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The Spike: or, Victoria University College Review, September, 1922

A Chemical Nightmare

page 44

A Chemical Nightmare.

One day while wandering aimlessly about the College buildings, feeling quite fed up* with the library and swat,* and seeking peace, I stumbled upon a strange place of which I had never heard before. It was a great shadowy room filled with mystery, like some hidden sanctuary, seemingly cut off from the rest of the College. There were in it, benches, with polished ebony tops, covered here and there with neatly arranged glassware. On the walls were many shelves filled with shining bottles of many coloured liquids and solids.

As I entered a faint aromatic odour was wafted to my nostrils, as of incense burning, and faintly to my ears came the murmur of voices as in prayer. Here at last was peace. I thought, and decided to sit and muse awhile in this delightful atmosphere. Unnoticed I sat and watched shadow-like forms flit to and fro. There were about a dozen people there altogether all busily engaged in some very serious matter. Their faces, through the dim shadows, looked grave, and their voices were carried to me in subdued murmurs. Gradually I became accustomed to the dim light and could distinguish the individual forms, and their occupations.

Nearest me was a man. standing over an immense glass bowl, tilled with some liquid which radiated golden light, casting a warm glow over him. In the liquid swimming to and fro were great fish. I could distinguish Salmo irideus, Salmo fario. Salvelinus fontinalis and others. The man was continually taking small quantities of the liquid out into a small vessel and mixing it with other substances, thus producing a variety of colours and perfumes.

Next him stood a girl, her face was flushed and apparently her work needed a great amount of energy. She was grinding glass to a tine powder in a huge mortar with a pestle about four feet long. Now and then she would pause, sigh, and drawing her hand across her eyes, make a remark to the man on her right. He was occupied with hundreds of small models, of intricate design, and seemed to be continually fitting them together and taking them apart again. As he worked he hummed to himself a solemn hymn-like tune.

Opposite him were two girls, standing over a great vat; one was casting great quantities of white material into one end of the vat, while the Other drew out pieces of every conceivable colour and hung them upon a rope which stretched into the shadows. Near them, perched upon a high stool in the midst of a towering mass of dark brown sticky stuff, was another man. He was passing the brown stuff rapidly through a succession of tubes and vessels, producing at the end a mass of the purest white crystalline substance. As he worked, his left foot swung back and forth, and he murmured to himself in low monotonous tones.

Beyond him was another who seemed to be doing many things, flitting from one to the other and singing softly as he went. Now and then he addressed a remark to one of the girls, who answered page 45 him with smiles. The last one I could see was a youth of fresh complexion, who stood over a number of curved tubes through which a many-coloured procession of tiny atoms was continously streaming..

As I watched low music stole softly over the place, and from the shadows emerged a tall form which seemed to float gracefully towards the workers; behind the first came another form, shorter and not quite so shadowy. As they approached each worker in turn ceased from his task and bowed low, murmuring as in prayer, standing with bowed head while his work was examined. The tall form spoke a few low words to each and passed on; he was just about to speak to the man over the great bowl when he espied me, and turning towards his more substantial companion he uttered some words in rather terrifying tones. The "substantial one" bowed and coming towards me said," "Who are you?"

In rather a shaky voice I told him my name.

"What do you here?"I was then asked.

I explained that while seeking peace from the turmoil of the library I had happened by accident upon this place.

"Do you know where you are?"he asked.

"No,"I admitted rather timidly.

"You have trepassed upon sacred ground," said the "substantial one," "this is the Temple of Chemistry, and these before you are the disciples of the great god, and he whom you see yonder is the High Priest. He has ordered me to tell you that you must he offered up as a sacrifice to our god—come, follow me."

My blood froze in my veins and I sat rooted to the stool; the "substantial one," however, caught my hand and pulled me to my feet. Stumbling I followed him into the shadows where stood the altar. The workers left their tasks and gathered around me. The High Priest came into the centre of the little group and said in slow solemn tones: "Here is one who has trespassed upon our sacred ground, and according to our law he must be sacrificed. Each in turn shall declare the form of sacrifice he desires. Brother "William, step forth and declare."

He who had been engaged with the models stepped forward and, bowing low before the High Priest, he said: "Let him be linked by a double-bond to a molecule of citraconic acid."

"Brother Felix,"called the"substantial one."

The man of the fish-bowl came forth and bowing said: "Thrust him into an evacuated tube and expose him to a continual stream of a-B-and X-rays."

"Brother John!"

The weary looking one of the high stool stepped up. and with a slight bow said in his monotonous tones: "Let him be drowned in molasses itself."

"Brother Mac!"

The cheery individual bowed almost to the ground and chanted, "Treat the rogue with conc. sulphuric acid and titrate him with normal caustic soda solution."

"Sister Birdie and Sister M—!"

The two girls of the vat stepped forth as one and declared in page 46 one breath, "Mix him to a smooth paste with p-nitro phenyl-nitrosamine and add B-napthol-alkali, wash him in acetic acid and hang him out until he is completely dyed."Bowing low to the High Priest they returned to their places, and the "substantial one" called upon Sister Quasi.

The flushed girl stepped out and said in emphatic tones: "Grind him to an impalpable powder, fuse him in a platinum crucible and analyse him quantitatively for silica and the alkali metals."

"Brother Lorrimer!" called the "substantial one."

The fresh complexioned youth strode forth and declared in mighty voice: "Let him be dissolved in a colloidal solution, and completely ionized by means of an electric current."

The High Priest then turned to the "substantial one" and asked him for his decision. The "substantial one" considered for a few seconds and then said: "I should let him simmer gently in a thermostat for forty-eight hours."

Then the High Priest turning to where I stood, paralysed with terror, said: "You have heard your fate, there is yet one way of escape for you, renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil, become a disciple of the god of Chemistry and you may live."

I fell upon my knees at his feet and holding up my hands to him swore eternal fidelity to the cause of Chemistry.

L. C.

* Scientific Terms—[Ed. Spike.]