Aleister Crowley’s enduring reputation (as opposed to mere popular image) is solidly based on his occult writings. Certainly, no honest evaluation of contemporary occult practice can ignore Crowley’s influence. Within this limited sphere, then, the man’s importance stands unquestioned.
Crowley was, however, a poet and fictionist, as well; his total output of verse, short stories, and novels amounts to some ten volumes. Established critical appraisal of these works, however, has been minimal and enigmatic, at best.
For example, his early poetic efforts rated his inclusion in the “Oxford Book of Mystical Verse” and the “Cambridge Poets Anthology” (1900-13 edition), and yet the fifth edition (1985) of “The Oxford Companion to Literature”, in a thumbnail of Crowley’s life, terms him “a bad, yet prolific, poet”. Regarding his fictive work, the Companion makes no mention, and no specialized academic studies, to my knowledge, have ever been done in this area.
It is not my intention, however, to portray Crowley as a major literary talent that has been ignored (although, he himself certainly felt so), but rather to recognize him as a competent and creative writer worthy of greater attention in at least two respects.
First, Crowley’s literary works are well-crafted and thought-provoking; in short, anyone who enjoys a good poem or story will find something to this author. Secondly, for those interested in the man himself, or his occult philosophy, his verse and tales are goldmines of examples and clues.
I’ve chosen to annotate “The Monkey and the Buzz Saw” not because I think it the only tale so deserving (indeed, nearly all, in some respect, merit comment), but rather because here, I believe, Crowley’s unique writing style and thematic concerns mesh particularly well.
The notes I’ve provided are, largely, referential and structural in nature, rather than interpretive; in other words, allusions, unusual words, and writing techniques are detailed, whereas the deeper import of the whole is left, as it should be, to the reader’s own contemplation.
The tale’s central plot-device is the “double-cipher” motif (one puzzle which gives a clue to yet another puzzle, which finally yields an answer). In fact, Crowley’s particular use of this technique (a relatively easy anagram conjoined with an abstract chess diagram) may well be original.
Next, the concatenation of themes which are attached to this double-cipher motif are of both a strong and unique character.
The main theme of “The Monkey and the Buzz-Saw” is the archetypical brother-versus-brother battle, and its inevitably pitiful results. The particular example given is the Spratt bothers; Crowley, however, explicitly links all the countries involved in the First World War, and, finally, even all humanity, in brotherhood.
The sub-themes of the story, which fit in beautifully with the main theme, are three: 1) comment on the inherent intolerance of the Judeo-Christian tradition, 2) an emphasis on racial equality, and 3) a (tacit) comparison of the U.S. with the imperial Roman Empire (or, more generally, a major example of the strong oppressing the weak).
"Desperate Bear Raid on Coal, sir," announced Simon Iff's Japanese servant, cheerfully, as he brought in the morning chocolate, and pulled back the curtains to let in the lovely sunlight. The mystic had instructed him carefully in this manner of announcing the weather; for he had observed that Americans, informed of any event, from a railroad accident or a strike or a war to a change in the fashion of hair cutting, would invariably consult an internal monitor, asking, and “Cui profuerit?"2 - Americanize: "Who's the grafter?" - accompanied by a rapid calculation of "Where do I come in?" Thus they would attribute an epidemic to financial distress in medical circles, the ravages of the boll weevil to a conspiracy to put up the price of cotton, or a shortage of sugar to a plan to discredit some particular set of politicians.
Simon Iff had merely extended this theory to cover natural events; rain, according to him, was caused by the united praying-power of the umbrella manufacturers combined with such farmers as needed it for their crops. The San Francisco Earthquake had been engineered as an advertisement by those builders whose edifices had been found to stand the strain.
"Bring me a cigarette and the newspaper!" he called. The servant appeared immediately, with an enameled box, and a Chinese manuscript, in vermillion and gold upon palm leaves, dating from the sixteenth century, of the Tao Teh Ching3 Simple Simon would perhaps have explained to a questioner that he had read it every morning for forty years without once failing to find something new in it, while the exact contrary had proved true of the Times or the Telegraph4.
He was still engaged in this occupation when the telephone rang. "Mr. Philipps speaking," said the voice. "I hope you remember meeting me at dinner at Fleming's last month. I hope I haven't awakened you too early. The fact is I've had a most mysterious and threatening communication this morning, and I want to trespass on your kindness by consulting you."
"Come right round!" said Simon genially. "You won't mind a dressing-gown, will you?" Philipps replied that he would be at the house in ten minutes, and Simon, laying down the 'newspaper', rushed through his bath, and was found sitting, clothed, and in his right mind, by his visitor.
