The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth
Chapter 4: Redwood's Two Days
So soon as Caterham knew the moment for grasping his nettle had come, he took the law into his own hands and sent to arrest Cossar and Redwood.
Redwood was there for the taking. He had been undergoing an operation in the side, and the doctors had kept all disturbing things from him until his convalescence was assured. Now they had released him. He was just out of bed, sitting in a fire-warmed room, with a heap of newspapers about him, reading for the first time of the agitation that had swept the country into the hands of Caterham, and of the trouble that was darkening over the Princess and his son. It was in the morning of the day when young Caddles died, and when the policeman tried to stop young Redwood on his way to the Princess. The latest newspapers Redwood had did but vaguely prefigure these imminent things. He was re-reading these first adumbrations of disaster with a sinking heart, reading the shadow of death more and more perceptibly into them, reading to occupy his mind until further news should come. When the officers followed the servant into his room, he looked up eagerly.
“I thought it was an early evening paper,” he said. Then standing up, and with a swift change of manner: “What’s this?”
After that Redwood had no news of anything for two days.
They had come with a vehicle to take him away, but when it became evident that he was ill, it was decided to leave him for a day or so until he could be safely removed, and his house was taken over by the police and converted into a temporary prison. It was the same house in which Giant Redwood had been born and in which Herakleophorbia had for the first time been given to a human being, and Redwood had now been a widower and had lived alone in it eight years.
He had become an iron-grey man, with a little pointed grey beard and still active brown eyes. He was slender and soft-voiced, as he had ever been, but his features had now that indefinable quality that comes of brooding over mighty things. To the arresting officer his appearance was in impressive contrast to the enormity of his offences. “Here’s this feller,” said the officer in command, to his next subordinate, “has done his level best to bust up everything, and ‘e’s got a face like a quiet country gentleman; and here’s Judge Hangbrow keepin’ everything nice and in order for every one, and ‘e’s got a ‘ead like a ‘og. Then their manners! One all consideration and the other snort and grunt. Which just shows you, doesn’t it, that appearances aren’t to be gone upon, whatever else you do.”
But his praise of Redwood’s consideration was presently dashed. The officers found him troublesome at first until they had made it clear that it was useless for him to ask questions or beg for papers. They made a sort of inspection of his study indeed, and cleared away even the papers he had. Redwood’s voice was high and expostulatory. “But don’t you see,” he said over and over again, “it’s my Son, my only Son, that is in this trouble. It isn’t the Food I care for, but my Son.”
“I wish indeed I could tell you, Sir,” said the officer. “But our orders are strict.”
“Who gave the orders?” cried Redwood.
“Ah! that, Sir--” said the officer, and moved towards the door...
“‘E’s going up and down ‘is room,” said the second officer, when his superior came down. “That’s all right. He’ll walk it off a bit.”
“I hope ‘e will,” said the chief officer. “The fact is I didn’t see it in that light before, but this here Giant what’s been going on with the Princess, you know, is this man’s son.”
The two regarded one another and the third policeman for a space.
“Then it is a bit rough on him,” the third policeman said.
It became evident that Redwood had still imperfectly apprehended the fact that an iron curtain had dropped between him and the outer world. They heard him go to the door, try the handle and rattle the lock, and then the voice of the officer who was stationed on the landing telling him it was no good to do that. Then afterwards they heard him at the windows and saw the men outside looking up. “It’s no good that way,” said the second officer. Then Redwood began upon the bell. The senior officer went up and explained very patiently that it could do no good to ring the bell like that, and if it was rung for nothing now it might have to be disregarded presently when he had need of something. “Any reasonable attendance, Sir,” the officer said. “But if you ring it just by way of protest we shall be obliged, Sir, to disconnect.”
The last word the officer heard was Redwood’s high-pitched, “But at least you might tell me if my Son--”
After that Redwood spent most of his time at the windows.
