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Tragedy of an Elderly Gentleman

ACT I


Burrin pier on the south shore of Galway Bay in Ireland, a region of
stone-capped hills and granite fields. It is a fine summer day in the
year 3000 A.D. On an ancient stone stump, about three feet thick and
three feet high, used for securing ships by ropes to the shore, and
called a bollard or holdfast, an elderly gentleman sits facing the land
with his head bowed and his face in his hands, sobbing. His sunburnt
skin contrasts with his white whiskers and eyebrows. He wears a black
frock-coat, a white waistcoat, lavender trousers, a brilliant silk
cravat with a jewelled pin stuck in it, a tall hat of grey felt, and
patent leather boots with white spats. His starched linen cuffs protrude
from his coat sleeves; and his collar, also of starched white linen, is
Gladstonian. On his right, three or four full sacks, lying side by side
on the flags, suggest that the pier, unlike many remote Irish piers,
is occasionally useful as well as romantic. On his left, behind him, a
flight of stone steps descends out of sight to the sea level.

A woman in a silk tunic and sandals, wearing little else except a cap
with the number 2 on it in gold, comes up the steps from the sea, and
stares in astonishment at the sobbing man. Her age cannot be guessed:
her face is firm and chiselled like a young face; but her expression is
unyouthful in its severity and determination.

**

THE WOMAN. What is the matter?

_The elderly gentleman looks up; hastily pulls himself together; takes
out a silk handkerchief and dries his tears lightly with a brave attempt
to smile through them; and tries to rise gallantly, but sinks back._

THE WOMAN. Do you need assistance?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. No. Thank you very much. No. Nothing. The heat.
[_He punctuates with sniffs, and dabs with his handkerchief at his eyes
and nose._] Hay fever.

THE WOMAN. You are a foreigner, are you not?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. No. You must not regard me as a foreigner. I am a
Briton.

THE WOMAN. You come from some part of the British Commonwealth?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_amiably pompous_] From its capital, madam.

THE WOMAN. From Baghdad?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Yes. You may not be aware, madam, that these
islands were once the centre of the British Commonwealth, during a
period now known as The Exile. They were its headquarters a thousand
years ago. Few people know this interesting circumstance now; but I
assure you it is true. I have come here on a pious pilgrimage to one of
the numerous lands of my fathers. We are of the same stock, you and I.
Blood is thicker than water. We are cousins.

THE WOMAN. I do not understand. You say you have come here on a pious
pilgrimage. Is that some new means of transport?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_again shewing signs of distress_] I find it
very difficult to make myself understood here. I was not referring to a
machine, but to a--a--a sentimental journey.

THE WOMAN. I am afraid I am as much in the dark as before. You said also
that blood is thicker than water. No doubt it is; but what of it?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Its meaning is obvious.

THE WOMAN. Perfectly. But I assure you I am quite aware that blood is
thicker than water.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_sniffing: almost in tears again_] We will leave
it at that, madam.

THE WOMAN [going _nearer to him and scrutinizing him with some concern_]
I am afraid you are not well. Were you not warned that it is dangerous
for shortlived people to come to this country? There is a deadly disease
called discouragement, against which shortlived people have to take very
strict precautions. Intercourse with us puts too great a strain on them.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_pulling himself together huffily_] It has no
effect on me, madam. I fear my conversation does not interest you. If
not, the remedy is in your own hands.

THE WOMAN [_looking at her hands, and then looking inquiringly at him_]
Where?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_breaking down_] Oh, this is dreadful. No
understanding, no intelligence, no sympathy--[_his sobs choke him_].

THE WOMAN. You see, you are ill.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_nerved by indignation_] I am not ill. I have
never had a day's illness in my life.

THE WOMAN. May I advise you?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I have no need of a lady doctor, thank you,
madam.

THE WOMAN [_shaking her head_] I am afraid I do not understand. I said
nothing about a butterfly.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Well, _I_ said nothing about a butterfly.

THE WOMAN. You spoke of a lady doctor. The word is known here only as
the name of a butterfly.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_insanely_] I give up. I can bear this no longer.
It is easier to go out of my mind at once. [_He rises and dances about,
singing_]

I'd be a butterfly, born in a bower,
Making apple dumplings without any flour.


THE WOMAN [_smiling gravely_] It must be at least a hundred and fifty
years since I last laughed. But if you do that any more I shall
certainly break out like a primary of sixty. Your dress is so
extraordinarily ridiculous.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_halting abruptly in his antics_] My dress
ridiculous! I may not be dressed like a Foreign Office clerk; but
my clothes are perfectly in fashion in my native metropolis, where
yours--pardon my saying so--would be considered extremely unusual and
hardly decent.

THE WOMAN. Decent? There is no such word in our language. What does it
mean?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. It would not be decent for me to explain. Decency
cannot be discussed without indecency.

THE WOMAN. I cannot understand you at all. I fear you have not been
observing the rules laid down for shortlived visitors.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Surely, madam, they do not apply to persons of my
age and standing. I am not a child, nor an agricultural laborer.

THE WOMAN [_severely_] They apply to you very strictly. You are expected
to confine yourself to the society of children under sixty. You
are absolutely forbidden to approach fully adult natives under any
circumstances. You cannot converse with persons of my age for long
without bringing on a dangerous attack of discouragement. Do you realize
that you are already shewing grave symptoms of that very distressing and
usually fatal complaint?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Certainly not, madam. I am fortunately in no
danger of contracting it. I am quite accustomed to converse intimately
and at the greatest length with the most distinguished persons. If you
cannot discriminate between hay fever and imbecility, I can only say
that your advanced years carry with them the inevitable penalty of
dotage.

THE WOMAN. I am one of the guardians of this district; and I am
responsible for your welfare--

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. The Guardians! Do you take me for a pauper?

THE WOMAN. I do not know what a pauper is. You must tell me who you are,
if it is possible for you to express yourself intelligibly--

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_snorts indignantly_]!

THE WOMAN [_continuing_]--and why you are wandering here alone without a
nurse.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_outraged_] Nurse!

THE WOMAN. Shortlived visitors are not allowed to go about here without
nurses. Do you not know that rules are meant to be kept?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. By the lower classes, no doubt. But to persons
in my position there are certain courtesies which are never denied by
well-bred people; and--

THE WOMAN. There are only two human classes here: the shortlived and
the normal. The rules apply to the shortlived, and are for their own
protection. Now tell me at once who you are.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_impressively_] Madam, I am a retired gentleman,
formerly Chairman of the All-British Synthetic Egg and Vegetable Cheese
Trust in Baghdad, and now President of the British Historical and
Archaeological Society, and a Vice-President of the Travellers' Club.

THE WOMAN. All that does not matter.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_again snorting_] Hm! Indeed!

THE WOMAN. Have you been sent here to make your mind flexible?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. What an extraordinary question! Pray do you find
my mind noticeably stiff?

THE WOMAN. Perhaps you do not know that you are on the west coast of
Ireland, and that it is the practice among natives of the Eastern Island
to spend some years here to acquire mental flexibility. The climate has
that effect.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_haughtily_] I was born, not in the Eastern
Island, but, thank God, in dear old British Baghdad; and I am not in
need of a mental health resort.

THE WOMAN. Then why are you here?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Am I trespassing? I was not aware of it.

THE WOMAN. Trespassing? I do not understand the word.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Is this land private property? If so, I make no
claim. I proffer a shilling in satisfaction of damage (if any), and am
ready to withdraw if you will be good enough to shew me the nearest way.
[_He offers her a shilling_].

THE WOMAN [_taking it and examining it without much interest_] I do not
understand a single word of what you have just said.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I am speaking the plainest English. Are you the
landlord?

THE WOMAN [_shaking her head_] There is a tradition in this part of the
country of an animal with a name like that. It used to be hunted and
shot in the barbarous ages. It is quite extinct now.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_breaking down again_] It is a dreadful thing to
be in a country where nobody understands civilized institutions. [_He
collapses on the bollard, struggling with his rising sobs_]. Excuse me.
Hay fever.

THE WOMAN [_taking a tuning-fork from her girdle and holding it to her
ear; then speaking into space on one note, like a chorister intoning
a psalm_] Burrin Pier Galway please send someone to take charge of a
discouraged shortliver who has escaped from his nurse male harmless
babbles unintelligibly with moments of sense distressed hysterical
foreign dress very funny has curious fringe of white sea-weed under his
chin.

THE GENTLEMAN. This is a gross impertinence. An insult.

THE WOMAN [_replacing her tuning-fork and addressing the elderly
gentleman_] These words mean nothing to me. In what capacity are you
here? How did you obtain permission to visit us?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_importantly_] Our Prime Minister, Mr Badger
Bluebin, has come to consult the oracle. He is my son-in-law. We are
accompanied by his wife and daughter: my daughter and granddaughter. I
may mention that General Aufsteig, who is one of our party, is really
the Emperor of Turania travelling incognito. I understand he has a
question to put to the oracle informally. I have come solely to visit
the country.

THE WOMAN. Why should you come to a place where you have no business?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Great Heavens, madam, can anything be more
natural? I shall be the only member of the Travellers' Club who has set
foot on these shores. Think of that! My position will be unique.

THE WOMAN. Is that an advantage? We have a person here who has lost both
legs in an accident. His position is unique. But he would much rather be
like everyone else.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. This is maddening. There is no analogy whatever
between the two cases.

THE WOMAN. They are both unique.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Conversation in this place seems to consist of
ridiculous quibbles. I am heartily tired of them.

THE WOMAN. I conclude that your Travellers' Club is an assembly of
persons who wish to be able to say that they have been in some place
where nobody else has been.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Of Course if you wish to sneer at us--

THE WOMAN. What is sneer?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_with a wild sob_] I shall drown myself.

_He makes desperately for the edge of the pier, but is confronted by
a man with the number one on his cap, who comes up the steps and
intercepts him. He is dressed like the woman, but a slight moustache
proclaims his sex._

THE MAN [_to the elderly gentleman_] Ah, here you are. I shall really
have to put a collar and lead on you if you persist in giving me the
slip like this.

THE WOMAN. Are you this stranger's nurse?

THE MAN. Yes. I am very tired of him. If I take my eyes off him for a
moment, he runs away and talks to everybody.

THE WOMAN [_after taking out her tuning-fork and sounding it, intones as
before_] Burrin Pier. Wash out. [_She puts up the fork, and addresses
the man_]. I sent a call for someone to take care of him. I have been
trying to talk to him; but I can understand very little of what he says.
You must take better care of him: he is badly discouraged already. If
I can be of any further use, Fusima, Gort, will find me. [_She goes
away_].

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Any further use! She has been of no use to me.
She spoke to me without any introduction, like any improper female. And
she has made off with my shilling.

THE MAN. Please speak slowly. I cannot follow. What is a shilling? What
is an introduction? Improper female doesnt make sense.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Nothing seems to make sense here. All I can tell
you is that she was the most impenetrably stupid woman I have ever met
in the whole course of my life.

THE MAN. That cannot be. She cannot appear stupid to you. She is a
secondary, and getting on for a tertiary at that.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. What is a tertiary? Everybody here keeps talking
to me about primaries and secondaries and tertiaries as if people were
geological strata.

THE MAN. The primaries are in their first century. The secondaries are
in their second century. I am still classed as a primary [_he points to
his number_]; but I may almost call myself a secondary, as I shall be
ninety-five next January. The tertiaries are in their third century. Did
you not see the number two on her badge? She is an advanced secondary.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. That accounts for it. She is in her second
childhood.

THE MAN. Her second childhood! She is in her fifth childhood.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_again resorting to the bollard_] Oh! I cannot
bear these unnatural arrangements.

THE MAN [_impatient and helpless_] You shouldn't have come among us.
This is no place for you.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_nerved by indignation_] May I ask why? I am a
Vice-President of the Travellers' Club. I have been everywhere: I hold
the record in the Club for civilized countries.

THE MAN. What is a civilized country?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. It is--well, it is a civilized country.
[_Desperately_] I don't know: I--I--I--I shall go mad if you keep on
asking me to tell you things that everybody knows. Countries where you
can travel comfortably. Where there are good hotels. Excuse me; but,
though you say you are ninety-four, you are worse company than a child
of five with your eternal questions. Why not call me Daddy at once?

THE MAN. I did not know your name was Daddy.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. My name is Joseph Popham Bolge Bluebin Barlow,
O.M.

