The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth
Part 3 out of 5
"Very big indeed," said Bensington, stroking the bridge of his nose, and
with one eye that watched Redwood doubtfully for a confirmatory
expression. "All of them, you know--fearfully big. I don't seem able to
imagine--even with this--just how big they're all going to be."
CHAPTER THE FIFTH.
THE MINIMIFICENCE OF MR. BENSINGTON.
It was while the Royal Commission on Boomfood was preparing its report
that Herakleophorbia really began to demonstrate its capacity for
leakage. And the earliness of this second outbreak was the more
unfortunate, from the point of view of Cossar at any rate, since the
draft report still in existence shows that the Commission had, under the
tutelage of that most able member, Doctor Stephen Winkles (F.R.S. M.D.
F.R.C.P. D. Sc. J.P. D.L. etc.), already quite made up its mind that
accidental leakages were impossible, and was prepared to recommend that
to entrust the preparation of Boomfood to a qualified committee (Winkles
chiefly), with an entire control over its sale, was quite enough to
satisfy all reasonable objections to its free diffusion. This committee
was to have an absolute monopoly. And it is, no doubt, to be considered
as a part of the irony of life that the first and most alarming of this
second series of leakages occurred within fifty yards of a little
cottage at Keston occupied during the summer months by Doctor Winkles.
There can be little doubt now that Redwood's refusal to acquaint Winkles
with the composition of Herakleophorbia IV. had aroused in that
gentleman a novel and intense desire towards analytical chemistry. He
was not a very expert manipulator, and for that reason probably he saw
fit to do his work not in the excellently equipped laboratories that
were at his disposal in London, but without consulting any one, and
almost with an air of secrecy, in a rough little garden laboratory at
the Keston establishment. He does not seem to have shown either very
great energy or very great ability in this quest; indeed one gathers he
dropped the inquiry after working at it intermittently for about a
This garden laboratory, in which the work was done, was very roughly
equipped, supplied by a standpipe tap with water, and draining into a
pipe that ran down into a swampy rush-bordered pool under an alder tree
in a secluded corner of the common just outside the garden hedge. The
pipe was cracked, and the residuum of the Food of the Gods escaped
through the crack into a little puddle amidst clumps of rushes, just in
time for the spring awakening.
Everything was astir with life in that scummy little corner. There was
frog spawn adrift, tremulous with tadpoles just bursting their
gelatinous envelopes; there were little pond snails creeping out into
life, and under the green skin of the rush stems the larvae of a big
Water Beetle were struggling out of their egg cases. I doubt if the
reader knows the larva of the beetle called (I know not why) Dytiscus.
It is a jointed, queer-looking thing, very muscular and sudden in its
movements, and given to swimming head downward with its tail out of
water; the length of a man's top thumb joint it is, and more--two
inches, that is for those who have not eaten the Food--and it has two
sharp jaws that meet in front of its head--tubular jaws with sharp
points--through which its habit is to suck its victim's blood ...
The first things to get at the drifting grains of the Food were the
little tadpoles and the little water snails; the little wriggling
tadpoles in particular, once they had the taste of it, took to it with
zest. But scarcely did one of them begin to grow into a conspicuous
position in that little tadpole world and try a smaller brother or so as
an aid to a vegetarian dietary, when nip! one of the Beetle larva had
its curved bloodsucking prongs gripping into his heart, and with that
red stream went Herakleophorbia IV, in a state of solution, into the
being of a new client. The only thing that had a chance with these
monsters to get any share of the Food were the rushes and slimy green
scum in the water and the seedling weeds in the mud at the bottom. A
clean up of the study presently washed a fresh spate of the Food into
the puddle, and overflowed it, and carried all this sinister expansion
of the struggle for life into the adjacent pool under the roots of the
The first person to discover what was going on was a Mr. Lukey
Carrington, a special science teacher under the London Education Board,
and, in his leisure, a specialist in fresh-water algae, and he is
certainly not to be envied his discovery. He had come down to Keston
Common for the day to fill a number of specimen tubes for subsequent
examination, and he came, with a dozen or so of corked tubes clanking
faintly in his pocket, over the sandy crest and down towards the pool,
spiked walking stick in hand. A garden lad standing on the top of the
kitchen steps clipping Doctor Winkles' hedge saw him in this
unfrequented corner, and found him and his occupation sufficiently
inexplicable and interesting to watch him pretty closely.
He saw Mr. Carrington stoop down by the side of the pool, with his hand
against the old alder stem, and peer into the water, but of course he
could not appreciate the surprise and pleasure with which Mr. Carrington
beheld the big unfamiliar-looking blobs and threads of the algal scum at
the bottom. There were no tadpoles visible--they had all been killed by
that time--and it would seem Mr. Carrington saw nothing at all unusual
except the excessive vegetation. He bared his arm to the elbow, leant
forward, and dipped deep in pursuit of a specimen. His seeking hand went
down. Instantly there flashed out of the cool shadow under the tree
Flash! It had buried its fangs deep into his arm--a bizarre shape it
was, a foot long and more, brown and jointed like a scorpion.
Its ugly apparition and the sharp amazing painfulness of its bite were
too much for Mr. Carrington's equilibrium. He felt himself going, and
yelled aloud. Over he toppled, face foremost, splash! into the pool.
The boy saw him vanish, and heard the splashing of his struggle in the
water. The unfortunate man emerged again into the boy's field of vision,
hatless and streaming with water, and screaming!
Never before had the boy heard screams from a man.
This astonishing stranger appeared to be tearing at something on the
side of his face. There appeared streaks of blood there. He flung out
his arms as if in despair, leapt in the air like a frantic creature, ran
violently ten or twelve yards, and then fell and rolled on the ground
and over and out of sight of the boy. The lad was down the steps and
through the hedge in a trice--happily with the garden shears still in
hand. As he came crashing through the gorse bushes, he says he was half
minded to turn back, fearing he had to deal with a lunatic, but the
possession of the shears reassured him. "I could 'ave jabbed his eyes,"
he explained, "anyhow." Directly Mr. Carrington caught sight of him, his
demeanour became at once that of a sane but desperate man. He struggled
to his feet, stumbled, stood up, and came to meet the boy.
"Look!" he cried, "I can't get 'em off!"
And with a qualm of horror the boy saw that, attached to Mr.
Carrington's cheek, to his bare arm, and to his thigh, and lashing
furiously with their lithe brown muscular bodies, were three of these
horrible larvae, their great jaws buried deep in his flesh and sucking
for dear life. They had the grip of bulldogs, and Mr. Carrington's
efforts to detach the monsters from his face had only served to lacerate
the flesh to which it had attached itself, and streak face and neck and
coat with living scarlet.
"I'll cut 'im," cried the boy; "'old on, Sir."
And with the zest of his age in such proceedings, he severed one by one
the heads from the bodies of Mr. Carrington's assailants. "Yup," said
the boy with a wincing face as each one fell before him. Even then, so
tough and determined was their grip that the severed heads remained for
a space, still fiercely biting home and still sucking, with the blood
streaming out of their necks behind. But the boy stopped that with a few
more slashes of his scissors--in one of which Mr. Carrington was
"I couldn't get 'em off!" repeated Carrington, and stood for a space,
swaying and bleeding profusely. He dabbed feeble hands at his injuries
and examined the result upon his palms. Then he gave way at the knees
and fell headlong in a dead faint at the boy's feet, between the still
leaping bodies of his defeated foes. Very luckily it didn't occur to the
boy to splash water on his face--for there were still more of these
horrors under the alder roots--and instead he passed back by the pond
and went into the garden with the intention of calling assistance. And
there he met the gardener coachman and told him of the whole affair.
When they got back to Mr. Carrington he was sitting up, dazed and weak,
but able to warn them against the danger in the pool.
Such were the circumstances by which the world had its first
notification that the Food was loose again. In another week Keston
Common was in full operation as what naturalists call a centre of
distribution. This time there were no wasps or rats, no earwigs and no
nettles, but there were at least three water-spiders, several dragon-fly
larvae which presently became dragon-flies, dazzling all Kent with their
hovering sapphire bodies, and a nasty gelatinous, scummy growth that
swelled over the pond margin, and sent its slimy green masses surging
halfway up the garden path to Doctor Winkles's house. And there began a
growth of rushes and equisetum and potamogeton that ended only with the
drying of the pond.
It speedily became evident to the public mind that this time there was
not simply one centre of distribution, but quite a number of centres.
There was one at Ealing--there can be no doubt now--and from that came
the plague of flies and red spider; there was one at Sunbury, productive
of ferocious great eels, that could come ashore and kill sheep; and
there was one in Bloomsbury that gave the world a new strain of
cockroaches of a quite terrible sort--an old house it was in Bloomsbury,
and much inhabited by undesirable things. Abruptly the world found
itself confronted with the Hickleybrow experiences all over again, with
all sorts of queer exaggerations of familiar monsters in the place of
the giant hens and rats and wasps. Each centre burst out with its own
characteristic local fauna and flora....
We know now that every one of these centres corresponded to one of the
patients of Doctor Winkles, but that was by no means apparent at the
time. Doctor Winkles was the last person to incur any odium in the
matter. There was a panic quite naturally, a passionate indignation, but
it was indignation not against Doctor Winkles but against the Food, and
not so much against the Food as against the unfortunate Bensington, whom
from the very first the popular imagination had insisted upon regarding
as the sole and only person responsible for this new thing.
The attempt to lynch him that followed is just one of those explosive
events that bulk largely in history and are in reality the least
significant of occurrences.
The history of the outbreak is a mystery. The nucleus of the crowd
certainly came from an Anti-Boomfood meeting in Hyde Park organised by
extremists of the Caterham party, but there seems no one in the world
who actually first proposed, no one who ever first hinted a suggestion
of the outrage at which so many people assisted. It is a problem for M.
Gustave le Bon--a mystery in the psychology of crowds. The fact emerges
that about three o'clock on Sunday afternoon a remarkably big and ugly
London crowd, entirely out of hand, came rolling down Thursday Street
intent on Bensington's exemplary death as a warning to all scientific
investigators, and that it came nearer accomplishing its object than any
London crowd has ever come since the Hyde Park railings came down in
remote middle Victorian times. This crowd came so close to its object
indeed, that for the space of an hour or more a word would have settled
the unfortunate gentleman's fate.
The first intimation he had of the thing was the noise of the people
outside. He went to the window and peered, realising nothing of what
impended. For a minute perhaps he watched them seething about the
entrance, disposing of an ineffectual dozen of policemen who barred
their way, before he fully realised his own importance in the affair. It
came upon him in a flash--that that roaring, swaying multitude was after
him. He was all alone in the flat--fortunately perhaps--his cousin Jane
having gone down to Ealing to have tea with a relation on her mother's
side, and he had no more idea of how to behave under such circumstances
than he had of the etiquette of the Day of Judgment. He was still
dashing about the flat asking his furniture what he should do, turning
keys in locks and then unlocking them again, making darts at door and
window and bedroom--when the floor clerk came to him.
