The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth

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2.

Redwood went round, to Bensington about eleven the next morning with the “second editions” of three evening papers in his hand.

Bensington looked up from a despondent meditation over the forgotten pages of the most distracting novel the Brompton Road librarian had been able to find him. “Anything fresh?” he asked.

“Two men stung near Chartham.”

“They ought to let us smoke out that nest. They really did. It’s their own fault.”

“It’s their own fault, certainly,” said Redwood.

“Have you heard anything— about buying the farm?”

“The House Agent,” said Redwood, “is a thing with a big mouth and made of dense wood. It pretends someone else is after the house— it always does, you know— and won’t understand there’s a hurry. ’This is a matter of life and death,’ I said, ‘don’t you understand?’ It drooped its eyes half shut and said, ’Then why don’t you go the other two hundred pounds?’ I’d rather live in a world of solid wasps than give in to the stonewalling stupidity of that offensive creature. I— ”

He paused, feeling that a sentence like that might very easily be spoiled by its context.

“It’s too much to hope,” said Bensington, “that one of the wasps— ”

“The wasp has no more idea of public utility than a— than a House Agent,” said Redwood.

He talked for a little while about house agents and solicitors and people of that sort, in the unjust, unreasonable way that so many people do somehow get to talk of these business calculi ("Of all the cranky things in this cranky world, it is the most cranky to my mind of all, that while we expect honour, courage, efficiency, from a doctor or a soldier as a matter of course, a solicitor or a house agent is not only permitted but expected to display nothing but a sort of greedy, greasy, obstructive, over-reaching imbecility— ” etc.)— and then, greatly relieved, he went to the window and stared out at the Sloane Street traffic.

Bensington had put the most exciting novel conceivable on the little table that carried his electric standard. He joined the fingers of his opposed hands very carefully and regarded them. “Redwood,” he said. “Do they say much about Us?”

“Not so much as I should expect.”

“They don’t denounce us at all?”

“Not a bit. But, on the other hand, they don’t back up what I point out must be done. I’ve written to the Times, you know, explaining the whole thing— ”

“We take the Daily Chronicle,” said Bensington.

“And the Times has a long leader on the subject— a very high-class, well-written leader, with three pieces of Times Latin—status quo is one— and it reads like the voice of Somebody Impersonal of the Greatest Importance suffering from Influenza Headache and talking through sheets and sheets of felt without getting any relief from it whatever. Reading between the lines, you know, it’s pretty clear that the Times considers that it is useless to mince matters, and that something (indefinite of course) has to be done at once. Otherwise still more undesirable consequences—Times English, you know, for more wasps and stings. Thoroughly statesmanlike article!”

“And meanwhile this Bigness is spreading in all sorts of ugly ways.”

“Precisely.”

“I wonder if Skinner was right about those big rats— ”

“Oh no! That would be too much,” said Redwood.

He came and stood by Bensington’s chair.

“By-the-bye,” he said, with a slightly lowered voice, “how does she—?”

He indicated the closed door.

“Cousin Jane? She simply knows nothing about it. Doesn’t connect us with it and won’t read the articles. ‘Gigantic wasps!’ she says, ’I haven’t patience to read the papers.’”

“That’s very fortunate,” said Redwood.

“I suppose— Mrs. Redwood—?”

“No,” said Redwood, “just at present it happens— she’s terribly worried about the child. You know, he keeps on.”

“Growing?”

“Yes. Put on forty-one ounces in ten days. Weighs nearly four stone. And only six months old! Naturally rather alarming.”

“Healthy?”

“Vigorous. His nurse is leaving because he kicks so forcibly. And everything, of course, shockingly outgrown. Everything, you know, has had to be made fresh, clothes and everything. Perambulator— light affair— broke one wheel, and the youngster had to be brought home on the milkman’s hand-truck. Yes. Quite a crowd… . And we’ve put Georgina Phyllis back into his cot and put him into the bed of Georgina Phyllis. His mother— naturally alarmed. Proud at first and inclined to praise Winkles. Not now. Feels the thing can’t be wholesome. You know.”