THE MAN. That is five men's names. Daddy is shorter. And O.M. will not
do here. It is our name for certain wild creatures, descendants of
the aboriginal inhabitants of this coast. They used to be called the
O'Mulligans. We will stick to Daddy.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. People will think I am your father.

THE MAN [_shocked_] Sh-sh! People here never allude to such
relationships. It is not quite delicate, is it? What does it matter
whether you are my father or not?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. My worthy nonagenarian friend: your faculties are
totally decayed. Could you not find me a guide of my own age?

THE MAN. A young person?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Certainly not. I cannot go about with a young
person.

THE MAN. Why?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Why! Why!! Why!!! Have you no moral sense?

THE MAN. I shall have to give you up. I cannot understand you.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. But you meant a young woman, didn't you?

THE MAN. I meant simply somebody of your own age. What difference does
it make whether the person is a man or a woman?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I could not have believed in the existence of
such scandalous insensibility to the elementary decencies of human
intercourse.

THE MAN. What are decencies?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_shrieking_] Everyone asks me that.

THE MAN [_taking out a tuning-fork and using it as the woman did_] Zozim
on Burrin Pier to Zoo Ennistymon I have found the discouraged shortliver
he has been talking to a secondary and is much worse I am too old he is
asking for someone of his own age or younger come if you can. [_He puts
up his fork and turns to the Elderly Gentleman_]. Zoo is a girl of
fifty, and rather childish at that. So perhaps she may make you happy.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Make me happy! A bluestocking of fifty! Thank
you.

THE MAN. Bluestocking? The effort to make out your meaning is fatiguing.
Besides, you are talking too much to me: I am old enough to discourage
you. Let us be silent until Zoo comes. [_He turns his back on the
Elderly Gentleman, and sits down on the edge of the pier, with his legs
dangling over the water_].

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Certainly. I have no wish to force my
conversation on any man who does not desire it. Perhaps you would like
to take a nap. If so, pray do not stand on ceremony.

THE MAN. What is a nap?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_exasperated, going to him and speaking with
great precision and distinctness_] A nap, my friend, is a brief period
of sleep which overtakes superannuated persons when they endeavor to
entertain unwelcome visitors or to listen to scientific lectures. Sleep.
Sleep. [_Bawling into his ear_] Sleep.

THE MAN. I tell you I am nearly a secondary. I never sleep.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_awestruck_] Good Heavens!

_A young woman with the number one on her cap arrives by land. She looks
no older than Savvy Barnabas, whom she somewhat resembles, looked a
thousand years before. Younger, if anything._

THE YOUNG WOMAN. Is this the patient?

THE MAN [_scrambling up_] This is Zoo. [_To Zoo_] Call him Daddy.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_vehemently_] No.

THE MAN [_ignoring the interruption_] Bless you for taking him off my
hands! I have had as much of him as I can bear. [_He goes down the steps
and disappears_].

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_ironically taking off his hat and making a
sweeping bow from the edge of the pier in the direction of the
Atlantic Ocean_] Good afternoon, sir; and thank you very much for your
extraordinary politeness, your exquisite consideration for my feelings,
your courtly manners. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. [_Clapping
his hat on again_] Pig! Ass!

ZOO [_laughs very heartily at him_]!!!

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_turning sharply on her_] Good afternoon, madam.
I am sorry to have had to put your friend in his place; but I find that
here as elsewhere it is necessary to assert myself if I am to be treated
with proper consideration. I had hoped that my position as a guest would
protect me from insult.

ZOO. Putting my friend in his place. That is some poetic expression, is
it not? What does it mean?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Pray, is there no one in these islands who
understands plain English?

ZOO. Well, nobody except the oracles. They have to make a special
historical study of what we call the dead thought.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Dead thought! I have heard of the dead languages,
but never of the dead thought.

ZOO. Well, thoughts die sooner than languages. I understand your
language; but I do not always understand your thought. The oracles will
understand you perfectly. Have you had your consultation yet?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I did not come to consult the oracle, madam. I am
here simply as a gentleman travelling for pleasure in the company of my
daughter, who is the wife of the British Prime Minister, and of General
Aufsteig, who, I may tell you in confidence, is really the Emperor of
Turania, the greatest military genius of the age.

ZOO. Why should you travel for pleasure! Can you not enjoy yourself at
home?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I wish to see the World.

ZOO. It is too big. You can see a bit of it anywhere.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_out of patience_] Damn it, madam, you don't want
to spend your life looking at the same bit of it! [_Checking himself_] I
beg your pardon for swearing in your presence.

ZOO. Oh! That is swearing, is it? I have read about that. It sounds
quite pretty. Dammitmaddam, dammitmaddam, dammitmaddam, dammitmaddam.
Say it as often as you please: I like it.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_expanding with intense relief_] Bless you for
those profane but familiar words! Thank you, thank you. For the first
time since I landed in this terrible country I begin to feel at home.
The strain which was driving me mad relaxes: I feel almost as if I were
at the club. Excuse my taking the only available seat: I am not so young
as I was. [_He sits on the bollard_]. Promise me that you will not hand
me over to one of these dreadful tertiaries or secondaries or whatever
you call them.

ZOO. Never fear. They had no business to give you in charge to Zozim.
You see he is just on the verge of becoming a secondary; and these
adolescents will give themselves the airs of tertiaries. You naturally
feel more at home with a flapper like me. [_She makes herself
comfortable on the sacks_].

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Flapper? What does that mean?

ZOO. It is an archaic word which we still use to describe a female who
is no longer a girl and is not yet quite adult.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. A very agreeable age to associate with, I find. I
am recovering rapidly. I have a sense of blossoming like a flower. May I
ask your name?

ZOO. Zoo.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Miss Zoo.

ZOO. Not Miss Zoo. Zoo.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Precisely. Er--Zoo what?

ZOO. No. Not Zoo What. Zoo. Nothing but Zoo.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_puzzled_] Mrs Zoo, perhaps.

ZOO. No. Zoo. Cant you catch it? Zoo.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Of course. Believe me, I did not really think you
were married: you are obviously too young; but here it is so hard to
feel sure--er--

ZOO [_hopelessly puzzled_] What?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Marriage makes a difference, you know. One can
say things to a married lady that would perhaps be in questionable taste
to anyone without that experience.

ZOO. You are getting out of my depth: I dont understand a word you are
saying. Married and questionable taste convey nothing to me. Stop,
though. Is married an old form of the word mothered?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Very likely. Let us drop the subject. Pardon me
for embarrassing you. I should not have mentioned it.

ZOO. What does embarrassing mean?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Well, really! I should have thought that so
natural and common a condition would be understood as long as human
nature lasted. To embarrass is to bring a blush to the cheek.

ZOO. What is a blush?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_amazed_] Dont you blush???

ZOO. Never heard of it. We have a word flush, meaning a rush of blood to
the skin. I have noticed it in my babies, but not after the age of two.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Your babies!!! I fear I am treading on very
delicate ground; but your appearance is extremely youthful; and if I may
ask how many--?

ZOO. Only four as yet. It is a long business with us. I specialize in
babies. My first was such a success that they made me go on. I--

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_reeling on the bollard_] Oh! dear!

ZOO. Whats the matter? Anything wrong?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. In Heaven's name, madam, how old are you?

ZOO. Fifty-six.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. My knees are trembling. I fear I am really ill.
Not so young as I was.

ZOO. I noticed that you are not strong on your legs yet. You have many
of the ways and weaknesses of a baby. No doubt that is why I feel called
on to mother you. You certainly are a very silly little Daddy.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_stimulated by indignation_] My name, I repeat,
is Joseph Popham Bolge Bluebin Barlow, O.M.

ZOO. What a ridiculously long name! I cant call you all that. What did
your mother call you?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. You recall the bitterest struggles of my
childhood. I was sensitive on the point. Children suffer greatly from
absurd nicknames. My mother thoughtlessly called me Iddy Toodles. I
was called Iddy until I went to school, when I made my first stand for
children's rights by insisting on being called at least Joe. At fifteen
I refused to answer to anything shorter than Joseph. At eighteen I
discovered that the name Joseph was supposed to indicate an unmanly
prudery because of some old story about a Joseph who rejected the
advances of his employer's wife: very properly in my opinion. I then
became Popham to my family and intimate friends, and Mister Barlow
to the rest of the world. My mother slipped back into Iddy when her
faculties began to fail her, poor woman; but I could not resent that, at
her age.

ZOO. Do you mean to say that your mother bothered about you after you
were ten?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Naturally, madam. She was my mother. What would
you have had her do?

ZOO. Go on to the next, of course. After eight or nine children become
quite uninteresting, except to themselves. I shouldnt know my two eldest
if I met them.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_again drooping_] I am dying. Let me die. I wish
to die.

ZOO [_going to him quickly and supporting him_] Hold up. Sit up
straight. Whats the matter?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_faintly_] My spine, I think. Shock. Concussion.

ZOO [_maternally_] Pow wow wow! What is there to shock you? [_Shaking
him playfully_] There! Sit up; and be good.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_still feebly_] Thank you. I am better now.

ZOO [_resuming her seat on the sacks_] But what was all the rest of that
long name for? There was a lot more of it. Blops Booby or something.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_impressively_] Bolge Bluebin, madam: a
historical name. Let me inform you that I can trace my family back for
more than a thousand years, from the Eastern Empire to its ancient seat
in these islands, to a time when two of my ancestors, Joyce Bolge
and Hengist Horsa Bluebin, wrestled with one another for the prime
ministership of the British Empire, and occupied that position
successively with a glory of which we can in these degenerate days form
but a faint conception. When I think of these mighty men, lions in war,
sages in peace, not babblers and charlatans like the pigmies who now
occupy their places in Baghdad, but strong silent men, ruling an empire
on which the sun never set, my eyes fill with tears: my heart bursts
with emotion: I feel that to have lived but to the dawn of manhood in
their day, and then died for them, would have been a nobler and happier
lot than the ignominious ease of my present longevity.

ZOO. Longevity! [_she laughs_].

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Yes, madam, relative longevity. As it is, I have
to be content and proud to know that I am descended from both those
heroes.

ZOO. You must be descended from every Briton who was alive in their
time. Dont you know that?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Do not quibble, madam. I bear their names, Bolge
and Bluebin; and I hope I have inherited something of their majestic
spirit. Well, they were born in these islands. I repeat, these islands
were then, incredible as it now seems, the centre of the British Empire.
When that centre shifted to Baghdad, and the Englishman at last returned
to the true cradle of his race in Mesopotamia, the western islands were
cast off, as they had been before by the Roman Empire. But it was to the
British race, and in these islands, that the greatest miracle in history
occurred.

ZOO. Miracle?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Yes: the first man to live three hundred years
was an Englishman. The first, that is, since the contemporaries of
Methuselah.

ZOO. Oh, that!

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Yes, that, as you call it so flippantly. Are you
aware, madam, that at that immortal moment the English race had lost
intellectual credit to such an extent that they habitually spoke of
one another as fatheads? Yet England is now a sacred grove to which
statesmen from all over the earth come to consult English sages who
speak with the experience of two and a half centuries of life. The land
that once exported cotton shirts and hardware now exports nothing but
wisdom. You see before you, madam, a man utterly weary of the week-end
riverside hotels of the Euphrates, the minstrels and pierrots on the
sands of the Persian Gulf, the toboggans and funiculars of the Hindoo
Koosh. Can you wonder that I turn, with a hungry heart, to the mystery
and beauty of these haunted islands, thronged with spectres from a magic
past, made holy by the footsteps of the wise men of the West. Consider
this island on which we stand, the last foothold of man on this side
of the Atlantic: this Ireland, described by the earliest bards as an
emerald gem set in a silver sea! Can I, a scion of the illustrious
British race, ever forget that when the Empire transferred its seat to
the East, and said to the turbulent Irish race which it had oppressed
but never conquered, 'At last we leave you to yourselves; and much good
may it do you,' the Irish as one man uttered the historic shout 'No:
we'll be damned if you do,' and emigrated to the countries where there
was still a Nationalist question, to India, Persia, and Corea, to
Morocco, Tunis, and Tripoli. In these countries they were ever
foremost in the struggle for national independence; and the world rang
continually with the story of their sufferings and wrongs. And what poem
can do justice to the end, when it came at last? Hardly two hundred
years had elapsed when the claims of nationality were so universally
conceded that there was no longer a single country on the face of the
earth with a national grievance or a national movement. Think of the
position of the Irish, who had lost all their political faculties by
disuse except that of nationalist agitation, and who owed their position
as the most interesting race on earth solely to their sufferings! The
very countries they had helped to set free boycotted them as intolerable
bores. The communities which had once idolized them as the incarnation
of all that is adorable in the warm heart and witty brain, fled from
them as from a pestilence. To regain their lost prestige, the Irish
claimed the city of Jerusalem, on the ground that they were the lost
tribes of Israel; but on their approach the Jews abandoned the city
and redistributed themselves throughout Europe. It was then that these
devoted Irishmen, not one of whom had ever seen Ireland, were counselled
by an English Archbishop, the father of the oracles, to go back to their
own country. This had never once occurred to them, because there was
nothing to prevent them and nobody to forbid them. They jumped at the
suggestion. They landed here: here in Galway Bay, on this very ground.
When they reached the shore the older men and women flung themselves
down and passionately kissed the soil of Ireland, calling on the young
to embrace the earth that had borne their ancestors. But the young
looked gloomily on, and said 'There is no earth, only stone.' You will
see by looking round you why they said that: the fields here are of
stone: the hills are capped with granite. They all left for England next
day; and no Irishman ever again confessed to being Irish, even to his
own children; so that when that generation passed away the Irish race
vanished from human knowledge. And the dispersed Jews did the same lest
they should be sent back to Palestine. Since then the world, bereft of
its Jews and its Irish, has been a tame dull place. Is there no pathos
for you in this story? Can you not understand now why I am come to visit
the scene of this tragic effacement of a race of heroes and poets?