Philip P. Philipps junior5 had just succeeded to an important wholesale jewelry business on the death of his father, which had taken place a fortnight before his visit to Simple Simon. He was a prosperous citizen of 45 years of age, with a wife and family; a typical burgess, but attractive to Simon Iff on account of his extraordinary knowledge of the history of famous gems. On this he had expatiated eloquently at the dinner referred to in his telephone conversation, and Iff, delighted, had expressed the hope that one day he might be of some service. This opportunity had now come. Philipps drew a letter from his pocket, and handed it silently to the old man.
Iff contemplated it at length.
The message was short and simple.
"Don't monky with the buz-saw."
"No idea of origin or purport?" asked Simon.
"Then let me think."
The mystic examined the letter with fresh care6. He even smelt it carefully, and tested it in one or two spots with the tip of his tongue. Then he wrapped himself anew in the voluminous folds of his grey silk robe with its dull gold embroidery. Even his head disappeared. It was five minutes before he emerged.
"This," said he slowly, "appears to be from Jonathan Spratt."
Philipps sat staggered for a few moments. Then the one possible conclusion forced itself into his mind, and thence through his speech. "You're in with this gang!" he exclaimed.
"Oh no!" said Simon, laughing. "I'm only telling you what the letter tells me."
"I beg your pardon. But it's perfectly impossible that you should get the name of the writer."
"Not a bit. Please follow the thought. A common paper - common man. Letters formed clumsily - learnt to write late in life.
"Shaky lettering - elderly man, or a sick one.
"Hasty lettering - not a sick man, therefore elderly.
"Post mark Hoboken - suggests a sailor.
"Paper smells of fossil oil - unmistakable - letter written on ship, or soon after landing.
"Characters printed - man wants to conceal identity.
"Letters perfectly aligned - what uneducated man would do that - but a carpenter?
"It is sealed with shellac - just what a carpenter would have handy, and it's written with what looks to me like a carpenter's pencil. Letter bears special delivery stamp - evidence of urgent haste. Why not telegram, telephone, or special messenger? Easier to trace sender. Why haste? Result of previous delay. Afraid he'll be too late. Otherwise, he has only just got the information on which his letter is based. Or both.
"These conditions will all be fulfilled if we suppose an elderly ship's carpenter to have landed at Hoboken this morning from some distant port. Does the letter tell us anything about the ship?
"There is a smear of oil - a kind of oil that is only used for big engines. And I think there is only one big ship that docked in Hoboken this morning; the Hyrcania; and she was three days late.
"Now just before I left for America I traveled on the Hyrcania from Naples to Marseilles; and I got to know the carpenter, whose name was Jonathan Spratt. Is that clear?"7
"It all corresponds, of course," said Philipps rather doubtfully.
"Obviously, my friend the carpenter may have been superseded. But, as it happens, I have reasons for thinking that it is the same man - I'll tell you in a minute.
"Rather unworthy to spring the name on you as I did, of course: but I never resist temptation when miracles are on the carpet ...."
"A most strikingly fortunate coincidence, at least." replied the jeweler seriously.
"Not very. We have the man and his job, and could find his name, did we lack it, in an hour. After all, the name matters little ...."
Simon Iff pulled himself up short with a snarl, the blood flooded his cheeks. He ground his teeth. His eyes were suddenly misty with a film of tears, as, casting out the shame of his precipitate judgment, there came the vision of a pale sad frightened girl ... "Claudine," he muttered. "Too extraordinary - if a name could be of virtue here as well ..."
He sank into deep thought. "Jonathan," he murmured. "David ...? A little honey on a rod ...? Bah! I'm an old fool. The name is common enough, and the man no such unusual type. I mustn't lose my grip, and look for light and leading in every Will o' the Wisp."
Philipps had picked up the letter and examined it carefully. "Yes, I dare say you're right. But ...." He did not know how to conclude his sentence. Iff's identification had merely replaced a superficial puzzle by a genuine problem.
The magician looked up, gleefully at the thought he read in the other man's mind.
"But, as you are about to say, it doesn't in the least explain why a perfect stranger should send you a threatening message in such a deuce of a hurry. You weren't intending to monkey with a buzz-saw, were you?"
"My relations with the whole world are absolutely peaceful."
"No big business pending?"
"The season's over; nothing doing for three months to come."
"I remember Jonathan Spratt as a singularly shrewd, sane, cautious man. The precautions in this letter agree there too. Whence the excitement, and the perfectly pointless threat or warning?”
