The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth
Chapter 3: Young Caddles In London
All unaware of the trend of events, unaware of the laws that were closing in upon all the Brethren, unaware indeed that there lived a Brother for him on the earth, young Caddles chose this time to come out of his chalk pit and see the world. His brooding came at last to that. There was no answer to all his questions in Cheasing Eyebright; the new Vicar was less luminous even than the old, and the riddle of his pointless labour grew at last to the dimensions of exasperation. “Why should I work in this pit day after day?” he asked. “Why should I walk within bounds and be refused all the wonders of the world beyond there? What have I done, to be condemned to this?”
And one day he stood up, straightened his back, and said in a loud voice, “No!
“I won’t,” he said, and then with great vigour cursed the pit.
Then, having few words, he sought to express his thought in acts. He took a truck half filled with chalk, lifted it, and flung it, smash, against another. Then he grasped a whole row of empty trucks and spun them down a bank. He sent a huge boulder of chalk bursting among them, and then ripped up a dozen yards of rail with a mighty plunge of his foot. So he commenced the conscientious wrecking of the pit.
“Work all my days,” he said, “at this!”
It was an astonishing five minutes for the little geologist he had, in his preoccupation, overlooked. This poor little creature having dodged two boulders by a hairbreadth, got out by the westward corner and fled athwart the hill, with flapping rucksack and twinkling knicker-bockered legs, leaving a trail of Cretaceous echinoderms behind him; while young Caddles, satisfied with the destruction he had achieved, came striding out to fulfil his purpose in the world.
“Work in that old pit, until I die and rot and stink! ... What worm did they think was living in my giant body? Dig chalk for God knows what foolish purpose! Not I!“
The trend of road and railway perhaps, or mere chance it was, turned his face to London, and thither he came striding; over the Downs and athwart the meadows through the hot afternoon, to the infinite amazement of the world. It signified nothing to him that torn posters in red and white bearing various names flapped from every wall and barn; he knew nothing of the electoral revolution that had flung Caterham, “Jack the Giant-killer,” into power. It signified nothing to him that every police station along his route had what was known as Caterham’s ukase upon its notice board that afternoon, proclaiming that no giant, no person whatever over eight feet in height, should go more than five miles from his “place of location” without a special permission. It signified nothing to him that on his wake belated police officers, not a little relieved to find themselves belated, shook warning handbills at his retreating back. He was going to see what the world had to show him, poor incredulous blockhead, and he did not mean that occasional spirited persons shouting “Hi!” at him should stay his course. He came on down by Rochester and Greenwich towards an ever-thickening aggregation of houses, walking rather slowly now, staring about him and swinging his huge chopper.
People in London had heard something of him before, how that he was idiotic but gentle, and wonderfully managed by Lady Wondershoot’s agent and the Vicar; how in his dull way he revered these authorities and was grateful to them for their care of him, and so forth. So that when they learnt from the newspaper placards that afternoon that he also was “on strike,” the thing appeared to many of them as a deliberate, concerted act.
“They mean to try our strength,” said the men in the trains going home from business.
“Lucky we have Caterham.”
“It’s in answer to his proclamation.”
The men in the clubs were better informed. They clustered round the tape or talked in groups in their smoking-rooms.
“He has no weapons. He would have gone to Sevenoaks if he had been put up to it.”
“Caterham will handle him...”
The shopmen told their customers. The waiters in restaurants snatched a moment for an evening paper between the courses. The cabmen read it immediately after the betting news...
The placards of the chief government evening paper were conspicuous with “Grasping the Nettle.” Others relied for effect on: “Giant Redwood continues to meet the Princess.” The Echo struck a line of its own with: “Rumoured Revolt of Giants in the North of England. The Sunderland Giants start for Scotland.” The, Westminster Gazette sounded its usual warning note. “Giants Beware,” said the Westminster Gazette, and tried to make a point out of it that might perhaps serve towards uniting the Liberal party--at that time greatly torn between seven intensely egotistical leaders. The later newspapers dropped into uniformity. “The Giant in the New Kent Road,” they proclaimed.
“What I want to know,” said the pale young man in the tea shop, “is why we aren’t getting any news of the young Cossars. You’d think they’d be in it most of all...”
“They tell me there’s another of them young giants got loose,” said the barmaid, wiping out a glass. “I’ve always said they was dangerous things to ‘ave about. Right away from the beginning ... It ought to be put a stop to. Any’ow, I ‘ope ‘e won’t come along ‘ere.”
“I’d like to ‘ave a look at ‘im,” said the young man at the bar recklessly, and added, “I seen the Princess.”
“D’you think they’ll ‘urt ‘im?” said the barmaid.
“May ‘ave to,” said the young man at the bar, finishing his glass.
Amidst a hum of ten million such sayings young Caddles came to London...
