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Title: The Millionairess Author: George Bernard Shaw * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 0300121h.html Edition: 1 Language: English Character set encoding: Latin-1(ISO-8859-1)--8 bit (HTML) Date first posted: March 2003 Date most recently updated: March 2003 This eBook was produced by: Don Lainson email@example.com Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this or any other Project Gutenberg file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html
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PREFACE ON BOSSES
Though this play of The Millionairess does not pretend to be anything more than a comedy of humorous and curious contemporary characters, such as Ben Jonson might write were he alive now, yet it raises a question that has troubled human life and moulded human society since the creation.
The law is equal before all of us; but we are not all equal before the law. Virtually there is one law for the rich and another for the poor, one law for the cunning and another for the simple, one law for the forceful and another for the feeble, one law for the ignorant and another for the learned, one law for the brave and another for the timid, and within family limits one law for the parent and no law at all for the child.
In the humblest cabin that contains a family you may find a maîtresse femme who rules in the household by a sort of divine right. She may rule amiably by being able to think more quickly and see further than the others, or she may be a tyrant ruling violently by intensity of will and ruthless egotism. She may be a grandmother and she may be a girl. But the others find they are unable to resist her. Often of course the domestic tyrant is a man; but the phenomenon is not so remarkable in his case, as he is by convention the master and lawgiver of the hearthstone.
In every business street you will find a shopkeeper who is always in difficulties and ends his business adventures in the bankruptcy court. Hard by you will find another shopkeeper, with no greater advantages to start with, or possibly less, who makes larger and larger profits, and inspires more and more confidence in his banker, until he ends as the millionaire head of a giant multiple shop.
How does the captain of a pirate ship obtain his position and maintain his authority over a crew of scoundrels who are all, like himself, outside the law? How does an obscure village priest, the son of humble fisherfolk, come to wear the triple crown and sit in the papal chair? How do common soldiers become Kings, Shahs, and Dictators? Why does a hereditary peer find that he is a nonentity in a grand house organized and ruled by his butler?
Questions like these force themselves on us so continually and ruthlessly that many turn in despair from Socialism and political reform on the ground that to abolish all the institutional tyrannies would only deliver the country helplessly into the hands of the born bosses. A king, a prelate, a squire, a capitalist, a justice of the peace may be a good kind Christian soul, owing his position, as most of us do, to being the son of his father; but a born boss is one who rides roughshod over us by some mysterious power that separates him from our species and makes us fear him: that is, hate him.
What is to be done with that section of the possessors of specific talents whose talent is for moneymaking? History and daily experience teach us that if the world does not devise some plan of ruling them, they will rule the world. Now it is not desirable that they should rule the world; for the secret of moneymaking is to care for nothing else and to work at nothing else; and as the world's welfare depends on operations by which no individual can make money, whilst its ruin by war and drink and disease and drugs and debauchery is enormously profitable to moneymakers, the supremacy of the moneymaker is the destruction of the State. A society which depends on the incentive of private profit is doomed.
And what about ambitious people who possess commanding business ability or military genius or both? They are irresistible unless they are restrained by law; for ordinary individuals are helpless in their hands. Are they to be the masters of society or its servants?
What should the nineteenth century have done in its youth with Rothschild and Napoleon? What is the United States to do with its money kings and bosses? What are we to do with ours? How is the mediocre private citizen to hold his own with the able bullies and masterful women who establish family despotisms, school despotisms, office despotisms, religious despotisms in their little circles all over the country? Our boasted political liberties are a mockery to the subjects of such despotisms. They may work well when the despot is benevolent; but they are worse than any political tyranny in the selfish cases.
It is much more difficult to attack a personal despotism than an institutional one. Monarchs can be abolished: they have been abolished in all directions during the last century and a half, with the result, however, of sometimes replacing a personally amiable and harmless monarch, reigning under strict constitutional and traditional restraints, by energetic dictators and presidents who, having made hay of constitutions and traditions, are under no restraints at all. A hereditary monarch, on the throne because he is the son of his father, may be a normal person, amenable to reasonable advice from his councils, and exercising no authority except that conferred on him (or her) by the Constitution. Behead him, as we beheaded our Charles, or the French their Louis, and the born despot Cromwell or Napoleon (I purposely avoid glaring contemporary examples because I am not quite sure where they will be by the time this book is published) takes his place. The same mysterious personal force that makes the household tyrant, the school tyrant, the office tyrant, the brigand chief and the pirate captain, brings the born boss to the top by a gravitation that ordinary people cannot resist.
The successful usurpers of thrones are not the worst cases. The political usurper may be an infernal scoundrel, ruthless in murder, treachery, and torture; but once his ambition is achieved and he has to rule a nation, the magnitude and difficulty of his job, and the knowledge that if he makes a mess of it he will fall as suddenly as he has risen, will civilize him with a ruthlessness greater than his own. When Henry IV usurped the English crown he certainly did not intend to die of political overwork; but that is what happened to him. No political ruler could possibly be as wickedly selfish and cruel as the tyrant of a private house. Queen Elizabeth was a maîtresse femme; but she could have had her own way much more completely as landlady of the Mermaid Tavern than she had as sovereign of England. Because Nero and Paul I of Russia could not be made to understand this, they were killed like mad dogs by their own courtiers. But our petty fireside tyrants are not killed. Christina of Sweden would not have had to abdicate if her realm had been a ten-roomed villa. Had Catherine II reigned over her husband only, she need not nor could not have had him murdered; but as Tsarina she was forced to liquidate poor Peter very much against her own easy good nature, which prevented her from scolding her maids properly.
Modern Liberal democracy claims unlimited opportunities for tyranny: qualification for rule by heredity and class narrows it and puts it in harness and blinkers. Especially does such democracy favor money rule. It is in fact not democracy at all, but unashamed plutocracy. And as the meanest creature can become rich if he devotes his life to it, and the people with wider and more generous interests become or remain poor with equal certainty, plutocracy is the very devil socially, because it creates a sort of Gresham law by which the baser human currency drives out the nobler coinage. This is quite different from the survival of the fittest in the contests of character and talent which are independent of money. If Moses is the only tribesman capable of making a code of laws, he inevitably becomes Lawgiver to all the tribes, and, equally inevitably, is forced to add to what he can understand of divine law a series of secular regulations designed to maintain his personal authority. If he finds that it is useless to expect the tribesmen to obey his laws as a matter of common sense, he must persuade them that his inspiration is the result of direct and miraculous communication with their deity. Moses and Mahomet and Joseph Smith the Mormon had to plead divine revelations to get them out of temporary and personal difficulties as well as out of eternal and impersonal ones. As long as an individual of their calibre remains the indispensable man (or woman) doing things that the common man can neither do without nor do for himself, he will be, up to a point, the master of the common man in spite of all the democratic fudge that may be advanced to the contrary.
Of course there are limits. He cannot go to the lengths at which the common man will believe him to be insane or impious: when measures of that complexion are necessary, as they very often are, he must either conceal them or mask them as follies of the sort the common man thinks splendid. If the ruler thinks it well to begin a world war he must persuade his people that it is a war to end war, and that the people he wants them to kill are diabolical scoundrels; and if he is forced to suspend hostilities for a while, and does so by a treaty which contains the seeds of half a dozen new wars and is impossible enough in its conditions to make its violation certain, he must create a general belief that it is a charter of eternal peace and a monument of retributive justice.
In this way the most honest ruler becomes a tyrant and a fabricator of legends and falsehoods, not out of any devilment in himself, but because those whom he rules do not understand his business, and, if they did, would not sacrifice their own immediate interests to the permanent interests of the nation or the world. In short, a ruler must not only make laws, and rule from day to day: he must, by school instruction and printed propaganda, create and maintain an artificial mentality which will endorse his proceedings and obey his authority. This mentality becomes what we call Conservatism; and the revolt against it when it is abused oppressively or becomes obsolete as social conditions change, is classed as sedition, and reviled as Radicalism, Anarchism, Bolshevism, or what you please.
When a mentality is created and a code imposed, the born ruler, the Moses or Lenin, is no longer indispensable: routine government by dunderheads becomes possible and in fact preferable as long as the routine is fairly appropriate to the current phase of social development. The assumption of the more advanced spirits that revolutionists are always right is as questionable as the conservative assumption that they are always wrong. The industrious dunderhead who always does what was done last time because he is incapable of conceiving anything better, makes the best routineer. This explains the enormous part played by dunderheads as such in the history of all nations, provoking repeated explanations of surprise at the littleness of the wisdom with which the world is governed.
But what of the ambitious usurper? the person who has a capacity for kingship but has no kingdom and must therefore acquire a readymade one which is getting along in its own way very well without him? It cannot be contended with any plausibility that William the Conqueror was indispensable in England: he wanted England and grabbed it. He did this by virtue of his personal qualities, entirely against the will of the people of England, who, as far as they were politically conscious at all, would have greatly preferred Harold. But William had all the qualities that make an individual irresistible: the physical strength and ferocity of a king of beasts, the political genius of a king of men, the strategic cunning and tactical gumption of a military genius; and nothing that France or England could say or do prevailed against him. What are we to do with such people?
When an established political routine breaks down and produces political chaos, a combination of personal ambition with military genius and political capacity in a single individual gives that individual his opportunity. Napoleon, if he had been born a century earlier, would have had no more chance of becoming emperor of the French than Marshal Saxe had of supplanting Louis XV. In spite of the French Revolution, he was a very ordinary snob in his eighteenth-century social outlook. His assumption of the imperial diadem, his ridiculous attempt to establish the little Buonaparte family on all the thrones under his control, his remanufacture of a titular aristocracy to make a court for himself, his silly insistence on imperial etiquette when he was a dethroned and moribund prisoner in St Helena, shew that, for all his genius, he was and always had been behind the times. But he was for a time irresistible because, though he could fight battles on academic lines only, and was on that point a routineer soldier, he could play the war game on the established procedure so superbly that all the armies of Europe crumpled up before him. It was easy for anti-Bonapartist writers, from Taine to Mr H. G. Wells, to disparage him as a mere cad; but Goethe, who could face facts, and on occasion rub them in, said simply 'You shake your chains in vain.' Unfortunately for himself and Europe Napoleon was fundamentally a commonplace human fool. In spite of his early failure in the east he made a frightful draft on the manhood of France for his march to Moscow, only to hurry back leaving his legions dead in the snow, and thereafter go from disaster to disaster. Bernadotte, the lawyer's son who enlisted as a common soldier and ended unconquered on the throne of Sweden (his descendants still hold it), made a far better job of his affairs. When for the first time Napoleon came up against a really original commander at Waterloo, he still made all the textbook moves he had learnt at the military academy, and did not know when he was beaten until it was too late to do anything but run away. Instead of making for America at all hazards he threw himself on the magnanimity of the Prince Regent, who obviously could not have spared him even if he had wanted to. His attempt to wedge himself and his upstart family into the old dynasties by his divorce and his Austrian marriage ended in making him a notorious cuckold. But the vulgarer fool and the paltrier snob you prove Napoleon to have been, the more alarming becomes the fact that this shabby-genteel Corsican subaltern (and a very unsatisfactory subaltern at that) dominated Europe for years, and placed on his own head the crown of Charlemagne. Is there really nothing to be done with such men but submit to them until, having risen by their specialities, they ruin themselves by their vulgarities?
It was easy for Napoleon to make a better job of restoring order after the French Revolution than Sieyès, who tried to do it by writing paper constitutions, or than a plucky bully like Barras, who cared for nothing except feathering his own nest. Any tidy and public spirited person could have done as much with the necessary prestige. Napoleon got that prestige by feeding the popular appetite for military glory. He could not create that natural appetite; but he could feed it by victories; and he could use all the devices of journalism and pageantry and patriotic braggadocio to make La Gloire glorious. And all this because, like William the Conqueror, he had the group of talents that make a successful general and democratic ruler. Had not the French Revolution so completely failed to produce a tolerable government to replace the monarchy it overthrew, and thereby reduced itself to desperation, Napoleon would have been only a famous general like Saxe or Wellington or Marlborough, who under similar circumstances could and indeed must have become kings if they had been ungovernable enough to desire it. Only the other day a man without any of the social advantages of these commanders made himself Shah of Iran.
Julius Caesar and Cromwell also mounted on the débris of collapsing political systems; and both of them refused crowns. But no crown could have added to the power their military capacity gave them, Caesar bribed enormously; but there were richer men than he in Rome to play that game. Only, they could not have won the battle of Pharsalia. Cromwell proved invincible in the field--such as it was.
It is not, however, these much hackneyed historical figures that trouble us now. Pharsalias and Dunbars and Waterloos are things of the past: battles nowadays last several months and then peter out on barbed wire under the fire of machine guns. Suppose Ludendorff had been a Napoleon, and Haig a Marlborough, Wellington, and Cromwell rolled into one, what more could they have done than either declare modern war impossible or else keep throwing masses of infantry in the old fashion against slaughtering machinery like pigs in Chicago? Napoleon's booklearnt tactics and the columns that won so many battles for him would have no more chance nowadays than the ragged Irish pikemen on Vinegar Hill; and Wellington's thin red line and his squares would have vanished in the fumes of T.N.T. on the Somme. 'The Nelson touch' landed a section of the British fleet at the bottom of the Dardanelles. And yet this war, which, if it did not end civilized war (perhaps it did, by the way, though the War Office may not yet have realized it) at least made an end of the supremacy of the glory virtuoso who can play brilliant variations on the battle of Hastings, has been followed by such a group of upstart autocrats as the world had ceased to suppose possible. Mussolini, Hitler, Kemal and Riza Khan began in the ranks, and have no Marengos to their credit; yet there they are at the top!
Here again the circumstances gave the men their opportunity. Neither Mussolini nor Hitler could have achieved their present personal supremacy when I was born in the middle of the nineteenth century, because the prevailing mentality of that deluded time was still hopefully parliamentary. Democracy was a dream, an ideal. Everything would be well when all men had votes. Everything would be better than well when all women had votes. There was a great fear of public opinion because it was a dumb phantom which every statesman could identify with his own conscience and dread as the Nemesis of unscrupulous ambition. That was the golden age of democracy: the phantom was a real and beneficent force. Many delusions are. In those days even our Conservative rulers agreed that we were a liberty loving people: that, for instance, Englishmen would never tolerate compulsory military service as the slaves of foreign despots did.
It was part of the democratic dream that Parliament was an instrument for carrying out the wishes of the voters, absurdly called its constituents. And as, in the nineteenth century, it was still believed that British individual liberty forbad Parliament to do anything that it could possibly leave to private enterprise, Parliament was able to keep up its reputation by simply maintaining an effective police force and enforcing private contracts. Even Factory Acts and laws against adulteration and sweating were jealously resisted as interferences with the liberty of free Britons. If there was anything wrong, the remedy was an extension of the franchise. Like Hamlet, we lived on the chameleon's dish 'air, promise crammed.'
But you cannot create a mentality out of promises without having to face occasional demands for their materialization. The Treasury Bench was up for auction at every election, the bidding being in promises. The political parties, finding it much less troublesome to give the people votes than to carry out reforms, at last established adult suffrage.
The result was a colossal disappointment and disillusion. The phantom of Democracy, alias Public Opinion, which, acting as an artificial political conscience, had restrained Gladstone and Disraeli, vanished. The later parliamentary leaders soon learnt from experience that they might with perfect impunity tell the nation one thing on Tuesday and the opposite on Friday without anyone noticing the discrepancy. The donkey had overtaken the carrots at last; and instead of eating them he allowed them to be snatched away from him by any confidence trickster who told him to look up into the sky.
The diplomatists immediately indulged themselves with a prodigiously expensive war, after which the capitalist system, which had undertaken to find employment for everybody at subsistence wages, and which, though it had never fulfilled that undertaking, had at least found employment for enough of them to leave the rest too few to be dangerous, defaulted in respect of unprecedented millions of unemployed, who had to be bought off by doles administered with a meanness and cruelty which revived all the infamies of the Poor Law of a century ago (the days of Oliver Twist) and could not be administered in any kinder way without weakening the willingness of its recipients to prefer even the poorliest paid job to its humiliations.
The only way of escape was for the Government to organize the labor of the unemployed for the supply of their own needs. But Parliament not only could not do this, but could and did prevent its being done. In vain did the voters use their votes to place a Labor Government, with a Cabinet of Socialists, on the Treasury Bench. Parliament took these men, who had been intransigent Socialists and revolutionists all their lives, and reduced them to a condition of political helplessness in which they were indistinguishable except by name from the most reactionary members of the House of Lords or the military clubs. A Socialist Prime Minister, after trying for years to get the parliamentary car into gear for a move forward, and finding that though it would work easily and smoothly in neutral the only gear that would engage was the reverse gear (popularly called 'the axe' because it could do nothing but cut down wages), first formed what he called a national government by a coalition of all parties, and then, having proved by this experiment that it did not make the smallest difference whether members of the Cabinet were the reddest of Bolsheviks or the bluest of Tories, made things easier by handing over his premiership to a colleague who, being a Conservative, and popular and amiable into the bargain, could steal a horse where a Socialist dare not look over a hedge. The voters rejected him at the next election; but he retained his membership of the Cabinet precisely as if he had been triumphantly returned. Bismarck could have done no more.
These events, helped by the terrific moral shock of the war, and the subsequent exposure of the patriotic lying by which the workers of Europe had been provoked to slaughter one another, made an end of the nineteenth century democratic mentality. Parliament fell into contempt; ballot papers were less esteemed than toilet papers; the men from the trenches had no patience with the liberties that had not saved them from being driven like sheep to the shambles.
Of this change our parliamentarians and journalists had no suspicion. Creatures of habit, they went on as if nothing had occurred since Queen Victoria's death except a couple of extensions of the franchise and an epoch-making revolution in Russia which they poohpoohed as a transient outburst of hooliganism fomented by a few bloodthirsty scoundrels, exactly as the American revolution and the French revolution had been poohpoohed when they, too, were contemporary.
Here was clearly a big opportunity for a man psychologist enough to grasp the situation and bold enough to act on it. Such a man was Mussolini. He had become known as a journalist by championing the demobilized soldiers who, after suffering all the horrors of the war, had returned to find that the men who had been kept at home in the factories comfortably earning good wages, had seized those factories according to the Syndicalist doctrine of 'worker's control', and were wrecking them in their helpless ignorance of business. As one indignant master-Fascist said to me 'They were listening to speeches round red flags and leaving the cows unmilked.'
The demobilized fell on the Syndicalists with sticks and stones. Some, more merciful, only dosed them with castor oil. They carried Mussolini to Rome with a rush. This gave him the chance of making an irreparable mistake and spending the next fifteen years in prison. It seemed just the occasion for a grand appeal for liberty, for democracy, for a parliament in which the people were supreme: in short, for nineteenth century resurrection pie. Mussolini did not make that mistake. With inspired precision he denounced Liberty as a putrefying corpse. He declared that what people needed was not liberty but discipline, the sterner the better. He said that he would not tolerate Oppositions: he called for action and silence. The people, instead of being shocked like good Liberals, rose to him. He was able to organize a special constabulary who wore black shirts and applied the necessary coercion.
Such improvised bodies attracted young men of military tastes and old soldiers, inevitably including a percentage of ruffians and Sadists. This fringe of undesirables soon committed outrages and a couple of murders, whereupon all the Liberal newspapers in Europe shrieked with horror, as if nothing else was happening in Italy. Mussolini refused to be turned aside from his work like a parliamentary man to discuss 'incidents'. All he said was 'I take the responsibility for everything that has happened.' When the Italian Liberals joined in the shrieking he seized the shriekers and transported them to the Lipari Isles. Parliament, openly flouted, chastised, and humiliated, could do nothing. The people were delighted; for that was just how they wanted to see Parliament treated. The doctrinaires of liberty fled to France and England, preferring them to Lipari, and wrote eloquent letters to the papers demanding whether every vestige of freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of Parliament, was to be trampled under the heel of a ruthless dictator merely because the Italian trains were running punctually and travellers in Italy could depend on their luggage not being stolen without actually sitting on it. The English editors gave them plenty of space, and wrote sympathetic articles paraphrasing John Stuart Mill's Essay on Liberty. Mussolini, now Il Duce, never even looked round: he was busy sweeping up the elected municipalities, and replacing them with efficient commissioners of his own choice, who had to do their job or get out. The editors had finally to accord him a sort of Pragmatic Sanction by an admission that his plan worked better than the old plan; but they were still blind to the fact staring them in the face that Il Duce, knowing what the people wanted and giving it to them, was responding to the real democratic urge whilst the cold tealeaves of the nineteenth century were making them sick. It was evident that Mussolini was master of Italy as far as such mastership is possible; but what was not evident to Englishmen who had had their necks twisted the other way from their childhood was that even when he deliberately spat in the face of the League of Nations at Corfu, and defiantly asked the Powers whether they had anything to say about it, he was delighting his own people by the spectacle of a great Italian bullying the world, and getting away with it triumphantly. Parliaments are supposed to have their fingers always on the people's pulse and to respond to its slightest throb. Mussolini proved that parliaments have not the slightest notion of how the people are feeling, and that he, being a good psychologist and a man of the people himself to boot, was a true organ of democracy.
