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Chapter 1

THE ALTERED WORLD.


I.

Change played in its new fashion with the world for twenty years. To
most men the new things came little by little and day by day, remarkably
enough, but not so abruptly as to overwhelm. But to one man at least the
full accumulation of those two decades of the Food's work was to be
revealed suddenly and amazingly in one day. For our purpose it is
convenient to take him for that one day and to tell something of the
things he saw. This man was a convict, a prisoner for life--his crime is
no concern of ours--whom the law saw fit to pardon after twenty years.
One summer morning this poor wretch, who had left the world a young man
of three-and-twenty, found himself thrust out again from the grey
simplicity of toil and discipline, that had become his life, into a
dazzling freedom. They had put unaccustomed clothes upon him; his hair
had been growing for some weeks, and he had parted it now for some days,
and there he stood, in a sort of shabby and clumsy newness of body and
mind, blinking with his eyes and blinking indeed with his soul,
_outside_ again, trying to realise one incredible thing, that after all
he was again for a little while in the world of life, and for all other
incredible things, totally unprepared. He was so fortunate as to have a
brother who cared enough for their distant common memories to come and
meet him and clasp his hand--a brother he had left a little lad, and who
was now a bearded prosperous man--whose very eyes were unfamiliar. And
together he and this stranger from his kindred came down into the town
of Dover, saying little to one another and feeling many things.

They sat for a space in a public-house, the one answering the questions
of the other about this person and that, reviving queer old points of
view, brushing aside endless new aspects and new perspectives, and then
it was time to go to the station and take the London train. Their names
and the personal things they had to talk of do not matter to our story,
but only the changes and all the strangeness that this poor returning
soul found in the once familiar world.

In Dover itself he remarked little except the goodness of beer from
pewter--never before had there been such a draught of beer, and it
brought tears of gratitude to his eyes. "Beer's as good as ever," said
he, believing it infinitely better....

It was only as the train rattled them past Folkestone that he could look
out beyond his more immediate emotions, to see what had happened to the
world. He peered out of the window. "It's sunny," he said for the
twelfth time. "I couldn't ha' had better weather." And then for the
first time it dawned upon him that there were novel disproportions in
the world. "Lord sakes," he cried, sitting up and looking animated for
the first time, "but them's mortal great thissels growing out there on
the bank by that broom. If so be they _be_ thissels? Or 'ave I been
forgetting?" But they were thistles, and what he took for tall bushes
of broom was the new grass, and amidst these things a company of British
soldiers--red-coated as ever--was skirmishing in accordance with the
directions of the drill book that had been partially revised after the
Boer War. Then whack! into a tunnel, and then into Sandling Junction,
which was now embedded and dark--its lamps were all alight--in a great
thicket of rhododendron that had crept out of some adjacent gardens and
grown enormously up the valley. There was a train of trucks on the
Sandgate siding piled high with rhododendron logs, and here it was the
returning citizen heard first of Boomfood.

As they sped out into a country again that seemed absolutely unchanged,
the two brothers were hard at their explanations. The one was full of
eager, dull questions; the other had never thought, had never troubled
to see the thing as a single fact, and he was allusive and difficult to
follow. "It's this here Boomfood stuff," he said, touching his bottom
rock of knowledge. "Don't you know? 'Aven't they told you--any of 'em?
Boomfood! You know--Boomfood. What all the election's about. Scientific
sort of stuff. 'Asn't no one ever told you?"

He thought prison had made his brother a fearful duffer not to know
that.

They made wide shots at each other by way of question and answer.
Between these scraps of talk were intervals of window-gazing. At first
the man's interest in things was vague and general. His imagination had
been busy with what old so-and-so would say, how so-and-so would look,
how he would say to all and sundry certain things that would present his
"putting away" in a mitigated light. This Boomfood came in at first as
it were a thing in an odd paragraph of the newspapers, then as a source
of intellectual difficulty with his brother. But it came to him
presently that Boomfood was persistently coming in upon any topic he
began.

In those days the world was a patchwork of transition, so that this
great new fact came to him in a series of shocks of contrast. The
process of change had not been uniform; it had spread from one centre of
distribution here and another centre there. The country was in patches:
great areas where the Food was still to come, and areas where it was
already in the soil and in the air, sporadic and contagious. It was a
bold new motif creeping in among ancient and venerable airs.