"There isn't a moment, Sir," he said. "They've got your number from the
board in the hall! They're coming straight up!"
He ran Mr. Bensington out into the passage, already echoing with the
approaching tumult from the great staircase, locked the door behind
them, and led the way into the opposite flat by means of his duplicate
"It's our only chance now," he said.
He flung up a window which opened on a ventilating shaft, and showed
that the wall was set with iron staples that made the rudest and most
perilous of wall ladders to serve as a fire escape from the upper flats.
He shoved Mr. Bensington out of the window, showed him how to cling on,
and pursued him up the ladder, goading and jabbing his legs with a bunch
of keys whenever he desisted from climbing. It seemed to Bensington at
times that he must climb that vertical ladder for evermore. Above, the
parapet was inaccessibly remote, a mile perhaps, below--He did not care
to think of things below.
"Steady on!" cried the clerk, and gripped his ankle. It was quite
horrible having his ankle gripped like that, and Mr. Bensington
tightened his hold on the iron staple above to a drowning clutch, and
gave a faint squeal of terror.
It became evident the clerk had broken a window, and then it seemed he
had leapt a vast distance sideways, and there came the noise of a
window-frame sliding in its sash. He was bawling things.
Mr. Bensington moved his head round cautiously until he could see the
clerk. "Come down six steps," the clerk commanded.
All this moving about seemed very foolish, but very, very cautiously Mr.
Bensington lowered a foot.
"Don't pull me!" he cried, as the clerk made to help him from the open
It seemed to him that to reach the window from the ladder would be a
very respectable feat for a flying fox, and it was rather with the idea
of a decent suicide than in any hope of accomplishing it that he made
the step at last, and quite ruthlessly the clerk pulled him in. "You'll
have to stop here," said the clerk; "my keys are no good here. It's an
American lock. I'll get out and slam the door behind me and see if I can
find the man of this floor. You'll be locked in. Don't go to the window,
that's all. It's the ugliest crowd I've ever seen. If only they think
you're out they'll probably content themselves by breaking up your
"The indicator said In," said Bensington.
"The devil it did! Well, anyhow, I'd better not be found--"
He vanished with a slam of the door.
Bensington was left to his own initiative again.
It took him under the bed.
There presently he was found by Cossar.
Bensington was almost comatose with terror when he was found, for Cossar
had burst the door in with his shoulder by jumping at it across the
breadth of the passage.
"Come out of it, Bensington," he said. "It's all right. It's me. We've
got to get out of this. They're setting the place on fire. The porters
are all clearing out. The servants are gone. It's lucky I caught the man
Bensington, peering from under the bed, became aware of some
unaccountable garments on Cossar's arm, and, of all things, a black
bonnet in his hand!
"They're having a clear out," said Cossar, "If they don't set the place
on fire they'll come here. Troops may not be here for an hour yet. Fifty
per cent. Hooligans in the crowd, and the more furnished flats they go
into the better they'll like it. Obviously.... They mean a clear out.
You put this skirt and bonnet on, Bensington, and clear out with me."
"D'you _mean_--?" began Bensington, protruding a head, tortoise fashion.
"I mean, put 'em on and come! Obviously," And with a sudden vehemence he
dragged Bensington from under the bed, and began to dress him for his
new impersonation of an elderly woman of the people.
He rolled up his trousers and made him kick off his slippers, took off
his collar and tie and coat and vest, slipped a black skirt over his
head, and put on a red flannel bodice and a body over the same. He made
him take off his all too characteristic spectacles, and clapped the
bonnet on his head. "You might have been born an old woman," he said as
he tied the strings. Then came the spring-side boots--a terrible wrench
for corns--and the shawl, and the disguise was complete. "Up and down,"
said Cossar, and Bensington obeyed.
"You'll do," said Cossar.
And in this guise it was, stumbling awkwardly over his unaccustomed
skirts, shouting womanly imprecations upon his own head in a weird
falsetto to sustain his part, and to the roaring note of a crowd bent
upon lynching him, that the original discoverer of Herakleophorbia IV.
proceeded down the corridor of Chesterfield Mansions, mingled with that
inflamed disorderly multitude, and passed out altogether from the thread
of events that constitutes our story.
Never once after that escape did he meddle again with the stupendous
development of the Food of the Gods he of all men had done most to
This little man who started the whole thing passes out of the story, and
after a time he passed altogether out of the world of things, visible
and tellable. But because he started the whole thing it is seemly to
give his exit an intercalary page of attention. One may picture him in
his later days as Tunbridge Wells came to know him. For it was at
Tunbridge Wells he reappeared after a temporary obscurity, so soon as he
fully realised how transitory, how quite exceptional and unmeaning that
fury of rioting was. He reappeared under the wing of Cousin Jane,
treating himself for nervous shock to the exclusion of all other
interests, and totally indifferent, as it seemed, to the battles that
were raging then about those new centres of distribution, and about the
baby Children of the Food.
He took up his quarters at the Mount Glory Hydrotherapeutic Hotel, where
there are quite extraordinary facilities for baths, Carbonated Baths,
Creosote Baths, Galvanic and Faradic Treatment, Massage, Pine Baths,
Starch and Hemlock Baths, Radium Baths, Light Baths, Heat Baths, Bran
and Needle Baths, Tar and Birdsdown Baths,--all sorts of baths; and he
devoted his mind to the development of that system of curative treatment
that was still imperfect when he died. And sometimes he would go down in
a hired vehicle and a sealskin trimmed coat, and sometimes, when his
feet permitted, he would walk to the Pantiles, and there he would sip
chalybeate water under the eye of his cousin Jane.
His stooping shoulders, his pink appearance, his beaming glasses, became
a "feature" of Tunbridge Wells. No one was the least bit unkind to him,
and indeed the place and the Hotel seemed very glad to have the
distinction of his presence. Nothing could rob him of that distinction
now. And though he preferred not to follow the development of his great
invention in the daily papers, yet when he crossed the Lounge of the
Hotel or walked down the Pantiles and heard the whisper, "There he is!
That's him!" it was not dissatisfaction that softened his mouth and
gleamed for a moment in his eye.
This little figure, this minute little figure, launched the Food of the
Gods upon the world! One does not know which is the most amazing, the
greatness or the littleness of these scientific and philosophical men.
You figure him there on the Pantiles, in the overcoat trimmed with fur.
He stands under that chinaware window where the spring spouts, and holds
and sips the glass of chalybeate water in his hand. One bright eye over
the gilt rim is fixed, with an expression of inscrutable severity, on
Cousin Jane, "Mm," he says, and sips.
So we make our souvenir, so we focus and photograph this discoverer of
ours for the last time, and leave him, a mere dot in our foreground, and
pass to the greater picture that, has developed about him, to the story
of his Food, how the scattered Giant Children grew up day by day into a
world that was all too small for them, and how the net of Boomfood Laws
and Boomfood Conventions, which the Boomfood Commission was weaving even
then, drew closer and closer upon them with every year of their growth,
THE FOOD IN THE VILLAGE.
CHAPTER THE FIRST.
THE COMING OF THE FOOD.
Our theme, which began so compactly in Mr. Bensington's study, has
already spread and branched, until it points this way and that, and
henceforth our whole story is one of dissemination. To follow the Food
of the Gods further is to trace the ramifications of a perpetually
branching tree; in a little while, in the quarter of a lifetime, the
Food had trickled and increased from its first spring in the little farm
near Hickleybrow until it had spread,--it and the report and shadow of
its power,--throughout the world. It spread beyond England very
speedily. Soon in America, all over the continent of Europe, in Japan,
in Australia, at last all over the world, the thing was working towards
its appointed end. Always it worked slowly, by indirect courses and
against resistance. It was bigness insurgent. In spite of prejudice, in
spite of law and regulation, in spite of all that obstinate conservatism
that lies at the base of the formal order of mankind, the Food of the
Gods, once it had been set going, pursued its subtle and invincible
The children of the Food grew steadily through all these years; that was
the cardinal fact of the time. But it is the leakages make history. The
children who had eaten grew, and soon there were other children growing;
and all the best intentions in the world could not stop further leakages
and still further leakages. The Food insisted on escaping with the
pertinacity of a thing alive. Flour treated with the stuff crumbled in
dry weather almost as if by intention into an impalpable powder, and
would lift and travel before the lightest breeze. Now it would be some
fresh insect won its way to a temporary fatal new development, now some
fresh outbreak from the sewers of rats and such-like vermin. For some
days the village of Pangbourne in Berkshire fought with giant ants.
Three men were bitten and died. There would be a panic, there would be a
struggle, and the salient evil would be fought down again, leaving
always something behind, in the obscurer things of life--changed for
ever. Then again another acute and startling outbreak, a swift upgrowth
of monstrous weedy thickets, a drifting dissemination about the world of
inhumanly growing thistles, of cockroaches men fought with shot guns, or
a plague of mighty flies.
There were some strange and desperate struggles in obscure places. The
Food begot heroes in the cause of littleness ...
And men took such happenings into their lives, and met them by the
expedients of the moment, and told one another there was "no change in
the essential order of things." After the first great panic, Caterham,
in spite of his power of eloquence, became a secondary figure in the
political world, remained in men's minds as the exponent of an extreme
Only slowly did he win a way towards a central position in affairs."
There was no change in the essential order of things,"--that eminent
leader of modern thought, Doctor Winkles, was very clear upon this,--and
the exponents of what was called in those days Progressive Liberalism
grew quite sentimental upon the essential insincerity of their progress.
Their dreams, it would appear, ran wholly on little nations, little
languages, little households, each self-supported on its little farm. A
fashion for the small and neat set in. To be big was to be "vulgar," and
dainty, neat, mignon, miniature, "minutely perfect," became the
key-words of critical approval....
Meanwhile, quietly, taking their time as children must, the children of
the Food, growing into a world that changed to receive them, gathered
strength and stature and knowledge, became individual and purposeful,
rose slowly towards the dimensions of their destiny. Presently they
seemed a natural part of the world; all these stirrings of bigness
seemed a natural part of the world, and men wondered how things had been
before their time. There came to men's ears stories of things the giant
boys could do, and they said "Wonderful!"--without a spark of wonder.