I, being a bit of a psychologist myself, also understood the situation, and was immediately denounced by the refugees and their champions as an anti-democrat, a hero worshipper of tyrants, and all the rest of it.
Hitler's case was different; but he had one quality in common with Il Duce: he knew what the victorious Allies would fight for and what they would only bluster about. They had already been forced to recognize that their demands for plunder had gone far beyond Germany's utmost resources. But there remained the clauses of the Versailles treaty by which Germany was to be kept in a condition of permanent, decisive, and humiliating military inferiority to the other Powers, and especially to France. Hitler was political psychologist enough to know that the time had arrived when it would be quite impossible for the Allies to begin the war over again to enforce these clauses. He saw his opportunity and took it. He violated the clauses, and declared that he was going to go on violating them until a fully re-armed Germany was on equal terms with the victors. He did not soften his defiance by any word of argument or diplomacy. He knew that his attitude was safe and sure of success; and he took care to make it as defiant as that of Ajax challenging the lightning. The Powers had either to renew the war or tear up the impossible clauses with a good grace. But they could not grasp the situation, and went on nagging pitifully about the wickedness of breaking a treaty. Hitler said that if they mentioned that subject again Germany would withdraw from the League of Nations and cut the Powers dead. He bullied and snubbed as the man who understands a situation can always bully and snub the nincompoops who are only whining about it. He at once became a popular idol, and had the regular executive forces so completely devoted to him that he was able to disband the brownshirted constabulary he had organized on the Mussolini model. He met the conventional democratic challenge by plebiscites of ninety per cent in his favor. The myopia of the Powers had put him in a position so far stronger than Mussolini's that he was able to kill seventy-seven of his most dangerous opponents at a blow and then justify himself completely before an assembly fully as representative as the British Parliament, the climax being his appointment as absolute dictator in Germany for life, a stretch of Caesarism no nineteenth-century Hohenzollern would have dreamt of demanding.
Hitler was able to go further than Mussolini because he had a defeated, plundered, humiliated nation to rescue and restore, whereas Mussolini had only an irritated but victorious one. He carried out a persecution of the Jews which went to the scandalous length of outlawing, plundering, and exiling Albert Einstein, a much greater man than any politician, but great in such a manner that he was quite above the heads of the masses and therefore so utterly powerless economically and militarily that he depended for his very existence on the culture and conscience of the rulers of the earth. Hitler's throwing Einstein to the Antisemite wolves was an appalling breach of cultural faith. It raised the question which is the root question of this preface: to wit, what safeguard have the weaponless great against the great who have myrmidons at their call? It is the most frightful betrayal of civilization for the rulers who monopolize physical force to withhold their protection from the pioneers in thought. Granted that they are sometimes forced to do it because intellectual advances may present themselves as quackery, sedition, obscenity, or blasphemy, and always present themselves as heresies. Had Einstein been formally prosecuted and sentenced by the German National Socialist State, as Galileo was prosecuted by the Church, for shaking the whole framework of established physical science by denying the infallibility of Newton, introducing fantastic factors into mathematics, destroying human faith in absolute measurement, and playing an incomprehensible trick with the sacred velocity of light, quite a strong case could have been made out by the public prosecutor. But to set the police on him because he was a Jew could be justified only on the ground that the Jews are the natural enemies of the rest of the human race, and that as a state of perpetual war necessarily exists between them any Gentile has the same reason for killing any Jew at sight as the Roman soldier had for killing Archimedes.
Now no doubt Jews are most obnoxious creatures. Any competent historian or psycho-analyst can bring a mass of incontrovertible evidence to prove that it would have been better for the world if the Jews had never existed. But I, as an Irishman, can, with patriotic relish, demonstrate the same of the English. Also of the Irish. If Herr Hitler would only consult the French and British newspapers and magazines of the latter half of 1914, he would learn that the Germans are a race of savage idolaters, murderers, liars, and fiends whose assumption of the human form is thinner than that of the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood.
We all live in glass houses. Is it wise to throw stones at the Jews? Is it wise to throw stones at all?
Herr Hitler is not only an Antisemite, but a believer in the possibility and desirability of a pure bred German race. I should like to ask him why. All Germans are not Mozarts, nor even Mendelssohns and Meyerbeers, both of whom, by the way, though exceptionally desirable Germans, were Jews. Surely the average German can be improved. I am told that children bred from Irish colleens and Chinese laundrymen are far superior to inbred Irish or Chinese. Herr Hitler is not a typical German. I should not be at all surprised if it were discovered that his very mixed blood (all our bloods today are hopelessly mixed) got fortified somewhere in the past by that of King David. He cannot get over the fact that the lost tribes of Israel expose us all to the suspicion (sometimes, as in Abyssinia, to the boast) that we are those lost tribes, or at least that we must have absorbed them.
One of my guesses in this matter is that Herr Hitler in his youth was fascinated by Houston Chamberlain's Foundations of the XIX Century, an interesting book which at the time of its appearance I recommended everybody to read. Its ethnology was not wholly imaginary. A smattering of Mendelism is all that one needs to know that the eternal fusion of races does not always blend them. The Jews will often throw up an apparently pure-bred Hittite or a pure-bred Philistine. The Germans throw up out-and-out blond beasts side by side with dark Saturnine types like the Führer himself. I am a blond, much less an antique Roman than a Dane. One of my sisters was a brunette: the other had hair of a flaming red seen only in the Scottish Highlands, to which my ancestry has been traced. All these types with which writers like Chamberlain play: the Teutons and Latins, the Apollonians and Dionysians, the Nordics and Southics, the Dominants and Recessives, have existed and keep cropping up as individuals, and exciting antipathies or affinities quite often enough to give substance to theories about them; but the notion that they can be segregated as races or species is bosh. We have nations with national characteristics (rapidly fading, by the way), national languages, and national customs. But they deteriorate without cross fertilization; and if Herr Hitler could put a stop to cross fertilization in Germany and produce a population of brainless Bismarcks Germany would be subjugated by crossfertilized aliens, possibly by cosmopolitan Jews. There is more difference between a Catholic Bavarian and a Lutheran Prussian, between a tall fair Saxon and a stocky Baltic Celt, than there is between a Frankfort Jew and a Frankfort Gentile. Even in Africa, where pink emigrants struggle with brown and black natives for possession of the land, and our Jamaican miscegenation shocks public sentiment, the sun sterilizes the pinks to such an extent that Cabinet ministers call for more emigration to maintain the pink population. They do not yet venture to suggest that the pinks had better darken their skins with a mixture of Bantu or Zulu blood; but that conclusion is obvious. In New Zealand, in Hawaii, there are pure-bred pinks and yellows; but there are hardly any pure-bred Maories or South Sea Islanders left. In Africa the intelligent pink native is a Fusionist as between Dutch and British stock. The intelligent Jew is a Fusionist as between Jew and Gentile stock, even when he is also a bit of a Zionist. Only the stupidest or craziest ultra-Nationalists believe that people corralled within the same political frontier are all exactly alike, and that they improve by continuous inbreeding.
Now Herr Hitler is not a stupid German. I therefore urge upon him that his Antisemitism and national exclusiveness must be pathological: a craze, a complex, a bee in his bonnet, a hole in his armor, a hitch in his statesmanship, one of those lesions which sometimes prove fatal. As it has no logical connection with Fascism or National Socialism, and has no effect on them except to bring them into disrepute, I doubt whether it can survive its momentary usefulness as an excuse for plundering raids and coups d'état against inconvenient Liberals or Marxists. A persecution is always a man hunt; and man hunting is not only a very horrible sport but socially a dangerous one, as it revives a primitive instinct incompatible with civilization: indeed civilization rests fundamentally on the compact that it shall be dropped.
And here comes the risk we run when we allow a dominant individual to become a despot. There is a story told of a pious man who was sustained through a lifetime of crushing misfortune by his steady belief that if he fought the good fight to the end he would at last stand in the presence of his God. In due course he died, and presented himself at the gates of heaven for his reward. Saint Peter, who was for some reason much worried, hastily admitted him and bade him go and enjoy himself. But the good man said that he did not want to enjoy himself: he wanted to stand in the presence of God. Saint Peter tried to evade the claim, dwelling on the other delights of heaven, coaxing, bullying, arguing. All in vain: he could not shake the claimant and could not deny his right. He sent for Saint Paul, who was as worried and as evasive as his colleague; but he also failed to induce the newcomer to forgo his promised privilege. At last they took him by the arms and led him to a mighty cathedral, where, entering by the west door, he saw the Ancient of Days seated in silent majesty on a throne in the choir. He sprang forward to prostrate himself at the divine feet, but was held back firmly by the apostles. 'Be quiet' said Saint Paul. 'He has gone mad; and we dont know what to do.' 'Dont tell anybody' added Saint Peter. And there the story ends.
But that is not how the story ends on earth. Make any common fellow an autocrat and at once you have the Beggar on Horseback riding to the devil. Even when, as the son of his father, he has been trained from infancy to behave well in harness and blinkers, he may go as mad sadistically as a Roman emperor or a Russian Tsar. But that is only the extreme case. Uncommon people, promoted on their merits, are by no means wholly exempt from megalomania. Morris's simple and profound saying that 'no man is good enough to be another man's master' holds good unless both master and man regard themselves as equally the fellow servants of God in States where God still reigns, or, in States where God is dead, as the subjects and agents of a political constitution applying humane principles which neither of them may violate. In that case autocrats are no longer autocrats. Failing any such religious or political creed all autocrats go more or less mad. That is a plain fact of political pathology.
Judged in this light our present predicament is lamentable. We no longer believe in the old 'sanctions' (as they are called nowadays) of heaven and hell; and except in Russia there is not in force a single political constitution that enables and enjoins the citizen to earn his own living as a matter of elementary honesty, or that does not exalt vast personal riches and the organization of slaughter and conquest above all other conditions and activities. The financier and the soldier are the cocks of the walk; and democracy means that their parasites and worshippers carry all before them.
Thus when so many other tyrannies have been swept away by simple Liberalism, the tyranny of the talented individuals will remain. Again I ask what are we to do with them in self-defence? Mere liquidation would be disastrous, because at present only about five per cent of the population are capable of making decisions of any importance; and without many daily decisions civilization would go to pieces. The problem is how to make sure that the decisions shall be made in the general interest and not solely in the immediate personal interest of the decider. It was argued by our classical political economists that there is a divine harmony between these two interests of such a nature that if every decider does the best for himself the result will also be the best for everybody. In spite of a century of bitter experience of the adoption of these excuses for laziness in politics, shameless selfishness in industry, and glorification of idle uselessness in the face of the degrading misery of the masses, they are still taught in our universities, and, what is worse, broadcast by university professors by wireless, as authentic political economy instead of what they really are: that is, the special pleading put forward in defence of the speculators, exploiters, and parasitic property owners in whose grossly anti-social interests the country is misgoverned. Since Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels exposed the horrible condition of the working classes that underlies the pursepride and snobbery of the upper middle classes and the prestige of the landed gentry and peerage there has been no substantial excuse for believing in the alleged harmony of interests. Nothing more diabolical can be conceived than the destiny of a civilization in which the material sources of the people's subsistence are privately owned by a handful of persons taught from childhood that every penny they can extort from the propertyless is an addition to the prosperity of their country and an enrichment of the world at large.
But private property is not the subject of my demonstration in The Millionairess. Private property can be communized. Capitalists and landlords can be pressed into the service of the community, or, if they are idle or incorrigibly recalcitrant, handed over to the police. Under such circumstances the speculator would find his occupation gone. With him would disappear the routine exploiter. But the decider, the dominator, the organizer, the tactician, the mesmerizer would remain; and if they were still educated as ladies and gentlemen are educated today, and consequently had the same sort of consciences and ambitions, they would, if they had anything like our present proletariat to deal with, re-establish industrial anarchy and heritable private property in land with all their disastrous consequences and Gadarene destiny. And their rule, being that of able persons and not of nincompoops born with silver spoons in their mouths, would at first produce some striking improvements in the working of the public services, including the elimination of dud dignitaries and the general bracing up of plodders and slackers. But when dominators die, and are succeeded by persons who can only work a routine, a relapse is inevitable; and the destruction by the dominators of the organizations by which citizens defend themselves against oppression (trade unions, for example) may be found to leave society less organized than it was before the hand of the master had risen from the dust to which it has returned. For it is obvious that a business organized for control by an exceptionally omnipotent and omniscient head will go to pieces when that head is replaced by a commonplace numskull. We need not go back to Richard Cromwell or the Duke of Reichstadt to illustrate this. It is occurring every day in commercial business.
Now the remedy lies, not in the extermination of all dominators and deciders, but on the contrary in their multiplication to what may be called their natural minority limit, which will destroy their present scarcity value. But we must also eliminate the mass of ignorance, weakness, and timidity which force them to treat fools according to their folly. Armies, fanatical sects and mobs, and the blackshirts complained of today by their black and blue victims, have consisted hitherto mostly of people who should not exist in civilized society. Titus Oates and Lord George Gordon owed their vogue to the London mob. There should not have been any London mob. The soldiers of Marlborough and Wellington were never-do-wells, mental defectives, and laborers with the minds and habits of serfs. Military geniuses could hunt with such products more easily than with a pack of hounds. Our public school and university education equips armies of this kind with appropriate staffs of officers. When both are extinct we shall be able to breathe more freely.
Let us therefore assume that the soldier and his officer as we know them, the Orange and Papist rioters of Belfast, the Moslem and Hindu irreconcilables of the east and the Ku-Klux-Klans and lynching mobs of the west, have passed away as the less dangerous prehistoric monsters have passed, and that all men and women are meeting on equal terms as far as circumstances and education are concerned. Let us suppose that no man can starve or flog his fellows into obeying him, or force upon them the alternative of risking their lives for him in battle or being shot at dawn. Let us take for granted armies intelligent enough to present their officers at any moment with the alternative of organizing a return home or being superseded out of hand. Let us narrow the case to the mysterious precedence into which certain people get pushed even when they lack ambition and are far too intelligent to believe that eminence and its responsibilities are luxuries. To be 'greatest among you' is a distinction dearly bought at the price of being 'servant to all the rest.' Plato was quite right in taking reluctance to govern as a leading symptom of supreme fitness for it. But if we insisted on this qualification in all cases, we should find ourselves as short of governors as the churches would be if they insisted on all their parish priests or rectors being saints. A great deal of the directing and organizing work of the world will still have to be done by energetic and capable careerists who are by no means void of vulgar ambition, and very little troubled by the responsibilities that attend on power. When I said that Napoleon was fundamentally a fool and a snob I did not mean for a moment to question his extraordinary capacity as a ruler of men. If we compare him with his valet-secretary Bourrienne we find that there were no external circumstances to prevent Bourrienne becoming the emperor and Napoleon the valet. They quarrelled and parted with an exchange of epithets unprintable in polite English. Bourrienne was as much a Man of Destiny as Buonaparte. But it was his destiny to be ruled and Buonaparte's to rule; and so Buonaparte became Napoleon Bonaparte, First Consul and Emperor, as inevitably as Bourrienne remained a speculator, litterateur and diplomatist. I am not forgetting that Bourrienne saw Napoleon come and go, and had a much more comfortable and finally a more successful career than his quondam master; but the point is that Napoleon was master whilst their personal relations lasted. And please note that Napoleon did not and could not impose on Bourrienne and Talleyrand, nor even on the more cultivated of his marshals (all planetary Napoleons) as he could and did on the soldiery and peasantry. They turned against him very promptly when his fortunes changed and he could no longer be of any use to them.
Now if a ruler can command men only as long as he is efficient and successful his rule is neither a tyranny nor a calamity: it is a very valuable asset. But suppose the nation is made up for the most part of people too ignorant to understand efficient government, and taught, as far as they are taught at all, to measure greatness by pageantry and the wholesale slaughter called military glory. It was this ignorance and idolatry that first exalted Napoleon and then smashed him. From Toulon to Austerlitz Napoleon did what good he did by stealth, and had no occasion to 'blush to find it fame,' as nobody gave him the least credit for anything but killing. When the glory turned to shame on the road back from Moscow his good works availed him nothing, and the way was open to St Helena. Catherine of Russia, when she was faced with a revolt against the misery of her people, said, not 'Let us relieve their misery by appropriate reforms,' but 'Let us give them a little war to amuse them.' Every tottering regime tries to rally its subjects to its support in the last resort by a war. It was not only the last card of Napoleon III before he lost the game: it played a considerable part in the capitalist support of Hohenzollern sabre rattling which made the desperate onslaught of Germany in 1914 possible. Patriotism, roused to boiling point by an enemy at the gate, is not only the last refuge of a scoundrel in Dr Johnson's sense, it is far more dangerously the everyday resort of capitalism and feudalism as a red herring across the scent of Communism. Under such circumstances it is fortunate that war on the modern scale is so completely beyond the capacity of private capitalism that, as in 1915, it forces the belligerents into national factory production, public discipline, and rationed distribution: in short, into Socialism. Not only did national factories spring up like mushrooms, but the private factories had to be brought up to the mark by public control of prices and dictation of scientific business methods, involving such an exposure of the obsolescence and inefficiency of profitmongering methods that it took years of reckless lying from Press and platform to make the silly public believe the contrary. For war is like the seven magic bullets which the devil has ready to sell for a human soul. Six of them may hit the glorymonger's mark very triumphantly; but the seventh plays some unexpected and unintended trick that upsets the gunman's apple cart. It seemed an astute stroke of German imperial tactics to send Lenin safely through Germany to Russia so that he might make trouble for the Tsar. But the bullet was a number seven: it killed the Tsar very efficiently; but it came back like a boomerang and laid the Hohenzollerns beside the Romanoffs.
Pageantry will lose its black magic when it becomes a local popular amusement; so that the countryside may come to know it from behind the scenes, when, though it will still please, it will no longer impose. For mere iconoclasm is a mistake: the Roundhead folly (really a Thickhead one) of destroying the power of the pageant by forbidding all theatrical displays and dressings-up, and making everybody wear ugly clothes, ended in the flamboyant profligacy of the Restoration; and the attempt to enforce the second commandment by smashing the images soon smashed the second commandment. Give away the secret that the dressed-up performers are only amateurs, and the images works of art, and the dupes and worshippers will become undeluded connoisseurs.
Unfortunately it is easier to produce a nation of artistic than of political connoisseurs. Our schools and universities do not concern themselves with fine art, which they despise as an unmanly pursuit. It is possible for a young gentleman to go through the whole educational mill of preparatory school, public school, and university with the highest academic honors without knowing the difference between a chanty and a symphony, a tavern sign and a portrait by Titian, a ballad by Macaulay and a stanza by Keats. But at least he is free to find out all this for himself if he has a fancy that way.
Not so in political science. Not so in religion. In these subjects he is proselytized from the beginning in the interests of established institutions so effectually that he remains all his life firmly convinced that his greatest contemporaries are rascally and venal agitators, villainous blasphemers, or at best seditious cads. He will listen to noodles' orations, read pompous leading articles, and worship the bloodthirsty tribal idols of Noah and Samuel with a gravity and sincerity that would make him infinitely pitiable if they did not also make him infinitely dangerous. He will feed his mind on empty phrases as Nebuchadnezzar fed his body on grass; and any boss who has mastered these phrases can become his dictator, his despot, his evangelist, and in effect his god-emperor.
