The Food in the Village: Chapter 2
THE BRAT GIGANTIC.
The giant child was ugly--the Vicar would insist. "He always had been
ugly--as all excessive things must be." The Vicar's views had carried
him out of sight of just judgment in this matter. The child was much
subjected to snapshots even in that rustic retirement, and their net
testimony is against the Vicar, testifying that the young monster was at
first almost pretty, with a copious curl of hair reaching to his brow
and a great readiness to smile. Usually Caddles, who was slightly built,
stands smiling behind the baby, perspective emphasising his relative
After the second year the good looks of the child became more subtle and
more contestable. He began to grow, as his unfortunate grandfather would
no doubt have put it, "rank." He lost colour and developed an increasing
effect of being somehow, albeit colossal, yet slight. He was vastly
delicate. His eyes and something about his face grew finer--grew, as
people say, "interesting." His hair, after one cutting, began to tangle
into a mat. "It's the degenerate strain coming out in him," said the
parish doctor, marking these things, but just how far he was right in
that, and just how far the youngster's lapse from ideal healthfulness
was the result of living entirely in a whitewashed barn upon Lady
Wondershoot's sense of charity tempered by justice, is open to question.
The photographs of him that present him from three to six show him
developing into a round-eyed, flaxen-haired youngster with a truncated
nose and a friendly stare. There lurks about his lips that never very
remote promise of a smile that all the photographs of the early giant
children display. In summer he wears loose garments of ticking tacked
together with string; there is usually one of those straw baskets upon
his head that workmen use for their tools, and he is barefooted. In one
picture he grins broadly and holds a bitten melon in his hand.
The winter pictures are less numerous and satisfactory. He wears huge
sabots--no doubt of beechwoods and (as fragments of the inscription
"John Stickells, Iping," show) sacks for socks, and his trousers and
jacket are unmistakably cut from the remains of a gaily patterned
carpet. Underneath that there were rude swathings of flannel; five or
six yards of flannel are tied comforter-fashion about his neck. The
thing on his head is probably another sack. He stares, sometimes
smiling, sometimes a little ruefully, at the camera. Even when he was
only five years old, one sees that half whimsical wrinkling over his
soft brown eyes that characterised his face.
He was from the first, the Vicar always declared, a terrible nuisance
about the village. He seems to have had a proportionate impulse to play,
much curiosity and sociability, and in addition there was a certain
craving within him--I grieve to say--for more to eat. In spite of what
Mrs. Greenfield called an "_excessively_ generous" allowance of food
from Lady Wondershoot, he displayed what the doctor perceived at once
was the "Criminal Appetite." It carries out only too completely Lady
Wondershoot's worst experiences of the lower classes--that in spite of
an allowance of nourishment inordinately beyond what is known to be the
maximum necessity even of an adult human being, the creature was found
to steal. And what he stole he ate with an inelegant voracity. His great
hand would come over garden walls; he would covet the very bread in the
bakers' carts. Cheeses went from Marlow's store loft, and never a pig
trough was safe from him. Some farmer walking over his field of swedes
would find the great spoor of his feet and the evidence of his nibbling
hunger--a root picked here, a root picked there, and the holes, with
childish cunning, heavily erased. He ate a swede as one devours a
radish. He would stand and eat apples from a tree, if no one was about,
as normal children eat blackberries from a bush. In one way at any rate
this shortness of provisions was good for the peace of Cheasing
Eyebright--for many years he ate up every grain very nearly of the Food
of the Gods that was given him....
Indisputably the child was troublesome and out of place, "He was always
about," the Vicar used to say. He could not go to school; he could not
go to church by virtue of the obvious limitations of its cubical
content. There was some attempt to satisfy the spirit of that "most
foolish and destructive law"--I quote the Vicar--the Elementary
Education Act of 1870, by getting him to sit outside the open window
while instruction was going on within. But his presence there destroyed
the discipline of the other children. They were always popping up and
peering at him, and every time he spoke they laughed together. His voice
was so odd! So they let him stay away.
Nor did they persist in pressing him to come to church, for his vast
proportions were of little help to devotion. Yet there they might have
had an easier task; there are good reasons for guessing there were the
germs of religious feeling somewhere in that big carcase. The music
perhaps drew him. He was often in the churchyard on a Sunday morning,
picking his way softly among the graves after the congregation had gone
in, and he would sit the whole service out beside the porch, listening
as one listens outside a hive of bees.
