THE CHEMISTRY OF MR. CROOKE
WHEN the celebrated Hibbs next visited the shop of Crooke, that mystic and criminologist chemist, he found the premises were impressively and even amazingly enlarged with decorations in the eastern style. Indeed, it would not have been too much to say that Mr. Crooke’s shop occupied the whole of one side of a showy street in the West End; the other side being a blank facade of public buildings. It would be no exaggeration to say that Mr. Crooke was the only shopkeeper for some distance round. Mr. Crooke still served in his shop, however; and politely hastened to serve his customer with the medicine that was customary. Unfortunately, for some reason or other, history was, in connection with this shop, only too prone to repeat itself. And after a vague but soothing conversation with the chemist (on the subject of vitriol and its effects on human happiness), Mr. Hibbs experienced the acute annoyance of once more beholding his most intimate friend, Mr. Joseph Leveson, enter the same fashionable emporium. But, indeed, Leveson’s own annoyance was much too acute for him to notice any on the part of Hibbs.
“Well,” he said, stopping dead in the middle of the shop, “here is a fine confounded kettle of fish!”
It is one of the tragedies of the diplomatic that they are not allowed to admit either knowledge or ignorance; so Hibbs looked gloomily wise; and said, pursing his lips, “you mean the general situation.”
“I mean the situation about this everlasting business of the inn-signs,” said Leveson, impatiently. “Lord Ivywood went up specially, when his leg was really bad, to get it settled in the House in a small non-contentious bill, providing that the sign shouldn’t be enough if the liquor hadn’t been on the spot three days.”
“Oh, but,” said Hibbs, sinking his voice to a soft solemnity, as being one of the initiate, “a thing like that can be managed, don’t you know.”
“Of course it can,” said the other, still with the same slightly irritable air. “It was. But it doesn’t seem to occur to you, any more than it did to his lordship, that there is rather a weak point after all in this business of passing acts quietly because they’re unpopular. Has it ever occurred to you that if a law is really kept too quiet to be opposed, it may also be kept too quiet to be obeyed. It’s not so easy to hush it up from a big politician without running the risk of hushing it up even from a common policeman.”
“But surely that can’t happen, by the nature of things?”
“Can’t it, by God,” said J. Leveson, appealing to a less pantheistic authority.
He unfolded a number of papers from his pocket, chiefly cheap local newspapers, but some of them letters and telegrams.
“Listen to this!” he said. “A curious incident occurred in the village of Poltwell in Surrey yesterday morning. The baker’s shop of Mr. Whiteman was suddenly besieged by a knot of the looser types of the locality, who appear to have demanded beer instead of bread; basing their claim on some ornamental object erected outside the shop; which object they asserted to be a sign-board within the meaning of the act. There, you see, they haven’t even heard of the new act! What do you think of this, from the Clapton Conservator. ‘The contempt of Socialists for the law was well illustrated yesterday, when a crowd, collected round some wooden ensign of Socialism set up before Mr. Dugdale’s Drapery Stores, refused to disperse, though told that their action was contrary to the law. Eventually the malcontents joined the procession following the wooden emblem.’ And what do you say to this? ‘Stop-press news. A chemist in Pimlico has been invaded by a huge crowd, demanding beer; and asserting the provision of it to be among his duties. The chemist is, of course, well acquainted with his immunities in the matter, especially under the new act; but the old notion of the importance of the sign seems still to possess the populace and even, to a certain extent, to paralyze the police.’ What do you say to that? Isn’t it as plain as Monday morning that this Flying Inn has flown a day in front of us, as all such lies do?” There was a diplomatic silence.
“Well,” asked the still angry Leveson of the still dubious Hibbs, “what do you make of all that?”
One ill-acquainted with that relativity essential to all modern minds, might possibly have fancied that Mr. Hibbs could not make much of it. However that may be, his explanations or incapacity for explanations, were soon tested with a fairly positive test. For Lord Ivywood actually walked into the shop of Mr. Crooke.