Clearly we shall be bossridden in one form or another as long as education means being put through this process, or the best imitation of it that our children's parents can afford. The remedy is another Reformation, now long and perilously overdue, in the direction and instruction of our children's minds politically and religiously. We should begin well to the left of Russia, which is still encumbered with nineteenth century superstitions. Communism is the fairy godmother who can transform Bosses into 'servants to all the rest'; but only a creed of Creative Evolution can set the souls of the people free. Then the dominator will still find himself face to face with subordinates who can do nothing without him; but that will not give him the inside grip. A late rich shipowner, engaged in a quarrel with his workmen in which he assumed that I was on their side, rashly asked me what his men could do without him. Naturally I asked him what he could do without them, hoping to open his eyes to the fact that apart from the property rights he had bought or borrowed he was as dependent on them as they on him. But I fear I impressed him most by adding, quite untruly, that no gentleman would have asked that question.
Save for my allusion to the persecution and exile of Einstein I have not said a word here about the miserable plight of the great men neglected, insulted, starved, and occasionally put to death, sometimes horribly, by the little ones. Their case is helpless because nothing can defend them against the might of overwhelming numbers unless and until they develop the Vril imagined by Bulwer-Lytton which will enable one person to destroy a multitude, and thereby make us more particular than we are at present about the sort of persons we produce. I am confining myself to the power wielded by the moneymakers and military geniuses in political life and by the dominant personalities in private life. Lytton's Vril was a fiction only in respect of its being available for everybody, and therefore an infallible preventive of any attempt at oppression. For that individuals here and there possess a power of domination which others are unable to resist is undeniable; and since this power is as yet nameless we may as well call it Vril as anything else. It is the final reality of inequality. It is easy to equalize the dominators with the commonplacers economically: you just give one of them half-a-crown and the other two-and-sixpence. Nelson was paid no more than any other naval captain or admiral; and the poverty of Mozart or Marx was worse than the voluntary holy poverty of the great heads of the religious orders. Dominators and dominated are already equalized before the law: shall not I, a playwright of Shakesperean eminence, be hanged if I commit a murder precisely as if I were the most illiterate call boy? Politically we all have at least the symbol of equality in our votes, useless as they are to us under political and economic institutions made to encourage William the Conqueror to slay Harold and exploit Hodge. But, I repeat, when all these perfectly feasible equalizations are made real, there still remains Epifania, shorn of her millions and unable to replace them, but still as dominant as Saint Joan, Saint Clare, and Saint Teresa. The most complete Communism and Democracy can only give her her chance far more effectively than any feudal or capitalist society.
And this, I take it, is one of the highest claims of Communism and Democracy to our consideration, and the explanation of the apparently paradoxical fact that it is always the greatest spirits, from Jesus to Lenin, from Saint Thomas More to William Morris, who are communists and democrats, and always the commonplace people who weary us with their blitherings about the impossibility of equality when they are at a loss for any better excuse for keeping other people in the kitchen and themselves in the drawing room. I say cheerfully to the dominators 'By all means dominate: it is up to us to so order our institutions that you shall not oppress us, nor bequeath any of your precedence to your commonplace children.' For when ambition and greed and mere brainless energy have been disabled, the way will be clear for inspiration and aspiration to save us from the fatheaded stagnation of the accursed Victorian snobbery which is bringing us to the verge of ruin.
28 August 1935
Mr Julius Sagamore, a smart young solicitor, is in his office in Lincoln's Inn Fields. It is a fine morning in May. The room, an old panelled one, is so arranged that Mr Sagamore, whom we see sitting under the window in profile with his back to it and his left side presented to us, is fenced off by his writing table from excessive intimacy with emotional clients or possible assault by violent or insane ones. The door is on his right towards the farther end of the room. The faces of the clients are thus illuminated by the window whilst his own countenance is in shadow. The fireplace, of Adam design, is in the wall facing him. It is surmounted by a dingy portrait of a judge. In the wall on his right, near the corner farthest from him, is the door, with a cleft pediment enshrining a bust of some other judge. The rest of this wall is occupied by shelves of calf-bound law books. The wall behind Mr Sagamore has the big window as aforesaid, and beside it a stand of black tin boxes inscribed with clients' names.
So far, the place proclaims the eighteenth century; but as the year is 1935, and Mr Sagamore has no taste for dust and mould, and requires a room which suggests opulence, and in which lady clients will look their best, everything is well dusted and polished; the green carpet is new, rich, and thick; and the half dozen chairs, four of which are ranged under the bookshelves, are Chippendales of the very latest fake. Of the other two one is occupied by himself, and the other stands half way between his table and the fireplace for the accommodation of his clients.
The telephone, on the table at his elbow, rings.
SAGAMORE [listening] Yes? . . . [Impressed] Oh! Send her up at once.
A tragic looking woman, athletically built and expensively dressed, storms into the room. He rises obsequiously.
THE LADY. Are you Julius Sagamore, the worthless nephew of my late solicitor Pontifex Sagamore?
SAGAMORE. I do not advertize myself as worthless; but Pontifex Sagamore was my uncle; and I have returned from Australia to succeed to as much of his business as I can persuade his clients to trust me with.
THE LADY. I have heard him speak of you; and I naturally concluded that as you had been packed off to Australia you must be worthless. But it does not matter, as my business is very simple. I desire to make my will, leaving everything I possess to my husband. You can hardly go wrong about that, I suppose.
SAGAMORE. I shall do my best. Pray sit down.
THE LADY. No: I am restless. I shall sit down when I feel tired.
SAGAMORE. As you please. Before I draw up the will it will be necessary for me to know who your husband is.
THE LADY. My husband is a fool and a blackguard. You will state that fact in the will. You will add that it was his conduct that drove me to commit suicide.
SAGAMORE. But you have not committed suicide.
THE LADY. I shall have, when the will is signed.
SAGAMORE. Of course, quite so: stupid of me. And his name?
THE LADY. His name is Alastair Fitzfassenden.
SAGAMORE. What! The amateur tennis champion and heavy weight boxer?
THE LADY. Do you know him?
SAGAMORE. Every morning we swim together at the club.
THE LADY. The acquaintance does you little credit.
SAGAMORE. I had better tell you that he and I are great friends, Mrs Fitzfassen--
THE LADY. Do not call me by his detestable name. Put me in your books as Epifania Ognisanti di Parerga.
SAGAMORE [bowing] Oh! I am indeed honored. Pray be seated.
EPIFANIA. Sit down yourself; and dont fuss.
SAGAMORE. If you prefer it, certainly. [He sits]. Your father was a very wonderful man, madam.
EPIFANIA. My father was the greatest man in the world. And he died a pauper. I shall never forgive the world for that.
SAGAMORE. A pauper! You amaze me. It was reported that he left you, his only child, thirty millions.
EPIFANIA. Well, what was thirty millions to him? He lost a hundred and fifty millions. He had promised to leave me two hundred millions. I was left with a beggarly thirty. It broke his heart.
SAGAMORE. Still, an income of a million and a half--
EPIFANIA. Man: you forget the death duties. I have barely seven hundred thousand a year. Do you know what that means to a woman brought up on an income of seven figures? The humiliation of it!
SAGAMORE. You take away my breath, madam.
EPIFANIA. As I am about to take my own breath away, I have no time to attend to yours.
SAGAMORE. Oh, the suicide! I had forgotten that.
EPIFANIA. Had you indeed? Well, will you please give your mind to it for a moment, and draw up a will for me to sign, leaving everything to Alastair.
SAGAMORE. To humiliate him?
EPIFANIA. No. To ruin him. To destroy him. To make him a beggar on horseback so that he may ride to the devil. Money goes to his head. I have seen it at work on him.
SAGAMORE. I also have seen that happen. But you cannot be sure. He might marry some sensible woman.
EPIFANIA. You are right. Make it a condition of the inheritance that within a month from my funeral he marries a low female named Polly Seedystockings.
SAGAMORE [making a note of it] A funny name.
EPIFANIA. Her real name is Patricia Smith. But her letters to Alastair are signed Polly Seedystockings, as a hint, I suppose, that she wants him to buy her another dozen.
SAGAMORE [taking another sheet of paper and writing] I should like to know Polly.
EPIFANIA. Pray why?
SAGAMORE [talking as he writes] Well, if Alastair prefers her to you she must be indeed worth knowing. I shall certainly make him introduce me.
EPIFANIA. You are hardly tactful, Julius Sagamore.
SAGAMORE. That will not matter when you have taken this [he hands her what he has written].
EPIFANIA. What's this?
SAGAMORE. For the suicide. You will have to sign the chemist's book for the cyanide. Say it is for a wasp's nest. The tartaric acid is harmless: the chemist will think you want it to make lemonade. Put the two separately in just enough water to dissolve them. When you mix the two solutions the tartaric and potash will combine and make tartrate of potash. This, being insoluble, will be precipitated to the bottom of the glass; and the supernatant fluid will be pure hydrocyanic acid, one sip of which will kill you like a thunderbolt.
EPIFANIA [fingering the prescription rather disconcertedly] You seem to take my death very coolly, Mr Sagamore.
SAGAMORE. I am used to it.
EPIFANIA. Do you mean to tell me that you have so many clients driven to despair that you keep a prescription for them?
SAGAMORE. I do. It's infallible.
EPIFANIA. You are sure that they have all died painlessly and instantaneously?
SAGAMORE. No. They are all alive.
EPIFANIA. Alive! The prescription is a harmless fraud!
SAGAMORE. No. It's a deadly poison. But they dont take it.
SAGAMORE. I dont know. But they never do.
EPIFANIA. I will. And I hope you will be hanged for giving it to me.
SAGAMORE. I am only acting as your solicitor. You say you are going to commit suicide; and you come to me for advice. I do my best for you, so that you can die without wasting a lot of gas or jumping into the Serpentine. Six and eightpence I shall charge your executors.
EPIFANIA. For advising me how to kill myself!
SAGAMORE. Not today. Tomorrow.
EPIFANIA. Why put it off until tomorrow?
SAGAMORE. Well, it will do as well tomorrow as today. And something amusing may happen this evening. Or even tomorrow evening. Theres no hurry.
EPIFANIA. You are a brute, a beast, and a pig. My life is nothing to you: you do not even ask what has driven me to this. You make money out of the death of your clients.
SAGAMORE. I do. There will be a lot of business connected with your death. Alastair is sure to come to settle your affairs.
EPIFANIA. And you expect me to kill myself to make money for you?
SAGAMORE. Well, it is you who have raised my expectations, madam.
EPIFANIA. O God, listen to this man! Has it ever occurred to you that when a woman's life is wrecked she needs a little sympathy and not a bottle of poison?
SAGAMORE. I really cant sympathize with suicide. It doesnt appeal to me, somehow. Still, if it has to be done, it had better be done promptly and scientifically.
EPIFANIA. You dont even ask what Alastair has done to me?
SAGAMORE. It wont matter what he has done to you when you are dead. Why bother about it?
EPIFANIA. You are an unmitigated hog, Julius Sagamore.
SAGAMORE. Why worry about me? The prescription will cure everything.
EPIFANIA. Damn your prescription. There! [She tears it up and throws the pieces in his face].
SAGAMORE [beaming] It's infallible. And now that you have blown off steam, suppose you sit down and tell me all about it.
EPIFANIA. You call the outcry of an anguished heart blowing off steam, do you?
SAGAMORE. Well, what else would you call it?
EPIFANIA. You are not a man: you are a rhinoceros. You are also a fool.
SAGAMORE. I am only a solicitor.
EPIFANIA. You are a rotten solicitor. You are not a gentleman. You insult me in my distress. You back up my husband against me. You have no decency, no understanding. You are a fish with the soul of a black-beetle. Do you hear?
SAGAMORE. Yes: I hear. And I congratulate myself on the number of actions for libel I shall have to defend if you do me the honor of making me your solicitor.
EPIFANIA. You are wrong. I never utter a libel. My father instructed me most carefully in the law of libel. If I questioned your solvency, that would be a libel. If I suggested that you are unfaithful to your wife, that would be a libel. But if I call you a rhinoceros--which you are: a most unmitigated rhinoceros--that is only vulgar abuse. I take good care to confine myself to vulgar abuse; and I have never had an action for libel taken against me. Is that the law, or is it not?
SAGAMORE. I really dont know. I will look it up in my law books.
EPIFANIA. You need not. I instruct you that it is the law. My father always had to instruct his lawyers in the law whenever he did anything except what everybody was doing every day. Solicitors know nothing of law: they are only good at practice, as they call it. My father was a great man: every day of his life he did things that nobody else ever dreamt of doing. I am not, perhaps, a great woman; but I am his daughter; and as such I am an unusual woman. You will take the law from me and do exactly what I tell you to do.
SAGAMORE. That will simplify our relations considerably, madam.
EPIFANIA. And remember this. I have no sense of humor. I will not be laughed at.
SAGAMORE. I should not dream of laughing at a client with an income of three quarters of a million.
EPIFANIA. Have you a sense of humor?
SAGAMORE. I try to keep it in check; but I am afraid I have a little. You appeal to it, somehow.
EPIFANIA. Then I tell you in cold blood, after the most careful consideration of my words, that you are a heartless blackguard. My distress, my disgrace, my humiliation, the horrible mess and failure I have made of my life seem to you merely funny. If it were not that my father warned me never to employ a solicitor who had no sense of humor I would walk out of this office and deprive you of a client whose business may prove a fortune to you.
SAGAMORE. But, my dear lady, I dont know anything about your distress, your disgrace, the mess you have made of your life and all the rest of it. How can I laugh at things I dont know? If I am laughing--and am I really laughing?--I assure you I am laughing, not at your misfortunes, but at you.
EPIFANIA. Indeed? Am I so comic a figure in my misery?
SAGAMORE. But what is your misery? Do, pray, sit down.
EPIFANIA. You seem to have one idea in your head, and that is to get your clients to sit down. Well, to oblige you. [She sits down with a flounce. The back of the chair snaps off short with a loud crack. She springs up]. Oh, I cannot even sit down in a chair without wrecking it. There is a curse on me.
SAGAMORE [collapses on the table, shaking with uncontrollable laughter]!!!!!!
EPIFANIA. Ay: laugh, laugh, laugh. Fool! Clown!
SAGAMORE [rising resolutely and fetching another chair from the wall] My best faked Chippendale gone. It cost me four guineas. [Placing the chair for her] Now will you please sit down as gently as you can, and stop calling me names? Then, if you wish, you can tell me what on earth is the matter. [He picks up the broken-off back of the chair and puts it on the table].
EPIFANIA [sitting down with dignity] The breaking of that chair has calmed and relieved me, somehow. I feel as if I had broken your neck, as I wanted to. Now listen to me. [He comes to her and looks down gravely at her]. And dont stand over me like that. Sit down on what is left of your sham Chippendale.
SAGAMORE. Certainly [he sits]. Now go ahead.
EPIFANIA. My father was the greatest man in the world. I was his only child. His one dread was that I should make a foolish marriage, and lose the little money he was able to leave me.
SAGAMORE. The thirty millions. Precisely.
EPIFANIA. Don't interrupt me. He made me promise that whenever a man asked me to marry him I should impose a condition on my consent.
SAGAMORE [attentive] So? What condition?
EPIFANIA. I was to give him one hundred and fifty pounds, and tell him that if within six months he had turned that hundred and fifty pounds into fifty thousand, I was his. If not, I was never to see him again. I saw the wisdom of this. Nobody but my father could have thought of such a real, infallible, unsentimental test. I gave him my sacred promise that I would carry it out faithfully.
SAGAMORE. And you broke that promise. I see.
EPIFANIA. What do you mean--broke that promise?
SAGAMORE. Well, you married Alastair. Now Alastair is a dear good fellow--one of the best in his way--but you are not going to persuade me that he made fifty thousand pounds in six months with a capital of one hundred and fifty.
EPIFANIA. He did. Wise as my father was, he sometimes forgot the wise things he said five minutes after he said them. He warned me that ninety per cent of our self-made millionaires are criminals who have taken a five hundred to one chance and got away with it by pure luck. Well, Alastair was that sort of criminal.
SAGAMORE. No no: not a criminal. That is not like Alastair. A fool, perhaps, in business. But not a criminal.
EPIFANIA. Like all solicitors you think you know more about my husband than I do. Well, I tell you that Alastair came back to me after six months probation with fifty thousand pounds in his pocket instead of the penal servitude he richly deserved. That man's luck is extraordinary. He always wins. He wins at tennis. He wins at boxing. He won me, the richest heiress in England.
SAGAMORE. But you were a consenting party. If not, why did you put him to the test? Why did you give him the hundred and fifty to try his luck with?
EPIFANIA. His boxing fascinated me. My father held that women should be able to defend themselves. He made me study Judo.
SAGAMORE. Judo? Do you mean Hebrew?
EPIFANIA. Hebrew! Nonsense! Judo is what ignorant people call jujitsu. I could throw you through that window as easily as you handed me that rotten chair.
SAGAMORE. Oh! Japanese wrestling. Rather a rough sport for a lady, isnt it?
EPIFANIA. How dare you call Judo a sport? It is a religion.
SAGAMORE [collapsing] Forgive me. Go on with your story. And please break it to me as gently as you can. I have never had a client like you before.
EPIFANIA. You never will again.
SAGAMORE. I dont doubt it for a moment. Now tell me: where does Alastair come in?
EPIFANIA. I saw him win an amateur heavy weight championship. He has a solar plexus punch that no other boxer can withstand.
SAGAMORE. And you married a man because he had a superlative solar plexus punch!
EPIFANIA. Well, he was handsome. He stripped well, unlike many handsome men. I am not insusceptible to sex appeal, very far from it.
SAGAMORE [hastily] Oh quite, quite: you need not go into details.
EPIFANIA. I will if I like. It is your business as a solicitor to know the details. I made a very common mistake. I thought that this irresistible athlete would be an ardent lover. He was nothing of the kind. All his ardor was in his fists. Never shall I forget the day--it was during our honeymoon--when his coldness infuriated me to such a degree that I went for him with my fists. He knocked me out with that abominable punch in the first exchange. Have you ever been knocked out by a punch in the solar plexus?
SAGAMORE. No, thank heaven. I am not a pugilist.
EPIFANIA. It does not put you to sleep like a punch on the jaw. When he saw my face distorted with agony and my body writhing on the floor, he was horrified. He said he did it automatically--that he always countered that way, by instinct. I almost respected him for it.
SAGAMORE. Then why do you want to get rid of him?
EPIFANIA. I want to get rid of myself. I want to punish myself for making a mess of my life and marrying an imbecile. I, Epifania Ognisanti di Parerga, saw myself as the most wonderful woman in England marrying the most wonderful man. And I was only a goose marrying a buck rabbit. What was there for me but death? And now you have put me off it with your fooling; and I dont know what I want. That is a horrible state of mind. I am a woman who must always want something and always get it.
SAGAMORE. An acquisitive woman. Precisely. How splendid! [The telephone rings. He rises]. Excuse me. [He goes to the table and listens] Yes? . . . [Hastily] One moment. Hold the line. [To Epifania] Your husband is downstairs, with a woman. They want to see me.
EPIFANIA [rising] That woman! Have them up at once.
SAGAMORE. But can I depend on you to control yourself?
EPIFANIA. You can depend on Alastair's fists. I must have a look at Seedystockings. Have them up, I tell you.
SAGAMORE [into the telephone] Send Mr Fitzfassenden and the lady up.
EPIFANIA. We shall see now the sort of woman for whom he has deserted ME!
SAGAMORE. I am thrilled. I expect something marvellous.
EPIFANIA. Dont be a fool. Expect something utterly common.
Alastair Fitzfassenden and Patricia Smith come in. He is a splendid athlete, with most of his brains in his muscles. She is a pleasant quiet little woman of the self-supporting type. She makes placidly for the table, leaving Alastair to deal with his wife.
ALASTAIR. Eppy! What are you doing here? [To Sagamore] Why didn't you tell me?
EPIFANIA. Introduce the female.
PATRICIA. Patricia Smith is my name, Mrs Fitzfassenden.
EPIFANIA. That is not how you sign your letters, I think.
ALASTAIR. Look here, Eppy. Dont begin making a row--
EPIFANIA. I was not speaking to you. I was speaking to the woman.
ALASTAIR [losing his temper] You have no right to call her a woman.
