Ibbelgen’s Eye Wash

Allen Parker - Issue 22 (2004)

The contributor who signed himself “NOT GEORGE” submitted no less than five short stories to the Croquet Gazettes of 1912 and 1913. They were all about a fictitious character named Professor Ibbelgen. This, the first story, appeared in the issue of 19th September 1912  – Allen Parker.


          I daresay a good many people will remember an advertisement in the Croquet Gazette some years ago, which related to a Professor Ibbelgen’s eye-wash. The result of this eye-wash when used before a match was to render a roquet the length of the ground as easy as one a yard in length. I had never met anyone who had used the stuff, and the matter created but a faint impression on my mind.


          Last year a great friend of mine, Asquith, the well-known croquet player, wrote to me urging me to come and play in the Eastbourne croquet tournament. He had just become engaged to a most beautiful and delightful girl, a Miss Jones, who, amongst many other attractions, possessed that of being an adept on the croquet lawn, and he was anxious that I should make her acquaintance. Well, I went, I saw, and I was conquered, and I congratulated my friend most heartily on his engagement.


          The day after I arrived Asquith had an unexpected business call to London, and with some difficulty he obtained leave from the referee for the day. His fiancée had to play her first round in the A Opens at 10 o’clock, and as she, a two bisquer herself, had to meet a man named Follette, also a two bisquer, it seemed that it might be a somewhat exciting match.


          In Asquith’s absence I had promised to look after Miss Jones and her mother, and I took a seat beside the latter when the match began. The morning was dull and cloudy at first, and the light just right for croquet. Later on the sun came out at intervals.


          Each player won a game somewhat easily. At the commencement of the third game Miss Jones hit her tice, got a perfect rush to the first hoop from one of the adversary’s two balls in the third* corner and proceeded with a very nice 3-ball break. But when she came to the sixth hoop she laid up rather far away, and missed the hoop altogether. Her adversary rose, and as she addressed her ball again, he cried out “But you didn’t go through the hoop, Miss Jones.”  “Oh, yes I did” she replied, and went on with her break.


          There was a subdued murmur amongst the spectators. The adversary subsided into his chair with the heavy croquet frown, which the striker’s opinion, alas, so often causes, and I felt hot all over. The game went on without incident, the sun occasionally appearing and disappearing behind the clouds.


          Presently Miss Jones got round with a 4-ball break with her red, and ran it with yellow up to 4-back, and again left herself a longish shot for her hoop.  Again she missed it clean, and again her adversary rose, again she claimed to have run the hoop, and giving but one more long shot, which the adversary in his annoyance missed by about seven feet, she went out.


          Everybody was talking about “that Jones girl’s cheating.” I was in a terrible quandary. On the one hand, could I stand quietly by and see my best friend marry a croquet cheat? On the other, how could I possibly say such a thing to him about the girl he loved? And how could a girl with such a face and with such wonderful, honest, lovely eyes, be a cheat? To look into those pools of limpid blue, and think of the owner cheating at croquet, was to make one doubt one’s senses, and yet dozens of people had seen what I had. I was indeed a gloomy, grumpy man all that day, wandering about and wondering what I was to do.


          In the evening I really couldn’t face Asquith and his friends at dinner, and made the excuse of a prior engagement to go off and dine at a restaurant attached to the hotel.     Here I met an old Cambridge friend dining with a somewhat long-haired and be-spectacled companion whom he introduced as Professor Ibbelgen. In the course of dinner my friend said, “I know you are a great croquet player, Washington, and it may interest you to know that Ibbelgen here is the inventor of that eye-wash that made such a stir in the croquet world some time ago.”


          The word “croquet” at once reminded me of the incidents of the morning, and plunged me into a gloomy abstraction, and I did not notice much of what the professor was saying until he said “And after all I found these minute crystals, which acted like a telescope, through coalescing on the retina of most eyes, yet in eyes of a particular quality of limpid blue had their edges dissolved, and in a bright light made the owner of the limpid blue eyes see crooked. So my invention was a failure and I have given it up.”


          My friend and the professor both thought I had gone mad. I got up, rushed from the table, knocking over my chair as I did so, rushed upstairs, burst into the Jones’ private room, and almost shouted to Miss Jones “Do you use Ibbelgen’s croquet eye-wash?”    Miss Jones blushed becomingly, Asquith rose in an endeavour to soothe his old friend suddenly gone mad, and poor Mrs. Jones looked quite frightened.


          “I tried some today for the first time” said Miss Jones, “as I found a bottle in a chemist’s shop here.”  “Heavens be praised.” I cried.  Explanations followed. Miss Jones, with the referee’s consent, given because of such extraordinary circumstances, scratched to the adversary, and all was joy and peace.


          “Fancy,” said Miss Jones, “an up-to-date place like Eastbourne still advertising a silly old thing like that.”


*Note.   There was no B baulk in the old sequence game.