That had been in the boyhood of the Sons, but now they were nearly men, And the chains had been tightening upon them and tightening with every year of growth. Each year they grew, and the Food spread and great things multiplied, each year the stress and tension rose. The Food had been at first for the great mass of mankind a distant marvel, and now It was coming home to every threshold, and threatening, pressing against and distorting the whole order of life. It blocked this, it overturned that; it changed natural products, and by changing natural products it stopped employments and threw men out of work by the hundred thousands; it swept over boundaries and turned the world of trade into a world of cataclysms: no wonder mankind hated it.
And since it is easier to hate animate than inanimate things, animals more than plants, and one’s fellow-men more completely than any animals, the fear and trouble engendered by giant nettles and six-foot grass blades, awful insects and tiger-like vermin, grew all into one great power of detestation that aimed itself with a simple directness at that scattered band of great human beings, the Children of the Food. That hatred had become the central force in political affairs. The old party lines had been traversed and effaced altogether under the insistence of these newer issues, and the conflict lay now with the party of the temporisers, who were for putting little political men to control and regulate the Food, and the party of reaction for whom Caterharn spoke, speaking always with a more sinister ambiguity, crystallising his intention first in one threatening phrase and then another, now that men must “prune the bramble growths,” now that they must find a “cure for elephantiasis,” and at last upon the eve of the election that they must “Grasp the nettle.”
One day the three sons of Cossar, who were now no longer boys but men, sat among the masses of their futile work and talked together after their fashion of all these things. They had been working all day at one of a series of great and complicated trenches their father had bid them make, and now it was sunset, and they sat in the little garden space before the great house and looked at the world and rested, until the little servants within should say their food was ready.
You must figure these mighty forms, forty feet high the least of them was, reclining on a patch of turf that would have seemed a stubble of reeds to a common man. One sat up and chipped earth from his huge boots with an iron girder he grasped in his hand; the second rested on his elbow; the third whittled a pine tree into shape and made a smell of resin in the air. They were clothed not in cloth but in under-garments of woven, rope and outer clothes of felted aluminium wire; they were shod with timber and iron, and the links and buttons and belts of their clothing were all of plated steel. The great single-storeyed house they lived in, Egyptian in its massiveness, half built of monstrous blocks of chalk and half excavated from the living rock of the hill, had a front a full hundred feet in height, and beyond, the chimneys and wheels, the cranes and covers of their work sheds rose marvellously against the sky. Through a circular window in the house there was visible a spout from which some white-hot metal dripped and dripped in measured drops into a receptacle out of sight. The place was enclosed and rudely fortified by monstrous banks of earth, backed with steel both over the crests of the Downs above and across the dip of the valley. It needed something of common size to mark the nature of the scale. The train that came rattling from Sevenoaks athwart their vision, and presently plunged into the tunnel out of their sight, looked by contrast with them like some small-sized automatic toy.
“They have made all the woods this side of Ightham out of bounds,” said one, “and moved the board that was out by Knockholt two miles and more this way.”
“It is the least they could do,” said the youngest, after a pause. “They are trying to take the wind out of Caterham’s sails.”
“It’s not enough for that, and— it is almost too much for us,” said the third.
“They are cutting us off from Brother Redwood. Last time I went to him the red notices had crept a mile in, either way. The road to him along the Downs is no more than a narrow lane.”
The speaker thought. “What has come to our brother Redwood?”
“Why?” said the eldest brother.
The speaker backed a bough from his pine. “He was like— as though he wasn’t awake. He didn’t seem to listen to what I had to say. And he said something of—love.”
The youngest tapped his girder on the edge of his iron sole and laughed. “Brother Redwood,” he said, “has dreams.”
Neither spoke for a space. Then the eldest brother said, “This cooping up and cooping up grows more than I can bear. At last, I believe, they will draw a line round our boots and tell us to live on that.”
The middle brother swept aside a heap of pine boughs with one hand and shifted his attitude. “What they do now is nothing to what they will do when Caterham has power.”
“If he gets power,” said the youngest brother, smiting the ground with his girder.
“As he will,” said the eldest, staring at his feet.
The middle brother ceased his lopping, and his eye went to the great banks that sheltered them about. “Then, brothers,” he said, “our youth will be over, and, as Father Redwood said to us long ago, we must quit ourselves like men.”
“Yes,” said the eldest brother; “but what exactly does that mean? Just what does it mean— when that day of trouble comes?”
He too glanced at those rude vast suggestions of entrenchment about them, looking not so much at them as through them and over the hills to the innumerable multitudes beyond. Something of the same sort came into all their minds— a vision of little people coming out to war, in a flood, the little people, inexhaustible, incessant, malignant… .
“They are little,” said the youngest brother; “but they have numbers beyond counting, like the sands of the sea.”
“They have arms— they have weapons even, that our brothers in Sunderland have made.”
“Besides, Brothers, except for vermin, except for little accidents with evil things, what have we seen of killing?”
“I know,” said the eldest brother. “For all that— we are what we are. When the day of trouble comes we must do the thing we have to do.”
He closed his knife with a snap— the blade was the length of a man— and used his new pine staff to help himself rise. He stood up and turned towards the squat grey immensity of the house. The crimson of the sunset caught him as he rose, caught the mail and clasps about his neck and the woven metal of his arms, and to the eyes of his brother it seemed as though he was suddenly suffused with blood …
As the young giant rose a little black figure became visible to him against that western incandescence on the top of the embankment that towered above the summit of the down. The black limbs waved in ungainly gestures. Something in the fling of the limbs suggested haste to the young giant’s mind. He waved his pine mast in reply, filled the whole valley with his vast Hullo! threw a “Something’s up” to his brothers, and set off in twenty-foot strides to meet and help his father.