PATRICIA. Now, now, Ally: you promised me--
EPIFANIA. Promised you! What right had he to promise you? How dare he promise you? How dare you make him promise you?
ALASTAIR. I wont have Polly insulted.
SAGAMORE [goodhumoredly] You dont mind, Miss Smith, do you?
PATRICIA [unconcerned] Oh, I dont mind. My sister goes on just like that.
EPIFANIA. Your sister! You presume to compare your sister to me!
PATRICIA. Only when she goes off at the deep end. You mustnt mind me: theres nothing like letting yourself go if you are built that way. Introduce me to the gentleman, Ally.
ALASTAIR. Oh, I forgot. Julius Sagamore, my solicitor. An old pal. Miss Smith.
EPIFANIA. Alias Polly Seedystockings.
PATRICIA. Thats only my pet name, Mr Sagamore. Smith is the patronymic, as dear wise old father says.
EPIFANIA. She sets up a wise father! This is the last straw.
SAGAMORE. Do sit down, Miss Smith, wont you? [He goes to fetch a chair from the wall].
PATRICIA [contemplating the wrecked chair] Hallo! Whats happened to the chair?
EPIFANIA. I have happened to the chair. Let it be a warning to you.
Sagamore places the chair for Patricia next the table. Alastair shoves the broken chair back out of the way with his foot; fetches another from the wall, and is about to sit on it next Patricia when Epifania sits on it and motions him to her own chair, so that she is seated between the two, Patricia on her left, Alastair on her right, Sagamore goes back to his official place at the table.
PATRICIA. You see, Mr Sagamore, it's like this. Alastair--
EPIFANIA. You need not explain. I have explained everything to Mr Sagamore. And you will please have the decency in his presence and in mine to speak of my husband as Mr Fitzfassenden. His Christian name is no business of yours.
ALASTAIR [angry] Of course, Eppy, if you wont let anybody speak--
EPIFANIA. I am not preventing you nor anybody from speaking. If you have anything to say for yourself, say it.
PATRICIA. I am sorry. But it's such a long name. In my little circle everyone calls him just Ally.
EPIFANIA [her teeth on edge] You hear this, Mr Sagamore! My husband is called 'Ally' by these third rate people! What right have they to speak of him at all? Am I to endure this?
PATRICIA [soothingly] Yes: we know you have to put up with a lot, deary;--
EPIFANIA. [stamping] Deary!!!
PATRICIA [continuing]--but thats what the world is like.
EPIFANIA. The world is like that to people who are like that. Your world is not my world. Every woman has her own world within her own soul. Listen to me, Mr Sagamore. I married this man. I admitted him to my world, the world which my imagination had peopled with heroes and saints. Never before had a real man been permitted to enter it. I took him to be hero, saint, lover all in one. What he really was you can see for yourself.
ALASTAIR [jumping up with his fists clenched and his face red] I am damned if I stand this.
EPIFANIA [rising and facing him in the pose of a martyr] Yes: strike me. Shew her your knock-out punch. Let her see how you treat women.
ALASTAIR [baffled] Damn! [He sits down again].
PATRICIA. Dont get rattled, Ally: you will only put yourself in the wrong before Mr Sagamore. I think youd better go home and leave me to have it out with her.
EPIFANIA. Will you have the goodness not to speak of me as 'her'? I am Mrs Fitzfassenden. I am not a pronoun. [She resumes her seat haughtily].
PATRICIA. Sorry; but your name is such a tonguetwister. Mr Sagamore: dont you think Ally had better go? It's not right that we should sit here arguing about him to his face. Besides, he's worn out: he's hardly slept all night.
EPIFANIA. How do you know that, pray?
PATRICIA. Never mind how I know it. I do.
ALASTAIR. It was quite innocent; but where could I go to when you drove me out of the house by your tantrums?
EPIFANIA [most unexpectedly amused] You went to her?
ALASTAIR. I went to Miss Smith: she's not a pronoun, you know. I went where I could find peace and kindness, to my good sweet darling Polly. So there!
EPIFANIA. I have no sense of humor; but this strikes me as irresistibly funny. You actually left ME to spend the night in the arms of Miss Seedystockings!
ALASTAIR. No, I tell you. It was quite innocent.
EPIFANIA [to Patricia] Was he in your arms or was he not?
PATRICIA. Well, yes, of course he was for a while. But not in the way you mean.
EPIFANIA. Then he is even a more sexless fish than I took him for. But really a man capable of flouncing out of the house when I was on the point of pardoning him and giving him a night of legitimate bliss would be capable of any imbecility.
ALASTAIR. Pardoning me! Pardoning me for what? What had I done when you flew out at me?
EPIFANIA. I did not fly out at you. I have never lost my dignity even under the most insufferable wrongs.
ALASTAIR. You hadnt any wrongs. You drove me out of the house--
EPIFANIA. I did not. I never meant you to go. It was abominably selfish of you. You had your Seedystockings to go to; but I had nobody. Adrian was out of town.
SAGAMORE. Adrian! This is a new complication. Who is Adrian?
PATRICIA. Adrian is Mrs Fitzfassenden's Sunday husband, Mr Sagamore.
EPIFANIA. My what, did you say?
PATRICIA. Your Sunday husband. You understand. What Mr Adrian Blenderbland is to you, as it were. What Ally is to me.
SAGAMORE. I dont quite follow. What is Mr Blenderbland to you, Mrs Fitzfassenden, if I may ask?
EPIFANIA. Well, he is a gentleman with whom I discuss subjects that are beyond my husband's mental grasp, which is extremely limited.
ALASTAIR. A chap that sets up to be an intellectual because his father was a publisher! He makes up to Eppy and pretends to be in love with her because she has a good cook; but I tell her he cares for nothing but his food. He always calls at mealtimes. A bellygod, I call him. And I am expected to put up with him. But if I as much as look at Polly! Oh my!
EPIFANIA. The cases are quite different. Adrian worships the ground I tread on: that is quite true. But if you think that Seedystockings worships the ground you tread on, you flatter yourself grossly. She endures you and pets you because you buy stockings for her, and no doubt anything else she may be short of.
PATRICIA. Well, I never contradict anyone, because it only makes trouble. And I am afraid I do cost him a good deal; for he likes me to have nice things that I cant afford.
ALASTAIR [affectionately] No, Polly: you dont. Youre as good as gold. I'm always pressing things on you that you wont take. Youre a jolly sight more careful of my money than I am myself.
EPIFANIA. How touching! You are the Sunday wife, I suppose.
PATRICIA. No: I should say that you are the Sunday wife, Mrs Fitzfassenden. It's I that have to look after his clothes and make him get his hair cut.
EPIFANIA. Surely the creature is intelligent enough to do at least that much for himself.
PATRICIA. You dont understand men: they get interested in other things and neglect themselves unless they have a woman to look after them. You see, Mr Sagamore, it's like this. There are two sorts of people in the world: the people anyone can live with and the people that no one can live with. The people that no one can live with may be very goodlooking and vital and splendid and temperamental and romantic and all that; and they can make a man or woman happy for half an hour when they are pleased with themselves and disposed to be agreeable; but if you try to live with them they just eat up your whole life running after them or quarrelling or attending to them one way or another: you cant call your soul your own. As Sunday husbands and wives, just to have a good tearing bit of love-making with, or a blazing row, or mostly one on top of the other, once a month or so, theyre all right. But as everyday partners theyre just impossible.
EPIFANIA. So I am the Sunday wife. [To Patricia, scornfully] And what are you, pray?
PATRICIA. Well, I am the angel in the house, if you follow me.
ALASTAIR [blubbering] You are, dear: you are.
EPIFANIA [to Patricia] You are his doormat: thats what you are.
PATRICIA. Doormats are very useful things if you want the house kept tidy, dear.
The telephone rings. Sagamore attends to it.
SAGAMORE. Yes? . . . Did you say Blenderbland?
EPIFANIA. Adrian! How did he know I was here?
SAGAMORE. Ask the gentleman to wait. [He hangs up the receiver]. Perhaps you can tell me something about him, Mrs Fitzfassenden. Is he the chairman of Blenderbland's Literary Pennyworths?
EPIFANIA. No. That is his father, who created the business. Adrian is on the board; but he has no business ability. He is on fifteen boards of directors on the strength of his father's reputation, and has never, as far as I know, contributed an idea to any of them.
ALASTAIR. Be fair to him, Eppy. No man in London knows how to order a dinner better. That's what keeps him at the top in the city.
SAGAMORE. Thank you: I think I have his measure sufficiently. Shall I have him up?
EPIFANIA. Certainly. I want to know what he is doing here.
ALASTAIR. I dont mind. You understand, of course, that I am not supposed to know anything of his relations with my wife, whatever they may be.
EPIFANIA. They are perfectly innocent, so far. I am not quite convinced that I love Adrian. He makes himself agreeable: that is all.
SAGAMORE [into the telephone] Send Mr Blenderbland up. [He hangs up the instrument].
ALASTAIR [to Patricia] You will now see the blighter who has cut me out with Eppy.
PATRICIA. I cant imagine any man cutting you out with any woman, dear.
EPIFANIA. Will you be good enough to restrain your endearments when he comes in?
Adrian Blenderbland, an imposing man in the prime of life, bearded in the Victorian literary fashion, rather handsome, and well dressed, comes in. Sagamore rises. Adrian is startled when he sees the company, but recovers his aplomb at once, and advances smiling.
ADRIAN. Hallo! Where have we all come from? Good morning, Mrs Fitzfassenden. How do, Alastair? Mr Sagamore, I presume. I did not know you were engaged.
SAGAMORE. Your arrival is quite opportune, sir. Will you have the goodness to sit down? [He takes a chair from the wall and places it at the table, on his own right and Patricia's left].
ADRIAN [sitting down] Thank you. I hope I am not interrupting this lady.
PATRICIA. Not at all. Dont mind me.
SAGAMORE [introducing] Miss Smith, an intimate friend of Mr Fitzfassenden.
PATRICIA. Pleased to meet you, I'm sure.
Adrian bows to her; then turns to Sagamore.
ADRIAN. The fact is, Mrs Fitzfassenden mentioned your name to me in conversation as her choice of a new solicitor. So I thought I could not place myself in better hands.
SAGAMORE [bowing] Thank you, sir. But--excuse me--had you not a solicitor of your own?
ADRIAN. My dear Mr Sagamore: never be content with a single opinion. When I feel ill I always consult at least half a dozen doctors. The variety of their advice and prescriptions convinces me that I had better cure myself. When a legal point arises I consult six solicitors, with much the same--
EPIFANIA. Adrian: I have no sense of humor; and you know how it annoys me when you talk the sort of nonsense that is supposed to be funny. Did you come here to consult Mr Sagamore about me?
ADRIAN. I did. But of course I expected to find him alone.
SAGAMORE. Has the matter on which you wish to consult me any reference to Mr Fitzfassenden's family circle?
ADRIAN. It has.
SAGAMORE. Is it of such a nature that sooner or later it will have to be discussed with all the adult members of that circle?
ADRIAN. Well, yes: I suppose so. But hadnt we better talk it over a little in private first?
EPIFANIA. You shall do nothing of the sort. I will not have my affairs discussed by anybody in public or in private. They concern myself alone.
ADRIAN. May I not discuss my own affairs?
EPIFANIA. Not with my solicitor. I will not have it.
ALASTAIR. Now she is off at the deep end again. We may as well go home.
EPIFANIA [restlessly rising] Oh, the deep end! the deep end! What is life if it is not lived at the deep end? Alastair: you are a tadpole. [She seizes his head and ruffles his hair as she passes him].
ALASTAIR. Dont do that. [He tries to smooth his hair].
EPIFANIA [to Patricia] Smooth it for him, angel in the house.
PATRICIA [moving to Epifania's chair and doing so] You shouldnt make a sight of him like that.
SAGAMORE. Mr Fitzfassenden: why did you marry Mrs Fitzfassenden?
EPIFANIA. Why!!! Does that require any explanation? I have told you why I married him.
ALASTAIR. Well, though you mightnt think it, she can be frightfully fascinating when she really wants to be.
EPIFANIA. Why might he not think it? What do you mean?
ALASTAIR. He knows what I mean.
EPIFANIA. Some silly joke, I suppose.
ADRIAN. Dont be absurd, Fitzfassenden. Your wife is the most adorable woman on earth.
EPIFANIA. Not here, Adrian. If you are going to talk like that, take me away to some place where we can be alone.
ALASTAIR. Do, for heaven's sake, before she drives us all crazy.
SAGAMORE. Steady! steady! I hardly know where I am. You are all consulting me; but none of you has given me any instructions. Had you not better all be divorced?
EPIFANIA. What is the creature to live on? He has nothing: he would have had to become a professional boxer or tennis player if his uncle had not pushed him into an insurance office, where he was perfectly useless.
ALASTAIR. Look here, Eppy: Sagamore doesnt want to hear all this.
EPIFANIA. He does. He shall. Be silent. When Alastair proposed to me--he was too great an idiot to comprehend his own audacity--I kept my promise to my father. I handed him a cheque for a hundred and fifty pounds. 'Make that into fifty thousand within six months' I said 'and I am yours.'
ADRIAN. You never told me this.
EPIFANIA. Why should I? It is a revolting story.
ALASTAIR. What is there revolting about it? Did I make good or did I not? Did I go through hell to get that money and win you or did I not?
ADRIAN [amazed] Do I understand you to say, Alastair, that you made fifty thousand pounds in six months?
ALASTAIR. Why not?
EPIFANIA. You may well look incredulous, Adrian. But he did. Yes: this imbecile made fifty thousand pounds and won Epifania Ognisanti di Parerga for his bride. You will not believe me when I tell you that the possession of all that money, and the consciousness of having made it himself, gave him a sort of greatness. I am impulsive: I kept my word and married him instantly. Then, too late, I found out how he had made it.
ALASTAIR. Well, how did I make it? By my own brains.
EPIFANIA. Brains! By your own folly, your ignorance, your criminal instincts, and the luck that attends the half-witted. You won my hand, for which all Europe was on its knees to me. What you deserved was five years penal servitude.
ALASTAIR. Five years! Fifteen, more likely. That was what I risked for you. And what did I get by it? Life with you was worse than any penal servitude.
EPIFANIA. It would have been heaven to you if Nature had fitted you for such a companionship as mine. But what was it for me? No man had been good enough for me. I was like a princess in a fairy tale offering all men alive my hand and fortune if they could turn my hundred and fifty pound cheque into fifty thousand within six months. Able men, brilliant men, younger sons of the noblest families either refused the test or failed. Why? Because they were too honest or too proud. This thing succeeded; and I found myself tied for life to an insect.
ALASTAIR. You may say what you like; but you were just as much in love with me as I was with you.
EPIFANIA. Well, you were young; you were well shaped, your lawn tennis was outstanding; you were a magnificent boxer; and I was excited by physical contact with you.
SAGAMORE. Is it necessary to be so very explicit, Mrs Fitzfassenden?
EPIFANIA. Julius Sagamore: you may be made of sawdust; but I am made of flesh and blood. Alastair is physically attractive: that is my sole excuse for having married him. Will you have the face to pretend that he has any mental charm?
ADRIAN. But how did he make the fifty thousand pounds? Was it on the Stock Exchange?
EPIFANIA. Nonsense! the creature does not know the difference between a cumulative preference and a deferred ordinary. He would not know even how to begin.
ADRIAN. But how did he begin? My bank balance at present is somewhere about a hundred and fifty. I should very much like to know how to make it up to fifty thousand. You are so rich, Epifania, that every decent man who approaches you feels like a needy adventurer. You dont know how a man to whom a hundred pounds is a considerable sum feels in the arms of a woman to whom a million is mere pin money.
EPIFANIA. Nor do you know what it feels like to be in the arms of a man and know that you could buy him up twenty times over and never miss the price.
ADRIAN. If I give you my hundred and fifty pounds, will you invest it for me?
EPIFANIA. It is not worth investing. You cannot make money on the Stock Exchange until your weekly account is at least seventy thousand. Do not meddle with money, Adrian: you do not understand it. I will give you all you need.
ADRIAN. No, thank you: I should lose my self-respect. I prefer the poor man's luxury of paying for your cabs and flowers and theatre tickets and lunches at the Ritz, and lending you all the little sums you have occasion for when we are together.
The rest all stare at this light on Epifania's habits.
EPIFANIA. It is quite true: I never have any pocket money: I must owe you millions in odd five pound notes. I will tell my bankers that you want a thousand on account.
ADRIAN. But I dont. I love lending you fivers. Only, as they run through my comparatively slender resources at an appalling rate, I should honestly like a few lessons from Alastair in the art of turning hundreds into tens of thousands.
EPIFANIA. His example would be useless to you, Adrian, because Alastair is one of Nature's marvels; and there is nothing marvellous about you except your appetite. Listen. On each of his birthdays his aunt had presented him with a gramophone record of the singing of the celebrated tenor Enrico Caruso. Now it so happens that Nature, in one of her most unaccountable caprices, has endowed Alastair with a startlingly loud singing voice of almost supernatural range. He can sing high notes never before attained by mortal man. He found that he could imitate gramophone records with the greatest facility; and he became convinced that he could make a fortune as an operatic tenor. The first use he made of my money was to give fifty pounds to the manager of some trumpery little opera company which was then on its last legs in the suburbs to allow him to appear for one night in one of Caruso's most popular roles. He actually took me to hear his performance.
ALASTAIR. It wasnt my fault. I can sing Caruso's head off. It was a plot. The regular tenor of the company: a swine that could hardly reach B flat without breaking his neck, paid a lot of blackguards to go into the gallery and boo me.
EPIFANIA. My dear Alastair, the simple truth is that Nature, when she endowed you with your amazing voice, unfortunately omitted to provide you with a musical ear. You can bellow loudly enough to drown ten thousand bulls; but you are always at least a quarter tone sharp or flat as the case may be. I laughed until I fell on the floor of my box in screaming hysterics. The audience hooted and booed; but they could not make themselves heard above your roaring. At last the chorus dragged you off the stage; and the regular tenor finished the performance only to find that the manager had absconded with my fifty pounds and left the whole company penniless. The prima donna was deaf in the left ear, into which you had sung with all your force. I had to pay all their salaries and send them home.
ALASTAIR. I tell you it was a plot. Why shouldnt people like my singing? I can sing louder than any tenor on the stage. I can sing higher.
EPIFANIA. Alastair: you cannot resist a plot when the whole world is a party to it.
ADRIAN. Still, this does not explain how Alastair made the fifty thousand pounds.
EPIFANIA. I leave him to tell that disgraceful tale himself. I believe he is proud of it. [She sits down disdainfully in the vacant chair].
ALASTAIR. Well, it worked out all right. But it was a near thing, I tell you. What I did was this. I had a hundred pounds left after the opera stunt. I met an American. I told him I was crazy about a woman who wouldn't marry me unless I made fifty thousand in six months, and that I had only a hundred pounds in the world. He jumped up and said 'Why, man alive, if you have a hundred you can open a bank account and get a cheque book,' I said 'What good is a cheque book?' He said 'Are we partners, fifty fifty?' So I said yes: what else could I say? That very day we started in. We lodged the money and got a book of a hundred cheques. We took a theatre. We engaged a first rate cast. We got a play. We got a splendid production: the scenery was lovely: the girls were lovely: the principal woman was an angry-eyed creature with a queer foreign voice and a Hollywood accent, just the sort the public loves. We never asked the price of anything: we just went in up to our necks for thousands and thousands.
ADRIAN. But how did you pay for all these things?
ALASTAIR. With our cheques, of course. Didn't I tell you we had a cheque book?
ADRIAN. But when the hundred was gone the cheques must have been dishonored.
ALASTAIR. Not one of them. We kited them all. But it was a heartbreaking job.
ADRIAN. I dont understand. What does kiting mean?
SAGAMORE. It is quite simple. You pay for something with a cheque after the banks have closed for the day: if on Saturday or just before a bank holiday all the better. Say the cheque is for a hundred pounds and you have not a penny at the bank. You must then induce a friend or a hotel manager to cash another cheque for one hundred pounds for you. That provides for the previous cheque; but it obliges you, on pain of eighteen months hard labour, to induce another friend or hotel manager to cash another cheque for you for two hundred pounds. And so you go on spending and kiting from hundreds to thousands and from risks of eighteen months imprisonment to five years, ten years, fourteen years even.
