The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth

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5.

He did not come to their next meeting until she had waited some time. They were to meet that day about midday in a great space of park that fitted into a bend of the river, and as she waited, looking ever southward under her hand, it came to her that the world was very still, that indeed it was broodingly still. And then she perceived that, spite of the lateness of the hour, her customary retinue of voluntary spies had failed her. Left and right, when she came to look, there was no one in sight, and there was never a boat upon the silver curve of the Thames. She tried to find a reason for this strange stillness in the world… .

Then, a grateful sight for her, she saw young Redwood far away over a gap in the tree masses that bounded her view.

Immediately the trees hid him, and presently he was thrusting through them and in sight again. She could see there was something different, and then she saw that he was hurrying unusually and then that he limped. He gestured to her, and she walked towards him. His face became clearer, and she saw with infinite concern that he winced at every stride.

She ran towards him, her mind full of questions and vague fear. He drew near to her and spoke without a greeting.

“Are we to part?” he panted.

“No,” she answered. “Why? What is the matter?”

“But if we do not part—! It is now.”

“What is the matter?”

“I do not want to part,” he said. “Only— ” He broke off abruptly to ask, “You will not part from me?”

She met his eyes with a steadfast look. “What has happened?” she pressed.

“Not for a time?”

“What time?”

“Years perhaps.”

“Part! No!”

“You have thought?” he insisted.

“I will not part.” She took his hand. “If this meant death, now, I would not let you go.”

“If it meant death,” he said, and she felt his grip upon her fingers.

He looked about him as if he feared to see the little people coming as he spoke. And then: “It may mean death.”

“Now tell me,” she said.

“They tried to stop my coming.”

“How?”

“And as I came out of my workshop where I make the Food of the Gods for the Cossars to store in their camp, I found a little officer of police— a man in blue with white clean gloves— who beckoned me to stop. ‘This way is closed!’ said he. I thought little of that; I went round my workshop to where another road runs west, and there was another officer. ‘This road is closed!’ he said, and added: ‘All the roads are closed!’”

“And then?”

“I argued with him a little. ‘They are public roads!’ I said.

“‘That’s it,’ said he. ‘You spoil them for the public.’

“‘Very well,’ said I, ‘I’ll take the fields,’ and then, up leapt others from behind a hedge and said, ‘These fields are private.’

“‘Curse your public and private,’ I said, ‘I’m going to my Princess,’ and I stooped down and picked him up very gently— kicking and shouting— and put him out of my way. In a minute all the fields about me seemed alive with running men. I saw one on horseback galloping beside me and reading something as he rode— shouting it. He finished and turned and galloped away from me— head down. I couldn’t make it out. And then behind me I heard the crack of guns.”

“Guns!”

“Guns— just as they shoot at the rats. The bullets came through the air with a sound like things tearing: one stung me in the leg.”

“And you?”

“Came on to you here and left them shouting and running and shooting behind me. And now— ”

“Now?”

“It is only the beginning. They mean that we shall part. Even now they are coming after me.”

“We will not.”

“No. But if we will not part— then you must come with me to our Brothers.”

“Which way?” she said.

“To the east. Yonder is the way my pursuers will be coming. This then is the way we must go. Along this avenue of trees. Let me go first, so that if they are waiting— ”

He made a stride, but she had seized his arm.

“No,” cried she. “I come close to you, holding you. Perhaps I am royal, perhaps I am sacred. If I hold you— Would God we could fly with my arms about you!— it may be, they will not shoot at you— ”

She clasped his shoulder and seized his hand as she spoke; she pressed herself nearer to him. “It may be they will not shoot you,” she repeated, and with a sudden passion of tenderness he took her into his arms and kissed her cheek. For a space he held her.

“Even if it is death,” she whispered.

She put her hands about his neck and lifted her face to his.

“Dearest, kiss me once more.”

He drew her to him. Silently they kissed one another on the lips, and for another moment clung to one another. Then hand in hand, and she striving always to keep her body near to his, they set forward if haply they might reach the camp of refuge the sons of Cossar had made, before the pursuit of the little people overtook them.

And as they crossed the great spaces of the park behind the castle there came horsemen galloping out from among the trees and vainly seeking to keep pace with their giant strides. And presently ahead of them were houses, and men with guns running out of the houses. At the sight of that, though he sought to go on and was even disposed to fight and push through, she made him turn aside towards the south.

As they fled a bullet whipped by them overhead.

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