The popular papers would tell of the three sons of Cossar, and how these
amazing children would lift great cannons, hurl masses of iron for
hundreds of yards, and leap two hundred feet. They were said to be
digging a well, deeper than any well or mine that man had ever made,
seeking, it was said, for treasures hidden in the earth since ever the
These Children, said the popular magazines, will level mountains, bridge
seas, tunnel your earth to a honeycomb. "Wonderful!" said the little
folks, "isn't it? What a lot of conveniences we shall have!" and went
about their business as though there was no such thing as the Food of
the Gods on earth. And indeed these things were no more than the first
hints and promises of the powers of the Children of the Food. It was
still no more than child's play with them, no more than the first use of
a strength in which no purpose had arisen. They did not know themselves
for what they were. They were children--slow-growing children of a new
race. The giant strength grew day by day--the giant will had still to
grow into purpose and an aim.
Looking at it in a shortened perspective of time, those years of
transition have the quality of a single consecutive occurrence; but
indeed no one saw the coming of Bigness in the world, as no one in all
the world till centuries had passed saw, as one happening, the Decline
and Fall of Rome. They who lived in those days were too much among these
developments to see them together as a single thing. It seemed even to
wise men that the Food was giving the world nothing but a crop of
unmanageable, disconnected irrelevancies, that might shake and trouble
indeed, but could do no more to the established order and fabric of
To one observer at least the most wonderful thing throughout that period
of accumulating stress is the invincible inertia of the great mass of
people, their quiet persistence in all that ignored the enormous
presences, the promise of still more enormous things, that grew among
them. Just as many a stream will be at its smoothest, will look most
tranquil, running deep and strong, at the very verge of a cataract, so
all that is most conservative in man seemed settling quietly into a
serene ascendency during these latter days. Reaction became popular:
there was talk of the bankruptcy of science, of the dying of Progress,
of the advent of the Mandarins,--talk of such things amidst the echoing
footsteps of the Children of the Food. The fussy pointless Revolutions
of the old time, a vast crowd of silly little people chasing some silly
little monarch and the like, had indeed died out and passed away; but
Change had not died out. It was only Change that had changed. The New
was coming in its own fashion and beyond the common understanding of the
To tell fully of its coming would be to write a great history, but
everywhere there was a parallel chain of happenings. To tell therefore
of the manner of its coming in one place is to tell something of the
whole. It chanced one stray seed of Immensity fell into the pretty,
petty village of Cheasing Eyebright in Kent, and from the story of its
queer germination there and of the tragic futility that ensued, one may
attempt--following one thread, as it were--to show the direction in
which the whole great interwoven fabric of the thing rolled off the loom
Cheasing Eyebright had of course a Vicar. There are vicars and vicars,
and of all sorts I love an innovating vicar--a piebald progressive
professional reactionary--the least. But the Vicar of Cheasing Eyebright
was one of the least innovating of vicars, a most worthy, plump, ripe,
and conservative-minded little man. It is becoming to go back a little
in our story to tell of him. He matched his village, and one may figure
them best together as they used to be, on the sunset evening when Mrs.
Skinner--you will remember her flight!--brought the Food with her all
unsuspected into these rustic serenities.
The village was looking its very best just then, under that western
light. It lay down along the valley beneath the beechwoods of the
Hanger, a beading of thatched and red-tiled cottages--cottages with
trellised porches and pyracanthus-lined faces, that clustered closer and
closer as the road dropped from the yew trees by the church towards the
bridge. The vicarage peeped not too ostentatiously between the trees
beyond the inn, an early Georgian front ripened by time, and the spire
of the church rose happily in the depression made by the valley in the
outline of the hills. A winding stream, a thin intermittency of sky blue
and foam, glittered amidst a thick margin of reeds and loosestrife and
overhanging willows, along the centre of a sinuous pennant of meadow.
The whole prospect had that curiously English quality of ripened
cultivation--that look of still completeness--that apes perfection,
under the sunset warmth.
And the Vicar too looked mellow. He looked habitually and essentially
mellow, as though he had been a mellow baby born into a mellow class, a
ripe and juicy little boy. One could see, even before he mentioned it,
that he had gone to an ivy-clad public school in its anecdotage, with
magnificent traditions, aristocratic associations, and no chemical
laboratories, and proceeded thence to a venerable college in the very
ripest Gothic. Few books he had younger than a thousand years; of these,
Yarrow and Ellis and good pre-Methodist sermons made the bulk. He was a
man of moderate height, a little shortened in appearance by his
equatorial dimensions, and a face that had been mellow from the first
was now climacterically ripe. The beard of a David hid his redundancy of
chin; he wore no watch chain out of refinements and his modest clerical
garments were made by a West End tailor.... And he sat with a hand on
either shin, blinking at his village in beatific approval. He waved a
plump palm towards it. His burthen sang out again. What more could any
"We are fortunately situated," he said, putting the thing tamely.
"We are in a fastness of the hills," he expanded.
He explained himself at length. "We are out of it all."
For they had been talking, he and his friend, of the Horrors of the Age,
of Democracy, and Secular Education, and Sky Scrapers, and Motor Cars,
and the American Invasion, the Scrappy Reading of the Public, and the
disappearance of any Taste at all.
"We are out of it all," he repeated, and even as he spoke the footsteps
of some one coming smote upon his ear, and he rolled over and regarded
You figure the old woman's steadfastly tremulous advance, the bundle
clutched in her gnarled lank hand, her nose (which was her countenance)
wrinkled with breathless resolution. You see the poppies nodding
fatefully on her bonnet, and the dust-white spring-sided boots beneath
her skimpy skirts, pointing with an irrevocable slow alternation east
and west. Beneath her arm, a restive captive, waggled and slipped a
scarcely valuable umbrella. What was there to tell the Vicar that this
grotesque old figure was--so far as his village was concerned at any
rate--no less than Fruitful Chance and the Unforeseen, the Hag weak men
call Fate. But for us, you understand, no more than Mrs. Skinner.
As she was too much encumbered for a curtsey, she pretended not to see
him and his friend at all, and so passed, flip-flop, within three yards
of them, onward down towards the village. The Vicar watched her slow
transit in silence, and ripened a remark the while....
The incident seemed to him of no importance whatever. Old womankind,
_aere perennius_, has carried bundles since the world began. What
difference has it made?
"We are out of it all," said the Vicar. "We live in an atmosphere of
simple and permanent things, Birth and Toil, simple seed-time and simple
harvest. The Uproar passes us by." He was always very great upon what he
called the permanent things. "Things change," he would say, "but
Thus the Vicar. He loved a classical quotation subtly misapplied. Below,
Mrs. Skinner, inelegant but resolute, had involved herself curiously
with Wilmerding's stile.
No one knows what the Vicar made of the Giant Puff-Balls.
No doubt he was among the first to discover them. They were scattered at
intervals up and down the path between the near down and the village
end--a path he frequented daily in his constitutional round. Altogether,
of these abnormal fungi there were, from first to last, quite thirty.
The Vicar seems to have stared at each severally, and to have prodded
most of them with his stick once or twice. One he attempted to measure
with his arms, but it burst at his Ixion embrace.
He spoke to several people about them, and said they were "marvellous!"
and he related to at least seven different persons the well-known story
of the flagstone that was lifted from the cellar floor by a growth of
fungi beneath. He looked up his Sowerby to see if it was _Lycoperdon
coelatum_ or _giganteum_--like all his kind since Gilbert White became
famous, he Gilbert-Whited. He cherished a theory that _giganteum_ is
'One does not know if he observed that those white spheres lay in the
very track that old woman of yesterday had followed, or if he noted that
the last of the series swelled not a score of yards from the gate of the
Caddles' cottage. If he observed these things, he made no attempt to
place his observation on record. His observation in matters botanical
was what the inferior sort of scientific people call a "trained
observation"--you look for certain definite things and neglect
everything else. And he did nothing to link this phenomenon with the
remarkable expansion of the Caddles' baby that had been going on now for
some weeks, indeed ever since Caddles walked over one Sunday afternoon a
month or more ago to see his mother-in-law and hear Mr. Skinner (since
defunct) brag about his management of hens.
The growth of the puff-balls following on the expansion of the Caddles'
baby really ought to have opened the Vicar's eyes. The latter fact had
already come right into his arms at the christening--almost
The youngster bawled with deafening violence when the cold water that
sealed its divine inheritance and its right to the name of "Albert
Edward Caddles" fell upon its brow. It was already beyond maternal
porterage, and Caddles, staggering indeed, but grinning triumphantly at
quantitatively inferior parents, bore it back to the free-sitting
occupied by his party.
"I never saw such a child!" said the Vicar. This was the first public
intimation that the Caddles' baby, which had begun its earthly career a
little under seven pounds, did after all intend to be a credit to its
parents. Very soon it was clear it meant to be not only a credit but a
glory. And within a month their glory shone so brightly as to be, in
connection with people in the Caddles' position, improper.
The butcher weighed the infant eleven times. He was a man of few words,
and he soon got through with them. The first time he said, "E's a good
un;" the next time he said, "My word!" the third time he said, "_Well_,
mum," and after that he simply blew enormously each time, scratched his
head, and looked at his scales with an unprecedented mistrust. Every one
came to see the Big Baby--so it was called by universal consent--and
most of them said, "E's a Bouncer," and almost all remarked to him,
"_Did_ they?" Miss Fletcher came and said she "never _did_," which was
Lady Wondershoot, the village tyrant, arrived the day after the third
weighing, and inspected the phenomenon narrowly through glasses that
filled it with howling terror. "It's an unusually Big child," she told
its mother, in a loud instructive voice. "You ought to take unusual care
of it, Caddles. Of course it won't go on like this, being bottle fed,
but we must do what we can for it. I'll send you down some more
The doctor came and measured the child with a tape, and put the figures
in a notebook, and old Mr. Drift-hassock, who fanned by Up Marden,
brought a manure traveller two miles out of their way to look at it. The
traveller asked the child's age three times over, and said finally that
he was blowed. He left it to be inferred how and why he was blowed;
apparently it was the child's size blowed him. He also said it ought to
be put into a baby show. And all day long, out of school hours, little
children kept coming and saying, "Please, Mrs. Caddles, mum, may we have
a look at your baby, please, mum?" until Mrs. Caddles had to put a stop
to it. And amidst all these scenes of amazement came Mrs. Skinner, and
stood and smiled, standing somewhat in the background, with each sharp
elbow in a lank gnarled hand, and smiling, smiling under and about her
nose, with a smile of infinite profundity.
"It makes even that old wretch of a grandmother look quite pleasant,"
said Lady Wondershoot. "Though I'm sorry she's come back to the
Of course, as with almost all cottagers' babies, the eleemosynary
element had already come in, but the child soon made it clear by
colossal bawling, that so far as the filling of its bottle went, it
hadn't come in yet nearly enough.