"I think not. The man has been abroad for some time. He may not know of your bereavement."
"It might be intended for my father?" cried Philipps.
Iff nodded. But the jeweler’s face fell again.
"The poor old gentleman had taken no active part in the business for five years. He had practically no communication with the outside world. He would sit in the house all day and play with his collection of gems. He hardly ever went out. Sometimes he would play chess with a crony. He was the one man in the world unlikely to monkey with a buzz-saw!"
"Yes, I'll tell you one other thing. Jonathan Spratt, though a self-educated man, was a very thoroughly educated man, within his limits. The nature of the letter confirms that. A man must have read widely, and thought deeply, to invent so cryptic a plan. He would certainly not have spelt monkey without an 'e' or buzz with only one 'z', unless he had a particular reason for it. In short, I think it's some kind of a cipher. Spratt knew a little about the subject, by the way. The occasion of my employing him was the making of some fretwork stencils which I designed to offer to the Government for a particular object which we had in view. So we got to chatting over the subject; he knew several capital methods. Your father would probably have understood the purport of this paper."
"I can't imagine what my father would be doing with this Spratt!"
"Used him to catch whales, perhaps! The old man was a very keen collector, wasn't he? Suppose he employed Spratt to smuggle precious stones? A clever tool; trustworthy, prudent, ingenious, silent; all one could desire! Then suppose the letter was meant to convey exactly what it did not say: the letters omitted instead of those expressed: in plain American, E. Z. 'Easy' would have told your father that he had had no trouble with the Custom House people, and perhaps advised him to take certain prearranged steps for the transference of the smuggled stuff. The haste is now fully accounted for; he must have feared that your father would be anxious, as the ship was so late. Or, possibly, he had promised to make good on a definite day."
"It's all in the air, of course."
"I've caught many a ten-pound trout on single gut. We can test it by having Jonathan arrested. He wouldn't risk the Bhopur Emerald anywhere but on his person”8
"The Bhopur Emerald?"
"That is the only recently stolen stone which I can think of as likely to interest your father. The thieves were traced to Alexandria, you know. So likely enough Jonathan got his little job through at Naples while the Hyrcania was in harbor."
"But why have him arrested?"
"He's broken the law, hasn't he? Or do you want the stone?"
"I suppose my father paid for it. I don't mind paying the duty."
"A stolen stone?"
"Oh, the Rajah of Bhopur's a nigger."
"In India, my dear sir, the people enjoy the advantages of religion, morals, art, literature and good manners. When I notice these, my second glance will embrace telephones and tall buildings. Incidentally, his complexion is considerably fairer than either yours or mine.”9
Philipps winced. "Right's right," he said rather angrily.
"True," said Iff. "But allow me to pass you a copy of the Jewish and Christian scriptures. You will there find many texts of a character to buttress your case. Thou shalt not steal and Thou shalt not kill are followed by many illustrations of the wrath of Jehovah against various people who didn't steal and kill - when the victims were 'heathen'. Does that help you?"
"It does," said Philipps. "We cannot go against the Word of God."
"Speak for yourself," said Simon Iff. "I am now going to call up the Custom House People, and the Police. Here is your letter. It's for you after all: don't monkey with a buzz-saw!"
Philipps went away in a black fury10. He saw - not red, but green! A passion to acquire the famous Bhopur Emerald swept through his whole being. He had not a moment to lose! He must find Jonathan Spratt. What arrangements could his father possibly have made? The only hope was to go home and rummage among the dead man's papers.
Simon Iff, having done his duty by Law and Order on the telephone, returned to the perusal of the 'newspaper'11.
Mr. Philip P. Philipps was disturbed in his search among his father's papers by the arrival of the midday mail.
One letter stood out from the rest like the sun among the stars - it was the printed pencil of Jonathan Spratt. Philipps tore it open with crazy anxiety. But the content was nothing but a chess diagram.
It was a perfectly conventional chess problem, motto, author, and description complete; but Philipps had no difficulty in understanding that here was another ingenious cipher.
And the only man - probably - capable of solving it had just turned him out of the house for a thief!
But Philip P. Philipps had inherited some of his father's slyness and resourcefulness. He thought of a friend named Bloom who - so he was wont to boast - knew Simon Iff very well. He would copy the paper, and take it to him, asking him to show it to Iff and ask for a solution. In case the old magician played him false (for he could not imagine anybody being straight) and went personally to the assignation - he was certain the 'problem' was a cipher of time and place - he would have him followed by two sure men whom he had often employed to guard packets of jewels. He himself would wait at home, on the chance of Jonathan Spratt turning up in person. Having made these arrangements, he went on with his search through the papers, but discovered nothing connected with the matter, unless the dozens of odd chess diagrams were also part of it.
