THE HOSPITALITY OF THE CAPTAIN
DR. MOSES MEADOWS, whether that was his name or an Anglicised version of it, had certainly come in the first instance from a little town in Germany and his first two books were written in German. His first two books were his best, for he began with a genuine enthusiasm for physical science, and this was adulterated with nothing worse than a hatred of what he thought was superstition, and what many of us think is the soul of the state. The first enthusiasm was most notable in the first book, which was concerned to show that “in the female not upsprouting of the whiskers was from the therewith increasing arrested mentality derived.” In his second book he came more to grips with delusions, and for some time he was held to have proved (to everyone who agreed with him already) that the Time Ghost had been walking particularly “rapidly, lately; and that the Christus Mythus was by the alcoholic mind’s trouble explained.” Then, unfortunately, he came across the institution called Death, and began to argue with it. Not seeing any rational explanation of this custom of dying, so prevalent among his fellow-citizens, he concluded that it was merely traditional (which he thought meant “effete”), and began to think of nothing but ways of evading or delaying it. This had a rather narrowing effect on him, and he lost much of that acrid ardour which had humanised the atheism of his youth, when he would almost have committed suicide for the pleasure of taunting God with not being there. His later idealism grew more and more into materialism and consisted of his changing hypotheses and discoveries about the healthiest foods. There is no need to detain the reader over what has been called his Oil Period; his Sea-weed Period has been authoritatively expounded in Professor Nym’s valuable little work; and on the events of his Glue Period it is, perhaps, not very generous to dwell. It was during his prolonged stay in England that he chanced on the instance of the longevity of milk consumers, and built on it a theory which was, at the beginning at least, sincere. Unfortunately it was also successful: wealth flowed in to the inventor and proprietor of Mountain Milk, and he began to feel a fourth and last enthusiasm, which, also, can come late in life and have a narrowing effect on the mind.
In the altercation which naturally followed on his discovery of the antics of Mr. Patrick Dalroy, he was very dignified, but naturally not very tolerant; for he was quite unused to anything happening in spite of him, or anything important even happening without him, in the land that lay around. At first he hinted severely that the Captain had stolen the milk can from the milk-producing premises, and sent several workmen to count the cans in each shed; but Dalroy soon put him right about that.
“I bought it in a shop at Wyddington,” he said, “and since then I have used no other. You’ll hardly believe me” he said, with some truth, “but when I went into that shop I was quite a little man. I had one glass of your Mountain Milk; and look at me now.”
“You have no right to sell the milk here,” said Dr. Meadows, with the faintest trace of a German accent. “You are not in my employment; I am not responsible for your methods. You are not a representative of the business.”
“I’m an Advertisement,” said the Captain. “We advertise you all over England. You see that lean, skimpy, little man over there,” pointing to the indignant Mr. Pump, “He’s Before Taking Meadows’s Mountain Milk. I’m After,” added Mr. Dalroy, with satisfaction.
“You shall laugh at the magistrate,” said the other, with a thickening accent.
“I shall,” agreed Patrick. “Well, I’ll make a clean breast of it, sir. The truth is it isn’t your milk at all. It has quite a different taste. These gentlemen will tell you so.”
A smothered giggle sent all the blood to the eminent capitalist’s face.
“Then, either you have stolen my can and are a thief,” he said, stamping, “or you have introduced inferior substances into my discovery and are an adulterer–er–”
“Try adulteratist,” said Dalroy, kindly. “Prince Albert always said ‘adulteratarian.’ Dear old Albert! It seems like yesterday! But it is, of course, today. And it’s as true as daylight that this stuff tastes different. I can’t tell you what the taste is” (subdued guffaws from the outskirts of the crowd). “It’s something between the taste of your first sugar-stick and the fag-end of your father’s cigar. It’s as innocent as Heaven and as hot as hell. It tastes like a paradox. It tastes like a prehistoric inconsistency–I trust I make myself clear. The men who taste it most are the simplest men that God has made, and it always reminds them of the salt, because it is made out of sugar. Have some!”