At first he showed a certain want of tact; the people inside would hear
his great feet crunch restlessly round their place of worship, or become
aware of his dim face peering in through the stained glass, half
curious, half envious, and at times some simple hymn would catch him
unawares, and he would howl lugubriously in a gigantic attempt at
unison. Whereupon little Sloppet, who was organ-blower and verger and
beadle and sexton and bell-ringer on Sundays, besides being postman and
chimney-sweep all the week, would go out very briskly and valiantly and
send him mournfully away. Sloppet, I am glad to say, felt it--in his
more thoughtful moments at any rate. It was like sending a dog home when
you start out for a walk, he told me.
But the intellectual and moral training of young Caddles, though
fragmentary, was explicit. From the first, Vicar, mother, and all the
world, combined to make it clear to him that his giant strength was not
for use. It was a misfortune that he had to make the best of. He had to
mind what was told him, do what was set him, be careful never to break
anything nor hurt anything. Particularly he must not go treading on
things or jostling against things or jumping about. He had to salute the
gentlefolks respectful and be grateful for the food and clothing they
spared him out of their riches. And he learnt all these things
submissively, being by nature and habit a teachable creature and only by
food and accident gigantic.
For Lady Wondershoot, in these early days, he displayed the profoundest
awe. She found she could talk to him best when she was in short skirts
and had her dog-whip, and she gesticulated with that and was always a
little contemptuous and shrill. But sometimes the Vicar played master--a
minute, middle-aged, rather breathless David pelting a childish Goliath
with reproof and reproach and dictatorial command. The monster was now
so big that it seems it was impossible for any one to remember he was
after all only a child of seven, with all a child's desire for notice
and amusement and fresh experience, with all a child's craving for
response, attention and affection, and all a child's capacity for
dependence and unrestricted dulness and misery.
The Vicar, walking down the village road some sunlit morning, would
encounter an ungainly eighteen feet of the Inexplicable, as fantastic
and unpleasant to him as some new form of Dissent, as it padded fitfully
along with craning neck, seeking, always seeking the two primary needs
of childhood--something to eat and something with which to play.
There would come a look of furtive respect into the creature's eyes and
an attempt to touch the matted forelock.
In a limited way the Vicar had an imagination--at any rate, the remains
of one--and with young Caddles it took the line of developing the huge
possibilities of personal injury such vast muscles must possess. Suppose
a sudden madness--! Suppose a mere lapse into disrespect--! However, the
truly brave man is not the man who does not feel fear but the man who
overcomes it. Every time and always the Vicar got his imagination under.
And he used always to address young Caddles stoutly in a good clear
"Being a good boy, Albert Edward?"
And the young giant, edging closer to the wall and blushing deeply,
would answer, "Yessir--trying."
"Mind you do," said the Vicar, and would go past him with at most a
slight acceleration of his breathing. And out of respect for his manhood
he made it a rule, whatever he might fancy, never to look back at the
danger, when once it was passed.
In a fitful manner the Vicar would give young Caddles private tuition.
He never taught the monster to read--it was not needed; but he taught
him the more important points of the Catechism--his duty to his
neighbour for example, and of that Deity who would punish Caddles with
extreme vindictiveness if ever he ventured to disobey the Vicar and Lady
Wondershoot. The lessons would go on in the Vicar's yard, and passers-by
would hear that great cranky childish voice droning out the essential
teachings of the Established Church.
"To onner 'n 'bey the King and allooer put 'nthority under 'im. To
s'bmit meself t'all my gov'ners, teachers, spir'shall pastors an'
masters. To order myself lowly 'n rev'rently t'all my betters--"
Presently it became evident that the effect of the growing giant on
unaccustomed horses was like that of a camel, and he was told to keep
off the highroad, not only near the shrubbery (where the oafish smile
over the wall had exasperated her ladyship extremely), but altogether.
That law he never completely obeyed, because of the vast interest the
highroad had for him. But it turned what had been his constant resort
into a stolen pleasure. He was limited at last almost entirely to old
pasture and the Downs.
I do not know what he would have done if it had not been for the Downs.