The baby was entitled to a nine days' wonder, and every one wondered
happily over its amazing growth for twice that time and more. And then
you know, instead of its dropping into the background and giving place
to other marvels, it went on growing more than ever!
Lady Wondershoot heard Mrs. Greenfield, her housekeeper, with infinite
"Caddles downstairs again. No food for the child! My dear Greenfield,
it's impossible. The creature eats like a hippopotamus! I'm sure it
can't be true."
"I'm sure I hope you're not being imposed upon, my lady," said Mrs.
"It's so difficult to tell with these people," said Lady Wondershoot.
"Now I do wish, my good Greenfield, that you'd just go down there
yourself this afternoon and _see_--see it have its bottle. Big as it is,
I cannot imagine that it needs more than six pints a day."
"It hasn't no business to, my lady," said Mrs. Greenfield.
The hand of Lady Wondershoot quivered, with that C.O.S. sort of emotion,
that suspicious rage that stirs in all true aristocrats, at the thought
that possibly the meaner classes are after all--as mean as their
betters, and--where the sting lies--scoring points in the game.
But Mrs. Greenfield could observe no evidence of peculation, and the
order for an increasing daily supply to the Caddles' nursery was issued.
Scarcely had the first instalment gone, when Caddles was back again at
the great house in a state abjectly apologetic.
"We took the greates' care of 'em, Mrs. Greenfield, I do assure you,
mum, but he's regular bust 'em! They flew with such vilence, mum, that
one button broke a pane of the window, mum, and one hit me a regular
stinger jest 'ere, mum."
Lady Wondershoot, when she heard that this amazing child had positively
burst out of its beautiful charity clothes, decided that she must speak
to Caddles herself. He appeared in her presence with his hair hastily
wetted and smoothed by hand, breathless, and clinging to his hat brim as
though it was a life-belt, and he stumbled at the carpet edge out of
sheer distress of mind.
Lady Wondershoot liked bullying Caddles. Caddles was her ideal
lower-class person, dishonest, faithful, abject, industrious, and
inconceivably incapable or responsibility. She told him it was a serious
matter, the way his child was going on. "It's 'is appetite, my
ladyship," said Caddles, with a rising note.
"Check 'im, my ladyship, you can't," said Caddles. "There 'e lies, my
ladyship, and kicks out 'e does, and 'owls, that distressin'. We 'aven't
the 'eart, my ladyship. If we 'ad--the neighbours would interfere...."
Lady Wondershoot consulted the parish doctor.
"What I want to know," said Lady Wondershoot, "is it _right_ this child
should have such an extraordinary quantity of milk?"
"The proper allowance for a child of that age," said the parish doctor,
"is a pint and a half to two pints in the twenty-four hours. I don't see
that you are called upon to provide more. If you do, it is your own
generosity. Of course we might try the legitimate quantity for a few
days. But the child, I must admit, seems for some reason to be
physiologically different. Possibly what is called a Sport. A case of
"It isn't fair to the other parish children," said Lady Wondershoot. "I
am certain we shall have complaints if this goes on."
"I don't see that any one can be expected to give more than the
recognised allowance. We might insist on its doing with that, or if it
wouldn't, send it as a case into the Infirmary."
"I suppose," said Lady Wondershoot, reflecting, "that apart from the
size and the appetite, you don't find anything else abnormal--nothing
"No. No, I don't. But no doubt if this growth goes on, we shall find
grave moral and intellectual deficiencies. One might almost prophesy
that from Max Nordau's law. A most gifted and celebrated philosopher,
Lady Wondershoot. He discovered that the abnormal is--abnormal, a most
valuable discovery, and well worth bearing in mind. I find it of the
utmost help in practice. When I come upon anything abnormal, I say at
once, This is abnormal." His eyes became profound, his voice dropped,
his manner verged upon the intimately confidential. He raised one hand
stiffly. "And I treat it in that spirit," he said.
"Tut, tut!" said the Vicar to his breakfast things--the day after the
coming of Mrs. Skinner. "Tut, tut! what's this?" and poised his glasses
at his paper with a general air of remonstrance.
"Giant wasps! What's the world coming to? American journalists, I
suppose! Hang these Novelties! Giant gooseberries are good enough for
"Nonsense!" said the Vicar, and drank off his coffee at a gulp, eyes
steadfast on the paper, and smacked his lips incredulously.
"Bosh!" said the Vicar, rejecting the hint altogether.
But the next day there was more of it, and the light came.
Not all at once, however. When he went for his constitutional that day
he was still chuckling at the absurd story his paper would have had him
believe. Wasps indeed--killing a dog! Incidentally as he passed by the
site of that first crop of puff-balls he remarked that the grass was
growing very rank there, but he did not connect that in any way with the
matter of his amusement. "We should certainly have heard something of
it," he said; "Whitstable can't be twenty miles from here."
Beyond he found another puff-ball, one of the second crop, rising like
a roc's egg out of the abnormally coarsened turf.
The thing came upon him in a flash.
He did not take his usual round that morning. Instead he turned aside by
the second stile and came round to the Caddles' cottage. "Where's that
baby?" he demanded, and at the sight of it, "Goodness me!"
He went up the village blessing his heart, and met the doctor full tilt
coming down. He grasped his arm. "What does this _mean_?" he said. "Have
you seen the paper these last few days?"
The doctor said he had.
"Well, what's the matter with that child? What's the matter with
everything--wasps, puff-balls, babies, eh? What's making them grow so
big? This is most unexpected. In Kent too! If it was America now--"
"It's a little difficult to say just what it is," said the doctor. "So
far as I can grasp the symptoms--"
"It's Hypertrophy--General Hypertrophy."
"Yes. General--affecting all the bodily structures--all the organism. I
may say that in my own mind, between ourselves, I'm very nearly
convinced it's that.... But one has to be careful."
"Ah," said the Vicar, a good deal relieved to find the doctor equal to
the situation. "But how is it it's breaking out in this fashion, all
over the place?"
"That again," said the doctor, "is difficult to say."
"Urshot. Here. It's a pretty clear case of spreading."
"Yes," said the doctor. "Yes. I think so. It has a strong resemblance at
any rate to some sort of epidemic. Probably Epidemic Hypertrophy will
meet the case."
"Epidemic!" said the Vicar. "You don't mean it's contagious?"
The doctor smiled gently and rubbed one hand against the other. "That I
couldn't say," he said.
"But---!" cried the Vicar, round-eyed. "If it's _catching_--it--it
He made a stride up the road and turned about.
"I've just been there," he cried. "Hadn't I better---? I'll go home at
once and have a bath and fumigate my clothes."
The doctor regarded his retreating back for a moment, and then turned
about and went towards his own house....
But on the way he reflected that one case had been in the village a
month without any one catching the disease, and after a pause of
hesitation decided to be as brave as a doctor should be and take the
risks like a man.
And indeed he was well advised by his second thoughts. Growth was the
last thing that could ever happen to him again. He could have eaten--and
the Vicar could have eaten--Herakleophorbia by the truckful. For growth
had done with them. Growth had done with these two gentlemen for
It was a day or so after this conversation--a day or so, that is, after
the burning of the Experimental Farm--that Winkles came to Redwood and
showed him an insulting letter. It was an anonymous letter, and an
author should respect his character's secrets. "You are only taking
credit for a natural phenomenon," said the letter, "and trying to
advertise yourself by your letter to the _Times_. You and your Boomfood!
Let me tell you, this absurdly named food of yours has only the most
accidental connection with those big wasps and rats. The plain fact is
there is an epidemic of Hypertrophy--Contagious Hypertrophy--which you
have about as much claim to control as you have to control the solar
system. The thing is as old as the hills. There was Hypertrophy in the
family of Anak. Quite outside your range, at Cheasing Eyebright, at the
present time there is a baby--"
"Shaky up and down writing. Old gentleman apparently," said Redwood.
"But it's odd a baby--"
He read a few lines further, and had an inspiration.
"By Jove!" said he. "That's my missing Mrs. Skinner!"
He descended upon her suddenly in the afternoon of the following day.
She was engaged in pulling onions in the little garden before her
daughter's cottage when she saw him coming through the garden gate. She
stood for a moment "consternated," as the country folks say, and then
folded her arms, and with the little bunch of onions held defensively
under her left elbow, awaited his approach. Her mouth opened and shut
several times; she mumbled her remaining tooth, and once quite suddenly
she curtsied, like the blink of an arc-light.
"I thought I should find you," said Redwood.
"I thought you might, sir," she said, without joy.
"'E ain't never written to me, Sir, not once, nor come nigh of me since
I came here. Sir." "Don't you know what's become of him?"
"Him not having written, no, Sir," and she edged a step towards the left
with an imperfect idea of cutting off Redwood from the barn door.
"No one knows what has become of him," said Redwood.
"I dessay '_e_ knows," said Mrs. Skinner.
"He doesn't tell."
"He was always a great one for looking after 'imself and leaving them
that was near and dear to 'im in trouble, was Skinner. Though clever as
could be," said Mrs. Skinner....
"Where's this child?" asked Redwood abruptly.
She begged his pardon.
"This child I hear about, the child you've been giving our stuff to--the
child that weighs two stone."
Mrs. Skinner's hands worked, and she dropped the onions. "Reely, Sir,"
she protested, "I don't hardly know, Sir, what you mean. My daughter,
Sir, Mrs. Caddles, '_as_ a baby, Sir." And she made an agitated curtsey
and tried to look innocently inquiring by tilting her nose to one side.
"You'd better let me see that baby, Mrs. Skinner," said Redwood.
Mrs. Skinner unmasked an eye at him as she led the way towards the barn.
"Of course, Sir, there may 'ave been a _little_, in a little can of
Nicey I give his father to bring over from the farm, or a little perhaps
what I happened to bring about with me, so to speak. Me packing in a
hurry and all ..."
"Um!" said Redwood, after he had cluckered to the infant for a space.
He told Mrs. Caddles the baby was a very fine child indeed, a thing
that was getting well home to her intelligence--and he ignored her
altogether after that. Presently she left the barn--through sheer
"Now you've started him, you'll have to keep on with him, you know," he
said to Mrs. Skinner.
He turned on her abruptly. "Don't splash it about _this_ time," he said.
"Splash it about, Sir?"
"Oh! _you_ know."
She indicated knowledge by convulsive gestures.
"You haven't told these people here? The parents, the squire and so on
at the big house, the doctor, no one?"
Mrs. Skinner shook her head.
"I wouldn't," said Redwood....