The contrast was very vivid indeed along the line from Dover to London
at that time. For a space they traversed just such a country-side as he
had known since his childhood, the small oblongs of field, hedge-lined,
of a size for pigmy horses to plough, the little roads three cart-widths
wide, the elms and oaks and poplars dotting these fields about, little
thickets of willow beside the streams; ricks of hay no higher than a
giant's knees, dolls' cottages with diamond panes, brickfields, and
straggling village streets, the larger houses of the petty great,
flower-grown railway banks, garden-set stations, and all the little
things of the vanished nineteenth century still holding out against
Immensity. Here and there would be a patch of wind-sown, wind-tattered
giant thistle defying the axe; here and there a ten-foot puff-ball or
the ashen stems of some burnt-out patch of monster grass; but that was
all there was to hint at the coming of the Food.

For a couple of score of miles there was nothing else to foreshadow in
any way the strange bigness of the wheat and of the weeds that were
hidden from him not a dozen miles from his route just over the hills in
the Cheasing Eyebright valley. And then presently the traces of the Food
would begin. The first striking thing was the great new viaduct at
Tonbridge, where the swamp of the choked Medway (due to a giant variety
of _Chara_) began in those days. Then again the little country, and
then, as the petty multitudinous immensity of London spread out under
its haze, the traces of man's fight to keep out greatness became
abundant and incessant.

In that south-eastern region of London at that time, and all about where
Cossar and his children lived, the Food had become mysteriously
insurgent at a hundred points; the little life went on amidst daily
portents that only the deliberation of their increase, the slow parallel
growth of usage to their presence, had robbed of their warning. But this
returning citizen peered out to see for the first time the facts of the
Food strange and predominant, scarred and blackened areas, big unsightly
defences and preparations, barracks and arsenals that this subtle,
persistent influence had forced into the life of men.

Here, on an ampler scale, the experience of the first Experimental Farm
had been repeated time and again. It had been in the inferior and
accidental things of life--under foot and in waste places, irregularly
and irrelevantly--that the coming of a new force and new issues had
first declared itself. There were great evil-smelling yards and
enclosures where some invincible jungle of weed furnished fuel for
gigantic machinery (little cockneys came to stare at its clangorous
oiliness and tip the men a sixpence); there were roads and tracks for
big motors and vehicles--roads made of the interwoven fibres of
hypertrophied hemp; there were towers containing steam sirens that could
yell at once and warn the world against any new insurgence of vermin,
or, what was queerer, venerable church towers conspicuously fitted with
a mechanical scream. There were little red-painted refuge huts and
garrison shelters, each with its 300-yard rifle range, where the
riflemen practised daily with soft-nosed ammunition at targets in the
shape of monstrous rats.

Six times since the day of the Skinners there had been outbreaks of
giant rats--each time from the southwest London sewers, and now they
were as much an accepted fact there as tigers in the delta by
Calcutta....

The man's brother had bought a paper in a heedless sort of way at
Sandling, and at last this chanced to catch the eye of the released man.
He opened the unfamiliar sheets--they seemed to him to be smaller, more
numerous, and different in type from the papers of the times before--and
he found himself confronted with innumerable pictures about things so
strange as to be uninteresting, and with tall columns of printed matter
whose headings, for the most part, were as unmeaning as though they had
been written in a foreign tongue--"Great Speech by Mr. Caterham"; "The
Boomfood Laws."

"Who's this here Caterham?" he asked, in an attempt to make
conversation.

"_He's_ all right," said his brother.

"Ah! Sort of politician, eh?"

"Goin' to turn out the Government. Jolly well time he did."

"Ah!" He reflected. "I suppose all the lot _I_ used to
know--Chamberlain, Rosebery--all that lot--_What_?"

His brother had grasped his wrist and pointed out of the window.

"That's the Cossars!" The eyes of the released prisoner followed the
finger's direction and saw--

"My Gawd!" he cried, for the first time really overcome with amazement.
The paper dropped into final forgottenness between his feet. Through the
trees he could see very distinctly, standing in an easy attitude, the
legs wide apart and the hand grasping a ball as if about to throw it, a
gigantic human figure a good forty feet high. The figure glittered in
the sunlight, clad in a suit of woven white metal and belted with a
broad belt of steel. For a moment it focussed all attention, and then
the eye was wrested to another more distant Giant who stood prepared to
catch, and it became apparent that the whole area of that great bay in
the hills just north of Sevenoaks had been scarred to gigantic ends.

A hugely banked entrenchment overhung the chalk pit, in which stood the
house, a monstrous squat Egyptian shape that Cossar had built for his
sons when the Giant Nursery had served its turn, and behind was a great
dark shed that might have covered a cathedral, in which a spluttering
incandescence came and went, and from out of which came a Titanic
hammering to beat upon the ear. Then the attention leapt back to the
giant as the great ball of iron-bound timber soared up out of his hand.