ALASTAIR. If you think that was an easy job, just try it yourself: thats all. I dream of it sometimes: it's my worst nightmare. Why, my partner and I never saw that theatre! never saw that play! until the first night: we were signing cheques and kiting them all the time. Of course, it was easier after a while, because as we paid our way all right we found it easier to get credit; and the biggest expenses didnt come until after the play was produced and the money was coming in. I could have done it for half the money; but the American could only keep himself up to the excitement of it by paying twice as much as we needed for everything and shoving shares in it on people for nothing but talk. But it didnt matter when the money began to come in. My! how it did come in! The whole town went mad about the angry-eyed woman. It rained money in bucketsful. It went to my head like drink. It went to the American's head. It went to the head of the American's American friends. They bought all the rights: the film rights, the translation rights, the touring rights, all sorts of rights that I never knew existed, and began selling them to one another until everybody in London and New York and Hollywood had a rake-off on them. Then the American bought all the rights back for five hundred thousand dollars, an I sold them to an American syndicate for a million. It took six more Americans to do it; and every one of then had to have a rake-off; but all I wanted was fifty thousand pounds; and I cleared out with that and came swanking back to claim Eppy's hand. She thought I was great. I was great: the money made me great: I tell you I was drunk with it: I was another man. You may believe it or not as you like; but my hats were really too small for me.
EPIFANIA. It is quite true. The creature was not used to money; and it transfigured him. I, poor innocent, had no suspicion that money could work such miracles; for I had possessed millions in my cradle; and it meant no more to me than the air I breathed.
SAGAMORE. But just now, when I suggested a divorce, you asked how he was to live. What has become of the fifty thousand pounds?
EPIFANIA. He lost it all in three weeks. He bought a circus with it. He thought everything he touched would turn into gold. I had to liquidate that circus a month later. He was about to turn the wild beasts loose and run away when I intervened. I was down four hundred and thirty pounds sixteen and seven-pence by the transaction.
ALASTAIR. Was it my fault? The elephant got influenza. The Ministry of Health closed me down and wouldnt let me move on because the animals might carry foot-and-mouth disease.
EPIFANIA. At all events, the net result was that instead of his being fifty thousand pounds to the good I was four hundred and thirty pounds to the bad. Instead of bringing me the revenues of a prince and a hero he cost me the allowance of a worm. And now he has the audacity to ask for a divorce.
ALASTAIR. No I dont. It was Sagamore who suggested that. How can I afford to let you divorce me? As your husband I enjoy a good deal of social consideration; and the tradesmen give me unlimited credit.
EPIFANIA. For stockings, among other things.
PATRICIA. Oh [she weeps]! Does she pay for them, Ally?
ALASTAIR. Never mind, dear: I have shewn that I can make money when I am put to it; and I will make it again and buy you all the stockings you need out of my own earnings. [He rises and goes behind her chair to take her cheeks in his hands]. There, darling: dont cry.
EPIFANIA. There! They think they are married already!
SAGAMORE. But the matter is not in your hands, Mr Fitzfassenden. Mrs Fitzfassenden can divorce you whether you like it or not. The evidence is that on a recent occasion you left your wife and took refuge in the arms of Miss Smith. The Court will give Mrs Fitzfassenden a decree on that.
PATRICIA [consoled and plucky] Well, let it. I can support Alastair until he has time to make another fortune. You all think him a fool; but he's a dear good boy; and it just disgusts me the way you all turn against him, and the way his wife treats him as if he were dirt under her feet. What would she be without her money, I'd like to know?
EPIFANIA. Nobody is anybody without money, Seedystockings. My dear old father taught me that. 'Stick to your money' he said 'and all the other things shall be added unto you.' He said it was in the Bible. I have never verified the quotation; but I have never forgotten it. I have stuck to my money; and I shall continue to stick to it. Rich as I am, I can hardly forgive Alastair for letting me down by four hundred and thirty pounds.
ALASTAIR. Sixteen and sevenpence! Stingy beast. But I will pay it.
PATRICIA. You shall, dear. I will sell out my insurance and give it to you.
EPIFANIA. May I have that in writing, Miss Smith?
ALASTAIR. Oh, you ought to be ashamed of yourself, you greedy pig. It was your own fault. Why did you let the elephant go for thirty pounds? He cost two hundred.
SAGAMORE. Do not let us wander from the point.
EPIFANIA. What is the point, pray?
SAGAMORE. The point is that you can obtain a divorce if you wish.
EPIFANIA. I dont wish. Do you think I am going to be dragged through the divorce court and have my picture in the papers with that thing? To have the story of my infatuation told in headlines in every rag in London! Besides, it is convenient to be married. It is respectable. It keeps other men off. It gives me a freedom that I could not enjoy as a single woman. I have become accustomed to a husband. No: decidedly I will not divorce Alastair--at least until I can find a substitute whom I really want.
PATRICIA. You couldnt divorce him unless he chose to let you. Alastair's too much the gentleman to mention it; but you know very well that your own behavior hasnt been so very nunlike that you dare have it shewn up in court.
EPIFANIA. Alastair was the first man I ever loved; and I hope he will not be the last. But legal difficulties do not exist for people with money. At all events, as Alastair cannot afford to divorce me, and I have no intention of divorcing him, the question does not arise. What o'clock is it?
ALASTAIR. I really think, Eppy, you might buy a wrist watch. I have told you so over and over again.
EPIFANIA. Why should I go to the expense of buying a wrist watch when everyone else has one; and I have nothing to do but ask? I have not carried a watch since I lost the key of my father's old repeater.
PATRICIA. It is ten minutes past twelve.
EPIFANIA. Gracious! I have missed my lesson. How annoying!
ALASTAIR. Your lesson? What are you learning now, may I ask?
EPIFANIA. All-in wrestling. When you next indulge in your favorite sport of wife beating, look out for a surprise. What did I come here for, Mr Sagamore?
SAGAMORE. To give me instructions about your will.
ALASTAIR. She makes a new will every time she loses her temper, Sagamore. Jolly good business for you.
EPIFANIA. Do be quiet, Alastair. You forget the dignity of your position as my husband. Mr Sagamore: I have changed my mind about my will. And I shall overlook your attempt to poison me.
SAGAMORE. Thank you.
EPIFANIA. What do I owe you for this abortive consultation?
SAGAMORE. Thirteen and fourpence, if you please.
EPIFANIA. I do not carry money about with me. Adrian: can you lend me thirteen and fourpence?
ADRIAN [puts his hand in his pocket]--
EPIFANIA. Stop. Mr Sagamore: you had better be my family solicitor and send me your bill at the end of the year.
ALASTAIR. Send a County Court summons with it, Sagamore; or you may go whistle for your money.
EPIFANIA. Do hold your tongue, Alastair. Of course I always wait for a summons. It is a simple precaution against paying bills sent in twice over.
SAGAMORE. Quite, Mrs Fitzfassenden. An excellent rule.
EPIFANIA. You are a man of sense, Mr Sagamore. And now I must have some fresh air: this orgy of domesticity has made the room stuffy. Come along, Adrian: we'll drive out into the country somewhere, and lunch there. I know the quaintest little place up the river. Goodbye, Mr Sagamore. Goodbye, Seedy: take care of Alastair for me. His good looks will give you a pleasing sensation down your spine. [She goes out].
SAGAMORE [as Adrian is following her out] By the way, Mr Blenderbland, what did you come for?
ADRIAN. I totally forget. I dont feel equal to any more this morning. [He goes out without further salutations].
SAGAMORE [to Alastair] Your wife is a most extraordinary lady.
ALASTAIR [utters a stifled howl]!
PATRICIA. He cant find words for her, poor dear.
SAGAMORE. And now, Mr Fitzfassenden, may I ask what you came to consult me about?
ALASTAIR. I dont know. After ten minutes of Eppy I never do know whether I am standing on my head or my heels.
PATRICIA. It was about a separation. Pull yourself together a bit, dear.
ALASTAIR. Separation! You might as well try to separate yourself from a hurricane. [He becomes sententious]. Listen to me, Sagamore. I am one of those unfortunate people--you must know a lot of them--I daresay many of them have sat in this chair and talked to you as I am now talking to you--
SAGAMORE [after waiting in vain for a completion of the sentence] Yes? You were saying--?
PATRICIA. Dont wander, Ally. Tell Mr Sagamore what sort of people.
ALASTAIR. The people that have bitten off more than they can chew. The ordinary chaps that have married extraordinary women. The commonplace women that have married extraordinary men. They all thought it was a splendid catch for them. Take my advice, Sagamore: marry in your own class. Dont misunderstand me: I dont mean rank or money. What I mean--what I mean--
PATRICIA [coming to the rescue] What he means is that people who marry should think about the same things and like the same things. They shouldnt be over one another's heads, if you follow me.
SAGAMORE. Perfectly. May I take it that Alastair made that mistake, and that later on (too late, unfortunately) he discovered in you a--shall I say a soul mate?
ALASTAIR. No: that sounds silly. Literary, you know.
PATRICIA. More of a mind mate, I should call it.
SAGAMORE. Precisely. Thank you. A mind mate with whom he could be thoroughly comfortable.
ALASTAIR [grasping Sagamore's hand fervently] Thank you, Sagamore: you are a real friend. Youve got it exactly. Think over it for us. Come on, Seedy darling: we mustnt waste a busy man's time.
He goes out, leaving Patricia and Sagamore alone together. She rises and goes to the table.
PATRICIA. Mr Sagamore: youll stand by us, wont you? Youll save Ally from that awful woman. Youll save him for me.
SAGAMORE. I'm afraid I cant control her, Miss Smith. Whats worse, I'm afraid she can control me. It's not only that I cant afford to offend so rich a client. It's that her will paralyzes mine. It's a sort of genius some people have.
PATRICIA. Dont you be afraid of her, Mr Sagamore. She has a genius for making money. It's in her family. Money comes to her. But I have my little bit of genius too; and she cant paralyze me.
SAGAMORE. And what have you a genius for, Miss Smith, if I may ask?
PATRICIA. For making people happy. Unhappy people come to me just as money comes to her.
SAGAMORE [shaking his head] I cant think that your will is stronger than hers, Miss Smith.
PATRICIA. It isnt, Mr Sagamore. I have no will at all. But I get what I want, somehow. Youll see.
ALASTAIR [outside, shouting] Seedy! Come on!
PATRICIA. Coming, darling. [To Sagamore] Goodbye, Mr Sagamore. [They shake hands quickly. She hurries to the door]. Youll see. [She goes out].
SAGAMORE [to himself] I think I shall wait and see.
He resumes his morning's work.
A dismal old coffee room in an ancient riverside inn. An immense and hideous sideboard of the murkiest mahogany stretches across the end wall. Above it hang, picturewise, two signboards, nearly black with age: one shewing the arms of the lord of the manor, and the other a sow standing upright and playing a flageolet. Underneath the sow is inscribed in tall letters THE PIG & WHISTLE. Between these works of art is a glass case containing an enormous stuffed fish, certainly not less than a century old.
At right angles to the sideboard, and extending nearly the whole length of the room, are two separate long tables, laid for lunch for about a dozen people each. The chairs, too close together, are plain wooden ones, hard and uncomfortable. The cutlery is cheap kitchen ware, with rickety silver cruets and salt cellars to keep up appearances. The table cloths are coarse, and are not fresh from the laundry.
The walls are covered with an ugly Victorian paper which may have begun as a design of dull purple wreaths on a dark yellow background, but is now a flyblown muck of no describable color. On the floor a coarse drugget, very old. The door, which stands wide open and has COFFEE ROOM inscribed on it, is to the right of anyone contemplating the sideboard from the opposite end of the room. Next the door an old fashioned hatstand flattens itself against the wall; and on it hang the hat and light overcoat of Mr Adrian Blenderbland.
He, with Epifania, is seated at the end of the table farthest from the door. They have just finished a meal. The cheese and biscuits are still on the table. She looks interested and happy. He is in the worst of tempers.
EPIFANIA. How jolly!
ADRIAN [looking round disparagingly] I must be a very attractive man.
EPIFANIA [opening her eyes wide] Indeed! Not that I am denying it; but what has it to do with what I have just said?
ADRIAN. You said 'How jolly!' I look round at this rotten old inn trying to pretend that it's a riverside hotel. We have just had a horrible meal of tomato tea called soup, the remains of Sunday's joint, sprouts, potatoes, apple tart and stale American synthetic cheese. If you can suffer this and say 'How jolly!' there must be some irresistible attraction present; and I can see nothing that is not utterly repulsive except myself.
EPIFANIA. Dont you like these dear old-world places? I do.
ADRIAN. I dont. They ought all to be rooted up, pulled down, burnt to the ground. Your flat on the Embankment in London cost more to furnish than this place did to build from the cellar to the roof. You can get a decent lunch there, perfectly served, by a word through the telephone. Your luxurious car will whisk you out to one of a dozen first rate hotels in lovely scenery. And yet you choose this filthy old inn and say 'How jolly!' What is the use of being a millionairess on such terms?
EPIFANIA. Psha! When I was first let loose on the world with unlimited money, how long do you think it took me to get tired of shopping and sick of the luxuries you think so much of? About a fortnight. My father, when he had a hundred millions, travelled third class and never spent more than ten shillings a day on himself except when he was entertaining people who were useful to him. Why should he? He couldnt eat more than anyone else. He couldnt drink more than anyone else. He couldnt wear more than anyone else. Neither can I.
ADRIAN. Then why do you love money and hate spending it?
EPIFANIA. Because money is power. Money is security. Money is freedom. It's the difference between living on the slope of a volcano and being safe in the garden of the Hesperides. And there is the continual pleasure of making more of it, which is quite easy if you have plenty to start with. I can turn a million into two million much more easily than a poor woman can turn five pounds into ten, even if she could get the five pounds to begin with. It turns itself, in fact.
ADRIAN. To me money is a vulgar bore and a soul destroying worry. I need it, of course; but I dont like it. I never think of it when I can possibly help it.
EPIFANIA. If you dont think about money what do you think about? Women?
ADRIAN. Yes, of course; but not exclusively.
ADRIAN. Well, I am not always thinking about my food; but I am rather particular about it. I confess I looked forward to a better lunch than [indicating the table] that.
EPIFANIA. Oho! So that is what has put you out of temper, is it?
ADRIAN [annoyed] I am not out of temper, I hope. But you promised me a very special treat. You said you had found out the most wonderful place on the river, where we could be ourselves and have a delicious cottage meal in primitive happiness. Where is the charm of this dismal hole? Have you ever eaten a viler lunch? There is not even a private sitting room: anybody can walk in here at any moment. We should have been much more comfortable at Richmond or Maidenhead. And I believe it is raining.
EPIFANIA. Is that my fault?
ADRIAN. It completes your notion of a happy day up the river. Why is it that the people who know how to enjoy themselves never have any money, and the people who have money never know how to enjoy themselves?
EPIFANIA. You are not making yourself agreeable, Adrian.
ADRIAN. You are not entertaining me very munificently, Epifania. For heaven's sake let us get into the car and drive about the country. It is much more luxurious than this hideous coffee room, and more private.
EPIFANIA. I am tired of my car.
ADRIAN. I am not. I wish I could afford one like it.
EPIFANIA. I thought you would enjoy sitting in this crazy out-of-way place talking to me. But I find you are a spoilt old bachelor: you care about nothing but your food and your little comforts. You are worse than Alastair; for he at least could talk about boxing and tennis.
ADRIAN. And you can talk about nothing but money.
EPIFANIA. And you think money uninteresting! Oh, you should have known my father!
ADRIAN. I am very glad I did not.
EPIFANIA [suddenly dangerous] Whats that you say?
ADRIAN. My dear Epifania, if we are to remain friends, I may as well be quite frank with you. Everything you have told me about your father convinces me that though he was no doubt an affectionate parent and amiable enough to explain your rather tiresome father fixation, as Dr Freud would call it, he must have been quite the most appalling bore that ever devastated even a Rotary club.
EPIFANIA [stunned for a moment by this blasphemy] My father! You infinite nothingness! My father made a hundred and fifty millions. You never made even half a million.
ADRIAN. My good girl, your father never made anything. I have not the slightest notion of how he contrived to get a legal claim on so much of what other people made; but I do know that he lost four fifths of it by being far enough behind the times to buy up the properties of the Russian nobility in the belief that England would squash the Soviet revolution in three weeks or so. Could anyone have made a stupider mistake? Not I.
EPIFANIA [springing up] You rotten thing. [He rises apprehensively]. Take that for calling my father a bore. [She throws him].
ADRIAN [picking himself up painfully] Oh! Restrain yourself. You might have hurt me very seriously.
EPIFANIA. I will hurt you until you wish yourself dead. Scum! Filth! Take that for saying he never made anything. [She throws him again].
ADRIAN. Help! Help! There is a madwoman here: I shall not be able to hold her single handed. Help! [He comes behind her and seizes her round the waist].
EPIFANIA. Vermin! [She throws him over her shoulder].
ADRIAN. Police! She is murdering me. She is mad. Help! help! [He scrambles up and is flying to the door when she overtakes him].
EPIFANIA. Dirt! Carrion! [She throws him out head over heels and flings his hat and overcoat after him].
ADRIAN [outside, rolling downstairs with appalling bumps] Oh! Oh! Help! Murder! Police! Oh! [He faints. Silence].
EPIFANIA. You brute! You have killed me. [She totters to the nearest chair and sinks into it, scattering the crockery as she clutches the table with her outstretched arms and sprawls on it in convulsions].
A serious looking middleaged Egyptian gentleman in an old black frock coat and a tarboosh, speaking English too well to be mistaken for a native, hurries in.
THE EGYPTIAN [peremptorily] Whats the matter? What is going on here?
EPIFANIA [raising her head slowly and gazing at him] Who the devil are you?
THE EGYPTIAN. I am an Egyptian doctor. I hear a great disturbance. I hasten to ascertain the cause. I find you here in convulsions. Can I help?
EPIFANIA. I am dying.
THE DOCTOR. Nonsense! You can swear. The fit has subsided. You can sit up now: you are quite well. Good afternoon.
EPIFANIA. Stop. I am not quite well: I am on the point of death. I need a doctor. I am a rich woman.
THE DOCTOR. In that case you will have no difficulty in finding an English doctor. Is there anyone else who needs my help? I was upstairs. The noise was of somebody falling downstairs. He may have broken some bones. [He goes out promptly].
EPIFANIA [struggling to her feet and calling after him] Never mind him: if he had broken every bone in his body it is no more than he deserves. Come back instantly. I want you. Come back. Come back.
THE DOCTOR [returning] The landlord is taking the gentleman to the Cottage Hospital in your car.
EPIFANIA. In my car! I will not permit it. Let them get an ambulance.
THE DOCTOR. The car has gone. You should be very glad that it is being so useful.
EPIFANIA. It is your business to doctor me, not to lecture me.
THE DOCTOR. I am not your doctor: I am not in general practice. I keep a clinic for penniless Mahometan refugees; and I work in the hospital. I cannot attend to you.
EPIFANIA. You can attend to me. You must attend to me. Are you going to leave me here to die?
THE DOCTOR. You are not dying. Not yet, at least. Your own doctor will attend to you.
EPIFANIA. You are my own doctor. I tell you I am a rich woman: doctors' fees are nothing to me: charge me what you please. But you must and shall attend to me. You are abominably rude; but you inspire confidence as a doctor.
THE DOCTOR. If I attended all those in whom I inspire confidence I should be worn out in a week. I have to reserve myself for poor and useful people.
EPIFANIA. Then you are either a fool or a Bolshevik.
THE DOCTOR. I am nothing but a servant of Allah.
EPIFANIA. You are not: you are my doctor: do you hear? I am a sick woman: you cannot abandon me to die in this wretched place.
THE DOCTOR. I see no symptoms of any sickness about you. Are you in pain?
EPIFANIA. Yes. Horrible pain.
THE DOCTOR. Where?
EPIFANIA. Dont cross-examine me as if you didnt believe me. I must have sprained my wrist throwing that beast all over the place.
THE DOCTOR. Which hand?
EPIFANIA [presenting a hand] This.
THE DOCTOR [taking her hand in a businesslike way, and pulling and turning the fingers and wrist] Nothing whatever the matter.
EPIFANIA. How do you know? It's my hand, not yours.