He went to the door of the barn and surveyed the world about him. The
door of the barn looked between the end of the cottage and some disused
piggeries through a five-barred gate upon the highroad. Beyond was a
high, red brick-wall rich with ivy and wallflower and pennywort, and set
along the top with broken glass. Beyond the corner of the wall, a sunlit
notice-board amidst green and yellow branches reared itself above the
rich tones of the first fallen leaves and announced that "Trespassers in
these Woods will be Prosecuted." The dark shadow of a gap in the hedge
threw a stretch of barbed wire into relief.
"Um," said Redwood, then in a deeper note, "Oom!"
There came a clatter of horses and the sound of wheels, and Lady
Wondershoot's greys came into view. He marked the faces of coachman and
footman as the equipage approached. The coachman was a very fine
specimen, full and fruity, and he drove with a sort of sacramental
dignity. Others might doubt their calling and position in the world, he
at any rate was sure--he drove her ladyship. The footman sat beside him
with folded arms and a face of inflexible certainties. Then the great
lady herself became visible, in a hat and mantle disdainfully inelegant,
peering through her glasses. Two young ladies protruded necks and peered
The Vicar passing on the other side swept off the hat from his David's
Redwood remained standing in the doorway for a long time after the
carriage had passed, his hands folded behind him. His eyes went to the
green, grey upland of down, and into the cloud-curdled sky, and came
back to the glass-set wall. He turned upon the cool shadows within, and
amidst spots and blurs of colour regarded the giant child amidst that
Rembrandtesque gloom, naked except for a swathing of flannel, seated
upon a huge truss of straw and playing with its toes.
"I begin to see what we have done," he said.
He mused, and young Caddles and his own child and Cossar's brood mingled
in his musing.
He laughed abruptly. "Good Lord!" he said at some passing thought.
He roused himself presently and addressed Mrs. Skinner. "Anyhow he
mustn't be tortured by a break in his food. That at least we can
prevent. I shall send you a can every six months. That ought to do for
him all right."
Mrs. Skinner mumbled something about "if you think so, Sir," and
"probably got packed by mistake.... Thought no harm in giving him a
little," and so by the aid of various aspen gestures indicated that she
So the child went on growing.
"Practically," said Lady Wondershoot, "he's eaten up every calf in the
place. If I have any more of this sort of thing from that man Caddies--"
But even so secluded a place as Cheasing Eyebright could not rest for
long in the theory of Hypertrophy--Contagious or not--in view of the
growing hubbub about the Food. In a little while there were painful
explanations for Mrs. Skinner--explanations that reduced her to
speechless mumblings of her remaining tooth--explanations that probed
her and ransacked her and exposed her--until at last she was driven to
take refuge from a universal convergence of blame in the dignity of
inconsolable widowhood. She turned her eye--which she constrained to be
watery--upon the angry Lady of the Manor, and wiped suds from her hands.
"You forget, my lady, what I'm bearing up under."
And she followed up this warning note with a slightly defiant:
"It's 'IM I think of, my lady, night _and_ day."
She compressed her lips, and her voice flattened and faltered: "Bein'
et, my lady."
And having established herself on these grounds, she repeated the
affirmation her ladyship had refused before. "I 'ad no more idea what I
was giving the child, my lady, than any one _could_ 'ave...."
Her ladyship turned her mind in more hopeful directions, wigging Caddles
of course tremendously by the way. Emissaries, full of diplomatic
threatenings, entered the whirling lives of Bensington and Redwood.
They presented themselves as Parish Councillors, stolid and clinging
phonographically to prearranged statements. "We hold you responsible,
Mister Bensington, for the injury inflicted upon our parish, Sir. We
hold you responsible."
A firm of solicitors, with a snake of a style--Banghurst, Brown, Flapp,
Codlin, Brown, Tedder, and Snoxton, they called themselves, and appeared
invariably in the form of a small rufous cunning-looking gentleman with
a pointed nose--said vague things about damages, and there was a
polished personage, her ladyship's agent, who came in suddenly upon
Redwood one day and asked, "Well, Sir, and what do you propose to do?"
To which Redwood answered that he proposed to discontinue supplying the
food for the child, if he or Bensington were bothered any further about
the matter. "I give it for nothing as it is," he said, "and the child
will yell your village to ruins before it dies if you don't let it have
the stuff. The child's on your hands, and you have to keep it. Lady
Wondershoot can't always be Lady Bountiful and Earthly Providence of her
parish without sometimes meeting a responsibility, you know."
"The mischief's done," Lady Wondershoot decided when they told her--with
expurgations--what Redwood had said.
"The mischief's done," echoed the Vicar.
Though indeed as a matter of fact the mischief was only beginning.
CHAPTER THE SECOND.
THE BRAT GIGANTIC.
The giant child was ugly--the Vicar would insist. "He always had been
ugly--as all excessive things must be." The Vicar's views had carried
him out of sight of just judgment in this matter. The child was much
subjected to snapshots even in that rustic retirement, and their net
testimony is against the Vicar, testifying that the young monster was at
first almost pretty, with a copious curl of hair reaching to his brow
and a great readiness to smile. Usually Caddles, who was slightly built,
stands smiling behind the baby, perspective emphasising his relative
After the second year the good looks of the child became more subtle and
more contestable. He began to grow, as his unfortunate grandfather would
no doubt have put it, "rank." He lost colour and developed an increasing
effect of being somehow, albeit colossal, yet slight. He was vastly
delicate. His eyes and something about his face grew finer--grew, as
people say, "interesting." His hair, after one cutting, began to tangle
into a mat. "It's the degenerate strain coming out in him," said the
parish doctor, marking these things, but just how far he was right in
that, and just how far the youngster's lapse from ideal healthfulness
was the result of living entirely in a whitewashed barn upon Lady
Wondershoot's sense of charity tempered by justice, is open to question.
The photographs of him that present him from three to six show him
developing into a round-eyed, flaxen-haired youngster with a truncated
nose and a friendly stare. There lurks about his lips that never very
remote promise of a smile that all the photographs of the early giant
children display. In summer he wears loose garments of ticking tacked
together with string; there is usually one of those straw baskets upon
his head that workmen use for their tools, and he is barefooted. In one
picture he grins broadly and holds a bitten melon in his hand.
The winter pictures are less numerous and satisfactory. He wears huge
sabots--no doubt of beechwoods and (as fragments of the inscription
"John Stickells, Iping," show) sacks for socks, and his trousers and
jacket are unmistakably cut from the remains of a gaily patterned
carpet. Underneath that there were rude swathings of flannel; five or
six yards of flannel are tied comforter-fashion about his neck. The
thing on his head is probably another sack. He stares, sometimes
smiling, sometimes a little ruefully, at the camera. Even when he was
only five years old, one sees that half whimsical wrinkling over his
soft brown eyes that characterised his face.
He was from the first, the Vicar always declared, a terrible nuisance
about the village. He seems to have had a proportionate impulse to play,
much curiosity and sociability, and in addition there was a certain
craving within him--I grieve to say--for more to eat. In spite of what
Mrs. Greenfield called an "_excessively_ generous" allowance of food
from Lady Wondershoot, he displayed what the doctor perceived at once
was the "Criminal Appetite." It carries out only too completely Lady
Wondershoot's worst experiences of the lower classes--that in spite of
an allowance of nourishment inordinately beyond what is known to be the
maximum necessity even of an adult human being, the creature was found
to steal. And what he stole he ate with an inelegant voracity. His great
hand would come over garden walls; he would covet the very bread in the
bakers' carts. Cheeses went from Marlow's store loft, and never a pig
trough was safe from him. Some farmer walking over his field of swedes
would find the great spoor of his feet and the evidence of his nibbling
hunger--a root picked here, a root picked there, and the holes, with
childish cunning, heavily erased. He ate a swede as one devours a
radish. He would stand and eat apples from a tree, if no one was about,
as normal children eat blackberries from a bush. In one way at any rate
this shortness of provisions was good for the peace of Cheasing
Eyebright--for many years he ate up every grain very nearly of the Food
of the Gods that was given him....
Indisputably the child was troublesome and out of place, "He was always
about," the Vicar used to say. He could not go to school; he could not
go to church by virtue of the obvious limitations of its cubical
content. There was some attempt to satisfy the spirit of that "most
foolish and destructive law"--I quote the Vicar--the Elementary
Education Act of 1870, by getting him to sit outside the open window
while instruction was going on within. But his presence there destroyed
the discipline of the other children. They were always popping up and
peering at him, and every time he spoke they laughed together. His voice
was so odd! So they let him stay away.
Nor did they persist in pressing him to come to church, for his vast
proportions were of little help to devotion. Yet there they might have
had an easier task; there are good reasons for guessing there were the
germs of religious feeling somewhere in that big carcase. The music
perhaps drew him. He was often in the churchyard on a Sunday morning,
picking his way softly among the graves after the congregation had gone
in, and he would sit the whole service out beside the porch, listening
as one listens outside a hive of bees.
At first he showed a certain want of tact; the people inside would hear
his great feet crunch restlessly round their place of worship, or become
aware of his dim face peering in through the stained glass, half
curious, half envious, and at times some simple hymn would catch him
unawares, and he would howl lugubriously in a gigantic attempt at
unison. Whereupon little Sloppet, who was organ-blower and verger and
beadle and sexton and bell-ringer on Sundays, besides being postman and
chimney-sweep all the week, would go out very briskly and valiantly and
send him mournfully away. Sloppet, I am glad to say, felt it--in his
more thoughtful moments at any rate. It was like sending a dog home when
you start out for a walk, he told me.
But the intellectual and moral training of young Caddles, though
fragmentary, was explicit. From the first, Vicar, mother, and all the
world, combined to make it clear to him that his giant strength was not
for use. It was a misfortune that he had to make the best of. He had to
mind what was told him, do what was set him, be careful never to break
anything nor hurt anything. Particularly he must not go treading on
things or jostling against things or jumping about. He had to salute the
gentlefolks respectful and be grateful for the food and clothing they
spared him out of their riches. And he learnt all these things
submissively, being by nature and habit a teachable creature and only by
food and accident gigantic.
For Lady Wondershoot, in these early days, he displayed the profoundest
awe. She found she could talk to him best when she was in short skirts
and had her dog-whip, and she gesticulated with that and was always a
little contemptuous and shrill. But sometimes the Vicar played master--a
minute, middle-aged, rather breathless David pelting a childish Goliath
with reproof and reproach and dictatorial command. The monster was now
so big that it seems it was impossible for any one to remember he was
after all only a child of seven, with all a child's desire for notice
and amusement and fresh experience, with all a child's craving for
response, attention and affection, and all a child's capacity for
dependence and unrestricted dulness and misery.