The two men stood up and stared. The ball seemed as big as a cask.

"Caught!" cried the man from prison, as a tree blotted out the thrower.

The train looked on these things only for the fraction of a minute and
then passed behind trees into the Chislehurst tunnel. "My Gawd!" said
the man from prison again, as the darkness closed about them. "Why! that
chap was as 'igh as a 'ouse."

"That's them young Cossars," said his brother, jerking his head
allusively--"what all this trouble's about...."

They emerged again to discover more siren-surmounted towers, more red
huts, and then the clustering villas of the outer suburbs. The art of
bill-sticking had lost nothing in the interval, and from countless tall
hoardings, from house ends, from palings, and a hundred such points of
vantage came the polychromatic appeals of the great Boomfood election.
"Caterham," "Boomfood," and "Jack the Giant-killer" again and again and
again, and monstrous caricatures and distortions--a hundred varieties of
misrepresentations of those great and shining figures they had passed so
nearly only a few minutes before....


II.

It had been the purpose of the younger brother to do a very magnificent
thing, to celebrate this return to life by a dinner at some restaurant
of indisputable quality, a dinner that should be followed by all that
glittering succession of impressions the Music Halls of those days were
so capable of giving. It was a worthy plan to wipe off the more
superficial stains of the prison house by this display of free
indulgence; but so far as the second item went the plan was changed. The
dinner stood, but there was a desire already more powerful than the
appetite for shows, already more efficient in turning the man's mind
away from his grim prepossession with his past than any theatre could
be, and that was an enormous curiosity and perplexity about this
Boomfood and these Boom children--this new portentous giantry that
seemed to dominate the world. "I 'aven't the 'ang of 'em," he said.
"They disturve me."

His brother had that fineness of mind that can even set aside a
contemplated hospitality. "It's _your_ evening, dear old boy," he said.
"We'll try to get into the mass meeting at the People's Palace."

And at last the man from prison had the luck to find himself wedged into
a packed multitude and staring from afar at a little brightly lit
platform under an organ and a gallery. The organist had been playing
something that had set boots tramping as the people swarmed in; but that
was over now.

Hardly had the man from prison settled into place and done his quarrel
with an importunate stranger who elbowed, before Caterham came. He
walked out of a shadow towards the middle of the platform, the most
insignificant little pigmy, away there in the distance, a little black
figure with a pink dab for a face,--in profile one saw his quite
distinctive aquiline nose--a little figure that trailed after it most
inexplicably--a cheer. A cheer it was that began away there and grew and
spread. A little spluttering of voices about the platform at first that
suddenly leapt up into a flame of sound and swept athwart the whole mass
of humanity within the building and without. How they cheered! Hooray!
Hooray!

No one in all those myriads cheered like the man from prison. The tears
poured down his face, and he only stopped cheering at last because the
thing had choked him. You must have been in prison as long as he before
you can understand, or even begin to understand, what it means to a man
to let his lungs go in a crowd. (But for all that he did not even
pretend to himself that he knew what all this emotion was about.)
Hooray! O God!--Hoo-ray!

And then a sort of silence. Caterham had subsided to a conspicuous
patience, and subordinate and inaudible persons were saying and doing
formal and insignificant things. It was like hearing voices through the
noise of leaves in spring. "Wawawawa---" What did it matter? People in
the audience talked to one another. "Wawawawawa---" the thing went on.
Would that grey-headed duffer never have done? Interrupting? Of course
they were interrupting. "Wa, wa, wa, wa---" But shall we hear Caterham
any better?

Meanwhile at any rate there was Caterham to stare at, and one could
stand and study the distant prospect of the great man's features. He was
easy to draw was this man, and already the world had him to study at
leisure on lamp chimneys and children's plates, on Anti-Boomfood medals
and Anti-Boomfood flags, on the selvedges of Caterham silks and cottons
and in the linings of Good Old English Caterham hats. He pervades all
the caricature of that time. One sees him as a sailor standing to an
old-fashioned gun, a port-fire labelled "New Boomfood Laws" in his hand;
while in the sea wallows that huge, ugly, threatening monster,
"Boomfood;" or he is _cap-a-pie_ in armour, St. George's cross on shield
and helm, and a cowardly titanic Caliban sitting amidst desecrations at
the mouth of a horrid cave declines his gauntlet of the "New Boomfood
Regulations;" or he comes flying down as Perseus and rescues a chained
and beautiful Andromeda (labelled distinctly about her belt as
"Civilisation") from a wallowing waste of sea monster bearing upon its
various necks and claws "Irreligion," "Trampling Egotism," "Mechanism,"
"Monstrosity," and the like. But it was as "Jack the Giant-killer" that
the popular imagination considered Caterham most correctly cast, and it
was in the vein of a Jack the Giant-killer poster that the man from
prison, enlarged that distant miniature.