Bloom rang up Simon Iff at his friend's request, and arranged, quite casually, for a meeting at the club that afternoon. The sleuths were on the mystic's trail before he left the house, determined to follow to the death.
Bloom talked of many casual things; it was only by apparent chance that, in pulling out his cigar-case, the chess problem came with it.
"By the way, you're a chess fiend, aren't you? This seems in your line."
Simon Iff picked up the paper and studied it carefully. "These seven-movers12 are a bit out of date," he said at last, "and I'm a bit out of practice at them in consequence; they were all the rage when I was a boy. You don't play, I think?"
"No," replied the innocent Bloom.
"How did you get this?"
"Found it the other day as I was turning over some old papers."
"And made a copy of it this morning, all for my benefit?"
Bloom began to stammer. "I - er - that is - you see - ah - just so. The original was very nearly worn out."
"Don't you know me well enough to tell me the true story?"
"Well - er - a friend bet me you could solve it, and I wouldn't believe it."
That was true, so far as it went.
"I suppose this was in strict confidence?"
"Yes," gasped Bloom, grasping at the sorry straw.
"Very peculiar," remarked Simon. "Only this morning a friend of yours showed me a cipher, of a nature that made me expect a second cipher to follow. And here we are; only, instead of a cipher, we have a chess problem. And between you and me, it's a pretty poor problem, if it's solvable at all, which I doubt. Suppose it were the cipher after all?"
"Suppose it were?" echoed Bloom helplessly.
"Well, if it's a cipher, it's as plain as print."
"And what does it mean, then?"
"I think your friend Mr. Philip P. Philipps is more of a fool than a knave. With your permission, I will show this little problem to Commissioner Teake, whom I perceive in yonder window. If he chooses to tell you, I have no objection."
"I say, you can't do that, you know! That's my paper!"
"Your loyalty is honorable, but its source is in your ignorance. Your Mr. Philipps is making you accessory to a felony. Ask him to show you the first cipher: don't monkey with the buzz-saw. Here, don't be an ass, come across with me, and tell Teake all you know!"
Bloom surrendered. But his information was meager enough; Philipps, with an imbecile's false cunning, had told him nothing, not even prompted a plausible explanation.
"I don't know whether I ought not to hold you," said Teake, "if only as a material witness."
"Let him go!" urged Iff; "he's the most immaterial witness I ever saw in my life."
So they stood him a drink, to show there was no ill feeling; and off he went with his tail between his legs.
"I can make nothing of this, Mr. Iff," said Teake.
"Oh, surely you can. The only difficulty is that it doesn't look like a cipher. Once suspect it, and it blossoms into flower."
"Well, the Bloom's off the peach," grinned the Commissioner, to the horror and agony of the magician.
"It might of course be a dictionary cipher," explained he; "you've only got to number the squares from 1 to 64, and your pieces from 1 to 12 - 6 white and 6 black pieces diverse - and mark up words in a dictionary accordingly. But the number of words is very limited, and you would need an extra code to account for the order; the whole scheme would be inefficient and clumsy, though it might serve some special object.
"However, that's barred, because it would need an incredible coincidence to have the code message appear as even you, who don't play chess at all, see it appear - or will, in a minute or so. Come now, doesn't the arrangement of the pieces strike you as peculiar?"13
"So would any arrangement. The pieces mean nothing whatever to me."
"Oh yes, they do. Forget about their being chessmen; think of them simply as a child would."
"Oh!" cried Teake. "What an ass I am!"
"Every article marked in plain figures!"
"4315. But what's that?"
"Safe bind, safe find! Otherwise, memorandum about a safe where something is put away."
"I see. And it has something to do with this Philipps-Spratt business - um! But where's the safe?"
"Possibly 'by R. W. Waterton?' Either a third party - which I doubt, these people not needing assistance, so far as I can see - or an address. R might stand for 18 and W for 23. Is there a Waterton Street in these parts? Or a West Waterton Street?"
"Probably, I'll find out." He took a table telephone and called up headquarters. Yes, there was a Waterton Street in Hoboken. "Get the officer, and have him call me here - Chiliad Club."14
Two minutes later the officer on the Waterton Street beat rang through. Among the tenants of No. 1823 was a watchmaker, Aminadab Spratt, a bachelor, steady, decent, sober, and reputed to have saved much money.
"A hot trail," said the Commissioner to Iff, as he replaced the receiver. "What do we do now? Raid 'em?"
