On January 13, 1404, the British Parliament under the guidance of King Henry IV signed into law an act that would endear them all to millions of today’s schoolkids — the Act Against Multipliers. Oops. Turns out he wasn’t outlawing multiplication tables. Back then multipliers were what we know as alchemists.
Alchemy actually had a somewhat noble background. Alchemists sought to purify, mature and perfect certain things — an elixir of immortality here, a cure-all for disease there, perfection of the human body, perfection of the human soul. But what really got the alchemists’ juices flowing was the use of philosopher’s stone to transform base metals into “noble metals” such as gold and silver.
And that’s exactly what Henry was making illegal — the possibility of some commoner making himself very rich, causing a redistribution of wealth and income equality that would bring ruin on the state. It would be as if in the U.S. today any Tom Dick or Harry could own as large and garish hotel as a president.
Therefore “none from henceforth should use to multiply gold or silver, or use the craft of multiplication, and if any the same do, they incur the pain of felony.” Off with their heads, most likely.
Philosopher’s stone is available from Amazon.
Where’s a Henry IV When You Need Him?
On January 13, 1854, alchemist turned musical inventor Anthony Foss received a patent for his accordion, a strange device shaped like a box with a bellows that is compressed or expanded while pressing buttons or keys which cause pallets to open and air to flow across strips of brass or steel, creating something that vaguely resembles music. It is sometimes called a squeezebox. The person playing it is called an accordionist (or squeezeboxer?)
The harmonium and concertina are cousins. And, yes, there is a World Accordion Day.
M – I – C. K – E – Y . . .
The first Mickey Mouse comic strip appeared on January 13, 1930:
Island in the Sun, Conclusion
Several days passed before the bulldozer arrived. During that time, Santo kept a constant vigil at the olive tree. During the day, tourists passing by would sometimes stop to talk to Santo. Most had already heard of the crazy man and his olive tree, but Santo’s disarming smile and his friendliness would make them wonder whether he were crazy or merely a man with a cause, which is hardly so crazy. Knowing that he remained night and day at the tree, some would bring him food and would sit and talk with him while he ate.
The young couple from the south of England shivered as Santo told them about sleeping on the dock in Trinidad after loading a banana boat and awaking to find a fat tarantula sitting on his chest staring at him. The three ladies from California gushed over his tales of Spain during the last days of Generalissimo Franco. And the young Montrealer listened until well after midnight as Santo talked of his time in Algeria with the French Foreign Legion.
The bulldozer arrived early the next morning. Santo had to shake himself awake, and for a moment, he thought he was awaking from a nightmare in which he was about to be eaten by a huge yellow monster. But even with his eyes open, the yellow monster remained, growling at him.
“Go away, crazy one,” shouted Luis Jordan from atop the chugging beast. Luis was a young man who had come to the island to do construction work; he didn’t belong on the island. He was an angry, combative young man, frequently picking fights, and Santo didn’t like him much. “You don’t think I’ll plow you down, do you, crazy man?”
“I am not crazy,” answered Santo. “Go away.”
“Don’t be smart with me, crazy man. You won’t stop me. I don’t care if you live or die. You’re trespassing. I can plow you under and nobody will say anything. I’ll take down that damn tree, and I’ll take you down with it. Believe me.”
“I believe you.”
“As you should,” boasted Luis. “Now stand aside.”
“I can’t stand aside. This is my place. It was my mama’s and my papa’s, and it was their mama’s and papa’s. Go away and leave me alone.”
“I warned you,” said Luis, grinning as though he were really happy that Santo would not move, that he would have the pleasure of plowing him under. “Good riddance to your lunacy.” The bulldozer’s engine whined, and the beast lurched forward. Santo stood his ground as the yellow monster bore down on him, it’s driver laughing. Santo closed his eyes.
The Crystal Coral Beach Club was a magnificent place. It straddled a mile’s worth of white sand beach and bathed it in grandeur and opulence. Open for the first time this season, it was an unqualified success, drawing tourists from throughout the world and remaining fully occupied. Hopes were high that it would bring years of prosperity to the tiny island.
On this day, the first anniversary of groundbreaking for the beach club, a large throng of tourists had gathered together. The story of the Beach Club’s shaky beginnings had traveled from the swimming pool to the tennis courts to the lounge and to the bright blue water and back. This was to be a celebration of that day of confrontation.
The olive tree had grown to nearly ten feet and was beautiful to behold; looking at this tree, it was hardly surprising that so many people considered olive trees holy. Santo emerged from the modest house just beyond the tree, a house flanked by hibiscus, bougainvillea, and the beach club’s 156 luxury rooms. Santo the celebrity beamed as he joined the others at the tree and shared a toast with the couple from the south of England, the three ladies from California, the Montrealer, and the others who had been here last year, the ones who had ignored the metallic whine of impending doom to suddenly join Santo in front of his tiny tree, linking their arms with his in defiance of the bulldozer.
With a grin, Santo pointed to where, even though it defied all the rules of horticulture and all the laws of botany (but didn’t surprise Santo or his friends one little bit), a single olive clung tenaciously to a branch of his olive tree.
Listen to Island in the Sun
Island in the Sun is one of 15 stories in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.