There there were spaces where he might wander for miles, and over these
spaces he wandered. He would pick branches from trees and make insane
vast nosegays there until he was forbidden, take up sheep and put them
in neat rows, from which they immediately wandered (at this he
invariably laughed very heartily), until he was forbidden, dig away the
turf, great wanton holes, until he was forbidden....
He would wander over the Downs as far as the hill above Wreckstone, but
not farther, because there he came upon cultivated land, and the people,
by reason of his depredations upon their root-crops, and inspired
moreover by a sort of hostile timidity his big unkempt appearance
frequently evoked, always came out against him with yapping dogs to
drive him away. They would threaten him and lash at him with cart whips.
I have heard that they would sometimes fire at him with shot guns. And
in the other direction he ranged within sight of Hickleybrow. From above
Thursley Hanger he could get a glimpse of the London, Chatham, and Dover
railway, but ploughed fields and a suspicious hamlet prevented his
And after a time there came boards--great boards with red letters that
barred him in every direction. He could not read what the letters said:
"Out of Bounds," but in a little while he understood. He was often to be
seen in those days, by the railway passengers, sitting, chin on knees,
perched up on the Down hard by the Thursley chalk pits, where afterwards
he was set working. The train seemed to inspire a dim emotion of
friendliness in him, and sometimes he would wave an enormous hand at it,
and sometimes give it a rustic incoherent hail.
"Big," the peering passenger would say. "One of these Boom children.
They say, Sir, quite unable to do anything for itself--little better
than an idiot in fact, and a great burden on the locality."
"Parents quite poor, I'm told."
"Lives on the charity of the local gentry."
Every one would stare intelligently at that distant squatting monstrous
figure for a space.
"Good thing that was put a stop to," some spacious thinking mind would
suggest. "Nice to 'ave a few thousand of _them_ on the rates, eh?"
And usually there was some one wise enough to tell this philosopher:
"You're about Right there, Sir," in hearty tones.
He had his bad days.
There was, for example, that trouble with the river.
He made little boats out of whole newspapers, an art he learnt by
watching the Spender boy, and he set them sailing down the stream--great
paper cocked-hats. When they vanished under the bridge which marks the
boundary of the strictly private grounds about Eyebright House, he
would give a great shout and run round and across Tormat's new
field--Lord! how Tormat's pigs did scamper, to be sure, and turn their
good fat into lean muscle!--and so to meet his boats by the ford. Right
across the nearer lawns these paper boats of his used to go, right in
front of Eyebright House, right under Lady Wondershoot's eyes!
Disorganising folded newspapers! A pretty thing!
Gathering enterprise from impunity, he began babyish hydraulic
engineering. He delved a huge port for his paper fleets with an old shed
door that served him as a spade, and, no one chancing to observe his
operations just then, he devised an ingenious canal that incidentally
flooded Lady Wondershoot's ice-house, and finally he dammed the river.
He dammed it right across with a few vigorous doorfuls of earth--he must
have worked like an avalanche--and down came a most amazing spate
through the shrubbery and washed away Miss Spinks and her easel and the
most promising water-colour sketch she had ever begun, or, at any rate,
it washed away her easel and left her wet to the knees and dismally
tucked up in flight to the house, and thence the waters rushed through
the kitchen garden, and so by the green door into the lane and down into
the riverbed again by Short's ditch.
Meanwhile, the Vicar, interrupted in conversation with the blacksmith,
was amazed to see distressful stranded fish leaping out of a few
residual pools, and heaped green weed in the bed of the stream, where
ten minutes before there had been eight feet and more of clear cool
After that, horrified at his own consequences, young Caddles fled his
home for two days and nights. He returned only at the insistent call of
hunger, to bear with stoical calm an amount of violent scolding that was
more in proportion to his size than anything else that had ever before
fallen to his lot in the Happy Village.
Immediately after that affair Lady Wondershoot, casting about for
exemplary additions to the abuse and fastings she had inflicted, issued
a Ukase. She issued it first to her butler, and very suddenly, so that
she made him jump. He was clearing away the breakfast things, and she
was staring out of the tall window on the terrace where the fawns would
come to be fed. "Jobbet," she said, in her most imperial voice--"Jobbet,
this Thing must work for its living."