But the windows offered him little of the march of events outside. It was a quiet street at all times, and that day it was unusually quiet: scarcely a cab, scarcely a tradesman’s cart passed all that morning. Now and then men went by--without any distinctive air of events--now and then a little group of children, a nursemaid and a woman going shopping, and so forth. They came on to the stage right or left, up or down the street, with an exasperating suggestion of indifference to any concerns more spacious than their own; they would discover the police-guarded house with amazement and exit in the opposite direction, where the great trusses of a giant hydrangea hung across the pavement, staring back or pointing. Now and then a man would come and ask one of the policemen a question and get a curt reply...
Opposite the houses seemed dead. A housemaid appeared once at a bedroom window and stared for a space, and it occurred to Redwood to signal to her. For a time she watched his gestures as if with interest and made a vague response to them, then looked over her shoulder suddenly and turned and went away. An old man hobbled out of Number 37 and came down the steps and went off to the right, altogether without looking up. For ten minutes the only occupant of the road was a cat...
With such events that interminable momentous morning lengthened out.
About twelve there came a bawling of newsvendors from the adjacent road; but it passed. Contrary to their wont they left Redwood’s street alone, and a suspicion dawned upon him that the police were guarding the end of the street. He tried to open the window, but this brought a policeman into the room forthwith...
The clock of the parish church struck twelve, and after an abyss of time--one.
They mocked him with lunch.
He ate a mouthful and tumbled the food about a little in order to get it taken away, drank freely of whisky, and then took a chair and went back to the window. The minutes expanded into grey immensities, and for a time perhaps he slept...
He woke with a vague impression of remote concussions. He perceived a rattling of the windows like the quiver of an earthquake, that lasted for a minute or so and died away. Then after a silence it returned ... Then it died away again. He fancied it might be merely the passage of some heavy vehicle along the main road. What else could it be?
After a time he began to doubt whether he had heard this sound.
He began to reason interminably with himself. Why, after all, was he seized? Caterham had been in office two days--just long enough--to grasp his Nettle! Grasp his Nettle! Grasp his Giant Nettle! The refrain once started, sang through his mind, and would not be dismissed.
What, after all, could Caterham do? He was a religious man. He was bound in a sort of way by that not to do violence without a cause.
Grasp his Nettle! Perhaps, for example, the Princess was to be seized and sent abroad. There might be trouble with his son. In which case--! But why had he been arrested? Why was it necessary to keep him in ignorance of a thing like that? The thing suggested--something more extensive.
Perhaps, for example--they meant to lay all the giants by the heels! They were all to be arrested together. There had been hints of that in the election speeches. And then?
No doubt they had got Cossar also?
Caterham was a religious man. Redwood clung to that. The back of his mind was a black curtain, and on that curtain there came and went a word--a word written in letters of fire. He struggled perpetually against that word. It was always as it were beginning to get written on the curtain and never getting completed.
He faced it at last. “Massacre!” There was the word in its full brutality.
No! No! No! It was impossible! Caterham was a religious man, a civilised man. And besides after all these years, after all these hopes!
Redwood sprang up; he paced the room. He spoke to himself; he shouted.
Mankind was surely not so mad as that--surely not! It was impossible, it was incredible, it could not be. What good would it do to kill the giant human when the gigantic in all the lower things had now inevitably come? They could not be so mad as that! “I must dismiss such an idea,” he said aloud; “dismiss such an idea! Absolutely!”
He pulled up short. What was that?
Certainly the windows had rattled. He went to look out into the street. Opposite he saw the instant confirmation of his ears. At a bedroom at Number 35 was a woman, towel in hand, and at the dining-room of Number 37 a man was visible behind a great vase of hypertrophied maidenhair fern, both staring out and up, both disquieted and curious. He could see now too, quite clearly, that the policeman on the pavement had heard it also. The thing was not his imagination.
He turned to the darkling room.
“Guns,” he said.
They brought him in strong tea, such as he was accustomed to have. It was evident his housekeeper had been taken into consultation. After drinking it, he was too restless to sit any longer at the window, and he paced the room. His mind became more capable of consecutive thought.
