a sort of report."
"For the Royal Society?"
"Hm," said. Winkles, very profoundly, and walked to the hearth-rug.
"Hm. But--Here's the point. _Ought_ you?"
"Ought you to publish?"
"We're not in the Middle Ages," said Redwood.
"As Cossar says, swapping wisdom--that's the true scientific method."
"In most cases, certainly. But--This is exceptional."
"We shall put the whole thing before the Royal Society in the proper
way," said Redwood.
Winkles returned to that on a later occasion.
"It's in many ways an Exceptional discovery."
"That doesn't matter," said Redwood.
"It's the sort of knowledge that could easily be subject to grave
abuse--grave dangers, as Caterham puts it."
Redwood said nothing.
"Even carelessness, you know--"
"If we were to form a committee of trustworthy people to control the
manufacture of Boomfood--Herakleophorbia, I _should_ say--we might--"
He paused, and Redwood, with a certain private discomfort, pretended
that he did not see any sort of interrogation....
Outside the apartments of Redwood and Bensington, Winkle, in spite of
the incompleteness of his instructions, became a leading authority upon
Boomfood. He wrote letters defending its use; he made notes and articles
explaining its possibilities; he jumped up irrelevantly at the meetings
of the scientific and medical associations to talk about it; he
identified himself with it. He published a pamphlet called "The Truth
about Boomfood," in which he minimised the whole of the Hickleybrow
affair almost to nothing. He said that it was absurd to say Boomfood
would make people thirty-seven feet high. That was "obviously
exaggerated." It would make them Bigger, of course, but that was all....
Within that intimate circle of two it was chiefly evident that Winkles
was extremely anxious to help in the making of Herakleophorbia, help in
correcting any proofs there might be of any paper there might be in
preparation upon the subject--do anything indeed that might lead up to
his participation in the details of the making of Herakleophorbia. He
was continually telling them both that he felt it was a Big Thing, that
it had big possibilities. If only they were--"safeguarded in some way."
And at last one day he asked outright to be told just how it was made.
"I've been thinking over what you said," said Redwood.
"Well?" said Winkles brightly.
"It's the sort of knowledge that could easily be subject to grave
abuse," said Redwood.
"But I don't see how that applies," said Winkles.
"It does," said Redwood.
Winkles thought it over for a day or so. Then he came to Redwood and
said that he doubted if he ought to give powders about which he knew
nothing to Redwood's little boy; it seemed to him it was uncommonly like
taking responsibility in the dark. That made Redwood thoughtful.
"You've seen that the Society for the Total Suppression of Boomfood
claims to have several thousand members," said Winkles, changing the
subject. "They've drafted a Bill," said Winkles. "They've got young
Caterham to take it up--readily enough. They're in earnest. They're
forming local committees to influence candidates. They want to make it
penal to prepare and store Herakleophorbia without special license, and
felony--matter of imprisonment without option--to administer
Boomfood--that's what they call it, you know--to any person under
one-and-twenty. But there's collateral societies, you know. All sorts of
people. The Society for the Preservation of Ancient Statures is going to
have Mr. Frederic Harrison on the council, they say. You know he's
written an essay about it; says it is vulgar, and entirely inharmonious
with that Revelation of Humanity that is found in the teachings of
Comte. It is the sort of thing the Eighteenth Century _couldn't_ have
produced even in its worst moments. The idea of the Food never entered
the head of Comte--which shows how wicked it really is. No one, he says,
who really understood Comte...."
"But you don't mean to say--" said Redwood, alarmed out of his disdain
"They'll not do all that," said Winkles. "But public opinion is public
opinion, and votes are votes. Everybody can see you are up to a
disturbing thing. And the human instinct is all against disturbance, you
know. Nobody seems to believe Caterham's idea of people thirty-seven
feet high, who won't be able to get inside a church, or a meeting-house,
or any social or human institution. But for all that they're not so easy
in their minds about it. They see there's something--something more than
a common discovery--"
"There is," said Redwood, "in every discovery."
"Anyhow, they're getting--restive. Caterham keeps harping on what may
happen if it gets loose again. I say over and over again, it won't, and
it can't. But--there it is!"