ZOO. We still tell our little children stories like that, to help them
to understand. But such things do not happen really. That scene of the
Irish landing here and kissing the ground might have happened to a
hundred people. It couldn't have happened to a hundred thousand: you
know that as well as I do. And what a ridiculous thing to call people
Irish because they live in Ireland! you might as well call them Airish
because they live in air. They must be just the same as other people.
Why do you shortlivers persist in making up silly stories about the
world and trying to act as if they were true? Contact with truth hurts
and frightens you: you escape from it into an imaginary vacuum in which
you can indulge your desires and hopes and loves and hates without any
obstruction from the solid facts of life. You love to throw dust in your
own eyes.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. It is my turn now, madam, to inform you that I do
not understand a single word you are saying. I should have thought that
the use of a vacuum for removing dust was a mark of civilization rather
than of savagery.

ZOO [_giving him up as hopeless_] Oh, Daddy, Daddy: I can hardly believe
that you are human, you are so stupid. It was well said of your people
in the olden days, 'Dust thou art; and to dust thou shalt return.'

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_nobly_] My body is dust, madam: not my soul.
What does it matter what my body is made of? the dust of the ground,
the particles of the air, or even the slime of the ditch? The important
thing is that when my Creator took it, whatever it was, He breathed into
its nostrils the breath of life; and Man became a living soul. Yes,
madam, a living soul. I am not the dust of the ground: I am a living
soul. That is an exalting, a magnificent thought. It is also a great
scientific fact. I am not interested in the chemicals and the microbes:
I leave them to the chumps and noodles, to the blockheads and the
muckrakers who are incapable of their own glorious destiny, and
unconscious of their own divinity. They tell me there are leucocytes
in my blood, and sodium and carbon in my flesh. I thank them for the
information, and tell them that there are blackbeetles in my kitchen,
washing soda in my laundry, and coal in my cellar. I do not deny their
existence; but I keep them in their proper place, which is not, if I may
be allowed to use an antiquated form of expression, the temple of the
Holy Ghost. No doubt you think me behind the times; but I rejoice in my
enlightenment; and I recoil from your ignorance, your blindness, your
imbecility. Humanly I pity you. Intellectually I despise you.

ZOO. Bravo, Daddy! You have the root of the matter in you. You will not
die of discouragement after all.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I have not the smallest intention of doing so,
madam. I am no longer young; and I have moments of weakness; but when
I approach this subject the divine spark in me kindles and glows, the
corruptible becomes incorruptible, and the mortal Bolge Bluebin Barlow
puts on immortality. On this ground I am your equal, even if you survive
me by ten thousand years.

ZOO. Yes; but what do we know about this breath of life that puffs you
up so exaltedly? Just nothing. So let us shake hands as cultivated
Agnostics, and change the subject.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Cultivated fiddlesticks, madam! You cannot change
this subject until the heavens and the earth pass away. I am not an
Agnostic: I am a gentleman. When I believe a thing I say I believe it:
when I don't believe it I say I don't believe it. I do not shirk my
responsibilities by pretending that I know nothing and therefore can
believe nothing. We cannot disclaim knowledge and shirk responsibility.
We must proceed on assumptions of some sort or we cannot form a human
society.

ZOO. The assumptions must be scientific, Daddy. We must live by science
in the long run.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I have the utmost respect, madam, for the
magnificent discoveries which we owe to science. But any fool can make
a discovery. Every baby has to discover more in the first years of its
life than Roger Bacon ever discovered in his laboratory. When I was
seven years old I discovered the sting of the wasp. But I do not ask
you to worship me on that account. I assure you, madam, the merest
mediocrities can discover the most surprising facts about the physical
universe as soon as they are civilized enough to have time to study
these things, and to invent instruments and apparatus for research. But
what is the consequence? Their discoveries discredit the simple stories
of our religion. At first we had no idea of astronomical space. We
believed the sky to be only the ceiling of a room as large as the earth,
with another room on top of it. Death was to us a going upstairs into
that room, or, if we did not obey the priests, going downstairs into
the coal cellar. We founded our religion, our morality, our laws, our
lessons, our poems, our prayers, on that simple belief. Well, the moment
men became astronomers and made telescopes, their belief perished. When
they could no longer believe in the sky, they found that they could no
longer believe in their Deity, because they had always thought of him
as living in the sky. When the priests themselves ceased to believe in
their Deity and began to believe in astronomy, they changed their name
and their dress, and called themselves doctors and men of science. They
set up a new religion in which there was no Deity, but only wonders
and miracles, with scientific instruments and apparatus as the wonder
workers. Instead of worshipping the greatness and wisdom of the Deity,
men gaped foolishly at the million billion miles of space and worshipped
the astronomer as infallible and omniscient. They built temples for his
telescopes. Then they looked into their own bodies with microscopes, and
found there, not the soul they had formerly believed in, but millions of
micro-organisms; so they gaped at these as foolishly as at the millions
of miles, and built microscope temples in which horrible sacrifices
were offered. They even gave their own bodies to be sacrificed by the
microscope man, who was worshipped, like the astronomer, as infallible
and omniscient. Thus our discoveries instead of increasing our wisdom,
only destroyed the little childish wisdom we had. All I can grant you is
that they increased our knowledge.

ZOO. Nonsense! Consciousness of a fact is not knowledge of it: if it
were, the fish would know more of the sea than the geographers and the
naturalists.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. That is an extremely acute remark, madam. The
dullest fish could not possibly know less of the majesty of the ocean
than many geographers and naturalists of my acquaintance.

ZOO. Just so. And the greatest fool on earth, by merely looking at a
mariners' compass, may become conscious of the fact that the needle
turns always to the pole. Is he any the less a fool with that
consciousness than he was without it?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Only a more conceited one, madam, no doubt.
Still, I do not quite see how you can be aware of the existence of a
thing without knowing it.

ZOO. Well, you can see a man without knowing him, can you not?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_illuminated_] Oh how true! Of course, of course.
There is a member of the Travellers' Club who has questioned the
veracity of an experience of mine at the South Pole. I see that man
almost every day when I am at home. But I refuse to know him.

ZOO. If you could see him much more distinctly through a magnifying
glass, or examine a drop of his blood through a microscope, or dissect
out all his organs and analyze them chemically, would you know him then?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Certainly not. Any such investigation could
only increase the disgust with which he inspires me, and make me more
determined than ever not to know him on any terms.

ZOO. Yet you would be much more conscious of him, would you not?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I should not allow that to commit me to any
familiarity with the fellow. I have been twice at the Summer Sports at
the South Pole; and this man pretended he had been to the North Pole,
which can hardly be said to exist, as it is in the middle of the sea. He
declared he had hung his hat on it.

ZOO [_laughing_] He knew that travellers are amusing only when they are
telling lies. Perhaps if you looked at that man through a microscope you
would find some good in him.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I do not want to find any good in him. Besides,
madam, what you have just said encourages me to utter an opinion of
mine which is so advanced! so intellectually daring! that I have never
ventured to confess to it before, lest I should be imprisoned for
blasphemy, or even burnt alive.

ZOO. Indeed! What opinion is that?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_after looking cautiously round_] I do not
approve of microscopes. I never have.

ZOO. You call that advanced! Oh, Daddy, that is pure obscurantism.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Call it so if you will, madam; but I maintain
that it is dangerous to shew too much to people who do not know what
they are looking at. I think that a man who is sane as long as he looks
at the world through his own eyes is very likely to become a dangerous
madman if he takes to looking at the world through telescopes and
microscopes. Even when he is telling fairy stories about giants and
dwarfs, the giants had better not be too big nor the dwarfs too small
and too malicious. Before the microscope came, our fairy stories only
made the children's flesh creep pleasantly, and did not frighten
grown-up persons at all. But the microscope men terrified themselves and
everyone else out of their wits with the invisible monsters they saw:
poor harmless little things that die at the touch of a ray of sunshine,
and are themselves the victims of all the diseases they are supposed to
produce! Whatever the scientific people may say, imagination without
microscopes was kindly and often courageous, because it worked on things
of which it had some real knowledge. But imagination with microscopes,
working on a terrifying spectacle of millions of grotesque creatures
of whose nature it had no knowledge, became a cruel, terror-stricken,
persecuting delirium. Are you aware, madam, that a general massacre
of men of science took place in the twenty-first century of the
pseudo-Christian era, when all their laboratories were demolished, and
all their apparatus destroyed?

ZOO. Yes: the shortlived are as savage in their advances as in their
relapses. But when Science crept back, it had been taught its place. The
mere collectors of anatomical or chemical facts were not supposed to
know more about Science than the collector of used postage stamps about
international trade or literature. The scientific terrorist who was
afraid to use a spoon or a tumbler until he had dipt it in some
poisonous acid to kill the microbes, was no longer given titles,
pensions, and monstrous powers over the bodies of other people: he was
sent to an asylum, and treated there until his recovery. But all that is
an old story: the extension of life to three hundred years has provided
the human race with capable leaders, and made short work of such
childish stuff.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_pettishly_] You seem to credit every advance in
civilization to your inordinately long lives. Do you not know that this
question was familiar to men who died before they had reached my own
age?

ZOO. Oh yes: one or two of them hinted at it in a feeble way. An
ancient writer whose name has come down to us in several forms, such
as Shakespear, Shelley, Sheridan, and Shoddy, has a remarkable passage
about your dispositions being horridly shaken by thoughts beyond the
reaches of your souls. That does not come to much, does it?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. At all events, madam, I may remind you, if you
come to capping ages, that whatever your secondaries and tertiaries may
be, you are younger than I am.

ZOO. Yes, Daddy; but it is not the number of years we have behind us,
but the number we have before us, that makes us careful and responsible
and determined to find out the truth about everything. What does it
matter to you whether anything is true or not? your flesh is as grass:
you come up like a flower, and wither in your second childhood. A lie
will last your time: it will not last mine. If I knew I had to die in
twenty years it would not be worth my while to educate myself: I should
not bother about anything but having a little pleasure while I lasted.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Young woman: you are mistaken. Shortlived as we
are, we--the best of us, I mean--regard civilization and learning, art
and science, as an ever-burning torch, which passes from the hand of one
generation to the hand of the next, each generation kindling it to a
brighter, prouder flame. Thus each lifetime, however short, contributes
a brick to a vast and growing edifice, a page to a sacred volume, a
chapter to a Bible, a Bible to a literature. We may be insects; but like
the coral insect we build islands which become continents: like the bee
we store sustenance for future communities. The individual perishes;
but the race is immortal. The acorn of today is the oak of the next
millennium. I throw my stone on the cairn and die; but later comers add
another stone and yet another; and lo! a mountain. I--

ZOO [_interrupts him by laughing heartily at him_]!!!!!!

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_with offended dignity_] May I ask what I have
said that calls for this merriment?

ZOO. Oh, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, you are a funny little man, with your
torches, and your flames, and your bricks and edifices and pages and
volumes and chapters and coral insects and bees and acorns and stones
and mountains.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Metaphors, madam. Metaphors merely.