“I imagined you were going to put him on diminishing doses.”

“I tried it.”

“Didn’t it work?”

“Howls. In the ordinary way the cry of a child is loud and distressing; it is for the good of the species that this should be so— but since he has been on the Herakleophorbia treatment—– ”

“Mm,” said Bensington, regarding his fingers with more resignation than he had hitherto displayed.

“Practically the thing must come out. People will hear of this child, connect it up with our hens and things, and the whole thing will come round to my wife… . How she will take it I haven’t the remotest idea.”

“It is difficult,” said Mr. Bensington, “to form any plan— certainly.”

He removed his glasses and wiped them carefully.

“It is another instance,” he generalised, “of the thing that is continually happening. We— if indeed I may presume to the adjective—scientific men— we work of course always for a theoretical result— a purely theoretical result. But, incidentally, we do set forces in operation—new forces. We mustn’t control them— and nobody else can. Practically, Redwood, the thing is out of our hands. We supply the material— ”

“And they,” said Redwood, turning to the window, “get the experience.”

“So far as this trouble down in Kent goes I am not disposed to worry further.”

“Unless they worry us.”

“Exactly. And if they like to muddle about with solicitors and pettifoggers and legal obstructions and weighty considerations of the tomfool order, until they have got a number of new gigantic species of vermin well established— Things always have been in a muddle, Redwood.”

Redwood traced a twisted, tangled line in the air.

“And our real interest lies at present with your boy.”

Redwood turned about and came and stared at his collaborator.

“What do you think of him, Bensington? You can look at this business with a greater detachment than I can. What am I to do about him?”

“Go on feeding him.”

“On Herakleophorbia?”

“On Herakleophorbia.”

“And then he’ll grow.”

“He’ll grow, as far as I can calculate from the hens and the wasps, to the height of about five-and-thirty feet— with everything in proportion—– ”

“And then what’ll he do?”

“That,” said Mr. Bensington, “is just what makes the whole thing so interesting.”

“Confound it, man! Think of his clothes.”

“And when he’s grown up,” said Redwood, “he’ll only be one solitary Gulliver in a pigmy world.”

Mr. Bensington’s eye over his gold rim was pregnant.

“Why solitary?” he said, and repeated still more darkly, “Why solitary?”

“But you don’t propose—–?”

“I said,” said Mr. Bensington, with the self-complacency of a man who has produced a good significant saying, “Why solitary?”

“Meaning that one might bring up other children—–?”

“Meaning nothing beyond my inquiry.”

Redwood began to walk about the room. “Of course,” he said, “one might— But still! What are we coming to?”

Bensington evidently enjoyed his line of high intellectual detachment. “The thing that interests me most, Redwood, of all this, is to think that his brain at the top of him will also, so far as my reasoning goes, be five-and-thirty feet or so above our level… . What’s the matter?”

Redwood stood at the window and stared at a news placard on a paper-cart that rattled up the street.

“What’s the matter?” repeated Bensington, rising.

Redwood exclaimed violently.

“What is it?” said Bensington.

“Get a paper,” said Redwood, moving doorward.

“Why?”

“Get a paper. Something— I didn’t quite catch— Gigantic rats—!”

“Rats?”

“Yes, rats. Skinner was right after all!”

“What do you mean?”

“How the Deuce am I to know till I see a paper? Great Rats! Good Lord! I wonder if he’s eaten!”

He glanced for his hat, and decided to go hatless.

As he rushed downstairs two steps at a time, he could hear along the street the mighty howlings, to and fro of the Hooligan paper-sellers making a Boom.

“’Orrible affair in Kent— ’orrible affair in Kent. Doctor … eaten by rats. ’Orrible affair— ’orrible affair— rats— eaten by Stchewpendous rats. Full perticulars—­’orrible affair.”

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