And he bounced about the room for a little while as if he meant to
reopen the topic of the secret, and then thought better of it and went.
The two scientific men looked at one another. For a space only their
"If the worst comes to the worst," said Redwood at last, in a
strenuously calm voice, "I shall give the Food to my little Teddy with
my own hands."
It was only a few days after this that Redwood opened his paper to find
that the Prime Minister had promised a Royal Commission on Boomfood.
This sent him, newspaper in hand, round to Bensington's flat.
"Winkles, I believe, is making mischief for the stuff. He plays into the
hands of Caterham. He keeps on talking about it, and what it is going to
do, and alarming people. If he goes on, I really believe he'll hamper
our inquiries. Even as it is--with this trouble about my little boy--"
Bensington wished Winkles wouldn't.
"Do you notice how he has dropped into the way of calling it Boomfood?"
"I don't like that name," said Bensington, with a glance over his
"It is just so exactly what it is--to Winkles."
"Why does he keep on about it? It isn't his!"
"It's something called Booming," said Redwood. "_I_ don't understand. If
it isn't his, everybody is getting to think it is. Not that _that_
matters." "In the event of this ignorant, this ridiculous agitation
becoming--Serious," began Bensington.
"My little boy can't get on without the stuff," said Redwood. "I don't
see how I can help myself now. If the worst comes to the worst--"
A slight bouncing noise proclaimed the presence of Winkles. He became
visible in the middle of the room rubbing his hands together.
"I wish you'd knock," said Bensington, looking vicious over the gold
Winkles was apologetic. Then he turned to Redwood. "I'm glad to find you
here," he began; "the fact is--"
"Have you seen about this Royal Commission?" interrupted Redwood.
"Yes," said Winkles, thrown out. "Yes."
"What do you think of it?"
"Excellent thing," said Winkles. "Bound to stop most of this clamour.
Ventilate the whole affair. Shut up Caterham. But that's not what I came
round for, Redwood. The fact is--"
"I don't like this Royal Commission," said Bensington.
"I can assure you it will be all right. I may say--I don't think it's a
breach of confidence--that very possibly _I_ may have a place on the
"Oom," said Redwood, looking into the fire.
"I can put the whole thing right. I can make it perfectly clear, first,
that the stuff is controllable, and, secondly, that nothing short of a
miracle is needed before anything like that catastrophe at Hickleybrow
can possibly happen again. That is just what is wanted, an authoritative
assurance. Of course, I could speak with more confidence if I knew--But
that's quite by the way. And just at present there's something else,
another little matter, upon which I'm wanting to consult you. Ahem. The
fact is--Well--I happen to be in a slight difficulty, and you can help
Redwood raised his eyebrows, and was secretly glad.
"The matter is--highly confidential."
"Go on," said Redwood. "Don't worry about that."
"I have recently been entrusted with a child--the child of--of an
"You're getting on," said Redwood.
"I must confess it's largely your powders--and the reputation of my
success with your little boy--There is, I cannot disguise, a strong
feeling against its use. And yet I find that among the more
intelligent--One must go quietly in these things, you know--little by
little. Still, in the case of Her Serene High--I mean this new little
patient of mine. As a matter of fact--the suggestion came from the
parent. Or I should never--"
He struck Redwood as being embarrassed.
"I thought you had a doubt of the advisability of using these powders,"
"Merely a passing doubt."
"You don't propose to discontinue--"
"In the case of your little boy? Certainly not!"
"So far as I can see, it would be murder."
"I wouldn't do it for the world."
"You shall have the powders," said Redwood.
"I suppose you couldn't--"
"No fear," said Redwood. "There isn't a recipe. It's no good, Winkles,
if you'll pardon my frankness. I'll make you the powders myself."
"Just as well, perhaps," said Winkles, after a momentary hard stare at
Redwood--"just as well." And then: "I can assure you I really don't mind
in the least."
When Winkles had gone Bensington came and stood on the hearth-rug and
looked down at Redwood.
"Her Serene Highness!" he remarked.
"Her Serene Highness!" said Redwood.