THE DOCTOR. You would scream the house down if your wrist were sprained. You are shamming. Lying. Why? Is it to make yourself interesting?
EPIFANIA. Make myself interesting! Man: I am interesting.
THE DOCTOR. Not in the least, medically. Are you interesting in any other way?
EPIFANIA. I am the most interesting woman in England. I am Epifania Ognisanti di Parerga.
THE DOCTOR. Never heard of her. Italian aristocrat, I presume.
EPIFANIA. Aristocrat! Do you take me for a fool? My ancestors were moneylenders to all Europe five hundred years ago: we are now bankers to all the world.
THE DOCTOR. Jewess, eh?
EPIFANIA. Christian, to the last drop of my blood. Jews throw half their money away on charities and fancies like Zionism. The stupidest di Parerga can just walk round the cleverest Jew when it comes to moneymaking. We are the only real aristocracy in the world: the aristocracy of money.
THE DOCTOR. The plutocracy, in fact.
EPIFANIA. If you like. I am a plutocrat of the plutocrats.
THE DOCTOR. Well, that is a disease for which I do not prescribe. The only known cure is a revolution; but the mortality rate is high; and sometimes, if it is the wrong sort of revolution, it intensifies the disease. I can do nothing for you. I must go back to my work. Good morning.
EPIFANIA [holding him] But this is your work. What else have you to do?
THE DOCTOR. There is a good deal to be done in the world besides attending rich imaginary invalids.
EPIFANIA. But if you are well paid?
THE DOCTOR. I make the little money I need by work which I venture to think more important.
EPIFANIA [throwing him away and moving about distractedly] You are a pig and a beast and a Bolshevik. It is the most abominable thing of you to leave me here in my distress. My car is gone. I have no money. I never carry money about.
THE DOCTOR. I have none to carry. Your car will return presently. You can borrow money from your chauffeur.
EPIFANIA. You are an unmitigated hippopotamus. You are a Bashibazouk. I might have known it from your ridiculous tarboosh. You should take it off in my presence. [She snatches it from his head and holds it behind her back]. At least have the manners to stay with me until my chauffeur comes back.
The motor horn is heard honking.
THE DOCTOR. He has come back.
EPIFANIA. Damn! Cant you wait until he has had his tea and a cigarette?
THE DOCTOR. No. Be good enough to give me back my fez.
EPIFANIA. I wanted to see what you looked like without it. [She puts it tenderly on his head]. Listen to me. You are having an adventure. Have you no romance in you? Havent you even common curiosity? Dont you want to know why I threw that beast downstairs? Dont you want to throw your wretched work to the devil for once and have an afternoon on the river with an interesting and attractive woman?
THE DOCTOR. Women are neither interesting nor attractive to me except when they are ill. I know too much about them, inside and out. You are perfectly well.
EPIFANIA. Liar. Nobody is perfectly well, nor ever has been, nor ever will be. [She sits down, sulking].
THE DOCTOR. That is true. You must have brains of a sort. [He sits down opposite to her]. I remember when I began as a young surgeon I killed several patients by my operations because I had been taught that I must go on cutting until there was nothing left but perfectly healthy tissue. As there is no such thing as perfectly healthy tissue I should have cut my patients entirely away if the nurse had not stopped me before they died on the table. They died after they left the hospital; but as they were carried away from the table alive I was able to claim a successful operation. Are you married?
EPIFANIA. Yes. But you need not be afraid. My husband is openly unfaithful to me and cannot take you into court if you make love to me. I can divorce him if necessary.
THE DOCTOR. And the man you threw downstairs: who was he? One does not throw one's husband downstairs. Did he make love to you?
EPIFANIA. No. He insulted my father's memory because he was disappointed with his lunch here. When I think of my father all ordinary men seem to me the merest trash. You are not an ordinary man. I should like to see some more of you. Now that you have asked me confidential questions about my family, and I have answered them, you can no longer pretend that you are not my family doctor. So that is settled.
THE DOCTOR. A father fixation, did you say?
THE DOCTOR. And an excess of money?
EPIFANIA. Only a beggarly thirty millions.
THE DOCTOR. A psychological curiosity. I will consider it.
EPIFANIA. Consider it! You will feel honored, gratified, delighted.
THE DOCTOR. I see. Enormous self-confidence. Reckless audacity. Insane egotism. Apparently sexless.
EPIFANIA. Sexless! Who told you that I am sexless?
THE DOCTOR. You talk to me as if you were a man. There is no mystery, no separateness, no sacredness about men to you. A man to you is only a male of your species.
EPIFANIA. My species indeed! Men are a different and very inferior species. Five minutes conversation with my husband will convince you that he and I do not belong to the same species. But there are some great men, like my father. And there are some good doctors, like you.
THE DOCTOR. Thank you. What does your regular doctor say about you?
EPIFANIA. I have no regular doctor. If I had I should have an operation a week until there was nothing left of me or of my bank balance. I shall not expect you to maul me about with a stethoscope, if that is what you are afraid of. I have the lungs of a whale and the digestion of an ostrich. I have a clockwork inside. I sleep eight hours like a log. When I want anything I lose my head so completely about it that I always get it.
THE DOCTOR. What things do you want mostly?
EPIFANIA. Everything. Anything. Like a lightning flash. And then there is no stopping me.
THE DOCTOR. Everything and anything is nothing.
EPIFANIA. Five minutes ago I wanted you. Now I have got you.
THE DOCTOR. Come! You cannot bluff a doctor. You may want the sun and the moon and the stars; but you cannot get them.
EPIFANIA. That is why I take good care not to want them. I want only what I can get.
THE DOCTOR. Good. A practical intellect. And what do you want at present, for instance?
EPIFANIA. That is the devil of it. There is nothing one can get except more money.
THE DOCTOR. What about more men?
EPIFANIA. More Alastairs! More Blenderblands! Those are not deep wants. At present I want a motor launch.
THE DOCTOR. There is no such thing in this little place.
EPIFANIA. Tell the landlord to stop the first one that
comes along and buy it.
THE DOCTOR. Tcha! People will not sell their boats like that.
EPIFANIA. Have you ever tried?
THE DOCTOR. No.
EPIFANIA. I have. When I need a car or a motor boat or a launch or anything like that I buy straight off the road or off the river or out of the harbor. These things cost thousands when they are new; but next day you cannot get fifty pounds for them. Offer £300 for any of them, and the owner dare not refuse: he knows he will never get such an offer again.
THE DOCTOR. Aha! You are a psychologist. This is very interesting.
EPIFANIA. Nonsense! I know how to buy and sell, if that is what you mean.
THE DOCTOR. That is how good psychologists make money.
EPIFANIA. Have you made any?
THE DOCTOR. No. I do not care for money: I care for knowledge.
EPIFANIA. Knowledge is no use without money. Are you married?
THE DOCTOR. I am married to Science. One wife is enough for me, though by my religion I am allowed four.
EPIFANIA. Four! What do you mean?
THE DOCTOR. I am what you call a Mahometan.
EPIFANIA. Well, you will have to be content with two wives if you marry me.
THE DOCTOR. Oh! Is there any question of that between us?
EPIFANIA. Yes. I want to marry you.
THE DOCTOR. Nothing doing, lady. Science is my bride.
EPIFANIA. You can have Science as well: I shall not be jealous of her. But I made a solemn promise to my father on his deathbed--
THE DOCTOR [interrupting] Stop. I had better tell you that I made a solemn promise to my mother on her deathbed.
THE DOCTOR. My mother was a very wise woman. She made me swear to her that if any woman wanted to marry me, and I felt tempted, I would hand the woman two hundred piastres and tell her that unless she would go out into the world with nothing but that and the clothes she stood in, and earn her living alone and unaided for six months, I would never speak to her again.
EPIFANIA. And if she stood the test?
THE DOCTOR. Then I must marry her even if she were the ugliest devil on earth.
EPIFANIA. And you dare ask me--me, Epifania Ognisanti di Parerga! to submit myself to this test--to any test!
THE DOCTOR. I swore. I have a mother fixation. Allah willed it so. I cannot help myself.
EPIFANIA. What was your mother?
THE DOCTOR. A washerwoman. A widow. She brought up eleven children. I was the youngest, the Benjamin. The other ten are honest working folk. With their help she made me a man of learning. It was her ambition to have a son who could read and write. She prayed to Allah; and he endowed me with the necessary talent.
EPIFANIA. And you think I will allow myself to be beaten by an old washerwoman?
THE DOCTOR. I am afraid so. You could never pass the test.
EPIFANIA. Indeed! And my father's test for a husband worthy of me?
THE DOCTOR. Oh! The husband is to be tested too! That never occurred to me.
EPIFANIA. Nor to your mother either, it seems. Well, you know better now. I am to give you a hundred and fifty pounds. In six months you are to increase it to fifty thousand. How is that for a test?
THE DOCTOR. Quite conclusive. At the end of the six months I shall not have a penny of it left, praise be to Allah.
EPIFANIA. You confess yourself beaten?
THE DOCTOR. Absolutely. Completely.
EPIFANIA. And you think I am beaten too.
THE DOCTOR. Hopelessly. You do not know what homeless poverty is; and Allah the Compassionate will take care that you never do.
EPIFANIA. How much is two hundred piastres?
THE DOCTOR. At the rate of exchange contemplated by my mother, about thirtyfive shillings.
EPIFANIA. Hand it over.
THE DOCTOR. Unfortunately my mother forgot to provide for this contingency. I have not got thirtyfive shillings. I must borrow them from you.
EPIFANIA. I have not a penny on me. No matter: I will borrow it from the chauffeur. He will lend you a hundred and fifty pounds on my account if you dare ask him. Goodbye for six months. [She goes out].
THE DOCTOR. There is no might and no majesty save in Thee, O Allah; but oh! most Great and Glorious, is this another of Thy terrible jokes?
A basement in the Commercial Road. An elderly man, anxious, poor, and ratlike, sits at a table with his wife. He is poring over his accounts. She, on his left, is sewing buttons on a coat, working very fast. There is a pile of coats on the table to her right waiting to have buttons sewn on, and another to her left which she has finished. The table is draped down to the ground with an old cloth. Some daylight comes in down the stone stairs; but does not extend to the side where the couple sit, which is lighted by a small electric bulb on a wire. Between the stairs and the table a dirty old patched curtain hangs in front of an opening into a farther compartment.
A bell tinkles. The woman instantly stops sewing and conceals the piles of coats under the table. Epifania, her dress covered by an old waterproof, and wearing an elaborately damaged hat, comes down the stairs. She looks at the pair; then looks round her; then goes to the curtain and looks through. The old man makes a dash to prevent her, but is too late. He snatches the curtain from her and bars her passage.
THE MAN. What do you want? What are you doing here?
EPIFANIA. I want employment. A woman told me I should find it here. I am destitute.
THE MAN. Thats not the way to get employment: poking your nose into places that dont concern you. Get out. There are no women employed here.
EPIFANIA. You lie. There are six women working in there. Who employs them?
THE MAN. Is that the way to talk to me? You think a lot of yourself, dont you? What do you take me for?
EPIFANIA. A worm.
THE MAN [making a violent demonstration]!!
EPIFANIA. Take care. I can use my fists. I can shoot, if necessary.
THE WOMAN [hurrying to the man and holding him] Take care, Joe. She's an inspector. Look at her shoes.
EPIFANIA. I am not an inspector. And what is the matter with my shoes, pray?
THE WOMAN [respectfully] Well maam, could a woman looking for work at tuppence hapeny an hour afford a west end shoe like that? I assure you we dont employ any women here. We're only caretakers.
EPIFANIA. But I saw six women--
THE MAN [throwing open the curtain] Where? Not a soul. Search the whole bloody basement.
THE WOMAN. Hush, hush, Joe: dont speak to the lady like that. You see, maam: theres not a soul.
EPIFANIA. Theres a smell. You have given them a signal to hide. You are breaking the law. Give me some work or I will send a postcard to the Home Office.
THE MAN. Look here, lady. Cant we arrange this? What good will it do you to get me into trouble and shut up my little shop?
EPIFANIA. What good will it do me to say nothing?
THE MAN. Well, what about half a crown a week?
EPIFANIA. I cannot live on half a crown a week.
THE MAN. You can if you look round a bit. There are others you know.
EPIFANIA. Give me the address of the others. If I am to live by blackmail I must have an extended practice.
THE MAN. Well, if I have to pay I dont see why the others shouldnt too. Will you take half a crown? [He holds up half a crown.] Look here! Look at it! Listen to it! [He rings it on the table]. It's yours, and another every Wednesday if you keep the inspector off me.
EPIFANIA. It's no use ringing half crowns at me: I am accustomed to them. And I feel convinced that you will pay five shillings if I insist.
THE WOMAN. Oh, maam, have some feeling for us. You dont know the struggle we have to live.
THE MAN [roughly] Here: we're not beggars. I'll pay what the business can afford and not a penny more. You seem to know that it can afford five shillings. Well, if you know that, you know that it cant afford any more. Take your five shillings and be damned to you. [He flings two half crowns on the table].
THE WOMAN. Oh, Joe, dont be so hasty.
THE MAN. You shut up. You think you can beg a shilling or two off; but you cant. I can size up a tough lot without looking at her shoes. She's got us; and she knows she's got us.
EPIFANIA. I do not like this blackmailing business. Of course if I must I must; but can you not give me some manual work?
THE MAN. You want to get a little deeper into our business, dont you?
EPIFANIA. I am as deep as I can go already. You are employing six women in there. The thing in the corner is a gas engine: that makes you a workshop under the Act. Except that the sanitary arrangements are probably abominable, there is nothing more for me to know. I have you in the hollow of my hand. Give me some work that I can live by or I will have you cleared out like a wasp's nest.
THE MAN. I have a good mind to clear out now and take some place where you wont find me so easy. I am used to changing my address.
EPIFANIA. That is the best card in your hand. You have some business ability. Tell me why you cannot give me work to live by just as you give it, I suppose, to the women I saw in there.
THE MAN. I dont like the people I employ to know too much.
EPIFANIA. I see. They might call in the inspector.
THE MAN. Call in the inspector! What sort of fool are you? They dread the inspector more than I do.
EPIFANIA. Why? Dont they want to be protected?
THE WOMAN. The inspector wouldnt protect them, maam: he'd only shut up the place and take away their job from them. If they thought youd be so cruel as to report them theyd go down on their knees to you to spare them.
THE MAN. You that know such a lot ought to know that a business like this cant afford any luxuries. It's a cheap labor business. As long as I get women to work for their natural wage, I can get along; but no luxuries, mind you. No trade union wages. No sanitary arrangements as you call them. No limewashings every six months. No separate rooms to eat in. No fencing in of dangerous machinery or the like of that: not that I care; for I have nothing but the old gas engine that wouldnt hurt a fly, though it brings me under the blasted Workshop Act as you spotted all right. I have no big machinery; but I have to undersell those that have it. If I put up my prices by a farthing theyd set their machinery going and drop me. You might as well ask me to pay trade union wages as do all that the inspector wants: I should be out of business in a week.
EPIFANIA. And what is a woman's natural wage?
THE MAN. Tuppence hapeny an hour for twelve hours a day.
THE WOMAN. Oh no, maam: nobody could call that slavery. A good worker can make from twelve to fifteen shillings a week at it, week in and week out.
THE MAN. Isnt it what the Government paid at the beginning of the war when all the women were called on to do their bit? Do you expect me to pay more than the British Government?
THE WOMAN. I assure you it's the regular and proper wage and always has been, maam.
THE MAN. Like five per cent at the Bank of England it is. This is a respectable business, whatever your inspectors may say.
EPIFANIA. Can a woman live on twelve shillings a week?
THE MAN. Of course she can. Whats to prevent her?
THE WOMAN. Why, maam, when I was a girl in a match factory I had five shillings a week; and it was a godsend to my mother. And a girl who had no family of her own could always find a family to take her in for four and sixpence, and treat her better than if she had been in her father's house.
THE MAN. I can find you a family what'll do it today, in spite of all the damned doles and wages boards that have upset everything and given girls ideas above their station without giving them the means to pamper themselves.
EPIFANIA. Well, I will work even for that, to prove that I can work and support myself. So give me work and have done talking.
THE MAN. Who started talking? You or I?
EPIFANIA. I did. I thank you for the information you have given me: it has been instructive and to the point. Is that a sufficient apology? And now to work, to work. I am in a hurry to get to work.
THE MAN. Well, what work can you do?
THE WOMAN. Can you sew? Can you make buttonholes?
EPIFANIA. Certainly not. I dont call that work.
THE MAN. Well, what sort of work are you looking for?
EPIFANIA. Brain work.
THE MAN. She's dotty!
EPIFANIA. Your work. Managing work. Planning work. Driving work. Let me see what you make here. Tell me how you dispose of it.
THE MAN [to his wife] You had better get on with your work. Let her see it. [To Epifania, whilst the woman pulls out the pile of coats from under the table and sits down resignedly to her sewing] And when youve quite satisfied your curiosity, perhaps youll take that five shillings and go.
EPIFANIA. Why? Dont you find my arrival a pleasant sort of adventure in this den?
THE MAN. I never heard the like of your cheek, not from nobody. [He sits down to his accounts].
EPIFANIA [to the woman, indicating the pile of coats] What do you do with these when they are finished?
THE WOMAN [going on with her work] The man comes with his lorry and takes them away.
EPIFANIA. Does he pay you for them?
THE WOMAN. Oh no. He gives us a receipt for them. Mr Superflew pays us for the receipts at the end of the week.
EPIFANIA. And what does Mr Superflew do with the coats?
THE WOMAN. He takes them to the wholesaler that supplies him with the cloth. The lorry brings us the cloth when it takes away the finished clothes.
EPIFANIA. Why dont you deal directly with the wholesalers?
THE WOMAN. Oh no: that wouldnt be right. We dont know who they are; and Mr Superflew does. Besides, we couldnt afford a lorry.
EPIFANIA. Does Mr Superflew own the lorry?
THE WOMAN. Oh no: that wouldnt be right. He hires it by the hour from Bolton's.
EPIFANIA. Is the driver always the same man?
THE WOMAN. Yes, of course: always old Tim Goodenough.
EPIFANIA [to the man] Write those names for me: Superflew, Bolton's, Goodenough.
THE MAN. Here! I'm not your clerk, you know.
EPIFANIA. You will be, soon. Do as I tell you.
THE MAN. Well of all the cheek--! [He obeys].
EPIFANIA. When Goodenough comes round next, tell him to tell Bolton's that he has found somebody who will buy the lorry for fourteen pounds. Tell him that if he can induce Bolton's to part from it at that figure you will give him a pound for himself and engage him at half a crown advance on his present wages to drive it just the same old round to the same places. He knows the wholesalers. Mr Superflew is superfluous. We shall collect not only our own stuff but that of all the other sweaters.
THE MAN. Sweaters! Who are you calling sweaters?
EPIFANIA. Man, know thyself. You sweat yourself; you sweat your wife; you sweat those women in there; you live on sweat.
THE MAN. Thats no way to talk about it. It isnt civil. I pay the right wages, same as everybody pays. I give employment that the like of them couldnt make for themselves.
EPIFANIA. You are sensitive about it. I am not. I am going to sweat Mr Superflew out of existence. I am going to sweat Mr Timothy Goodenough instead of allowing Mr Superflew to sweat him.
THE MAN. See here. Does this business belong to me or to you?
EPIFANIA. We shall see. Dare you buy the lorry?
THE MAN. Wheres the money to come from?
EPIFANIA. Where does all money come from? From the bank.
THE MAN. You got to put it there first, havnt you?
EPIFANIA. Not in the least. Other people put it there; and the bank lends it to you if it thinks you know how to extend your business.
THE WOMAN [terrified] Oh, Joe, dont trust your money in a bank. No good ever comes out of banks for the likes of us. Dont let her tempt you, Joe.
EPIFANIA. When had you last a holiday?
THE WOMAN. Me! A holiday! We cant afford holidays. I had one on Armistice Day, eighteen years ago.
EPIFANIA. Then it cost a world war and the slaughter of twenty millions of your fellow creatures to give you one holiday in your lifetime. I can do better for you than that.
THE WOMAN. We dont understand that sort of talk here. Weve no time for it. Will you please take our little present and go away?
The bell tinkles.
