The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth
Chapter 2: The Giant Lovers

Public Domain

I.

Now it chanced in the days when Caterham was campaigning against the Boom-children before the General Election that was--amidst the most tragic and terrible circumstances--to bring him into power, that the giant Princess, that Serene Highness whose early nutrition had played so great a part in the brilliant career of Doctor Winkles, had come from the kingdom of her father to England, on an occasion that was deemed important. She was affianced for reasons of state to a certain Prince--and the wedding was to be made an event of international significance. There had arisen mysterious delays. Rumour and Imagination collaborated in the story and many things were said. There were suggestions of a recalcitrant Prince who declared he would not be made to look like a fool--at least to this extent. People sympathised with him. That is the most significant aspect of the affair.

Now it may seem a strange thing, but it is a fact that the giant Princess, when she came to England, knew of no other giants whatever. She had lived in a world where tact is almost a passion and reservations the air of one’s life. They had kept the thing from her; they had hedged her about from sight or suspicion of any gigantic form, until her appointed coming to England was due. Until she met young Redwood she had no inkling that there was such a thing as another giant in the world.

In the kingdom of the father of the Princess there were wild wastes of upland and mountains where she had been accustomed to roam freely. She loved the sunrise and the sunset and all the great drama of the open heavens more than anything else in the world, but among a people at once so democratic and so vehemently loyal as the English her freedom was much restricted. People came in brakes, in excursion trains, in organised multitudes to see her; they would cycle long distances to stare at her, and it was necessary to rise betimes if she would walk in peace. It was still near the dawn that morning when young Redwood came upon her.

The Great Park near the Palace where she lodged stretched, for a score of miles and more, west and south of the western palace gates. The chestnut trees of its avenues reached high above her head. Each one as she passed it seemed to proffer a more abundant wealth of blossom. For a time she was content with sight and scent, but at last she was won over by these offers, and set herself so busily to choose and pick that she did not perceive young Redwood until he was close upon her.

She moved among the chestnut trees, with the destined lover drawing near to her, unanticipated, unsuspected. She thrust her hands in among the branches, breaking them and gathering them. She was alone in the world. Then--

She looked up, and in that moment she was mated.

We must needs put our imaginations to his stature to see the beauty he saw. That unapproachable greatness that prevents our immediate sympathy with her did not exist for him. There she stood, a gracious girl, the first created being that had ever seemed a mate for him, light and slender, lightly clad, the fresh breeze of the dawn moulding the subtly folding robe upon her against the soft strong lines of her form, and with a great mass of blossoming chestnut branches in her hands. The collar of her robe opened to show the whiteness of her neck and a soft shadowed roundness that passed out of sight towards her shoulders. The breeze had stolen a strand or so of her hair too, and strained its red-tipped brown across her cheek. Her eyes were open blue, and her lips rested always in the promise of a smile as she reached among the branches.

She turned upon him with a start, saw him, and for a space they regarded one another. For her, the sight of him was so amazing, so incredible, as to be, for some moments at least, terrible. He came to her with the shock of a supernatural apparition; he broke all the established law of her world. He was a youth of one-and-twenty then, slenderly built, with his father’s darkness and his father’s gravity. He was clad in a sober soft brown leather, close-fitting easy garments, and in brown hose, that shaped him bravely. His head went uncovered in all weathers. They stood regarding one another--she incredulously amazed, and he with his heart beating fast. It was a moment without a prelude, the cardinal meeting of their lives.

For him there was less surprise. He had been seeking her, and yet his heart beat fast. He came towards her, slowly, with his eyes upon her face.

“You are the Princess,” he said. “My father has told me. You are the Princess who was given the Food of the Gods.”

“I am the Princess--yes,” she said, with eyes of wonder. “But--what are you?”

“I am the son of the man who made the Food of the Gods.”

“The Food of the Gods!”

“Yes, the Food of the Gods.”

“But--”

Her face expressed infinite perplexity.

“What? I don’t understand. The Food of the Gods?”

“You have not heard?”

“The Food of the Gods! No!”

She found herself trembling violently. The colour left her face. “I did not know,” she said. “Do you mean--?”

He waited for her.

“Do you mean there are other--giants?”

He repeated, “Did you not know?”

And she answered, with the growing amazement of realisation, “No!

The whole world and all the meaning of the world was changing for her. A branch of chestnut slipped from her hand. “Do you mean to say,” she repeated stupidly, “that there are other giants in the world? That some food--?”

He caught her amazement.

“You know nothing?” he cried. “You have never heard of us? You, whom the Food has made akin to us!”

There was terror still in the eyes that stared at him. Her hand rose towards her throat and fell again. She whispered, “No.”

It seemed to her that she must weep or faint. Then in a moment she had rule over herself and she was speaking and thinking clearly. “All this has been kept from me,” she said. “It is like a dream. I have dreamt--have dreamt such things. But waking--No. Tell me! Tell me! What are you? What is this Food of the Gods? Tell me slowly--and clearly. Why have they kept it from me, that I am not alone?”

II.

“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.”

“No.”

“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.

III.

These two met altogether fourteen times before the beginning of the end. They met in the Great Park or on the heights and among the gorges of the rusty-roaded, heathery moorland, set with dusky pine-woods, that stretched to the south-west. Twice they met in the great avenue of chestnuts, and five times near the broad ornamental water the king, her great-grandfather, had made. There was a place where a great trim lawn, set with tall conifers, sloped graciously to the water’s edge, and there she would sit, and he would lie at her knees and look up in her face and talk, telling of all the things that had been, and of the work his father had set before him, and of the great and spacious dream of what the giant people should one day be. Commonly they met in the early dawn, but once they met there in the afternoon, and found presently a multitude of peering eavesdroppers about them, cyclists, pedestrians, peeping from the bushes, rustling (as sparrows will rustle about one in the London parks) amidst the dead leaves in the woods behind, gliding down the lake in boats towards a point of view, trying to get nearer to them and hear.

 
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