ZOO. Images, images, images. I was talking about men, not about images.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I was illustrating--not, I hope, quite
infelicitously--the great march of Progress. I was shewing you how,
shortlived as we orientals are, mankind gains in stature from generation
to generation, from epoch to epoch, from barbarism to civilization, from
civilization to perfection.

ZOO. I see. The father grows to be six feet high, and hands on his six
feet to his son, who adds another six feet and becomes twelve feet high,
and hands his twelve feet on to his son, who is full-grown at eighteen
feet, and so on. In a thousand years you would all be three or four
miles high. At that rate your ancestors Bilge and Bluebeard, whom you
call giants, must have been about quarter of an inch high.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I am not here to bandy quibbles and paradoxes
with a girl who blunders over the greatest names in history. I am in
earnest. I am treating a solemn theme seriously. I never said that the
son of a man six feet high would be twelve feet high.

ZOO. You didn't mean that?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Most certainly not.

ZOO. Then you didn't mean anything. Now listen to me, you little
ephemeral thing. I knew quite well what you meant by your torch handed
on from generation to generation. But every time that torch is handed
on, it dies down to the tiniest spark; and the man who gets it can
rekindle it only by his own light. You are no taller than Bilge or
Bluebeard; and you are no wiser. Their wisdom, such as it was, perished
with them: so did their strength, if their strength ever existed outside
your imagination. I do not know how old you are: you look about five
hundred--

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Five hundred! Really, madam--

ZOO [_continuing_]; but I know, of course, that you are an ordinary
shortliver. Well, your wisdom is only such wisdom as a man can have
before he has had experience enough to distinguish his wisdom from his
folly, his destiny from his delusions, his--

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. In short, such wisdom as your own.

ZOO. No, no, no, no. How often must I tell you that we are made wise not
by the recollections of our past, but by the responsibilities of our
future. I shall be more reckless when I am a tertiary than I am today.
If you cannot understand that, at least you must admit that I have
learnt from tertiaries. I have seen their work and lived under their
institutions. Like all young things I rebelled against them; and in
their hunger for new lights and new ideas they listened to me and
encouraged me to rebel. But my ways did not work; and theirs did; and
they were able to tell me why. They have no power over me except that
power: they refuse all other power; and the consequence is that there
are no limits to their power except the limits they set themselves. You
are a child governed by children, who make so many mistakes and are so
naughty that you are in continual rebellion against them; and as they
can never convince you that they are right: they can govern you only by
beating you, imprisoning you, torturing you, killing you if you disobey
them without being strong enough to kill or torture them.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. That may be an unfortunate fact. I condemn it and
deplore it. But our minds are greater than the facts. We know better.
The greatest ancient teachers, followed by the galaxy of Christs who
arose in the twentieth century, not to mention such comparatively modern
spiritual leaders as Blitherinjam, Tosh, and Spiffkins, all taught that
punishment and revenge, coercion and militarism, are mistakes, and that
the golden rule--

ZOO. [_interrupting_] Yes, yes, yes, Daddy: we longlived people know
that quite well. But did any of their disciples ever succeed in
governing you for a single day on their Christ-like principles? It
is not enough to know what is good: you must be able to do it. They
couldn't do it because they did not live long enough to find out how
to do it, or to outlive the childish passions that prevented them from
really wanting to do it. You know very well that they could only keep
order--such as it was--by the very coercion and militarism they were
denouncing and deploring. They had actually to kill one another for
preaching their own gospel, or be killed themselves.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. The blood of the martyrs, madam, is the seed of
the Church.

ZOO. More images, Daddy! The blood of the shortlived falls on stony
ground.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_rising, very testy_] You are simply mad on the
subject of longevity. I wish you would change it. It is rather personal
and in bad taste. Human nature is human nature, longlived or shortlived,
and always will be.

ZOO. Then you give up the idea of progress? You cry off the torch, and
the brick, and the acorn, and all the rest of it?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I do nothing of the sort. I stand for progress
and for freedom broadening down from precedent to precedent.

ZOO. You are certainly a true Briton.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I am proud of it. But in your mouth I feel that
the compliment hides some insult; so I do not thank you for it.

ZOO. All I meant was that though Britons sometimes say quite clever
things and deep things as well as silly and shallow things, they always
forget them ten minutes after they have uttered them.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Leave it at that, madam: leave it at that.
[_He sits down again_]. Even a Pope is not expected to be continually
pontificating. Our flashes of inspiration shew that our hearts are in
the right place.

ZOO. Of course. You cannot keep your heart in any place but the right
place.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Tcha!

ZOO. But you can keep your hands in the wrong place. In your neighbor's
pockets, for example. So, you see, it is your hands that really matter.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_exhausted_] Well, a woman must have the last
word. I will not dispute it with you.

ZOO. Good. Now let us go back to the really interesting subject of our
discussion. You remember? The slavery of the shortlived to images and
metaphors.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_aghast_] Do you mean to say, madam, that after
having talked my head off, and reduced me to despair and silence by your
intolerable loquacity, you actually propose to begin all over again? I
shall leave you at once.

ZOO. You must not. I am your nurse; and you must stay with me.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I absolutely decline to do anything of the sort
[_he rises and walks away with marked dignity_].

ZOO [_using her tuning-fork_] Zoo on Burrin Pier to Oracle Police at
Ennistymon have you got me?... What?... I am picking you up now but you
are flat to my pitch.... Just a shade sharper.... That's better: still a
little more.... Got you: right. Isolate Burrin Pier quick.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_is heard to yell_] Oh!

ZOO [_still intoning_] Thanks.... Oh nothing serious I am nursing a
shortliver and the silly creature has run away he has discouraged
himself very badly by gadding about and talking to secondaries and I
must keep him strictly to heel.

_The Elderly Gentleman returns, indignant._

ZOO. Here he is you can release the Pier thanks. Goodbye. [_She puts up
her tuning-fork_].

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. This is outrageous. When I tried to step off the
pier on to the road, I received a shock, followed by an attack of pins
and needles which ceased only when I stepped back on to the stones.

ZOO. Yes: there is an electric hedge there. It is a very old and very
crude method of keeping animals from straying.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. We are perfectly familiar with it in Baghdad,
madam; but I little thought I should live to have it ignominiously
applied to myself. You have actually Kiplingized me.

ZOO. Kiplingized! What is that?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. About a thousand years ago there were two authors
named Kipling. One was an eastern and a writer of merit: the other,
being a western, was of course only an amusing barbarian. He is said to
have invented the electric hedge. I consider that in using it on me you
have taken a very great liberty.

ZOO. What is a liberty?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_exasperated_] I shall not explain, madam. I
believe you know as well as I do. [_He sits down on the bollard in
dudgeon_].

ZOO. No: even you can tell me things I do not know. Havnt you noticed
that all the time you have been here we have been asking you questions?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Noticed it! It has almost driven me mad. Do you
see my white hair? It was hardly grey when I landed: there were patches
of its original auburn still distinctly discernible.

ZOO. That is one of the symptoms of discouragement. But have you noticed
something much more important to yourself: that is, that you have never
asked us any questions, although we know so much more than you do?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I am not a child, madam. I believe I have had
occasion to say that before. And I am an experienced traveller. I know
that what the traveller observes must really exist, or he could not
observe it. But what the natives tell him is invariably pure fiction.

ZOO. Not here, Daddy. With us life is too long for telling lies. They
all get found out. Youd better ask me questions while you have the
chance.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. If I have occasion to consult the oracle I shall
address myself to a proper one: to a tertiary: not to a primary flapper
playing at being an oracle. If you are a nurserymaid, attend to your
duties; and do not presume to ape your elders.

ZOO. [_rising ominously and reddening_] You silly--

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_thundering_] Silence! Do you hear! Hold your
tongue.

ZOO. Something very disagreeable is happening to me. I feel hot all
over. I have a horrible impulse to injure you. What have you done to me?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_triumphant_] Aha! I have made you blush. Now you
know what blushing means. Blushing with shame!

ZOO. Whatever you are doing, it is something so utterly evil that if you
do not stop I will kill you.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_apprehending his danger_] Doubtless you think it
safe to threaten an old man--

ZOO [_fiercely_] Old! You are a child: an evil child. We kill evil
children here. We do it even against our own wills by instinct. Take
care.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_rising with crestfallen courtesy_] I did not
mean to hurt your feelings. I--[_swallowing the apology with an effort_]
I beg your pardon. [_He takes off his hat, and bows_].

ZOO. What does that mean?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I withdraw what I said.

ZOO. How can you withdraw what you said?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I can say no more than that I am sorry.

ZOO. You have reason to be. That hideous sensation you gave me is
subsiding; but you have had a very narrow escape. Do not attempt to kill
me again; for at the first sign in your voice or face I shall strike you
dead.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. _I_ attempt to kill you! What a monstrous
accusation!

ZOO [_frowns_]!

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_prudently correcting himself_] I mean
misunderstanding. I never dreamt of such a thing. Surely you cannot
believe that I am a murderer.

ZOO. I know you are a murderer. It is not merely that you threw words at
me as if they were stones, meaning to hurt me. It was the instinct to
kill that you roused in me. I did not know it was in my nature: never
before has it wakened and sprung out at me, warning me to kill or be
killed. I must now reconsider my whole political position. I am no
longer a Conservative.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_dropping his hat_] Gracious Heavens! you have
lost your senses. I am at the mercy of a madwoman: I might have known it
from the beginning. I can bear no more of this. [_Offering his chest for
the sacrifice_] Kill me at once; and much good may my death do you!

ZOO. It would be useless unless all the other shortlivers were killed
at the same time. Besides, it is a measure which should be taken
politically and constitutionally, not privately. However, I am prepared
to discuss it with you.

ZOO. What good have our counsels ever done you? You come to us for
advice when you know you are in difficulties. But you never know you are
in difficulties until twenty years after you have made the mistakes that
led to them; and then it is too late. You cannot understand our advice:
you often do more mischief by trying to act on it than if you had been
left to your own childish devices. If you were not childish you would
not come to us at all: you would learn from experience that your
consultations of the oracle are never of any real help to you. You draw
wonderful imaginary pictures of us, and write fictitious tales and poems
about our beneficent operations in the past, our wisdom, our justice,
our mercy: stories in which we often appear as sentimental dupes of your
prayers and sacrifices; but you do it only to conceal from yourselves
the truth that you are incapable of being helped by us. Your Prime
Minister pretends that he has come to be guided by the oracle; but we
are not deceived: we know quite well that he has come here so that
when he goes back he may have the authority and dignity of one who has
visited the holy islands and spoken face to face with the ineffable
ones. He will pretend that all the measures he wishes to take for his
own purposes have been enjoined on him by the oracle.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. But you forget that the answers of the oracle
cannot be kept secret or misrepresented. They are written and
promulgated. The Leader of the Opposition can obtain copies. All the
nations know them. Secret diplomacy has been totally abolished.

ZOO. Yes: you publish documents; but they are garbled or forged. And
even if you published our real answers it would make no difference,
because the shortlived cannot interpret the plainest writings. Your
scriptures command you in the plainest terms to do exactly the contrary
of everything your own laws and chosen rulers command and execute. You
cannot defy Nature. It is a law of Nature that there is a fixed relation
between conduct and length of life.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. No, no, no. I had much rather discuss your
intention of withdrawing from the Conservative party. How the
Conservatives have tolerated your opinions so far is more than I can
imagine: I can only conjecture that you have contributed very liberally
to the party funds. [_He picks up his hat, and sits down again_].

ZOO. Do not babble so senselessly: our chief political controversy is
the most momentous in the world for you and your like.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_interested_] Indeed? Pray, may I ask what it is?
I am a keen politician, and may perhaps be of some use. [_He puts on his
hat, cocking it slightly_].

ZOO. We have two great parties: the Conservative party and the
Colonization party. The Colonizers are of opinion that we should
increase our numbers and colonize. The Conservatives hold that we should
stay as we are, confined to these islands, a race apart, wrapped up in
the majesty of our wisdom on a soil held as holy ground for us by an
adoring world, with our sacred frontier traced beyond dispute by the
sea. They contend that it is our destiny to rule the world, and that
even when we were shortlived we did so. They say that our power and our
peace depend on our remoteness, our exclusiveness, our separation, and
the restriction of our numbers. Five minutes ago that was my political
faith. Now I do not think there should be any shortlived people at all.
[_She throws herself again carelessly on the sacks_].

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Am I to infer that you deny my right to live
because I allowed myself--perhaps injudiciously--to give you a slight
scolding?