The room had been his study for four-and-twenty years. It had been furnished at his marriage, and all the essential equipment dated from then, the large complex writing-desk, the rotating chair, the easy chair at the fire, the rotating bookcase, the fixture of indexed pigeon-holes that filled the further recess. The vivid Turkey carpet, the later Victorian rugs and curtains had mellowed now to a rich dignity of effect, and copper and brass shone warm about the open fire. Electric lights had replaced the lamp of former days; that was the chief alteration in the original equipment. But among these things his connection with the Food had left abundant traces. Along one wall, above the dado, ran a crowded array of black-framed photographs and photogravures, showing his son and Cossar’s sons and others of the Boom-children at various ages and amidst various surroundings. Even young Caddles’ vacant visage had its place in that collection. In the corner stood a sheaf of the tassels of gigantic meadow grass from Cheasing Eyebright, and on the desk there lay three empty poppy heads as big as hats. The curtain rods were grass stems. And the tremendous skull of the great hog of Oakham hung, a portentous ivory overmantel, with a Chinese jar in either eye socket, snout down above the fire...
It was to the photographs that Redwood went, and in particular to the photographs of his son.
They brought back countless memories of things that had passed out of his mind, of the early days of the Food, of Bensington’s timid presence, of his cousin Jane, of Cossar and the night work at the Experimental Farm. These things came to him now very little and bright and distinct, like things seen through a telescope on a sunny day. And then there was the giant nursery, the giant childhood, the young giant’s first efforts to speak, his first clear signs of affection.
It flowed in on him, irresistibly, overwhelmingly, that outside there, outside this accursed silence and mystery, his son and Cossar’s sons, and all these glorious first-fruits of a greater age were even now--fighting. Fighting for life! Even now his son might be in some dismal quandary, cornered, wounded, overcome...
He swung away from the pictures and went up and down the room gesticulating. “It cannot be,” he cried, “it cannot be. It cannot end like that!”
“What was that?”
He stopped, stricken rigid.
The trembling of the windows had begun again, and then had come a thud--a vast concussion that shook the house. The concussion seemed to last for an age. It must have been very near. For a moment it seemed that something had struck the house above him--an enormous impact that broke into a tinkle of falling glass, and then a stillness that ended at last with a minute clear sound of running feet in the street below.
Those feet released him from his rigor. He turned towards the window, and saw it starred and broken.
His heart beat high with a sense of crisis, of conclusive occurrence, of release. And then again, his realisation of impotent confinement fell about him like a curtain!
He could see nothing outside except that the small electric lamp opposite was not lighted; he could hear nothing after the first suggestion of a wide alarm. He could add nothing to interpret or enlarge that mystery except that presently there came a reddish fluctuating brightness in the sky towards the south-east.
This light waxed and waned. When it waned he doubted if it had ever waxed. It had crept upon him very gradually with the darkling. It became the predominant fact in his long night of suspense. Sometimes it seemed to him it had the quiver one associates with dancing flames, at others he fancied it was no more than the normal reflection of the evening lights. It waxed and waned through the long hours, and only vanished at last when it was submerged altogether under the rising tide of dawn. Did it mean--? What could it mean? Almost certainly it was some sort of fire, near or remote, but he could not even tell whether it was smoke or cloud drift that streamed across the sky. But about one o’clock there began a flickering of searchlights athwart that ruddy tumult, a flickering that continued for the rest of the night. That too might mean many things? What could it mean? What did it mean? Just this stained unrestful sky he had and the suggestion of a huge explosion to occupy his mind. There came no further sounds, no further running, nothing but a shouting that might have been only the distant efforts of drunken men...
He did not turn up his lights; he stood at his draughty broken window, a distressful, slight black outline to the officer who looked ever and again into the room and exhorted him to rest.
All night Redwood remained at his window peering up at the ambiguous drift of the sky, and only with the coming of the dawn did he obey his fatigue and lie down upon the little bed they had prepared for him between his writing-desk and the sinking fire in the fireplace under the great hog’s skull.
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.”
“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.”
“I mean, Sir, the Giants have--to a certain extent--held their own.”