"It's the Princess of Weser Dreiburg!"
"No further than a third cousin."
"Redwood," said Bensington; "it's a curious thing to say, I know,
but--do you think Winkles understands?"
"Just what it is we have made.
"Does he really understand," said Bensington, dropping his voice and
keeping his eye doorward, "that in the Family--the Family of his new
"Go on," said Redwood.
"Who have always been if anything a little _under_--_under_--"
"Yes. And so _very_ tactfully undistinguished in _any_ way, he is going
to produce a royal personage--an outsize royal personage--of _that_
size. You know, Redwood, I'm not sure whether there is not something
He transferred his eyes from the door to Redwood.
Redwood flung a momentary gesture--index finger erect--at the fire. "By
Jove!" he said, "he _doesn't_ know!"
"That man," said Redwood, "doesn't know anything. That was his most
exasperating quality as a student. Nothing. He passed all his
examinations, he had all his facts--and he had just as much
knowledge--as a rotating bookshelf containing the _Times Encyclopedia_.
And he doesn't know anything _now_. He's Winkles, and incapable of
really assimilating anything not immediately and directly related to his
superficial self. He is utterly void of imagination and, as a
consequence, incapable of knowledge. No one could possibly pass so many
examinations and be so well dressed, so well done, and so successful as
a doctor without that precise incapacity. That's it. And in spite of all
he's seen and heard and been told, there he is--he has no idea whatever
of what he has set going. He has got a Boom on, he's working it well on
Boomfood, and some one has let him in to this new Royal Baby--and that's
Boomier than ever! And the fact that Weser Dreiburg will presently have
to face the gigantic problem of a thirty-odd-foot Princess not only
hasn't entered his head, but couldn't--it couldn't!"
"There'll be a fearful row," said Bensington.
"In a year or so."
"So soon as they really see she is going on growing."
"Unless after their fashion--they hush it up."
"It's a lot to hush up."
"I wonder what they'll do?"
"They never do anything--Royal tact."
"They're bound to do something."
"Perhaps _she_ will." "O Lord! Yes."
"They'll suppress her. Such things have been known."
Redwood burst into desperate laughter. "The redundant royalty--the
bouncing babe in the Iron Mask!" he said. "They'll have to put her in
the tallest tower of the old Weser Dreiburg castle and make holes in the
ceilings as she grows from floor to floor! Well, I'm in the very same
pickle. And Cossar and his three boys. And--Well, well."
"There'll be a fearful row," Bensington repeated, not joining in the
laughter. "A _fearful_ row."
"I suppose," he argued, "you've really thought it out thoroughly,
Redwood. You're quite sure it wouldn't be wiser to warn Winkles, wean
your little boy gradually, and--and rely upon the Theoretical Triumph?"
"I wish to goodness you'd spend half an hour in my nursery when the
Food's a little late," said Redwood, with a note of exasperation in his
voice; "then you wouldn't talk like that, Bensington. Besides--Fancy
warning Winkles... No! The tide of this thing has caught us unawares,
and whether we're frightened or whether we're not--_we've got to swim!_"
"I suppose we have," said Bensington, staring at his toes. "Yes. We've
got to swim. And your boy will have to swim, and Cossar's boys--he's
given it to all three of them. Nothing partial about Cossar--all or
nothing! And Her Serene Highness. And everything. We are going on making
the Food. Cossar also. We're only just in the dawn of the beginning,
Redwood. It's evident all sorts of things are to follow. Monstrous great
things. But I can't imagine them, Redwood. Except--"
He scanned his finger nails. He looked up at Redwood with eyes bland
through his glasses.
"I've half a mind," he adventured, "that Caterham is right. At times.
It's going to destroy the Proportions of Things. It's going to
dislocate--What isn't it going to dislocate?"
"Whatever it dislocates," said Redwood, "my little boy must have the
They heard some one falling rapidly upstairs. Then Cossar put his head
into the fiat. "Hullo!" he said at their expressions, and entering,
They told him about the Princess.
"_Difficult question!_" he remarked. "Not a bit of it. _She'll_ grow.
Your boy'll grow. All the others you give it to 'll grow. Everything.