And she made it quite clear not only to Jobbet (which was easy), but to
every one else in the village, including young Caddles, that in this
matter, as in all things, she meant what she said.
"Keep him employed," said Lady Wondershoot. "That's the tip for Master
"It's the Tip, I fancy, for all Humanity," said the Vicar. "The simple
duties, the modest round, seedtime and harvest--"
"Exactly," said Lady Wondershoot. "What _I_ always say. Satan finds some
mischief still for idle hands to do. At any rate among the labouring
classes. We bring up our under-housemaids on that principle, always.
What shall we set him to do?"
That was a little difficult. They thought of many things, and meanwhile
they broke him in to labour a bit by using him instead of a horse
messenger to carry telegrams and notes when extra speed was needed, and
he also carried luggage and packing-cases and things of that sort very
conveniently in a big net they found for him. He seemed to like
employment, regarding it as a sort of game, and Kinkle, Lady
Wondershoot's agent, seeing him shift a rockery for her one day, was
struck by the brilliant idea of putting him into her chalk quarry at
Thursley Hanger, hard by Hickleybrow. This idea was carried out, and it
seemed they had settled his problem.
He worked in the chalk pit, at first with the zest of a playing child,
and afterwards with an effect of habit--delving, loading, doing all the
haulage of the trucks, running the full ones down the lines towards the
siding, and hauling the empty ones up by the wire of a great
windlass--working the entire quarry at last single-handed.
I am told that Kinkle made a very good thing indeed out of him for Lady
Wondershoot, consuming as he did scarcely anything but his food, though
that never restrained her denunciation of "the Creature" as a gigantic
parasite upon her charity....
At that time he used to wear a sort of smock of sacking, trousers of
patched leather, and iron-shod sabots. Over his head was sometimes a
queer thing--a worn-out beehive straw chair it was, but usually he went
bareheaded. He would be moving about the pit with a powerful
deliberation, and the Vicar on his constitutional round would get there
about midday to find him shamefully eating his vast need of food with
his back to all the world.
His food was brought to him every day, a mess of grain in the husk, in a
truck--a small railway truck, like one of the trucks he was perpetually
filling with chalk, and this load he used to char in an old limekiln and
then devour. Sometimes he would mix with it a bag of sugar. Sometimes he
would sit licking a lump of such salt as is given to cows, or eating a
huge lump of dates, stones and all, such as one sees in London on
barrows. For drink he walked to the rivulet beyond the burnt-out site of
the Experimental Farm at Hickleybrow and put down his face to the
stream. It was from his drinking in that way after eating that the Food
of the Gods did at last get loose, spreading first of all in huge weeds
from the river-side, then in big frogs, bigger trout and stranding carp,
and at last in a fantastic exuberance of vegetation all over the little
And after a year or so the queer monstrous grub things in the field
before the blacksmith's grew so big and developed into such frightful
skipjacks and cockchafers--motor cockchafers the boys called them--that
they drove Lady Wondershoot abroad.
But soon the Food was to enter upon a new phase of its work in him. In
spite of the simple instructions of the Vicar--instructions intended to
round off the modest natural life befitting a giant peasant, in the most
complete and final manner--he began to ask questions, to inquire into
things, to _think_. As he grew from boyhood to adolescence it became
increasingly evident that his mind had processes of its own--out of the
Vicar's control. The Vicar did his best to ignore this distressing
phenomenon, but still--he could feel it there.
The young giant's material for thought lay about him. Quite
involuntarily, with his spacious views, his constant overlooking of
things, he must have seen a good deal of human life, and as it grew
clearer to him that he too, save for this clumsy greatness of his, was
also human, he must have come to realise more and more just how much was
shut against him by his melancholy distinction. The sociable hum of the
school, the mystery of religion that was partaken in such finery, and
which exhaled so sweet a strain of melody, the jovial chorusing from the
Inn, the warmly glowing rooms, candle-lit and fire-lit, into which he
peered out of the darkness, or again the shouting excitement, the vigour
of flannelled exercise upon some imperfectly understood issue that
centred about the cricket-field--all these things must have cried aloud
to his companionable heart. It would seem that as his adolescence crept
upon him, he began to take a very considerable interest in the
proceedings of lovers, in those preferences and pairings, those close
intimacies that are so cardinal in life.