"I think that 'seven moves' may mean 'call at seven o'clock'. Otherwise, it's part of the combination. I expect Aminadab as a brother of Jonathan - pious kind of a family, eh? - and lets him keep a safe in the place to store things while he's away at sea."15
"I think I see the idea now. Jonathan daren't meet Philipps, so he tells him to call at this house. Very likely, as you say, at seven o'clock, to make sure Aminadab is at home. He would describe old Philipps, and the latter's knowledge of the combination would make all secure."
"Exactly my idea."
"But why risk sending the figures? Why not leave word with his brother?"
"As man to man, Teake, would you trust a plugged nickel to any one named Aminadab Spratt?"
Teake laughed. "I guess you're right. So we'll time the raid for seven. I'll call up."
Two detective inspectors were waiting for the Commissioner and his friend as they came out of the club after a hasty dinner, saluted, and got into the car with them. The sleuths of Mr. Philipps looked at each other. They were not exactly out to follow the Commissioner of Police; they might thank their stars he wasn't following them. So they went over to Philipps' house and reported their discomfiture.
"That cipher was right the first time," he said comically. "E. Z.'s all wrong, but he certainly got the right dope about the buzz-saw!"
Precisely at seven o'clock the police car drew up before No. 1823 Waterton Street. They had enlisted the aid of the Chief of the Hoboken Police. The little party entered, and a number of constables quietly moved into position.
But no such precautions were necessary. Aminadab Spratt rose and received the Chief and the Commissioner with perfect calm and respect.
"You are Aminadab Spratt?"
"Yep, your honor."
"I am the Chief of Police. I have a warrant to search this house."
"Yep, your honor."
"You have a brother named Jonathan?"
There was a moment's pause.
"Cousin, your honor."
"Does he rent a safe with you?"
"Yep, your honor. It's behind that rubbish in the corner."
The two detective inspectors went forward, and cleared the spot indicated. Let into the wall was a safe of recent pattern, excellently made.
Teake himself operated the combination. In the meantime Simon Iff had fraternized with the watchmaker. The mystic carried a 'perpetual motion' watch, wound by a steel weight which rises and falls as the wearer moves in walking.
"I have to walk five miles a day," he explained to Aminadab; "so I keep my watch wound and my waist slender by the same healthful procedure. Have you ever seen Ozanam's mercurial water-clock, or a copy?"16
Aminadab admitted cheerfully that he had.
"If you had had one here," said Simon, "you would have been able to tell me exactly at what time your brother - I mean cousin - looked in to-day. The second time, I mean."
"So that's what you're getting at, Mister."
"Yes; I noticed your quiet amusement at the futile proceedings of our friends in the corner."
Teake was just in the act of stooping to open the safe, with an electric torch held to the dial by one of the inspectors.
He looked up over his shoulder with a quick startled face.
"What's that?" he snapped.
"Go on, go on. Try all things; hold fast that which is good!" This was in Simon Iff's most ironical tones.
Aminadab laughed outright. Teake went at the safe like a whirlwind.
The door swung open. The safe was furnished as a correct and chaste imitation of Old Mother Hubbard's celebrated cupboard.
"Damn it!" said Teake in a rage, "you led me into this, Iff. This is as bad as that damned foolishness with Mr. Noon."17
"Oh no!" said Simon. "Iff's only for short. The whole of it is 'Iff at first you don't succeed, try, try, try again!'"
He seized Aminadab Spratt by the waist, and executed a blithe polka. It went very much against the grain of so sober and respectable a watchmaker; but he supposed Iff to be drunk.
The Commissioner was not to be pacified. His colleague from Hoboken was smirking too broadly.
"We'll hold this Spratt, I guess, on suspicion."
"Suspicion of smiling to himself? We come here on the evidence of an alleged chess problem sent by some unknown person to a man named Philipps who has nothing to do with the place; and we've got to take under our wing tra-la, a most unattractive old thing, tra-la, with a caricature of a - case! We find nothing where no sane person would have expected to find anything; and yet we must arrest the unhappy Aminadab. For shame!"
"Damn it, which side are you on? The whole thing has hung together miraculously till now."
"My dear friend, it hangs still better. Aminadab's smile - a very sweet smile, mark you, and passing subtle - told me that the Bhopur Emerald had been here to-day. Then why isn't it here now? Jonathan learnt somehow that old Philipps was dead. There was his cipher out in the cold world. It might fall into the wrong hands - as in fact it did. The only course open to him was to hurry back and remove the stone."
Aminadab's expression had altered. It had not struck him until then how strange it was that the hour of the assignation should be known, and the combination of the safe.