The Vicar, walking down the village road some sunlit morning, would
encounter an ungainly eighteen feet of the Inexplicable, as fantastic
and unpleasant to him as some new form of Dissent, as it padded fitfully
along with craning neck, seeking, always seeking the two primary needs
of childhood--something to eat and something with which to play.
There would come a look of furtive respect into the creature's eyes and
an attempt to touch the matted forelock.
In a limited way the Vicar had an imagination--at any rate, the remains
of one--and with young Caddles it took the line of developing the huge
possibilities of personal injury such vast muscles must possess. Suppose
a sudden madness--! Suppose a mere lapse into disrespect--! However, the
truly brave man is not the man who does not feel fear but the man who
overcomes it. Every time and always the Vicar got his imagination under.
And he used always to address young Caddles stoutly in a good clear
"Being a good boy, Albert Edward?"
And the young giant, edging closer to the wall and blushing deeply,
would answer, "Yessir--trying."
"Mind you do," said the Vicar, and would go past him with at most a
slight acceleration of his breathing. And out of respect for his manhood
he made it a rule, whatever he might fancy, never to look back at the
danger, when once it was passed.
In a fitful manner the Vicar would give young Caddles private tuition.
He never taught the monster to read--it was not needed; but he taught
him the more important points of the Catechism--his duty to his
neighbour for example, and of that Deity who would punish Caddles with
extreme vindictiveness if ever he ventured to disobey the Vicar and Lady
Wondershoot. The lessons would go on in the Vicar's yard, and passers-by
would hear that great cranky childish voice droning out the essential
teachings of the Established Church.
"To onner 'n 'bey the King and allooer put 'nthority under 'im. To
s'bmit meself t'all my gov'ners, teachers, spir'shall pastors an'
masters. To order myself lowly 'n rev'rently t'all my betters--"
Presently it became evident that the effect of the growing giant on
unaccustomed horses was like that of a camel, and he was told to keep
off the highroad, not only near the shrubbery (where the oafish smile
over the wall had exasperated her ladyship extremely), but altogether.
That law he never completely obeyed, because of the vast interest the
highroad had for him. But it turned what had been his constant resort
into a stolen pleasure. He was limited at last almost entirely to old
pasture and the Downs.
I do not know what he would have done if it had not been for the Downs.
There there were spaces where he might wander for miles, and over these
spaces he wandered. He would pick branches from trees and make insane
vast nosegays there until he was forbidden, take up sheep and put them
in neat rows, from which they immediately wandered (at this he
invariably laughed very heartily), until he was forbidden, dig away the
turf, great wanton holes, until he was forbidden....
He would wander over the Downs as far as the hill above Wreckstone, but
not farther, because there he came upon cultivated land, and the people,
by reason of his depredations upon their root-crops, and inspired
moreover by a sort of hostile timidity his big unkempt appearance
frequently evoked, always came out against him with yapping dogs to
drive him away. They would threaten him and lash at him with cart whips.
I have heard that they would sometimes fire at him with shot guns. And
in the other direction he ranged within sight of Hickleybrow. From above
Thursley Hanger he could get a glimpse of the London, Chatham, and Dover
railway, but ploughed fields and a suspicious hamlet prevented his
And after a time there came boards--great boards with red letters that
barred him in every direction. He could not read what the letters said:
"Out of Bounds," but in a little while he understood. He was often to be
seen in those days, by the railway passengers, sitting, chin on knees,
perched up on the Down hard by the Thursley chalk pits, where afterwards
he was set working. The train seemed to inspire a dim emotion of
friendliness in him, and sometimes he would wave an enormous hand at it,
and sometimes give it a rustic incoherent hail.
"Big," the peering passenger would say. "One of these Boom children.
They say, Sir, quite unable to do anything for itself--little better
than an idiot in fact, and a great burden on the locality."
"Parents quite poor, I'm told."
"Lives on the charity of the local gentry."
Every one would stare intelligently at that distant squatting monstrous
figure for a space.
"Good thing that was put a stop to," some spacious thinking mind would
suggest. "Nice to 'ave a few thousand of _them_ on the rates, eh?"
And usually there was some one wise enough to tell this philosopher:
"You're about Right there, Sir," in hearty tones.
He had his bad days.
There was, for example, that trouble with the river.
He made little boats out of whole newspapers, an art he learnt by
watching the Spender boy, and he set them sailing down the stream--great
paper cocked-hats. When they vanished under the bridge which marks the
boundary of the strictly private grounds about Eyebright House, he
would give a great shout and run round and across Tormat's new
field--Lord! how Tormat's pigs did scamper, to be sure, and turn their
good fat into lean muscle!--and so to meet his boats by the ford. Right
across the nearer lawns these paper boats of his used to go, right in
front of Eyebright House, right under Lady Wondershoot's eyes!
Disorganising folded newspapers! A pretty thing!
Gathering enterprise from impunity, he began babyish hydraulic
engineering. He delved a huge port for his paper fleets with an old shed
door that served him as a spade, and, no one chancing to observe his
operations just then, he devised an ingenious canal that incidentally
flooded Lady Wondershoot's ice-house, and finally he dammed the river.
He dammed it right across with a few vigorous doorfuls of earth--he must
have worked like an avalanche--and down came a most amazing spate
through the shrubbery and washed away Miss Spinks and her easel and the
most promising water-colour sketch she had ever begun, or, at any rate,
it washed away her easel and left her wet to the knees and dismally
tucked up in flight to the house, and thence the waters rushed through
the kitchen garden, and so by the green door into the lane and down into
the riverbed again by Short's ditch.
Meanwhile, the Vicar, interrupted in conversation with the blacksmith,
was amazed to see distressful stranded fish leaping out of a few
residual pools, and heaped green weed in the bed of the stream, where
ten minutes before there had been eight feet and more of clear cool
After that, horrified at his own consequences, young Caddles fled his
home for two days and nights. He returned only at the insistent call of
hunger, to bear with stoical calm an amount of violent scolding that was
more in proportion to his size than anything else that had ever before
fallen to his lot in the Happy Village.
Immediately after that affair Lady Wondershoot, casting about for
exemplary additions to the abuse and fastings she had inflicted, issued
a Ukase. She issued it first to her butler, and very suddenly, so that
she made him jump. He was clearing away the breakfast things, and she
was staring out of the tall window on the terrace where the fawns would
come to be fed. "Jobbet," she said, in her most imperial voice--"Jobbet,
this Thing must work for its living."
And she made it quite clear not only to Jobbet (which was easy), but to
every one else in the village, including young Caddles, that in this
matter, as in all things, she meant what she said.
"Keep him employed," said Lady Wondershoot. "That's the tip for Master
"It's the Tip, I fancy, for all Humanity," said the Vicar. "The simple
duties, the modest round, seedtime and harvest--"
"Exactly," said Lady Wondershoot. "What _I_ always say. Satan finds some
mischief still for idle hands to do. At any rate among the labouring
classes. We bring up our under-housemaids on that principle, always.
What shall we set him to do?"
That was a little difficult. They thought of many things, and meanwhile
they broke him in to labour a bit by using him instead of a horse
messenger to carry telegrams and notes when extra speed was needed, and
he also carried luggage and packing-cases and things of that sort very
conveniently in a big net they found for him. He seemed to like
employment, regarding it as a sort of game, and Kinkle, Lady
Wondershoot's agent, seeing him shift a rockery for her one day, was
struck by the brilliant idea of putting him into her chalk quarry at
Thursley Hanger, hard by Hickleybrow. This idea was carried out, and it
seemed they had settled his problem.
He worked in the chalk pit, at first with the zest of a playing child,
and afterwards with an effect of habit--delving, loading, doing all the
haulage of the trucks, running the full ones down the lines towards the
siding, and hauling the empty ones up by the wire of a great
windlass--working the entire quarry at last single-handed.
I am told that Kinkle made a very good thing indeed out of him for Lady
Wondershoot, consuming as he did scarcely anything but his food, though
that never restrained her denunciation of "the Creature" as a gigantic
parasite upon her charity....
At that time he used to wear a sort of smock of sacking, trousers of
patched leather, and iron-shod sabots. Over his head was sometimes a
queer thing--a worn-out beehive straw chair it was, but usually he went
bareheaded. He would be moving about the pit with a powerful
deliberation, and the Vicar on his constitutional round would get there
about midday to find him shamefully eating his vast need of food with
his back to all the world.
His food was brought to him every day, a mess of grain in the husk, in a
truck--a small railway truck, like one of the trucks he was perpetually
filling with chalk, and this load he used to char in an old limekiln and
then devour. Sometimes he would mix with it a bag of sugar. Sometimes he
would sit licking a lump of such salt as is given to cows, or eating a
huge lump of dates, stones and all, such as one sees in London on
barrows. For drink he walked to the rivulet beyond the burnt-out site of
the Experimental Farm at Hickleybrow and put down his face to the
stream. It was from his drinking in that way after eating that the Food
of the Gods did at last get loose, spreading first of all in huge weeds
from the river-side, then in big frogs, bigger trout and stranding carp,
and at last in a fantastic exuberance of vegetation all over the little
And after a year or so the queer monstrous grub things in the field
before the blacksmith's grew so big and developed into such frightful
skipjacks and cockchafers--motor cockchafers the boys called them--that
they drove Lady Wondershoot abroad.
But soon the Food was to enter upon a new phase of its work in him. In
spite of the simple instructions of the Vicar--instructions intended to
round off the modest natural life befitting a giant peasant, in the most
complete and final manner--he began to ask questions, to inquire into
things, to _think_. As he grew from boyhood to adolescence it became
increasingly evident that his mind had processes of its own--out of the
Vicar's control. The Vicar did his best to ignore this distressing
phenomenon, but still--he could feel it there.
The young giant's material for thought lay about him. Quite
involuntarily, with his spacious views, his constant overlooking of
things, he must have seen a good deal of human life, and as it grew
clearer to him that he too, save for this clumsy greatness of his, was
also human, he must have come to realise more and more just how much was
shut against him by his melancholy distinction. The sociable hum of the
school, the mystery of religion that was partaken in such finery, and
which exhaled so sweet a strain of melody, the jovial chorusing from the
Inn, the warmly glowing rooms, candle-lit and fire-lit, into which he
peered out of the darkness, or again the shouting excitement, the vigour
of flannelled exercise upon some imperfectly understood issue that
centred about the cricket-field--all these things must have cried aloud
to his companionable heart. It would seem that as his adolescence crept
upon him, he began to take a very considerable interest in the
proceedings of lovers, in those preferences and pairings, those close
intimacies that are so cardinal in life.