“Good day, gentlemen,” he said, looking at them with an expression which they both thought baffling and even a little disconcerting. “Good morning, Mr. Crooke. I have a celebrated visitor for you.” And he introduced the smiling Misysra. The Prophet had fallen back on a comparatively quiet costume this morning, a mere matter of purple and orange or what not; but his aged face was now perennially festive.
“The Cause progresses,” he said. “Everywhere the Cause progresses. You heard his lordship’s beau-uti-ful speech?”
“I have heard many,” said Hibbs, gracefully, “that can be so described.”
“The Prophet means what I was saying about the Ballot Paper Amendment Act,” said Ivywood, casually. “It seems to be the alphabet of statesmanship to recognise now that the great oriental British Empire has become one corporate whole with the occidental one. Look at our universities, with their Mohammedan students; soon they may be a majority. Now are we,” he went on, still more quietly, “are we to rule this country under the forms of representative government? I do not pretend to believe in democracy, as you know, but I think it would be extremely unsettling and incalculable to destroy representative government. If we are to give Moslem Britain representative government, we must not make the mistake we made about the Hindoos and military organization–which led to the Mutiny. We must not ask them to make a cross on their ballot papers; for though it seems a small thing, it may offend them. So I brought in a little bill to make it optional between the old-fashioned cross and an upward curved mark that might stand for a crescent–and as it’s rather easier to make, I believe it will be generally adopted.”
“And so,” said the radiant old Turk, “the little, light, easily made, curly mark is substituted for the hard, difficult, double-made, cutting both ways mark. It is the more good for hygi-e-ene. For you must know, and indeed our good and wise Chemist will tell you, that the Saracenic and the Arabian and the Turkish physicians were the first of all physicians; and taught all medicals to the barbarians of the Frankish territories. And many of the moost modern, the moost fashionable remedies, are thus of the oriental origin.”
“Yes, that is quite true,” said Crooke, in his rather cryptic and unsympathetic way, “the powder called Arenine, lately popularised by Mr. Boze, now Lord Helvellyn, who tried it first on birds, is made of plain desert sand. And what you see in prescriptions as Cannabis Indiensis is what our lively neighbours of Asia describe more energetically as bhang.”
“And so-o–in the sa-ame way,” said Misysra, making soothing passes with his brown hand like a mesmerist, “in the sa-ame way the making of the crescent is hy-gienic; the making of the cross is non-hy-gienic. The crescent was a little wave, as a leaf, as a little curling feather,” and he waved his hand with real artistic enthusiasm toward the capering curves of the new Turkish decoration which Ivywood had made fashionable in many of the fashionable shops. “But when you make the cross you must make the one line so-o,” and he swept the horizon with the brown hand, “and then you must go back and make the other line so-o,” and he made an upward gesture suggestive of one constrained to lift a pine-tree. “And then you become very ill.”
“As a matter of fact, Mr. Crooke,” said Ivywood, in his polite manner, “I brought the Prophet here to consult you as the best authority on the very point you have just mentioned–the use of hashish or the hemp-plant. I have it on my conscience to decide whether these oriental stimulants or sedatives shall come under the general veto we are attempting to impose on the vulgar intoxicants. Of course one has heard of the horrible and voluptuous visions, and a kind of insanity attributed to the Assassins and the Old Man of the Mountain. But, on the one hand, we must clearly discount much for the illimitable pro-Christian bias with which the history of these eastern tribes is told in this country. Would you say the effect of hashish was extremely bad?” And he turned first to the Prophet.
“You will see mosques,” said that seer with candour, “many mosques–more mosques–taller and taller mosques till they reach the moon and you bear a dreadful voice in the very high mosque calling the muezzin; and you will think it is Allah. Then you will see wives–many, many wives–more wives than you yet have. Then you will be rolled over and over in a great pink and purple sea–which is still wives. Then you will go to sleep. I have only done it once,” he concluded mildly.