THE MAN [rising] Thats Tim, for the clothes.
EPIFANIA [masterfully] Sit down. I will deal with Tim.
She goes out. The man, after a moment of irresolution, sits down helplessly.
THE WOMAN [crying] Oh, Joe, dont listen to her: dont let her meddle with us. That woman would spend our little savings in a week, and leave us to slave to the end of our days to make it up again. I cant go on slaving for ever; we're neither of us as young as we were.
THE MAN [sullen] What sort of wife are you for a man? You take the pluck out of me every time. Dont I see other men swanking round and throwing money about that they get out of the banks? In and out of banks they are, all day. What do they do but smoke cigars and drink champagne? A five pound note is to them what a penny is to me. Why shouldn't I try their game instead of slaving here for pence and hapence?
THE WOMAN. Cause you dont understand it, Joe. We know our own ways; and though we're poor our ways have never let us down; and they never will if we stick to them. And who would speak to us? who would know us or give us a helping hand in hard times if we began doing things that nobody else does? How would you like to walk down Commercial Road and get nothing but black looks from all your friends and be refused a week's credit in the shops? Joe: Ive gone on in our natural ways all these years without a word of complaint; and I can go on long enough still to make us comfortable when we're too old to see what I'm sewing or you to count the pence. But if youre going to risk everything and put our money in a bank and change our ways I cant go on: I cant go on: itll kill me. Go up and stop her, Joe. Dont let her talk: just put her out. Be a man, darling: dont be afraid of her. Dont break my heart and ruin yourself. Oh, dont sit there dithering: you dont know what she may be doing. Oh! oh! oh! [She can say no more for sobbing].
THE MAN [rising, but not very resolutely] There! there! Hold your noise: I'm not going to let her interfere with us. I'll put her out all right. [He goes to the stairs. Epifania comes down]. Now, missis: lets have an understanding.
EPIFANIA. No understanding is necessary. Tim is sure that Bolton's will take ten pounds for the lorry. Tim is my devoted slave. Make that poor woman stop howling if you can. I am going now. There is not enough work here for me: I can do it all in half a day every week. I shall take a job as scullery maid at a hotel to fill up my time. But first I must go round to the address Tim has given me and arrange that we send them our stuff direct and collect just as Superflew did. When I have arranged everything with them I will come back and arrange everything for you. Meanwhile, carry on as usual. Good morning. [She goes out].
THE MAN [stupefied] It seems to me like a sort of dream. What could I do?
THE WOMAN [who has stopped crying on hearing Epifania's allusion to her] Do what she tells us, Joe. We're like children--[She begins crying again softly].
There is nothing more to be said.
The coffee room of The Pig & Whistle, now transmogrified into the lounge of The Cardinal's Hat, a very attractive riverside hotel. The long tables are gone, replaced by several teatables with luxurious chairs round them. The old sideboard, the stuffed fish, the signboards are no more: instead there is an elegant double writing desk for two sitters, divided by stationery cases and electric lamps with dainty shades. Near it is a table with all the illustrated papers and magazines to hand. Farther down the room, towards the side next the door, there is a long well cushioned seat, capable of accommodating three persons. With three chairs at the other side it forms a fireside circle. The old hatstand has gone to its grave with the sideboard. The newly painted walls present an attractive color scheme. The floor is parquetted and liberally supplied with oriental rugs. All the appurtenances of a brand new first class hotel lounge are in evidence.
Alastair, in boating flannels, is sprawling happily on the long seat, reading an illustrated magazine. Patricia, in her gladdest summer rags, is knitting in the middle chair opposite, full of quiet enjoyment.
It is a fine summer afternoon; and the general effect is that of a bank holiday paradise.
ALASTAIR. I say, Seedy, isnt this jolly?
PATRICIA. Yes, darling: it's lovely.
ALASTAIR. Nothing beats a fine week-end on the river. A pull on the water in the morning to give one a good stretch and a good appetite. A good lunch, and then a good laze. What more can any man desire on earth?
PATRICIA. You row so beautifully, Ally. I love to see you sculling. And punting too. You look so well standing up in the punt.
ALASTAIR. It's the quiet of it, the blessed quiet. You are so quiet: I'm never afraid of your kicking up a row about nothing. The river is so smooth. I dont know which is more comforting, you or the river, when I think of myself shooting Niagara three or four times a day at home.
PATRICIA. Dont think of it, darling. It isnt home: this is home.
ALASTAIR. Yes, dear: youre right: this is what home ought to be, though it's only a hotel.
PATRICIA. Well, what more could anyone ask but a nice hotel? All the housekeeping done for us: no trouble with the servants: no rates nor taxes. I have never had any peace except in a hotel. But perhaps a man doesnt feel that way.
The manager of the hotel, a young man, smartly dressed, enters. He carries the hotel register, which he opens and places on the newspaper table. He then comes obsequiously to his two guests.
MANAGER [between them] Good afternoon, sir. I hope you find everything here to your liking.
ALASTAIR. Yes, thanks. But what have you done to the old place? When I was here last, a year ago, it was a common pub called The Pig and Whistle.
THE MANAGER. It was so until quite lately, sir. My father kept The Pig and Whistle. So did his forefathers right back to the reign of William the Conqueror. Cardinal Wolsey stopped once for an hour at The Pig and Whistle when his mule cast a shoe and had to go to the blacksmith's. I assure you my forefathers thought a lot of themselves. But they were uneducated men, and ruined the old place by trying to improve it by getting rid of the old things in it. It was on its last legs when you saw it, sir. I was ashamed of it.
ALASTAIR. Well, you have made a first rate job of it now.
THE MANAGER. Oh, it was not my doing, sir: I am only the manager. You would hardly believe it if I were to tell you the story of it. Much more romantic, to my mind, than the old tale about Wolsey. But I mustnt disturb you talking. You will let me know if theres anything I can do to make you quite comfortable.
PATRICIA. I should like to know about the old Pig if it's romantic. If you can spare the time, of course.
THE MANAGER. I am at your service, madam, always.
ALASTAIR. Fire ahead, old man.
THE MANAGER. Well, madam, one day a woman came here and asked for a job as a scullery maid. My poor old father hadnt the nerve to turn her out: he said she might just try for a day or two. So she started in. She washed two dishes and broke six. My poor old mother was furious: she thought the world of her dishes. She had no suspicion, poor soul, that they were ugly and common and old and cheap and altogether out of date. She said that as the girl had broken them she should pay for them if she had to stay for a month and have the price stopped out of her wages. Off went the girl to Reading and came back with a load of crockery that made my mother cry: she said we should be disgraced for ever if we served a meal on such old fashioned things. But the very next day an American lady with a boating party bought them right off the table for three times what they cost; and my poor mother never dared say another word. The scullery maid took things into her own hands in a way we could never have done. It was cruel for us; but we couldnt deny that she was always right.
PATRICIA. Cruel! What was there cruel in getting nice crockery for you?
THE MANAGER. Oh, it wasnt only that, madam: that part of it was easy and pleasant enough. You see all she had to do with the old crockery was to break it and throw the bits into the dustbin. But what was the matter with the old Pig and Whistle was not the old thick plate that took away your appetite. It was the old people it had gathered about itself that were past their work and had never been up to much according to modern ideas. They had to be thrown into the street to wander about for a few days and then go into the workhouse. There was the bar that was served by father and mother: she dressed up to the nines, as she thought, poor old dear, never dreaming that the world was a day older than when she was married. The scullery maid told them the truth about themselves; and it just cut them to pieces; for it was the truth; and I couldnt deny it. The old man had to give in, because he had raised money on his freehold and was at his wits' end to pay the mortgage interest. The next thing we knew, the girl had paid off the mortgage and got the whip hand of us completely. 'It's time for you two to sell your freehold and retire: you are doing no good here' she said.
PATRICIA. But that was dreadful, to root them up like that.
THE MANAGER. It was hard; but it was the truth. We should have had the brokers in sooner or later if we had gone on. Business is business; and theres no room for sentiment in it. And then, think of the good, she did. My parents would never have got the price for the freehold that she gave them. Here was I, ashamed of the place, tied to the old Pig and Whistle by my feeling for my parents, with no prospects. Now the house is a credit to the neighborhood and gives more employment than the poor old Pig did in its best days; and I am the manager of it with a salary and a percentage beyond anything I could have dreamt of.
ALASTAIR. Then she didnt chuck you, old man.
THE MANAGER. No, sir. You see, though I could never have made the change myself, I was intelligent enough to see that she was right. I backed her up all through. I have such faith in that woman, sir, that if she told me to burn down the hotel tonight I'd do it without a moment's hesitation. When she puts her finger on a thing it turns into gold every time. The bank would remind my father if he overdrew by five pounds; but the manager keeps pressing overdrafts on her: it makes him miserable when she has a penny to her credit. A wonderful woman, sir: one day a scullery maid, and the next the proprietress of a first class hotel.
PATRICIA. And are the old people satisfied and happy?
THE MANAGER. Well, no: the change was too much for them at their age. My father had a stroke and wont last long, I'm afraid. And my mother has gone a bit silly. Still, it was best for them; and they have all the comforts they care for.
ALASTAIR. Well, thats a very moving tale: more so than you think, old boy, because I happen to know a woman of that stamp. By the way, I telegraphed for a friend of mine to come and spend the week-end with us here: a Mr Sagamore. I suppose you can find a room for him.
THE MANAGER. That will be quite all right, sir, thank you.
PATRICIA. Have you many people in the house this week-end?
THE MANAGER. Less than usual, madam. We have an Egyptian doctor who takes his meals here: a very learned man I should think: very quiet: not a word to anybody. Then there is another gentleman, an invalid, only just discharged from the Cottage Hospital. The Egyptian doctor recommended our chef to him; and he takes his meals here too. And that is all, madam, unless some fresh visitors arrive.
ALASTAIR. Well, we must put up with them.
THE MANAGER. By the way, sir, I am sorry to trouble you; but you came up this morning without signing the register. I have brought it up. Would you be so good? [He fetches the register from the table and presents it to Alastair with his fountain pen].
ALASTAIR [sitting up and taking it on his knees] Oh, I am sorry: I forgot. [He signs]. There you are. [He puts up his legs again].
THE MANAGER. Thanks very much, sir. [He glances at the register before shutting it. The signature surprises him]. Oh, indeed, sir! We are honored.
ALASTAIR. Anything wrong?
THE MANAGER. Oh no, sir, nothing wrong: quite the contrary. Mr and Mrs Fitzfassenden. The name is so unusual. Have I the honor of entertaining the celebrated--
ALASTAIR [interrupting] Yes: it's all right: I am the tennis champion and the boxing champion and all the rest of it; but I am here for a holiday and I dont want to hear anything more about it.
THE MANAGER [shutting the book] I quite understand, sir. I should not have said anything if it were not that the proprietress of this hotel, the lady I told you of, is a Mrs Fitzfassenden.
ALASTAIR [rising with a yell] What! Let me out of this. Pack up, Seedy. My bill, please, instantly.
THE MANAGER. Certainly, sir. But may I say that she is not on the premises at present and that I do not expect her this week-end.
PATRICIA. Dont fuss, darling. Weve a perfect right to be in her hotel if we pay our way just like anybody else.
ALASTAIR. Very well: have it your own way. But my week-end is spoilt.
THE MANAGER. Depend on it, she wont come, sir. She is getting tired of paying us unexpected visits now that she knows she can depend on me. [He goes out, but immediately looks in again to say] Your friend Mr Sagamore, sir, coming up with the invalid gentleman. [He holds the door open for Sagamore and Adrian, who come in. Then he goes out, taking the register with him].
Adrian, who comes first, limps badly on two walking sticks; and his head is bandaged. He is disagreeably surprised at seeing Fitzfassenden and Patricia.
ADRIAN. Alastair! Miss Smith! What does this mean, Sagamore? You never told me who you were bringing me to see: you said two friends. Alastair: I assure you I did not know you were here. Sagamore said some friends who would be glad to see me.
PATRICIA. Well, we are glad to see you, Mr Blenderbland. Wont you sit down?
ALASTAIR. But whats happened to you, old chap? What on earth have you done to yourself?
ADRIAN [exasperated] Everyone asks me what I have done to myself. I havent done anything to myself. I suppose you mean this and this [he indicated his injuries]. Well, they are what your wife has done to me. That is why Sagamore should not have brought me here.
ALASTAIR. I say: I am frightfully sorry, old chap.
PATRICIA [rising solicitously] Do sit down, Mr Blenderbland. Rest yourself on that couch. [Arranging cushions] Dear! dear!
ALASTAIR. Eppy is like that, you know.
ADRIAN. Yes: I know now. But I ought not to be here: Sagamore should not have brought me here.
PATRICIA. But why not? I assure you we're delighted to see you. We dont mind what Mrs Fitzfassenden does.
ADRIAN. But I do. You are most kind; but I cannot claim the privilege of a friend and at the same time be the plaintiff in an action for assault and battery.
ALASTAIR. Yes you can, old chap. The situation is not new. The victims always come to us for sympathy. Make yourself comfortable.
ADRIAN [reluctantly sitting down and disposing his damaged limbs along the couch] Well, it's most kind of you; and I really cant stand any longer. But I dont understand why Sagamore should have played such a trick on me. And, of course, on you too.
Patricia returns to her chair, and resumes her knitting.
SAGAMORE [taking a chair next Patricia on her left] Well, the truth of the matter is that Blenderbland wont be reasonable; and I thought you two might help me to bring him to his senses.
ADRIAN [obstinately] It's no use, Sagamore. Two thousand five hundred. And costs. Not a penny less.
SAGAMORE. Too much. Ridiculous. A jury might give five hundred if there was a clear disablement from earning, or if the defendant had done something really womanly, like throwing vitriol. But you are only a sleeping partner in the firm your father founded: you dont really earn your income. Besides, hang it all! a man accusing a woman of assault!
ALASTAIR. Why didnt you give her a punch in the solar plexus?
ADRIAN. Strike a woman! Impossible.
ALASTAIR. Rot! If a woman starts fighting she must take what she gets and deserves.
PATRICIA. Look at the marks she's left on you, Mr Blenderbland! You shouldnt have put up with it: it only encourages her.
ALASTAIR. Search me for marks: you wont find any. Youd have found a big mark on her the first time she tried it on me. There was no second time.
ADRIAN. Unfortunately I have neither your muscle nor your knowledge of how to punch. But I will take lessons when I get well. And she shall pay for them. Two thousand five hundred. And medical expenses. And costs.
SAGAMORE. And cab fare to the Cottage Hospital, I suppose.
ADRIAN. No: I went in her own car. But now you remind me, I tipped the chauffeur. Now dont misunderstand me. It is not the money. But I wont be beaten by a woman. It's a point of honor: of self-respect.
SAGAMORE. Yes; but how do you arrive at the figure? Why is your honor and self-respect worth two thousand five hundred pounds and not two thousand five hundred millions?
ADRIAN. My brother got two thousand five hundred from the railway company when an electric truck butted into him on the platform at Paddington. I will not let Epifania off with less. It was an unprovoked, brutal, cowardly assault.
SAGAMORE. Was it quite unprovoked? You will not get a jury to swallow that without a peck of salt?
ADRIAN. I have told you over and over again that it was absolutely unprovoked. But the concussion from which I suffered obliterated all consciousness of what happened immediately before the assault: the last thing I can recollect was a quite ordinary conversation about her father's money.
SAGAMORE. So much the worse for you. She can accuse you of anything she likes. And remember: no man can get damages out of a British jury unless he goes into court as a moral man.
ADRIAN. Do you suggest that I am not a moral man?
SAGAMORE. No; but Mrs Fitzfassenden's counsel will if you take her into court.
ADRIAN. Stuff! Would any jury believe that she and I were lovers on the strength of a sprained ankle, a dislocated knee, and a lump on my head the size of an ostrich's egg?
SAGAMORE. The best of evidence against you. It's only lovers that have lovers' quarrels. And suppose she pleads self-defence against a criminal assault!
ADRIAN. She dare not swear to such a lie.
SAGAMORE. How do you know it's a lie? You dont know what happened at the end. You had concussion of the brain.
ADRIAN. Yes: after the assault.
SAGAMORE. But it obliterated your consciousness of what happened before the assault. How do you know what you did in those moments?
ADRIAN. Look here. Are you my solicitor or hers?
SAGAMORE. Fate seems to have made me the solicitor of everybody in this case. If I am forced to throw up either her case or yours, I must throw up yours. How can I afford to lose a client with such an income and such a temper? Her tantrums are worth two or three thousand a year to any solicitor.
ADRIAN. Very well, Sagamore. You see my condition: you know that right and justice are on my side. I shall not forget this.
The manager enters, looking very serious.
THE MANAGER [to Alastair] I am extremely sorry, sir. Mrs Fitzfassenden is downstairs with the Egyptian doctor. I really did not expect her.
EPIFANIA [dashing into the room and addressing herself fiercely to the manager] You have allowed my husband to bring a woman to my hotel and register her in my name. You are fired. [She is behind the couch and does not see Adrian. Sagamore rises].
THE MANAGER. I am sorry, madam: I did not know that the gentleman was your husband. However, you are always right. Do you wish me to go at once or to carry on until you have replaced me?
EPIFANIA. I do not wish you to go at all: you are re-engaged. Throw them both out, instantly.
ALASTAIR. Ha ha ha!
SAGAMORE. Your manager cannot throw Alastair out: Alastair can throw all of us out, if it comes to that. As to Miss Smith, this is a licensed house; and she has as much right to be here as you or I.
EPIFANIA. I will set fire to the hotel if necessary. [She sees Adrian]. Hallo! What is this? Adrian here too! What has happened to your head? What are those sticks for? [To the manager] Send the doctor here at once. [To Adrian] Have you hurt yourself?
The manager hurries out, glad to escape from the mêlée.
ADRIAN. Hurt myself! Hurt myself!!
EPIFANIA. Has he been run over?
ADRIAN. This woman has half killed me; and she asks have I hurt myself! I fell down the whole flight of stairs. My ankle was sprained. My knee was twisted. The small bone of my leg was broken. I ricked my spine. I had to give them a subscription at the Cottage Hospital, where your man took me. I had to go from there to a nursing home: twelve guineas a week. I had to call in three Harley Street surgeons; and none of them knew anything about dislocated knees: they wanted to cut my knee open to see what was the matter with it. I had to take it to a bonesetter; and he charged me fifty guineas.
EPIFANIA. Well, why did you not walk downstairs properly? Were you drunk?
ADRIAN [suffocating] I--
SAGAMORE [cutting in quickly] He declares that his injuries were inflicted by you when you last met, Mrs Fitzfassenden.
EPIFANIA. By me! Am I a prizefighter? Am I a coal-heaver?
SAGAMORE. Do you deny that you assaulted him?
EPIFANIA. Of course I deny it. Anything more monstrous I never heard. What happened was that he insulted my father grossly, without the slightest provocation, at a moment when I had every reason to expect the utmost tenderness from him. The blood rushed to my head: the next thing I remember is that I was lying across the table, trembling, dying. The doctor who found me can tell you what my condition was.
ADRIAN. I dont care what your condition was. What condition did your chauffeur find me in?
SAGAMORE. Then neither of you has the least notion of how this affair ended.
ADRIAN. I have medical evidence.
EPIFANIA. So have I.
ADRIAN. Well, we shall see. I am not going to be talked out of my case.
EPIFANIA. What do you mean by your case?
SAGAMORE. He is taking an action against you.
EPIFANIA. An action! Very well: you know my invariable rule. Fight him to the last ditch, no matter what it costs. Take him to the House of Lords if necessary. We shall see whose purse will hold out longest. I will not be blackmailed.
ADRIAN. You think your father's money places you above the law?
EPIFANIA [flushing] Again!
She makes for him. Alastair seizes her from behind and whirls her away towards Sagamore; then places himself on guard between her and the couch, balancing his fist warningly.
ALASTAIR. Now! now! now! None of that. Toko, my girl, toko.
SAGAMORE. Toko! What is toko?
ALASTAIR. She knows. Toko is an infallible medicine for calming the nerves. A punch in the solar plexus and a day in bed: thats toko.
EPIFANIA. You are my witness, Mr Sagamore, how I go in fear of my husband's brutal violence. He is stronger than I am: he can batter me, torture me, kill me. It is the last argument of the lower nature against the higher. My innocence is helpless. Do your worst. [She sits down in Sagamore's chair with great dignity].
