The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth

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3.

After devious windings and ascents they came out upon a projecting ledge from which it was possible to see over the greater extent of the Giants’ pit, and from which Redwood might make himself heard by the whole of their assembly. The Giants were already gathered below and about him at different levels, to hear the message he had to deliver. The eldest son of Cossar stood on the bank overhead watching the revelations of the searchlights, for they feared a breach of the truce. The workers at the great apparatus in the corner stood out clear in their own light; they were near stripped; they turned their faces towards Redwood, but with a watchful reference ever and again to the castings that they could not leave. He saw these nearer figures with a fluctuating indistinctness, by lights that came and went, and the remoter ones still less distinctly. They came from and vanished again into the depths of great obscurities. For these Giants had no more light than they could help in the pit, that their eyes might be ready to see effectually any attacking force that might spring upon them out of the darknesses around.

Ever and again some chance glare would pick out and display this group or that of tall and powerful forms, the Giants from Sunderland clothed in overlapping metal plates, and the others clad in leather, in woven rope or in woven metal, as their conditions had determined. They sat amidst or rested their hands upon, or stood erect among machines and weapons as mighty as themselves, and all their faces, as they came and went from visible to invisible, had steadfast eyes.

He made an effort to begin and did not do so. Then for a moment his son’s face glowed out in a hot insurgence of the fire, his son’s face looking up to him, tender as well as strong; and at that he found a voice to reach them all, speaking across a gulf, as it were, to his son.

“I come from Caterham,” he said. “He sent me to you, to tell you the terms he offers.”

He paused. “They are impossible terms, I know, now that I see you here all together; they are impossible terms, but I brought them to you, because I wanted to see you all— and my son. Once more … I wanted to see my son… .”

“Tell them the terms,” said Cossar.

“This is what Caterham offers. He wants you to go apart and leave his world!” “Where?”

“He does not know. Vaguely somewhere in the world a great region is to be set apart… . And you are to make no more of the Food, to have no children of your own, to live in your own way for your own time, and then to end for ever.”

He stopped.

“And that is all?”

“That is all.”

There followed a great stillness. The darkness that veiled the Giants seemed to look thoughtfully at him.

He felt a touch at his elbow, and Cossar was holding a chair for him— a queer fragment of doll’s furniture amidst these piled immensities. He sat down and crossed his legs, and then put one across the knee of the other, and clutched his boot nervously, and felt small and self-conscious and acutely visible and absurdly placed.

Then at the sound of a voice he forgot himself again.

“You have heard, Brothers,” said this voice out of the shadows.

And another answered, “We have heard.”

“And the answer, Brothers?”

“To Caterham?”

“Is No!”

“And then?”

There was a silence for the space of some seconds.

Then a voice said: “These people are right. After their lights, that is. They have been right in killing all that grew larger than its kind— beast and plant and all manner of great things that arose. They were right in trying to massacre us. They are right now in saying we must not marry our kind. According to their lights they are right. They know— it is time that we also knew— that you cannot have pigmies and giants in one world together. Caterham has said that again and again— clearly— their world or ours.”

“We are not half a hundred now,” said another, “and they are endless millions.”

“So it may be. But the thing is as I have said.”

Then another long silence.

“And are we to die then?”

“God forbid!”

“Are they?”

“No.”

“But that is what Caterham says! He would have us live out our lives, die one by one, till only one remains, and that one at last would die also, and they would cut down all the giant plants and weeds, kill all the giant under-life, burn out the traces of the Food— make an end to us and to the Food for ever. Then the little pigmy world would be safe. They would go on— safe for ever, living their little pigmy lives, doing pigmy kindnesses and pigmy cruelties each to the other; they might even perhaps attain a sort of pigmy millennium, make an end to war, make an end to over-population, sit down in a world-wide city to practise pigmy arts, worshipping one another till the world begins to freeze… .”

In the corner a sheet of iron fell in thunder to the ground.

“Brothers, we know what we mean to do.”

In a spluttering of light from the searchlights Redwood saw earnest youthful faces turning to his son.

“It is easy now to make the Food. It would be easy for us to make Food for all the world.” “You mean, Brother Redwood,” said a voice out of the darkness, “that it is for the little people to eat the Food.”

“What else is there to do?”

“We are not half a hundred and they are many millions.”

“But we held our own.”

“So far.”

“If it is God’s will, we may still hold our own.”

“Yes. But think of the dead!”

Another voice took up the strain. “The dead,” it said. “Think of the unborn… .”

“Brothers,” came the voice of young Redwood, “what can we do but fight them, and if we beat them, make them take the Food? They cannot help but take the Food now. Suppose we were to resign our heritage and do this folly that Caterham suggests! Suppose we could! Suppose we give up this great thing that stirs within us, repudiate this thing our fathers did for us— that you, Father, did for us— and pass, when our time has come, into decay and nothingness! What then? Will this little world of theirs be as it was before? They may fight against greatness in us who are the children of men, but can they conquer? Even if they should destroy us every one, what then? Would it save them? No! For greatness is abroad, not only in us, not only in the Food, but in the purpose of all things! It is in the nature of all things; it is part of space and time. To grow and still to grow: from first to last that is Being— that is the law of life. What other law can there be?”

“To help others?”

“To grow. It is still, to grow. Unless we help them to fail… .”

“They will fight hard to overcome us,” said a voice.

And another, “What of that?”