“And what do you think about hashish, Mr. Crooke?” asked Ivywood, thoughtfully.
“I think it’s hemp at both ends,” said the Chemist.
“I fear,” said Lord Ivywood, “I don’t quite understand you.”
“A hempen drink, a murder, and a hempen rope. That’s my experience in India,” said Mr. Crooke.
“It is true,” said Ivywood, yet more reflectively, “that the thing is not Moslem in any sense in its origin. There is that against the Assassins always. And, of course,” he added, with a simplicity that had something noble about it, “their connection with St. Louis discredits them rather.”
After a space of silence, he said suddenly, looking at Crooke, “So it isn’t the sort of thing you chiefly sell?”
“No, my lord, it isn’t what I chiefly sell,” said the Chemist. He also looked steadily, and the wrinkles of his young-old face were like hieroglyphics.
“The Cause progress! Everywhere it progress!” cried Misysra, spreading his arms and relieving a momentary tension of which he was totally unaware. “The hygienic curve of the crescent will soon superimpose himself for your plus sign. You already use him for the short syllables in your dactyl; which is doubtless of oriental origin. You see the new game?”
He said this so suddenly that everyone turned round, to see him produce from his purple clothing a brightly coloured and highly polished apparatus from one of the grand toy-shops; which, on examination, seemed to consist of a kind of blue slate in a red and yellow frame; a number of divisions being already marked on the slate, about seventeen slate pencils with covers of different colours, and a vast number of printed instructions, stating that it was but recently introduced from the remote East, and was called Naughts and Crescents.
Strangely enough, Lord Ivywood, with all his enthusiasm, seemed almost annoyed at the emergence of this Asiatic discovery; more especially as he really wanted to look at Mr. Crooke, as hard as Mr. Crooke was looking at him.
Hibbs coughed considerately and said, “Of course all our things came from the East, and”–and he paused, being suddenly unable to remember anything but curry; to which he was very rightly attached. He then remembered Christianity, and mentioned that too. “Everything from the East is good, of course,” he ended, with an air of light omniscience.
Those who in later ages and other fashions failed to understand how Misysra had ever got a mental hold on men like Lord Ivywood, left out two elements in the man, which are very attractive, especially to other men. One was that there was no subject on which the little Turk could not instantly produce a theory. The other was that though the theories were crowded, they were consistent. He was never known to accept an illogical compliment.
“You are in error,” he said, solemnly, to Hibbs, “because you say all things from the East are good. There is the east wind. I do not like him. He is not good. And I think very much that all the warmth and all the wealthiness and the colours and the poems and the religiousness that the East was meant to give you have been much poisoned by this accident, this east wind. When you see the green flag of the Prophet, you do not think of a green field in Summer, you think of a green wave in your seas of Winter; for you think it blown by the east wind. When you read of the moon-faced houris you think not of our moons like oranges but of your moons like snowballs–”
Here a new voice contributed to the conversation. Its contribution, though imperfectly understood, appeared to be “Nar! Why sh’d I wite for a little Jew in ’is dressin’ gown? Little Jews in their dressin’ gowns ’as their drinks, and we ’as our drinks. Bitter, miss.”
The speaker, who appeared to be a powerful person of the plastering occupation, looked round for the unmarried female he had ceremonially addressed; and seemed honestly abashed that she was not present.
Ivywood looked at the man with that expression of one turned to stone, which his physique made so effective in him. But J. Leveson, Secretary, could summon no such powers of self-petrification. Upon his soul the slaughter red of that unhallowed eve arose when first the Ship and he were foes; when he discovered that the poor are human beings, and therefore are polite and brutal within a comparatively short space of time. He saw that two other men were standing behind the plastering person, one of them apparently urging him to counsels of moderation; which was an ominous sign. And then he lifted his eyes and saw something worse than any omen.