ZOO. Is it worth living for so short a time? Are you any good to
yourself?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_stupent_] Well, upon my soul!

ZOO. It is such a very little soul. You only encourage the sin of pride
in us, and keep us looking down at you instead of up to something higher
than ourselves.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Is not that a selfish view, madam? Think of the
good you do us by your oracular counsels!

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I have never heard of any such law, madam.

ZOO. Well, you are hearing of it now.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Let me tell you that we shortlivers, as you call
us, have lengthened our lives very considerably.

ZOO. How?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. By saving time. By enabling men to cross the
ocean in an afternoon, and to see and speak to one another when they are
thousands of miles apart. We hope shortly to organize their labor, and
press natural forces into their service, so scientifically that the
burden of labor will cease to be perceptible, leaving common men more
leisure than they will know what to do with.

ZOO. Daddy: the man whose life is lengthened in this way may be busier
than a savage; but the difference between such men living seventy years
and those living three hundred would be all the greater; for to a
shortliver increase of years is only increase of sorrow; but to a
long-liver every extra year is a prospect which forces him to stretch
his faculties to the utmost to face it. Therefore I say that we who
live three hundred years can be of no use to you who live less than a
hundred, and that our true destiny is not to advise and govern you, but
to supplant and supersede you. In that faith I now declare myself a
Colonizer and an Exterminator.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Oh, steady! steady! Pray! pray! Reflect, I
implore you. It is possible to colonize without exterminating the
natives. Would you treat us less mercifully than our barbarous
forefathers treated the Redskin and the Negro? Are we not, as Britons,
entitled at least to some reservations?

ZOO. What is the use of prolonging the agony? You would perish slowly
in our presence, no matter what we did to preserve you. You were almost
dead when I took charge of you today, merely because you had talked for
a few minutes to a secondary. Besides, we have our own experience to go
upon. Have you never heard that our children occasionally revert to the
ancestral type, and are born shortlived?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_eagerly_] Never. I hope you will not be offended
if I say that it would be a great comfort to me if I could be placed in
charge of one of those normal individuals.

ZOO. Abnormal, you mean. What you ask is impossible: we weed them all
out.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. When you say that you weed them out, you send
a cold shiver down my spine. I hope you don't mean that you--that
you--that you assist Nature in any way?

ZOO. Why not? Have you not heard the saying of the Chinese sage Dee
Ning, that a good garden needs weeding? But it is not necessary for us
to interfere. We are naturally rather particular as to the conditions on
which we consent to live. One does not mind the accidental loss of an
arm or a leg or an eye: after all, no one with two legs is unhappy
because he has not three; so why should a man with one be unhappy
because he has not two? But infirmities of mind and temper are quite
another matter. If one of us has no self-control, or is too weak to bear
the strain of our truthful life without wincing, or is tormented by
depraved appetites and superstitions, or is unable to keep free from
pain and depression, he naturally becomes discouraged, and refuses to
live.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Good Lord! Cuts his throat, do you mean?

ZOO. No: why should he cut his throat? He simply dies. He wants to. He
is out of countenance, as we call it.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Well!!! But suppose he is depraved enough not to
want to die, and to settle the difficulty by killing all the rest of
you?

ZOO. Oh, he is one of the thoroughly degenerate shortlivers whom we
occasionally produce. He emigrates.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. And what becomes of him then?

ZOO. You shortlived people always think very highly of him. You accept
him as what you call a great man.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. You astonish me; and yet I must admit that what
you tell me accounts for a great deal of the little I know of the
private life of our great men. We must be very convenient to you as a
dumping place for your failures.

ZOO. I admit that.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Good. Then if you carry out your plan of
colonization, and leave no shortlived countries in the world, what will
you do with your undesirables?

ZOO. Kill them. Our tertiaries are not at all squeamish about killing.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Gracious Powers!

ZOO [_glancing up at the sun_] Come. It is just sixteen o'clock; and you
have to join your party at half-past in the temple in Galway.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_rising_] Galway! Shall I at last be able to
boast of having seen that magnificent city?

ZOO. You will be disappointed: we have no cities. There is a temple of
the oracle: that is all.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Alas! and I came here to fulfil two
long-cherished dreams. One was to see Galway. It has been said, 'See
Galway and die.' The other was to contemplate the ruins of London.

ZOO. Ruins! We do not tolerate ruins. Was London a place of any
importance?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_amazed_] What! London! It was the mightiest city
of antiquity. [_Rhetorically_] Situate just where the Dover Road crosses
the Thames, it--

ZOO [_curtly interrupting_] There is nothing there now. Why should
anybody pitch on such a spot to live? The nearest houses are at a place
called Strand-on-the-Green: it is very old. Come. We shall go across the
water. [_She goes down the steps_].

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Sic transit gloria mundi!

ZOO [_from below_] What did you say?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_despairingly_] Nothing. You would not
understand. [_He goes down the steps_].

--

ACT II

A courtyard before the columned portico of a temple. The temple door
is in the middle of the portico. A veiled and robed woman of majestic
carriage passes along behind the columns towards the entrance. From the
opposite direction a man of compact figure, clean-shaven, saturnine, and
self-centred: in short, very like Napoleon I, and wearing a military
uniform of Napoleonic cut, marches with measured steps; places his hand
in his lapel in the traditional manner; and fixes the woman with his
eye. She stops, her attitude expressing haughty amazement at his
audacity. He is on her right: she on his left.

NAPOLEON [_impressively_] I am the Man of Destiny.

THE VEILED WOMAN [_unimpressed_] How did you get in here?

NAPOLEON. I walked in. I go on until I am stopped. I never am stopped. I
tell you I am the Man of Destiny.

THE VEILED WOMAN. You will be a man of very short destiny if you wander
about here without one of our children to guide you. I suppose you
belong to the Baghdad envoy.

NAPOLEON. I came with him; but I do not belong to him. I belong to
myself. Direct me to the oracle if you can. If not, do not waste my
time.

THE VEILED WOMAN. Your time, poor creature, is short. I will not waste
it. Your envoy and his party will be here presently. The consultation of
the oracle is arranged for them, and will take place according to the
prescribed ritual. You can wait here until they come [_she turns to go
into the temple_].

NAPOLEON. I never wait. [_She stops_]. The prescribed ritual is,
I believe, the classical one of the pythoness on her tripod, the
intoxicating fumes arising from the abyss, the convulsions of the
priestess as she delivers the message of the God, and so on. That sort
of thing does not impose on me: I use it myself to impose on simpletons.
I believe that what is, is. I know that what is not, is not. The antics
of a woman sitting on a tripod and pretending to be drunk do not
interest me. Her words are put into her mouth, not by a god, but by a
man three hundred years old, who has had the capacity to profit by his
experience. I wish to speak to that man face to face, without mummery or
imposture.

THE VEILED WOMAN. You seem to be an unusually sensible person. But there
is no old man. I am the oracle on duty today. I am on my way to take my
place on the tripod, and go through the usual mummery, as you rightly
call it, to impress your friend the envoy. As you are superior to that
kind of thing, you may consult me now. [_She leads the way into the
middle of the courtyard_]. What do you want to know?

NAPOLEON [_following her_] Madam: I have not come all this way to
discuss matters of State with a woman. I must ask you to direct me to
one of your oldest and ablest men.

THE ORACLE. None of our oldest and ablest men or women would dream of
wasting their time on you. You would die of discouragement in their
presence in less than three hours.

NAPOLEON. You can keep this idle fable of discouragement for people
credulous enough to be intimidated by it, madam. I do not believe in
metaphysical forces.

THE ORACLE. No one asks you to. A field is something physical, is it
not. Well, I have a field.

NAPOLEON. I have several million fields. I am Emperor of Turania.

THE ORACLE. You do not understand. I am not speaking of an agricultural
field. Do you not know that every mass of matter in motion carries with
it an invisible gravitational field, every magnet an invisible magnetic
field, and every living organism a mesmeric field? Even you have a
perceptible mesmeric field. Feeble as it is, it is the strongest I have
yet observed in a shortliver.

NAPOLEON. By no means feeble, madam. I understand you now; and I may
tell you that the strongest characters blench in my presence, and submit
to my domination. But I do not call that a physical force.

THE ORACLE. What else do you call it, pray? Our physicists deal with it.
Our mathematicians express its measurements in algebraic equations.

NAPOLEON. Do you mean that they could measure mine?

THE ORACLE. Yes: by a figure infinitely near to zero. Even in us the
force is negligible during our first century of life. In our second it
develops quickly, and becomes dangerous to shortlivers who venture into
its field. If I were not veiled and robed in insulating material you
could not endure my presence; and I am still a young woman: one hundred
and seventy if you wish to know exactly.

NAPOLEON [_folding his arms_] I am not intimidated: no woman alive, old
or young, can put me out of countenance. Unveil, madam. Disrobe. You
will move this temple as easily as shake me.

THE ORACLE. Very well [_she throws back her veil_].

NAPOLEON [_shrieking, staggering, and covering his eyes_] No. Stop. Hide
your face again. [_Shutting his eyes and distractedly clutching at his
throat and heart_] Let me go. Help! I am dying.

THE ORACLE. Do you still wish to consult an older person?

NAPOLEON. No, no. The veil, the veil, I beg you.

THE ORACLE [_replacing the veil_] So.

NAPOLEON. Ouf! One cannot always be at one's best. Twice before in my
life I have lost my nerve and behaved like a poltroon. But I warn you
not to judge my quality by these involuntary moments.

THE ORACLE. I have no occasion to judge of your quality. You want my
advice. Speak quickly; or I shall go about my business.

NAPOLEON [_After a moment's hesitation, sinks respectfully on one knee_]
I--

THE ORACLE. Oh, rise, rise. Are you so foolish as to offer me this
mummery which even you despise?

NAPOLEON [_rising_] I knelt in spite of myself. I compliment you on your
impressiveness, madam.

THE ORACLE [_impatiently_] Time! time! time! time!

NAPOLEON. You will not grudge me the necessary time, madam, when you
know my case. I am a man gifted with a certain specific talent in a
degree altogether extraordinary. I am not otherwise a very extraordinary
person: my family is not influential; and without this talent I should
cut no particular figure in the world.

THE ORACLE. Why cut a figure in the world?

NAPOLEON. Superiority will make itself felt, madam. But when I say I
possess this talent I do not express myself accurately. The truth is
that my talent possesses me. It is genius. It drives me to exercise it.
I must exercise it. I am great when I exercise it. At other moments I am
nobody.

THE ORACLE. Well, exercise it. Do you need an oracle to tell you that?

NAPOLEON. Wait. This talent involves the shedding of human blood.

THE ORACLE. Are you a surgeon, or a dentist?

NAPOLEON. Psha! You do not appreciate me, madam. I mean the shedding of
oceans of blood, the death of millions of men.

THE ORACLE. They object, I suppose.

NAPOLEON. Not at all. They adore me.

THE ORACLE. Indeed!

NAPOLEON. I have never shed blood with my own hand. They kill each
other: they die with shouts of triumph on their lips. Those who die
cursing do not curse me. My talent is to organize this slaughter; to
give mankind this terrible joy which they call glory; to let loose the
devil in them that peace has bound in chains.

THE ORACLE. And you? Do you share their joy?

NAPOLEON. Not at all. What satisfaction is it to me to see one fool
pierce the entrails of another with a bayonet? I am a man of princely
character, but of simple personal tastes and habits. I have the virtues
of a laborer: industry and indifference to personal comfort. But I must
rule, because I am so superior to other men that it is intolerable to
me to be misruled by them. Yet only as a slayer can I become a ruler. I
cannot be great as a writer: I have tried and failed. I have no talent
as a sculptor or painter; and as lawyer, preacher, doctor, or actor,
scores of second-rate men can do as well as I, or better. I am not even
a diplomatist: I can only play my trump card of force. What I can do
is to organize war. Look at me! I seem a man like other men, because
nine-tenths of me is common humanity. But the other tenth is a faculty
for seeing things as they are that no other man possesses.

THE ORACLE. You mean that you have no imagination?

NAPOLEON [_forcibly_] I mean that I have the only imagination worth
having: the power of imagining things as they are, even when I cannot
see them. You feel yourself my superior, I know: nay, you are my
superior: have I not bowed my knee to you by instinct? Yet I challenge
you to a test of our respective powers. Can you calculate what the
methematicians call vectors, without putting a single algebraic symbol
on paper? Can you launch ten thousand men across a frontier and a chain
of mountains and know to a mile exactly where they will be at the end
of seven weeks? The rest is nothing: I got it all from the books at my
military school. Now this great game of war, this playing with armies
as other men play with bowls and skittles, is one which I must go on
playing, partly because a man must do what he can and not what he would
like to do, and partly because, if I stop, I immediately lose my power
and become a beggar in the land where I now make men drunk with glory.