The "Wawawawa" came abruptly to an end.

He's done. He's sitting down. Yes! No! Yes! It's Caterham! "Caterham!"
"Caterham!" And then came the cheers.

It takes a multitude to make such a stillness as followed that disorder
of cheering. A man alone in a wilderness;--it's stillness of a sort no
doubt, but he hears himself breathe, he hears himself move, he hears all
sorts of things. Here the voice of Caterham was the one single thing
heard, a thing very bright and clear, like a little light burning in a
black velvet recess. Hear indeed! One heard him as though he spoke at
one's elbow.

It was stupendously effective to the man from prison, that gesticulating
little figure in a halo of light, in a halo of rich and swaying sounds;
behind it, partially effaced as it were, sat its supporters on the
platform, and in the foreground was a wide perspective of innumerable
backs and profiles, a vast multitudinous attention. That little figure
seemed to have absorbed the substance from them all.

Caterham spoke of our ancient institutions. "Earearear," roared the
crowd. "Ear! ear!" said the man from prison. He spoke of our ancient
spirit of order and justice. "Earearear!" roared the crowd. "Ear! Ear!"
cried the man from prison, deeply moved. He spoke of the wisdom of our
forefathers, of the slow growth of venerable institutions, of moral and
social traditions, that fitted our English national characteristics as
the skin fits the hand. "Ear! Ear!" groaned the man from prison, with
tears of excitement on his cheeks. And now all these things were to go
into the melting pot. Yes, into the melting pot! Because three men in
London twenty years ago had seen fit to mix something indescribable in a
bottle, all the order and sanctity of things--Cries of "No! No!"--Well,
if it was not to be so, they must exert themselves, they must say
good-bye to hesitation--Here there came a gust of cheering. They must
say good-bye to hesitation and half measures.

"We have heard, gentlemen," cried Caterham, "of nettles that become
giant nettles. At first they are no more than other nettles--little
plants that a firm hand may grasp and wrench away; but if you leave
them--if you leave them, they grow with such a power of poisonous
expansion that at last you must needs have axe and rope, you must needs
have danger to life and limb, you must needs have toil and distress--men
may be killed in their felling, men may be killed in their felling---"

There came a stir and interruption, and then the man from prison heard
Caterham's voice again, ringing clear and strong: "Learn about Boomfood
from Boomfood itself and--" He paused--"_Grasp your nettle before it is
too late!_"

He stopped and stood wiping his lips. "A crystal," cried some one, "a
crystal," and then came that same strange swift growth to thunderous
tumult, until the whole world seemed cheering....

The man from prison came out of the hall at last, marvellously stirred,
and with that in his face that marks those who have seen a vision. He
knew, every one knew; his ideas were no longer vague. He had come back
to a world in crisis, to the immediate decision of a stupendous issue.
He must play his part in the great conflict like a man--like a free,
responsible man. The antagonism presented itself as a picture. On the
one hand those easy gigantic mail-clad figures of the morning--one saw
them now in a different light--on the other this little black-clad
gesticulating creature under the limelight, that pigmy thing with its
ordered flow of melodious persuasion, its little, marvellously
penetrating voice, John Caterham--"Jack the Giant-killer." They must all
unite to "grasp the nettle" before it was "too late."


III.

The tallest and strongest and most regarded of all the children of the
Food were the three sons of Cossar. The mile or so of land near
Sevenoaks in which their boyhood passed became so trenched, so dug out
and twisted about, so covered with sheds and huge working models and all
the play of their developing powers, it was like no other place on
earth. And long since it had become too little for the things they
sought to do. The eldest son was a mighty schemer of wheeled engines; he
had made himself a sort of giant bicycle that no road in the world had
room for, no bridge could bear. There it stood, a great thing of wheels
and engines, capable of two hundred and fifty miles an hour, useless
save that now and then he would mount it and fling himself backwards
and forwards across that cumbered work-yard. He had meant to go around
the little world with it; he had made it with that intention, while he
was still no more than a dreaming boy. Now its spokes were rusted deep
red like wounds, wherever the enamel had been chipped away.