“They will fight,” said young Redwood. “If we refuse these terms, I doubt not they will fight. Indeed I hope they will be open and fight. If after all they offer peace, it will be only the better to catch us unawares. Make no mistake, Brothers; in some way or other they will fight. The war has begun, and we must fight, to the end. Unless we are wise, we may find presently we have lived only to make them better weapons against our children and our kind. This, so far, has been only the dawn of battle. All our lives will be a battle. Some of us will be killed in battle, some of us will be waylaid. There is no easy victory— no victory whatever that is not more than half defeat for us. Be sure of that. What of that? If only we keep a foothold, if only we leave behind us a growing host to fight when we are gone!”

“And to-morrow?”

“We will scatter the Food; we will saturate the world with the Food.”

“Suppose they come to terms?”

“Our terms are the Food. It is not as though little and great could live together in any perfection of compromise. It is one thing or the other. What right have parents to say, My child shall have no light but the light I have had, shall grow no greater than the greatness to which I have grown? Do I speak for you, Brothers?”

Assenting murmurs answered him.

“And to the children who will be women as well as to the children who will be men,” said a voice from the darkness.

“Even more so— to be mothers of a new race … ” “But for the next generation there must be great and little,” said Redwood, with his eyes on his son’s face.

“For many generations. And the little will hamper the great and the great press upon the little. So it must needs be, father.”

“There will be conflict.”

“Endless conflict. Endless misunderstanding. All life is that. Great and little cannot understand one another. But in every child born of man, Father Redwood, lurks some seed of greatness— waiting for the Food.”

“Then I am to go to Caterham again and tell him— ”

“You will stay with us, Father Redwood. Our answer goes to Caterham at dawn.”

“He says that he will fight… .”

“So be it,” said young Redwood, and his brethren murmured assent.

“The iron waits,” cried a voice, and the two giants who were working in the corner began a rhythmic hammering that made a mighty music to the scene. The metal glowed out far more brightly than it had done before, and gave Redwood a clearer view of the encampment than had yet come to him. He saw the oblong space to its full extent, with the great engines of warfare ranged ready to hand. Beyond, and at a higher level, the house of the Cossars stood. About him were the young giants, huge and beautiful, glittering in their mail, amidst the preparations for the morrow. The sight of them lifted his heart. They were so easily powerful! They were so tall and gracious! They were so steadfast in their movements! There was his son amongst them, and the first of all giant women, the Princess… .

There leapt into his mind the oddest contrast, a memory of Bensington, very bright and little— Bensington with his hand amidst the soft breast feathers of that first great chick, standing in that conventionally furnished room of his, peering over his spectacles dubiously as cousin Jane banged the door… .

It had all happened in a yesterday of one-and-twenty years.

Then suddenly a strange doubt took hold of him: that this place and present greatness were but the texture of a dream; that he was dreaming, and would in an instant wake to find himself in his study again, the Giants slaughtered, the Food suppressed, and himself a prisoner locked in. What else indeed was life but that— always to be a prisoner locked in! This was the culmination and end of his dream. He would wake through bloodshed and battle, to find his Food the most foolish of fancies, and his hopes and faith of a greater world to come no more than the coloured film upon a pool of bottomless decay. Littleness invincible!

So strong and deep was this wave of despondency, this suggestion of impending disillusionment, that he started to his feet. He stood and pressed his clenched fists into his eyes, and so for a moment remained, fearing to open them again and see, lest the dream should already have passed away… .

The voice of the giant children spoke to one another, an undertone to that clangorous melody of the smiths. His tide of doubt ebbed. He heard the giant voices; he heard their movements about him still. It was real, surely it was real— as real as spiteful acts! More real, for these great things, it may be, are the coming things, and the littleness, bestiality, and infirmity of men are the things that go. He opened his eyes. “Done,” cried one of the two ironworkers, and they flung their hammers down.

A voice sounded above. The son of Cossar, standing on the great embankment, had turned and was now speaking to them all.

“It is not that we would oust the little people from the world,” he said, “in order that we, who are no more than one step upwards from their littleness, may hold their world for ever. It is the step we fight for and not ourselves… . We are here, Brothers, to what end? To serve the spirit and the purpose that has been breathed into our lives. We fight not for ourselves— for we are but the momentary hands and eyes of the Life of the World. So you, Father Redwood, taught us. Through us and through the little folk the Spirit looks and learns. From us by word and birth and act it must pass— to still greater lives. This earth is no resting place; this earth is no playing place, else indeed we might put our throats to the little people’s knife, having no greater right to live than they. And they in their turn might yield to the ants and vermin. We fight not for ourselves but for growth— growth that goes on for ever. To-morrow, whether we live or die, growth will conquer through us. That is the law of the spirit for ever more. To grow according to the will of God! To grow out of these cracks and crannies, out of these shadows and darknesses, into greatness and the light! Greater,” he said, speaking with slow deliberation, “greater, my Brothers! And then— still greater. To grow, and again— to grow. To grow at last into the fellowship and understanding of God. Growing… . Till the earth is no more than a footstool… . Till the spirit shall have driven fear into nothingness, and spread… .” He swung his arm heavenward:— “There!" His voice ceased. The white glare of one of tho searchlights wheeled about, and for a moment fell upon him, standing out gigantic with hand upraised against the sky.

For one instant he shone, looking up fearlessly into the starry deeps, mail-clad, young and strong, resolute and still. Then the light had passed, and he was no more than a great black outline against the starry sky— a great black outline that threatened with one mighty gesture the firmament of heaven and all its multitude of stars.

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