THE ORACLE. No doubt then you wish to know how to extricate yourself
from this unfortunate position?

NAPOLEON. It is not generally considered unfortunate, madam. Supremely
fortunate rather.

THE ORACLE. If you think so, go on making them drunk with glory. Why
trouble me with their folly and your vectors?

NAPOLEON. Unluckily, madam, men are not only heroes: they are also
cowards. They desire glory; but they dread death.

THE ORACLE. Why should they? Their lives are too short to be worth
living. That is why they think your game of war worth playing.

NAPOLEON. They do not look at it quite in that way. The most worthless
soldier wants to live for ever. To make him risk being killed by the
enemy I have to convince him that if he hesitates he will inevitably be
shot at dawn by his own comrades for cowardice.

THE ORACLE. And if his comrades refuse to shoot him?

NAPOLEON. They will be shot too, of course.

THE ORACLE. By whom?

NAPOLEON. By their comrades.

THE ORACLE. And if they refuse?

NAPOLEON. Up to a certain point they do not refuse.

THE ORACLE. But when that point is reached, you have to do the shooting
yourself, eh?

NAPOLEON. Unfortunately, madam, when that point is reached, they shoot
me.

THE ORACLE. Mf! It seems to me they might as well shoot you first as
last. Why don't they?

NAPOLEON. Because their love of fighting, their desire for glory, their
shame of being branded as dastards, their instinct to test themselves in
terrible trials, their fear of being killed or enslaved by the enemy,
their belief that they are defending their hearths and homes, overcome
their natural cowardice, and make them willing not only to risk their
own lives but to kill everyone who refuses to take that risk. But if war
continues too long, there comes a time when the soldiers, and also the
taxpayers who are supporting and munitioning them, reach a condition
which they describe as being fed up. The troops have proved their
courage, and want to go home and enjoy in peace the glory it has earned
them. Besides, the risk of death for each soldier becomes a certainty if
the fighting goes on for ever: he hopes to escape for six months, but
knows he cannot escape for six years. The risk of bankruptcy for the
citizen becomes a certainty in the same way. Now what does this mean for
me?

THE ORACLE. Does that matter in the midst of such calamity?

NAPOLEON. Psha! madam: it is the only thing that matters: the value
of human life is the value of the greatest living man. Cut off that
infinitesimal layer of grey matter which distinguishes my brain from
that of the common man, and you cut down the stature of humanity from
that of a giant to that of a nobody. I matter supremely: my soldiers do
not matter at all: there are plenty more where they came from. If you
kill me, or put a stop to my activity (it is the same thing), the
nobler part of human life perishes. You must save the world from
that catastrophe, madam. War has made me popular, powerful, famous,
historically immortal. But I foresee that if I go on to the end it will
leave me execrated, dethroned, imprisoned, perhaps executed. Yet if I
stop fighting I commit suicide as a great man and become a common one.
How am I to escape the horns of this tragic dilemma? Victory I
can guarantee: I am invincible. But the cost of victory is the
demoralization, the depopulation, the ruin of the victors no less than
of the vanquished. How am I to satisfy my genius by fighting until I
die? that is my question to you.

THE ORACLE. Were you not rash to venture into these sacred islands with
such a question on your lips? Warriors are not popular here, my friend.

NAPOLEON. If a soldier were restrained by such a consideration, madam,
he would no longer be a soldier. Besides [_he produces a pistol_], I
have not come unarmed.

THE ORACLE. What is that thing?

NAPOLEON. It is an instrument of my profession, madam. I raise this
hammer; I point the barrel at you; I pull this trigger that is against
my forefinger; and you fall dead.

THE ORACLE. Shew it to me [_she puts out her hand to take it from him_].

NAPOLEON [_retreating a step_] Pardon me, madam. I never trust my life
in the hands of a person over whom I have no control.

THE ORACLE [_sternly_] Give it to me [_she raises her hand to her
veil_].

NAPOLEON [_dropping the pistol and covering his eyes_] Quarter! Kamerad!
Take it, madam [_he kicks it towards her_]: I surrender.

THE ORACLE. Give me that thing. Do you expect me to stoop for it?

NAPOLEON [_taking his hands from his eyes with an effort_] A poor
victory, madam [_he picks up the pistol and hands it to her_]: there was
no vector strategy needed to win it. [Making a pose of his humiliation]
But enjoy your triumph: you have made me--ME! Cain Adamson Charles
Napoleon! Emperor of Turania! cry for quarter.

THE ORACLE. The way out of your difficulty, Cain Adamson, is very
simple.

NAPOLEON [_eagerly_] Good. What is it?

THE ORACLE. To die before the tide of glory turns. Allow me [_she shoots
him_].

_He falls with a shriek. She throws the pistol away and goes haughtily
into the temple._

NAPOLEON [_scrambling to his feet_] Murderess! Monster! She-devil!
Unnatural, inhuman wretch! You deserve to be hanged, guillotined, broken
on the wheel, burnt alive. No sense of the sacredness of human life! No
thought for my wife and children! Bitch! Sow! Wanton! [_He picks up the
pistol_]. And missed me at five yards! Thats a woman all over.

_He is going away whence he came when Zoo arrives and confronts him
at the head of a party consisting of the British Envoy, the Elderly
Gentleman, the Envoy's wife, and her daughter, aged about eighteen. The
envoy, a typical politician, looks like an imperfectly reformed criminal
disguised by a good tailor. The dress of the ladies is coeval with that
of the Elderly Gentleman, and suitable for public official ceremonies in
western capitals at the XVIII-XIX fin de siècle._

_They file in under the portico. Zoo immediately comes out imperiously
to Napoleon's right, whilst the Envoy's wife hurries effusively to his
left. The Envoy meanwhile passes along behind the columns to the door,
followed by his daughter. The Elderly Gentleman stops just where he
entered, to see why Zoo has swooped so abruptly on the Emperor of
Turania._

ZOO [_to Napoleon, severely_] What are you doing here by yourself? You
have no business to go about here alone. What was that noise just now?
What is that in your hand?

_Napoleon glares at her in speechless fury; pockets the pistol; and
produces a whistle._

THE ENVOY'S WIFE. Arnt you coming with us to the oracle, sire?

NAPOLEON. To hell with the oracle, and with you too [_he turns to go_]!

THE ENVOY'S WIFE} [_together_] {Oh, sire!!
ZOO} {Where are you going?}

NAPOLEON. To fetch the police. [_He goes out past Zoo, almost jostling
her, and blowing piercing blasts on his whistle_].

ZOO [_whipping out her tuning-fork and intoning_] Hallo Galway Central.
[_The whistling continues_]. Stand by to isolate. [_To the Elderly
Gentleman, who is staring after the whistling Emperor_] How far has he
gone?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. To that curious statue of a fat old man.

ZOO [_quickly, intoning_] Isolate the Falstaff monument isolate hard.
Paralyze--[_the whistling stops_]. Thank you. [_She puts up her
tuning-fork_]. He shall not move a muscle until I come to fetch him.

THE ENVOY'S WIFE. Oh! he will be frightfully angry! Did you hear what he
said to me?

ZOO. Much we care for his anger!

THE DAUGHTER [_coming forward between her mother and Zoo_]. Please,
madam, whose statue is it? and where can I buy a picture postcard of it?
It is so funny. I will take a snapshot when we are coming back; but they
come out so badly sometimes.

ZOO. They will give you pictures and toys in the temple to take away
with you. The story of the statue is too long. It would bore you [_she
goes past them across the courtyard to get rid of them_].

THE WIFE [_gushing_] Oh no, I assure you.

THE DAUGHTER [_copying her mother_] We should be so interested.

ZOO. Nonsense! All I can tell you about it is that a thousand years ago,
when the whole world was given over to you shortlived people, there was
a war called the War to end War. In the war which followed it about ten
years later, hardly any soldiers were killed; but seven of the capital
cities of Europe were wiped out of existence. It seems to have been a
great joke: for the statesmen who thought they had sent ten million
common men to their deaths were themselves blown into fragments with
their houses and families, while the ten million men lay snugly in the
caves they had dug for themselves. Later on even the houses escaped; but
their inhabitants were poisoned by gas that spared no living soul.
Of course the soldiers starved and ran wild; and that was the end of
pseudo-Christian civilization. The last civilized thing that happened
was that the statesmen discovered that cowardice was a great patriotic
virtue; and a public monument was erected to its first preacher, an
ancient and very fat sage called Sir John Falstaff. Well [_pointing_],
thats Falstaff.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_coming from the portico to his granddaughter's
right_] Great Heavens! And at the base of this monstrous poltroon's
statue the War God of Turania is now gibbering impotently.

ZOO. Serve him right! War God indeed!

THE ENVOY [_coming between his wife and Zoo_] I don't know any history:
a modern Prime Minister has something better to do than sit reading
books; but--

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_interrupting him encouragingly_] You make
history, Ambrose.

THE ENVOY. Well, perhaps I do; and perhaps history makes me. I hardly
recognize myself in the newspapers sometimes, though I suppose leading
articles are the materials of history, as you might say. But what I want
to know is, how did war come back again? and how did they make those
poisonous gases you speak of? We should be glad to know; for they might
come in very handy if we have to fight Turania. Of course I am all for
peace, and don't hold with the race of armaments in principle; still, we
must keep ahead or be wiped out.

ZOO. You can make the gases for yourselves when your chemists find out
how. Then you will do as you did before: poison each other until there
are no chemists left, and no civilization. You will then begin all over
again as half-starved ignorant savages, and fight with boomerangs
and poisoned arrows until you work up to the poison gases and high
explosives once more, with the same result. That is, unless we have
sense enough to make an end of this ridiculous game by destroying you.

THE ENVOY [_aghast_] Destroying us!

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I told you, Ambrose. I warned you.

THE ENVOY. But--

ZOO [_impatiently_] I wonder what Zozim is doing. He ought to be here to
receive you.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Do you mean that rather insufferable young man
whom you found boring me on the pier?

ZOO. Yes. He has to dress-up in a Druid's robe, and put on a wig and a
long false beard, to impress you silly people. I have to put on a purple
mantle. I have no patience with such mummery; but you expect it from us;
so I suppose it must be kept up. Will you wait here until Zozim comes,
please [_she turns to enter the temple_].

THE ENVOY. My good lady, is it worth while dressing-up and putting on
false beards for us if you tell us beforehand that it is all humbug?

ZOO. One would not think so; but if you wont believe in anyone who is
not dressed-up, why, we must dress-up for you. It was you who invented
all this nonsense, not we.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. But do you expect us to be impressed after this?

ZOO. I don't expect anything. I know, as a matter of experience, that
you will be impressed. The oracle will frighten you out of your wits.
[_She goes into the temple_].

THE WIFE. These people treat us as if we were dirt beneath their feet. I
wonder at you putting up with it, Amby. It would serve them right if we
went home at once: wouldnt it, Eth?

THE DAUGHTER. Yes, mamma. But perhaps they wouldnt mind.

THE ENVOY. No use talking like that, Molly. Ive got to see this oracle.
The folks at home wont know how we have been treated: all theyll know
is that Ive stood face to face with the oracle and had the straight tip
from her. I hope this Zozim chap is not going to keep us waiting much
longer; for I feel far from comfortable about the approaching interview;
and thats the honest truth.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I never thought I should want to see that man
again; but now I wish he would take charge of us instead of Zoo. She was
charming at first: quite charming; but she turned into a fiend because I
had a few words with her. You would not believe: she very nearly killed
me. You heard what she said just now. She belongs to a party here which
wants to have us all killed.

THE WIFE [_terrified_] Us! But we have done nothing: we have been as
nice to them as nice could be. Oh, Amby, come away, come away: there is
something dreadful about this place and these people.

THE ENVOY. There is, and no mistake. But youre safe with me: you ought
to have sense enough to know that.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I am sorry to say, Molly, that it is not merely
us four poor weak creatures they want to kill, but the entire race of
Man, except themselves.

THE ENVOY. Not so poor neither, Poppa. Nor so weak, if you are going to
take in all the Powers. If it comes to killing, two can play at that
game, longlived or shortlived.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. No, Ambrose: we should have no chance. We are
worms beside these fearful people: mere worms.