"You must make a road for it first, Sonnie," Cossar had said, "before
you can do that."

So one morning about dawn the young giant and his brothers had set to
work to make a road about the world. They seem to have had an inkling of
opposition impending, and they had worked with remarkable vigour. The
world had discovered them soon enough, driving that road as straight as
a flight of a bullet towards the English Channel, already some miles of
it levelled and made and stamped hard. They had been stopped before
midday by a vast crowd of excited people, owners of land, land agents,
local authorities, lawyers, policemen, soldiers even.

"We're making a road," the biggest boy had explained.

"Make a road by all means," said the leading lawyer on the ground, "but
please respect the rights of other people. You have already infringed
the private rights of twenty-seven private proprietors; let alone the
special privileges and property of an urban district board, nine parish
councils, a county council, two gasworks, and a railway company...."

"Goodney!" said the elder boy Cossar.

"You will have to stop it."

"But don't you want a nice straight road in the place of all these
rotten rutty little lanes?" "I won't say it wouldn't be advantageous,
but--"

"It isn't to be done," said the eldest Cossar boy, picking up his tools.

"Not in this way," said the lawyer, "certainly."

"How is it to be done?"

The leading lawyer's answer had been complicated and vague.

Cossar had come down to see the mischief his children had done, and
reproved them severely and laughed enormously and seemed to be extremely
happy over the affair. "You boys must wait a bit," he shouted up to
them, "before you can do things like that."

"The lawyer told us we must begin by preparing a scheme, and getting
special powers and all sorts of rot. Said it would take us years."

"_We'll_ have a scheme before long, little boy," cried Cossar, hands to
his mouth as he shouted, "never fear. For a bit you'd better play about
and make models of the things you want to do."

They did as he told them like obedient sons.

But for all that the Cossar lads brooded a little.

"It's all very well," said the second to the first, "but I don't always
want just to play about and plan, I want to do something _real_, you
know. We didn't come into this world so strong as we are, just to play
about in this messy little bit of ground, you know, and take little
walks and keep out of the towns"--for by that time they were forbidden
all boroughs and urban districts, "Doing nothing's just wicked. Can't we
find out something the little people _want_ done and do it for
them--just for the fun of doing it?

"Lots of them haven't houses fit to live in," said the second boy,
"Let's go and build 'em a house close up to London, that will hold
heaps and heaps of them and be ever so comfortable and nice, and let's
make 'em a nice little road to where they all go and do business--nice
straight little road, and make it all as nice as nice. We'll make it all
so clean and pretty that they won't any of them be able to live grubby
and beastly like most of them do now. Water enough for them to wash
with, we'll have--you know they're so dirty now that nine out of ten of
their houses haven't even baths in them, the filthy little skunks! You
know, the ones that have baths spit insults at the ones that haven't,
instead of helping them to get them--and call 'em the Great
Unwashed--_-You_ know. We'll alter all that. And we'll make electricity
light and cook and clean up for them, and all. Fancy! They make their
women--women who are going to be mothers--crawl about and scrub floors!

"We could make it all beautifully. We could bank up a valley in that
range of hills over there and make a nice reservoir, and we could make a
big place here to generate our electricity and have it all simply
lovely. Couldn't we, brother? And then perhaps they'd let us do some
other things."

"Yes," said the elder brother, "we could do it _very_ nice for them."

"Then _let's,"_ said the second brother.

"_I_ don't mind," said the elder brother, and looked about for a handy
tool.

And that led to another dreadful bother.

Agitated multitudes were at them in no time, telling them for a thousand
reasons to stop, telling them to stop for no reason at all--babbling,
confused, and varied multitudes. The place they were building was too
high--it couldn't possibly be safe. It was ugly; it interfered with the
letting of proper-sized houses in the neighbourhood; it ruined the tone
of the neighbourhood; it was unneighbourly; it was contrary to the Local
Building Regulations; it infringed the right of the local authority to
muddle about with a minute expensive electric supply of its own; it
interfered with the concerns of the local water company.

Local Government Board clerks roused themselves to judicial obstruction.
The little lawyer turned up again to represent about a dozen threatened
interests; local landowners appeared in opposition; people with
mysterious claims claimed to be bought off at exorbitant rates; the
Trades Unions of all the building trades lifted up collective voices;
and a ring of dealers in all sorts of building material became a bar.
Extraordinary associations of people with prophetic visions of aesthetic
horrors rallied to protect the scenery of the place where they would
build the great house, of the valley where they would bank up the water.
These last people were absolutely the worst asses of the lot, the Cossar
boys considered. That beautiful house of the Cossar boys was just like a
walking-stick thrust into a wasps' nest, in no time.

