“Tell me,” she said, and young Redwood, tremulous and excited, set himself to tell her— it was poor and broken telling for a time— of the Food of the Gods and the giant children who were scattered over the world.
You must figure them both, flushed and startled in their bearing; getting at one another’s meaning through endless half-heard, half-spoken phrases, repeating, making perplexing breaks and new departures— a wonderful talk, in which she awakened from the ignorance of all her life. And very slowly it became clear to her that she was no exception to the order of mankind, but one of a scattered brotherhood, who had all eaten the Food and grown for ever out of the little limits of the folk beneath their feet. Young Redwood spoke of his father, of Cossar, of the Brothers scattered throughout the country, of the great dawn of wider meaning that had come at last into the history of the world. “We are in the beginning of a beginning,” he said; “this world of theirs is only the prelude to the world the Food will make.
“My father believes— and I also believe— that a time will come when littleness will have passed altogether out of the world of man,— when giants shall go freely about this earth— their earth— doing continually greater and more splendid things. But that— that is to come. We are not even the first generation of that— we are the first experiments.”
“And of these things,” she said, “I knew nothing!”
“There are times when it seems to me almost as if we had come too soon. Some one, I suppose, had to come first. But the world was all unprepared for our coming and for the coming of all the lesser great things that drew their greatness from the Food. There have been blunders; there have been conflicts. The little people hate our kind… .
“They are hard towards us because they are so little… . And because our feet are heavy on the things that make their lives. But at any rate they hate us now; they will have none of us— only if we could shrink back to the common size of them would they begin to forgive… .
“They are happy in houses that are prison cells to us; their cities are too small for us; we go in misery along their narrow ways; we cannot worship in their churches… .
“We see over their walls and over their protections; we look inadvertently into their upper windows; we look over their customs; their laws are no more than a net about our feet… .
“Every time we stumble we hear them shouting; every time we blunder against their limits or stretch out to any spacious act… .
“Our easy paces are wild flights to them, and all they deem great and wonderful no more than dolls’ pyramids to us. Their pettiness of method and appliance and imagination hampers and defeats our powers. There are no machines to the power of our hands, no helps to fit our needs. They hold our greatness in servitude by a thousand invisible bands. We are stronger, man for man, a hundred times, but we are disarmed; our very greatness makes us debtors; they claim the land we stand upon; they tax our ampler need of food and shelter, and for all these things we must toil with the tools these dwarfs can make us— and to satisfy their dwarfish fancies …
“They pen us in, in every way. Even to live one must cross their boundaries. Even to meet you here to-day I have passed a limit. All that is reasonable and desirable in life they make out of bounds for us. We may not go into the towns; we may not cross the bridges; we may not step on their ploughed fields or into the harbours of the game they kill. I am cut off now from all our Brethren except the three sons of Cossar, and even that way the passage narrows day by day. One could think they sought occasion against us to do some more evil thing … ”
“But we are strong,” she said.
“We should be strong— yes. We feel, all of us— you too I know must feel— that we have power, power to do great things, power insurgent in us. But before we can do anything— ”
He flung out a hand that seemed to sweep away a world.
“Though I thought I was alone in the world,” she said, after a pause, “I have thought of these things. They have taught me always that strength was almost a sin, that it was better to be little than great, that all true religion was to shelter the weak and little, encourage the weak and little, help them to multiply and multiply until at last they crawled over one another, to sacrifice all our strength in their cause. But … always I have doubted the thing they taught.”
“This life,” he said, “these bodies of ours, are not for dying.”
“Nor to live in futility. But if we would not do that, it is already plain to all our Brethren a conflict must come. I know not what bitterness of conflict must presently come, before the little folks will suffer us to live as we need to live. All the Brethren have thought of that. Cossar, of whom I told you: he too has thought of that.”
“They are very little and weak.”
“In their way. But you know all the means of death are in their hands, and made for their hands. For hundreds of thousands of years these little people, whose world we invade, have been learning how to kill one another. They are very able at that. They are able in many ways. And besides, they can deceive and change suddenly… . I do not know… . There comes a conflict. You— you perhaps are different from us. For us, assuredly, the conflict comes… . The thing they call War. We know it. In a way we prepare for it. But you know— those little people!— we do not know how to kill, at least we do not want to kill— ”
“Look,” she interrupted, and he heard a yelping horn.
He turned at the direction of her eyes, and found a bright yellow motor car, with dark goggled driver and fur-clad passengers, whooping, throbbing, and buzzing resentfully at his heel. He moved his foot, and the mechanism, with three angry snorts, resumed its fussy way towards the town. “Filling up the roadway!” floated up to him.
Then some one said, “Look! Did you see? There is the monster Princess over beyond the trees!” and all their goggled faces came round to stare.
“I say,” said another. “That won’t do … ”
“All this,” she said, “is more amazing than I can tell.”
“That they should not have told you,” he said, and left his sentence incomplete.
“Until you came upon me, I had lived in a world where I was great— alone. I had made myself a life— for that. I had thought I was the victim of some strange freak of nature. And now my world has crumbled down, in half an hour, and I see another world, other conditions, wider possibilities— fellowship— ”
“Fellowship,” he answered.
“I want you to tell me more yet, and much more,” she said. “You know this passes through my mind like a tale that is told. You even … In a day perhaps, or after several days, I shall believe in you. Now— Now I am dreaming… . Listen!”
The first stroke of a clock above the palace offices far away had penetrated to them. Each counted mechanically “Seven.”
“This,” she said, “should be the hour of my return. They will be taking the bowl of my coffee into the hall where I sleep. The little officials and servants— you cannot dream how grave they are— will be stirring about their little duties.”
“They will wonder … But I want to talk to you.”
She thought. “But I want to think too. I want now to think alone, and think out this change in things, think away the old solitude, and think you and those others into my world… . I shall go. I shall go back to-day to my place in the castle, and to-morrow, as the dawn comes, I shall come again— here.”
“I shall be here waiting for you.”
“All day I shall dream and dream of this new world you have given me. Even now, I can scarcely believe— ”
She took a step back and surveyed him from the feet to the face. Their eyes met and locked for a moment.
“Yes,” she said, with a little laugh that was half a sob. “You are real. But it is very wonderful! Do you think— indeed—? Suppose to-morrow I come and find you— a pigmy like the others… Yes, I must think. And so for to-day— as the little people do— ”
She held out her hand, and for the first time they touched one another. Their hands clasped firmly and their eyes met again.
“Good-bye,” she said, “for to-day. Good-bye! Good-bye, Brother Giant!”
He hesitated with some unspoken thing, and at last he answered her simply, “Good-bye.”
For a space they held each other’s hands, studying each the other’s face. And many times after they had parted, she looked back half doubtfully at him, standing still in the place where they had met… .
She walked into her apartments across the great yard of the Palace like one who walks in a dream, with a vast branch of chestnut trailing from her hand.