One Sunday, just about that hour when the stars and the bats and the
passions of rural life come out, there chanced to be a young couple
"kissing each other a bit" in Love Lane, the deep hedged lane that runs
out back towards the Upper Lodge. They were giving their little emotions
play, as secure in the warm still twilight as any lovers could be. The
only conceivable interruption they thought possible must come pacing
visibly up the lane; the twelve-foot hedge towards the silent Downs
seemed to them an absolute guarantee.
Then suddenly--incredibly--they were lifted and drawn apart.
They discovered themselves held up, each with a finger and thumb under
the armpits, and with the perplexed brown eyes of young Caddles scanning
their warm flushed faces. They were naturally dumb with the emotions of
"_Why_ do you like doing that?" asked young Caddies.
I gather the embarrassment continued until the swain remembering his
manhood, vehemently, with loud shouts, threats, and virile blasphemies,
such as became the occasion, bade young Caddies under penalties put them
down. Whereupon young Caddies, remembering his manners, did put them
down politely and very carefully, and conveniently near for a resumption
of their embraces, and having hesitated above them for a while, vanished
again into the twilight ...
"But I felt precious silly," the swain confided to me. "We couldn't
'ardly look at one another--bein' caught like that.
"Kissing we was--_you_ know.
"And the cur'ous thing is, she blamed it all on to me," said the swain.
"Flew out something outrageous, and wouldn't 'ardly speak to me all the
The giant was embarking upon investigations, there could be no doubt.
His mind, it became manifest, was throwing up questions. He put them to
few people as yet, but they troubled him. His mother, one gathers,
sometimes came in for cross-examination.
He used to come into the yard behind his mother's cottage, and, after a
careful inspection of the ground for hens and chicks, he would sit down
slowly with his back against the barn. In a minute the chicks, who liked
him, would be pecking all over him at the mossy chalk-mud in the seams
of his clothing, and if it was blowing up for wet, Mrs. Caddies' kitten,
who never lost her confidence in him, would assume a sinuous form and
start scampering into the cottage, up to the kitchen fender, round, out,
up his leg, up his body, right up to his shoulder, meditative moment,
and then scat! back again, and so on. Sometimes she would stick her
claws in his face out of sheer gaiety of heart, but he never dared to
touch her because of the uncertain weight of his hand upon a creature so
frail. Besides, he rather liked to be tickled. And after a time he would
put some clumsy questions to his mother.
"Mother," he would say, "if it's good to work, why doesn't every one
His mother would look up at him and answer, "It's good for the likes of
He would meditate, "_Why_?"
And going unanswered, "What's work _for_, mother? Why do I cut chalk and
you wash clothes, day after day, while Lady Wondershoot goes about in
her carriage, mother, and travels off to those beautiful foreign
countries you and I mustn't see, mother?"
"She's a lady," said Mrs. Caddles.
"Oh," said young Caddles, and meditated profoundly.
"If there wasn't gentlefolks to make work for us to do," said Mrs.
Caddles, "how should we poor people get a living?"
This had to be digested.
"Mother," he tried again; "if there wasn't any gentlefolks, wouldn't
things belong to people like me and you, and if they did--"
"Lord sakes and _drat_ the Boy!" Mrs. Caddles would say--she had with
the help of a good memory become quite a florid and vigorous
individuality since Mrs. Skinner died. "Since your poor dear grandma was
took, there's no abiding you. Don't you arst no questions and you won't
be told no lies. If once I was to start out answerin' you _serious_, y'r
father 'd 'ave to go' and arst some one else for 'is supper--let alone
finishing the washin'."
"All right, mother," he would say, after a wondering stare at her. "I
didn't mean to worry."
And he would go on thinking.
He was thinking too four years after, when the Vicar, now no longer ripe
but over-ripe, saw him for the last time of all. You figure the old
gentleman visibly a little older now, slacker in his girth, a little
coarsened and a little weakened in his thought and speech, with a
quivering shakiness in his hand and a quivering shakiness in his
convictions, but his eye still bright and merry for all the trouble the
Food had caused his village and himself. He had been frightened at times
and disturbed, but was he not alive still and the same still? and
fifteen long years--a fair sample of eternity--had turned the trouble
into use and wont.
"It was a disturbance, I admit," he would say, "and things are
different--different in many ways. There was a time when a boy could
weed, but now a man must go out with axe and crowbar--in some places
down by the thickets at least. And it's a little strange still to us
old-fashioned people for all this valley, even what used to be the river
bed before they irrigated, to be under wheat--as it is this
year--twenty-five feet high. They used the old-fashioned scythe here
twenty years ago, and they would bring home the harvest on a
wain--rejoicing--in a simple honest fashion. A little simple
drunkenness, a little frank love-making, to conclude ... poor dear Lady
Wondershoot--she didn't like these Innovations. Very conservative, poor
dear lady! A touch of the eighteenth century about her, I always Said.
Her language for example ... Bluff vigour ...
"She died comparatively poor. These big weeds got into her garden. She
was not one of these gardening women, but she liked her garden in
order--things growing where they were planted and as they were
planted--under control ... The way things grew was unexpected--upset her
ideas ... She didn't like the perpetual invasion of this young
monster--at last she began to fancy he was always gaping at her over her
wall ... She didn't like his being nearly as high as her house ...
Jarred with her sense of proportion. Poor dear lady! I had hoped she
would last my time. It was the big cockchafers we had for a year or so
that decided her. They came from the giant larvae--nasty things as big
as rats--in the valley turf ...
"And the ants no doubt weighed with her also.
"Since everything was upset and there was no peace and quietness
anywhere now, she said she thought she might just as well be at Monte
Carlo as anywhere else. And she went.
"She played pretty boldly, I'm told. Died in a hotel there. Very sad
end... Exile... Not--not what one considers meet... A natural leader of
our English people... Uprooted. So I...
"Yet after all," harped the Vicar, "it comes to very little. A nuisance
of course. Children cannot run about so freely as they used to do, what
with ant bites and so forth. Perhaps it's as well ... There used to be
talk--as though this stuff would revolutionise every-thing ... But there
is something that defies all these forces of the New ... I don't know
of course. I'm not one of your modern philosophers--explain everything
with ether and atoms. Evolution. Rubbish like that. What I mean is
something the 'Ologies don't include. Matter of reason--not
understanding. Ripe wisdom. Human nature. _Aere perennius._ ... Call it
what you will."
And so at last it came to the last time.
The Vicar had no intimation of what lay so close upon him. He did his
customary walk, over by Farthing Down, as he had done it for more than a
score of years, and so to the place whence he would watch young Caddies.
He did the rise over by the chalk-pit crest a little puffily--he had
long since lost the Muscular Christian stride of early days; but Caddies
was not at his work, and then, as he skirted the thicket of giant
bracken that was beginning to obscure and overshadow the Hanger, he came
upon the monster's huge form seated on the hill--brooding as it were
upon the world. Caddies' knees were drawn up, his cheek was on his hand,
his head a little aslant. He sat with his shoulder towards the Vicar, so
that those perplexed eyes could not be seen. He must have been thinking
very intently--at any rate he was sitting very still ...
He never turned round. He never knew that the Vicar, who had played so
large a part in shaping his life, looked then at him for the very last
of innumerable times--did not know even that he was there. (So it is so
many partings happen.) The Vicar was struck at the time by the fact
that, after all, no one on earth had the slightest idea of what this
great monster thought about when he saw fit to rest from his labours.
But he was too indolent to follow up that new theme that day; he fell
back from its suggestion into his older grooves of thought.
"_Aere-perennius,"_ he whispered, walking slowly homeward by a path that
no longer ran straight athwart the turf after its former fashion, but
wound circuitously to avoid new sprung tussocks of giant grass. "No!
nothing is changed. Dimensions are nothing. The simple round, the common
And that night, quite painlessly, and all unknowing, he himself went the
common way--out of this Mystery of Change he had spent his life in
They buried him in the churchyard of Cheasing Eyebright, near to the
largest yew, and the modest tombstone bearing his epitaph--it ended
with: _Ut in Principio, nunc est et semper_--was almost immediately
hidden from the eye of man by a spread of giant, grey tasselled grass
too stout for scythe or sheep, that came sweeping like a fog over the
village out of the germinating moisture of the valley meadows in which
the Food of the Gods had been working.
THE HARVEST OF THE FOOD.
CHAPTER THE FIRST.
THE ALTERED WORLD.
Change played in its new fashion with the world for twenty years. To
most men the new things came little by little and day by day, remarkably
enough, but not so abruptly as to overwhelm. But to one man at least the
full accumulation of those two decades of the Food's work was to be
revealed suddenly and amazingly in one day. For our purpose it is
convenient to take him for that one day and to tell something of the
things he saw. This man was a convict, a prisoner for life--his crime is
no concern of ours--whom the law saw fit to pardon after twenty years.
One summer morning this poor wretch, who had left the world a young man
of three-and-twenty, found himself thrust out again from the grey
simplicity of toil and discipline, that had become his life, into a
dazzling freedom. They had put unaccustomed clothes upon him; his hair
had been growing for some weeks, and he had parted it now for some days,
and there he stood, in a sort of shabby and clumsy newness of body and
mind, blinking with his eyes and blinking indeed with his soul,
_outside_ again, trying to realise one incredible thing, that after all
he was again for a little while in the world of life, and for all other
incredible things, totally unprepared. He was so fortunate as to have a
brother who cared enough for their distant common memories to come and
meet him and clasp his hand--a brother he had left a little lad, and who
was now a bearded prosperous man--whose very eyes were unfamiliar. And
together he and this stranger from his kindred came down into the town
of Dover, saying little to one another and feeling many things.
They sat for a space in a public-house, the one answering the questions
of the other about this person and that, reviving queer old points of
view, brushing aside endless new aspects and new perspectives, and then
it was time to go to the station and take the London train. Their names
and the personal things they had to talk of do not matter to our story,
but only the changes and all the strangeness that this poor returning
soul found in the once familiar world.
In Dover itself he remarked little except the goodness of beer from
pewter--never before had there been such a draught of beer, and it
brought tears of gratitude to his eyes. "Beer's as good as ever," said
he, believing it infinitely better....
It was only as the train rattled them past Folkestone that he could look
out beyond his more immediate emotions, to see what had happened to the
world. He peered out of the window. "It's sunny," he said for the
twelfth time. "I couldn't ha' had better weather." And then for the
first time it dawned upon him that there were novel disproportions in
the world. "Lord sakes," he cried, sitting up and looking animated for
the first time, "but them's mortal great thissels growing out there on
the bank by that broom. If so be they _be_ thissels? Or 'ave I been
forgetting?" But they were thistles, and what he took for tall bushes
of broom was the new grass, and amidst these things a company of British
soldiers--red-coated as ever--was skirmishing in accordance with the
directions of the drill book that had been partially revised after the
Boer War. Then whack! into a tunnel, and then into Sandling Junction,
which was now embedded and dark--its lamps were all alight--in a great
thicket of rhododendron that had crept out of some adjacent gardens and
grown enormously up the valley. There was a train of trucks on the
Sandgate siding piled high with rhododendron logs, and here it was the
returning citizen heard first of Boomfood.