And with a gesture of staggering hospitality, he shot out his long arm with the little glass at the end of it. The despotic curiosity in the Prussian overcame even his despotic dignity. He took a sip of the liquid, and his eyes stood out from his face.
“You’ve been mixing something with the milk,” were the first words that came to him.
“Yes,” answered Dalroy, “and so have you, unless you’re a swindler. Why is your milk advertised as different from everyone else’s milk, if you haven’t made the difference? Why does a glass of your milk cost threepence, and a glass of ordinary milk, a penny, if you haven’t put twopennorth of something into it? Now, look here, Dr. Meadows. The Public Analyst who would judge this, happens to be an honest man. I have a list of the twenty-one and a half honest men still employed in such posts. I make you a fair offer. He shall decide what it is I add to the milk, if you let him decide what it is you add to the milk. You must add something to the milk, or what can all these wheels and pumps and pulleys be for? Will you tell me, here and now, what you add to the milk which makes it so exceedingly Mountain?”
There was a long silence, full of the same sense of submerged mirth in the mob. But the philanthropist had fallen into a naked frenzy in the sunlight, and shaking his fists aloft in a way unknown to all the English around him, he cried out:
“Ach! but I know what you add! I know what you add! It is the Alcohol! And you have no sign and you shall laugh at a magistrate.”
Dalroy, with a bow, retired to the car, removed a number of wrappings and produced the prodigious wooden sign-post of “The Old Ship,” with its blue three-decker and red St. George’s cross conspicuously displayed. This he planted on his narrow territory of turf and looked round serenely.
“In this old oak-panelled inn of mine,” he said, “I will laugh at a million magistrates. Not that there’s anything unhygienic about this inn. No low ceilings or stuffiness here. Windows open everywhere, except in the floor. And as I hear some are saying there ought always to be food sold with fermented liquor, why, my dear Dr. Meadows, I’ve got a cheese here that will make another man of you. At least, we’ll hope so. We can but try.”
But Dr. Meadows was long past being merely angry. The exhibition of the sign had put him into a serious difficulty. Like most sceptics, like even the most genuine sceptics such as Bradlaugh, he was as legal as he was sceptical. He had a profound fear, which also had in it something better than fear, of being ultimately found in the wrong in a police court or a public inquiry. And he also suffered the tragedy of all such men living in modern England; that he must always be certain to respect the law, while never being certain of what it was. He could only remember generally that Lord Ivywood, when introducing or defending the great Ivywood Act on this matter, had dwelt very strongly on the unique and significant nature of the sign. And he could not be certain that if he disregarded it altogether, he might not eventually be cast in heavy damages–or even go to prison, in spite of his success in business. Of course he knew quite well that he had a thousand answers to such nonsense: that a patch of grass in the road couldn’t be an inn; that the sign wasn’t even produced when the Captain began to hand round the rum. But he also knew quite well that in the black peril we call British law that is not the point. He had heard points quite as obvious urged to a judge and urged in vain. At the bottom of his mind he found this fact: rich as he was, Lord Ivywood had made him–and on which side would Lord Ivywood be?
“Captain,” said Humphrey Pump, speaking for the first time, “we’d better be getting away. I feel it in my bones.”
“Inhospitable innkeeper!” cried the Captain, indignantly. “And after I have gone out of the way to license your premises! Why, this is the dawn of peace in the great city of Peaceways. I don’t despair of Dr. Meadows tossing off another bumper before we’ve done. For the moment, Brother Hugby will engage.”
As he spoke, he served out milk and rum at random; and still the Doctor had too much terror of our legal technicalities to make a final interference. But when Mr. Hugby, of Hugby’s Ales, heard his name called, he first of all jumped so as almost to dislodge the silk hat, then he stood quite still. Then he accepted a glass of the new Mountain Milk; and then his very face became full of speech, before he had spoken a word.
“There’s a motor coming along the road from the far hills,” said Humphrey, quietly. “It’ll be across the last bridge down stream in ten minutes and come up on this side.”