Like anything. What's difficult about that? That's all right. A child
could tell you that. Where's the bother?"
They tried to make it clear to him.
"_Not go on with it!_" he shrieked. "But--! You can't help yourselves
now. It's what you're for. It's what Winkles is for. It's all right.
Often wondered what Winkles was for. _Now_ it's obvious. What's the
"_Disturbance_? Obviously. _Upset things_? Upset everything.
Finally--upset every human concern. Plain as a pikestaff. They're going
to try and stop it, but they're too late. It's their way to be too late.
You go on and start as much of it as you can. Thank God He has a use for
"But the conflict!" said Bensington, "the stress! I don't know if you
"You ought to have been some sort of little vegetable, Bensington," said
Cossar--"that's what you ought to have been. Something growing over a
rockery. Here you are, fearfully and wonderfully made, and all you think
you're made for is just to sit about and take your vittles. D'you think
this world was made for old women to mop about in? Well, anyhow, you
can't help yourselves now--you've _got_ to go on."
"I suppose we must," said Redwood. "Slowly--"
"No!" said Cossar, in a huge shout. "No! Make as much as you can and as
soon as you can. Spread it about!"
He was inspired to a stroke of wit. He parodied one of Redwood's curves
with a vast upward sweep of his arm.
"Redwood!" he said, to point the allusion, "make it SO!"
There is, it seems, an upward limit to the pride of maternity, and this
in the case of Mrs. Redwood was reached when her offspring completed his
sixth month of terrestrial existence, broke down his high-class
bassinet-perambulator, and was brought home, bawling, in the milk-truck.
Young Redwood at that time weighed fifty-nine and a half pounds,
measured forty-eight inches in height, and gripped about sixty pounds.
He was carried upstairs to the nursery by the cook and housemaid. After
that, discovery was only a question of days. One afternoon Redwood came
home from his laboratory to find his unfortunate wife deep in the
fascinating pages of _The Mighty Atom_, and at the sight of him she put
the book aside and ran violently forward and burst into tears on his
"Tell me what you have _done_ to him," she wailed. "Tell me what you
have done." Redwood took her hand and led her to the sofa, while he
tried to think of a satisfactory line of defence.
"It's all right, my dear," he said; "it's all right. You're only a
little overwrought. It's that cheap perambulator. I've arranged for a
bath-chair man to come round with something stouter to-morrow--"
Mrs. Redwood looked at him tearfully over the top of her handkerchief.
"A baby in a bath-chair?" she sobbed.
"Well, why not?"
"It's like a cripple."
"It's like a young giant, my dear, and you've no cause to be ashamed of
"You've done something to him, Dandy," she said. "I can see it in your
"Well, it hasn't stopped his growth, anyhow," said Redwood heartlessly.
"I _knew_," said Mrs. Redwood, and clenched her pocket-handkerchief ball
fashion in one hand. She looked at him with a sudden change to severity.
"What have you done to our child, Dandy?"
"What's wrong with him?"
"He's so big. He's a monster."
"Nonsense. He's as straight and clean a baby as ever a woman had. What's
wrong with him?"
"Look at his size."
"That's all right. Look at the puny little brutes about us! He's the
"He's _too_ fine," said Mrs. Redwood.
"It won't go on," said Redwood reassuringly; "it's just a start he's
But he knew perfectly well it would go on. And it did. By the time this
baby was twelve months old he tottered just one inch under five feet
high and scaled eight stone three; he was as big in fact as a St.
Peter's _in Vaticano_ cherub, and his affectionate clutch at the hair
and features of visitors became the talk of West Kensington. They had an
invalid's chair to carry him up and down to his nursery, and his special
nurse, a muscular young person just out of training, used to take him
for his airings in a Panhard 8 h.p. hill-climbing perambulator specially
made to meet his requirement? It was lucky in every way that Redwood had
his expert witness connection in addition to his professorship.
When one got over the shock of little Redwood's enormous size, he was, I
am told by people who used to see him almost daily teufteufing slowly
about Hyde Park, a singularly bright and pretty baby. He rarely cried or
needed a comforter. Commonly he clutched a big rattle, and sometimes he
went along hailing the bus-drivers and policemen along the road outside
the railings as "Dadda!" and "Babba!" in a sociable, democratic way.