"I never did!" said the elder boy.

"We can't go on," said the second brother.

"Rotten little beasts they are," said the third of the brothers; "we
can't do _anything!_"

"Even when it's for their own comfort. Such a _nice_ place we'd have
made for them too."

"They seem to spend their silly little lives getting in each other's
way," said the eldest boy, "Rights and laws and regulations and
rascalities; it's like a game of spellicans.... Well, anyhow, they'll
have to live in their grubby, dirty, silly little houses for a bit
longer. It's very evident _we_ can't go on with this."

And the Cossar children left that great house unfinished, a mere hole of
foundations and the beginning of a wall, and sulked back to their big
enclosure. After a time the hole was filled with water and with
stagnation and weeds, and vermin, and the Food, either dropped there by
the sons of Cossar or blowing thither as dust, set growth going in its
usual fashion. Water voles came out over the country and did infinite
havoc, and one day a farmer caught his pigs drinking there, and
instantly and with great presence of mind--for he knew: of the great hog
of Oakham--slew them all. And from that deep pool it was the mosquitoes
came, quite terrible mosquitoes, whose only virtue was that the sons of
Cossar, after being bitten for a little, could stand the thing no
longer, but chose a moonlight night when law and order were abed and
drained the water clean away into the river by Brook.

But they left the big weeds and the big water voles and all sorts of big
undesirable things still living and breeding on the site they had
chosen--the site on which the fair great house of the little people
might have towered to heaven ...


IV.

That had been in the boyhood of the Sons, but now they were nearly men,
And the chains had been tightening upon them and tightening with every
year of growth. Each year they grew, and the Food spread and great
things multiplied, each year the stress and tension rose. The Food had
been at first for the great mass of mankind a distant marvel, and now
It was coming home to every threshold, and threatening, pressing against
and distorting the whole order of life. It blocked this, it overturned
that; it changed natural products, and by changing natural products it
stopped employments and threw men out of work by the hundred thousands;
it swept over boundaries and turned the world of trade into a world of
cataclysms: no wonder mankind hated it.

And since it is easier to hate animate than inanimate things, animals
more than plants, and one's fellow-men more completely than any animals,
the fear and trouble engendered by giant nettles and six-foot grass
blades, awful insects and tiger-like vermin, grew all into one great
power of detestation that aimed itself with a simple directness at that
scattered band of great human beings, the Children of the Food. That
hatred had become the central force in political affairs. The old party
lines had been traversed and effaced altogether under the insistence of
these newer issues, and the conflict lay now with the party of the
temporisers, who were for putting little political men to control and
regulate the Food, and the party of reaction for whom Caterharn spoke,
speaking always with a more sinister ambiguity, crystallising his
intention first in one threatening phrase and then another, now that men
must "prune the bramble growths," now that they must find a "cure for
elephantiasis," and at last upon the eve of the election that they must
"Grasp the nettle."

One day the three sons of Cossar, who were now no longer boys but men,
sat among the masses of their futile work and talked together after
their fashion of all these things. They had been working all day at one
of a series of great and complicated trenches their father had bid them
make, and now it was sunset, and they sat in the little garden space
before the great house and looked at the world and rested, until the
little servants within should say their food was ready.

You must figure these mighty forms, forty feet high the least of them
was, reclining on a patch of turf that would have seemed a stubble of
reeds to a common man. One sat up and chipped earth from his huge boots
with an iron girder he grasped in his hand; the second rested on his
elbow; the third whittled a pine tree into shape and made a smell of
resin in the air. They were clothed not in cloth but in under-garments
of woven, rope and outer clothes of felted aluminium wire; they were
shod with timber and iron, and the links and buttons and belts of their
clothing were all of plated steel. The great single-storeyed house they
lived in, Egyptian in its massiveness, half built of monstrous blocks of
chalk and half excavated from the living rock of the hill, had a front a
full hundred feet in height, and beyond, the chimneys and wheels, the
cranes and covers of their work sheds rose marvellously against the sky.
Through a circular window in the house there was visible a spout from
which some white-hot metal dripped and dripped in measured drops into a
receptacle out of sight. The place was enclosed and rudely fortified by
monstrous banks of earth, backed with steel both over the crests of the
Downs above and across the dip of the valley. It needed something of
common size to mark the nature of the scale. The train that came
rattling from Sevenoaks athwart their vision, and presently plunged into
the tunnel out of their sight, looked by contrast with them like some
small-sized automatic toy.