All the glass frontage of the shop was a cloud of crowding faces. They could not be clearly seen, since night was closing in on the street; and the dazzling fires of ruby and amethyst which the lighted shop gave to its great globes of liquid, rather veiled than revealed them. But the foremost actually flattened and whitened their noses on the glass, and the most distant were nearer than Mr. Leveson wanted them. Also he saw a shape erect outside the shop; the shape of an upright staff and a square board. He could not see what was on the board. He did not need to see.
Those who saw Lord Ivywood at such moments understood why he stood out so strongly in the history of his time, in spite of his frozen face and his fanciful dogmas. He had all the negative nobility that is possible to man. Unlike Nelson and most of the great heroes, he knew not fear. Thus he was never conquered by a surprise, but was cold and collected when other men had lost their heads even if they had not lost their nerve.
“I will not conceal from you, gentlemen,” said Lord Ivywood, “that I have been expecting this. I will not even conceal from you that I have been occupying Mr. Crooke’s time until it occurred. So far from excluding the crowd, I suggest it would be an excellent thing if Mr. Crooke could accommodate them all in this shop. I want to tell, as soon as possible, as large a crowd as possible that the law is altered and this folly about the Flying Inn has ceased. Come in, all of you! Come in and listen!”
“Thank yer,” said a man connected in some way with motor buses, who lurched in behind the plasterer.
“Thanky, sir,” said a bright little clock-mender from Croydon, who immediately followed him.
“Thanks,” said a rather bewildered clerk from Camberwell, who came next in the rather bewildered procession.
“Thank you,” said Mr. Dorian Wimpole, who entered, carrying a large round cheese.
“Thank you,” said Captain Dalroy, who entered carrying a large cask of rum.
“Thank you very much,” said Mr. Humphrey Pump, who entered the shop carrying the sign of “The Old Ship.”
I fear it must be recorded that the crowd which followed them dispensed with all expressions of gratitude. But though the crowd filled the shop so that there was no standing room to spare, Leveson still lifted his gloomy eyes and beheld his gloomy omen. For, though there were very many more people standing in the shop, there seemed to be no less people looking in at the window.
“Gentlemen,” said Ivywood, “all jokes come to an end. This one has gone so far as to be serious; and it might have become impossible to correct public opinion, and expound to law-abiding citizens the true state of the law, had I not been able to meet so representative an assembly in so central a place. It is not pertinent to my purpose to indicate what I think of the jest which Captain Dalroy and his friends have been playing upon you for the last few weeks. But I think Captain Dalroy will himself concede that I am not jesting.”
“With all my heart,” said Dalroy, in a manner that was unusually serious and even sad. Then he added with a sigh, “And as you truly say, my jest has come to an end.”
“That wooden sign,” said Ivywood, pointing at the queer blue ship, “can be cut up for firewood. It shall lead decent citizens a devil’s dance no more. Understand it once and for all, before you learn it from policemen or prison warders. You are under a new law. That sign is the sign of nothing. You can no more buy and sell alcohol by having that outside your house, than if it were a lamp-post.”
“D’you meanter say, guv’ner,” said the plasterer, with a dawn of intelligence on his large face which was almost awful to watch, “that I ain’t to ’ave a glass o’ bitter?”
“Try a glass of rum,” said Patrick.
“Captain Dalroy,” said Lord Ivywood, “if you give one drop from that cask to that man, you are breaking the law and you shall sleep in jail.”
“Are you quite sure?” asked Dalroy, with a strange sort of anxiety. “I might escape.”
“I am quite sure,” said Ivywood. “I have posted the police with full powers for the purpose, as you will find. I mean that this business shall end here tonight.”
“If I find that pleeceman what told me I could ’ave a drink just now, I’ll knock ’is ’elmet into a fancy necktie, I will,” said the plasterer. “Why ain’t people allowed to know the law?”
“They ain’t got no right to alter the law in the dark like that,” said the clock-mender. “Damn the new law.”
“What is the new law?” asked the clerk.