ALASTAIR. Quite safe now, ladies and gentlemen. [He picks up his illustrated paper, and retires with it to one of the remoter tea-tables, where he sits down to read as quietly as may be].
ADRIAN [to Epifania] Now you know what I felt. It serves you right.
EPIFANIA. Yes: go on. Insult me. Threaten me. Blackmail me. You can all do it with impunity now.
SAGAMORE [behind her chair] Dont take it that way, Mrs Fitzfassenden. There is no question of blackmailing or insulting you. I only want to settle this business of Mr Blenderbland's injuries before we go into the matrimonial question.
EPIFANIA. I want to hear no more of Mr Blenderbland and his ridiculous injuries.
SAGAMORE. Do be a little reasonable, Mrs Fitzfassenden. How are we to discuss the compensation due to Mr Blenderbland without mentioning his injuries?
EPIFANIA. There is no compensation due to Mr Blenderbland. He deserved what he got, whatever that was.
SAGAMORE. But he will take an action against you.
EPIFANIA. Take one against him first.
SAGAMORE. What for?
EPIFANIA. For anything; only dont bother me about it. Claim twenty thousand pounds damages. I tell you I will not be blackmailed.
ADRIAN. Neither will I. I am entitled to compensation and I mean to have it.
SAGAMORE [coming between them] Steady! steady! please. I cannot advise either of you to go to law; but quite seriously, Mrs Fitzfassenden, Mr Blenderbland is entitled to some compensation. You can afford it.
EPIFANIA. Mr Sagamore: a woman as rich as I am cannot afford anything. I have to fight to keep every penny I possess. Every beggar, every blackmailer, every swindler, every charity, every testimonial, every political cause, every league and brotherhood and sisterhood, every church and chapel, every institution of every kind on earth is busy from morning to night trying to bleed me to death. If I weaken for a moment, if I let a farthing go, I shall be destitute by the end of the month. I subscribe a guinea a year to the Income Tax Payers' Defence League; but that is all: absolutely all. My standing instructions to you are to defend every action and to forestall every claim for damages by a counter-claim for ten times the amount. That is the only way in which I can write across the sky 'Hands off My Money.'
SAGAMORE. You see, Mr Blenderbland, it's no use. You must withdraw your threat of an action.
ADRIAN. I wont.
SAGAMORE. You will. You must. Mrs Fitzfassenden: he can do nothing against you. Let me make an appeal on his behalf ad misericordiam.
EPIFANIA [impatiently] Oh, we are wasting time; and I have more important business to settle. Give him a ten pound note and have done with it.
ADRIAN. A ten pound note!!!
SAGAMORE [remonstrant] Oh, Mrs Fitzfassenden!
EPIFANIA. Yes: a ten pound note. No man can refuse a ten pound note if you crackle it under his nose.
SAGAMORE. But he wants two thousand five hundred.
EPIFANIA [rising stupefied] Two thou--[She gasps].
ADRIAN. Not a penny less.
EPIFANIA [going past Sagamore to the couch] Adrian, my child, I have underrated you. Your cheek, your gluttony, your obstinacy impose respect on me. I threw a half baked gentleman downstairs: and my chauffeur picked him up on the mat a magnificently complete Skunk.
ADRIAN [furious] Five thousand for that, Sagamore: do you hear?
SAGAMORE. Please! please! Do keep your temper.
ADRIAN. Keep your own temper. Has she lamed you for life? Has she raised a bump on your head? Has she called you a skunk?
SAGAMORE. No; but she may at any moment.
EPIFANIA [flinging her arms round him with a whoop of delight] Ha ha! Ha ha! My Sagamore! My treasure! Shall I give him five thousand on condition that he turns it into a million in six months?
ADRIAN. I will do what I like with it. I will have it unconditionally.
SAGAMORE [extricating himself gently from Epifania's hug] Mr Blenderbland: it is a mistake to go into court in the character of a man who has been called a skunk. It makes the jury see you in that light from the start. It is also very difficult for a plaintiff to get sympathy in the character of a man who has been thrashed by a woman. If Mrs Fitzfassenden had stabbed you, or shot you, or poisoned you, that would have been quite in order: your dignity would not have been compromised. But Mrs Fitzfassenden knows better. She knows the privileges of her sex to a hair's breadth and never oversteps them. She would come into court beautifully dressed and looking her best. No woman can be more ladylike--more feminine--when it is her cue to play the perfect lady. Long before we can get the case into the lists the bump on your head will have subsided; your broken bone will have set; and the color will have come back to your cheeks. Unless you can provoke Mrs Fitzfassenden to assault you again the day before the trial--and she is far too clever for that--the chances are a million to one against you.
ALASTAIR [rising and coming from the other end of the room] That is so, Blenderbland. You havnt a dog's chance. Next time you see her fist coming in your direction, duck and counter. If you dont get that satisfaction you wont get any. [He sits down next Patricia, on her right].
PATRICIA. Yes, Mr Blenderbland: Alastair's right. Ask her nicely, and perhaps she'll pay your expenses.
ADRIAN [sitting up and taking his head in his hands, shaken, almost lachrymose] Is there any justice for a man against a woman?
SAGAMORE [sitting beside him to console him] Believe me: no. Not against a millionairess.
EPIFANIA. And what justice is there for a millionairess, I should like to know?
SAGAMORE. In the courts--
EPIFANIA. I am not thinking of the courts: there is little justice there for anybody. My millions are in themselves an injustice. I speak of the justice of heaven.
ALASTAIR. Oh Lord! Now we're for it. [He deliberately puts his arm round Patricia's waist].
EPIFANIA. Alastair: how can you jeer at me? Is it just that I, because I am a millionairess, cannot keep my husband, cannot keep even a lover, cannot keep anything but my money? There you sit before my very eyes, snuggling up to that insignificant little nothingness who cannot afford to pay for her own stockings; and you are happy and she is happy. [She turns to Adrian] Here is this suit of clothes on two sticks. What does it contain?
ADRIAN [broken] Let me alone, will you?
EPIFANIA. Something that once resembled a man, something that liked lending me five pound notes and never asked me to repay them. Why? Kindness to me? Love of me? No: the swank of a poor man lending to a millionairess. In my divine wrath I smashed him as a child smashes a disappointing toy; and when he was beaten down to his real self I found I was not a woman to him but a bank account with a good cook.
PATRICIA. Thats all very fine, deary; but the truth is that no one can live with you.
EPIFANIA. And anyone can live with you. And apparently you can live with anybody.
ALASTAIR. What Seedy says is God's truth. Nobody could live with you.
EPIFANIA. But why? Why? Why?
SAGAMORE. Do be reasonable, Mrs Fitzfassenden. Can one live with a tornado? with an earthquake? with an avalanche?
EPIFANIA. Yes. Thousands of people live on the slopes of volcanoes, in the track of avalanches, on land thrown up only yesterday by earthquakes. But with a millionairess who can rise to her destiny and wield the power her money gives her, no. Well, be it so. I shall sit in my lonely house, and be myself, and pile up millions until I find a man good enough to be to me what Alastair is to Seedystockings.
PATRICIA. Well, I hope you wont have to wait too long.
EPIFANIA. I never wait. I march on; and when I come upon the things I need I grab them. I grabbed your Alastair. I find that he does not suit me: he beats me--
ALASTAIR. In self-defence. I never raised a hand to you except in self-defence.
EPIFANIA. Yes: you are like the great European Powers: you never fight except in self-defence. But you are two stone heavier than I; and I cannot keep my head at infighting as you can. You do not suit. I throw you to Greedy-Seedy-Stockings: you can punch her to your heart's content. Mr Sagamore: arrange the divorce. Cruelty and adultery.
PATRICIA. But I dont like this: it's not fair to Alastair. Why is he to be divorced instead of you?
EPIFANIA. Mr Sagamore: take an action against Patricia Smith for alienating my husband's affections. Damages twenty thousand pounds.
PATRICIA. Oh! Is such a thing possible, Mr Sagamore?
SAGAMORE. I am afraid it is, Miss Smith. Quite possible.
PATRICIA. Well, my dear old father used to say that in the law courts there is only one way to beat the people who have unlimited money; and that is to have no money at all. You cant get twenty thousand out of me. And call it vanity if you will; but I should rather like the world to know that in my little way I was able to take the best and dearest man in England from the richest woman.
EPIFANIA. Damn your dear old father!
ALASTAIR [laughing boisterously] Ha ha! One for you, Eppy. [He kisses Patricia].
SAGAMORE [smiling] I am afraid the laugh is with old Mr Smith, Mrs Fitzfassenden. Where there is nothing, the king loses his rights.
EPIFANIA. Oh, I can bear no more of this. I will not have my life dragged down to planes of vulgarity on which I cannot breathe. I will live in utter loneliness and keep myself sacred until I find the right man--the man who can stand with me on the utmost heights and not lose his head--the mate created for me in heaven. He must be somewhere.
THE DOCTOR [appearing at the door] The manager says I am wanted here. Who wants me?
EPIFANIA. I want you. Come here [she stretches out her hand to him imperiously].
THE DOCTOR [coming to her and feeling her pulse] Something wrong with your blood pressure, eh? [Amazed] Ooooh!! I have never felt such a pulse. It is like a slow sledge hammer.
EPIFANIA. Well, is my pulse my fault?
THE DOCTOR. No. It is the will of Allah. All our pulses are part of the will of Allah.
ALASTAIR. Look here, you know, Doc: that wont go down in this country. We dont believe in Allah.
THE DOCTOR. That does not disconcert Allah in the least, my friend. The pulse beats still, slow, strong. [To Epifania] You are a terrible woman; but I love your pulse. I have never felt anything like it before.
PATRICIA. Well, just fancy that! He loves her pulse.
THE DOCTOR. I am a doctor. Women as you fancy them are nothing to me but bundles of ailments. But the life! the pulse! is the heartbeat of Allah, save in Whom there is no majesty and no might. [He drops her hand].
EPIFANIA. My pulse will never change: this is the love I crave for. I will marry you. Mr Sagamore: see about a special licence the moment you have got rid of Alastair.
THE DOCTOR. It is not possible. We are bound by our vows.
EPIFANIA. Well, have I not passed your mother's test? You shall have an accountant's certificate. I learned in the first half hour of my search for employment that the living wage for a single woman is five shillings a week. Before the end of the week I had made enough to support me for a hundred years. I did it honestly and legitimately. I explained the way in which it was done.
THE DOCTOR. It was not the way of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate. Had you added a farthing an hour to the wages of those sweated women, that wicked business would have crashed on your head. You sold it to the man Superflew for the last penny of his savings; and the women still slave for him at one piastre an hour.
EPIFANIA. You cannot change the market price of labor: not Allah himself can do that. But I came to this hotel as a scullery maid: the most incompetent scullery maid that ever broke a dinner service. I am now its owner; and there is no tuppence-hapeny an hour here.
THE DOCTOR. The hotel looks well in photographs; and the wages you pay would be a fortune to a laborer on the Nile. But what of the old people whose natural home this place had become? the old man with his paralytic stroke? the old woman gone mad? the cast out creatures in the workhouse? Was not this preying on the poverty of the poor? Shall I, the servant of Allah, live on such gains? Shall I, the healer, the helper, the guardian of life and the counsellor of health, unite with the exploiter of misery?
EPIFANIA. I have to take the world as I find it.
THE DOCTOR. The wrath of Allah shall overtake those who leave the world no better than they found it.
EPIFANIA. I think Allah loves those who make money.
SAGAMORE. All the evidence is that way, certainly.
THE DOCTOR. I do not see it so. I see that riches are a curse; poverty is a curse; only in the service of Allah is there justice, righteousness, and happiness. But all this talk is idle. This lady has easily fulfilled the condition imposed by my mother. But I have not fulfilled the condition imposed by the lady's father.
EPIFANIA. You need not trouble about that. The six months have not expired. I will shew you how to turn your hundred and fifty pounds into fifty thousand.
THE DOCTOR. You cannot. It is gone.
EPIFANIA. Oh, you cannot have spent it all: you who live like a mouse. There must be some of it left.
THE DOCTOR. Not a penny. Not a piastre. Allah--
EPIFANIA. Oh, bother Allah! What did you do with it?
THE DOCTOR. Allah is never bothered. On that afternoon when you left me to earn your own living I called upon the Merciful, the Compassionate, to reveal to me whether you were not one of the strokes of his infinite humor. Then I sat down and took up a newspaper. And behold! a paragraph headed Wills and Bequests. I read a name that I cannot remember: Mrs Somebody of Clapham Park, one hundred and twentytwo thousand pounds. She had never done anything but live in Clapham Park; and she left £122,000. But what was the next name? It was that of the teacher who changed my whole life and gave me a new soul by opening the world of science to me. I was his assistant for four years. He used to make his own apparatus for his experiments; and one day he needed a filament of metal that would resist a temperature that melted platinum like sealing wax.
EPIFANIA. Buy his patent for me if it has not been snapped up.
THE DOCTOR. He never took out a patent. He believed that knowledge is no man's property. And he had neither time nor money to waste in patent offices. Millions have been made out of that discovery of his by people who care nothing about science and everything about money. He left four hundred pounds and a widow: the good woman who had been a second mother to me. A shilling a day for her at most: not even one piastre an hour.
EPIFANIA. That comes of marrying an incompetent dreamer. Are you going to beg for her? I warn you I am tired of destitute widows. I should be a beggar myself if I took them all on my shoulders.
THE DOCTOR. Have no fear. The Merciful, the Compassionate heard the prayer of the widow. Listen. I once cured a Prime Minister when he imagined himself to be ill. I went to him and told him that it was the will of Allah that the widow should have a civil list pension. She received it: a hundred pounds a year. I went to the great Metallurgical Trust which exploits his discovery, and told them that her poverty was a scandal in the face of Allah. They were rich and generous: they made a special issue of founders' shares for her, worth three hundred a year to her. They called it letting her in on the ground floor. May her prayers win them favor from Him save in whom there is no might and no majesty! But all this took time. The illness, the nurse, the funeral, the disposal of the laboratory, the change to a cheaper lodging, had left her without a penny, though no doctor and no lawyer took a farthing, and the shopkeepers were patient; for the spirit of Allah worked more strongly upon them than on the British Treasury, which clamored for its little death duty. Between the death and the pensions there was a gap exactly one hundred and fifty pounds wide. He who is just and exact supplied that sum by your chauffeur's hands and by mine. It rejoiced my heart as money had never rejoiced it before. But instead of coming to you with fifty thousand pounds I am in arrear with my bill for my daily bread in your hotel, and am expecting every day to be told by your manager that this cannot go on: I must settle.
ALASTAIR. Well, old man, you may not have done a lot for yourself; but you have done damned well for the widow. And you have escaped Eppy. She wont marry you with your pockets empty.
EPIFANIA. Pray why? Fifty thousand pounds must have been made out of that discovery ten times over. The doctor, in putting my money into the widow's necessary expenses, may be said to have made a retrospective investment in the discovery. And he has shewn the greatest ability in the affair: has he not, Mr Sagamore?
SAGAMORE. Unquestionably. He has bowled out the Prime Minister. He has bowled out the Imperial Metallurgical Trust. He has settled the widow's affairs to perfection.
THE DOCTOR. But not my own affairs. I am in debt for my food.
EPIFANIA. Well, if you come to that, I am in debt for my food. I got a letter this morning from my purveyors to say that I have paid them nothing for two years, and unless I let them have something on account they will be obliged to resort to the premises.
THE DOCTOR. What does that mean?
EPIFANIA. Sell my furniture.
THE DOCTOR. You cannot sell mine, I am afraid. I have hardly any.
BLENDERBLAND. If you have a stick she will sell it. She is the meanest woman in England.
EPIFANIA. That is why I am also the richest. Mr Sagamore: my mind is made up: I will marry this doctor. Ascertain his name and make the necessary arrangements.
BLENDERBLAND. You take care, doctor. She is unfaithful to her husband in wanting to marry you. She flirted with me: took me down the river and made me believe I was to be Alastair's successor before ever she saw you. See what she has done to me! She will do it to you when the next man takes her fancy.
THE DOCTOR [to Epifania] What have you to say to that?
EPIFANIA. You must learn to take chances in this world. This disappointed philanderer tries to frighten you with my unfaithfulness. He has never been married: I have. And I tell you that in the very happiest marriages not a day passes without a thousand moments of unfaithfulness. You begin by thinking you have only one husband: you find you have a dozen. There is a creature you hate and despise and are tied to for life; and before breakfast is over the fool says something nice and becomes a man whom you admire and love; and between these extremes there are a thousand degrees with a different man and woman at each of them. A wife is all women to one man: she is everything that is devilish: the thorn in his flesh, the jealous termagant, the detective dogging all his movements, the nagger, the scolder, the worrier. He has only to tell her an affectionate lie and she is his comfort, his helper, at best his greatest treasure, at worst his troublesome but beloved child. All wives are all these women in one, all husbands all these men in one. What do the unmarried know of this infinitely dangerous heart tearing everchanging life of adventure that we call marriage? Face it as you would face a dangerous operation: have you not performed hundreds of them?
THE DOCTOR. Of a surety there is no wit and no wisdom like that of a woman ensnaring the mate chosen for her by Allah. Yet I am very well as I am. Why should I change? I shall be very happy as an old bachelor.
EPIFANIA [flinging out her wrist at him] Can you feel my pulse every day as an old bachelor?
THE DOCTOR [taking her wrist and mechanically taking out his watch at the same time] Ah! I had forgotten the pulse. One, two, three: it is irresistible: it is a pulse in a hundred thousand. I love it: I cannot give it up.
BLENDERBLAND. You will regret it to the last day of your life.
EPIFANIA. Mr Sagamore: you have your instructions.
PATRICIA. Congratulations, darling.
And that is how the story ends in capitalist countries. In Russia, however, and in countries with Communist sympathies, the people demand that the tale shall have an edifying moral. Accordingly, when the doctor, feeling Epifania's pulse, says that he loves it and cannot give it up, Blenderbland continues the conversation as follows.
BLENDERBLAND. Take care. Her hand is accursed. It is the hand of Midas: it turns everything it touches to gold.
THE DOCTOR. My hand is more deeply accursed. Gold flies away from it. Why am I always poor? I do not like being poor.
EPIFANIA. Why am I always rich? I do not like being rich.
ALASTAIR. Youd better both go to Russia, where there are neither rich nor poor.
EPIFANIA. Why not? I buy nothing but Russian stock now.
BLENDERBLAND. The Russians would shoot you as they would a mad dog. You are a bloated capitalist, you know.
EPIFANIA. I am a capitalist here; but in Russia I should be a worker. And what a worker! My brains are wasted here: the wealth they create is thrown away on idlers and their parasites, whilst poverty, dirt, disease, misery and slavery surround me like a black sea in which I may be engulfed at any moment by a turn of the money market. Russia needs managing women like me. In Moscow I shall not be a millionairess; but I shall be in the Sovnarkom within six months and in the Politbureau before the end of the year. Here I have no real power, no real freedom, and no security at all: we may all die in the workhouse. In Russia I shall have such authority! such scope for my natural powers! as the Empress Catherine never enjoyed. I swear that before I have been twenty years in Russia every Russian baby shall weigh five pounds heavier and every Russian man and woman live ten years longer. I shall not be an empress; and I may work myself to death; but in a thousand years from now holy Russia shall again have a patron saint, and her name shall be Saint Epifania.
BLENDERBLAND. The egotism of that woman!!
SAGAMORE. I am afraid there are no saints now in Russia.
THE DOCTOR. There are saints everywhere: they are the one species you cannot liquidate. Kings, emperors, conquerors, pontiffs and all the other idols are swept away sooner or later; and all the king's horses and all the king's men cannot set them up again; but the saints shall reign for ever and ever in the temple of the hammer and the sickle. But we must not go to Russia, because the Russians do not need us: they have stayed at home and saved their own souls. Ought not we to stay at home and save ours? Why not make the British Empire a Soviet republic?
EPIFANIA. By all means; but we shall have to liquidate all the adult inhabitants and begin with the newly born. And the first step to that is to get married. Mr Sagamore: make the necessary arrangements.
PATRICIA. Congratulations, darling.
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