"They have made all the woods this side of Ightham out of bounds," said
one, "and moved the board that was out by Knockholt two miles and more
this way."

"It is the least they could do," said the youngest, after a pause. "They
are trying to take the wind out of Caterham's sails."

"It's not enough for that, and--it is almost too much for us," said the
third.

"They are cutting us off from Brother Redwood. Last time I went to him
the red notices had crept a mile in, either way. The road to him along
the Downs is no more than a narrow lane."

The speaker thought. "What has come to our brother Redwood?"

"Why?" said the eldest brother.

The speaker backed a bough from his pine. "He was like--as though he
wasn't awake. He didn't seem to listen to what I had to say. And he said
something of--love."

The youngest tapped his girder on the edge of his iron sole and laughed.
"Brother Redwood," he said, "has dreams."

Neither spoke for a space. Then the eldest brother said, "This cooping
up and cooping up grows more than I can bear. At last, I believe, they
will draw a line round our boots and tell us to live on that."

The middle brother swept aside a heap of pine boughs with one hand and
shifted his attitude. "What they do now is nothing to what they will do
when Caterham has power."

"If he gets power," said the youngest brother, smiting the ground with
his girder.

"As he will," said the eldest, staring at his feet.

The middle brother ceased his lopping, and his eye went to the great
banks that sheltered them about. "Then, brothers," he said, "our youth
will be over, and, as Father Redwood said to us long ago, we must quit
ourselves like men."

"Yes," said the eldest brother; "but what exactly does that mean? Just
what does it mean--when that day of trouble comes?"

He too glanced at those rude vast suggestions of entrenchment about
them, looking not so much at them as through them and over the hills to
the innumerable multitudes beyond. Something of the same sort came into
all their minds--a vision of little people coming out to war, in a
flood, the little people, inexhaustible, incessant, malignant....

"They are little," said the youngest brother; "but they have numbers
beyond counting, like the sands of the sea."

"They have arms--they have weapons even, that our brothers in Sunderland
have made."

"Besides, Brothers, except for vermin, except for little accidents with
evil things, what have we seen of killing?"

"I know," said the eldest brother. "For all that--we are what we are.
When the day of trouble comes we must do the thing we have to do."

He closed his knife with a snap--the blade was the length of a man--and
used his new pine staff to help himself rise. He stood up and turned
towards the squat grey immensity of the house. The crimson of the
sunset caught him as he rose, caught the mail and clasps about his neck
and the woven metal of his arms, and to the eyes of his brother it
seemed as though he was suddenly suffused with blood ...

As the young giant rose a little black figure became visible to him
against that western incandescence on the top of the embankment that
towered above the summit of the down. The black limbs waved in ungainly
gestures. Something in the fling of the limbs suggested haste to the
young giant's mind. He waved his pine mast in reply, filled the whole
valley with his vast Hullo! threw a "Something's up" to his brothers,
and set off in twenty-foot strides to meet and help his father.


V.

It chanced too that a young man who was not a giant was delivering his
soul about these sons of Cossar just at that same time. He had come over
the hills beyond Sevenoaks, he and his friend, and he it was did the
talking. In the hedge as they came along they had heard a pitiful
squealing, and had intervened to rescue three nestling tits from the
attack of a couple of giant ants. That adventure it was had set him
talking.

"Reactionary!" he was saying, as they came within sight of the Cossar
encampment. "Who wouldn't be reactionary? Look at that square of ground,
that space of God's earth that was once sweet and fair, torn,
desecrated, disembowelled! Those sheds! That great wind-wheel! That
monstrous wheeled machine! Those dykes! Look at those three monsters
squatting there, plotting some ugly devilment or other! Look--look at
all the land!"

His friend glanced at his face. "You have been listening to Caterham,"
he said.

"Using my eyes. Looking a little into the peace and order of the past we
leave behind. This foul Food is the last shape of the Devil, still set
as ever upon the ruin of our world. Think what the world must have been
before our days, what it was still when our mothers bore us, and see it
now! Think how these slopes once smiled under the golden harvest, how
the hedges, full of sweet little flowers, parted the modest portion of
this man from that, how the ruddy farmhouses dotted the land, and the
voice of the church bells from yonder tower stilled the whole world each
Sabbath into Sabbath prayer. And now, every year, still more and more of
monstrous weeds, of monstrous vermin, and these giants growing all about
us, straddling over us, blundering against all that is subtle and sacred
in our world. Why here--Look!"

He pointed, and his friend's eyes followed the line of his white finger.

