“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 me.
“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 affects us!”
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 evermore.