As they sped out into a country again that seemed absolutely unchanged,
the two brothers were hard at their explanations. The one was full of
eager, dull questions; the other had never thought, had never troubled
to see the thing as a single fact, and he was allusive and difficult to
follow. "It's this here Boomfood stuff," he said, touching his bottom
rock of knowledge. "Don't you know? 'Aven't they told you--any of 'em?
Boomfood! You know--Boomfood. What all the election's about. Scientific
sort of stuff. 'Asn't no one ever told you?"
He thought prison had made his brother a fearful duffer not to know
They made wide shots at each other by way of question and answer.
Between these scraps of talk were intervals of window-gazing. At first
the man's interest in things was vague and general. His imagination had
been busy with what old so-and-so would say, how so-and-so would look,
how he would say to all and sundry certain things that would present his
"putting away" in a mitigated light. This Boomfood came in at first as
it were a thing in an odd paragraph of the newspapers, then as a source
of intellectual difficulty with his brother. But it came to him
presently that Boomfood was persistently coming in upon any topic he
In those days the world was a patchwork of transition, so that this
great new fact came to him in a series of shocks of contrast. The
process of change had not been uniform; it had spread from one centre of
distribution here and another centre there. The country was in patches:
great areas where the Food was still to come, and areas where it was
already in the soil and in the air, sporadic and contagious. It was a
bold new motif creeping in among ancient and venerable airs.
The contrast was very vivid indeed along the line from Dover to London
at that time. For a space they traversed just such a country-side as he
had known since his childhood, the small oblongs of field, hedge-lined,
of a size for pigmy horses to plough, the little roads three cart-widths
wide, the elms and oaks and poplars dotting these fields about, little
thickets of willow beside the streams; ricks of hay no higher than a
giant's knees, dolls' cottages with diamond panes, brickfields, and
straggling village streets, the larger houses of the petty great,
flower-grown railway banks, garden-set stations, and all the little
things of the vanished nineteenth century still holding out against
Immensity. Here and there would be a patch of wind-sown, wind-tattered
giant thistle defying the axe; here and there a ten-foot puff-ball or
the ashen stems of some burnt-out patch of monster grass; but that was
all there was to hint at the coming of the Food.
For a couple of score of miles there was nothing else to foreshadow in
any way the strange bigness of the wheat and of the weeds that were
hidden from him not a dozen miles from his route just over the hills in
the Cheasing Eyebright valley. And then presently the traces of the Food
would begin. The first striking thing was the great new viaduct at
Tonbridge, where the swamp of the choked Medway (due to a giant variety
of _Chara_) began in those days. Then again the little country, and
then, as the petty multitudinous immensity of London spread out under
its haze, the traces of man's fight to keep out greatness became
abundant and incessant.
In that south-eastern region of London at that time, and all about where
Cossar and his children lived, the Food had become mysteriously
insurgent at a hundred points; the little life went on amidst daily
portents that only the deliberation of their increase, the slow parallel
growth of usage to their presence, had robbed of their warning. But this
returning citizen peered out to see for the first time the facts of the
Food strange and predominant, scarred and blackened areas, big unsightly
defences and preparations, barracks and arsenals that this subtle,
persistent influence had forced into the life of men.
Here, on an ampler scale, the experience of the first Experimental Farm
had been repeated time and again. It had been in the inferior and
accidental things of life--under foot and in waste places, irregularly
and irrelevantly--that the coming of a new force and new issues had
first declared itself. There were great evil-smelling yards and
enclosures where some invincible jungle of weed furnished fuel for
gigantic machinery (little cockneys came to stare at its clangorous
oiliness and tip the men a sixpence); there were roads and tracks for
big motors and vehicles--roads made of the interwoven fibres of
hypertrophied hemp; there were towers containing steam sirens that could
yell at once and warn the world against any new insurgence of vermin,
or, what was queerer, venerable church towers conspicuously fitted with
a mechanical scream. There were little red-painted refuge huts and
garrison shelters, each with its 300-yard rifle range, where the
riflemen practised daily with soft-nosed ammunition at targets in the
shape of monstrous rats.
Six times since the day of the Skinners there had been outbreaks of
giant rats--each time from the southwest London sewers, and now they
were as much an accepted fact there as tigers in the delta by
The man's brother had bought a paper in a heedless sort of way at
Sandling, and at last this chanced to catch the eye of the released man.
He opened the unfamiliar sheets--they seemed to him to be smaller, more
numerous, and different in type from the papers of the times before--and
he found himself confronted with innumerable pictures about things so
strange as to be uninteresting, and with tall columns of printed matter
whose headings, for the most part, were as unmeaning as though they had
been written in a foreign tongue--"Great Speech by Mr. Caterham"; "The
"Who's this here Caterham?" he asked, in an attempt to make
"_He's_ all right," said his brother.
"Ah! Sort of politician, eh?"
"Goin' to turn out the Government. Jolly well time he did."
"Ah!" He reflected. "I suppose all the lot _I_ used to
know--Chamberlain, Rosebery--all that lot--_What_?"
His brother had grasped his wrist and pointed out of the window.
"That's the Cossars!" The eyes of the released prisoner followed the
finger's direction and saw--
"My Gawd!" he cried, for the first time really overcome with amazement.
The paper dropped into final forgottenness between his feet. Through the
trees he could see very distinctly, standing in an easy attitude, the
legs wide apart and the hand grasping a ball as if about to throw it, a
gigantic human figure a good forty feet high. The figure glittered in
the sunlight, clad in a suit of woven white metal and belted with a
broad belt of steel. For a moment it focussed all attention, and then
the eye was wrested to another more distant Giant who stood prepared to
catch, and it became apparent that the whole area of that great bay in
the hills just north of Sevenoaks had been scarred to gigantic ends.
A hugely banked entrenchment overhung the chalk pit, in which stood the
house, a monstrous squat Egyptian shape that Cossar had built for his
sons when the Giant Nursery had served its turn, and behind was a great
dark shed that might have covered a cathedral, in which a spluttering
incandescence came and went, and from out of which came a Titanic
hammering to beat upon the ear. Then the attention leapt back to the
giant as the great ball of iron-bound timber soared up out of his hand.
The two men stood up and stared. The ball seemed as big as a cask.
"Caught!" cried the man from prison, as a tree blotted out the thrower.
The train looked on these things only for the fraction of a minute and
then passed behind trees into the Chislehurst tunnel. "My Gawd!" said
the man from prison again, as the darkness closed about them. "Why! that
chap was as 'igh as a 'ouse."
"That's them young Cossars," said his brother, jerking his head
allusively--"what all this trouble's about...."
They emerged again to discover more siren-surmounted towers, more red
huts, and then the clustering villas of the outer suburbs. The art of
bill-sticking had lost nothing in the interval, and from countless tall
hoardings, from house ends, from palings, and a hundred such points of
vantage came the polychromatic appeals of the great Boomfood election.
"Caterham," "Boomfood," and "Jack the Giant-killer" again and again and
again, and monstrous caricatures and distortions--a hundred varieties of
misrepresentations of those great and shining figures they had passed so
nearly only a few minutes before....
It had been the purpose of the younger brother to do a very magnificent
thing, to celebrate this return to life by a dinner at some restaurant
of indisputable quality, a dinner that should be followed by all that
glittering succession of impressions the Music Halls of those days were
so capable of giving. It was a worthy plan to wipe off the more
superficial stains of the prison house by this display of free
indulgence; but so far as the second item went the plan was changed. The
dinner stood, but there was a desire already more powerful than the
appetite for shows, already more efficient in turning the man's mind
away from his grim prepossession with his past than any theatre could
be, and that was an enormous curiosity and perplexity about this
Boomfood and these Boom children--this new portentous giantry that
seemed to dominate the world. "I 'aven't the 'ang of 'em," he said.
"They disturve me."
His brother had that fineness of mind that can even set aside a
contemplated hospitality. "It's _your_ evening, dear old boy," he said.
"We'll try to get into the mass meeting at the People's Palace."
And at last the man from prison had the luck to find himself wedged into
a packed multitude and staring from afar at a little brightly lit
platform under an organ and a gallery. The organist had been playing
something that had set boots tramping as the people swarmed in; but that
was over now.
Hardly had the man from prison settled into place and done his quarrel
with an importunate stranger who elbowed, before Caterham came. He
walked out of a shadow towards the middle of the platform, the most
insignificant little pigmy, away there in the distance, a little black
figure with a pink dab for a face,--in profile one saw his quite
distinctive aquiline nose--a little figure that trailed after it most
inexplicably--a cheer. A cheer it was that began away there and grew and
spread. A little spluttering of voices about the platform at first that
suddenly leapt up into a flame of sound and swept athwart the whole mass
of humanity within the building and without. How they cheered! Hooray!
No one in all those myriads cheered like the man from prison. The tears
poured down his face, and he only stopped cheering at last because the
thing had choked him. You must have been in prison as long as he before
you can understand, or even begin to understand, what it means to a man
to let his lungs go in a crowd. (But for all that he did not even
pretend to himself that he knew what all this emotion was about.)
Hooray! O God!--Hoo-ray!
And then a sort of silence. Caterham had subsided to a conspicuous
patience, and subordinate and inaudible persons were saying and doing
formal and insignificant things. It was like hearing voices through the
noise of leaves in spring. "Wawawawa---" What did it matter? People in
the audience talked to one another. "Wawawawawa---" the thing went on.
Would that grey-headed duffer never have done? Interrupting? Of course
they were interrupting. "Wa, wa, wa, wa---" But shall we hear Caterham
Meanwhile at any rate there was Caterham to stare at, and one could
stand and study the distant prospect of the great man's features. He was
easy to draw was this man, and already the world had him to study at
leisure on lamp chimneys and children's plates, on Anti-Boomfood medals
and Anti-Boomfood flags, on the selvedges of Caterham silks and cottons
and in the linings of Good Old English Caterham hats. He pervades all
the caricature of that time. One sees him as a sailor standing to an
old-fashioned gun, a port-fire labelled "New Boomfood Laws" in his hand;
while in the sea wallows that huge, ugly, threatening monster,
"Boomfood;" or he is _cap-a-pie_ in armour, St. George's cross on shield
and helm, and a cowardly titanic Caliban sitting amidst desecrations at
the mouth of a horrid cave declines his gauntlet of the "New Boomfood
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