The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth

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5.

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. Aère 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.

“Aère-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 way— ”

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 denying.

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.

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