_Zozim comes from the temple, robed majestically, and wearing a wreath
of mistletoe in his flowing white wig. His false beard reaches almost to
his waist. He carries a staff with a curiously carved top._

ZOZIM [_in the doorway, impressively_] Hail, strangers!

ALL [_reverently_] Hail!

ZOZIM. Are ye prepared?

THE ENVOY. We are.

ZOZIM [_unexpectedly becoming conversational, and strolling down
carelessly to the middle of the group between the two ladies_] Well, I'm
sorry to say the oracle is not. She was delayed by some member of your
party who got loose; and as the show takes a bit of arranging, you will
have to wait a few minutes. The ladies can go inside and look round the
entrance hall and get pictures and things if they want them.

{Thank you.}
THE WIFE} [_together_] {I should like to,} [_They go into_]
THE DAUGHTER} {very much.} [_the temple_]


THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_in dignified rebuke of Zozim's levity_] Taken in
this spirit, sir, the show, as you call it, becomes almost an insult to
our common sense.

ZOZIM. Quite, I should say. You need not keep it up with me.

THE ENVOY [_suddenly making himself very agreeable_] Just so: just so.
We can wait as long as you please. And now, if I may be allowed to seize
the opportunity of a few minutes' friendly chat--?

ZOZIM. By all means, if only you will talk about things I can
understand.

THE ENVOY. Well, about this colonizing plan of yours. My father-in-law
here has been telling me something about it; and he has just now let out
that you want not only to colonize us, but to--to--to--well, shall we
say to supersede us? Now why supersede us? Why not live and let live?
Theres not a scrap of ill-feeling on our side. We should welcome a
colony of immortals--we may almost call you that--in the British Middle
East. No doubt the Turanian Empire, with its Mahometan traditions,
overshadows us now. We have had to bring the Emperor with us on this
expedition, though of course you know as well as I do that he has
imposed himself on my party just to spy on me. I dont deny that he has
the whip hand of us to some extent, because if it came to a war none of
our generals could stand up against him. I give him best at that game:
he is the finest soldier in the world. Besides, he is an emperor and
an autocrat; and I am only an elected representative of the British
democracy. Not that our British democrats wont fight: they will fight
the heads off all the Turanians that ever walked; but then it takes so
long to work them up to it, while he has only to say the word and march.
But you people would never get on with him. Believe me, you would not be
as comfortable in Turania as you would be with us. We understand you. We
like you. We are easy-going people; and we are rich people. That will
appeal to you. Turania is a poor place when all is said. Five-eighths of
it is desert. They dont irrigate as we do. Besides--now I am sure this
will appeal to you and to all right-minded men--we are Christians.

ZOZIM. The old uns prefer Mahometans.

THE ENVOY [_shocked_] What!

ZOZIM [_distinctly_] They prefer Mahometans. Whats wrong with that?

THE ENVOY. Well, of all the disgraceful--

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_diplomatically interrupting his scandalized
son-in-law_] There can be no doubt, I am afraid, that by clinging too
long to the obsolete features of the old pseudo-Christian Churches we
allowed the Mahometans to get ahead of us at a very critical period of
the development of the Eastern world. When the Mahometan Reformation
took place, it left its followers with the enormous advantage of having
the only established religion in the world in whose articles of faith
any intelligent and educated person could believe.

THE ENVOY. But what about our Reformation? Dont give the show away,
Poppa. We followed suit, didnt we?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Unfortunately, Ambrose, we could not follow suit
very rapidly. We had not only a religion to deal with, but a Church.

ZOZIM. What is a Church?

THE ENVOY. Not know what a Church is! Well!

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. You must excuse me; but if I attempted to explain
you would only ask me what a bishop is; and that is a question that no
mortal man can answer. All I can tell you is that Mahomet was a truly
wise man; for he founded a religion without a Church; consequently when
the time came for a Reformation of the mosques there were no bishops and
priests to obstruct it. Our bishops and priests prevented us for two
hundred years from following suit; and we have never recovered the start
we lost then. I can only plead that we did reform our Church at last. No
doubt we had to make a few compromises as a matter of good taste;
but there is now very little in our Articles of Religion that is not
accepted as at least allegorically true by our Higher Criticism.

THE ENVOY [_encouragingly_] Besides, does it matter? Why, _I_ have never
read the Articles in my life; and I am Prime Minister! Come! if my
services in arranging for the reception of a colonizing party would be
acceptable, they are at your disposal. And when I say a reception I mean
a reception. Royal honors, mind you! A salute of a hundred and one guns!
The streets lined with troops! The Guards turned out at the Palace!
Dinner at the Guildhall!

ZOZIM. Discourage me if I know what youre talking about! I wish Zoo
would come: she understands these things. All I can tell you is that
the general opinion among the Colonizers is in favor of beginning in a
country where the people are of a different color from us; so that we
can make short work without any risk of mistakes.

THE ENVOY. What do you mean by short work? I hope--

ZOZIM [_with obviously feigned geniality_] Oh, nothing, nothing,
nothing. We are thinking of trying North America: thats all. You see,
the Red Men of that country used to be white. They passed through a
period of sallow complexions, followed by a period of no complexions
at all, into the red characteristic of their climate. Besides, several
cases of long life have occurred in North America. They joined us here;
and their stock soon reverted to the original white of these islands.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. But have you considered the possibility of your
colony turning red?

ZOZIM. That wont matter. We are not particular about our pigmentation.
The old books mention red-faced Englishmen: they appear to have been
common objects at one time.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_very persuasively_] But do you think you would
be popular in North America? It seems to me, if I may say so, that on
your own shewing you need a country in which society is organized in a
series of highly exclusive circles, in which the privacy of private life
is very jealously guarded, and in which no one presumes to speak to
anyone else without an introduction following a strict examination of
social credentials. It is only in such a country that persons of special
tastes and attainments can form a little world of their own, and protect
themselves absolutely from intrusion by common persons. I think I may
claim that our British society has developed this exclusiveness to
perfection. If you would pay us a visit and see the working of our caste
system, our club system, our guild system, you would admit that nowhere
else in the world, least of all, perhaps in North America, which has a
regrettable tradition of social promiscuity, could you keep yourselves
so entirely to yourselves.

ZOZIM [_good-naturedly embarrassed_] Look here. There is no good
discussing this. I had rather not explain; but it wont make any
difference to our Colonizers what sort of short-livers they come across.
We shall arrange all that. Never mind how. Let us join the ladies.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_throwing off his diplomatic attitude and
abandoning himself to despair_] We understand you only too well, sir.
Well, kill us. End the lives you have made miserably unhappy by opening
up to us the possibility that any of us may live three hundred years. I
solemnly curse that possibility. To you it may be a blessing, because
you do live three hundred years. To us, who live less than a hundred,
whose flesh is as grass, it is the most unbearable burden our poor
tortured humanity has ever groaned under.

THE ENVOY. Hullo, Poppa! Steady! How do you make that out?

ZOZIM. What is three hundred years? Short enough, if you ask me. Why, in
the old days you people lived on the assumption that you were going to
last out for ever and ever and ever. Immortal, you thought yourselves.
Were you any happier then?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. As President of the Baghdad Historical Society
I am in a position to inform you that the communities which took this
monstrous pretension seriously were the most wretched of which we have
any record. My Society has printed an editio princeps of the works of
the father of history, Thucyderodotus Macolly-buckle. Have you read his
account of what was blasphemously called the Perfect City of God, and
the attempt made to reproduce it in the northern part of these islands
by Jonhobsnoxius, called the Leviathan? Those misguided people
sacrificed the fragment of life that was granted to them to an imaginary
immortality. They crucified the prophet who told them to take no thought
for the morrow, and that here and now was their Australia: Australia
being a term signifying paradise, or an eternity of bliss. They tried
to produce a condition of death in life: to mortify the flesh, as they
called it.

ZOZIM. Well, you are not suffering from that, are you? You have not a
mortified air.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Naturally we are not absolutely insane and
suicidal. Nevertheless we impose on ourselves abstinences and
disciplines and studies that are meant to prepare us for living three
centuries. And we seldom live one. My childhood was made unnecessarily
painful, my boyhood unnecessarily laborious, by ridiculous preparations
for a length of days which the chances were fifty thousand to one
against my ever attaining. I have been cheated out of the natural joys
and freedoms of my life by this dream to which the existence of these
islands and their oracles gives a delusive possibility of realization.
I curse the day when long life was invented, just as the victims of
Jonhobsnoxius cursed the day when eternal life was invented.

ZOZIM. Pooh! You could live three centuries if you chose.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. That is what the fortunate always say to the
unfortunate. Well, I do not choose. I accept my three score and ten
years. If they are filled with usefulness, with justice, with mercy,
with good-will: if they are the lifetime of a soul that never loses its
honor and a brain that never loses its eagerness, they are enough for
me, because these things are infinite and eternal, and can make ten of
my years as long as thirty of yours. I shall not conclude by saying live
as long as you like and be damned to you, because I have risen for the
moment far above any ill-will to you or to any fellow-creature; but I
am your equal before that eternity in which the difference between your
lifetime and mine is as the difference between one drop of water
and three in the eyes of the Almighty Power from which we have both
proceeded.

ZOZIM [_impressed_] You spoke that piece very well, Daddy. I couldnt
talk like that if I tried. It sounded fine. Ah! here comes the ladies.

_To his relief, they have just appeared on the threshold of the temple._

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_passing from exaltation to distress_] It means
nothing to him: in this land of discouragement the sublime has become
the ridiculous. [_Turning on the hopelessly puzzled Zozim_] 'Behold,
thou hast made my days as it were a span long; and mine age is even as
nothing in respect of thee.'

{Poppa, Poppa: dont look like
THE WIFE.} [_running_] {that.
THE DAUGHTER.}[_to him_] {Oh, granpa, whats the matter?


ZOZIM [_with a shrug_] Discouragement!

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_throwing off the women with a superb gesture_]
Liar! [_Recollecting himself, he adds, with noble courtesy, raising his
hat and bowing_] I beg your pardon, sir; but I am NOT discouraged.

_A burst of orchestral music, through which a powerful gong sounds, is
heard from the temple. Zoo, in a purple robe, appears in the doorway._

ZOO. Come. The oracle is ready.

_Zozim motions them to the threshold with a wave of his staff. The Envoy
and the Elderly Gentleman take off their hats and go into the temple on
tiptoe, Zoo leading the way. The Wife and Daughter, frightened as they
are, raise their heads uppishly and follow flatfooted, sustained by a
sense of their Sunday clothes and social consequence. Zozim remains in
the portico, alone._

ZOZIM [_taking off his wig, beard, and robe, and bundling them under his
arm_] Ouf! [He goes home].

--

ACT III

Inside the temple. A gallery overhanging an abyss. Dead silence. The
gallery is brightly lighted; but beyond is a vast gloom, continually
changing in intensity. A shaft of violet light shoots upward; and a very
harmonious and silvery carillon chimes. When it ceases the violet ray
vanishes.

Zoo comes along the gallery, followed by the Envoy's daughter, his
wife, the Envoy himself, and the Elderly Gentleman. The two men are
holding their hats with the brims near their noses, as if prepared to
pray into them at a moment's notice. Zoo halts: they all follow her
example. They contemplate the void with awe. Organ music of the kind
called sacred in the nineteenth century begins. Their awe deepens. The
violet ray, now a diffused mist, rises again from the abyss.

THE WIFE [_to Zoo, in a reverent whisper_] Shall we kneel?

ZOO [_loudly_] Yes, if you want to. You can stand on your head if you
like. [_She sits down carelessly on the gallery railing, with her back
to the abyss_].

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_jarred by her callousness_] We desire to behave
in a becoming manner.

ZOO. Very well. Behave just as you feel. It doesn't matter how you
behave. But keep your wits about you when the pythoness ascends, or you
will forget the questions you have come to ask her.

THE ENVOY} {[[_very nervous, takes out a paper to_]
} [[_simul-_] {[_refresh his memory_]] Ahem!
THE DAUGHTER} [_taneously_]]{[[_alarmed_]] The pythoness? Is she
} {a snake?


THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Tch-ch! The priestess of the oracle. A sybil. A
prophetess. Not a snake.

THE WIFE. How awful!

ZOO. I'm glad you think so.

THE WIFE. Oh dear! Dont you think so?