"Your brother - cousin, I mean - boasted of the safety of his ciphers, I imagine? Be a sensible man, now; can't you see what you're up against? Don't monkey with the buzz-saw! I've tried to save you from arrest; now, what time did your brother - er - cousin take the emerald away?"
"About an hour ago," grumbled Aminadab.
"Which way did he go?"
"I don't know."
"But he was an emerald thief - and an impertinent one, surely?"
"What do you mean?"
"I was joking. Of course you couldn't know. But you must know what you did with the body."
Aminadab Spratt collapsed into the arms of the detective who stood by him.
"Brandy," said Iff. "Put him in a chair."
"Sure we will," observed Teake playfully, "unless this is another of your 'purely theoretical' arrests 'for the instruction of rising Police Commissioners', I think you said." He was still a little sore, and Iff's lightning developments were on his nerves.
"Better now?" asked Simon. Aminadab's face had some color in it, from the stiff dose of brandy which the Chief had poured between his teeth. He held hysterically to the arms of the chair in which they had seated him. Then he saw Iff's sardonic grin, as the mystic's eyes fell on those tightened muscles, and he sprang up with a shriek of horror.18
"Sit down!" said Iff, sternly.
"No, no!" he yelled, "you shan't kill me; you've no right to kill me."
"Is that remark original with you?"
Spratt clenched his teeth, and said no word.
"I should arrest him, sir, and warn him in the usual way."
"This is absolutely serious?" said the Chief of Police. "You understand what this means? I can't even see a ground of suspicion. Incidentally, we haven't found a dead body yet."
"Oh, technicality! What a blessed word is Mesopotamia!19 Keep him till I find the emerald! Fie, Aminadab, your eyes are wandering again just where they shouldn't. Near the kitchenette. Ah, the galled jade winces; this is perhaps our young friend's first serious crime. Now, Teake, use your brains! Where would a watchmaker hide an emerald in a kitchenette?"
Simon threw open the doors. "Bread? No; you can't join up bread neatly. A watchmaker, remember! What be these? Eggs. And have we not invisible cements, we watchmakers? I'll take a chance on an egg."
He banged the box upon the table. The eggs broke, flowed every way. And in the midst behold - the Bhopur Emerald!
"Now can't you arrest him under the Sullivan Law for carrying concealed eggs - which are notoriously weapons - in politics? Or for being in possession of narcotic eggs? I often go to sleep after a debauch on Omelet Espagnole ...."
But they had already arrested him.
"Good!" continued Simon, turning to observe, at the click of the handcuffs, "let me now continue my prolix yet informative discourse. Seventeenthly, I noticed that Aminadab - lovely name! - while very much amused at our preoccupation with the safe, became quite serious when I spoke of his brother's - I mean his cousin's - movements. Forty-fifthly, he changed his position in the room rather furtively, immediately afterwards. He strongly resented my whirling him away to the strains of the Blue Danube; possibly because he doesn't like Austrians; possibly not.20 Why this fuss about his position? Did it remind me of that chess problem? (Position is everything in chess, don't you know?) No, gentlemen, it did not. Still, I wondered. It had occurred to me that Jonathan's refusal to trust his brother - er, cousin - with the combination of the safe was unflattering - and I knew Jonathan for a most prudent man. And then I thought that Jonathan was not so scared because old Philipps' death sent his ciphers astray - he probably believed in his ciphers - but because old Phillips was the man behind the gun. Not a fool like his fat son, oh no! He had built up that business from nothing; it's one of America's standard examples; and he was carrying on all this funny business on the sly under his son's nose, though he was in his dotage.21 A big man in his way, old Philipps! The Spratts didn't dare to go against him. But, Philipps dead, nobody knew of this emerald but Jonathan and Aminadab. I have told you now prudent Jonathan was: he must have realized instantly that if his cousin - or was it brother, Mr. Spratt?"
The man in the chair drew his breath heavily.
"My first suspicion was your tone when you said cousin. You could not bear to think of him as brother - why? Does 'cousin' lighten your burden, does 'cousin' efface the brand of Cain, oh you whose father brought you up upon the Bible?"
Simon Iff was tense and inflamed, a modern Issiah.22 He dropped, as suddenly as he had risen, to a bantering tone.
"Well, as I was saying, dearly beloved brethren, umpteenthly, if Aminadab knew that Philipps was no longer there to avenge bad faith, he would force the safe and be off with the emerald. There is no time to lose; the non-arrival of Philipps at seven o'clock might put some such thought in Cain's mind. So Abel hurries back. But his action arouses Cain's suspicions. Perhaps Abel tells him that the plan is changed, or that there is danger. Yet surely the danger was for Abel to be near the stone. Cain smells a rat; he will strike a blow for the great prize." He stopped, out of breath.