"There goes that there great Boomfood baby," the bus-driver used to say.
"Looks 'ealthy," the forward passenger would remark.
"Bottle fed," the bus-driver would explain. "They say it 'olds a gallon
and 'ad to be specially made for 'im."
"Very 'ealthy child any'ow," the forward passenger would conclude.
When Mrs. Redwood realized that his growth was indeed going on
indefinitely and logically--and this she really did for the first time
when the motor-perambulator arrived--she gave way to a passion of grief.
She declared she never wished to enter her nursery again, wished she was
dead, wished the child was dead, wished everybody was dead, wished she
had never married Redwood, wished no one ever married anybody, Ajaxed a
little, and retired to her own room, where she lived almost exclusively
on chicken broth for three days. When Redwood came to remonstrate with
her, she banged pillows about and wept and tangled her hair.
"_He's_ all right," said Redwood. "He's all the better for being big.
You wouldn't like him smaller than other people's children."
"I want him to be _like_ other children, neither smaller nor bigger. I
wanted him to be a nice little boy, just as Georgina Phyllis is a nice
little girl, and I wanted to bring him up nicely in a nice way, and here
he is"--and the unfortunate woman's voice broke--"wearing number four
grown-up shoes and being wheeled about by--booboo!--Petroleum!
"I can never love him," she wailed, "never! He's too much for me! I can
never be a mother to him, such as I meant to be!"
But at last, they contrived to get her into the nursery, and there was
Edward Monson Redwood ("Pantagruel" was only a later nickname) swinging
in a specially strengthened rocking-chair and smiling and talking "goo"
and "wow." And the heart of Mrs. Redwood warmed again to her child, and
she went and held him in her arms and wept.
"They've done something to you," she sobbed, "and you'll grow and grow,
dear; but whatever I can do to bring you up nice I'll do for you,
whatever your father may say."
And Redwood, who had helped to bring her to the door, went down the
passage much relieved. (Eh! but it's a base job this being a man--with
women as they are!)
Before the year was out there were, in addition to Redwood's pioneer
vehicle, quite a number of motor-perambulators to be seen in the west of
London. I am told there were as many as eleven; but the most careful
inquiries yield trustworthy evidence of only six within the Metropolitan
area at that time. It would seem the stuff acted differently upon
different types of constitution. At first Herakleophorbia was not
adapted to injection, and there can be no doubt that quite a
considerable proportion of human beings are incapable of absorbing this
substance in the normal course of digestion. It was given, for example,
to Winkles' youngest boy; but he seems to have been as incapable of
growth as, if Redwood was right, his father was incapable of knowledge.
Others again, according to the Society for the Total Suppression of
Boomfood, became in some inexplicable way corrupted by it, and perished
at the onset of infantile disorders. The Cossar boys took to it with
Of course a thing of this kind never comes with absolute simplicity of
application into the life of man; growth in particular is a complex
thing, and all generalisations must needs be a little inaccurate. But
the general law of the Food would seem to be this, that when it could be
taken into the system in any way it stimulated it in very nearly the
same degree in all cases. It increased the amount of growth from six to
seven times, and it did not go beyond that, whatever amount of the Food
in excess was taken. Excess of Herakleophorbia indeed beyond the
necessary minimum led, it was found, to morbid disturbances of
nutrition, to cancer and tumours, ossifications, and the like. And once
growth upon the large scale had begun, it was soon evident that it could
only continue upon that scale, and that the continuous administration of
Herakleophorbia in small but sufficient doses was imperative.
If it was discontinued while growth was still going on, there was first
a vague restlessness and distress, then a period of voracity--as in the
case of the young rats at Hankey--and then the growing creature had a
sort of exaggerated anaemia and sickened and died. Plants suffered in a
similar way. This, however, applied only to the growth period. So soon
as adolescence was attained--in plants this was represented by the
formation of the first flower-buds--the need and appetite for
Herakleophorbia diminished, and so soon as the plant or animal was fully
adult, it became altogether independent of any further supply of the
food. It was, as it were, completely established on the new scale. It
was so completely established on the new scale that, as the thistles
about Hickleybrow and the grass of the down side already demonstrated,
its seed produced giant offspring after its kind.