One Sunday, just about that hour when the stars and the bats and the
passions of rural life come out, there chanced to be a young couple
"kissing each other a bit" in Love Lane, the deep hedged lane that runs
out back towards the Upper Lodge. They were giving their little emotions
play, as secure in the warm still twilight as any lovers could be. The
only conceivable interruption they thought possible must come pacing
visibly up the lane; the twelve-foot hedge towards the silent Downs
seemed to them an absolute guarantee.
Then suddenly--incredibly--they were lifted and drawn apart.
They discovered themselves held up, each with a finger and thumb under
the armpits, and with the perplexed brown eyes of young Caddles scanning
their warm flushed faces. They were naturally dumb with the emotions of
"_Why_ do you like doing that?" asked young Caddies.
I gather the embarrassment continued until the swain remembering his
manhood, vehemently, with loud shouts, threats, and virile blasphemies,
such as became the occasion, bade young Caddies under penalties put them
down. Whereupon young Caddies, remembering his manners, did put them
down politely and very carefully, and conveniently near for a resumption
of their embraces, and having hesitated above them for a while, vanished
again into the twilight ...
"But I felt precious silly," the swain confided to me. "We couldn't
'ardly look at one another--bein' caught like that.
"Kissing we was--_you_ know.
"And the cur'ous thing is, she blamed it all on to me," said the swain.
"Flew out something outrageous, and wouldn't 'ardly speak to me all the
The giant was embarking upon investigations, there could be no doubt.
His mind, it became manifest, was throwing up questions. He put them to
few people as yet, but they troubled him. His mother, one gathers,
sometimes came in for cross-examination.
He used to come into the yard behind his mother's cottage, and, after a
careful inspection of the ground for hens and chicks, he would sit down
slowly with his back against the barn. In a minute the chicks, who liked
him, would be pecking all over him at the mossy chalk-mud in the seams
of his clothing, and if it was blowing up for wet, Mrs. Caddies' kitten,
who never lost her confidence in him, would assume a sinuous form and
start scampering into the cottage, up to the kitchen fender, round, out,
up his leg, up his body, right up to his shoulder, meditative moment,
and then scat! back again, and so on. Sometimes she would stick her
claws in his face out of sheer gaiety of heart, but he never dared to
touch her because of the uncertain weight of his hand upon a creature so
frail. Besides, he rather liked to be tickled. And after a time he would
put some clumsy questions to his mother.
"Mother," he would say, "if it's good to work, why doesn't every one
His mother would look up at him and answer, "It's good for the likes of
He would meditate, "_Why_?"
And going unanswered, "What's work _for_, mother? Why do I cut chalk and
you wash clothes, day after day, while Lady Wondershoot goes about in
her carriage, mother, and travels off to those beautiful foreign
countries you and I mustn't see, mother?"
"She's a lady," said Mrs. Caddles.
"Oh," said young Caddles, and meditated profoundly.
"If there wasn't gentlefolks to make work for us to do," said Mrs.
Caddles, "how should we poor people get a living?"
This had to be digested.
"Mother," he tried again; "if there wasn't any gentlefolks, wouldn't
things belong to people like me and you, and if they did--"
"Lord sakes and _drat_ the Boy!" Mrs. Caddles would say--she had with
the help of a good memory become quite a florid and vigorous
individuality since Mrs. Skinner died. "Since your poor dear grandma was
took, there's no abiding you. Don't you arst no questions and you won't
be told no lies. If once I was to start out answerin' you _serious_, y'r
father 'd 'ave to go' and arst some one else for 'is supper--let alone
finishing the washin'."
"All right, mother," he would say, after a wondering stare at her. "I
didn't mean to worry."
And he would go on thinking.
He was thinking too four years after, when the Vicar, now no longer ripe
but over-ripe, saw him for the last time of all. You figure the old
gentleman visibly a little older now, slacker in his girth, a little
coarsened and a little weakened in his thought and speech, with a
quivering shakiness in his hand and a quivering shakiness in his
convictions, but his eye still bright and merry for all the trouble the
Food had caused his village and himself. He had been frightened at times
and disturbed, but was he not alive still and the same still? and
fifteen long years--a fair sample of eternity--had turned the trouble
into use and wont.