"This is all the merest surmise, Mr. Iff," said the Chief of Police, a little annoyed again.
"Be patient. I produced the emerald. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. This surmise, ambling amiably about my vacant cranium, my thought wandering still further, right back to the question of Cain's position on the floor ...."
Aminadab Spratt uttered an inarticulate cry.
"You are a tidy man, Son of Adam!" said Simon Iff. "Your hands are washed, your hair is trimmed, your chin is smooth, your collar is white, your dress is neat, your tools betray every evidence of loving care. But the room itself, apart from your person and your trade, is singularly unkempt. I have often remarked this trait in persons devoted to some skilled profession. Yet, sometimes, such persons notice quite suddenly how badly their surroundings need cleanliness and order. They transform themselves into veritable demons of spring cleaning. Of course it is as bad as ever in a week. Amusing to observe, eh? Well, gentlemen, kindly direct your eyes to the position so carefully taken up by Cain. Do you see that small patch of floor, recently scrubbed, an hour or so ago, still damp, dust from other parts of the room brushed over it? You scrubbed well, Cain, I doubt not; you scrubbed for dear life; but will cleansing a floor cleanse your hands?"
Again he shot prophetic thunderbolts of tone upon the prisoner.
"I expect a microscope would show blood still - in the cracks anyhow."
Again he towered over Aminadab Spratt.
"The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground. Where is thy brother Abel?"
"I put the body in the water-tank on the roof," said the murderer. "The hammer is there too. I meant to have got it away to-night in my Ford. He wouldn't have been missed; he'd been paid off from the ship; old Philipps was to have paid him twenty thousand for the emerald, and he had money saved besides. Oh, don't look at me, don't look at me!" he cried piteously to Iff. "All this time your eyes have tortured me, and your voice saying 'Cain!' and a voice inside me beating, beating, beating with my heart 'Thou God seest me!'"23
Simon Iff turned away his eyes. The Chief of Police and the two inspectors led away the murderer to his doom.
Teak saw with wonder that Simple Simon's eyes had shifted from the mood of Sinai to that of Bethlehem.
"Why, man, you're crying!" he said in amazement. "I don't see anything to cry about."
"I know you don't," replied the mystic, "and that is one more reason why I'm crying. You can't see the agony of humanity. We're all monkeys, with fate as the buzz-saw! Oh frail ladder that leads up from the beast to the God, how slippery are thy rungs! That man fell in one moment from a hard-working, worthy life to a most shameful death. Humanity itself might so fall from the summit of civilization to a primeval barbarism. Sometimes I think I see it coming. This Count Zeppelin, you know, and the people who are working on the submarine. Ever think what they may lead to? No, Teake, let us go out under the stars with pure hearts, gazing with agony on him who has gone to his death. I caught him and I killed him, my brother, even as he killed his brother, like a lion springing upon a deer. So, as Charles Baxter or somebody once said, 'There, but for the grace of God, goes Simon Iff.' Come!"24
Teake followed in silence, shaken by an awe whose nature he hardly understood.
"Don't forget the emerald!" chirped Simple Simon over his shoulder; "it belongs to the Rajah of Bhopur, a very dear friend of mine, a very dear man. One of the best!"25
1. The title of the story is a play on the phrase “Don’t monkey with a buzz-saw”, current in the early 1900’s and now rarely seen, meaning, “Don’t fool with something dangerous that you don’t understand.” For an example of this phrase in use see, “Titanic and Other Ships,” by Charles Herbert Lightoller, pub., 1935, chapter 1.
2. Cui profuerit: To whose profit? (Latin). This phrase, very slyly, introduces the sub-theme whereby the U.S. is compared with the imperial Roman Empire. This comparison is not original with Crowley, but began with turn-of-the-century European historians. The essential point of the claim is aggressive exploitation, and remains very valid.
3. Dao De Jing (The Way and Its Power): a central text of the Chinese philosophy of Daoism; traditionally attributed to Laozi, circa 6th century BC. The key concept in Daoism is “wu-wei”, non-action, in the sense that the self is aligned with Dao and, therefore, all action derives from it, and not the individual ego. See my paper on this topic, The Four Pillars of Daoism, at http://www.spiralnature.com/spirituality/taoism/fourpillars.html.