And presently little Redwood, pioneer of the new race, first child of
all who ate the food, was crawling about his nursery, smashing
furniture, biting like a horse, pinching like a vice, and bawling
gigantic baby talk at his "Nanny" and "Mammy" and the rather scared and
awe-stricken "Daddy," who had set this mischief going.
The child was born with good intentions. "Padda be good, be good," he
used to say as the breakables flew before him. "Padda" was his
rendering of Pantagruel, the nickname Redwood imposed on him. And
Cossar, disregarding certain Ancient Lights that presently led to
trouble, did, after a conflict with the local building regulations, get
building on a vacant piece of ground adjacent to Redwood's home, a
comfortable well-lit playroom, schoolroom, and nursery for their four
boys--sixty feet square about this room was, and forty feet high.
Redwood fell in love with that great nursery as he and Cossar built it,
and his interest in curves faded, as he had never dreamt it could fade,
before the pressing needs of his son. "There is much," he said, "in
fitting a nursery. Much.
"The walls, the things in it, they will all speak to this new mind of
ours, a little more, a little less eloquently, and teach it, or fail to
teach it a thousand things."
"Obviously," said Cossar, reaching hastily for his hat.
They worked together harmoniously, but Redwood supplied most of the
educational theory required ...
They had the walls and woodwork painted with a cheerful vigour; for the
most part a slightly warmed white prevailed, but there were bands of
bright clean colour to enforce the simple lines of construction. "Clean
colours we _must_ have," said Redwood, and in one place had a neat
horizontal band of squares, in which crimson and purple, orange and
lemon, blues and greens, in many hues and many shades, did themselves
honour. These squares the giant children should arrange and rearrange to
their pleasure. "Decorations must follow," said Redwood; "let them first
get the range of all the tints, and then this may go away. There is no
reason why one should bias them in favour of any particular colour or
Then, "The place must be full of interest," said Redwood. "Interest is
food for a child, and blankness torture and starvation. He must have
pictures galore." There were no pictures hung about the room for any
permanent service, however, but blank frames were provided into which
new pictures would come and pass thence into a portfolio so soon as
their fresh interest had passed. There was one window that looked down
the length of a street, and in addition, for an added interest, Redwood
had contrived above the roof of the nursery a camera obscura that
watched the Kensington High Street and not a little of the Gardens.
In one corner that most worthy implement, an Abacus, four feet square, a
specially strengthened piece of ironmongery with rounded corners,
awaited the young giants' incipient computations. There were few woolly
lambs and such-like idols, but instead Cossar, without explanation, had
brought one day in three four-wheelers a great number of toys (all just
too big for the coming children to swallow) that could be piled up,
arranged in rows, rolled about, bitten, made to flap and rattle, smacked
together, felt over, pulled out, opened, closed, and mauled and
experimented with to an interminable extent. There were many bricks of
wood in diverse colours, oblong and cuboid, bricks of polished china,
bricks of transparent glass and bricks of india-rubber; there were slabs
and slates; there were cones, truncated cones, and cylinders; there were
oblate and prolate spheroids, balls of varied substances, solid and
hollow, many boxes of diverse size and shape, with hinged lids and screw
lids and fitting lids, and one or two to catch and lock; there were
bands of elastic and leather, and a number of rough and sturdy little
objects of a size together that could stand up steadily and suggest the
shape of a man. "Give 'em these," said Cossar. "One at a time."
These things Redwood arranged in a locker in one corner. Along one side
of the room, at a convenient height for a six-or eight-foot child, there
was a blackboard, on which the youngsters might flourish in white and
coloured chalk, and near by a sort of drawing block, from which sheet
after sheet might be torn, and on which they could draw in charcoal, and
a little desk there was, furnished with great carpenter's pencils of
varying hardness and a copious supply of paper, on which the boys might
first scribble and then draw more neatly. And moreover Redwood gave
orders, so far ahead did his imagination go, for specially large tubes
of liquid paint and boxes of pastels against the time when they should
be needed. He laid in a cask or so of plasticine and modelling clay. "At
first he and his tutor shall model together," he said, "and when he is
more skilful he shall copy casts and perhaps animals. And that reminds
me, I must also have made for him a box of tools!