"It was a disturbance, I admit," he would say, "and things are
different--different in many ways. There was a time when a boy could
weed, but now a man must go out with axe and crowbar--in some places
down by the thickets at least. And it's a little strange still to us
old-fashioned people for all this valley, even what used to be the river
bed before they irrigated, to be under wheat--as it is this
year--twenty-five feet high. They used the old-fashioned scythe here
twenty years ago, and they would bring home the harvest on a
wain--rejoicing--in a simple honest fashion. A little simple
drunkenness, a little frank love-making, to conclude ... poor dear Lady
Wondershoot--she didn't like these Innovations. Very conservative, poor
dear lady! A touch of the eighteenth century about her, I always Said.
Her language for example ... Bluff vigour ...
"She died comparatively poor. These big weeds got into her garden. She
was not one of these gardening women, but she liked her garden in
order--things growing where they were planted and as they were
planted--under control ... The way things grew was unexpected--upset her
ideas ... She didn't like the perpetual invasion of this young
monster--at last she began to fancy he was always gaping at her over her
wall ... She didn't like his being nearly as high as her house ...
Jarred with her sense of proportion. Poor dear lady! I had hoped she
would last my time. It was the big cockchafers we had for a year or so
that decided her. They came from the giant larvae--nasty things as big
as rats--in the valley turf ...
"And the ants no doubt weighed with her also.
"Since everything was upset and there was no peace and quietness
anywhere now, she said she thought she might just as well be at Monte
Carlo as anywhere else. And she went.
"She played pretty boldly, I'm told. Died in a hotel there. Very sad
end... Exile... Not--not what one considers meet... A natural leader of
our English people... Uprooted. So I...
"Yet after all," harped the Vicar, "it comes to very little. A nuisance
of course. Children cannot run about so freely as they used to do, what
with ant bites and so forth. Perhaps it's as well ... There used to be
talk--as though this stuff would revolutionise every-thing ... But there
is something that defies all these forces of the New ... I don't know
of course. I'm not one of your modern philosophers--explain everything
with ether and atoms. Evolution. Rubbish like that. What I mean is
something the 'Ologies don't include. Matter of reason--not
understanding. Ripe wisdom. Human nature. _Aere perennius._ ... Call it
what you will."
And so at last it came to the last time.
The Vicar had no intimation of what lay so close upon him. He did his
customary walk, over by Farthing Down, as he had done it for more than a
score of years, and so to the place whence he would watch young Caddies.
He did the rise over by the chalk-pit crest a little puffily--he had
long since lost the Muscular Christian stride of early days; but Caddies
was not at his work, and then, as he skirted the thicket of giant
bracken that was beginning to obscure and overshadow the Hanger, he came
upon the monster's huge form seated on the hill--brooding as it were
upon the world. Caddies' knees were drawn up, his cheek was on his hand,
his head a little aslant. He sat with his shoulder towards the Vicar, so
that those perplexed eyes could not be seen. He must have been thinking
very intently--at any rate he was sitting very still ...
He never turned round. He never knew that the Vicar, who had played so
large a part in shaping his life, looked then at him for the very last
of innumerable times--did not know even that he was there. (So it is so
many partings happen.) The Vicar was struck at the time by the fact
that, after all, no one on earth had the slightest idea of what this
great monster thought about when he saw fit to rest from his labours.
But he was too indolent to follow up that new theme that day; he fell
back from its suggestion into his older grooves of thought.
"_Aere-perennius,"_ he whispered, walking slowly homeward by a path that
no longer ran straight athwart the turf after its former fashion, but
wound circuitously to avoid new sprung tussocks of giant grass. "No!
nothing is changed. Dimensions are nothing. The simple round, the common
And that night, quite painlessly, and all unknowing, he himself went the
common way--out of this Mystery of Change he had spent his life in
They buried him in the churchyard of Cheasing Eyebright, near to the
largest yew, and the modest tombstone bearing his epitaph--it ended
with: _Ut in Principio, nunc est et semper_--was almost immediately
hidden from the eye of man by a spread of giant, grey tasselled grass
too stout for scythe or sheep, that came sweeping like a fog over the
village out of the germinating moisture of the valley meadows in which
the Food of the Gods had been working.