“The words inserted by the recent Act,” said Lord Ivywood, with the cold courtesy of the Conqueror, “are to the effect that alcohol cannot be sold, even under a lawful sign, unless alcoholic liquors have been kept for three days on the premises. Captain Dalroy, that cask of yours has not, I think, been three days on these premises. I command you to seal it up and take it away.”
“Surely,” said Patrick, with an innocent air, “the best remedy would be to wait till it has been three days on the premises. We might all get to know each other better.” And he looked round at the ever-increasing multitude with hazy benevolence.
“You shall do nothing of the kind,” said his lordship, with sudden fierceness.
“Well,” answered Patrick, wearily, “now I come to think of it, perhaps I won’t. I’ll have one drink here and go home to bed like a good little boy.”
“And the constables shall arrest you,” thundered Ivywood.
“Why, nothing seems to suit you,” said the surprised Dalroy. “Thank you, however, for explaining the new law so clearly–‘unless alcoholic liquors have been three days on the premises’ I shall remember it now. You always explain such things so clearly. You only made one legal slip. The constables will not arrest me.”
“And why not?” demanded the nobleman, white with passion.
“Because,” cried Patrick Dalroy; and his voice lifted itself like a lonely trumpet before the charge, “because I shall not have broken the law. Because alcoholic liquors have been three days on these premises. Three months more likely. Because this is a common grog-shop, Philip Ivywood. Because that man behind the counter lives by selling spirits to all the cowards and hypocrites who are rich enough to bribe a bad doctor.”
And he pointed suddenly at the small medicine glass on the counter by Hibbs and Leveson.
“What is that man drinking?” he demanded.
Hibbs put out his hand hastily for his glass, but the indignant clock-mender had snatched it first and drained it at a gulp.
“Scortch,” he said, and dashed the glass to atoms on the floor. “Right you are too,” roared the plasterer, seizing a big medicine bottle in each hand. “We’re goin’ to ’ave a little of the fun now, we are. What’s in that big red bowl up there–I reckon it’s port. Fetch it down, Bill.”
Ivywood turned to Crooke and said, scarcely moving his lips of marble, “This is a lie.”
“It is the truth,” answered Crooke, looking back at him with equal steadiness. “Do you think you made the world, that you should make it over again so easily?”
“The world was made badly,” said Philip, with a terrible note in his voice, “and I will make it over again.”
Almost as he spoke the glass front of the shop fell inward, shattered, and there was wreckage among the moonlike, coloured bowls; almost as if spheres of celestial crystal cracked at his blasphemy. Through the broken windows came the roar of that confused tongue that is more terrible than the elements; the cry that the deaf kings have heard at last; the terrible voice of mankind. All the way down the long, fashionable street, lined with the Crooke plate-glass, that glass was crashing amid the cries of a crowd. Rivers of gold and purple wines sprawled about the pavement.
“Out in the open!” shouted Dalroy, rushing out of the shop, sign-board in hand, the dog Quoodle barking furiously at his heels, while Dorian with the cheese and Humphrey with the keg followed as rapidly as they could. “Goodnight, my lord.
“Perhaps our meeting next may fall,
At Tomworth in your castle hall.
“Come along, friends, and form up. Don’t waste time destroying property. We’re all to start now.”
“Where are we all going to?” asked the plasterer.
“We’re all going into Parliament,” answered the Captain, as he went to the head of the crowd.
The marching crowd turned two or three corners, and at the end of the next long street, Dorian Wimpole, who was toward the tail of the procession, saw again the grey Cyclops tower of St. Stephens, with its one great golden eye, as he had seen it against that pale green sunset that was at once quiet and volcanic on the night he was betrayed by sleep and by a friend. Almost as far off, at the head of the procession, he could see the sign with the ship and the cross going before them like an ensign, and hear a great voice singing–
“Men that are men again, Who goes home?
Tocsin and trumpeter! Who goes home?
The voice valedictory–who is for Victory?
Who is for Liberty? Who goes home?”