The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth

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3.

It was only a few days after this that Redwood opened his paper to find that the Prime Minister had promised a Royal Commission on Boomfood. This sent him, newspaper in hand, round to Bensington’s flat.

“Winkles, I believe, is making mischief for the stuff. He plays into the hands of Caterham. He keeps on talking about it, and what it is going to do, and alarming people. If he goes on, I really believe he’ll hamper our inquiries. Even as it is— with this trouble about my little boy— ”

Bensington wished Winkles wouldn’t.

“Do you notice how he has dropped into the way of calling it Boomfood?”

“I don’t like that name,” said Bensington, with a glance over his glasses.

“It is just so exactly what it is— to Winkles.”

“Why does he keep on about it? It isn’t his!”

“It’s something called Booming,” said Redwood. “I don’t understand. If it isn’t his, everybody is getting to think it is. Not that that matters.” “In the event of this ignorant, this ridiculous agitation becoming— Serious,” began Bensington.

“My little boy can’t get on without the stuff,” said Redwood. “I don’t see how I can help myself now. If the worst comes to the worst— ”

A slight bouncing noise proclaimed the presence of Winkles. He became visible in the middle of the room rubbing his hands together.

“I wish you’d knock,” said Bensington, looking vicious over the gold rims.

Winkles was apologetic. Then he turned to Redwood. “I’m glad to find you here,” he began; “the fact is— ”

“Have you seen about this Royal Commission?” interrupted Redwood.

“Yes,” said Winkles, thrown out. “Yes.”

“What do you think of it?”

“Excellent thing,” said Winkles. “Bound to stop most of this clamour. Ventilate the whole affair. Shut up Caterham. But that’s not what I came round for, Redwood. The fact is— ”

“I don’t like this Royal Commission,” said Bensington.

“I can assure you it will be all right. I may say— I don’t think it’s a breach of confidence— that very possibly I may have a place on the Commission— ”

“Oom,” said Redwood, looking into the fire.

“I can put the whole thing right. I can make it perfectly clear, first, that the stuff is controllable, and, secondly, that nothing short of a miracle is needed before anything like that catastrophe at Hickleybrow can possibly happen again. That is just what is wanted, an authoritative assurance. Of course, I could speak with more confidence if I knew— But that’s quite by the way. And just at present there’s something else, another little matter, upon which I’m wanting to consult you. Ahem. The fact is— Well— I happen to be in a slight difficulty, and you can help me out.”

Redwood raised his eyebrows, and was secretly glad.

“The matter is— highly confidential.”

“Go on,” said Redwood. “Don’t worry about that.”

“I have recently been entrusted with a child— the child of— of an Exalted Personage.”

Winkles coughed.

“You’re getting on,” said Redwood.

“I must confess it’s largely your powders— and the reputation of my success with your little boy— There is, I cannot disguise, a strong feeling against its use. And yet I find that among the more intelligent— One must go quietly in these things, you know— little by little. Still, in the case of Her Serene High— I mean this new little patient of mine. As a matter of fact— the suggestion came from the parent. Or I should never— ”

He struck Redwood as being embarrassed.

“I thought you had a doubt of the advisability of using these powders,” said Redwood.

“Merely a passing doubt.”

“You don’t propose to discontinue— ”

“In the case of your little boy? Certainly not!”

“So far as I can see, it would be murder.”

“I wouldn’t do it for the world.”

“You shall have the powders,” said Redwood.

“I suppose you couldn’t— ”

“No fear,” said Redwood. “There isn’t a recipe. It’s no good, Winkles, if you’ll pardon my frankness. I’ll make you the powders myself.”

“Just as well, perhaps,” said Winkles, after a momentary hard stare at Redwood— “just as well.” And then: “I can assure you I really don’t mind in the least.”

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