"Then books. I shall have to look out a lot of books to put in his way,
and they'll have to be big type. Now what sort of books will he need?
There is his imagination to be fed. That, after all, is the crown of
every education. The crown--as sound habits of mind and conduct are the
throne. No imagination at all is brutality; a base imagination is lust
and cowardice; but a noble imagination is God walking the earth again.
He must dream too of a dainty fairy-land and of all the quaint little
things of life, in due time. But he must feed chiefly on the splendid
real; he shall have stories of travel through all the world, travels and
adventures and how the world was won; he shall have stories of beasts,
great books splendidly and clearly done of animals and birds and plants
and creeping things, great books about the deeps of the sky and the
mystery of the sea; he shall have histories and maps of all the empires
the world has seen, pictures and stories of all the tribes and habits
and customs of men. And he must have books and pictures to quicken his
sense of beauty, subtle Japanese pictures to make him love the subtler
beauties of bird and tendril and falling flower, and western pictures
too, pictures of gracious men and women, sweet groupings, and broad
views of land and sea. He shall have books on the building of houses and
palaces; he shall plan rooms and invent cities--
"I think I must give him a little theatre.
"Then there is music!"
Redwood thought that over, and decided that his son might best begin
with a very pure-sounding harmonicon of one octave, to which afterwards
there could be an extension. "He shall play with this first, sing to it
and give names to the notes," said Redwood, "and afterwards--?"
He stared up at the window-sill overhead and measured the size of the
room with his eye.
"They'll have to build his piano in here," he said. "Bring it in in
He hovered about amidst his preparations, a pensive, dark, little
figure. If you could have seen him there he would have looked to you
like a ten-inch man amidst common nursery things. A great rug--indeed it
was a Turkey carpet--four hundred square feet of it, upon which young
Redwood was soon to crawl--stretched to the grill-guarded electric
radiator that was to warm the whole place. A man from Cossar's hung
amidst scaffolding overhead, fixing the great frame that was to hold the
transitory pictures. A blotting-paper book for plant specimens as big as
a house door leant against the wall, and from it projected a gigantic
stalk, a leaf edge or so and one flower of chickweed, all of that
gigantic size that was soon to make Urshot famous throughout the
botanical world ...
A sort of incredulity came to Redwood as he stood among these things.
"If it really _is_ going on--" said Redwood, staring up at the remote
From far away came a sound like the bellowing of a Mafficking bull,
almost as if in answer.
"It's going on all right," said Redwood. "Evidently."
There followed resounding blows upon a table, followed by a vast crowing
shout, "Gooloo! Boozoo! Bzz ..."
"The best thing I can do," said Redwood, following out some divergent
line of thought, "is to teach him myself."
That beating became more insistent. For a moment it seemed to Redwood
that it caught the rhythm of an engine's throbbing--the engine he could
have imagined of some great train of events that bore down upon him.
Then a descendant flight of sharper beats broke up that effect, and were
"Come in," he cried, perceiving that some one rapped, and the door that
was big enough for a cathedral opened slowly a little way. The new winch
ceased to creak, and Bensington appeared in the crack, gleaming
benevolently under his protruded baldness and over his glasses.
"I've ventured round to _see_," he whispered in a confidentially furtive
"Come in," said Redwood, and he did, shutting the door behind him.
He walked forward, hands behind his back, advanced a few steps, and
peered up with a bird-like movement at the dimensions about him. He
rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
"Every time I come in," he said, with a subdued note in his voice, "it
strikes me as--'_Big_.'"
"Yes," said Redwood, surveying it all again also, as if in an endeavour
to keep hold of the visible impression. "Yes. They're going to be big
too, you know."
"I know," said Bensington, with a note that was nearly awe. "_Very_
They looked at one another, almost, as it were, apprehensively.
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