I think of young Caddles always as he was seen in the New Kent Road, the sunset warm upon his perplexed and staring face. The Road was thick with its varied traffic, omnibuses, trams, vans, carts, trolleys, cyclists, motors, and a marvelling crowd--loafers, women, nurse-maids, shopping women, children, venturesome hobble-dehoys--gathered behind his gingerly moving feet. The hoardings were untidy everywhere with the tattered election paper. A babblement of voices surged about him. One sees the customers and shopmen crowding in the doorways of the shops, the faces that came and went at the windows, the little street boys running and shouting, the policemen taking it all quite stiffly and calmly, the workmen knocking off upon scaffoldings, the seething miscellany of the little folks. They shouted to him, vague encouragement, vague insults, the imbecile catchwords of the day, and he stared down at them, at such a multitude of living creatures as he had never before imagined in the world.
Now that he had fairly entered London he had had to slacken his pace more and more, the little folks crowded so mightily upon him. The crowd grew denser at every step, and at last, at a corner where two great ways converged, he came to a stop, and the multitude flowed about him and closed him in.
There he stood, with his feet a little apart, his back to a big corner gin palace that towered twice his height and ended In a sky sign, staring down at the pigmies and wondering--trying, I doubt not, to collate it all with the other things of his life, with the valley among the downlands, the nocturnal lovers, the singing in the church, the chalk he hammered daily, and with instinct and death and the sky, trying to see it all together coherent and significant. His brows were knit. He put up his huge paw to scratch his coarse hair, and groaned aloud.
“I don’t see It,” he said.
His accent was unfamiliar. A great babblement went across the open space--a babblement amidst which the gongs of the trams, ploughing their obstinate way through the mass, rose like red poppies amidst corn. “What did he say?” “Said he didn’t see.” “Said, where is the sea?” “Said, where is a seat?” “He wants a seat.” “Can’t the brasted fool sit on a ‘ouse or somethin’?”
“What are ye for, ye swarming little people? What are ye all doing, what are ye all for?
“What are ye doing up here, ye swarming little people, while I’m a-cuttin’ chalk for ye, down in the chalk pits there?”
His queer voice, the voice that had been so bad for school discipline at Cheasing Eyebright, smote the multitude to silence while it sounded and splashed them all to tumult at the end. Some wit was audible screaming “Speech, speech!” “What’s he saying?” was the burthen of the public mind, and an opinion was abroad that he was drunk. “Hi, hi, hi,” bawled the omnibus-drivers, threading a dangerous way. A drunken American sailor wandered about tearfully inquiring, “What’s he want anyhow?” A leathery-faced rag-dealer upon a little pony-drawn cart soared up over the tumult by virtue of his voice. “Garn ‘ome, you Brasted Giant!” he brawled, “Garn ‘Ome! You Brasted Great Dangerous Thing! Can’t you see you’re a-frightening the ‘orses? Go ‘ome with you! ‘Asn’t any one ‘ad the sense to tell you the law?” And over all this uproar young Caddles stared, perplexed, expectant, saying no more.
Down a side road came a little string of solemn policemen, and threaded itself ingeniously into the traffic. “Stand back,” said the little voices; “keep moving, please.”
Young Caddles became aware of a little dark blue figure thumping at his shin. He looked down, and perceived two white hands gesticulating. “What?” he said, bending forward.
“Can’t stand about here,” shouted the inspector.
“No! You can’t stand about here,” he repeated.
“But where am I to go?”
“Back to your village. Place of location. Anyhow, now--you’ve got to move on. You’re obstructing the traffic.”
“Along the road.”
“But where is it going? Where does it come from? What does it mean? They’re all round me. What do they want? What are they doin’? I want to understand. I’m tired of cuttin’ chalk and bein’ all alone. What are they doin’ for me while I’m a-cuttin’ chalk? I may just as well understand here and now as anywhere.”
“Sorry. But we aren’t here to explain things of that sort. I must arst you to move on.”
“Don’t you know?”
“I must arst you to move on--if you please ... I’d strongly advise you to get off ‘ome. We’ve ‘ad no special instructions yet--but it’s against the law ... Clear away there. Clear away.”
The pavement to his left became invitingly bare, and young Caddles went slowly on his way. But now his tongue was loosened.
“I don’t understand,” he muttered. “I don’t understand.” He would appeal brokenly to the changing crowd that ever trailed beside him and behind. “I didn’t know there were such places as this. What are all you people doing with yourselves? What’s it all for? What is it all for, and where do I come in?”
He had already begotten a new catchword. Young men of wit and spirit addressed each other in this manner, “Ullo ‘Arry O’Cock. Wot’s it all for? Eh? Wot’s it all bloomin’ well for?”
To which there sprang up a competing variety of repartees, for the most part impolite. The most popular and best adapted for general use appears to have been “Shut it,” or, in a voice of scornful detachment--”Garn!“
There were others almost equally popular.