ZOO. No. This sort of thing is got up to impress you, not to impress me.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I wish you would let it impress us, then, madam.
I am deeply impressed; but you are spoiling the effect.

ZOO. You just wait. All this business with colored lights and chords on
that old organ is only tomfoolery. Wait til you see the pythoness.

_The Envoy's wife falls on her knees, and takes refuge in prayer._

THE DAUGHTER [_trembling_] Are we really going to see a woman who has
lived three hundred years?

ZOO. Stuff! Youd drop dead if a tertiary as much as looked at you. The
oracle is only a hundred and seventy; and you'll find it hard enough to
stand her.

THE DAUGHTER [_piteously_] Oh! [_she falls on her knees_].

THE ENVOY. Whew! Stand by me, Poppa. This is a little more than I
bargained for. Are you going to kneel; or how?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Perhaps it would be in better taste.

_The two men kneel._

_The vapor of the abyss thickens; and a distant roll of thunder seems to
come from its depths. The pythoness, seated on her tripod, rises slowly
from it. She has discarded the insulating robe and veil in which she
conversed with Napoleon, and is now draped and hooded in voluminous
folds of a single piece of grey-white stuff. Something supernatural
about her terrifies the beholders, who throw themselves on their faces.
Her outline flows and waves: she is almost distinct at moments, and
again vague and shadowy: above all, she is larger than life-size, not
enough to be measured by the flustered congregation, but enough to
affect them with a dreadful sense of her supernaturalness._

ZOO. Get up, get up. Do pull yourselves together, you people.

_The Envoy and his family, by shuddering negatively, intimate that it
is impossible. The Elderly Gentleman manages to get on his hands and
knees._

ZOO. Come on, Daddy: you are not afraid. Speak to her. She wont wait
here all day for you, you know.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_rising very deferentially to his feet_] Madam:
you will excuse my very natural nervousness in addressing, for the first
time in my life, a--a--a--a goddess. My friend and relative the Envoy is
unhinged. I throw myself upon your indulgence--

ZOO [_interrupting him intolerantly_] Dont throw yourself on anything
belonging to her or you will go right through her and break your neck.
She isnt solid, like you.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. I was speaking figuratively--

ZOO. You have been told not to do it. Ask her what you want to know; and
be quick about it.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_stooping and taking the prostrate Envoy by the
shoulders_] Ambrose: you must make an effort. You cannot go back to
Baghdad without the answers to your questions.

THE ENVOY [_rising to his knees_] I shall be only too glad to get back
alive on any terms. If my legs would support me I'd just do a bunk
straight for the ship.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. No, no. Remember: your dignity--

THE ENVOY. Dignity be damned! I'm terrified. Take me away, for God's
sake.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_producing a brandy flask and taking the cap
off_] Try some of this. It is still nearly full, thank goodness!

THE ENVOY [_clutching it and drinking eagerly_] Ah! Thats better. [_He
tries to drink again. Finding that he has emptied it, he hands it back
to his father-in-law upside down_].

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_taking it_] Great heavens! He has swallowed
half-a-pint of neat brandy. [_Much perturbed, he screws the cap on
again, and pockets the flask_].

THE ENVOY [_staggering to his feet; pulling a paper from his pocket; and
speaking with boisterous confidence_] Get up, Molly. Up with you, Eth.

_The two women rise to their knees._

THE ENVOY. What I want to ask is this. [_He refers to the paper_]. Ahem!
Civilization has reached a crisis. We are at the parting of the ways. We
stand on the brink of the Rubicon. Shall we take the plunge? Already a
leaf has been torn out of the book of the Sybil. Shall we wait until the
whole volume is consumed? On our right is the crater of the volcano: on
our left the precipice. One false step, and we go down to annihilation
dragging the whole human race with us. [_He pauses for breath_].

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_recovering his spirits under the familiar
stimulus of political oratory_] Hear, hear!

ZOO. What are you raving about? Ask your question while you have the
chance. What is it you want to know?

THE ENVOY [_patronizing her in the manner of a Premier debating with a
very young member of the Opposition_] A young woman asks me a question.
I am always glad to see the young taking an interest in politics. It is
an impatient question; but it is a practical question, an intelligent
question. She asks why we seek to lift a corner of the veil that shrouds
the future from our feeble vision.

ZOO. I don't. I ask you to tell the oracle what you want, and not keep
her sitting there all day.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_warmly_] Order, order!

ZOO. What does 'Order, order!' mean?

THE ENVOY. I ask the august oracle to listen to my voice--

ZOO. You people seem never to tire of listening to your voices; but it
doesn't amuse us. What do you want?

THE ENVOY. I want, young woman, to be allowed to proceed without
unseemly interruptions.

_A low roll of thunder comes from the abyss._

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. There! Even the oracle is indignant. [_To the
Envoy_] Do not allow yourself to be put down by this lady's rude clamor,
Ambrose. Take no notice. Proceed.

THE ENVOY'S WIFE. I cant bear this much longer, Amby. Remember: I havn't
had any brandy.

HIS DAUGHTER [_trembling_] There are serpents curling in the vapor. I am
afraid of the lightning. Finish it, Papa; or I shall die.

THE ENVOY [_sternly_] Silence. The destiny of British civilization is at
stake. Trust me. I am not afraid. As I was saying--where was I?

ZOO. I don't know. Does anybody?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_tactfully_] You were just coming to the
election, I think.

THE ENVOY [_reassured_] Just so. The election. Now what we want to
know is this: ought we to dissolve in August, or put it off until next
spring?

ZOO. Dissolve? In what? [_Thunder_]. Oh! My fault this time. That means
that the oracle understands you, and desires me to hold my tongue.

THE ENVOY [_fervently_] I thank the oracle.

THE WIFE [_to Zoo_] Serve you right!

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Before the oracle replies, I should like to be
allowed to state a few of the reasons why, in my opinion, the Government
should hold on until the spring. In the first--

_Terrific lightning and thunder. The Elderly Gentleman is knocked flat;
but as he immediately sits up again dazedly it is clear that he is none
the worse for the shock. The ladies cower in terror. The Envoy's hat is
blown off; but he seizes it just as it quits his temples, and holds it
on with both hands. He is recklessly drunk, but quite articulate, as he
seldom speaks in public without taking stimulants beforehand._

THE ENVOY [_taking one hand from his hat to make a gesture of stilling
the tempest_] Thats enough. We know how to take a hint. I'll put the
case in three words. I am the leader of the Potterbill party. My party
is in power. I am Prime Minister. The Opposition--the Rotterjacks--have
won every bye-election for the last six months. They--

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_scrambling heatedly to his feet_] Not by fair
means. By bribery, by misrepresentation, by pandering to the vilest
prejudices [_muttered thunder_]--I beg your pardon [_he is silent_].

THE ENVOY. Never mind the bribery and lies. The oracle knows all about
that. The point is that though our five years will not expire until the
year after next, our majority will be eaten away at the bye-elections
by about Easter. We can't wait: we must start some question that will
excite the public, and go to the country on it. But some of us say do it
now. Others say wait til the spring. We cant make up our minds one way
or the other. Which would you advise?

ZOO. But what is the question that is to excite your public?

THE ENVOY. That doesnt matter. I dont know yet. We will find a question
all right enough. The oracle can foresee the future: we cannot.
[_Thunder_]. What does that mean? What have I done now?

ZOO. [_severely_] How often must you be told that we cannot foresee the
future? There is no such thing as the future until it is the present.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Allow me to point out, madam, that when the
Potterbill party sent to consult the oracle fifteen years ago, the
oracle prophesied that the Potterbills would be victorious at the
General Election; and they were. So it is evident that the oracle can
foresee the future, and is sometimes willing to reveal it.

THE ENVOY. Quite true. Thank you, Poppa. I appeal now, over your head,
young woman, direct to the August Oracle, to repeat the signal favor
conferred on my illustrious predecessor, Sir Fuller Eastwind, and to
answer me exactly as he was answered.

_The oracle raises her hands to command silence._

ALL. Sh-sh-sh!

_Invisible trombones utter three solemn blasts in the manner of Die
Zauberflöte._

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. May I--

ZOO [_quickly_] Hush. The oracle is going to speak.

THE ORACLE. Go home, poor fool.

_She vanishes; and the atmosphere changes to prosaic daylight. Zoo comes
off the railing; throws off her robe; makes a bundle of it; and tucks it
under her arm. The magic and mystery are gone. The women rise to their
feet. The Envoy's party stare at one another helplessly._

ZOO. The same reply, word for word, that your illustrious predecessor,
as you call him, got fifteen years ago. You asked for it; and you got
it. And just think of all the important questions you might have asked.
She would have answered them, you know. It is always like that. I
will go and arrange to have you sent home: you can wait for me in the
entrance hall [_she goes out_].

THE ENVOY. What possessed me to ask for the same answer old Eastwind
got?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. But it was not the same answer. The answer to
Eastwind was an inspiration to our party for years. It won us the
election.

THE ENVOY'S DAUGHTER. I learnt it at school, granpa. It wasn't the same
at all. I can repeat it. [_She quotes_] 'When Britain was cradled in the
west, the east wind hardened her and made her great. Whilst the east
wind prevails Britain shall prosper. The east wind shall wither
Britain's enemies in the day of contest. Let the Rotterjacks look to
it.'

THE ENVOY. The old man invented that. I see it all. He was a doddering
old ass when he came to consult the oracle. The oracle naturally said
'Go home, poor fool.' There was no sense in saying that to me; but as
that girl said, I asked for it. What else could the poor old chap do but
fake up an answer fit for publication? There were whispers about it; but
nobody believed them. I believe them now.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Oh, I cannot admit that Sir Fuller Eastwind was
capable of such a fraud.

THE ENVOY. He was capable of anything: I knew his private secretary.
And now what are we going to say? You don't suppose I am going back to
Baghdad to tell the British Empire that the oracle called me a fool, do
you?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. Surely we must tell the truth, however painful it
may be to our feelings.

THE ENVOY. I am not thinking of my feelings: I am not so selfish as
that, thank God. I am thinking of the country: of our party. The truth,
as you call it, would put the Rotterjacks in for the next twenty years.
It would be the end of me politically. Not that I care for that: I am
only too willing to retire if you can find a better man. Dont hesitate
on my account.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. No, Ambrose: you are indispensable. There is no
one else.

THE ENVOY. Very well, then. What are you going to do?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. My dear Ambrose, you are the leader of the party,
not I. What are you going to do?

THE ENVOY. I am going to tell the exact truth; thats what I'm going to
do. Do you take me for a liar?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_puzzled_] Oh. I beg your pardon. I understood
you to say--

THE ENVOY [_cutting him short_] You understood me to say that I am going
back to Baghdad to tell the British electorate that the oracle repeated
to me, word for word, what it said to Sir Fuller Eastwind fifteen years
ago. Molly and Ethel can bear me out. So must you, if you are an honest
man. Come on.

_He goes out, followed by his wife and daughter._

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [_left alone and shrinking into an old and
desolate figure_] What am I to do? I am a most perplexed and wretched
man. [_He falls on his knees, and stretches his hands in entreaty over
the abyss_]. I invoke the oracle. I cannot go back and connive at a
blasphemous lie. I implore guidance.

_The Pythoness walks in on the gallery behind him, and touches him on
the shoulder. Her size is now natural. Her face is hidden by her hood.
He flinches as if from an electric shock; turns to her; and cowers,
covering his eyes in terror._

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. No: not close to me. I'm afraid I can't bear it.

THE ORACLE [_with grave pity_] Come: look at me. I am my natural size
now: what you saw there was only a foolish picture of me thrown on a
cloud by a lantern. How can I help you?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. They have gone back to lie about your answer. I
cannot go with them. I cannot live among people to whom nothing is real.
I have become incapable of it through my stay here. I implore to be
allowed to stay.

THE ORACLE. My friend: if you stay with us you will die of
discouragement.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. If I go back I shall die of disgust and despair.
I take the nobler risk. I beg you, do not cast me out.

_He catches her robe and holds her._

THE ORACLE. Take care. I have been here one hundred and seventy years.
Your death does not mean to me what it means to you.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN. It is the meaning of life, not of death, that
makes banishment so terrible to me.

THE ORACLE. Be it so, then. You may stay.

_She offers him her hands. He grasps them and raises himself a little by
clinging to her. She looks steadily into his face. He stiffens; a little
convulsion shakes him; his grasp relaxes; and he falls dead._

THE ORACLE [_looking down at the body_] Poor shortlived thing! What else
could I do for you?

George Bernard Shaw

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