The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth

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3.

For thirty-six long hours did Redwood remain imprisoned, closed in and shut off from the great drama of the Two Days, while the little people in the dawn of greatness fought against the Children of the Food. Then abruptly the iron curtain rose again, and he found himself near the very centre of the struggle. That curtain rose as unexpectedly as it fell. In the late afternoon he was called to the window by the clatter of a cab, that stopped without. A young man descended, and in another minute stood before him in the room, a slightly built young man of thirty perhaps, clean shaven, well dressed, well mannered.

“Mr. Redwood, Sir,” he began, “would you be willing to come to Mr. Caterham? He needs your presence very urgently.”

“Needs my presence!” There leapt a question into Redwood’s mind, that for a moment he could not put. He hesitated. Then in a voice that broke he asked: “What has he done to my Son?” and stood breathless for the reply.

“Your Son, Sir? Your Son is doing well. So at least we gather.”

“Doing well?”

“He was wounded, Sir, yesterday. Have you not heard?”

Redwood smote these pretences aside. His voice was no longer coloured by fear, but by anger. “You know I have not heard. You know I have heard nothing.”

“Mr. Caterham feared, Sir— It was a time of upheaval. Every one— taken by surprise. He arrested you to save you, Sir, from any misadventure— ”

“He arrested me to prevent my giving any warning or advice to my son. Go on. Tell me what has happened. Have you succeeded? Have you killed them all?”

The young man made a pace or so towards the window, and turned.

“No, Sir,” he said concisely.

“What have you to tell me?”

“It’s our proof, Sir, that this fighting was not planned by us. They found us … totally unprepared.” “You mean?”

“I mean, Sir, the Giants have— to a certain extent— held their own.”

The world changed, for Redwood. For a moment something like hysteria had the muscles of his face and throat. Then he gave vent to a profound “Ah!” His heart bounded towards exultation. “The Giants have held their own!”

“There has been terrible fighting— terrible destruction. It is all a most hideous misunderstanding … In the north and midlands Giants have been killed … Everywhere.”

“They are fighting now?”

“No, Sir. There was a flag of truce.”

“From them?”

“No, Sir. Mr. Caterham sent a flag of truce. The whole thing is a hideous misunderstanding. That is why he wants to talk to you, and put his case before you. They insist, Sir, that you should intervene— ”

Redwood interrupted. “Do you know what happened to my Son?” he asked.

“He was wounded.”

“Tell me! Tell me!”

“He and the Princess came— before the— the movement to surround the Cossar camp was complete— the Cossar pit at Chislehurst. They came suddenly, Sir, crashing through a dense thicket of giant oats, near River, upon a column of infantry … Soldiers had been very nervous all day, and this produced a panic.”

“They shot him?”

“No, Sir. They ran away. Some shot at him— wildly— against orders.”

Redwood gave a note of denial. “It’s true, Sir. Not on account of your son, I won’t pretend, but on account of the Princess.”

“Yes. That’s true.”

“The two Giants ran shouting towards the encampment. The soldiers ran this way and that, and then some began firing. They say they saw him stagger— ”

“Ugh!”

“Yes, Sir. But we know he is not badly hurt.”

“How?”

“He sent the message, Sir, that he was doing well!”

“To me?”

“Who else, Sir?”

Redwood stood for nearly a minute with his arms tightly folded, taking this in. Then his indignation found a voice.

“Because you were fools in doing the thing, because you miscalculated and blundered, you would like me to think you are not murderers in intention. And besides—­The rest?”

The young man looked interrogation.

“The other Giants?”

The young man made no further pretence of misunderstanding. His tone fell. “Thirteen, Sir, are dead.”

“And others wounded?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“And Caterham,” he gasped, “wants to meet me! Where are the others?”

“Some got to the encampment during the fighting, Sir … They seem to have known— ”

“Well, of course they did. If it hadn’t been for Cossar— Cossar is there?”

“Yes, Sir. And all the surviving Giants are there— the ones who didn’t get to the camp in the fighting have gone, or are going now under the flag of trace.”

“That means,” said Redwood, “that you are beaten.”

“We are not beaten. No, Sir. You cannot say we are beaten. But your sons have broken the rules of war. Once last night, and now again. After our attack had been withdrawn. This afternoon they began to bombard London— ”

“That’s legitimate!”

“They have been firing shells filled with— poison.”

“Poison?”

“Yes. Poison. The Food— ”

“Herakleophorbia?”

“Yes, Sir. Mr. Caterham, Sir— ”

“You are beaten! Of course that beats you. It’s Cossar I What can you hope to do now? What good is it to do anything now? You will breathe it in the dust of every street. What is there to fight for more? Rules of war, indeed! And now Caterham wants to humbug me to help him bargain. Good heavens, man! Why should I come to your exploded windbag? He has played his game … murdered and muddled. Why should I?”

The young man stood with an air of vigilant respect.

“It is a fact, Sir,” he interrupted, “that the Giants insist that they shall see you. They will have no ambassador but you. Unless you come to them, I am afraid, Sir, there will be more bloodshed.”

“On your side, perhaps.”

“No, Sir— on both sides. The world is resolved the thing must end.”

Redwood looked about the study. His eyes rested for a moment on the photograph of his boy. He turned and met the expectation of the young man. “Yes,” he said at last, “I will come.”

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