4. Regarding the useless, redundant, and even pernicious quality of newspapers, Thoreau expresses precisely the same idea, “To a philosopher, all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit it and read it are old women over their tea,” (Henry David Thoreau, Walden and Other Writings, Bantam, NY, 1981, p. 175).
5. The droll function of the repetition is pushed to absurdity by the appendage “junior”, making the son naught but a weak, even slightly ridiculous, copy of the father.
6. Strictly speaking, the method which follows owes its debt to Conan Doyle (who owes his own debt to Poe). The singular aspect of the examination is its infantile, sensory-based character (smell, taste), which is in line with the Daoist principle of “becoming like a child” (see, for example, chapter X of the Dao De Jing).
7. Via this “strikingly fortuitous coincidence” Crowley attempts to kill three birds with one stone: 1) hasten the detection part of the tale, 2) establish a connecting link with other stories in the series, and 3) on a deeper level, try to indicate something of the inter-relatedness of life’s multitudinous events (in Jung’s sense of synchronicity). I do not believe, however, that this multi-task device altogether succeeds: it is the weak link in an otherwise strong story.
8. Bhopur: located in N. India.
9. From this paragraph to the end of the section, the complex of sub-themes is rapidly introduced.
10. Note the subtle play o “black fury”.
11. “Law and Order” here refers to Iff’s own philosophy, which, evidently, is closely aligned with Daoism.
12. An X-mover is a chess problem term meaning, “White to play and mate in x-moves”. However, either Crowley (or Iff) is having a bit of a joke here, as seven-movers have never been “all the rage”. In fact, due to their complexity, seven-movers are rather rare, five-movers generally being the limit.
13. “Peculiar”, to say the least. It is a very interesting point of this story that Crowley did not compose a (pseudo) chess problem to insert at this juncture. Indeed, to create one to fit the odd characteristics described would not at all be easy ~ and yet, for the reader to vaguely imagine what such a problem might look like is very easy! I’ve constructed the following (poor) example.
14. chiliad n. one thousand (years). chiliadal, chiliadic, a. chiliagon, n. thousand-sided figure. chiliarch, n. ancient Greek or Roman officer in charge of a thousand men. chiliasm, n. belief in second incarnation of Christ as king of world; millenarianism. chiliast, n. adherent of such belief. chiliastic, a.
15. Aminadab: variant of Amminadab in the Bible. 1 Aaron’s father-in-law. 2 Head of a Levitical family.
16. Jacques Ozanam, a French professor of mathematics writing in 1694.
17. Mr. Noon: a reference to the Iff story “An Old head on Young Shoulders.”
18. Note the similarity here with the ending of “The Tell-Tale Heart”, by Poe.
19. Mesopotamia: literally, “between the rivers”. Here it is used for its general religious evocations, and as a logical pun (i.e., the “middle ground” between true and false).
20. Austrians: an allusion to he war raging in Europe, and particularly the Germans.
21. Again the exploitive American theme.
22. Issiah: variant spelling of Isaiah, an Old Testament prophet of doom.
23. Again the debt to “The Tell-Tale Heart” is obvious.
24. Though the reference is rather obscure, it does serve to nicely tie-up the complex of themes. Charles Baxter, 28th May 1800, was a military guard bringing a deserter to trial; the prisoner bolted, and Baxter shot him to death. In the hearing that followed, Baxter was acquitted, having performed his duty as required by law. He is reputed to have said he was not proud of the event, and remarked of the dead man, “There, but for the grace of God, goes Charles Baxter”. The phrase was actually coined by the English Protestant martyr John Bradford (1510 -1555), who said it after seeing condemned men being lead to the scaffold.
25. And closure with racial equality.
About the Author
Robert T. Tuohey was born in 1961, Danbury, Connecticut. He has studied psychology at the State University of New York in Albany (1988), and California Coast University in Santa Ana (1993). In the U.S. Bob worked in the field of mental health; for the past ten years, he has lived abroad (in Japan and China) teaching English at the tertiary level. His current position is Foreign Expert in the Languages Department of Taiyuan University of Technology, Taiyuan, Shanxi, PRC.
Bob's published works include an introductory textbook on English literature (From Beowulf to Joyce, Taiyuan University Press, 2001), several short stories (try, for example, Botkin's Resignation, Top Ten Tell-Tale Signs of Chess Addiction, http://www.baja-blue.com/crypt/ or szirine.com), his home page at http://jadedragon.250x.com/welcome.htm, and his bi-monthly chess column on forgotten players of the Royal Game http://chessville.com/misc/History/PastPawns/index.htm.
In his spare time, Bob plays chess, practices martial arts, and tries his hand at a bit of blues guitar. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org