“Well,” said the Captain, impatiently, “I suppose you’ve seen a motor before.”
“Not in this valley all this morning,” answered Pump.
“Mr. Chairman,” said Mr. Hugby, feeling a dim disposition to say “Mr. Vice,” in memory of old commercial banquets, “I’m sure we’re all law-abiding people here, and wish to remain friends, especially with our good friend the Doctor; may he never want a friend or a bottle–that is in short, anything he wants, as we go up the hill of prosperity, and so on. But, as our friend here with the sign-board seems to be within his rights, well, I think the time’s come when we can look at these things more broadly, so to speak. Now I know it’s quite true those dirty little pubs do a lot of harm to a property, and you get a lot of ignorant people there who are just like pigs; and I don’t say our friend the Doctor hasn’t done good by clearing ’em away. But a big, well-managed business with plenty of capital behind it is quite another thing. Well, friends, you all know that I was originally in the Trade; though I have, of course, left off selling under the new regulations.” Here the goats looked rather guiltily at their cloven hoofs. “But I’ve got my little bit and I wouldn’t mind putting it into this ‘Old Ship’ here, if our friend would allow it to be run on business lines. And especially if he’d enlarge the premises a bit. Ha! ha! And if our good friend, the Doctor–”
“You rascal fellow!” spluttered Meadows, “your goot friend the doctor will make you dance before a magistrate.”
“Now, don’t be unbusinesslike,” reasoned the brewer. “It won’t hurt your sales. It’s quite a different public, don’t you see? Do talk like a business man.”
“I am not a business man,” said the scientist, with fiery eyes, “I am a servant of humanity.”
“Then,” said Dalroy, “why do you never do what your master tells you?”
“The motor has crossed the river,” said Humphrey Pump.
“You would undo all my works,” cried the Doctor, with sincere passion. “When I have built this town myself, when I have made it sober and healthful myself, when I am awake and about before anyone in the town myself, watching over its interests–you would ruin all to sell your barbaric and fundamentally beastly beer. And then you call me a goot friend. I am not a goot friend!”
“That I can’t say,” growled Hugby, “but if it comes to that–aren’t you trying to sell–”
A motor car drove up with a white explosion of dust, and about six very dusty people got out of it. Even through the densest disguise of the swift motorist, Pump perceived in many of them the peculiar style and bodily carriage of the police. The most evident exception was a long and more slender figure, which, on removing its cap and goggles, disclosed the dark and drooping features of J. Leveson, Secretary. He walked across to the little, old millionaire, who instantly recognized him and shook hands. They confabulated for some little time, turning over some official documents. Dr. Meadows cleared his throat and said to the whole crowd.
“I am very glad to be able to announce to you all that this extraordinary outrage has been too late attempted. Lord Ivywood, with the promptitude he so invariably shows, has immediately communicated to places of importance such as this a most just and right alteration of the law, which exactly meets the present case.
“We shall sleep in jail tonight,” said Humphrey, Pump. “I know it in my bones.”
“It is enough to say,” proceeded the millionaire, “that by the law as it now stands, any innkeeper, even if he display a sign, is subject to imprisonment if he sells alcohol on premises where it has not been previously kept for three days.”
“I thought it would be something like that,” muttered Pump. “Shall we give up, Captain, or shall we try a bolt for it?”
Even the impudence of Dalroy appeared for the instant dazed and stilled. He was staring forlornly up into the abyss of sky above him, as if, like Shelley, he could get inspiration from the last and purest clouds and the perfect hues of the ends of Heaven.
At last he said, in a soft and meditative voice, the single syllable,
Pump looked at him sharply with a remarkable expression growing on his grim face. But the Doctor was far too rabidly rejoicing in his triumph to understand the Captain’s meaning.
“Sells alcohol, are the exact words,” he insisted, brandishing the blue oblong of the new Act of Parliament.
