The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth

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2.

“Where is my son?” said Redwood.

“He is all right. The Giants are waiting for your message.”

“Yes, but my son—… ”

He passed with Cossar down a long slanting tunnel that was lit red for a moment and then became dark again, and came out presently into the great pit of shelter the Giants had made.

Redwood’s first impression was of an enormous arena bounded by very high cliffs and with its floor greatly encumbered. It was in darkness save for the passing reflections of the watchman’s searchlights that whirled perpetually high overhead, and for a red glow that came and went from a distant corner where two Giants worked together amidst a metallic clangour. Against the sky, as the glare came about, his eye caught the familiar outlines of the old worksheds and playsheds that were made for the Cossar boys. They were hanging now, as it were, at a cliff brow, and strangely twisted and distorted with the guns of Caterham’s bombardment. There were suggestions of huge gun emplacements above there, and nearer were piles of mighty cylinders that were perhaps ammunition. All about the wide space below, the forms of great engines and incomprehensible bulks were scattered in vague disorder. The Giants appeared and vanished among these masses and in the uncertain light; great shapes they were, not disproportionate to the things amidst which they moved. Some were actively employed, some sitting and lying as if they courted sleep, and one near at hand, whose body was bandaged, lay on a rough litter of pine boughs and was certainly asleep. Redwood peered at these dim forms; his eyes went from one stirring outline to another.

“Where is my son, Cossar?”

Then he saw him.

His son was sitting under the shadow of a great wall of steel. He presented himself as a black shape recognisable only by his pose,— his features were invisible. He sat chin upon hand, as though weary or lost in thought. Beside him Redwood discovered the figure of the Princess, the dark suggestion of her merely, and then, as the glow from the distant iron returned, he saw for an instant, red lit and tender, the infinite kindliness of her shadowed face. She stood looking down upon her lover with her hand resting against the steel. It seemed that she whispered to him.

Redwood would have gone towards them.

“Presently,” said Cossar. “First there is your message.”

“Yes,” said Redwood, “but— ”

He stopped. His son was now looking up and speaking to the Princess, but in too low a tone for them to hear. Young Redwood raised his face, and she bent down towards him, and glanced aside before she spoke.

“But if we are beaten,” they heard the whispered voice of young Redwood.

She paused, and the red blaze showed her eyes bright with unshed tears. She bent nearer him and spoke still lower. There was something so intimate and private in their bearing, in their soft tones, that Redwood— Redwood who had thought for two whole days of nothing but his son— felt himself intrusive there. Abruptly he was checked. For the first time in his life perhaps he realised how much more a son may be to his father than a father can ever be to a son; he realised the full predominance of the future over the past. Here between these two he had no part. His part was played. He turned to Cossar, in the instant realisation. Their eyes met. His voice was changed to the tone of a grey resolve.

“I will deliver my message now,” he said. “Afterwards—… It will be soon enough then.”

The pit was so enormous and so encumbered that it was a long and tortuous route to the place from which Redwood could speak to them all.

He and Cossar followed a steeply descending way that passed beneath an arch of interlocking machinery, and so came into a vast deep gangway that ran athwart the bottom of the pit. This gangway, wide and vacant, and yet relatively narrow, conspired with everything about it to enhance Redwood’s sense of his own littleness. It became, as it were, an excavated gorge. High overhead, separated from him by cliffs of darkness, the searchlights wheeled and blazed, and the shining shapes went to and fro. Giant voices called to one another above there, calling the Giants together to the Council of War, to hear the terms that Caterham had sent. The gangway still inclined downward towards black vastnesses, towards shadows and mysteries and inconceivable things, into which Redwood went slowly with reluctant footsteps and Cossar with a confident stride… .

Redwood’s thoughts were busy. The two men passed into the completest darkness, and Cossar took his companion’s wrist. They went now slowly perforce.

Redwood was moved to speak. “All this,” he said, “is strange.”

“Big,” said Cossar.

“Strange. And strange that it should be strange to me— I, who am, in a sense, the beginning of it all. It’s— ”

He stopped, wrestling with his elusive meaning, and threw an unseen gesture at the cliff.

“I have not thought of it before. I have been busy, and the years have passed. But here I see— It is a new generation, Cossar, and new emotions and new needs. All this, Cossar— ”

Cossar saw now his dim gesture to the things about them.

“All this is Youth.”

Cossar made no answers and his irregular footfalls went striding on.

“It isn’t our youth, Cossar. They are taking things over. They are beginning upon their own emotions, their own experiences, their own way. We have made a new world, and it isn’t ours. It isn’t even— sympathetic. This great place— ”

“I planned it,” said Cossar, his face close.

“But now?”

“Ah! I have given it to my sons.”

Redwood could feel the loose wave of the arm that he could not see.

“That is it. We are over— or almost over.”

“Your message!”

“Yes. And then— ” “We’re over”

“Well—?”

“Of course we are out of it, we two old men,” said Cossar, with his familiar note of sudden anger. “Of course we are. Obviously. Each man for his own time. And now— it’s their time beginning. That’s all right. Excavator’s gang. We do our job and go. See? That is what death is for. We work out all our little brains and all our little emotions, and then this lot begins afresh. Fresh and fresh! Perfectly simple. What’s the trouble?”

He paused to guide Redwood to some steps.

“Yes,” said Redwood. “but one feels— ”

He left his sentence incomplete.

“That is what Death is for.” He heard Cossar below him insisting, “How else could the thing be done? That is what Death is for.”

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