"One of their footmarks. See! It has smashed itself three feet deep and
more, a pitfall for horse and rider, a trap to the unwary. There is a
briar rose smashed to death; there is grass uprooted and a teazle
crushed aside, a farmer's drain pipe snapped and the edge of the pathway
broken down. Destruction! So they are doing all over the world, all over
the order and decency the world of men has made. Trampling on all
things. Reaction! What else?"

"But--reaction. What do you hope to do?"

"Stop it!" cried the young man from Oxford. "Before it is too late."

"But---"

"It's _not_ impossible," cried the young man from Oxford, with a jump
in his voice. "We want the firm hand; we want the subtle plan, the
resolute mind. We have been mealy-mouthed and weak-handed; we have
trifled and temporised and the Food has grown and grown. Yet even now--"

He stopped for a moment. "This is the echo of Caterham," said his
friend.

"Even now. Even now there is hope--abundant hope, if only we make sure
of what we want and what we mean to destroy. The mass of people are with
us, much more with us than they were a few years ago; the law is with
us, the constitution and order of society, the spirit of the established
religions, the customs and habits of mankind are with us--and against
the Food. Why should we temporise? Why should we lie? We hate it, we
don't want it; why then should we have it? Do you mean to just grizzle
and obstruct passively and do nothing--till the sands are out?"

He stopped short and turned about. "Look at that grove of nettles there.
In the midst of them are homes--deserted--where once clean families of
simple men played out their honest lives!

"And there!" he swung round to where the young Cossars muttered to one
another of their wrongs.

"Look at them! And I know their father, a brute, a sort of brute beast
with an intolerant loud voice, a creature who has ran amuck in our all
too merciful world for the last thirty years and more. An engineer! To
him all that we hold dear and sacred is nothing. Nothing! The splendid
traditions of our race and land, the noble institutions, the venerable
order, the broad slow march from precedent to precedent that has made
our English people great and this sunny island free--it is all an idle
tale, told and done with. Some claptrap about the Future is worth all
these sacred things.... The sort of man who would run a tramway over his
mother's grave if he thought that was the cheapest line the tramway
could take.... And you think to temporise, to make some scheme of
compromise, that will enable you to live in your way while that--that
machinery--lives in its. I tell you it is hopeless--hopeless. As well
make treaties with a tiger! They want things monstrous--we want them
sane and sweet. It is one thing or the other."

"But what can you do?"

"Much! All! Stop the Food! They are still scattered, these giants; still
immature and disunited. Chain them, gag them, muzzle them. At any cost
stop them. It is their world or ours! Stop the Food. Shut up these men
who make it. Do anything to stop Cossar! You don't seem to remember--one
generation--only one generation needs holding down, and then--Then we
could level those mounds there, fill up their footsteps, take the ugly
sirens from our church towers, smash all our elephant guns, and turn our
faces again to the old order, the ripe old civilisation for which the
soul of man is fitted."

"It's a mighty effort."

"For a mighty end. And if we don't? Don't you see the prospect before us
clear as day? Everywhere the giants will increase and multiply;
everywhere they will make and scatter the Food. The grass will grow
gigantic in our fields, the weeds in our hedges, the vermin in the
thickets, the rats in the drains. More and more and more. This is only a
beginning. The insect world will rise on us, the plant world, the very
fishes in the sea, will swamp and drown our ships. Tremendous growths
will obscure and hide our houses, smother our churches, smash and
destroy all the order of our cities, and we shall become no more than a
feeble vermin under the heels of the new race. Mankind will be swamped
and drowned in things of its own begetting! And all for nothing! Size!
Mere size! Enlargement and _da capo_. Already we go picking our way
among the first beginnings of the coming time. And all we do is to say
'How inconvenient!' To grumble and do nothing. _No_!"

He raised his hand.

"Let them do the thing they have to do! So also will I. I am for
Reaction--unstinted and fearless Reaction. Unless you mean to take this
Food also, what else is there to do in all the world? We have trifled in
the middle ways too long. You! Trifling in the middle ways is your
habit, your circle of existence, your space and time. So, not I! I am
against the Food, with all my strength and purpose against the Food."

He turned on his companion's grunt of dissent. "Where are you?"

"It's a complicated business---"

"Oh!--Driftwood!" said the young man from Oxford, very bitterly, with a
fling of all his limbs. "The middle way is nothingness. It is one thing
or the other. Eat or destroy. Eat or destroy! What else is there to
do?"


H.G. Wells

    Book I-The Dawn of Food

    Book II-The Food in the Village

    Book III-The Harvest of the Food

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