“So far as I am concerned they are inexact words,” said Captain Dalroy, with polite indifference. “I have not been selling alcohol, I have been giving it away. Has anybody here paid me money? Has anybody here seen anybody else pay me money? I’m a philanthropist just like Dr. Meadows. I’m his living image!”
Mr. Leveson and Dr. Meadows looked across at each other, and on the face of the first was consternation, and on the second a full return of all his terrors of the complicated law.
“I shall remain here for several weeks,” continued the Captain, leaning elegantly on the can, “and shall give away, gratis, such supplies of this excellent drink as may be demanded by the citizens. It appears that there is no such supply at present in this district, and I feel sure that no person present can object to so strictly legal and highly charitable an arrangement.”
In this he was apparently in error; for several persons present seemed to object to it. But curiously enough it was not the withered and fanatical face of the philanthropist Meadows, nor the dark and equine face of the official Leveson, which stood out most vividly as a picture of protest. The face most strangely unsympathetic with this form of charity was that of the ex-proprietor of Hugby’s Ales. His gooseberry eyes were almost dropping from his head and his words sprang from his lips before he could stop them.
“And you blooming well think you can come here like a big buffoon, you beast, and take away all my trade–”
Old Meadows turned on him with the swiftness of an adder.
“And what is your trade, Mr. Hugby?” he asked.
The brewer bubbled with a sort of bursting anger. The goats all looked at the ground as is, according to a Roman poet, the habit of the lower animals. Man (in the character of Mr. Patrick Dalroy) taking advantage of a free but fine translation of the Latin passage, “looked aloft, and with uplifted eyes beheld his own hereditary skies.”
“Well, all I can say is,” roared Mr. Hugby, “if the police come all this way and can’t lock up a dirty loafer whose coat’s all in rags, there’s an end of me paying these fat infernal taxes and–”
“Yes,” said Dalroy, in a voice that fell like an axe, “there is an end of you, please God. It’s brewers like you that have made the inns stink with poison, till even good men asked for no inns at all. And you are worse than the teetotallers, for you prevented what they never knew. And as for you, eminent man of science, great philanthropist, idealist and destroyer of inns, let me give one cold fact for your information. You are not respected. You are obeyed. Why should I or anyone respect you particularly? You say you built this town and get up at daybreak to watch this town. You built it for money and you watch it for more money. Why should I respect you because you are fastidious about food, that your poor old digestion may outlive the hearts of better men? Why should you be the god of this valley, whose god is your belly, merely because you do not even love your god, but only fear him? Go home to your prayers, old man; for all men shall die. Read the Bible, if you like, as they do in your German home; and I suppose you once read it to pick texts as you now read it to pick holes. I don’t read it myself, I’m afraid, but I remember some words in old Mulligan’s translation; and I leave them with you. ‘Unless God,’” and he made a movement with his arm, so natural and yet so vast that for an instant the town really looked like a toy of bright coloured cardboard at the feet of the giant; “‘unless God build the city, their labour is but lost that build it; unless God keep the city, the watchman watcheth in vain. It is lost labour that you rise up early in the morning and eat the bread of carefulness; while He giveth His beloved sleep.’ Try and understand what that means, and never mind whether it’s Elohistic. And now, Hump, we’ll away and away. I’m tired of the green tiles over there. Come, fill up my cup,” and he banged down the cask in the car, “come saddle my horses and call out my men. And tremble, gay goats, in the midst of your glee; for you’ve no’ seen the last of my milk can and me.”
This song was joyously borne away with Mr. Dalroy in the disappearing car; and the motorists were miles beyond pursuit from Peaceways before they thought of halting again. But they were still beside the bank of that noble and enlarging river; and in a place of deep fern and fairy-ribboned birches with the glowing and gleaming water behind them, Patrick asked his friend to stop the car.
“By the way,” said Humphrey, suddenly, “there was one thing I didn’t understand. Why was he so afraid of the Public Analyst? What poison and chemicals does he put in the milk?”
“H20,” answered the Captain, “I take it without milk myself.”
And he bent over as if to drink of the stream, as he had done at daybreak.